My Summer in South Fallsburg
I don’t know much about bein hazemanim in America today, but I do remember my own experiences many years ago, when I was a talmid in Yeshivas Zichron Moshe in South Fallsburg. Throughout the year, we felt as if we were in Siberia, or in some other environment that was completely cut off from the world. In the winter, the snow was sometimes a full meter high. And then the summer came. Suddenly, we watched as Jewish families streamed to the mountains with their cars stuffed with luggage. We saw trucks, buses, and entire camps arriving. In essence, Boro Park and Flatbush were coming to us. Of course, there were also the botei medrash of all sorts of chassidishe communities, not to mention, lehavdil, the pizza shops under the best possible hechsheirim. Woodbourne, Monticello, and the neighboring communities suddenly sprang to life. But what I remember more than anything else was the steady stream of gedolei Yisroel, including prominent roshei yeshivos and revered admorim, who converged on the yeshiva to avail themselves of its mikvah.
At one point, a caretaker from a local bungalow colony came to the yeshiva and asked a few bochurim to help prepare the grounds for the summer (for pay, of course). He had two “small” jobs that needed to be done: removing the weeds that had grown around the swimming pool and repairing the doors of the bungalows, which were no longer functional. I pounced on the opportunity to earn a few dollars; I was eager to join my peers in buying cans of soda from the vending machines in the yeshiva. I had always envied the other bochurim who seemed to have enough spare cash to purchase unlimited quantities of soda, whereas I could barely permit myself to buy one can a week.
In any event, my employment in the bungalow colony came to an end very quickly. After two weeks of working under the brutal sun, I felt that I was falling apart. My hands were bruised, and I was barely able to pull a handful of weeds out of the ground. At that point, I decided that I would give up the endeavor and return to the (air conditioned) bais medrash. I wouldn’t be able to buy soda cans to my heart’s content, but at least I would remain sane….
The Court Sides with a Tzedakah Collector
Last week, in honor of Tisha B’Av, I wrote at length about the Kosel Hamaarovi. We have now been through Tisha B’Av, and the usual throngs of visitors descended on the Kosel once again. I can certainly say that it looked very much as it does on any other year, even though the Coronavirus Cabinet was talking about imposing restrictions on crowded places—and the Kosel was indeed very crowded.
But since I have brought up the Kosel, I must also tell you about a decision of the Shalom Court in Yerushalayim. The Shalom Court is the lowest tier of the Israeli court system. The next level is the District Court, followed by the Supreme Court. In this case, a judge on the Shalom Court decided to cancel an order against a Jewish man who had collected tzedakah at the Kosel. In her ruling, Judge Sharon Lari-Bavli ruled that the rov of the Kosel had exceeded his authority by ordering the man to be distanced from the Kosel for an extended period of time, and that his dignity had been compromised. The tzedakah collector was originally banned from the Kosel for two months after violating the law that prohibits soliciting donations at the site. In spite of the distancing order, he returned a couple of weeks later; however, when he was questioned by the police, he claimed that he had come to daven rather than to beg for handouts.
In her ruling, the judge wrote, “Ordering a person banned from a site for an extended period of time—in this case, sixty days—infringes on his right to freedom of religion. The [rov’s] authority to ban him from the site thus encroaches on the same rights that it was intended to protect, highlighting the caution that must be applied to its use…. I believe that banning a person from a site for a prolonged period of time also harms his right to dignity. Distancing a person from a place of holiness, value, and significance such as the Kosel Hamaarovi—for as long as sixty days—is an affront to the dignity of the individual, who often spends many hours at the Kosel plaza.” The judge conceded that tzedakah collectors at the Kosel can sometimes be a disturbance, but she insisted, “Banning them from the site for an extended time is harmful to their dignity, which already suffers from the fact that they must collect charity. In certain circumstances, it can even be an outright degradation, conveying the message that they are not wanted in this place.” She ruled that the tzedakah collector hadn’t violated any laws.
I cannot help but mention something that I wrote in these pages a while ago: The Kosel staff once asked Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein if tzedakah collectors should be banned from the site. Rav Yitzchok consulted with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who told him that it is considered unacceptable in Yiddishkeit to drive away a person who collects tzedakah. On the contrary, Rav Chaim added, it is considered a zechus for us to allow them in our midst.
