Tuesday, Jul 23, 2024

My Take on the News

Political Upheaval in the Government

I am not sure if you heard much about it, but there was a minor explosion in the government last week. There is a man in the Knesset by the name of Gideon Saar, who once resigned from the Likud party and was confident that he would be voted in as prime minister. If I were to try to write about all the events of his political career, the newspaper would run out of ink before I had a chance to finish the story, so we will simply skip to the end. About two years ago, before the election for the 25th Knesset, Saar joined forces with Benny Gantz to form a party consisting of Saar’s faction, known as the New Hope party, and Gantz’s party, the Israel Resilience Party. These two factions merged to form the National Unity Party. This slate received twelve mandates in the election, four of which are held by Saar and his colleagues (Zeev Elkin and two female Knesset members). All four members of the New Hope faction are former members of the Likud party. The glue binding the right-wing Gideon Saar with the center-left Benny Gantz, and the only common ground between them, was their shared hatred for Netanyahu. (The widespread antipathy toward Netanyahu in the political world is a phenomenon that sometimes begs explanation. Some believe that it has to do with his wife, Sara Netanyahu, but we will put that subject aside for now.)

As you are likely aware, Benny Gantz remained in the opposition when Netanyahu formed a government and a coalition together with the chareidi parties and the right-wing Religious Zionism party led by Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. The government was immediately labeled an “extremist” regime, and the Americans did not (and still do not) approve of it. When the war broke out on Simchas Torah, Gantz and Saar brought their party into the government, and some of its members joined the cabinet as well. There is no question that Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot, both of whom are former chiefs of staff of the IDF, have made valuable contributions to the cabinet during this time. Gideon Saar, however, was not invited to join the cabinet. All three men—Gantz, Eizenkot, and Saar—officially hold the title of minister without portfolio.

Two weeks ago, Gideon Saar announced that he was breaking off his partnership with Benny Gantz and launching a new right-wing party with the four seats in the Knesset that he holds.

The big question is whether Saar’s departure will have any impact on the expanded coalition. Will Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot remain in the government and cabinet? And what about Saar? Will he quit the government in addition to parting ways with Gantz? For the time being, Gantz and Eizenkot are showing no signs of leaving, but things are getting more complicated since Gideon Saar is demanding to be included in the cabinet as well. If Netanyahu gives in to him, then Ben-Gvir and Smotrich will demand seats at the table as well. After all, if Gideon Saar qualifies for the cabinet by virtue of holding four mandates in the Knesset, then Smotrich and Ben-Gvir should be equally entitled to have a say in its decisions. But if they do join the cabinet, then Benny Gantz and Gadi Eizenkot will immediately jump ship. To make matters worse, this will antagonize the Americans, who are already displeased by the inclusion of the two “extremists,” Ben-Gvir and Smotrich, in the government. If these two men become members of the war cabinet as well, the United States government will take a very dim view of it. To make a long story short, Netanyahu is in a bind.

A number of ideas have been floated for Netanyahu to deal with this dilemma. One suggestion is that anyone who joins the war cabinet should be told that he will have to give up his ministerial portfolio. Gideon Saar does not have a portfolio, so that will not pose a problem for him, but one can assume that Betzalel Smotrich will not be eager to give up the finance portfolio and that Itamar Ben-Gvir will be reluctant to part with his position as public security minister. This might therefore be a way to maneuver Saar into the cabinet while keeping Smotrich and Ben-Gvir out. For the time being, however, none of these ideas is ready to be put into practice. The Purim break has given Netanyahu a few days of quiet, but he will certainly have to come up with a plan by the end of the week.

