My Take on the News

A Country with Every Reason to Be Depressed

Last week, I wrote about the gloomy atmosphere that has been pervading our country. This week, the gloom has deepened.

At the end of the week, two events took place that did not do much to improve our collective health or peace of mind, to say the least. On the contrary, their effect was quite the opposite.

On Wednesday night, Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government expired. Like Netanyahu before him, Gantz failed to assemble a government, as could be expected. The situation right now is quite complicated, but in theory, any member of the Knesset has the ability to try to organize a coalition around himself at this time.

The other incident last week, of course, was the announcement of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s indictment. It was completely expected, but it was an explosive development nonetheless.

Is all that not enough to send a country spiraling into despair? Well, then let us continue. Have you heard of Frank McKenzie? He is a general in the United States army, and he is convinced that Iran is interested in starting a war with a country in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf. Of course, his expectations do not add much to the peace of mind of the citizens of Israel. All we need now is a war started by Iran!

Then there are all of our domestic concerns, such as the seasonal illnesses and the overcrowding in the country’s hospitals, where patients are being placed in hallways, along with the fact that there are not enough vaccines in the country even for the entire elderly population. In short, the state of health care in this country is not encouraging, to say the least. And then there is the issue of water: All the professionals assert that since we have reached the end of November and we still haven’t experienced copious rainfall, the country’s plight is very serious. According to the experts, we have already entered a drought year in the most official sense, unless the month of December brings rainfall throughout the day and night. But let us hope that that will happen.

Musings in the Knesset

Entering the Knesset today means coming in contact with uncertainty, concern about the future, and the fear that our entire country is in the hands of irresponsible politicians. To think that Yair Lapid might return to the Finance Ministry! Is the state budget a mere plaything? How can anyone think of entrusting the ministry to the same man who left utter ruin in his wake and never missed an opportunity to wreak havoc?

There is more to learn from viewing the Knesset and its members today, such as the fact that the men who once led the army of the State of Israel are hardly paragons of moral rectitude, and that it is hard to credit them for the country’s survival. It becomes eminently clear that this state has survived on miracles since it was first established. The founders of Israel wanted a state, and that is what they were given—but only the barest minimum that qualifies as such an entity.

Legal Barriers to Indictment

Regarding the charges against Netanyahu, the great unknown was whether the charge of bribery would be included in the indictment. If it was included among the charges, he would be in a bad situation; if it was omitted from the list of charges, things would look much better for him. Fraud and breach of trust are crimes that sound bad, but those charges can be attached to any action. A prime minister is not dismissed on the basis of allegations of that nature. Bribery, on the other hand, is a reason to oust a head of state.

Well, now the answer has become clear. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he had decided to accept the prosecutors’ position and to charge Netanyahu with bribery in one of the cases against him. Of course, this refers to Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla case, in which Netanyahu stands accused of granting benefits to Shaul Elovich, who controlled the Bezeq telecommunications company, in exchange for favorable coverage on Elovich’s website, Walla. Mandelblit explained that Netanyahu received a bribe in the form of positive coverage on the site, and that he gave a bribe in the form of the benefits for Bezeq. Netanyahu himself argued that both claims were false. “Examine whether Walla actually benefited me, and check if I had any connection to the decisions that were made regarding Bezeq,” he challenged his accusers, but his protestations were of no avail. The indictment accuses him of accepting a bribe, which is one of the most serious crimes on the books.

Netanyahu’s supporters claim that this process has been calculated to tarnish his reputation precisely during this most tenuous period in politics, and that the objective is to remove him from public life altogether. One legal expert pointed out that in any case, since Netanyahu is a Knesset member who benefits from parliamentary immunity, it is impossible for charges to be pressed against him unless the Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, is informed of the intent to prosecute, and the Knesset Committee votes to remove his immunity (which is impossible at this time, since there is no Knesset Committee currently in existence). Once the committee has made that decision, the Knesset must also vote to revoke his immunity, and only then can he actually be indicted in court. In this case in particular, it is quite possible that the Knesset will not vote to remove Netanyahu’s immunity at all, in light of the widespread impression that he is being deliberately persecuted. Considering all of that, why did Mandelblit have to make a public announcement of his intentions? Why didn’t he simply begin the legally required process by officially informing the Knesset speaker of his intent to indict a member of the Knesset (in this case, the prime minister)?

