Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022

My Take On The News

The Terror Continues

Last Thursday night, the Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel was dealt another blow.

When the media first reported that there had been a terror attack in the area of Yehuda and the Shomron, we realized that Palestinian terrorists had succeeded once again in carrying out their nefarious intentions. They have only one desire—to kill Jews. This time, the terrorists lay in ambush near the settlement of Chomesh, waiting for Jewish-owned cars to pass by, and they fired a hail of bullets at a passing vehicle. Yehuda Dimentman, a resident of Shavei Shomron, a married man and father of a child, and a talmid in the yeshiva in Chomesh, was killed by the gunfire, while three other passengers in the car were lightly wounded. The driver floored the gas pedal and sped away from the scene, and his quick thinking is credited for saving his own life and the lives of his surviving passengers.

The shooting took place near the exit from Chomesh, on the road toward Shavei Shomron. After the shooting, the group drove to a nearby junction, where they reported the attack. The recording of the driver’s call to the Magen David Adom hotline is chilling. The shooters fled from the site of the attack, and large groups of police officers and soldiers, along with a police helicopter, began combing the area. The police also opened an investigation together with a team from the Shabak.

The driver of the car, Neriah Feldman, related that the terrorists opened fire on them as they drove out of the settlement of Chomesh. “We saw the flashes of light, and there was an ongoing volley of bullets,” he said. “I didn’t stop; I kept driving, with my tires riddled with bullet holes, until I reached the junction. On the way, I reported the shooting to the police…. There were four of us in the car, all talmidim in the yeshiva, and Yehuda was sitting in the back. Another person who was wounded was sitting next to me, and behind him sat a bochur who wasn’t harmed at all. The terrorists surprised us during the left turn out of Chomesh, as we headed in the direction of Shavei Shomron. The gunfire intensified; it was horrific. I asked everyone if they were all right, and Yehuda told us that he had been hit in the neck. We continued moving as I pressed down on the gas pedal; I realized that the tires had been punctured, but I managed to reach the entrance to Shavei Shomron, where the paramedics were waiting for us and we were evacuated in an ambulance. That was where we were told that our friend had been killed.”

Twenty-two-year-old Aviah Entman, who was also sitting in the car, reported that he felt a sudden intense pain in his left arm and that he shouted to the driver to speed up while they contacted the rescue services. “Yehuda was my friend,” he said solemnly. “He was a very good person. We never thought that something like this would happen to us; we were never afraid of a shooting. I find it hard to believe that he is no longer with us.”

On Sunday evening, Israeli security forces apprehended the murderers, who had come from a Palestinian village in northern Shomron. During the operation, they also confiscated weapons that were allegedly used to carry out the terror attack.

A Stabbing in Chevron

Attempts to murder Jews are happening far too frequently. The wave of terror is simply continuing unchecked. Another terror attack took place on Shabbos near Meoras Hamachpeilah, when a 38-year-old Israeli was lightly wounded by a female stabber. Interestingly, intelligence reports show that the attacker was 65 years old. She was “neutralized” by Border Guard officers without being shot, and was transferred to the intelligence service for questioning.

These incidents come on the heels of other episodes of terrorism in the Old City of Yerushalayim and in the vicinity of the Damascus Gate. It is widely believed that Israel has lost the power of deterrence. Binyomin Netanyahu blames this on the moderate approach practiced by the government, including its prime minister, and its complete surrender to all the demands of Raam, the Arab party that has joined the coalition. And Netanyahu may very well be correct in this assessment.

What I find objectionable is the government’s attempt to completely ignore the breakdown of security in this country. It seems as if they believe that the threats will somehow go away if we all bury our heads in the sand. I can tell you from firsthand knowledge that the Knesset members of the chareidi parties have repeatedly asked for the Knesset to discuss the violence in the Old City, including the stoning of buses. (The violence against buses has become so severe that the Egged bus company has instructed its drivers to have passengers board and disembark outside the walls of the Old City, rather than driving up to the bus stop adjacent to the Kosel.) However, the Knesset speaker has refused to allow the issue to be discussed, as if he can somehow solve the problem by ignoring it.

