Thursday, Mar 23, 2023

My Take on the News

The Military Operation in Jenin

If an entire country can be in the throes of mourning at once, then this past weekend certainly brought that mood to Israel. There is sorrow in the eyes of everyone I see, whether it is on the street, in the bank, at work, or in shul. The horrific murderous attack in Neve Yaakov and the shooting in Ir Dovid have left the country traumatized and reeling. In the latter incident, a father and son were seriously wounded, but what makes it even more mind-boggling is the thought that a 13-year-old boy is capable of aiming a gun at another human being with the goal of murdering his target.

Some believe that these attacks must have been in response to the events of last Thursday night, when the IDF operated in the Jenin refugee camp on a scale reminiscent of an all-out war. This wasn’t just an ordinary raid carried out by a single unit; it was a veritable military invasion. The impetus for the operation was a report about a secret apartment housing members of the Islamic Jihad, the most militant and brutal of all the Palestinian terror organizations, who were preparing to carry out a massive terror attack, or perhaps a string of attacks, in Israel at any moment. When the Shabak receives such clear and unequivocal warnings of a planned terror attack, their policy is to act immediately to avert it.

The operation was very dangerous and took place under extremely adverse conditions. As soon as the first wave of Israeli soldiers arrived, masses of armed terrorists were summoned to the area and a full-scale battle erupted. In the end, there were no Israeli casualties, boruch Hashem, while at least nine Arabs were killed, all of them wanted terrorists. The operation was approved at the highest levels of government, including the prime minister himself.

A senior commander in the army related, “Our soldiers entered the heart of the refugee camp and engaged in direct combat against the terrorists. The soldiers showed outstanding determination and courage while contending with terrorists inside a building, surrounded by enemies and facing the complexities of explosions and gunfire coming from every direction. The mere fact that they entered the refugee camp in the first place can attest to the importance of this operation for the security of the citizens of Israel. This wasn’t just another group of terrorist gunmen; it was a group that was planning to carry out terror attacks, including potential attacks on the home front. Therefore, unlike other operations, this wasn’t just an operation against armed terrorists. This was a jihad cell that was planning to carry out major attacks. It was important to eliminate them despite the danger to our forces.”

This was the largest military operation in recent months and led to the largest number of fatalities on the Arab side. Of course, the Arab deaths triggered a wave of condemnations, threats, and concern about potential escalation of hostilities. Naturally, Islamic Jihad immediately threatened retaliation, including rocket fire, and several air raid sirens were heard in the south. The murder of seven civilians in Neve Yaakov on Friday night, the shooting of a father and son at Ir Dovid on Shabbos, and the attempted murders in Kedumim and at the Tapuach Junction were all blamed on the military operation in Jenin. It may be true that this was the immediate catalyst, but it seems that terrorist murderers do not really need any particular reason to attack Jews. In any event, may Hashem protect us all.

Netanyahu’s Secret Visit to Jordan

Meanwhile, Binyomin Netanyahu is trying to project the sense that all is normal in the country. Last weekend, the Prime Minister’s Office announced that he had visited King Abdallah in Jordan. The visit, which was unpublicized at the time, took place last Tuesday. It was the first meeting between the two heads of state since the government was established last month, and Netanyahu’s first trip abroad since he returned to the office of prime minister. Netanyahu’s last meeting with King Abdallah was in June 2018. Ron Dermer, the former Israeli ambassador to Washington and one of Netanyahu’s close associates, was present at the meeting as well.

The main subject of the talks between the two leaders was the status of Har Habayis. Jordan considers itself the official guardian of Har Habayis, which gives the country a certain degree of standing among the Arab nations. King Abdallah stressed the importance of respecting the legal and historic status quo of the Al-Aqsa mosque. He emphasized the need to preserve calm and to halt all acts of violence in order to pave the way toward a peace process and to put an end to any measures that might undermine the chances of peace.

The meeting ran for almost two and a half hours, longer than it was originally scheduled to run. Dermer commented afterward that while he had attended several such meetings in the past, this was one of the best conferences to take place between the two leaders. The atmosphere during the conversation was friendly, and the participants agreed to open a new chapter in the relations between the two countries and to maintain positive attitudes toward each other. In exchange for the invitation to Jordan, Netanyahu made the same concession that was made by Lapid before his own visit to Amman: He promised to maintain the status quo at Har Habayis.

