My Take on the News

Sadness and Dread in the Air

As one day follows another, we watch the events taking place here in Israel and realize that there is nothing that we can do about the increasingly bleak situation, other than davening to Hashem to grant common sense to the people who, for some reason, are considered the leaders of the country. Listening to Benny Gantz, one cannot help but wonder how this man ever served as the supreme commander of the IDF, when he is incapable of stringing together two consecutive sentences with any connection between them. One also cannot help but be appalled by his intention of partnering with the anti-Israel Arab List to maneuver himself into a better position for the next stage of the game, whether it will be a negotiation with the Likud party or another round of elections. It may be a strategically sound move, but are there really no limits to what someone may do for political gain?

It is said that he is being advised by Yair Lapid, and that is no less infuriating. Lapid, who makes no secret of his hatred of chareidim and sometimes spouts anti-Semitic rhetoric, whose conceit has become his defining trait and who has done nothing in his life other than serve as finance minister and leave ruin behind him, who grew up as a pampered child with a silver spoon in his mouth and who viewed his army service as a sort of adventurous vacation (Lapid spent his time in the army as a correspondent for the military magazine Bamachaneh), whose vitriolic rhetoric is larger than the man himself—he is the one who is calling the shots. If the phrase “rak lo chareidim” (“anything but chareidim”), which was coined by Lapid and Lieberman, gains traction in Israeli society, what will our community do to defend itself against the rampant hatred? The very thought is appalling.

Then again, who would ever have believed that Lieberman, the most eccentric right-wing politician, and Lapid, the country’s prime centrist, would collaborate with each other? When did they develop a rapport? This reminds me of Rashi’s analogy of dogs that compete with each other only as long as they do not have a common enemy, but that are induced to work together whenever they share a foe. I am also reminded of a line in Rashi at the beginning of this week’s parsha, where he states that Efron described himself and Avrohom as two “ohavim.” At face value, this seems to mean that Efron was asserting that a friendship existed between them, but when would they have become friends? In light of this question, some read Rashi’s words differently: Avrohom loved Meoras Hamachpeilah, and Efron loved money. Between two ohavim of that nature, each of whom loved something else, 400 shekels was certainly considered a trivial sum….

Netanyahu in the Battle of His Life

I feel sympathy for Netanyahu. How much can one person suffer? He is trying with all his might to be successful in his job. He is the longest serving prime minister in Israeli history (a record that he recently set after surpassing Ben-Gurion), and he has the experience and the ability to carry out his task. He also has plenty of evidence of his qualifications. At the same time, it is possible that the time has come for him to leave the keys on the desk, so to speak, and to allow a younger politician to take his place. After all, there is no one in the world who is irreplaceable. As the old saying goes, the cemeteries are filled with people who thought that no one could replace them.

On a personal level, I feel bad for him. He fears that his colleagues in the Likud party might stab him in the back when the moment of truth arrives. That would certainly be an act of ingratitude; after all, it was Netanyahu himself who propelled the party to the large number of mandates that it has received. But more than anything else, there is the prospect that he might be on his way to prison. In recent days, many journalists, including those who are generally good at predicting upcoming events, have been insisting that Netanyahu is about to be indicted. The average person does not know anything about criminal proceedings until the Ministry of Justice actually submits an indictment to the court. At that point, the indictment becomes public knowledge—and that is also when the defendant himself learns about it. It is sad, but that is the way things work in our country. In this case, some believe that Netanyahu will be indicted as early as Tuesday, while others predict that it will happen on Wednesday, or perhaps next Sunday. And, they add, the indictment will include the accusation of bribery, in spite of all the recent reports of the improper and undemocratic treatment of Nir Hefetz, the state witness in the Elovich-Bezeq-Walla case.

In short, I have no doubt that tensions are rising in the Netanyahu household.

Is Trump Fed Up with Israel?

