“Some people think Army is Yeshiva”

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The question of why the Haredi community tends to avoid or minimize IDF service is one with multiple facets, one of which is the ongoing hostility of the IDF towards Jewish religious practice. A yeshiva student, in particular, is supposed to take himself away from doing something which, he believes, protects every Jew in every place, and instead place himself into a situation where he is told that all of that is valueless, and his rules, primitive.

In the newest example, the outgoing Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate, Avi Zamir, asserted that requiring female soldiers and officers to dress modestly around their observant comrades was harmful to their dignity. He said that to require women not to sing in their presence was a “pathetic demand.”

What happens if a soldier leaves a room in which a woman is singing, when commanded by his superiors to be in that room? It’s not at all the same as shopping at Walmart, where it’s a matter of personal preference whether or not to tolerate whatever they happen to play in the background. In the IDF, if you don’t overlook assaults on Jewish law, a soldier can be thrown in jail.

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18 Responses

  1. dovid2 says:

    Reb Dovid, do I need to give you more “hard facts”? Since you served when I did, you must have seen a good deal of pritzus. I heard that there are no female personnel in the Netzach Yehudah batallion. Thath’s great. On the other hand, you know full well that the IDF, as well as the youth that’s about to be drafted, frum youth included, regard the Netzach Yehudah batallion as light weight, less glamorous unit to serve in. Peer pressure results in their serving in Golani, paratroops, maybe Givati, etc. at the risk of pritzus.

  2. dovid2 says:

    R’ Dovid Landesman writes: “My personal experience has been that the IDF is quite prepared to make accommodations for soldiers who truly and honestly present their “problems” with programs and events.”

    This comes as a surprise to me. I served in the IDF between 1976-79, roughly at the same time as R’ Dovid did. I remember on the first day of basic training (it was a combat outfit), when the NCO ran by us the daily routine, several observant draftees innocently ask about time to daven. The NCO curtly informed them that it would have to be in their ‘free time’. The only ‘free time’ we had was between 12:30 am and 4:00 am, and even that wasn’t guaranteed as we turns to do guard duty at night, as well as sometimes had night training. In short, they were supposed to daven shacharit, mincha, and aravit in this time span. Since they also went to sleep, they davened shacharit while the rest of us were having breakfast. Some of us, myself included, ‘took’ (w/o permisson) food out of the tent that served as chadar ochel and brought it to the soldiers davening in the tent that served as beit knesset.

    I remember that one of the two observant soldiers in my post basic-training outfit in Sinai slept in out tent. He woke up earlier in order to put on tefilin and daven. He did it in our tent because there was no other place for him to daven. Soon, he would forget where he was and would turn up the volume and intensity enough for the rest of us to wake up. We would yell at him and throw our boots at him to make our point clear. After a while, the fellow stopped putting on tefilin and daven. That wasn’t enough for us. We would tease him mercilessly about it. He calmly stated that he became ‘reform’. I think he was the only ‘reform’ Parsi Jew in Jewish history.

  3. Yaakov Menken says:

    If eid mi’pi eid were unacceptable in the news media, by definition it could not exist. We who write rely almost entirely upon what others have told us.

    Rabbi Landesman, July 25: “I would humbly suggest that you reserve your remarks for subjects with which you are familiar.”
    Rabbi Landesman, July 28: “Perhaps, you might be so kind as to raise the issue in a fuller manner so that the readers might offer their ideas and ‘hard facts.'”

    I can only report what I know, which is that Zamir’s remarks were obviously hostile and of a piece with what friends have experienced. I agree that Pinchas Steinberg’s response is much longer on substance — stating that while what I wrote (and Zamir’s remarks) may have accurately depicted the IDF I remember, it is no longer so, and today Zamir is a lone voice crying in the wilderness. I can only hope that this is true.

    Shmuel, please review the division of labor in HaShem’s Army. You will recognize that it is the Torah-study manpower which is woefully understaffed. The Gulf War of 1991 is the only period of time in which I personally felt the fear of being under military attack — I wasn’t in Sderot in 2007 or in Kiryat Shmoneh during the Hezbollah rocket fire. The Gulf War was perhaps unique in that soldiers were not, b’derech haTeva (in a natural way), any more at risk than anyone else. The IDF had no power to do more than warn us (the US Patriot missiles apparently contributed to the one direct death from an inbound Scud), and anyone who denies that we experienced miracles has engaged in self-delusion. Those who believe that Torah study is the best protection have a powerful set of “hard facts” upon which to depend.

