Painstaking Plans Instantly Undone
Naturally, one of the major topics of conversation this past week was the meeting between Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and President Trump. We will never know exactly what was said in that meeting unless Trump decides to write his memoirs one day. Until that time, as is the nature of diplomacy, the two parties will appear before the media with ear-to-ear smiles, even if harsh words were exchanged behind closed doors in the Oval Office.
Nevertheless, it is reasonable to assume that Netanyahu heard more pleasant things from Donald Trump than he was accustomed to hearing from the president’s predecessor. Barack Obama said many harsh things to Netanyahu. Even when the contents of their exchanges weren’t publicized, it was always evident from Netanyahu’s facial expression. And Obama himself claimed that he suffered during his meetings with the Israeli premier even more than Netanyahu did. He accused Netanyahu of treating him like a child, lecturing him on the world of politics, and even once delivering a half-hour discourse on the history of the Middle East and the Jewish nation. I imagine that Netanyahu was more cautious in his dealings with Trump.
But I would like to make a different point, which indicates how small we are in a world that is run by the Master of the Universe. In advance of the brief encounter between the two leaders, there were a vast number of meetings, conferences, position papers, and other discussions. Netanyahu himself was not present for those discussions. Instead, they were held by the most prominent officials in Israel’s diplomatic and security apparatus, including the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Mossad head Yossi Cohen, and the director of the National Security Council of the State of Israel. These people and their own staffs sat for hours in preparatory meetings, toiling over every word that the prime minister would utter during his meeting with President Trump. The big question was whether Netanyahu should use the phrase “two states for two peoples.” The Israeli right pressured the prime minister to put an end to that formulation.
On the other side of the table at all these meetings was President Trump’s national security advisor, General Michael Flynn. But after all the meetings and discussions, on the day before Netanyahu met with Trump, General Flynn was removed from his post. Can you imagine the feelings of all the people who sat with him for hours on end in advance of that meeting? As the saying goes, ah mentch tracht un Gut lacht.
I don’t know how many of you followed the news about the meeting between the president and the prime minister. I listened to the words that were exchanged, but I paid just as much attention to the gestures. President Trump and his wife waited at the entrance to the White House for Netanyahu to arrive. That was certainly a gesture that showed the world that something major had changed in the White House.
A joint press conference was held even before their meeting began. It was clear that every word had been scripted in advance. And that is precisely why every word that Trump said was so important. His answers were not impulsive or off the cuff; they were expressions of his official policy.
Trump declared that the State of Israel is a symbol of strength and determination in the face of threats. What more could Netanyahu have asked for him to say? He also mentioned the Holocaust, as well as his Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and adorable – or, rather, “beautiful” – grandchildren. It was a markedly pro-Israel speech, a speech that Obama would never have delivered. Trump promised to do everything in his power to prevent Iran from developing its nuclear capabilities. That statement dealt a blow to Obama’s policies, and to Obama himself as well. Trump also spoke about the history of collaboration between America and Israel against terror, and about the value for life that both countries share. He also expressed his opposition to the UN.
Between the lines, there was also a sting. He proclaimed that Israel needs to be flexible, and that it would be a good idea to wait before building more settlements. When Trump spoke of both countries cooperating with each other, he looked at Netanyahu and the prime minister instantly replied, “No problem.” Trump thanked Netanyahu for being present, and Netanyahu beamed. Trump also repeatedly called the prime minister “Bibi.” In short, the meeting was the best it could be. But there is still no telling what the future will bring.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, has still not managed to rid himself of his unhealthy habit of being excessively verbose. Where he could have made statements that were succinct and to the point, he was long-winded instead, while Trump stood beside him silently. That was a mistake on Netanyahu’s part. The only time Trump seemed pleased with the length of Netanyahu’s remarks was when Trump himself was asked about anti-Semitism and xenophobia in America. Trump told the questioner that in another for years – “or eight!” he added – the world would discover a different, more loving America. Netanyahu then added that he has known Trump’s son-in-law since the latter’s childhood, and that there is no greater friend of Israel and the Jews than Donald Trump. But I am not certain that that was the right comment to make while the rest of the world was listening.
