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Orthodox Jews shorten their summer holiday, beginning next week, because of the war in Lebanon. Here is a scenario that keeps the Torah Sages awake at nights: Next week, the first week of the Orthodox summer holiday, called "bein hazmanim" (between the times), and some of the yeshiva students will take trips in the Judea Desert, as they do every year. Some will get lost, as usual. And the people of Israel will be exposed to pictures of yeshiva boys hiking while others their age are fighting in Lebanon.

If there is a scenario that causes even greater concern, it's the possibility that the adventurous among the yeshiva buchers will travel to the North instead of the Judea Desert, and will be caught on camera observing the war. For the Orthodox such a possibility is sacrilege. It encapsulates a complex spiritual problem. The Orthodox mind-set holds that the study of Torah is what grants Israel security, and that yeshiva students are the real "elite unit." Yossi Elitov deputy editor of the Orthodox newspaper Mispacha (Family, says that "it's not only about a public relations consideration, but the sentiment that the Orthodox are committed to their own "Tsav 8" callup order - just as reserve soldiers are called up, their boys will be sharing the burden and holding extra shifts of Torah study.

Against this background a lively and at times fierce public debate has taken place over recent weeks between Torah Sages and the heads of Orthodox yeshivas, discussing whether to cancel the bein hazmanim holiday, shorten it or make do with a prohibition on trips. Since no agreement was reached among the Torah sages, the result was that every yeshiva and every sect chose its own way. The bein hazmanim holiday is actually quite a short one, lasting three weeks from the 10th of the month Av (tomorrow), till the end of Av. It separates the summer time (from the beginning of the month Iyar, to the 9th of Av) from the time of Elul (from the beginning of the month Elul to Yom Kippur). One of the yeshiva heads' greatest concerns is that a cancellation of the holiday will result in lack of rest for the students, which will greatly harm the spiritual atmosphere during Elul, the time of strengthening and forgiveness in yeshivas.

The public debate was opened by Shas leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who called for the cancellation of the holiday, so that the Torah study will protect Israel in this time of war. The extremist Eda Haredit also called yeshiva and kollel heads to "call off the holiday now while Israel's blood is spilled like water and to immerse in Torah study with greater vigor and courage." Incidentally, the Orthodox court Badatz recommends the canceling of the holiday also when there is no war. The call to cancel the bein hazmanim holiday was joined by the Bostoner Rebbe, Levi Yitzhak Horowitz, member of Agudat Israel's Council of Torah Sages. "Your brothers are out to war, and you will go on vacation?" he asks in an interview to the Orthodox newspaper "Bakehila." But the clout Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has in the yeshiva world is limited. Many of the Sephardi yeshiva heads were raised in Ashkenazi yeshivas, and obey the Lithuanian Torah Sages. The Boston hasidic community is a very small one.

Shortened holiday

Eyes have been turned to Degel Hatorah leaders, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv and to the party's No. 2, Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, who is in many ways the spiritual leader of the Lithuanian education system. Eliashiv was vague. He ruled that "no trips nor recreations should be had these days" and instructed yeshiva Torah students to participate in some studying activity also during the holiday. "It is unthinkable to be idle from Torah studies for a whole month, and especially with the situation Israel is in. The Torah protects and saves," he ruled. But he did not order the bein hazmanim holiday to be canceled.

Bakehila reports that earlier this week an idea came up to establish a network of yeshivas during the holiday , in which the students will study for half a day each day in their hometowns. These yeshivas are nothing new, but this time it was suggested to expand them, and in order to attract the students, to offer them a dollar for every hour of study. Rabbi Steinman even started fund-raising for this purpose. Meanwhile, apparently many yeshivas have found other solutions for their students, and the initiative was called off.

The head of the Mir Yeshiva, Rabbi Zvi Finkel, announced the cancellation of bein hazmanim. Bakehila reports that the Beit Matityahu Yeshiva will move to another yeshiva's facility in the Negev, and there it will hold a sort of vacation camp, but with rigorous studying. Some of the yeshivas announced the cancellation pf the vacation's first two weeks. In others the students will only go on vacation on the weekends and come back to study Monday to Thursday. In hasidic yeshivas the problem is much smaller. They usually have a shortened holiday of only a week to 10 days for bein hazmanim. Nevertheless, the great Gur hasidic community decided to shorten also this mini-holiday by half.