My Take on the News

Reminders of Our Fragile Security

The upcoming elections provided some news. First of all, there was Benny Gantz’s speech and all the reactions it elicited, about which I have written a separate article. Just like everything else in Israel, the election campaign is moving forward at a dizzying speed, with new developments coming one after another. There is never a dull moment; every day produces its own headlines. All we need to do is learn to distinguish between “fake news,” political spins, and actual news stories.

There were also some developments with regard to what the Israeli media likes to call “hate crimes.” This is the term used for any crime committed against the Arab populace. The Shin Bet and the police have been monitoring the youths of the right, whom they suspect of involvement in crimes targeting Arabs; however, the police and Shin Bet themselves have recently come under fire from the judicial system for their strong-arm tactics.

There are also the security threats from Gaza and Syria. The media seems to have been distracted from these issues by the upcoming election, but that doesn’t mean that the danger has been lessened in any way. Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with a special delegation from Vladimir Putin; the prime minister hopes to convince the Russian leader to stop aiding Syria.

Lest we forget how precarious our situation is, we have received another reminder: Last Wednesday, a Palestinian woman tried to stab a soldier at the A-Zaim checkpoint in east Yerushalayim. The would-be terrorist failed to harm the soldier, and the attack resulted in no injuries. The police commander of the Yerushalayim district, Superintendent Yoram Halevi, who still hopes to become the next commissioner of the police force, was quick to boast that the police had somehow played a hand in thwarting the attack. This was actually not the case; in fact, the police officers at the scene killed the terrorist after she was neutralized.

A week earlier, there was another attempted stabbing, when a terrorist tried to perpetrate an attack in the same area and was liquidated before he could carry it out. The week before that, a Palestinian was arrested after infiltrating Israeli territory from Gaza; he revealed that he was a Hamas operative. It is almost certain that he was dispatched to Israel to murder a Jew.

Traffic Freezes in Tel Aviv

There was also the ongoing chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv, in the area known as the Yehudit Bridge. After work was carried out during the past two Shabbosos, pictures of the ongoing construction were publicized; the mayor of Tel Aviv had himself photographed wearing a construction worker’s outfit in the vicinity of the railroad. It was very saddening to see a picture of the workers making Kiddush on Friday night at the construction site. MK Moshe Gafni announced that when the Knesset reconvenes after the elections, he will strive to ensure that a new law is passed that will prevent Shabbos from being turned into a day of work. I certainly believe that he will try to do that, but I don’t believe that he will succeed. Unfortunately, the people in the Knesset do not have sufficient understanding of the meaning of Shabbos and the fact that it protects the Jewish people.

With incredible timing, exactly when this construction was being carried out on Shabbos for the stated purpose of preventing traffic congestion during the week, Tel Aviv and the surrounding areas were struck by paralyzing traffic jams last Wednesday. The cars on the roads came to a standstill as a result of a protest staged by the Ethiopian community, which claimed – and rightly so – that the Israeli police treat them in the same way that the American police (only some of them, of course) have been accused of behaving toward blacks. It has happened time and again that when the police find themselves in a clash with Israeli Ethiopians, the ultimate result is that several Ethiopians end up with broken bones. Two weeks ago, a police officer killed a young Ethiopian, only to discover later that the victim had been mentally ill. This was what triggered the latest wave of demonstrations. Last Wednesday, the demonstration in Tel Aviv shut down the Ayalon Highway, paralyzing the entire Gush Dan region.

Who Desecrated an Aron Kodesh

What was perhaps most disturbing to all of us here in Israel this past week was the desecration of the Siach Yisroel shul in the neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel in Yerushalayim. Kiryat Yovel is a “mixed” neighborhood – that is, a formerly chiloni neighborhood that has witnessed an influx of young chareidi couples in search of affordable housing over the past few years. As the chareidim have continued to move in, the neighborhood has become home to a large religious community, whose growth has led to some friction between the residents. Nir Barkat, the previous mayor of Yerushalayim, was vehemently opposed to allowing chareidim to move into secular neighborhoods; whenever the chareidi populace began making inroads into such a neighborhood, he took action to hinder them. And the vandalism at the shul in Kiryat Yovel may well have been connected to the conflicts in the neighborhood.

