Religious vs. secular

Just a few days ago, two female soldiers who were interviewed (with faces covered to hide their identity) complained about religious fanaticism in the IDF.

Women in the IDF (photo credit: REUTERS)
Women in the IDF
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I would like to begin by disclosing that I wear a kippah. Let’s hope that I haven’t just lost half of the people reading this. Now, I would like to share with you the real concern and sorrow I’ve been experiencing these last few months in the wake of articles about radical, short-sighted rabbis who are wreaking havoc on the IDF by undermining the status of women and trampling on soldiers’ right to freedom of religion.
Just a few days ago, two female soldiers who were interviewed (with faces covered to hide their identity) complained about religious fanaticism in the IDF, lack of consideration, and their deep unhappiness following an incident in which they were not allowed to wear white T-shirts and shorts during their physical training exercises. This is just one case of many that have been brought up recently, as we move into this pre-election period, about cases of religious incitement and intrusion in state-run institutions. I assume this topic will continue to feature in public discourse as we get closer to the Knesset elections.
At the same time, a media campaign is currently being run that’s reporting situations such as religious soldiers being made to shave their beards, violations of kashrut and Shabbat, as well as religious female soldiers who were forced to serve in unsuitable environments. These reports have served as a catalyst for attacks against religious organizations that assist religious girls to enlist in the IDF. These professionally made propaganda video clips, which are geared towards scaring religious girls away from serving in the IDF, have been making the rounds on social media.
At the same time that religious girls are being recruited in growing numbers, the important discussions regarding efforts to increase haredi (ultra-Orthodox) enlistment in the IDF continues, too. Serving in the IDF is a fantastic stepping stone for this population, and an excellent way for them to integrate into Israeli society, earn academic degrees, and successfully join the Israeli labor market. There’s no doubt that these trends are commendable, and that their contribution to society and the Israeli economy is invaluable.
My daughter, Hadar, who recently enlisted in the IDF, recently bought me a copy of the book, #IsraeliJudaism – A Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, by Shmuel Rosner and Camil Fuchs. The book points out an interesting trend in which both the religious and secular communities have been undergoing a process of secularization, while at the same time a new reference group is being formed, which the authors dub Israeli Jews.
It’s clear that the book is discussing the polar opposite of what’s being claimed against religious Israeli Jews in general, and also specifically against religious IDF soldiers and Israelis living in settlements. According to my analysis of the book, this new trend of Israeli Judaism is much more inclusive and intricate. It incorporates many aspects of Israeliness, with serving in the IDF being one of the most important.
As I think back over my 30-year military career in the field and at IDF headquarters, during which time I commanded thousands of soldiers, I cannot think of even one incident related to the fact that I’m a religious Jew. Not once did my religious beliefs harm the people I served with, and I never made any effort to hide my identity.
IN FACT, I think the opposite is true. I truly believe that my religious faith pressed me to keep to a higher ideal, and I hope that I succeeded in doing so.
My aim here is not to ignore the inherent tensions male and female soldiers face while performing their national service, or that at times they must deal with conflicts of interest. In my opinion, however, these gaps can be bridged by getting to know one another’s customs and cultures while serving together in the same unit. There’s no doubt that the IDF’s goal of functioning as society’s melting pot has not yet been fulfilled 100%. But this fringe group, which is trying to pass itself off as if is it were the religious community’s majority viewpoint, is fanning the flames of dissension, which in the end will having a detrimental effect on the IDF, Israeli society and our ability to live side by side. It’s so easy to point our fingers and blame our politicians for invoking feelings of animosity within Israeli society. But what about the role we ourselves have played?
If we accept the assertion that our 70-year-young country is still in the start-up stage, and that we still on the path to transforming into a successful society, then we must agree that both sides need to accept compromises and concessions, especially when it comes to integrating haredim and religious girls into the IDF. For religious soldiers, spending Shabbat on base is no easy matter. Many times there’s no synagogue or minyan, the food isn’t anything to write home about, and the atmosphere is certainly not what they’re used to with the loud music, television blaring and everyone hanging out on their phones. And yet despite this, religious soldiers manage to deal with all of these challenges without too much complaint.
I have no doubt that service in the IDF is the source of some of the most complex challenges Israeli society must grapple with as it enters its 8th decade, and that as always, the IDF will be at the forefront of this struggle. The IDF’s ability to manage these tricky concerns will affect its overall capability to carry out its missions, as well as influence Israeli society as a whole. I have complete faith that the new IDF Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi understands these challenges and is the right person to deal with them in a balanced and just manner.
“All I can ask for is that my grandchildren be educated in the heritage of my forefathers,” wrote former Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin. “They should know what Shirat Hayam was, who the prophetess Devora was, and about David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan. They should know who Hillel the Elder and Rambam were. They should be able to sing with devotion the songs ‘Every Wave Carries a Memory’ by Haim Hefer and “Siman tov U’mazal tov.” They should know the poem in which Yehuda Amichai laments his friend Dicky’s tragic death. They should know The Silver Platter by Nathan Alterman. They should know what the Scroll of Fire commemorates. They should know who Bialik and Haim Gouri were. They should study about the Holocaust and know that Masada will never fall again.”
The writer is a veteran intelligence officer and brigadier- general who served as head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence Research Division.