Tuesday, May 21, 2024

My Take on the News

Sirens in Yerushalayim on Simchas Torah Morning

Over the course of Sukkos, I gathered a number of impressions and observations to share with you in my post-Yom Tov column. Of course, I had no inkling of the nightmare scenario that was about to erupt at the end of the holiday.

To be honest, I should have realized on the morning of Simchas Torah (the Simchas Torah celebrated by Israelis, that is, which coincided with Shabbos) that something was wrong. I was sitting on my porch—which had doubled as my sukkah until the night before, but I had the express intent that it should not be considered a fulfillment of the mitzvah on that morning, due to the halacha of bal tosif—and was contentedly drinking my pre-Shacharis coffee (without sugar, of course). And then I heard an air raid siren.

At first, I was certain that there must have been a mistake. An air raid siren? In Yerushalayim? On Simchas Torah? I confirmed to my family members that it sounded like the real thing, and we then realized that we had heard some shrill sounds earlier in the morning that seemed to be air raid sirens in the distance. And then we heard two booms, signaling that a couple of missiles had fallen somewhere. But I still didn’t believe that anything serious had happened. I assumed it was an isolated incident, perhaps a single missile that had overshot its mark.

In shul, however, you can always find someone who knows everything that is happening. Anyone who has a foreign worker caring for an elderly family member is likely to have heard the latest news. Moreover, many mispallelim were summoned from shuls throughout the neighborhood for reserve duty. One of the mispallelim in my shul is a brilliant computer technician who is an expert on cybersecurity; on the morning of Simchas Torah, he was approached by army officers who asked him to come with them and to put his expertise to work. It soon became clear that the army was calling up a large number of soldiers. Some of my neighbors also returned from the Kosel and reported that they had seen scores of buses lined up outside the International Convention Center to be boarded by hundreds of soldiers, who were being transported to an unknown destination. At that point, as the bits and pieces of news began to come together, the situation became frightening.

Around that time, I later discovered, a police car pulled up outside the Gerrer bais medrash and asked the chazzan for hoshanos, Rabbi Yitzchok Goldknopf, who also happens to be a minister in the government, to accompany them to Tel Aviv for a cabinet meeting. At the same time, a non-Jew came to the Toldos Yitzchok bais medrash in Har Nof and asked Aryeh Deri to make an urgent trip to Tel Aviv at the request of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even though Deri is neither a cabinet member nor a minister, he is still considered the “responsible adult” in the government and is the politician with the most experience with such situations; may Hashem protect us.

It is hard to pull oneself away from the news here in Israel, from the sights we have all seen and the articles we have all read. Nevertheless, I will write this column as I planned, dealing with the events of this Yom Tov, recent political developments, and the like, while the terrible war, the massacre of hundreds of Jews on Simchas Torah, and the apparent indescribable negligence of the IDF will be the subject of a separate article.

The Joy That Can’t Be Faked

On the night of Simchas Torah, I davened in Bais Knesses Torah U’Tefillah, a shul in Givat Shaul that is relatively new to me. This shul’s membership consists mainly of younger yungeleit who live in the upper portion of the neighborhood (the vicinity of Alkabetz and Yehonasan ben Uziel Streets). As is typical of Eretz Yisroel, where many shuls and chadorim are housed in structures that are not nearly elegant enough for that purpose, this shul is situated in a fairly abysmal-looking caravan, but it is filled with radiance and joy. The rov of the shul is a young, popular rov named Rav Yaakov Fogel, who delivered a brief drosha before Maariv and quoted the Mishnah Berurah’s exhortation for a person to exert himself during the hakafos. I found this a timely reminder, since I have recently been finding it difficult even to walk, much less to dance. In light of his drosha, however, I made the extra effort to join the festivities accordingly.

In addition to the Mishnah Berurah, Rav Fogel also quoted Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, who shared a story that was highly relevant to the Yom Tov. During his time in prison, Rubashkin related, some of the non-Jewish inmates pretended to be Jewish in the hope of enjoying the same privileges granted to the Jewish inmates to accommodate their religious rights. The pretenders were able to get away with their act until Simchas Torah. The joy of Simchas Torah, he explained, could not be faked.

Browsing through the seforim in the shul’s library, I found a sefer that kept me riveted throughout the hakafos: Yareach Lamoadim, by Rav Yeruchom Olshin. I was deeply impressed by the sefer, including the work of its editorial staff, the layout, and, of course, the content. I learned quite a few chiddushim from this sefer. And that, in a nutshell, was my experience on the evening of Simchas Torah in Yerushalayim.

