Wednesday, Jun 19, 2024

My Take on the News

Terror in the City of the Avos

Last week, I wrote that there are two main issues on the mind of every Israeli citizen: the elections and terrorism. Unfortunately, both topics are still occupying our attention to the same degree. Actually, I would say that terrorism has edged past the election as the dominant issue of the day, given the recent spate of terror attacks that have horrified the citizens of Israel.

Let me begin with the terror attack in Kiryat Arba. On motzoei Shabbos, a terrorist infiltrated the city and opened fire. There is a theory that he remembered that there were large crowds of visitors in Chevron on the same Shabbos last year, and he assumed that he would be able to commit a large-scale massacre. Last year at this time, it was the week of Parshas Chayei Sarah, when thousands of people come to Chevron for Shabbos. According to this theory, the terrorist’s mistake was remembering the secular date rather than taking note of the date on the Hebrew calendar. This hypothesis may or may not be correct, but in any event, the terrorist first fired on a father and son who were emerging from a Palestinian-owned grocery store. The father was mortally wounded and subsequently passed away; the son was moderately wounded and his condition has been stabilized, boruch Hashem. A paramedic who arrived at the scene was also shot and seriously wounded, and two other people who came to assist the victims were shot as well. Rounding out the list of victims was an Arab passerby who was likewise shot during the attack.

The deceased was identified as Ronen Chananya, a well-known askan and baal chessed in the community. His son, Doniel, related, “My father and I were in the grocery store, and when we came out and began entering our car, the terrorist suddenly appeared before us and opened fire. My father took a direct hit, and I was miraculously saved. After he fired on us, the security forces arrived and the terrorist shot at them as well. My father absorbed most of the bullets, and I was only lightly wounded. I was spared from death by a miracle.”

The seriously injured victim, Ofer Ochana (Ofer ben Tova) is a local paramedic who is beloved in the community. The terrorist was ultimately killed by one of the local security guards, who ran him over with a car. A soldier who was present confirmed the terrorist’s death. On Sunday, former Prime Minister Netanyahu visited the patients in the hospital and relayed the doctors’ determination that Ochana’s life was no longer in danger.

Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi also came to Chevron and met with the leaders of the Jewish community there, as well as with the security guard who had run over the terrorist, whom he praised for his valor and quick thinking. The chief of staff was also forced to listen as the community leaders heaped criticism on the army in general and on the defense minister in particular. After the attack, security forces discovered that the terrorist came to Chevron via an area that had previously been closed to Arabs and that was recently opened by order of the Minister of Defense. The residents of Yehuda and Shomron have long been claiming that Defense Minister Gantz has abandoned them to the slaughter.

In another telling detail of the incident, Ronen Chananya’s funeral on Sunday was not attended by even a single representative of the government. This is not the accepted practice at all, and it speaks volumes about the callousness of Israel’s current government with its numerous ministers. The niftar’s wounded son, Doniel, attended the funeral and even delivered a hesped.

Haaretz’s Outrageous Headline

As I was writing about the murder in Chevron, I was informed about another act of terror that took place on Sunday afternoon, when five youths were lightly to moderately injured in a car ramming attack at the Nabi Musa junction. The same car continued on its way after striking the five victims (which seems to point to an appalling lapse on the part of the security services) and headed toward the Almog junction in the Jordan Valley, where it crashed into a bus stop on Route One (not to be mistaken with the highway of the same name that connects Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv). The driver of the car was then shot and killed by a police officer and a civilian. The IDF subsequently announced that the incident is under investigation. The first stage of the attack, as I mentioned, resulted in injuries to five youths in their twenties, two of whom were wounded moderately and the other three lightly. The five victims were evacuated to Shaare Zedek and Hadassah Har Hatzofim in Yerushalayim.

And there was yet another incident last Thursday night, when two Palestinians attempted to murder Israeli soldiers at the Hawara checkpoint near Shechem. The terrorists opened fire on the soldiers from a passing car, and both shooters were themselves shot and killed. As I have constantly been observing, there are attempts to murder Israelis every day, and Jewish lives are saved by undeniable miracles. Most of the incidents, when there are no injuries or fatalities, aren’t even reported in the media.

