Bennett Makes His Choice
So, what happened this week? Let’s start with some political news.
At this moment, a Lapid-Bennett government seems to be the most likely outcome of the wheeling and dealing in the halls of government. Naftoli Bennett seems to have decided that a left-wing government is going to be established. (They actually call it a “government of change” or a “unity government,” and Bennett himself refers to it as a right-wing government. The chareidim call it a “government of evil.” Over the past weeks, Bennett has repeatedly portrayed himself as striving to establish a right-wing government; however, it seems that he was merely misleading the Israeli public.
During Operation Guardian of the Walls, Bennett announced that the government of change was dead. Some even accused Netanyahu of engineering the violence in order to prevent the formation of the government of change, which was supposed to rely on the Arabs’ support. As it turns out, Bennett’s statement was a mere smokescreen; he displayed significant and unusual cunning by crafting an agreement with Lapid, Saar, and the political left while no one was paying attention. The outrage against Bennett on the right side of the map is enormous. Aside from the fact that Bennett duped everyone with this most recent ploy, he also violated a pledge that he had personally signed to refrain from doing exactly what he has done—establishing a left-wing government. Just for an example, here is the text of an announcement that occupied an entire page in the right-wing newspaper B’Sheva: “The great fraud! While you were all sitting in your reinforced rooms, Bennett and Shaked were cooking up a government with terror supporters.” Outraged activists have been staging demonstrations outside Bennett’s home and the homes of his colleagues in the Yamina party.
The biggest question now is what Bennett’s second in command, Ayelet Shaked, plans to do. The press has been reporting throughout this process that she was holding him back from joining the left-wing bloc. Was that part of the deception? Did she intend all along to join her boss in establishing a left-wing government? That is certainly possible. For now, Shaked isn’t saying a word about her intentions, but she certainly seems to be supporting Bennett.
A Parallel Offer from Netanyahu
If Bennett has to choose between a right-wing government and a left-wing government, then if he is thinking about his own interests, he would certainly prefer to go with the left. For one thing, this would be his way of exacting revenge against Netanyahu for years of mistreatment. Let me remind you of the background: Many years ago, Naftoli Bennett and Ayelet Shaked were two senior members of the staff in Netanyahu’s office. They were dismissed from their positions (at the behest of Mrs. Netanyahu) and leapt directly into politics, to the point that Bennett himself is now a serious contender for Netanyahu’s position. It seems that the time has come for Bennett’s revenge. That motivation is shared by Gideon Saar, another so-called staunch right-wing devotee, actively participating in forming a left-wing government. Perhaps there is a mussar haskel to be learned here: One should never offend another person, not only because it is inherently wrong but also because it is impossible to know when the victim will strike back.
But revenge isn’t all; there is also another factor at play as well. Every politician’s dream—especially Naftoli Bennett, who is a megalomaniac by nature—is to become the prime minister of Israel. All the center-left parties have now given Bennett the chance to have the first turn in the prime minister’s seat, followed by Lapid and possibly Saar as well. Bennett’s party has fewer seats in the Knesset than Yesh Atid and even Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, yet his prospective partners are willing to let him take the helm of the country. Everyone is ready to cede the premiership to Bennett, for the sole purpose of achieving their ambition of ousting Netanyahu.
As far as Bennett is concerned, the temptation must be overwhelming. He has finally been handed the chance to realize his lifelong dream of becoming prime minister. He probably hopes that the right wing will forgive him for his betrayal after he enters the prime minister’s office and visits the settlements with his official motorcade of luxury cars, thus giving them reason to appreciate his position. In fact, if Bennett takes the premiership, that alone will be an achievement from their perspective. A glass ceiling will have been broken; for the first time, a man wearing a kippah serugah will hold the office of prime minister. Of course, Bennett’s comrades in the government will hope to remove him at the first possible opportunity, once he has served his purpose by removing Netanyahu from office. A kippah-wearing prime minister wouldn’t exactly be the fulfillment of their lifelong dreams, to say the least.
