Israel’s Real Problem
Personally, I don’t really think that a Biden presidency would be catastrophic for Israel, although his vice president might be a disaster. She has made no secret of her views, and she is hardly sympathetic to Israel, to say the least. On the contrary, her sympathies lie with the Palestinians and the concept of “two states for two peoples.” She has pledged to remove the siege of Gaza and never to withhold funds from them, even while they continue to pursue terror. In short, she is the diametric opposite of Trump, who punished the Palestinians for sticking to the path of terrorism.
But the fallout of this election is more far-reaching than it seems. Even if Biden remains the winner and becomes president and turns out not to be disastrous for Israel, and even should he continues America’s longstanding policy of friendship with Israel and viewing the tiny country as a strategic ally and the only anchor for the United States in the Middle East, there will be a different problem with a Biden administration. That problem is the Reform movement. Under Trump, the Reform movement kept an extremely low profile. After all, they had put all their proverbial eggs in Hillary Clinton’s basket, and they understood that when Trump was elected, their influence had dwindled to the point that it was virtually nil. Think about the Chanukah ceremony in the White House last year, and contrast it with the same event under Barack Obama, when a female Reform “rabbi” played a central role.
When the Reform movement in America has clout in the White House, it has a direct impact on Israel as well. Until Trump came to power, for instance, Netanyahu never made a move to protect the Kosel if it had the potential to antagonize the Reform organizations in America. He has never been willing to anger any groups that wield influence in the American government. After Trump’s election, it seemed that Netanyahu was no longer concerned about the reactions of the Reform movement. He simply ignored their protests. Now, it looks as if the tables will be turning again, and the kedusha of the Kosel may be in danger once again. That danger, by the way, is imminent, as the Supreme Court is demanding an immediate resolution. This might even lead to the creation of a third section of the Kosel for Reform Jews, alongside the sections designated for men and women.
There are also other ways in which the Reform movement poses a real threat. For instance, last week I reported that the official responsible for appointing judges had recommended ousting Rav Yitzchok Yosef from his position on the Bais Din Hagadol. Of course, the petition against Rav Yosef was submitted by the Reform movement. The more powerful they become in America, the greater is their audacity in Eretz Yisroel. May Hashem protect us from them and from their ilk.
From the standpoint of someone in America, this may seem like a tangential effect of the recent political upheaval. For us in Israel, though, it may well be the most crucial part of this story.
“Thank You, President Trump”
Some people have been claiming that Joe Biden has always been a friend of Israel. Netanyahu asserts that he has considered Biden a personal friend for 40 years. That may be true; we certainly cannot take sides in any such debate. On the other hand, when I look at the people who are exulting over Biden’s election, I begin to worry.
First, there is Iran, where the people danced to celebrate Biden. People in the streets handed out baked goods and fired joyous gunshots in the air. That is the way the Arabs celebrate; even their weddings are marked by gunfire. Abu Mazen, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is also rejoicing. He claims that Biden’s election will usher in an era of more “reasonable” policies.
Another Biden admirer is Heba Yazbak, a member of the Knesset from the Joint Arab List. You may recall that she was disqualified from running for the Knesset by the Central Elections Committee and that she appealed to the Supreme Court to reverse that decision. Naturally, the court accommodated her. Since her audacity knows no bounds, Yazbak announced excitedly, “The Trump era is over, and that is a good thing! The destructive policies that he implemented in this region through the Deal of the Century, the announcements of annexation, and the ongoing legitimization of the occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian people are only part of the immense damage that he has caused during his term. I hope that the results of this election will lead to a more just and less racist global policy.”
If our enemies are rejoicing with such glee, that is a reason to worry.
Netanyahu waited a day or two before reacting to the election results, presumably to avoid offending Trump. Finally, at the beginning of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, he announced, “I would like to begin by congratulating President-Elect Joe Biden of America and his vice president, Kamala Harris. I am certain that we will continue working with both of them in order to continue strengthening the special alliance between America and Israel.” In the same breath, Netanyahu added, “On behalf of myself and Israel, I would like to thank President Trump again for the great friendship that he has shown to the State of Israel and to me personally. I thank him for his recognition of Yerushalayim and the Golan, for his firm stance against Iran, for the historic peace agreements and for bringing the alliance between Israel and the United States to unprecedented heights. Thank you, President Trump.”