As always, we must rely only on our Father in Heaven.
“We Are Losing Shabbos”
Manuel Trachtenberg is a member of the Knesset from the Zionist Camp party. Mickey Machlouf Zohar is an MK from the Likud party. Neither of those are chareidi parties, but both MKs have recently been drumming up support for their “Shabbos Law.” They have been making the rounds of all the parties in the Knesset, highlighting the positive aspects of the law and hiding the clauses that are less desirable. They have also been concealing the other two Knesset members who introduced the bill: Elazar Stern of Yesh Atid and Rachel Azariah of Kulanu, two members of the Knesset who have engaged in endless harassment of the chareidi delegations in the Knesset. The involvement of those two is enough of a reason on its own for us to be vehemently opposed to the bill, which may have some minor benefits but is far more detrimental than it is helpful.
This week, in his speech in the Knesset, Manuel Trachtenberg sounded almost like a maggid. “Our state is going through a process that I am not ready to accept,” he announced. “It is an ongoing process that is a disgrace to the State of Israel – a process of chillul Shabbos on a massive scale. Shabbos is the preferred day for activity in secular society. You are all in shul on Shabbos and you do not see what is happening. It is a shameful phenomenon; we are losing Shabbos.” These words were spoken by a man who does not wear a yarmulka.
I will not quote the actual text of the law. The general idea is that the large shopping centers throughout the country where chillul Shabbos takes place on a large scale are to be closed. However, there will be public transportation, and cultural institutions will be open. It is meant to be a compromise of sorts between the chareidi and secular communities. Trachtenberg understood that it would be impossible for the chareidi members of the Knesset to support a law that permits public transportation (with hybrid vehicles and non-Jewish drivers) and the opening of recreational centers on Shabbos, so he merely asked them not to interfere. “I will not ask for the impossible,” he said, “but at least reduce your opposition so that the Knesset will be able to pass the law.”
Trachtenberg’s colleague, Mickey Zohar, added what he termed the “spiritual” argument favoring the law. Zohar tried to explain that even though the law permits chillul Shabbos, it imposes restrictions. He argued that the law would see to it that people transgressed fewer prohibitions. I did not find his argument intelligible.
When Trachtenberg and Zohar met with representatives of the chareidi parties, the response was silence. The chareidim allowed them to speak without subjecting them to a barrage of questions, but Aryeh Deri made their position clear: “We hear you, but we have no mandate to make deals at the expense of Shabbos.” In case that wasn’t clear enough, he added, “No religious Jew can ever support this law, or even refrain from opposing it.”
Last Tuesday, the day after those meetings, Minister Yariv Levin went on the offensive in the Knesset against the justices of the Supreme Court. The MKs of the left screamed and heckled him during his speech. Yitzchok Herzog fired back, decrying a number of laws that were recently passed and that he feels should be abolished by the Supreme Court. The tensions between the Knesset and the Supreme Court have reached unprecedented heights, and the demands for the court to restrain itself have never been as appropriate as they are now. We certainly have more battles ahead of us in that area. But all of that pales in comparison to the true battle facing us – the battle over Shabbos. In that respect, Trachtenberg is correct. The violation of Shabbos in the public sphere today is horrendous. The character of this country is being shaped by a million non-Jews. As Trachtenberg said, it is a disgraceful situation. But who is going to do anything about it?
Will There Ever Be a Chareidi Judge?
Yariv Levin’s speech in the Knesset this past week was quite significant. He took advantage of the festive sitting of the Knesset, which marked the 68th anniversary of its founding, to launch an attack on the Supreme Court. (The celebratory sitting is held on Tu B’Shevat every year. It was postponed this year because Tu B’Shevat fell on Shabbos.) Levin’s views on this subject have been known for a long time. He has been complaining for years about the left-wing agenda of most of the justices of the Supreme Court, most of whom are chosen from within the ranks of what amounts to an exclusive club.
