Rabbi Yigal Levinstein has defended himself and his controversial comments on women in a letter to graduates of the pre-military academy and yeshiva he heads in Eli.In a speech earlier this month, Levinstein said religious women become “non- Jews” in their values and priorities by the end of their IDF service; implied that no one would marry a female soldier; and that the idea of a female company commander was “fit for the madhouse.”But in a letter dated Monday, he said the way the media portrayed his words, which were broadcast using video footage of his speech, may have angered graduates of the Bnei David educational institutions in Eli or embarrassed them for having studied under him at all.Levinstein then defended himself against accusations that his comments were misogynistic or meant in any way to disparage women.“For me, the woman is the best startup, which the Creator of the world created,” wrote Levinstein, and went on to call women “spiritual aristocracy” and the best gift that God gave to the world, The rabbi also said it is due to their elevated nature that women say in the morning prayers “Blessed is God... for having created me according to His will,” unlike men who say, “Blessed is God...Who did not made me a woman.”“The woman brings her unique wisdom, her ability to bring life and build it up, laying down the natural foundations and a delicate and ethical approach to the education of children. She has within her a unique treasure trove which no other creation has,” Levinstein continued.He said that these attributes did not contradict a woman’s ability to develop other talents and abilities in other fields of life, and said that the way his words were used to paint him as someone who belittles woman was the opposite of the truth.
Levinstein also accused feminist organizations of taking exclusive ownership of the status of women, through a perspective that is incompatible with Judaism, and of creating a situation in which anyone who speaks out against a feminist worldview is seen as being against women.“In my cry, I am trying to save the girls from this feminist captivity and to fight for their honor as women in accordance with Judaism, and against the injury to their honor by liberalism,” he continued saying that someone, such as himself who speaks out against feminism, “frees women from feminist captivity.”Regarding opposition to religious women serving in the IDF, he said he is often told that the national-service program, an alternative to military service, has its own problems for women, but that the “spiritual danger” is nevertheless much smaller in national service.Levinstein was widely denounced for comments he made at the beginning of March, with MKs from a range of political parties, as well as religious organizations and feminist groups, criticizing him and saying he belittled the standing and dignity of women.The rabbi’s comments, as well as remarks last year in which he vilified homosexuals as “perverts,” led Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to threaten revoking IDF recognition of the Bnei David Yeshiva as a Hesder institution (combining religious studies with military service), along with other sanctions.Kolech, a leading Orthodox, feminist movement in Israel, rejected Levinstein’s explanations, and criticized what they described as his condescension toward women and his “simplistic” world view.“Us religious feminists are not ‘captives’ and have not been ensnared against our will,” the organization said in response to his letter. “We have chosen a complex life of Judaism and feminism involving great effort to settle between worlds – Jewish law, thought and deed. In the world of Rabbi Levenstein everything is simple; there is The Judaism – one, correct Judaism and nothing else, and The Feminist movement, which is opposed to that Judaism.In his world there are women who need saving and men who free them.”The response continued: “We are not waiting for men to save us, but rather for men to be partners in rectifying the entire world, fixing the frameworks of national service, which despite Rabbi Levenstein’s impression, are not always safe, physically or spiritually.”
Women serving in the IDF (credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON"S UNIT)