Rabbi Yigal Levinstein’s codirector at a pre-army program in the West Bank distanced himself Friday from his colleague’s derogatory comments about women and the LGBT community, but reiterated their belief that women should not serve in combat positions in the Israel Defense Forces.
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Rabbi Eli Sadan posted a video that touched on Levinstein’s recent comments, which had caused a media furor when he derided women who serve in the army and called members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community “perverts.”
Regarding military service for women, Sadan said, “We think that a woman, with her gentleness and empathy, should not fight. Not because she cannot. The question is about the kind of society we want to build. We want women to keep their desire to bring new life, not to end life.”
Levinstein and Sadan run the Bnei David pre-army program in the settlement of Eli. In the video, intended for graduates of the military academy, Sadan said the academy “isn’t involved in the war against phenomena in Israeli society.
“The events of the past weeks, which blew us into the heart of the public storm, obligate us to stop for a moment and go back to basics,” Sadan said, without mentioning Levinstein’s comments.
Sadan avoided criticizing his colleague, but stressed that the goal of their military prep program was “to build the inner resilience of young men and women from the religious-Zionist community so they can take part in all areas of life in Israel without losing their identity.”
However, he also called attention to a process within the army that began two years ago, “and that suddenly challenged our trust in the possibility of integrating into it. Apparently, elements outside of the army – feminists, radical liberals, the New Israel Fund and others – recognized that the army was the place in which the face of Israeli society could be shaped. As a result, in recent years processes began in the army that cause us to feel under attack.”
According to Sadan, that attack includes a military order issued last September on mixed service, the inclusion of women in combat units and the removal of the army’s Jewish identity department from the purview of the military rabbinate.
“This assault caused bitterness and phenomena that, in my opinion, brought us to a place we shouldn’t be in,” Sadan said. He added that “Levinstein gave an interview and apologized for the fact that the emotional turmoil he felt caused him to use expressions that he himself does not agree with. All of you [academy students] know he never taught the use of such concepts.”
Continuing, Sadan stressed that “the struggle for the character of the state must be conducted in the Knesset, the media and the courts. We encourage all of our graduates to enter these systems so as to influence society. Our pre-military program does not engage in wars against phenomena within Israel. There are many phenomena that are not to our liking, but this is our army. We have no other army.”
In regard to the various groups whose members serve in the military, Sadan said, “It doesn’t matter whether a soldier is religious or secular, Reform or messianic, or has inverted tendencies [i.e., homosexual]. If he gives three years of his life on behalf of the Jewish people, and sometimes sacrifices his life, he is a just man.”
In a conversation with students of the hesder yeshiva in Sderot a few days ago, Levinstein related a dialogue he conducted recently with the mother of a young gay man. The rabbi described how he argued with the “poor woman” and insisted that her son was a “pervert.” It later turned out that the family had been friends with Levinstein for many years.
The friendship was marred when the family discovered, last week, how the rabbi spoke about them to students.
On Friday, that young man, Yuval Avrami, responded in a Facebook post to Levinstein’s remarks. “I am a real human being, not a pervert or someone with inverted tendencies,” Avrami wrote, addressing the rabbi. “You betrayed my family’s trust. Your problem is not one of style. The problem is that you champion everything that is evil and hated. My friends and I do not have within us such hatred, not even the ‘perverts’ among us.”