Would’ve Been Nice to be Wrong

Two months ago, I posted about comments made by the departing Head of the IDF Personnel Directorate which were openly hostile to observance. I said that this hostility was one contributing factor to why Haredim seem so reluctant to join the military, and closed with the following: “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.”

This led to numerous critical responses, most particularly an excellent Guest Contributor post from Eli Julian. While he is certainly correct that there are many more opportunities for an observant soldier today, he went further, saying that:

It’s very unfortunate that while this is the current reality, old stigmas and prejudices based on outdated facts still persist. The myth that the IDF is the only army in the world that issues a mini-skirt or that it is impossible to maintain a religious lifestyle in the army because of all the strictures that make it too difficult to overcome the yetzer harah, are things of the past.

On September 7, ten religious officer’s candidates “left in the middle of a military activity after a female soldier began singing solo on the stage.” Originally, dozens got up to leave, but upon being angrily informed that “If you don’t come back inside immediately, you will be refusing orders. Anyone refusing an order will be dismissed from the course,” all but 10 returned to their seats. In the end, four were dismissed from the training course, because they disobeyed an order to violate Halacha, and refused to apologize. The State argues that they should have ignored Halacha.

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, head of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, called it an “unfortunate and humiliating incident” and called for the commander to be fired. Rabbi Haim Drukman, chairman of the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva Center, said in response that the dismissal was an “outrageous, delusional and immoral decision.”

Now, the Hesder Yeshivos are attempting to hammer out a compromise, in which Hilchos Kol Isha will be discarded only “at official ceremonies” but “not in shows designed for soldiers’ entertainment.” I wonder: will the cadets of Shachar be expected to accept this “compromise?”

Share It:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Print

25 comments to Would’ve Been Nice to be Wrong

  • Moshe

    It is easy to criticize what goes on in the Israeli army – it is taking two steps forward and one step backward. In general, there is forward progress – but that does not cause some (in this instance a single officer in the army who gave the order) to try to hold on to the secular culture of the army. There are two ways of dealing with this – considering it “Shmad” and therefore allowing yourself to be crucified for it, or realizing that it is a single idiot giving the order, and that by having more and more religious officers in the army we can actually have a say and an impact on what happens in this country.

    ר’ חייא בר אבא ורבי שמעון בן חלפתא היו מהלכין בבקעת ארבל וראו אילת השחר. אמר לו ר’ חייא: כך היא גאולתן של ישראל, בתחילה קמעא קמעא, כל מה שהיא הולכת, היא רבה והולכת.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Your juxtaposition of this story and Eli Julian’s excellent piece on Shachar is great for dramatic effect, but short on actual meaning. Shachar is an example of how there are new avenues opening up for “Chareidim” in the army. That is totally unrelated to the Hesdar program where yeshiva boys serve in regular units. No, it’s no always easy, nor is in perfect, but, in general the boys I’ve watched go in almost always come out as better people and stronger Jews.

    Eli’s piece showed how the IDF is slowly attempting to accommodate, what will inevitability be, a growing Chareidi population in the army. Was it really necessary for you take something so positive and attempt to knock it with a totally unrelated indecent?

  • Tzurah

    The lack of sensitivity of the military towards religious soldiers wanting to be makpid regarding kol isha notwithstanding, it’s unfair to describe hesder’s compromise as discarding halacha. They are relying on well-known meikil opinions, e.g., regarding amplified sounds, as was stated in the linked article. Another opinion that all frum soldiers can rely on in addition (and surely did in the incident that led to the dismissals) is to make sure that they don’t look at the female singers. With singing being limited to official ceremonies that lack a frivolous atmosphere, hesder’s decision seems to me to have some merit. I might still be uncomfortable with hesder’s decision in the final analysis, but it’s hardly a discarding of halacha (ch”v)!

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >Hilchos Kol Isha will be discarded

    They are not discarded, they will simply pasken like the Rav HaRashi leTzahal and several other prominent rabbanim that in these circumstances, the individual soldiers are not transgressing the halacha. Unless you think that every religious soldier should have their own personal Rav with their own personal chumrot, then I don’t see how someone can have a taana towards the army.

