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Sixty Years Since the Eichmann Trial

I debated how to begin my column this week. One major story is that there will be restrictions on Lag Ba’Omer in Meron this year. But there are other topics to discuss as well; it has been a complicated and eventful week here in Eretz Yisroel.

But before I get to any of those topics, I would like to mention that this week marked the anniversary of the beginning of the trial of Adolf Eichmann. He was brought to Israel in the country’s early days. Then, as now, the country was living in the shadow of the Holocaust and the Nazis’ ghastly crimes. The trial began on 28 Nissan 5721/April 11, 1961. The State of Israel was only thirteen years old at the time, and many of its citizens were survivors of the Holocaust. Virtually the entire country listened intently to the testimonies delivered in the courthouse.

The prosecuting attorney was Gideon Hausner. The opening lines of his initial address to the court have resonated throughout history: “As I stand before you today, judges of Israel, to prosecute Adolf Eichmann, I do not stand alone. At this time, six million accusers are standing here with me. But they cannot stand on their own feet and point an accusing finger toward that glass booth and cry out to the man who sits there, ‘I accuse you!’ That is because their ashes have been piled between the hills of Auschwitz and the fields of Treblinka and have been washed away by the rivers of Poland. Their graves are scattered across the length and breadth of Europe. Their blood cries out, but their voices are not heard. I will be their mouthpiece, and I will voice the terrible accusations on their behalf.”

The trial took place in a specially designated room in Beit Ha’Am in Yerushalayim. Eichmann sat in a glass booth and listened to the testimony through an interpreter. Hundreds of thousands of people throughout the country listened as the proceedings were broadcast over the radio. It was the most historic trial ever conducted in Israel, as one of the leading figures in the Nazi death machine was judged for his crimes. The trial was watched throughout the rest of the world as well.

There were many important and dramatic moments during the trial. Every witness who took the stand revealed another horrific story. There were many more witnesses who did not have the courage to show up in the courtroom, even though they had plenty to say; they feared that they would not be able to withstand the emotional trauma. That is actually what happened to Yechiel Dinur, who was known for his books about the Holocaust, which appeared under the pseudonym K. Tzetnik. Dinur, the author of several bestselling books on the Holocaust, delivered a clear, piercing, and devastating account of his experiences in the Holocaust. When he was asked how much time he had spent in Auschwitz, he explained, “Time was different there than the way we know it. Time was different; it was a different planet.” He began speaking about the scenes from the death camp that still haunted him, and then he suddenly stood up, sat down again—and fainted. His collapse led to pandemonium in the courtroom, and he was carried out on a stretcher.

Ben Gurion’s Dramatic Announcement

Many books have been written about the trial of Adolf Eichmann and the clandestine operation that resulted in the capture of the Nazi arch criminal. I recently wrote about the memoirs of Rafi Eitan, the Mossad operative who served as Jonathan Pollard’s handler. Eitan was also part of the team of four agents who captured Eichmann in Argentina.

After the war, Eichmann was imprisoned by American soldiers but escaped the detention camp. He remained in hiding in Germany for several years and apparently left Germany in 1950, with the assistance of Christian priests, on a ship that sailed to Argentina. He settled in Buenos Aires and was later joined by his wife and three children.

Israel’s first tip about Eichmann’s whereabouts arrived in 1957, through a man by the name of Dr. Fritz Bauer. Bauer, a Jewish German legal expert, had served as a district attorney in the German state of Hessen. His information was transferred to Isser Harel, who oversaw Israel’s intelligence services. Harel sent a Mossad agent to receive detailed information and documents concerning Eichmann from Bauer, but the latter did not reveal the source of his knowledge. Bauer allowed the Mossad to break into his office, and a Mossad photographer took pictures of the relevant documents. In his discussion with the Israeli agent, Bauer implied that he had given up hope that Germany itself would ask for Eichmann’s extradition and would put him on trial, and he felt that it would be best for his whereabouts to become known to Israel. He expected the Jewish country to act with much greater determination to capture Eichmann and bring him to justice.

