Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan, has come out with strong statements against mandatory military service for women.
Rabbi Ariel was particularly outspoken regarding combat service for women, but made it clear in an interview with Arutz Sheva that he opposes mandatory non-combat service as well. Female soldiers should serve strictly in a volunteer capacity, he declared.
His declaration came as part of a discussion of this week’s Torah portion, which discusses Jewish slavery in Egypt.
Judaism generally opposes coercion, he said. The prohibition is clear from Torah verses marking the Jews as servants of G-d, he explained. He quoted Jewish sages as attributing to G-d the statement regarding the Jewish nation, “’They are my slaves, and not slaves to slaves.’”
However, he said, the prohibition on slavery and coercion does not extend to military recruitment. “There is no choice but to require army service. The reason for that is that the army needs to fight, and an army cannot be built on volunteers alone.”
He noted that male recruits can choose whether to volunteer for combat, but that once they do, they cannot change their minds. “He cannot go to the commander and say ‘I want to go home.’ The military cannot function without orders,” he explained.
Rabbi Ariel then made a clear distinction between male and female recruits. “We are against the approach of ‘enslaving’ girls. Women are not combatants. Women and men cannot serve together in the field in combat – it is dangerous to security, a moral risk, the Torah opposes it, common sense is against it,” he argued.
There are many roles women can fill in the army, he continued – but only on a voluntary basis. “Not through coercion… Let them find ways through volunteering. Enlisting women to the army is forbidden,” he said.
The IDF requires women as well as men to enlist at age 18. However, religiously observant women may seek an exemption on religious grounds.
No woman should be required to serve, Rabbi Ariel argued. “It is a form of servitude for one person to be required to obey another, particular a woman to a man. It opens the door to all kinds of ethical problems, and security problems,” he warned.
He praised civilian national service as an alternative to IDF service. “National service is voluntary. If girls find themselves in a place where they cannot safeguard their modesty or their independence, they can leave,” he explained.
“A free person can allow himself to be in situations that a person who is required to obey must not be in,” he added.
Rabbi Yaakov Ariel is a leading figure in the religious-Zionist community. Rabbi Ariel was on the “short list” for Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi, and is considered a scholar of note by religious Jews from both the Religious Zionist and hareidi communties.