Meoras Hamachpeilah Closed to Jews on Tisha B’Av
On Tisha B’Av, I was one of the tens of thousands of Jews who visited the Kosel Hamaaravi. This year, Tisha B’Av coincided with some sort of Muslim holiday, and the police blocked Jews from visiting the Kosel for many hours, while the Arabs were permitted to pass. It was a stinging sight: Police and soldiers stood at checkpoints, denying Jews the right to pass while Arabs were allowed to move freely.
A similar travesty took place at Meoras Hamachpeilah. In fact, the police had announced on Friday that the site would be closed to Jews on Tisha B’Av, on account of a Muslim holiday that coincided with the day. It was a terrible disgrace!
And the story does not end there. Unfortunately, there are some yarmulke-wearing Jews who visit Har Habayis regularly, especially on holidays—including Tisha B’Av. This time, these people were prevented by the authorities from visiting Har Habayis since the site was flooded with Muslim visitors celebrating their own holiday. Now, I have no intention of condoning the practice of these Jews, who are in violation of the ruling of the gedolei Yisroel that prohibits any Jew from entering Har Habayis. Nevertheless, it was certainly an unpleasant feeling to see Jews barred from the site on account of the inflamed Palestinian rabble. It certainly would have been preferable for them to be deterred from visiting Har Habayis on account of the halachic proscription. Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Internal Security, came under fire from right-wing politicians for giving in to the Arabs and barring Jews from the mountain. Erdan argued that it was necessary to protect the well-being of the public, and that if Jews were permitted to enter Har Habayis at that time, the results could be disastrous.
Aryeh Deri, meanwhile, released his own statement, in which he lamented the fact that the police do not bar Jews from visiting Har Habayis throughout the year, which would save them from violating a prohibition punishable by kareis. Rav Yitzchak Yosef also publicly praised Erdan for backing the decision of the Yerushalayim division of the police force to prevent Jews from ascending to Har Habayis.
Separate Seating Scuttled by Supreme Court
The next development, which also occurred on Tisha B’Av, requires some introduction. This story began when the municipality of Afula organized a musical evening for the chareidi children of the city during the bein hazemanim vacation. During the summer months of July and August, every municipality arranges programs for local residents, and any local government with a modicum of decency will see to it that some programming is provided for the chareidi public as well. In Afula, the municipality worked together with chareidi askanim to organize a special event in a park in the city. The event was scheduled for Wednesday, the 13th of Av, and was advertised as a performance intended for entire families, with separate seating for men and women. One of the singers scheduled to be featured at the event was Motti Steinmetz.
All of this is very nice and, to be honest, it would be a mistake to view the event as a special favor to the chareidi community. The chareidim are full-fledged citizens of the country and are equally deserving of some sort of benefit from the government funding for cultural events; if anything, they were fully entitled to enjoy this program.
What went wrong? Well, the event caught the attention of some of the organizations promoting the madness of “inclusion” for women. In this case, it was the Israel Women’s Lobby that pounced on the opportunity to interfere. Do you remember that I wrote just last week that the furor over “women’s rights” has become utterly disproportionate and has reached the level of madness? Little did I know how prescient that comment was. In response to the event that was planned in Afula, the women’s lobby appealed to the courts, arguing that the separate seating at the event was harmful to women. The religious community has tried to explain over and over that separate seating is just as restrictive to men as it is to women, which means that any such policy isn’t discriminatory at all, and that it is the only way that we can participate in these events. Still, those remonstrations have always fallen on deaf ears.
Upon receiving the petition, the court in Nazareth asked for the municipality’s response and announced that it would render its decision on Sunday—yes, on Tisha B’Av. The religious community tried to ask for the hearing to be postponed to the following day, but that attempt was also unsuccessful. The judge decided to accept the petition, issuing an order that barred the municipality from holding the event with separate seating. It was to be permitted only if men and women were mixed, even if the entire event would be canceled in response to that demand, which is effectively an act of discrimination against the chareidi community.
The Afula municipality announced, understandably, that it had no choice but to follow the orders of the court. The mayor, who has no antipathy toward chareidim, added that he was doing so with great chagrin. But this should give you a taste of how far the Jewish state has descended.
