Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

My Take on the News

The Joy of Sukkos

There is something very special about Sukkos in Eretz Yisroel. I once spent Sukkos in Copenhagen, and it was extremely complicated. The buildings there are very tall, and the architects did not include a sukkah porch with every apartment. In some cases, it was simply impossible to have a proper sukkah. Even in Eretz Yisroel, where every effort is made to ensure that every apartment has a sukkah porch—especially in chareidi areas—it sometimes takes a stroke of genius to ensure that it will happen. But just think about Copenhagen, where no one even bothered providing such a porch. If an apartment dweller does not have a porch, where is he supposed to build a sukkah? In the building’s courtyard? Well, some buildings do not have courtyards, and even if they do, why would the non-Jewish neighbors agree to allow such a strange structure in a common area of the building? Building it in a public area, meanwhile, is completely impossible: The municipality will not permit it, and there are halachic issues with such a sukkah as well. Besides, who wants to walk up and down nine flights of stairs for every meal?

Here in Israel, on the other hand, just about everyone has an apartment with a porch suited to a kosher sukkah, and even if the need arises to build a sukkah in an outdoor common area, the neighbors generally do not object. If the courtyard of an apartment building can’t accommodate a sukkah, then it can easily be extended onto the sidewalk or the street, and the municipalities officially declare that they are temporarily ceding the public property under their control for use in sukkos. And if the parking spaces on a particular street are occupied by sukkahs, then drivers will simply leave their cars in spaces where parking is typically prohibited; during the holiday of Sukkos, the inspectors officially refrain from issuing parking tickets.

You see, there are certain perks that come with living in Eretz Yisroel. How could anyone fail to rejoice?

In the Chazon Ishs Sukkah

Here are a couple of interesting tidbits about Sukkos.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky recalled that when he was a child, he slept in the home of his uncle, the Chazon Ish, near the Slabodka yeshiva. On Sukkos, Rav Chaim slept on a mattress on the floor of the sukkah while the Chazon Ish learned on a nearby porch. Rav Chaim believed that this may have taken place sometime prior to his bar mitzvah. One night, Rav Chaim was frightened by cats prancing on the schach that formed the roof of the sukkah, and he quickly fled. When he told the Chazon Ish, his illustrious uncle was puzzled. “Why did you run away?” he asked. “The cats don’t invalidate the sukkah!”

Rav Chaim also remembered decorating the Chazon Ish’s sukkah together with his sisters at a young age. He recalled that his father, the Steipler, had instructed them not to hang any decorations from the Schach, but the Chazon Ish told them that they were permitted to do so. As a result, the Chazon Ish’s sukkah was decorated with items hanging from the Schach.

Esrog Priorities

One of Rav Chaim’s sons related that every year after the conclusion of the first day of Yom Tov, about half an hour after Maariv, a simchas bais hashoevah was held in Rav Chaim’s sukkah. “We would recite Shir Hamaalos,” he recalled. “The rov would say the first perek, then I would say one perek, and then he would ask me to honor the guests with reciting the following perokim. He also placed some wine on the table and told me to distribute it to everyone. It wasn’t a long event. We sang a niggun after each kapitel, as well as at the end of the entire series of kapitlach, and then everyone filed past the rov and wished him a good Yom Tov. During one recent year, the rov wasn’t feeling well and there was a large crowd there before he had davened Maariv, so he sat in the sukkah and recited the Shir Hamaalos at that time. At the end, before everyone left, he went into a side room to daven Maariv, and one of the family members closed the door so that no one would interrupt him. However, the rov opened the door and expressed his displeasure with the fact that it had been closed; he did not want people to be prevented from wishing him a good Yom Tov. The visitors then filed past the door without entering the room, and each visitor wished him a good Yom Tov while he sat in his chair at the head of the table and nodded to each one in turn.”

