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Sep 12, 2011

Religious Soldiers In IDF Might Soon have Solution To Women Singing Issue

At an IDF ceremony last week, a group of female soldiers got on stage to sing a song. When that happened. 9 religious soldiers walked out of the ceremony. Under threat of punishment for disobedience, 5 apologized, and the four that did not were tossed from their course.

This was not the first time this happened, and recently such incidents have been causing more of a stir. the religious soldiers used to ignore such things, or rely on various hetterim when it would happen even if they would prefer not to. With the increasing presence of religious soldiers in the army, they are making more demands that the army accommodate their lifestyle, specifically in religious matters. I do not recall such things happening in specifically religious units, such as Nahal Haredi, Shahar or others, but it is happening in the general army that has many religious soldiers.

The situation is going to continue escalating and getting worse. It is like a snowball effect. While soldiers perhaps did not have the courage to stand up to such things, more and more are getting that courage as they see others doing so. The army has to find a solution, or there are going to be serious problems as time goes on.

After the latest incident last week, there has been a lot of external influence trying to exert pressure on the army to make changes, to find a way to allow religious soldiers to not have to compromise their religious beliefs. The army can continue to be obstinate and liberal and equal, but they are going to have a big problem with the religious soldiers.

According to Kipa, after the Chief Rabbis met with IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and asked him to reconsider the issue, Gantz has agreed to look into the matter. In addition, Chief Rabbi of the IDF Rafi Peretz has said he would publicize his view on the matter in the coming days. he is expected to issue an official psak for soldiers in the army as to how they should deal with such situation if they were to arise. According to Kipa, Rav Peretz is expected to pasken that while they should try to avoid such situations (I am not sure how that is possible, considering they have to be where they are told to be) as listening to women sing is prohibited, on the other hand if a soldier should find himself in such a predicament, he should not walk out but should give priority to the value of respecting the honor of the person, as walking out would be shaming to the singers I presume, and also give priority to the value of camaraderie and unity in the army.

What do you think? Are such values of greater importance and higher priority than the problem of listening to women singing live?

I look forward to hearing the official statement of Chief Rabbi of the IDF Rafi Peretz sometime later this week to see how he actually solves this issue, and if it will provide a solution moving forward..


  1. I would applaud such a decision by R. Peretz. This women-singing issue is getting totally out of hand - as if it were a cornerstone of our faith in God (as you say "...religious soldiers to not have to compromise their religious beliefs").

    Halakhically (and I am no Posek) it certainly seems to me no worse than the case of shaking a woman's hand where R. Cherlow famously ruled that you should shake the outstretched hand rather than shaming the woman who offered it. He does say there that you should do all you can to make sure you don't get to that situation, but given that you are there, this is what you should do.

    Personally (and un-halakhically) I do not believe that this is a matter of "religious beliefs", but rather than one of values and culture of the religious and/or observant Jewish public. There is a big difference there. I find this whole issue another side of the same unfortunately escalating trend in modern Judaism to obliterate women's faces from media photos, deny proper Jewish education to highly secularly educated women, dress women in burkhas and stone the girls of Orot.

  2. Holier than no oneSeptember 12, 2011 2:16 PM

    Rafi (S),

    In your last paragraph you took the words right out of my mouth. It's the same core issue: entitlement, only a difference of degree. What starts as this usually progresses to the rest.

    If certain religious principles are so important to me, I need to anticipate them and work out solutions in advance. Failing to do that, I need to handle the situation that I find myself in with the greatest degree of respect for others as possible. This is a Torah priority. I can then prepare a solution for similar future situations. I and only I am responsible for my religious observance. Making demands of and shaming others so I may be more "pious" can hardly be called Torah.

  3. The IDF has worked hard to create an official 'culture', and to shove it down the throats of the draftee soldiers. This includes having female singers at every official event singing something supposedly patriotic and secular.

    Besides the fact that most of the soldiers have no idea what the singers are singing or why they're singing it, if the IDF and Israeli society wants the religious and charedim to serve, they're going to have to make some adjustments to the army culture they've invested in but is ignored anyway.

