Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivai
Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivai IDF Spokesperson's Office

IDF Manpower head General Orna Barbivai said the IDF faces a phenomenon of potential female soldiers escaping the draft by falsely claiming to be religious.

“The crack in the existing law serves as an entrance to young women who are not supposed to be there, due to the unbearable ease with which she can claim to be religious,” Barbivai told her audience at the Shaarei Mishpat law school.

Barbivai claimed that for each young woman who falsely claims to be religiously observant in order to escape service, there is another who actually is religiously observant but chooses to serve despite the difficulties.

The tone of Barbivai's remarks ran counter to her office's positive presentation of trends in religious female enlistment in recent years.

Late last year, the IDF Manpower Division projected a sharp increase in the number of religious girls who opt for full army service in the coming year.

During the draft period between April 2010 and April 2011, some 1,200 18-year-old young women who classified themselves as observant entered the ranks of the IDF.

Army officials expect that number to grow by about 25% this year, with some 1,500 girls signing up for service by the time the current draft period ends in April 2012.

At present, are currently some 2,000 religious female soldiers, serving in a variety of roles. At least one is in line to be promoted to the rank of brigadier-general

Nonetheless, religious Jewish women are exempt from IDF service under a decades-old agreement between the state and the first Israeli Chief Rabbinate. Orthodox rabbis maintain young women, whether observant or non-observant, should not serve in the IDF as the military framework places them under the jurisdiction of male officers other than their male relatives in opposition to halakhah.

Critics of Barbivai's push to make it more difficult for religious Jewish women to opt out of IDF service, despite rising enlistment rates, say she is ignoring the opposite downward enlistment trend among secular Jewish women - which is in decline.

In addition, religious Jewish women who opt out of IDF service due to the Rabbinic ruling and the religious challenges it creates, actively participate in Israel's national service program in overwhelming numbers and often are more needed there than they would be in the IDF.