Thursday the rabbi saved his job
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Hebrew media review

Thursday the rabbi saved his job

The Hebrew media offers up various interpretations for the decision to stem the IDF chief rabbi controversy

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Watching soldiers at an army ceremony at the Western Wall (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ Flash 90 )
Watching soldiers at an army ceremony at the Western Wall (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ Flash 90 )

In good Talmudic tradition, the case of Rabbi Eyal Karim — both his own rulings and the decisions about him made by others — seems to be anything but definitive and given the response of the Hebrew media, open for endless and varying interpretation.

The IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot decided on Wednesday to uphold Karim’s nomination as head of the military rabbinate, rebuffing a storm of criticism against the appointment over controversial remarks made in the past by the rabbi. But the decision, rather than putting an end to the debate, divides Thursday’s daily papers, which provide differing accounts of the move in both reportage and analysis.

Israel Hayom (the only paper which yesterday did not focus heavily on Karim’s past rulings suggesting wartime rape may be permitted or that women should not serve in the army) leads its front page with the story but presents the outcome as definitive.

“The chief of staff listened, decided and ruled: Karim will be the IDF chief rabbi,” reads the Israel Hayom headline over the text, “The efforts failed, an end to the storm over Rabbi Eyal Karim’s appointment.”

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

The article mainly details how Eisenkot invited Karim to a meeting, then after hearing his explanation decided “to stand behind his decision that Rabbi Karim is the appropriate nominee.” After quoting much of Eisenkot’s statement verbatim, the news report dedicates one sentence to Karim’s apology, which he issued “if any soldiers were offended.”

A two-page spread includes a lengthy analysis of the public outcry, vehemently dismissing the criticism and hype.

“IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s decision to approve the appointment of the rabbi, the warrior Col. Eyal Karim, to the role of IDF chief rabbi was a brave one. It required a public display of courage in the face of distraction, incitement, distortion, ignorance and malice that flowed forth, in large part from the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper — a newspaper that has been trying for years to induce collective depression and to convince people that the State of Israel is falling apart and turning into a third world country.” opens columnist Haim Shine, holding nothing back in naming who he thinks is responsible for the controversy.

“The IDF is the people’s army. Despite considerable efforts from the left, you cannot change the people. It’s a real shame that there are those trying to drag the IDF into a religious war as religion continues to grow stronger in Israeli society. The politicians, and the journalists who serve them, should lay off the army for everyone’s sake,” Shine concludes.

Yedioth Ahronoth, on the other hand focuses heavily on Karim’s response, leading its front page story with the headline, “The IDF rabbi took back his words: ‘Don’t act against orders.'”

The report gives considerably more ink than Yedioth to detailing the statements that Karim apologized for, specifically a past ruling which suggested soldiers should disobey orders if they contradict Jewish law. The article also adds, “Army officials assessed yesterday that the chief of staff did not cancel Karim’s nomination because he did not want to increase tensions with the religious Zionist leadership after a series of recent clashes.”

The paper’s senior analyst Ben Dror Yemini, comparing the case to the recent firing of an Army Radio presenter over racist statements on Facebook, says unequivocally that Eisenkot should have canceled Karim’s appointment.

“When we add other rulings of Rabbi Karim about the role of women in the army to the original ruling that caused an uproar, the outcome is gloomy. There are today, including within Orthodox Judaism, many rabbis that do not hold such dark opinions… For these reasons, the chief of staff should have made one simple decision: This man cannot be given the job. But instead of a decision we were given whitewashing and dawdling.”

Haaretz does not sensationalize the story with a double-page spread of large headlines but does dedicate its daily editorial to the issue, writing that “the message conveyed by appointing Karim undermines a linchpin of the army: Military orders are the ultimate authority, not religious law – during both routine times and wartime.”

Contrasting what it describes as Eisenkot’s “justified” appointment as chief of staff given his decisions over the past year with Karim’s “volatile” statements, the editorial concludes that despite his apology, Karim should not be made the IDF chaplain.

“A shadow hovers over Karim’s appointment and his ability to serve as a spiritual authority in the military. Now that Eisenkot has reaffirmed his support for Karim’s appointment, it’s up to Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who must sign off on this unfortunate choice, to save the honor and image of the IDF,” Haaretz concludes.

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