Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

A New Week Brings New Threats

If the proposal being worked on now by the Israeli government is approved, visitors to the Kosel, the holiest site in the world, may soon be shocked. At the location of the wall which is currently surrounded by an archeological park, a plaza will be constructed to accommodate those to who do not respect halacha and mesorah. According to a proposal being formulated, the southern section of the Kosel, which is as much a supporting wall of Har Habayis as the present Kosel plaza, mixed prayer groups will be welcome and women will be pray with tallis and tefillin without hindrance.

Prime Minster Netanyahu appointed Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky in April to come up with a plan to relieve the tension at the kosel caused by the Women of the Wall. He was quoted in Ha’aretz saying that he was poised to reveal its details within days. Once the plan is accepted, he said, there are certain aspects of it that “the government can decide on in one day.”


First, he said, the government can immediately wrest exclusive control of prayer from the Orthodox-run Western Wall Heritage Foundation and leave that foundation in charge only of the existing Kosel plaza. Second, even before the southern area is renovated and enlarged, it can immediately be opened round the clock for everyone interested in praying there. Presently, it is only open for a few hours a day for people interested in the archeological relics there. He said that a platform raising the level of the new plaza to that of the existing Kosel plaza to create a sense of continuity can be built almost immediately.


Although very small in numbers, the women of provocative Women of the Wall group has powerful overseas reform and conservative support to give clout to their demands.


When Rav Chaim Kanievsky first heard of the plan he proclaimed, “The Kosel is the holiest place the Jewish people have! Chalila vechas to desecrate its sanctity.”


“It is forbidden to make any change,” he said. “We must take action at every level to leave the present situation exactly as it is.”


But will the chareidi world rise in fury against the plan? Sharansky first announced his plan in April at a New York meeting attended by heads of the Reform and Conservative movements and other Jewish groups. Lauded by secular American Jewish leaders, the plan soon became unpopular with the Women of the Wall after a Yerushalayim district court ruled that they could legally pray at the Kosel plaza itself with tallis and tefillin. Why should they settle for Sharansky’s plan, they figured,when they could get access to the Kosel plaza? Their next step, they say, would be to fight for the obliteration of its mechitzah.


“It’s completely not relevant for us,” Women of the Wall leader Anat Hoffman said of the Sharansky plan. “Our victory in court means that our place is safe.”


Furthermore, Sharansky’s plan is uncertain. It needs to overcome potential Jordanian opposition to changes at the controversial Kosel areaandresistance from Israeli archeologists, in addition to bearing a price tag of millions of shekels.


Despite Women of the Wall’s reluctance to accept the plan, Sharansky forged ahead after chareidi rabbonim and politicians assured a Knesset committee that they would under no circumstances tolerate the slightest change in the status quo of the Kosel plaza, which has functioned al pi halachah ever since it was freed from Jordan in 1967. Rightly or wrongly, Sharansky understood that there will be less opposition if he leaves the present Kosel plaza alone and develops a brand new area for irreligious Jews.


Who will fight to protect the kedushah of every one of the Kosel’s holy stones? Who will save the southern reaches of the Kosel from Sharansky’s plot?


The rov of the Kosel, Rav Shlomo Rabinowitz, expressed fierce opposition to the plan and agreed that the southern part of the Kosel is a makom kadosh.


Speaking of what would happen ifthe government approves the Sharansky plan, he said: “I don’t know. We will have to fight. The question is to what extent we will fight. If someone davens in contravention to halachah in America, does anyone in Brooklyn agree with it? No. But since someone is doing something in [a distant place in] America, one doesn’t act upon it. That’s the question here. Whether to act or not.”


If the government goes ahead with the plan, will people fight against it?


“I don’t know. I don’t want to decide anything [right now]. Meanwhile, we are working quietly and intelligently so that chalilah there should not be machlokes at the Kosel. That is our job.”


What solution would you suggest?


“We try to explain to everyone that this matter will lead to machlokes, and that the machlokes could lead to bloodshed and embarrassment to Klal Yisroel and the Kosel. This is what we tell everyone. I hope that the solution will be when people understand that at the Kosel, everyone has to keep the longtime minhagim and messores.


Uri Maklev of UTJ said that while the Sharansky plan was certainly unacceptable, it was uncertain whether anyone would wage war over it.


“We cannot agree to the Robinson Arch,” Maklev said referring to the spot where the egalitarian prayer area would be constructed. “As chareidi Jews we cannot agree to any compromise in this matter. But if they put [the Women of the Wall] at the Robinson Arch and not at the Kosel plaza, then, as you might say, it would be agreement through silence. They’ve already prayed there for a long time. It’s true that we don’t agree and it’s true that we don’t agree to what they want to do over there, but if it continues it will continue. What can I tell you? But we won’t give our consent.”


Yerushalayim Councilman Yosef Deutch of UTJ said much the same.


“I am against any arrangement with [Women of the Wall],” he said. “They are a tiny group with no right to receive any privilege or place [at the Kosel]. They have no right to get the southern part of the wall or any other holy place.”


What do you intend to do if the government acts on Sharansky’s idea?


