Rabbis grapple with IDF insubordination

Orthodox Zionists grappl

negohot nachshon soldiers 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy of Negohot resident Asaf Freed)
negohot nachshon soldiers 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Negohot resident Asaf Freed)
What should a religious soldier do when his loyalty to the Jewish state clashes with his religious faith and convictions? This question was discussed among heads of Hesder Yeshivot and Pre-Military Yeshiva Academies (mechinot) on Tuesday, in response to yet another instance in which religious soldiers demonstrated their opposition to using the IDF to evacuate Jewish settlers in Judea and Samaria from their homes. The latest incident involved two soldier/students from the hesder yeshiva in Elon Moreh who waved a banner on their base in Adora'im in the Hebron Hills that read, "Nahshon [Battalion] also does not evacuate." They were reacting to the destruction of two illegal homes in Negohot, a settlement in the South Hebron Hills. This was not the first time that religious soldiers who were educated in a hesder yeshiva initiated a demonstration against the use of soldiers in the evacuation of settlements. Three weeks ago soldiers belonging to the Shimshon Battalion flew a banner during a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall that declared, "Shimshon will not expel Homesh." Both Nahshon and Shimshon battalions belong to the newly formed Kfir Brigade, which is responsible for security in Judea and Samaria. About half of each year's approximately 6,000 Orthodox high school graduates postpone their military service to devote themselves to higher Torah learning before performing mandatory IDF service. About 1,500 enroll in hesder yeshivot, another 1,100 enroll in mechinot and about 500 postpone indefinitely their army service like haredi yeshiva students. During the period of time spent studying Torah, students prepare themselves ideologically and religiously for their army service. Rabbis and educators at the yeshivot and mechinot have a strong influence on them. There is a wide range of views among heads of hesder yeshivot and mechinot. Mechinot tend to educate their students to be totally loyal to the IDF and are strongly opposed to insubordination. Rabbi Col. (res.) Moshe Hager-Lau, head of the Yatir Mechina in Judea and chairman of the Union of Mechinot, said that he taught his soldiers not to disobey IDF orders. "We educate to total loyalty and unswerving dedication to fulfilling military missions," said Hager-Lau, who added that he saw no halachic problem with providing the security backup for border policemen who carried out the actual evacuation or destruction of a lone house that was built without the proper building permits. However, if there was an attempt by the government to implement extensive evacuations, similar to the 2005 Gaza disengagement, as part of negotiations with the Palestinians, he predicted that the Orthodox Zionist community would not cooperate. "But there is little chance of that happening in the present political reality," Hager-Lau added. The official response of the Hesder Yeshivot Administration was to condemn the act of insubordination. "We oppose political demonstrations within the framework of the IDF and we see it as a blow to discipline, to the foundation of the IDF and to social cohesion," the hesder yeshivot said in response to the banner-waving on Adora'im. "It should be clear to the public that isolated incidents such as this should not be allowed to stain an entire group." But the position of yeshiva heads is a bit more nuanced. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Elon Moreh Yeshiva, while pointing out that his students had not consulted with him before waving the banner, nevertheless supported them. "Defending citizens, not evacuating Jewish settlements, is the IDF's job," said Levanon. "Using the IDF to expel Jews is a blatant politicization of the IDF and it must be stopped. The two guys who flew the banner at Adora'im were reacting to the destruction of homes in Negohot. They just could not stand by quietly while their fellow soldiers did something totally opposed to their conscience," he said in an interview on Radio Kol Chai on Tuesday. For many religious soldiers the issue of insubordination is not just military or political - it is also theological. The act of taking up arms and endangering one's self for the defense of the Jewish state is often expressed in religious terms. The creation of a Jewish state after nearly 2,000 years of exile is seen by many religious Zionists as a sign of an approaching messianic era. The success of the Zionist project is a sign that the redemption is proceeding toward fruition. Steps that contribute to the strength of the state, such as selfless devotion to the IDF, are imbued with a religious dimension. Viewing military service in religious terms is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it provides soldiers with tremendous reservoirs of motivation and a coherent purpose. But it can also undermine the soldiers' loyalty to the IDF by pitting it against their religious convictions. Rabbis with a more integrationist approach to IDF service see the cooperation of secular and religious Jews as a means of fostering Jewish unity, an inherently religious value. In contrast, other rabbis tend to put more emphasis on the religious prohibition against evacuating Jews who have settled in any part of the Land of Israel as a preparation for transferring this land to non-Jews. Ruhama Arbus, the young wife of one of the two hesder soldiers who waved the banner at the Kotel, gave voice to the tension between the ideals of service and loyalty to religious principles. Arbus, who gave birth to her first child a month ago, said that her husband, who studied at the hesder yeshiva in Shilo, had serious deliberations about army service. "He really wanted to help protect his country and the Jewish people with all his might," said Arbus. "But we have friends at Homesh [a north Samaria settlement evacuated during the disengagement]. And he could not imagine himself expelling them. In fact, he even considered the possibility of being forced to destroy his own home," said Arbus, who lives with her husband in Elon Moreh. "On the one hand he wanted to perform the mitzva of protecting his people. Still, even if a Jewish king tells you to do something against Halacha, you have to refuse."