The Government Zigzags Again
The coronavirus situation has become so dire that it would be impossible to begin this week’s column with any other topic. At the same time, there is also good news, especially for any of you who live in America and are waiting eagerly to visit your children in Israel, or to come to the country for any other reason.
Today, as you are certainly aware, any American who is not an Israeli resident is not permitted to enter Israel. America has been classified as a red country, and even Israelis who wish to visit America must receive the approval of the Exceptions Committee for that purpose. This week, however, all of that might change.
Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett decided long ago that the ban on travel to most red countries would be rescinded as soon as the confirmed Covid patients entering Israel from abroad make up less than 5 percent of the number of corona cases in the country altogether. According to all the projections, we are rapidly approaching that threshold, since the number of daily confirmed cases has been doubling every two or three days. Last week, 6.7 percent of the newly confirmed cases consisted of passengers arriving from abroad. As the number of domestic cases rises, the confirmed patients entering the country from abroad will naturally become a smaller percentage of that group. And as the percentage diminishes, the closure of the skies becomes less relevant and less necessary. The government already discussed the issue at the cabinet meeting early this week and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz had a dire prediction: “There is going to be mass infection in this country,” he said.
There are 15 countries on the list of prohibited destinations, including the United States and most of the countries in Europe. This means that air traffic in and out of Israel has essentially ground to a halt, which means that Israel has been essentially cut off from the rest of the world. That, in turn, is a source of enormous aggravation to tens of thousands of Jews, not to mention a cause of irreversible damage to the aviation and tourism industries. That is why Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov has been pressuring the government relentlessly to change this policy. Razvozov was baffled by the closure of the country’s borders to tourists from abroad; considering that incoming travelers would be vaccinated, he did not see the problem with opening the skies. This week the skies will reopen for several countries, though not yet the United States.
Corona by the Numbers
This topic was also addressed by the Health Ministry official who is overseeing the battle against corona. “We are identifying the countries from which the percentage of confirmed coronavirus cases entering the country is ten times higher than the infection rate in Israel itself,” she explained. “Only those countries will remain red. When we reach a situation in which the imported contagion is marginal and stands at 5 percent or less of the infection rate in the State of Israel itself, this entire process will stop.”
Here are the latest numbers, as of the beginning of this week: There were 4,197 Israelis confirmed to be infected with corona. Altogether, about 92,5000 tests were performed, with a positivity rate of 4.57 percent, the highest since September. Last week, a total of 26,857 new cases of Covid were diagnosed in Israel, in contrast to the 9,081 cases diagnosed in the week that began on December 19. In other words, the number of confirmed cases per week has tripled.
Hospitalizations are also on the rise. At the beginning of this week, there were 200 hospitalized Covid patients in Israel, 110 of whom were in serious condition. Last Monday, in contrast, there were 83 people hospitalized in serious condition with corona. This means that the number of serious hospitalizations jumped by about 33 percent in less than a week. According to Health Ministry statistics, about 78 percent of the hospitalized patients in serious condition were not vaccinated at all.
The number of red localities is also continuing to increase. As of this writing, about 40 cities were designated as red areas, meaning that they were to be subject to restrictions that do not apply in other cities. As for travelers arriving from chutz laaretz, last Friday there were 443 confirmed cases of coronavirus detected among arriving travelers, and on Sunday another 295 cases were confirmed. The Health Ministry’s records show that 253 of the people diagnosed with corona at the end of the week came to the country from the United States.
During the coronavirus wave under Netanyahu’s government, Israel was praised by the world for its management of the crisis. Netanyahu had a habit of holding press conferences during the evening news broadcasts, and Bennett mocked him for this practice, accusing him of sowing panic. But this Sunday, Bennett did precisely the same thing, as he has already done several times since taking office. The press conference was held at 8:04 p.m. this Sunday, and Bennett himself created panic this time. He warned the country that the fifth wave of the pandemic is already here, and he spoke about a fourth dose of the vaccine and about the massive numbers of infected patients that he expects to see very soon. He said: “I understand the feelings of frustration and confusion among the public.” Yes, Mr. Bennett, we all understand those feelings very well.
