Hareidi soldiers celebrate Tu B'Av
Hareidi soldiers celebrate Tu B'AvArutz Sheva photo: IDF Spokesperson

The Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, Rabbi Moshe Ravad, announced on Tuesday that he would be resigning from the Shachar program for enlistment of hareidi-religious men to the IDF, which he has accompanied since its inception.

In a letter he sent to IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and to the soldiers in the program, Rabbi Ravad said the reason for his decision to leave the project is the integration of women in it.

Soldiers who received the letter said that Rabbi Ravad made a series of arguments against those who are trying to achieve the cancellation of the Shachar program by integrating women instructors into it despite it being supposed to be an all-male project.

“When the Shachar project was established I was a full partner in writing its operating rules,” Rabbi Ravad wrote in the letter. “What guided me in doing so was to allow hareidim who came into the army to continue to maintain their hareidi-religious lifestyle. In recent months it was decided to open the rules for review and reconsideration. I was a part of these discussions and insisted that what had been agreed on should be kept. In the latest draft of the new rules, however, I saw that clauses that were designed to preserve the piety of the soldiers had been omitted, and saw that a section that permits activity that might harm piety was added.”

He added, “True, these things are not yet finalized and I was assured they would be discussed again, but under the current situation I do not see myself as part of the program as a rabbi and consultant.”

“I hope that those responsible will make decisions that will shape the program so that it allows a hareidi person to join Shachar,” concluded Rabbi Ravad.

The Shachar program is a joint initiative of the IDF and JDC-Israel. It offers technological training and service in the Air Force and Technology Branch.

The program saw a sharp rise in popularity in the three years since it began: from 40 hareidi conscripts in 2007, to 200 the next year, to 400 in 2009.

Rabbi Ravad’s resignation from the Shachar program comes one day after IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ruled that no soldier will be allowed to absent himself from official military ceremonies, even if it conflicts with his religious observance.

Religiously observant soldiers were told they will be required to attend official ceremonies even if a performance by a female singer or dancer is included. This despite the fact that hearing women singing is clearly forbidden halakhically, although some rabbis allow listening to recorded or choral music and music heard through a microphone when performed  by women. Soldiers will be allowed to ask their commanders for an exemption from performances taking place within a private unit ceremony or entertainment event.