Speaking of the media, Haaretz reported on the attack in Chevron with the following headline: “One Man Killed and Three Wounded in Terror Attack in the Settlement of Kiryat Arba; Terrorist Shot and Killed.” This headline sounds as if it was lifted directly out of a Palestinian newspaper, with its reference to the “settlement” of Kiryat Arba. Both Chevron and Kiryat Arba are Jewish municipalities, but Haaretz insists on referring to them as settlements, as if that somehow makes the terror attacks justifiable. In another article, the newspaper even quoted the Palestinian version of the story and contrasted it with the “claims” of the IDF. It is almost as if Haaretz is an arm of the United Nations, with its commitment to give “balanced” attention to both sides of the conflict….

Lions’ Den Liquidated

I should also mention the IDF’s operation against Lions’ Den, a Palestinian terror group in the vicinity of Shechem that was formed four months ago with the goal of committing as many terror attacks as possible. This small organization was established in response to the liquidation of several Palestinian terrorists. Founded by a terrorist named Mohammed al-Azizi, it included operatives of several other terror groups. Its activities consisted mostly of shooting at Israeli cars or people (mostly soldiers or civilians who were standing at bus stops or military checkpoints).

The Shabak identified the terror operatives in this new organization and made an effort to persuade them to give up their violent pursuits and surrender to the Israeli army or the Palestinian police. They were promised some degree of clemency in exchange for giving themselves up, but they refused. At the same time, they were barred from entering Israel.

In September and the beginning of October, the group carried out a number of terror attacks in which Israelis were wounded. On October 11, the group announced that they were launching a three-day wave of terror. That morning, they carried out an attack and succeeded in killing a soldier near the community of Shavei Shomron. Over the course of the day, they committed another six shooting attacks, including one at Kever Yosef in Shechem, at a time when there were many Israelis visiting the site.

The IDF began targeting the leaders of the terror cell, and during the month of October, eleven of its leading figures were killed. The army even entered Shechem last week in order to target the members of the cell. Realizing that they would soon share their comrades’ fate, four of the surviving terrorists turned themselves in on October 26, including Mohammed al-Bana, one of the leaders of the group. The terrorists surrendered to the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, fearing that if they turned themselves in to the Israeli army, they would be treated harshly. Following this surrender, the IDF hopes that they have succeeded in putting an end to this group’s violent activities.

Will Terror Affect the Elections?

Of course, everyone in Israel is waiting tensely to hear the news reports after the election, beginning with the exit polls (which are much more accurate than the polls conducted before the election) and concluding with the actual results. The suspense in the country is enormous; everyone understands that this election is a fateful moment in Israeli history.

One of the questions on everyone’s mind is whether the rampant terror will affect the election. For instance, there is no question that Itamar Ben-Gvir has achieved incredible popularity because of the widespread erosion of security in Israel. The media has already reminded us about the attack on the Number 961 bus on October 30, 1988, on the eve of the election for the Twelfth Knesset. The attack, which took place during a normal run for the bus line, resulted in the murders of Rachel Weiss and three of her children: three-year-old Nesanel, two-year-old Refoel, and nine-month-old Ephraim. Rachel was the daughter of Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman. In the election that took place shortly thereafter, the Likud, headed by Yitzchok Shamir, managed to take control of the government by a margin of one mandate. Shimon Peres believed that the terror attack was instrumental in leading to their victory. Many are wondering if history will repeat itself now, with the recent terror incidents leading Israeli voters to favor the Likud and the political right again.

The Rosh Yeshiva’s Analysis

Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, rosh yeshiva of Slabodka, made the uncharacteristic decision this week to speak about politics in addition to discussing the issues at stake in the election. And his analysis of the political climate was both cogent and persuasive.

“In all the previous elections,” the rosh yeshiva said, “if we didn’t win and they also didn’t win, then it was a situation of shev v’al taaseh, which was a success for us. [In other words, the person who was in power before the election remained in power afterward as well.] But this time, if we do not win, then the shev v’al taaseh will work against us: They [the current regime] will succeed and they will continue ruling the country, and they have no qualms about doing the most brazen things that are not befitting of a transitional government. They are working against us.”

