Thursday, Dec 9, 2021

My Take On The News

Terror at the Kosel

It is terribly sad to begin the week on this note.

This Sunday, there was a terror attack near the Kosel Hamaaravi, and another holy Jew was murdered. A 42-year-old Palestinian terrorist armed with a gun took the life of a South African oleh named Eliyohu Kay and severely injured another Jew, Aharon Yehuda Imergreen. Two other Jewish victims were lightly wounded; one of them, Rabbi Zev Katzenelenbogen, is a resident of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. The murder victim, Eliyohu Kay, an employee of the Kosel Heritage Foundation, was rushed to the trauma unit in Hadassah Har Hatzofim in critical condition, as paramedics attempted to resuscitate him as he showed no signs of life. Unfortunately, the hospital staff was forced to pronounce his death. Three other wounded victims were evacuated to the trauma unit in Hadassah Ein Kerem.

A video showing the moments after the shooting has been making the rounds. The footage shows one of the victims still lying on the ground, while storeowners stand in the entrances to their businesses nearby. Further down the street, you can make out frantic activity taking place as the police appear to be firing on the terrorist.

The Kosel Heritage Fund and Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, the rov of the Kosel, released a statement expressing grief in the wake of the terror attack: “We are pained and grieving over the murder this morning of Eliyohu Kaye, Hashem yikom damo, an employee of the Kosel Heritage Fund, who was killed by a lowly murderer on his way to work at the Kosel Hamaaravi. Eliyohu Kay, an immigrant from South Africa, worked as a tour guide at the Kosel and was pleasant and gracious to everyone. He performed his holy work with dedication and good faith. We share the family’s profound pain.”

Rav Reuven Schneerson of Yeshivas Tomchei Temimim in Kiryat Gat, where Kay was a talmid, related that the young man had first come to the yeshiva in the year 2016. “He learned here for two years and then joined the army,” he said. “He was an incredible young man who always had a smile, a youth from an excellent family who wanted to integrate Torah learning in our yeshiva into his life and who invested all of his energy in his learning.”

The victim who was severely wounded in the shooting is Aharon Yehuda Imergreen, a 26-year-old yungerman. His wife has called on the public to daven for Aharon Yehuda ben Tova. Dr. Alon Schwartz, the director of the trauma unit in Shaare Zedek Medical Center, revealed that Imergreen arrived suffering from multiple bullet wounds. “When he arrived at the hospital, his condition was unstable and he was only partially conscious,” the doctor explained. “We stabilized his condition in surgery, but his life is still in danger. The next 24 hours,” the doctor added, “will be critical.”

Netanyahu: Hamas Must Pay

The news of the terror attack came after a long period without similar incidents; however, it cannot be said that it was a complete surprise. If you are a regular reader of this column, you have read my reports in recent weeks of the many incidents of rock throwing and violence in the Old City of Yerushalayim, which have barely garnered any reaction from the police. The Arabs can smell weakness, and they respond accordingly.

The attack was met with fierce condemnations. Betzalel Smotrich, the chairman of the Religious Zionism party, announced, “This terror must be quashed with an iron first, and the hope that drives it must be suppressed. The supporters of terror should be ostracized; they should not be part of the government.”

Smotrich’s colleague, Itamar Ben-Gvir, pointed out that the Supreme Court had rejected his proposal last year for magnetometers to be used to detect concealed weapons carried by Arab visitors to the area, just as Jews must pass through metal detectors at the Kosel. “If we had done that, this painful outcome could have been avoided,” he asserted. “When terror reads its head, we need to lower its head. If a person tries to murder Jews, he should be shot between the eyes, to send a message to anyone who would copy his actions that the end of any terrorist will be the same. The government’s lack of action has encouraged the terrorists to carry out attacks. For the time being, until the government wakes up and throws out the Muslims, the terrorist’s home must be destroyed and his family must be expelled from the country.”

Prime Minister Bennett began the cabinet session on Sunday by discussing the deadly attack. “On behalf of the ministers of the government,” he said, “I would like to say that we share the family’s pain, and I would like to join the prayers for the recovery of the wounded victims. I received an update this morning about the details of the incident. Our forces acted very quickly, and the men and women of the police force at the scene neutralized the terrorist very rapidly. This is the second terror attack to take place in Yerushalayim in recent times. I have instructed the security forces to prepare themselves accordingly and to be on alert in the event of copycat attacks. We need to remain constantly alert and to prevent additional attacks.”

