My Take on the News

De Blasio’s Promise and the Stabbing in Monsey

On Sunday morning, all three daily chareidi newspapers in Israel (Yated Neeman, Hamevasser, and Hamodia) contained articles that were virtually identical: “Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City announced that in the wake of a series of violent anti-Semitic attacks, the presence of law enforcement will be increased in the Jewish neighborhoods of New York in order to increase the security of Jewish residents. In his publicized statement, de Blasio wrote, ‘Hatred has no place in our city. In response to the recent anti-Semitic attacks, the New York Police Department will increase its presence in Boro Park, Crown Heights, and Williamsburg. Anyone who threatens our Jewish community will be brought to justice. In addition to the increased police presence, there will be more frequent patrols around houses of worship and other critical areas in the community. Anti-Semitism is an assault on the values of our city, and we will confront it head-on.’” The article also goes on to quote a prominent askan from New York.

A few minutes after reading this, I received a shock when I heard about the stabbings in Monsey.

With that, the mayor’s pledge to protect the city’s Jews suddenly seemed meaningless. The great city of New York, with its mighty law enforcement services and its police officers armed with guns, clubs, and perhaps even tasers, with its helicopters and other advanced forms of technology, can have as many patrols as it desires—but none of that was enough to stop a single man from entering a home and stabbing innocent Jews.

The attack left us all with a need for cheshbon hanefesh. We had just experienced a highly uplifting Shabbos, a day when we were celebrating Rosh Chodesh and Chanukah as well, and we were beginning a new week. We were drawing close to the end of Chanukah and preparing to begin Shas once again. And then we were suddenly shaken by the news of the stabbing in Monsey. When a Jew is stabbed anywhere in the world, all of us feel the pain and alarm, no matter where we are.

Netanyahu Rejuvenated

Here in Israel, the madness of the upcoming election is continuing. It is a madness that no one actually perceives, and that is precisely what makes it madness. In just 60 days, the citizens of Israel will go to the polls once again, ostensibly to choose the person who will lead this tiny metaphorical lamb facing the seventy hostile wolves. Nevertheless, there is little indication in the streets of the impending election. The atmosphere of an election campaign seems to be absent; there isn’t even a whiff of the fact that Election Day is right around the corner.

On the other hand, the battle has been fought within the Likud over the party’s leadership, as Binyomin Netanyahu faced off against his rival, Gideon Saar. But the primaries had little meaning. If there was anyone who actually believed that Saar might win, it was only one person: Gideon Saar. And even he might have known that he did not stand a chance of unseating Netanyahu. Last week, I explained that it is quite possible that Saar had calculated that even if he lost in the primaries, it would still work to his advantage to run against Netanyahu, since he would have succeeded in positioning himself as the number two man on the Likud list. Within the Likud itself, this thesis is disputed. Some say that if he had lost the primaries by a small margin, he might have been able to maneuver himself into that position. But in all the strongholds of the Likud, such as Yerushalayim, the periphery, and Yehuda and the Shomron, Saar trailed far behind Netanyahu in the primaries. The only areas where he enjoyed popularity, perhaps even more than Netanyahu, were in places such as Tel Aviv and other predominantly leftist locales. And it is far from certain that this will work in Saar’s favor.

There was one way, though, that Gideon Saar benefited Netanyahu: He infused him with the adrenaline levels of a hyperactive child. Netanyahu’s travels over the past two weeks have become the talk of the country. He seems to have suddenly tapped into hidden reserves of youthfulness and strength that have galvanized him into tremendous action. Some believe that if this continues until the election, the Likud might pull off one of the greatest electoral surprises in the history of Israeli politics.

Lieberman’s Deplorable Reaction

The outcome of the Likud primaries triggered a wide range of responses. Benny Gantz was quick to proclaim that Netanyahu’s victory meant that the Israeli voter has only two choices: Netanyahu, who is facing a criminal indictment, or Gantz himself, who is supposedly as clean as snow. The Likud party, in turn, was quick to announce its support for Netanyahu. There were also some opprobrious responses that sought to accuse the chareidim of meddling in the internal politics of the Likud and engineering Netanyahu’s victory. Those reactions were both laughable, on account of their absurdity, and saddening on account of the deep-seated hatred they revealed.

There was one reaction, though, that crossed every red line imaginable. This was the public statement released by the chairman of the Yisroel Beiteinu party, MK Avigdor Lieberman. I will quote it verbatim, so that you can observe the type of rhetoric that a senior political figure in Israel permits himself to spout.

