Wednesday, Sep 28, 2022

My Take On The News

Corruption in the Police Force and Turmoil in the Government

It is impossible to keep up with the pace of news in Israel. This past week brought us an earthquake (mainly in Teveria) that even led the government to sound the alarm and call on the residents to evacuate their homes. And according to the weather report, we are due for another rare phenomenon at the end of this week: snow in Yerushalayim.

Another leading news story this week was the revelation that the police have been using all sorts of advanced technologies to conduct covert surveillance of ordinary citizens, seemingly without the benefit of a warrant. Phone conversations have been recorded and people have been photographed or filmed without their knowledge. The entire country was outraged by the revelation, and a prominent legal expert wrote scathingly that the police, who are supposed to uphold the law, have instead resorted to behaving like a criminal organization.

Of course, the coronavirus is still a major issue here as well. As I mentioned last week, the government seems to have decided to shirk all responsibility for public health and to let the pandemic run its course. Their first step was to shorten the required period of quarantine for Covid patients from ten days to a week, and then to only five days. Finally, they decided this weekend that children will no longer be required to quarantine at all after coming in contact with coronavirus carriers. They will not be barred from going to school, regardless of the potential impact. I can’t help but be reminded of the hue and cry that erupted when Rav Chaim Kanievsky paskened earlier in the pandemic that Talmudei Torah should continue operating normally. At the time, the chareidi community and Rav Chaim himself came under intense fire for this position, but now the government has made a complete reversal without receiving a word of criticism. Meanwhile, some of the ministers are even calling for the government to do away with mask rules and the Green Pass; they insist that we should act as if the coronavirus does not even exist, or if it does, that we have no more ability to control it than the flu.

The government itself, meanwhile, is preoccupied by a very different issue: the submarine deal of several years ago. On Sunday, the government decided to appoint an official commission of inquiry to examine the circumstances of the submarine purchase. And just to give you an idea of the degree of turmoil within this government, not only were all the ministers divided on this issue, but even the three ministers from the Yamina party themselves did not see eye to eye on the subject. Bennett abstained from the vote, Ayelet Shaked voted against appointing the commission, and Matan Kahana voted in favor of it.

“We Run and They Run”

Last week, I sat in on the Shas party’s weekly meeting. The meeting always begins with Mincha, and men who miss the minyanim in the Knesset shul tend to avail themselves of the Shas party’s minyan. After davening, the party members sit around a conference table and someone begins the meeting with a dvar Torah. Last week, the meeting also featured refreshments—an array of delectable fruits served in honor of both Tu B’Shevat and the yahrtzeit of Reb Shalom ben Reb Yichye Ben-Tzur, the father of Yoav Ben-Tzur. Reb Yoav performed a siyum on Maseches Megillah, and when he recited the passage thanking Hashem for placing us among those who sit in the botei medrash, I couldn’t help but think about the contrasts between the various members of the Knesset. Just as the tefillah says, everyone in the Knesset rises early in the morning and spends the day running from task to task, but the difference between them lies in what they are running toward. They run toward emptiness, while we—the bnei Torah—run toward Olam Haba. They toil and receive no reward, whereas we toil and are richly rewarded.

This is as true in the Knesset as in every other area of life. The work of an ordinary lawmaker cannot possibly be compared to the mission of his chareidi counterpart. The chareidim in the Knesset spend their days on lofty pursuits; they work to assist yeshiva bochurim and kollel yungeleit, to guard against attempts to undermine the observance of halacha, to spread kedushah and to avert chillul Hashem. These are far more exalted goals than the objectives of a typical politician.

After the siyum, the party members got down to business, and as I listened to their discussions, I was also struck by the magnitude of their mission. Aryeh Deri gave an overview of the progress of the draft bill, and the men were visibly aware of the tremendous responsibility that rests on their shoulders. The religious Knesset members deal with issues of fundamental importance and are charged with navigating potentially explosive issues with sensitivity and care. There is good reason that they make sure to be guided by daas Torah.

We are all in the middle of a war between light and darkness. For those who are fighting this war l’sheim Shomayim, there is no doubt that they will one day reap the fruits of their labors. There is no natural explanation for the fact that the draft law failed to pass in the Knesset; the only possible reason is that the religious parties were given siyata d’shmaya. The main question, of course, is what will happen next. These events are not in our control, but the one thing I can say is that every member of the religious contingent in the Knesset is doing every last ounce of hishtadlus that is required of him. The rest is completely up to Hashem.

