Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

My Take On The News

A World Turned Upside Down

We are living in a world of insanity, a world of witch hunts and thought police, where right has become wrong and wrong has become right. Last week, I wrote that certain elements in Israel seemed to be calling for a revolt. Well, this week it seems that the rebellion has either already begun or is on the verge of commencing.

On Friday and Shabbos this week—in violation of the sanctity of Shabbos, of course—Yair Lapid announced a series of protests to be held at various locations around the country. Lapid himself went out to protest as well, and since he is still the prime minister, he was accompanied by an entourage of body guards. The fact that the prime minister of Israel was demonstrating against the people themselves was both an outrage and a disgrace. And it only made matters worse that a retinue of bodyguards and a bevy of reporters were forced to accompany him—in the middle of Shabbos, no less. To add to his disgrace, Lapid and his companions made up the bulk of the crowd; aside from the bodyguards and press, there were only a handful of other demonstrators present. But that did not diminish Lapid’s audacity and conceit even by one iota, any more than the fact that the people have already spoken at voting booths throughout the country made any difference to him.

As always, Lapid’s greatest enemy was his own mouth. Once again, videos have been retrieved and dusted off from over a year ago, when he began serving as the foreign minister and alternate prime minister after the birth of the Bennett-Lapid government. At that time, Lapid preached to the public about democracy and other nice-sounding concepts, in an effort to explain that the will of the people must be respected. Today, he has apparently decided that the will of the people no longer deserves such respect.

Actually, this time it is the real will of the people that Lapid has shunned. The right-wing bloc—which includes the political right, the chareidim, and the dati leumi parties—received 64 mandates in the election, while the left-wing bloc received only 46 (four for Labor, six for Lieberman, 12 for the National Unity party, and 24 for Lapid—keeping in mind that the Arabs aren’t part of either bloc). A right-wing coalition is completely in keeping with the outcome of this election, yet Lapid has seen fit to speak out against that very possibility. After the previous election, meanwhile, a left-wing government was established against the people’s will. In fact, Lapid himself and his ally, Naftoli Bennett, effectively stole the election. Yet now that he is on the losing side, Lapid has the gall to complain about an alleged affront to democracy and to deny the validity of the election results. That is sheer madness!

Police Chief Under Fire

I have been watching the witch hunt surrounding Itamar Ben-Gvir, and I am finding myself outraged. I am not a friend of Ben-Gvir, and I am certainly not one of his followers, but there are certain things about him that I find positive. For one thing, Ben-Gvir has the courage to speak his mind. In addition, he has the ability to change himself and to admit when it is necessary. I am especially impressed with his relentless battle against the abuses of the police and the judiciary, both in general and those against his compatriots on the hilltops and in the settlements. On a personal level, he is extremely pleasant and affable, a far cry from the image of a brutal thug that has been attached to him by the media. What do I have against him? He is lacking one small thing that makes a world of difference: absolute obedience to daas Torah. However, Ben-Gvir isn’t my main topic right now.

Everything that Ben-Gvir has said, done, or tried to do has been used against him. He tried to arrange for his ministerial position to include powers to use in the pursuit of his goals, and he came under fire from every possible direction for that effort. Personally, I don’t understand why it was even necessary to pass a law stating that Ben-Gvir, as a minister, would be in charge of his ministry. Isn’t it self-understood that a minister calls the shots in his own ministry? In truth, Ben-Gvir’s critics weren’t bothered by his demands, but by the simple fact he was appointed in the first place. The fact that the people of Israel had elected a right-wing government, and that government had chosen Ben-Gvir to serve as its national security minister, means nothing to them. In a nutshell, they are interested only in the pretense of democracy, but not in the actual reality. They claim to be standing up for the principles of democracy, but that is an absolute lie.

Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai has also been targeted in this wave of harassment. The champions of the anti-Bibi campaign insist that Shabtai should have resigned from his position in fury and slammed the door behind him rather than submitting to Ben-Gvir’s authority. (As the public security minister—or national security minister, as the job was newly renamed—Ben-Gvir would be the direct superior of the chief of police.) If Shabtai had resigned in indignation as they expected, he would have received an ovation from them; instead, he has now come under a hail of criticism.

