Appointed IDF Chief Rabbi's disturbing religious positions

Anti-democratic rabbinic appointments in the Jewish State

Last week we were sensitized once again to the pitfalls of State empowered and appointed rabbinic authorities, with the appointments of a new Military Chief Rabbi and rabbinic judges to Israel's Rabbinic Court of Appeal.

IDF soldier wearing phylacteries, courtesy: WikipediaIDF soldier wearing phylacteries, courtesy: Wikipedia

That very same week, a renowned and highly respected rabbinic head of a state funded IDF preparatory program also caught the media's attention for his bigoted and disturbing public statements against Reform Jews, homosexuals and others.

Naturally, we have much respect for the role of rabbis in Jewish society, but they should never be granted coercive, religious, monopolistic authority by the State. These examples highlight the serious and problematic nature of the unholy alliance between Religion and State.

Col. Eyal Karim, the IDF's intended next Chief Rabbi, has previously provided misogynistic interpretations of Jewish law that consider female conscription "utterly forbidden," female singers at IDF ceremonies and women officers affixing mezuzot on IDF facilities inappropriate; he also wrote ambiguously about the rape of Palestinian women by IDF soldiers during war. He has further published disturbingly bigoted opinions on homosexuals, non-Jews, Islam and Christianity. The following are direct quotes from Rabbi Karim's public writings:

  • "War removes some of the prohibitions on sexual relations, and even though fraternizing with a gentile woman is a very serious matter, it was permitted during wartime (under specific terms) out of understanding for the hardship endured by the warriors. And since the success of the whole at war is our goal, the Torah permitted the individual to satisfy the evil urge, under the conditions mentioned, for the purpose of the success of the whole."
  • "Women should not serve as officers over male soldiers because that would require them to focus their gaze on her for many hours, which involves the prohibition of looking [at woman]."
  • "It's desirable to create a ceremonial post that respects the views of all those present at the ceremony, and, to that end, to bring a male and not a female singer," he wrote in a 28-page opinion.
  • "With regard to affixing a mezuza by a female [senior officer when a new IDF facility is constructed], many halakhic decisors teach that just as women are obligated to have a mezuza, so should they be able to affix them, but some of the late authorities wrote that since women may not scribe mezuzot, they may also not affix them. And [therefore] in a public setting, it is more appropriate to be stringent regarding this since 'all the honor of the daughter of the king is within' (Psalms 45:9)." [NOTE: this verse has historically been used to support the idea that women should remain out of the public sphere]
  • "A woman may not recite the Kaddish in front of men either at the synagogue or at home."
  • "Women may not read from the Torah because they may cause men to have [sexual] thoughts, which is prohibited, especially in such a permissive generation such as ours."
  • "Hair is one of the things that God gave to women in order to attract attention and beautify her so that she can find life partner and subsequently please her husband... When a women is alone or with other women or her father, she may sing aloud, but in front of your uncle and foreign men you may not."
  • Homosexuals are "sick or deformed," and "must be helped to escape their situation" [i.e. 'reformed']
  • "There are some among this generation's halakhic authorities that took the position that since non-Jewish citizens of the State are entitled to participate in all State matters, therefore the law regarding all facilities owned by the State is that they should be treated as buildings owned in partnership with a gentile. Some others have taken the position that with regard to the commandments of the Torah, State property is considered the possession of Jews alone, since after all, the State is defined as the state of the Jewish people... Moreover, since the Torah ordered that the rule over the Land of Israel will be in the hands of the Jewish people, hence the view that gentiles are equal to Jews regarding their rights in the State is in contrast to the Torah's view..."
  • "Suicide bombers who were wounded must be killed," for "terrorists should not be treated as human beings, as they are animals." [Needless to say, this “edict” is illegal in Israel]
  • "One should not receive any assistance from Christians, not even medical; this may create hardships, but our eternal values are not measured by temporary convenience at any given time."
  • "Of course there is reason to study secular studies, such as making a living, and there is no prohibition against studying them out of curiosity, but Christianity and Islam may not be studied."

