Tuesday, Apr 13, 2021

My Take On The News

Lieberman’s Unbridled Incitement

The things that have been happening here in Israel are simply mind-boggling.

With less than a week remaining until the election, it seems that the entire campaign has been reduced to a single issue: the chareidim. And the attacks on the chareidi community are being led, of course, by Yvette Lieberman.

Lieberman has discovered that the only way he stands a chance of holding on to his voter base in this election is by focusing the public discourse on hatred of chareidim. He seems to be aware of a fact that, to our chagrin, is undeniably true: that there are many people in Israel who despise chareidim. This hatred is especially prevalent among the million non-Jews who were brought to Israel by Yitzchok Shamir and Arik Sharon from countries such as Ukraine and Belarus, but there are also Israelis of many years who harbor the same animosity toward their religious brethren.

Lieberman’s campaign propaganda is a veritable blitz of hostility toward the chareidim. He has declared over and over that the chareidim must not be allowed to be part of the next government. He blames the chareidi community for all of the country’s troubles and accuses them of pillaging the country’s coffers—allegations that, ironically enough, are far more apt descriptions of his own behavior and that of his party. After all, the Russian aliyah nearly resulted in the collapse of Israel’s economy, as it brought tens of thousands of immigrants into the country who began siphoning money out of the government through the various stipends they claimed. And that is to say nothing of the many people who made aliyah, collected their immigration benefits, and then continued on their way to Canada or Germany to build their new lives there.

The chareidim tried to remain silent in the face of Lieberman’s accusations, in order to avoid playing into his hands. But as he has grown increasingly strident and extreme, it has been hard for them to refrain from responding. This past motzoei Shabbos, Lieberman was asked in an interview if there is any chance that he will sit in a government with Netanyahu and the chareidim after the election. Lieberman replied, “Netanyahu and the chareidim should be placed on a wheelbarrow and taken away to a garbage dump.” Is that a normal way for a human being to speak? It was only natural for this to evoke a reaction; chareidim felt that they had to respond in some way to his loathsome comments. At the same time, most of the leaders of the country’s larger parties allowed the comments to pass in silence.

Lieberman continued his rant: “The ability of the chareidi representatives in the Knesset and the representatives of Shas and United Torah Judaism to complain and to shed crocodile tears is simply phenomenal…. The chareidi representatives on the Finance Committee, in the Ministry of Housing, and in the Exceptions Committee are contemptible machers whose function is to arrange everything for their specific sectors in exchange for votes, while at the same time completely disregarding the general public that carries them on its backs. And that is not all. The leaders of UTJ have added insult to injury by releasing an arrogant video bragging about the accomplishments of their industry of influence at Ben Gurion Airport. Deri, Litzman, Gafni and your partners, you must stop shouting, ‘They have consumed us! They have hurt us!’ and begin acting like human beings. It seems that you and Netanyahu have spent so much time in the government that you have lost your direction. The only way for the State of Israel to avoid losing its own direction is for you to be transferred after this election to the benches of the opposition. On March 23, only a strong and large Yisroel Beiteinu party will prevent you from continuing to harm the general populace and to impair the national resilience of the State of Israel.”

Wild Imprecations

It was impossible for the chareidim to let these comments go. The representatives of United Torah Judaism came out in force against Lieberman’s despicable comments. On Sunday afternoon, Lieberman was interviewed on the radio and refused again to retract his remarks. The interviewer asked him, “Do you have any plans of withdrawing your statement that Netanyahu and the chareidim should be placed on a wheelbarrow and brought to a garbage dump?” In response, Lieberman launched into another series of imprecations.

“The idea that only one side has the right to be outspoken is pure hypocrisy!” Lieberman exclaimed. “What about the video of the dogs? What about the Exceptions Committee? This is the behavior of pigs. They are creating a chillul Hashem; they have turned into a cult.” Somehow, he did not consider it excessive to refer to other human beings as pigs!