At the beginning of this week, I read an article written by a police correspondent who concluded, “The police commissioner’s absence from the appointment ceremony and his embarrassing presence at the bas mitzvah of Ben-Gvir’s daughter both prove the same thing: Shabtai has placed himself completely in the hands of the newly designated minister.” At the ceremony in question, new ranks were bestowed on certain officers in the police force, despite the fact that Ben-Gvir had asked Shabtai not to go through with the promotions. What is even more grating and hypocritical is the correspondent’s complaint that Shabtai accepted Ben-Gvir’s authority. Does anyone expect the chief of police to reject the authority of an incoming minister in the government? What sort of madness is that?

Incidentally, Yaakov Shabtai himself was appointed as the chief of police in December 2020, under an earlier government. He was recommended by Amir Ohana, who served as public security minister at the time, and the appointment was ratified by the right-wing Netanyahu government in January 2021. After the previous election, when Bennett and Lapid engineered a takeover of the government, the position of public security minister was given to Omer Bar-Lev, a radical leftist and the winner of the top slot in the Labor primaries.

Now, did anyone at the time call for Shabtai to continue Ohana’s right-wing policies and rebel against Bar-Lev’s leftist agenda? Did anyone call on him to resign in fury over the appointment of a minister at the other end of the ideological spectrum? Not at all! As the commissioner of the police force, he was a man in uniform and a professional responsible for accepting the authority of the elected officials, whoever they might have been. Such is the nature of a democracy.

But while no one spoke up at that time, the critics have now begun railing against Shabtai for considering himself bound by the authority of an incoming government minister—which is precisely the same thing that he did at the time. When it suits them, this becomes a heinous crime. That is hypocrisy at its worst!

Only Another Ten Days

On the political front, nothing much has changed since last week, although there has been some modest progress toward the formation of a coalition. I mentioned last week that Binyomin Netanyahu might ask President Herzog for an extension of the time allotted to him to form a government; sure enough, he has now done so. In a somewhat amusing twist, Netanyahu asked for the full 14 days permitted to him by law, and Herzog responded that he would be allowed only 10 days instead. In reality, this makes no practical difference, since the extra days would have fallen on Friday and Shabbos. The president’s goal was only to make it appear that he wasn’t going to play to Bibi Netanyahu’s whims; denying a portion of Netanyahu’s request was essentially his way of flexing his muscles. However, many people have seen through Herzog’s meaningless ploy.

Meanwhile, with Hashem’s help, the Knesset speaker will be replaced this week. There has already been some debate within the Likud as to who will take over the position, and the wrangling will probably continue until Monday afternoon, but it is most likely that Yariv Levin will be installed as the temporary speaker until he is appointed to the post of Minister of Justice—unless he becomes enamored with the position of Knesset speaker and chooses to remain there.

After the speaker is switched, there will be a new Knesset presidium (as I will explain shortly) and some new laws will be approved, especially the bills that are delaying the formation of the new government. There are three laws that must be passed before a new government can be sworn in: a law making it possible for Aryeh Deri to serve as a minister, another law that delineates Itamar Ben-Gvir’s authority within the Public Security Ministry, and a third bill that will provide Betzalel Smotrich with the additional powers he is due to receive in the Ministry of Finance, including jurisdiction over Yehuda and the Shomron. It is also possible that a law will be passed allowing the Knesset to institute a new draft law without concern that it might be overturned by the Supreme Court.

As soon as this process is complete, the new government will be sworn in, either this week or next week. That isn’t to say that all the hurdles have already been overcome, but most of the details have already been worked out. Netanyahu will have to deal with dividing up the remaining ministerial portfolios among the members of his own party—and there aren’t that many positions left to distribute—but it is almost certain that the pieces of the puzzle will eventually fall into place. Even if a few party members are dissatisfied with their lots, there is nothing to be done about that. The chances of Netanyahu satisfying all his colleagues’ political ambitions are nil.