“We intend to oppose it and do whatever we can. We will make it clear that we are against it. What can we do? We are in golus. We can pray that they don’t give it to them. At the same time, there is no ethical justification for it.”


Councilman Yitzchok Pindrus of UTJ said he would cross the bridge when he came to it.


“We would have to ask the rabbonim,” he said. “But it has nothing to do with where they daven today disturbing the kedushah of the Kosel. That’s another sha’alah. As long as they don’t come into the Kosel. Right now the rabbonim didn’t give us an order to do anything against davening outside the Kosel Maaravi.


But in fact, the whole Western Wall is actually the Kosel of Har Habayis.


“We are talking about a place that has the kedushah of a bais haknesses and is officially a shul for years. They are not going to be let in to daven at any place like that. If they go daven in merkaz Davidson [as the archeological area is known] that’s their problem.”


Even though that’s the original wall of Har Habayis?


Beseder, we’ll have to ask the rabbonim what to do. Right now, the order is to keep them out the Kosel. 


The gedolim haven’t told you anything yet.


“We don’t go by ifs and what ifs. We go to the gedolei Yisroel each time, we tell them where [the situation’s] holding, and ask what they think should be done.”


So in two weeks time when you hear something you can go further.




Except for a single report two weeks ago, Sharansky and everyone involved with the Kosel’s future have kept mum.  




Despite their provocative prayer meetings at the Kosel every Rosh Chodesh, the Women of the Wall have never arranged prayermeetings during Tishrei for the past 25 years, probably due to the huge crowds present on Rosh Hashanah and the difficulty of rounding up a crowd of supporters on the holy day. This year, however, the organization intends to compensate for the lack of Tishrei prayers by having a special Selichos session at 10:00 p.m. next Sunday night.


The organization emphasized that only a small number of women will attend and that the event was not intended to raise media provocation. Members and sympathizers were briefly informed: “We will pray, we will say piyutim, and we will open our hearts as is customary in all Jewish communities.”


“Our core group has grown in recent months from about 50 participants to 200,” said the organization’s director for public relations. “The women love being involved and meeting at the Kosel, so they’ve asked to start meeting more.”


Coming at night without tallis and tefillin, the women of the wall will be invisible among the tens-of-thousands at the Kosel for Selichos. Indeed, Chareidi activists said that there will be no reason to protest against this particular service.


“There is no particular reason for this,” said one of them. “Our objective is to fight for the Jewish character of the Kosel. When women come with tallis and tefillin, this is a deviance from Jewish tradition and we fight against it. If the women intend coming to say Selichos with no provocations, it would be superfluous for us to react.”




During the excavation of the Kosel tunnels that run from the Kosel plaza to the Har Habayis’s north-west corner, workers discovered a small room built to fortify Arab houses situated above the tunnel at the exact location which faces the Kodesh Hakodoshim. This room became a place of tefillah and candle lighting, and many people come there to place their kvitlach into cracks in the wall at this place.


Now, thanks to the generosity of the Kochav family of Mexico, the room has been developed into a beautiful shul with a new sefer Torah. The inauguration of the refurbished shul was celebrated by an emotional ceremony and hachnossas sefer Torah attended by the rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz, former Sefardi Chief Rabbi Bakshi Doron, Chief Rabbi of Mexico Rav Shlomo Tawil, the donor, and his family. The ner tomid of the tiny shul was lit, as was a six branched menorah placed there in remembrance of the six million kedoshim of the Holocaust.  




After talking about cutting yeshiva funding for months, the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government struck and left yeshivos and kollels reeling. Chareidi politicians are trying to stop the bleeding and are urging Habayit Hayehudi to leave the government. Even without this latest cash drain, many Torah institutions are already months behind in paying avreichim’s tiny salaries.


The latest cut was unprecedentedly steep. Avreichim who received 980 shekels from the Ministry of Religions last year, and 720 shekels in June, only got only 279 shekels for July. Yeshivos that received 500 shekels per bochur and only 400 shekels per bochur in June, received only 155 shekels for the month of July. Chareidi headlines screamed against the cruel injustice.


“This is the harshest and most painful cut the yeshiva world has had in years,” said MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ. “Nothing so harsh and draconian has happened to Torah institutions in years.”


Uri Maklev of UTJ said the cut proved that Habayit Hayehudi’s promises to help the yeshiva world were worthless.


“This isn’t a cut in funding but an end to yeshiva funding,” he said. “We constantly warned that this was [the government’s] purpose and now, unfortunately, it has happened amazingly quickly. This is yet another powerful proof that the leaders of Habayit Hayehudi are hypocrites when they speak of strengthening yeshivos. It’s all nonsense. There’s nothing truthful in what they say. The purpose of this funding cut is to cut off the Torah and yeshivos, root and branch.


But the situation is not hopeless. The sums may increase if the Finance Ministry keeps the promises it made to Habayit Hayehudi for Zionist yeshivos, which apply to chareidi yeshivos as well. In an interview, Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi promised that some of the funds gained by Habayit Hayehudi by these means will be transferred to chareidi yeshivos as well. When she told Moshe Gafni about this, he ironically responded, “The moment the money arrives, I’ll say thank-you to the politicians of Habayit Hayehudi.”


