For the first time, a female Navy cadet in the IDF went up to recite the blessing said before each portion of the Torah reading, in an unexpected scene during Simchat Torah holiday services at the Israeli Navy training base in Haifa.
The female soldier, who regularly attends the services at the navy base according to Israeli website Kippa, was called up by a civilian employee of the IDF. As is the custom during the holiday of Simchat Torah in Orthodox services, all men are normally called up to receive an "aliya," a designated reader of blessings over the Torah between each section.
The "gabbai," or officiant of the service, wanted to include the female soldier in the holiday tradition, which shocked many of the sailors and officers in the synagogue, including some on the Hesder joint yeshiva-military track.
According to halakha, Jewish law, women may not recite the blessing over the Torah, as they are not obligated to hear the reading and thus use the name of G-d in vain when reciting the words "Who commanded us....". Halakha is extremely stringent about not reciting unnecessary blessings.
After an argument between the Hesder soldiers broke out, with many pointing out that scholars forbid women from being called to the Torah, it was decided among them not to prevent her from saying the blessings on the Torah so as not to embarrass the female soldier after she was already summoned by name.
The IDF is supposed to adhere to Jewish law and enables those soldiers who are religious to conduct services while on base. While it is a common practice in reform and conservative synagogues for women to be called up to the Torah, only men conduct the services in a halakhically observant congregation.
In response, an IDF spokesman said that since the service was conducted by a resident of the area and not an official navy chaplain, the female cadet was summoned to read a blessing over the Torah. However, they have made it clear that they will look into the incident and will "formulate guidelines for future occurrences."