- Did you know that religious girls are being drafted into the army?
- Did you know that young girls are being put in jail?
- Did you know that this past Tuesday, Feb 13 the Israeli Government enacted a law granting the IDF the final say in whether or not an applicant for a religious exemption is indeed “religious”?
Like many, you may have heard only vague reports or may be totally unaware. Please read this op-ed outlining the current deteriorating situation for our dear young girls living today in the Holy Land of Eretz Yisrael.
The Way it Was
In the early 1950’s the religious community in Eretz Yisroel was in an uproar over the issue of giyus banos– compulsory conscription of women into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). The Chazon Ish, zatzal, and the other gedolim of the day waged a fierce battle to oppose the implementation of any program or law that would require religious young women to serve in the military in any capacity, including substituting military service with a compulsory term of sheirut leumi-National Service (which includes various branches of public services).
No doubt as a result of the furor that was created, the government did not pursue conscription policies for religious women. Women were allowed to apply for a military deferment based on religious grounds. The application process was simple, and the deferments were easily obtained:
- At age 16, girls received a draft order and were given a full year to respond to it.
- A girl was able to sign an affidavit stating that she objects to serving in the army on religious grounds, and that she maintains a religious lifestyle in that she does not drive on Shabbos, and she eats only kosher food, both at home and outside her home.
- The affidavit was authorized by a rabbi, and was then submitted to the lishkas hagiyus-the Recruitment Office of the IDF. Oftentimes, the authorization and submission of the affidavit were done through the girls’ school.
- The army was legally required to accept the affidavit, and the submission thereof automatically granted the young woman a lifetime deferment from military service.
- Nullifying the exemption was possible, but highly unlikely. In order for the army to do so, a formal complaint would have to be filed against the girl alleging that her declaration was false. The complaint would have to be filed within 30 days of the submission of the affidavit, and proof of the allegation would have to be brought in court in a timely fashion.
The New Law
The Chok Sheirut Bitachon is the State of Israel’s law that mandates compulsory army service for Israeli citizens.
In 2010 an amendment to the law-“Tikun 18”-was brought to the floor of the Kneset. The amendment was aimed at simplifying the procedure to annul, when deemed necessary, a religious exemption that a religious girl had received. If passed, Tikun 18 would give the IDF the authority to reject a young woman’s affidavit for up to two years after her submission if they had legitimate cause to believe that the declaration was false.
United Torah Judaism (UTJ) was, obviously, opposed to the new law, and MK M. Gafni requested that Prime Minister Sharon veto it based on the argument that the law was one-sided; it granted the military the right to decide that the applicant’s declaration was false, but did not provide adequate means for the applicant to defend herself. Sharon agreed, and the law was terminated.
In 2012, the law was brought up again by the Kadimah party. Despite strong opposition from UTJ (which was, at the time, in a coalition with Kadimah) the law was passed as a temporary law that would be in force for a period of three years from the time of the law’s implementation. However, before the law could be implemented, the Kneset ruled that the relevant government committees responsible for overseeing the draft system would have to confer and decide upon the exact parameters and conditions of the law. This finalization of the law never took place, and, consequently, the law was never implemented.
This past November (2017) a reform organization by the name of Chidush petitioned the Supreme Court to implement the law. The Supreme Court, in turn, charged the Kneset with setting up the law, and gave the Kneset a deadline to do so-February 18, 2018.
The next three months were months of turmoil. The Kneset attempted numerous times to hold a meeting of lawmakers and representatives from the relevant committees to work out the details of the law but the meeting was repeatedly postponed, at times due to forceful public protests.
But on Tuesday Feb 13, days from the deadline, the dreaded news came. The committees had met to give the law its final form, and Tikun 18 was enacted. As of now, the IDF is able to challenge the authenticity of a young woman’s declaration of religious observance for up to two years after the submission of her affidavit.
The law gives the IDF broad authority to challenge an affidavit and to call the applicant to a ra’ayon dat-a “religion interview” in order to ascertain whether or not her claim of being religious is reasonable.
The ra’ayon dat is not a novelty. In a number of cases over the past decade or so the Supreme Court handed down rulings allowing the army to interview applicants for a religious exemption, or girls who has already received an exemption, in order to ascertain that the girl in question was indeed religious. Although this authorization was only given for the specific cases at hand, the IDF used these rulings as precedents, and has been known to subject girls to a ra’ayon dat on their own whim.
In the past two years the IDF has brazenly been calling ever increasing numbers of applicants to a ra’ayon dat. The Mizrachi newspaper, HaShavua, reported that at least a 50% of religious girls have been called in for a ra’ayon dat this year. In an in depth article printed in HaShavua (Jan. 19, 2017) a rabbi is quoted as reporting that in his school a frightening 80% of the girls were called for a ra’ayon dat. Many Mizrachi rabbanim had recently begun to instruct their constituents to refuse to participate in a ra’ayon dat, if they are called in.
