My Take on the News

Running to Light Candles

With all due respect to all the political news, to the battle between Netanyahu and Gideon Saar, and even to recent events in the White House, our community here in Israel is dealing with matters of much loftier significance. First and foremost, there is Chanukah, the beloved holiday that has a habit of bringing life to a halt in this country. After all, we must all be home in time to light the candles at shekiyah. True, there are various minhagim regarding the proper time for the lighting—whether it is tzeis hakochavim, shekiyah, or in accordance with the opinion of the Chazon Ish—but regardless of the exact time when one lights the candles, it is in the vicinity of sunset. Every year, I enjoy watching as the tzaddikim of my neighborhood, the dignified gentlemen who can never be seen running anywhere, suddenly rush through the streets. And why are they running? To light the Chanukah candles on time….

This becomes most evident on motzoei Shabbos. I have a pious neighbor, Rav Moshe Chaim Cohen, who never begins Maariv on motzoei Shabbos before the zman of Rabbeinu Tam. Not only does he not conclude Maariv before that time, he will not even begin davening until the zman arrives. And he davens at the slowest pace imaginable, and then walks home slowly and deliberately. But on motzoei Shabbos Chanukah, he can be found hurtling through the streets as quickly as his legs can carry him, in order to make it home in time to light his menorah.

Chanukah Lights Among the Chilonim

I am very fond of the holiday of Chanukah, and not only because it is my birthday. (Don’t ask how old I will be on Chanukah of the year 5780; I will tell you only that, b’ezras Hashem, I will reach the age at which I am not subject to koreis.) I also enjoy Chanukah because of the atmosphere of family togetherness, because of the candles about which so much has been written, and because of the tishen of the chassidish rebbes. I am not exactly a chosid, but if you visit the courts of Rachmastrivka or Belz, you will understand that it is possible to be moved to tears by the lighting of the Chanukah menorah even if you are not a chosid.

Of course, there are also all the smaller events held in various shuls and other venues. I have already described to you how the talmidim of Yeshivas Ner Moshe in Givat Shaul bring joy to us every year. They actually dance in the streets to the light of the Chanukah candles, creating an atmosphere of joy that delights all of us. And then there are the ordinary Israeli Jews, and the sights of Chanukah menorahs blazing in areas where one would never expect to see them.

There were some other impressive events this Chanukah, particularly on Sunday evening, in honor of the yahrtzeit of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. There was an organized visit to his kever, as well as siyumim and major kinussim, one of which was held on motzoei Shabbos in Bnei Brak and was attended by all the representatives of the Degel HaTorah party. Moshe Gafni was one of the speakers at this event, and he voiced the fears that many of us share regarding the potential worst case scenarios that have been envisioned in the current election campaign (i.e., if Netanyahu and the right-wing bloc lose the election; see below). Another event was held on Sunday evening at the Binyonei Ha’Umah convention center in Yerushalayim and was attended by Rav Chaim Kanievsky. While he was visiting Yerushalayim, Rav Chaim also took the opportunity to visit a couple of yeshivos: Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon and Yeshivas Kol Torah, where his presence made a major impact. I will probably write more about this in the future.

A Debt of Gratitude in Kiryat Sefer

This year, some new events have been added to the list of Chanukah experiences, one of which was the dinner of Rav Aharon Dov Freund. This Monday, religious people flocked to the secular city of Modiin, which is located in close proximity to the chareidi city of Modiin Illit (Kiryat Sefer), for a dinner marking the 25th anniversary of the founding of Mosdos Bais Abba by Rav Freund. Just to give you an idea of the scope of this Torah empire, here are some of the statistics: Mosdos Bais Abba serves 1300 boys in its Talmudei Torah, 1135 yeshiva bochurim (in both a yeshiva for young boys and another institution for older bohurim), 1100 girls in seminary, and, in its crowning achievement, over 500 yungerleit in his kollel. In effect, it is an entire kehillah that revolves around Rav Freund himself. There is good reason that Rav Chaim wrote in his letter of endorsement, “All of the Torah of the city [Kiryat Sefer] is owed to the first people whose spirits stirred them to establish the first place of learning and kollel for yungerleit in the city, and the city’s material development is dependent on its spiritual growth…. Thus, the entire city, along with everyone who relies on it, is obligated to express gratitude to Kollel Bais Abba, which graces the city of Torah with its presence.”