An El Al plane flew to Argentina at the time, carrying an Israeli delegation, led by Abba Eban, to take part in a celebration of the country’s independence. That plane brought the captured Eichmann back to Israel.

Of course, Eichmann’s capture elicited great excitement in Israel. In May 1960, Ben Gurion made a festive announcement in the Knesset: “I would like to inform the Knesset that just a short time ago, the Israeli security services located one of the most prominent Nazi war criminals, Adolf Eichmann, who was responsible, along with the other Nazi leaders, for what they called ‘the final solution to the Jewish problem,’ meaning the extermination of six million European Jews. Adolf Eichmann is already in custody here in Israel, and he will soon be brought to justice in Israel in accordance with the Nazis and Nazi Collaborators Punishment Law of 1950.” Emotions ran high in Israel; I would say that the capture of Eichmann reopened many old wounds, but the truth is that those wounds had never closed. In any event, it brought out oceans of pain. Perhaps I should devote a separate article to the Eichmann trial to mark its 60th anniversary.

Israel Mourns Its Fallen

This week, Israel marks Yom Hazikaron, when the country mourns its fallen soldiers and the victims of Arab terror. (The latter category was added in response to pressure from the families of terror victims.) While the chareidi community does not identify with secular ceremonial practices such as the sounding of the siren, our community recognizes its debt of gratitude to the soldiers who were killed al kiddush Hashem in battle for the Jewish people, and we share the pain of their families as they mourn their losses.

Over the past seven and a half decades, 23,928 men and women have been killed in the wars of the State of Israel, according to official statistics released by the Ministry of Defense in honor of Yom Hazikaron. Over the past year, 43 new victims have been added to the tally. In advance of Yom Hazikaron, Defense Ministry workers were hard at work preparing the country’s 52 military cemeteries, the memorial site for Bedouin soldiers, and thousands of individual graves throughout Israel to receive visitors. Many areas were refurbished, cleaned, and made accessible for visitors, and damaged or old gravestones were repaired or replaced.

The Yom Hazikaron events began on Tuesday evening this week, before Rosh Chodesh Iyar concluded. Yom Hazikaron is always scheduled on the day before Yom Haatzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day), which is observed on the fifth of Iyar, unless that date falls on Shabbos or Sunday. In that case, the national holiday is moved up. This year, the fifth of Iyar is a Sunday, and in order to avoid chillul Shabbos and to ensure that the two days would be observed in succession, the law calls for Yom Haatzmaut to be moved to Thursday and for Yom Hazikaron to be observed on Wednesday.

The observance of Yom Hazikaron actually begins on the previous evening, with the sounding of a siren. The main memorial ceremony takes place at the Kosel in Yerushalayim. On Wednesday morning, a siren sounds for two minutes at precisely 11:00. On Wednesday evening, the Yom Haatzmaut celebrations begin, although the celebration of “independence” seems to grow more laughable with every passing year. After all, is Israel really “independent” in any meaningful sense? If America turns its back on the country, it will be in an intolerable situation. What sort of independence is that?

On that note, a famous joke has it that Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was once warned about an impending drought. “Where will it be?” he asked in alarm, and the experts told him that it was expected to affect the Negev. “The Negev?” he repeated. “That’s not so bad. I was afraid it would be in America….”

The Petulant President

Israeli politics have been growing more distasteful with every passing day. Of course, the most noteworthy development last week was that Netanyahu was given the mandate to attempt to form the next government. President Ruvi Rivlin completed his round of consultations with all the party leaders and decided that the mandate should be handed to Netanyahu, who had received the largest number of recommendations.

It will not be easy for Netanyahu to recruit 61 supporters and to establish a government, certainly not a stable one. Even with Naftoli Bennett’s Yamina party, he would have a coalition of only 59 MKs. Let me review the numbers: The Likud has 30 mandates, Shas has nine, and UTJ has seven seats in the Knesset. Add the six seats under Smotrich and the seven seats in Bennett’s party, and we arrive at a total of 59. But Netanyahu will need at least two more supporters in order to succeed.

