IDF Reconsiders Chief Military Rabbi Appointment in Wake of Criticism

The announcement that Colonel Eyal Karim had been chosen as the next chief rabbi drew condemnation for a former statement in which he seemed to suggest that soldiers were permitted to rape during war.

IDF chief rabbi-designate, Col. Eyal Krim, left, and army Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, who appointed him.
Olivier Fitoussi and Tomer Appelbaum

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot is reexamining the appointment of a controversial rabbi, Colonel Eyal Karim, as the military's chief rabbi, according to security sources. Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, head of the IDF's Manpower Division, is due to meet with Karim later on Tuesday.

The appointment of Karim to the post of chief rabbi on Monday, which included his promotion to the rank of brigadier general, was widely criticized, due to his alleged statements in the past that rape was permissible in wartime and that women ought not to serve in the IDF.

Sources said that the army was not aware of Karim's past statements when it appointed him and did not do a detailed examination of his background.

The appointment was apparently brought for approval at the last moment, as part as an effort by Eisenkot to avoid the involvement of rabbis and political parties.

The IDF spokesman's office insisted on Tuesday that there was no intention to cancel Karim's appointment.

In 2003, while a civilian, Karim was asked by the religious website Kipa to state his position on the rape of civilians during war.

"One of the important and crucial values in war is maintaining the fighting preparedness of the army and the needs and emotions of the individual are pushed aside for the success of the nation at war," Karim wrote in his response to the question.

"Just as in war, the fence of risk-taking is breached on behalf of others, so are the fences of modesty and kashrut breached Although fraternizing with a non-Jewess is a very bad thing, it is allowable in war out of consideration for the difficulties of the fighters."

Karim concluded by saying: "Because the success of the collective is what mostly concerns us in war, the Torah allows the individual to satisfy his lust in the permitted conditions for the sake of the general success."

The rabbi clarified his position in 2012, following the criticism with which his words were received, saying that the rape of a woman was never permitted by the Torah.

"The essence of the law was to refine the barbaric nature of war in those days, in which every soldier was permitted to do whatever he wanted with a captive. The purpose of the law was to prevent the soldier from relations with a captive in the heat of battle," he wrote.

"It is clear that these days, with the world having advanced morally to the level that we don't take female prisoners, we certainly shouldn't keep the law in practice. Beside which, it is totally contrary to the army's values and regulations."

Questioned in 2002 about the service of women in the IDF, Karim responded: "Because of the harm that could be caused to both the woman and the nation due to loss of modesty, the sages and chief rabbinate have ruled that the recruitment of women to the IDF is completely forbidden."

The appointment of Karim drew criticism from lawmakers such as Meretz leader Zahava Galon and the head of the Committee for the Advancement of Women’s Status, MK Aida Touma-Suleiman, due to Karim having suggested in the past that women should not serve in the army.

Galon urged Eisenkot on Monday to change his decision, alleging that Karim “is not suitable to be the chief rabbinical authority in the IDF, an organization in which tens of thousands of women serve, and is not suited to represent Jewish ethics in any way, shape or form. His appalling, racist and violent statement [regarding women] would be unacceptable in any instance of an appointment to a senior position."

Touma-Suleiman said that "anyone who cares about the welfare and standing of female soldiers should be concerned by the appointment of a chief rabbi who says rape is permissible and who does not 'recommend' that women singers perform at military ceremonies, and who will likely come out with more creative and misogynistic interpretations of this kind.”

Karim released a statement via the IDF spokesperson's unit on Tuesday, saying that sexually harming women is never permitted under any circumstances and that he supports the service of women in the IDF.