This time, though, Levin’s words carried additional weight, since he was speaking in place of the prime minister while the latter was in Washington. This made him a representative of the cabinet. Even more significant was the fact that the chief justice of the Supreme Court was present in the VIP gallery. She had come to the Knesset in honor of the occasion. Yariv Levin himself is the current Minister of Tourism and a senior official in the Likud party, and many believe that he is bound to be Netanyahu’s successor when the time comes. In his remarks in the Knesset plenum, he was highly outspoken against the court.
“In recent years,” Levin said, “we have witnessed a steadily increasing assault on the standing of the Knesset perpetrated by the judicial branch of the government, which has been interfering more and more in matters subject to the exclusive authority of the Knesset, particularly in the realm of legislation. There is no other country in the world where a court assumes the authority to act as the ruling force in the country and to overturn laws passed by its parliament without having any clear legal power to do so. This is particularly egregious because two large communities have been excluded from the Supreme Court, whose justices are chosen behind closed doors, without any public discussion and without any transparency, in a way that preserves the dominion of a small group over the entire system. I believe that the time has come for the Knesset to make a clear, unequivocal statement. More petitions have recently been submitted for the court to disqualify laws passed by the Knesset, and it is time for the Knesset to take a stand and to say, in the clearest possible way, that it will not happen anymore. The Knesset must tell the court in the clearest terms to stop interfering with its legislation. In a democratic country, the laws are determined in a parliament by the representatives of the people, not in a court whose composition does not reflect the makeup of society at all.”
The next day, Levin was interviewed on several news programs. In each interview, he was asked to identify the two sectors of society he claimed were excluded from the makeup of the court. Of course, one of them was the right-wing sector, but the other was the chareidi community. But while it is true that there is no chareidi judge on the Supreme Court, it is not certain that any chareidi would agree to accept the position even if it were offered to him.
In any event, one thing is clear: It isn’t only in America that there is friction between the government and the court system. The same thing happens here…
The Questions That Went Unanswered
Several events were held in honor of the Knesset’s “birthday,” including a festive tefillah in the Knesset shul. And since we are on the subject of the Knesset, I would like to offer you some insight about the way it works
There is a tool used by the members of the Knesset known as a parliamentary query, a question submitted to a government minister that obligates the minister to respond. About two years ago, the rules concerning parliamentary queries were changed. In the past, a member of the Knesset would submit a question in writing, and the minister to whom it was addressed would respond orally at the Knesset podium, regardless of whether the questioner was present. If he was there, he would receive his response and would be able to come to the podium to ask an additional question. If he wasn’t there, the answer would nonetheless be recorded in the Knesset protocols, and he would be able to read it at a later date. In any event, he would know that his question had been answered. According to the new rules, though, if the MK who submitted a question is not present for the response, the question is erased from the record, as if it were never asked. The result has been that the members of the Knesset have stopped submitting ordinary questions; they are afraid to commit to being present to receive the answers. Official records show that since the change took place, the number of parliamentary questions being filed has dropped dramatically, from a figure in the hundreds to a mere handful.
Last week, at the end of one sitting, Yitzchok Cohen, the deputy finance minister, was scheduled to respond to six parliamentary queries. Here is an excerpt from the Knesset protocols.
Betzalel Smotrich, who was chairing the session, announced, “We are now moving on to the final item on our agenda for today: parliamentary queries for the Minister of Finance. Question number 287 was filed by MK Robert Ilatov. He is not present, so we will remove it from the agenda.”
Yitzchok Cohen then spoke up. “With your permission,” he said, “I would like to make a small comment. We respect the members of the Knesset. We work hard. We have entire teams working to prepare a precise, authoritative response when we receive a question. Then we come here with the answers, and the member of the Knesset who asked the question – and I do not wish to offend anyone – does not even bother to come to hear the answer.”
“I can only agree with you,” Smotrich said.
“This is not the first time this has happened,” Cohen added. “Our staffs are hard at work, and believe me when I say that they are not bored. They have plenty of other things to do to occupy their time. They are given the job of responding to these questions, and they work seriously. They respect the members of the Knesset, and they prepare their responses accordingly.”