    The army has to somehow function for all Jews who serve in it, which also includes non-religious people. Any halachic approach which is “my way or the highway” is doomed to fail – as is any approach that allows each individual soldier too much religious autonomy. The religious soldiers to defer to the piskei halacha of the rabbanut of tzahal that kol isha is a non-issue in ceremonies where the songs are not meant to entice, where the very nature of the songs are שירה תמימה and where the audience member is not intending to enjoy the music (per the psak of the שדי חמד). At the very least, the meta-halachic considerations are not that different than those the chief rabbis of Israel use when they have to sit through diplomatic ceremonies which often have levels of tzniut which are less than the halachic ideal.

    This is yet another instance where it seems like the chareidim invoke some small detail in halacha where there is room to be meikil in order to get out of the major milchemet mitzva of hatzalat Yisrael and basic participation in Jewish national life.

  • Allan Katz

    There is no problem for Eli Julian because the red line in the Nachal Chareidi is set at a different level – so no excuse for serving here . The lack of uniformity elswhere – having the lowest common demoninator – as the red line is problematic. In the ‘ female singer ‘ case – which was I think b’di’avad, different dati leumi Rabbis have expressed different opinions. Unfortunately instead of solving problems in a collaborative way, walking out set the stage for confrontation and a power struggle in a arena which has nothing to do with combat. I still wonder why with the contribution that frum soldiers , especially hesder units to ‘ fighting forces’ the hesder Rabbis have so little leverage in the army.

  • Guy in Israel

    Many (most?) corporate jobs these days pose far more halachic challenges than serving in the IDF. You have to attend meetings every day looking at exposed erva. You will many times have to miss minyan. And so on. This is true about outreach, as well. Anytime we leave the confines of our communities, will will have nisyonos of one sort or another.

    Of course we should not knowingly put ourselves in a situation requiring compromising halacha, but if we try to avoid all religious challenges we would never get anything done unless we all sit in kollel.

    Eli Julian’s point in his article was not that the IDF is the perfect place for a charedi. He meant that things are changing and the establishment is gradually accommodating itself to the needs of religious soldiers. Absolutely, more needs to be done. But to take this unforunate incident as proof that serving in the IDF requires compromising halachic standards is unfair. And if more charedim enlist in the IDF, the more the IDF will be willing to modify procedures to accommodate them. As long as they’re only a fringe little group, there is little motivation for the army to make changes.

    My friends who served in the army told me that the officers were very respectful of their religious needs. The exceptions are unfortunate, but they are exceptions. And they do not justify the ongoing policy of charedim to avoid army service, given how much their service could contribute and how much their refusal to serve damages Israeli society.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Menachem has it precisely backwards. In Eli Julian’s otherwise excellent piece, he went out of his way to contradict my previous posting by referencing myths, prejudices and outdated facts. This recent incident rebuts that component of his post, by demonstrating that there’s nothing outdated or mythological about the biases of the army, which expects its orders to, without drawing too fine a line, take precedence over G-d’s.

    Yes, fine, according to the meikilim it’s not discarding Halacha, but according to those in Shachar it will be. And the commander of OTC remains the commander of OTC for all cadets — again, dozens had to choose whether to leave. I’m not saying there’s no hope — I’m saying it was wrong to claim all the issues are things of the past.

  • Menachem Lipkin

    Julian’s piece dealt with a small corner of the army that trying to improve things for those Chareidim who choose the program. It absolutely refutes a blanket allegation that the army is anti-religious. From the perspective of Shachar, your allegations were outdated. Actually, despite this “setback”, talking to actual people who actually serve, one finds that things have improved greatly overall.

  • Eli Julian

    Dear Rabbi Menken,

    I appreciate your heartening remarks about my article, as well as those of you who commented.

    A few points:

    In the piece of my article that you quoted above, I specifically referred to two stigmas and myths: namely (a) that the Israeli army is the only army in the world that issues a mini-skirt, and (b) that it is impossible to maintain a religious lifestyle in the army because of all the strictures that make it too difficult to overcome the yetzer harah. Both these myths remain, well, myths. The Shachar program is what it is, and, as pointed out in Menachem’s comments, it is different than the Hesder units. We are given a unique status as “Chayalei Shachar” which entitles us to explicit exemption from events containing even possible kol isha, as well as other privileges such as a shiur daf yomi, etc. This is in distinction to hesder soldiers or cadets in the officers’ course who are NOT automatically subject to these exemptions. However, in general, most sensible mefakedim would normally grant such an exemption, unlike the unfortunate and exceptional circumstance that you bring up.

