Melamed Reverses Stance on Soldiers Refusing to Obey Orders

The head of the Har Bracha Yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, agreed yesterday to sign a document which clearly bans any political demonstrations within the framework of the Israel Defense Forces, reversing his previous position on the matter.

Nearly 50 hesder yeshiva heads met yesterday at the Or Etzion Yeshiva, to discuss Defense Minister Ehud Barak's recent decision to remove the Har Bracha Yeshiva from the hesder arrangement with the army, which combines Torah study with military service. Barak's decision came on the heels of Rabbi Melamed's comments in which he openly supported soldiers refusing to obey IDF orders on the basis of political and ideological reasons. Following that, Melamed refused to rescind his controversial statements.

During the early stages of the meeting, which was closed to the media, a division between the heads of hesder yeshivas emerged, with some - lead by the head of Nir Yeshiva in Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman - leaning toward Rabbi Melamed's stance.

During deliberations, however, those supporting the "state sponsored" line, led by Rabbi Haim Druckman, overcame opposition, voicing critcism against the manner in which Melamed conducted himself vis-a-vis the army and the Defense Ministry.

In the end, the rabbis agreed to sign a joint statement in which "all hesder yeshiva heads clearly reject all demonstrations in the IDF, out of a wish to preserve the unity of the IDF." The rabbis also declared their appreciation of "the defense establishment, the IDF and its commanders, who are carrying out a holy function in preserving and defending the State of Israel and its residents."

Melamed had previously claimed that it was forbidden for rabbis to sign documents that had been "imposed on them." The rabbis' joint statement contravened Melamed's earlier comments, wherein he criticized IDF officers of being motivated by political and personal goals.

The rabbis added a call to the defense establishment in their signed statement, asking that IDF soldiers not be assigned "missions of civilian character" - implying policing and evacuating settlements.

They also called on Barak to rescind his decision regarding the Har Bracha Yeshiva. "In the end, all the rabbis understood that Melamed had gone too far in his incitement against the defense establishment and therefore they forced him to reverse his position," a source attending the meeting told Haaretz.

The defense minister's bureau refused to comment on the decision reached by the hesder yeshiva heads.