“I arrived at the Kosel with groups of serious yungeleit. Some walked there after getting up early in the morning. Others came by bus. I came by car. The road to the Old City was relatively clear, but coming up from Shaar Ha’ashpah, we found the road was closed. Chareidim could not get through. The same situation prevailed in the Jewish Quarter and the entrance from Shaar Shechem. Chareidim were kept away from all the entrances.
“We waited outside for over half an hour. Suddenly, a crowd of WoW members arrived in busses and vans. Traffic was stopped to let them through as their vehicles moved against the traffic. Police vehicles and motorbikes escorted them like VIPs. After they got out at the Kosel entrance and went inside, the police allowed us to enter as well. Police gave special treatment to the provocative group, whose aim was to denigrate and desecrate the remnant of our Bais Hamikdosh, and locked out those who came to daven according to the tradition and custom of the Kosel.
“A mispallel approached a police officer and said to him, ‘From 1967 until this morning, Jews have never been prevented from praying here. You did this!’ The officer pushed him aside callously and ordered him back onto the sidewalk.
“We reached the Kosel plaza late and prepared to daven. By keeping us out, the police prevented us from making the large, impressive minyan we had planned. Nonetheless, those who came to protest from the depth of their hearts set up a number of impressive minyanim.
“We davened with pain. In the background, we heard police shouting at and insulting mispallelim. We concentrated on the tefillas Rosh Chodesh. Every word of Mussaf cried out from the pages of the siddur: May a new mizbei’ach be set up in Tzion. May we all rejoice in the avodah of the Bais Hamikdosh.
“Suddenly, at the end of the tefillah, one of the larger minyanim began a slow, tentative dance. This swiftly swept the crowd into the songs of Simchas Torah. The Kosel plaza was elevated and we were filled with a feeling of joy. No police, decrees, reformers or women of the desecration of the wall can take away the truth from us. We are the Jews of the Kosel.
“Overwhelmed with emotion, we sang, ‘Vehivdilanu min hato’im,’‘Moshe emes,’ and‘Vesechezenah eineinu.’ United in song, we yearned for the return of the avodah to the Bais Hamikdosh. You brought along police, you shoved us aside, but the truth is with us. May our eyes see it soon. Amein.”
PART OF A LARGER PLOT
Last month, thousands of chareidim protested at the Women of the Wall’s Rosh Chodesh Sivan prayer, which has been deemed legal by a Yerushalayim court. To ensure a peaceful demonstration this month, rabbonim announced that only married avreichim should come to the Kosel for a special Rosh Chodesh tefillah to be held at 6:30 a.m. They were to avoid all provocations.
Police took the unprecedented step of keeping the two sides apart through drastic means. They escorted about 300 WoW members and supporters to the Old City from the Liberty Bell parking lot and brought them inside the Kosel plaza under heavy guard as chareidim were blockaded outside. The Women of the Wall reached the Kosel via a little used passageway running beneath the Mughrabi Bridge that leads up to the Har Habayis. Barriers prevented men from getting anywhere near the ezras noshim.
Hundreds of chareidim who had arrived earlier greeted the Women of the Wall’s arrival with cries and protests.
For the first time, police divided the ezras noshim into two sections in order to separate the WoW women from the chareidi women who davened loudly near the partition, trying to drown out the WoW prayer service. The WoW decided not to bring a Sefer Torah after police notified them that it was against current regulations.
The WoW service passed with no clashes and two arrests. Afterwards, police closed the exit of the Kosel plaza to chareidim and escorted WoW members to three Egged busses, which took them away. Police claimed they set up the blockades due to prior information warning that there might be disturbances.
Women of the Wall claimed a victory: “A record of over 300 women prayed in a fenced-off area. Beside them, 20 ultra-Orthodox women protested with signs, yelling and gawking at the pluralist prayer. Member of Knesset Michal Rozin, of Meretz, joined the women’s prayer for the fourth month, to see that the rights of women in this very important, public holy space were upheld.”
