The High Court of Justice froze the appointment of Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim to the position of IDF chief rabbi on Monday, and demanded a clear statement on his position regarding a contentious point of Jewish law.
The interim decision was issued in response to a petition in July by Meretz MKs opposed to Karim’s nomination, asking the court to halt the appointment, owing to comments he made on issues of Jewish law related to the IDF and military service.
Later that day, the IDF canceled an induction ceremony scheduled for Karim, due to the ruling.
Following the ruling, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman backed Karim during a Yisrael Beytenu Knesset faction meeting, saying Karim was a “worthy” appointment to IDF chief rabbi.
The ruling caused outrage among religious-Zionist politicians and rabbis. Bayit Yehudi chairman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett insisted it was not within the High Court’s authority to intervene in IDF appointments, while Deputy Defense Minister Eli Ben-Dahan stood fully behind the appointment.
Meretz leader MK Zehava Gal-On welcomed the court’s intervention, however, saying Karim’s record of rulings should preclude him from assuming the post.
In 2003, before Karim served in the IDF, he was asked on the national-religious news site and forum Kipa, as part of an “Ask the Rabbi” column, how the Torah could condone the rape of non-Jewish women by Jewish soldiers in times of war. He explained the Torah’s rationale for such action historically, but did not explicitly state that it is forbidden in modern times.
This answer was seized upon by a blogger in 2012 and created a media stir at the time, with claims that Karim had given IDF soldiers sanction to rape women.
Karim then issued a clarification on Kipa that said: “Obviously, the Torah never permitted the rape of women,” and that the biblical verse in Deuteronomy about female captives was meant to prevent rape during wartime.
““It is clear that in our times, in which the world has progressed to an ethical state in which one does not marry female captives, it is certain that this law cannot be utilized, and further, that it totally contradicts the values and regulations of the army,” he wrote.
In other rulings and comments: Karim compared homosexuals to ill or disabled people; said homosexuals should fight against their sexual orientation; said women could not give legal testimony because they are “too sensitive”; and said an injured suicide terrorist should be killed.
Following these revelations, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot summoned Karim for a hearing to explain his position on these issues.
After clarifications from Karim and a meeting with the chief of staff, Eisenkot said he was satisfied that Karim was suitable for the job, although he took exception to the way the rabbi formulated some of his comments.
However, in a hearing on Monday, the High Court justices expressed dissatisfaction with the way the appointment was handled, and with the clarifications issued by Karim.
Justice Neal Hendel said that it was insufficient for the attorney representing Karim and the Defense Ministry to say in court that Karim would not condone rape, and said that “he needs to prepare a declaration where [he] will address the issue directly.”
Hendel said of Karim, “He needs to decide where he stands. We want to hear what he really says, we need to know his position. That is all we are asking at this point.”
The attorney for the rabbi and the Defense Ministry said that a declaration would be submitted in response to the request within two days.
High Court President Miriam Naor presided over the case, and said a hearing for a final ruling would follow after Karim submitted the declaration.
A source close to Karim noted that the rabbi made the rulings in question 14 years ago, when he was not in the army, and that his rulings were issued in reply to questions regarding Jewish law.
“The attempt to take these things out of their original context is an attempt to erase foundational principles of the Bible and Jewish Halacha,” the source said, using the term for Jewish religious law.
“Rabbi Karim has explicitly clarified – many times – that there are Jewish laws that are not in practice in our times... and the rabbi has clarified that rape is an illegitimate action that is not permitted. The rabbi recognizes the diversity that exists among IDF soldiers and the important contribution that every soldier, male and female, makes to the IDF, regardless of their sexual inclination, or the community or nationality they belong to.”
Following the decision, numerous critics of the court insisted it had no right to intervene on such appointments.
Professor Yedidya Stern, head of the Israel Democracy Institute’s religion and state project and dean of the law faculty at Bar-Ilan University, noted that the High Court can intervene regarding certain appointments of the executive branch of government, and those made by the IDF.
According to Stern, if the court believes an appointment is unreasonable and disproportionate to the possible harm caused to the values of the state as a Jewish and democratic country, or will harm public trust in the institution in question, then it may intervene on such decisions.
In reaction to the decision, Bennett insisted that the High Court lacked authority to appoint “neither the chief of staff, the defense minister, nor the IDF chief rabbi,” adding sarcastically that it appeared “the High Court justices have decided they know better than the IDF chief of staff in appointing commanders.”
Ben-Dahan made similar comments, saying that the High Court “is unable to rein itself in,” and had no authority to intervene.
The Tzohar Rabbinical Council expressed its opposition to the High Court’s decision, saying it was the role of a rabbi “to adjudicate based on his insights and knowledge of Torah matters. The decision of who to appoint as IDF chief rabbi should not be based on where he lives or his personal opinions. In our judgment, it would be prudent for the Supreme Court to review any intent to nullify his appointment.”
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev denounced the High Court’s decision and described it as “gross intervention,” saying the court had “capitulated” to the extreme Left.
“This represents a severe injury to Israeli democracy, to the State of Israel, to the IDF and to its commanders,” said Yogev. “This is a war of the judicial authority against the elected authorities, executive and legislative. I trust that the IDF and its commanders and the defense minister will know how to defend our existence. Our mission is to halt the gross intervention of the High Court and to restore democracy and the values of the Jewish people to the State of Israel.”
Gal-On welcomed the ruling however, saying that there would be “terrible consequences” if Karim was appointed, and that the decisions “will prevent the institution of IDF chief rabbi falling into the hands of a homophobe, racist, and xenophobe.
This is an important, senior and sensitive post of a public nature. The outrageous comments of Karim simply preclude his appointment.”Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.