In Battle Over a Rabbi, Israel's Culture War Becomes a Fight to the Death

Women’s dignity, gay rights and Palestinians’ property rights are all left-wing issues that Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party feels it must fight to the end.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in the Knesset, March 28, 2016.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaking in the Knesset, March 28, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

“The High Court of Justice doesn’t appoint the chief of staff, the defense minister or the chief military rabbi,” declared Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Flames were spurting from his nostrils because the court had dared to freeze the appointment of the latest chief military rabbi, Eyal Krim, while demanding a written affidavit explaining his views on women and gay people.

The rabbi, who has many military positions under his belt, is also a great scholar of Jewish law. Among his frightening rulings, he wrote that “in wartime it is permissible to satisfy the evil inclination by sleeping with beautiful non-Jewish women against their will,” and also that gays should be treated as people who are “sick or maimed.”

But Bennett is breaking down an open door. The court indeed doesn’t appoint the chief of staff or the chief military rabbi. The court has become a dishrag chucked around by Bennett and his colleagues from the Knesset’s rowdy wing.

The Meretz party’s petition that got the court to delay Krim’s appointment was filed after women, gay people and foreigners had hoped in vain that Bennett, that paragon of morality, would be the first to oppose the appointment. Or at least the second.

Instead, they listened in astonishment as Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked gave the noble rabbi her seal of approval. “I rely on the many people who have told me that they know him and that he’s a worthy man in every respect, so I very much hope his appointment will be approved,” she said in July.

The court heard, gnashed its teeth and was unable to offer salvation. Without a petition, there’s no hearing, and without a hearing, there’s no ruling.

But in Bennett’s view, the court should have said that it wouldn’t intervene, that its hands were tied, or at least suggested that the petitioners withdraw their petition. Because what ultimately did Krim say?

IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Krim on July 13, 2016 (prior to appointment).
IDF chief rabbi-designate Col. Eyal Krim, on July 13, 2016 (prior to appointment).Credit: IDF Spokesman's Office / Reuters

Regarding gay people, he merely reflected the prevailing view in the education minister’s circles – and those circles are large. As for women, well, this is just an interpretation of Jewish law, not an order. After all, the chief military rabbi isn’t authorized to issue orders to rape good-looking non-Jewish women. So once again, the court failed to understand its place.

But the problem isn’t whether Krim is appointed. Or to be more precise, it’s an enormous problem, one that pierces the military’s moral fabric like a serrated dagger and from there society’s moral fabric. For when the chief of staff boasts of “the army’s values,” and the prime minister declares that the Israel Defense Forces is the most moral army in the world, appointing a homophobe or someone who grants a seal of approval to rape as chief military rabbi is tantamount to abetting a crime.

Still, the bigger problem is Bennett’s threat against the Supreme Court. From this perspective, there’s no difference between the ban he’s trying to impose on any discussion of Krim’s future and, say, the bill to legalize unauthorized outposts in the West Bank.

In both cases the court is viewed as acting against the state’s spiritual and national interests, and in both cases the response by the radical religious right has been nearly identical. The court has capitulated to the radical left’s views, as MK Moti Yogev, a member of Bennett and Shaked’s Habayit Hayehudi party, put it.

This is the real issue. It’s not the satisfaction of sexual urges or the illnesses of gay people that worry these gatekeepers, but the leftism of the country’s highest court. Women’s dignity, gay rights and Palestinians’ property rights are all left-wing issues that must be fought to the death.

These are the values of a foreign state, the state of the settlers, which is dictating the identity of the State of Israel. Col. Krim is just a pawn in this war. Ultimately he’s just another in a long list of rabbis who have made similar statements, or even worse ones.

But giving up on his appointment would be a capitulation to the left at a moment when the right’s victories have been coming thick and fast. The Supreme Court’s rulings are an obstacle in the path of the D-9 bulldozer being recklessly driven by Yogev and his party colleagues Bennett, Shaked, Bezalel Smotrich and Nissan Slomiansky – the agents of the foreign state that has conquered the State of Israel.