Op-Ed: The IDF Rabbinate Hits a New Low
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedThe writer is Head of Yeshivat Har Bracha and a prolific author on Jewish Law, whose works include the series on Jewish law "Pininei Halacha" and a popular weekly column "Revivim" in the Besheva newspaper. His books "The Laws of Prayer" "The Laws of Passover" and "Nation, Land, Army" are presently being translated into English. Other articles by Rabbi Melamed can be viewed at: www.yhb.org.il/1
Why the Left Attacks the Religious and 'Settlers'
The aggressive mobilization of the media, judicial system, and the government against the religious and hareidi public and the 'settlers' is astounding.
They always use lip service to point out that not all of them are to blame, but in reality, the accusing finger is always waved at the entire religious and settler community, either because of their 'atrocious' actions, or because they fail to condemn and denounce the 'criminals', morning, noon and night, in the harshest possible language.
How can it be that a mild disturbance in the Ephraim army base where no one was injured is called 'severe violence' and earns condemnation as if it were a wild pogrom? More violent demonstrations occur throughout the country every year.
In Paris, London, and New York, violent demonstrations also take place over various issues such as price hikes, retirement age, taxes, and globalization. Sometimes severe disturbances occur in these demonstrations, including burning stores and cars and injuring police officers, but never have we heard of all the top government officials in those countries unanimously condemning the protesters for posing a threat to the foundations of the government and the country. The police handle the demonstration; anyone who is caught breaking the law is simply put on trial.
Here in Israel on the other hand, Ministers, Members of Knesset, members of the justice and media decided that the Ephraim base incident endangers the future of the State of Israel. Even the Prime Minister, who claims that settlements are dear to his heart – and only because of his numerous duties has not found the time to visit even one settlement in the Shomron since being elected by its Jewish residents– saw fit to visit the Ephraim army base and proclaim: "We must use all of the authority that exists in the State of Israel, a State of law, a democracy built on law, and use this authority against the rioters, and we will do this even more strongly."
The actual meaning of his words is that now, the organizers of the demonstration are being accused of treason! Only in totalitarian regimes is a small demonstration overblown into an incident that endangers the country and government.
Unfortunately, men make offensive comments to women thousands of times every day, and the law enforcement authorities pay no attention. Religious Jews tried to raise the issue of the difficulties of hundreds of Jewish women who are raped and held against their will in Arab villages. The media treated that burning feminist issue with relative indifference, the same way they relate to honor and other murders in these villages.
On the other hand, when soldiers wish to leave a performance by a female singer, they deafen the entire country about 'the exclusion of women', and the heads of the army announce that such a grave act will not be permitted in the IDF.
And when a hareidi man insults a woman soldier, he is immediately imprisoned, accused of 'sexual harassment', a woman judge decides not to release him until he deposits a guarantee of 30,000 shekels, and until the end of his trial, is not permitted to travel on public transportation!
And all those connected to the ruling elite cheer.
Chance or Phenomenon?
Some people believe this is a temporary wave resulting from a combination of unpleasant incidences exacerbating by the media's desire for sensations.
But the fact is that these types of storms always explode against the religious, hareidim, or the 'settlers', and hence, these storms indicate a deeper attitude.
Many people believe the onslaught stems from secular-leftist hatred towards religion and the 'settlers'. Among certain parts of the left there is definitely hatred.
But it seems that most of those who recently came out sharply against the hareidim and the settlers did not do so out of conscious hatred. They honestly claim that the only thing that interests them is law and justice, yet they cannot explain why relatively minor incidents receive such harsh attention on their part.
Dispute over Worldview
The dispute is over opposing worldviews: one where Judaism is paramount and the other, which promotes post-modern assimilation. There are some Jews who find it difficult to come to terms with the fact that they belong to a small nation, with a special vision of 'tikkun olam' (perfecting the world) in line with Torah values, and attempt to embrace the prevailing world culture.
Once, they followed Communism blindly; today, they follow post-modernity, according to which there are no Heavenly standards that obligate a person to act, no universal scale of values, but rather, each individual is an autonomous entity, entitled to choose his values according to his personal discretion, provided that he does not harm anyone else.
To this end, public matters must be free of both religion and nationality. Consequently, it is forbidden to speak about making the Galilee and Shomron Jewish, it is forbidden to request, on behalf of traditional family values, modesty in the public domain, and it is also forbidden to denounce sexual permissiveness. The task of guarding this position has been espoused by Israel's judicial system and anyone who objects to its authority is considered a 'heretic', in other words, threatens the 'rule of law'.
Thousands of hooligans insulting and harming women does not threaten this way of thinking. But soldiers who leave while a female singer performs, or a hareidi man who insults a woman standing next, or a university lecturer who dares to condemn sexual promiscuity, threaten it. War is declared against them, and all possible tools are used to make sure that the public domain doesn't express any binding Jewish value.
Thousands of demonstrations over wages and taxes don't threaten this worldview – they only cause inconvenience and monetary loss. But when demonstrators interfere with the destruction of an outpost, they, then, are going against the basic leftist worldview, according to which, the right of the Jewish nation over its land is an insubstantial value,to be abrogated if it interferes with the 'vision' of humanism.
The grand vision of the Israeli left currently waters down to an obsession with the destruction of Jewish settlement in Judea and Samaria. As far as they are concerned, the disturbances in the Ephraim army base are the destruction of the country and the rule of law.
Consequently, they demand that rabbis, teachers, and public figures condemn the demonstrations, being that they undermine the foundations of the government and law, in order to clarify that Jewish values must be limited to the private sector, while the general value system has to be ruled by the views of the post-modern secularists. By the condemnation and declaration of allegiance of various people in the religious and national camp, they fortify their control of society.
