Wednesday, Feb 1, 2023

My Take On The News

Visiting Rav Yitzchok Hutner on His Deathbed

Rav Yitzchok Hutner was the president of Machon Yerushalayim. One of its major works, the Minchas Chinuch Hashaleim, was created and published in Kollel Ohel Moshe in Netanya, which was headed by the city’s chief rabbi at the time, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau. Rav Lau once told me about some of the members of the kollel who went on to become prominent figures in the Torah world, such as Rav Tzvi Ben-Yaakov, Rav Moshe Chaim Lau, and Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin.

“One day,” he told me during that conversation, “the head of the institute, Rav Yosef Buchsbaum, asked me to accompany him to visit Rav Hutner in the hospital. It was a few days before Chanukah, and Rav Hutner had heard about the institute’s branch in Netanya and about me, and he remembered my father and expressed an interest in meeting me. He was in Shaare Zedek Hospital at the time, and we both went to visit him together. We sat with him for a long time, and he was very pleased by our visit. We spoke about Poland, Warsaw, and the gedolei Torah who lived before the Holocaust. He also thanked me for our work on the Minchas Chinuch. As we prepared to leave, he took out a copy of the Pachad Yitzchok on Chanukah and said, ‘I must ask your forgiveness for the fact that I am not adding an inscription. My hand is trembling, and if I try to write even a few words, I will ruin the sefer. Neither you nor the sefer deserves that. I promise you that if Hashem lets me out of here alive, I will write a personal inscription for you at that time.’”

“Did he manage to leave the hospital and write that inscription?” I asked Rav Lau.

“Unfortunately, that did not come to pass,” he replied.

 

The Power of the Chanukah Neiros

The following story was told by a confidant of the Divrei Chaim of Sanz, Rav Chaim Halberstam, by the name of Rav Yaakov. One year, after the Divrei Chaim’s passing, Rav Yaakov dreamed that his illustrious rebbi was lighting the Chanukah menorah. After he finished lighting, Rav Chaim turned to his talmid and asked, “Whom should I honor with singing Maoz Tzur? What about the chazzan Reb Abish Meir of Sanz?”

In his dream, Rav Yaakov replied, “Reb Feivush [Flax], the chazzan from Vishnitza, needs a yeshuah. He is desperate for funds to marry off his daughter. It would therefore be appropriate for the rebbe to give him the honor of singing Maoz Tzur Yeshuosi.”

“You are right,” the Divrei Chaim replied, and he proceeded to bestow the honor on the chossid in question. At that point, Rav Yaakov woke up.

The next day, Rav Yaakov recounted his dream to another chossid. A few days later, he suddenly spotted Reb Feivush from Vishnitza, the very same man whom he had discussed in his dream, walking in the street. Deciding not to mention the dream to him, Rav Yaakov approached him and asked, “Have you bought any lottery tickets in recent days?” He was delighted when the chazzan confirmed that he had. “Would you like me to partner with you?” Rav Yaakov asked. “I will pay you half of what you invested in the tickets in exchange for half the jackpot if you win.” To his surprise, Reb Feivush turned down the offer, and Rav Yaakov said, “In that case, I will reimburse you fully for the cost of the tickets if you will split the profits with me in the event that you win.”

With a smile, Reb Feivush replied, “I have already heard about the dream. I will not take you as a partner even if you offer me ten times the cost of the tickets!”

Sure enough, Reb Feivush won a fortune in that lottery.

After recounting this story in the monthly periodical of the chassidus of Sanz, Rabbi Yitzchok Shlomo Wertheimer comments that there is nothing particularly surprising about this anecdote. After all, it has long been known that the time of the lighting of Chanukah menorah is a highly auspicious juncture when all sorts of miracles and salvations can be effected. In fact, the Maor Vashemesh, quoting the Arizal, comments that the initial letters of the words “l’hadlik ner Chanukah” can also be seen as an acronym for the words “notzeir chessed la’alofim,” a phrase that alludes to supernal bounty.