Sources close to Rav Meir Porush also said that efforts were being made behind the scenes to annul the drastic cuts, and the Education Ministry agreed that the final amount given to kollelim and yeshivos will be dependent on coalition agreements.


Oblivious to such arguments, MK Yisroel Eichler of UTJ called upon Habayit Hayehudi to leave the coalition.


“The people of Habayit Hayehudi went around with a promise the treasury made to give 130 million shekels to yeshivos in addition to the regular budget,” he said. “This gave them a miserable excuse to support the cruel budget that hurt their own children. The moment the promise was broken, the people of Habayit Hayehudi became ragsin Netanyahu and Lapid’s hands. For this was on top of the freeing of a hundred murderers with blood on their hands and advancing peace talks that threaten to establish a Palestinian state on the ruins of their homes. “


“I call upon you, bring down the wicked government before the day of judgment or even the secular politicians will regard you as petrol-soaked rags,” Eichler continued. “They are using you like disposable wipes. Today they use you like petrol-soaked rags to burn the Torah institutions. Tomorrow, your ‘brothers’ will throw you out your homes in the settlements.”


Even without the latest drop in funding, many Torah institutions are struggling to survive. Mir Yeshiva, which has over 4000 avreichim and bochurim, hasn’t paid its avreichim for about six months and has closed down one of its three dining rooms. Mir has already taken the unprecedented step of asking bochurim to pay monthly tuition. Two large kollel networks, Ateres Shlomo and Yissochor Be’ohalecha, have been unable to pay their avreichim for a long while, while Ponevezh’s kollel network is only managing to pay its 1,300 avreichim by selling or renting out part of its real estate.




Two weeks ago, a border policewoman was blocked from the dining room at a chareidi base of the Nachal Infantry Brigade at Mevo Dotan in the West Bank in accordance with a claim posted on an IDF website that “the Netzach Yehuda Battalion keeps Shabbos strictly, the food served is kosher lamehadrin, and servicemen in the battalion are completely segregated [from women].” A similar thing same happened some weeks before when a female officer tasked with checking a chareidi base’s kitchen was barred entry. On both occasions, army officials said that gender separation at chareidi bases did not extend to forbidding women from entering.


Now, in a sharp letter sent to Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and to Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat said that complete gender separation in the IDF contravenes a law she authored herself.


“Such a prohibition contradicts army protocol and the agreements made in respect to the expected chareidi army draft, which were reached at the Perry Committee. As a member of the ministerial committee appointed to create the shivyon banetel law, I demanded that a clause be added stating explicitly that the service of talmidei yeshivos in the armed forces should not impinge the honor, status, or integration of women in the armed forces.”


“Now, in complete defiance of the law,” Livnat continued, “the Nachal Hachareididivision forbids the entry of women soldiers, blatantly breaking the law protecting their honor, status, and integration into the IDF. This applies even more when fighting women are concerned. It is inconceivable that army bases forbid the entry of female soldiers. I turn to you with a demand to reinforce army protocol in general and that of Nachal Hachareidi divisions in particular, to certify the uprooting of such phenomena. We must take action to ensure that such cases do not recur before the mass draft of chareidim into the IDF begins.”


Livnat needs to decide whether she wants a feminist army or an army that is agreeable to chareidim. She can’t have both.




A large part of the debate whether bochurim should be drafted centers on what the Torah actually demands from them. Religious Zionists have long argued that Israel is in a state of milchemes mitzvah, which demands that every bochur and avreich must close his gemara until Israel’s enemies are driven from the land. Someone has taken up the challenge and defeated the religious Zionists at their own game.


Besides being a politician, former Shas minister Rav Shlomo Benizri is also a prolific writer who has authored a number of seforim. Recently, he wrote a pamphlet titled Toraso Umnaso, which traced the history of the yeshiva draft since the founding of Israel. Another pamphlet titled Milchemes Mitzvah takes up the halachic aspect of the argument and proves that bnei yeshiva are exempt from the draft al pi halachah. Among other things, he attacks the religious Zionist concept that Israel’s wars are considered milchemes mitzvah, which even Torah learners are required to participate in.


“Nowadays, there is no law of milchemes mitzvah because we have no urim vetumim, no Beis Hamikdash, no king, and no Sanhedrin,” Benizri argues. “All this prevents classifying modern wars as milchamos mitzvah. Even if these conditions were not vital, bnei yeshivos would still be exempt. For when Chazal say [that during a milchemes mitzvah we take out even] ‘a bridegroom from his chamber and a bride from her chupah,’ this is only when all of Yisroel goes out to war, whereas if only a small percentage go out to war, bnei yeshivos are certainly exempt. In addition, the Rambam compares bnei yeshivos to bnei Levi whom the Torah exempts even from milchemes mitzvah.


Benizri proves that Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, his talmid, Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlap, and other religious Zionist rabbonim, agreed that bnei yeshiva are exempt even during a milchemes mitzvah. Finally, he challenges religious-Zionists to study his pamphlet and respond to his questions.  




Lately, there have been more reasons for Habayit Hayehudi to leave its partnership with Lapid than ever. The peace talks tear at the very fabric of Habayit Hayehudi’s existence, the economic edicts threaten to bankrupt its yeshivos, and the mere association with Lapid is no longer anything to be proud of.


