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Rabbis and rulings: insubordination in the military and Israeli democracy.

Since the establishment of the state of Israel, consociational arrangements have been relatively successful in moderating tension between the secular majority and the religious Zionist and ultra-orthodox minorities (1) In the pre-state period, when the Jewish community had to contend with a war on five (fronts, the absorption of immigrants from a multitude of countries and cultures, and a weak economic base, group leaders entered into a status quo compromise agreement on issues of religion and state. This arrangement has endured for over six decades with modifications, despite the eruption of periodic tension between the two groups. (2)

The concept of consociational democracy, first developed by Arend Lijphardt in 1969, emphasizes the critical role of political elites who keep the political system stable through cooperation and compromise. Lijphardt wrote, "The essential characteristic of consociational democracy is not so much any particular institutional arrangement as the deliberate joint effort by the elites to stabilize the system." (3) It is important that political elites recognize the danger of discord and disunity and seek ways to compromise and accommodate each other, in order to achieve state legitimacy and national unity. Particularly when facing issues of constitutional importance, such as the religious or secular nature of the state, the national language and culture, issues of autonomy and self-rule, and, in the case of Israel, the definition of its borders, decisions should be made through consensual or consociational processes in order to prevent possible chaos and the delegitimization of the political system.

In December 2003, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon announced a policy of unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria to be implemented in the summer of 2005, euphemistically called Israel's "disengagement" from the Palestinians. Rationale held that, rather than wait indefinitely for the weak and corrupt Palestinian Authority to fulfill its obligations under the U.S. initiated "roadmap" program and rejoin peace negotiations, Israel would withdraw unilaterally to its desired borders. (4) The plan resulted in the destruction of twenty-one settlements in Gaza (Gush Katif and northern Gaza) and four settlements in Northern Samaria, where about 10,000 Israelis resided. The army was assigned the task of evacuating the settlers and razing the settlements.

Public opinion was clearly divided on the issue. (5) The settlers, religious Zionists, (6) and the nationalist right, fought an uphill and ultimately unsuccessful battle to convince the public of the folly of the plan. The prime minister was determined to carry out the plan in its entirety without delay. On 16 February 2005, with the support of Israel's left and the Arab parties, the Knesset approved the disengagement plan by a vote of 59-40. Opponents of the plan were left with little recourse but to continue mass demonstrations and to threaten civil disobedience.

Much of the literature describing religion-state relations in Israel has focused on the consociational aspects of Israeli democracy--e.g., the accommodations on legislation pertaining on such issues as conversion, marriage and divorce, education, and the Sabbath laws, most notably the research done by Eliezer Don-Yehiye. (7) More recent studies such as those by Asher Cohen and Bernard Susser, have suggested that the change in Israel's party system, from a dominant party system to a bipolar system, split .almost equally between the right and the left, caused the breakdown of consociationalism. Cohen and Susser point to the increased confrontational aspects of religious-secular relations in the 1990s, a result of the new pivotal role played by the ultra-orthodox parties in the formation of government coalitions.

While much of the research on the ultra-orthodox parties, the Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism Party and Sephardi party--Shas (for example, that of the late Rabbi Eliezer Schach or of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef) details the dominant roles played by their rabbis in formulating party policy and in choosing their lay political leaders, (8) the political influence of rabbis within the religious Zionist community has received relatively scant attention. The few studies that do discuss their influence, for example, the seminal studies of Ehud Sprinzak and Ian Lustick describe the religious and philosophical underpinnings of the Gush Emunim movement (Keepers of the Faith) and of its rabbis, but do not analyze the latter's influence outside the settler movement. (9) Rabbis stood in the forefront of the opposition to the disengagement plan in 20042005. Using their stature as religious leaders, they tried to influence Israeli policy. Some even issued far-reaching halakhic (10) rulings that directed soldiers to disobey orders and refuse to take part in the evacuation. This essay will examine the rulings in 2004-2005 of several prominent rabbis regarding insubordination in the military ("setup pekuda"). It will discuss the political consequences of these rulings, their short term impact on the implementation of government policy and their possible long term effect on the religious Zionist community and on Israel's democracy.

In the last two decades, rabbis have had a growing influence on the politics of the religious Zionist community in general and of the National Religions Party (NRP) in particular. As such, they have acted not only as religious elites but as political elites. They have expressed opinions on public policy and have directed legislative representatives on how to vote. In the past, the rabbis played an important role within the religious' Zionist community in the development and strengthening of loyalty to the state and its institutions. Their unqualified support for the state and willingness to cooperate with secular leaders in consociational arrangements laid the foundation for state legitimacy and service to it. In recent years, an upsurge in religious studies has taken place on the secondary and post-secondary levels for both men and women, and there is a greater commitment of laymen to the observance of the Halakha and, as a result, to consult rabbis. For religious Zionists, any withdrawal from the territories was not simply a question of political expediency but involved religious issues as well--e.g., the permissibility of giving away part of the Land of Israel. The rabbis therefore became an integral part of the political discussions.


The disengagement Elan, first announced by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a speech at the fourth Herzliya conference in December 2003, entailed a unilateral withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, the destruction of the settlements, and the displacement of approximately 10,000 settlers. Israel would withdraw from these territories without any quid pro quo from the Palestinians. Sharon explained that the plan would help to resolve the demographic dilemma of Israel, i.e., to maintain a Jewish majority in a democratic state of Israel. As a democratic country, Israel could not continue to rule the territories without giving the Palestinians political rights; as a Jewish state, it could not incorporate the Palestinians into a greater state of Israel without threatening its Jewish majority and national character. Sharon told the nation that leaving Gaza would relieve the armed forces of the burden of defending the settlements and would improve Israel's standing in international public opinion. Israel would set its own agenda unilaterally; its borders would be determined by national interest and not held hostage to the lawlessness and turmoil in the Palestinian authority. Sharon presented the plan as a bold, unilateral act by Israel acting in its own defense interests. An act of strength rather than weakness, the plan stood in Israel's own self-interest, rather than a dangerous concession. The Bush administration supported the Sharon initiative and praised the unprecedented boldness of the plan.

A majority of Israelis indicated in repeated public opinion polls a willingness to withdraw from the Gaza Strip as part of a peace agreement. (12) During the 2003 election campaign, however, when the Labour candidate and former Army General Amram Mitzna proposed a plan to withdraw unilaterally from part of the Gaza Strip and evacuate isolated settlements, Israeli voters responded by handing Labour a resounding defeat, giving them only nineteen seats in the Knesset, down from twenty-six in 1999. The Palestinian response to the generous, and in the eyes of many, too generous an offer by Ahud Barak at Camp David in 2000 angered and frustrated the Israeli public. In his campaign, candidate Sharon had taken a hard line position against any withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and had even declared that Netzarim, a small isolated settlement in the Gaza Strip, was "'no different from Tel Aviv." Soon after the election, however, Sharon reversed his position and proposed a plan for a complete and unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria.

