Wednesday, Jan 19, 2022

My Take On the News

The Government Has Given Up

The State of Israel has decided to give up the battle against the coronavirus. Nothing is under control, and the virus will simply be allowed to run its course.

If the instructions emanating from the government have been utterly confusing until now, that will no longer be the case. Instead, there will be no instructions. Not only is no one in control of the situation, while Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett is completely dazed and confused, but every individual ministry has also given up control of its own area of influence. The Ministry of Education is not giving any guidance to the public, nor is the Ministry of Health, or any other government ministry, for that matter.

At the same time, the infection rate has skyrocketed. The confirmed cases of coronavirus have reached record highs. On that note, I have my own personal story to share. On motzoei Shabbos, I took my wife to have a Covid test. She had a feeling that she was sick; even though she wasn’t suffering from the symptoms of the coronavirus, she insisted on undergoing a test. We first went to a testing center run by the Meuchedet health fund, of which we are members. The testing center was a huge tent on Rechov Chiram (near the Nachalas Akiva shtieblach on Rechov Techeiles Mordechai in Yerushalayim), but the line was so incredibly long that we decided to try getting the test at the offices of Magen David Adom on Rechov Hei Mem Gimmel instead. When we arrived, we discovered that two tents had been set up there, as well, for coronavirus tests, and there was a massive line outside each one. Instead of waiting there, we decided to try the testing center run by United Hatzalah at the entrance to the city, near Center One. We knew that we would have to pay to be tested there, but it seemed better than waiting on line for two or three hours. However, we were dismayed to discover that there was a long line there, as well. Finally, we decided to wait a few hours and then head to the Meuchedet testing center on Rechov Haturim. We were told that there were six testing stations there, and the wait was bound to be shorter. When we arrived, there was a relatively long line, but we managed to have the test performed. My wife was the very last person to be tested before an announcement echoed over the loudspeaker that the center was closing for the night….

In case you wanted to know, she tested positive for the coronavirus. At least we can look on the bright side and thank Hashem for the fact that not everything in our lives is negative….

My main point, however, is to illustrate the massive demand for corona testing, which is itself a sign of the virus’s spread. After all, people do not get tested unless they have a reason to do so. A person will generally have a corona test only for one of two reasons—either he is experiencing symptoms, or he has been in the vicinity of someone else who was confirmed to be carrying the virus, in which case he must be tested for corona in order to determine whether he is obligated to quarantine. After my wife tested positive, for instance, I received a message instructing me to perform a PCR test. If the result is negative, then I will be exempt from quarantine; since I received three doses of the vaccine, the Health Ministry will accept the possibility that I didn’t contract the virus from her. According to the official rules, a person is required to be tested for the virus if he spent at least ten minutes in a car or a room with a person who tested positive for the virus, if they were less than two meters apart.

I know you are in suspense to find out about the results of my test. Well, I will perform the test, and I will soon find out if I must enter quarantine or I can continue going about my usual routine. But in any event, based on what I observed, I can tell you that the testing centers have been flooded with people, which means that contagion is rampant. And my own observations dovetail perfectly with the official statistics, which are quite high. As the virus tightens its grip on our country, we must recognize that we have nowhere to turn for salvation other than our Father in Heaven.

Another Turnabout for Bennett

Another issue connected to the coronavirus, as well as the omicron and delta variants—and I really don’t understand much about the difference between them—is Naftoli Bennett’s public image. As the number of Covid cases soars, Bennett’s image plummets. That isn’t only because he has clearly lost control of the situation and has no idea what to do about it; it is also because Bennett is being contrasted with Netanyahu, who managed to exert almost complete control when the crisis erupted on his watch as prime minister.

For Naftoli Bennett, the worst thing possible is to be unfavorably compared to Netanyahu. Bennett himself used to constantly criticize Bibi when the latter was prime minister, asserting that he could do a much better job of leading the country. Well, now the tables have turned, and those boastful proclamations are coming back to haunt him.

One of Bennett’s biggest problems is the long memory of the media and of the Israeli people. Many of his own statements from his time in the opposition have been trotted out to be replayed for public entertainment. Depending on your perspective, those statements are now either ludicrously amusing or terribly sad. At the time, Bennett used to insist that if he were given a chance to lead the country, he could put an end to the pandemic in just three weeks. When Netanyahu’s government imposed a lockdown, Bennett screeched in protest, accusing them of harming the Israeli people. And when the government didn’t implement a lockdown, he railed against Netanyahu and accused him of abandoning the citizens of Israel. There is one particular video that has been replayed over and over, in which Bennett can be heard shouting in the Knesset, “Have you lost your minds? What is wrong with you? People are dying!”

