Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

My Take on the News

Rampant Hatred for Chareidim

As I write these words, the electronic sign outside my office shows the number 1. That means that there is only one day remaining until the election. Tomorrow is Tuesday, September 17.

If you were in Israel today, you undoubtedly detected the atmosphere of urgency that has pervaded the air. This is a very grave matter. We all feel that we are in the middle of a war for our country. The chareidi press (the Hebrew Yated Neeman, which is the newspaper of Degel HaTorah; Hamodia, which belongs to Agudas Yisroel; and Hamevaser, the newspaper of Shlomei Emunim) appear to be speaking with a single voice. The headlines, the advertisements, the news reports, and the pictures of the gedolei Yisroel are all part of a fierce battle for all that is sacred and precious to the religious community of Israel.

The sight of Rav Chaim Kanievsky in Tel Aviv is so atypical that the image itself accentuates the concern that surrounds us all. The huge rally that was held on Sunday at the intersection of Rechov Shmuel Hanavi and Rechov Bar Ilan in Yerushalayim also brought home the nature of our situation. When do Jews go out into the street to daven en masse and to sound shofaros? At a time of danger for the community—during a famine or an epidemic … or before an election. The election taking place this week is certainly a reason to daven. All of a sudden, many of the leading politicians have begun announcing that they will partner with anyone other than the chareidim. It sounds ominous.

The Shas party has been using every means at its disposal to attract voters, both working within the Sephardic chareidi community and targeting the less religious, traditional sector. Political rallies are held every evening, along with the gatherings for the recitation of Selichos. United Torah Judaism had its massive rally on Sunday evening, while Shas held a heavily attended Selichos service at the Kosel on motzoei Shabbos. Without question, the entire chareidi community feels that the election is a fateful one. This understanding begins with the gedolim in every sector of the community and is shared by the askonim, community activists, and the entire public. By the time this newspaper is published, the election will already be behind us.

Kiddush Hashem at the Polls

Last Friday, at a kinnus for community rabbonim, Rav Gershon Edelstein said the following: “We must recognize the reality that there is tremendous incitement against the chareidi community and against everything that is sacred. These people want to lead the public to sin, as Yeravam ben Nevat did. They want to promote chillul Shabbos…. Regarding chinuch as well, they want the schools to teach heresy. This doesn’t mean the situation that exists today, in which they do not teach Yiddishkeit; it is even more than that. Their plan is to educate children with kefirah. They want to eliminate Chinuch Atzmai and to impose laws on the Bais Yaakov schools and on the yeshivos so that it will be impossible for yeshivos and kollelim to exist. And they want giyurim that are not accepted by halacha….

“What can we do to avert these decrees and to prevent them from bringing their intentions to fruition? The only option is to vote Gimmel. We must have many voters. If enough people vote for Gimmel, the situation can be salvaged. Every person must vote and must influence others who do not understand this. There are some people who do not comprehend the danger….

“In truth,” he continued, “voting for Gimmel is a kiddush Hashem. Aside from the fact that it can genuinely help to spare us from evil decrees, the mere act of voting for the party is a kiddush Hashem and a proclamation that Moshe emes v’Toraso emes—Moshe is true and his Torah is true. And if a person does not vote, then it is the opposite. If a person does not vote for Gimmel, chas v’sholom, it is a chillul Hashem.” Rav Gershon ended his address by calling on the rabbonim to address their congregations on the subject on Friday night. Hundreds of such speeches were indeed delivered this past Shabbos.

Parties on the Fringe

The most significant story of this election revolves around two parties: Otzma Yehudit and Noam. The former party consists of the followers of Rabbi Meir Kahane Hy”d, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir (after Michael Ben-Ari, Boruch Goldstein, and Bentzi Gopstein were all disqualified). As of now, they are pouring all of their energies into the race. They claim to be confident that they will cross the electoral threshold, which means that they will garner about four or five mandates in the election. If that happens, then they will bring the right-wing bloc to a total of over 61 seats. But the big question is whether that will indeed take place. If they remain in the race until the end and fail to cross the threshold, then three or four mandates will be lost. That would be a very bad situation for the right, but that seems to be what is bound to happen unless they come to their senses by Monday night. According to the polls, there isn’t even the slightest chance that they will pass the threshold. They have caused the loss of right-wing mandates in the past, and if they remain in the race, it appears that the same thing will happen again.

