"Drafting Girls is Absolutely Forbidden!"

[Be-Ahavah U-Be-Emunah – Parashat Behaalotcha 5767]

In 1960, eleventh graders from Shevet “Chalutzim” of Bnei Akiva approached a number of great Torah luminaries regarding the question of girls being drafted into the Israeli army.

 The Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Ha-Gaon Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank told them that halachically speaking, girls were forbidden to enlist, so they were obligated to choose the religious exemption. They asked him, “And what if the required declaration is not made sincerely, for example, when it is the result of parental pressure? After all, the formula requires one to declare that one is seeking the exemption ‘for reasons of religion and conscience’. Seemingly, in some cases, this would be a false declaration.” Ha-Gaon Rav Frank answered, “One is allowed to make the declaration, and it is even a Mitzvah, in fulfillment of ‘Honor your father and your mother’, especially considering that it is for her own good.”

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook answered the same way, adding, “When her father pressures her, he is simply guiding her in the halachic path. The girl is not steeped in Talmud and halachic sources, and she does not know all the various laws regarding going to the army. Rather, she has a passion for enlisting. It is therefore a Mitzvah for her to heed her parents’ voice, and her declaration will be the truth, both in terms of the word ‘religion’ and in terms of the word ‘conscience’.”

When they asked Ha-Gaon Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin, he told them to look in his book, “Le’or Ha-Halachah” (p. 27), which states that women are forbidden to take part in war. He added, “Our military circles have done research and concluded that drafting girls does not bring any tangible benefit. As far as the work and assistance that the female soldiers do provide, it would be provided more efficiently, and with a much smaller budget, by salaried civilian clerks.”
They asked him, “What about girls making an insincere declaration, based on self-interest?” and he answered, “If the girl is truly religious, she can make the declaration, even if she is making it for other reasons as well.”

By the way, it was Rabbi Dr. Zerach Warhaftig who insisted that to the expression “for reasons of religion” be added the words “and conscience”, which leaves an opening for irreligious girls to choose this option as well.

After they heard what the great rabbis had said, the young people concluded that it was forbidden for girls to enlist, and in the Movement’s magazine they addressed all girls asking that they declare their desire for an exemption – hopefully with sincerity. They added that by doing so, the girls would be helping themselves and the country. (“Chalutzim” Magazine, No. 3, 1960).

Rabbenu Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda further said, “Drafting girls involves a risk that they will decline spiritually. Some say a girl can’t be in the army without declining. Others say she can, in fact, and it depends on the girl. Presumably, some will be affected more than others, but generally speaking, spiritual deterioration does occur.”

Yet it is obvious that where modesty is concerned, a person’s spiritual rise or fall is not to be assessed by what the person himself imagines, but by the guidelines laid down by G-d and by our Sages. Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda therefore wrote that girls should apply to “the National Service alternative, taking into account our sages’ fear and reverence as far as avoiding immodesty, as described and depicted at the end of Masechet Kiddushin” (Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehuda, “Ish Ve-Isha, p. 44 and quoted in the book “Bat Melech”).

He therefore declared, “Someone who really wants to know, has to ask ‘the priest officiating at that time’ (Devarim 26:3), the Chief Rabbis of Israel, who are likewise familiar with all of these deliberations, and who also possess divine assistance in their decision making. Therefore, one must rely on them in every matter” (ibid., p. 43).

Indeed, at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel, Israel’s Chief Rabbis ruled: “Drafting women in a military framework, in any form whatsoever, is absolutely forbidden!”

Fighting compulsory wars is certainly a great Mitzvah, but as is well-known, we don’t do a Mitzvah by way of a sin. A Mitzvah that comes about by way of a sin is itself a sin. National Service positions authorized by rabbis are a great Mitzvah, involving no sin. It doesn’t matter if it is less “exciting”. It often happens that the evil impulse is more exciting than the good impulse, but the good impulse is holy.

 Moreover, a girl who does not go to the army, strengthens the army, for thanks to her action, G-d is with us in the army camp. “Hashem, your G-d, makes His presence known in your camp, so as to deliver you and grant you victory over your enemy. Your camp must therefore be holy. Let Him not see anything lascivious among you, and turn away from you” (Devarim 23:15). It’s our choice who we want in the army: girls or the Master of the Universe.
Therefore, there were no girls in the army of Moshe nor in the army of Yehoshua, nor in the army of Shaul or of David, nor in the army of the Chasmoneans or of Bar-Kochba.

Precious Jewish daughter! Be strong and courageous! Remember: National Service is the right path. That is the true way to serve the Nation.