“In my naÃ¯vetÃ©, I made a mistake when I thought that Yesh Atid truly wanted shivyon benetel (equal sharing of the burden),” he wrote. “What is actually happening and what they are doing is a harsh blow to the yeshivos, including the Zionist yeshivos, through the draft law and the budget. They led us astray, they deceived us. Therefore, we must say to the ministers and MKs of Bayit Hayehudi — enough! We will not be partners to a pact to destroy the Torah. Make open war against the harm to yeshivos.”
Rav Melamed demanded that Education Minister Shai Piron of Yesh Atid reject his boss.
“I also call out to Rav Piron: I am certain you never meant to join a party that would harm yeshivos, including Zionist yeshivos,” he wrote. “You came to unify, not to separate; you did not come to increase hatred between the religious and non-religious. You may not be a partner to such things.”
Some months ago Rav Melamed justified the presence of religious politicians in secular parties, arguing that they were a unifying force. Of Piron’s presence in Yesh Atid he wrote in February: “I must say that I am happy at the fact he is there. I am happy that people in that party want a rabbi. We’re not talking about a figurehead rabbi or a reform rabbi who does everything they want. They need to submit to him. They can’t go against Judaism itself, against the Torah. Possibly, they’ll go against talmidei yeshiva and say that they seem to be batlanim and army shirkers, but they won’t go against the Torah and emunah in general. Therefore, I see this as part of a general development [of unity].”
Just after Israel’s elections, religious Zionist rabbis supported the Bennett/Lapid pact on the strength of Bennett’s argument that the alternative to the pact would be a left wing coalition that included chareidim and excluded religious Zionists. Although Lapid was already vowing to cut money to yeshivos and enforce a draft on yeshiva students, the Zionist rabbis never dreamed that he would strike so deep into their own turf.
In a further development, chareidi and religious Zionist rabbonim issued a fist-time united appeal from both camps to MKs of all parties to cease supporting the government’s anti-Torah agenda.
“We, the rabbonim of various public sectors, have gathered to express our concern at the threat to the continued survival of Torah and its students among the Jewish people in its holy land and overseas,” they wrote. “We all agree that our power lies in unity. United as one we declare the obvious; continued Torah study among the Jewish people is what provides the power and blessing to succeed in worldly and military affairs. Torah protects the generation.
“In consequence, we turn to ministers and MKs of all parties to withhold support from the harsh edicts being enacted, first, forced enlistment through sanctions and criminal charges… and second, hurting the yeshivos and kollelim with a disproportionate slashing of budgets that has no parallel in any other sector of the Israeli public.”
Chareidi signatories of the letter included Rav Reuven Elbaz, head of the Ohr Hachaim Institutions; Rav Yitzchok Cohen, rov of Yerushalayim’s Shmuel Hanovi neighborhood; Rav Yissochor Mezuz, rov of the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood; and Rav Boruch Shraga, rov of the Giva Hatzarfatit neighborhood. Religious Zionists included Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, rov of Tzefas and a member of the Chief Rabbinate; Rav Menachem Borshtein, head of Mechon Pu’ah; and Rav Elyakim Lavanon, rov of the Shomron and Rosh Yeshiva of Alon Moreh.
So far, Bennett shows little indication of listening to their pleas.
LAPID — MOST DISAPPOINTING POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Lapid has gained the dubious distinction of becoming Israel’s most unpopular politician. 63% respondents of a Maariv poll named him “the most disappointing politician of the year.” This makes him four times less popular than Binyamin Netanyahu who came in next with a 15% unpopularity rate. Lapid’s partner, Naftali Bennett, came third with an 8% rating.
Israelis claim that Lapid is pulling the wool over people’s eyes. In reply to the question, “Do you believe Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s declarations that in another two years our financial situation will be improved,” 65% said they did not believe him, opposed to only 26% who thought he will put things right.
80% of the poll’s respondents were disappointed with Israel’s handling of the inflated cost of food and real estate, and only 29% of them said they had confidence in the government.
ROSH HASHANAH GREETING FROM IRAN
During Rosh Hashanah, the world was astounded when an electronic message from Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced: “As the sun is about to set here in Tehran, I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”
An official in the Rouhani’s office denied the authenticity of the message, claiming that the electronic account was inactive since Rounani’s election campaign.
But there was a sequel. BBC reports that Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sent greetings for a “happy Rosh Hashanah,” and confirmed it afterwards. But he told Iran’s news agency, Tasnim, that the message was strictly for Iran’s Jewish community, the second largest Jewish community in the Middle East.
Christine Pelosi, the daughter of Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, took the message at face value and sent a response: “Thanks. The new year would be even sweeter if you would end Iran’s Holocaust denial, sir.”