The announcement stunned the residents of the settlements and their supporters on the right. They had hoped that after the overwhelming Likud victory in 2003 (up from nineteen to thirty-eight seats) the Israeli government would not consider further withdrawals from the territories, particularly since on the Palestinian side there was no leader willing to control terror or to negotiate in good faith.

The issue of the proposed disengagement divided public opinion, with support coming from Sharon loyalists in the Likud, Labour, the parties to the left of Labour (Yahad-Meretz and the Arab parties), and from the centrist Shinui. Opposition to the policy came from nationalists within the Likud, the National Religious Party, the two ultra-orthodox parties and the far right. Moetzet Yesha (the Council of Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza) organized mass demonstrations against the plan. Pressure from opponents within his government and from within his party forced Sharon to concede to a limited referendum held within the Likud. Thousands of volunteers, many of them residents of the territories, embarked on a massive door-to-aoor campaign to convince party members that unilateral disengagement would endanger Israel's security and serve as a dangerous precedent. Sharon's plan, which enjoyed the support of 55 percent of Likud members at the beginning of the campaign, was defeated in the party referendum by a vote of 65 percent to 35 percent. Believing that the results of the referendum had put an end to disengagement, opponents were shocked to learn that Sharon had no intention of canceling the plan. He announced that he would implement the disengagement despite the party setback and strengthened his coalition by the entrance of Labour, who replaced the ministers from the National Religious Party that had resigned in protest. Interestingly, throughout the disengagement debate, national public opinion polls indicated a majority of the population had in fact supported the plan, albeit by decreasing majorities. In the Knesset, the disengagement had a clear majority, with the support of the Arab parties, the left wing opposition, and Shinui.

The government assigned the implementation of the disengagement to the armed forces (Israel Defense Forces, hereafter IDF)and to the police. This decision posed a dilemma for soldiers who opposed the plan, particularly those from the religious Zionist community. On the personal level, many had relatives and friends who resided in the settlements designated for destruction. Unlike the majority of Israelis, who rarely visit the territories and have limited social contact with "settlers," the religious Zionist community maintained strong ties with the Jewish residents of Gaza through their places of work, youth movements, yeshivas, and families. During the months that preceded the evacuation when Gush Katif was barraged with missiles and mortars, religious Zionists who constituted the only sector that regularly visited the area, offered moral support and encouragement to the residents.

On the ideological level, the overwhelming majority of religious Zionists supports the settlement movement and believes that the territories conquered in the 1967 war are an integral part of the land of Israel. They also reject territorial concessions to the Palestinians and had vociferously opposed the Oslo Accords in 1994. For religious Zionist soldiers and for reservists, the orders to destroy the settlements raised fundamental religious and ideological questions relating to the precedence of state, democracy or the Halakha. Was it permissible according to the Halakha to remove settlements and to relinquish territory to non-Jews? And if not, how will orders to remove the settlements affect relations between religious Zionists and the state and their relations with the secular majority?

The answers to these questions have significance for the unity of the armed forces and state legitimacy. Thousands of self-identified religious Zionists serve in the armed forces and the reserves, many in elite units and in the officer corps. Religious Zionists today fill some of the central positions in the IDF. While only composing about 15 percent of the population they comprise over 30 percent of the graduates of officer training courses in the past decade and a disproportionate number of the soldiers in combat assignments and elite units. (13)


The involvement of Zionist rabbis on the issue of settlement of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza dates back to the first days of the Gush Emunim movement in the 1970s and to the religious leadership of the late Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, who sent his students to settle the territories. Rabbi Kook had ruled that settling the land is the most fundamental commandment, based on the reference in the Sifrei (Re'eh 53): "The commandment of settling the Land of Israel is equal to all of the other commandments in the Torah." (14) The eternal connection between the land, God, and the Jewish people is a fundamental idea in Judaism. In addition to its own inherent value, the commandment of settling Eretz Yisrael (the land of Israel) lays the foundation for the national survival of the Jewish people. Only when the Jewish people return to the land God gave, will it be able to fulfill its task in the world--to spread faith in God and the Divine word, and ultimately to bring about the perfection of the entire world. (15)

Rabbi Kook's father, Rabbi Avraham Yitchak Hacohen Kook, the foremost philosopher of religious Zionism, had taught that the Zionist endeavor and the establishment of the state of Israel, even with its religious imperfections (the primary example being the secular nature of its builders), represent the sacred expression of the messianic redemption of the Jewish people. Expressions of God's hand in history, they are part of the long but inevitable process of the coming of the Messiah. Rabbi Avraham Kook believed that the return to the land and the concomitant rebirth of the Jewish nation will eventually result in a renewed commitment to Torah and to more devout observance in Jewish life. He credited secular Zionist pioneers for their toil and sacrifices in redeeming the land and said that these activities fulfilled the important religious commandment of settling the land (even if without religious intent). They were therefore legitimate and welcome partners in the Zionist endeavor and in the future state. Rabbi Kook thus laid the philosophic foundation for cooperation and accommodation between religious and secular in the Jewish state. (16)

Rabbi Avraham Kook's essays regarding the Jewish state and the return of the Jews to the land have become an integral part of the curriculum of all religious Zionist secondary schools and yeshivas in Israel. They provide the religious and philosophic foundation for contemporary discussions about the nature of the state. Unlike the ultra-orthodox, who see no religious significance to the establishment of the Jewish state, religious Zionists regard the state and its institutions with religious reverence, as the expression of "reshit tzmichat geulateinu," the beginning of the redemption of the Jewish people. A special prayer offered in the synagogues on the Sabbath blesses "the state, its leaders and soldiers," and Israel's Independence Day has been ordained a religious holiday. Reverence for the state also extends to its institutions. Army service is regarded as a privilege as well as a duty, since it protects the entire Zionist enterprise, land and people.

While one could categorize all religious Zionists as being to some extent "statists" because they assign religious significance to the state, as compared to the ultra-orthodox who do not, religious Zionists today are in fact divided on the prioritization of their commitment to the state. The school of thought, currently represented by Rabbis Avraham Shapira, Dov Lior, Zalman Melamed, and others affiliated with Merkaz Harav, views the Land of Israel in its entirety as the inalienable possession of the Jewish people and the state as the means through which the nation is able to conduct its life in an orderly fashion on the Land. The state and its institutions have conditional religious value as the facilitators of the return to the Land. However, as will be seen below, in the event of a conflict between state policy and the "wholeness" of the Land, the latter clearly takes precedence, even at the cost of weakening the state.

The second school of thought, labeled "statist" or "'mamlachti" (often derogatorily by its detractors from the first school) assigns intrinsic value to the state as the sovereign representative of the Jewish nation. The state, with its imperfections, is the expression of the collective, and as such has intrinsic value and even holiness. The "mamlachti" position favors strengthening the rule of law, respect for government institutions and procedures and service to the state, within the limits of the Halakha. In the event of conflict between government decisions and the entirety of the Land, consideration must also be given to the potential impact on state and society. While the differences may seem insignificant to the outside observer, these variances within the religious Zionist community significantly explain the discrepancies in the positions of the rabbis on disobedience in the military.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook: No Withdrawal

Any analysis of the current debate among religious Zionist rabbis regarding the state, settlements, and disengagement must include the ideas of Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1981), who was the mentor of "messianic Zionism" and the settlement movement Gush Emunim after 1967. While the settler movement did not consist solely of religious people, many of the leaders of Gush Emunim and the founders of the settlements see themselves as his disciples. After his death in 1981, Rabbi Z. Y. Kook's speeches and writings joined the legacy of his father and became the guide for his students.

