Rabbi Ohad Teharlev: In Favor of Religious Female Soldiers in the IDF Academic Reserve Program (“Atuda“)
Religious girls in the Israel Defense Forces’ Atuda Program (Academic Reserves program for students who first complete their academic studies and then use their learned skills in the IDF as trained professionals)? Rabbi Ohad Teharlev believes that military service for girls, even in the IDF’s Atuda track, empowers religious women and the entire world of women’s Torah learning.
Oped by Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, Rosh Midrasha of Israeli Programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum
Srugim Media, January 17, 2021
The Sages teach us that “The book and the sword came down from the heavens intertwined.” What is the meaning of this correlation? Why is the Torah, which increases peace in the world and whose ways are pleasant, brought down together with the sword and the swordsman, which bring destruction to the world?
The simple explanation is that the sword’s role is to issue a warning: we should fulfill the Torah’s commandments, otherwise – the sword will be swung above our heads. Another explanation is that there is an integral connection between the Torah and war. The Almighty’s powerful presence can be found both in the world of Torah and on the battlefield. We find a very war-like description of the handing down of the Torah: “Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire… and the whole mountain quaked greatly”. Even in war we find the Almighty’s presence: “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and see horses and chariots and people more numerous than you, do not be afraid of them; for the Lord your God is with you”.
Ever since the people of Israel returned to their land we are witness to an increase and empowerment of the world of Torah. Religious creativity is blossoming and there is a celebration of the spiritual world. In parallel, the return to the land has led to the establishment of a strong military built on the cornerstones of morality and justice.
Spiritual leaders and giants grow in the batei midrash – the religious study halls, and leaders who foster and lead Israeli society develop in the army.
In both worlds we acquire security.
In the religious study halls we acquire and internalize our spiritual confidence in the Almighty, and through the army we acquire national security for our state. Both these senses of security nourish each other. Neither can exist without the other. We cannot win battles with only one of them. We need both the study of Torah and tanks and planes.
The value of Torah study has always been the most sacred value in the Jewish world. Since the resurrection of the nation of Israel in its own land, army service and the existence and strength of Israel’s Defense Force have become another value that unites and defines the social infrastructure of our state.
As a result of the female revolution of our generation, in recent years we see many young women from the Religious Zionist sector deciding to enlist in the IDF. And wonder of wonders – the more young women that enlist, the more the world of women’s Torah grows, and the more young women study Torah and decide to integrate their study of Torah in seminaries with their military service. The more women choose to study Torah before their army service; the more designated tracks are opened for religious women in the army.
In order to provide maximal security, we need more than tanks and planes. We also need technological abilities. The army does not march only on its stomach, but also on its doctors, lawyers and its entire extensive support setup.
Recently we are witness to young Religious Zionist women choosing to join the army’s Atuda track (An Academic Reserves program for students who first complete their academic studies and then serve in the IDF as trained professionals). These tracks enable religious women to integrate and contribute substantially in the military, while studying for a valuable degree.
An academic degree and a valuable contribution to the nation
Young women who enlist to Atuda tracks commit to many years of IDF service. However, it is safe to assume that young women who serve the usual army term will choose to spend a few years after their service studying for an academic degree before entering the job market. The army makes it possible for women serving in the Atuda track to acquire a degree as part of their army service. They then take on a job that is dedicated to contributing valuably to the people of Israel and the state of Israel.
There are those who fear that this will lead to a postponement of marriage and the establishment of a family, yet this is not likely. Any woman, whether she is serving through National Service, regular army service, or extended army service, can marry during her service period and return home each day just like any young woman who takes part in supporting her family.
I have some important advice for the young women who choose to serve through the Atuda track. Despite the many years you can expect to serve in the army framework, and possibly because of them – do not forgo studying Torah for year before your service. The year of Torah study will give you spiritual fuel not only for your extended service but for life. Studying Torah will provide you with spiritual and halachic tools to deal with the existential, ethical, halachic questions that arise in the army especially, and in life in general. The glasses you learn to look through in the seminary will light your path and guide you safely.
“Due to the merit of righteous women the nation of Israel was redeemed” – then and now.
Rabbi Ohad Teharlev is the director of Israeli programs at Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum Seminary, which has a large program integrating Torah study and army service for young women