Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My Take On The News

Anti-Semitism Abroad and Violence in Yerushalayim

These have been difficult days. Every day seems to bring more hardships for us to contend with, ranging from new economic decrees and skyrocketing prices of goods to the continued attacks on sacred subjects such as Shabbos and giyur. In the Old City of Yerushalayim, cars and buses have been stoned, and a family from Beit Shemesh was nearly lynched while driving to the Kosel to daven.

The protests at the entrance to Yerushalayim are still going on. The protestors are demanding that the police officers who deliberately rammed the car carrying Ahuvya Sandak be placed on trial. And the demonstrations against the police are gathering steam; it was reported that the Ministry of Justice agreed that the investigation into the police officers’ actions was “contaminated” (a legal euphemism of sorts). The police are responding to the demonstrators with great violence, even spraying “skunk water” that creates a horrendous odor in the entire area, including my neighborhood of Givat Shaul. I can detect the awful stench when I merely step out onto my porch. The police in this country are absolutely evil!

A diplomatic crisis is also brewing between Israel and Turkey. It began when an Israeli couple innocently took a picture of the palace of Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and were promptly arrested on charges of espionage. Yesterday, their remand was extended for 20 days. It has been speculated that Erdogan is deliberately keeping them behind bars in order to extort some type of concessions from Israel. In any event, the couple deserves our sympathy.

Meanwhile, anti-Semitism reared its head in Poland as well. As the country celebrated its Independence Day, a large demonstration was held in the city of Kalish where the protestors shouted, “Death to Jews!” This marked a new level of overt anti-Semitism.

Finally, for one more brief political item, I should note that Yair Lapid is digging himself deeper and deeper into trouble. Everything he does and every comment he makes seems to be making his situation worse. His public image is definitely on the decline. The people are no longer dazzled by him, and he is being exposed for what he is. Bli neder, I will report at greater length on that in the future. What bears noting is that Lapid isn’t just another member of the Knesset; unfortunately, he is slated to become the prime minister of Israel.

Deals with the Arabs

The chareidi parties are constantly being told to internalize the reality that they are in the opposition and therefore, presumably, powerless. “There is nothing you can do,” they are repeatedly chided. “Don’t bother making an effort; don’t waste your time.” But this isn’t true at all.

For one thing, the ongoing efforts to wear down the coalition have made an impact. The coalition (and, by extension, the government itself) has suffered multiple defeats in legislative votes in the Knesset. I have already written about the fact that the government did not muster a majority in a forty-signature debate; this was not only an embarrassment but an actual defeat, which will have real ramifications. Every failure of this nature demonstrates that the government is on thin ice. What is perhaps most amusing is that this particular defeat happened on Monday, just a day and a half after Bennett, Lapid, and Lieberman held a press conference and bragged that the passage of the budget showed that the government is stable and will live out its term. It didn’t take long at all for the falsehood of their statements to be exposed.

Last week, the coalition suffered losses in several votes in the Knesset. First, there was a bill introduced by Yaakov Asher that criminalized incitement against the chareidi community. The government opposed the bill, but it passed by a margin of a single vote. Another bill, this one submitted by the Arabs, called for a hospital to be established in the town of Sakhnin and was likewise passed by the same margin, in spite of the government’s opposition.

It is not a coincidence that the chareidim and the Joint Arab List each managed to defy the coalition and pass a single law. This was the product of a simple deal between the two groups. The chareidim often collaborate with the Joint Arab List, which is not in the coalition (as opposed to Raam, which is a member of the coalition). Two weeks earlier, the same collaboration led to the passage of another bill that was important to the Arabs (the establishment of a parliamentary investigative commission concerning Arab teachers) as well as one that was important to the chareidim. This led to the simple conclusion that there is even a possibility of brokering political deals within this Knesset to bring down the government. The Joint Arab List is on the verge of deciding to collaborate with the opposition to topple the government, even if it means that Netanyahu will return to power. They consider it even more important to strike a blow at their rivals in Raam, who are rapidly rising to dominance on the Arab street.

The Government Is Taken to Court

Last week, the government suffered a blow in another area as well. As you know, there are two specific decrees passed by the government—more specifically, the Finance Ministry and its spiteful minister—in a blatant effort to strike a blow at chareidim. One of those decrees was the restriction of subsidized day care to the children of families in which both parents work. This stipulation excluded the families of kollel yungeleit from eligibility for government-sponsored day care programs. Officials in the Treasury claimed that the goal was to encourage yungeleit to join the work force. The chareidi community responded, on the other hand, that there is nothing that can convince a yungerman to leave kollel; on the contrary, this policy will only cause the wives of kollel yungeleit to leave their jobs. But these arguments fell on ears that had been deafened by intractable hatred.

