[Though met his own wife in army] IDF chief rabbi says women shouldn't serve

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IDF chief rabbi says women shouldn't serve
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Correspondent Last update - 03:35 />

Women ought not to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, IDF Chief Rabbi
Avichai Ronski said at a conference two weeks ago.

The conference was attended by several dozen religious women soldiers, and
the topic was supposed to be the special problems they face. Most religious
women opt to do civilian national service instead of army service.

But Ronski told the women, "I personally think that a priori, women should
not serve in the army," adding that no rabbinic rulings authorize women to
do so. He has since denied making the comment.

Most Orthodox rabbis, his predecessors included, would agree with Ronski.
But most of the others have been careful not to say so while in uniform.

And some of those present, including some Orthodox rabbis and educators,
were furious at Ronski's statement.

"I'm not surprised that this is his opinion," said one woman. "But that he
chose to say it in front of dozens of religious women soldiers, who have
done something that is not easy for them - that is insensitivity."

Several women said they found his remarks particularly outrageous because he
met his own wife while she was serving as a company clerk in his army unit.

Rabbi Ohad Tohar-Lev of Midreshet Lindenbaum, one of the few religious
institutions for women that offers a program combining Torah study with army
service, said he personally believes "there are some army positions that a
woman should serve in a priori." He added that he has no objection to Ronski
expressing the contrary opinion, "but one has to ask the leaders of the army
whether there isn't a problem with the very appointment of someone who holds
this view."

Yet Tohar-Lev, along with several others who criticized Ronski's remark, all
praised him for the fact that despite his views, he tries to help religious
women solve any problems they encounter in the army.

"The message is that it's better not to be drafted," said one religious
woman soldier. "But from the moment we are in uniform, there's a great deal
of assistance."

In this, Ronski differs sharply from his predecessors, many of whom refused
to help religious women soldiers on the grounds that they should not have
enlisted to begin with.

Several women at the conference complained that the religious education
system does not support them in their decision to serve. "Do you want me to
speak with your school principals?" Ronski responded.

Ronski also discussed the rabbinic prohibition against physical contact
between unmarried men and women, noting that some religious women observed
this prohibition while doing their army service, but others did not.

Ronski has spoken out in the past against integrating women into combat
units, arguing that women cannot realize their full potential in combat
units, that putting men and women together under such difficult conditions
creates all kinds of sexual problems, and that having women in these units
offends the sensibilities of male religious soldiers. But he has said he
favors using women as instructors in the army, because they tend to have
personality traits appropriate for this job, such as "delicacy, patience and
persistence."

The IDF Spokesman said Wednesday night that Ronski denied making the
comment, and said he merely had commented on the difficulties facing some
women during their military service.

"The IDF chief rabbi told those attending the conference that during his
visits to IDF units, he witnessed the difficulties that religious women had
in integrating, due to the inability to permit them to serve in accordance
with Jewish law," the office said.

IMRA, Independent Media Review and Analysis, was founded in 1992, by Drs. Aaron and Joseph Lerner, as an ongoing analysis of developments in Arab-Israeli relations. Awarded credentials by the Government of Israel as a news organization, IMRA provides an extensive digest of media, polls and significant interviews and events.

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This is originally posted at http://www.imra.org.il/story.php3?id=44233 and IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis is responsible for the content.

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