My Take on the News

Election News

The Lists Are In

There is a large sign in the Knesset building that informs us of how many days are remaining until the elections. This sign, which is constantly being updated, is located in a prominent spot in the lobby of the Central Elections Committee’s headquarters, and it is impossible for anyone who works there to avoid seeing it several times each day. Therefore, I can tell you with great confidence that as of this Monday, there were 43 days remaining until the election.

The deadline for submitting party lists to the Central Elections Committee was at 10:00 this past Thursday night. I was present in Sprinzak Hall in the Knesset, where Justice Chanan Meltzer sat along with the other members of the Central Elections Committee, as the candidates arrived to present their lists. There were plenty of moments of tension, along with quite a few humorous interludes. Until the very last moment, it was unclear if the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane would run separately or would join with the United Right. By now, however, all has become clear, although there is reason to presume that Ben-Gvir and Marzel, the leaders of Otzma Yehudit, might choose to withdraw from the race just before the elections. As far as that is concerned, we will simply have to wait and see.

In total, 32 party lists were submitted to the committee. The vast majority of them were laughable by any standard. The parties that will probably pass the electoral threshold are the following: Likud, Blue and White, UTJ, Shas, Yisroel Beiteinu, the Democratic Camp (the merger of Meretz and Ehud Barak’s party), the Joint Arab List (a conglomerate of four Arab parties), the United Right (Bennett, Shaked, Rafi Peretz, and Betzalel Smotrich), and Labor-Gesher (the alliance between Amir Peretz and Orly Levi). Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party and Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit are not expected to cross the threshold, although they are mentioned in the polls.

In addition to these parties, there are plenty of other bizarre and possibly ridiculous lists that were submitted to the committee. Chief among them, of course, is Ron Kobi’s Secular Right, which has declared its raison d’être to be combating “chareidi coercion.” There is also a party known as “the Pirates,” another that calls itself “Kol Yisroel Achim,” and a third party that has dubbed itself “Ichud Bnei Brit” (“the Union of the Children of the Covenant,” also known as the Liberal Christian Party). There is a party known as Tzedek and another that calls itself the Green Economic party. And there is also the Noam party, which consists of the followers of Rav Tzvi Tau. They will almost certainly withdraw from the race immediately before the elections. Rumor has it that they are debating whether to vote en masse for UTJ or Shas. The party is allegedly supported by about 5,000 families.

No Change in the Chareidi Parties

Now let us discuss the candidates. The Likud party’s list for the 22nd Knesset is no different from its previous list, except that the Kulanu party has been integrated into Likud. Moshe Kachlon himself, the former leader of Kulanu, is in the fifth spot on the Likud list. The Blue and White list has also remained unchanged. There have been some changes in the Labor party, since several of its members have resigned from the list (Shelly Yachimovich, for instance) and the party merged with Gesher. In the Democratic Camp, Ehud Barak is in the tenth position on the list. (As I explained last week, Barak has no interest in being a member of the Knesset, and in the event the party joins the government, he was promised the most senior ministerial position.) The ninth slot on the list, just before Barak, is occupied by Noa Rotman, granddaughter of Yitzchok Rabin.

The lineup in United Torah Judaism is exactly the same: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, Meir Porush, Uri Maklev, Yaakov Tessler, Yaakov Asher, Yisroel Eichler, and Yitzchok Pindrus, who will enter the Knesset again if the party recoups the eight seats that it won in the previous election. The ninth spot on the list is occupied by Eliyahu Chossid, and the tenth spot is held by Eliyohu Boruchi, a member of the Petach Tikvah city council on behalf of Degel HaTorah.

Within the Shas party, as well, nothing has changed. The first eight slots on the list are occupied by the party’s current MKs: Aryeh Deri, Yitzchok Cohen, Meshullam Nahari, Yaakov Margi, Yoav Ben-Tzur, Michoel Malchieli, Moshe Arbel, and Yinon Azulai. The ninth candidate, who has a relatively reasonable chance of being elected, is Moshe Abutbul, the former mayor of Beit Shemesh. Next on the list is Ariel Bosso, who is currently serving as a deputy mayor in Petach Tikvah.

