Wednesday, May 22, 2024

My Take On The News

 

Davening for a Successful Hilula

Well, my friends, you can certainly imagine that the greatest subject of interest this week is Lag Ba’omer. The chareidi newspapers have been devoting numerous pages to the preparations for the hilula in Meron, including a veritable deluge of paid advertisements taken out by the government. This year, for the first time, the government allocated enormous sums of money for the hilula, to ensure that it passes without incident; this includes a substantial budget for advertising to inform the public about the new routes to Meron, the new safety rules, the locations of the various bonfires, and so forth. The Lag Ba’omer festivities have also received attention in the secular media, although the issue hasn’t exactly made the front pages. As usual, it seems as if there are two very different nations living within the same country, each with radically different sets of priorities.

In any event, the preparations are well underway. At the time of this writing, shortly before Lag Ba’omer, massive construction work has been taking place in Meron. New parking lots have been prepared, new bleachers have been built, and a brand-new bonfire area has been designated. Roads have been paved, tents have been erected, and the kohanim’s bridge has undergone an expansion. When the organizers realized at the last moment that there was still a chance of rain on Lag Ba’omer, some of the paths were also covered in tar. As far as hishtadlus is concerned, all of the bases have been covered.

The hilula hasn’t even begun yet as I write these lines, but thousands of people have already traveled to Meron to be certain that they will make it there before Lag Ba’omer. Some of the visitors have rented cottages; the week of Lag Ba’omer is always lucrative for the owners of vacation apartments in Meron and the surrounding communities, such as Safsufa and Ohr Haganuz. There are some local families who used to earn their living by maintaining chicken coops but then discovered that it would be more profitable for them to demolish the coops and replace them with vacation cottages; the income from the short periods when those cottages are rented proved greater than the profits they could have made from selling eggs throughout the year.

In any event, as I write these words at the beginning of the week, we are all davening for Lag Ba’omer to pass without incident.

A Sefer Torah in Memory of Aryeh Schupak

On the night of Lag Ba’omer, I am planning to attend two events to which I was invited. I have no doubt that they will both be moving.

The first is a siyum on mishnayos to be held by the students in a Talmud Torah in Givat Shaul in memory of Yekusiel Yehuda Layush, a young boy who passed away exactly a year ago. The siyum will be combined with the Lag Ba’omer bonfire in the center of the neighborhood. You may remember that I wrote about the shivah for Yekusiel Yehuda and that I quoted some fascinating comments made at the time by Rav Moshe Chaim Lau, one of the rabbonim of Netanya, which is the birthplace of Rabbi Layush, the niftar’s father.

The second event is a hachnosas sefer Torah at Talmud Torah Hare’em in Har Nof. This sefer Torah was funded through an initiative taken up by the neighborhood residents, who spent a long time exchanging an enormous number of used bottles for deposit money. The children in the Talmud Torah worked feverishly to collect the funds, and the sefer Torah was dedicated to the memory of Aryeh Schupak, the young boy who was killed in a terror attack at the entrance to Yerushalayim. You may remember that I interviewed Aryeh’s righteous father shortly after the boy’s death.

I hope to report to you on these events. In the meantime, may we all hear besuros tovos.

The Knesset Picks the Wrong Day Off

Now, here is an entertaining story that comes straight from the theater of the absurd. The Israeli parliament, otherwise known as the Knesset, works three days a week. On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Knesset convenes at 4:00 p.m. (with the committees meeting on Monday mornings, while the Tuesday session is relatively unimportant), and on Wednesdays, the Knesset operates from 11:00 in the morning until the end of the day. The Knesset’s Wednesday sessions are when the members of the legislature (as opposed to the government or committees) bring up various issues for discussion, including new bills, urgent parliamentary queries, and motions for the agenda. This is a very rigid schedule: The Knesset meets only on those three days, and only at those hours. Any change in its schedule — for instance, if the government asks for an exception to be made and for the Knesset to convene on a Thursday, for any reason — requires approval from the House Committee. In general, however, this does not happen.

