Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef at the Western Wall.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In a highly unusual step, Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef asked to be named as a co-defendant in the High Court of Justice hearing of a petition against the appointment of Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim to the post of IDF chief rabbi.
The religious and rabbinical establishment reacted with outrage on Monday to an interim decision of the High Court to freeze Karim’s appointment and its request for him to submit a declaration regarding a contentious ruling of Jewish law he made in 2002.
In his formal request to the High Court, the chief rabbi said he believes the demand by the court was an attempt to “shut the mouths of rabbis” and prevent them from “continuing the traditions of the Jewish people of thousands of years.”
“The Torah cannot change, and for certain rabbis are not permitted in any situation to change even one letter of the Torah as was transmitted to us at Mount Sinai,” Yosef stated.
The chief rabbi said that in light of this position he felt himself to be a party and defendant in the case and sought “to defend the freedom of rabbis to fulfill their rabbinical duties.”
Following the announcement of Karim’s appointment earlier this year, the Meretz Party petitioned against it to the High Court on the basis of responses and answers made by the rabbi in 2002 and 2003 in an “Ask the Rabbi” column on a religious website.
The court focused in particular on a response Karim gave to a question about a passage in the Book of Deuteronomy about the taking of female captives during a time of war.
Karim explained the rationale of the Torah, but did not explicitly state that it is forbidden in modern times.
Karim issued a clarification on the same website in 2012 stating explicitly that “obviously the Torah never permitted the rape of women,” and saying that the biblical verse in Deuteronomy about female captives was meant to prevent rape during war.
The state on Tuesday submitted its own response to the petition against Karim, arguing that there were no defects in the process through which the rabbi was appointed.
The High Court can intervene regarding certain appointments of the executive branches of government, including the IDF, if it believes that the appointment is unreasonable and disproportionate in the possible harm it may do to the values of the state as a Jewish and democratic country, or if it would harm public trust in the institution in question.
The state said that Karim’s past actions and work showed that he is “a worthy appointee” and pointed out that the law gives the appointing body “broad scope” to appoint its chosen nominee, while the scope for judicial intervention is very narrow and reserved for extreme and unusual cases.
The state in its response also noted that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot had met with Karim after the revelations of his past rulings and had been satisfied with his clarifications, and that the defense minister had also approved the appointment.
The Meretz MKs who submitted the appeal against Karim – Zehava Gal-On, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg – said they are not opposed to Yosef being named as a defendant and “would be happy to hear the opinion of the chief rabbi regarding the rape of non-Jewish women during wartime.”
They said that they are not trying to censor Judaism or rabbis, but rather “to prevent those with dark and dangerous opinions from holding senior state and military positions.”