Money for the Meron Families: The Fight Goes On
As I mentioned in the past, the chareidi parties are waging a determined battle to arrange for the families of the victims of the Meron tragedy to receive financial aid from the government. I am not even referring to the payment of damages, which could reach a staggering total of hundreds of millions of shekels (for all the victims’ families together). For now, the political leadership is focusing on preliminary, immediate, and minimal aid for the families. This funding would cover the cost of therapy for family members scarred by the tragedy, as well as helping support the families who lost their main breadwinners. There is ample precedent for this; the State of Israel has provided initial aid to victims’ families after previous large-scale disasters. The discussions with the insurance agencies and other parties came later, but that process takes years, and the government recognized the importance of meeting the families’ needs immediately. For instance, after the Versailles wedding hall disaster, which claimed the lives of a large group of wedding guests when the floor collapsed during a celebration, financial aid was released shortly after the tragedy.
The problem today is that the Treasury (but not the National Insurance Institute) is opposed to making payments to the victims’ families. Treasury officials have announced that no financial aid will be released until the state commission of inquiry completes its investigation of the disaster. Perhaps they are concerned that the investigation will affect the future payment of damages, or something of the sort. Nevertheless, this position outraged the members of the Knesset, infuriated the families themselves, and even evoked a sharp reaction from Justice Miriam Naor, who is heading the commission of inquiry. In an unusual step, Naor released an open letter declaring that her committee’s work has no bearing on the payment of damages to the families. But even that did not budge the Treasury from its stance.
The battle for the benefit of the families is being led primarily by MK Yaakov Asher of Degel HaTorah, with the close collaboration of MK Michoel Malchieli of Shas. The two men have brought up the subject over and over in the Knesset itself and in its committees, but to no avail. The blatant hypocrisy and outright lies that have accompanied the Treasury’s obstinacy are even more infuriating. When the chareidi parties first asked for financial aid for the families, they were accused of trying to subvert the formation of a commission of inquiry. The chareidim insisted that there was no connection between the two issues, and that the first priority should be to assist the stricken families rather than looking for guilty parties to blame for the disaster. This evoked a cascade of outrage and criticism against the chareidi parties, and in the end, the commission of inquiry was formed—but no financial aid materialized. To make matters worse, the Treasury decided now to pin the blame for the lack of payments on the commission itself.
The Government Decides on a Delay
Yaakov Asher previously introduced a proposed law that would have called for compensatory payments to be made to the families of the Meron victims, but the government rejected that bill based on some empty arguments. Since that time, a bill was passed that requires government assistance for the victims of disasters in general. This law does not help the Meron families themselves, however, since a law passed by the Knesset does not take effect retroactively. This week, after waiting the required six months since his bill was defeated, Yaakov Asher asked for it to be presented in the Knesset again.
Once again, the government is opposed to the bill. Now, how do I know that? Because every law that is brought to the Knesset on Wednesday (the day when the laws submitted by the members of the Knesset, as opposed to the government, are discussed) is debated at the beginning of the week in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The committee’s decisions regarding any proposed law are followed by the government itself and the coalition. This Sunday, the committee discussed Yaakov Asher’s bill and decided to postpone the government’s decision for three months. In practice, that means that if the law is brought to a vote in the Knesset this Wednesday, the coalition will ensure that it is rejected again—unless something changes before then, or the public pressure manages to sway the government.
Some of the comments made during the committee session were leaked to the press, making it clear that some of the ministers were in favor of the bill. Justice Minister Gideon Saar led the opposition to the measure, arguing that there was no need for the payments to be required by a law and that it is sufficient for the government to have the authority to disburse them. However, it seems that the reality is exactly the opposite: Without a law forcing its hand, the government does not intend to release any funds to the families. Saar also claimed that he had presented a proposed outline for the needed financial aid to the finance minister and that he is still waiting for a response. It is quite possible that the government is uncomfortable with the fact that Yaakov Asher is leading this initiative, and that the battle is simply being fought over who will take credit for the payments when they are released. Unfortunately, that battle is being waged on the backs of the suffering families.
