Israeli rabbi who advocated rape of ‘comely gentile women’ during war becomes chief army rabbi
Just on my way to my flight from Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, I noticed this cover headline in the Yediot Aharonot newspaper front page:
“New IDF Chief Rabbi: It is permissible to rape during war”. Under that: “Col. Eyal Qarim has declared in the past “draft of girls is totally forbidden” – and claimed that in times of war it is permissible for soldiers to “have sex with comely gentile women against their will”.
I have followed the case of Qarim for quite a while. In fact, some three weeks ago I drafted an article covering the history of Qarim’s violent advocacy since 2003. Though at that point the story seemed not to be current, just yesterday those fears concerning Qarim’s possible influence were confirmed: Qarim was promoted from head of the IDF Rabbinate to IDF Chief Rabbi. Below is my drafted article.
The story of the IDF Chief Rabbi Col. Eyal Qarim and his opinions about rape in times of war is one that comes up occasionally in the media, as it again has done recently for example here, and cited on other sources. Lately, a contact asked me whether I could look at the Hebrew sources and confirm that there is no mistranslation.
I am familiar with this case, and not only is there no mistranslation as such – there is a continuation of the story which seems to have gained no local (Israeli) nor international scrutiny, till now, and I think it deserves it. In order to understand the seriousness of the whole story, a certain historical overview is necessary:
The story has mainly come to be noticed due to Yossi Gurvitz’s article in March 2012 titled “IDF colonel-rabbi implies: Rape is permitted in war”, where he notes an answer that Qarim, not in uniform at the point, gave to a concerned reader of a religious publication called Kipa asking about rape in times of war, opining that “prohibitions against immorality” are removed during war. Part of Qarim’s answer:
“[W]ar 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.”
Gurvitz was making the point that although Qarim posted his answer in 2003, when he was out of uniform (Qarim had served as a combat soldier and commander in an elite IDF unit), he was in 2012 a commander in the military rabbinate, and considered for the post of Chief Military Rabbi.
Gurvitz asked the IDF Spokesman the following questions:
- Is the rape of women during wartime agreeable to the IDF Ethics Code?
- If not, why does a prominent military rabbi promote it?
- If not, does the IDF intend to end the service of Col. Qarim, or bring charges against him?
- How does the IDF Spokesman intend to deal with the anticipated damage to its image in the international arena, resulting from Col. Qarim’s ruling?
There was a response, as Gurvitz notes: “Frankly, I did not expect an answer, but surprisingly enough an enraged officer from IDF Spokesman New Media Unit called me. His official response was that Qarim was not an officer in active service when he wrote that ruling, and furthermore that my question ‘disrespects the IDF, the State of Israel and the Jewish religion,’ and hence his unit will no longer answer my questions.”
Apparently this exposure became a PR nuisance for the IDF, so the day after Gurvitz’s article came out, Qarim issued a “clarification” on the same religious website, Kipa (in Hebrew).
It is this clarification which is so interesting in terms of currency and as an addition to the story, because here is the military rabbi in uniform, and this is how he tries to backpedal. The response article is headlined:
“Rabbi Qarim clarifies: of course rape is not permitted in any situation – by halacha (religious ruling). Head of the Rabbinate Department answers activists from the left who have taken his words out of context. In clarification of the halachic (religious ruling) answer that he gave on Kipa , Rabbi Qarim says “of course the Torah never allowed rape of a woman”.
Let us scrutinize how exactly Qarim gets out of this one:
Of course the Torah never allowed rape of a woman. The ruling of “comely woman” [Deuteronomy 21] is meant to cause a soldier to retreat from his intention to take the [female] prisoner to be his wife, through a series of acts which moderate her beauty and accentuate her personality and her sorrow. If, after the whole process he still wishes to marry her, he must do this through Hupa [religious ceremony] and blessings…. In addition, the whole essence of the ruling was to refine the situation which was prevalent in the barbaric world of wars that was existent then, where any soldier was permitted to do as he pleased with the prisoner, and the purpose of the ruling is to prevent a soldier from taking the prisoner as wife in the heat of battle. It is clear that in our days, the world has advanced to a level of morality where prisoners are not taken to be married, of course this ruling is not to be carried out as written, as it is also in total opposition to the values and orders of the army.
