Thompson’s comprehensive paper describes the European case in which countries characterized by strong national identities are coping with differing religious identities in their public spaces such as crosses in classrooms in Italian public schools and the Swiss ban on building minarets on Mosques (Thompson 2019b
The Halacha (Jewish law) prohibits any labour, work, commerce, and transportation on the Sabbath. In Israel there are laws pertaining to the Jewish nature of the public space: Israel’s ‘Work and rest hours’ law’ prohibits the employment of Jews on the Sabbath.
(Jewish law) includes various prohibitions pertaining to contact between men and women. Men are forbidden from looking, hearing the singing voice, and being in a closed room with a woman who is not their wife. Over the last generations, these customs have been expanded and trickled into various public spaces, resulting in separation between men and women on public busses passing through ultra-orthodox neighborhoods, gender separation in academic studies by the establishment of separate programs for groups of ultra-orthodox students, and the demand not to hear women singing in public events (see Karmi and Shapira-Rosenberg 2012
) Women’s singing is very prevalent in the IDF (as will be further described below), and is therefore a challenging issue for some religious soldiers (for more on this see Berman 1980
This case study is the most prominent in a list of identity struggles that include the dispute on joint military service for men and women (Levy 2010
); struggles over the past decade within the IDF between the Education corps and the Military Rabbinate (Cohen et al. 2016
); and the religionization discourse which began in 2010 on the empowerment of religious factors and their influence on the IDF. Yagil Levi’s studies are the most identified with the ‘religionization’ term (see, for instance, Levy 2016
), while Statman
) suggests that the religionization thesis should be rejected (For a discussion on the presence or absence of religionization in the IDF, see for instance Gal and Libel 2012
). Other confrontations, such as stricter terms for growing beards—among the prominent external features of certain religions such as Judaism and Islam (Rosman-Stollman 2005, pp. 26–28, 33
); the struggle for the right to express LGTB identities; and the struggle regarding women’s service in combat positions in the IDF (and specifically in the armoured corps) are only some of the ongoing struggles over the identity of the IDF space.
This paper is based on the author’s Ph.D. dissertation from Bar Ilan University: Umiel-Feldman, Shani—The Confluence of Identities in Public Spheres—New Conceptualizations: Women’s Singing in Religious Zionism. Ph.D. dissertation. Ramat Gan: Bar-Ilan University (2016).
Religious-Zionism is comprised of identity groups differing from each other in their level of religious demands: While Haredi-Leumi/Torani have adopted stricter religious patterns, the Liberal/Modern Orthodox are less strict in following some patterns of the Halacha
(Jewish law), and therefore hold relatively lower levels of identity greediness. Between these two extremes is the silent majority who follow mixed patterns according to circumstances and specific issues (Hermann et al. 2014
Following the events that took place within the IDF, as discussed later in the paper, a survey was published in 2016 regarding trends involving hearing women’s singing in the Religious Zionist sector, showing that a large majority of men in this sector do listen to women’s signing and do not leave events in which women sing (“Let me hear thy voice” 16 Sept. 2016: 20). The data collected illustrate the internal division within religious Zionism into identity groups differing from one another on their level of identity greediness: On one side of the continuum are Orthodox-nationalists, adopting strict halachic behavioral restrictions, while on the other side are liberal religious groups characterized by lower levels of adherence to the Halacha, and therefore a relatively low identity greediness. Between these two poles is a silent majority, characterized by mixed, topical, and circumstantial patterns of behavior (Hermann et al. 2014
In an article published on 2009 in the IDF’s weekly magazine ‘Bamahane’
, the event in which soldiers left events in which women singers took part, as a “situation taking place in unit ceremonies”, noting two cases in which the IDF took no significant action or position towards the soldiers who left the hall (Saar and Kosti 2009
). The reason for this had been apparently the nature of the events, their uniqueness, and the fact that the soldiers in question, who were in reserve and compulsory duty, were soldiers towards whom the system’s level of greediness was relatively low compared to the level of greediness towards cadets in officers’ training course. See more on this in the following pages.
