Women singing in the Israeli Army

It is well-known that during the British Mandate, there was an important event held in the presence of the two leading religious figures of that time, R’ Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook z”l, and R’ Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld z”l. The former, of course, became the 1st Chief Rabbi whereas the latter was ideologically opposed to him and Av Beth Din of the Edah Charedis. At this event, in the presence of the British dignitaries, a woman began to sing. To be sure, they undoubtedly had no idea that religious men may not hear live singing of the female variety. The reaction of each of them is interesting:

  1. Rav Kook, a lofty man possessed with an ultra sensitive neshama, stood up in shock and made a quick exit. Nothing else existed at that moment. He instinctively removed himself.
  2. Rav Sonnenfeld put his head down and covered his ears with his hands.

None of us approach the lofty spiritual stature of these holy men. I dare say the same applies to Israeli army conscripts who find themselves at an event where women sing as part of the entertainment/process.

How would/should a Jewish conscript behave if they were part of a non-Jewish army and this occurred? I doubt that they would make a commotion or threaten to “die” rather than stay at the performance. It is likely they would put their head down and/or attempt to block the voice out. Why then in the Israeli army do Jewish soldiers behave differently, as reported in the press? Why do Rabbis of the Charedi Leumi variety demand the most extreme response? The answer is that one expects an Israeli army to be more attuned to the needs of religious Jews. That is a reasonable expectation. However, the reality is that respect is earned. Respect may not be demanded and it is not a byproduct of being genetically related.

We know that דברי תורה בנחת נשמעים, words of Torah are best delivered in a gentle manner. “We demand” is only going to make matters worse, especially in a society which is already alienated by religious jews on account of their not being seen to be pulling their weight in a State sense, and featuring prominently in various cases of moral and ethical malfeasance.

Dogma is part and parcel of our religion; coercion is not. Our purpose is to imitate God—Imitatio dei—והלכת בדרכיו. God, himself, gave us free choice.  What right then do we have to remove that בחירה from a fellow Jew? We are expected to be holy. Holiness means separation. We saw two expressions of that separation above: Rav Kook and Rav Sonnenfeld. What is the appropriate approach then for an ordinary soldier?

It’s obvious to me, sitting here in Australia, from the distance.

  1. Put your head down/close your eyes. Many poskim hold that if you do not see the person singing it’s not ערווה
  2. Bring your fingers up to your ear lobes and block what you can. You can even hum to yourself.
  3. Gently speak to your commander after the event pointing out that it was uncomfortable for you to be in this situation.
  4. Increase Torah and Derech Eretz in your military group.

I’m not sure what else one can or should be expected to do. Walking out en masse and creating a furore simply germinates the same enmity that has transported people to a situation where they already don’t respect each other.

It’s a short step from reacting in a virulent manner to tearing down posters and having Tznius police. Ironically, R’ Kook who did walk out, didn’t do so out of protest. His was but an ultra pure soul that literally fled from a remote smell of  איסור. His Rabbinic leadership was all about gentle enfranchisement and tolerance for those who were not yet observant. None of us are R’ Kook, including the conscripts who perhaps  imitate his reaction.

They have a chip on their shoulders, and much of this is due to unrelenting Charedi delegitimisation of their ideology. Years of Charedi attempts to delegitimise Mizrachi or Torah Im Derech Eretz type Jews are now manifest in less than diplomatic approaches to dealing with the reality of a State before the Geula. Dogma is expressed in virulent and uncaring tones.

We are all worse off as a result. I couldn’t see any קידוש ה’ ברבים

Author: pitputim

I'm a computer science professor in Melbourne, Australia. I skylark as the band leader/singer for the Schnapps band. My high schooling was in Chabad and I continued at Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh in Israel.

17 thoughts on “Women singing in the Israeli Army”

  1. i wonder how ZAHAL would deal with sensitive issues that would come up for Beduine or Druze soldiers.
    I have feeling that it would try to bend over backwards to accomodate them but that issues that involve halachic matters get a negative reacation from secular jews who have no understanding of ,or sympathy for , for religious jewish issues.

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  2. Are you suggesting that a young committed religious soldier from a fine home, who had joined the army to serve and defend the country, not to attend pompous ceremonies, must wait until the collective respect is earned and then only then, he, or his grandchildren, would be accommodated?

    People have been excused from attending these services for decades.

    The only reason it has become a big deal, is

    A. The overall rise of the religious profile in the army.

    It is only a matter of time until the majority of army will be religious. This change is already evident in the elite combat units, which are increasingly being led by religious. The religious are more serious about the army. They say that in Tel Aviv, the percentage of “Nishmatim” is ever increasing, soon to equal Bnai Braq.

    The Secular feel this, they feel that “their” army is being taken over. They are fighting back to retain its Bolshevik character.

    B. There has been lately a campaign, characterized as a “backlash”, against the exclusion of woman form the public arena. This is not a backlash. It is more like a coordinated cause for liberals to band together and fight.

