My Take On the News

The Battle Goes On

Chanukah has faded very quickly into the past, and I find myself wishing that I had a way to preserve the remarkable experience of those days. I made an effort to absorb the messages of many darshonim over the course of Chanukah, and on one of the nights of the Yom Tov, I found myself listening to an address by Rav Yerachmiel Boyer. In addition to his many wonderful qualities and accomplishments – he has worked on behalf of Degel HaTorah and the Ohr Hachaim seminary, as the former mayor of Bnei Brak and chairman of the board of the Meuchedet health fund, as the head of Kollel Yad Avrohom and as the principal of the seminary in Be’er Yaakov – Rav Boyer is also an outstanding darshan.

In the course of his drosha, Rav Boyer pointed out that the wording of Al Hanissim seems to follow a peculiar order: We first give thank for Hashem’s miracles, redemption, and salvation, and only at the conclusion do we mention “the wars.” Considering that the wars occurred before the miraculous salvation, this seems to be a strange inversion of the order of events. Furthermore, he asked, what does it mean when the tefillah thanks Hashem for delivering the “zeidim [evildoers] into the hands of those who learn Your Torah”? The rest of the descriptions of the Jews’ miraculous victory invoke two opposite characteristics. For instance, the tefillah states that Hashem delivered “the many into the hands of the few” and “the mighty into the hands of the weak.” But why does it contrast “zeidim” with “those who learn Your Torah”?

Rav Boyer explained that the term “zeidim” actually refers to people who mock the Torah and deride those who learn it, who relate to talmidei chachomim with disdain and view them as not contributing to society. In that sense, the term is indeed the exact opposite of “those who learn Your Torah,” and the battle against these “zeidim” has continued throughout our history, to this very day. This, he explained, also accounts for the mention of “wars” only at the conclusion of the first line of Al Hanissim, for our battle against the “zeidim” continued long after the miracles and redemptions that we acknowledge at the beginning of the tefillah.

In what seemed like a Heaven-sent coincidence, this week I found myself learning the conclusion of Sefer Chofetz Chaim, which states, “Be aware that everything that we have written in this sefer about taking great care to avoid the sin of lashon hara applies only with regard to someone who is still considered ‘your fellow.’ However, regarding those people who deny the Torah of Hashem – even just a single letter of it – and who mock the words of Chazal, it is a mitzvah to publicize their false beliefs in view of everyone and to disparage them, so that others will not learn from their evil deeds.”

 

Absorbing Immigrants from France

Prime Minister Netanyahu recently instructed Naftoli Bennett to work with the National Economic Council to produce a master plan for increasing the volume of Jewish immigration from France. The plan was to be presented before a ministerial committee that would be headed by the prime minister himself. The committee is slated to include Ministers Yariv Levin, Ze’ev Elkin, and Moshe Kachlon, as well as Mr. Avi Simchon, the chairman of the National Economic Council, and Yoav Horowitz, the prime minister’s chief of staff.

I cannot help but question the decision not to include a single chareidi Knesset member, a representative of the Chief Rabbinate, or even someone who would speak on behalf of the religious immigrants from France. After all, the majority of French immigrants are religious. In fact, they have a chareidi outlook. They appear more traditional than religious, but their children attend schools dedicated to the study of Torah. Over the past decade, the French Jewish community has experienced a religious revival. The Israeli government, however, seems to have overlooked that.

Bennett told the ministers of the government, “Over the past few years, the Israeli government has missed a historic opportunity to boost immigration from France. There are 200,000 French Jews who want to move here, but our country is simply not prepared for them. These are people with Zionistic values, people with principles, people who love the Jewish nation and Eretz Yisroel, and we have a moral obligation to assist them. Two weeks ago, I introduced a plan for informal education for the French immigrants, but it is not sufficient. There is a need for a much broader process to be spearheaded by the government.”

I don’t know exactly what Minister Bennett has done, but one thing is clear: The French immigrants are being offered placement only in the public or state religious school systems, and that is very bad. In effect, this is a modern-day campaign to tear them away from their religion.

 

Bright Children, Bright Comments

Who could fail to be entertained by the adorable comments spawned by our children’s developing minds?

“Savta is moving to Kiryat Yovel in Yerushalayim,” a father recently told his two young sons.

Little Shimshon was excited. “That means that on Chol Hamoed we will get to visit her in Yerushalayim!” he exclaimed.

Binyomin, however, was slightly more reserved. “Why Kiryat Yovel?” he asked. “I would like her to move to … Kriat Shema!”

Then there was little Aryeh Leib – known as Ari – who wanted to tell his parents that something had hit him on his back and that he deserved a candy. However, with his limited vocabulary, he could not recall the word for “back,” and he settled on describing the site of his injury as “behind Ari.”

