Israeli Defense Minister Raps Army Rabbi From for Saying Women and Men Can't Serve Together

Avigdor Lieberman says women have always been an integral part of the security of the Jewish people and that rabbis who spoke out recently against mixed-gender units in the IDF should retract their statements

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman in Ashdod, January 20, 2018.
\ Ilan Assayag

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Saturday that the rabbis who came out against coed army service last week, including Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, will not be invited to participate in military ceremonies until they retract their comments.

Lieberman was speaking at a shopping mall in Ashdod as part of the fight to allow businesses to open on Shabbat. “Women have always been an integral part of the security of the Jewish people,” he said.

“The chief rabbi, Rabbi [Shlomo] Aviner and Rabbi [Shmuel] Eliyahu cannot call for the dismissal of the chief of staff and [for people] not to enlist in the army, and also take part in ceremonies or in any events within the Israel Defense Forces,” Lieberman said.

He added he did not intend “to give them a platform within the army until they retract their statements. They are state employees who, among other things, receive a salary from taxpayers.”

Lieberman said he has instructed the army to exclude the three rabbis from all army events.

Yosef, Aviner and Eliyahu caused a stir last week with remarks against men and women serving together in the army and against IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

Aviner said on Tuesday that male combatants should ask to serve in a unit where there are no women, such as an elite combat unit or a unit for ultra-Orthodox soldiers. When a yeshiva student told him this was not realistic, Aviner responded: “If that’s the case, then unfortunately, for now, one shouldn’t go to the army. Either a separate unit or don’t enlist for now.”

Eliyahu supported his fellow rabbi’s comments the following day, telling Army Radio, “Rabbi Aviner is a responsible person. He has thousands of students. All his life, he educated with devotion for the benefit of the people of Israel. Maybe Eisenkot should wake up; maybe the prime minister should tell him to go home.”

The chief rabbi for the northern city of Safed also addressed the subject of coed units in the IDF. “After all the stories about sexual harassment in the world of fashion, culture, theater, the army, the police and the yeshivas, we should realize that we are all human beings with healthy instincts, blessed is the Lord,” Eliyahu said. “Any healthy male soldier who is in the company of a female soldier on a mission can’t fulfill it properly. For a healthy person, that is man’s nature.”

Lieberman also responded to those comments at the time. “I call on Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner to retract their benighted statements and in future avoid making similar statements that could harm the strength and legitimacy of the IDF,” the defense minister said on Wednesday.