MK Betzalel Smotrich was furious. “I expect the leaders of all the major parties, on the right and left alike, to announce today that they will not sit with this dangerous man in any government,” he declared. “There is no place in Israeli politics for the divisive and harmful rhetoric of the sewers that Lieberman is promulgating. Religious Zionism will not sit with him in the government.”

Minister Omer Yankelevich of Blue and White (who will be a minister for only a few more days) reacted by declaring, “If a chareidi elected official had said that he would cart off the chilonim to a garbage dump, there would be a media uproar. But when the chareidim are the subject, everything goes. As for Lieberman, what is left to be said about him? When someone has accomplished nothing, all he has left is incitement.”

MK Yisroel Eichler declared, “Yvette the Horrible is not the first person to propose placing us on wagons and wheelbarrows and sending us off to a good dump. There were others before him who made the same threats, and who even acted on them. This is no longer merely the racist prejudice of a deranged enemy; it is a genuine threat and a call to battle that puts lives in danger. The Israel Police and the prosecution should investigate him for the crimes of serious incitement and calling for the murder of chareidi Jews.”

On Sunday, the Knesset members of Agudas Yisroel made public appearances in the context of a project called B’Shlichutam (alluding to the fact that they are shlichim—emissaries—of the gedolei Yisroel) and displayed a wheelbarrow in front of the cameras as a visual allusion to Lieberman’s demagoguery. Every MK in the party had a statement to make during those appearances, which took place in Rehovot, Beit Shemesh, Kiryat Yearim, Beitar Illit, and Kiryat Sefer. This was a very impressive tour for a single day; it was unfortunate that the circumstances were so sad.

The Danger Is Real

The election will be held this coming Tuesday, the 10th of Nissan, and there is anxiety in the air. I have been watching the Central Elections Committee, which is headquartered primarily in the party offices in the Knesset building, and I have noticed the rising levels of suspense. For the committee members, the upcoming election will be a day of judgment. If the Central Elections Committee must work hard for every election to be a successful operation, an election during a pandemic is a much more complex challenge. This time, there will be a record number of double envelopes (votes cast by eligible absentee voters) that will have to be counted during the day or two after the election.

The proliferation of double envelopes is a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The government plans to set up special voting stations for coronavirus patients, soldiers, and prisoners. The ballots cast at each of these voting stations will be placed in two envelopes—an outer envelope bearing the identifying details of each voter and an inner envelope with no identifying markings. Most of the problems that have arisen in previous elections have involved the counting of double envelopes, which is performed in the Knesset by hundreds of volunteers, many of them yeshiva bochurim, during the two days after the polls close. In this election, therefore, the potential for complications is magnified significantly.

This week, I watched as a trial run was conducted in a special coronavirus voting station in the parking lot of the Knesset building. The people playing the roles of voters and polling station workers were all extremely tense.

The religious community, however, should be feeling even more trepidation at this point. When the gedolei Yisroel taught us that many fundamental Torah principles would be hanging in the balance in an Israeli election, they were referring to an election such as this one. We all know exactly what is at stake in this election, and we are all approaching it with concern. Many things will be determined by the outcome of the voting this Tuesday: the character of the state, the presence or absence of Yiddishkeit in the public sphere, and pivotal halachic issues such as the purity of giyur, the status of the Kosel Hamaaravi, and the municipal bylaws governing the observance of Shabbos. Of course, the future of the draft exemption for yeshiva bochurim is also on the table. The chareidi parties need to have political power in order to force their coalition partners to support their agenda, since most of the other parties in the Knesset, even those on the right, do not see eye to eye with the chareidim on these issues.

The danger is as real and tangible as a blazing fire, and every member of the religious community will have to step out of their comfort zone to combat the looming threats. Even the people who are naturally bashful and reticent, who tend to shy away from the public eye and from any involvement in politics, understand that this is a situation that calls for action. And even though this is the fourth election in a row, fatigue is no excuse for failing to make the requisite effort. After all, if a house is set on fire four times, does that mean that the occupants shouldn’t be rescued during the fourth blaze?

