A Seder Night with (Almost) No Restrictions
What has happened since I last wrote in this column? For one thing, we had a nearly normal Pesach, with almost no restrictions, lockdowns, or closures. The requirement to wear masks in public remained in force; however, rumor has it that the mask mandate is also due to be canceled soon. I certainly hope that is the case. Aside from the fact that the masks are irritating, it would be a sign that the pandemic is winding down. Many of us also continued davening outdoors on Pesach. In the final analysis, though, there is no question that the Pesach of 5781 bears no resemblance to the Pesach of 5780.
This Pesach, for the first time in my life, I davened in the main shul of the Seret-Vizhnitz chassidus in Bnei Brak. It was a highly moving experience. The chassidim, incidentally, sing almost the entire davening.
You may be wondering why I was in Bnei Brak at all. In a very unusual move, I traveled to Bnei Brak to spend the Seder night (as well as the Shabbos immediately beforehand) together with my in-laws. It wasn’t for my own benefit; there is nothing like being home on Pesach, especially on a Yom Tov such as this one, when I had originally planned to host a large crowd of married children. Nevertheless, I didn’t want my in-laws to spend the Yom Tov in solitude.
My father-in-law, Rav Tzvi Tausky, is a very special man, a paragon of refinement and tzidkus. I have written about him in the past. You may recall that he was in Bergen-Belsen, and that he, his two sisters, and their parents were among the passengers on the Kastner train, along with the Satmar Rebbe. My father-in-law’s sister lives in Boro Park, adjacent to Bobov. Her oldest son was born when they escaped from Bergen-Belsen and made their way to Switzerland. I have also mentioned in the past that the Satmar Rebbe served as the sandak at his bris. My wife’s aunt, may she live and be well, still cherishes the photograph of the rebbe at the bris, which she considers a valuable keepsake and perhaps a source of spiritual protection.
Spending Yom Tov with my father-in-law gave me the opportunity to hear a number of fascinating stories about the Ponovezher Rov. After the war, the Ponovezher Rov was almost a surrogate father to my father-in-law, who spent the Seder night at the Rov’s table along with several other bochurim. He recalled that the Ponovezher Rov wore his elegant rabbinic hat throughout the Seder. This practice, the Rov explained to his guests, commemorated his experiences during the war. When the Nazis arrived—presumably in the town of Ponovezh—their first objective was to capture the “leaders” of the Jewish community. This meant, of course, the rabbonim. The rabbonim waited tensely, aware that the dreaded knock at the door could come at any moment. At the Seder, the Ponovezher Rov sat with his rabbinic hat atop his head, prepared to flee as soon as the need arose. Sure enough, he was forced to run for his life during the Seder—and in order to remember his miraculous salvation on the Seder night, he made a point of wearing his hat at every Seder throughout the remainder of his life.
My father-in-law also recalled that one of the workers in the yeshiva’s kitchen once stole the Afikoman and insisted that he would return it only in exchange for a gold watch, which was an extremely expensive commodity at the time. The Ponovezher Rov ignored his demand and simply distributed different pieces of matzah to be used as the Afikoman. With that simple act, he showed his talmidim that it is wrong to make excessive demands.
A Poor Choice of Timing
Having mentioned my father-in-law’s background as a survivor of Bergen-Belsen, I am reminded of the upcoming day of commemoration for the Holocaust. You are probably aware that this Thursday, April 8, has been designated Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) in the State of Israel.
I have written in the past about the illogic of the calendar established by the Israeli government. Yom HaShoah, which is a mournful day, was instituted on the 27th of Nissan, a month when we do not deliver hespeidim. (This year, since the 27th falls on Erev Shabbos, Yom HaShoah was moved up to the day before.) And Yom Haatzmaut, when Israel celebrates its independence, was instituted on the fifth of Iyar, in the middle of the period of Sefiras Ha’omer, when we do not hold festive events.
Yom HaShoah is a day that the chareidi community has always been reluctant to accept. There is a different day of commemoration for the Holocaust that was established by the Chief Rabbinate; the fast of the tenth of Teves was declared a general day of Kaddish for the many Jews who perished during those awful years. But Israeli chareidim are troubled not only by the timing of Yom HaShoah but also by the nature of its observance. Yad Vashem, the official body responsible for commemorating the Holocaust, always focuses on the stories of people who fought back against the Nazis. There is never a word about spiritual heroes, about the people who persevered in their Jewish observance under the most dreadful circumstances imaginable. There is a reason that the official name of the day is actually “Yom HaShoah V’HaGevurah—Holocaust and Heroism Day.”
