Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim (left), nominated to become IDF chief rabbi, sits next to his predecessor, Bri.
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY/DIANA HANANSHIVILI)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Gadi Eisenkot confirmed the appointment of incoming IDF Chief Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim on Wednesday, despite new revelations of problematic comments the rabbi has made in the past regarding homosexuals, women, wounded terrorists and disobeying orders on religious grounds.
Having explained away several problematic comments and positions on Tuesday, Karim faced more awkward questions on Wednesday, as his remarks on these issues raised eyebrows once again, and he was summoned to a meeting with Eisenkot for clarification of his comments.
Following the meeting, Eisenkot said he did not agree with the way some of Karim’s opinions had been expressed in the past and that they were not commensurate with the IDF’s values.
However, the chief of staff said that he was satisfied with Karim’s clarifications and his commitment that he and the military rabbinate would respect all soldiers regardless of their religion, race or sexual orientation, and acknowledgment that he and all soldiers are without any doubt subject to the orders and principles of the IDF.
Between 2002 and 2003, Karim, who was not then serving in the IDF, was asked several questions on the Kipa national-religious news website and forum in its Ask the Rabbi section on controversial issues within Jewish law.
His answers, which have been published in the media in the last two days, have spawned severe protest against his appointment and calls for it to be withdrawn.
In response to a question on homosexuality and its rejection by the majority of Orthodox society, Karim seemingly compared gays to ill or disabled people, and implied they could change their sexual orientation.
“Aside from the fundamental halachic perspective, our opposition is not directed to any specific individual who has homosexual tendencies. We relate to the specific individual [with homosexual tendencies] as we do to a person who is ill or who has a disability, regarding whom there is a religious commandment to love him, support him and help him extricate himself from his condition, with great sensitivity and patience,” wrote Karim in reply.
The rabbi said that the Torah’s “war” is directed against dealing with the issue of homosexuality as a banner for freedom and liberty.
“It is a war against the perception which sees a disconnect between sexual relations and the emotional and spiritual dimension of sexual relations between a man and a woman,” he continued.
He also suggested that homosexuals could choose to fight against their sexual inclination.
“We do not deny the reality of opposite [sexual] inclinations but, rather, the ideology that sees strengthening and developing them as something positive and not as a reality that needs to be changed.”
In response to a question regarding the Jewish laws that prevent women from giving testimony in most cases, Karim said that women are naturally sentimental and therefore cannot cope with being cross-examined in court.
And Karim also took a controversial stance on how to deal with terrorists who have been wounded and no longer constitute a threat.
“One should not treat terrorists as humans, because they are ‘wild beasts’ and [because of] the principle of ‘Those who are merciful to the cruel will in the end be cruel to the merciful,” wrote Karim.
In a response to another question, he said that “suicide terrorists who have been wounded should be killed.”
He was also asked about the loaded question of refusing military orders should they contradict Jewish law. This issue has become extremely relevant in recent years, since some national-religious rabbinical leaders have said that evacuating settlements is against Jewish law and have instructed soldiers not to obey such orders.
Wrote Karim, “It is forbidden to refuse orders in a situation in which it is necessary to save lives.”
He said, however, that there are sometimes questions connected to the ethics of war “which are anchored in the world of Halacha, and an order that is opposed to Jewish law should not be fulfilled, although the consequences of refusing an order must also be considered, if it would bring even worse damage.”
Concluded Karim, “It is for certain forbidden to comply with an order that instructs one to commit a sin or prevents someone from fulfilling a positive commandment, such as putting on tefillin.”
Following the exposure of these views and the meeting with Eisenkot on Wednesday afternoon, Karim issued a letter to all IDF commanders and soldiers clarifying these positions.
He wrote that the IDF chief rabbi and all IDF soldiers and commanders are subject to the authority of the IDF chief of staff and the military hierarchy. He said that “it should not even be considered that a soldier or commander would act against orders.”
The rabbi also wrote that the IDF rabbinate belongs to all soldiers and commanders, regardless of their religion, race or sexual orientation, and that he is committed to helping all soldiers from the entire spectrum of Israeli society.