Smotrich replied, “We will look into the matter. I accept your comment, sir. There is no question that it is not respectful to the Knesset or the government. It is a topic that we will have to examine, be’ezras Hashem. For now, let us move on. The next item, question number 614 submitted by MK Yousef Jabareen, will also be stricken from the agenda due to his absence. Question number 710, from MK Orly Levi-Abekasis, will likewise be removed from the agenda. Next is a question from MK Yossi Yonah, who excels in being present consistently. That is query number 718, which relates to the evacuation of a family from the Russian Compound. The deputy minister will respond to that question.”
Cohen delivered his response, and Smotrich went on, “Thank you, sir. Question number 743 from MK Yehuda Glick will also be removed from the agenda due to the questioner’s absence. Thank you, Mr. Deputy Minister,” he concluded. “I thank you for your relevant and succinct responses. My friends, we have reached the end of the agenda for the day. This sitting is closed.”
The Soldier’s Trial Nears Its Close
Now let us move on to an update that I have owed you for a while concerning the trial of Elor Azariah. The subject is even more relevant now than ever, since it is possible that by the time you read this report, the military judges will already have issued his sentence. The level of suspense in Israeli society today is exceptionally high.
I am certain that you remember the story of Elor Azariah, the soldier who shot a terrorist in Chevron. As hard as it is to believe, almost a year has passed since that incident took place. Ever since that shot was fired, a huge controversy has been swirling over the question of why he shot the terrorist. Was it out of vengeance? Was it motivated by anger? Did he feel threatened? Was he concerned that the terrorist might still be alive and holding a bomb? This question was the focus of the entire trial. You are undoubtedly aware that Azariah was convicted of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming of a soldier. The two charges go hand in hand. A soldier is not supposed to kill when there is no need for it. The conviction was declared unanimously by the panel of three judges.
The Israeli public has been terribly shaken by the case. There is no question that most of the country supported Azariah. There were protests and demonstrations on his behalf, and politicians spoke out in his favor. But did any of that help him? The outcome of the trial shows that it did not. Right now, the major question is what sentence the court will hand down to Azariah. After that, the focus will shift to an appeal of the sentence or perhaps a request for clemency. The general sense is that the judges were too harsh and rigid. Many have tried to prove that the judges have leftist leanings, and there appears to be at least some truth in that.
In the most recent court session, Elor’s attorneys brought character witnesses who testified that he was an exemplary soldier with a perfect record, with no complaints registered against him, who carried out his duties with great dedication. Elor himself, after his conviction, appealed to the judges for mercy. He described how his family had been shattered by the case: His father collapsed and was hospitalized, and his mother has become a broken woman. These are well-known facts. Even the prosecuting attorney agreed that he should be given a sentence on the lighter end of the spectrum, in light of his good behavior and his conduct until the incident. But even if he is given the least severe sentence out of the range of options, it would still call for several years of imprisonment.
The recent session, like the ones before it, was emotionally charged and interrupted by frequent outbursts. When Elor’s commander spoke, it was only with great difficulty that his parents were restrained. What will happen to him now? There is no question that he will be sentenced to several years in prison – and that the story will not end there.
Rav Elyashiv’s Two Shekels
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l passed away in Tammuz of the year 5772. His son, Rav Avrohom Elyashiv, passed away less than two years later, on the 28th of Shevat, 5774. This weekend, there will be Mishnayos learned at Rav Avrohom’s home in Givat Shaul, and on Friday, the family will visit his kever.
Rav Avrohom was incredibly reminiscent of his illustrious father, both in his appearance and in his character. He was also very close with his father. He was often present at the senior Rav Elyashiv’s home, always standing quietly on the sidelines but prepared to serve whenever he was needed. Rav Avrohom, his father’s youngest son, was named for Rav Elyashiv’s father, and the gadol hador was very fond of him. It is possible that Rav Avrohom’s grief over his father’s passing is what led to his own petirah. In any event, the loss of his father certainly caused him great anguish.