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda ruled that giving away part of the territory of the Land of Israel to non-Jews clearly violates the positive commandment to settle the land. For that reason, he had opposed the return of territory to Syria and Egypt in 1975, as part of the Disengagement Agreements and to the Camp David Accords in 1979. He had also disavowed the right of the Rabin government to restrict settlement activity in Samaria in the 1970s.

Although he believed that the state was an integral part of the messianic redemption, as did his father, Rabbi Z. Y. Kook had an instrumental view of the state apparatus. State sovereignty and authority facilitated Jewish rule over Eretz Yisrael and, as such, had special value, even holiness. The state served a necessary and integral role in the messianic process. In the hierarchy of priorities, however, the Land and the People of Israel take precedence over the state. If the state were to turn against the Land (for example, giving land to the Palestinians) and adopt policies against the inherent will of the people, it would not be legitimate If a minority were to impose its will on the majority of the Jewish people, it would not be legitimate either.

During his lifetime, Rabbi Z. Y. Kook made several far-reaching statements related to the legitimacy of government decisions to relinquish territory. In a speech to his students on Israel Independence Day in 1974, Rabbi Kook said:

... and you will inherit the land and settle in it" means that the land will be in our hands "and we will not leave it in the hand of the nations".... It is a positive commandment of the Torah, clear and absolute, that obligates all Jews ... We are obligated to sacrifice ourselves (meserut nefesh) for this land, for all of its boundaries. If because of political blunders by Gentiles or (God forbid) by Jews we will be compelled (to leave the land), we are all obligated to be killed and not to transgress! On Judea and Samaria, and on the Golan Heights--it will not happen without war. (17)

He repeated this warning again in a letter to Shimon Peres, then minister of defense:

As I had warned Moshe Dayan at the time, I want to remind you again that all territorial concessions are null and void; they will not take place Over Judea and Samaria there will be internal war, and when the entire nation will rise up against this government, I will naturally join the people, taking a stand for the word of God ... the government is for the people and not the people for the government. (18)

Rabbi Kook's call for dedication and sacrifice inspired thousands to move to the hills of Judea and Samaria in the last three decades, in the vanguard of settlement. His students studied his ideas and cited them as precedents in their own rulings. But were his words regarding civil war to be taken literally? Did he mean a real war or a war of words?

The movement to stop the disengagement used these quotations from Rabbi Z. Y. Kook in its public relations campaign. Thousands of posters with the visage of the late rabbi were mounted throughout Judea and Samaria and in religious neighborhoods in Israel's cities. They called on all citizens, rabbis and laymen alike to oppose the disengagement and cited his ruling forbidding any withdrawal from the territories. Some posters called on soldiers, recruits and reservists alike to inform their superiors that they will not obey if ordered to evacuate settlements.

Rabbi Avraham Shapira: A Call for Insubordination

The former chief rabbis of Israel, Rabbis Avraham Shapira and Mordechai Eliyahu, posed a serious challenge to the government's legitimacy and disengagement policy. As spiritual leaders of a significant segment of the religious Zionist community, their outspoken stand against the Sharon disengagement plan represented a volatile mix of religion and right-wing ideology. Our discussion will focus primarily on Rabbi Shapira for two reasons: first, Rabbi Shapira had significantly more influence over many of the rabbis and laymen living in Judea and Samaria in particular, and in the religious Zionist community in general, than Rabbi Eliyahu. He has stood at the helm of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva for the last twenty-four years; hundreds regard him as their ultimate halakhic authority. Many of his former students teach in yeshivas or serve as rabbis of communities. Second, as the day of the evacuation neared, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu issued statements that appeared to back down from his earlier ruling, which had put him in clear agreement with Rabbi Shapira. (19)

Like Rabbi Z. Y. Kook before him, Rabbi Shapira believes Jewish law forbids giving away any part of the land of Israel to non-Jews. In response to the government's disengagement plan, Rabbi Shapira categorically prohibited soldiers from carrying out the order to evacuate the settlements. In an interview in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot, in October 2004, the rabbi stated unequivocally:

It [the removal of settlements] is a transgression, it is prohibited. They [the soldiers] must inform their commanders that it is prohibited just like the desecration of the Sabbath, or eating non-kosher food. (nevelot and treifot) ... It is not only forbidden for a soldier to uproot settlements but also to assist those who are doing it.

Rabbi Shapira failed to mention that there are other opinions on the issue or to suggest that the issue is complex. When asked if he was not concerned that mass disobedience will impair the armed forces, an argument used by Rabbi Aviner (below) and others to oppose disobedience, the rabbi dismissed the problem out of hand: "No, the army won't disintegrate.... That is the commanders' business, not ours. We know what is permissible and what is prohibited.... Truth is truth and with the truth we don't play around." Rabbi Shapira explained that he was issuing his ruling in October 2004, months before the planned withdrawal, for tactical reasons: in order to deter the government from adopting the plan. He explained:

This must be published ... the army has to know this ... the soldiers must inform them ... our innovation here is that we are notifying them before, so that anyone (Sharon) who wants to do this (policy) ... will know that he will have difficulties and then he will not do it. (20)

Rabbi Shapira's strategy was clear, although misguided. He apparently had hoped that Prime Minister Sharon would decide to cancel the plan while still in its early stages, rather than risk a mutiny in the armed forces. Sharon, however, did not call off the plan. He responded by instructing the army command to inform all units in no uncertain terms that disobedience would not be tolerated and carried severe consequences. In the following months, Sharon showed unwavering determination to implement the policy, despite nationalist and religious Zionist opposition. He fired recalcitrant ministers from his own party, created a new coalition with Labour, and refused a compromise proposal by the embattled minority to put the issue to test in a national referendum.

Rabbi Shapira's ruling posed a serious dilemma for many religious Zionist soldiers. He presented the issue as one of Halakha, which left a soldier with little choice if the soldier regarded Rabbi Shapira as his rabbinical authority. By transmuting his ideological worldview into a halakhic directive, Rabbi Shapira put hundreds of religious soldiers in the unconscionable position of having to choose between obedience to their military commanders and obedience to the Halakha. He also put into question sacred values of religious Zionism, such as the partnership with secular Israelis in nation-building, loyalty to the state and its institutions, and most of all, the shared burden of army service. (21)

One hundred and fifty rabbis of communities and teachers in yeshivas of higher learning signed a petition, published in the national press, calling on soldiers to disobey orders in concurrence with Rabbi Shapira's ruling. Many of the signers were the spiritual leaders of religious Zionist communities throughout the country and teachers in yeshivas, which are Merkaz Harav affiliates. The Council of Rabbis of Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza), led by Rabbis Dov Lior, chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba, Eliezer Melamed, rabbi of the settlement Hat Bracha, Zalman Melamed, head of the yeshiva in Belt El and Elyakim Levanon, head of the hesder yeshiva (22) in Alon Moreh, issued its wholehearted endorsement as well.

