Hesder Yeshiva Students Hand Out Leaflets in Opposition to Women Serving in IDF Combat Units

The leafleting effort in Jerusalem and Petah Tikva follows a backlash over controversial comments by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein of the yeshiva in Eli, objecting to women in combat positions.

Female soldiers in Tel Aviv, 2003.
Nir Kafri

Following controversial comments made by one of the heads of the hesder yeshiva in Eli about women serving, similar objections are now the subject of a campaign by students at hesder yeshivas - educational institutions where students combine religious studies and army service.

The controversial comments, which were also criticized for their tone, were made by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein of the Bnei David yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Eli, which offers a hesder program as well as a one-year pre-army preparatory program. “They’re driving our girls crazy. They draft them. They go in Jewish and they’re not Jewish when they come out .... Their whole system of values becomes confused, their priorities – home, career,” he said, according to Channel 10.

Hesder yeshiva students from a number of institutions passed out flyers and hung signs this week with the slogan “Save the IDF, Stop Joint Service,” a reference to the new IDF policy expanding the practice of men and women serving together in combat positions. The hesder students went door-to-door on Wednesday in Jerusalem and in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva distributing the materials in neighborhoods that are heavily religious as well as on main thoroughfares in Jerusalem and in the Tel Aviv area.

“Against any rational explanation and while ignoring studies and expert opinions, the IDF is undergoing a change that harms serving female soldiers and [the army’s] operational capacity and the security of us all,” the flyers read. “What are really the consequences of putting girls in combat units? It’s not rational, it’s not ethical, it’s not humane. This madness has to be stopped.”

The flyers purport to be from an organization called “Brothers in Arms: Soldiers Supporting the Strength of the IDF,” but Haaretz was unable to obtain a response for this article from the group. A Petah Tikva resident told Haaretz that hesder yeshiva students from Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev came to his neighborhood and were knocking on doors and distributing materials on the issue. The resident said that the soldiers admitted to him that they had already entered the military service phase of their program and were therefore subject to an IDF ban on any activity “undermining military service,” which at least on its face, appears to apply to these students.

Students in the hesder program do 12 months of yeshiva study followed by 17 months of military service in special units, after which they study at the yeshiva again.

IDF orders ban soldiers from participating in demonstrations relating to military service as well as partisan political matters and political issues. The IDF does allow soldiers to attend any other demonstrations as long as they do so out of uniform, but IDF sources said they would take a serious view with regard to violations of the order, which would be investigated and dealt with.

On Wednesday, the Defense Ministry cancelled a hearing with Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman scheduled for Thursday with Rabbi Levinstein and his colleague at the Eli yeshiva, Rabbi Eli Sadan. Lieberman had demanded Levinstein’s resignation as a condition for the ministry to continue recognizing their yeshiva as a hesder institution. A hearing on the matter was cancelled after Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber issued an opinion stating that demanding Levinstein’s resignation and dropping the yeshiva from the hesder track were too severe under the circumstances and that in any case Lieberman had no authority to hold such a hearing.

Levinstein came in for additional criticism on Wednesday from one of religious Zionism’s leading figures, Rabbi Yuval Sherlow, the head of the Orot Shaul yeshiva in Ra’anana. Referring to a letter that Levinstein send to graduates of the army preparatory program in Eli, Sherlo said the letter shows that Levinstein had still not addressed “the magnitude of the crisis.”