Last week’s statement by the Chief Rabbinate categorically forbidding any form of IDF service for religious girls was both perplexing and saddening.
Religious girls are among our nation’s highest-quality teenagers, both from the educational and motivational point of view. During the past generation young religious women in the ranks of the IDF have made outstanding contributions to strengthening Israel’s security and national fabric, not only in essential operational fields in the army, navy and air force, medical intelligence, the Home Front Command, combat support, personnel management and public affairs education, but also in education, integration of immigrants, humanitarian operations and reducing the social gap in development towns.
They have been welcomed into the IDF by commanders and fellow soldiers, and served as a bridge to combating prejudice and promoting better understanding.
It is entirely possible to perform military service and be part of the mainstream and also observe religious commandments, and I am proud of my daughters, who were able to make important contributions to their country – in uniform. They then went on to university and professional life, and to raise warm, religious families in which observance of Torah commandments is an essential part of their lives, as is contributing to Israeli society.
Preventing young religious women from serving in the IDF and thus depriving them of the privilege of making a meaningful contribution to Israeli security and society would be cutting religious girls off from the mainstream of Israeli society. It would be isolating them in cocoon apart from other sectors of Israeli society and relegating them to certain gender- based roles.
Preventing these young women from serving in the IDF would also be preventing them from serving as examples to other girls and showing them the true face religious Judaism. Moreover, young women who perform military service will see sectors of Israeli society which they might not otherwise encounter. Such knowledge and understanding gained from their personal experience is important for them, so that they will be able to play a more productive role in and improve Israeli society.
Without denigrating the importance of national service, many religious girls perform one year of national service and not the two or more years that women serve in the IDF.
I also do not understand the wording of the Chief Rabbinate’s statement. Does forbidding religious girls from serving in the IDF mean that there are two different rules of conduct for women? That for secular women such service is acceptable, but for religious women it is not? The fact that there has been a growing number of girls who are entering military service shows that there is a bottom-up demand on the part of so many young religious women to be part of this nation-building enterprise. This should cause religious leadership to rethink the role of Orthodoxy in a modern Israeli society.
Otherwise they will be creating a polarized, sectorized country when in fact, our nation more than ever before needs the integration of all its talents.
The writer immigrated to Israel from the US and is a retired career senior officer in the IDF Spokesman’s Unit.
He is currently a lecturer in the School of Media Studies at the College of Management Academic Studies. An Orthodox Jew, he continues to serve proudly in the reserves and is, above all, proud of his two daughters who served in the IDF.