Defense Chief Seeks Resignation of Yeshiva Head Over Remarks About Women

Avigdor Lieberman threatens to cut ties with the army prep religious program if Rabbi Yigal Levinstein refuses to resign.

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Avigdor Lieberman
Avigdor Lieberman at the Knesset , in a file photo from May 30, 2016, the day he was sworn into office as defense minister.Credit: Ariel Schalit / AP

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman demanded the resignation on Wednesday of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a Bnei David pre-army preparatory yeshiva program in the West Bank settlement of Eli, whose recent comments disparaging army service by women were broadcast by Channel 10.

“In light of the fact that this is a pattern that has repeated itself, in clear statements that you undoubtedly stand behind, I hereby demand that you resign from your positions both at the pre-army preparatory program and at the hesder yeshiva,” Lieberman said, referring to a program whose students combine army service with religious studies. “If not, I will be forced to invoke my authority and end the Defense Ministry’s recognition of the Eli yeshiva as a pre-army preparatory program.”

Sources at Bnei David said there were only 15 students in the hesder program, and they were taught by the academy’s co-director, Rabbi Eli Sadan. Withdrawal of the program’s recognition would be a measure meant to apply pressure on Levinstein, the sources said.

In his most recent comments about women in the military, which were caught on video and broadcast on Channel 10, 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. They’ll make them all crazy. Agreeing to this should not be allowed.”

Levinstein had a close relationship with army commanders before he spoke out publicly last summer against the Israel Defense Forces’ tolerance for gay soldiers and called homosexuals “perverts.” Since then, the army has not allowed Levinstein to lecture to soldiers.

After his remarks were made public, Levinstein apologized for the manner in which he spoke but declined to retract the substance of his statements. The comments sparked outrage among Israeli politicians and senior officers.

Referring to Levinstein's alleged "intentional desire to provoke" and his "loss of judgment," Lieberman wrote that he did not know which was worse, adding that the rabbi's remarks ran counter to the values of the army and the state. Lieberman wrote that he was hurt by the comments not only as defense minister but also "as a proud father whose religious daughter served in the IDF, which didn't harm her religious faith, her Judaism or her femininity."

Lieberman said Levinstein should not only apologize publicly but also privately, to the families of female soldiers and police officers who have died in the line of duty.

The website of the Eli Bnei David pre-army program, or "mekhina," says it has about 170 students and over 2,500 graduates, many of whom went on to serve in combat positions. The prep program at Eli was the first in the country, and was the model for several other programs. They are recognized by the Defense Ministry and accredited and funded by the Education Ministry, in proportion to their enrollment.

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