Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

My Take on the News


New Hostage Deal in the Works

Much has happened over the past week. There have been more fatalities among the IDF forces, and over 300 rockets were fired at the north last weekend; an IDF officer was killed in the barrage. However, the most prominent story in the headlines over the past two days concerns the hostages in Gaza. It appears that there may be a viable deal is on the table and has a very real chance of being accepted. You may be surprised to hear this, but it is said that President Biden is responsible for this deal; the reports are that he has been exerting enormous pressure on the Qatari government to pressure the leaders of Hamas to accept the deal. (Most of the Hamas leaders live in Qatar, not in Gaza, and have no interest in being thrown out of the country, which makes them somewhat vulnerable to pressure from their Qatari hosts.) Of course, we are not privy to the specific details of the deal, but we know that Netanyahu has sent his negotiating team to Qatar and then to Egypt, which is a clear sign of the Israeli interest in seeing it through.

Last weekend, following an intensive internal debate and after receiving Hamas’s response to the American proposal, Netanyahu gave the green light for the Israeli team to travel to Qatar. The prime minister emphasized that despite the deal on the table, the war will end only after all of its objectives have been met, and not one moment sooner. The White House, on the other hand, welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to send the negotiating team to Doha, in their words, “to promote a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.”

To make the picture clearer, let me summarize the information that has been released to the public thus far. The media reported that the hostage deal agreed to by Hamas seems to represent a significant breakthrough in the negotiations, since the terror group has dropped their demand for an end to the war as the first stage of the deal. With that, the Israelis are prepared to move on to negotiations. The deal seems to have a fairly realistic chance of succeeding, and while there are some clauses that may prove to be quite contentious, these provisions do not seem likely to torpedo the agreement. An Israeli delegation headed by Dedi Barnea, the director of the Mossad, flew to Doha to continue the talks over the hostage deal, and Barnea met with the prime minister of Qatar, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani. Meanwhile, the political-security cabinet convened to discuss the emerging deal. Again, let me emphasize that this is the first time that Hamas has agreed to carry out the first stage of a deal without Israel committing in advance to stop the war. This change in their stance makes it possible to move forward with the talks and has engendered a degree of optimism regarding their outcome. And the Americans have been credited with persuading Hamas to shift their position.

The proverbial ball seems to be in Israel’s court now, but Israeli officials have made it clear that the path forward will not be an easy one. Significant progress has been made, but there is still a long road ahead, and serious challenges are expected. Even if the two sides were to meet for direct talks, it is likely to be a long and difficult process that would take a number of weeks. The hostages’ families have reacted with hope, but this development also seems to give them a reason to ramp up their pressure on the government, which might mean that even more public protests are on the horizon.

An Appalling Accusation from Netanyahu’s Critics

The demonstrations being staged against the government are a very painful phenomenon, since it is very likely that they are hindering the Israeli negotiators. Everyone knows that one should never appear enthusiastic or eager during a negotiation. When Israeli citizens take to the streets for demonstrations that are broadcast throughout the media, those protests do not escape the attention of the leaders of Hamas. The demonstrations make it clear that there is internal pressure in Israel, and as that pressure increases, Israel’s position in the talks is correspondingly weakened. To put it plainly, while many of the families are constantly accusing Netanyahu of abandoning the hostages in Gaza, the families themselves are actually harming their loved ones’ cause.

What is probably worst of all is the fact that Netanyahu is regularly accused of being apathetic to the hostages’ plight. Some of his critics have even suggested that, for political reasons of his own, he would prefer to see the hostages remain in Gaza, and some have claimed that he would prefer that the hostages die (a claim that I discuss in a separate article). That is the most egregious accusation of all. How can anyone claim that Netanyahu harbors such sentiments? But aside from the sheer affront to the prime minister, there is an even greater problem: These accusations tend to serve the enemy’s interests.

To give you an idea of the severity of this rhetoric, let me quote Yaron Blum, who served in the past as a coordinator on negotiations for the return of captives and missing people. At the beginning of this week, Blum reacted to Hamas’s response to the potential hostage deal. “For the first time since the Biden deal, Hamas has given a positive response to begin negotiations,” Blum said. “I predict that this process will take three or four weeks. We see that Qatar is the main intermediary, and Egypt is involved as well. I think that military pressure, together with pressure brought to bear on Hamas by the intermediaries, has led them to agree to the proposal presented by Biden.”