Here is one last interesting anecdote concerning Rav Chaim: Someone once consulted the rov when he was offered a choice of two esrogim for Sukkos. One of the esrogim was large and had ripened already; as a fruit, it was certainly the better of the two, but its appearance was inferior. The other esrog was very small and just barely met the minimum threshold of size; however, it was unquestionably more beautiful in appearance. Which of the two esrogim, he asked, would be more ideal for the mitzvah? A talmid chochom who was present suggested that the question might be resolved based on a discussion in the Yerushalmi (Yoma ch. 6) regarding korbanos. The Yerushalmi debates whether it is preferable for a korban to be meshubach b’gufo (physically better) or meshubach b’mareihu (better in appearance) and seems to conclude that preference is given to a physically superior korban. However, Rav Chaim rejected the comparison. “The Torah describes an esrog as pri eitz hadar; that means that it must be beautiful in appearance,” he said.

A Historic Hearing in the Supreme Court

Now that we have dipped into the wellsprings of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s Torah, we must move on to much more mundane matters. One of the top stories here was the hearing in the Supreme Court on the Reasonability Law. In a highly unusual move, the hearing was broadcast live on the Supreme Court’s website. This was a historic event in which all fifteen justices of the Supreme Court sat together, which was a first, to hear the petitions filed against a Basic Law, which was another first. Will the justices actually strike down a Basic Law? If they do, then it will be a historic precedent and an outright declaration of war against the Knesset. The Knesset speaker, Amir Ochana, announced that the Knesset will not sit in silence while its authority is undermined. A couple of senior ministers in the government have even gone on record promising that the Knesset will not comply with a Supreme Court ruling overturning the law.

It was a very long hearing, which continued for almost 14 hours with only a couple of breaks, and it was quite fascinating. The Knesset legal advisor represented the Knesset, while the government was represented by attorney Ilan Bombach after Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara refused to perform that function. Simcha Rothman, the chairman of the Constitution Committee and the man who spearheaded the process of legislating the bill, also spoke on behalf of the government, and I have no doubt that his speech, which was about two hours long, will go down in history as one of the most extraordinary addresses ever delivered in Israel.

Rothman upbraided the judges, declaring that the mere fact that the hearing was taking place was a failure on the part of the court. He denied the judges’ authority to discuss the Basic Law: The Judiciary (the official name of the law restricting the use of the reasonability test by the courts). “In a democratic state, the people are the sovereign,” he said to the judges. “Do not try to take away the Jewish nation’s democracy or its faith in democracy…. The Supreme Court has appropriated powers for itself that are not matched anywhere else in the world. The public confidence in the court has been waning because of its excessive intervention in social, economic, and political matters…. Although the Knesset is not infallible, democracy is the best system, or the least problematic, that the human race has devised to solve the issue of how a large number of people can make joint decisions…. Do not be tempted to turn yourselves into senior partners in the legislative process and receive applause from part of the public while the other part rejects your rulings. If you do that, it will take years to emerge from the constitutional crisis in which Israel finds itself.”

This hearing took place in the year 5783, but it will certainly have many ramifications in the year 5784.

The Judges Failed the Blood Pipeline Test

Rothman spoke in a respectful, cordial tone, but he did not hesitate to confront the judges when he deemed it necessary. At one point, Chief Justice Chayut remarked that it would be wrong for the government to be immune to oversight. Rothman shot back, “Let’s say that the court’s job is to oversee the government; who is overseeing the court?” He went even further and argued that the judges are biased on this subject and suffer from a conflict of interest. “The mere thought that one can hold a clean, sterile judicial hearing over the basic question of whether the court is acting properly today and whether it acted properly in the past is a sign of a blurring of morals,” he said. “Can you be the ones to judge this question without fear, without favoritism, and without being blinded by the fact that you are dealing with your own honor, your own standing, and your own authority?”

The judges were shocked by this statement, and Chayut immediately insisted that their honor was not the issue. But the viewers had already heard Rothman.

Rothman began his speech with a story, which may or may not be true, about a professor of mathematics in the Technion named Chaim Chanani. According to the story, Chanani challenged his students many years ago to design a pipeline that would transport blood from Haifa to Eilat. The students sat down, made their calculations, and drew up detailed plans for the pipeline. They asked about the viscosity of the blood, the velocity of its flow in the pipeline, the pressure, and many other such questions. When they had finished the project, the professor informed them, “You have failed my test. I was trying to test your moral sensitivity. Your first question should have been why there was a need to build such a pipeline from Haifa to Eilat. Why would anyone need to transport blood across that distance?”

