My Take on the News

Incessant Attempts to Murder Jews

Meanwhile, the terrorists have not been idle. It may have to do with the onset of bein hazemanim or the recent Muslim holidays, but the specter of terrorism seems to have been looming large this past week, following the murder of Dvir Sorek Hy”d. First of all, there was a barrage of missiles from Gaza last weekend. On Friday night and on motzoei Shabbos, sirens were repeatedly heard in the city of Sderot and throughout the area known as the Gaza envelope. It isn’t clear exactly how many rockets were fired, but there were three barrages over the course of Shabbos. The Iron Dome intercepted some of the projectiles, while others fell within Israeli territory. Some people suffered from hysteria or were injured in the course of running for shelter, and some of them were admitted to Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon.

There was also an attempt made by terrorists from Gaza to infiltrate Israel while the army was distracted by the incoming rockets. Five terrorists were liquidated by Israeli soldiers, while several others managed to escape back to Gaza. In another incident, a group of Arabs attempted to abduct a soldier at the Har Keren junction in the south. They offered the soldier a ride, and when he declined, they emerged from their car and attempted to force him into it. The soldier threatened them with his weapon while a bystander came to his aid, and he managed to escape their clutches; however, the terrorists themselves evaded capture.

At 6:00 last Thursday night, two terrorists—if that is the correct term for two boys, one 14 years old and the other 16, who planned to commit murder in spite of their young age—attempted to stab an Israeli police officer on Har Habayis. The two youths suddenly ran into an area where a group of police officers were standing, and they began stabbing one of the officers. Footage from the scene shows the victim attempting to fight back and then falling on the floor. It is somewhat strange that a trained policeman could be taken by surprise in that way. In any event, his alert colleagues immediately shot the two youths. One was killed on the spot, while the other was taken to Shaare Zedek.

Finally, there was a car ramming attack on Friday afternoon, when a terrorist from Beis Lechem drove his vehicle into two boys who were standing at a bus stop near the town of Elazar in Gush Etzion. The terrorist drove up in a stolen car bearing Israeli license plates and struck two victims, a brother and sister named Nachum (age 17) and Noam (age 19). The teenaged victims were transported to Shaare Zedek, where the doctors are still fighting to save Nachum’s life. The terrorist was shot when he tried to escape from his car, which overturned after the attack.

Some of these murderers claim they were retaliating for the events on Har Habayis on Tisha B’Av. That isn’t to say that they feel a need for a pretext to slaughter Jews. Nevertheless, it is food for thought.

Do Not Sit Cross-Legged at the Kosel

The disturbances on Har Habayis on Tisha B’Av raised the hackles of many Jewish people who have a habit of visiting the site, although they do so with complete disregard for the prohibition of kareis entailed in venturing there and for the status of rodfim that they incur. While the right was outraged by the government’s “surrender” to the Arabs, certain religious authorities actually called for the gates of Har Habayis to be locked to Jews, thus saving them from committing a serious transgression. One of the individuals who made that call was Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Rishon Letzion.

There may have been some people in the country who were surprised by his fierce reaction, but the members of the Knesset were not among them. At the inauguration of the 21st Knesset, they received copies of the volume of Yalkut Yosef that discusses the kedushah of the Kosel in the context of the laws of Tisha B’Av. Betzalel Zini, the chairman of the Joint Council for the Protection of the Sanctity of the Kosel, was responsible for the distribution of the sefer, which was accompanied by a letter warning them of the renewed efforts that were being made to advance the Kosel agreement that had previously been frozen by the government. He claimed that Ronen Peretz, who was assigned by the prime minister to take responsibility for the matter, had admitted that the government had been pursuing the agreement as well. There has been no evidence of these renewed efforts since that time, although it is possible that the dissolution of the Knesset caused them to be temporarily suspended. Zini’s letter referred the MKs to the piskei halacha concerning the kedushah of the Kosel and to what was written about the Reform movement in Yalkut Yosef. The Rishon Letzion writes strongly against them, citing some harsh comments that were made by his father, Rav Ovadiah zt”l.

