Monday, Jun 10, 2024

My Take on the News

Uman in the News

As usual, there is plenty of news to report this week. First, Netanyahu testified before the Meron investigative commission once again and pledged to expedite the privatization of the site. In other news, Abu Mazen made yet another statement that sounded like Holocaust denial, and he then “explained” that Hitler set out to exterminate the Jews because they were rich, not because they were Jewish. We have also reached the 50-year mark since the Yom Kippur War, and a trove of fascinating documents has been released. But for now, let us discuss Uman.

Thousands want to go to Uman for Rosh Hashanah every year and the State of Israel tries to assist them. During the past two years, it has been very difficult to facilitate their travels. Uman is located in a war-torn country. It may very well be life-threatening to visit there, but those who wish to spend Yom Tov in Uman insist that they will be able to effect tikkunim there and that it is the yetzer hora that is trying to keep them away. The problem is that the Ukrainians have imposed so many restrictions and hurdles on the would-be travelers that Meir Porush, the minister who assumed responsibility for the subject, felt that he was no longer capable of arranging for Israelis to visit Uman. Porush turned to the prime minister for help.

The Israelis who are involved in making the arrangements for Rosh Hashanah in Uman are beginning to lose patience. The Ukrainians are experts at dragging out the process torturously until the last possible moment. However, everyone knows that they actually stand to benefit from the influx of travelers in honor of Rosh Hashanah. The mass visitation to Uman on Rosh Hashanah is a boon to the Ukrainian economy; tens of thousands of tourists flock to the country from all over the world and enrich the state coffers (by paying various taxes), the city of Uman (through municipal taxes), and, of course, local businesses. This year, however, the Ukrainians are piqued by Israel’s handling of the war between their country and Russia. Unfortunately, Israel seems to have spoiled its diplomatic relations on both the Ukrainian and the Russian fronts; neither Putin nor Zelensky is in a particularly gracious mood toward Israelis.

Meir Porush, who took responsibility for the arrangements for Rosh Hashanah in Uman after his resounding success in Meron on Lag Ba’omer, sent a desperate letter to the prime minister this week begging for his intervention. Porush feared that even if he manages to reach agreements with the neighboring countries, Ukraine might still pull some kind of stunt at the border. “If there is no change in the dialogue with the Ukrainian government, I will not be able to perform the task that has been given to me, and that failure will belong to the government,” Porush warned the prime minister.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a slip of the tongue when he called on Israelis to refrain from visiting Uman. “Hashem hasn’t always protected us,” the prime minister told the country, “including in Europe and in Ukraine. Remember that in Israel, when there are missiles, the citizens have bomb shelters and other defenses. In Ukraine, there are no shelters and no defenses.” After his words evoked an outcry, Netanyahu explained that he was merely warning the public that any Israeli citizen who chooses to travel to Ukraine will have to bear personal responsibility for his safety.

Agreements on the Border Crossings

As Rosh Hashanah drew near, Breslov chassidim appealed to Aryeh Deri, who is considered a friend of the chassidus, to assist them, and Deri had a three-way phone call with Netanyahu and with the director of the Mossad. The result of that conversation was that Netanyahu called Zelensky (which he originally did not want to do). As of now, Israel has reached an agreement with the Ukrainian government for cooperation at the border crossings and assistance for Jewish travelers heading to Uman. The Israeli ambassador in Kyiv, Michael Brodsky, spoke with the directors of the Ukrainian border control and reached preliminary agreements that will make it easier for the tens of thousands of mispallelim in Uman to cross into Ukraine from the neighboring countries. It was also agreed that Ukrainian border control officials will expedite the process of crossing the border as much as possible. The ambassador was also told that the Ukrainian government had acceded to Israel’s request for the border crossings to be kept open around the clock during the days before and after Rosh Hashanah. This complements the efforts made in recent months to solicit the agreement of the governments of Moldova, Poland, and Hungary to ease the process of crossing into the Ukraine via their respective borders. With the agreement that has now been reached with Ukraine, the journey from Israel to Uman is expected to be significantly easier. Meir Porush announced, “I thank Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who has been aiding these efforts for a long time, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who responded to my requests and spoke with the president of Ukraine, which led to this excellent news for the public.”