There is truly no reason that the chareidi parties shouldn’t increase their representation in the Knesset. It is not too much to expect every voter to try to solicit one more vote for the parties. It is certainly critical for the right-wing bloc to reach 61 mandates, but it is no less critical for the chareidim themselves to be a powerful element within the bloc itself. It is not an exaggeration to say that everything important to us is at stake right now.

Vast Untapped Potential

Last week, I spotted a father and son in Hadassah Hospital. The father was the patient; his son was accompanying him to the hospital. If you will forgive me for saying this, the son had an uncanny resemblance to a rooster; both sides of his head were shaven, and a strip of hair ran down the middle like a rooster’s crest. When I noticed him, I had to resist the urge to ask him if there had been a power outage in the middle of his last haircut. He had an earring in one ear, and he did not wear a yarmulke on his head. In short, he appeared to be completely estranged from Yiddishkeit. But no matter how far he had strayed, it was obvious that he hadn’t given up honoring his parents. He hovered at his father’s side, advocating on behalf of the older man whenever he could. I overheard them having a conversation about events in the father’s home—which made it sound as if the son no longer lived at home—and at one point the young man said, “Abba, if you get up at six o’clock in the morning anyway, why don’t you daven in shul?”

“I will go to shul when you put on tefillin,” the father replied.

“What do you mean?” the son asked. “Ever since my bar mitzvah, there hasn’t been a single day when I didn’t wear tefillin!”

Once again, I learned that I should never judge a person by his external appearance. There is a core of devotion within every Jew. Later in the day, I regretted the fact that I hadn’t asked him for his telephone number. I was certain that I could have easily convinced him to vote for Shas.

Then again, I realized, he probably votes for Shas anyway.

On that note, a young man came to my home this week to offer me a price quote for painting my apartment. (I won’t go into too many details about that. He claimed that the job would require much more than a simple coat of paint, but that isn’t our topic right now.) It was obvious to me that he had grown up in a chareidi home and had since moved away from his community. I served him a cup of coffee and some cake, and then I asked him, “Is there any way I can convince you to vote for UTJ?” Of course, had he been Sephardic, I would have tried to persuade him to vote for Shas.

“I vote for UTJ already!” he replied. “What else would I do?”

This should illustrate the fact that the potential voter base for the two chareidi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, is virtually endless. Anyone who possesses even an iota of Jewish feeling can be a potential supporter of one of the two parties—and there are plenty of people in Israel who fit that criterion, boruch Hashem. There is no need to limit their constituencies to the yarmulke-wearing public. Therefore, every individual has enormous responsibility. If every person recruited one additional voter, the chareidim could double their strength in the next Knesset. And that is entirely feasible!

The Election Is Tough to Call

You are probably wondering to expect after the election. At this point, it is very hard to answer that question. Superficially, the situation seems to be fairly promising. If Naftoli Bennett ultimately joins forces with the Likud and the chareidim, and if Smotrich crosses the electoral threshold, then Netanyahu should have 61 members of the Knesset on his side. In that scenario, it is also quite conceivable that Gideon Saar will join the coalition as well. But if the right wing fails to reach the threshold of 61 mandates, then the situation will be much more complex. There might even be a fifth election, and it is quite possible that the deadlock will not be resolved even then.

At this time, Netanyahu is working with all his might. He has been touring the country to speak to citizens everywhere and has also been releasing campaign videos at a dizzying pace. (One of the videos shows Netanyahu digging in the ground with a jackhammer. At one point, he takes a break from his work, turns to the camera, and says, “Citizens of Israel, I will never stop digging for your benefit.”) Netanyahu was scheduled to visit Dubai last week, but the planned trip was scuttled when the Jordanian government refused to permit his plane to enter its airspace. Meanwhile, Netanyahu scored another accomplishment when the CEO of Pfizer International agreed to be interviewed on Israeli television. The interviewers made every effort to elicit a negative comment about Netanyahu, but the CEO did nothing but praise the prime minister.