The lifeblood of democracy, Rothman explained, is the right of every citizen of the country to vote, and there is no reason for the judges to take that right away from them by overruling the outcome of their votes. He professed his inability to understand the need for a “judicial mechanism that will harm this all-important value,” such as the reasonability test. The petitioners, he said, presented all sorts of legal arguments against the recently passed Basic Law, but the mere fact that the court was discussing the question was a failure.

Everyone in the court was stunned by Rothman’s remarks, but I was thinking about something other than Rothman’s analogy: How was it that none of the judges interrupted Rothman to ask him the very same question that Chanani faulted his students for not asking? Why didn’t the judges themselves question the need for a pipeline to transport blood? They certainly had no qualms about interjecting while he spoke; the judges interrupted Rothman ceaselessly, and one of them even asked him at one point to stop speaking due to his piercing criticism of the court. But when he presented this story, no one uttered a peep.

I’m not sure if Rothman meant this, even indirectly, but I think that he managed to group the 15 judges of the Supreme Court together with Professor Chanani’s students in his story. Just as those students failed the moral test involved in hearing the question, the judges were guilty of the same failure.

Local Elections on the Horizon

Another topic that is begging to be discussed is the upcoming local elections across the country. Five years ago, at the time of the last local election, I wrote about it extensively, especially in light of the ramifications for the chareidi community. The elections in Bnei Brak, Modiin Illit, Elad, Beitar Illit, and Rechasim all involved chareidi communities, and one can easily include Beit Shemesh in the list of chareidi cities as well. Of course, Yerushalayim is also one of the cities of importance to the community. The city of Ashdod also has a large chareidi community, and the identities of its mayor and his allies in the city council are very significant. For the most part, there were agreements in advance of the election. In Bnei Brak, there was a longstanding agreement that the office of mayor would alternate between a chassidic candidate (Chanoch Zeibert, in recent years) and a Litvish representative (most recently Avrohom Rubinstein). This year, however, Shas decided to introduce its own candidate, MK Uriel Bosso, into the race, claiming that the Sephardic community makes up one third of the city’s population and there is no reason for them to be excluded. Since the other parties did not agree to a third rotation, the Shas party chose to mount its own campaign. Why do they think that their slice of Bnei Brak’s populace will outvote the Ashkenazic community, which constitutes two thirds of the city? That is a good question….

Things have gotten complicated in Elad as well. In the previous election, the Sephardim in Elad pledged to support the Litvish candidate, Yitzchok Pindrus, who ultimately did not run for mayor since the chassidish community disqualified his candidacy on the grounds that he did not actually live there. This time, the Litvish sector was supposed to support a Sephardic candidate in return. The controversy in Elad affects Beit Shemesh as well, since the party decided at the last moment to designate Moshe Abutbul as its candidate in Beit Shemesh, even though Degel HaTorah has already chosen someone to run on its behalf. The effects might also spill over into Beitar Illit and Rechasim. But I am not going into detail about any of this, because whenever there is a machlokes, especially when the gedolei Yisroel are involved, we steer clear of it.

The local elections throughout Israel will be held on Tuesday, 16 Cheshvan/October 31. There are about 250 local governments throughout Israel, and in some cities, the outcome of the election will be critical to the development of the religious communities. Let us hope that all will go well and that there will be no unnecessary conflict.

Protestors Follow Netanyahu to America

When Prime Minister Netanyahu left Eretz Yisroel for America at the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah, he encountered a group of highly vocal protestors on the road. And that is nothing compared to the protestors in New York and Los Angeles, who began loudly vilifying the Israeli prime minister two days before his arrival. This behavior crosses a red line; the opposition in Israel has always maintained its silence whenever the prime minister traveled abroad to represent the country’s interests, and these demonstrators are breaking with that tradition.

Netanyahu, for his part, did not swallow the indignity in silence. In response to a reporter who questioned him about the demonstrations he expected to see at the United Nations, Netanyahu said, “There are some protestors who are joining forces with the PLO and Iran. They are slandering Israel, and they think it is normative behavior.” Netanyahu later explained that he was not implying that they were collaborating with terrorists, but he insisted that their behavior was unacceptable. “In practice, the only people who demonstrated against Israel at the UN until now were the Palestinians and the Iranians. Yet now, for the first time, Israelis are doing the same thing.”

