Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022

My Take On The News

Elections and Terror

There are two topics dominating the headlines in Israel right now: the election and terrorism.

This week, after Shabbos, we were informed that another terror attack had taken place. This time, the terrorist was a 15-year-old boy, which made the incident all the more disquieting. The victim was a chareidi youth from Bnei Brak who was stabbed in his back and seriously wounded. This incident, which took place in Yerushalayim—in the neighborhood of Givat Hamivtar, near the home and shul of Rav Shlomo Amar—is the latest in a string of terror attacks that have occurred in recent days, and also comes on the heels of a much greater slew of terror attacks that were thwarted, b’chasdei Shomayim. It should be quite evident that our continued survival here in Israel is based on miracles.

The terror attacks that have occurred over the past two weeks alone could easily fill an entire article, including the attack at the Shuafat checkpoint where a female police officer was killed. The terrorist in Givat Hamivtar managed to escape (which is a serious lapse on the part of the security forces) and attempted to kill more Jews. Other disturbing incidents in recent days included a shooting into a sukkah in Beit El and the murder of a soldier named Ido Baruch near the community of Shovei Shomron. This month alone, there were 250 security “events” in Yehuda and the Shomron—a code word for attempts to murder Jews. That is a staggering figure—250 attempted murders in the course of a single month!

Meanwhile, tension is steadily rising in the country as we draw closer to Election Day. The election is on Tuesday, November 1, in under a week, and the stakes are high. No one can deny that from the chareidi perspective, the Lapid government is a disaster both for Judaism itself and for every individual. The leftist parties have not bothered trying to conceal their ultimate goal of turning the country into a purely secular state while continuing their campaign of economic oppression against chareidi Jewry. There is no question about it: The chareidi community is fighting for its life.

Of course, there were other major news stories as well. In one case, a police water cannon was turned against an innocent chareidi couple, in what appeared to be a deliberate attack. Everyone who saw the video of the incident was appalled by it. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court discussed the decisions of the Central Elections Committee to disqualify the Arab party Balad and the Jewish candidate Amichai Chikli from running in the election. (Both decisions were overturned, which constituted a minor slap in the face to Justice Amit, the chairman of the Central Elections Committee.) The maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon is also worthy of a separate article in its own.

A Simple Message

The Degel HaTorah party, in its election propaganda, has been appealing to the emotions of the average chareidi voter. In the words of the party itself, “It isn’t just Shabbos, kashrus, education, day care, and disposable dishes. It is simply their hatred for you. We won’t allow them to oppress us anymore.” And then comes their mantra: “We were forced to fight, and we have no choice but to win.”

Another campaign ad proclaims, “It isn’t just giyur, the Reform movement, the Kosel, or the school system. It is the persecution of you. They will not put you down again.” These are simple sentiments that speak to every chareidi Jew; over the past year, the community has suffered its fair share of oppression and denigration, and we have all been on the receiving end of enormous hatred. In this election, therefore, the chareidi community will have to fight for its very existence.

This existential struggle would never be imposed on any other citizens of the state. A center-left government would never pose such a threat to a right-wing citizen, not would a right-wing government threaten the leftists in the state in such a fundamental way. But under a center-left government, the average chareidi citizen will suffer terribly. That is the reality in the State of Israel today. A chareidi in Israel must fight bitterly for a school building for his children, to say nothing of a building for his shul. When the chareidim are not part of the government, their rights are trampled. And, of course, the government will be openly hostile to everything Jewish in nature, from Shabbos to kashrus and from the Kosel to the standards for giyur. Therefore, these simple advertisements should galvanize every chareidi voter, or every voter who values the Jewish identity of the state, into action.

Agudas Yisroel has adopted a slightly different tactic: advertising the calls of the admorim. This past Sunday, for instance, the front page of Hamevasser featured a headline pertaining to the terrorist stabbing of the bochur from Bnei Brak; a number of mourning notices concerning the death of the rov of Meron, Rav Meir Zev Stern (the youngest rov ever to serve in Israel; in fact, he was appointed to his position even before his marriage); and quite a few small notices under the general title “Sacred Calls of the Gedolei Yisroel to Vote for Yahadut HaTorah V’HaShabbat [the full name of United Torah Judaism].” The notices were placed by various chassidish communities including Modzhitz, Boyan, Trisk, Cleveland, and Shotz-Ashdod. I anticipate that we will see many more such advertisements during the remaining days until the election.

