Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

My Take on The News

 

Yeshiva Bochur Murdered in Terror Attack on Friday

Last Friday, while we are all busy preparing for Shabbos, our hearts were shattered by the news of another terror attack, this time in the center of the country. This attack took place in the vicinity of Masmiya, in an area that is familiar to anyone who has traveled to the south. It is slightly past Yesodot, Beit Chilkiya, and Chofetz Chaim. On a personal note, I used to drive through that area every week when I visited my son when he was learning in yeshiva in Kiryat Malachi. The radio reported that there were two fatalities in the attack, although some rumors placed the number at three. We all anxiously awaited information on the identities of the victims.

It was the 133rd day of the war, shortly after 12:00 in the afternoon. The terrorist arrived by car from the Re’em Junction, made a U-turn, emerged from his car, and opened fire on the bus stop, killing two 20-year-old men. Four other people were wounded, including two who are in serious condition. The terrorist was eliminated by an armed civilian.

We soon discovered that the terrorist was a resident of the Shuafat in East Yerushalayim, which means that he held Israeli citizenship and a standard Israeli identity card. The injured were evacuated by MDA paramedics to Kaplan Hospital in Rechovot and Assuta Hospital in Ashdod. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai came to the site of the attack, and Yamam soldiers were summoned as well. The identities of the victims were soon released: One was a young soldier named Uri Yaish, and the other was a yeshiva bochur named Yishai Gartner.

Yishai was a resident of Modiin Illit and originally a talmid in Yeshivas Maor HaTalmud, who has been spending the past year in Yeshivas Kiryat Malachi. It is a common practice in Eretz Yisroel for some of the foremost talmidim in the country’s top yeshivos to spend a period of time in Yeshivas Kiryat Malachi, where they serve as chavrusos for bochurim advancing in their Yiddishkeit. Yishai was buried on motzoei Shabbos in the cemetery in Elad and was eulogized by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Yehuda Amit.

On Sunday afternoon, policemen and soldiers arrived at the terrorist’s home in Shuafat to prepare it for demolition, and the local residents began rioting. The occupants of the house were removed and its contents were cleared out before the building was sealed, and the neighbors continued rioting while this took place; stones and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the Israeli forces, who responded with riot dispersal measures. At long last, the Israeli forces managed to clear the house and seal its entrances. The police are working with the relevant authorities to try to expedite the process of demolishing the house. This incident should give you an idea of the type of enemies that Israel is facing—and these are Arabs who enjoy full Israeli citizenship. May Hashem protect us!

Last week, the media reported that two attempted terror attacks had been thwarted, one in the Old City of Yerushalayim and the other at a checkpoint near Beitar Illit. Unfortunately, these reports barely attract any attention, although every terror attack that is thwarted should be celebrated as a miraculous salvation. The double murder at the Masmiya junction should serve as a reminder to us of the tragedies that have the potential to result from these acts of terror. May Hashem continue protecting all of us.

CIA Director Visits Israel

The issue of the hostages in Gaza is still receiving constant attention. Hamas has been increasing its demands, exploiting the fact that the Israeli people are unable to continue tolerating the pain of the hostages’ plight. The terror group is also aware that the hostages’ families have been staging demonstrations to pressure the government to make concessions for their release. Netanyahu recently had to decide whether to send a delegation to Egypt to negotiate another deal with Hamas for the release of hostages, but he chose to turn down those meetings due to the terror group’s exorbitant demands. He was especially piqued by Hamas’s failure to keep its end of the deal to deliver medications to the hostages, despite the fact that truckloads of medicine were permitted to enter Gaza.

In the midst of this conflict and confusion, Israel received a visit from William Burns, the director of the CIA, who met with Netanyahu and the head of the Shin Bet. The details of these meetings were not leaked to the media, which is a good thing, but I can relay to you the basic facts as they were officially reported. The visiting American official asked the prime minister to allow Israeli delegates to travel to Cairo, to discuss “humanitarian gestures” to Gaza and to try to make progress on a hostage deal. The rationale for this request is that such a deal, if it is achieved, will certainly include humanitarian aspects. The Americans feel that while the parties haven’t yet been able to reach an agreement on the core issues, it will at least cause Hamas to soften its stance if an agreement is advanced on the humanitarian front.

Netanyahu’s response thus far has been to reject the American request. He insists on receiving evidence that the medications that were transferred to Gaza several weeks ago were delivered to the hostages. The American officials were unable to confirm that the medicines were delivered and Burns told Netanyahu that he would have to check that detail with the Qataris. The Israeli government says that a humanitarian delegation will set out after this question is answered.

