Wednesday, Jul 28, 2021

My Take On The News

The Supreme Court Takes on Yiddishkeit

This week, we will begin our discussion of the latest news involving the Supreme Court. The wheels of justice grind slowly in Israel, but the judges are as consistent as they are slow; the courts are perpetually hostile toward Jewish tradition. The latest case to make the headlines was no exception.

Ever since the founding of the State of Israel, chometz has been banned from the public sphere on Pesach. This has always meant, among other things, that it was prohibited to bring chometz onto the grounds of a hospital. Several years ago, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court against a hospital where the guard prevented a visitor from bringing in chometz on Pesach. The petitioner claimed that the visitor’s rights were violated by the guard, and the court decided that he was correct. This led to an uproar; the chareidi community was furious, and the Chief Rabbinate tried to work out an arrangement that would satisfy everyone. In spite of the furor, Chief Justice Esther Chayut decided Sunday that the court would not reconsider the matter. In other words, the previous ruling would stand: Hospitals will no longer be permitted to ban chometz from their premises on Pesach.

A little background information may be in order. Last April, the justices of the Supreme Court issued the following ruling: “Hospitals throughout the country must permit all food, including chometz, to be brought onto their premises during the holiday of Pesach, while making suitable arrangements to ensure the kashrus of the food that they serve.” Justice Uzi Fogelman explained to the Ministry of Health, which was headed at the time by Yaakov Litzman, that the hospitals do not have the authority to ban the possession or consumption of chometz on Pesach. The judge maintained that this would violate the rights of people who choose not to observe the halachos of Pesach.

The request for the court to reexamine the issue came from the Chief Rabbinate, on the grounds that it is an important issue and that the court’s decision could have far-reaching consequences. The Rabbinate warned the court that observant people might refrain from seeking medical treatment in hospitals on Pesach, leading to potential damage to their health. They also argued that the court’s ruling violated the status quo on the relationship between religion and state. The Ministry of Health and the Hadassah hospital organization likewise called on the court to reopen the discussion, yet Chief Justice Chayut decided that the ruling was no longer open to debate. She tried to make the ruling seem more palatable, but the result was the same: The court’s anti-religious leanings had been exposed once again!

Gafni Slams the Supreme Court

Chayut’s decision was another painful reminder of the struggles facing the religious community in Israel. There are constant efforts to destroy every aspect of Yiddishkeit. Even things that were taken for granted in the past have been called into question today. It should come as no surprise that the elected representatives of the chareidi community were outraged. Yaakov Avitan, the Minister of Religious Affairs, released the following statement: “This is an outrageous decision that causes serious harm to the Israeli public, the vast majority of whom abstain from chometz on Pesach, and that arrogantly tramples the status quo. The Supreme Court has arbitrarily decided to reject the request of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel for it to revisit this important subject, a request that was echoed even by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. This decision will place a stumbling block before tens of thousands of ordinary Jews who are meticulous about abstaining from chometz on Pesach, and who will have no way to guarantee that they will receive food that is kosher for Pesach if they are hospitalized. The Supreme Court is unraveling the final threads of Jewish identity and unity among the people. I call upon the court to come to its senses, to respect the will of the majority in Israel, and to hold another discussion. It is unthinkable that in the Jewish state it should be impossible for people to observe the prohibition of chometz on Pesach.”

Yaakov Asher, the chairman of the Knesset Constitution Committee, had the following response: “The Supreme Court ruling on chometz is another example of the detachment and apathy of the judges, who force their own views, in the name of liberalism, on the traditional majority in the State of Israel. I am confident that after the upcoming election, which will be held five days before Pesach, we will emerge stronger and we will be able to pass legislation that will seal the breach that enables the Supreme Court to exercise control over the people.”

Uri Maklev, the Deputy Minister of Transportation, declared, “The court’s ruling is not based on law; it stems from the worldview of judges who are estranged from Jewish tradition and do not represent the majority in Eretz Yisroel who observe the laws of Pesach. This senseless ruling is not intended to create freedom for people who do not want to abstain from chometz on Pesach; instead, it causes substantial harm to the Jewish majority who do not consume chometz, and it hampers the ability of patients in hospitals to observe kashrus on Pesach. With this ruling, the court represents only itself.”

