Rabbis: 'Loyalty to God over army'

Rabbis Loyalty to God

Eliezer Melamed 248.88 (photo credit: )
Eliezer Melamed 248.88
(photo credit: )
Concern that infighting among yeshiva heads might tear apart the entire hesder framework surfaced on Thursday, as rabbis prepared to meet on Sunday to discuss Defense Minister Ehud Barak's decision to cut ties with Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's Har Bracha Yeshiva. "My worst nightmare is that the meeting will blow up and yeshiva heads will engage in infighting and blaming one another," said Rabbi David Stav, spokesman for the Union of Hesder Yeshivot and head of the Petah Tikva Hesder Yeshiva. "Although this is not the most likely scenario, it is definitely one of them. It it not a farfetched idea that something like this will happen," he said. Dozens of hesder rabbis issued a declaration of support for Melamed on Thursday, in which they said that "the army is being used for purposes unrelated to defending Israel, which are opposed to the will of God," and that "loyalty to God stands before any other loyalty, to the government or to the army." Ostensibly, all 62 hesder yeshivot that make up the union belong to the Orthodox Zionist stream of Judaism, which views military service as a religious duty. However, the different yeshiva heads represent a vast range of opinions. The five rabbis who make up the Governing Council of the Union of Hesder Yeshivot belong to the more moderate camp in religious Zionism. Council chairman Rabbi Haim Druckman, head of the Or Etzion Yeshiva, was one of the leading rabbis who openly and strongly opposed any forms of insubordination during the Gaza disengagement. During the current tension between Barak and Melamed, Druckman - along with Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld of the Shadmot Mehola Yeshiva in the Jordan Valley, Rabbi Yehoshua Weitzman of the Ma'alot Yeshiva in the Upper Galilee, Rabbi Shmuel Haber of Karnei Shomron and Rabbi Eliyah Blumentzweig of the Yeruham Yeshiva - drafted a letter that clearly denounced political demonstrations in the IDF. The rabbis were referring to three cases in which soldiers from the Kfir Brigade, which is responsible for patrolling Judea and Samaria, flew banners in public places declaring they would not take part in the evacuation of Jewish settlements. The rabbis worked to encourage Melamed to sign off on their letter in accordance with Barak's demand. Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post this week that while Barak had handled the matter badly, Melamed was also to blame for pitting the hesder yeshivot against the IDF. "Both sides need to find a way of gracefully extricating themselves from this conundrum," said Rosenfeld. In contrast, other rabbis have put their full support behind Melamed. Rabbi Eliezer Waldman, head of the hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Arba, told the settlement weekly B'Sheva this week that "all yeshiva heads must declare, 'We are all Har Bracha.' We will not allow anyone to hurt one of the the yeshivot; we are one body. True, there are differences of opinion among the yeshivot, but on this issue, we are all together." Rabbis such as Druckman, however, who favor a more integrationist approach with the army, insist that no ultimatum like "We are all Har Bracha" will be made. The differences of opinion are reflected in the student and graduate body of the hesder yeshivot. Shortly after Barak made his announcement, a group of hesder yeshiva graduates announced that they would be unable to continue to serve in the IDF if Har Bracha were removed from the hesder framework. Dozens signed a petition to that effect. After explaining that the source of their motivation to serve in the IDF had been the lessons they had learned in yeshiva, the reserve soldiers went on to point out the consequences of Barak's decision. "If decision-makers go through with the move to push yeshivot out of the hesder framework, the meaning is that the IDF is pushing us out of service," wrote the reserve soldiers. Meanwhile on Thursday, a counter-initiative was announced, with dozens of hesder yeshiva graduates signing a petition calling on Melamed and Barak to reach a compromise. Titled "An Urgent Call for Dialogue," the petition declared, "We are calling on Rabbi Melamed to adopt the stance of the Governing Council of Hesder Yeshivot that opposes political demonstrations and the waving of flags in the IDF. And we call on Defense Minister Barak to refrain from adopting extreme positions and to know how to accept a diverse range of opinions among hesder yeshiva heads." Assaf Weiss, one of the organizers of the petition, said that within less than 24 hours, there had been a surprisingly enthusiastic response via e-mail. "We are here to give voice to a sane position, not far to the left and not too far to the right, that calls for dialogue and a quick solution," he said. Graduates from a wide range of yeshivot signed, Weiss noted. In addition to more moderate yeshivot such as Gush Etzion and Ma'alot, there were also graduates from Rabbi Elyakim Levanon's yeshiva in Elon Moreh, which is considered to be closely aligned with neighboring Har Bracha. Weiss said that no Har Bracha graduates had signed. Stav, meanwhile, said he was still hoping the yeshivot and the defense ministry would reach a compromise that would allow Barak to reverse his decision on Har Bracha. "However, as time goes by, Barak becomes more entrenched in his position, because the political price for backtracking gets higher," he explained. "If Rabbi Melamed does agree to sign a document opposing demonstrations in the IDF, it would give Barak a justification for annulling the decision regarding Har Bracha. But I am not sure Barak is looking for an excuse to back out of what he has done." Stav added, "The way this whole thing got blown out of proportion was a result of [Barak's] hasty decision-making and his lack of respect for Rabbi Melamed. But Rabbi Melamed could have defused the whole situation by simply signing the document. Now we are in a serious predicament." Jpost.com staff contributed to this report.