religious soldiers 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On my way home from teaching recently at Yeshiva Derech Haim, the hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Gat, I picked up two soldiers from a bus stop on the side of the road, offering them a lift. I asked the young men to which division they belonged, and one of them told me that he belonged to the Kfir Brigade.
"In fact," he said, "I was just released from military prison today."
It turned out that this young man was one of the six soldiers from the Nahshon battalion in the Kfir unit who were suspended and punished by their commander for insubordinately waving a banner reading "Nahshon also does not expel." I was surprised to learn from this fellow that his division had actually received orders to take part in creating a perimeter which would obstruct people from disrupting the army as it forcibly removed Israelis from their homes. In fact, they had already been part of this type of operation, before hanging the signs in protest, and now they had received word that they would have to take part once again in a similar operation.
I was also surprised to hear that the decision by this young man and his comrades to hang the signs on their base had been a spur-of-the-moment one.
"We were desperate, and we did not have any other way or direction to demonstrate that we disapproved of what the army was ordering us to do," he said. "This was our only outlet, and we decided within five minutes to hang the sign."
THE YOUNG man did not strike me as an instigator or a rebel; quite the contrary, he seemed like a respectful and decent fellow. I found myself disagreeing with his course of action, but at the same time sympathizing with his conflict of interest and internal strife. While this young man impressed me as someone who would not compromise his principles, he seemed to be searching for direction, as indicated by his next remark.
"Many of us [soldiers who identify with the national religious viewpoint] are confused about what the proper response should be when we are ordered to take part in expelling or assisting troops to expel our people from their homes," he said. "We know it is wrong, but we are torn between our duties to the army and at the same time our religious beliefs and principles of faith. The rabbis of the national religious world do not step forward with a declarative statement, nor do they provide us with conclusive and clear direction. There is no one voice from the national religious rabbinic leaders to guide us through these challenges. Many of the soldiers feel this way."
This final statement was the one that pained me the most, because it is one that I have known for a long time to be true.
WHAT SEEMED to materialize following last month's meeting of the Union of Hesder Yeshivot was that no one rosh yeshiva has the right to speak on behalf of or voice his opinion in the name of all the hesder yeshivot. After all, there are many hesder yeshiva heads who disagreed with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's approach and would not have directed their students in the same fashion.
Every rabbi and rosh yeshiva has the right to express his opinion and guide his students accordingly. However, last month's meeting demonstrated that it is crucial that all yeshiva heads remember that they are bound by a common cause and joint purpose. They represent the leaders of young, ideologically committed and observant soldiers who are prepared to serve their country and people with an uncompromised passion. They also represent the leaders of young men who are quickly introduced to the harsh realities of life through the trials of combat, young men who long for and desperately need a clear voice of direction and conviction.
This voice has to emerge from the unified platform of the yeshiva heads and leaders of the national religious world. The rabbis should not wait for threats to be made to decide to meet and attempt to arrive at a common understanding. They should be meeting frequently throughout the year, signifying that regardless of their differences of opinion, they share a collective institution and clear destination. This way, even when there are differences with regard to how observant soldiers should respond to various orders, there will at the very least be an understanding among the yeshiva heads and their students how these differences could be compared and considered without giving the appearance that there is disunity or confusion.
The hesder yeshiva students represent the voice of ideology in the army today; they are the strongest and most resiliently committed soldiers. There is no room to promote or appear to advance personal agendas within such a vital establishment. The national religious philosophy promotes and believes that people of ideals, values and moral commitments, as exhibited through our service to the Jewish people and our vested interest in the development of Eretz Yisrael, facilitate our redemption. It is crucial that the hesder yeshiva heads demonstrate to their students that redemption is initiated by a sense of security and confidence. Redemption begins from within.
The writer teaches at Hesder Kiryat Gat and serves as a guest lecturer for the IDF Rabbinate. He is also an author and lecturer on Israel, Religious Zionism and Jewish education. www.rabbihammer.com