A petition signed by 10,000 soldiers, reservists, and pre-army students expressing refusal to participate in the dismantling of settlements if ordered to do so, reflected Rabbi Shapira's ruling. The initiative was organized by Noam Livnat, a yeshiva student identified with the radical right, who distributed the petition among soldiers and set up a website to encourage disobedience. (23) The Army Central Command was concerned that the refusal of religious soldiers to serve would impair the IDF's ability to carry out the withdrawal and seriously damage army discipline and morale. It warned the soldiers and reservists of zero tolerance for any acts of insubordination. Any instances of refusal would be dealt with accordingly. Allowances would be made only in cases when the soldier had close relatives residing in the settlements designated for destruction or was himself a resident. (24)

As the date of the disengagement neared, Rabbi Shapira extended his ruling to soldiers posted at the checkpoints and to the area around the Gush Katif settlement bloc. Rabbi Shapira ruled that because it is forbidden to give away land to non-Jews, it is also prohibited to assist those engaged in that transgression. It is therefore forbidden to man a roadblock reading to Gush Katif or assist in the expulsion of Jews from their homes in any other manner. Likewise, he ruled that soldiers in the reserves should not report for duty if their service will free others to take part in the "transgression." (25)

Army rabbis came under heavy pressure not to cooperate with the withdrawal plan. Protesters demonstrated outside the homes of Lieutenant Colonel Yehuda Vizner, rabbi of the Central Command. Rabbi Dov Lior, head of the Council of Rabbis of Yesha, charged Army Chief Rabbi Brigadier General Yisrael Weiss with collaborating with the government "in an act of coercion against religion." Rabbi Weiss deflected the charges in an interview, but admitted in an unguarded moment, that if Rabbi Shapira himself would order him to resign his post, he would have no choice but to do so. He later retracted the statement after being reprimanded by his army superiors. His admission demonstrates the enormous respect commanded by Rabbi Shapira and of the predicament of Rabbi Weiss and other IDF rabbis. (26)

Rabbi Shapira's directive engendered a forceful response from rabbis who disagreed with his ruling and strategy of using the threat of insubordination to induce the government to cancel the disengagement plan. While almost all opposed the government's disengagement plan, they were also deeply concerned that disobedience will cause havoc in the armed forces and will shake the very foundations of Israel's democracy. The dissenters represent two different approaches: the "mamlachi" or statist approach as represented by rabbis Shlomo Aviner and Eli Sadan and the "civic" approach, as represented by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner and Rabbi Eli Sadan: Statism or Anarchy?

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, the rabbi of the settlement of Beit El and head of the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva located in the Moslem Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, is one of the most prolific writers in religious Zionism today. The author of many books and articles, he also writes a weekly column that appears in Torah pamphlets distributed widely in synagogues throughout the country and has a website where his numerous articles and lectures can be found. Rabbi Aviner strongly opposed the government's disengagement plan. On one occasion, ne characterized it as "cruel and unfeeling" as well as "the most idiotic policy in Israel's history and in the history of the world." He wrote that he failed to understand what possible gains Israel could have from the decision. (27)

Both Rabbi Aviner and Rabbi Eli Sadan had studied at the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and were students of Rabbi Zvi Tau, who today stands at the head of the Har Hamor yeshiva in Jerusalem, (a breakaway yeshiva from Merkaz Harav). Rabbi Tau is known as a "statist" or "mamlachti," a strong supporter of the Israeli state and its institutions. (28) Rabbi Tau opposed the anti-government demonstrations and protests that took place in reaction to the Oslo agreements in 1994-95, because he was concealed that they might endanger the state. Then he stated,

Any confrontation with the government destroys [all of] us. It creates a situation of "pekuah nefesh", mortal danger to all of Israel. [Therefore] we must be loyal and devoted to the state ... [for] if there is no Government (memshala) there is no state. And if there is no government authority (shilton), then there will be anarchy. (29)

Rabbi Tau remained conspicuously silent during the struggle to stop the disengagement. His former student, Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, however, perhaps in his stead, boldly took issue with Rabbi Shapira, ruling that soldiers must not disobey orders. Mass insubordination, he argued, will cause the demoralization of the army and its disintegration. Anarchy might then ensue, endangering both the state and the nation.

Rabbi Aviner ruled that even soldiers who sincerely believed the order to evacuate Jews from the Land of Israel violated the Torah must not disobey. The biblical commandment "to settle the land and hold on to it," he explained, applies only to the entire nation, not to the individual. The Israeli government has the obligation to hold on to the land and settle it since it embodies the nation. By the same token, the onus would be on the government if it were to decide to dismantle settlements and relinquish land to non-Jews. The destruction of Gush Katif is the government's transgression and responsibility and not the wrongdoing of the individual soldier. The latter is not responsible for the government action, therefore he should not act against it. While Rabbi Aviner expected the army to be forthcoming and understanding toward soldiers who felt emotionally unable to participate in the evacuation, he strongly condemned the petitions by groups of soldiers and all other forms of organized disobedience. (30) Rabbi Aviner was the most vocal rabbi to challenge Rabbi Shapira and, as a result, he drew the most fire. He figured prominently among the rabbis who participated in the protest demonstrations in the weeks preceding the destruction of the settlements. He took part in the demonstrations at Kfar Maimon and was present in Neve Dekalim during the evacuation itself. He played an important role in keeping the teenage demonstrators under control and preventing acts of violence against the soldiers and police. Rabbi Aviner, together with the leaders of the Council of Communities of Judea and Samaria (Moetzet Yesha), negotiated a modus vivendi with the army and police commanders in the area to allow the protestors to vent their anger and anguish within agreed upon limits. During the evacuation, a tearful Rabbi Aviner, together with other rabbis present in Gush Katif, rent his clothes in sorrow (an act of grieving in Jewish tradition) at the loss of a part of Eretz Yisrael, and led the protestors in prayer and supplication. Violence had been averted.