Draft Crisis Looms Over the Government

Another looming crisis that threatens to destabilize the government and Netanyahu’s grip on power is the issue of the draft law. I have written about it in the past, but I will quickly recap the basic situation here. The draft law was originally struck down by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the law permitting draft deferments for yeshiva bochurim and kollel yungeleit was in violation of Israel’s Basic Laws. When the deadline for passing a new law came and went, the government made an administrative decision to delay the conscription of yeshiva bochurim for a period of time despite a legal framework for such deferments. The Supreme Court quickly received petitions for the judges to order the government to draft all yeshiva bochurim immediately and to withdraw funding from yeshivos for harboring draft dodgers. The court accepted these petitions and ruled that the government’s decision has no legal weight and that a law must be passed immediately to prevent the yeshiva bochurim from being drafted.

The problem isn’t that the coalition has no desire to rectify the issue. Netanyahu is completely willing to try to pass a new draft law in the Knesset. And in principle, the coalition has a majority and it should not be a problem for such a law to be passed. However, there are certain dissenting voices within the Likud party insisting that the status quo must end. The war in Gaza and the IDF’s announcement of a manpower shortage have convinced them that the time has come to end the draft deferment for bnei yeshivos. And even if Netanyahu manages to force the entire coalition to go along with a new law, there is another hurdle waiting in the wings: The law will have to pass muster in the Supreme Court. Any law that does not include quotas and sanctions is bound to be dismissed by the court as a sham, but the chareidi parties will never accept a draft quota. Sanctions, on the other hand, might be a different story. The chareidim have rejected economic sanctions in the past, but they are aware that it might become necessary to compromise on that issue now. The Vaad HaYeshivos has already informed the Supreme Court that the chareidim may be willing to forgo funding for yeshivos. One can only hope that that will be enough to placate the judges.

Gantz Demands Quotas

As if all those challenges weren’t enough, Netanyahu is facing yet another hurdle in his efforts to pass a new draft law: It will also have to receive the approval of Benny Gantz and his colleagues. This obstacle was placed before him by Defense Minister Gallant, who is responsible for submitting any new draft law to the government and the Knesset; the defense minister announced recently that he will not submit a law that hasn’t received the approval of the entire coalition, which means that it will have to be approved by Gantz. And Benny Gantz has already made it clear that he will not agree to any draft law that doesn’t include targets for capping the number of bnei yeshivos who will be permitted to receive deferments. For the chareidi parties, however, this is a non-starter. The gedolei Yisroel are insistent that no bochur who is sitting and learning should be drafted, which means that Gallant’s position will lead to a deadlock. In the interim, the government asked the Supreme Court to extend the deadline for its response to the petitions, and the court agreed to extend it until March 27, a date that is rapidly drawing near.

Last Wednesday, Netanyahu and Gantz sent representatives to meet with former minister Ariel Attias, who is considered the Shas party’s resident expert on the issue of the draft. Gantz’s party is insisting on a bill that will contain certain basic provisions, such as an administrative body that will assess chareidi youths and determine whether they should be sent to national service or to the army, and the imposition of a limit on the number of bochurim permitted to remain in yeshivos. But as I said, the chareidim will never accept that demand. This meeting picked up on the discussion at a more extensive meeting held on the previous Monday with Defense Minister Gallant, which included Benny Gantz, Aryeh Deri, Ariel Attias, Gadi Eizenkot, and Chili Tropper, whom Gantz considers to be an expert on the draft. The meeting was held after Gantz refused to meet with Netanyahu.

But the issue is even more complicated than that. Another player in this intricate game is Attorney General Baharav-Miara, who has also been creating difficulties for the government. She has already announced that in the absence of a legal provision for draft deferments for chareidim, she will not be able to defend the government in the Supreme Court and prevent an imposition of the draft unless the government issues a new administrative decision delaying the draft of bnei yeshivos, in place of the decision that is due to expire at the end of this month. The attorney general maintains that it will not be possible to continue funding the yeshivos unless something changes in the next few days.

Netanyahu Responds to Biden and Schumer

Having alluded to the tensions with America, I certainly must mention Chuck Schumer and his criticism of Netanyahu. For the time being, let’s put aside the subject of Biden and Trump and their obsessive focus on Israel, and focus our attention on Schumer instead. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, took a page out of the Kaplan protestors’ playbook last week by accusing Netanyahu of losing his way and by calling for Israel to hold an immediate election. This certainly appears to be a departure from standard protocol. It is not usually considered acceptable for an American politician to meddle in another country’s internal affairs. The Israelis also weren’t surprised when President Biden later endorsed Schumer’s speech, but that, too, was somewhat excessive.

