My Take on the News

Draft Law Extended

It is amazing that events seem to unfold with dizzying speed here in Israel, yet at the same time, our problems stubbornly refuse to go away. Every week, I have virtually the same news to report.

Let me begin with the good news: The Supreme Court accepted the government’s petition and agreed to allow the draft law to remain in force until July 28, 2019. This decision was made by a panel of nine justices on the High Court, headed by Chief Justice Esther Chayut. Their rationale is that there is no Knesset to pass a new law at this time, and even after the election, it will be necessary to leave some time for a new coalition to be formed before a new law can be passed.

Make no mistake: It was not a foregone conclusion that this extension would take place. In fact, there was much hesitation in the government as to whether it should be requested at all. After all, there is no actual draft law in place at this time. The Supreme Court ruled over a year ago that the previous draft law was invalid and would be struck down. The government asked for an extension, and the court agreed to keep the law in effect slightly past its original deadline. Then the Knesset dissolved itself, and the government began preparing to request an additional extension. This time, however, the legal experts in the Ministry of Justice decided that it is impossible to postpone the cancellation of a disqualified law. The court can grant an extension of the deadline for passing a new law, they argued, but it cannot extend the validity of a law that has been overturned. It took extensive wrangling, threatening and shouting to convince the ministry to make the request. Ultimately, the court accepted the request – proving that the Ministry of Justice members were actually wrong in this case. In any event, this gives the chareidi populace some breathing room until the next Knesset is formed.

Chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv – Again

In Tel Aviv, the municipality is still insisting on performing construction on the Yehudit Bridge on Shabbos. The Transportation Ministry tried to prevent the work from being done on Shabbos, and the city of Tel Aviv appealed to the Supreme Court. The national government was preparing to inform the court that it had no objection to the work being performed on Shabbos, but in the end, it did not respond to the case at all. At this point, it seems that the work will take place on Shabbos after all, despite the transportation minister’s opposition. The chareidi political leadership is trying to prevent that from happening, especially since it is a matter of only six weeks of work, and there is really no reason for it to be done on Shabbos. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem likely that their efforts will be successful. It is a maddening situation, and one that makes many people extremely distressed.

This week, Eretz Yisroel received many visitors from America. Immediately after the Shuvu delegation left the country, following a highly productive visit, the participants in this year’s Agudas Yisroel Yarchei Kallah arrived for an invigorating series of learning sessions and shiurim at the Ramada Hotel in Yerushalayim.

This week was also marked by a major annual event for Israelis: the chinuch conference at the Nir Etzion hotel. This event draws mechanchim from throughout the country, who gather to receive valuable instruction and to learn educational tools from gedolei Torah and preeminent experts in chinuch.

Getting Ready for the Elections

This week, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s lawyers met with the attorney general, hoping to convince him not to decide about indicting the prime minister until after the election. Attorney General Mandelblit did not seem to be swayed by their arguments. They also appealed to him once again to do something to remedy the epidemic of leaks to the press. Almost every day, another piece of information from the investigations is released by a different source in the media. The phenomenon has aroused the prime minister’s ire. He views it as an effort to damage his prospects in the upcoming election and to pressure the attorney general to proceed with an indictment. Netanyahu is certain that even if the entire world isn’t against him, at least the Israeli media is opposed to him. And he is probably correct. As someone once said, even if a person is paranoid, that doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t out to get him.

Meanwhile, the results of new polls about the upcoming elections are released every few days. Some of the projected mandates have drifted from one party to another, but the Likud is essentially remaining stable, as are UTJ and Shas. The polls are now examining which of the parties would support Netanyahu if he is summoned to a hearing, as well as if he is indicted. The party leaders were asked if they would join him in forming a government in that scenario, and the results were predictable: Shas, UTJ, Lieberman’s Yisroel Beiteinu party, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, and even Moshe Kachlon announced that they would continue supporting Netanyahu for prime minister and would join his coalition if he is called to a hearing. If he is indicted, though, the latter three – Bennett, Shaked, and Kachlon – claimed that they would not support him. In that scenario, Netanyahu would retain the backing of only Shas, UTJ, and Yisroel Beiteinu.

The election campaign is beginning to gather steam, although it hasn’t yet become particularly intense. Shas was the first party to launch its campaign and to open its electoral councils, while the rest of the parties are revving their engines. Benny Gantz is planning to hold a press conference on the day this newspaper is published; rumor has it that he will be joined by former Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon. The Bayit Yehudi party is still sinking; after Naftali Bennett’s departure, the party descended into chaos. And Tzipi Livni, who is currently running alone, is also sinking in the polls, yet she has decided that the issue most worthy of her indignation is the fact that her image was removed from an election poster in Bnei Brak.