Reactions of Outrage
Of course, Yair Lapid was quick to speak out in favor of the judge’s ruling, proclaiming that “this is not Iran.” The representatives of the chareidi community, meanwhile, reacted with outrage. Betzalel Smotrich, who is a government minister today and is ostensibly supposed to watch his tongue, could not help but castigate the court for being “obtuse.” He apologized for his choice of words, but he added that he could not find a more delicate way to phrase it. Meanwhile, Moshe Gafni reacted to Lapid’s statement by announcing, “Yair Lapid is an evil man who is not bothered by the fact that chareidi boys and girls will not have even a single event to attend this summer.” Strangely enough, Ron Kobi visited Afula to offer encouragement to the municipality, which made him even more of an enigma.
MK Yisroel Eichler issued a condemnation of the court’s decision: “The ruling released by the court in the middle of the fast of Tisha B’Av to prohibit an event with separate seating, which stems from a desire for modesty on the part of the good Jews of Afula, is appalling. It reminds all of us that we are still in golus among those who would destroy Yiddishkeit in our Holy Land. Once again, the judges have proven that they are enemies of freedom of religion and that they would deny a person the freedom to benefit from entertainment in a modest setting, in accordance with his democratic rights.”
The rest of the chareidi MKs did not take long to issue fierce reactions of their own. Some of them pointed out the injustice in the fact that the chareidi community’s tax money funds events in which they themselves cannot participate, and that when a single event was tailored to the needs of the community, the court struck it down. MK Michoel Malchieli also praised the mayor of Afula for his positive intentions.
Now, I hate to put a damper on their fervor, but as I pointed out in the past, the real problem lies in a memorandum that was commissioned by the previous Minister of Justice and was approved during the Lapid-Bennett government. That document contains specific guidelines for eliminating segregation of the genders, including the rule that men and women may not be segregated at any event that is not religious in nature and that receives government funding. Because of these official rules, the judge in Nazareth did not have the option of issuing a different ruling. I have also been told that the municipality’s attorneys effectively made it impossible for the judge to rule differently. If they had told him that there would be davening, a siyum, or any other religious content at the event, for instance, the judge would have been able to reject the petition. When they informed him that it was intended solely for entertainment, he had no choice but to abide by the existing guidelines.
With that in mind, you might find it easier to understand the unusually harsh response of a spokesman for the Israeli court system to the verbal attacks that poured forth in response to the ruling: “Following a ruling that was issued today on the subject of a performance that was supposed to be held in a municipal park in Afula, the court system and the judge in the District Court in Nazareth have been subjected to blistering invective, which represents a new low in the combative rhetoric that has, unfortunately, been increasingly directed at the official institutions in this country. A reading of the verdict will reveal that it was issued with the agreement of all the parties to the petition, including the municipality of Afula, since there was no dispute among the parties regarding the ban on segregation of men and women in the public sphere based on the laws of Israel, and in accordance with the decisions made in this regard by the Israeli government.”
This lends further credence to my contention of last week: The only way to fight the memorandum that prohibits segregating men and women, which is certainly an outrageous and ridiculous document, is through the legislative process. The only viable solution is to repeal the guidelines issued by the government itself.
Even the Knesset Has a Dress Code
Perhaps the memorandum itself deserves further scrutiny. The third government under Binyomin Netanyahu, which is known as the Lapid-Bennett government, was formed in March 2013, but the direction in which it was headed was clear immediately after the election for the 19th Knesset. Tzipi Livni, who headed the Hatnuah party, immediately joined forces with Netanyahu. Against the backdrop of hostility toward the chareidi community, a report on “exclusion of woman in the public sphere,” which became the root of the evil that still plagues us, was submitted to the attorney general.
The report was submitted on 25 Adar 5773, when the religious community was powerless to do anything about it. But the commission that wrote the report was first established on 10 Teves 5772/January 5, 2012, in response to a multitude of reports received by the attorney general about episodes of discrimination against women and exclusion of women from the public sphere, which were often accompanied by verbal or physical violence. A professional team was assembled and tasked with determining the legal ramifications of these phenomena and formulating recommendations for dealing with them. The members of the team were Sarit Dana, Avi Licht, Raz Nezri, Yehoshua Lemberger, Eli Abarbanel, Osnat Mandel, and Eyal Zandberg. There wasn’t a single member of the committee who had the slightest understanding of the religious value of tznius or the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit.