Agudas Yisroel is also drawing on another resource for its propaganda—the statements of gedolim of earlier generations. One advertisement contained quotations from the Tchebiner Rov, Rav Aharon Kotler, and the Lev Simcha of Ger. Rav Aharon Kotler was quoted as declaring, “The possibilities of a kiddush Hashem or a chillul Hashem are hanging in the balance. This election will be a popular referendum of sorts, with every person being asked whether he accepts Maamad Har Sinai and the kedushah and taharah of Klal Yisroel, or the opposite. The sin of creating a public chillul Hashem is very grave, and anyone who diminishes the strength of chareidi Jewry will be guilty of creating such a chillul Hashem….” The advertisement quotes Rav Aharon as making another powerful statement as well: “Anyone who refrains from voting in the election will be viewed as having allied himself with evil, and he will be held responsible for the repercussions until the end of all generations.” These words were spoken at a large gathering in London in the month of Av 5719/1959.

Rav Aharon Kotler on the Obligation to Vote

Degel HaTorah has likewise tapped into the historical statements of illustrious gedolei Torah for its own election campaign. Last Shabbos, they published a lengthy article in the Israeli Yated Neeman featuring quotations from the gedolim of the previous generation, including the Brisker Rov, the Chazon Ish, and Rav Shach. This article, too, drew on the teachings of Rav Aharon Kotler. Here is an excerpt:

“Rav Aharon Kotler, who would make special trips to Eretz Yisroel on the eve of an election in order to publicize the positions of daas Torah, exhorted us to keep in mind that when we vote in an election, we are giving our representatives the mandate and the ability to attend to matters of communal importance. Every vote given to the destroyers of religion is an act of rebellion against the King of the universe and an assault on the Torah of Moshe, and anyone who votes in that way will bear responsibility for all the damage that emerges from it. At the same time, anyone who votes for people who observe the mitzvos and fear Hashem is considered to have created a kiddush Hashem and to have bolstered the Torah learning and emunah of Klal Yisroel. Such a person plays a role in the future salvation of our children as faithful Jews.

“Moreover, we know that according to Torah law, it is prohibited to award any position of authority to someone who has abandoned the Torah or does not recognize its absolute authority, even a position that is not directly connected to religion. We have an absolute obligation to appoint only people who are worthy and are faithful to the Torah, especially to positions of national leadership, which are relevant to all matters of religion and faith. This would be true even at an ordinary time, and it is certainly true today, when we are facing a holy war for all the foundations of emunah and for the existence of the Torah and mitzvos in Israel and their continued transmission to future generations as they were given at Sinai….” Rav Aharon went on to elaborate on the sacred obligation to vote in the Israeli elections and thus to lend a hand to repelling the many assaults against the Torah and Jewish tradition. And his words are just as relevant today as they were when they were first spoken many years ago.

Lapid Blunders but Yesh Atid Stays Strong

I would like to make three comments with respect to the election. First, I find it painful and puzzling to observe that Lapid never misses an opportunity to blunder or fail, yet Yesh Atid’s performance in the polls never suffers at all. Lapid signed an embarrassing agreement with Lebanon that has enraged the citizens of Israel, he has destroyed Israel’s foreign relations (even Australia has now announced that it is retracting its recognition of Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel), and he has even been humiliated by an investigative report in Yisroel HaYom concerning his so-called period of service in the military, yet he has somehow managed to maintain the same number of mandates. It seems as if Yesh Atid would receive 23 mandates even if a donkey was placed at the party’s helm; indeed, Yair Lapid himself is ample evidence of that. And Lapid is also similar to the allegorical scorpion that stung the creature that tried to help it cross the river; he cannot overcome his hateful nature. He tries to appear statesmanlike in public, but when he talks to his constituents, he continues letting the anti-religious genie out of the bottle. Thus, an internal message circulated among Yesh Atid members read: “The choice is yours: a strong Lapid or a state of halacha…. Give us your vote and give us the power to prevent a government of darkness.”

