My Take on the News

Another Miracle at Kever Rochel

Thousands of people streamed to Kever Rochel on Motzoei Shabbos and Sunday. At the beginning of the week, the Israeli media proudly boasted that the rioters who had intimidated mispallelim at Kever Rochel had been apprehended. “21 suspects have been arrested by police over the past two months for involvement in throwing rocks, fireworks, and improvised explosives toward the Kever Rochel compound,” the announcement read.

Nevertheless, this is not a reason for the police to take pride. For years, visitors to Kever Rochel have endured harassment and violence that often seemed to pose a threat to their lives, perpetrated by the Arab rabble on the other side of the wall. One intelligent man, who has taken an interest in Kever Rochel, has raised a penetrating question: Why don’t the police simply bar Arabs from coming within a few kilometers of the wall surrounding the kever?

That man, incidentally, is responsible for the pronounced facelift that the kever has received over the past three years. As any visitor to Kever Rochel can attest, it has been transformed into an extremely friendly and appealing place to visit. Did you ever wonder who has invested millions in refurbishing and upgrading the site? It is not an organization, nor the Ministry of Tourism or even the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Instead, it is a single individual who has chosen to dedicate a huge amount of his personal resources to the cause.

To illustrate the severity of the situation, consider the following: Even after the police boasted about their accomplishments and the increased security presence at the kever, a car at the site was struck by a Molotov cocktail. The makeshift explosive shattered the car’s rear windshield, and it was only through a miracle that there was no loss of life.

The government’s attitude of indifference toward Kever Rochel, one of the most heavily visited historic sites in Israel, is utterly bewildering. The Knesset, too, has demonstrated total disregard for the site. In Adar 5774, the Knesset Interior Committee discussed the ongoing harassment of Jews visiting Kever Rochel. At the committee session, many horrific accounts were heard. But what was done by the committee since that time? You guessed it: Nothing.

Donald Trump’s Act of Chesed

We are about to witness the beginning of a new frenzy, as all the “experts” and political pundits scramble to explain how they were wrong in predicting the outcome of the American elections. Last week, all the reporters and pollsters “knew” that it was impossible for The Donald to be elected. They were certain that when the moment of truth arrived, America would recover its wits and choose the candidate who was “balanced” and “responsible.” Now, all the pollsters, the pundits, and the analysts are explaining to us that the mistake, in fact, was not theirs at all. They have all sorts of excuses for the failure of the reality to match their predictions; they would never admit that their assumptions were actually baseless.

This week, I asked a talmid chochom who voted for Trump to share his insights into the results of the election. “If you want a spiritual lesson,” he replied, “then the conclusion we should draw is that a person who has siyata diShmaya – what the Steipler Gaon used to call ‘the hour smiles at him’ – can achieve the impossible. On a more mundane level, there is a very simple reason for what happened: The American people want change!”

Donald Trump has achieved the unfathomable and has proven that any person is capable of attaining the highest office in the United States. He is neither a decorated former military officer nor a longstanding fixture in the Republican Party. He is simply a man who inherited a fortune and managed to enlarge it. Most of the Republican Party dissociated themselves from him, mocking him for his inelegant way of expressing himself, but that itself seems to have worked in his favor. Trump was cast as an oddball and was mocked throughout the campaign – until he won.

The following story about Donald Trump was shared with me by the son-in-law of the man who experienced it. This individual, an elderly Jew, is one of Trump’s neighbors in Trump Towers in Manhattan. His home address is an obvious sign of wealth, but all the money in the world cannot save a person from his own physical weakness. One morning, when the man was leaving his apartment building, he stumbled on the sidewalk and quickly found himself sprawled on the ground. As he was picking himself up, Donald Trump himself emerged from the building, accompanied by his aides and bodyguards. The billionaire took one look at the elderly man scrambling to his feet and turned to his aides, ordering them to escort his neighbor to his destination and to see to it that he arrived unharmed.

“But we are supposed to stay with you!” Trump’s retinue protested.

