Israeli Soldiers Punished for Refusing to Wear Yarmulkes, Skirts at Religious Schools

The soldiers, who teach kids how to respond to emergencies, were confined to their base without any disciplinary process after the schools complained

Israeli soldiers wearing skullcaps are seen at a conference on ultra-Orthodox Jews serving in the IDF, October 16, 2013.
Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Soldiers from the Home Front Command who teach schoolchildren how to respond during emergencies were confined to their base after nonreligious soldiers refused requests from state religious schools to wear kippot or skirts when they teach in those schools.

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The soldiers’ commanders confined them to base without conducting any formal disciplinary process after the schools complained.

The soldiers are part of the Home Front Command’s units that prepare civilians for dealing with emergencies such as rocket attacks. The soldiers’ teaching of the children is carried out as a joint project with the Education Ministry, and all fifth-grade students receive a number of days of such training.

One soldier who was punished, whose first name is Tomer, was asked along with other soldiers two months ago to train children at a state religious school in the Bnei Brak area.

AP

The school’s administration asked the soldiers to wear kippot while they were in the school. Tomer refused, and after the school complained, he was punished by being confined to his base for a weekend, without any trial or chance to explain himself.

“This is a school, not a synagogue,” he told the principal after he was asked to put on a kippa. Tomer completed his military service a few weeks ago.

In other cases, women instructors from the Home Front Command were asked to wear skirts at a religious school in Jerusalem. One of the nonreligious female soldiers refused and requested to wear her uniform pants. After her commanders were told of her refusal, she was confined to her base.

Tomer said that before he completed his military service, he was put in charge of other soldiers and asked their commanders on their behalf to let them forgo the kippot. He told the commanders that army regulations did not allow such a requirement, but he says the commanders asked him not to inform the soldiers about it.

“Most of the unit was made up of soldiers with a nonreligious lifestyle, and suddenly they’re asking you to go with a kippa on your head, and with women soldiers arriving in a military uniform skirt,” Tomer said.

The soldiers in his unit asked him to report the matter after he completed his service because they felt that conditions were becoming stricter.

The IDF Spokesman’s Office said soldiers were not required to honor requests to wear kippot or skirts, and it did not know of any cases in which soldiers were punished for refusing such a request from a school.

“The unit of trainers for the civilian population for times of emergency is a unit whose goal is to prepare the public for various emergency situations using instruction in schools, public institutions, clinics, businesses and so on. According to regulations, it is forbidden to require male and female soldiers to wear a kippa or a skirt during these training sessions against their will,” the spokesman’s office said.