Photo Credit:
sherut leumi participants with young students

{Originally posted to author’s website, Emes Ve-Emunah}

I don’t get it. Really. I don’t. In his weekly column in Mishpacha Magazine, Jonathan Rosenblum has lauded the opposition to Sherut Leumi… justifying that opposition by virtue of the recent scandals in the Israeli Police Department. Some of which involved sexual harassment.That, he says, shows that the Gedolim were right in opposing it.

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Sherut Leumi is the national service many women choose in lieu of military service as an option when they are drafted. Although technically part of the military they are in fact not under any male military domination. Sherut Leumi is basically mandatory Chesed – doing acts of kindness for the less fortunate. These young women are not under any military commander. They are assigned to serve the underclass, the poor, and the sick. People that are in great need of kindness and compassion.

Under ordinary circumstances this would be considered a great Mitzvah. But the long held position by the Charedi leadership on Sheurt Leumi is Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor. One should give up their lives rather than be a part of this Chesed project.

First let me restate my position on military service for women. I am opposed. The military command structure makes it all to easy for women to be taken advantage of by their superior officers. That is why there have been so many cases of sex abuse in the United States military.

While ardent feminists militate for equal opportunity with men for women to serve and argue instead for better enforcement of military rules, more effective prosecution of offenders, and more self control in general by men, you can’t fight human nature. The Gemarah tells us Ayn Apitropus L’Arayos. Given these circumstances sex abuse is more likely to happen with impunity in the military than anywhere else. It is therefore best to eliminate or at least minimize circumstances that are conducive to such abuse.

It is true that men and women can and do work together in civilian life. Although sexual harassment is fairly common there too, the conditions are still not the same as they are in the military. This is why the Chazon Ish and other Charedi Gedolim of the past opposed women serving in the military calling it Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor. A woman is supposed to give her life first! But they extended that prohibition to Sherut Leumi with the same urgency as military service – Yehorg V’Al Ya’avor.

How anyone can say that Sherut Leumi is the same as military service is beyond my understanding. This is in fact what virtually all Religious Zionist young women do – with the blessing of most (if not all) Religious Zionist rabbis. Pointing to the police scandal as proof of the wisdom of opposing this service makes no sense. If they are going to use a military type hierarchy where men can order women to do anything they choose that would explain why they would oppose women serving in the police department .

One can even make an argument forbidding women working with men in the private sector. In fact many Charedi leaders do make that argument. And yet I do not hear it expressed as Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor. And Charedi opposition to that is not universal. Which it is with Sherut Leumi. Many Charedi women do in fact work in the same work space with men. But in Sheurt Leumi, where women are separated from men… that is where they draw the line?! Yehoreg V’Al Ya’avor?!

I don’t understand it. If there is going to be a draft of everyone in Israel with an option for national service then it ought to be apply equally to every citizen. Sherut Leumi should be an opportunity for all women, including secular women. But that it is at least an option made available to religious women ought to be something the religious community should be grateful for. Not condemn.

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Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at hmaryles@yahoo.com.