As for the poor, he claimed they would benefit from a thriving economy.
“Instead of avoiding responsibility, we’re doing the most responsible thing for the Israeli market,” he claimed. “We’re getting rid of our giant deficit.”
A major part of his speech was devoted to viciously attacking the chareidim, his modus operandi of deflecting public criticism from his policies.
“Gafni said that I don’t what I’m doing,” he said. “What’s his excuse? He was the legendary chairman of the Finance Committee. Does this sentence ring a bell for him, ‘When the yeshiva funding cut got to me, I threw it into the garbage?’ I ransacked the garbage and found the cut from last year and the year before [that Gafni threw out]. This was robbery of the public coffers and led to the deficit I am dealing with. You are one of its architects.”
Turning to MK Ariel Attias of Shas, Lapid said, “Attias, you speak of the price of apartments. Has shame left the world? I would like to remind you that all the outrages happened on your watch. Should I remind you that all the resources of the Housing Ministry went to [frum housing in] Beit Shemesh and Charish? How did you waste a whole candidacy worrying about only one sector?”
“I also listened to Deri, the chairman of Shas, who spoke about the [endless] circle of poverty. There’s a procedure that the moment the cameras roll, the story of sad eyes of poor children is rolled out. I am Finance Minister for only three months. You sat in the government for thirty years and did nothing. You perpetuated a culture of poverty. We are only saving these children from poverty.”
Yaakov Litzman of UTJ interrupted Lapid’s tirade to ask, “If there was a secret ballot for the budget tonight, by what margin do you think your budget would pass?”
“By a landside majority!” Lapid retorted.
“I tell you it would get maybe five votes,” said Litzman. “I’m not sure you would vote for it yourself.”
After Lapid’s speech, MK Moshe Gafni spoke and blasted him for depriving the poor of all hope.
“Mr. Finance Minister, I have nothing against you, but the speech you delivered is pathetic… Perhaps you could explain to the Knesset what is supposed to happen after the budget runs its course, how it will effect economic planning, and how will it be a vehicle of growth. Besides, there is no encouragement to work. Your speech was an embarrassment. what will improve in the next year and a half? Will there be more factories and work? People are losing hope. You stood here for five minutes and what came of it?”
“You said to the Knesset chairman, ‘You can take out the reforms, but leave the [measures against] chareidim.’” he added. “What has the Liba [curriculum for chareidi schools] to do with the Managements Law? Can you explain to the Israeli people what you did with this budget? There is almost nothing that isn’t negatively impacted.”
Gafni threatened to turn the vote into a vote of no confidence in the government.
MK Yaakov Asher of UTJ reminded Lapid of a letter Lapid recently wrote in Yiddish tzu mein brider, di chareidim (to my chareidi brothers).This was a Yiddish translation of a friendly “Osher and Chaim” letter Lapid wrote to the chareidim three weeks ago in line with his earlier creation of a fictitious “Ricky Cohen” representing the middle class.
“The time has come to speak with your electorate and stop speaking to chareidi voters in Yiddish,” Asher said. “And speaking of Yiddish, when the treasury officials and economists speak of you they say, Er fershteit nisht in kalkalah (he doesn’t understand the economy).”
The following day, MK Menachem Moses of UTJ likened the budget’s edicts to the Ten Makkos.
Shelly Yachimovich head of Labor bitterly attacked Lapid for his plan to force non-working housewives to make national insurance payments.
“There are 450,000 women who are housewives,” she said. “You decided to torture every one of them who is under age 50. Would you put a special high tax on women who earn zero shekels?”
Two Yisroel Beiteinu MKs absented themselves from the vote. One of them, MK Gila Gamliel, coalition coordinator at the Finance Committee, said that Lapid’s budget lacked vision.
“There is a budget here which chose the easy way. Do homework. Come with a vision and a real future.” She said that she would insist on changing it when it reached her committee. The second Yisroel Beiteinu absentee, MK Miri Regev, complained that the budget hurt the poor and said that she would not vote for it in subsequent reading unless several of its elements were cancelled.
Anti-chareidi edicts of the budget include cutting over half a billion shekels of yeshiva funding, cancellation of funding for overseas yeshiva students, no decrease in municipal taxes for poor couples unless they cannot work, and reduced funding for schools and chadorim that fail to confirm with government mandated curriculums and tests.
General edicts include shrinking of child benefits, cancelation of municipal tax reduction for the old, increasing income tax by one and a half percent, forcing unemployed housewives to pay national insurance premiums, and closing down afternoon child care.
Knesset chairman Yuli Edelstein said that although he managed to remove many clauses from the budget to be dealt with separately, Lapid was adamant that the clauses dealing with chareidi issues must remain.
“I wanted to remove the aspects of the law that harm chareidim as it stigmatizes them,” he said. “In my opinion, these matters need broad public discourse and do not belong in the Managements Law [of the budget]. But in the end, when I saw he insisted on it, I agreed to include them in the law.”
