A Guest in New York
Even though it has been only a week since my last column, I have a great deal to report to you, as usual. First of all, the defense minister of Israel, Yoav Gallant, has been visiting New York, where he met with the secretary-general of the United Nations. They had an interesting conversation, although I must say that it did not really have anything to do with Elul…. In addition, Gallant was harassed by leftist protestors, who shouted angry slogans at him at his hotel in New York, which made for a distressing and embarrassing situation. People who have never learned to work on their middos can sink to appalling depths.
A very different attention-grabbing story this past week involved a passenger plane carrying dozens of Israelis that was forced to land in Saudi Arabia. The flight to Tel Aviv was diverted due to a malfunction, and the news that a plane full of Israelis made an emergency landing in Saudi Arabia was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Nevertheless, the Saudis were extremely gracious and hospitable to their guests, to the point that Prime Minister Netanyahu felt obliged to thank them publicly in a televised broadcast.
On the topic of relations between Israel and Arab countries, I must also mention the embarrassing debacle involving the foreign minister of Israel, Eli Cohen, and his counterpart from Libya. The two foreign ministers met in the context of an American-Israeli initiative with the goal of fostering improved relations between the two countries. That meeting, however, was meant to be kept secret, and when it was publicized, all the progress that had been made up to that point was lost. This has caused much anguish on all sides; everyone is trying to determine who leaked the news of the meeting to the press and caused major damage to Israel’s foreign relations. The Americans are also extremely disappointed.
Arab Audacity in the Old City
There is also much to be written about Israel’s relationship with our Palestinian neighbors. Last weekend, there was another altercation between Israeli shepherds and a group of dozens of Arab rioters who nearly lynched the Jews. This was a terrible incident, yet the authorities allowed it to pass as if nothing happened.
Meanwhile, in the Old City of Yerushalayim, Arabs rioted and violently attacked policemen and Border Guard officers. This incident began when a suspicious-looking man was stopped and refused to be searched; the suspect began assaulting the police officers instead. At the same time, a number of additional suspects began rioting, attacking police, and throwing stones that also hit passersby. Three police officers were lightly wounded by the rock throwing. One of the officers who was injured by rocks fired a warning shot in the air when he felt that he was in danger; he was subsequently taken to the hospital. Additional police officers were summoned to the scene to restore order. The police reacted with a fairly bland statement to the press: “We take very seriously any attempt to harm police officers who are working to preserve security and public order in the Old City or anywhere else.”
Finally, a Penalty for Violence
One thing is especially distressing: Arab hoodlums have repeatedly been attacking innocent Jewish passersby, and the police have been far too forgiving. In one recent case, a group of Arabs assaulted a number of yungeleit in the neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo (ostensibly in a dispute regarding a car or something else of the sort). In another incident, Arab hoodlums threw stones at a Jewish-owned car traveling through Ir David and nearly caused a loss of life, but the police ignored the incident.
It is actually the courts that have been taking a stronger stand on this issue. In a noteworthy development, the Magistrates’ Court in Yerushalayim ruled last week that a group of Arabs who attacked a Jewish family returning from Slichos at the Kosel in 2017 were required to pay 60,000 shekels in damages to the victims. The ruling came in response to a civil suit filed by the family with the aid of Menashe Yado, an attorney working for Honenu (an organization that I have profiled in the past).
In September 2017, a Jewish family returning from Slichos at the Kosel was attacked by two Arabs who claimed that the family had parked their car next to their store and had blocked their access to the street. The assault continued for many minutes and included numerous acts of violence: The assailants spilled scalding coffee on the victims, pummeled them with their fists, kicked them, and slapped them with enough force to cause injuries. The Arab assailants were arrested by Border Guard officers who were summoned to the scene, but the case was closed in January 2018, just a few months later. Honenu began fighting a determined battle for justice and the investigation was reopened; however, several months ago, the prosecutorial department of the police reached a lenient plea agreement with the assailants, which led one of them to be sentenced to a two-month suspended prison sentence while the second was sentenced to 100 hours of community service. After this plea agreement was signed, Yado filed a civil suit against the two assailants. After the defendants were given sufficient time to respond to the suit and chose to do nothing, the court obligated them to pay 60,000 shekels to their victims. Perhaps this will provide a measure of deterrence in the future—perhaps!
