Defense ministry summons military academy rabbi over anti-gay slurs

Ministry director expected to demand that Yigal Levinstein, who heads military academy, retract ‘deviants’ comments

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein speaking at the 'Zion and Jerusalem' convention in July 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein speaking at the 'Zion and Jerusalem' convention in July 2016. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The Defense Ministry on Thursday summoned a rabbi who heads a military academy for clarification after he last week branded homosexuals as “deviants” and lamented the integration of gay soldiers in the IDF.

Defense Ministry Director Udi Adam was to meet with Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who co-heads a prestigious religious army preparatory academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, Hebrew media reported.

The interview will take place in the IDF headquarters at the Kirya base in Tel Aviv and Adam was expected to demand that Levinstein retract his comments.

Levinstein was filmed last week 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.”

In a video of his lecture, Levinstein could be seen stating: “There is a crazy movement of people who have simply lost the normalcy of life. This group is making the state crazy and is infiltrating the army with all its might. Nobody dares to open his mouth or make a sound against them. In the army training camp they gave lectures on deviancy.”

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.

According to a report from the Hebrew-language Ynet website, although both the Defense and Education Ministries fund the school, officials believe there is no legal precedent for cutting the state’s financial backing if Levinstein refuses to comply.

MK Bezalel Smotrich (Jewish Home) called on Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to leave Levinstein alone.

“The rabbi should not need to go in for the clarification; the meddling of the army in religion is disrespectful and threatens democracy,” said Smotrich, who has referred to himself as a “proud homophobe.”

Some 300 religious Zionist rabbis have signed a letter expressing support for Levinstein, whose comments came days before Thursday’s gay pride parade in Jerusalem, which is dedicated to a teen girl stabbed to death in an attack by a religious extremist at last year’s march.

On Tuesday, the head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate, Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolanski, canceled a visit to Levinstein’s academy scheduled for that day.

Topolanski has also ordered a review of the army’s invitation to Levinstein to speak before troops, effectively freezing the rabbi’s work with the army or Defense Ministry, Channel 2 reported.

On Monday, the division in the Defense Ministry responsible for the premilitary academies issued a statement “vigorously condemning” the rabbi’s comments, and “demanded clarifications from the academy.”

Also Monday, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious-nationalist Jewish Home party, joined the fray.

“This is not the way of religious Zionism,” Bennett said. “Jewish law was meant to establish what is forbidden and what is permitted. It was not meant to be a divisive tool to mark people and communities. You cannot call an entire community derogatory names and hide behind [Jewish law].

The Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association, known commonly as the Aguda, filed a police complaint on Sunday against Levinstein for incitement.

Levinstein is affiliated with the Bnei David yeshiva in Eli. The one-year yeshiva program combines traditional religious study with preparation for army service. Bnei David was the first pre-army training program of its kind, and is still one of the most prestigious.

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