Thursday, Jul 18, 2024

My Take On The News

Purim 5783: Grief Mingled with Joy

Once again, as we celebrated Purim, the prevalent mood was sadness. We read in the megillah about the defeat of the Jewish people’s arch enemy; we read in the press last week that Rabbi Avrohom Noach Paley awoke from his coma and was informed about the deaths of his two sons. We read the names of Haman’s ten sons in one breath shortly after we saw pictures from the shiva in Har Brocha, where a family sat mourning the deaths of two of its sons. We rejoiced on Purim because it is the mitzvah of the day, after having shed tears because it was impossible to remain unmoved by the tragedies.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that terror has cast a pall over the festivities of Purim. Six years ago, there was a stabbing attack at the Lions’ Gate on Purim; the terrorist entered a room occupied by the officers of the Border Guard and stabbed several of them. On another occasion, there was a car ramming attack on Shushan Purim on Bar-Lev Boulevard, near the neighborhood of Shimon Hatzaddik. And on Taanis Esther of 5756/1996, there was a dreadful terror attack at Dizengoff Center, where 13 Jews were killed and 125 were injured. There is no better reaction to these tragedies than the timeless words of the piyut of Shoshanas Yaakov, “Cursed are the wicked.”

The parallels to the Purim story are striking. In those days, as well, the children of Klal Yisroel were at the epicenter of the unfolding events. Their Torah learning played a key role in the entire sequence of events. The Midrash relates that when the royal decree calling for Klal Yisroel’s annihilation was issued, Haman went out and found Mordechai in the street, and the two of them encountered three children emerging from their place of learning. Mordechai followed these children, with Haman and his officers trailing behind him. According to Chazal, Mordechai then asked each of the children to quote a posuk that they had been learning. The first child quoted the posuk, “Do not be afraid of sudden terror, or of the gloom of the wicked when it approaches.” The next child quoted the posuk, “Devise a plot and it will be annulled; speak a word and it will not stand, for G-d is with us.” The third child quoted the posuk, “Until old age, I am the same, and until you become gray, I will bear [you]; I created and I will carry [you], and I will bear and save [you].” Mordechai rejoiced when he heard this, and Haman asked him, “What did those children tell you that made you smile?” Mordechai replied that he was given good tidings, and Haman, according to Chazal, became angered and vowed to take out his wrath on the children first.

Speaking of children, I had a wonderful experience involving children on erev Purim. At Talmud Torah Avnei Shlomo in Givat Shaul, the children are learning Maseches Sukkah. Every child was assigned a project to build a model of a sukkah representing a different halacha. One child created a model that showed a person with his head and the majority of his body in a sukkah, another created a model showing a sukkah created by removing a portion of a roof, and, of course, there was the sukkah meduvleles. The model sukkos were put on display in the classroom, in an impressive show of the talent and creativity of the children (and their parents). One might even suggest that the children would have been justified in turning it into a mobile exhibition to be transported from neighborhood to neighborhood, rather than confining the fruits of their labors to a single third-grade classroom in the cheder. Kudos to Rabbi Eliyohu Steinowitz, the hardworking rebbi of the class, and to Rabbi Aryeh Fein, the dedicated administrator.

This week, I also learned about the power of unity. According to one peirush on the megillah that I came across, Esther’s command to “go and gather” the Jews throughout the kingdom was meant to offset Haman’s accusation that they were “scattered and divided” among the nations. Purim is an especially auspicious time for unity in Klal Yisroel and for the Torah learning of adults and children alike; on Purim and Shushan Purim, shuls throughout Israel were packed to capacity, filled with hundreds of costumed children sitting alongside their fathers and learning for hours upon hours. This is the “voice of Yaakov” that is destined to defeat the “hands of Eisov” and thwart the evil designs of Amalek.

We are a nation with a long memory. We remember the creation of the world every week, we relate to the splitting of the Yam Suf as if it took place in our own times, and the sound of the shofar at Har Sinai still echoes in our minds. But just as those momentous occasions are always fresh in our minds, we weep over our tragedies to the same degree: The deaths of the asarah harugei malchus and the burning of the Bais Hamikdash are keenly felt in spite of the passage of centuries. And there is no question that the innocent souls martyred in the winter of 5783 will continue to live on in our collective national memory.

