Thursday, Aug 5, 2021

My Take on the News

UNESCO’s Absurd Decision

If you thought that we have been enjoying a respite from terrorism, you were mistaken. You are surely familiar with the message of the posuk in Tehillim that states, “Praise Hashem, all the nations”: The nations of the world know better than we do how much we must thank Hashem, for only they know how many plots they have hatched to harm us that were ultimately thwarted. The director of the Shin Bet recently revealed that his agency foils hundreds of terror attacks before they can take place. Every terror cell that is captured admits that there are large numbers of failed attempts to harm us every day.

At the Meoras Hamachpeilah this past week, a Molotov cocktail was thrown and miraculously did not cause any injuries. Palestinians, some of them children, often approach the wall from the other side and hurl stones or Molotov cocktails over the wall, to the area where Jews have come to daven. It is terribly dangerous. One of the frequent rock throwers, who was caught several months ago, is now being tried in court. It seems unlikely that any change will come about as a result.

There was also a car ramming attack in eastern Gush Etzion, in which a soldier was wounded near the community of Tekoa. The terrorist rammed his car into a guard rail, wounding the soldier in the process. It was a sheer miracle that the attack didn’t claim many lives; the terrorist could just as easily have killed everyone standing at the spot, including the hitchhikers who regularly position themselves there to flag down passing cars.

And then there is UNESCO. The World Heritage Committee of UNESCO, the educational arm of the United Nations, approved a decision designating the Old City of Chevron and the Meoras Hamachpeilah as a protected heritage site with special international significance in Palestinian territory. Twelve countries supported the decision, three opposed it, and six abstained from the vote. The proposal was submitted by the Palestinians in an accelerated process. They claimed that the area was being threatened, and that Israel was causing vandalism and property damage at the site.

Israel’s envoy to UNESCO, former Knesset member Carmel Shama-Hacohen, claimed after the vote that he had done everything in his power, or even more than that, to prevent the decision from being passed. Personally, I didn’t like his reaction: “The Polish withdrew from their clear agreements with us and sold us out to the Arabs.” Even worse was his next comment: “The best response was what I said at the end of my speech: that I had to interrupt my address and leave because my cell phone rang several times and interfered with my speech. I explained that the call was from my plumber, who had to discuss a problem with my bathroom, and that was far more important and interesting than the discussion they had passed.” Does he really think that he can win a debate with that sort of talk? Bibi’s response, in contrast, was to begin the recent cabinet meeting by reading a few pesukim from Sefer Bereishis. That was much more apropos.

Two Important Supreme Court Rulings

I have already told you that the Supreme Court is the ruling force in this country. The ultimate power does not lie in the hands of a president or prime minister, or of the country’s legislature. Rather, the judicial branch controls the government.

This past week, the Supreme Court issued its rulings on two important subjects. The first was the ongoing crisis at Hadassah Hospital: The court rejected the petition of the parents of the sick children and chose to accept the position of the Ministry of Health that a new pediatric oncology ward must not be opened at Shaare Tzedek Hospital. The parents dismantled the protest tent that they had established in Sacher Park (near Kiryat Hamemshalah) and returned home, broken and dispirited. With that, the affair reached its conclusion: The doctors who resigned from Hadassah may choose to return to the hospital, but if they do not, they will have nowhere to go. We must daven for the complete recovery of their patients. I will try to keep you updated on any further progress.

In the court’s other decision last week, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri scored a victory (albeit a temporary one) in the saga of the grocery stores and minimarkets of Tel Aviv, when Justice Elyakim Rubinstein (now retired) accepted Deri’s request for the issue to be reviewed again in the Supreme Court. This also means that a larger panel of justices will participate in the discussion. Three months ago, three judges – Chief Justice Miriam Naor; her soon-to-be-replacement, Justice Esther Chayut; and a third woman, who is slated to replace Chayut in a few years, Justice Barak-Erez – ruled that it is permissible for stores to operate in Tel Aviv on Shabbos, mainly in a few designated complexes. A union formed by the merchants of Tel Aviv asked for the court to review the issue again, and the municipality opposed their request. Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior, who is responsible for approving or rejecting the municipality’s decision to allow businesses to open, also asked for the court to hear the case again.