The Pot and the Kettle

Binyomin Netanyahu is continuing to vacillate over his plea bargain. He watched Aryeh Deri resign from the Knesset and show up in court after receiving the attorney general’s agreement to a deal, and that has perhaps fueled his own desire to do the same. However, the window of opportunity for the former prime minister is rapidly closing. In a few days, Avichai Mandelblit will step down from his position as attorney general, and the negotiations with Netanyahu’s lawyers will be conducted by his successor. And there is no way to tell what the next attorney general will decide.

When the talks over a plea deal between Netanyahu and Mandelblit came to light, the reactions were deafening. Netanyahu’s supporters were just as shocked as his enemies. This week, I read something written by one of Netanyahu’s most ardent detractors, and I couldn’t help but laugh. This vocal critic of the former prime minister ridiculed Netanyahu’s supporters for the complete reversal of their attitude toward former Chief Justice Aharon Barak. As soon as they heard that Barak had come out in favor of the plea agreement, the former chief justice—along with Mandelblit and his cronies—was no longer persona non grata in their book. On the contrary, they hailed him for his stance. What the writer failed to mention is that the same turnabout took place within the anti-Netanyahu camp as well: Netanyahu’s legions of detractors abruptly turned against Aharon Barak, who had always been their idol, and against the attorney general, whom they accused of being too soft on Netanyahu. In short, the pot was blissfully indifferent to the fact that it was calling the kettle black.

On a similar note, the judicial system has been accused for years of being biased in favor of anyone who has been kind to it, while trumping up charges against anyone whom the courts desire to silence. These claims have aroused the ire of the left, which has accused the critics of the system of fabricating their own accusations against innocent, well-meaning justices. Well, Aharon Barak, the icon of the left and father of judicial activism, has now effectively proven that the court system was indeed biased all along. He made no secret of his argument that Netanyahu deserves a lenient plea deal because of his track record of defending the Supreme Court. What is this, if not a case of one hand washing the other? No one should be able to deny that this was pure judicial bias!

On a similar note, Netanyahu is facing criminal charges of accepting bribery in the form of favorable news coverage, or “unusual accommodations,” on the Walla web site in exchange for certain professional decisions that benefited Bezeq or other business concerns of Shaul Elovich. This alleged offense is considered a heinous crime in the eyes of Israeli law. Netanyahu protested that his decisions as communications minister were made purely on the basis of professional considerations, and that the coverage on Walla wasn’t slanted in his favor any more than it was biased in favor of any other politician. After all this, Aharon Barak has openly declared that he is in favor of accepting a plea deal with Netanyahu, rather than giving in to the “anyone but Bibi crowd” with their desire to see Netanyahu publicly beheaded in the District Court, for a very simple reason: because Netanyahu himself always granted “favorable accommodations” to the court. Netanyahu sided with the Supreme Court beyond what could be reasonably expected of an impartial official, and Barak sees that as reason to give him preferential treatment—even though Netanyahu is on trial for allegedly making the same type of accommodations for Bezeq. If that isn’t a sign of a blatant double standard, I don’t know what is.

The Government Caves: Financial Aid to Be Given to the Meron Families

At long last, the families of the victims of the Meron tragedy will be receiving financial aid from the government. This aid takes the form of advance payments to be deducted from the compensation that they will receive at some point in the future—possibly in the far future. The debates over the sum of the compensatory payments and who should receive them are liable to take years. Over the past few months, the victims’ families have fought a determined battle against the Treasury in an effort to receive enough immediate aid to help them keep their heads above water. These are families that have lost their breadwinners or have found themselves facing many sudden, urgent, and crushing expenses, including the cost of expensive therapies. The families were assisted in their battle by several members of the Knesset, led by Yaakov Asher of Degel HaTorah. But the Treasury repeatedly insisted that no funds would be released until the commission of inquiry reached its conclusions. This was an absurd answer, since there is no real connection between the commission’s work and the financial aid for the families. In fact, the committee chairwoman, Justice Miriam Naor, who passed away suddenly this week, made a point of announcing publicly that the committee will not deal at all with the issue of the damages due to the families.

The real reason for the Treasury’s refusal was that any initial aid given to the families now would be construed as an admission of sorts that the government was responsible for them, and would therefore obligate it to release further payments in the future. The families’ suffering was of no concern at all to the callous officials in the Treasury, who were interested only in protecting the state coffers.

Justice Minister Gideon Saar (who received the brunt of the pressure in the families’ campaign for assistance) and Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman finally announced that they had agreed on an outline for financial aid for the families. The proposal was for each family to receive approximately 500,000 NIS in preliminary payments. As the judicial proceedings continue, these sums will be deducted from the total payments to be disbursed to the families, after the government decides who will bear the cost of the compensation.