Incessant Police Brutality
The following story is absolutely mind-boggling: Police officers were seen assaulting a young man with special needs, beating him mercilessly while a group of onlookers filmed the incident and shouted at them that the man was not healthy. Despite their cries, the policemen seemed to have hearts of stone; they turned their backs on the bystanders and continued using their fists against the victim. It was absolutely infuriating to watch this scene. Could the police officers really have been so apathetic? While it’s true that the victim behaved insolently toward them, and he even cursed them and made threatening motions, that does not give them the right to spill his blood. In fact, even if a person of sound mind and with a healthy intellect were to curse the police, that would not justify such violence.
The official explanation released by the police for their behavior was nauseatingly familiar: “We were trying to arrest him and he resisted the arrest, so we had to use reasonable force.” This leaves many questions unanswered. First of all, why were they arresting him? Second, why did they have to beat him viciously? And the fact that the victim was a young man with special needs makes their actions even more outrageous.
A number of incidents of this nature have taken place over the past two years, and every occurrence left many of us appalled. Yanky Rosenberg and Chaim Mizrachi were only two of the victims of police brutality who were unwittingly thrust into the national spotlight. In some cases, the police apologized for their actions and even promised to have the officers take workshops to help them understand individuals with special needs. The end result, however, was always the same: The tensions were calmed, but then the police returned to their old ways and another violent beating took place.
The most recent incident occurred Friday in Mea Shearim, near Rechov Haneviim. The police later tried to explain themselves: “Chareidim were rioting and throwing stones, and the officers were forced to remove the rioters to allow vehicles to pass on the street.” Parenthetically, it is certainly wrong to throw stones or disturb the public order, but the police do not seem to feel the same compulsion to clear Rechov Kaplan in Tel Aviv of the left-wing protestors who block traffic there. In any event, their statement continues, “One of the demonstrators [the young man with special needs] resisted the instructions to clear the street, and he cursed at and assaulted a police officer while spitting on him. It was therefore decided to arrest him. When he resisted the arrest, reasonable force was applied.”
I must disagree with their assertion that they used reasonable force. The vicious beating that was caught on camera does not qualify as reasonable by anyone’s definition. This statement is utterly detached from reality and absolutely pathetic. Above all, it demonstrates once again that the police simply have no understanding of people with mental disabilities.
Food Vouchers Face Criticism
How can we know if someone is doing the right thing? By examining whether the yetzer hora is fighting against them. Evil always fights against everything that is pure and good, and when a certain initiative meets stiff opposition from those who champion evil, one can be certain that it is a good and virtuous thing.
In this case, I am referring to the food voucher program that Aryeh Deri promised to establish and that is currently in the works. In fact, I recently heard that the Shas officials in Ashdod have displayed their usual alacrity, and that a telephone hotline has already been established for residents to check their eligibility for the vouchers. A mailing address has also been publicized for the submission of applications. Avi Amsalem deserves all the accolades in the world for this initiative. He added in a public statement: “Yasher koach to Rabbi Aryeh Deri, who worked hard and succeeded in fulfilling the Shas party’s election promise to provide for the needs of the citizens of Israel and the weaker sectors who are suffering from food insecurity. In Shas, unlike other places, promises are meant to be kept.” He added, “We are also appreciative of Interior Minister Moshe Arbel and the director-general of his ministry, Ronen Peretz, for bringing the food voucher plan to fruition.”
Arbel also led the battle against the politicians and jurists, joined by certain professionals in the Treasury and Welfare Ministry, who sought to exploit the program for their own purposes. If we peel away the layers of self-righteous rhetoric and agenda-driven hyperbole, we will see that the core of the issue was really the question of whether the program should serve a huge number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union whose Jewishness is in question—and, more to the point, whose eligibility for food vouchers is highly dubious. All the critics who castigated the chareidi parties for trying to show preference to needy yungeleit (although, as Arbel put it, a needy chareidi is no less deserving than anyone else living below the poverty line) were themselves guilty of trying to arrange preferential treatment for Russian immigrants. In the end, a compromise was reached that came at the expense of the citizens who are truly in need, as usual. The opponents of the food voucher program would be well-advised to examine their own flaws before condemning others for alleged ulterior motives.