    In the year that I have been in the IDF, I B”H have yet to see one chayelet in a mini-skirt. The army dress code specifically forbids them. Fact. In fact, there is a whole set of commands called “Hashiluv Haraui”, loosely translated as “The Proper Balance”, designed to maintain tznius in the army. Perfect? Far from it. But neither is it the mythological IDF of the past.

    Any soldier who would like to keep a religious lifestyle can join Shachar and avoid the myriad issues that face people in any setting other than a yeshiva. Fact. If one decides that he wants a position other than the 26+ available through Shachar, or would like to become an officer, gezunte heit. He probably won’t run into more religious challenges than if he were to enter the work world, quite probably less. Even those in the working world who are employed by religious institutions probably maintain a working relationship with a female secretary or coworker, whereas soldiers in Shachar almost never come into contact with women at all. Thus, entering an IDF program other than Shachar does run the risk of having an exceptional, intolerant commander like those unfortunate cadets. Still, the fact remains that no one is forced to take that option, and thus avoiding any form of army service on the basis of fearing for one’s religion is a far stretch from the truth, if not nearly baseless.

    Just to satisfy your wondering, I contacted a lieutenant colonel in charge of Shachar to ask if Shachar was included in the negotiations. I’m sure that you’ve guessed that the answer I received was an emphatic “Absolutely not!”

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >Yes, fine, according to the meikilim it’s not discarding Halacha, but according to those in Shachar it will be

    Which is why this story, which happened to Hesder boys, would not happen in Shachar which has its own rabbanim which the army consults with. In other words, THIS incident is not what is keeping the chareidim out of the army.

  • L. Oberstein

    I don’t know how we who live in the golah can really understand the issue. Here,the issue of shaking a woman’s hand can be compared to this. I know that many frum people absolutely refuse and make it a red line. I have also heard that very respected gedolim have stated that if a woman sticks out her hand, you should shake it . Separate seating is another issue that some want to make a red line and others don’t. There are so many ways to allow a female’s voice that walking out may have been a way to make it into an issue rather than look for a way to stay put.
    If the chardal element of the zionist orthodox is indeed becoming a major factor in the army, then it may be time to recalibrate practices to be more sensitive to orthodox behavior. I do worry that we do not do anything to make the woman feel irrelevant and cast aside.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Something is wrong when a strawman is needed to mount a rebuttal — it means that what the other party actually said is too accurate to rebut directly. I never said “that the Israeli army is the only army in the world that issues a mini-skirt,” or, certainly, that it’s impossible to be religious in the IDF, which is patently untrue.

    When Eli Julian’s post first appeared, I addressed the “myth” of the IDF miniskirt, which was certainly quite common, although it was always against regulations. My friend the lawyer who helped the planning directorate write rules & regulations (he still does, but only as a reservist) said there’s been a significant crackdown in the last decade, but even he isn’t willing to call it a myth today, much less in the past.

    I understand that those in Shachar are being handled separately, and with kid gloves. The IDF is trying to get Charedim to integrate into the force, and they need people talking about how well it goes. Meanwhile, think for a moment about the Hesder movement — widely acknowledged to the best today’s IDF has to offer, on a par with the Kibbutzniks of yesteryear. They are bright, honorable, and extremely motivated. There is no question that the IDF is respecting religious cadets more — and that’s because of Hesder much more than Shachar. They paved the way.

    And despite all of that, four Hesder boys were just tossed from OCS for the “crime” of observing Halacha — and it’s not just one rogue Commander. The State’s Attorney has stated the official position of the government of the State of Israel: these men were correctly dismissed, because if they really wanted to be officers they should have been willing to set Halacha aside.

    Do you honestly believe that the IDF chain of command is populated exclusively with people who respect Charedim more than Hesder cadets? Or that problems of this nature will somehow never penetrate the Shachar bubble? I sincerely hope you’re right, but don’t see the basis for complete confidence.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >The State’s Attorney has stated the official position of the government of the State of Israel: these men were correctly dismissed, because if they really wanted to be officers they should have been willing to set Halacha aside.

