Lithuanian Rabbis to Students: Stay Away From Pullout Protests

Rabbis say yeshiva students shouldn't be distracted from Torah study during vacation.

As the yeshivas prepare for the start of their semester break Monday (known in Hebrew as "bein hazmanim" or "between the times"), the leaders of the Lithuanian yeshivas are warning students not to participate in demonstrations and other protest actions while on vacation.

The word "disengagement" is not being explicitly used, but the timing makes it self-evident. Despite opposition to the pullout within the ultra-Orthodox community, the rabbis of the Lithuanian yeshivas do not look favorably upon any connection with religious Zionism and are interested in keeping their ultra-Orthodox students away from religious Zionists.

"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 heads 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, many yeshiva students were absent from the mass prayer rally at the Western Wall on 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 - an aide to Elyashiv, who leads the Degel Hatorah movement - said the rabbis had hitherto resisted pressure from government officials to order yeshiva students not to demonstrate.

The rabbis said telling students to avoid protesting would have been tantamount to admitting that students were attracted to the kind of political action that the ultra-Orthodox typically 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 prayer rally last week, which required the Lithuanian rabbis to take an unequivocal position.