 

The Intersection of Chanukah and Shemittah

This week, I received a copy of the latest issue of Halichos Sadeh, a publication of the Institute for Research into Agriculture in Torah Law, which is a division of the Bais Medrash L’Halacha B’Bityashvut Emunas Ish headed by Rav Yosef Efrati. In earlier times, whenever this kuntres was published, I would bring a copy to Rav Uri Zohar, who was invariably delighted by every chiddush, and certainly by every new chumrah that he discovered. This publication tends to deal with subjects that are frequently overlooked and rarely well known, and Rav Uri would pore over every edition of Halichos Sadeh with enormous interest.

Now that Rav Uri is no longer with us, I kept the kuntres for myself. And as I perused it, I became aware of how little I know. One article, by Rav Yisroel Bunim Schreiber, deals with the credibility of a mashgiach regarding the kashrus of a product, a topic with a vast array of sources to explore and applications to probe. Rav Efrati wrote about a topic that turned out to be more complex than meets the eye: the unique halachic status of bananas after the shemittah year. “We often spent much time analyzing Rav Elyashiv’s rulings concerning bananas at the beginning of the eighth year,” he relates.

Were you aware that there is a connection between shemittah and Chanukah? The Rambam writes in Hilchos Shemittah V’Yovel, “Until when are the sefichin [uncultivated growths] of sheviis forbidden in the year after sheviis? From Rosh Hashanah until Chanukah. After Chanukah, they are permitted.” This is a halacha with plenty of practical ramifications today.

I am ashamed to say that I understood very little of the material in the kuntres; on the other hand, there is value in recognizing the limits of my knowledge as well. My interest was piqued in particular by the articles relating to Chanukah, such as a couple of discourses on whether it is permitted to use oil with kedushas sheviis for the Chanukah menorah. Personally, I feel that the publications of the Bais Medrash L’Halacha B’Hityashvut should have a place in every Jewish home, if only to convey the importance of striving to observe all the halachos of shemittah appropriately. Rav Efrati, along with the dozens of talmidei chochomim toiling under his supervision, deserves to be applauded for his prodigious efforts.

Anyone who wishes to amass knowledge of these halachos would be well advised to pay a visit to the bais medrash at Rechov Hamelamed 1, near the entrance to the neighborhood of Har Nof in Yerushalayim.

 

A Legislative Blitz

Unfortunately, we must move on to a much less uplifting topic—political news.

I mentioned last week in this humble column that a new right-wing Knesset speaker would soon be selected, and then the coalition would begin the work of governing the country. Well, the new speaker has been installed in his position, and the coalition is getting to work. It is all taking place far too slowly, but at least it is beginning.

Last week, Yariv Levin was voted in as the new Knesset speaker and Mickey Levi was removed from that post (to the relief of the entire Knesset, since Levi had brought nothing but shame to the institution). Levin immediately tabled the new laws that the future government needs to pass before it is sworn in. These laws passed their preliminary readings on the same day and were sent to committees (which were also established on the spot), where they were likewise approved and sent back to the Knesset for their first readings. It is logical to assume that all of this will be behind us by the end of this week.

As I mentioned previously, one of the new laws is a bill stating that Aryeh Deri’s tax offenses do not constitute acts of moral turpitude (or in more general terms, that a crime punished with a suspended sentence does not qualify for the stigma of turpitude). The purpose of this bill is to prevent the Supreme Court from ruling in favor of the petitions that will certainly be filed against Deri and determining that his crimes qualified for turpitude and he should therefore not be permitted to serve as a minister; the Knesset hopes to preempt such a ruling by passing a law addressing the issue explicitly. Another bill is set to expand the authority of the public security minister (a position that is to be renamed Minister of National Security) in accordance with the demands of the incoming minister himself, Itamar Ben-Gvir.

Last Thursday, the Knesset remained in session until midnight, in spite of the fact that the Knesset does not meet at all on an ordinary Thursday. The Knesset convened again on Sunday, erev Chanukah, in another unusual move. The new Knesset speaker (in a move that illustrated once again the importance of replacing his predecessor) called for the Knesset to close its sessions throughout Chanukah at 3:00 in the afternoon, in order to make it possible for everyone to return home to light the menorah on time. He decided that the Knesset will open its discussions every morning at 10:00, whereas the Knesset begins meeting at 4:00 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday in an ordinary week, and at 11:00 on Wednesday. Even as I write these lines, a speech is being delivered in the Knesset while the committees are continuing their deliberations. The future opposition, of course, is accusing the coalition of all sorts of terrible things—silencing their enemies, breaking many accepted rules, and crossing many red lines. The best response to their tirades, of course, is to remind them of their own behavior a year and a half ago.

