Religious Zionist yeshiva heads: Students may not serve in some mixed-gender units

JERUSALEM (JTA) – Leaders of religious Zionist yeshivas in Israel called on religious students to refrain from serving in mixed-gender combat units and called on the heads of the Israeli military to show sensitivity to the soldiers.

The rabbis and the female head of a woman’s pre-military religious academy made their remarks Wednesday in the aftermath of controversial comments by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who runs the religious Zionist Bnei David academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli. Levinstein came under fire earlier this month for saying the Israeli army drives female soldiers “crazy” and upsets their Jewishness.

While military service is a religious obligation, the rabbis said in a statement, there are limits to what is appropriate in that service. The rabbis did not call on their students to avoid military service and said that in most mixed-gender units, men and women can serve together without a religious problem.

“In most units joint service of men and women do not require shared physical activities and are not required to live in the same barracks,” they wrote. “Therefore we see no Jewish legal issue with the vast majority of such frameworks. However, there are some combat units in the army … for which we have not yet found solutions to ensure the required level of separation. Therefore as things stand it is forbidden to serve in those units.”

Also Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman threatened to withdraw official recognition of the Eli pre-army academy and hesder yeshiva if Levinstein did not resign over his remarks.

“They draft them. They go in Jewish and they’re not Jewish when they come out — not in terms of genetics,” Levinstein said. “Their whole system of values becomes confused, their priorities – home, career. They’ll make them all crazy. Agreeing to this is forbidden.”

In January, Levinstein called gays “perverts” during a speech at a conference attended by about 700 rabbis and educators convened to deal with the perceived influence of the Reform movement on Israeli society. That remark also prompted some Israeli leaders to call for Levinstein’s removal.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the right-wing Jewish Home party criticized Liberman for calling for Levinstein’s resignation and blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not criticizing the defense chief as well.

“At the moment of truth you abandoned religious Zionism and forgot to care for one of its most glorious institutions, whose contribution is a contribution to the entire State of Israel,” Bennett reportedly said Thursday at a Cabinet meeting.

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