Wednesday, Aug 4, 2021

My Take On The News

Restrictions at the Kosel Again

We thought it was over, but it seems that we were wrong. The coronavirus is still here. It has a new name—instead of “the Chinese virus,” it is now known as the Indian or Delta variant—but the impact is still the same. The restrictions are returning. In the Knesset, for example, we have been ordered to wear masks again. The Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms has also begun informing us again of confirmed cases of the virus among people who have been in the building and has instructed anyone who came in contact with those people to enter quarantine. Another rule is that children are not permitted to enter the building, since most children haven’t been vaccinated.

There is a shortage of vaccines in Israel now, at the same time that recommendations have begun circulating for people to receive a third dose of the vaccine. This has been Pfizer’s recommendation, but for now, it seems that the government is dragging its feet and acting like a clueless novice in its dealings with the virus. No decisive action has been taken, although travelers arriving from outside the country have been ordered to enter quarantine for twenty four hours or until the tests they took in the airport come back negative.

The impact was felt almost immediately at the Kosel Hamaaravi. Tisha B’Av is one of the busiest days at the Kosel, when people flock to the site from all over the country to recite Kinnos. On motzoei Shabbos and again on Sunday, one can expect masses of visitors coming to the Kosel. But the Kosel Heritage Fund had no answers when they were asked about the arrangements for Tisha B’Av this year. Will it be like last year, when there were severe limits on crowding? Or will it be like any other year, when the Kosel is open to all visitors? No one knows.

Also on the subject of the Kosel, you are certainly familiar with the Mugrabi Bridge, which is used by visitors to Har Habayis who ignore the halachic prohibition to set foot on its soil. For several years, many experts and engineers have been warning that the bridge is unstable and must be dismantled and rebuilt. The tragedy in Meron has brought similar safety issues to the forefront of everyone’s attention, and the Mugrabi Bridge has been the focus of much attention in recent days. For now, nothing has been done about the rickety bridge, in spite of the danger that it poses. The condition of the bridge endangers not only the people who use it, but anyone in the ezras noshim of the Kosel, since the bridge passes over that area.

Preserving the Kosel Stones

There is more Kosel-related news to report this week. I was recently informed by the staff of the Kosel Heritage Fund that in order to preserve the stones of the Kosel and ensure the safety of visitors to the site, a special substance has been injected into the stones to maintain their integrity. The procedure was performed in collaboration with the Antiquities Authority, and according to the staff of the Authority, it was a non-invasive procedure designed to protect the Kosel stones. This took place during the period when visitors were barred from the Kosel due to the pandemic.

“The work for the preservation of the Kosel was carried out during the lockdown,” they told the media. “The substances were injected with needles that are very similar to those used by medical personnel. Every six months, before the Yomim Tovim of Tishrei and Pesach, the engineers of the Kosel Heritage Fund and the experts of the Antiquities Authority conduct a thorough inspection of the 2000-year-old stones in the section of the Kosel overlooking the area used for davening. This is in order to ensure the safety of visitors to the Kosel. The work is carried out at the site in accordance with the halachic instructions issued by Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, the rov of the Kosel, who consulted the gedolei Yisroel, including Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, almost 18 years ago about these procedures.”

Mordechai Eliav, director of the Kosel Heritage Fund, added, “Every year, over 12 million people visit the Kosel plaza. While more people chose to connect to the Kosel from a distance this year, due to the specter of the coronavirus, we are preparing for the return of large crowds of visitors. The Kosel Heritage Fund is doing everything in its power to preserve the ancient stones of the Kosel and to maintain their stability in order to ensure the safety of visitors and mispallelim.

“One of the main factors causing deterioration in the walls surrounding Har Habayis is the unique ecosystem that has developed within the Kosel itself. The Kosel has a unique ecology of its own, and many plants have taken root in its stones, especially capers, golden henbane, and golden drops. There are also birds that nest in the Kosel, including the common swift, which arrives annually, as well as ravens and doves. As part of the work of preservation, and in recognition of the importance of the unique flora and fauna at the site, we preserve this ecosystem while maintaining the stability of the stones, so that the Kosel will retain its resilience.”