The budget’s text also included a long preamble explaining why the chareidim present a danger to Israel’s financial future due to their fast growing population.
Before it becomes law, the budget still needs to be transferred to the Knesset’s Finance Committee and other committees. Hopefully it will undergo significant changes before passing its second and third readings. If the budget is not finalized by July 30, this will mean the fall of the government and an early election.
BLOWS TO RELIGIOUS ZIONIST YESHIVOS
Belatedly, the religious Zionist world has discovered that government cuts to yeshivos may be a death blow to their institutionsas well. At an emergency meeting, religious Zionist roshei yeshiva said the situation was nearing breaking point. They resolved to warn the public of the imminent danger.
Government payments to bochurim and avreichim are expected to drop by 16% and up to 54% over the course of this year, they said. Furthermore, the government plans to introduce a draconian system of attendance checks. Inspectors will demand 100% student attendance during such checks. Until now, an absence rate 15% was acceptable. Inspectors will no longer take illness of students and other factors into consideration. Also, until now, yeshivos were only fined after a repeat inspection. Now, one inspection will suffice to impose a very stiff fine for student absence. Universities and other such institutions are not subject to these inspections.
“The situation is not good,” a Habayit Hayehudi official said at the meeting. “We cannot change the decision and the cuts are supposed to go into effect soon. I understand that this is a death blow to the yeshiva system.”
Dozens of religious Zionist rabbonim and roshei yeshiva signed a letter warning of the danger hanging over the yeshiva world.
“Hakadosh Boruch Hu made a bris with Yisroel only because of the Torah,” the letter said. “In these lines, we express our great concern at the imminent danger of great harm being inflicted upon Torah students and various Torah institutions of every public sector. During the past weeks we expected that matters of principle and practice relating to the attitude towards Torah institutions and students would be properly dealt with.
“To our sorrow, we realize that the matter is far from solved; danger threatens the Torah world and its students. Therefore, we call upon all who can to increase their efforts to strengthen Torah students and their institutions and stimulate their increase among the whole people of Yisroel.”
Before the budget vote this week, a number of religious Zionist yeshiva directors traveled to the Knesset to complain to their political representatives about the situation. Many Habayit Hayehudi MKs avoided them and slipped away.
In response to the letter, a number Habayit Hayehudi politicians promised to help. The common threat that hangs over religious Zionist and chareidi Torah institutions will hopefully lead to increased cooperation between the two groups.
EMERGENCY MEETING OF 300 RABBONIM
At an emergency meeting, about 300 chareidi and religious Zionist rabbonim gathered in Petach Tikvah to protest against dangers to the Israeli rabbinate. These include the demand for rabbonim to recognize fictitious conversions, a government proposal to allow couples to register marriages at any rabbinate, and a proposal to officially recognize reform and conservative rabbis.
Rav Yosef Shalosh, regional rov of the South Sharon area, spoke of a clause in the Arrangements Law of Israel’s budget, which threatens to drastically cut the funding of religious services for small communities. These include many small religious Zionist communities in Yehuda and Shomron.
In effect, the clause is a strategy to get rid of such rabbonim. It aims to cut 43 million shekels from government funding of rabbonim and mikveh attendants even though the salary of rabbonim is already paltry at approximately 4,500 shekels a month. Mikveh attendants receive some 1,300 shekels monthly. Until now, the government covered 90% of these people’s salaries.
“To our great sorrow, most regional councils not only have no requisite budget [to pay rabbonim] but are not even interested in having klei kodesh and certainly not in paying for them,” he said. “This is a direct danger to all religious services of all regional councils.”
Rav Yehuda Wolpe, rov of Rishon Letzion, complained that the government is trying to destroy rabbonim’s authority.
“They are trying to turn all the rabbonim into rubber stamps,” he said. “If they do not follow instructions they are liable to sit in jail. A town rov always had authority in all religious issues. So it was everywhere in the world.”
He also attacked the rabbis of the Tzohar organization, saying they were not rabbis at all.
MK Moshe Gafni attacked the government’s proposal to allow marriage registration at any rabbinate, saying that it was unprecedented in any country for a person to pick and choose which authority suited his purposes. He also blasted a government proposed law to introduce civil marriage to Israel, which would destroy the Judaism of Eretz Yisroel.
“Rav Eliezer Menachem Man Shach told me that we should not only be concerned about Rabbi Akiva Street in Bnei Brak, but about Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, not only about Sorotzkin Street in Yerushalayim, but about Yaffo Street as well,” he said. “Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv was very pained about the situation in the rabbinate and worked to guard its integrity as much as possible. When I told Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman about the success against the deal involving Rav Shlomo Amar where we stood alone in the fight, he recited the verse,When Hashem favors the paths of a man, even his enemies make peace with him.”
