Recently there have been two high-profile and inspirational examples of religious women in the IDF. Captain T was the first Female Orthodox combat pilot-navigator to graduate in the IAF and Sergeant S, a member of the mixed-gender combat unit Caracal, was awarded a medal for bravery for her role in thwarting a terrorist attack on the Egyptian border.
At the graduation of T, Prime Minister Netanyahu said,
T is an example of the equality between the sexes in Israel and proof that in the IDF there is place for all parts of Israeli society. It is important that more and more sectors become integrated into the IDF so that the burden may be shared more equitably and among more people.
The fact that Orthodox women serve in the IDF at all has its roots back in the early 1950’s when the Knesset was, with the overt encouragement of the Orthodox Rabbinate, poised to pass a law that would exempt all Yeshiva students and women from compulsory military service. The Religious Kibbutz Federation (RFK), in direct opposition to the Rabbinate and the majority of the Orthodox community in Israel, was adamantly opposed to any exemption of women based on gender. The Yediot Ha-Kibbutz Ha-Dati, the main journal of the RKF, issued in 1951, “A public statement on behalf of the Religious Kibbutz Federation Secretariat regarding drafting women.” This statement declared that it; “enjoins…recruitment of women to the aid of the Jewish people.”
Quite clearly the socialist Zionist leanings of the RKF membership caused it to take a stand on principal in a matter that contravened those of the Rabbinate. To this day there is a strong feeling amongst members of the RKF and many other segments of national religious Jews, against Israeli Jews avoiding compulsory military service by using the “religion card.”
The traditional Jewish attitude to women, as codified in the Shulchan Aruch, encourages segregation of the sexes. The woman’s role is largely limited to domestic duties. The RKF shattered Orthodox barriers that are anchored in law and custom by advocating for full equal rights for women. The issue of army service is just one facet of this ideology.
Israel’s Declaration of Independence states:
The State of Israel… will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex
In practicing the above, the IDF insures that Jewish homeland has become an international beacon of light for toleration, equality and inclusion.