Sisterhood Blog

Rabbi: Choose Death Over Hearing Women Sing

By Allison Kaplan Sommer

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israel ministry of foreign affairs
Female IDF soldiers.

Listen to a woman soldier sing in a military ceremony or face a firing squad? Tough decision, eh?

One Orthodox rabbi has declared that male religious soldiers who are true to their faith should choose the latter.

In a radio interview quoted in Ha’aretz, Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh, said that if the army continues to stand firm on insisting that all soldiers attend official events with women singing, the time will soon approach “in which rabbis will have to say to soldiers ‘you have to leave those events even if there’s a firing squad outside, and you’ll be shot to death.’ ”

His language indicated that Orthodox soldiers were now facing a form of religious persecution in the army, and that standing up to such persecution, even under the threat of death would be a heroic act, a form of martyrdom. He also said that he would “recommend anyone who asked me against joining the army.”

The shocking statement has reignited the “singing wars” that began last summer when a group of Orthodox soldiers got up and walked out of an IDF ceremony in which a woman was performing, on the ground that remaining would force them to violate their religious beliefs forbidding them from hearing a female voice singing. Their behavior got them expelled from officer candidate school and caused a public firestorm.

Earlier this month, the IDF issued a statement declaring that it would neither eliminate women singers from army programs, even in front of audiences where a large percentage of the soldiers are religious, nor allow religious soldiers exemptions from attendance. If they walked out, it will be treated as if they disobeyed any other order. In addition, a group of 19 major generals appealed to the IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, asking them to stand strong in the face of religious pressure, out of concern that women’s service in the army could be damaged if they capitulate.

You have to give Levanon some points for consistency. He has a track record of retrograde chauvinism and a world view in which women should remain powerless, silent, and far out of public view, and silent. He made headlines in May 2010 when he said that women should not run for public office because:

The first problem is giving women authority, and being a secretary means having authority. The second problem is mixing men and women. Secretary meetings are held at night and sometimes end very late. It is not proper to be in mixed company in such situations.

The husband presents the family’s opinion…This is the proper way to prevent a situation in which the woman votes one way and her husband votes another.

The big question in the singing controversy is how many religious young people of army age actually heed directives coming from misogynist rabbis like Levanon.

There appears to be a power struggle between their authority and the authority of IDF brass, as he indicated when he stated that he hoped that there would be “some wise people who will thwart this horrible move” of insisting that women be permitted to sing and soldiers be required to remain seated while they do.

Interestingly, the Levanon headline in the Israeli press was accompanied by another. According to the IDF, there has been a large jump in the number of religious girls interested in army service, and they expect 25 percent more draftees this year than last, as army service.

This is taking place despite the rhetoric of rabbis like Levanon, who have vociferously preached that religious girls should choose national volunteer service instead of serving in the military.

It’s an encouraging sign that motivation to serve and defend their country trumps blind obedience to megalomaniac rabbis among Orthodox Israeli youth. It’s also an encouraging sign that the IDF Chief of Staff quickly spoke out against Rabbi Levanon’s remarks.


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