The Price of Envy and Egotism
There are times when I think that Israel ought to envy countries such as Sweden or Switzerland, where the most exciting headlines in the news have to do with mundane things such as the weather. Our top news stories—aside from the coronavirus, which is dominating the entire world’s attention—revolve around the endless and completely unnecessary squabbling in our government, along with the discouraging feeling that the people who seem to be ruling the country do not have its best interests at heart. It is a sad situation indeed.
I won’t write at length about politics in this column, since I have written a separate article this week outlining the political map in Israel. It is clear to the Israeli people that there is nothing to be gained from another election campaign. These elections were foisted on the country because of the inflated egos of a few members of the government, including the prime minister and the alternate prime minister. Who really needs an election now? What need is there for the enormous expenditure of money, energy, and other resources that is involved in an election campaign? And who wants to deal with all the bickering and mudslinging that go hand in hand with any election? Above all, why must our government be destabilized while we are fighting a raging pandemic?
As I walk the corridors of the Knesset building, I am utterly baffled by this. Why in the world did Israel decide to go to elections now? Why couldn’t we have united in the face of a common threat? Even in the Knesset, a place that is no stranger to egotism or corruption of character, this remains a mystifying phenomenon, because many of the people who brought down the government by nixing the bill that would have kept it afloat are themselves bound to lose their seats in the Knesset as a result. When the opposition applauded after the government suffered its defeat, the Knesset speaker demanded, “Why are you celebrating? Some of you aren’t going to be here when the next Knesset is installed!” It is amazing to observe how envy and hatred can warp people’s senses.
But now that the election is happening, it is time for us to gather our strength and move forward. The chareidi parties must repeat their accomplishments of the previous election. If the chareidim lose political clout, it will not be a good situation for them. The chareidi parties have been faithful emissaries and have also worked tirelessly for the residents of the periphery and the weaker sectors of society. There is no doubt that the chareidim were the most active and outstanding members of the Knesset during this term. Let us hope that the voters will recognize that and will respond accordingly.
With the Children of Shai Ohayon
The 23rd Knesset was very short-lived; it survived for only nine months, and it was plagued by infighting and tensions. But it also had a few inspiring moments. In my own experience working closely with the members of the Knesset, I witnessed some meaningful incidents, one of which was an encounter with Professor Simcha Goldin, the father of the martyred soldier Hadar Hy”d.
Another moving experience took place on Chanukah, when the Knesset received a visit from the widow and orphans of Shai Ohayon Hy”d, who was murdered on the sixth of Elul at the Segulah junction in Petach Tikvah. The Ohayon children visited the Knesset as guests of one of the ZAKA organizations. The family visited the office where I work, and they lit Chanukah candles and received an assortment of gifts from MK Yinon Azulai and from ZAKA, including sifrei Tehillim inscribed with their names. Yinon Azulai also delivered a heartrending speech.
When the visitors gathered together for a picture, the photographer said, “Rabbi Azulai, would you please stand in the middle?” Yinon immediately said, “Do not call me ‘rabbi.’”
The oldest Ohayon child immediately remarked, “If Rav and Shmuel in the Gemara didn’t need to have a title, then Azulai also doesn’t need one.”
All four Ohayon children are extremely gifted and blessed with extraordinary charm. Their mother also displayed amazing emotional fortitude. We have had many touching moments in the 23rd Knesset, but this was certainly one of the most outstanding. May Hashem grant the widowed Mrs. Ohayon and her children the strength to cope with their loss.
In any event, returning to my original point, what will happen in the next election? Let us assume that Gideon Saar will receive between 10 and 15 mandates, Lapid will receive 15 to 20 mandates, and the Likud will earn between 25 and 35. What will this accomplish? Does anyone really expect Saar and Lapid to join forces and set up a rotation between them for the office of prime minister? That is a scenario that hardly seems fair: Where is the logic and justice in having the head of a party with 10 or 20 mandates serve as prime minister, instead of the leader of the largest party in the Knesset—i.e., Netanyahu? Wouldn’t that be a complete betrayal of the Israeli voters? In short, what do we stand to gain from a fourth election? Absolutely nothing! But when there is hatred and envy, and a drive to eliminate Bibi Netanyahu at all costs, then logic is thrown to the wind.
Our Enemies Continue to Hound Us
This past week, on Friday night, the rocket fire in the south continued. Two rockets were fired toward the city of Ashkelon, which is close to the center of the country. Both were intercepted by the Iron Dome and exploded in an area where they would not cause damage. Of course, the rocket fire demanded an Israeli response, and the air force attacked several Hamas targets in Gaza.