The second example of a "statist" who dared to dissent against Rabbi Shapira's ruling was Rabbi Eli Sadan, head of the largest and most prestigious army preparatory yeshiva, B'nai David in Eli, a settlement in Samaria. Rabbi Sadan founded B'nai David in 1988, one of thirteen pre-army yeshiva programs that prepare religious high school graduates for army service. (31) Eighty-five percent of its students serve in combat units, and more than 50 percent become officers. Comparatively, only about 40 percent of the army's general recruits serve in combat units and only 10 percent go on to become officers. (32)

Four months before the disengagement, Rabbi Sadan published a pamphlet addressed to his students discussing the issue of insubordination in the armed forces. Many of his students serving in the armed forces had turned to him for guidance after hearing Rabbi Shapira's ruling. Rabbi Sadan was concerned that mass disobedience in the armed forces will threaten the very existence of the state and destroy its system of government. He wrote:

Because we believe that the existence of a sovereign Jewish state is a positive commandment of the Torah and that the State of Israel is the "beginning of our redemption" we must act within the limits of the only framework that enables us ... to sustain a state.... We have a positive orientation toward democracy ... because it enables us to have a state. Democracy is the only process which enabled Jews coming from all over the world, with different ideologies, cultures, and levels of observance to join together peacefully to establish a state. There is no alternative to democracy and therefore those who hold dear the idea of a Jewish state must be careful not to harm its democratic system.... It is the best system we have and we have no other alternative. (33)

Rabbi Sadan wrote that a culturally diverse Israeli society can make collective decisions through negotiation and compromise enabled by democracy. The state of Israel would disintegrate if each faction were to choose not to serve in the army and not to obey the law when it objected to government policy. Today, he warned, it is the objectors on the religious right; tomorrow it will be the secular left who would refuse to serve in the territories or in Jerusalem. If we permit each group to choose, the state will be torn apart.

Rabbi Sadan took issue with Rabbi Shapira's calculation that issuing his ruling publicly early in the conflict would deter the government from carrying out the plan. Rabbi Sadan viewed this maneuver as both dangerous and counterproductive. Using the army as a weapon was in reality "playing with fire, ... a fight that you [may] know how it starts but you do not know how it will end." Once one refuses to serve, he argued, others less committed to the survival of the state will misuse the option in the future. (34)

According to Rabbi Sadan, all forms of organized insubordination are forbidden. On an individual basis, however, each soldier must be allowed to follow his conscience. Rabbi Sadan presented the rulings and reasoning behind both Rabbis Shapira and Aviner's positions and left it up to his students to choose the proper action. He suggested that if an individual soldier chooses to follow Rabbi Shapira, he should approach his commanding officer in private and ask to be relieved from participating in the evacuation or to be assigned to auxiliary tasks. (35) He suggested that Rabbi Aviner's approach is also legitimate, calling him a great scholar. In following Rabbi Aviner, "religious soldiers will be building bridges to the rest of the nation rather than taking action that will sever their connection to it." By bringing both rulings, Rabbi Sadan in effect played it safe. He did not directly defy the former chief rabbi, while at the same time he suggested to his students that Rabbi Aviner's ruling presented a valid alternative.

In a letter written to his students in the IDF shortly before the destruction of the settlements, Rabbi Sadan disclosed that the army will in fact show understanding if they were emotionally incapable of carrying out the evacuation orders. IDF Commander-in-Chief Dan Chalutz told the rabbis from the army preparatory yeshivas that commanders assigned to the front lines of the evacuation received specific instructions to show "sensitivity and understanding" toward soldiers unable to carry out the evacuation orders and to find them alternative assignments. The army, Chalutz said, would regard the outright refusal of a soldier to serve as the "failure of his commander." (36)

Rabbi Sadan warned his students not to fall into the trap of disillusionment and reject the state. If religious Zionists were to focus on the state's imperfections, he wrote, it may lead them to join the ultra-orthodox, who have withdrawn from the state and do not take responsibility for its well being. Rabbi Sadan cautioned that if they were to go in that direction, they would seriously harm the state and destroy what religious Zionism has stood for over the years. (37)

Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein: The Prerogative of Civic Authority

The third rabbi to come out publicly against Rabbi Avraham Shapira's ruling was R. Aharon Lichtenstein, head of Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shvut. Har Etzion is one of the oldest and established hesder yeshivas in Israel. Its students combine army service and yeshiva study in an intensive five-year program. At the head of the yeshiva stand two rabbis, Rabbis Yehuda Amital and Aharon Lichtenstein, who have shared the leadership for over three decades. Both are known for their moderate views on the peace process and for accepting he legitimacy of territorial compromise. (38) Many of their former students serve today as the heads of hesder yeshivas, rabbis of communities, and teachers in religious Zionist educational institutions, and share their moderate views.

Part of the dispute between Rabbi Lichtenstein and Rabbi Shapira on the withdrawal issue rests on the question of who has the authority to decide when there is a debate over policy. According to Rabbi Shapira, the rabbis have the final authority on the question of withdrawal since it involves issues of Halakha. On this point, Rabbi Lichtenstein strongly disagrees. Since the merits of the government's disengagement are contentious within the IDF, among the general public anti politicians, the elected government is the legitimate body authorized to decide since only it has access to the information needed to do so. Political leaders and their security advisors, privy to military intelligence and other classified information, must make policy decisions, not the rabbis. Rabbi Lichtenstein brings here an analogy from medicine and Halakha. Just as one should consult a physician, not the rabbi, before deciding whether a sick person is well enough to fast on Yom Kippur, on security and territorial issues, political leaders should consult security experts and generals, and not rabbis. (39) Neither Rabbi Shlomo Aviner nor Rabbi Eli Sadan addressed this issue.

Rabbi Lichtenstein also differed with Rabbi Shapira's ruling that the Torah categorically forbids relinquishing any part of the Land to non-Jews. He has argued consistently over the years that although any land concession to the Palestinians would be both painful and difficult, under the appropriate circumstances, it may be permissible and even necessary. Rabbi Lichtenstein distinguishes between a willingness to waive the Jewish right to the Land out of apathy or alienation, which has characterized the attitude of many on the left, and the idea of a compromise borne out of necessity that, although painful, will advance the interests of the Jewish people. He said,

I see this distinction as being particularly meaningful in terms of religion and values. A Jew is prohibited from saying that he doesn't care about the Land of Israel. However, in order to achieve other values, and sometimes even to ensure our hold on the rest of the land of Israel, one must compromise and separate from certain areas. Obviously, if one were to suggest that we give up land in order to make a railway from Alexandria to Damascus, it would be unacceptable. Similarly, I would not be ready to give up a single meter to establish a Disneyland in the Middle East. However, when the issue is the possibility of advancing national and humanitarian goals that have themselves religious value, the picture is totally different. (40)

Regarding the disengagement plan, Rabbi Lichtenstein explained, The government contends that the plan will in the long term and in the broad perspective bolster our diplomatic and security strength, and will reduce the chances of war. In other words, the government believes that its plan will have the effect of saving human life--a halakhic argument of the first rank. (41)

Rabbi Lichtenstein admitted there is no guarantee that the government's assessment is indeed correct: "The question is not whether it is clear, that the objectives will be achieved, but whether it is clear they will not be achieved." If the plan has a chance of saving lives in the future then it is not without merit.

Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote to his students in the days before the disengagement that they should obey orders regardless of the emotional difficulties involved. He explained the considerations listed above and reiterated that, in his view, it was a far more serious offense to disobey orders and, as result, impair the military than to remove settlements.