Penina Tamano, the Minister of Immigrant Absorption, commented during the committee session, “The fact that the families haven’t received compensation yet is a sign of moral bankruptcy for us and for the state. After the Versailles tragedy, the families received funding immediately.” She suggested postponing the government’s decision by only two weeks, rather than three months.
Tamar Zandberg of the Meretz party added, “I completely agree. Some of these families are struggling with terrible poverty. This is very important, and we have to see to it that it happens.”
An interesting comment came from Nachman Shai, Minister of Diaspora Affairs, who revealed that nine of the victims were not Israeli citizens and insisted that their families should likewise be included in the receipt of government funds.
Benny Gantz also adopted a sympathetic tone. “The State of Israel has a duty to care for the families of the fatalities of the Meron tragedy and the wounded victims of the disaster,” he said. “Yaakov Asher’s bill that calls for compensation, similar to what was done after other disasters, is intended to create justice. We will advance it along with a plan that receives the approval of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Justice.”
But after all of this talk, the justice minister insisted on postponing the proposal for another three months. And that is shameful!
Arik Yekuel’s Testimony
There are two other developments concerning Meron and Lag Ba’Omer that bear mentioning.
First, the government has picked a project manager to oversee the festivities in Meron on this coming Lag Ba’Omer. The man chosen for the position is a former high-ranking military official who went on to serve in the police force and is also a friend of the Minister of Religious Affairs. Putting aside the slightly sour feeling that I have about the tendency for government officials to hand out important jobs to their friends, let us daven for this coming Lag Ba’Omer to pass in peace and safety for all the celebrants. In any event, it is clear that Lag Ba’Omer in Meron will not be the same as it was. There will certainly be severe restrictions put in place.
In addition, the commission of inquiry is continuing its work. This week, the committee heard the testimony of a very interesting person: Arik Yekuel. Yekuel, who served on the police force for seven years and rose through the ranks to the position directly below the chief of police, is a chareidi Jew who lives in Har Nof. In recent times, he was appointed to a very unique post: He was tapped to serve as the advisor to the Minister of Public Security on chareidi affairs. Yekuel’s appointment was prompted by several incidents in which the police mishandled interactions with chareidim, including a few cases in which the police engaged in violence against youths with special needs during chareidi protests. He has also been an advisor to the police on the subject of Meron.
In his testimony, Yekuel voiced his disagreement with the complaints against the government ministers who had used their influence to lift the restrictions on crowding in Meron. Many people, he explained, are confusing the ministers’ involvement in health regulations with general disregard for safety. The truth is that the ministers demanded only that the government loosen the restrictions imposed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. There wasn’t a single minister who asked for any ordinary safety regulations to be relaxed. And Yekuel added that in his opinion, not only did the ministers have every right to intervene in the matter, but it was actually their obligation.
“My first involvement in the issue of Meron was when various chassidish groups complained that the police were interfering with their right to choose the people who would light the bonfires,” Yekuel explained. “I met with Deputy Commissioner Shimon Lavie, the commander of the northern district, who explained to me that the police were actually limiting only the number of bonfires; they had said nothing about who would be permitted to light…. There were reports of restrictions that were expected in Meron, and a furor began to erupt in the chareidi community, which led the heads of local governments to ask for a meeting with [Public Security Minister Amir] Ochana. All the chareidi mayors came to that meeting together, which was highly unusual. One by one, they explained that the festivities in Meron are extremely important to the chareidi community, and they asked for the event to be free of corona restrictions. That entire conversation was only about the coronavirus. The example of Har Habayis was cited many times; they argued that if the Muslims were not limited in their access to Har Habayis on Fridays, then Jewish access to Meron should be equally unrestricted. But no one said a word about safety; they were talking only about the pandemic and health measures. There was a sense that the restrictions were being made selectively. That was a subjective assessment, but there was a significant basis for it.”
Justice Miriam Naor said, “The mayor of Elad said that the hillula would take place in any event, and therefore Ochana needed to go to the prime minister and advance the arrangement that they were demanding. Otherwise, he said, there would be no cooperation on their part. Was there a threatening tone during that meeting?”
