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

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