This data corresponds with that of the most updated survey held on this topic (see footnote 8).
Later on, one of the expelled cadets appealed to the Supreme Court, but the latter refused to intervene on the matter.
This included an internal religious discourse on the validity and status of the religious prohibition on hearing women’s singing, and how to deal with the matter.
See footnote number 5.
In Israel, there are “Mehadrin
” bus lines in Haredi (ultra-orthodox) neighborhoods on which women are asked to sit in the rear of the bus due to ‘modesty’ laws (see footnote number 4). These busses are also used by non-Haredi passengers, which often results in confrontations which even reached a Supreme Court resolution (for more on this topic see Karmi and Shapira-Rosenberg 2012
While within the compulsory IDF space recurring rounds of confrontation have been ultimately resolved by orders issued by the Chief of Staff. In other public spaces, such confrontations are elevated to public awareness in specific times of the year such as in the case of municipal memorial ceremonies, where confrontations occur every year during the period of the national commemoration events in May and in October-November. For more on this topic see (Umiel-Feldman 2016, pp. 226–34
For instance—the question of women’s service in combat positions and joint service for women and men.
It should be noted that in Hebrew the term ‘Merhav’ stands for either ‘Sphere’ or ‘Space’ (as in ‘public sphere’ or ‘public space’). However, as mentioned, both forms are used in the literature to describe the physical area. Mitchell
) proposes to view the public area as “space”—a place in which to protest against exclusion from the public sphere. For more on the distinction between sphere and space see (Low 2017
This is in contrast to responses pertaining to more homogenous cultural ‘sphericules’, such as the religious neighborhood, village, or city in which the population is religiously homogenous. In Israel there are ultra-orthodox cities such as Bnei Brak and Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem such as Mea She’arim, which are a public ‘sphericule’. However, a cultural spherical can also be topical, such as a chain of private Muslim schools in France (Hanafi 2019
See footnote numbers 4 & 15.
) defines military institutions in democratic states as “Non-voluntary” and in fact refers in this term to the nature of the military institution, which does not allow the person to partake, for instance, in recreational activities that extend beyond the structured and busy military schedule routine. Thus, if the public space fails to provide religious services to those in it, this would be perceived as if the public space prohibits any religious activity within its borders. Hence, Perez points to the level of greediness asserted by the public space on its participants (see below), while the typology presented in the present paper distinguishes between the obligation to be in the public space and the greedy nature asserted over participants—as two distinct dimensions.
Examples of other types of binding public spaces will be presented in future studies, in preparation.
Essential spaces are those which are essential for daily life, such as hospitals, or government agencies such as Income Tax that provide irreplaceable services.
Note that what I refer to as ‘the Symbolic sphere’ differs from other concepts pertaining to symbolism, religion, and public space. Gavrilovic and Dordevic
) describe how religion takes over the secular space by symbolic means such as the use of the educational system and immersion of patriarchic approaches in society. The symbolic space. which is part of the model presented in this paper. is in itself the symbol and therefore potential ground for confrontation over the limits of its identity. For instance, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, perceived as a unique and sacred place, is the focus of an extensive identity struggle for its definition (Jobani and Perez 2014
This conclusion corresponds with that of Perez
), who believes that in order to protect soldiers’ religious freedom within the military framework and to allow them to pray and practice their religion, the army must provide them with due space and time as well as accessibility to religious personnel and means such as prayer books.
For instance, restaurants, cinemas, parks, or a street used for walking, running, etc. It would be problematic to say that we could make do without any recreational or entertainment activities. However, in comparison to the purpose of other spaces and in relation to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it would be possible to make do without them if they collided with other identity needs of the individual. The voluntary dimension is also expressed in a wide range of public spaces of this type.
On the topic of the two populations that are exempt from military service in Israel, Smooha and Lechtman
) argue that obligatory service for all Arab Israeli citizens is perceived as ‘crossing a red line’, while Bick
) believes that in a scenario in which service of ultra-orthodox women would be obligatory, this population would initiate civil disobedience steps.
