My Take on the News

Netanyahu and Gabbay Both Declare Victories

What were the major events this past week? First of all, we are still living in the shadow of the recent elections. There are two reasons for that: For one thing, there will be a second round of voting in more than 20 municipalities and local councils, including large cities such as Yerushalayim, Rishon Letzion, Ramat Gan, Raanana, Yahud and Tzefas. Furthermore, the national parties have kept themselves busy dissecting the results of the local elections, in an effort to predict what lies in store in the upcoming elections for the Knesset. Avi Gabbay, the chairman of the Zionist Camp (the current incarnation of the Labor party), was quick to congratulate the members of his party who were elected to the office of mayor in various cities. This includes Ron Huldai in Tel Aviv, Dr. Kalish-Rotem in Haifa, Ruvik Danilovich in Be’er Sheva, and Ronen Marly in Nahariya. He sees the outcome of those elections as portents of further success for his party on the national scene.

Nevertheless, it has already been proven that there is no connection between the outcome of local elections and the prospects of the various parties on the national level. In Yerushalayim, for instance, more than half the eligible voters support the Likud party in the national elections, but that party barely managed to cross the electoral threshold in the municipal elections. On the municipal level, voters base their decisions on local issues rather than on national considerations. That is why these analyses and calculations are completely irrelevant: There is no point in counting the number of votes that the Likud candidates received in every city, because it tells us nothing about who will be elected to the Knesset.

Netanyahu was quick to congratulate the Likud candidates who emerged as winners in the recent elections, and the election results are still the focus of intense media attention.

This year, there has also been a rash of deaths at various construction sites. Since the beginning of the secular year, 37 construction workers have been killed on the job. That amounts to an average of three fatalities every month. The country is also dealing with an outbreak of measles. On Thursday, a one-and-a-half-year-old child passed away at Shaare Tzedek Hospital after contracting the disease.

 

Netanyahu in Bulgaria

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is continuing, as always, to act as if nothing unusual is happening despite the turmoil surrounding him. The national elections might be held early, and the police might be about to recommend indicting him (they announced this past week that their investigations have been completed, and they are in the process of formulating recommendations), but Netanyahu continues to act as if he is on top of the world.

On Thursday, Netanyahu left Israel for a visit to Bulgaria to participate in a forum dealing with economic issues, commercial agreements, security, and terror. That last subject is his particular expertise; he has even written a book about it. His goal, Netanyahu announced upon leaving the country, is to bring about a change in the hostile and hypocritical attitude of the European Union. It is hard to imagine that he will be successful, though. In any event, he met with the leaders of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Romania. And on that note, I am in Bulgaria, for a rabbinical conference. I hope to share some fascinating impressions and experiences with you.

Netanyahu responded to questions about the municipal elections in Yerushalayim, where the candidate he supported, Minister Ze’ev Elkin, was washed out in the first round of voting. “I will support a person who will be an excellent mayor for Yerushalayim, a city that is both very important and very complicated,” Netanyahu said. “I know that there are tremendous challenges in the city, and I will make sure to support the person who I believe will perform his job in the best possible way.” He didn’t specify whether he would support Moshe Leon and Ofir Berkowitz., but it isn’t too hard to guess; Leon served in the past as the director of Netanyahu’s office and is essentially an adherent of the Likud party.

And then there is one more piece of news on the diplomatic front: The newly elected president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, announced that he plans to move the Brazilian embassy to Yerushalayim. All in all, Netanyahu is continuing to reap success in his dealings with other countries.

 

A Cynical Exploitation of the Murder

In America, some used the massacre in Pittsburgh as a pretext to lambast President Trump. Here in Israel, there were those who saw the tragedy as a basis for anti-chareidi rhetoric. One of those people was MK Elazar Stern, a former general in the army and a member of the Yesh Atid party, who never misses an opportunity to vilify the chareidim. Perhaps it should be noted, though, that he does the same to the dati leumi community of which he seems to be a member. He is one of their most ardent foes.

When the subject of the Pittsburgh massacre was raised in the Knesset, Stern had this to say to the chareidi members of the Knesset: “You, who drive a wedge between us and the rest of the Jewish people in your dealings with the Conservative movement, cannot now say to us that we must unite because of the anti-Semitic murders of people who were killed because they were Jewish. I don’t want it to seem as if I am trying to gain from this tragedy, but already on Motzoei Shabbos – and I want you to know this – along with the tremendous pain from these murders, I also felt that it was fortunate that this wretched murderer, Robert Bowers, had not heard the discussions in this building regarding the Kosel agreement. If he had, it is possible that he would not have gone to a Conservative synagogue. He would have heard that at the Kosel, even at its very edge, in a place where you have never davened in your life – where you have never davened and where no chareidi Knesset member who is sitting here has ever davened – even there, there are those who do not wish to allow the Conservative and Reform movements to have a place for themselves, lest someone will come to think that they are full-fledged Jews.