Canadians Unaware of the Holocaust

A major story this past week was the plight of the right-wing youths who were accused of throwing stones at an Arab-owned car and causing the death of a female passenger. The youths were detained by the Shin Bet and interrogated under horrific conditions. The Shin Bet itself was dealt a blow when the court ordered it to release three of the four suspects. This past week, the intelligence agency announced that it has indisputable evidence against the fourth suspect: His DNA was found on one of the stones that was thrown at the car. But even if some of their suspicions were justified, the outrage sparked by the agency’s tactics still has not faded.

Parenthetically, this incident demonstrated that the left-wing media seems to have a double standard even in its choice of words. When a Jewish motorist suffers a fatal accident as a result of Arab stone throwers, the newspapers report that he was “killed.” When it is an Arab who dies as a result of stone throwing, they choose the word “murdered.” When Arabs throw stones at a Jewish car and cause it to skid off the road, the media refers to it as a traffic accident, but when an Arab-owned car meets the same fate, it somehow becomes a terror attack.

This week marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In Europe, anti-Semitism has begun rearing its head again in an eerie echo of the Holocaust era. And you may not believe this, but a survey in Canada found that 54 percent of the respondents did not even know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

A Celebration in Yerushalayim

Let us move on to some more positive stories.

Anyone who finds himself on Rechov Alkabetz in the neighborhood of Givat Shaul will be amazed by the massive new building that has been constructed for Yeshivas Nachalas Yosef. The imposing new facility will be home to a kollel and a yeshiva ketanah, in addition to a yeshiva gedolah that will soon open alongside the other institutions. One of the building’s six stories will also house a shul for bnei Torah, which will certainly exert a magnetic attraction on potential mispallelim, especially due to the influence of Rav Yosef Ben-Amram, the leader of this kingdom of Torah.

This past Monday, a festive chanukas habayis was held at the site, attended by current and former talmidim of the yeshiva, the members of the kollel, local rabbonim, and friends and supporters of the yeshiva. A slideshow presented at the event traced the growth of the yeshiva over the past 30 years, highlighting the many miracles that paved the way for its development.

As a guest at the event, I listened intently to the drashos and shared the excitement of the other participants when Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi arrived. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Ben-Amram, is a talmid of Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, where Rav Ezrachi serves as rosh yeshiva. “This is a great day for a great man,” Rav Ezrachi attested.

Another speaker was Rav Ben-Amram’s son, who asserted, “My father’s deepest desire is for every bochur and yungerman to be happy.” Indeed, it was clear to me that the yeshiva operates on a solid foundation of responsibility, seriousness, dedication, and love for every talmid.

More Harm Than Good

Once again, the media in Israel has identified the “champions” of the Knesset for the past year, including those responsible for the largest number of new laws. These reports were released in the wake of the Knesset’s dissolution and in honor of the anniversary of the Knesset’s founding, which is marked every year on Tu B’Shevat.

It would be better, though, if someone examined the facts more closely before deciding whom to praise. For instance, I read about one particular MK who was hailed for passing the largest number of laws. I examined the list of laws for which he was credited. One of them was the bill calling for the Twentieth Knesset to disband. Another MK who was lauded for the same reason had introduced a law calling for the number of members of the Knesset Committee to be increased from twelve to thirteen, and another law that allowed two Druse settlements to merge into one. Perhaps someone should have evaluated the quality of the laws attributed to each MK, rather than merely their quantity.

This is also the time when every member of the Knesset boasts to his staff, his supporters, and the public about his accomplishments while in office. Saleh Saad, one of the members of the Knesset, sent a brochure to the members of the Zionist Camp and to the Druse voters in which he boasted on almost every page about his battle against the Nationality Law (which he did not win) and his diligence as a legislator. “I introduced 98 bills,” he informed his constituents, neglecting to mention the fact that only one of those bills had actually passed into law. Even that particular bill was actually a combination of several laws proposed by a group of MKs, which were combined into a legislative package; thus, he cannot actually take credit even for that bill. Saad also claims to have delivered hundreds of speeches in the Knesset, but I find that hard to believe, considering that he joined the legislature only in October 2017.

