MK Gal-On: IDF Rabbis Demean Women Soldiers

MK Zahava Gal-On responds to Haaretz report that Israel Defense Forces' rabbis ordered that female soldiers leave the Simhat Torah holiday traditional dancing and celebrate in a separate area.

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz ) on Sunday asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to restrict the army rabbinate's role to providing religious services, and not to allow it to intervene in any other way in soldiers' lives.

She was responding to a report in  Haaretz on Sunday on an incident last week, during the traditional dancing that marks the end of the Simhat Torah holiday: On orders from Israel Defense Forces' rabbis, female soldiers were asked to leave the central event and had to celebrate in a separate area.

MK Zahava Gal-On - Tomer Appelbaum - 21082011
Tomer Appelbaum

"I urge you to limit the military rabbinate's authority solely to providing religious services, and to deny it any authority to dictate the army's way of life, in light of the process of Talibanization the rabbinate has lately undergone," Gal-On wrote. This process, she added, has been manifested "in a number of incidents in which the chief IDF rabbi and members of the military rabbinate have undermined female soldiers and their right to gender equality in the army and in society in general."

Last week's incident was particularly grave, the letter said, because the chief IDF rabbi and the commander of the Gaza Division were both present, but did not intervene when the women were told to leave.

Gal-On said it is vital to clarify that the era when women can be kept out of the public sphere is long gone. Barak, she wrote, must explain to IDF officers that religious soldiers will encounter women in every sphere of their future lives: They will be treated by female doctors, judged by female doctors and perhaps even take orders from female officers.

"Therefore, if the military rabbinate doesn't intend to send religious soldiers to a parallel universe, they will have to cope with the fact that women are part of society," she concluded. "Hence there is no place for sending them to a 'closed-off area' at events in which soldiers participate - or for allowing [male] soldiers to leave an event to avoid hearing women sing."