A recent leak to the media has it that President Trump has lost patience with Israel. I can’t be sure that it is true, since these reports are always attributed to anonymous sources in the White House and in the Pentagon, and there is no way to confirm or disprove such a report. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the Israeli media has reported that Trump is very disappointed with Netanyahu and is speaking about him in negative terms. And the Israeli press cited circumstantial evidence for its claims: In the first election campaign, Trump did everything in his power to help Netanyahu, including inviting him to the White House, recognizing the Golan Heights, and declaring Iran to be a terror organization. During the second campaign, though, he did nothing!

Rex Tillerson, the former Secretary of State who was fired at the beginning of a round of dismissals carried out by Trump, was quoted by the same anonymous sources—and it doesn’t take much intelligence to figure out that they aren’t particularly fond of Trump—as making the harsh accusation that Netanyahu tried several times to deceive President Trump by presenting false information to him. According to the anonymous sources, Tillerson claimed that he had personally exposed Netanyahu’s lies and had reported his findings to the president, who was very disturbed that an ally could act in that fashion. This leaked information was the topic of the front page story in Israel’s most widely read newspaper this past week.

So there is a chance that we are heading into a very unpleasant period of time, when Trump will be aggravated with Israel, the country will be led by Gantz and Lapid (along with Lieberman), the chareidim and the religious right will be a fifth wheel in the government at best, and Netanyahu will be sidelined and thrust into the battle of his life in the courts. May Hashem protect us!

Better Smart than Right

Last week, the European Court of Justice ruled that all the member states of the European Union must label any products manufactured in Yehuda, the Shomron, East Yerushalayim, and the Golan Heights. This measure will encourage boycotts of these items and will make it easier for those boycotts to be instituted. Thus, it represents a serious blow to Israeli industry and exports from these “occupied” areas, as well as signaling the defeat of the Israeli diplomats who were responsible for managing relations with the European Union. The ruling is also a tremendous blow to Israel’s public relations, as the country has once again been portrayed as an oppressive conquering regime.

But there is a story within this story, whose moral is the danger of standing on principle. Several years ago, the European Union published a set of guidelines that called from products manufactured in Yehuda and the Shomron to be labeled as such if they were marketed in Europe, but that rule was never actually implemented. Nevertheless, the Psagot winery in the Binyamin region appealed to a French court against the European Union’s decision, and the court accepted the appeal and halted the process until the European Court of Justice, the highest court in the EU, would issue a verdict. The Israeli Ministry of Justice warned Psagot that their temporary victory had the potential to backfire, since the recommendation to label the products might be confirmed by the court as a binding decision, and then it would be impossible for it to be ignored. In the end, that is precisely what happened: This week, the court ruled that any products originating in Israeli settlements are obligated to be labeled as such. Psagot decried this as anti-Semitism, and while that may be true, their objections are bound to have no effect. The lesson is clear: It would have been better for them to be smart than to be right. Sometimes, it is better to give in on a matter of principle for practical purposes—an idea that applies to wine from the settlements, the SodaStream company, political dealings, and bein adam l’chaveiro as well.

This week, Emmanuel Giaufret, the European Union’s ambassador to Israel, was a guest in the city of Bnei Brak. Giaufret led a delegation that met with Mayor Avrohom Rubinstein of Bnei Brak and his staff in the municipal building and then set out for a visit to the Yeshiva of Ponovezh. I presume that his visit was scheduled well in advance and had nothing to do with the recent court decision in Europe, but the timing was certainly interesting.

A Memorial for Israel’s Fifth President

Friday, the 24th of Cheshvan, a memorial service will be held in honor of the fourth yahrtzeit of the fifth president of the State of Israel. For those who have forgotten, his name was Yitzchok Navon. He was the first Sephardic politician to break through the proverbial glass ceiling after the office of president was held by four politicians of Ashkenazic extraction from the Mapai party: Chaim Weitzman, Yitzchok Ben-Tzvi (Shimshelevich), Zalman Shazar (Shneur Zalman Rubashov), and Ephraim Katzir (Katchalski). His ancestry was the only difference between Navon and his predecessors; he was also a Mapai member and an associate of Ben-Gurion. After all, there is a limit to the number of glass ceilings that can be broken.