Meanwhile, four parties are teetering on the edge of the electoral threshold. One is the Arab party led by Mansour Abbas, who has claimed that he might be willing to support Netanyahu after the election. The others are Meretz, Blue and White, and the Religious Zionist party led by Betazlel Smotrich. Gideon Saar is losing ground in the polls; as of now, he has dropped from twenty mandates to ten, and Bennett is also losing mandates. Yair Lapid, meanwhile, has been showing improved performance; he currently stands at 20 mandates. From Netanyahu’s perspective, that is a good thing, since Lapid will insist on being prime minister, and none of his potential partners—Bennett, Saar, or even Lieberman—will be willing to give him that opportunity.

Lapid’s conduct in recent days is completely out of character. He simply hasn’t been opening his mouth. What should we think of a man—an egocentric and ambitious politician, in this case—who has essentially chosen to hide himself in order to avoid losing votes? Lapid’s political strategists have advised him to remain silent, and he has been following their guidance. He doesn’t always manage to restrain his tongue, and the true Lapid emerges whenever he speaks—the Lapid who always exposes himself as a fool.

It is unclear if even Lapid himself knows exactly who and what he is. In fact, his voters are probably unaware of his true nature. Personally, I am astounded by the fact that he has attracted a whopping 20 mandates. Who is supporting him, and why? What has he ever accomplished to be deserving of those votes? When and where did he prove himself?

Uncertainty as Pesach Draws Near

On the coronavirus front, the restrictions in Israel are steadily decreasing as the situation improves, boruch Hashem. As of now, four million people in Israel have received the second dose of the vaccine. Advertisements for Pesach hotels have begun appearing in newspapers this week, after a conspicuous absence over the past few months. In an ordinary year, there would have been dozens of ads for hotels in Israel and elsewhere in the world. And there was another change, as well: This week, I was able to attend an ordinary wedding in a wedding hall, without fearing the police, for the first time in a year. More on that below….

There is still much uncertainty about the conditions under which we will celebrate Pesach. Will there be a lockdown? Will we be told to observe the Seder only with our immediate families? At this point, those restrictions seem unlikely. Based on the current talk in the government, it seems that this Pesach will be very much like any other. We can only hope that this will be the case; we all remember that Pesach was a very difficult experience last year without the usual tefillos in shul, shiurim on Chol Hamoed, and Sedorim attended by guests. But it still remains to be seen if there will be at least some restrictions on Pesach.

For foreigners in Israel, the most important question now is what will happen after Pesach. Will people who live here on student visas be able to travel to America or Europe for Pesach and then to return on Rosh Chodesh Iyar? At this point, although the skies have officially opened, only Israeli citizens are permitted to enter the country. Tourists, even those with student visas, must receive special permission to reenter Israel (albeit from the Population and Immigration Authority, rather than a specially designated exceptions committee), and most applicants are rejected. Furthermore, the real reason the airport was reopened was to permit Israeli citizens to return to the country in time for the election, after it was hinted that the government was violating the citizens’ basic rights by barring them from returning to Israel in time to vote. The Supreme Court even went so far as to rebuke the government for this approach. Therefore, it is certainly possible that the restrictions on air travel will be renewed even for Israelis after the election, which makes it even more difficult to imagine that foreigners will be able to enter the country.

For Now Students Will Be Allowed to Return to Israel

The Population and Immigration Authority said on Tuesday that all students who were vaccinated in Israel or have a certificate of recovery from Israel and left the country to rejoin their families for Pesach, will be permitted to return to the country after Pesach, if infection numbers remain as low as they are currently.

In order to be eligible for reentry, each student must have a valid student visa. If the student is married, their wife and children must also have been vaccinated in Israel or had recovered from the virus in Israel.