Fearful of progress in the peace talks, former religious-Zionist MK Yaakov Katz (Katzele) urged Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett to break his partnership with Lapid and move over to the chareidi side. Surprisingly, at the same time, a prominent Habayit Hayehudi MK said that her party would have no objections to the chareidim joining the coalition and that the Lapid-Bennett agreement to lock them out only applied to when the government was still being formed.


“Again, I warn that according to the interim agreement planned by Bibi-Livni- Kerry-Abu Mazen, the first stage will involve uprooting the settlements of Har Berachah, Einav, Shavei Shomron, Alon Moreh, Yitzhar, and Ittamar,” Katz wrote to Bennett and his party. “Bennett was mistaken when he thought that Livni’s negotiations would lead to nothing. From the lessons of the past we must learn that it is impossible to sit in a government and wait until it becomes too late.”


MK Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi did not seem opposed to the idea of chareidim joining the government, saying in an interview that “if the prime minister wanted to include the chareidim in the government now, it would not be a problem.” She explained that the Lapid-Bennett agreement was only meant “for the setting up of the government” and that it no longer exists.


Meanwhile, Rav Ovadiah Yosef met with Deputy Minister of Religious Services Rav Eli Ben Dahan of Habayit Hayehudi, in a friendly overture.




Historically, Litvishe factions of the UTJ supported the peace process with Palestinians and Arab countries when they felt practical benefits could result. During the past few years, they have done little to support the peace process because it posed more risks than benefits. Speaking of the peace talks convened this week in particular, Moshe Gafni of UTJ said they would hit a dead end not only because of Arab obduracy, but because the Israeli government simply doesn’t deserve peace.


“It’s no secret that we have supported the promotion of a political solution for many years while maintaining that care is needed in addition to close analysis of every detail discussed,” he said. “It is well known that Rav Shach said it is forbidden to antagonize the nations and that one should do everything to achieve genuine peace.


“However, I am sorry to say that nothing this government does will succeed. Nothing good can result from an evil government. It is clear to me that there will be no siyay’ta diShmaya. The moment they attacked Torah, they forfeited their moral right to this land and they will not succeed.”




Despite Tel Aviv’s secular image, it is also home to many religious Jews who framed municipal laws limiting commercial activity on Shabbos. Two months ago, Israel’s High Court ruled that within 60 days Tel Aviv must shut down a large number of its businesses that were contravening the city’s laws by remaining open on Shabbos, or alter the city’s bylaws so that they could remain open. Because coalition agreements prevented the city from allowing blatant chilul Shabbos, the city decided to wait out the 60 days, which finish this Friday. Now, the Tel Aviv municipality plans to tell the high court that businesses should remain open even after the deadline as the city council has already disbanded in preparation for the next elections and is incapable of passing the requisite bylaws.


“After the court ruling, from that moment we officially announced that the city council would stop taking action against shops that opened on Shabbos… until another decision was reached,” said deputy mayor Assaf Zamir. “Businesses open until today on Shabbos in the town center will continue to remain open.”


Shabbos observers as well as shopkeepers who don’t want to work a seven day week are complaining bitterly. They say that the city wants to wait until after the elections by when there will “hopefully” be a coalition sympathetic to the idea of seven day shopping.


The municipality said that its legal advisor is drafting a letter to the court in the spirit of Mayor Ron Chuldai’s approach that Tel Aviv should remain forever chofshi (irreligious).




Yemenites have immigrated to Eretz Yisroel for hundreds of years. The process exploded after the United Nations proposed a partition of Palestine sparking the murder of 82 Jews and the burning and looting of over 200 Jewish homes. Since then, most Jews have left. 151 Yemini Jews arrived in Israel since 2009 including 45 who came this year.


The latest arrivals are a group of 17 Yemenite Jews spirited to Israel in a covert operation. Two sets of parents who came straight from Yemen accompanied by a baby had an emotional reunion with twelve children and family members who arrived from Argentina at the same time. The Argentina group was taken there from Yemen among a group of 30 Jews by Satmar activists two years ago. It goes without saying that the Yemenite newcomers were scrupulously religious, the men and boys sported long peyos in yeshivishe suits and the women were wearing down-to-the-floor black robes. 


The operation was sparked by rising threats of Islamists and al-Qaida activists. Anti-Semitism in Yemen spiked in 2010 with the murder of the melamed Moshe Nahari, and reached another peak in 2010 with the murder of community leader Aharon Sindani. Since the ouster of Yemini president Ali Abdullah Selah in 2012, things got worse and immigration to Israel accelerated. About 100 Jews remain in Yemen, half live in a protected structure in the capital city of Sanaa and the rest live in Rida, capital of Yemen’s Omran province.


Amnesty International has urged the Yemini government to protect its Jews, writing that is “deeply concerned for the safety of members of the Jewish community in northwestern Yemen following the killing of one member of the community and anonymous serious threats to others to leave Yemen or face death.”