 

A Precious Mitzvah

The holiday of Chanukah, a wondrous time of year with all its lofty influences, has finally arrived. The Rambam writes, “The mitzvah of ner Chanukah is an extremely beloved mitzvah.” Indeed, everyone feels a special affinity for Chanukah and the mitzvah of lighting the menorah, with all the special segulos and hiddurim it entails. Here in my neighborhood of Givat Shaul, my neighbors and I always enjoy watching the talmidim of Yeshivas Ner Moshe as they dance and sing in celebration of Chanukah. Naturally, these bochurim light dozens of menorahs every year. As Chanukah approaches, they set up metal shelves with room for dozens of menorahs, which turn into a sea of flickering lights after nightfall. After kindling the flames, the bochurim dance with pure spiritual joy, and it is a delight to watch them. Many neighborhood residents stand on their balconies to watch the bochurim, and some come to the yeshiva to join them.

Chanukah is a wondrous time here in Israel, a holiday when we are practically given a taste of Olam Haba. There are few words to describe the experience of watching the menorahs come to life in one window after another and seeing the elderly tzaddikim who generally walk in slow, measured steps suddenly hurrying home from shul to light their own menorah as early as possible. It is an amazing sight to see, and the sights and sounds of Chanukah are always a reminder of the true inherent tzidkus of Klal Yisroel.

 

New Government to Be Sworn In Next Week

The coalition’s goal is to complete all of its legislative work by the end of this week. On Tuesday night, Netanyahu’s mandate to assemble a government will expire; by that time, he will have to notify the president that he has succeeded, or else he will need to request another extension. By law, he will be able to receive an extension of only four more days. It is most likely that he will not ask for additional time and will simply inform the president that he has been successful. The next step will be for the Knesset speaker to set a date for the session of the Knesset when the new government will be sworn in. Of course, that will be coordinated with Netanyahu, which means that he can give himself a bit of extra time even if he claims to have been successful. The greatest likelihood seems to be that the government will be inaugurated at the end of next week.

For the time being, what is holding up the installation of the new government is the lack of a clear agreement between Likud and United Torah Judaism (and, to a certain extent, with Shas). As I mentioned last week, the chareidi party’s list of demands in the coalition talks was leaked to the press about a week ago. This was a deliberate move intended to embarrass the chareidim by making them appear like extortionists and thus force them to reduce their demands. Reports of a demand for the state to cease producing electricity on Shabbos led to such intense incitement and fearmongering that Netanyahu was forced to announce in the Knesset that nothing of the sort is going to occur. In reality, no one ever intended to cease the production of electricity altogether on Shabbos; the party’s demand was for the government to encourage the development of an alternative source of energy for those who do not wish to use electricity produced on Shabbos.

This week, there was another leak, which once again brought to light certain details that were bound to enrage the secular public. For instance, one of UTJ’s stipulations was that no law should be passed prohibiting the use of fur in the production of garments; the purpose of this condition was to protect the shtreimel industry. The chareidi party also called for an access road to be built from the Geha Highway to Maayanei HaYeshuah Hospital and for blocs of apartments to be designated as chareidi neighborhoods. All of this led to another wave of condemnation against the chareidi community (see the following section). In fact, it was reported that Netanyahu himself lost his temper over these demands and vented his anger during a meeting with the representatives of UTJ.

