01/10/2012 04:16 pm ET Updated Mar 11, 2012

Israel Military Rabbi Quits Over Ultra-Orthodox Comments

JERUSALEM, Jan 10 (Reuters) - A top Israeli military rabbi resigned on Tuesday after making comments that appeared to condone allowing ultra-Orthodox troops to avoid contact with women, which stirred debate over the sway of religion in the Jewish state.

The ultra-Orthodox make up some 10 percent of Israel's population and the secular majority often chafes at their welfare benefits and electoral clout.

Secular Jews have complained about the spread of ascetic practices such as sexually-segregated buses. Anger boiled over last month after an 8-year-old girl complained of being spat on by men who deemed her dress immodest.

The ultra-Orthodox are routinely exempted from conscription, but a small number, in the low thousands, have been persuaded to volunteer for the armed forces.

To accommodate devout troops, the military had quietly excused some from attending mandatory functions when women were present. When the practice drew attention, chief of staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz announced on Army Radio that full attendance would be enforced.

Lieutenant-Colonel Moshe Ravad, chief air force chaplain, who was in charge of enlisting ultra-Orthodox Jews, said last week he feared for the volunteers' "piety". His comments, leaked to the media, were widely interpreted as a rejection of the orders requiring soldiers to attend mixed-sex events.

In an online newsletter, the military said Ravad "apologised for the way in which his view was made public in recent days" and tendered his early resignation to the air force commander, who reprimanded the rabbi for his conduct. (Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Peter Graff)