  4. Shmuel says:

    During Torah reading last shabbos, did the words of Moshe Rabbeinu “ha’acheichem yavo’u lamilchama v’atem teishvu fo?” jump out at you as being relevant to those who refuse to serve in the military?

    I am American and haven’t served in the military of Israel or of any other country. Because of this (among other reasons) I don’t take a position as to whether charedim in Israel should or shouldn’t serve. But I think that community should stop trying to justify it with anything other than the fact that it is a chok handed down from its leadership. Without such an imperative from the Rabbinic leadership of the charedi community (the correctness of which I am not qualified to comment on), such refusal would be nothing if not shameful.

  5. lacosta says:

    maybe we must be content to hold that the haredi community in israel is not on a soiritual madrega to be in the army; while the DL people who serve does suffer from some attrition, it would be rampant in the haredi community… in the time of the original kibush haaretz it was a great priviledge to be asked to serve [the nokmei nkama on Midian were the spiritual greatest of the nation], this community is clearly not on suc a level to figure how to ‘make it work’…

    the only open question is how much discrimination is acceptable for such a ‘handicapped’ populace… that hilonim despise them for this is understandable. but i think DL communities see the haredim as slackers [who see DL as suckers,whocould easily get out of it] , not as too spiritually weak to serve… and maybe there needs to be more hasbara by haredim to that regard ….

  6. dovid landesman says:

    “actually, he simply operates from the assumption that I don’t have them, and rather snidely suggests that I have no actual familiarity with this topic. In so doing, he completely ignores the friend of mine who was the subject of the third paragraph of my previous comment, and who provided the facts that Rabbi Landesman would prefer to pretend do not exist.”

    Suffice to say that eid mi’pi eid is unacceptable in every beit din that I am aware of. I would also assume that you would seek more than one incident/opinion to base a charge of the gravity that you made. I am sorry Rabbi Menkin that you found my remarks snide . As a reserve officer in the IDF [not in the rabbanut] I spent much time working in what is referred to as the shalishut – the division of the army responsible for manpower. I don’t think I would need all of the fingers on one hand to count the number of chareidim who avoided being drafted because of difficulties in terms and conditions of service. Moreover, today, as Pinchas points out, the conditions in the IDF have changed radically – especially in the combat units where almost 50% of the officers – up to brigade commanders [colonels] – are graduates of hesder or the mechinot.

    There are many serious halachic challenges to serving in the IDF, as I previously pointed out. However, I can honestly say that with good will and honesty, they can almost all be resolved.

    You write that it is silly to assert that what I tossed into the “In Brief” column was intended to constitute a comprehensive analysis of the entire issue. How true, Rabbi. Perhaps, you might be so kind as to raise the issue in a fuller manner so that the readers might offer their ideas and “hard facts.”

  7. Pinchas Steinberg says:

    Aharon, many in the leadership of the IDF — in other words, your son’s future commanding officers — are openly hostile to Jewish law and Jewish values, to the point of claiming that a simple request that Israeli female soldiers wear more than they often do (how many other armies have a military issue mini-skirt?).

    Rabbi Landesman asks for “hard facts” — actually, he simply operates from the assumption that I don’t have them, and rather snidely suggests that I have no actual familiarity with this topic. In so doing, he completely ignores the friend of mine who was the subject of the third paragraph of my previous comment, and who provided the facts that Rabbi Landesman would prefer to pretend do not exist.”

    I tend to agree with Rabbi Menken’s opinion on many things. Unfortunately, on this issue I find him woefully misinformed. I completed my service in the IDF about 6 months ago, perhaps I can clear up a few misunderstandings. The IDF of today is a far cry from the IDF of the 70s, 80s and even 90s. Until relatively recent times, many of the commanding officers were of the ultra-secular anti-religious elite and they certainly made life difficult for the religious soldiers. You need to understand, though, that the IDF of 2011 is an entirely different world. Today, almost 40% of combat soldiers and almost 50% of combat officers are observant. Most of the non-observant commanding officers of today did not grow up on a kibbutz being spoon-fed anti-religious propaganda. For the most part, they realize that in order for the IDF to continue to exist when the demographic trends point to religious Jews becoming a majority in another generation, they need to become more observant-friendly. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, such as Zamir, as pointed out in the article you referenced. But I don’t see how you can prove from this that, “In the IDF, if you don’t overlook assaults on Jewish law, a soldier can be thrown in jail.” I can bring countless examples of how wrong and out-of-touch that statement is.

