Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

Israel Government Accused of Attempting to Curb Democracy

On the last day of its summer session, the Knesset passed the first reading of two bills that raised a storm in the plenum. The first was the controversial governability bill sponsored by Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and championed by Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid. The first clauses of the bill, which make it harder to bring down ruling governments, passed 63-42 with two abstentions. The more controversial second section, which includes raising the electoral threshold from 2 to 4 percent of the electorate, passed 64-42 with one abstention. According to the bill's terms, the three tiny Arab parties in the Knesset which have never had more than 3-4 seats would cease to exist.

“People are sick and tired of a splintered Knesset that consists of splinter parties and of an inflated government that provides jobs to superfluous ministers in order to survive,” Lieberman explained. “This law of Yisrael Beiteinu, which establishes, inter alia, that only 18 ministers and 4 deputy ministers will serve in the cabinet, and that the electoral threshold will be raised to 4%, will bring stability and effective governments that can fulfill their role long-term planning and work for the citizens.”


Reportedly, due to his ties to chareidi parties, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will try to reduce the threshold to 3% during the Knesset recess. In addition to the points Lieberman mentioned, the bill also limits no-confidence votes aimed at toppling the government to being held once a month instead of once a week, and requires the prime minister to be present at the debates preceding such votes.


In the debate preceding the vote, UTJ, Arab, Meretz and Labor MKs protested the bill that threatens to silence minority parties by standing at the Knesset microphone in silence. Arab MK Ahmed Tibi stood with his back to the plenum. MK Jamal Zachalka stood on the plenum with his mouth taped up and declared afterwards, “This was illustrative of a Knesset without Arab MKs, a Knesset with no opposition.”


Although the raised threshold favors chareidi parties – in the last elections, tiny splinter parties siphoned up to five mandates from them – the electoral law may be a harbinger of future efforts to create a United States style Knesset dominated by two or three giant parties to the exclusion of chareidim and everyone who dares raise his head.


Before standing in silence, MK Moshe Gafni of UTJ cited the posuk, “At that time, the wise one will keep silent” (Amos 5:13).


“People who know me know how difficult it is for me to keep quiet,” he said. “But I will do it in identification with the Arab factions.”


“Gafni, you stir up a storm even when you keep quiet,” Knesset deputy chairman Gilo Gamliel joked, while conceding that “someone finally managed to make Gafni stop talking.”


MK Yisroel Eichler of UTJ said that the new bill fights against its citizens as well as against the chareidim.


“It is anti-Jewish and anti-democratic,” he said. “100,000 Arab citizens are keeping silent [together with their MKs]. There is discrimination against Arabs and discrimination against chareidim. From this moment, listen well to our silence. Woe to a country that has become anti-Jewish and anti-democratic.”


Eichler concluded his protest in Arabic, “Nachnu makum banidlakum min agul al dimokratiya – We are with you in your struggle for democracy.”


In reply to Eichler’s linguistic efforts, MK Achmed Tibi thanked him in Yiddish: “Di Arabe bedanken eich oif di temichah vegen demokratiyah – The Arabs thank you for your support of democracy.”


MK Menachem Eliezer Moses explained why chareidi parties were concerned about the bill even if it proved beneficial to them in the short run.


“Possible, we, the religious parties, will benefit from the increase of the threshold,” he said. “This will protect us from splinter parties that threaten and sabotage us during every election by trying to attract certain sectors that think that propaganda is enough to add extra mandates to the Knesset. [Yitzchak] Amsallem, Amnon Yitzchak and [Michael] Ben-Ari caused the loss of 4-5 mandates. These could have blocked the Bennett-Lapid covenant that led to their seizure of the government.


“The problem is that the government is playing with basic laws,” he continued. “Today you propose a law raising the threshold to 4% and next time you raise it to 8%… At 8%, such a bill would constitute a threat to democracy and a closing of mouths worthy of Bolshevik rule… You, who propose the law, don’t forget that one day you may find yourselves on the other side of the fence and then you’ll be sorry.”


Yair Lapid demonstrated his iron grip over his party when MK Adi Kol, a leading opponent of the bill, strayed from the party line and abstained from voting for part of it. Minutes later, Lapid castigated her and forced her to publicly apologize for her breach of protocol.


