Major Shimshon Klein, a rabbi who heads the IDF's ultra-Orthodox recruitment program, was addressing a group of potential haredi enlistees when the sensitive issue of female performers came up.
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The topic made headlines earlier this year, when a group of religious cadets were expelled from an officer training program after storming out of an assembly because female troops came up to the stage to sing. Orthodox Judaism forbids men from hearing a woman sing, the religious soldiers said.
In an attempt to ease the haredi teens' concerns on the matter, Klein said that the army does not require religious troops to listen to female singers.
"Every person must act as he sees fit," he said, telling the teens in attendance that if they find themselves at an event where women are about to perform, they can either leave the venue or read Psalms.
And then added: "Maybe the female soldier who sang underwent a sex change operation."
'Comment humiliates women'
Some of the teens snickered but others said they were embarrassed by it.
"Our refusal to listen to women's singing doesn't stem from disrespect," said one of the young men who attended the lecture. "On the contrary, we do it because we respect women.
"The officer's statement, even if it's just a joke, derogated women and sounded patronizing."
Officials in the IDF said that the rabbi did not intend to offend female troops, and that the remark was meant to be humorous.
"The rabbi stressed that under the army's orders, soldiers serving in the religious programs won't be faced with women's singing," the IDF Spokesperson's Unit said. "The rabbi's additional comment was a joke."
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