“I will manage without you for the time being. He won’t,” Trump responded firmly.

I have no doubt that the Trump who will inhabit the White House will be less colorful, less feisty, and less bold than the Trump who ran for president. His new position and responsibility will tone down some of his inherent fierceness. After all these nights we have spent glued to the news reports, we must remind ourselves that the world has only one Master, that He created us all, and that He alone – not Donald Trump or any other politician – determines the course of events in the world.

The Chareidim Boycott a Tour with the Reform

Once again, the Reform movement is working to create controversy. Last Tuesday, the Knesset Interior Committee decided to tour the “disputed” area of the Kosel. The committee chairman, Dudi Amsalem of the Likud party, is a traditional Jew, and when the committee arrived at the Kosel, he went to the men’s section to daven, a move that evoked the ire of the female Knesset members and Reform women accompanying them. They, of course, took the provocative step of holding a mixed event in the women’s section of the Kosel. The chareidi members of the Knesset who serve on the committee – Yisroel Eichler, Yaakov Asher, and Yoav Ben-Tzur – announced in advance that they would be boycotting the tour due to the participation of the Reform representatives. “We have no dialogue with them. We do not even sit at the same table,” they explained. The Chief Rabbinate likewise instructed its representatives not to join the tour. And at the discussion in the Knesset that followed these events, the representatives of the left fiercely defended the Reform movement, as if they were appointed to work on its behalf.

But the saga did not end there. Last Monday, Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior, was the hero of “question hour” in the Knesset plenum. “Question hour” is a portion of a Knesset sitting when a minister in the government is required to respond to questions from the Knesset members without any advance preparation. Many members of the Knesset participated in this program, questioning Deri on a wide variety of subjects, including issues relating to the settlements in the north, the Arab sector, monetary allocations, and so forth. Then it was the turn of Elazar Stern from the Yesh Atid party who always loves to foment discord.

Even though the subject of the Kosel has no connection to the Ministry of the Interior, Stern chose to broach the issue anyway. “My question is about the Kosel agreement,” he began. “We are pushing away our brothers, the Reform and Conservative Jews, even though they agreed to accept a compromise and to be relegated to an area on the side, and the government of Israel agreed to it. We know that most of the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the United States do not define themselves as Orthodox, for better or for worse, yet they still want to be a part of our people, and no one denies that they are important to the State of Israel. But above all, they are our brothers…”

Stern spoke at length, while Deri stood at the podium and listened. Finally, when he finished, Deri delivered a withering response.

Do the Reform Jews Believe in Moshiach?

Deri began, “I agree with your definition: The Reform and Conservative Jews are our brothers, and I relate to them in that way as well. At the same time, I have bitter differences with them, and I think that they are causing terrible damage to Yiddishkeit. Let me tell you a story. Last week, I spent Shabbos in Carmiel at the home of a friend. We went to shul on foot, and he and the other mispallelim who accompanied me showed me a building on the way. These people are not chareidim; they are traditional Jews who were davening along with me in their shul, which was not a chareidi shul. The building they showed me was a different ‘shul,’ which was funded by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and built for Reform Jews, by order of the Supreme Court. They said to me, ‘Mr. Minister, do you see this shul? On Yom Kippur, they had trampolines set up in front of the building, along with machines to dispense food and drinks, and people came by car. There are two shuls like this. Isn’t that too much? I asked if there were many people who attended the shuls, and they told me that between the two, there were no more than ten people, men and women, altogether. Why, then, are there two different shuls? Because they have different minhagim; some are Sephardic and the others are Ashkenazic. And that means that in one of those shuls, they play the guitar, and in the other they play the organ.

“Is this the Yiddishkeit that we want?” Deri demanded. “I would prefer to forgo this ‘Yiddishkeit.’ I prefer the authentic, original version; I do not want these imitations. This is not the Jewish religion. With all due respect, this is not the Jewish religion,” he repeated.