Hakafos Shniyos Spark Conflict in Tel Aviv

As always, I found it heartwarming to see sukkos everywhere I turned. The protestors in Tel Aviv might be fighting against everything that is holy, but the sukkos standing proudly on streets and porches throughout the country proclaim the truth. Even the most secularized of Israelis build sukkos in honor of this holiday. Thousands upon thousands of sukkos were built throughout the country, even in neighborhoods that are not religious in the least. And that speaks volumes about the latent connection to Yiddishkeit that exists in innumerable Israeli hearts.

I have good reason for bringing up the issue of the vocal opponents of religion. During the days leading up to Sukkos, there were a number of egregious incidents in which these agitators brazenly made their sentiments clear. First, on Yom Kippur, a small group of chilonim disrupted the Kol Nidrei davening at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv. For a number of years already, a large number of religious and secular Israelis have been holding the tefillos outdoors on Yom Kippur in the middle of the city; it appears that there are some chilonim who prefer to daven outdoors rather than in a shul. This time, the city informed the participants in advance that they would not be permitted to erect a mechitzah. In lieu of an actual partition, three Israeli flags were therefore placed between the sections for men and women, but the anti-religious protestors were not satisfied with this, and a group of secular agitators showed up to disrupt the service. Of course, this ended up harming their cause; there wasn’t a single Jew in Israel who wasn’t outraged by this grave affront to the davening.

But it did not end there. The same organization that organized the Yom Kippur davening, Rosh Yehudi, was also planning to hold hakafos shniyos (festive dancing on the night after Simchas Torah, when Jewish communities outside Eretz Yisroel celebrate the Yom Tov). In the wake of the conflict on Yom Kippur, the Tel Aviv municipality revoked the organization’s permit for that event as well. The city of Tel Aviv is avowedly secular, and I have no doubt that they are leaning even further in that direction now as a wink to the anti-religious factions in the city, in the hope of securing their support in the upcoming elections for local governments. This is the reason that the Tel Aviv municipality decided to ban outdoor hakafos shniyos this year, restricting the events to shuls. The move was challenged in court, and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the city did not have the authority to impose that ban. This was a great victory for the organizers of the hakafos shniyos, although the event was canceled anyway, along with all other hakafos shniyos throughout Eretz Yisroel, in light of the outbreak of war on Simchas Torah. In any event, it is very possible that the current local government in Tel Aviv will be ousted in the upcoming election.

Leo Dee Shoved by Protestor in Tel Aviv

There was another very saddening incident in Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, this one on Chol Hamoed. During a special davening held in the square—perhaps as a protest over the shameful actions of the secular agitators on Yom Kippur—one of the mispallelim was Leo Dee, the man of incredibly noble spirit who tragically lost his wife, Lucy, and his two daughters, Maya and Rina, in a shooting attack in the Jordan Valley. This tefillah also attracted a group of agitators, and one of the secular protestors deliberately and violently shoved Rabbi Dee during the davening. This outrageous act was shown on a video that was viewed throughout the country, in which Rabbi Dee can be seen holding his arba minim and looking shocked after the protestor pushes him aside.

The incident drew widespread condemnation. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir declared, “I am outraged and disturbed by the video showing Leo Dee, whose wife and two daughters were murdered in a shooting attack, shoved by a protestor in Dizengoff Square solely because he dared to daven and hold the arba minim in a public space. I condemn this protestor’s actions vehemently. I have instructed the police to act with determination against these agitators, just as they arrested the people who were seen spitting on Christians yesterday.” (The spitting incident, by the way, is worthy of a separate report, but I will put it aside for now. All the rabbonim in Israel have denounced the spitters’ actions as a chillul Hashem.) Even the prime minister saw fit to release a statement of condemnation: “A protestor shoved Rabbi Leo Dee, who lost his wife and daughters in a murderous terror attack, only because he was wearing a tallis and holding the arba minim in the heart of Tel Aviv…. There is no limit to the hatred and madness,” Netanyahu added, insisting that the protestors ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Before the davening began, Dee explained his presence in Dizengoff Square: “We are praying for freedom of worship in Eretz Yisroel. I think that every Jew and every citizen of the State of Israel will agree with this. We do not want to disturb anyone; the idea is to support freedom of religion for everyone. Lucy and I came to Eretz Yisroel with our two daughters with the goal of raising them in a free Jewish country. This Yom Kippur, we saw that there isn’t such great freedom here. If we can’t practice our religion in Tel Aviv, then we have a major problem.”