Lieberman’s Decree Temporarily Delayed
I assured you last week that I would report on any development concerning Avigdor Lieberman’s malicious decision to cancel the government-funded subsidies for day care for the children of working mothers and fathers who learn in kollel. Lieberman pretended to be looking out for the yungeleit’s best interests by encouraging them to go out to work, but we know that he was just as benevolent as the fox in Rabi Akiva’s famous moshol. Experts explained to him that he would not only fail to encourage kollel yungeleit to seek employment but would also cause working mothers to leave their jobs. After all, without child care arrangements, these women would have no way to work. If they were required to pay for day care out of their own pockets for two or three children, it would cost more than they would earn from their work. But Lieberman was completely apathetic to these arguments.
After making his draconian decree, Lieberman came under fire from every direction. He was attacked even by the chiloni public, as well as by members of the Knesset and parts of the media. One argument that was made against him was that it is unacceptable to make such a dramatic policy change with no advance notice. Personally, I did not believe that this was a productive argument, since he could respond simply by delaying the implementation of his decree.
In fact, that is exactly what happened. The Finance Ministry has now announced that the subsidy cut will go into effect only in another two months. Some have speculated that the plan will be scrapped altogether, and that the ministry is presenting it as a postponement for now, in order to save Lieberman’s dignity.
Sometime before he became the chief justice of the Supreme Court, Judge Aharon Barak was once accused of being an enemy of the Jewish people and was deeply offended. Today, we can say with certainty that Lieberman is the new enemy of our people. His decision to make childcare subsidies contingent on both parents being employed is nothing short of oppression of kollel yungeleit. His agenda is clear, and he has made no effort to conceal it: He wants to force the yungeleit to stop learning and go out to work. He has even had the audacity to lecture the chareidi community that “it is a mitzvah to work, and it is time for the chareidim to stop living lives of idleness.” With pure malevolence, Lieberman is punishing innocent children and forcing women to return to the unemployment lines. He has been told very clearly that his plan is bound to backfire, but those facts do not interest him in the slightest. Hatred, after all, does not understand reason.
Supreme Court: Do Not Deny Stipends to Terrorists’ Children
Please hold on carefully when you read the next item or you may fall out of your seat in shock.
The Supreme Court of the State of Israel decided last Thursday, in a majority vote of five to four, to overturn a law passed by the Knesset about five and a half years ago, which prevents parents of children who have been convicted of “security offenses” from receiving a series of government stipends. The funding blocked by the law includes an assortment of payments such as child stipends, tuition grants, additional welfare payments for children, disability stipends, survivors’ benefits, benefits for dependents, and senior citizens’ stipends. Chief Justice Esther Chayut and Judges Meltzer, Barak-Erez, Fogelman, and Baron decided that the law causes disproportionate harm to the legal right to equality and to the dignity of the parents of the minors in question.
I assume that you understand the euphemism “security offenses.” This law targeted Arabs who took part in acts of terror and were found guilty of crimes such as actual murder, planning to commit murder, or abetting a murder. The Knesset enacted a law to deny government stipends to these terrorists and their family members, yet the Supreme Court decided last week that the law was unethical and therefore overturned it! Putting aside the Knesset’s habit of trampling on the authority of the Knesset, this also makes for a shocking contrast with the reaction to Lieberman’s decree. Harming the families of terrorists is somehow considered “disproportionate,” but when Lieberman denied government subsidies to working chareidi mothers whose only “crime” is the fact that their husbands learn in kollel, it was allowed to pass unchallenged. That is an absolute disgrace!
Speaking of punishment for terrorists, last week the opposition (namely, MKs Avi Dichter of the Likud and Orit Struck of the Religious Zionism party) introduced a bill that would strip citizenship from terrorists who attempted to murder Jews or actually committed acts of murder. The coalition put together a majority to defeat the bill, including the members of Yamina, Yisroel Beiteinu, and New Hope, all of whom had advocated for similar legislation in the past. It was sheer hypocrisy and foolishness.
Slandering Chareidim Isn’t a Crime in Israel
Do you remember when Avigdor Lieberman announced that he would like to place the chareidim and the Likud on a wheelbarrow and bring them to the nearest garbage dump? Well, someone decided to file a complaint against him with the police, accusing him of racist incitement. This week, State Prosecutor Amit Isman (who received his position as a temporary appointment and was then installed in the post permanently by Gideon Saar) declined to open a criminal investigation against Lieberman. The complaint, incidentally, was submitted by B’Tsalmo, the same human rights organization that has been advocating tirelessly for Meoras Hamachpeilah to be made accessible for the disabled.