A Tainted Court
When I read about the behavior of the judges in Israel’s courts, I cannot help but pinch myself and wonder if I am dreaming. The hypocrisy and double standards are blatant to the point of absurdity. Chief Justice Esther Chayut and her prospective successor, Justice Amit, have been sitting in judgment on issues from which every rule in the book requires them to recuse themselves. There is no question that their personal biases and conflicts of interest should prevent them from hearing petitions about these topics. In fact, every judge is required to make a declaration about the specific cases that he or she is not qualified to hear due to personal bias or vested interests. However, the judges seem to have complete disregard for these rules, ignoring their own biases even when they have already made signed declarations about their conflicts of interest.
To be honest, this should come as a surprise to no one. It is practically an everyday occurrence for the judges to hold themselves above the standards that they apply to everyone else. For instance, legal experts insist that Netanyahu should not have any involvement in the judicial reform, since it has the potential to indirectly affect the criminal cases against him. Well, the reform affects the judges as well; it includes a clause that cancels the provision that automatically assigns the position of chief justice to the judge with the greatest seniority. This is the provision that makes Amit the next in line to serve as chief justice of the Supreme Court, yet no one seems to be calling on him to recuse himself from hearing the petitions against the reform. Chief Justice Chayut, meanwhile, has already gone on record insisting that the judicial reform will cause the destruction of democracy in Israel, yet she did not recuse herself from hearing the petitions against the Reasonability Law. And Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who is likely to be harmed by the findings of the Pegasus Commission, has not seen fit to disqualify herself from releasing an official legal opinion against establishing the committee.
On another interesting note, last weekend Justice Yosef Elron wrote to the Minister of Justice that he plans to submit his candidacy for the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court. The judges have always considered the principle of seniority to be sacrosanct; no one ever dared suggest that the position be awarded to anyone other than the longest-serving judge on the court. But it seems that the cracks in the Supreme Court are now beginning to show.
The Attorney General’s Unconcealed Bias
While I mentioned the Pegasus Commission in passing in the previous section, it deserves a bit more elaboration. The government has decided to form a committee to investigate the use of the Pegasus spyware program, which can be embedded in cell phones and enables the police to eavesdrop on phone calls and even to record voices in the room where the phone is located. It is suspected that the government used this program in a manner that violates the law, and the Pegasus Commission’s task is to investigate those allegations. The chief opponent of the commission is the attorney general, who has argued that since some of the cases relying on evidence obtained through the Pegasus software are still underway (i.e., the cases against Netanyahu), the committee’s findings might influence the trials. In other words, she fears that the committee might discover that the spyware was used improperly to obtain evidence against Netanyahu.
The first and most obvious question to ask is why the attorney general is opposed to this investigation. By virtue of her job, she should be interested in uncovering any misconduct that took place and in responding to it appropriately. Even if the committee’s findings benefit Netanyahu, that should not prevent an objective investigation. Her objections are therefore very suspicious.
To make matters worse, the attorney general has a personal stake in this matter, since the committee will be probing her actions along with those of other leading figures in the Justice Ministry. This begs the question of how she can justify discouraging the formation of a committee whose function involves investigating her own actions. This is a clear conflict of interest, and this entire incident reflects very poorly on her.
On a related note, Justice Minister Yariv Levin wrote a scathing letter to the attorney general in which he accused her not only of failing to represent him properly in the Supreme Court hearings regarding the judicial reform but even of actively assisting the petitioners who are opposing the measures. His letter is extremely sharp and accusatory and has garnered major attention in the media.