This Monday, the Knesset Interior Committee was scheduled to discuss the security situation in the Old City and on Har Habayis. This was supposed to take the form of a “quick debate,” which is difficult for anyone to block. The list of invited participants had already been published and included representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Security, the Israel Police, the Border Guard, the Ministry of Justice, the Religious Affairs Ministry, the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites, the Yerushalayim Municipality, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the State Prosecution, and other agencies. However, on Sunday the committee chairman decided to postpone the discussion. He is apparently untroubled by the fact that the situation has reached the point of mortal danger.

The Right Gains Ground but the Deadlock Remains Unbroken

This government has been plagued by bad fortune. Even Bennett’s recent trip to the United Arab Emirates ended on a sour note, when another passenger on his flight was diagnosed with the coronavirus and the prime minister was forced to enter quarantine. He was observed in the Knesset gallery along with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who was likewise quarantined. The spate of misfortunes plaguing the government has led to many unfavorable comparisons between Bennett and Netanyahu. The differences between them are especially pronounced in the area of Israeli-American relations, where the consensus has it that Bennett has failed abysmally, and there is no telling what price Israel will have to pay for his missteps.

This week, in a poll conducted by Panels Politics, the respondents were first asked how they would vote if an election were held today with the Likud party still under Netanyahu’s leadership. The poll then presented other possible scenarios in which Netanyahu left the Likud and the party was headed instead by any of four candidates: Nir Barkat, Yuli Edelstein, Miri Regev, or Yisroel Katz. The poll may have been commissioned by one of Netanyahu’s rivals within the Likud party, but regardless of its impetus, the results were certainly interesting.

The poll showed that if the Likud party were still led by Netanyahu, an election today would net 33 seats for the party, making it the largest party in the Knesset by a very wide margin. Nevertheless, even with Shas, Religious Zionism, and United Torah Judaism as its partners (with the former two receiving eight seats each and UTJ garnering seven), the group would receive a total of only 56 mandates and would still fall short of forming a government. The opposing bloc, made up of the parties that comprise the coalition today, would receive a total of 57 seats. According to the poll, this bloc would still be led by Yair Lapid and Yesh Atid (with 19 seats), who would partner with Blue and White (9), Labor (7), Yamina (6), Yisrael Beiteinu (6), Meretz (5), and Raam (5). This would leave the State of Israel in the same political deadlock that has plagued it for quite some time, unless a new precedent is set with the formation of a government depending on the Arabs’ support. If we eliminate Raam from the equation, then the right-wing bloc outnumbers the left, with 56 seats rather than 52. You may also have noticed that New Hope, Gideon Saar’s party, is not shown crossing the electoral threshold.

The poll found that if anyone other than Netanyahu headed the Likud party, the political right would be able to form a government with ease. However, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to anyone; even now, the government could easily have formed a right-wing coalition. The only problem was that Lieberman, Saar, and Bennett decided to boycott Netanyahu at all costs. The new poll indicates that if anyone else led the Likud party—especially if Nir Barkat took the party’s helm—then a right-wing government would be formed, since it can be presumed that the aforementioned triumvirate of Saar, Lieberman, and Bennett would join the Likud. This is in spite of the fact that the Likud itself would receive a much smaller portion of the vote with anyone other than Netanyahu at its helm.

US Ambassador Visits Bnei Brak

Thomas Richard Nides, the new United States ambassador to Eretz Yisroel, visited the city of Bnei Brak this Thursday. Nides toured the streets of the city along with Bnei Brak’s mayor, Rabbi Avrohom Rubinstein. During his visit, the ambassador was treated to an overview of the city’s character and the current wave of construction and urban renewal, while his host explained the importance of preserving the chareidi lifestyle in the city as well. He was also accompanied by two members of the Knesset: Meir Porush (who was joined by his aide for diplomatic affairs, Aharon Davis) and Yitzchok Pindrus.

