Brig.-Gen. Avichai Rontzki
Brig.-Gen. Avichai RontzkiIDF Spokesman

Brig.-Gen. Avichai Ronsky, the IDF's Chief Rabbi, said Wednesday that women serving in the IDF should not be put in combat roles. "The idea of girls going into tanks or into paratrooper battalions is an impracticable one in my opinion and could hurt the combat array," he told Voice of Israel government radio.

Ronsky said the subject of women's service in combat was currently under debate and that the Military Rabbinate's position on the subject was certainly negative. He added that practically speaking, "there will be very few girls who want to serve three years as fighters in the paratroops or tanks; it seems a little imaginary to me."

Training, mixed-sex Shavit rescue extrication unit.

IDF Spokesman

Basic training, Nachshol field intelligence collection unit.

IDF Spokesman

Basic training, Nachshol field intelligence collection unit.

IDF Spokesman

He also revealed that for the first time ever, a female Religion Officer will join the ranks of the Military Rabbinate, and will deal with religious questions, problems and needs faced by female soldiers. One out of three girls from the religious Zionist stream joins the army, he said: "This is quite a lot [of women] and we have never dealt with this matter in the Rabbinate."

Feminist struggle

The question of female combat service is a highly disputed one in Israel. After a struggle championed by feminist figures such as Carmela Menashe, IBA Radio's military affairs correspondent, and powerful women's groups, women were allowed into many units that had previously been male-only. A 1994 High Court appeal

One out of three girls from the religious Zionist stream joins the army.

by a woman who was turned down for the much-vaunted IAF Pilot's Course resulted in a change in the IDF's policy, and women were allowed to become combat pilots. Three women have passed the course in the intervening years.

Besides serving in various combat support roles, such as Deputy Operations Officers, Intelligence Officers and signal operators, women now serve in combat roles in the IDF's Artillery Corps, and in a special mixed-sex infantry battalion called the Karakal, which is stationed along Israel's peaceful borders (Egypt and Jordan). Another mixed-sex unit is Sachlav, a part of the Military Police, which has been stationed in Judea and Samaria. Women also serve in combat roles in the Border Guard.

Proponents of women's integration see it as an expression of equal rights and equal opportunity, and claim that as long as combat service is an exclusive male privilege, power will continue to be concentrated in male hands and Israeli society will never offer women true equality.

Female soldier in infantry instructors' training.

IDF Spokesman

Women march 13 km., men march 60

Opponents of women's integration into combat units claim that it has been proven to cause physical harm to many of the women and that it reduces the fighting unit's effectiveness in true combat. They also claim that there has been some deceit in the way the public debate on the matter was managed. According to Dr. Gabi Avital, "every single study which shows a clear difference of 20% to 40% in stamina, carrying of loads, oxygen consumption and other parameters which are necessary for prolonged warfare has disappeared or been made to disappear from public view."

Avital claimed that female combat infantry soldiers march 13 kilometers to complete their training, whereas the men march 60 kilometers. The women also get to use a bench to help them scale a climbing wall which is the same height as an average man, and carry less bullet cartridges.

According to military historian Prof. Martin Van Crevelt, despite all the hype around women's combat service, women are kept out of dangerous combat situations in the IDF. As proof of this, he cites the fact that out of 119 IDF soldiers killed in the Second Lebanon War, only one (Warrant Officer Keren Tandler, who served as a flight mechanic aboard a Sikorsky CH-53 helicopter that was shot down), was a woman.