In the United Right, the lineup is as follows: Ayelet Shaked, Rafi Peretz, Betzalel Smotrich, Naftoli Bennett, Motti Yogev, Ofir Sofer, Matan Kahana, Idit Silman, and Roni Sassover (who is aligned with Bennett). The tenth slot is occupied by Orit Struk of Chevron, who served as a member of the Knesset in the past. The eleventh spot is held by Shai Maimon, and the twelfth is held by Shuli Muallem, a former MK who resigned along with Bennett and Shaked. Next on the list is Eli Ben-Dahan, who is currently serving as the Deputy Minister of Defense. Naturally, both Muallem and Ben-Dahan are unhappy with their respective placements on the list.

A Battle for Every Vote

UTJ has learned from experience to fight with all its strength for every last vote. There can be no more powerful illustration of the fact that every vote counts than the election that we all experienced just a few months ago. The story of the Noam party is far more than a trivial postscript to the election campaign; it has the potential to make a major difference.

There is a prominent religious Zionist rov by the name of Rav Tzvi Tau. I am personally acquainted with him, since he lives in the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, which is adjacent to my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul. I have not only seen him many times, but also visited his home. (I accompanied the Interior Minister to one of his meetings with Rav Tau, at the latter’s request.) His adherents have the ability to cast enough votes for UTJ for the party to receive an additional mandate. Sometimes, as was the case regarding several parties in the previous elections, a party falls short of the electoral threshold or of an additional mandate by only a handful of votes. Rav Tau was not pleased with the United Right’s merger with Bennett and Shaked, especially in light of the fact that Shaked herself now heads the combined party. With his ideology, which combines elements of the chareidi perspective with the attitudes of the national religious sector, Rav Tau certainly might instruct his followers to vote for UTJ. I believe that he once told his talmidim to vote for Shas in a previous election, since he decided that, from a hashkafic perspective, that was the proper choice.

Within the ranks of United Torah Judaism, it is Meir Porush who is responsible for appealing to the more nationalistically inclined voters. When he served previously as the Deputy Minister of Housing and Construction, he allocated large amounts of government resources for the settlements and for the needs of the national religious community. As a result, he is extremely well-liked there, and they feel very close to him. Before every election, he is tapped to reach out to that community in order to draw votes. Now, as well, he is responsible for managing UTJ’s dealings with the Noam party. Noam was established just a few weeks ago, purely in order to make a statement. The party’s leaders claimed at first that they would remain in the race until the bitter end, although that seems to have changed.

Whatever the case may be, there is a sense within the ranks of UTJ that they must fight for every vote that the party can possibly secure. Therefore, it is very likely that the party will reach an agreement, even a secret one, with Rav Tau’s followers.

Make Aliyah and Vote Gimmel

In its bid to rack up votes, UTJ has opened designated centers to assist bnei Torah who live in Eretz Yisroel in changing their status from tourists to citizens. There are thousands of families in Israel from abroad, families in which the husbands learn in kollel and the wives sometimes work and are sometimes unemployed. In principle, it is illegal for a person on a tourist visa to hold a job in this country, although some of them work unofficially. Why haven’t they made aliyah and received citizenship? The answer to this question is complicated. For one thing, if they make aliyah, they will become Israeli citizens in every respect, and their children (even children who are subsequently born in America) will be obligated to serve in the army. According to Israeli law, any person who is born in Israel, or who is born to Israeli parents in any other country, is subject to the draft. The reason for this is a long story, but it is supposed to be viewed as a good thing: This person is considered an Israeli citizen in every respect, which the state considers a privilege, even if it occasionally has an unfavorable impact, as well.