    This is a matter of insensitive secular commanders who are going to shove it down the religious throats whether they like it or not. Not only does it do nothing positive for the army, it hurts it.

    Just imagine the argument, "to defend the country better, you must sit and listen to these female performers."

    While walking out may have been an insult to the performer, forcing the soldiers into a predicament that forces them to violate their religious standards FOR NO GOOD REASON (no reason of value to the army) is an insult to the soldiers and Judaism.

  4. Holier and Rafi (S),

    "Entitlement"??? Entitlement is the IDF spending taxpayer money on creating SINGING UNITS with pretty girls. It's the IDF funding future Eurovision singers and giving secular girl performers an army service option.

    Please describe how requiring soldiers to sit through female pop music performances enhances the defense of Israel?

  5. Akiva - understand the predicament of the army. I am not sure "predicament" is the right word because they probably dont see it as that, but let's use it anyway.

    The army is not having women sing because they are trying to stick it down the throats of religious soldiers. They have women singing because in modern society women are equal to men and there is no reason not to have women sing.

    On Cross-Currents there was recently a haredi soldier who wrote an article abotu how the situation has improved greatly for religious soldiers, but it is still not perfect. However, usually when somethign is a conflict it is not because of an attempt to shove secularity down anyone's throat, but a case of simple ignorance.

    I doubt the issue of women singing is simple ignroance, as it has happened a number of times recently. By now they should know.

    Now, the predicament - on the one hand they have religious soldiers they know, or at least suspect might be upset. On the other hand they know they canno ttreat the female soldiers with less respect and equality.

    What are they to do?

    You might come up with a different solution. I don't know what I would do if I were in their shoes. The only solution they know until now though is to allow the women to sing. For them that is a higher value. The equality of all parts of society is the utmost value in their eyes. It is not even really an option to them to not have a female singer, to tell the females n the choir they cannot perform. They don't see another choice.

    They will have to find a solution, or this pot will boil over. But I would not make it into the sinister attempt to stuff secularity down the throats of religious soldiers that you are suggesting.

  6. also, let us not forget that until very recently religious soldiers never made a big deal out of this. So they have 50 or 60 years of history of religious soldiers listening to women sing, perhaps begrudgingly. How are they to understand why suddenly it has become a problem?

  7. I want to know how refusing to listen to women singing impairs their ability to function as soldiers. Exactly what does it have to do with their combat skills or tactical abilities that not listening to women singing is so crucial?

  8. Akiva - to paraphrase, I could just as well say that if Haredim want to be treated as equal members of society then they are going to have to make some adjustments to the Haredi culture they've invested in. This is the agalah meleah vs. reikah thing.

    I also find the assumption insulting that "the IDF and Israeli society wants the religious and charedim to serve". The charedim should be clammering to be drafted as a chance to fulfil a number of mitzvot asei and lo-taaseh that they are missing out on, not the other way round.

    To the actual issue - women in general culture see it as a right to be seen and heard and men have long ago accepted this. Framing this in the language of obligations that Jews are more familiar with, men have an obligation in the general world to treat women as equals and ignore gender. The Jewish religious world is stuck in the mindset that the men want to see the women perform for sexual reasons, but the general world is talking on a completely different wavelength. It is an unthinkable affront to a non-religious woman to tell her she cannot do something because she is a woman, no less than you would not want to be denied access or rights to do something because you are black white or Jewish.

    I know that in these tzniyut-crazed times (I always thought tzniyut was about me being humble and not about covering up women) it is difficult, but we need to keep some perspective. No-one is asking these soldiers to transgress one of the "big three" aveirot.

  9. Rafi S - just because it is not one of the big three it should be ignored?
    I disagree. I would not necessarily look at the army's approach as being sinister and intentional. As I said, I think they dont know how to deal with this new reality.

    However, it is a Jewish state, and in the jewish army, a solution needs to be found. Armies all over the world, like governments, take a long time to adapt to new realities, to implement change. it might be that in the meantime soldiers should act with respect and not walk out, but I would not present that as the optimum solution.