Netanyahu decided to respond to Schumer and Biden during the cabinet session last Sunday. This might not have been the most accepted thing to do, but it also seemed to be a necessity. “To our friends in the international community,” he announced, “I would like to ask you: Is your memory really so short? Have you so quickly forgotten October 7 and the worst slaughter of Jewish people since the Holocaust? Are you willing to negate Israel’s right of self-defense against the monsters of Hamas so quickly? Have you lost your moral compass so fast? Instead of pressuring Israel, which is fighting an incomparably just war against an incomparably cruel enemy, you should direct your pressure against Hamas and its sponsor, Iran. They are the ones who are a danger to the region and the entire world. In any event, we will continue standing up in the face of all pressure, and with Hashem’s help, we will continue fighting together until our complete victory.”

Moving on to the main topic of his speech, Netanyahu said, “There are some parts of the international community that are trying to end the war now, before all of our goals are achieved. They are doing this by making false accusations against the IDF, the government of Israel, and the prime minister of Israel. They are doing it through efforts to bring about elections now, in the middle of the war. And they are doing it because they know that an election now will stop the war and will paralyze the country for at least six months. So let me be clear: If we stop the war now, before all the goals are achieved, it will mean that Israel has lost. We will not allow that. Therefore, we cannot and will not give in to these pressures. This simple truth merely strengthens our determination to continue repelling the pressure and fighting until the end, until we have achieved complete victory. No international pressure will stop us from carrying out all the goals of the war: eliminating Hamas, rescuing all of our hostages, and guaranteeing that Gaza will never again pose a threat to Israel.”

In interviews with CNN and Fox News, Netanyahu criticized Schumer’s statement as “inappropriate” and castigated the senator for interfering with internal Israeli politics. “We are not a banana republic,” he said. “The only government that must be ousted is the Hamas government in Gaza, which murdered over 1,000 Israelis.”

America Sanctions Settlers

Another issue concerning Israeli-American relations is the recent decision by the United States Treasury Department to impose sanctions on two outposts in Yehuda and Shomron and on three Israeli settlers. The two communities sanctioned by the US are Tzvi’s Farm in the area of Binyamin and Moshe’s Farm, also known as Emek Tirtzah Farm, in the Jordan Valley. The three Israeli citizens targeted by the sanctions are Neria Ben-Pazi, Moshe Sharvit, and Tzvi Bar-Yosef. The sanctions will prevent these individuals from having any financial dealings with Americans; no American entities will be permitted to conduct business dealings with them or make donations to them, and any assets they own in the United States will be frozen. These are the same sanctions imposed on anyone on the blacklist held by the American State Department and Treasury Department. Now, I don’t think that these young men have any global business interests that will be affected by the move, but the sanctions certainly convey a message. America is signaling to Israel that it is monitoring everything that is done in the “occupied territories,” that it believes that Israeli “settlers” are engaging in violence against Palestinians, and that it is not prepared to accept it in silence. If you ask me, this is outrageous.

It should come as no surprise that Betzalel Smotrich decried the American decision. “This is a surrender on the part of the Biden administration to the BDS campaign, whose goal is to slander the entire State of Israel, to eliminate the settlement enterprise, and to establish a Palestinian terrorist state,” he said. “These measures are completely unacceptable, and we will fight to have them canceled.”

The Israeli right was also outraged by the American announcement that preceded the move: “United States president Joe Biden is expected to impose sanctions on two outposts in the territories in Judea and Samaria that have served as bases for the attacks committed by Israeli settlers against Palestinian citizens.” This is a direct quote; of course, Israel completely denies these allegations.