A Fruitless Fact-Finding Attempt

You may recall from last week that Shilo Adler, chairman of the Exceptions Committee and a senior official in the Ministry of Transportation, revealed that the Russian members of the Knesset were far more active than the chareidim in pressuring the committee to grant permits for individuals to enter the country. I pounced on that revelation, which I considered to be a piece of information that could not be allowed to go unnoticed. In light of Lieberman’s endless incitement against the chareidi lawmakers, I felt that it was important to show that his own party members were guilty of the very behavior for which he has denounced others. As I mentioned earlier in this column, even that did not stop him; Lieberman continued attacking the “chareidi machers” even after Adler’s comments came to light. The sheer hypocrisy is appalling!

The Ministry of Transportation has a spokesman by the name of Avner Ovadiah, who is responsible for responding to inquiries from the press. On Sunday, March 7, I sent him the following message: “The chairman of the Exceptions Committee, which has now been dissolved, recently responded to allegations that the chareidi members of the Knesset had been pressuring and influencing the committee. According to the chairman, it was actually Russian MKs who brought pressure to bear on the committee. I would very much like to know the following: 1. Who were the Russian members of the Knesset who exerted pressure on the committee? 2. Regarding how many applications did each of them intercede with the committee? 3. Did they approach the committee on behalf of Israeli citizens or foreigners? 4. What were the reasons for each request? 5. Did they receive any affirmative responses?”

He did not respond to my message. Two days later, I contacted him again and reminded him that I had asked for information about two issues (the activities of the Russian MKs and the rules for tourists who wished to reenter Israel after the Exceptions Committee disbanded) and I was still waiting for a response. “This is a bit strange, isn’t it?” I wrote. “Am I mistaken? Aren’t you the spokesman for the Ministry of Transportation?” I appended the same list of questions to my second message, and then waited in vain for several days for a response.

This Sunday, I made my third attempt. “Aren’t you the spokesman of the Transportation Ministry?” I wrote to him again. “I have been waiting for an entire week, and it is as if I am invisible…. Would you prefer that I contact a spokesman for the transportation minister or deputy minister themselves? You can’t simply ignore me!”

It did not take long for me to receive a phone call from the ministry’s public relations office. A woman explained to me at length that the Exceptions Committee was a highly professional committee, that it included representatives of six different government ministries, and that they judged every application on its own merits, without investigating the applicant’s identity or affiliations. I responded that I was already aware of that and I had even written about it; what I wanted to know now was the identities of the Russian MKs who had interceded with the committee on behalf of travelers from abroad. The woman on the line replied, “We are a professional ministry; we do not get involved in politics. You certainly don’t expect me to anger any members of the Knesset, do you?”

I laughed bitterly. “Aren’t you aware of the incitement that has been raging against the chareidim for two weeks already, mainly because Lieberman denounced the chareidi Knesset members for trying to influence the committee? There was a good reason that the committee chairman revealed the Russians’ involvement.”

“In that case,” she replied, “send us an organized list of your questions so that we can respond.”

“I did that already,” I told her.

“Send it by e-mail instead of WhatsApp message,” she said crisply. And the conversation ended there.

Complaints Where Praise Is Due

Here is another example of the media’s ruthless bias against chareidim: This week, a pair of reporters excoriated the members of a bais din in Yerushalayim for traveling to the home of the Sanzer Rebbe in Netanya in an effort to help an agunah secure release from her plight. “Imagine if Chief Justice Esther Chayut of the Supreme Court left the courtroom to consult with a private individual,” one of the journalists said mockingly.

I am not familiar with the case or the reasons for their visit to Netanya, but I know all three dayanim, and I can assure you that they are all outstanding talmidei chachomim. I am also acquainted with the av bais din, Rav Mordechai Ralbag, a man who is known for his distinguished lineage, whose family line can be traced back to some of the greatest Torah luminaries of all time, and who is renowned for his kind heart. But in any event, what reason is there to criticize dayanim for taking an extra step in order to assist someone? In fact, the purpose of their meeting with the Sanzer Rebbe wasn’t to seek his input for their psak; rather, it was to ask him to pressure the recalcitrant husband, who is a Sanzer chosid, to grant his wife a divorce. If only Israel’s secular judges would make such efforts to help people contend with their opponents in court….