Last week, a horrific murder took place in the Shomron. Esther Horgan Hy”d, a resident of Tal Menashe, was brutally murdered by an Arab terrorist while jogging in the forest near her community. The murderer, a 40-year-old resident of the village of Tura, had climbed a fence to cross into Israeli territory and then waited in ambush for a victim to cross his path. It didn’t take long for the security forces to apprehend him. And it didn’t take long to discover that he has already served a prison sentence in the past for acts of terror.
Unfortunately, even during this time of excruciating hardship, when so many businesses are collapsing, employees have been laid off, and the entire Israeli public is suffering from the torturous impact of the pandemic, we are also facing enemies whose sole desire is to murder Jews.
Another death in the Shomron is indirectly connected to the sensitive security situation. In this case, the family members and friends of the deceased are accusing the police of causing the death. The incident began when a group of young men were throwing rocks at Palestinians who regularly harass the residents of the community of Bat Ayin. A group of Shabak agents had been watching the youths from an unmarked car, and when the rock throwing began, the undercover agents immediately took off after them. During the chase, the boys’ car overturned and one of them, 16-year-old Ahuvya Sandak, was killed. The boys claim that the Shabak car rammed into their vehicle and caused the accident. It is a very sad situation and is being probed by the Police Internal Investigations Department. Meanwhile, right-wing activists in Yerushalayim have been staging fierce protests against the police; they feel that the abuse they have been enduring has grown unbearable.
Shechitah on the Chopping Block
As the 23rd Knesset drew to an end, the chareidi lawmakers managed to introduce a few bills and have them approved at the last possible moment. Perhaps I will write more about their legislative initiatives in the future. Today, I would like to focus on an issue raised by the chareidi MKs: the ban on shechitah in Europe.
I learned a good deal about shechitah in Europe from Rabbi Avrohom Gigi of Belgium, who has been very active as a liaison between the Conference of European Rabbis and the European Union. (I interviewed him for Yated Neeman in the month of May 2017.) For several years already, Rabbi Gigi has managed to thwart the European government’s intention to outlaw shechitah. Two weeks ago, as reported in this newspaper last week, the International Court of the European Union approved a ban on shechitah in certain areas in Belgium. There is growing concern that this trend will spread to other countries, and that it will become impossible to obtain kosher meat in Europe.
The actual practice of shechitah is not the only thing that is endangered. Based on the Europeans’ spurious claim that shechitah is inhumane, they might also block the import of meat that was slaughtered in accordance with halacha. Rabbi Gigi cited powerful evidence that the Jewish process of shechitah is the most humane method of animal slaughter, but he was met with strident protests from the organizations opposing him. I believe that those organizations are mainly working to outlaw Muslim slaughter, and that Jewish shechitah has been an innocent casualty of their battle. The ban on wearing religious symbols in certain countries, which has resulted in a prohibition to wear yarmulkes, also began as an attack on Muslim religious garb. Today, all of Europe is quaking in fear of the spread of Islam.
The Israeli ambassador to Belgium spoke out against the ruling that outlawed shechitah, and I believe that the Israeli Foreign Ministry followed suit. Nevertheless, the chareidi Knesset members insisted that Israel, as a state, is not doing enough to protect the Jews of Europe. The ban on shechitah isn’t just an attack on freedom of religion; it is something far more sinister and pernicious.
A High Price for Vaccines
The coronavirus vaccine has begun to be administered to Israeli citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people have already received their first inoculations. For now, the vaccines being distributed by the health funds. According to the official rules, the vaccines are reserved for patients over the age of 60. I also received the vaccine. After I was given my shot, the nurse handed me a note with the date when I should return for the second dose.
Acquiring the vaccine seems to have been a major accomplishment for Netanyahu and the State of Israel, since we are the first country whose regular citizens are receiving the inoculation. Of course, Netanyahu is very proud of this. His opponents, however, have managed to find an excuse to attack him even for this: The reason Israel received the vaccine so quickly is that the country paid an exorbitant price for it. In Europe, Pfizer received $14.80 for every dose of the vaccine, while in America the price was $19.50. Israel, on the other hand, has paid a whopping 39 dollars for each dose!
The criticism, however, is misplaced. For one thing, the American government funded part of the research that went into developing the vaccine; therefore, it makes sense for them to receive a discount. Besides, it is worthwhile for Israel to pay a high price in order to receive the vaccines more rapidly. Every additional day of the pandemic costs the country fortunes; if the virus is vanquished sooner, the government will save far more than it spent. But for people who are looking for any excuse to bash Netanyahu, the facts are irrelevant.
Meanwhile, the infection rate is rising and it is very sad. I have read many mourning notices in the Israeli Yated Neeman; every day seems to bring more tragic news. We must daven for Hashem to put an end to our troubles.