Aryeh Deri made a similar argument in an interview on a religious radio station. He explained that if the religious parties fail in this election, it will be a tragedy of epic proportions, since there is a good chance that the center-left will then remain in power for many years. Even if the election results in another deadlock, the current regime would remain in power at least until the sixth election—and we have already seen what they are capable of doing even in a transitional government. For instance, this government has already signed a maritime agreement with Lebanon, which no one else would ever have dared to do prior to an election!

Most political pundits feel that Lapid does not expect to win this election; he does not anticipate a scenario in which he will be favored by a majority in the Knesset for the position of prime minister. As a result, they claim that he is praying (although I would say simply that he is hoping, since I doubt that he would pray) that the election will lead to another impasse, leaving him in the position of prime minister for many more months to come. Then, perhaps, he may even manage to reach the threshold of 61 mandates after a sixth election. But my purpose in telling you all this is simply to help you understand the enormous pressure and tension plaguing the chareidi community in Israel at this time.

The Numbers Will Matter

Without trying to make any actual predictions, let me try to explain what it will take for the right-wing bloc to reach the threshold of 61 seats in the Knesset and succeed in establishing a government. In principle, not only should the likelihood of this be very high, but it is no secret that the right wing in the State of Israel holds a majority over the left. The center and left are steadily shrinking, while the right wing continues to grow. The Labor party, which was once Ben-Gurion’s Mapai party, used to rake in fifty mandates in an election, but today it is fighting to cross the electoral threshold. And that is only one example of the left’s waning popularity. Now, you may be wondering how this can be true, if the previous government was dominated by the center-left. The answer is very simple: It should have been a right-wing government, but Bennett and Shaked betrayed their right-wing voters and joined forces with the left and Arabs. Likewise, Gideon Saar and Zeev Elkin, who had always associated with the right and served as ministers in the Likud, decided to throw in their lots with the center-left government, and Lieberman, who was perhaps the furthest to the right on the ideological spectrum, did the same. The government was not only an evil regime but also a government that engaged in wholesale treachery and deception of its voters.

For that reason, the battle this time will be far more difficult. The right-wing bloc will have to muster up a majority of 61 Knesset members without the inclusion of the parties that have defected to the left. This is a much more challenging proposition, but it is still possible. Even the polls (including the ones conducted on Friday, the last day before the election when it was legally permissible to conduct a poll) showed that the right wing is very close to achieving a majority. The fate of the government is expected to hinge on just one or two mandates. But what will actually determine the outcome of the election?

There are two main factors that will shape the outcome of this election. One of those factors is fairly obvious: voter turnout. If more right-wing voters show up at the polls and fewer left-wing voters come out to cast their ballots, the likelihood of the right wing attaining a majority of 61 in the Knesset will increase. The chareidi parties are making a valiant effort to make their constituents aware that every vote can make a huge difference, that this is a critical time and that the parties are relying on the voters’ sense of responsibility. Netanyahu has also left no stone unturned in his efforts to shake Likud voters out of their apathy; in the previous election, we are told, about 200,000 Likud voters simply did not show up. The right-wing bloc is somewhat encouraged by the fact that the weather forecasts have predicted rain on Tuesday; only the voters who are passionate about the election are expected to come out to vote on a rainy day, and the chareidim are the ones with the most passion about the coming election. At the same time, this gives rise to a different concern: There are many people who neglect to come to the polls on Election Day because they are busy spending the day, a legal holiday, at the beach. If it rains, however, they will cancel their plans for an outing to the seashore—and they might go out to vote instead. And the other problem is that Bibi Netanyahu’s opponents are also suffused with passion—albeit a passion born of hatred for the former prime minister.

The degree of voter turnout will affect the election outcome in another way as well: The lower the overall number of voters, the fewer votes will be required for each mandate. This is another reason that low turnout among the secular parties may work in the chareidim’s favor. If we can assume that chareidi voter turnout will be a constant, regardless of the behavior of the rest of the country, then a poor showing in the secular community will generate more mandates for UTJ and Shas with the same number of voters. There is even a very recent precedent for this: United Torah Judaism received fewer votes in the election for the 24th Knesset than it garnered in the election immediately prior, yet its representation in the Knesset remained unchanged, since the number of votes required for every individual mandate was reduced by the general decline in voting.