“There is no doubt that [Lieberman’s] words were infuriating, and even offensive and severe,” Isman explained. “At the same time, that is an issue to be addressed through a public process and not a criminal one.” The prosecutor added that Lieberman’s comments did not constitute incitement to violence; it was merely an expression of hatred and loathing. He also argued that it has been determined several times that the chareidi community is not defined as a “race,” and hateful invective against them therefore cannot be classified as racism.
This topic was raised in the past when a complaint was filed against Ron Kobi, the former mayor of Teveria. You may remember that I wrote about Kobi quite a few times in these pages. Isman pointed out that when Kobi declared that he would not permit chareidim to settle in Teveria, he did not face criminal charges. Again, the argument was that the chareidi community is not considered a race, and therefore it cannot be a criminal act to incite or discriminate against them.
The complainant, Shai Glick of B’Tsalmo, responded, “Once again, we have seen that a person who offends the Arab community can be disqualified from running for the Knesset, investigated by Lahav 443, and brought to court on criminal charges, whereas a person who speaks against the chareidi community won’t even be investigated by the police. Any person who made such statements in any other country in the world would have been tried for hate crimes and anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, in Israel it is permissible to say or write anything against the chareidi community, based on the outrageous argument that there is no such thing as a hate crime against chareidim. We will soon work to pass a law that will prohibit any display of hatred against the chareidi community. The chareidim are also deserving of human rights.”
Meron Commission Gets to Work as Police Probe Is Suspended
Here is another item concerning the relationship between the chareidi community and the judiciary. You may recall that a state commission of inquiry was established to investigate the tragic events in Meron this Lag Ba’omer. The chareidi community feared that the commission would not make any effort to prevent further disasters in the future, and would instead focus on finding people to blame for the catastrophe. You may also recall that Rabbi Mordechai (Mottele) Karelitz was included on the committee, which was a source of some relief to the religious community. This week, an effort was made to have Rabbi Karelitz disqualified; however, the ploy was rejected.
Before the state commission was formed, another investigation was underway—conducted by the police, at the behest of the attorney general. This probe also wasn’t exactly embraced by the chareidi parties; after all, it was still focused on finding the guilty parties rather than planning for the future. But what made it even more infuriating was that the investigation was managed by the police themselves!
The chareidim have long claimed that if anyone was at fault for the tragedy in Meron, it was the police officers who were overseeing the hillula. The police, and only the police, had the authority to approve or reject any detail of the event. How does it make sense, then, for the police to investigate themselves? Sure enough, not a single police officer has been summoned for questioning, whereas the personnel of the Center for the Development of Holy Sites have been interrogated, along with professionals such as engineers. Something seemed amiss, if not downright rotten, about the proceedings. The Department of Internal Police Investigations also opened its own probe of the incident, but that investigation seems to have gone nowhere. They, too, have failed to summon any police officers for questioning.
This week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decided that both investigations—the one conducted by the police and the inquiry of the DIPI—should be temporarily suspended. This decision was made after Mandelblit met with State Prosecutor Amit Isman and with the members of the official inquiry commission, along with the senior echelons of the Ministry of Justice. At the meeting, the attorney general stressed the importance that he attached to the committee’s work and reiterated his belief that it could determine the truth and come up with recommendations to prevent a recurrence of the tragic events of this past Lag Ba’omer. Mandelblit claimed that the decision to suspend the criminal probes and to give priority to the official commission was made in light of the commission’s broad mandate and the fact that its establishment took place when the criminal investigations were just beginning. Mandelblit added that civil enforcement of the regulations in Meron would take place immediately, targeting the illegal structures at the site that pose a threat to life. Additional enforcement measures, he added, will be organized by priority.
