My Take on the News

The Elections and the Judiciary

The upcoming elections are a major subject of interest here in Israel. Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has largely remained mum about his political views, and the polls indicate that the party under his leadership will win twelve mandates in the election. Gantz is currently in the process of filling the twelve spots on his list, which will be occupied by a dozen fairly obscure people. This week, he made a single brief statement – “We must fix the Nationality Law; we have a lifelong alliance with the Druse” – and he was immediately slammed by the right. Meanwhile, there was a major development within the right, when MK Betzalel Smotrich defeated Minister Uri Ariel and became the chairman of the National Union (which consists of the Moledet and Tekumah factions and makes up the more right-wing portion of Bayit Yehudi). This followed the split within Bayit Yehudi, when Bennett and Shaked decided to withdraw from the party and form their own competing party, known as the New Right.

Nevertheless, the most contentious topic right now is a scandal within the judiciary. Recent events have shown us that the judges who are appointed to Israel’s courts are not always worthy of their positions. Often, the choices are dictated by the judges’ influential connections, and sometimes even result from outright corruption. Both the Minister of Justice and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court were quick to weigh in on the issue. The left, of course, has attacked Prime Minister Netanyahu. Ehud Barak proclaimed last week, “This is something that could happen only in the era of Netanyahu, who has given legitimacy to corruption.”

At the end of last week, there was also much talk as to whether or not there would be snow.

And in another noteworthy development, Amir Kochavi has been installed as the 22nd chief of staff of the IDF, replacing Gadi Eizenkot.

A Distraction for the Judges

For the chareidi community in Eretz Yisroel, the scandal involving the judiciary is a welcome development. For the time being, the entire judicial community, including even the chief justice of the Supreme Court, will be focused on its own internal problems. This is the political equivalent of an earthquake, as the judiciary has completely lost the trust of the public. They are entering one of the most difficult periods of their history – and while they are busy dealing with their own troubles, they will have much less of an opportunity to concern themselves with the chareidim. We are all aware that there are several major issues on which the judges are expected to render decisions: the draft law, Reform conversions, the Reform movement’s petition for space at the Kosel, and a new issue – an appeal that was submitted against the fact that religious students learn in separate men’s and women’s classes. In this most recent case, the court was petitioned to force chareidi men and women to study in mixed classes.

The chiloni opposition to the “exclusion of women” has turned into a campaign of madness. The activists are working with all their might to uncover even the slightest trace of gender segregation within religious society and to force their ideals on the community in every area. For instance, they have championed a law that prohibits having separate waiting rooms for men and women in a medical clinic. Why should they care if the religious populace wishes to live with segregation? Why do they have to interfere with the internal workings of the chareidi sector? Are they driven by hatred, or do they truly believe that they are standing up for the rights of women? I would have liked to believe that the latter is true, but there is ample evidence to the contrary: These activists have been fighting against separation of the genders even when the women themselves are in favor of it. It seems that this witch hunt will come to an end only when the Knesset responds to it by passing definitive laws on the subject.

Netanyahu in Hot Water – Again

Prime Minister Netanyahu is still facing plenty of legal woes. In the latest twist in the saga, he is accused of having accepted a donation toward the costs of his legal defense, which is prohibited by law. Netanyahu claims to have received the money from a relative, and that the funds were intended for someone else and were not given to him to pay his legal bills. Despite his claims, the state comptroller has asked the attorney general to order an investigation into this incident.

Meanwhile, terror seems to have reared its ugly head once again. Last week, I wrote that we were reminded of the fragility of our situation when a girl was attacked by an Arab at a bus stop in the Armon Hanetziv neighborhood of Yerushalayim. I mentioned at the time that the attack was believed to have been nationalistically motivated, and that security was stepped up in the neighborhood in response, especially in light of the fact that the attacker hadn’t been captured. Subsequently, a couple living in the neighborhood, Yehuda and Tamar Kaduri, were murdered in their home. Yehuda Kaduri was a baal teshuvah and an older man who was very popular among his neighbors. The couple’s relatives believe that the murder was an act of Arab terror. It is quite possible that the murderer was the same man who attempted to stab the Jewish girl two weeks ago.