This is the second round of sanctions imposed by the Biden administration in its fight against Israeli settler “violence.” However, it is the first time that the American government is imposing sanctions on entire outposts. Last month, President Biden signed an executive order imposing sanctions on four “extremist” settlers who were involved, according to the Americans, in violent activities targeting Palestinians in Yehuda and Shomron. The four settlers sanctioned at the time were Shalom Zicherman, Yinon Levi, Dovid Chai Chasdai, and Einan Tanjil. According to the American authorities, who have been maintaining constant surveillance of the Jews in Yehuda and Shomron, the four were involved in crimes including torching property and causing the death of a Palestinian, making violent threats against Bedouin residents to force them to leave their homes, and violent attacks on Palestinian farmers and Israeli peace activists. The Israelis claimed that they were merely defending themselves against Palestinian terror. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out whom to believe…

The Biden administration has expressed concern about the general rise in violence in Yehuda and Shomron. According to figures released by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), there were almost 500 attacks perpetrated by Israeli settlers against Palestinians between October 7, 2023, and January 31, 2024. But the fact is that Jews are the ones being murdered!

Hearts Break for the Hostages

The plight of the hostages in Gaza, of course, is still one of the dominant concerns for every Jew in Israel. The sense of responsibility among Israelis for their fellow Jews is palpable. Within the chareidi community and in the secular community as well, people have been undertaking various kabbalos, such as reciting Krias Shema at the same time everywhere, and bolstering Torah learning and mitzvos bein adam lachaveiro. (A powerful event was held in the Yeshivas Mir. See below for more details.) Yes, there are some who are exploiting the hostages’ plight for political gain, but most of the Israeli public is genuinely concerned for their well-being. People are pained by the situation and long to see them return home.

You may remember how deep the concern in this country ran for Gilad Shalit, a single individual who was held captive by Hamas. Today, it is believed that there are still 134 hostages—young and old, soldiers and civilians, men and women—in the terror group’s hands. The precise number of hostages at this moment, however, is not known with certainty, since the army has already found numerous bodies either in Gaza or on the border, leading to the realization that certain people believed to have been taken hostage were actually killed. These discoveries have led them to update the official statistics, raising the death toll and crossing one possible hostage off the list each time. As of now, any person who is missing and whose body hasn’t been found is still presumed to be a hostage in Gaza.

The main problem facing Israel is that there is no real negotiating partner available. Hamas is in no hurry to let the hostages go. At least that is the impression that they are trying to create. They are bothered only by the ongoing warfare and the lack of food, but they are relying on international organizations to pressure Israel into ending the fighting and allowing “humanitarian” aid to enter Gaza. The war cabinet is well aware of the fact that they are dealing with people (or, to put it more accurately, subhuman beasts) who do not operate based on logic or reason. It is very clear that Hamas is dragging its feet. Every time it seems as if an agreement is near, Hamas ramps up its demands and pushes the deal further away. Their latest demand has been for the residents of the northern Gaza Strip to be allowed to return home.

As of last week, the talks over a potential hostage deal were taking place in Doha, Qatar, where the Israeli delegation is headed by Mossad chief Dedi Barnea, along with General Nitzan Alon. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who approved the trip in a cabinet session, instructed the delegation to do nothing without his approval. “Every idea that is raised in that room must go through me,” he told them. On the night before their departure for Doha, the cabinet approved the delegation’s mandate to conduct the talks. One of the problems they face, however, is that it isn’t clear who is making the decisions within Hamas, and it is unclear if all the leaders of Hamas even see eye to eye with each other about the terms they would accept in a deal with Israel.

One of the key questions in these talks is which of the hostages are to be released, whether all of them or only some will be freed, and which of the Palestinian murderers serving time in Israel’s prisons are to be freed in exchange. Hamas has offered to release only forty of the hostages in exchange for about a thousand security prisoners, including some who were convicted of heinous murders. The terror group also demands to be given the right to choose the prisoners to be released. And as I mentioned, they are also demanding an Israeli withdrawal from the corridor that divides the Gaza Strip, as well as the return of the residents of northern Gaza.

