My Take on the News

From Submarines to Washington

Things happen at an insanely rapid pace in Israel. Before we could recover from the festivities of Purim – which, in Yerushalayim, spilled over into Friday night and even, in some places, into Shabbos morning – Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu had traveled to Washington. And this was no ordinary international trip. Its purpose was to meet with his counterpart in America.

Netanyahu had been through a tumultuous weekend that thrust him back into the throes of the submarine affair. Do you remember that? Israel had acquired some submarines for its military, and then there were allegations that the purchases were made for the sake of certain individuals’ personal gain, rather than with the country’s security in mind. It was as if we were living in a banana republic. The people who were involved in the deal were among Netanyahu’s closest associates (especially his cousin, an attorney named David Shimron), but the police finally concluded, with the utmost reluctance, that Netanyahu was not personally involved in the affair. Even the state witnesses – one of whom, Ganor, actually recanted his claims last week, sparking a major drama in the country – didn’t succeed in tightening the noose around Netanyahu’s neck. But now there are “new” allegations that Netanyahu indeed benefited personally from the submarine purchase, since he owned stock in one of the companies that profited from the deal.

It is a serious allegation indeed, and as soon as it came to light, the three generals leading the Blue and White party pounced on it. Yair Lapid, who has now joined the generals as a partner in their party (his own party, Yesh Atid, merged with Benny Gantz’s Chosen L’Yisroel party), and Avi Gabbai of the Zionist Camp also attacked Netanyahu for it, but their comments were largely ignored. They do not have a background in national security and thus their words had little weight. On Motzoei Shabbos, Netanyahu decided to pay a surprise visit to the news studio of Channel 12 on his way to the airport. This came as a major shock to the staff. Until now, he has essentially boycotted the news station. In any event, Netanyahu responded to the allegations in his inimitable style, and he proceeded to excoriate the three generals for their attacks on him. At this point, everyone is busy analyzing whether the interview was beneficial or harmful to his cause.

In the Lions’ Den

For the past decade, Netanyahu has allowed himself to be interviewed only in places where he felt at home. His visit to the Channel 12 news studio was essentially a foray into the lions’ den, where he faced an interviewer who tried to be as hostile as she could, but he did not allow her to prevent him from delivering his message. “I am on my way to Ben Gurion Airport to travel to America for a meeting with President Trump,” he announced, “and I decided to visit here in order to put an end to the wave of lies that Gantz, Lapid, Bogie Yaalon, and Gabi Ashkenazi have been shamelessly propagating. This is an attempt to distract the people from the fact that they need to decide whether to continue under the government that has brought this country to the best possible place, or to choose a left-wing government with Yair Lapid that will rely on the support of Meretz and the terror-supporting Arab parties.”

This is Netanyahu’s unequivocal message; nothing stops him from repeating it at every opportunity, and it is clear that it works. Regarding the latest allegations concerning the submarine affair, the prime minister had this to say: “I want to shatter this blood libel once and for all. I bought stock in a company that has no connection to the submarines. When I took office as prime minister, I went to the state comptroller and the permissions committee and I told them that I wanted to keep the stocks, and they allowed it.”

Netanyahu also remarked that he had hidden certain things from the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the IDF, such as the fact that he had agreed for the Germans to sell submarines to Egypt. For some reason, in an interview in Washington, Gantz chose to attack Netanyahu for this. Two days later, it became clear that Gantz’s critique had been greatly exaggerated. There are many things that prime ministers do not reveal to their own defense ministers, and certainly not to the commanders of the army, and Netanyahu did nothing wrong by failing to object to the sale of submarines to Egypt. If the Egyptians hadn’t bought the submarines from Germany, they would simply have purchased them from another country. Why, then, should Netanyahu have provoked an unnecessary conflict by vetoing the sale?

He also mentioned the fact that Iran had hacked Benny Gantz’s cell phone, which some believe makes Gantz vulnerable to extortion. This revelation was highly damaging to Gantz. However, since Netanyahu himself is suspected of having leaked the information to the press after it was kept under wraps in the Mossad, he has also lost some political points. Nevertheless, Netanyahu mocked Gantz for the security breach while insisting that the claims that he had leaked the story were slanderous.