Binyomin Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition, wrote in response to the attack, “Hamas is behind this terror attack, and they must pay a heavy price for this loathsome act of murder in the heart of our capital city.”

Kosel Compromise to Give Legitimacy to the Reform Movement

Even before the terror attack, I was planning to begin this column with news about the Kosel. This week marks the deadline for the government to respond to the Supreme Court regarding the Reform movement’s demand for a portion of the Kosel plaza. At this point, it seems that the government intends to announce that it supports support the so-called Kosel compromise. You may remember that the previous government decided to accept the compromise agreement, which would have designated a section of the Kosel plaza for egalitarian prayer, and then reneged on its decision under pressure from the chareidi politicians.

In general terms, the agreement called for an additional tefillah area to be designated for the Reform movement and to be overseen by a Reform council rather than by the Rabbinate or the rov of the Kosel. That would constitute clear recognition of the Reform movement.

According to the agreement, which was approved by a majority vote of 15 government ministers, with five dissenting, the Kosel plaza would be divided into two official prayer areas. The government would provide the initial funding for the development of the egalitarian area, and the budget would include regular funding for the management of the egalitarian southern plaza. The agreement also called for a single, elegant entrance to lead to all the areas of the Kosel, including the egalitarian section, and for a public council to be established to manage the southern plaza.

Pluralistic Prayer

The government’s decision continues, “The site of the Kosel Hamaaravi must be open and accessible to every Jew who wishes to pray in a manner consistent with his identity and his faith. For that purpose, alongside the prayer plaza that exists today at the northern portion of the Kosel Hamaaravi, an additional prayer area will be established at the southern section of the Kosel, south of the Mugrabi Bridge. Both prayer areas will operate concurrently.

“The tefillos in the northern area will take place in accordance with the customs and traditions of Orthodox Judaism and will be governed by the Torah laws followed by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. This means that there will be a partition separating the sections for men and women, and that women will daven in the manner set forth by halacha. In the southern area, meanwhile, the tefillos will be conducted in a pluralistic and egalitarian fashion, in order to accommodate non-Orthodox groups such as the Reform and Conservative movements. As a rule, men and women will pray together in this section without being separated by a mechitzah. In addition, in light of the pluralistic nature of this area, the Women of the Wall, who have been fighting to pray in their own way at the Kosel for over 25 years, will be given the option to hold a separate women’s prayer service, in keeping with their customs, every Rosh Chodesh, on Taanis Esther, and at other times to be authorized by the designated official overseeing the southern prayer section, with the approval of the council responsible for this area.”

There is more, but I believe you have probably grasped the gist of this decision. It is all about egalitarianism and recognition for different streams of Judaism.

There are only two factors that can give us room to believe that this might not come to pass. One is Minister Zeev Elkin’s assertion that he will never allow the area to be managed by the Reform movement. Even more important is the fact that the religious affairs minister is legally required to consult with the chief rabbis of Israel before making a move on this subject, and the chief rabbis will certainly be opposed to allowing any inroads for the Reform movement at the Kosel. In fact, they have already said as much. This may offer a glimmer of hope; however, the situation does not bode well.

Will There Be a Lockdown on Chanukah?

There are plenty of other issues to discuss this week as well. First of all, there is the coronavirus. The government will soon have to decide whether to announce any restrictions on Chanukah, which is considered a time for family celebrations. The Israeli government has also decided to vaccinate all the children in the country, and millions of doses of the vaccine were imported for that purpose. Unfortunately, the vaccines arrived on Shabbos. That is a shame, and some people have raised the question of whether it will be permissible to use the vaccines because of that.

Chanukah itself is a topic that is ripe for discussion. It is always a wonderful experience to walk down the street in Israel and to see the flames flickering in all the windows, even in neighborhoods that are home to the secular populace. Chanukah, like Sukkos, is a holiday that demonstrates the degree to which all of Am Yisroel demonstrates allegiance to the mitzvos—even those Jews who seem far removed from their heritage.

The first rainfall of the season is also a major story. On Friday, Shabbos, and Sunday, Israel was finally blessed with rain, after a very long wait. Just one week ago, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein ruled that if the rain did not begin to fall, we would have to begin reciting the special tefillah for a time of drought.