Then there is Lieberman. His campaign advertisements are utterly simplistic, consisting of nothing more than a huge picture of Yitzchok Goldknopf of Agudas Yisroel along with quotes from his interviews with the press. Lieberman is somehow convinced that the picture itself—a picture of a man with a markedly chareidi appearance—is enough to spur his voters to go out to the polls on Election Day and vote to keep the chareidi party out of the government. (The quotes aren’t even all that terrible, from the standpoint of a chiloni voter.) That is very sad, since it speaks volumes about the level of anti-Semitism in Israel.

My third observation is that, as the election campaign draws to its close, it has become clear to us that the fiercest conflicts are not those being waged between the two blocs, but rather the internal conflicts within each one. The battle between Netanyahu and Lapid isn’t nearly as intense as the hostilities between Lapid and Gantz, which were ramped up even further this week. Gantz announced publicly that Lapid does not stand a chance of becoming prime minister and that only he (Gantz himself) is capable of receiving the position, while Lapid continues to insist that he is the only alternative to Netanyahu. On the right, as well, the internal conflicts have proven to be quite intense, as it seems that the Likud is losing its mandates specifically to the Religious Zionism party, and to Itamar Ben-Gvir in particular. It is an interesting phenomenon to observe.

The Government Game: Write a Letter, Gain a Headline

The events of this election campaign could be a study in the human capacity for self-delusion. It is amazing to watch people such as Hendel, Kahana, Kara, and Avidar, who exhibit signs of megalomania. But watching them should inspire us to do some soul-searching of our own. How often do we delude ourselves about our own importance?

Speaking of delusions, I have a penchant for saving newspaper clippings and returning to them after some time has passed to see whether the stories have withstood the test of time. For instance, I enjoy clipping reports about public officials asking the attorney general to probe possible cases of wrongdoing. It is very easy to make such a demand, and it typically earns the officials some valued media attention. When the newspapers report that someone demanded that the attorney general open an investigation, that person is typically portrayed as a bold, fearless, and determined advocate for justice. It might be a call for an investigation of a police officer who abused an innocent chareidi civilian, or a call for criminal proceedings to be initiated against an entertainer who was guilty of incitement. If the media wishes to further enhance the official’s image, they can even write that he sent an “urgent letter” to the attorney general, as if that makes any difference. In all these scenarios, however, the real test is how the attorney general responded to the request submitted to him—if he responded at all. If an article does not appear at a later date reporting that the attorney general took certain steps in response to the request filed with him, then you can conclude that he ignored it altogether—and that the government official who demanded an investigation was merely trying to rack up points with the public.

The same thing happens in the Knesset. The media will often report that a particular MK filed an urgent parliamentary query with the Knesset speaker, in which he demanded certain information. Urgent parliamentary queries are submitted every week on dozens of subjects, but only four or five are actually recognized as urgent, while the rest find their way into the parliamentary garbage pail. Nevertheless, the query’s true purpose is accomplished when the media pats the industrious MK on the back, congratulating him for being bold enough to file the query in the first place. And the same can be said of news reports that relate that a particular minister is “preparing a draft of a proposed law.” This means nothing, but it sounds as if the minister is working very hard to benefit the public.

Half a year ago, a front-page story appeared in an Israeli newspaper about a law proposed by Ayelet Shaked that would require terrorists to be deported from the country and stripped of their citizenship. “Following the terror attack in Beer Sheva,” the newspaper reported breathlessly, “Yisrael Hayom has discovered that Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked is advancing a law that would strip citizenship from terrorists who are citizens of Israel. The law is based on a proposal previously made by MKs Avi Dichter and Orit Struck…. The law is expected to stir up tension within the coalition, but Shaked is determined to have it passed, and she even committed to do so during a previous speech in the Knesset.” This is a very nice headline, but that is all it is.