In the final analysis, was the interview beneficial to Netanyahu? As I said, that question is still being examined by the “experts.” It will take some time before they decide what we should think.

Gantz at AIPAC, Netanyahu in the Oval Office

This week, all eyes have been on Washington. Netanyahu met with Trump, but cut his trip short due to the rocket attacks in Israel. President Trump, as usual, made no effort to conceal his efforts to promote Netanyahu’s reelection. The truth is that it is not at all unusual for an American president to take sides in an Israeli election. Barack Obama might have made the most blatant such attempts, but the same thing was done by Clinton and by both Bushes, and even by Ronald Reagan. In general, though, the presidents’ involvement did not make much of a difference in the outcome.

Trump, after moving the American embassy to Yerushalayim, dropped a diplomatic bombshell by declaring the Golan as an integral part of Israel.

What is perhaps most amusing is that Netanyahu was not the only Israeli official at the AIPAC conference at the beginning of this week. Benny Gantz was also there. But Gantz’s oratorical abilities, not to mention his English, do not even begin to compare to Netanyahu’s Moreover, Trump scheduled his meeting with Netanyahu at precisely the time Gantz was speaking at AIPAC. Was there anything more that the president could do to boost the popularity of his good friend, the Israeli premier?

Shas Hasn’t Given Up on the Periphery

Meanwhile, on the domestic front, we are drawing steadily closer to Election Day. On the day this newspaper is published, the large sign in the Knesset will announce that there are only twelve days remaining until the election. By then, we will all be asking ourselves if we are truly prepared for it and if we have done everything in our power to bring about the best possible outcome.

The Shas party has not rested for a moment. Its members have been working tirelessly to prepare for the fateful day. The party has been holding rallies every day in cities throughout the country, especially on the periphery. The events have been taking place in Teveria, Sderot, Kiryat Gat, Beitar, Beit Shemesh, and many other places. This week, Aryeh Deri began traveling around the country by car. He hopes to visit 120 cities and towns before the election. It seems that the party hasn’t given up its hopes of persuading even traditional-minded irreligious voters to cast their ballots for the Shas party. For that reason, they have been proclaiming that the party is determined to align itself with Netanyahu, regardless of the outcome of the election. They hope that even the dati leumi or traditional voters with right-wing leanings, who are likely to be worried about Netanyahu’s fate, will thus be convinced to vote for Shas.

United Torah Judaism, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be making any effort to appeal to the periphery, either because they recognize that a traditional Sephardi will not vote for UTJ or because they do not want to antagonize the Shas party by competing for the same votes. The problem, though, is that it is necessary to reach out to the chareidi public in some way, and UTJ has barely done anything of the sort. It has hardly made itself heard. There have been a handful of advertisements in the chareidi newspapers (which mainly serves the purpose of securing revenues for the newspapers, as the advertisements are sponsored by government funds), but that is about the extent of its campaign. Indeed, there isn’t much of a sense of urgency in the chareidi community at this time, which is not a good thing on the eve of an election.

Rav Gershon Edelstein’s Heartfelt Cry

For that reason, UTJ held a rally on Motzoei Shabbos. A row of gedolei Yisroel lined the front of the room, as the speakers delivered clear and powerful messages. The event certainly served to reignite the participants’ passion and to cause their adrenaline to begin flowing, which is vital in the days leading up to an election. The question of whether UTJ will secure five, six or seven mandates is a crucial issue. The party may receive seven mandates; in the best foreseeable scenario, it could also earn eight. But it could also drop to five. Much of the outcome depends on the motivation of the broader circle of voters – that is, not the yungeleit and bochurim of the country’s kollelim and yeshivos, but the broader circle of chareidi voters. It is impossible to expect those people to go to the polls and vote for UTJ if the party doesn’t even speak to them. As a result, it behooves every chareidi citizen to convince someone else, who is close enough to the demographic, that he should also vote for the chareidi parties.