    And this is the correct position, for the simple reason that the army can not accomodate every posek and each individual’s halachic position. It correctly has the rabbanut haTzevait which decides these issues and believe me, that if sitting in that ceremony was an unambiguous transgression of halacha, then the story would be very different – but it was not. They should not have made a big deal about it and they should not have put the rabbis who are mattir in this charged political situation. To be sure, the commander in question was also wrong and should have been flexible regarding their senstivities – however, what is he supposed to do when many many religious soldiers of his listen to their rabbis and don’t make a big fuss over such issues. Should he allow every religious soldier to decide when to follow an order (which has the sanction of the rabbinate) just because THEIR rav disagrees? It would lead to chaos!

    First lets see all you american chareidim stop walking on the street because of the pritzut, or stop working in a typical office because of the same issue and then we can talk about army service, until you have the same standards for the army as you do for living as a working person in the normal working world, then we can talk (BTW, I know many many american chareidi family doctors who are daily put in situations of much much more questionable halachic propriety than these soldiers – yichud, erva, most of the time when no pikuach nefesh is involved. Are you going to suggest, like the chazon ish, that frum people should never become doctors? Are you willing to publicly make a claim that halacha forbids normal participation in the world? I am not, and this whole fiasco in the army can be avoided if people just use some common sense and not make a big deal about every little thing.

  • dovid2

    “This is yet another instance where it seems like the chareidim invoke some small detail in halacha where there is room to be meikil in order to get out of the major milchemet mitzva of hatzalat Yisrael and basic participation in Jewish national life.”

    Chareidi Leumi, you are disingenuous. We are talking about soldiers who not just serve in the IDF as jobniks, but volunteered for the officer’s course and were found worthy to join such a course. It is they who are objecting to hearing kol isha.

  • ChanaRachel

    Many of the comentators have compared tzahal to a workplace, or a school or job training course, where the participant makes a gain/loss calculation. If by participating, I gain more than I loose, I participate, if the loss (or ‘cost’- including potential difficulties in keeping halacha) exceeds my gain, I go elsewhere. It seems that’s how some/many Chareidim see participation in the army, but that’s not the view of the national religious. Among the national religious, participation isn’t an option, it’s an obligation. We’re surrounded by enemies, and someone has to try to keep us safe—that someone is us. So, there’s no question about serving (of course there are many paths- mechina + 3 years army, hesder with shorter service etc, Nahal hareidi [which attracts many national religious soldiers] etc), and certainly almost no religious zionist would use kol isha as a reason/excuse not to serve. Rather, the issue is simply that once serving, the religious soldier would like his needs respected to the extent possible, something that did not occur in the OTC incident.

  • YM

    There is no halacha against seeing pritzut in the course of employement. It is unfortunate, but not against halacha. Kol Isha – against halacha.

  • Bob Miller

    There is no connection between any military necessity and performances with singing. So enforced attendance at such performances falls under “somebody wants to come down hard on religious soldiers”.

  • dr. bill

    the global community with the ability to tweet or text a sheailah anywhere has not too infrequently done untold damage to the notion of a local morah d’asra. in the IDF, that has its morah de’asra, any diminution to his “local” authority cannot be tolerated. a soldier who wants to ask his posek, has no more right to do so than to ask his mother if he must obey orders.

    i continue to thank God for the slow but positive role the IDF is playing in undoing the damage caused by the lack of secular education in the chareidi community and their growing role in addressing that issue. i find some of the criticism untoward and bordering on being a kafui tov.

  • Joe Hill

    Well said Rabbi Menken. Thank you.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    >Chareidi Leumi, you are disingenuous. We are talking about soldiers who not just serve in the IDF as jobniks, but volunteered for the officer’s course and were found worthy to join such a course. It is they who are objecting to hearing kol isha.

    I was not talking about the soldiers, who would probably strongly disagree with most of what R Menken wrote. I am talking about R Menken’s arguments, which are just using this issue as an excuse to advocate non-participation in the army.

