Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

My Take on the News

American Complicity in Disappearance of Yemenite Children

Rachel Dotan, an attorney who is working actively to uncover the truth about the Yemenite children, recently quoted a letter written by one Dr. Mann to a Professor Gelley, which was included in the newly declassified protocols of a previous investigative commission. In the letter, the doctor wrote that it was known that the National Institutes of Health in the United States had sent a sum of 160,000 lirot to a research institute in Israel in order to finance studies of the hearts of Yemenites, which would determine whether and how the Yemenites suffered from heart disease. For that purpose, 60 human hearts were collected from the bodies of deceased Yemenites, ranging from fetuses to adults. This may explain why the bodies of the deceased Yemenite children were hidden from their parents: They had been cut open and their internal organs removed. Attorney Meir Broder of the Health Ministry’s legal department noted that in the testimonies collected by the commission, Professor Gelley confirmed that such a study took place, and he even added that autopsies performed on children and adults alike included an examination of the arteries. Nevertheless, the professor vehemently denied that any children were killed for the purpose of medical analysis.

MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, a member of the Shas party who is himself of Yemenite descent, was shocked by the revelations. “We are all appalled beyond words,” he declared. “It is difficult to believe that our innocence was exploited, and that women, children, and grown men were taken and subjected to these horrors. This is something that simply cannot be allowed to pass. True, most of the people who were involved are no longer alive, but the State of Israel will have to give an accounting for these things.”

MK Yisroel Eichler related that his father, who worked for the chevra kadisha during the 1960s, used to claim that he had seen bodies that were missing organs. His claims were dismissed as the work of his imagination, until he removed a glass eye from a body and brought it to MK Menachem Porush in the Knesset. The resultant outcry led to the passage of a law that prohibited autopsies without the consent of the family members of the deceased.

This scandal will certainly continue to rock Israeli society. The chairwoman of the committee ended the session with the following comment: “We have learned that until now, the investigative commissions have done nothing with their findings. It has clearly been shown that many surgeries were performed on children, both living and dead, which seem to have been baseless and unnecessary. The purpose of these procedures was neither to determine the cause of death nor to benefit the patients. These findings have even led researcher Eli Lipstein to declare that the attitude toward the Yemenites was deplorable. The children were treated like biological waste and were not even given a proper burial, on the grounds that no one would ask for one.”

Quality in Children’s Literature

Last week marked the beginning of “Book Week” here in Israel, a period of time that seems to have extended itself to a full month. During this time, many books are available for purchase at lower prices, and the country is filled with advertisements about book sales and discounts on books, especially in the chareidi community.

Recently, a major debate has erupted as to whether comic books have positive educational value or simply foster shallowness. Personally, I believe that the comic books themselves are not the problem. Rather, it is the level of children’s literature in general. There are many books on the market in Israel that children do not actually read. They simply stare vacantly at the pages. It is not a good thing that the genre of children’s books, which entails so much responsibility, has been permeated by so much shallowness and mediocrity. It is not a good thing when any book is bad, but when it is a children’s book, it is much worse. Today, the Israeli market is flooded with children’s books, many of which are in the format of comics. In my view, if the content is good, then even comic books can be a good thing.

I am personally acquainted with Yoni Pozen of Yefeh Nof publishing, and I know that he would never agree to publish or sell a book simply for the sake of profit. He began publishing the collections of Rav Shimshon Pincus’s shmuessen, which are the “crown jewel” of his company’s achievements, almost completely without remuneration. The works of Meir Lamberski, otherwise known as “M. Safra,” who has become a new star of the literary world, are also books that he began publishing for reasons other than the potential profit. Lamberski’s literary talents are a gift from Hashem. His spiritual side is the product of his close connection of many years to Rav Dov Yoffe, to whom he relates almost like a son to his father. Lamberski’s books were reviewed and approved by Rav Dov. I witnessed that with my own eyes.