Elyakim Rubinstein stressed the fact that this case is likely to have an impact on other cities, and that it might set a precedent for the entire country. He added that this is a very sensitive subject, and that the law allows the Supreme Court to reexamine a case when it is on a subject of great importance. In his opinion, Rubinstein asserted, Shabbos is an important enough issue to warrant a second review of the case. “Whatever the outcome may be,” he added, “Shabbos, whose status of importance in the realm of Judaism need not be explained, is certainly important enough for this subject to be discussed and elucidated with all of the possible positions articulated before the court, certainly in light of the far-reaching implications.” Let us hope that the wind will be blowing in our favor when the court convenes.

From Prague to Lod

MK Yigal Guetta has been through a long week, which began in Prague and ended in Tel Aviv. Last Erev Shabbos, Guetta returned to Eretz Yisroel without much fanfare – dressed in pajamas from the Czech hospital to which he was admitted during a vacation in Prague.

Last Wednesday, Guetta told me that he was leaving the country for a week. It isn’t of much consequence where he stayed in Prague, where there are plenty of hotels. The most important thing to Guetta was to be near the King David Hotel, where there is glatt kosher food and an active shul. As I understand it, Prague is a city that is renowned for its beauty and charm, but its Jewish life can be found much more in the shul at the King David Hotel than in the Altneushul itself. The hotel shul is the site of a minyan three times a day, with krias haTorah on the appropriate days. The Jewish community of Prague, meanwhile, is much more preoccupied with the dead than with the living. The community lives off the deceased, collecting an entrance fee for the Jewish cemetery even from Jews who come to daven there, despite the fact that they could subsist by charging a fee only from the many non-Jews who are interested in visiting historic Jewish sites.

“For the past year and a half, I haven’t had a moment’s rest,” Guetta told me. “I work 19 hours a day, every day, from sunrise until I collapse from exhaustion. I barely ever see my home.” Feeling that he was on the verge of collapse, Guetta left the country for a simple vacation in Prague. But while he was there, he suffered a cardiac incident. I hope that he will recover quickly.

Guetta is indeed one of the most hardworking members of the Knesset. Along with his dedicated staff, he will do everything in his power to assist every citizen who contacts him for help, allowing himself no rest until their problems have been solved.

In any event, Guetta’s plans for a peaceful getaway were overturned when his vacation was interrupted by his health issue. His time in Prague went by quickly, but it was far from quiet and tranquil. We can only hope that his stay in Ichilov Hospital has provided him with the rest he needs, and that he will return to work reinvigorated. He may not miss the Knesset, but the Knesset certainly misses him. Many members of the Knesset visited him in the hospital, as did as the Rishon Letzion, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, and Rav Shimon Baadani of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah of Shas. Guetta was released from the hospital on Friday and returned to his home, where he will continue convalescing for another week or two.

“Shameful Words” in the Knesset

I have told you in the past about Elazar Stern, the man from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party who wears a yarmulka but speaks like an anti-religious agitator. This past week, he introduced a proposed law on the subject of giyur – naturally, one that took a more permissive approach to the subject. In the course of his address in the Knesset, Stern went so far as to lash out at one of the country’s chief rabbis. Addressing Yariv Levin, the Minister of Tourism, he said, “You say that I should go to the chief rabbis? I went. I sat with them. They agreed with me, but the chareidi politicians did not relent. And I will tell you that the Sephardic chief rabbi is a puppet of Minister Deri.”

Levin protested, “That is not respectful.”

“There is someone who sits with him and tells him what Minister Deri says to do,” Stern continued. He went on to decry the “rift” with the Jews of the Diaspora. “Let me speak for a minute about Diaspora Jewry. Minister Levin, let me tell you about the rift that you are creating with them. You say that we will manage without their money. We are saying to them, ‘For us, you are not Jews, and we have no need of your money.’ But that money is an expression of a relationship. I am telling you that in a few years, we will wake up…”

Minister Levin decided to return to the podium in order to voice his protest. “I cannot allow myself to refrain from correcting two very improper things that were said here,” he declared. “First, not only does the State of Israel embrace the Jews of the Diaspora, but no one ever said, or even entertained the notion, that any of them might not be considered Jewish. MK Stern, there is a very big difference between that and saying that we do not accept the stipulation that they will donate only if we do as they tell us. The second thing, MK Stern, is that the honored chief rabbi, the Rishon Letzion, is not here, and he cannot defend himself against your unbridled, undignified attack of shameful words… There is a huge community in Israel – the vast majority of the country – that respects the chief rabbis, respects the institution of the Rabbinate, and respects the Rishon Letzion, who is a gadol in Torah and an exceptional leader.”