Another Tragedy Miraculously Averted

Another Israeli citizen narrowly escaped death in yet another terror attack that occurred this week. The 65-year-old man was wounded in a shooting attack on Shabbos near the settlement of Beit Chagai, which is located in the southern Chevron hills. This was the latest in a long string of attempted murders that have occurred in that area. The army’s initial inquiry revealed that the victim was wounded in a drive-by shooting; IDF forces quickly converged on the spot and located several bullet casings, as well as identifying a bullet hole in his car.

This was the third terror attack last week in which the terrorist’s bullets found a target. The first was the deadly attack in Huwara, in which the brother Hallel and Yigal Yaniv were murdered. Next was the attack north of the Dead Sea, which took the life of an American citizen named Elan Ganeles. Parenthetically, during Elan’s funeral, the Shin Bet located four terrorists in Yericho, which is very close to the site of the terror attack, and took them into custody on suspicion of involvement in his murder. IDF combatants surrounded the house where the terrorists had taken refuge; two of them attempted to flee, and the soldiers opened on fire on them. One of the terrorists was shot, severely wounded, and taken into custody. This was actually a very quick capture; the terrorists who carried out the attack in Huwara, meanwhile, have yet to be apprehended.

General Mark Milley Criticizes Israel

Israel has just received a visit from General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States. The general arrived last Friday, for a visit that was arranged only at the beginning of the week, as a guest of his counterpart in Israel, Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. Milley also met with Dedi Barnea, the director of the Mossad, and with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant before returning to America on Sunday.

The top American general last visited Israel this past summer. His visit now was officially billed as part of the preparations for the arrival on Thursday of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who will be coming to Israel as part of his tour of the Middle East. However, certain sources in the defense establishment claim that Milley was visiting the country “against the backdrop of some worrying developments in Iran.” Such developments require intensive coordination between the two armies and preparation for a variety of possible scenarios. Milley’s meetings with Israeli military brass focused in particular on security coordination in light of the Iranian threat, which seems to be approaching a critical level, but he also conveyed concern about a potential for the escalation of tensions in the West Bank. The Americans fear that an uptick in violence in the area might spread to Lebanon and other areas as well.

It is very likely that Austin plans to discuss the issue of the Palestinians during his visit here. The Americans are concerned about a potential increase in violence in the Palestinian territories in light of Ramadan. They are especially concerned about the recent events in Huwara, and they are demanding clarifications from Israel about how such things could have happened beneath the very nose of the IDF. They also expect Israel to bring the Israelis who rioted in Huwara to justice and to provide compensation to the Palestinians who were harmed.

Next week, the head of Israel’s National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, and Ron Dermer, the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs and a confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu, are due to visit Washington for a series of talks with high-ranking White House officials. The Iranian and Palestinian questions are due to be the central focus of their discussions as well. Israeli officials hope that the two men’s visit to America will be followed by an invitation for Netanyahu to visit Washington personally. Even though he has been serving as prime minister for over two months, the Americans have yet to extend such an invitation to him.

Israel’s Finance Minister Faces Boycott in Washington

Speaking of Huwara and the American reaction, here is an utterly astounding story: as Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich was planning to leave for a visit to Washington, the Americans were making every effort to show him that they are angry with him. At first, they leaked a report to the press claiming that Smotrich might be denied a visa, although that prospect is utterly unrealistic. Next, they claimed that they might restrict his movements within America (as they did to the Russian foreign minister, who recently visited the UN headquarters in New York and was not permitted to travel far from his hotel), but that, too, does not seem likely to happen. On the other hand, when Smotrich arrives in Washington to deliver his address to Israel Bonds, it is likely that no American official will agree to meet with him. Smotrich responded to this with a shrug and added, “I never asked to meet with anyone.”