Blum did not stop there, and I would advise you to read the following lines carefully to grasp the underlying sentiment. “I think that Netanyahu is in favor of the deal at this time,” he continued. “We have seen that he sent his diplomatic advisor to supervise the negotiators and to make sure they are doing as he wishes. I think that Netanyahu is in, and that he wants a deal. I hope that is true, because I think that if it isn’t, then he will miss an opportunity that will not return, and the results will be his own fault.”

It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to spot the implications of Blum’s statement. He merely thinks that Netanyahu is in favor of a deal and of releasing the hostages—as if anyone could have any doubt about that! Blum continued, “Gaza isn’t going anywhere. This is a one-time opportunity, when Sinwar is more prepared to accept a deal. The clauses under dispute are things that can be resolved.” Again, he makes it seem as if someone needs to be persuaded to take the opportunity to bring the hostages home!

Soldiers Face Charges for Killing a Hamas Terrorist

Last Thursday, a criminal case was cleared for publication that left the country in an uproar. According to the report, the court revealed that a complex investigation has been underway for months against three Israelis who are suspected of murdering a Nukhba terrorist who was part of the massacre of October 7. The three suspects drove to the area of the massacre while fierce battles were underway and joined the efforts to evacuate the wounded. At least two of them attested that they had fought face to face with terrorists that day. Two of the suspects were released from custody on Wednesday, while the third suspect’s remand was extended until Sunday.

The story began when the three men—a former soldier in the IDF and a volunteer for United Hatzolah, both in their twenties, and an older man—arrived in the south to provide aid for the wounded. At some point during the day, the police asked them to transport a captured terrorist by ambulance to a group of Shin Bet interrogators who were several kilometers away. The Shin Bet agents were planning to question the terrorist, as they had done with many other terrorists who were apprehended over the course of the day, and to extract vital intelligence from him. The three men are accused of killing the terrorist instead of handing him over to Israeli interrogators, and they are facing criminal charges as a result. Many Israelis are outraged by the fact that one of the prosecutors responsible for overseeing this case is an Arab!

The details aren’t completely clear. This incident is also connected to an entirely different story, concerning an Israeli youth with a criminal background who posed as a sapper and a member of an elite IDF unit and stole large quantities of weapons and ammunition, including a machine gun, hand grenades, detonators for explosives, and hundreds of bullets. The soldier who is suspected of killing the terrorist is also suspected of being an accomplice of this thief. The two men first met on October 7, in the course of the battles against the terrorists.

It’s very clear that not all of the information has been made public yet, and this story is much more complex than it seems. The bottom line, however, is that if any of these men are to be tried in court for killing a terrorist, that will be enough to evoke a furor in the Israeli public, which isn’t exactly emotionally healthy as it is.

An Invitation from America

It is quite amazing to observe how events are unfolding. While many Israelis have been insisting that Netanyahu is reviled in the White House in particular and in Washington in general, he has received an invitation that surprised his political rivals. Last month, the Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States, Congressman Mike Johnson, announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu would be invited to deliver an address to Congress. This address has been scheduled to take place on July 24, exactly two weeks from the day of this newspaper’s publication. This is a great honor for Netanyahu, of course, but it should be noted that this is the fourth occasion when he will be receiving this honor. His previous speeches to Congress drew tremendous accolades. Johnson probably left Netanyahu’s enemies in Israel bitterly disappointed with his announcement: “I am pleased to tell you that Prime Minister Netanyahu will deliver a speech before a joint session of Congress on July 24. We look forward to hearing the Israeli government’s vision for the protection of democracy, the battle against terror, and the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the region.”

Netanyahu responded to the invitation, “I am pleased by the privilege of representing Israel before the two houses of Congress and the opportunity to present the truth about our just war against our enemies before the representatives of the American people and the entire world.”

Netanyahu’s domestic detractors did not take the news lying down. They insisted that the White House would show him the door and that Biden would not only fail to welcome him pleasantly but will even ignore his visit altogether. However, the reality failed to conform to their prognostications once again. According to “American sources,” as was reported last Wednesday, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden are scheduled to meet during Netanyahu’s visit to the United States. This will actually be the first time that the prime minister will be meeting with the American president during his current term, and the first time that Netanyahu will meet with a world leader outside Israel since the war began on October 7.

What is perhaps equally astonishing is the following: Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with President Biden in honor of Independence Day, and during their conversation, Netanyahu informed the president that he had decided to send a team to continue the negotiations for the release of the hostages in Gaza. He also reiterated the main principles to which Israel is committed, including the refusal to end the war until all of its objectives have been achieved. So despite all the dark predictions, it seems that the president and the prime minister were even on cordial enough terms to have a telephone conversation this week. For Netanyahu’s critics in Israel, that was simply too much to handle.

