Rabbis rule Torah forbids Jews from leaving W. Bank

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TEL AVIV — Israeli rabbinical leaders instructed soldiers Wednesday to resist any attempts to evacuate military bases as part of the Israeli army's impending redeployment in the West Bank.

The ruling was issued by seven rabbis belonging to the Council of Religious Zionist Rabbis, led by former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira.

Israel's political and military leaders, including Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Likud opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, immediately rebuked the rabbis. Rabin accused the rabbis of attempting to turn Israel into a "banana republic."

The rabbis' ruling came in response to questions posed recently by hesder soldiers — soldiers who combine yeshiva studies with military service — as well as by Orthodox soldiers who reside in the territories.

They questioned whether they should obey army orders calling for an evacuation.

The questions surfaced as Israeli and Palestinian officials seemed to move closer toward concluding an agreement for implementing the next phase of Palestinian self-rule.

After meeting for three hours at Shapira's home to discuss the issue, the rabbis presented the students with an unequivocal reply.

The evacuation of Israel Defense Forces bases in the West Bank that would be handed over to non-Jews would contravene Torah law and therefore must be resisted, including by soldiers serving at these bases, they ruled.

Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who heads one of the hesder yeshivas, read the ruling to reporters.

"We determine that there is a Torah ban on evacuating IDF bases and handing them over to gentiles, as it entails the cancellation of a mitzvat aseh [a positive command], and it is also life-endangering and a danger to the existence of the state.

"Therefore, in response to the question, it is clear and simple, that any Jew is forbidden from taking part in any act that will bring about the evacuation of a settlement, a base or a [military] installation.

"As it was decreed by the [12th century commentator Moses Maimonides] Rambam, `Even if the king ordered [one] to disobey the Torah, he should not be listened to.'"

Under the agreement being worked out between Israel and the Palestinians, some IDF bases would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority, while others would serve as bases for IDF units redeploying from Arab population centers in the West Bank.

Wednesday's rabbinic ruling pertained only to those bases that would be handed over to the Palestinian Authority.