HaRav Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
Putting Sticks in the Tracks of the Tanks
“The Directive for Mixed-Gender Army Service” which was just released by the IDF opens the way for women to serve in combat duty in the IDF (including in tanks), and will strengthen gender equality in the army. The new directive has appeared in close proximity to ongoing friction between the rabbis of religious Zionism and their followers as opposed to “IDF commanders” led by the Chief of Staff on matters that involve clipping the “wings” of the IDF Rabbinate (by removing the subject of Jewish awareness from the scope of the Rabbinate and replacing it by “tradition” under the control of the Education Corps, among other things). In the wake of the new order, heads of Hesder yeshivot and army prep schools and educators in girls’ schools hastily organized a meeting with the Chief of Staff; Knesset members from the Bayit Yehdudi Party expressed their shock, and came forward with criticism; rabbis who have an influence on candidates for the draft have threatened a ban on the Armored Corps, which was “built up and strengthened by students of the Hesder Yeshivot,” who will now refuse to serve there; organizations of former IDF rabbis declared that they will fight the decision; and the Chief of Staff declared – at the installation of the new IDF Chief Rabbi, Colonel Eyal Karim – something like, “Not a single woman has been drafted to fight in the tanks, and the subject will be reviewed again.” On the spot he received the approval of the Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef for his words.
As far as I am concerned, it is a serious mistake to lump together the directive for mixed-gender service and the issue of the authority of the IDF Rabbinate, putting it all together as a “religious topic,” like the question of singing by women at formal IDF ceremonies. The mixed-gender topic is not a question of religion but is rather related to nationalism and security. The main problem is the effort to deify the principle of gender equality in the face of possible harm to military preparedness and the mission of the IDF. In short, this issue is related to our ability to win future wars!
It has been noted in the press that the “Directive for Mixed-Gender Army Service” was promoted by the Israel Democracy Institute, which published a document on the subject in 2013. The agenda of this institute is closest to the position of the political left in Israel. Unlimited democracy, world-embracing legalism, and gender equality are given the status absolute values. A series of studies during 2003-2009, some of them together with the American army, showed that the physical abilities of women are much less than those of men. In the field of orthopedics and broken bones due to stress, the IDF found that women are more prone to injury than men of the same age by a factor of 10. But even so, the activist women’s rights organizations found that the IDF was a rich area for promoting their ideas, leading to the “Directive for Mixed-Gender Army Service.” Some of the leading organizations in this movement are prominent and known for their leftist activity in other realms. It was thus no surprise to hear the following hint recently by General (res.) Yiftach Ron-Tal: “I fear that there might be extraneous reasons that are not related to the desire for gender equality that are at the basis of the demand for woman to serve in tanks. I hope very much that this is not a case of campaigning with goals related to an attempt to weaken the IDF.”
Fight the Directive on the National Level
Thus, I propose to those who are organizing a campaign to reject this directive to focus on the nationalistic and security elements. When the emphasis is placed on religious factors, such as modesty and close physical contact, the struggle becomes a “religious” issue which has little effect on patriotic figures who are not interested in wearing a kippa on their heads.
It is true that the new command has serious “innovations” with respect to religion even for those who provide “support roles” for the front-line soldiers. It includes a retreat from the previous position of a concept of “appropriate mixing,” which has been trampled on in the new version of the rules. The new directive declares that the preferred default is to put together mixed units, since this is most appropriate for the “IDF spirit.” New recruits will be asked when they enlist if they “observe a religious lifestyle,” and if they prefer to serve in a non-mixed unit (up to the level of a company, the highest relevant group). As I noted, the default will be mixed units. Anybody placed in such a mixed unit will not be able, for example, to ask to be excused from “army ceremonies,” as opposed to the situation today, even if the social content is contrary to their religious convictions.
* * * * * *
“Yaacov kissed Rachel, and he raised his voice and wept” [Bereishit 29:11]. This is evidently the only instance in the Tanach of a man kissing a woman (except for a mother or a sister). “Why did he cry? He saw the people whispering to each other because of the kiss, saying, ‘What, has this one come to reinstitute forbidden sexual conduct?’ From the time that the world was punished in the generation of the Deluge, the nations of the world stayed away from illicit sexual acts.” And the sages commented that “This was a kiss indicating a family relationship and not a frivolous act.” [Bereishit Rabba 70].