Two chareidi attorneys decided to fight this decree with a petition to the Supreme Court. While it’s true that the Supreme Court has never sided with the chareidim—in spite of the declaration of Aharon Barak, the onetime chief justice of the Supreme Court, that the chareidim should be the first to support the court due to its supposed function as the defender of minorities—they decided that it was worth a try. There are a few judges on the court today who are not enemies of religion, and the petitioners hoped that they would find a sympathetic ear on the court. Interestingly, the court session was aired on the web site of the Supreme Court. It was actually quite fascinating; the judges challenged the government representatives with many cogent questions, and the respondents didn’t always have answers.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court judges ordered the government to explain why the cancellation of day care subsidies for children of yungeleit couldn’t have been postponed until the following year, in order to enable the parents to prepare for it. The judges thus signaled that they intended to reject the implementation of the new criteria. The government was ordered to respond within two weeks. The petition itself had called for the decision to be struck down for various reasons, but the lack of time for parents to prepare was the main reason that was advanced. Now, even if the court orders a delay instead of overturning the Treasury’s decision altogether, it will still be a fierce blow to the state. Besides, the chareidi community hopes to see the government fall before the end of the year.

There were actually two petitions prepared, on behalf of chareidi families and day care operators alike, which were combined into a single one to be submitted to the court. The petitioners argued that Finance Minister Lieberman’s decision to focus the subsidy cuts on the children of parents involved in higher Torah studies, with the intent of encouraging chareidim to leave their botei medrash and join the work force, was liable to have the opposite effect. “Those who spend their days in the bais medrash prefer to toil in the tents of Torah and lead lives of financial limitation, even in the face of the worldly pleasures that are accessible today to everyone else,” the petition asserted. The claimants warned that an effort to promote universal employment for chareidi men and women might backfire, leading all chareidim to withdraw from the work force. The government acknowledged that it was trying to encourage chareidi men to seek employment, insisting that it was within its rights to do so. “The subsidy has perpetuated the situation in which chareidi women go out to work while their husbands learn in yeshiva,” the government representatives told the judges.

At this point, it seems likely that the court will order the policy change delayed for a year.

An Intolerable Attitude

Even before the court case began, the government announced a “minor” change in its decision. According to its new concession, a kollel yungerman learning dayanus or rabbonus will be eligible for the subsidy as well. This effectively draws a distinction between a yungerman who is “merely” learning Torah and one whose Torah learning can be classified as a means to an end. The study of dayanus or rabbonus has been classified as training for employment.

The government made this decision after realizing that it had a serious problem: There was no way to justify a decision that placed yungeleit who were learning dayanus or rabbonus at a disadvantage over students in secular schools who would remain entitled to the subsidies since their studies were geared toward employment. When the government gave in on this issue, many yungeleit heaved a sigh of relief. Many believed that any kollel yungerman will now be able to claim that he is learning to become a rov or a dayan, and thus the new regulations will have no effect at all.

However, it really isn’t clear that this tactic will be successful. Moreover, there is a matter of principle at stake here. As Aryeh Deri said, “I will not be joining the celebration. I am distressed by the government’s implicit statement against Torah learning. The government has made it seem as if a person who learns Torah is unworthy of receiving subsidized day care for his children. Even if exceptions are made for men who are learning to be dayanim or rabbonim, the state’s position disturbs me on a fundamental level. A person who learns Torah without that intent is no less worthy.”

Of course, he is absolutely right.

Bad News for the Kosel?

Last Monday, the various political parties met for their weekly meetings in the Knesset. Amazingly, the issue of the Kosel Hamaaravi was raised at three different party meetings: Yair Lapid spoke about it at the Yesh Atid conference, Lieberman addressed it at the Yisroel Beiteinu meeting, and Merav Michaeli discussed it with the Labor party. It is obvious that this was no mere coincidence. Something is brewing with respect to the Kosel, and whatever move these parties are planning, it is undoubtedly no good.

