National-religious leaders say hardline rabbis ‘disconnected’

The rabbis claim that the IDF is an inappropriate place for religious women owing to their proximity to young men and argue that women in the armed forces is forbidden by Jewish law.

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February 7, 2018 22:09
3 minute read.
women IDF

Women in the IDF. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Several prominent national-religious leaders have said that the rabbis of the conservative wing of the national-religious community are out of touch with developments in the sector regarding the role of women in the army and broader society.

Their comments come following publication of contentious remarks made by Rabbi Yosef Kalner at the Bnei David pre-military academy in Eli in which he disparaged women’s intellectual capabilities, said they had weak minds, and that women could not attain spiritual heights.

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Yael Rockman, the executive director of the Koleich Orthodox feminist organization, condemned Kalner’s comments, but said they were part of a wider campaign being waged by numerous rabbis in the sector against a more prominent place for women in religious society.

“It’s very sad that this is the education our children are getting. that well-known, respected rabbis in the conservative national-religious community speak like this,” she told The Jerusalem Post.

Rockman said that Kalner’s comments were also part of the specific struggle by rabbis and leaders from this segment of the community against religious women’s service in the IDF.

Several prominent conservative national-religious rabbis have been waging a concerted campaign against the increasing numbers of young women from the broader national-religious community who have been enlisting to the IDF instead of performing national service in recent years.

The rabbis claim that the IDF is an inappropriate place for religious women owing to their proximity to young men and argue that women in the armed forces is forbidden by Jewish law.

“The rabbis are worried that their path is not the one being chosen and are feeling more and more threatened, especially around the issue of female service, and their comments are becoming more severe and aggressive because of it,” said Rockman.

She also argued that the mainstream national-religious community is becoming more egalitarian in its approach to the role of women in society, and that the conservative rabbis feel their authority is being eroded by the fact that their instructions are being ignored on such issues.

Rockman said that she wants to believe that Kalner’s comments do not reflect popular opinion even in the conservative wing of the national-religious community, but added that “hearing these opinions again and again is very worrying,” in reference to comments by other rabbis such as Levenstein and Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, among others, against religious women in the army.

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, who is himself from the national-religious community, said he did not believe that Kalner’s comments are widely held opinions even among the conservative wing of the community, but agreed that they stem from the struggle over religious women in the army.

“These comments are very saddening, and worrying, but I think that most graduates of the academy who hear such things do not take them on board,” said Stern, adding however that Bnei David head Rabbi Eli Sadan should investigate how a rabbi with such opinions came to be employed a the institution.

And he said that he believed Kalner’s remarks, together with the Levenstein’s outbursts, will deter parents from sending their children to the academy and in general are alienating the national-religious community from their worldview.

Kulanu MK Rachel Azaria labeled Kalner’s comments “embarrassing and undeserving of a direct response.”

But she said that they demonstrated a disconnect between conservative rabbis and what is happening on the ground in the national-religious community.

“National-religious girls have for some time are not listening to these rabbis,” said Azaria.

“The young women who are growing up today in Samaria, in Jerusalem and in general in the religious-Zionist community have big aspirations, spiritually and for their careers,” she continued.

Azaria also said that young women from the community were too often given a message that they should concentrate on things other than a career and should be more genteel and less assertive.

“More and more religious girls are no longer willing to move aside, they are here in all their glory, storming towards the next goal, enlisting to the army, working, directing, studying Torah, succeeding, beautiful, strong, wise and courageous,” said the MK, saying that Kalner was frightened by such developments.


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