My Take on the News

Is a Fourth Election to Come?

Today, the electronic sign in the Knesset building reports that there are 21 days remaining until the elections. The Central Elections Committee has taken over the floor containing the various party offices, where it will remain until the day of the election, but there is hardly any sense in the air that the country is about to go to the polls.

True, there are surveys being published every weekend, both by professional pollsters and by various interested parties. It is impossible to tell whether these polls mean anything, though, especially since the pollsters have lost their credibility in recent years. Time after time, their predictions have been off the mark; why should anyone believe them today?

As of now, the polls show Blue and White coming out ahead of the Likud by a bit. But even if this is correct, as I have pointed out in the past, the winner of the elections and the character of the next government will not be determined by which of the two parties earns more mandates than the other. The pivotal question is which of the two blocs, the right or the left, will triumph. And as far as that issue is concerned, the situation is still very unclear. Most polls show the right-wing bloc drawing closer to the threshold of 61 mandates, but they do not show it actually reaching that crucial number. While Lieberman’s party appears to be shrinking, it still appears that he will be the key to determining the makeup of the next government. And at this time, it seems most likely that he will support the left. His hatred for Bibi Netanyahu seems likely to overcome any other consideration.

To make a long story short, then, many are already predicting that we will be facing a fourth election. The only viable alternative seems to be the formation of a unity government, but that initiative will give rise once again to the question of who will serve first as prime minister in a rotation between Gantz and Netanyahu, and whether Blue and White will be willing to grant the office of prime minister to a person who has been accused, even if he hasn’t been convicted, of corruption. So the situation is complicated indeed.

Lieberman Sinks in the Polls

As I mentioned, Avigdor Lieberman’s standing in the polls has been declining. The same is true of the chareidi parties, although the polls have always been shown to be inaccurate regarding them. The reason for that is simple: The polls are generally conducted through digital media, and the voter base of the chareidi parties tends to avoid those media. Consequently, the pollsters invariably underestimate their showing. It is actually surprising that they haven’t realized their error and made a habit of adding a mandate or two to the results they derive for UTJ and Shas, considering the fact that their miscalculation repeats itself in every election.

The supporters of the secular parties, on the other hand, tend to be involved in online media, which makes the surveys more accurate with regard to them. Therefore, if the polls show Lieberman losing votes, then that is probably what will happen. It is also logical, since his base of potential supporters is shrinking. For the right-wing anti-religious sector—those who always supported Rafael Eitan, Tommy Lapid, and their ilk—Lieberman’s shift to the left is undoubtedly problematic. Of course, he still has his Russian voter base, but the vast majority of them also have right-wing leanings and do not approve of his newfound leftist inclinations. The only exception would be those who are so virulently anti-religious that they will always follow Lieberman. For the anti-religious voters on the left, meanwhile, there is no reason to vote for Lieberman when they have Yair Lapid himself. In short, while Lieberman appears to aiming for the support of anti-religious voters, perhaps due to the lack of an alternative, his electorate is steadily diminishing in size.

This week, Lieberman continued his anti-religious campaign and expanded his ads on the theme of “Where is the money?” This mantra, which Yair Lapid adopted several years ago, remains one of the backbones of Lieberman’s false propaganda, which pins the blame for all of the country’s problems on the funding for yeshivos. Not only is this a complete lie, it is also vicious slander. But there are people, mainly immigrants, who believe this incitement—which can lead to horrific actions.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court voted on Sunday evening, by a majority vote of five to four, to approve the candidacy of Hiba Yazbek. Mrs. Yazbek is a candidate on behalf of the Joint Arab List who has made numerous statements in support of terrorism. Somehow, the Supreme Court feels that she can legitimately run for a seat on the Knesset, while Michael Ben-Ari and several of his colleagues in Otzma Yehudit must be denied the same opportunity. Of course, that is utterly absurd. I will try to write about it in a separate article next week.

Coronavirus Threatens Israel

The modern world, which is equipped with greater defenses than ever in history, is quaking in terror from a tiny, invisible microorganism.

As you will see in the next section of this column, health care became a major issue in Israel even before the coronavirus made its first appearance. But now that the coronavirus has begun to sow terror, Israel has joined the other nations of the world that are attempting to shield themselves from infection. The Ministry of Health released a series of guidelines regarding entry to Israel, which even led to a diplomatic conflict with the Chinese ambassador, who declared that it is inappropriate for a country that has suffered from racist discrimination to close its gates to foreigners. He was essentially equating the current fear of Chinese tourists with the fact that Jews were shut out of many countries throughout the world during the Holocaust. This was an absurd statement; does the ambassador truly find it difficult to understand the fear evoked by the disease?

