The absurd fuss over contraception in the US is a classic example of religions abusing the language of ‘freedom of religion’ to advance their anti-women agenda. It turns out that Israel is also experiencing a similar phenomenon. Orthodox soldiers are apparently objecting to having to hear women sing at military functions.
The army’s insistence on men hearing women sing is such a serious attack on religious freedom, according to one prominent far-right rabbi, that “we’re close to a situation in which we will have to tell soldiers, ‘You have to leave such events even if a firing squad is set up outside, which will fire on and kill you.'”
Some see a more sinister agenda at work than discrimination against women. There are fears that radical conservative clergy are deliberately setting the stage to undermine military discipline so that in the event that soldiers are ordered to do things that are opposed by the clergy, such as dismantling settlements in the occupied territories, the soldiers will obey the clergy rather than their military superiors. They are being aided in this effort by the increasing numbers of Orthodox soldiers and officers in the Israeli military.
The religious nationalist right, on the other hand, has become an ever-growing source of combat soldiers and officers. According to a study published in an army journal, with the author listed only by his first initial for secrecy’s sake, the proportion of Orthodox men among graduates of the officers’ training course for the infantry rose from 2.5 percent in 1990 to over 26 percent in 2008. (Just over one-eighth of all Israeli soldiers were Orthodox.) The change has been fed by two kinds of religious institutions with military ties: In hesder (“arrangement”) yeshivot, men alternate between periods of religious study and stretches of active duty in their own separate platoons. In pre-army academies, men undergo a year of physical training and religious instruction before entering the army. In both cases, the instructors are likely to be rabbis for whom right-wing politics come straight from God.
The consequences of this shift began showing as Israel prepared for its 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. Sixty leading rabbis of the religious right—including the deans of several hesder yeshivot—issued a proclamation telling soldiers, “It is forbidden for any Jew to participate or assist in dismantling settlements.” Other rabbis told their students to avoid evacuation duty without openly disobeying orders. To prevent an epidemic of insubordination, the army avoided assigning infantry units with large numbers of Orthodox soldiers to evacuate settlers. Nonetheless, the army reported that over sixty soldiers were court-martialed. The real number may be higher.
This is what happens when you give religions special privileges. People think that you can arrive at some kind of reasonable accommodation with them but they are wrong. Religions are insatiable in trying to impose their narrow, bigoted agendas on everyone.