For many years, the chareidi community refused to visit Yad Vashem or to identify with the institution. The chareidim have their own commemorative institute: Ginzach Kiddush Hashem, founded by the late Rav Moshe Prager of Bnei Brak, which focuses more on the spiritual heroes of the Holocaust than on the Jews who engaged in physical resistance. In recent years, the differences between Yad Vashem and the chareidim have eroded to a degree, and the institute has even begun employing religious researchers and workers. Rav Yisroel Meir Lau has also served as the chairman of Yad Vashem since the year 2008.
Several years ago, I had a personal dispute with Yad Vashem when I advanced a law in the Knesset that referred to Holocaust survivors as nitzolei Shoah (people who were “saved” during the Holocaust). Although this is a commonly used term in Israel, Yad Vashem insisted that the appropriate term was sordei Shoah, survivors of the Holocaust. As far as they are concerned, it is wrong to claim that anyone was “saved.” Despite their objections, the bill was passed into law with its text intact, but official documents released by Yad Vashem continue to refer only to “survivors” of the Holocaust. At the same time, the term nitzolei Shoah has remained in vogue in Israeli society as a whole. This week, I received a copy of Mizkar, a newsletter released by organizations of Holocaust survivors, which featured the term nitzolei Shoah throughout its text. The title page even identifies it as a publication of the “Center of Organizations for Nitzolei Shoah in Israel.”
On that note, I will share the contents of two of the articles in the newsletter with you at some point in the future. One of those articles reports on a study that concluded that if the Holocaust hadn’t happened, the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel and America would not have flourished to the extent that it did. It is a very interesting observation.
An Isru Chag Anomaly
Here in Israel, we all enjoyed the relative freedom that came with the relaxation of the coronavirus rules. I made sure to visit the Kosel Hamaarovi, where I was able to drive all the way to the parking lot outside the Kosel plaza. I watched as throngs of visitors arrived at the Kosel, beaming with pleasure at finally being able to visit the holy site.
I also attended a number of shiurim on Chol Hamoed, which is another source of enjoyment that was denied to us last year on Pesach. It is hard for me to explain why I find it so enjoyable to attend these shiurim, but I always delight in the experience. I peruse the lists of shiurim due to be given in various shuls, and I make my way from one shul to another in order to hear the speakers I have chosen. I usually discover a new darshan every year. Two years ago, I wrote in this space about the shiur I had heard from Rav Aviezer Wolfson, which was a refreshing novelty for me. This year, I chose to listen to Rav Dovid Lau for the first time.
Rav Lau spoke at Zechor L’Avrohom, a Torah center in the neighborhood of Kiryat Menachem in Yerushalayim. This is one of over twenty shuls that have been built in the city by the Brazilian philanthropist Shlomo (Adolfo) Picciotto, all of which were dedicated in memory of his son, Avrohom, who was murdered by kidnappers who had demanded a ransom for his life. Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron, the onetime chief rabbi and Rishon Letzion, used to guide Mr. Picciotto’s selection of recipients for his generous donations.
Rav Dovid Lau’s drosha dealt with the subject of bechoros. I will not quote the entire drosha, but I will repeat one fascinating point. While urging his listeners to establish set times for Torah learning, Rav Dovid related that he delivers a shiur on the Daf Yomi to working men in the early morning hours, before Shacharis. This shiur has been taking place for the past sixteen years. “One of the participants in the shiur is responsible for alerting me when there are ten minutes left until Shacharis,” he said. “There are only two days during the year when I automatically finish the shiur without being reminded, before the time for Shacharis even arrives—on Isru Chag Sukkos and Isru Chag Pesach.
“I cannot be sure why this happens,” Rav Dovid said, “but my heart tells me that it is because of my own deep longing for the mitzvah of tefillin. These are the two days during the year when we resume this mitzvah after a long break.” What a beautiful comment!
