Rabbi who opposes female service claims ‘war’ being waged with IDF

Shmuel Eliyahu says army agenda on women’s integration is ‘unhinged’; 100 rabbis write to defense minister in support of Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef

Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu in Jerusalem, May 24, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)
Safed Chief Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu in Jerusalem, May 24, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of the city of Safed, claimed Wednesday a “war” was being waged between the military and religious Zionism over female military service, said the IDF was leading an “unhinged” agenda and accused Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman of behaving as though the army “belongs to his dad.”

Speaking at a conference on Hebrew law, Eliyahu said the army had plans to “mix boys and girls in the IDF in all areas. They boast that they’ve already managed 90 percent, and they hope for 100.”

He claimed that the military position nowadays was that “‘You weren’t born a woman, you were taught to be a woman, so we’ll teach you to be a man.’

“It’s an unhinged agenda, but the problem is that this agenda now leads the IDF.”

Eliyahu set off tensions with the defense establishment recently when he said IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot should be dismissed because he allows female soldiers to serve in combat units.

Eliyahu’s position was supported by other top rabbis, including Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef and Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, leading Liberman to ban the three from all IDF events, “until they take back the serious comments they made against the IDF chief of staff and against the IDF.” The rabbis, he said, are state employees who “must represent the state.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman during a ceremony for the Jewish holiday of Tu Bishvat in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, in southern Israel, January 31, 2018. (Flash90)

The Safed rabbi lambasted the defense minister’s position Wednesday, describing it as “impertinence” and wondering aloud whether “the army belongs to his dad.”

Meanwhile a group of around 100 rabbis wrote to Liberman Wednesday to protest his action against the three rabbis.

“Rabbis’ obligation to speak out and to rule on halacha (Jewish law) is at the very core of Judaism,” the letter’s writers said, asserting that a rabbi who does not inform the public of his position “would be betraying his job.

“We stand as one behind the rabbis who stated their opinion, and we will not allow anyone to abuse them.”

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef speaks on December 11, 2016 (Screen capture: YouTube)

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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also rejected rabbis’ criticisms, saying he was “proud” of female integration and commended army chiefs for advancing equality.

In a speech on Sunday the head of a pre-army religious academy in southern Israel accused the IDF of seeking “to destroy” Israeli families,  warning religious women not to “dare” enlist.

In the speech Rabbi Tzvi Kostiner said men and women serving together has led to “insanity” in the army, with women taking on roles traditionally reserved for men. He claimed co-ed military service has caused women to leave the army due to emotional problems, injuries and harassment.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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