And what is happening today, now that Bennett occupies the prime minister’s chair? People are dying, and the government is letting them die. Their attitude seems to be that the people will manage somehow; everyone will contract the coronavirus, and the state will hardly do anything about it.

Most amusing is the fact that Bennett himself wrote a book titled How to Beat a Pandemic. Today, that book has turned him into an object of ridicule, as everyone mockingly demands to know why he hasn’t consulted his own book to find a solution to the current quagmire of infection. The answer, of course, is that the book itself is nothing more than a joke.

On that note, it is also worth revealing that a man who used to have close ties to Bennett has claimed that he himself was actually the author of the book, and that Bennett appropriated it and published it under his own name. Bennett agreed to compensate the man for the purported plagiarism. That is yet another little story that doesn’t add much to the prime minister’s public image, to say the least.

A Flimsy Excuse

In a separate article, I wrote about Bennett’s extremely undignified outburst in the Knesset last Wednesday. I also mentioned his deplorably unstatesmanlike reaction to MK Orit Struck, a resident of Chevron and member of the Religious Zionism party, who approached him in the Knesset to castigate him for voting against the “young settlement” enterprise. (Bennett had voted in favor of the Electricity Law and against the reservation that would have granted recognition to illegally built Jewish settlements as well.) When Struck confronted him, Bennett shouted in rage, “Get out of my sight!”

It seems that Bennett immediately realized that he had shot himself in the proverbial foot. His behavior was unbecoming not only for a prime minister but for any civilized human being. In order to cover up his gaffe, Bennett released a statement explaining that Struck hadn’t been wearing a mask and that she had come too close to him, and he was afraid that he would contract the coronavirus from her and had shouted at her in alarm. (The same response was quoted by a number of reporters; certain members of the Israeli press often write about the prime minister in almost exactly the same words, which seems to indicate that someone—possibly Bennett himself—feeds them the text of their stories.) On its own, this excuse was as flimsy as it was illogical.

However, Bennett’s weak logic was far from his only problem. You see, there are cameras everywhere today, especially in the Knesset, and it did not take long for the media to discover that Struck had indeed been wearing a mask. Although she moved out of range of the camera a few seconds before her exchange with Bennett, there is no reason to presume that she took off her mask before approaching him. It has also become clear that she didn’t come nearly as close to the prime minister as he claims. And the absurdity of his excuse is compounded by the fact that Bennett himself approached the opposition benches just a few minutes later, without wearing a mask, and screamed at them in a fit of unbridled rage. If he was really so concerned about transmission of the virus, Bennett should have been taking great care not to infect the members of the Likud and Shas parties.

One thing is clear: Bennett is being pursued by particularly bad luck. Or, in other words, he completely lacks siyata d’shmaya.

Multiple Roshei Yeshivos Infected with Covid

There is still more to write about both of these topics—the Electricity Law and the coronavirus.

The Electricity Law, as I mentioned, grants official recognition to illegal Arab buildings and thus makes it possible for the homes to be connected to the electric grid. When the law was composed, the political right was incensed by the fact that Bennett, Shaked, and their colleagues in Yamina made this concession for illegal construction in the Arab (or, to be more precise, Bedouin) community but did not extend the same accommodation to buildings constructed by Jews. But now it seems that the law may prove to be a boon to the Jewish communities. It has been revealed that the Electricity Law might actually legalize the buildings in Yehuda and the Shomron as well, regardless of its authors’ intentions, since it is technically impossible to implement a double standard. The law cannot differentiate between Arabs and Jews, and the new bill might therefore prove to benefit Jewish construction in the settlements. This will create a very difficult situation for Mansour Abbas, the man behind this bill, and for its supporters on the left. They might discover that they actually contributed to the legalization of the very settlements that they despise. Indeed, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has already announced that he is examining the legal ramifications of the Electricity Law for the settlements.