This past Shabbos, Itamar Ben-Gvir was in my neighborhood of Givat Shaul. I didn’t encounter him, but I heard that he spent the Shabbos making his way from one shul to another, and that he had held an oneg Shabbos of sorts on Friday night. Someone told me that he was surrounded by a large number of chareidi bochurim, talmidim of our yeshivos. That is very bad indeed, possibly even shameful.

The Noam party, meanwhile, consists of the followers of Rav Tzvi Tau, a chareidi-leaning rov in the national religious community. This party absorbed the people who consider themselves chareidi and could not bring themselves to vote for Yamina, which is headed by a woman and which also includes Naftoli Bennett, who identifies himself as “religious lite.” On Sunday afternoon, as was expected, the Noam party announced its withdrawal from the race. They claimed that they had managed to amass 70,000 supporters, while they would need twice that number to cross the electoral threshold. It is presumed that most of Noam’s supporters would vote for UTJ or Shas, while a minority would go for Yamina.

Israeli Sovereignty in the Jordan Valley

Last week, in a highly anticipated speech, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a dramatic announcement: that Israel plans to annex the Jordan Valley. This immediately drew ridicule from the opposition, since the attorney general had said that a drastic decision of that nature cannot be made by a government whose days are numbered. This week, though, the cabinet met in the Jordan Valley itself and ratified Netanyahu’s proposal to approve the settlement of Mevo’ot Yericho, which is located in the valley. This approval was made possible when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit withdrew his opposition to the move. At the beginning of the cabinet session, Netanyahu announced, “We will extend Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley and the northern Dead Sea immediately after the government is formed in the next Knesset. I have already assembled a team headed by the director-general of the prime minister’s office to formulate a plan for extending our sovereignty.”

During a brief recess in the cabinet session, the prime minister and the director of the National Security Council explained the reason for the urgency of approving the settlement of Mevo’ot Yericho. During that consultation, the attorney general was briefed on the policy developments of the preceding 24 hours, and he was informed that the prime minister and the national security advisor both believed that it was vital to approve the settlement immediately. Under the circumstances, Mandelblit ruled that despite the legal hurdles posed by the imminent election, the cabinet was authorized to make that decision.

Netanyahu went on to pledge, “We will extend Israeli sovereignty over all the settlements in Yehuda and the Shomron, both within the settlement blocs and outside them. These things will be mentioned in the deal of the century”—that is, in President Trump’s peace plan. Netanyahu also made note of Israel’s recent pact with the United States: “I reached an agreement with President Trump to advance a historic defense pact between the United States and Israel. This adds a major element of deterrence against our enemies, while preserving the ability of our armed forces to act freely. It would be a major move for the benefit of coming generations toward safeguarding our future,” he proclaimed.

The Rhetoric Continues

Just to give you an idea of what the religious community in Israel is experiencing, I quote Avigdor Lieberman’s public statement of this past Sunday afternoon, which came in response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments that he would not be opposed in principle to appointing Arab government ministers (and, in fact, there have already been Druze ministers serving in Netanyahu’s government), and Benny Gantz’s remarks that he would not rule out sitting in a government along with chareidim. Gantz favors a secular government, but he is willing to accept the presence of chareidim—as window dressing, perhaps, or as a fifth wheel….

In any event, this infuriated Lieberman, who responded: “This morning, both Netanyahu and Gantz were confused and bumbling. Netanyahu, who already tried to establish a government together with Avi Gabbai [after the previous elections, when Gabbai headed the Zionist Camp, the latest incarnation of the Labor party], announced that he would not rule out appointing Arab ministers in his government. Gantz, who recently sent the chareidi parties what was virtually a blank check, offering to give in to all of their demands, and who launched a campaign for a ‘secular unity government’ just two weeks before the election, clarified this morning that he is not discounting the possibility of sitting in a government with chareidim.

