Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, Head of the Beit El Yeshiva and a leading figure of Religious Zionism, answered a soldier who asked him whether one is allowed to serve as the commander of a “mixed” IDF combat unit, one including both men and women fighters. The new far-reaching army directives for joint combat service of men and women, vehemently criticized by rabbis across the Orthodox spectrum, have given rise to this most pressing halakhic question.
The following is the venerable rabbi's response:
“To ‘Y,’ serving in the Army,
In response to your question on whether it is halakhically permitted to serve as the commander of a mixed-gender combat unit:
The answer is that it is unequivocally prohibited by the Torah for male and female soldiers to serve together in a mixed combat unit. This prohibition is more severe than eating forbidden foods such as pork or animal carcasses [which were not subject to ritual slaughter].
Regarding a commander, the prohibition is twice as severe.
This law is agreed upon by all the sages of Israel, and anyone who takes Jewish law seriously must refuse to serve in or command a mixed-gender combat unit - even if it damages his career development or forces him to resign from the IDF. IDF service is a very big mitzvah, but that mitzvah does not allow one to transgress a Torah prohibition.
Maintaining modesty in the IDF is what will ensure the protection of the Nation of Israel and the Land of Israel, as it says clearly in the Torah regarding a Jewish fighting force: “And your camp shall be holy.”
Zalman Baruch Melamed
P.S. I am aware that you chose a longer term of service in the Army out of a deep faith-based ideal, and I am aware of how hard it will be for you to halt your service midway. But, after all, your intention was to do the will of G-d according to the Torah, and now the will of G-d is that you refuse to serve in a mixed unit.
And just as the reward is great for the mitzvah of IDF service, so is the reward for the mitzvah of keeping away from the prohibition of service in a mixed unit.
My prayers are that the Chief of Staff will rescind his order concerning the dangerous joint service, which endangers the Army and the State.
The people of Israel put their lives on the line to maintain standards of modesty throughout Jewish history, and in this merit they were redeemed.
Be strong and of courage.”