Last week, the House Committee approved a request from the Knesset speaker to cancel the Knesset’s legislative session this Monday, on account of Lag Ba’omer. However, Lag Ba’omer is on Tuesday and begins only on Monday night. There is very little logic in canceling the Knesset’s session on Monday, and the move is even more absurd in light of the fact that Tuesday’s session was not canceled at all. In other words, the Knesset will not meet on the 32nd day of the Omer, but it will meet on the 33rd. If the canceled session on Monday was meant as a show of consideration for the chareidim (just as, l’havdil, the Knesset shows consideration to the Muslims by suspending its sessions on their holidays and fast days), then they should have canceled Tuesday’s session instead. But this type of absurdity is fairly common in the Knesset.

Terrorist Murderers Located

The security situation, needless to say, is still a major issue. On Thursday afternoon, a 26-year-old female terrorist stabbed a 20-year-old IDF soldier at a junction south of Shechem, not far from Huwara. Of course, Huwara is the area where several murderous terror attacks took place in recent times. The terrorist was shot and neutralized by IDF forces and died of her wounds at the scene. The soldier, who was stabbed in the shoulder, was lightly wounded in the attack. The terrorist, who was a resident of the town of Huwara, arrived suddenly at the checkpoint, which had been set up in response to the recent shooting attacks, and proceeded to draw a knife and to stab the soldier. Yossi Dagan, the head of the Shomron Regional Council, commented on the incident, “Another terror attack. This has become a daily routine. Just a few hours ago, the terrorists who killed the members of the Dee family were found, and now we have witnessed another attack. This is evidence that eliminating terrorists, as important as it may be, is not enough to stop terror. We demand an immediate operation against the terror nests of the Palestinian Authority, which must continue until all their weapons have been confiscated and all the security checkpoints have been restored.”

A few hours earlier, the IDF had announced that it had located, surrounded, and captured the terrorists who murdered Lucy Dee and her two daughters, Maya and Rina. The terrorists were killed in a shootout with the army. The soldiers engaged in a dangerous operation, entering the Casbah in Shechem, and the two murderers were eliminated in their hideout. Leo Dee, the husband and father of the murder victims, commented afterward, “I was happy to hear that no soldiers were wounded or injured [although an IDF dog was killed] in the incident, and that no innocent civilians were harmed. This is the type of operation that could be carried out only by the IDF and the Shabak. We are proud to live in a country whose security forces are so precise and proficient, and we thank the army and its forces for liquidating the terrorists.” He added, “I would be interested in speaking with the terrorists’ families. I would like to ask them what their relatives hoped to accomplish with this act of murder. What was this going to do for their children? What did they hope to achieve?”

Two Hundred Terror Attacks Foiled

This wasn’t the only liquidation of terrorists this week. Two terrorists who had carried out a shooting attack in Avnei Chefetz in Shomron were eliminated this Shabbos in Tulkarem. It is suspected that the terrorists were planning to perpetrate additional attacks in the near future.

The terror attack in question was committed last Tuesday, just before 8:00 in the morning, when the terrorists opened fire on Israeli cars traveling near the settlement of Avnei Chefetz. Initial reports indicate that the incident began when one terrorist emerged from his car and opened fire on three other vehicles, and the attack ended with one victim suffering from a light head wound and two others stricken with hysteria. The driver of one of the cars managed to escape and report the attack to the authorities. Two additional cars were caught in a traffic jam and hit by the gunfire as well. The bullets shattered the windshield of one of the cars and the driver, 39-year-old Ran Rosen, was lightly wounded and evacuated by MDA paramedics to Laniado Hospital in Netanya.

In addition to all this, the phenomenon that I described two weeks ago as “traffic accident terror,” has continued as well. A woman from Yitzhar, who is a mother of children and is expecting another child, was driving on the road near the settlement at 1:00 on Thursday night when she was attacked by Arabs throwing rocks. Her car flipped over and she was rushed to the hospital. Of course, this incident could easily have ended in tragedy. On the same day, a bus was stoned on the road to Maale Adumim. The bus sustained heavy damage, but there were no fatalities. These incidents happen with such frequency that no one even reports on them. But Israeli motorists on the roads in Yehuda and Shomron feel that they have been abandoned.

