My Take on the News

A Siyum for Klal Yisroel at Yad Eliyohu

The first item of interest this week is the Siyum HaShas that was held last Monday. You may consider that a bit late; if so, you are probably correct. There were attempts to organize the event much earlier and in even larger venues, but those efforts did not succeed. This was precisely because the organizers were searching for larger venues, which were rejected by the police. Ultimately, they returned to Yad Eliyohu in Tel Aviv, the largest stadium in Israel, but the initial delay had already cost them two weeks.

Until this week, there had been three major events in Israel marking the completion of the daf yomi cycle. The first was held by Shas in the Arena stadium in Yerushalayim. The second, also held in Arena, was organized by Degel Yerushalayim, the division of Agudas Yisroel representing the general chassidish community in the city. The third Siyum HaShas event, was organized by Dirshu in Yad Eliyohu, catered to the members of the organization’s learning and testing programs, their maggidei shiurim, as well as the general public who wished to attend. Tickets were in great demand and as the event approached were impossible to get because the stadium was filled to capacity.

The organizing committee of this week’s event—especially Mayor Avrohom Rubinstein of Bnei Brak, who also serves as the secretary of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah—invited the full spectrum of gedolei Yisroel to the event, including those in the chassidish and Sephardic communities. Based on my observations, it seemed that the entire stadium would be packed to capacity, and that there would be numerous gedolim at the mizrach.

Moshe Greenblatt—Stabbed but Feeling Better

Yediot Acharonot, which is one of the most widely read newspapers in Israel and is known for shaping public opinion—and for attempting to bribe the prime minister—carried an interesting front-page story this Sunday, under the title “Every Third Youth Does Not Join the Army.” Israel has a mandatory draft, yet this news story revealed that one third of the youths who are subject to the draft succeed in avoiding it. Of course, this refers to chilonim. How do they evade the draft? There are several ways. One is to claim a criminal record, since the IDF is not interested in criminals. More commonly, the candidates procure a doctor’s note attesting to mental health issues. Although the IDF is aware that some of these letters are falsified, they also feel that if a person is prepared to claim that he is mentally unbalanced in order to avoid military service, then he has no place in the army. Such a declaration can have long-term consequences, as this status can make a person ineligible for a driver’s license and can disqualify them to study medicine or law.

But this story also has significance for the chareidi community. If one third of the secular public evades the draft altogether, then why are the chareidim regularly criticized for the draft deferments granted to talmidim involved in Torah learning? That is a compelling question that the critics of the chareidi sector have not quite answered….

In other news this week, there were three different incidents of terrorism. On Shabbos, a 22-year-old Jew was stabbed in the vicinity of Meoras Hamachpeilah, on a path known as Worshippers’ Way, which connects Kiryat Arba with Meoras Hamachpeilah. He was listed in moderate condition, which can sometimes denote severe injuries, but in this case he is in fairly good condition, boruch Hashem. The victim, Moshe Greenblatt, was rushed to Shaare Zedek, and he is reportedly doing well. Greenblatt said from his hospital bed, “Boruch Hashem, I feel good. The knife broke when it entered my body. He did not succeed in stabbing the other people around me.”

The stabber is only 17 years old. He was captured by the Shin Bet, but it is doubtful that a 17-year-old boy has any ties to terror organizations or any valuable information to provide. And just to illustrate the situation here, let me add that one of the Arab members of the Knesset declared in response to the attack, “If you want to put an end to these stabbings, then end the occupation!”

A few hours later, a woman was arrested for an attempted stabbing near Sha’ar Shechem. In that case, the police felt that she was mentally ill and was not attempting to commit an act of terrorism. The third incident took place in the Ashdod port, where a balloon carrying an explosive device landed and was neutralized. Some believe that the phenomenon of balloon terror is making a comeback.

Kings and Heads of State Come to Israel

This week has been very eventful. By the time you read this, Israel will have been flooded on Tuesday and Wednesday with visits from political leaders throughout the world, who will be attending the World Holocaust Forum. To give you an idea of the scope of this phenomenon, let me tell you simply that the regular terminal at Ben Gurion Airport will be closed to ordinary flights on those days. All incoming and outgoing flights will be rerouted to Terminal One, while the main terminal will serve the visiting dignitaries.