Finally, there was little Moishy, whose rebbi asked him to list the names of the twelve shevatim. There was one name that Moishy never has trouble remembering – the name of Yissochor, for he has an older brother named Yissochor Dov. And so Moishy stood up in front of his class and began reciting the names in a singsong tone: “Reuven, Shimon, Levi, Yehuda, Yissochor Dov, Zevulun…”

 

Spreading the Sweetness of Torah

Zechor L’Avrohom, a shul in the neighborhood of Kiryat Menachem in Yerushalayim, is a hub of spiritual activity with a distinctly Sephardic character. The Sephardic community, even its less observant elements, is adamant about preserving its traditional character; it has a strong tendency to resist changes or innovations in any religious practices. The rov of the shul, Rav Michoel Amos, is a member of the Bais Din Hagadol and is considered one of the bais din system’s most valuable assets.

On Chanukah, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, the Rishon Letzion, attended a festive event at the shul and delivered an inspiring address. One of the topics he addressed was the subject of kiruv. He remarked that the proper way to draw irreligious Jews closer to religious observance is to expose them to the sweetness of the Torah. He related that whenever his father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, noticed an irreligious person attending his shiurim on halacha, he would change the topic of the shiur and would begin telling stories about tzaddikim. This would prevent the irreligious listener from feeling bored or out of place in the shiur, but even more importantly, it would afford him an opportunity to experience the delightful flavor of the Torah.

Rav Ovadiah was dedicated to kiruv. For many decades, until he reached the age of 85, he made a habit of traveling to great distances in order to bring the light of Torah to others. Over the course of his lifetime, it is likely that his shiurim were attended in person by at least a million people, and that is to say nothing of the multitudes of people who listened to his shiurim via satellite broadcasts. Hundreds of thousands of people regularly vied for opportunities to greet him, but Rav Ovadiah did not consider it beneath his dignity even to address an audience of only a handful of people. Today, his son is following in his footsteps: Rav Yitzchok Yosef delivers innumerable shiurim in many communities throughout the country.

 

Terror in Givat Assaf

Givat Assaf, a settlement located near Eit El, was founded in 2001 after the murder of Assaf Hershkovitz, a resident of Ofra. Assaf’s father had also been murdered in a terror attack three months earlier. Today, Givat Assaf is home to 30 families with about 100 children, most of whom live in trailers. Only a few have permanent homes. On Thursday, at 11:13 in the morning, three young Jews were murdered near Givat Assaf. It was a painful and horrifying tragedy in an area that has witnessed other terror attacks in the past.

The terrorists drove up to the Givat Assaf junction in their car, whereupon one of them emerged from the car and shot at the soldiers and civilians standing at the bus stop. Three people were killed. One of them died while being transported to the hospital. Another victim was critically wounded. The murderer returned to his car and escaped along with his accomplices.

After the attack, an IDF spokesman announced that the entire city of Ramallah had been sealed and that a manhunt had been launched to capture the terrorists. Israeli soldiers carefully inspected every vehicle entering or leaving the area. In response to the recent wave of attacks, the army also decided to station a number of battalions in Yehuda and the Shomron in order to enhance the military presence in the area. Later that day, an abandoned car was discovered in the vicinity of Ramallah; it was suspected to have been the vehicle used by the terrorists. The leaders of the Arab terror organizations rejoiced over the act of terror; one of them claimed that it was a reaction to the death of the terrorist responsible for the Barkan attack (see below).

The horrific tragedy plunged the country into mourning. Aside from the intensive news coverage that the incident garnered, along with the many tefillos for the recovery of the wounded, it also evoked a general sense of misery and outrage. A group of local government officials visited the site of the attack and released a statement directed at Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu: “Mr. Prime Minister, we will no longer be silent. There is a complete lack of security here, and we are liable to reach the point of a total loss of control.”

That same morning, another terrorist attempted to murder a religious Jew who was on his way to the Kosel Hamaarovi. Once his victim was lying on the ground and the terrorist believed that he had been killed, he ran toward two Border Guard officers and attempted to stab them.

 

The Murder in Ofra and Two Ramming Attacks

These incidents came on the heels of a murderous attack in Ofra. Last Wednesday night, the baby who was born in the aftermath of the attack, and who had been fighting for his life, passed away. It was a heartrending funeral. The baby was given a name at his levayah.

The attack in Ofra seemed to transport us back to the frightful days when terror attacks were more frequent. The country watched tensely as the wounded mother, Shira Ish-Ran began a miraculous recovery. When she began breathing on her own, her family burst into tears. Her husband was categorized as lightly wounded.

The attack took place at the conclusion of a Chanukah mesibah, where a group of Chabad and Breslover chassidim had entertained the participants. Shortly before the gunfire broke out, there were hundreds of people in that very spot. Fortunately, many of them had left by the time the terrorists began shooting.

Since Shira was due to give birth soon, the country was horrified by the incident. Netanyahu called the shooting a “monstrous” act. Shira’s baby was delivered and placed in the neonatal intensive care unit, but despite the best efforts of the doctors at Shaare Tzedek, the baby did not survive.