The government announced that a plan has been developed to ease the passage of travelers into Ukraine. The components of this plan include crowd control at the border checkpoints, the presence of representatives speaking Hebrew and the local language to manage the area, coordination with local government and security officials, enhanced communication with travelers, an Israeli-run situation room, assistance in guiding travelers to the appropriate crossings and security areas, and more. The Ministry of Yerushalayim Affairs and Israeli Heritage will earmark four million shekels out of its budget to help put these plans into practice. Let us daven that Hashem will protect all Jews throughout the world.

Police Step Up Security in the Old City

I always report to you on recent terror incidents, and there was indeed a stabbing attack at Shaar Yaffo last week, which left one Israeli “moderately” wounded and another lightly injured. However, this time I can also report on some positive developments. You see, the police have begun showing a measure of determination to combat the violence perpetrated by Arab youths in East Yerushalayim, which has recently led to Jews being injured almost daily while heading to or returning from the Kosel. In a recent notable case, a group of police officers disguised themselves as chareidi Jews, and a car carrying undercover policemen drove alongside a minibus that appeared to be carrying chareidi passengers to Har Hazeisim. As could be expected, a couple of youths in East Yerushalayim began throwing stones at the minibus, and they were immediately arrested by the police officers.

In recent days, the police arrested a number of youths from East Yerushalayim who were suspected of throwing rocks at passing cars. This violence has resulted in damage to various cars and, in one case, injuries to a passenger. Late at night on August 31, a report was received about a number of young suspects who were throwing rocks at a car passing through Wadi Kadum. The stones caused damage to the car, and one stone managed to penetrate the car and injure a female passenger. Police and Border Guard officers were summoned to the scene and began investigating the incident and searching for the terrorists. The investigation yielded the identities of three suspects, who were located and transferred to the police station for questioning. At the request of the police, the court extended the remand of one of the suspects by several days. In the morning, the police were informed of another incident of rock throwing targeting a public bus at the A-Tur junction. This incident caused damage to the rear section of the bus. Police and Border Guard officers arrived at the scene once again and located two suspects, both residents of A-Tur, who were taken into custody for questioning. In this case, as well, the court agreed to keep one of the suspects in detention for several extra days to enable the investigation to be completed.

The police released the following statement: “The Israel Police Force will continue acting with determination against violence and disruptions of the public order that harm the security and property of the public. Suspects involved in these incidents will be located and questioned. At the same time, the police are continuing their deterrent activities and preventing incidents such as the throwing of rocks and other objects at people using the roads, by adopting creative and sophisticated strategies such as those employed last week in the area of East Yerushalayim.” We can only hope that they will succeed.

Court to Rule on Reasonability Clause This Week

It is somewhat sad that the country has its attention fixed on the Supreme Court as we approach Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here: If the people of this country are trembling in fear of what a court consisting of human judges will decide, then we should certainly tremble at the thought of being judged by the Master of the Universe.

Fifteen judges—the entire complement of the Supreme Court—heard the petitions against the Reasonability Law passed by the government. After the petitions were filed, the court asked the government for its response. The government replied, “Overturning the law passed by the Knesset will lead to anarchy.” But it is not clear if this argument will impress the judges.

Meanwhile, someone also petitioned the court for Chief Justice Chayut to recuse herself from the case, due to the fact that she expressed a strong opinion against the judicial reform in a speech delivered in Haifa, when she dubbed it “the destruction of democracy.” Of course, Chayut did not accept the argument against her involvement.