Rabbi Shapira's ruling provoked an organized public response from rabbis who opposed his ruling, many of whom were former students of Har Etzion. They organized a counter-petition calling on soldiers to obey orders and not become involved in political controversy. These rabbis decided to take a public stand in order to dispel the general public's impression that Rabbi Shapira's ruling reflected the Halakha and to counteract its effect within the religious Zionist community. Seventy rabbis signed the petition, including Rabbis Liehtenstein and Amital and the rabbis of the religious kibbutz movement. The petition read,

We the rabbis loyal to religious Zionism, whose students are serving in the army, view the preservation of the unity of the IDF as a national and moral value ... Even though there are those among us who consider the disengagement to be a serious error and a danger, we all strongly object to disobeying orders.... We call on everyone to accept the authority of the government and the Knesset and their political and military decisions, and we call on the government and the leaders of the public to act in the spirit of unity of Israel, with mutual respect and consideration. (42)


What effect did the rabbis' rulings have on the behavior of religious soldiers during the evacuation? Was there mass disobedience by religious soldiers as called for by Rabbi Avraham Shapira and the Council of Rabbis in Yesha (Judea,Samaria and Gaza) or was it merely a "tempest in a teapot?"

There were relatively few cases of insubordination among the estimated 11,000 troops assigned to the evacuation operation. The newspaper BeSheva, the mouthpiece of the far right, kept accounts during the disengagement period and published with undisguised satisfaction all to serve the penalties rendered by the army and gave prominent coverage to all incidents. According to government figures, 63 cases of soldiers who refused to carry out orders during the disengagement were brought to trial. Another 131 soldiers informed their officers in advance that they would refuse to serve if ordered to evacuate settlers. In a punitive measure, the army expelled twenty soldiers from the hesder program and ordered them to do three years of regular service, not in combat units. (43) There were almost no cases of an organized refusal to serve, despite the 10,000 who signed the petition.

At a meeting of the Knesset subcommittee on foreign affairs and defense two weeks after the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria, Head of IDF Personnel Major-General Eliezer Stern credited the army's strong stand against insubordination and its commanders' appropriate responses within their units for the low number of cases of disobedience. (44) This, however, is only part of the story. Several factors explain the relatively few soldiers who refused to serve. The first and simplest, many soldiers were not interested in making waves. Religious soldiers often represent a small minority in their units, and consequently face strong social pressure to conform. Many soldiers adopted a wait and see attitude. It was easier to cooperate with the operation, with the hope that during the evacuation itself they could stand and let others do the difficult job.

Second, it is misleading to think that rabbis have a very strong influence on the worldview of all religious soldiers. Contrary to the impression portrayed in the secular press, many religious soldiers who did not study in post-high school yeshivas do not consult rabbis often, and certainly not on matters not connected to ritual observance. For them, the dispute among the rabbis was not very relevant. While most religious soldiers identify with the nationalist right and opposed the disengagement plan, they also strongly support the state and its institutions, especially the military. These soldiers had two impressive religious Zionist role models to follow in the top echelons of the armed forces: Major-General Yair Naveh, GOC of the Central Command, and Major-General Eliezer Stern, head of army personnel.

Third, the perspicacious policy adopted by the army toward religious soldiers can be credited with the relatively low number of objectors. While the army command exhibited zero tolerance toward soldiers who chose to take a public stand against the army, it did not want to test the soldiers' loyalty. Although the army forcefully condemned the rabbis' rulings, and warned that it would not countenance any disobedience in the IDF, in practice, it avoided real confrontations with the soldiers. For example, units composed primarily of religious soldiers serving in the hesder program or in the Nahal Hacharedi, (45) were not assigned to the evacuation at all. Officers of units assigned to the evacuation were instructed to respond with sensitivity and understanding to religious soldiers who, on a private, individual basis, requested to be excused. Religious soldiers called to reserve duty who asked to postpone service for a variety of excuses found the army forthcoming. In general, the military assigned units with relatively few religious recruits to implement the evacuation. The military did not exempt religious soldiers in these units from the preparatory psychological training program preceding the operation, but on the day of the evacuation, they too were assigned to auxiliary tasks in the backlines.

Last, it was important that moderate rabbis such as Aviner, Sadan, Lichtenstein, and others made their voices heard against disobedience in the IDF. It gave religious soldiers from the preparatory and hesder yeshivas the spiritual justification for following orders des ire the ruling of Rabbi Shapira. In fact, very few students from the army preparatory programs actually disobeyed orders; in the hesder yeshivas, were only twenty-six cases of insubordination, mostly by students of Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the yeshiva in Alon Moreh, who had supported Rabbi Shapira. It is difficult to estimate how man soldiers would have refused to serve if the army had decided to confront religious Zionist soldiers head-on. The army had prudently avoided putting the issue to test.

Was the insubordination controversy merely a "tempest in a teapot?" Not really. In the short term, government policy was implemented, rule of law was obeyed, and there was no bloodshed. The army remained strong and united. However, serious long term ramifications on the relationship of some religious Zionists with the state and its institutions are likely. The religious Zionist community emerged from the evacuation severely traumatized. The sector most responsible for having built the settlements witnessed their destruction at the hands of the Jewish state. The rules of accommodation and compromise. necessary to maintain a consociational democracy had failed. The majority had forced a showdown with the minority and forced it to comply without recourse.

On a practical level, the government authority organized to move the settlers and attend to their needs proved totally ineffectual. For months, 1,700 families found themselves living in crowded hotels, unemployed, lacking schools for their children, and solutions for permanent housing. Communities that had asked to remain together did not have ready alternatives. Solutions required time and planning and necessary government allocations. When the government set the date for the evacuation, it did not take into account the time needed to resettle the evacuees. The religious Zionist community took up the task to care for the families. But they found themselves alone; the rest of the public had moved on.

Within the religious Zionist community in general and among the settlers and their supporters, a process of recrimination and accusation began. Rabbi Aviner in particular became the target of vitriolic attacks because of his alleged "collaboration" with the army during the evacuation. He had negotiated with the army command in order to prevent escalation of the conflict and had been seen shaking hands and even exchanging hugs with the commanders. A picture of Rabbi Aviner embracing a commander was distributed throughout the settlements of Judea and Samaria with the caption, "We shall not forget nor shall we forgive."

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, rabbi of the settlement Har Braeha, chastised the leadership of Moetzet Ye, sha (the Council of Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza) and the "statist" rabbis for their conduct during the evacuation. Melamed wrote in BeSheva:

Many ask how we lost the struggle. Didn't our leaders promise to fight with determination to foil the expulsion? How could it be that, in the end, in just a few days, all the settlements fell? Why did we fail?

I think that the Council of Judea and Samaria and the rabbis it chose to align with caused the struggle to fail from the start. Already at the stage when they rejected the halakhic ruling that soldiers were strictly prohibited from implementing the expulsion orders, I realized that short of a miracle, we will have no chance of preventing the expulsion.... Their position made the whole struggle futile....