Here are a handful of numbers to give you an idea of the scope of the event. There are 48 delegations scheduled to arrive, including those of four royal figures: the king of the Netherlands, the king of Belgium, the king of Spain, and the British crown prince. There are also four prime ministers and 27 presidents, including the presidents of France, Germany, and Russia. Two thousand hotel rooms were reserved for the visiting dignitaries, along with 300 cars. A large number of the visitors will be arriving in their own private planes. Both the airport and the city of Yerushalayim are expected to experience heavy congestion. According to the Foreign Ministry, this is the largest and most complex international event ever to take place in Israel, with the exception of the funerals of Rabin and Peres. The United States is scheduled to be represented by Vice President Mike Pence.

Another American official who is scheduled to attend the event is Nancy Pelosi. I know that she is scheduled to visit the Knesset, so if you would like to send regards, let me know…. I received the following internal e-mail from the commander of the Knesset Guard: “On Wednesday and Thursday, January 22 and 23, 2020, many presidents and heads of state from around the world will be visiting Israel, and their itineraries will include a visit to Yerushalayim. The Israel police force is preparing for the events that will be taking place in Yerushalayim, in particular one event that will be held near the Knesset: the inauguration of a memorial to the victims of the siege of Leningrad during World War II.” This event will take place at the cemetery that is adjacent to the Knesset, and will be attended by Vladimir Putin, which accounts for the extremely tight security. For this purpose, the kever of the Rebbe of Zhvill has been closed for an entire week.

In any event, the same e-mail continues, “I would like to bring to your attention the fact that since the main roads, as well as the roads leading to the Knesset, will be closed, entry to the Knesset building on that day will be permitted only to individuals who serve vital functions at the events that will take place there, as well as to members of the Knesset and their advisors. On that day, no meetings or conferences will be permitted in the building. Guests with permanent or one-day passes who are not included in the above categories will be permitted entry only with the approval of the director-general of the Knesset or the commander of the Knesset Guard. I request that all employees who must be in the Knesset building for their work arrive in the morning hours in order to avoid delays in coming to the Knesset. Anyone who encounters a problem coming to the Knesset may contact the Knesset Guard at telephone number 02-6753605.”

But have no fear; I will be there (bli neder … if it interests me).

The Battle of the Blocs

On the political front, meanwhile, as we draw closer to the election, the suspense is steadily mounting. The public perception seems to be that Benny Gantz is moving progressively closer to winning the office of prime minister. This impression is created not only by the polls, which show Blue and White overtaking the Likud, but also by the general atmosphere. On the other hand, there is nothing definitive or inevitable about it.

The most important question is the ultimate makeup of the right-wing and left-wing blocs, and whether either of them will succeed in garnering the 61 mandates necessary for a coalition. It seems that Gantz still has a chance of gaining the support of 61 MKs, although the involvement of the Arabs will work to his detriment. Even if Gantz receives 35 mandates or more, and even if the joint left-wing party consisting of Meretz, Labor, and Gesher (see my separate article on this subject) receives 10 or 12 mandates, they will still require an additional 10 or 12 mandates to reach the threshold of 61. For that purpose, the Arabs will not be able to help him, and Gantz will have to turn to Yvette Lieberman for his support instead. And that leads to another major question: Will Lieberman actually award the keys to the next government to the left? On the one hand, he would seemingly be guaranteeing his own political liquidation by doing so. On the other hand, Lieberman is the most unpredictable person in the world. He despises Netanyahu so much that he might actually allow Gantz to assemble a government; Lieberman would then defend himself by claiming that he was not responsible for placing the left in power, and that he merely joined the government after it was already formed (based on the Arabs’ support).

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is making every possible effort to prevent right-wing votes from going to waste. He has leveraged his entire political weight to force the right to unite, even though some believe that it would be better for the right-wing parties to run on two separate lists, so that the party headed by Bennett and Shaked will attract secular voters who might otherwise be alienated by the inclusion of Betzalel Smotrich on their ticket. It was Netanyahu who convinced Rafi Peretz of Bayit Yehudi to retract his agreement with Itamar Ben-Gvir and to join forces with Bennett and Smotrich, leaving Ben-Gvir on his own (since Bennett refused to run together with him).

Will Itamar Ben-Gvir repeat his previous mistake by running alone and causing 80,000 right-wing votes to be squandered? Although he is an intelligent fellow who cares about the State of Israel, Chazal taught us long ago that envy and the pursuit of kavod can destroy a person. Ben-Gvir might delude himself into thinking that he will cross the threshold this time. He might also do everything in his power to take revenge against Rafi Peretz and Naftoli Bennett. If he is convinced to withdraw, it will probably be the work of Netanyahu, who is likely to offer Ben-Gvir a government position after the election in exchange for his withdrawal from the race. The answer will become clear within 40 days; the question, though, is whether his withdrawal will make a difference, and whether the entire right-wing bloc will be able to muster 61 mandates.