“Emily Levi Shochet, the former chairperson of the Conservative movement, is sitting here, as is the director-general of the movement, Yizhar Hass,” Stern continued. “We respect them. They are Jews like us in every way. When we exclude them from the Kosel, it means that we do not think about them except at a time when Jews are murdered. This has been said many times already: Our enemies did not distinguish between different types of Jews, so why do we do so?”

Stern decried Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to participate in the funerals in Pittsburgh. “In his place, I wouldn’t have gone,” he said. “I am telling you the truth; I would have been ashamed. After all, the Kosel agreement is in his hands. He is also a member of the coalition, just like the chareidim who are opposed to the Kosel agreement.”

Personally, I am ashamed of MK Elazar Stern.

 

A Shiur Kloli Behind Bars

Everything in life is a tikkun, and in that spirit, I must make a correction to something I wrote last week. At the time, I wrote that Rav Berel Povarsky, rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, was scheduled to visit the inmates in the religious wing of Maasiyahu Prison last Thursday to deliver a shmuess in their bais medrash. Ultimately, it was not Rav Berel who came, but rather Rav Mordechai Shmuel Edelstein, a son of Rav Yaakov Edelstein. He spoke about the events of the beginning of Parshas Vayeira, where the Torah relates repeatedly that Avrohom Avinu ran or hurried from place to place. Rav Edelstein explained that although the halacha calls for a person to hurry when going to shul and to be slow to leave it, a person who is leaving a shul (or has finished the performance of any other mitzvah) and going on to another mitzvah should first walk slowly, but should begin to hurry shortly thereafter. Nevertheless, he concluded, Avrohom began running “from the entrance of his tent” – that is, he began exhibiting haste as soon as he set out to greet his visitors, even though he had been in the process of performing a different mitzvah, because of the importance of the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim.

Rav Edelstein’s listeners, a group of prisoners including quite a few talmidei chachomim, felt that his presentation had lifted them to incredible spiritual heights. One of the inmates, himself a gifted scholar, later expounded further on the shiur, using the rov’s approach to elucidate the reasons for the differences in wording between some of the pesukim.

As for Rav Berel Povarsky, he visited the prison on Sunday instead. He was accompanied on his visit by Rav Meir Shmulevitz, son of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz. There was an atmosphere of anticipation throughout the wing in advance of his visit. Rav Berel delivered a shiur kloli that required tremendous effort to follow, but plenty of the inmates were up to the challenge. At the end of the shiur, the rosh yeshiva also shared a few words of encouragement. “It isn’t the judges who put you here. It is Hakadosh Boruch Hu,” he said. “That is the same reason that I am in a wheelchair – because that is what Hashem wanted.” The prisoners asked him which candidates they should vote for in the election, but he declined to answer them. “Only a person who is kulo Torah can tell you,” he replied.

 

Teamwork in the Knesset

I enjoy watching the collaboration between the chareidi members of the Knesset.

On Wednesday, MK Dan Saida was scheduled to present a motion for the agenda regarding the current water crisis in Israel. The Kinneret is at an all-time low, and the country is facing the severest water shortage of the past century. This is an issue that is of tremendous importance to MK Saida. However, the Knesset deals with ordinary motions for the agenda – as opposed to urgent motions – at the end of the day, and Saida had a pressing need to leave the building at 5:00 in the evening. At a certain point in the day, he realized that his motion was going to be delayed, and he asked two of his colleagues, who were seated on the same bench, if they would be willing to substitute for him. The two readily agreed, and Saida left the text of his speech with them (even though he usually speaks without a script).

Eventually, MK Betzalel Smotrich, who was chairing the session, announced, “We are now moving on to a motion for the agenda titled ‘The Kinneret is at an All-Time Low – The Most Serious Water Crisis in the Past Century.’ This motion will be presented by MK Michoel Malchieli, substituting for MK Dan Saida. I believe this is an ordinary motion. Is that correct? In that case, you have up to ten minutes to speak.”

