Women of valor

Rabbi Yigal Levenstein doesn't think that women should be serving alongside men in the IDF. We could not disagree more.

A female IDF soldier shaking out a blanket during a week-long survival course for women in the infantry at an undisclosed location in Israel (photo credit: REUTERS)
A female IDF soldier shaking out a blanket during a week-long survival course for women in the infantry at an undisclosed location in Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Women have served in the defense of the State of Israel since before its inception, fighting alongside men in the Hagana, the Stern Group and the Irgun. Since the IDF was established in 1948, women have continued to carry the national burden, serving in the military in an increasing number of roles.
This does not seem to be acceptable by people like Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, the head of the Bnei David pre-army yeshiva academy at the Eli settlement, who recently gave his students a lecture in which he called female military service “crazy.”
This wasn’t the first time Levenstein stirred controversy.
Last year, he told his students that homosexuals are “deviants.”
“They call them ‘new families,’ with two dads,” he declared, stating “It’s an insane asylum, simply an insane asylum.”
This time, the main thrust of the rabbi’s lecture was directed at women in the IDF. Speaking at the Otzem pre-military academy last week to impressionable male teenagers who are about to enter the IDF, Levenstein told them that military service drives female soldiers “crazy” and strips them of their Jewishness.
“They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they’re not Jews by the time they leave,” he said.
It was perhaps coincidence that Levenstein trashed Israeli women on the eve of International Women’s Day, but it is unlikely he was aware of such an observance. His insults were directed particularly at young women who serve in combat units, such as the co-ed Caracal Battalion that protects the nation’s southern front.
He dismissed their use of camouflage as “just practicing putting on makeup for their wedding day.
“I don’t know who will marry them,” he said, adding that they are “unattractive.”
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leapt to their defense, noting: “Since the establishment of the state, women have served in the IDF and made an enormous contribution to the security of Israel. Rabbi Levenstein’s verbal attack not only hurts women in Israel, but also hurts the IDF, the IDF’s heritage and the basic values of the State of Israel.” He added that he would reconsider Rabbi Levenstein’s fitness to prepare young people for military service.
And on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel is “proud” of integrating females into its fighting forces, a tradition since biblical times. “Female Jewish fighters, from the time of Yael the heroine to the present – with Hannah Senesh and the fighters in the Irgun, the Palmah, the Stern Group and the IDF, heroic warriors in the police and Border Police whom we see here on the streets – are an active, and sometimes very senior, part of our national defense.”
MK Tzipi Livni told Israel Radio that Levenstein’s pre-army academy should lose its state funding while he remains its head.
Livni is right. Rabbis who incite against the military service that unites between the different people in this country, should not receive taxpayer funding to spread such negative teachings. While Bnei David is a respected pre-military academy that has bred some of the IDF’s top commanders, the state cannot support such hateful talk.
On Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post told the story of Maj. Shiran Hashay Levy, the operations officer of the Home Front Command’s Haifa district, who has served in the IDF since 2000 and is the mother of three boys, aged six to one years old. She told the Post that she “really doesn’t know of any positions in the command that women can’t fill. There is not one position that a woman can’t do, not in an office and not in the field.”
Maj. Meirav Kraus, commander of basic training in the Search and Rescue Unit, told the Post, “I want the soldiers to know that there are no limits, no boundaries for our dreams. If you want to be the prime minister, if you want be the chief of staff, if you want to be an astronaut, you can do it. You are able to do whatever you want. Don’t be afraid, don’t worry if you can do it or not, you can succeed.”
We heartily agree. A country whose Declaration of Independence stresses that “it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” has no room for rabbis who teach the opposite.