My Take on the News

Increased Terror Before the Chagim

Last week, we experienced a major miracle. Thanks to an alert security officer at the entrance to a mall, a large-scale terror attack was averted at the last minute. The terrorist had arrived in a car packed with all the implements he needed to sow widespread death and devastation. We already know that in advance of all of our holidays, Arab terrorists increase their efforts to turn our times of joy into days of mourning, Rachmana litzlan.

There was also a stabbing attack in the Shomron. The victims were a father and son who had entered an Arab village in order to be treated by a Palestinian dentist. The dentist studied his trade in Russia and speaks Russian, and he treats many Israeli patients. While the victims were waiting for their appointment, a local youth asked if they were Jewish (presumably because they looked like Russian non-Jews), and when they replied in the affirmative, he stabbed them. Boruch Hashem, there were no fatalities. The attacker, in fact, was stopped by the dentist himself.

In yet another incident, a drone was sent from the Gaza strip toward the Israeli side of the southern border. The drone dropped an explosive device on an Israeli military vehicle and then managed to return to Gaza. There were no fatalities, since the drone missed its target by a few meters. The IDF quickly attacked the area where the drone was launched, but we have no way of knowing if they managed to strike the terror cell responsible for the attack.

A Lawyer Begs for Rav Uri Zohar’s Forgiveness

The Minister of Justice recently stirred up a tempest by criticizing the judicial system. It is easy to understand his frustration: Even in order to appoint a director-general for his ministry, he had to undergo a frightful ordeal. He made several statements that evoked the displeasure of the Supreme Court: “I would like to bring the court back to its glory days,” “A judge is a judge and not the teacher of the generation,” and “A judge must rule in accordance with the law, not create or overturn laws.” The state prosecution was also given a taste of his disapproval when he declared, “I believe that the prosecution cannot be said to have a developed sense for judging itself.” Minister Ohana will soon learn a simple lesson: In Israel, it is permissible to condemn anyone except the members of the judicial system. Chief Justice Chayut of the Supreme Court responded with a thinly veiled attack against the minister.

The most notable example of the disintegration of the so-called “rule of law” is the criminal case against attorney Ronel Fisher, which has been dragged out for several years already and still shows no sign of coming to a close. Many injustices, most likely deliberate ones, have accompanied this case. Yoram Barak, a doctor who was questioned in connection to the case, related, “The detectives from the Police Internal Investigations Department threatened me that my wife would be arrested and her career would be ruined if I didn’t give them the version of events that they wanted to hear.” He added that he was questioned by the police on the day that his father-in-law passed away, and he was late to the funeral on account of the interrogation. But to the great displeasure of the Police Internal Investigations Department and the state prosecution, he spoke very highly of Fisher, who had volunteered for the benefit of the patients in the Abarbanel medical center. I won’t go into the details of the case, in which a superintendant of the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit and a district attorney from Tel Aviv both found themselves facing criminal charges. I will say only that there is much to be learned from this saga: about the falsehood that is rampant in this world, about the topsy-turvy nature of the judicial system, about the ease with which a person’s fortune can change, and about the power of determination to overcome obstacles.

The case of Ronel Fisher would be of great interest to anyone who enjoys courtroom drama. But it interests me for a different reason: Fisher and I were good friends in the past. For a period of time, he was a well-known investigative journalist who frequented the Knesset. We used to have many conversations, but I always held a grudge against him for betraying the trust of Rav Uri Zohar. Rav Uri had believed that Fisher had a genuine interest in pursuing a connection to Yiddishkeit (which may have been true at the time) and opened his home to him. Ronel Fisher later wrote a major expose on the Zohar family, which was a source of tremendous grief to them but catapulted him to prominence within the media.

When Fisher was released after his first arrest, I called him and suggested that he should ask Rav Uri Zohar for forgiveness. Fisher asked me to make the request on his behalf. Since that time, the state has suffered numerous defeats in the Fisher case, and even if he is ultimately convicted, many perceive this scandal as one of the greatest failures of the country’s justice system.

