Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The IDF – Halacha and Disobeying Orders

There is an interesting story in Newsweek that gives me great pride and at the same time causes me to have a certain amount of apprehension. The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) are increasingly becoming religious. This includes their officer corps. Now more than ever this becomes a factor when it comes to obeying orders. Of course when orders conflict with Halacha – Halacha comes first. No one disputes that. But what if it is only Halacha according to some Poskim and not others?

The Israeli military is not necessarily run according to Halacha. In theory that could create a conflict for an observant Jew. Disobeying orders undermines the entire Israeli army. And it is the army that God has thus far used as His instrument to protect the Jewish people in Israel. The army cannot afford to allow soldiers to pick and choose which orders to obey and which orders to disobey.

And yet Halacha comes first. This is God’s will. How does one overcome this conundrum?

The truth is that until recently this has not been a problem. The army has always had religious soldiers and they have always been accommodated. And that has paid off very nicely for all. Religious soldiers are among the most valiant of all soldiers and volunteer in huge numbers – much higher than their proportion - for dangerous combat missions. That’s because of the ideology of their religious beliefs. They are Religious Zionists. They consider it their sacred duty to participate in the Zionist enterprise to build up, defend, and protect the State of Israel. Many see it is the first flowering of our ultimate redemption into the messianic era.

Religious fervor is a great motivator. It encourages people to risk their lives for the sake God. Because of this, there is a corresponding higher level of death and injury to this group of valiant soldiers. The Israeli government knows this and is eager to accommodate them. Religious Zionist rabbis are integrally involved in matters dealing with religious observance in the army and have seen to it that the army provide for the religious needs of its soldiers.

In short it is a marriage made in heaven between the secular Zionist government and the Religious Zionist soldiers. The government gets highly motivated soldiers and the soldiers get their full religious rights.

The Hesder Yeshiva program is the best example of how this system works. Instead of a three year army stint which is required of all eligible men and women - Hesder is a six year program whereby young men alternately serve and learn in specially designed Yeshivos (I believe in 6 month intervals). It is from Hesder that a high percentage of volunteers for dangerous duty come. There is no better soldier than a religious Zionist soldier.

But in recent years there has been a fly in the ointment. That fly is the increased pressure to evacuate settlements. This happened a few years ago in Gaza and since then in a few other settlements. This is one area where Halacha and duty come into conflict which is problematic and unresolved. The one thing religious Zionists are not willing to do is participate in settlement evacuations. They believe it is a religious imperative to settle the all of Eretz Yisroel which includes Yehuda and Shomron located in the Palestinian contested West Bank of the Jordan River.

As such they hold it is Halachicly forbidden to give up land that it posses. That of course includes any part of Eretz Yisroel that was recaptured in the 6 day war. In isolation they are right. It is forbidden.

But it is not always forbidden by all Poskim. There are great Poskim - among them Rav Shach and Rav Soloveitchk - that have permitted land to be relinquished if will lead to a peace. It may not be the case now since giving up land will not assure peace and may in fact lead to great harm. But in principle it is a legitimate debate between Religious Zionist Poskim and non Religious Zionist Poskim as to whether one may or may not give up any land in Eretz Yisroel to non Jews.

This came to a head in recent years when some religious Zionist Poskim told religious soldiers that they must refuse orders to evacuate Jews from any Jewish settlements. Pragmatism dictated an obvious solution. When it came to evacuating settlements, non religious soldiers were used.

But now that many of the officers are from the ranks of religious Zionists - the whole situation has the potential to blow up and seriously undermine the army and thereby the safety of the Jewish people. It is one thing if a soldier refuses to follow an order. But when officers refuse to even give the order to do it – that can destroy the entire army. And when an order is not universally seen as violating Halacha – undermining God’s instrument for securing the safety of the Jewish people becomes a real problem.

What is God’s true will here? Does He want us to give up land in situations where true peace prevails or does He forbid us to give up land under any circumstances? That’s where Halachic deabte lies. It’s all too easy to say that a soldier must follow the Psak of His Posek. But in matters of Pikuach Nefesh where the Psak is controversial I’m not so sure that is the right thing to do. What if by refusing to follow orders to evacuate a settlement causes great death and destruction to the Jewish people?

Of course the reverse question may be asked. If following the Psak to give up land turns out to be a mistake as it was in Gaza - that could result in death and destruction too. But let us say for the sake of argument that we are certain about it… that there is no doubt that a real peace will prevail in Israel if land is given up and that bloodshed will result if it isn’t. Is following your own Posek God’s will in that case?

I’m not so sure. This is not like violating Shabbos or Kashrus. This is a matter of Pikuach Nefash! Following Psak of a Posek that is not the universal Psak in cases of Pikuach Nefesh is not a simple thing.

This is the dilemma Israel now faces. Although making a peace deal with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world is pretty far fetched at this point - that may not always be the case. Should there ever come a time that a real peace deal is executed whereby Israeli leaders (via intelligence and other sources) are absolutely convinced that all hostilities by will cease - this could be a problem.

I personally do not want to see any of the settlements disbanded. They are all part of Eretz Yisroel. And the Mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisroel applies in Yehuda, Shmoron, and Chevron - as much as it does in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa. And uprooting Jewsih families from their long held homes is a terrible thing to do to them. I can just imagine if my government told me that I had to give up the home I have lived in for over 30 years.

But if we could see a real end to all hostilities against Israel and a peace that would mean no more war – no more bloodshed… I would support giving up my home in a heartbeat! Pikuach Nefesh supersedes all in my view. The problem is that the Religious Zionist element will not do that under any circumstances. And as their presence in the army grows, it could undermine any such peace deal. And that would be tragic.