Religious Israeli Soldiers No Longer Required to Participate in Activities With Opposite Sex

Religious soldiers will from now on be exempt from guard duty or traveling in a vehicle with members of opposite sex. Males will no longer be obliged to receive instruction from females, where possible.

Ofer Vaknin

After years of internal debates in the Israel Defense Forces, the chief of staff has sent all units new orders that apply to joint service by male and female soldiers. The new rules do not apply to ultra-Orthodox soldiers, who serve in segregated units. Policies regarding these units remain unchanged.

A main part of the new regulations determines that soldiers will have to attend all formal ceremonies on various memorial days and ceremonies attended by state officials or the chief of staff. Similar decisions were first adopted years ago, following an uproar in religious circles over women singing at military events. Religious soldiers will be allowed to ask their commanders to be excused from leisure activities if they feel that these would impact their beliefs, values or religious way of life. Commanders will exercise their discretion and, if exempted, soldiers must be offered alternative activities, not including guard or kitchen duty.

Religious soldiers who are sent for training in which males and females take part, with instruction that may include physical contact, revealing dress or being alone with the opposite sex, will be asked if this may offend their way of life. If so, instruction must be given by someone of the same gender. If this is not available the soldier will be exempt unless that training section is essential. If that is the case the soldier will be reassigned.

Male religious soldiers will be allowed to ask for exemption from joint activities with female soldiers, including guard duty, navigation and travelling together in a vehicle. The same applies to female soldiers leading a religious way of life. Most complaints in recent years have come from males.

“The spirit of the new order reflects the fact that the army belongs to a Jewish and democratic state,” said a senior officer at the IDF’s manpower directorate, in conversation with correspondents. “We enable all soldiers to serve in a meaningful way that is congruent with the law, without offending their sensibilities and beliefs. The army needs everyone: men, women, secular, religious, ultra-Orthodox, new immigrants and veterans.”

The new order creates a balance, she stated, addressing concerns that have been problematic for years. The policy regulating mixed-gender service “stemmed from a state-oriented, egalitarian and tolerant conception, enshrined in the spirit of the IDF and in human values.”

The new order stipulates that male and female soldiers will not be segregated according to gender at military events. Gyms and pools will be opened only for females for two hours a week and for two other hours for males only (four hours in closed units). During emergencies, when segregation is impractical, commanders will be able to set up communal sleeping arrangements as long as there are partitions in place in sleeping quarters.

“The order leaves some discretion to commanding officers,” said the senior officer. “It’s a logical one, determining what is important while leaving some room for judgement. It was important to clarify some issues in an order signed by the chief of staff.”