I am not acquainted with the Joint Council for the Protection of the Sanctity of the Kosel; I do not know who they are or where they are located. But if they are in favor of visiting Har Habayis, then they will not be pleased to read Rav Yitzchak Yosef’s comments on the subject in the very same kutnres: “Nowadays, there is a severe prohibition to enter Har Habayis, which encompasses the entire area of the Heichal, the Azaros, and the Cheil, since we are all tamei meis, and a person who enters the Beis Hamikdash in a state of tumah is liable to kareis.” In addition to halachic rulings, the Yalkut Yosef also contains a collection of letters written by Rav Yitzchak on the issues discussed in the sefer. In this case, the sefer includes two letters penned by Rav Yitzchak to various rabbonim, chief among them Rav Micha Halevi, who objected to his ruling and claimed that there are other rabbonim who permit visiting Har Habayis and whose opinions the Rishon Letzion belittled. (Rav Yitzchak refers to them as “rabbonim on a lower level.”) To those who questioned his harsh approach, Rav Yitzchak responded with even greater vehemence.

There were some reporters who used to make a habit of listening to Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s drashos and waiting to “catch” him making a particularly harsh statement, over which they would raise a hue and cry. If I were one of those reporters, I would find plenty of fodder in this kuntres. For instance, Rav Yitzchak writes that if a soldier wishes to daven at the Kosel, it is proper for him to conceal his weapon beneath his clothes so that it will not be visible. One can only imagine the uproar this would cause if the secular Israeli media found out about it. But an added parenthetical comment states that the same applies in a shul. This is based on the Gemara’s ruling that one may not entire a beis medrash carrying weapons (Sanhedrin 82a), since tefillah lengthens a person’s life while a sword causes it to become shortened.

This volume of Yalkut Yosef makes for a fascinating read. Among its noteworthy piskei halacha are the ruling that one should not sit cross-legged at the Kosel. Regarding whether one may place a note between the stones of the Kosel, the Rishon Letzion cites a number of poskim who rule that it is prohibited, including the Chazon Ish, the Steipler, and the Brisker Rov, but he concludes that it is permitted, pointing out that “many of the poskim permitted not only touching the Kosel but also placing one’s hand into the holes in the Kosel.” Rav Yitzchak does not identify the authorities who ruled leniently, leaving us room to speculate as to why he did not concur with the position of the Chazon Ish and the Steipler.

Ron Kobi Doesn’t Learn His Lesson

In the end, Mayor Ron Kobi of Teveria lost in his appeal to the Supreme Court. He had petitioned the court against the Minister of the Interior, who decided, following the court’s recommendation after its first discussion, to postpone Kobi’s hearing, but who had also reinstated the members of the Teveria city council. Kobi was furious and demanded that the court overrule Deri, preventing the council members from returning to their positions. His motivation was abundantly clear: If the city council members return, then he will remain supported by only a minority of the council, and he will continue failing to pass his budget.

It seems, however, that the Supreme Court has grown irritated by Kobi, especially after the judges came under a barrage of criticism from every direction following their last decision in his favor. This time, they advised him to withdraw his petition, and he did so. As Moshe Arbel, the Knesset member and legal expert, commented when I interviewed him recently, Kobi may be evil but he is not a fool.

Of course, Kobi was quick to exploit the brouhaha in Afula surrounding the Motti Steinmetz concert (see below). He showed up in Afula, where a huge crowd of people shouted disparaging comments at him until the police were forced to escort him from the scene under guard. The problem was that Kobi actually enjoyed being bombarded with insults. This week, he made a campaign visit to Netanya, where he was met by dozens of secular residents shouting, “Get out of here, chareidi hater!” His facial expression showed that Kobi had no idea what had brought this upon him, but that did not prevent him from publicizing a video of the incident. In the final analysis, he is probably not completely sane.

The incident in Afula took place last Wednesday, and Motti Steinmetz performed the next day, on Thursday, at the Kineret hotel in Teveria. This performance was sponsored by the hotel for its guests, but it was held in a rented hall adjacent to the hotel. Once again, Ron Kobi appeared at the performance and tried to score publicity points at the expense of the chareidi public. He “warned” the managements of the hall and the hotel not to organize separate seating for men and women. No one paid any attention to his threats, though, since it was a private event that was not funded by any official government body. Kobi tried to exert pressure on the organizers, but ultimately discovered that there was nothing he could do about the situation.

One more point: A week or two ago, I commented that the phenomenon of Shabbos desecration perpetrated by various municipalities has virtually become a contagious disease. After Teveria and Tel Aviv, it was Ramat Gan’s turn, and the epidemic did not end there. The city of Ariel is currently planning to organize a Shabbos bus to the beach in Tel Aviv. It is a terribly sad situation.