Netanyahu met with Bennett and offered him everything imaginable—presumably including a rotation as prime minister, which is precisely what Bennett has been offered by the “anyone but Bibi” camp. Bennett reportedly asked Netanyahu how he plans to reach the critical threshold of 61 supporters and Netanyahu replied, “I will reveal that to the public only after you announce officially that you are joining our bloc.” Bennett is alleged to have told Netanyahu that even if he fails to put together a government, there will not be a fifth round of elections. In other words, in that case Bennett would join the anti-Netanyahu camp. Of course, there is no guarantee that such a partnership would actually materialize.

Then again, by the same token, one might wonder exactly how Bibi can be planning to establish a government with the support of Mansour Abbas’s Raam party, when he has pledged before every election that he will not form a government that is dependent on the Arabs. (True, he was referring to the Joint Arab List, which is a different Arab party, but Abbas’s views are no different from theirs.) To make matters even more puzzling, Betzalel Smotrich is continuing to insist that he will not support a government that is dependent on Raam. This makes it hard to imagine how Bibi can possibly form a government under the circumstances. Does he have some sort of magic rabbit that he plans to pull out of his hat? I doubt it, although some claim that if Bennett declares his support for Bibi, then the entire picture will change, and even Gideon Saar might join the government. Or even Benny Gantz. This might be the scenario that Netanyahu is counting on. Then again, perhaps Smotrich will give in.

Regardless of what lies ahead of us, the situation is definitely complicated. It is no wonder that there is a rising belief that there will be a fifth election. The only question is how it will make a difference.

Netanyahu Retains Control of the Knesset

Netanyahu did gain one thing from receiving the mandate to try to establish a government: He has remained in control of the Knesset. The anti-Netanyahu camp had pinned their hopes on receiving the mandate before him. Had they done so, their first move upon taking control of the Knesset would have been to remove the Knesset speaker, Yariv Levin, from his post, possibly replacing him either with MK Meir Cohen of Yesh Atid or with MK Zeev Elkin of the New Hope party. It was actually Mansour Abbas who threw the first monkey wrench into their plans, when he announced that he would not support Levin’s dismissal. Netanyahu’s opponents had also planned to pass a law that would prohibit a person under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister. Netanyahu was extremely worried about that possibility.

At this point, the Arrangements Committee, which oversees the Knesset during this complicated period, will be headed by Netanyahu’s confidant Mickey Zohar, a member of the Likud party. The Arrangements Committee will determine the makeup of the various permanent committees in the 24th Knesset. It will also choose the members of the temporary Finance and Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees, who will serve until the permanent committees are established. As the Likud party whip, Mickey Zohar thanked the prime minister for placing his trust in him. “We will work to achieve a consensus with all the parties, in fruitful collaboration for the benefit of the citizens of Israel, in order to faithfully carry out our mission on behalf of the public and the will of the voters,” he said.

With Mickey Zohar and Yariv Levin in charge of the Knesset agenda, the anti-Bibi camp cannot succeed in passing a law against Netanyahu. But as could be expected, a petition has already been filed with the Supreme Court against Rivlin’s decision to award the mandate to Netanyahu, on the grounds that the prime minister is facing a criminal indictment. The justice who received the petition has already demanded a response from the state and has scheduled a hearing with an expanded panel of judges. Netanyahu’s defeat, therefore, might yet come from the Supreme Court.

No Joy at the Knesset’s Opening Session

This brings us to the celebratory opening session of the 24th Knesset and the swearing-in ceremony for its members. I have already come to loathe the world of Israeli politics, with its mudslinging and cutthroat competition, but I was present at the Knesset for the ceremony. Not surprisingly, I was hard-pressed to find any signs of joy at the supposedly festive occasion. All that I could see was sorrow. If there were any smiles, they were completely fake. The fourth election has brought everyone back to the same dead end where the country has been for the past two years.

With their endless and meaningless talk, the politicians reminded me of horse thieves at a fair. I couldn’t help but think about the famous joke: Two Jews once met on a train. They sat in silence for a while, until one of them asked the other, “Where are you going?”

“To Cracow,” his seatmate responded.