“It was a different tone,” Yekuel replied. “The sentiment was that the chareidi community would not be able to tolerate the restrictions. After all, people had come to Meron even during the previous year, when the pandemic was at its height…. Minister Ochana said, ‘I understand, and it is indeed illogical for tens of thousands of people to be permitted to enter Har Habayis but not Meron. However, the decision isn’t in my hands. It is a decision to be made by the Minister of Health. I will bring this matter to him and to the prime minister for review, and they will make their decision.”
“Do you know if he actually brought the question to the prime minister?” Naor asked.
“I know that the prime minister, the health minister, and the public security minister had a meeting,” Yekuel replied.
The Next Battle: The Baba Sali’s Hillula
On a related note, this week marks the yahrtzeit of the Baba Sali, Rav Yisrael Abuchatzeirah, who passed away on 4 Shevat 5744/January 8, 1984. Every year, huge crowds of visitors come to his kever in Netivot on the yahrtzeit; estimates range from 30,000 people to 150,000.
Last week, the police made a surprising announcement: “After discussions were held over the past two weeks with all the relevant authorities, the Israel Police has decided to issue an order prohibiting the public to gather in Netivot for the hillula of the Baba Sali. The commander of the Negev district, Assistant Commissioner Nachshon Nagler, has given orders for the Baba Sali’s hillula not to be held with the participation of the broader public this year. The public will not be permitted to enter the area surrounding the tomb, which is maintained by the Baba Sali Association. This order was given after the commander of the Negev district determined that there is no reasonable possibility for the safety regulations to be met in time for the hillula and was made in accordance with the authorities enshrined in the Law of Safety in Public Places and with the Police Ordinance.” The statement was accompanied by a warning of sorts: “The police ask the public not to make any effort to visit the grave independently during the hillula on Wednesday and Thursday of this coming week [i.e., the week of this writing]. The police call on the public to obey this directive and to refrain from coming to the area of the tziyun on the day of the hillula. In the event of violation of this order, the police will use all necessary means, to any degree necessary, to prevent the public from entering the area and to prevent the public hillula from being held.”
This was a blatant reaction to the Meron tragedy. At the same time, canceling every mass event to avoid a repeat of the Meron disaster is merely taking the easy way out. What is even more infuriating is the fact that no one gave a single thought to placing any restrictions on mass entertainment events taking place at the same time.
The police announcement triggered a major outcry. Rabbonim, municipal officials, and Knesset members all spoke out strongly against the decision. In the end, it became clear that the problem was actually an issue of money. There simply wasn’t enough funding for appropriate safety measures to be taken. In the past, when the Shas party controlled the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the Ministry of the Interior, this was never an issue. But under the current government, it is necessary to fight for funding for something as basic as safety at mekomos kedoshim.
Once the truth of the matter was exposed, it didn’t take long for the government to announce that it had come up with the necessary funds. Last Thursday, the police issued an updated statement informing the public that they would permit the event to take place after all, since the government had provided the funding and the municipality of Netivot had agreed to assume responsibility for it. According to the police, the participants in the event would not be permitted to enter the seven-dunam area around the kever itself; they would be restricted to the area around it. They added that their consent for the hillula was contingent on the submission of appropriate plans for safety to be maintained.
The police added that only the Abuchatzeirah family themselves would be permitted to enter the area of the kever itself, while the plaza around the kever would be open to only 400 people at any given moment. The purpose of this restriction is to ensure that social distancing can be maintained in order to prevent transmission of the coronavirus, as well as to avoid dangerous crowding similar to the conditions that led to the tragedy in Meron.
As of the writing of these lines, however, it is still unclear if the hillula will take place, since the mayor of Netivot claims that he hasn’t received adequate funds from the government and there was some backtracking on the commitment.
Rav Dovid Cohen Speaks Against the Conversion Reform
I have many more things to tell you about. For one thing, Yair Lapid recently announced that the Kosel compromise isn’t off the table at all, and that the government will be attempting to promote it. This directly contradicts the statements of Avigdor Lieberman, who easily qualifies as the most anti-religious minister in the government. Meanwhile, Nachman Shai, the Minister of Diaspora Affairs, decided to weigh in as well, publicly opining that the government has an obligation to give in to the demands of the Reform movement. And Merav Michaeli, the Minister of Transportation, has repeated her insistence that she will not stop promoting public transportation on Shabbos.
