An Israeli soldier wears phylacteries as he prays at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest prayer site, in Jerusalem's Old City February 22, 2012..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Under regulations approved on Tuesday in the Knesset, the defense minister will be empowered to halt cooperation with hesder yeshivas associated with the IDF if its leadership instructs students to refuse orders, but only under restricted conditions.
This authority was however significantly diluted from the powers originally sought by the Defense Ministry, which would have defined the concept of refusing orders more broadly than elements in the Bayit Yehudi party were willing to accept.
The issue of refusing orders is an extremely sensitive concern in the relations between the national-religious community, which has a high rate of enlistment in combat and prestigious IDF units, and the army, which is concerned about the influence of rabbis over soldiers.
Several senior national-religious rabbis called for soldiers to refuse orders during the Gaza disengagement in 2005, and other such instances since then have occurred as well.
Currently, there are no criteria by which the defense minister can remove hesder yeshivas, which combine military service with religious study, from the list of such yeshivas which the ministry recognizes for the program.
The new regulations initially included a very vaguely worded clause which would have allowed the defense minister to remove yeshivas “for special reasons which justify, in the opinion of the minister, the removal of the yeshiva from the list.”
At Tuesday’s Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee hearing, Bayit Yehudi MK Shuli Moalem-Refaeli argued that a defense minister representative to the committee had said in a previous hearing that if a yeshiva dean would tell a student not to serve in a mixed-gender unit, that could be construed as refusing orders, and therefore rejected this formulation.
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At this point, the committee hearing became so heated that a recess was called by chairman Avi Dichter to allow those opposing the dilution of this clause and those in favor to explore different options.
Eventually, a compromise was reached stipulating that a hesder yeshiva can be removed from the list of yeshivas recognized by the ministry, should the leadership of the yeshiva call for violence against IDF personnel or fail to fulfill the requirement of encouraging students to carry out “high-value IDF service.”
Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern, a former major-general, nevertheless spoke out strongly against the effort to reduce the powers of the defense minister over hesder yeshivas.
“What has happened in this hearing is that yeshiva deans who call [on soldiers] to refuse orders have been defended,” said Stern. “We who are here in the name of those serving have been defeated.”
Bayit Yehudi MK Moti Yogev said in response, however, that all that had been done was to clarify the powers of the defense minister to remove yeshivas from the list of approved institutions.
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