After the outline for the payments was completed, Finance Minister Lieberman announced, “The plan for financial aid that we have developed for the families is vital and important, as is the commission of inquiry, which is carrying out its work at this time as well. Their pain cannot be diminished, and the victims, unfortunately, cannot be brought back. However, we will do everything in our ability to provide the maximum possible response for the families, and we will take every possible precaution in order to prevent the next tragedy.”

Gideon Saar added, “The tremendous losses suffered by 45 families both in Israel and in the Diaspora can never be remedied. The little that this government can do is to make sure that this disaster never recurs and to provide financial aid for the families who were harmed. The outline that we placed on the government’s table today will provide immediate aid to ease the families’ suffering to the greatest degree possible.”

Yaakov Asher announced, “I thank Justice Minister Gideon Saar for his decision to advance an outline for compensation, together with the Treasury, for the families of the victims of the Meron disaster as we agreed in our conversation three weeks ago, after the discussion in the ministerial committee about the bill that I submitted. It is better late than never; this is the state’s obligation to the families, who are entitled to receive compensation as their due, not as a charitable handout.”

The Forum of Families of the Meron Victims released their own brief statement as well: “There are some things that are beyond politics. It is good that the government is showing responsibility and compensating the families of the victims.”

The Reform Movement Admits to Its True Agenda

The Reform movement has managed to continue inflaming passions in Israel, mainly concerning the Kosel Hamaaravi. This time, however, they seem to have shot themselves in the foot by revealing the true scope of their ambitions.

The Reform movement recently released a video bearing its logo, in which three women (who call themselves “rabbahs”) call on the Israeli public to join the fight for the Kosel. The women are seen declaring in the video, “As soon as the chareidi monopoly on the Kosel is broken, we will be able to advance the causes of civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbos.” The video explains to the secular public why the battle for the Kosel agreement to be implemented is important to them, and it provides insight into the movement’s true strategy.

The directors of the Reform movement and the Reform Center for Religion and State had the following to say: “The failure to implement the Kosel agreement keeps public transportation on Shabbos and civil marriage away from all of us. As soon as the chareidi monopoly on the Kosel is broken, we will be able to advance the causes of civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbos. We must not give the Rabbinate ownership of the Kosel; we must diminish the chareidi control over our lives.”

This video let the proverbial cat out of the bag. Moshe Gafni responded to it by declaring, “We are in the middle of a cultural war, and this statement of the Reform movement is a powerful statement. It is regarding things like this that Chazal taught us that during a time of shmad, we must fight even to avoid changing our shoelaces. They are making every effort to strike at everything that is holy and precious to the Jewish people—the Kosel Hamaaravi, marriage and divorce, public transportation on Shabbos, kashrus, Torah education, and much more. We will stand strong to prevent them from succeeding in any way, chas v’chollilah, on any subject that they try to place on the public agenda.”

Similar reactions were heard from other Knesset members and from the chareidi media in Israel. The Religious Zionism party also reacted strongly: “We thank the Reform movement for placing its intentions on the table and tearing away the veil of lies that the government and the ministers of Yamina are trying to sell to us. This video, along with the planned reforms in kashrus and giyur, proves that the Israeli government is fighting to uproot the Jewish identity of the State of Israel, and that anyone who relinquishes control of the Kosel will also be sacrificing that identity. The Reform movement has now openly admitted to that.”

Anti-Semitism on the Rise

This week, the world will observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of this occasion every year, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs presents a report to the government on global anti-Semitic trends and the volume of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the world over the preceding year. Among the findings in this year’s report are the following: In Great Britain, the year 2021 saw the highest number of anti-Semitic incidents in decades. In addition, there was a spike in anti-Semitic crime throughout the world in response to Israeli military activity. Last May, the IDF launched Operation Guardian of the Walls, which became a pretext for violence against Jews. In that month alone, over 450,000 anti-Semitic messages were posted on social media throughout the world, an increase of 230 percent over the same period in the previous year.

The report also notes that there was a rise in what is known as “classic anti-Semitic expression” in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The various pandemic-related restrictions and vaccination policies seem to have encouraged Covid deniers and others to blame the Jews for causing the plague. There were also reports of “new anti-Semitism,” which is defined as the tendency to hold Jews throughout the world responsible for the actions of the State of Israel. Throughout the year 2021, especially in the month of May, anti-Israel protestors gathered repeatedly in large crowds outside shuls and other Jewish communal institutions. In their view, individual Jews and Jewish communities throughout the world bear collective responsibility for Israel’s actions.

