Female soldiers on a rest and recuperation day at a swimming pool were ordered to cover up by their commanders on Tuesday, “so as not to hurt the feelings of religious soldiers.”
While female soldiers in the mixed-gender Tavor Battalion, a search and rescue unit, were ordered to swim wearing oversized shirts and long pants, male soldiers were allowed to enter wearing shorts. Most of the female soldiers refused to comply and remained outside the pool in the town of Kochav Ya’ir.
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The decision exceeded the Joint Service Order, according to which, every male and female soldier is allowed to enter a pool in swimsuit.
“During a swim, those who wish to do so will be allowed to wear a swimsuit, in accordance with the [IDF's] appearance and dress code ... it is forbidden for commanders to dictate the color or style of dress in excess of what is stated above,” states the ordinance, which was updated in 2017 by former Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot.
The IDF Spokesperson's Unit confirmed the details of the report and said that "the issue will be investigated and the protocols will be clarified.”
Mixed-gender service has become a hotly contested issue between rabbinical authorities and secular leaders, as more positions in the Israeli army open up to female soldiers. In 2019, amid calls by military reserve rabbis for male soldiers to refrain from mixed-gender service, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi referred to the Joint Service Order and reprimanded efforts by civilian groups to influence soldiers' conduct. “Over the years, and recently too, I encountered repeated attempts to dictate our soldiers’ code of conduct, including the issue of co-ed service in the IDF," Kochavi said, adding that there was no room for this kind of intervention.
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However, last March Haaretz learned that the IDF's chief rabbi Eyal Karim participated in a meeting of an army task force on integrating women into combat roles, despite the army’s promise that religious considerations wouldn’t influence the panel. Another religious Zionist rabbi also attended the meeting, and several other rabbis have been invited to present their views at subsequent meetings.
Kochavi set up the task force last July to consider whether additional combat roles should be opened to women. He did so after the High Court of Justice ordered the state to respond to petitions by women who wanted to serve in combat positions that are currently closed to them.
The IDF promised at the time that the issue would be examined solely through the lens of professional considerations such as the army’s ability to carry out its missions and the health and safety of its soldiers. Religious objections to women’s service would not be taken into account, it said.