(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Three leading religious-Zionist rabbis, together with dozens of other rabbis from the sector, have called on Education Minister Naftali Bennett not fund organizations that assist religious-Zionist girls who enlist to the IDF.
The issue of female enlistment within the religious-Zionist community has become extremely sensitive in recent years, with the ever increasing numbers of women enlisting matched by the increasing opposition of the sector’s conservative rabbis.
According to the religious- Zionist lobbying group Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah, approximately 2,000 women enlisted in the last enlistment year out of a total of 7,000 graduates of religious-Zionist girls schools.
The call comes after the Education Ministry published a draft document several weeks ago stipulating the requirements for receiving ministry funding for organizations that help prepare religious women for IDF service.
One such group, Aluma, has been active in providing such guidance and sends staff to religious girls schools to speak with pupils in grade 12 who are thinking about joining the IDF and provide them with information about their options.
Until now, such organizations have not been able to obtain funding from the ministry.
The proposed funding agreement would change this situation.
Conservative rabbis from the religious-Zionist community have opposed religious women enlisting in the army, arguing that Jewish law prohibits women performing military service and out of concern that they might become less religious in the IDF.
The funding conditions drafted by the Education Ministry to provide money to guidance organizations are yet to be finalized.
In the rabbinical petition against the ministry’s plan to provide these funds, the rabbis argue that the religious leadership of the sector has always adhered to the long-standing ruling of the Chief Rabbinate that women should not enlist in the IDF and should perform national service instead.
“Of late, different efforts have been made to enter into the religious education system and to influence girls to enlist to the IDF instead of doing national service,” wrote the rabbis.
“We hereby call on Education Minister Mr. Naftali Bennett, and all other relevant parties, to protect the values of religious-Zionist education and the state religious school system, which is based on the rulings of the Chief Rabbinate,” they said.
The three senior rabbis who signed the letter were Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Aryeh Stern, Ramat Gan Chief Rabbi Yaakov Ariel and Rabbi Nahum Rabinowitz, dean of the Ma’aleh Adumim Hesder Yeshiva, along with another 55 rabbis.
Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah director Shmuel Shetach said following the publication of the petition that the rabbis were simply burying their heads in the sand and trying to pretend that the phenomenon of religious women enlisting to the IDF does not exist.
There was a real need to provide those interested in and determined to enlist with guidance and information, as is received by religious men in the community, he said.
“Unfortunately, the rabbis’ petition is removed from the existing reality,” NTA said in a statement following the rabbinic declaration.
“Research that we have done in recent years shows that graduates of the religious education [system] both perform meaningful service [in the IDF] and are careful to protect the values they were educated in. We believe, and so do the thousands of religious girls who have enlisted, that the ability of our children to formulate a religiously observant identity in any environment can be trusted, along with a commitment to the State of Israel.
“The solution to the challenges bound up in national or military service are not to be found in segregation and the strengthening of [gender] separate incubators, but rather by building a courageous education system that teaches about complexity and the ability to deal with the world.”
NTA also called on Bennett not accede to the demands of the rabbis in question and to finalize and authorize the funding regulations.