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The Religion of the IDF

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IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, second from left, next to Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of the Israel Air Force.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, second from left, next to Maj. Gen. Amir Eshel, commander of the Israel Air Force.Credit: Itamar Moatti, IDF Spokesperson

The storm raging over the opposition of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein to religious women’s military service uncovers a clash between Israel’s two central religions: Judaism and the Israel Defense Forces.

According to Jewish law, religious women are forbidden to serve in the army. But according to the IDF law, the army must strive constantly and tirelessly to expand its circle of recruits. The Israeli army cannot abide fences and borders. It’s a body that, on the face of it, belongs to the state and serves it, but in fact treats the state as a virus treats its host – a cannibal virus that is devouring the state.

Yes, the IDF is a cannibal that is eating Israel. It eats financial budgets, it eats resources, it eats people – their energy, their time, their youth (taking up to three years of their lives for compulsory service and another three for reserve duty). Finally, sometimes it takes their lives.

According to the IDF religion, enlistment and readiness to sacrifice life in battle is the zenith of self-realization for the Jewish-Israeli citizen.

The IDF religion is acting to erase gender distinctions because they deny its combat forces access to a too-important resource – half the Jewish population. The IDF religion has stopped separating men and women. It is much more flexible and practical than Jewish law, which is sticking to gender segregation. For the IDF, everyone is raw material for the battle, for the ultimate sacrifice: the willingness to die for the people and the state. The IDF religion does not tolerate any restrictions in this regard, gender or otherwise.

Please note the imperialism of the IDF religion. It has subjugated and subdued Judaism – in the form of religious Zionism – to its needs. The extreme nationalist fervor of religious Zionism, nurtured by religious messianism, is good fuel for the IDF. And now the IDF religion is sucking up feminism and enlightenment, and all its values like equal opportunity. Today, combat service for women is seen as the pinnacle of feminism in Israel, and combat service for LGBT people as the height of liberalism.

The IDF religion embraces all. It swallows everything it encounters along the way. It even swallows democracy. That’s why the voices calling to make IDF service a condition for voting in Knesset elections are growing louder. See the plan by MK Miki Zohar (Likud). He proposes that anyone who hasn’t served in the IDF should be denied the right to vote. The hoped-for result is, of course, apartheid, denying Palestinians in the West Bank the right to vote after annexation.

But one cannot ignore the fact that, according to his proposed criterion, Arabs from Umm al-Fahm and ultra-Orthodox men who don’t serve in the army won’t be able to vote in general elections, either. Zohar’s proposal is in the spirit of the IDF religion: the IDF above all. The logic of this is that anyone who doesn’t serve in the IDF “doesn’t serve the state,” and “anyone who doesn’t serve the state” cannot cast a vote. Because in the IDF religion the citizen’s purpose is to serve the state – and the only way to serve the state is to enlist in the IDF. The state’s purpose (“the means”) is to serve the IDF (“the end”).

Rabbi Levinstein – head of the pre-military preparatory college in the West Bank settlement of Eli, and a representative of the ancient Jewish law – is embroiled in a power struggle with a new, larger and stronger religion, one expropriating Judaism for its own needs. In Israel, not only is there no separation between the Jewish religion and the state; there is no separation between the IDF religion and the state. They are inseparable; symbiotically bound. No value – feminism, democracy, Judaism, liberalism, etc. – exists outside the IDF. Levinstein doesn’t stand a chance.

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