Lithuanian Rabbis Tell Students to Stay Away From Pullout Protests

As the yeshivas prepare for the start Monday of bein hazmanim (between the times), the equivalent of a semester break, the leadership of the Lithuanian yeshivas are warning students not to participate in demonstrations and other protest actions while on vacation.

The word "disengagement" is being not explicitly used, but the timing is self-evident. Despite opposition to the pullout within the ultra-Orthodox, the rabbis of the Lithuanian yeshivas do not look favorably upon any connection with religious Zionism and are interested keeping the two sectors apart.

"... A yeshiva's student obligation is to the study of Torah, so we therefore warn yeshiva students especially ... not to participate in any demonstration. ... besides the additional spiritual peril concerning the boundaries of modesty," reads a letter sent this week to the head of the yeshivas.

"Anyone who disobeys this has no place in the yeshiva," it says.

The signatories to the letter include the leaders of Lithuanian ultra-Orthodoxy, rabbis Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Aharon Leib Steinman. And in fact, yeshiva students were absent from the mass prayer at the Western Wall Wednesday night, and from various other protests.

The number of yeshiva students targeted by the letter campaign is in the tens of thousands. Haim Cohen, aide to leader of the Degel Hatorah movement, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, said that the rabbis had hitherto resisted pressure from government officials to send order yeshiva students not to demonstrate.

The rabbis said that telling students to avoid protesting would be tantamount to admitting that students were attracted to the kind of political action that their followers avoid on ideological grounds.

This changed, one ultra-Orthodox spokesman said, when MK Meir Porush of Agudat Yisrael (representing the Hasidim) joined the protest and the mass prayer last week, which required the Lithuanian rabbis to take an unequivocal position.