Far-right yeshiva head: My duty is to tell troops to refuse orders
By Anshel Pfeffer and Chaim Levinson • Ha'aretz
The head rabbi of a far-right West Bank yeshiva declared Monday after his school was ousted from the Israel Defense Forces hesder program that he encouraged his students to refuse settlement evacuation orders because he had an obligation to "speak his inner truth."
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, whose Har Bracha Yeshiva's status was revoked late Sunday, wrote in an article published on Arutz 7 that he had skipped a critical hearing on the matter with Defense Minister Ehud Barak because he would not give in to "governmental pressure."
"Although I knew by the Defense Minister's rudeness that this could cause the end of the arrangement with Yeshiva Har Bracha," wrote Melamed. "And despite all of the harsh significance that it entailed, I was obligated to stick to my independent principles and not give in."
Yeshivas involved in the hesder program, which combines Torah study with army service, are funded by both the Defense Ministry and the Education Ministry.
In the wake of Barak's decision to revoke Har Bracha's status, hundreds of former hesder soldiers from across the country wrote a letter to IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, threatening to boycott their reserves duty unless the move was rescinded.
Har Bracha is one of two West Bank yeshivas which encourage Israel Defense Forces soldiers to refuse orders to evacuate settlements that last year received more than a million shekels last year from the Defense Ministry as part of the joint hesder program. The rabbi of the Alon Moreh Yeshiva has a similar policy regarding evacuation orders.
Last year, the Defense Ministry gave NIS 24 million to each yeshiva involved in the hesder program.
Har Bracha yeshiva will now lose the NIS 700,000 it receives every year from the Defense Ministry because Barak revoked its status as a hesder yeshiva.
Barak ordered the Israel Defense Forces Sunday night to oust the yeshiva from the hesder arrangement. This is the first time a yeshiva has ever had its hesder status revoked.
The NIS 700,000 the yeshiva will lose accounts for 20 percent of its budget.
Barak's decision stemmed from the fact that the yeshiva's head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, had repeatedly urged his students to disobey orders to evacuate settlements. The defense minister had sought to meet with Melamed before making a final decision, but Melamed refused to come to his Tel Aviv office.
The ouster will not take effect immediately, in order to give students who wish to remain in the hesder time to transfer to another yeshiva. But sources in the hesder world predicted that very few students would do so - and that additional students would join the yeshiva as a show of support for Melamed.
Last week, Rabbi Haim Druckman, who heads the Or Etzion hesder yeshiva, had tried to broker a compromise under which all 62 hesder yeshivas would issue a joint statement denouncing demonstrations in the Israel Defense Forces. It was a series of such demonstrations, in which some of Melamed's students held up signs denouncing the evacuation of settlements, that prompted Sunday's decision.
Sources involved in Druckman's effort said that Melamed was leaning toward accepting the compromise. But then, Barak summoned Melamed for a hearing at 7:30 P.M. Sunday night, without waiting for his decision, they said. And when the rabbi refused to come, saying he "doesn't work for the defense minister," Barak decided to approve the ouster.
Though most hesder rabbis oppose urging soldiers to disobey orders, they also object to Defense Ministry intervention in how a yeshiva head runs his own yeshiva. They therefore plan to hold a meeting to decide on protest measures against Barak's decision.