Incidentally, Stern’s bill was rejected by an overwhelming majority vote of 33 to 17.

A Colorful Blacklist

The headlines in Israel were dominated by the story of the blacklist – a list of rabbonim who are not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. This does not necessarily mean that they have been reviewed and disqualified. It simply means that the Chief Rabbinate isn’t sufficiently familiar with their work, and that it cannot accept any certification they issue until it has further examined their status and halachic standards. If a Jewish person comes to Israel from a foreign country with a document signed by a rov from his place of origin, the Rabbinate will accept the document only if the rov who signed it is known to them.

If the name of a rabbi appears on the blacklist, that means simply that he will have to remove himself from the list. In order to do that, he must meet with representatives of the Rabbinate and allow them to learn about his background and rabbinic activities. Once they have enough information, he can become recognized.

The list has never been publicized, and there is no reason for it to be available to the public. However, it is also not kept secret. Many people avail themselves of the list to evaluate documents signed by rabbonim from other countries. The list may include even rabbonim who are well known, yet simply haven’t gone through the process of becoming recognized. At the same time, there may be rabbonim who employ questionable methods but are not included in the list, meaning that the State of Israel recognizes them. Any person, including a rov, has the right to be considered innocent until it has been proven that he is guilty of wrongdoing. If it is reported that there is some reason to disqualify a particular rabbi, the situation will be investigated, and in the event that the allegations are found to be correct, the rabbi’s name will be placed on the list – in this case, with the implication that he has actually been found untrustworthy.

You may be wondering how I have all this information on the subject. A number of years ago, I was offered the job of being responsible for this very list. The chief rabbi at the time told me that if I accepted the position, it would be my function to update the list regularly. My job would be to decide which rabbonim were acceptable and which ones should be rejected. I would choose the names to be included on the blacklist, as well as those to be removed from it.

“That is a tremendous responsibility,” I said.

“It is,” the chief rabbi confirmed. “That’s why we are offering it to you.”

The chief rabbi’s aide noticed my expression of reluctance and passed me a handwritten note: “The job includes many trips abroad.”

“I would be responsible for deciding the status of rabbonim?” I asked the chief rabbi.

“Yes,” he confirmed. “It’s a task that someone has to do.”

“That is dinei nefashos,” I said.

“But if it isn’t done, it could be a matter of dinei kareis,” the rov replied. “If we accept the word of a rabbi who isn’t trustworthy, we might end up permitting marriages that are forbidden. That is why we have to investigate these things very carefully.”

I took a copy of the list, and I realized that if I accepted the job, I would be responsible for passing judgment on many rabbonim. I would be forced to elevate some and to lower others. I would have to investigate to determine which rabbonim were qualified to possess the authority of a rov, and which of them were abusing their authority. At our next meeting, I declined the position. And no one ever asked me to return the list I had taken.

Submarines Threaten to Down the Government

It has been very hot here in Eretz Yisroel. We are now experiencing the two hottest weeks of the summer. This may even be the peak of the season. All the weather forecasters have certainly said so. Based on the calendar, the hottest time of year should be drawing to an end. We have also arrived at a turning point in the year, as the days are beginning to become shorter. Three weeks ago, Shabbos began at the latest possible time of day, and over the past couple of weeks, the beginning of Shabbos has gradually moved earlier in the day as we head toward winter. That means that we have passed the peak days of summer in terms of hadlokas neiros and sunset as well.

But it isn’t only the weather that is heating up. On the political scene, this has been a very eventful time. Actually, we have witnessed a veritable revolution, as Avi Gabbai was elected to lead the Labor party. (Labor, together with Tzippi Livni’s Hatnuah party, makes up the Zionist Camp faction in the Knesset.) Not only has Yitzchok Herzog been defeated, but the man who ousted him is a newcomer to the Labor party. The new head of the Labor party, the man who will run against Binyomin Netanyahu for the position of prime minister – in the very near future, according to some prognostications – is Avi Gabbai.

