Chauvinism and Hate at the Expense of the State

Last week, Rabbi Yigal Levenstein the head of the “Bnei David” pre-army program (also know as “Eli”), gave a lesson in which he ridiculed the idea of drafting religious women into the IDF, and all women who serve in IDF. This is not the first time Rabbi Levenstein has made ignorant and vile comments. Let us not forget that just over six months ago, Rabbi Levenstein gave a speech attacking the LGBTQ community calling its members‘perverted.’

Screen Shot 2017-03-09 at 1.25.24 PM
Left Image: Rabbi Levenshtein, From YouTube
Right Image: Religious Female Solider, IDF Spokesperson

In his speech, he said things such as:

They come out being non-Jewish, this is crazy, their value system is completely deformed.” He also went on to say: “forget the secular girls, they are already completely crazy, but religious girls, they have completely gone mad…how can you marry a girl who has served in the army? Or even worse, has been a commander in the army. We cannot allow this.”

Indeed, this was all said in front of a large audience of young Religious Zionists who are preparing for their army service.

Only a few weeks ago the Knesset passed a law banning leftist groups like Breaking the Silence from sending speakers to schools because, in Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s opinion, they are “a bad influence on Israeli students.” Bennett also stated that:

Children are sent to educational institutions to reinforce mutual responsibility, and not to denigrate IDF soldiers.”

Rabbi Levenstein was most definitely denigrating and degrading many female soldiers, yet, Breaking the Silence was banned from entering schools, and Rabbi Levenstein’s program is not only allowed, but also funded directly by our government.

While Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman objected to the comments made and took them seriously, the question remains: where are the other politicians whose chilling silence on this matter, without a doubt, is part of the problem?

This year, the government gave 10 million shekels to the pre-army program run by Rabbi Levenstein. Is it not absurd for the state to fund such a man? and beyond that, actually aid him in indoctrinating such hatred among our future soldiers? We cannot simply allow our government to fund any program that claims to prepare people for the army or seemingly supports the IDF.

Any program or body that attacks women who bravely choose to join the army, by default, does not support the IDF and does not deserve the public’s money.

The rhetoric used by Rabbi Levenstein is not only ludicrous, but also serves as an incomparable disgrace both on a religious level and on a moral level. In the latest wave of terror, we saw many female soldiers fight off murderous terrorists, some being injured, and others, unfortunately, being killed. Among those brave fighters were soldiers like Hadar Cohen, a Border Police soldier, who was killed while combating a terrorist and protecting her friend. I wonder if Rabbi Levenstein would call Hadar Cohen an abomination? Or someone who doesn’t deserve to be wed? Is she any less Jewish for saving her friend and fighting to protect her nation? Surely not.

The damage done by Rabbi Levenstein, along with other extremist rabbis who are attempting to indoctrinate young men, is astronomical. Apart from the obvious damage done to his students who will soon be drafted into the army, he is also damaging Modern Religious Zionists across the country. By taking advantage of his position as an influencer of young minds and as the head of a prominent Religious Zionist program he is coloring all Religious Zionists with his chauvinism, extremism, and hatefulness.

This is only amplified by the other Religious Zionist leaders who remain silent or even, give him a stage to speak on. Many have spoken out against what he said, and there is much to be proud of (like the many heads of pre-army programs who signed a petition against what Rabbi Levenstein said, and the statements of Rabbi Dr. Benny Lau, who spoke out on this subject). But there are still many who have not said a word, thereby allowing Rabbi Levenstein’s hostile takeover of Religious Zionism to continue.

For a long time, the IDF was known as Israel’s foremost example tolerance, and mutual respect, bringing people from across the country, with diverse backgrounds together. The army cut across ethnic, religious and socio-economic boundaries. Israelis from all walks of life met in the army and were forced to find a way to live together.

Rabbi Levenstein’s statements and ideology cannot be what we are teaching and impressing upon those who are about to be drafted into the army, or we risk not just harming those who are part of his program, but poisoning everything the IDF has built and created until now.

I’m hardly worried about women who want to join the IDF. I have no doubt that they will see straight through Rabbi Levenstein’s religious excuses for chauvinism. What does worry me is the possibility of Rabbi Levenstein’s ideology and teachings creating the next Ofek Buchris.

For the good of some of the amazing pre-army programs out there, we must stand up to the morally hollow statements being made and taught by Rabbi Levenstein. For the sake of the IDF, we must not stay quiet when someone is jeopardizing its moral high ground and value system.

If Rabbi Levenstein wants to spread hate and bigotry, let him do so on his own time and with his own money, not with public funding provided by the government.

Originally published in Hebrew on Davar Rishon.

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