As I pointed out last week, it is tempting to view this as a strategic error on UTJ’s part. Why did the chareidi party need to spell out all of its demands in a document with hundreds of paragraphs? Last week, I posed this very question to Uri Maklev, who replied, “Even if we have a written agreement, we cannot be certain that all of its clauses will be honored. But we can be certain that if something is not put into writing, we will never receive it.” Personally, I would take issue with his terminology. When someone is part of the government and possesses certain authority, he doesn’t need to “receive” anything from anyone. It should be in his own hands to carry out his agenda. But in any event, that is how he explained the long list of demands that was handed to the Likud.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that UTJ is trying to distract the public in order to avoid media scrutiny of the real core issue at this time: the draft law. (Along with funding for yeshivos, the passage of a law cementing the exemption of bnei Torah from the draft is of paramount importance for the chareidi parties.) The new draft law has yet to be finalized; there are several possible versions of the law, and UTJ has not yet reached a final decision as to the version that they will support. To be more precise, both Shas and Degel HaTorah have settled on a final version of the law, but Agudas Yisroel is still undecided. None of the other details of the coalition talks—even the issue of the “grandchild clause,” which deserves a more comprehensive explanation at a different date—are considered absolute deal-breakers. We can only hope that a conclusion will be reached very soon regarding the draft law. However, I have just heard that there is a chance that Agudas Yisroel will not even reach a final decision at this stage, and that the coalition agreement will include a commitment to pass a law “in a formula that will be acceptable to Agudas Yisroel.”

 

Hateful Caricatures

As I mentioned, the publication of UTJ’s demands during the coalition talks sparked a wave of anti-chareidi incitement. This included the publication of incendiary political cartoons—a medium that has an unparalleled capacity to foment hatred and resentment. One of those caricatures depicts the leaders of the religious parties (Goldknopf, Deri, Smotrich, and Ben-Gvir) feasting at tables laden with all sorts of delicacies, to the point that their waistlines are shown bulging in exaggerated fashion, while the senior figures in the Likud party sit nearby, with Netanyahu serving them a few measly cans of tuna. This cartoon may not be all that bad, but another caricature shows Gafni and Goldknopf holding an extremely long scroll that runs along the floor before them like a carpet, symbolizing the chareidim’s long litany of demands, while Netanyahu kneels before them and is apparently busy signing his name in the middle of the scroll. To add insult to injury, the cartoon shows the two chareidi leaders shouting at him, “Faster! Faster! It’s almost Shabbos!”

This single image has everything that it takes to ignite the temper of the average secular Israeli: It shows Netanyahu kowtowing to the chareidim while the leaders of UTJ behave as if they are his masters. Of course, the reference to Shabbos is also fairly inflammatory and is meant to evoke the false rumors that the chareidim demanded a halt to the production of electricity on Shabbos. The issue of Shabbos in the public sphere has been the topic of numerous cartoons; the chilonim seem to believe that the entire country will be plunged into darkness on Shabbos due to the chareidi hegemony.

Then there were all the speeches and articles that painted the chareidim as money-hungry connivers. In Maariv, I came across an article that began with the ominous statement: “The budget for yeshivos is due to rise by almost one billion shekels a year and will be inserted into the state budget. In addition, funding for schools that offer partial versions of the Liba core curriculum is due to be restored.” The writers make this sound frightening and underhanded, but even without reading the article itself, I can read between the lines in this brief introduction: The schools that provide a partial core curriculum, which saw their government funding unjustly slashed, will now have their budgets restored. What could be wrong with that? And what is wrong with the budget for yeshivos finally being included in the annual state budget, just like any other funding allocation? Moreover, who is to say whether a budget of one billion shekels for yeshivos is too little or too much? The only thing that is certain is that this article was written for one purpose—blackening the name of the chareidi community.

I am reminded of the apocryphal story about the Jew who was sitting in a public park in Germany during the Nazis’ rise to power and reading the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer with great enjoyment. Another Jewish man, who spotted him with the newspaper, exclaimed, “Aren’t you embarrassed to be reading a publication of the enemies of the Jewish people?”

“What else would you advise me to read?” the first man responded.

“What about Dos Yiddishe Tageblatt?” the other man said.

“Oh, no,” replied the first Jew, gazing sadly at his coreligionist. “When I read Dos Yiddishe Tageblatt, I am heartbroken. There are so many reports of violent pogroms, shuls being torched, Jews being deported, and so forth. I find Der Sturmer to be much more encouraging! Here I can enjoy reading that most of the wealthy financiers are Jewish, that the Jews are controlling the coal market, that the Jews are returning to power in the government, and so forth….”

The same article in Maariv relates, “The Ashkenazic chareidi party has reported making progress on an assortment of significant issues. Among other things, it has been agreed that the budget for yeshivos will be raised by almost one billion shekels a year. A yungerman in kollel will receive a monthly stipend of 1175 shekels, while every talmid yeshiva will be funded at a rate of 633 shekels per month.”

