High Court freezes IDF chief rabbi nomination over rape comments

Responding to petition by Meretz MKs, court demands Col. Eyal Karim clarify his stance before assuming the post

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Col. Eyal Karim on April 21, 2016 (Diana Khananashvili/Defense Ministry)
Col. Eyal Karim on April 21, 2016 (Diana Khananashvili/Defense Ministry)

The High Court of Justice on Monday temporarily suspended the appointment of Col. Eyal Karim as the new Israel Defense Forces chief rabbi, saying that before he could assume the post he had to clarify remarks he made over a decade ago that were perceived as condoning rape of non-Jewish women during wartime.

The High Court was responding to a petition by the left-wing Meretz party.

Karim maintains that he was speaking entirely theoretically about a Biblical passage.

He has also said that it is “entirely forbidden” for women to serve in the army for reasons of modesty, and has opposed women singing at army events as contrary to halacha, Jewish law.

According to Meretz, the justices issued an injunction on the appointment, pending an affidavit from Karim on his past and current views on wartime rape and the role of women in the military.

“The rabbi needs to say he made a mistake,” said Justice Neal Hendel during the proceedings, according to Meretz.

“The question is whether in the State of Israel, which is a Jewish and democratic state, a person like this should be given an official position,” Hendel added.

The High Court of Justice in session, July 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
The High Court of Justice in session, July 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The party said that the state representatives had insisted at the hearing that IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot was unaware of the comments by Karim when he nominated him for the post.

Jewish Home MK Betzalel Smotrich on Monday appealed to Karim to stick to his comments, accusing the court of “megalomania” in policing the utterances of a religious figure.

Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich attends a meeting of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee in the Knesset on June 20, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I urge Rabbi Karim to not withdraw his halachic [Jewish legal] rulings,” Smotrich tweeted. “We will stand behind him and fight with all our might for his appointment, on the right of rabbis to make halachic rulings, and against Bolshevism.”

“Something very bad is happening to the High Court,” he wrote. “Megalomania and particularly disregard for the legislative and executive branches. It’s too trigger-happy in its involvement in the decisions. It will force us to deal with this in law.”

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel called the court decision “outrageous.” “Rabbi Karim, do not agree to this silencing of voices and do not retract the halachic rulings that you believe in. Today, it’s you, tomorrow it’s all of us,” the minister from the Orthodox nationalist Jewish Home party said.

Meretz MK Michal Rozin, one of the petitioners, hailed the “victory against the voices of chauvinism and racism.” Her fellow party member, MK Tamar Zandberg, said it represented “another small victory.”

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, February 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, February 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The High Court accepted our position — a man who preaches rape cannot be the IDF chief rabbi,” she said in a statement.

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 it 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.

The announcement of his nomination brought condemnation from a wide spectrum of politicians.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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