R. Eliezer Melamed
R. Eliezer Melamed Israel news photo: file

The Head of Har Bracha Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, says that other rabbis in the Hesder program are pressing him to sign a declaration against soldiers who refuse orders. He says he will transfer the decision on the matter to the forum of Hesder yeshiva heads that will convene on Sunday.

The rabbi has been at the center of heated debate for weeks, after Defense Minister Ehud Barak and top IDF commanders lashed out against him, claiming he encouraged soldiers to refuse orders to evict Jews from their homes. They blamed him for several recent instances in which soldiers in uniform held up protest signs against the evictions, even though only one of these soldiers was a student of Har Bracha Yeshiva. Rabbi Melamed subsequently accused Barak of libel.

The Hesder program is an arrangement by which yeshiva students combine stints of military training with Torah study.

Rabbi Melamed will devote his popular column in BeSheva Magazine to the controversy Thursday. In Thursday's column, the rabbi writes that the apparent conflict between Torah and the military is the result of orders that do not stem from security considerations. “The one who is eroding the army's cohesion is the Defense Minister, who uses the soldiers against their own countrymen and against Halacha (Jewish law),” he says.

"Rabbis are obligated to say the Torah truth as they see it, even when they need to pay a price for it,” he continues. “I never called for demonstrations within the army, but I will not consent to sign an emphatic denouncement of these protests just because of pressure and threats.”

"Instead of the Defense Minister distancing the military from all public controversy, or at the very least refraining from giving orders that contradict Jewish law – he incites the greater public against rabbis who supposedly endanger military discipline.”

Rabbis must be free

The rabbi goes on:

"It is forbidden to express opinion on Torah matters under pressure from the government, and a rabbi must say his inner truth; in that he represents the sacred legacy of our nation. And these things are true of the Hesder yeshivas rabbis as well; they do not need to be under the discipline of of the military commanders, but to voice their opinion freely.”

"Some rabbis are applying great pressure on me to sign [a declaration against refusal of orders] in order to end the painful confrontation with the Ministry of Defense. On the other hand, the spokesmen for the Ministry of Defense can be expected to present this in the media as the defeat of Torah opinion by the Barak government. On the face of it, there is a great temptation here. A tiny signature on a sentence whose contents I identify with and that does not contain any denouncement of the protesters, and it will be possible to go on as usual in the yeshiva, without wasting hours on writing articles and without losing an annual budget of NIS 800 thousand (based on the number of students).”

"Since I am, for the time being, part of the larger group of Hesder yeshivas, I have agreed upon the advice of my father and teacher [Rabbi Zalman Melamed of Beit El – ed.], and other rabbis, to transfer this decision to the forum of yeshiva heads which will convene on Sunday to discuss the affair.”