Lowering the Noise Level
The Muslims have a custom: Every morning, a “muezzin” summons them to the religious services at their mosques. A muezzin is a person who wakes up early in the morning and broadcasts a call to prayer over a powerful loudspeaker mounted on the top of a mosque. His call actually takes the form of loud ululations in a melody in Arabic, and it is typically quite long. Anyone who lives in the vicinity of a mosque cannot help but be awakened by the sounds. The problem is that the muezzin is so loud that it awakens people even at a great distance. And the muezzin does not affect only Muslims; in every city that is populated by Jews and Arabs, the Jews suffer terribly from these early morning calls. This takes place even in Yerushalayim, in the Jewish neighborhoods that are located near Arabs. In Kiryat Sefer, too, the populace is awakened every morning by the sound of the muezzin in the nearby Arab village. And the same takes place in the Old City of Yaffo, in Nazareth, in Ramle, and in Lod.
The muezzins have been warned several times that they must lower their decibel level. They have even been threatened with legal action. Nevertheless, no threats or remonstrations have made a difference. It was only when a muezzin used his loudspeaker to broadcast incitement, or even encouragement to murder Jews, that legal steps were taken against him under the laws prohibiting incitement and the encouragement of criminal acts. Nothing was done, though, about the loudspeakers themselves.
Recently, a number of cabinet ministers and members of the Knesset collaborated to introduce a new law concerning the muezzins, aptly named the “Muezzin Law.” At first, the prime minister was opposed to the law, but he soon buckled to the pressure from other members of the Likud party and announced that he supported it.
Netanyahu’s initial opposition was prompted by a group of experts who claimed that the law was unnecessary. They explained their position with the following argument: There is already an environmental protection law that prohibits making noise at night or above reasonable levels. Why haven’t the muezzins been prosecuted under that law? Presumably, it is because the government wishes to avoid creating tension with the Arabs. But if the muezzins have not been prosecuted under the existing law, then there is no reason to expect that they will be taken to court under a new law. On the contrary, the experts claim, the government will merely be passing a law that smacks of racial discrimination and prejudice against Arabs, but it will never be enforced. Such a law cannot possibly be of any benefit to us; we can only lose from it. And if the decision has indeed been made to enforce the law against noise pollution, then the existing law for environmental protection is adequate for that purpose. Proof of this is the fact that when music is blasted at a wedding hall after midnight, the police invariably arrive.
Meanwhile, the municipality of Lod has already taken steps to end the phenomenon. This past week, it pressed charges against two muezzins under the law that prohibits loud music and noise at late hours. In addition, the media has already found a way to cast aspersions on the prime minister: The news reported that Netanyahu was pressured into changing his position by his own son, Avner, who occasionally lives in Yaffo and suffers from the muezzin there.
The Muezzin Law has not yet passed, since the government’s decision to support it has been challenged by Minister Yaakov Litzman. Litzman fears that the law will be used against Jews as well, to prevent us from sounding the sirens that mark the time for hadlokas neiros on Erev Shabbos. In any event, you now know what the Muezzin Law is all about, and you have also gotten a glimpse into the inevitable complications that plague our lawmakers.
The submarine issue is also very easy to explain: The State of Israel recently purchased three new submarines for its navy from a German company. The Ministry of Defense and the IDF both claimed that the submarines were needed, and the purchase was approved in the security cabinet, which consists of a limited number of ministers. The discussions held in the security cabinet are classified, and it is considered a criminal offense to leak any details from its sessions. Had the story ended there, there would have been no problem with the purchase.
It soon came to light, though, that the German company involved in the deal was represented by Dovid Shimron, an attorney who is a close friend of the Netanyahu family and occasionally represents them. This gave rise to some difficult questions: Did Shimron take advantage of his relationship with Netanyahu to advance the deal? Did Netanyahu know that Shimron was representing the German company? If that is what took place, then there was certainly a conflict of interest involved in the deal, which may even be considered criminal misconduct.
Former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, who has become Netanyahu’s political foe and a potential contender for the position of prime minister, claims that he opposed the deal from the start. Yaalon insists that Netanyahu pushed for the purchase of the submarines. “At that time,” he wrote, “for various operational, organizational, and economic reasons, the IDF had no need for them, nor will there be a need in the coming years.” On the other hand, certain entities involved in the deal, including the head of the National Security Council, have confirmed that the army supported the purchase. Aryeh Deri, who is a member of the security cabinet, attested in an interview with Galei Tzahal that during the cabinet session, the chief of staff of the army said that the submarines were needed. Deri added that Netanyahu did not utter a word during the committee session.