The first man became angry. “You are telling me that you are going to Cracow because you want me to think that you are going to Warsaw,” he snapped, “but you are actually going to Cracow. So why are you lying?”

In politics, even the truth is a lie, and anything can be an excuse to lash out at one’s opponent.

Even the red carpets and trumpet fanfares could not turn a somber occasion into a joyous one. Amazingly, as meaningless as the event was, there was a long line of people jockeying for permits to attend the session. I watched the soldiers in the IDF military band as they waited for the president outside the building. It didn’t take long for me to discover that they hadn’t even been told what music they were supposed to play when Rivlin arrived. There is no standard fanfare; it is always improvised. I wanted to speak with Rom Shamir, the commander of the band, but I discovered that he needed special permission from the IDF public relations office in order to talk to me.

If there was anyone who celebrated the occasion, it was the press. The Knesset building was covered by multiple news stations, including Kol Chai and Kol Barama. There were so many reporters that it was hard to spot the politicians. At the same time, most of the Knesset members were pleased, since anyone who was interested in being interviewed by the media was easily able to secure some time on the airwaves. But in case you are wondering if any of their remarks were relevant or cogent, let me share another little story, which may or may not have actually happened: A politician once needed to undergo surgery on his eyes. The doctor explained the risks to the family, and then the surgery was performed. After the operation, they discovered that his eyesight was perfect; he did not even require glasses to read. The doctor whispered to the family members, “He will be able to see and to read, but the procedure does not have anything to do with his comprehension. There is no reason to believe that it will have improved.”

A pile of flowers sat on a table at the entrance to the building; each Knesset member received a flower to pin to his or her lapel. (This would help them be easily identified later on.) I met Minister Amir Ochana there and discovered that he was more boisterous than ever. “You spoke well,” I told him, and he laughed. He understood that I was referring to his response to President Rivlin at his residence, where Ochana represented the Likud party.

“I was holding myself back,” Ochana told me.

I laughed.

“I held myself back quite a lot,” he insisted.

A Lesson in Kiruv on Election Day

Rabbi Yehuda Chizkiya is a kollel yungerman in Bnei Brak who was my classmate in elementary school. There are very few people who have remained in touch with friends for so many decades, but there are also very few people in the world like Rabi Yehuda Chizkiya. He once called me to offer his support during a particularly stressful time in my life, and he took my pain to heart so deeply that he burst into tears. On that note, I recently came across an amazing vort. The Gemara states that if a person swallows matzoh on the first night of Pesach without chewing it, he has fulfilled his obligation to eat matzoh, but the requirement to eat marror cannot be fulfilled in this way. The Meiri explains that since the marror commemorates the embitterment of our ancestors’ lives in Mitzrayim, a person must taste the marror in order to fulfill the mitzvah. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz adds, “In order to empathize with another person’s burden, one must feel the bitterness. It isn’t enough to speak and know about it.” That ideal is a perfect description of Rabbi Yehuda Chizkiya.

On the night after the election, I received an excited phone call from my former classmate. He had been serving as an observer at the polling station at the Ger Seminary on Rechov Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak. An observer for the Meretz party was also stationed there, and he was as hostile as you would expect. But as the hours ticked by, the man’s sense of alienation steadily dissipated. Until that day, he had never actually encountered chareidim; his exposure to the community had been solely through the distorted caricatures in the media. As shekiah approached, he volunteered to join a minyan for Mincha.

“This is the first time in my life that I have ever davened Mincha,” he revealed.

Rabbi Chizkiya was moved. “Look what a few hours in the company of chareidim can do for a secular person,” he said to me. In his view, this means that every religious Jew has a responsibility toward his secular brethren. If it is so easy to reach out to another Jew and interest him in Yiddishkeit, then every person can be expected to wield that powerful influence. And he is right. The people of Lev L ’Achim have attested to the same phenomenon.

What Was Rav Asher Arieli Searching For?