Here is another example, drawn from the same period: “The answer to the terror attack is here: ten settlements in the Negev. One day after the terror attack in Beer Sheva, the government announced yesterday that it will establish ten new settlements in the Negev. The government will ratify the move during the cabinet meeting on Sunday. Minister of the Interior Ayelet Shaked announced, ‘This Sunday, a historic and highly meaningful cabinet decision will be passed.’” The media also reported that Shaked was considering banning members of Amnesty International from the country. But all of these items relate only to the situation at the moment they are published, and the politicians achieve their goals merely by making their intentions known to the public. After some time has passed, no one even bothers finding out whether those intentions have actually been carried out. Did Ayelet Shaked ever follow through on any of those much-touted initiatives?

Big on Promises, Small on Action

In a very similar vein, there are some headlines that I find either so amusing or so misleading that I feel compelled to clip them and place them on the bulletin board in the Shas party’s conference room. One such headline was published eight years ago during the “Brothers’ Pact” government that resulted from the first alliance between Bennett and Lapid. Underneath a photograph of the four ministers from Yesh Atid at the time (Shai Piron, Meir Cohen, Yair Lapid, and Yael German), the following legend appears: “We will ensure that no children in Israel go hungry. Over 100,000 Israelis go to sleep every night on empty stomachs. A new food safety net plan introduced yesterday promises that they will receive hot meals.”

But Yesh Atid is big on talk and very small on execution. After that article was published, the party was exiled to the opposition, where they did nothing but rail about corruption in the government, cronyism, and the bloated government. One year ago, Yesh Atid returned to power and set new records for government corruption and cronyism, as well as establishing the largest government in the history of the state. If they had at least chosen to allocate large amounts of resources to fight poverty and hunger at the same time, they might have been able to save some face. However, they did precisely the opposite, instituting draconian taxes and taking food out of the mouths of the weakest citizens of the country. At the same time, they managed to come up with the insanely exorbitant sum of 53 billion shekels for the one purpose that they considered a justifiable expense—buying control of the government from the supporters of Israel’s enemies.

The Lie Behind the New Tax

One of the economic hardships imposed by the government was a tax on sweetened drinks. When it was first announced, the finance minister claimed that he was instituting it for the benefit of the consumers; he had decided to educate the country about the health dangers of sugary beverages. However, the religious parties claimed that his true goal was to fill the state coffers by draining more money out of the pockets of the poor. Enough time has passed now for the analysts of a company known as StoreNext to release their unequivocal findings: The tax on sweetened drinks hasn’t diminished their consumption in the slightest and has done nothing but cause harm to the wallets of consumers.

A New Recommendation: Chareidi Ushers at Meron

Not long ago, Binyomin Netanyahu was summoned to testify before the state commission of inquiry into the disaster in Meron, where he spent three hours being questioned by the committee members. When he finished his testimony, he was roundly criticized for his claims that he was personally unaware of the dangers in Meron.

Just a few days later, Bennett and Lieberman were summoned to testify before a different commission of inquiry, which was investigating the tragedy in Nachal Tzafit, where several students in a pre-military academy died on a class trip several years ago. Lieberman told the committee, “I was exposed to the subject of the pre-military academies and the limits of the Defense Ministry’s authority one year before the tragedy…. In retrospect, I believe that it is not correct for the academies to be under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. At that time, the Ministry of Defense had limited oversight, and it was focused on the issue of postponing military service…. I do not believe that I had any ministerial responsibility for this subject.”

The judge chairing the committee was visibly outraged. “The Defense Ministry’s attempt to divest itself of responsibility and to claim that it was involved only in the issue of military deferments is not correct,” she said scathingly. “The starting point itself was a mistake…. It is unacceptable for the academies to be allowed to operate without any safety regulations…. How can anyone approve the operations of a school and then come and tell us that the safety rules were voluntary? That statement is appalling!” In this case, however, most of the media took no notice of the judge’s withering criticism of Lieberman.