Elazar Stern shot back, “I also prefer that, but this isn’t an issue of preference.”

“This is not Judaism, and this is not what it means to draw other Jews closer,” Deri insisted. “I am not prepared to pretend to be mekarev someone while discarding the Yiddishkeit that you and I and our ancestors fought for thousands of years to preserve. We follow the Shulchan Aruch; we follow the dictates of Yiddishkeit. They do not.

“The Kosel is the last remnant of the Bais Hamikdosh,” he continued, “and we believe and pray that the Bais Hamikdosh will be rebuilt, that we will bring korbanos there, and that there will be a kohein gadol and a lishkas hagazis. They do not believe in that; they have no interest in it, and no desire to see it happen. So why do they want the Kosel other than for the purpose of provoking discord? The issue at hand is not a question of drawing other Jews closer or pushing them away. This is a political and ideological conflict of the highest degree. They are trying to destroy an arrangement that has been in place for 70 years, and to foment strife and division among the Jewish people.”

There is no need for me to describe the uproar that Deri’s words evoked.

If that wasn’t enough, the very next day, MK Uri Maklev took advantage of his opportunity to speak (in the context of a parliamentary program known as “one-minute speeches”) and made the following remarks: “In light of the discussion that took place in the Interior Committee today, and the visit to the Kosel, I would like to pose a question. By what right does a person demand to be allowed to dance with the Torah if he doesn’t believe in the Torah or observe a single word of it? The Jewish people are the only people who dance with their book of law. Other countries have their own laws, but no one in those countries dances with their laws. But a person who observes the Torah sees it as more than just a set of commandments.

“There is a certain group that is a very tiny part of the Jewish people, a group that has torn out the references to Yerushalayim and to Eretz Yisroel from the siddur, yet is now working to stake a claim to those very things. They are attempting to eliminate our unity in the one place where we are all still united – at the Kosel Hamaarovi. They are trying to do this in an anarchist way, with tactics that violate the law. They are using brute force and provocation in order to crush our unity. This is a group that is working to destroy the Jewish people from within. They are like a cancer within our nation, and today, here in Eretz Yisroel, they are working to destroy our unity.”

“Thank you,” said Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset speaker, indicating that Maklev’s time was up.

Maklev concluded, “We must not give them any legitimacy in this matter. The question is not whether they will have one area at the Kosel or another. It is the very question of whether they have any legitimacy to act as part of the Jewish people, as they have done in other parts of the world to this day.”

“Religious” Judges to Be Appointed to the Supreme Court

This past week saw a very interesting development with respect to the Supreme Court. As the Judicial Appointments Committee convened to begin discussing the appointment of four new judges, a bitter dispute erupted between Ayelet Shaked, the Minister of Justice, and Chief Justice Miriam Naor of the Supreme Court. Naor went so far as to write a letter to Shaked declaring that she was cutting off contact with her. Since both women are members of the Judicial Appointments Committee, this means that the committee will be unable to arrive at a consensus – and the result is bound to be an ongoing conflict.

Shaked, for her part, was not overly fazed. She submitted a list of 28 candidates, from which the four justices were to be selected. Deputy Minister Ayoob Kara, a member of the Druse community, demanded an explanation for the lack of a Druse candidate. Yigal Guetta of the Shas party demanded to know why the list does not include a single Sephardic judge. I examined the list and found that it does feature a number of graduates of yeshivos identifying with the Religious-Zionist community: Shachar Lifshitz, who attended Har Etzion; Dovid Mintz, from Midrashiat Noam and Har Etzion; Ram Winograd, who was a student at Netiv Meir and Har Etzion; Moshe Sobol, who attended Chorev and Chevron; and Asher Kola, who learned in Netiv Meir. Of course, there wasn’t a single chareidi candidate. The last chareidi judge to serve on the Supreme Court was Tzvi (Elimelech) Tal (Teitelbaum); I have written about him in the past. Today, he delivers shiurim at the Buchachov shul in Bayit Vegan, in Yerushalayim. You can find him there every day, between Mincha and Maariv.