    Yes, the IDF had a uniform miniskirt which was legal and very popular in the 70s. Today, it does not exist. Regulations today are that women in the IDF may only wear a skirt instead of pants(as the dress uniform)if they can prove they are observant. Not only that, but wearing a skirt shorter than knee-length is against regulation and results in disciplinary action. I’m not saying the dress code for women is tzniut, I’m just saying you need to have the facts straight.

    The anecdote about your friend who was forced to work alone in an office with a female soldier is utterly irrelevant and does not constitute “hard facts” when evaluating the IDF of 2011. I don’t know how long ago he served, but today it’s quite unheard of for a religious soldier to be forced to violate the halacha of yichud. I have also heard stories from friends who served in the 70s-90s of incidents such as that one; stories of non-kosher meat being served, of public chillul shabbos, of being forced to torture animals as part of training. That kind of stuff does not really happen anymore, at least not knowingly and certainly not in the combat units where the vast majority of observant soldiers serve. Rulings made by the Rabbanut are now “P’keudot matkal” – General Staff Orders, the violation of which constitute a fast-track to Military Prison. So yes, is Zamir ignorant as to the halachos of Kol Isha? Obviously. Will the Army Rabbanut now guide legislation on new procedures forcing commanders to allow observant soldiers to opt out of such performances? Most certainly. Does all this prove that as a matter of policy religous soldiers who don’t overlook “assaults on Jewish law” are thrown in jail? Absolutely not.

  8. Yaakov Menken says:

    Ori, the US Army supported an exemption for divinity students. It’s actually quite common, the only thing uncommon about Israel’s is that what Ben-Gurion was willing to give the Chazon Ish was for a dying vestige, one that instead turned into an increasingly significant percentage of otherwise-eligible young men.

    Both Kevin and Rabbi Landesman seem to bypass what I wrote when it doesn’t fit the criticisms they want to say. Especially as I began by saying that “the question of why the Haredi community tends to avoid or minimize IDF service is one with multiple facets, one of which is the ongoing hostility of the IDF…” it is silly to assert that what I tossed into the “In Brief” column was intended to constitute a comprehensive analysis of the entire issue. But this problem is not something to be glossed over — “the context in which Avi Zamir made his remarks” is hardly a mystery; rather, Zamir wrote his public letter to assert that the Military Rabbinate and religious law should have even less influence upon the IDF than they do at present. It is possible that things are improving, but Zamir’s parting shot agitated to move things in a very different direction.

    Rabbi Landesman asks for “hard facts” — actually, he simply operates from the assumption that I don’t have them, and rather snidely suggests that I have no actual familiarity with this topic. In so doing, he completely ignores the friend of mine who was the subject of the third paragraph of my previous comment, and who provided the facts that Rabbi Landesman would prefer to pretend do not exist. The Nachal Chareidi may be great when everything goes just right, but it is still grafted onto a largely unfriendly system. My friend is an overweight asthmatic, who in the US would have been 4F’d for a journey home. In Israel he was moved from his Hesder unit straight into tight quarters with a female colleague whose conduct offended his religious sensibilities, and leaving that office would have constituted going AWOL.

    This problem isn’t unknown in the US either — a Catholic Air Force officer named Ryan Berry refused to serve a 24-hour shift secluded with a woman in an ICBM silo in order to avoid temptation, and was reprimanded and reassigned. But in the US, military service is neither obligatory nor a prerequisite for entry into the workforce.

  9. Kevin Gold says:

    Yaakov Menkin’s post dodges the real issue, in that the Charedi community in Israel does not serve in the Israeli army for much deeper ideological reasons than a set of specific technical Jewish law issues. The proof is that Nachal Charedi has very few members, even as all of these technical issues are complied with. If Rabbi Menkin means to say that he supports the drafting of Yeshiva students to serve in the Israeli army if halacha is fully and completely observed in the Nachal Charedi units, as an agreed upon charedi posek wiill determine, he should say that — but I am sure that he will not take that bait as his own community will tar and feather him. Rather the ideological opposition to serving in the army in the Charedi community is driven by three factors. Some in the Chardei community are anti-zionists and will not serve for ideological reasons. Some in the Charedi community are of the view that yeshiva learning is more important than army service and thus will leave any yeshiva to serve. Some in the Charedi community are of the view that any involvement in open western culture is a very bad idea and the social mixing, (even between men) of Charedi and non-Charedi communities is dangerious, and thus they oppose army service. Only a small percent of the Charedi community is willing to serve if technical issues of halacha are fixed. There is a lack of honesty in this post for that reason.

