Wednesday, May 12, 2021

My Take on the News

The Hearts of Kings – and Judges – Are in the Hands of Hashem

This week, we must daven that the Supreme Court will not bring disaster upon us when it issues its ruling about the Kosel. The court was originally scheduled to discuss the matter on Sunday, July 30, two days before Tisha B’Av. The significance of the date cannot be ignored. On the one hand, Chazal tell us that a Jew should endeavor to avoid having a court case during the Nine Days. On the other hand, it is the Nine Days for the Reform as well, isn’t it? One would think that this should not bode well for them, especially in light of the fact that they are the plaintiffs in this case. Perhaps, then, it was a sign from Shomayim that they will lose the case, or at least that they will not win. The court might throw out the case altogether. On the other hand, it might rule that the Reform have the same standing as the Orthodox and they should receive a portion of the main Kosel plaza equal in size to ours. A third possibility is that they might impose a compromise. There is no way to tell what the decision will be.

In any event, the court has postponed its discussion on the subject. The chief rabbinate submitted two requests to the court: one for a delay, and the other for permission for the rabbinate to represent itself, rather than being represented by the attorney general. The latter request was rejected by the court on the grounds that it had come too late. Is that a bad sign? Perhaps. Nevertheless, the delay was granted by the same three judges who will deal with the petition itself: Chief Justice Miriam Naor and Justices Chanan Meltzer and Yoram Danziger. In general, the members of a panel are supposedly chosen based on the court’s schedule. In expanded panels or additional discussions, the selection is based on seniority. In this case, it is difficult to tell what factors influenced the panel’s composition. It is possible that the selection was random, but it is also possible that Chief Justice Naor is planning to leave her mark by issuing a landmark decision just before she retires, just as her predecessor, Dorit Beinisch, issued a ruling affecting bnei yeshivos on the very day of her departure from the court.

The discussion has been postponed until August 31, which falls during Elul. The court announced that it will accept a position paper from the chief rabbinate at any time until August 16. What remains to be seen is whether the court will issue its ruling on August 31 or if it will simply hear the arguments of both sides again and will render a verdict at a later date. May Hashem protect us.

Divine Love in the Churban

On Motzoei Shabbos, I attended a pidyon haben where I heard a drosha from Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir. When he discussed the trait of achrayus, he quoted Rashi’s statement that the members of the tribe of Don used to return all the items that the members of the other shevotim had lost. “And who returned the things that were lost by shevet Don?” he asked. When no one volunteered an answer, he delivered one of his own: “People with achrayus don’t lose things!”

At the conclusion of his address, I drove Rav Ezrachi and his rebbetzin to their home on Rechov Sorotzkin. During the drive, the rebbetzin remarked that the women hadn’t been able to hear her husband’s speech. “Then the rebbetzin missed a powerful vort!” I exclaimed. I began quoting the same Rashi that her husband had cited and the rebbetzin cut me off. “The rov asked who returned the things that shevet Don lost.” she said. I was speechless, and then she added, “And then he answered that a person with achrayus doesn’t lose things!”

It is such a simple idea, yet one that is so original and so penetrating. Perhaps logic dictates that the reverse is also true: If a person does lose things, then it is a sign that he lacks responsibility. In every area, regarding his personal affairs and communal matters alike, a responsible person always acts with responsibility.

During the drive, I suggested to the rov that perhaps the members of shevet Don also recovered the items that were lost by other members of their own shevet. The rov did not utter a word in response. The next day, I looked up the passage in Rashi that he had quoted. Rashi states, “Because the tribe of Don had a large populace, they would travel at the rear, and if anyone lost something, they would return it to him.” Flustered by my mistake, I immediately telephoned Rav Ezrachi and admitted, “I said something foolish yesterday. Shevet Don traveled at the rear of the Bnei Yisroel, so there was no one to pick up the items that they lost.” Once again, the rov said nothing. “Did the rov remain silent in the car to avoid offending me?” I asked, but he did not reply.

I felt obligated to offer an insight of my own, and I suggested that the days of mourning over the churban can be considered a time of closeness to Hashem. The moment of a loved one’s departure, I pointed out, is also a time of great love, as is evident from the emotional scenes of parting that take place regularly in an airport terminal. Rav Ezrachi listened and responded with another powerful insight: “The Gemara says (Yoma 54a) that when the Bnei Yisroel went to the Bais Hamikdosh on the regalim, the paroches would be opened, and they would see the keruvim embracing each other, and they would be told, ‘See how beloved you are to Hashem.’ When the Bavlim entered the Bais Hamikdosh to destroy it, they also saw the keruvim embracing each other. We can understand that on the regalim, it was a time of favor for the Bnei Yisroel, and that is why the keruvim were embracing,” the rov said, “but the churban was a time of anger, not love. How can it be that the keruvim were embracing at that time?” The rov then answered his question: “This teaches us that the churban was a result of Hashem’s love for the Bnei Yisroel. That is why the keruvim were seen in an embrace, like on the regalim.”

