Rabbi Yigal Levinstein
Rabbi Yigal LevinsteinLIBA center

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, one of the heads of the Bnei David mechina (pre-army) yeshiva in Eli, on Monday clarified his comments on the issue of religious soldiers serving in mixed gender units and religious young women's conscription to the IDF.

In a letter to students and graduates of the academy, Rabbi Levinstein stressed that some of his comments were “taken out of context,” but also acknowledged that the tone of the remarks was “inappropriate”.

“I apologized for the style, meaning the denigration of the female soldiers. For me, the woman is the best start-up created by the Creator of the World. This is the greatest gift that the Creator has brought to the world. Taking my words to a place where I disparage or despise women is the exact opposite of my worldview,” he clarified.

“Even if I think they are wrong and that what they do to them is terrible, and I think we should shout out and cry about it, at any rate it is wrong to underestimate them, and that is where I was wrong,” he added.

“There has been no change in my worldview and the worldview of the mechina. Our vision is clear: Rabbi Sadan and I have been educating together for 30 years and we will continue to educate for integration and partnership in Israeli society and in the IDF, out of great love for the entire nation and its state,” concluded Rabbi Levinstein.

Rabbi Levinstein’s comments were met with outrage, and last week the director-general of the Defense Ministry, General Udi Adam, sent a letter to the heads of the mechina in Eli, ordering them to attend a hearing.

The letter stated that Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intends to remove the Eli mechina from the list of recognized hesder yeshivot (which have a five-year program in which they legally defer army service for two years for religious studies) unless Rabbi Levinstein's employment as a teacher and educator there is terminated. Only 15 of the students in Eli are hesder students whose army service is shortened, while the rest are mechina students where full three-year army service is only deferred for a year.

The letter on Monday marks the second time that Rabbi Levinstein has clarified his remarks.

In an interview earlier this month on Channel 2 News, Rabbi Levinstein apologized for the derogatory tone he used regarding religious female soldiers but stressed that he was not changing his viewpoint.

He explained that "the IDF has made huge campaigns to conscript religious girls and the campaigns stem from a broader feminist desire to draw girls into these processes."

Rabbi Levinstein further stressed that "the way in which I phrased my words insulted a number of the most special people whom I love, respect and admire. I have a deep ideological argument with these people but I apologize if they were insulted by the tone of the words."