Netanyahu supporters believe that the reason is simple: The real purpose is to prevent Netanyahu from continuing to serve as prime minister, to frustrate his efforts to assemble a coalition and to cause him to lose votes in the event that new elections take place. And this is because the left-wing junta in the State of Israel has decided that it is tired of Netanyahu. This is not only the theory of a single legal expert, but the belief of many citizens of the country as well.

Netanyahu Will Be Forced to Drop Ministerial Posts

It was only to be expected that all sorts of left-wing organizations that claim to promote justice would immediately appeal to the Supreme Court to force Netanyahu to leave his post. In fact, I will let you in on a secret: A petition of that nature has already been filed.

The first petition filed against Netanyahu was submitted by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which is headed by an incorrigible nuisance. This organization has already appealed to the Supreme Court to order Netanyahu to resign from his position as prime minister and from his other ministerial posts. They have asked the court to instruct the government to designate a replacement for Netanyahu, and to instruct the attorney general to inform Netanyahu that he is unfit to continue serving in those capacities.

The three justices who reviewed the petition—former attorney general Meni Mazuz, George Kara, and Yitzchok Elron—ruled that the petition should be summarily rejected, since the petitioners failed to follow the proper procedure before submitting an appeal to the court. In other words, the judges did not disagree with the petition; they rejected it only because the complainants hadn’t first submitted their request to the prime minister and the attorney general and waited for their responses.

As Netanyahu is beginning the battle for his life, the so-called wheels of justice in this country are making every effort to crush him.

Deri’s Preemptive Measure

Here is another piece of news from the High Court of Justice: Ron Kobi, the mayor of Teveria, has been supported by the Supreme Court time and again, even when he submitted the most outlandish petitions (claiming that the Minister of the Interior and the entire staff of his ministry are biased against him). This week, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tried to preempt further trouble. As the legal proceedings in the Supreme Court continued dragging on, Deri decided to prevent further damage to the functioning of the city of Teveria and the services provided to its citizens by announcing that he would not make the decision regarding whether Kobi should remain in office. Instead, Deri chose to pass that decision on to a different minister in the government.

The hearing is scheduled to take place before Mordechai Cohen, the director-general of the Ministry of the Interior, and the professional staff of the ministry. The government’s position, which was relayed to the Supreme Court at the beginning of the week, is that there is really no concern that a conflict of interests exists that would justify preventing Deri from deciding whether to dismiss Ron Kobi from office. Nevertheless, Deri wishes to prevent a prolonged legal battle and to avert potential harm to the residents of Teveria. To quote the Justice Ministry’s response to the court, “Our position is that the Minister of the Interior is not unfit to make the decision regarding the petitioner’s continued service, and that the circumstances do not lend themselves to the concern of a conflict of interests that would prevent the minister from making said decision. Nevertheless, we have decided to accept Kobi’s request in order to prevent delays.”

A Wondrous Bar Mitzvah

Last week, I attended the bar mitzvah of Benzion Sasson.

This might not sound like a particularly momentous story. His father, Rav Meir Sasson, is a yungerman from Yerushalayim whose life revolves around the study and teaching of the Torah. I attended the simcha in honor of the grandfather, Rav Nachum Sasson, who is one of the rabbonim of Beer Yaakov—and that is where the truly remarkable story lies. There was nothing that compelled Rav Nachum to learn in the yeshiva ketana of Beer Yaakov and then in its yeshiva gedolah, where he became a prized talmid of the rosh yeshiva and mashgiach. Continuing on this trajectory, he went on to become a beloved talmid of both Rav Yitzchok Hutner and Rav Berel Schwartzmann in Bais HaTalmud.