These are some interesting and fairly obscure facts about the holiest site in the world.

Public Building Discovered from Era of the Bayis Sheni

Here is yet another revelation from the Kosel Heritage Fund: “A new route will allow visitors to access one of the most magnificent public buildings discovered in Yerushalayim from the era of the second Bais Hamikdosh. Excavations conducted by the Antiquities Authority and the Kosel Heritage Fund have uncovered one of the most impressive structures from that period seen to date. The discovery, a result of archaeological work carried out in recent years in the Kosel tunnels, will be presented to visitors as part of a new route that will be opened before Rosh Chodesh Elul.

“Part of the building, which is located to the west of Wilson’s Arch and Har Habayis, was first discovered and documented in the 19th century by Charles Warren, and was documented again by archaeologists during the 20th century. It was completely unearthed in the current excavation, and we now know that it includes two identical magnificent halls, with an ornate fountain between them. The walls of the chambers and of the fountain are decorated with a stylized cornice holding pilasters (flat supporting pillars) bearing Corinthian capitals. The style of the construction is consistent with that of the era of the second Bais Hamikdash.”

Moredchai Eliav added, “It is very exciting to discover such a magnificent structure from the era of the second Bais Hamikdash at this time of year, when we mourn the destruction of Yerushalayim and daven for it to be rebuilt. These rooms are part of a new route in the Kosel tunnels, where visitors can see the fascinating findings and, for the first time, walk along a path containing ruins from the days of the second Bais Hamikdosh, observe the complexity of Jewish life in Yerushalayim between the era of the Chashmonaim and the period of the Romans, and appreciate their significance today.”

Dr. Shlomit Weksler-Bdolach, director of the excavation on behalf of the Antiquities Authority, added, “This is undoubtedly the most magnificent structure from the era of the second Bais Hamikdosh that has been discovered in Yerushalayim outside the walls of the Har Habayis itself. It was built in the Herodian period, sometime around the year 20 or 30 in the first century of the Common Era. This structure, which probably stood alongside a road leading up to Har Habayis, was used for public functions. It might have housed the city council or hosted dignitaries before they entered the compound of the Bais Hamikdosh and Har Habayis.”

Lieberman Punishes Chareidi Children

Now it is time for some political news. There is so much to write about, and while it has become agonizing to write about it, I also cannot let these stories go unmentioned. The most noteworthy development this week is the decision made by Finance Minister Yvette Lieberman to make subsidized day care contingent on both parents holding jobs. In professional jargon, this is called “utilizing the capacity for employment.” There are several stipends provided by the state that are available only to families in which both parents work. That may be justified in some situations, but in this case there is no logic to it at all. This move was made for only one purpose: to cause hardships for kollel yungeleit.

This was Lieberman’s first move as finance minister, and it is clearly a direct assault on the country’s yungeleit. Until today, any woman who went to work was able to send her children to a day care program funded by the government. From now on, this benefit will not be available to a family in which the husband learns in kollel rather than holding a job. Lieberman’s goal is clear, and he made no effort to conceal it: He wants the yungeleit to leave kollel and go work. He lectured the chareidim, telling them that “it is a mitzvah to work for a living” and that they should stop “leading lives of idleness.”

Everyone has tried to explain to Lieberman that even if his goals are correct, it is unethical and unfair to punish children for the fact that one of their parents is not living the way the government desires. But Lieberman is not interested in the ethical angle or the fairness of his actions. He has also been told that it is a miscalculation on a professional level, and that his new policy will achieve the opposite effect: Instead of motivating men to leave kollel, it will induce their wives to stop working. The women will see no point in continuing to work if their paychecks will simply be used to cover the cost of childcare. Thus, not only will he fail to provide an incentive for the work force to increase, but the cut in funding will actually cause it to shrink. Nevertheless, Lieberman has no interest in these arguments either. Hatred is hatred, and it refuses to listen to reason. This has been a major topic of discussion this past week, and it has outraged many Israelis, religious and non alike. The Israeli public can see that Lieberman is acting out of spite and vengefulness, but everyone in the new government goes along with him.

