IDF: Religious Soldiers Can't Walk Out on Women Singing

Religiously observant soldiers may not walk out of military assemblies to protest women singing, the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff's office has ruled.

As an alternative, the soldiers may focus their eyes elsewhere, the office said.

In March, religious soldiers and officers left several IDF ceremonies because women were singing. The most significant incident occured at a Paratroopers' Brigade assembly when a female member of the brigade sang its anthem.

The army's chief education officer Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister called the incident a "worrisome phenomenon" because it damages group cohesion, according to the army weekly Bamahane.

In response, the director general of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, Nachi Eyal, sent a letter to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, asking him to fix the impression created by Shermeister's "shameful remarks."

Eyal felt Shermeister's comments undermined religious soldiers' freedom of religion.

This month, Ashkenazi's office sent Eyal a letter backing Shermeister and emphasizing that all soldiers are required to attend military ceremonies.

The letter, written by Major Neta Shmariyahu, assistant secretary to the Supreme Command, states there are directives that set guidelines for "appropriate integration" of male and female soldiers and guide the commanders in planning social cohesion activities in a manner that does not offend subordinates' sensibilities.

"When the event begins and a soldier feels the nature of the proceedings on stage does not suit his faith, he is not required to look directly at or actively participate in them, and can stay in his seat and show respect for the event and the performers. Leaving the event hurts his fellow soldiers and sends [negative] messages to all soldiers," the letter said.

The forum said it regretted the chief of staff's response. Prohibiting soldiers from leaving assemblies under these circumstances "tramples their religious identity and their human dignity," it stated, adding that it is considering turning to the High Court of Justice.