Another shiur that I enjoyed immensely took place at Bais Medrash Torah U’Tefillah in the neighborhood of Neve Yaakov in Yerushalayim. This shul was founded by local yungeleit, all of whom are struggling financially, who nonetheless managed to scrape together the necessary funding. The yungeleit themselves also raise funds for stipends for the men who learn in the shul at various times during the year—bein hazemanim, holidays, Fridays, Motzoei Shabbos, and other occasions when their kollelim are not in session. These stipends often have inestimable value for the yungeleit who receive them.
The shiur I attended there was delivered by Rav Shlomo Breuer, who serves as the mashgiach ruchani in Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu and other prominent yeshivos. Rav Breuer is the son-in-law of Rav Gedaliah Eiseman, the legendary mashgiach of Yeshivas Kol Torah, and is a descendant of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch and a noted mechanech. He began his shiur with a question: Why did the Bnei Yisroel sing shirah only after Krias Yam Suf rather than immediately after they left Mitzrayim? The answer, in a nutshell, is that it was only after Krias Yam Suf that we experienced our complete geulah and became servants of Hashem.
Looking Forward to a Summer Zeman Without Complications
Now that Pesach is behind us, our attention has turned to the upcoming summer zeman, which will begin on Rosh Chodesh Iyar. We will bentch the new month this Shabbos, which is a sign of the imminent arrival of the new zeman.
As I mentioned, we are beginning to feel relief as the coronavirus regulations are relaxed. Even when the government refuses to reduce the restrictions, the Supreme Court, which is known to be the true ruler of the country, overrides its decisions. This pattern began with the closure of the airport; when the Supreme Court was petitioned against the government’s ban on air travel, the judges decided that the hermetic closure of the country’s skies was disproportionate and unreasonable. The judges argued that a country should not be permitted to close its borders to its own citizens; they pointed out that Israel was the only country in the world that was barring its own citizens from returning from abroad. The ruling was made against the backdrop of an imminent election, and the judges stressed that Israeli citizens who were refused entry to Israel had been denied the right to vote, but they viewed it as a general matter of principle as well.
In response to the court’s verdict, the government quickly announced that all Israeli citizens would be permitted to reenter the country without having to request special permission. The Exceptions Committee, which was responsible for approving requests to return to Israel, was dissolved. This also provided a measure of relief to foreign citizens seeking to enter the country. Although they were still required to apply for special entry permits, those permits were to be issued by a special committee associated with the Population and Immigration Authority, a subdivision of the Ministry of the Interior—which is headed by Aryeh Deri—rather than the Exceptions Committee. And this made a world of difference. Sure enough, talmidei yeshivos and kollel yungeleit who have applied to the Population and Immigration Authority for permits to return to Israel have already begun to receive positive responses. Let us hope that they will all return safely in time for Rosh Chodesh Iyar.
It also seems that a solution has been found for unvaccinated children who wish to return to Israel. Until now, there was concern that the regulations wouldn’t permit foreigners to return to Israel with children who haven’t yet contracted Covid (and are therefore ineligible for certificates of recovery), and who cannot receive the vaccine. On Sunday, I had a conversation with a senior government official who has been heavily involved in this issue. “Are you able to reveal the government’s policy on the unvaccinated children of foreign citizens reentering the country?” I asked him. “Will kollel families without Israeli citizenship be able to return to Israel in time for Rosh Chodesh Iyar?”
“Yes,” he replied, “but tomorrow I will have much more knowledge about it.”
For me, that “yes” was enough of an answer.
The Supreme Court also forced the government to cancel all the fines that were issued to people who were found more than 1,000 meters from their homes during the lockdown. Thousands of people received fines for straying outside the permitted thousand meters. This Sunday, in response to another petition, the Supreme Court ruled that the limit on movement was disproportionate and, most importantly, “infringed on the freedom to protest.” In response to the ruling, the police announced that all the fines issued during the lockdown would be canceled, even if the offenders lived in Bnei Brak, for instance, and were caught in Rechasim.
Actually, I did not choose that example randomly. A group of yeshiva bochurim from Bnei Brak were indeed fined for traveling to Rechasim, where they traveled to pay a shivah call to a friend. They pleaded with the police for sympathy in light of the circumstances, but they were ticketed nonetheless. After the incident, the bochurim contacted me and asked for my help in having the fines canceled. In the end, the Supreme Court apparently did my work for me…
Rav Boruch Weisbecker’s Recollections
The Pesach edition of the Israeli Yated Ne’eman contained an interview with Rav Boruch Weisbecker, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu and a member of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Eretz Yisroel. Those of you who have good memories may recall that I interviewed Rav Weisbecker for a Pesach issue of this newspaper, albeit five years ago, in 5776. Interestingly, he began his interview this year with the same devar Torah that opened my conversation with him at the time.