The attack in Ofra came on the heels of two attempted car ramming attacks targeting Israeli soldiers or Border Guard officers. One of those incidents took place in the village of Idna, near Chevron. The second occurred in the northern Jordan Valley. In the first incident, the police had spotted an Arab stealing copper and the thief then attempted to run them over, possibly in order to escape. The perpetrator was shot and killed. The second incident was similar: An Arab was caught performing illegal construction and attempted to run over inspectors. Once again, it is possible that he was merely attempting to avoid capture. But even if both of these incidents were not nationalistically motivated, they were certainly disquieting.

And that is not all. Our vivid memories of the attack that took place on November 7, when shots were fired at a bus traveling from Beit El to Yerushalayim, still have not faded. In that incident, two people were wounded and were evacuated to Hadassah Har Hatzofim Hospital. The bus driver himself was one of the victims. The passenger sitting directly behind him, Avichai Sheli, is a nearly blind resident of Netivot and former winner of the International Bible Contest who was returning from delivering a lecture. It was considered miraculous that the shooting did not cause even greater harm.

 

An Entire Country Hunts for a Single Terrorist

Netanyahu wrote in response to the terror attack in Ofra, “Our security forces are hunting for the murderers. They will be captured and brought to justice.” This incident, like the attack in Beit El last month, was also followed by the IDF spokesman’s usual statement that a search for the terrorists was in progress in the area.

But that is precisely the issue. Do you remember the terror attack in the Barkan industrial area? Ziv Chajbi of Rishon Letzion and Kim Yechezkel of Rosh Ha’Ayin were shot to death in cold blood on Sunday, October 7, in a recycling plant in the industrial zone near Ariel. At that time, IDF spokesman Ronen Manelis hurried to announce that the army had begun working to capture the terrorist. “What happened today was a heinous atrocity,” he said. “We can say unequivocally, based on the information that is in our possession and in the possession of the Shin Bet, that it was a terror attack. We are searching for the terrorist with special units, and we have supplemented our forces in Yehuda and the Shomron in order to prevent other terrorists from copying this act. This seems to be the work of a single perpetrator who acted alone. We are viewing him as an armed terrorist on the run, and we are doing everything possible in order to capture him.”

But the terrorist remained at large until last weekend. His mother and sister were arrested and the army threatened to demolish his home, but he had vanished. Avigdor Lieberman, who was still the Minister of Defense at the time, boasted on the day after the murders that it was only a matter of hours, or perhaps a few days, until the terrorist would be captured. “We are following him, and we are waiting for him to make his first mistake,” Lieberman announced confidently. But it seems that the terrorist did not make any mistakes.

In recent days, the prime minister placed enormous pressure on the Shin Bet to leave no stone unturned in its quest to capture the terrorist. It seemed to be a disgrace to the state itself that its entire army was unable to capture a single terrorist. (Actually, the fact that the terrorist operated alone and was not connected to a specific terror network helped him avoid capture.) As of now, the perpetrators of the other two terror attacks – the bus shooting in Beit El on November 7 and the shooting in Ofra on December 9 – have yet to the captured. The murderer from Givat Assaf is likewise still at large. And the state is ashamed.

The Barkan terrorist was finally located early on Thursday and was killed in an exchange of gunfire. The leaders of the Arab terror organizations claim that his death was the impetus for the murderous attack in Givat Assaf at 11:00 that morning.

 

The Cruelty of Yishmoel

This week, I spoke with MK Avi Dichter, the former head of the Shin Bet, who explained why it has been so difficult to capture these terrorists. The Shin Bet has a huge network of collaborators, Arabs who report to the agency about everything they observe in their neighborhoods and communities. Each of these informants has a handler, who remains in constant contact with him. The Shin Bet recruits its collaborators by identifying vulnerable Arabs and taking advantage of their situations, whether they are criminals or people in financial straits. The collaborators are compensated in accordance with the amount of knowledge they possess. They reveal to their handlers, for instance, when they hear that a terror attack is in the works. When the Shin Bet thwarts attempted terror attacks – which happens quite frequently – they owe their accomplishments to the information provided by these collaborators.

Of course, when a terrorist acts alone – when an Arab gets up in the morning, finds himself filled with a murderous rage, and spontaneously decides to go out and murder a Jew – the Shin Bet does not have a chance of stopping him. Those murderers do not share their plans with anyone, nor are they provided with weapons by any terror organization. They simply leave their homes and travel to the nearest traffic junction, where they attempt to run over Jews.

Dichter, who has dealt with Arab collaborators throughout his life, told me an appalling story: “One day, one of the informants broke off contact with the Shin Bet. We were afraid that he was dead, but two weeks later, he came back to us. When he arrived, he was wearing a knit cap that covered his head down to his cheeks. We asked him what had happened, and he removed his hat, revealing that he had no ears! He explained that the Arab leadership where he lived had decided to punish him for disobeying them about something. They said to him, ‘We told you this once and you didn’t listen, and then we told you again and you still didn’t listen. As punishment for that, we will cut off your ears.’ That should give you an idea of the type of people we are dealing with,” Dichter concluded.