Rape and the Israel Defense Forces

Is the IDF less likely to rape than other occupying armies are?

Comrade Morlock

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Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash

In 2002, Rabbi Eyal Karim was asked, “Is it allowed in our days for an IDF soldier, for example, to rape girls during a fight, or is such a thing forbidden?”

Because Karim is now the Chief Military Rabbi for the Israel Defense Forces, his answer matters enormously. It’s been translated into English in two ways. One is blunt:

Karim replied that, as part of maintaining fitness for the army and the soldiers’ morale during fighting, it is permitted to “breach” the walls of modesty and “satisfy the evil inclination by lying with attractive Gentile women against their will, out of consideration for the difficulties faced by the soldiers and for overall success.”

One is more ambiguous:

Rabbi Karim: …war removes some of the prohibitions on sexual relations (gilui arayot in the original — YZG), 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 (yetzer ha’ra in the original -YZG), under the conditions mentioned, for the purpose of the success of the whole.”

“Gilui arayot” refers to forbidden sexual acts and includes rape. Which translation is more accurate, only Rabbi Karim knows. When he was nominated to be the IDF’s chief rabbi, he claimed he had been speaking about the past and that rape is no longer acceptable. Many Hebrew speakers thought the first translation was accurate:

Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s best-selling newspaper, ran this front-page headline: “New chief military rabbi: rape is permissible in a war”.

Rabbis Jonathan Wittenberg, Laura Janner-Klausner, Alexandra Wright and Richard Jacobi wrote, “As rabbinic leaders we fiercely refute the notion that any part of Jewish law has condoned the use of rape in wartime. Rabbi Karim was asked if IDF soldiers are allowed to commit rape during times of war. His answer should have been an unequivocal ‘no.’”

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Comrade Morlock

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