I will keep you posted on how this situation develops.

Lapid’s Diplomatic Gaffes

The entire new government seems to be stumbling along ineptly. The government of Oman announced this week that it will not be normalizing its relations with Israel, culminating a process that began under the Netanyahu government after the peace agreement with Dubai and that was brought almost to completion by the members of the government at the time. Oman’s announcement was made after a conversation between the country’s foreign minister and Yair Lapid, the new foreign minister of Israel. The Israeli people have been poking fun at Lapid for all the damage he has managed to cause since he entered his new position.

Lapid’s first blunder was in his dealings with Poland, after the latter country passed a law that will prevent Holocaust survivors from retrieving property that was plundered from them during the Holocaust. Lapid objected to the law and spoke out against it in a manner that caused Poland to rebuke the Israeli ambassador. His error wasn’t the fact that he reacted to the law; no one denies that it was necessary to respond to the Polish government’s decision and to open a dialogue with them about it. However, there are certain rules of international diplomacy, and Lapid doesn’t seem to have the skills required for his job.

This mishap came in a week when Lapid committed three other gaffes, all of them in the context of online postings. First, he issued a statement in English during his visit to Dubai, in which he called on Arabs throughout the world to make peace with Israel. The problem was that his English was so poor that he became a laughingstock. His second faux pas took place when he congratulated the United States on celebrating its Independence Day, inadvertently substituting the Nigerian flag for the American flag in the image accompanying his message. The third time was when he notified the world that he would no longer refer to Yitzchok Herzog as “Buji,” just as he refrained from calling the previous president “Ruvi,” out of respect for his position as president of Israel. It did not take long for previous messages to come to light in which Lapid had used the nickname “Ruvi” for President Rivlin during his tenure. Moreover, his party’s congratulatory statement on the occasion of Herzog’s election even referred to him as “Buji.” Lapid exposing him as being petty and foolish.

Those were not the only reasons that this wasn’t a good week for Israel on the international front. Two months ago, a yeshiva bochur named Yehuda Guetta was murdered at the Tapuach junction. This week, the terrorist’s home was demolished, in a move that was approved by the Supreme Court. The United States responded by condemning the demolition, creating a public spat that was very bad for relations between the two countries. In addition, Bennett met with King Abdallah of Jordan last week, and news of their meeting was leaked to the press this week. The leak infuriated the Jordanians, since the Israeli government had promised to keep the meeting secret. The leak also revealed that Israel had agreed to sell water from the Kinneret to Jordan. This may well have been a rash and ill-advised move. Netanyahu was never quick to accommodate Jordan’s requests for water, and he may have had good reason for that. He slammed Bennet for the move.

Bennett Is Forced to Listen to Criticism

Of course, tensions are still running high in the Knesset between the opposition and the coalition, and the impact is felt both inside the legislature and in other settings. For instance, the Knesset committees haven’t yet been established (except the Finance Committee, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the Constitution Committee), and the Knesset’s affairs are still being managed by the Arrangements Committee, which has become a battleground plagued by endless conflicts. In recent days, efforts have been made to assign members to all of the Knesset committees, but that only served to intensify the rancor and strife in the Knesset. The government has always ensured that the coalition outnumbers the opposition members in every Knesset committee, and that is legitimate; however, the current coalition is far more aggressive, to the point that the opposition is considering boycotting all committee meetings. It may not bother the coalition if they make that choice, but it would certainly be embarrassing for the government, not to mention that nothing of the sort has ever happened in the Israeli government before.

The Knesset itself is still rocked by conflict on a daily basis as well. Every bill introduced by the government is blocked by a filibuster, which not only wears out the coalition, but also sometimes benefits the opposition. The government has already failed in its efforts to pass two laws: both the Citizenship Law and a measure that would have harmed religious girls who sought an exemption from service in the army. This week, new bills have begun to be introduced for the first time since the 24th Knesset was formed, causing enormous tension in the coalition. They understand that they will have to stand guard to make sure that no law introduced by the opposition receives a majority vote.