Will Netanyahu Criticize Biden in Congress?

Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to Congress and the White House has been reported even by CNN, which added that American and Israeli officials are still working on the logistics of the meeting between the two leaders, which appears likely to take place at the White House. If there are no last-minute changes, the main topic of the meeting will likely be the differences of opinion between America and Israel regarding the fighting in Gaza. Politico claims that White House officials are worried about Netanyahu’s address in Congress and that they fear that Netanyahu will use the opportunity to criticize Biden, which might be especially damaging since he is in the middle of a presidential campaign and is vying against Donald Trump for a second term in office. Personally, I don’t believe that Netanyahu would do anything of the sort, but we will have to wait and see.

That isn’t to say that Netanyahu has never spoken out against the American government. In fact, he released a video two weeks ago in which he scathingly criticized the American government for withholding armaments from Israel. Netanyahu went on to defend this meeting in a speech to the cabinet: “About four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the munitions shipments arriving in Israel from America. For many long weeks, we appealed to our American friends to speed up the deliveries. We did this time after time, at the highest level and at every level, and I want to emphasize that we did it behind closed doors. We received all sorts of explanations, but there was one thing that we did not receive: The basic situation did not change. Certain items trickled in, but the vast majority of the munitions remained delayed.”

Could this video reinforce the supposition that Netanyahu is about to attack President Biden in his speech to Congress? If he was bold enough to criticize the president once, what would prevent him from doing it again? Well, there are certain key differences. For one thing, the video was filmed in Yerushalayim, not in Washington. Netanyahu was in his own home, not a guest of the American government. In addition, Netanyahu considered it a matter of life and death to have the American arms shipments resumed, but there would be no such urgent need to criticize Biden during his election campaign. Incidentally, Netanyahu’s video seems to have achieved its purpose, as the American shipments of weapons began flowing into Israel again.

In conclusion, I believe that Netanyahu will take care not to insult Biden or to be too heavily involved in the election campaign in the United States—even though Obama was quite involved in Israel’s election in the past, when he made an effort to ensure that Netanyahu would not be the winner.

Ambassador Lew Defends Biden

When America celebrated its birthday on July 4, the American ambassador to Yerushalayim (who is now in Yerushalayim rather than Tel Aviv thanks to Donald Trump’s transfer of the embassy) threw a small party. He kept the festivities low-key in light of the war. The event was held at the home of the ambassador, Jack Lew, in the Germany Colony in Yerushalayim, not far from the embassy itself. In an unprecedented step, the ambassador did not invite reporters to the event, and even Netanyahu, who did receive an invitation, declined to attend due to the war. Instead, the Israeli government was represented by President Yitzchok Herzog, Knesset speaker Amir Ochana, and Foreign Minister Yisroel Katz.

In his address to the guests at the Independence Day event, Ambassador Lew said, “We gather today more in a mood of solemn reflection than unbridled festivity—but with undiminished delight in the freedom that Independence Day represents. At the same time, we are painfully aware that not far from here, in Gaza, 120 hostages are still captive after 270 days in the hands of brutal terrorists…. As we celebrate freedom and democracy, this is not a time, this year, for fireworks and spirited parties. I know we are accustomed to grander celebrations that are not fitting here and now, while so many Israelis are displaced and mobilized, and as we anguish over the fate of the hostages. For so many reasons, I fervently hope that next year will again be a time for more spirited celebration.”

Parenthetically, it will be interesting to see if he is still the ambassador next year….

Lew continued, dropping a broad hint about the state of relations between Biden and Netanyahu, “Our enduring democratic values make for lively political debate, but are also the strongest foundation for a future of strength and unity. And we share a common pursuit of a future that is more stable, prosperous, and secure for our two nations and for the people of this region. Even the closest of friends may disagree on occasion about how that vision should be achieved. But make no mistake: the United States and Israel are aligned on the big strategic picture. Israel must endure as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace and prosperity alongside its neighbors, in a more secure and stable Middle East. As President Biden has said, there is a positive path forward toward this vision—for Israel, the United States and our strategic partnership. It begins with a deal to release the hostages and begin a ceasefire, as President Biden presented on May 31—based on Israel’s proposal. This plan offers an opportunity to wind down the war in Gaza, recover the hostages and ensure that Hamas no longer governs Gaza. The proposal has been embraced by the United States and Israel, and most of the rest of the world. Now Hamas needs to say yes.”