“It is clear to every intelligent person that Netanyahu would prefer a halachic state in which he is a partner with the messianic chareidi parties, the Labor party, and, if necessary, with the Arabs. It is clear that Gantz would prefer a left-wing government that partners with the chareidim. Only a strong enough Yisroel Beiteinu will be able to force Netanyahu and Gantz to establish a broad, liberal national government.”

It doesn’t take much effort to discern Lieberman’s meaning: A “broad, liberal national government” is one that excludes chareidim. It is as if the chareidi community is somehow anathema, as if it is an entire community of pariahs. And this is the same Avigdor Lieberman who appeared to be a good friend of the chareidim not long ago. Perhaps this will give you a taste of what we, the religious citizens of Israel, are experiencing as we become the focus of so much hostility.

Lapid’s Spiteful Rambling

“Not Fools” is the title of a lengthy opinion piece that Yair Lapid recently wrote in Maariv. In the opening line of the article, he declares, “I believe, before anything else, that people are not fools.” He then goes on to ramble nonsensically but arrogantly, pretending to have a masterful understanding of every subject. “Without Judaism, we would not have a community to which to belong,” he asserts, “but without civil rights, it would not be worthwhile to belong to it.” This is one of Lapid’s typical word games, albeit with one notable difference: He has never been known to say anything positive about Yiddishkeit. “We will fight with all our strength against the possibility of a state of halacha,” he goes on, “but we will also fight against the concept of a ‘state of all its citizens,’ which would wipe out any Jewish identity.” Strange words, coming from a man who is the leader of every assault on Jewish identity.

The article contains many thinly veiled barbs aimed at the chareidi community. “Human beings prefer science and facts over ignorance and hatred,” Lapid declares in one place. “We must make sure that every sector of the population, including chareidim and Arabs, contributes to the economy and benefits from its fruits,” he declares elsewhere in the article. And then there is the incitement that is his standard fare: “The job of the government is not to favor one group over another; it is to make sure that balance is maintained. When do problems arise? When the government introduces all sorts of external calculations into the equation. When it transfers billions of shekels to extortionists and extremists, the free market stops being free and the welfare state [a strange and probably erroneous use of the term] stops being just.” Lapid is like the cat in the story of Rav Yonoson Eibeschutz, which was overcome by its natural instincts as soon as the rov released a mouse from his snuffbox. He tries to portray himself as dignified and regal, but he simply cannot resist the temptation to promulgate falsehood and hate. Billions of shekels were given to “extortionists and extremists”? People may not be fools, but their anti-Semitism can certainly blind them to reality.

Rav Aryeh Levin would quote the maamar Chazal that relates that during the generation of King Achav, even though the Jewish people worshiped avodah zarah, they emerged victorious in battle because there was no animosity or slander among them. Since they lived together in harmony, the Shechinah remained in their midst and they were able to triumph on the battlefield. “Even in a country that is far removed from Torah and mitzvos,” Rav Aryeh used to add, “we should try to urge them to maintain peace and unity.” He once warned Menachem Begin that he would not succeed in rising to power due to the infighting within the political right. Indeed, the right came to power only after the establishment of the Likud, which brought together the right-wing and center-right political parties, and after the scourge of infighting infected the ruling left-wing parties such as Mapai and Mapam.

Second Fatality Identified in Ethiopia

Meanwhile, the country is somehow still managing to go on. Netanyahu recently flew to Moscow to meet with Putin, although no one paid any attention to the two leaders’ words. Only the pictures of their meeting attracted any interest—which, after all, was the purpose of the trip.

Netanyahu was on his way back to Israel when the latest scandal broke: He was accused of eavesdropping on President Trump. Of course, Netanyahu denied it, and logic would indicate that there is no need to eavesdrop on a president who is a friend of Israel, but the opposition took advantage of the rumor to attack the prime minister. Truth be told, it has been discovered in the past that Israel spied even on world leaders who were supposedly friendly….