About a month ago, UTJ introduced a new service aimed at families of foreigners who are considering aliyah. The party is now helping those families complete the process as rapidly as possible, in time for them to be eligible to vote in the elections for the 22nd Knesset. Again, every single vote counts. The party hopes to receive eight mandates once again, this time without being forced to wage a fierce battle for its eighth seat. (Even now, in fact, the Likud party continues to claim that UTJ’s eighth mandate, which was used to admit Yitzchok Pindrus to the Knesset, belongs to them.)

Here is another item on the subject of bnei Torah from abroad who are learning in Eretz Yisroel: The Vaad Hayeshivos recently sent letters to roshei yeshivos throughout the country, asking them to make certain that bochurim and yungeleit who are considered “children of emigrants” do not become entangled in legal complications involving the army. Let me explain: Every talmid in a yeshiva in Israel is required to submit a form to the army twice every year proving that he is enrolled in a yeshiva. This form is signed by his rosh yeshiva and then by the Vaad Hayeshivos, and is then delivered to the army. Ostensibly, a bochur or yungerman who was born in a different country should not be subject to the draft, and therefore should not be obligated to submit this form. Nevertheless, a person who was born abroad to Israeli parents is subject to conscription, as I explained, although his status as a “child of emigrants” renders him exempt from serving in the army as long as he hasn’t been in the country for more than three months. This creates problems when yeshiva bochurim from abroad come to Israel to learn and are confident that they are exempt from the draft, yet they receive a summons to report to the army after they have been here for three months. The solution to this problem is for them to apply for official permission to stay in the country for longer than three months. That, however, must be done in the Israeli consulate in America before they arrive in Israel. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? If it is of practical relevance to anyone, I will provide more details about this issue in the coming weeks.

A Tisha B’Av Insight from Forty Years Ago

Last week, Reb Yossel Tabak informed me that he would be visiting Eretz Yisroel this Shabbos and that he planned to visit the Kosel on Tisha B’Av. “Are you sure that the Bais Hamikdosh won’t be rebuilt by then?” I asked him.

Reb Yossel did not laugh at my question. Instead, he told me a story:

“Many years ago, I was davening in the shtieblach in Ezras Torah. I was a young bochur learning in Brisk at the time, and it was Asarah B’Teves. I was standing next to Rav Shimon Moshe Diskin zt”l, and he made a comment to me regarding the refrain that was repeated at the end of every stanza of the Selichos: ‘Turn the fast of the fifth [month] into relief, the fast of the fourth and the fast of the tenth into joy and gladness.’ Rav Diskin turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t we mention the fast of the seventh month?’ That was a good question, wasn’t it?”

“Of course!” I replied.

“Well, this was his answer,” Reb Yossel continued. “The fast of the seventh month is Tzom Gedaliah, and there is a dispute as to when Gedaliah ben Achikam died. One opinion has it that he died on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, but the fast was instituted on the following day, out of respect for the Yom Tov. Now, one can ask a question: When the fast days become times of joy, which day will become an occasion for celebration, the actual day of Gedaliah’s death or the day when we fast? Ostensibly, the day of his death itself should become a day of joy. But we cannot say that it should turn into a time of celebration, since it is already a Yom Tov; it is the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

“Rav Diskin didn’t stop there,” Reb Yossel went on. “He pointed out that in the posuk that states that the four fast days will become times of celebration (Zechariah 8:9), the fast of the seventh month is indeed included. Why is this so? The answer, he told me, is simple: That posuk is part of a nevuah that was delivered when every new month was sanctified based on the appearance of the new moon. At that time, there was only one day of Rosh Hashanah. Therefore, the day when Gedaliah ben Achikam was killed could indeed be transformed into a time of simcha, since it wasn’t yet a holiday. Nowadays, however, when Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days, we no longer need to daven for it to become a time of joy. That is what Rav Shimon Moshe said,” he concluded. “Incredible, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Now, as for Tisha B’Av, I want you to know that there are some righteous people who leave their Kinnos in shul at the end of Tisha B’Av, since they are certain that the Bais Hamikdosh will be rebuilt by the time the following year arrives.”

