Kenneth Cohen

My Female Soldier

A great deal has been written and said recently that paints an unfair picture of religious girls serving in the IDF. I would like to set the record straight as the father of such a soldier.

Our fourth daughter decided that she was going to the army, unlike her three older sisters who did national service known as “Sherut Leumi.” At first we were apprehensive about her decision, mainly because of the bad press and the concern that the army will be a bad influence on her religious observance.

She was adamant that this is what she was doing. She joined a wonderful preparatory program that involved serious Torah studies at Kibbutz Ein Hanetziv, and the deal was done. Her Kibbutz experience intensified her love for learning at a higher level than at any time in her previous twelve years of study.

She has been in the army for nearly a year now and it has been an extremely positive experience. When she told people in the army that her father was a rabbi, they assumed I was a Reform rabbi. The idea that I am Religious-Zionist came as big a surprise as the fact that she did not hide that she was religious.

Our daughter works in a unit that works at rehabilitating soldiers who are greatly disadvantaged. Many come from the streets or from difficult home situations, and the army wants these soldiers to be productive members of society when they finish their service. This specific service involves teaching and building self esteem.

We are impressed that the IDF shows such concern for its soldiers. But we are more impressed by the dedication of these young “religious” girls and the devotion they show in their work. It is extremely rewarding and they have seen great success.

Aside from all of this, the willingness to interact between religious and secular is extremely important. It may sound shocking but there are numerous secular Israelis who have never even had a conversation with a religious Jew. This is not an exaggeration.

When these girls show a willingness to explain what it means to be religious, it bridges gaps and the girls themselves are strengthened. They know they are being looked at all of the time and must set a good example.

Admittedly, not all units are like this one and there are definitely problems of religion and the mixing of the sexes. It needs to be pointed out that giving “labels” to things, can be very damaging. The label that religious girls serving in the army are “damaged” does such a terrible disservice to so many remarkable young ladies.

In many circles, a girl is similarly branded for the terrible sin of “wearing pants.” Such an act of heresy may prevent the “good catches” from looking at a girl in pants. I am well aware of the rules of modesty and agree that dressing according to Halachic standards, is preferred. But this issue like so many others, is blown way out of proportion.

Meanwhile, I will tip my knit Kippa (a symbol of religious Zionism), to a number of very special pants wearing female soldiers, that bring us all a great deal of pride.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for over twenty years while also teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach of Old Katamon. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles. He recently published a series of Hebrew language-learning apps, which are available at