Jonathan Levy
​you shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18)

David Baddiel – call it out!

After many months of following the podcast, I was finally driven to write in. David Baddiel is doing incredible work trying to fight the antisemitism corner and has been for many years (Kick it out and other initiatives). David is a real man of the left, I know from some non Jewish friends that he is doing a great job for those well meaning left wingers to find their feet on this issue which has been so confusing (especially during the Corbyn years). I had to write in this week as I felt that Sayeeda over stepped the line and actually propagated an actual antisemitic libel on air and David was completely out of his depth. Sadly, David’s professed secularism and anti-Zionism, often leaves him on the back-foot as his knowledge on Judaism and Israel is so poor. That’s why overall, I don’t think the podcast succeeds, despite the fact that I appreciate the conversation in and of itself. My letter is below, sent last night 28/06/24.

* * *

Hi David and Sayeeda,

Firstly, thank you for trying to do something really difficult and managing to cover some difficult topics even if it makes me uncomfortable sometimes. I am a religious, Israeli Jew, originally from Essex, my wife was part of Nisa Nashim in Edgware. I live in the North of Israel, so it is very tense times. This isn’t the reason for my email, but David hearing you say you can be anti-Zionist but not antisemitic, just doesn’t make sense to me. Anti Zionist meaning, the state should cease to exist, what will happen to me and my family if that happens?

I listened to two podcasts today, last week’s and this week’s one. There are so many things that I would love to discuss with you both and have a good broigus over but still be friends afterwads. I have decided to just pick up on one, and David as someone battling anti-semitism, I really feel like you were not ready for this – Sayeeda you should give David a chance to do his homework as he does seem to get caught out by you more often than not! This was the transcript of what was said. I will add my comments in black:

“In some of the stuff that I was reading around this, so there was a chief rabbi who was appointed as the IDF’s chief rabbi. He was nominated for the appointment back in 2016, so quite a few years ago. And there’s all sorts of controversy about it because one of the things that this rabbi had said, it was called Colonel Eyal Karim, I think was his full name. He said in 2002, when he was talking about soldiers’ morale during fighting, he was asked this direct question, if soldiers were permitted to rape women during war?

In all sorts of forums in Israel, you will find “ask the Rabbi columns”, nowadays in WhatsApp groups etc. They can be very open and very interesting, as you can ask anything. In 2002 he was asked a question (on a religious website) about the clear contradiction between our modern morality, that fully condemns sexual violence and contrasting that with the permissive attitude of the Torah which describes how in ancient times, a soldier could take a captive female as his wife after following set procedure see (Deuteronomy 21:11-14). The questioner asks if this then implies that the Torah permits this behaviour, or rape (in battle) even in todays world.

And in replying to that, he said that as part of maintaining fitness for the army and the soldiers’ morale during fighting, it is permitted to breach, and these were the words that he used, breach the walls of modesty. And this is a direct quote, satisfy the evil inclination by lying with attractive, genteel women against their will, out of consideration for the difficulties faced by the soldiers and for overall success.

His response, actually didn’t answer the questioners question but merely tried to explain the reasoning behind the Torah creating a path (Deuteronomy 21:11-14) through which you can actually marry this women captive and then get to sleep with her. The gist of the reason he provided was that the Torah realises that in a time of war, certain morals get set aside for the sake of the success of the battle. He gives the example of eating non kosher (to maintain their strength), drinking idolatrous wine (to ease their anxieties) and finally sleeping with this beautiful woman as an admission (common in all wars) that sex and men is a thing (still true 3000 years later). No religious reader, me included, would understand that answer to imply that this was licence to “rape women during war”. The Torah isnt even talking about rape in this episode and also reading the Torah is one thing, practical Jewish law is another. Every yeshiva student knows that the episode of the “beautiful woman in the battlefield” is only a theoretical, historic phenomenon and every Rabbi of the past 3000 years has queried it, as it seems so out of step with Jewish moral sensibilities.

And there was this huge uproar to say, you’ve just sanctioned sexual violence. So there was all sorts of controversy when this guy was nominated to be rabbi to the IDF in 2016. So I think when…

there was uproar of course, as the words were quoted in the press out of context and the general attitude to religion here in Israel is negative etc. and many secular Jews have never picked up or read a Torah or would have any clue what it actually says. But uproar quite rightly, as I don’t know any Israelis or army personnel  (and I live in a right wing, religious village) that condone anything like that, whether left/right religious/secular, it is so truly ridiculous.

And so what happened to him? Did he lose his job? Was he generally exiled? Because obviously, he’s a terrible, awful person, that rabbi, and needs to be, needs to not be a rabbi, and definitely needs not to be positioned to be advising troops in any way at all.

Well, put the way Sayeeda put it, I understand you were quick to condemn him. Ultimately, he is the most senior religious authority, advising the IDF about religious sensibilities, that to be honest the average secular Israeli doesn’t give a damn about. This is one of the reasons why the Chareidim won’t join the army, as it cannot trust the army leadership to genuinely accept their religious needs (kashrut, mikve, no contact with women etc.). Any study of Jewish ethics and contemporary halacha, will show you a deeply sensitive Jewish law and application in real life, with a key focus as David may know on preserving life.

For a moment, his nomination was frozen. But then he went on to become the IDF rabbi and he still is, unfortunately, worryingly….

He issued a clarification, to emphasise exactly what I said above (links below) and that was the end of the matter. Yes, he is religious, and has conservative views that people may disagree with but I don’t think being religious or conservative is unfortunate or worrying, if that kind of thing is your bag.

I think what Sayeeda did here, happens a lot with Israel also and maybe is based on preconceived conceptions of what Israelis/Jews are capable of or what they believe.

My very polite advice is, if something sounds completely ridiculous and unbelievable – why don’t you double check with someone, bounce it off me, or someone else that may know within the community? Instead of spouting it on a podcast, listened to by thousands, who now believe that Israeli Rabbis, religious Jews in general and the IDF, allowed the rape of captive women. This is nothing but an antisemitic libel and David you should be doing much better at this.

Here is the original question:שאל-את-הרב/יפת-תואר-שבתורה/

and here is the Rabbi’s clarification:חדשות/הרב-קרים-מבהיר-וודאי-שאונס-אסור-בכל-מצב/

Wishing you both the best, keep at it, get better and do more research!

ps. David – did you see my blog by any chance?

Layla Tov!

About the Author
Jonathan has been involved in informal youth and adult education for over a decade and in 2017 moved to Israel with his family from London. In his spare time he is an accountant.
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