Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Disengagement and Soldiers' Refusing to Obey Orders

(See also these posts - I & II)

R. Aharon Lichtenstein has a lengthy essay in Ha'aretz about the disengagement and refusing orders. As usual, his analysis is profound, comprehensive and utterly incomprehensible to most readers due to length and complexity.

He points out the appeal of opposing disengagement, the position's "simplistic acuity." This is, presumably, not a jab at those thinkers who espouse the position but more an explanation of its appeal to many less profound (or non-) thinkers. This does ring true in my ears.

Why must a soldier obey orders? I try here to organize excerpts and outline them to make R. Lichtenstein's position clear.


At one relatively pragmatic level, even someone who thinks that it is his halakhic and civil right and obligation to refuse to obey a certain order, without any fear regarding the transgression of rebellion, must gravely consider the repercussions and effects of taking a stand which, even if justified on the isolated level, could yield destructive results and even bring disaster on the army and/or society... In this context, at least three risks should be noted.

[1.] One, there is a fear of a proliferation of the phenomenon... Everyone has his own principles and reasons, and the more pervasive the phenomenon, the more significance it has in terms of the actual endangering of lives. The army's hands become increasingly tied, its ability to do its job internally and externally eroded, and its status as a deterrent factor affected, with all that implies for national security. Harm at this level may be likened to the loss of a vessel of war, to the destruction of an inventory of tanks or planes.

[2.] However, there is another level, since we are not discussing a purely military or operation aspect, but also the human and social aspect. Unity of the army, bearing the common burden, bringing people closer together and deepening mutual understanding and concern - all of this is an invaluable national asset whose influence extends far beyond the ranks of the army, on all of society... Sectarianism is liable to unravel this fabric and turn constructive contact into a segregating and divisive force.

[3.] Three, there is also an internal price, which the national-religious public is paying. National unity is not only a need of the army or the state; it is a social and spiritual need of the Torah- and mitzvah-observant public itself. The values of unity of the Jewish people and the obligation of mutual responsibility were not brought to the beit midrash (house of Torah study) from foreign fields. They were spawned under the canopy of the Torah. This is the case for the entirety of the Jewish people in its Exile, but as the Maharal (a 16th century religious leader) explains in regard to the Talmud in Sanhedrin 43b, it carries even more weight in the Land of Israel, where the organic existential connection is conspicuous. And as hinted at in the Jerusalem Talmud in Sota 7:5, it is of especial consequence when a Jewish government is sovereign in Israel.


The second level is practical and focused. To what degree, when we disregard the indirect implications, is the refusal to obey orders justified, if at all, and does the requisite justification exist in the case of the disengagement?

As for the outlining of a policy of principle, our moral and halakhic lines are clear. There may, by all means, be circumstances in which refusing to obey orders is not only an option but also an obligation...

[Argument to disobey #1.] Anyone disputing this conclusion can take one of two stands. It may be argued that, as the late Rabbi Goren said when he called for refusing to obey an order - in a different context - that the integrity of the Land of Israel is more important than saving lives...

[Argument to disobey #2.] Alternatively, it could be claimed that the government's predictions should not be taken seriously, either because of a deep belief and certainty that the Guardian of Israel will not rest and will not slumber, or because even an objective and completely secular analysis will lead to the conclusion that it is no more than wishful thinking...

[Response to #1.] As for the first argument, it fits in with a more general landscape of weighing the sanctity of human life against the sanctity of land, and determining the status of people and land, and this is not the place to go into this subject in depth or breadth. I will only note that I will admit without embarrassment that I come from a beit midrash that some of my adversaries consider to be tainted by a Diaspora mentality, that is very sensitive to human life in particular and to the human aspect in general...

[Response to #2.] But the question is not whether it is clear that the objectives will be achieved, but whether it is clear they will not be achieved. The conclusion of the issue of saving a life as it appears in the tractate of Yoma (85b) is that even the uncertain possibility of saving a life overrides Sabbath observance, and this is the practice embraced by every Jewish community... There are no grounds to support statements emanating from certain quarters, which assert that there is no chance for success, or that it is a blatantly unlawful initiative over which a black flag is flying. Clearly, no one can speak of guaranteed success, but it is also clear that predictions of guaranteed failure are erroneous.


In regards to refusal to obey orders related to disengagement, herein lies the critical point. When the root of the argument is more factual than normative, it is inconceivable for every soldier or every officer, as long as he is in uniform and serving the country, to make decisions for himself and usurp - he or his rabbi - the chief of staff, foreign minister, defense minister and prime minister. This does not entail any denial of the status or conscience of the individual; there are certain circumstances and questions of specific principles and values to which they apply. This does not constitute a call to blind obedience in every situation and at every price. What there is here is a sense of limiting its extent, renewing awareness of legitimate authority and encouraging sensitivity to collective responsibility.
(Thanks to Lamed)

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