During Navon’s term in office, his wife became such a prominent and active public figure that some referred to Navon himself as “the husband of the fifth president’s wife.” Navon also set another precedent by returning from the presidency to the world of politics. He left the office of president in the year 1983, and then served as Minister of Education from 1984 through 1990, as part of a unity government. For the chareidi community, Navon’s tenure in that position will be remembered as an ignominious period of time, due to his insistence on encouraging interaction between Jewish and Arab students, which he considered his ultimate achievement. Rav Ovadiah Yosef instructed the Shas party to fight against the events that were meant to encourage fraternization between the students, while Navon pleaded, either out of pure naivete or with a mere façade of innocence, for them to drop their opposition to him and his pet initiative.

The memorial service this week was announced by a special committee within the prime minister’s office, and the announcement concluded with a warning of sorts: “Due to security arrangements, participants are asked to arrive no later than 10:15.” But I believe they can rest assured that there will be no crowding or jostling at the event. President Reuven Rivlin’s bodyguards can be confident that his safety will be assured, and that the area will be calm, sterile, and free of any menaces. After all, we all saw just how many people attended the funeral of the seventh and longest serving chief justice of the Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar. The only way that the memorial service for Navon will draw a crowd is if the organizers announce that gifts will be distributed to all the attendees and that everyone present will be entered in a major raffle.

Too Many Deaths and Orphans

Every day seems to come with its own misfortune. There have been too many mourning notices and memorial articles, and too many young orphans. On Wednesday, I was among the thousands of people who escorted “Dovie” Paley to his final rest. On erev Shabbos of Parshas Bereishis, I returned home from Shaare Zedek along with three of my children just in time for candle lighting, after visiting him in the hospital. Reb Dov had asked me to take three of his children to the home of their Savta Tzira, otherwise known as Rebbetzin Levin-Karelenstein, the widow of Rav Chanoch Karelenstein, who was an outstanding talmid chochom who seemed poised to become one of the leaders of his generation. The rebbetzin herself hails from an illustrious family; she is the daughter of Rav Shlomo Levin and granddaughter of Rav Aryeh Levin, and thus a niece of Rav Elyashiv and a first cousin of Rav Chaim Kanievsky (may Hashem grant him strength to continue leading the Jewish people).

At the hospital, I met Dov’s dedicated parents. His mother (the daughter of Rav Wilensky, who was a renowned av beis din in Tel Aviv) has worked for many years as a teacher in the girls’ seminary founded by my father in Beer Yaakov. When I visited him, Dovie was weak and clearly suffering. I visited him again several days later, and this time I found him in a somewhat better state. He insisted on shaking my hand and said, “I owe it to you from Friday; I was too weak and drowsy at the time to greet you properly.” Throughout the return trip from Shaare Zedek to Givat Shaul, I found myself thinking about those three small children, three out of the seven children in the family—the oldest of whom, of course, is named Chanoch. Those thoughts continued to preoccupy me throughout Shabbos.

Ever since I first met Dovie when he married into the Karelenstein family, I have felt a sense of attachment to him. Rav Chanoch Karelenstein was a beacon of light to me, as he was to tens of thousands of others. I felt that I owed him my very soul. Dovie and I met quite often, and we learned mishnayos together at the end of every Elul in honor of Rav Chanoch’s yahrtzeit. We always met each other on Har Hamenuchos on the yahrtzeit itself and conversed at length. I was very fond of Dovie, but at his heavily attended levayah, I discovered that I hadn’t really known him at all. I had always been aware that he was a person who was filled with charm and a wise, intelligent, and kindhearted young man. What I didn’t know is that he was also a world-class tzaddik, an outstanding talmid chacham and a marbitz Torah who was destined for greatness. Listening to the hespedim, I realized that he was also a master of the art of concealing his own greatness.