I commented that I had once heard a similar idea from Rav Aryeh Finkel zt”l, whose first yahrtzeit will be marked this week. Why, Rav Aryeh asked, does the Torah end with an allusion to the fact that Moshe was praised for breaking the luchos? He answered that the purpose of the Torah is for us to achieve closeness to Hashem, and in the case of the sin of the Eigel, that closeness was achieved through the breaking of the luchos. In this case, shattering the luchos was a positive, restorative act, and that makes it very much worthy to be the note on which the Torah concludes. In a similar vein, the regalim and the churban were linked by a common factor: the Divine love for the Jewish people.

The Prime Minister of Hungary Admits to a Crime

Let us now return to more mundane matters. These days, Israel has been flooded with news about what is known as the “submarine affair.” I tend to avoid detailed discussions of criminal affairs, although in this case it is clear that this is much more than a simple crime. This is a scandal pertaining to the very security of the state. It is very unpleasant to hear that senior officials in the army made decisions, in this case concerning the purchase of submarines from Germany, that were motivated by the money they would receive as bribes. And this is a political affair as well, since many hoped – and continue to hope – that Prime Minister Netanyahu himself would somehow be burned by the scandal. As of now, though, that hasn’t happened. Netanyahu himself has not been found to be connected to the affair, despite the fact that many people who are very close to him have been implicated.

The prime minister himself recently embarked on a trip abroad. In stark contrast to the constant attacks he is enduring in Israel, he is treated to a royal reception whenever he travels to other countries. He first visited France, where he met with the new prime minister, Emanuel Macron, and attended several events. His next stop was Hungary, marking the first time in over 30 years that an Israeli prime minister has visited Hungary. Netanyahu visited the main shul of Budapest and met with representatives of the Jewish community there, but from his perspective, the high point of his trip was his visit to the Hungarian parliament.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was uncharacteristically congenial in the speech he delivered in the presence of Netanyahu and his entourage. The Hungarian prime minister also made a highly unusual statement after his conversation with Netanyahu. “We spoke about history as well,” he admitted. “It isn’t an inevitable topic in a conversation of this sort, but we did discuss it. I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that we are aware that there is a very difficult chapter of our history, and I wanted to make it clear to him that the Hungarian government made a mistake in the past, and it even committed a crime when it did not protect its Hungarian Jewish citizens… During the Second World War, Hungary committed a crime, because we decided to collaborate with the Nazis instead of protecting the Jewish community. I made it clear to the prime minister that nothing like that will ever happen again.”

At the end of his visit, Netanyahu met with the reporters who had accompanied him on his trip, and he spoke briefly about the submarine affair. “A slanderous case has been built against me, and now it is sinking into the depths,” he declared. “I have no connection to the episode.” The prime minister returned to Israel only to be subjected to another barrage of defamation – not only in the media, but in the Knesset as well. The Knesset is adjourning for the summer this week, but on Monday it discussed the motions of no confidence submitted by the opposition, all of which were based on the submarine scandal. On Wednesday, as well, the Knesset held a special discussion that takes place every few months. The prime minister sat in the Knesset plenum and was forced to listen as many of his political rivals spoke against him. After they had finished, he responded to all of them. Next week, I will quote excerpts from the speeches and from his response to give you an idea of the domestic troubles with which he is forced to contend.

With regard to the ongoing investigations against him, rumor has it that in the case of the gifts Netanyahu is alleged to have received, an indictment is inevitable. Naturally, this is bad news for him. Meir Shamgar, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, commented in an interview that he believed Netanyahu should resign because of the gifts. “Rabin resigned for much less than that,” Shamgar said, alluding to the resignation prompted by a bank account that Mrs. Rabin had set up in Washington in violation of Israeli law. In other words, Shamgar believes that the prime minister has a responsibility to resign even if he is not indicted. Of course, there is no chance that Netanyahu will actually resign unless he is forced to do so.

A Deal with Mayor Barkat

We have also had some problems of our own. One of those issues was a discussion in a Knesset committee about an interesting question: Should a guest in a hotel be obligated to check out on Shabbos afternoon, or should he be allowed to stay until after Shabbos? In general, a guest in a hotel receives access to the room at 12:00 or 1:00 in the afternoon and is obligated to leave the room at the same time on the following day. But if an observant Jew books a hotel room for Shabbos, it is obviously impossible for him to leave in the middle of the day, even though he has checked in on Friday afternoon. Even the staffs of hospitals and emergency rooms know that religious Jews cannot be discharged on Shabbos. Patients who are shomer Shabbos are released only at night, after Shabbos has ended. But for some reason, there are those who believe that the policy in hotels should be different.

When the issue was brought up in the committee, a representative of the Ministry of Tourism argued that the practice in Israel should be no different from anywhere else in the world. She saw no distinction between a hotel in Texas or Hamburg and one in Netanya. She also argued that if a shomer Shabbos guest were permitted to remain in his room until the night, it would be a form of discrimination against hotel guests who do not observe Shabbos. After all, the religious guest would be receiving his room for more hours, without having to pay an extra cent.

