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Rabbis will rub elbows with religious women soldiers, many of them high-ranking officers, at a Knesset conference Wednesday aimed at discussing what in most religious circles is considered taboo - army service for women.
The conference was organized by MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad).
Chief Rabbi of Haifa, She'ar Yishuv Hacohen, who plans to attend, said that army service for women should not be a recommended first choice. "But if a religious girl decides to enlist, the IDF should allow her to do so on a voluntary basis," said Hacohen. "That way if she changes her mind in the middle of service she can quit." Hacohen said that according to Halacha, a girl is not permitted to leave the custody of her mother and father. Enlisting in the IDF entails the parents' forfeiting of custody over their child, said Hacohen. Therefore, the vast majority of rabbis oppose army service.
Despite rabbinic opposition, at least three post-high school educational institutions prepare religious women for army service.
Midreshet Lindenbaum-Bruria in Jerusalem runs a women's hesder program. Kibbutz Ein Hanatziv in the Jezreel Valley also has a Torah program for women ahead of military service and in the summer of 2006 Tzahali, the first pre-military academy for women, was opened.
Most of these women serve as educators or in intelligence units, which are thought to present the women with fewer problems such as close physical contact with men or immodest dress.
In addition, Alumah, a non-profit organization, aids religious women who enlist as individuals and not within the framework of one of three existing programs.
"We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend that the phenomenon does not exist," said Melchior. "So we should provide the tools needed to deal with the special challenges to religious women presented by IDF service."
Melchior also recommended tailoring the army framework to religious women's needs. The IDF said it plans to announce a change in its policies that would make it easier for religious women to do army service.
According to data supplied by the IDF about one quarter of all graduates from national religious high schools, or 1,500 a year, join the army.