Thousands of Shiurim in Hundreds of Shuls

I often write about the abundance of shiurim delivered in shuls and botei medrash throughout the country on Chol Hamoed, which I consider to be among the highlights of every Yom Tov. This year, the Israeli Yated Neeman dedicated several pages to a list of shiurim scheduled to be held over the course of the Yom Tov in a wide range of locations. Just to give you an idea of the scope of these shiurim, here is one item on the list: In the shul in Yeshivas Netzach Yisroel at Rechov Ibn Ezra 22 in Yerushalayim (which, I think, has never appeared on the list before), Rav Zevulun Schwartzman was scheduled to speak on Sunday, the first day of Chol Hamoed, at 12:30 p.m. At 6:15 p.m. on the same day, Rav Binyomin Finkel delivered a shiur. On Monday, the speakers were Rav Yosef Elefant and Rav Asher Weiss, followed by Rav Boruch Rosenblum and Rav Yaakov Hillel on Tuesday, Rav Elazar Meirowitz and Rav Yitzchok Mordechai Rubin on Wednesday, and Rav Aharon Tausig and Rav Menashe Yisroel Reisman on Thursday. And those are only a few shiurim out of the hundreds delivered across the country during the holiday. The list makes it possible for every individual to choose the shiurim that suit him. Personally, I tend to seek out opportunities to attend the shiurim of Rav Asher Weiss and Rav Noam Alon, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir in Modiin Illit.

When I saw the list of shiurim at the Chanichei HaYeshivos shul on Rechov HaChida in Bayit Vegan, my interest was piqued by the inclusion of Rav Issamar Garbuz, the rosh yeshiva of Orchos Torah (the yeshiva founded by Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman) and head of the network of kollelim for the study of Taharos founded by Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz. Rav Garbuz, who was slated to deliver the shiur on the first day of Chol Hamoed, is hailed as a brilliant Torah genius. On the following days, the shul hosted Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Hakohen Kook, Rav Yitzchok Hacker (who is already 90 years old), Rav Tzvi Braverman, and Rav Yitzchok Mordechai Rubin. On the first day of Chol Hamoed, however, Rav Garbuz was forced to cancel his shiur at the last minute, and the organizers had to scramble to find a replacement maggid shiur. The reason he was unable to come was that his brother-in-law, Rav Betzalel Edelstein, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ahavas Aharon in Bnei Brak, passed away the night before, and the levayah was held on the first day of Chol Hamoed. Rav Garbuz is the son-in-law of Rav Gershon Edelstein and thus was married to Rav Betzalel’s sister.

Getting Ready for Kesuvos in Mir

You may find it interesting to read about some of the sukkos that I visited during the course of Chol Hamoed. After all, part of the special joy and charm of Sukkos is the opportunity to host guests and to visit the homes of others.

First, there was the sukkah of Yair Ben-Shitrit, who has a very interesting story. Ben-Shitrit is a young Sephardic man who was very close to the late Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and, yibadel l’chaim, to Rav Shlomo Amar, two recent chief rabbis and Rishonim Letzion. As a young activist in the Shas party, he decided to study law and has since become one of the most well-known attorneys in the south. He lives in Kiryat Gat today.

Yair Ben-Shitrit is a living example of a person who broke through the glass ceiling, succeeding far beyond anyone’s expectations. His simchas bais hoshoevah was attended by many dignitaries from the southern area of the country, and the guests of honor were two ministers from the Shas party: Michoel Malchieli, the Minister of Religious Affairs, and Yaakov Margi, the Minister of Welfare. I can tell you that the event was highly uplifting and meaningful for everyone who was present.

Incidentally, Michoel Malchieli was forced to apologize before Yom Tov for the fact that his ministry had provided funding for packages of treats to be distributed to children in shuls on Simchas Torah, in yet another sign of the shameful insanity in this country.