In the past, the “religious” justices on the Supreme Court, such as Elyakim Rubinstein, have caused us endless woes. The Mizrachi judges haven’t exactly been kind to us, either. Yaakov Tzemach sent Aryeh Deri to prison, and Edmond Levi sentenced Shlomo Benizri. Both of them demonstrated extreme cruelty, both on a personal level and in their capacity as judges, earning wall-to-wall criticism. It is clear that we, the chareidi community, should not expect relief of any sort from any candidates for the bench.

The Supreme Court – Always Against Us

On that subject, it should be noted that Aharon Barak, the founder of Israel’s judicial dictatorship and the father of the philosophy that the courts are entitled to a say on everything, has claimed once again that we, the chareidim, should be the first to applaud and support the Supreme Court. Barak maintains that only the court, and nothing else, can be relied upon to protect a minority from persecution. In his view, the Supreme Court is our support and our savior. But while this is true in theory, it is absolutely false in practice. Experience has shown that the Supreme Court not only failed to protect us when put to the test, but actually joined our enemies. More than that, the Supreme Court of Israel has placed itself at the forefront of the enemies of Judaism and its values.

In an interview with a chareidi periodical before Sukkos, Barak sought to prove his point by citing the example of the court case regarding the closure of Rechov Bar Ilan on Shabbos. He pointed out that the conflict was resolved with a compromise calling for the street to be closed to traffic during davening on Shabbos (along with a guarantee for alternate routes to be provided for chiloni motorists), an indication – in his view – of the efficacy of the court as a defender of the chareidi public. A review of what actually took place during the case, though, will lead to a different conclusion. Justices Theodor Ohr, Michoel Cheshin, and Dalia Dorner of the Supreme Court ruled against the chareidim and against Shabbos itself, insisting that the street remain completely open to traffic on Shabbos. Aharon Barak, Shlomo Levin, and Eliyahu Matza supported a compromise. The deciding vote was cast by Tzvi Tal, the seventh judge on the panel, who supported a complete closure of the street throughout Shabbos. Since his opinion was closer to that of the latter three judges, their view was accepted. But just as much as this case shows that the Supreme Court assisted us, it also demonstrates the exact opposite. The only conclusion I can draw from it is that only a chareidi judge would ever be capable of issuing a verdict in our favor. Not every judge who has been labeled “chareidi” has been on our side, but every judge who was clearly not chareidi has always been completely against us.

The Bar Ilan case actually illustrates the threat posed to us by the Supreme Court. Barak wrote in his ruling, “Our decision was made by judicial measures only. We are not interested in social disputes, and we are not motivated by political considerations. We have no interest in the relations between chareidim and chilonim in Israel, or the balance between religion and state, or the character of Yerushalayim. Our interest is solely in Rechov Bar Ilan and nothing else. We focused purely on the traffic laws and the level of discretion granted to local officials.” Indeed, that is exactly the problem: that Barak and the other judges thought about nothing but “traffic laws” in a case concerning the sanctity of Shabbos. All of a sudden, Barak seemed surprisingly unambitious and limited. Was he being naïve, or did he think that we were really so gullible? The truth is that Shabbos was the issue at stake, and Aharon Barak willfully trampled on it – and on us as well.

With that approach, the Supreme Court can also be expected to treat the subject of the Kosel like an ordinary property dispute, and the draft of bnei yeshivos as a question of “equality.” While our values are at stake, the judges are concerned only with the law, and not with morals or reasonability. Of course, they also have no understanding of the meaning of the Kosel or the significance of learning in a yeshiva. They lack even the most basic tools for understanding the depth of the concepts of Torah, Shabbos, taharah, and Yiddishkeit. As Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l once said, “They are called the ‘Supreme Court’? They should be called the ‘most inferior court’! Our children know how to learn Torah at the age of 7 or 8 better than they do!”

