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Rabbis: Soldiers must stay in areas. Rabin asks A-G to probe if decree is seditious.
Date: July 13, 1995
Publication: Jerusalem Post
Author: HERB KEINON, Batsheva Tsur and Evelyn Gordon

Jerusalem Post PRIME Minister Yitzhak Rabin last night called on the attorney-general to determine whether a group of influential rabbis breached the law by declaring that it is halachically forbidden for soldiers to evacuate IDF bases in the territories.

"There never was such a thing in Israel, and it is inconceivable that such a thing could happen in Israel," Rabin said, adding that rabbis had no right to tell soldiers to disobey orders.

However, Rabin did not go along with calls by Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni and Environment Minister Yossi Sarid to disband Hesder units, which combine army service with yeshiva study. These units have served the state faithfully in the past, he said, and it is too soon to jump to conclusions about their loyalty.

In a halachic ruling that created an uproar, rabbis representing the International Rabbinic Forum for Israel ruled that "there is a Torah prohibition against uprooting IDF bases and transferring the sites to Gentiles, since this contravenes a positive [Torah] commandment and also endangers life and the existence of the state."

Among those who signed the ruling are former chief rabbi Avraham Shapira, Rabbi Moshe Zvi Neria, initiator of the Bnei Akiva yeshiva network; Haim Druckman, head of the Or Etzion Hesder yeshiva in Mercaz Shapira; Nahum Rabinovitch, head of the Hesder yeshiva in Ma'aleh Adumim; Eliezer Waldman, head of the Hesder yeshiva in Kiryat Arba; Shlomo Aviner, head of Jerusalem's Ateret Cohanim yeshiva, which is also a Hesder institution; Zalman Melamed, head of Yeshivat Beit El; Dov Lior, Kiryat Arba's chief rabbi; and Ya'acov Ariel, the chief rabbi of Ramat Gan.

The ruling was reached after three hours of discussion in Shapira' s Jerusalem home. Last week the rabbis failed to come to a decision on the matter, and postponed a ruling to allow for consultations with other rabbis and IDF officers.

The ruling was signed by the heads of four of the country's 20 Hesder yeshivot; none of the signatories is Sephardi.

President Ezer Weizman yesterday turned back a delegation from the settlers' council when its members arrived at Beit Hanassi accompanied by Druckman.

"The president regards this ruling in an extremely serious light," his spokesman said. "It undermines the basic principles on which the IDF is based and could invalidate the democratic foundation of the state."

The spokesman said the meeting with MK Hanan Porat and three other council members had been arranged earlier. But when Weizman noticed Druckman in the group, he told the members they could not enter his office.

The president apparently learned of Druckman's intention to join the delegation from an Israel Radio news broadcast, and was infuriated.

Rabbi Yehuda Amital, head of the Har Etzion Hesder yeshiva in Gush Etzion, came out squarely against the ruling, and said that the group does not speak in the name of the entire national-religious camp.

"This ruling is not acceptable to me, or to a number of other Hesder yeshiva heads," Amital said. "There is no halachic base to say that a soldier is forbidden to carry out an order like this." Amital quoted a ruling by former chief rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman that said it would be permitted to relinquish Jewish holy sites if this would save lives.

The signatories of yesterday's ruling believe that evacuating the IDF bases would threaten the existence of the state and cause loss of life, and would therefore contravene the Biblical precept: "Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor."

"It is clear and simple," the rabbis wrote, "that it is forbidden for every Jew to take part in an action to assist the evacuation of a settlement, army base or IDF installation." The rabbis quoted Maimonides, the 12th century halachic authority, who wrote that even the command of a king should be disregarded if he asks one to violate Torah law.

Rabin, in an interview with Israel Radio, said that such a halachic decision is "grave," "unprecedented" and "inconceivable."

"I am prepared to say that this is a very grave thing, that a group of rabbis - not all the rabbis in Israel - can make a decision like this," Rabin said. "It is unthinkable that we will turn Israel into a banana republic. This should be rejected by the entire Knesset, not just the government."

At the same time, Rabin praised the Hesder yeshiva soldiers, saying they have "proven themselves as good, disciplined soldiers, and I believe and hope this will continue."

Nahum Rabinovitch, one of the signatories, said he was not surprised by the harsh reaction the ruling elicited.

"A very strong reaction was to be expected," he said. "If a strong reaction wakes people up so they see how deep a cleavage the government is creating, and how dangerous the cleavage is, then it may serve a purpose and do some good."

Rabinovitch rejected charges that a call to disobey orders strikes at the the pillars of society, saying that the government is responsible for the damage because it is changing the map of the country without sufficient public support. He said the government should have a referendum or call new elections before making such far-reaching decisions.

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau responded to the decision by saying " we all understand that not obeying an order is very grave, and that it can lead to anarchy. I hope that the government takes into consideration the sentiments of a large part of the population who are not comfortable with the [government's] decisions, even if the decisions were made in a democratic fashion."

Lau called for a "slowdown of the pace of the process in order to allow for additional soul-searching, and to prepare the hearts of our neighbors for the idea of peaceful coexistence. Peace is not only made between leaders, but also between peoples," he said.

HERB KEINON, Batsheva Tsur and Evelyn Gordon, Rabbis: Soldiers must stay in areas. Rabin asks A-G to probe if decree is seditious.. , Jerusalem Post, 07-13-1995.


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