Otniel rabbi to take steps to protest Har Bracha removal

Otniel Yeshiva head to t

Eliezer Melamed 248.88 (photo credit: )
Eliezer Melamed 248.88
(photo credit: )
In one of the first signs that the tension between the IDF and the hesder yeshivot is intensifying and not isolated to the Har Bracha Yeshiva, Rabbi Binyamin Kelmanson, one of the heads of the Otniel Hesder Yeshiva near Hebron, said Tuesday that he would not cooperate with the IDF in issuing army service extensions for his students. Kelmanson said the move was in protest to Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to remove Har Bracha from the hesder framework. Barak's move was in retaliation for the yeshiva head's refusal to denounce political demonstrations in the IDF. "I simply will refuse to sign requests for an extension," said Kelmanson. "It is my way of protesting the limitations Barak is trying to put on the academic freedom of yeshiva heads." Hesder yeshiva students normally serve 18 months in the military as part of a five-year program that combines IDF service with Torah studies. But hesder students who wish to extend their military service to pursue officers training courses or other military courses are usually allowed to do so if they attain the permission of their yeshiva heads. About 20 percent of Otniel's students end up continuing to officers training courses, Kelmanson estimated. Making it clear that he was "totally opposed to insubordination" and that he did not personally agree with Melamed, Kelmanson said he was adamantly opposed to Barak's attempt to "delegitimize a segment of society that has a different outlook." "The meaning of Barak's decision is to turn me into a state bureaucrat that is forced to tow the party line as if my yeshiva is somehow owned by the IDF," said Kelmanson. "I don't have the power to enlist soldiers or to release them from service, nor do I want those powers. But I also don't want Barak telling me or other yeshiva heads what we can teach and what we are not allowed to teach." Meanwhile, an anti-establishment atmosphere is spreading among hesder students. A group of hesder graduates serving in reserve duty had planned to start an initiative to encourage their peers to continue serving despite Barak's decision. But the initiative fizzled out shortly after it began. "A group of us wanted to counter another, anti-service initiative," said Elad Malka, a hesder student. "We wanted to send out a message that despite everything that has happened we still think it is important to serve our country. But we began thinking that the move might be interpreted as declaration in favor of Barak. We did not want to do that so we scrapped the whole idea." Har Bracha's 150 hesder students have received explicit orders from their rabbis not to talk to the media. However, hesder students who have friends at Har Bracha say that the atmosphere at the yeshiva, located near Nablus, is one of "wait and see." Technically, according to Barak's orders, Har Bracha students presently in the hesder program are forced to choose between two options: One, leave Har Bracha and join another hesder yeshiva or two, serve a three-year stint outside the hesder framework like a regular soldier. However, most students are hoping that a solution will allow a rapprochement between Barak and Melamed. Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld, head of the Shedmot Mechola Yeshiva in the Jordan Valley and a member of the Union of Hesder Yeshivot's governing council, said Tuesday night that he was hopeful a compromise could still be reached. "Both Minister Barak and Rabbi Melamed need to find a way of gracefully defusing this whole situation," said Rosenfeld. "The differences between the two are bridgeable with a little good will." Rosenfeld said that attempts had been made by yeshiva heads to convince Melamed to strive to reach a compromise with Barak. In parallel, lines of communication remain open with the defense ministry for the same purpose. Hesder Yeshiva heads are slated to meet Sunday to discuss their course of action.