IDF soldiers
IDF soldiers at a graduation ceremony after completing an officers’ course. Photo by Ilan Assayag
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Orthodox soldiers are not permitted according to halakha, Jewish religious law, to stage a walkout at events that feature women singing, the head of the religious kibbutz movement's yeshiva at Ma'aleh Gilboa stated. The assertion by Rabbi David Bigman comes against the backdrop of a controversy in the Israel Defense Forces over a walkout by religious cadets at an event which featured a female soldier singing. Some of the cadets were dismissed from the course as a result, despite their position that halakha bars them from hearing women sing.

Bigman spelled out his stance in a Rosh Hashanah message to students and graduates of his yeshiva. His position is shared by two other rabbinical figures, Yuval Sherlo of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva, which combines religious study and military service, and Shlomo Aviner of the Ateret Yerushalayim yeshiva in Jerusalem, even though the two other rabbis are not of one mind on a number of public issues. Rabbi Bigman did urge the IDF, however, to show consideration for the feelings of religiously observant soldiers.

Bigman states that Jewish religious law requires that when a conflict arises between the prohibition against hearing women singing and the harm caused to human dignity from staging a walkout on such an occasion, the Torah does not require soldiers to leave. He said this would be the case "even if one doesn't accord any importance to my halakhic stance that the prohibition against hearing a woman [sing] does not apply to innocent singing." The walk-out would not be allowed even if the singing was not deemed "innocent," he said.

Bigman based his position on a halakhic ruling by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, a former chief rabbi of Israel and the spiritual leader of the Shas party, who explicitly stated that a walk-out should not be preferred over the hurt it would cause to the singers and the audience as a whole. A walkout under such circumstances, Rabbi Yosef ruled, is not behavior befitting Torah-observant Jews.

In an apparent response to the recent controversy over the issue in the IDF, Rabbi Bigman added, however: "Secular Israeli society, which espouses democratic values, should have been enlisted to protect religious freedom and allow equality to the entire spectrum of society. The conduct of the army and a considerable portion of the responses in the media are not in keeping with a democratic society that espouses religious freedom and diversity."

After IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and the chief rabbi of the IDF, Rafi Peretz, proposed that soldiers who did not wish to attend events where women were singing be excused, the Orthodox religious women's organization Kolech, called on the two to reconsider and not excuse attendance at such events. The group said its position was aimed at ensuring that the IDF remained an army of men and women, both religious and secular, and that it furthers gender equality in the army.