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Hesder Yeshivot Ask: Should Soldiers be Used for Evictions?

Hesder Yeshivot oppose “political demonstrations in the army framework,” but call for public debate on whether to use soldiers for police work.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 11/18/2009, 12:48 PM

Israel news photo

The Union of Hesder Yeshivot has issued a resolution opposing “political demonstrations in the framework of the army” – but calls for debate on whether soldiers should be used for police work.           

The resolution was formulated on Tuesday following phone consultations among the rabbis and heads of hesder yeshivot and pre-military mechinot. Hesder yeshiva students sign on for a five-year program combining approximately 1.5 years of army service and the remainder in Torah study, while those in mechinot study for a year before their three-year army stints.

Hesder yeshivot, specifically, are under the gun, following the sentencing of two hesder students – and four other soldiers – to 20-30 days in army prison for having waved signs stating their opposition to participating in evictions of Jewish residents and the destruction of their homes in Judea and Samaria.

IDF Issues Ultimatum
IDF Personnel Corps Commander Gen. Avi Zamir has now issued an ultimatum to the Hesder yeshivot: Either you declare a blanket condemnation of any form of refusal of army orders, or the army will cancel its arrangements with those yeshivot that encourage refusal. Two yeshivot are being specifically targeted for their apparent encouragement of refusal: Har Brachah, headed by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, and Elon Moreh, under the direction of Rabbi Elyakim Levanon.

The threat is not taken seriously, however, as Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in whose hands the final decision rests, has stated his opposition to canceling the hesder program. In addition, “The army can’t afford to give lose the hesder soldiers,” Rabbi Levanon said on Tuesday night. He was referring to the fact that many such soldiers, if forced to choose between full army service and full-time Torah study, would choose the latter.

Both Rabbis Levanon and Melamed opine that it is forbidden to take part in any way in a political expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel. Asked if this might not cause the army to fall apart, Rabbi Melamed wrote, “If many soldiers refuse, orders of this nature will not be given. At worst, the top commanders will be forced to resign,” which, he feels, would rid the army of its harmful political tendencies.

Rabbi Levanon: Chief of Staff Should Refuse Political Orders
"It is Defense Minister Barak who is mixing politics into the army,” Rabbi Levanon said, “as is obvious to all. He is trying to solve his problems in the Labor Party by destroying outposts, with IDF soldiers as his pawns. I call upon the Chief of Staff to put an end to this corruption. He should stand up, with all his District Commanders, and declare: ‘We refuse to accept political orders.’”

“If the soldiers were ordered by a right-wing government to build settlements, everyone would be up in arms – including me,” Rabbi Levanon said. “By the same token, they cannot be used to destroy settlements.”

Rabbis Against Protests
On the other hand, leading hesder yeshiva rabbis have gone on record as taking the opposite approach. Rabbis Chaim Druckman, Shmuel Haber, Yehoshua Weitzman and others say they are opposed to the political protest made by the soldiers of the Nachshon Regiment against outpost evictions and demolitions.

The Resolution
The Hesder Yeshivot resolution stated, “[We] oppose political protests in the army, and view them as detrimental to army discipline, the foundations of the army, and the societal cohesion in the IDF. At the same time, we demand that isolated incidents such as these [recent protests] not besmirch an entire sector of thousands of dedicated boys who enlist, with high motivation, in combat units in order to take an important part in the war against the enemy and in defending the people and the land.”

The statement concludes, “[We] call for an intense debate in Israeli society regarding the use of the IDF for missions of a police or law-enforcement nature.”

Calm Advice
The organization’s spokesman, Rabbi David Stav, called upon the army to take the “smart” course: “The army is a place where orders must be fulfilled. But the IDF is large enough to know, as it has shown in other cases, that it can sometimes tolerate very complex stances within it…. Just like it sends its soldiers to study in Tel Aviv University and other places where some of the lecturers are among the inciters against the army, and yet doesn’t stop sending its soldiers there, it also need not threaten to close down hesder yeshivot.”

It is estimated that some 1,500 students are enrolled in the more than 50-year-old hesder yeshiva enterprise, encompassing more than 40 yeshivot, and another 1,100 in the 20 mechinot, the first of which was started 21 years ago.