Barak severs ties with hesder yeshiva

Defense minister to cut

Eliezer Melamed 248.88 (photo credit: )
Eliezer Melamed 248.88
(photo credit: )
Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision Sunday night to remove the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the roster of hesder yeshivot will only increase the popularity of its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, and other yeshiva heads who support insubordination in the military, leading religious Zionist rabbis said. "The direct result of Barak's decision will be that next year, twice as many students will be learning at Har Bracha. Barak has single-handedly boosted the popularity of the right-wing," said Rabbi David Stav, spokesman for the hesder yeshivot. "And he did all this to increase his popularity in left-wing circles." The National Union's young leadership called on high school seniors who were deliberating among various yeshivot to "choose Har Bracha in order to strengthen the institute and the rabbi that heads it." For the first time since the first hesder ("arrangement") yeshiva was created at Kerem B'Yavne in 1953, a defense minister decided to sever the military's ties with one of the institutions that combines 18 months of military service with three-and-a-half years of Judaism. There are 40 such yeshivot today. Of the about 6,000 religious high school graduates each year, approximately 1,500 choose the hesder yeshiva track, compared to about 800 who choose pre-military academies (mechinot), which usually have one-year programs, and several hundred who postpone their IDF service to devote several years to yeshiva studies. There are about 150 students at Har Bracha who are in various stages of the five-year hesder track, according to Har Bracha sources. Some 7,500 hesder students receive an annual budget of NIS 22 million from the Defense Ministry. Sources at Har Bracha said in recent days that if Barak decided to break ties and remove Har Bracha from the hesder framework, the yeshiva would be able to "get by all right." Har Bracha, like other hesder yeshivot, receives private donations and funds from the Education Ministry, which provides funds to all yeshivot within the framework of government coalition agreements with Habayit Hayehudi and the haredi political parties. Barak's decision came after Melamed refused to appear for a hearing with the defense minister at his office in Tel Aviv. Melamed was summoned to Barak's office to express unequivocal opposition to all political or ideological demonstrations in the IDF. In recent months there have been a series of incidents in which IDF soldiers from the Kfir Brigade waved banners in prominent places declaring their unwillingness to evacuate Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. Barak ordered the IDF Manpower Division to begin taking steps to remove the yeshiva from the hesder framework. The decision will not go into effect immediately, to give the students at the yeshiva time to join a different yeshiva that is part of the hesder program. The IDF said that it would work together with the Union of Hesder Yeshivot, as well as individually with the Har Bracha students, to help find all of them alternative frameworks, though the solutions would depend on whether the students had become soldiers yet or not. The IDF said it appreciated the concerted efforts by the hesder union to denounce insubordination in the IDF. Barak's office said he made the decision at the behest of Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and following a meeting the defense minister held last week with hesder yeshiva headers. "Barak views any act of insubordination severely and is not prepared to accept any deviation from what he set as a red line that cannot be crossed," the statement read. "Rabbi Melamed's statements and actions undermine Israel's democratic foundations and encouraged and incited some of his students to refuse orders." Sources close to Melamed said Sunday that the rabbi's refusal to meet with Barak was due to his perception that the defense minister was treating him in dishonorably. "Barak's demand for a hearing was publicized in the news media this morning but we did not get a formal invitation until this afternoon," a source said. "And he is calling it a 'hearing,' as if the rabbi is a schoolboy who is being rebuked. "Barak's approach is all wrong. Besides, the rabbi was unable to make the appointment on such short notice. He is conducting a wedding this evening," the source said. Stav, who is rabbi of Shoham and head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva, said that Barak's move was "a very severe, disproportionate reaction. Barak shot the arrow and then he drew the target. It was a very crude move. "We will meet in coming days to discuss our options and decide what our next move will be," Stav said. "We might consider taking legal action." Dr. Aviad Hakohen, dean of Sha'arei Mishpat College, said that Barak's decision was "illegal, unjust and not smart. "The defense minister is overstepping his authority," said Hakohen in a press release. "He does not have a say on freedom of speech. His decision smacks of collective punishment. Even if Rabbi Melamed broke the law, he is the one who should be punished, not the yeshiva students." Nachi Eyal, executive director of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, said that "the attack on the Har Bracha Yeshiva is an anti-democratic act by the defense minister, who disregards the law when it applies to himself and is stringent when it comes to his political rivals. "This is a case of abuse of authority," Eyal said. "The minister is forbidden to use his authority to force his political opinions on others. It will bring about dissent in the IDF." Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, head of the Ateret Yerushalayim Yeshiva and rabbi of Beit El, said that at a time when the Jewish people were surrounded by enemies it was important to refrain from infighting.