Rabbi Melamed
Rabbi MelamedIsrael news photo

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, whose Yeshivat Har Bracha has been removed from the IDF’s Hesder arrangement, says Defense Minister Ehud Barak has “forced an artificial clash upon us.”

Hesder is an arrangement in which yeshiva students do not have to choose between army service and Torah studies, but rather perform both over a five-year period. Barak angrily removed Har Bracha from the program recently, following the following series of incidents:

* The offense taken by Gen. Avi Mizrachi, Central District Commander, at Rabbi Melamed’s accusation that much of the army brass is career-oriented and cannot be trusted to make proper strategic decisions

* calls by Rabbi Melamed and others for refusal of orders to demolish Jewish homes and expel Jews

* protest signs waved by religious soldiers on two occasions against the army’s participation in the expulsion of Jews. Rabbi Melamed wrote afterwards that he would not have counseled taking such action, but neither would he condemn those who carried them out.

Barak: We Must Show Who's Boss

Defense Minister Barak explained that he had no choice but to remove Har Bracha from the Hesder program, in order to show that every soldier must listen only to his commander, and not his rabbi, when receiving orders. This position was backed by many in the political and media establishments.

Rabbi Melamed explains, however, that there is actually no dispute regarding the authority of the commanders in battle situations – and that the “clash” between rabbis and the army has been artificially manufactured in order to arouse hatred against the rabbis.

Excerpts from Rabbi Melamed’s recent article on the topic:

“The public is being incited to think that rabbis are endangering the army – in order to arouse hatred and hostility against the rabbis and their positions. But the truth is that there is no clash at all between the commander and the rabbi on security matters, because Jewish Law obligates [the soldier] to listen to his commander, both in training and in battle.

“All the disagreements with the Defense Minister are on matters that are not at all connected with security actions, but rather deal with its ‘outside covering’ - for instance, a commander who does not give time for prayers during training, or orders soldiers to desecrate the Sabbath for no operational reason, or when soldiers are used against their own compatriots. In such cases, when the commander’s orders clash with Jewish Law, which is our collective consciousness, one must refuse the orders. This is what the late Rabbi Shlomo Goren ruled; he was the Chief Rabbi of the IDF and Chief Rabbi of Israel, and the ‘light of the generation’ regarding the army, State and Jewish Law…”

Elsewhere, Rabbi Melamed wrote that one-time IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Chaim Laskov complained to then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that Rabbi Goren had ruled that soldiers need not listen to commanders who tell them to desecrate the Sabbath. Laskov said that soldiers must first of all follow their commanders’ orders, and afterwards they may complain. Rabbi Goren said that “afterwards” would be too late, as desecrating the Sabbath is like killing someone. Ben-Gurion sided with Rabbi Goren.

To prove his point that Jewish Law does not clash with the army’s operational/military needs, Rabbi Melamed wrote:

“During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, when many Jews were still feeling the great pain of the Gush Katif expulsion, then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a poorly-chosen statement that a victory over Hizbullah in Lebanon would enable Israel to carry out a withdrawal from Judea and Samaria. Many soldiers questioned whether they should enlist in the war effort, if their efforts would be used to pave the way for a withdrawal.

“In response to this question, I wrote at the time that it was a mitzvah [Torah commandment] to go out to war, because even when the army leaders are problematic, and even when they issue mistaken commands, it is still a mitzvah to serve in the army – for if we would not have an army, our situation woud be many times worse…

“In contrast, Minister Barak and the army leaders, and the Prime Minister who backed them, have now declared to the entire public that there is in fact a clash between Jewish Law and the army, and that they are not willing to take into account any value other than absolute adherence to the commander’s orders. It follows from what they said that someone who truly wants to keep Jewish Law should not enlist in the army [as opposed to what Rabbi Melamed ruled - ed.]. Then they’ll complain that there aren’t enough soldiers and why aren’t the yeshiva boys enlisting in the army.

“By acting this way, the heads of the army are justifying the hareidi public’s approach that one cannot enlist in the army, because a soldier cannot have two authorities above him…

Simple Solution: Use the Army Only Against Enemy

“The solution is simple: Return the army to its one and only objective – protecting the nation and the land. There will then be no clashes between the commanders and the rabbis, and every soldier will fully identify with his mission. In this way we might even be able to defeat our enemies.”