Israel Chief Rabbi: Women Shouldn't Go to the Army

Yitzhak Yosef's remarks come amid the military's plan to let women serve in tanks, which has raised an outcry in the Zionist-Religious camp. 'It is not the way of the Torah,' rabbi says.

Israel's Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, 2015.
Lior Mizrahi

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said late Saturday that women should not join the Israel Defense Forces or even sign up for civilian national service instead.

“All the great sages through the generations, including all Israel’s chief rabbis, believe that it is forbidden for girls to go into the army,” Yosef said in a sermon. “Gentlemen, not just to the army – but to national service too.”

He added: “Unfortunately, here too there is a weakening.”

Yosef said the drafting of women led to “calamities.” “They say there are women pilots, there are all kinds of things. What if there are women pilots? Is that the way of the Torah?” he said.

“It is not the way of the Torah. If we would only follow the Torah in everything, we would spare ourselves all kinds of calamities that we unfortunately see. We would be spared so much. It is written in the Torah.”

Yosef also referred to medieval sage Maimonides’ ruling that when a war was unavoidable, even a “bride” must enlist. He said that in such a case, women should do the laundry and cook, but not fight.

“It was an army in which all were pious and righteous,” Yosef said.

Last month, when the High Court of Justice upheld Rabbi Eyal Krim’s appointment as chief military rabbi, Krim said he once believed that the army “could hurt the female recruit’s modesty.” But he said that today he knows there are roles in which women soldiers’ contributions are just as important for national security as men’s.

“I have no doubt about the significant contribution of girls who serve in the IDF,” Krim wrote. “The challenge of modesty that is entailed in girls serving in the IDF remains a complex social issue . I have been committed since the time I enlisted in the military rabbinate to find halakhic ways to help integrate women into the IDF,” he added, referring to Jewish law.

Former senior officers have come out against the plan to allow women into tank crews.

A former brigade commander and public security minister, Avigdor Kahalani, said “a woman’s job is to be a mother” and the traumas of war would mar women’s maternal skills.

Maj. Gen. (res.) Yiftah Ron-Tal, chairman of the Israel Electric Corporation, called the plan to assign women to tanks “a scandal that will harm anything you can think of – including the IDF’s capabilities.” He said he had read that leftist groups were behind the push to open up more combat roles for women.