Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, one of the heads of the mechina (pre-IDF preparatory) yeshiva In Eli, has been summoned to a hearing this week at the Defense Ministry, according to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. The hearing is in response to the rabbi's sharp words against women serving in the IDF and his vehement and vocal opposition to mixed gender combat units as mandated in the latest army directives..
Arutz Sheva Editor-in-Chief Uzi Baruch asked eminent Religious Zionist rabbi and prominent leader Rabbi Baruch Zalman Melamed, the founding dean of the Beit El Yeshiva, his views on the recent crises in the once-harmonious relationship between the Religious Zionist community and the Israel Defense Forces.
This is a difficult week for the yeshiva in Eli, isn't it?
Rabbi Melamed: I know Rabbbi Levinstein well. He is a respected and G-d fearing Torah scholar, an excellent.educator. The IDF owes him a great deal for preparing his students to be dedicated and courageous soldiers, for encouraging them to go on to be officers and for his outstanding success in sending such superb fighters to the army. There are only positive things to say about him.
Rabbi Eli Sadan, the dean of the yeshiva, has announced that he will not fire Rabbi Levinstein. It seems as though the Religious Zionists have decided to stand up for their rights, especially when the Defense Ministry threatens the outstanding yeshiva in Eli. What is your feeling on this?
Rabbi Melamed: There is no justification for any sanctions to be applied to the mechina in Eli, one of the best in Israel. That is quite clear. The only fitting thing to do is to praise that yeshiva for its incomparable accomplishments and for the Ministry to grant the institution more funding because of the excellent soldiers it has produced - and in that, all the credit goes to Rabbi Sadan and Rabbi Levinstein.
They tell us, Rabbi, that we religious are backward and primitive. We are in the 21st century, they say, get real, what reasons can we provide for not having women serving in combat units alongside men?
Rabbi Melamed: The way of life set out by the Jewish faith is the most progressive lifestyle there is. This ethical way of life has survived many attempts to overcome it with transient, inane and sometimes evil societal mores. It will survive the current attack of temporary insanity that has gripped the IDF, the attempts to blur differences between the sexes and eliminate adherence to moral values that have preserved the Jewish people for millennia and will continue to do so.
You said that serving in mixed gender units Is a greater sin than eating non-kosher foods. Is that true?
Absolutely. I am not going to go into halakhic details, that is reserved for my lectures to scholars in the Beit Midrash, but there is no doubt that serving in mixed gender combat units is a greater transgression than that of eating pork or other forbidden foods.
You meet with IDF rabbis, and you hear of new phenomena on IDF bases. Do you believe we are in the midst of a culture war? What do you hear from the rabbis?
Rabbi Melamed: There is no question that we are embroiled in a culture war that has infiltrated the IDF. For the last year and half, there is a negative feeling emanating from IDF upper echelons with regard to the IDF Rabbinate. It adversely affects the IDF rabbinate and does not allow it to function. Its role has been downsized. I have heard that the Chief IDF rabbi has had most of his power taken away and I regret that this is the case.
There are less kashrut inspectors than before and I have been told that there are units without any kashrut supervisors. That means a religious soldier in those units is not allowed to eat the food he is served. That is the situation described to me by reliable people who are involved in army life
And there is another crucial role the rabbinate had and that has been taken away from it. IDF rabbis also were tasked with teaching Jewish identity, Jewish consciousness. a feeling of Jewish continuity, all of which contributed a great deal to the spirit and ideology of the soldiers.guarding Israel and the Land of Israel. Not having the rabbinate in charge of this harms the fighting strength of our soldiers.
We have been told that there will be joint bathrooms in the IDF.
Rabbi Melamed: This is really a terrible thing, it harms the soldiers, goes against what they would want, their desire to keep a level of modesty while in active service. It is impossible to understand why the IDF would want to eliminate basic privacy between men and women and vulgarize every aspect of their lives.
Where did this evil idea come from ? What exactly does it add to the army? Who needs it? It is incomprehensible. Most IDF soldiers are traditional or religious and this is diametrically opposed to their lifestyles. How can the IDF dictate decisions on non-military issues that are against the wishes of its soldiers?
Do you think it's because the IDF is afraid that too many religious soldiers mean more religious officers and their eventually filling the ranks of higher positions in the IDF?
Rabbi Melamed: That could be. There may be people who feel that way in the upper echelons. but there are deeper reasons for what is happening. Over the past few years the educational programs in the IDF have been run by radical left organizations who were allowed to teach their philosophy and it has had a devastating effect on our forces, especially the higher ranks. It didn't just bring us the mixed gender units, it also affected our military success. The 2014 Gaza Protective Edge operation evidenced problems in defining goals and the comptroller showed that finding to us.
The IDF is the army of the Jewish people and it should stress our connection to the land, our homeland since Joshua conquered it. If the IDF's connection to Jewish history is gone, the inner spirit that leads it to victory is gone.