The supposition that there was more to this attack than a simple act of vandalism stems largely from the fact that the perpetrators broke into the aron kodesh, which had a steel door, by sawing off its side. This was an act that required tremendous effort, special tools, and a significant amount of time. In other words, these vandals clearly came to the shul with special equipment and worked for hours to carry out their act of destruction. Were they motivated purely by anti-Semitism? It is hard to tell. In any event, the incident drew wall-to-wall condemnation; the criminals were even denounced by the prime minister, the president, and the Minister of Internal Security. A picture of the scene appeared on the front page of Yisroel HaYom, accompanied by a headline that announced, “Anti-Semitism in Yerushalayim!”

The Siach Yisroel shul serves a community of French immigrants. In the aftermath of this incident, which horrified every Jew in the country, the gabbaim of the shul and the leaders of the community have appealed for assistance in cementing the community’s position, and perhaps even constructing a new, larger building for their shul, which is currently operating in less than ideal conditions.

TThe Chofetz Chaim’s Exhortation

Every Jewish heart is deeply pained by the sight of a sefer Torah lying in disgrace; woe to the Jew who is not distressed by such a sight. Every Jew’s greatest nightmare is to see a sefer Torah fall on the floor. Witnessing such an event requires a person to fast, mourn, and beg for forgiveness and atonement. And the scene in Kiryat Yovel was far more horrific; the sifrei Torah didn’t merely fall on the floor, but were deliberately thrown there. It was a horrifying sight for any Jew to behold, and a heinous deed for the vandals to perform.

What will happen now? Well, let us consider the facts. The perpetrators clearly were in possession of their faculties; the crime was obviously planned and took time and resources. Sawing open the side of an aron kodesh is a difficult job, which requires significant planning and physical strength. The vandals also must have been intelligent; they knew that disgracing a sefer Torah is a surefire way to strike a blow at the heart of any Jew. They didn’t even steal anything from the shul; they merely desecrated it, in a clear sign that their goal was to demoralize the mispallelim.

Even if the vandalism was the work of disturbed minds, we would not be able to simply let the incident pass us by. When a mentally disturbed person assaulted Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, one of the gedolei Yisroel commented that the attacker’s condition meant that he simply did not impose the same limits on his behavior that other people would, but even a disturbed person has some limits; for instance, he would never murder his own mother. If we were more exacting in our own demands of ourselves, then even a disturbed person who would cross our red lines would not be capable of committing the most reprehensible actions.

Our teachers taught us that when laxity is observed in a particular area, it is a sign that all of us must work to improve ourselves in that area. What we discovered the other day in Kiryat Yovel was a scene that bespoke absolute contempt for the honor and kedushah of the Torah, and that obligates us to strengthen ourselves precisely in that area – to increase our respect and honor for the gedolim, for talmidei chachamim, and for the Torah itself.

In the words of the Chofetz Chaim (in his sefer on the Torah, on Parshas Emor), “At a time when there are many people who rebel against the king, a person who is loyal to the king can achieve even greater status than in ordinary times, for he protects the king during a time of peril. Similarly, the law is that a person who rescues [others’ property] from a fire is entitled to full compensation. It is now a time when there are many people who are rebelling against the King of the universe, and it is our responsibility to defend His honor with our lives, just like the loyal servants of a king who defend his life. We are living in a period when the Torah is being burned at the stake, Rachmana litzlan, and anyone who saves it will certainly be fully rewarded. ‘I will honor those who honor Me,’ Hashem says; when Moshiach arrives and the names of those who rebelled and those who defended [His honor] will be made public knowledge, every person will be duly rewarded for his deeds.”

Today, these timeless words still inform us of our own obligations, in light of the general circumstances of our days and of the recent events that have shaken all of us.

Worse than in Paris

A yungerman from Neve Yaakov told me that one of his neighbors, the French-born Reb Doniel Nissenkorn, arrived at the Siach Yisroel shul for Shacharis on the morning that the vandalism was discovered. When Rabbi Nissenkorn returned home after witnessing the scene of desecration, he was emotionally shattered. His neighbors were surprised; after all, as a French expatriate, he should have been used to witnessing acts of anti-Semitism. What was so shocking about the vandalism in Kiryat Yovel?

