Long after many other army positions have opened up to women, the Israel Defense Forces Rabbinate has finally jumped on the bandwagon: From now on, women will be able to serve as kashrut supervisors in army kitchens.
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The decision was made jointly by IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz and the IDF personnel directorate.
Nevertheless, female kashrut supervisors won’t be able to serve on all bases, Peretz said. They will be allowed only on bases with large kitchens or in places where they can work alongside other women.
The decision to let women supervise kashrut in the IDF is a by-product of a broader struggle to get the Chief Rabbinate of Israel to certify women to serve as kashrut supervisors in civilian institutions. A group of women who studied the laws of kashrut in a program organized by Emunah, the National Religious Women’s Organization, had been fighting for years for permission to take the rabbinate’s exams and be certified as supervisors. The battle went all the way to the High Court of Justice, and earlier this year, the rabbinate finally agreed to let them sit for the exams and, if they pass, be hired as official rabbinate kashrut supervisors. The first group of nine women took the exams in May.
Peretz, who participated in discussions within the rabbinate on whether to approve this agreement, was actually a vocal opponent of the idea. According to minutes of a meeting of the Chief Rabbinate Council that were published by Army Radio at the time, Peretz said, “I fear that if they approve this in civilian life it will also reach the army, and to this, I vehemently object.” He also warned that “the implications of employing female kashrut supervisors under military pressure are dangerous.”
The Emunah women had never asked to open the IDF Rabbinate to female supervisors; their battle focused solely on civilian institutions. Nevertheless, after the Chief Rabbinate approved the reform, Peretz informed the IDF personnel directorate that he would support having female kashrut supervisors in the military as well. That was a few months ago, and since then, the army has been working out the bureaucratic details.
What made him change his mind? “Thinking,” Peretz said in an interview with Haaretz. “I raised the issue, thought about it, discussed it, and didn’t see any barrier to such a thing on, say, an air force base.”
“Today, I say we need to discuss this on its merits,” he continued. “There are places where it’s possible, and there are places where I wouldn’t want a girl to be alone in the field with a crew of male soldiers. If they [the female supervisors] come together, or if it’s on large bases, then there’s no problem.”
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit confirmed the change in policy. “The service track for kashrut supervisors, which was open only to men, is now being opened to women, too,” it said in a statement. “The personnel directorate has begun locating female soldiers for the job.”
About two weeks ago, the results of the rabbinate kashrut exam administered in May were released, and all nine women who sat for it passed. One of them, Avivit Ravia, said she and another Emunah graduate would soon start working as kashrut supervisors for a company that organizes kosher tours abroad.
“Admittedly, this isn’t an official position as a rabbinate kashrut supervisor, but we wouldn’t have gotten the job if we hadn’t passed the rabbinate’s exams,” she said.
Ravia welcomed the IDF’s decision, terming it an unexpected benefit of her battle with the rabbinate. “The next step must be the rabbinate itself, which, now that we’ve passed its exams, must openly offer us supervisory jobs in the official rabbinate,” she added.