On Sunday morning, the pro-Netanyahu bloc (UTJ, Shas, Religious Zionism, and the Likud) decided to match the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s offer to Bennett and Saar, proposing a rotation for prime minister that would see Gideon Saar hold the office first, followed by Netanyahu and then Bennett. This was an unprecedented offer and virtually impossible for Bibi Netanyahu to advance, but it was presented in a signed letter. Bennett’s answer came at 8 o’clock on Sunday evening: “I will be joining a government with my good friend Yair Lapid.” He added that the government would not discriminate against any sector, and that everyone would be invited to join it. Bennett claims that it will act as a right-wing government in spite of its composition. Will this new regime actually materialize? As of this writing, it seems very likely. However, nothing is over in Israel until it is over.
Rivlin Invited to Washington
Last week, a foreign dignitary visited Israel: Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State of the United States. Blinken arrived on Tuesday, officially for the purpose of solidifying the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and achieving long-term calm in the region, and visited Yerushalayim, Ramallah, Cairo, and Amman. On Wednesday, he was a guest of the President Ruvi Rivlin, who is due to step down in a month and a half. Blinken invited the Israeli president to visit Washington, where he will have a chance to meet with President Joe Biden. During their meeting, Blinken and Rivlin discussed the spike in anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world, and in America in particular, triggered by Operation Guardian of the Walls.
Rivlin told his guest, “We are very worried about the rise in anti-Semitism throughout the world, including the United States, especially since the beginning of our last operation in Gaza. We are thankful to the United States for fighting this battle.” The Israeli president added, “It is unthinkable that the entire world hasn’t defined Hamas as a terror organization, and it is very important to lead the way in establishing that definition.” This was quite the understatement; the United Nations has taken a distinctly one-sided stance.
Blinken responded, “We are witnessing outbreaks of anti-Semitism, as we saw in incidents that took place even in my own country just last week. These incidents were very clearly condemned by President Biden as despicable. We know that when we see a renewed spike in anti-Semitic incidents, it only heralds more acts of hate to come, which will be directed against other communities as well.”
Netanyahu’s detractors cited the fact that Blinken invited Rivlin to Washington instead of Netanyahu, as evidence of President Biden’s animosity toward the prime minister. “This wasn’t just a slap in the face to Netanyahu,” one Israeli political commentator wrote. “It was the equivalent of a blow from a baseball bat.” I am not sure if I agree with this assessment, but one thing is certain: Biden will be meeting with a man who doesn’t even quality as a lame duck. Reuven Rivlin will be completing his term as president with an approval rating of virtually zero among the Israeli public, having begun as a right-wing politician and finishing his time in office on the left. Perhaps I should devote a separate article to Rivlin’s term and to the entire institution of the presidency; this column might not be the right place to discuss the matter at length.
Yosef ben Reb Yosef
There was been much dissension lately over the formation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the tragedy in Meron. This is a tragedy that will never be forgotten. A massive project was recently launched to arrange for 45 sifrei Torah to be written in memory of the victims. This week, a bris was held in Vizhnitz for the newborn son of Reb Yosef Greenbaum, who was killed in Meron. The sounds of emotional weeping were heard as the Vizhnitzer Rebbe announced the child’s name: Yosef ben Reb Yosef.
This week, the government revealed the sums that will be paid in compensation to the families of the deceased. However, that is not the main topic of concern right now. Instead, everyone’s attention is focused on the investigation into the tragedy.
Yair Lapid has been leading the push for a state commission of inquiry. Of course, Lapid believes that he is doing a service for the religious community by advocating for the commission to be formed, but most of the families of the niftarim are against it. That is, they aren’t opposed to investigating the tragedy, but they object to the establishment of an inquiry commission. A government commission of inquiry, headed by a judge, would be tasked with finding people to blame for the disaster. Its purpose would be to ensure that heads will roll; its function would be to select those heads. The families of the victims, on the other hand, are less interested in finding people to blame; their main goal is to ensure that a similar disaster does not occur in the future. This can be achieved only if the committee is authorized to make practical decisions regarding the future of the site.
What sort of changes could be made? For one thing, all the individuals or groups who have staked claims to Meron can be sent packing. The structures that have been added to the site and the people who have set up camp there can be removed, leaving nothing but the tziyun itself on the mountaintop. The procedure for the bonfires on the night of Lag Ba’Omer can also be changed. If enough changes are implemented, the government can see to it that visitors to Meron will not face the same dangers in the future.
