gantz rabbis - IDF Press Office - September 11 2011
IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, September 11, 2011. Photo by IDF Press Office
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Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz on Sunday refused the request of Israel’s chief rabbis to exempt religious soldiers from participating in army ceremonies in which female singers perform.

Gantz made the remarks to Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger at their offices in Jerusalem after four cadets were dismissed from a course after leaving an evening activity featuring an army chorus that included women.

When the rabbis brought the issue up with Gantz and urged him to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring, by granting exemption to religious soldiers from attending these types of events, Gantz said that he was “reviewing the matter”, but refused their proposal and told the rabbis that in Israel “there is a responsibility to ensure the unity of the people”.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Amar told the Chief of Staff that soldiers must be permitted to leave “in a dignified manner” events in which women perform, without it being considered the refusal of a military order.

Amar said that he discussed the issue with “important people who care about the army”, who explained to him the complex dilemma facing religious soldiers and the worry that because of this issue “the IDF is likely to lose good people”.

Amar told Gantz that even if women cannot be prevented from performing at public IDF events, at the least the soldiers’ freedom to leave the auditorium because it contradicts their religious sensibilities should be respected. Amar said that Gantz promised to find a solution to the problem.

Sources close to the Chief of Staff responded angrily on Sunday after sources close to the Chief Rabbinate announced after the meeting that Gantz was willing to consider the Rabbis’ proposal. “The Chief of Staff backed up the unit’s commanders and other commanders that were insistent that all soldiers take part in their unit’s [recreational] activities,” they said.

One issue that the Chief of Staff and the Chief Rabbis did agree on was the unequivocal condemnation of the recent “price tag” terror actions that West Bank settlers perpetrated against Palestinians and even sabotage on IDF bases and equipment last week.