The Part-Time Health Minister

Another recent infuriating headline railed against the “unhealthy appointment” of Aryeh Deri as the interior minister and the health minister at once. It almost seems as if this is the first time the press has ever heard of a single person occupying two ministerial posts. The newspaper claimed there is great concern within the medical system about the prospect of a man who has never held the position of health minister serving in such a complex position on a part-time basis, while holding another post at the same time.

This, of course, is utter nonsense. First of all, most government ministers who are appointed have never served as ministers before, certainly not in the same ministries. Second, Deri wouldn’t actually be serving as the health minister on a part-time basis, since there would be someone else in the Interior Ministry performing the functions of a minister. Moreover, a person blessed with intelligence and acumen can indeed be successful serving in two ministries at once, and no one can deny that Aryeh Deri has been endowed with a wealth of intelligence and talent. In fact, I once heard Yitzchok Shamir comment, “I don’t like Deri, but I admire him because of his insight.” Many have hailed Deri as the most successful interior minister in the history of the state.

All things considered, I would say there is no cause for “great concern” or even any concern at all. In fact, the country’s health care system is actually rejoicing at the prospect of Aryeh Deri taking over the Ministry of Health. This may well be the first time Israel has seen the appointment of a health minister with such an outstanding track record of success. Perhaps someone will finally restore order to this ministry, which has been headed by other appointees who sorely lacked the ability and knowhow that the job required.

I reviewed the names of the previous health ministers, and I couldn’t help but find the list both amusing and appalling at once. The names included Eliezer (“Saba Eliezer”) Shustak, Yaakov Tzur, Yehoshua Matza, and Yael German. None of these ministers were known as great leaders or even rising stars. Another previous health minister was Yaakov Ben-Yezri of the Pensioners’ party. When he was appointed, many people doubted he was fit to hold the position, but no one dared utter a word against his appointment, since he was supported by the majority. Another minister, from the Mapam party, was Victor Shem-Tov. The position was also once held by a woman named Shoshana Arbeli-Almozlino.

But there is actually no need to look so far into the past; the most recent minister of health was Nitzan Horowitz, who racked up one failure after another and managed to destroy everything he touched, causing major setbacks in every area, from the battle against the coronavirus to the strike of medical residents. Everyone either knew or at least intuited that Horowitz would be a disaster for the medical system, but he was appointed in accordance with the law and there was no choice but to submit to his authority. On what basis, then, can anyone speak about against Aryeh Deri’s appointment?

When Ezer Weizmann served as the minister of defense, a certain deputy minister once tried to cast aspersions on his abilities. Weizmann replied, “Don’t worry; I have enough sense for both of us.” Personally, I would make a similar comment to all of Aryeh Deri’s detractors: There is no need to worry, since Deri has enough sense to lead both the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Health.

Iran Has a Hand in Regional Violence

Here in Israel, everyone’s attention is focused on Iran. We all know Iran is constantly meddling in events in the Middle East, and it is the key to anything bad that happens in this region. Take a look at any terror attack, and you can almost certainly find Iran’s fingerprints on the incident. Iran is also the main exporter of weaponry to the Middle East; Israel occasionally captures shipments of weapons being smuggled out of Iran, generally by sea. The country’s activities are a clear and tangible threat to human life. And that is aside from Iran’s nuclear program, which is unmistakably intended for use as a weapon against Israel. The people of Israel have already experienced similar threats from two other crazed Arab leaders in the past: Moammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein.

Regarding the nuclear program, Bibi Netanyahu famously fought Barack Obama in the hope that America would impose far-reaching sanctions on Iran. Unfortunately, America has been hesitant to make a move against Iran under the Biden administration, but we know that we can look only to our Creator to save us from our enemies. In recent days, Israel’s concerns have mounted due to the opening of a new air route between Iran and Beirut. According to Arab sources, Israel sent a warning to the Lebanese government that if the air route is used to smuggle weapons, it will lead to a direct Israeli attack on the airport in Beirut. The same sources reported that Israel is aware of Iranian attempts to use Beirut as part of a new smuggling route, after Iran’s efforts to smuggle weapons through the airport in Damascus failed. Israel has been using every means at its disposal to monitor all the Arab capital cities.