There were two stories that Rav Weisbecker shared about his own rabbeim that captured my attention. The first was about Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, his rebbi muvhak. Rav Boruch is considered one of Rav Shmuel’s prime successors and one of the foremost teachers of his derech halimud. “For the last Shavuos of his life,” Rav Boruch related, “I made a special trip to Bnei Brak with my family, where I stayed at my brother’s home so that I would have the privilege of seeing Rav Shmuel during the Yom Tov.” At the time, Rav Boruch was serving as one of the roshei yeshiva in Kol Torah and was living near the yeshiva in Yerushalayim. “We didn’t know that it would be his last Shavuos,” Rav Boruch continued, “but we were certainly worried about the possibility. I visited Rav Shmuel on the night of Yom Tov, both before and after Maariv. My eldest son, Rav Tzvi, who was learning in the division of Ponovezh for younger bochurim, accompanied me. Rav Shmuel asked my son what he was learning, and he replied that they were learning Bava Basra. ‘Where are you holding?’ Rav Shmuel asked him, and my son identified a specific Tosafos. He quoted the question asked by Tosafos and the three teirutzim it advances, which are attributed to Rabbeinu Tam. Rav Shmuel approved, but he said, ‘The answers appear in a different order in Tosafos.’ He demanded clarity and perfection not only in the understanding of a Tosafos, but even in the order in which one remembered it.”
The second anecdote that caught my eye involved Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. Rav Boruch Weisbecker had learned under Rav Shlomo Zalman in Kol Torah, and the interviewer mentioned a rumor that Rav Shlomo Zalman had once asked him for forgiveness. “It wasn’t a request for forgiveness,” Rav Boruch corrected him, “although it might be considered an apology.
“When I was a bochur in Ponovezh,” he went on to explain, “Rav Shlomo Zalman’s nephew, Rav Yaakov Auerbach, was a friend of mine. Rav Shlomo Zalman was once staying at the home of his brother-in-law, Rav Avrohom Horowitz, in Bnei Brak, and Rav Yaakov invited me to join him on a visit to his uncle. I was delighted by the invitation, and we went there together. Rav Yaakov introduced me as his friend from yeshiva, and Rav Shlomo Zalman said, ‘The fact that he is your friend from yeshiva is evident.’ He quoted the posuk of ‘yagid alav reio—his friend will attest about him,’ and then he asked what we were learning. When we told him that we were learning Bava Metzia, he asked if we knew where the phrase ‘yagid alav reio’ appears in the masechta. Unfortunately, we did not know the answer.
“Twelve years later, when I was 30 years old and I was hired as a maggid shiur in Kol Torah, I met Rav Shlomo Zalman again. ‘Do I know you?’ he asked me when we were introduced. ‘Is it possible that I met you in the past?’ I told him that the only time we had met was when I accompanied my friend Rav Yaakov Auerbach to meet him for a few minutes. His brilliant mind immediately leapt into action, and he said, ‘You are the one from the yagid alav reio incident?’ He heaved a deep sigh. ‘I have felt so much remorse over that,’ he told me. ‘A bochur had simply come to greet me; why did I have to test him? After I thought about the matter, I came to the conclusion that I should never have asked you that question.’ He was deeply regretful for having caused us distress.”
On the Embassy’s Doorstep
Let us move on to a completely different newspaper and a completely different subject. Jonathan Pollard was interviewed in honor of Pesach by Yisroel Hayom, and the result was a very long and utterly fascinating article. The article is also a scathing indictment of the State of Israel.
Regarding the 21st of November, 1985, the day he was taken into custody outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, Pollard related, “The FBI was following me all the way. There were agents armed with rifles, and there was a helicopter overhead. I arrived at the embassy gate, and an Israeli security guard stood in front of the car. I flashed my lights, and the gate opened. They knew who I was. The young guard walked ahead of the car, and I drove inside. The gate closed, and the agents who were tailing me remained outside. I climbed out of the car and asked, ‘Is that it? Am I safe now? This is Israeli territory, isn’t it?’ The man replied, ‘Yes, everything is fine. You are home now.’
