Tuesday, Jun 18, 2024

My Take on the News

Bein Hazemanim and Elul

We are now in the midst of bein hazemanim. The yeshiva world began its vacation on Tisha B’Av, but if you think about it, it takes a day or two for the bochurim and yungeleit to recuperate from the fast, and the three days before Rosh Chodesh Elul are spent preparing for Elul. That means that the actual vacation is the two full weeks in the middle of bein hazemanim – and that period will be ending in just a few days.

This year, as in every year, many yeshivos organized “camps” for their talmidim, including symposiums and other exciting programs and attractions, which were attended by thousands of bochurim. For families, there is a common practice for entire families to switch apartments for a few days of vacation. A family from Yerushalayim borrows an apartment in Netanya, for instance, while the family from Netanya stays in the apartment in Yerushalayim. Thousands of families use this opportunity to get a change of scenery, as entire neighborhoods become empty and then fill up with new residents for a span of several days.

The north, meanwhile, is overflowing with bnei yeshivos and their families – in vacation cottages, on the shores of the Kinneret, and, of course, in Tzefas, in all the settlements near Meron, and in Meron itself. If you visit Meron this week, you will find that you are barely able to make your way to the tziyun. It is always very inspiring. Yes, I was also in Meron this summer.

As always, we continue davening that the vacation will not be marred by tragedies. Last week, a jeep overturned and several bochurim were injured. Boruch Hashem, there were no fatalities. During every bein hazemanim, especially during the summer, I am anxious about the possibility of disaster throughout the vacation. I relax only when the new zeman begins and nothing has happened.

I hope to hear good news from you as well. I am sure that many of you are in “the mountains.” I myself was there many years ago, in South Fallsburg. Since that time, I know that the area has grown significantly. Two years ago, I visited an upscale vacation complex in the area of South Fallsburg and I couldn’t believe my eyes. What you call a summer home would qualify as a palatial year-round residence for us in Israel, the type of home where we could never even dream of living.

Meanwhile, summer vacation notwithstanding, it is still as eventful as always here in Israel. Let me tell you about a few things.


Tel Aviv and Shabbos – Back in Court

We have made some progress – or perhaps it is the opposite; it is too early to tell – in the battle of the minimarkets in Tel Aviv. That means that the Supreme Court has held another discussion on the subject, with a panel of seven judges headed by Chief Justice Miriam Naor. No decision was made. Officially, the petitioners are the business owners who are asking for the stores in the city to observe Shabbos. They have petitioned the court against the government, and against the Minister of the Interior and the Tel Aviv municipality in particular. Why the Minister of the Interior, you ask? Because he is a key player in the story, since the law dictates that after a municipality adopts a new bylaw, the Interior Minister must decide whether to approve it or to veto it. So far, the Ministers of the Interior have ignored the issue and the Supreme Court has had its say instead. Aryeh Deri has been trying to reverse the damage ever since he was installed in the position.

The latest discussion follows a previous court session, which led to a decision made by a panel of three judges. If you recall, in April the Supreme Court rejected the petition and accepted the decision of the Tel Aviv municipality, which permitted several hundred stores to remain open on Shabbos, in addition to the large commercial complexes that have already been open for a long time. The judges did not even wait to hear the response of the Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri, who had just been appointed to the post. At Deri’s request, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein – the kippah-wearing judge who was just about to retire – ordered a new discussion to be held. Deri claimed that he had not been represented when the court had first heard the case.

The new discussion took place last week, but the very first comment from the chief justice did not seem to bode well. The court session began with David Shub, the attorney for the association of minimarket owners in Tel Aviv, presenting his arguments. He made a statement that was very much justified: “I find the government’s handling of this situation to be very peculiar.” In fact, the current Minister of the Interior has not even allowed the Ministry of Justice to represent him in court, a direct response to that “peculiar” behavior. But Chief Justice Naor interjected, “I suggest, in light of the history, that you be careful with your words.”

Shub replied, “I accept the comment. I will be careful with my words. But the government’s actions have been very peculiar.”

In an unusual step, the court released the protocols of the discussion to the public. It is a fascinating document, not only because there are very few protocols available of proceedings in the Supreme Court, but also because it shows precisely how the judges view the issue. From their perspective, it is all a matter of rights – the right of a business owner to have a day of rest versus the right of the average citizen to be able to buy a dozen eggs on Shabbos. The values at stake are barely grasped. Judge Esther Chayut, who will soon become the next chief justice of the Supreme Court, could not understand why the petitioners accepted that recreational facilities could be open on Shabbos, but felt that ordinary stores should be closed. If a customer has the right to be able to buy beer on Shabbos, then why shouldn’t he be able to buy furniture as well?

The attorney for the petitioners replied that there is a difference. After all, he pointed out, the rights of the individual citizen do not obligate banks to open on Shabbos; there are different levels of individual rights.

On the last page of the protocol, the most important line appears: “The case has been postponed for further study.” And that means that we must continue davening.


Teva Suffers Huge Losses

This past week, the government, the leaders of the economy, and even the ordinary citizens of Israel were preoccupied by the plight of the Teva pharmaceutical company. Teva is considered Israel’s flagship company, the most prestigious and lucrative of its companies. Israel takes pride in the company, which holds its head high as it blazes its path through the world economy. Aside from the monetary gains the company has made, no less important is its display of Jewish genius. Teva produces Copaxone, a drug invented in Israel that is used throughout the world for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. In fact, that drug is the most significant source of the company’s major profits.