Rav Nachum’s life story is a tale of incredible success in Torah learning. He is the product of the mesirus nefesh of his mother, the famed tzaddeikes Mrs. Shulamit Sasson a”h (who lived across the street from the main shul of the town), who fought like a lioness for his advancement. Along with his wife, who hails from Kiryat Shemonah, Rav Nachum Sasson built himself into a figure of towering spiritual stature and was blessed with children and grandchildren who spend their own lives steeped in Torah learning. He is a role model for the Beer Yaakov community.

As a guest at the bar mitzvah, I realized that I was one of only a handful of people in attendance who recognized the scope of the miracle that we were witnessing. The bar mitzvah bochur’s friends from his cheder and Rav Meir’s colleagues and acquaintances from his own endeavors (he is a member of a kollel, a rebbi in a yeshiva for young boys, and an editor of seforim) did not see anything out of the ordinary about the simcha.

And then I met Rav Dovid Levi, the maternal grandfather of the bar mitzvah bochur and a resident of the town of Maalot on the northern border. Forty-three years ago, Rav Dovid was a valiant kiruv activist who allowed nothing to deter him from reaching out to the youths in that area of the country and seeking to touch their hearts. From Maalot, he spun a web of influence that extended throughout northern Israel. There were many nights when he slept in the old car that he drove from community to community, barely taking a break from his prodigious kiruv efforts. Dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of young men became talmidim of yeshivos solely as a result of his influence. I have no doubt that his zechuyos are beyond the human ability to calculate. And he was the other grandfather of the bar mitzvah bochur that evening.

I have no doubt that the young people in the modest hall where the bar mitzvah was celebrated did not understand why the event brought tears to my eyes.

The Year 5780

This year, 5780, is written in Hebrew with the letters tav, shin, and peh. In the chareidi community, an ordinary letter peh is used, but in other circles, some academic scholar or other individual seems to have decided that the year should be written with a peh sofis, and the practice was adopted by others in his orbit. Nevertheless, the ordinary peh is more prevalent, since it is mainly the chareidim who refer to the Hebrew year.

More Nonsense in the Newspapers

Yediot Acharonot recently published a lengthy article concerning treif restaurants that had changed their menus. Some of those restaurants had decided to remove pig products from their culinary offerings. “Outraged secular customers have threatened to boycott the restaurants, accusing them of capitulating to chareidim,” the article claimed. I, however, do not believe that there was a single customer who was outraged by the lack of treif food—and if there was even one, it is a very sad thing. Amazingly, the restaurant owners all explained that their decision was based on business considerations rather than pressure from chareidim. They explained that even chilonim who eat treif or who mix meat with dairy will nonetheless refuse to enter a restaurant where pork is served. “We sell hot dogs with cheese,” one restaurateur asserted. “The only change is that we removed from our menu two types of hot dogs made of pork.”

In other words, this was not a surrender to chareidi pressure, and the establishments in question are just as treif as ever. But these changes were enough for the newspaper to dedicate three pages to an indignant report on “religious coercion.”

What was most amusing was the alleged threat to boycott the restaurants. It is hard to imagine these chilonim, who are preoccupied with their gustatory pleasures and are held captive by their desires, boycotting a restaurant for any reason. It is hard to imagine them making a sacrifice of any sort for ideological reasons of any kind.

The World Was Created for Kavod Shomayim

The IDF spokesman was an uncharacteristic source of chizuk this week. After all, what can we be expected to feel when we hear that there were 360 missiles fired from Gaza, most of which fell in open areas? This cannot be attributed to anything other than pure miracles.