For Lapid, an apology was not enough. He barred Kol from all party-related activity until further notice.


In response, Labor leaders Shelly Yachimovich and Yitzchak Herzog said they would let Kol speak during their speaking slots.


“The Labor faction will allocate to MK Kol, whenever she wants, a quota of private bills in order to help her bring her worldview to parliamentary and public expression,” they said. “We will honor any request by MK Kol, because we respect her worldview and object to the attempt to silence her.”


MK Yitzchak Cohen of Shas said that Lapid’s behavior was reminiscent of the ruling style commonly associated with North Korea.




More evidence of Lapid’s arrogance was provided by Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who recently blasted Lapid for throwing him out of a Diplomatic-Security cabinet meeting two weeks ago. Steinitz, who is presently not a member of the security cabinet, was invited in his capacity as former finance minister. When the meeting shifted to diplomatic issues, Lapid demanded that Steinitz leave. Netanyahu supported Lapid’s insult.


“Lapid, who has been a minister for all of three months, has made it to the inner sanctum of government, the Diplomatic Security Cabinet, and is behaving the way he is behaving because of his arrogance and haughtiness,” Steinitz said. “Some people come in and think that they don’t have anything to learn. Like someone who thinks they can get a doctoral degree without first earning a master’s or a bachelor’s degree.”


This was in reference to Bar-Ilan University’s rejected plan to grant Lapid an honorary Ph.D.


“I am not exonerating the prime minister of responsibility, with all the respect and appreciation I have for him,” Steinitz continued. “In this instance, he should have behaved differently. This was inappropriate behavior on his part. He displayed weakness in dealing with Lapid … Of course I was offended. There is only one boss in the government and that is Netanyahu. His conduct should make it clear who is boss in this government, and he failed to do that.”


Arab MK Claims: “We Were Here Before You”


Getting back to the first reading of the governability bill, the Knesset spent the rest of the evening passing the first reading of the referendum bill, which demands a public vote before giving up Israeli soil. Although current law already requires a public referendum before giving up an inch of sovereign Israel, the new bill reinforces the law by making it a part of basic legislation. This has constitutional status in the eyes of the High Court and automatically abrogates conflicting laws. Naftali Bennett had insisted that the bill be promoted as a condition for his party’s support of the state budget.


“The Land of Israel belongs to the grandfathers of our grandfathers and the grandsons of our grandsons and no one can give up our right to it,” he said during the debate. “Such a crucial decision cannot be made through political tricks. Every decision on giving up part of the land must be made by the public.”


At this point, Moshe Gafni cried out, “With no Toras Yisroel,there is no Eretz Yisroel.


Yaakov Asher of UTJ shouted, “If so, why are you letting him [Netanyahu] negotiate? If so, why did you send Livni [to speak to Kerry]?”


Opposition MKs warned that the referendum bill was dangerous.


“A referendum will legitimize removing Jews from their homes,” said MK Nissim Ze’ev of Shas.


MK Avrohom Michaeli of Shas warned that the referendum was a “trick” for which Bennett’s voters would not forgive him.


In the course of the debate, MK Jamal Zachalka of the Balad party told the Knesset, “Since the referendum is over occupied territory, what applies is international law, and therefore the national referendum should be a bi-national referendum [including the Arabs of the West Bank].”


“The Land of Israel belongs to the nation of Israel and you are the foreigners here!” MK Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi shouted.


“We were here before you. I was here before you. And we will be here after you! So stop dreaming,” Zachalka retorted.


In the past, Zachalka has claimed that West Bank Jews have no right to self-defense and that their murder should not be condemned.


Taking advantage of his prime ministerial right to speak whenever necessary, Netanyahu strode straight up to the podium and announced, “I hadn’t intended to speak. But I heard the statement by MK Zachalka. You said, ‘We were here before you… and we will be here after you.’ The first part is not true. And the second part will not happen.”


Many MKs enthusiastically applauded Netanyahu’s impromptu statement.


Zachalka then changed his tune, saying, “I meant that we will be here after discrimination comes to an end.”


Shortly afterwards, during a memorial ceremony at the Treblinka concentration camp commemorating the 70th anniversary of its 1943 uprising, Deputy Education Minister Avi Wortzman of Habayit Hayehudi referred to Zachalka’s claim that Arabs preceded Jews in Eretz Yisroel.