Rabbi Karim consistently applied stringent, discriminatory religious interpretations knowingly and deliberately to situations relating to women and non-Jews, despite valid, lenient halakhic opinions to the contrary. The troubling conclusion that one must come to, after reading Rabbi Col. Karim's many published religious rulings, is that a broad picture emerges, underscoring his poor judgment and tendency towards extremism and religious stricture; his opinions have rejected modern science, as well as the rule of law.

The troubling conclusion that one must come to, after reading Rabbi Col. Karim's many published religious rulings, is that a broad picture emerges, underscoring his poor judgment and tendency towards extremism and religious stricture; his opinions have rejected modern science, as well as the rule of law.

IDF Chief of Staff Eisenkot appointed Rabbi Karim, despite the public uproar, after meeting with him to discuss these very issues, which he had criticized himself. At the meeting, Rabbi Col. Karim assured him that he would "treat everyone equally regardless of religious views and sexual orientation."

Unfortunately, given the consistency and diversity of Karim's problematic religious views, it's hard to take his statement at face value. His have long been prejudicial and rigid interpretations, and thus they are likely to remain remain and influence his conduct.

Even as Col. Karim's appointment as Israel's Chief Military Rabbi went forward, permanent rabbinical judges were appointed to Israel's Rabbinical Court of Appeal last week. Among them, Rabbi Eliyahu Refael Heishrik who was quoted in the ultra-Orthodox media, saying that "when the question arises as to who should be educating the children [in a custody battle where one parent is secular and the other religious], the ruling is self-evident. Clearly, the children should be educated with the parent that is observant. The soul of the child should be guarded, and it should be ensured that the child will be educated in a Torah education."

He explained that there is a fear that such a ruling would be thrown out should one the parties petition the Supreme Court: "The minute you write such a ruling, the next morning it will fall in the Supreme Court. There isn't even a question. So what do you do? You must write the same things and reach the same predetermined conclusion, that the child should be with the father, without specifying 'shabbat' and 'kippa'. Find other reasoning, and there is no shortage of such [reasoning]."

In 2014 Rabbi Heishrik was questioned about his position in the course of a hearing before a Knesset committee. He tried to soften the significance of his interview and say that "the quotes were not accurate;" but following additional questioning, he admitted that "When one writes a ruling on custody in the rabbinic court, the ruling must be based on substantive reasons of merit, and not mention one way or the other the [true] reasoning connected with religion." He stated, "It is possible that this reason [namely: religion] has added value, but it would never be decisive in the decision, as to where to place the custody and how visitation rights should be carried out."

Needless to say, giving primacy to religious upbringing in Rabbinic Courts’ custody rulings has been repeatedly rejected by the Supreme Court, which has made it amply clear that in matters of custody the primary and only consideration should be "the best interests of the child." Clearly, Rabbi Heishrik's cynical scheming as to how to make the rabbinic court's rulings appear as though the consideration of religion was not decisive in the decision is utterly specious, and contrary to what is expected of state officials. Hiddush has now joined with other organizations in challenging Heishrik's appointment by petitioning the Supreme Court.

Also last week, at a conference in Jerusalem devoted to “Dealing with the impact of Reform Judaism on Israel’s Jewish nature,” which brought together the Chief Rabbinate and other fundamentalist Orthodox groups [with some 700 rabbis and educators in attendance], Rabbi Yig’al Levenstein, cofounder of a prestigious, state funded pre-military academy publicly said that "Reform is not a Jewish stream; it is a stream of Christianity." He further attacked the IDF approach to education, describing it as educating toward religious pluralism and recognition of the LGBT community, describing the latter as “perverts.”

It goes without saying that Rabbis like Levenstein, Karim and Heishrik are entitled to their undemocratic views [so long as they don’t break the law], but the tremendous problem is that religious leaders with such views are appointed as official State rabbis in Israel or receive state funding for their programs. Their views -by definition- stand in stark contrast to Israel's core values of democracy and equality; discriminating against women, against non-Jews, and against non-Orthodox Jews - by default. The Jewish and democratic state of Israel, its citizens, and the international Jewish community deserve an Israel which is true to its founding dream and promise - and we urge you to make your voices heard!

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