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Twice as many religious women volunteering for IDF

Rabbinical objections notwithstanding, new data shows rise in observant female soldiers from 930 in 2010 to 2,000 in 2015

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Female Artillery Corps soldiers march and salute during a ceremony on February 25, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)
Illustrative: Female Artillery Corps soldiers march and salute during a ceremony on February 25, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)

The number of women from national-religious backgrounds joining the IDF has doubled in recent years, according to a new Knesset-commissioned study released Monday.

According to figures released by the Knesset Information and Research Center, the annual number of women from the national-religious education system who have voluntarily enlisted to serve in the IDF has increased from 930 in 2010 to just over 2,000 in 2015.

That figure constitutes 26 percent of the entire female graduating cohort from national-religious schools in 2015.

The findings come despite several high-profile and controversial calls from religious leaders in the community against religious women joining the military. In the past, most chose to do a national service instead.

The findings were presented to lawmakers at a Monday parliamentary meeting discussing military service for religiously observant women — who are not obligated to serve under law.

Not only has the number of draftees gone up, but the study found that religious women are increasingly outperforming their secular counterparts. Some 12% of all religious soldiers go on to become officers, as opposed to 8% of female soldiers overall.

The study conducted by the Knesset’s in-house research team further revealed that 37% of female soldiers said IDF service increased their religious convictions and identity. Another 52% said their religious convictions and identity were unchanged by their military service.

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, speaks during a conference for Young Leadership programs, at Haifa University, on April 11, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, speaks during a conference for Young Leadership programs, at Haifa University, on April 11, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The study was commissioned by retired IDF general and Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern in response to the growing numbers of Zionist Orthodox rabbis voicing fierce opposition to religious women serving in the military.

The standard period of mandatory service for women in the IDF is two years. But religious women are eligible to forgo army service in exchange for one or two years of national service in the civilian sector. Up until recently, most religious women preferred this track, for fear of having their faith corrupted by the military atmosphere.

In March, Channel 2 news broadcast remarks made by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the principal of a prominent pre-army religious preparatory program, railing against women serving in the IDF. Levinstein told hundreds of new army recruits that Jewish women who enlist in the military “are not Jewish on the way out,” that the IDF made them “crazy,” and added that no one would want to marry a female veteran.

Yigal Levinstein (YouTube)
Yigal Levinstein (YouTube)

The controversial rabbi later apologized for his aggressive tone, but refused to back down from the content. He drew criticism from across the political spectrum, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who threatened to withdraw accreditation from his academy if he failed to step down. Levinstein earlier this month announced he was going on indefinite leave from the academy.

Stern praised the findings, saying the marked increase of women serving in the IDF was “reason to celebrate religious Zionism.”

“I am happy that today this data proves that there are in fact growing numbers of women enlisting in the IDF,” he said, according to Army Radio.

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