The Court’s Obsession with Religion

One last comment on this subject: The Supreme Court’s brazen habit of overturning laws passed by the government of Israel primarily affects laws dealing with religion. Professor Daniel Friedman, who served as Minister of Justice under Ehud Olmert, relates in his fascinating book, The Purse and the Sword, that after he introduced a bill making it possible for the Knesset, with a majority of 61, to reinstate a law annulled by the Supreme Court, the court stopped invalidating the Knesset’s laws. Immediately after his departure, though, Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch annulled four laws. For our purposes, it is significant to note the subjects of those laws: the privatization of the country’s prisons (a project of Lev Leviev), welfare payments to the owners of automobiles, supplemental income payments for yungeleit, and the Tal Law. In other words, half the laws that were annulled dealt with religious matters. The Supreme Court and Justice Beinisch thus flexed their muscles against the chareidim.

This week, a study was published by three law professors who examined the decisions of the Supreme Court from 1995 through 2015. They found that the court does not rank high on the scale of activism, except with regard to religious issues. “Over the past decade,” they related, “only 11 percent of the appeals filed with the Supreme Court against the prime minister and the ministers of the government were accepted, either fully or partially. The vast majority were rejected.” The general picture, according to Professor Gad Barzilai, is of a more balanced court.

Professor Barzilai demonstrates that the court restrains itself in dealing with political or security issues, but it is particularly aggressive on religious matters. In the professor’s words, “The degree of intervention in matters of religion and state is three times higher than its intervention in any other area. This reflects the composition of the court on the one hand and the increase in the strength of the chareidi parties on the other hand.” In other words, the professor feels that the chareidi parties’ strength must be opposed. He adds that “the Supreme Court intervened especially in government decisions concerning the subject of religion and state, and weakened the standing of the institutions of Orthodoxy.”

Should we truly believe that the Supreme Court will come to the aid of the beleaguered religious right? The facts indicate otherwise: The judges are at war with Orthodoxy. They exult in exerting their power over us. Not only have they not saved the oppressed, but they themselves have joined the oppressors. It should be clear, then, that we should not hope to benefit in any way from Shaked’s 28 candidates.

A Bizarre Attitude Toward a Dangerous Situation

Last Wednesday, when I listened to the response of the Minister of Transportation to MK Yaakov Asher’s parliamentary query, I couldn’t help but smile. “We are aware of the problem,” began Yisroel Katz, the Minister of Transportation. Indeed, I was holding a copy of a response he had given on the same subject seven months earlier: “The problems of access to the area of Har Chotzvim and the heavy traffic at the northern entrance to Yerushalayim are known to the ministry, and are being dealt with.” Apparently, Katz feels that it should be comforting to us simply to know that he knows about the issues.

Seven months ago, during Adar Sheini, the issue was raised by MK Yoav Ben-Tzur. Katz’s response to Ben-Tzur at the time was remarkably similar to his reply to Yaakov Asher now: “The ministry is working on a solution… The train to Yerushalayim is expected to reduce the volume of traffic… In the immediate future, the ministry is advancing plans for a dedicated public transportation lane…”

Yaakov Asher delivered an excellent response to the minister, in his own parliamentary query. According to the Yerushalayim municipality, the development of public transportation is at a halt. The situation has remained intolerable. Asher also chose an excellent title for his query: “A Siege at the Entrance to Yerushalayim.”

You see, every morning, the entire route from Ramot and Ramat Shlomo all the way to the entrance to Yerushalayim, both on the Begin Expressway and Golda Meir Boulevard, becomes one huge traffic jam. Thousands of cards arrive in the city via Route 443 and then proceed past Ramat Shlomo or Ramot. Although the drive from Ramot to the entrance to Yerushalayim takes about seven minutes under ordinary circumstances, it can take over an hour during those times. And this happens every morning! This creates a certain danger to life, since ambulances are unable to get through the heavy traffic in the event of an emergency.