“It is time to wake up,” Lieberman announced. “There is nothing new under the sun, and the world is continuing to follow its course. The results of the primaries in the Likud have changed nothing. We must come to our senses and understand that voting for Netanyahu or Gantz in the upcoming election will have a direct, painful impact on every one of our pockets. Voting for these two parties effectively means voting for funds that were meant for the general populace of Israel to be transferred to yeshiva students, to funding for day care for the families of kollel students—today, one third of the budget for subsidized day care goes to the chareidim—and to apartments for the chareidi public. And the cherry on top is that Gafni will once again head the Finance Committee; he will be responsible for distributing funds, and he will decide where your money will go. If you don’t wake up, you and we will pay the price, and it will be a very high price indeed. Today, it is clearer than ever that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz is interested in a liberal unity government; they both want a narrow government with the chareidi parties, who will follow anyone who gives them more money. Blue and White has already announced from every possible platform that they are interested in a coalition with the chareidim, and they have even given up the Finance Committee to Moshe Gafni during the transitional period. Therefore, anyone who votes for the Likud or for Blue and White will automatically be giving his vote for the chareidi parties to continue exploiting the public coffers, while the entire burden falls on the shoulders of those who serve in the army, perform reserve duty, work, and pay taxes. The only party that can prevent the establishment of a government with the chareidim and Netanyahu or the chareidim and Gantz is Yisroel Beiteinu. Only a strong Yisroel Beiteinu can prevent the chareidi parties from continuing their extortion and can work to establish a liberal unity government.”

If I had to find one word to sum up the essence of this lowly public statement, it would surely be “horrific.” Or perhaps “anti-Semitic.”

The Israeli Attitude of Complacency

I do not have the right word to describe the insanity that unfolds before our eyes every year. It is as if the country does not remember that after Tishrei (“after the chagim,” if you prefer) the winter begins. The various government services are surprised every year anew by the winter weather, as if it was an aberration such as a tsunami or a volcanic eruption. Many business contracts contain a clause dealing with an event that is beyond the parties’ control and is completely impossible to predict; as far as many people in Israel are concerned, it seems that the annual rainfall fits into that category.

One news story this week announced that a “youth” was killed after being swept away by a flash flood in Nachal Chilazon, near Carmiel. This “youth” has a name (Majed Kassem Suad), a home, and possibly children of his own. Another news item reported on the search for another young man who was reported missing in Yarcha following a flash flood. This young man, whose body has since been located, also had a name (Abu Job), as well as parents and siblings. These are actual people, not merely faceless victims of freak accidents. The weather has already resulted in damage to property and the deaths of livestock, but the toll on human life is most significant.

I cannot understand the rashness or the conceit that lead to many tragic deaths. Motorists try to drive their cars through flooded roads as if they can somehow overpower the forces of nature, and when the cars are swept away, their occupants climb onto the roofs and call for help. I once saw one of those motorists being rescued by a helicopter, and I couldn’t help but wonder what he had been thinking when he first drove onto the perilous road. The missing youth in Yarcha was also a driving an all-terrain vehicle in a flooded area. Why don’t these people realize that they can never win a battle against nature?

But the bigger question is: Where are the authorities? The police should be blocking access to dangerously flooded areas, and the electric company should anticipate the heightened need for power and prepare itself accordingly. The municipalities should cut down trees that are on the verge of falling and should dispatch maintenance crews to ensure that the drains in the roads are not blocked. It is always the same lack of preparedness that leads to calamities, including a loss of life. There is little difference between this negligence and the phenomenon of bomb shelters that have not been properly maintained and are found to be in a state of neglect when the missile fire begins. For the past 70 years, this country has been trying to exude confidence and has consistently faltered. The casual attitude of “yihyeh b’seder” that felled many victims during the years of this country’s infancy has continued to prevail, and it is continuing to exact a toll on the state in its old age.

Patients in the Hospital Corridors

A similar phenomenon is plaguing emergency rooms and hospital wards throughout the country. I don’t know if any of you have been in an emergency room recently, but I was in the emergency room at Shaare Zedek Medical Center not long ago. (I was accompanying a patient, and while I was there, I encountered my niece, who is a member of the faculty of a seminary for American girls and was accompanying a girl from Boro Park who had broken her leg.) Throngs of people come to the country’s emergency rooms, and it is impossible for the doctors to see all the patients. The result is that patients wait for many hours before they are seen. Sometimes, patients arrive in the evening and must wait until the following morning to be seen by a doctor. And they spend the intervening hours lying down wherever they can find a spot.