Price Gouging in Prison

The chareidi members of the Knesset are constantly receiving requests for help from inmates in the country’s prisons. MK Dovid Azulai zt”l was particularly well-known as a source of assistance for this oppressed populace. When he was tapped to serve as the chairman of the Knesset Interior Committee, he used his authority over the Prison Service to provide even greater assistance to prison inmates. Perhaps that was the very reason that it was ordained for him to serve in that capacity…. His son, MK Yinon Azulai, has slowly but surely been working to fill his father’s shoes in that respect.

Not long ago, Azulai submitted a parliamentary query to the Minister of Internal Security concerning the exorbitant prices charged for items sold in prison commissaries. This is a terrible blow to an inmate in prison, who is not permitted to obtain anything from the outside world and is therefore forced to shell out excessive sums for items that would be far less expensive anywhere else. One example that Azulai had received was the following: An inmate in prison may purchase a wristwatch only in the prison commissary. The only watches offered for sale are produced by Casio, and the prices are steeply inflated. Moreover, even if the band of a wristwatch becomes torn, replacement watchbands are not available; the prisoner has no choice but to purchase a new watch. Azulai questioned the logic of these facts in his query to the minister.

The response to his query arrived this week. With regard to the purchase of replacement watchbands, the minister’s reply was ambiguous: “It is true that bands for wristwatches are not sold separately in prison commissaries, but service is provided for these items under the warranty.” This answer is difficult to decipher: If the minister is referring to a warranty provided outside the prison, it cannot possibly be of any benefit to an inmate, since regulations prohibit a prisoner from bringing a wristwatch into the prison when he returns from a furlough, or from receiving one from his family members when they visit him. Did he mean, then, that the warranty is provided within the prison itself? Is the commissary responsible for replacing a torn watchband? If that is what the minister meant, then why didn’t he say so explicitly?

As for the cost of a wristwatch, the minister admitted that inmates are not permitted to bring items from outside into the prison, including wristwatches, and that they have no choice but to purchase watches in the commissaries maintained by the Prison Service. He listed the prices for four models of Casio wristwatches in a prison commissary, and I compared them to the prices of the same items in ordinary stores. My findings were unmistakable: There is a major discrepancy between the prices of these items in the outside world and the sums paid by prisoners for the same products. A Casio F91W watch, for instance, is sold in prison for 64.80 shekels, while the average price in ordinary stores is 50 shekels. The next model, W735H, sells for 220 NIS in prison, while its average price ranges from 107 to 118 shekels outside. The GA-100 sells for 549 shekels in a prison commissary, while its price ranges from 350 to 450 shekels on the free market. And the GA-400 is sold to prison inmates for 599 NIS, in stark contrast to the price tag of only 400 NIS in an ordinary store.

Deporting a Jew to Yemen?

It was recently reported that the Population Authority is preparing to deport a chareidi man from Israel to Yemen. This fellow managed to make the arduous journey to Israel, where he learned in a yeshiva, married, and began raising a family. At some point, though, he committed a crime and ended up in the religious wing of Maasiyahu Prison. When he completed his sentence, the Population Authority began preparing to deport him from the country, since he had never completed the process of obtaining Israeli citizenship.

This may sound like a straightforward issue of legalities, but it is not so simple. The State of Israel generally does not deport Jews; anyone who is Jewish is automatically entitled to citizenship. The criminal charges against the Yemenite immigrant made it possible for the government to deny his application for citizenship, but did not make it obligatory. The man pleaded for mercy, explaining that he could be deported only to Yemen, where he would be facing mortal danger. This week, the media reported that the government had decided to deport him. That would be very sad if it were true. But it is not.

That is, everything is true except for the final part of the story: The government didn’t actually decide to expel him from the country. It reminds me of the old story about the person who was rumored to have won a million dollars in the lottery. When he was asked about the rumor, he replied, “Well, most of it is true. The only thing is that it wasn’t a million dollars; it was half a million. And it wasn’t the lottery; it was the Tax Authority. And one more thing: I didn’t actually win the money; I lost it. But everything else is true!”

