Rabbi Karim's associates respond to the High Court’s decision

Rabbi’s associates: The Supreme Court is taking Rabbi Karim's statements out of context.

Shomo Vile ,

Rabbi Eyal Karim
Rabbi Eyal Karim

Associates of Rabbi Eyal Karim, appointed by the IDF to be the new IDF Chief Rabbi and approved by the Chief of Staff, responded Monday to the High Court’s decision to stop the appointment, calling it an attempt to take Rabbi Karim’s comments from 14 years ago out of their context. They added that the questions were asked while he was a civilian and were purely halakhic in nature.

The Supreme Court cited Karim’s response, in 2003, before he was serving in the IDF, to a question that was asked in the “Ask the Rabbi” column of a national-religious news site. The question was how it is that the Torah could condone the rape of non-Jewish women by Jewish soldiers in time of war. This referred to the law of battle in which the Torah does not 'condone' rape, but commands a fighter who takes a woman captive to marry her only after giving her 30 days in which to mourn her capture - or recompense her. In both cases, he has to accept responsibility, as opposed to the horrific maltreatment and mass rapes of captive women in other cultures and civilizations.

In the response, Rabbi Karim explained the Torah’s rationale, but did not explicitly add that this is forbidden in modern times, an unnecessary qualification since the IDF does not make its decisions based on halakha.

This answer was seized upon by a blogger in 2012 and created a media storm at the time, claiming that Karim had sanctioned IDF soldiers to rape women.

Karim then issued a clarification, stating, “Obviously, the Torah never permitted the rape of women,” and saying that the verse in Deuteronomy about female captives was meant to prevent the rape of women during war.

On the issue of women’s enlistment in the army, Karim wrote in 2002 that it was forbidden, unless it’s a matter of life and death – as during the War of Independence, this in keeping with the decision of Israel's Chief Rabbinate since the establishment of the state. “But in our era, we do not live with the same level of threat to our survival, and because of the likely damage to a girl’s modesty, the great rabbis and the Chief Rabbinate have ruled that the enlistment of women in the IDF is forbidden.”

Following the republication of Karim’s comments in 2012, he was summoned by the head of IDF Manpower Directorate, Maj.-Gen. Hagai Topolansky, to clarify his remarks. The IDF’s spokesman said in a statement last week that Karim had explained that “it is never permitted, neither in times of war or otherwise, to sexually harm women.”

He also said that he “supports and believes in the service of women in the IDF,” and that he has himself taken steps during his time in the military rabbinate to make it possible for women to serve alongside of men.

The Supreme Court was petitioned by several Meretz MKs to halt the appointment in light of his comments 14 years ago. MK Michal Rozin, one of the petitioners, hailed the Supreme Court’s decision as a “victory against the voices of chauvinism and racism.” Fellow petitioner MK Tamar Zandberg said that “a person who preaches rape cannot be the chief military rabbi.”

Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot, who made the appointment, met with Rabbi Karim several months ago and discussed these issues at length. According to the IDF spokesman, Karim had explained that under his leadership, the military rabbinate would respect all people regardless of their religion, race and sexual orientation, and that he "sees the army as the people's army that accepts all recruits, whoever they might be."