Woman soldier in the IDF
Woman soldier in the IDFfile

The Chief Rabbinate's Education Committee held a special session Thursday to discuss the situation in IDF units in which young men and women serve side by side, which presents certain obstacles for male soldiers observing religious strictures prohibiting mixed military service. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger and other leading rabbis wrote to

The Chief Rabbinate is intending to consult further with the heads of the nation's Hesder yeshivas....

the military chiefs, calling for the army to respect soldiers' religious standards of modesty.

The chief rabbi of Har Brachah, who is also the dean of the Samarian town's Hesder yeshiva (combining seminary studies and military service), Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, addressed the Chief Rabbinate's Education Committee. He described the difficult situation facing religious soldiers as a result of the integration of young women in IDF field units.

The process of full gender integration began in response to a Supreme Court decision from a decade ago and slowly spread to encompass almost the entire army. During this period of adjustment, the General Staff produced regulations regarding religious soldiers called the "Suitable Integration" guidelines. In the wake of recent events, many rabbis have recently questioned the effectiveness and consistency of the regulations.

During his appearance before the Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Melamed described an incident from the beginning of February in which three soldiers in the Intelligence Corps were sentenced to 21 days in military prison for refusing to take part in an extended course with female instructors and participants. Despite the army guidelines that state specifically that soldiers must not be forced to serve in frameworks that negate their religious lifestyle, the soldiers were told they must participate in the course or face jail.  Choosing the latter, the three young men were tried and imprisoned; however, after serving 11 days, they were pardoned and released.

Participating in the special meeting of the committee were Chief Rabbi Metzger, Haifa's Chief Rabbi She'ar-Yashuv Hacohen, Kiryat Ono Chief Rabbi Ratzon Arousi, Rehovot Chief Rabbi Simcha Hacohen Kook, and other members of the Chief Rabbinate.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the rabbis announced their disappointment that "soldiers who are studying or who graduated yeshivas, and for whom serving in mixed-gender units or participating in courses taught by women is contrary to their Halachic (Jewish law) and moral understanding, were imprisoned for refusing to act against their conscience."

The Chief Rabbinate is intending to consult further with the heads of the nation's Hesder yeshivas, as well as with the Minister and Deputy Minister of Defense, the IDF Chief of Staff and the IDF Chief Rabbi. Through the series of meetings, the Chief Rabbinate is hoping "to draft an appropriate and agreed-upon protocol that will prevent a conflict between a soldier's Halakhic and moral understanding and the obligation to maintain discipline and obedience in compulsory army service."

Leading Rabbis Write to Military Chiefs

Earlier this month, Chief Rabbi Metzger wrote to IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Ronsky in defense of the three aforementioned religious soldiers. At the time, he called upon the IDF Chief Rabbi to intervene on behalf of the soldiers, who, he wrote, behaved correctly.

Dozens of leading Zionist rabbis called on the army to stop forcing religious soldiers to participate in courses with female instructors.

"It is difficult to find justification for the severe punishment of a three-week jail sentence," Rabbi Metzger wrote, "and on the face of it, it looks like a disproportionate punishment which has the direct purpose of striking terror into the hearts of those who believe in a stricter Torah worldview."

In a separate and more recent letter to the IDF Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister, dozens of leading Zionist rabbis called on the army to stop forcing religious soldiers to participate in courses with female instructors.

"It is a unique mitzvah (commandment) for the soldiers of Israel to maintain a holy camp and modest behavior.... In contrast, in recent years there has been a decline in the army, with more courses taught by female instructors and more mixed-gender units," the rabbis wrote. They explained that such a situation poses greater Halakhic difficulties in the context of the army than in civilian frameworks.

The letter was signed by leading religious-Zionist rabbis, among them: Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, Beit-El Chief Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, Rabbi Avraham Zuckerman, head of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva network, and many others.