Judicial Reform Still a Focus of Attention

Yariv Levin’s plan to reform the judiciary is still the focus of public attention, with new headlines appearing every day on the subject. The newspapers are filled with reports about attempts to broker a compromise on the issue, about the threat it poses to investments in Israel, about the reactions of all sorts of organizations to the plan, and, of course, about the demonstrations against the plan in the streets of Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv. What is especially appalling is that the demonstrations against the reform were held even this past Motzoei Shabbos, when the victims of the massacre in Neve Yaakov hadn’t even been buried yet. It seems that the organizers of those protests could not understand why it was in poor taste to continue their demonstrations at that time.

Meanwhile, it has been hinted that the attorney general is considering declaring Netanyahu unfit to continue in his position due to a conflict of interest—since he is promoting Yariv Levin’s judicial reform, which might have an impact on his criminal trial. The rumors infuriated the government to the point that the coalition leaders wrote a stern letter to the attorney general. Fearing that she was about to be dismissed from her job, she quickly denied the rumors—although it is quite telling that she did not deny them until she received the letter. It was also observed that if anyone has a conflict of interest, it is the attorney general herself; she is aware that the government has an interest in firing her, and every step she takes is bound to be calculated in light of that concern.

The chareidi community has a thousand reasons to support Yariv Levin’s plan. The Supreme Court has never been sympathetic to chareidim, and there are many issues of importance to the community, including the passage of a draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim, that require an override clause and similar legislation. Above all, there is the simple fact that as long as the judges oppose the Torah and base their rulings on the laws of the nations of the world, the chareidi position must be in favor of disempowering them altogether. Religious Jews do not believe in the rule of judges at all, and secular Israeli law should be viewed as no different from the laws of any nation. If the members of the Bais Din Hagadol took the place of the Supreme Court, on the other hand, the chareidim would embrace the judges’ philosophy that their authority should apply to everything. It is as simple as that.

During the mass gathering on Rechov Hakablan on the day the court ruled against Aryeh Deri, someone demanded, “Does anyone think it is a coincidence that all ten Ashkenazic judges voted against Deri and the one judge in the minority was Sephardic?” There is no real answer to this question other than the fact that there was never any legitimacy to the charges against Deri in the first place. The ruling elites have feared him since the Shas party first appeared, and they have used every means at their disposal to oppose him. The more they fought against Deri, the more his influence and popularity grew, yet they continued inexplicably trying to strike blows at him—just as the Mitzrim repeatedly struck the giant frog that emerged from the Nile, even though every blow led it to release additional streams of smaller frogs. As the Steipler pointed out, this was pure insanity—as is the court’s relentless opposition to Aryeh Deri.

A study was recently conducted to analyze a batch of one thousand decisions made by the parole committee in the Prison Service, and the researchers discovered that a decision was more likely to be in favor of an inmate when it was made in close proximity to the judges’ lunch break. Woe to any country with such judges.

Tax on Disposables Cancelled

After the recent traumatic events, you might find it bizarre for anyone to be paying attention to the issue I am about to discuss. Nevertheless, life goes on and this is still an important issue for Israeli consumers. Moreover, we are in the middle of a battle over public perception, and every little thing of this nature contributes to the cause.

I am referring to what may seem like a trivial matter—the tax on disposable dishes and utensils. While the tax on sweetened drinks was clearly meant to target the chareidi community, there was some justification for it, since the beverages are not healthy. (Then again, there is a legitimate argument to be made that the correct way to reduce consumption of the beverages is through a public relations campaign rather than taxing them.) The tax on disposables, on the other hand, was a completely transparent effort by then-Finance Minister Lieberman to harm the chareidi community. All the talk about the ecological impact of disposables made no difference; his intent was clear. And the tax on these goods thus became symbolic of the deliberate targeting of the chareidi community. For kollel families living on a tight budget, this only served to add to the burden of their weekly grocery expenses.