This issue has been flooding the news in this country for weeks already. Last Tuesday, the prime minister’s office released a statement to clarify the subject: “The first time that the prime minister learned that Mr. Shimron was representing a company involved in the sale of equipment to the navy was when Channel 10 contacted him for a response. Mr. Shimron never spoke with the prime minister about submarines, ships, or any other issue associated with his clients. Mr. Shimron never spoke with the prime minister about this client or about any other client.”
Shimron himself submitted to a lie detector test and was found to be telling the truth when he asserted that he had never discussed the matter with the prime minister. That does not entirely resolve the issue, though, since even if Shimron was innocent, Netanyahu’s knowledge of his involvement would be enough to implicate the prime minister in criminal wrongdoing. Even without Shimron’s knowledge, Netanyahu might have supported the deal with the intent to benefit his attorney and friend.
Unfortunately for Netanyahu, while it seemed that the furor over the purchase was about to dissipate, that is no longer the case. The attorney general has announced that in light of “new information,” he has ordered the police to open a probe into the deal. Of course, there is a difference between a mere probe and an actual investigation, but as far as the prime minister is concerned, it is not a good situation.
With all that having been said, I have one comment of my own to make. With all the talk on the subject that has come from all quarters, from the right and left and from the government and the media, there is one crucial question that has been overlooked: Why Germany? For many years, our people boycotted German products. Anyone who drove a Volkswagen or BMW in Eretz Yisroel could expect to be publicly maligned. Yet,0 the government of Israel today saw no reason to refrain from purchasing submarines from a German company, and that fact hardly leaves a pleasant taste in my mouth.
Taking a Bad Decision Out of Our Hands
Once again, I have plenty of information to share with you this week. As you know, our little country is a veritable breeding ground for sensational news. Of course, the entire country has been in the grip of a brouhaha over the Regulation Law, which I will discuss in a separate article. In addition, the Muezzin Law has also stirred up passions across the country. And then there is the submarine scandal, which I mentioned in passing last week.
Of course, our conflict with the Reform movement remains at the top of our list of concerns. As I mentioned last week, a new proposal has suddenly been advanced to end the Supreme Court’s interference by arguing that the court has no authority over the subject. Aryeh Deri has proposed another solution: an official cancelation of the government’s decision to accept the compromise. If that decision is annulled, the petition to the court will automatically have to be withdrawn, since the plaintiffs’ demand is for the government to explain its failure to implement its decision. Of course, we all know the reason: The chareidim notified Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu that they were withdrawing their support for the agreement. But in any event, if the government’s decision to accept the compromise is annulled, then no one can demand that it be implemented.
Netanyahu will certainly be reluctant to retract the government’s decision, but it seems that he will have no other choice. Of course, the Reform movement will respond by submitting a new petition to the court, this time demanding outright that they be given a prayer area of their own at the Kosel, and in all likelihood the court will rule in their favor. What, then, will we have gained? It is very simple: The court’s decision is not in our control, and it is far better for the court to violate the sanctity of the Kosel than for us to be responsible for any such breach. There is also a chance, albeit a minuscule one, that the court will come to its senses and avoid sparking a religious war. And there is an even more infinitesimal chance that the court will accept the argument that matters of religious worship do not fall under its jurisdiction.
Of course, the top news story this week was undoubtedly the proliferation of disastrous wildfires, some of which were deliberately set. The entire country was in flames, a phenomenon that was both shocking and terrifying. People were evacuated from their homes and there was mass panic. Miraculously, there were no fatalities, but everyone was reminded of the Carmel Forest fire of several years ago, a highly traumatic event from which the country has yet to recover.
Yet another issue that has held the country in its grip was the appointment of the new chief rabbi of the IDF. I will explain the controversy surrounding it, but first, I must honor my commitment to one of the readers of this column, a distinguished rebbetzin from Yerushalayim, who has asked me to clarify two of the issues I mentioned at the beginning of this section: the dispute over the Muezzin Law and the submarine scandal.