The commission has called for the various state and local entities that were involved in the hillula to submit copies of the plans they formulated in advance of the event, along with the official approvals issued by various authorities. This obligates the Israel Police Force, the Vaadat HaChamishah (which manages the site), the Marom HaGalil Regional Council, the Interior Ministry, and the Ministry of Religious Services to respond to the commission. The police and the DIPI have also been instructed to hand over copies of all the documentation they collected in the course of their own investigations. The National Unit for Enforcing Planning and Construction Laws has been asked to transfer copies of the plans of all the buildings, including temporary structures, that existed at the site at the time of the tragedy, and to notify it of the legal status of each building. The Planning Authority in the Ministry of Finance will submit copies of the building plans relevant to the site that were presented to planning committees, along with protocols and summaries of the relevant meetings. The public has also been invited to testify before the committee about the circumstances of the disaster. The committee is particularly interested in hearing from anyone who warned the authorities in the past about safety concerns in Meron. Perhaps something good will come out of the committee, after all…
Bennett Raises the Specter of a Lockdown
Of course, we cannot skip talking about the coronavirus. Prime Minister Bennett himself spends most of his time discussing it, and there is a general sense that he doesn’t know what to do about it and that he is actually doing nothing. Last weekend, he warned the country that there has been a steep rise in morbidity.
To put some numbers on it, as of the beginning of this week there were 762 new confirmed cases of the virus. At the same time, the pace of the increase seems to have slowed in recent days. The number of seriously ill patients has continued to rise gradually, reaching a two-month high of 54. Here are some more statistics: Eleven out of the 71 passengers diagnosed with the virus in Ben Gurion Airport had arrived from Turkey, eight had come from Great Britain, seven from Georgia, five from Cyprus, five from Greece, four from Egypt, three from Holland, and three from Uzbekistan. Other confirmed coronavirus patients arrived from Hungary, Russia, France, Switzerland, Austria, Romania, the United States, Italy, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, and the Maldives. As of this writing (at the beginning of the week), there are 5,372 active cases of the virus in Israel: 467 in Tel Aviv, 283 in Netanya, 265 in Petach Tikvah, 180 in Rishon Letzion, 155 in Yerushalayim, 151 in Kfar Saba, 142 in Cholon, 139 in Pardes Chana and Karkur, 128 in Ashdod, 122 in Kfar Yonah, 113 in Modiin-Maccabim-Reut, 111 in Herzliya, and 101 in Chadera. As you can see, the chareidi community, boruch Hashem, does not occupy a prominent place on this list.
Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz recently held a press conference to present their plans for combating the pandemic in the wake of the rise in the infection rate. Bennett didn’t have much good news; even on the vaccine front, he seemed to have little to say to reassure the country. For the time being, he has done nothing but exhort the public to wear masks in enclosed areas and to be careful around the elderly. Of course, we have also been warned that the lockdowns might return in time for the Yomim Tovim. Bennett proclaimed direly, “If the people remain indifferent, the morbidity will skyrocket and we will reach a lockdown. The other option is for everyone to take responsibility, and then we will be able to bring down the morbidity within five weeks and be victorious. When I say ‘we,’ I am referring to the government and the public together.” Bennett called on the people once again to refrain from traveling abroad, projecting that the entire world would be considered “red” within a short time.
More Shul Vandalism
Just a few days ago, we read the kinah of Shaalei Serufah Ba’eish, which was composed by the Maharam MiRottenberg and laments the burning of the Talmud. By now, many of us have almost forgotten the violence that shook the cities of Acco, Yaffo, Haifa, and Lod, but the government’s response has been woefully inadequate. Unfortunately, out of the hundreds of rioters, few have been indicted, and most of them will therefore go unpunished. Even among those who are facing charges, they have been indicted mostly on minor charges.
And what about the shuls that were torched? In Haifa, Molotov cocktails were thrown into two shuls, Shaarei Torah and Pe’er Yisroel, in the neighborhood of Chalisa. In Lod, many shuls were viciously desecrated, and the Dosa shul was completely torched. Sifrei Torah, our most cherished possessions, were flagrantly disgraced. Were the criminals responsible for these horrific acts ever apprehended? Were any charges brought against the people who dared raise their hands against the sanctuaries of Yiddishkeit? The only thing I can tell you is that President Herzog paid an official visit this week to the city of Lod.
Last week, there was another terrible incident of vandalism in a shul. The mispallelim of Ahavas Yisroel, a shul in the neighborhood of Har Shmuel in Givat Zeev, were shocked to discover that their shul had been ransacked by vandals during the night. Tefillin had been thrown on the floor, and an attempt had been made to break into the aron kodesh. Even if the perpetrators were “ordinary” criminals who were trying to steal the Sifrei Torah and vented their frustration on the siddurim and tefillin, it would still be appalling. And if the vandalism was committed by anti-Semites, that would make it all the more horrifying.