Religious Jews in Yerushalayim have always yearned for the good old days when Uri Lupolianski served as Yerushalayim’s first chareidi mayor from 2003-2008. Although Lupolianski still remains mum on the subject, his associates say he told them he is likely to announce his candidacy after Rosh Hashanah. If that happens, incumbent mayor Nir Barkat will be seriously challenged and Nir’s only other contender so far, Moshe Lion, probably won’t stand a chance.


During his term as mayor and before it, Lupolianski was popular not only among the religious Jews but also among secular Jews who called him the “prettier face” of the chareidim. Before becoming mayor, he was already renowned for his huge medical chesed organization Yad Sarah.


Lupolianski’s associates say he has a good chance to win as chareidim can provide him with 90,000 of the 120,000 votes needed to get in.


“To win the election you need a total of 120,000 votes,” an associate said. “In addition, the national-religious camp has approached him countless times, because it knows that he would help their cause and may in fact be the only mayor who could appoint a national-religious rabbi as chief rabbi of the city. There are also many secular people who are aware of his volunteer work and his history. These people are fond of him and would vote for him.”


Until now, it seemed that Mayor Barkat would easily win. Even though he defeated chareidi candidate, Meir Porush last time around after a bitter campaign, Barkat received good marks overall for the way he governed. He argues that in the last five years he invested 87 million shekels in religious buildings compared to 47 million during the previous government, and added 500 chareidi classrooms compared to only a few dozen in the previous government. With his live and let live policy, he is puzzled why chareidim want to change him for anyone else.


“Even if no chareidi supports me, you will not hear a word against chareidim from me,” he said.


So far, Barkat’s only contender is Torah observant Moshe Lion who is publicly supported by Aryeh Deri of Shas and Avigdor Lieberman of Yisroel Beiteinu. Lion claims that while Barkat maintains a nice storefront in Yerushalayim, the city is neglected.


“During Barkat’s candidacy there was a drop in matriculations,” he says. “The streets are neglected, the highways are unrepaired, and living accommodations have become an option only for wealthy people from overseas… These are inconveniences making life hard for every Yerushalayim resident regardless of which sector he belongs to.”


Theoretically, as there are are an estimated 95,000 chareidi voters, all Lion has to do is grab 15-20 thousand votes from the 116,000 people who voted for Barkat last time round. But this won’t happen according to a recent poll, which indicated that Barkat will win by a landslide in all sectors; secular, religious, and traditional.


Furthermore, in a disastrous development for Lion, the religious Zionists who opposed Barkat in the last elections have pledged to support him this time round. Dozens of prominent religious Zionist rabbonim, academics and public figureshave publicly endorsed the secular Barkat for a second term, turning their backs on Lion despite his Torah observance.


Rav Shlomo Aviner, who endorsed Barkat, explained that the current mayor “has cared for the welfare of the city’s various communities without bias, and has bravely fought corruption.”


Lion’s supporters counter that, “There are dozens of national-religious rabbis who support Moshe Lion and believe that a yarmulkah-wearing candidate is the right man to head the city of Yerushalayim.”




As one of Eretz Yisroel’s major chareidi cities, the Yerushalayim municipality has always been heavily influenced by its chareidi members and constituency. Gearing up for Yerushalayim’s municipal elections, the secular Labor and Meretz parties have determined to throw off the chareidi yoke under the slogan, “Together, we will stop the chareidization.” Announcements hung throughout the city proclaimed, “The United Secular Camp – we must stop the chareidization of the neighborhoods. For this reason we have united into one large force.”


In reaction to the inflaming and discriminatory slogans, the Organization for the Struggle against Incitement (which is comprised of three smaller organizations) complained about the Labor-Meretz campaign to Labor general secretary MK Yechiel Chilik Bar and demanded that they be discontinued.

“We are upset that the Labor party, which fights to advance peace with Arabs, doesn’t first advance the cause of peace among Jews,” they complained. “We are bothered that a party which would sharply criticize another party for using a slogan such as “Stop Arab Takeover,” uses a similar slogan against Jews. We are bothered that a party that flies the flag of social progress advances the increase of disunity among Jews.”


While admitting that the slogan was unsuitable, Bar claimed that the Meretz party was responsible for running the campaign. He said that he would pass on his opinion about the campaign to the relevant quarters.


One focus of the Labor-Meretz struggle is Kiryat Yovel, a Yerushalayim neighborhood that is predominantly secular but with a growing chareidi presence. For years, local residents have squabbled over the two acre Warburg lot in the neighborhood. Chareidim want to build a cheder on the lot, while non-religious residents want it utilize it for a secular school. Labor and Meretz politicians joined secular residents at the lot for a barbeque celebrating the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the High Holiday season.


“The location for tonight’s barbecue is not a coincidence,” said Uriel Russ, spokesperson for the Municipality’s Labor Party. “Right now in the municipality there’s a fight about what’s going on here. Labor and Meretz have joined together to support the secular part of this neighborhood.”


Ehud Bandal, former president of the Conservative Movement in Israel, said that the barbeque symbolized a counterbalance against the two mayoral candidates whom he claimed are “competing over who will give more to the chareidim.”


“It’s very important for the City Council to have a major bloc that will stand against this process of the chareidim taking more control of funds and land — to make sure this sight remains aligned with the nature of this neighborhood,” he said. “We are not against the chareidim. They are part of this city and deserve their rights, but we hope to make sure the open and pluralistic nature of this neighborhood remains unchanged.”