To which Zarfi replied: “Iran never denied it. The man who was perceived to be denying it [Ahmadinejad] is now gone. Happy New Year.”
“We have condemned the killing of Jews by Nazis as we condemn [the] killing and crackdown on Palestinians by Zionists,” he told the news agency.
In response to the foreign minister’s message, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu said on Motzoei Shabbos that “he was not impressed,” and that the Iranian regime “will be judged only by its actions and not by greetings.”
He took the opportunity to reiterate his constant warning that “We simply cannot allow the world’s most dangerous regime to obtain the world’s most dangerous weapons.”
ROSH HASHANAH WITH THE GEDOLIM
In Bnei Brak, Rosh Hashanah marked one of the year’s greatest instances of kavod talmidei chachomim. After the tefillah of Rosh Hashanah night, an estimated 12,000 people filed past Rav Chaim Kanievski at the Lederman Beis Medrash next to his home on Rashbam Street to wish him a gut yahr and to receive his berochah in return. This lasted for about two hours until 10:15 pm. In preparation for the event, the Bnei Brak municipality placed barriers along the street and appointed ushers to keep order. Thousands passed the home of Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner who blessed them from his balcony.
The dire situation of the Torah world was not forgotten during the days of judgment.During mi shebeirachs said at Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman’s minyan in his home, he instructed the gabai to add that the berochah was intended for the whole of Klal Yisroel “except for the wicked who wish to annihilate Torah from Yisroel, Lapid and those like him.”
Rav Shmuel Auerbach commented after the second day’s teki’os: “We need to thank Hashem that the government hasn’t yet forbidden us to blow the shofar.”
The Belzer Rebbe recited a special Mi shebeirach for wealthy donors who promised to contribute to a special fund, Hatorah Hi Chayeinu, which he set up on the evening before Rosh Hashanah to make up for the government slashes to the funding of Belz’s yeshivos and institutions. At the Modzitz shul in Bnei Brak, Rav Chaim Shaul Taub, fifth generation descendant of the dynasty’s founder, Rav Yisrael Taub of Modzitz (1849—1920), continued Modzitz’s musical tradition by composing twelve new nigunim for the Yomim Nora’im. Two were sung during the first selichos and another ten on Rosh Hashanah by a special choir of avreichim and bochurim.
Elsewhere, the huge crowd at Povenez Yeshiva in Bnei Brak was honored to hear teki’os from the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Gershon Edelstein, who has been blowing the shofar for the past 69 years since 1945. This is when he began, while still a bochur, by blowing shofar for the Chazon Ish. Since then, he has blown teki’os for all the roshei yeshiva of Ponevez. Every year, people are amazed at the clarity of his teki’os. When Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach asked him about this he replied that the explanation was simple: “The gemara (Rosh Hashanah 29b) says that teki’as shofar is a chochmah (skill) and not a melochoh (labor).”
Meanwhile, a small minyon was held at the bedside of Rav Ovadiah Yosef who was hospitalized last week at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center due to an infection resulting from back surgery a month ago. Shas MKs and family members took part in the tefillah.
A BRAZEN APPEAL
Unlike responsible rabbonim who have appealed to the public to be careful of tza’ar baalei chaim while fulfilling the minhag of kaparos, the “chareidi” MK of Yesh Atid, Dov Lipman, issued an impassioned plea for Jews to stop using chickens altogether. Brazenly, he mentioned the opinions that oppose the practice while ignoring the Remo who encourages the minhag, writing in Orach Chaim (604:1): “There are Geonim who wrote this minhag, and many of the Acharonim wrote it as well, and such is the minhag in all these countries and one should not change because it is a minhag vassikin.”
But Lipman insisted that “the time has come to do what is correct. Use coins for tzeddokah, use flowers. Stop taking part in this cruelty.”
23% OF ISRAELI MEN VISIT SHUL EVERY DAY
In honor of the new year, the Union of Synagogues in Israel published statistics indicating a surprising high rate of shul attendance among Israel’s public. According to the report, a million and a half men, women, and children daven regularly in 10,500 shuls throughout Israel. Breaking this into statistics, 72% of Jews aged 20 and above visited a shul in the last year. 23% of Israel’s Jewish menvisit shul every day, an additional 25% come on Shabbos and Yom Tov, 11% only come on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, 16% only came on special occasions such as bar mitzvahs or memorial services, and 24% do not visit shul at all.
