Wednesday, May 29, 2024

My Take on the News

Missiles in the South

Tell me something: Is ten a large number or a small one?

Of course, that is a ridiculous question. Everything is relative, and the answer depends on what I am referring to.

But I won’t keep you guessing. I am referring to missiles.

Yes, missiles that you might hear from the living room of your home, without any knowledge as to where they will fall. They might fall in your general vicinity, in your own city, and even in your own backyard, chas veshalom. And that is my question: If you hear ten such missiles, do you consider that a lot?

In my view, ten is an enormous number. And this week, ten missiles were launched into Israel from the Gaza strip, targeting areas ranging from Sderot to Ofakim, including the various towns, kibbutzim, moshavim, and Bedouin villages in between.

We witnessed unmistakable miracles. The workings of Hashem’s Hashgacha were clearly evident. First of all, there was the Iron Dome, the gift that Israel received from Uncle Sam. This defense system intercepted seven out of the ten missiles that were fired into Israel. But even the remaining three, or even a single missile, had the capacity to sow destruction, to maim and to kill. And what happened to those three missiles?

Two of them fell in what are called “open areas.” This had nothing to do with the alertness of the IDF or anything of the sort. It was simply a product of the terrorists’ inability to aim their missiles properly. That, by the way, is the reason that Israel will never announce the exact locations where missiles fell—to prevent the terrorists from improving their aim.

As for the tenth missile, it hit a house in Sderot, exactly one minute after the residents of the house had entered a reinforced room. The official reports stated that the house itself suffered major damage; in plain English, that means that it was completely destroyed.

All of us in Israel, even if we do not live in the south, are well aware of the grave situation there. Children in those communities are kept awake at night by their fears. But there is nothing that we can do to help them. There was a time when we would expect the government to address the situation, but today we do not have a government. The country has been paralyzed in every respect.

Another Attempted Stabbing at Meoras Hamachpeilah

And the terror attacks within Israel have continued as well.

Last weekend, a female Arab terrorist attempted to stab police officers at Meoras Hamachpeilah during the morning hours. The terrorist was shot and critically wounded by the police, and she later died. This follows two other recent attempted stabbings in the area, one of which was carried out by a 16-year-old boy who tried to stab a soldier. In fact, it was the 15th attempted stabbing at the site since January.

Meanwhile, another stone-throwing attack took place near the settlement of Yitzhar, in which a Jewish youth was lightly wounded on Wednesday morning. This represented a step up for the terrorists, since the rocks were thrown at the victim’s home in Yitzhar. Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council (which includes several dozen small communities), announced in response, “Time after time, the residents of these settlements have been harmed because the Palestinians are permitted to harvest olives in the areas bordering on Jewish settlements.” He emphasized that the victim had “only” been injured this time, but that it was just as possible that the attack could have led to a loss of life. “Provocations and violence directed at Jewish settlers have become a daily occurrence,” Dagan concluded.

And then there is Route 443, a highway that serves as an alternative to Route 1 and connects Yerushalayim to the cities of Modiin and Modiin Illit, as well as the Shilat Junction, before continuing to Elad and Route 6. Many people, including myself, prefer to travel to Bnei Brak via Route 443 rather than making the entire trip on Route 1. From time to time, there are notifications about rock throwing attacks against the cars that travel on that highway. I believe that the stone throwers are the residents of the Arab villages that line the highway (despite the wall that was erected to protect motorists on the highway from those Arabs). However, the media seems to prefer not to report these incidents in order to avoid frightening the Jewish drivers who tend to use the road.

Lame Ducks

The government has been paralyzed, but the Knesset is acting as if nothing is out of the ordinary. Last Monday, the Knesset began its winter session. At this point, there is no coalition, no opposition, no government, and no responsible adult in the Knesset. Binyomin Netanyahu is officially serving as the prime minister, but he himself knows that it is only temporary. We will soon find out if the torch will be passed to Benny Gantz or, perhaps, we will have another election. But as of now, Netanyahu is a lame duck.