A Deal at Any Cost? Opinions Are Mixed

There is an ongoing debate within Israel about how to proceed with the negotiations with Hamas. Some Israelis favor making a deal at any cost, even releasing all the Palestinian prisoners in the country in exchange for all the hostages, while others insist that the war must continue until Hamas has been severely weakened and begins begging for a deal. The forum of hostages’ families sits squarely on the former side of the divide, although other families of hostages have adopted the latter position.

A very poignant message on this subject was released by Yizhar Shai, a former government minister (as a member of Benny Gantz’s party) whose son Yaron was killed in battle with terrorists in Kerem Shalom on Simchas Torah. The bereaved father wrote, “I am writing these words with trembling hands. If the despicable Nukhba terrorist who killed my son is sitting in an Israeli prison right now, I would be very happy to watch his execution. That is the accepted practice in America, where the victims’ family members are invited to witness the executions of their loved ones’ murderers. I would have liked to see him breathing his last breaths while suffering the greatest possible pain and torment. But if it is possible to bring back the Israeli hostages from Gaza in exchange for returning this cursed creature and his comrades to the sewer of humanity known as Hamas, I would call on the government and the ministers of the cabinet to release the wretched murderers and to bring the hostages home. The life of even one Israeli is worth more than any number of these subhuman creatures, the dregs of humanity. I would therefore tell you to take the person who took my son and has taken away my own life and to bring our people home. They deserve to live, and it is our obligation to make sure they exercise that right. My hands tremble as I write these words, but my heart is at peace with what I am saying.”

On the other hand, the mother of one of the hostages in Gaza expressed the opposite sentiment: “If terrorist murderers are set free, they will kill many more Jews in the future. That means that in exchange for the release of the hostages, hundreds of Jews may be murdered.” And this wasn’t mere baseless speculation. A large number of terror operations are known to have been carried out by former prisoners who were released in previous deals. That is the argument against allowing terrorists to go free in exchange for the release of the hostages.

Allow me one more word on this subject: The media reported (erroneously) that the delegation was scheduled to leave for Qatar on Shabbos last week, and that Aryeh Deri, who is a member of the cabinet, opposed scheduling their departure for Shabbos. Avigdor Lieberman pounced on this as an opportunity to attack Deri, but it was later revealed that the story was completely false. I won’t even delve into the question of whether it is actually a matter of pikuach nefesh that would justify traveling on Shabbos. For my purposes, it is enough to point out the simple fact that the delegation was never scheduled to leave on Shabbos in the first place, and no one had to stop them from doing so. But someone saw an opportunity to exploit a fake story to whip up hatred against the religious sector, and that opportunity was apparently impossible for him to resist.

ThirtyEight Terror Attacks Foiled in Yerushalayim

Incidents of terror have been occurring in Israel almost every week. Some of these incidents result only in injuries, and those terror attacks go almost completely unreported, but sometimes the outcome is worse. Two weeks ago, a Jew was murdered at a gas station at the Beit Kama junction, which is in the south but within Israel’s borders. Several people were standing in line at a cash register when an Arab youth suddenly appeared and began stabbing them. The fifty-year-old victim was critically wounded and succumbed to his injuries shortly thereafter. The victim was also a hero in the incident. Security footage shows the terrorist stabbing the man in his upper body and throwing him on the floor, but then the victim managed to stand up and shoot the terrorist. The Arab terrorist was also found to be an Israeli citizen.

An eyewitness described the incident as follows: “We saw a soldier fighting with someone, and we ran outside and lay down on the ground. We heard shots, then more shots, and we managed to escape through the rear entrance.”

Another eyewitness related, “I was inside the store with my back to the door, and I saw people on the floor and couldn’t understand what was happening. Within a few seconds, I realized that everyone had run out through the back door, and I realized that I needed to flee as well. I ran away and threw myself to the floor, and then I heard gunshots. That was when I realized that it was a serious incident. It was very frightening. A large number of soldiers arrived very quickly.” The full incident, as I mentioned, was captured by the security cameras.