But a patient’s troubles do not end when he has been seen by a doctor. Even when the decision has been made to admit him, he still languishes in the vicinity of the emergency room due to a lack of space in the wards. The situation is at its worst in the internal medicine wards, where one can find patients lying in hospital beds everywhere, even next to the elevators.

Regardless of who or what is to blame, the newspapers have been carrying pictures of elderly people lying on hospital beds in the corridors. This creates some very unpleasant feelings, especially in light of the fact that the health minister is a member of the chareidi community.

It is precisely at this time, when the Ministry of Health is coming under intense criticism for what appears to be misplaced complacency that has reached the point of negligence, that the ministry is changing hands once again. Until now, the position of health minister was officially held by Prime Minister Netanyahu, since the members of Agudas Yisroel insist, on principle, on holding only deputy ministerial positions and not serving as actual ministers in the government. Nevertheless, this week Netanyahu was forced to step down from all of his ministerial positions; in addition to holding the health portfolio, he has also been serving as the welfare minister, the agriculture minister, and even the foreign minister. The Supreme Court—which, as you know, is the real ruling force in this country—ruled that Netanyahu could not continue holding those positions now that he is facing indictment. As a result, Netanyahu resigned from the post of Minister of Health, and Yaakov Litzman took the position in his place.

This is not unprecedented: In the past, Yair Lapid petitioned the Supreme Court to disqualify the prime minister from serving concurrently as health minister. Lapid thought that the move would lead to the collapse of the government, since Netanyahu would be forced to resign from the position, and Litzman would not be able to serve as a minister in violation of Agudah principles. The result, he hoped, would be political turmoil that would destabilize the government. What actually happened is that the Supreme Court accepted his argument and forced Netanyahu to step down, and then the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah convened and issued a ruling allowing Litzman to hold the position of minister due to the extenuating circumstances.

The Rishon Letzion on Early Marriage

On motzoei Shabbos, I attended a sheva brachos where Rav Yitzchak Yosef delivered a speech. Listening to the Rishon Letzion was a delightful experience; every word was incredibly compelling and exquisitely clear. He spoke so lucidly that it did not require much effort to follow his train of thought, but most importantly, his gestures, his enunciation, his mannerisms, and, above all, the content of his speech were all incredibly reminiscent of his illustrious father, Rav Ovadiah.

On motzoei Shabbos, Rav Yitzchak was the guest speaker at a sheva brachos organized by Reb Boruch Deri in honor of the simcha celebrated by the family of Yoav Ben-Tzur. Yoav is a Knesset member from the Shas party as well as the director of an international organization of Sephardic rabbonim. At the dais sat two distinguished rabbonim who are also mechutanim: Rav Yitzchak Yosef and Rav Yehuda Deri, the rov of Beer Sheva, brother of Aryeh Deri, and father of Reb Boruch, the host. It was a joyous celebration; the chosson, Reb Doniel, a talmid of the Chevron yeshiva, was showered with praise by the visiting rov and received a copy of Yalkut Yosef with a personalized inscription.

As always, Rav Yitzchak Yosef enlivened the festivities. He related that his father had pressured the children in the family to marry at a young age. “Abba,” they had protested, “why are you pressuring us, when you got married at the age of 24?”

Rav Ovadiah replied, “What could I do? I found my shidduch only when I was 24 years old.”

Half a century later, Rav Yitzchak Yosef echoed his father’s view. “In our generation, it is necessary to marry at a young age,” he asserted. “In general, talmidim in yeshiva learn how to learn, but the actual learning takes place only after their marriages.” Rav Yitzchak went on to praise Yoav Ben-Tzur, the baal simcha, effusively. “He does so much for Klal Yisroel; he deserves to have a son who is a talmid chacham,” he asserted. “His mechutan also has many zechuyos; with Hashem’s help, the couple will go on to build a great home.”

“Anyone Who Says Three Telling Headlines

I always say that sometimes, a headline alone is enough to convey the entire story. That was the case with this recent headline: “130 Elderly People Died Alone at Home This Year, and No One Knew.” This revelation led to urgent motions for the agenda submitted by three MKs: Penina Tamno, Moshe Abutbul, and Yaakov Asher. There is no need for me to elaborate; the headline says it all.

Another jarring headline concerned a man who was severely injured by a lightning strike near Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, in the vicinity of Megiddo. This is yet another story that should remind us that all of man’s plans are meaningless, and that life and death are dictated by Divine hashgochah. This man left his home in the morning and assured his family that he would return in the afternoon, but instead of coming back home, he was instead rushed to the emergency room after suffering a critical injury. Boruch Hashem, he has since returned home.