You are probably familiar with the issue already, but I will quickly review it once again: The reasonability test is used as a pretext for the court to overturn administrative decisions that the judges consider “unreasonable.” On July 24, the Knesset passed a law stating that “the courts, including the Supreme Court, will not discuss the reasonability of a decision made by the government, the prime minister, or any other minister, nor will they issue injunctions on such a subject, including matters pertaining to an appointment or a decision to refrain from using any kind of authority.”

The authors of the petitions against the law found many reasons to label it improper and even unreasonable, but nothing will change the fact that this is a law passed by the Knesset that states clearly that the judges do not have the right to determine reasonability. It seems that we are heading toward an outright collision between the Knesset and the judiciary. The country is waiting to see what the judges will decide. Will they be deterred by the possibility of engaging in an all-out confrontation with the legislative branch of the government, or will they push their limits while disregarding the authority of the Knesset and the government? And what will happen if the court decides to strike down another appointment that they consider unreasonable, now that the government feels that it has deprived them of that power? If that happens, will the government obey the court?

Judges Overturn Dismissal of Postal Official

As if in a bid to demonstrate that they bow to no one, three judges on the Supreme Court overrode the decision made by two ministers in the government (Shlomo Karai, Minister of Communications, and Dudi Amsalem, who holds a ministerial position in the Justice Ministry) to dismiss Mishael Vaknin, who is serving as the chairman of the Israel Postal Service. Judges Yitzchok Amit (who is ostensibly due to succeed Chief Justice Esther Chayut due to his seniority on the court), Yosef Elron (who recently announced that he would vie for the position and thus challenged the doctrine of seniority and thrust himself into a direct conflict with Amit), and Alex Stein (a yarmulke-wearing judge who is considered conservative, although he recently ruled that Aryeh Deri’s food voucher program should be put on hold) issued a temporary injunction calling on Karai and Dudi Amsalem, who is responsible for the Government Companies Authority, to explain why the dismissal should not be annulled. In the interim, the court ruled that Vaknin will remain in his position until the issue is resolved.

Vaknin was originally hired for his position last year by the communications minister at the time, Yoaz Hendel. Karai and Amsalem claimed that they were firing him because he had failed in his duties and the postal service was not functioning properly, although reports published last week indicated a distinct improvement in its performance. (The postal service reported a profit of 29 million shekels during the first half of the year, in contrast to the loss of 176 million shekels that it reported during the same period last year.) Vaknin argued that the decision was politically motivated and that it might set a precedent for future political firings. Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara supports the petitions against his dismissal; in other words, she has explicitly opposed the government’s stance! The attorney general claims that this is the first time since the Government Companies Law was passed 50 years ago that the ministers have used the clause that empowers them to fire the director of a government company. She added that the claims against Vaknin were already refuted in a hearing. The judges ordered the government to explain why they should not rule that Vaknin’s dismissal was illegitimate and therefore null and void. On a broader scale, this was a thinly veiled hint that the court considers itself subject to no one’s authority, and that the judges are ready to wage an all-out war to establish their supremacy.

Netanyahu Has Lost Patience for the Judicial Reform

It is widely believed that Netanyahu is planning to put the brakes on the judicial overhaul, since he no longer has the strength to deal with its opponents. One of the ardent opponents of the judicial reform is Tamir Pardo, a former head of the Mossad, who has accused Israel of setting up an apartheid regime in Yehuda and Shomron. This is an outrageous statement, especially since it was made in an interview with the Associated Press. “When there are two different peoples being judged by two different judicial systems, that is an apartheid state,” Pardo said. He added that as the head of the Mossad under Netanyahu, he warned the prime minister numerous times that he would have to decide on the borders of the State of Israel or take the risk of witnessing the destruction of the Jewish state. “Israel needs to decide what it wants,” he said. “A state without any limitations is a state without borders.”

