Answering a question from a concerned reader regarding the Torah’s position on rape during war, Colonel Eyal Qarim of the Military Rabbinate wrote nine years ago – out of uniform – that ‘prohibitions against immorality’ are removed during war.
Is it permitted for a Jewish soldier to rape a gentile woman during wartime? This question – based on the biblical mitzvah of Eshet Yefat Toar (“a comely woman”) – was referred to nine years ago (Hebrew) by Rabbi Eyal Qarim. The questioning party seemed anxious and worried, and wanted to know whether the iron-age mitzvah (religious deed) is applicable to IDF soldiers today.
UPDATE: Following comments doubting whether rape was the issue of the Rabbi’s answer, I post here the question that he was asked:
Is it allowed in our days [sic] for an IDF soldier, for example, to rape girls during a fight, or is such a thing forbidden?
Rabbi Qarim answered thus:
“The wars of Israel […] are mitzvah wars, in which they differ from the rest of the wars the nations wage among themselves. 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 […]
As in war the prohibition against risking your life is broken for the benefit of others, so are the prohibitions against immorality and of kashrut. Wine touched by gentiles, consumption of which is prohibited in peacetime, is allowed at war, to maintain the good spirit of the warriors. Consumption of prohibited foods is permitted at war (and some say, even when kosher food is available), to maintain the fitness of the warriors, even though they are prohibited during peacetime. Just so, 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.”
Wow. Herein lies a hornet’s nest. The first is that according to Qarim, the rape of female prisoners is not just permitted, it is also essential to war; the success of the whole at war relies on it. Even Genghis Khan, who (according to tradition) said that the best thing in the world is “to crush your enemies, to see them fall at your feet — to take their horses and goods and hear the lamentation of their women. That is best” – even he, who excelled at rape, did not see it as essential to warfare, just a satisfactory outcome. Stalin, likewise, dismissed complaints about rapes carried out massively by the Red Army by saying “a soldier has urges,” but he did not see it as an essential element of military life.
Qarim came up with a new military doctrine, which replaces Napoleon’s: an army marches on its phallus. According to this logic, perhaps the IDF should appoint to each unit not just a supply officer, but also a Comely Woman Officer (CWO), to make certain no soldier is left unsatisfied.
Another problem is that Qarim invokes here the usual apologetics of those who speak of “Jewish morality”: he claims war is a conflict between nations, not individuals, and that the individual has no importance at war. The raped woman is not a woman, is not a person, has no feelings and if she feels pain it is unimportant: she is not a woman or a person, just an individual of an enemy tribe whose misfortune was to be captured. Furthermore, Qarim says that rape during wartime is immoral if carried out by a rival tribe – but all Jewish wars are, by definition, mitzvah wars. If the rape of the defenseless is part and parcel of “Jewish morality,” it’s not hard to reach the conclusion it is inferior to all modern morality systems. It is also worth noting (Hebrew) that “Jewish morality” is a by-product of German blood and iron romanticism.
Yet a third problem is that, essentially, Qarim says there is nothing which may be prohibited in war, if it is done “for the success of the whole.” We know that the killing of armed combatants is permitted (this is, after all, the essence of war), and we now learn that, for His Blessed Name, the rape of women is also permitted. Then we must ask ourselves whether it is also permitted, for the sake of victory, to also kill unarmed people. Children, for instance, who we have good reason to think may seek one day vengeance for the death of their fathers and brothers and the torturing of their mothers and sisters. The notorious book “Torat Ha’Melekh” answered in the affirmative; it would be interesting to know what Qarim thinks, and whether there is anything he thinks a Jewish soldier ought not to do for victory.
But the real problem here is that Eyal Qarim is an IDF colonel (Aluf Mishneh), and is a senior officer in the Military Rabbinate, i.e. is in a senior position in the IDF religious edicts apparatus. I’ve sent the following questions to the IDF Spokesman:
- 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?
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.
I told him that, as an Israeli citizen, I considered Col. Qarim to be a ticking time bomb, which will blow up in the IDF’s face should a soldier rape an enemy woman: it would automatically be seen as official policy. I told him this happened in the past. He vehemently denied it, and wouldn’t listen.
I think that the fact that Qarim was on hiatus at the time – earlier he was the religious officer of a crack unit, Sayeret Matkal (commando unit) – is unimportant. What is important is that the Military Rabbinate chose to re-call an officer who wrote such a ruling to active service. Qarim was briefly considered a candidate for the position of the Chief Military Rabbi. This is the face of the IDF in 2012, and this is the face of the rabbis it chooses to employ. There are certainly more humane rabbis than Qarim; yet somehow these are not the rabbis who are promoted.