The controversy over law exempting women from military service on religious grounds has intensified in Israel.
Dr. Zvi Werblowsky, professor of parative religion at the Hebrew University, has announced he is leading a movement on several campuses to bar women students from taking examinations unless they had completed military service.
In addition, a geoup of non-religiously observant secular Jewish women in the army reserve recently began a hunger strike outside the Israeli Knesset to protest the military exemptions accorded by observant Orthodox Jewish women.
The protesters complained that a law has allowed 27 percent of the women eligible for two years' scription to avoid it by asserting that it was incompatible with their religious principles.
Last year, after one of the most heated debates in its history, the Knesset passed the controversial law exempting religious women from military service without a tribunal examination.
Under Israel's old conscription law, in operation for 23 years, women were entitled to exemption on religious grounds. But they were required to appear before a special tribunal and undergo a rigorous oral examination of their knowledge of Jewish tenets, customs and rituals.
Orthodox rabbis objected to this system because, they contended, some genuinely religious women failed the examination simply because their knowledge was insufficient.
Under the current legislation, there are no tribunal examinations. A declaration by a woman that her religious convictions prompt her to object to military service, sworn to before a civil or rabbinical court, is accepted as sufficient to secure an examption.
The drafting of women into the military has long vexed Israel's Orthodox Jews. Some Orthodox elders, including the Council of Sages, a body of rabbis revered for their piety and knowledge of the Talmud, have gone so far as to assert that service of women in the armed forces is "a horrendous violation to which death should be preferred."
Orthodox rabbis have interpreted the Biblical injunction that "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man... for whosoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord" as prohibiting women from wearing men's service clothing and carrying weapons.