Rabbonim and MKs protested the insult to the Kosel and to the chareidi public.
“This morning, the Kosel was turned into a closed fortress because of the provocation of this women’s group,” the rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, complained in an official statement. “The sight of this fortress was a shame and disgrace to the whole Jewish people. Barriers were set up in the prayer areas while…worshippers were prevented from entering the Kosel plaza. This was a disgrace to us all and a great damage to the sanctity of the Kosel and the unity it represents.”
MKs Meir Porush and Uri Maklev of UTJ sent an urgent query to minister of public security Yitzchok Aharonowitz, demanding an immediate explanation for what happened:
“This morning, thousands of worshippers were prevented from reaching the Kosel,” they wrote. “Regular worshippers who came early and were present there were fenced within barriers. This was a shameful sight in the place of supreme sanctity to those living in Israel and overseas… Is this the ‘professional’ police response to a small provocation against thousands of regular, religious worshippers?”
MK Menachem Moses of UTJ proposed a motion of no confidence at the Knesset, saying that the Kosel episode was a disgrace.
“This is something new in Israel,” he said. “For the first time, the police stopped worshippers from reaching the Kosel to recite the Rosh Chodesh prayers in order to enable a group of faking, unstable women to hold their lunatic rituals at the Kosel plaza. Thousands of worshippers who come every day to pray at the Kosel were not allowed to enter and pray for an extended time, only to enable that group of women to arrive and arouse disgusting provocation. The worshippers who did enter were surrounded by fences and heavy police security. This was shameful and degrading.”
“Millions of people, Jews and non-Jews, religious and non-religious, men and women, young and old, arrive every day of the year to pray solemnly at the Kosel,” he added. “Therefore, it is absolutely unfeasible to allow a specific group to enter and arouse provocation in the place most holy to the Jewish people and, as a result, prevent people’s regular prayers. Can one imagine the police stopping Muslims from going up to the Har Habayis or fencing them in under heavy guard in order to enable MK Feiglin to go there? Why don’t the police apply the same yardstick to this group of provocative women?”
Moses complained that the Egged bus company seemed to have taken sides by not providing extra busses for the mass tefillah planned that day.
“People crowded the bus stops on their way to tefillas Rosh Chodesh,” he said. “To their disappointment, they could not reach the Kosel because of the excessive crowding and lack of extra transport.”
During past weeks, chief rabbis Rav Shlomo Amar and Rav Yonah Metzger, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich and Moshe Gafni received letters threatening their lives if they did not allow the Women of the Wall to have their service at the Kosel as they please. This week, MK Aryeh Deri of Shas received an identical letter, with its trademark gun illustration. He registered a complaint with the Knesset security office and was told that the matter is under investigation.
Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennett, who is seeking a compromise between the two groups, suggested that the WoW members be permitted to wear colorful female style taleisim and pray loudly, but be barred from wearing tefillin and reading from the Torah. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to oppose any proposal that detracts from the court ruling that all the WoW activities are completely legal.
Last month, Anat Hoffman, leader of WoW, admitted that the fight at the Kosel is part of a larger plan. Asked by a BBC interviewer whether she was “just trying to change the setup at the Western Wall” or whether her point was “a broader one about Judaism,” she admitted to the second option.
“I think when you change the holiest site of the Jewish people, you are actually asking why not about a variety of other life choices dictated to Israelis by the Orthodox monopoly,” she said. “I am also questioning why the Orthodox are the only ones in charge of marriage and divorce in Israel? Many Israelis want to get married in other ways and we do not have civil marriage or Reform and Conservative marriage and, more importantly, Reform or Conservative divorce. Some of us wish to get buried not by Orthodox custom, but by Reform, Conservative or secular custom.”
A Conservative Jew’s comment at the Rosh Chodesh service on Sunday shows what this group is really about. Asked why he thought the Kosel traditions deserve no respect, he replied, “The shortest answer is that it’s just a wall.”