Malchieli began, “Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Minister and members of the Knesset, I am presenting this motion on behalf of my colleague, MK Dan Saida.” He read aloud from Saida’s speech, adding comments of his own as he saw fit. For instance, he said, “‘As a person with a connection to agriculture,’ MK Saida wrote, ‘I am well aware of the results of this water crisis, and I feel obligated – as well as privileged – to place this subject on the agenda once again. I hope, with Hashem’s help, that we will succeed together in finding a way to overcome this ongoing problem. This water crisis, which results from the Kinneret drying up, has many harmful and dangerous repercussions, beginning with serious damage to the Kinneret and including the many diseases that are liable to result, and have already resulted, from the weakening of the currents in the streams descending from the Golan and the Galil to the Kinneret. We had a taste of this not long ago, when the disease of leptospirosis began spreading in the water reservoir in the Golan.’” Later in his speech, Malchieli read that Saida had written, “I come from the world of agriculture and I live in that world, but we must all understand the appropriate order of priorities. We cannot be part of this ongoing trend of negligence.”

Yuval Steinitz was officially supposed to respond to the motion, but he asked Minister Ayoob Kara to deliver the response in his place, and he even left a written response for the other minister to read aloud. What neither minister knew, though, was that official approval was necessary in order for one of them to substitute for the other, and the Knesset speaker had not given his approval. He considered it a lack of respect to the Knesset for government ministers to ask their colleagues to respond to questions on their behalf. As a result, the motion did not receive an official response. It has already been transferred to the Interior Committee for further discussion, where Dan Saida himself will appear to present it.

 

Vaccinations at Kikar Shabbos

An outbreak of measles has struck fear into the hearts of the residents of Israel. According to reports, the majority of measles cases in the recent outbreak have been diagnosed within the chareidi populace. In the Knesset, one of the MKs of Yisroel Beiteinu had the temerity to accuse the chareidim of contributing to the spread of the disease through poor hygiene. Her comment was denounced by Yoav Ben-Tzur, who brought up the subject of the measles outbreak in an urgent parliamentary query last Wednesday.

“Last night,” Ben-Tzur said, “it was announced that there have been 864 diagnosed cases of measles in Israel since the beginning of the year. According to the report, more than half of the cases were discovered in Yerushalayim, most of them in chareidi neighborhoods. I would like to ask: First, are these statistics correct? Second, is there an explanation for the fact that most of the cases were discovered in Yerushalayim, and that about half of them were in the chareidi neighborhoods in the city?”

Yaakov Litzman, deputy health minister, said, “As of today the Health Ministry has received reports of 882 cases [of measles], over half of which were in Yerushalayim, mostly among the chareidi populace. This is the result of pockets of resistance to vaccinations among this populace. The reasons for the lack of vaccinations are varied, and include a lack of awareness, concerns about the efficacy or safety of the vaccine, ideological opposition, logistical difficulties, or a combination of these reasons.” Litzman proceeded to cite an example of the obstacles to vaccination in the chareidi community. “This week,” he said, “I sent a mobile vaccination unit to Kikar Shabbos. There was a line of 70 or more children who had come to receive inoculations. In the middle of the process, a group of fanatics showed up to interfere with the process and to drive them away, to prevent them from receiving the injections. The ideological objections that exist in the chareidi community affect the general public as well,” he added. “There are people who refuse to receive vaccines.”

At that point, Ben-Tzur voiced his objection to the slur against the chareidi community. “This week,” he said, “a member of the Knesset blamed the chareidi public for the fact that people are contracting measles. If she had said this about any other group, I believe that she would no longer be in the Knesset today.” He then used his right to an additional question to ask if there are sufficient inoculations for all the residents of the periphery – in towns such as Elad and Kiryat Shmonah – to be vaccinated, if they desire to do so.

 

What Determines the Length of a Speech?

Here is another item from the Knesset: Almost every week, MK Mickey Levi (Yesh Atid), who served as the deputy finance minister in the government’s previous term, introduces a new bill connected to the Treasury. The government’s response is usually delivered by the current deputy finance minister, Yitzchok Cohen of the Shas party. Cohen and Levi exchange plenty of verbal blows, as well as compliments, and they both seem to enjoy the give and take. This week, Levi introduced a bill that would require any merger between banks to receive the approval of the Finance Committee. The government was opposed to the bill, and it seemed that Levi had expected the coalition to reject it. However, Cohen noticed that there weren’t enough members of the coalition present to reject the bill, and he began to stall for time by intentionally drawing out his speech. Eitan Cabel then called out, “Is the length of your response the same as the amount of time it takes to open a new bank?”

“No,” Cohen replied. “It is actually the amount of time it takes for the coalition members to arrive.” He continued speaking, as he watched the doors intently and waited for the signal that he could conclude his address. “Now,” he said, “since there are some members of the Knesset who have just arrived, I will explain the situation to them, as well.”

“That will take you another two years!” MK Nachman Shai shouted. “Move on to the parsha instead! There is nothing else left to discuss.”

