Senior rabbis aligned with the religious Zionist movement want to see an end to the presence of female soldiers in elite combat units of the Israeli army, reported Haaretz.
The paper said that the rabbis are currently preparing for a public battle on the matter and believe that the development of combat units for women will cause serious harm to religious soldiers, perhaps even bringing their future service in combat units into doubt.
According to the daily, Israeli Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz decided eighteen months ago to extend combat roles for women serving in the army, a precedent setting decision of which Mofaz was very proud.
Women currently serve in anti-aircraft dispositions and the border forces, as paratroop instructors and as section commanders. Female soldiers are now also accepted to pilot's courses (two have already graduated as combat navigators) and to the navy's first officers' course, the report added.
The decision was intended to expand the number of women accepted into combat units. Female soldiers would thus be allowed into certain units of the Engineering Corps, including the atomic, biological and chemical division, and the division in charge of mutual security on the "peace" borders (along Israel's borders with Egypt and Jordan).
Haaretz said that many of those rabbis who teach at yeshivas involved in the Hesder program (which combines army service and yeshiva study) and at religious pre-army preparatory programs are among those opposed to the inclusion of women in these units. Former Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu and National Religious Party MK Rabbi Haim Druckman have also shown their support for the cause and approached senior army officials on the matter along with the Union of Hesder Yeshivas chair.
The rabbis are expected to meet this week with senior NRP members to organize a mass protest of rabbis against the phenomenon. One of those involved told Haaretz that "this presents a danger to the IDF's traditional strength. Religious soldiers will simply not be able to serve in combat units together with girls ... There is daily interaction in combat units. There will be no way around it."
"This matter greatly preoccupies us," he continued, "Rabbis are likely to say: We will not be part of such an army, and everybody knows that a significant proportion of combat soldiers today wear skullcaps. The ultra-Orthodox are just waiting for a chance to celebrate. The Tal Commission [on the deferment of army service for religious conscripts] is a joke compared to the girl issue. The ultra-Orthodox will ask: These are the standards of the army you are trying to convince us to join?"
Army sources responded by saying that the Israeli army is well aware of the problem and claim that Mofaz took a number of steps last week in an attempt to quell their anger. These steps, including allowing religious soldiers to choose to serve in units where women are not allowed and prohibiting female soldiers from entering the male soldiers' living quarters. The sources believe that these measures will reduce the interaction between male and female combat soldiers that so concerns the rabbis. The rabbis, however, believe that this is not enough, according to the daily - Albawaba.
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)