“This week, the state of Israel is negotiating with someone (Mahmoud Abbas) whose doctorate is in Holocaust denial,” he said. “At the same time, I hear that in the Israeli Knesset, a Member of Knesset is inciting against the Jewish people, saying, ‘We were here before you and we will be here after you.’ I stand here in Treblinka as a representative of the state of Israel and as a proud Jew, and I say to everyone who seeks ill for us: The Jewish nation existed before you in history and we will remain after you are gone.”


The governability and referendum bills need to pass two more readings after the Knesset reconvenes for its winter session.




Lately, the IDF has been boasting that despite chareidi resistance to the draft, the number of chareidim enlisting was on the increase. In particular, the army pointed at the latest induction of 420 chareidi youngsters which, the army claimed, was the largest chareidi draft in history. Last year, 1,447 chareidim were drafted, and the year before 1,282. Based on such figures, a commander of the IDF Manpower Directorate said that the IDF plans to draft a record 2,000 chareidi volunteers this year. Another senior official said that the IDF hopes to have up to 10,000 chareidi soldiers by 2018 in contrast to today’s 3,500.


But people viewing the latest chareidi recruits arriving at the induction base said that it was doubtful whether most of them were chareidim at all. Many recruits openly admitted that they are not chareidi at all.


“It’s all harta barta (nonsense),” said Yosi Cohen, who is employed by the IDF to promote army service among chareidim. “Not a single chareidi man was drafted today.


“The army is running a program that brings people back into the fold, and that’s very nice, but there were no chareidim drafted today,a reporter said.


How does the army crack this up as a record chareidi draft? By the expedient of defining soldiers’ religiosity not according to their present level of observance, but based on the last educational institution where they studied.


MK Mordechai Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi conceded that the number of chareidi recruits is declining because of the hostility engendered by the shivyon banetel campaign. According to his estimate, only 50% of the Netzach Yehuda recruits were chareidi;others came from “other ends of the scale.” MK Omer Bar-Lev of Labor acknowledged that many of the new recruits were noshrim, bochurim who dropped out the yeshiva system.


Self proclaimed chareidi MK Dov Lipman of Yesh Atid seemed unfazed by the lack of chareidim in the draftees’ ranks. He said that the sight of recruits“in black kippot, tzitzis, and peyos” brought tears to his eyes. Lauding the mesirus nefesh of some who were joining the army at risk of incurring familial disfavor, he handed out his personal card to the recruits, saying they would be welcome to come to his home for Shabbos.




After weeks of deliberation, Israel’s High Court temporarily accepted Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon’s argument that forcibly drafting the 550 chareidim due to enlist on August 18th would contradict the government’s intent to defer all yeshiva bochurim from the draft for the next few years. So far, this is a defeat for the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, the Chiddush movement for religious freedom and equality, the Israeli Forum for Citizen Equal Rights and Obligations, and several other groups, which claimed that in the absence of a legislated draft law, the 550 bochurim should be drafted in August like every other teenager. The High Court said that it would review the issue again in a couple of weeks based on updated information supplied by plaintiffs and the government by that time.




Despite army insistence that chareidi soldiers have “eight different types of kashrus andshi’urei Torah,” and that the army is doing everything possible to accommodate halachah, an IDF battalion commander admitted that chareidi bases are “not closed to women.” He said this after 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 on an IDF website that “the Netzach Yehuda battalion keeps Shabbos strictly, the food served is kosher l’mehadrin, and servicemen in the battalion are completely separate [from women].” Yet, after clarifying the incident, IDF officials insisted that although Nachal Chareidi is a male-only battalion, no rules prevent women soldiers and officers from entering the base.


The same thing happened a few weeks ago when a female officer tasked with checking the base’s kitchen was barred entry. At the time, the chief of staff’s advisor for women’s affairs, Brig. Gen. Rachel Tevet-Weisel, said that she had told all the battalion’s officers that “the base is not closed to women.” Another officer clarified that gender separation at bases does not extend to keeping all women outside, stating, “For all I care, they can evacuate the base before a woman comes to fix something. She’s not an organic part of the unit, after all.”


MK Aliza Lavie of Yesh Atid, chairman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, warned that the increase of chareidim in the IDF must not impinge on feminist rights.