Rav Osher Zemel, chairman of the Committee of Settlement Rabbonim, protested that the attacks against religion cannot continue. He discussed an episode reported this week: The chief rabbi of Ashdod, Rav Yosef Shainin, discovered that his disqualification of a convert was bypassed by deputy minister of religions Eli Ben Dahan. The story began when a convert, Vika, came to the Ashdod rabbinate to receive a certificate that she was single. After questioning her for about forty minutes, Rav Shainin told her that her level of mitzvah observance raised doubts about her conversion. Undaunted, she went to the office of deputy religions minister Ben Dahan who moved her case to the religious council of Kiryat Ata, where she received her certificate without any embarrassing enquiries.
Hinting at the candidacy of Rav Stav for the chief rabbinate, Rav Simchah Kook said at the meeting that were Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, the spiritual leader of religious Zionism, alive today, he would be shocked at the level the rabbinate has fallen to.
“How can a candidate [Rav Stav] who advertizes leniencies and compromises stand for election?” he asked. “A person who is willing to convert people without the acceptance of mitzvos absolutely denies the giving of Torah at Mount Sinai. We will not stop protesting against this.”
It should be noted that in a recent interview Rav Stav told journalists that he would not accept converts without their accepting mitzvos.
Rav Kook also spoke of a government plan to do away with neighborhood rabbonim and rely on chief rabbis to run the towns’ affairs on their own.
“How can the town rov be expected to deal with everyone in town and know them all?” he said. “If there are no neighborhood rabbonim, how can he manage them all? People need to see a neighborhood rov, to know him, and receive rulingsfrom his mouth.”
The rabbonim at the meeting resolved to call upon Religions Minister Naftoli Bennett and his deputy to set up a panel of rabbonim to investigate all the issues discussed before the government took any action. The panel would investigate, among other things, how to prevent irreversible harm in issues of marriage registration, kashrus, rabbinical employment, and alteration to the status quo in the country’s religious and rabbinical issues. The rabbonim also expressed their absolute opposition to the recognition of reform and conservative rabbis.
SHAS TORPEDOES RAV AMAR’S CHANCE TO BE CHIEF RABBI
At the 11th hour, Shas unexpectedly torpedoed the Amar law that was to ensure Rav Shlomo Amar’s second candidacy as Sephardi chief rabbi. This happened despite Shas sponsoring the law in the first place. As author of the law, Shas had the right to remove it from the agenda. The law was already approved by the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee and was being prepared for its second and third Knesset readings when, by order of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Aryeh Deri suddenly announced the law’s demise because certain deals were made surrounding it, without Shas’s knowledge, which would have led to the automatic election of Rav Dovid Stav as Ashkenazi chief rabbi in return for Habayit Hayehudi supporting the Amar Law.
In addition, Deri said, the Amar bill gave Naftoli Bennet excessive power in selecting the chief rabbi voting panel. After a confrontation with Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu last week, it was settled that Bennett would select fifteen members of the panel while Netanyahu would pick five. At the time, this led Dovid Azulai of Shas to explain, “Habayit Hayehudi lays down the law to the prime minister and the prime minister is afraid!” Shas felt that Bennett’s extra voting power increased the odds of Stav being elected as chief rabbi.
UTJ MKs had strongly opposed the Amar Law for similar reasons. MK Uri Maklev of UTJ said that in addition to the problems already mentioned, the Amar Law was linked to the approval of other laws such as legalizing marriage registration at any rabbinate in the country.
“Instructions from gedolei Torah led to UTJ making every effort to block this law and the deals it involved, which were a denigration of talmidei chachomim,” Gafni said.
Rav Ovadiah Yosef addressed the cancellation of the Amar Law during his weekly Motzoei Shabbos droshoh.
“Hashem knows man’s thoughts,” he said. “A person must be straight. Flattery should not lead to the appointment of an inferior candidate. Whoever sets up an inappropriate dayan is considered as if he sacrificed an idolatrous offering on the mizbei’ach and set up an idol in the heichal.”
Rav Ovadiah insisted that despite his Torah knowledge, Stav was inappropriate for the position.
“Do’eg Ha’edomi was a very great Torah scholar in King Shaul’s time, yet Chazal say he had no portion in the world to come. Members of his party have told me that the man is dangerous to Judaism, dangerous to the rabbinate, and dangerous to Torah. Should I keep silent? This is why I had to do what I did. Everything I was did was lesheim Shomayim.”
Rav Ovadiah emphasized that he was not opposed to Rav Amar himself.
“Rav Amar is an upright and righteous man but they are using his name to elect an evil man who is inappropriate for anything,” he said. “…I don’t know this man [Rav Stav], I haven’t seen him, but all his colleagues, people of the Mizrachi party, say to me: Be careful, this man is dangerous to Judaism. How can I keep silent? Lapid and Bennet hate the Torah and want to take away bnei yeshivos from Torah and draft them in the army. Suddenly everyone is shouting: We want Stav. If he was a true talmid chochom they would hate him.”