Meanwhile, the Meron investigative commission announced that they are planning to send letters of warning to those whom they intend to accuse of negligence or wrongdoing of any kind. Of course, this announcement put everyone on edge. Meanwhile, there are still some people who display a maddening lack of understanding of the situation. For instance, a journalist named Avishai Ben-Chaim commented during a media interview that he felt that the committee had already failed. He was referring to the fact that the hillula in Meron this year, which was modified in accordance with the committee’s interim recommendations, was an abject failure. The journalist interviewing him shot back, “Why do you say that? Did anyone die?” That was apparently his yardstick for determining whether the event was a success. By the same token, the entire hillula could easily have been canceled (as the authorities wanted to do), and then it would have been guaranteed that no one would come to harm—since there would have been no one on the mountain! But that is not the solution.

On a related note, Yisroel Diskind, who has been one of the spokesmen for the families of the victims of the Meron disaster, made a powerful statement: “If the police hadn’t prevented Rav Elimelech Biderman from holding his bonfire, my brother would still be alive!” He spoke tearfully about his brother Reb Simcha Bunim, the father of two small children, who was 23 years old when he was killed in the Meron tragedy. Yisroel explained that his brother had wanted to attend Rav Biderman’s hadlokah, but since it was canceled, the only option available to him was to attend to the Toldos Aharon bonfire, which placed him in the danger zone when the tragedy occurred.

In another Meron-related development, this week Rabbi Menachem Englard celebrated the completion of two sifrei Torah written in memory of his two sons, Moshe Nosson Nota and Yehoshua, who were killed in the Meron tragedy. The occasion was at once highly festive and extremely sorrowful.

Finally, I would like to report that the commission of inquiry finally submitted its conclusions to the prime minister, and one of its recommendations was for chareidi ushers to be appointed to oversee the hillula on Lag Ba’omer. This suggestion was also made by the father of Shimon Matalon, another victim of the tragedy, whom I interviewed for this newspaper several months ago. The senior Rabbi Matalon felt that the event should be overseen by chareidim rather than police officers, and the committee agreed with him.

A Lesson from the Lulav

The spiritual elevation of Sukkos and Simchas Torah is still with us. These holidays afford us a wonderful opportunity to lift ourselves above our normal physical existence and to tap into the many spiritual treasures they offer. One example of this is the many shiurim offered throughout the country over Chol Hamoed, some of which draw audiences of thousands. Some of those shiurim are based on the speakers’ vast reserves of knowledge, while others showcase their brilliant and incisive minds. There are some shiurim that feature a series of questions followed by a single chiddush that resolves them all. I found it delightful to attend all these shiurim, and I would like to share some of their contents with you.

Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Blau, one of the foremost experts on halacha in my neighborhood of Givat Shaul, shared a bombshell revelation during a shiur on the prohibition of bal tosif (“adding” to a mitzvah) when he quoted Rav Shlomo Zalman Bloch, a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, who wrote that if a person recites Krias Shema after the designated time with the intent of fulfilling the mitzvah, he is guilty of violating the Torah’s injunction of bal tosif. While this remark sparked an immediate commotion, he quickly quoted Rav Moshe Deutsch, a talmid of the Chazon Ish, who wrote that he asked the Chazon Ish about this and the latter disagreed with Rav Bloch. The Chazon Ish explained that since the recitation of Krias Shema at that time is still considered a fulfillment of the mitzvah of learning Torah, it cannot simultaneously become a transgression of a prohibition in the Torah.

Another shiur I attended was delivered by Rav Yisroel Meir Druk in the spacious bais medrash of Tiferes Yisroel, the Torah empire under his oversight. After delivering a remarkable discourse on the halachic concept of osek b’mitzvah, he moved on to an aggadic topic and cited the well-known parallels between the arba minim and the four categories of Jewish people. Pointing out that the lulav, unlike the other three minim, is the part of the tree that holds its fruit rather than the product of the tree itself, he explained, “The lulav corresponds to a person who has learned Torah but has no good deeds to his credit. Ostensibly, if a person is a ben Torah and possesses Torah knowledge, it should be impossible for him to be devoid of good deeds. There is no such thing. For that reason,” Rav Druk concluded, “we hold the part of the tree that supports the dates, which corresponds to the people who support those who learn Torah. As we know, someone who supports others in the course of learning Torah is viewed as if he himself had engaged in Torah learning; however, it is possible for such a person to lack good deeds altogether.” Rav Druk hastened to add, however, that anyone who supports others who learn Torah is still considered to have the same degree of merit as the talmidei chochomim themselves.