Five years ago, the people of Modiin Illit celebrated the 20th anniversary of the founding of Mosdos Bais Abba. In fact, the city owes its founding to Bais Abba. Rav Yosef Schwinger, who was appointed by the Minister of the Interior to serve as mayor at the city’s inception, built the city’s homes, but it was Rav Aharon Dov Freund who created the city’s spirit. Rav Schwinger took care of the residents’ property, while Rav Freund looked out for their souls. The two men together managed to build a city of Torah, and now that another five years have passed, Rav Freund is celebrating the passage of a quarter of a century since his work began.

I am a great admirer of Rav Freund. I have been following his progress over the years. I have seen him in America, racing breathlessly through Manhattan and spending many nights on his fundraising missions as he made the rounds of the homes of philanthropists, seeking funds to support his talmidim in Bais Abba: the young boys in their Talmudei Torah, the talmidei yeshiva, and the hundreds of yungerleit under his care. I watched as he mustered up the audacity he needed to tend to the needs of his flock, and even of the directors of other institutions. “I can never lose anything by helping another person,” he always asserted. I discovered that he was the epitome of integrity and dedication, a man who had no worldly interests and no personal agenda, who was closely attached to the gedolei Yisroel and completely dedicated to his talmidim and his institutions. He certainly deserves to celebrate this joyous occasion and to be showered with hakaras hatov for his perpetual selfless dedication.

Did Rav Yitzchok Yosef Disagree with His Father?

Last motzoei Shabbos, I attended a sheva brachos in honor of MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, who also serves as the head of an international organization of Sephardic rabbonim (which includes rabbonim in America who live in more central locations, as well as those who preside over remote communities). An honored guest at the event was the Rishon Letzion, Rav Yitzchak Yosef. As usual, Rav Yitzchak enthralled his audience with his drosha. As he was preparing to leave, I commented to him that I had written in a Torah periodical in Eretz Yisroel this week about a psak issued by his father, Rav Ovadiah, who had ruled that kollel yungerleit should return home in order to light the Chanukah candles on time along with their families, in spite of the apparent bittul Torah involved. “Someone told me,” I added, “that the rov disagrees with his father in this regard.”

Rav Yitzchak stopped short. “I disagree with my father?” he repeated in an incredulous tone, as if to indicate that I had suggested something impossible. “Chas v’sholom!”

But I did not allow the conversation to end there. “Isn’t it possible to disagree on a halachic ruling with your father?” I asked. “I was actually told that the rov argues that it is bittul Torah. I don’t know exactly what you paskened on the subject, but I understood that it was not the same as your father’s ruling that yungerleit should return home in time to light the menorah.”

By this point, a large crowd was listening attentively to our exchange. “Listen,” Rav Yitzchak said. “This isn’t a subject to discuss while we are standing here. I will send you a copy of what I wrote, and you will see that I did not disagree with my father.”

“I was told that the rov will be in Rav Amos’s shul on Monday,” I said, referring to the shul in the neighborhood of Kiryat Menachem in Yerushalayim. Rav Amos is a colleague of Rav Yitzchak Yosef on the Bais Din Hagadol; both the rov himself and his shul featured in a previous article that I wrote in the Yated.

“I will be there,” Rav Yitzchak confirmed. “Are you also planning to be there?”

“I hope so,” I said.

“In that case,” he assured me, “I will bring the sefer and show you what I wrote, and I will explain that I did not disagree with my father.”

Rav Shlomo Zalman’s Ruling on Chanukah

I presume that I will write about this subject next week. But in order for you to understand what I am referring to, I will cite the psak of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. There is nothing new about it, but this is the psak that I publicized here in Israel last week: “The customary practice in kollelim on Chanukah is for the yungerleit to stop learning while it is still daytime, at 4:00 in the afternoon, to daven Mincha and Maariv in shul, and then to light the Chanukah candles at tzeis hakochavim along with all of their family members. This minhag is founded on solid foundations, and it should not be challenged.”