Interestingly, there were reports before Netanyahu left the country that he would not find any pilots willing to take the job of flying him to America. This, of course, turned out to be false. As soon as El Al announced the flight, a huge number of pilots began vying for the task.

Inspiration from the Righteous

I often enjoy visiting the older shuls in Yerushalayim, and I am especially fond of the Eliyohu Hanovi shul on Rechov Petach Tikva in the neighborhood of Romema. I would advise any visitor to Yerushalayim to try to daven at least one tefillah there. It is a highly welcoming shul, with shiurim around the clock, delightful maggidei shiurim, and inspiring baalei tefillah. In recent months, Rav Shalom Kedoshim has been davening Maariv at the amud every night, and everyone has been enjoying the tefillos. His aveilus will end on Tu B’Shevat, but I will not be surprised if the other mispallelim ask him to continue leading the davening.

This Sunday, I arrived early for Maariv to attend a shiur delivered by Rav Chanoch Cohen, who I believe is also the rov of the shul. Rav Cohen is a noted educator in a Talmud Torah in Romema. He delivers a shiur on the Ein Yaakov, and this is the tenth time that he has completed a cycle of study. After Maariv, a large crowd of mispallelim remained behind to attend Rav Aharon Ben-Adiva’s shiur on daf yomi.

A large notice at the entrance to the shul caught my attention. The notice announced the passing of Rav Nissim Chai Ovadiah, who had been an integral part of the shul for decades and had dedicated his life to the shul and the community. A brief paragraph noted that the niftar “rose early every day for vosikin, recited brachos as if he were counting precious jewels, ran from minyan to minyan to answer amein and amein yehei shemeih rabbah and to respond to Kedushah, toiled to assist the needy, provided the public with the zechus of brachos, blessed every person with all his heart, davened fervently for the ill and suffering, observed set times for Torah learning, and subsisted on the bare minimum while opening his hands wide to assist others.” His son, Shai Ovadiah, sat shiva that day in the shul, and I observed a huge crowd of people coming to visit him and pay their respects.

One of the shul’s prominent mispallelim, Rabbi Yehonasan Cohen, told me a bit about Rav Nissim. “This shul was his home in every practical sense,” he said. “I mean that in the most literal way. He slept here, he ate here, and he lived here. The mispallelim were like family to him. It is believed that he was a hidden tzaddik and possibly even a miracle worker. I believe that it is incumbent on us to see to it that he is properly eulogized.”

I was later informed that Reb Yehonasan is a grandson of the shul’s founder, an extraordinary individual who deserves to be the subject of an article as well. Shortly before his death, he discovered that the workers who had been unable to break through a layer of rock and they had left the site in despair. He proceeded to fast for 40 days, and at the end of those forty days, the workers returned and succeeded in continuing the construction.

Hearing about these tzaddikim, I couldn’t help but feel confident that all of Klal Yisroel will merit a piska tava due to their influence.

Its Not a Waste

Let me end this column with an incredible story that I recently heard from Rav Moshe Shteinman: Rebbetzin Tamar Shteinman once told her husband, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, that their neighbors had installed solar panels on their roof, and that she wondered if it might be a good idea for them to do the same. Rav Shteinman asked why she was interested in it, and she replied, “For one thing, it will save money, since it provides hot water without the need to run the boiler. In addition, it takes time for the boiler to heat water, but the solar panels will provide us with immediate hot water.”

Rav Shteinman replied that he had become aware, based on neighborly disputes that were brought to him for adjudication, that the solar panels tended to cause water damage to the upper floors of a building. “However,” he said, “since you do not want to have to wait for hot water in the mornings, I will turn on the boiler every day before you wake up.”

“That certainly won’t be worthwhile,” the rebbetzin replied. “It might be a major waste of electricity, since I might not need immediate hot water every morning.”

“It is not a waste to expend large amounts of money to avoid causing damage to another Jew,” Rav Shteinman replied.

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