CEO of the Bnei Akiva Yeshivot and Ulpanot (YBA) Elhanan Glatt responded to criticism of his recent comments that the YBA schools do not encourage girls to enlist in the army, and he explained his comments in more detail.
Dozens of young women from the Bnei Akiva movement wrote to the director in protest of his comments. The young women, including some who have served as leaders and educators, wrote that their desire to enlist in the army came from a desire to use their skills and talents in service to their country in the best way possible. The letter also mentioned that enlisting in the army gives them an opportunity to meet Israelis from many different social sectors, which they view as beneficial, both to themselves and to secular Israelis who might be meeting religious people for the first time.
“The main goal for graduates of the Bnei Akiva high schools for both girls and boys,” explained Glatt, "is that, regardless of the path in life that they chose, they should act in a way that reflects Torah values and observance of the commandments for the sake of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel. In light of this, our graduates can be found in all walks of life in Israel today.”
“In general,” Glatt continued, “our schools encourage girls to serve in the Sherut Leumi National Service, which operates in diverse arenas of Israeli society, so they do meet Israelis from every social sector. We believe that Israel should offer this option of National Service for young women not just for the national religious sector but for all young Israeli women. There is definitely a need to improve and streamline the National Service option to be attractive and suitable for a wide spectrum of the population.”
“However, for the woman who chooses to enlist in the army, our educators and high school directors need to provide support and personal advice. We do not push away young women who choose to enlist in the army. On the contrary, with our understanding of the challenges and difficulties involved, we expend great effort to help them get through it in the best way possible. But with our vast experience, we believe it’s best not to encourage our women graduates to join the army.”
“The process taking place in recent times of opening additional possibilities for women to serve in combat roles only strengthens our stance and requires us to act more forcefully to explain our clear position against enlistment to the girls and their parents. Even when it comes from a genuine aspiration to contribute and take part in the bigger society, we also explain that there are other equally important ways to contribute to Israel.
“Our stance as educators should in no way be interpreted to mean that we put down or label as rebels the women graduates who choose to serve in the IDF. Even if you chose a that path we will do our best to listen, support, and help. Education does not end in the classroom, does not stop at the end of the twelfth grade. Many of our girls, both those serving in National Service and those serving in the IDF are in touch with our educators to share their experiences, to consult with us, and sometimes to unload emotional baggage. From what we hear and from our experience we choose to encourage National Service, but our mission compels us to continue supporting the girls even if they chose otherwise.
“When I read the letter from the girls, I wrote to them, explaining from the outset that we consider them to be part of us, and I wanted to meet them as soon as possible to learn from them directly about their feelings and the difficulties they face.”
Glatt’s statement concluded, “I emphasized that those who enlist in the army will continue to find a sympathetic ear and support from the high school staff. Education is our mission, and our wish for ourselves is to provide the right foundations for all our graduates.”