In case you are wondering why the Americans are angry, it is a reaction to Smotrich’s comments last week, following the Israeli riot in Huwara in response to the terror attack that took the lives of the Yaniv brothers. After Israeli rioters invaded the Arab settlement and set fires, Smotrich remarked that he believed that Huwara ought to be wiped out, albeit by the Israeli army rather than by civilians. The Americans hurried to condemn his comment fiercely.

The most disturbing aspect of this story is that “Jewish organizations in Washington,” a term that is usually a coded reference to the Reform movement, have reportedly been urging the American government to boycott Smotrich. According to media reports, other organizations called on the Biden administration to boycott Smotrich and to deny him a visa to the United States. They also announced that they will personally refuse to meet with Smotrich in Miami, in New York, or anywhere else.

The White House announced that the Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, will refuse to meet with Smotrich. Ned Price, the spokesman for the American State Department, characterized Smotrich’s remarks about “wiping the village of Huwara out of existence” as “irresponsible, harmful, and repugnant.”

Never mind that Smotrich walked back his words and was castigated by Netanyahu for making them.

Smotrich responded by calling on the United States to avoid meddling in Israel’s internal affairs, a clear reference to the objections raised by a series of American officials to Israel’s judicial reform. Close associates of Smotrich have added that he did not request meetings with any American officials. At the same time, they tried to calm the rising tensions by quoting Smotrich as saying, “I didn’t mean to say that Israel should wipe out the village of Huwara itself. What I meant was that we should act in a focused manner against the terrorists and their supporters in the village so that a heavy price is exacted from them, in order to restore security to the residents in the area.”

If the Media Lived in the Times of Mordechai and Esther

By the time you read these lines, Purim will be over. We will have read the megillah and absorbed the lesson that a situation that looks terrible—even if it actually is terrible—can be completely reversed. Megillas Esther is a story of a time of Divine concealment, and the chronicled in the megillah were cloaked in the guise of natural events. The Jewish people’s plight seemed to be going from bad to worse, the city of Shushan was in turmoil, and the people had donned sackcloth and ashes while the shuls were filled with Jewish children davening for the nation to be saved from annihilation. Finally, as the story drew to an end, a surprising turnabout led to a great salvation for the Jewish people.

When we listen to the megillah, it is only natural for us to brim with hatred and indignation against Haman. What a terrible, hate-filled enemy he was! Why did he even care about the Jews? What was the source of his virulent hatred for us? Haman was an evil man who approached Achashverosh with the goal of convincing him to destroy Klal Yisroel, claiming that the Jews were a nation of idlers who did not pay taxes and that it was not worthwhile for the king to allow them to live. Every year, we applaud Mordechai for his adamant refusal to bow down to Haman, in a show of genuine Jewish courage. We follow Esther throughout her tribulations, and we marvel at the great salvation that came about as a result of her personal troubles.

I can only imagine how the events in Shushan might have been covered by today’s media outlets: Channel 12, Kan 11, and all their vile compatriots, as well as newspapers such as Yediot, Calcalist, and many others. Just imagine what Haaretz would have written in an article about Mordechai. The newspaper’s editors certainly would have urged Achashverosh to take out his wrath on the Jewish people. They would have published “investigative reports” about the Jews, and they would have hailed Haman for making sure that there was enough government funding allocated to Hodu and Kush. Perhaps Achashverosh’s kingdom would even have had its own band of anarchists taking to the streets with signs decrying everything done by the Jews as the “end of democracy,” the “destruction of the homeland,” and the advent of a “halachic state,” all in a duplicitous effort to convince the people that the Jews were their true enemies.

The Tables Have Turned

The media in our days, meanwhile, is up to its usual tricks. The press has placed itself squarely on the side of the protestors in Tel Aviv, who constantly find a sympathetic and listening ear in Israel’s news stations and newspapers. As far as the media is concerned, the only newsworthy items today are those that deal with demonstrators who were arrested or soaked by water cannons at the protests in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, and Karkur. Everything else, even a terror attack, is secondary to these all-important stories.