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting last week (that is, the beginning of the portion that is open to the media), Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “Since the beginning of the year, we have prevented over 110 terrorists from perpetrating attacks.” He stressed that this was a record number. Netanyahu had received these figures on Pesach from the director of the Shabak, Ronen Bar, who had presented the prime minister with even more shocking figures: “Since the beginning of 2023, we have averted 200 significant terror attacks, 150 shooting attacks, 20 car-ramming attacks, 20 bombings, and suicide bombings and kidnappings of soldiers. Moreover, in 14 separate instances, terrorists were apprehended while they were on their way to carry out an attack!”

Incitement Fails to Gain Ground

Judicial reform is still a hot topic, and the demonstrations, both in favor and against, are still going on. President Herzog is still presiding over talks (held at the Waldorf Astoria hotel) in an effort to broker an agreement between the two sides. I strongly doubt that anyone has much hope that these negotiations will accomplish anything, but there is one person who is certainly benefiting from them: Benny Gantz. Out of all the opposition leaders, Gantz is the only one who declared that he was coming to the talks with a sincere interest in finding common ground with the opposing side, and the polls have shown that the public appreciates his sincerity. Gantz has been steadily rising in the polls, while Lapid and Netanyahu have both been sinking.

The Knesset has already begun its summer session, but many people believe that it is unlikely to accomplish much this summer. The main reason for that is that Netanyahu is afraid to make progress. He recently commented in a closed meeting, “I have a government and a coalition, but I have lost the people.” This is typical Netanyahu paranoia. The prime minister is already hinting to his chareidi partners in the government that it will not be easy for him to pass a draft law to their liking. He has been discovering new malcontents within the Likud every day who are mustering up the audacity to speak out against him.

Meanwhile, the protestors are trying to direct the tide of public anger against the chareidim, in the hope that scapegoating the chareidim will boost their own momentum. At this point, the demonstrations seem to be shrinking, possibly because the participants are losing the energy to continue going out into the streets and protesting, or because they have already achieved their goal of bringing the judicial reform to a halt. Nevertheless, some of the organizers have a vested interest in keeping the protests going, since they haven’t yet achieved their true goal of bringing down the government. These people were merely using the judicial reform as a pretext for fomenting chaos, and now that the reform has been frozen, they need a new agenda. It did not take long for them to come up with a simple one: stirring up public resentment against the chareidim. For the time being, though, they haven’t been very successful on that front either. The Israeli public seems to be smarter than they thought, and many people are unwilling to blindly follow these instigators.

Spontaneous Boycott Against Angel’s Bakery

As part of their strategy of directing public anger against the chareidim, the instigators of the protests decided to launch demonstrations in chareidi areas. One of the focal points of their protests was Rechov Raavad in Bnei Brak, where they gathered near the Yeshiva of Ponovezh. Although Rav Gershon Edelstein lives on the other end of Rechov Raavad and the protestors did not gather directly across from his home, they explained that their intent was to demonstrate outside the rosh yeshiva’s home in order to send the message that he cannot have it both ways: If the chareidim want government funding and partnership in the government, they said, then they must also take part in serving in the army. I will not respond to this argument now, although there is certainly plenty to be said in response to it. (For one thing, even within the IDF, most soldiers aren’t even combatants; many of them hold desk jobs in air-conditioned offices in Tel Aviv.)

The protest in Bnei Brak elicited cries of outrage over the affront to the honor of the most senior rosh yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel. Not only that, but it also exposed the leftists’ hypocrisy: When there was a proposal for a protest to be held outside the home of former Chief Justice Aharon Barak — l’havdil — the liberals argued indignantly that it was sheer gall to disturb an elderly man who does not currently hold a position in the government. Yet somehow, when the demonstration was to be held on Rechov Raavad in Bnei Brak, that reasoning did not apply….

