Despite uncertain future, Har Bracha yeshiva and community unfazed by the break with Defense Ministry

Despite uncertain future

har bracha yeshiva building 248 88 (photo credit: Ben Hartman)
har bracha yeshiva building 248 88
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
Two weeks after Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the IDF to cancel the hesder arrangement with the Har Bracha Yeshiva, students at the yeshiva in Samaria have been continuing their studies in a sort of limbo, unsure what the near term holds for the institution or their army service. While students wouldn't speak to the press because they are considered on active duty, Rabbi Avinoach Brenner, a teacher at the yeshiva and an alumni of its first graduating class, said students are "living in a state of uncertainty," with many unsure whether they should transfer to a different hesder yeshiva, or leave the hesder program, which allows yeshiva students to combine an abbreviated IDF service with Torah studies. On December 13, Barak ordered the IDF to cut its ties to the yeshiva after its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, refused a summons by the defense minister to retract statements he had made supporting insubordination in the IDF under certain circumstances. After that decision, the IDF sent a letter to Har Bracha students saying they had 60 days to either change to another yeshiva or leave the hesder program and commit to a full three years of army service. Brenner said students and educators at the yeshiva "feel great anger towards Barak and great surprise at [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu's silence in the face of this decision," and are anxious to see how it will affect their studies. With regard to the yeshiva itself, Brenner said that even under the worst-case scenario - that its legal appeals fail and the yeshiva remains closed out of the hesder system - the yeshiva is not in danger of closing; in fact, it is likely to grow. "Even without the hesder program, we will survive as a yeshiva gevoha, [where students defer army service while learning, rather than combining the two]," Brenner said. Brenner said the measures taken against Melamed by Barak have made him into a sort of "spiritual leader" beyond the confines of the yeshiva, and he expects applications for the yeshiva to double in the coming year. "It's a shame we made the headlines for this. With all due respect to disobeying IDF orders that violate Jewish law, it's not the entire Torah," Brenner said. The rabbi added that he would have preferred the yeshiva make headlines for its "shiluvim" program, which helps its post-army students attend and pay for university, and encourages their entry into the workforce after they leave yeshiva. Brenner added that he doesn't think there is any rabbi who will say that Halacha permits Jews to take part in the expulsion of Jews, and that the spotlight was put on Har Bracha "because Rabbi Melamed was more outspoken about this," citing the yeshiva head's widely-read columns in the weekly B'Sheva newspaper. Long-time Har Bracha resident Yonatan Behar echoed Brenner's sentiments about the future of the yeshiva, saying that "even without the hesder affiliation we'll continue to draw young people from all over the country," citing Rabbi Melamed's popularity as a primary reason. Behar said that because IDF service is such an important value to the students at the yeshiva, many would continue to serve, even if they had to eventually do three years of service. Behar said the yeshiva will carry on and even prosper because of the way it and the settlement of Har Bracha are strengthened by one another. Behar likened it to Princeton, New Jersey, where an uncle of his lives, saying that the settlement and the yeshiva feed off one another like a US college town and the local university. As evidence of this symbiosis, Behar noted that the overwhelming majority of young couples in the settlement are ex-yeshiva students who decided to remain and build their lives in the community. Behar, who counts himself among the first families to arrive in the 250-family community ("we were the 13th family, I believe"), said he and many others aren't swayed by the measures taken by Barak against the yeshiva, or the settlement construction freeze enacted in late November. "I look around here, and all I see is growth," he said.