The employees in the office of Yeshivas Mir rubbed their eyes in disbelief. Rav Asher Arieli, the distinguished talmid chochom whose reputation has traveled across the entire globe, had been in the office for a long time already, rummaging through the yeshiva’s file cabinets and reviewing lists of the talmidim’s names. They knew that every second of his time was more precious than gold, that Rav Asher would never allow a moment that could be put toward Torah learning to go to waste. Yet there he was, standing in the office and expending precious minutes looking through reams of papers. What was he trying to do?

Rav Asher explained that one of his talmidim had approached him with a personal question, a shailah that Rav Asher did not know how to answer but that had the potential to affect his entire life. Rav Asher had advised him to present his question to Rav Yosef Efrati. “I remember that a yungerman in the yeshiva asked me this same question about fourteen or fifteen years ago, and I didn’t know how to answer him,” Rav Asher said. “I advised him to consult with Rav Elyashiv. Perhaps Rav Efrati will remember what Rav Elyashiv told that yungerman.” At the same time, Rav Asher decided to try calling the former talmid on his own and presenting the question to him. There was only one problem: He could not remember the yungerman’s name.

Rav Asher apologized for his inability to resolve the question, but the sight of his talmid’s crestfallen face left him unsettled. His profound caring and concern for his talmidim would not allow him to leave the matter unresolved. Rav Asher therefore decided to spend some time leafing through the yeshiva’s files, which contained pictures of all the talmidim in the yeshiva. He was certain that if he saw a photograph of the yungerman who had consulted with him fourteen years earlier, he would recognize the young man. And once he had learned the talmid’s name, he would surely be able to contact him and resolve the issue that was troubling his current talmid. Such is the dedication of one of the world’s greatest maggidei shiurim.

“I Am Davening for Him”

This week, I traveled to Bnei Brak to visit the kever of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, on his fifteenth yahrtzeit. Rav Moshe Shmuel passed away on Rosh Chodesh Iyar 5766/2006, at the end of Shabbos, just one day before the talmidim returned to the yeshiva for the summer zman. The mashgiach, Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz, had remarked earlier in the day, “If the rosh yeshiva manages to hold on until tomorrow, he will overcome his illness. The beginning of the zman will rejuvenate him.” Unfortunately, he passed away mere hours before the zman began.

My righteous son Reb Yaakov Yisroel, who was a talmid muvhak of Rav Moshe Shmuel and serves as a meishiv in the yeshiva today, reminded me about an incident that took place about 15 years ago. “You arranged an audience for Dr. Weil with Rav Ovadiah Yosef,” he said.  “Rav Asher Weiss also accompanied us. After they finished speaking, you asked the rov for a brocha for me. Rav Ovadiah pinched my cheek and asked where I was learning, and I told him that I was in Yeshivas Beer Yaakov. His sparkled with excitement, and he exclaimed, ‘Under Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro? He is one of the gedolei Yisroel!’ Then he gave me a brocha and added, ‘Tell the rosh yeshiva that I daven for him every day.”

Rav Moshe Shmuel was one of the foremost bearers of the legacy of Brisk, who faithfully transmitted the Torah and hashkofah of his rabbeim to the younger generation. A member of his family recently shared a piercing comment with me that Rav Moshe Shmuel had attributed to the rabbonim of Brisk: “It isn’t that the State of Israel was founded and then decided to fight against the Torah. It was established for the purpose of fighting against the Torah.”

The first yahrtzeit of Rav Moshe Shmuel’s rebbetzin was recently commemorated in the yeshiva. Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz called on the bochurim to emulate her example by striving to attain spiritual heights. “In our home, we referred to her as our aunt,” he said. Rav Mordechai Alter Zelivansky was married to Rebbetzin Yocheved, the sister of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro. (Rav Moshe Shmuel was the son of Rav Aryeh Shapiro, the av bais din of Bialystok.) Thus, Rav Moshe Shmuel was an uncle of Rav Mordechai Alter’s three sons: Rav Chaim Zelivansky, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Maor HaTalmud in Rechovot; Rav Pinchos Zelivansky, the son-in-law of Rav Chaim Kreiswirth and head of Yeshivas Toras Chaim and Yeshivas Mercaz HaTorah in Yerushalayim; and Rav Shmuel Zelivansky, who served for many years as the menahel of the Yeshiva of Beer Yaakov. Rav Mordechai Alter also had two daughters: Rebbetzin Miriam, the wife of Rav Yitzchok Grodzinsky, and Rebbetzin Leah Lefkowitz, who is married to Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz. Thus, Rav Moshe Shmuel and his rebbetzin were an aunt and uncle to Rav Moshe Dovid as well. This also accounts for his familial connection to Rav Shlomo Wolbe, who was a brother-in-law to Rav Chaim Kreiswirth; both Rav Wolbe and Rav Kreiswirth were married to daughters of Rav Avrohom Grodzinsky.

