National-religious youth vow not to enlist in IDF

Dozens of pre-army youth from several yeshivot sign a petition not to enlist unless exempted from ceremonies in which women sing.

By
January 17, 2012 22:34
4 minute read.
Religious soldiers pray during training

Religious IDF soldier 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

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 population.

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 quarters.

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.

The 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.

Rabbis and 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 Tuesday.

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.

“We 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 others.

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.”


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