“I am well aware of that,” Reb Yossel replied. “My father’s minhag was always to leave his Kinnos in shaimos after Tisha B’Av, and we have all followed his practice. In fact, there is a Medrash concerning what will happen to Megillas Eicha when Moshiach arrives. The Rambam states at the conclusion of Hilchos Megillah that all the books of the nevi’im will no longer exist in the future, with the exception of Megillas Esther. The Raavad disagrees with him and insists that none of the seforim of Tanach will be eliminated. Now, according to the Raavad, we must understand what will happen to Megillas Eicha after Moshiach comes. The answer is that there is a Medrash that says that all the calamities described in the megillah will become brachos.

“Sometimes,” he went on, “a person experiences hardships and suffering, and he cannot understand why Hashem has inflicted these things on him. In some instances, he later discovers that his suffering was actually what saved him. This is what happened, for instance, to the people who fled from Poland and Lithuania into Russia and who were deported to Siberia. They were certain that what was happening to them was the worst possible fate they could suffer, and they fasted and prayed for salvation. After the war, however, it became clear that the vast majority of Jews who were exiled to Siberia ultimately survived and made their way to Israel or America, whereas most of those who remained in Poland were annihilated. Sometimes, it takes six years for a person to understand the reason for his suffering; at other times it can take ten years, and sometimes it can take as long as eighty years to discover that what seemed like a tragedy was actually the key to salvation.

“In the tefillah of Nacheim, we recite the words of a posuk in Zechariah (2:9), ‘For You, Hashem, ignited it with fire, and You are destined to rebuild it with fire.’ Let me ask you a question,” Reb Yossel said. “If I burn down your house and then tell you that I will rebuild it with fire, will that be comforting to you? Will you have any interest in a house made of fire? What is the meaning of this tefillah? The answer is that the fire of the churban, which seemed like the greatest tragedy that could ever happen to the Jewish people, will be revealed in the future to have been a constructive fire. Just as Megillas Eichah itself will become a megillah of salvation rather than a chronicle of catastrophes, the churban of the Bais Hamikdosh will be revealed to have been our salvation.”

Reb Yossel went on to recount a moshol that the Chofetz Chaim told to Rav Elchonon Wasserman: A king once hired a tailor to sew a garment using a bolt of fabric that he had inherited from his father. The king ordered the tailor neither to add any other fabric to the garment nor to discard any of the material. Then he asked, “How will I know that you have obeyed my instructions?” The tailor replied, “When I have finished my work, I will take the garment apart before your eyes and then sew it up again. That way, you will be able to see that I have used the exact quantity of material that you gave me.”

Similarly, the Chofetz Chaim asserted, we are living through the stage at which the “garment” is taken apart, so to speak. “All of the hardships and suffering that we endure are meant to demonstrate to us that everything Hashem does is carefully calculated and exactingly measured,” Reb Yossel said. “After all, it often happens that a person is certain that something bad has happened to him, such as when he wanted a particular shidduch to work out but it did not come to fruition, yet he later discovers that what seemed like a misfortune was actually a stroke of Hashgocha that spared him from anguish or heartache. Do you understand my point?”

“I am writing down everything you have said,” I told him. “I will have to review it later in order to understand it. But you have reminded me of a well-known interpretation of the posuk, ‘It is a time of distress for Yaakov, and he will be saved from it.’ Some explain this posuk to mean that the time of distress itself will turn out to be the vehicle for salvation.”

Reb Yossel, who always has more to say, responded with a vort that he had once heard from Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz zt”l. But I think that I have written enough here already.

Troubling Times

There is a halachic dispute as to whether this week has the status of shovua shechal bo Tisha B’Av, which has practical ramifications primarily for Sefardim. This Shabbos is the ninth of Av, and it therefore seems that the entire week should be considered the week of Tisha B’Av. However, some authorities maintain that Shabbos is associated with the following week rather than the week that precedes it, which would mean that this week does not have the status of shovua shechal bo. Regardless of the halachic definition of these days, though, it is certainly a perilous time for Klal Yisroel.

