IDF: Soldiers Cannot Skip Ceremonies With Women Singing

Army clarifies stand in wake of censure of Orthodox cadets who left seminar.

The army does not intend to change its rules on women singing at military ceremonies or to exempt religious soldiers from attending these ceremonies, despite pleas to the chief of staff from both of Israel's chief rabbis and the public storm that erupted last week after four religious cadets were ousted from officer candidate school (Bahad 1 ) over this issue.

However, the army does intend to issue new guidelines aimed at clarifying the rules and will also make much greater efforts to explain them to soldiers, in the hope of preventing future such incidents.

gantz rabbis - IDF Press Office - September 11 2011
IDF Press Office

A week ago, nine religious cadets walked out of an evening seminar on the legacy of Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 when a band comprising two male and two female vocalists took the stage to sing. Col. Eran Niv, the commander of Bahad 1, later decided to expel four of them, after they said they would do the same again even though they understood that it constituted disobeying an order, and would thus lead to their ouster.

But after investigating the issue, the army concluded that there is widespread confusion over what the rules for "appropriate integration" of women into the Israel Defense Forces do and do not allow. For instance, the rules prohibit religious soldiers from boycotting "professional" events that include female vocalists, but not "cultural" events. Moreover, rabbis disagree over whether and under what circumstances it is religiously forbidden for men to listen to women sing, and the IDF rabbinate has not clarified its stance on this issue.

"The enormous rise in the proportion of religious soldiers in combat units necessitates more detailed regulation of this issue," a senior officer told Haaretz. "In the current [officers'] course, the proportion of religious cadets is 42 percent. Every person of faith must receive minimal consideration of his needs from the IDF. But if I grant everyone their maximum demands, I'll have anything but a well-run organization."

Officers familiar with last week's incident said they are convinced the nine cadets who left did so out of genuine religious conviction, not as a provocation. Nevertheless, they added, soldiers must obey orders unless an order is patently illegal - which this one clearly wasn't from the perspective of civil law, even if the cadets deemed it a violation of religious law.