Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

My Take on the News

Terror Strikes Again

This week brought us two dramatic events. First, there was another terror attack, this time near Tekoa. A car carrying the Kapach family was traveling toward Tekoa when a vehicle driven by terrorists approached it from the opposite direction and the gunmen opened fire. Elroi Kapach, a resident of Nokdim, was seriously wounded by bullets that hit him in the chest. His two daughters, Avigail (14) and Rachel (9), who were with him in the car, were lightly wounded by shrapnel. Elroi was driving his daughters to camp in Tekoa; his car was attacked as he slowed at an intersection to make a turn. Unfortunately, his family is all too familiar with tragedy; his wife, Tamar, lost her parents, Dov and Rachel Kol, in a shooting attack in Gush Katif in 2005. Michoel Kapach, Elroi’s father, told the press that his family had experienced a tremendous miracle. This incident could have ended in a major tragedy.

The settlement of Nokdim, incidentally, is also home to Avigdor Lieberman.

The terrorist is a 26-year-old resident of Chevron and a Hamas activist who has previously served a brief sentence in an Israeli prison. He was captured by security forces at the end of a shootout in Beit Lechem, where he was hiding in a mosque. The IDF soldiers entered Beit Lechem and began a “pressure cooker” procedure at the mosque, removing the Muslim worshipers. This led to violent clashes, and the soldiers used riot control measures against the crowd. A short time later, the terrorist emerged from the mosque and surrendered to the soldiers, who took him into custody. The soldiers also arrested two other suspects who emerged from the mosque.

Michoel Kapach related that he had seen his son the day before the attack. “We spent Shabbos together,” he said, “and we were very happy with the place where he lives. We saw their great joy. I asked him about the new road that was inaugurated in Gush Eztion, and I questioned him about what was happening in their area. He told me that they were talking about building a bypass road there as well, but he added, ‘Look, Abba, nothing has happened here yet, boruch Hashem.’ That was yesterday, and then I received this terrible news this morning. It is a life-threatening situation here, and it must be changed.”

The senior Kapach related that his son lives in a relatively quiet area. “Still, you have to drive through Arab villages to get there. I call on the local council, the government, and anyone else who will listen and has the ability to do something. The time has come to make a bypass road—a normal, paved road that will enable people to get to their destinations in peace. We cannot play games with people’s lives. There have been settlements in that area for years, and they deserve appropriate attention.”

Netanyahu in the Hospital

The second dramatic piece of news, which we received after Shabbos, was that Prime Minister Netanyahu had been admitted to Sheba Tel Hashomer Medical Center. According to the reports released to the press, Netanyahu suffered from exposure to the sun during a stay in Teveria and became dehydrated. It was reported shortly thereafter that he had been admitted to the cardiology ward, a revelation that set the rumor mill in action as speculation about his cardiac health abounded. Netanyahu was discharged on Sunday after undergoing tests in the cardiology ward, and the Prime Minister’s Office released the following statement: “This morning, Prime Minister Netanyahu continued undergoing tests at Sheba Medical Center. The test results were normal, and he is in very good condition.” The cabinet meeting on Sunday was postponed due to Netanyahu’s hospitalization.

A similar statement was released by the hospital: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has completed a series of tests and is in excellent condition. After the battery of tests that were performed, including laboratory tests, he was diagnosed with dehydration. His heart is perfectly healthy, and he will be released to his home in the coming hours.” This sounds reassuring, but it doesn’t end there. The statement continues, “The medical staff decided to conduct a series of comprehensive, routine tests that are performed while the patient is fully conscious, including an electrocardiogram, all of which came out clear. At no point was any arrythmia detected. For the purpose of continuing this routine monitoring, we decided to implant a heart monitor, to allow the prime minister’s professional medical staff to continue monitoring his condition on an ongoing basis.” This kicked the rumor mill into gear again, as the country resumed speculating about the state of Netanyahu’s health and debating whether there was some aspect of his condition that wasn’t being revealed.

