Rabbis: 'Loyalty to God over army'

Melamed I may decry pr

Eliezer Melamed 248.88 (photo credit: )
Eliezer Melamed 248.88
(photo credit: )
Rabbis from the hesder yeshivot across Israel came out in support of Har Bracha Yeshiva head Rabbi Eliezer Melamed Thursday evening. The army, according to the rabbis, is "being used for purposes that are not related to the defense of Israel and are in fact against the will of God." In a letter distributed to their students, the 24 rabbis stated that "we educate our students to be loyal soldiers while keeping the obligations to the word of God." Citing the Talmud, the letter went on to say that "it is folly to declare loyalty to a flesh and blood king without emphasizing our first and primary obligation to the word of God." The rabbis' letter came on a day when 150 former hesder yeshiva students compiled their own letter condemning Melamed and expressing support for the defense minister. The students' letter calls to "clearly condemn" any political protest in the army, and urges both Barak and Melamed to return from their "extreme positions" and reach an agreement. "We want to preserve the cohesion of the IDF, and the fact is that despite our firm opposition to the uprooting of the Gush Katif settlements, we will not lend a hand to breaking the army apart despite the pain and sadness we experienced during the operation," they wrote. They said the decision to remove Har Bracha from the hesder roster was "damaging to the IDF and to the other hesder yeshivot," and warned that it would likely lead to the strengthening of "extremist fringes" and "harm the fabric of our lives." They vowed to continue to do all they could to "maintain the social and moral fabric on which the army is based" and would continue to contribute to the country with Torah learning, as well as regular army and reservist service. Meanwhile, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who is at the center of the recent IDF insubordination storm, is mulling a compromise proposed by some of his colleagues, according to which he would sign a statement declaring political protest in the military to be wrong, he said in a newspaper column published on Thursday. If Melamed signs such a statement, it may lead Defense Minister Ehud Barak to reverse his Sunday night decision to remove the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the roster of hesder yeshivot. Barak made the decision to sever all ties with the yeshiva after Melamed repeatedly expressed support for insubordination in the military and failed to attend a hearing conducted by the defense minister. However, in his column in the national religious Sheva newspaper, Melamed stressed that he would not take orders from Barak, but would instead leave the decision on the content of the statement to the hesder yeshiva union leaders, who are expected to convene on Sunday. "There is quite a big temptation here. It is small signature on a sentence which I identify with and in which there is no condemnation of the actual protesters, and which will allow us to continue to run the yeshiva as normal without wasting time on writing articles or losing a budget of 800 thousand shekels a year," he said. However, Melamed indicated that he would not sign a letter compiled by Barak, since he was suspicious of the defense minister's motives. "Perhaps he is ridiculing us and wants to humiliate us into signing a declaration in order to say that we gave in to him, and afterwards to announce in his tyrannical way that the letter is unacceptable to him," continued Melamed. "Even if the defense minister were to ask that I sign the Shema Yisrael, I wouldn't sign it because it is inappropriate for a person to sign a religious declaration under duress." He added that there was great value in the hesder program, which integrates yeshiva study with army service, and warned that removing the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the roster of hesder yeshivot would harm the IDF. On Wednesday night, Barak and Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilna'i met with head of the hesder yeshiva union Rabbi Haim Druckman. During the meeting, which was held at Druckman's request, Barak said that he would not reverse his decision to oust Har Bracha from the hesder arrangement with the IDF, under which soldiers serve 16 months in the IDF and spend close to four years in yeshiva. "The IDF needs to be outside of the political debate and there can be no compromises on this," Barak told Druckman. "The decision to sever the ties between the IDF and the Har Bracha yeshiva will not be changed." Druckman said after the meeting that he made it clear to Vilna'i and Barak that there was no ultimatum and that the hesder yeshivot would keep channels of communication open with the Defense Ministry. "We have not issued any threats of an ultimatum," said Druckman. "We will continue to maintain a dialogue with the defense ministry in an attempt to find a solution." Yaakov Katz and Matthew Wagner contributed to this report