Meanwhile, various rumors of spreading infection led to massive panic. There were also some actual cases of the virus, which frightened many Israelis. An Israeli man was diagnosed with the coronavirus at a medical clinic in the neighborhood of Gilo in Yerushalayim, and all the employees and patients at the clinic were asked to wear masks. The patient was subsequently placed in isolation in the hospital, and the clinic was ordered closed.

On Sunday, a 39-year-old resident of Carmiel was sent to a hospital in the Galil after reporting to a doctor at his local Clalit medical clinic that he had been suffering from a cough and fever for about a week. The man had also revealed that he had returned to Israel from China on January 17, which led to the concern that he might have contracted the coronavirus. He was questioned at length and subjected to testing in the emergency room, and the doctors ultimately ruled out the possibility that he had been infected with the new virus. The man was released from the hospital at the end of this saga, but the panic that it had created in the hospital and in Carmiel as a whole probably set a new record.

For the time being, the Ministry of Health is advising travelers to avoid flying to Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan. It is a frightening situation indeed.

Blue and White Forgets the Past

Meanwhile, the field of health care has become an issue in the election campaign as well. Before Shabbos, Benny Gantz made the dramatic announcement that a new case against Netanyahu, Case 5000, was about to be opened. The country tensed in preparation for an actual criminal accusation, but a leak from within the Blue and White party managed to dispel the tension on the same day. This was the Blue and White party’s way of announcing their intent to denounce the government for the fact that 5000 people die every year due to the failings of the Israeli health care system.

Is this figure true? It might be, but there is something else to keep in mind: For several years, while Yair Lapid held the post of finance minister, the health minister was Yael German of Yesh Atid, and it seems that the same mortality rate existed during her tenure as Minister of Health. If that is the case, then what makes the current government any worse than the government in which Yesh Atid was a partner?

The Ministry of Health was not pleased by the attention drawn to the medical field in Israel, especially since the chorus of criticism was joined by Gesher-Labor-Meretz (and Orly Levi of the Gesher party claimed that Blue and White had plagiarized her ideas for improving the health care system and had claimed her proposals as their own) and by Lieberman. The latter “explained” to the public that the medical system in Israel would be able to provide proper care if the government did not allocate funding for yeshivos.

The Health Ministry responded to the criticism by releasing an open letter to Gantz, Lieberman, and Amir Peretz, which declared: “We were happy to read that your parties plan to make the health system a central issue in the current campaign. First of all, it is good that you finally remembered this system! We hope that this agenda will serve not only as a component of your election campaigns but also as a basis for substantive action. Second, as we will explain in detail, the Ministry of Health has begun a number of significant processes within the health care system and has developed an organized working plan in conjunction with the Treasury to bolster the health care system. At the same time, we feel that it is correct to point out the large number of inaccuracies that appear in your various descriptions of the health care system….” It does not seem that this letter was particularly convincing or that it put an end to the attacks on the government’s handling of the system.

The Likud party, for its part, responded by releasing a video in which Yael German is heard praising the Israeli health care system during her own tenure as Minister of Health. Her own words make the current wave of criticism seem ridiculous.

It Isn’t the Daf; It’s the Yomi

Now let us move on to some loftier matters. First, there are the siyumim, which have been continuing with no end in sight. This week, there was a major siyum in the city of Rishon L’Tzion, conducted by Rav Moshe Nachshoni. Of course on Sunday night there was the giant Dirshu siyum in New Jersey. On motzoei Shabbos, I attended a siyum in a shul known as Toras Moshe, a center of Torah learning in the neighborhood of Givat Shaul. Toras Moshe was founded by the mekubal Rav Shmuel Tausig, who passed away about ten years ago and was succeeded by his son, Rav Zelig Tausig. Since Rav Zelig’s passing about three years ago, the shul has been under the aegis of the righteous brothers Rav Refoel and Rav Yisroel Tausig. The rov of the shul is Rav Aharon Yosef Deutsch, who delivers the daf yomi shiur twice a day, at 6:00 in the morning and then again in the evening. The shul’s material needs are handled by its dedicated gabbai, Rav Chaim Lieder, who also serves as the metaheir of the chevra kaddisha of Yerushalayim. On motzoei Shabbos this week, dozens of lomdim and mispallelim celebrated the third siyum on daf yomi held in the shul. At the conclusion of the event, they received bottles of wine that had been left over at the conclusion of the first siyum, 15 years ago, when they were distributed by Rav Shmuel Tausig himself.