Moshe Gafni, the senior member of Degel HaTorah in the Knesset and chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, was even more outspoken: “The judges of the Supreme Court are brazenly exploiting the period between one Knesset and another, when it is impossible to introduce an amendment to the law on this subject. They have no consideration for Jews who observe kashrus and require the services of a hospital on Pesach. We will demand the passage of the Override Clause in order to put a halt to their unchecked power.”

Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior, also responded vehemently: “It is unthinkable that hospitals in a Jewish state should be obligated to permit chometz on their premises on Pesach. Immediately after the election, the Shas party in the Knesset will demand the passage of the Law of Patients’ Rights (Amendment: Arrangements for Receiving Visitors)—5780/2020, which I instructed MK Moshe Arbel to submit during the 23rd Knesset, which would preserve the status quo and grant authority over these matters to hospital directors A hospital that serves the Jewish populace is not like a hospital that serves minority populations.”

Netanyahu’s Trial Delayed

The criminal trial of Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, like every other criminal trial in the country, has been delayed on account of the coronavirus lockdown, which began at midnight on Thursday night and is due to continue for two weeks. Before the lockdown began, the trial was dominating the headlines on a daily basis. And even before the lockdown, the lawyers of all four defendants, including the prime minister, had already asked for an extension of the deadline for their responses to the charges.

Their request was based on two factors: the amended indictment submitted this week and the controversy as to whether the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, had approved the investigations in the manner required by law. The charges were amended after Netanyahu’s defense team found a number of problems in the indictment and the court ordered the prosecution to alter it. This came as a serious blow to the prosecution. The defense attorneys then argued that they were given only five working days to respond to the amended indictment, which contained dozens of new items, while the state had been allotted 20 days to prepare it. They stressed that Netanyahu does not plan to issue a blanket denial of all the charges; instead, he intends to respond to every item on the charge sheet individually. For that purpose, it was necessary for them to thoroughly review the entire body of evidence in light of the amended charges.

The defense team argued that the police did not receive the requisite special approval before commencing their investigation. The law requires a special approval from the attorney general for any member of the Knesset to be investigated, and certainly when the subject is the prime minister himself. No such document has been submitted with any of the investigative materials. The court asked for copies of the official approvals for the investigations, and it was soon revealed that the documents were never issued. This was another major blow to the prosecution. At this point, they are claiming that they received a general approval for the investigations, and that it was delivered orally rather than in writing. A memorandum from Mandelblit to this effect was submitted to the court, but the defense has argued that it is not acceptable, and that only the actual documentation of his approval can be accepted. The defense has also been hinting that Netanyahu will claim that the amended indictment must be reviewed by the Knesset, and that he has the right to request parliamentary immunity once again since the charges have changed.

To make a long story short, Netanyahu is not making life easy for the prosecution and the attorney general as they are making life difficult for him.

The Politics of Petty Grudges

The political situation in Israel might very well be deserving of a separate article in its own right. Recent events in Israeli politics have demonstrated the severe decline in society and its standards. Trust and moral values do not exist; the election campaign is all about personal vendettas and backstabbing. Gideon Saar has completely ruled out a rotation with Netanyahu for the premiership. This is the same Gideon Saar who served as Minister of Education and Minister of the Interior in a government led by Netanyahu, who was a longtime Likud loyalist. How did this happen?

Benny Gantz, meanwhile, has accused Avi Nissenkorn of stabbing him in the back. “While I was fighting for him, he was in talks with Chuldai,” Gantz asserted. Nissenkorn himself accused Gantz of “trying to sell me out in his negotiations with the Likud.” To think that these two were working together closely as partners until a short time ago….