Anyone with the slightest bit of sense should have foreseen the monstrous results of this initiative. It is quite a shame that the measure wasn’t torpedoed in its infancy. The chareidim were part of the government at that time and should have been able to stop the initiative in its tracks; it seems that they were simply inattentive to the matter. Anyone who read the committee’s recommendations certainly understood that the report signaled disaster.
The chareidim screamed, railed, and protested that segregation of men and women is not discriminatory, that it separates each gender from the other and does not diminish either of them. Men are “excluded” just as much as women are, they tried to explain, and furthermore, both genders are willing participants in the segregation. It should have been understood that religious men and women have the right to accept voluntary segregation, but in the modern era, that right has been sacrificed on the altar of enlightenment. I myself predicted at the time that the report represented the beginning of a slippery slope. I ridiculed it for its insistence on banning signs that would direct men and women to separate areas, which the memorandum insisted would have to be dealt with “immediately and with determination.” I raised a pointed question: What would happen if the religious community still separated itself into separate groups of men and women, without the benefit of signs calling for that segregation? Would a law be passed that required the genders to mingle?
In recent times, this madness has reached new heights of lunacy. Haaretz reported hysterically that the Minister of Education had attended a conference on attention deficiencies that was held with separate seating for men and women. Another headline announced that the separate defensive driving courses for men and women are illegal; secular activists insist that the groups must be mixed. Reform women demanded that the municipality of Cholon cancel the separate hours for men and women at the municipal Torah library. The Ministry of Welfare released a set of absurd guidelines to prevent discrimination: “No signs, partitions, or other means shall be used to direct the public to separate seating or participation in a public event that is under the auspices of the ministry or funded by the ministry, either directly or indirectly…. Women must be represented as speakers at such events…. The participation of women in these events, whether as participants or as speakers, must not be made contingent on the demands of modesty with regard to attire or in any other respect.” This has reached the realm of the absurd: Should a woman be forced to speak if she doesn’t wish to? Should men and women be forced to sit together against their will? What if they voluntarily sit in separate areas, even without the benefit of signs directing them? Will the police then intervene to force them to mingle? Furthermore, even in the Knesset, there is a mandatory dress code that prohibits tank tops, cropped shirts, shorts, and the like. Why do these activists accept that, while they rail against any requirements of modesty that stem from religious principles?
Recently, there has been a demand for chareidi newspapers to feature pictures of women. It will not be long before these agitators prohibit separate seating at weddings. And, of course, there was the court ruling in Nazareth this week. The headlong race down the slippery slope shows no sign of abating.
Hostility Toward Shuls in Beit Shemesh and Arad
The court case in Nazareth was not the only incident this week that showcased the unfriendly face of the Israeli court system. A court in Tel Aviv also showed disdain for the religious community’s appeal to prevent the Ramat Gan municipality from operating public transportation on Shabbos. That appeal was submitted by a number of residents of Ramat Gan, who were joined by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein of Bnei Brak and Rav Yaakov Ariel, the rov of Ramat Gan. Without question, it was a highly unusual petition. The court discussed the matter on Friday and refused to issue even a temporary injunction for the Shabbos bus to cease operating; instead, the matter was postponed for another week.
Even worse, the Tel Aviv municipality decided to follow in the footsteps of the neighboring city of Ramat Gan by launching its own public transportation initiative on Shabbos. We knew all along that the phenomenon would likely spread from city to city (and, in fact, Ramat Gan itself was probably following the example of Teveria), but that does not make the situation any less distressing.
Meanwhile, two shuls in Israel received the equivalent of a slap in the face from the government this week. One incident took place in Beit Shemesh, where a shul was razed by bulldozers as the police stood guard. Some have blamed the incident on the municipal government and the mayor of Beit Shemesh, Dr. Aliza Bloch. The mayor claims that the demolition has no connection to her, and that it was the decision of the Israel Lands Authority, which owns the plot of land on which the shul was illegally built.
