Down the Q&A Hole

Responsa are a weird and wild archipelago in the sea of Torah. Originally these shutim (literally, questions and answerses — yes, it’s a double plural) were collections of actual missives sent to sages around the world and the halachic replies sent back. You might find an analysis of open-carry for Wild West Bank women (Iggerot Moshe OH IV 75), sleeping with a man who claims to be Elijah the Prophet (a totally different meaning of כוס של אליהו, Binyan Zion 154) or whether you have to repeat Grace After Meals if the individual who led the prayer revealed himself to be a horse (Ezrat Mitzar 8). Think of them as Infrequently Asked Questions.

Why don’t you come with me, down the rabbit hole — or more precisely, the Q&A hole? You’ll be walking in a Yiddish Wonderland.

Shutim have now gone online, just like the rest of life. For well over a decade, the religious-Zionist website Kipa has had an Ask the Rabbi section. Most of the questions are fairly pedestrian, but one has recently received a lot of attention — not so much for the query, but for the replier, Rabbi Col. Eyal Karim, nominated to be the next Chief Rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces.

Let’s see it inside.

I have read about [the halachik question of] “the beautiful captive” on this site as well as studying the laws in the Torah, but I still have a question:

In various wars among the nations, e.g. World War I, various nations fought among themselves, and no one among them was particularly good to the Jews or particularly bad to the Jews…

However, were they to capture a village populated by Jews and rape Jewish girls, it was rightly considered a catastrophe and tragedy for the young woman and the family.

Thus, rape in war is considered a shocking matter. So how is it that a rabbi told me that a beautiful woman [captive] is allowed, according to some authorities, even before the entire process [pertaining to captives] described in the Torah? In other words, he submits to his desire and sleeps with her, and only then takes her to his house, etc.?

This seems contradictory to me. If raping civilians in war is something forbidden and shocking, why should it apparently be allowed for a Jew?

And would it be permitted in our days for an IDF soldier, for example, to rape young girls in time of combat, or would this be forbidden?

Thank you.

That is the entire text of the question. (The one ellipsis is in the original.) If you want to read the passage, it’s Deut. 21:10-14; Maimonides details the process in Laws of Kings and Their Wars, Chapter 8. Suffice it to say that the issue of the beautiful captive is not pretty, especially the part about taking her to a deserted place to force her (3) and killing her if she later refuses to convert (9).

But now for the answer:

Wars of Israel — whether mitzva wars or volitional wars — are mitzva wars. They are thus different from other wars conducted by the nations of the world among themselves. Since war is, by definition, not a particular matter — rather the nation as a whole fights — there are situations in which the personality of the individual is “erased” for the sake of the collective. Conversely, sometimes a large unit is imperiled to save an individual when the matter is exigent due to considerations of morale.

One of the most important and determinate values in war is maintaining the army’s combat readiness. That is why the fearful and fainthearted are sent back from the ranks, so that they will not melt their brothers’ hearts. The emotions and needs of the individual are shoved aside in order for the nation to succeed in war. Just as in war the boundaries of endangerment for the sake of others are “breached,” so too in war the boundaries of tzniut and kashrut are “breached.” Libation wine, which is not permitted in peacetime, is permitted in war, in order to maintain the good feelings of the combatants. Forbidden foods are permitted in war (according to a few opinions, even if kosher food is available) in order to maintain the combatants’ readiness, even though under conditions of peace they would be forbidden.

Similarly, war overrides certain aspects of sexual immorality, even though intimacy with a non-Jewess is a very serious matter; nevertheless it is permitted in war (under the conditions which permit it), due to consideration for the combatants’ difficulties. Since the success of the collective in war is our primary concern, the Torah allows the individual to indulge his evil desire under the conditions it permits, for the sake of the success of the collective.


Eyal Karim

You can still read this responsum on Kipa. It’s been up since 2002. There is a link to a clarification from 2012 “for one who is not an expert in the halachic world.” Does the five-minute rule for food turn into a ten-year rule for responsa? I don’t know. But considering that the replier is nominated to be the chief chaplain for an army which has many women, gays and non-Jews in its ranks; and considering that he has expressed incendiary ideas about all of these groups, some since retracted and some not; and considering that he would be my (reserve) boss, I don’t find it funny anymore. So can we please dig ourselves out of this hole?

About the Author
Yoseif Bloch is a rabbi who has taught at Yeshivat HaKotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion and Yeshivat Shvilei Hatorah and served as a congregational rabbi in Canada. He currently works as an editor, translator and publisher. As a blogger and podcaster, he is known as Rabbi Joe in Jerusalem.
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