The Knesset has convened in order to give the public the impression that the government is still functioning. However, it is essentially spinning its wheels. At this point, there is no one there to make decisions on anything, including the passage of laws. If a member of the Knesset introduces a bill today, there is no one who will decide whether the Knesset should support it. If the Likud party, for instance, decides to reject a bill proposed by Blue and White, the bill can still garner a majority in the Knesset. Nevertheless, if the Blue and White party truly aspires to rule the country, then they should feel a sense of responsibility to reject any bill that is wasteful.

At the same time, the Knesset will continue discussing urgent motions for the agenda. This refers to motions that are approved by the Knesset presidium (i.e., the Knesset speaker and his deputies) as meriting urgent discussion. Those topics will be raised on the Wednesday of the week when they are submitted, and the relevant government ministers will respond. But then again, this is also an exercise in futility. The ministers of the government know that they may be removed from their positions at any time. What power do they have, and what significance can possibly be ascribed to their responses? Even if a minister presents the government’s stance on an issue, it is the same government that may cease to exist within a matter of days.

In short, everything that is taking place in the Knesset today must be considered essentially irrelevant.

The Distance from Ego to IQ

In case it interests you, here is a list of the topics that were approved for urgent discussion in the Knesset last week. A motion for discussion of the rising cost of day care was proposed by Yaakov Asher and supported by several MKs, including Michoel Malchieli of the Shas party. The failings of the public transportation system due to cuts in the budgets of the various companies were the subject of another motion, this one filed by Uri Maklev and supported by MKs including Moshe Abutbol. Another proposal dealt with the lack of a new budgetary allocation for the basket of approved medications and the resultant clear and immediate danger to the sick. There was also a request for a discussion of violence against vulnerable citizens (which was submitted by Yaakov Margi, among others), a motion to deal with the serious harm suffered by debtors due to a strike in the Hotzoah Lapoel debt collection agency (filed by Moshe Arbel), and a petition for the Knesset to discuss the rise in the price of water, which took place for the third time this past year. (Again, two of the MKs behind this motion, Yisroel Eichler and Yinon Azulai, are chareidim.) Yet another discussion concerned the cancellation of the “holiday school” initiative and the government’s plan to eliminate subsidized afterschool activities in the north. Finally, the Knesset was scheduled to discuss the fatalities resulting from road accidents.

I was present in the Knesset during the first week of the winter session. There was very little joy in the country’s parliament, as the political instability cast a pall over its members. Politicians know very well how to destroy, but they do not know how to build. They dismantled the previous government and led us into two elections, and now they do not know how to contend with the resultant destruction.

As is the case in every new Knesset—and I have seen quite a few of them—it was entertaining to watch the new members of the Knesset arriving for their first days on the job. They ventured out of their hotel rooms and paraded into the Knesset building as if they felt that the entire world was resting on their shoulders. They exuded so much conceit that it almost seemed as if it could puncture the ozone layer. Their exaggerated sense of self-importance seemed to have trickled down to their fresh new aides as well, who were thrilled by their permanent passes to enter the Knesset building and seemed to have convinced themselves that they would play a pivotal role in building a new world.

In the seforim hakedoshim, there are various phrases that connote vast distances, such as “the distance from east to west” or “the distance from heaven to earth.” Having been in the Knesset, I can add another measure that is even more mind-boggling: the distance from the egos of our elected representatives to their IQs. Thousands of these people have passed through these doors with the same attitude and have rapidly faded into obscurity.

Rejoicing with a Special Child

Considering the irrelevance and pointlessness of the first day of the Knesset session, I chose to visit Bnei Brak on Monday instead. My son had invited me to the bar mitzvah of a special child, which was attended by a group of virtuous bochurim and featured the performances of expert musicians, all under the aegis of Rabbi Nosson Tzishinsky of Ezer L’Chaim. My son was involved in making the arrangements for this bar mitzvah, and the elation that permeated the hall on Rechov Sorotzkin in Bnei Brak made for a sharp contrast to the strained nerves and sour faces that filled the Knesset. The joy exuded by all the participants—not despite the bar mitzvah boy’s disabilities, but because of them—was utterly indescribable.