In Arad as well, a shul of Gerrer chassidim, which was operating in a public bomb shelter, was evicted by order of the municipality. The mispallelim claim that there was no reason for the eviction, and that the shelter actually benefited from their presence, since they kept it in habitable condition. They accused the municipality of acting out of antipathy toward religion. This past Shabbos, thousands of residents of Arad gathered in the street outside the shul to daven, thereby expressing their protest against the municipality’s actions.
And this litany of distressing incidents does not end there. Last Wednesday, the mispallelim at Heichal Yaakov, the largest shul in the city of Bat Yam, were appalled to discover that hateful graffiti had been scrawled on the walls of the shul. Once again, anti-Semitism had reared its ugly head.
Egged Violates Shabbos
One of my sons informed me this week that on each of the past two Shabbosos, when he walked to Givat Shaul before Minchah, he observed an intercity bus filled with passengers arriving in Yerushalayim, clearly having departed from its place of origin in the middle of the Shabbos day.
I investigated the matter and discovered that the bus in question was the 947 bus, which is operated by Egged and runs from Haifa to Yerushalayim. It follows a winding route that takes it from the Central Bus Station in Haifa to the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim via a large number of stops en route, and the bus picks up passengers at each of its stops. It runs throughout the week, from 5:50 a.m. until 9 p.m. on an ordinary day. The first bus on “motzoei Shabbos” is scheduled to depart at 5:20 p.m. which is the middle of the Shabbos day at this time of year. It is no wonder, then, that the bus arrived in Yerushalayim packed with passengers in time for Minchah on Shabbos afternoon.
In Haifa, rampant Shabbos desecration that occurs without the slightest protest is the status quo. Apparently, the Egged bus company has decided that the point of origin of a bus determines its status with respect to Shabbos, and that if a bus originates in Haifa, it is permitted to pick up passengers at all of its other stops along the way.
A Country Plunged into Mourning
This week, we were all horrified by the murder of Dvir Sorek Hy”d, a young man from the settlement of Ofra who was widely praised after his death for his exquisite character. Dvir’s father made a powerful statement in his eulogy: “My son always had light in his eyes, and he was killed by people with nothing but murder in their own eyes.”
Dvir’s murder was the topic of extensive discussion in the media this past week, as the entire country was plunged into mourning over his death. The powerful impact of the tragedy may have something to do with the fact that it has been a long time since a similar incident occurred, or it might be due to the powerful impression made by Dvir’s noble countenance in the picture that appeared in newspapers throughout the country. It might also have some connection to his special family, or perhaps to the fact that his grandfather was himself murdered by terrorists around the time of Dvir’s birth.
Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered the security forces to make every possible effort to capture Dvir’s murderers as quickly as possible. Indeed, they rose to the challenge. The two murderers were ultimately apprehended in their homes. The military presence was increased in the area during the search, out of fear that the same terror cell would attempt to carry out other terror attacks. It was also not known if Dvir’s murder was the product of a kidnapping attempt gone wrong, or if their intention all along had been to murder him.
There was also another attempted terror attack, which was thwarted before it could be carried out. This took place when a group of Hamas terrorists approached the security fence in southern Gaza. The terrorists were spotted by an IDF lookout, but instead of attacking them, the army set a trap for them. All four terrorists were liquidated. Based on the weapons they were carrying, it was clear that they had planned to perpetrate an act of mass murder. On Tuesday evening, meanwhile, the media was permitted to report that the Shin Bet had prevented a major terror attack that had been planned for Yerushalayim, after it discovered explosive materials stockpiled in Chevron. The laboratory where the explosives were manufactured was also located. It is no secret that these things are generally revealed by Arab informants; the Shin Bet has a network of hundreds of collaborators embedded within Arab society. But whatever the case may be, it shows that we must constantly turn to Hashem to protect us.
Netanyahu: There Will Be No Unity Government
Now let us turn our attention to the upcoming elections. It isn’t every day that the prime minister writes a personal opinion column in a newspaper. In fact, it is something that doesn’t happen every month, or even every year. But last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu published a column—in Yisroel HaYom, of course. This column was his response to the calls for a unity government to be established.
