Religious Zionist rabbis on Tuesday added their voices to the rash of criticism leveled at a controversial religious leader who was recorded telling fresh army recruits that military service drives female soldiers “crazy” and strips them of their Jewishness.
In a letter to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Zionist Union faction chair Merav Michaeli demanded the government cut state funding to Rabbi Yigal Levinstein’s pre-army religious academy in Eli in the West Bank, over his “attack on women.”
“Rabbi Levinstein ridiculed and disrespected female soldiers. His statements diminish the status of women and encourage sexism towards them,” Michaeli, writing on behalf of the Zionist Union party, said.
In footage broadcast by Channel 2 news on Tuesday — a day before International Women’s Day — Levinstein told several hundred graduates of another academy, in the settlement of Bnei Atzmon, that IDF service has “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,” Levinstein said. “Not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset and we must not allow it.”
The comments drew broad condemnation from Israeli officials and politicians, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman asserting that Levinstein could be stripped of his position at the Eli academy.
Saying that the rabbi’s comments “damage the IDF,” Michaeli called on Liberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett to withhold funding from the Eli institution “until the horrible values the students have been taught disappear altogether.”
The Union of Religious Pre-army Academies published an open letter Wednesday calling Levinstein’s comments “inappropriate” and “disrespectful.”
According the letter, signed by the heads of 28 institutions, “the use of this sort of derogatory language… is not our way.”
But in a show of support for Levinstein, two renowned hardline religious Zionist leaders, rabbis Zalman Melamed and Dov Lior, issued a religious directive Wednesday banning men from serving in mixed-gender units in the IDF.
Mirroring Levinstein’s language, the directive said that the Israeli military “destroys modesty” and its guidelines are “directly opposed to the Torah.”
Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended female troops, telling a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Israel was “proud” of its history of integrating females into its fighting forces, going back to biblical times.
“Female Jewish fighters, from the time of Yael the heroine to the present — with Hannah Senesh and the fighters in the Etzel, the Palmach and the Lehi and the IDF, heroic warriors in the police and Border Police that we see here on the streets — are an active, and sometimes very senior, part of our national defense,” the prime minister said.
“We are proud of it, and will will further it. It’s important to say this in the most clear fashion,” Netanyahu added.
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 cut short in light of his controversial remarks.
On Wednesday, the state prosecutor, responding to a petition protesting Levinstein’s comments against homosexuals, said that his speech did not constitute “incitement” and did not warrant a criminal investigation.