Rav Moshe Dovid remarked in his hesped, “Our aunt was a wise woman and a paragon of yiras Shomayim. She was extremely meticulous about the mitzvos; she feared committing aveiros, but she also conducted herself with joy. A great man’s wife is elevated along with him, and she was a great woman who hailed from an illustrious family. [The rebbetzin’s father, Rav Aharon Weinstein, was the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais Yosef Novardok in Tel Aviv.] After her marriage to the rosh yeshiva, she rose to extraordinary heights that we cannot fathom. As the Mesillas Yesharim states, a righteous man elevates the rest of the world along with himself.”

A Life Lived to the Fullest

The normally reticent Rav Yaakov Shapiro delivered a hesped for his mother as well. “The posuk states, ‘We were orphans without a father,’” he said. “My father once explained the redundancy in this posuk as follows. Sometimes, an orphan has all of his needs taken care of, and he has to contend only with his orphanhood. For other orphans, however, in addition to the loss of a parent, they must also cope with the fact that they have no one to tend to their needs. They suffer both from being orphans and from lacking a father; there is a duality to their plight.

“We are orphans, and we are also bereft of a mother,” Rav Yaakov continued. “We can no longer witness her lofty conduct.” He went on to describe his mother’s spiritual avodah and quoted his father, who attested that she was the source of all his accomplishments—his seforim, his shiurim, and the Torah that he learned and taught. “Her entire life revolved around her husband. Their home was a tool to allow him to spend his days immersed in learning. She always used to say that an eishes chayil’s nature is revealed not through her actions but through her silence. She quietly and unobtrusively managed her home with outstanding skill. It is only now that she is gone that we realize the extent to which she was an eishes chayil.

“After our father passed away, I once asked my mother if I should buy her flavored yogurt when I went to the grocery store. She did not respond. I repeated my question, and she said, ‘I am not opposed to it, but I never gave any thought to which flavor I would like. Now that you are asking, I have to think about it.’ Can you imagine?” Rav Yaakov exclaimed. “At the age of 80, she had never thought about what flavors she preferred; she was concerned only with what the rosh yeshiva would enjoy.

“Our mother lived her life to the fullest,” he continued. “She would rest when she needed to, but she was never idle. A sofa is a standard piece of furniture for a living room, but our house did not contain a sofa or even an armchair. Our mother had no objection to these things, but even if we had had such a piece of furniture, she would never have used it. Neither our father nor our mother would simply sit without doing anything.”

Rav Yaakov, who served as his father’s chavrusa for many decades, attested that his mother maximized the use of every moment of her life, making sure to fulfill the many spiritual obligations that she took upon herself. “Once, when she had already become very feeble, she woke up in the morning twenty minutes later than normal,” Rav Yaakov related. “She was utterly distraught; she could not imagine how she would compensate for the extra twenty minutes that she had slept. This was the attitude of a woman who had made sure to use every moment of over 70 years of life to the fullest.”

Rav Yaakov exhorted the talmidim in the yeshiva, along with bnei Torah everywhere who learn from Rav Moshe Shmuel’s seforim, to recognize their debt of gratitude to the rebbetzin, who ensured that her husband could pour all of his time into Torah learning. “Let us adopt this trait for ourselves,” he added. “Let us learn the value of every moment and fill our days and years with purpose, so that we will be able to earn the crown of Torah. May it be a source of elevation for her pure soul.”