The chareidi representatives voted against Lapid’s proposal for a commission of inquiry. Of course, this triggered a wave of condemnation from the secular press, which accused the religious parties of trying to whitewash the incident and ignoring the desires of the families. This was nothing but slander and fake news, but the reports were typical of the media and its agenda. But let me make the families’ true interests clear: They are not interested in seeing anyone hanged in the town square, so to speak. They have no desire for revenge. All they want is a committee that will make changes to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy.
The Bus Driver at the Shiva
The Bucharian community in Eretz Yisroel recently announced a chiddushei Torah contest in memory of Yosef Mastorov, one of the victims of the Meron tragedy, who was a bochur in Yeshivas Rina Shel Torah in Carmiel (a yeshiva established by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman) and a resident of Ramle.
I am quite familiar from Ramle, which is not far from Beer Yaakov. When I was a child, my family used to shop in Ramle. I can assure you that it is quite unusual for a ben aliyah to grow up in Ramle, and it is hard to cultivate such a child there, but Yosef Mastorov was just such a young man. Once again, he is evidence that Hashem selected some of the most exquisite members of our nation to be taken from us in this tragedy.
The Mastorov family sat shiva on Rechov Rabbi Chaim Ben-Atar in Ramle. Yosef’s father, Reb Boruch Mastorov, is one of the most prominent members of his kollel in Ramle, which is headed by Rav Yaakov Abuchatzeirah. (The rosh kollel is the son of Rav Avrohom Abuchatzeirah and grandson of the Baba Chaki, Rav Yitzchak Abuchatzeirah. On his mother’s side, Reb Boruch is a grandson of the Baba Sali.) Young Yosef, with his pure soul, was a frequent visitor at the kollel. When he returned home from yeshiva for Shabbos, he would walk for an hour to daven at the vosikin minyan at the kollel, and he would then remain there and continue learning until 10:00. He was an outstanding young man who made a deep impression on everyone who knew him.
During the shiva, the Mastorov family received a memorable visit from a religious bus driver who lives in Bnei Brak. The man had taken time off from his work in order to visit the house of mourning. He quoted the Midrash Rabbah, which states that when Bnei Yisroel were about to receive the Torah, Hashem asked them for “guarantors” who would ensure that they would observe it. The people volunteered their children to serve as their guarantors, and Hashem accepted the proposal. The visitor from Bnei Brak said, “I have come to ask for Yosef’s forgiveness. As you know, a lender seeks payment from a guarantor only when the borrower himself does not fulfill his obligation. Apparently, we failed to live up to what was demanded of us, and Hashem therefore sought ‘payment’ from our ‘guarantors,’ from precious children who had never sinned.” The bus driver sobbed bitterly as he spoke.
The Mastorov family were not the only aveilim who received such a visit. I was informed that the same visitor appeared in other shiva homes as well to make the same request for forgiveness from the niftarim.
A Return to Routine in Lod?
Last week, I visited the city of Lod and met with several local askanim. I toured the city and visited its shuls. And I was afraid. The local residents, including the chief rabbi of Lod, tried to reassure me that the riots had ended, that quiet had been restored and life in the city was returning to normal. But I was still very unsettled when I returned to Yerushalayim.
My visit to Lod was last Thursday. The next morning, I heard a report on the radio that Molotov cocktails that been thrown into the home of a Jewish family in one of the exclusive neighborhoods of the city, perhaps signifying that the return to normal was at least not complete. From my own observations, I can report only that the city was swarming with police.
As you may recall, the police commissioner ignited a major controversy by drawing a comparison between Arab and Jewish violence in Lod. “In the violent conflicts between Jews and Arabs in recent days throughout the country, there have been terrorists on both sides,” he said. “We will bring all of them to justice.”
MK Uriel Bosso presented the actual statistics to the Knesset during a one-minute speech, soundly refuting the commissioner’s statement. “Mr. Speaker,” he began, “first of all, I would like to express my sympathies to the family of Yigal Yehoshua, who was murdered by rioters in a lynch in Lod. A lynch in Lod is no different from a lynch in Ramallah. Meanwhile, for those who are pretending that there is symmetry in the violence, the reporter Yinon Magal has released an updated list of recent incidents. To date, ten shuls have been torched, while no mosques have been set on fire. The number of Molotov cocktails prepared in shuls is zero, but there are 28 mosques where the explosives were produced. One hundred twelve Jewish-owned homes have been torched, and one Arab home has been set on fire. Three hundred eighty-six Jewish homes were looted, while no Arab homes were looted. There was damage to 673 Jewish-owned homes and only 13 Arab homes. To date, 849 cars have been vandalized, thirteen of which belonged to Arabs. There were 41 cases of stone-throwing committed by Jews, while there were 5,018 cases of stone-throwing by Arabs against Jews. So, for those who are looking to establish some kind of symmetry, it would be a good idea to check the numbers again.”