It surprised no one that the keynote speaker was Rav Yisroel Meir Druk, a resident of Givat Shaul who is a prominent orator. “It isn’t the daf that counts,” Rav Yisroel averred. “It is the yomi! The important thing is to toil over it day after day, without compromise, with dedication and consistency.” He related that his father, the famed maggid Rav Asher Druk zt”l, had delivered a regular shiur at the Kosel but had not insisted on keeping to the pace of a daf every day. “My father did not measure the Gemara in centimeters,” he related, stressing that the most important aspect of the shiur was the consistency of participation. “Chazal teach us that the only person who is truly free is someone who is involved in Torah learning,” he added. “Yet it seems that a person who learns Torah is actually enslaved to it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year!” He resolved this question with a simple answer: “That is simply a misconception. A free man is not someone who is able to sit with his legs crossed and smoke cigarettes. That is a miserable person, not a free person. A person who is free is someone who works for himself, in contrast to a slave, who works for his master.”

A Compilation of Divrei Torah on Shas

The current daf yomi cycle has brought us a new endeavor: the production of K’Motzei Shalal Rav on Shas. This initiative takes the form of a weekly publication containing vertlach drawn from all seven blatt of the week’s daf yomi. The publication stems from the same source as the series of seforim bearing the same title and its twin series, Shalal Lo Yechsar, on the Chumash, moadim, megillos, and so forth. I am sure that you are familiar with these highly popular seforim.

The concept of these seforim is both simple and brilliant: They are a compilation of vertlach from the gedolim of many generations on the respective topic of each sefer. The contents of the seforim are drawn from collections of teshuvos, from commentaries on Shas, and from a wealth of other sources. Rav Wosner, for instance, has a series of seforim entitled Shevet Halevi, and there are various divrei Torah on Chumash scattered throughout the series. Likewise, Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s Yabia Omer contains an assortment of such chiddushim as well. The author of these seforim set out to compile these vertlach into a single volume, where they would be easily accessible.

The same fantastic idea has led to the production of the current weekly publication on the daf yomi (and I would not be surprised if it is eventually compiled as a series of seforim). Once again, the author, Rav Avrohom Yisroel Rosenthal, is combing through reams of material to collect a wide array of vertlach on every page of the Gemara.

This week’s issue (the fifth issue, which covers daf 30 through 37 of Maseches Brachos) quotes from a wide range of sources including Divrei Yoel, Kedushas Levi, the Chasam Sofer, Shailos U’Teshuvos Zecher Yehuda, Yad Hamelech, Shailos U’Teshuvos Meishiv Davar, Shailos U’Teshuvos Dovev Meisharim, the Maharil Diskin, and many others. One fascinating insight was drawn from Rav Chaim Shmulevitz’s Sichos Mussar: “Chana asked to have a son who was neither foolish nor wise. We see that her request was fulfilled, since she declared, ‘I davened for this youth,’ yet we know that Shmuel was equivalent to Moshe and Aharon. Thus, we can see that even a person who is considered on a par with others, and who is neither exceptionally foolish nor exceptionally wise, can attain a level similar to that of Moshe and Aharon.”

If you wish to receive the weekly publication, you can contact the organizers at shalalrav@gmail.com.

An Inscription in a Sefer and a Decades-Old Mystery

Another publication that I have mentioned in the past is Divrei Siach, which is compiled by Rav Yitzchok Goldstoff based on the chiddushim and piskei halacha of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. This week, I know that Rav Goldstoff will be pleased to be contacted by my readers regarding an item that appeared in the most recent issue.

In the latest edition of Divrei Siach, the following letter from a reader was published: “I found a copy of the sefer Orchos Yosher in my home. It is the fourth edition of the sefer, including various corrections, and it contains the inscription ‘A gift to my good friend Reb Aryeh Leib shlita, from the author, Chaim Kanievsky.’ This sefer was probably among the seforim that my father zt”l, who lived in Los Angeles, California, left for his heirs when he passed away on 29 Teves 5752, and his family members do not know the identity of this Reb Aryeh Leib. I would be very appreciative if you could determine to whom it belongs [this is directed at Rav Goldstoff himself] so that I can fulfill the mitzvah of hashovas aveidah and thereby bring peace to my father’s neshomah.”

The letter is signed by a yungerman in Lakewood, and the editors of Divrei Siach have requested that anyone who has information that may resolve this mystery (or who has a dvar Torah to share that he heard from Rav Chaim Kanievsky) contact them at Ig0533145900@gmail.com.