During Israel’s last municipal elections, Rav Aharon Leib Steinman encouraged Bnei Brak not to have elections at all in order to save the town from the hatred and rechilus that generally accompany political squabbles. Instead, the parties divided up the various municipal offices through internal negotiations. This year, however, the Likud party insisted on running and insists on having a democratic election. In the last election they received a grand total of 3,027 votes from all the residents of Bnei Brak.


“Despite the efforts of various parties, there will be elections in Bnei Brak,” said Yaakov Wieder, head of the chareidi division of the Likud. “I don’t know who will be running, but there will be elections.”




As usual, Yair Lapid is trying to cover up his political floundering by highlighting his edicts against the chareidim. On the one hand, he apologized for his cavalier approach to his electorate when he called the dissatisfied among them “nervous schnauzers left out in the rain.” He admitted that this was a big mistake.


“It’s obvious that I will need to be more careful what I write,” he said. “I am aware of the damage I caused through some of my recent expressions on Facebook and I intend to learn from my mistakes.


But on August 20, he celebrated when the impending child benefits cuts kicked in. Since then, parents receive only 140 shekels monthly for children born after June 1, 2003. This can mean a monthly loss of between 400 to 1,200 shekels for families with many children, which include huge numbers of chareidim. Lapid declared that even though he presented the measure as part of the means of bringing Israel’s deficit under control, in reality, this was his party’s ideal all along ­­— to get people hungry enough to go out and work.


“This is a historic process of moving from a benefits culture to a work culture,” he wrote. “We will of course help every needy family, and we’ve allocated hundreds of millions of shekels to guaranteeing food for children. There’s only one thing that helps families escape the cycle of poverty, and that’s work. In families where both parents work, poverty drops sharply to under five percent. That’s what parental responsibility means, and that’s what social responsibility means. We’ll do everything to help those who want to work — from work placement programs to financial incentives for low-salary workers — but there is one principle we do not plan to give up on: the Israeli middle class is not supposed to be funding people who could work, but are not working.”
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich slammed Lapid, saying that the government was doing the exact opposite of what was needed.


“There are 870 poor children in Israel, a record by Western standards,” she said. “The child benefits are the lowest in the West. Instead of making reduction of child poverty a major objective, the well fed Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government is doing the exact opposite and choosing an easy victim — children.”


“Once again, Lapid is utilizing and exaggerating the mistaken, inciting notion that chareidim and Arabs are the only ones harmed by the cut,” she continued. “In fact, 65% of poor families are working families, and the average family will lose 2,000 shekels annually because of this edict. This economical and national mistake was implemented with calculated wickedness and total disregard of people’s normal lives.”  


Moshe Gafni of UTJ also blasted Lapid, saying that the sharp reduction in child benefits would hurt hundreds of thousands of children in every sector of Israeli society.


“This is a cruel, evil procedure,” he said. “We are dealing with a government unequaled in evil for a long time. The way it starves children under the guise of ideology is reminiscent of Sedom and Amorah.  


Deri attacked coalition ministers, saying he knew that some of them opposed these cruel policies, yet for some reason were afraid to open their mouths.


Shas MK David Azulai sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu begging him as a Jew, to at least delay the cut in child benefits until after the yomim tovim. Four chareidi families sued the Knesset in the High Court, claiming that the Knesset’s anti-child edict was made hastily and with inadequate consideration of its dire consequences.




As Israel’s population groans beneath the government’s economic edicts, affirmed that their misery contributed to Israel’s credit rating retaining the A1 rating it upgraded to in 2008. Moody’s said that this was thanks to Israel’s overall fiscal health as well as its reduction in spending and austerity measures. Israel weathered the global financial crisis and stands to advance even further because of its new gas fields. Israel had also striven to reduce its debt and revise the government deficit, in addition to greater integration of chareidi men and Arab women into the workplace.


“The effort is registering success, and is expected to make further progress as military exemptions and social welfare grants are scaled back under the coalition government that took office in March 2013,” Moody’s wrote. “The country’s high-tech niche and entrepreneurial culture have continued to underpin its latent dynamism and attract sizeable FDI [foreign direct investment] inflows.”




A spirit of friendship and cooperation prevailed at the swearing in of Israel’s new chief rabbis, Rav Dovid Lau and Rav Yitzchok Yosef at the residence of President Shimon Peres. Every speaker begged the new chief rabbis to advance a brotherly spirit in the rabbinate, and the chief rabbis promised they would do their best. Attending dignitaries included Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Deputy Religious Services Minister Eli Ben-Dahan. Donning a large black yarmulkah in honor of the occasion, Peres called upon the new incumbents to bridge the gulf in Israeli society.


 “The nation of Israel needs you, perhaps more than ever,” he told them. “The nation thirsts for the kind face of Jewish tradition. The people of Israel raise their eyes to you, to be reminded of what lies within them, in their past and future. The nation prays for a respected, esteemed Rabbinate that will bring back the spirit of greatness, and eternal values, to daily life. Know how to bring people closer, how to respect differences, and how to hold the Ten Commandments up high. You have the great privilege of bringing together brothers who are religious and irreligious, of bringing down barriers of suspicion and division.” 


