By Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice-President, National Council Of Young Israel
Dear Fellow Concerned Jews,
We cannot let a yeshiva/shul in Israel be destroyed.
Allow me to explain.
The following appeared on Arutz Sheva News on Sunday, May 9, 2010:
The IDF’s civilian administration issued a demolition order Sunday against the spacious building that houses Od Yosef Chai yeshiva at Yitzhar, in Samaria.
Local residents believe that authorities are purposely punishing the yeshiva because of a confrontation with the IDF that took place on Independence Day, and also because security forces hold the yeshiva’s students responsible for various attacks against Arabs in recent months and years, including the burning of a carpet in a mosque at the nearby village of Yassuf.
“It turns out that the authorities are making special efforts to hurt the yeshiva in an unfair and vindictive way,” a yeshiva spokesman said Sunday. “It should be noted that the building is an ornate permanent structure, with an area of 1,300 square meters, which was built with the aid of the Ministry of Housing and was approved by the various authorities to serve as an educational institution.”
The destruction order, the residents said, cited an 11-year-old work-stoppage order – one that they had never heard of until now. The building took years to build and cost over $1 million.
On the same day, Ynetnews.com published a similar story:
The civil administration has announced the reinstatement of a razing order, which had originally been issued in 1999, against the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva in the settlement of Yitzhar, near Nablus.
I could not believe what I was reading. In Israel, Jews were going to destroy a yeshiva/shul building?!
I started to research the situation. It seemed obvious that the Israeli government was using the pretext of an 11-year-old building violation to punish the yeshiva and its students who seemingly have become a nuisance to the government.
But to destroy – in Israel – a yeshiva, a Torah center, a place of tefillah and Torah study? Punish the individuals, I thought, but destroy a yeshiva?
Besides the chillul Hashem, severe in its own right, what will we tell the Europeans the next time they want to destroy an old shul, for whatever reasons they may have? Does the Israeli government destroy a public school in Tel Aviv when its students are involved, chas veshalom, in murder? We respect the building; deal with the students.
I had planned to be in Israel that week, so upon my arrival, I tracked down the rosh yeshiva of the Od Yosef Chai yeshiva, which has been in Yitzhar for almost 10 years, since its original home, Kever Yosef in Shechem, was abandoned by the Israeli Army and destroyed by the Arabs. Rabbi Yitzchok Shapira, the rosh yeshiva, told me that it was true. They received a demolition order, based on a violation of 11 years earlier, a violation they knew nothing about. Rabbi Shapira invited me to visit the yeshiva. He offered to have someone pick me up and I accepted the offer. The next afternoon, I was picked up by Rabbi Dan Marans, whom I personally know in his capacity as director of the Zomet Institute in Alon Shvut. We drove through the Shomron to the community of Yitzhar, on a strategic mountaintop, overlooking Har Gerizim, way off the main road.
The yeshiva building, a beautiful multi-floored structure, stood away from the community, in its own space. The building was built entirely by Jewish workers, many of whom were former yeshiva students. The main study hall was large, the library was in the back, the lunchroom was on the lower level, and the yeshiva offices and classrooms were on the upper level.
I met with Rabbi Shapira and the yeshiva director, Itamar Pozen. They shared with me the tzav harisa, destruction order, a package of documents proving their legal status and the fact that numerous departments in the Israeli government participated in the building of the yeshiva. “How can we be illegal,” they asked, “if the government put in the infrastructure, if the government authorized the mortgage, etc.?”
We discussed their speculations as to why the government, 11 years after they claimed there was a building violation, was threatening to destroy the yeshiva building.
“The IDF claims we are harassing their soldiers,” they said. “The IDF claims we are fighting with the Arabs – and this is how they are punishing us.”
Rabbi Shapira explained to me why the IDF is incorrect and why they are blaming them for things they did not do.
My reply? I said that I cannot voice an opinion on the yeshiva-IDF issue, but in my opinion, that does not justify destroying a yeshiva building. The government and army need to deal with the students. Jews do not destroy yeshiva or shul buildings, period.
If a European country threatened to destroy a shul under the pretext of a building code violation, we would all be demanding that the order be cancelled, and the “we” would be the Orthodox and non-Orthodox world Jewish community. I dare say that if this building would belong to a non-Orthodox Jewish group, the protests would be loud and numerous.
I noticed at the yeshiva plaques of two individuals who made large contributions to assist in the building of the yeshiva. I contacted both families and they both told me that they had seen official documents verifying that the yeshiva had governmental permission to build, and only then had they donated their sponsoring funds. I spoke to numerous roshei yeshiva and community rabbis in Israel, and they all agreed that Jews do not and cannot destroy yeshivos or shuls. I spoke to various Israeli government officials, who could not understand how such an order could be given.
Dear friends, the yeshiva administration, the regional councils and others are challenging this destructive order. Individuals within the government are asking questions, but we must do what we can do. We must put pressure upon Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to forcefully and publically rescind this order. We cannot sit back and allow a yeshiva, a beautiful building of Torah and tefillah, to be destroyed.
Each of us must send daily emails and daily faxes, and make daily phone calls, to the Prime Minister of Israel protesting this action. We need to send a letter to the Israeli Embassy in Washington, DC, and to the Israeli Consulate in New York.
We must demand of our community organizations and each other to speak out. We cannot allow this chillul Hashem to take place. Please send an email, send a fax, or make a call now. Tell the Prime Minister to protect the yeshiva building in Yitzhar. It must not be destroyed.
And in the merit of our speaking out and caring, may we merit shalom al Yisroel, peace in Israel.
Contact the Prime Minister of Israel at:
011.972.2.670.5532 ATT: Tzvi Hauser, Cabinet Secretary of the Israeli government
Fax (send to all three):
011.972.2.563.2580 ATT: Tzvi Hauser, Cabinet Secretary of the Israeli government
Email (send to all three):
Memshala@pmo.gov.il ATT: Tzvi Hauser, Cabinet Secretary of the Israeli government
For the contact information of the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC, or a consulate office nearest to you, please see http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/sherut/israeliabroad/continents/north+america/united+states/