There was a halakhic ruling on these issues ... but the official leadership rejected it and rendered us impotent.... They could have chosen to follow our teacher Rabbi Shapira.... but they chose to follow others. With hugs and kisses ... one can not prevent the wicked from carrying out their evil plan. (46)

Melamed accused the rabbis and the lay leadership of planting false hopes and with duplicity. They failed to admit publicly that the goal was merely to demonstrate and not to take all necessary action in order to prevent the "expulsion."

For many of the evacuees and for those who had been intensively involved in the efforts to save Gush Katif, the destruction of the settlements changed their attitude toward the state and toward the army. In some synagogues, the Sabbath prayer for the well being of the state was either omitted or modified. Other synagogues still read the prayer, while some of the worshippers stood in silence, with clenched fists.

Some who had previously taken pride in the disproportionate number of religious Zionists who served as officers and in elite units found it difficult to contemplate army service at all. (47) Rabbi Zalman Melamed, who had supported Rabbi Shapira's call for disobedience, expressed disillusionment with the armed-forces that had previously commanded his respect and almost reverence. In an article in BeSheva, he advised young men to spend more years in yeshivas (similar to the ultra-orthodox) and postpone their army service. He urged them not to volunteer for elite units or to extend their period of service as they had done in the past. He wrote,

In the past, army service had contributed to spiritual pride, to a bravery of the spirit which was lacking during the period of exile.... Today this is not the case. A soldier can have a worldview that is exilic and a yeshiva student can have a worldview of a free man, who stands tall and proud.... The army forces soldiers to obey orders blindly.... contrary to their beliefs, ... [It] turns them into close-minded slaves without any right to independent thought ... the army destroys one's identity and develops small minded soldiers, officers and commanders. (48)

In effect, Rabbi Melamed was suggesting that religious Zionists should gradually disengage from the state and its institutions, and move in the direction of the ultra-orthodox since the state, which had once been considered the holy instrument that would bring about the messianic redemption, had proven to be an impediment in the ,process of redeeming the land. Such ideas were unheard of among religious Zionists in the past. Melamed's column aroused a spirited discussion. (49)

This anger at the government came to the fore in the violent confrontation that took place in February 2006, in Amona, a small civilian outpost in Samaria. The Ohnert government had decided to demolish three houses in Amona built illegally by the settlers. It was intended as a show of force against the settlers to demonstrate the new government's resolve to remove all illegal outposts in Judea and Samaria. Soldiers and police were confronted with-thousands of protesting settlers and youth, almost all from the religious Zionist community, some of whom hurled stones and bottles at the forces. The police responded with an excessive use of force. They drove their horses into the crowd, hitting the young protestors with their batons, injuring MKs Aryeh Eldadand Effie Eitam from the National Union-NRP and scores of youth. The bloody events in Amona, in contradistinction to the relatively peaceful evacuation of Gush Katif, symbolized for many religious Zionists the rupture with the government and with the armed forces.

The evacuation of Gaza and Northern Samaria and the destruction of the settlements tested Israel's consociational democracy. The government, with the backing of a majority of the Knesset, removed the settlers and destroyed the settlements despite the angry protests of the minority. The boundaries of legitimate protest had been breached by some religions elites, most notably by Rabbi Avraham Shapira, who had called for insubordination in the military. Rabbis who had encouraged loyalty and service to the state in the past and as such, had played an important role in supporting the legitimacy of the state now stood in the vanguard of those who challenged its very authority. The reverberations of this could be seen in the violence of the youth at Amona and the unwillingness of many to condemn their behavior. A vocal minority of religious Zionists on the radical right have now called for disengagement from the state and from service to it.

The dispute over disobedience in the military also gives reason for limited, optimism. The disengagement had taken place without violence m part because all the rabbis, without exception, had forbidden its use against the armed forces. The "statist" and "civicist" rabbis who had taken issue with Rabbi Shapira over disobedience had shown leadership and courage in support of the state and its democratic process. Many had taken an active part in the protests but had also played an important role in keeping them within the limits of the law. These rabis had publicly endorsed democracy rather than chaos, and state authority rather than visions of redemption. Their leadership will be extremely important in the days ahead in efforts to reestablish consociational accommodations and understandings between the religious Zionist community and the secular majority. Rabbinical leadership will prove particularly critical for any future decisions of the Israeli government to further withdraw from the territories as part of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

(1.) See Eliezer Don-Yehiye, Religion and Political Accommodation in Israel (Jerusalem: The Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies, 1999).

(2.) The Israeli Arab population did not participate in these consociational arrangements. The status quo agreement preserved the existing arrangements of leaving personal status issues in the hands of religious courts, provisions for Kashrut in government institutions, designating Saturday as the national day of rest, continuing existing restrictions and, most importantly, allowing the observant Jews (religious Zionist and ultra-orthodox) their own school systems, i.e., religious and cultural autonomy.

(3.) Arend Lijphart, "Consociational Democracy," World Politics 21 (1969): 213. Lijphardt recommends the use of four non-majoritarian mechanisms for conflict resolution: building grand coalitions, proportionality in the electoral system, a mutual veto, and some form of group autonomy.

(4.) The roadmap was a phased plan proposed by President George W. Bush in June 2002, to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It required the Palestinians to end terror and violence, normalize life and services to their population and to build national institutions, have democratic elections, etc. before they could proceed to an interim state, permanent borders, and a peace agreement with Israel.

(5.) In September 2004, a survey published in Maariv indicated that 58 percent of the population would vote for the disengagement plan and 29 percent would be against. Support for the plan waned. A poll conducted on 9 June 2005, by Dahaf/Institute/Yediot Achronot showed support for the plan at 53 percent and the opponents, 38 percent. A poll conducted on 20 July 2005, by the Tel Aviv University's Institute for Media, Society and Politics, showed that 48 percent of the Israeli population supported the disengagement.

(6.) Religious Zionists comprise approximately 15 percent of the Jewish population.

(7.) See Don-Yehiye, Religion and Political Accommodation in Israel.

(8.) See for example, Etta Bick, "A Party in Decline: Shas in Israel's 2003 Elections," in Shmuel Sandler, M. Ben Mollov and Jonathan Rynhold, Israel At the Polls, 2003 (New York: Routledge, 2005), 98-129; and M. Horvitz, Harav Schach Shehamafteach B'yado (Jerusalem: Keter, 1989).

(9.) See Ehud Sprinzak, The Ascendance of Israel's Radical Right (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991); and Ian S. Lustick, For the Land and for the Lord (New York: Council of Foreign Relations, 1988).

(10.) Halakha is the body of Jewish law based on the Mosaic Law of the Pentateuch and the rabbinic law as developed over the centuries.

(11.) See Etta Bick, "A Clash of Authority: Lay leaders and Rabbis in the National Religious Party," Israel Affairs 13:2 (2007).

(12.) Data provided by Efraim Yaar and Tamar Herman; available online at: See also Giora Goldberg, "The Electoral Collapse of the Israeli Doves," in Sandier, Mollov, and Rynhold, Israel At the Polls, 2003, 36-55.

(13.) See Stuart Cohen, "Portrait of the New Israeli Soldier," MERIA Journal 4 December 1997.