Integrity, too, seems to be utterly nonexistent in the political arena. Knesset members and government ministers alike are switching their party allegiances with dizzying and shameful speed. Many lawmakers are willing to sell their allotted shares of campaign funding in exchange for a spot on a party list; it makes no difference to them which party they join. And they have no shame about it. Elazar Stern, for instance, has tried his luck in the past with the Am Shalem party and then tried to join Tzipi Livni’s party, Hatnuah, until he finally aligned himself with Yesh Atid; their respective ideologies were irrelevant. Similarly, Orly Levi resigned from Yisroel Beiteinu and founded her own party, Gesher. She moved on from there to the Labor-Meretz alliance, and now it seems that she will be bought by the Likud. Values have become meaningless; political expediency is everything today. And the political world in Israel has become nothing but a marketplace for petty personal advancement and vengeance.

Hatred Has Become the Driving Force

Of course, there is also the undisguised hatred that drives many of the political movements in this country. Many of the parties have no objective other than to remove Bibi from office. These are parties founded on hate, with a campaign platform driven by animosity, their blatant prejudices mingling with evil and foolishness. Yvette Lieberman and his fellow party members have only one thing to offer their voters: hatred for chareidim (and Arabs as well). Yair Lapid likewise specializes in venomous hostility.

For an example of the influence of hatred in Israel today, take the story of Netanyahu and the millionth vaccine recipient in the country. As Abba Eban once said about the Arabs, Netanyahu never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Last week, Netanyahu filmed a video addressing the Moroccans, in which he appeared in front of a map that showed the Sahara disconnected from Morocco. And his next faux pas took place in Umm al-Fahm, where the millionth dose of the coronavirus vaccine in the country was administered to a man named Mohammed Jabarin. As the prime minister and the health minister posed for celebratory pictures with Jabarin, the Kan 11 news program announced that he was a convicted murderer, possibly even a terrorist, who had been released from prison. The rush to skewer Bibi with this revelation would have put some of the most heinous murderers in our country to shame.

It soon came to light, however, that the news channel and its reporting staff were the ones who had made a gaffe; Jabarin wasn’t a murderer after all. And the news anchor’s apology was even worse than the slander itself: “Last week, one of my sources informed me that the citizen who received the millionth vaccine was a convicted criminal who was sentenced to prison for murder. This is what the source said. He also provided details about the circumstances of the crime. Our correspondent verified the information in depth with her sources and was told that it was correct…. We made the mistake of airing this report without receiving a response from Mr. Jabarin. We thought that the information we possessed had been adequately verified, and we relied on our sources, some of whom have been working with us for years. We apologize from the depths of our hearts to Mr. Jabarin and to the audience of Kan News.”

This only adds insult to injury: The news station reported false information, they neglected to solicit Jabarin’s response, and then they even boasted that the source of the story supplies them regularly with information. If that is true, then it is a pathetic source—and this was a pathetic apology.

Justice for Ahuvya

This week, I saw a petition signed by a number of right-wing activists and members of the Knesset. I wholeheartedly agree with the five chareidi legislators who added their signatures to the document: Yitzchok Pindrus, Eliyohu Bruchi, Moshe Arbel, Michoel Malchieli, and Moshe Abutbul. The petition calls on Internal Security Minister Amir Ochana to appoint an external committee to investigate the actions of the police in Yehuda and the Shomron. The text is accompanied by a picture of the smiling face of Ahuvya Sandak, with the words “Ahuvya’s blood is crying out for justice” in bright red letters alongside it.

The legislators recognize their obligation to support others in their suffering, and they abhor the thought of standing by idly when another Jew’s blood has been spilled.

I have written about this in my two previous columns. The state has simply abandoned Ahuvya’s family and community. They claim that instead of protecting Jewish residents of Yehuda and the Shomron from the Arabs who terrorize them, the police have chosen to target the hilltop youth instead. This, they assert, is a failed policy and a sign of warped priorities. Since Ahuvya Sandak’s death, there have been calls for justice. The massive demonstrations in response to his death are a sign of the magnitude of the community’s pain. Ahuvya’s friends and family claim that the police caused his death by ramming their vehicle into his car and causing it to overturn; the fact that the officers were not summoned for questioning on the same day, they add, was a further lapse. Every day that passes without action only lends credence to their claims.