The president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, also offered his congratulations to Biden and invited him to visit Israel. However, I imagine that the White House officials know that our president is essentially a figurehead. Benny Gantz added his own voice to the chorus of congratulations and said, “I expect to continue deepening the connections between the Israeli and American people as allies who work together to strengthen democracy, stability, and peace throughout the world.” Gantz also thanked Trump for his years in the presidency and observed that the Middle East has made tremendous progress due to his courageous moves over the past few years.
And then there was Yair Lapid, who congratulated Biden while referring to him as “my old friend,” to somewhat comical effect.
The Supreme Court and the Bnei Yeshivos
Last Tuesday night, a panel of nine judges on the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Esther Chayut, rejected a petition from the government and ruled that the existing draft law will automatically expire in three months. The government had asked for an extension of the law in order to allow time to formulate an alternative, but in spite of the shaky state of the coalition and the coronavirus crisis, the Supreme Court somehow found it appropriate to reject the petition. Why? The answer is simple: The Supreme Court will always oppose the chareidim.
This contentious issue has been on the public agenda for a long time. The Supreme Court ruled long ago that the draft law is unconstitutional and violates the principle of equality, and it ordered the Knesset to formulate a new version of the law that it would accept—or to draft all the bnei yeshivos in the country. During his tenure as defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman had come up with a draft law that the chareidim accepted (with specific criteria for draft quotas and for the definition of chareidim, the details of which I will not discuss right now), but then the government disbanded.
The implication of this ruling is that the official status of Toraso umnaso, which applies as long as a bochur proves that he is still in yeshiva (and which the chilonim like to describe as an exemption, even though it is nothing of the sort) will not be extended further without being enshrined in a new law. The government had asked to prolong the arrangement without the need for legislation, but the Supreme Court ruled that a law must be passed by February 1. According to their decision, if the Knesset doesn’t pass a new draft law by that time, then all the talmidei yeshivos in the country must be automatically drafted. For the time being, the Knesset is working on formulating a new law. The current defense minister, Benny Gantz, seems to be planning to help the effort succeed, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has also become involved. On Sunday evening, Netanyahu met with the representatives of United Torah Judaism in his home, and this was one of the main topics on their agenda.
This problem is also connected to the Reform movement, for a simple reason: They are the petitioners. They appealed to the Supreme Court to strike down the draft law, and they rejoiced over the court’s recent decision. In a public statement, they declared, “We welcome the ruling of the Supreme Court, which was made by an expanded panel of nine justices, which accepted the position of the Movement for Quality Government and determined that the court’s ruling regarding the draft law will go into effect on February 1, 2021, and that no further delays in carrying out the ruling will be allowed.”
Yair Lapid did not conceal his joy. “The Netanyahu government has been evading the issue of the draft law for the past five years,” he announced. “The time has come to restore equality in sharing the burden. Every young man and woman is obligated to serve the state. No one deserves to get off easy. The Supreme Court has decided today that it has had enough of caving in to political machers.”
As I said, we need only look at who is celebrating in order to know whether this is good or bad for us.
Objections to the Questioning of Mickey Zohar
There were several other legal issues that occupied us this week. First, there is the ongoing conflict between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. At the request of the Supreme Court, Mandelblit recently drafted a set of legal guidelines concerning Netanyahu’s conflicts of interest. Since the prime minister is under indictment, Mandelblit decided that he must be barred from involvement in any appointments related to the police or the Ministry of Justice, including the appointment of a police commissioner or state prosecutor. Netanyahu responded to the Supreme Court that he considered Mandelblit’s position overly stringent and therefore unacceptable. In ordinary times, such a dramatic conflict between two high-ranking officials would have shaken the entire country; however, we have already grown used to such things. Still, it is not normal for the prime minister and his appointed attorney general to be battling each other in the Supreme Court. We will have to wait and see what the judges decide.
