God won’t save you, but Google could have
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Hebrew media review

God won’t save you, but Google could have

As scandal seethes over the army’s next chief rabbi and his provocative ‘halachic’ remarks, some ask why the IDF couldn’t have asked Jeeves first

Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim (left), nominated to become IDF chief rabbi, sits next to his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, on April 21, 2016 (Diana Khananashvili/Defense Ministry)
Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim (left), nominated to become IDF chief rabbi, sits next to his predecessor, Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz, on April 21, 2016 (Diana Khananashvili/Defense Ministry)

If the daily life of Israel were a family-friendly sitcom, complete with a hug-it-out morale learned at the end of each special episode, Tuesday’s lesson would be: Past mistakes can and will bite you in the tuches.

At least, that’s the apparent theme readers of Wednesday morning’s Hebrew papers will come away with, viewing the cautionary tale of the allegedly rape-condoning IDF rabbi who flew too close to the sun and whose skeletons are pouring out of his closet faster than State Department money flowed — indirectly — to anti-Netanyahu campaign V15.

(The V15 Senate report is splashed across Israel Hayom’s front page, which crows that the effort to oust Netanyahu was funded with American money, apparently missing the irony that the tabloid itself is an attempt to prop up Netanyahu funded by American money)

But it’s Rabbi Eyal Karim, whose only excuse has been to contextualize his off-color comments by painting them as exegesis of Torah laws that he wouldn’t apply to modern times, who is now feeling the wrath of the Israeli political media machine, which is making sure the public knows every purported sexist, homophobic and racist item he ever penned..

Yedioth fills its front page with some of the choicest quotes floating around a picture of Karim like gadflies carrying a career-killing virus. “A homosexual is a sick person,” reads one quote. “You need to kill wounded terrorists,” reads another.

Haaretz, which features a similar graphic, though a bit less lurid than Yedioth’s garish red and black font, reports that IDF brass are taking a long hard look at these comments made by Karim, and cites defense sources saying IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot will “likely be forced to rethink his appointment.”

Despite that, Israel Hayom, the only paper not to feature the Karim donnybrook on its front page, leads off not with his salty comments, but with the army saying it will not be reconsidering his appointment. The tabloid fills its short item mostly with Karim’s various claims that he doesn’t believe what he said.

And while many politicians have been swift to condemn Karim for his comments, the paper for some reason highlights deputy defense minister Eli Ben Dahan coming to the rabbi’s defense, coloring it as a typical response.

“Stop taking things out of context,” the paper quotes Ben Dahan saying. “You don’t know to tell the difference between a Torah debate and a halachic ruling.”

But as in the case of many other politicians, media pundits are unforgiving toward the IDF chief rabbi-to-be, as well as toward the army for sticking with him, not to mention choosing him in the first place.

In Yedioth and Haaretz, analysts Yossi Yehoshua and Yair Ettinger each respectively wonder how the army, with all the wonders of the internet at its fingertips, could have missed this brouhaha when it was staring them in the face like a Snorelax Pokemon at a Holocaust museum.

“The army knows Google well,” Yehoshua writes, referring to another storm over air force soldiers being made to form the shape of the search engine behemoth’s name. “So why did nobody in the IDF brass not think to use Google to pre-check the earlier statements of the chiefrabbi-to-be? In the army they have admitted that they did not do a check and already understand that was a mistake … The chief army rabbi is a symbol, a model who fills a key role in the complicated army-religion relationship. In the army they understand that every candidate for such a powder keg position can cause a headache, and remember that the appointment of [current IDF chief rabbi] Rabbi Rafi Peretz was also held up. The claims against him were well known. This time the Karim storm caught the army unprepared.”

Ettinger notes, though, that it’s not just Google but its own inner workings that the army seemed unaware of, as Karim’s comments were a direct outgrowth of the so-called Jewish awareness department, which used to be part of the IDF rabbinate and which he describes as concerned with “pushing an ideological agenda through rabbis and outside lecturers with combat experience, who try to instill combat soldiers with a biblical fighting spirit.”

“This culture has seeped deep into the military rabbinate, especially in the period since Karim returned to uniform. Perhaps Eisenkot, who circumscribed the Jewish awareness department, didn’t investigate Karim too closely — or at least didn’t bother to do a Google search,” he writes. “Such a search would have shown that Karim has signed halakhic rulings which reflect the problematic culture out of which the department grew. One can extract the department from the rabbinate, but is it possible to extract the rabbinate from the department?”

While Karim’s statements and his apparent promotion was snowballing into a total mess, an actual tragedy of a much more personal nature was occurring in the southern town of Arad, as a baby was left in a scorching car to die.

The calamity makes Israel Hayom’s lead story, which places it in the context of three other similar deaths in the last few months, under the headline “Summer catastrophes.”

Somewhat compounding the heartbreak is the paper’s inside headline “Little Be’er didn’t have a chance,” which has the effect of transporting readers into the 8-month-old’s last sweltering moments.

Yedioth gives an even tighter pull at the heartstrings with the front-page headline “What have I done,” quoting the grandmother who left the girl in the car as she went to work, alongside a picture of the girl’s mother pressing her head against an ambulance window in mourning.

Israel Hayom recounts with chilling detail the heartbreaking moments of when grandmother Adina Weiss discovered the baby.

“Her broken screams punctured Hapalmah street in the Arad industrial zone as Magen David Adom rescuers tried to save the life of her granddaughter,” the story reads. “When it became clear that the infant, who had been forgotten by the grandmother for hours in a baking car did not survive, Adina screamed “God save me – what have I done!?”

As MDA head Eli Bin, who has been witness to this scene too many times, writes in a column in Yedioth, the answer is cruelly apparent, and God should not be brought into it.

“There’s no way to describe this hell, the suffering and pains of a child who finds his unnecessary end in a hot car,” he writes. “This tragedy was not decreed from the heavens. Dozens of times a day, MDA teams are called out to rescue lives of those injured when their bad luck meets any number of unknowns out there: a busy road, an accident at home, a terror attack or natural disaster. All these, even if a human element played a role, are in the realm of things that are acceptable, that can be understood. To forget a child in the back seat of a car and to continue about your day like they are some worthless object – that cannot be understood. Together with that, my heart goes out to those parents whose lives are torn asunder in an instant.”

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