  10. Steve Brizel says:

    Like it or not-you can’t always have your proverbial cake and eat it or as another philosopher of the 60s once said-“you can’t always get what you want.”

    It is far too easy IMO for Charedim to point to Chiloni dodge drafting in TA, as opposed to recognizing that while some in their yeshivas may turn out to be Gdolei Torah, many will not and need an alternative social and educational structure, of which Charedi Nachal is a fine example.

    One also reads that Charedi training in Talmud, etc would be the functional equivalent of a college or similar degree for Charedim who want to but are discouraged from joining the start up and technological centers in Israel that are one of its greatest assets today. Yet, even if one has served in Hesder or Charedi Nachal, one has to recognize fully that the values of your co-workers are not the values of your community or yeshiva. Assuming or insisting that one is entitled to a fully insulated work place makes sense only if one is working for a Charedi run company-as opposed to any company or business that is “diverse”, in its POV re attire, etc. I would maintain that in such a situation, all you can do is realize that when you leave the workplace that you have values and expectations of behavior between the genders that are far different than your co-workers.

  11. Ori says:

    Rabbi Yaakov Menken, back when the US had a draft, did US Charedim serve in the armed forces? I know there were less women in the military than there are now, but some of the issues, such as listening to the radio (often, that is kol isha) or women in non-combat roles existed even then. Also, I doubt that Korean and Vietnamese women stopped singing just because a US military convoy was passing nearby.

    As for the military utility of women singing, I suspect it has something to do with morale. There’s a reason that many military forces have their own radio station, and that during major wars entertainers go to entertain the troops.

  12. dovid landesman says:

    Having served in the IDF, and as the proud father of a son currently serving in Netzach Yehudah [a.k.a. Nachal Chareidi] I resent Rabbi Menkin’s assertion that “In the IDF, if you don’t overlook assaults on Jewish law, a soldier can be thrown in jail.” Can you, Rabbi Menkin, back that up with some hard facts. My personal experience has been that the IDF is quite prepared to make accommodations for soldiers who truly and honestly present their “problems” with programs and events. The KFIR division – one of the 5 standing groups of infantry in the IDF – recently had a division wide celebration to mark its anniversary. In consideration to the Netzach Yehudah brigade which constitutes but a minority of the soldiers in KFIR, there were no women singers and food was provided with a suitable hechsher so that all could participate. The Air Force’s shachar kachol program and a similar program beginning in the navy would seem to prove the extent to which the IDF is prepared to go to make service possible for chareidim.
    There are many halachic difficulties in serving in the IDF which, given mutual respect and honesty, can be suitably solved. To claim that yeshiva students avoid service because “of the ongoing hostility of the IDF toward Jewish religious practice” is, as we would say in the IDF, bablat. I would suggest Rabbi Menkin that you examine the context in which Avi Zamir made his remarks. Even more so, I would humbly suggest that you reserve your remarks for subjects with which you are familiar.

  13. ChanaRachel says:

    My sons and son-in-law have “gotten through”. Some in Hesder units, in which there were minimum conflicts, some in mixed (religious and not religious, not male/female) units in which there might have been more. The point is, that when there were problems, they, at times, asked their Ram”im from their yeshivot and michinot for advice, and they spoke up when they needed to. Yes, it is annoying to hear top army brass make anti-religious comments. But it should be annoying to those of us who serve, and whose children serve. As Aharon said, it’s their and our job to deal with it..But please don’t sit in the US and use this as yet another excuse for hareidim to avoid army service. One of our kids was in two wars (Lebanon 2 and Gaza); another spent months of sleepless nights preventing terrorists from infiltrating through the Gaza fence. There were no women singing in either of those places. Rather, there were a bunch of young men from all walks of Israeli society putting themselves at the front, so the rest of us could sleep at night.

  14. Yaakov Menken says:

    David, what is the military imperative for a woman to sing? Does it improve firing accuracy? Is there an encoded transmission that can only be received when a woman sings? The IDF has no such law or regulation, whereas Jewish law is clear. Simply put, the IDF leadership regards Jewish legal strictures that run against their own preferences as “pathetic.”