“But then a few men came out of the embassy building and called the security guard over. Five or six men stood together having a long conversation, and as they spoke they gradually moved away from me. They had been standing around me at first, clapping me on the shoulder and assuring me that everything was all right, and suddenly they were moving away. I knew that this couldn’t be a good sign. It was as if someone was shooting at me and they didn’t want to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, the security guard said to me, ‘I am sorry. We have received orders from Yerushalayim that you must leave the embassy and come back in through the front gate.’
“I said to him, ‘I won’t make it to the front gate. There are 20 FBI agents waiting outside for me. Do you know what they are going to do to me?’
“‘I am sorry,’ he said again, ‘but you are going to have to leave.’”
When asked what he felt at that moment, Pollard replied, “Mostly confusion. I said to him, ‘Do you know what they are going to do to me when I get outside?’ He replied, ‘Yes.’ I asked if he understood what they were going to do to my ex-wife. ‘Yes,’ he said again.
“‘But you are still telling me to leave,’ I said.
“‘Those are the orders from Yerushalayim,’ he replied.
“I stepped to the side and said, ‘Then shoot me. I know what is about to happen, and I am not ready to accept it. Just shoot me. Tell them you thought I was a terrorist and that the car was booby trapped. Just do it now, quickly. Don’t even think about it.’
“Of course, he didn’t want to do that,” Pollard continued. “I turned to get into my car, and then he said, ‘I am sorry, but my boss wants your last report.’ I stood there and thought about it for a moment. The only things that I pondered at that time were my obligations to Israel and my anger over the audacity of that request—not the audacity of the man who was standing there, but the chutzpah of Rafi Eitan. Then I told him a code word connected to my final report, and I returned to the car. The gate opened and I drove out, and the FBI agents immediately stopped the car. I stepped out, and they were very courteous. There were no problems.
“When they had me lean forward over the hood in order to handcuff me, I looked up at the Israeli flag waving in the wind. It was very cold, and the sky was overcast. The blinds in all the windows in the embassy were closed. I saw one person standing at a window, and I wondered at that moment why he was still there, and then the shades closed in his window as well. The only thing that I could think about at that moment, strangely enough, was the song that the British soldiers sang when they left Yorktown after they were defeated in America’s Revolutionary War: ‘The World Turned Upside Down.’”
Pollard Was Urged to Commit Suicide
Pollard’s account was riveting. At one point during his interrogation, he related, he was approached by some unidentified men who told him that he had been released and that he should go home. Pollard was suspicious and decided to remain in the building until the morning. He was later told that snipers had been stationed outside the building, with orders to shoot the first person who emerged. That was how the Americans thought that they could put an end to the affair.
The Israelis also tried to arrange for his death. “At a certain point during my incarceration, when I was in Butner prison, I was visited by a man from Israel whom I did not know, but who was high-ranking enough to be allowed to see me,” Pollard related. “He was sitting next to a lieutenant colonel from the NSA. The conversation took a strange turn. The Israeli asked me, ‘Do you consider yourself a patriot?’
“I replied, ‘I would like to believe that I am.’
“‘You are causing the country a lot of pain and a lot of problems now,’ he told me.
“‘I am sorry,’ I responded.
“‘If you are a true patriot,’ he continued, ‘then you should know that a true patriot will do the respectable thing.’
“‘And what is that?’ I asked.
“‘You know; you are smart enough to understand,’ he said. ‘Finish it.’
“I still didn’t understand what he was saying, but the American lieutenant colonel suddenly began shouting at him, ‘How dare you? Are you insane?’ I asked the colonel what was going on, and he said, ‘He wants you to commit suicide.’
“I looked at the Israeli visitor and asked him, ‘Is that what you want me to do?’
“He replied, ‘If you are a true patriot, that is what you will do.’
“The American officer jumped up, took hold of the Israeli, and hauled him out of the room. Then he sat down beside me and said, ‘I have been in this business for many years and I have never heard anything like this before. Don’t harm yourself. Stay alive, and you will get home.’”
I read Pollard’s account with mounting outrage and near disbelief.
“Many hands placed me in prison, and some people would not have minded if I died,” Pollard told his interviewer.