The Arabs Might Be the Deciding Vote

Another important element is the electoral threshold, which is a source of nail-biting tension for much of the country as the election draws near. The electoral threshold is a concern mostly for the left and center, but it also has direct ramifications for the chareidim themselves. That is, if the fears of the left come true, the threshold may be the key to the salvation of the chareidim.

The left-wing bloc includes several parties that are hovering around the electoral threshold. Any party that has been shown winning four (or even five) seats in the Knesset has reason to be concerned about its future existence. If a party earns fewer than four seats, then it is automatically excluded from the Knesset due to its failure to cross the electoral threshold. At this point, the parties in this danger zone on the left are Labor, Meretz, and the three Arab parties: the Joint List, Raam-Taal, and Balad. In fact, Balad is almost certainly going to fail to cross the threshold; their purpose in running in the election is only to waste Arab votes and to prove that there are a large number of Arabs in the country with anti-Israel sentiment. If another of those four parties likewise fails to make it across the threshold, then the left will lose four to five mandates. According to the rules, the votes received by each of those parties are to be distributed proportionally among all the other parties in the Knesset. For instance, as the largest party in the Knesset, the Likud will receive the largest portion of the surplus vote. And this might well be the source of the one or two mandates that will decide the election. If the left suffers the loss of an additional party, the Likud hopes that it will give them a majority of 62 or even 63 Knesset seats. What is most amazing about this is that, if you think about it, it is the voter turnout in the Arab sector that will determine whether the Arab parties cross the threshold, with all the implications that come along with that. In another words, the Arabs will once again be the ones to decide the outcome of an Israeli election!

At the same time, there is fear on the right side of the political map that Ayelet Shaked, who is heading the Bayit Yehudi party will have the same damaging effect on the right-wing bloc. If Shaked fails to cross the threshold (and there is no logical reason to believe that she will succeed), then tens of thousands of votes will go to waste, possibly putting the critical 61st mandate out of reach for the entire right wing. Shaked herself had claimed that Netanyahu will call on the religious right to support her at the last possible moment (keeping in mind that her party’s symbol, the letter beis, originally belonged to the National Religious Party) in order to ensure that she will cross the threshold and contribute her four mandates to Netanyahu’s bloc, as she has promised to do. We can only daven for the best possible result.

Seven Million Eligible Voters

While I am writing this before the election itself and cannot predict the outcome, I can at least share a few interesting statistics about the election with you. First of all, there are 6,788,804 eligible voters in the State of Israel, a number that has grown since the election for the 24th Knesset, with 210,720 people having reached the minimum voting age. There will be a total of 11,707 ordinary polling stations throughout the country, as well as 222 stations in hospitals, 55 in prisons and other detention facilities, and 232 polling stations in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. There are also 103 polling stations situated in Israeli embassies and consulates in other countries. Out of the total number of polling stations in the country, there will be 5116 stations designed to be accessible for the disabled.

The Israel Police Force has announced that 18,000 police officers will be deployed to provide security on Election Day. Their tasks will include preventing riots, keeping order, and ensuring that the election takes place properly (i.e., without the phony voting that has taken place in the past in Arab communities and in kibbutzim).

The total budget of the Central Elections Committee for the election for the 25th Knesset is approximately 538,000,000 shekels, including a sum of 153,000,000 shekels for the wages of the polling station workers on Election Day. For the sake of comparison, the committee’s proposed budget in advance of the previous election was about 675,000,000 shekels, including 231,000,000 shekels for Covid-related expenses and an ongoing allocation of funds for the year 2021 of about 19,000,000 shekels. Out of that budget, about 550,000,000 shekels were actually spent.

The Central Elections Committee has 45 permanent workers who are employed every year, all year long. (During the periods between elections, they can be found cooling their heels on one of the least trafficked floors of the Knesset building.) But during an election season, the committee expends to a major network with 26 divisions—twenty regional committees and six subcommittees—that are operated by about 1100 employees altogether. This massive organization operates over 12,600 polling stations of various types in different areas throughout the country on Election Day. The polling stations are managed by over 60,000 workers with various job descriptions, as well as over 70,000 members of the polling station committees.

