+972 Magazine's Stories of the Week

Directly In Your Inbox

Analysis News
Visit our Hebrew site, "Local Call" , in partnership with Just Vision.

Why we refuse to believe certain abominations in Jewish law

Why people have a hard time believing the abominations of religious edicts – and why Qarim retracted his

My post dealing with Rabbi Colonel Eyal Qarim and his implied justification of rape during wartime received a large number of shocked and enraged comments, and for a simple reason. Most Jews living today – in Israel and in the diaspora – are unfamiliar with Jewish texts. It’s understandable: they are written in an archaic and often unintelligible language, and require command of ancient Hebrew, Aramaic, and enough knowledge of the Bible to allow you to speedily identify quotations that were perfectly understood by the ancient writers but are basically terra incognita to the modern reader. This is not a coincidence: like the medieval clergy, the rabbis did not want their texts to be available for everyone. Control over jargon also grants you some measure of power.

Judaism was never properly secularized, i.e. its holy texts and holy men did not get the treatment that organized religion got in Western Europe, which was a thorough evisceration and public mocking. Those texts were written mostly in a barbaric period by ignorant people, fuelled by the hatred of mankind which is endemic to certain strands of rabbinical Judaism. As a result, some of those texts are truly monstrous, and no one wants to believe that part of one’s cultural heritage, even if he has never cracked open the books, is a living abominations.

“A Comely Woman” is a case in point. A large number of the English readers refused to believe that the question referred to Qarim actually dealt with rape; yet it did. As can be seen in the original (Hebrew), the word “rape” (אונס) appears four times in the text. Naturally, Qarim – being a rabbi – preferred to avoid the term, and used “fraternization” instead; however, the word was in the original.

Many of the comments automatically retreated to the classic Orthodox theodicy: this isn’t rape, but taking the captive into the warrior’s house, and in any case it’s a humanistic law for its time. Let’s assume for the sake of the argument that, for the Iron Age, this is the case. But Qarim replied to a question which explicitly asked whether this law is applicable to IDF soldiers today.

This theodicy is, as usual, evasion and lies. Here is how Maimonides – the so-called greatest Jewish sage, who lived in the 12th century – described the process (Hebrew): “And so he may have intercourse with a gentile woman, if the urge seizes him. But he should not have intercourse and abandon her, but he should put her into his house […] and he may not have intercourse with her a second time, until he marries her.” My emphasis. So, we have a first rape – you can’t seriously speak of consent here – which may be followed by a second one.

Maimonides further writes that “a Cohen is permitted to have intercourse the first time, since the Torah spoke about against the urge; but may not marry her afterwards, since she is a convert.” My emphasis. That is, a Cohen – a member of the ancient order of priesthood – may rape a prisoner, but not marry her, since he is supposed to keep himself especially pure. His purity is not imperiled by the rape, but rather by the marriage, since it is a Halachic precept that all gentile women are prostitutes.

The whole chapter is worth reading, assuming you read Hebrew or can get your hands on a reliable translation. Chapter 11 is of particular interest: “A comely woman who was unwilling to abandon paganism after 12 months, is to be killed.” It is highly pertinent that Qarim’s questioner is familiar with the law, and is shocked by it: “Therefore, rape during war is considered a shocking thing. How, then, could I be told by a rabbi that some of the rabbis say that a comely women is [permitted to have sex with] even before the whole process detailed in the Torah? That is, that he will surrender to his urges and bed her, and only afterwards take her to his house etc.?”

Such things are incomprehensible today, and hence honest men either agonize over them or try to repress them. Yet another monstrous ruling by Maimonides says (Hebrew) “but an Israelite who has intercourse with a gentile woman, be she of three years and one day of age or an adult, unmarried or married, even if he [the Jew – YZG] was just nine years and one day, since he had intercourse with a gentile with malice aforethought, she is to be killed; since she caused Israel trouble, as if she was a beast of burden.” My emphasis. This text is a favorite of mine, since it shows the monstrosity of some Jewish laws in the starkest light possible. Yet people refused to believe it. They claim I either made it up or mangled the text. And the real problem is the Talmud, which is so dense with abominations, that when it is now being translated into Arabic, experts complain this is “part and parcel of the expansion of anti-Semitism into the Arab world.”

The relative honest people repress this; they cannot contain the horror. There are, on the other hands, those who are less honest – and the Orthodox are prominent among them. They have to defend their belief system, after all.

Two days ago, shortly after posting the original post, I received a phone call from someone who claimed to be employed by the Military Rabbinate. He sent me a text, which he said was written on behalf of Col. Qarim. I told him since I had no way of verifying this is indeed the case, I can’t publish it; I asked for official, on-the-record confirmation that it was indeed written either by Qarim or his aides. Soon afterwards, I was contacted by someone who presented himself a senior officer in Qarim’s office, and I repeated that I am willing to publish it – if it is on record and if they give me proof that they are indeed acting on Qarim’s behalf; the correct military stamp would do.

About two hours later, I was informed that the much of the text sent to me was published in the same religious site which published the original ruling nine years ago, under the headline “a leftist provocation tries to claim rape in wartime is justified by Jewish law” (Hebrew). Later yesterday, Qarim published – under his own name – an official “clarification.” (Hebrew) It claims that he was “quoted out of context.” This is not true: Qarim was explicitly asked about rape, and he answered in the affirmative.

Now, when the media is breathing down his neck. Qarim says the following:

It is obvious that the Torah never permitted raping a woman. The Comely Woman ruling is intended to make the soldier retract his intention of marrying the prisoner, by a series of actions which diminish her beauty and put the emphasis on her personality and grief. If, by the end of the process, he still wishes to marry her, he is obligated to do so by the usual legal manner.