Last week, in the shiur delivered in his home every Friday, Rav Gershon Edelstein spoke about the impact that recent events must have on all of us. “We have seen Hashem’s middah of chessed and of mercy,” he pointed out. “Our enemies wanted to harm us and sent their weapons of destruction, but we were miraculously unharmed, against the dictates of nature! We must see hashgachah pratis in this. It was a show of tremendous kindness and mercy from Heaven, for our enemies wished to harm us and tried to do so, but they were not successful. That is the product of hashgachah and Heavenly mercy. You will remember that a similar thing happened many years ago, when a different country sent thirty-nine Scud missiles, which are terrible weapons of destruction, and all of them fell in uninhabited areas. Every missile that they fired fell in a place where there were no settlements. Only the last missile landed in a place where there was some chillul Shabbos. These were overt miracles, and now we have witnessed miracles again. We have witnessed Hashem’s kindness and mercy, and when we see kindness and mercy, it places a responsibility on us. As we say in Hallel, ‘What can I give back to Hashem?’”

Rav Gershon went on to explain how we must repay Hashem for His kindness. “We must give praise and thanks. We must show gratitude; we must not be ungrateful. And we must thank Him for our lives as well, for the fact that we are alive and in existence, for that is also a chessed. All of this,” he continued, “obligates us to strengthen ourselves even more to do the Will of Hashem in the three areas on which the world rests: Torah, avodah, and gemillus chassadim.”

Written copies of this shiur, which is expertly transcribed every week, are widely distributed. This week, as usual, Rav Gershon’s wisdom and insights were condensed into two pages of Hebrew print. “This is what is demanded of us,” he explained, “for the purpose of the world’s creation is to bring about kavod shomayim…. Therefore, when every person does everything he can to do the Will of Hashem, the purpose of creation is achieved … by each person within the limits of his own abilities. We have already quoted the Mesillas Yeshorim’s statement at the conclusion of the sefer that even a person who serves Hashem in a very simple way can be righteous and holy if he does everything in his power and uses every spare moment for Torah learning…. If a person has good middos, he will also lead a pleasant and happy life, for he will not harbor anger or resentment toward anyone, and no one else will resent him, and he will exude charm and grace.”

Four Square Meters for a Hen

It is both entertaining and saddening to watch the Knesset try—and fail—to accomplish something meaningful. Last week, a series of urgent motions for the agenda were approved once again, far more than on an ordinary Wednesday. An unusually large number of urgent parliamentary queries were approved as well. The Knesset has also held several “special” discussions, and there will be more such days. All this is an effort to keep up the illusion that the country’s legislature is engaged in real parliamentary work, but nothing can hide the fact that there is no real government in Israel today.

At this point, it is impossible for new bills to be discussed in the Knesset, not only because the minimum period of 45 days since they were placed on the Knesset table has not passed, but also because there is no clearly defined coalition or opposition. As a result, no one knows whether to vote in favor of a bill or to oppose it. But a deluge of new bills has inundated the Knesset nonetheless: In the first week of the 22nd Knesset, a total of 211 bills were placed on the Knesset table, while the next week saw another 389 bills added to this number. On the third week, another 659 bills were introduced. Most of these proposed laws are recycled proposals from previous incarnations of the Knesset, and the vast majority will not be discussed by the Knesset at all, since every party is limited to one bill (or at most a handful) to be introduced to the Knesset per week.

I looked at some of the proposed laws, and I found some of them entertaining and others downright appalling. Each of the 1200 new bills says something about the people responsible for it. One of the proposals is for the law prohibiting the public sale of chometz on Pesach to be repealed. Avigdor Lieberman and his cohorts in Yisroel Beiteinu propose, in a bill copied from Yair Lapid in the 20th Knesset, to make the core curriculum mandatory in every school. The same group also submitted proposed laws concerning public transportation on Shabbos and relaxed standards for conversions. Of course, their draft law is also on the Knesset table. I also came across a bill that would prevent animals from being delivered for shechitah, and another one that specified a minimum number of square meters per hen in a chicken coop. There was also a proposal calling for mandatory free parking for anyone over the age of 70.

