The incident that arguably started the latest round of “religious-bashing” in the secular media – the walkout by religious IDF soldiers during a singing performance by a lone female soldier – will not be repeating itself. Speaking on Army Radio Tuesday morning, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said that he had worked out arrangements to ensure that female soldiers could freely perform at any IDF function anywhere – but that male soldiers who feel that attending such performances violates their religious sensibilities would not be required to participate.
The statement upends weeks of sharp criticism by leftists and liberals over the incident that occurred several months ago, in which several religious soldiers left the room during a performance in which a female soldier performed at an IDF event. The halakhic (Jewish legal) principle of modesty and the precautions prescribed by Judaism to preserve the purity of relations between the sexes forbid men from hearing women other than their wives sing.
Although there are interpretations of this law that allow for exceptions in the case of recorded music, several voices singing together, and voices heard over microphones, not everyone accepts the lenient interpretations. Regardless, the heads of the Hesder yeshivot that most of the soldiers in question attended accept the more strict view, and have been attempting to work out an arrangement where soldiers who prefer not to view such performances can be exempted from them.
Now it appears that their efforts, as well as efforts by others, have paid off. Speaking Tuesday, Gantz said that female soldiers had a full right to sing and perform at any IDF event, and would do so. “IDF policy is in the hands of the IDF and its officers. For soldiers, the only authorities in the army are their commanders,” and the authority of the army trumped any other authority – including religious authority.
However, Gantz said, the army was willing to take into account religious commitment. “Soldiers are required to attend formal IDF events, especially technical ones that are connected to their service. With that, soldiers are not required to attend events which are celebratory or ceremonial,” which would include events with singing performances. The army “is not looking to fight with anyone, we seek to find a way to allow all to serve,” Gantz said.
Religious IDF veterans said that Gantz was actually just reiterating a policy that had existed in the IDF for years. Over the years, the veterans said, IDF commanders had never forced religious soldiers to remain for female performances, and indeed did whatever they could to make the lives of religious soldiers easier and more tolerable. "The statement by Gantz will at least prevent a hothead commander or politician who is seeking headlines to use this issue as a way to enhance their status," said one veteran.