A small rebellion broke out in the heart of the national-religious world this
week over the issue of women singing in the army. Dozens of pre-army youth from
several yeshivot have signed a petition in the past few days vowing not to
enlist in the army until religious soldiers are exempted from army ceremonies in
which women sing.
The IDF General Staff issued a directive this month
obligating all soldiers, religious or otherwise, to be present in all official
army ceremonies even if they involve women singing, something generally
prohibited by Jewish law.
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The petition has been passed between several
religious learning institutes. According to Noam, one of the activists behind
the petition who spoke with The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday, they have gathered
between 100-200 signatures thus far, mostly from students currently in yeshivot
who have deferred their service, but also from some learning in the hesder
program, which combines Torah study with IDF service.
Noam, who was
unwilling to give his full name, said most of those who had signed were between
the ages of 17 and 20.
“Of late, processes have begun to coercively
instruct soldiers to transgress the commandments of the Torah, such as hearing
women sing,” the petition says. “We declare that as long as these efforts
continue we will not be able to enlist in the army. The commandments of the
Creator of the World are more important than the commandments of any man of
flesh and blood.”
Jewish law prohibits men from listening to women sing in person, although some religious-Zionist rabbis have ruled recently that it is
permissible to attend army ceremonies with women singing since it is done
without the intention of enjoying the performance.
Against the background
of the petition, the prominent and influential national-religious Dean of the
Har Bracha Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, said on the Galei Yisrael radio
station Tuesday that religious youth should postpone their enlistment into the
IDF until the army finds a way to exempt them from official ceremonies that
feature women’s singing.
“It is not possible to reconcile with the
decision of the General Staff that obligates soldiers to [listen to] women
singing. Therefore [soldiers can] enlist and then refuse orders, or they can
stop [their enlistment] as a public protest, until this is fixed.” He said
military service is “a religious commandment that cannot be renounced, but that
a temporary deferral to fix the current situation is legitimate, since no
reconciliation can be made with [religious] coercion.”
The issue exploded
within the IDF in September, when nine religious soldiers in the IDF officers
training course left an army event in which women were singing due to their
religious objections. They refused to return to the performance when instructed
to do so by their commanding officer, and four of the cadets were subsequently
expelled from the course.
Soldiers from the national-religious sector are
heavily over-represented in the IDF ranks, especially in combat units and the
officer class, in comparison with the relative size of their total
According to data from the IDF Manpower Directorate released
in November, 42 percent of cadets in the most recent officers training course
were religious, and the national-religious school system sends more graduates to
combat units than any other educational framework.
The petition and Rabbi
Melamed’s comments created a storm of protest on Tuesday from several
Minister of Science and Technology Daniel Herschkowitz, who
heads the national-religious Habayit Hayehudi party, said both the petition and
“rabbinic pronouncements” against army service evinced “a takeover of a haredi
[ultra-Orthodox], anti-Zionist approach.”
“These calls simply pour fuel
on the fire... You cannot forgive those who challenge the army and make a
mockery of Jewish values and religious-Zionism,” Herschkowitz said.
Association of Hesder Yeshivot and deans of pre-army religious education
institutes also heavily criticized pronouncements against the IDF and expressed
protestations against those opposing enlistment in the IDF.
students should behave responsibly and patiently and allow the IDF chief rabbi
time to find a solution to the situation, the association said in a statement
However, leading national-religious figure Rabbi Yuval Cherlow,
head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, told the Post
the declaration of the
soldiers does not show evidence of any lack of desire to enlist.
aren’t in a position in which people don’t want to enlist, the situation is
actually the exact opposite,” he said. “These youths are protesting what they
see as religious coercion, combined with a sense that the army is treading on
the national-religious community, in that many serve in a brave and dedicated
fashion but the army ignores their requirements.”
Cherlow said instead of
making big declarations, the army and national-religious rabbis should work
together on a quiet, commonsense solution, with soldiers attending important
ceremonies, such as on Independence Day, but being exempted from most
Rabbi Yaakov Medan, co-dean of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut,
also said he did not think the phenomenon would spread.
“The whole issue
has been greatly inflated. This is a moment of anger right now, I think
the army understands this and will come to an agreement on the matter. I’m also
sure that those who said they won’t enlist will eventually do so anyway.”