In other news this week, there was a development that was at once tragic and a cause for relief: The remains of Avrohom Matzliach of were identified. You may remember that an Ethiopian plane crashed earlier this year, in March, with two Israelis on board. The remains of one of the Israeli passengers, Shimon Romm, were identified about a month ago. The second body, of Avi Matzliach of Maaleh Adumim, has now been identified. Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, convened a special bais din to handle the case; the members of the bais din included Rav Michoel Amos (whose shul in Kiryat Menachem was the subject of an article I wrote in the past) and Rav Yaakov Rosa, who is considered an expert in the relevant area of halacha.

Immediately after the plane crash, a team of ZAKA volunteers had been dispatched to the crash site in Ethiopia, with the prime minister’s authorization, and spent long days laboring under harsh conditions in an effort to locate and collect the remains of the Jewish victims. This was no easy task; debris from the crash was scattered over a very large area in a crater dozens of meters deep, which had been created by the breakup of the plane as it traveled at the velocity of 600 kilometers per hour. With the discovery of the second victim’s remains this week, his wife was released from the status of agunah. If I am not mistaken, though, the family already sat shivah for him. I feel a certain connection to this tragedy, since Matzliach’s brother-in-law works in the Knesset. He is a member of the Knesset Guard and is responsible for the guard dogs.

A Spiritual Renaissance in Eilat

This week, the city of Eilat found itself in the news for reasons that I am certain will not interest you at all. Nevertheless, it gives me a pretext to write about the city, which I visited only once in my life. My sole exposure to Eilat came when I accompanied Rav Yitzchak Kaduri on a private flight to Eilat, when he traveled there to participate in an atzeres hisorerus in the month of Elul. Perhaps I will write about that experience another time.

The city of Eilat has undergone a spiritual transformation, which can be attributed in large part to Rav Reuven Elbaz of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim. Nevertheless, the overarching influence behind this spiritual revolution is that of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who was the catalyst for restoring the glory of Sephardic Jewry in Israel. Today, if you visit Cholon, Bat Yam, Eilat, Pardes Katz, Carmiel, and many other cities, you will find large communities of Sephardic bnei Torah, the products of kiruv efforts that brought tens of thousands of Sephardic youths back to the fold. Today, those young men have families of their own, and their own sons are enrolled in yeshivos. But many do not recognize the scope of the miracle that has unfolded in our own times. In all likelihood, it will be another 40 years before historians realize that Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s influence changed the face of this country.

Many years ago, Rav Ovadiah once remarked in a drosha, “Twenty years ago, I visited Eilat during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah. There were only secular schools there at the time; there wasn’t a single religious school. They asked me if I was willing to address a group of students, and I said yes. When I arrived, the students in the sixth and seventh grades wanted to hear my speech, but the principal insisted that there was no room for them, and only the eighth graders could enter the room. They argued with him, but they remained outside. That was the principal’s decree.

“I began to speak about teshuvah and maasim tovim. Gentlemen, what happened next is impossible to believe. Those wonderful young men began crying. They asked me where I planned to go that night, and I told them that I would be reciting Selichos in a particular place. All of them came to Selichos that evening! They wept as they uttered the words, the same way that the average person cries when he recites Selichos on Yom Kippur. The Jewish people are righteous and holy; v’ameich kulam tzaddikim,” Rav Ovadiah asserted passionately. “After that, slowly but surely, there were Talmudei Torah that opened in the city with several classes. Ben Porat Yosef, they are flourishing today, boruch Hashem….”

Stocking Up for Olam Haba

This week, Yisroel Kessar passed away. Kessar was the secretary-general of the Histadrut labor union and subsequently became the Minister of Transportation. He was a pleasant person, and I have dim recollections of him from the Knesset. He wasn’t an enemy of religion, but I do not remember him fighting for the benefit of the religious populace either. He was an affable person who remembered his Jewish roots. After his passing, I found myself wondering what impressions he had left behind, and what would be remembered from his career of public service.

