Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday gave his blessing for the army’s top chaplain to meet with Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, amid tensions caused by top rabbis who have spoken out against the integration of women into the armed forces.
The development came after a previous planned meeting between Yosef and IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim was canceled Sunday, reportedly at the orders of IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.
Liberman said he approved Karim sitting down with Yosef, so that the army rabbi could express the “displeasure of the minister and the IDF,” the ministry said in a statement.
Yosef last week gave his support to Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Safed city, who had angered Liberman by saying that army commander Eisenkot should be dismissed because he allows female soldiers to serve in combat units.
The issue of female enlistment, especially into combat units, has become a sensitive one among Orthodox nationalist religious leaders in recent years, and has pitted Israel’s traditionally liberal military leadership against the spiritual leaders of a large number of religiously observant soldiers and officers.
In the statement, Liberman reiterated that Yosef, Eliyahu, and another prominent rabbi, Shlomo Aviner, will not take part in any IDF events, “until they take back the serious comments they made against the IDF chief of staff and against the IDF.”
On Saturday, Liberman said he had banned all three rabbis from participating in military events. The rabbis, he said at the time, are state employees who “must represent the state,” and therefore would not be allowed at official events until they withdraw the comments they had made against the enlistment of women.
Eliyahu, a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, told Army Radio last Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should fire Eisenkot over his policy of allowing the integration of female soldiers in combat units.
Responding to news that the Air Force had appointed its first female squadron commander, Eliyahu said in the interview that “the army has adopted a crazy feminist agenda. I don’t know what’s gotten into Eisenkot. Cabinet ministers and the prime minister should tell Eisenkot, ‘You have to go packing and go home, you have done too much to lower the motivation to enlist, especially waging war on religious soldiers.’ I call on the prime minister to tell Eisenkot, ‘Go home.’”
For his part, Netanyahu rejected Eliyahu’s demand outright, saying in a statement while on a state visit to India: “I am proud we have a first female aviation squadron commander. Not only will I not condemn the chief of staff, I commend him and the Air Force commander. I expect more such appointments.”
The following day, Chief Rabbi Yosef praised Eliyahu for “his steadfast upholding of the Chief Rabbinate’s instructions on the issue of female enlistment.”
On Tuesday, leading rabbi Aviner wrote on an Orthodox news site, Kipa, that it was forbidden to join mixed-gender units, which make up almost all non-combat units in the IDF, as well as several combat units.