Two months ago, the would-be deportee contacted a third party and asked him to solicit the assistance of Ruvi Shemesh, the aide to the Minister of the Interior. Shemesh understood the sensitive nature of the case and instructed the Population Authority to postpone its decision until the Interior Minister had looked into the case. Since then, there have been no new developments.

You may be thinking that I am telling you this story in order to demonstrate how the Israeli media is intolerably quick to spread misinformation. In reality, though, I have a different point to make: that the Interior Minister and his staff are in a position to provide enormous assistance to many people in need.

A Message from an Oncology Ward in New York

Early this week, I received an e-mail from a young friend of mine who traveled to New York for cancer treatment. “If you plan to write about the tzaddik Benny Brief, who passed away recently from cancer,” he wrote, “you can also write about his father, Shuki. When they were in America for Benny’s cancer treatments, Shuki Brief never forgot about me. Whenever they were going somewhere interesting, he always made sure to call me and invite me to come along, and he would even make the effort to pick me up so that I could join them. His kindness should be a zechus for him.”

I wrote in reply, “If you add a few details to the story, I will write about it. Tell me a little bit more about yourself as well. I hope to be able to see you soon!”

Two days later, I received a terse reply: “Shuki Brief cared for me as if I was his own son. When he found me suffering from pain, he made sure to explain to me exactly what medications to take in order to ease my suffering. Whenever he went anywhere with his son, he would invite me to come along. Even when I told him that I didn’t have the strength to accompany them, he would come to see me anyway and to check whether I had changed my mind. This took place in the midst of his constant worry over Benny’s condition. But you don’t have to mention my name. You can call me Refoel Zevulun ben Chaya Malia. May this be a zechus for me.”

A Mother’s Insistence

Within every Sephardic Jew there is a very special connection to Yiddishkeit. Appreciation and esteem for the Torah seem to run within their blood, even among the less religious members of their community. This week, I witnessed an incident that illustrated this universal Sephardic trait. It began when a woman entered Olam HaTzitzis, a store on Rechov Alkabetz in Givat Shaul, and asked to purchase a tefillin bag for her son. His previous bag, she said, had become torn and was no longer respectable enough to be used.

“Certainly,” the young salesman replied.

“But I want you to embroider his name on the bag,” the customer added.

“Of course,” said the salesman.

And then came the catch: “I need you to do it today.”

“I can’t do that,” the salesman said apologetically. “I have eleven other orders to handle first.”

“Sir,” the mother said vehemently, in a thick Moroccan accent, “my son is going to yeshiva in Bnei Brak in two hours. He won’t go without his tefillin bag. Do you want him to wait until tomorrow to leave? Do you take responsibility for his bittul Torah?”

The salesman thought for a moment and then instructed the woman to wait. He took down the exact spelling of the young man’s name and quickly fed the information into a computerized embroidery machine. Within six minutes, the job was done.

The owner of the store is a righteous man named Rav Aryeh Natan; the worker who served this customer is a charming young man. Both are immigrants from France, Sephardic Jews who are suffused with abiding respect for the Torah.

The Power of Slichos

One of the unusual aspects of this election campaign is the fact that the two chareiedi parties, UTJ and Shas, have been targeting other sectors as well as their natural supporters in the chareidi community. Actually, as far as Shas is concerned, it is only natural to do so; the party has always sought support within the so-called traditional community. This time, they have the added advantage of campaigning during the month of Elul, when Sephardim have already begun reciting Slichos.

This past motzoei Shabbos, the Shas party released a video in which the most prominent Sephardic singers chant the words of Slichos against a backdrop featuring the party’s campaign messages, followed by Rav Ovadiah Yosef explaining that for anyone who votes for Shas, the ballot that he casts will earn him a share in all of the zechuyos that the party’s representatives will amass over the coming years. Based on the enthusiastic reactions it evoked, it seems that the video has worked. It is the best campaign video produced yet by any of the parties, it is entirely positive and tugs at Sephardic heritage.

United Torah Judaism has also appealed to the general public for support. This party certainly has plenty to offer potential voters. There are many laws that were introduced by its representatives and that are intended to benefit the general populace. The chareidi Knesset members have sought to tend to the needs of the general public, without concern over how they would personally benefit from those efforts.

