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.