Sefardi Chief Rabbi Yitzchok Yosef recalled attending his father’s inauguration at the president’s residence 40 years earlier. He said that at that time his father had urged that cases of geirus and divorce be dealt with swiftly and with a minimum of bureaucratic tangle, and said he was determined to follow his father’s path.


“As president of the Beis Din Hagadol, I intend to insist on a fulfillment of the mitzvah of, You shall love the convert,” he said. “At the same time, we cannot forget that beis din is an authority whose pesak must be acceptable to all.”


Rav Dovid Lau spoke in similar vein, saying, “We have been asked to have consideration for every Jews and strive for their welfare, passing the tradition onwards and illuminating the Torah for Klal Yisroel. I will turn every stone in the Jewish bookshelf to find the way to do this.”


Tzipi Livni urged the chief rabbis to turn Judaism into a unifying force for the people.


Ben-Dahan, who served for 21 years as director general of the Rabbinical batei din and spent many years fighting to help agunos get divorces from recalcitrant husbands, urged the chief rabbis to introduce a system where women are granted divorces as soon as possible when the beis din decrees that husbands should give a get.  


“The eyes of all other rabbis in Israel are upon you, and you must be the paradigm,” he said.


In his first attempt to streamline the Beis Din Hagadol, Rav Yitzchok Yosef appointed three new dayonim this week on a temporary basis. The Committee for the Appointment of Dayonim is expected to soon begin the process of appointing 14 new dayonim for the Great Bais Din and regional batei dinim.


Rav Yitzchok Yosef will be officially installed as Sefardi Chief Rabbi and don his gold embroidered robe of office in the Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai shul of the Old City on the 12th of Tishrei. For Rav Ovadiah Yosef it will be a double simchah. Besides officiating over the ceremony, he will also be celebrating his 93rd birthday ad meah v’esrim.




Israeli Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi’s appointment of Leah Biton to the position of co-supervisor of the local religious council in Acre was a rare occurrence. During the whole history of religious councils, a woman was chosen for the position of supervisor only once and the term of service only lasted nine months.


MK Moshe Gafni slammed Bennett over the appointment, claiming that he only did it to make an impression.


“Bennett is a batlan who tries the whole time to prove that he’s not religious and is not interested in the tradition that exists in this regard,” he said. “He hasn’t been successful but he’s trying hard to prove that he’s secular and doesn’t care about the tradition that’s been here for years. He’s not succeeding in anything he’s doing. He is looking for all kinds of headlines to get all kinds of applause like from the Chiddush organization, which proves who exactly his friends are.”


Bennett’s self-aggrandizement was also exposed from another angle.


Recently exposed documents suggest that Lapid is also trying to improve the image of his Yesh Atid party at government expense. According to Israel Hayom, the Welfare Ministry headed by Minister Meir Cohen of Yesh Atid paid the Yedioth Ahronot daily 250,000 shekels to publicize a ministry project aiming at urging the public to host Holocaust survivors over the chagim. Half the funding came from the Lapid’s Finance Ministry.


The documents indicate that much of the publicity campaign is to be printed in the form of news stories, enabling the ministries to hide self-aggrandizement beneath the guise of objective news reports. In response the accusations, Yedioth Acharonot said that “the newspaper’s desk is not involved in the marketing department’s business deals,” and Lapid’s ministry denied having any involvement in the matter.



The Education Ministry’s Scheme to Get Chadorim to Join Their New “Chareidi” School System


The Israeli Education Ministry held its first meeting with ten principals of chadorim in Yerushalayim towards founding its new “Chareidi government school system.” Details of its scheme to take possession of chareidi education have now become public. What the Education Ministry is trying to do is a contemporary version of the same thing that assimilationists and compromisers have been doing since the Haskalah – to create a school system that will compromise the Yidishkeit of religious students.


The Education Ministry headed by dati Rabbi Piron, has cut massive funding from the chareidi schools to pressure chadorim around the country to join the new “chareidi government school system.” Those who join the system will receive buildings, equipment, and full funding instead of having to fundraise and collect tuition. Every benefit has been offered to entice chadorim to switch to the new system.


Beit Rabban, located in Neve Yaakov, was the first cheder to be recruited to join the new school system. Due to parental opposition and, possibly, media exposure, the cheder has returned to the status of mukar she’eino rishmi — an unofficially recognized educational institution — that it had until now.


At first, the Education Ministry promised to give full autonomy to those principals who joined their schools to the new network. But at a meeting with cheder principals to convince them to join the new school system, the Education Ministry’s legal advisor presented the dictates they would have to accept, prooving its bluff:


1. The schools would be under the complete control of the Education Ministry, and the associations that run them would neither own them nor have any authority in running them. This concerns both hiring teachers or any other workers, who would now become full employees of the Education Ministry.


2. Upon signing the contract, the schools and all their equipment would become the sole possession of the Education Ministry. The cheder would at most be a “third party” employed by the Education Ministry as a subcontractor. The cheder would have to transfer the list of all its administrative employees to the Education Ministry, who would employ them.