In addition, one of the leaders of the protest movement made an appalling statement this week equating Netanyahu’s supporters (albeit not all of them, of course) with Nazis. Orit Struck, a minister in the government, was also described with the same term. Some of the protestors also expressed their wish for the prime minister and his wife to die. As you can surely see, the discourse has crossed into unacceptable territory.

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu spoke about the radicalization of the public discourse. First, he spoke about the reform and the protests against it. “We are making enormous efforts to calm down the raging passions, in an attempt to reach as broad a consensus as possible regarding the judicial reform,” he said. Then he became stern: “I cannot accept the calls of incitement that are coming from the leaders of the leftist protest. A leading activist in the protests has referred to the ministers in the government as Nazis. Another prominent activist wrote to a government minister that she is worse than the Nazis. Just a few hours after these appalling statements, at a left-wing protest in Modiin last night, the protestors called for my death and my wife’s death. ‘May you be in the cemetery by next year,’ they said. I call on them to join with us to calm down the raging passions among the people. I expect the law enforcement officials to work forcefully against the incitement and to bring the purveyors of incitement to justice. Until now, almost nothing substantive has been done about this wild incitement. The freedom to protest is not the freedom to incite. If we work together with the correct spirit and we do not allow this radicalization to happen, I think that we will truly attain a better and sweeter new year. That is my wish for all the citizens of Israel.”

The Earthquake in Morocco

At the same cabinet meeting, Netanyahu spoke about the devastating earthquake in Morocco. The disaster affects Israel not only because the two countries are neighbors but also because many Jews were visiting Morocco to celebrate a yahrtzeit. “I would like to open this cabinet session by sending condolences on my own behalf, on behalf of the government, and on behalf of all the citizens of Israel to the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, and to the people of Morocco for the terrible disaster that has struck your country and has already claimed thousands of lives,” Netanyahu said. “The State of Israel will provide all possible aid to Morocco, including a delegation of rescue personnel, if they so desire. The State of Israel supports Morocco during this difficult time.”

Netanyahu also mentioned the Abraham Accords, which are intended to make all the countries in the region more accessible to each other and expressed his thanks to President Biden. “This vision, which is being promoted by President Biden together with the countries of Europe, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and other countries, imagines a transportation corridor of railways, maritime links, fiber optic cables and power lines, including natural gas and hydrogen (the energy of the future) that will pass from India, meaning from Asia, through the Arabian Peninsula and through the State of Israel to Europe, This is an immense change. I thank President Biden for this important initiative, and I want to tell you that this will change our global and historic situation.”

At this moment, Netanyahu is traveling to the United Nations. He discovered that a number of pilots from Israel will refuse to fly him. He is also discovering that he will probably not be invited to the White House to meet with President Biden. If a meeting takes place between the two, then it will be at the United Nations. Presumably, the goal is to show Netanyahu that he isn’t important enough in the eyes of the American administration.

At the same cabinet session, Netanyahu also brought up the subject of the violence in Tel Aviv. The cabinet decided to allocate funds to deal with the repercussions of the rioting, including the restoration of local shuls. Netanyahu said. “Today, we are announcing a special plan to strengthen south Tel Aviv and other areas where illegal infiltrators can be found. We are dedicating millions of shekels to incentivizing the infiltrators to leave the country, assisting senior citizens, renovating the shuls that were damaged, aiding students and youths, and more. I thank the Ministry of the Negev and Galil, under the direction of Minister Yitzchok Wasserlauf, for assembling this plan.”

Parenthetically, Yitzchok Wasserlauf lives in Tel Aviv, where he is regularly harassed by left-wing protestors, including his neighbors. That is a sign of the insanity of our situation.

The City of Holiness and Poverty

A popular local newspaper in Yerushalayim recently reported that one out of every two children in the city is poor. Fifty-one percent of the children in Yerushalayim are living below the poverty line, and 42 percent of the residents are classified as poor. There are 260 mothers in Yerushalayim who require donations of formula for their infants. Various organizations providing aid for the poor have reported a sharp increase in requests for help. These statistics were provided by the municipal welfare department and indicate that the situation in Yerushalayim, which is one of the poorest cities in the country, is continuing to decline.