But that is not the only reason that being a prolific author of laws is not necessarily something to boast about. Some new laws actually turn out to do more harm than good. One of the flagship pieces of legislation of the Twentieth Knesset is a law that stipulates that if a person purchases a new household appliance, such as a washing machine or refrigerator, the appliance must be delivered and installed within a predetermined amount of time. If the delivery service or the technician who installs the appliance misses this time frame, they may be subject to a fine. This sounds like an excellent measure to protect consumers, but there is another side to the coin. Until the law was passed, a technician might have agreed to take on three or four customers in a single day, and a delivery service might have taken responsibility for five or six appliances, but all that has changed. Today, they refuse to risk missing the deadlines imposed by the government, and they accept commitments only if they know with certainty that they can meet them. The result is that the owners of appliance stores have to use a larger number of technicians and delivery men, which adds to the price of every appliance. Naturally, someone has to pay for that increase in price, and who do you think ends up bearing the financial burden, the seller or the buyer?

The damaging side of the law was discovered by Reb Dovid Sasson, the director of Keren Bnei Yeshivos, who spends his life trying to figure out how to help the kollel yungeleit of the country save their meager funds when making necessary purchases. He strives to benefit the people for whom even a “mere” thousand shekels can be a staggering expense, and who wouldn’t purchase a new washing machine simply because their former machine developed a fault. Rabbi Sasson sells electrical appliances to yungeleit at cost price. For now, he is trying to absorb most or all of the costs generated by this new law, but he has already decried the legislation that harms the customers it was seeking to protect.

Respect Where It Is Due

On Tu B’Shevat, the Knesset holds a series of events, some more successful than others. Some members of the Knesset use the day to focus on flowers. Those of us who are in the Knesset shul, however, have an opportunity to experience a much more spiritual event. Every year, one of the chief rabbis of Israel comes to the Knesset shul on Tu B’Shevat to daven with the regular mispallelim and to deliver a shiur. This year, it was Rav Dovid Lau, who exhorted his listeners to take care to treat others with respect. That is a topic that is always relevant, especially during an election season.

This year, one of the major subjects of interest in the Knesset was the miniature mezuzah case that had once been affixed to the doorway at the entrance to its original headquarters in Beit Frumkin on Rechov King George in Yerushalayim 70 years ago. There was much boasting in the Knesset about the fact that they had located a sofer who had succeeded in writing a mezuzah on a small piece of parchment measuring 3.5 centimeters by 4 centimeters – about the dimensions of an average parsha in a set of tefillin. One wonders what they found so impressive about that accomplishment. Personally, I was preoccupied by a different question: What had happened to the mezuzah that had previously occupied the case? No matter how many people I asked, no one seemed to know the answer.

There was also much talk about the dignity of the Knesset. A discussion about the steadily diminishing dignity of the Israeli parliament will always be relevant. It is my feeling that the Knesset should take a careful look in the mirror and determine if it is undermining its own standing. This week, for instance, the Knesset comptroller sent a notice to the members of the Knesset, informing them that “in accordance with paragraph 11(e) of the law governing parliamentary immunity and the rights of members of the Knesset, it will not be possible to continue sending letters that are exempt from postal fees, beginning on January 24, 2019.” MK Dani Saida, who had already placed six letters in the Knesset mailbox, was asked to retrieve them. In fact, there is no such clause, at least not in the law in question. Dan Marzouk of the Knesset legal department succeeded where others had failed, and managed to find the source of the comptroller’s notice for me in a document titled “Determination of Wages of the Members of the Knesset – Grants and Payments.”

Objectively, this wasn’t a major issue, but it demonstrated a certain attitude of contempt for this country’s legislators. The members of the Knesset are suspected of trying to abuse their privileges, unless it is proven otherwise. Consequently, as soon as an election has been declared, it becomes forbidden for an MK to send six letters free of charge, lest he decide to send campaign propaganda to thousands of citizens at the taxpayers’ expense. Apparently, the comptroller finds it hard to believe that there are actually Knesset members who are driven by work ethic and integrity, and who will continue working to benefit the citizens of the country until their final day in office.

The same criticism could be leveled at the rule that prohibits members of the Knesset from entering the building – and working – during a general vacation. The unstated presumption is that the Knesset members come to the building for purposes other than work, perhaps to relax or enjoy themselves somehow. And that is aside from the fact that there is a law that states clearly, “No order that prohibits or limits access to any place in the country that is not a private domain shall apply to a member of the Knesset, unless that prohibition or limitation is based on issues of national security or military secrecy.” I once commented to the Knesset legal advisor that the Knesset itself is abrogating its own law by restricting the lawmakers’ access to the building. He said nothing in response.

I believe that if the Knesset respected itself, then the rest of the country might come to respect it, as well.