In the model presented in the paper, military demandingness is expressed in the term ‘identity greediness of the public space’ while religious greediness is expressed in the term ‘identity greediness of the individuals or groups towards the public space’.
Thompson believes it is important to limit the ability of a nation to express religion within the public spaces of its society. In the terms of our model, he believes in the need to limit the identity greediness of the space towards its inhabitants.
In this context, it is worthwhile to mention the term Multi Faith Spaces (MFSs)—such as common prayers areas for different religions (Biddington 2013
) and neutral cemeteries (Bobrowicz 2018
) as a solution for the question of the daily practice of using the public spaces. In a broader sense, the term pertains to integrated neighborhoods that include individuals practicing different religions, as well as non-religious individuals (Prideaux 2019
The choice of separate identity groups such as ultra-orthodox Jews in Israel to create homogenous ‘sphericules’ for their daily use shows that they perceive contact with other groups as threatening to their identity.
At the same time, the terms and the model may also be implemented to non-religious identities such as ethnic identities, national, feminist, or LGTB (for further information see Umiel-Feldman 2016
In this context is should be noted that seemingly objective measures distinguishing between duty and preference are problematic, as it is difficult to ascribe identity rules from the outside, to persons holding a given identity. There are Muslim women who wear a hijab or Burqa because it is a religious law (Medina 2014: 880–82
) even if other Muslim women would describe it as a preference (Hass and Lutek 2019, pp. 6–7
An interesting example of such identity greediness in the compulsory IDF space is the integration of the Black Hebrews of Dimona in the IDF, despite the fact that their identity practices demand special dietary needs, uniforms made of a different cloths than the IDF uniform, and more (Esensten 2019
According to Haynes
), religion refuses to come to terms with its designated role in the private sphere.
Our case study of women’s singing has also included space forming demands such as the avoidance of forming mixed gender combat units. However, such demands are outside the scope of the current discussion.
High or low levels of confrontation are measured in the context of what is common and accepted in a certain society. High level confrontation may be expressed in physical confrontation in the public spaces themselves (such as in the case of the riots in France around the Burqa Ban) or confrontations taking place in the public sphere (in Habermas’ terms) and their level would be compared to other confrontations in a given society: The duration of the confrontation, its scope and the extend of expressions of polarization derived from it.
With the exception of individuals and groups who are excluded from it by law.
Orthodox-nationalists are a social-religious group that is part of religious-Zionism having adopted stricter religious patterns, similarly to ultra-Orthodox groups.
The arrangement allows Yeshiva students to postpone their enlistment in the IDF, subject to studying the Tora for 45 weekly hours and not working, with due adjustments based on the candidate’s age and number of children. In reality, many ultra-orthodox Jews do not enlist in the IDF at all, or do so only for a short four month service. According to amendment 21 to the Conscription Law, if by 2023 the target quota of ultra-orthodox soldiers is not filled, the ‘Torato Umanuto’ (“Torah study is their occupation”) arrangement would be revoked and the deferment of their service would be at the discretion of the ministry of Defense based on the government’s conscription targets (See Security Service Law, Amendment 21
). This issue has been widely deliberated by all Israeli governments in the past decade, causing numerous coalition disputes and crises.
This is based on the concept of the politics of arrangement—by which mutual concessions and negotiations take place, and a compromise is reached until the next crisis that again changes the arrangement plan, and so forth (Don-Yehiya 1999
See footnote number 44.
There is a difference between the ban on facial covering in many European countries such as France, Holland, Denmark, and others, which relies mainly on security and safety arguments, and the ban on wearing religious characteristics such as the hijab—a head cover that does not cover the entire face—which exists mainly in France, with similar controversies taking place in other countries as well, especially in the context of essential and obligatory public spaces.
This is true even if the nature of the event is clearly characteristic of the distinct culture. The general atmosphere of threat to the hegemonic identity results in attempts to change the nature of events pertaining to distinct identity groups. In Israel, gender separation events intended for the religious and ultra-religious populations have been cancelled due to public opposition to gender separation (see, for instance: Lior 2019
) and in some cases the dilemma reached the Supreme Court (Shpigel 2019