Later in the same publication, there was an even more troubling report. The government bodies responsible for the issue, including the National Insurance Institute, painted an even more severe picture of the situation: “The poverty level in Yerushalayim is among the most severe in the country; it has gone up from 27.8 to 28.9 after the government reduced the degree of public aid as the coronavirus pandemic began to wane.” The article went on to report on a meeting in the city council attended by mothers who described the hardships they were facing. A number of chessed organizations, such as Chasdei Naomi, were also represented and reported on the large number of appeals for aid that they have been receiving. The municipal officials responded that this matter lies within the sphere of responsibility of the national government, and the National Insurance Institute in particular.

To put things in perspective, of course, we can keep in mind that it is only natural that Yerushalayim, with its chareidi and Arab populations, will have higher poverty rates. Moreover, some of the families in Yerushalayim have chosen to live in “poverty” and are even happiest with little in the way of material possessions. Nevertheless, both the state and the city have an obligation to assist poor families. That is why it is especially saddening to observe the opposition to the government’s food voucher program. It was very distressing when the Supreme Court accepted a petition against the program and ordered the government to stop distributing the vouchers until the judges review the eligibility criteria. This is only prolonging the suffering of impoverished families.

The session of the city council, in fact, was attended by the director of Eshel Chabad, the organization that previously won the tender to distribute food vouchers. He spoke vividly about the distress of the families waiting anxiously to receive their vouchers this year. It became clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that the vouchers would prove to be lifesaving in the most literal sense.

Courier Tears Mezuzah Off Doorpost

A video was circulated in Eretz Yisroel that evoked widespread outrage. The footage captured by a security camera shows a delivery worker ringing the doorbell at a home in the community of Charish. When no one answered the door, the courier tore the mezuzah off the door frame and discarded it in a small garbage can that was positioned in the stairwell. Of course, this was appalling on many levels. The criminal was wearing a motorcyclist’s helmet, but he looked in the direction of the security camera, probably because he was checking to ensure that there was no camera, and an image of his face was captured, making it possible for him to be identified. In any event, it would have been easy enough to catch him, since the delivery company would know exactly which worker was assigned to that job. Which means that this worker was not only malicious and possibly anti-Semitic, but also quite a fool.

The news reported that the Wizz delivery company moved quickly to fire the offending worker. The director of the company, which is located in Baka al-Gharbiyye, said, “I would like to apologize to all the residents of Charish on behalf of our company and to express our remorse for the inappropriate incident that took place during a delivery and was committed by a courier working for the company. As a company, we respect every religion and every human being; this act does not represent our values.” Mayor Yitzchok Keshet of Charish called on the police commander to locate the vandal and to bring him to justice.

I was struck by the location of the company, and I had to wonder if the company is owned by Arabs and if the courier himself is an Arab. It might make the incident slightly easier to digest if we knew that the act wasn’t committed by a Jew. However, if he is a Jew, I am not sure if it is really the correct solution to fire the worker and to leave him with his anti-Semitic baggage. Perhaps it would be better for someone to meet him and teach him the meaning and significance of a mezuzah. I tried to solicit some information from the company, and I even asked them to provide me with the courier’s phone number if he is Jewish. For the time being, I haven’t received a response.

A Childs Cry

Every year, I find myself touched once again by the moshol formulated by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus, the master of mesholim, about the meaning of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah. Rav Pincus told a story about a child who was sent to his room as a punishment for some infraction. After his parents angrily castigated him for his actions and sent him away, they suddenly heard a terrible scream; the child had accidentally closed a door on his finger, and he was seriously injured. Naturally, the parents immediately forgot his offense and rushed him to the emergency room, showering him with love and concern. The shofar that we sound on Rosh Hashanah, Rav Pincus taught, is similar to that child’s scream.