The prime minister released his own video from the hospital, in which he related that he had spent the previous day at the Kinneret without a hat or water. “I would like to thank everyone for their concern,” Netanyahu said. “I am feeling fine. We are going through a heat wave now, and I ask everyone to spend less time in the sun and to drink water.”

Netanyahu’s office reported, “The prime minister spent time at the Kinneret in the hot weather. Today, he complained about mild dizziness. On the recommendation of his personal doctor, Dr. Tzvi Berkowitz, he went to the emergency room at Sheba Medical Center. The initial test results were clear, with no findings at all. Our initial evaluation seems to indicate that he was suffering from dehydration. On the recommendation of the doctors, the prime minister will continue undergoing additional routine tests.”

The Prime Minister Is Not Incapacitated

I have two comments to make about this story. First, the prime minister’s convoy encountered an Arab demonstration while he was traveling from the north to the center of the country. (Incidentally, the people of Chadera voiced their indignation over the fact that Netanyahu chose not to come to their hospital; however, the cardiologist in that hospital commented a few years ago that if Netanyahu arrived there, he would refuse to treat him!) It was only with great difficulty that the prime minister and his entourage made it past the protest.

Netanyahu’s brief hospitalization also led to some discussion as to whether he should be declared incapacitated. Various officials in the prime minister’s inner circle told the press that he was not expected to undergo any tests that would render him incapacitated; this official status is given to a prime minister who is placed under full anesthesia, in which case a substitute is appointed. According to the Basic Law: The Government, if the prime minister is incapacitated and unable to continue carrying out his duties, and none of the ministers hold the title of substitute prime minister, the government is required to meet and choose a minister to take his place. At the same time, the prime minister has the ability to declare himself temporarily incapacitated for a specific period of time and to appoint a substitute of his choosing. This was done last January, when Netanyahu underwent a test under partial anesthesia and the position of substitute prime minister was temporarily held by Aryeh Deri. Last Yom Kippur, Netanyahu was rushed to Shaare Zedek Medical Center after becoming ill in shul before the end of the fast. At that time, his office reported to the public that he underwent a series of tests and was found to be in good health, but that his doctors recommended that he be kept overnight for observation. He was released the following day.

There were some other dramatic stories this weekend as well. For instance, there was an uproar over an Arab protestor who announced his intention to burn a sefer Torah at a protest in Sweden and received permission from the authorities to commit that despicable act. (The protestor did not carry through on his threat.) There were also a couple of incidents in which hateful graffiti was found on shuls in Beer Sheva and Raanana. We have also witnessed two bizarre Supreme Court cases, one of which ended with a ruling favoring illegal immigrants, while the other led to a verdict that opposed Netanyahu. And I haven’t even written a word about the terrible heat wave that has been taking place here in Israel. All of these things have been major issues in the news in recent days.

Reasonability Law to Be Approved This Week

You may have noticed that I haven’t written much about the judicial reform and the ongoing demonstrations; nevertheless, this is still a hot topic here in Israel. The protests are continuing, although they are attracting smaller crowds. This week also brought a new development: Right-wing activists decided to launch copycat demonstrations and began blocking the entrances to left-wing kibbutzim. The leftists have been returning from their protests, where they kept busy blocking the country’s major highways, only to discover that they have no way to get home. It sometimes takes them an extra hour or longer to make their way to their homes, leaving them utterly enraged. To their fury, the right-wing demonstrators tell them evenly, “What’s wrong? Now you will get a taste of what you are inflicting on others.”

Meanwhile, it is still unclear how much of the reform will pass, but at least some part of it is continuing. The law eliminating the reasonability clause is certainly going to continue. The law will be discussed in the Constitution Committee this week and will be prepared for its second and third readings in the Knesset, which will take place at the beginning of next week. One can assume that the opposition will add thousands of reservations to the bill, which will give them the right to address the Knesset for thousands of minutes. (Every reservation entitles the MK who submitted it to one minute of speaking time in the Knesset.) That, in fact, is the reason that the bill will be brought to the Knesset at the beginning of the week, to ensure that it can be finally passed before Tisha B’Av, when the Knesset is due to begin its lengthy summer recess.

