Rabbi Yigal Levenstein.
(photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)
Rabbi Yigal Levenstein, the head of a pre-military academy in Eli who made anti-gay comments in a speech two weeks ago, said in a formal letter of clarification to the Defense Ministry that his comments were misinterpreted.
The rabbi did not however apologize or retract his remarks.
In a speech at a rabbinical conference earlier this month Levenstein said he referred to gay people as “perverts,” and that he had prevented lectures by “perverts” at the IDF officers Bahad 1 training school on issues of tolerance and respect toward the LGBT community.
He also claimed that officer cadets were forced to watch “films on the issue where they present the lifestyle of perverts,” under threat of court marital if they declined to watch it, and said Reform Judaism was a branch of Christianity.
His comments were denounced my several senior political leaders, and senior figures in the IDF and defense ministry, as well as gay rights groups and other public figures.
In his letter to Defense Ministry director-general Maj.-Gen (res.) Udi Adam on Tuesday, Levenstein said that his words “were interpreted by many in a way that I had not intended them, as if I was requesting to exclude some part or other of the population from the IDF, or to harm the value of fellowship that we all believe in.”
The rabbi continued, “Everyone has their place in the IDF, regardless of their background, world view, or personal orientations.”
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Levenstein said his speech had been intended as a protest at what he saw as “an attempt to drag the IDF into a war of opinions raging in society in relation to a variety of issues, including attitudes to the family structure in the Jewish people,” in which he said there was “a gaping chasm” between a liberal world view and the path of the Torah.
He said that he was claiming, and continues to claim, that the place for this debate is not within the army.
Levenstein said that his criticism stemmed from a “loving but pained heart,” adding that sometimes “fierce criticism” comes from caring.
“I have dedicated all my life to strengthening the army, in trust and dialogue. This is the path I believe in, and in this spirit I will continue to educate my students,” the rabbi concluded.
Last Thursday, Adam voiced strong criticism of Levenstein for his comments, saying that they were “unacceptable” to the IDF and the defense establishment, and calling for him to clarify them.
It is unclear how his letter will be received, and what further action may be taken.
Pre-military academies receive government funding and can only operate in cooperation with the Education and Defense ministries.
A committee within the Defense Ministry with representatives from the Education Ministry and the IDF can recommend to cease recognition and funding of such academies, although this has never happened to date.
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