This past Sunday, the cabinet decided to repeal the tax. While the finance minister had already announced its cancellation as one of his first moves in office, the Treasury responded that since the tax had been passed by the cabinet, it needed to be revoked by a cabinet decision as well before it could be officially abolished. That is exactly what was done at the beginning of this week. This is actually a more significant development than one might think, as it has finally yielded the sense that the new government is overturning the decisions of the previous regime.

The first reaction came from Aryeh Deri, who announced, “We made a promise, and now we have fulfilled it. Just as we demanded in the coalition talks, the government has annulled the tax on disposable dishes, which became symbolic of its deliberate attacks on the chareidi population. I thank Minister Smotrich and the other ministers who supporters this move, and I expect the retail chains to lower their prices.” The next response came from Moshe Gafni: “Congratulations to Minister Betzalel Smotrich for the government decision to finally cancel the Lieberman tax on disposable dishes, which was created first and foremost to harm the chareidi sector. This was one of our promises made when the government was established, and the Finance Committee passed the budget item required to cancel the tax this week. Today, I am happy to report that it has finally been repealed.”

Fake News from the Knesset

The headlines screamed this week about “the latest outrage” and “indignation in the opposition” over the supposed fact that “MK Gafni has introduced a law to prohibit chometz in hospitals on Pesach.” The media reported that this bill evoked “outraged reactions” from other politicians, including Yair Lapid, who declared, “Not everything needs to be legislated and coerced.” The law regarding separate beaches (which requires separate hours for men and women to be established for chareidi beachgoers and any other citizens who might be interested in it) also allegedly drew the anger of the rest of the country. But this is pure fake news; there is no meaning to any of these bills. Almost two thousand new bills have already been placed on the Knesset table, including some that are bizarre, extreme, and even anti-religious. Other laws about chometz were submitted before the proposal made by Gafni and his colleagues, but those bills managed to remain under the radar. There was no reason to create a stir over these laws. (I would make the same comment about a bill introduced by Moshe Abutbul and his colleagues, which would require Israel to mimic the United States by writing “in G-d we trust” on its currency. This was also slammed as an “outrage.”)

Anyone who tries to sow panic over a bill that was merely submitted to the Knesset must be ignorant of parliamentary procedure. Out of the 1938 such bills that have already been submitted, and the hundreds more that are bound to be added to them, only a handful will actually be approved. And even the laws that will be passed are likely to have little impact. Any law of significance will almost certainly be axed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. True, in the current government there is indeed a chance that the chareidi MKs will be able to pass new laws with the aid of chareidi government ministers. But there is no reason for an outcry over a bill that was merely placed on the Knesset table.

This week, two identical bills were submitted by two lazy Knesset members: Yair Lapid and Yvette Lieberman. I call them lazy because they have done very little parliamentary work to date. Lapid has never submitted a parliamentary query, and Lieberman has only a single query to his name, with a long-winded title that contends that “the status of ‘Torah as a profession’ [which enables talmidei yeshivos to exempt themselves from the draft] reflects a lack of fairness, transparency, and clarity; gives a privileged status to a specific group of people over the rest of the population; and bestows privileges such as exemptions from the draft and government stipends.” The text of his query demands, “How many Israeli citizens to date are considered to have the status of Torah study as a profession? How many people were added to this category during the years 2021 and 2022? And what are the criteria for receiving that standing?” The manner in which Lieberman expresses himself should be very telling.

In any event, Lieberman and Lapid (along with their respective parties) each introduced a bill calling for an amendment to the Defensive Service Law, which was approved in its first reading in the 24th Knesset. The bill was originally written by Lieberman; Lapid later copied it from him. Another law submitted by Lapid and his colleagues, this one lifted from a proposal made by the Meretz party, calls for “the operation of public transportation on the weekly day of rest.” Even in the opposition and despite their indolence, these evil men continue to submit malevolent pieces of legislation. And this is the same Yair Lapid who declared that “not everything needs to be legislated or coerced.” But no one in any of the chareidi parties felt the need to speak out against these bills, because they are not serious pieces of legislation. They were merely placed on the Knesset table, and everyone knows that nothing will come of them.

