CARACAL BATTALION soldiers march in the Negev in 2014..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman voiced strong support for religious women who enlist in the IDF on Monday while criticizing religious lifestyles that preclude military service and employment, focusing only on religious studies.
His comments were made during a Knesset event to give recognition and appreciation for religious women who enlist in the IDF, an initiative created by Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern and Aluma, an organization that provides assistance to religious women during their military service.
Recent years have seen a sharp increase in the number of religious women enlisting to military service, but this phenomenon has led to a strong backlash from the leadership of the conservative wing of the national-religious community, who fiercely oppose religious women enlisting in the IDF.
Liberman was effusive in his praise for religious women who enlist, and made specific mention of Capt. Tamar Ariel, an F-16D combat navigator who participated in 33 combat missions, mostly during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, who he described as a role model.
Ariel was killed in a snowstorm while hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal in 2014.
The defense minister argued that women have played a part in the military operations of the Jewish people throughout history, referencing the Prophet Deborah, Sarah Aaronson of the Jewish espionage network for the British in World War I and World War II resistance fighter Hannah Szenes.
He also noted that his own daughter, who is religious, has enlisted in the army, observing that “I haven’t seen that the army has harmed her Judaism or her attachment [to religion], her determination to continue with her Jewish life or her observance of Jewish traditions.”
Liberman also took the opportunity to criticize opponents of religious women enlisting in the IDF, and also denounced efforts to delegitimize military service as something un-Jewish, seemingly directing his words to parts of the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) leadership and community.
“I don’t understand this approach, that it is impossible to serve in the army and it is impossible to work, and that one needs only to study,” said Liberman, describing arguments that military service conflicts with being religious, and especially as damaging to the religious devotion of women, as “fake reality.”
Liberman was likely referencing, among other people, the controversial national-religious leader Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, who earlier declared that religious women lose their religious values in the army, are “crazy” and become “non- Jews.”
In the enlistment year for 2015/2016, some 2,260 religious women enlisted in the IDF, approximately 30% of the annual cohort of 7,500 women who graduate from the state religious school system every year.
The 2015/2016 figures are 47% higher than the numbers of religious women enlisting just four years ago, when 1,538 religious women enlisted in the IDF during the 2012/2013 intake.
Stern described these increases as “a revolution” and said it is critical for Israeli society that the trend continues.
“You are a bridge between worlds, you are the fulfillment of religious-Zionism at its best, you not only contribute to and influence the army, you are influencing all of society and the Judaism of the State of Israel,” said the MK.
Yifat Selah, director of Aluma, presented statistics showing that 90% of religious women graduating from IDF service said that their time in the army had either strengthened or not affected their religious identity, while 87% of parents of religious women serving in the IDF had supported their decision to do so.
Speaking in a special hearing of the Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women, Tehilla Friedman of the Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah lobbying group said that service conditions for women in the IDF had improved greatly in recent years.
“To lie to girls and tell them that this is Jewish law [not to serve in the IDF] doesn’t build up their Torah world, but rather does damage,” said Friedman.
“The policy of the state religious school system needs to present the disagreement within Jewish law[on the issue] to allow girls to chose for themselves.”