WOMEN TO SIT ON PANEL THAT SELECTS DAYONIM
After a night-long session, the Knesset voted in favor of an amendment mandating that women will sit on the religious judges’ nomination committee. Since the 1950s, the committee has been reserved exclusively for men. According to the new law, the panel will now include at least four women, including a female to’ein rabbani (rabbinical lawyer), raising the number of its members to 11.
“The new law will rectify the current, warped situation, in which only men get to decide on issues that have a considerable impact on women’s lives,” said MK Gal-On of Meretz, one of the new amendment’s proponents.
She hoped that women “will help balance [the committee’s] decisions and will give women’s unique needs and the issues they deal with when facing the rabbinical courts a voice.”
The Religious-Zionist women’s organization Emunah expressed hope that this amendment is only the beginning of a new paradigm.
“Emunah has waged this battle for over two years and this is clear-cut proof that if you have faith in the path you pursue, you will prevail,” said its chairwoman. “Our battle may have caused delays in the rabbinical courts, but this is the silver lining. Hopefully, all of the rabbis who insist on waging unnecessary wars against the inclusion of women in the religious judges’ nomination committee, the state kashrut supervision system, the [municipal] religious councils and any other religious body will now realize that there is no halachic flaw or anti-religious sentiment in allowing women to be represented.”
Chareidi MKs tried to filibuster the vote, taking advantage of a rule that every MK present in the plenum has the right to speak for half an hour and explain his opposition. Coalition members waited them out in exhaustion. Bennett wrote during the course of the debate: “It is 3:21 in the morning… MK Vaknin of Shas is speaking, there are still two speeches to go, and I have to get up at 6:00 in the morning… There is fierce argument in the plenum. Who has the energy to argue with so much heat? This is one of the wonders of Israeli democracy.”
Despite the chareidi MKs’ efforts, the amendment was approved by a vote of 33 to 12.
APPEAL TO PERES
Gedolei Torah continue to protest Israel’s government and its turncoat politicians.
Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Rashbi, asked why Israel’s Religious-Zionist Jews are doing little or nothing to help the chareidim fight for Torah values.
“The custom of the Religious-Zionists is to be mekarev people who strayed from the path of Torah, but they never noticed how they lost yiras Shomayim in the process,” he said. “Although some Religious-Zionists learn Torah, shockingly, they are all silent to the extent that not even one rov or rosh yeshiva among them opens his mouth to cry out against the persecution of Torah and its students perpetrated in their name by their emissaries [in the Knesset] who are fighting against the Torah.
“How can shomrei mitzvos be complacent when there is talk of jailing Torah students?” he asked. “Their Torah has deteriorated to such an extent that they are willing to thrust a sword into the Torah and its students.”
During his weekly Motzoei Shabbos shiur, Rav Ovadiah Yosef said that the pact between Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett is the same as the pact Korach made with his opportunistic followers.
“Korach was a clever person who went around inciting people as Lapid does,” Rav Ovadiah said. “They all united against Moshe Rabbeinu, making a pact like the one set up between Lapid and Bennett.”
In an attempt to blunt the government’s attacks against the Torah society, MKs Yaakov Litzman and Meir Porush of UTJ appealed to President Shimon Peres.
“There are people who want to eradicate the chareidi sector,” Litzman told him. “We appeal to you to use your influence to your fullest extent.”
“We are appealing to you because we know that you know what it means to treat people with dignity,” Porush said. “Please find a way to enable us to live and exist here with dignity.”
Peres said he agreed that no child in Israel, secular or Arab, should go hungry, but made it clear that “Whoever doesn’t learn must work.” But he said that the number of chareidim exempted from army service is far more than anything Ben Gurion ever had in mind and that the system is abused. But he agreed that he was not aware of everything the MKs had told him.
“I don’t want religious coercion and I don’t want anti-religious coercion,” he said. “With your permission, I will speak to the prime minister and finance minister, hear what they have to say, and tell them you opinion. This is what I can and must do in my position, and I will do it gladly.”
