We Weep and They Laugh
It has been a sad period here in Israel. Of course, there was Tisha B’Av with its Kinnos. We grieved over the churban, sitting barefoot on the floor to demonstrate our mourning. Last week, I wrote about the danger of violence resulting from the situation on the Har Habayis, and then there were the murders in Chalamish, not to mention the constant rioting of the Arabs on the Har Habayis itself. When Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu decided to remove the metal detectors from the Har Habayis, Palestinians celebrated. On Thursday, the metal detectors were loaded on a truck that began making its way out of the Old City, and thousands of Arab youths took to the street, cavorting wildly and shouting, “Allahu akbar!” At the same time, outside the prime minister’s residence, a group known as Otzma Yehudit, which is led by Michael Ben-Ari, Boruch Marzel, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, staged a mock funeral to lament the “demise” of the country’s honor.
Netanyahu was uncertain if he should give in to the Arab demands. On the one hand, he wanted to prevent any further increase in tensions. On the other hand, he feared that his political foes on the right would use that “surrender” against him. But then there was the incident in Jordan, when a security guard at the Israeli embassy, a young Israeli named Ziv, shot a Jordanian citizen to death. It was discovered after the fact that the shooting victim had done nothing wrong. He had actually been trying to separate the Israeli guard from a different Jordanian who had attacked him. This led to a diplomatic row between Israel and Jordan, which has equal sovereignty over the Har Habayis. The dispute ended with an agreement between the two countries: The Israeli security guard was permitted to return home in exchange for the removal of the metal detectors.
With that, the king of Jordan was able to score a victory of sorts. I am virtually certain that he magnified the incident from the outset, announcing that the Israeli guard would not be permitted to leave Jordan, in order to achieve this result. Israel will also pay damages to the family of the Jordanian who was shot.
Netanyahu Had No Choice
The bottom line is that the Palestinian rabble defeated the government of Israel. The street mobs scored a victory over the sovereign power. But then again, logic has also prevailed. It was very sad to watch the Arab mob dancing in glee and shouting, “Allahu akbar!” as the metal detectors were transported out of the Old City, for we know that they were motivated by their thirst for blood, not by a sense of the value of the Har Habayis.
In the cabinet sessions where the issue was debated, there were fierce arguments between Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet, and Police Commissioner Roni Alshich, with each claiming that the other’s position was foolhardy and dangerous. It is also disquieting to think that Alshich, until recently, was a man of the Shin Bet. Do these officials change their way of thinking based on their positions?
Netanyahu, meanwhile, was torn between the right and the left, between the dictates of the intellect and those of emotion, between Bennett and Lieberman, between responsibility and demagoguery, and between the world and the polls. Each of those factors pulled him in a different direction. He had powerful reasons to remove the metal detectors and powerful reasons to keep them in place. And then came the shooting in Jordan, which infuriated the Jordanian government, and a conflagration seemed inevitable. At that moment, Netanyahu was left with no choice but to make a deal: the removal of the metal detectors in exchange for security guard Ziv’s freedom. It was deeply ironic, and undeniably a product of Divine Hashgacha. And although our prime minister is typically slow and hesitant to act, this time he made the calculation that it was better to be smart than to be right. Even in the political realm, true strength lies in overcoming impulses and acting with a cool head.
Perhaps the only mistake Netanyahu made was holding a reception for the returning security guard. Not everything needs to be celebrated, and not every celebration needs to be photographed. Certainly, not every picture should be published. Netanyahu, who seems to be unable to resist having his face splashed all over the news and other media, did all three: He held a celebration of the guard’s release, he had pictures taken and published, and now he will suffer the consequences. There is a limit to the insults that the Jordanians are willing to absorb in silence, especially now that it has become clear that the shooting took place at the worst possible time and that the wrong man was shot.
If Elor Azaria had been a security guard, rather than an ordinary soldier, he would be a VIP today…
Meanwhile, I do not wish to write about the Jews who insist on visiting the Har Habayis. Experience has shown that there is absolutely no one to talk to. If you try to address them with rational arguments, they respond by quoting pesukim. In their messianic fervor, they are deaf to logic. Try to tell them that they are causing bloodshed and that they are guilty of a sin punishable by kareis, and they will argue that it is your failure to visit the mountain, your weakness and unwillingness to fight for sovereignty over the site, that places Jewish lives in danger.