“My commitment is clear: to establish a strong, right-wing government after the elections that will continue to lead the State of Israel to unprecedented accomplishments and to preserve the security of the citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote. “That is my pledge to the Likud voters. There will be no unity government. There is only one choice facing the citizens of Israel in the upcoming elections: to decide who the next prime minister of the State of Israel will be. Will there be a weak, inexperienced left-wing government headed by Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, or a strong right-wing government headed by the Likud under my leadership? In order to establish a right-wing government, the voters in the nationalist camp must wake up and rid themselves of their indifference. Avigdor Lieberman announced in an interview with Galei Tzahal last Sunday that he plans to recommend Benny Gantz for the position of prime minister. That fact alone should be enough for everyone to understand that they must vote for the Likud. We need the Likud to be the largest party, in order to ensure that the task of forming the government will be given to us. We must not allow Lieberman the possibility of leading us to a new left-wing government under Lapid and Gantz.
“We must not repeat the mistake of the last elections, when the right-wing voters lost seven mandates to parties that did not cross the threshold. We must not endanger the right-wing government; therefore, we are all obligated to vote Likud. Anyone who does not vote Likud is effectively voting to topple the right-wing government and to establish a left-wing regime headed by Lapid and Gantz. Anyone who wants a strong right-wing government, who does not want a left-wing government under Gantz and Lapid, must vote for Likud and only Likud. Only a large and strong Likud will establish a right-wing government that will protect the Land of Israel, strengthen the State of Israel, and guarantee that we will continue turning Israel into a world power.”
An Encounter with the Belzer Rebbe
There is a certain fellow I know who spends most of his day in kollel and works as a construction engineer during the remainder of his time. Once, he was able to use his connections and resourcefulness for the benefit of one of the magnificent institutions of the chassidus of Belz. The chassidim told him to name his price, and he replied, “A meeting with the Rebbe!”
The chassidim arranged for him to visit the Belzer Rebbe in Telz Stone. “Spending time in the presence of this great man was an incomparable experience,” he related to me. “I wasn’t there for very long, but every second of that visit will remain etched into my memory.” He refused to divulge most of what had happened during his encounter with the Rebbe, but there was one detail that he agreed to share. “I asked the Rebbe why there are so many difficulties involved in construction in Eretz Yisroel, and especially in Yerushalayim. The entire process is fraught with hardships and hurdles—the acquisition of the land, the issuance of permits, and the actual construction itself—and there are often subsequent dinei Torah and all sorts of unexpected complications. As an engineer, I can bear witness to this.
“The Rebbe closed his eyes,” the engineer related, “and he thought for a moment. Then he said, in his incredibly quiet voice, ‘It’s because the Shechinah doesn’t have a home….’”
Expecting an Impasse Again
In terms of its content, the prime minister’s response was eminently predictable. This, after all, is the Likud’s standard position—that there will be no unity government, and that the Likud itself must lead the country. But the fact that he published it as an article under his own name, and expressed his stance as an unequivocal commitment, served to raise the bar. Until now, everyone knew that the Likud was opposed to a unity government, but there was still a general sense that it was a possibility, since neither the right nor the left was expected to assemble a majority. How could Netanyahu promise not to form a unity government? What will happen if the right-wing bloc indeed fails to assemble 61 mandates?
Netanyahu’s avowed refusal to form a unity government, coupled with Lieberman’s promise to recommend the candidate for prime minister who will pledge to form a unity government, seems poised to thrust the entire political system into an impasse. If Netanyahu refuses to form a unity government and Lieberman insists on one, that can only mean that President Rivlin will assign Benny Gantz to assemble the next coalition. That is not to say that Gantz actually has a realistic change of putting together a coalition (that is, unless the chareidim join him, which they certainly will not do as long as he remains allied with Lapid—and we will have to see if Gantz will indeed divorce himself from Lapid when he is put to the test), but the real question is what this will mean for Netanyahu. Will he simply sit on the sidelines and allow Gantz to try to form a government without him? It is certainly a complicated situation.
At this moment, the polls seem to show that the right-wing bloc will not receive 61 mandates. If a miracle happens and they do manage to reach that critical number, then a government will be formed that consists of the Likud, the political right, and the chareidim, without Avigdor Lieberman. If that does not happen, then we will be back to the same impasse that paralyzed the government this time. In all likelihood, that situation will force Blue and White and the Likud party to establish a unity government, and the question will then be which of the other parties will be included in that regime. It could be the chareidim, but it could also be Lieberman, chas v’sholom, which would mean that the chareidim will be excluded from the government.
