Religious women in the IDF
Religious women in the IDFCourtesy Ohr Torah Stone

Amidst a growing number of young women from Israel’s religious communities choosing to pursue military service in the IDF, Ohr Torah Stone (OTS) has launched a new initiative, Maaminot Bemadim, to provide them with spiritual, halakhic and practical support during their service.

The program is a further realization of a vision first pioneered by OTS 25 years ago at its women's seminary, Midreshet Lindenbaum, to enable religious women's to enlist in the military as a group, without compromising their religious values.

Whereas the first class of young women who joined the army through this program numbered only 15, 406 young women are beginning their year of learning in one of OTS's pre-IDF seminaries this week, and 350 Midreshet Lindenbaum graduates are performing active military service.

According to forecasts, in the coming year about 3,200 religious young women are expected to enlist in the IDF, out of about 7,500 graduates of Israel's religious high schools. During their service, these religious women soldiers are often faced with challenges that arise from the gaps between the Torah world they come from and the reality of the military.

In light of this growing need that has arisen from the field, OTS has just launched the initiative "Maaminot Bemadim" ('Believers in Uniform"), a center providing free guidance and counseling to religious women either already serving or about to induct into the IDF on all spiritual, religious or practical matters.

"After 25 years of preparing and accompanying our students through their IDF service, Midreshet Lindenbaum have amassed a great deal of knowledge, experience and connections," explains Rabbanit Hila Naor, the new center's director. "Young women – graduates of our seminary and many others from the Religious Zionist and haredi sectors who enlisted alone - turn to us every day for halakhic advice and practical assistance with courses or spiritual challenges. We established this center with the aim of utilizing the knowledge we've amassed in order to provide a real and effective answer to all of them."

Maaminot Bemadim, which works in close cooperation with the IDF's Social Security Division and religious authorities, operates a 24/6 WhatsApp hotline through which halakhic authorities Rabbi Ohad Teharlev and Rabbi Shuki Reich provide spiritual-halakhic answers, advice and guidance,

In addition to serving as a resource for individual soldiers, the center will encompass a research program dedicated to the study of relevant issues pertaining to female religious service and host ongoing conferences, workshops and seminars dedicated to the interface between women, the Torah and the military.

Rabbi Teharlev, Director of Midreshet Lindenbaum's Israeli programs, explains, "Rarely does a day go by where I don’t get questions from our graduates and their families as they prepare for or serve in the army. These can range from very specific halakhic issues to broader guidance about what jobs a young woman should pursue that will allow her to protect her religious identity and practice without compromise."

The program stresses that the goal of the initiative is in no way intended to replace the Military Rabbinate which is responsible for the daily religious functioning of the IDF: "Our service provides a complementary level of support for these young women and their families to address all types of social and halakhic challenges that we know they will confront over the course of their service," Rabbi Teharlev explains.

Ohr Torah Stone’s President and Rosh Hayeshiva Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander added, "Since we established our program enabling religious women to pursue both Torah study and military service 25 years ago, OTS has continued to pioneer the effort to integrate them into meaningful service in the IDF while strengthening their spiritual and Torah worlds. As part of that vision, we have made it our goal to provide support and guidance to every young woman soldier who needs it. This center was established to enable the optimal combination between religious women's contribution to the security of the State while maintaining their faith and religious way of life."

Israel's Chief Rabbinate is against women serving in the IDF for halakhic reasons stemming from the prohiibition of having women subject to absolute authority when outside their family circle, this even when the rabbis were Religious Zionists. National Service was created so that young women have an option to volunteer and avoid religious challenges, especially in terms of modesty, instead of joiining the army.