  10. The Cross-Currents article was specifically about Nachal Charedi, and for those units the IDF does plan live singing of men only.

    I'm not so sure just because some commenters here freely listen to live women singing, that it's accurate to discount other full fledged sources of halacha that label it a problem.

    With all that, others here make good points that (a) the charedi perspective is too full of assumptions - that secular are always out to "get" them, and (b) too much focus on "modesty" can create an unhealthy environment without all that much actual immodesty.

  11. It happens I have several charedi children in the IDF, so the issue of these things coming up in their service is a regular discussion at our Shabbat table. Further, I've been to a number of army events (relating to those children), so I see it first hand.

    The army has a culture, it pushes it culture. This is true in any large organization and is part of absorbing people into the organization. But the IDF's culture was developed by kibbutzniks (who were the officer majority over the past generations) and those looking to make the "new Jew".

    Forget whether men and women should be equally on the stage, why does every IDF event have an IDF pop group singing at it?

    The average profile of an IDF recruit has changed, with a significant percentage increase in religious recruits, and now a growing percentage of charedi recruits. (Not well known facts - Nachal Charedi is at 100% capacity and the IDF is planning on starting a second charedi battalion due to the demand for places. 10% of GOLANI recruits this year were yeshiva bochrim from overseas [the US and Canada]. And 48% of male officer candidates this year were kippah wearers.)

    As such, the IDF has to adjust it's culture to better fit the profile of it's draftees. That's just wise management.

    Oh, while you're complaining about charedi special privileges, one of my children's units has a professional soccer player who gets to do 3 half days a week of service. That's the models and sports stars special privilege.

    Let's be straight. Charedim are not going to be clamoring to get into a situation where they have to compromise on principles. Charedi culture has a specific function of not compromising (whether that's good or bad is besides the point). But the State of Israel, due the the changing demographics, MUST begin bringing in charedi draftees.

    Now this can either become a culture war or the IDF can make adjustments to those areas that are organizational-culture and do not impede fighting ability, to open the way for the charedim to make their own gradual adjustment to participate in this area of Israeli society.

  12. Rafi (S) -

    I believe that it is incorrect to compare shaking hands with a woman to listening to one sing. According to most authorities, physical contact with a woman is assur if it's "Derech Chiba" - in a manner of affection - which modern hand-shaking is not. Accordingly, according to most authorities, hand-shaking is a Chumra, and it is better to violate such a Chumra than to risk embarassing someone. This, in fact, is what I do - I will not offer my hand to a woman, but if one is offered, I'll shake it without hesitation.

    Listening to a woman singing live, where it is possible to see her face, on the other hand, is, according to most (if not all) authorities, an actual issur. There can be ways around it, if absolutely necessary (looking away from the singer, at an absolute minimum), but these are very much b'di'avad solutions. Accordingly, it falls to the IDF to show a certain amount of understanding and make accomodations to the religious soldiers' sincerly-held beliefs. Reason being - this is not some "chumra" they're concerned about, but an issue of normative Halacha.

  13. I just saw the following story with R' Mordechai Schwab as was told by his son; they had a regular guest at their Pesach sedorim, an older, single, woman. She seemed to have a particular affinity for the
    Seder songs, and would sing them aloud. R' Mordechai Schwab would tell his sons (in Yiddish, which she didn't understand), to keep in mind not to derive pleasure from her singing.

  14. it probably wouldn't work if the Ravtzar said it, but why cant they just put in earplugs?


  15. We cannot compromise on even the smallest infraction of the Torah, which the Erev Rav controlled gov't wants to implement. It is ALL for the same goal:

    The destruction

    These "small" issues are only a means to an end, just like the Reform Mvt.'s initial "we don't believe in Oral Torah" crap.

    Even though they have no chance of "winning," we must not stand idly by.

    That being said, I wonder why male soldiers haven't gotten on stage with the women. That way they would technically be singing in a group, and the soldiers could just saying that they are trying to build IDF unity.

    This is, of course, also problematic, but it would certainly surprise the heck out of peolpe, and get some "PR" out of it. ;-)


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