Last week, the Yerushalayim police force released some relevant statistics: From October 7 through the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan two weeks ago, the police have expanded their activities in the Yerushalayim district. It has now been cleared for publication that since the beginning of 2024, twelve terror attacks in the Yerushalayim area were thwarted by the arrests of suspects. Since October 7, a total of 38 planned terror attacks have been thwarted in the Yerushalayim area, mostly due to intelligence or reports received by the police. About 100 indictments for terrorist have been filed between the beginning of the war and the beginning of Ramadan. Also, according to information received about police activities targeting incitement in the Yerushalayim area, 21 suspects were arrested in the past two weeks alone on suspicion of incitement to violence. Six of those suspects were brought up on criminal charges after they were questioned. And in case anyone thinks that incitement to violence isn’t a very serious offense, it was recently revealed that the 14-year-old terrorist in Neve Yaakov was motivated by incitement on social media. Yes, incitement can be deadly.

Election Drama in Migdal

The local elections in Israel are over, and even the second round of elections is now behind us in the few cities where none of the candidates made it past the threshold of 40 percent. Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done. Coalitions must be built and the newly elected politicians must get to work. This is proving to be no simple matter even in the chareidi cities, especially those where multiple people were promised the same positions in the local government, resulting in intractable conflicts. Perhaps I will report more on this subject in the next week or two. We will have to see how the situation develops. For the time being, suffice it to say that things are a bit complicated in Bnei Brak, Elad, Beit Shemesh, and Beitar Illit.

But my goal here is to tell you about the town of Migdal, which is located on the banks of the Kinneret. Migdal is both small and remote, and you might be surprised to hear that I have any interest in the election that took place there. The town occupies an area of 12,000 dunams and probably shouldn’t qualify as an independent settlement, but for some reason it was given the status of a local council in its own right. With a population of about 2,000 people, Migdal has fewer residents than the average neighborhood in Yerushalayim. So why am I suddenly writing about Migdal? Because a judge in the city of Nof Hagalil (formerly Nazareth) decided this past week that a new election should be held there after he approved three votes that had been invalidated. There is a lot to learn from this story.

There were two candidates in the mayoral election in Migdal: the incumbent, Nesanel Elfasi, and his opponent, Robert Kennedy Amrusi. Elfasi received 601 votes in the election, while Amrusi received 598, making Elfasi the winner. The problem, however, was that three ballots were disqualified before the votes were tallied. According to the law, if there is no ballot available with the name of a voter’s preferred candidate, it is completely legal to write the candidate’s name on a blank yellow slip of paper, which is then accepted as an official ballot. This is what is done by soldiers who vote remotely in their local elections. The army does not provide ballots with preprinted names of all the candidates in every city in Israel. Instead, the soldiers receive blank slips of paper and write the names of the candidates whom they wish to vote for. In this case, three of those write-in ballots contained the name “Robert Amrusi” rather than the candidate’s full name, and those ballots were discarded. When this came to light, Amrusi argued that these votes were meant for him and that the ballots shouldn’t have been thrown out. The judge accepted his argument and validated the three ballots, changing the outcome of the election to a tie, with each candidate having received the same number of votes.

The ballots at the heart of this drama were submitted by soldiers whose official residence is in Migdal but who voted with handwritten ballots on their army bases. The ballots were disqualified at first by a member of the polling station committee because they did not include the candidate’s middle name. The chairman of the committee and two other members then disputed his decision, and the matter was settled by the election director and the committee secretary, who ruled that the ballots should not be counted. The court later overturned the decision of the election director (a position that is always held by an employee of the Ministry of the Interior), and the ballots were approved again. As I mentioned, before the court made its decision, the incumbent mayor had won the election by a margin of three votes, but when the three handwritten ballots were accepted, it left the two candidates tied at 601 votes each. As a result, the community of Migdal will now return to the polls for a repeat election in a bid to break the tie.