The IDF Chief Rabbi Affair
This leads us to the next issue that has fomented widespread strife: the appointment of the new chief rabbi of the IDF. Several months ago, the chief of staff of the military announced that he would be appointing Eyal Karim, an official within the military rabbinate, to the position of chief rabbi of the IDF. Rabbi Karim was less religious in the past, when he served as an accomplished officer in the army and was a member of certain elite units. Today, he sports a long white beard, which is noteworthy in itself. The outgoing rabbi, Rafi Peretz, is clean-shaven – an unprecedented characteristic for an IDF chief rabbi – and served as a fighter pilot in the past. Before Rabbi Karim’s appointment became official, though, the political left managed to uncover certain statements he had made in the past, which they claimed were grounds for canceling his appointment. Rabbi Karim maintained, in his defense, that he had merely been explaining the halacha in response to questions that were asked of him.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Rabbi Karim’s appointment should be delayed until he retracts his previous statements or explains them. This sparked an immediate outcry, with some people decrying the Supreme Court’s ruling, while others debated whether the statements attributed to Rabbi Karim were accurate, and whether he should be called upon to explain himself to the court. Our position, of course, is clear: The Supreme Court itself should be abolished rather than overturning a single letter of the Torah. Is a rov not supposed to answer questions that are brought to him? Is he expected to whitewash what the Torah says? The Supreme Court has embarked on a slippery slope that may lead it to attempt to excise portions of the Torah or to censor halacha, just as the non-Jewish rulers of our host countries tried to do when the Gemara was printed.
In the midst of all these debates, there is one very important matter that seems to have been forgotten: the steadily increasing audacity of the Supreme Court. In the past, when there was absolute separation between the judicial and executive branches of the government, the court did not dare interfere with the activities of the prime minister or the other ministers of the government.
That separation began to erode when Justice Aharon Barak began overruling decisions made by the government and its ministers, and then moved on to disqualify laws passed by the Knesset. At first, when Barak meddled in issues such as the release of terrorists or the Shin Bet’s methods of interrogation, there were those who protested his interference, but the court merely became more aggressive as time went on. So it was that the Supreme Court, for instance, called for the dismissal of Police Commissioner Rafi Peled and prevented Yossi Ginosar from being appointed to the position of Minister of Housing. The justices continued asserting their authority more and more, to the point that they began disqualifying political appointments on the basis of a candidate’s past statements. Even when a government minister or the chief of staff found a particular candidate to be the logical choice for a position, the judges overturned their decision. I believe that this began in 2008, when Minister Baum and Prime Minister Olmert felt that Yoel Elroi, the mayor of Ramle, was a fitting candidate to become the head of the Israel Lands Administration. Despite their feelings, the Supreme Court disqualified Elroi for the position as a result of some offensive comments he had made about the Arab community during a tour of Ramle in his capacity as the mayor. This trend is continuing today, as the Supreme Court has stepped in to suspend the appointment of Rabbi Karim as chief rabbi of the IDF due to his own statements in the past.
The Supreme Court justifies its actions by claiming that it is preserving the public’s trust in the government, but those very actions are leading many people to lose faith in the court itself. Freezing the appointment of the military chief rabbi is merely the latest in a series of aggressive moves designed to turn the court into the supreme authority in the country, possessing the powers of all three branches of the government at once.
As for Rabbi Eyal Karim himself, he is one of the many wonderful residents of my own neighborhood in Yerushalayim, the neighborhood of Givat Shaul. Rabbi Karim is a wonderful member of the community who davens with us in the Pressburg shul almost every Shabbos. He is a regal man with a radiant smile, whose modesty and unassuming nature endear him to everyone he knows. I am not familiar with his political views, but it is clear that his appointment to the position will be a good thing.
Hakafos Shniyos: A Religious Event
In the State of Israel, the chareidi community comes under fire whenever it organizes an event in which men and women are kept separate, or an event that is designated for men only. Whenever this takes place, we are accused of “excluding” or discriminating against women. There are legal experts in the Ministry of Justice who watch us like hawks, doing everything in their power to use the law against us at every opportunity. On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, the police nearly canceled a Hakafos Shniyos event that was meant for men only. It was only when they were convinced that it was a “religious” event that they allowed it to take place. At “religious events,” the government permits the separation of men and women.