If three distinguished dayanim chose to sacrifice their time and set aside their dignity to travel to Netanya to help an agunah, is that a reason to criticize them? I was told that the long-suffering woman was extremely grateful to the dayanim for their actions, and the meeting with the Rebbe also led the dayanim to issue a forceful ruling against the woman’s husband. But instead of praising the dayanim for their noble actions, the reporters mocked them. This was the ultimate proof that we live in a topsy-turvy world!

A Special Siyum

The other day, I attended a siyum on Maseches Pesochim. The head of the chaburah, Rav Uri Zohar, sat at the head of the table, flanked by Rav Nosson Cheifetz and Rav Avrohom Zeivald, the two leaders of Lev L’Achim, who have been learning with Rav Uri for decades. Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, the director of Chinuch Atzmai (who also serves as a neighborhood rov in Netanya and the International Director of Lev L’Achim), arrived to congratulate the participants and to share some fascinating thoughts.

At Home in Mir

In recent days, I have been inundated with requests for information from foreigners in Israel. I have been asked if I can predict what the situation will be on Rosh Chodesh Iyar, but I have no way of knowing that. Neither the Minister of Health nor the prime minister has any idea what will happen over the next month. I usually respond to these questioners, “Tell me if the infection rates will go up or down around Rosh Chodesh Iyar, and then I might be able to hazard a guess.” I have referred some of these people to Rav Moshe Aharon Rosengarten for his advice.

A bochur in Yeshivas Mir called me. He informed me that he was planning to travel to Switzerland, and he wanted to know if he would be able to return to Eretz Yisroel. Like many other talmidim in the yeshiva, he is registered as a tourist with a student visa.

“Didn’t Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel advise the bochurim not to leave the country this month?” I asked him.

“That is true,” he said, “but Rav Chaim Kanievsky said that it is permissible to leave for a shiduch.

“Do you have family in Switzerland?” I asked him.

“No,” he replied.

“Then where is your family?”

“The Mir is my family,” he said simply.

“What about your parents? Where are they?”

“The Mir yeshiva is my parent.”

“But where do you spend Shabbos and Yom Tov?” I pressed.

“In Mir,” he replied.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “Where is your home?”

“The Mir is my home,” he repeated emphatically.

The First “Normal” Wedding

On Tuesday, I attended the wedding of Yair Ben-Shetrit at Ulamei Silver in Ashkelon. It was the first “normal” wedding that I had attended in an entire year. True, I had to carry the green passport that attested to the fact that I had been vaccinated, but that did not diminish the fact that I was finally attending a wedding again—in an actual wedding hall, without the number of guests being limited to a minyan or two and without the looming fear that the party might be disrupted at any time by the arrival of police officers.

I was excited to celebrate along with the choson. Yair Ben-Shetrit is a charming gentleman and one of the Shas party’s youngest activists in Kiryat Gat. He used to be a frequent visitor to the Knesset, where he would make his rounds of the various offices and earn the friendship of all the party’s officials. At some point, he studied law and interned in the Tel Aviv prosecutor’s office. Today, he has law offices in Tel Aviv and in Kiryat Gat. He also maintains close ties with several prestigious rabbonim and was a ben bayis at the home of Rav Eliyohu Bakshi-Doron. “I always knew that the Rishon Letzion Rav Shlomo Amar would officiate at my chupah,” he told me.

Rav Amar’s presence at the wedding was also a reason for excitement. Rav Amar radiates stateliness, refinement, and humility all at once. As usual, he arrived at the wedding after an exhausting day; he had attended a meeting of religious councils in Eilat at the beginning of the day and had then returned to Yerushalayim to deliver two shiurim, before making his way to Ashkelon for the wedding.