One of the participants in the left-wing protest was Omer Bar-Lev, who recently served as public security minister and embarrassed himself with numerous statements that made him seem utterly disconnected from reality. Today, Bar-Lev is serving as the chairman of the board of directors of Angel’s Bakery, although it is rather unclear what he is contributing to the company. In response to Bar-Lev’s participation in the protest, many people spontaneously declared last week that they would protest against him by boycotting the company’s products. The boycott has gained steam at an amazingly rapid pace.

Will the Chilonim Foot the Bill for Kosher Power?

As part of the effort to stir up animosity toward the chareidim, the protest movement cooked up another controversy this week, this time over the subject of kosher electricity. There is a clause in the coalition agreements that requires the Ministry of Energy to make a kosher electric supply for Shabbos available for any organized groups interested in it. (This is meant to provide a safer and more environmentally friendly solution than the Shabbos generators typically in use today.) The secular media has begun slamming the plan as a religious “whim” that will leave the secular public suffering under a heavy financial burden; they claim that the general public will have to pay for the implementation of this plan and that they will suffer from higher electricity prices as well.

The cabinet approved the new storage facilities for kosher electricity just this week, after the proposal was presented by Minister of Energy Yisroel Katz in keeping with the coalition agreements. This is a pilot project of the Israel Electric Company that involves the construction and operation of a facility in Bnei Brak where electricity can be stored for use on Shabbos. If it is successful, such facilities will take the place of the Shabbos generators used to produce kosher electricity. This move is favored by the majority of the public, since it is widely believed that the generators are unsafe and ecologically harmful.

To nip the anticipated incitement in the bud, the cabinet made it clear in its written decision that the cost of the project, which is estimated at about 100 million shekels, will not be imposed on the entire customer base of the electric company. The government also pledged to ensure that the project will not result in a hike in the price of electricity, even though a professional opinion from the Electricity Authority has warned that establishing a storage facility to be managed by the IEC will lead to a wave of price increases for all existing customers. The Ministry of Energy also pledged that the electric company will sell the facility to a buyer in the private market within three years, for the purpose of maintaining competition in the market. Yisroel Katz firmly rejected the criticism of the move. “The opponents of kosher electricity change their arguments as often as they change their socks,” he said sardonically. “They claimed that it would raise the cost of electricity for the public, then that it would harm competition, and now that the public will have to bear the cost of establishing the facility. This is nothing but lies and incitement! The storage facility will be profitable and will be sold at a profit to the private market.”

Elections Looming for Local Authorities

The elections for local governments throughout the country are due to be held on Tuesday, October 31, 2023, and that means that local politics are about to become a major part of our lives here in Israel for the next few months. There are hundreds of local governments — cities, local councils, and regional councils — where the officials will be up for election this fall.

The local elections are a critical concern for the chareidi community. Every mayor effectively becomes the king of his particular city. For instance, Ron Huldai holds absolute control over Tel Aviv. If a mayor is elected who is hostile to religion, the city will lose its traditional character. The chareidim always make a concerted effort to support reasonable mayors throughout the country while also trying to ensure that the chareidi parties are heavily represented in the local governments, so that the mayors will be dependent on the support of the chareidim on their respective city councils.

There are several chareidi cities in Israel, such as Beitar Illit and Elad, where the elections will be more of an internal competition. In Bnei Brak, there is a longstanding agreement that the Litvish and chassidish factions take turns holding the office of mayor. In Rechasim, as well, there is a rotation agreement between the Litvish and Sephardic communities. In Elad and Beitar, there will certainly be agreements negotiated in advance; the only question is who the parties to those agreements will be. Rumor has it that there may be a need for some discussion in Bnei Brak as well this year, since the Sephardim have been arguing for several years that they now constitute a third of the city’s population and their party deserves a turn in the mayor’s office. Next week, bli neder, I will bring you the news from Yerushalayim.

Supreme Court Hands Down Anti-Religious Verdict

I have much more to write about, including a couple of accidents that shook the entire country. Last Friday, a young woman arrived in Meron on an electric scooter and collided with another scooter rider. The woman was seriously injured and had to be evacuated by helicopter to Rambam Hospital. This was very painful for the entire religious community, and everyone is davening for her recovery.

