NGOs Preparing Religious Girls for Military Service Lose State Support

Education Ministry says the rabbinate forbids IDF service for girls in the national-religious education system.

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Female IDF soldiers at a base in southern Israel.
Female IDF soldiers at a base in southern Israel.

The education ministry has cancelled its support for non-profit organizations that assist religious girls wishing to serve in the army.

Until now, the ministry had transferred nine million shekels ($2.25 million) annually to two such groups, which encourage high school students to enlist and prepare them for a non-religious environment in which they serve with a diverse population, according to guidelines issued in 2004.

The regulations were changed in 2014, restricting such support to male students only. The new regulations call for encouraging males to serve in the army and for girls to join the alternative National Service program.

The activities supported by the ministry now include “group guidance aimed at fostering love of Torah, country and the land, directing boys towards the army and girls to National Service, equipping them with tools for contending with diverse groups of people.”

Attorney Amnon Lorch, an activist in military and social affairs who recently led the demand to increase soldiers’ pay, appealed the new regulations to former Education Minister Shai Piron, complaining of blatant and unjust discrimination against girls wishing to serve in the military.

In January, Lorch received an answer from the ministry’s legal counsel, informing him that “the national-religious education system operates in these matters according to directives from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, whose position is clear. In 1949 the Rabbinate issued a manifest which strictly forbids the enlistment of females into the IDF.”

The ministry promised to issue new guidelines for supporting groups that wish to assist religious girls who want to enlist, but has so far not done so.

It explained that “the national-religious schools act according to the rabbinical guidelines, encouraging girls to perform National Service and boys to enlist.” Attorney Eran Assis of the justice ministry added that “it is inconceivable that the Education Ministry would try to follow a certain policy and at the same time support bodies which act contrary to that policy.”

The education ministry of Education argued that “the changes to the regulations in 2014 were carried out after consultations with the justice ministry, and not much has changed in practice, compared to previous years. The national-religious school system has been implementing a budgetary clause to prepare girls for National Service and boys for the army. The choice of where to serve rests with the pupils themselves.”

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