Although the IDF was subjecting many girls to a ra’ayon dat, the legality of their actions was very questionable. Now, with the passing of Tikun 18, this unpleasant tactic has become a proceeding that the IDF is legally authorized to implement. The IDF will be able to challenge any young woman’s affidavit almost indiscriminately, and with impunity, for a long period of time after her submission.
In a ra’ayon dat, the young and frightened applicant is taken into a room without a parent or an accompanying friend, and appears before a panel of five evaluators, who question her on matters pertaining to religion.
The five member panel consists of:
- One rabbi serving (or who has served) in the IDF,
- One individual recommended by the Chief Rabbi’s office.
- Two officers serving (or who have served) in the IDF,
- One judge.
The fairness of the ra’ayon dat is questionable. Of the five members on the panel, only the first two will necessarily be religious.The others need not be, and it is entirely possible that these members will be lacking in a basic understanding of Judaism. Nevertheless, they are given the authority to assess someone else’s level of religious observance.
Many times, the questions created by these young “judges” include fine details of religious observance. Presumably, these questions were researched since anirreligious evaluatorwould have no first-hand intimate knowledge of Judaism. Sometimes the questions are beyond what even fully religious girls – brought up in religious homes and schooled in religious schools – would be aware of!
Samples of questions girls have been asked in a ra’ayon dat:
- How many chapters are there in Pirkei Avot?
- Can you recite the blessing of kiddush levanah?
Girls who cannot properly answer the questions are then denied their exemption for not living a “religious lifestyle”!
While at the interview, the evaluators use coercive tactics and persuasion methods to convince girls to enlist, even if her exemption is upheld. She is confronted with various arguments, and the evaluators play on her emotions. A common tactic is to cause the girl to feel guilty for not contributing to the state.
Girls have also been told that the IDF has hidden information about them, showing that they are not really religious as they claim to be, and have been threatened with the exposure of the information if they didn’t agree to enlist.
Sometimes, girls are told to return the next day for further questioning. There have been cases of girls who have avoided reappearing, and who have been arrested and put in jail.
A Nefarious Agenda
When discussing Tikun 18, the Knesset states its concern that there are completely irreligious girls who are taking advantage of the current law, and who are wrongfully applying for religious exemptions. Tikun 18 allows the IDF to quickly identify these cases.
But in reality the government has clearly expressed its desire to begin a proactive campaign to recruit religious girls. In the summer of 2013 the Government passed a resolution (Decision No. 638, Subsection 64) that directed the army to pursue the recruitment of religious girls, and recently, sources have revealed that a new office has been established to serve under the Chief of Staff, whose sole directive is to hasten the recruitment of religious girls.
Preying on the Vulnerable
Before the government and IDF embarked on their new initiative to enlist religious women, all young women were legally allowed to sign a declaration that they fit the requirements for a religious exemption, and the military had no real way to thwart them. But sadly, in today’s reality, several groups of young women have become easy prey for the IDF, who can now subject them to a ra’ayon dat, which they are all the more likely to fail, and have begun to apply undue pressure, using unethical tactics, to persuade them to enlist.
The more vulnerable groups include:
- Girls who are weaker in their observance,
- Girls who have a sibling already serving in the IDF,
- Religious girls from families that are marginally religious or irreligious,
- Recent immigrants from France,
- Girls from outlying areas of the country, and
- Baalos teshuvah, who were formerly irreligious, even though they are now fully religious.
In the preceding generation, the Chazon Ish, zatzal, and the Steipler Gaon, zatzal, ruled that it is forbidden for a religious girl to enter the lishkas hagiyus, deeming it an act that is yehareig ve’al ya’avor (an act that one must avoid, even if it leads to the forfeiture of one’s life). In our times, Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, reiterated this ruling on several occasions when asked whether or not a young woman should comply if she has been summoned to appear at the lishkas hagiyus in order to get her deferment.
Now, however, it is becoming more commonplace to see numerous chareidi girls entering the lishkash giyus on a daily basis. The government and the IDF are expending great energy to devise and implement ways and means to lure these girls into those buildings at all costs. Once inside, the girls are subject to interactions with the authorities aimed at persuading and coercing the girls to agree to enlist.
In times past, the Rabanut was accommodating and would send dayanim to chareidi girls’ schools twice a year to sign all of the students’ affidavits. The school would then send these affidavits via registered mail to the lishkas hagiyus, and the girls would receive their deferments as a matter of course.