The Latest Controversy: Cameras at Polling Stations

There are only four days remaining until the election, and it is doubtful that anyone imagined that the camera law, as it has come to be known, would become the next burning issue on the public agenda.

On Sunday morning, the camera law was approved by the cabinet, in spite of opposition from the attorney general. The law, which was proposed by the prime minister, was accepted unanimously by the members of the cabinet. At the beginning of the cabinet session, Netanyahu announced, “There is no need for special preparations, special training, or special equipment. Every observer can use his personal cell phone to record images. That is what happens everywhere in our public space: Every person takes pictures, everything is publicized, and every grocery store has security cameras. Why should it be prohibited to use cameras at a polling station? The use of cameras at the polls to ensure the purity of an election is obvious, it is logical, it is transparent, and it is just.”

This was Netanyahu’s way of responding to those who have accused him of trying to change the outcome of the polls in the Arab sector. To be honest, in this case it is very easy to understand Netanyahu’s position, and it is equally hard to understand those who are opposed to the law. Why are they so afraid of cameras at the polling stations? Just so you understand, the Arabs vote en masse in Israeli elections, but they do it surreptitiously. They feel that voting in an election is tantamount to expressing recognition of the State of Israel, and they do not recognize the state. For the same reason, they do not have observers or polling station workers in Neve Yaakov or Pisgat Zeev; they are not willing to recognize the “occupation.”

Moreover, there are thousands of fraudulent votes in Arab communities. This is a “secret” that everyone knows. There are barely any Jewish workers stationed in those areas, since Jews are afraid to risk their lives by entering Arab villages. As a result of this ongoing voter fraud, the Arab parties rack up tens of thousands of illicit votes in every election. If a Jew insists on watching as the votes are counted at an Arab polling station, he will be soundly beaten by the locals. No one denies the existence of this fraud, yet the leftists and the Arabs are vociferous opponents of the initiative to install security cameras in the Arab polling stations. But instead of explaining that they do not want the Arabs to be prevented from lying, they claim that it will inhibit the Arabs from voting altogether. Now, that leaves us to wonder why the Arabs should be deterred from voting on account of the cameras. Is it because they are ashamed of the fact that they are voting in an election? And if that is the case, is that really a justification?

Submitted for the Knesset’s Approval

The attorney general has a different reason for opposing the measure: He believes that the government is not entitled to take such a drastic step when it is merely a transitional government. Justice Chanan Meltzer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee, argues that the committee will not be able to prepare the cameras with so little time remaining until the election. Netanyahu’s comments at the beginning of the cabinet session were directed at both of them. The opposition labeled him a tyrant, and Netanyahu responded, “It is interesting that I, who am trying to preserve the purity of the elections, am being called a tyrant.” President Rivlin, of course, also took his place on the bandwagon by announcing, “I support Justice Chanan Meltzer and Attorney General Mandelblit in the face of the baseless, irresponsible political attacks against them. I fully condemn the efforts to undermine the public trust in these officials and in the professionalism that guides them in preparing for the elections.” Rivlin is a master at becoming involved in quarrels that do not concern him….

By the time you read this article, the Knesset will already have debated this law (which is entitled “Proposed Law for the Knesset Elections: Visual or Auditory Documentation at Polling Stations”). The bill was submitted to the Knesset on the day it was approved by the cabinet, and the Knesset members were notified that the debate will be held on Monday, September 9, at 11:00 a.m. After it has passed its first reading, it will be transferred to a Knesset committee and will then be returned to the full Knesset for its second and third readings. The opposition will probably mount a filibuster in order to frustrate Netanyahu.

Avigdor Lieberman announced that he plans to vote in favor of the bill. He can always be relied upon to vote against the Arabs. In that respect, at least, he has remained consistent.