A large part of the conversation dealt with the coronavirus pandemic. Rabbi Rubinstein mentioned that Bnei Brak had suffered from a very high infection rate at the beginning of the pandemic, which earned it extensive and highly unflattering coverage in the media. After intensive, groundbreaking work on the part of the municipality, there was a dramatic reduction in the number of infections in the city, and statistics showed a significant decrease in contagion. Nides also visited the homes of Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein, and was visibly moved by his experiences.

Rabbi Rubinstein (who is keeping up his demanding schedule while undergoing chemotherapy treatment – we wish him a refuah sheleimah) summed up the visit as follows: “I was happy to host Mr. Nides, the ambassador of the kingdom of chessed—the United States—and to show him the many changes that are taking place in the city at this time, including a process of growth and urban renewal. It was an honor to us that the ambassador chose the capital city of chareidi Jewry as the site of his first visit to a local authority in Israel. I emphasized to the ambassador that it is very important to us to maintain and strengthen our ties with Diaspora Jewry, especially with the Jews of the United States.”

Bennett: “The Fifth Wave Is Here”

Now it is time for some news about the coronavirus.

There is no doubt about it: The people of Israel are confused. While someone might think that the government of a normal country would consider itself responsible to provide reassurance and clarity to the public, the opposite seems to be true in Israel. The more the government ministers talk and make decisions, the more confused the public has become.

Israel has already declared most other countries to be “red” countries. The airport has been closed again, and while the government never announced that it is banning travel into or out of the country, that is effectively the result. If dozens of countries have been labeled red, that means that it is impossible to travel to those countries without special permission from the Exceptions Committee. In addition, travelers returning from those destinations will be required to quarantine, which tends to eliminate most people’s interest in traveling at all. To make matters worse, the government has decided that it will no longer be sponsoring the coronavirus hotels; from now on, the “guests” who are quarantined in those hotels will also have to foot the bill themselves.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett announced at a press conference that we have entered the fifth wave of the coronavirus—the omicron wave. He delivered a long speech praising himself and pleading with the public to recognize that the situation is dire. “Our time is running out,” Bennett intoned dramatically. “Omicron is already here.”

“We must act wisely and calmly,” Bennett continued. “Our goal is to make it through this wave. We must slow the spread as much as possible and use this time to vaccinate the children of Israel.”

The problem is that the public does not believe a single word that comes out of this government. And if we want to find a reason for their lack of faith in the government, we need look no further than the mixed signals emerging from the Ministry of Education. The Minister of Education herself is a coronavirus skeptic who recently fired the director-general of the ministry because of their differences regarding the pandemic. And while Bennett has called for the children of Israel to be vaccinated, the education minister has made every effort to block the attempts to introduce vaccinations in schools.

According to reports leaked to the press from the cabinet meeting this Sunday, the ministers of the government lamented the fact that the public does not trust them. Ayelet Shaked, the Minister of the Interior, predicted that there will be tens of thousands of cases of coronavirus within four weeks. There was an argument over certain decisions that were made a week or two ago (such as a requirement for shoppers in malls to be given bracelets attesting to their vaccination status) and that were quickly scuttled. Some of the ministers claimed that it was a mistake to abandon those plans. Bennett was furious, complaining that “we had agreed on a plan, and then the ministers dropped out on the phone [a reference to the vote taken by telephone in the cabinet]. We should not be fazed by the people who scream. Anyone who is easily shaken does not belong in politics.” Bennett claimed that with a few weeks of tightened restrictions, we will be able to make it through the next wave.

