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Rabbi Riskin on Women’s Enlistment: It’s a Mitzvah

Rabbi of Efrat weighs in on women’s enlistment controversy, says enlistment opponents are ignoring modern reality.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 1/21/2014, 10:47 PM

Female soldiers
Female soldiers
Israel news photo: Flash 90

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the Rabbi of the city of Efrat, has weighed in on the issue of female enlistment in the IDF, an issue which made media headlines recently when Minister Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) attacked the Chief Rabbinate for its stance on the subject . 

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate has opposed army service for women since the establishment of the state of Israel, but Rabbi Riskin has challenged that ruling since his aliya to Israel during the period when both Chief Rabbis were both Religious Zionists. While Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron came out in support of the Chief Rabbinate's position, Rabbi Riskin has said he believes military service for women not only does not contradict Jewish law (halakha), but is even a mitzvah (positive commandment) and established a pre-Army program for young women several years ago. 

“In everything presented to me, I have not found anything that contradicts the words of the Mishnah in Sota, or of the Rambam,” Rabbi Riskin said, quoting a passage that states that “even a bride should leave her wedding canopy” to fight in a life-or-death war.

Jewish law differentiates between a war that is necessary for the survival of the Jewish nation (milchemet mitzvah) and other wars, Rabbi Riskin noted. All modern rabbis, including those who oppose female army enlistment, agree that Israel’s current battle against terrorism is a “milchemet mitzvah,” he said.

The Rabbinate has countered in the past by stating that the army has no manpower shortage for many years and that therefore the issue of "milchemet mitzvah" is irrelevant, while the reasons for the ban are just as relevant as they were when the original decision was made. 

“The essence of the debate is not over joining the military in itself, but rather, over the question of authority,” he explained. 

“Those who repeatedly bring up the argument that a woman goes from living under her parents’ authority to her husband’s authority [and should not put herself under the military’s command – ed.] are completely ignoring modern life, in which women are no more subject to authority than men are,” he argued,

“A girl isn’t under her parents’ authority any more than her brothers are, and a woman isn’t subject to her husband’s authority any more than he is subject to hers,” Rabbi Riskin stated. “Obligating a woman to stay under the protection of the men she ‘belongs to,’ in this day and age, is nothing less than appalling."

The Chief Rabbinate has stated in the past that the army is an hierarchial system where women are still subordinate to men and that its ruling addresses all young Jewish women, not only those who manage to serve in units created for religious girls. 

Rabbi Riskin, who also serves as president of the Midreshet Lindenbaum Torah school for women, noted that he agrees that there can be spiritual dangers involved in IDF service. However, he said, military service can also provide increased spiritual strength, for both women and men.

“We advise every young woman who is enlisting, like every young man, to prepare for military service through serious Torah study, learning the relevant passages in the Gemara, learning halakha, and becoming familiar with her society and culture, while building her coping skills,” he said.

“While others shout and threaten, we are taking productive action so that our daughters will be more prepared, and so that their military service will strengthen and bolster their spirits and their inner world and national identity,” he concluded.

(For Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's recent comprehensive article on the subject, "The Best National Service for Women", click here.)