“You know,” Itzik Cohen said, continuing his stalling tactics, “on the seventh of Cheshvan we began davening for rain in the brocha of Boreich Aleinu. You are certainly familiar with that. In a certain shul, they were having difficulty assembling a minyan that night. There were eight men present, and the rov was searching for two more to complete the minyan. Finally, he went outside and found two hoodlums standing there. ‘Come and help us make a minyan,’ he said.

“The two youths looked at him and said, ‘Rabbi, do you really think we will be able to bring the rain?’

“‘It will be fine,’ the rov assured them. ‘It was people like you who brought the Mabul!’”

At that point, someone motioned to Cohen that the requisite majority had arrived. “All right,” he concluded, “I believe that you have understood my response. I call upon everyone to reject this proposal. Thank you.”

The bill was indeed rejected by a majority of 43 to 29.

 

The Stolen Kidney

Sometimes, the most incredible – or horrific – stories are revealed at the most unexpected times. One such story recently emerged in the Knesset in the course of what seemed like an ordinary day of parliamentary business. Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior, was at the podium, praising Nurit Koren for a bill she had introduced concerning the lost Yemenite children. And then, in the middle of his speech, he dropped a bombshell.

“Two weeks ago,” he related, “I was visited by a distinguished government official. I don’t know if he would agree for me to reveal his name, so I will simply say that he is a prominent official and a former senior officer in the Shin Bet. He is an ordinary person, not a vocal alarmist. He told me a little bit about his mother’s family, about two incidents that took place when they came to Israel from Persia in the 1950s. These were two astounding stories, which left me in disbelief.

“The first incident involved a girl who was about four years old, who became ill and was placed in the hospital. The next day, the family was told that she had died. ‘Where is the grave?’ they asked. ‘We buried her. just go home and don’t ask questions,’ the hospital staff responded. This is certainly one of the stories that you are dealing with,” Deri added, addressing Koren.

“The second incident involved one of his aunts, who became ill when she was about 17 or 18 years old, and was admitted to a hospital in the south. Boruch Hashem, she was discharged after several days and returned home. Many years later, when she was hospitalized again, the staff asked her, ‘Why didn’t you tell us that you have only one kidney?’ It turned out that during her first hospitalization, when she was a young girl of about 17 or 18, one of her kidneys was stolen. This is a true story.”

Deri’s audience was stunned. Nurit Koren exclaimed, “What?”

“Yes,” Deri said. “I heard this story two weeks ago, and I reacted exactly as you did. If it hadn’t been told to me by a government official whom I know and respect, I would have been certain that it was a lie. But these, unfortunately, are the types of things that once took place here.”

 

The Question Rav Shach Wouldn’t Answer

Yaakov Weinroth, the prominent Israeli attorney, and Rav Shimshon Pincus once had a difference of opinion, which they asked Rav Shach to resolve. Their disagreement took place in the aftermath of a tragic accident that claimed the life of a woman from the religious community of Ofakim. Weinroth represented the woman’s husband in his dealings with the insurance company, and the proceedings dragged on for a long time, as is typical in such situations. Before a settlement could be reached, the widowed yungerman was offered a shidduch, and it soon became clear that the match would come to fruition. Weinroth advised him to delay his engagement until after the legal proceedings had been concluded. “If you remarry before we come to court,” he warned the man, “you will lose a huge amount of money.”

Rav Pincus was opposed to delaying the shidduch. “One must never push off a wedding for the sake of money,” he insisted.

The illustrious rov and the brilliant lawyer sat together before Rav Shach and presented their respective arguments. “The yungerman stands to lose an enormous amount of money, which could otherwise help rehabilitate him,” Weinroth argued passionately.

“A Jew doesn’t make decisions on account of monetary concerns,” Rav Pincus said. “A wedding should not be delayed because of money!”

Rav Shach listened to the two men and did not reply. They pressed him for an answer, and after giving the matter some thought, he said, “I am not able to answer this question.”

Rav Pincus and the lawyer left the room without receiving a response. No sooner had they left than the yungerman himself entered the room. “Rosh Yeshiva,” he exclaimed, “this isn’t just a theoretical issue for me. What am I supposed to do?”

“There is no question at all about that,” Rav Shach replied. “You should do as Rav Shimshon says.”

The yungerman was shocked. “Then why didn’t the rosh yeshiva say that when they were here?” he asked.

Rav Shach gently patted his hand. “Rav Shimshon Pincus is right,” he explained, “but for him, money is never a consideration at all. However, even an adam gadol needs to know that financial matters can sometimes be a factor in a decision. Therefore, I had to show him that it was difficult for me to reach a decision on this matter.”