On top of all that, the proposed reform in the giyur system is still in the works.
Two weeks ago, a convention of dayanim was held to discuss the issue. The director-general of the rabbinic courts actually prohibited the dayanim from meeting (possibly out of fear of reprisal from the religious affairs minister), but hundreds of dayanim ignored him and gathered nonetheless. These are dayanim who serve on the state botei din. The main speaker at the event was Rav Dovid Cohen, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron. He was followed by Rav Dovid Lau, the chief rabbi of Israel and current nosi of the Bais Din Hagadol.
Rav Dovid Cohen warned about the dangers of the giyur law. “They are talking about leniencies in giyur,” he said, “but we know that there are very few rabbonim who are actually meikil on conversion. With regard to kashrus, there are some people who will settle for a lower standard of kashrus while others will want a higher standard. Even then, people must recognize that there is one aspect of kashrus that is an issue between man and his Creator, and one person might be more stringent while another might be more lenient as a personal matter, but there must also be responsibility for those innocent people who might stumble as a result. Giyur, on the other hand, isn’t something that is up to every individual to decide; it is an issue for the Jewish nation as a whole. If a non-Jew is brought into the Jewish nation, the result might be that he will later marry a Jewish woman and thus damage the kedusha of Klal Yisroel.”
In case you are wondering why Rav Dovid Cohen, the rosh yeshiva of Chevron, was involved in a matter concerning the botei din, the answer is simple. His father, Rav Yosef Cohen, was a member of the Bais Din Hagadol and fought alongside Rav Elyashiv and other rabbonim to prevent the slightest breach of the standards of the botei din. Due to his father’s involvement in these issues, Rav Dovid Cohen himself feels an added sense of responsibility toward the botei din.
Rav Dovid Lau Is Backed by Gedolei Yisroel
Whether due to the impact of the convention or his own descent from a prestigious rabbinic family, Rav Dovid Lau took a strong stance this past week, informing the government that he will not sign any certificates of conversion issued by municipal rabbis despite the reforms that would authorize those rabbonim to perform conversions. Finance Minister Lieberman immediately responded by demanding Rav Lau’s resignation.
Incidentally, the infamous kashrus reform is already in effect. The Ministry of Religious Affairs recently issued a notice informing the public that the kashrus plan has been put into practice. In response, Rav Yitzchak Yosef called on the public to refrain from patronizing stores whose hechsheirim are given by rabbonim in other cities.
Returning to our story, Rav Dovid Lau received the complete backing of the gedolei Yisroel for his move. He visited the homes of Rav Gershon Edelstein and Rav Chaim Kanievsky, both of whom voiced their support for him. There is no question that he has taken a significant step toward opposing the so-called “reforms.” He also gained the support of Chacham Shalom Cohen, the nosi of the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah, who released the following message to the rabbonim of Israel:
“Due to our many sins, ‘Yaakov has been given over to plundering and Yisroel to pillagers.’ The destroyers of religion have risen up in wickedness and are trying to uproot all the foundations of religion in Eretz Yisroel, permitting giyurim for hundreds of thousands of non-Jews in violation of the ways of our holy Torah, in order to harm the vineyard of the house of Yisroel and the sanctity of its family lines with terrible assimilation that will end in destruction. They are also trying to wrest kashrus from the faithful hands of rabbonim who are authorized for that purpose and to place it in foreign hands, which may sow destruction and devastation in the realm of kashrus and its kedushah. Moreover, their entire goal is to sow dispute between the rabbonim of Israel by demanding that rabbonim be allowed to issue kashrus certifications outside the areas under their jurisdiction, thus creating competition and envy between them. In a place where a kashrus certificate was revoked by the local rov for halachic reasons, another rov will now be able to come and issue his own certification. This will be devastating to the entire kashrus system in this country, and there is no way to predict where it may lead. Therefore, we must proclaim our daas Torah that no one should cooperate with them in any way, whether on issues of conversion or kashrus. No rov may presume to issue kashrus certifications outside the area of his jurisdiction as a mora d’asra; he shall not encroach on the livelihood of a colleague by certifying kashrus in another city in any form, and the remnant of Israel shall commit no injustice. The rabbonim shall strengthen and uphold kashrus in their own areas in accordance with halacha, without fear or hesitation, while for those who set themselves apart from Hashem’s people and violate His will, their kashrus shall be forbidden in every place, for it is a sign that their desire is only to infringe on the livelihoods of others and to destroy kashrus itself.”