“All the non-religious love him,” Rav Ovadiah added.”Lieberman is a person who does not like the Torah and what does he want – for Stav to become chief rabbi. Should he dictate who will be chief rabbi? Moshe Rabeinu appointed Yehoshua our chief rabbi. Today, it’s turned into a matter of bargaining. If Rav Amar is selected we’ll vote for him. Originally, I was in favor of supporting the Amar Law because he is appropriate for the position. “
Rav Ovadiah concluded his droshoh with a plea to daven for his refuah sheleimah.
“I beg you to pray for my health,” he said. “I am suffering greatly, I suffer with every step I take. Bless me that I should have health to increase the Torah’s power and greatness.”
Since then, Rav Amar visited Rav Ovadiah and Shas is presently supporting his candidacy to serve as chief rabbi of Yerushalayim.
Religious Zionists and the press complained bitterly about Rav Ovadiah’s attack against Rav Stav. Aryeh Deri said that their response was hypocritical.
“Though he was suffering tremendous pain, out of his responsibility as a leader Rav Ovadiah Yosef went to his bais medrash and spoke for a few minutes from the depths of his heart, logically explaining why he decided to oppose the appointment of Rav Stav as chief rabbi of Israel,” Deri said. “Only two weeks ago, religious Zionist rabbis had a meeting and begged Rav Stav not to run for the position of chief rabbi. The media prefers to ignore this, because the opposition of religious Zionist rabbis would stymie support for Rav Stav’s candidacy.
“But the moment Rav Ovadiah expressed his clear opinion and explained why he opposed his candidacy, braggarts and lobbyists took the opportunity of using his words to restore Rav Stav’s candidacy. Are these liberals, and the politicians who joined them, concerned about the honor of Torah or rabbonim? Their objective is to attack religion and its representatives. Their support of one candidate through insulting the gadol hador only exemplifies what Rav Ovadiah said, for there is a principle that you can tell who a person is by seeing who his friends are.
“We will not be intimidated by this public relations attack. Every attack against Rav Ovadiah strengthens his reputation as someone who fearlessly says the truth. As a dayan for dozens of years, he is faithful to the obligation, ‘You shall not be afraid before any person,’(Devorim 1:17). He has conducted this way in the present and the past, and so he will continue to do in the future. No ignoramus or braggart should dare to preach mussar. We of Shas stand behind every word of the Rov. The path he shows us is the path of the whole Shas movement.”
Included among Rav Stav’s supporters is the Rabbinical Council of America (RCA), which sent Stav a letter of support and sympathy.
“In the name of all the members of the Rabbinical Council of America, we express our support for your honor, a rov in Yisrael of whom it may be said, ‘See how beautiful are his ways, how correct his deeds…,’” the letter stated. “We trembled when we heard Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s terrible words concerning you last motzoei Shabbos, and also when we heard what happened in Bnei Brak at the wedding of Rav Rabinovitch’s daughter [where Rav Stav was insulted]. Is this Torah and are these the people who learn it?”
“We express our gratitude for all that your honor has done for the benefit of Klal Yisroel, Eretz Yisroel, and the State of Israel. We hope to work together with you for many years for the greatness and glory of the Torah, and draw people’s hearts to Avinu sheba’shomayim in fulfillment of the verse, And you shall love Hashem your G-d, that the name of heaven should be made beloved through you.”
Israel’s Conservative Movement also issued a letter of support, saying that its leaders “expressed shock at Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s insulting statements about Rav Dovid Stav, a candidate for the chief rabbinate of Israel.”
On Sunday, the Knesset appointed the five members of the supervisory committee for the chief rabbinate election. This made it legally impossible to create new legislation for the election process and destroyed the last possibility of resuscitating the Amar law. For the first time, the supervisory committee included two women appointed by Deputy Minister for Religious Affairs Eli Ben-Dahan of Habayit Hayehudi.
“For years I have worked to advance women,” Ben Dahan told them, “and I continue to do so.”
Shas is opposing Habayit Hayehudi’s efforts to include any women in the 150 person voting panel, fearing this will increase Stav’s odds to win the race.
With Rav Amar out of the race, the potential candidates for the position of Sephardi chief rabbi presently are Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, Rav Avrohom Yosef, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, and Rav Dovid Yosef, Rav Yehuda Deri, Rav Eliyahu Abergil, Rav Binyomin Attias, Rav Ratzon Arussi; and Rav Zion Sholom Boaron.
A month ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) complained to justice minister Tzipi Livni that Rav Shmuel Eliyahu should be disciplined and perhaps barred from the chief rabbinate due to his anti-Arab stance. Among other things, he urged the Jews of Zefas, where he serves as Sephardic Chief Rabbi, not to sell or rent apartments to Arabs whose presence there was becoming more prevalent due to the opening of a new university in the town’s environs.
Besides for Stav, potential candidates for the Ashenazi position include Rav Yitzchok Dovid Grossman, rov of Migdal HaEmek, Rav Dovid Lau, rov of Modiin, and son of Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, Rav Yaakov Shapira, head of the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and son of former chief rabbi Rav Avrohom Shapira and Rav Eliezer Igra,.
