Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021

My Take on the News

Are Netanyahu and Gantz on the Same Page?

In the world of Israeli politics, there is complete chaos. It has begun to seem as if the Israeli people are not the only ones who cannot be sure if Netanyahu and Gantz are allies or enemies; the two men themselves do not seem to be able to figure that out. On the one hand, the deadline at which the government will disband is rapidly approaching. If a budget for 2020 isn’t approved by the end of December, the government will effectively have dissolved itself. To be more precise, if the budget isn’t improved by midnight on December 23 and an additional delay is also not approved, the Knesset will automatically dissolve, and a new election campaign will begin.

At the beginning of the week, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz held a conference. Netanyahu reassured the others that everything would be all right and that the budget would be passed. Gantz also tried to create the impression that everything would be in order and the government would not disband. For him, this is especially important, since he hopes to find himself in the prime minister’s chair in just one year. Some believe that Netanyahu and Gantz are pretending to be at odds with each other, but they are really on the same page. However, there is no way to be certain of that.

This week, the government and the coalition will be put to the test. The Yesh Atid party will bring a bill to a vote calling for the dissolution of the Knesset. Yair Lapid has been calling on the members of Blue and White to support his proposal in order to topple the government and begin with a clean slate—in other words, for Blue and White and Yesh Atid to join forces again, facing off against Netanyahu in another election. Lapid is banking on the impact of the investigative committee that Gantz established, on behalf of the Ministry of Defense, to examine the submarine affair, which was certainly a provocation against Netanyahu. The members of Blue and White have been urging Benny Gantz, the party’s chairman, to support the dissolution of the Knesset this week. Gantz himself appears to be uncertain of how he will respond.

Meanwhile, believe it or not, Netanyahu has been making overtures to some of the Arab members of the Knesset. One of the Arab MKs, Mansour Abbas, has been giving interviews day and night, asserting that he will not rule out a partnership with Netanyahu. This is rather shocking, since Netanyahu excoriated Blue and White, along with Yesh Atid, during the previous campaign for their willingness to form a government with the support of the Arab List, even if it was only external support. Yet now Netanyahu himself seems prepared to go even further. The Israelis laugh about this, observing sardonically that Bibi managed to break up the Blue and White party, and he seems to be maneuvering to dismantle the Joint Arab List as well.

In all likelihood, Netanyahu’s overtures to the Arabs are a sham. He would never form a coalition that relied on Arab support; it would be unthinkable. On the other hand, he has managed to confuse his opponents. Moreover, he has also shown the true face of the Arab members of the Knesset. The Joint Arab List consists of four separate parties, and there are often vast differences between them. When their fellow party members seemed to be warming to Netanyahu, the other elements within the party did not restrain themselves and allowed their venomous hatred for the State of Israel to be exposed. Remember: These people are members of the Israeli parliament, each of whom receives a salary, an office, a car, a driver, and all sorts of other goodies at the country’s expense. But none of that stopped them from speaking out viciously against Israel. For instance, MK Heba Yazbak wrote, “The Joint Arab List represents an entire community that has chosen its own political way. Anyone who chooses to collaborate with racist, oppressive forces at the expense of our political alliance will be losing his justification [to serve in the Knesset], abandoning his community, and making improper use of the power that was given to him.”

The Police Demonstrate a Double Standard

Another issue that preoccupied us last week was the state of relations between the chareidi community and the Israel Police. This issue came to the fore in two separate incidents.  The first came after the Machash (Police Internal Investigations Department) announced its decision to place a police superintendent on trial after he had been filled striking a protestor. The victim was not a chareidi protester; rather, he was participating in a demonstration against the prime minister. The Machash reacted to the case quickly and with determination to bring the officer to justice. But this only served up to anger the chareidi community, since there have been countless complaints submitted to the Machash, against junior police officers and higher ranking policemen alike, for assaulting chareidim at demonstrations and other opportunities, but we have never heard of an officer striking a chareidi and being tried in court for his actions. One of the chareidi members of the Knesset responded, “We expect the Machash to act just as quickly against Commander Shimi Marciano, who assaulted a chareidi child on Sukkos and threw him violently to the sidewalk. Public trust will increase only when police officers face the same judgment for violence against chareidim and leftist demonstrators.”