The Finance Minister’s Cold Disdain

The closure of the skies has brought the tourism industry to a standstill and has also dealt a serious blow to the aviation industry. Yesterday, a cartoon was published in Israel that showed Finance Minister Lieberman delivering a powerful kick to an El Al pilot, sending the hapless man flying into the air. This was one of those pictures that are worth more than a thousand words. The cartoon is a vivid depiction of Lieberman’s cold apathy toward the many people who have lost their sources of livelihood. His personal conceit and his contempt for the many suffering people throughout Israel have resulted in deplorably ugly behavior on his part.

The cartoon was prompted by an incident that occurred last week, when Lieberman met with a group of people who work in the tourism industry and who explained to him that their field is on the verge of collapse. If the tourism industry goes under, thousands of families will be left without income, and the Treasury will have to provide for them. They hoped that the Finance Minister would have mercy and would soften the restrictions that are devastating their source of livelihood, permitting hotels to continue accepting guests and tourists to continue visiting Israel. Some of them even shed tears as they spoke. But Lieberman’s response was a callous suggestion for them to take up a different profession.

This comment sparked a veritable firestorm. Months ago, when Lieberman announced that he intended to “put the chareidim on a wheelbarrow and take them to a garbage dump,” very few people spoke out in protest. But now it has become clear that his disdainful attitude extends to other sectors as well, and he has managed to infuriate the entire country. The political cartoon was the artist’s way of expressing his revulsion at the fascist behavior of the finance minister.

Incidentally, Lieberman apologized last week for his choice of words; however, he did not show any remorse for the sentiment itself.

Renewed Restrictions at the Knesset Shul

I have observed in the past that the best place to monitor the state of the pandemic is the Knesset. For a while, we were fortunate enough not to receive any dire messages on the internal e-mail system from the Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms, warning of new infections or other restrictions. However, those messages have now resurfaced, and they have begun to arrive in droves.

This Sunday, the new Sergeant-at-Arms alerted us to the fact that three confirmed cases of corona (not to be confused with the omicron variant) had been discovered in the Knesset. Orit Cohen-Nevo, an employee of the Central Elections Committee; Nadav Elimelech, a reporter for the Knesset Channel; and Vladi Savilov, a member of the Knesset Guard, had tested positive for the coronavirus. We were informed of the last time when each of them was present in the building, and this information was followed by the all too familiar warning: “In accordance with the above, and in light of the heightened concern over the omicron variant, I ask anyone who was in contact with them or in their vicinity to remain at home and not to come to work before receiving instructions from the Ministry of Health. We are working to conduct an epidemiological investigation together with the professionals in the Health Ministry. I ask everyone to comply with the Health Ministry’s directives regarding quarantine.” Rumor has it that Nadav Elimelech, the reporter, caused many members of the Knesset to be sent into quarantine.

And that wasn’t all. Last Thursday, we received a similar report about Anat Regev, an employee of the Knesset. On Friday, another e-mail arrived from the Knesset Guard (the only employees of the Knesset who work on Fridays) notifying us that two other Knesset employees, Anatoly Godeskin and Roni Kedmi, had tested positive. The climactic moment seemed to arrive this past Sunday evening, when the dramatic news arrived that the Knesset gym was to be closed indefinitely. However, the drama reached even greater heights a few hours later, when the restrictions that were in force at the height of the pandemic were reinstated. Personally, I do not understand how they have the authority to impose regulations such as limiting occupancy in the Knesset shul to twenty mispallelim. To the best of my knowledge, the Knesset itself hasn’t yet approved the restrictions that have already been put in place by the Sergeant-at-Arms.

The notice from the Sergeant-at-Arms delineates a series of new restrictions. All tours of the Knesset building arranged with the visitors’ center have been canceled, and all events scheduled to be held in the building were canceled. The committee chambers are to be limited to an occupancy of no more than 36 people, and the Negev and Yerushalayim auditoriums, which are larger, will be restricted to 43 occupants at a time. Knesset members will not be permitted to invite more than five guests each day, the cafeteria will serve takeout food only (and seating will be off limits), and the main chamber of the Knesset will be limited to half its usual occupancy. Worst of all, as far as I am concerned, is the fact that the Knesset shul will be limited to twenty mispallelim at a time, and the mispallelim will be required to remain two meters apart at all times.