Netanyahu and His Ministers
The Prime Minister and the majority of Knesset members and ministers – like the most of the public – are torn between the two positions, but in moments of trial, they join the assimilationist position. From their perspective, secular culture is the mistress and Judaism is the concubine, and when the mistress arrives, the concubine needs to hide.
Dealing with the Wave
Since we are not ready to give up our values, we must absolutely deny the fundamental assumptions of the perpetrators of this wave, and work positively towards a deeply rooted Jewish alternative for the nation and the State of Israel. And also, those who honestly want to criticize the disturbances that exist amongst certain circles of hareidi and religious society must first announce that the mitzvoth of the Torah precede and are superior to all human laws.
The I.D.F. Rabbinate
An unacceptable example of the wrong behavior was given this week by the IDF. Rabbinate. According to an IDF. spokesman, at the instruction of the Chief of Staff, the Chief Rabbi of the IDF convened the leadership of the Military Rabbinate in order to discuss the 'serious' phenomena of the 'exclusion of women' on religious grounds in the army. The demand calling for a meeting in and of itself is humiliating – did someone in the army harm women in the name of religion?! Is this the most important religious and moral issue that the military rabbinate needs to deal with?!
Instead of putting the Chief of Staff in his place, the rabbis convened like a choir, answering 'amen' after the secular position that hurls false accusations at Judaism and the religious. But the meaning of the Chief of Staff's instructions is even more problematic: Demanding that the rabbis publicly acknowledge the superiority of secular law over the commandments of the Torah.
Thus wrote the IDF Chief Rabbi in a letter to the military rabbis: "In the IDF, military orders – they, and only they – dictate the nature of the army and the atmosphere that prevails in it, and determine what must be done in various circumstances…"
One participant summed up the conference to a reporter: "Military orders are above all, and when there is a dilemma or rift between Jewish law and an officers command, we explain to the soldier that the command comes first, whether in an exercise or in combat, or if it's a ceremony or event where women appear".
This is actually halakhically true in combat, in training and in life and death situations where decisions are up to the expert, the commander
Another rabbi said: "As the soldiers occasionally consult me with questions and answers, so too, the officers are always trying to reach common ground. In any case, an officer's command is always above my recommendations to a soldier."
But It seems we have never reached such a low point. One can say that maybe the media is exaggerrating or misunderstanding, but in such a serious issue, a public denial would be required, and when there is none – silence is seen as corroboration.
The Advocate General and the Rabbinate
Has anyone ever imagined that the Chief of Staff would dare demand that members of the Military Advocate General convene to discuss the restraints that the military lawyers cast on the soldiers in their war against terrorists – restraints that cause the death of numerous soldiers, and interfere with their ability to defeat the enemy?
The Military Advocate General represents the secular judicial system which stands above the army, and therefore will not accept any dictates from the Chief of Staff.
But unfortunately, the IDF. rabbinate apparently does not see itself as representing Jewish law, and therefore it bows down to the Chief of Staff, and humiliates the status of the Torah in agreeing to the very meeting and its subject matter.
When rabbis convene, they should discuss matters at hand with true fear of G-d, according to the opinion of the Torah, directed solely for the clarification of Jewish law and values, and by no means, according to the dictates of the Chief of Staff or anyone else.
Cat Out of the Bag
The preceding words were written on Sunday night. On Monday evening it was reported in the news that members of the forum of the General Staff, headed by the Chief of Staff, conducted a discussion about the integration of men and women in the IDF. It was decided that at official events, such as the memorial services for fallen soldiers, the Holocaust memorial ceremony, the memorial ceremony for the murder of PM Yitzchak Rabin., as well as graduation ceremonies and ceremonies for the training of outstanding soldiers – all soldiers will be required to attend, even if women sing "and this without any room for the discretion of their commanders".
The Chief of Staff further ruled that: "female soldiers will continue to sing in all I.D.F. events" (Arutz 7). In other recreational and cultural events incorporating women singing, commanders will be allowed to permit soldiers not to attend. In other words, if the commanders do not permit it, when a soldier leaves an event, he will be punished for violating an order.
By now it is obvious why the Chief of Staff ordered the military rabbis to convene urgently on Sunday – so that they accept in advance the decisions of the General Staff, and to announce to the entire world that Jewish law is subject to military orders. Now it also becomes apparent what the phenomenon of 'exclusion of women' in the army was – that religious soldiers must exit with their heads bowed-down while women sing.
Jewish Law Precedes the Decisions of the Chief of Staff
In any case, despite the media assault on 'the exclusion of women' because of not wanting to hear live female singers, and despite the decision of the General Staff, and although there are military rabbis who say that military orders transcend everything – Jewish law remains in place, and obligates as always. And a soldier who is ordered to hear a female singer in a live performance in a ceremony should leave. And now that the issue has become public, it is correct to do so publicly and with his head held high.
State of the Military Rabbinate
I hate to say it, but the Military Rabbinate has never sunk to such a low point. The Chief Rabbi of the IDF is personally responsible for this. We must wait and see if the Council of the Chief Rabbinate will fulfill its role, since, in principle, it is above the IDF Chief Rabbi.
If not, the responsibility will be passed on to the heads of the yeshivas and municipal rabbis. And, if God forbid, they bow their heads in humility, each soldier will have to stand alone for the honor of the Torah, and refuse to obey the secular order. This will be difficult, entailing imprisonment, dismissal from courses, and humiliation, but ultimately, it will return the dignity of Israel's heritage to its place.