If neither side reaches the threshold of 61 mandates, then we may well be looking at a fourth election, as the madness continues with no end in sight.

No Surprises in the Arrangements Committee

Meanwhile, the right and left have been clashing over opening the Knesset Committee, the only government body authorized to determine whether members of the Knesset who are facing criminal prosecution may have their parliamentary immunity revoked. There are two Knesset members who are facing criminal charges right now: Chaim Katz, the former Minister of Welfare, and Binyomin Netanyahu. It is not clear whether Katz will seek immunity, but Netanyahu has already announced that he plans to request for his immunity not to be removed. The purpose of parliamentary immunity, he proclaimed, is to prevent the courts from being used for political purposes, which is exactly what his opponents are attempting to do.

Since the Knesset has been dissolved, however, there are no committees operating at all, with the exception of the Arrangements Committee. Against the wishes of the Likud and based on the position of the Knesset legal advisor, the committee decided last week that the Knesset Committee may convene for the purpose of discussing the prime minister’s immunity from prosecution, even though the Knesset is in recess. If Netanyahu thought that he could delay the matter until after the election, he was thwarted; the Blue and White party, along with the other left-wing parties and Lieberman, managed to move it forward in spite of his opposition.

I was present when the Arrangements Committee met to discuss the matter. The committee chamber was packed with Knesset members, reporters, aides, and other spectators. Mickey Zohar, the outspoken representative of the Likud who served until recently as the chairman of the Arrangements Committee (until the Blue and White party, which received one mandate more than the Likud in the previous election, was given control of the committee), shouted thunderously at the committee members, accusing them of aggression. He accused the opposition of exploiting the Knesset to launch a political offensive, and he cited a law (and I know exactly who drew his attention to that law) that prohibits using the Knesset for electoral propaganda.

There was no question as to the underlying issue: It was a clash between those who were in favor of Bibi and those who opposed him. The left, the Arabs, and Lieberman all favored allowing the Knesset Committee to convene, in order to expedite the process of discussing Netanyahu’s request to maintain his immunity, rejecting it and notifying him that his immunity has been revoked, and then bringing him to court to be publicly shamed. The parties that opposed allowing the committee to convene—the Likud, the right-wing parties, and the chareidim—wanted precisely the opposite. The discourse was so transparent and predictable that it was easy to guess in advance exactly what every participant would say, including those who railed against “corruption” in the government. One of the Arab MKs admitted openly that he was eager for the committee to convene in order to get rid of Netanyahu. He did not realize that it is forbidden to reveal what he intends to vote in a committee session, and that the Supreme Court has the right to disqualify him for doing so. Mickey Zohar shouted in response, “How did you decide what to vote before you even heard Netanyahu?”

Oded Forer Speaks About Rav Uri Zohar

At the meeting of the Arrangements Committee, Moshe Arbel (Shas) sat next to Oded Forer (Yisroel Beiteinu). Ostensibly, these two men should have been completely at odds with each other, as they represent two parties that are diametrically opposed. But Forer is an unusual person. I have related in the past that he often joins us for minyanim, and that he always carries a yarmulke in his pocket. He even shares divrei Torah with us. If Lieberman is an enigma, then Forer is an even greater riddle. And sure enough, I observed that Forer and Arbel conducted a congenial conversation in the committee chamber.

When Forer spotted me, he motioned to me to sit beside him in a chair that had been temporarily vacated. “I have warm regards for you from Tzvi,” he said. There was no need for him to elaborate; Forer lives in Rechovot, where his father served as mayor for many years, and he is a friend of Lev L’Achim. He is a frequent visitor to the organization’s facility for Torah and kiruv in the city, and he learns once a week with Rav Tzvi Schwartz, one of the leading figures in Lev L’Achim, who is the director of the organization’s branch in Rechovot. Therefore, it was clear that the “Tzvi” in question was none other than Rav Tzvi Schwartz himself.

“I have a story to tell you,” Forer added. “One day, Rav Schwartz asked Rav Uri Zohar to host a group of students from Rechovot. Rav Zohar agreed, but he asked if they would have the stamina to stand during their meeting. We didn’t understand his question; why shouldn’t they sit? Then we learned two things: The living room of his home doubles as the kitchen and there is barely enough room for visitors, and he has only four chairs in his house. That is why he asked if the guests would be able to stand. Do you see what it means to be Rav Uri Zohar?” Forer concluded.