Thirty Families of Hostages Spend Shabbos Together

I discovered that thirty families of hostages in Gaza organized a joint Shabbos this past week. For most of them, it was the first time they had ever observed Shabbos!

Let me explain how this fact came to my attention.

Although I am often present at official meetings, there are times when I cannot quote the statements made during those occasions, regardless of how powerful or compelling they may be. That was the case in the Knesset last Monday, when Aryeh Deri met with Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot. It was clear from the outset that the conversation was going to be interesting. A few minutes after the meeting began, a large group of family members of the hostages in Gaza arrived. Based on the exchange of embraces, it was clear to me that this was not their first meeting with Aryeh Deri. As I mentioned, it would be highly irresponsible of me to quote any comments that were made during that discussion. I will tell you only in general terms that the families seemed to be placing their loved ones’ fates in the hands of the three men sitting in that room, all of whom are members of the cabinet. I can also reveal that Aryeh Deri cautioned the visitors to be circumspect, perhaps subtly hinting that they should refrain from making unbridled verbal attacks on the prime minister. The dialogue was piercing, emotionally laden, and laced with a sense of responsibility, and the discussion was also highly pragmatic.

Shir Siegel, daughter of Keith and Adrienne Siegel, spoke during the course of the meeting. The Siegels moved from America to Kfar Azza forty years ago and were abducted on Simchas Torah. Adrienne (Aviva) Siegel was released from captivity on the 13th of Kislev, but her husband, Keith, is still being held by Hamas. Adrienne and her daughter are fighting for Keith’s freedom. At one point, Shir whispered a comment to Aryeh Deri that caught my attention: “It’s a shame that you weren’t with us on Shabbos.” My curiosity was immediately piqued; what Shabbos was she referring to?

I couldn’t hold myself back from questioning her later about this remark, and she revealed that Yaffa Deri and two other women—her daughter Margalit and Shelly Shem-Tov, the mother of Omer, another hostage in Gaza—had organized a Shabbos in a hotel in Yerushalayim for the families of the hostages. In a heart-to-heart conversation, Yaffa Deri had echoed the words of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to Rebbetzin Miri Gabbai: “If you want Hashem to perform a yeshuah for you that defies the laws of nature, then you must do something to rise above nature.” The women accepted the proposal, and thus was born the idea of a Shabbos to be shared by the families, in collaboration with Kesher Yehudi. Thirty families signed up for the Shabbos experience with Yaffa Deri. Shir Siegel spoke tearfully about the experience, which was the first time that some of the families had ever observed Shabbos. “Please daven for my father; his Hebrew name is Shmuel ben Gladys,” she added.

A Miraculous Rescue

This was followed by the Shas party’s weekly conference, which was likewise attended by family members of the hostages. This time, the visitors came from the Tikva Forum. The grandmother of Idan Alexander spoke about her grandson, a lone soldier from America who was abducted to Gaza, and about her own experience during that highly moving Shabbos. The brother of Naama Levi said with deep emotion, “G-d has chosen you to help us…. This week, you saw how all of Am Yisroel rejoiced when two hostages were rescued in a military operation. I don’t think we would seen that level of joy even if Sinwar’s head had been brought back on a stake. The Jewish people want their children to come home; that is their greatest source of joy.” There is certainly truth to this comment.

Everyone was also moved by Eliyohu Libman, the head of the Kiryat Arba council and father of another hostage, Elyokim Shlomo Libman. He sat together with Yair and Noam Mor, the brothers of Eitan Mor, a friend of his son who is likewise being held captive in Gaza. Elyokim and Eitan had the opportunity to escape from the inferno on October 7, but they chose to save others rather than fleeing to safety. That decision ultimately led both of them to fall into the hands of Hamas.

“We understand that many terrorists were killed in the rescue operation in which Fernando Simon Marman and Louis Har were brought home,” Yair said. “That is what we have in mind when we speak about recovering the hostages ‘at any price.’”

With that, I believe you have all the important news. As Yair Mor mentioned, the country wept with joy when the IDF managed to rescue two of the hostages in Gaza. The Tikva Forum, incidentally, is an organization that was established to counter the influence of the forum of the hostages’ families working with publicist Ronen Tzur. The latter group has taken an extremely militant stance and is exerting enormous pressure on the government to agree to any concessions demanded by Hamas in exchange for their loved ones’ freedom. The Tikva Forum has been firmly promoting the opposite position: using uncompromising military force against Hamas. This past week, the families who were working with Ronen Tzur seem to have realized that his approach has been harming their cause, and they appear to have parted ways with him.

Why Are Bnei Yeshivos in the Public Eye?

