In recent days a story has been brewing in Israel about the conflict between defence minister Ehud Barak and rosh yeshivah Rav Eliezer Melamed. The background:
Defense Minister Ehud Barak has decided to remove the Har Bracha yeshiva from an arrangement with the Israel Defense Forces over its support for insubordination among soldiers. The decision was made after the yeshiva head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, refused to attend a hearing scheduled for Sunday evening at the Defense Ministry.
The defense minister's office said in a statement that Barak has instructed the army to work to remove the yeshiva from the arrangement within a reasonable period of time, which will allow Har Bracha students to choose whether to integrate in another hesder yeshiva.
The decision was made following the IDF chief's recommendation, the defense minister's meeting with rabbis of the Hesder Yeshivot Union and after Barak examined all the considerations and aspects of the matter.
"Minister Barak views any phenomenon of disobedience and will not accept any deviation from what he defines as a red line," the statement said. "The defense minister rules that Rabbi Melamed's actions and remarks undermine the foundations of Israeli democracy and have encouraged and incited some of his students to insubordination, protests and harming the IDF's spirit, and there is no room for this in a normal country."
This is quite troubling, of course. Despite being something like 5% of the population, the Dati Leumi make up 25% of the army and over 50% of the junior officers. Threats of insubordination from that group could cripple the army at a time when Israel is in greater danger than any time in recent history. Further, as a democratic society, the principle of supremacy of the civilian government must remain a paramount value. History is littered with the corpses of people who were caught in conflicts where the military decided it could do a better job than its elected leaders.
However, I would like to raise some objections for the sake of argument. Firstly, it would be widely agreed that the civilian leaders of the army should be democratically elected. Hence the President of the United States is the Commander-in-Chief of his army. But in Israel, this isn't true on a practical basis. Due to the powers the Israelis Supreme Court has arrogated to itself over the last few decades, the nasty truth about Israeli government is that the president of the Court is the real leader of the State because he controls the other justices and they can annul or ammend any laws or positions that the democratically elected Knesset votes on. These justices are completely insulated against any kind of accountability and there is no appeal against their decisions.
What's more, the government that does exist in Israel is, as everyone is too painfully aware, hopelessly corrupt. When Mexico is seen as an example of relative clean governance, you know the country has a problem.
Given these two thoughts, one must now ask the question Yael Mishali recently asked:
It was a truly modern-day miracle to see the debate regarding democracy vis-à-vis Torah law picking up steam and reaching the verge of explosion precisely in Hanukkah. So what is really more important for us? Which of these two values will prevail at the last moment? At the end of the day, I don’t think that the Greek invention will be chosen.
am not a devout follower of Jewish law, and I never followed a rabbi formally; however, in my view any group of Zionist rabbis is preferable to any group of politicians that includes Ehud Barak. Who do I appreciate more? Who do I believe in and believe to? Who do I trust? Which side asks itself less often what can it personally gain from its decisions?
Rabbis also ask themselves this question, of course. I have no doubt that Rabbi Melamed also asked himself, and provided an answer. However, they ask it less often, and their answers are much much better than any answer Barak came up with in the past, and apparently this time as well.
When it comes to all the parameters for selecting proper leadership, I prefer the Zionist rabbis, with all their diverse views and opinions, over the deceptive leaderships of modern-day politicians.
It’s truly been a unique Chanukah experience to see the media storm over the question of hesder yeshivas. The Barak-Melamed conundrum in and of itself is not the most interesting issue here, the fascinating secular panic over these questions is less intriguing than a look into the religious sector, where we are also seeing certain panic.
Now I know the response that this kind of thinking will generate. "Theocracy! What a supid idea! Those rabbis are just as corrupt, if not more so than the secular politicians! And the religion is so oppressive!"
Well I don't know about that. Is secular society more open and tolerant than religious society? Try answering that after you've run afoul of a Canadian Human Rights Commission. Does secular society encourage open debate on issues of meaning? Try being a Climate Change Skeptic and see what happens to your right to an opinion. Are the religious oppressive towards women? Could be, but secular society is busy teaching girls from the age they can fit into underwear than their value in society is based completely on their looks and how much of their anorexic bodies they're willing to show in public. What's worse, being expected to cover one's body and keep quiet, or parade around in one's underwear like a prostitute?
Finally, there's the issue of corruption. Yes, we are all too aware of the failings of the religious leadership over the last year. If you were to ask me about how trustworthy someone is based on their black hat, I'd laugh bitterly. But then, remember that "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" is one of the modern world's great lies. Would I prefer a potentially corrupt rabbi who at least stands for something greater than himself or a potential corrupt politicians who is only interested in his own self-promotion?
I'm not suggesting, chalilah, that the religious overthrow the government in Israel but just asking people to think for a moment about the idea that maybe the secular system isn't so high and mighty that it can simply dismiss the concerns of its religious citizens.