The Rabbi who calls on religious women to serve in the IDF
Rabbi Teharlev encourages women to study Talmud and to take on meaningful positions in the IDF, and even to stay on as a career soldier. “It is only right that we change our perspective on girls who decide to serve in the army.”
By Chanan Greenwald – 4 October, 2018 (Translated from Hebrew)
Rabbi Ohad Teharlev, head of Ohr Torah Stone’s Midreshet Lindenbaum, an institute championing both Torah learning as well as military service for religious women, is convinced that the number of women recruits will continue to rise as more young women learn in midrashot (Torah institutes for women). In an interview given to Yisrael HaYom in the wake of the recently reported boost in the number of religious girls joining the IDF through the midrashot track, Rabbi Teharlev says the trend will only continue to grow.
“For thousands of years women did not take responsibility for their own religious world. Instead of being initiators, they were led by others, and all they could do was sit passively and wait. However, today we are witness to a new type of woman, one who takes initiative and actively builds her own religious world. When we see how the world of Torah has developed, and that there are women here today who are even learning to become morot hora’ah (licensed to decide upon matters of Jewish law), and many others who have come very far in programs for overseas students as well as in the Israeli programs – there is nothing more gratifying.”
On the eve of Yom Kippur, hundreds of women attended a graduates’ selichot event and made it very clear that Torah learning for women is nothing short of a revolution. Approximately 250 young women started the academic year in the three Midreshet Lindenbaum branches, operating under the auspices of the Ohr Torah Stone network, and thus joined the school’s 3,000 graduates over almost three decades of activity. The young women learn Talmud and Torah in the Midrasha, and 95% of them later serve in the army, holding significant positions.
“Something has definitely happened. In historical terms, of course, it is a very short time, but if anything has changed rapidly in our generation, it is definitely the status of women, especially in the Jewish world and the world of Torah learning. It’s actually quite fascinating and it gives me tremendous pleasure to see our graduates in different places taking responsibility for their own religious world. But what is even more gratifying is that I really do meet them everywhere,” says Rabbi Teharlev.
Religious Zionism must take to some soul-searching
Midreshet Lindenbaum takes great pride in the fact that it was one of the first places to promote profound and orderly Talmud studies for women. “The first pioneer women, who started this revolution and set forth on this new way, are now paving the road for young religious women and clearly demonstrate that it is possible to combine Torah study with army service.” Rabbi Teharlev is certain this trend will continue. “What I wish for us all is that we continue to disseminate Torah and glorify it. I would like to see the halls filled with women learning Torah; currently there are still not enough. Many women out there have the ability to study Torah, and I am looking forward to the day that Torah study for women will be the default rather than a novelty.”
It is also his opinion that profound study of Talmud in the midrashot, in conjunction with army service, will solve the prevalent situation in which youngsters from the National-Religious community forsake their religious way of life. We have been witness to some heated debates in the past year, both within the community and beyond, concerning the place of religious women in the beit midrash and the IDF, and Rabbi Teharlev is convinced that the Religious Zionist community must engage in introspection.
“I believe some serious soul-searching must take place. I recently read that Rabbi Eli Sadan published a piece in Makor Rishon about the need for real soul-searching on the part of the Religious Zionist community in light of the fact that a third of its youth has forsaken the community and left the religious world. I think what is happening in the midrashot is one of the solutions to this problem. It’s time all those who took a critical view of the girls who decided to join the army change their lenses and view what they are doing in a positive light. Furthermore, we must create a reality in which Torah is relevant so that people do not feel there is a dissonance between what is on the inside and what is on the outside; nor should they feel alienated as a result. I think this is one of our secrets to success: the way in which we teach Mishna, Torah and education and how we make it all relevant to the current reality.”
In his view, the trend of women serving in the IDF and learning Torah will only grow in the coming years. “One is dependent on the other. And it is no coincidence that both of these topics were publicly debated in the past year. I am sure that the discussions held on these issues exposed both the girls and their parents to a more profound understanding of the matter. I also think the public debate evolving around these issues contributed greatly to the girls themselves and their reasons for choosing this track, and I therefore believe we will see a further rise in the number of girls who choose to study in midrashot, learn Talmud and continue their studies in halakha tracks, as well as those who serve in the IDF and choose to remain in permanent and meaningful military positions.”