Jewish women have a proud warrior tradition going back millennia. In the Hebrew Bible, female Jewish fighters such as Deborah, Yael, and Yehudit fought very bravely for Israel. During the time of the Judges, Deborah, as Israel’s only female judge, played a decisive role in the defeat of the Canaanites after summoning her general Barak to take ten thousand men to battle at Mount Tabor. Upon Barak’s request, she accompanied Barak into battle and prophesized that Sisero will be delivered into the hand of a woman. A woman named Yael realized this prophesy when she beheaded the Canaanite military leader Sisero as he slept in her tent, thus giving the ancient Israelites a victory. In a later period in history, Yehudit would behead the Assyrian General Holofernes, another enemy of Israel, as he slept.
During the Holocaust, Jewish women also fought for the defense of the Jewish people. In 1943, Hannah Szenes volunteered to parachute herself into Nazi-occupied Europe in order to fight the Nazis and assist European Jewry. She was one of 5,000 Jewish women who lived in Israel who decided to join the British Army with the goal of fighting the Nazis. For three months, Szenes fought alongside Yugolsvian partisans led by Joseph Tito, yet was martyred by the Nazis after entering into Hungary. In the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, women also played a prominent role in the fighting. One brave Jewish woman, Zivia Lubetkin, was in the High Command of the Jewish underground resistance fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto and she survived the war. Her granddaughter would become Israel’s first female air force pilot.
Given such history, it is no coincidence that Jewish women have been proudly serving in the Israel Defense Forces since it was established and also participated prior to that in the various Jewish militias that fought successfully for an independent Jewish state in the Holy Land. Examples of these brave women include but are not limited to Juli Torenberg-Elasar, who fought unsuccessfully to free the Jews of the Old City of Jerusalem, who were under siege until the Jordanians conquered the area; Nelli Langsfelder, who served in the eighth battalion of the IDF during Israel’s War of Independence; and Shulamit Slonim Pollack, who successfully fought alongside the men in the battle for Jaffa.
Israel is the only country in the entire planet that conscripts both men and women into the armed services, thus demonstrating how advanced Israel is when it comes to promoting gender equality. In Israel, most women between the ages of 18 and 20 serve in the IDF. The only exceptions are women who are married or who are religious. Yet still, many of Israel’s religious women still serve the country in the national service, by working in hospitals, educational institutions, etc. Many of them too have a desire to contribute to the country.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, “the IDF considers equality a leading ethic and incorporates women in almost every mission.” 92 percent of the positions within the IDF are open to women. Presently, women make up 33 percent of the IDF and eight times as many are serving in the IDF reserves. Female soldiers with the rank of colonel grew by 100 percent, from 2 percent in 1999 to 4 percent today. The percentage of Israeli women with the rank of lieutenant has grown by 70 percent, from 7.3 percent in 1999 to 12.5 percent today. As IDF Sergeant Yael Kelly stated, “We don’t have to constantly prove ourselves as equals to guys. We are treated the same. We are equal.”
By Rachel Avraham