    I am not suggesting that there is no merit to their claims. It is just amusing how all the liberals decide when and where to get “offended”.

    For years the status quo has been that the Secular are sensitive to Haredi needs and let them run their own neighborhoods, while the Haredim don’t tell the secular how to behave in their neighborhoods. Things are changing.

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    1. Are you suggesting that a young committed religious soldier from a fine home, who had joined the army to serve and defend the country, not to attend pompous ceremonies, must wait until the collective respect is earned and then only then, he, or his grandchildren, would be accommodated?

    2. First of all, you have called these “pompous” ceremonies. If they were serious events, such as a commemoration and a woman sang would it make a difference? I doubt it. A young, committed soldier who has not had the type of education which makes them realise that they are part of a collective group that has turned many non frum people thoroughly off, yes, I agree with you, they will find it hard to understand why they aren’t being accommodated so to speak.

      What evidence do you have that people have been excused from this for decades and that the only reason it became a big deal is the religious profile in the army? We have known for years that religious people were seen to be more committed than others. That was the case thirty years ago, when I was a lad, and the Tankistim were the Hesder boys.

      I’m sure there are some elements of the non frum who feel they are being taken over. Some percentage of these have pretty good evidence to support this feeling too!

      Women being more visible is a fact of life. It’s everywhere, in most things. One can read a conspiracy theory into it, but that isn’t going to change the reality.

      I agree that the status quo is changing and that it is not at all good. However, I don’t blame them. I blame us.

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  3. [slightly edited]
    All this is ironic when you look around on Shabbos or at a wedding and see the young ones all dollied up, with super tight fitting dresses just covering the knee (and far less when sitting), the $5K blonde sheitels (who of these is really blonde?) who on a scale would be far from the ladies from Adass.

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      1. Thanks for editing my comment.

        I guess I am ventilating, and although separate inyonim, but they are both about tznius. I would think that regarding lascivious thoughts ish kol would pale in comparison to how some ladies dress, and I have not heard one peep from Rabbonim about the latter. Whatever.

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      1. Yes, unfortunately the journalist didn’t cite Rav Moshe’s mekoros.

        Whilst the circumstances differ, I suspect the lenient opinions he refers to might be those that rely on some of the rationale underpinning the Seridei Esh’s famous psak lekula for post WW2 France boys and girls singing together. Namely, that a) trei kolos lav mishtami and b) his interpretation of the Rambam’s position in Isurei Bia (21:2) that the prohibitions (looking at a womans finger etc) only apply if ones intent is to derive erotic pleasure.

        In his responsa, the Seridei Esh cites the practise of mixed singing of zmiros approved by Rav Hirsch, Rav Hildesheimer and a Sefardi Acharon (Divrei Chefetz) quoted by the S’dei Chemed.

        I’m sure Rav Moshe has a plethora of other sources, although there are no doubt as many in opposition. The issue of course, is less the pilpul, and more whether in the context of the current circumstances, in particular the damaging ramifications of taking a hardline position, that koach d’hetera is instead and indeed adif.

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  4. You write that we must earn our respect….

    Wasn’t that what the Mizrachi/Hapoel Mzrachi were doing things for the first 30 years of the Medinah? They let themselves be bossed around by the Secular, acting as a third wheel, in exchange for a little Kovod. (Partly justified by Rav Kook’s theologies….).

    What happened was that between 1/3 and a 1/2 of their children became secular, they would not dare have the chutzpah to ask to be accommodated for….

    My point is that once you go down that path of “waiting to get our respect”, though you may be right, there is no end to it… the definition of respect changes and the wait is forever….

    In any case, Rabbi Haim Navon wrote this in Haaretz
    http://www.haaretz.co.il/opinions/1.1594864
    Would you agree?

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    1. I think one needs to distance comments from actual political parties. I don’t think Mizrachi/Mafdal did a very good job, nor do I think the same of Aguda. Furthermore, one would expect that the issue of female performances in the army would cross both the chardal and aguda types in the army. It’s not about getting Kovod. It’s about people behaving in a manner which brings כבוד שמים. It’s ironic. When it comes to inviting a not yet frum person to one’s house on shabbos or yom tov, everyone clasps to the unwritten היתר of R’ Shlomo Zalman. Why is that? Beneath it all is a feeling that if we are able to mirror אלוקות (we can only try) and the opportunities to do so are so limited now and constrained, we should take that opportunity. If we can influence people indirectly through being a living והלכת בדרכיו then we may achieve in one moment something greater than we have achieved in all our lives. I see the reality of the religious person in a secular army as being an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to be a קידוש ה. Falling into the trap of an us vs them culture war is guaranteed to sow antithetical seeds. Who knows how many people will choose simply not to allow their children to be exposed to any Yiddishkeit because of the extremism they witnessed as army conscripts. I cannot fathom the lack of expansive thinking that people display.

      In respect of R’ Navon’s article, what can one say. He’s calling for self-respect and mutual recognition for change. He’s trying to calm things. I’m not sure there is anything too profound.

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