Israeli Military Chief Stands by Choice of Top Rabbi Who Implied Rape Is Permitted in Wartime

IDF says new top rabbi's remarks don't represent army's values. Karim has said, among other things, that wounded terrorists should be killed, that gay people are sick and that women are sentimental.

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 Gadi Eisenkot said Wednesday he was standing by his controversial decision to make Rabbi Eyal Karim the IDF's next chief rabbi, even if remarks Karim made as a civilian did not represent the military's values.

The rabbi's appointment, which still needs the approval of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, has been harshly criticized because of his remarks on women, gay people and non-Jews.

Karim has implied that it is permissible to rape gentile women during wartime, that women should not fill combat roles, and that women cannot testify in court because their “sentimental” nature does not allow it. He has also said that it is permitted to kill wounded suicide bombers and that gay people should be treated as people “sick or disabled.”

In a statement, the IDF said Eisenkot had discussed the controversial issues at length with Karim. Karim promised that under his leadership, the military rabbinate would respect all people regardless of their religion, race and sexual orientation, and that he "sees the army as the people's army that accepts all recruits, whoever they might be."

Karim added that he saw the need for women's service in the military.

At the end of the meeting with Eisenkot, Karim released a message to IDF soldiers in which he responded to the criticism that his comments had sparked. "Recently, with the announcement by the chief of staff to appoint me as IDF chief rabbi, a 'storm' was aroused over short answers that I provided on the internet 12 and more years ago while I was a civilian," he said in his message. "The military rabbinate is the rabbinate of all IDF soldiers. I recognize the diversity and range [of differences] that exist among IDF soldiers and the important contribution of every soldier, male and female, serving in the IDF, without any connection to their sexual orientation or the community or national group to which they belong."

And he added: "The IDF absorbs Israeli society in all of its diversity. As would any officer, I support significant service for every male and female soldier and view myself as obliged to fittingly address all of them. In the coming years, we will act to expand the common denominator, emphasizing what brings [people] together and unites through a partnership to build the army of the people. My door is open to every soldier, male and female."

The appointment has aroused a variety of responses from public figures. “This strange and embarrassing case of Rabbi Karim must be ended urgently with an immediate announcement that he will not be the next chief rabbi,” said MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union), a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

“The senior religious Zionist officials who are convening right now to defend the appointment in any way possible should drop it and realize that there’s a time for such an important and dominant group in Israeli society to stop automatically defending those who belong to it.”

Yacimovich said that instead, these officials should “make a sharp, clear and moral statement.”

MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid) said he “knows Eyal Karim from before he was a rabbi and the appointment of the outstanding officer Eyal Karim must be withdrawn, and immediately.”

“It’s not his benighted view on homosexuality that’s the problem, or his chauvinistic comments about women’s nature. The chief military rabbi is not the army’s spiritual leader. The current chief of staff has proved that as far as he’s concerned, the military rabbinate doesn’t educate or mold people’s worldview, but provides religious services.”

According to Shelah, the problems are Karim’s objection to women’s military service and his ruling that an order that contravenes Jewish law should be ignored.

“These are two of the pillars on which the IDF stands – that there is no authority above that of the commander, and that young women's military service is an integral part of the people’s army,” Shelah said.

Maj. Gen. Hagai Topolansky, the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate, met with Karim on Tuesday, after which the IDF spokesman issued a statement reiterating the ban on any kind of sexual assault against women.

The IDF was apparently unaware of Karim’s past statements, and his background was not thoroughly checked. Security sources had said Eisenkot might have to rethink the appointment.

Karim’s appointment, which was announced Monday, received preliminary approval quickly, as Eisenkot apparently wanted to prevent lobbying by rabbis and political parties against the move.

In 2003, Karim answered questions and addressed issues raised by readers of the Kipa religious website.

When asked if there was a reason to have mercy on terrorists and treat them as human beings, Karim answered, “Terrorists should not be treated as human beings, because they are animals, and the operative rule is the rule you stated, ‘He who has mercy on the cruel will ultimately be cruel to the merciful.’”

In answering whether it was permitted to kill a wounded suicide bomber on the thinking that some suicide bombers inject themselves with viruses, Karim said “suicide terrorists who are wounded must be killed.”