(14.) The Sifrei is a exegetical Midrash to the book of Deuteronomy dating back to the fourth century C.E.

(15.) Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, "Settling Eretz Yisrael," 17 Cheshvan, 5763; available online at:, accessed 24 April 2005.

(16.) See Ben Zion Bokser, The Essential Writings of Abraham Isaac Kook (Ben Yebuda Press, 2006).

(17.) Eretz Hazvi siman 10, quoted in Yaakov Zisberg, "Yehareg uval yaavor b'mavak al Eretz Yisrael: shitat Rabbi Zvi Yehuda," in Tsohar 14, 19.

(18.) Ibid, Eretz Hazvi siman, 4.

(19.) Haaretz, 6 September 2005.

(20.) Yediot Achronot, 14 October 2004.

(21.) This is in contradistinction to the ultra-orthodox who have chosen to separate from the majority, to live in isolated neighborhoods and most importantly, refuse to do any form of army service or national service.

(22.) Hesder yeshivas are post-secondary religious schools that are part of an "arrangement" made with the army that orthodox boys could choose to enter a five-year program that entails a shortened service in the IDF (eighteen months) and Torah study. The soldiers enter the army as a group facilitating their greater observance of rituals and prayer in a quorum while in the army.

(23.) Haaretz, 2 February 2005. Noam Livnat is the brother of Likud Minister Lilnor Livnat.

(24.) Hagit Rotenberg, "Hayu seruvim veyiyu seruvim," Besheva 158, 1 September 2005.

(25.) 2nd Day in Av, 5765 (7 August 2005).

(26.) Nadav Shragai, Haaretz, 8 December 2004.

(27.) Column written by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, Tekuma party website, 19 December 2004; available online at:

(28.) See article by Rabbi Yuval Shirlo, "Mamlachti lekatchila," Hasofe, 16/04/2006; available online at:

(29.) Rav Zvi Tau, "me shelochem seged hamemshala lochem neged rebono shel olam," Meimad 7 (1996): 25.

(30.) Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, "Stop, both sides from tearing apart the IDF," 23 shvat 5765/(2 February 2005) Chava Library, webpage of Rabbi Shlomo Aviner,

(31.) There are twenty-three army preparatory schools, thirteen of them yeshivas, ten secular or religiously mixed, with a total of about 1,200 students. Their students go on to do full military service and many serve in elite units.

(32.) In reaction to Rabbi Shapira's ruling and the rabbis' petition supporting it, the heads of the army preparatory programs issued a joint statement that called on all soldiers to obey orders. At the same time they urged the prime minister to seek greater public support for his disengagement plan (i.e., call a national referendum) in order to prevent a split in the nation.

(33.) Eli Sadan, Our Allegiance to the Torah and to the Military (Neemanutainu La'torah ve laTzava) (Eli: Machon Binyan Hatorah) (February, 2005), 16-20.

(34.) Ibid., 23-26.

(35.) Rabbi Sadan's mentor, Rabbi Zvi Tau, kept a low profile and refrained from issuing public statements throughout the disengagement controversy. In a private meeting, he is reported to have told his former students, now the heads of the army preparatory yeshivas, that while he opposed mass disobedience in the army, he believed that his students must tell their commanders on a private, individual basis that they are simply "incapable" of carrying out their orders. He told them "if we were to learn that a soldier wearing a kippa cooperated and obeyed an order to uproot a settlement it will indicate to us that we have failed in their education ... We did not educate them to uproot." Menachem Rahat, Maariv, 10 October 2004.

(36.) Personal letter from Rabbi Eli Sadan to his students and graduates in the armed forces, July, 2005.

(37.) Ibid.

(38.) Rabbi Yehuda Amital founded Meimad, a political party that ran unsuccessfully in the 1988 elections on a platform of pragmatism and moderation on religion-state issues and the peace process.

(39.) See also the Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein's public letter to Rabbi Avraham Shapira, 11 Av 5765, available online at: (accessed 24 July 2006).

(40.) Yisrael Vollman, interview with Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Yediot Achronot, 22 October 2004.

(41.) See Aharon Lichtenstein, "Reflections on Decisive Times and Decisive Orders," Haaretz, 22 August 2005.

(42.) Menachem Rahat, Maariv, 10 October 2004.

(43.) Besheva, 15 September 2005. According to statistics gathered by BeSheva, altogether 130 soldiers were put on trial on charges "relating to the expulsion," among them twelve officers, five cadets, six reservists, four female soldiers, and twenty-six students serving in the hesder yeshiva program.

(44.) Besheva, 8 September 2005.

(45.) The Nahal Hacharedi is a unit set up in 1999, to accommodate recruits from the ultraorthodox community. Today the unit also includes religious Zionists who identify themselves as "ultra-orthodox nationalists," maintaining strict standards of religious observance.

(46.) Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, Besheva, 1 September 2005. Rabbi Aviner came under attack personally, particularly in Merkaz Harav circles. Already several months before the disengagement, he was asked to stop giving classes at the yeshiva in Beit El, an affiliate of Merkaz Harav, headed by Rabbi Zalman Melamed. Days after the destruction of Gush Katif, a group of prominent rabbis issued a public statement casting doubts on the rabbi's competency to rule on issues of family purity and warning the religious public not to consult him on these issues. The timing of the notice and the fact that it challenged his competency publicly, in a manner that was dearly intended to embarrass him, could not be purely coincidental. The Jerusalem Post, 27 September 2005.

(47.) Stories circulate of settlers in the Samaria who reportedly had asked soldiers seeking to hitch a ride in their area what their role had been during the destruction of the settlements. If they said they had participated, they were denied a ride. Angry worshippers attacked Chief of Army Personnel Eliezer Stern when he went to pray at the Wailing Wall. Several religious IDF officers found themselves ostracized by their synagogues.

(48.) Rabbi Zalman Melamed, Besheva, 22 September 2005.

(49.) Similarly, Rabbi Shmuel Tal, the head of the yeshiva "Torat Hachaim" in Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif several months before the evacuation told his students that he was severing his ties to religious Zionism and to the state. He reportedly instructed his students to omit "Hallel" a special prayer of praise, said on Israel Independence Day to celebrate the establishment of the state. In doing this, Rabbi Tal was breaking with a fifty-year tradition started by the Chief Rabbinate soon after Israel was founded. Rabbi Tal said one cannot differentiate between the government's policies and the state itself. Therefore, one should not say the thanksgiving prayer on Israel Independence Day, since it infers a blessing for the current government. Haaretz, 6 April 2005. Rabbi Tal's yeshiva was razed to the ground during the destruction of Gush Katif. He evacuated the yeshiva with his students tearfully but without incident.

ETTA BICK (Ph.D., City University of New York Graduate Center) is lecturer in political science, College of Judea and Samaria, Ariel, Israel. Her articles have appeared in Israel Affairs, Diplomacy and Statecraft, and Middle Eastern Studies. Special interests include religion and politics, Israel-United States relations, and political parties in Israel.
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Date:Mar 22, 2007
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