Israel has also been watching with concern as Iran and Russia have begun working closely together, mainly in the smuggling of weapons from Iran to Russia. It will be very bad if those weapons are used against Ukraine, and it will be equally bad if they eventually arrive in the Middle East. May Hashem protect us….

Standing Guard for Shabbos

Sadly, the religious community in Israel must be on constant alert to ward off attempts to undermine the observance of Shabbos. This week, there were three different incidents in which Shabbos in the public sphere came under fire.

The first, and likely the most severe, was the decision by Dr. Einat Kalish-Rotem, the mayor of Haifa, to organize shuttles during the coming Shabbosos to facilitate transportation to a festival held in honor of what she called “the holiday of holidays.” Of course, this is a reference to something associated with the beginning of the civil year. Haifa is a mixed city home to many Arab Christians, but its mayor apparently isn’t sufficiently sensitive to Jewish values.

Israel has a religious status quo that limits any public violations of Shabbos to those that have a precedent. Haifa is the only city in Israel where public transportation operates on Shabbos; this has been the case since the founding of the state, and it remains the situation today. The religious parties in the government have no choice but to accept that status quo; at the same time, they fight against any additional breach of religious standards. In the case of Haifa, the problem was heightened by the fact that the current mayor defeated her predecessor in the municipal election by virtue of an agreement with the Shas and Degel HaTorah parties in the city (whereas Agudas Yisroel did not support her), making this decision a betrayal of her political allies. At the same time, she wasn’t deterred by the threat that the chareidim would resign from the municipal coalition in Haifa, since the majority of the city council opposes her anyway. Nevertheless, after some religious politicians discussed the matter with her in recent days, Kalish-Rotem announced that her plans for the shuttle program were to be scrapped.

Meanwhile, yet another city (the third to do so) recently announced that it would take steps against the operators of Erev Shabbos sirens. The opponents of these sirens are irked by the noise, regardless of whether it is music played before Shabbos or a siren sounded to announce the onset of Shabbos. It is difficult to accept their arguments against the sirens, which don’t actually create a disturbance at all—even if the law does prohibit sounding sirens or playing loud music in public. The truth is that there is a major legal debate regarding whether the Shabbos sirens are considered a violation of environmental laws. I hope that when a new interior minister (who has jurisdiction over the local authorities) takes office, the cities in question will drop their opposition to the sirens.

The third incident occurred after hundreds of meters of communication cables were stolen from the vicinity of the train station in Lehavim, in the south. Of course, the authorities immediately suspected that the theft was the work of local Bedouins, who have already turned the south of Israel into a wild, lawless frontier. But worse than that is the fact that the theft caused many Israel Railways workers to engage in chillul Shabbos and repair the affected portions of the railroad. Once again, I hope that when a new transportation minister comes to power, the railway company will change its policy; as of now, it considers Shabbos to be the preferred day for construction and repair work.

No Laws Have Been Tabled Yet!

I can’t help but be amused when the press reports things that are completely untrue. Ever since the change of government, there has been a major hue and cry in the media over the Likud’s intention to pass several laws that the leftists decry as a threat to democracy. They have even denounced the override clause as the end of democracy as we know it. They are certainly entitled to their opinion—if that is really their opinion, and not merely a fabricated pretext to denounce the right—but the Likud party is equally within its rights to think differently. Last Friday, however, the media became even more strident, when it announced ominously that the Likud party had placed two laws on the Knesset table, one of which was intended to change the system for the appointment of judges.

What was untrue about this? For one, the Likud party did not table a law of that nature. In fact, they did not table any law at all. No member of the Knesset has introduced any laws yet. The reason for that is that it is impossible for a law to be placed on the Knesset table unless it has been reviewed by the Knesset presidium (which approves every law that is presented to it, unless it is racist), and there is no Knesset presidium at this time! The Knesset has already taken a step toward forming such a body, though; four deputy speakers were chosen last week and another one was designated this week, and if they decide to define themselves, together with Mickey Levi, as the new presidium, then all the laws in the pipeline will be officially tabled this week. However, at this moment the new bills do not have the status of proposed laws; rather, as onetime Speaker Shevach Weiss put it, they are “declarations of law.” And if I understood correctly, the deputy speakers have already announced the first session of the presidium and have informed Mickey Levi of that fact, which is fairly embarrassing for him.