Now, why do some say that Gabbai and Netanyahu will be up for election soon? Is there any reason to presume that the elections for the Knesset will take place earlier than scheduled? At the moment, this doesn’t seem to be the case. There is no one in the coalition who desires another election, certainly not Netanyahu. As far as he is concerned, it is much better to wait. The longer the elections are delayed, the more Gabbai’s public appeal will fade. That is simply the way things work here in Israel. On the other hand, the investigations surrounding Netanyahu are also beginning to heat up. No one actually claims that Netanyahu himself is guilty of criminal behavior, but the reports of wrongdoing have grown uncomfortably close to him.

Last week, some of Netanyahu’s closest associates were detained and questioned in the investigation known as the “submarine affair.” This case, which is known by the police as Case 3000, involves a deal made by Israel with a German company for the purchase of submarines for the navy and ships to guard the country’s gas fields. The previous defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, has claimed for a long time that this was a case of corruption. However, since his statements were made after he parted ways with the Likud and became Netanyahu’s political rival, his claims were viewed as suspect. The police investigated the matter quietly and slowly, until this past week, when the situation was thrust into public view. Various people are suspected of taking bribes to advance the submarine deal. One of the prisoners is a lawyer who is considered a close friend and personal attorney of Netanyahu. To the lawyer’s defense, it should be noted that an attorney has the right to make money. On the other hand, a lawyer does not have the right to use his personal relationship with the prime minister to advance transactions that involve the government. In short, the entire affair is a mess.

At the moment, many believe that this case will undoubtedly lead to criminal indictments. It is not clear, though, if Netanyahu himself will be indicted. It is possible that he was aware of the dealings taking place, but it seems that he was not actually involved in the scandal, and he himself does not appear to have gained a single cent from the deal. For his sake, we can hope that that is found to be true. Nevertheless, when two or three of the people closest to the prime minister are found to have profited from a government purchase made for the security of the state, that makes the scandal far too close to the prime minister for comfort. This may also accelerate the end of Netanyahu’s political career, not because he will be forced to leave politics, but simply because the public will grow tired of him.

Never Underestimate a Fellow Jew

Tzvika is a computer technician who works in the Knesset, providing technical support for members of the Knesset and other employees in their respective offices. He is a polite, soft-spoken fellow and a highly skilled professional, and he has always seemed to be the epitome of a typical Israeli tinok shenishbah. He has never been one to despise his religion, but he has never had more than a tiny amount of familiarity with it.

This week, I was present when Tzvika was called into an office in the Knesset building to perform emergency resuscitation on a computer that seemed on the verge of breathing its last. After he succeeded in bringing the machine back to life, someone offered him a piece of an expensive chocolate bar. Tzvika took the chocolate, examined the list of ingredients on the wrapper, and then politely declined it.

“What happened? You don’t like it?” asked the person who had offered him the chocolate.

“On the contrary,” the technician replied. “I would have enjoyed it very much.”

“Then why didn’t you take it? Is it the calories?”

“No,” Tzvika said. “The problem is that it is dairy, and I just ate meat.”

Exclamations of surprise echoed throughout the room. “Are you serious?” someone demanded.

Indeed, no one would ever have expected Tzvika to be observing halacha. He is a graduate of the ORT Air and Space college in Maale Adumim, which is hardly a religious school. He grew up in a completely irreligious home, and his parents (his mother is Kurdish and his father is Hungarian) did not equip him with any knowledge of Yiddishkeit. Noticing our surprise, Tzvika shrugged his shoulders and said, “I also go to shul on Shabbos.” That practice began, he related, when a friend from the neighborhood invited him to come along to shul. He found the experience highly enjoyable, and he continued going to shul even after his friend moved to America.

Before we could digest this revelation, Tzvika surprised us again. “I also put on tefillin every day,” he said. “I had religious friends in the army, and they offered to help me put on tefillin. But after I left the army, I stopped.”

“When did you start again?” someone asked.

“When I came here,” Tzvika said, referring to the Knesset. “It was because of Tomer; he pushed me to do it.”

Tomer Nechemiah is one of Tzvika’s coworkers, and he has clearly had a positive influence on his colleague. Tzvika informed us that his own tefillin, which were purchased for his bar mitzvah, are in his home, and there is another pair of tefillin, brought by Tomer, in his office in the Knesset.

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