Analysis

Religious Firebrand or Torah Literalist? Where Does New IDF Rabbi Really Stand?

Many contradictions are evident between answers Rabbi Krim gave to print media and what he said to a website concerned with Jewish law. What is clear: He has an agenda.

IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Krim on July 13, 2016 (prior to appointment).
IDF Spokesman's Office / Reuters

The interview that Rabbi Eyal Krim gave Haaretz’s Amos Harel was held in 2000, before the second intifada, before the withdrawal from Lebanon. Krim was a civilian, a reserve commander who taught at the Ateret Jerusalem yeshiva in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. Ateret Jerusalem is connected to the settler organization Ateret Cohanim.

The interview was held three years before Krim started answering religious questions regularly on the religious website Kipa.

If he were in control, Krim would ask that the High Court of Justice only judge him on that interview, and not the host of disturbing answers he gave later to the religious website. This article described how Krim became in civilian clothes the leading address to turn to for religious soldiers, especially ones in combat units, with questions and dilemmas regarding halakha, or Jewish religious law. His popularity among religious soldiers overshadowed that of the rabbis of the military rabbinate and annoyed them very much.

Regarding the refusal of an order, Krim said: “I say, don’t refuse for any price. The Lord gave man a mouth. We have to learn to explain ourselves. If you explain, the commander will understand. To the best of my understanding, the vast majority of cases of refusing a command in the army stems from soldiers being wrong or not knowing how to explain themselves. I have yet to encounter a situation in which soldiers refused an order for a justified religious reason. You can usually solve the crisis through dialogue.”

Fewer than three years later, in January 2003, Krim was still a civilian. However, by then he also participates regularly on Kipa’s questions and answers page, and sounds different. “It is forbidden to refuse an order when there is a situation of preserving a life, for example, when a soldier is asked to risk himself in combat,” he wrote. Still, he added: “An order that contradicts religious law should not be obeyed. Rather one should consider the repercussions of refusing an order if it won’t cause greater reverse damage.” He also wrote, “Of course it is forbidden to obey an order to commit an offense or to prevent the fulfilling of an obligatory commandment like prayer.”

How can one explain the gap in his positions? Who is the real Eyal Krim? One could solve the question that in one place he was giving an interview to Haaretz, and was perhaps trying to curry favor among a secular, liberal crowd, and in the other he appeared on a partisan website catering to the religious community. It is the right answer, but not a full one. The answer is probably both.

A not so obvious effort to make it easier for soldiers regarding religious matters is prevalent in a large portion of the answers Krim wrote for those sitting in the Beit Midrash. For example, he wrote in his book of answers called “War Ties” that the Home Front Command’s rescue force in Turkey can fly on Shabbat to save non-Jews, not an obvious halakhic issue. A soldier in Lebanon who did not leave for a break for 35 days can leave on a convoy on Shabbat if there is a fear that he will remain an additional month without the possibility of going home, and then “his level of functioning will be hurt” in a way that would risk his comrades.

Krim sparked many questions stemming mainly from his positions as he expressed them in Kipa. The truth is that anyone who ever dealt with the Bible, halakha or midrash dealt in subjects that would look to a person on the outside as racist and chauvinist, but Krim was exceptional and it is very hard to resolve as neutral “words of Torah” his answers that take the side of killing disarmed terrorists, his treatment of gay people as “sick” or the understanding that he showed in refusing an order. There is a clear agenda. Does this disqualify him from being the IDF chief rabbi? The matter demands a thorough explanation from the High Court of Justice.