This sharply worded letter also bears the signatures of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Gershon Edelstein, and Rav Shimon Baadani, another member of the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah.
Rockets and Riots
There is much more to write about, but I am running out of space. I could tell you about the annual poverty report of the National Insurance Institute, which revealed that 1.4 million people in Israel suffer from hunger. That is a very sad statistic, not to mention a badge of shame for this country. Meanwhile, Israel is being rocked by a wave of price increases on a wide range of commodities, from electricity to the products of the Osem food company. Osem’s announcement of a planned wave of price hikes triggered a public outcry and the threat of a consumer boycott. That, incidentally, is fairly ironic, considering the scathing criticism directed at the chareidi community when they threatened to boycott companies whose business policies were harmful to Yiddishkeit. Somehow, a boycott has become a “kosher” tool when it is used by the secular public….
In other news, the year 2021 saw a sharp increase in both the number of fatal car accidents and the number of fatalities in accidents. (Of course, the two statistics are related.) Meanwhile, we have been confronted with a new problem: the bird flu. The microorganisms that cause this flu were found in several streams in the north, meaning that the water in those streams has become unfit for drinking.
The security situation is also still worrisome. On Shabbos, rockets landed on the beach in Tel Aviv. Of course, that brought the hostilities to a new level. Some believe that the rocket fire was a response to Benny Gantz’s meeting with Abu Mazen last week, which took place in Gantz’s home in Rosh Ha’ayin. The meeting sent shock waves through the fragile coalition, as Gantz was blasted by the right wing, even before it was revealed that he had promised diplomatic and financial concessions to the Palestinian president. Hamas claimed that the rockets had been fired “by mistake.”
Meanwhile, a terrorist was neutralized while attempting to murder soldiers near the city of Ariel in the Shomron, and there were two terror attacks reported in Yerushalayim. In one case, stones were thrown at a bus near the Hizme checkpoint, and a tragedy was averted only by a miracle. In the other case, Arabs rioted in the neighborhood of Silwan near the Old City, and a Jewish-owned car was torched. May Hashem protect us!
Conflict of Interests in the Knesset
Last Wednesday, MK Uri Maklev presented a motion for the agenda with the title “The Refusal of the Ombudsman of the Judiciary, Uri Shoham, to Appear in the Knesset, and the Refusal of the Chairman of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee to Force Him to Appear.” This motion wasn’t approved at first as an urgent motion, and Maklev appealed the decision to the Knesset Committee, which is a fairly common procedure. His appeal was accepted, and the motion was approved and brought to the Knesset on Wednesday evening. Interior Minister Shaked and the Reform member of the Knesset both asked for the motion to be struck from the agenda, but the members of Shas and UTJ, along with several lawmakers of the Likud, stood firm alongside Maklev. The coalition soon realized that it was in trouble: There was a majority in favor of the motion in the Knesset, and the speaker, in a blatantly political move, tried to stall for time until the coalition could bring more Knesset members to the room. When he saw that he would not succeed in that effort, he advised Shaked to agree to have the issue transferred to a committee for further discussion, which would at least spare the coalition from an embarrassing defeat in the Knesset itself.
