"Exclusion of Journalists" at Hareidi IDF Event

Media barred from entering an event honoring the Shachar program for hareidi-religious soldiers. We interviewed the soldiers' wives instead.

Elad Benari & Yoni Kempinski ,

Shachar conference
Shachar conference
Israel news photo: Yoni Kempinski

The issue of exclusion of women is a hot topic nowadays, especially in the IDF, but several journalists were victims of “journalists’ exclusion” on Tuesday.

The exclusion occurred during an event in Tel Aviv honoring the Shachar project for enlistment of hareidi-religious men to the IDF. The event was attended by the hundreds of soldiers who are serving in the IDF as part of the Shachar program, and it took place just several hours after the Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Air Force, Rabbi Moshe Ravad, announced that he would be resigning from the program due to the integration of women in it.

Journalists who had been invited by the IDF to cover the event, which has always been open for media coverage, received a message hours before it began that it would be closed to the media for reasons that would not be disclosed. Journalists who arrived at the event were told by one IDF officer that the IDF does not need to explain why an event is closed to the media.

Some speculated that the reason for the IDF’s change of heart was that, since the event involved a hareidi-religious group of soldiers, there was separate meeting for men and women and the military did not want this documented while the issue of women’s exclusion is still alive and kicking. A day before the event took place,Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Ganz 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.

Instead of filming the event, Arutz Sheva chose to speak with the wives of the Shachar soldiers, who were asked to give their impression of the program and the effect it is having on their husbands. Some representatives of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office were unhappy with this and asked the wives not to give interviews, despite the fact that they are not bound to any IDF rules prohibiting them from being interviewed by the media.

Orpaz Hacham, whose husband serves in the IDF as part of the Shachar program, said the program gives hareidi soldiers “a profession for life. They came from yeshivas without a profession, and this helps them combine Torah with work.”

Another wife, Sivan Lugassi, also had much praise for the program and she said, “I think this is good for the community. First of all, because they’re in a hareidi framework. They’re able to advance, to integrate into the more open world from a modern point of view.”

She added, “People who want to do something in addition to praying and studying Torah and want to advance in professions, can find their place there. But again, it depends. I don’t think the program is suitable for everyone.”

The event was attended by Rabbi Yitzchak David Grossman, Chief Rabbi of Migdal HaEmek, who called on everyone to focus on the many positive sides of the hareidi world rather than the few negative ones.

“There is a huge population in the hareidi world that identifies with the State, works, and volunteers,” Rabbi Grossman told Arutz Sheva. “There are so many hareidim who serve in the IDF and there are so many hareidim who perform civil service. It’s too bad that this isn’t emphasized. They always emphasize the problematic people, those who make trouble. That’s who’s emphasized. Because one crazy guy over there spits and does I don’t know what, they make it into an issue involving all the hareidim. It’s terrible. They should see the beauty of the hareidim."

Harpaz, meanwhile, asked that the army respect her husband and other soldiers who are not allowed to hear women’s singing, but still very much want to serve their country.

“It’s not custom among the hareidim to hear a woman’s voice, and they let hareidim enter the army and they know they are not allowed to listen to a woman singing,” she said, “so they shouldn’t make them do it.”