(Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF is opening the first all-female border defense platoon for religious women.

By Pesach Benson, United With Israel

The Israeli Defense Forces plans to open a unique female-only border defense platoon for religious servicewomen who want to serve in combat units but do not wish to serve alongside with men. According to a report by Kan News and confirmed by the Times of Israel, the platoon’s first conscripts will come in March from women in other mixed-gender border defense units.

Kan reported that the idea was first raised by the heads of several national-religious women’s seminaries where many women study before continuing on to the IDF.

The heads of the seminaries said many of their students want to serve in combat units, but the mixed-gender units raise too many challenges for women observing tzniut, Jewish modesty laws. Issues addressed by tzniut include modest clothing, physical contact between unrelated men and women, and seclusion.

Religious men can already request to serve in male-only units.

The IDF’s Border Defense Corps currently has four mixed-gender infantry units that primarily work against the smuggling of drugs and weapons along Israel’s borders with Egypt and Jordan.

The women-only platoon faces its share of critics, however. Some argue that women in military service is itself a violation of Jewish modesty. Others describe it — similar to the first mixed gender units — as a risky social experiment, or an unacceptable lowering of lowering of the IDF’s standards.

According to research by Idit Shafran Gittleman, the director of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Military and Society Program, women today make up about 40 percent of the IDF’s conscript soldiers and about 25% of the officer corps.

Women have served in the IDF ever since Israel’s founding in 1948. During the early years of the state, they served as nurses, office workers and teachers. It wasn’t until 1995 that opportunities for women changed dramatically when activist Alice Miller successfully sued for the right to enroll in a prestigious pilot’s course.

“For all practical purposes, the court’s ruling ordered the IDF to integrate women into its ranks not only as a function of defense and security needs, but also based on the commitment to the principle of equality,” said Gittleman.

Women are permitted to opt out of military conscription for religious reasons and instead serve in a national volunteer service called Sherut Leumi.

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