“We are in the midst of a process that will lead to a drastic rise in the number of chareidi troops enlisting with the IDF,” she wrote. “Naturally, this process requires the IDF to prepare accordingly. Clearly, the IDF must be sensitive to the needs of the chareidi troops, but that cannot lead to a situation where women are not allowed to enter bases.”




On the other hand, about 200 Nachal Chareidi and Hesder soldiers were granted permission to leave a ceremony marking the 7th anniversary of the Kefir Brigade in order to avoid listening to women singing. Although 3,000 soldiers and officers were obligated to attend the event held in the Chulda Forest, Rav Shoham Orkobi, the rov of the unit, asked the brigade commander to allow religious soldiers to leave before the singing began. Accordingly, about 200 soldiers left the ceremony at the appropriate time through an unobtrusive exit.


This was in contrast to last year, when Lt. Col. Ram Moshe Ravad quit his post as rov of the chareidi Shachar program partially because of new guidelines requiring soldiers to attend official ceremonies even if they featured women singing. Until now, the guidelines of this issue remain unclear. Minister Minor Livnat recently said, “If [chareidim] have a special evening for their unit, there is no need to bring women to sing there. But if they participate in an event together with other units, female soldiers should sing there, but it should be possible for someone who does not need to be there not to participate.”




There was heated conflict at the first closed-door meeting of the Special Committee for Shivyon Banetel to prepare the army draft bill for its second and third readings.


As MK Tzachi Hanegbi of Yisrael Beiteinu wrote of the meeting, “On the one side you have us, four MKs – Elazar Stern, Ofer Shelah, Moti Yugav and myself – who served as paratroopers and cannot tolerate draft dodging. On the other side you have MKs from the chareidi parties who feel obliged to defend the lifestyle of the sector they represent. We argue in one language, but the chasm between our hashkafos seems unbridgeable at this stage.”


Moshe Gafni said that the panel’s chareidi participants were determined to drastically change the bill.


“We are not a rubber stamp of the government,” he said. “The proposed bill placed before this committee is only raw material and the bill that emerges at the end of the process will be different. One cannot impose an impossible edict upon the public. We come to these discussions to make changes and to influence. The bill’s text is not immutable. Just as nine out of ten IDF soldiers are not frontline fighters, yet still protect the State of Israel, so too, a person who studies Torah defends the Jewish people. As far as I’m concerned, whoever doesn’t learn Torah day and night should indeed enlist.”


Chareidi leaders remain adamantly opposed to the draft in line with a declaration that Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach zt”l made 25 years ago when there was talk of drafting yeshiva students: “If they decide to draft the bnei yeshivos, I will go together with the bnei yeshivos into golus.”


MK Ofer Shelach of Yesh Atid warned that the committee must reach some sort of agreement or it would be even worse for the chareidim.


“Everyone needs to understand that if we fail to reach an agreement, the only alternative is that everyone will be forced to enlist at age 18,” he said.


The head of the committee, MK Ayelet Shaked of Habayit Hayehudi, appeared convinced that the 28,000 yeshiva students to be exempted from army service in the next three years would rush out into the streets in search of work. She said that their positive contributions to Israel’s business and high tech world would mimic the mass immigration of Russian Jews during the ‘90s.


Before the meeting, Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett spoke of concrete plans to bring Shaked’s ideas to fruition, even declaring that “integrating chareidim into the workforce was a supreme objective and even more important than their integration into the army.”


“In order to ensure the proper integration of chareidim in the workforce, the Economy and Trade Ministry is developing tools that can facilitate the integration process,” he said.”These tools are based on three components: creating a country-wide career guidance infrastructure, raising the demand for chareidi employees among employers by using economic incentives, and the third component – individual attention through professional training and workshops.”


At another Knesset meeting, Bennett said that his ministry planned to open a prestigious program named Talpiyos L’chareidim, to train chareidim for the high tech industry.


Meanwhile, the Treasury and Economic Ministry together with the Yerushalayim municipality has selected the non-profit organization Kemach (Kidum Miktzo’I Chareidi) to run a job placement organization, which is expected to find jobs for 1,500 chareidim a year at a cost of 48 million shekels over three years.