The committee session had a little bit of everything. There were humorous interludes, and there was also vitriolic invective. Ahmed Tibi described the Likud as a fascist party and was silenced by the committee chairman. Someone from the right shouted at Tibi, “And you are a terrorist party that supports shahids!” As the session drew to a close, Mickey Zohar announced that the Likud was withdrawing from the “game” and would refuse to come to the Knesset Committee even if it convened.

“Then what are you getting your salary for?” Penina Tamano-Shatta called out to him.

“Why? What are you doing during the recess?” Zohar retorted.

“Come and see for yourself,” Tamano-Shatta replied.

As I said, the outcome of the session was decided before it began. When the committee chairman, Avi Nissenkorn of Blue and White, called for a vote, no one had any doubt as to the outcome. The majority voted for the Knesset Committee to convene, by a margin of one vote. Mickey Zohar responded by shouting, “It isn’t the Knesset Committee! It’s the ‘anything but Bibi’ committee!” And his criticism was right on the mark.

There was no mistaking the fact that Netanyahu was persecuted. He was in the position of a hunted animal. We can only daven that he will benefit from the same hashgochah accorded to many others who find themselves playing the underdog. For now, we will wait and see when the Knesset Committee meets, and when the Knesset speaker gives it his parliamentary stamp of approval. The Blue and White party is threatening to have him removed from his position if he does not convene the committee immediately, while the Likud is asking him to stall as long as possible.

A Candidate Challenged

Meanwhile, another miniature drama has been playing out, as the Likud party asked for one of the candidates on the Joint Arab List, Hiba Yazbek, to be disqualified. There is a law in Israel that prohibits incitement to racism, violence, or terror. Publishing praise or encouragement for acts of violence or terror, or supporting or identifying with such acts, is a criminal offense punishable by a five-year prison sentence. And there is no question that Yazbek regularly violates this law. She has been photographed together with spies, she has praised purveyors of incitement, and she has lauded terrorists for murdering Jews. She described Samir Kuntar as a shahid and Raed Salah as “one of my people.” She has also publicized pictures and words of support for a terrorist who wished to assassinate Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, as well as for a former MK who was convicted of serious acts of espionage on behalf of Hezbollah.

The Likud party submitted a request to the Central Elections Committee to invalidate her candidacy, and Blue and White announced that it would support the request. The petition states that Yazbek “with her actions negates the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and supports the armed struggle of terror organizations against the State of Israel.” The Blue and White party confirmed last week that it intends to support the petition. The initiative is expected to be the first test of the Labor-Gesher-Meretz list, some of whose members are expected to publicly support ousting Yazbek, while others are likely to oppose the move. This issue will dominate the headlines, and it is likely that there will be a majority in favor of disqualifying her. But even if the committee makes that decision, it will then be challenged in the Supreme Court, where it is most likely to be overturned. The same thing has happened in the past; the Supreme Court has always rejected the disqualification of Arab candidates, while it has issued its own rejections of candidates on the political right. In this case, though, the situation is more complicated, since the Joint List has already declared that if Blue and White supports disqualifying Yazbek, they will not allow the matter to pass in silence. The question is what, exactly, is meant by that. Do they plan to somehow take revenge after the election by awarding the government to Netanyahu?

The chareidi parties are actually opposed to the move. The chareidim always oppose disqualifying candidates, for the simple reason that once such a trend begins, there is no telling where it will end. Ultimately, the chareidi parties themselves may end up paying the price….

The Judge and the Yeshiva of Philadelphia

In a separate article this week, I wrote about the submission of the party lists for the election for the 23rd Knesset. This took place over a period of two fascinating and highly dramatic days, which climaxed toward midnight on Wednesday night. The center of the commotion, of course, was Justice Neal Hendel, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee. There were a few other pivotal players in this story, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was betrayed by his allies and will now have to decide whether to take the chance of running independently and potentially squandering tens of thousands of votes. Judge Hendel will also play a starring role in the impending deliberations over disqualifying various candidates. He still does not know what lies in store for him.

I wrote a little bit about Hendel in that article, based on my initial impressions of him. At the time I wrote it, we had exchanged a few words in the Knesset shul, but that was all. His official bio in the Ministry of Justice mentioned that he had learned in an institution called the “Yeshiva of Philadelphia,” but it didn’t say much more about the subject. I did not know exactly what that meant.

