New IDF rule would let religious soldiers request absence from ceremonies

Directive comes after incidents in which religious soldiers left when female singers appeared; soldiers will be able to ask for exemptions from leisure activities.

Haredi men enlist in IDF (photo credit: Courtesy)
Haredi men enlist in IDF
(photo credit: Courtesy)
An IDF directive approved by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, and distributed to all units on Sunday, forbids soldiers from leaving official military ceremonies for any reason.
The move comes after years in which some religious soldiers sought to ditch official military events due to the presence of female singers.
According to the directive, soldiers must take part “in all of their unit’s activities. They will be required to attend official ceremonies and cannot be absent due to lifestyle issues.”
However, commanders are authorized under the directive to consider requests for exemptions from IDF leisure and holiday activities for soldiers who feel that their participation would be problematic.
Soldiers will not be able to gain an exemption from being present at official IDF ceremonies, Remembrance Day functions or those involving the chief of staff, but they will be able to request and obtain exemptions from leisure events and activities of their unit, such as fun days, concerts and the like.
The new document, called the “Directive on Joint Service,” also deals with issues related to the IDF’s role of being a “people’s military,” and seeks to promote tolerance and democracy, a military source said on Sunday.
“This is a tool that will serve commanders for many years. It deals with problems that arise on a daily basis,” the source said. “The instructions reflect a balance. We chose not to emphasize what is divisive, but rather what unites us.”
The directive also permits officers and non-commissioned officers to ask the military for permission to avoid assignment to co-ed combat battalions, whose numbers have increased in recent years.
Such exemptions would be granted by the head of the Personnel Directorate, in the event that requests are approved.
While the IDF forbids male and female soldiers from entering one another’s residences, the new directive states that during emergencies, when there is a clear danger to lives, that prohibition is no longer in effect. This clause would be relevant to a situation in which there is just one rocket-proof facility near a combat area, and enemy projectiles are raining down.
“The IDF has two main purposes,” the source said. “To provide operational solutions, and to enable the education of its soldiers and integration into Israeli society. We need to take bold decisions,” the source added.
Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) soldiers serving in units such as the Netzah Yehuda Battalion, in the Kfir infantry brigade, already serve in a unique military environment designed to protect their belief systems, and are therefore unlikely to be affected much by the new directive.
Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.