Sunday, Apr 14, 2024

Israel’s Focus on Chareidim

This past week, there were several important developments affecting the Torah world. They include among other issues, a disastrous court decision regarding the Woman of the Wall's fight to daven at the Kosel with tallis and tefillin, a stressful Lag Ba'omer, and ongoing arguments concerning who will serve as Israel's future chief rabbis. Decrees against Chareidi Education Together with Lapid's proposed budget comes an “arrangements bill” that outlines further details of the plan to solve Israel's fiscal woes.

The bill includes a violent attack against chareidi education. It proposes to cut 340 million shekels from schools and yeshivos and slice funding to chareidi private schools such as Chinuch Atzmai and Shas’s Maayan Hachinuchand to chadorim by 50% unless they teach at least 55% of a core studies program that requires students to take a standardized test evaluating their proficiency in math, science, and Hebrew or Arabic. Chinuch Atzmai and Maayan Hachinuch are threatened with a 25% cut in government funding even they comply with the rules.


According to the arrangements bill, “the condition for recognizing an unofficial institution will be the basic studies which will include 55% of the core curriculum subjects taught in an official educational institution, in addition to participation in tests examining schools’ efficiency and growth measures (known as Meitzav tests) at the same extent and format as an official educational institution.”


“The number of students in educational institutions in the chareidi sector is expected to reach 26% of all students in Israel by the end of the decade,” the proposal explains. “The employment and productivity rates in the chareidi sector are significantly lower than in the general sector, among other things due to the lack of basic studies which serve as a key component in acquiring the suitable tools for entering the labor market. The key core subjects are Hebrew, mathematics and English.”


The bill also proposes reducing the funding of yeshivos ketanos to 30% of that of regular high school students. Presently, they receive 60%.


In addition, it seeks to cancel participation of town councils in financing of Torah institutions, reduce the ceiling of teachers trained in Bais Yaakov schools by 70 percent from 18,000 to 2,500, and cancel the financing of Bais Yaakov courses that do not lead to academic degrees.


MK Menachem Litzman (UTJ) said all this was a gezeiras shmad brought on by fear of the increase of the chareidi tzibbur. 30-40 percent of elementary schoolchildren in Israel are from chareidi homes. Litzman said he was certain the motives of Lapid and his Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron are to uproot the Torah lifestyle of the Torah public.


“It is not about science, math, computers or English,” he said, “but it is about Yair Lapid understanding it is the rabbonim, the Gedolei Yisroel, who will dictate what the children learn, not Lapid, Piron or any other government.”


A surprising ally of the chareidi stance is rightist MK Moshe Feiglin of Likud who said in a statement that he was completely with the chareidim who reject the State’s attempt to compel them to add a secular curriculum to Torah studies in their schools.


“Responsibility for the education of a child lies with the parents — not the state,” he wrote. “The state may decide to whom it will award a matriculation certificate. But it is the full right of any individual to forgo that certificate. Let’s say that tomorrow, UTJ’s Porush will be Prime Minister and will force you to learn a page of Talmud in the framework of a government-backed curriculum. What would you say? … Please do not confuse the issue by saying, ‘They don’t have to learn the basic curriculum, but they will also not get government funding.’ The state is not doing anybody a favor. The money that it allocates is money that it has taken from the citizens.”


To further undermine devotion to Torah learning, childcare subsidies and discounts on city and property taxes will only be provided if both parents work a total of 125% of their shared capacity if capable of doing so. This is expected to save town councils 200 million shekels a year.


Not only chareidim are upset about Lapid’s proposed budget cuts. Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzchak Halevi warned that if the VAT exemption his tourist paradise enjoys is revoked, he would “shut the city down.”


The Histadrut labor federation that went on strike over the Open Skies deal last week threatened a series of slowdowns and strikes unless the Finance Ministry negotiated its proposals that include “harsh declarations that would further harm the economic situation of middle and lower classes, who are already struggling under their burdens.”


Histadrut Chairman Ofer Eini complained that the budget included “wage cuts, increasing the [tax] burden shouldered by the working and retired public, and a series of unilateral steps that were devised without consulting the Histadrut. We vehemently oppose this unilateral action and any move against the working and retired public.” He declared a labor dispute, which would allow him to make a general strike in two weeks, but has agreed to delay action in the meantime.