The next incident was also a case of political insanity. One of the more prominent members of the Likud party in the Knesset is a man named Mickey Zohar. Last week, Zohar was questioned by the police for allegedly trying to extort Attorney General Mandelblit. The police announced to the public, “An investigation is underway into allegations about the crime of extortion by threat. An elected official has been questioned today in conjunction with this case. The investigation has the approval and is under the oversight of the state prosecution.”
The investigation was sparked by an incident that took place about a month ago, when a recording of a conversation between Mandelblit and the former head of the Israel Bar Association was made public. In the recording, Mandelblit could be heard complaining about outgoing state prosecutor Shai Nitzan, who was refusing to make a final decision about the allegations against him in the Harpaz affair. “Nitzan is holding me by the throat,” Mandelblit declared. The next day, Mickey Zohar announced on the radio, “If Mandelblit doesn’t resign, more recordings will be made public.” In truth, this was an empty threat. Zohar had no other recordings to offer, nor did he have any way of obtaining them. But for the police, that was enough for him to be summoned for questioning.
The purpose of the questioning certainly seemed to be to intimidate Zohar, along with anyone else who might speak out against the attorney general. Not surprisingly, it was roundly condemned by many public figures. Mickey Zohar himself said, “There isn’t a single objective person in this state who will not agree that this is part of a dangerous pattern of attempts to silence an entire camp. This is a phenomenon that belongs in dark regimes, and certainly has no place in a glorious democracy such as Israel. I knew that as a man of the right, fighting for the truth for all of us, I might pay a price. But I never imagined how far the efforts to intimidate me would go.” Even the Minister of Internal Security, who oversees the police, spoke out publicly against their actions.
Ongoing Terror Attempts
The descendants of Yishmoel seem to have no desire to stop their attempts to murder us. Last Sunday, a stabbing attack took place near the al-Fawwar refugee camp south of Chevron. The 41-year-old terrorist from the village of Dura, which is located west of Chevron, arrived at the scene in a car and headed toward a group of soldiers with a knife drawn. The soldiers ordered him to stop, and when he did not comply, they fired three bullets at his feet. The terrorist continued moving forward and announced that he had come to die, and then they shot him again. He is now in Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva, and his condition is listed as moderate. And we all know how this story will end: He will receive the best possible medical care and will ultimately be released in a deal with a terrorist organization.
This was merely the latest in a series of attempted terror attacks. There has been a wave of violent incidents in that area in recent weeks, including massive spates of stone throwing on the major highways. Last Wednesday, soldiers managed to thwart an attempted shooting attack in the Shomron, near the southern entrance to the city of Shechem. In that case, the terrorist was killed by soldiers who were at the scene, and the soldiers themselves did not sustain casualties. Two days earlier, the IDF had demolished the home of the terrorist who murdered Rabbi Shai Ochayon in a stabbing attack in Petach Tikvah at the beginning of Elul. After the demolition of his home, which was located in the village of Rojib near Shechem, the local residents began rioting violently; about 150 Palestinians burned tires and threw rocks and cans of paint, forcing the IDF soldiers to disperse them.
A couple of chilling attempts at terror that took place several weeks ago were also reported last week, when the Shin Bet finally cleared both incidents for publication. One incident occurred in the vicinity of Rosh Ha’Ayin (which is near the city of Elad) on September 29, the day after Yom Kippur. In that case, a resident of Qalqilya was planning to carry out a terror attack in Rosh Ha’Ayin, but the police received advance warning of his intentions and located the terrorist in a search of the area. The terrorist was found to be carrying a loaded weapon along with spare ammunition, and it was clear that his capture had saved lives. After being questioned at length, the terrorist admitted that he had been planning to commit a terror attack. This week, he was indicted in court.
The other incident took place on August 8, when a Palestinian from Chevron set out to commit a stabbing attack in East Yerushalayim. Before he could act, the Palestinian youth raised the suspicions of police officers who were patrolling the area. He was detained and found to be carrying a knife and tear gas. The police also discovered that the suspect had entered Israel illegally and that he had planned to perpetrate a terror attack in Yerushalayim against Israeli civilians or security personnel. The police announced proudly, “There is no question that the arrest of the suspect and the discovery of his intentions blocked his attempt to carry out a terror attack in an area of Yerushalayim where it could have had devastating results.” Perhaps they should have added the words “b’chasdei shomayim” to their report.
In a disconcerting detail, the terrorist added that he had been specifically planning to target a chareidi Jew.
Dancing in Meron
Boruch Hashem, we are still seeing improvements in the coronavirus situation. There is a steady decrease in new infections, as well as in the number of intubations and the death rate. Still, the experts are warning us against becoming complacent. The government has decided on a series of measures to relax the restrictions, including the opening of schools and stores, but the professionals are warning that this will lead to a rise in infections and yet another lockdown. At the same time, the large retail chains have petitioned the Supreme Court to allow them to open their stores now that smaller businesses are also permitted to operate. But if the economy opens completely, there is potential for disaster.
At the same time, shuls have also been permitted to open again. The shuls are officially supposed to limit their occupancy to ten people at a time, but the community hasn’t been very particular about that limit. This decision affects every one of us, since we have all been davening in outdoor minyanim until now. Last Shabbos, it was actually quite cold outside, and many people would welcome the chance to daven indoors. However, if the minyanim will indeed be limited to ten people at a time, it will make this very difficult, since there are dozens of people at many of the outdoor minyanim.
This Monday, the Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms announced that minyanim may resume in the Knesset shul, albeit with a maximum of ten mispallelim, as in any other shul. For many months, the Knesset shul has been locked. This was a joyous piece of news, but many of us will probably opt to continue davening on the outdoor balcony, where we are permitted to have more than ten men in a minyan at once.
On a related note, we received another piece of good news: Meron has been opened to the public again. The tziyun of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was closed during recent months, and it has finally reopened. I received several pictures of the site from a friend who visited Meron as soon as it was opened to visitors; there were images of people dancing with joy. Such is the power of a Jew’s desire to visit the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. It is impossible, I mused, for the secular Israelis who make the decisions in this country to understand the religious mindset. They will never grasp the meaning or power of a tefillah at the Kosel or of davening at the kever of Rabbi Shimon. In fact, they probably do not even grasp the significance of davening in shul.
This past week also brought us the first winter rains. Every year, the country is caught by surprise when the rain begins to fall, as if it hadn’t rained in previous years—when the rain caught us by surprise as well. Suddenly, when the rainfall begins, there is no electricity, there are no traffic lights, and the drainage systems do not work. Trees fall down, cars become stuck, and people cannot walk in the streets. This is utterly bizarre. In Ashdod, children were seen rowing down the street in small rafts. Of course, we rejoice over every drop of rain that falls from the sky (and we all know that when there is rain, the money in our pockets is also blessed), and we are pleased to see the Kinneret reaching levels that we haven’t seen in years. Nevertheless, the beginning of the rainy season shows us every year just how incompetent our government is.
Yudele Visits Mamme Rochel
Last week, I wrote about my experiences visiting Kever Rochel on Rochel Imeinu’s yahrtzeit this year. I did not include a picture of the interior of the building, since the police barred us from entering it. As I mentioned, an exception was made for a handful of pious women—who visit the kever every day—to enter the building in the middle of the night. But of course, it wouldn’t have been appropriate to publish a picture of that group.
This week, however, I am publishing a picture that I did not include in my column last week. And I know that the person seen at Kever Rochel will not suffer reprisals from the publication of this picture, since he received permission to enter the building not only from the police but also from the Minister of Internal Security, Amir Ohana, himself. This person was a twelve-year-old boy named Yudele.
Anyone who meets Yudele finds it hard to resist embracing him, but his weakened immune system means that the physical contact could endanger his life. On the 11th of Cheshvan, Yudele traveled directly to Kever Rochel from Schneider Children’s Hospital in Petach Tikvah, where he had just undergone a chemotherapy treatment. Now, who convinced Amir Ohana to order the police to let him into the building? The credit goes to Ahrele Weingarten, whose commitment to fulfilling every desire of every one of his special “clients” knows no bounds.
In case you are not familiar with him, Ahrele Weingarten is the driving force behind the organization known as Darchei Miriam. You can find him every day in Shaare Zedek, in Hadassah, and in many other places. He visits dozens of patients on a daily basis, while also making sure that the organization’s coffee stations in all the hospitals are well-stocked. I will write more about that another time, bli neder. For now, let us return to Yudele.
“Do you want to visit Kever Rochel?” Ahrele asked him as the yahrtzeit approached.
“Very much,” Yudele replied.
“But you will have to daven for all the children in the ward,” Ahrele said.
Yudele thought for a moment and then said, “I agree!”
And Yudele certainly knows how to daven.
Before the day of the yahrtzeit, Ahrele contacted Reuven Pol, a dedicated volunteer who is known for his passion for visiting the Kosel and other holy sites. Pol had been saddened by the closure of Kever Rochel, and he eagerly accepted Ahrele’s suggestion for the day’s chessed opportunity: “Drive to Schneider Hospital, pick up Yudele, and bring him to Kever Rochel, and you will be able to go inside with him.”
The trip was not easy for Yudele, who had been plucked out of his regular routine in Talmud Torah and forced to wage war against the disease that invaded his body. He is a sweet, lively child whose enthusiasm and spirit captivate everyone who meets him. I was told that he infuses his entire ward with boundless energy. He will be celebrating his bar mitzvah in Adar, b’ezras Hashem. Incidentally, if any of you happen to be between the ages of 18 and 55 and would like to send Yudele a lifesaving bar mitzvah gift, and if you are located in Israel and have a blood type of O+ or you know someone else who meets those criteria, please call Darchei Miriam at 050-414-7771 and arrange to donate blood…. Yudele is in need of white blood cells.
At Kever Rochel, Yudele and his mother were met by Shachar Fierman, the employee of the Center for Holy Sites who oversees the compound, as well as Rabbi Yosef Schwinger, the director of the Center. Yudele, who is truly a Very Important Person, benefited from VIP treatment throughout his visit. He may be a frail-looking child whose body has been weakened by illness, but he has the energy and fortitude of a panther, and a personality to match.
I have no doubt that Mamme Rochel eagerly awaited Yudele’s visit. He entered the building with the assistance of Shachar Feierman, with Reuven Pol in tow. After a relatively long time had passed, his righteous mother voiced her concern. “He has been inside for half an hour already,” she said. “Someone must go in and see if he is all right.” As it turned out, Yudele was simply rooted to his spot; he could not tear himself away from the kever. He had also promised to daven for all the children in his hospital ward, and the list was quite long. He placed a wick in oil and kindled a small flame, and when he emerged from the building, he wore a beatific smile. He was confident that his tefillos had been answered, and that in the zechus of Rochel Imeinu, he would once again become like all of his peers. He thanked everyone who had helped him and then left along with his mother, while the onlookers surreptitiously wiped away their tears.
Please daven for a refuah sheleimah for Yehuda Meir ben Yakira….
Last week, I received an invitation to a wedding that would be held on Wednesday of the week of Parshas Chayei Sarah in a charming wedding hall in Spring Valley, New York. Does that sound like a tease? After all, it isn’t as if there will be any transportation from Yerushalayim to this wedding. Who is even traveling back and forth between Israel and America today? But the truth is that the invitation wasn’t sent to me with the expectation that I would attend the simcha; it was meant as a show of friendship, and that is precisely how I took it.
The chosson is a distinguished bochur who lives in Lakewood and is one of the outstanding talmidim of the Yeshiva of South Fallsburg. He also spent a period of time in Yeshivas Brisk in Eretz Yisroel. The kallah is the daughter of Rabbi Meir Chaim Hakohen Zilber, a close friend of mine, who came to Israel from England to learn in Yeshivas Beer Yaakov many years ago and became one of the foremost talmidim in the yeshiva, on account of both his success in Torah learning and his sterling middos. If I am not mistaken, he is a marbitz Torah in a yeshiva in Monsey today. It was Rabbi Zilber who sent me the invitation to his daughter’s wedding. Perhaps I should add that he is the son-in-law of Rav Eliyohu Dov Wachtfogel, who was scheduled to serve as mesader kiddushin both as the grandfather of the kallah and as the rosh yeshiva of the chosson. In case you were curious, the aufruf took place this past Shabbos at Bais Medrash Kahal Zichron Moshe in Lakewood, which has no connection to the Yeshiva of South Fallsburg, whose official name is also Zichron Moshe.
For those of you who are reading this in America, you should be happy that you are able to send wedding invitations that specify the venue of the simcha. This week, I received an invitation to a wedding here in Israel, which stated that the wedding would be held “with Hashem’s help, b’shaah tovah u’mutzlachas, on Thursday of Parshas Toldos, 3 Kislev 5781/November 19, 2020, in the place that Hashem will choose.” This was followed by a telephone number for guests to call to find out the location of the wedding. At this time, every wedding in Israel is surrounded by uncertainty; the families probably hoped that there would be a change for the better in the coronavirus regulations before November 19.
Since I cannot personally attend the wedding in Ateres Charna, I would like to offer the distinguished family a small gesture in these pages, in lieu of the gift that I might have given had I been there in person. What I am about to share here is actually far more precious than any other gift I could have given them: a pair of scintillating divrei Torah from the kallah’s illustrious grandfather, Rav Elya Ber.
I have mentioned to you in the past that I was once a talmid in the Yeshiva of South Fallsburg. While I was there, Rav Elya Ber used to deliver a brief shmuess in the bais medrash toward the end of Shabbos every week, and he always included an original vort. Every novel thought that he shared was a specimen of sheer brilliance. Even in those early years, he was already a world-class Torah giant whose encyclopedic knowledge and lightning-fast intellect were evident to everyone. I used to record his divrei Torah in a notebook every motzoei Shabbos, and when I bade him farewell at the end of the year, I presented him with a printed kuntres containing all the divrei Torah I had collected. (Believe it or not, I had a Hebrew typewriter in the yeshiva at the time.) The rosh yeshiva, whose smile never faded from his face, could not seem to hold back the tears that glistened in the corners of his eyes as he examined this gift.
Here, in brief, is one of those original insights: On the phrase “asher anochi metzaveh eschem hayom—that I am commanding you today,” which appears in Parshas Eikev, Rashi comments, “Every day, they should be as new in your eyes.” Rav Elya Ber explained that it is an actual necessity to relate to the Torah every day as if it were given anew; this attitude is not merely an optional measure of piety. The reason, he explained, is that, as Chazal teach us, the yetzer hara renews its attacks on us every day (Kiddushin 30b). Every new day brings a new set of tactics in the yetzer hora’s attempts to cause us to sin, and since the Torah is the antidote to the yetzer hara, it must likewise be renewed every day.
The second dvar Torah that I will share pertains to the “son of the Israelite woman” who sinned by cursing the Name of Hashem in the desert (see Parshas Emor). Chazal tell us that this man had been shunned by other Jews because his father was a Mitzri. Rav Elya Ber questioned why the disdain of his fellow Jews led him to pronounce a curse against Hashem; what was the connection? Furthermore, one would think that he could have responded to them with a powerful retort: that every other Jew as well might have been the son of a Mitzri (an argument that would be based on a kal vachomer; see Rashi, Bamidbar 26:5). Why didn’t the man simply reject their disdain for him on those grounds?
Rav Elya Ber explained that each of these questions holds the key to resolving the other. Chazal tell us that Hashem Himself attested that the Jewish people’s lineage was pure, and that no Jew was the product of an illicit union in Mitzrayim. Therefore, it was Hashem’s testimony that prevented the son of the Mitzri from suggesting that his Jewish brethren should be similarly stigmatized, and that led him to commit his heinous sin.
These two vertlach are my wedding gift to the young couple. May they be zoche to build a bayis neeman b’Yisroel.