I danced with Chaim, the bar mitzvah boy, whose pleasure and exuberance knew no bounds. I watched his father, who is perpetually cheerful despite the heavy burden that he carries, wipe away tears of joy. Proud, sweet Chaim rode on the shoulders of a bochur from the Radin Yeshiva, where his father serves as a maggid shiur, and sang excitedly along with the performer. At that moment, it seemed that no one in the world could possibly have been more ecstatic than this special young man.

There were many people who deserve credit for organizing the event and allowing young Chaim to enjoy his day in the sun. The hall and catering were provided at a discount, and the bochurim who participated in the event had foregone their vacations at the end of bein hazemanim in order to spend time with him. The singers—Shmuli Gefner, Moishy Rosenberg, Chaim Eckstein, and Shloime Cohen—performed at the event lesheim Shomayim, and the band included Dovid Klieger on the clarinet and Ahrele Goldman on the keyboard. Reb Nosson Tzishinsky of Ezer L’Chaim presided over the event. Ezer L’Chaim is an organization that helps the sick and disabled, along with their family members, to cope both in hospitals and in their homes, and works to bring joy into their lives.

Reb Nosson, whose name is the perfect representation of his giving nature, asked me to conclude this account with a simple message: “Anyone who is in need of help is invited to call us. And anyone who is willing to offer their assistance is also invited to call us.”

Disgraced on the Front Page

It was a combative proclamation: “In order to remove a Minister of Justice who did not meet with the approval of the judicial system, old criminal cases were unfrozen and details were leaked to the press. This was meant to remind the politicians that the proverbial sword would always be hanging over their heads. If that isn’t extortion, then I don’t know what is.”

These words were spoken by the current Minister of Justice, but none of this is news to anyone. The Ministry of Justice is known for its focused eliminations of anyone who threatens the plans or status of its personnel. Those tactics have been used against people such as Yaakov Neeman, Rafael Eitan, Chaim Ramon, and Ruvi Rivlin. Even Professor Daniel Friedmann was intimidated by the possibility of being prosecuted on trumped-up charges, and Minister Ayelet Shaked expected to receive the same treatment.

What was different about this was the fact that a sitting Minister of Justice attacked the people of his own ministry. Amir Ochana enumerated the crimes of the “prosecution within the prosecution,” who quickly mobilized the reporters who seek to curry favor with them in order to fire back at the minister. Ochana was both outspoken and strategic in his words: His scathing opening remarks were taken directly from Ruvi Rivlin. Ochana attacked the criminal justice system for its campaign against Netanyahu, pointing out the illegal searches of the cell phones belonging to the prime minister’s advisors. This is discussed at length in a separate article.

I found it all entertaining and amusing. I myself am an alumnus, in a sense, of the criminal justice system, having been arrested many years ago and interrogated for hours on end, and I am familiar with the criminal tactics employed by police investigators. I personally saw officers in the police force blithely ignoring every law and trampling on the rights of citizens. Police officers have leaked confidential information, lied, deceived judges, carried out groundless arrests, threatened innocent citizens, and committed acts of extortion. My compatriots and I, who were interrogated in conjunction with the charges against Aryeh Deri, were superior in our intelligence and in our integrity, but they were the ones in power.

When I was being questioned by the police, an unfamiliar interrogator entered the room one day and boasted, “I am here from the main unit, and I am going to crush you.” He was repulsive; his behavior was coarse and his language came directly from the gutter. At one point during the interrogation, he asked me for my beeper and began looking through its records as he saw fit. Today, I know that his actions were illegal. After two or three hours had passed, he became exhausted and left the room.

Later on, I met Rafi Ginat, one of the most prominent reporters in the country, who had been acquitted after undergoing two years of interrogations and injustices at the hands of the same police unit. I told him about my experiences, and I made special mention of the thuggish interrogator whom I had encountered. We compared notes and discovered that we had both been questioned by the same man and that he had also acted like a brutish thug in his dealings with Ginat. “I am waiting for the opportunity to take revenge,” Ginat told me.

