JERUSALEM (JTA) — The rabbinic head of a religious Zionist pre-military yeshiva in the West Bank is under fire for saying that the Israeli army drives female soldiers “crazy” and upsets their Jewishness.
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who runs the Bnei David academy in the Eli settlement, made the comments in remarks to several hundred students visiting from another West Bank pre-military academy.
“They draft them. They go in Jewish and they’re not Jewish when they come out — not in terms of genetics. Their whole system of values becomes confused, their priorities – home, career. They’ll make them all crazy. Agreeing to this is forbidden,” he said.
Footage of the speech delivered last week was broadcast Tuesday night on Israel’s Channel 2.
“Someone told me recently, ‘Don’t worry. They’re just practicing putting on makeup for their wedding day.’ I don’t know who will marry them. She’ll tell the kids battlefield stories at night,” Levinstein said.
In an apparent reference to gays, Levinstein continued: “That’s what they call the new family, right? Two fathers. It’s a madhouse. Simply a madhouse.”
In an interview Wednesday evening with Channel 2, Levinstein said he would not retract his statements, but also acknowledged that the way in which he made the remarks was “inappropriate.”
In January, Levinstein called gays “perverts” during a speech at a conference attended by about 700 rabbis and educators convened to deal with the perceived influence of the Reform movement on Israeli society. That remark prompted various Israeli leaders to call for Levinstein’s removal.
“Under the framework of pluralism, soldiers and officers are taught to refer to [LGBT people] as ‘proud,’ but I don’t dare call them that … ‘perverts’ is what I call them,” he told the conference.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who is currently meeting with Trump administration officials in Washington D.C., said on Wednesday that his ministry “will reconsider the position of Rabbi Levinstein and his fitness to prepare young people for service in the Israel Defense Forces.”
“Since the establishment of the state, women have served in the IDF and made an enormous contribution to the security of Israel,” Liberman added. “Rabbi Levinstein’s verbal attack not only hurts women in Israel but also hurts the IDF, the IDF’s heritage and the basic values of the State of Israel.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a meeting Wednesday of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, noted that Jewish women have been fighters since biblical times.
“We are proud of it, and will further it. It’s important to say this in the most clear fashion,” Netanyahu said, though he never mentioned Levinstein specifically.
Some 4,000 religious girls reportedly serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Some of the women combine their service with religious studies at women’s seminaries. The Serving the Faith program of the Aluma organization assists religious women who wish to serve in the military, providing them with a place to turn if they encounter religious issues during their service.