When the Police Are Dishonest

“A police officer should not be allowed to remain in his position after making a false declaration in court.” This statement, whose sensibility is self-evident, was made by David Rosen, a retired justice from the District Court, who was responsible for the harsh sentences handed down to Uri Lupoliansky and Ehud Olmert, sentences that shocked the entire judicial establishment. Today, Rosen serves as the Audit Commissioner for the courts of Israel. He made this comment regarding an official in the police force who represents the police in court and was found to have lied to a judge about the time when an arrest was made. It wasn’t a major issue, but it was a lie nonetheless. (Of course, no one ever imagined that the legal process for holding suspects in jail has any connection to a search for truth; the judges typically serve as a rubber stamp for the requests of the police to extend any and all remands, regardless of the merits of each individual case.)

Judge Rosen himself recently accused the police of pressing criminal charges against ordinary citizens who were subjected to police brutality. That’s right: When a policeman strikes a civilian, and the police know that the victim will file a complaint against them or will sue them in civil court, they are quick to preempt those efforts by claiming that the victim himself assaulted the police officer.

Two weeks ago, Judge Moshe Drori, the deputy chief justice of the District Court in Yerushalayim, advised one of the prosecutors in the Yerushalayim district to rescind a charge sheet that had been issued against a couple who were accused of attacking police officers. He implied that the police were rushing to press charges against the defendants before the couple themselves could file a complaint against the police officers who had struck them, and he advised the police to withdraw their charges. One would think that even an attempt to file false charges in court against the victims of police brutality in order to prevent them from lodging their own complaints against the police officers for violence should be no less severe a crime than lying to the court about the time of an arrest, yet this case received no attention from Judge Rosen. Instead of making pompous proclamations, then His Honor ought to be working to put an end to the police force’s cynical use of the court system.

Hatred Rears Its Ugly Head

In the context of a project dealing with the real estate market, the Globes business newspaper recently interviewed four chareidi mayors. One of the questions posed to the interviewees concerned tensions between the secular and religious communities in cities such as Arad and Beit Shemesh. Yaakov Gutterman, the mayor of Modiin Illit, replied, “The secular public does not want to allow the construction of chareidi cities, so the chareidim are moving into other cities. Our communities are moving into all sorts of places in an unorganized fashion and are beginning to buy apartments within the buildings occupied by the secular community. What else did you expect – for them to live in cages? And once they are going to these places, they need shuls, schools and kindergartens, and that creates some conflict. I predict,” he continued, “that if the secular public doesn’t get a hold of itself immediately and make some provisions for the chareidi community, the entire country will soon consist of mixed communities. These families need to buy apartments.”

The reporter tensed as soon as he heard that. “According to what you are predicting, within ten years, the entire housing scene will be completely changed,” he said.

Gutterman replied candidly, “Within ten years, Kiryat Yovel will be chareidi, as will Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev. Afula will also be chareidi, as will Kiryat Gat and Arad. Old Beit Shemesh will also be completely chareidi, and parts of Ashdod will turn chareidi as well.”

“Look,” added Meir Rubinstein, the mayor of Beitar Illit, “there is nowhere today where it is possible to buy a new apartment for less than 800,000 shekels.”

“If only it were that cheap,” added Srulik Porush, mayor of Elad.

“This is true even in the remotest places,” Rubinstein continued. “In Emmanuel, it seems that the price of a newly-constructed apartment will be 800,000 shekels. For some parts of the chareidi community, that is simply too expensive. So where do they go? To the older cities.”

In the online version of Globes readers are able to post comments. Many of the responses were utterly appalling. These people – who I assume are Israeli, and who are likely Jewish – expressed unfathomable, obsessive hatred, along with a measure of fear at the prospect of a chareidi “takeover” of the country.

Here are just a few of the venomous responses: “They [the chareidim] are enemies of Israel who are even worse than Hezbollah, Hamas and Iran together. All the chareidim belong in gehennom. They are a group of psychos who tear pieces of toilet paper before Shabbos.” “Israel should expect only horrors. Religion is taking over everywhere, with the encouragement of the government, in a bid to preserve the coalition.” “This country will be liquidated!” “There is a solution: Those who believe in ‘Torah as their profession’ should remain at home instead of being in politics.” “It’s a genuine Holocaust. The chiloni majority is being conquered by a minority that doesn’t even recognize the laws of the state and doesn’t fulfill its civic duties.” “Give the children of Migdal Ha’emek the same funding as a single yeshiva and the social gaps will be narrowed.” “Hi-tech workers aren’t able to buy apartments, so how are chareidim who learn in kollel managing to do it? The answer is simple: It is through the money that is being laundered in the gemachim. Gafni is protecting those money launderers with all his might.”