“In order to produce a literary work with educational value,” I am told by Lamberski, the author of the Komiksaba series, “it is important to have strong spiritual foundations based on interactions with the gedolei hador.” He believes that some of the comic-style literature available for children today is indeed on a high level, both in terms of its literary quality and with respect to the values it conveys. “That is what children need today,” he says, “and our challenge is to give over to them the spiritual levels that we want to teach in the language that they want to hear.”

Indeed, he is quite correct. Hamelech Shlomai, for instance, is a comic-style book with highly enriching content. The volumes of Mishlei Maggidim, which were recently published by Pozen and Lamberski, can be enriching even for adults. A powerful moshol of the Chofetz Chaim can stir the heart, even if it is presented in a series of illustrated panels.

Housing Solutions – But Not for Chareidim

Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon knows that his political survival – or downfall – is dependent on his ability to resolve the housing shortage and the soaring price of apartments. His entire campaign was based on socioeconomic issues in general and on a promise to address the housing crisis in particular. Kachlon is now working on solutions, and there has been talk of hundreds of new apartments to be built and marketed with regulated prices. For some reason, though, the needs of the chareidi community are barely being addressed. The finance minister recently held a press conference to announce his progress, but the apartments are being built in ways that will preclude chareidim from benefiting from them – in high-rise buildings, in distinctly secular areas, and so forth.

Another issue of concern is the fact that Shabbos is rapidly becoming a national day for construction work. When there are problems with the railroad, the repairs are scheduled for Shabbos. When telephone cables must be installed or a junction on the highway must be repaired, the work is likewise delayed until Shabbos. This trend violates the character of the state, and runs counter to the status quo and the coalition agreement between the chareidi parties and the Likud.

Maintaining the Status Quo

The next blow that seems poised to strike us, chas veshalom, is the subject of public transportation on Shabbos. Although the status quo has already been breached – there are about 150 bus lines operating on Shabbos as of this time – the Reform agitators have petitioned the Supreme Court against the Ministry of Transportation, demanding to know why it hasn’t expanded the availability of public transportation on Shabbos even more. To date, the ministry and the attorney general’s office have requested four extensions of the deadline for submitting the government’s response. The next hearing has been scheduled for August 2, with a relatively sympathetic panel of judges: Justices Chanan Meltzer, Neal Hendel, and Uri Shoham. Two weeks ago, Transportation Minister Yisroel Katz and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit met privately to work on the government’s response. Katz suggested a reply to the effect that the state does not see fit to make any further changes, and that the bus lines that have been approved by his ministry to date are sufficient. And all of this is in the name of “preserving” the status quo.

That seems to be the position that the government will adopt, and we can only hope that the judges will respect it. In any event, the case will certainly evoke a massive outcry against the chareidim, against Shabbos, against the status quo, and against everything else that is sacred to us. The Movement for Progressive Judaism, which filed the petition, claimed that the current situation makes it difficult to gain access to nine different hospitals, as if that is truly what concerns them. We know that their main purpose is to fan the flames of controversy, earning popularity for themselves while turning public sentiment against us.

The signs of impending trouble were visible already on Wednesday, when the Minister of Transportation answered a question in the Knesset regarding licensing tests for youths. After he had finished his response, MK Malchieli used his right to ask an additional question to broach the issue of chillul Shabbos. “About two months ago, I sent you an urgent letter concerning the operations of bus services that are running on Shabbos in violation of the law. They began operating in Rosh Ha’Ayin and in Be’er Sheva, and according to their advertisements, they will soon expand to Cholon, Tzur Hadassah, and other cities. Why isn’t your ministry enforcing the law and preventing this mass chillul Shabbos?”

Katz replied, “I want to say only that I insist on maintaining the status quo, and that applies in both directions. I have been in this position for over eight years, and it is not an easy task to preserve the status quo on both ends. There is now a Supreme Court case that has been filed by the Reform movement that wants to change the situation and open public transportation on the weekly day of rest. We have held discussions with the attorney general’s office and with our legal advisors in order to preserve the status quo, and this is what has been agreed after a very complicated process.”

