Rabbi Eliezer Melamed
Rabbi Eliezer MelamedIsrael National News photo

Leaders of the national camp warned Sunday evening that the decision by Defense Minister Ehud Barak (Labor) to oust Rabbi Eliezer Melamed’s Har Bracha yeshiva from the Hesder program will cause a rift among the entire Jewish nation. The Hesder program combines military service with Jewish studies, and soldiers from Hesder yeshivas make up a disproportionately high percentage of combat fighters in the IDF.

Barak ousted Har Bracha from the Hesder program due to Rabbi Melamed’s refusal to back down to the defense establishment or send mixed messages to his students regarding the morality of obeying orders to expel Jewish families from their homes.

Knesset Member Yariv Levin (Likud) sharply criticized Defense Minister Barak’s decision and praised the contribution of soldiers from Har Bracha. He warned that Barak’s attempts to use his ministry to score points for himself among Labor party MKs and members could cause harm to the IDF and to the country’s defense. “Barak is engaging in politics at the expense of military recruits… I call on the Defense Minister to reconsider his decision before it causes irreversible damage,” he added.

Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz (Jewish Home) said that the lack of dialogue between Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Rabbi Melamed has the potential to bring Israel towards disaster. Herskowitz, who also is an ordained rabbi, added that he would try to talk with Defense Minister Barak in an attempt to influence him to reconsider his decision.

MK Dr. Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) said that Barak, “in his aggressive way,” was harming the security of the State of Israel. He added, "Annulling the arrangement with the heroes of Har Bracha is a criminal act aimed at bolstering the ego of a politician who is about to end his career.”

MK Aryeh Eldad (National Union) pointed out the hypocrisy between how Barak threatens the rabbis from Hesder yeshivas compared with his treatment of lecturers from Tel Aviv University who openly preach disobedience to IDF recruits.

Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council which oversees the Har Bracha municipality, echoed Eldad’s statements and further accused Barak of “sucking up to the social milieu of universities whose professors incite against the existence of the State of Israel and against IDF service.” He also praised Rabbi Melamed and the Har Bracha yeshiva, saying the Defense Minister was “persecuting an educational establishment of the first order which has yielded hundreds of the best combat officers.”

Nochi Eyal, director of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, called Barak’s actions “anti-democratic.” The forum said in a statement that “the minister could not care less about the law when it relates to him [but] is strict when it relates to political opponents. The Defense Minister must not use his authority to impose political opinions on rabbis.” According to the statement, the defense minister’s move will lead to disputes among the Jewish people and harm the IDF’s ability to defend the country.

The Union of Hesder Yeshivas announced that heads of the schools would hold an emergency hearing in the next few days to discuss Barak’s decision. In a statement which followed the decision, the union noted that it expressed its opposition to such a move when it met with Barak last week. “The decision constitutes a serious precedent of harming a yeshiva which is entitled to enjoy academic and Torah freedom,” the Hesder group said.