Haredi Soldiers 311.
(photo credit: YAAKOV KATZ)
Under pressure from Shas and United Torah Judaism, the government backtracked
Wednesday on its support for a bill that would have helped fight the worrying
trend of draft-dodging among young women.
Currently, a young woman can
avoid two years of IDF service by simply making a declaration before a
representative of the Chief Rabbinate that her religious convictions forbid her
to perform military service. Unfortunately, many secular young women take
advantage of this. If it had been ratified, the bill would have forced young
women seeking exemption to give proof they led a religious lifestyle. But haredi
MKs claimed the bill breached the religious status quo protected in the
government coalition agreement. MK Miri Regev (Likud), one of the drafters of
the bill, abstained in deference to the coalition, though Deputy Defense
Minister Matan Vilna’i broke ranks and voted in favor.
government’s myopic readiness to cater to the whims of narrow religious
extremism has led it to ignore the broader national interest of encouraging
universal conscription. Just last week, the head of the IDF’s personnel
division, Maj.-Gen. Avi Zamir, said that by 2020 some 60 percent of eligible
18-year-olds would try to dodge military service. Half already do. Zamir voiced
concern that Israel’s “people’s army” ethos was in danger.
Haredi men are
to blame for the bulk of the decline.
But deception on the part of young
women has a part to play as well. Thirty-five percent of young women eligible
for the draft seek exemption for religious reasons, but thousands lie, according
to the IDF human resources department. Via Facebook, the IDF recently managed to
catch about 1,000 young women who updated profiles on Shabbat, or posted photos
of themselves eating in non-kosher restaurants or wearing immodest
In the past, the IDF has even hired private
These efforts underline the IDF’s need for man- and
woman-power, even if it means forcibly recruiting liars.
WHILE religion has been touted as an excuse for exemption from military service,
it has also served as a major motivational force, especially among religious
Zionist youths. Impressive, though unsurprising, figures were published in the
August edition of the IDF magazine Ma’arachot showing a sharp rise in the number
of religious combat officers and members of elite units in the IDF in the past
Less known, though, is a growing trend among religious women to
enlist in the army.
The vast majority of religious Zionist rabbis oppose
military service for women, fearing that intimate contact with the opposite sex
in a sexually permissive environment will lead to a breakdown of
But attitudes are changing. Religious Zionists, who have a
greater tendency not to demonstrate blind loyalty to their rabbinic leadership,
are responding to the IDF’s more accommodating approach to religious
sensitivities – related, undoubtedly, to the sharp rise in kippawearing officers
and commanders and a general atmosphere of multiculturalism.
religious women interested in military service attended a conference last week
in Tel Aviv, compared to just 400 last year. In parallel, an organization called
Aluma was established in recent years to prepare religious young women for
military service and interface with the IDF during service. Numerous educational
frameworks exist for women, including Midreshet Lindenbaum and Tzahali, a
women-only religious pre-military academy.
And many young women actually
see constructive military service as a boon to faith. A survey of 98 religious
women, published in January and conducted by researchers from Sha’anan Teachers
College in Haifa, found that IDF service actually strengthened their
A third of women who served as IDF teachers felt they had
become more religious thanks to their military service, compared to just a
quarter of women who served as teachers within the framework of national
And 95% said they studied Torah during their IDF stint, compared
to just 72% in national service.
Jewish faith, used by some to justify
cultural and social isolation, can also be a force for cohesion and patriotism,
for both men and women. This is a decidedly positive development which should be
encouraged. At the same time, the right of the sincere religious female to opt
for national service instead of IDF service should also be respected.
dodging service to the country altogether is simply unacceptable. Religion is no