A Series of Missteps in the Netanyahu Trial
I have written very little about the ongoing criminal trial of Binyomin Netanyahu, even though the trial has been producing an endless array of headlines in the Israeli press. With every passing day, it becomes increasingly apparent that the state handled this case in a highly amateurish fashion and that the entire case against Netanyahu seems to have been fabricated.
At this time, the court is dealing with the bribery case, in which Netanyahu stands accused of providing favors for Bezeq and its owner, Shaul Elovich, in exchange for positive coverage on Elovich’s news site, Walla. The missteps and misconduct that have come to light thus far in Netanyahu’s trial would have led any normal, sane court to withdraw the charges. But when the defendant is Binyomin Netanyahu, sanity is nowhere to be seen. From the very outset of the case, it was revealed that the police investigation took place without approval from the attorney general, making the entire investigation illegal. The process of recruiting state witnesses against Netanyahu also required the written approval of the attorney general, which was never received.
After the charges were read in court, it was revealed that Netanyahu was vaguely accused of engaging in bribery to “people around him.” The charge sheet made no mention of the media coverage that was the foundation of the charges of bribery. When this lapse was pointed out, the judges ordered the prosecution to correct the charges. They could have ended the trial there, but they chose not to do so.
Next, the prosecutors tried to have the court admit evidence that was not collected through legitimate means. It is very unusual for such a request to be approved in a criminal trial. All evidence is supposed to be legally valid and to be submitted to the defense for review before the trial. Objective legal experts claimed at the time that this would have been enough to trigger a mistrial in an American court.
In addition, it came to light during the trial that the allegations of bribery based on Walla’s “unusual accommodation” of Netanyahu were never properly investigated. In order to establish this charge, the prosecution would have to prove that there is a standard level of accommodation that was exceeded in Netanyahu’s case, but the police and prosecution never bothered determining what is standard despite the fact that one senior prosecutor (attorney Raz Nezri) warned them that it was necessary.
Worst of all, from the prosecution’s standpoint, is the fact that Netanyahu’s attorneys have proven that Walla was exceptionally hostile to him even during the period when it is accused of slanting its coverage in his favor. According to experts on criminal law, all of the procedural missteps and substantive problems with the case against Netanyahu should have led the court to cancel the indictment at least three times already.
The Knesset Speaker Inadvertently Votes Against the Government
You may have noticed that despite all that I have written here, I haven’t even touched on the latest political news. I can’t possibly omit that topic. However, this column also couldn’t possibly be long enough to describe everything that has happened here in Israel over the past week. It has been a week of pure madness. The ongoing filibuster has kept the Knesset in session for many days and nights that seem utterly interminable. The opposition is waging a war to wear down the coalition, and the halls of the Knesset are filled with droopy-eyed, yawning legislators struggling to cope with the constant sleepless nights.
The coalition has absorbed a few blows. For one thing, it relies on four Arab votes, and the Arab party has repeatedly extorted concessions for every vote in its favor. The coalition tried to absorb the second Arab party (the Joint List) as well, and Mansour Abbas responded by threatening to quit. Time and again, Abbas has proven himself to be in control of this government. He has forced the government to make decisions that undermine Israel’s national interests, to the point that Binyomin Netanyahu, as the leader of the opposition, accused the government of being a threat to the security of the state.
The opposition has managed to defeat the government in several Knesset votes. The first was the vote on the Citizenship Law; the government was forced to renege on its intention to extend the existing law, and instead announced that it would be in force only for half a year, with conditions dictated by the Arabs. In the end, even that version of the law was voted down. The government went on to withdraw two other laws after determining that it did not have a majority in favor of the bills. The most dramatic moment came last Thursday morning, when the Dayanim Law did not pass a vote in the Knesset. (As I explained previously, this law would enable the government to change the face of the country’s botei din by altering the makeup of the committee that appoints dayanim.) The bill was rejected after the vote ended in a tie of 51 to 51. Unbelievably, the Knesset speaker himself had inadvertently voted against the bill. We later learned that Rav Chaim Kanievsky had said shortly before the vote, “They will not succeed.” But no one ever dreamed that the defeat would take this form.
I should really write about the 40-signature debate, which I mentioned last week. This was a debate in the Knesset in which Netanyahu and Bennett engaged in verbal sparring on a level that was never seen before. Perhaps I will write about it next time—at the end of bein hazemanim…