And then there is another story: the agreement between Nir Barkat, the mayor of Yerushalayim, and the committee of rabbonim representing the city’s chareidi populace. There are several neighborhoods in Yerushalayim that are growing increasingly religious in character, as young couples have been buying apartments in these areas. This is often for lack of an alternative; for one thing, there are no more apartments for purchase in the frum neighborhoods, and in addition, housing is cheaper in the more secular areas. As this process continues, these areas have slowly but surely become half religious or even more so – and that is when the conflicts begin. The religious residents demand buildings for shuls and schools, but this sends the chiloni residents into a panic, out of fear that their neighborhoods will become completely religious.

This issue has clouded the atmosphere between the chareidim of Yerushalayim and the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat. The chareidim have a majority in the City Council, but Barkat also fears the secular voters. This week, an agreement between Barkat and the chareidim was publicized. It has determined that some neighborhoods will turn completely religious, while in others the chareidim will be suffocated. Some people are very pleased with this agreement; others are utterly displeased. The residents of Ramat Eshkol, a neighborhood that is home to many Americans, are infuriated, since the agreement stipulates that an important building in their neighborhood, which has been the subject of contention for many years, will be ceded to the chilonim. They maintain that this is a serious mistake and will cause grave damage. On the other hand, if the chilonim make concessions to us, we will certainly have to find something to concede to them. In short, the situation is complicated, and it seems that the conflict will not be subsiding anytime soon.

The Knesset Begins Its Recess

The Knesset is on summer recess. For the Knesset, though, the “summer” continues until after Sukkos. As a result, the Knesset had a particularly busy schedule last week, since it always works to clear up any unresolved issues before its break. In some of the Knesset’s discussions, every member of the legislature has the right to register to speak. Often, the MKs register in advance in order to ensure that they will have the opportunity to address the plenum, but when the time comes, they can reconsider whether to take advantage of that opportunity. This time, as the discussions dragged on, the MKs chose to minimize their delay in returning home. When they saw that the Knesset sitting was continuing into the night, many members of the Knesset chose to give up their right to speak. They had simply grown tired of sitting in the plenum.

The discussion from which I will quote was on a relatively minor subject. It was titled “The Government’s Announcement That the Issue of Employment Will Be Transferred from the Ministry of the Economy to the Ministry of Labor.” This required a discussion in the plenum, and as I mentioned, many members of the Knesset registered to speak. MK Dov Khenin was the first speaker, and he did address the plenum. After he finished, the chairman of the sitting began calling upon the next registered speakers. This is how it sounded:

“Thank you, MK Dov Khenin. MK Yaakov Asher, please go to the podium… He is not present. Orly Levi-Abekasis – not present. Abd Al Hakeem Haj Yahya – not present. Aliza Lavie – not present. Omar Bar-Lev – not present. Ayman Oudeh, would you like to speak?”

Ayman Oudeh (of the Joint Arab List) responded, “No.”

“No,” the chairman repeated. “Joumah Azbarga – not present. Osama Saadi – not present. Mickey Levi – not interested. Tamar Zandberg – no. Mordechai Yogev. Ahmed Tibi. Aida Touma Sliman, you have three minutes. After you will be Esawi Frij. You have three minutes.”

Sliman concluded her speech and the chairman said, “Thank you. MK Esawi Frij – not present. Zehava Galon – not present. Yael Cohen-Paran – not interested. Jamal Zahalka – not present. Michoel Malchieli – not present. Akram Hasoon, are you interested?”

Hasoon, a member of the Kulanu party, replied in the negative.

“No,” the chairman said again. “Yehuda Glick – not present. Amir Ohana – not present. Taleb Abu Arar – not present. Ayelet Nahamias-Verbin – declines. Revital Swid – not present. Nava Boker – not present. Nachman Shai – declines. Michal Biron – not present. Yossi Yonah – not present. Itzik Shmuli – declines. Yoel Hasson…”

“I decline,” Yoel Hasson said.

“Declines,” the chairman repeated. “Zouheir Bahloul – not present. Meirav Michaeli? We are waiting with bated breath.”

“I decline,” Michaeli replied.

“Declines,” the chairman confirmed. “Yitzchok Herzog – declines. Eytan Broshi – declines. Eyal Ben-Reuven – declines. Meir Cohen – not present. Ksenia Svetlova – not present. Yechiel Chilik Bar – declines. Mr. Minister, would you like to conclude the discussion? The Minister of Internal Security will conclude the discussion. We will then vote immediately on the government’s announcement.”

This is exactly what was heard in the Knesset plenum that evening and was transcribed in the protocols of the Knesset.

Do Not Call It the “Reform Kosel”

This week I wrote to a number of journalists and public figures in Israel, and I pointed out that I had read an article about the Kosel agreement in which the writer had mentioned “the Reform Kosel.” In response, I wrote, “Public speakers and journalists, please choose your words carefully. Choose any phrase you want, but do not allow the term “Reform Kosel” to take root. There is no such thing; there is only one Kosel, and it is ours. All they have is a fake plaza, an area for playacting and thuggery. Call it what you wish, but do not call it ‘the Reform Kosel’!”

With that, I will close with a prayer for us to finally see the nechomah of Yerushalalyim. As Chazal teach us, those who mourn for Yerushalayim will witness its rebuilding.

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