At an emergency meeting against the forced draft of bochurim attended by thousands, the gaon av bais din of the Badatz of the Eidah Hachareidis, Rav Yitzchok Tuviah Weiss, protested the use of violence to fight against the yeshiva draft.


“Such disgraceful behavior is unfitting for bnei yeshivos,” he said. “We must sanctify Sheim Shomayim in all our ways.”


Contrary to those who wanted to have the meeting at the open square in front of the Badatz in Meah Shearim, the meeting took place in a closed hall in order to minimize the chance of police conflict.


Meah Shearim’s Toldos Aharon chassidus also condemned violence. The latest edition of its weekly magazine included a number of stories condemning the use of excessive kana’us.




Reshuffling over 600 towns and settlements earmarked for preferential status, the Knesset added 20 towns, mostly West Bank towns and towns Gaza Jews moved to, but it removed from the list the chareidi town of Beitar Illit, as well as the town of Charish, which is slated for chareidi residence in the future.


The preferential list includes towns in Yehuda and Shomron, and development areas at the northern border and in the vicinity of Gaza. These are eligible for government benefits in matters of infrastructure, education, culture, and security, and subsidies and loans for housing. Three settlements added to the list began as illegal settlements that were legalized retroactively.


Opposition politicians blasted the decision.


“The decision to include settlements, whose legal status are clouded by doubt, to the map of national preferences, is a targeted effort to prevent the peace efforts and reveals a contempt for the rule of law,” said Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On.


“We’re lucky that the pioneers who built Kibbutz Chanita [an early tower and stockade settlement] didn’t think like you,” MK Naftali Bennett retorted.


Gal-On also attacked Finance Minister Yair Lapid for deserting the middle class he claims to represent and voting for preferential status for settlements.


“Lapid has broken all of his promises, except for one promise which he has kept diligently – his promise to (Naftali) Bennett and the interests of the settlers,” she said.


Chareidi MKs complained about the removal of Beitar Illit from the list.


“This proves that the persecution of chareidim continues even after the budget,” said MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ. “It is impossible to consider joining a government that has decided to persecute everything connected to chareidim and that acts with terrible discrimination against a complete sector.”


“Today, the Israeli government has again proved its obduracy with the unethical decision to remove Beitar Illit and Charish from the national preference map and include dozens of lonely outposts,” said MK Aryeh Deri of Shas. “The Bennett-Lapid brothers will not rest until they have robbed the chareidi citizens of Israel and the large settlement blocs from all budgeting in favor of the residents of lonely outpost settlements.”


“The government’s decision to harm Beitar’s 40,000 residents and deny assistance to Charish and Kiryat Gat in order to save them from ‘alien invasion’ of chareidim proves that the evil government is not satisfied with the draft and budget edicts,” said Yisroel Eichler of UTJ. “The government is continuing to make targeted eliminations against chareidim… The appropriate Jewish answer is the dozens of new yeshivos opening in Elul and the myriad new talmidim of all ages beginning to learn this week.”


Deri instructed Shas’s legal advisor to prepare a legal opinion in order to appeal against the government’s decision in the High Court.




Will chareidim join the present government if it undergoes a shakeup? In the course of the debate over the John Kerry peace initiative, Naftali Bennett hinted that he would resign if the peace initiative reached a breaking point.


“The decision to free murderous terrorists opposes all the values we were taught in the IDF, values that say there should be no compromise in the face of murderous terror,” he said. “During these days we must…stand firm against external forces that would have us deny Jewish historical values and tear away settlements… We will never be partner to processes that tear apart the Israeli people.”


Even without his threat, there are signs of cracks in Habayit Hayehudi. Past MK Yaakov Katz (Katzele) attacked Bennett, writing that he has failed and should be replaced.


“The politician Bennett has failed in two main objectives: First, guarding the Torah world, and second, guarding Eretz Yisroel,” he wrote. “After many efforts and with Hashem’s help, we succeeded in linking with the chareidi world. Bennett destroyed all we built with the covenant he made with Lapid in denigrating the Torah and gedolei Yisroel. Just as Bennett has failed through the cutting of 50% of the budget of the chareidi and Religious Zionist Torah world, so he has failed to guard Eretz Yisroel, for at this very moment, Tzipi Livni is holding negotiations with Netanyahu’s blessing to give up 94% of Yehuda and Shomron and uproot settlements… The politician Bennett cannot lead the Religious Zionist public. He must be replaced immediately.”