President Herzog spoke at the event as well. “Ambassador Lew,” he said, “I know that you and President Biden are doing everything possible to bring the hostages home, and I thank you for that from the depths of my heart. Our commitment to bring the hostages home is absolute. I meet with families of hostages almost every day, and I want to make it clear that we haven’t forgotten them even for a moment; our nation hasn’t forgotten them for a moment. There isn’t a single home or family in Israel where the hostages are not in their thoughts. There is no tefillah in a shul, no public gathering, and even no private event where concern for the hostages isn’t heard very clearly. There is no prayer, no cry, and no demand for their immediate return that isn’t being sounded. Everyone wants them home, and the absolute majority of the people support a deal. Our expectation for the government to bring them home is at the heart of the consensus in Irael.”

Congressman Kustoff Visits the Knesset

Here is another item on the topic of Israeli-American relations: Last week, the Knesset announced the establishment of an interparliamentary friendship group uniting the Israeli Knesset and the House of Representatives of the United States. The group of legislators from both sides of the ocean will work together to advance shared interests, exchange information and expertise, and collaborate in a variety of areas. Until now, the House of Representatives maintained only six friendship groups, and Israel was not involved in any of them. The event was held with the participation of the chairman of the friendship group in the House of Representatives, Congressman David Kustoff, as well as Ambassador Jack Lew and MKs Boaz Bismuth (Likud) and Idan Roll (Yesh Atid), who were appointed by the Knesset speaker to chair the group together, as members of the coalition and the opposition.

Knesset Speaker Ochana remarked at the group’s inaugural event, “This is a historic moment in international relations, in which we are taking the bond between us one step further and opening it to new horizons. Since the massacre on October 7 and the beginning of the Iron Swords War, the United States legislature has risen to the occasion, understanding Israel’s security needs and issuing a wave of laws both to provide the necessary aid and to express the American people’s support for the justness of our path.”

Congressman David Kustoff said, “The United States and Israel are united by an unbreakable bond. Our friendship is forged by the belief that democracy is the only form of government that can ensure that all men and women have the basic rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Today, we are facing a threat of greater magnitude even than killing and destruction. We are facing a rebuke of western culture and values, a rejection of a free and liberated society, and a direct attack on morality, truth, reason, and goodwill…. The friendship group will increase collaboration and cooperation between our governments, and further strengthen the special relationship between the United States and Israel for decades to come.”

Let us not leave out Ambassador Lew, who said, “I commend the Knesset and Congress for strengthening the close connections between us with this friendship group. Our military, intelligence, and diplomatic collaboration with Israel is very close, and the relationship between our respective legislatures must also be close. The connection to Israel is very important to the American people, which is reflected in the officials whom the American public elects and sends to Washington. I am happy to see that there is an organized mechanism in place for deepening the friendship between the members of Congress and the members of the Knesset, with the values and issues that we share.”

Congressman Dan Phillips, a Democrat and another member of the group, sent a recorded message to be played at the event. “The friendship between us is very strong, and this is the time to strengthen it further,” Phillips said. “We must deal with the challenges together. The majority of the American people, on both sides of the political divide, expect the bond between the United States and Israel to continue growing stronger.” Phillips added that he hoped that a ceasefire will be reached that will lead to the release of the hostages.

Shifa Hospital Director Released from Prison

In a move that infuriated many people in Israel and triggered a massive uproar, someone recently decided to release fifty Palestinians who had been captured in Gaza from Israeli prisons. The question of who decided to release the prisoners is shrouded in controversy. Some blame the Prison Service, others believe it was the Shin Bet, and still others point fingers at the army or the government. But even more than that, the question is why they were freed. The official answer is that they were released due to a lack of space in the prisons, and that it was necessary to make room for the Nukhba terrorists. Many people are skeptical of this explanation, but there does not seem to be any other logical reason for the decision. In short, this story is utterly bewildering.

One of the released prisoners was Mohammed Abu Salmiya, the director of Shifa Hospital in Gaza. The hospital director was arrested when it became clear that he was at least aware that Israeli hostages were being murdered in his hospital, and possibly even an accomplice to the crimes. As soon as he was released from prison, he returned to his hospital in Gaza and held a press conference, making the V sign to indicate his triumph.

