The role played by female soldiers on the front lines during the last decade reflects the incredible shift in attitude regarding women and war. It is therefore of great interest to examine the Jewish view of women and war.

There is no question that the Torah perceives war as a masculine activity. The census commanded by God in the Torah requires “a head count of every male … From twenty years old and upwards, all who are fit to go out to the army in Israel” (Numbers 1:2-3). The sages even state that “It is the way of a man to make war and not the way of a woman” (Talmud Kiddushin 2b). they also say, “How do we know that a woman should not go to war bearing arms? Scripture (Deuteronomy 22:5) says, ‘A woman shall not wear that [garment, meaning weapons] which is worn by men’” (Talmud Nazir 59a).

At the same time, the Mishna is quoted stating that when it comes to an obligatory war (a war commanded by the Torah, as opposed to an optional war) even “…the bride from her bridal canopy” must go to war (Talmud Sotah 44b). This might be a reference to active combat, but it could also be interpreted as referring to a supporting role, as women in the Torah are often the power behind the scene.

And yet, before one categorically proclaims that the Torah does not encourage women in the military, it should be remembered that the Torah celebrates the lives and achievements of women such as Deborah and Yael, whose combined efforts on the front lines led to the defeat of the Canaanite general Sisera.

Jewish Treats salutes all the women and men who serve in the armed forces of their countries.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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