Preparing for the Polls

We are steadily moving toward the upcoming election. Even though the Knesset is in recess, I still come to the building regularly to use my office and my computer, and that gives me an opportunity to watch the Central Electoral Council at work. There is no place where the fervor of the preparations for the election is quite as evident as in the Knesset building itself. For the chareidi community’s political leadership, the call of the hour is very clear: They must make the greatest possible effort to enhance kevod Shomayim in the course of this campaign.

The Central Electoral Council is the government agency charged with overseeing the electoral system. They make certain that the entire election process runs smoothly and without mishap. They are also required to approve every party’s list of candidates for the election.

The council is always headed by a justice of the Supreme Court. This time, the position was given to Judge Chanan Meltzer. Even now, Meltzer can often be found in an office in the Knesset building, surrounded by advisors and aides. Whenever a complaint is filed with the committee, he is supposed to decide on a response. His decisions can be appealed to the Supreme Court itself, where the appeals are heard by his colleagues. Before the previous election, the council was headed by Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, and several of his decisions were indeed overturned by the Supreme Court.

The electoral council has a large staff that includes computer technicians, spokespeople, advisors from the army, police, and Prison Service, and many others, all of whom were assigned to work on the floor of the Knesset building where the offices of the political parties are located. In other words, my coworkers and I were asked to vacate our offices for the benefit of the upcoming election.

An Equitable Division

Within chareidi circles, the subject of unity has become the talk of the day. I am not referring to the question of Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel running together on the joint list of United Torah Judaism; it is essentially a foregone conclusion that they will do so. The probability of the two parties running separately in the election was always virtually nil. Last Wednesday, in fact, both parties signed an agreement to run together once again. This time, however, the division of power within the party was to be altered, since the outcome of the municipal elections in Yerushalayim showed that the previous division, in which Agudas Yisroel received 60 percent of the party’s seats, was not justified.

In the last election, United Torah Judaism (Yahadut HaTorah) received six seats in the Knesset. Four of those mandates were given to Agudas Yisroel (to be held by Litzman, Porush, Moses, and Eichler), while the other two were held by members of Degel HaTorah. Moshe Gafni and Uri Maklev. Yaakov Asher managed to enter the Knesset because Meir Porush resigned, opting to hold a deputy ministerial position without being a member of the Knesset at the same time. Following the recent changes, the spots on the UTJ list will be divided equally between Agudas Yisroel and Degel HaTorah. The first slot will be given to a member of the Gerrer faction within Agudas Yisroel, while the second slot will belong to Degel HaTorah and will probably be occupied by Moshe Gafni. The third candidate on the list will probably be Meir Porush, while the fourth slot will likely be held by Uri Maklev, the fifth by another member of Agudas Yisroel (from either the Vizhnitzer or Belzer factions within the party), the sixth by Yaakov Asher, and the seventh by another member of Agudas Yisroel (once again, a representative of either Vizhnitz or Belz). The eighth spot will be held either by Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, as in the previous election campaign, or by Yitzchok Pindrus.

In short, all the odd-numbered spots on the list will be held by Agudas Yisroel, while the even-numbered spots will belong to Degel HaTorah. The greatest likelihood seems to be that UTJ will win seven mandates. Therefore, the party members have settled on a rotation agreement for the seventh and eighth spots on the list. From now on, the two parties that combine to make up Yahadut HaTorah will enjoy an even division of power within the party.

Pros and Cons of a United List

Although the combination of Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel into a single list is taken for granted, there is another possibility that has been the subject of much discussion – the idea of forming a single united party that will include Shas, as well. There has even been some discussion about incorporating the two parties that broke away from Shas and Degel HaTorah, respectively, into this new, unified list. The chareidi community is divided on this issue, and for some reason, the proponents of a unified list are seen as being interested in harmonious coexistence, while those who are opposed to the idea have been portrayed as seeking conflict. In truth, that is not the issue that divides them. Everyone understands that the best thing for all the parties is to work together in peace; the question at hand is whether a united chareidi front will increase the number of mandates that the parties can win. If that is the case, some have suggested, it might even be preferable to include the national religious sector on the list, as well. However, aside from the electoral considerations, there are also hashkafic issues to take into account.