This week, there was another noteworthy incident as well. There is a procedure in the Knesset regulations known as a forty-signature debate. A request signed by 40 MKs can trigger a debate in the Knesset that requires the prime minister to sit through all the speeches and then respond at the end of the discussion. The debate is followed by a vote. On Monday, this provision was used to compel Bennett to sit and listen to a parade of speakers who denounced him.

The Brisker Rov’s Fear

As I mentioned, the Knesset’s sessions have been running through the nights. The opposition has been wearing down the coalition, but they themselves have also been suffering the ill effects. Smiles have become a rare sight in the Knesset, but there are plenty of yawns to be seen. Last Monday, the protocols of the Knesset sitting filled 591 pages; on Wednesday, the transcript spanned 853 pages. This was a tremendous amount of material. Throughout the night, members of the Knesset took to the podium one after another and addressed their colleagues over and over. Once again, the chareidi representatives were especially active. On a single night, the chareidi MKs racked up a record number of speeches: Margi spoke twice, Pindrus four times, Bosso five times, Eichler four times, Azulai five times, Litzman five times, Gafni three times, Maklev five times, Porush four times, Yaakov Asher twice, Abutbul five times, Arbel five times, Ben-Tzur five times, Malchieli four times, Bitton twice, and Deri three times. This made for a total of 63 speeches in a single sitting, which was probably an all-time record for the chareidi representatives in the Knesset.

The Knesset is never a boring place, but it has become a very sad place. The religious parties would have preferred the people manning the benches of the coalition to be the ones delivering the filibuster instead, but this was Hashem’s decree. At the same time, the Knesset has yielded plenty of interesting moments, as the many speeches have brought out the best in the chareidi members of the Knesset. One example was a fascinating speech delivered by Meir Porush.

Porush related that the Brisker Rov once summoned his father, Menachem Porush, and told him that he was unable to concentrate on Krias Shema due to his worry over political developments in Israel. The Brisker Rov lamented the initiative that was underway to establish a united religious front. “That means that Agudas Yisroel will be only 40 percent of the front, and it will be dominated by the Mizrachi, which will have 60 percent of the representation. In other words, the 40 percent that is guided by the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah will be subjugated to the 60 percent who have no rabbonim.” This was a clear hint to Naftoli Bennett, who joined forces with the left.

“Do you know why our family is called Porush?” he continued. “The original name was Feldman, but my first ancestor who came to Eretz Yisroel began a practice of fasting from Shabbos through Shabbos; he did not eat during the daytime except on Shabbos. He also wore earplugs to avoid hearing idle talk. As a result, his friends called him a porush. We are here, as Rav Dushinsky told the Peel Commission, because most of the mitzvos of the Torah are associated with Eretz Yisroel.”

Yaakov Margi, who was chairing the session, alerted Porush that his time was nearly up. “We are not obligated to the right, the Likud, or anyone else,” Porush continued. “This is our way. We choose to join the Likud because they are easier to deal with. That is the reason that Bennett and Saar were able to claim to be right-wing—which, in my view, was a heinous misdeed—while joining the radical left. We will do everything to bring this government down,” he concluded.

Let Hadar Goldin Find His Rest

The following item is really a humanitarian matter rather than a political one: In advance of the debate in the security cabinet that took place on Sunday, when the government ministers discussed a transfer of funds to the Gaza strip, objections were sounded by the Goldin family, whose son Hadar was killed in Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and hasn’t yet been brought to a proper burial. The Goldins called on the cabinet to block the proposed transfer of funds until the bodies of the soldiers being held in Gaza are returned. Simcha Goldin, Hadar’s father, said, “We are very disturbed by this arrangement, which doesn’t make the return of our sons a precondition for any benefits. From the moment the dollars reach the Gaza strip, there will be no mechanism in the world that can keep the Hamas terrorists from getting their hands on the money. That is exactly what happened six years ago, when a ‘mechanism’ was established to prevent cement from being brought to the strip, with the promise that it would not reach Hamas. This money will blow up in our faces just as the cement did. We gave that cement to Gaza with government approval, and in return we received terror tunnels that were dug under the homes of the residents of the south. We are now calling on the prime minister and the members of the cabinet to come to their senses and to make any aid to the Gaza strip conditional on the return of the soldiers and civilians who are still being held there.”