The two MKs told journalists that no sector of Israeli society is persecuted to the extent that chareidim are. They pointed out that the budgetary allocation of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim was to be slashed by 70%.
In a Knesset speech, Netanyahu said that although he was happy that a chareidi draft was underway, it should be done with mutual respect.
“We have waited for this for 65 years,” he said. “But I say that we must do this with respect to the chareidi public and with mutual discussion as we have done for the past four years… The last thing we want to do it to tear ourselves to pieces.”
In his response, MK Uri Maklev told Netanyahu that his government would be the only one in the world to send Jewish police to tear Torah students away from their studies.
MK Eliezer Moses complained of the finance ministry’s decision to stop government funding to foreign yeshiva students.
“One of the clauses in the arrangements law [attached to the budget] specifies that yeshiva students arriving to learn in yeshivos and kollelim in Eretz Yisroel will no longer receive funding,” he said. “Who is the genius who made the decision? This is small change compared to the national budget, altogether 35 million shekels ($9.5 million) a year. But the damage caused to the national income will be ten times more.”
Moses pointed out that Israel spends hundreds of millions of shekels encouraging tourists to visit Israel. The idea of charging tourists sales tax was nipped in the bud. Israel also invests tens of millions on programs such as Taglit, Naaleh and Masa, which bring youngsters for trips to Israel in the hope that they may live there. Each such program costs more than the money Israel spends on yeshiva talmidim from overseas.
“Unlike these other programs, the state does not pay for the transportation or upkeep of the thousands of chareidi talmidim who come to learn here,” he said. “All Israel gives is a tiny grant of a few hundred shekels a month to the institutions where they learn. But the government wants this to stop… The only reason for this is to persecute the Torah community. Like Shimshon, who killed himself together with the Pelishtim, the state doesn’t care about its losses as long as the Torah world also loses.
Moses also argued against the government’s claim that it is essential to integrate Torah students into the workplace.
“According to statistics of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, 252,000 jobless people are competing for 62,000 available positions,” he said. “What workplaces for chareidim is [the deputy finance minister] talking about?”
MORE FINANCIAL EDICTS
The arrangements law slated to be passed together with the budget also threatens to cause the dismissal of 300 of small community rabbonim by cutting 60% of their salaries. Until now, this money was paid for by the state. Few local councils will be able to make up the shortfall in the rabbonim’s salaries and hundreds of communities may be left without rabbonim. The salaries were not too large to begin with, as beginning rabbis receive only 3,500-4,000 shekels (less than a $1,000) a month and are not allowed to take on other jobs.
The state intends to dismiss all of them and leave it to local councils to decide whether to rehire them, hire new rabbonim, or hire no replacements at all.
A Haifa court issued a ruling that may negatively impact chareidi schools and chadorim. When a Greek-Orthodox school near Haifa demanded that parents of two of its pupils pay 12,000 shekels for tuition and other services owed for the past two years, the court accepted the parents’ argument that since Israeli law guarantees free education, even schools that do not receive full government financing require authorization of the General Director of the Education Ministry to demand payment from parents. This decision may affect chareidi schools and chadorim that are only partly financed by the government.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Israel announced that even Lapid’s painful tax increases and budget cuts will not be enough to save the economy.
“The government’s spending commitments for 2015 and onward are already about NIS 6 billion more than the ceiling set by law,” the bank stated. “If [economic] growth is not especially rapid, then even if the government reduces its spending commitments to be in line with the ceiling, it will have to raise tax revenues further in order to meet deficit targets in 2015 and 2016.”
This is bad news for Lapid, who promised that his painful 2013-14 budget were short-term measures and that within two years the belt tightening would be over.
Surprisingly, despite Lapid’s harsh economic edicts, which affects so many segments of the Israeli society, his popularity is still ranking high thanks to his constant bashing of chareidim. A Knesset Channel poll indicates that if elections were held today, his party would only fall from 19 to 17 seats. The biggest winner of the poll was Labor, who would go from 15 seats in the Knesset to 21. Meretz would rise from 6 to 8, while Habayit Hayehudi would gain a seat, going from 12 to 13 seats.