The explanatory note elaborates on this point: “The minhag in Eretz Yisroel in virtually all kollelim on Chanukah is for the yungerleit to stop learning while it is still day, at 4:00 in the afternoon, and to daven Mincha and Maariv in shul and return home at about five o’clock, the time of mishetishka hachamah, which is tzeis hakochavim, and to light the Chanukah candles together with their entire families. True, there are those who argue that this is not correct, that it is bittul Torah and they should continue learning as they do every day, and that they should tell their wives to light the Chanukah candles on their behalf, or they should return home at the end of their hours of learning and light the candles, as the Meiri states (Shabbos 21b) that it was customary for bnei yeshiva to light the candles of Chanukah after they return from the bais medrash. The Baal Hameoros likewise states (Shabbos 21b) that it was customary in France for bnei yeshivos to light the Chanukah candles close to midnight, when they returned to their homes from the bais midrash. I saw in the sefer Halichos Shlomo that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach likewise states that even a person whose Torah learning is his occupation, and who returns home from the bais midrash late at night on every other day of the year, should hurry home as early as possible on the days of Chanukah, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting the Chanukah candles immediately at tzeis hakochavim. Even though it is technically possible for a wife to light the candles instead of her husband at home, and for him to continue learning while she does so, it is not proper to do that. The sefer adds that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was extremely displeased with those who wished to maintain a learning seder in kollelim on Chanukah as on every other day of the year, while the wives of the yungerleit were to light the Chanukah candles in order to fulfill their husbands’ obligations. This was considered improper, for we are no better than our forefathers, who rarely interrupted their Torah learning at all, yet on the days of Chanukah they hastened to perform this beloved mitzvah personally and at the proper time, in accordance with the dictates of Chazal. He cites the Mishnah Berurah’s statement that regarding a mitzvah that a person must perform with his body, the principle of ‘mitzvah bo yoseir mi’b’shelucho’ [it is a greater mitzvah for him to perform it personally than by proxy] applies, and there is no concern of bittul Torah…. Nevertheless, the Sephardic bochurim who learn in yeshivos should continue learning on Chanukah as they do throughout the year, and should rely on their parents to light the candles on their behalf in their homes, and they will thereby fulfill their obligations….”

Events in Honor of the Siyum HaShas

Preparations are underway for the upcoming Siyum HaShas. I have been told that everything has been coming along smoothly in that respect in America.

Here in Israel, plenty of preparations are taking place as well. There will be several events in honor of the Siyum HaShas, but some of the plans have recently encountered hurdles. One of the planned venues was not able to be prepared for the event, and the police objected to another potential location. It is not clear if there will actually be a unified event for the entire religious public—Litvish, chassidish, and Sephardic together. But in the end, it makes no difference. What is most important is that everyone’s intentions are purely to bring honor to the Torah and Hashem.

Every Generation Has Its Racists

In honor of Chanukah, someone arranged a small party after Mincha in the Knesset. As in any other shul, a menorah is lit at Maariv in the Knesset shul; however, the party after Mincha was an innovation. One of the Knesset employees delivered a brief speech in which he noted that the events of Chanukah are described as having taken place “in those days at this time,” implying that the same phenomena repeat themselves throughout history. Even in our generation, we have witnessed persecution and oppression of those who remain faithful to Hashem. The Yevanim are continuing to assail us today, with anti-Semitism rearing its head in the Diaspora, in Eretz Yisroel, and even in the Knesset itself. Hatred of the Jewish people has not stopped at the borders of France and England, nor has it even been contained within the borders of Europe. Even America, the land of liberty and enlightenment, has been struck by a wave of anti-Semitism. And we have recently discovered that the State of Israel also contains groups of Jew-hating fascists. In fact, there are even senior political figures in our country who have no qualms about making horrifically prejudiced statements. The dire pronouncements of MK Yisroel Eichler, who frequently invokes the memory of Nazi Germany, have never seemed more appropriate than they were this week.

We have always been aware about the racist sentiments that were aired freely at the time of the founding of this country. The same attitudes have continued to manifest themselves throughout the succeeding years, and this year is no exception. Just this week, I discovered another racist in Israel, a professor who bemoaned the political leanings of “almost two million primitive Moroccans, religious people of all kinds—chareidim, Shas, kippot serugot, and some of the Arabs—in short, all the detritus of this state.” He added, “For the past two years, I have been claiming that our European State of Israel has been transformed into a state of Barbados”—a contraction of the words “barbarian” and “dos,” a contemptuous term for a religious person. I learned about his reprehensible comments from the excellent column written in response by Gavi Avital in Yisroel HaYom on the 19th of Kislev. Indeed, every generation has its racists.

Who Is Really Draining the Economy?