There are still some lingering questions, such as what other parts of the reform will be brought to a vote, and whether the next battle will be fought over the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee. I do not have answers to these questions right now; bli neder, I hope to have more information in my next article.

Hot Soup in the Winter, Watermelon in the Summer

The country was in turmoil, there was an uproar in the streets, and the Knesset was invaded by protestors, but the coalition scored a victory, as the reasonability bill passed its first reading late last Monday night by a vote of 64 to 56. The coalition rejoiced, while the opposition was devastated. It sometimes seems as if there are two nations living side by side in this country.

Last week, someone said to me, “What is the reason for all this melancholy? Just think about what was happening last year. We were in terrible distress, as the Torah world felt a noose tightening around its neck. Our enemies did not have mercy even on infants in their cribs. But Hashem, in His great mercy, returned the right-wing parties to the government, and the enemies of religion were defeated. The Master of the Universe performed a great miracle for us in the election; Balad and Meretz raced to their own demise, making it possible for us to cross the threshold of sixty mandates. The Labor party is shrinking, Lapid has been dubbed the town fool, and both he and Yesh Atid have lost the public’s respect. Let us praise Hashem!” Yes, there are certainly positive aspects to the current situation.

At the same time, we should all take umbrage at the rampant hypocrisy and hatred. This week, I read that the Israel Medical Association is calling on the chief of police to ban the use of water cannons against protestors due to the danger of eye injuries. Those same water cannons have been used at full force against chareidim and right-wing protestors, but no one uttered a peep in protest. No one expressed outrage even after the police used skunk water, which is a severe breach of human dignity. But when the same water cannons are used against the liberal bleeding hearts, it triggers an outpouring of rage.

The hatred for religious Jews is also extreme. Left-wing protestors admit openly that they despise chareidim. And these are people who look like perfectly normal members of society. What did the chareidim do to them to earn this animosity?

On that note, a recent major article in Yediot Acharonot covered the frustrations of patients in Israel who are unable to obtain needed medications. The article naturally reported on the work of Chaverim L’Refuah, an organization that assists people in procuring the medications they need. Of course, it was also accompanied by a picture of Reb Boruch Lieberman, the director of the organization, who is, of course chareidi. There are plenty of other sources of such chessed in Israel, such as the organization Refuah V’Simcha headed by Rabbi Meir Quinn, the Mechubarim L’Chaim project (which is part of Ezer Mizion) and the work of Moishy Hillel, who belongs to several organizations and is essentially a one-man chessed project in his own right. Ahrele Weingarten is another master of chessed who is worthy of mention. Even in the area of medication procurement alone, there is an vast network of chareidim involved in lifesaving chessed work that benefits the entire population, religious and secular. It is terribly saddening that the kindness and love demonstrated by the chareidim are being repaid with hatred and malice.

The chareidi community that is so reviled is a community that is characterized by xaltruism. Take Maayanei HaYeshuah Hospital, which I have had a few recent occasions to visit, as an example. The hospital has grown, and I have been pleased to observe the legacy of the late Dr. Rothschild, who insisted on maintaining a beautiful, clean facility. At one point, when I was in the hospital in the middle of the night, I came across a room maintained by an organization known as Meirim L’Choleh. The room was filled with food and beverages for visitors to the hospital, and the extraordinary compassion and caring behind the initiative were obvious. A yeshiva bochur named Don was cleaning the countertops when I arrived. He informed me that the chessed room was the initiative of Rabbi Yitzchok Shlomo, a yungerman in the Lelov kollel in Bnei Brak, who had opened it in memory of his father, the famed Breslov mashpia Rav Meir Shlomo, and his mother, Rebbetzin Esther. I learned that there is a large group of volunteers responsible for maintaining the room: Yeshiva bochurim clean it regularly, bochurim with special needs are in charge of packaging the pastries, and there is one family that prepares fresh sandwiches and another family responsible for salads. There is cholent on Friday nights and soup in the winter; at this time of year, there is fresh, cold watermelon available at all times.