Meanwhile, Hady Amr, the official in the American State Department who is responsible for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, arrived in Israel this week to visit Yerushalayim and Ramallah. According to senior Israeli officials, Amr is expected to meet with senior figures in the new Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, with one of the main topics of discussion being the new mechanism for the transfer of Qatari financial aid to Gaza through the United Nations. In addition, Amr plans to bring up the issue of the Israeli policy of demolishing the homes of terrorists in Yehuda and the Shomron.

It should be unthinkable for Hadar Goldin’s father to be denied his simple request. All that he is asking for is a burial that will finally allow his son’s soul to rest. He wants nothing more than to bring his son to kever Yisroel, and that is the minimum that the state owes him. We all grew up with stories of tzaddikim who dodged bullets or whips in order to give other Jews a proper burial. Meanwhile, the bodies of Hadar and his friends are being held by the Arabs, and they have been denied the most basic right to a dignified burial.

I met Professor Goldin in the Knesset when he arrived to advocate for his son’s burial. In a pained voice, he remarked to me, “Who knows? Perhaps the middas hadin has been extended against us because of the boys who weren’t given proper Jewish burials.” My own heart breaks for the pain of a father who is pleading for the chance to perform this final act of chessed for his beloved son.

Arab Vandals Arrested – And Then What?

This week, I read an article that reported that Arab youths were arrested for desecrating graves in Yerushalayim. The newspaper did not identify the cemetery where this took place, but I presume it was on Har Hazeisim, which often falls victim to such acts. The perpetrators reportedly took pictures of themselves in the act, which led to their capture. They were questioned after their arrest, but the article does not reveal what happened next. And that is exactly the point that interests me: What happens to these criminals after they are interrogated? If they implicate themselves or even confess to their crimes, are they indicted? If the prosecution presses charges, what sentences do they receive in court?

Therein lies the problem: The judges are too lenient with the perpetrators of vandalism in cemeteries and shuls. Unfortunately, the light hand of the courts has removed any deterrence against these heinous crimes.

A Timely Phone Call

Here is a story that took place this week: A yungerman woke up early in the morning, drove his wife to work, davened with a minyan, learned halacha for a few minutes, and found himself with a period of free time remaining until the beginning of his seder in Yeshivas Mir. Overcome by exhaustion, he decided to lie down for a few minutes before leaving for seder. But when the time came for him to get up, an internal debate began raging.

“My chavrusa is waiting,” the inner voice of punctuality reminded him.

“But I can’t get up!” protested a different voice.

“Nonsense! That’s just the yetzer hara!”

“It isn’t nonsense at all! If there was a test to measure fatigue, I would be at the highest level. I can’t possibly drag myself out of bed now.”

“I must get up; the fatigue will fade.”

“No, I am impossibly tired.

“First let me get up, and I will start to think differently.

“Absolutely not! My brain won’t be able to function anyway.”

“No! This is purely the work of the yetzer hara!”

He rolled over in bed and finally gave in to his fatigue, assuring himself that nothing would happen if he came late to yeshiva just once. After all, there was no point in arriving on time for seder when he was so exhausted that he would be unable to think straight.

And then his cell phone rang.

Holding the phone to his ear, he was startled to hear a voice announce, “This is the police!”

He sat bolt upright in bed. Who could hear such an introduction and not be seized by anxiety? “What happened?” he asked, his voice shaking.

“Nothing. Don’t worry,” the voice replied. “Do you have a white Toyota?” The man rattled off a license plate number.

“Yes, that is my car. What happened to it?”

“It’s getting in the way of the water company’s workers. Can you come move it?”

He leapt out of his bed and hurried to move his car. Of course, after that experience, he went straight to kollel instead of returning home to finish his nap….