Netanyahu’s Travels Provide a Reprieve

There is plenty of news to report this week. First of all, Prime Minister Netanyahu is continuing his diplomatic travels abroad. It seems to be his favorite thing to do. Last weekend, he visited Greece and Cyprus. It is not a long trip from Israel – only a little more than two hours – but it gave him an opportunity to take a breath of fresh air, rather than dealing with all sorts of petty disputes within the Knesset, the Likud party, and the media. Not to mention the police investigations surrounding him.

Speaking of investigations, there are constant leaks concerning the criminal probes targeting both Netanyahu and Aryeh Deri. If we are to believe the leaks, the case against Netanyahu now hinges on whether the police will succeed in proving that the people who gave gifts to the prime minister expected something in return. In that case, it would be considered a bribe even if Netanyahu never actually fulfilled their expectations. In terms of the Deri investigation, the police now feel that they have failed to uncover any wrongdoing in Mrs. Yaffa Deri’s tzedakah organization. They believe that their only hope of indicting Deri lies in accumulating enough evidence in the tax evasion case against him. In short, that means that both Netanyahu and Deri have ample cause for optimism at the moment.

About a month ago, I wrote an article about the current crisis at Hadassah Hospital. You may recall that the pediatric hemato-oncology ward in the hospital has collapsed. Most of the doctors in the department have quit their positions, claiming that they are unable to continue providing proper service to their patients. This took place when the hospital administration decided to take in patients, mostly children, from other countries in order to boost its profits. The parents of the Israeli children in the ward, most of whom are chareidi, contacted me for help at the time, and I have been assisting them. In my article on the crisis, I predicted that it would not end quickly, the parents would not give in, and the Minister of Health would be forced to accommodate them. That would mean that a new department would be opened at Shaare Zedek Hospital, staffed by the same doctors. I don’t know what will happen in the future, but I know that the prime minister became involved in the matter this week, the doctors from the ward set up a protest tent in Sacher Park, and passions are running high.

“I Am Not As Good As You Say, But Also Not As Bad As You Think.”

Tzachi Braverman is the secretary of the cabinet. He is the man who replaced Avichai Mandelblit in that position. Braverman was shocked to find himself virtually lynched by the media over the fateful question of whether he tried to influence the members of the Judicial Selection Committee, directly or indirectly, to advance his wife’s efforts to be promoted from a judge on the Shalom Court to a member of the District Court. His noncommittal response to the question only served to attract the attention of more reporters thirsting for a “kill.” One of the journalists managed to get Braverman to admit that “everyone plays innocent.” His intent was to point out that there isn’t a single candidate for any position who doesn’t make some efforts to advance himself (or herself), and that includes judges or other figures in the legal world who are seeking seats on the Supreme Court.

The idea that everyone does the same thing, just like a claim of ignorance of the law, does not turn a wrong into a right. Nevertheless, Braverman is actually correct. Anyone who is familiar with the political sphere is well aware of the phenomenon. Every member of the Judicial Selection Committee, as well as the parallel committee that appoints dayanim, is regularly subjected to requests, recommendations, and outright pressure to vote in favor of various candidates. In fact, what is wrong about that?

Let me tell you two stories about which I would be willing to swear, like Donald Trump in the episode with James Comey. The first story concerns an aide to the attorney general who asked me to put him in contact with then-MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz. The aide hoped that the MK would use his considerable influence to secure him a seat on the Supreme Court. Indeed, it is clear that Ravitz had the power to do that; to this day, that man has been serving as a judge for many years.

The second story concerns a senior official in the military prosecution service. This man was the subject of much discussion between two ministers from the Likud party – the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Internal Security – regarding the position to which they should promote him. The two weren’t certain if they would derive more benefit from having him serving as the chief military prosecutor, or if it would be more advantageous to them for him to be appointed the legal advisor to the police force. Ultimately, he became a judge in the District Court. He recently resigned from that position, seemingly because he was not promoted to the Supreme Court.

