IDF rabbis in reserve pen modesty laws handbook for religious soldiers

Liberman: Handbook is ‘an effort to turn IDF into God’s army’

Haredi soldier (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Haredi soldier
Several reservist rabbis from the IDF rabbinate have written a handbook of Jewish laws for how religious soldiers should handle serving in the military with women, including stipulations banning them from serving in mixed-gender combat units and from doing guard duty with women.
The publication of the handbook has once again brought to the fore the tensions that have arisen in recent years between the IDF and the religious-Zionist movement’s conservative wing and rabbinic leaders.
These tensions have become a serious cause for concern since religious-Zionist soldiers and officers are a very large and growing population group within the IDF, owing to the high motivation within the community to perform substantive military service.
Yisrael Beytenu leader and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman seized on the publication of the booklet as “further testimony to the growing extremism in the religious-Zionist [community] caused by its hard-line branch.”
The new handbook, whose existence was first published by Israel Hayom, was written by Capt. (res.) Rabbi Baruch Sapir and edited by what is described as the Forum of Reserve Rabbis – Jewish Law Department.
It received endorsements from Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Kiryat Arba Chief Rabbi Dov Lior, among others.
Among the several prohibitions the rabbis lay out in the booklet is one banning religious IDF commanders, officers and non-commissioned officers to serve in mixed combat units.
Many rabbinical leaders in the religious-Zionist community have spoken out strongly against mixed-gender units in the IDF and women’s service in combat units in particular, including against an IDF pilot program in 2018 that saw 10 women trained as tank operators.
Regarding serving as a company commander of a mixed unit, the rabbis ruled that such an appointment should be avoided, but that in rare cases where commanders were required to take up such positions “when observing the boundaries of modesty is more in their hands and they are naturally distanced from the soldiers, a Torah scholar should be personally consulted.”
The rabbis also banned religious soldiers from commanding women or serving in a unit under the command of a woman, and from doing guard duty or being alone with a woman during such activities. This is due to the Jewish law of yihud, which prohibits a man from being alone in a room with a woman who is not his wife.
“Yihud applies not only in a closed environment, but also in an open place where there are no other people,” the handbook notes.
“Driving on a deserted road is prohibited by yihud if other cars are not passing by every few minutes,” the rabbis determined, ruling out a religious soldier from performing a security patrol with a female soldier.
They also banned religious soldiers from orienteering activities with women, ruling “if one is in the field with a female navigator, one should not remain with them and should distance themselves from the area.”
The rabbis also insisted that religious soldiers could not sleep in the vicinity of women in the field, saying that they must demand separate sleeping arrangements “as required by IDF ordinances.”
The IDF’s protocol on women’s service does indeed require that men and women have separate sleeping arrangements wherever they are.
THE RABBIS ALSO wrote that religious soldiers should not participate in training exercises with women where they would need to touch them, such as applying a bandage or carrying a woman in a medical emergency drill.
They also wrote that all physical contact with women at IDF ceremonies, including shaking hands, should be avoided, and that it was forbidden to attend a ceremony where women sing, saying that religious soldiers should try and avoid such events.
If attending such an event is unavoidable, religious soldiers and officers should “try not to enjoy the sound of the singing and not look” at the singer.
Jewish law prohibits men from watching a live performance by a female vocalist, and the issue of religious soldiers avoiding such events, which are common in the IDF with its military band, was one of the first serious points of friction to emerge between the religious leadership of the religious-Zionist community and the IDF several years ago.
Liberman denounced the publication of the handbook, and said “this effort to turn the IDF into God’s army” was “part of the same messianic worldview that is encroaching into Israeli society and is trying to harm the fabric of life and the status quo on religion and state.”
He said the dissemination of the handbook should be stopped and that the rabbis who wrote it should be prevented from serving in the reserves and from giving lectures to soldiers.
The Tzav Ehad organization, which takes complaints from religious soldiers who believe their religious rights have been violate by the IDF, accused Liberman of hypocrisy, pointing out that he had encouraged the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox soldiers under conditions where they would not have to serve with women.
“We in Tzav Ehad thank these rabbis and hope that the responses they gave, some of which come to us from the field, will solve problems for those who observe religious law in the army, and will restore the sanity to military service for soldiers who want to observe Jewish traditions,” the organization said in response to media coverage of the handbook.