'Most religious girls don't go to the army because of modesty'

Most choose National Service instead.

female soldier shoots (photo credit: IDF)
female soldier shoots
(photo credit: IDF)
Efrat Aran, 21, an officer stationed in Tel Aviv, has been serving in IDF Military Intelligence for two years to fulfill her duty to the State of Israel. As a religious woman from Karnei Shomron, Aran is in the distinct minority among her mostly secular co-workers. "All my friends from the army are secular, but it was very important for me to work specifically in a place that has all different types of people," she said. "It was hard sometimes on Shabbat, but being one of the few religious people here actually had a positive affect on me." "Most religious girls don't go to the army because of problems with modesty," she continued, "but being in the army surrounded by these people actually helped make me more religious." Aran is the exception among Orthodox women. According to the IDF, 43 percent of women forgo two years in the army in favor of doing National Service. Thirty-three percent received exemptions based on religious reasons. Of the women who do enlist in the army, 2% serve in combat positions, with the majority opting for jobs such as teaching and secretarial positions. Though those who enter National Service often hold similar jobs, some only serve for one year instead of two. "I am in favor of compulsory service for everybody for the same amount of time," said MK Amira Dotan, former chief of the Women's Corp in the IDF, on Tuesday. "Whether it be in the IDF or in National Service, you have to do your share of duty to the country for two full years." Dotan was the IDF's first female brigadier-general. Over the years, religious women have increasingly chosen to perform National Service because many find it hard to leave their homes and families and enter the nonreligious environment of the army, Dotan said. Some of the issues were logistical ones, such as immodest uniforms, which have since been fixed in an effort to accommodate those women who do join. But Dotan said many were choosing to avoid the army for selfish reasons as well. "Some women are just being stubborn, and I think that they should just leave their egotistical needs aside and serve their country and society as per their obligation," she said. As women become more observant, fewer are entering the army. Dotan said there should be a limit to such exemptions. "We will continue to make sure that the needs of the IDF are the first priority," she said. "We worked closely with the army to ensure that these women are accommodated, but we also have to remind ourselves that serving is a duty that we owe to society." Others take a different view. "We fully support these women who want to perform National Service, as do the rabbis," said Yitzhak Rath, spokesman for Emunah, a religious Zionist women's organization. "We do help those who want to join the army, but it's preferable to do National Service since it provides an appropriate religious environment for them." Emunah works closely with an organization called Bat Ami that helps place young women in National Service positions across the country, and they also encourage women to volunteer for the full two years to fulfill their national responsibilities. Many young women feel the work they do in National Service is at least as important, and in some cases more so, than what they could if they were in the IDF. "At first, I was going to the army, and I took all the tests, and I was drafted," said Yael Levy from Gilo. "But when I weighed the opportunities that I would have in the army versus National Service, I thought that I would be able to contribute more by performing National Service." For her first year of service, Levy was head of the Bnei Akiva youth movement at Kibbutz Ma'aleh Gilboa in the Galilee, and for the second year she worked in a yeshiva in New York, two experiences that she thoroughly enjoyed. No'ah Friedman from Jerusalem also considered serving in the IDF. "I thought of going to the army because it was very important to me to be able to fit in with and feel as if I was a part of the nation," she said. "But the job that I ended up doing in National Service - working at Aleh Negev, a rehabilitation center - would not have been a viable option for me in the army." "I prefer to do National Service because it's a religious program," she said, "and even if I could do the same type of job in the army, I would rather do it through National Service since it's religious."