This situation was the impetus for large campaign rally that was held on Motzoei Shabbos at the Lederman shul in Bnei Brak. Naturally, it was attended by all the current candidates for the Knesset, all the important party activists, and all the chareidi mayors, along with anyone else who managed to fit into the shul. Rav Chaim Kanievsky announced that it is forbidden for any person to shirk his responsibility to promote the party’s success; everyone must make the maximum contribution that is within his ability.

Rav Edelstein then spoke from the depths of his heart. “It is important to be aware of the reality,” he said. “There is tremendous danger to all of Yiddishkeit at this time, both in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus. There is enormous danger, and we need both actions and zechuyos.”

His dire warnings were not mere hyperbole. We all still remember the government that arose as a result of Lapid’s pact with Bennett. The chareidi community suffered terribly under that regime, which slashed child allowances and made drastic cuts to the funding for yeshivos, as well as pushing for mandatory conscription for yeshiva bochurim and attempting to force Talmudei Torah to offer secular studies. The Torah community indeed suffered harm both in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus, just as Rav Gershon predicted would be the result if our community fails to mobilize in the upcoming election.

In the wake of the rally at the Lederman shul, and as we approach bein hazemanim, the activists of United Torah Judaism may well be galvanized into serious work throughout the country.

The Perils of Complacency

The Shas party must likewise beware of the dangers of complacency at this time. When the earlier polls showed the party hovering dangerously close to the electoral threshold, I advised them not to panic. Now that the polls are predicting that the party will win six mandates, I am giving them the opposite advice: not to become complacent. Experience has shown that the Shas party always deviates from the polls’ predictions by a margin of two or three seats. In some elections, the polls predicted that Shas would win six mandates, and they ended up with ten. Of course, there was also the famous election following Aryeh Deri’s “J’Accuse” campaign, when Shas won a record seventeen mandates, more than twice the number that it was expected to amass.

Nevertheless, this does not give the Shas party an excuse to rest on its laurels. The results of the election will defy the polls only if intensive efforts are invested – if the volunteers knock on doors to drum up additional votes, if the party releases campaign broadcasts that will genuinely influence potential voters, and, above all, if they invoke the memory of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. When Rav Ovadiah was alive, his very presence seemed to ignite fiery passion whenever he entered a room, even if it was occupied by a chiloni audience. Today, the videos of him imploring his listeners to vote for Shas have a powerful impact. The hearts of traditional Sephardic Jews – and of many other people, as well – simply melt at the sight. Rav Ovadiah’s power has lived on, and in order for the Shas party to succeed, it must capitalize on the adoration that is still felt for him.

In the Office of the Rov of Yerushalayim

Two days before Purim, I happened to pay a visit to the office of the chief rabbi of Yerushalayim. Before I entered his office, I took a moment to examine the pictures of previous rabbonim of the city that adorned the wall outside. Some of those rabbonim were world-class gedolim, and the current rov, Rav Shlomo Moshe Amar, easily fills their shoes. He also wears the robes of the Rishon Letzion. He is a man who exudes ahavas Yisroel, whose sweet and gentle manner is matched only by his remarkably incisive intellect.

When I arrived, I found him in the middle of writing a teshuvah. It was a fascinating sight to behold: Piles of open seforim covered his desktop, while a bookcase filled with seforim stood behind him. Rav Amar was completely focused on the task at hand, intently recording his reasoning on a piece of paper in his inimitable handwriting. His pen raced repeatedly across the page, as if his hand was being guided by siyata diShmaya. At a certain point, he looked up and noticed us sitting silently across from him. He asked what I needed, but I was hesitant to interrupt him. I was reluctant to take away from his precious time; I had wanted only to see him in action. Nevertheless, I did have one small question: Why had he chosen the specific pictures that decorated his office? I knew that his rebbi muvhak was Rav Yaakov Rosenthal zt”l, the rov of Haifa and mechaber of Mishnas Yaakov. I hadn’t known that he had maintained a very close relationship with Rav Yosef Mashash zt”l of Haifa, or that he had served Rav Refoel Boruch Toledano zt”l for an extended period of time. Those were things that I learned in the course of my visit.

