Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu is the Rabbi of the town of Safed, and is one of the most notoriously racist rabbis in Israel. Prosecutors twice considered indicting him for breaking the law against incitement, and twice backed down. He has publicly said he will not condemn “price tag” attacks (by settlers on Palestinians), saying “if the government won’t act, then the public should” (Hebrew). His most notorious act was signing a petition demanding no Jew rent or sell apartments to a non-Jew in his town of Safed; 300 rabbis joined the call. While the act was openly racist, and illegal, the Israel law against incitement to racism specifically excludes “religious debate” from the law; thus the case against Eliyahu was closed (Hebrew). Eliyahu’s ongoing racism, however, is likely to have cost him the 2013 election of the office of Chief Sephardic Rabbi, though he came relatively close (he got 49 votes, the winner got 68). Eliyahu, a member of the Chief Rabbinate Council, also failed to get elected in 2014 as rabbi of Jerusalem; at the time he was reputed to be the candidate of the Jewish Home (Hebrew).
An Israel blogger, Ruhama Weiss, exposed yesterday (Sunday) an old ruling (from 2002) of Eliyahu regarding the thorny issue of rape during war, the mizvah of the Comely Woman. Those who read Hebrew can read the original here. Below is a translation of Eliyahu’s reply. Be advised: the text is rather brutal and I endeavored to keep the translation as close as possible to the original.
First, several necessary notes:
1. The Comely Woman issue appears in the Bible in Deuteronomy 21. (“If you notice among the captives a comely woman and desire her, you may take her as your wife.”) However, the Talmudic sages changed the law somewhat; as can be seen in Maimonides (Hebrew) the woman is first raped in the field, and the issue of the ritualistic humiliation takes place after the war.
2. Eliyahu is lying when he says that a Comely Woman is to be released if her kidnapper dislikes her. Perusing the same Maimonides chapter, you find that she is only released if she has converted to Judaism: otherwise, “A Comely Woman who refuses to refrain from idolatry after twelve months is killed.”
3. The current Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Eyal Qarim, was exposed by me as espousing much the same views (though his writing is more elusive and much less brutal) in 2012; and this came close to torpedoing his appointment. Qarim had to recant his views before the High Court of Justice would permit his appointment. The question of whether the rape of gentile women in wartime is permitted is apparently alive and well in some circles.
On to the translation, then. Keep your barf bags handy. Rabbi Eliyahu states:
Regarding this issue of “Comely Woman”, there are two different situations:
– One is in which a man goes to war with supreme holiness, and thereby saving the souls of converts and the like, as is in your quote of the saintly Or Ha’yim.
– Another is that of taking a woman in a storm of passion.
You’re assuming that the majority of the cases are of the second kind, maybe you’re right, and maybe not, and apparently it’s sometimes one way and sometimes the other.
Whether it’s the majority or the minority, your question is: Why permit a bad act because of a person’s weakness? Why not always say: “Better to transgress than to sin willfully”? Should we allow all transgressions?
The answer depends on what case the Jewish people are in. The case we’re talking about is one in which a man is going to sacrifice his life, and everything he has, for others. A battle for life or death.
Should Israel’s fighters fail – the foreigners will come and murder men, women and children. They’ll rape, pillage, and bring about a catastrophe on the whole nation, or a few towns.
If Israel’s fighters succeed – the lives of millions of people will be saved. And evil in the world will be reduced.
In that case, in which the warrior is separated from his wife for long months, and the urges burn in him, he may think of women during the fighting, become lax and fight less well.
Because this specific soldier is that way? Seeing the Comely Woman, he is enflamed!
It is not proper to think of the Comely Woman – but he is.
Now he needs to fight, and you should moralize him!! Do it at home, before the war, not in the middle of the war. Do not weaken his spirit!!
If you forbid him the Comely Woman, and he is enchanted by wily charms, he’ll think about her constantly, and may reach the point where the People of Israel will be defeated. What would you gain by that? That thousands of Jewish women will be raped by the accursed evildoers.
Therefore, the Torah said: in this case, if you’re so enflamed – take the Comely Woman!!
It’s not the best solution.
It may cause division within your house.
It may lead to the birth of a Rebellious Son.
It may bring you to great harm.
But the Torah said: In this case – the Comely Woman is permitted.
The eating of pork was permitted to those who are hungry and need the strength to fight.
The violation of the Sabbath was also permitted, as well as other very important issues, so as to prevent loss of life.
A similar case is what we say nowadays, not to listen to all those “bleeding hearts” who sit at their homes and preach morals to the dedicated IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] soldiers, why did they shoot and accidentally hit a Palestinian child or “the innocents”? Don’t listen to them and don’t listen to all those who judge IDF soldiers for taking a popsicle and not paying a full price, VAT included. Remember that at that hour they gave all that was dear to them for the People of Israel – their lives. And in such an hour, you judge them for nothing, certainly for things lives don’t hang on. All that will be dealt with later, proportionally.
Even those who, by the Grace of God, came back home alive and well – they, too, sacrificed their lives for the public, and this sacrifice is not lesser than that of those who were killed for the sanctification of God’s Name. Those who returned home, well or wounded – sacrificed their lives!!
Aside from that, see how the Torah kept the honor of the Comely Woman, as well as that of the woman left at home.
The Torah said: you were attracted to beauty – to the Comely Woman? We’ll put you through boot camp!!
Do not marry just the surface beauty, because if you do you would harm yourself, harm this woman, and harm your wife who patiently awaited you at home.
(Don’t pity the Comely Woman – hair and nails grow back quickly, and this is less painful than captivity or death at war.)
If our warrior finds out he became a captive of the Comely Woman (who may have prettified herself specifically to entrap him and incriminate him, and may have not).
If he finds out that he became a captive of surface beauty. If, after her shaving, he calms down and reutrns to mental health, overcome his urges – then “then thou shalt let her go whither she will; but thou shalt not sell her at all for money, thou shalt not make merchandise of her, because thou hast humbled her.”
Pay attention – her life was spared in war!!
She’s not even a war captive!!
He cannot live with her as with a wife, and then sell her as a slave!!
He lets her go!!
Have you ever heard of such laws, in any country in the world?
After all, in the famed United States it was common, up until some 100 years ago (or so) that a master can have intercourse with his black [also possibly: “nigger”] slaves as often as he wanted. Willingly or forcibly – everything was legal!!
Then they would continue to be his humiliated slaves. Then he could show them cruelty and sell them like beasts in the slave market, with their children or without them. He [could also] sell just the children, ignoring the women’s cries.
And they weren’t [even] war captives!!
So it was in the democratic United States a hundred years ago, and so it was in the Torah three thousand years ago.
This is what the Torah teaches: either a wife or a slave!
If a slave – not a sex slave.
If a slave – let her work with dignity.
If you beat her, and break one of her teeth (for instance), she is immediately released to freedom. Did you hear me?!?
My dear boy!
In the US, it was permitted to cut off the limbs of an escaped slave with a knife, and also to… castrate him. That was the law. Unpleasant yet very terrible!!
Therefore, take heed before you question the morality of the Torah.
Remember where you live!!
Also remember that all we said is not in advance, but only in retrospect and only in times of war and only when lives are on the line and only when the urges are burning.
When lives are on the line, you do not educate the soldiers to morality. It’s time to win!!