Shas together with UTJ, the Labor Party, and the Arab parties presented motions of no confidence against the government’s budget proposals, which were defeated by a majority of 53 versus 38.


Positive reforms of the budget plan include increasing competition among car importers and salespeople and food manufacturers, privatizing the Israel Aerospace Industries, privatizing water supply, eliminating weak town councils by forming larger regional governments, and streamlining government regulation mechanisms and bureaucracy.




MK Aryeh Deri of Shas accused Lapid of trying to deflect public criticism from his brutal budget that imposes heavily on the middle-class he swore to rescue and which elected him to power, by making a scapegoat of the chareidim. People will be willing to live with pain, Lapid reckons, so long as the chareidim are hurting more.


MK Moshe Gafni said that people should beware of falling into Lapid’s trap of arguing about chareidi affairs and distracting public attention from issues that affect them as well.


“To prevent people talking about the terrible things he is planning and that he lied about to the Israeli public, he sets up the chareidim as the enemy so people speak only about the chareidim,” said Gafni. “Therefore, I will not speak of the chareidim but only of the financial decrees he is making against everyone.”


MK Meir Porush of UTJ said he hoped Yesh Atid will suffer the same fate as Shinui, the 15 seat anti-religious party led by Yair Lapid’s father Tommy. Ten years ago it removed the chareidim from the government, only to disappear itself within three years.


“Shinui had 15 seats and disappeared after one term,” Porush said. “I think the same might happen to Yair because there is no way that the hatred between religious and secular can be maintained for a long time.”


Lapid has plenty of work cut out for him besides attacking the chareidi public. It is high time the government attacked obvious sources of public inequality and wasted resources such as big trade unions that hold sectors of the economy hostage at will, a huge surplus of unnecessary government workers, business tycoons whom the government enables to control important parts of the economy with no competition, and suppliers of public utilities that pay inflated wages to managers and staff.


 As if Lapid’s anti chareidi attitude isn’t bad enough, one of his party members, Deputy Finance Minister Mickey Levy, committed a classical Freudian slip. Trying to explain Lapid’s philosophy on a religious radio station he said, “You have to shoulder more of the burden and become a part of the workforce – you can’t be parasites.”


Levy recanted immediately after the protest of his radio host, “How can you say something like that during a broadcast, aren’t you ashamed?”


Not conciliated, MK Eli Yishai of Shas said, “It’s extremely disconcerting that we hear something in Israel of 2013 that sounds like it’s from Germany of 1942.”




 Torah leaders have continued to urge yeshiva talmidim not to cooperate in the efforts to conscript yeshiva students.


In a deroshah in Beitar Illit, Ga’avad of the Eidah Hachareidis, Rav Yitzchok Tuviah Weiss, said that the purpose of the government’s plan to enlist yeshiva students is essentially the same as that of Czar Nicholas I when he forced conscription on young Jewish boys.


“We need to understand their intention,” he said. “This is a decree against the Torah and not simply because they don’t have soldiers. Regarding that, they would be able to manage. Until now they had enough soldiers and in the future they won’t lack soldiers. That’s not the point. This is a decree against Torah; they want to uproot Torah from Yisroel.”


He cited Rav Chaim Brisker who used to say, “What they really want is not Eretz Yisroel or a state, but to uproot Yiddishkeit from Yisroel. All their deeds are only a means of how to carry this out.”


“There is no other intent in their decrees except to get the young generation into their net, to be like them, to uproot them from Torah learning, and not only from Torah learning but from Yiddishkeit and from Torah observance,” Rav Yitzchok Tuviah added. “We must thoroughly understand that this is their intent and respond accordingly… In earlier generations there were times when nations took people into the army and good Jews tried to escape as much as was possible. So it was in all European countries where there was military service. But in those places the intent was not to uproot Jews from Yiddishkeit and from the Torah. The non-Jews simply needed people to serve in their armies.”


“Here, the intent is completely different. We must understand this clearly. It is a gezeirah to force people to transgress the Torah (leha’avir al hadas). The Shulchan Aruch rules in dinei messirus nefesh that in such a case one must give up one’s life.”


“They imagine that the power of a 65-year-old state will enable them to succeed,” he concluded. “It will not succeed and we are responsible to ensure that it does not succeed. We must ensure that bochurim and avreichim remain in yeshivos and kollelim, and we must ensure that boys and girls in educational institutions do not learn invalid subjects but only the holy Torah and yiras Shomayim. We must realize that one is obligated to be moiser nefesh for such matters.”