Rav Amar shared a remarkable comment about Purim with me. I will summarize it in brief: Chazal tell us that at the time of Mattan Torah, Hashem suspended Har Sinai over the heads of the Jewish people, forcing them to accept the Torah. It was only later, in the era of Achashveirosh, that they accepted the Torah out of love, inspired by their miraculous salvation. It seems peculiar, though, that they were not catapulted to similar levels of ahavah by the miracles surrounding Yetzias Mitzrayim, which were many times more wondrous. Rav Amar explained that the miracles that occurred at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim were so overt and unmistakable that the Bnei Yisroel simply lost their power of bechirah. This, he asserted, is what the Gemara actually means when it states that Har Sinai was suspended above them. When they accepted the Torah at Har Sinai, they could not make the choice out of their own free will; they genuinely felt that they had no alternative. In the days of Mordechai and Esther, though, the miracles that saved their lives were cloaked in the guise of natural events, and they were capable of accepting the Torah with ahavah.

It was certainly worth it for me to spend an hour searching for a parking spot in order to hear that vort

The Talmidim of Rav Ika Yisroeli

I attended the opening of an exhibition of the artwork produced by three chareidi artists that was displayed at the Miklat Gallery on Rechov Yehuda Hamaccabi. This gallery provides a place for many chareidi artists to display their work in an effort to build up a reputation or simply to support themselves. On this particular visit to the gallery, I became aware of an entire class of chareidi artists.

A portrait of “Ika” – Rav Yitzchok Yisroeli – was on display near the stairs. Beneath it, a bronze plaque noted that the gallery, which is housed in a bomb shelter, was named for Rav Yisroeli, who passed away in 5749/1989. “The Miklat Gallery was established in 2003 by Ika Yisroeli, Rav Mordechai Arnon, and Rav Uri Zohar,” the inscription continued. “The gallery serves as a home for artists and promotes social initiatives to advance artwork and Orthodox culture.”

At the end of this year, on the tenth of Elul, we will mark the tenth yahrtzeit of Rav Ika, one of the pioneers of the teshuvah movement among artists. I will never forget when I visited the very same gallery years ago, at the invitation of Rav Ika and his good friend, yibadel lechayim, Rav Mordechai Arnon. I can no longer remember if Ika’s prized paintings were on display, or if the exhibition was one of his efforts to assist baalei teshuvah who were struggling to break into the world of art. Rav Ika was an immensely gifted man; in addition to being a highly respected artist, he was a mentor to many others who desired to produce artwork of their own.

I was introduced to Ika Yisroeli by mutual acquaintances, Rav Uri Zohar and Rav Moshe Frank. We met on many occasions and I interviewed him multiple times. During the last year of his life, I also visited him frequently at the dialysis unit. Along with his artistic pursuits, he was also involved in kiruv. His home in Tel Aviv served as a veritable bais medrash, where he became known as “the admor from Dizengoff,” and he became even more of a force in the kiruv world after he moved to Yerushalayim, where he influenced many irreligious Jews to return to Yiddishkeit. His efforts in this area were a source of enormous zechuyos for him. I will never forget the impassioned hesped delivered for him by Rav Moshe Shapiro zt”l.

On this occasion, I visited the Miklat Gallery in order to show respect to an artist named Yaakovi, about whom I have written in these pages in the past. One of the four walls of the gallery was dedicated to his work, which included a series of images of human faces. The paintings depicted men with black yarmulkas, white shirts, black jackets, and peyos, some with facial features and some without. Yaakovi waxed eloquent as he explained the symbolism of the images; his verbal presentation was effectively a work of art in its own right. Two other artists, Moshe Riffner and Millie Solomon, were also featured in the exhibition. Each of them received an entire wall to display their own respective artwork.

The Mirrer Sefer Torah in France

Matching campaigns have become the latest craze among fundraisers in Israel, and for good reason. After all, why should a fundraiser exhaust himself by traveling to America to knock on the doors of a long series of philanthropists, when he could just as easily raise 700,000 dollars from the yungeleit of Eretz Yisroel? This week, I received phone calls from a wide variety of institutions, including the Nadvorna yeshiva and the yeshiva of Meitzad, as well as Yeshivas Kol Torah and Bnei Re’em. With the many calls that I received from long-lost acquaintances gushing with enthusiasm, I felt as if I had discovered a plethora of lost family members! I am waiting eagerly for Bais Mattisyahu’s campaign, which I hope will achieve success.