“What Will I Gain from It?”

One of the speakers at the panel, an affable and sharp-witted young man, related the following:

“Rav Uri Zohar, who spends virtually the entire day immersed in Torah learning in his home, is involved in one other thing as well. Actually, it is two things. Throughout the year, he takes time to offer encouragement and chizuk to youths who have left the fold, whether they are boys or girls. His other pursuit, which is mainly during the summer months, is the effort to arrange for boys to be enrolled in Talmudei Torah and yeshivos and for girls to be admitted to religious seminaries for the coming year. He has been involved in this cause for many years.

“Once, Rav Uri Zohar called a rosh yeshiva and asked him to admit a bochur to his yeshiva. The boy was from a family of baalei teshuvah and was Sephardic, but he was highly gifted, endowed with yiras Shomayim and wonderful middos, and was intensely motivated. In short, he was an ideal talmid. The rosh yeshiva tried to wriggle out of the situation, but Rav Uri Zohar pressured him intensely, pointing out that the yeshiva owed him a debt of gratitude. Finally, the rosh yeshiva said to him, ‘Rav Uri, what will I get from this?’

“‘Olam Haba,’ Rav Uri replied.

“And the rosh yeshiva said, ‘Come on, Rav Uri, I am asking you a serious question!”

Rav Uri Zohar, the young speaker related, was shocked by that response. And I recalled having heard the same story directly from Rav Uri himself. When he recounted this conversation, he began to shed tears!

Deadlock Still Looms Ahead

The elections are less than a month away, and the outlook remains the same for the right- and left-wing blocs respectively. The polls have shown some fluctuations in the expected showing of each party, but the overall situation has remained unchanged. The right is expected to receive 56 or 57 mandates, with the left-wing bloc coming in with 54 or 55. The remaining eight mandates, as you may have guessed, are expected to be won by Avigdor Lieberman, who has announced that the only government he will join is a national unity government. And that means that we will find ourselves in the same deadlock that paralyzed the government after the previous election.

There has already been talk of going to a third round of elections, but that would accomplish nothing. President Rivlin says that if there is a deadlock, he will not task Netanyahu or Gantz with forming the next government; instead, someone else in the Likud will be charged with assembling a coalition. You may recall that Netanyahu suspected in the past that there was a conspiracy to transfer his position to Gideon Saar. At the time, everyone mocked him for his paranoid speculation. Rivlin’s announcement, however, indicates that it may not have been mere paranoia, after all. Or as someone once said, “The fact that I am paranoid doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t out to get me.”

Most of the polls have resulted in more or less the same forecast for the outcome of the election: The Likud will receive more mandates than Blue and White, and the National Religious Party, which joined forces with Bennett and Shaked, is expected to grow somewhat, ending up with eleven mandates. The Joint Arab List is expected to make a similar accomplishment. Next is Yisroel Beiteinu, Lieberman’s party, which is projected to win nine or ten mandates, and then UTJ and Shas, each of which is shown by most polls receiving eight seats. The Labor party, which has allied itself with Orly Levi’s Gesher party, and the Democratic Camp, which is the fusion of Ehud Barak’s party and Meretz, are each expected to receive seven mandates. Also on the playing field are Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party and Otzma Yehudit, the party headed by Ben-Gvir and Baruch Marzel, as well as Yeud, the nationalist chareidi party. None of these three parties are not expected to cross the electoral threshold, and it is quite possible that they will actually cause the right to lose tens of thousands of votes.

The baffling phenomenon of Lieberman’s sharp increase in popularity, with his party rising to nine or ten seats in the current polls after it barely crossed the electoral threshold in the previous election, certainly demands explanation. If this pattern does not change, I will devote some discussion to it next week, bli neder. But for the time being, all the signs seem to show that we are headed directly for the same impasse once again.

Madness at the Separate Event in Afula

Over the past couple of weeks, I have written about the ongoing madness concerning the segregation of men and women at public events in Israel. Last Wednesday, the singer Motti Steinmentz was scheduled to perform at a public park in Afula. This was one of a series of cultural events sponsored by the Afula municipality; about 300 events were designated for the secular public, and only one was intended for the chareidi community. Naturally, that meant that men and women would be seated separately.

