Ultra-Orthodox-Zionist Video Warns Religious Women Against Military

Hotam goes online to curb rising female enlistment in the religious-Zionist movement.

Seeing that rabbinical injunctions have not stopped increasing numbers of army-age women in the religious Zionist community from choosing military service, an ultra-Orthodox-Zionist organization is taking an unorthodox route to discouraging what it sees as a harmful trend.

An animated video posted to YouTube by Hotam targets girls in their final years of study at religious Zionist high schools, when many are deciding between civilian and military service. The video leans heavily on the idea that if they opt for the army, these young woman will be hard-put to observe religious laws, especially those restricting physical contact with members of the opposite sex.

In the video, a religious-school graduate who enlists in the Israel Defense Forces with dreams of “meaningful” service, is assigned to secretarial service in the office of a high-ranking officer, “within a raging sea of men.” She is forced to do guard duty with a male soldier who tells her: “I’ve had my eye on you, I pretty much like you.” A female friend who chose civilian service observes that she has become “coarse.” Her attempts to obtain a discharge are futile.

According to figures issued by the IDF’s Personnel Directorate at the end of 2016, a record number of female graduates of religious Zionist high schools — 2,159 — enlisted in 2015. This number rose 10 percent in each of the past five years. The 1,853 observant Jewish female recruits who volunteered for the army in 2014 comprised about one-third of female graduates of religious Zionist high schools. This, despite major pushback from a clear majority of rabbis and educators in the religious Zionist movement, who encourage female graduates to volunteer for civilian national service program. In addition, these schools prohibit representatives from Aluma, an organization that encourages military service for religiously observant women, from their schools.

In late 2016, Education Minister and Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett spoke out against banning Aluma from schools. In response, dozens of Haredi-Zionist rabbis signed a letter asserting that religious Zionist rabbis agree with Israel’s Chief Rabbinate that “religious girls should avoid military service.”

The cover story of this week’s issue of Basheva, a magazine affiliated with the religious Zionist radio station and website, features a woman from the community who relates her difficulties in observing religious law while serving in the army and her regrets about volunteering for military service.

In a statement, the liberal religious Zionist organization Ne’emanei Torah Va’Avodah said the Hotam video “proves that its makers seek not to provide spiritual aid but rather to demonize the IDF. It is part of a continuing campaign that stems from a ... separatist and antistate worldview.”