There is also another, no less important, consideration: There may very well be many traditional or religious Israelis (mainly Sephardim, and especially in the cities on the periphery of the country, where Shas has a very strong foothold) who will be willing to vote for Shas, but who would not vote for a united list that includes the Ashkenazic chareidi parties. The potential loss of those votes is a very serious issue.

I can’t claim to be an expert on this subject, but I do remember a precedent for this. About thirty years ago, somewhere in Ramat Gan, a professor named Namdar arranged a series of meetings and discussions about the possibility of forming a united religious front. In-depth research and surveys were conducted, and while there were some naysayers, the idea had many supporters. Nevertheless, it did not catch on, possibly because Namdar tried to form a group that was too broad.

That is not to say that our nation is completely divided. This week, I observed a very different kind of united front in the Knesset. It was Tuesday afternoon, and immediately after Mincha, every person in the Knesset shul, without exception, began reciting Parshas Hamon. Regardless of the type of yarmulkas they wore, the color of their socks or the style of their hats, and regardless of whether they were politicians, security guards, or electricians, all the men were united in reading the pesukim. The concern about parnassah is enough to break down any barriers.

Back to our discussion: It is certainly true that every individual mandate can have a major impact. We saw clearly during this term, and even more clearly during the term before it, that a single mandate can often make a world of difference. Therefore, it might be reasonable to assume that the parties should unite in order to maximize the use of the votes they receive. On the other hand, there are sometimes other considerations, as well.

 

Thousands of Infiltrators Have Left the Country

This week, a small news item in Yisroel Hayom brought some very significant tidings: In the year 2018, not even one new infiltrator entered Israel, while thousands left the country. “The Population and Immigration Authority released its statistics about the past year, and they were quite surprising,” the article related. “Over the course of the year 2018, not a single infiltrator entered the country, while 7,957 infiltrators were deported, and 3,490 left in the context of a program to encourage voluntary relocation.” The majority of those who willingly departed from the country were Eritrean immigrants.

This, however, was merely a drop in the bucket. Professor Shlomo Mor Yosef, the director-general of the Population and Immigration Authority, related that there are about 35,000 illegal infiltrators from Eritrea and Sudan living in Israel today, along with another 7,000 children who were born here. In reality, these illegal immigrants should give thanks to the political leaders of the country for allowing this insane phenomenon to take place. The infiltrator population is essentially a ticking time bomb. Even aside from the issue of the crime rates within this population, there is a tremendous economic cost to the state. The infiltrators have also terrified tens of thousands of Jews who live in close proximity to them, from south Tel Aviv to Rechov Jabotinsky in Bnei Brak. That is the issue that motivated Netanyahu to make a special trip to Yaffo.

For the past couple of years, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has taken it upon himself to work on resolving this issue. I don’t know exactly how he has done it, but the facts speak for themselves: As you saw, almost 8,000 infiltrators have been deported this year, and almost another 3,500 voluntarily left the country. Any other government minister would have celebrated those statistics around the country in a campaign of self-aggrandizement.

More Than “Talmidim”

It is time once again for me to play the role of media watchdog by pointing out a couple of biases and improprieties in the Israeli press. In Yediot Acharonot, the most widely distributed newspaper in Israel, I found the following headline: “Request to Disqualify a Judge Because He is a Scuba Diver.” On a superficial level, this seems to reflect poorly on the person who asked for the judge to be invalidated. Why should the judge’s hobby make any difference? If he collected seashells in his spare time, would that be a reason to invalidate him, as well?

In the body of the article, though, the reason became clear. In the case over which the judge was presiding, the Nature and Parks Authority accused the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company of responsibility for the destruction of the coral reefs off the coast of Eilat. The judge, who enjoys scuba diving, spends a good deal of his time diving in that very area. Despite the misleading headline, then, the request to disqualify him was entirely reasonable.