His wife, Esther, added, “At the end of the 1990s, I managed to meet Rafi Eitan for the first time, and he told me that his only regret about the entire affair was the fact that he didn’t manage to ‘clean the field.’ I asked him what he meant, and he replied, ‘If I had been present in the embassy when Pollard came to seek refuge, I would have put a bullet in his head. Then there would never have been a Pollard affair.’”
Rafi Eitan never denied making that comment. Jonathan Pollard had many scathing things to say about Eitan, and there was no question that his criticism was completely justified.
A Fatal Accident on Route 6
What were the other major stories this week? For one thing, there is the election, which will be the subject of a separate article. As it turns out, Israel’s fourth election in a row has failed to result in a clear winner; the deadlock remains firmly in place. The chareidi parties are trapped in a highly uncomfortable position; they have already pledged to support Netanyahu, and they would also prefer Netanyahu as the prime minister since he is beholden to them. However, it still remains to be seen if he will be able to form a government.
There were also two tragic levayos over the past couple of weeks. The first, which took place on erev Pesach, was the levayah of the renowned maggid Rav Yerachmiel Kram, who fell victim to a serious illness. Rav Kram was orphaned at the age of three when a truck was hit by a shell during the siege of Yerushalayim, resulting in an explosion that killed his father. The niftar lived a life dedicated completely to kiruv. He founded various institutes and was affiliated with an assortment of organizations, and he was also a sought-after speaker.
The second levayah, which took place on Chol Hamoed, was the funeral of Chaim Har Kesef, a 43-year-old baal chesed from Bnei Brak who was one of the leaders of United Hatzolah. Har Kesef was driving a car on Route 6 when he lost control of the vehicle and crashed into the wall of a tunnel. His 17-year-old daughter was seriously wounded and was hospitalized in Rambam Hospital, where she was sedated and intubated. A youth around the age of 20 and a three-year-old child were lightly wounded in the accident as well.
Before he moved to Bnei Brak, Chaim Har Kesef was a resident of the Brachfeld neighborhood of Modiin Illit. In recent years, he served as the secretary of Achrayut, an organization that provides guidance and financial assistance to the needy. He was close to Rav Shmuel Eliezer Stern, the av bais din of Shaarei Horaah, and served as his personal gabbai and driver. He was survived by his wife, Mrs. Revital Har Kesef, and by their six children. When I last inquired on Sunday evening, his daughter was still in the intensive care unit in Rambam Hospital.
Chaim Har Kesef’s tragic passing on Chol Hamoed was a source of great anguish for the chareidi community, especially since the niftar himself was a leading figure in Hatzolah and often warned the public about the fatal accidents that tend to occur specifically during vacation periods. Rav Stern declared in his hesped that while it is prohibited to deliver a eulogy during Chol Hamoed, he found himself choked by tears all the same. “Just this morning, you received an aliyah in our shul and now you are in Shomayim!” he exclaimed. “My heart simply cannot assimilate the fact that this man, who always helped other people, has suddenly been taken from us.”
Netanyahu Trial Reaches the Evidence Phase
Another piece of news that bears mentioning is the fact that the evidence stage of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trial has begun. This took place on Monday, the day when President Reuven Rivlin met with the heads of the various political parties (more on that in a separate article). The chief prosecutor delivered an address rife with demagoguery. Her task is to paint the blackest possible picture of Netanyahu for the judges (and the public). Netanyahu asked to be exempted from attending the court session, and he was excused from being in the court when the prosecution’s first witness began delivering his testimony. However, he was required to sit through the prosecutor’s opening speech.
The first witness for the prosecution was Ilan Yeshuah, the former CEO of Walla. The purpose of his testimony was to demonstrate that the responsiveness shown to Netanyahu by the Eloviches (the former owners of the website and the Bezeq telecommunications company) was indeed abnormal, as the prosecution insists it was. If Netanyahu is acquitted on these charges, he will have good reason to dance, since the Bezeq case is the only one that includes the serious charge of bribery. At the same time, this is the case that everyone agrees makes the least sense!
The allegations of bribery are summed up in paragraph 17 of the indictment: “The defendants Netanyahu and Elovich established a quid pro quo relationship, based on the shared understanding that each of them had a significant interest that the other was in a position to advance.” The prosecution claims that Walla was “abnormally responsive” to requests from Netanyahu and his public relations staff, in exchange for which Netanyahu, as the Minister of Communications, “made decisions that would benefit the Bezeq group and the defendant Elovich, including the approval of the Bezeq-Yes deal.”