A Surprising Quote Emerges from the Archives
I recently read a fascinating article about the brouhaha over the reasonability clause. As is often the case, it began with a tangential comment made by Justice Aharon Barak in a ruling that was completely uncontroversial and dealt with a fairly trivial issue. Barak cleverly used that innocuous ruling to plant the seeds of his future power grab, when he commented that the court must assess not only the various legal considerations in a case but also the “test of reasonability.” Few people realized that this seemingly benign comment was laying the groundwork for a veritable revolution. And as always, it was the chareidi community that suffered the brunt of Barak’s initiative. In the very next court ruling, he informed Yitzchok Rabin that his appointment of Shas party members to ministerial positions, while it was legal, was “unreasonable.” Having already set the precedent for the court to evaluate “reasonability,” Barak used it to reverse the prime minister’s decision. The court ordered Rabin to dismiss those ministers, and the prime minister was incensed.
The Supreme Court went on to use the “reasonability test” to override or change government decisions on a wide range of topics, from national security (such as the cabinet’s decision to deport terrorists), social issues (concerning the Israel Prize), and welfare (the privatization of the prisons). In one of the most prominent incidents in which the court used the reasonability standard, it canceled a government decision and ordered the state to reinforce all the school buildings in the Gaza envelope to protect them against rocket fire. All of this was based on the hubris of Aharon Barak, who effectively declared himself the king of this country and the ultimate authority, with the power to strike down decisions of the government at will.
When that decision was made, the finance minister at the time spoke out strongly against the Supreme Court. “This ruling directly interferes with two issues: the security of the State of Israel and the state budget,” he said. “The court has essentially told us, ‘Take money from the state budget away from the things that you consider important and transfer it to the things that we consider important. We don’t know what you were planning to do with it, but we do have the right to tell you what should be done with it. We know the correct order of priorities.’”
Amazingly, the finance minister who was so indignant about the court’s meddling was Yair Lapid, who has since backtracked on that sentiment and become an ardent opponent of any interference with the court’s authority.
Elul and Charity
Elul is a month of intensive activity for chessed and tzedokah organizations. Like many others in this country, I receive bundles of fundraising letters in the mail, and I find it hard to ignore the pleas. After all, as we know, tzedokah saves a person from death, and these organizations are essentially doing the work that is the responsibility of every one of us. Whether they are involved in kiruv, promoting religious causes, assisting the needy or providing food for the hungry, these are mitzvos that are incumbent on every one of us.
One of the recent appeals touched my heart deeply: “We are turning to you on behalf of hundreds of large families blessed with many children and with fathers who spend their days immersed in Torah learning, who are in dire economic straits and are barely managing to survive on a daily basis. Now Rosh Hashanah and Sukkos are approaching, and there are many extra needs that come along with these holidays, as everyone can certainly attest based on their own personal shopping…. Last year, there were special distributions for Sukkos, Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, Pesach, and Shavuos, as well as distributions of school supplies and disposable utensils. To put it in numbers, 5000 families receive assistance over the course of the year, 40,000 baskets of goods were distributed to families, and 82,000 children benefited from these distributions.”
A Sefer Torah for the Netanyahu Residence?
Public relations experts specialize in putting a spin on everything that is reported in the press, and they are especially hard at work during the period leading up to an election. I often find it entertaining to watch how they twist and spin various news items to suit their agendas. In fact, I used to enjoy clipping select articles before an election and then quoting them after the election.
The easiest thing for a politician or official to do is to write a letter and then announce it to the public, taking credit for addressing an urgent issue or taking a firm stand. This type of propaganda is always guaranteed to be published on multiple platforms. But I find this disingenuous. An elected official doesn’t satisfy his duty by writing a letter; his responsibility is to act, not merely to write.
Another trick in the public relations field is reporting on events that haven’t happened yet. The media is regularly filled with announcements about public parks that are going to be built or are slated to be inaugurated and other such things. The reader is expected to pat the mayor or Knesset member in question on the back, applauding them for making plans for the future or writing strongly worded letters. These public relations tactics are predicated on the assumption that the people will forget the politicians’ actual track records.
With that preamble, perhaps you can appreciate the calculations that went into the following article I recently read: “One of the most prominent supporters of Likud chairman Binyomin Netanyahu claims that a sefer Torah will soon be delivered to the prime minister’s home. The sefer Torah is a gift from an anonymous supporter, and he claims that it has nothing to do with Netanyahu.” Once again, someone is trying to use a future event to score political points in the present. I have no idea what is meant by the claim that it has nothing to do with Netanyahu, but I can predict with complete confidence that no sefer Torah will actually cross the threshold of the prime minister’s official residence. I base that prediction on the following incident, which took place in the Knesset not long ago.