I was given a copy of a note that Dovie had written to himself when he became a maggid shiur in Zohar HaTorah. This is a document that should be read by anyone who is involved in chinuch and in the shaping of young souls, a document whose contents are a testament to the exalted stature of the man who wrote it. But while some people have expressed the hope that I will write my own tribute to Dovie, I cannot do it yet. My tears refuse to form themselves into words on a page. I will write about him at a later date. In the meantime, this young talmid chochom can be added to the tragic long list of men and women who have passed away at a young age, leaving tender, innocent orphans behind. Master of the Universe, our Father in Heaven, please have mercy on us….

“The Kosel Has Been Taken Over by Extremist Chareidim”

This week, another newspaper headline appeared in the secular Israeli press that was not only ignorant and foolhardy, but brazenly wicked as well. This headline read, “The Battle for Yerushalayim: The Kosel Has Been Taken Over by Extremist Chareidim.” The article appeared in Maariv, under the byline “Maayan Haroni,” and dealt with a report issued by Women of the Wall and the leaders of the Reform movement, who visited the Kosel on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan and insisted on bringing a sefer Torah into the area where they were prohibited from doing so. The article claims that the security guards at the Kosel employed violence to prevent them from entering, and that they were allowed to proceed only when they left the sefer Torah outside. It was the writer’s personal judgment that the security guards acted violently, and she also adds that their actions were approved by the rov of the Kosel.

This article is a textbook case of a slanted, biased, and unfair piece of reporting. It goes on to quote the director of Women of the Wall, who declared that “violence is being used against the Women of the Wall once again” and made the claim cited in the headline that “the Kosel has been taken over by extremist chareidim.” It is very easy to discern where the writer’s sympathies lie.

Later on, the article cites the response of the Kosel Heritage Fund, which points out that the Women of the Wall violated the regulations at the site by attempting to enter the plaza with a sefer Torah, and adds that the interlopers were a group of about 30 women, in contrast to the thousands of male and female mispallelim who opposed their presence. They also asserted that the workers at the Kosel tried to prevent an outbreak of violence and a desecration of the sifrei Torah. By what right does the author of this article adopt the version of the story told by Women of the Wall, who claimed that the security guards actually committed acts of violence? And why does the headline reflect the provocative claims of this minority group, rather than quoting an official source? The article could just as well have been given a title that would create the opposite impression: “Women of the Wall Make a Violent Attempt to Break Rules and Enter Kosel Plaza.”

Needless Provocation

This week, I read that the Yemenite government is outraged. According to the article, the Yemenites took umbrage at the fact that a centuries-old sefer Torah was brought to Israel by the Dahari family, and the Yemenite government announced its intent to take action against the purchaser of the sefer. “Four years ago,” the article relates, “nineteen Yemenite Jews left the country with an extremely old sefer Torah. The Yemenite government arrested everyone involved in the affair, but they were all eventually released.” It is not clear from the article—the the writer himself may not have known—if the sefer Torah in that episode is the same one that has elicited their outrage today.

This is an extremely sensitive subject. It is a mitzvah to redeem any sefer Torah from captivity; however, it is certainly improper to jeopardize the ability of other Jews to leave Yemen, and it is certainly wrong to endanger those who plan on remaining there. One thing is certain: If valuable sifrei Torah are brought to Israel without the permission of the Yemenite government, they should certainly not be treated as commodities to be sold, which will only enrage the Yemenites further. If that happens, it is only to be expected that the Yemenite government will be angered. As for the Dahari family, if I remember the story correctly, they met with Netanyahu and opened the sefer Torah for display in his office, an unnecessary public move that may have been the catalyst for the Yemenite government’s anger. Everyone would agree that there was no need to draw attention to the sefer Torah in that way. It is important to exercise good judgment; there is no reason for Israel to provoke the Yemenite authorities!

