Letters to the Editor: The IDF's Chief Rabbi, a Conscientious Objector and the New Refugees of the South

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

Shameful pick for chief IDF rabbi

In response to “Eisenkot’s pick for IDF chief rabbi isn’t a bad one, actually” (Anshel Pfeffer, Jerusalem & Babylon, July 15).

In his column concerning the IDF chief rabbi, Anshel Pfeffer is far off base. He defends the outrageous statements of Rabbi Karim as being nothing other than the common teachings of Orthodoxy that no one thinks are relevant. That they are common enough in Orthodox circles here is true, but the things that Rabbi Karim and others like him have taught about women, homosexuals and the inequality of non-Jews, for example, are taken all too seriously and have led to discrimination, violence and even death.

These teachings are not found among all Orthodox teachers. Certainly the leaders of modern Orthodoxy in America and England would never say them since they are enlightened human beings who have been exposed to modern culture, and know that there are other ideas within Jewish law that take different approaches. Unfortunately such Orthodoxy is all too rare in Israel and is certainly not to be found in the official rabbinate or in the ultra-right-wing rabbinate to which Rabbi Karim belongs.

Pfeffer asks the question, “Should a man who has written stuff like this be promoted to the army’s chief rabbi?” His answer is “yes” because the job of that rabbi includes providing religious services to religious soldiers, supervising kashrut and making final calls concerning death in times of war. He contends that there are few rabbis with the required expertise, and specifically that “there are no ‘enlightened’ Reform or Conservative rabbis” with the proper background. That is simply not true – there are. Furthermore there are even enlightened Orthodox rabbis who could do the job. Obviously these rabbis would not be acceptable to the establishment and to the right wingers who pushed for Karim as one of their own.

What Pfeffer further ignores is that the position of chief chaplain carries with it the reputation of the IDF and of the State of Israel. What he says and teaches influences the army and is taken by the world – Jewish and non-Jewish – as representing Judaism as understood by the army and the state. The answer then is a definite “no”! A man who teaches what he has taught and who has not repudiated his teachings should not be given such a position. There is no excuse for it.

Rabbi Reuven Hammer

Jerusalem

We need citizens like Tair Kaminer

In response to “IDF to release ‘unfit for service’ draft refusenik Kaminer,” July 15.

I know from my experience in the military what the term “unfit for service” means; I dealt with this issue for a year-and-a-half and Tair Kaminer does not in any way fit this description, not in her behavior and not in her desire to do alternative service. If there is a concept of conscientious objection to military service it fits the reasons given by this impressive young woman. Her conscience does not allow her to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. Her conscience does not allow her to reconcile with the IDF being a tool used by the government to rule over another people and oppress them.

There is no dispute that the IDF is indeed the primary tool used to control the Palestinian people; there are those that are pleased with this, and others who are not. Most of the people who are not pleased with this nevertheless swallow hard and serve in the IDF, but there’s a small minority whose conscience does not allow it to participate. If there’s no recognition of this, then the concept of conscientious objection is meaningless. The large, strong and “most moral” Israeli army can manage without such people.

Kaminer has already contributed a year of her life to society and the state by doing a year of civilian service in Sderot. She is prepared to do national service the way thousands of other girls do without being denounced for their “bad, severe” behavior. Kaminer demonstrated her moral determination by sitting in military prison for 150 days and being prepared to continue doing so rather than violate her conscience.

The IDF has greatly erred here, both toward itself and toward the country. We need citizens like Tair Kaminer, who have a moral and ethical backbone, even if we don’t agree with their views. This was not the place or the case in which the IDF should have thrown its full weight against a citizen of this country.

Lt. Col. (res.) Tuvia Bartov

Rosh Ha’ayin

The new refugees of the south

In response to “2,000 protest as Be’er Sheva gay pride parade canceled,” July 15.

The shameful decision to change the route of the pride parade in Be’er Sheva, a humiliation that led to the march’s cancellation, proved that our elected officials don’t see us. This is not how you conduct a discussion; this is how you convey a message.

Be’er Sheva is already starting to lose its young people. The best revolt would be to simply leave the city with its conservative character, which pretends to be the “metropolis of the Negev,” and leave it to become more ultra-Orthodox and cope with that contradiction. It would be interesting to know if there’s a locale in the Dan region prepared to accept such migrants and grant “refugee” status to these intelligent, talented and people-loving young adults.

I know this is not the most successful operating plan. It’s particularly difficult in a country where there’s almost no social mobility, where human dignity is apparently derived from one’s social status. The opportunities offered by the center of the country also carry risks, like the higher cost of living and of housing, but it seems that the center has a lot more to offer, even to those who fail. I myself don’t know if I can succeed there; I may have to return. But Be’er Sheva in any case doesn’t have enough employment opportunities for academics and professionals.

Yevgeny Esterkin

Be’er Sheva