A similar incident took place in Tel Aviv, where a Selichos event featuring only religious male performers was scheduled for Erev Yom Kippur. The event was not billed as an actual Selichos service, to maintain the interest of the people of Tel Aviv, but that left an opening for the organizers to be accused of “excluding women.” In fact, Dina Zilber of the Ministry of Justice notified the Tel Aviv municipality that it was not permitted to fund the event due to the absence of female performers. Many people were incensed by her actions, and Moshe Gafni decided to raise the issue in the Knesset plenum, accusing her of overstepping the limits of her authority. “Mrs. Zilber does not have the right to give orders to the Tel Aviv municipality regarding what it may or may not do,” Gafni argued.
In her response to Gafni, the Minister of Justice admitted, “Mrs. Dina Zilber, the deputy attorney general, does not have the authority to give instructions to a municipality on this subject.” That admission was presented to the public as a victory on Gafni’s part, but the truth is that there was no cause for celebration. While the Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, indeed confirmed that the attorney general’s office has no authority to give orders to a municipality or a university, she also stressed the obligation of those entities themselves to refrain from “discriminating” against women. In essence, her message was that although Zilber had no authority to give orders, the municipality had an inherent requirement to do as she had said. Furthermore, Zilber was authorized to bring the offending event to the attention of those who do possess that authority. In the case of a university, that would be the Council for Higher Education of Israel.
As you can see, then, we have no reason to rejoice. The government’s campaign against “exclusion of women” has been a crushing burden to us. There is no doubt that its aim is to destroy our way of life. It began with a report on “the phenomenon of exclusion of women in the public sphere,” which was issued by the Ministry of Justice in 2013, when Tzipi Livni served as justice minister and Yehuda Weinstein was the attorney general. That report was little more than an attack on anyone who lives in accordance with halacha.
In his address to the Knesset, Gafni demanded, “Who gave [Dina Zilber] the right to make decisions that should be made by the legislators? …Did the Knesset pass a law? Was there some sort of legislative process? Did the cabinet make a decision?” And then Gafni asked, “Who gave Dina Zilber, the deputy attorney general, the right to make a decision that impinges on the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom?” But that is where Gafni was actually mistaken. Dina Zilber may have been overzealous in her quest for “equality” for women, and she may have been motivated by hatred for chareidim, but she was indeed given the authority to make those decisions.
In response to Gafni, Ayelet Shaked quoted that infamous report: “The team compiled a number of recommendations… It determined that no government ministry or public entity is permitted to organize a state-sponsored event in which the genders are separated, with the minor exception of ceremonies of a religious nature in which the majority of the participants are interested in separation.” Then she delivered the blow: “In May 2013, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein accepted the recommendations of the team, which he had personally appointed. He then appointed his deputy, Dina Zilber, to be responsible for implementing those recommendations. Of course, the State of Israel has a government, and the government is ultimately responsible for making these decisions, which are certainly political subjects. But in the year 2014, the government accepted Resolution 1526 and officially adopted the report.”
The Insolence of the Court
On a similar note, there is another person who almost found himself facing criminal charges for his statements. He was not threatened with dismissal from a position or with the withholding of an appointment, since he had already reached retirement age when the incident occurred. Nevertheless, the authorities considered opening a criminal investigation and even pressing charges against him. That person was Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, and the statements in question were the expression of his views, his daas Torah, regarding the Supreme Court. Rav Ovadiah spoke very harshly against the justices of the court, sparking an uproar throughout the country.
It is a well-known fact that Rav Ovadiah often quoted the Rambam’s condemnation of those who bring their disputes to a secular court: The Rambam states that they are considered wicked people and blasphemers who flout the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu. Rav Ovadiah considered the secular courts of Israel to be equivalent to those of the nations of the world. Elyakim Rubinstein, who served as attorney general when Rav Ovadiah made those statements, and who is today a justice on the Supreme Court, considered launching an investigation but ultimately decided against it. He was simply afraid to incur the wrath of the chareidi populace in Eretz Yisroel and throughout the world. The Supreme Court demonstrated restraint – and perhaps fear – and rejected the petitions it received to act against Rav Ovadiah.
