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A group of seven former IDF rabbis, including the former chief rabbis of the air force, the navy and the IDF Educational Division, have declared that in situations where Halacha and military orders clash, Halacha takes precedence.
The rabbis also called on Defense Minister Ehud Barak to stop the "incitement" against hesder yeshivot and reinstate Har Bracha Yeshiva, which was expelled from the hesder framework after its head voiced his support for refusing orders to evacuate Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria.
The rabbis, who all belong to an organization called LAHAV, an acronym for "To Strengthen Judaism in the IDF," publicized their opinion Wednesday night.
"Regarding the public discussion being held on illegal military orders in matters of religion, or as it is cynically being presented as 'a clash between the rabbi and the officer,'" write the rabbis, "we want to make it clear, as protÃ©gÃ©s of former Chief IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren... that there are clear directives with regard to orders that contradict Halacha...
"In the book, Piskei Hilchot Tzava ['Halachic Rulings of the Army' written by Goren], which has the chief-of-staff's emblem on it, there are two principles that state as follows: An officer who gives an order to desecrate Shabbat (i.e. any order that contradicts Halacha) must first coordinate with the IDF Chief Rabbi.
"If the officer did not coordinate with the IDF chief rabbi, the soldier who received the order must verify with the officer whether refraining from following the order compromises security.
"If the soldier is convinced that the order contradicts Halacha, he is not to carry out the order."
The letter is signed by former IDF deputy chief rabbi Yosef Harel, former navy chief rabbi Meir Keller, former ground forces chief rabbi Yosef Wasserman, former Education Division chief rabbi Yehiel Farber, former Home Front Command chief rabbi Shlomo Garbarchik, former air force chief rabbi Avshalom Katzir and LAHAV's chairman Chief Rabbi (res.) Pini Isaac.
Isaac told The Jerusalem Post he and the other rabbis wanted to notify the public that protection for religious soldiers from being coerced into carrying out acts that contradict their religious beliefs was built into the IDF's military codes.
"We wanted to make it clear that there are some orders that cannot be carried out, not because they are against the soldier's conscience but because they go against Halacha," said Isaac. "For instance, if a solder is told to desecrate Shabbat he can refuse, but this must not be seen as insubordination. He is simply following IDF rules and regulations."
Katzir said that the halachic opinion issued by the rabbis was aimed at providing support to the hesder yeshivot, which have "proven their selfless loyalty to the State of Israel."
Asked if the evacuation of Jewish settlements from Judea and Samaria as preparation for the creation of a Palestinian state was considered an order that contradicted Halacha, Katzir said there were rabbis who ruled that it was.
"A soldier whose rabbi rules that it is forbidden to evacuate settlements should not be punished for refusing to obey orders," said Katzir.
Katzir added that this was true even if the IDF rabbi of his brigade ruled that it was permitted to evacuate the settlement.
"I expect the brigade rabbi to support the soldier and explain to his commanders the religious prohibitions involved with evacuating settlements," said Katzir.
Isaac, meanwhile, lamented the fact that the vast majority of hesder soldiers were loyal first and foremost to their own rabbis, and not to IDF rabbis.
"But what can you expect? The hesder rabbis normally have close relationships with their students, while the brigade rabbi barely has the opportunity to become acquainted with all of his soldiers." The rabbis also called on Barak to stop "incitement" against the hesder yeshivot.
"We demand that the defense establishment and those who stand at its head follow directives enshrined like law in IDF regulations.
"We call on them to stop transgressing these explicit, written directives, which have governed the IDF since it was first established and which enabled religious soldiers to adhere to commandments while serving.
"Finally, we demand that they immediately stop the incitement against hesder yeshivot and soldiers."
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