A controversial rabbi who made disparaging and sexist remarks against female IDF soldiers has been summoned to a hearing by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who last week threatened to sever official recognition and funding of the institutions associated with the senior rabbi if he does not resign.
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, the head of a religious pre-army academy and hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Eli, was requested to appear before the defense minister on Wednesday, presumably to respond to Liberman’s ultimatum. “We want to keep the academy open, but we also want to maintain the values of the IDF,” the defense minister said.
Levinstein came under fire earlier this month after a video emerged of him saying military service drives female soldiers “crazy,” makes them unattractive, and strips them of their Jewishness.
He had been reprimanded for making sexist and homophobic statements in the past.
The hesder yeshiva program enables Orthodox soldiers to combine their mandatory IDF service with time spent studying religious texts in the yeshivas. Only officially recognized yeshivas are allowed to offer this program.
Liberman said the authorities had censured Levinstein once in the past, and had turned a blind eye to other comments, but that the rabbi had now spoken a third time, and this was no longer tenable.
“All those who back Levinstein need to understand that they are posing a threat to the Eli yeshiva,” said Liberman. “We won’t tolerate the verbal attacks on Israel’s daughters.”
After Levinstein’s remarks were broadcast on Channel 2 News, politicians from across the political spectrum, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, denounced him.
Responding to the outcry, Levinstein expressed regret for the style of his delivery of his remarks, but refused to retract the content of his comments.
Liberman immediately called on Levinstein to resign, saying his offensive views were a “constantly repeating issue,” that showed intent to incite against members of the Israeli armed forces.
“If you do not do so, I will be forced to use my authority to end the Defense Ministry’s recognition of the yeshiva in the West Bank town of Eli and will do everything in my power to stop the recognition of the pre-army program in Eli,” Liberman said last week.
The defense minister also called on Levinstein to apologize to bereaved families of fallen IDF soldiers.
While a number of other right-wing politicians have denounced Levinstein’s comments, Liberman has been alone among coalition MKs in calling for the rabbi’s resignation.
The defense minister publicly clashed with Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett over the issue.
Bennett last week slammed Liberman for calling for Levinstein’s resignation, tweeting on Wednesday that that the defense minister was looking to do some political maneuvering at the IDF’s expense.
Liberman accused Bennett of standing up for religious extremism, saying the Jewish Home chairman wanted to “to turn Israel into Iran.”
In his March 8 speech, Levinstein said that women who serve in the army leave their religion behind during their time in the military.
“They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they’re not Jews by the time they leave,” he said. “Not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset and we must not allow it.”
“What happens if there’s a female company commander? This is a question of madness, it belongs in an insane asylum,” Levinstein said. “This is an Orthodox girl. Put aside those who are secular. They’re making our girls crazy.”
Levinstein later told Channel 2 that his delivery of the remarks in a mocking and sardonic manner was “inappropriate,” and expressed regret for “hurting people in the way I expressed myself.”
But asked if he would take back the comments, Levinstein said that the “feminist approach” of the IDF was “incompatible with Jewish law,” and that he would not “retract a single word of what I believe.”
Levinstein drew censure last year after calling homosexuals “deviants” in a speech. He wrote a letter to the Defense Ministry, explaining his comments, but has had many of his activities with the military cut in light of his controversial remarks.
In his latest remarks, Levinstein also discussed gay men.
“They call them ‘new families,’ with two dads. It’s an insane asylum, simply an insane asylum,” he said, shaking his head.