Rabbi Rafi Peretz
Rabbi Rafi PeretzDavid Weil

Speaking at a conference organized by the Israel Democracy Institute, Minister for Jerusalem Affairs & Heritage, Rabbi Rafi Peretz of the Jewish Home party, discussed the integration of Religious Zionist youths and girls into the IDF, and some of the serious issues it raises.

“We have certain boundaries that we will not cross,” he said. “Our youth are not going to enter mixed units, bearing stretchers and serving night duty at outposts together with females.

“In addition, we will not allow the value of equality between the genders to trump the importance of actually winning wars,” Rabbi Peretz stressed.

Referring to the ongoing dispute regarding burial of non-Jewish IDF soldiers in Jewish cemeteries, Rabbi Peretz said that, “Although non-Jewish soldiers undoubtedly have their place within the IDF, they do not have a place in a Jewish military cemetery. Nonetheless, we value tremendously the contribution they make to the army.”

Rabbi Peretz also addressed the recent appeal to the Supreme Court submitted by a number of females who are demanding admittance to elite IDF units. “There’s no question that standards will have to be lowered in these units if females are admitted. That’s what’s happened in every other unit that admitted females. Most women are simply not capable of carrying 50-kilogram loads on their backs,” he pointed out. “Maybe the occasional woman does have the strength to do so, but for each one who does, ten others don’t. And if adjustments aren’t made, many of them will suffer injury, sometimes severe injuries that will accompany them for the rest of their lives. Someone will have to take responsibility for that – and for the fact that the IDF’s fighting capacity will be reduced due to the increase in the number of mixed combat units.”

He emphasized that, “I’m not referring to the general principle of incorporating women into the IDF. Female soldiers perform on a very high standard in many areas of the army. For instance, one of my daughters-in-law was in the observer corps. When I went to visit her on one occasion, she wouldn’t even look up to greet me because she refused to remove her gaze from the radar screen even for a moment. That’s one job that women do better than men,” he asserted.

Rabbi Peretz noted that the principal challenge posed to Religious Zionist youth in the army is precisely that – of the integration of women into the army and the problems that arise from this. He claimed that the army can be “very flexible in understanding the needs of Religious Zionist soldiers. We worked on ways to integrate them successfully, consulting with our rabbis all the way, ensuring that we achieved the right balance between equality and responsibility. But first and foremost, we have to make one fact clear: Integration of women into the army is a very complicated matter, and so far, it has not been adequately addressed. We have not been able to sign on the Joint Service Ordinance relating to mixed units, even though I participated in drafting it. I do not believe that an officer should be compelled to join a mixed unit. Bearing a stretcher together is another matter. I believe that a religious officer must be given the option to decline serving in a mixed unit, and that the army should respect his beliefs. All the same, I have found the attitude of the army to be more sympathetic to these concerns than in the past,” he added.

Also speaking at the conference, Brigadier Gen. (Res.) Sharon Nir, formerly an adviser to the IDF Chief of Staff on gender issues, said, “Over the last decade, there has been a welcome increase in the number of religious soldiers in combat units. What we now have to ensure is that the increased presence of Religious Zionist youth in the IDF does not lead to attempts on their part to change the nature of the army in its attitude to various important issues.”