    >There is no halacha against seeing pritzut in the course of employement. It is unfortunate, but not against halacha. Kol Isha – against halacha.

    One can find situations when one is exposed to kol isha in the workplace. I have never heard of anyone quitting over it.

    >There is no connection between any military necessity and performances with singing. So enforced attendance at such performances falls under “somebody wants to come down hard on religious soldiers”.

    almost every army provides entertainment to its soldiers – it winds them down and makes them more effective. It also serves to bind the troup together and unite them. In this case, the opposite was achieved, but there is a connection between these sort of events and military need.

  • dovid2

    dr. bill: “in the IDF, that has its morah de’asra, …”
    Chareidi Leumi: ” … the Rav HaRashi leTzahal and several other prominent rabbanim …”

    Rabotai, whom are you fooling, besides yourselves? Who hand picks the Rav HaRashi leTzahal? Ehud Barak or some other rabid military technocrat? What qualifications do they require from the Rav HaRashi leTzahal? Irat Shamaim? Scholarship? No. Obedience to Barak and ‘flexibility’ in bending halacha to their needs.

    Chareidi Leumi: “almost every army provides entertainment to its soldiers – it winds them down and makes them more effective.”

    The Chafetz Chaim authored the Machaneh Yisrael as a guide to Jewish soldiers in the Russian army. Out of sincere compassion for them, he looked for all the possible kulot to upkeep their Yahadut. Kol Isha is not listed among the kulot. Why doesn’t the IDF look for other type of entertainment that doesn’t include Kol Isha?

  • YM

    YM> There is no halacha against seeing pritzut in the course of employement. It is unfortunate, but not against halacha. Kol Isha – against halacha.

    Charedi Leumi> One can find situations when one is exposed to kol isha in the workplace. I have never heard of anyone quitting over it.

    YM> There is a difference between a personal decision and a situation where one is forced; I think if the IDF really wanted the strictly orthodox, they would avoid creating these kind of situations. The underlying issue is what kind of society does Israel want to be? Does it really want the fervently orthodox, the strictly orthodox to be able to participate? If yes, billboards with mostly naked bodies, Kol Isha, and other things that are problematic for halachic observance must be resolved in an appropriate fashion.

  • dovid2

    Dr. Bill & Chareidi Leumi, please refresh our memories about the reasons why Israel’s military establishment didn’t renew the term in office of the previous Rav HaRashi leTzahal’s service. Were his irat shamaim and scholarship found lacking, or they found a candidate with superior qualifications? What were those qualifications? Were those reasons the same as the reasons the political establishment didn’t renew Moshe Ya’alon’s term in office as Chief of Staff for another year?

  • Tal Benschar

    The Chafetz Chaim authored the Machaneh Yisrael as a guide to Jewish soldiers in the Russian army. Out of sincere compassion for them, he looked for all the possible kulot to upkeep their Yahadut. Kol Isha is not listed among the kulot. Why doesn’t the IDF look for other type of entertainment that doesn’t include Kol Isha?

    Did the Russian Army even have entertainment as a REQUIRED activity? For that matter, does any other army in the world do so? I do not have first hand experience (and would welcome any input), but I suspect that in, say, the American Army, attending such entertainment (e.g by the USO) is optional.

    This to me is the crux of the matter — not that the Army provides entertainment as a diversion or a means to release tension, but that it requires it, under penalty of court-martial, and then includes within it types of entertainment which are religiously objectionable to a significant portion of its rank and file. IF there really is a “military need” to require attendance at a concert (something on which I am highly dubious), then you can achieve that with instrumental music and/or male singers. Make the female singer concerts optional — the religious men can play basketball at that time, a much better tension releaser IMHO.

  • dovid2

    Tal Benschar: “military need” to require attendance at a concert.

    The army justifies it as a morale booster and as a step towards boosting cohesion among the troops who come from varied ethnic, social, and cultural backgrounds. Given the ever increasing number of religious soldiers, forcing halachically forbidden entertainment down their throats has the opposite effect and it’s demoralizing.

    A question to the Dr. Bills & Chareidi Leumis of the world: Would you support forcing the Druze and Bedouin soldiers in the IDF to eat during the Ramadan, just because the majority of the soldiers eat, for the sake of cohesion? If not, why not?