The defense will have to come up with an alternative explanation of the facts, most of which are not disputed. They will have to convince the judges that Elovich’s accommodation of Netanyahu’s requests wasn’t “abnormal” and that Netanyahu’s decisions didn’t actually benefit the company, or that if they did, then there is a legitimate and legal justification for it. If the prosecution doesn’t refute that explanation, then it will constitute the reasonable doubt that is necessary for an acquittal. Personally, I would say that Netanyahu’s chances of being exonerated in this case are very good.
The Righteous Baron Rothschild
The 120th yahrtzeit of Baron Shimon Zev (Wolf) Rothschild, who passed away in January 1901, did not receive much attention. I would even say that we did not pay proper tribute to him on the occasion.
The story of his life is an incredible one. Shimon Zev was the only Rothschild brother who, like the Jews in Mitzrayim, did not change his name, his attire, or the language he spoke. He led an authentic Jewish lifestyle and was dubbed “the righteous baron.” After joining the family business, he used his fortune to support Torah institutions and to assist the members of the old yishuv in Yerushalayim, including the religious community in the Old City. The construction of the Batei Machsah neighborhood was one of the projects that benefited from his largesse.
Despite his affluence, Baron Rothschild lived modestly. He opened a shul and a mikvah in his home, and he supported a minyan of yungeleit who spent their days learning Torah. He eventually became involved in the battle against the Haskalah and supported Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. He also had ties with the rabbonim of Pressburg. The Ksav Sofer used to quote the posuk of “yada shor koneihu—the ox is aware of its Owner” in reference to Baron Rothschild, as the letters of the Hebrew word shor are an acronym of the name “Shimon Volf Rothschild.” He also maintained a correspondence with the Chofetz Chaim, and he had a close friendship with Rav Shlomo of Bobov.
The Shefa Chaim of Klausenberg once spoke admiringly about the baron: “Regarding his prodigious tzidkus, I must share the following story, which I heard from my father. My father once traveled to the town of Karlsbad, which is known for the healing properties of its springs, along with his uncle, the holy Shinever Rebbe. While they were there, the baron Reb Shimon Wolf Rothschild, who was quite old at the time, arrived as well. People would follow him wherever he went, and they even watched him through their windows, since it was rare to catch a glimpse of the famous Jewish financier.
“He was a pampered and finicky person by nature, to the point that he refrained even from touching door handles. Yet my father related that he once saw Baron Rothschild walking through the streets of Karlsbad on Shabbos, on his way to drink the healing waters of the spring, and in spite of his sensitivity, the baron wrapped his handkerchief, which was used to blow his nose, around his neck. He even stopped walking at one point to use the handkerchief and then returned it to its place, in order to avoid transgressing the prohibition of carrying on Shabbos….
“For our purposes,” the Klausenberger Rebbe continued, “I must tell the incredible story that my father related to me, as it was told to him by a certain great rov from the country of Russia. This rov had spent a long time as a guest of the baron in Frankfurt. During that time, Baron Rothschild showed him all the honor that was due to a talmid chochom, and he became like a member of the household. The rov was once told by the baron’s family that he was permitted to enter any room in the house, except one particular room that was off limits to everyone. The key to that room was in the baron’s possession, and he would enter the room once every few weeks and lock the door, remaining inside for several hours. The family believed that he kept his most valuable assets there.
“The rov was very curious to find out about the contents of that mysterious room, and with his close relationship with the baron, he felt comfortable asking for permission to see it. Out of respect for his stature as a Torah scholar, Baron Rothschild permitted him to enter the room, which no one else had ever been allowed to see. The two men surreptitiously entered the room, and the rov discovered that it contained a bier and a set of tachrichim.
“Astounded by what he was observing, the rov asked for an explanation. The baron replied, ‘A person like myself is always in danger of becoming conceited and forgetting to fear Hashem. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to enter this room every month on Erev Rosh Chodesh, to remove my clothes and put on the tachrichim, and to lie on this bier and recite the entire Sefer Tehillim.”
There is no doubt that the righteous baron is currently basking in the eternal reward for his life of piety in this world.