Another interesting event that I attended was a simchas bais hashoevah combined with a siyum on an impressive eight masechtos. (Have no fear; the organizers carefully checked out whether it was a violation of the halacha of “ein me’arvin simcha b’simcha.”) The event was held by two residents of Har Nof—Rabbi Meir Rosenthal, the youngest son of Rav Yaakov Nissan Rosenthal, the late rov of Haifa, and Rabbi Yosef Fersicherter. Rosenthal has a massive sukkah that was able to accommodate dozens of guests at the event. I especially enjoyed meeting a couple from Brooklyn named Shlomo and Chana Mantel, who are close friends of the host; I believe that they traveled to Eretz Yisroel for Yom Tov specifically to attend this siyum. I actually am acquainted with Shlomo Mantel since my youth; his father, Rav Yonah Mantel, was a distinguished tzaddik from Bnei Brak who was affiliated with the Torah institutions in Beer Yaakov and was a close personal friend of my father. Chana Mantel (nee Igell) is the author of the English book Lidingo, about the school founded in Sweden by my grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, in collaboration with Rav Shlomo Wolbe. Mrs. Mantel’s father, Nissan Igell, was the principal of the school; without his presence, the two founding rabbonim would not have been able to receive permits from the Swedish government for the school to operate. His wife, Mrs. Igell, served as a surrogate mother to the girls who survived the Holocaust and became students in the school.

There was one more sight that I cannot help but share with you: the chavrusa between Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel and Rav Binyomin Finkel, who sat together in a sukkah on Hoshana Rabbah and learned Kesuvos in preparation for the upcoming zman in the Mir yeshiva. Rabbi Eli Landesman, a member of the yeshiva’s faculty, told me that this is the continuation of a tradition begun by Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel and Rav Aryeh Finkel, who used to sit together every year on Hoshana Rabbah to learn the masechta that the yeshiva was scheduled to begin in the winter.

Who Warned the Participants That Rav Garbuz Wasn’t Coming?

When the organizers were informed that Rav Garbuz wouldn’t be able to show up, they managed to quickly recruit another brilliant talmid chochom and well-known orator to replace him: Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Lorintz, who is a member of the faculty of Yeshivas Toras Zev, headed by Rav Boruch Soloveitchik. (You may recall that Rav Boruch was interviewed in this newspaper not long ago.) Rav Lorintz, who is known for his unique charm, may have been persuaded partly by the fact that the shiurim in the shul were organized by an industrious bochur named Ariel Katzburg, who is a talmid in Yeshivas Toras Zev. Katzburg’s connection to the program is simple: The yeshivas bein hazemanim program in the shul, which is one of the most successful such programs in the neighborhood and possibly in all of Yerushalayim, is named Toras Chaim, for the late Rav Chaim Katzburg.

Of course, Rav Lorintz humbly did not reject the invitation on the grounds that it was beneath his dignity to serve as a replacement for a different speaker. On the contrary, he accepted the invitation graciously and gladly, and he enthralled the large audience at his presentation, many of whom reported that it was a delight and an uplifting experience to listen to him. What makes this an interesting story, though, is the fact that a distinguished-looking man appeared at the entrance to the shul at around 12:00 in the afternoon and informed every person who arrived, “Rav Garbuz isn’t coming; someone else will be delivering the shiur in his place.” The stranger seemed to be intent on doing a favor for anyone who came to the shul specifically to hear from Rav Garbuz and might be disappointed by the change of speaker; this would give them the opportunity to go to a different shul instead. A few of the men, however, were tempted to rebuke the stranger for interfering with the crowds arriving for the shiur. After all, the attendees would soon discover that a different speaker would be there, and if some of them were warned away, Rav Lorintz might be embarrassed to discover that the bais medrash was partially empty when he arrived for his shiur.

Soon enough, the room was filled with an audience of hundreds of yeshiva bochurim, yungeleit, and baalebatim, all of whom enjoyed the captivating shiur. Perhaps most amazingly, when the shiur began, they discovered that the stranger who had been standing outside the shul and warning them about the change of plans was none other than Rav Lorintz himself.

Apparently, he delivered not only a shiur halacha but an object lesson in humility and refinement as well.

Yuli Edelstein Visits Sander Gerber

My visit to Sander Gerber’s sukkah was also an interesting experience. I have written about Gerber in the past; he is an incredible person who lives in New York (and owns an apartment in the Shaarei Chessed area of Yerushalayim). One of the issues that troubles him is the treatment received by Palestinian security prisoners in Israel, especially the fact that they receive enormous stipends from the Palestinian Authority. Gerber has already successfully lobbied for the passage of a law in Washington on this subject, followed by another law in Yerushalayim; these measures call for the governments to offset the funds used by the PA to pay wages to convicted terrorists. He also recently managed to have a law introduced in the Israeli Knesset, which passed its preliminary reading, that requires the PA to be held criminally responsible for terror attacks in Israel. Gerber dubbed this bill the “Paley children’s law,” after the two young children who were murdered in a terror attack earlier this year. His sukkah was also visited by Yuli Edelstein, the former Knesset speaker who serves today as the chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, along with Simcha Rothman, the leader of the judicial reform and chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee, and Yitzchok Pindrus of Degel HaTorah, who took it upon himself to see to it that Gerber’s law would be passed after a meeting of the MKs of Shas and Degel HaTorah at the home of Rav Boruch Weisbecker. Also present were a number of Gerber’s colleagues in the New York business community.