Last week, I wrote about a member of the Knesset from the Yisroel Beiteinu party who railed against the “million chareidi extortionists who do not work and are draining the funds of the State of Israel at the expense of its immigrants.” This statement is a brazen lie; the truth is actually precisely the opposite. There are, in fact, a million non-Jewish immigrants who have come here from the former Soviet Union and are receiving government stipends and all sorts of public funds. Tens of thousands of them collected the absorption basket of immigrant benefits and then immediately left the country!

This week, instead of apologizing, the same member of the Knesset doubled down on his claims. “I will not retract my previous statements,” he announced. “There are about 120,000 people in Israel who are living off of stipends. Every 18-year-old chareidi goes to yeshiva until the age of 67 and then collects a senior citizen’s stipend plus the seniors allowance, even though he never worked a day in his life.”

Meanwhile, another member of the same party, a man by the name of Kaplon who serves in the Haifa municipality, revealed that their hatred for Jews knows no bounds. He expressed himself in such despicable words (which I have no desire to repeat here) that he forced his own party to come out against him. But how can we fault the minor members of the party for their loathsome attitudes, when anti-Semitism is rife in its upper echelons as well? Just last week, Yvette Lieberman himself wrote in an article in Maariv, “On the subject of equality in sharing the burden, it is no less important for the core curriculum to be incorporated into the chareidi education system (i.e., Chinuch Atzmai and the El Hamaayan school network). The State of Israel is the only country in the world where hundreds of millions of shekels are used to fund an educational system that prevents children from learning English, mathematics, and computers.” This is an expression of the same anti-Semitic mindset that abhors Jews and Judaism alike, and that refuses to understand that the State of Israel is indeed different from Belarus and Ukraine. And Lieberman is still on the warpath against religious Jews!

In a nutshell, my point is that there are anti-Semites everywhere today—not only in Jersey City and in Beverly Hills, but in Yerushalayim as well.

Fighting to Expand the Right-Wing Bloc

Of course, I must share some political news with you, even though the fact that we are in the throes of an election campaign was not on the forefront of our minds this week in Eretz Yisroel. And this is not just any election campaign; in about 70 days, we will all vote in an election whose repercussions could well be enormous. If the left-wing bloc grows stronger and a leftist government is formed, chas v’sholom, it could spell tragedy. Even if a unity government is formed, it could be very bad for the chareidi community if they are not included in it. And even if the chareidim are part of such a government, their influence will be negligible. In political terms, they will be nothing more than a fifth wheel. The Lapid-Bennett government is only a few years behind us, and none of us have forgotten its harsh decrees against the religious community.

The main battle, of course, will be fought over the size of the respective blocs. The religious parties’ hope is that the right-wing bloc will reach 61 mandates without having to rely on any outside parties, especially Lieberman’s Yisroel Beiteinu party. That is not impossible, but it is crucial to ensure that there isn’t a single right-wing vote that goes to waste. This week, there was an important development on the right: Otzma Yehudit (the party of Itamar Ben-Gvir and his cohorts) signed an agreement with Rafi Peretz of Bayit Yehudi for the two parties to run together. Of course, they have invited Betzalel Smotrich and his faction to join them. Smotrich can also join Bennett and Shaked, who are running separately. In short, the situation on the right is a mess, but everyone hopes that there will be no right-wing votes that are lost. Within Bayit Yehudi itself, though, there are some who disagree with Rafi Peretz’s decision, in light of the fact that he is new to the party.

The Likud party will be holding primaries to determine both the leader of the party and the makeup of its list. Netanyahu is competing against Gideon Saar for the top slot in the party. Some have accused Saar of betraying the Likud, while others have cited polls that indicate that he is the only candidate who can enlarge the right-wing bloc. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has surprised everyone by drawing on hidden reserves of strength as he travels around the country in an effort to drum up support. In short, this is a battle with many sides.

Quiet Protests Against Chillul Shabbos

There were some other stories of note this week. First of all, there were the demonstrations against chillul Shabbos. These weren’t the type of demonstrations that tend to shake the entire country; they were quiet, but they were protests nonetheless. In Givat Shaul, the mispallelim of the Zupnik shul and the rov of the shul, Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Ullman (who is also a member of the Badatz) marched to the entrance to the city, where we cried “Shabbos!” and then returned to our homes.

You are probably also aware of the battle between the Minister of Justice and various senior figures in his ministry, including the attorney general. Here is the story in a nutshell: The state prosecutor stepped down from his position, and the Minister of Justice (a Netanyahu loyalist) wished to exercise his lawful right to designate a replacement. However, both the prosecutor’s office and the attorney general’s office have refused to accept his decision and have informed him that his appointment was “unreasonable.” The Supreme Court also overturned the appointment, and the woman who was chosen by the minister to fill the position then announced that she was not interested in the job. Once again, the political system is in a state of all-out war, with everyone locked in combat with everyone else at once.

