The rabbis behind the World Committee for the Jewish People and the Land of Israel, headed by Chabad rabbi Sholom DovBer Wolpo, held an awards ceremony in Jerusalem to honor Israeli soldiers who disobeyed orders to evacuate Jewish settlers from an unauthorized settlement in a Hebron marketplace. The head of the Yesha rabbinical council Rabbi Dov Lior spoke lauding the renegade soldiers. And then, this:
The families were given a monetary reward and a certificate of recognition for having refused to collaborate in the evacuation of the market.
That's right. Soldiers disobeyed legal orders on idealogical grounds, urged to do so by rabbis including those mentioned here. The soldiers committed an act that borders on treason. And rabbis – including Chabad rabbis – are paying these soldiers (through the fiction of paying the "family" rather than the soldier directly) for that near-treason.
In a normal Western democracy, the soldier and the rabbis would be sitting in jail. No country can tolerate soldiers who refuse orders on idealogical grounds. There is a very real moral and legal distinction between refusing to follow an order that constitutes a war crime and refusing to follow an order because the soldier disagrees with the logic or the political ramification of the order. The latter – politically motivated refusal – is exactly what these soldiers did. And it is exactly what these rabbis paid them to do.
The soldiers should be in jail. So should the rabbis.
But Israel's government does not have the courage to do what is right and good; instead, it merely does the expedient, leaving for another day the confrontation that must eventually take place. It dumps the nasty work of what may amount to civil war on the heads of its children, happy to get through the moment without having to enforce the law against seditious rabbis and the young men held in their sway.
The government will tell you it does not want to create rabbinic martyrs in the way the Shah of Iran created Ayatollah Homeini. It hopes conditions will change, that the religious youth will choose to follow a moderate path, that all will perhaps be well. It hopes other rabbis will see the actions of Rabbis Wolpo and Lior and recoil from them.
No doubt some rabbis will realize that Rabbis Wolpo and Lior are bringing Israel to the brink of civil war. And no doubt some rabbis realizing that will react by moderating their own views.
But youth is often blind to nuance. It reacts with certainty and passion where other voices, tempered by age and experience, would tread with caution. And what is true of youth in general is exponentially so in religious fundamentalist youth whose very upbringing forces them to push away all doubts and dissenting voices.
It may be that time will be on the government's side, but I fear this is not so.
The government needs to enforce the law. It needs to do so now. And it needs to do so even against those who call themselves rabbi and who use the Torah to advance their anti-democratic political aims.