I will make only a couple of comments about this. First of all, the readers of Maariv don’t know the difference between a yungerman and a talmid yeshiva; someone ought to explain to them that a yungerman is a married student. Second, the article would have created a very different impression if it had reported on the increase in funding with a slightly different focus: “Every married kollel student with children will be receiving 1175 shekels per month, while a talmid yeshiva will be receiving 633 shekels per month.” Had they phrased the report in that way, the average reader would have responded with pity rather than outrage over the “enormous” allocation of funding for yeshivos. And finally, we can only hope that this will actually come to pass and the yungeleit will indeed receive the increased funding that the report discusses.

 

Another Blow to the Prosecution in the Netanyahu Trial

It may not be receiving much attention these days, but Binyomin Netanyahu’s criminal trial is still going on. Before the recent hiatus, the prosecution had called quite a few witnesses who actually disappointed the prosecutors with their testimony, and there were a number of revelations that shocked the country. This week, after the trial resumed, there were another two days that left the country reeling in shock.

The trial is currently dealing with Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla affair, which is considered the most serious case against Netanyahu. The charges against him relate to certain regulatory benefits worth millions of shekels that Netanyahu is accused of providing to Shaul Elovich in exchange for coverage on the Walla news site that would be biased in his favor. This has been classified as the crime of taking bribes. However, many witnesses who were called by the prosecution to prove that the coverage on Walla was slanted in Netanyahu’s favor actually said the opposite.

As it turns out, the prosecution has continued suffering one setback after another. Last week, the court began hearing the testimony of Mrs. Yifat Ben-Chai Segev, who served as the chairperman of the Cable and Satellite Council during the period in question. Segev was a witness for the prosecution and was supposed to testify that Shlomo Filber, the director-general of the Communications Ministry at the time (who has now become a state witness but failed to deliver the goods that the prosecution was hoping for) made decisions that were biased in favor of Bezeq, acting on Netanyahu’s orders.

Ben-Chai Segev severely disappointed the prosecution; in fact, the lawyers claimed that there were major disparities between the answers she gave when she was questioned by the police and the statements she made on the witness stand, to the point that they asked for her to be declared a hostile witness. This would have allowed them to use the records of her interrogation by the police in lieu of her testimony in court; however, the judges turned down their request.

At one point during her testimony in court, Ben-Chai Segev said, “I am very sorry to say that the questioning I underwent was amateurish, negligent, and driven by an agenda. Efforts were made to intimidate me under unacceptable and inhuman conditions that should be a source of worry for every citizen of Israel. As a result, you will find the records of my questioning to include statements that were the result of misdirection, as well as comments that were taken out of context. When I asked to review the documents during my questioning, since I knew that I was being told things that were not true, I was refused.”

These developments might not erase the judicial system’s hatred for Netanyahu, an animosity that might even be shared by the judges in his trial, but they certainly may influence the verdict in his favor. It has repeatedly been demonstrated that the case against him was nothing short of a deliberate campaign to trump up charges against him, a witch hunt with no basis in reality.

 

A Bereaved Father Speaks in the Knesset

This week, I met Yossi Tzur in the Knesset building. Tzur is an affable fellow from Haifa who is generally stoical yet friendly, but I know that he carries a relentless burden of pain and grief. Yossi Tzur is a bereaved father of a terror victim; his son Assaf was killed in a terror attack in Haifa on the Number 37 bus, when a terrorist blew himself up and killed 17 people. Several years ago, Tzur wrote, “This pain doesn’t pass, nor does it become easier to bear as the years go by. When Assaf was killed, a heavy burden was placed on my shoulders, and it takes on more weight with every passing year. How long can I continue to bear this burden? Over the years, the memories fade; some of them disappear while others change, but the sense of longing also grows more powerful as the time passes. Pain built on memories and yearning remains with us all the time; parts of it change, parts of it make life difficult to bear, and it certainly causes us to have many sleepless nights.”

