250 Israeli Rabbis Publicly Back Head of pre-IDF Academy Who Called Gay People 'Perverts'

Statement slamming 'attempts to silence Israel’s rabbis' signed in support of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, saying there's no place to legitimize 'phenomena and behavior that clearly contradict the spirit of the Torah of Israel.'

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein (C) with Rabbi Peretz and General Ashkenazi.
Rabbi Yigal Levinstein (C) with former IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz and former Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Tomer Appelbaum

About 250 rabbis, mostly members of the Haredi-Nationalist religious camp published a statement on Wednesday in support of Rabbi Yigal Levinstein, who was widely criticized after calling homosexual people "perverts." 

In the statement, the rabbis denounced what they termed "an attempt to silence Israel’s rabbis," and voiced support for another rabbi who referred to gay people as "handicapped" following Levinstein's remarks.

"We want to express support for any rabbi who sincerely and unapologetically expresses his halachic and moral opinion in adherence to the Torah and the sages," the statement reads, adding that "there is no place for legitimizing phenomena and behavior that clearly contradict the spirit of the Torah of Israel."

The statement followed a backlash against Levinstein, the head of an IDF pre-conscription academy at the settlement of Eli. "There’s an insane movement here whose members have lost the normalcy of life. This group makes the country mad and has now penetrated the IDF in full force – and no one dares open their mouth and speak out against it. At Bahad 1, there are lectures by perverts,” Levinstein said, referring to the army’s main officers' training base. His remarks were criticized across the board and he was barred from IDF bases. Israel’s main LGBT organization also filed a police complaint against him.

The statement, which is expected to appear in religious media, is signed by most public leaders of the so-called Hardali movement (nationalist religious leaning toward ultra-orthodoxy) , including rabbis such as Arye Stern of Jerusalem, Micha Halevy from Petah Tivkah, Yaakov Ariel from Ramat Gan, Shmuel Eliahu from Safed and Shlomo Aviner from the settlement of Beit El.

Yeshiva heads have also signed the statement, among them, Rabbi Yehoshua Zuckerman from the influential Har Hamor Yeshiva and Yehoshua Shapira of the Ramat Gan yeshival.

Names missing from the list include Rabbi Eli Sadan, Levinstein’s co-director of the pre-military academy in the settlement of Eli, as well as Rabbi Zvi Tau, president of Har Hamor, who has published a separate statement against the Gay Pride March taking place in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The statement expresses support for Rabbi Ariel's remarks against the gay community and goes on to say:

“We are well aware of the extent of responsibility resting on the rabbis’ shoulders and exactly for this reason these words are correct even in the context of difficult and complicated issues.

“Alongside the pain caused by the steps of private individuals, and along with the desire to make it easier and to help al those who need it, where they need a clarification in principle, there is no place for legitimizing phenomena and behavior that clearly contradict the spirit of the Torah of Israel.”

“Love for all the people of Israel and the obligation to treat every person with respect, cannot be used as reason to distort the truth about Jewish law or to dull its intentions, and therefore we reject the attempt to silence Israel's rabbis," the statement says.

"The rabbis of Israel will continue to express their views on Jewish law, out of public responsibility, without fear, regarding any issue about which they are questioned.”

The list of supporters also includes Rabbi Rami Brachiyahu of the Talmon settlement, head of a police support program intended to increase recruitment for police among the religious community.

Brachyahu’s name has been mentioned recently as Police Commissioner Alsheikh’s candidate for police chief rabbi.

Other signatories include Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, a co-author of Torat Hamelek which discusses the law regarding "killing Gentiles," Rabbi Yehuda Ben-Yishai, head of a Jerusalem community, and father of the late Ruth Fogel, who was killed along with her husband and children in a 2011 attack on their home in the settlement of Itamar.