The High Court has pronounced that the 150 member voting panel dominated by people affiliated with Shas and UTJ must elect the chief rabbis as soon as possible, and no later than the 17th of Av.
EICHLERS PROPOSAL – NO DRAFT FOR ANYONE
A majority of 60 MKs rejected UTJ MK Yisroel Eichler’s proposal to cancel Israel’s compulsory draft and replace it with a professional volunteer army.
“After 64 years of statehood, the time has come to cancel the compulsory draft that results in huge expenditures to enable every young man and woman to serve without looking into the… need for their draft,” Eichler argued before the voting. “A volunteer draft will strengthen people’s solidarity with a professional, efficient army and enable the required soldiers to receive a salary appropriate to the measure of self-sacrifice and talent of a professional soldier or officer.”
Eichler spoke of his father, Moshe Eichler, who fought in the battle for Har Zion during Israel’s war of independence. He said that the same people who complain that chareidim do not serve in the IDF, have created an atmosphere that makes no chareidi willing to join the army. Undaunted by his proposal’s defeat, Eichler established a multi-party caucus in the Knesset, which aims to create a professional army, free the army of superfluous soldiers, and minimize unnecessary friction in Israeli society.
Another failed Knesset proposal was that of MK Yisroel Litzman which was to rename Israel’s Social Security Institute as the National Institute of Tax Collection. Due to Israel’s social cuts, he argued, the institute functions mainly as an alternate means of tax collection. The proposal was rejected by 44 votes versus 16.
As the Knesset presses for more chareidim to join the IDF, the IDF rabbinate has suffered a 25% budget cut, which may force it to withdraw many non-commissioned officers presently serving as kashrus inspectors. Combat units would be worst hit as their distance from main bases already creates a lower standard of kashrus.
“The starting point in those kitchens is not great as things stand,” an army source said. “Removal of kashrus inspectors will lead to the effective banishment of the religious soldiers from the kitchens. Ben Gurion set two key conditions to the integration of religious soldiers within the military: observance of Shabbos and kashrus. Should the measure be implemented, it will drive the religious soldiers away from the combat units.”
With a shortage of regular kashrus mashgichim, where will the IDF find the money to finance the kashrus standards of chareidi recruits?
An additional deterrent to chareidi enlistment is an Arutz Sheva report that political organizations and women’s groups are urging the IDF to increase the integration of women into combat units. The Israel Democracy Institute attacked former IDF chief rabbi Avichai Ronsky who insisted that the IDF’s job is to defeat the enemy and not to fight for gender equality in its ranks.
Senior army officers are concerned that surrendering to such ideas will weaken the army and deter chareidim from wanting to join.
“You can’t demand that chareidim enlist in the military and at the same time insert women into every corner of the battalion,” a senior officer said. “These organizations must decide if they prefer women or chareidim. You can’t have the cake and eat it too.”
Arutz Sheva reported that in addition, the army seems to have something to hide regarding halachic issues. Noticing a policy of gagging IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz, Arutz Sheva was told that the army was afraid he may “embarrass” the army by discussing certain matters of Jewish law.
“The people who made this decision are totally irreligious, and have no understanding of the dilemmas faced by observant soldiers, nor of the role of the IDF Chief Rabbi,” said a source in the IDF spokesperson’s office. “They know nothing about Jewish law, and their sole intention is to sweep all issues under the rug and avoid ‘collateral damage’ to the IDF in the media. Their concern is that RabbiPeretz will say something that will be taken out of context. Thus they keep him out of the media altogether.”
As part of the fight to draft chareidim, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved a draft bill submitted by MK Yariv Levin of Likud-Beiteinu, which seeks to confer extra benefits on Israelis who serve in the IDF or civil service such as preference in getting government jobs, student housing, land tenders, better salaries, and student benefits.
“Under the proposed law, giving preference to a person because they gave to the country — including preference when hiring, in salary, in providing services — will not be considered illegal discrimination,” Levin said. “The law would give ‘givers’ preferred status if they apply to government jobs. Those who gave to the country would be given preference in acceptance to university dormitories, and in allocation of land for residency. ”
The previous government rejected a similar bill on the grounds that it discriminated against groups exempt from army and civil service. The Israel Democracy Institute wrote to the ministerial committee that “besides being unconstitutional, this proposal is a disgrace to the Knesset and will tarnish Israel’s name within the international community.”
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation authorized the proposal on Sunday, opposed by the ministers of Yesh Atid who argued it would discriminate against physically challenged people who cannot be drafted. Justice Minister Livni said she would oppose the bill due to the opinion of Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein who said there are constitutional difficulties in allocating limited resources such as land to some people at the expense of others.
Meretz head Zahava Gal-On also attacked the proposal, saying she would favor it only if Arabs were badly affected.
