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Rabbis urge IDF chief to stop women’s integration into combat units

Statement signed by diverse group of national religious leaders, days after IDF says women will be able to serve in elite search and rescue unit, claims such moves will divide army

Illustrative photo: Soldiers in the mixed gender Cheetah Battalion participate in a squad exercise in southern Israel on November 16, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)
Illustrative photo: Soldiers in the mixed gender Cheetah Battalion participate in a squad exercise in southern Israel on November 16, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)

A group of senior rabbis from the national religious camp signed on to a statement Thursday urging IDF Chief of State Aviv Kohavi to cease efforts to draft women into combat units alongside men.

“The Chief of Staff’s apparent decision to add more mixed units to the infantry brigades brings us much closer to an army of separate tribes,” the 15 rabbis wrote in their letter. They argued that soldiers who observe traditional Jewish law will not be able to serve in mixed units, leaving those that remain gender-segregated with a much higher percentage of Orthodox recruits.

״We call to avoid these dangerous steps and maintain the unity of the IDF and the unity of the nation, based on criteria that have always been accepted in the IDF,” they added.

The open letter, to be published in weekly Sabbath pamphlets that are distributed in national religious synagogues, is signed by a diverse group of yeshiva heads, including some who have backed the enlistment of women into the IDF. The group includes Or Etzion yeshiva head Haim Druckman, Bnei David yeshiva heads Yigal Levinstein and Eli Sadan, Ma’ale Gilboa yeshiva head Yehuda Gilad and Lindenbaum Seminary head Ohad Teharlev.

It was drafted after the IDF announced last Friday that women will be allowed to serve in the elite helicopter-borne search and rescue Unit 669 for the first time.

The IDF announcement was aimed at preempting a High Court of Justice decision on an appeal by four female recruits demanding full gender integration in the IDF, including in elite units such as Sayeret Matkal and Unit 669. The court delayed ruling on the case until the military finalized a committee it was forming on the matter.

Illustrative: Female soldiers of the Bardales Battalion during training, July 13, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Women serve in a variety of roles in the IDF, in many cases alongside their male counterparts. There are also fully integrated mixed-gender combat units such as the Caracal and Bardelas battalions, which are tasked with protecting Israel’s border with Egypt and Jordan, respectively. In the Air Force, women and men serve together in the air defense units, including the Iron Dome — technically considered a combat unit.

Today, some 95 percent of Air Force positions are available to women, according to the IDF.

The army has insisted in the past that it is allowing more women to serve in combat positions out of practical considerations, not due to a social agenda, saying it requires all the woman- and manpower available to it.

Critics of gender integration in the military often decry it as a dangerous social experiment with potential ramifications for national security, while defenders generally trumpet it as a long-needed measure, one that has already been implemented in many Western countries.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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