Rabbis to IDF Chief: Ignore Extremist Jews Calling for the Exclusion of Women

In spat over women singing in IDF, both sides cite legendary rabbi, Shlomo Goren.

As the dispute about women singing in the Israel Defense Forces refuses to die down, both sides are citing Shlomo Goren, the late chief military rabbi who famously blew the shofar at the Western Wall captured during the Six-Day War.

"We regret and are pained by the spirit of 'religious' insanity that is causing confusion among religious soldiers, desecrating the Holy Name and damaging the solidarity and unity of the IDF and the memory of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, of blessed memory," wrote former senior military rabbis in a letter to Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

army IDF rabbi
Emil Salman

The letter from the rabbis - Maj. Gen. (res. ) Mordechai Piron, 90, and Menachem Hacohen, 79, both close associates of Goren - encompasses the tolerant attitude toward women in the IDF. It also backs Chief Military Rabbi Rafi Peretz against the attacks on him by other rabbis.

The dispute about women's singing in the IDF refuses to subside. Last week, for example, retired military rabbis, nearly all of them ultra-Orthodox, met in Jerusalem and attacked Peretz for not rebelling against IDF personnel chief Orna Barbivai's order that all soldiers must attend official ceremonies, even if women are singing there.

Goren, who founded the military rabbinate, died in 1994. According to Peretz's critics, unlike him, Goren would often fight the top brass over religious principles, in particular the matter of women singing.

Piron served in the IDF for more than 30 years - some of them under Goren, and from 1971 to 1977 as his replacement as IDF chief rabbi. Hacohen was Goren's confidant for many years and edited Goren's rabbinical rulings and IDF rabbinate publications.

The two rabbis say they hope that the chief of staff and the generals "will not be led astray by these attempts to deceive and will continue to bolster the IDF as the army of the entire people."

Without saying so explicitly, the letter is aimed mostly at claims by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, who has accused Peretz of approving "an order against rabbinical law."

In a column in the weekly Basheva, Melamed called on soldiers to refuse an order to listen to women or girls singing and praised Goren, who was "courageous and would say publicly that any time a soldier received an [improper] order ... he should disobey that order. And he would repeat this to the soldiers."

Melamed tells, for example, of an event at which Goren "threatened to quit" the main IDF Passover seder table after Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan "brought to the central seder a female singer and demanded that Rabbi Goren allow the singer to sing a number of portions from the Passover Haggadah."

But Piron and Hacohen tell Gantz that "Rabbi Goren never saw or raised the slightest reservation, rabbinical or otherwise, regarding the participation of religious soldiers in IDF ceremonies that included singing by women."

Concerning the seder-night incident, the rabbis say Goren's reservations had to do only with the intention to use musical instruments, which would have desecrated the holiday. It did not have to do with the singing.

"We do not wish to attack anyone, but rather to send a positive message that the paths of the Torah are pleasant paths," Piron told Haaretz. "The strict forget that in our times we must do everything to make the Holy Name's Torah accessible and to emphasize its beauty and tremendous humane ideas and values. Today, when the most deplorable destructive and postmodern winds are blowing, this is more important than ever."

Read this article in Hebrew.