All other parties would lose seats. Netanyahu’s Likud Beiteinu would plunge from its current 31 to 26, Shas would drop from 11 to 10, UTJ from 7 to 6, and Hatnua from 6 to 4.
This means that if an election were to be held today, Netanyahu would not to be able to form a coalition with the right and religious bloc (Likud Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi, UTJ, and Shas), even if Habayit Hayehudi broke its partnership deal with Lapid’s Yesh Atid party. With only 55 seats, the bloc would have to add some leftist parties.
The poll also indicates a weakening of the nationalist bloc. Currently, Likud Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and Yesh Atid (whose allegiance to nationalist ideology is unclear) have enough seats to make a 62-seat coalition on their own. The new poll cuts their total to 56 seats, four short of the number required to form a coalition.
The worst indication from these polls is that, relatively speaking, Lapid is in better shape than Netanyahu and can still consider ousting him in a future election.
There is no doubt that these statistics are keeping Netanyahu strongly tied to Lapid. More than anything else, Netanyahu cares about remaining in power. As long as he needs Lapid to maintain a coalition, it is unlikely that Netanyahu will do much, if anything, to address the attacks against the chareidim.
MOCKERY OF THE KNESSET
Two recent incidents reinforce the impression that the Knesset, never known for its seriousness, is reaching new, dangerous levels of flippancy and childishness. At a closed meeting of the Housing Cabinet, ministers were shocked when Lapid brought along his 17-year-old son Lior. Although Lapid’s office said it was technically feasible for a minister to bring his son to such meetings, in practice, no one remembered any minister doing so within living memory.
As one reporter said, “Imagine if it was Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu who brought a son to a closed cabinet meeting.”
Lapid later commented about the incident.
“I invited my 17-year-old son to lunch and I made him wait for me during a two-hour Housing Cabinet discussion,” he said. “I hope he does not report me to child services and complain that I bored him.”
In a separate incident, Minister of Education Shai Piron of Yesh Atid broke into uncontrollable laughter in the Knesset plenum while attempting to read a new bill concerning the smuggling of phones and dangerous items into prisons. After Moshe Gafni asked him what was so funny, he burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughing, which forced him to leave the podium and leave the reading of the bill to Welfare Minister Meir Cohen. Piron wasn’t ashamed of the manner in which he acted.
SECULAR OMBUDSWOMAN FOR THE RABBINICAL COURTS
There are constant new inroads to the “new Israel” Lapid constantly preaches of. For the first time, a secular ombudswoman was appointed for the rabbinical courts. There is talk of opening a separate conversion authority for every town, and even the concept of separate Sefardi and Ashkenazi rabbonim is being challenged. In addition, the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee approved a bill that would allow couples to register for marriage anywhere in Israel, and approved an amendment that mandates the inclusion of a woman in the committee that selects the rabbinate’s dayonim.
Over the past week, the rabbinical courts named the first ever secular woman for its ombudsman in the history of Israel. Most women in its system serve in secretarial positions. Yael Mashinsky-Yirmeyahu, 31, of Modiin, arrived for an interview with the tenders committee of the rabbinical courts wearing pants. This had no adverse effect on her selection for the job, which deals mainly with complaints and petitions to the botei din.
“I’m secular and traditional and I was happy to see that there was no discrimination,” she said. “I did not try to hide anything from the committee and I am happy to see that the state is conducted properly, unlike all the stories you hear about fixed bids.”
In May 2008, the state comptroller criticized the state botei din for not hiring enough female employees.
“We have to provide the public with the proper, professional answers to the various sensitive issues presented to the courts and we welcome Yael’s nomination,” said Shmuel Yosef, deputy director-general of the rabbinical courts. “We have every faith in her ability.”
