Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi compared "immodestly"-dressed secular women to “animals” and proposed a unique form of protest for Orthodox male soldiers compelled to attend official army ceremonies in which women sing. He said they should remove their glasses so as to blur the offending view and bury their faces in a holy book in a “conspicuous” fashion so as to demonstrate they were not paying attention to the performance.
Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef made the pronouncements in a sermon on Saturday night, according to the Hebrew website Kikar HaShabbat.
Yosef’s “animal” reference was made while defending the ultra-Orthodox community against charges that their restrictive rules meant that they do not respect women.
“If secular people knew how much we respected women, and all that we do to preserve women’s dignity: A woman is not an animal, you have to respect her honor. Dressing modestly is that honor.”
His discussion of behavior at events in which women sing began with an anecdote about a government ceremony.
“I was at an event where a woman was singing, and what did I do? I took a little book in my hand and removed my glasses. I put the book in front of my face, conspicuously, so others around me, the prime minister and the president, could all see that I wasn’t listening, that my head was in a book held close to my eyes.
“That’s what the soldiers should do. If the soldiers are somewhere that they are ordered to hear a woman’s voice — and what kind of strange order is that anyway?” he asked, then suggested that they do like he did, and “Take off their glasses, put a book in front of their eyes, and show conspicuously that we’re not listening, that our mind is on Torah.”
Many Orthodox Jewish men believe that listening to the voice of a woman singing is, for them, a violation of religious law.
The fact that Orthodox soldiers are required to attend ceremonies where women perform has, for a number of years, been the source of controversy. It pits those whose goal is to bring more of the growing ultra-Orthodox population into the army against those who view curtailing women’s singing — or allowing religious soldiers to skip such ceremonies — as an unacceptable form of discrimination.
In 2011, Orthodox cadets were expelled from officer candidate school after they walked out of an evening seminar when female vocalists took the stage to sing, and said they would continue to disobey any order requiring them to be present during such events.
A year later, the chief rabbi of the air force resigned his position in a recruitment program for ultra-Orthodox soldiers over the issue. Although the army policy requiring Orthodox soldiers to be present at all official ceremonies no matter who is singing has remained firm, it is still a sore point among ultra-Orthodox and even mainstream national religious leaders.
This was not the first time that Yosef expressed his sentiments about women serving in the army. As far as he’s concerned, the female soldiers singing in the ceremonies don’t belong in the army in the first place. In December, he said that it was “not the way of the Torah” for women to join the Israel Defense Forces or even sign up for civilian national service.
“All the great sages through the generations, including all Israel’s chief rabbis, believe that it is forbidden for girls to go into the army,” Yosef preached. “Gentlemen, not just to the army – but to national service too.”
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