The newspapers here in Eretz Yisroel are filled with news of calamities. This may be just my impression, but I believe that this time of year brings an increase in the rate of tragic occurrences. In Kiryat Gat, an entire family was hit by a drunk driver; the images from the scene were truly horrific. Last Friday, there were two fatal car accidents, one in Kfar Saba and the other on Route 90. In Tzefas, an infant was forgotten in a parked car and was rescued in the nick of time. This occurred only a week after another baby died after being forgotten in a car in Modiin Illit. On Route 65, an accident involving numerous cars injured 26 people. A motorcyclist was injured in Ashkelon, and a worker was killed in an accident in an industrial park. This year has brought the largest number of fatal work accidents in the past decade. In addition, a 30-year-old drowned in a private pool in Gush Etzion. Then there were the three soldiers who were wounded by gunfire from a terrorist who managed to infiltrate Israel from the Gaza Strip. The terrorist was eliminated. And at the Hizme checkpoint, a bus was stoned.

And there was bad news from elsewhere in the world, as well: a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain, hate-filled graffiti in the Czech Republic, the assault against Rav Teichtal in Berlin, and a taxi driver who accosted a Jew in Montreal. Above all, there were the victims of mass shootings in America. There was the shooting in a department store in Texas, followed by another shooting the next day in Ohio. Overall, the news this past week has been positively dreadful.

Two Hundred Children Drowned

Sometimes, one need only read a headline in order to absorb the full import of a news story. Last Tuesday, I came across one such horrifying headline: “Boy Aged Two and a Half Fights for His Life After Drowning in Pool at Home.” My thoughts turned immediately to the child’s mother, who is undoubtedly consumed by sorrow, and possibly by feelings of guilt as well. I thought about his father and his three siblings, who were also in the house when disaster struck. The incident occurred in a private pool in an upscale neighborhood of the city of Netivot, the type of home that every ordinary Israeli aspires to inhabit. But what interest can the family possibly have in their spacious property today? They would certainly be willing to live in a tent, if it would only mean that their child would open his eyes once again, that his brain would prove to be undamaged and that he would return to their embrace.

Over the past decade, over 200 children have drowned, most of them in private swimming pools at their homes or in vacation cottages. In the year 2019, ten children have drowned thus far. These are staggering figures that I find it almost impossible to digest. And two days after this incident, I read another heartrending headline, this one reporting on the tragic drowning of Hersh Meilich Grossman in the United States. In that case, the tragedy took place at a water park in New Jersey that was rented by several frum summer camps. Once again, my thoughts focused immediately on the child’s revered grandfather, his shattered parents, and his grieving siblings. Such tragedies create an unfathomable sadness that will never leave them. I have been there, and I know.

Perhaps the family will derive some measure of consolation from the following thought: Everyone knows the Medrash (also cited in the Gemara) that states that when Amram divorced his wife, his daughter, Miriam Haneviah, told him that his decree was worse than that of Paroh. “Paroh’s decree is only against the males, while you have made an edict against males and females,” she admonished him. “The decree of the wicked Paroh may or may not be fulfilled, but you are a tzaddik, and your edict will certainly be fulfilled.” These are the two points that everyone remembers, but Chazal relate that Miriam made a third statement as well: “Paroh’s decree is only in this world, whereas yours is in this world and in the Next World.” Rashi explains that if a child is born and then passes away, the child will live on in the World to Come. By divorcing his wife, however, Amram created a situation in which many children would not even be born, and thus would have no hope of entering Olam Haba.

The message of the Gemara is clear: If a child lives even for a single moment, that is enough for him to be admitted to Olam Haba. And a child who has never sinned will certainly arrive in Olam Haba in a state of absolute purity, like a malach.