There are other possible scenarios, as well. Each of them sounds bizarre, but in politics, nothing is impossible. One possibility is that a government will be formed that consists of an alliance between the left, the center, and the chareidim. This would mean that Blue and White would join with Lieberman, the chareidim, the Labor party, and the Democratic Camp (the merger of Meretz and Barak). A government of that general composition existed in the past, although now it is much less likely, due to the controversy over the draft law. On the other hand, the left has often made the most far-reaching concessions on religious issues when it was necessary for it to gain power, so perhaps the draft law will not pose an obstacle to such a government, after all.
Another viable scenario is a government consisting of the Likud, Lieberman, the chareidim, and the right. Even though Lieberman has loudly proclaimed that he will not join the chareidim and the political right in a government, any political decision can be changed if the correct price is paid. For instance, Lieberman could be offered a place in a rotation for the position of prime minister. Could he really turn down such an offer?
Yet another feasible scenario would involve a government consisting of the Likud, the political right, the chareidim, and the Labor party. Perhaps I will have an opportunity soon to explain all of these scenarios in detail, and to explore which of them has the greatest likelihood of coming to fruition.
Petitions Against Otzma and Lapid
On Wednesday (the day this newspaper is published), the Central Elections Committee, headed by Justice Chanan Meltzer, will review petitions that were filed to disqualify two parties from running in the election. One of those petitions is against Otzma Yehudit, the party headed by Itamar Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel. This was the most predictable development possible. There are always efforts being made to disqualify any candidates who are identified with Rav Meir Kahane, based on the fact that the Supreme Court ruled during his lifetime that Rabbi Kahane himself was a racist and in violation of the law. In the previous election, the Supreme Court disqualified Michael Ben-Ari, who was supposed to be a member of the United Right. After Ben-Ari was disqualified, Itamar Ben-Gvir was selected to take his place. Ben-Gvir and his party are now running alone, and the left is attempting to have them invalidated altogether. In all likelihood, though, their efforts will not succeed.
At the same time, petitions have also been filed against Yair Lapid, arguing that he is also a racist. These claims are based on the statements that he has made over the course of the election campaign. Indeed, even though his allies in the Blue and White party—Benny Gantz and Moshe Yaalon, especially the latter—have pleaded with Lapid to cease his anti-religious rhetoric, he remains perpetually reminiscent of the story of the mouse in Rav Yonason Eibeschutz’s snuffbox. If you recall, in that story, the cat was able to act civilized until it spotted a mouse, at which point its restraint disappeared completely. Lapid, like that cat, has been unable to resist his natural impulses and has made a number of statements that have infuriated many people in this country. It will be interesting to see how the committee reacts to the petition against him. Bli neder, I plan to be there so that I can report to you on the proceedings.
Four Ministers under Suspicion
“Dog bites man” is never considered much of a news story; therefore, I did not fall off my chair in the ENT ward in Hadassah Hospital last Tuesday afternoon, when I heard a newscaster announce that the police have recommended indicting Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman. I would have been surprised only if the opposite had happened—if the police had recommended not indicting him, or had not made any recommendations at all. After all, the main objective of the police is to cause harm. They are not interested in truth or peace; their entire goal is to prosecute anyone they can accuse of a crime. The archives of the Police Internal Investigations Department, as well as the archives of every newspaper in the country, are filled with stories of police officers doing everything in their power to incriminate a potential defendant, including hiding facts that would have supported the defendants’ versions of their stories. Think about it: Have you ever seen a police officer admitting that a suspect was wrongly accused?
I suspect that the police force’s persecution of Yaakov Litzman, like the Supreme Court’s absurd decision in the case of Ron Kobi, will have a positive impact on the chareidi parties on Election Day. This revelation, coming at this time, can only lead countless voters to flock to the voting booths to vote for UTJ. But even if this is true, it is utterly criminal for the police to recommend an indictment on the eve of an election. It is a completely improper act of meddling in the election.