I read these comments over and over, and I felt myself growing despondent.

There were also some people who took a more favorable view of the chareidim. “You simply don’t understand the order of priorities of a chareidi in contrast to a chiloni,” one commenter wrote. “He would be willing to give up many things, and he will spend much less on a regular basis, all so that he can save money to buy an apartment.” Another respondent wrote in response to one of the hate-filled posts, “Your twisted basic assumptions and those of your friends are causing you to hate them.” A third responded, “Instead of blindly hating them, learn to open your eyes and to worry about your future generations.” A fourth commenter wrote, “Instead of investing money in small pleasures, they buy apartments. The chareidim may not have much money, but everything they touch turns to gold.” Others accused the hateful respondents of being “fed by the lies of the press” or commented that “the Nazis would have loved you.”

But all of these reactions did not mitigate my pain at the many vitriolic posts that I read. Where did that awful hatred come from? Even more importantly, what can be done to lower the flames of hostility?

Sharing the Rosh Yeshiva’s Grief

A year and a half ago, at the end of Tammuz 5777, I attended a pidyon haben in a shul in the neighborhood of Rechavia. Since the child’s paternal grandfather lives on Rechov Sorotzkin, Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi and his rebbetzin graced the event with their presence. The waves of nobility that entered the room with them seemed to envelop everyone. Rav Yitzchok, one of the roshei yeshiva of the Mir yeshiva, made a concerted effort to raise the level of joy at the event. The rebbetzin, a daughter of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, walked extremely slowly, with visible difficulty.

I had the privilege of driving the distinguished couple back to their home, and I expressed my puzzlement at their willingness to make the trip to the simcha. The rebbetzin was bewildered by my surprise. “When our neighbors celebrate a simcha, we celebrate with them,” she said. Considering how nonchalantly she made that statement, it was impossible to tell that she used a walker and that the mere act of walking was an incredibly laborious process for her. To me, it was a lesson in dedication to others.

I told the rebbetzin that her husband had delivered an incredible dvar Torah and she asked me to repeat it. Rav Yitzchok had quoted Rashi’s statement that the tribe of Don, which traveled at the rear of Klal Yisroel in the midbar, was responsible for retrieving any items that had been lost by the other shevatim and returning them to their rightful owners. “But who returned the lost items of the people of Don themselves?” the rosh yeshiva then asked.

In my car, when I began repeating the rosh yeshiva’s comments, the rebbetzin interrupted me. “The rov asked who returned the lost items belonging to shevet Don?” she said.

I fell silent, realizing that Rebbetzin Ezrachi would be able to complete any vort attributed to her husband that I began repeating. It is said that she is likewise familiar with all of her father’s chiddushim. In this case, she said, “And he answered that when a person is responsible, he doesn’t lose things.”

At that point, I decided that nothing else could surprise me during that conversation. But as it turned out, there were still plenty of surprises in store for me. When she spoke about politics, the rebbetzin remarked, “Everything in the world can lead to something good.” She also reminded me, as Rav Dov Yoffe had told me in the past, that it is imperative to be very careful with the written word. During the course of that drive, I discovered that the wife of a talmid chochom is capable of becoming a towering spiritual giant in her own right, and I was amazed by the interactions between the rosh yeshiva and his rebbetzin. When he began a dvar Torah, she finished it. When she began quoting a midrash, he continued it.

At the end of her life, when the rebbetzin was hospitalized, she and her husband had a disagreement. Rav Yitzchok insisted that he would not leave her bedside, regardless of how pressing the need for him to be elsewhere. The rebbetzin maintained that her husband had an obligation to attend the wedding of Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl. Rav Yitzchok and Rav Avigdor have maintained a powerful bond for many years. They are related through marriage and connected through the Mir Yeshiva, but they are also bound by a powerful friendship. The debate between the rov and rebbetzin as to whether he should leave the hospital was heartrending, and it also yielded an enormous mussar haskel. There is a tremendous amount that all of us could learn from them.

It was heartbreaking to listen to Rav Yitzchok’s hesped for his devoted wife. It was incredible to watch the “family” of Yeshivas Mir at the levayah. It was also amazing to listen to the distinguished visitors offering their condolences and speaking about the rebbetzin’s remarkable life. Rav Yitzchok was blessed with a remarkable partner in life. Let us hope that he will now be comforted in her absence.