Reportedly, Netanyahu privately told MK Menachem Moses of UTJ that things might change.


“I consider the chareidi public a natural partner,” he told him. “I consider the present time a short hiatus imposed upon me against my will; I honor the gedolei Yisroel. We are in the midst of a true economical crisis. This is no misrepresentation. But at the end of the day I believe we will get out of it. Soon we will advance the political agreement [with the Palestinians]. I believe that the chareidim will once again be my partners in the government.”


According to a poll of the Globes financial magazine, the peace process has benefitted Israel’s large parties. If elections were held today, Likud Beiteinu would get 33 seats and Labor 18. The poll indicates that Lapid’s Yesh Atid party has been dropping in popularity since May, when polls indicated that it would get 30 seats. In June it dropped to 18, and in July it was left with only 14 seats, five fewer than it has at present.


According to a Knesset poll, 78% of people questioned said they did not trust Lapid and only 20% said they thought him reliable. 65% thought his treatment of MK Adi Kol was undemocratic and only 24% thought his behavior was justified. 54% thought he failed to keep his promises to his electorate, and 43% of those who voted for him said they would not do so a second time round.   


Would chareidi parties join the coalition if Bennett or Lapid was ousted? This may depend upon who you ask. Shortly after the Knesset approved the budget bill, MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ insisted, “We will never join this government even if Lapid leaves. We are finished with [Netanyahu].”


Citing the verse, “The debased person (novol) said in his heart, there is no G-d, they have behaved corruptly, they have done abominably, there is none that does good(Tehillim 14:1), Litzman added, “Do you know what novol stands for? Netanyahu-Bennett-Lapid.”


MK Moshe Gafni said that if joining a coalition without Lapid helped the Torah world, UTJ would certainly consider the possibility. A UTJ official pointed out that, in any case, such a decision would be made not by politicians, but by the gedolei hador, and that the scenario of a failed coalition was not very likely in the near future.




In a soon-to-be-released report, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira complains that government programs to integrate chareidim into the workforce are insufficient and inefficient.


“This is a socioeconomic mission of national importance, but the picture that arises indicates that progress in dealing with it is slight and slow,” the report said.


According to the report, despite the Treasury allocating a fund to finance special study programs for chareidim between 2005 to 2008, only 50% of the money was used in 2008 and requests by academic institutions to establish courses for chareidim were turned down.


The report says that government targets for 63% of chareidi men to be employed by 2020 are unrealistic, noting that a government work placement program placed only 1,250 chareidim since 2006.


“This contribution is important, but its rate is almost insignificant bearing in mind the targets established by the government,” the report said.


“One cannot blame the chareidim with all the Finance Minister’s harsh accusations when it turns out that the state is guilty in the lack of integration in industry by contempt, bureaucracy and laziness,” said MK Amnon Cohen of Shas, chairman of the comptroller’s committee. “They promised to provide fishing rods instead of fish. They’ve cut out the fish and the rods haven’t been made yet.


“The State Comptroller found that no specific program was written to encourage chareidi employment, and that the Ministry of Economy has not yet prepared an operational work plan or established a department for the matter. The State Comptroller determined that ‘this involves tasks of national social-economic importance, but the emerging picture indicates that progress in handling them is small and slow.’”




Education Minister Shay Piron of Yesh Atid cancelled an appearance at an annual educational conference in Bnei Brak in the face of threats he would be thrown out. Last month, students of the chareidi Ohr Yehuda university boycotted Piron’s attendance at a graduation ceremony. The Bnei Brak conference correlated the Education Ministry with the managers of the cheder system preparatory to opening the 5774 school year.


Piron’s ministry complained that chareidi activists were using chareidi children as hostages in their political war in order to further their personal interests. Placing the interests of chareidi children before his own, Piron had decided to cancel his attendance so that the conference would take place without hindrance.




Two months ago, seminary students learned that the Education Ministry was eliminating the Perach Program, which involves tutoring girls from poor families in return for a fee. Even money owed to them would not be paid.