Hashkafah Questions

I have written in the past about the yeshiva of Kiryat Malachi, where outstanding yeshiva bochurim learn with young baalei teshuvah who hail from irreligious families. This yeshiva has enjoyed outstanding success in its work for many decades. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amit, delivers shiurim on hashkafah every day, in which he often responds to fascinating questions from his talmidim. The contents of those shiurim could easily be compiled in a modern-day “guide for the perplexed” for the youths of our generation.

In a recent shiur, one of the bochurim asked Rav Amit, “Why shouldn’t we vote for Itamar Ben-Gvir?” Of course, this question itself was fairly incendiary, and Rav Amit responded with a hashkafic discourse about the right that is truly the left. The talmid then asked, “What about the reverse? Maybe we shouldn’t vote at all, in order to avoid recognizing the state?”

Rav Amit replied, “If you boycott the vote, that is also a form of recognition of the state. After all, whom are you protesting against? The State of Israel!” He added, “The Chazon Ish was even more machmir than that. He viewed the state as a band of miscreants, and he considered it a mitzvah to limit their thefts as much as possible. If someone steals from me and I fight him off, am I viewed as aligning myself with him? Of course not! If someone is robbing me and I can minimize the harm he causes, does anyone doubt that it is my obligation to do so? The Steipler used to say that anyone who is capable of stopping their [the state’s] crimes, even to a small degree, and does not use that ability is destined to be punished for their actions.”

The questioner seemed satisfied by that answer.

Lapid Caught in a Lie

Like many others in this country, I find it hard to understand how a brazen liar can possibly receive 23 mandates in an election. Yair Lapid isn’t a liar only in the ordinary sense, like a politician who promises to form a government of 18 ministers and to allocate funds for certain purposes and then reneges on those commitments. Lapid’s lies are much more flagrant and much more substantive. For instance, he has lied to the Israeli public about his own service in the army. Yisrael Hayom recently published a report on the various versions of his story that Lapid has told over the course of the years, highlighting the inconsistencies in his accounts and the questions that were raised and, in general, not answered. The former soldiers who were interviewed by the newspaper did not remember any of Lapid’s stories taking place.

Let us, for a moment, put aside all of Lapid’s other faults: the fact that he is a hollow man who can never even put a proper sentence together and does nothing but string together lofty-sounding yet meaningless words, the fact that he has never had a proper education and did not even serve in the army (he was only a correspondent for a military magazine, even though he has alluded to having a distinguished career as a soldier), and the fact that he has been nothing but a failure throughout his life. Somehow, hatred for Bibi Netanyahu has driven many people in Israel to lose every last shred of sense and to become ardent followers of this abject failure of a man. But in addition to that, Lapid is also an incorrigible liar, and that, at least, should dissuade anyone with sense from voting for him.

Here is one pertinent story: There was once an incident known as the Chananel Dayan affair. This occurred when a religious soldier refused to shake the hand of Dan Chalutz, the chief of staff at the time, during a ceremony honoring outstanding IDF soldiers on Yom Haatzmaut. The soldier, who was outraged by the Disengagement, refused to show respect to the chief of staff, earning himself abusive reprisals from Elazar Stern, a general in the army at the time, who even went so far as to leak details from the soldier’s personal records to a journalist by the name of Yair Lapid. After a mediated settlement was reached, Stern paid 31,500 shekels to the soldier—although the money was actually shelled out by the army rather than by Stern himself. That merely added insult to injury. And after a case that was heard in the courts, Lapid was also ordered to pay restitution to Dayan.

The ruling issued by Judge Oded Shacham is quite fascinating and casts Lapid in an extremely negative light. The article that Lapid wrote about Dayan is laced with vicious cruelty, and Elazar Stern likewise emerges from the story as a shameful villain. But in a telling point in his verdict, the judge also said, “I took into consideration the fact that the defendant [Lapid] did not even contact the plaintiff [Dayan] for clarification before publishing the article. The defendant claimed that he never speaks to the subjects of his articles before they are published. I cannot accept this response. It is contradicted by the article itself, which states that before it was published, the defendant spoke with Tzvika Gringold. The article also indicates that the defendant spoke with the head of the IDF Manpower Directorate [Elazar Stern].”