The increase in contagion has also brought us another lockdown, which began on Sunday night and is scheduled to remain in effect for 20 days or more. The lockdown includes a ban on traveling more than 1000 meters from home or spending time in another person’s home even within 1000 meters. Every employer is required to place at least 50 percent of his workers on furlough during this time (although it is unlikely that many places of business will be receiving customers). Public transportation must also be cut by 50 percent, although there is unlikely to be much demand for it in any event. All the malls and stores are required to close—but, once again, even if they were open, they would be unlikely to have any customers, since everyone is required to stay at home. Restaurants are permitted only to offer delivery service, and students in certain grades must learn from home. Schools will remain in session for some age groups (grades 1 through 4, as well as the eleventh and twelfth grades); therefore, anyone who is found outside his permitted zone might simply claim that he is returning from bringing his children to school or that he is heading out to pick them up. Oddly enough, the rules also allow a person to travel to the airport up to eight hours before his flight. I can’t help but wonder who could possibly choose to fly at this time, and where they would go. Remember, every Israeli who returns to Israel is automatically placed in quarantine in a hotel!
Netanyahu Tries to Have Charges Dismissed
The prime minister has plenty of problems: Benny Gantz, Gideon Saar, the coronavirus … and his criminal trial. Surely you haven’t forgotten that the actual trial is about to begin! Meanwhile, there have been constant revelations of misconduct in the government’s handling of the investigation. The state already received one slap in the face from the court when it was ordered to correct the indictment in the Bezeq-Elovich case. The court refused to accept an unsupported claim that Netanyahu had received a “bribe” in the form of favorable publicity; the judges demanded an exact list of the articles that had been biased in his favor, and it turned out that there were very few. The court also did not approve of the fact that the prosecution had lumped Netanyahu together with his wife and sons, as if they were a single entity.
There were many other flaws in the investigative process and the revocation of Netanyahu’s immunity in the Knesset. On Sunday, Netanyahu’s attorneys cited these issues in an appeal to the court to dismiss the charges against him. The defense pointed out that there is no written document in which Mandelblit ordered the opening of investigations, which is required by the Basic Law: The Government, and that many significant parts of the investigations in all three cases were carried out long before the period when the prosecution claimed that they were given authorization. If the attorney general approved an investigation at all, it was only about a year after the work began.
No one denies that the attorney general did not issue any written document authorizing an investigation. Nevertheless, the prosecution responded that Mandelblit’s approval did not need to be given in writing. Sure enough, the defense admitted that the Basic Law does not require written approval, but they insisted that the normal procedure is for such a document to be obtained. As a result, they argued that if the approval wasn’t received in writing, it can be presumed that the investigation was completely unauthorized—and therefore illegal!
The defense has asked the three judges—Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am, and Oded Shacham—to convene for an urgent discussion before the date that was set for them to respond to the indictment. The judges had previously ordered the defendants to respond in writing to the charges no later than January 8, and a formal hearing in their presence was scheduled on January 13. Incidentally, Judge Friedman-Feldman, the leading judge on the panel, was diagnosed with coronavirus last week and is required to remain in isolation at least until the end of the coming week.
Taking a Stand Against Police Brutality
Our community still hasn’t recovered from the scandalous arrest of Fleischman, the beggar who circulates in the vicinity of the Mir yeshiva asking passersby for handouts so that he can purchase cigarettes and soda. Police brutality will not come to an end until every policeman has been given the message that his behavior must have limits.
Unfortunately, every uniform nowadays seems to have turned its wearer into a force of destruction. Police officers, prison wardens, municipal inspectors, judges, and sometimes even firefighters feel perfectly within their rights to engage in criminal behavior. If the public had taken a stand after earlier incidents, it is possible that Fleischman would never have been arrested. And if the people do not stand up for their rights now, then there is bound to be a repeat of this situation. As Avi Mimran put it, if the police officers who beat Yanky Rosenberg had been thrown out of the police force, then Fleischman’s arrest would never have happened.
On that note, two weeks ago an autistic youth who lives in an institution in Cholon was arrested. When the police brought him to court to demand an extension of his remand, they were excoriated by the judge for placing an autistic person in jail. Nevertheless, they did not face any further discipline.
Police Minister Amir Ohana did the proper thing when he went to the hospital to visit Fleischman—who did not speak to him, for the simple reason that he doesn’t speak to anyone. But the time has come to put an end to the policemen’s attitude that the entire world is subservient to them. Had Ohana remained in Shaare Zedek just a bit longer that day, he would also have met a bochur who was brough to the hospital from a demonstration with his hands and legs shackled, in clear violation of the law. The 23rd Knesset is ending its term with horrific images of police tyranny circulating in the press. In the 24th Knesset, someone should form a lobby to defend the rights of ordinary citizens against abusive police officers. That lobby would have its hands full with work, but perhaps it would lead to change.