On Friday, I finally had the opportunity to ask him about it. Friday is not much of a workday in the State of Israel, but for the Central Elections Committee, for some reason, it is an ordinary day of work. This is in spite of the fact that most of the committee members, for the time being, do not have any work to do at all. Since I am also considered to be working for the committee at this time (please don’t ask how or why!) I was also in the Knesset on Friday. It was a strange experience for me, because we are generally barred from entering the Knesset building on Fridays, just as entry is prohibited on Shabbos.

Hendel revealed that his “Yeshiva of Philadelphia” has no connection to the yeshiva of that we know. He is aware of the yeshiva that it is headed today by Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky and says that he has even visited the yeshiva on a few occasions, but he never learned there. The Philadelphia yeshiva that he attended is a different type of institution. He related that his brother was a professor in Philadelphia for several years, which may have been the reason that he studied there. He also shared some recollections of his experiences learning under Rav Yosef Dov Soloveichik. “I had the privilege of being his talmid and developing a close relationship with him,” he related.

Are Things in My Mailbox Mine?

I once asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky if the items placed in my mailbox become my property. (This is why this story can be deemed a matter of public interest.) My question was whether I acquire ownership of an item placed in my mailbox through the mechanism of kinyan chatzeir or some other halachic device. This had bearing on the issue of whether I become obligated in the mitzvah of hashovas aveidah when other people’s letters find their way into my mailbox.

Actually, my question went beyond that. It is a common marketing practice for businesses to advertise their products by distributing small samples of perfume, baby formula, and the like. These samples are often placed in plastic shopping bags, which are then left on the doorknobs of residential apartments. I asked Rav Chaim if the residents of those apartments automatically receive ownership of the items placed on their doors. That is not to say that I had any interest in collecting these samples for myself; I had a different consideration, which I have mentioned here in the past. Whenever I see one of those bags hanging on a neighbor’s door for more than a day or two at a time, I make a point of removing it and bringing it to my home (with the intent of returning it to my neighbor whenever he returns), in order to prevent potential burglars or miscreants from discerning that the apartment’s occupants have gone away. But if my neighbors become the legal owners of those samples of merchandise that are left on their doorknobs, it would mean that it is not only proper for me to return the items to them, but actually a legal obligation.

When I posed this question to Rav Chaim, he replied that the residents do not acquire halachic ownership of anything that is left on their doorknobs. Furthermore, even letters placed in a mailbox are not acquired by the owner of the mailbox, and therefore I do not have to contend with a full-fledged halachic obligation to track down the actual recipients of the letters.

Mourning Rebbetzin Shapiro of Beer Yaakov

As I was writing this article, I was informed of the passing of Rebbetin Shapiro, the wife of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro. As soon as I received the news, I felt my strength abandoning me. As I write these lines, it is 4:00 in the afternoon; the levayah will set out in two hours from Beer Yaakov to the Lederman shul in Bnei Brak, and will make its way from there to the nearby Ponovezh cemetery. The procession will thus follow the same route taken at the levayah of her husband about 15 years ago, in Iyar 5766.

Rebbetzin Shapiro was an eishes chaveir in every sense, a distinguished woman who was a faithful partner to her illustrious husband. Their bond was virtually indescribable. After Rav Moshe Shmuel passed away, I once drove Rebbetzin Wolbe and Rebbetzin Pashkes from Yerushalayim to Beer Yaakov to visit the rebbetzin. I still vividly remember her comment to them at the time: “I am very close to my own departure from the world. Without the rosh yeshiva, I have no life.”

Upon hearing that, I exclaimed, “You are not allowed to speak that way!”

“I am not opening my mouth to the satan,” she replied. “I am simply making a factual statement.”

Nevertheless, hashgochah pratis dictated that she would live for many more years. The rebbetzin remained the queen of her family and a mother figure in the yeshiva for years to come. Her father was Rav Aharon Weinstein, a rosh yeshiva in Tel Aviv who was considered one of the foremost talmidim of the Alter of Novardok. I remember her mother, who lived in their home in Beer Yaakov when I was a child.

Rebbetzin Shapiro was hospitalized recently, although her condition was not considered especially grave. I visited her in Shaare Zedek not long ago. On Shabbos, she was taken to Assaf Harofeh Hospital near Beer Yaakov. She passed away on Sunday, approximately at 12:00. It was a misas neshikah. I have many stories to tell about her, but for now, I will tell you only one thing: I recently celebrated a significant birthday, and my children surprised me with a collection of recorded brachos from many people. One of the brachos came from Rebbetzin Shapiro, in a highly unusual step; in general, she steadfastly avoided being recorded or photographed in any way. Today, I am mourning her passing.