Interior Minister Aryeh Deri praised the “brave” head of a pre-army religious academy who caused a nationwide uproar after calling female soldiers “crazy” and saying that their military service made them “not-Jewish.”
Deri, who heads the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, was asked during an interview with Army Radio on Thursday to respond to comments made by Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who said that IDF service has “driven our girls crazy.”
“It takes courage to speak [about this] religious ruling and good for him for being brave and speaking [about this] religious ruling,” he said.
“I praise him for saying the truth and for not being afraid to say the truth,” he added.
Deri, whose party opposes both religious men and women serving in the army for reasons of Jewish law, said that Levinstein was merely repeating previous rabbinical rulings and only made headlines for the “superfluous” manner in which the remarks were delivered.
Deri’s remarks were notable for being the first comments by a leading Israeli politician in support of Levinstein’s stance toward female soldiers. The comments have been widely denounced by politicians across the political spectrum.
Although he did not mention Levinstein by name, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a clear rebuke of the rabbi on Wednesday, saying Israel was “proud” of its history of integrating females into its fighting forces.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said earlier Wednesday that he would consider removing the rabbi from his position over the remarks.
“Since the establishment of the state, women have served in the IDF and made an enormous contribution to the security of Israel,” Liberman said in a statement. “Rabbi Levinstein’s verbal attack not only hurts women in Israel but also hurts the IDF, the IDF’s heritage and the basic values of the State of Israel.”
Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud), who had been a brigadier general in the IDF when she served as the army’s chief spokesperson, denounced Levinstein’s comments, saying they “don’t represent me, don’t represent other rabbis and don’t represent the right wing” in Israel.
In footage broadcast by Channel 2 on Tuesday, Levinstein said that women who serve in the army are no longer Jews by the time they finish their service.
“They recruit them to the army, where they enter as Jews, but they’re not Jews by the time they leave,” he said. “Not in the genetic sense, but all of their values and priorities have been upset and we must not allow it.”
“What happens if there’s a female company commander? This is a question of madness, it belongs in an insane asylum,” Levinstein added. “This is an Orthodox girl. Put aside those who are secular. They’re making our girls crazy.”
“Someone told me recently, ‘Don’t worry. They’re just practicing putting on makeup for their wedding day.’ I don’t know who will marry them. She’ll tell the kids battlefield stories at night. That’s what they call the new family, right? Two fathers. It’s a madhouse. Simply a madhouse.”
In his first public response to the uproar, Levinstein told Channel 2 news Wednesday that his delivery of the remarks in a mocking and sardonic manner was “inappropriate,” and expressed regret for “hurting people in the way I communicated myself.”
But asked if he would take back the comments, Levinstein said that the “feminist approach” of the IDF was “incompatible with Jewish law,” and that he would not “retract a single word of what I believe.”
Prior to the most recent uproar, Levinstein drew censure last year after a speech he gave calling homosexuals “deviants.” He wrote a letter to the Defense Ministry, explaining his comments, but has had many of his activities with the military curtailed in light of his controversial remarks.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.