When I received the phone call, I couldn’t have imagined what was about to
On the line was a cadet in the IDF Officers’ Academy who told me
he was facing disciplinary action for leaving an evening activity that included
women singing. He and a number of other religious cadets had requested
permission not to attend portions of the activity that offended their religious
sensibilities, but the commanding officer refused to grant
The cadets disobeyed the order, left the hall when the female
soldiers began singing and were now facing dismissal from the course and
possible court martial.
I was amazed. I served in the IDF for 40 years,
both as a regular soldier and in the reserves. I’d never heard of a case like
This event was neither a military activity nor an
It was simply an evening of entertainment. What possible reason
could there be to require religious soldiers to violate their understanding of
(Jewish law)? Where was the commander’s common sense? Former chief of
staff Lt. Gen.(res.) Dan Halutz once told me that a soldier’s
disobedience is his commander’s problem. In this case, his words were most
I told the cadet that I thought he and his friends were wrong
in to have left the hall. Listening to women sing is not like desecrating
There are practical ways to deal with such
However, I also told the commanding officer that by forcing the
cadets to stay in the hall, he had made a serious mistake.
should have stopped there and then. It should have been a strictly internal
issue, but it did not end there. To my great astonishment, the media continues
to discuss the subject of women in the IDF, as if female soldiers are allowed to
serve coffee to their male superiors and little more.
Almost every day we
hear that extremism is on the rise and that exclusion of women is no less than
an existential threat to the State of Israel. In the Orthodox world, too,
religious Zionists reminisce fondly about the “good old days” when boys and
girls in the Bnei Akiva youth movement used to dance and sing together – as
though the explicit law in the Shulhan Aruch forbidding men to listen to a woman
singing did not exist.
When the leaders of this well-organized incitement
campaign realized that the headlines on religious extremism had run their
course, they raised the issue of exclusion of women in the IDF. All of this
stemmed from one unfortunate incident in the Officers’ Academy.
of women? In the IDF? Not the one I served in.
Has anyone ever stopped
our military bands or entertainment troupes from appearing? No. Has anyone ever
suggested that women be excluded from these units? No. The only thing that did
occur was that some religious soldiers requested that they not be forced to
attend such evenings (in keeping with the military regulations pertaining to
But the truth be damned. It seems that the media’s
priority is to be hostile to, and to create hostility towards, the national
I am deeply distressed over what is now happening
among certain strata of our society. The so-called “elite” – primarily
non-religious Ashkenazim living in the Center of the country in what is known as
Medinat Tel Aviv (the State of Tel Aviv) – feel their position in the State of
Israel is threatened by the national religious community.
especially threatened by the young people who are gradually taking their places
as military commanders and as leaders in economics, politics and
When a few dozen young people commit serious crimes against the IDF,
these “elite” demonize the whole national religious camp and call on the
community to engage in self-examination.
There are no similar calls for
left-wing soul-searching in light of the weekly attacks on soldiers in Bil’in and
Ni’lin, attacks led by leftist anarchists.
Clearly, if these issues of
“religious extremism,” “exclusion of women” and “right-wing violence” were to be
dropped from the national agenda, they would be replaced by new issues
criticizing the national religious public and portraying them as fanatical,
impractical and certainly not relevant to public discourse.
should be done in the face of these repeated attacks on us, the religious
community? First, we must understand that these attacks are the death throes of
a small but extremely militant community, a community that has a strong grip on
academia and the media. In facing its demise, it kicks out in all
Moreover, we must continue our activities in all areas of
public life. We must not panic when hearing the cries of despair from those
groups mentioned above.
We must not forget that the majority of Jews are
still strongly, spiritually connected to rebuilding Eretz Yisrael, even if they
are not actively engaged in doing so. We must find ways to bring them closer to
faith and to the Jewish People’s great mission on earth. As the late chief Rabbi
Abraham Isaac Kook said, this generation will progress to the final redemption
in four stages: respect, affinity, recognition and fulfillment.
that respect for our way of life and affinity for it will soon bring the desire
to recognize it, and that the light and beauty of the Torah way of life will
thus lead to the fulfillment, the mitzvot.
The writer is head of the
yeshiva in Itamar and the former IDF chief rabbi.