The chareidi community in Israel has thrown its support behind Litzman, and for good reason: Litzman himself is the paragon of a public servant who comes to the aid of those in need. It is a well-known fact that Yaakov Litzman assists everyone who requests his help, regardless of who they are. In the end of the day, though, his virtuous character may not be of any benefit to him in the courtroom. I can attest to that from personal experience: I myself was once prosecuted for helping a general in the army whose job was to help yeshiva bochurim who had become entangled in legal difficulties involving the army. This is a long story, and I have probably told part of it in these pages in the past. In any event, I argued to the court that I helped everyone who requested my aid, not just the general. The judge opined that a single inappropriate action (that is, an action that he considered improper) made all of my altruistic actions worthless, and I was convicted. Today, Yaakov Litzman will have to do more than claim that he, too, helped everyone in need. He will have to prove that there was nothing wrong with offering his aid to a restaurant located near his home, or to a hotel in the south, or to various individuals—even though all of his efforts stemmed from a genuine, sincere desire to assist every person in need.
Let me tell you a story: The first time I returned to the Knesset after my conviction, I entered the Knesset members’ cafeteria and was immediately offered encouragement and emotional support by Dan Meridor, the Justice Minister at the time. In front of everyone in the room, Meridor greeted me and encouraged me. We spoke about my trial, and then he uttered a single sentence that I will never forget: “If you acted as I do, you would never have been indicted!”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“I simply never help anyone who asks me for assistance!” Meridor replied.
As I mentioned, on Tuesday afternoon, when the news of the police recommendations arrived, I was in Hadassah Hospital. I was visiting a distinguished rosh yeshiva who had just emerged from a successful surgery performed by the wonderful Dr. Jeffrey Weinberger. Before long, we were joined by Rav Yaakov “Yankele” Zelushinsky, who announced upon entering the room, “Don’t ask who was in the elevator along with me!”
Naturally, we took the bait. “Who was it?” I asked.
“It was Litzman. He got out on the sixth floor. The radio is reporting that he is facing an indictment, and he is continuing his usual routine of chessed,” Rav Zelushinsky replied.
In an unusual step, the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel announced its support for Litzman in the wake of the police recommendations. The announcement began with a condemnation of the steady increase in chillul Shabbos, and then went on to express support for the embattled deputy minister. That is almost unheard of.
Of course, Litzman’s legal woes have also been coopted as another political weapon against Netanyahu. The opposition was quick to point out that there are now four ministers in the government who are currently facing potential prosecution. First and foremost is Netanyahu himself, followed by Minister Chaim Katz, who is the subject of another potential indictment recommended by the police this week. The third is Aryeh Deri, who has been investigated for some sort of tax issue, and the fourth is Litzman.
Frustration at the Border
Here is a story that happened this week, in which I played a role: An American traveled abroad from Israel three weeks ago with the intent of returning a week later. His return flight to Israel had a stopover in Egypt and he decided to expedite the process of returning home by crossing the border at Taba. When he arrived, the officials did not permit him to enter the country, since he did not have a visa. They insisted that he return to America (or to Cairo) and have a visa issued at the Israeli consulate there.
“But I’m Jewish!” the yungerman protested. “And I am a student in a kollel!”
“True,” the officials confirmed. “But our records show that on your second-to-last visit to Israel, you were asked to bring proof of your Jewishness. You were allowed to enter the country on a tourist visa, and you promised to supply the necessary documents, but you didn’t do it.” With that, he was told to return to America from Egypt, or at least to travel to the Israeli embassy in Cairo. Either way, the trip would have been a major ordeal and expense for an English-speaking yungerman.
Lacking much of an alternative, this fellow took a hotel room near the border and called someone who could help him (in other words, me), who proceeded to contact Ruvi Shemesh, the aide to the Minister of the Interior. The yungerman returned to the border crossing at Taba the next morning and was permitted to enter Israel on a tourist visa for a period of one week, with the expectation that he would provide proof of his Jewishness within the week.
The point of this story is that when the Interior Minister is sympathetic, it is possible to offer assistance to thousands of Jews. Last week, Aryeh Deri and his aide, Ruvi Shemesh, met with the president of Ukraine and the country’s interior minister for the purpose of putting an end to the harassment of Jewish travelers arriving in Kiev and Odessa. That meeting was widely publicized, but many people are not aware of the assistance that Deri and his office have provided to hundreds, if not thousands, of people in distress on an individual level.