Controversial pick for IDF chief rabbi once said women incapable of court testimony

In newly revealed comments, Col. Eyal Karim claimed ‘sentimental nature’ of women prevents them from being cross-examined

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

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)

Amid a flurry of criticism surrounding the nomination of Col. Eyal Karim as the Israel Defense Forces’ next chief rabbi over his apparent condoning of rape during wartime, other controversial comments previously made by the rabbi about women, the LGBTQ community and the treatment of Palestinian attackers have now surfaced.

Karim, who on Tuesday denied that he ever sanctioned sexual assault against women, said in a 2003 response to a question posted on the religious website Kipa, that women were inherently incapable of giving reliable testimony in court.

When asked in an online forum whether barring women from testifying in court was discriminatory, Karim wrote: “You are correct that this is discrimination against women, but it’s for the better, because their sentimental nature does not enable them to withstand a cross examination in a courtroom.”

In another question and answer thread on the website, Karim wrote that gay people should be treated as “sick or deformed” individuals, and urged readers to regard them “with love, support while helping them get out of the situation they’re in.”

Karim also wrote on Kipa that Palestinian attackers should not be treated as human beings, saying “they are, after all, animals,” adding that “one who is kind to the cruel will eventually be cruel to the kind.”

Later in that thread, Karim said that under no circumstances were civilians to take the law into their own hands, and that the army and police must always be respected.

On Monday, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot nominated Karim as the army’s chief chaplain, a move that immediately drew flak.

In 2012, Karim was embroiled in controversy for the discovery of his response to a question posed to him on 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, given in 2002, Karim implied that such practices, among several others that were normally prohibited — including the consumption of non-kosher food — were permitted during battle.

Also that year, Karim was asked on the same website about the issues of drafting women under Jewish law. The rabbi responded by saying that because the army has a sufficient number of fighters and in light of the “potential damage to a girl’s modesty,” drafting women into the army is “absolutely forbidden.”

On Tuesday, Karim was summoned to a meeting with IDF personnel head Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, where he denied that he condoned rape, asserted that sexual assault against women was never permissible, and said he believed in women serving in the IDF.

In response to the backlash over Karim’s nomination, the IDF issued a statement on Monday 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.

A number of Israeli lawmakers decried Karim’s appointment, including Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon who charged Karim was 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.”

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.”

In addition to Karim, Eisenkot nominated another 12 colonels for promotion to brigadier general, pending the approval of Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.

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