All the Scary Ladies: Why right-wing rabbis don’t want women singing

Gershom Gorenberg

My new column is up at The American Prospect:

The Israeli military has to face a lot of threats. Iran. Hezbollah. Rockets from Gaza. Women soldiers singing.

If that last item seems out of place, it’s because you’re reading this in America (where, it’s true, presidential candidates can portray contraception as a danger to civilization) instead of reading it in Israel. Here in Israel, the threat posed by female vocalists to religious liberty has been a regular topic in debate of military policy in recent months.

As framed by one side in the dispute, the question is whether Orthodox Jewish soldiers must attend army ceremonies at which they’ll hear women sing, even if they believe that such a performance is an utterly unkosher act of public indecency. Framed by the other side, what’s at stake are basic military values of discipline and unity.

The army’s insistence on men hearing women sing is such a serious attack on religious freedom, according to one prominent far-right rabbi, that “we’re close to a situation in which we will have to tell soldiers, ‘You have to leave such events even if a firing squad is set up outside, which will fire on and kill you.'”

Lest this cause you concern, the Israeli army does not employ firing squads. For that matter, formal events at which women sing are not part of daily military life. But a soldier who would hypothetically refuse orders to attend such a singing ceremony may also be able to refuse to take part in a parachuting exercise because the female instructor will tap him on the back, or insist that he cannot run laps behind a female trainer. Such incidents have occurred.

The idea that women should neither be seen nor heard is sufficiently offensive. It is doubly offensive as a misrepresentation of Judaism. But at a closer look, what may be even more insulting is that that women’s presence in a central public institution is not the real concern of the rabbis of the far right. Attacking women is a means to an end. The end is asserting rabbis’ power to overrule military orders. …

Read the rest here.

2 thoughts on “All the Scary Ladies: Why right-wing rabbis don’t want women singing”

  1. Does this rule apply on the battlefield, or just for IDF military ceremonies?

    As Americans, my wife and I have this vision of troops advancing on IDF lines. No need for tanks, anti-tank weapons, missiles – no, just get a few rock-and-roll grips as support sappers with the modern day siege engine, a mega speaker sound system. Blasting Barbra Streisand and Whitney Houston at the IDF lines, the defenders turn and flee, or rush suicidally into the opponents fire to stop the temptation in accordance with their Rabbi’s edict.

    Who needs nuclear weapons when the opposing millitary is vulnerable to a good soprano aria?

  2. It is a disgrace that this issue can not be solved peaceably without a need for formal orders. The idea that “discipline in the army” makes it mandatory that religious soldiers be forced to attend ceremonies with women singing is preposterous. I spoke with a Rav I know who served in the IDF in the 1980’s within the hesder yeshiva framework, and he said the religious soldier excused themselves when women sing and the (secular) officers didn’t care! So please don’t give us this nonsense that the IDF stands or falls on this issue Whether Gershom agrees or not, there are halachic issues involved, but on the other hand, there are grounds for not having the religious soldiers press the issue for the sake of peace.
    The secular Establishment in Israel is in a quandry about religious soldiers in the IDF. On the one hand, they claim there are TOO FEW religious soldiers…..this involves the endless whining about the the Haredim not serving. On the other hand, this secular Establishment says at the same time there are TOO MANY religious soldier. In other words, the secular Estabishment wants religious soldiers, because they know they are among the best fighters, so they can serve as cannon fodder, while the secular Establishment sends it prime youth to serve at Galei Tzahal (Army Radio) and other such dangerous assignments, while at the same time, they don’t want to make an accomodations to the religious soldiers to take into account their religious needs so that the secular Establishment can still feel that Israel is still their personal property.

    It is time that BOTH SIDES drop this idiotic issue from public debate and reach a quiet accomodation that doesn’t offend anyone, just as existed in the past.

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