David Benzaken is an attorney with thirty years of experience dealing with traffic law and accidents. After examining the findings in this case, he reached the same conclusion: The accident was caused when the car driven by the police officers rammed into the vehicle in which Ahuvya and his companions were fleeing. The police claim that the driver of the boys’ car lost control of his vehicle, causing it to crash and overturn. Moshe Saada, the deputy director of the Police Internal Investigations Department, wrote in a letter to the state prosecutor that “the investigation of the death of Ahuvya Sandak was severely mishandled; there were significant irregularities, and the detainees’ claims that severe violence was used against them were not examined.”

Those detainees were Ahuvya’s friends, the accusers who have now become the accused. This is a typical tactic of the police, which they use to evade responsibility for violence. For the chareidi political leaders, this is an appropriate time to demonstrate concern, to empathize with the right-wing community, and to stand up for the rights of the oppressed.

Witness to a Battle

Aharon Friedman was present during the violence on the Altalena, the ship that was acquired by Etzel in 1947 and sailed to Israel in June 1948, carrying about 920 immigrants along with a large cache of weapons and medical equipment. Fearing a coup, Ben-Gurion ordered the boat shelled with its passengers aboard. Menachem Begin, who was on deck, found himself fighting against Israeli soldiers. To this day, the Altalena affair is a black stain on the history of the State of Israel and its founders, the leaders of the Haganah.

He was also on board the Exodus, the ship that sailed from France carrying over 4500 Holocaust survivors and was fired upon by the British. Three people were killed: two of the immigrants and an American Jew who served as an officer on the ship. The passengers were removed from the ship and forced onto boats to be deported from the country; the bodies of the deceased were brought ashore and buried. The passengers were sent back to France, and from there to Germany. The world, especially the Jews of Israel, was shocked by the images of concentration camp survivors imprisoned behind barbed wire once again. And Aharon Friedman was there as well.

His full name was Menachem Aharon Friedman. He was a prominent figure in the early years of the state and served as a bodyguard to Ben-Gurion. He was present at Ben-Gurion’s side when he first declared the independence of the state. Friedman was also an eyewitness to the battle in which Moshe Dayan lost his eye. This happened in 1941, when the Germans were drawing close to the shores of Israel, and Ben-Gurion believed that he had the power to stop their advance. Friedman later told the story: “Moshe Dayan was our commander. We set out on foot from Metulla, 22 of us, and we secured a number of bridges from Syria to Jordan and Iraq. Then we continued toward Lebanon. We were attacked on the way by Syrians, Vichy French, and some Germans. No one was wounded expect Dayan, whose eye was grazed by a bullet, but he remained calm. We kept moving and brought him to a medical clinic in Metulla, but there was nothing they could do for him. He had lost the eye.”

Menachem Aharon was born 95 years ago near the beach in Yaffo (where he served for many years as a lifeguard) and passed away last week in Los Angeles. His wife, a native of Boston, was one of the people who helped the immigrants on the Exodus reach Israel. This was apparently the reason that Ben-Gurion asked the Friedmans to serve as emissaries of the Israeli government in America and to encourage aliyah. In 1967, Friedman arrived in Los Angeles to oversee the efforts on the West Coast. He later recalled, “When the movement for the liberation of Russian Jews began, I organized a youth protest outside the United Nations and the Russian consulate. I brought Yitzchok Rabin and even Ben-Gurion to the demonstrations.” On Sunday, he was buried at the Eden Memorial Park cemetery on Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles.

Reb Yaakov (Yanky) Cohen issued a mourning notice upon the passing of his close friend. “Aharon and our dear son, Ephraim Meir, had birthdays that were close to each other on the calendar,” he wrote. “For many years, Aharon and Effie used to celebrate their birthdays in our home. He was like an older brother and a mentor. We used to speak every Friday. He was a giant among men.” Menachem Aharon and Yanky, a Lubavticher chosid, were decades apart in age, but they were neighbors and close friends, and Yanky’s family virtually adopted Friedman as one of their own.