At Rav Ovadiah’s Yosef’s shul this week, Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi Shlomo Amar echoed the Ga’avad’s message. He bitterly opposed the proposed enlistment of yeshiva students, saying that “the study of Torah is enjoying days of glory the likes of which we haven’t witnessed for generations. The yeitzer hora regarded that with an envious eye and got into the minds of certain people to wage war on the Torah.”


“This nonsense is unheard of,” he said. “It is as though our society is free of poverty and immorality and other ills; everyone is equal and we’re the last outstanding problem, as if Israel has no enemies and is at peace with all. There’s only one enemy left, the yeshivos. This is sheer madness.” 


Even Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon (Likud) complained that Lapid and the committee appointed to implement the enlistment of chareidim are singling out the chareidim while ignoring Israeli Arabs. He said that Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu members would not support a plan “that addresses just one sector of the population and leaves the Arabs to do as they please,” and that “Lapid’s hatred for the chareidim, while ignoring Israeli Arabs, is pure hypocrisy.”




Two weeks ago, the Woman of the Wall, a group of women demanding the right to pray with tallis and tefillin, and Keri’as Hatorah at the Kosel, won a victory when it was proposed that the southern end of the Western Wall be renovated at huge expense and put at their disposal. Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of Woman of the Wall, complained that the plan is impractical as it would require renovations to the wall plaza costing about $300 million as well as consent of the Arab Waqf in charge of Har Habayis.


During a talk in Florida, she proposed designating separate times for prayer at the Kosel instead, allowing segregated prayer from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and then removing the mechitzah and offering access of the Kosel to everyone for six hours each day as “an open national monument.”


Ronit Peskin, director of Women for the Wall (W4W), a new ground roots organization opposing Woman of the Wall (WOW) called upon Hoffman to withdraw her outrageous proposal.


“The Western Wall is a place of daily prayer and worship, not merely a relic of our past,” she wrote. “It is not our Lincoln Memorial, but a sacred space for all Jews.”


“What about the hundreds of thousands who come at all hours of the day and night to pray at the Wall,” she added. “Are they to be told that during these hours that they cannot have a sanctuary in which to pray?”


Tragically, Women of the Wall won a second victory with the ruling of the Yerushalayim District Court that contrary to present assumptions, there is nothing wrong with the group praying at the Kosel after all.


Two weeks ago, a Yerushalayim magistrate’s Court released five Women of the Wall arrested by the police and rejected the police demand to ban them from the Kosel for three months. When the police appealed this decision at the Yerushalayim District Court, Judge Moshe Sobel upheld the previous court’s decision, saying that although the 1981 Regulations for the Protection of Holy Places to the Jews forbade ceremonies that violate the “local custom” of the Kosel, who said local custom needed to adhere to a halachic viewpoint?


In support of his viewpoint, Sobel cited a High Court ruling from 1994 that “the expression ‘local custom’ does not need to be interpreted specifically as according to Jewish law or the current situation,” and that permission “should be given to the expression of a pluralistic and tolerant approach to the opinions and customs of others.”


As for the High Court’s 2003 ruling that the Women of the Wall should pray outside the Kosel plaza in another area of the Western Wall known as Robinson’s Arch, this, Sobel said, was not intended as an injunction which would apply criminal sanctions to those who violated the injunction and did not ban them from the Kosel.


Rav Shmuel Rabinovitch, rov of the Kosel and the holy sites of Israel, said he would demand the attorney-general to examine the district court’s decision and specifically the claim that the 2003 High Court ruling did not disallow the group’s prayers at the Kosel.


“The Western Wall is the last unifying place that we have,” he stated. “It is easy to spark emotions and contention at the Kosel plaza. It is much harder to find the middle ground that will allow everyone to continue to feel welcome and wanted at the Western Wall. I beseech the state authorities and the silent majority and anyone who holds the Western Wall dear to prevent zealots from all sides from turning the Western Wall into a battleground between brothers.”




Israel’s two Chief Rabbis, Rav Yonah Metzger and Rav Shlomo Amar, are fast reaching the end of their terms, which were supposed to end in January but extended for three months after the general elections. Israel’s political parties are pushing their favorite candidates for the two posts. Chief rabbis are elected once every ten years by a special 150 member committee comprised of 80 chief municipal rabbis, as well as dayonim, mayor, council heads, and Knesset members. Shas has great clout in the committee.


In a recent development, Rav Ovadiah Yosef agreed to cooperate with Rav Steinman in trying to appoint an Ashkenazi chief rabbi favored by chareidi circles. Although no particular person is yet singled out for the job, one potential candidate is Rav Dovid Lau, chief rabbi of Modiin and son of former Chief Rabbi Rav Yisroel Meir Lau.


Habayit Hayehudi is rooting for Rav Yaakov Ariel, currently chief rabbi of Ramat Gan, who lost the chief rabbinate to Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger in 2003. New legislation would be required to enable the 76-year-old Rav Ariel to run; the present age limit for the chief rabbinate is 70. Another Ashkenazi candidate is Rabbi David Stav, chairman of the controversial religious Zionist movement Tzohar, which tries to make Judaism more palatable to secular Jews. His candidacy is strongly opposed by chareidi groups.


The Sephardi candidate most favored by Shas is Rav Shlomo Amar, who is currently serving as Sephardi chief Rabbi. To achieve this, Shas is trying to alter present Israeli legislation that does not allow a chief rabbi to serve twice. If Shas fails to change the law, at least two other contenders intend to jump into the fray: Rav Avraham Yosef chief rabbi of Cholon and son of Ovadiah Yosef, and Rav Yehuda Deri, chief rabbi of Be’er Sheva and brother of Aryeh Deri.




Unprecedented crowds heading for Miron this year are symbolic of the increasing intensity of Torah observance in Eretz Yisroel. However, the large number of travelers also created chaotic traffic conditions and untold misery for thousands. 300,000 men, women, children, and babies trying to make it to Miron during a heat wave was no picnic and to make matters worse, no one could begin the journey before Havdollah on motzoei Shabbos. Somewhere along the line, the transportation services simply collapsed and there was little the police could do about it. People were trapped without water in busses miles away from the site. Later, thousands of others were trapped at the site on their way out when busses couldn’t get in to take them back home.


“It wasn’t a pretty picture,” the head of United Hatzalah said. “People charged towards every bus that arrived, often trampling each other. Some were injured and fainted.”


One person who set out from Bnei Brak at 11:50 p.m. described how a journey that normally takes two or three hours turned into a five hour nightmare.


“We left Bnei Brak not dreaming of the suffering awaiting us,” he said. “At first, except for the normal overcrowding for this day, things seemed alright. But the closer we got to the north, the more we realized something was wrong. The bus crawled and the journey lasted many hours. At one stage, the bus stopped and couldn’t budge. The road was jammed. Children lost patience… After a long while we noticed that all the people from the bus in front of us got off and proceded to walk to Miron . Seeing we had no choice we decided to do the same. After an argument with the driver he opened the door and everyone got off the bus and continued on a mile long trek that lasted 35 minutes. Old and young, families with baby carriages, all wound their way among the busses sometimes endangering their lives.”


To make things worse, a fire broke out in a Miron minimarket. Firefighters pulled a seriously burnt victim from the flames; he was flown by helicopter to the Rambam Hospital in Chaifa. United Hatzalah and Magen David Edom treated hundreds of victims for dehydration, burns, and injuries resulting from falling, pushing, and crowding. Many were transported to hospitals for further treatment. Police and volunteers attempted to distribute water to thirsty people stranded on the highways and parking lots, and to supply vital medications to people delayed from reaching their destinations.


Fires countrywide were a source of extreme, albeit temporary, air pollution. In Bnei Brak, the concentration of floating particles in the air was 17.8 times greater than the norm, in Neveh Sha’anan of Tel Aviv it was eight times higher than normal, and in Yerushalayim residents had to contend with pollution 5.5 times higher than usual. Perhaps it’s time institute a more limited number of moderately sized fires lit under adult supervision.


The proliferation of fires was symbolized by the construction of the biggest Lag Ba’omer fire ever in Rechasim near Chaifa. Secured by dozens of firefighters and Hatzalah personnel, the pyre of wood pallets and planks towered to a height of over 20 meters until it collapsed in an explosion of flame and sparks. Let’s hope no one tries to up the ante next year.



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