They Don’t Need an Excuse for Violence
If you have been searching for an answer as to why the Arabs in Israel have begun rioting and trying to murder Jews, I have a small piece of advice for you: Don’t bother trying to figure it out. They don’t need excuses for violence! They have never needed a reason, whether it was in Chevron in 1929, in 1948 when the state was founded, or in 1941 in Iraq. On Tuesday, the Knesset held a special discussion commemorating the Farhud, a pogrom perpetrated against the Jews of Baghdad 80 years ago, on Shavuos of the year 5701. The rioters killed 180 Jews and injured over 2000. Two hundred fifty Jewish children were orphaned, and the Jews’ property was looted.
Yaakov Peretz, who witnessed the violence, delivered the following account: “On Sunday, June 1, 1941, on the holiday of Shavuos, when the Muslim masses left the mosque at about 10:30 in the morning, they had been incited against the Jews. At 5:30 in the afternoon, a mob gathered again in the same mosque, and speeches against the Jews were delivered. At 6:00 in the afternoon, the mob left the mosque and the riot began…. The Muslim mob joined the soldiers and civilian police and began attacking Jews in the main streets. Jews were forcibly dragged out of cars and buses and were viciously beaten and slaughtered with swords and daggers…. Shuls were also vandalized, and sifrei Torah were desecrated.”
At a Wedding with Rav Uri Zohar
Rav Uri Zohar rarely leaves Yerushalayim, both because it is difficult for him to travel and because he strives to make the most of every available second. Traveling with him to a wedding outside the city is therefore a rare and fantastic experience. Last Tuesday, I accompanied Rav Uri on a trip to the Avenue Event hall, where Aryeh Deri married off his daughter. It seemed as if the entire world was in attendance at the simcha.
Driving with Rav Uri meant that I had the opportunity to observe as he spent the entire trip learning, davening, or dispensing advice over the telephone. It also meant that I left Yerushalayim relatively late, since he was attending a shiur on daf yomi in the shul across from his home until 9:55 p.m.
I asked Rav Uri what impelled him to make the forty-minute trip to the hall, which is located near Ben Gurion Airport. He replied that he has maintained a close friendship with Aryeh Deri for many years and that he has tremendous hakaras hatov to Deri, whom he credits for “solving many problems for me.” Besides, he added, Deri called to invite him to the simcha.
As Rav Uri shared this information with me, he observed that I was writing it down. “Just a minute,” he said. “Do me a favor. Every day that Hashem gives me the privilege of remaining in obscurity, I give thanks to Him. When I recite the brocha of nosein haTorah, I also have in mind that I should not say anything that isn’t worthy of being heard, and that I should maintain my privacy. I try not even to be quoted about a genuine dvar Torah. And I don’t want to be famous.”
When Rav Uri mentioned that Deri had solved many problems for him, he was referring to numerous cases in which he had been asked to help others in some way. He might have been working to provide housing for an impoverished couple or to find a yeshiva for a bochur who was on the street, or to help with any of a thousand other possible needs. The number of appeals for assistance that he receives every day and the volume of people he helps are simply mind-boggling.
Upon arriving at the wedding hall, Rav Uri was barely able to move. He was leaning on his cane with one arm while Rav Aharon (“Arik”) Lev supported him on the other side, but his limited mobility had nothing to do with his motionlessness. It was simply that there was a constant stream of people approaching him, to the point that he could not move from his spot. The love and admiration that were showered on him were incredible. When Rav Uri finally reached the dais, Deri was overjoyed to see him.
Rav Uri Zohar and Aryeh Deri have a long history together. During Deri’s period of glory in the government, Rav Uri once came to his office and warned him, “Be careful! They [the government officials] befriend a person only when it suits them. They appear to favor him when it benefits them, but they do not help him when he needs it.”