Abu Salmiya was arrested in November in an IDF raid on the hospital. The IDF spokesman explained that he was taken into custody in light of the numerous testimonies that the hospital had served as a Hamas command center under his direct management. It is believed that the terror organization took advantage of many of the hospital’s resources, including the supply of electricity, which it used to channel power into the system of tunnels that were constructed beneath the medical center. Those tunnels, of course, contained large quantities of weapons.

The IDF first raided Shifa Hospital one month after the war began. At that time, they discovered tunnel shafts inside the hospital complex, along with numerous weapons. It was also discovered that Noa Marciano, an IDF lookout who was captured by Hamas on October 7, was murdered in the hospital. The army also seized video evidence that showed two hostages—a Nepalese citizen and a foreign worker from Thailand—being brought into the hospital. One of the hostages was wounded and placed on a hospital bed, while the other was able to walk on his own feet. It is very clear that Shifa Hospital has been a hotbed of terror activity, and that the hospital director—the man who was released from Israeli custody and allowed to return to Gaza—was aware of and involved in its operations.

The hostages’ families were outraged. “While our loved ones have been held in Hamas captivity for many long months,” they wrote, “Israel released the mass murderer and Hamas accomplice who serves as the director of Shifa Hospital. This is the man who oversaw the hospital turning into a haven for terrorists and hid Hamas terror cells, along with weapons and bunkers, on the premises of his hospital. We know that Israeli hostages were killed in that very place under his auspices. The decision to free him is a moral badge of shame, a continuation of the conception that prevailed before Simchas Torah, and an act of spitting in the faces of the hostages’ families.”

A number of government ministers also spoke out strongly against the move. “The decision to free him was a moral, ethical, and security failure,” Avigdor Lieberman declared. Ben-Gvir denounced it as “security recklessness” and insisted that “the time has come for the prime minister to stop Gallant and the head of the Shin Bet from maintaining independent policies that are opposed to the positions of the cabinet and the government.” He called for the dismissal of the director of the Shin Bet.

A New Problem: West Nile Disease

Israel is dealing with a new, frightening threat on the medical front: the West Nile Virus. According to the statistics compiled last weekend, eleven people have died from the disease, out of the 153 individuals who have been diagnosed with it. Among those 153 cases, 104 were diagnosed at the end of the week, which indicates a massive spike in the number of infections. If this rate continues, then the situation in Israel will be very bad indeed. Most of the cases that have been detected thus far were in the center of the country.

Two government ministries have been dealing with the issue. The first, of course, is the Ministry of Health, and the second is the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which has already notified the public that female mosquitoes infected with the virus have been located in additional parts of the country, not only in the center. To date, the mosquitoes in question have been detected in Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Kiryat Ono, Petach Tikvah, the Lev Hasharon Regional Council, the Even Yehuda Regional Council, Yavneh, Lod, Ramle, and Eilat. Six of those areas are not considered part of the center of the country at all.

Professor Cyrille Cohen, head of the immunotherapy laboratory at Bar Ilan University, reported that nine people were diagnosed with the virus in the Untied States this year, and only two cases were detected in Europe. In other words, the numbers in Israel are exceptionally high. “I am having difficulty finding an explanation for it, other than the warm air that is affecting our region,” he said. He concluded, “The fact that this was discovered even in the south (Eilat) proves that it is a nationwide problem, and there is no doubt that it is an unusual trend. We must all remain alert, and elderly people or those with weakened immune systems should be especially cautious.” The Ministry of Environmental Protection has asked the public to protect themselves from mosquitoes in accordance with ministry guidelines, as part of a national effort to minimize the spread of the disease-carrying insects. “Widespread collaboration will be needed to dry out the mosquitoes, to lower their population, and to avoid unnecessary bites and infections.”

Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus are more commonly found from the beginning of June until the end of November every year. This year, most likely due to the changes in weather, the mosquitoes began appearing even earlier than usual. According to Health Ministry statistics, the infection rate is also higher than in previous years. The Ministry of Environmental Protection encourages the public to contact local governments wherever mosquitoes are found and to notify them about any sewage leaks, standing pools of water, or other areas that may attract mosquitoes in the public space. In addition to their usual efforts to minimize the presence of dangerous pests, the ministry hopes that directing the public’s attention to such hazards will make it easier to eradicate them.