Another incident that eroded chareidi trust in the police force—if there was any left—was the dismissal of Superintendent Yigal Yaakobov. This high-ranking officer was the head of an entity within the police force known as the Mashach (Merkaz Shitur Chareidi, or Chareidi Policing Center), whose purpose was to foster a relationship between the police and chareidi community leaders, especially rabbonim. The pilot program was established in Yerushalayim and appeared to be very successful. Yaakobov himself is not chareidi, but he understood that the only way to work with the chareidi community was through dialogue, especially with the community’s rabbonim, and that violence was not the answer. It is not clear what the police had against him, but Yaakobov was dismissed from his position last week. It is also unclear if he will be replaced or if his entire department will simply be disbanded. What is clear is that any positive rapport that was built over the past year has been destroyed by his dismissal. Many rabbonim in Yerushalayim, including Rav Reuven Elbaz, have appealed to the police to reverse their decision, but the police seem to have decided that Yaakobov’s approach is not correct. That is very unfortunate.

Meeting Police Officers of a Different Kind

Last week, once again, chareidim were beaten by policemen, both at demonstrations and for failing to wear masks. Something in the DNA of the police seems to be impelling them to continue beating civilians. Violence is part of their daily diet; it seems that the average citizen has no rights and the average police officer has no boundaries. Well, if the commanders themselves are meting out blows, then what can we expect from the rank and file of the police force? If even the most high-ranking officers feel within their rights to strike ordinary citizens, then this entire country is certainly in trouble. And if the Machash covers up police wrongdoing, and the courts respond only by fining the police force itself rather than the guilty officers, then what is to prevent them from taking out their wrath on hapless citizens?

Anyone who summons the Yassam policemen reminds me of the Mishnah’s description of the attacker who “incited a snake against him and caused the snake to bite him.” As the Gemara says, “A snake’s venom is housed between its teeth.” Violent behavior is what the Yassamniks learn in police academy. And when a policeman is given the freedom to let out his destructive impulses, he does not draw distinctions between a Druse, an Ethiopian—or a chareidi. If the government wants to enforce the requirement to wear a mask that covers the nose, then they should be sending ordinary police officers rather than members of the Yassam, who are invariably brutal.

On that note, after the malls and museums protested their forced closures, it was time for the wedding hall owners to voice their grievances. A group of wedding hall owners petitioned the Supreme Court, claiming that the closure of their facilities is discriminatory and favors schools, where simchas are permitted to be held. Personally, I don’t understand how they can draw a comparison between closed spaces and open areas, but I certainly understand their distress and the pain of the baalei simchos. Someone wondered aloud, “Why is it that we have to be afraid of the police at every wedding?” This incisive thinker added, “The police ought to adopt a new slogan: ‘We are with you at all your celebrations.’” Indeed, it seems that the police are making a point of disrupting and destroying weddings.

Last week, I attended a wedding at Talmud Torah Derech Tevunah in Yerushalayim. I discovered that the school is housed in a magnificent building with a large auditorium, where the chuppah was held with all the splendor of a wedding of earlier generations. The police officers who came—after someone called the police to inform them about the wedding taking place—were somehow different than their peers. They spoke humanely and managed to present their demands without ruining the simcha. When one of the policemen left the building, he found a yungerman struggling to maneuver a baby stroller up a flight of stairs. The policeman proceeded to roll up his sleeves and assisted the yungerman with the stroller. Someone told me that the policemen who arrived were regulars in the neighborhood. These are the type of law enforcement personal who should be sent to protests—along with Yigal Yaakobov, who understood that chareidim are human beings as well.

No Longer Spreaders of Infection

On the national level, the coronavirus situation has gotten worse. The Arab sector is now making its own “contribution” to the frightening statistics; however, no one dares to publish insulting caricatures of them. The chiloni sector is somewhere in the middle, and the lowest infection rates are in the chareidi sector.

The Ministry of Health cannot comprehend the phenomenon. But none of that has stopped them from talking about imposing a new lockdown on Chanukah, out of fear that the usual gatherings in chassidish communities will lead to mass infections. The chareidi community as a whole is uncertain of how to respond; no one wants to see the infection rates rise, but we have all observed that for “them,” things seem to have become permissible, including the operation of malls and the resumption of studies in high schools.

There are about 500 COVID patients in the country’s hospitals at this moment, 280 of them in grave condition and 115 in critical condition, along with 110 on ventilators. The Health Ministry announced at the beginning of the week that the death toll had risen to 2,845.

If we take Yerushalayim as an example, then according to the official statistics of the Health Ministry, as of midnight on November 28, there were 1284 active coronavirus patients in the city. Over the previous 24 hours, 79 new cases had been detected, while 74 patients had recovered. The distribution of new cases was reported as 50 in East Yerushalayim, 20 in the main part of the city, five in unidentified locations and four in the chareidi community. Not long ago, the chareidi neighborhoods were all defined as red zones, and the entire country blamed the community for spreading the disease. Things have certainly changed since then.

As I mentioned, the government caved into pressure in two areas. One was that it permitted malls to reopen—tragically, on Shabbos. This resulted in tens of thousands of Israelis descending on shopping malls throughout the country, throwing all caution to the wind. In addition, high schools and middle schools were permitted to reopen.

Rage Against the Chareidim; Silence for Others

What is happening now is simply astounding. The chiloni sector screamed and railed against the chareidim when the chadorim were opened. Aryeh Deri was heavily lambasted when he tried to explain that schools had not been closed during the lockdown in any other countries. All of his explanations, however, did him no good. The outcry was deafening. Yet now the government has decided to reopen all of the country’s schools, allowing studies to resume in all the middle schools and high schools throughout Israel. Suddenly, “Zoom” schooling has been discarded. What, then, was their objection to the chareidi schools reopening?

Then there is the issue of the capsules. As I have explained in the past, there is an organized capsule program in the yeshivos, under the supervision of the Vaad HaYeshivos and its special coordinator, Rav Binyomin Cohen, which is meant to protect the bochurim’s health and preserve the observance of the rules. The chareidim were viciously assailed even for this.

And the latest issue is the matter of weddings. The chareidi community insists that it can find a way to take proper precautions, but that we must be permitted to hold weddings in keeping with the requirements of Jewish tradition. The chiloni sector has responded with an outcry to that as well, claiming that it is dangerous and the chareidim are breaking the rules. What is actually happening is that they are opening their shopping malls and streams of shoppers are rushing to the stores, ignoring any precautionary measures. Those people, on the other hand, receive the encouragement of the media. Yet when the chareidim opened their schools, they were portrayed as enemies of the people and spreaders of disease.

Well, what else can we expect? We have always known that Eisov despises Yaakov….

Once a Minister, Always a Minister

Last Wednesday, two votes were held in the Knesset. One was to approve the government’s announcement of a change in the distribution of ministerial portfolios; the other was to confirm the actual appointment. Both proposals were approved unanimously—which might be impressive, except that there were only seven Knesset members present at the time. This was the vote that reinstalled Yaakov Litzman as the Minister of Housing.

Mickey Zohar, who was chairing the sitting, announced, “I will now proceed to the next vote, concerning the government’s decision to include MK Yaakov Litzman as an additional minister in the government. Who is in favor? Who is against? Who is abstaining?” He proceeded to announce the results: five votes in favor of the government’s proposal, none against, and no abstentions. “I would like to include MK Uzi Dayan,” he continued.  “Do you agree?” He paused for confirmation and then announced, “He joins with them. MK Yaakov Asher, MK Yaakov Tessler, and MK Etti Chava Attiya as well. That makes nine votes in favor, none against, and no abstentions. The proposal is approved.”

Zohar continued, “I will now call upon MK Yaakov Litzman—but I can call him a minister now, correct? Minister Yaakov Litzman, please come up to take your pledge of allegiance. It is an honor for me, sir. Once a minister, always a minister. I presume that you know the formula by heart. Please, sir, go ahead.” Zohar was subtly taking a jab at Litzman for having resigned and returned to the government more than once.

Yariv Levin, the Knesset speaker, took over from Zohar in order to congratulate Litzman. “In good time once again,” he said, “I am pleased to greet Minister Yaakov Litzman. We are privileged to have you return to your natural place at the cabinet table. On the day that Minister Litzman announced his resignation, I said that I hoped that the State of Israel would have the privilege of benefiting from his contributions as a member of the government again.” Sure enough, Litzman has returned.

Rav Mordechai Gifter’s Fear

The sounds of peace seem to be echoing in our country, and it would seem that we should rejoice over this. After all, Chazal teach us that there is no greater vessel for brocha than peace. Then again, who is to say if this really refers to peace with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia?

Rav Mordechai Gifter was the rosh yeshiva of Telz in Cleveland, a brilliant speaker and a master of hashkofah. His twentieth yahrtzeit will be marked in one month (on the 23rd of Teves). This week, someone sent me a copy of a speech that Rav Gifter delivered during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah in the year 5738, when Israel was holding peace talks with Egypt.

“There are many dangers involved in peace with the Arabs,” Rav Gifter declared, “not from a political point of view, but because when a person hears the way the Zionists talk about peace, how they hope to make peace with Egyptian culture and to play soccer and basketball in Cairo, and that the Egyptians will come play here, he should be gripped by fear of that type of ‘peace.’ This is the assimilation of Zionism, the goal for us to be just one nation like all the others, chas v’sholom. This is one of the reasons that Hashem is maintaining this mad situation, so that the Zionists will not achieve their intentions.”

Although Hashem redeemed us from Egypt, so to speak, in those days as well—with the signing of a peace agreement—the Egyptians have remained hostile to Israel, and there are no Israelis who travel regularly to Egypt. The two countries have nothing more than a cold peace between them. But who can predict what will result from peace with the United Arab Emirates? There is already talk of tens of thousands of Israelis traveling there. The airlines have begun offering flights and special promotions, and for the average Israeli, there is nowhere else to vacation. Abu Dhabi is an excellent destination for a secular Israeli. But who knows what will happen to the souls of Israeli youths while they are there—and, on that note, what they themselves will do? Their gracious hosts in Abu Dhabi may yet rue the day when they invited unruly Israeli tourists to their hotels. Once those guests leave, they may find that their hotel rooms have been stripped of all their contents—including carpets and plumbing!

Rav Shmuel Wilensky’s Greatest Virtue

There are quite a few yahrtzeits this week. First is the yahrtzeit of Rav Shmuel Wilensky (Charkover), who was rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais HaTalmud in America and was previously one of the foremost talmidim in Yeshivas Mir. He passed away 61 years ago, on the tenth of Kislev. At the time of his petirah, he was eulogized by the gedolim of America at the time, including Rav Yisroel Gustman and Rav Leib Malin. The latter made an interesting comment in his hesped: “Everyone knew that Rav Shmuel was an outstanding boki and a tremendous lamdan, but his greatest virtue was something else. After all the sins of the al cheit are enumerated, there is one more: the sins that we performed in timhon leivov—confusion of the heart. The Alter of Kelm used to say that that confusion is a sin in its own right. Timhon leivov is also one of the curses in the Torah. It means a lack of feeling. That is the reason that we learn mussar. Rav Shmuel had a heart that was filled with feeling!”

This week also we mark the yahrtzeit of Rav Shlomo Heiman, rosh yeshiva of Rameilles and Torah Vodaas, who passed away on 17 Kislev 5705. The yahrtzeit of Rav Levi Yitzchok Horowitz of Boston also falls this week; last year, I wrote about him extensively in honor of his tenth yahrtzeit.

This week also marks the 40th yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchok Hutner (on the 20th of Kislev). In my younger years, I had the good fortune of being by him in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Chaim Berlin—and on Purim, no less. It was an experience that I will never forget. The songs that were sung there have been permanently engraved into my heart. After my sister’s wedding, many years ago, we felt almost as if we had become mechutanim with Rav Hutner, since she married Rav Tzvi Aryeh Wohlman, the son of Rav Shmuel Dovid Wohlman, who was Rav Hutner’s close confidant for decades. Rebbetzin Bella Wohlman, who was tragically killed in a car accident in Flatbush two weeks ago, was the wife of Rav Yosef Wohlman, another son of Rav Shmuel Dovid. Let me take this occasion, then, to send my condolences on behalf of the many people in Eretz Yisroel who would visit the Wohlman family in America to pay their respects if the circumstances permitted it. The Wohlmans, including Rav Yosef and his rebbetzin, are an outstanding and noble family.

A Siyum to Remember

I will conclude with a small glimpse into Vovei Ha’Amudim, the publication of Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein’s kollel in Cholon. Rav Zilberstein relates that he was recently approached by a ben Torah who was distraught over the fact that his children did not choose to lead lives of Torah learning as he did. After offering several suggestions, Rav Zilberstein shared two relevant stories. The first concerned Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach: “A man once came to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and poured out his anguish. ‘Why haven’t I had the privilege of seeing my children follow the path of Torah and mesorah?’ he moaned. ‘They disparage everything that is holy and precious, even though my home is based on solid foundations of halacha. Why am I any worse than my neighbor, who seems to be a very simple man, yet his children have all followed the path of Yiddishkeit and have developed into talmidei chachomim?’

“Rav Shlomo Zalman replied, ‘The answer is very simple. In Klal Yisroel, there are differences of opinion between the gedolei Yisroel. Whenever one of those issues was discussed at your Shabbos table, you considered yourself qualified to voice an opinion on the subject, and you dismissed the views of anyone who disagreed with you. Your children therefore recognized that it isn’t such a great thing to be a talmid chacham or a gadol, because any such person will be analyzed and criticized at the average Shabbos table in any event. Since they lacked the ambition to grow into talmidei chachomim, the yetzer hara was naturally able to tempt them into exploring all the false pleasures of this world, and they were drawn into those things.’”

Talmidei chachomim, Rav Shlomo Zalman concluded, must be recognized as being on a superior plane. This is a message that is as relevant today as it was at the time.

But I cannot end this column without quoting one more story told by Rav Zilberstein. This is actually a story that Rav Yitzchok Hutner told about his own mother, and that seemed to have been a crucial element in his growth in Torah and yiras Shomayim. “When I was ten years old,” Rav Hutner related, “I completed Maseches Bava Kamma in cheder, and I came home and announced to my mother that I had finished the entire masechta. She looked at me in wonder and said, ‘Really? You did?’ She immediately placed a white tablecloth on the table, prepared candles, and put on the new dress that my father had bought her for Yom Tov and that she had never worn before. ‘I am going to wear this dress today,’ she announced, ‘because this is a Yom Tov for me!’

“She recited the brocha of shehecheyanu on the dress and lit the candles in honor of the siyum. When I saw her wearing that special dress on an ordinary weekday in honor of my Torah learning,” Rav Hutner continued, “I realized that it was being used to honor the Torah and to show respect for my achievement of completing Maseches Bava Kamma. The ahavas haTorah that I absorbed from that dress is beyond description.”

As a child, Rav Hutner sensed that his mother’s love for the Torah was completely authentic; he saw that her sole desire in life was for him to grow as a talmid chochom. “That is how I absorbed love for the Torah,” he declared.

Both of these stories share a common message: A child’s parents have an enormous role to play in determining what he will become.

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