Yanky is my cousin, the son of my Uncle Doniel. Reb Doniel serves as a volunteer baal tokea every Rosh Hashanah in Bayit Vegan, where he sounds the shofar dozens of times for many elderly or infirm residents of the neighborhood. This is in spite of the fact that Reb Doniel himself is no longer young. His spirit of volunteerism and his drive to benefit Klal Yisroel have been passed on to his children. Uncle Doniel has children throughout the Jewish world: Levi Yitzchok in Paris, Shneur Zalman in Moscow, Moishy in Melbourne, and Boruch in Kiryat Malachi. (After his wedding, Boruch was instructed by the Lubavitcher Rebbe to settle in Israel rather than returning to London. Today, he is an active member of an organization that works in Kiryat Malachi and in Moscow to benefit children with special needs.) And then there is Yanky in Los Angeles, whose family opened their home to Menachem Aharon Friedman.

Menachem Aharon passed away at the age of 95. Yanky told me about Menachem Aharon, who gravitated closer to Yiddishkeit. The elderly Israeli used to come to Yanky’s home on Yomim Tovim, and he wore tefillin at every possible opportunity. His best friend was Ilan Ramon, who was killed during a space flight. Yanky was at Menachem Aharon’s side when he passed away. He helped the elderly man put on tefillin and recite Kerias Shema and Viduy, and then his soul departed.

When the Ozerover Rebbe Gave Up His Home

Last week featured a long article on Rav Moshe Yechiel Halevi Epstein, the Ozerover Rebbe in honor of his fiftieth yahrzeit.

This year, the current Ozerover Rebbe, the grandson of Rav Moshe Yechiel, related that he had visited the Bluzhever Rebbe in America, who told him the following story: “When I first arrived in America, I was a penniless Holocaust survivor. On the day after I arrived, your grandfather, the Ozerover Rebbe, summoned me and invited me to stay in his home. ‘I did not have the zechus of being tested in the seven levels of Gehinnom in the Holocaust,’ he said. ‘Therefore, I am giving you my home, my shtiebel, and my chassidim until you are able to manage on your own.’” The Bluzhever Rebbe began to weep as he told this story, and he exclaimed, “Have you ever heard of anyone who was willing to give up not only his home, but even his shtiebel and his chassidim, in order to help a Holocaust survivor rebuild his life?”

The Bluzhever Rebbe added, “When my chassidim wanted to buy me a place in the Bronx near your grandfather, the Ozerover Rebbe, I was afraid that he would not be happy if we established a competing shtiebel in the vicinity of his own. However, he sent word to me that he would consider it a privilege to have a neighbor such as myself.”

When the Ozerover Rebbe returned to Eretz Yisroel, although he was relatively young at the time, the other gedolim respected him deeply. The Imrei Emes once wrote to his son-in-law, Rav Yitzchok Meir Levin, who was one of the leaders of Agudas Yisroel, that the organization should not make a move without soliciting the opinion of “the young rebbe of Ozerov.”

Last week also marked the 20th yahrtzeit of Rav Mordechai Gifter, the rosh yeshiva of Telz and one of the gedolim of America. Of course, I could easily write an entire article about him. I once had the good fortune of meeting him; I believe I have written about it in the past. I was visiting Cleveland, and I showed up at his home and asked to speak with Rav Gifter. I hadn’t been aware that his medical condition made it impossible for him to speak. The family tried to explain it to me, but when I failed to comprehend, they finally said that he would be sitting on the porch shortly thereafter and that I could try to speak with him. Soon enough, Rav Gifter arrived in his wheelchair, with his rebbetzin at his side. He looked like a malach. The rebbetzin hinted that he wouldn’t respond to me, but I tried to communicate anyway. I thought innocently that he wasn’t responding because he didn’t understand Hebrew, and I asked, “Does the rov not know Hebrew?” Rav Gifter then looked directly at me with his piercing gaze and began to laugh. Someone immediately called the rebbetzin, who had returned to the house, and her son; they were amazed at his reaction. At that point, Rav Gifter hardly responded to anything, and this came as a surprise to them. I later realized that I had been very naïve. Not only did Rav Gifter speak Hebrew, he was considered a fantastic orator even in Hebrew.