The Israel Women’s Lobby, which has been fighting against religion, appealed to the court in Nazareth against the event. The court scheduled its discussion for Tisha B’Av. The representatives of the city who appeared in court said they believe that the segregation was illegal. The judge therefore announced that he was banning segregation of men and women at the event. MK Moshe Arbel of the Shas party, who is a legal expert and especially well-acquainted with the issue of gender segregation, appealed the court’s decision, and a different judge—this one an Arab—overturned the previous decision and suggested a compromise, whereby there would be separate sections for men and women as well as an area for mixed seating. The Women’s Lobby refused to accept this, and the judge therefore ruled that the event should be held as planned, with men and women seated separately. The Arab judge asserted that the chareidi public also has a right to live.

The next step of the feminist group was to appeal to the Supreme Court, and Moshe Arbel hurried to defend the decision there, as well. As the performance was already underway, the judges of the Supreme Court overturned the Arab judge’s verdict for a procedural reason. In order to challenge the previous verdict of the court, they explained, Arbel should have appealed to the Supreme Court itself. The judges did not actually address the law itself, nor did they discuss the fundamental question of whether an event with separate seating for men and women may be arranged for the chareidi community in spite of the laws of equality, considering that the community itself desires segregation. They also noted that the situation in Afula was already a fait accompli, since the performance was already taking place, and they merely wanted to point out the procedural error.

It seems that our country is in the midst of a cultural war. An event with separate seating for men and women is currently being planned in Haifa, where Mordechai Ben David Werdyger and Motti (Yisroel Boruch Mordechai) Steinmetz are expected to perform. The feminist organization has already announced its intention to oppose the event, and Avigdor Lieberman has also declared that he will petition the court to stop any such event. We are living in difficult times!

The Teshuvah Movement Is Still in Full Swing

On Monday, I attended a lecture delivered in Netanya by Rav Zamir Cohen, the head of the Hidabroot organization. The auditorium where he spoke was located in a Bnei Akiva school or something of that nature, whose spacious, sprawling campus is something our community can only envy. The chareidi community’s schools and yeshivos are housed in cramped, dilapidated buildings, yet somehow, the chareidim are still frequently accused of wringing money out of the government.

When I visited the campus, it had been rented by Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu for a four-day camp program. The organizers toiled to come up with enjoyable programming that would entertain and enrich the talmidim of the yeshiva. The morning hours were dedicated to learning, while the afternoon and evening featured an assortment of different events, including a series of panel discussions on the subject of kiruv. Rav Itamar Zohar enthralled the hundreds of bochurim with his own life story, including the year when he was at loggerheads with his illustrious father. Rav Moshe Frank, one of the roshei yeshiva of Ohr Sameyach, spoke about the early years of the teshuvah movement. And then there was Rav Zamir Cohen, the leader of Hidabroot, who is perpetually entertaining, insightful, and enlightening.

While he didn’t make an explicit statement to this effect, one thing was clear to anyone who read between the lines: In recent years, the teshuvah movement has quietly continued to blossom. Without much fanfare or public attention, irreligious Jews are continuing to return to their roots. Over the past 40 years, tens of thousands of Jews have made that journey.

Giving Up a Concert During the Nine Days

Here is a story that I recently heard at a bais medrash in Yerushalayim for young men taking their first steps toward religiosity. One of the boys who learns in the bais medrash had bought a ticket for a concert delivered by a singer who had come to Israel from Spain. The ticket had cost 300 shekels when he had purchased it, which was in the winter. But now, in the Mischazkim beis medrash (and yes, that is its name), he learned that it is not a simple matter, to say the least, to listen to music during the Three Weeks, and certainly during the Nine Days. He had simply been unaware of this halacha when he had purchased the ticket. The situation was even more complicated because the concert was scheduled for Wednesday, the day when he usually learns in the midrasha. He then decided to sell the ticket, but he was not able to find a buyer.

In the end, he decided to skip the concert in spite of the cost of the ticket.

The young man’s peers in the learning program were aware of his marked affinity for this particular singer, and they also knew that he had failed in his efforts to sell the ticket. In recognition of his dedication, they decided to surprise him with a small party to demonstrate their admiration for his actions. The young man himself decided to reciprocate for their appreciation, and at the end of the party he announced, “Beginning next week, I will become shomer Shabbos!”