The discussion took place this week in the Constitution Committee, where the chareidi Knesset members gave voice to the community’s outrage. Justice Shoham, who made an outrageous decision against Rav Yitzchak Yosef and who has a history of rejecting complaints against his cronies on the Supreme Court, didn’t deign to attend the session. He was notified that his attendance was requested at a session of the committee where his own conduct would be discussed, but he replied that he would not be coming. In spite of the fact that a summons to appear before a parliamentary committee is compulsory, Shoham seems to feel that he is above the law. The committee chairman, who represents the Reform movement in the Knesset, responded by announcing that he would exempt Shoham from appearing. The chairman actually does possess that authority, but that was still an unforgivable offense.
His second offense was the failure to recuse himself from the discussion. Close examination reveals that he had a blatant conflict of interests in this case. The complaint against Rav Yitzchak Yosef was submitted by the Reform Center for Religion and State, which is an arm of the Reform movement. The committee chairman himself joined the staff of the Reform Center for Religion and State after completing his internship with the prosecution immediately after his army service. In 2009, he was elected to the position of executive director of the Reform movement in Israel. Yet today, as the chairman of the Constitution Committee, he has the audacity to preside over a discussion of a complaint submitted by the same organization where he worked for many years, an organization that is part of the movement that he himself directed. Could there be any greater conflict of interests? And this man himself has the temerity to preach to the chareidi community!
A Kollel in Petach Tikvah, a Brocha from Rav Chaim
Last motzoei Shabbos, I visited Petach Tikvah. For me, that was almost tantamount to leaving the country. I was attending an event held at Kollel Ohel Yiska, which is located in Amishav, a neighborhood in the city that is slowly turning chareidi. This event was part of the matching campaign held last week for the kollelim of Eretz Yisroel. Anyone who wished to donate to the cause was invited to call a national hotline and to select the kollel to which he had chosen to donate funds. It was deeply moving to see all the kollelim in the country uniting for a single massive fundraising drive. Rumor has it that the campaign was very successful.
At the end of the siyum, I danced along with a mixed group of yungeleit from the kollel and baalebatim who live in the area and support the kollel. I was impressed by the kollel and its rosh kollel; the yungeleit are a group of bnei aliyah of outstanding caliber, and the local supporters of the kollel are remarkable traditional Jews. I listened raptly as the rov and leader of the neighborhoods of Amishav and Ganei Hadar, Rav Shlomo Gottfried, addressed the gathering.
The humble sign that identifies the building as “Beis Knesses Ayeles Hashachar Amishav” does not do justice to the tremendous radiance of the Torah that emanates from it, suffusing the entire community with light. The mora d’asra spoke highly of the kollel. “This kollel is the basis for our neighborhood’s entire existence,” he said. “The more this makom Torah grows, the more the children in this neighborhood will be talmidei chachomim.” Turning to the supporters of the kollel, who play the role of Zevulun and are partners in its growth, he added, “The more you invest in Yissochor, the more benefits you will reap. The zechus of the Torah is the greatest possible protection. It is the best form of life insurance.”
Kollel Ohel Yiska was founded by Rav Moshe Pincus in memory of his mother, Rebbetzin Yisraela (Yiska) Pincus, wife of Rav Eliyohu Yitzchok Pincus and daughter of Rav Nochum Eliyohu Braverman. Today, Rav Moshe serves as the rosh kollel. As the neighborhood becomes populated with increasing numbers of yungeleit and working chareidim, alongside its longtime religious residents, Ohel Yiska is increasingly viewed as the source of all that is good in the community. The yungeleit maintain their sedorim with rigorous discipline. They take regular tests, prepare written summaries of the sugyos they learn, and deliver chaburos, and their dedication to the kollel is rewarded with paychecks much larger than the average kollel salary.
I found it highly moving to meet the yungeleit, to listen to the speakers, and to see the images during the video presentation. In one clip, Rav Shimshon Pincus was seen declaring, “When a ben Torah sits and learns, it is like a kiss for the Borei Olam!” In another exchange, Rav Eliyohu Mann was seen asking Rav Chaim Kanievsky, “Can I quote the rov as saying that the donors to this kollel will receive these brachos?”
“Yehi ratzon,” Rav Chaim replied.
Rav Mann then said, “Rav Elyashiv once said that there are a few select individuals in every generation whose brachos have an impact. In this generation, he said, Rav Chaim Kanievsky is such a person.”