Important News for Americans in Israel

The Knesset’s Public Affairs Committee, chaired by Yitzchok Pindrus, met to discuss the status of Israeli residents with foreign citizenship who often do not have access to services that they are legally entitled to. Pindrus made sure to have many relevant authorities represented at the session, including the Population Authority, the National Insurance Institute, the Welfare Ministry, the Education Ministry, and the Tourism Ministry. The meeting was attended by a total of 51 guests, including representatives of the Chaim V’Chessed organization, which works to promote the rights of English-speaking residents in Israel.

The participants in the meeting heard from two English-speaking Israeli residents who shared their respective stories. One woman, the mother of an eight-year-old girl whose vision is 98 percent impaired, related that although her daughter is eligible to receive an official certificate of blindness (which confers certain rights and benefits on its holder) and receives services from her health fund and from the National Insurance Institute, the Welfare Ministry denied her the certificate due to her lack of an Israeli identity number. A similar issue faced an immigrant who was certified in Israel as a teacher, earned a degree in special education, and was employed by a school for several years, until the Ministry of Education insisted on his dismissal due to his lack of an Israeli ID number. The ministries acknowledged that both residents were entitled to the services that had been denied to them but claimed that “technical issues” made it impossible to accommodate them. Pindrus was unwilling to accept that answer and demanded that the ministries find an appropriate solution.

Another issue, which was raised by Mrs. Rachel Morgenstern of Chaim V’Chessed’s Governmental Department, was the fact that an ordinary Israeli citizen is identified by his ID number for all government services, whereas a non-citizen who is a resident of the country will receive different numbers from the NII, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Tax Authority, making it very burdensome to keep track of the numbers. The consensus among the officials attending the meeting was that the Population Authority should be responsible for issuing a single number for every non-citizen with legal resident status. Pindrus rebuked the authority’s representatives for failing to come up with a solution—which he considered intolerable in a “tech hotspot” such as Israel in the year 2023—and announced his intent to continue pursuing this subject in the future.

The New Norwegian MKs

Yitzchok Pindrus is a prominent Knesset member with a long record of public service. But you might not be aware of one thing about him: Pindrus hasn’t actually been part of the current Knesset since its inception. He is a “Norwegian” Knesset member, who entered the Knesset only after Yitzchok Goldknopf, the current Minister of Housing, resigned from his seat to take his ministerial position. You might be wondering how it is possible for a member of Degel HaTorah to take over a seat that belongs to Agudas Yisroel. This is a subject that I hope to explain in a future article.

Two other members of UTJ have recently followed in Pindrus’s footsteps, entering the Knesset after two other chareidi representatives resigned when they became government ministers. The two newcomers are Moshe Shimon Roth, who represents the Sanzer chassidus in Agudas Yisroel, and Eliyohu Bruchi, a Petach Tikvah resident who serves as a member of Degel HaTorah. The two newcomers have replaced Meir Porush, who recently took office as Minister of Yerushalayim Affairs, and Uri Maklev, the Deputy Minister of Transportation. Roth is originally from Crown Heights; his father is the well-known Rabbi Chaim Alter Roth. My upcoming article will also contain information about all the new “Norwegian” members of the Knesset.

The Letter Writer and the Signature Collector

I recently warned the incoming Knesset members to brace themselves for a period of dreary, unrewarding work. It may look glamorous from without, but serving in the Knesset is not deserving of the hype that surrounds it. I warned them to wait until they discover the small branch of the post office in the Knesset building. Every member of the Knesset has his own mailbox, which is where he receives all sorts of mail—letters from various ministries, responses to parliamentary questions, notices from the various departments of the Knesset, invitations to various events, periodicals, and, above all, letters from the public. It is that final category that I often find to be of the greatest interest, since it includes many requests for assistance from the members of the Knesset.

I should note that some of the letters received by the average MK are downright bizarre. For instance, there is an engineer in Herzliya who tirelessly bombards the government ministers and members of the Knesset with long letters on various subjects, such as the internal divisions within the Jewish people. His signature is always followed by the words “on behalf of the elder mekubal, Rav Yitzchok Kaduri” and by a slew of telephone numbers, including one “direct” number, all of which seem to be perpetually busy. The letter writer also makes a habit of sending a copy of each of his missives to a distinguished rov in Tel Aviv. This week, that rov told me, “He is a good Jew. If you call him and tell him that his letters were received, it will be a mitzvah.”

