Supporting Religious Women in the IDF

A growing number of young religious zionist women are enlisting in the IDF despite the fact that the majority of religious zionist rabbis do not support their decision. Many religious women are choosing to serve their country in a way which they feel best suits their abilities and idealism but are being denied proper guidance and support from their schools, following the lead of religious zionist rabbis who are against religious women serving in the IDF. These eighteen year old women deserve more support.

Rabbi Benny Lau and the Beit Hillel rabbinic organization are part of a growing minority of religious zionist rabbis that do support religious women going into the army. They have deemed it permissible according to Jewish Law for women to serve in the IDF, within certain parameters, namely after a preparatory program and in non-combat units.

There are also institutions which work with the IDF to create an environment where religious women can serve comfortably as observant Jews. Aluma is a guidance organization for religious women throughout their army service. Moreover, a growing number of institutions prepare these girls for the challenges of serving in the army. These schools, known as mechinot and midrashot provide opportunities for girls to learn Torah while preparing them for challenges a religious girl may face in the army. In some programs, the girls enter the army as a group, so they have a supportive community already set-up. These preparatory programs are advisable for religious men as well as for the women.

However, many religious zionist rabbis do not support religious women’s enlistment in IDF and because of that many religious schools do not acknowledge the army as an option. The Mamlachti dati, religious public school system gives their students support in whichever track they choose: sherut leumi or army service. The Ulpana system does not support the students who choose to enlist in the IDF. This leaves many students without any guidance about about how best to serve and without any framework or institution to support them throughout the process of army service.

In 2010, there were just over 900 female dati leumi new recruits joining the Israeli army and by 2013 over 1600 enlisted. This means that over 25% of the women graduating from dati leumi high schools in Israel are now joining the IDF. While army service in Israel is obligatory for men and women, religious women have a choice to opt out of the army and do sherut leumi (national service). Many religious women find meaningful and significant contributions to Israeli society through sherut leumi. It is a blessing that religious women can choose between sherut leumi and army service, but they should be presented with this choice.

Popular tracks in the IDF for religious women include intelligence, education and the Air Force. There are plenty of ways to serve in non-combat units, where a religious woman can contribute without compromising her religious values.

For the past three years the “Kivun” program in Ra’anana has helped 11th and 12th grade girls make educated decisions regarding the next stage of their lives. Whether they choose to serve their country through sherut leumi or army service, it is important that they choose a path which best suits them and which makes a meaningful contribution to Israeli society. Religious women in the army can work as part of the Iron Dome system, protecting the county from attacks in Cyberspace or educating other soldiers about Jewish tradition. Religious women have the right to be educated about how they can serve their country and their contribution to Israeli society deserves to be praised not denounced.

About the Author
Karen Miller Jackson is a Jewish educator living in Ra'anana, Israel and a graduate of Matan HaSharon's Morot l'Halakha program. Karen runs Kivun l'Sherut, a guidance program for girls before sherut leumi/army service and is a board member of Kolech - Religious Women's Forum.
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