The bochur shared a few statistics to enlighten me about the scope of the group’s activities. The organizers buy fifteen bags of milk every day. Every night, 450 cups are used, which means that there are 450 people who benefit from the coffee or tea available in this room on a nightly basis. On erev Shabbos, the volunteers make rounds in all the wards, handing out care packages to the patients and their companions. This week, an elderly patient remarked to the bochur who visited him that it was the first time he had ever tasted a barad (an Israeli frozen drink).

Again, considering all the chessed that pours out of the chareidi community, the question becomes even more troubling: Why do secular Israelis despise their religious brethren?

But perhaps we should ignore this and focus on what really matters: Boruch Hashem, the yeshiva world has been thriving even as the country is racked by chaos. The Rambam teaches us that the tzaddikim of every generation yearned for the era of Moshiach for only one reason: so that they would have time to learn Torah and delight in its wisdom. That is the goal of paramount importance to Klal Yisroel, and in the end of the day it is what is truly important.

Trust in the Court System at an All-Time Low

The office of the Ombudsman of the Judiciary recently released its annual report, which paints a fairly dismal picture of the situation in Israel. Some of the complaints that were deemed justified related to improper behavior on the part of judges, while others dealt with deficiencies in the judicial process or violations of the principles of justice. The findings raise major questions about the entire Israeli judicial system.

Would you like to know how the judicial branch of the government responded to the report? Here is their reaction: “In 2022, there was a drop in the number of complaints submitted by judges.” What a shame! This court system acknowledges its flaws and takes pleasure in the fact that it was worse in the past.

I am reminded of the story about the town where no deceased person could be buried until someone delivered a hesped and said something positive about him. As the story goes, the town informant once died, and no one could think of a single kind word to say about the deceased. The man had been evil and cruel, without a single redeeming quality, and his body sat in the cemetery in disgrace because no one could come up with a compliment to include in a hesped. Finally, one man exclaimed, “I know what to say!” He stood before the community members to deliver his hesped and announced, “I have one thing to say in praise of the niftar: He wasn’t as bad as his son!” Of course, this was an abysmal praise, but it was sufficient to allow the community to proceed with the burial.

Eventually, the day came when the informant’s son passed away. As the man had said in his eulogy, the son was even more wicked and irredeemable than his father, and there was nothing positive to be said about him. Once again, the niftar lay in disgrace until someone finally had an idea. This community member stood before his neighbors and announced, “Let us praise the niftar, for he made it possible for his father to be buried!”

The judges have no business priding themselves on the fact that there were fewer complaints submitted against them last year. Let them explain the high conviction rate in Israel! Let them explain the astonishingly low level of public trust in the judiciary! Those are the questions that they should be answering.

Hypocrisy Is Rampant

Here are two examples of the rampant hypocrisy that is plaguing Israel during these days. First, a chareidi member of the Knesset recently commented that a particular person is worse than Hezbollah, and he immediately came under fire from every direction. “How dare you speak that way about another Jew?” his critics demanded. Shortly thereafter, Carmi Gillon (the head of the Shin Bet at the time of the Rabin assassination) made a similar comment about chareidim. He was then given an opportunity to retract his despicable comment in an interview, but he only repeated his offense. “Yes, I said that the chareidi and nationalist chareidi politicians are the Jewish jihad,” he declared. “I believe that that is a correct statement. Jihad is a holy war, and that is a fitting description for the plundering the state coffers in the budget that was approved last week, which allows a small portion of the public to steal from the majority of the country.” This was a statement filled with evil, malice, falsehood, and incitement. For one thing, the budget was passed by the government, which represents the majority of the country. But I am focusing on a different point now: the hypocrisy of the media and others in the country who allowed Gillon’s statements to pass without uttering a word of protest, while the chareidi MK was roundly condemned for making a similar comment about someone else.