The report estimated that about 35,000 gabbo’im keep Israel’s shuls operational, most of them on a voluntarily basis. Many shuls are not used exclusively for prayer. Over 900 have a variety of cultural, educational, and communal programs for women, children, and youth, batei medrash for retirees, as well as 600 Friday kollelim. Many shuls provide education and cultural activities for the whole family. All this is besides communal batei medrash where tens-of-thousands of working people come to study Torah.
In Israel, shuls are everywhere. There are shuls in hundreds of hotels and vacation spots, there are shuls in hospitals, army bases, senior homes, and most large shopping centers, and there are even shuls in a growing number of non-religious kibbutzim.
Faithful Jews have organized daily tefillos on most routes of the Israeli Railway, and recently, Jews have begun stopping for impromptu regular Minchah and Maariv minyonim at a gas station on the Trans-Israel Highway, which runs from the Negev to northern Israel.
Perhaps to help deal with the 24% of Israel’s men who never go to shul, Israel’s cabinet approved the establishment of a Jewish Identity agency. Its purpose is to “promote and strengthen Jewish identity among various segments of society, for the sake of increasing Israeli society’s awareness of and identification with the fundamental elements of Jewish identity and the global Jewish heritage.” The idea of creating such an agency was the brainchild of Habayit Hayehudi and an integral part of its coalition agreement with the Likud party.
Sadly, Yair Lapid is insisting that it represent “all types of Judaism,” including Conservative and Reform.
The goal of the new agency is to deal with the problem of Israeli youth’s abysmal ignorance of their Jewish heritage. Bennett seemed much bothered by the Zionist aspect of the problem, saying that the agency would be “an excellent answer to the post-Zionism phenomena [anti-Zionism] that has accelerated in recent years, and is often based on the weakening of our Jewish identity.”
Explanatory notes to the law said that although “the average Israeli wants to love his homeland, his people and his historic Jewish heritage more,” in practice, “there are gaps in knowledge, a lack of familiarity with Jewish history and heritage among the younger generation, so there are difficulties in connecting youth to Zionist, Israeli and Jewish values.”
The government hopes to achieve improvement through student meetings, by training guides, organizing community meetings and activities, setting up learning sessions, and setting up projects that promote the Jewish tradition.
Initially, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni blasted the plan, not because she opposed Jewish identity, but because under the Religious Services Ministry which Bennett controls, it would, chas veshalom, become “a political move whose sole purpose is to be a tool for worrisome religious indoctrination.” To prevent this, she wanted it under the aegis of the Education Ministry headed by Yesh Atid Minister Shai Piron.
“Strengthening Jewish identity is something I see as very important, but only if this is done in the national sense rather than the religious sense,” she explained.
Livni needn’t have feared. Yair Lapid’s insistence that the project must be “for all types of Judaism” will doubtless hamper any chance it may have had of upgrading Israel’s Jewish consciousness.
JORDAN CONDEMNS EGALITARIAN PRAYER PLATFORM AT KOSEL
The wooden platform Bennett set up for egalitarian prayer by the right end of the Kosel at Robinson’s Arch may be tiny, but it isn’t small enough to escape Jordan’s condemnation of its existence. Jordan’s State Minister for Media Affairs, Mohammad Momani, said that construction of the platform was “a blatant attack on the Muslim monuments and Waqf (Islamic trust) land which is an integral part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” He stressed that Jordan’s duty was “to exert political, diplomatic, and legal efforts to protect and care for Muslim and Christian sanctities in Jerusalem,” and warned of “Jewish settlers and extremists’ continued call to storm the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the pretext of Jewish holidays.”
Since Israel captured Har Habayis from Jordan in 1967, it left control of Har Habayis under the direct responsibility of the Jordan Jerusalem Waqf; Jordanian appointed guards are stationed at all but one entrance to the mosque. With Jordan protesting the establishment of the tiny platform, it is unlikely Israel will dare implement the Sharansky plan of replacing it with a giant new plaza.
Minister Momani’s protest was a reflection of a Muslim fight over the Har Habayis, which raged since last week.
Although the gedolim have always opposed Jews entering Har Habayis due to our unfamiliarity of which areas even people who toivel beforehand may not enter, and the fear that visiting Har Habayis will encourage other Jews to enter without toiveling beforehand, a sizeable number of Jews visit Har Habayis, claiming they know exactly where and where not they can walk. This has always aroused Arab resentment and provided fuel for a persistent claim that Israel wants to destroy the mosque and build the third Beis Hamikdash. The Arabs have never stopped accusing Israel of being behind an attempted burning of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by a deranged non-Jew 45 years ago.