I have already written about the public scrutiny that is being focused on bnei yeshivos at this time. The situation is likely to get even worse, as more agitators are likely to join the chorus of voices clamoring for yeshiva bochurim to be drafted, in a bid to score political points.

Why has this issue arisen now? The answer is very simple. For one thing, the draft deferments for yeshiva bochurim always serve as fodder for incitement against the chareidi community. There are also two objective factors that have made this particularly relevant at this time. One of those factors is the war, which was bound to bring the issue of the yeshiva draft deferment to the fore, especially since the IDF has revealed that it is suffering from a manpower shortage. While there are plenty of secular Israelis who do not join the army, and there are thousands of soldiers in the army who do not exactly contribute much to its operations, the army is dealing with a shortage of combat soldiers in particular. And it is not surprising that this led to calls for the chareidim to be drafted. The Knesset is now in the process of passing a law increasing the days of reserve service required of the average secular citizen. Every citizen of Israel, especially one who serves in a combat unit, is required to serve in the IDF reserves for one month a year. The purpose of this is to ensure that the soldiers retain their skills and training. The Knesset intends to increase the duration of the annual reserve service and to require more citizens to participate in the reserves as well. Naturally, this attracted even more attention for the draft deferment for yeshiva bochurim.

The other reason that this has become an issue of contention is the fact that the draft law is no longer in effect, as I have explained in numerous articles in the past. This is truly a thorny problem. The Supreme Court was petitioned long ago to strike down the practice of issuing deferments to talmidei yeshivos. Although the secular agitators like to claim that yeshiva bochurim are exempted from the army, that isn’t actually the case; they receive only a deferment from military service, not an outright exemption. Every yeshiva bochur is required to appear at the draft office twice a year and to present a document from his yeshiva attesting that he is enrolled there, along with a document from the Vaad HaYeshivos confirming that he is a ben yeshiva who is entitled to another six-month deferment. A bochur who leaves yeshiva and is no longer eligible for these documents becomes automatically subject to the draft. The Supreme Court ruled that this arrangement is unequal and constitutes discrimination against the secular public, and the law was overturned. Efforts were made to formulate new versions of the draft law, but the judges remained unsatisfied even with the new formulas. The court clearly wants to see thousands of yeshiva bochurim, or at least chareidim who aren’t actually in yeshiva, joining the IDF. At this point, there has been no official draft law in place for the past few months, which makes the draft deferments technically illegal, and the government is at a loss as to how to deal with the issue. For the time being, the old procedure is still being followed and yeshiva bochurim are continuing to receive their deferments, but we are waiting for further developments. But that is another reason that the issue has attracted a good deal of attention from the public.

The War Requires Us to Learn Better

To be honest, I anticipated that the war would generate a wave of hostility to yeshiva bochurim, but I never imagined that it would happen so quickly or that it would be so intense. A full-page ad that appeared in Haaretz has led me to the conclusion that there is a guiding hand and a significant source of funding behind this campaign. The advertisement was worded in the most provocative possible fashion, stridently declaring that “we will no longer accept a law that distinguishes between the blood [of different people]; we are all obligated to guarantee the survival of the State of Israel.”

Yair Lapid, who was quick to jump on the bandwagon of incitement, soon released the following venomous message: “In the middle of the war, when soldiers are being killed every day and reservists are collapsing financially, the government has brought the law of draft evasion upon us. No chareidi will enlist, no chareidi will risk his life, and no chareidi will suffer economic harm.” Here, too, every word seems to have been carefully calculated to yield the maximum resentment. Lapid is also wrong; the government hasn’t been working on a law to promote draft evasion or even draft deferments. All it has done is formulate a new law increasing the days of reserve service and the wages of combat soldiers. The pathological enemies of chareidi society don’t really need a pretext for their verbal offensives, but a bid to expand reserve service always gives them prime material for incitement. It is saddening to read these hateful comments, but it is also ironic that these accusations come from a man who never risked his own life for his country.

It would be a mistake to downplay the significance of the rising tide of incitement, especially since it is expanding to include people who have never displayed enmity toward the chareidi community before. We must appreciate the prescience of the gedolim who warned us at the beginning of this war that no one should leave the bais medrash. The enthusiastic wave of chareidi volunteer work has turned out to be a double-edged sword; providing ammunition for those who are calling for yeshiva bochurim to be conscripted.

The real obligation that is incumbent on all of us during this war is the duty to redouble our Torah learning and davening. This is a point that has been made by the gedolei Yisroel throughout the months since the calamity of Simchas Torah.

