A Nahal Hareidi soldier
A Nahal Hareidi soldierCourtesy of Nahal Hareidi

Hareidi-religious soldiers who serve in the Israeli Navy complained on Wednesday that, contrary to instructions and promises by the IDF that they will have a military service in which no there will be no involvement of female soldiers, they were forced to attend a lecture given by a female soldier. 

The IDF wants hareidi soldiers to serve and has promised to have all non-combat rules conform with their lifestyle to encourage their enlistment, which is often met with resistance in the hareidi community for fear of its negatively affecting their religious level. The insistence on male lecturers is a basic tenet for their service as hareidi schools for boys and, in fact, most religious Zionist high schools, have no female teachers.

The lecture dealt with none other than Tu B’Shvat and its importance as a holiday.

The soldiers said they came to the classroom where the lesson was given by the female soldier, whom they jokingly referred to as “the Rebbetzin” (wife of a rabbi, -ed.). The soldiers chose to respect the orders they were given and remain in the room until the end of the lesson. They later met with senior officials in the Nahal Hareidi and talked with them about the incident, which they said is contrary to the IDF’s promises to hareidi soldiers. According to the agreed upon guidelines, hareidi-religious soldiers are supposed to be exempt from such classes or have male instructors.

Eliyahu Lax, Chairman of the Organization for the Religious Soldiers, told Arutz Sheva that this is not the first time such incidents have occured. He noted that in addition, the daily Daf Yomi Talmud lesson that hareidi soldiers were receiving was recently cancelled and they are now eligible for only one hour of Torah study a week.

“This is disrespect for the orders, and yet the IDF says it wants hareidi soldiers,” Lax said, who noted that the organization recently turned to the State Comptroller and asked him to work to enforce the orders regarding the integration of hareidi soldiers in the army. “Despite our turning to the Comptroller, the IDF continues to disregard the orders and agreements.”

Last month, hareidi-religious IDF soldiers in the hareidi Shachar Kachol unit stationed at Tel Nof Air Force Base were made to sit in a lesson with female soldiers from one of the base's units.

The soldiers later told Arutz Sheva that when they realized they were about to attend a lesson alongside women, they complained to their commanders. In response, they said that one of the base commanders said: "From now on, this is the procedure." He added: "We will not have exclusion of women here from now on."

The soldiers said they were also instructed to clean women's restrooms as part of their routine participation in cleaning and maintaining the base. This, too, is a violation of the terms of service that stipulate that they will remain within their training area and not enter women's quarters.

Recently, Lt. Col. Rav Moshe Ravad, the Israel Air Force's Chief Rabbi, asked to be relieved of his post. He will remain in the IDF until his retirement, which is a few months away, but will not be in a command role.

Lt. Col. Ravad expressed his "loss of faith in the system" after what he saw as recent attempts to demean hareidi-religious soldiers and other religious soldiers. He previously announced that he would be resigning from the Shachar Kachol program for enlistment of hareidi-religious men to the IDF.

The IDF Spokesman responded laconically to Wednesday’s incident, not addressing the Army's infringement of the rules, but saying, “An educational program about Tu B’Shvat and its origins, as well as a tree planting ceremony, took place in Navy bases today. We are unaware of any requests by soldiers asking not to participate in this event.”