Meanwhile, Israel has suffered a blow on the international stage, as the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Fatou Bensouda, announced that the preliminary investigation that was opened in 2015 has been completed, and she has found that there is a basis for the presumption that Israel has committed war crimes. If a “full-scale investigation,” in her words, is launched, then she could create a situation in which Israelis who leave the country may be arrested.

This is an utterly absurd situation. Terrible crimes are being committed in totalitarian states, yet Israel is being depicted as the greatest criminal state in the world. In response to the announcement, Netanyahu declared, “The prosecutor has completely ignored the serious judicial considerations that we presented. She has also completely ignored truth and history when she claimed that it is a war crime for Jews to live in their homeland, the land of the Tanach and of our forefathers. We will not remain silent or submissive in the face of this injustice; we will continue fighting it.”

130 Elderly Citizens Died at Home in 2019

I often point out that a headline sometimes tells the entire story, and the following headline is a prime example of that rule: “130 Elderly People Died at Home This Year, and No One Knew.” MK Itzik Shmuli reportedly submitted an urgent parliamentary query on this subject to the speaker of the Knesset. That is certainly laudable, although I could not find a record of such a query. This week, three other MKs filed urgent motions for the agenda on the subject: Penina Tamno, Moshe Abutbul, and Yaakov Asher. But let us return to the main point: This headline says it all, and it should certainly call for a reckoning in this country!

And here is another headline that is worth a thousand words: “Painful Results in the PISA: Israel Leads in Gaps.” The PISA is an international test administered by the OECD, which, if I understood correctly, is meant to evaluate the degree to which a country’s youth is prepared for adult life. I don’t know exactly how they propose that a youth should prepare himself for life as an adult, or how such preparedness is developed. Nevertheless, the headline states that Israel has the largest gap between different sectors of its society. Well, at least the country is setting records….

Incidentally, the low scores in Israel were in the Arab sector, yet there has already been some political commentary that applauded the Arabs for trying their best and somehow sought to place the blame on the chareidi community. Vicious slander knows no limits….

In another story this week, a young man was injured by a lightning strike in the vicinity of Megiddo, near Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet. The unmistakable lesson is that life and death are determined exclusively by Hashem. The victim was a member of an elite unit in the army who went out to work and told his family that he would return later that afternoon, but instead he found himself in the emergency room in critical condition, after having been struck by lightning.

An Offer of Hospitality

Let us conclude with an anecdote that took place not long ago.

An unfamiliar yungerman appeared in our shul in Givat Shaul one day. I presumed that he was a newlywed who was temporarily renting an apartment in the neighborhood before moving on to Neve Yaakov in the best case scenario (in other words, if his father-in-law could not afford an apartment here), or perhaps to one of the less expensive areas, such as Nazareth Illit or Tel Tzion. The newcomer inquired about the various minyanim and learning sedorim in the shul and appeared pleased with all that it had to offer.

The next day, the newcomer approached one of the veteran residents of the neighborhood in a state of agitation. He revealed that he had been approached in the street by an elderly local resident who had discovered that he was a newcomer to Givat Shaul and had tried to help him settle in to his new surroundings. The elderly man had told his new acquaintance about a certain family to whom he could turn for assistance at any time and on any issue. He gave the young man the name of the family and their address, and he advised him strongly to avail himself of their largesse. “If you make yourself available to the father of the family,” he added, “the odds are very high that he will invite you for a meal.”

After the yungerman had concluded his story, the local resident he had approached was perplexed. “What was wrong about that?” he asked.

“It’s all very nice,” the yungerman said uncomfortably, “but I don’t think a person should conduct business with his neighbor’s heifer.”

“Meaning what?” the older resident asked him.

“Meaning that it isn’t exactly proper to offer someone else’s generosity.”

“Show me the man who spoke to you, and I will try to explain what happened,” the older resident offered.

At Mincha, the newcomer pointed to an elderly man and said, “That is the person who spoke to me.”

The man in whom he had confided began to laugh. “The person who gave you the advice and the head of that household are one and the same,” he informed the startled newcomer. “The elderly man was speaking about himself. He was describing his own family, and he was offering you his own hospitality!”