SEPARATE CONVERSION AUTHORITY FOR EVERY TOWN
On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation was supposed to discuss a new bill proposed by MK Elazar Stern of Hatnuah, which is intended to facilitate the conversion process. According to the proposal, the rabbi of every town or local council would have the power to establish an independent bais din for giyur without authorization from the High Rabbinical Court. Presently, every conversion requires the personal signature of the president of the High Rabbinical Court, which centralizes the authority of giyur. Stern’s law would grant individual authority to dozens of different rabbonim and throw Israel’s giyur system into total disarray.
Stern temporarily withdrew the proposal after Habayit Hayehudi informed him that it would veto the idea, but he says he will re-introduce it in coming weeks.
However, the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee approved a bill that would allow couples to register for marriage anywhere in Israel. It also reapproved an amendment that mandates the inclusion of a woman in the committee that selects the rabbinate’s dayonim. This brings both these proposals closer to law.
Gafni railed at committee chairman, MK Dovid Rotem of Likud Beiteinu, for his part in passing the proposals.
“Moshiach will see what this committee is doing and he won’t come!” Gafni said to Rotem, who is religious. “This committee has become the garbage can of Judaism. All the anti-Jewish laws reach you. You have always been anti-religious! You are a big ‘hero,’ you talk the talk, and that is why you cannot be a representative on the Judicial Selection Committee. That committee needs strong people.”
MKs Avrohom Michaeli of Shas and Uri Maklev of UTJ had requested a revote on the bill to include women in the committee that selects dayonim. They said that the vote of approval was an attack on the country’s botei din, as it might indirectly lead to women sitting on the botei din.
On the positive side, a chareidi was chosen as a member of the Committee for Appointing Judges for the first time. Surprisingly, even Lapid told his party to vote for the chareidi candidate, MK Eli Yishai of Shas. Perhaps due to the urgency of the political situation, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and Rav Ovadiah Yosef allowed chareidim to offer their candidacy to the committee for the first time.
ONE CHIEF RABBI
Naftali Bennett has proposed a law that would revolutionize Israel’s rabbinate.
“The time has come to have one chief rabbi,” he said. “I will make a law establishing that the state of Israel has only one chief rabbi.”
Bennett is not the originator of the idea. MK Moshe Feiglin of Likud already signed up a number of MKs who support this idea. Chief rabbinate contender Rav David Stav approves of it as well.
NEW YORK RALLY
On Sunday, tens of thousands of people gathered at Foley Square in Lower Manhattan for a rally to protest attempts to draft yeshiva students into the Israeli army.
Busses arrived from around the tri-state area, with the program beginning at approximately 5 p.m.
About 300 officers from the New York City Police Department were on hand to ensure the security of attendees, while members of Chaveirim and Shomrim provided their services to ensure the smooth running of the event.
The gathering was organized by Satmar and featured the participation of both admorim of Satmar, Rav Aharon Teitelbaum, and his brother, Rav Zalman Leib Teitelbaum.
The program began with Minchah, followed by the recital of Tehillim led by Rav Asher Kalmanowitz, rosh yeshiva of the Mirrer Yeshiva in Brooklyn. Rav Yitzchok Glick of the Hisachdus Harabbonim served as chairman.
Speakers at the event included Rav Yaakov Weiss, rosh yeshiva in the Satmar Yeshiva of Kiryas Yoel; Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Gedolah Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg; Rav Yaakov Horowitz, rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Bais Meir and rov of the Telzer Minyan of Boro Park; Rav Berel Katz, the Dushinsky Rov; Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, rov of Khal Nachlas Yitzchok of Queens; the Galanta Rov; Rav Yaakov Nachman Stauber, menahel of the Satmar Yeshiva of Queens; and Rav Pinchos Jung, menahel of Bais Rochel Girls School in Monsey.
Rav Naftoli Herzka Frankel of the Badatz of the Eidah Hachareidis led the recital of Kabbolas Ohl Malchus Shomayim.
The speakers highlighted the serious nature of the gezeiros facing Torah Jewry in Eretz Yisroel and the need to be strengthened in Torah and tefillah in order to merit Heavenly mercy at such a challenging juncture.