No Miracle Happened Here

The truth is that hesder yeshiva students need the army more than the army needs them, so as not to be as maligned and ostracized as the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are in their ghetto, with no foothold in Israeli society and with very little influence over it.

This is the time to admit a terrible mistake and confess a sin. In 1975, we lived in Kiryat Shmona, which in those crazy days was a city plagued by Katyushas. The rabbi of the city, Zefaniah Drori, came to me and asked for my help: He wanted to establish there a hesder yeshiva (in which military service is combined with Torah studies) and had submitted a request to the Defense Ministry, but the ministry turned down the application. I promised him the yeshiva would soon be established.

The Defense Ministry did not accede to Rabbi Drori's request because at the time there was a "quota" for hesder yeshivas, the quota had already been filled, and there was no justification for additional yeshivas. I thought otherwise: the needs of a battered and bleeding city came first, and Kiryat Shmona could only gain if it were to take in 100 young men, brave men prepared to bear arms, who would boost the city's self-confidence.

Shimon Peres was the defense minister, and I called him and explained the importance of a hesder yeshiva to Kiryat Shmona. He understood. It was founded a year later and is now one of the most important institutions in the yeshiva world, in large part thanks to the head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Drori, who is considered a Torah scholar of the first rank. It is almost superfluous to say that he is as distant from myself and my views as east is from west, but a city being shelled draws hearts closer. This is something our enemies ought to know.

A few months ago, Israel Television's "Our man in the north," Menachem Horowitz, brought Drori and myself together, after many years in which we had not been in contact. Disengagement from the Gaza Strip was already knocking at the yeshiva's door, and the calls by rabbis of "National Religious Zionism" to refuse to obey orders were in the air. My heart spoke to my mouth, and my mouth spoke to Drori: Today - I said to him - I would not lend my hand to founding your yeshiva.

The first hesder yeshivas were established over 40 years ago, and 40 such institutions are now scattered about the country. A thousand or so young men join the hesder (literally, `arrangement') program each year. They divide their years of service into two unequal parts: they serve 16 months in the army and 44 months on unpaid leave from the IDF, during which they study Torah. Since 1977, there has been no quota - the Begin government canceled it as part of a coalition agreement, and since then the hesder yeshivas have sprung up like mushrooms, primarily in settlements across the Green Line.

In 1991 they won the Israel Prize, and some people relate to their students as "salt of the earth," just as the settlers are at times regarded. While most of the students serve in combat units and risk their lives, it is only the characteristic self-disparagement of secular Israelis that has led a sizable portion of the public to view them as beloved sons.

If they are "salt of the earth," despite the fact that their military service is particularly short - less than half the standard length of service - then the majority of soldier-sons should be related to as the saltiest salt of the earth. It is as if hesder yeshiva boys, who could have totally evaded army service like their ultra-Orthodox compatriots on the pretext: "Their Torah is their vocation," are graciously doing us a favor by nevertheless enlisting. And we thank them and thank God for this gracious favor; we thank and we flatter and we fawn.

The truth is that they need the army more than the army needs them, so as not to be as maligned and ostracized as the ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students are in their ghetto, with no foothold in Israeli society and with very little influence over it.

From the outset, it was clear that the entire hesder yeshiva enterprise was in need of a miracle to prove itself, but as we know, you cannot rely on miracles. An army can by no means operate with two sources of authority governing it. Who gives the orders - that is the question. The commander or the rabbi? And voila - it is the rabbis that are now dictating what is permissible and what is strictly forbidden, what is in line with halakha (religious law) and what is at odds with it, what a soldier must not do despite a command ordering him to do so.

The fanatic rabbis must know that "one kingdom does not interfere with the other," but they disregard it, they interfere and they even do harm. If every soldier in the army had his own rabbi, who would be his source of authority? There simply wouldn't be an army here. It would crumble and collapse.

Deserving of praise are the rabbis Yehuda Amital, Aharon Lichtenstein, Yuval Cherlow, Yoel Bin-Nun, Yehuda Gilad and perhaps another few rabbis whose voices have been raised but I have not heard, who openly came out against the refusal to obey orders, and its devious substitutes. But the majority of rabbis have betrayed the trust, and is it any wonder that all of the soldiers who have so far refused to follow orders have come from their houses of study.

Therefore, there is now no choice but to dismantle these hesder yeshivas, which are like a rat in the building's foundations. Dismantle, for otherwise they will shatter the last constraint that still holds us here together. After the hesder system is dismantled, those who wish to serve will enlist, on an individual basis. As for the others, let them take a flying leap into the national-ultra-Orthodox abyss.

No miracle happened here: rabbis and their students were warned, and they stiffen their necks and stand tall. This is what happens when you don't listen to Theodor Herzl, who ordered us to imprison the rabbis in their synagogues, just as military people are imprisoned in their barracks, lest they meddle in affairs of state that are not their province, and bring calamity upon us.