A Cup of Milk Every Day

And that is not all. This week also marks the 15th yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchok Kaduri, the famed mekubal. Rav Kaduri was born in Iraq and was the rosh yeshiva of the Kabbalistic yeshiva Nachalas Yitzchok in Yerushalayim. I had the good fortune of visiting him many times, as well as accompanying him to many places, and I could tell many stories about him. It is also the tenth yahrtzeit of Rav Yissochar Meir, the Hamburg-born talmid of the Ponovezh yeshiva who founded Yeshivas Hanegev in the southern town of Netivot. I had a close connection to him as well. I conducted an interview with him several years before his passing, which turned out to be one of the most remarkable interviews I have ever experienced. He was very close to my father.

Another yahrtzeit, albeit not a round number, is that of Rav Avrohom Farbstein, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron. Rav Farbstein began serving in that position after the passing of his father-in-law, Rav Yechezkel Sarna, the former rosh yeshiva. I became acquainted with Rav Farbstein because my brother, Reb Shlomo, was his right-hand man, and he visited my father’s home in Beer Yaakov several times. This week, I heard an astounding story about him.

Rav Farbstein was born in Poland and came to Eretz Yisroel as a child. He began to learn in the Yeshiva of Chevron at the age of bar mitzvah and was later recruited by Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel to learn in Yeshivas Mir in Poland, where he was a chavrusa of Rav Aryeh Leib Malin and Rav Naftoli Wasserman. At some point, he decided to return to Eretz Yisroel. On his way back, he stopped in Kletzk to visit Rav Aharon Kotler. They spoke in learning for a while and debated the meaning of a particular Tosafos. Ultimately, Rav Aharon conceded that the young Avrohom Farbstein had understood the Tosafos correctly. Rav Aharon was so impressed by the intelligent young man sitting before him that he asked him to remain in Kletzk. Rav Avrohom explained that he was en route to Eretz Yisroel, and Rav Aharon replied, “If you remain here, I promise that I will give you a cup of milk every day for half a year.”

This story indicates the extent to which Rav Aharon admired Rav Avrohom Farbstein, but it is also a testament to the poverty that existed in those days, when a cup of milk was considered as precious as gold. Rav Avrohom ultimately returned to Eretz Yisroel at the last possible opportunity before the Nazi threat made it impossible.

Right Arm, Wrong Arm

I will conclude this column with an amusing story about a gentleman who received his Covid vaccination at the Meuchedet health fund’s clinic on Rechov Haturim in Yerushalayim. Our hero wouldn’t ordinarily have agreed to set foot in a clinic, certainly not for an injection. He abhors the use of medication and despises needles, but his fear of being infected with Covid overcame his fear of being pricked. The inoculation facility on the fifth floor was relatively quiet, but that did little to calm his nerves. He looked at the people who were placidly waiting to leave after receiving their shots, and he imagined that they were exhibiting all sorts of monstrous symptoms.

“Which hand do you use to write?” asked Effie, the male nurse who would be administering the injection.

“My right hand,” the visitor stammered. The room was cold, but he was perspiring with trepidation. “Please,” he begged the nurse, “do it as quickly and as cleanly as possible.”

Effie laughed. “I finished a while ago,” he said.

The following day was a nightmare. Our protagonist felt that his breathing was labored, and his right hand had become stiff and was visibly swollen. His peace of mind had completely evaporated; in his panicked state, even the tiniest disturbance shook him to his core. Instead of speaking, he began screaming. He hurried back to the clinic on Rechov Haturim and returned to Effie’s little corner.

“Effie,” he exclaimed, “something terrible has happened to me since the injection!”

“What is it?” the nurse asked.

“I feel heavy, unfocused, and irritable. Worst of all, look how my arm has become swollen!” He rolled up his sleeve.

Effie began to laugh. “Do you remember when I asked you which hand you use to write?” he said.

“Yes.”

“And you said it was your right hand, didn’t you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I gave you the injection in your left arm for that reason. You are showing me your right arm; there is nothing wrong!”

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