National Religious soldiers demand exemption from events with women singingThey can't say it's just the Haredim who place the Torah above following orders in the IDF (and lest any of you misunderstand I wholly agree with that approach for reasons I will explain at the end of this post). Between 100 and 200 National Religious soldiers, mostly aged between 17 and 20, from a variety of yeshivot have signed a petition saying that they will defer their army enlistment until such time as they are exempted from any ceremonies at which women sing.
A small rebellion broke out in the heart of the national-religious world this week over the issue of women singing in the army. Dozens of pre-army youth from several yeshivot have signed a petition in the past few days vowing not to enlist in the army until religious soldiers are exempted from army ceremonies in which women sing.Let's stop right there for a minute. I'm going to teach you a little Gemara now, because I believe that some of those rabbis (and when you continue to read the article, every National Religious rabbi quoted seems to disagree with this silent majority) have let the Zionist part get in the way of the religious part.
The IDF General Staff issued a directive this month obligating all soldiers, religious or otherwise, to be present in all official army ceremonies even if they involve women singing, something generally prohibited by Jewish law.
The petition has been passed between several religious learning institutes. According to Noam, one of the activists behind the petition who spoke with The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, they have gathered between 100-200 signatures thus far, mostly from students currently in yeshivot who have deferred their service, but also from some learning in the hesder program, which combines Torah study with IDF service.
Noam, who was unwilling to give his full name, said most of those who had signed were between the ages of 17 and 20.
“Of late, processes have begun to coercively instruct soldiers to transgress the commandments of the Torah, such as hearing women sing,” the petition says. “We declare that as long as these efforts continue we will not be able to enlist in the army. The commandments of the Creator of the World are more important than the commandments of any man of flesh and blood.”
Jewish law prohibits men from listening to women sing in person, although some religious-Zionist rabbis have ruled recently that it is permissible to attend army ceremonies with women singing since it is done without the intention of enjoying the performance.
The Gemara in Tractate Psachim folio 25 talks about someone who must pass by a house of idol worship and smells the incense that the idol worshipers are burning. That smell is what's called issur hana'a - it is forbidden to benefit from it. The Gemara raises four possibilities. If one has a different way of going and nevertheless walks past the house of idol worship with the intent of benefiting from the smell, that is most definitely forbidden. If he has no choice but to walk past the house of idol worship and he has no intention of benefiting from the smell and he does whatever he can to avoid the smell altogether, that is permitted. The question is the two cases in between: If he has no choice but to go past there, but he intends to benefit from the smell, the Gemara says that is forbidden - that's the source for allowing the use of earplugs at the army ceremonies in an attempt to avoid benefiting. And if he has a choice but goes past there anyway without the intention of benefiting, the Chafetz Chaim rules in Klal 6 of his book by the same name that it is forbidden (the Chafetz Chaim discusses this in the context of a rule prohibiting even hearing - let alone accepting or believing - slander, but the rule is the same nonetheless for all things that fall under issur hana'a).
If soldiers in the heat of battle had to walk past women who were singing or who were improperly dressed, and there was no other way to get to the battle, they would be allowed to pass those women so long as they had no intention of benefiting and did all they could in order to avoid benefiting from the singing or improper dress. But if they're not going to a battle and there's no other necessity, it's forbidden to walk past, even without the intention of benefiting from the sounds of the women's voices or from staring at them.
Let's look at this honestly: Is a ceremony with women singing a life or death threat? Is it a military necessity?
Let's go on a little bit more.
Against the background of the petition, the prominent and influential national-religious Dean of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, said on the Galei Yisrael radio station Tuesday that religious youth should postpone their enlistment into the IDF until the army finds a way to exempt them from official ceremonies that feature women’s singing.Read the whole thing.
“It is not possible to reconcile with the decision of the General Staff that obligates soldiers to [listen to] women singing. Therefore [soldiers can] enlist and then refuse orders, or they can stop [their enlistment] as a public protest, until this is fixed.” He said military service is “a religious commandment that cannot be renounced, but that a temporary deferral to fix the current situation is legitimate, since no reconciliation can be made with [religious] coercion.”
The issue exploded within the IDF in September, when nine religious soldiers in the IDF officers training course left an army event in which women were singing due to their religious objections. They refused to return to the performance when instructed to do so by their commanding officer, and four of the cadets were subsequently expelled from the course.
Soldiers from the national-religious sector are heavily over-represented in the IDF ranks, especially in combat units and the officer class, in comparison with the relative size of their total population.
Now I know that there are some of you out there who are saying "this is an army, they're soldiers, they have to follow orders, and you cannot run an army with soldiers who run to their rabbi every time they're given an order to follow to check out whether it's okay by the Torah." And certainly in battle and in many training exercises, there may be occasions when that's true. But even the modern laws of warfare don't absolve a soldier who was 'following orders.' "I was following orders" didn't work at Nuremberg. It didn't work at My-Lai. And to some extent, at least, it's not going to work in front of God after 120 years (the way we refer to death) either (God has a different power of judgment than human beings, and may Choose to Absolve someone who might not deserve it in our judgment). In fact, the IDF itself teaches soldiers to disobey any order that is bilti chuki ba'alil (prima facie illegal). To take an extreme (and thankfully non-existent in the IDF) example, I can guarantee you that no soldier would be let off a court martial because his commander ordered him to gratuitously torture Arab prisoners.
We've talked about the concept of obedience in the army and we've talked about the (lack of) military necessity for ceremonies that include women singing. Those of us who are here are well aware that the political echelon has a history of using the army to meld diverse people into a homogenous group. Inevitably, that has meant a weakening - or abandonment - of religious observance. The first example of this was a meeting between Ben Gurion and the Chazon Ish (which I discussed here) in which - at a time when women did not serve in any Western army - the Chazon Ish offered to send all of the yeshiva boys to the army if the army would be all male. Ben Gurion turned him down. (That meeting is discussed by others here and here).
The army and the government do not have clean hands on anything having to do with religious soldiers in the military. There is a lack of trust - and for good reason. Many religious soldiers will not accept the authority of the army on issues of religion unless they see a clear military necessity. As a result, the army must choose between women singing and satisfying a demographic that is providing a disproportionately high percentage of its officers corps. To me, the choice seems obvious.