When the van carrying Rav Amar pulled into the parking lot, his aide (and driver), Rav Yechezkel Shabo, emerged from the vehicle, leaving the rov alone inside the car to finish a telephone call. Rav Amar then put on his hat and emerged from the van. The choson was waiting for him outside the car along with his father, Maxim Ben-Shetrit, and the kallah’s father, the righteous Rav Shalom Abitbul.

I watched in surprise as Rav Amar asked for the owner of the hall to be summoned. The man hurried over to him, and the rov asked, “Where do you pay property taxes?”

“Property taxes?” the owner repeated in confusion. “I pay taxes to the city of Ashelon.”

“Is it to the Ashkelon municipality or to the Chof Ashkelon regional council?” Rav Amar pressed.

“The municipality,” the owner replied.

“Thank you very much,” the rov said, dismissing the owner. The man took the opportunity to ask for a flurry of brachos from the rov before going on his way. Later in the evening, I understood the reason for Rav Amar’s question: He wanted to make sure that the kesuubah, which specified the location of its writing, had been filled in correctly. And he did not overlook a single detail.

When he asked the choson’s father for his name, the man replied, “Maxim.”

“Is that it?” Rav Amar asked. “Do you have another name?”

“Yes,” the father said. “My name is Maxim Nissim.”

“What do they call you when you are called to the Torah?” Rav Amar questioned him.

“Maxim Nissim,” he said again.

“Very good,” the Rishon Letzion responded. “You sound like you were born in Morocco. Where are you from?”

“From Casablanca.”

Rav Amar smiled broadly. He, too, hailed originally from Casablanca, and meeting another former resident of the city was reason enough for him to be overjoyed. When he turned to the kallah’s father, the man hastened to tell him, “I also have a middle name; my name is Shalom Yehoshua.”

When the time came to fill in the monetary obligation that would be specified in the kesubah, Rav Amar suggested the sum of 52,000 dollars. “Fifty-two is the gematria of the word ben,” he explained.

“Why not 104, like the gematria of two sons?” I asked.

“Rav Ovadiah used to use the sum of 52,” Rav Amar replied.

“Whatever the rov chooses,” the choson said.

“You are the one accepting the obligation, not me,” Rav Amar told him.

The eidim were Rav Shimon Moyal and MK Yaakov Margi. Rav Amar’s smile was almost broad enough to engulf them both. “Are you the son of Rav Nissim Moyal?” he asked the first witness, who confirmed that he was correct. Today, Rav Shimon Moyal revealed, he heads a number of institutions in Kiryat Gat, including a Talmud Torah and kollelim. Rav Amar was impressed. “You deserve to be congratulated,” he said, adding simply, “I admired your father.”

Rav Amar did not need to be introduced to Yaakov Margi, whom he has known for a long time. In fact, they had a lively conversation on the way to the chuppah.

As the couple stood under the chuppah, Rav Amar warned the eidim to ensure that all the halachic requirements were being met. Rav Shimon Moyal remarked, “I was once at a chuppah where the two witnesses who had signed the kesubah were related to each other!”

Rav Amar replied, “That is a relatively minor problem. I have seen situations that were much worse. This is the reason that the Shulchan Aruch states that a person who isn’t an expert on gittin and kiddushin should not be involved in paskening on those matters, since it is easy to make a mistake.”

When the choson and his parents set out to head toward the chuppah, Rav Amar remained behind to write another copy of the kesubah. He perused it carefully several times, meticulously examining every detail. Finally, it was time for him to join the family at the chuppah. Rav Yechezkel Shabo—whom I first saw serving Rav Amar many years ago, in the Ahavas Shalom shul in Givat Hamivtar, where he is the chief gabbai—attempted to prevent the large crowd from descending en masse on the rov. He did not allow anyone to approach Rav Amar without wearing a mask, and he asked everyone to refrain from shaking hands with the rov. Some of the wedding guests, however, could not hold themselves back.

Before performing the wedding ceremony, Rav Amar delivered a brief speech under the chupah, conveying warm wishes to the choson and kallah on behalf of the community, a speech that I also found highly moving.

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