Now it is necessary to scrutinize the original text and what was originally asked on the first Kipa article in 2003. The inquirer asked specifically: “How is it then, that it was told to me by a rabbi, that a comely woman can be [raped], according to some of the [Halachic] rulers, also before the whole process described in the Torah? That is, that [a man would] surrender to his desires, and have sex with her, and only later take her to her home etc.?”
Indeed, the text of the Torah is worrying in its formulation. Let us have a look at it. This is Deuteronomy 21:10-14:
“When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes”.
Indeed, the section is somewhat confusing – because the first “take her as a wife” that appears, and even more so in Hebrew וְלָקַחְתָּלְךָלְאִשָּׁה , could well be translated as an act of rape, in that the literal translation can be “and you took her as your woman”, in a “surrender to desires” as the inquirer puts it. Though the acts that follow are relating to the more formal question of marriage.
This is the very specific matter that the inquirer had asked about, and Qarim did not really answer it. Instead, he essentially explained how as the “success of the whole at war is our goal, the Torah permitted the individual to satisfy the evil urge”. As NRG noted, Qarim did not say “no, it is not permitted”.
But when pressed to backpedal, Qarim applied a novel technique. He addresses the rape issue in the Torah very lightly (“Of course the Torah never allowed rape of a woman”), but then goes to address another issue – the formal issue of the marriage – as if the two were one and the same. What he then regards as the “problem” that the Torah supposedly tries to tackle, is the actual ceremonial marriage – not the rape. So Qarim is saying that the problem is taking a decision to marry a prisoner “in the heat of battle”. Thus he now tackles a whole other matter, saying “it is clear that in our days, the world has advanced to a level of morality where prisoners are not taken to be married. Of course this ruling is not to be carried out as written, as it is also in total opposition to the values and orders of the army”.
But this is a straw man. The inquirer did not ask about marriage, but about rape, and noted that some rabbinical authorities have opined that the ruling could be about what to do after the “surrender to desires”. In his 2003 answer, Qarim was focusing on the rape issue, justifying it in historical terms, and not answering the question specifically in address of our times, as was asked.
Qarim provides very ambiguous answers, which in their focus may leave the reader confused. In 2003 he seemed to imply that rape is permitted for Jews in times of war (he did not make the explicit distinction between biblical times and now), and in his “clarification” he addressed marriage, not rape.
This ambivalence, straw-man-argumentation and obfuscation are very worrying. In the darkness of ambivalence, one could indeed be worried that soldiers, particularly those heeding rabbinical opinions, would be confused. And who knows what a confused soldier “in the heat of battle” could come to do with a Palestinian woman.
NRG noted in its article that “it’s now clear who Erez Efrati learned from”. Erez Efrati is an IDF Officer, the bodyguard of the Chief in Staff, who was convicted of rape and who told the Supreme Court in 2011 that the reason he attacked the young woman was because “he acted as if she was a terrorist”. NRG also notes the opinion of Tzfat chief rabbi Shmuel Eliayhu, also cited from the Kipa site:
“If IDF soldiers do not satisfy their evil lusts, they may lose the war, and then the enemy soldiers will rape our women. In other words, we are talking about rape as a protective measure”.
Thus it seems that rape in times of war is a rather contentious issue amongst Rabbis, even IDF Rabbis. “No” doesn’t necessarily mean “no”, violent attack can be considered as “protective measure”. One wonders whether the “barbaric world of wars” that Qarim refers to is actually distant history.
Postscript: In response to some outrage from a few politicians from the left and heads of women’s rights organizations in Israel, the IDF Spokesman is quoted in Yediot Aharonot today stating: “Col. Qarim seeks to clarify that his words were uttered only in regards to a Halachic interpretation question, but in no way as an answer to a practical question. Rabbi Qarim never wrote, said or even thought that an IDF soldier is permitted to sexually assault a woman during war – whoever interprets his words otherwise is mistaken and deceiving. Rabbi Qarim’s moral attitude can be witnessed in his long service in the military in various command posts, in combat and as well as rabbinical functions, where he has demonstrated total loyalty to the values of the IDF and the spirit of the IDF, especially values of human dignity towards all.”
But this is essentially the backpedaling that Qarim already attempted in 2012. As I have shown above, it is rather unconvincing.