Gafni speaks out against IDF policies on religious soldiers

United Torah Judaism MK says IDF has failed in its decision not to allow ultra-Orthodox men to leave events when women sing.

By
January 11, 2012 12:40
4 minute read.
Moshe Gafni.

moshe gafni 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

MK Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction explained the reasoning behind his opposition to haredi enlistment in the army during an Army Radio interview on Wednesday.

“The decision to force soldiers to listen to women singing represents a mistake by the army. I very much hope it will be rectified,” Gafni said.

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“Why are they now forcing things on haredim? We didn’t request that female singers stop singing, only that [religious soldiers] should be able to leave quietly.”

All that is being requested, Gafni continued, is that those who observe Jewish law be permitted to live their lives in the army according to their beliefs.

In an interview on Tuesday with Radio Kol Hai, Gafni said that in light of “recent decisions taken by the General Staff,” he would no longer recommend that haredi men enlist in the army’s Shahar program for ultra-Orthodox men, saying that it is now “forbidden.”

“In the past, I would have said [to a soldier enlisting in the army’s haredi program], ‘Great, good luck to you.’ Today, I say, ‘Don’t enlist, because their intention is to change you into a different person,” he stated. “The IDF has failed in its integration of haredim.”



In response to an inquiry from The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday regarding whether Shahar soldiers are required to attend ceremonies that feature women’s singing, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said, “There is no decision to change the unique arrangements that were established in order to enable haredim to serve in the IDF, contrary to various commentaries made in recent days.”

The Shahar program is a one-and-a-half to two-year IDF track, designed to draft haredi recruits into the army while allowing them to maintain their ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.

Within Shahar, recruits are provided with technical training that qualifies them for positions in several branches of the army and assists them in finding employment after their service is completed.

Gafni’s comments follow the army’s recent decision that religious soldiers will not be permitted to excuse themselves or leave official IDF ceremonies if women are singing. Jewish law prohibits men from hearing women sing in person.

This issue erupted in September when, due to religious objections, nine religious soldiers in the IDF officers’ training course left an army event in which women were singing.

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.

While not backing Gafni’s call, Shahar Ilan, the vice president of the Hiddush religious freedom organization, did say that by raising the issue Gafni is “doing a favor” to the cause of ultra-Orthodox recruitment in the army.

“This whole confrontation [with religious soldiers] which the IDF has provoked is unnecessary and has endangered the enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox in the army,” Ilan said, referring also to the recent public disagreement between the founder of the Shahar program, Rabbi Moshe Raavad, and the IDF on related issues.

“Gafni’s words should serve as a warning as to the seriousness of the problem and the urgency with which a solution must be found.”

Ilan added that he had received numerous calls in the last two weeks from the ultra-Orthodox community asking him why the army is seemingly working to destroy the project.

“Shahar is the basis on which a new, more moderate haredi community is being built,” Ilan continued, citing the statistic that more than 90 percent of soldiers who served in the program were now employed. “We must not let it fail.”

However, MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima) – the chairman of the Knesset working group on implementation of the Tal Law, which is designed to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox men enlisting in the IDF – condemned Gafni’s comments as “cynical,” “irresponsible” and designed to “exploit recent events in order to further his worldview opposing drafting haredim into the army.”

Plesner also claimed that in hearings he held with the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, no change to the terms of service of ultra-Orthodox soldiers in the Shahar program had been mentioned at all.

“There is no connection between the debate on women singing and the Shahar program,” Plesner said in a statement to Post. “Any attempt to connect the two issues is irresponsible and unnecessarily endangers the continuation of the Shahar program.”

In 2011, 500 soldiers entered the program, with approximately 800 in active service. In total, 2,000 haredi soldiers have enlisted in the Shahar framework in the past four years.


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