Chief Rabbi of IDF Equivocating Against Refusal

Arutz7 News - December 31, 2004

The painful public debate over refusal to carry out military orders that are perceived to be contrary to Jewish Law has engulfed even the Chief Rabbi of the IDF, Brig.-Gen. Rabbi Yisrael Weiss. In an interview with the weekly B'Sheva newspaper, and on television last night as well, Rabbi Weiss took an ambiguous stand - serving merely to strengthen the verbal attacks upon him from both sides of the political spectrum.

He was attacked from the right for having come out blanketly against refusal to fulfill disengagement-related orders, and was taken to task from the other end for saying he would resign if asked to by his rabbi, former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira. He has since tried to make amends with both sides.

In an interview on Israel Television last night, Rabbi Weiss implied that if former Chief Rabbi Shapira would instruct him to resign from the army, he would do so. Rabbi Shapira, the leading Halakhic authority in the religious-Zionist camp, has called upon soldiers to refuse disengagement-related orders. Rabbi Weiss quickly came under attack from the left-wing.

"He receives a salary from the army, but takes his orders from rabbis who call for refusal," said extreme left-wing MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz/Yahad), who called upon the Chief of Staff to fire him. Rabbi Weiss retracted his statement this morning, saying he should not have made the remarks, and emphasized that he is against refusal. He added that he should have made clear that this was merely a hypothetical response to something that could not have happened, "as Rabbi Shapira would not tell me to resign." As a result, Sarid retracted his demand for Rabbi Weiss' dismissal.

It was reported last night that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Yaalon was planning to meet with Rabbi Weiss and demand an explanation. The Rabbi said this morning that he had not been summoned to such a meeting.

Chief Rabbi Weiss has come out strongly against refusal to fulfill disengagement-related orders in the army. "Refusal to fulfill orders in the IDF," he told Army Radio three weeks ago, "is liable to bring about the collapse of the army and the end of the People of Israel's task."

He also gave his begrudging support to a statement written by IDF Central Command Rabbi Yehuda Vizner, which stated clearly, "The only Halakhic authority in the army is the Army Rabbinate, and no other opinion or recommendation should be received from outside... The Army Rabbinate has stated unambiguously that refusal to fulfill orders is a concept that must not be heard within the IDF... Evacuation orders must be fulfilled to the letter [and] with determination." Many army rabbis were upset at both the tone and substance of the letter, and said they would not follow it. Signatures of reserve army rabbis in favor of refusal of disengagement orders are being gathered, and the organizers are confident that they will have many. Many standing-army rabbis, too, say - without public attribution - that they will not fulfill disengagement-related orders.

One army rabbi quoted in the B'Sheva newspaper article said, "Many rabbis are not criticizing Rabbi Weiss, because they realize he was forced by circumstances to back the statement. But all agree that [Rabbi Vizner's] letter is too much. There's no one who agrees with it. It was unnecessary, and does not reflect the central spirit in the Army Rabbinate."

Rabbi Yoel Katan of Shaalvim, an army rabbi serving in the reserves, said that the Chief of Staff told Rabbi Weiss that he must back Rabbi Vizner's letter, "otherwise it would appear as if he supports refusal. In any event, Rabbi Weiss' position doesn't matter; if it comes down to the actual event, everyone will have to act according to his conscience and his rabbis. It's clear that this is an anti-Halakhic order, since they want to evacuate/destroy Jewish communities for no reason at all."

Speaking with Hagit Rotenberg of B'Sheva, Rabbi Weiss himself had some criticism of Rabbi Vizner's statement.

He said that he is doing all he can to "direct the army not to reach the situation where soldiers must decide whether to fulfill orders." He says those in charge should make it clear that the police, and not the army, will be on the front lines of the evacuation. He also requests that there be no "extremes" on the front lines: "Neither someone who is very happy about the evacuation, nor someone who strongly opposes it."

Rabbi Weiss said he would rather not address these issues at present, but would rather wait: "If it actually comes down to it, I will consult with the Torah leaders and will hear their counsel. At this point, there is no point in firing up the public by making various statements that have no immediate significance."

He said that just like a soldier living in Yesha should be excused from having to take part in an evacuation, so too a soldier who objects for Halakhic reasons should be exempted from having to take active part.

B'Sheva: "You have said that you are a rabbi and an officer, and that you are committed to the army orders and the Halakhic guidelines. Are both of these obligations equal in your eyes? Aren't you committed first and foremost to Jewish Law?"

Rabbi Weiss: "As a religious person, an officer and a rabbi, I am obligated to create a situation in which there is no contradiction between the Torah's commandments and, l'havdil [lit., to differentiate], the army's orders. In my 28 years of army service, I knew how to implement this concept. The army is a Jewish one, and as such it preserve the Torah's commandments. It declares and maintains the sanctity of the Sabbath and Kashrut [Kosher laws]. From the Chief of Staff and downwards, Sabbath is observed within the boundaries of what is necessary to preserve life. When there is no life-saving need, we will do everything to fight to ensure that no non-combat activities take place on the Sabbath. I have lived my whole life with no contradiction between the army and the Torah."

B'Sheva: "You [said] that it wouldn't help the cause if you resigned. But why not? For if you are committed to Halakhah, then this must come even at the price of your position, regardless of whether it 'will help' or not. The resignation of someone in your army position would arouse major public waves in the media and in the army."

Rabbi Weiss: "I asked Rabbi Shapira if I should resign. He did not instruct me to do so. [The religious Zionist public] should be happy that I don't resign... I come from the same place they come from, the same Beit Medrash, the same pain. I'm not the enemy. I am in this position in order to minimize the pain of the operation... Protests outside my house are not acceptable, because I am [their] brother... What I will be in charge of doing will not hurt them; I will be standing outside an empty house [after the residents have already been expelled]. Should I leave the house the way it is, or should I tearfully and with sanctity take off the mezuzah from the doorpost? The same is with the Torah scrolls [in the synagogues and yeshivot]. I hope that the residents will actually do it themselves..."

B'Sheva: "In Rabbi Vizner's letter, he writes that outpost-evacuation orders should be carried out to the letter and with determination. Isn't this language a bit odd, especially in light of your talk about sensitivity and the like?"

Rabbi Weiss: "Yes, the word 'determination' is a bit jarring. Words such as 'sensitivity' and 'with tears' should have been used..." He also implied that a letter such as Rabbi Vizner's never should have been publicized at all.

A source close to the army rabbinate said that though this particular issue of disengagement and refusal has entangled Rabbi Weiss from several angles, his subordinates and associates do not want him to resign: "In the four years he's been in the position, he has done great things for the army and for the rabbinate. He's the right man for the job. Rabbi Shapira himself noted at the time of his appointment that because it was such a surprise - he was catapulted over two long-time army rabbis vying for the position - this showed it was a clear case of Divine will."

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