Army Names Controversial Figure as New Chief Rabbi

Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim raised an uproar when he seemed to imply that soldiers were permitted to commit acts of rape during wartime.

Eyal Karim.
Eyal Karim. Tomer Appelbaum

A rabbi whose military career has been dogged by controversy is poised to become the Israel Defense Forces’ new chief rabbi.

Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim was nominated for the top religious position in the army by Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot on Monday. His appointment now requires the approval of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Karim was previously caught up in a media storm in 2012, when an answer he had given on a religious website 10 years previously seemed to imply that soldiers were permitted to commit acts of rape during wartime.

He clarified in 2012 that his original answer had been taken out of context and that he did not in fact condone rape at any time.

He also headed the Military Rabbinate’s beit midrash, which published a booklet in 2013 stating that “the concept that non-Jews have equal rights with Jews in Israel goes against the opinion of the Torah, and the state’s representatives have no authority to act against the Torah’s will.”

The IDF later apologized for publishing the booklet and rejected its claims.

In the past, Karim was also one of the leaders of the religious-Zionist struggle against the recruitment of women to perform combat roles in the army.

During Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, Karim was a member of the beit din that determined the deaths of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were declared missing in action.

Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau hailed Karim’s nomination.

“Rabbi Karim’s appointment is most appropriate,” he said, calling him “a devoted, well-liked rabbi who will advance the Military Rabbinate in all areas and sanctify God’s name.”

Karim is set to replace outgoing Chief Military Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz. Karim will also be promoted to the rank of brigadier general.

In his military career, Karim commanded the paratroopers’ commando unit. After his initial discharge from the IDF, he headed the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in Jerusalem.

He returned to the army on the recommendation of former Chief Military Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, who served in the role from 2006 to 2010.