“On the one hand, the state claims that it wants to increase the participation of Arabs and chareidim in the workplace, but on the other hand, it is creating laws whose purpose is to continue to keep them apart,” she said.
Levin says he is willing to incorporate changes in the bill and state that the benefits will also apply to Arabs and chareidim who participate in national service programs.
At the same time, the military attorney general has asked the government attorney general to instruct the police to locate the organizers of a campaign inciting against chareidim who join the army by means of posters and pamphlets claiming that chareidim in uniform are a bad influence on chareidi society. In some places, this led to unpleasantness for chareidim in uniform leading them to appeal for permission to go home in civilian clothing which was granted.
“We are very concerned about the campaign of incitement against chareidi draftees,” a senior officer said. “There is no doubt that this will have an effect on enlistment. I hope the government takes clear action to stop the incitement and violence. We are concerned for the wellbeing of the soldiers.”
Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon threatened to stop the campaign through arrests and charge sheets, and if necessary, through legislation.
MK Meir Porush of UTJ told French ambassador to Israel, Christopher Bidot, that if chareidim are forced into the IDF they will no longer regard Israel their national home. He recalled Ben Gurion’s declaration that Israel was the national homeland of every Jew and his promise to respect the chareidi way of life.
“If, Heaven forbid, they try to force those learning Torah to enlist, this won’t be a national home,” Porush warned the ambassador. “We will declare, and the whole world will know, that this is not the home of those who keep Torah and mitzvos. Obviously, this will have far-reaching consequences.”
LIVNI DEMANDS DEMOCRACY BEFORE JUDIASM
Since its inception, the coalition has not stopped proposing laws and regulations that bode ill for religious Jews.
Justice minister Tzipi Livni insisted that it is time for Israel to create a constitution as part of the fight of secular law against religion.
“Even if we cannot reach an agreement, it is time to create a constitution.” she said at the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee. “In the past I busied myself trying to reach an agreement, but the time has come for decisive action… There is a battle over our source of authority, is it the constitution and law, with the courts clarifying its meaning? Or is it based on halachah and rabbis clarifying its meaning? I’m on the side of the constitution and the courts. Even if I sometimes disagree with a particular verdict… I don’t accept the opinion that the State of Israel is first and foremost a Jewish state, and a democratic regime.”
Because of her attitude, Livni opposes a bill proposed by Likud and Habayit Hayehudi that aims to define Israel as the Jewish People’s National Home state and stipulate that its principles conform somewhat to halachah and the preservation of the state’s Jewish character. As MK Avigdor Lieberman of Likud Beiteinu said, “When the time comes to choose between a Jewish or democratic state, we will choose Jewish, because Israel is the only Jewish state in the world.” Livni, on the other hand, believes that Israel is democratic first and Jewish a distant second.
According to the B’nai B’rith World Center Seventh Annual Survey on Contemporary Israeli Attitudes toward Diaspora Jewry, her opinion conflicts with that of most Israeli Jews. The survey found that 52% of them think that Israel should be a Jewish democratic state.
Tzipi Livni also adopted a law proposal that demands a year’s imprisonment for anyone discriminating against women or people of any sector.
“Discrimination has no place in the Jewish, democratic State of Israel where the principle of equality is one of its founding principles and enjoys a legal status,” the proposal said. “To limit a person’s ability to equally benefit from the public arena and public services due to invalid discrimination undercuts the principle of equality… Therefore, it is proposed to establish that such behavior will be a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment.”
Hopefully, the law will not be extended to make it a criminal to exclude women from the men’s side of shul, or to outlaw separate beaches.
The Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) opposed the memorandum, saying that imprisoning a person for the crime of verbal discrimination against someone, opposes the principles of democracy and the basic laws of the State of Israel.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT ON SHABBOS
Lapid is pushing for increased public transportation in secular areas on Shabbos. Presently, a status quo agreement forged between religious and secular Jews before the founding of Israel brings public transport to a halt in most Israeli cities at sundown every erev Shabbos.
“We need public transportation on Shabbos in secular neighborhoods and in secular cities,” Lapid wrote during a forum. “I think there should be public transportation on Shabbos. I said this during my [election] campaign and I’m saying it again — not in religious areas, but in secular neighborhoods and secular cities — because this issue is not related to religion and state; it is a simple social matter. There is no reason that a grandfather who has money is able to take a taxi to visit his grandchildren while a grandfather who does not have money cannot because there is no bus to take him to his grandchildren. Everything cannot happen in three months. We will fight for this cause; there will be wars we will win and wars that we won’t, but we’ll have to wait until we win.”
Another Shabbos battle focuses on Cinema City, a new entertainment center in Yerushalayim, which is trying to get a license to operate on Shabbos. The secular municipal party, Hitorerut, has appealed to the High Court to push the permit through. Although the matter is still under legal debate, the company has already instructed their personnel company, Good Job, to seek workers who are willing to work on Shabbos. Chareidim involved in fighting the company said, “This is a fight on every front in an attempt to destroy and eradicate all foundations of our religion.”
