'Who will marry them?' Rabbi excommunicates Israeli army women

'Who will marry them?' Rabbi excommunicates Israeli army women
An Israeli Rabbi said women who join Israel's military service come back as 'non-Jews', in controversial remarks that sparked a backlash on International Women's Day.
2 min read
09 March, 2017
'Who will marry them?' [AFP]

An Israeli rabbi was fiercely criticised on Wednesday for suggesting that women who join the army come back as "non-Jews," in a controversy that coincided with International Women's Day.

Ultra-conservative rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who heads a pre-military academy in the Eli settlement in the occupied West Bank, said in a lecture that women enter the army as Jews and come out non-Jews.

"Who will marry them?" he asked.

Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman condemned the comments and urged Levinstein to consider his position, adding that he would "reconsider" the rabbi's role in preparing young men for military service.

"Rabbi Levinstein's statements are not only an insult to Israelis, but also to the Israeli army, its heritage and all the fundamental values ​​of the state of Israel," he said.

Military service is compulsory for both men and women in Israel, though ultra-Orthodox Jews, who make up about 10 percent of the country's eight million citizens, are among those exempt.

Military officials have been seeking to encourage the ultra-Orthodox to enlist.

A military spokesman said 2,200 women from religious backgrounds currently serve in the Israel's military, up from 937 in 2010.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made an indirect reference to the controversy on Wednesday, telling a parliamentary committee women played an "important role in defending the country's security," Israeli media reported.

A fringe of ultra-conservative rabbis, members of the religious nationalist movement, hold a traditional view of the role of women, arguing they should be primarily concerned with caring for children and the home.

They also believe women should respect Jewish conventions which demand they dress modestly - skirts or long robes and long sleeves - and behave with deference towards men.

Levinstein was banned in 2016 from giving lectures on army bases after calling homosexuals "perverts".