On Thursday, the police commissioner held a press conference at the Kosel Hamaarovi. Michael Ben-Ari, an ardent right-wing activist and disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahane who once served as a Knesset member, heckled him incessantly as he spoke. Ben-Ari spent the entire press conference hurling accusations at Alshich: “You surrendered! You showed weakness! You have abandoned your own policemen! You are sending a message to the Arabs that violence is effective!”
The Churban of Reform Judaism
I don’t know if you have ever been at the Kosel Hamaarovi on Tisha B’Av. It is an experience that is difficult to describe in words. There are numerous minyanim held in the plaza, each minyan sitting on the floor and reciting Kinnos in accordance with its own minhag. Every corner is occupied by another minyan. The sense of grief and mourning is tangible in the air. People are truly saddened by the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh. Kinnos can be heard even on the country’s radio stations. Throughout the country, there is hope that we will no longer need to recite Kinnos the following year. Thousands of people even discard their Kinnos booklets in shaimos receptacles, having complete faith that this will be the last year that we weep and mourn.
In the lower plaza, though, the area that was allocated to the Reform movement, we do not find people weeping. They do not know how to cry, and if they do weep, it is nothing but crocodile tears. They do not care about the churban at all; they feel that nothing is missing from their lives.
This week, I read an article, written with complete scientific detachment, that gives us a glimpse into what the Reform movement is all about. “Reform Jews throughout the world have changed the observance of Tisha B’Av,” the article explained. “Some of them have abolished the fast altogether. Others have changed the prayer services of the day into more theatrical proceedings, in order for the communities to connect to the mourning over the destruction of the Temple. Their prayers are accompanied by burning torches and somber music, and the floor is covered with ashes. Over the past few decades, some of their leaders have called for the fast to be observed only until Mincha, to convey the idea that half of the redemption has already been achieved (with the founding of the State of Israel and the attainment of equal rights for Jews in the Diaspora). Others continue to observe a full-day fast, while still others have called for the fast day to be replaced by a day of celebration over the establishment of the State of Israel and the Six Day War.”
That, too, is a reason for us to mourn.
Elad to Double
The housing crisis in Israel – or, should I say, the lack of available housing – is one of the most pressing issues of our day. With almost no apartments available, the prices of the few homes on the market have skyrocketed. This is true for the general public, and it is even more problematic within the chareidi community. In this country, unlike in America, people endeavor to buy homes rather than renting. That is our mentality, and there is no point in debating whether it is right or wrong. There are many homes being built in Yerushalayim, but few young couples can afford the high prices of real estate in Yerushalayim. And what parent would purchase an apartment in Yerushalayim or Bnei Brak for a married child?
This situation is constantly decried by the chareidi legislators in the Knesset. We are particularly aggrieved by the actions of the Kulanu party, which is headed by the Minister of Finance, Moshe Kachlon. Much of Kachlon’s campaign was based on his promise to bring down the high cost of housing. The party is making efforts to that end, and they have even established a national housing council, but they are not even trying to address the unique needs of the chareidi community.
At long last, we have now begun to hear about several projects that are getting underway for our benefit. The first of those projects is in the city of Elad. This past week, Housing Minister Yoav Galant, a member of Kachlon’s party, visited Elad and announced that his ministry would permit the construction of 12,500 new apartments in the city. At the moment, Elad contains 7,500 apartments. This means that ministry’s decision will allow it to grow to more than double its current size. For that purpose, the government will allow the city to expand into adjoining areas. To date, there have been efforts to do that, and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri appointed a committee to look into the matter, but the army has always claimed that it could not relinquish those areas.
Another project is located in Achisamach, a neighborhood of the city of Lod. This project has actually been stalled for many years, because of various problems. Don’t hold me to this, but word has spread that the project has now begun to move forward at an excellent pace. Let us hope that that is true.
A Chareidi City in the South
Then there is the city of Shafir. It is Aryeh Deri’s vision to establish a new chareidi city in the south. This was tried in the past with the city of Charish in northern Israel, but we lost that city when the chilonim won the tenders. Last week, Deri held a working meeting in his office to discuss the advancement of the Shafir project. He announced that an advisory committee will be assembled over the coming days. The committee, which will include three chareidi representatives, will coordinate with the professional planning committee to determine the needs of the planned chareidi city.
“It is important for the members of the committee to be involved in every stage of the city’s establishment, even the earliest planning stages, in order to address all the issues, halachic and otherwise, that are involved in designing the city, such as the number of floors in residential buildings and similar issues,” Deri asserted.
This will not be Deri’s first accomplishment of this nature. Thirty years ago, during his previous tenure as Minister of the Interior, he was responsible for the establishment of the city of Modiin Illit, otherwise known as Kiryat Sefer.