On that note, let me share one pithy vignette that appears in the latest edition of Divrei Siach: A group of older bochurim once asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky, “Where is it better to daven for a shidduch—in Meron or in Amuka?”

Rav Chaim replied, “In Elokai Netzor!”

The Potential Is Limitless

I recently davened Shacharis in the Knesset shul, which I have never done before. The minyan is quite a sight: Dozens of employees from every department in the Knesset—maintenance men, air conditioning technicians, graphic artists, and computer experts, to name a few—enter the shul and remove white yarmulkes from a box or blue ones from their pockets, and then withdraw tallisos and tefillin from a cabinet and proceed to daven. One can see the purity and devotion of the typical Sephardic Israeli, with his yearning for spirituality.

Itzik Cohen is a retired employee from the printing department who is currently working for the Central Elections Committee. He arrived first and performed birkas kohanim along with his colleague, Matan Cohen from the Knesset Guard. Landscaper Moshe Azulai led Brachos, Korbanos, and Pesukei Dezimrah, and then Elchanan Mimran, one of the Knesset ushers, took over for the latter half of the davening.

There are a few distinguished members of the minyan who bear mentioning, such as Reb Mordechai Gonen, who is a walking kiddush Hashem, or Chaim Ayubi, the gabbai at Mincha on Shabbos in the shul in Efrat known as Kapos Temarim. Uzi Mizrachi is the gabbai of the Beis Levi shul in Bayit Vegan. Eliyahu Baumker can always be found perusing a sefer. Of course, there were also the hardworking MKs of the Shas party: Yinon Azulai, Michoel Malchieli, Moshe Abutbul, and Yaakov Margi. And that is not to say that there were no Ashkenazim in the minyan. There was Aviad Gutman, who oversees the kashrus and halachic department in the Knesset, as well as the mashgichim in the Knesset cafeterias, Rabbi Frankel and Rabbi Pashkus. There were also a couple of computer professionals, as well as UTJ MKs Maklev and Eichler and their staffs. There were many righteous Ashkenazim there, in fact, but my attention was captured by the “amcha”—the simple, ordinary Sephardim who arrived bareheaded and donned yarmulkes in order to daven. All of these people are potential supporters for Shas or UTJ. The potential is almost limitless! And that simply means that every political activist must work hard to reach every potential voter.

Escalation in Terror

This week has brought us a series of terror attacks, as well as miracles. In one incident, a policeman on guard duty near Har Habayis was lightly wounded in a shooting perpetrated by an Arab resident of Haifa. Video footage of the incident shows the terrorist standing about three meters away from a group of police officers; it is completely miraculous that the only damage he inflicted was an injury to one policeman’s hand. This act of terror could have ended with several fatalities instead. This story is particularly disturbing because the perpetrator was an Israeli citizen who owned a florist’s shop in the center of Haifa, and whose neighbors described him as a normal, pleasant man. The only thing that changed about him was that he converted to Islam two years ago…. Perhaps that should have made them realize that he would no longer be the same congenial neighbor.

When the terrorist opened fire, he was shot and wounded by the soldiers and police officers at the scene. A paramedic later related, “When we arrived at the scene, we joined the security forces. The wounded shooter was walking around, fully conscious and suffering from an injury to his hand. We placed him in a mobile intensive care unit and provided first aid, which included bandages and painkillers. We then transported him in light and stable condition to receive further treatment in the hospital.” The terrorist will certainly be receiving excellent medical care.

On the same day, Thursday, just a few hours later, a soldier was wounded in a shooting attack at the Parsah Junction near the community of Neriah in Binyamin. The initial assessment indicated that the attack was carried out by a terrorist who shot from a passing vehicle at a booth manned by IDF soldiers and then sped away. Border Guard soldiers who were in the vicinity responded by firing at the terrorist and initiating pursuit. A team of paramedics from MDA arrived at the scene and provided first aid to a wounded soldier whose head had been grazed by a bullet. The soldier was later evacuated to Tel Hashomer hospital.

You may be wondering how the terrorist managed to escape. After all, there was only one terrorist, and even though he was armed, the soldiers were likewise carrying weapons; they outnumbered him, and they should have been able to subdue him. I will discuss this further below. For now, a manhunt is underway.

Grazed by a Bullet

The IDF believes that the terrorist who carried out the shooting attack in Binyomin actually planned to attack civilians rather than soldiers. Based on the initial investigation, it is believed that the terrorist was lying in ambush in the valley next to the highway for a long time, waiting for the area to be empty of security forces so that he could shoot at passing Israeli cars; however, a group of soldiers who were patrolling the area decided to station two men precisely at that spot. The terrorist was surprised and shot at them, and one was lightly injured.