German Zakharyaev is a Jewish philanthropist from Moscow who is considered the chief patron of the Caucasian Jewish community throughout the world. In the past, Zakharyaev donated three sifrei Torah to various recipients in Eretz Yisroel. One of the sifrei Torah, which was fairly small, was donated to Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s home, the second was gifted to the mispallelim at the Kosel, and the third was donated to the Knesset. I witnessed the festive procession in honor of the hachnossas sefer Torah making its way through the Knesset building, and I saw Rav Yisroel Meir Lau and Minister Yitzchok Vaknin dancing with joy. It was a dignified and meaningful event, but the sefer Torah was quietly removed from the Knesset shul shortly thereafter on the orders of the Knesset legal advisor at the time, who insisted that the Knesset was forbidden to receive donations or gifts of any kind. We were all stunned by this decision. After all, the Knesset building contains numerous pieces of artwork that were donated to the Knesset—including, if I am not mistaken, the famous portrait of Chagall. Nevertheless, the legal advisor was insistent, and the legal advisors always have their way, even if their opinions are ill-considered.
Bus Crash Raises Concerns
I was personally affected by the recent collision between two buses at the entrance to Yerushalayim, for two reasons: First, I live near the entrance to the city, and my porch commands a view of the road leading into the city, which afforded me with a clear view of the accident. Second, the accident injured 33 yeshiva bochurim, one of whom was my grandson.
Before you begin envisioning a catastrophic event of some kind, let me assure you that it was a minor incident. When the media reported that 33 people were injured, that tally includes anyone who suffered a wound as minor as a scratch on the arm, or even those who were not physically injured and were merely suffering from hysteria. The media also reported that a bus driver was “trapped” and had to be extricated by rescue personnel, which creates the impression that he was somehow pinned inside the wreckage of two buses and had to be rescued with powerful tools. Despite this frightening image, the truth is that he was simply trapped in his seat. The drivers on Israeli buses today sit inside a glass enclosure of sorts, and this driver was unable to open the door of his enclosure. That is all.
The accident took place at the turnoff to the neighborhood of Ramot. Every evening, at about 10:00 p.m., the area fills with hundreds of bochurim from yeshivos ketanos (yeshivos with talmidim between the ages of 14 and 16) traveling home for the night, mostly to Ramot or Ramat Shlomo. The crowd of bochurim at the bus stop often overflows into the street, and some boys try to flag down passing motorists to hitchhike to their destinations. Whenever a bus arrives, it is besieged by a huge crowd of bochurim. The bus that was involved in the accident was packed beyond its capacity, since the driver took pity on the waiting bochurim and allowed a huge number of passengers to board the bus, and the brakes somehow failed, causing the vehicle to collide with the bus in front of it. The impact caused all the passengers to fall, and some of them were injured.
My son called me after the accident, deeply perturbed, and exclaimed, “Why does everyone always wait until a disaster happens? Everyone knows what goes on at the bus stop at the entrance to the city every night. There are hundreds of bochurim who arrive from Ohr Shmuel, Sorotzkin, Ohr Elchonon, Imrei Moshe, Mishkan Shlomo, and Chevron, and possibly other yeshivos in Givat Shaul. Why isn’t there a special bus line for bochurim who live in Ramot, to take them home at the end of their day in yeshiva? After all, there is a bus line that runs to Bayit Vegan, which works perfectly.”
I had to agree with him. In fact, when he was a talmid in the younger division of Yeshivas Kol Torah, he returned home every night on a special bus route that began at the yeshiva and ran to Givat Shaul and from there to the neighborhoods in northern Yerushalayim. If the idea worked then, it could certainly be effective now as well.
“What are you asking me?” I pressed him.
“I want to understand why no one came up with this idea until now, when a major tragedy was narrowly averted,” he said heatedly.
“What about you?” I replied. “Why didn’t you think of it before?”
