Angry MKs Demand Top IDF Rabbi Ousted for Comments on Women

Among other controversial comments, Rabbi Avichai Ronski recently said women should not serve in army.

Angry lawmakers demanded on Thursday that Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi dismiss the army's top rabbi over his stated belief that women should not perform military service.

"This is not the first outrageous comment by [IDF Chief] Rabbi [Avichai] Ronski," said Labor MK Ophir Pines-Paz. "The chief rabbi crossed a red line in his statements and we mustn't allow this to pass. This is a chauvinistic and demeaning comment that encourages draft-dodging and I call on the chief of staff to remove the chief rabbi from his post. The IDF is deserving of a different chief rabbi."

Ronski told a conference two weeks ago that women ought not to serve in the IDF. The conference was attended by several dozen religious women soldiers, and the topic was supposed to be the special problems they face. Most religious women opt to do civilian national service instead of army service.

But Ronski told the women, "I personally think that a priori, women should not serve in the army," adding that no rabbinic rulings authorize women to do so. He has since denied making the comment.

"[The rabbi's comments] are primitive and dark," Kadima MK Orit Zuaretz said on Thursday. "There is no place for them in an organization like the IDF, which serves as the army of the people and most of whose personnel is comprised of women."

"Even if these are his personal opinions, it would have been wise if he did not air them at all, especially while he is in uniform and represents a part of the senior echelon of the IDF," Zuaretz said.

"I call on the chief of staff and the head of the IDF personnel directorate to consider his dismissal due to the severity of his statements and their potential to impact the functioning of the IDF as an organization as well as on the opinions of officers and soldiers who view him as an educational and spiritual figure."

Most Orthodox rabbis, his predecessors included, would agree with Ronski. But most of the others have been careful not to say so while in uniform.

And some of those present, including some Orthodox rabbis and educators, were furious at Ronski's statement.

"I'm not surprised that this is his opinion," said one woman. "But that he chose to say it in front of dozens of religious women soldiers, who have done something that is not easy for them - that is insensitivity."

Several women said they found his remarks particularly outrageous because he met his own wife while she was serving as a company clerk in his army unit.

Rabbi Ohad Tohar-Lev of Midreshet Lindenbaum, one of the few religious institutions for women that offers a program combining Torah study with army service, said he personally believes "there are some army positions that a woman should serve in a priori." He added that he has no objection to Ronski expressing the contrary opinion, "but one has to ask the leaders of the army whether there isn't a problem with the very appointment of someone who holds this view."

Yet Tohar-Lev, along with several others who criticized Ronski's remark, all praised him for the fact that despite his views, he tries to help religious women solve any problems they encounter in the army.

"The message is that it's better not to be drafted," said one religious woman soldier. "But from the moment we are in uniform, there's a great deal of assistance."