Israeli Rabbi Against Women in Army: 'I Want to Save Them From Feminist Captivity'

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Israeli fighters in the mixed-gender Caracal battalion, October 2016.
Israeli fighters in the mixed-gender Caracal battalion, October 2016.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkowitz

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a West Bank pre-army military academy who spoke out against military service for Orthodox women earlier this month, stood by his controversial statements in a letter sent Monday to alumni of his program.

Levinstein rejected criticism that he scorned women. "I am trying to save the girls from feminist captivity and to fight for their honor as Jewish women and against liberals staining their honor," he wrote in the five-page letter.

In a lecture to young male students that Levinstein made earlier this month, which was recorded and broadcast by Channel 10, he said about the Israel Defense Forces: “They’re driving our girls crazy. They draft them. They go in Jewish and they’re not Jewish when they come out; not in terms of genetics. Their whole system of values becomes confused, their priorities – home, career. They’ll make them all crazy. Agreeing to this is forbidden.”

Last week the rabbi said he would not attend the hearing he was called to by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman over the remarks.

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

Levinstein was likely responding to criticism his own students, their parents and donors to the academy who have voiced disapproval of his comments. “The way in which statements are presented in the media certainly make many of you raise an eyebrow and ask what happened to me,” the letter opened. “Perhaps some of you are angry, or even ashamed of learning in Eli with the ‘dark’ rabbi.”

In the letter, he complained that the media had misrepresented his statements. He said he was informing youth going into the army that due to changes in the IDF, it is a greater challenge to go in religious and come out still religious.

Responding to charges that his comments were derogatory toward women, he wrote: “The woman is the best start-up the Creator of the world made. Therefore, the woman prays that 'He created me according to his will.'” (The prayer he is referring to is controversial in modern Judaism because in the same series, men praise God that He “has not made me a woman.”)

“I see how they trample over the honor, modesty and soul of a woman, and I cry out," Levinstein wrote in the letter, accusing the feminist movement of taking ownership and exclusivity over “women’s status based on a worldview that does not agree with Judaism." He asserted, “It created a consciousness as if it is the one defending the honor and status of women, and anyone who opposes it is basically against women.”

While many Orthodox Zionist rabbis expressed their concern over the past two weeks about the army’s order for joint service, Levinstein focused most of his letter on the drafting of Orthodox girls.

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