Unfortunately, America occupies a prominent place in the report. The Ruderman Family Foundation released the results of a study carried out by the Mellman Group, which found that four out of ten respondents in the Jewish community in America had personally experienced anti-Semitism or acknowledged that someone close to them had experienced it. This dovetails with another statistic in the report, which found that 75 percent of American Jews believe that anti-Semitism is present to a greater degree today than it was five years ago. Of the respondents who agreed with that position, 83 percent were at least 60 years old. This is an important detail, since it shows that the trend affects a sensitive population that is at higher risk. In addition, 94 percent of the respondents agreed that anti-Semitism exists in America in general, and 55 percent believed that it has a strong presence in the country.

Rabbi Pinchos Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis and the chief rabbi of Moscow, released his own response to the report of the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs: “I am not surprised by the findings revealed in this report. Jewish communities will be able to live in peace only if they are able to observe all of their traditions and customs, in accordance with their faith. The European governments must take responsibility for preserving freedom of religion for European Jews. This is a very important component of the fight against anti-Semitism. The rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe is inseparably linked to the restrictions on the Jewish lifestyle, which began in the Court of Justice of the European Union and spread to some of its member states.”

Eighty Years Since the Wannsee Conference

“The entire world has the responsibility to remain alert and to fight any display of anti-Semitism with determination, immediately, and without hesitation.” These were the words of Rabbi Haim Korsia, the vice president of the Conference of European Rabbis and chief rabbi of France. Rabbi Korsia spoke at a special ceremony held at the Yizkor tent of the Holocaust Museum in Paris marking the 80th anniversary of the Wannsee Conference, at which the Third Reich formulated its “Final Solution.” The ceremony was attended by Holocaust survivors, some of whom delivered speeches. Other participants included Mr. Elie Korscia, the president of the Consistoire, along with various religious leaders, representatives of Jewish organizations, and about 100 students. The students lit memorial candles, and Reb Yonasan Blum, the military chazzan of Strasbourg and the Rhine region, recited Kel Malei Rachamim and Kaddish.

Rabbi Moshe Levin, Vice President of the Conference of European Rabbis and Special Assistant to the Chief Rabbi of France, was one of the organizers of the event. He explained that the event was being held for the first time with the attendance of leaders of other religions. These participants, he explained, wished to show solidarity with the victims of the Holocaust and to express their sense of obligation, in light of past events, to join the war on anti-Semitism. Rabbi Levin expressed his gratitude to all the dignitaries who participated in the event, including the vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress, Gavriel German Zakharyaev. (Zakharyaev was also the driving force behind observance of the Day of Liberation and Salvation in Israel on the Hebrew anniversary of the Allied victory over the Nazis, as well as the commemoration of the deaths of a quarter of a million Jewish soldiers in the Allied armies and the Red Army who were killed in battle against the Nazis.)

Mrs. Esther Snow, a survivor of Auschwitz, stirred the hearts of her audience at the events when she revealed that she felt a lifelong sense of obligation to fulfill the dying wishes of her sister Fanny, who was killed along with their parents and two brothers in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Mrs. Snow recalled, “Before she was taken to the crematoria, she said to me, ‘Esther, promise me that you will do everything in your power to tell the entire world what happened here.’ And now I am standing here before you,” she continued, “telling the story of the deaths of my family members and my people. I am here to remind the world of how far hatred can go.”

Dr. German Zakharyaev reminded his listeners that the Holocaust had left the Jewish people wounded, embittered, and distrustful of the world. “This event,” he said, “is in line with the goal of the establishment of the Day of Liberation and Salvation. Our goal is to reshape the world’s collective memory, with prayers for the future and gratitude for our salvation, to replace the distasteful impact with a positive perspective, and to instill feelings of gratitude in the world to those who fought against the Nazi beast and paid with their lives. We aim to rid the world of the bitterness and the cold paralyzing memories and to set our sights on a future of faith and perfection, for the world has one Ruler Who controls everything.”

“How Is the Police Officer?”

I have to say that I enjoyed the parliamentary query submitted last week by Michoel Malchieli to the Minister of Public Security, under the title “The Police Were on Their Way to Help an Officer in Distress; How Is He?” This was the text of his question: “The officers who arrested the young Chaim Mizrachi explained that they were hurrying to help a police officer in distress at a nearby chareidi demonstration. I would like to ask: After the arrest, did the police officers continue their efforts to rescue their colleague? Did they go to him with the prisoner in their car? Was the police officer rescued, and what is his condition now?” From the look of things, it seems that the officers who arrested Chaim Mizrachi took him directly to the Russian Compound, abandoning their colleague who was supposedly in distress. I will be very interested to see how the minister responds to this question.

