Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi: Excuse Religious Soldiers From Events Where Women Sing

Rabbi Yona Metzger distributes rulings to rabbis both in Israel and abroad, with a suggestion that they include it in their sermons during the upcoming Jewish holidays.

Israel Defense Forces soldiers whose religious beliefs don't allow them to listen to women sing should have the right to be excused from attending such events, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said in a halakhic ruling disseminated on Monday.

His entry into the fray follows Sunday's comments by IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, who expressed support for the religious cadets who walked out of an IDF heritage event several weeks ago after a mixed group of male and female vocalists took the stage. Four of the nine cadets were expelled when they refused to express remorse for their actions.

IDF entertainment - Dan Keinan - September 2011
Dan Keinan

Peretz will soon issue his own halakhic opinion on the matter to IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. The army will then issue explicit regulations on the issue.

In response to Peretz's comments, the IDF Spokesman subsequently clarified that the rabbi strongly condemns any refusal to follow orders, and his expression of support related only to the five cadets who apologized and were therefore not expelled from the course.

Metzger's halakhic ruling was distributed by his office Monday to rabbis both in Israel and abroad, with the suggestion that they not only use it in replying to individuals who seek their advice on the proper interpretation of Jewish law, but also include it in their sermons during the upcoming Jewish holidays.

Most of Metzger's opinion dealt with various aspects of the prohibition against men listening to women singing. Basing himself on various halakhic scholars, he concluded that the prohibition applies to singing by one woman, a group of woman or a mixed choir of men and women. A man who encounters a situation that would violate the ban should leave the scene, Metzger wrote, and complaints should therefore not be lodged against soldiers who in fact do so.

The only exception is circumstances in which the men are able to distract themselves so that they do not listen to the singing, he said - a solution that successive chief rabbis, including Metzger himself, have in fact used at official ceremonies ever since Israel was founded.

Metzger took the IDF to task for dismissing the four cadets from officer candidate school and suggested that in the future, events where many religious male soldiers will be present should feature only male singers. If this is impossible, he added, the army should at least bar women from singing at events where a large portion of those present follow a strict interpretation of the prohibition, such as his own, which would require them to leave the event. Some religious soldiers follow more lenient interpretations.

If strictly religious soldiers are in the minority, Metzger continued, they should be informed in advance and, in consultation with their unit's rabbi, either be excused from the event entirely or allowed to leave before the singing begins, in a way that doesn't damage the event itself.

Although the chief rabbi appears to reflect the sentiment of most Orthodox rabbis on the subject, there is a minority rabbinical opinion which holds that while the IDF should be sensitive to the soldiers' sensibilities, walkouts such as the cadets staged several weeks ago are wrong. One rabbi who follows this minority view is David Bigman of the religious kibbutz movement's Ma'aleh Gilboa Yeshiva, who wrote earlier this week that a demonstrative pubic walkout is itself a violation of halakha, due to the harm it inflicts on the singers and the audience. Other advocates of this view include Rabbi Yuval Cherlow of the Petah Tikva hesder yeshiva, which combines religious study and military service, and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner of the Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva in Jerusalem.

The Orthodox women's organization Kolech, which opposes excusing men from events featuring women vocalists, noted that the chief rabbis have always attended events at which women sing.