Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advocacies and their Consequences

OK. He’s entitled to his opinion. But he must suffer the consequences. Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, the Rosh HaYeshiva of a Hesder Yeshiva - Har Bracha – (pictured with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak) has urged his Talmidim to disobey orders to evacuate West Bank settlements. Obviously he feels that this is what the Torah mandates.

Hesder – for those who don’t know is a program whereby young religious Zionist Israelis can opt to fulfill their military obligations while remaining in a yeshiva. They alternate periods of military service with periods learning over a six year period.

The Hesder boys have always been the cream of the military crop. They were the ones who always volunteered – in groups - for the most dangerous combat assignments. And because of that their casualty rates were among the highest in the Israeli military.

They were among the most admired by the Israeli populace. Deservedly so. As a group they - more than any other were the most devoted soldiers - putting their lives on the line every day while keeping the Mitzvos and learning Torah. Truly being Mekadesh Shem Shamyim like few others. That kind of devotion does not happen by itself. It is cultivated in them by religious Zionists rabbis. Rabbis like Eliezer Melamed.

But things have changed.

The problem is when some of the more fanatic ones like him start calling the shots. That produces chaos in the army. When your best and most motivated soldiers are sent the message that their consciences can dictate when - and when not - to obey orders the army is destroyed. Israel without an army might as well raise the Palestinian flag over the Knesset right now.

This is not an isolated incident. How many times have we heard rhetoric from even responsible religious leaders that advocated extreme reactions to situations they didn’t like? And though it is usually followed by an apology or explanation after public exposure in the media – most people realize that these apologies and explanations are usually just damage control – that their true hearts were exposed in an uncontrolled moment of anger.

This event is more than just about the army. It is indicative of a rising fanaticism among some religious Zionists that is destroying the once beautiful unity of purpose that all Zionists had about the State of Israel. It is pitting religious Zionist against religious Zionist. And those on what seems to be a growing extreme right are responsible via their extreme rhetoric for the kind of hatred that produces mass murderers like Baruch Goldstein and unrepentant assassins like Yigal Amir.

Combine all of the violence resulting from the Taliban like religious attitudes of Meah Shearim style Jews - all the financial, political, and sex scandals going on in Israel now, and increased world pressure to make ‘concessions’ for peace while labeling Israel’s defensive actions crimes against humanity – and you end up with a population in utter moral confusion. This undermines the morale of every soldier and thereby his effectiveness.

How bad has it gotten? Last week some West Bank settlers had who were upset at a construction freeze decided to go on a rampage and burn down a Mosque. Is this how a Jew should act? Apparently those settlers thought so.

Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi Yona Metzger got it right. That is how the holocaust began. The same thing happened in to the Jews in Germany on Kristalnacht. Shuls were burned down. Thank God there are settlers like those at Gush Etzion who bought copies of the Koran to replace those destroyed in that attack. This is how a Jew should act.

Telling soldiers to disobey orders – even if it is done out of principled and conscientious opposition to those orders is – I would think - a treasonous act. As an ‘official’ in the Hesder movement which is part of the IDF this Hesder Rosh yeshiva has undermined the very security of the State of Israel. That should not be treated lightly.

Rabbi Melamed is entitled to his beliefs and to express them to his students. But the State of Israel has not only a right but an obligation to protect its people. Those in positions of power who attempt to undermine that for whatever reason should in theory be arrested, tried, and convicted of treason.

But the Israeli government will not do that. They realize that putting a Hesder Rosh Yeshiva in jail would probably do more harm than good. The outcry would probably be huge. In my view it therefore is imperative that the IDF sever its relationship with this yeshiva. If they don’t things will only get worse.

How many mosques have to get torched before we realize how far astray extremists have gone? How many more Yigal Amirs have to be produced? Or Baruch Goldsteins?

I agree with the editorial in Ha'aretz. This rabbi and his Yeshiva should be cut off from any official connection to the State of Israel's army. That is what army chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi recommends and that is what Defense Minister Barak do.