A prominent rabbi, who last year received the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement, became the latest public figure to throw his weight behind a colleague who provoked uproar last week when a recording of his derisive comments about female soldiers went public.
Rabbi Eli Sadan told students Wednesday in a conversation that was recorded and passed to Channel 2 News, which broadcast it Thursday, that he would not agree to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s demand that Rabbi Yigal Levinstein be fired from his premilitary preparatory academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli.
On March 8, Levinstein — who works together with Sadan at the Bnei David pre-army program — told several hundred graduates of another religious pre-army academy that IDF service had “driven our girls crazy.”
“They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they’re not Jews by the time they leave,” he said. “Not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset and we must not allow it.”
On Wednesday, Defense Minister Liberman asked Levinstein to resign, warning that if the rabbi refused, Liberman would be forced to use his authority to end the Defense Ministry’s recognition of the yeshiva and would do everything in his power to stop the pre-army program in the settlement.
Currently, students at the hesder yeshiva can count part of their time at the institution toward mandatory army service. Without recognition, they would lose that ability.
Sadan revealed on the recording that the Ministry of Defense actually contacted him a week ago to ask for Levinstein’s removal.
“Last week, a representative from the Defense Ministry called me to say, ‘until tomorrow at 8 am you must given me an answer,'” Sadan can be heard saying.
“My answer was naturally that we would not cooperate with this dictatorship and that they should do whatever they want.”
Sadan went on to attack the defense minister, saying “We won’t let the politicians play around with us.”
“It’s clear that any attempt to fire Rabbi Yigal has nothing to do with justice or a desire to really sort things out in the country.
“No minister would ever dare to say what Lieberman said now against someone from the Left,” Sadan added.
He went on, “If you take a person and put him into a mixed unit of men and women, where there is no possibility of observing the prohibition on touching one another, or on union [sleeping together], I think one has to say ‘sorry, I can’t serve here,'” Sadan said.
“We will not agree to anyone exploiting a military order in order to force us to break a [religious] law, big or small.”
On the drafting of women into the army in general, Sadan said, “I don’t think that the battlefield is a place for a woman. I wouldn’t want women to be involved in killing.”
He went on, “I have bandaged injuries on the battlefield. I would not want a girl near me whose clothes I would have to tear in order to bandage her.”
“And even more, I wouldn’t want her to have to carry me on her back if, Heaven forbid, I needed it.”
Sadan said he respected women who believed they were making a major contribution by serving in mixed units such as the Caracal infantry battalion.
“Despite that, I won’t give up on my right to explain to the Israeli public why I think that the State of Israel should not send girls into the fighting professions.”
In a letter published Wednesday, 13 rabbis and a female head of a women’s pre-military academy, banned religious soldiers from serving in mixed-gender combat units, also calling on IDF heads to show sensitivity to religious soldiers and not push them into a “ghetto” within the army.
On the same day that Levinstein made his comments, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said the academy would “continue its activities as normal. What needs to be fixed will be fixed, certainly in regard to these outrageous statements, but without unnecessary exaggeration,” he said.
Last year, Rabbi Eli Sadan was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement for his efforts to integrate national-religious Israelis in the army.
Calling him a “Zionist revolutionary,” Bennett said Sadan’s pre-army preparatory program for religious teens “put into motion one of the greatest revolutions in Israeli society.”
“Rabbi Sadan brought secular and religious Jews together, connecting Torah with the army and the state with Zionism and settlement,” Bennett wrote. “Thanks to him, thousands of young people were able to make meaningful contributions to the IDF.”
Levinstein drew censure last year after a speech he gave calling homosexuals “deviants.” He wrote a letter to the Defense Ministry explaining his comments, but has had many of his activities with the military curtailed in light of his controversial remarks.