Israeli Army Gender-segregated Races on Sports Day So Rabbis Could Attend

Event now has separate heats for men and for women

The army is holding separate runs for men and women during its field days for high-ranking officers, Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim said recently.

He was speaking at a memorial for former IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki at a yeshiva in Itamar. At the event, he stated that it was decided that officers would be divided into several gender-segregated heats to prevent men and women from running together.

The IDF holds an annual sports day for its top brass, and all officers ranked colonel and above attend. The event includes a 2-kilometer run that has turned into an IDF tradition.

“There was a problem,” Karim stated. “You need to run those 2,000 meters so not everyone is dressed like we’d expect. There are women, girls,” he said. The IDF rabbis began to be invited to sports days, he said, recalling that he and Rontzki came. Rontzki, then the IDF’s chief rabbi, “deliberated what to do, whether to go. On the one hand he wanted to go and be like everyone else in the IDF, to be with everyone. But on the other hand — modesty,” he said.

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Karim recalled that he and Rontzki deliberated, and that Karim suggested, “We cannot be there, like lots of things in life, be off on the side.” Karim recalled that Rontzki responded, “We’ll be there, and we’ll try to make sure it’s sex-separated.”

Rontzk had suggested dividing the run into some heats that were open to everyone and some that were sex-segregated, said Karim, “and that’s what happened.”

Since then, the event has had separate heats for men and for women, said Karim.

In a response, the army said the event is held annually in order to emphasize the importance of fitness, with its officers at the head. “As in every display of sports culture within the IDF, there is no gender separation here,” said the IDF, noting that the race is not a competition and participants can choose to drop out at will.

There have been several recent cases where officers took an excessively strict interpretation of rules designed to make religious male soldiers feel comfortable. In one such case, a field day in Ashkelon, female soldiers were ordered out of the pool so that male soldiers could swim. In another case, male soldiers turned their backs on a female parachuting instructor in order not to see her face, after their commanding officer gave them permission to do so.

The head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz sent a letter to all IDF units criticizing these incidents as “going against IDF orders and policy.”

File photo: Israel Defense Forces Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim speaks at a memorial ceremony for former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, November 2017.
Marc Israel Sellem