Photo Credit: IDF
Female IDF soldier at a checkpoint outside Shechem.

By Andrew Friedman/TPS

IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot will sign an revised Joint Service Order Tuesday to address concerns of Religious Zionist rabbis that mixed-gender combat units in the army create an immodest environment that is inappropriate for Orthodox soldiers.

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The updated order allows Orthodox combat officers and non-commissioned officers to request a rabbinic review if they receive orders to command co-ed field units. It also specifies that the conditions do not apply during war time, and underlines the notion that women soldiers are considered an essential part of the combat army, both as field soldiers and officers.

The order also instructs field units to comply with standing regulations for “appropriate female dress codes;” mainly in the area of athletic workouts. Some female soldiers have complained that Orthodox officers have violated orders by requiring them to dress modestly during physical training exercises, while some soldiers have complained that officers have not enforced the orders strictly enough. Eizenkot said the modesty rule will no longer be subject to interpretation, and will be enforced according to the strict letter of the order.

Religious Zionist rabbis praised the revision, and especially Chief of Staff Eizenkot and IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim for conducting what they called a “respectful, serious dialogue” about modesty and the placement of religious soldiers in the IDF. But they also said there was a “long way to go” before they would be satisfied with IDF regulations that provide the ability for observant soldiers to maintain community standards of modesty.

Rabbi Yaakov Medan, the dean of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut, said he could see no substantive change, but added that he could live with the new rule.

Rabbi Chaim Baruch, the head of the Otzem – Pre-Military Torah Academy, compared the new order to having added a pinch of salt to a very bad stew.

“But it still has a bad taste. I will only be satisfied when the IDF goes back to the past and allows men and women to serve separately,” Baruch told TPS.

He added that the rabbis would continue the dialogue “out of respect for the beliefs and values ​​of all IDF soldiers.”

The Religious Kibbutz Movement was happier about the change.

“There is no contradiction between religious leadership and commitment to military command “ said Moshe Kineli, a spokesman for the Movement. “Once again, it has been proven that an open and moderate discourse yields good results for all sides”.

The Israel Women’s Network, an NGO that promotes gender equality in Israel, said that “the change in the Joint Service Order constitutes an important declarative statement, and stresses that no broad or expansive interpretation of the Order should be applied. The change in policy should start from the spirit of the commander, as the chief of staff did today.

However the organization also criticized the army’s decision to create a “middle” solution for officers and non-commissioned officers “In our view, the wording of the order must include the important requirement to avoid separation as much as possible and at the very least not to allow separation for those who chose to serve in the army as a profession.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised Eizenkot for successfully navigating an explosive social issue and said the revised order was a good one. Liberman also responded to a challenge from MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid) during a question-and-answer session on the Knesset floor regarding what Lavie called a “dangerous, growing wave” of individuals and groups trying to influence the army.

“There is absolutely no room for outside elements to be involved on the inner workings of the IDF with respect to the Joint Service Order,” Liberman said. “Not by male or female MKs, not by civilian groups, not by rabbis, not by anyone.”

Liberman also praised IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim for signing the revised order “despite all the pressure put on him.

IDF Spokesman Brigadier General Ronen Manlis said the revised order was proof that the “IDF is a people’s army… that must make it possible for all who want to serve to do so, without respect for their religious beliefs of gender.

“Since 2008 there has been no order like this, and field officers have been free to do what they wanted. That was comfortable for the Chief of Staff, no one attacked him. But it was bad for our combat units. The new order gives clear orders to officers.”

Manlis also said that even before the new order was signed, the army had invested in infrastructure to ensure that male and female soldiers could serve together while maintaining basic standards of physical modesty.

In 2017, 2700 women joined mixed combat units including Caracal, Bardelas, the Lions of Jordan, as well as the Home Front Command’s Rescue Division.

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