While this group gathered in Gerber’s sukkah, bands of unruly protestors, some opposed to the judicial reform and others in favor of it, assembled in the street below and shouted raucously. Meanwhile, a simchas bais hashoevah was underway in the sukkah. Yuli Edelstein delivered a speech praising our host, which he began by voicing his chagrin over the noisy protest in the street below. “Considering that you invited MK Rothman,” he said wryly, “you were surely not surprised that the protestors came as well.”

Rothman replied, “You know, I received an image from the protestors’ social media group. They wrote that everyone should come here and protest because Yuli was going to be here. They are here for you, not for me!”

Someone pointed out that the arba minim represent four different categories of Jews, symbolizing the need to reach out even to those who are far removed from Yiddishkeit.

Edelstein also spoke about a law that he is advancing in the Knesset, which calls for the payment of compensation to victims of terror. This bill was also proposed on the initiative of Sander Gerber, together with attorney Asher Stub. Edelstein praised Gerber for his activism on this subject, including the passage of the Taylor Force Act in America and the similar law in Israel, as well as for his current initiative, which is meant to ensure that terror victims will be able to sue anyone who funds terrorism and to receive 10 million shekels in punitive damages. This bill is meant to address the Palestinian Authority’s “pay for slay” policy, which calls for terrorists and their families to receive monetary rewards for murdering Jews. The first member of the Knesset to sign on the proposed bill was Yitzchok Pindrus, and 33 members of the coalition and opposition followed suit. It is hoped that the bill will force the State of Israel to perform its moral duty to the victims of terror. The proposed bill will make it possible for terror victims to file civil suits against entities involved in funding terror and to receive appropriate compensation. There is precedent for such a measure elsewhere in the world. American law allows terror victims to sue the financial backers of terror for tens of millions of dollars; for some reason, Israeli law has failed to keep up. This has left the State of Israel bereft of an inexpensive and highly effective weapon for the battle against terror, and has been a serious injustice to the victims of terror who had not received appropriate damages. This bill is intended to force the PA to bear responsibility for damages caused to terror victims as a result of its own murderous policies.

No one could have dreamed that these laws would become so much more meaningful within a matter of days, due to the shocking events of Simchas Torah.

Fascinating Developments in the Local Elections

Another topic of interest, which has nothing to do with Sukkos, is the upcoming elections for local governments. Of course, the current war might cause the elections to be postponed, but the voting is currently scheduled to be held on Tuesday, 16 Cheshvan/October 31. This time, things are very complicated, as I will explain.

In the past, Degel HaTorah and Shas had an agreement concerning the elections in the city of Elad, which called for both parties to support the Shas candidate in this year’s election. In the previous election, Shas supported the candidacy of Yitzchok Pindrus on behalf of Degel HaTorah; however, Pindrus was disqualified by the court when someone petitioned against his candidacy, arguing that he did not live in the city. As a result, the agreement wasn’t honored this time.

The Shas party reacted by announcing that it plans to designate its own candidates for the mayoral elections in Bnei Brak, Biet Shemesh, Beitar Illit, and Rechasim. In other words, the party has withdrawn from all its agreements throughout the country. The chances of the Shas candidates actually winning the elections are marginal, but this turn of events certainly shook the entire system out of its somnolence. Shmuel Greenberg of Beit Shemesh, for instance, knew that he was vying against the current mayor, Aliza Bloch. (It does not matter who helped her win the previous election, which should have been won easily by then-incumbent Mayor Moshe Abutbul.) Now, however, he has two opponents: Bloch and Moshe Abutbul. In Bnei Brak, as well, everyone has always known that the elections are meaningless; the outcome is always determined in advance by a rotation agreement between Agudas Yisroel and Degel HaTorah. This time, however, MK Uriel Bosso of Shas has joined the game as a third player. Perhaps I will write about this subject at greater length in the future. For now, let us daven that we will hear only good news.

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