The question hung in the air between us, but I have to say that his idea is a proposal whose time has come. I made sure to relay the idea to Uri Maklev, the deputy transportation minister. Let’s see what comes of it.
Terror Near Modiin and Riots in Tel Aviv
Unfortunately, terror is continuing to rear its ugly head. The wave of terror attacks inspired the headline “Terror Around the Clock” in one of Israel’s newspapers. Every day, we receive a new reminder of the fact that our lives in Israel are being sustained by miracles.
For one thing, there was a terror attack last week at Kever Yosef in Shechem. Jewish mispallelim are permitted to go to Kever Yosef only if they are accompanied by IDF soldiers, since the Palestinians are trying to use violent means to prevent Jews from visiting the site. In this incident, an IDF officer and three soldiers suffered light to moderate injuries when an explosive device was detonated in their vicinity while they were guarding a group of mispallelim visiting the kever. They were part of a group of soldiers who were traveling ahead of the mispallelim, with the goal of securing the road and creating a “security sleeve” to protect the civilians. At one point, the troops emerged from their vehicle and the terrorists detonated a bomb. At the time, it was unclear if the bomb had been thrown at them or had been planted in the area and was detonated remotely. This was not the main road where the buses containing the mispallelim were scheduled to travel; the explosion took place at some distance from that area.
Another terror attack took place at a frighteningly central location, one that may be frequented by any Israeli: near the city of Modiin. An Israeli soldier who had immigrated from Ukraine and was known to the local kiruv organizations was murdered in the attack, and five others were wounded. This took place on Thursday morning at the Maccabim junction on Route 443. Around 9:00 in the morning, a truck driven by a Palestinian terrorist rammed into a group of soldiers. The terrorist, who had an official permit to enter Israel, crossed through the checkpoint after the attack and sped toward the Shilat junction (the location of the turnoff to Modiin Illit), crashing into an Israeli vehicle on the way and injuring the man and woman inside it. He continued driving north toward the checkpoint outside Chashmonaim, a religious community near Modiin Illit. Civilian security guards from the Defense Ministry, who were informed by the IDF about the escaping terrorist, managed to shoot and kill the truck driver, bringing his terror spree to the end.
These weren’t the only two episodes of terror to take place this past week, but they certainly received the most attention. However, I must also mention another incident that wasn’t exactly a terror attack but was violent and threatening nonetheless: the riots in Tel Aviv over the course of Shabbos. The violence was mind-boggling, and the infiltrators who perpetrated these riots are clearly murderous. The threat posed by the infiltrators has sparked widespread outrage in Israel, with many people blaming the Supreme Court for the situation. The government is planning to take action of some kind now; we will have to see how this pans out.
Incidentally, Itamar Ben-recently Gvir announced that conditions for security prisoners in Israeli prisons would become more punitive, and Netanyahu immediately responded that his order would not be carried out without being thoroughly examined. In our extreme right-wing government, it seems that the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. Meanwhile, Netanyahu left for a visit to Cyprus….
A Teacher Shames Her Pupil
I took great pleasure in watching the school year begin in several school networks: Chinuch Atzmai, the Shas school network, the Nesivos Moshe network of kiruv schools, and, perhaps more than anything, the Shuvu school system. Everything ran smoothly and with great dignity, and the children’s eyes shone with pleasure as they returned to their studies. In the secular education system, l’havdil, the school year hasn’t even begun yet and there are already conflicts, hard feelings, and disputes. Without trying to speak ill of the secular society, I would simply like to point out the difference between the two worlds that exist side by side in Israel. This week, the annual report of the Education Ministry’s department of oversight for students’ rights was released, and the findings were highly dispiriting. Over the course of the last school year, 846 complaints were filed by students or parents against teachers in the school system. (Of course, there are surely many additional students who refrained from filing complaints that would have been justified.) Fourteen percent of those complaints dealt with incidents of violence on the part of teachers (an appalling phenomenon), another 23 percent concerned disciplinary actions, and 52 percent dealt with a broad category labeled “procedures.”