Arson in Petach Tikvah

There were two incidents in Eretz Yisroel this past Shabbos that horrified all of us. One was the attempted arson at the Great Synagogue in Petach Tikvah. This shul, which is located on Rechov Chovevei Tzion, is an iconic landmark. In all likelihood, that is precisely the reason that it was targeted by vandals. The shul was miraculously spared from destruction when a mispallel arrived long before davening. The man had come to place a pile of leaflets on the weekly parsha in the shul, and although the doors were still locked, he detected the smoke and quickly broke into the building to extinguish the fire. The paroches was burned, but the fire was put out in time to prevent the Sifrei Torah from being destroyed.

The timing of the attack was quite suspicious: The shul recently underwent renovations, and a festive event was scheduled to be held soon to celebrate its refurbishment. Was the arsonist aware of that, or did he choose his target randomly? It is presumed that the perpetrator was a non-Jew, of which there are plenty in Eretz Yisroel, including many anti-Semites. May Hashem protect us.

The other source of anguish for all of us was the introduction of a Shabbos bus in Ramat Gan. Like his counterpart in Teveria, Mayor Carmel-Shama of Ramat Gan (who is a onetime MK from the Likud party and recently served as the Israeli ambassador to the European Union) decided to abrogate the status quo by introducing public transportation on Shabbos in the city. There seems to be very little logic to his decision. Who has any need for a bus in the wealthy city of Ramat Gan? How many residents of Ramat Gan do not own cars, and where could they possibly want to go? Indeed, the introduction of the bus turned out to be a flop. According to people who are familiar with the city, the only passengers on the bus were the mayor, his aides, a few members of the municipal council, and a handful of reporters. There was barely a single ordinary resident of the city who chose to make use of the new service. Nevertheless, that hardly serves to alleviate our community’s distress over this incident.

Ongoing Battle Over the Exclusion of Women

This week, reports surfaced of a letter written by two senior officials in the Ministry of Labor and Welfare. This letter, which was addressed to the employees of the ministry, was titled, “Updated Guidelines for Eradicating the Phenomenon of the Exclusion of Women.” This begged the question of what had triggered the decision to update those guidelines. One of the signatories identified herself as “the official in charge of maintaining equality, and legal advisor to the director-general regarding the advancement of women.”

The letter focused primarily on two rules. First, it warned its readers, “No signs, barriers, or any other means shall be used to direct people to seats or areas that are segregated by gender at any public event that is under the auspices of the ministry or funded by the ministry, whether directly or indirectly.” I don’t quite understand the reason for this to be forced on anyone, and I can’t help but raise a question: What if the people divide into separate groups of men and women on their own accord, without being directed by signs? Will they be forced to mingle?

The second provision stated, “It should be made certain, to the greatest extent possible, that women will be represented as speakers at events of this nature.” This is also a bizarre demand to make. First of all, what sort of events are considered “of this nature”? Furthermore, what if the women do not want to speak? Will they be forced to do so, even against their will? What about, for instance, an event dedicated to a discussion about gender segregation? Will these officials insist on finding a woman to speak at such an event? And what if she is actually in favor of segregating the genders? Will she still be permitted to speak, or will it be necessary to find someone else, who will echo the liberal absurdities that dominate modern thinking?

But there was a third provision, as well: “Participation of women in these events, whether as attendees or as speakers, must not be made contingent on the adherence to requirements of modesty with regard to their attire or anything else.” Now, what is the reason for this? And how is this any different from the Knesset itself, which requires visitors to comply with a dress code? The Knesset regulations clearly state, “Entry to the Knesset building is permitted only with appropriate, dignified attire. In keeping with the dress code that is maintained in the Knesset, visitors will not be permitted to enter the Knesset building in attire that is not respectful of the Knesset, including tank tops, pants that are not full-length (i.e., shorts or three-quarter-length pants), torn pants, short skirts or dresses, tracksuits, flip-flops, and the like.” Is that a discriminatory policy?