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Four members of an exclusive IDF cadets' course have been expelled from the course because they refused to be part of an audience where a group of women were singing. That the cadets were observing a principle of Jewish law and that the IDF has displayed understanding on the sensitivity of the subject in the past makes the incident all the more shocking, says Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Or Etzion Yeshiva and Director of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot in Israel.

“The whole thing is unbelievable, expelling top members of the course because they did not want to hear a woman singing,” says Rabbi Druckman. “The event in question was not a ceremony for Independence Day or Holocaust Day, where it could be argued that a musical component would be in place. The event was a discussion on the lessons learned from Operating Cast Lead (the 2008 IDF operation in Gaza). What place does singing – by a man or woman – have in such an event?”

The four cadets were members of a group of nine that left the event on Monday night when a group of female singers got up to sing. According to Jewish law, men are not supposed to be present at live singing performances by individual women, in order not to dwell on sexual thoughts. While not widely observed in the secular world or even among many modern Orthodox Jews, many yeshiva students and Orthodox Israelis observe this principle as part of their efforts to achieve a higher level of closeness with G-d and the Torah; the nine cadets that left the room are graduates of post-high school institutions of rabbinic Jewish study, and take issues of Jewish law very seriously.

When they left the room, the commander of their unit went out of the room as well and demanded that they return to the performance. The cadets said that they were acting out of religious principles and that the practice was common, but the commander refused to accept their arguments, and continued to demand that they return to the performance – and if they continued to refuse, he charged, they would be brought up on charges. Meanwhile, the performance ended, and the soldiers returned to their seats.

On Tuesday, the matter was discussed by top IDF commanders and members of the IDF Chief Rabbinate, and it was decided that the cadets would be given an opportunity to apologize for leaving the performance. Five of the cadets took the deal, but the other four refused, saying they had nothing to apologize for – and on Wednesday, they were booted out of the course. Two of the cadets are members of the Nachal Hareidi unit, and one is the son of a prominent hareidi religious rabbi.

Rabbi Druckman said that, Jewish law aside, the idea of throwing a soldier out of a course for refusing to listen to music was ridiculous. “There are no orders in the army to listen to music, what if the soldier doesn't like music? You can be a great commander without liking music.” He added that the unit commander who pursued the matter was “someone with a silly opinion. I would not rely on his judgment as a commander. They asked to be excused from the event and were refused. I am waiting for someone to explain to me what connection music has to Operation Cast Lead.”