Last Tuesday, police issued a statement detailing security for Jews visiting Har Habayis over Rosh Hashanah. It met with a violent reaction. Shouting about the “danger” of increased Jewish prayer at the site, Sheikh Raed Salah Salah, head of the northern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement, called on Muslims “from the Negev and Galil, Akko and Chaifa” to descend on Har Habayis to prevent with their bodies “the dangerous mass invasion into Al Aqsa.” A fund the sheikh heads claimed “that the Jews are preparing to rebuild the Beis Hamikdash” by Judaizing the place through a mass Jewish presence there during the chagim.
Due to his incitement to violence, police arrested the sheikh on his way to a press conference at Har Habayis and only released him after he agreed to keep 30 kilometers from Yerushalayim for 180 days. They also stopped 16 busloads of Arabs from reaching Har Habayis.
This did not stop Muslim youths from stoning police several times over the Rosh Hashanah weekend. At least fifteen Arab youths were arrested on erev Rosh Hashanah after they targeted Jews and police with stones. On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, police used stun guns to disperse crowds and arrested more Arab youths.
The Rav of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, condemned the Arab violence.
“Their goal was to hurt the Jews who came to pray at the Kosel on Rosh Hashanah,” he said. “All violence should be condemned, but all the more so when it comes to the holiest place of the Jewish people. The world should condemn this act and express contempt for this attempt to hurt worshippers on a holy day. Security forces have to arrest the rioters and those who incite them to violence, and make them answer for the actions in court.”
In July, the Supreme Court ordered Tel Aviv to enforce its bylaws that forbid the opening of stores on Shabbos. Big food networks in the city were profiting by remaining open on Shabbos, the city was profiting by collecting fines, and people who wanted to keep their businesses closed on Shabbos suffered from unfair competition. At the time of the ruling, Mayor Ron Huldai expressed his intent to find some way to allow food stores and kiosks to continue operating on Shabbos.
Haaretz reports that he has found a way to keep his promise. The Tel Aviv-Yaffo municipality brazenly told the Supreme Court that it will get round the problem by simply changing the bylaws after the upcoming municipal elections to enable some stores to remain open on Shabbos. Meanwhile, until the bylaws are changed, the city will not fine businesses that were open on Shabbos until now, but will impose fines on new businesses that open their doors on Shabbos. The present bylaws will also be enforced against businesses whose Shabbos operations constitute a nuisance or disrupt public order.
“Tel Aviv-Jaffa will remain a free and open city that is ‘resident-friendly,’” said Mayor Huldai. “We intend to find the correct legal way of defining Tel Aviv’s present balanced reality, which most of the city’s residents feel comfortable with. This is a reality that enables the existence of a day of rest alongside each resident’s freedom to enjoy it as he or she sees fit.”
The two lawyers who represented shops that objected to chillul Shabbos in the first place said that the city’s decision flouted the Supreme Court’s directives.
“The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality’s new position is totally incongruent with the Supreme Court’s ruling and runs contrary to both the ruling’s spirit and its specific instructions,” they said. “This is not a policy of bylaw enforcement but rather the conversion of criminal behavior to a norm. What the Supreme Court has termed ‘a big bluff’ will now be called ‘official policy.’”
CAST ME NOT ASIDE IN MY OLD AGE
A survey conducted by the Geocatography Knowledge Group reveals that a large proportion of Israel’s aging population have insufficient income for their basic needs. 21% said they could not afford to use hot water during the week and a quarter said they gave up basic resources such as food, medicine, and social activities to finance the expense of electricity during winter.
A survey of the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute reported that 17% of people 65-years-old and older live beneath the poverty line and that only 38% of the age group have pensions. Ironically, the number of elderly people suffering from poverty is increasing; thanks to improvements in health and lifestyle, the growth rate of the 65-plus age group is double that of the rest of Israel’s populace and is expected to leap from a longtime plateau of 10% of the population to 14%. In addition, the average life expectancy in Israel has jumped from 78 in the 90s to 82. This is putting an increased financial burden on national insurance, which presently pays 24 billion shekels yearly to older people, and is expected to be paying about 34 billion by 2044.
To make things worse, the National Insurance Institute had a deficit of 3 billion shekels last year, despite shelling out only a pittance to seniors — 1,501 shekels monthly to single older people and 2,257 shekels to couples. People over 80 get slightly more — 1587 for a single person and 2342 for a couple. Those who paid into national insurance for years while working, can get up to a 50% increase of this amount.
In an effort to stave off the crisis, retirement age was raised to 67 years for men and 62 years for women in April 2011, but this is not enough. For middle class people, national insurance payments and compulsory health coverage already cost more than income tax. They will furious if these social taxes are increased.