If Moshe Arbel of the Shas party submitted dozens of proposed laws in the previous Knesset (which he, like everyone else, recycled from bills submitted under previous governments), this time it was Michoel Malchieli who set the record with 21 bills. One of them is a law requiring a commemoration of the legacy of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. The MKs of Degel HaTorah introduced a total of over 30 bills.

And then there is the main news in the Knesset: This week we were informed that the prices of meals in the Knesset cafeteria have been updated. Items that cost 39 NIS in the MKs’ cafeteria have now risen in price to 39.50 NIS. Likewise, a main dish with two side dishes, or a basic dairy meal, which previously cost 33.50 NIS, have experienced a price increase of half a shekel, and servings that previously carried a price tag of 28.50 NIS have gone up to 29 NIS. I found the notice baffling for a couple of reasons. First of all, it would have been much easier for it to state simply that the price of every item on the menu had been raised by half a shekel, rather than listing each identical increase separately.

Here are two more tidbits from the Israeli parliament: First of all, we were officially notified that any member or employee of the Knesset or any member of the Knesset Guard who registers for the Yerushalayim Marathon of 2020 (which will be held on March 20), will receive a sponsorship from the Knesset. If any of you in Los Angeles or Lakewood are interested, you should register soon! Second, if you happen to be visiting the Knesset in the near future, please try not to faint or otherwise become ill. A replacement has yet to be found for Dr. Yitzchok Lifshitz, who left his post as the Knesset physician. There was someone else who took over for a short time, he was a charming and proficient doctor, but he is no longer there either. A tender has been issued for the position, but for now it is unoccupied.

An Unexpected Invitation

This story was told by a yungerman who recently moved to Bnei Brak. After his marriage, he lived in a converted storage room on Rechov Oholiav in Yerushalayim, but this week he moved to a much more reasonable apartment, where he has even secured a lower rent. But still, Bnei Brak is not Yerushalayim….

“On the other hand,” he said, “there are things in Bnei Brak that do not exist in Yerushalayim.”

“Such as what?” I asked.

“The music on the bus! I spent five years traveling on the buses in Yerushalayim, and in the best case I could expect to hear music from Radio Kol Chai, and even that was only if we begged the Arab driver to turn it on.” In Bnei Brak, on the other hand, the chareidi driver decides on his own accord, without even being asked, to turn on the niggunim of Toldos Aharon. What else could a person ask for?

And that was not the only unique aspect of his experiences with public transportation in Bnei Brak. Our protagonist had gone shopping in a large supermarket and was advised to board the Number 2 bus at the stop on the corner of Rechov Shlomo Hamelech and Rechov Nechemiah in order to return to his home. He stood near the driver, clutching his shopping bags and watching raptly as the bus navigated the crowded streets of the city. Catching a glimpse of his passenger, the bearded bus driver realized that the sights were new to him.

“You are new here, aren’t you?” the driver said.

“Yes,” the yungerman replied. “I haven’t even been here for a week yet.”

“And where do your parents live?”

“In Yerushalayim,” he said.

“So where are you going to have your meals on Shabbos?”

The yungerman was surprised by the question. Why would a bus driver inquire about where he planned to have his Shabbos seudos? The driver added apologetically, “I am not trying to pry, but if you need a place for Shabbos, you are invited to my home.”

Now the yungerman’s surprise turned to shock. “Are you serious?” he asked.

“Yes,” the driver replied. “I live in Shikun Heh. Every Shabbos, we have at least ten people at our seudos. You are invited to join us, and you won’t leave hungry. That is certain!”

The righteous driver of the Number 2 bus in Bnei Brak, whose name is Klein, insisted on giving his personal cell phone number to the newly arrived couple from Yerushalayim.

“Well,” said the yungerman, when he finished telling me the story, “what do you say to that?”