Deputy Mayor of Yerushalayim, Rav Yosef Deutsch, said that Hitorerut’s involvement in the fight is a pre-election spin.
“I think there are people who want to make a cultural war in the city,” he said. “With municipal elections coming up, having done almost nothing for Yerushalayim’s residents for four-and-a-half years, they want to show that they exist.”
Yet another Shabbos fight resulted from a speech by Gideon Lesson, CEO of the Strauss milk products company. Speaking at a meeting of the Union of Food Producers in Tel Aviv, he complained that food production in Israel dropped 3.6% during the last quarter, the worst quarter in 40 years. In addition to suggesting that sales tax should be dropped to 8%, he also spoke of hiring non-Jews to keep his plants running on Shabbos.
“The State of Israel protects religion,” he complained. “When the factories’ machines are silent for 15% of the week and workers take off, it costs us 8% of the customer price. We spoke to Naftoli Bennett and he said there is a solution. Strauss has about 40 factories worldwide, all of them working on Shabbos, and all have mehadrin kashrus. One example is our salad factory in the USA. In Israel, we think a solution is to open the factories on Shabbos with non-Jewish workers.”
Strauss products are brought by thousands of chareidi families whose representatives did not delay in asking Strauss whether its CEO seriously meant what he said. Soon afterwards, announcements appeared in the three major chareidi papers saying the company would make no changes:
“Following media statements that the Strauss Company is supposedly changing its policies regarding shemiras Shabbos, the Strauss management clarified yesterday to the rabbonim of the Committee for Shabbos that it is bound by and honors the values of Shabbos and will continue the tradition of its factories throughout Israel to close their gates on erev Shabbos kodesh.”
Another worrying development in the halachic sphere is the proposal of new legislation that would allow doctors to harvest organs from a deceased person unless the person explicitly declared otherwise in the past.
Health minister Yael German of Yesh Atid said that this idea is modeled after other countries where people are automatically added to the donor pool when they take out drivers licenses unless they take specific action to prevent it. In April, it was reported that the government is also planning to harvest organs from patients whose hearts have ceased beating even in the absence of brain death.
MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ called the move secular coercion.
“German’s proposal has no place in a democratic state,” said Litzman, who was deputy health minister in the previous government. “This is clearly an anti-religious bill and an outrageous coercion.”
Gafni also spoke against the idea. “We are absolutely opposed to the plan,” he said. “Once again, we come up with absolute lack of consideration for religious issues. Of course, we will fight this. Under no circumstances can there be a situation where an observant person’s halachic practice and Judaism is automatically impacted and he can only oppose it if he notices what happened.”
Israel’s National Transplant Center has already set up a committee to review several models suggested for German’s new plan.
Although Lapid claims to be a big fighter for secular culture and education, an Israeli author recently mocked his dismal ignorance of history and Judaism. Writing about Athens, the author said, Lapid listed its philosophers as Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and Copernicus, a 15th century Polish astronomer. In the same article, Lapid’s list of great Renaissance artists included Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Martello, and Giacometti, a Swiss sculptor who died in 1966. In a rambling article about American law, Lapid praised the American system for having its basic laws written not by a panel but by one person, Lord John Adams. Actually, the system was written by a large committee before John Adams arrived in America.
Concerning Judaism, Lapid decided to write a modern kesuvah, claiming that the old one is a shameful instrument of acquisition. He ignored the fact that the kesuvah is devoted exclusively a wife’s rights. Explaining the word avos, Lapid said it refers to the four avos, revealing his abysmal ignorance of Jewish history.
SECULAR MARRIAGE BILL
Since February, Yesh Atid has supported a bill that aims to legalize civil marriages, enabling people to marry spouses forbidden to them by halachah. This week Yesh Atid torpedoed a first reading of the bill, saying the party would not support it unless it also sanctioned untraditional marriages as well. Tzipi Livni was disappointed that Habayit Hayehudi opposes the marriage bill.
“There are about 300,000 people who cannot marry, most of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union,” she said. “The question here is basic — is there cooperation in this government. I would be very happy to cooperate with Yesh Atid on this. The Bayit Yehudi faction may object. Bringing Bayit Yehudi into the government created a situation where the government may be unable to pass laws regarding religion and the state.”
ULTIMATUM TO CHAREIDI EDUCATION
Israel’s Education Ministry issued an ultimatum to the chareidi educational system: If the system fails to reach an agreement with the state regarding the issue of core curriculum studies, the ministry will unilaterally propose a law obligating state funded chareidi schools to introduce core subjects and standardized tests that examine schools’ efficiency.
This was in response to a 2010 appeal of the Israel Religious Action Center (affiliated with the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism) to the High Court demanding that chareidi schools and chadorim meet national educational standards. Talks between the Education Ministry and the chareidi educational system are expected to last a few months.
The government wants chareidi schools and chadorim to devote the same amount of time to teaching English, mathematics, and Hebrew as is spent on these subjects in public schools.
