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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter June 28, 2016

Synagogue and State in the Israeli Military: A Story of “Inappropriate Integration”

  • Karin Carmit Yefet EMAIL logo


The encounter between synagogue and state in Israel’s military context raises a variety of complex questions that defy conventional paradigms. While religious liberty continues to occupy a special place in most liberal democratic thought, the legal and philosophical literature pondering its various dimensions has largely lost analytic sight of the fascinating intersection of military and religion. This article embarks on analyzing the appropriate integration between loyalty to God and to country, and between religious male and secular female soldiers. Evaluating examples of synagogue-state tensions and accommodationist policies, this article explores the manner and extent to which the Israeli military (IDF) responds to the observant soldier’s multiple identities as a religious minority member and a faithful citizen of the larger secular polity. Against this backdrop, the article analyzes the vexed challenges posed to multicultural theory by the equivocal status of the Orthodox community as a numerical minority but “power majority” within the military, and by the IDF’s unique exercise of multiculturalist protection, termed herein “external restrictions,” imposed on majority group members. It concludes that the ongoing “religionization” of the IDF through the 2002 “Appropriate Integration” regulation has served as a powerful counterforce to gender equality, fostering a growing practice of female exclusion through which women are disenfranchised from core, non-negotiable protections of citizenship. The article identifies as the prime casualty of this aggressive multicultural accommodation not only secular women’s hard-won equality of opportunity, but also the very rights and status of minority women within their own religious community.


I wish to extend my deep gratitude to the participants and audience at the “Public Religions, Private Communities, and Human Rights” workshop for their helpful comments, particularly Ayelet Shachar, Kenneth Lasson, Yofi Tirosh, and Meital Pinto. Special thanks to Avishalom Westreich for being such a thoughtful commentator and to Gila Stopler for her important and thought-provoking suggestions and for her scholarship on multiculturalism−which greatly inspired this research project. Last but not least, my deep gratitude to Shulamit Almog and Yagil Levy for challenging deliberations with me over the liberal and feminist problems inherent in the Appropriate Integration Regulation. I also wish to thank my talented research assistants, Gal Amir, Lior Frank, and Sigal Vantsovsky for their invaluable help and Laura Femino for her excellent editorial work. This research was generously supported by a grant from the Ministry of Science, Technology & Space of the State of Israel.

Published Online: 2016-6-28
Published in Print: 2016-5-1

© 2016 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston

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