Reb Doniel’s response was shocking. “There were anti-Semites in France, and there still are,” he said, “but they never destroyed holy seforim. Their audacity only reached the point of scrawling hateful graffiti with black spray paint on the walls of shuls. That is also a grave offense, but that was the limit. But here in Israel, the anti-Semites have sunk to a much lower nadir.” He also revealed that shuls in France never locked their doors to prevent vandals from trespassing. “We knew that the anti-Semites would never dare enter a shul,” he said. “It is only in recent years that we began locking our shuls – and that was not because of anti-Semites, but because of terrorists.”

Doniel Nissenkorn is a ben Torah and an educated man; he is a lawyer by profession, and his sons learn in the Mir yeshiva and in other kollelim. “When people go astray here in Eretz Yisroel,” he said, “they can descend to a lower spiritual depth than in France. There are terrible things that are done there as well, but it is only in Israel that they take pride in it.” When he saw that his listeners were saddened by his comments, Reb Doniel tried to placate them. “Let’s look on the bright side,” he said. “There is also Torah in France, but does it compare to the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel? There are kollel yungerleit there, but is there any place in the world where there are yungerleit like the people here?” After all, the greater the sanctity, the greater the depravity that can exist in the same place.A Fitting Response

When I became aware of the atrocity that had taken place in Kiryat Yovel, I was speechless. There are times when I envy the people who always know immediately how to react. For some people, it takes time to organize their thoughts or to come up with the proper words to respond to a tragedy; others seem to have instantaneous, knee-jerk reactions. I read all of the immediate responses, although I can’t say that I identified with most of them. The vandalism was attributed to anti-chareidi incitement, the skewed morals of the chiloni educational system, and the secular struggle against “exclusion.” Every one of the chareidi Knesset members and municipal officials issued an extremely caustic response, as if they were competing to come up with the fiercest condemnations of the criminals. But I couldn’t help but wonder what sort of practical impact their statements would have.

I appreciated Aryeh Deri’s response. Deri appeared at the scene of the crime along with Mayor Moshe Leon of Yerushalayim, Minister of Religious Affairs Yitzchok Vaknin, and many others, and met with the leaders of the French community and the rabbonim of the neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel. When their discussions were over, Deri announced before the news cameras, “We will build a magnificent shul for his community.”

That, in my mind, is the most appropriate reaction. The perpetrators, whoever they were, set out to destroy, but we will build. They wanted to destroy kedusha; our job is to expand it.

Compassion for Livestock and Other Strange Laws

Let me move on to some more lighthearted topics. First of all, you may recall that I am fond of reporting on some of more bizarre bills that are introduced in the Knesset, courtesy of some equally bizarre parliamentarians. These are generally bills that will never advance through the process of becoming law, and in this case, it is actually impossible for them to be passed. These bills were introduced by the MKs just before the Knesset dissolved, which means that the bills are destined to disappear completely – and, in most cases, the Knesset members who proposed them will likely disappear as well.

One of these bills, proposed by MK Robert Tiviaev (a member of Lieberman’s party, Yisroel Beiteinu), aimed to solve a problem faced by immigrants to the country by prohibiting the use of the word “immigrant” in reference to an oleh chodosh. Incredibly, the law actually attracted the support of 28 of his colleagues, including Moshe Gafni and Dani Saida.

Another proposal dealt with the positions of rabbonim in various communities. The law itself is plainly bad, and the accompanying text makes it even clearer that it would be detrimental, but if we had any doubt that it would be a negative development, we need look no further than the previous Knesset, when an identical bill was submitted by MK Elazar Stern. No legal measure that Stern proposes can ever be friendly to Yiddishkeit. In the meantime, Yehuda Glick managed to stir up some trouble with a bill concerning government-sponsored conversion, and Dov Khenin introduced a bill that would prohibit importing live animals to be slaughtered for their meat. The explanatory memorandum stated, “The purpose of this bill is to put an end to the severe and unnecessary suffering experienced by thousands of living creatures that are brought to Israel on cruel, arduous journeys, solely for the purpose of being slaughtered at the end of their trip.”