This week, I found that story discussed in a written adaptation of Rav Pincus’s shiurim, which I will quote at greater length to flesh out the moshol: “All the tragedies and misfortunes that happen over the course of a year really occur on Rosh Hashanah. If someone asks when the Bais Hamikdash was destroyed, every Jew will tell you that it was on Tisha b’Av. The truth, however, is that it was destroyed on Rosh Hashanah. The Holocaust, the Inquisition, and all the other disasters in our history actually happened on Rosh Hashanah. Rav Chaim Shmulevitz used to say that if a person catches a cold on Chanukah, we think that he caught a cold in Kislev, but the truth is that he became ‘cold’ on Rosh Hashanah. Everyone thinks that bein hazemanim is a dangerous time, because many tragedies have occurred during bein hazemanim, but we must remember that tragedies don’t actually happen during bein hazemanim; they happen on Rosh Hashanah. That is the time when everything occurs. And since everything really happens on Rosh Hashanah, we need to know what to do on this day in order to be zocheh to a good year.

“One of the ways to secure a good judgment is to use the shofar. Let’s try to explain how the shofar has the ability to change the world. Here is an analogy: In a certain family, there was one child who was very mischievous. One day, he came home from school with a note from his rebbi informing his parents that he had hit several of his classmates, he broke a window, he disturbed the class while they were learning, and so forth. His father felt that the child deserved to be spanked, and his mother added that they needed to punish him in a way that would put an end to his unruly behavior once and for all. The child said to himself, ‘How do I get out of this mess?’ He quickly ran to his room and, without realizing it, closed the door on his finger, and he began screaming in pain. What happened next? The punishment was completely forgotten. The parents rushed the child to the doctor to have his finger bandaged, and they even bought him a new bicycle on the way home. What happened? Why did they do this? Because their judgment was interrupted by his pain.

“The same is true of us. In the middle of the judgment, we suddenly let out a cry; that is the sound of the shofar. That is the basic meaning of the shofar. This is the most fundamental element of this day. However, we need to think about it and to feel it. We cannot arrive at Rosh Hashanah without preparing in advance. We need to prepare ourselves by learning mussar; if a person prepares for Rosh Hashanah during Elul, then he will have a reason to receive a favorable judgment. That is the special aspect of Rosh Hashanah. A person should fear Hashem’s judgment and cry out to Hashem; that is the way to succeed on this day, and that is the way we can be saved. There is only one place to flee—to Hashem Himself. Of course, the most important thing is to fulfill the mitzvah of tekias shofar as we were commanded by Hashem, but we should also think about this message and feel this significance of the shofar.”

Advice for the Yom Hadin

Let me end this column with one last piece of advice concerning the Yom Hadin. Last week, I visited the kever of Rav Chanoch Karelenstein, who passed away on the 22nd of Elul 5759/1999 at the age of 42. His passing plunged the country into shock and mourning; everyone had expected him to become one of the gedolei hador. I often quote from the kuntres that he published anonymously, Eitozs Lizkos Badin BaYomim HaNoraim—his collection of strategies for achieving a favorable judgment on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Every strategy merits its own chapter, with hundreds of quotations and source references. It is an incredible work.

One of those strategies is to judge others favorably. With his mind-boggling store of knowledge, Rav Chanoch quotes a wide array of sources: the Chofetz Chaim, the Kedushas Levi, Rabbeinu Yonah, the Rambam, the Midrash Tanchuma, the Pele Yoetz, the Chossid Yaavetz, and the Ohr Hachaim.

Here is one of many quotes: “See the sefer Chiddushei HaRim on the Torah, regarding Rosh Hashanah. He states that on Rosh Hashanah, a person must take great care to develop the middah of ayin tovah. If a person looks kindly on others and does not begrudge them their successes, but rather feels joy over the benefit that they receive, then Hashem will likewise relate to him with an ayin tovah.”

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