In addition, the whole essence of the ruling was to soften the situation in the barbaric world of the time, when a soldier might have done what he wished with a captive, and the goal of the ruling is to prevent the soldier from taking the captive as wife during the storm of battle. It is clear that in our times, when the world has progressed to a level of morality when captives are not taken as wives, this ruling is certainly not to be acted on, particularly as it is completely contrary to the ethics and the orders of the military.

None of which appeared in Qarim’s original ruling. Qarim also keeps avoiding the fact that the Comely Woman law allows a first rape before the whole process of grief begins. He also refuses to acknowledge that he was answering a question about rape in modern wartime. In short, Qarim decided he preferred being seen publicly as a bumbler than as an inciter to war crimes. This is probably the result of some not-so-gentle pressure from the IDF. It is also worth noting that Qarim implicitly admits that the Western rules of war are superior to those of Jewish law. That’s not something you hear every day from an Orthodox rabbi. Perhaps one day Qarim will realize there is no such thing as “marrying a captive” that isn’t rape.

Before you go...

A lot of work goes into creating articles like the one you just read. And while we don’t do this for the money, even our model of non-profit, independent journalism has bills to pay.

+972 Magazine is owned by our bloggers and journalists, who are driven by passion and dedication to the causes we cover. But we still need to pay for editing, photography, translation, web design and servers, legal services, and more.

As an independent journalism outlet we aren’t beholden to any outside interests. In order to safeguard that independence voice, we are proud to count you, our readers, as our most important supporters. If each of our readers becomes a supporter of our work, +972 Magazine will remain a strong, independent, and sustainable force helping drive the discourse on Israel/Palestine in the right direction.

Support independent journalism in Israel/Palestine Donate to +972 Magazine today
View article: AAA
Share article
Print article

    * Required


    1. klang

      I missed the epidemic of rape that Yossi alludes to, since Judaism allegedly sanctions it. I would like independent sources to verify what Yossi is talking about, since Yossi obviously doesnt like Judaism. In fact, what Yossi is saying would be illegal to publish in todays Germany given its laws against anti-Semitism

      Reply to Comment
    2. aristeides

      Klang obviously wasn’t around in 1948.

      Benny Morris reports: “Usually more than one
      soldier was involved. Usually there were one or two Palestinian girls. In a large proportion of the
      cases the event ended with murder. Because neither the victims nor the rapists liked to report
      these events, we have to assume that the dozen cases of rape that were reported, which I found,
      are not the whole story. They are just the tip of the iceberg.”

      Reply to Comment
    3. Piotr Berman

      I would answer Klang differently. Obviously, IDF soldiers are not commanded by the IDF rabinate, so if officers do not sanction rape for whatever reason then you do not have much rape. But clearly the rabinate has an influence on the scope of actions approved by the officers on the ground. Thus it is legitimate to ask if this is influence toward ethical standards that should be the norm in 21st century, or toward the darkest standards of the early Iron Age when warriors had dilemmas like: should the captive women be used as sex slaves or only as work slaves? [“Comely woman” passage makes sense only in that context IMHO]

      Famously, on the even of Cast Lead the chief of IDF rabinate, Rontsky, exhorted the soldiers not to show any mercy to the enemy. I cannot imagine chaplains of US military to issue a similar statements. Afterwards American rabbis were extolling humane methods of IDF. Someone is wrong here.

      Actually, besides the rape issue, I think that one could ask how Orthodox rabbis advise to treat idolater maids, something of the interest of Israel’s First Lady. Rashi seems to have very dim view on idolaters, like that it should be forbidden to give them medical care.

      Reply to Comment
    4. AMIR.BK

      Where on earth did Yossi imply an epidemic of rape by IDF soldiers? – Klang’s reply is an example of the very phenomena Yossi discusses in this post, the very implication that Judaism might not be a shining stellar beacon of morality, civility and modernity gets jews from all over the political\religious spectrum to start throwing acusations of anti-semitism. This is Jewish supremacism folks, you are not liberals who are shocked by Yossi’s (alleged) bigotry, you are jewish supremacists who think judaism is above criticism, the really shocking thing is that a majority of you probably consider themselves secular.
      Aristeidis – Hmm yes, 1948, this is super pertinent and relevent, you sure know how to refute an argument don’t you.

      Reply to Comment
    5. aristeides

      Amir – I know how to answer a question. 1948 represents the closest thing in Israeli history to Klang’s “epidemic of rape.”

      Now if you wanted to be a proper nitpicker, you would have pointed out that in 1948 the Jewish rapists belonged to the Haganah, Irgun and other irregular forces, as well as the IDF, which was not founded until May.


      Reply to Comment
    6. Jonathan Mark

      Where did Qarim say that a soldier in modern times can rape someone? The article contains no sentences or paragraph by Qarim reaching this conclusion.

      Gurvitz argues that since Qarim referred to a text in ancient times that permits rape, therefore Qarim must permit it in modern times.

      That is silly. Ancient texts permit or even require slavery and animal sacrifice. One can quote from such texts without oneself supporting slavery or animal sacrifice in modern times.

      The obvious challenge to Gurvitz is to publish sentences or paragraphs written by Qarim so we can read them. Not a phrase here, or a quotation from an ancient text which Qarim referred to.

      Publish a continuous section of Qarim’s statement in which Qarim says what Gurvitz claims he does. If that is not possible then a reasonable person would question whether Gurvitz’s claim is accurate.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Click here to load previous comments

The stories that matter.
The missing context.
All in one weekly email.

Subscribe to +972's newsletter