Prominent 'Liberal' Israeli Rabbis Join Call Not to Enlist in Mixed Gender Army Units

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Soldiers from the co-ed Caracal Battalion of the Israel Defense Forces. Credit: Darren Whiteside, Reuters

A number of leading Israeli rabbis from the mainstream of religious Zionism have joined the call of Zionist ultra-Orthodox rabbis for young religious Jews not to enlist in army combat units where men and women serve together.

A letter by the rabbis on the issue came on Wednesday in wake of new orders to increase the ingratiation of women into predominately male combat units, including in the armored corps.

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Unlike those rabbis who initially protested the decision and come from the Zionist ultra-Orthodox stream, these rabbis, from the so-called "liberal" stream of religious Zionism, also known as modern Orthodox, usually avoid attacking the army and make do by telling their adherents not to joined mixed units.

MK Moti Yogev from the religious Habayit Hayehudi party called on Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday to review anew the incorporation of women in combat army units, citing "the endangerment of Israel's security, Jewish tradition and the unity of the people."

According to Yogev, the decision to allow joint service of men and women poses "harm to female soldiers' health, femininity and natural modesty. Those in the army pushing for a move to erase gender identity and to empower the value of 'equality' above all else are hurting the IDF's operational capabilities."

The rabbis who signed the letter are prominent religious leaders who usually encourage army service, including for women, unlike some rabbinical leaders of other pre-army programs and other so-called "conservative" rabbis who oppose women serving in the army.

Among the signatories are also the heads of pre-military academies who last week criticized remarks made by Eli pre-military academy head Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, as well as leaders who run the gamut from the mainstream to liberal camps of religious Zionism – such as rabbis Yaakov Medan, Shlomo Riskin, Ohad Tohar-Lav, Ilay Ofran, David Stav and Rabbanit Michal Nagan, the head of the female pre-military academy Zahali. The Beit Hillel rabbinical organization also stands behind the letter.

According to the signatories, unlike in non-combat units, "there are a number of combat units in the army such as the routine security battalions (Caracal, Arayot Hayarden etc.) where we have yet to find a solution as to how to implement the required separation, and that's why today it's forbidden to serve in them the military establishment has yet to find solutions to these challenges, and that's why the duty to ensure that military service won't conflict with our halakhic world and our values – rests on the people themselves."  

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