Speaking of ill-considered laws, last week I quoted Reb Dovid Sasson, the owner of Keren Bnei Yeshivos, who decried the damage caused by the new law requiring home appliances to be delivered and installed within a predetermined amount of time. Reb Dovid explained that the delivery services have become extremely reluctant to accept large numbers of appliances to deliver, lest they fail to make their deliveries within the time frame specified by law. The result has been a spike in the cost of deliveries, an added expense that will ultimately be passed on to the consumers – which means that the Knesset has merely harmed the people whom it was seeking to protect with this legislation. Rabbi Yehuda Gutman, a brilliant legal expert who works for the Degel HaTorah party in the Knesset, read my column and pointed out to me, “Even if the delivery costs an additional fifty shekels, it is possible that a customer would prefer to pay the added cost for the guarantee that his appliance will arrive within a specific three-hour window, rather than being forced to sit at home and wait for a full day for it to arrive.” There is some logic in that argument, as well.

With Police Like These

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s legal team sent a document to the attorney general that listed over 100 incidents in which information was leaked to the media by the police or the state prosecutor’s office. Leaking details of an investigation is a common practice of the police force, for several reasons. First, it causes the suspects in an investigation to be frightened. Second, it generates pressure on the prosecution to indict the suspects. Third, it enhances the reputation of the police force. And fourth, it provides fodder for news reporters, who will write favorably about the police out of gratitude for the material they received. Yet another reason is that it results in positive publicity for the individual investigators. A police investigator who spends many long days toiling over mounds of documents is bound to enjoy having an occasional few moments in the limelight. In most cases, the leaked reports are accompanied by photographs of the vaunted investigators themselves. The fact that this is a flagrant violation of the suspects’ civil rights does not concern anyone. The fact that it is also a criminal offense (since any government employee is prohibited to expose information that he receives by virtue of his position) does not bother anyone, either.

In the course of a debate in the media, someone defended the practice of the police by claiming that the suspects themselves are also guilty of leaking information. I was astounded by the argument. Even if it is a crime for a suspect to leak information to the press, does that make it permissible for a police officer to do the same thing? If a person commits a violent assault, does that make it justified for a police officer to use violence against the perpetrator, simply because he himself was also violent? Besides, if a person under investigation feels that it would benefit him to reveal information to the press, then that is his right. It is a legitimate act that is committed openly, without any attempt at subterfuge. The information that he provides belongs to him and relates to him, and he is fully entitled to do as he pleases with it. When a member of the police force does the same thing, though, it is a crime. But as I said, no one is actually concerned about this. As I have said in the past, with police officers like these, who needs criminals?

What Is the Longest A Stirring Annual Tradition

By now, it has become a tradition. On the week of the yahrtzeit of Rav Yisroel Weingarten, founder of Darchei Miriam, the organization arranges a day of tefillah in Meron. Chemotherapy is a different world – a world of nausea, needles, and nightmares. A world of tefillah, nisyonos, heartfelt pleas, and yeshuos. The sick people who rely on Darchei Miriam are essentially one large family. The volunteers of this organization, especially the children of Rav Yisroel and Rebbetzin Miriam Weingarten, make themselves available at all times.

Last Shabbos marked the sixth yahrtzeit of Rav Yisroel Weingarten, and the extended “family” of Darchei Miriam – dozens of cancer patients, each with his own unique case and each accompanied by family members or friends – made their way to Meron. Once again, the buses left Yerushalayim for a “journey of chizuk and tefillah,” which invariably proves to be an uplifting and incredibly encouraging event. The first stop was at the Lavie Hotel, where the staff went out of their way to provide an elegant meal for their guests, this time with a distinct Tu B’Shevat theme. The lunch was followed by a speech delivered by Reb Menachem Weingarten, who demonstrated his ability to say all the right things at precisely the right times.