Dangerous Hypocrisy

Let’s move on to a small piece of news from the Knesset. Two members of the Knesset who are rarely heard from—the Russian-born Tatiana Mazarsky (Yesh Atid) and Youssef Atauna of the Arab List—recently submitted urgent motions for the agenda on the subject of the impact on public health of the use of water cannons by the police. You have probably already heard about the large trucks used by the police to direct powerful streams of water—or, in some cases, foul-smelling skunk water—in the direction of protestors. The National Security Committee similarly held a recent discussion about the use of these water cannons against protestors in violation of police regulations, and the committee listened to a demand for a change in the rules governing the use of skunk water. The committee was forced to hold this session when a demand for it was signed by one third of the committee’s members, all of them secular.

There is a blatant double standard on display here. Whenever the atrocious skunk water was used against chareidim or their property—which happened last week as well and has sometimes even involved the substance being sprayed into private homes—no one was troubled by it. But when left-wing protestors were targeted, there was an outpouring of outrage.

Dr. Zev Feldman, the director of the Israel Medical Association, recently wrote a letter of protest to the chief of police in light of the serious physical harm inflicted on protestors by the use of water cannons. “Before a protestor dies, the use of the water cannons must be halted immediately,” he wrote. But where was he when chareidi demonstrators were experiencing serious physical harm? Would it have been acceptable to him for a chareidi demonstrator to die because of the use of this weapon? Is he concerned only about the chilonim?

On that note, a group of secular members of the Knesset recently submitted a bill that would prohibit the use of horses by the police to disperse a demonstration. Again, the signatories to this bill were all chilonim. And I must wonder why they did not feel compelled to voice their objections when the police used horses against chareidi protestors.

Personally, I think we have more to fear from these hypocrites than from the skunk water and horses, as harmful as they may be.

Torah Royalty at the Mir Dinner

I mentioned to you last week that I was going to attend the dinner of Yeshivas Mir. Well, I can now report to you about my experience. It was extremely moving, with a number of especially inspiring moments. I observed the rosh yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, as he sat in a corner and greeted the arriving guests with his trademark nobility. I was reminded of my experience in a magnificent hall in Boro Park a number of years ago, when his father, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, greeted the arriving guests at a yeshiva dinner in the very same way. The Finkel family has been part of the leadership of the Torah world with great success for generations. Of course, Rav Nosson Tzvi’s rebbetzin was present for this week’s dinner, and many of the guests approached her to greet her and receive her best wishes. The only thing that cast a pall over the occasion was the absence of the late rosh yeshiva.

I was amazed by the vast effort and planning that had been invested in the occasion. The entire faculty of Yeshivas Mir, along with many yungeleit and former talmidim, had been enlisted for the effort. The faculty of Mir is known for its unity and cohesion, and it was deeply inspiring to watch the roshei yeshiva enter the hall together. The work of Fleishman Peles Production was outstanding; much could be written about the dinner, the speeches, and the music performed by Shulem Lemmer and Itche Meir Helfgott, with the assistance of Moishy Roth. The sight of Rav Asher Arieli, a living sefer Torah, was also deeply moving.

A huge screen showed a dazzling series of images of the dozens of botei medrash in the yeshiva filled with bochurim and yungeleit deeply engrossed in Torah learning. The video captured a number of scenes from within the yeshiva that illustrate the enormous scale of its operations, giving the audience glimpses into the storage room filled with seforim, the office that handles the vexing Israeli bureaucracy, and the preparation of 12,000 kebabs in a yeshiva kitchen. I smiled when an American yungerman was interviewed on camera and commented, “I came to the yeshiva for two or three years, but I have been here for 17 years now. This is my home.”

Rav Binyomin Finkel made a powerful impression when he circulated among the guests at the event, and Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel spoke quietly but forcefully as he declared, “We are in an existential battle for the Torah, and the real deserters are those who leave this battle.”

Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi quoted a comment of the Ramban that was sufficient on its own to make the trip to the event worthwhile for me. The Ramban writes in his drashos on Koheles that the Torah forbids a person to view the charity that he gives to the poor as a loss of his own assets; instead, he should view it as an addition to his personal worth. The footnotes to the drashos point out that this is the 17th mitzvah in Ramban’s list of mitzvos that the Rambam omitted from his tally of 613. This was a powerful message to me: We all give tzedakah to the extent that we are capable of it, but some people do so with a feeling that they are relinquishing some money that could have been put to a different use to benefit them. What the Ramban reveals is that these thoughts are prohibited; we must never think that the tzedokah that we give is a loss to us. We must realize that it should be considered a gain! In other words, anyone who wants to increase his assets should give money to tzedokah.



The Root Cause

  We have been living in turbulent times for a while, and this week, they got even more turbulent. Just a week after one party’s

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated