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Hear no evil September 14, 2011

Posted by Ezra Resnick in Equality, Religion.

Four (male) cadets have been dismissed from the Israeli Military’s officer training academy for walking out of a commemorative ceremony. Why did they walk out? Because the event included women singing solo, and the cadets’ religious beliefs forbid them from hearing such things. The matter has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

So, should the military allow religious soldiers to skip a ceremony if attending goes against their faith? Phrased that way, the answer must automatically be no: granting special privileges exclusively to religious people discriminates against the nonreligious. “Freedom of Religion” doesn’t mean that we must allow people to do anything their religion tells them to do; it means that everyone shall be treated equally, regardless of their religion (or lack thereof). The rule “all soldiers must attend official ceremonies, except for religious soldiers” is just as discriminatory as the rule “all soldiers may apply for officer training, except for religious soldiers.” If the military is entitled to require its personnel to attend certain ceremonies, then no one should get a pass merely because of their religious beliefs.

Of course, sometimes it is reasonable to allow exceptions to a rule due to special circumstances, such as medical reasons: an epileptic soldier could be exempted from participating in ceremonies that include flashing lights, for instance. But again, all such exceptions should apply to religious and nonreligious individuals equally: religious people’s preferences do not deserve special consideration merely because they are religious. If some soldier wants to claim that hearing women sing gives him an uncontrollable urge to commit rape, that’s one thing (though such a person needs professional help and shouldn’t be in the military to begin with); but merely saying “that’s what my religion tells me to do” is not a reason that deserves any special consideration.

Some may say: Why make a mountain out of a molehill? Can’t we show some flexibility for the sake of social cohesion and harmony? Can’t we respect other people’s beliefs, even if we disagree with them? But this conflict has far-reaching implications, and must be confronted head-on. The general problem is that religion (like all dogma) causes well-intentioned people to do morally repugnant things, while thinking they are doing good. The dismissed cadets are certain that they occupy the moral high-ground, since they are obeying God’s will; but the worldview that is actually promoted by their actions is one where women are considered impure vehicles of temptation and sin, to be controlled by men (who apparently cannot control themselves). Needless to say, this view is baseless and dysfunctional, and must be unequivocally opposed. The cadets need to understand that refusing to hear a woman sing just because she is a woman indicates a moral failing, comparable to shunning blacks or gays. The fact that such bigotry is supported by religious beliefs doesn’t make it any more respectable — it merely discredits those beliefs.

If you don’t get this, I don’t want you leading an army.


1. Ophelia Benson - September 14, 2011

And for the reasons you indicate, respecting beliefs in that way would not promote harmony and social cohesion; on the contrary it would undermine it. The women are part of the equation too, after all, and it’s insulting to them for men to walk out because they are performing.

2. Ophelia Benson - September 14, 2011

Oh, and the story (now that I’ve looked!) says they walked out in protest – that makes it much worse. That means not “we should be excused” but “they shouldn’t be allowed to sing.” Fuck that.

3. You could tell the story in your sleep | Butterflies and Wheels - September 14, 2011

[…] Ezra Resnick. Share this:FacebookTwitterEmailPrint Posted in Notes and Comment Blog Tags: Misogyny « […]

4. yossi - September 15, 2011

Your leaving out an important issue. Israel is not just like any other country. Israel was founded as a JEWISH State. For many Jews, Judaism has to do with the Jewish religion/Halacha. These soldiers are making a point that Jews should not be forced to violate Halacha in a “jewish” state.

Ezra Resnick - September 15, 2011

First of all, I don’t care what Israel was “founded as” — I care about what’s right. But besides being a Jewish state, Israel is supposed to be a democracy, committed to the rule of law and to the equality of Jews and non-Jews, religious and nonreligious alike. As I argued above, this requires that no one be given special exemptions from the rules just because of their religious beliefs. And thankfully, Israeli law is not constrained by halacha. Some Israelis believe that halacha forbids relinquishing a single hilltop in the land of Israel to non-Jews; some Israelis believe that halacha forbids public parking lots from operating on Saturdays; some Israelis believe that halacha requires public transportation to be gender-segregated; and so on and so forth. So what? I expect our public policy to be based on reason — and “my religion says so” does not constitute a valid reason.

5. yossi - September 15, 2011

You are going off from the point. I did not assert that Israel ought to be goverend by Halacha. I suggested that perhaps a Jewish state should not FORCE it’s citizens to violate halacha. I don’t believe for a minute that there was no alternative to this situation.

Ezra Resnick - September 15, 2011

But Israel does force citizens to violate what they consider halacha, whenever there is a good reason for doing so — as in the examples I cited above (evacuating settlements, desegregating buses, etc). I don’t know what “alternative” you have in mind, but religious dogma must not be allowed to trump the values of democracy and equality.

yossi - September 15, 2011

The examples you cited are NOT clear-cut halachot. Kol Isha is a clear halacha with sources in the Gemara. You would have done better to cite that fact that religious soldiers are, under certain circumstances, required to fight on Shabbat.

Perhaps these soldiers could have been given an option to not attend a gathering which involved violating halacha. There’s no life threatening situation involved.

The attitude you are taking appears to be a good example of why religious people don’t necessarily feel that they have a stake in Israeli society.

Ezra Resnick - September 15, 2011

It doesn’t matter what the source of your beliefs is: I don’t care if you got them from the Talmud or from the Torah or from the mouth of God himself. All beliefs are to be evaluated based on their merits: either you have reasonable justification for your position or you do not. If not, your position doesn’t deserve any special consideration. And to give privileged status to religious demands is discriminatory and therefore unacceptable (it’s irrelevant whether or not the situation is life-threatening).

In this case, the cadets’ request sends a message — about the value of women and their place in society — that goes against values we consider paramount. What would you say if a soldier refused to attend a military event just because there are women in the audience? Or blacks? Or gays?

If standing up for equality and democracy makes some people feel they don’t “have a stake in Israeli society,” so be it. I am fighting for the kind of society I think is right, the kind of society I want to live in.

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