The Importance of Every Vote

You may be wondering how an Israeli man ended up with the peculiar name Robert Kennedy. Amrusi himself explained this: “When I was born in 1968, Robert Kennedy, who was a candidate for the presidency in the United States, was assassinated by a Palestinian. For Zionistic reasons, my parents chose to give me his name. And the election committee decided that the full name that appears on my identity card should be used on the ballots as well.” Amrusi explained that since his official documents identify him by the full name “Robert Kennedy Amrusi,” the election committee insisted that the same name should appear on the ballots. “When a soldier wants to vote for me, whether he is in Gaza or on the northern border, he knows me as Robert Amrusi, not Robert Kennedy Amrusi. These soldiers simply wrote the name ‘Robert Amrusi,’ placed the ballots in the envelopes, and submitted their votes. They had no reason to believe that their ballots would be invalidated. When the votes of the soldiers were tallied up on the day after the election, it turned out that the election committee had approved the three votes, but the representative of the Interior Ministry decided to disqualify them. We appealed her decision to the court immediately.”

But wait, the story doesn’t end there. Even after these three votes were approved, there was one other ballot, which was submitted by another soldier, that had been disqualified as well. In this case, the court ruled that the envelope should not be opened, since the soldier’s identity is known. This soldier’s vote, if it were accepted, would settle the election and avoid the need for the entire town to vote again. However, the judge ruled that the top priority is to maintain the purity of the election and the guarantee of a secret ballot, and therefore the ballot cannot be used. This argument did not go over well with everyone who heard it. Someone remarked that if he were the voter in question, he would appeal to the court to count his ballot and would inform them that he is willing to forgo his right to privacy.

In any event, this story carries an important message for our purposes: the fact that even one individual vote has the capacity to determine the outcome of an election. And that means that a chareidi political activist can never afford to be complacent. When there is an election on the horizon, it demands intensive work to bring about the desired result. The close race in Migdal and the dramatic turnaround should serve as an example of how a single ballot can make a world of difference. This is something that should be kept in mind when the next election cycle rolls around.

Passionate Tefillos in the Mir

Fervent tefillos echoed in the botei medrash of Yeshivas Mir both last Wednesday and on Thursday, the day of Taanis Esther. Passions were running high in the yeshiva’s main bais medrash as well as its other large botei medrash, in the Bais Yeshaya and Bais Sholom buildings. Notices posted throughout the yeshiva announced a tefillah gathering to be held “in light of the difficult situation in Eretz Yisroel and the many troubles of the community and individuals, Rachmana litzlan.” Brief speeches were delivered by the yeshiva’s mashgiach, Rav Binyomin Finkel, and Rav Shimon Galai. On Wednesday, thousands of bochurim and yungeleit spilled copious tears as they davened with great fervor. All the roshei yeshivos wept along with them. Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel was especially emotional. On the next day, Taanis Esther, the scene repeated itself with a tefillas rabbim. Once again, thousands of bochurim and yungeleit recited Tehillim with great passion in all the botei medrash.

I asked someone who is close to Rav Eliezer Yehuda about the impetus for the communal tefillos. He replied, “It’s because of the difficult situation in Eretz Yisroel, the specter of violence and the pervasive fear. On the instructions of the gedolei Yisroel, Taanis Esther was declared a day of tefillah, on which everyone was to gather in the yeshivos and kollelim and in all the chassidishe courts to cry out to Hashem and to beg him to put an end to our suffering and to annul any evil decrees that may befall us.”

The Mir certainly took the call of the gedolei Yisroel with the utmost seriousness.

What, I asked, were they davening for in particular? Again, the answer was simple. “We davened for everything,” my interlocutor said. “We davened for the oppression of the Torah world to end and for the yeshivos to be spared from danger. We davened for the soldiers who are risking their lives, for the hostages in captivity, for all the people who are suffering and for all of Klal Yisroel. As Rav Binyomin and Rav Galai both said, we have now fulfilled the megillah’s mandate to ‘congregate and defend our souls.’”




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