Female Bnei Akiva members reject director’s views that religious women should not enlist

Director: This is not the proper or successful way to contribute to the State of Israel.

A religious woman and a female soldier pray at the Western Wall. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A religious woman and a female soldier pray at the Western Wall.
Dozens of young women from the Bnei Akiva religious- Zionist youth movement have written to the organization’s director, Elhanan Glatt, in protest at his comments against religious girls enlisting in the IDF.
The number of religious women enlisting to the IDF has dramatically increased in recent years, despite strong disapproval of religious-Zionist rabbis.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva, Glatt said Bnei Akiva’s stance is that religious women enlisting “should not be encouraged,” and he emphasized the movement’s opposition to religious women serving in combat units “This is exactly what should not be done, and we are making great efforts to explain to the girls that this is not the proper or successful way to contribute to the State of Israel,” he said.
Those who do decide to enlist, however, should be given appropriate guidance to help them through their IDF service, according to Glatt.
In response to these comments, several dozen young women who are members of Bnei Akiva, including those who have served as movement leaders and educators, wrote to Glatt saying that their desire to enlist was borne of a desire to use their skills and talents in the service of the country in the best way possible.
They also argued that meeting Israelis from different social sectors was a critical component in their decision to enlist, viewing it as beneficial to themselves and to secular Israelis who might be meeting religious people for the first time.
“Do not see us as rebels, because we are your continuation,” the women wrote. “We want to take advice from you [Bnei Akiva], to learn from you, to prepare and get to the army wiser and prepared to sanctify G-d’s name through our actions.
“Believe that we want to make a change... Believe in us that we will not be ruined in the army, that we will succeed in standing up to all challenges,” they added.
Figures recently released by the IDF show that 2,159 women from the religious-Zionist sector enlisted to the IDF in 2015, approximately 25% of the roughly 7,000 religious-Zionist women who graduate from high school every year.
Several of the signatories on the letter to Glatt were young women currently studying at, or graduates of, the Tzahali pre-military academy for religious women, which has annual intake of approximately 80 students.
Michal Nagan, head of the academy, said religious women who enlist in the IDF want to connect to Israeli society, are G-d fearing and deserve to be spoken to directly.
“There should be representation of religious women in the IDF, because this is the central place in Israeli society where there is societal interaction, it’s the most authentic meeting point we have,” Nagan told The Jerusalem Post.
“We are one nation, but where does that happen? Not in the synagogue. In the army, people have left their bubble and there is a real meeting and dialogue of the Jewish people,” she said.
However, Nagan added that just like national service, an alternative chosen by many religious women to IDF service is not appropriate for everyone; so, too, IDF service is also not suitable for everyone from the community.
She also noted that the Tzahali Academy is opposed to women serving in combat units and mixed gender units.
The Chief Rabbinate and most religious-Zionist rabbis have long been opposed to religious women serving in the army, fearing that they would be negatively influenced by the military environment.
Nagan said the opinion of the sector’s rabbis is very important to her, but she argued that it is important for them to listen to the opinion of educators and young women in the community as well.
She also asserted that the decision to oppose religious women serving in the army was a general, blanket decision and that permission from rabbis in individual cases has been given in the past.
Nagan said the rabbis should be more attentive to the individuals requesting to serve and judge them on their merits and not through a blanket ban that ignores their individuality.