Fierce, fighting and observant

Female combat soldiers are proving there is no conflict in serving one’s country and serving God.

Reut Cadari (photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Reut Cadari
(photo credit: IDF SPOKESMAN'S OFFICE)
Reut Caduri, 21 and commander of a combat unit within the IDF’s Artillery Corps, says there was never a doubt in her mind that she would dedicate the preeminent years of her life to serving in defense of the State of Israel.
Raised in a proud Zionist household in Ma’aleh Adumim, Caduri is rather unusual, not only because she is a female combat soldier and a commander to boot, but because she is also a religiously observant Jew.
Caduri is not alone among what appears to be a small, but growing group of female soldiers who are able to combine successful IDF careers as combat solders with maintaining their religious identities.
Yael Sinai, a 21-year-old religious combat soldier within the Eitam Field Intelligence Corps Battalion, also grew up in Ma’aleh Adumim. She spends her days in an IDF Hummer, patrolling Israel’s southern border with Sinai. Armed with a firearm and a pair of binoculars, she gathers intelligence information on any potential enemy elements trying to infiltrate and harm the citizens of this country.
While she wasn’t born into a religious household, Sinai says she became observant in fourth grade along with her sister, as her mother became a hozeret bitshuva (a Jewish penitent). While she says her father, along with an older brother, is still not religious, it was her mother’s influence that led her toward a more religious lifestyle, and upon graduating from high school, her choice to attend a religious pre-army military academy.
It was during that year she opted to not only enlist, but to strive to become a combat soldier. “Most of my friends decided to enroll in national service,” says Sinai, “and I also debated the issue. But I knew that if I went into the army, I would be in combat, as I’m not a person who can sit on the computer or do paperwork all day. I decided that if I go, I would go all the way.”
She admits that at first, the army was strange for her and “the mentality was different,” as she was in a mixed environment with both religious and non-religious soldiers. “The soldiers would go to pubs and parties [on their off time], while I would hang out only in coffeehouses,” she says. Plus, Sinai says, there was an adjustment period being around those who dressed differently than her.
“But I was able to learn about their world, and they learned about mine,” Sinai says, explaining how the two sides have influenced each other in a positive manner. “The army has allowed me to gain experience about the world, without having to give up religious practices.”
Sinai describes how a former commander, who once defined herself as an atheist, even started making kiddush at home on Friday nights after many discussions with her underling. Sinai says the army has allowed her to “see the importance of gaining exposure to a wide variety of mentalities. It’s not all black and white.”
For Caduri, it was difficult to explain to her family members – including an older brother who had served in the army – why, as an observant girl, she wanted to go into combat. But it was most difficult for her very traditional grandmother to come to grips with her decision, “as a little [religious] girl, to be a fighter in the field.”
But after Caduri made it clear to her family how much she wanted to give back to the state, they accepted and even supported her on her path.
Now a commander of a mixed artillery company of both men and women based near the city of Ariel, Caduri says she feels that being a combat commander isn’t an issue of gender or religious observance, but “is based on your capabilities, regardless of who you are.”
Caduri does feel the IDF is accommodating towards the religious practices of soldiers, including in very specific rituals. Using kashrut as an example, Caduri says the army knows “that in order to respect religious soldiers’ practices, they have to wait six hours after serving a meat meal before they can serve dairy.”
While she admits that sometimes the atmosphere on base can be difficult on Shabbat and holidays without family, she says she is able to practice freely according to her beliefs. She has also gotten used to the fact that as soldiers, certain aspects of work are permitted on Shabbat – including the use of the phone and driving when necessary – as they are essential for pikuah nefesh, or preservation of life.
When she does have a question involving what is or isn’t permissible for her to do as a soldier on Shabbat or holidays, Caduri says she consults with that same grandmother.
Like Caduri, 23-year-old Sarah Naor of Kiryat Shmona is also a religious commander within an IDF combat artillery unit, but one based in the South. And similar to Sinai, she also comes from a hozer bitshuva background.
Naor says at first she found it difficult to have to be on duty, carry out patrols and “go around with a phone on Shabbat and even on Yom Kippur.” But she established a connection with a rabbi who has been guiding her along the way, answsering any questions she has in regard to carrying out her service while adhering to Jewish law.
Naor adds that initially it felt difficult to gain respect from her fellow soldiers – with her combination of being a female combat soldier who is religious – but now, she feels that not only has she earned the respect of others, but many are reaching out to her to give her the support she needs to succeed.
For now, Naor says her plan is to continue in the IDF, and she is planning to enlist in a course to become an advanced commander. One day, though, she hopes to pursue a career in education, which she believes her army experience has helped prepare her for.
“The army teaches you how to communicate with people – how to talk to them, and how to get them to listen to you,” she says. “Not only is that important for a soldier, but I believe a teacher also has to be able to evaluate and understand the needs of his or her students.”