The meeting in Deri’s office was attended by Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchok Cohen, MK Yaakov Asher, Housing Council head Avigdor Yitzchaki, and Asher Abergil, the director of the Shafir Regional Council, and others. Deri began the meeting by asserting that Shafir will serve as the most significant solution to the shortage of housing for the chareidi populace. The project, he added, will also make an important statement – that the chareidi populace, too, deserves to benefit from the solutions created for the country’s housing crisis.
One of the topics broached during the meeting was an impending agreement between the Ministry of Finance and the Shafir Regional Council, which includes provisions for major development in the city, including the building of schools, shuls, internal roads, and access roads to the city. Avigdor Yitzchaki announced that he plans to complete the agreement by the end of the current year. Once that has been done, the planning and development of the city can begin, and timetables can be set for the marketing of apartments. Deri instructed the deputy finance minister to monitor the city’s progress and to do everything in his power to ensure that purchasers receive the lowest possible prices on their apartments. “The potential buyers come from a large sector of society that has limited means and wants nothing more than a roof over their heads,” he explained. “We are obligated to keep the costs of development as low as possible in order to help provide for their needs.” Once again, we hope that Deri will be able to carry out his plans.
Misguided Changes in the Knesset
Last Wednesday, the Knesset began its summer recess, which will continue until after Sukkos. I have written in the past about the ordinary parliamentary queries, an institution that has been virtually destroyed by a well-intentioned, albeit misguided, change in the Knesset regulations. An ordinary query is a question to which a minister must respond orally in the Knesset plenum. Until recently, if the Knesset member who submitted the question was not present, the answer would be delivered anyway and would be recorded in the protocols of the sitting. If the MK was present, he would be able to hear the answer directly, and even to follow up with another question. Since the change in the regulations, though, a query is automatically withdrawn if the MK who submitted it is not present. And since the questioners are often absent from the Knesset, most parliamentary queries have been canceled.
In general, the reason for these absences is that the parliamentary queries are presented at the end of the Knesset’s sitting on Wednesdays, when most of the MKs have already left. The new rules allow for a Knesset member to give advance notice on Wednesday morning if he knows that he will not be present in the evening. In that case, his query will receive a written response rather than being canceled, and his absence will not be noted by the chairman of the sitting and therefore mentioned in the Knesset protocols.
Last Wednesday morning, Amalia Rabinowitz, who is responsible for overseeing the responses to parliamentary queries, announced that the Knesset would deal with a record number of queries that evening as part of its effort to complete its unfinished business for the year. There were 29 queries in all: four to be addressed by Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, three for Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz, four that would be answered by Deputy Minister of Defense Eli Ben-Dahan, and 18 that would receive a response from Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz. (Four of those eighteen questions had been submitted by MK Uri Maklev, who is relentless in his quest to defend the rights of passengers on public transportation.) Some of the questions were almost a year old.
The number of queries to be addressed quickly shrank, though. All four of the MKs who had submitted questions to Shaked announced in advance that they would be content to receive written answers to their questions instead. The same occurred with the three questions that had been sent to Steinitz. Ben-Dahan answered only two out of his four questioners in the plenum. As for Yisroel Katz, he gave a lengthy presentation, from which I will quote in next week’s column, bli neder. Nevertheless, the majority of his questioners were also not present.
The Knesset protocols show that MK Chilik Bar, who was chairing the sitting, announced, “MK Osama Saadi is not here. MK Trachtenberg is not here. MK Zandberg is not here. MK Stern is not here.” The four legislators’ questions were therefore canceled. Masoud Ganaim, Chaim Yellin, and Taleb Abu Arar were also not present, but they had given advance notice of their absences, and their names were not mentioned.
In short, the institution of parliamentary queries has made a mockery out of the Knesset. I am mentioning this again because I hope that the Knesset will return to its previous, relatively more reasonable, mode of operation. I also believe that this shows that the best intentions can sometimes lead to regrettable results. And there is one more point that it indicates: that the Knesset does not always exemplify wisdom and foresight.
Yuli Edelstein Sets an Example
In honor of the beginning of the Knesset’s recess, let me share a few more observations about our legislature.
The winter session of the Knesset presented plenty of challenges for us, but all in all, we are in a good situation. One need only remember the Lapid-Bennett era to recognize that things could have been much worse. We suffered so much then, and they caused us so many hardships; we were constantly on guard, expecting someone else to stab us in the back. Our Knesset members all work hard, doing their best to maximize the use of their abilities. In the current Knesset, we have seen that there is tremendous power to unity; in the political arena, one plus one equals far more than two.
