"Halachic considerations cannot override the considerations of army commanders," the head of the IDF's Human Resources Directorate said Wednesday, in response to demands to excuse religious soldiers from events in which women sing.
"The commander knows he must take the religious soldiers' needs into account," Major-General Orna Barbivai told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. She was invited to speak in light of claims that Israeli women were being excluded in the public sphere as well as in the military.
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"There is no such exclusion in the army," Barbivai said. "The IDF chief of staff has determined that women will sing in any ceremony and on every stage. No one in the IDF can tell a woman she cannot sing.
"We plan to form more military bands comprised of both men and women," the Human Resources Directorate chief continued to say. "They will perform at every ceremony in keeping with the state's character and the army's spirit."
Barbivai said the decision on whether to excuse any soldier from events in which women sing is in the hands of his commanding officer. "The commander, who is responsible for leading the force (in battle) and gives his soldiers the go ahead to open fire, can also make this decision," she told the MKs. "The commander's authority always supersedes halachic considerations"
MK Nissim Zeev of Shas proposed that "those who do not wish to hear women singing should not listen," and said that a rabbi he had spoken with suggested earplugs as a solution to the dilemma.
During the meeting, Barbivai presented the lawmakers with some worrying IDF enlistment figures. According to her, by 2020 only 40% of the population will enlist in the army. She said many youngsters were using religion as an excuse to dodge army service.
"It is estimated that in 2020 some 60% of Israeli citizens will not enlist or not complete full army service," Barbivai said. "Some 42% of women do not enlist. This is a disgraceful figure. (Avoiding the draft) is becoming more and more legitimate. There is no shame in it anymore."
The IDF's senior-most female officer said the number of women who are being exempt from IDF service on religious grounds is increasing, adding that many secular women are claiming to be religious just to avoid being drafted.
"We are losing about 1,500 girls who can significantly contribute to the army," she said. "We must promote legislation to address the issue of female recruitment. The unbearable ease (in which women are exempt from army service) only encourages this phenomenon."
MK Miri Regev (Likud) said the Defense Committee would submit a bill aimed at mitigating the draft-dodging phenomenon, while Committee Chairman Shaul Mofaz warned that "eventually a minority will serve (in the army). We must be more involved and change this reality."
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