Colonel dogged by allegations of justifying rape in wartime to become IDF’s new chief rabbi

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Rabbi Colonel Eyal Karim, a former special forces commander who once landed in hot water over a “mistinterpreted” statement implying that Israeli soldiers could commit rape in wartime “for the sake of joint success,” is set to become IDF’s new chief rabbi.

Answering a question from one reader who asked whether IDF soldiers were permitted “to rape girls during a fight, or is such a thing forbidden?” according to +972 web magazine, Rabbi Karim responded, “Since, essentially, a war is not an individual matter, but rather nations wage war as a whole, there are cases in which the personality of the individual is ‘erased’ for the benefit of the whole. And vice versa: sometimes you risk a large unit for the saving of an individual, when it is essential for purposes of morale. One of the important and critical values during war is maintaining the army’s fighting ability […]

“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 the 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,” he added.

The quote caused a furor when it emerged ten years later in 2012, and Rabbi Karim was pushed to publish a clarification stating that his comments had been taken out of context, The Times of Israel reported.

“Colonel Karim wishes to clarify that his words were only uttered in response to a theoretical hermeneutical question, certainly not to a practical halachic question,” the army said in a new statement on Monday. “Rabbi Karim never wrote, said, or even thought that an IDF soldier is permitted to sexually harm a woman during wartime.”

Karim’s “moral approach is evidenced by his years of activity in command, fighting and rabbinical posts, in which he displayed utter loyalty to the values and spirit of the IDF, and especially as regards peoples’ dignity, no matter who they are.”

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Karim was drafted into the IDF back in 1975 and volunteered for the paratroopers before becoming an officer in the 202 Battalion, the Arutz Sheva reported. He later took an unpaid leave to study in a yeshiva in Jerusalem, but agreed to return to the paratroopers in 1981 to take part in operations in Lebanon, and later as a commander in the first Lebanon war. His new position as the IDF’s chief rabbi will come with a promotion to Brigadier-General. 

In the past, he has also been one of the leaders of a religious-Zionist struggle against the recruitment of women for combat roles in the army, the Haaretz reported.