There was a tragic accident on Route 40, which claimed the life of a baby. The baby’s parents were seriously wounded and were not even able to attend their child’s funeral; in fact, they weren’t even aware of his death at the time. It seems that the woman driving the other car was under the influence of alcohol, or possibly something worse. This story has brought sorrow to the entire country.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has handed down an outrageous verdict concerning Israeli adoption law. The judges decided to change the existing policy, whereby non-Jewish children who are put up for adoption are automatically referred for Orthodox conversions. Until now, the Ministry of Welfare had a rule that required children born to parents from other religions to undergo conversions that met the approval of the Chief Rabbinate. From now on, the court decided, every case will be judged independently, with the child’s “best interests” held as the determining factor. The giyur system used to require the adoptive family to observe the laws of Shabbos and kashrus and to commit to having the children educated in the public religious educational system. Parents whose children were attending secular schools were automatically disqualified for these adoptions. However, the court has now decided to overrule this policy.

Another important news item is the rise in the price of milk. Finance Minister Smotrich claims that the price increase was forced on him by an agreement signed by the previous government, but the public isn’t really interested in his excuses. The government is already coming under fire for failing to live up to its promise to help the weaker sectors of society.

Why Doesn’t Israel Follow America’s Example

I owe you a report on the beginning of the Knesset’s summer session last Monday. At that time, the Knesset was packed with distinguished guests who had turned out in honor of a visit from the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States. I will spare you from reading the speeches of the Knesset speaker (who announced that, in an exception to the usual policy, applause would be permitted in the Knesset), Prime Minister Netanyahu, and opposition leader Lapid (who delivered a foolish and vapid speech) and skip straight to the address delivered by Kevin McCarthy.

“Today,” McCarthy began, “I speak to you not only as an American congressional leader. I speak to you today as a lifelong supporter and a true friend of Israel. I am no stranger to your beautiful land. Since coming to Congress in 2007, I have traveled to Israel year after year with hundreds of my colleagues from both sides of the aisle, and today is no different. I am here today, as many times before, with my good friend Steny Hoyer and a bipartisan group…. Thirty-five hundred years ago, Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and then back to the Promised Land. Three thousand years ago, David reigned as the King of Israel. And soon after, David’s son, King Solomon, consecrated the First Temple. That temple was destroyed, but its spirit of freedom and faith remains. We see that spirit in the state of Israel today. Israel is resilient. It is strong. Israel is innovative. Israel is blessed. Israel endures. ‘The L-rd bless you from Zion,’ and ‘may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.’ Indeed, ‘may you see your children’s children, peace be upon Israel,’ as David has written.”

McCarthy also spoke strongly against Iran and denounced the movement to boycott Israel. Then he concluded, “The rebirth of Israel is truly a miracle. Peace, liberty, and prosperity are the foundations of our nations’ success. They are also the cornerstone of our special relationship. Our special relationship stands for freedom. It stands for safety. It stands for hope. Together, let us work to move forward toward a brighter future. Together, we will work to build a world in which our children live in more peace, enjoy more robust economic ties, and are treated with the respect and fairness they deserve. This is our shared mission. I look forward to working with you as we strengthen this unique and indispensable bond. G-d bless you. G-d bless Israel. G-d bless America. And G-d bless our special relationship for the next 75 years. Thank you.”

Now, I have one small comment to make: The Americans are never ashamed to end every speech with the words “G-d bless America.” The British are the same; at the coronation of King Charles, the crowd kept calling out, “G-d save the king!” But here in Israel, the leaders of the state deliberately refrain from using phrases such as “b’ezras Hashem” or mentioning Hashem in any way. And that is a true shame.

The Judge Should Judge Himself

Elyakim Rubinstein, the former justice of the Supreme Court who wears a knit yarmulke, occasionally publishes opinion pieces in a popular newspaper. He recently wrote that on erev Pesach, when he went to burn his chometz, he encountered a man “in chareidi or nationalist chareidi attire” standing near the fire, who recognized him and commented to his son, “We should also burn the Supreme Court in this way.”