Despite the huge needs of Israel’s needy, the country’s municipalities look unkindly on a certain means taken by many non-profit organizations to alleviate their plight. As part of a pre-Rosh Hashana cleanup, the Yerushalayim municipality targeted hundreds of tzeddokah boxes fixed to the city’s railing and poles at dozens of strategic locations. The growing number of such pushkes often interfere with pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks and have been known to cause injuries. They include not only regular sized boxes for the collection of cash donations, but also boxes standing a meter high from the sidewalks for the donation of canned food.
To fight the phenomenon, city workers with power saws cut the smaller boxes from their moorings, while city trucks armed with cranes lifted up the larger boxes and loaded them onto trucks. Many thought the timing was inappropriate.
“This morning on my way to Shacharis, I saw a number of inspectors next to a tzeddokah box of the Chasdei Naomi charity,” one person said. “Next to it was a truck marked Call Center 106 [the municipal hotline]. The inspectors began to cut the box with their tools and afterwards a crane lifted it into the truck.
“I approached the inspector and said to him, ‘Is this what you have to do on erev Rosh Hashanah? It’s a disgrace. Does it bother anyone if people want to give tzeddokoh.’ To this they replied that these were the orders they’d been given.”
The city began uprooting the pushkes after Mayor Nir Barkat took over the city. Four years ago, the municipality, in its first pre-Rosh Hashanah operation, distributed about 17,000 shekels taken from confiscated tzeddokoh boxes to the city’s needy. The municipality explained that the boxes “were welded illegally and without authorization to bus stops and traffic lights, causing hundreds of thousands of shekels damage to public property and aesthetic harm.”
Ashdod, Teveriah, and Chaifa have also fought against the phenomenon of these tzeddokah boxes, arguing that helping the needy should not require people to run a gauntlet of unsightly sidewalk obstacles.
THE BEST BARGAIN 11 SHEKELS CAN BUY
An anonymous philanthropist came up with a new way to fight the government’s slashed Torah funding and shrunken child benefits. Starting with the possuk, And as they afflicted them, so they increased, a “Joyous Announcement” pasted on the walls in many chareidi towns and neighborhoods goes on to state that “due to the painful economic edicts of the wicked government that says lest they multiply, there will be a weekly distribution of food products to kollel avreichim at the price of ‘everything for a shekel.’ The distribution will include the following products: 2 sliced loaves of bread, 2 milks, 4 small lebens, 2 cheeses of 250 grams,1 carton of medium eggs, and all for the price of only 11 shekels.”
The bargain buy has a price tag — one hour of uninterrupted learning.
LITZMAN’S DENTAL PROGRAM DECAYED
At a ceremony to open new offices of the Health Ministry in Yerushalayim, past health minister MK Yaakov Litzman of UTJ took the opportunity to blast the government’s decision to remove the expanding of free dental care for 12 to 14 year-olds in order to save 80,000 shekels, or 0.03% of the national budget. In 2010, Litzman signed an agreement with the finance minister to gradually expand the dental service by July 2013 to include all ages from 0-14. In 2011 alone, 500,000 children benefitted from the arrangement.
“Who, like me, knows how necessary this was for myriads of Israeli children,” he said. “Now, due to an unnecessary, hurtful decision, they have denied [this assistance] to the children of everyone without distinction between chareidim and the non-religious. We should be sorry for the lack of compassion and social conscience that a government should have.”
“Taf Shin Ayin Dalet stands for Tehei Sh’nas Ozer Dalim, let this be a year where the poor are helped,” he concluded. “A government is measured according to its concern for the weak, the poor, and the needy, and not by lording it over weak people and poor children.”
BARKAT SET TO WIN
So far, the mayor Nir Barkat seems on his way to win the Yerushalayim mayoral elections in a few weeks time. According to a Maariv Poll, if elections were held today he would get 44% of the vote versus 13% for his major opponent, Torah observant Moshe Lion.
Broken down into sectors, 70% of the traditional but non-religious populace whom Lion is relying on most heavily, support Barkat. Only 7% support Lion. 55% of religious Zionists support Barkat and 7% Lion. Even among the chareidim where Lion has 26% support, 13% are still backing Barkat. Lion’s major supporters, Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and Shas leader Aryeh Deri are banking on almost unanimous chareidi support for Lion, which so far they don’t have. Even this would be no guarantee as even if all the chareidim of Yerushalayim voted for Lion, Barkat would still win with a majority of 60% against 40%.
Since the statistics were released, chareidi support for Lion in certain quarters has decreased. Yerushalayim may be facing another term under Barkat who although is generally fair to all, is more interested in making Yerushalayim a pleasant place for secular Jews than strengthening its religious strongholds.