The Machash (Police Internal Investigations Department) has begun probing the Fleischman case. But this is nothing new; they also investigated previous cases in which the police were cruelly apathetic to people suffering from autism, and nothing was done to penalize the offending officers. As a result, the Machash itself bears responsibility for the blood that has been spilled. If a police officer knew that he would pay the price for an error in judgment that causes harm to a citizen of Israel, he would think many times (assuming that he is capable of it) before taking that chance. But the Machash is never in a rush to file criminal charges against police officers for violating the rights of citizens. They are more concerned with the rights of the policemen themselves.
This week, incidentally, the Machash did decide to press charges against a police officer who violently struck a civilian who reproved him for failing to wear a mask. But for every incident in which the Machash took action, there have been many more cases that were closed without good reason.
Torah from Petach Tikvah
The Amishav neighborhood of Petach Tikvah isn’t a chareidi neighborhood just yet, but it is heading in that direction. At the heart of the neighborhood is the Ayeles Hashachar community. This week, the community marked a major milestone with the founding of a kollel (Kollel Ohel Yiska, named for Rebbetzin Yiska Yisroela Pincus zt”l). On motzoei Shabbos, at the reception celebrating the kollel’s founding, I noticed a few guests who were clearly not kollel yungeleit.
In honor of the rosh kollel, Rav Moshe Pincus, the event was attended by a number of prominent figures, including Rav Eliyohu Mann (the son of Rav Mordechai Mann and brother of Rebbetzin Chaya Pincus, Rav Shimshon Dovid’s wife) and Rav Yaakov Yisroel Pincus, the rov of Ofakim. Rav Eliyohu Yitzchok Pincus, the father of the rosh kollel and a premier marbitz Torah in Givat Shaul, who plans to deliver chaburos in the nascent kollel. We all had the good fortune of meeting Rav Shlomo Gottfriend, the mara d’asra of the Amishav neighborhood, who spoke highly of the new kollel and its members, expressing his confidence that they would have a powerful impact on their surroundings. The founding of any makom Torah makes for an exciting occasion, but the emotion is heightened when it is a unique institution of this nature, catering to a special group of yungeleit whose lives revolve exclusively around the Torah.
The guest of honor at the event was Rav Boruch Weisbecker, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais Matisyohu. He spoke briefly, commenting that “the soul of a person who toils over the Torah she’baal peh is like a parchment for the Torah, which takes root in the souls of those who learn it.” Rav Boruch, exemplifies this concept.
Rav Boruch’s audience included a number of local residents who drank in his words. Several wealthy supporters of the kollel were also present. “When a person supports Torah learning, it is almost as if he himself is learning,” Rav Boruch remarked to them. “When you arrive in Shomayim, you will find that you have been credited with learning and Torah in this world, here in the neighborhood of Amishav.” One of the local residents looked astonished at this comment. Rav Boruch placed a hand on his shoulder affectionately and said, “When you buy tefillin for someone else, you don’t fulfill the mitzvah of hanochas tefillin by doing so. But when you support someone who learns Torah, it is as if you have personally learned.”
A young man hurried over the ask the rosh yeshiva for a brocha in advance of his wedding. Rav Boruch asked him, “Do you set aside time for learning Torah?”
“I try to do so,” he replied.
The rosh yeshiva smiled warmly. “It is nice to try, but it isn’t enough. Trying to learn isn’t the same thing as learning. You must designate set times for it.”
A charming bar mitzvah boy was the next to ask for a brocha, and Rav Boruch greeted him warmly. “Aren’t you a Pincus?” he said.
“Yes,” the boy replied. “My name is Shimshon Dovid.”
“Nu,” the rosh yeshiva said, “you have plenty of people in your family to learn from.”
A Neighborly Dispute in Afula
The Torah community in Afula is flourishing. This is likely due to the zechus of Yeshivas Afula, which was founded by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. The religious community has been growing by leaps and bounds, as increasing numbers of chareidim are moving to the city. This week, I heard about a conflict that erupted in a building in Afula shared by religious and nonreligious residents. Someone had decided to hang pictures of the Chazon Ish and the Baba Sali in the building’s stairwell, and the irreligious neighbors were infuriated. A meeting of the vaad bayit (residents’ committee) was urgently convened, and several of the apartment owners spoke in protest of the pictures. One of the yungeleit innocently asked why the pictures disturbed them, and a secular resident replied, “Look, we don’t exactly observe Shabbos, and we don’t dress very modestly. How do you expect us to walk through the hallway when there is a picture of the Baba Sali on the wall?”