Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim (left), nominated to become IDF chief rabbi, sits next to his predecessor, Bri.
(photo credit: DEFENSE MINISTRY/DIANA HANANSHIVILI)
Past statements and halachic rulings by incoming IDF Chief Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim have created a storm of protest in the past day, although it appears the rabbi has been misquoted by some elements in the media.
In 2003, before Karim was serving in the IDF, he was asked on the national- religious news site and forum Kipa, in the context of an “Ask the Rabbi” column, how the Torah could condone the rape of non-Jewish women by Jewish soldiers during a time of war. He explained the Torah’s rationale, 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 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 time.
““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 [Israeli] army,” Karim wrote.
On Tuesday, however, Yediot Aharonot published a headline saying Karim had permitted the rape of women by soldiers, leading to strong by several criticism by public figures including Meretz chairwoman MK Zehava Gal- On.
Karim was also taken to task for his position against military conscription of women, a position that also was also criticized Tuesday, including by Yesh Atid chairman MK Yair Lapid.
Writing again in Kipa’s Ask the Rabbi column, this time in 2002, Karim said drafting women into the army is only permitted when there is a real threat to the Jewish people, which he said existed in the War of Independence but currently does not.
The rabbi also wrote that female conscription causes problems of “modesty” to women in the army, and that there are “severe ethical consequences” inherent in the IDF due to the insufficient separation of male and female soldiers.
“Since the damage to modesty that is likely to be caused to a girl and to the nation [from female conscription] the great arbiters of Jewish law and the chief rabbinate ruled that the conscription of girls to the IDF is totally forbidden,” Karim wrote 14 years ago.
Following the re-publication of these comments, Karim was summoned by the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Hagai Topolanksi, to clarify these positions.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement Tuesday that Karim explained that “It is never permitted in times of war or routinely to sexually harm women.”
According to the IDF, Karim also stated that he “supports and believes in the service of women in the IDF” and that measures he himself has carried out while serving in the military rabbinate in recent years have made female IDF service alongside men possible.
Attention also has been drawn to rulings made by Karim while serving in the IDF rabbinate regarding women singing in IDF ceremonies.
This issue exploded in 2011 when several incidents occurred in which religious soldiers requested to be exempted from such ceremonies since Jewish law prohibits men from listening to women singing in a live performance.
Karim wrote in a position statement of the IDF rabbinate that it would be more appropriate for male singers and not female singers to perform, and requested that commanders allow religious soldiers not to attend such ceremonies if they so request.
He wrote, however, that a religious soldier does not need to leave such ceremonies if he refrains from looking at a female singer performing at the ceremony.
Gal-On late Monday called for IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot to revoke Karim’s appointment, saying his comments were “terrifying, racist and violent.
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, however, welcomed Karim’s appointment.
Stern said of Karim’s past comments that, “It would have been better if they had not been said,” but that the comments had been made in the context of explaining the Torah “without any intention to act on them.”
The MK also said he believed Karim was responsible for the increasing numbers of religious women enlisting in the IDF, and that he would continue to encourage this trend.
Tuesday’s IDF statement said Karim “regrets the media reports in the last 24 hours and underlined that the IDF is the people’s army and that he is proud to lead the military rabbinate and undertakes to act with a national perspective, with understanding and sensitivity in his position.”
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