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Friday, March 27, 2009

Religious Israeli Defense Forces troops walk out of event featuring woman singer

About 100 religious soldiers left a Paratroop Brigade assembly earlier this month to avoid being present at the performance of a female singer, the army weekly Bamahane reported last week.

Their departure stemmed from their belief that halakha, or Jewish religious law, prohibits them from hearing a woman sing. Their position has the support of the army rabbinate.

The case is only the latest of several such incidents of which Haaretz has learned. The first was reported about two years ago.

This month's incident occurred two weeks ago in Haifa, when the Paratroop Brigade was marking its service in the recent Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The event featured a short performance by male and female singers, both members of the brigade, who performed the brigade anthem.

At that point, soldiers from the hesder program, which combines yeshiva study with army service, left the performance, after notifying their commanders. Several officers wearing skullcaps did the same. No disciplinary action has been taken against those who left.

Sources in the army rabbinate said that halakha supports the soldiers' decision to leave. The rabbinate has urged commanders to show sensitivity in such situations and either to excuse religious soldiers in advance from attending any portion of a ceremony that poses a problem or to simply not feature female singers at such programs.

But the army's chief education officer, Brig. Gen. Eli Shermeister, called the incident a "worrisome phenomenon" that "should not be accorded continued legitimacy." Events like this are designed to foster group cohesion, he explained, so allowing some participants to leave would defeat the purpose.

Army sources reported that another brigade recently canceled the appearance of a female singer at a program for commanders after two religious battalion commanders said they would not be able to participate in such an event.

In another incident a year ago, there was a mass exodus of religious soldiers from a performance by women. The sources said the problem has also surfaced at Soldiers' Welfare Association vacation facilities for army units.

By Amos Harel


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