Rav Avrohom inherited many traits from his father, one of which was the quality of yashrus.
After Rav Elyashiv’s passing, Rav Avrohom was approached by a man who had an unusual request. This man was suffering through many hardships, and he had been told that if he wore a garment that had belonged to Rav Elyashiv, his fortunes would change. He expressed a strong desire to receive such a garment, hoping that it would put an end to his many woes. Rav Avrohom, who was always sensitive to the suffering of others, promised to try to fulfill the man’s request. However, he said, since his father’s garments were part of a yerushah belonging to all his heirs, he would have to secure permission from the rest of the family. Once he was armed with the acquiescence of the remaining yorshim, Rav Avrohom entered his father’s home and searched for an appropriate article of clothing to give the man.
He selected a shirt and brought it home. Upon his arrival, he was alarmed to discover two shekels in the shirt pocket. His wife, Rebbetzin Yocheved Elyashiv, the principal of the Bais Yaakov of Givat Shaul, tried to assuage his concerns. “It’s only two shekels,” she said. “It isn’t as if we will become rich from it.”
Rav Avrohom, though, was not pacified. “This is part of a yerushah,” he insisted. “We have no right to use this money. It doesn’t belong to me!”
Three years ago, Rav Avrohom’s passing devastated his family and many other people who knew him. Shortly thereafter, while his rebbetzin was cleaning her home for Pesach, she opened a drawer and found an envelope bearing the words, “From the home of Maran Rav Elyashiv.” With trembling hands, she opened the envelope and discovered two coins wrapped in cellophane – the two shekels that Rav Avrohom had discovered in his father’s shirt pocket. He had set them aside until the yerushah would be discussed by the family members, at which time he planned to add the coins to the funds to be divided among the brothers.
Hundreds of stories could be told about Rav Avrohom’s absolute integrity, the legacy of his revered father. Rav Elyashiv’s household was steeped in yashrus; his family would never touch a cent that wasn’t rightly theirs. This dedication to financial integrity extended to hired workers as well. After Rebbetzin Elyashiv passed away, when the family returned home after visiting her kever at the end of shivah, the first thing Rav Elyashiv did was ask whether a hired worker who had been in the house during the shivah had been paid. And Rav Avrohom emulated his father’s example. Once, before Sukkos, a worker came to his house to build an enclosure on a balcony. This took place just a few months before his mother’s passing, when she was very ill, and Rav Avrohom received an urgent summons to his parents’ home while the worker was busy. When he returned home, he was terribly distressed by the fact that the worker had left before he returned and therefore hadn’t received his pay. His rebbetzin tried to reassure him that no harm had been done, pointing out that the worker lived in the same neighborhood, and they could easily pay him at any time they wished. Rav Avrohom, though, was not satisfied. Before he left to return to his parents’ home again, he asked his wife to make sure to pay the worker before sunset.
“But we are paying him in postdated checks anyway,” she protested. “What difference does it make when we give the checks to him?”
“It makes a difference because the checks will be in his possession, instead of ours,” he replied.
Rav Avrohom passed away without debts. It wasn’t that he was wealthy; it was simply that his innate yashrus made it difficult for him to take out loans. If he owed a debt that had not been paid, or he hadn’t yet paid a worker, he was unable to fall asleep at night. When he had work done in his home, he insisted on paying the workers in increments as the job progressed, rather than waiting until it was completed. Every commitment he made was honored to the fullest.
Rav Avrohom was also an extremely pleasant person. He never quarreled with anyone, he never raised his voice, and he rarely uttered a word of reproach. He once became ill and was ordered by his doctors to avoid any physical exertion, even lifting a suitcase. Once, when he returned with his wife from a trip out of the city, he overheard a chiloni saying, “Look at that rov. His wife is carrying a suitcase and he is acting like a king.”
The comment pained Rav Avrohom deeply and he murmured, “I’m not sure I’m a king, but I am sure that his wife is a queen…”
In truth, Rav Avrohom was indeed a man of royalty – the type of royalty created by Torah greatne