Jewfem Blog

My first article in Slate: No Touching

As Israel’s military becomes more religious, women are having a really hard time showing men how to hold a rifle. A soldier from the 'Karakal' Battalion during training near the Israeli-Egyptian border in 2010 near Azoz, Israel. Female soldiers have made tremendous strides in Israel over the past two decades. According to the IDF, women make up 33 percent of the whole armed forces; female officers with the rank of colonel grew by 100 percent in the past 13 years, from 2 percent of all colonels in 1999 to 4 percent today; and the share of female officers with the rank of lieutenant colonel has grown by 70 percent in the last decade, from 7.3 percent of all lieutenant colonels in 1999 to 12.5 percent today. Perhaps most significantly, in March 2011 the IDF appointed Brig. Gen. Orna Barbivay as the first-ever female major general. Women are still a small minority of officers, but their numbers are rising. This is a significant change, a result due in large part to a landmark court case brought by Alice Miller in 1995 to open up pilot-level courses to women. Although Miller won, it wasn’t until 2000 when the government officially changed the Military Service Law, which now reads: “The right of women to serve in any role in the IDF is equal to the right of men." As a country with mandatory conscription since its founding in 1948—the only country in the world in which women are also subject to this conscription—these advances are significant. Gone are the days when women are relegated to jobs of making coffee and typing men’s memos. Although, according to the IDF, only 93 percent of all roles are open to women—despite the change in law—women are located in far more areas of the Israeli military than ever before.   With progress come problems, and female advancement in the IDF is particularly problematic for religious men. Rabbis have voiced opposition to a female presence in the army since the establishment of the state. Religious women have always been allowed to claim exemption from military duty if they elect to do national service instead, such as volunteering in hospitals and schools. Debates over army versus national service are fixtures in religious girls’ schools, especially in 11th and 12th grade. These debates are not just, or at all, about individual choice or preference—religious girls (and their families) seek out rabbinical opinions for guidance. One of the most popular sites of the religious Zionist public (meaning the religious community that believes in the existence of the state of Israel and traditionally does serve in the army, rather than the ultra-Orthodox who do not believe in the state and do not serve) is full of queries from girls to rabbis about whether they should do the army or national service.   READ MORE http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2012/10/women_in_israel_as_the_idf_becomes_more_religious_the_rights_of_female_soldiers.html

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My Daughter, The Soldier

[crossposted from the Lilith Blog] Photo courtesy of the author, Avigayil Sztokman is third from the right. It was a two-hour drive, mostly through endless desert on all sides, to get to my daughter’s army base. She had been inducted into the Israeli Defense Forces only a month earlier, as part of Israel’s compulsory service, and had just finished basic training. We were on our way to her swearing-in ceremony, and were thus looking for a compound that was not listed on any map and had no road signs indicating its location. We took a wrong turn about five minutes too early, and landed at a different cluster of unmarked army bases heavily guarded by kids in uniform holding big guns. I suppose I should stop calling my 19-year-old daughter and her contemporaries “kids”, since they are now charged with protecting the entire nation from attack. “Look for the row of palm trees on your left,” a soldier on duty directed us nonchalantly, “around seven kilometers down the road.” We miraculously found those palm trees on the first try – I suppose one of many miracles involving the daily function of the IDF – or perhaps due to the fact that in this particular miracle, we were guided by the more obvious and familiar queue of cars in the middle of the desert filled with parents on the way to watch their children become soldiers. There were 120 soldiers being sworn in to the Intelligence Corps that day, two all-women units of forty, and one coed unit. In Intelligence, soldiers are not supposed to reveal too much about what they are doing, so I really have no way of verifying why some groups are single-sex and others are mixed. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a deeper ambivalence about women soldiers – on the one hand equals, but on the other hand, still at times relegated to “women’s” jobs. Or maybe that’s an unfair characterization – despite the fact that there still exists the “women’s corps” in the army, making one wonder what everything else is, and despite the fact that some of the most important jobs in the army, pilot notwithstanding, are still closed to women. Nevertheless, the young women in all units fulfilled the same roles and tasks throughout the ceremony as the men, running and saluting and holding their guns the same way. And even though it was a coed space, the women outnumbered the men. So it was an event of excellent soldiering in which women dominated. Indeed, looking at the rows of soldiers from a distance, there was a sense of equality, not only between men and women, but among everyone. This is in fact one of the great legacies of the IDF. It is a times a wonderful social equalizer, in which kids from all backgrounds train and serve side by side, wearing the same clothes, eating the same food, doing the same 40 push-ups. And it’s an institution in which everyone has the same opportunity...

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