The Jewish View on Refusing to Obey Orders

Rabbi Dr. Aryeh Hirsch

Judaism Aryeh Hirsch
Aryeh Hirsch

Last month, there was a brouhaha in Israel over the question of whether a soldier should disobey orders that he felt were immoral.

Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Bayit Yehudi party, started the controversy, when he expressed his opposition to using IDF soldiers for Gush Katif-style Disengagements. He also said that soldiers were presented with a moral problem when ordered to evict a Jew from his home. Weighing in on the controversy, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar said that even a Disengagement was preferable to the civil war that mass refusal was certain to cause.

Whether civil war is a certain result of refusal is debatable (note that no one was worried that the Gush Katif Disengagement would cause a civil war, which means that the only ones blackmailing this country with threats of civil war is our back-stabbing Left) . In any case, it is noteworthy that Jewish history is loaded with recorded instances of Jews refusing orders: Divine orders. From Jonah to Jeremiah, our biblical history has many examples of recalcitrant messengers. Interestingly, two historical episodes of Jews refusing very human, yet inhumane and immoral, orders occur in the Exodus story read in our synagogues every winter.

The first incident is the order of Pharoah to the Jewish midwives in Egypt: “When Jewish women are in labor, kill the boys and let the girls live” (Exodus 1; 15-16). The Torah describes the midwives reaction:” But the midwives feared the Lord, and did not do as the King of Egypt demanded; they let the boys live”. Rashi says that the midwives went even beyond simple disobedience by providing the boys with food and water. Kli Yakar provides background, saying the source of these women’s strength of character was their utter confidence that the Almighty was sure to bring about the Geula , the Redemption, that He had promised. Thus the midwives felt that Egyptian monarch and his immoral orders could be flouted with impunity.

One might argue: OK, that’s a simple scenario, and any decent person would have done what the midwives did. Not so, says the Torah: Pharoah’s next move was to order the Egyptians to drown the Jewish male newborns in the Nile- and Egypt obeyed. Also, the Midrash is chockfull of gory stories like using Jewish babies instead of bricks for the walls of the pyramids; there is no record of non-Jewish disobedience, with the exceptions of Yitro and maybe Iyov.

Still, one might say that any IDF soldier can recognize outright murder when he sees it, and would never comply with such an obviously unethical order. True enough; and that’s why the end of the Parsha gives us another ethical dilemma:

Pharoah orders that the Jews, stirred up by the messages of would-be redeemer Moses, are to be given no more straw with which to make bricks. The Jewish police, the “shotrim”, have a choice: push the already exhausted slaves even further, so that they fill their labor quotas as before; or, let the people proceed at their previous pace, preserving whatever well-being they still have, but face whippings by the hands of the Egyptian taskmasters.

This problem is not so straightforward. Routine Talmudic logic says that “who says their blood is redder than mine”, and the shotrim may have been perfectly correct if they’d pushed the Jews beyond their limits, in order to save their own bodies. But they did not: “And the shotrim were beaten” (Exodus 5; 14). And just as the midwives were rewarded by G-d for their moral behavior in the face of threats, with their descendants becoming the Priests and Kings of Israel( Exodus 1;15), the shotrim were rewarded for disobeying immoral orders and were appointed the first Jewish Sanhedrin(Rashi).

We certainly live in a world of spin, of “sheker” (lies). Examples abound, one can pick up any newspaper or read any anti-Semitic blog on the net and see the lies. I’d like to quote the Jan. 14, 2013 Time magazine, which carries an article by Joe Klein. Klein twice refers to the “extremist Netanyahu … who is allowing continued illegal (as defined by who, one might ask?) expansion on Palestinian land( an ownership determined by whom?), a position which has been held by every US President since Johnson”.

Johnson was president till Jan., 1969; Ofra and Kedumim, the first settlements, were founded in 1975. Although the State Department has been lying and calling Israeli settlements “illegal”(sic) for nearly 40 years, the first standing White House to make such a declaration was that of George W. Bush (the anti-Semitic Carter made such declarations only once he was out of office).

This brings me back to heroes like the midwives and the shotrim- and every Israeli soldier who didn’t participate in an eviction of a Jew living on the soil of this Holy Land. Certainly one should disobey a clearly political order to disengage, evict, etc. an Israeli from his home. It is an immoral, unethical order. In order to spare the disobeying soldier the hypocritical wrath of the Leftists in our Army,

Rabbis like Rav Aviner, Lichtenstein, Riskin, etc. have rightly counseled soldiers to not say: “I refuse this immoral order”. Rather, the soldiers generally say they’re sick, with stomachaches and the like, and thus opt out of these orders. Fine as far as it goes. But ours is a morally rudderless world, in which human scum like Joe Klein and his Peace Now buddies (people who, in backing Arafat and Abbas, are the equivalent of a 1940’s Jew backing the Jew-killer Hitler,yimach shmo; the only difference is that Germans are a more efficient people ) claim the higher moral ground, and ignorant people believe the spin and the lies.

In such a world, it is preferable to loudly proclaim Truth: “The order you have given me, hame’faked( my commander), is an unethical one. And I have a stomach ache and therefore cannot participate in my duties today”. We need to clearly proclaim the justice and truth of our cause. Only thus can we begin the reeducation of our brethren brainwashed by the Left, and begin to undo the damage done to Israel by their phony “Peace Process”.