Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Some 1,800 people, including hesder yeshiva students, have signed a letter of support for Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu after he called for IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot to be fired for his stance on mixed-gender service in the army.
Eliyahu spoke last week in defense of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, another conservative National Religious leader, who ruled that religious men should not enlist in the army at present because, he claimed, it cannot be guaranteed that they will not have to serve in a unit with women.
“If he [Aviner] has reached this situation where he said what he did, then apparently Eisenkot needs to wake up, and the prime minister needs to tell him to go home,” Eliyahu told Army Radio.
In the letter of support published on Wednesday, the 1,806 signatories said they wished to “give support to the rabbi against the attacks on him from the press and different politicians,” saying that these elements were trying to dictate what a rabbi may or may not say.
“We, the sons and daughters of religious Zionism, including Hesder yeshiva students [who combine yeshiva study with military service], vigorously protest the injury to the honor of the rabbi,” they wrote.
The signatories said Eliyahu “bears good will to every Jew as he is” and is devoted to Jewish law. “Anyone who tries to paint [Eliyahu] as a benighted person, God forbid, is mistaken and is deceiving others due to their total lack of acquaintance with the rabbi.”
They said the IDF was important to them, and see it as “a central part of the redemption of the Jewish people and the return to the Land of Israel.” But, they added, “Jewish law, the spirit of the Torah, and spirituality are no less important to us – and even more so,” and therefore thanked Eliyahu and other rabbis for fighting for their ability “to serve the Jewish people without injuring the principles that are important to us.”
The Jerusalem Post
was unable to independently verify the number of signatories to the letter.
Despite Eliyahu and Aviner’s claims, the new IDF joint-service protocol states explicitly that mixed-gender combat units must have tracks for gender-separate training and service at the company level for enlisted religious soldiers who do not want to serve in the mixed-gender track.
Likewise, any officer or noncommissioned officer who is placed in a mixed-gender combat unit has the right to appeal this decision to the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, whose decision should be based on the opinion of the IDF chief rabbi “and consideration for the faith of the officer or NCO.”
Later on Wednesday, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen.
Ronen Manelis described Eliyahu’s comments about Eisenkot as “unnecessary,” and called on the Safed chief rabbi, as a public servant with heavy influence, to behave responsibly.
Manelis also rejected arguments that a recently recorded decrease in motivation to enlist in combat units in the IDF had resulted from the new joint service protocol.
“In the places where we have mixed-gender service, it isn’t only that there is no problem with motivation [to enlist] but rather that there is too much motivation,” Manelis said on Radio 103FM, implying that those units receive too many applications.
“The units where there is a challenge regarding motivation, for all sorts of reasons, there is no problem of joint service. Therefore, this idea that people connect between the joint service protocol and the motivation of combat soldiers is contrary to the facts.”
During his interview, Manelis also stated that claims that a meeting between Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and IDF Chief Rabbi Brig.-Gen. Eyal Karim were canceled by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman because of comments made by Yosef in support of Eliyahu were wrong, saying that the meeting had been canceled due to technical reasons. He said the meeting would be rescheduled in the coming days.
However, Liberman’s office later issued a statement which appeared to contradict Manelis’s version of events, saying that “Liberman has approved the IDF to hold a meeting between Karim and the Sephardi chief rabbi,” implying that until now he had not consented to such a meeting.