Tzahali, the first pre-military Torah institute for women, will open this summer at Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, a religious kibbutz spokesperson said on Monday. The first class of high school graduates, expected to number between 20 and 30, will receive one-year preparatory courses and "spiritual strengthening" before enlisting in regular IDF service. The first introductory meeting of the new class will take place on Wednesday. Similar institutes for national religious men have existed for a number of years. Michal Nagen, a resident of Otniel and a former IDF education officer, will head the institute. Nagen, who currently teaches at the liberal religious high school Pelech and works as a birthing coach, said there is a real need for a program like Tzahali. "I am personally acquainted with the problems faced by religious women who join the IDF without any prior preparation," said Nagen. Tzahali has been criticized by religious Zionist educators and rabbis for encouraging girls to enlist in the IDF. Many religious Zionist rabbis forbid army service for women. The prohibition is based on the principle that a young, unmarried woman should be under the complete control of her parents. During army service religious girls come under the control and responsibility of the IDF. But Nagen said the danger that Tzahali would encourage females to enlist was less pressing than the danger that more and more religious girls are enlisting without any preparation. Last year, 35 percent of all female graduates of religious Zionist high schools enlisted in the IDF, an army spokesperson said. "I've been all over the country promoting Tzahali and I've met dozens of girls who rebel against their parents and their schools and join the IDF instead of doing National Service. I cannot stand by idly and allow them to enlist without helping them prepare themselves both spiritually and psychologically." The army said that, "In recent years there has been a rise in the number of religious girls that enlist in IDF. They serve full, meaningful army service and are an integral and important part of [the IDF]. "The IDF offers army service options [such as the premilitary academies] for young religious women who decide to enlist. "The IDF wishes well those girls who wish to join the premilitary academies and afterwards to do full service in the IDF."

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