The Father of a Meron Victim Passes Away

Last week, Rav Sholom Seller of Bnei Brak suddenly passed away. Rav Seller was a prominent talmid chochom and marbitz Torah in the neighborhood of Ramat Aharon; his sudden passing at the age of 60 resulted from a heart attack. The mourning notices spoke about a twofold tragedy, but I wasn’t sure at first what that meant.

The answer came to me on Wednesday, when Yisroel Diskind visited me in the Knesset. You may remember that I wrote about Diskind not long ago, when he attended a session of the Knesset Interior Committee on the subject of financial compensation for the families of the victims of the Meron tragedy. These families have been pleading for some sort of initial assistance to help them with their immediate needs, including dealing with the trauma that they have suffered, but the government has coldly turned its back on them, claiming that no compensation will be paid until the commission of inquiry has finished its investigation. Justice Miriam Naor, who is chairing the commission, was quick to respond that her committee has nothing to do with the subject of compensation for the families, but the government remained indifferent. Actually, to be more precise, it was the Ministry of Finance that displayed apathy. The National Insurance Institute has shown sympathy for the families and has actually expressed interest in making some preliminary payments to them.

Yisroel Diskind is a brother of one of the men who were killed in the disaster in Meron. During his visit to my office, we spoke about a variety of topics, and he told me about the plans for a group of dozens of men, women, and children, all family members of the Meron victims, to travel to Ukraine for a special trip to various kivrei tzaddikim and a communal Shabbos at a well-known location. In a sign that the tragedy continues to haunt them, he added, the first question asked by one of the parents was whether there would be insurance coverage.

And then he said, “What do you have to say about Rav Sholom Seller?”

I looked at him in confusion. “What is the connection?” I asked.

“You mean you didn’t know?” Diskind immediately filled in the information that I had been lacking. “He was the father of Reb Chaim Ozer Seller, the yungerman who was killed in Meron. Reb Chaim Ozer was an outstanding masmid who had celebrated the birth of his first daughter two weeks before he was killed. At his levayah that motzoei Shabbos, his father cried out, ‘My Chaim Ozer! If Hashem chose to take you, it must be the best thing for you!’

“I can tell you with absolute certainty that Rav Sholom Seller died from the pain of his son’s loss,” Diskind added. “He never recovered from it. That was what caused his heart to suddenly stop. Everyone who was with him realized that he was unable to withstand the pain.”

Klal Yisroel’s Battle

This week, Uri Maklev hit the proverbial nail on the head when he declared about the battle to preserve Judaism in Israel, “This isn’t a chareidi battle; it is a Jewish battle. And most of the people are with us.”

The fact that most of the Israeli public sides with the religious community is indisputable. It is clear from all the polls, and it is self-evident to anyone who deals with ordinary Israelis. The battle to keep stores closed on Shabbos was waged by two men: Kobi Bremer from Tel Aviv and Avrohom Birnbaum of Yerushalayim. Neither of them is chareidi.

Last Tuesday, as I davened Mincha in the Knesset shul during the fast, I could not rid myself of the sense that our enemies are trying once again to breach the walls of Yerushalayim. But then the baal korei asked, “Is anyone here a kohen?” Three men raised their hands. “Which of you is fasting?” he asked, and all three indicated that they were observing the fast. I would never have expected that, but we all know that no one lies in a shul, especially in front of an open sefer Torah. As I always say, even the ordinary, unassuming Jews of Israel have a core of righteousness and devotion.

This battle is being fought against a handful of Reform agitators. Wherever there is trouble and hostility toward Yiddishkeit, you can be certain that the Reform movement is involved. They were behind the petition to Justice Shoham, the Ombudsman of the Israeli Judiciary, against the Rishon Letzion, and they are responsible for the controversy over the Kosel and the assault on the kosher cell phone industry. Some believe that the Reform movement is even behind the current petition for chometz to be permitted on the grounds of army bases on Pesach.