Last weekend, Haaretz reported that the chareidim have decided to fight for the Kosel’s kedusha. The newspaper reported that Aryeh Deri has been encouraging the protests against the government’s policies on the Kosel and that he has been raising funds for a campaign on behalf of the Kosel, in response to the government’s intent to implement the compromise that called to allocate space at the Kosel for the Reform and Conservative movements. According to the report, the campaign includes advertisements against the Bennett-Lapid government, and Deri intends to organize demonstrations and mass tefillah gatherings to protest the government’s policies. The only inaccuracy in this article is the attribution of the plans to Aryeh Deri alone; this initiative comes from many Knesset members and spans multiple parties.

On Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the MK from the Reform party was planning to come to the Kosel once again and help the Women of the Wall stage their monthly provocation. The chareidi Knesset members then announced that they would appear at the Kosel as well and would block him from entering the plaza. This led to a major uproar, and President Herzog asked the provocateur to refrain from coming to the Kosel. Realizing that it could only be to his detriment to carry out his plan, the man relented. But the point is that the fight for the Kosel isn’t the exclusive domain of the Shas party; it is a battle that must be waged by everyone.

Still, it is obvious that these parties are planning something unsavory.

Bennett’s Brazen Statement

Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett could not resist entering the fray as well. “[The Kosel] is the place that is so beloved, that is so important to every Jew, the place that unites us in every generation, especially after it was liberated by the IDF in the Six Day War,” he wrote. “The Kosel is now serving the agenda of a premeditated political campaign, for which much funding has been raised, with the goal of discrediting the government. Why is it being used? Because someone projected that it would catch on. And perhaps it will indeed catch on, but the damage will be enormous. Even at a time of fierce controversy, we must preserve islands of sanctity. There must be things that cannot be touched.”

It was a carefully composed statement. Bennett mentioned the IDF because it is always a good tactic to mention soldiers when one speaks about the chareidim, even if the army is completely irrelevant to the topic at hand. The mere mention of the IDF in that context generates antagonism toward chareidim in the mind of a chiloni reader. He also spoke about unity, which was another strategic move. But he was completely wrong. It is the Reform movement, not the chareidi sector, that is trying to divide the nation.

“When there is a problem,” Bennett continued, “it should be solved with dialogue. We do not take polls and then decide to launch a full-scale divisive campaign for the Kosel Hamaaravi. We simply don’t do that. I ask you, before you are swept away in a storm of emotions over something, to examine the facts. Is someone manipulating you here?”

Every word of this statement was sheer audacity.

The chareidi parties responded with a statement of their own: “We agree with you one hundred percent. There are no problems with the Kosel, and there is no need for any kind of ‘dialogue.’ The Kosel isn’t the Carmel Market, and it is not up for negotiation. Bennett, as difficult as it is for you, try to stand by what you have written. Do not touch the holy Kosel. Do not change anything. You will discover that there was no premeditated campaign, there were no polls, there was no fundraising, and there is no paranoia.”

Taking Up the Cause of Secularism

This week, I came across a notice from a group that calls itself the Secular Forum, claiming that they had met with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and had made several demands. They insisted on the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling that allowed chometz to be brought onto the grounds of hospitals on Pesach, and they demanded that patients and their visitors have the ability to purchase food in hospitals even on Shabbos or Yom Tov. They also insisted that “missionaries”—that is, chareidi organizations—be kept out of the country’s hospitals, and they urged Horowitz to act to prevent “religious coercion” in Laniado Hospital in Netanya, a chareidi medical facility. The group claimed that they found the health minister sympathetic to their cause and willing to act to promote the ideals of the secular public.

Personally, I find it very hard to understand people who insist on turning aveiros into a cause to be championed. What motivates a person to fight for the right to bring chometz into a hospital on Pesach? How did chillul Shabbos become a secular “value”? These are people who detest Yiddishkeit and have turned their backs on the very source of their lifeblood. How sad.

The Battle of the Grocery Stores

The battle against inexpensive supermarkets for the chareidi public is another mind-boggling trend here in Israel. Last week, the secular media published some investigative reports showing that supermarket chains have been selling many items at lower prices in the stores intended for a chareidi clientele, while the same items are priced higher in other branches of the same chains. This became one of the top news stories in the country. What is most frightening is the fact that the media was less disturbed by the high cost of living for secular Israelis, and more irritated by the fact that chareidim with limited incomes were getting away with paying less for the same products. In other words, they weren’t bothered by the fact that things are bad for them; they were perturbed only by the fact that the chareidim aren’t paying as much as they are for the basics. This was a reaction that lay somewhere between middas Sodom and the hatred of an am haaretz for talmidei chachomim.