As for the coronavirus, the wave of mass infections has already reached our spiritual leadership here in Eretz Yisroel. On Sunday, it was announced that Rav Gershon Edelstein, the rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, had contracted the coronavirus, and the public was asked to daven for Rav Yerachmiel Gershon ben Miriam. Another announcement came shortly on the heels of this one, with a list of several other prestigious roshei yeshivos who had contracted the virus, including Rav Berel Povarsky, rosh yeshivas Ponovezh, Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron; Rav Boruch Weisbecker, rosh yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu; Rav Yaakov Stefansky, rosh yeshivas Torah B’Tifartah; and Rav Yehoshua Eichenstein, rosh yeshivas Yad Aharon. Needless to say, this news left the chareidi community rather glum. It is always saddening to hear about gedolei Yisroel who have become ill. Fortunately, none of them seem to be suffering from severe symptoms, but we must daven for their well-being nonetheless. At their advanced ages, the virus is certainly dangerous. It is also surprising that Rav Gershon Edelstein contracted the virus in spite of the strenuous efforts that were made to protect him from it. But when Hashem wishes for something to happen, there is no way for a mortal being to thwart His will.

Constant Fear in Yehuda and the Shomron

We have already mentioned the Jews in Yehuda and the Shomron who live in illegally constructed dwellings; it is important to note that they live under intolerable conditions. Think about the settlement of Chomesh, for example. Even though a talmid in the yeshiva in Chomesh was recently murdered, the police and the army are going about their business as if nothing happened. In spite of the pain and grief that have engulfed the residents, the police are callously demolishing all the buildings that were erected recently without proper permits. That simply shows the scope of this government’s appalling apathy. Even more than that, the settlers themselves are outraged by the fact that a prime minister who portrays himself to be one of their own, a right-wing politician who sports a knit yarmulke, is presiding over the continued demolitions of their homes. And that is in spite of the fact that Bennett and his partner in the government, Ayelet Shaked, made an explicit pledge that there would be no more demolitions in Chomesh.

But that is not the only reason for indignation in the settlements. In all the areas bordering on Arab settlements—in other words, almost all the Jewish communities in the area—the residents have a general sense that they are sorely lacking security. Arson and stone-throwing attacks have become daily occurrences; they are so common that the media barely reports on these incidents unless there are fatalities. Then again, there might be another explanation for the lack of focus on these crimes: Perhaps the attacks are ignored simply because most of the media leans to the left and has no interest in reporting such stories.

This week, someone compiled a list of all the incidents that took place over the previous weekend, in the course of a mere two days, and the numbers were staggering. During a single weekend, there were numerous episodes of violence throughout the area of Yehuda and the Shomron. In the Gush Etzion region and the surrounding area, there were dozens of incidents in which Arabs hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at Jews and attempted to carry out terror attacks. In one case, a woman was injured by stones thrown at her car. Two other people were injured when their car was pelted with rocks near the settlement of Tekoa, and another two people were injured in the vicinity of Efrat. Terrorists also attempted to set fire to the settlement of Tzuf Chalamish. There was also an attempted car ramming attack in the Shomron on Friday, and there were clashes between Palestinian rioters and IDF soldiers in several locations.

As you can see, life is very tense for the residents of the area. They live in constant fear, and for good reason; not a single day goes by without the Arabs making multiple attempts to murder Jews.

Police Violence Exposed

Another major issue in the news is the phenomenon of police violence against chareidim. Last week, during a protest against the construction of the light rail (or for some other cause) in Mea Shearim, the police brought a water cannon to the scene and unleashed powerful sprays of water on the protestors. One of the demonstrators ran in front of the truck, and the police deliberately turned the cannon on him. The third jet of water hit him with such force that he was thrown to the ground; his head struck the edge of the sidewalk, and he was seriously injured. The entire incident was caught on video, which also shows what happened immediately after his fall: A group of police officers approached the man to arrest him, but when they saw that he was injured, they turned around and walked away.

The behavior of the police was utterly appalling—both the fact that they inflicted serious injuries on a protestor because his behavior irked them, and the fact that they left him lying on the street, helpless and injured. In response to the outcry over the incident, Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said simply, “He provoked the police officers.” To that, I would respond: So what? If someone provokes a police officer, does that give the officer the right to respond with unbridled brutality? And this is aside from the shocking assault on Chaim Mizrachi, which is the subject of a separate article.

The police have also received their fair share of criticism in the ongoing inquiry into the disaster in Meron. This week, the commission of inquiry heard the testimony of Assistant Commissioner Shimon Nachmani, who revealed that Police Chief Yaakov Shabtai had ignored the warnings of the dangers posed by the crowded conditions in Meron. To be fair, this was a bit disingenuous, since the warnings focused on the danger of increased contagion due to the coronavirus; no one predicted the type of disaster that actually occurred. Nevertheless, this testimony pinned the blame on the police, rather than any other agency.