Here is another case in point: Everyone has been talking about the bill that would allow an acting mayor to run in the municipal election in the same city. This bill was introduced by MK Amit Halevi of the Likud party and is ostensibly meant to help Boaz Yosef, the current acting mayor of Teveria, who was a senior official in the Interior Ministry in the Haifa district and was placed in the position of mayor of Teveria to replace the city’s previous ousted mayor. The critics of the bill claim that it should be scrapped because it is a “personal law.” They also allege that Amit Halevi is acting on behalf of Aryeh Deri. This is somewhat amusing, but the opponents of the bill are basing themselves mainly on an argument that is clearly spurious: If the acting mayor of a city is allowed to run for the office of mayor, they claim, then he will be able to use the city’s resources to support his own election bid. The reason this is a ludicrous argument is that it would apply equally to a duly elected mayor of a city, and it should therefore prevent any incumbent mayor from running for reelection.

But where is the hypocrisy, you ask? The answer is that the ban on caretaker mayors running in municipal elections is a recent development. Not long ago, these acting mayors were permitted to join the mayoral race if they so desired. At some point, someone in the government wanted to prevent a particular acting mayor from returning to office, and the law was passed for the purpose of blocking him from doing so. In other words, the entire ban was a “personal law.” And now that the government sees benefit in restoring the previous situation, they are attempting to do just that. That, of course, is pure hypocrisy!

Kashrus Forgeries Abound

This week, the rabbinate of the city of Bnei Brak released a notice warning the public of a serious forgery. According to the notice, an importer of refined canola oil from Russia has been marketing the oil in Israel with a forged kashrus seal of the Bnei Brak rabbinate, which never certified the oil as kosher. This is a serious act of deception that is considered criminal fraud, not to mention the fact that tricking Jewish people into consuming forbidden foods is a heinous act for which there can be no compensation. A person who causes others to sin, after all, is one of the worst possible sinners.

The solution to such situations, of course, is submitting a complaint to the police and insisting that the perpetrators be brought to justice. Indeed, the statement from the Bnei Brak rabbinate adds that a criminal complaint was filed. We can only hope that this is the case. In a similar situation in the past, when someone claimed that the police were notified about a forged kashrus certification, I made sure that someone submitted a parliamentary query about it in the Knesset. The minister responded that the police had never received a complaint. But it is imperative to involve law enforcement in these situations, and it is imperative to follow up on the complaints. Bli neder, I hope to see to it that the outcome of this situation is monitored.

In addition, there were two recent incidents in which a shipment of treif meat was discovered being smuggled into Israel. One news report informed us that meat from the Palestinian Authority that was dangerous for consumption was caught on its way to stores throughout the country. Another newspaper related that inspectors from the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Defense intercepted 1.3 tons of fresh meat being transported from Palestinian sources to butcher shops in the south. A third article dealt with a butcher shop in the village of Yarka and claimed that the police had confiscated four tons of meat that was unfit for human consumption. I have always suspected that these smuggled shipments of meat would ultimately find their way to restaurants with kashrus certificates, and that the patrons would therefore be unwittingly consuming treif food. For that reason, I am perturbed by the fact that these reports always come from the Ministry of Agriculture; it seems that someone is more concerned about the sanitary conditions under which the meat was produced than about the terrible breach of kashrus standards. But Chazal tell us that causing another person to sin is an even more heinous misdeed than taking his life!

Another report, at least as distressing as the others, relates that a quantity of 700 kilograms of meat that was unfit for consumption was confiscated in a restaurant with a mehadrin certification. It was believed that the meat had been brought from “the territories” and that the refrigeration used in its storage was faulty. When I researched the matter, I discovered that the restaurant in question does not actually have a mehadrin certification (and, in fact, there isn’t a single mehadrin restaurant in the entire city where it is located). Nevertheless, it is a terrible crime for such meat to find its way to an establishment with any kashrus certification at all. Something very bad is happening in the realm of enforcement of kashrus requirements and deterrence of violators.