A similar article appeared in a chareidi newspaper, but with more specific information. This article related that the sefer in question, which is 800 years old, was brought to Israel from Yemen four years ago by immigrants who were themselves smuggled out of the country. A few of the twelve immigrants met with the prime minister in Yerushalayim and showed him the sefer Torah. “When a picture of the immigrants with the prime minister and the sefer Torah was released,” the article relates, “the Yemenite government announced that the immigrants were guilty of smuggling national treasures out of the country, and it proclaimed that anyone who collaborated with them was in violation of the law. As a result, the Houthi rebels arrested several suspects who had helped the immigrants escape from Yemen with the sefer Torah. One of the men arrested was the rov of Sana’a.” The writer goes on to relate that all of the detainees were released. Unlike the writer in the secular press, this reporter also quotes the immigrants themselves, who responded, “The sefer Torah belongs to us. It was the Jews who paid for it to be written, not the Yemenite government.”

Still, I would personally advise them to take care not to provoke the Yemenite government.

Chareidim Active in the Knesset

This week, the Knesset presidium approved the discussion of ten urgent motions in the Knesset, which is quite a large number. The purpose was simply to give the Knesset members topics to discuss, at a time when the Knesset’s schedule is quite empty. I happened to notice that at least one of the MKs responsible for submitting each motion was a member of a chareidi party. In some cases, there were two chareidi MKs behind a motion, one from UTJ and the other from Shas. This means that the chareidi representatives spent a considerable amount of time at the speakers’ podium in the Knesset this week, which is certainly a sign of impressive productivity.

The following are the topics of the motions that were approved for discussion: work accidents at construction sites; the end of the Israeli presence in Tzofer and Naharayim; the damage to the quality of education resulting from the cancelation of continued training for teachers offered by the Education Ministry; the plight of the health care system in Israel; the serious shortage of medical cannabis in Israeli pharmacies; the failings of geriatric inpatient facilities in the country; the increase in activity and violence among anti-Israel groups opposed to settlement in Yehuda, the Shomron, and the Jordan Valley; the development of the Jewish market in Chevron; the arrest of the soldiers of the Netzach Yehuda unit and the need to examine the conduct of the investigative division of the military police; and an episode of violence perpetrated in Yitzhar.

Unfortunately, there was one other urgent motion that was not approved. This motion dealt with an increase in police brutality and was prompted by several recent incidents in which police officers were filmed committing acts of serious violence against civilians, mainly chareidim. The motion was not approved because a special discussion concerning violence in the chareidi community was supposed to take place in the Knesset, at the request of 40 members of the Knesset and with the participation of the prime minister. Ultimately, the Blue and White party, which had requested the discussion, withdrew their motion due to the security situation.

Criminals in the Police and Prosecution

I have been reading about the widespread shock over the police misconduct in the investigations surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I have been listening to all the sensational reports on the subject. Not long ago, Justice Minister Ochana stood in the Knesset and added fuel to the fire of controversy over the conduct of the police and the prosecution. The last time this occurred, he embarrassed the media when he revealed only at the end of his speech that his harsh verbal attack was actually a quote from President Rivlin. This time, he quoted Justice Chaim Katz and Attorney General Mandelblit. The public has now discovered that senior police investigators tried to induce certain suspects to switch their attorneys to those who would favor a state witness agreement, that suspects who were being questioned by the police were subjected to sleep deprivation and were threatened and intimidated, and that their cell phones were searched. The Israeli public was aghast and protested loudly against these violations of citizens’ rights. People understood that if Netanyahu’s associates could be subject to such mistreatment, the same might happen to anyone else. Even on the left side of the political spectrum, there was a general realization that too many red lines had been crossed in the bid to topple Netanyahu.

Personally, I was somewhat amused by their shock. After all, I myself experienced the same thing thirty years ago, when the police made every possible effort to enlist a state witness who would testify against Interior Minister Aryeh Deri. A large number of his aides, including myself, were subjected to unimaginable threats, as well as efforts to entice us to comply with the agenda of the police. With our own eyes, we witnessed how the investigators committed numerous crimes and blatantly violated every rule in the book. The police detectives behaved like common criminals. We reported these injustices and submitted parliamentary queries to Roni Milo, the Minister of Police at the time. We also complained to the attorney general. But no one listened to us.