In reaction to the injustice, Moshe Gafni had a round of discussions with many of the officials involved and convinced them to pay the seminary students the money they deserve. Stressing the importance of the program in helping weak school children keep up with their work and significantly helping seminary girls cover their tuition fees, he said that he hoped that the tuition program will continue to receive the same funding as other colleges under the auspices of the Education Ministry.





135,000 bochurim and avreichim returned to 2,700 yeshivos and kollelim for the Elul zeman. 26,500 of this number are studying in yeshivos ketanos, while 135,000, including 4,100 talmidim from overseas, are learning in yeshivas gedolos. About 71,650 avreichim are studying in thousands of kollelim.


It is estimated that Israel’s approximately 50 Hesder yeshivos have about 1,700 talmidim.


“Through this beginning of learning in the yeshivas hakedoshos, heavenly mercy will increase,” Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman said. “To fight all those who are attempting to diminish the Torah, every person must consider how to increase his Torah studies to the greatest possible extent.”


Rav Nissim Karelitz echoed his sentiments, saying in a drashah, “When the government decreases its support of Torah institutions, we must understand that this is a heavenly edict demanding that we increase our toil and hasmadah in Torah learning.”




Trekking to the Old City from the Kosel plaza up steep flights of stairs has always been a challenge, especially for older folks, the handicapped, and people wheeling baby strollers. Now, after three years of delay, a tender is about to be issued for the construction of a lift between the two. An elevator with 20-passenger capacity will lift people 70 feet straight to the upper level. The 35 million shekel project will be mainly financed by Boruch Klein and named The Boruch Elevator in his honor.


The city plans to build a number of tourist stores in a tunnel at the bottom level, which will lead directly to the Kosel. The Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter will also fast track the construction of an information center in the Jewish Quarter located at a mikvah from the time of the second Bais Hamikdosh.




New Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Rav Dovid Lau, his father, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, chief rabbi of Tel Aviv-Yafo, and his brother, Rav Moshe Chaim Lau, who is a candidate for the chief rabbinate of Yerushalayim, visited the Belzer Rebbe in his Yerushalayim home. The Rebbe recited the bracha ofShehecheyanu, without Sheim and Malchus, when Rav Dovid entered the room.


They spoke at length about the incitement against the Torahpublic and how to deal with it.


Rav Yisroel Meir recalled that when he visited Rav Aharon of Belz after the Holocaust, the Rebbe gave him his hand wrapped in a towel, as was his custom. However, when he heard that the young boy was a Holocaust survivor and a son of Rav Moshe Chaim Lau, the rov of Pietrikov, he removed the towel and shook Rav Lau’s hand with no separation.


Rav Yitzchak Yosef also visited the Belzer Rebbe, and he too was greeted with a Shehecheyanu.


Meanwhile, Rav Avrohom Sherman, who famously ruled that thousands of the Israel rabbinate’s assembly-line conversions are invalid, confirmed that Rav Dovid Lau agreed to submit all his rulings regarding conversions to Rav Sherman for review.


“Rav Lau told [Rav Elyashiv’s talmid, RavYosef] Efrati that on all matters regarding conversions, he would come to talk to me and consult with me before reaching a decision, because I have been involved in these issues as a confidant of Rav Elyashiv, and I am familiar with his rulings on these matters,” he said.


Israel’s chief rabbis have decided that Rav Yitzchak Yosef will serve as president of the Beis Din Hagadol for the next five years, while Rav Dovid Lau will serve as the president of the Chief Rabbinical Council during the same time. After five years, they will switch positions for the following five years as the law prescribes. A number of politicians want to remove the position of president of the Beis Din Hagadol from the jurisdiction of the chief rabbis and give it to someone who has served as a dayan for many years.




Due to repeated Arab vandalism during the past weeks, local IDFcommanders closed the Me’oras Hamachpeilah to Arab visitors on Sunday. The closure order was countermanded by General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon and Arabs were allowed in by the afternoon. The delay in following Alon’s orders led to the Palestinian Waqf filing a complaint with the District Coordination Office.


In the original order issued by Yehudah Brigade Commander Col. Avi Baluth and Yehudah and Shomron Division Commander Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai, Palestinians between 18 and 35 were barred from the holy site due to acts of vandalism within the past month, most recently tyhis past Shabbos. Several incidents were recorded on security videos.