I also received a phone call from the Mir Yeshiva – not for a matching campaign, but rather as part of a simple effort for the yeshiva to make it through the Purim and Pesach season. And I always make every effort to accommodate the Mir.

I should also mention that the roshei yeshiva of Mir traveled to France last week for a fundraising dinner. Naturally, it was far from pleasant for them to spend Purim and Shushan Purim out of Eretz Yisroel, but they bowed to the dictates of necessity. They made sure to bring a Megillas Esther with them, along with a compact Sefer Torah that had once been a gift from Reb Yossi Stern to Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. The current rosh yeshiva, Rav Nosson Tzvi’s son, borrowed the Sefer Torah from his mother’s home for the duration of their trip.

A Father in Olam Haba

This week marked the tenth yahrtzeit of Rav Boruch Shimon Solomon zt”l, rov of Petach Tikvah and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Nachalas Dovid, who passed away on the 17th of Adar 5769/2009. Years ago, Rav Boruch Shimon fought valiantly to preserve the kedusha of Shabbos in Petach Tikvah. The mayor of the city at the time, Dov Taburi, had insisted on opening a movie theater on Shabbos. This led to weekly protests against the initiative, and chareidim from across the country made a habit of spending Shabbos in the city in order to join the demonstrations. Rav Solomon was backed by all the gedolei Yisroel, some of whom joined him at the protests, while others came to his home to offer him moral support. In truth, the story of the battle for the sanctity of Shabbos in Petach Tikvah is deserving of a separate article in its own right. At one of the protests, Rav Solomon was even arrested by the police, which caused the tensions to escalate to a peak.

In honor of his yahrtzeit, I would like to share several remarkable stories that I heard about him.

The city of Petach Tikvah once allocated a significant amount of funds to Yeshivas Nachalas Dovid. Shortly thereafter, the mayor asked Rav Boruch Shimon to accept a certain bochur as a talmid in the yeshiva. The rosh yeshiva replied, “A bochur who is suited to the yeshiva will be accepted even without a donation, and a bochur who is not suitable will not be accepted even with a donation.” Revenge for his refusal to accept the bochur was swift in coming, as could be expected, and it took significant effort to thwart the city’s malicious intentions.

An orphaned bochur was once tested for admission to the yeshiva and was rejected. The boy’s caretakers approached Rav Boruch Shimon’s son, Rav Yisroel Solomon, to ask if there was anything that could be done to change the rosh yeshiva’s decision. “When my father decides not to accept a bochur, it is usually very difficult to change his mind,” Rav Yisroel replied. “Nevertheless, I have an idea: One of the family members should go to the rosh yeshiva with copies of the seforim that the boy’s father wrote and say to him, ‘The boy’s father can’t come because he is in the World to Come, but his Torah is requesting admission on behalf of his son.’” The strategy worked, and Rav Boruch Shimon was persuaded to change his mind.

A certain yungerman once sought admission to the kollel that was part of the yeshiva and Rav Boruch Shimon admitted to him, “I would like to take you in, but I don’t have the means to pay you.” The yungerman attended the shiur klali that day, and after the shiur had ended, he engaged in a lengthy discussion with Rav Boruch Shimon about the topic of the shiur. After their conversation had ended, Rav Boruch Shimon said to him, “Now you are in the kollel, and even though I do not have the funds, I will have to find a way to pay you.”

Once, while he was preparing a shiur klali, Rav Boruch Shimon found that he was uncertain about a specific point that he planned to make, which was to be the basis of his entire presentation. He immediately placed a phone call to Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l to discuss the subject with him. Throughout their discussion, Rav Boruch Shimon sat at the edge of his seat, filled with tension. Only after he had received Rav Moshe Shmuel’s approval for his chiddush did he make his way to the yeshiva to deliver his shiur.