Why the IDF’s New Chief Rabbi is Under Attack

It has little to do with the rabbi’s previous remarks on Torah, and everything to do with secular fear of religious power

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The announcement regarding the appointment of Eyal Karim as the new chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) was meant simply to introduce this person to the public at large, but in Israel nothing is as simple as it seems. 

As soon as the announcement was made, the daily Yediot Ahronot ran a front page headline reading: “The New Chief Rabbi: Rape is Allowed During War.” The page four title for the main body of the report was even more insidious. In quotation marks, suggesting Karim had said it, the headline read: “In Time of War [soldiers] are Allowed to Satisfy Their Lust by Having Sex With Beautiful Gentile Women.” As if this wasn’t enough, the daily chose to use the Hebrew the word for “gentile women,” which without vowel markings can be misread as “corpses” (goyot/gviot). 

The English news portal of the same newspaper repeated the same allegation to shape the thoughts of those who know nothing about this issue: “Col. Eyal Karim, the IDF’s intended next chief rabbi, has previously provided misogynistic interpretations of Jewish law that consider female conscription ‘utterly forbidden’ and permits raping ‘attracting Gentile women’ as a way to keep up morale.”  

Rabbi Karim himself is the third IDF chief rabbi in a row to have served in an elite combat unit. Before him were Avi Rontzki and fighter pilot rabbi Rafi Peretz. These rabbis belong to a new generation of religious soldiers who find themselves in the army’s upper echelons. Rather than just being a sort of passive figurehead restricted only to their religious duties, these rabbis sought to influence “the spirit of the IDF,” and it is this which scares the daylights out of the die-hard secular old elite. 

Concerning the ugly charge of permitting rape during war, Yediot Ahronot dug up Karim’s short answer to a question posted in 2002 to the “ask the rabbi” section of the religious portal Kipa. The one asking wanted to know if Deuteronomy 21:10-14 – “when you go out to war against your enemies … and you take them captive, and you see among the captives a beautiful woman …” – permits raping non-Jewish women. Karim answered that “coupling” with a gentile is a serious error and permission to do it in time of war is severely restricted. 

Two days ago, Karim clarified this 14-year-old answer: “It is obvious that Torah never permitted rape. The ruling concerning ‘a beautiful woman’ meant to cause the soldier to think twice before he marries a captive woman … further, the essence of this ruling (note that this is not a commandment) is to restrain the barbarity of war as it existed then, a time in which every soldier could do whatever he wanted with his captives … it is a given that this ruling is not applicable today and contradicts the IDF’s ethics and policies.” 

Following these allegations, Rabbi Karim was summoned to give an explanation to the charges, and his nomination has yet to be confirmed. But whatever the outcome may be, the indignation against Karim’s appointment has little to do with him personally. 

This attack comes from the secular old elite who fear what they perceive to be a process of turning the army more religious. The forum of ex-IDF chief rabbis have rightly observed that “elements in the Left have understood that one of the most influential agents on Israeli society is the army, and this is why they are trying to push the chief rabbinate aside by any means. To achieve this goal everything is kosher, including cynical recycling of the rabbi’s views on Torah.” 

As for now we don’t know what will be the decision of IDF Chief-of-staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot. However, it is important to stress that the aim of this attack is not to get rid of this or that rabbi. What those orchestrating this malicious campaign want to achieve is a lame duck in the army’s rabbinate, a goal they may very achieve. 


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