3. The EM will agree to keep the teachers even without the requisite “academic qualifications,” but they will have to commit to attend university and get a BA and MA to continue teaching. School principal will have to attend a special course to prepare them for administrative duties.


4. The teachers will be subject to all agreements and duties demanded by the EM.


5. Wherever there is a conflict of opinion in how the contract should be carried out, a senior EM functionary or manpower expert will be authorized to make all decisions. In brief, daas Torah will not exist in these schools.


6. Clause 7 of the contract states that the EM will decide the curriculum of the schools, which will include the Liba studies.


7. Concerning who is accepted to the school, “enormous significance” will be given to the principal’s decision who will coordinate it with the founding association, subject to EM constraints.


8. The founding association can choose the principal they want, and will submit two names to the EM for a final decision. The association which runs the school will have no power to make any decision other than choosing the principal.


9. The teachers will be chosen jointly by the principal and the supervisor (EM functionary), according to the EM general director’s memorandum. The supervisor will also make sure the school stands in the EM’s regulations for teacher training, hiring, and curriculum.


10. The EM will have the right to accept up to 10% more students in the school as it sees fit.


11. When starting the school, the principal can compose school articles concerning the religious identity of the families of the student body. The (non-religious) supervisor will have to confirm the articles. [It is not too difficult to imagine what kind of “hechsher” a secular Education Minister will confirm for the parent body.]


12. If the school wants to add more religious studies in the afternoon beyond the hours provided by the Education Ministry, the parents will have to fund it privately.


Ha’aretz was thrilled, writing that, “In the past month, a great thing has happened in Israel! The first chareidi government elementary school received its certification from the Education Ministry. The first chareidi school has agreed to become a full government school, as part of the new chareidi government school system, which will be directly and fully supervised by the Education Ministry, and fully obligated to the EM’s curriculum, with the necessary adaptations to the chareidi sector.”


The goal of the Education Ministry is feared to be not education or even academic qualifications, but the secularization of the chareidi community to stop its intimidating population growth which threatens the secular hegemony in the country.


The founders and principal of “Beit Rabban” who initially joined the government system were denounced by chareidi askonim and educators as being “collaborators” who were selling out religious interests and a faithful Jewish education for financial benefit. With their change of heart, the chareidi institutions remain unanimous in rejecting the government enticement.


Chareidi representatives declared that chareidi schools will be subordinate only toGedolei Yisroel. Even though the government may apply draconian cutbacks to subvert the chareidi school system, they said that chareidi Jewry will not allow the government to determine the education of its children.


Despite the extreme financial pressure this places upon chareidim, few are expected to capitulate to the secular government’s demands to join its system.


But the government has made progress in other areas. Two chassidic yeshivos, one in Tel Aviv and one in Bnei Brak, have introduced the Liba program of secular learning that includes languages, literature, math, nature, science, and technology into their curriculums, making them eligible for 100% funding like regular Israeli high schools. Until now, the two yeshivos were like all other chassidic yeshivos, which are categorized as tarbuti-yichudi (distinctive-culture) institutions and only receive 60% funding as regular schools.


Livni Predicts ‘Dramatic Decisions’


Israel will make “dramatic decisions” to reach a final peace agreement that will end the conflict with the Palestinians, Israel’s chief negotiator said Tuesday while warning that hawks inside the coalition are making her job more difficult.


Tzipi Livni’s remarks came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were scheduled to meet for their second round of peace talks Tuesday. The first round was held last week in Yerushalayim under a cloak of secrecy.


Both sides promised Secretary of State John Kerry not to discuss details with the media.


Kerry spent months engaging in shuttle diplomacy between the two sides before they agreed to return to the table after a five-year freeze in negotiations.


Livni, speaking on Israel Radio, refused to comment on talks, saying that holding negotiations far from the media is meant to build trust between the two sides.


But she predicted there would be “dramatic decisions in the end,” and lamented the lack of support from hardline elements in the coalition.


Talks collapsed in 2008 and remained stalled until now mainly over the issue of Israeli settlement construction in territory the Palestinians demand for their future state.


The Palestinians had demanded a settlement freeze in exchange for resuming talks – a demand that Israel refused.


Kerry managed to get the Palestinians to drop their demand in exchange for Israel’s release of veteran Palestinian prisoners involved in killing Israeli civilians and soldiers. Talks on a final peace deal are to last six to nine months.


Livni said that hawkish parties in the coalition are making the talks more difficult because of their opposition to establishment of a Palestinian state, the centerpiece of any peace deal.


“It is no secret that in this coalition there is at least one party … who objects to the idea of two states for two peoples, which is something I support with all my heart,” Livni said. “It is definitely very problematic in regard to the negotiations,” she said.


Livni berated the Labor party for declining the prime minister’s offer to join the coalition after elections early this year. She said their refusal paved the way for the current hawkish coalition. She said it would be easier if there was “a more solid majority in the government to the (peace) process and decisions.”


Tuesday’s talks were clouded by the death of a Palestinian man in a clash with Israeli forces. The Israeli military said he was killed after Israeli soldiers came under fire during an arrest raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.


Lerner said any military operation to apprehend suspects “in urban areas is an extremely complicated task” because they often “take refuge within the civilian population.”






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