Considering those stories, do you still believe that anyone in this country, even the judges, is appointed for the purest of reasons?

Speaking of judges and courts: If I were Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, I would have chosen to hide under the table upon hearing the praises heaped on him at his retirement party. Justice Minister Shaked hailed him for “seeing no contradiction between being a judge and being religious.” Chief Justice Miriam Naor proclaimed, “Rubinstein proved that the fact that he is religious doesn’t automatically mean that he is conservative.” With that kind of praise, who needs insults?

As for the rest of the accolades that Rubinstein received, I would say that they are debatable. I met with him many times in the Knesset, where he served as the chairman of the Elections Committee, and I never laughed at his jokes. At the farewell party, where Elyakim was showered with praise, I was reminded of Shimon Peres’s pithy remark at his 90th birthday party: “I am not as good as you are all saying, but I am also not as bad as you all think.”

When Rav Shteinman Walked with His Eyes Closed

In the year 5754, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman arrived in the city of Yerucham for his first visit to provide chizuk to the community, where he delivered a shmuess in the yeshiva. At the time, Yerucham was home to a developing chareidi community, and Rav Shteinman’s visit was intended to give a boost to the local Torah institutions. Rav Chaim Mann, who was serving as the rosh yeshiva in Yerucham at the time, related, “When Rav Shteinman was driven into the city and found a huge crowd of people waiting to greet him, he was taken aback. With a tremor in his voice, he said, ‘But what will be with kavod?’ It was clear that he was completely detached from everything that was happening around him, and the honor that was being shown to him was foreign to him. After he emerged from the car, I walked alongside him as we passed through a large crowd of people singing in his honor and I noticed that he wasn’t walking directly toward the gate. Finally, I realized that he was walking with his eyes closed. I let him take my hand and I guided him toward the entrance to the yeshiva.

“Several days after his shmuess, he was asked for permission for a transcript of the shmuess to be printed in the newspaper and he agreed. Before it was printed, the article was brought to him for review and he made a number of revisions. Wherever a kushya was presented, he changed the words to read, ‘There seems to be a difficulty,’ and wherever he answered a question, he added the word ‘perhaps’ to his resolution.”

And now for one more story: Last week, I wrote about the rov of Pressburg, Rav Simcha Bunim Schreiber-Sofer, who passed away slightly more than a month ago. On that note, allow me to share an interesting encounter that once took place in the city of Pressburg, involving Rav Moshe Blau of Yerushalayim and the rov of Pressburg at the time.

Rav Moshe Blau once visited Pressburg in the course of a fundraising trip to Europe, where he made the rounds of the Jewish communities to collect money for the Torah institutions and impoverished talmidei chachomim of Yerushalayim. Upon arriving in Pressburg, he made his way to the rov’s home and rang the doorbell. When no one answered the door, he returned to his lodgings in disappointment and mailed a letter to the rov. (At that time, letters would be received on the same day they were sent.) “The imperative of receiving every man b’seiver ponim yafos – with a pleasant demeanor – applies to a meshulach from Yerushalayim as well,” he noted in his letter.

When the rov received the missive, he immediately dispatched a messenger to invite Rav Blau to his home, and the visitor was treated to an honorable reception fit for an emissary from Yerushalayim. Before they entered the house, the rov pointed out to his guest that there were two doors, one of which was not in use. Rav Blau had simply rung the bell at the wrong door and the rov showed him that the bell was not functioning. “If you had looked carefully, you would have found the correct door,” he added.

Rav Blau accepted the rov’s apology – or reprimand – with a sheepish smile. And then the rov added, “The imperative to be don es kol ha’adam lekaf zechus – to give every man the benefit of the doubt – applies to the rov of Pressburg as well…”

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