For the same reason, one must doubt the veracity of another headline that appeared just recently: “Proposed Law to Freeze Mortgage Costs to Be Placed on Knesset Table This Week.” For one thing, this will happen only if the Knesset speaker is replaced and the new presidium manages to approve the hundreds of new bills in the pipeline this week. But if I understood correctly, the presidium plans to give its approval only to the laws that Netanyahu is interested in bringing to a vote this week. The rest will have to wait.

And that is not all. As you may be aware, hundreds or even thousands of bills are introduced at the beginning of every new Knesset. Most of those bills are directly copied from proposals submitted in the previous Knesset and even by former Knesset members who were voted out or became ministers. It is permissible to copy an old bill even if its original author objects. The number of bills that have actually been passed into law is negligible; even proposals that garner strident headlines when they are first submitted often fail to make it into the book of laws. Therefore, the outrage and fearmongering over the new bills allegedly proposed in the Knesset are a bit excessive, to say the least.

A Pergola at the Kosel

Last week, I quoted a telegram sent by Rav Moshe Feinstein to then-Prime Minister Yitzchok Rabin admonishing him to refrain from making changes of any kind at the Kosel Hamaaravi. I heard that some people were very excited to read it. This week, I have two more items concerning the Kosel to share with you, although these stories pertain to current events rather than historic exchanges.

First, there is talk of building a pergola of sorts at the Kosel Hamaaravi for the benefit of women and girls who daven there. Today, women who come to the Kosel during heat waves or in the rain have only a tiny sliver of space where they can find shelter from the elements. The new proposal calls for some type of canopy to be built to increase the sheltered area. Similar proposals have been made in the past, and there were always arguments that regardless of whether it would be a wooden structure or a fabric awning, it would cause the site to become somewhat cheapened. There is some merit to that argument; there is something special about the fact that most of the Kosel plaza is open to the sky. One can certainly imagine that any modification to the site might detract from the kedusha of the Kosel plaza.

For the men, davening at the Kosel under inclement or oppressive weather conditions is not much of a problem. There is a covered area that is actually part of the Kosel tunnels and can be accessed from the Kosel plaza itself. (There is also a gate from the Kosel tunnels, but it is usually closed.) When the need arises, there is also a small area for women that can be accessed from the tunnels. At this point, the plan is to construct some sort of shelter in the women’s section that will not affect the atmosphere in the plaza. However, I wasn’t able to clarify how that is meant to be achieved.

The Diplomats’ Tour

Here is another piece of news from the Kosel: Last Friday, a group of United Nations ambassadors from various countries visited the Kosel. The visit was organized by Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, who has organized similar delegations in the past; Erdan believes that the experience has a significant impact on his colleagues in the United Nations. The ambassadors toured the new route through the Kosel tunnels with the goal of understanding the Jewish people’s connection to their country and learning about Israel’s history and its present from up close. The visitors were hosted and escorted by Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, the rov of the Kosel and other mekomos kedoshim. Rav Rabinovich applauded the initiative and called for the preservation of Yerushalayim as the city of peace.

A less publicized detail of the event is that there were some individuals who were quite displeased with the idea and actually pressured the ambassadors, sometimes with threats, to refrain from participating in it. These objections and threats came from antisemitic elements within the European Union. The ambassadors of four countries—Italy, Slovenia, Romania, and Moldova—caved to the pressure and did not attend the tour, accepting the claim that the Kosel is located in the territory of East Yerushalayim rather than being part of Israel itself. Erdan was deeply disappointed by their decision, which he called “cowardly and embarrassing.”

On a related note, a group of 80 mayors of cities around the world also visited the Kosel Hamaaravi this week, as part of a tour of Yerushalayim that also brought them to the new Great Bridge Route in the Kosel tunnels. In case you are wondering which of the mayors came from America, I can tell you only that the list included the “head of the borough of Manhattan” and the mayor of the city of El Paso, Texas. Do you know either of them? The names were not listed.