Rav Uri offered to begin delivering a shiur in Deri’s office, which gave us, his staff members, the opportunity to learn from Rav Uri himself, followed by Rav Yissochor Meir and occasionally Rav Yoram Abergil. When we were learning, there was no one happier than the yungerman named Aryeh Deri, who happened to be the Minister of the Interior and a senior member of the cabinet but was immersed in Torah learning above all. Of course, we cannot forget Yeshivas Shaagas Aryeh, which was formed outside the walls of Maasiyahu Prison. This “yeshiva” was the result of a spontaneous decision made by Rav Uri Zohar to station himself outside the prison walls every day while Deri was there. And there was also the so-called “1-800,” the telephone hotline for registering children in religious schools they worked on together, with its accompanying jingle that went on to become famous.
At the wedding, as Aryeh Deri celebrated the marriage of his youngest daughter to a chosson hailed for his acumen in learning, he marveled to his guest, “Rav Uri, do you know how many Sephardic bnei Torah there are today? Tens of thousands! When we were younger, we never even dared to dream that there would be a Sephardic Torah world of this magnitude. And do you know who deserves the credit for this miracle? You do!”
“I do?” Rav Uri repeated.
“Yes. Do you remember the 1-800? We used to sit in the studios of Radio Alpayim, Kol Ha’Emet, and Radio Darom, and the volunteers of Lev L’Achim managed to enroll hundreds of children from traditional families in Talmudei Torah. Those children have gone on to become kollel yungeleit and to establish families of bnei Torah.”
Rav Uri embraced Aryeh Deri and said simply, “Mazel tov, my friend. I am overjoyed at your simcha, but please allow me to return home. You know, I am an old man. Continue being mekadeish sheim Shomayim!”
By 11:25 p.m., while the rejoicing in the wedding hall reached a crescendo and the guests danced ecstatically as the singer performed with passion, Rav Uri was already seated in his home, at his well-worn table, with his beloved Gemara open before him.
Drones to Protect Mashgichim
The shemittah year is almost upon us. There are so many things happening here in Israel that it sometimes takes effort for us to remember that the shemittah year will soon be here. If a left-wing government is formed, the coming year will not be easy. It takes a sympathetic government to assist shemittah-observant farmers and provide them with stipends for an entire year of learning. And that is to say nothing of the many other government decisions that must be made in order to assist shemittah observers, especially at a time when the coronavirus is still running rampant in the world and the political situation makes it somewhat dangerous to send mashgichim to supervise the agricultural work in fields owned by non-Jews.
The Badatz Yoreh Deah, which is headed by Rabbi Shlomo Machpud, one of the country’s foremost kashrus experts, held a large convention last week to discuss the topic of shemittah. Rav Machpud had some good news to share: “In spite of the security challenges in the areas of Yehuda, the Shomron, and the Gaza strip, and the difficulties involved in transportation within and from Europe, which is suffering from the coronavirus, procedures have been developed for the orderly supply of fruits and vegetables during the shemittah year.” This produce will be brought to Eretz Yisroel from various other countries for the benefit of shemittah-observant consumers. Rav Machpud added that the kashrus agency had coordinated with the security services to develop procedures for ensuring the safety of mashgichim and supply lines, which would include the use of surveillance drones and other means of protection. The convention was attended by hundreds of people, including many kashrus experts and mashgichim.
Rav Dovid Teherani, one of the poskim from Yoreh Deah, thanked the chareidi Knesset members from Degel HaTorah, Agudas Yisroel, and Shas for their assistance with all matters related to shemittah. He also spoke about the Badatz’s collaboration with kashrus agencies throughout Israel, especially Rav Yosef Efrati’s organization, and their beneficial dealings with the Conference of European Rabbis, in particular Rabbi Menachem Gelley of London and Rabbi Yihya Teboul of Lyon, France. Rabbi Chanina Kushelevsky, a posek in Rav Efrati’s agency, also addressed the convention, citing the practices of various gedolei Yisroel, especially Rav Elyashiv, during the shemittah year. He also described the enormous effort that is invested to enable the Jews of Eretz Yisroel to continue consuming fruits and vegetables during the shemittah year without concern that they might run afoul of its unique halachos.