Closing Social Gaps

Last week the Knesset held a day of appreciation for organizations working to combat hunger. Attendance was relatively high, and the discussion was opened with a speech from MK Avrohom Betzalel of the Shas party, who was responsible for organizing the event. Michoel Malchieli, the current Minister of Religious Services, was present as well and made the striking comment in his speech, quoting Yaakov Margi, that “these chessed organizations are the Iron Dome of our society.” Avrohom Betzalel reminisced in his address about the days that he spent preparing food packages for distribution to needy families. It is possible that he was referring to volunteering for Ohr Leah, the chessed organization founded by his father-in-law, Rabbi Eliyohu Cohen, at the request of his illustrious rabbeim, including Rav Benzion Abba Shaul and Rav Yehuda Tzadkah. “The world is sustained by chessed,” Betzalel said. “It is our duty to help those who are on the fringes of society.” Of course, he also mentioned the food voucher program that is the flagship agenda of the Shas party’s chairman, Aryeh Deri, and he praised Yaakov Margi, the Minister of Welfare, for his work on behalf of the needy and disadvantaged.

One day earlier, the Knesset held an unusual event in the Negev Auditorium to recognize the contributions of the same chessed organizations. Avrohom Betzalel’s staff worked hard to organize one of the most exceptional events that I have ever witnessed in the Knesset, which was expertly overseen by Reb Ushi Medinah. The event was attended by government ministers and Knesset members, with Knesset speaker Amir Ochana delivering the opening address. The organizations sent representatives, who were presented with certificates of appreciation. I took a peek at one of the dozens of beautifully designed certificates and read the following: The Committee for Bridging Social Gaps, in recognition of the organizations that deal with chessed and food security, hereby presents this certificate of appreciation to the organization Sabeinu for its extensive work and vast contributions to aiding the weaker sectors of Israeli society. Signed, MK Avrohom Betzalel, Chairman of the Committee for Bridging Social Gaps.”

The host pointed out that this event was the first of its kind and that the time had come for the Knesset to express its appreciation to these organizations, which are on the front lines of the battle against hunger and are doing the work that is really the responsibility of the state.

Rav Benzion Abba Shaul in Meron

One last word about the judicial reform and the protests against it: Last Monday was one of the most distressing days in the history of the Knesset, when the protestors against the judicial reform entered the building in an effort to foment chaos. The Knesset ushers acted quickly and with determination to remove them from the premises. A few hours later, the Knesset erupted into applause as the reasonability bill was passed by a majority of 64 votes. The opposition members were dismayed, while the coalition applauded. The opposition does nothing but shout and scream, while the coalition continues its work.

I should really write about the opposition’s rejection of the food voucher program as well. Their lack of compassion for the poor is utterly mind-boggling. However, I am still preoccupied by a very different subject: the 25th yahrtzeit of Rav Benzion Abba Shaul. I have been reading quite a lot about him lately, and this week I came across a fascinating story told by a talmid: “We were traveling to visit kivrei tzaddikim in the Galil. Rav Benzion was accompanied by his rebbetzin, and when we stopped for a meal on the way, the rov and rebbetzin ate together. When we were returning to the bus, I noticed that the rov was hanging back. I looked around and saw that the rebbetzin was still seated while the rov was emptying their plates and cleaning up the table, as if it was the most natural thing in the world for him to do. When we arrived in Meron, the rebbetzin was feeling unwell and said to the rov, ‘Go on with your talmidim and daven for me as well. I will stay here.’ The rov replied, ‘I will stay with you.’ Everyone got off the bus and waited, and the rebbetzin asked him again to go along with everyone else. We all knew that the rov felt a powerful connection to the kever of Rabi Shimon bar Yochai, but he remained with his wife. ‘My wife and I will daven here,’ he told us. They had made the trip all the way to Meron, but they remained on the bus once they arrived.”

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