The Israel Defense Forces’ decision to prohibit frum soldiers from boycotting events at which women sing has claimed yet another casualty, as secular-religious tensions continue to mount. Rabbi Elyakim Levanon, head of the Elon Moreh yeshiva and a prominent religious Zionist figure, has informed pupils of his intention to quit his post in protest against the General Staff’s decision.
Rabbi Levanon’s decision comes following a secret meeting on Thursday between IDF Chief Rabbi Brig. Gen. Rafi Peretz and religious Zionist rabbis, at which the latter demanded Peretz’s resignation.
Rabbi Levanon has been one of the most strident critics of the IDF rabbinate’s position regarding women soldiers’ participation in army cultural events. In a November radio interview, he declared that IDF rabbis are “bringing us close to a situation in which we will have to tell [male] soldiers, ‘You have to leave such events even if a firing squad is set up outside, which will fire on and kill you.'” Rabbi Levanon added: “I hope the army rabbinate will bring in some wise figures who will stop this terrible state of affairs. But if there are no such rabbis, we won’t have any choice, and I’ll recommend to anyone who asks me about the IDF that he shouldn’t enlist.”
In response, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz stated “The remarks made by Rabbi Levanon were not to my liking.”
Now, as a reaction to the General Staff ban on leaving events at which women soldiers (or other women ) sing, Rabbi Levanon has decided to quit his post at the West Bank hesder yeshiva (which combines religious studies and army service ). Speaking to his pupils, he declared: “Soon there won’t be a head of this yeshiva.”
In explaining his decision, Levanon added that he wants to be able to speak freely about women singing, without the yeshiva or its pupils “being harmed by such pronouncements.”
Rabbi Levanon, 62, has apparently decided to follow in the wake of the Har Bracha yeshiva affair, in 2009, during which its head, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed called on soldiers to defy IDF orders to evacuate settlements. In response, Defense Minister Ehud Barak decided to remove Har Bracha from the pre-army, hesder-yeshiva framework.
After studying in Yerushalayim’s Mercaz Harav yeshiva in the 1970s, Rabbi Levanon joined the group that established the Elon Moreh settlement, and served as its rabbi. In 1996, he established the Birkat Yosef hesder yeshiva. After the pull-out from Gaza, then-IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz recommended that Birkat Yosef be removed from the hesder yeshiva framework, but Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz rejected the idea.
Rabbi Levanon believes that rabbis should lead the religious Zionist movement and should make their views known on important issues; this approach apparently made him decide to quit his current post.
Rabbi Levanon was among those Zionist rabbis who met last week with IDF Rabbi Peretz, and who adamantly oppose his decision to force male soldiers to attend events featuring women singing. Also present was Tzefas rov Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, who has called the IDF decision “stupid.”
Rav Eliezer Melamed from Har Bracha was invited to the gathering but could not attend for personal reasons. Rabbi Melamed recently wrote in a newspaper column that “instead of putting the chief of staff in his place, rabbis have been acting like an ‘amen chorus’ – endorsing the secular position that hurls false accusations at Jews who observe the religious commandments. The trend symbolized by the Chief of Staff’s order is extremely grave: It is in essence demanding that rabbis publicly acknowledge that secular law takes precedence over the Torah.”