I do not know how many of you read the articles about Rav Ovadiah that were published on his third yahrtzeit, but I would like to quote from the recollections of Dayan Bentzion Boaron that appeared there: “We once annulled a kiddushin because one of the eidim was an attorney who referred his clients to secular courts, and he was considered a person who defies the Torah of Moshe Rabbeinu and is disqualified to serve as a witness…. When I brought this ruling before the posek hador, Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, the author of Yabia Omer, he gave it his full backing. He even wrote a special teshuvah about it, dated the 22nd of Adar, 5772, to enshrine the ruling in halacha for that incident and for posterity.”
The Time Has Come for a Change
In a nutshell, Shaked had traced the origins of Zilber’s authority on the subject: A team was appointed several years ago and delivered recommendations to the government. Those recommendations were then accepted, and Mrs. Zilber was assigned to carry them out. As much as we are pained by Shaked’s statements, her response was only to be expected. The only people who were surprised were those who did not know about the report and the recommendations from several years ago.
This means that Zilber herself is not the problem; she is merely an outgrowth of it. The root of the problem is the report on “discrimination” against women and the government’s decision to accept it. When that resolution was passed, we were still in the opposition. Perhaps the time is now right to change it. In fact, the report is so extreme and draconian that it should be easy to convince the Knesset of the need to tone it down. The report was originally written in response to a national uproar over perceived gender discrimination, but it has since become a weapon that is used against everything sacred, and a pretext for outlawing any form of separation of the genders.
The recommendations listed in the report are highly unreasonable. It calls for a legal ban on separating men and women at cemeteries and even in health clinics. It advises the government to prohibit “mehadrin” bus lines, which feature separate seating for men and women, and to prohibit posting signs that call for passersby to dress modestly. The report even contained a stipulation that chareidi radio stations should be compelled to interview women. Here is a quote from the report: “We therefore conclude that the main impetus for the separation [of men and women] at health clinics is the desire to prevent the two genders from being together in a public place, which results from excessive religious zeal concerning issues of modesty…and constitutes unacceptable discrimination.” But discrimination against whom? The women, or perhaps the men? And if both the men and the women want the genders to be separated, then who is guilty of discrimination? And who gave these people the right to prevent us, men and women alike, from practicing “excessive religious zeal”?
The team that produced the report called for its recommendations to be enforced. With that, it reached the point of absurdity. Do they plan to force men and women to sit together in the waiting rooms of health clinics, or on public buses? Does anyone have the authority to demand that? The report argues that even if women claim that they want to board buses via the back door, it is solely because of social pressure. Isn’t that a ludicrous statement? But we were in the opposition when this report was written. Now that we are in the coalition, perhaps the time has come to pass a law that will abolish some of its more absurd directives.
Never Lose Hope!
In conclusion, allow me to share an insight into Sefer Bereishis, which I am sure you will enjoy. The following is an idea that I heard from a tzaddik named Rav Moshe Shlakovsky: After Hashem rejected Kayin’s offering and accepted that of his brother, why did He ask Kayin, “Why has your face fallen?” Wasn’t the rejection of his offering a valid reason for him to be crestfallen? Rav Shlakovsky explained that the posuk conveys a powerful message: Even when we make mistakes, and even when we stumble, we must never allow ourselves to fall into depression or despair. Even if a person feels that he has reached the lowest depths of sin, he must never give up hope of improving. This was Hashem’s message to Kayin: There was no reason for him to be despondent, for if he repented for his sins, he would be forgiven.
I once heard a similar comment attributed to the Steipler Gaon during one of the public battles he fought together with Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach. Rav Shlomo Lorintz, emissary of the gedolim, had been charged with a certain mission and failed to accomplish it. Rav Lorintz was downcast because of his failure and the Steipler summoned him for a pep talk. “After Avrohom’s attempts to save the people of Sodom,” the revered sage related, “the Torah states, ‘Hashem departed when he finished speaking to Avrohom and Avrohom returned to his place.’ The concluding words of this posuk, ‘And Avrohom returned to his place,’ do not seem to add anything to its narrative. Why does the Torah make this statement?
“This teaches us,” the Steipler concluded, “that even if you have failed to achieve your goals, you must never sink into despair. Your job was to make an effort, and you must continue, regardless of whether you succeeded. When Avrohom returned to ‘his place,’ it meant that he returned to the point from which he began, that he felt no despair and he continued serving Hashem with all his strength.”