Then I thought about the matter a bit further, and I began to wonder if he has any merits to bring with him to the Next World. There were some government ministers who certainly made an impact on the country. In recent history, Transportation Minister Yisroel Katz was responsible for thoroughly improving the country’s roads, while Ayelet Shaked fomented an upheaval in the Supreme Court. But even these accomplishments are virtually worthless in the World of Truth. And if we look back at earlier generations, we can ask what was left behind by prime ministers such as Levi Eshkol, Yitzchak Rabin, or Moshe Sharett. Perhaps it can be said that Ben-Gurion founded the state (not that there is much reason for him to take pride in it) and that Begin presided over the termination of warfare between Israel and Egypt. Overall, though, what have the country’s prime ministers contributed?

In stark contrast to this, the chareidi political representatives—beginning with Reb Itche Meir Levin, who served in Ben-Gurion’s government, and spanning the entirety of Israeli history until the current day—have produced plenty. They used the Knesset and the government as tools to benefit the public, to engage in chesed, and to build botei medrash and mivkaos. They, at least, have stocked up on plenty of mitzvos to bring with them to the World of Truth.

Vast Reward for a Single Ballot

This reminds me of the famous drosha delivered by Rav Ovadiah Yosef in one of the previous election campaigns. Rav Ovadiah vividly described a Jewish person being brought to Gan Eden after his death, where he is accompanied by angels and accorded enormous respect. He is motioned to take a seat at the mizrach, and he cannot understand the reason for his royal reception. “I am just a simple Jew,” he protests. “I don’t deserve all of this honor.”

The malach presiding over his arrival responds, “You built shuls and mikvaos, and you caused kedusha to spread!”

The new arrival is shocked. “You must be mistaken,” he says. “I didn’t do any of those things.”

“Did you vote for Shas?” the angel asks him.

“Yes,” the man replies. “So what?”

“Because you voted for Shas, you became a partner in everything that they did,” the malach explains. “Therefore, you built mikvaos and shuls, you organized shiurim, you prevented people from sinning, and the list goes on….”

Of course, the same could be said of a person who casts a ballot for United Torah Judaism.

As I pondered this, it occurred to me that the reverse is also true. A man such as Ron Kobi, the mayor of Tiveriah, or Carmel Shama-Hakohen, the mayor of Rechovot, will arrive in Shomayim and will be cast down to the depths of Gehinnom. He will immediately begin screaming in protest, “What did I do wrong? I am not so bad! I didn’t commit that many aveiros! Why am I being punished so severely?”

In response, he will be told, “That may be true, but you breached the bulwark of Shabbos observance, and you are faulted for all the desecrations of Shabbos that took place as a result. All the people who took buses on Shabbos, and their children who followed in their footsteps, sinned because of you!”

How unfortunate that they have chosen this path!

A Knesset Member Goes to War Against Bnei Brak

Now, let me move on to an item that has to do with the Knesset rather than the upcoming election. First of all, let me present a riddle to you. What is the common denominator of the following names: Eitan Ginsburg, Gadi Yevarken, Fateen Mulla, Gadeer Kamal-Mreeh, Evgeny Sova, Mansour Abbas, Ariel Kallner, Mtanes Shihadeh, and Yizhar Shai? The answer is that all these people (along with many others) are Knesset members who did not submit a single parliamentary query in the 21st Knesset. True, the Knesset has disbanded and it is no longer possible to introduce new bills or submit motions for the agenda, but there is one thing that a member of the Knesset can still do: submit parliamentary queries.

I looked into the matter, and I found that only 14 Knesset members have taken advantage of the only tool that they can still utilize at this time to benefit their constituents, whether collectively or as individuals. Fourteen out of 120! (That is, with the exception of MKs who are also ministers or deputy ministers, and are not authorized to submit queries.)

Not all the parliamentary queries are fit to be quoted, but I will cite one particular query, so that you will understand that even the members of the Likud party aren’t always charming and pleasant. The following query, titled “Examining the Behavior of the Bnei Brak Municipality,” was sent by MK Chava Ettie Attiya (Likud) to the Minister of the Interior: “Paragraph 125c of the Municipal Ordinances states, ‘Every municipality must provide each of the political parties in the city council and every member of the council at least one office, a telephone, a fax machine and a computer.’