A third headline related that Israel had set the record in performance gaps between various sectors on the PISA, an international assessment administered by the OECD that examines whether the country’s youths are prepared for adult life. I don’t know exactly how the OECD feels that a person is supposed to prepare for adult life, or how that preparedness should be developed, but I found the writer’s choice of words, “Israel Leads in Gaps,” quite striking. At least we are a leader in one respect….

Incidentally, it is the Arab students’ performance that has placed Israel at the bottom of the ladder. Nevertheless, some pundits saw fit to argue that the Arabs aren’t actually at fault, since they can at least be credited for making an effort, and that the actual blame lies with the chareidi students. Hatred knows no bounds….

Hashem, Protect Us from Our Leaders!

“My wife and I sent our warmest regards to the Jews in America, in Israel, and throughout the world,” President Trump wrote this week. “Two thousand years ago, the Maccabees inaugurated the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem once again and guaranteed the triumph of the Jewish nation and its faith….” In short, Trump blessed the Jewish people warmly in honor of Chanukah. I have already made one comment about Trump in this column, but here I have another observation to make.

For one thing, it is interesting that the president was aware of the jug of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days—although, to be fair, he didn’t address the Bais Yosef’s famous question as to why Chanukah isn’t celebrated for only seven days….

My main point, though, is that upon reading Trump’s words, I couldn’t help but wonder why we don’t hear similar statements from our own leaders here in Israel. When was the last time that we heard an Israeli politician conclude a speech with the words “G-d bless Israel”? It is a shame that the Jews of Israel are embarrassed of their religious origins. Golda Meir notoriously refused to utter the words “b’ezras Hashem” during the era of the Yom Kippur War. “If I say those words,” she explained, “people will begin to panic.”

A Disgraceful Verdict

This week, we were informed that the investigation into the police officers who beat Yanky Rosenberg has been closed. Those criminals dressed in police uniforms will not face criminal judgment; instead, they have been referred for disciplinary action. While such decisions can sometimes be justified by a low likelihood of conviction in a criminal case, in this case the decision is utterly incomprehensible. The fact that this was a crime was evident to anyone who saw the videos of the incident, which clearly showed the police officers beating the disabled youth as another policewoman tried to prevent their actions from being filmed. That woman herself should be charged with obstruction of justice for her actions.

I would merely like to draw your attention to the response of the Minister of Internal Security at the time: “Like you, I was also made aware of this shocking and heartrending incident, during which a young man with intellectual disabilities was arrested and beaten until he was bloodied.” This response was delivered to MK Moshe Arbel in Sivan 5779. The decision of the Machash (Police Internal Investigations Department) to close the case is utterly disgraceful and a slap in the face both to Yanky and to all of us!

Rav Nosson Tzvis Eulogy for Rav Chaim Shmulevitz

“A person is required to try to the best of his ability to be a giver rather than a taker. That is why, when Yosef went to greet his father, it was to fulfill his father’s desire rather than to satisfy his own needs…. The same was true of Shimshon Hagibbor, as Rashi explains that he declared, ‘I never told any of them to carry my staff for me from one place to another.’

“The rosh yeshiva, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt”l, used to say to bochurim who stood up out of respect when he walked into the bais medrash, ‘Do you think you are doing me a favor? On the contrary, you are showing that you despise me!’ I personally observed that he could also assert, ‘I never told any of them to carry my staff for me from one place to another.’…

“[Rav Chaim taught us that] a person must aspire to perfect himself, and that shleimus is what elevates a person to an even higher spiritual level. When we think about this, we will see that this sentiment was eminently fitting for the person who taught it. Who was more of an embodiment of shleimus than the rosh yeshiva, whose yahrtzeit falls this week? He was the epitome of perfection in deeds, perfection in ameilus baTorah, and perfection in middos. He has been appropriately described with the name of the sefer Moach Valev….

“I heard a story about an incident when a man told Rav Chaim about his many woes. With his compassionate heart, Rav Chaim was unable to carry on with his daily schedule after hearing the man’s tearful story, and he went to the Kosel Hamaaravi. After spending several minutes there, he turned to leave. Rav Shlomo Zalman, who had witnessed this, asked Rav Chaim why he wished to leave the Kosel after such a short time. Rav Chaim replied that after the man had wept bitterly to him about his troubles, he felt compelled to pour out his own heart in prayer before Hashem, and there was no place more fitting for that purpose than the Kosel. However, once he had finished davening, he needed to conserve his time and to hurry back to the bais medrash. These were the actions of a person who applied his intellect and his heart simultaneously.”

(Excerpted from Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s eulogy for Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, in honor of his yahrtzeit, 3 Teves, marking the passage of 51 years since his passing.)