As far as the interviewers in the media are concerned, the behavior of the police has been monstrous and horrific. The fact that the protestors are guilty of shutting down major highways and paralyzing traffic does not bother them. Nor are they concerned by the thought that other groups within Israeli society would have suffered much more vicious beatings at the hands of the police for doing the same thing. They are also not disturbed by the fact that people who are supposed to be distinguished members of society (including former prime ministers such as Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, former Chief of Staff Dan Chalutz, and the mayor of Tel Aviv) have been openly making dangerous statements, even calling for civil war, and have proven themselves to be capable of extreme violence. The media does not report any of this; it sees no reason to publicize anything other than the violent reaction of the police to the demonstrators. These are the same policemen who responded to chareidi or right-wing protests with vicious brutality, which did not interest the media at the time—for the simple reason that the violence wasn’t directed against the “refined” activists of the left.

Hearing the laments in the media, I can’t help but laugh wryly. I listened while a woman on the Herzliya city council sobbed as she recalled that a protestor standing next to her had been arrested for the simple offense of telling a police officer not to watch her. Another demonstrator claimed that he is an upstanding citizen who was merely holding an Israeli flag and was arrested without cause; he has no idea what he did to warrant being taken into custody. Now, why do I find this ironic? Because when the police come to chareidi or right-wing protests, their response is to swing their truncheons indiscriminately and break bones. Water cannons are present at every protest; in the best case scenario, they emit powerful streams of water, but they often use the foul-smelling skunk water instead. These cannons do not differentiate between protestors who stay within the bounds of acceptable behavior and those who become disorderly and violent. On the contrary, they have been known to harm elderly people and other innocent passersby who had no connection at all to the protests. When these things happen to others, the Israeli left pays no heed, but when it happens to them, they react with shock. The front page of one newspaper announced, “Fierce conflicts are taking place: The protestors against the judicial overhaul blocked roads throughout the country, and the police dispersed them by force.” Shocking, isn’t it? The bleeding hearts from Tel Aviv were quick to cry out in outrage that “the police literally pounced on us!” Well, what did they expect? Did they think that they could block traffic and attack police officers, and they would be handed bouquets of flowers in response? They have now tasted the collective experience of the chareidi community.

Where Does the Hatred Come From?

That isn’t to say that anyone is happy about the misery of the demonstrators and the media. The religious community is not rejoicing in anyone’s misfortune. But it is saddening and infuriating that the Israeli left refuses to accept the will of the majority of the people and denies the legitimacy of the right-wing victory. Years ago, when Menachem Begin led the right to victory over the Mapai party in the historic upheaval of 1977, one of the leaders of Mapai, Yitzchok Ben-Aharon, haughtily declared that the people had made a mistake. In their view, if the right wing wins a majority of the votes in an election, then that means that there has been a mistake, and the only possible response is to take to the streets!

I can understand the fact that they are protesting, but what about their venomous hatred? Where does this animosity come from?

The chareidi community feels this hatred very keenly, since it is accompanied by incitement against them. This week, a Nobel Prize laureate named Professor Schectman announced that he fears the chareidim, whom he accused of “milking the state coffers.” There is so much wickedness and distortion in that one statement alone. Sara Netanyahu also felt this hatred when an angry mob of hundreds of people surrounded a beauty salon in Tel Aviv while she was there, keeping her locked in there for over three hours. That, too, was a horrific display of hatred.

If there is any cause for joy in this story, it lies in the fact that all this background noise hasn’t deterred the government and the coalition, especially Yariv Levin, from continuing to pursue the goals that they adopted at the very beginning of this process. The objective is to restore sanity, balance, and normalcy to the country by preventing any figure in the government from having the audacity to hold himself above the nation. No judge, even one on the Supreme Court, should have the right to impose his personal views on other citizens as to what is considered “reasonable” or “enlightened.”

When I read Yediot Acharonot this week, I could almost feel the tears of the editors soaked into the pages, as they reported on the “legislative blitz” involved in the judicial reform. “The Supreme Court will no longer be able to strike down laws, the composition of the committee for the selection of judges will be changed, and there will be an override clause, the second Deri Law, the DIPI law, a law about declaring the prime minister unfit for office, the death penalty for terrorists, and limits on judicial review for ordinary laws,” the newspaper reported breathlessly. “The protestors are holding their demonstrations,” the report added, clearly seething with outrage, “but the legislation is galloping forward.”