The Four Words That Made History

Every year, when we read Parshas Vayeshev, Rav Uri Zohar used to make the same comment: “Everything that happened to Yosef Hatzaddik, when he was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and then became the viceroy of Mitzrayim and ended up bringing his family down from Eretz Yisroel and saving them from starvation, began with four words: ‘Madua pneichem ro’im hayom—Why are your expressions distraught today?’

“Yosef was languishing in prison and noticed that the two officers who were there with him seemed distressed by something, and he did not ignore them. He did not withdraw into himself and focus on his own plight while ignoring their pain. Instead, he asked them what was distressing them. That is the way a Jew should behave, even when he himself is in distress.”

An Emotional Siyum

This past Motzoei Shabbos, I attended a highly emotional event. There is a mesivta in Yerushalayim known as Ohr Shmuel. This yeshiva, which is named for Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, the renowned rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, is an outstanding institution headed by Rav Nachshon Schiller, the son-in-law of Rav Yitzchok Hacker (whom I interviewed for this newspaper about a year ago), who is the son-in-law of Rav Shmuel Rozovsky. Rav Nachshon is the son of Rav Nota Schiller, originally of Brooklyn, New York, who was a talmid in Yeshivos Chaim Berlin and Ner Yisroel and is one of the leaders of the kiruv movement in Eretz Yisroel. He was one of the founders of Yeshivas Ohr Someiach.

There are two outstanding bochurim in the second-year class in Ohr Shmuel: Shimshon Dovid “Shimshi” Pincus and Eliyohu “Eli” Kaplan.

Shimshi is the son of Rav Eliyohu Yitzchok Pincus, a noted talmid chochom in Yerushalayim and a well-known maggid shiur who lost his wife, Rebbetzin Yiskah (previously known as Yisraela) eight years ago.

Eliyohu Kaplan, who is named for Rav Elya Lopian, is the son of Rav Nissan Kaplan, a former maggid shiur in Yeshivas Mir who is now the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Daas Aharon, which was named for Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman and is known as “New Kaplan’s.” This moniker distinguishes it from the yeshiva more commonly known as “Kaplan’s,” where Rav Nissan’s father, Rav Naftoli Kaplan, serves as the mashgiach, and his brother, Rav Avrohom, serves as the rosh yeshiva. Another brother, Rav Chaim Yitzchok Kaplan, is a mashgiach in the Chevron yeshiva and a maggid shiur in yeshivas Pachad Yitzchok. Rav Nissan Shlomo Kaplan is a son-in-law of Rav Avrohom Gurwicz, rosh yeshiva of Gateshead (and a grandson of Rav Elya Lopian). Three years ago, Rav Nissan suffered the tragic loss of his wife, Rebbetzin Gittel.

The Kaplan and Pincus families are closely connected and, in fact, are almost related through marriage. Rabbi Shmuel Pincus, another son of Rav Eliyohu Pincus, is married to the daughter of Rav Boruch Levi Feivelson, another prominent talmid chochom in Yerushalayim and the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Derech Hachaim. Rav Boruch is another son-in-law of Rav Avrohom Gurwicz.

The two young men in Yeshivas Ohr Shmuel, Eli Kaplan and Shimshi Pincus, decided to take it upon themselves to organize a siyum on Shas in memory of their deceased mothers. Their classmates were recruited for the endeavor, and the entirety of Shas was distributed among the 40 bochurim.

The siyum was held this past Motzoei Shabbos at the Shiras Yerushalayim Hall in Yerushalayim, with musical accompaniment from the popular Yisroel Sosna band and the Neshoma choir, including two highly admired musicians, Ahrele Samet and Mendy Weiss. Of course, all the bochurim were present for the celebration, along with the yeshiva’s faculty, which includes a number of prominent individuals such as Rav Avrohom Diskin and Rav Tzvi Aryeh Wohlman (whose father, Rav Shmuel Dovid Wohlman, was Rav Yitzchok Hutner’s close associate). The two young men reciting Kaddish and the impassioned and festive dancing, and the mingling of sorrow and joy that made it a uniquely memorable occasion.

Ashreichem Yisroel.

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