These procedures relate to transportation for students, safety and security in the schools, financial issues, and more. There were some teachers who were accused of humiliating their students; for instance, one teacher reportedly said to a student, “Nothing is going to come of you. At most, you might be able to sell parsley in the Carmel market!” How sad it is to learn about this teacher’s subconscious stereotypes. From her perspective, selling parsley in the Carmel market is the most pathetic possible thing for a person to do. I, on the other hand, believe that any type of work brings honor to those who engage in it. If a parsley salesman is an honest man who spends time learning in the bais medrash, then, as Rabbi Yitzchok Peretz put it in the Shas party’s first election campaign, he is better than a thousand professors. But regardless of the teacher’s misguided ideas, it is hard to understand why she felt that it was justified to insult a student. What could be the excuse for heaping shame on a young person’s head?
In any event, this report highlights the failings in the general school system, which makes it clear why many secular students have been flocking to religious schools.
Laws That Make a Statement
This week, I read an article that was supposedly an expert analysis of the various laws that have been placed on the Knesset table. Almost 4000 laws were introduced during the 25th Knesset. The writer went through a long list of these bills and discovered quite a few laws that were utterly bizarre or provocative, or that simply do not stand a chance of being passed. But while he found this puzzling and even suspicious, the truth is that he simply lacks comprehension of the workings of the Knesset.
Indeed, hundreds of the bills introduced in this Knesset were never intended to be passed, and no one believes that they will be voted into law. Their purpose is solely to make a statement. In fact, most laws that are placed on the Knesset table do not stand a chance of being brought even to a preliminary reading, for the simple reason that there is a weekly quota. The number of bills that can be introduced in the Knesset in any given week is capped at about twenty. Even if the Knesset were in session for 50 weeks out of the year, it would not be possible to vote on more than 1000 bills every year, yet the number of laws on the Knesset table far exceeds that. And many of the bills discussed in the Knesset will be submitted by the opposition, which means that those laws are doomed before the discussion even begins.
There are also many bills that are duplicates. Most of the proposed laws are copies of similar laws placed on the table in the Knesset’s previous term, and since the Knesset members who replicate previous bills do not coordinate with each other, it often happens that identical laws will be submitted by numerous members of the Knesset, even from within the same party. Moreover, any law that costs money will never be passed, nor will a law that creates major changes and thereby awakens the wrath of government officials who do not enjoy having their comfortable budgets altered.
Thus, while it’s true that many of those bills were placed on the table without anyone believing that they will ever pass into law, this is not a scheme of some kind, as the misinformed writer would have us believe. It is simply the way the Knesset’s procedures work.
More or Less, It’s All the Same
I have written in the past about some of the dazzling vertlach and gematrios formulated by Rav Ovadiah Yosef, which often seem to emerge from ruach hakodesh. One example was his comment on the midrash that states that out of the 127 countries ruled by Achashverosh, 100 were ordinary countries and the other 27 were islands. Rav Ovadiah explained that the megillah itself alludes to this in the final perek, where it states that Achashverosh levied a tax “al haaretz v’iyei hayam—on the land and the islands of the sea.” The word for tax (mas) has the numerical value of 100, and the word “v’iyei” (“and the islands”) has the gematria of 27.
This week, I came across another astounding vort, in Rav Ovadiah’s comment on the famous maamar Chazal (Menachos 110a), “Echad hamarbeh v’echad hamam’it u’bilvad sheyechavein libo laShomayim—There is no difference between one who does much and one who does little, as long as his intent is for the sake of Heaven.” This mishnah states that a person should focus his lev (heart) on serving Hashem. The Hebrew letters of the word lev (heart), bais and lamed, are immediately preceded in the alphabet by the letters aleph and kaf, which spell the word “ach.” Chazal teach us that the use of this word also indicates an exclusion or limitation of some kind. At the same time, the letters bais and lamed are followed, respectively, by the letters gimel and mem, which form the word “gam” (“also”), a term that connotes an addition or increase. Rav Ovadiah explains that this alludes to the aforementioned maamar Chazal: The word “ach” indicates limitation or doing less than a predetermined amount, while the word “gam” implies that one is adding to it. However, Chazal tell us that regardless of whether a person chooses the path of “ach” (doing less) or “gam” (doing more), the most important factor is the intention of his lev (heart), which must be focused on doing Hashem’s will.