A soldier-student in Yeshivat Har Bracha has been sentenced to 28 days in army prison for refusing to accept the decree expelling his yeshiva from the Hesder program. Another student was credited with saving his fellow soldiers from an Arab lynch mob.
Har Bracha was removed from the Hesder program - which combines army service and yeshiva studies in a five-year program - by Defense Minister Ehud Barak earlier this year. This, because of the public stance of its Dean, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, regarding Land of Israel issues. Rabbi Melamed had said that protests by soldiers against the expulsion of Jews from their homes should not, in the first instance, occur within the army framework, but that after the fact, those who did so should not be condemned. Barak demanded that Melamed condemn them more strongly than that.
Rabbi Melamed’s strong stance in favor of refusing expulsion orders was also not to the liking of Barak.
The student's 28-day sentence began the same day as the yeshiva announced that it was helping its students fall in line with the Defense Ministry decree. “It’s not that we are taking on a new status,” a yeshiva spokesman told Israel National News, “but rather that there is no choice: The army is carrying through on its threats to send our students to jail for wanting to study in a yeshiva that has a clear policy against expelling Jews from their homeland.”
“The yeshiva management has decided that as of now, the schedule of studies will be conducted as in all higher [non-Hesder] yeshivot,” a yeshiva official announced. “We are at peace with our public stance, despite the heavy price paid by the yeshiva.”
Student's Family: No Regrets
The student-soldier who was sentenced to jail for his principled stance, Chaim Yehuda Greenwald of Beit El, does not regret his decision. “The issue is not only the yeshiva,” his father told Israel National News, “but rather his refusal to live with a lie: His Rosh Yeshiva [Dean] teaches the truth openly, that it is forbidden to take part in the expulsion of Jews from the Land of Israel, and that is where Chaim Yehuda wants to study. The army refuses to let him, and tried to force him to agree in a backhanded way that it is permissible to expel Jews. Faced with that, he is willing to sit in jail. I just hope that they won’t continue to try and break him after the 28 days are over…”
Two other students who similarly refused have been demoted from combat duty – a severe punishment for those who trained long months for combat and who view the “safra-saifa” (Torah and sword) combination in defense of Israel as the idea.
Yeshiva Praises Students' Stance
The yeshiva statement continued, “Those students who decided not to accept [the solution of signing up to a different yeshiva] but rather chose to remain in the yeshiva even at the price of incarceration, are sanctifying G-d’s Name; they are privileged that their punishment is because they stand up for Torah. How fortunate we are that we have young heroes of this nature; they are the nation’s future.
“We hope that in time, people will either be replaced in the Defense Ministry, or they will repent, and then Yeshivat Har Bracha will once again be able to offer its students the option of proudly serving in the army in the Hesder track. We pray that despite this crisis, and in the merit of the yeshiva’s strong and clear stance, it will once again flourish and thrive in growing and accepting more and more students.”
Rabbi Melamed himself, in a recent column in the weekly B’Sheva newspaper, related the following story that occurred recently to yeshiva student-soldiers:
“Soldiers from the Shimshon Regiment went out for a training run in Hevron, and they made a wrong turn and found themselves in an Arab-populated area. A mob of Arab rioters attacked them and nearly lynched them, and they managed to escape only by the skin of their teeth. Three soldiers, including the commander, were lightly hurt and were treated in a hospital.
“The soldiers, not including the commander, were yeshiva students. Only one of them was from Har Bracha, but I heard that it was he who took command and saved the day. The Arabs began spitting at the soldiers, throwing rocks at them, and then hitting some of them, and reached the point where they almost snatched the one rifle that the soldiers had with them. At that point, our soldier [from Har Bracha] took the rifle, cocked it, and maneuvered himself between the Arabs while kicking them, hitting them with the gun, and threatening to shoot. He instructed eight soldiers to escape and run quickly to the nearest checkpoint and get help, while he protected them from behind and stayed close to the three soldiers who were unable to get up and run.
“His clear-headedness must especially be noted, in that even though as a ‘right-wing extremist’ he should have been expected to shoot, he understood that with the Arabs already surrounding the soldiers, who were unarmed and were divided up into small groups, the situation could have become much more dangerous if he would open fire. He therefore decided not to escalate the incident, and left the shooting option as a last resort.
"Later, the division commander did, in fact, complain that they did not shoot. But it appears that this was merely in response to media criticism of the shameful incident. The shame itself could likely have been avoided if the commander had given orders to shoot at the rioters’ legs from the beginning – but when the standing orders are that rock-throwing must be greeted with restraint and an attempt to find cover, and only sometimes to respond with tear gas, then most of the officers fear giving ‘Open fire!’ orders, resulting in shameful incidents such as this one.”
Learning Will Continue
Har Bracha will still be home to some 30 post-army students in the Rabbinate and Teaching Program, 60 members of the post-army Shiluvim program that combines yeshiva studies with an academic degree, some Hesder students who are officially registered in another yeshiva, and 5th-year students. The latter group includes students who have completed their 16-18 months of army service but are still officially registered in the army until the end of the 5-year Hesder program. The army will apparently issue them an early discharge, instead of attempting to force them to switch yeshivot for their final months.