Avram Israel Reisner
Rabbi Emeritus of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation, Baltimore, MD

Politics corrupts even rabbis

There is debate over the propriety of the appointment of Rabbi Eyal Karim to the post of chief rabbi of the IDF which resurfaces an old objection. The problem — his view expressed originally on in 2003 that rape was permissible to Jewish soldiers in the context of war. A pretty outrageous claim, he was challenged about it in 2012 and published his explanation on March 3, 2012 on kipa. He explained in that post that the Torah certainly never permitted rape, but only the sanctified marriage of a female captive after she has observed the mourning period described in Deuteronomy 21. And that would itself not be permitted today. To the Knesset, he says today that an arcane discussion of biblical law was misunderstood to be about today’s IDF.

Were these explanations true they might be compelling. But the record speaks against the explanation offered. The question to which he responded originally was not an arcane one of biblical law, but was specifically about the behavior permitted IDF soldiers. “Q: Is it permissible, in our day, for an IDF soldier to rape a woman during a time of war, or is that prohibited?” The questioner cites an anonymous rabbi specifically on this point, that rape of a captive woman is permissible according to some authorities even before the procedures describe in the Torah are followed.

To this question Rabbi Karim responds, albeit guardedly, in the affirmative. “Every battle fought by Israel is a mitzvah…. One of the decisive values in battle is maintenance of the fighting ability of the army… Even though fraternization with a non-Jewess is very severe, the Torah permitted an individual to satisfy his carnal instinct on the terms that it did on behalf of the success of the whole.”

Rabbi Karim might have protested that the rabbi cited by the questioner was wrong, that the Torah demanded the procedures named in Deuteronomy, despite the views of some authorities. But he did not. He hedged with the phrase “on the terms that it did” leaving open the possibility as he explained in 2012 that what was permitted was only long after and through marriage, but holding open, as well, the possibility proposed by the authorities cited by the questioner, that rape before marriage might also be permitted. He might clearly have distinguished between then and now, as would actually have been helpful if the original post had really been intended as only an antiquarian discussion about biblical law.

He did not do so, because he was giving a direct, and affirmative, answer to the direct question that he was asked.

A presentation worthy of a rabbi and candidate for chief rabbi before the Knesset in 2016 called for recognition of his past views and a compelling description of his own developing awareness of their impropriety. Growth is commendable. Prevarication for the sake of office is not.

About the Author
Avram Israel Reisner is Rabbi Emeritus of Chevrei Tzedek Congregation. He has a PhD in Talmud and Rabbinics from the Jewish Theological Seminary.