Thursday, March 22, 2007

Women in the Army

Should women serve in the army? In theory, assuming that there was an army that was entirely accomodating to the religious woman's needs, would a woman be obligated to serve in the army?

Ostensibly, this would seem to be a matter of debate between the Rambam and Sefer Ha-Chinukh regarding an obligatory war, which the Rambam elsewhere defines as a war against Amalek, the seven Canaanite nations or to defend Jews. The Chinukh (603) writes that women are not obligated to remember what Amalek did to the Jewish because it is tied to fighting Amalek, which is a task for men and not women. Similarly, he writes (525) that the obligation not to fear an enemy during war is only on men, because they are the ones who do the fighting. Clearly, the Chinukh is of the view that women do not fight in wars, including the obligatory war against Amalek.

Click here to read moreHowever, the Rambam writes in Sefer Ha-Mitzvos (introduction at the end of shoresh 14) that women do not fight in optional wars. The implication seems to be that they are only exempt from optional wars but they do fight in obligatory wars.

The Minchas Chinukh (525:1, 603:3) argues on the Chinukh based on the Mishnah in Sotah (44b) states that during a time of mandatory war a bride and groom leave their chupah. If a bride leaves her chupah (wedding canopy), then surely she fights in the war.

Others, however, counter that the Gemara (Nazir 59a) states that a woman may not carry weapons because they are considered "men's clothes". Additionally, the Gemara in Kiddushin (2b) states that it is not the "way" of women to wage war. If they were obligated in fighting a war, wouldn't it be considered their "way" and shouldn't they be allowed to carry weapons? R. Shlomo Wahrman (She'eiris Yosef vol. 5 no. 38 p. 212) quotes R. Eliezer Silver as saying that whenever the Gemara explains that it is not the "way" for something to be done, it really means that it is prohibited to do so (see there). Therefore, women would be forbidden to fight in an obligatory war.

Regarding the Mishnah in Sotah, that a bride leaves her chupah, many point to the Radbaz (Hilkhos Melakhim 7:4) who explains that Mishnah in two ways: 1) Since the groom has to leave to go to war, there is therefore no chupah left. The bride's leaving the chupah is so the groom will go fight the war. 2) The bride goes off to war to prepare food and drink for her husband, but not to fight (cf. the glosses of the Rashash, ad loc.).

R. Chanokh Agus (Marcheshes vol. 1 22:6) suggests that women are not obligated to fight in war, per se, but they are obligated to settle the land of Israel. Any war that is necessary to fulfill that commandment is, therefore, also obligatory on them. But they are exempt from other wars, such as that against Amalek. However, most other authorities argue that women are exempt from all wars.

R. Yosef Kafach, in his edition of Sefer Ha-Mitzvos (p. 56 n. 54), argues that even the Rambam agrees that women are not commanded to fight in an obligatory war. He points out that in manuscripts of Rambam's commentary to the Mishnah (Kiddushin 1:7, see R. Kafach's edition of it) he writes that women are not obligated to fight the war against Amalek. Clearly, Rambam also holds that women are not commanded to fight in an obligatory war.

Therefore, many have reached the conclusion that women are not obligated to fight in any war. Cf. R. Eliezer Waldenberg, Hilkhos Medinah vol. 2 3:6; R. Shlomo Goren, Toras Ha-Moadim (1992 edition) pp. 195-198; R. Yosef Kafach, ibid.; R. Shlomo Wahrman, ibid.

One more thing needs to be said. None of the above means to imply that a woman is not allowed to defend herself when and if this is needed. If there is no one else to fight for her, then no one would require her to just sit and let herself be attacked. The only question is when there is an existing army -- whether women should be called to the army or just men. And the halakhah seems to be that -- even in an ideal religious environment -- women should not be fighting in a Jewish army.

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