A Psak of Rav Chaim Kanievsky

The chareidi parties, meanwhile, are trying to ensure maximum turnout among their voters, largely by publicizing recent dramatic rulings issued by the gedolei Yisroel. This week, two chareidi newspapers carried the same story: When Rav Meir Chodosh was sitting shiva for his brother, Rav Dovid Chodosh, an election was held in the middle of the week of shiva. Rav Meir sent a messenger to gedolim to ask if he should leave his home during the shiva and vote, a question that elicited surprised reactions from his family members and talmidim. “What is the question?” someone asked him. “Is this pikuach nefesh? Why would you leave your home?”

Rav Meir replied, “When a person has a shailah or is experiencing some sort of crisis, chas v’sholom, where does he go? To the Tchebiner Rov, the Brisker Rov, or others like them—the very same people who are telling us that it is critical to vote. Doesn’t that make it proper, then, for me to ask them if I should participate in the voting, as well?”

Indeed, Rav Meir ultimately did go to vote—wearing his torn shirt and slippers.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky has been uncharacteristically vehement on this subject. A group of community rabbonim from Tel Aviv, along with various kiruv activists, recently came to his home and asked if they should try to convince people to vote Gimmel, in spite of the fact that it might provoke an unfavorable reaction. And if so, they added, what should they tell those people? Rav Chaim ruled unequivocally that they should make every effort to convince others to vote for the chareidi party. “Tell them that in that zechus, they will be judged favorably on the Yomim Noraim,” he added.

In another case, Rav Chaim was asked to advise a person who is living outside the country and must choose between coming to Israel for the election or for Sukkos. Rav Chaim thought for a moment and then said, “For the election.” When he was asked what reward the person could expect to receive, he replied, “They will have money.”

I do not know how to explain Rav Chaim’s statements, but one thing is clear: He views the election as a matter of critical importance.

This coming Sunday, gedolei Yisroel, Litvish and chassidish alike, are scheduled to gather together to daven for success in the upcoming election. Both the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah and the Moetzes Gedolei Yisroel have already called upon the public to recite perek 121 of Tehillim every day until the election.

Fighting for All That Is Sacred

Rav Gershon Edelstein has also been unusually vehement in recent days. In a video prepared for an election rally this past week, he spoke sharply and unequivocally. “Everyone must know that this is an eis tzarah l’Yaakov—a time of trouble for the Jewish people,” he asserted. “Unfortunately, there are people among us who are purveying incitement against the chareidi community, against yeshiva bochurim and yungerleit who engage in Torah learning. There is incitement against everything that is sacred. They desire to uproot all that is holy, to cause public chillul Shabbos, Rachmana litzlan. They wish to abolish the existing municipal laws that prohibit chillul Shabbos, so that the Shabbos will be publicly desecrated. As we know, chillul Shabbos is an extremely dangerous thing; the observance of Shabbos is a tremendous zechus that protects all of Klal Yisroel.

“They also want to make decrees against the chinuch of the Torah, against the chadorim and Talmudei Torah, against the Bais Yaakov schools and seminaries. They wish to make edicts that will prevent our chinuch from being maintained. That is their goal, and they want to come to power in order to bring all these evil things to fruition. They also wish to promote gerus that is against halacha and to bring non-Jews into the Jewish people who will be considered like Jews, Rachmana litzlan.

“In the upcoming elections, they want to bring many of their representatives into the Knesset so that they will be in power and will be able to carry out their designs. Therefore, every single one of us is obligated to do everything he can in order to prevent those decrees. First of all, a person must vote Gimmel, and anyone who is capable of it should influence others to vote as well. The reality is that every individual vote can tilt the scales, as we saw in the previous election that a few individual votes brought us another representative in the Knesset.”

Rav Gershon continued, “But we must also know that everything is in the Hands of Hashem, and when something is decreed in Shomayim, it is completely dependent on our zechuyos. Every single one of us can add to the success of the entire community by adding to our zechuyos, and we all know that the main source of zechuyos is Torah learning, which is the equivalent of all other mitzvos, and especially hasmodah in learning.” He proceeded to call on his listeners to amass other merits as well, including training themselves to judge others favorably, and to learn mussar and daven for our fellow Jews. “For there are many people who are guilty of inadvertent sins, like tinokos shenishbu,” he explained.