IDF pool
IDF poolIsrael news photo (BaMachaneh)

The IDF will soon decide if it wants all military swimming pools to set separate bathing hours for men and women. The matter came up for discussion in a top decision-making body after Col. Yaron Boim, Commander of the IDF’s School for Platoon Commanders and Infantry Professions, asked the Chief Military Rabbi, Brig.-Gen Avichai Ronsky, for his opinion on separating men and women in the base’s swimming pool.

Col. Boim is not waiting for the high-level decision, however, and has already instituted separate hours for men and women in the base’s swimming pool.

“It is unacceptable that a commander will swim in the pool together with a female subordinate in skimpy clothing,” a source in the Military Rabbinate told IDF magazine BaMachaneh this week.

The IDF does not have a clear policy on this issue at present. Rabbi Ronsky has been trying to effect such a policy, and recently sent a letter on the matter to the Head of Human Resources Section, Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir, in which he set forth his views on the subject.

The high-level meeting scheduled for this week will bring together representatives from each of the IDF commands, as well as from the Chief Adjutancy Officer’s Headquarters and the Military Rabbinate. This forum is charged with creating the ground rules for what is known as “Proper Integration” -- the IDF’s policy on matters of modesty, which seeks a balance between consideration towards religious soldiers’ sensibilities and accomodating the preferences of non-religious soldiers.    

The meeting will determine the IDF’s policy on mixed swimming in pools.

What will the mixed units do?

BaMachaneh notes that separate hours for men and women could make it hard to schedule physical fitness training in the pools, especially for mixed-sex units like Caracal. These units, most of which were created in the past 10-15 years in accordance with feminist ideals of equality, place men and women side by side in combat roles.

A decision to separate the sexes could also have implications for “bonding” activities that take place on the pool grounds. Indeed, the School for Platoon Commanders and Infantry Professions has already cancelled or rearranged activities that were scheduled to take place at poolside, because of the new policy.

A female officer who serves at the base said that her company decided to forgo the poolside bonding altogether and opt for exercise bicycle 'spinning' instead. “The idea of splitting us into two groups and ‘bonding’ us in this way was clearly unreasonable,” she said.

Other IDF rest and recreation activities, like visits to water parks, may also be affected.

The Israel Air Force may set a policy of its own regarding separation of the sexes, because the pools at the IAF bases also serve as recreational facilities for the air crew members' families, which live on the bases.