Karim sworn in as IDF chief rabbi, after rocky nomination process
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Karim sworn in as IDF chief rabbi, after rocky nomination process

Ceremony comes days after High Court, petitioners accept his explanation of controversial statements on rape, women soldiers

Rabbi Eyal Karim attends a State Control committee meeting, in the Israeli parliament, on September 13, 2010. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)
Rabbi Eyal Karim attends a State Control committee meeting, in the Israeli parliament, on September 13, 2010. (Lior Mizrahi/Flash90)

Col. Eyal Karim was sworn in as the new chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces on Thursday evening, days after the High Court of Justice said it was satisfied with his explanation of previous statements on rape and women.

The court canceled a freeze on the appointment on Monday, a day after three Meretz lawmakers withdrew their petition against the appointment.

MKs Zehava Galon, Michal Rozin and Tamar Zandberg said they were withdrawing their petition against Karim after he issued an apology for remarks that were perceived as condoning the rape of non-Jewish women during wartime and keeping women out of the military.

As ordered by the High Court, Karim issued an affidavit explaining his earlier statements in response to the petition from the three Meretz lawmakers.

Miriam Naor, president of the Supreme Court, said in a statement that there was no reason to further delay Karim’s appointment after the Meretz MKs withdrew their petition, finding that his apology was “consistent with the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, July 13, 2016 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Karim touched on the controversy in his remarks at the ceremony in Tel Aviv on Thursday, saying the IDF and its rabbinate must reflect the needs of all its soldiers.

“The military rabbinate needs to be a force for unity,” Karim said, according to the Ynetnews website. “We will only have one army, an army of the people, that all soldiers can find their place in. The military rabbinate, by its very nature, is firmly rooted in Jewish law, values, morals and thought.”

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot praised Karim as “the most fitting choice for command and rabbinic authority in the IDF.”

He said that he “had no doubts” about the rabbi’s appointment and made his decision months ago.

In his written statement to the court on Wednesday, Karim apologized last week for the statements and to those who were offended by them.

“I made a mistake when I gave a short answer to a complicated question,” he wrote. “I was wrong because sometimes I was not precise with my words and some people found them offensive. I apologize.”

In response to his apology, the left-wing lawmakers praised Karim for “the clear words that were written and for the important ethical message for the male and female IDF soldiers.”

The rabbi stressed that he never expressed the opinion that the rape of non-Jewish women was permitted under Jewish law. In his view, he wrote, it is completely forbidden for a soldier to carry out such an act.

Karim clarified that this was his view when he answered the original question on an online forum over a decade ago, and this was still his opinion today.

He also said he supported finding a religiously acceptable place for women in the army.

Immediately after Karim issued his apology and clarification, Zandberg responded positively.

“Rabbi Karim presented his declaration to the High Court,” she wrote in Hebrew on Twitter on Wednesday. “It is an honest, emotional statement, admitting to his past mistakes. He completely forbids rape and respects all people and declares equality for LGBTs and others.”

Leader of the left-wing Meretz party Zahava Galon (L) and MK Michal Rozin petition the High Court in Jerusalem to reject the appointment of Rabbi Eyal Karim as the next IDF Chief Rabbi, November 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Leader of the left-wing Meretz party Zahava Galon (L) and MK Michal Rozin petition the High Court in Jerusalem to reject the appointment of Rabbi Eyal Karim as the next IDF Chief Rabbi, November 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The petitioners hope that the clear ethical statement of the Court will be heard and continue to resonate in the IDF in general and specifically in the military rabbinate,” the three Meretz MKs said in a statement. “The petition has served its purpose.”

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 non-kosher food — were permitted during battle.

“Although intercourse with a female gentile is very grave, it was permitted during wartime (under the conditions that were 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 granted to 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.

Karim has also written that women should not serve in the IDF, and that women should not sing at army events, and if they do, religious soldiers should be permitted to leave.

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