If they were interested in listening, there could be plenty of explanations for the price differences. For one thing, there are marked differences between the physical conditions in a chareidi supermarket and the state of the more expensive secular grocery stores. The higher price tags in secular stores mean that the chilonim are paying the price for stores that are sparkling clean, items that are beautifully displayed, an abundance of merchandise to choose from, and a large staff of workers to serve them. Besides, price differences aren’t exclusive to chareidi stores; it is quite common for the same product to cost less, for example, in the shopping center in Kiryat Yovel than in a store in the Mamilla mall. The supermarket chain owners are well aware that high prices will not work in poorer areas such as Kiryat Malachi, Kfar Kassem, or Modiin Illit. The chareidim simply rank among other communities that rate lower on the socioeconomic scale.

This is yet another lesson in bias: There is an answer to every question that has been raised, but people who are driven by hatred and envy have no interest in those answers.

Discourse in the Knesset Hits New Lows

There has never been another Knesset like this one, with all its infighting and its blatant aggression. And we can only hope that there will never be another Knesset like it again.

Perhaps because of its fragility, the coalition has brought us certain low standards of behavior that have never been seen in the Israeli parliament before. I took a look at the minutes of a session of the Kashrus Reform Committee, and I was appalled by the way Yulia Malinovsky presided over the session. She was conceited, she was hateful, and she viciously silenced all dissenting voices. At one point, she said, “I am talking about money right now. When a hotel wants kashrus certification, the Rabbinate has a list of criteria. One of the criteria is for the mashgiach to receive a room in the hotel on weekends, for himself and for his family. Someone is obviously paying for that.”

Avi Maoz, a member of the Knesset and talmid of Rav Tzvi Tau, politely interjected, “May I ask a question?”

“No,” Malinovsky said. “Wait until afterward; it will disrupt my train of thought.”

“I only want to clarify something that you said,” Maoz said.

“Write it down,” Malinovsky instructed him, refusing to allow him to speak.

During that same committee session, the chairwoman displayed a group of products in an effort to mock the standards of kashrus. In the middle of a debate about kashrus, Malinovsky told the committee that she shops for groceries in Tiv Taam, a store known for marketing treif food. The items that she displayed were also purchased there. “I have collected these items from my own home; I didn’t even have to search for them,” she said. “Look, here are gloves with the seal of a badatz. And here is one that I liked: grease remover with kashrus certification, and a substance for carpet cleaning that is certified kosher. I enjoyed this one as well: a drinking straw with a seal of kashrus. This is all very amusing; all of these things are from my own home and were bought in Tiv Taam. Look, here is dishwasher freshener, also with a kashrus symbol. I bought all these things in Tiv Taam, and I happened to notice the logos.”

“Tiv Taam sells kosher food?” someone called out.

“Yes, Tiv Taam sells kosher items,” Malinovsky replied. “That means that even if I, as a chiloni woman, did not want to participate in this, there would still be a badatz [certification].”

“Maybe this is because of the consumer demand,” Avi Maoz said. “Do you think that might be the case?”

“And maybe someone has carried out a hostile takeover,” Malinovsky retorted. “We are all paying for this. It affects all of us in the State of Israel—chiloni or religious, Orthodox, Muslim, or Christian. Kashrus is a rule in the State of Israel, but since we are all paying for it, we all have the right or even the obligation to intervene and express our opinions. We cannot leave these things in the hands of one particular sector.”

Malinovsky, who openly admitted to being opposed to kashrus, was likely the brashest and most outspoken on the subject, but she wasn’t the only one to take that stance. Vladimir Beliak of Yesh Atid had the following to say: “The fact is that for many years, there has been a group here that decided that they are the definition of Judaism, that they have a monopoly on it—on kashrus, on giyur, on holidays, on marriage, on the Kosel, and on interpreting the parsha. Only they, and no one else, can decide. For many years, this group has worked only to preserve its power in the government, and not just in the government but in the economy as well. Unfortunately, this has been at the expense of the broader public, who are paying the price. But now it is over. Their monopoly is about to come to an end. I would like to praise the government and Minister Kahana for having the courage to bring about this very important reform, to create change…. Our goal is ultimately to produce a good law, a proper law, that will benefit the wider public. We must not give in to pressure or threats and limit the reform. The reform must not be restricted, and I am making a pledge, here in this committee, to fight to prevent that from happening. The time has come to break the kashrus monopoly that causes such terrible harm to the public interest and raises the cost of living, and we will certainly do that.”

Well, based on who is speaking highly of Minister Matan Kahana, I would say that I have a very good idea of the nature of his reform….

