Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Monday nominated a rabbi who once appeared to condone rape during wartime to take over as the IDF’s chief chaplain. Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim has also maintained that it is “entirely forbidden” for women to serve in the military for reasons of modesty and has opposed female singing at army events.
Karim was embroiled in controversy in 2012 for his response to a question posed to him (Hebrew link) on the religious website Kipa, asking in the light of certain biblical passages if IDF soldiers, for example, were permitted to commit rape during wartime despite the general understanding that such an act is widely considered repugnant.
In his response, Karim implied that such practices, among several others that were normally prohibited — including the consumption of nonkosher food — were permitted during battle.
“Although intercourse with a female gentile is very grave, it was permitted during wartime (under the conditions it stipulated) out of consideration for the soldiers’ difficulties,” he wrote. “And since our concern is the success of the collective in the war, the Torah permitted [soldiers] to satisfy the evil urge under the conditions it stipulated for the sake of the collective’s success.”
When the quote surfaced in 2012 and caused a media firestorm, he published a clarification stating that his comments were in no way meant to be applied in the modern era, but rather pertained to a theoretical discussion of the biblical permission for a Jewish soldier to kidnap an enemy woman and wed her.
“Obviously, in our times, when the world has advanced to a level of morality in which one does not marry captives, one must not perform this act, which is also entirely against the army’s values and orders,” he wrote.
The IDF on Monday responded to allegations against Karim, saying the colonel “wishes to clarify that his words were only uttered in response to a theoretical hermeneutical question, certainly not to a practical halachic question.
“Rabbi Karim never wrote, said, or even thought that an IDF soldier is permitted to sexually harm a woman during wartime,” the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit added in a statement.
On the matter of women’s enlistment, Karim wrote in 2002 that it was explicitly forbidden.
“In a situation such as the one during the War of Independence, in which there was a real pikuah nefesh [matter of life or death] of the Jewish people, women also participated in the defense of the nation and country, even though the situation was not so modest,” he wrote. “But in our era we do not live with a real threat to our survival.
“And because of the liable damage to the modesty of the girl and the nation, the great rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate have ruled that the enlistment of girls to the IDF is entirely forbidden.”
In 2011, Karim also wrote that women should not sing at army events. If women do perform, soldiers who object to attending the events on religious grounds should be allowed to skip, he added.
Several Israeli lawmakers decried Karim’s appointment.
Meretz party leader Zehava Galon said that Karim is not “suitable to be the rabbinic authority of the army, in which tens of thousands of women serve, and is not suitable to represent Jewish morality in any form.” She also condemned “his frightening, racist, and inflammatory statement” regarding wartime rape.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid urged Karim to disavow his remarks about women’s enlistment, saying that without a public statement to that effect “he cannot be the military chief rabbi.”
“Regarding the reports that he said that beautiful gentile women can be raped during wartime, it appears this is not his opinion,” Lapid continued. “But if he thinks this, not only may he not be the chief military rabbi, he can’t even be a rabbi.”
In addition to Karim, Eisenkot nominated another 12 colonels for promotion to brigadier general, pending the approval of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.