A Shabbos in Tzefas with Chacham Yehuda Tzadkah

Here is another story I heard this week, which I will quote verbatim:

“I was a talmid in Yeshivas Porat Yosef, in the shiur delivered by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Tzadkah. I once had the privilege of spending Shabbos in Tzefas with Rav Tzadkah. At the seudah, he shared a medrash pliah that states, ‘Why didn’t Aharon enter Eretz Yisroel? Because he loved peace and pursued peace.’ It was an absolutely baffling statement, and the rov asked us if we could explain it. Of course, we had no idea how to understand it. Then Rav Yehuda explained that Hashem told both Moshe and Aharon, ‘Because you didn’t believe in Me, to sanctify Me before the eyes of Bnei Yisroel, therefore you will not bring this congregation into the land that I have given them.’ Aharon had a valid response to this: ‘Master of the Universe, who hit the boulder? Moshe did! Why am I at fault?’ Hashem then replied to him, ‘You should have admonished him not to strike it.’ But Aharon countered, ‘Ribbono shel Olam, who reprimands whom? The rebbi or the talmid? I am a talmid of my brother Moshe; how could I reprove him?’ To that, Hashem’s response was that He wrote this mitzvah in the Torah with the words ‘hocheiach tochiach,’ a repetitious phrase that the Gemara expounds to imply that even a talmid must reprove his rebbi. Rav Tzadkah added, ‘Of course this, must be done respectfully, as the Rambam teaches.’

“The rosh yeshiva went on to explain that there is a well-known dispute that runs through all of Shas regarding the pesukim where the Torah uses a repetitive phrase: One school of thought maintains that it should be understood as conveying some sort of message, while the other view has it that it is simply a normal style of speech, which the Gemara describes as ‘loshon bnei adam.’ People often repeat words, and the Torah does the same. Thus, perhaps Aharon Hakohein adopted the second view and argued to Hashem that the posuk was formulated in the way that people speak, and the words ‘hocheiach tochiach’ do not actually convey the message that a talmid should rebuke his rebbi. This would have exempted him from the requirement to reprimand Moshe. In response, Hashem waited until two people came to Aharon with a dispute. Aharon knew that one of them was going to be found liable, and he was distressed by the idea. After all, Aharon loved peace. So what did he do? He brokered a pesharah, a compromise, between them. And then Hashem said to him, ‘Where did you get the concept of pesharah from? These people came to you for a din Torah, and you should have laid down the law!’ Aharon replied that the Torah states, ‘Tzedek tzedek tirdof—Justice, justice, you shall pursue,’ and Chazal expound this repetition of the word ‘tzedek’ to include pesharah, a compromise, in the responsibilities of a judge. Hashem then said to him, ‘Since you are expounding the words that are repeated in the Torah, unlike the view that maintains that they are simply the way that people speak, you should also have derived from the words hocheiach tochiach that a talmid must reprove his rebbi, and you should have rebuked Moshe when he struck the rock.’

“The rosh yeshiva concluded that this explains the statement of the Midrash: Because Aharon loved peace and chose to pursue a compromise, he was deprived of the claim that would have allowed him to enter Eretz Yisroel.

“In the morning, we rose for vosikin,” the story continues. “After davening, we had kiddush with some cake, and then we walked with the rov from the old city of Tzefas to the newer area, where he went from one shul to another and delivered drashos exhorting the communities to learn Torah. He ended every drosha with the same words: ‘As you see, everything in this world is pure vanity. The Torah is the only important thing.’ Then he would ask, ‘Is there a shiur in this shul?’ In some of the shuls, they would respond in the affirmative, and he would say, ‘Bli ayin hara. Is the shul full during the shiur?’ He would ask the gabbai to identify himself, and he would instruct the man to make sure that the entire community attended it. If he was told that there was no regular shiur, then he would say, ‘Who is the gabbai here?’ When the gabbai identified himself, the rov would then instruct him to recruit a yungerman to teach the mispallelim.

“This was standard behavior for Rav Yehuda Tzadkah.”

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