So we have been told that the dedicated minister and his office are aware of the situation. Meanwhile, though, no solution has appeared on the horizon, and the situation seems to be bordering on utter madness. Katz tried to console us with a glowing prediction: “Yerushalayim will soon have the most advanced transportation system of any city in the country.” But that is small consolation to a person who finds himself sitting in his car and exploding with impatience as he stares into an endless sea of traffic.

The Thirtieth Yahrtzeit of Rav Nochum Partzovitz zt”l

This Shabbos, Parshas Vayeira 5777, will mark 30 years since the passing of Rav Nochum Partzovitz zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of Mir Yerushalayim, a man who was a world-class Torah genius and lived through countless miracles and challenges. I was fortunate enough to be a talmid in Mir during his time there; I grew under his powerful influence. I remember sitting in the ezras noshim and eagerly awaiting the opportunity to hear his shiur.

Rav Nochum was born in the year 5683 and passed away on the 18th of Cheshvan, 5747. He was a talmid of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and of Yeshivas Mir. He married a daughter of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, and in the year 5725 he became the rosh yeshiva of Mir. He taught legions of Torah scholars over the years, transmitting his approach to life and learning to his eager talmidim. Many of his talmidim live in America today, and the collections of his chiddushim, entitled Chiddushei Rav Nochum and Shiurei Rav Nochum, are fundamental texts found in virtually every bais medrash.

Several years ago, I heard a shmuess from the mashgiach, Rav Chaim Walkin, on the subject of the importance of treating others like royalty. Rav Walkin shared the following recollection: “One year on Yom Kippur, when I was a yungerman in the kollel of the Mirrer Yeshiva, I emerged from the bais medrash during the break between Mussaf and Ne’ilah, and as I walked down the hallway, I noticed the rosh yeshiva, Rav Nochum, seated in a nearby room. At that time, he was quite weak and confined to a wheelchair, and he sat in that room to daven and listen to the tefillos. I was reluctant to disturb him, but I also felt that I could not pass by without greeting him. I entered the room reverently, intending to wish him a gemar chasimah tovah and then to leave. To my surprise, he shook my hand and told me to sit down.

“I sat, and he asked me gently, ‘How are you? How is your mother? How is your family?’ It was as if I was visiting him in his sukkah on Chol Hamoed. But it was the middle of Yom Kippur/ Was that really a time for small talk? The answer is that it was. Yom Kippur is a time to focus on the most sacred things, including making treating others regally. This means more than merely treating someone with respect. It means actually seeing into his heart and soul.

“That was what Rav Nochum was all about,” Rav Walkin added. “There are many people who are willing to give tzedakah and to help the poor, but very few people are prepared to actually invest effort in delving into other people’s feelings, entering their minds and experiencing what they are experiencing. But that is what it means to make someone else a ‘melech.’ That is the foundation of bein adam lachaveiro – truly having respect and consideration for others. And that is important even in the midst of the awesome day of Yom Kippur. In fact, especially on Yom Kippur, and especially on the Yom Kippur of a great man such as Rav Nochum…”

At the sheva brachos of his son, Rav Tzvi (today one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld), Rav Nochum quoted the Medrash that relates that the lion in the teivah bit Noach when he was late bringing his food. Rav Nochum asked: “Why was Noach punished by being bitten by a lion for delaying its meal on one single occasion, when we know that he toiled with incredible dedication to feed the animals on the teivah every day, for which he was rewarded by being permitted to eat meat after the Mabul? Chazal even teach us that Noach’s son told Avrohom Avinu that they did not sleep at all throughout the year of the mabul. Why should Noach have been punished for that single delay?”

To that, he responded, “From this, we see that performing chesed is not some sort of extra act of righteousness. Rather, it is an absolute requirement. And if there is no one else who can perform a chesed, then a person who is able to do it is subject to an absolute obligation, to the point that he must have mesirus nefesh for that purpose. Since Noach and his sons were the only people in the teivah during the Mabul, they had a full-fledged obligation to feed every animal in the teivah, and they were deserving of punishment even for a single delay.”