Anyone walking into the newly renovated kever of Dovid Hamelech in the Har Tzion quarter of the Old City would never realize that it served as a mosque for hundreds of years.


To mark the completion of its extensive renovations, a hachnosas Sefer Torah was celebrated by rabbonim and public figures. During the past year, a number of government organizations joined forces with Yitzchok Assa from Mexico and his family to refurbish the kever, and a police post was set up to provide security and prevent vandalism. All this was done in the face of fierce opposition from various quarters.


The building of the kever is holy to three religions. Jews and Muslims believe it is Dovid Hamelech’s tomb, while Christians claim the founder of their religion enjoyed his Last Supper on the floor above. Jews were barred from entering the site for most of Ottoman rule. In about 1173, the famous Jewish traveler Binyomin of Tudela wrote that the tomb was discovered during repairs to a church built around it. Before the Kosel was recaptured in 1967, many regarded this as the holiest site in Yerushalayim.


The michrab, a niche in the tomb facing Mecca, is now filled with seforim shelves and tefillos. Learning and shiurim take place there on a daily basis.In December 2012, policemen caught two men smashing Ottoman ceramic tiles lining the tomb’s walls that dated back to the 17th century when the place served as a mosque. Similar tiles decorate the interior of the Moslem Dome of the Rock mosque on the Har Habayis. Two weeks later, Israeli Antiquities employees discovered that every Islamic tile in the tomb had been destroyed one day before security cameras were due to be installed. Shuka Dorfman, director general of the Antiquities authority, decided not to replace the tiles and, as a result, the tomb no longer bears more obvious traces of its Muslim past, although many Muslim characteristics remain permanently in place.


“The tiles were irreversibly damaged,” an official said. “Therefore, the choice was either a full reconstruction of the 17th century tiles or exposing the hewn rock walls of the original structure. Because a full restoration is not in keeping with the Israel Antiquities Authority’s mission, the authority chose to preserve the walls instead… No attempt has been made to hide remnants of different eras.”




The ten Sifrei Torah burnt by an arsonist last week in Netanaya were interred following a levayah attended by Sanz-Klausenberger Rebbe, chief rabbis Rav Dovid Lau and Rav Yitzchak Yosef, local rabbonim, Netanya Mayor Miriam Feirberg, and public figures. The occasion was marked as a day of fasting, ta’anis dibbur and teshuvah.


“This is the first time such a thing ever happened in the town,” said Deputy Mayor Shimon Sher. “Netanya has always been an example of peaceful coexistence between everyone. This incident was truly shocking.”


Police suspect that Tzoma Pitigo, the 20-year-old accused of torching the shul housing the Sifrei Torah and another shul a day earlier, was under the influence of alcohol and may have psychological issues. Allegedly, he broke into the shul to steal money from tzedakah boxes and set the fire to cover his tracks.


Prosecutors say they will charge him to the fullest extent of the law and demand that he remain jailed until charged.


Last Wednesday, Rav Yitzchak Yosef visited the shul, expressing shock and sadness as he viewed the damage. He called for a strengthening in education and the teaching of Torah values ​​and tradition, “as with the right chinuch, we will not have to face such terrible circumstances,” he said.


Rav Yosef asked the Netanya mayor to support the shul and help allocate funding for the bais haknesses to be rebuilt. Rav Yosef also said that he would donate some of the seforim he has authored, such as the multi-volume Yalkut Yosef, as the shul begins to compile a new library of sifrei kodesh.




Outgoing Sefardi Chief Rabbi Rav Shlomo Amar was granted Morocco’s highest decoration by King Mohammed VI, who invited him for an official visit to the kingdom.


Asked what he felt about the visit, Rav Amar said, “Extreme happiness and excitement, especially after I reached Casablanca, where I was born. This is an important day for me. This is an important day for the world of Moroccan Jewry that remained here. Like myself, they are very attached to Morocco.”


“There were tears in my eyes,” said Sammy Cohen, chairman of the Moroccan Federation in Spain, who accompanied Rav Amar during the royal meeting. “I was excited to see our rov accepting the highest decoration of the kingdom, a country we love with all our hearts. This is an indication that the Moroccan Jewish people remained deeply attached to Morocco. This is a strong signal sent by King Mohammed.”



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