Hundreds of Shul Desecrations in Five Years

Here is another item concerning the police: In the city of Lod, where concerns are rising about the possible resumption of Arab rioting, there has been a rash of attacks on shuls. Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev recently wrote the following, in response to a parliamentary query about the torching of shuls in Lod: “In May 2021, during Operation Guardian of the Walls, there were several incidents in which shuls in the city of Lod were set on fire. On May 12, 2021, two adjacent shuls on Rechov Bar Ilan in Lod, which share a single wall, were torched. On the same day, the pergola of a shul on Rechov Eli Cohen was set on fire. On May 11, 2021, and on May 13, 2021, the Dosa shul on Rechov Hachalutz was torched. Investigations were opened in response to the incidents described above. The police force is working tirelessly in order to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice; however, the criminals haven’t yet been located. Since the cases are still open, I cannot elaborate on the findings of the investigations.”

This rambling introduction is really unnecessary, and Bar Lev’s response could easily be condensed into a simple statement: No, the police haven’t done anything to combat the phenomenon of arson attacks on shuls in Israel. Furthermore, while he made sure to point out that the two shuls on Rechov Bar Ilan shared a wall, that does nothing to mitigate the severity of the crime. And the Dosa shul was the site of a pogrom on more than one occasion. To make matters worse, Bar Lev seems to have omitted some attacks on shuls in Lod. It also seems very peculiar that the police haven’t managed to locate a single suspect in these incidents, in spite of the vast range of investigative tools, technological devices, and security cameras at their disposal. Finally, while the minister insisted that he could not elaborate further on the progress of the investigations, he appears to have refrained from elaborating on anything at all.

I have personally been trying for years to get the police to release statistics on crimes committed against shuls. They have always responded with the same infuriating claim: The desecration of a shul is not classified as a separate category of crime, and such incidents are merely listed in their records together with other attacks on “religious institutions.” As a result, they have always claimed that they cannot provide accurate statistics. Every public security minister in recent years has agreed that this attitude is not acceptable. Two months ago, the police finally updated their filing system to include a separate classification for crimes involving the desecration of shuls. I can now reveal to you that over the past five years, 623 investigations have been opened into crimes committed against a shul, and in 323 of those cases, the police questioned at least one suspect, while 92 of the suspects were indicted. Assuming that any case that was resolved led to the arrest of multiple suspects, this means that a very small number of the cases were actually solved, out of a whopping total of 623 shul desecrations!

Israel Sends the Wrong Message to the World

Sadly, the apathy of the Israeli police may have far-reaching repercussions. A shul in the neighborhood of Lorenteggio in Milano, Italy, was recently vandalized. The natural response of the Jewish community should be to call on the Italian authorities to work hard in order to locate the perpetrators and bring them to justice.

But therein lies the problem: How can the Jews call on other governments to prosecute criminals who vandalize a shul, when such incidents have become commonplace, and are typically ignored, in the State of Israel itself? The list of shuls that have been desecrated in Israel over the past year has become very long, and the truth is that even one attack against a shul in Israel would be too much. And what are the authorities in Israel doing about this phenomenon? Very little. So how can we complain about the government in Italy?

A weak response to anti-Semitism in Israel itself is the problem of every Jew in the world. If the Israeli police force ignores the desecration of a shul, then how can the Israeli ambassador to Italy, or to any other country, complain to another government for failing to take action against similar crimes? And the same can be said of anti-Semitic crimes in general. If the chareidim in Israel are persecuted, then it becomes very difficult for Israelis to speak out against the harassment of Jews elsewhere in the world.

Senior Officials Fail to Watch Their Tongues

Last week, there was a tragedy in Israel. An air force helicopter crashed on the shore near the city of Haifa, and the entire country held its breath until the magnitude of the tragedy became clear: One occupant of the helicopter survived the crash, but the other two were killed. But before the facts became known, MK Ram Ben-Barak cheerfully announced from the Knesset podium, “I am pleased to inform the people of Israel that there were no fatalities in the helicopter crash. All of the occupants of the craft were rescued alive.”