The fact that these new laws are actually supported by a majority of the people, while the opposition comes only from a small group of vocal protestors, does not seem to concern the press at all.

Chometz Law Moves Forward

The newspapers in the chareidi world, at least, are celebrating the fact that the Knesset is still advancing its new laws, one of which is the Chometz Law, which was finalized in a committee in advance of its first reading in the Knesset. This law was submitted by members of the Knesset from the three chareidi parties: Degel HaTorah, Shas, and Agudas Yisroel. The law was approved two weeks ago in its preliminary reading and was transferred to the Knesset Health Committee for further discussion, where the committee chairman, MK Uriel Bosso, was ready to receive it. In his own quiet way, without unnecessary fanfare or excessive confrontation, Bosso presided over a thorough yet quick discussion of the law.

The text of the law is fairly brief, and its purpose is simple. The objective of the Chometz Law is simply to restore the status quo that existed before the judges of the Supreme Court accepted a petition from the Reform movement and similar organizations. The need to pass the law was thus forced on the religious parties by the results of judicial intervention. And just to make this clear, I should note that the law states only that the director of any hospital is permitted (not required) to appoint employees to prevent visitors from bringing chometz onto the grounds of the facility on Pesach.

On Sunday—the Knesset held its usual Monday session early this week, due to the holiday of Purim—the Chometz Law was brought before the Knesset and was approved in its first reading. There are other laws that are likewise being advanced at this time, but I will write about them in a separate article.

A Levayah for a Sefer Torah

This week, there was also a very sad occasion: a levayah for sifrei Torah destroyed in a fire. Last Shabbos, on the week of Parshas Terumah, a fire took place on Rechov Yonah in Yerushalayim, in the Satmar bais medrash. It was believed at first that the fire was caused by a Shabbos hot plate, but after a full day had passed, it was discovered that the actual cause of the blaze was a set of Shabbos candles that had been placed on a flammable stand and had been left unsupervised. Two sifrei Torah, along with many pairs of tefillin and other religious articles, were tragically burned, and the Satmar Rebbe called on his chassidim to observe this past Tuesday as a day of fasting and tzedokah in response to the disaster.

This week, a heavily attended levayah, with the rabbonim of the community in attendance, was held for the sifrei Torah and other sacred articles that were burned. Tens of thousands of people accompanied the seforim on their final journey to Har Hamenuchos, where they were placed in special sealed containers and buried in a plot reserved for the interment of stam articles. The men who had donated the sifrei Torah to the bais medrash recited Kaddish tearfully.

An Elevator in Chevron

I have written extensively in the past about the plan to install an elevator at Meoras Hamachpeilah in Chevron, to provide access to the sacred site for the disabled. Just as Eretz Yisroel is acquired with yissurim, this elevator has been through a seemingly endless array of vicissitudes before it could even be built, but it seems that we have finally reached the end of this road. The elevator is finally there, and copious praise is owed to those who refused to give in and who fought tirelessly to see this accomplishment materialize, especially Shai Glick of the organization B’Tsalmo. Several Knesset members from the Shas party were also involved in the campaign for the elevator to be constructed, and they deserve appreciation as well. Perhaps we will finally see the end of the lamentable phenomenon of wheelchair-bound people having to be carried to the graves of our Avos in order to pour out their hearts in prayer.

Rav Elbaz Barred from Speaking to Prisoners

A young man named Eliyohu Bar-Zakai is serving time in Rimonim Prison in northern Israel. The story of his conviction and incarceration is shocking. I followed his trial at the time, and I can tell you that Bar-Zakai’s crime was inadvertent manslaughter: He struck a pedestrian with his car inadvertently, for which the court sentenced him to twelve years in prison. No such sentence has ever been meted out by an Israeli court for such an offense before. No one denies the severity of taking a life, but this sentence was disproportionate.