A few years later, I came across an article concerning a particular officer who had been thrown out of the police force, had begun to work as a private investigator, and had ultimately been arrested for allegedly extorting a businessman. That detective was none other than “our” interrogator. By the end of that week, the man’s name and picture were plastered across the front page of the newspaper where Ginat served as the editor. I was probably the only one who understood why the newspaper had dedicated its front page to a disgraced police officer.

No Winter Clothes in Prison

Let me share a sad story with you, and I will have to ask you to trust me when I say that it is true.

In the religious wing of the Ramle prison, there is a young man who was sentenced to a year behind bars. This young man has been categorized as a “security” prisoner and has been subjected to the worst possible conditions, since the terms of imprisonment for any security prisoner are dictated by the Shin Bet. The reason for this classification is that he was convicted of assaulting Arabs. And the reason he attacked those Arabs is that they were harassing Jewish women.

This young man’s friends were talked into signing a plea bargain with the state and the Shin Bet, and they were sentenced to several years in prison. This inmate himself, however, consulted with Rav Chaim Kanievsky and was advised not to agree to any plea bargain. Ultimately, he received an eleven-month sentence, which he is in the middle of serving.

Now, here is the story: As a security prisoner, he was required to receive the approval of the Shin Bet in order to be visited by his family members, a right that is taken for granted by ordinary prisoners. His request was submitted to the Prison Service, which appeared to be waiting for the approval of the Shin Bet. As of now, he has been waiting for half a year to be granted visits with his parents and siblings, and he has constantly been told that his request is still being reviewed.

To date, his request for a visit from his family members has yet to be approved. Consequently, the only clothes he has in his possession are those with which he entered the prison half a year ago. He does not have attire that is suitable for the winter. This is a terrible violation of basic human rights. His request to speak to a lawyer is also “under review,” which means that he has been denied access to anyone who could defend his legal rights.

Inspiration Behind Bars

That leads me to another item concerning Israel’s prisons, relating to the inmates in the chareidi wing of Maasiyahu Prison. You may have noticed, based on my columns, that I am well acquainted with events that transpire there. That is true, and it is the case in other prisons as well. I have been highly attuned to the plights of prisoners in Israel, ever since I discovered the capacity of the police for cruelty and wickedness. I do not trust the police, and I know that there are several prisoners in the chareidi wing of the prison who are innocent of any crimes. The inmates in the prison know very well the value of every moment they can spend in their homes or neighborhood shuls, yet no one seems to be thinking about them.

Before Sukkos, Rav Shlomo Amar, the chief rabbi of Yerushalayim and former chief rabbi of Israel, delivered a shiur in the prison’s religious wing. His main message was that a Jewish person should spend his life collecting mitzvos, which are more precious than diamonds in Olam Haba. His visit to the prison created enormous excitement among the inmates. In truth, the visit was motivated by hakoras hatov for one of the prisoners in that wing, who is very close to him. Rav Amar himself is well aware that this man was incarcerated through no fault of his own, but I will not go into the details of the situation.

Before the shiur, the rov was treated to a royal reception in the office of the prison superintendant, where he was also greeted by Rav Elmaliach, the rov of the Prison Service. I should also mention Commissioner Asher Vaknin, who is currently serving as the acting chief of the Prison Service. If one of the qualifications for a permanent post was compassion for the suffering of prisoners, then Vaknin would certainly be deserving of such a promotion. He (along with his staff) is not apathetic or cruel toward the prisoners, and that is something that can never be taken for granted in the Israel Prison Service.

Anticipating the Yahrtzeit of Rochel Imeinu

At the end of this week, we expect to see the annual influx of visitors at Kever Rochel in honor of Rochel Imeinu’s yahrtzeit on the eleventh of Cheshvan. Since the yahrtzeit falls on Shabbos this year, the event will be more complicated than usual, especially due to the chareidi community’s justified insistence that the security services and other government entities must not violate the Shabbos. I will report on it next week, as I expect to be among the tens of thousands of visitors flocking to the site for the occasion.