Another headline in the same newspaper, which was printed in large letters spanning half a page, pointed an accusing finger at an anonymous group of “chareidim.” According to the headline, an employee of Kan, the news channel of the Public Broadcasting Corporation, was “attacked by a group of chareidim” outside the corporation’s headquarters in Yerushalayim on Shabbos. Of course, since the perpetrators were not identified and the story was so vague, there was no way for anyone to confirm or dispute it. Below this dramatic headline, Dan Kanner, the newscaster working for Kan, describes his “disturbing” experience: “On Friday night, when I pulled out of the parking lot, there were four youths who made threatening hand motions at me, accompanied by shouts.” Now, even if there were indeed four young men who waved threateningly at him, Kanner does not claim that they attacked him physically. And this story certainly does not justify the inflammatory headline that blames “a group of chareidim” for perpetrating an “attack.” How does the newspaper get away with defaming an entire sector of Israeli society in this way? They would not dare talk that way about members of any other group. More than that, it is the height of hypocrisy for Dan Kanner to accuse anyone of violence. Several years ago, Kanner himself was accused of committing an assault.

Pearls of Wisdom from Rav Refoel Shmulevitz zt”l

In honor of the yahrtzeit of Rav Refoel Shmulevitz on the ninth of Shevat, I would like to close this column by quoting a fascinating excerpt from the kuntrus titled Keren Ohr Ponov, which was written by his talmid, Rav Berel Avrohom Whitman:

“My rebbi told me that he dreamed of writing a sefer whose contents would be arranged by topic, such as ‘safek mamon, ‘kiyum shtaros,’ ‘migu,’ hapeh she’asar,’ and so forth, with the goal of presenting a comprehensive discussion of every individual subject. As an example of this type of sefer, he used to point to the Meiri’s Bais Habechirah. The Meiri did not feel that it was sufficient merely to explain the words of the Gemara. Rather, on every subject that arose, he wrote a comprehensive, all-encompassing discussion of the entire topic.

“He told me that a philanthropist once offered to purchase shtenders for the yeshiva with computer screens built into each shtender, so that every bochur could access a database filled with seforim without even leaving his seat. He rejected the idea, explaining, ‘A bochur has no shortage of information in the material that he is learning. On the contrary, if a person has too much information, he will be lacking a depth of understanding of the knowledge that he possesses.’

“He used to express distaste at the habit of people who sought to explain the Divine calculations behind various happenings, and he wondered why people felt that they needed to understand those things. ‘The truth is that we do not understand Hashem’s cheshbonos,’ he would say. ‘We don’t know, and we aren’t supposed to know. Our job is to do His Will without understanding why He acts toward us in any way… It is not a person’s job to deal with these questions, especially not at a time of personal trouble. Rather, he is obligated to look for the areas in which he must improve himself and the mitzvos in which he must strengthen himself, and he must internalize the fact that he can never truly have knowledge of the way Hashem chooses to run His world. Rather, our obligation is only to believe that everything Hashem does is for the best.’ He also used to say, ‘We live with questions, with contradictions, and with things we don’t understand, but that is precisely our job – to serve Hashem not in a situation of knowing, but rather in a state of not knowing.’”

His father’s eyes narrowed. “Yedidya,” he repeated in a whisper. Suddenly, it was as if his breath had been squeezed out of him, and the color drained from his face. He sank into a nearby chair and asked, in a quiet, weakened tone, “Why Yedidya?”

“That’s what the rov said,” Doron replied.

His father opened his eyes. His breathing was quick and ragged. “That was the name I gave you at your bris,” he confessed. “When people told me that the name means ‘friend of Hashem,’ I changed it to Doron.”

Once again, Doron/Yedidya felt that his power of speech had deserted him. Then again, even if he could have spoken, he would not have known what to say. In front of his eyes, an amazing transformation was taking place. He could barely believe his ears when his father spoke again. “I would like to see this rov,” he said.