“The Ministry of the Interior stated, in Director-General Directive 4/2017, ‘A local authority is not permitted to place employees at the disposal of elected officials. Included in this, the municipality may not provide city council members or deputy mayors with personal secretaries or aides, even if their positions require them to maintain an office in the municipality. Secretarial services will be provided only by the office of the head of the locality [i.e., the mayor] or the director-general of the locality.’

“According to the information that has been provided to me, the municipality of Bnei Brak provides offices and personal secretaries solely for the use of the parties and city council members of the coalition, as well as their close associates, who are not members of the city council or municipal employees at all. This, of course, is in complete violation of the law. Even worse, complaints have been ignored that were submitted by the parties and council members of the opposition to the municipal legal advisor and treasurer regarding the improper use of municipal resources.

“In addition to that, requests to examine documents of great importance, such as those pertaining to conflicts of interest of municipal officials or allocations of land worth tens of millions of shekels, have also been completely ignored, despite the clear dictates of the law. It has also been brought to my attention that the municipality has made unusual transfers of tens of millions of shekels, for which the members of the city council have requested explanations and have received none. After all these complaints were ignored, the chairman of one of the municipal parties, Mr. Yaakov Wieder, contacted the national leadership….”

This lengthy and bitter-sounding paragraph ends abruptly here. It is followed by a question that is phrased in an equally vindictive tone: “In light of the above, has the Interior Ministry taken, and/or does it plan to take, disciplinary steps against the municipality? If so, I request details on the nature of the measures to be implemented. And if not, I would like to know why.”

It will be interesting to see how the Interior Minister responds to this question. Even more interesting, though, is the issue of how she obtained this information, which borders on mesirah. This is the sign of an all-out war against the Bnei Brak municipality, and that is very sad!

In any event, several chareidi members of the Knesset were among those who submitted parliamentary queries during the 21st Knesset: Azulai (2), Arbel (15), Ben-Tzur (1), Maklev (7), and Malchieli (5). Most of those queries dealt with the plights of individuals.

The 50th Yahrtzeit of Rav Nochum Lessman

This Elul has marked the 50th yahrtzeits of several world-class gedolim. Last week, much was written about Rav Yechezkel Sarna, who passed away on the 6th of Elul, 5729. In all likelihood, much ink will be spilled next week about the Ponovezher Rov, whose yahrtzeit is the 20th of Elul. But I doubt that many people will write about Rav Nochum Lessman (who passed away on the 12th of Elul, 5729), who established a yeshiva in Magdiel for Sephardic talmidim and who collaborated with Rav Yaakov Friedman to open the Tifrach yeshiva. Rav Nochum was hailed by the Steipler Gaon as “one of the few talmidei chachomim in this generation.”

Rav Nochum’s path through the Torah world began under the tutelage of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz. He went on to gain prominence in the Mir yeshiva. For a full decade, he learned with Rav Nochum Partzovitz every morning before davening. During the yeshiva’s exile in Shanghai, he attained lofty heights of Torah wisdom, and at the end of the war, he was counted along with Rav Nochum Partzovitz, Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, and Rav Yisroel Feigenbaum as one of the top talmidim of the yeshiva. After his arrival in Eretz Yisroel, he developed a close relationship with the Chazon Ish, who once remarked to someone who was taking a walk with him, “Come, let us go to Rav Nochum’s home and catch a glimpse of yegias haTorah.” His father-in-law was the Chazon Ish’s neighbor, Rav Mattisyahu Shziegel, for whom Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu is named.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz once remarked that Rav Nochum’s hasmodah was reminiscent of the stories that had been told about Rav Akiva Eiger. Rav Moshe Chevroni related that Rav Nochum’s family had never seen him sleeping. His talmidim in Magdiel attested that he used to perspire while he learned, even during the winter months. Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt”l once said, “I have two ‘Nochums’ who will lead me to Olam Haba….” The current rosh yeshiva of Mir, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, is his son-in-law.



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