Two years ago, even before the passing of Tikun 18, the IDF forbade the Rabanut from paying the dayanim for their services at the schools, and even forbade the dayanim from accepting any monetary reimbursement for their lost time and travel expenses. (The official defense of this action was in order to avoid bribery of the dayanim!) Consequently, the Rabanut announced that due to a lack of manpower they can only send a dayan down to a school if there are 120 girls in need of a signature.
Based on the country’s birth records, the IDF prepares a draft notice for every young woman who turns 16. In the past, the IDF mailed these notices out twice annually (every 6 months) but recently the IDF began sending out the notices quarterly (every 3 months). Additionally, whereas in the past a young woman would be granted one full year to respond to her notice, new legislation has been passed that grants her only 3 months to respond.
Thus, in any given school small groups of girls are continuously becoming “of age,” and must quickly submit their affidavits. A school rarely has a group of 120 girls at one time who need the dayan’s authorization. The new legislation has successfully brought about the necessity for the girls to take care of their affidavits themselves. They must seek out a dayan themselves, and they must present the affidavit to the lishkas hagiyus themselves.
Both prospects present an issue for the chareidi population who wish to protect their daughters from interaction with their surrounding secular Israeli society.
- In order to have her affidavit signed by a dayan, the girl must go down to a state Beit Din. (She can also get the affidavit signed by a shofet at a state Beit Hamishpat.) While in these government offices the girls are often detained, sometimes for long hours, in a place where secular Israelis are dealing with issues of divorce, harassment and abuse, mamzeirus, and other unfortunate issues. It is not a place that a frum girl should have to enter.
- In the past, a girl could have a relative bring her affidavit inside the lishkas hagiyus, or could even submit it to the soldier guarding the outside of the building. No longer. Currently, the policy is that the affidavits must be delivered personally.
Girls who have opted to mail in their affidavits via registered mail have received letters or phone calls denying the receipt of their affidavits, and demanding that they appear at the lishkas hagiyus at any rate. Sometimes the affidavit is returned in the mail for no apparent reason. This has also happened to girls who personally delivered their affidavits. The lishkas hagiyus has mysteriously stopped giving a receipt for a submitted affidavit, and girls are often called down to re-appear, after being informed that their affidavit was not received.
The IDF has even been known to contact these girls after their allotted 3 months. The girl is now considered “late” and can be subjected to a ra’ayon dat. Sometimes, the IDF simply refuses to accept the submitted affidavit if it is given in too close to the deadline. They will later accept it, but since the 3-month deadline has passed, the applicant is also subjected to a ra’ayon dat.
Girls have been called down to pick up their deferments in person. Once in the office, the officers there will try to coerce them into enlisting, or subject them to a ra’ayon dat.
There have been reports of girls who were told to sign a “exemption form,” and then are told that they were in reality signing a consent to enlist.
The Fear Factor
The IDF commonly plays on a girl’s emotions and fears. Some girls have received arrest warrants even after sending in their declaration in a timely fashion, or have received a home visit by a soldier to inform them that they could be arrested any day for being a deserter.
In this climate of uncertainty and fear, many girls are simply so alarmed and anxious that they choose to enlist voluntarily rather than go through the torment engendered by the authorities in their attempts to coerce them to enlist.
Breach of Human Rights
Giyus banos is an embarrassing stain on the State of Israel’s reputation. Only one other country in the world – North Korea – subjects its female citizens to compulsory army conscription.
But beyond that, it is shocking for a government to force any of its citizens into military service if such service goes against their religious (or even personal) beliefs. Indeed, the world community recognizes this as a breach of basic human rights.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a multilateral treaty that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966. The covenant commits its parties to respect the civil and political rights of individuals, including the right to life, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, electoral rights and rights to due process and a fair trial. The ICCPR is part of the International Bill of Human Rights.
The ICCPR does not allow a government to conscript its citizens into army service against their beliefs.
The Israeli government officially recognizes that serving in the armed forces can be a contradiction to maintaining a fully religious lifestyle. It is incomprehensible that a government can promote a policy designed to compromise its citizens’ rights to freely engage in their familiar religious lifestyle.
The passing into law of Tikun 18 is not a matter to be treated lightly. It affords the government a very dangerous tool in their campaign to see a broad compulsory army conscription of the dati and chareidi sectors of Israeli society. It is an especially frightening prospect that the government is now targeting bnos yisroel, whose goal in life is to maintain a high level of tznius and kedushah, as they raise the next generation of the Jewish nation.
Kol kvudah bas melech pnimah. The outrage, and the affront to the Torah and to the human rights of our young Israeli sisters must stop. Please help our cause by getting informed, getting involved and by helping to get our voices heard!
NOTE: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of JBN