The same date is also the yahrtzeit of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l, the rosh yeshiva of Mir, who exhibited boundless love for his talmidim and was the object of their love in return. The yahrtzeit will be marked by a major event in Mir featuring sixty siyumim.

Every year, I feel a pang when this date arrives. My son’s wedding took place on the same day that Rav Nosson Tzvi passed away. I visited Rav Nosson Tzvi in advance of the wedding and asked him to serve as mesader kiddushin, and he promised to make an effort to come, as long as his strength held up. On the day of the wedding, I received word at 5:00 in the morning that Rav Nosson Tzvi had passed away. The guests came directly to the wedding from the levayah, including my son’s friends from Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld. The rabbeim of the yeshiva had been instructed by Rav Nosson Tzvi’s rebbetzin to attend the wedding despite the mourning in the yeshiva in order to avoid putting a damper on our simcha.

This week also marked the yahrtzeit of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, which was commemorated with an assortment of events held by the Shas party, including an event in the Knesset that was attended both by Netanyahu and by Gantz. More important, though, were the dozens of shiurim delivered in his memory throughout the country and the fact that thousands of people visited his kever at the cemetery in Sanhedria.

The Widow Who Asked Rav Ovadiah for the Time

The following story was told by Rav Yaakov Shealtiel, an elderly Yid who attended Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s shiurim in the Shaul Tzadkah shul for sixty years:

There was an elderly widow who lived in a bomb shelter of sorts in the courtyard of the shul. Rav Ovadiah used to deliver a shiur in the shul every night, and about fifteen minutes after the shiur began, the woman would always enter the shul and shout from the doorway, “Chacham Ovadiah, what time is it?” The rov sat at a slight distance from the doorway, and when he heard her voice, he would answer her in Arabic and then she would leave. There were some occasions when the rov did not hear her, and the women in the ezras noshim would answer her instead. However, the elderly woman refused to accept their answer, and insisted instead that the rov respond to her. The rov would then rise from his seat, approach her, and tell her the time, and then she would leave.

This is an incredible story that illustrates the depth of Rav Ovadiah’s humility and the degree to which he was sensitive to the feelings of an elderly widow.

The Passing of a Great Man

After Shabbos here in Eretz Yisroel, we heard the sad news of the passing of Rav Yacov Lipschutz zt”l, the patriarch of an illustrious family. I shared the sadness of Rav Pinchos Lipschutz, and I was also saddened for Rav Pinchos’s children, whom I have known for many years.

I heard incredible stories about Rav Lipschutz zt”l, including the fact that he was an expert on kashrus. (My father was also a kashrus expert, and during his years as the rov of the Machzikei Hadas community in Copenhagen, all of the kashrus agencies in Israel and America relied on the hechsher that he issued for oil imported from Denmark. As a result, I have a strong sentimental connection to the field.)

The Yated and other publications will properly pay tribute to him. For my part, I can contribute what Aryeh Deri wrote to his friend, Rav Pinchos. It was a short letter that says a tremendous amount, but I will quote only a few lines: “To my honorable and dear friend, who brings merit to the community and is the faithful servant of the gedolei hador, who promulgates the pure hashkafah of the Torah and stands at the side of those who toil over the Torah, Rav Pinchos Halevi Lipschutz shlit”a… Your father merited to live to an old age and to experience many full years of harbotzas Torah and kiruv among our Jewish brethren. He also had the good fortune of seeing his children and other progeny following in the path of Hashem. Few people have received as much reward in their lifetimes as your father did, while arriving in the World of Truth at the end of their lives in a state of wondrous perfection. He can enter the Heavenly judgment without fear and answer in the affirmative to everything that he is asked. (‘Did you do business faithfully?’ ‘Did you make your fellow man your king?’ ‘Did you set times for Torah learning?’) For throughout his life, he toiled to learn and teach the Torah, while serving as a wondrous paragon of bein adam lachaveiro…”



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