The Defense Ministry on Thursday reprimanded two rabbis who head a prominent pre-army religious academy, saying their recent anti-gay comments violate the Israeli military’s code of conduct.
Defense Ministry Director-General Udi Adam met with rabbis Yigal Levinstein and Eli Sadan, who jointly lead the prestigious academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, Hebrew media reported. Sadan recently decried pro-LGBTQ efforts in the military as “a cynical attempt to turn the army into a body to reeducate religious people,” while Levinstein last week referred to homosexuals as “deviants.”
Adam told the pair that the IDF code includes as one of its core values the preservation of “human dignity,” which defines the way in which all its soldiers must act. According to the code, “the army and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every person is valuable, regardless of their ethnicity, religion, nationality, gender, standing or role.”
Another key ethical value of the army, Adam told the rabbis, is camaraderie, which demands that every soldier act with compassion and selflessness to his or her fellow soldiers.
“There is no doubt that pushing the LGBTQ community outside the bounds of society is against the most fundamental values of the army,” Adam said, and told Levinstein to clarify his statements in the coming days.
Sadan has already responded to Levinstein’s comments, according to Channel 10, stating that “in the army you will meet many people. We are all brothers — Jews, Druze, religious or not, sexual tendencies like this or like that, Messianic Jews or Reform.”
Both Levinstein and Sadan have great influence within the religious-Zionist movement. They head the Bnei David yeshiva in Eli, which combines traditional religious study with preparation for army service as part of a one-year program.
Sadan was one of the recipients of the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement this year, for his efforts to integrate national-religious Israelis in the army. Congratulating him on the award at the time, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) said: “Rabbi Sadan’s actions not only lead to soldiers with significantly more desire to serve in the army, and to better citizens, but he is a bridge and connection between the differing values of society. He brings the various streams of Israeli society together.”
Yet in a recently published booklet which was distributed to his students, Sadan wrote: “Unfortunately, in many cases the army does not [take religious sensibilities into account]. When they force cadets in the training base to listen to an hour-long lecture from a young LGBTQ man who explains that this is a totally normal [lifestyle], that society must get used to the fact that there is no difference between a family with a husband and wife and a family with two husbands… this is a cynical attempt to turn the army into a body to reeducate religious people.”
These words were similar to the message which landed Levinstein in hot water last week when he was filmed telling a Jewish law convention that “under the framework of pluralism, soldiers and officers are taught to refer to [LGBT people] as ‘proud,’ but I don’t dare call them that…. ‘deviants’ is what I call them.”
Levinstein’s speech — which also referred to Reform Jewry as an offshoot of Christianity — sparked a firestorm, with politicians, other rabbis and former students rushing to condemn his stance.