Israeli Rabbi Apologizes for 'Style,' Not Content, of Remarks on Female Soldiers

Yigal Levinstein, a rabbi in a West Bank settlement, decries 'a feminist approach inconsistent with Judaism' in the Israel Defense Forces.

Michal Fattal

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a pre-army program in a West Bank settlement, apologized Wednesday for the “style” of his remarks on women in the military, but said "I do not retract my worldview.”

“For the past two years a cultural process has been taking place in the army a feminist approach inconsistent with Judaism,” Levinstein told Channel 2 television.

Colleagues around the country had urged Levinstein, the head of the Bnei David pre-army program in the settlement of Eli, to retract his statement that Israeli women who do military service come out not Jewish.

In part of a lecture shown on Channel 10 television Tuesday, Levinstein said: “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.”

While some rabbis and graduates of army prep programs, mechinot in Hebrew, have come to his defense, the heads of 28 others have joined the criticism.

Earlier Wednesday, Levinstein discussed the crisis with the co-director of the Bnei David program, Rabbi Eli Sadan, who harshly criticized Levinstein’s remarks.

Premilitary academy head Yigal Levinstein at a conference in Jerusalem in July 2016.
YouTube

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is visiting Washington, also took Levinstein to task.

“Since the establishment of the country, women have served in the Israel Defense Forces and have made a huge contribution to Israel’s security,” Lieberman said. “Levinstein’s verbal attack is not only a blow against women in Israel, it’s a blow against the IDF, the IDF’s heritage and Israel’s basic values.”

Lieberman said that upon his return to Israel he would consider whether Levinstein was fit to prepare young people for military service.

Levinstein had a close relationship with IDF commanders until he spoke out last summer against the IDF’s egalitarianism regarding gay soldiers; he also called gay people “perverts.” Since then, the military has not let Levinstein give lectures to soldiers.

The 28 heads of mechinot, including four religious programs, signed a letter asking Levinstein to retract his remarks.

“In his lecture, Rabbi Levinstein let himself denigrate, scorn and ridicule female soldiers and officers serving in the IDF, and even to categorize them in an unfitting way,” the letter states.

“The use of hurtful expressions and a belittling style regarding the secular outlook, and regarding women who choose to serve their people in the IDF, creates divisions, and it conflicts with the principles of cooperation and the interests of all mechinot. This is not our approach.”

On Tuesday, the director of the council of pre-army programs, Dani Zamir, said respect for female graduates and all women must be maintained.

In addition to the heads of the four religious programs, including Amitai Porat, the secretary-general of the religious kibbutz movement, the other 24 signatories were from mechinot where secular and religious participants study together.

The heads of three of the country’s general mechinot, which have both secular and religious students, did not sign the letter. The three include the Tavor academy, whose leaders have criticized left-wing group Breaking the Silence. One leader at Tavor is with the right-wing group Im Tirtzu. Following Haaret'z report, more mechinot heads joined the letter, and the heads of the Tavor mechina said they would add their signature to it.

Hard-line rabbis are still highly critical of men and women serving together in the military. Rabbi Dor Lior recently said Jewish law did not let men and women serve together.

“Even though army service is a mitzvah, there is no permission to get into a situation in which one cannot live as a Torah-observant Jew,” Lior said. “Girls are not to be drafted because they cannot observe the rules of modesty [in the army].”

The flap about Levinstein’s comments come at a time when many rabbis are waging a two-front war regarding women in the military.

One aspect targets military service of any kind by religious women. The second relates to the presence of women, including secular women, in combat roles, a practice that even many mainstream figures in the religious-Zionist community oppose.