In other words, Lapid lied to the court! And his habit of prevaricating has not changed in the slightest since that time.

From the Aircraft Industry to the Bais Medrash

In his classic sefer Shearim B’Tefillah, Rav Shimshon Pincus tells a powerful story: “A middle-aged professional couple once became baalei teshuvah and began sending their children to chareidi schools. To their credit, their sons became yeshiva bochurim and their son-in-law became a baal teshuvah as well, and the father himself began attending shiurim. About five years later, I met him again and discovered that he had slowly left his work and begun learning in kollel, and he had ultimately begun spending the entirety of every day learning with great hasmodah and passion. I was astonished by this, and I could not understand how it had happened. We have seen young people throw themselves into learning, but it is almost unheard of for a man who is almost fifty years old to leave everything behind and begin learning like a young kollel yungerman. I asked someone who knows the family about this story, and he told me that this man’s wife had made a firm decision that her husband must begin learning, and even though she understood that it was highly unrealistic, she began davening at great length and reciting innumerable perakim of Tehillim, all with a single goal—for her husband to become a full-fledged talmid chochom. The years passed, and this slowly became a reality; I myself saw that he spent every day learning Gemara, Tosafos, and Rishonim without wasting even a single second. This episode gave me a new understanding of this type of tefillahdavening ceaselessly for a particular matter until it is achieved. This is a practical strategy for anyone who wishes to daven for success in Torah learning or yiras Shomayim for himself or for someone else, or for his children to grow up to become yirei Shomayim or talmidei chochomim, or for anyone who wishes to daven for children or for parnossah. He can enter the battle of tefillah day and night, refusing to relent or to stop davening until he receives Heavenly mercy.”

While Rav Pincus did not identify the protagonist of his story, I can now report that it was written about the late Rav Shraga Feivel Falk and his wife Chaya Perel (Penina), may she be well. Rav Falk was a chemist who worked in the aircraft industry both in Israel and in America; his wife works in Schneider Children’s Hospital. After he became religious, Rabbi Falk spent his days in the bais medrash and had the privilege of completing Shas three times. He passed away after Yom Kippur this year, just a few weeks ago.

Rav Shlomo Fischer Stood Up for Rav Uri Zohar’s Honor

The book V’zorach Hashemesh chronicles the history of the Degel HaTorah movement since the time of its founding. In one interesting passage, the book relates that when Rav Uri Zohar began speaking on behalf of Degel HaTorah during the election campaign in 1989 (at the request of Rav Shach, who had just founded Degel HaTorah at that time and feared that the party would not cross the electoral threshold) zealots issued a declaration against him. Rav Shlomo Fischer, the rosh yeshiva of ITRI, voiced his protest against them at an election rally and declared, “Chazal tell us that when Avrohom Avinu was fearful and said, ‘What will be the result of all the years when I worshiped avodah zarah?’ Hashem replied, ‘They will be for you [i.e., you will be rewarded for them]!’ With regard to a baal teshuvah, Chazal tell us that when a person repents out of love, his deliberate sins become sources of merit for him. Rabbosai, I am not on the list of speakers and I wasn’t planning to speak, but I will nonetheless depart from my usual practice. A terrible abomination has been committed in Klal Yisroel. I was dismayed to see a publication containing an evil, wicked proclamation against the greatest baal teshuvah of our generation, Rav Uri Zohar. He was a tinok shenishbah and he has engaged in complete teshuvah. The Shulchan Aruch sets forth the rules and criteria for teshuvah, and Rav Uri Zohar is a genuine baal teshuvah and is renowned as the greatest baal teshuvah of our generation. He spends day and night poring over the Torah, learning Shas and poskim, nigleh and nistar. He is constantly involved in good deeds and he observes the mitzvos meticulously, with yiras Shomayim, kedushah, and taharah. I can only wish for all of us to be in his presence in Olam Haba. [On that note, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman once remarked that he was uncertain if he would come close to Rav Uri Zohar in Olam Haba.] How is it that the hand that wrote such dreadful words about a holy and lofty tzaddik did not tremble?” Rav Fischer concluded with great emotion.




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