But I digress from my main point. The rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim, Rav Reuven Elbaz, recently wanted to visit Rimonim Prison to deliver a shiur and to give encouragement to the prisoners, as has been his habit for decades. Rav Elbaz is one of the greatest influences on baalei teshuvah in our times. To his surprise, the Prison Service decided to deny him the opportunity to enter the prison. Their reason was that he is the uncle of Eli Bar-Zakai. Is this a normal or sane policy? I, for one, think not.

Keeping the Rules

Yoav Ben-Tzur, who is serving as a minister in the government, was the director-general of the Shas party’s school system for many years. During that time, he was in almost daily contact with Rav Shimon Baadani in his professional capacity, in addition to the fact that he was a talmid and close associate of the venerable rov.

Ben-Tzur recently shared the following story: “There was a certain Talmud Torah in the school system [he named the school, the city where it is located, and the principal, but I do not believe any of that is relevant to our story] where Rav Baadani also served as the president of the school. Rav Baadani was responsible for formulating the rules that applied to all the students of the school, including the regulations pertaining to a bar mitzvah. According to the rules that he drafted, if a child in the school celebrated his bar mitzvah in a hall, it was required to have a mehadrin level of kashrus not just for that particular simcha but throughout the year. The bar mitzvah boy’s classmates and teachers were permitted to attend a bar mitzvah only if it was held in a hall that met this criterion.

“One day, a boy in the school invited his friends to his bar mitzvah in a hall in the city of Cholon. The rebbi looked at the invitation and informed the boy’s father that neither he nor the other children would be permitted to come. The father was shocked. ‘Why?’ he demanded. ‘I ordered a full mehadrin meal!’ The rebbi explained that the school rules prohibited them to attend a simcha in a hall that wasn’t subject to a mehadrin hechsher at all times, and the father burst into tears. He hadn’t been aware of that policy, and he had thought that arranging for his own event to be mehadrin was sufficient to meet the school’s expectations. Now that he had been made aware of his mistake, he did not wish to subject his child to the stinging disappointment of having his friends and rebbi miss his bar mitzvah.

The rebbi took pity on the father and informed the menahel about the situation. They decided that the rebbi and the father would speak to Rav Moshe Maya, a member of the Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah and a prominent educator, and would ask him to decide whether an exception could be made to Rav Baadani’s rules in this case. They managed to meet with Rav Maya only on the day before the bar mitzvah. The bar mitzvah boy’s father offered to address his son’s classmates and to explain to them that he had made a mistake, and the melamed added that he would make it clear to the boys that this exception was being made only for that particular simcha, due to the extenuating circumstances.

Rav Maya responded that he did not feel qualified to answer this question, since he could not bring himself to defy a ruling of Rav Shimon Baadani. It was impossible to ask Rav Baadani himself; this incident took place at the very end of his life. Nevertheless, the problem was soon solved without the need for an accommodation to be made. On that very day, a fire broke out in the hall that had been booked for the simcha, and the facility became unusable. The owner of the hall took it upon himself to arrange alternate venues for all the simchos that had been booked in his establishment, promising to cover the cost of each hall. The father of the bar mitzvah boy hurried to contact the hall owner and made a simple request: “When you arrange for a different hall for our bar mitzvah, please find us one that maintains a mehadrin hechsher on every day of the year.”

Sure enough, the owner managed to find such a venue for him, and the bar mitzvah was celebrated with great joy.

No Avocado in the Torah

Let me end this column with yet another incredible story about Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Rav Avrohom Genechovsky once presented a shailah to Rav Chaim about the halachos governing the order of reciting brachos. When a person wishes to eat multiple food items that are subject to the same brocha, one of the rules is that he must give precedence to the largest item. However, Rav Genechovsky wished to clarify whether this status is determined by the weight or the volume of the food. He cited several examples of foods whose sizes might be evaluated differently; for instance, he pointed out that a pepper is large but is hollow on the inside, and that an avocado is not hollow but does contain a large pit. After he finished presenting his question, Rav Chaim asked, “What is an avocado?”

“Did you hear what he said?” Rav Genechovsky said to his companions. “The rov just informed us that an avocado is not mentioned anywhere in the Torah. Had it appeared anywhere, he would have known what it is!”





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