Women in the IDF.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The IDF has agreed to make changes to the contentious “mixed-gender protocol” which was issued last year, following heavy pressure from National Religious rabbis.
The Protocol for Mixed-Gender Service, issued in 2016, led to accusations from conservative elements in the National Religious sector that requests by religious officers and NCOs not to serve in mixed-gender units would not necessarily be granted, and that religious soldiers would not necessarily be exempted from IDF leisure activities that run contrary to their religious lifestyle.
These concerns, together with several other complaints from the National Religious sector, particularly its more conservative wing, have significantly increased tensions between the community and the IDF.
Several of the leading rabbis of the sector met with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot in January to discuss possible changes, and it appears that the results of this and other meetings are now coming to fruition.
One of the most controversial clauses in the new protocol is one stipulating that an officer or NCO will not necessarily be able to avoid serving in a mixed-gender unit.
The clause does, however, state that the officer or NCO in question could request a review of the decision, which would be taken by the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate based on the recommendation of the IDF Chief Rabbinate.
Nevertheless, this clause has generated, perhaps, the most opposition from rabbinical leadership and, according to a report on Channel 2, is now under review, although a decision has not yet been made.
Also, there are controversial sentences in the current version of the mixed-gender protocol, such as the one stating: “Commanders will implement the mixed-gender protocol as far as possible, not through gender separation of male and female soldiers…” The National Religious rabbis who object to the protocol have pointed to this clause as an attempt to advance egalitarian societal objectives in the IDF at the expense of the army’s operational goals.
This sentence, and others that extol the value of mixed-gender units, will be erased and replaced with others emphasizing the completion of IDF missions.
At a rabbinical conference on Sunday night attended by some 1,000 rabbis and educators, the deans of many National Religious hesder yeshivot, which combine IDF service with yeshiva study, called for the protocol to be abolished entirely.
“Even if tomorrow they moderate the protocol, we [still] demand that it be completely canceled,” said Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner, dean of the Mitzpe Ramon yeshiva. “This protocol is not humane, not ethical, not operational, and not Torah-[based].”
The moderate National Religious group Ne’emanei Torah Va’avoda (NTA) welcomed the dialogue between the sector’s rabbis and senior IDF command to create optimal conditions for religious soldiers in the army.
However, it accused elements in the conservative wing of the community of distorting the protocol and undermining the cohesiveness of the IDF.
In particular, it has pointed out that the protocol states that mixed-gender combat units must have tracks for gender-separate training and service at the company level for religious soldiers who do not want to serve in the mixed-gender track.
It also notes that the protocol explicitly states that all sleeping and living quarters must be gender separate and that the protocol makes clear that definitions about such arrangements must be implemented.
In addition, NTA noted that, before being placed in a mixed-gender combat unit, every soldier will be asked if he objects to serving in such a unit on religious grounds and, if he does, he will then be placed either in the unit’s gender-separate track or a different unit.