Women of Valor: 'The responsibility for soldiers' lives is overwhelming'

Intelligence officer can't get image of dead soldiers out of her head.

Even those short and infrequent fits of sleep - on the grass, in an armchair, on her bunk - offer no relief from warfare for G., 25, an intelligence officer on reserve duty since last week. "Images of those eight soldiers [killed in Bint Jbail Wednesday] never leave me," says G. "The feeling of responsibility for the lives of those soldiers is overwhelming." But then G. is not looking for relief. "When war broke out in the North I called my base and told them that I can't sit this one out," admits G. What G. does in the IDF is classified. "I'm involved with what's going on right now in the North," is all she is willing to say. G.'s top secret role in IDF intelligence sets her apart from her fellow soldiers. But it's not the only thing that makes her different. G. is one of a growing group of religious women who are filling key positions in the IDF. According to Aluma, a non-profit organization that helps women like G. deal with the special challenges that confront religious women in the IDF, close to 30 percent of all religious high school graduates join the army. Religious women make up only a fraction of the total number of female soldiers, but the number of religious women who are fit to become officers and who end up becoming officers is disproportionately high, says an IDF source. Religious women excel more than their secular counterparts because they join the army as a result of a conscious choice, according to Yifat Sela, director of Aluma, Unlike secular women, who are governed by mandatory enlistment, special legislation exempts religious women from army service. "You can't compare the motivation of a woman who joins the army out of a desire to serve the Jewish people to a woman who does it because she has no choice," says Sela, who admits that many religious women also see army service as a springboard for their professional career. However, rabbis are not impressed by the desire of talented religious women to join the army. "There isn't a single rabbi I know who permits women to join the army," said Rabbi Shlomo Aviner during an Aluma conference at the beginning of July. Aviner addressed a group of high school students, in their senior year, who were planning on becoming soldiers. "But if a religious girl decides to ignore Halacha and join the army anyway, we are still obligated to do everything we can to help her," added Aviner. Aviner and other rabbis are worried about the spiritual dangers involved in IDF service. They argue that intimate coed arrangements at a time in life when young men's and women's hormones are pushing libidos to the peak will lead to licentiousness. G. agrees with the rabbis that close relations with members of the opposite sex during army service can persuade religious women to compromise themselves. "The temptation is very difficult to overcome sometimes," says G. "There is interaction all the time. It's intimate. In my position in intelligence we need to exchange ideas a lot. Sometimes the borders between valuing a man's intelligence and entering into a romantic relationship are fuzzy and that is a big problem for a religious girl. "That's why I think the army isn't the right place for every religious girl. You need to be mature and prepared and strong and able to stand alone. Not everybody can stand up under the pressures of army service. "But those who can end up being the best soldiers."