Regarding other subjects, chareidi schools will be mandated to devote 75% of the time spent on them in regular schools, and chadorim 55%. Both will be obligated to take the meitzvav tests mentioned earlier. The government wants to cement all these principles into an official law of government education for the chareidi public.
In response, representatives of chareidi chinuch said they would not cooperate:
“With Hashem’s help,chareidi chinuch will continue to flower and flourish. We will allow no intervention or interference in this prized spiritual treasure of faithful Jews subservient only to the authority of the gedolei Yisroel. With strength and conviction we stand ready to guard the independence of our pure chinuch, with no fear of government threats and enticements in the guise of promises. We will not allow Greek culture to penetrate our holy chinuch. We have a heavy and fateful responsibility to continue unchanged the mesorah of our fathers and rabbonim.”
Two months ago, education minister Shai Piron of Yesh Atid said that chareidi educational institutions that failed to include math, English and civics in their curriculums would be cut from government funding.
“You want money from the State? Teaching the core subjects is the State’s condition,” he said. “If you don’t go along, I’m taking the money.”
However, Israel’s new budget is cancelling the “Nahari Law” that obliged municipalities to pay for the two educational networks’ water, electricity, and cleaning.
“The decision to include the annulment of the Nahari Law in the [budget’s] Management Law is nothing but a clear symptom of hatred for chareidim,” said MK Menachem Moses.
“Chinuch Atzmai and the Maayan Hachinuch network are anchored in law, financed 100% by the Education Ministry, learn the full Liba curriculum, and fill all the demands of the law,” he complained. “Why should they be inferior to other pupils in Israel and denied a budget for electricity, water, cleaning, and janitors?”
Piron plans to establish a new network of chadorim where children learn the Liba curriculum and are taught the importance of army service.
Last year, about 32% of Jewish children starting school in Israel went to chareidi schools.
FISHER BLASTS LARGE CHAREIDI FAMILIES
Departing Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer, the man credited with keeping Israel’s economy prosperous during the global slowdown, publicly disparaged the chareidi’s public rapid growth rate.
“The economy is facing several challenges, which is basically a nice word for ‘problems,’” he said at the International Disciplinary Center in Herzliya. “Poverty is a central issue. There is intolerable poverty in the chareidi and Arab sectors. It must be dealt with.”
Admitting that the unemployment rate of 2012 was the lowest in 30 years, he felt that the growth in labor was not coming from Arabs and chareidim.
“Another problem is the demographic problem,” he added. “The growth rate in the chareidi population is 4.2%, which means the chareidi population will double within 17 years. The Arab population will double within 25 years, while the rest of the population has a 1.7% growth rate, meaning it will double itself in 40 years.”
Fisher warned that if this rate persisted, secular Israelis would be outnumbered within 50 years. Presently, the chareidim make up about 10% of Israel’s eight million population. Fischer was unhappy that only 40% percent of chareidi men choose work over Torah study and said he hoped Lapid’s budget plan would tackle the matter.
MK Meir Porush fiercely attacked Fisher’s anti-Semiticstatement.
“It is a very serious matter that provocation and incitement against the chareidi public persists even among people who are considered professionals,” he said. “It is no surprise that after the big cut in child allowances, someone openly and unequivocally demands to simply eradicate children. The large number of chareidi children preserves the balance of Jewish demographics in Israel. It should be encouraged. Israel shouldn’t cut off the branch it’s sitting on. An important person like him should immediately revoke his harsh words reminiscent of Pharaoh who said, Every boy who is born should be thrown into the Nile.”
In response to harsh criticism by Porush and other chareidi politicians, representatives of Fisher were quick to explain that he meant what he said in a similar speech during 2010. In that speech, Fisher carefully pointed out that he did not mean that the chareidi population should decrease, but that its members should take a greater part in the labor force.
GOVERNMENT LACK OF DECORUM
Rising lack of Knesset decorum moved Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to warn MKs that this will not be tolerated. He listed complaints about MKs eating and drinking in the Knesset plenum, taking photos and speaking on cell phones, and informal style of speaking.
“Upon taking office I said that I would have a zero-tolerance policy toward any manifestation of contempt or disrespect of the Knesset,” he wrote to each MK. “While I am glad to see that we are not there yet, I fear that day may be approaching fast. We are days from budget sessions, which are sure to be lengthy, tumultuous and exhausting. It is now that we will be scrutinized by our voters and we must serve as an example to the public. We must all exercise restraint and show each other and the Knesset – our House and the home of Israeli democracy – courtesy and respect. If we fail to observe the Knesset’s decorum, no one will do it for us.”
For Yesh Atid, lack of decorum is becoming a trend. Last week, Lapid brought his teenage son into a closed ministerial meeting, and his Minister of Education Shai Piron broke into uncontrollable laughter while trying to read a new government bill. The party is lacking not only in Torah, but also in derech eretz.