An Israeli soldier wears phylacteries as he prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City February 22, 2012..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Several senior national-religious rabbis have criticized the IDF for its handling of an incident in which religious soldiers from the hesder yeshiva program, while in basic training with the Paratroop Brigade, turned their backs this week on a female army instructor leading an exercise.
A platoon of religious soldiers was supposed to have a male instructor give the course, but they received a female instructor instead.
In contrast to earlier reports, the soldiers did not refuse to look at her initially. However, after one soldier asked to not look directly at the instructor, the platoon commander said they were able to stand in line looking away from the female instructor on the grounds of modesty. Several soldiers took the commander’s comments as an order.
A number of politicians initially slammed the incident, saying the new soldiers had “rebelled” against IDF regulations. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued a critical statement saying if they did not adhere to army protocol, they would be expelled from the course.
Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid wrote on Twitter that the soldiers who had lined up and turned away should be expelled.
“This is not just hatred of women but rebellion,” he wrote.
When it became clear the soldiers had in fact been given permission by their commander to turn away, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit issued a new statement acknowledging it had been the commander’s order and blamed him for the incident.
Rabbi Yaakov Medan, co-dean of the prestigious Har Etzion yeshiva and a representative for the Hesder Yeshiva Association, said Thursday that the soldiers did not need to turn away at all from the instructor and it would have been better had they not done so.
He insisted, however, they would not have done so had they not been told they could do so by their commander, something they took as an order.
“It wasn’t right to give this order and they wouldn’t have done it. They could have looked down, closed their eyes, turned their heads. But they’re new recruits, what do they know about life?” Medan told The Jerusalem Post . “I have no doubt that none of them would have done this if they had not been ordered to do so. But in principle, without an order, it was greatly exaggerated to turn their back and look in the other direction.”
Medan said ideally a male instructor would have been provided, but since that was not the case, the soldiers should have just participated in the exercise “in order not to cause such protest and insult.”
The rabbi was, however, strongly critical of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, and called on head of the unit Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis to apologize over the incident.
“The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit didn’t do its job. It took the side of the media, and didn’t check the facts. Things were done that would not be done with the Druze, or with the Bedouin, but with the religious Zionists you can do anything,” he said.
Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, a senior leader in the hardline wing of the national-religious community, wrote on the Srugim news website it is forbidden to look at a woman and the soldiers had been correct in their actions.
“The IDF Spokesman thinks that it is in the honor of a woman to look at her and the Torah says that the honor of a woman means you should not look at her,” he wrote.
Chief Safed Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu said the incident showed that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot did not share the values of the national-religious community.
“It is possible to live together if people will not try and force on us to give up on our values, on values you do not give up so quickly,” Eliyahu said in a video posted on his Twitter account. “Until now we have got on in the IDF, and learnt how to live together and not let female instructors give courses when they think this is not respectful. Should these soldiers give up on their values? They won’t give up on them. Is this how we will fight ISIS, and Hezbollah and Hamas?”
The Hesder Yeshiva Association said in response to the incident that, “Unfortunately, there are various elements, including public fig- ures and senior politicians, who chose to besmirch and to conduct a fierce campaign on the backs of IDF soldiers, who work wonderfully and serve the IDF with great self-sacrifice, and through a sense of mission and deep connection to the State of Israel.”
The association said it expects those who “jumped on the populist media band- wagon” and criticized the soldiers to apologize for “those crass and baseless statements that they spread before the details became clear.”
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