“It can’t be right,” my wife told me. “It’s what they recited to us a thousand times in the seminary.”
“But it’s a fact,” I insisted. “There is no Jewish law that compels a grown woman to live either under the rule of her father or her husband. It’s an invention of seminary deans, to convince women not to enlist in the army.”
My wife still refused to believe that her teachers had cheated her. “Go ask Rav Y.,” she requested, “maybe you missed that item in the Shulchan Aruch.”
Rav Y. squirmed, but he had to admit: there is no such law.
There are other halachic arguments against women’s military service, but I don’t buy any of them. My colleague Racheli Malek Buda asked a week ago why the rabbis are stuttering on this issue. So here’s a clear statement: unlike the impression the rabbis may be trying to create, this is an educational rather than halachic issue. The objection to women serving in the army is legitimate, but it’s preferable that a seminary teacher who feels that way would tell his students the truth: there is no halachic prohibition, but I fear that they would be spoiled serving in the army.
Why aren’t teachers expressing themselves this way? Because they’re afraid that if the reasons are educational rather than halachic then there should be a distinction between different women and different army jobs. That’s what they’re worried about, and they shouldn’t be.
I don’t support the attack on the Chief Rabbinate Council for announcing that women are not allowed to enlist. It’s the right of the rabbis to express their opinion. But it would have been proper to explain this view and to clarify that it isn’t based on halacha but rather on an educational perspective. Our sages have taught us that the reason the serpent was able to make Adam and Eve sin was because Adam had exaggerated the prohibition on the tree of knowing good and bad, telling Eve she shouldn’t touch it. Our sages learn from it: “The one who adds detracts” (San. 29a). By providing an exaggerated and dishonest depiction of the severity of a prohibition one may cause sin and contempt to the teachings of the sages.
Many years ago, I came to give a lecture in one of the seminaries, and when I came near the door I heard the teacher speaking about the weekly parsha, concluding with a stunning intellectual slalom: “..and you, too, must live according to the values you’ve learned. For instance, you shouldn’t go into the army.” Beyond the content of reasons brought up by educators, they should also consider the dosage. In many girls’ seminaries the preaching against military service has become the central message of the latter school years. Arent there any other important topics of discussion?
Some who speak against women’s military service mention the problem of including women in combat roles. I tend to agree with them on this point. I also read about the more lenient scales being used to evaluate fighting women (meaning letting them get by with an inferior physical condition), and about the stool they place for them at the foot of the scaling wall, so they’ll manage to go over it. I, too, have wondered if the Syrian commando was also going to put down stools for them. Beyond that, being familiar with the spirit in fighting units, I know mixing men and women in them creates an unhealthy atmosphere.
But how is that related to religious women serving in the IDF? The vast majority of them do not enlist in combat units, but fulfill essential roles to home front units. the number of graduates from religious institutions has been growing steadily, and the National Service just doesn’t have enough jobs for them. Meanwhile, the army is vying for women to serve in essential, quality home front jobs.
It’s true that some young women are better off not enlisting, but should serve in a different framework. There are also spots in the military where no woman has any business serving. But some military jobs are no different from what these same women would be doing in a few years for a living.
To summarize: not every woman, and not in every job. Also, it would be beneficial to every young woman preparing to serve in the IDF to seek religious instruction before enlisting. But that’s a long way away from a sweeping prohibition on women’s military service.
You might say, religious women are not protected when they serve together with secular men. but the same is true in many National Service jobs. National Service women often serve alongside women soldiers, in the very same places, and usually they get by.
Our young women are not so fragile. They are religious, they have values, they have a strong character, not any less than men their age. They can be trusted. Every woman should decide individually what better fits her personality: serving in a tight, sheltered religious environment, or in a more open society, in a civilian or military environment.
A few weeks ago, I hosted in my home on a Saturday night some of my former students from Midreshet Lindenbaum, who today are serving in the army. I heard with pleasure how they make sure to pray and study Torah in the army. They also told me how they read on Shabbat in one of the shul newspapers a statement by an important rabbi who declared: “the vast majority of religious women who serve in the army – are damaged.”
They asked me: why would a rabbi say untrue things about us?
I didn’t have an answer.
This article was originally published in Makor Rishon.Rabbi Chaim Navon
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