Almost all of the chareidi Knesset members have been dealing with this issue, and they will likely continue pursuing it until some resolution is reached. Yoav Ben-Tzur recently filed another query about the incident, with the following questions: “The media reported that on January 5, 2022, a citizen named Chaim Mizrachi drew the attention of a group of people, who turned out to be police officers, to the fact that they had damaged another car. This citizen was arrested and was later released by the court, where the judge rebuked the police for detaining him. In an interview that he gave, the citizen was visibly suffering from severe trauma due to the beatings and degradation he had experienced without having committed a crime. I would like to ask: What lessons will the police derive from this incident to prevent the false arrests of ordinary citizens? Why did an encounter between a police officer and an innocent citizen turn into such a violent episode? Will the police officers involved in the incident be dismissed? If not, then why not?”

Based on my experience with the police force, I can predict what the response will be: “This matter is under investigation, and the minister cannot respond until the investigation is completed.”

These parliamentary queries are actually only a small part of the political leadership’s reaction to Chaim Mizrachi’s ordeal. Next week, the incident will be discussed in the Public Security Committee, on the request of six members of the Knesset. I am sure that it will be very interesting, and I intend to report to you on the proceedings.

Insights from Rav Druk

It is always a pleasure to listen to Rav Yisroel Meir Druk, a man who presides over quite a few bastions of Torah learning (the yeshivos and other institutions under the umbrella of Tiferes Yisroel) and is a well-known author (of the series of seforim titled Eish Tomid). Rav Druk is very close to Rav Chaim Kanievsky; in fact, Rav Chaim visits his home in Givat Shaul on Chol Hamoed. He is also a gifted orator who is highly reminiscent of his father, the famed maggid Rav Mordechai Druk.

Here is one of his profound insights: The Mishnah states that there is no greater ben chorin (free man) than a person who is involved in Torah learning. Our own observations, however, seem to imply that this is far from the truth. It seems that those people who are involved in Torah learning are completely enslaved to it; they are not free men. How does the Mishnah’s contention make sense? Rav Druk explained that a ben chorin isn’t necessarily defined as the opposite of a slave. Rather, a slave is someone who works for other people, while a ben chorin toils for his own benefit. Hence, it is easy to understand why a person who spends his days learning Torah is considered a true ben chorin.

This week, I attended the bar mitzvah of the son of Rav Yitzchok Ohev-Tzion, another member of Rav Chaim’s inner circle. At the simcha, Rav Druk quoted the posuk in Parshas Vaera in which Hashem states, “And also, I have heard the cry of Bnei Yisroel.” What does the posuk add with the word “also”? Rav Druk quoted the Chasam Sofer, who explains that this alludes to the pattern of Hashem’s involvement in the Jewish people’s woes. When a Jew listens to his friend’s cries and shares his distress, then Hashem “also” joins them; when He sees one Jewish person caring for another, this elicits His own involvement.

Rav Druk proceeded to share another incredible chiddush with the same message. When the Torah states that Moshe Rabbeinu went out among his brethren in Mitzrayim and “saw their suffering,” Rashi explains that he “applied his eyes and his heart to be distressed about them.” Shortly thereafter, another posuk seems to imply that Hashem became aware of Bnei Yisroel’s woes, and in a seeming echo of his previous comment, Rashi explains this to mean that “He focused His heart on them and did not remove His gaze from them.” Thus, when Moshe Rabbeinu focused his heart and his eyes on his suffering brethren, Hashem Himself immediately made them the focus of His own “heart” and “eyes,” so to speak.

Here is one last little anecdote with a similar theme: When Rav Chaim Kanievsky visited the home of his talmid in Givat Shaul, he posed a question. The posuk states that when Bnei Yisroel were told to ask their neighbors in Mitzrayim for their valuables, Hashem introduced the request with the words, “Please speak in the ears of the people.” Rashi comments that the word “na” (“please”) in this posuk characterizes it as a request. Rav Chaim asked: Why did Bnei Yisroel need to be asked politely to request valuables from their neighbors? Wouldn’t they have been intrinsically motivated to do so? To this question, he answered: When there is a mitzvah, there is always a yetzer hara that seeks to prevent us from doing it.

The Vilna Gaon explains, however, that when Bnei Yisroel were told that “every man should ask his fellow” for gold and silver, the intent was actually for them to make these requests of their fellow Jews. What was the purpose of this? Rav Druk explained that the goal was for the people to engage in acts of chessed with each other, which would then evoke an outpouring of chessed from Hashem as well (similar to the Chasam Sofer’s interpretation on the word “also”), causing the geulah to be hastened.

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