On Monday, Yossi Tzur visited the Knesset along with several other family members of terror victims. It was a difficult scene to behold; he spoke with great emotion, his voice trembling with pain and grief. The terrorist who masterminded the attack that claimed Assaf’s life is set to be released from prison and to return to his home in Haifa, and Yossi shudders at that thought that he might run into the man at any time in a shopping mall in his own home city. The guest told the members of the Shas party about the celebrations in the Arab community over the murderer’s imminent release and about the large, lavish home that has been built and decorated for him. Tzur cannot understand why the terrorist hasn’t been expelled from the country. “We went through six interior ministers until we finally came to the one [Aryeh Deri] who canceled his citizenship,” the bereaved father added.

“Please spare us from this shame,” he continued. “Spare me from this pain!” He revealed that he himself had proposed a law that would cause any terrorist who receives payments from the Palestinian Authority for his acts of terror to automatically lose his Israeli citizenship. The entire party applauded this proposal.

After the meeting, I asked him if he had been speaking hyperbolically when he described the terrorist returning to live in Haifa. “No,” Yossi Tzur replied, “that is exactly what is supposed to happen. He is planning to live in the Shivat Tzion neighborhood.”

“Is that a Jewish area?” I asked.

“It used to be a Jewish area,” Tzur replied, “but it is no longer.” He handed me a card that bore a picture of his son, Assaf, shortly before his murder. The shirt that he wore during his visit to the Knesset and his speech to the Shas party was likewise decorated with a picture of his son.

 

A Tragedy at Kikar Shabbos and a Miracle Near Emmanuel

Even though I am approaching the word limit for this column, I still have so many things to report to you. I must mention the accident that occurred at Kikar Shabbos during one of the demonstrations held by some people from Meah Shearim. At some point during the protest, someone rolled a garbage dumpster into the street (which is generally done by children or impetuous youths), and the dumpster struck an innocent woman who was walking along Rechov Yechezkel. The woman was crushed against a wall by the dumpster and was seriously injured.

Naturally, this led to an immediate uproar against the demonstrators, and a flurry of condemnations were issued by many figures in the government, including chareidi politicians. This is actually a very problematic issue. While everyone in this country has the right to protest, this handful of demonstrators does not have the right to cause hardships for everyone in Yerushalayim. It should also be clear that no one has the right to cause harm to innocent people or to destroy others’ property. But that does not mean that the matter should be handed over to the police. If the police are given permission to take action against the protestors now, there is a good chance that they will engage in collective punishment against the entire chareidi community. This makes for a very complicated and difficult situation. In any event, let us all daven for Mirel (Dzialovski) bas Rochel Leah, the injured woman whose ten children are tearfully waiting for her to return home.

Just to give you an example of the problems involving the police force, let me mention that police officers once again assaulted a person with special needs, this time a 35-year-old student of Alei Siach. Rabbi Chaim Frankel, the director of the Alei Siach Institute, reported the incident to Doron Turgemann, the police commander of the Yerushalayim district, who promised to investigate the matter. If past experience is any indication, though, it will simply be covered up.

Meanwhile, a great miracle occurred at the entrance to the city of Emmanuel in the Shomron. Shmuel Reinitz, a resident of Emmanuel, was driving home when he encountered an ambush, as a group of Arab terrorists opened fire on him. The bullets passed over his head, and Reinitz was miraculously spared from harm, although the incident is no less frightening as a result.

In other news, the prices of many basic products continue to rise, and the price hikes have included the cost of water and electricity as well. The soaring cost of housing is also reaching shocking levels. And this week, a saddening statistic was publicized: The Israeli organization Latet reported that a staggering 1.176 million children in Israel today are living below the poverty line.

Finally, a group of Arab youths released a video that sent shock waves through the public, in which a Palestinian youth can be seen forcing a chareidi Jew to kiss his feet. Another video taken in the waiting room in a health clinic shows an Arab yanking the peyos of a chareidi and laughing at his own prank. There seems to be some sort of competition going on among Arab youths, with the participants filming themselves demeaning Jews and then uploading the videos to social media. Personally, I believe that the blame for this phenomenon lies with the outgoing government, which went out of its way to be gracious and accommodating to the Arab citizens of Israel. That isn’t to say that the enemies of our people need a reason to humiliate or harm Jews, but when they discover weakness—and they are experts at sniffing it out—their hidden hatred tends to come to the surface.

May we all experience miracles and wonders at this auspicious time of year!

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