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IDF summons chief rabbi pick for clarifications over rape comments

Col. Eyal Karim adamant sexual assault never permitted, clarifies he supports women serving in military, army says after hubbub erupts

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)

The military summoned a rabbi tapped to become the IDF’s next chief chaplain for clarifications Tuesday following a flurry of criticism over remarks he made in the past that seemed to condone rape during wartime and against the enlistment of women into the military’s ranks, an army spokesperson said.

During his conversation with IDF personnel head Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, Eyal Karim again denied that he condoned rape and said sexual assault against women was never permissible, the army said in a statement.

The army also said that Karim was not opposed to women joining the army, and said he expressed dismay over “media reports in the past day.”

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

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, given in 2002, Karim implied that such practices, among several others that were normally prohibited — including the consumption of nonkosher 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 for 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.

Also in 2002, Karim was asked on the same website about the issues of drafting women under Jewish law.

Karim said 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, the rabbi clarified that he “supports and believes in the service of women in the IDF” and he crafted the protocols that allow for better integration of male and female soldiers, while still adhering to the requirements of Jewish law, the army said.

The IDF on Monday responded to allegations against Karim, 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.

The female soldiers of the Jordan Lions Battalion during their swearing-in ceremony in February 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit.)
The female soldiers of the Jordan Lions Battalion during their swearing-in ceremony in February 2015. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit.)

“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 in a statement.

On the matter of women’s enlistment, Karim wrote in 2002 that it was explicitly forbidden.

“In a situation such as the one during the War of Independence, in which there was a real pikuah nefesh [matter of life or death] of the Jewish people, women also participated in the defense of the nation and country, even though the situation was not so modest,” he wrote. “But in our era we do not live with a real threat to our survival.

“And because of the liable damage to the modesty of the girl and the nation, the great rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate have ruled that the enlistment of girls to the IDF is entirely forbidden.”

In 2011, Karim also wrote that women should not sing at army events. If women do perform, soldiers who object to attending the events on religious grounds should be allowed to skip, he added.

Several Israeli lawmakers decried Karim’s appointment.

Meretz party leader Zehava Galon said that Karim is 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.” She also condemned “his frightening, racist, and inflammatory statement” regarding wartime rape.

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.”

“Regarding the reports that he said that beautiful gentile women can be raped during wartime, it appears this is not his opinion,” Lapid continued. “But if he thinks this, not only may he not be the chief military rabbi, he can’t even be a 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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