There is another individual who sends many letters and seems to enjoy collecting the signatures of government officials. This man sometimes claims to be living in the street and at other times in Yerushalayim. He identifies himself alternately as a Holocaust survivor, a bar mitzvah boy, or a patient suffering from a terminal illness, and he always requests a letter in response (“not written by an aide”) bearing a personalized signature. I have come across eight different types of letters from this man, but based on the handwriting and the request, I am convinced that they have all come from the same person. I am sure that he has a collection of hundreds of signatures, and I have no doubt that all the new Knesset members will soon be receiving mail from him.

An Exciting Event in Neve Yaakov

The neighborhood of Neve Yaakov was in the news a week before the dreadful terror attack this Shabbos on account of a gathering of hundreds of local yungeleit who are involved in kiruv. The special guest at this occasion was Rav Mechel Zilber, who delivered a fascinating speech, but I was actually riveted by the video screen, which gave the audience a glimpse into the home of Rav Dov Landau, rosh yeshiva of Slabodka. Rabbi Yitzchok Zemmel and Rabbi Shimon Sheinfeld, who oversee the kiruv program in Neve Yaakov, asked Rav Landau to give a brocha to the 350 yungeleit participating in their project. “These people give maaser of their time and learn Gemara and halacha with Jews taking their first steps toward religion,” they informed the rosh yeshiva. “They celebrate siyumim together with them and instill love for the Torah in them.”

“Wonderful,” Rav Landau said. “May they continue to have success.”

Rav Zilber spoke about the kiruv efforts that took place during his time as a talmid in Slabodka and about the power of learning Gemara with irreligious Jews. He quoted the Gemara’s account concerning Rav Preida, who learned the same material with a talmid 400 times. “Today, a talmid with such limited capacity would be placed in special education,” he said, “yet Rav Preida, who was the gadol hador, personally learned with him. The lesson is that a yungerman should never feel that he should devote his time only to his own personal advancement. It is important for any ben Torah to learn with others who are less capable than he is. The Gemara also relates that a bas kol gave Rav Preida a choice of reward,” Rav Landau continued. “Why wasn’t the same choice offered to the talmid? I was close to Rav Chaim, and I asked him this question. He told me, ‘There is no question about that. For the talmid, it was a matter of life and death.’”

The gathering was also addressed by the leaders of Lev L’Achim: Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin, Rav Avrohom Zaivald, and Rav Boruch Shapiro. Rav Shapiro spoke about the early days of the kiruv movement in Eretz Yisroel and the famous letter signed by Rav Shach and other gedolei hador. “I see the results of that letter here,” he said. “It is amazing to observe what can be accomplished by bnei Torah with the power of the Torah. The words spoken here by the mitzchazkim [irreligious people who have been inspired to begin their journey back to Yiddishkeit] ought to be shouted in Tel Aviv before a crowd of 100,000 secular Jews.”

Rav Shapiro was referring to Noam and Doron, a father and son whose stories had stirred the audience’s emotions. Noam, who was the first to become a “talmid” of the kiruv activists, had asked them to speak to his son as well. They did as he asked, and Doron began moving toward Torah observance, keeping up his connection with his mentors even in the Border Guard and then returning to the bais medrash after his discharge. Today, he is a talmid in Yeshivas Kaf Hachaim. Doron took the microphone and described some of the challenges he had successfully overcome, including the allure of the high salary he would have received as a permanent officer in the Border Guard, as well as the decision to use a kosher phone. The yungeleit in attendance applauded enthusiastically and wiped away a few tears.

Meanwhile, on the video, Rav Dov Landau expressed his objections to the request for a brocha on camera by exclaiming, “You are trying to turn me into a rebbe! I have to prepare the words that I am going to read. Let’s do this together.” He then prepared the first draft of a letter to the audience, which was read aloud: “How incredible and important is the Torah learning of the yungeleit who take time for it outside the hours of their kollel studies … when they learn with people in search of knowledge at all levels, and thus infuse them with Torah, with a desire for Torah, with wholehearted commitment to fulfilling the mitzvos, and with the elevation that it can provide. The worthy organization Lev L’Achim deserves praise. May you all be blessed.”



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