“I asked myself,” the former justice wrote, “what the effects might be of the venom that that father was injecting into his son, and what would become of him when he grew up. Would he become a lawbreaking member of the hilltop youth, or would he manage to avoid that?”

Personally, I would give that father the benefit of the doubt by assuming that he was referring to a spiritual form of burning, as we say in the tefillah that accompanies the burning of the chometz, “Just as I am destroying the chometz from my home and my possession, so may Hashem our G-d destroy all the external forces and the spirit of impurity.” I am sure that that father considered the Supreme Court to be among those forces of impurity. However, it seems that “His Honor,” Judge Rubinstein, was not capable of giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Rubinstein added, “What I find especially grating is that these religious people are supposed to know the laws of loshon hora and the prohibition of embarrassing others.” I would advise the judge to examine himself before seeing the flaws in others; there is no more horrendous form of loshon hora than slinging insults at an entire sector of the populace.

A Parliamentary Query Saves a Prisoner

I recently wrote about the rapid results that can be achieved with a parliamentary query, and now I have a new case that illustrates that same point. This particular query was submitted by MK Avrohom Betzalel three weeks ago and resulted in very rapid relief, at least by the standards of the Prison Service, for the inmate who was its subject. The query read as follows: “An inmate who is about 40 years old [the document goes on to specify his name and other identifying details] has been held for almost a year in Abu Kabir, and for part of that time in a psychiatric institution, for stealing 500 shekels from a kiosk. (The inmate claims that he stole only 100 shekels, not 500, and that he did it because he was hungry and wanted to buy food.) He is apparently being held in Abu Kabir until the courts decide otherwise, and he is not receiving psychiatric treatment there and is vulnerable to possible harm at the hands of other inmates, since he has a tendency to engage in quarrels and harmful acts directed even at himself.

“No one denies that it would not be good for this inmate, who does not have a home of his own, to return to the streets. On the other hand, keeping him imprisoned in Abu Kabir is certainly not correct and is not a proper solution for him. He should be moved to a psychiatric or rehabilitative facility. There is a special residential facility in Yavneh that has been recommended for him. I would like to ask the following: How long has this inmate been imprisoned in Abu Kabir? Is the Abu Kabir detention facility equipped to provide long-term psychiatric treatment to an inmate who requires it? Who is the judge who ruled that he should remain in custody until the courts decide otherwise, and when are they supposed to make that decision? Shouldn’t a person with known psychiatric problems be placed in a facility that is appropriate for him rather than in a jail? Would you agree to look into this case?”

At the same time that this query was submitted, Moshe Arbel became involved in the case as well. It was not long before I received a phone call from the young man in question, who informed me that he had been moved to the psychiatric wing of Nitzan Prison. He had some issues with the canteen and a few other minor things that were bothering him, but the nightmare of his incarceration in Abu Kabir was over.

Once again, we have seen that a parliamentary query can be an extremely effective tool.

When Rav Dovid Soloveitchik Ignored the Doctor

I will end this column with a brief anecdote. On Motzoei Shabbos, I was at the clinic of Dr. Dovid Stein, an expert physician with diagnostic abilities bordering on ruach hakodesh who is first and foremost a talmid chochom and a prodigious baal chessed. I told him that I had undergone eye surgery, and I reminded him that I once wrote in the newspaper about his hesped for Rav Dovid Soloveitchik. (Dr. Stein was very close to Rav Dovid and the other rabbonim of the Brisk dynasty, and he served as Rav Dovid’s personal physician.) When I mentioned the word “cataract,” it reminded him of a story: Rav Dovid was once being seen by his eye doctor, who realized that he needed cataract surgery. The doctor alerted him to the problem, but Rav Dovid ignored the comment altogether, even after it was repeated.

Dr. Stein, who was present for the appointment, asked Rav Dovid afterward about the reason for his silence. In a remarkable show of sensitivity, the rov replied, “I already know that I need that operation, and I have already found the doctor whom I would like to perform it. Had I answered this doctor, I would have needed to tell him that I was planning to have someone else perform the surgery, and I didn’t want to offend him. Therefore, I remained silent.”

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