IDF soldiers march with flag 300.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Dan Bronfeld)
Is the IDF being taken over by radical religious extremists? Like most things in
the military, it depends whom you ask.
On Monday, Haaretz reported that
19 former IDF major-generals have sent a letter to Defense Minister Ehud Barak
warning against giving in to religious demands to prevent the mixing of men and
women in the army.
Rabbis differ over women singing in army
“We believe that it is the military’s obligation to
protect the rights of all people who serve in its ranks, and that joint service
by women and men... is a cornerstone of its character as the people’s army,” the
Publication of the letter comes against the backdrop of a
broader debate within Israel regarding the role religion should play in the
Traditionally, the rights of religious soldiers were looked
after in a secular-dominated army, but in recent years, the ranks – particularly
in combat brigades – are being filled by national-religious soldiers, leading to
growing tension in some units where women also serve.
In recent months,
the IDF has had to grapple with a number of cases when religious soldiers walked
out of military ceremonies
since female soldiers were singing.
cases, soldiers refused to participate in training with female instructors, and
two female soldiers were transferred after the Artillery Corps assigned a group
of religious soldiers to their unit.
The growing media focus on the story
has forced Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to order the Manpower
Directorate to conduct a thorough review of the integration of women in the
“This is an issue that needs clarification, and until Gantz sets new
guidelines the situation will likely get worse,” one officer
The prominence of Orthodox officers in the army has been
growing in recent years. In the Golani Brigade, for example, the brigade
commander, a colonel, is religious, and out of the seven lieutenant-colonels,
all but one are religious.
In the Paratroop Brigade, the situation is
vastly different. There, the brigade commander and all but one of the
lieutenant-colonels are secular, although all of the deputy battalion commanders
– who can be called “battalion commanders to be” – are mostly
Nevertheless, brigade commanders in the IDF are generally
dismissive of the claims that the army is undergoing religious
Two brigade commanders, in conversations with The
, said that they believed the phenomenon was marginal and was not
indicative of the general religious population in the IDF.
to be isolated cases,” one brigade commander said last week. “People have to be
smart, and that includes rabbis who are educating these soldiers, and commanders
who are in charge of them. We have to know what we can do and what we can’t
Another brigade commander said that he did not look under the
helmets of his subordinates when considering them for promotions and
“Soldiers need to be judged according to the way they fight
and how they are as leaders,” the brigade commander said.
relationship between Orthodox and female soldiers will continue to be examined,
the IDF is looking to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox soldiers it
recruits. There are currently about 2,000 ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the army,
in the Netzah Yehuda Battalion – also known as Nahal Haredi – and in technical
positions in the air force, the C4I (command, control, communications,
computers, and (military) intelligence) Directorate and Military
That number is expected to grow over the coming year, with
plans by Military Intelligence, for example, to reach 1,000 ultra- Orthodox
recruits as programmers and computer specialists. The funding for the enlistment
of ultra-Orthodox soldiers is provided by the Treasury and is independent of the