A few hours after the incident, it was decided that the commander of the Ephraim brigade would set up a mobile command center and lead the manhunt for the terrorist. The command center was established by a joint effort of the intelligence officials of the Home Front, the Military Intelligence Directorate, and the Shin Bet. Elite units were ordered to remain on high alert, in the event that they might be called upon to raid a building in order to capture the terrorist. Army officials in Yehuda and the Shomron reported that intensive reconnaissance had been conducted in the area to determine what escape route the terrorist might have taken. The army believes that the terrorist acted alone and was familiar with the area; they believe that he is a resident of one of the nearby Arab villages, and that he might have taken advantage of his knowledge of the turf to escape to a different area.

The IDF fears that the terrorist might carry out another attack before he is located by the intelligence services. They are even more concerned in light of the possibility that the terrorist may have been a member of a larger terror network and that there are others like him who are waiting for orders to act, even though this particular terrorist’s identity seems to be known to the security services.

But there is still an unanswered question. Again, here are the facts of the case: On Thursday afternoon, a terrorist fired at IDF soldiers stationed near the settlement of Dolev in western Binyomin. A team of paramedics arrived at the scene and provided first aid to a wounded soldier, who had been grazed by a bullet that was only millimeters away from entering his brain. The investigation has shown that the soldiers were standing in their booth when the terrorist fired at them from a distance of about twenty meters. They returned fire, but the shooter managed to escape. The wounded soldier attested that he was saved by a miracle, but the question that demands an answer is how this could possibly have happened. How is it that a single terrorist managed to escape from two armed soldiers?

Vehicular Terror

And that is not all. On that same day, late at night, a group of twelve soldiers were wounded near the King David Hotel in Yerushalayim while they were heading to a swearing-in ceremony at the Kosel. The incident has been labeled a car ramming attack. You are probably familiar with the location of the attack: on Rechov King David, near the Montefiore Windmill. This took place in the heart of Yerushalayim.

The wounded soldiers were transported to three different hospitals: Shaare Zedek, Hadassah Ein Kerem, and Hadassah Har Hatzofim. Nine of them were released before Shabbos. The investigators believe that the culprit spotted the group of youths and accelerated his car toward them, plowed into them from behind and then drove away. A few of the victims tried to fire at the speeding car as it drove away, but they did not succeed. After the attack, the rest of the brigade continued on their way to the Kosel. The suspect’s car was later located near Beit Lechem, in the town of Beit Jala. You are probably wondering how a lone terrorist managed to escape from an entire group of soldiers. That is a good question, and one that does not yet have an answer.

A Tense Shabbos in the South

Unfortunately, the list of terror incidents does not end there. On Thursday night, IDF fighter jets attacked terror targets in the Gaza strip. Among the targets were certain subterranean infrastructures that served the military wing of Hamas. The IDF reported that their attack was in response to the rockets and terror balloons that had been sent into Israel from the Gaza strip earlier in the day.

Then there was Shabbos. On Friday night, Israeli soldiers eliminated a 19-year-old terrorist who was taking part in terrorist riots in the village of Pekiin, near Tul Karem. The terrorist was shot after he endangered the soldiers by throwing a Molotov cocktail at them. In another incident, a terrorist who was holding a gun during riots near the border fence was shot and seriously wounded by Israeli soldiers. Over the course of Shabbos, there were at least seven instances in which suspected terrorists were driven away from prohibited areas along the border, while dozens of explosive balloons were released in Gaza and directed toward Israel. Some of the explosives detonated in the air over the Gaza Strip itself.

On motzoei Shabbos, IDF tanks attacked two military positions of the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip. According to an IDF spokesman, the attacks were carried out in response to rocket fire from Gaza Strip toward Israel. At the same time, a number of explosive balloons were discovered by foreign workers in a field in the Merchavim Regional Council.

And that is not all. Police sappers were also called to defuse suspected explosive balloons that were found in the vicinity of Sderot, in the Lachish Regional Council, and in the Chof Ashkelon Regional Council. In each case, local residents reported spotting suspicious objects attached to balloons, and the sappers were called to the areas where the balloons had landed. A portion of Route 3 was closed to traffic under a similar suspicious object, which seemed to have fallen off its accompanying balloons, could be neutralized. Other areas in the vicinity were also isolated for the purpose of defusing balloons.