From there, they traveled to the kever in Meron, where the participants in the trip drenched the gravesite with their tears. This is the way that a person davens when he is pleading for life itself. It is the simplest, starkest supplication: “Please, Hashem, Merciful Father, give us life!” Reb Shmuel Rabinowitz, a good friend of the organization, led the tefillos with intense fervor, while Reb Chuna Deutsch saw to it that the singing hit a soul-stirring note.

Tosafos in Shas

I recently became aware of an initiative whose goal is to motivate bochurim and yungerleit to complete Shas over the course of two years. “You can also do it!” is the motivational slogan that appears on the covers of the booklet released by the program. “You will finish Shas in two years, b’ezras Hashem,” the introduction states confidently. “Every bochur and yungerman has always dreamed and aspired – and still dreams and aspires today – to finish Shas…. Until now, you have never had an organized plan for achieving this great goal, and you have never had a program that would compel you to complete Shas in Gemara and Rashi. The pamphlet contains an organized plan following the order of the Shas, which is divided into daily portions of study of three and a half blatt per day during the week, as well as two blatt per day on Friday and Shabbos.”

The booklet includes a learning schedule, along with quotations from gedolei Yisroel regarding the importance of completing Shas, and an assortment of interesting facts. The longest Tosafos in Shas, it reveals, is on Yoma 34b. Rav Chaim Kanievsky has quoted the Chazon Ish that the most difficult perek in Shas is Perek Kirah, in Maseches Shabbos.

When the Reporters Arrived on Malchei Yisroel

The police force’s claim that most leaks can be traced to suspects and their attorneys reminded me of the investigation of Aryeh Deri that took place 30 years ago. At that time, the police also leaked information regularly, and regardless of how many of Deri’s supporters protested or complained about it, the phenomenon continued. Roni Milo, the Minister of Police, responded time and again, “Who says that it was the police who were responsible for the leak? Maybe it was you!” In one case, the entire transcript of an interrogation was given to a prominent journalist. The written transcript of an interrogation is not given to the person who is questioned; it remains in the possession of the police. But in spite of this irrefutable evidence that the police were responsible, Roni Milo still did nothing about it.

The minister was once presented with a collection of excerpts from newspaper articles that contained details that only the police could have known. Once again, he insisted that the leaks may have come from someone supporting Deri. Deri’s lawyers pointed out that there would be no logic in leaking information that would only cast suspicion on him, but Milo remained adamant. The issue was brought up in the Knesset repeatedly, but nothing came of it. Over and over, Roni Milo insisted, “Bring me one case in which it is indisputable that the police were involved, and I will deal with it with all the severity of the law.”

Finally, that case arrived. One morning, the police raided Gal Paz, the store on Rechov Malchei Yisroel owned by the Zilber family; Reb Chaim Zilber zt”l, the family patriarch, was Aryeh Deri’s brother-in-law. The raid took place early in the morning, and it was obvious that neither Deri nor any of his people could have known about it. Nevertheless, a huge crowd of reporters and photographers had gathered outside the store; it was clear that they had been tipped off in advance about the raid – and that advance notice could only have come from the police. Yet in spite of this unmistakable evidence, Roni Milo still did nothing about it.

Reb Itche Wolf z”l

Last Thursday, we received word of the passing of Reb Itche Wolf z”l. He was blessed with an enormous heart, as well as a phenomenal mind. In addition to being a veritable genius, he was the embodiment of goodness. I met him many times – in Netanya, where he lived in recent years in close proximity to his rebbi, the Sanzer Rebbe, as well as in Boro Park and, of course, in Yerushalayim. At the time when the Shas party was founded, he was perpetually at the side of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. He believed in the need for the Shas party to help build up the Sephardic community and to foster a spiritual revolution in Eretz Yisroel.

I knew Itche when he was a wealthy philanthropist; the magnificent office now occupied by Lev Leviev in the Ramat Gan stock exchange formerly belonged to him. I also knew him when he was less wealthy. He was always happy with his lot; his hardships did not dampen his spirit, and his successes did not cause him to become prideful. He was a man whom it was impossible not to love and admire. There is much that I could write about him, but the grief is still too intense for me to do so at this time. Perhaps I will write about him in the future.