    Aharon, many in the leadership of the IDF — in other words, your son’s future commanding officers — are openly hostile to Jewish law and Jewish values, to the point of claiming that a simple request that Israeli female soldiers wear more than they often do (how many other armies have a military issue mini-skirt?) in front of Orthodox cadets is called an offense to their “dignity” (talk about an Olam Hafuch). Taking that into account is hardly “disingenuous” and failing to give it serious consideration is, frankly, akin to the ostrich that buries its head in the sand to avoid signs of danger.

    A friend of mine did hesder service (he was in HaKotel) before we’d met, and as an asthmatic was placed in an office with a woman soldier. He had to be there every day for a year or two… and told me that he certainly understood the validity of the charedi position. Perhaps you don’t get it now, but I’m more interested in hearing your son’s opinion when he gets through.

  15. Aharon says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    As my son is joining the army next week after two years in a hesder yeshiva I thought I should reply to this post.
    “A yeshiva student, in particular, is supposed to take himself away from doing something which, he believes, protects every Jew in every place, and instead place himself into a situation where he is told that all of that is valueless, and his rules, primitive.”
    1. I am not sure the army is worse/better than wider Israel in this regard. As this is a comment without proof, I am not sure R. Menken knows either.
    2. In any case my son is going in with other hesder boys and will have to deal with it. That is life. Unless you are going to spend your entire existence in a Bet Midrash you will have to deal with this. We believe that army service is a requirement of living under army protection and is indeed a mitzvah that obligates leaving the safe (and protected) world of Yeshivah. We hope that our son is able to deal with opposing views and has enough support from his Yeshiva, and Tzahal Rabbis to deal with it. We will try to offer all the support we can. The truth is we are much more concerned with his putting his life in danger than hearing views he has heard before and knows exist out there.

    “What happens if a soldier leaves a room in which a woman is singing, when commanded by his superiors to be in that room? It’s not at all the same as shopping at Walmart, where it’s a matter of personal preference whether or not to tolerate whatever they happen to play in the background. In the IDF, if you don’t overlook assaults on Jewish law, a soldier can be thrown in jail.”

    I don’t know what the halacha is in this case. Of course it needs more detail. But it may be one of 100s of conflicts our son (or any religious soldier) may have to face when serving. Our son’s yeshivah spends a lot of time going through the halachot of army service, and the “Ram”im are always ready to answer a shaila when it comes up. They prepare the boys for these conflicts. Because it is a priority.

    I would hope that the attitude of the army is generally better than the one you quote. With this I agree. But using this as even a partial excuse for not serving seems disingenuous and fills me with anger.

  16. L. Oberstein says:

    I asked one of my sons in Israel what he thought of this and he said that the chilonim in Tel Aviv should stop dodging the draft first. The reason that there is more religiosity in the army,if that is indeed the case, is because more religious youth are Zionists instead of post Zionists. I don’t think this article is as concerned about the smaller number of chareidim in the army as the increasing visability of the Dati Leumni in the ranks and in the officer corps.
    The Israeli Army has long had a reputation for lacking tzniyus, in numerous ways. The espirit de corps has eroded and the army has not shined in some recent situations. Maybe the increase of religious soldiers will help the Israeli Army to get better.

  17. David Levine says:

    Wait what?
    You do realize that there are religious, guy-only division in the army, like Nachal Chareidi. Also, there are the advent of Hesder Yeshivot, that allow people to divvy up their time between learning and serving in the army.

    As far as importance of army service goes, remember that all men were required to serve in the army in the times of the torah (w. 3 exceptions, torah learning not being one of them). Moshe Rebeinu was ‘mivatel torah’ himself, holding his hands to the sky against amaelek… which by the way means he even caused bittul torah to those who were holding his hands up…

    It is not the pejorative of an Army to enforce religion on to people, and of course it is ridiculous to demand women not sing just because men might be around. Instead, ways are offered to avoid for people who are observant to avoid the situation to the best of their ability. And, in times of sakanet nefesh, you are allowed to listen to kol ishah, so if the person chooses to disobay orders to avoid hearing the girl sing, he is an idiot who clearly wasted all that time he spent in yeshiva up until this point…

    Come on…

  1. January 3, 2012

    […] By Yaakov Menken, on January 3rd, 2012 A reader sent this in, because the topic was debated here before: The Rabbi in charge of the Shachar units for Charedi soldiers, HaRav Ram […]