Teshuvah—A Gift to Humanity

Rav Chaim Walkin is a prominent mashgiach who is known for his brilliance and profundity. I had the privilege of attending his shmuessen during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah for several years at the Bais Medrash L’Torah V’Halacha. He also regularly delivered a shmuess at Ohel Yehonoson on the seventh night of Pesach, where his inspiring words always uplifted his audiences. He often quotes his father, who was a talmid and close associate of the Chofetz Chaim.

The Torah world was recently privileged to witness the publication of a collection of his shmuessen, under the title Daas Chochmah U’Mussar. This outstanding work deals with the parshiyos of Bereishis and Shemos, as well as the holidays of the year.

A Lakewood Event in Israel

Last Thursday, the Lakewood yeshiva in Israel held a major event. As I arrived, I was pleased to find that Rabbi Menachem Zaretzky was driving behind me. It is always a pleasure to see Rabbi Zaretzky, the former right-hand man of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and I knew that whenever he attends an event—which is usually a sign that he is serving as a driver for Rebbetzin Finkel—it means that it will be a worthwhile experience. I also had a more prosaic reason for my excitement: I knew that since I was in the car directly in front of him, and Rav Zaretzky was bound to be admitted to the parking lot, the gate would be opened for my car as well.

The event was held in the Teddy Auditorium in the International Convention Center in Yerushalayim (known in Hebrew as Binyanei Ha’Umah). It was very clear that enormous effort had been invested in producing the event. The front of the room was occupied by dozens of roshei yeshivos including some of the senior figures in our generation’s Torah world: Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi, Rav Meir Tzvi Bergman, Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, and Rav Aviezer Piltz. Rav Yaakov Eliezer Schwartzman, the rosh yeshiva, delivered a powerful speech, paying tribute to “the zeideh,” Rav Aharon Kotler, as well as his rebbetzin, his daughter, and Rav Shneur Kotler, who oversaw the vast expansion of the Lakewood yeshiva. He also praised the current roshei yeshiva of Lakewood, led by Rav Malkiel Kotler. “I have tried in some small way to emulate Rav Aharon, to work hard and to be uplifted,” he added.

The audience was shown a recorded brocha from Rav Gershon Edelstein, who declared, “A place of Torah learning is even holier than a shul, since it is a place of both Torah and tefillah. This generates kedushah and kavod shomayim throughout the surrounding area.” Rav Gershon expressed his warm wishes for the yeshiva itself and “for everyone who is involved in causing it to flourish, for its supporters, its rabbonim, and its talmidim.”

In honor of the inauguration of the yeshiva’s building and the accompanying hachnossas sefer Torah, a publication titled Kovetz Toras HaBayis was distributed to the participants. The kuntres begins with an essay by Rav Schartzman, who noted that “forty years ago, in the year 5783, we had the privilege of establishing our yeshiva here in the holy city of Yerushalayim as an extension and satellite of the bais medrash founded by my illustrious ancestor, our great rebbi and the light of the world, Rav Aharon Kotler, in Lakewood. Over the years, thanks to Hashem’s great kindness, we have had the privilege of teaching thousands of talmidim Torah and yiras Shomayim here. The yeshiva’s establishment took place with the full participation of my relative, Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, who used to visit the yeshiva and deliver occasional shiurim here.” The kuntres also features chaburos by the roshei yeshiva in America: Rav Aryeh Malkiel Kotler, Rav Dovid Schustal, Rav Yeruchom Olshin and Rav Yisroel Neuman. Of course, it also includes contributions by the rosh yeshiva of Lakewood in Eretz Yisroel and by his son, Rav Yitzchok Schwartzman.

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