Then there are the Arabs in the Knesset. There was a time in the past when the Arab members of the Knesset would hide in their homes after a terror attack. The bolder ones would come to the Knesset building but would lurk on the sidelines, endeavoring to keep a low profile. Today, things have changed. In the wake of the murder of two Israeli policemen on the Har Habayis, MK Taleb Abu Arar submitted an urgent parliamentary query demanding an explanation for the closure of the Al-Aqsa Mosque to Muslim worshipers. His colleague, Osama Saadi, submitted a motion on a different subject: “Eyewitness Accounts from the Censored Slaughter in Der Yassin.” The Arabs’ temerity has come to know no bounds. These motions, though, were not approved as urgent queries. The Knesset presidium rejected their audacious demands.
Two weeks ago, the Immigrant Absorption Committee was scheduled to discuss a highly charged issue: the question of granting recognition to the Subbotnik community. The Subbotniks, according to the prevailing opinion, are Christians, although some of them may have converted to Judaism. Some of the Subbotniks have immigrated to Israel and continue to attend church services here. The discussion was organized by the Minister of Immigrant Absorption and invitations were sent to representatives of her ministry, the Chief Rabbinate, the prime minister’s office, the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Shavei Yisroel organization, various Russian immigrant organizations, the Jewish Agency, the Zionist Federation, and the municipality of Beit Shemesh. I asked for details about the meeting. An hour later, I received word that it had been canceled. Evidently, the minister realized that it would be best for her to consult with the chief rabbis before proceeding any further with the matter.
One last comment, on a more positive note: It is always a pleasure to encounter Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein at the Knesset shul when he arrives for Mincha and Maariv. Edelstein is one of the most frequent participants in the shul’s minyanim, where he maintains a permanent seat next to the bimah. He always warmly greets Nadav Halperin, who was hired to work in the Knesset in the context of a program to encourage employment for people with disabilities. Edelstein often gives Nadav a coin to place in the shul’s tzedakah box. During the Three Weeks, Edelstein refrains from shaving, setting an example for the other workers in the Knesset who might not have been all that particular about observing the halacha. Since the Knesset speaker himself pays no heed to those who mock him for his unkempt appearance, they realize that they, too, have nothing to fear. Edelstein is a source of pride for us, and has made the observance of halacha much easier for many Knesset employees. I can still remember the battle that was fought against the Knesset a number of years ago to allow the members of the Knesset Guard to refrain from shaving during the periods of Sefirah and the Three Weeks. I also remember Shmuel Jacobson z”l, the chareidi secretary-general of the Knesset, who was afraid to wear a yarmulka or appear with a beard in the Knesset building.
No Longer a Lion
Bein hazemanim has now arrived. I don’t know what sort of summer vacation you have in America, with your camps and bungalow colonies, but we have exactly three weeks to relax. On Tisha B’Av, all of the talmidim in the country’s yeshivos leave for bein hazemanim, and they return on Rosh Chodesh Elul. Every year, I daven during bein hazemanim for Hashem to spare us from unwise actions that may lead to tragedies. The potential for danger is always close at hand, and we must always be cautious and prudent in our activities.
Take the Kinneret, for example. The surface of the lake always appears tranquil and inviting, but those who are familiar with it warn vacationers that the appearance may be deceiving. The placid blue surface of the lake is often a death trap waiting to ensnare unsuspecting swimmers who venture into its waters. And the same can be true of many other things: the attractions, the recreational sites, the bungalows, and even the drivers offering rides to hitchhikers. Things that appear innocent and harmless may often be masking mortal dangers – both physical and spiritual.
About a month ago, Rav Boruch Shapiro delivered a shmuess at Yeshivas Nachalas Shmuel on the subject of gadlus ha’adam, the greatness of man. He spoke about the greatness of a yeshiva bochur, and he warned his listeners that the battle between discipline and ordinary physical drives is present during bein hazemanim as well. It would be a shame, Rav Boruch declared, for a bochur, in the course of a short vacation, to lose everything that he has toiled to achieve during the zeman. “During bein hazemanim, a bochur is given the opportunity to be his own rosh yeshiva and his own mashgiach,” Rav Boruch elaborated. “He must prove to himself that he is capable of it… If a bochur is able to suppress the wild instincts within him during bein hazmanim, and to live with restraint and discipline, he will certainly be successful throughout his life.” Discipline builds a person; permissiveness destroys him. Even if a person gives in to his baser impulses just once, it still leads to destruction.