Education minister disavows rabbi who called women ‘weak-minded’

Education minister disavows rabbi who called women ‘weak-minded’

‘This is not what Judaism believes,’ Bennett says after Yosef Kelner of Eli pre-army academy tells students women lack intellect, spiritual capacity

File: Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends a committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 23, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
File: Education Minister Naftali Bennett attends a committee meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 23, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalist-Orthodox Jewish Home party, on Wednesday rejected a rabbi’s disparaging comments about women, delivered to future IDF recruits at a prominent religious academy.

In footage broadcast Tuesday by Hadashot TV news, Rabbi Yosef Kelner was seen deriding women as “weak-minded,” and calling women with careers “gorillas,” to yeshiva students at the West Bank settlement of Eli.

Kelner’s comments were “intolerable and inappropriate,” Bennett said in an interview Wednesday with the Galei Israel radio station.

“The academy distanced itself [from Kelner’s comments], and the rabbi himself, from what I understand, has apologized,” Bennett said. “I don’t agree with either the content or the way it was said. This is not what religious Zionism believes, and not what Judaism believes. All my life experience tells me exactly the opposite.”

Kelner, during a class on marriage and family that was filmed last summer, also told his students that “women have a limited capacity for spirituality. They can reach a medium level of spirituality. There’s no such thing as spiritual women. It’s just not true,” he said. “It’s not a failure on women’s part, it’s just that nobody is expecting them to reach certain heights spiritually.”

“They are weak-minded. They just babble, that’s it. Women’s babble,” Kelner told the students.

Women, he said, were naturally intuitive, but modern culture had “turned them into nothing. They are destroying women until there won’t be any women left. They are all so confused.”

Rabbi Yosef Kelner (YouTube screenshot)

He went on to assert that women were less intelligent than men, and pointed to the fact that there were more male Nobel laureates than female ones.

“Just because they send them en masse to universities they’re suddenly all great geniuses? No!”

He added, “Yes, there are some CEOs here and there, ‘girlillas’.”

Shortly after the footage was broadcast, Kelner issued a brief statement apologizing for the comments.

“I’m sorry this sort of thing ever came out of me,” he said. “Sometimes a person fails. I wouldn’t say such things today. This is entirely my own responsibility. My colleagues at the academy are opposed to both the style and content” of his remarks, he added.

Two years ago, Kelner came under fire for making homophobic remarks to his students. In the 2016 lecture, Kelner referred to gay people as “miserable” and “sick and perverted.”

Kelner isn’t the only rabbi teaching at the Eli preparatory school who has made disparaging remarks about women.

Last year, Rabbi Yigal Levinstein told several hundred graduates of the program that IDF service had “driven our girls crazy.”

“They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they’re not Jews by the time they leave,” he said. They don’t lose their Jewishness “in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset, and we must not allow it.”

His comments drew broad condemnation from Israeli officials and politicians.

Levinstein later defended his comments, saying he regretted the manner in which he had spoken, but stressing he would not “retract a single word of what I believe.”

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