There has also been a major uproar in the Knesset concerning the Ethics Committee. The Knesset speaker offered positions on the committee to a number of representatives from the coalition and the opposition, as is required by law, but the offer was declined by every member of the opposition who was approached. This was a major slap in the face for the Knesset speaker himself and the coalition as a whole. Perhaps I will write about the committee at greater length at another opportunity, and then you will understand why the Knesset speaker is so eager to see it established.

US Ambassador Visits the Knesset

Working in the Knesset gives me many opportunities to run into interesting guests. For instance, last week I came across a long line of cars waiting in the Knesset parking lot, all of them bearing diplomatic license plates. I immediately recognized one of the cars as belonging to the American embassy. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was visiting the Knesset. The ambassador met with Prime Minister Bennett, Defense Minister Gantz, and other officials. She was accompanied on her visit by Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to the UN and Washington.

She had very little to say that was new. She claimed to be optimistic about the prospect of other nations joining the Abraham Accords, and she reiterated the American government’s official stance that Iran will not be permitted to obtain nuclear weapons. She stressed that the Biden administration believes that diplomacy is the best way to prevent a nuclear Iran, but she added that “we are not prepared to do that forever.” The ambassador also discussed America’s discussions with Saudi Arabia regarding the reestablishment of relations with Israel. “I can’t reveal the contents of our discussions with the Saudis,” she said, “but I can tell you that we are committed to work with the State of Israel and with other countries in the region in order to advance new agreements with the Israeli government, and we will be very happy to see additional countries sign the agreements.”

Regarding Iran, she said, “We haven’t softened on the issue of Iran. We want to talk to them; we want to come up with a diplomatic mechanism that will lead the Iranians to sign the JCPOA (the official name of the nuclear agreement). We have clarified over and over that we will not allow the Iranians to have access to nuclear armaments.” From Yerushalayim, she traveled to Ramallah to meet with Abu Mazen, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

The Vice President of Andorra Visits Israel

This week, the Knesset also received a visit from Jordi Gallardo, vice president of Andorra, who also serves as the country’s Minister of Economy. Gallardo spent several days in Israel, where he met with his Israeli counterpart, Economy Minister Orna Barbivai. The two politicians discussed the potential for economic collaboration between their respective countries in areas including investment and tourism. During his stay in Israel, Gallardo also visited the city of Bnei Brak in order to become more closely acquainted with the chareidi community.

The Principality of Andorra is a small state in northwest Europe, located between France and Spain. It has a population of only 70,000, but it receives over ten million visitors every year, largely because it is a prime destination for skiers. It is considered a tax haven, which might also account for its popularity as a tourist destination. From an Israeli standpoint, it is noteworthy that Andorra has the same standing—and therefore the same vote—in the United Nations as any other country. For that reason, Israel has a vested interest in maintaining good relations with the country.

Don’t ask why or how, but I was asked to host Gallardo during his official visit to the Knesset and to give him a tour of the building. The request came from Mrs. Shoshana Beckerman, a chareidi woman in Bnei Brak who has extensive international connections, especially with Andorra. She was responsible for Gallardo’s visit to Israel in the first place. In the past, thanks to Mrs. Beckerman, I was an important guest in the United Nations and was even present for the peace talks with Turkey. But I do not want to go into details about this subject.

In any event, Mrs. Beckerman asked me to arrange a tour for the distinguished guest and his entourage of important officials. At their request, I brought the delegation into the visitors’ gallery so that they could have their pictures taken with the main room of the Knesset in the background. This experience, I should add, is par for the course for someone who spends a lot of time, perhaps even too much time, in the Knesset.

“His Father Will Run After Him”

This week, Lev L’Achim held a matching funds campaign. There was great excitement throughout the country, and many of us tried to help the organization to the best of our abilities. Perhaps I will be able to report to you next week about how much money was raised.

Last Thursday, I attended an event for Lev L’Achim activists. I simply could not decline the invitation that I received from my good friends (and daily chavrusos) Rabbi Avrohom Zaivald and Rabbi Nosson Cheifetz. And I have to say that it was a highly moving experience.