This week, I visited the bais medrash of Yeshivas Knesses Shlomo (on the grounds of Yeshivas Landau), where I watched the rosh yeshiva, Rav Nemitovsky, as well as two rabbeim, Rav Tzvi Amit and Rav Yisroel Schiff, and dozens of bochurim immersed in Torah learning. I observed the solemnity and serious sense of duty reflected in the bochurim’s expressions; there was a palpable sense in the air that if they gave up their efforts, the foundations of the earth might give way.

I am sure that the immortal words of the Mesillas Yeshorim were echoing in the bochurim’s minds: “A person must be cognizant that he was brought into this world not for rest, but rather for toil and exertion. He should conduct himself like the laborers who work for their employers and like the soldiers of the army in their wars, who eat rapidly and sleep without a regular schedule, and who are always ready for battle.” The responsibility of lomdei Torah at this time isn’t to prepare food packages for soldiers; on the contrary, their task is to mirror the soldiers’ dedication in their own commitment to Torah learning. This fact has clearly been impressed on our country’s bnei yeshivos, as is apparent to anyone who has visited the yeshivos during this time. Something has indeed changed; the bochurim have ramped up their learning and davening, copying the example of the soldiers and standing ready to fight the eternal war against the yetzer hora at all times, with the clear knowledge that the entire world is depending on them.

Chief of Staff Joins Calls to Draft Chareidim

What drives the wave of antipathy toward yeshiva bochurim? There are some public figures in Israel who are driven by hatred and there are also politicians who are seeking political gain. However, it does not end there. The problem today is that the calls to draft talmidei yeshivos are being echoed by people who are not generally viewed as enemies of Yiddishkeit or politically motivated. One of those people is Herzi Halevi, the current chief of staff of the IDF, who delivered a speech last week in which he spoke out against any version of the draft law that would allow all yeshiva bochurim to continue learning.

“At this time, there is an ongoing discussion regarding the place of the army of the people,” the chief of staff said. “I would like to respond to the questions with definitive answers. The State of Israel, for the sake of its security, must maintain the model of an army of the people. This is a model that requires the conscription of as many parts of the Israeli populace as possible.” In case that hint wasn’t clear enough, Halevi continued, “With the proper accommodations, there is a place and a way to implement this goal in the developing society of Israel. Our position is clear: Everyone must serve. For seventy-five years, that has been the secret of the IDF’s strength. Especially at a time of discord within Israeli society, the IDF is the solution that unites us all, and it has a place for everyone.”

It will be very difficult for any chareidi spokesman to respond to these comments, since no one can claim that the chief of staff was motivated by political considerations. In fact, Halevi made these remarks at the very moments that the chareidi political leaders were meeting with Netanyahu and struggling to come up with a solution for the country’s yeshiva bochurim, fully cognizant of the intense pressure the government is facing from the Supreme Court.

The State Asks for an Extension

Last Thursday, the state responded to a request from Supreme Court Justice Uzi Fogelman for an update on the decision regarding the draft for talmidei yeshivos. “It is impossible to pinpoint a specific date for a decision on this matter,” the state wrote in its response to the judge. “Efforts are underway to resolve it.” Meanwhile, the chareidi community has found itself in an unprecedented situation, with no draft law on the books but no actual draft taking place. How long will this continue? It is obvious that this state of affairs will not continue indefinitely.

According to the response provided by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry to the court, the issue is under discussion at the highest levels of the government, and the relevant authorities are working hard to arrive at a concrete decision.

The pressure from the court came in response to yet another petition, which argued that the government should not be permitted to refrain from drafting chareidim in the absence of a law explicitly permitting deferments. The petitioners argued that the government’s decision to continue issuing deferments is a violation of the Defense Service Law, which requires everyone subject to the draft to be treated equally, and that it has effectively created an unauthorized arrangement for draft exemptions that runs against the provisions of the law and the rulings of the court. The petitioners accused the government of effectively showing contempt for the Supreme Court, and noted pointedly that the law providing for yeshiva bochurim to avoid conscription expired on June 30, 2023.

On Thursday, the government asked the court for a one-week extension before submitting its response to the claims. “The complex issue is still being reviewed by government officials on the highest levels,” the official letter explained, “and final positions have yet to be formulated on a number of issues that must be resolved before the state can determine its final position and prepare its response. In the absence of a final position on which to base the state’s determinations, additional time is needed for the respondents to prepare an organized response addressing the various issues.”

