Political Correctness Where it Hurts Most – the IDF
Two weeks ago, I wrote that the will to live and thrive is stronger in Israel than in other Western nations. As one of my proofs, I mentioned that political correctness does not trump national security in Israel. For example, the airport security checks employ some form of profiling (whether admitted or not), as a result of which five guys in Kaffiyehs can expect more rigorous scrutiny tha
t a grandmother in a wheelchair.
Those accolades for Israel's common sense approach to national defense were, it would seem, hasty and overlyoptimistic.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) recently announced its intention to integrate women into combat tanks. That decision represents a double-dose of political correctness. Apart from the obvious feminist agenda to prove that anything men can do women can do too, the placement of women in tanks is part of the IDF's effort to de-Judaize the defense forces, and to show the national religious world who's boss.
The national religious now constitute close to half of the junior officer corps. And the tank corps has long been one of the strongest bastions of national religious service. The heads of the various hesder yeshivos, which combine Torah study and military service, will not permit their students to serve in tanks with women soldiers. The IDF, however, is prepared to lose some of its finest soldiers and top commanders from a vital branch of the service in the interest of gender equality.
Indeed it appears that the loss of national religious soldiers is a feature, not a bug, of the IDF's announcement. In subtle, and not so subtle, ways, top IDF brass from Deputy Chief of Staff Yair Golan to former Chief of Staff and Defense Minister Boogie Ya'alon have expressed worries about the growing (religious) nationalism of the army.
Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, the head of Eli, a religious pre-induction academy, reacted sharply to the IDF's announcement. "They enter as Jews, but they are not Jews by the time they leave," he said of women in combat . (It was the second time in a year that Rabbi Levenstein, a former IDF colonel, set off a tempest in Israel by responding to IDF directives that in his eyes make it impossible for religious soldiers to serve or whch undermine Jewish values.)
Surprising support for Levenstein came from Brig.-Gen Avigdor Kahalani, the hero of the Yom Kippur War as commander of the tanks corps on the Golan Heights that fought off a far larger Syrian force . "After fighting in a war, a woman's motherly feelings will not be the same," Kahalani said.
The real question Levenstein and Kahalani are asking is: Can we blithely assume that the desensitization necessary to become a "warrior" trained to face and kill the enemy will have no impact on the nature of women soldiers as nurturers?
Rabbi Levenstein was also referring to Chazal's fear of immorality arising from women fighting alongside men. Those fears have been amply supported by the experience of other countries with gender-integrated forces. During the first Gulf War, for instance, 31% of the female sailors on two U.S. aircraft carriers had to be evacuated from ship because they were pregnant.
BUT EVEN LEAVING ASIDE RELIGIOUS CONCERNS, there is the fundamental question posed by journalist Stephanie Gutmann in the title of her 2001 work on gender integration in the U.S. military, The Kinder, Gentler Military: Can America's Gender-Neutral Fighting Force Still Win Wars? Gutmann's investigations left her very doubtful on that score.
The average woman is five inches shorter, has half the upper body strength, and 37% less muscle mass than her male counterpart. The only way to integrate women into combat units is to dramatically lower standards and the intensity of training. Gutmann reports how "women were allowed to come into basic training at dramatically lower fitness levels and then to climb lower walls, throw [grenades] shorter distances, and carry lighter packs when they got there." "Teamwork" is stressed to cover for women who can't perform standard tasks; "ability groups" accommodate those who can't keep up the pace, and training "time-outs" provide for those who are overtired or overstressed.
The differentials between men and women affect not only training standards, but have real world consequences on the battlefield. In the first Gulf War, men took over taking down tents and loading boxes because most women were incapable of the heavy-lifting required. Few women can carry a male colleague on their backs. Yet the ability to do so can be the difference between life and death for a wounded soldier.
The presence of women in combat units in furtherance of political goals – e.g., a "[military] force that looks like America" in terms of gender, as former President Clinton once put it --
The U.S. military, according to a former woman soldier, took on a "1984, totalitarian feel." Everyone knew someone whose career in the military was destroyed for suggesting that gender integration was not going swimmingly or implying in any way that men and women are not identical.
Gutmann summarizes the United States experiment in gender integration "the [military] brass turned their soldiers over to social planners in love with an unworkable vision of a politically correct utopia, one in which men and women toil side by side, equally good at the same tasks, interchangeable, and, of course, utterly undistracted by [one another's presence]."
The United States a country protected by wide oceans on both sides could perhaps afford such an experiment in social engineering. America's wars are, generally, wars of choice.
Israel, however, has no such margin of error. Its wars are thrust upon it, and of late necessitated by lethal rocket and missile fire at its citizens. Since the Gaza withdrawal, Israel has fought three wars in Gaza. The fighting there is frequently hand-to-hand in close quarters. A failure to put our most highly-trained and physically capable troops into the field there could determine the outcome of the fighting, and at the very least cost more Jewish lives. And the fear of a female soldier falling into the hands of Hamas would constitute a huge distraction, in circumstances requiring complete focus.
It is an experiment that Israel cannot afford. That it is being undertaken at all speaks belies my optimistic description of Israel Jews as retaining a healthy drive for self-preservation.
Rav Moshe's Tears
Ynet, Israel's most widely read on-line news site, took up a subject last week that has been much mooted in these pages recently: the rapid assimilation of the children of Israeli Jews who emigrate to the United States or other Western countries. According to Ynet, the rate of "assimilation," presumably meaning intermarriage, is even higher among children of Israeli emigrants than that among American Jews.
The rate for the former, according to Ynet, is estimated to be 75% or higher. And the article quotes many former Israelis distraught over the fact that it is a matter of complete indifference to their children whether they marry a Jew or not.
Though not discussed in the long Ynet article, there has also developed over the last thirty years a smaller, but significant, phenomenon of Israelis studying or living abroad feeling impelled for the first time to look into Torah Judaism. Arachim has been very active in this area for decades. And more recently, Torah Umesorah has played a role in establishing schools for children of Israeli emigrants in communities with large populations of Israeli-born Jews.
Seven and half years ago, such a school was established in Miami under the auspices of Torah Umesorah. Rabbi Yehuda Kornfeld and his wife Sarah, who were raised in Israel in English-speaking homes, were tapped to get the school off the ground.
All those involved in the project looked to Rav Moshe Shapira, zt"l, as their daas Torah, and Yehuda was sent to speak to Rav Moshe. In the course, of their hour and half conversation, Rav Moshe told him that his first priority must be instilling pride in being Jewish in the students in the school. Without that, he said, it would be impossible to be mekarev them.
At the end of the conversation, Rav Moshe preceded Yehuda to the door. And when he turned around, Yehuda saw that his eyes were filled with tears. Rav Moshe told him, "Every day, there is a train leaving for the death camps." (Previously, that comparison of assimilation to the physical annihilation of European Jews by the Nazis, ym"sh, had been primarily confined to Rabbi Noach Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah.)
Rav Moshe stood in front of the door to his study for a long time before imparting his parting chizuk to Yehuda: "I envy your place in Gan Eden. For undertaking this work, you will be in such a high place that I won't even be able to see you."
Thus, did the leading baal haskafah of the generation convey the urgency of the task of saving our fellow Jews from disappearance through assimilation.