Two of the videos that were played at the event touched a chord deep within me. One showed an elderly man who was clearly not chareidi sitting down to learn with an activist form Lev L’Achim. Some time later, the man left this world. It is chilling to contemplate how dramatically his place in Olam Haba must have been affected by his chavrusa from Lev L’Achim.

The second video told the story of a high school student whose interest in Torah learning was ignited by his experience in a midrashiah program run by Lev L’Achim. The boy’s father, a staunch chiloni, was vehemently opposed to his son’s intent to become a yeshiva bochur; the camera expertly captured the father’s adamant gestures and the pleading expression in his son’s eyes. The boy, accompanied by his mentor from Lev L’Achim, made his way to the home of Rav Chaim Kanievsky to consult with the gadol about his plight. Rav Chaim said tersely, “His father will yet run after him.” The video ends showing the boy dressed as a yeshiva bochur and making his way to yeshiva, while his father chases after him with a large package of sweets. When the man catches up to his son, he lovingly embraces and kisses the boy, demonstrating his immense pride.

Such is the power of kiruv. As the Gemara states, “When a person teaches Torah to the son of an am haaretz, even if Hashem makes a decree, He will annul it for his sake” (Bava Metzia 85a).

The public has rallied to answer the call of the gedolei Yisroel to support Lev L’Achim, an organization that does the work that is incumbent on all of us, the mission that is shared by every religious Jew. Lev L’Achim is spearheading a silent revolution beneath the radar of Israeli society, a revolution that has already produced tens of thousands of baalei teshuvah who have raised families of bnei Torah.

A Stolen Sefer Torah Is Rescued

For a long time, I have been lamenting the disdainful attitude of the police toward the desecration of shuls and the theft of sifrei Torah. This week, something new happened: Four Arabs in northern Israel were arrested on suspicion of trafficking in antiquities and possession of stolen property, and three of the four suspects had their remands extended. The stolen antique in question was an ancient sefer Torah that originated in Baghdad, which was found in the home of a resident of the Arab village of Umm el-Fahm.

The police had conducted an investigation and discovered that the Arab resident of Umm el-Fahm had a sefer Torah in his home that had been written in Baghdad centuries ago, and that he was planning to sell it for hundreds of thousands of shekels. He was approached by undercover policemen posing as antique dealers, and he showed them the sefer Torah and named a steep price for it. The 64-year-old man was taken into custody along with three other Arabs from the north who were suspected of involvement in the crime.

Do you see this story as a welcome sign that the police are finally doing something about these serious crimes? Well, I will let you in on a secret: This investigation took place in collaboration with the Antiquities Authority. The police were not concerned about the kedusha of the sefer Torah; their interest was in preventing illicit trade in antiquities. The antique in question simply “happened” to be a sefer Torah.

Cats, Donkeys, and Trees

First it was the street cats, which received an allocation of 12 million shekels in the state budget. Then the government passed a law setting standards for the treatment of pigs in their pens. And now the donkeys and the trees have their turn. Sounds unbelievable? Well, that is exactly what is happening in the Knesset. And I have to wonder what the law has to say about a disabled street cat. Is it entitled to a double stipend?

In any event, this week two new laws were placed on the Knesset table. The first, introduced by MK Mossi Raz, is meant to protect the well-being of horses, donkeys, and mules. Another bill, labeled “Proposed Amendment of the Forest Ordinance,” was authored by Yorai Lahav-Hertzanu and Yasmin Friedman (the latter being the famed advocate for the country’s felines) and would offer legal protection to older trees.

In a country where the politicians are busy standing up for the rights of animals and plants, there is no compassion for children in day care and human consumers of sweetened beverages. But as Rav Sholom Schwadron once put it in a drosha, “Still, I would prefer to be a boy and not a chicken.”

Giving the Benefit of the Doubt

My friend Yanky Paley read my recent article on the imperative of judging others favorably, and he informed me that he had his own story to add. “I emerged from shul one day in the company of an elderly man in a wheelchair,” he said. “When we reached the door, I found myself struggling to push it open with one hand while moving the wheelchair through the doorway with the other. It is not easy to push a wheelchair with one hand. Precisely at that moment, a young man suddenly pushed his way past us. I will leave it to your imagination to figure out what thoughts were running through my mind at that time. But it quickly became apparent that I was mistaken for thinking that he was rude. He was actually hurrying to hold the door open for us….”

 

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