Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Charedi World

22 Adar 5759 - March 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Truth About the Letter

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

A recent controversy over a letter in which national- religious rabbis threatened to stop sending yeshiva students to serve in the IDF is a classic example of how the media can blow something out of proportion, according to a report in Ha'aretz

The headline in Ma'ariv referred to an "unprecedented letter from Religious Zionist rabbis, including Druckman, Melamed and Haber." Actually, Rabbis Haim Druckman, Eliezer Melamed and Shlomo Haber never signed the letter and were never asked to do so. (Rabbi Melamed's father, Rabbi Zalman Melamed, did sign.) The only connection between these three rabbis and the letter was their consent to be interviewed by the newspaper about the letter. Rabbi Haber, head of the hesder yeshiva in Karnei Shomron, feared further media distortion and refused to be interviewed by Ha'aretz, saying only: "I am considering legal action on this matter."

The Ma'ariv headline claimed that "religious Zionist rabbis" were calling on soldiers to disobey orders that run "contrary to Jewish law." In point of fact, the letter sent to the IDF makes no mention of disobeying orders (it only states that "the presence of male and female soldiers in the same military unit is absolutely forbidden [by Jewish law]"); nor was "disobeying orders" mentioned in the original letter sent to the rabbis by a religious IDF officer who asked them to send a letter to the IDF.

Only one of the rabbis interviewed by Ma'ariv talked about the idea that soldiers should disobey orders. Melamed told Ha'aretz that his position was based on an instruction issued many years ago by the Military Rabbinate when Rabbi Shlomo Goren was Chief Military Chaplain.

According to Melamed, "An official publication of the Military Rabbinate stated that soldiers could disobey orders contrary to Jewish law. Chief of Staff [Haim] Laskov was so furious that he ordered the closing of the publication. Rabbi Goren went directly to the prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, who was also the defense minister. "At first Ben-Gurion accepted Laskov's position and said that soldiers should obey orders first and ask questions later. Rabbi Goren replied that, for religious Jews, this was identical to ordering the murder of an innocent person: One could not carry out such an order and then complain afterward. Ben-Gurion was persuaded, whereupon he reprimanded Laskov and even ordered an expansion of the number of pages in the Military Rabbinate's publication.

Rabbi Moshe Hagar, head of the pre-military academy in Yatir (on the southern slopes of Mount Hebron), was one of the letter's signatories. He opposes the idea of soldiers directly disobeying orders but does propose, at most, avoidance of an order through some excuse.

Rabbi Druckman, for his part, finds it difficult to believe that any orders issued by IDF commanders are contrary to Jewish law.

The letter was initiated by Rabbi Eyal Karim, head of the pre- military academy attached to the Ateret Kohanim organization in Jerusalem. For the past number of months, Rabbi Karim has been operating a hot line for religious soldiers who have encountered problems involving Jewish law during their military service.

It is possible that the range of questions he has fielded prompted him to initiate the letter. The former commander of an elite paratrooper unit, he is now a paratrooper brigade commander in the reserves. During his military service, he has established close ties with the present chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz, who, according to sources in the religious community, is sympathetic to Rabbi Karim's comments. The letter did manage to point out how ineffective the Military Rabbinate is in ensuring that religious soldiers can maintain their way of life in the army.

The initiators asked the rabbis to sign a letter directed to IDF authorities and provided a long list of the problems faced by religious soldiers, such as problems related to the Sabbath and to kashrut.

Another problem--coed combat units--has caused considerable disapproval in the religious community. Although there has no been worsening of conditions for religious soldiers, a group of female soldiers have declared their intention to petition the High Court on this issue and the IDF has agreed to accede to their demand.

The initiative for the creation of mixed combat units, according to Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, prompted the rabbis' letter to the IDF.

Earlier, the IDF rejected the accusations by some rabbis connected to the National Religious Party that it is suppressing the religious freedom of observant soldiers and forcing them to disregard tradition. IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Oded Ben-Ami went so far as to hint that the charges may have stemmed from the elections.

"We have an uncomfortable feeling about this matter coming up in this manner at this time. It would be best to remove the IDF from and not to drag it into the political debate, particularly at this sensitive time of elections," Ben-Ami said.

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