This was a compound offense. For one thing, the censor had prohibited anyone in the Knesset to comment on the incident, especially since the victims’ families hadn’t yet been informed of the situation. To make matters worse, he was wrong; two people had been killed. This was infinitely more embarrassing in light of the fact that Ben-Barak is a former head of the Mossad who is currently chairing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee; he certainly should have known better. Of course, he hurried to apologize for his error, but this was yet another lesson to all of us about the fallacy of placing our trust in our security officials.

In a similar incident, Yair Golan, the deputy economy minister and a former general and deputy chief of staff in the IDF, earned the nation’s scorn when he described the settlers in Chomesh as “subhuman.” The Israeli public was appalled by his choice of words, and Golan received nearly wall-to-wall condemnation in the Knesset. And this is a man who was once a general in the IDF!

An Unexpected Windfall

This week, I heard a powerful story directly from the person who experienced it—a kollel yungerman of exceptional character, the sort of person whom every father would dream of taking as a son-in-law. Like many Israeli yungeleit, he is used to living on a shoestring budget while spending his days immersed in Torah learning, and he has experienced many strokes of hashgocha protis that have proven invaluable in sustaining his family.

In recent years, this young man has whittled down his living expenses to the bare minimum in order to keep his family financially afloat. Over time, he has also been forced to cut down on his monthly tzedokah donations, limiting himself to the maaser that he is obligated to give. As much as he would prefer to be more generous, he knows that it is impossible to give tzedokah with money that one does not have.

He was especially disappointed when he was forced to cancel his standing monthly donation to Yeshivas Kol Yaakov. As a talmid of the yeshiva, he still feels an enormous debt of gratitude to it, in spite of the fact that quite a few years have passed since he learned there. Two weeks ago, he received a call from the yeshiva. As soon as the familiar number appeared on the screen of his phone, he began planning his defense for his decision to cut off his donations. With an excuse rapidly formulated in his mind, he answered the phone.

He was not prepared for the announcement that greeted him from the other end of the line. “You have won the yeshiva’s annual raffle!” the caller announced.

“What?” the yungerman asked in surprise.

“Every year, we hold a raffle for all the yeshiva’s donors. This time, you were the winner,” the yeshiva administrator explained, adding that the prize was a hefty sum of money.

“But I canceled my monthly donation just this week,” the yungerman told him.

“It doesn’t matter,” the caller said. “The raffle was for anyone who donated during this year.”

The next day, of course, he resumed his monthly payments.

The Mitzrim Could Have Enslaved Us Forever!

As you have seen by now, the situation here in Israel is very disturbing. The country has no real leader, and everyone seems to be doing whatever they please. Our community is struggling with a seemingly endless flood of hardships. But while we cannot see the purpose of any of these bewildering events, they do point to a single, undeniable fact: Both the world and we ourselves are under the control of a Supreme Being. As Nachshon Wachsman’s mother memorably said, when she was asked how her son could have been killed after so many people had davened for his survival, “Hashem doesn’t work for us.” And as Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach once told a woman who complained that she had been married for many years and had no children, “Hashem doesn’t owe you anything.”

There are some things that people understand only decades after they have happened. There are other things that people never understand. Think about it: Did Yosef Hatzaddik’s brothers understand why the viceroy of Mitzrayim was harassing them? Or did Yosef himself understand the reason for his own ordeal, when he was sold into slavery and later imprisoned in Mitzrayim? Did any of them have the ability to see the complete picture? We all grew up hearing the famous moshol of the gabbai who was chided for handing out aliyos without any visible rhyme or reason, and who replied with a chuckle, “Don’t worry; everything is calculated.” There is also the famous analogy of a bus driver who was confronted by an irate passenger, who complained that some of the passengers were taken to the final stop on the route while others were disembarking earlier. The bus driver likewise laughed and said, “Everyone gets off at the stop that is right for him.”

Rav Uri Zohar always rejoices when he comes across a chiddush, whether it is in halacha, aggadah, mussar, or the Zohar. He recently showed us a fascinating passage in the Zohar, which states that it was necessary for Yosef’s brothers to capture him and sell him into slavery; had they not done so, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explains, the Mitzrim would have had the power to rule over Klal Yisroel permanently.

This is a powerful lesson for us all. We may never understand the reason for the perplexing events that happen to us, but one thing is certain: Everything that occurs in the world is orchestrated and ordained by Hashem, down to the tiniest detail, and every event serves as a fundamental component of His master plan.

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