Forward Thinking

Will Israel's Haredi Draft Bill Empower Women?

By Nathan Jeffay

  • Print
  • Share Share

Getty Images

As the Israeli government prepares to present the Knesset with its bill to draft yeshiva students into the army, the Haredi community is seething. But even as it kicks into reactionary mode, you’ve got to wonder whether, paradoxically, this could present an opportunity for some limited advancement among Haredi women.

The Haredi media in Israel is abuzz with talk of a possible “march of the million” against the plans to get currently-exempt Haredi men into uniform and criminalize those who ignore draft orders.

The Haredi leaders who are talking about a march saw the “march of the million” during the social protests of 2011 (which was big but didn’t quite reach a million). They believe that if their community can replicate that kind of mass activism, Israeli society and the government will need to take notice.

But there’s an obvious problem. In secular society, if you have a million people, you have a million potential demonstrators. In Haredi society, a million people gives you just 500,000 potential demonstrators.

One in every two potential demonstrators — people who believe in the cause and would be prepared to demonstrate if given the nod — is ruled out by gender. That’s right: Protesting is a men’s pursuit, widely considered immodest for women.

The question is, if the Haredi leadership is looking for sheer numbers, will it have the self-discipline to keep its pool of protestors to half its natural size? Will it not be tempted to double its numbers and rule that women may protest?

There is some recent precedent for female activism. The Women for the Wall group has been assembling large gatherings of women at the Western Wall to oppose Women of the Wall, the interdenominational feminist group.

This has been done in the guise of prayer gatherings, and has taken place in the women-only section of the Western Wall, away from men’s eyes. But despite the differences between this and full-scale protesting, it has alerted rabbis to the potential of female activism.

So you start to wonder: Will the rabbis choose a weaker demonstration in order to keep women at home, or will they rule that what they consider the dangers of a Haredi draft is justification for bringing women out to protest? In the same way that the need for manpower during World War I led to the empowerment of women, could what the Haredi community is billing as its “war” for survival in some small way empower women?

The temptation will certainly be there on the part of rabbis to involve women, albeit in separate sections at protests. If they do it on this occasion, it could mark advancement for Haredi women that would be hard to turn back after this particular “war” is won or lost.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women, Israeli army, Israel, IDF, Haredi

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.