This week, I was present at a session of the special parliamentary committee for the destruction of religious services (which isn’t its real name, of course) headed by Yulia Malinovsky. The committee was discussing the National Center for the Preservation of Holy Sites, and two members of the Knesset were present, each of whom harbors foreign ideologies beneath his kippah. One man is a member of the Reform movement, and the other can be described as quasi-Reform. Neither of them bothered to hide their obsessive animosity toward the rov of the Kosel. Malinovsky herself, meanwhile, marshaled every parliamentary weapon at her disposal for her efforts to eliminate the Center for Holy Sites; she even called upon the Treasury to deny them an exemption from issuing a public tender. In all likelihood, she hopes that a Reform organization will manage to wrest control of the mekomos kedoshim from them.

The Dogs Don’t Believe In Moshiach

This week, when I received the publication of the teachings of the Klausenberger Rebbe (the Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg), it contained a transcript of a shiur on Chumash that the Rebbe delivered 60 years ago. In that shiur, he spoke about the nefarious goals of the Reform movement, and his words seemed to be an eerie echo of the comments made last week at the emergency meeting of the chareidi parties in the Sprinzak auditorium. The Rebbe’s comments seemed to be just as applicable today as they were when he first spoke.

“In Eretz Yisroel,” the Rebbe said, “there is an even greater danger to all that is holy to Klal Yisroel than in those days. The Reform Jews at the time never dared to make public demands to be allowed to marry goyim or to openly drive Jewish children away from Yiddishkeit and toward Christianity, but we are witnessing such dreadful phenomena in Eretz Yisroel on the part of a handful of apostates and heretics. Certainly, all the Jews who are faithful to Hashem and His Torah should awaken themselves in the face of this dreadful danger and strengthen themselves together, like one man with one heart, to honor the one and only true G-d and to stand strong against the destruction of our religion. The merit of their forefathers will surely help them succeed in halting this destruction and in reinforcing the ranks of faithful Jewry.

“Here in Eretz Yisroel, we are in a place that is even more conducive to expanding the boundaries of the Torah than Hungary was, since the vast majority of Jews in Eretz Yisroel are not part of the Reform movement; they do not want to eat on Yom Kippur, and they do not want to have a rov who will be ‘enlightened,’ Rachmana litzlan. If we knew how to lead Klal Yisroel and bring them beneath the wings of the Shechinah, we would be able to save the entire Jewish people and guide them toward the Torah and mitzvos. Certainly, the merits of the Holy Land can be helpful for this purpose.”

On that note, allow me to end this column with a joke that I have just remembered and that is relevant to our discussion. A Reform congregation wanted to hire a progressive “rabbi,” but all the candidates who applied for the position were completely ignorant. As much as they wished to eschew religion, the congregants’ pride would not allow them to hire a clergyman who had absolutely no Jewish knowledge. Finally, they decided that they had no choice but to recruit an Orthodox rabbi for the job. When they settled on a candidate, they warned him to take a pluralistic approach and forbade him to speak about Moshiach or anything of the sort.

In his first sermon, the rabbi told the story of a fox that was trying to capture a hen. The hen managed to escape from the fox and scramble up a tree, and the wily animal called out to it, “What are you afraid of? Haven’t you heard that Moshiach is here? The posuk says that a wolf will lie down with a sheep after Moshiach arrives! You have nothing to fear!” While the fox spoke, the sound of fierce barking suddenly erupted nearby, and a pack of dogs began heading in its direction. Terrified, the fox ran away and hid until the danger had passed. As soon as the dogs disappeared, it returned to the tree and resumed its efforts to persuade the hen that it had nothing to fear.

The hen scoffed at the predator on the ground below. “If Moshiach is here, then why did you run away from the dogs like a frightened rabbit?”

The fox replied evenly, “What can I do? The dogs don’t believe in Moshiach!”

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