Obsession with Religion

The state budget is currently being debated in various Knesset committees after receiving the Knesset’s approval in its first reading. The budget will soon be brought to the Knesset again for its final approval, but this process has given the enemies of Yiddishkeit an opportunity to speak out against the religious community. The economic newspapers seem to have an almost pathological obsession with funding for religious matters; such items are regularly singled out for condemnation. This week, for instance, a full-page article appeared with a headline accusing the Minister of Religious Affairs of seeking to promote regulations whose purpose is solely to create more jobs. “According to a source working for the state,” the article claimed, “loosening the requirements for a position on a religious council will make it easier to appoint close associates who do not currently meet the threshold requirements for the job. This seems like an effort to bolster the Shas party’s job-creating apparatus.”

The writer of this article seemed to have found a new government source to interview: Matan Kahana, the former lackluster Minister of Religious Affairs. Most of the quotes in the article were attributed to Kahana, and something else caught my attention as well. Four months ago, Kahana said, “Minister Malchieli is proud of erasing the Kahana legacy. He is proud of returning the kashrus industry to the era of corruption. He is proud of distancing the rabbinate from the people and making it part of the Shas party’s job-creating apparatus.” This was an eerie echo of the words of the anonymous source quoted by the article. Is it possible that that quote, too, originated with Kahana?

But let me address the substance of this claim. Yehuda Avidan, the director-general of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, explained that the new regulations actually entail more rigid criteria for the appointment of a public representative. The positions will now require official approval and will be subject to term limits, which means that the criticism in this article is actually based on falsehood. But even worse than that is the media’s obsessive tendency to decry anything with the slightest connection to religion. It has reached the point of being sickening.

Knesset Discusses Fatal Road Accidents

Last Monday, I came across four brief news items sharing a single tragic common denominator: A motorist in Haifa was moderately injured in a road accident, a boy in Beit Shemesh was seriously injured in an accident involving a go-kart, a motorcyclist was severely injured in a traffic accident on Route 471, and a woman was moderately injured in an accident on Route 6 at the Eyal Interchange. All of these stories were very sad. Every one of these accidents certainly devastated an entire family, and each victim’s life was surely changed irrevocably. It is deeply distressing to ponder the fact that many such accidents can easily be prevented with a bit more caution. The government should really evaluate whether it is investing the necessary resources to ensure road safety and proper infrastructure.

Many members of the Knesset submitted urgent motions for the agenda on this very topic this week: the scourge of fatal road accidents. The motions were submitted by Yonosan Mashriki of the Shas party, Moshe Roth of UTJ, Tsega Melaku of Likud, Boaz Toporovsky of Yesh Atid, Ahmed Tibi, and Yasser Hujeirat. Many urgent motions are filed every week, but the Knesset presidium approves only four or five topics for discussion. This week, four topics were approved, and the subject of fatalities on the roads was one of them. The presidium also approved a motion for the Knesset to salute pro-Israel activists on college campuses around the world and another motion dealing with the discrimination against residents of Sderot and the government’s failure to grant evacuees an extension of their stay in hotels.

Spreading Smiles

I will end this week’s column with another insight from Reb Nissim Chajaj, my devoted barber in Givat Shaul who is always regaling me with divrei Torah. This week, when I was by Nissim, I offered to share a vort that I had heard from Rav Aviezer Piltz. Nissim was certain that I was quoting a lecturer from Hidabroot; he was pleased when I informed him that Rav Piltz is the rosh yeshiva of Tifrach, a yeshiva with hundreds of bochurim. Rav Piltz’s comment deals with the Gemara’s statement, “A person who whitens his teeth to his friend is greater than one who provides him with milk to drink.” I turned to Nissim and challenged him to explain the meaning of that statement.

Nissim was happy to accept the challenge. “It is a Gemara at the end of Kesuvos,” he replied. “It means that the person smiles at his friend and shows him a kindly expression.”

“Very nice,” I replied. “But Rav Piltz added that it does not merely mean smiling at another person. It actually refers to bringing happiness to another person to the point that he smiles as well. The Gemara is referring to someone who causes another person to show the whiteness of his own teeth.”

Nissim beamed with pleasure. When the full significance of the insight occurred to him, he even performed an impromptu dance in the middle of his shop. “That reminds me of another insight,” he said. “Chazal tell us, ‘Who is wealthy? He who rejoices in his lot.’ That is a mishnah in Pirkei Avos, and I once heard a rov comment that it refers to a person who is happy for someone else who possesses his own lot. What do you think of that?”

It was my turn to marvel at the insight, and Reb Nissim continued, “You know, the Gemara tells us the definition of a wealthy person. You are surely familiar with this Gemara, which appears on daf kaf heh of Maseches Shabbos. The Gemara states there that a wealthy person is someone who has satisfaction from his wealth. It is similar to the wording of the mishnah, but slightly different. Interesting, isn’t it?”

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