To all the people who are expressing shock and dismay at the actions of the police, I have a simple question to ask: Why aren’t you appalled by the arrests themselves? It is illegal for the police to arrest a person unless there is a concern that he might obstruct their investigation or he might be dangerous. Did anyone believe that Nir Hefetz would interfere with the investigative procedures or that he would pose a danger to anyone? Absolutely not! It was obvious that his arrest, with all the torturous conditions under which he was kept in custody, was intended to pressure him into signing an agreement to become a state witness. The same was true of the arrests that we endured 30 years ago, and the same is true of all the other arrests involved in the Netanyahu investigations. It is completely illegal, so why is anyone surprised that the police committed other crimes?

A Cemetery for Sale

I was astounded by another article that I read this week, which reported that a cemetery in Osieciny has been put up for sale. Osieciny is a small town in northwestern Poland, which was home to 450 Jews before the Holocaust—a veritable world in its own right by the standards of those days. The town boasted impressive communal institutions and prominent rabbonim. The Jews of Osieciny were deported to the extermination camps in April 1942. Two Jews from the town who survived the war and attempted to return after the Holocaust were murdered there, and another was injured. Of the hundreds of Jews who once lived in the town, only 15 survived.

According to the article, the shul building in Osieciny is still standing today, although it has fallen into disrepair and is being used by stores. The bais medrash that stands beside it has been put to other uses. The Jewish street has changed its name, and the rov’s home was seized by non-Jewish residents of the town, as were other Jewish-owned homes. The Jewish cemetery was desecrated by the Nazis, and its gravestones were stolen by Poles after the war and used to pave sidewalks. Today, ownership of the cemetery is claimed by a private individual, who has offered it for sale, with plans underway for the construction of a commercial center on the site. The fact that it is a graveyard was discovered by technicians from the telephone company, who unearthed human remains when they began digging in the ground.

The person who is attempting to sell the site is the son of the former Polish caretaker, who took over the entire cemetery and claimed it as part of his familial estate.

In recent times, several people have taken it upon themselves to preserve Jewish cemeteries in the Diaspora. Most recently, Rabbi Yitzchok Shapira, the son of onetime Knesset member Avrohom Yosef Shapira, has become very involved in these matters. To the best of my knowledge, MK Moshe Arbel of the Shas party, along with a colleague in the Blue and White party, founded a lobby during the 21st Knesset to promote the cause of cemeteries in the Diaspora. Now that the 22nd Knesset has begun its work, Arbel plans to reopen that lobby.

Indeed, after I read about the cemetery, I came across another article describing a meeting in Tel Aviv between Arbel and Polish Ambassador Marek Magierowski, which was also attended by Yitzchok Shapira. I do not know if the ambassador will succeed in returning the cemetery to Jewish hands and dismissing the claims of ownership of the Polish man who has taken possession of it, but it is certainly a positive development that he promised to make the attempt. As for Arbel and Shapira, they should be applauded for their efforts as well.

Fascinating Vignette from Rav Eliezer Turk

Not long ago, I had the good fortune of accompanying two distinguished men in a car. One of those men, the driver, was Rav Avrohom Zeivald of Lev L’Achim. His other passenger, Rav Eliezer Turk, is one of the most prominent maggidim of our day, the author of the sefer Otzroseihem Amalei, one of the roshei yeshiva of Kaminetz, and one of the rabbonim of the city of Kiryat Sefer. I happened to be tagging along for that ride from Kiryat Sefer to Yerushalayim, and I heard some fascinating stories from Rav Turk.

The most moving story that he shared was an illustration of the degree to which one must avoid offending another person, regardless of who it may be. “A group of bochurim once visited the Chazon Ish to be tested, and the Chazon Ish asked them to explain the meaning of the phrase kim leih b’d’rabbah mineih. One of the bochurim replied that it means that when the rebbi enters the room, everyone else must stand. The other bochurim could barely suppress their laughter at this gross misinterpretation of the words, but the Chazon Ish did not even chuckle. He simply said to the bochur, ‘What you are saying is very nice. You are correct about the idea that one must stand up when a rebbi enters the room. But the Gemara means to say something else.’”