The fact that the so-called kashrus reform is being led by Yulia Vladimorovna Malinovsky—a onetime Ukrainian policewoman, the daughter of a Christian father, and a woman who proudly announces that she shops for treif food—is a sign of the absolute madness that has taken hold in this Knesset, under the leadership of Yesh Atid and Yisroel Beiteinu. Her brutal, dictatorial, and venomous style only adds insult to injury The only person who might compete with her is Alex Kushnir, the head of the Knesset Finance Committee. Last week, everyone was stunned by Kushnir’s total lack of sensitivity toward MK Galit Distal-Atbaryan, who was speaking about her son when Kushnir cut her off cruelly. Distal-Atbaryan left the committee meeting in tears. As she walked out of the room, she cried out, “Master of the Universe, remove this evil government from the earth!”

Respect for the Deceased

The terrorist who murdered IDF soldier Amit Ben-Yigal appealed to the Supreme Court to open his victim’s grave and remove the helmet that was buried with him. The terrorist claimed that if the helmet is recovered, it will provide evidence that may even lead him to be exonerated.

It takes a hefty dose of audacity to make such a request, which is an affront both to the niftar’s dignity and to his family’s sensitivities. The murdered soldier’s father, Boruch Ben-Yigal, appeared before the Supreme Court and stressed that his wife was standing at their son’s grave in Beer Yaakov at that very moment. “This is abuse!” he sobbed.

My sympathies lie with the parents, of course. I have no doubt as to what they are feeling; it is the same horror that is a natural reaction when the police demand autopsies in order to help them amass evidence to be used in court. The mourning families, aided by the lawyers of ZAKA, always have the same response: “The tragedy that we have suffered was enough; don’t add to our pain, and allow the niftar to rest in peace.” True, removing a helmet from a grave is less invasive than an actual autopsy, but the Ben-Yigal family’s objections were compelling nonetheless. The court certainly concurred with them, as it rejected the convicted terrorist’s request. It is simply a shame that the court doesn’t have the same drive to protect the dignity of deceased civilians as it does for soldiers.

Encounters with Rav Dov Landau

Have you ever seen someone bringing a netilas yodayim cup onto a plane for use in midflight? Well, that is precisely what was done for Rav Dov Landau, the rosh yeshiva of Slabodka, on his recent trip to America.

“The rosh yeshiva was given a collapsible bowl for the flight in order to enable him to wash his hands when necessary,” a talmid relates. “This was presumably in keeping with the view of the Chazon Ish that washing one’s hands in a lavatory is not effective; on an airplane, though, there is no other place for a passenger to wash his hands. I later heard from his grandson that Rav Dov had said that while it is technically only the netilas yodayim for a meal that cannot be performed in a lavatory, the Vilna Gaon maintains that the requirement applies to other instances of hand washing as well, and he wished to be a man of lechatchilah.”

Here is another account concerning Rav Dov Landau: “I have visited America many times, and I always assumed that I should join the local community in reciting the brocha of Boruch Hashem L’olam, which is not recited in Eretz Yisroel, before Shemoneh Esrei at Maariv. After all, what could be wrong with reciting another tefillah? As it turns out, this is no simple matter, (see Mishnah Berurah 95:10). Indeed, Rav Dov Landau did not recite the brocha during his visit to America.

These two brief excerpts teach us something about an adam gadol, a man whose every move is measured, a man who is exacting in his observance of halacha and does not cut corners in any sense. The passages were taken from the travel diary of a talmid who accompanied Rav Dov on his trip to America. And there is much we can learn even from the travels of tzaddikim.

“Rav Dov’s recitation of birkas hagomel taught us several things,” the author continues elsewhere. “First, we were able to see how his every move is carefully calculated with the utmost precision. Second, he indicated that it is better for every person to recite the brocha on his own, rather than relying on the principle of shomea k’oneh. Third, he maintains that one should bentch gomel after a flight only if it entailed crossing the ocean, in keeping with the Chazon Ish’s position. Fourth, a person must recite the brocha even if he is planning a return trip and intends to bentch gomel then. Finally, Rav Dov recited the brocha after Kaddish rather than after the aliyah (to avoid an interruption between the leining and the Kaddish).”

This diary offers us a glimpse into the experience of assisting a great man, a man who has already achieved a connection to Olam Haba even during his time in this world, and who is the absolute master of his own words, gazes, and thoughts. In short, it exposes us to Rav Dov Landau in a remarkable way.



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