Female soldier called up to Torah on military base

Some male congregants scandalized after civilian officiant summons woman to utter benedictions during holiday service

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Synagogue at an IDF training base (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Synagogue at an IDF training base (photo credit: Gili Yaari/Flash90)

In a first, a female IDF soldier was called up to the Torah during a service on a military base.

The cadet was praying at a service for the Simchat Torah holiday at the Israeli Navy training base in Haifa, according to Kipa, an Israeli website geared toward the young national religious community. In Orthodox Judaism, all men are called to the Torah on the holiday, but the gabbai –– or officiant of the service — called her up as well.

The gabbai was not a member of the military, but rather worked as a civilian employee of the IDF, the report said.

Many of the sailors and officers in the synagogue — including some on the Hesder joint yeshiva-military track — were shocked, but decided not to prevent her from saying the blessings on Torah, the report said.

Kipa reported that an argument broke out among the Hesder sailors, with many pointing out that the majority of scholars forbid women from being called to the Torah, while others claimed that because of the holiday tradition, of everyone being called up, the case was an exception. They were also concerned with embarrassing the cadet after she had already been summoned by name.

The female sailor, who had studied at a major national religious women’s seminary, is a regular at the service on the navy base, the report said.

While liberal streams of Orthodox Judaism, along with Reform and Conservatives, allow women full participation in public prayer services, most Orthodox opinions see the leading of prayer — including blessings on the Torah — as the exclusive domain of men. The IDF adheres to the traditional readings of Jewish law, ensuring that Orthodox soldiers are able to fulfill their religious obligations on military bases.

No one from the navy chaplaincy was present at the service. The IDF said it was looking into the incident, and would formulate guidelines for future occurrences.

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