Now, however, it appears that it was Hashem’s Will for the company to absorb a major blow, one that affected its finances, its image, and its morale. The company reported this past week on a loss of six billion dollars in the second quarter of 2017. As a result of these developments, the temporary CEO of Teva, Dr. Yitzchak Peterburg (who previously served as the CEO of the Meuchedet health fund, one of Israel’s four health care providers, and was recruited by Teva when the company began experiencing difficulties), announced that Teva plans to fire 7,000 employees by the end of the year. Thus, not only has Teva itself suffered a harsh economic blow, but it plans to conduct a massive wave of layoffs that will affect thousands of families throughout the country. And that makes it a national issue. That may be the reason that Eli Cohen, the Minister of the Economy, announced the other day that the government will come to Teva’s aid. Between you and me, though, I cannot imagine what the government can do to help Teva.

The sales of Copaxone, the drug produced by the company to treat multiple sclerosis, did not suffer in the wave of losses. The medication continues to be Teva’s greatest source of revenue. But even that seems to be in jeopardy now, as an equivalent drug is being developed elsewhere. When the new one enters the pharmaceutical market, it is likely to take a major bite out of the sales of Copaxone, especially since the drug produced by Teva is a daily injection, while the new medication is delivered in pill form and does not need to be taken every day. In any event, this subject has occupied many of the newspaper headlines here in Israel.


A Defeat for Netanyahu in the Supreme Court

The prime minister has suffered a defeat in the Supreme Court. The case concerned an issue that is actually marginal and far removed from the public agenda, but it was a defeat nonetheless.

Raviv Drucker is an investigative journalist who is constantly working to dig up negative information about Binyomin Netanyahu. Some might say that he is obsessive in his pursuit of the prime minister. Some would say that Drucker’s personal quest will never accomplish anything. On the other hand, some of the investigations currently taking place seem to have resulted from his work. In any event, Drucker and his television station submitted a request to the prime minister’s office, based on the Freedom of Information Law, for a list of the dates of Netanyahu’s conversations with Sheldon Adelson. To be more specific, they specified that they wanted “the list from the schedule book of the prime minister’s office of all conversations conducted between the prime minister and Sheldon Adelson, as well as Amos Regev, the chief editor of Yisroel Hayom, during the three years preceding this request.” When that request was refused, they went to the courts.

Several arguments were made in response to this request. Adelson and Regev both claimed that they have longstanding social relationships with the prime minister, and that the information requested by Drucker relates to private conversations. Therefore, the request concerns personal information whose release would be a violation of their privacy. They argued that the public interest in the information does not justify the violation of their privacy, since the information would not contribute to resolving any of the questions that the petitioners claimed to be the subject of public interest. It was also argued that Sheldon Adelson is not involved at all in running the newspaper, and that if the petitioners were correct, and the information would make it possible to connect articles that appeared in the newspaper with their sources, it would lead to the exposure of anonymous sources in the articles and would violate the journalists’ immunity. There were also other arguments made by both sides.

Drucker won at first, but Adelson and Regev both appealed the decision, indignant at the fact that they hadn’t been included in the process. In the second hearing, the court ruled in their favor, arguing that even though there is some public interest in the information, their right to privacy overrides that interest. Drucker then appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor this past week.

Ostensibly, this should mark the end of the story. The prime minister will have no choice but to surrender the information they requested. The decision was written by Justice Meni Mazuz, a former attorney general. The other two judges, Shoham and Hendel, agreed with him. In Drucker’s appeal, the respondents were the official in Netanyahu’s office responsible for releasing the information, Netanyahu himself, Adelson, and Regev. From the written decision of the court, I had the impression that the latter two did not make particularly convincing arguments.


Will the Judges Also Release Their Own Schedules?

I quote from Mazuz’s ruling: “Our assumption, as noted, is that there is a violation of the privacy of the prime minister and of Adelson and Regev. However, it is a minor violation of a marginal aspect of the right to privacy. As noted, even according to the respondents, these were not secret or sensitive conversations. They were merely ordinary conversations between old friends, who openly admit to their longstanding friendships of many years and that they habitually maintain contact by telephone. The requested information also does not include the contents of the conversations. It is merely a list attesting to the existence of the conversations and their dates. And what about the weight of the public interest in the disclosure of this information? The question of the existence of ties between a person holding public office and individuals with interest in his decisions, primarily business interests, as well as the nature of those ties, is a question of great importance to the public. The existence of those relationships may have significant ramifications, including the restrictions that the holder of that public office should take on himself in order to avoid a conflict of interests, as well as ramifications on issues concerning moral integrity. Public transparency regarding the connections and interests of a holder of public office is therefore of importance that cannot be overstated in order to maintain the propriety of the government and the integrity of its authorities, as well as the public trust in the government. When this concerns a figure [i.e., Adelson] who is a player in the public sphere, meaning a person who has interests, financial or otherwise, in the decisions of certain government officials that are greater than the interests of the average citizen, there is a definite public interest in the exposure of the connection between this figure and the officers of the government, as well as the nature and strength of the relationship.”

Mazuz also addresses the argument that the conversations were merely private exchanges between friends, an argument that is very weak on its own: “I find it difficult to see how the personal interest in privacy of Adelson and Regev, in this case, should outweigh the significant public interest in the exposure of this information, which is not sensitive, regarding an issue that has concerned the public for a number of years. One must also recall that Adelson and Regev are not private individuals, and that when they spoke with the prime minister, it is presumed that they discussed government matters that are subject to the Law of Freedom of Information. As a result, they themselves are also subject to that law.”

The decision was followed immediately by a request from a legal organization for all the justices of the Supreme Court to publish their own schedules of meetings, including all their conversations with journalists, over the past year. This is bound to be a fascinating test: Will the judges themselves abide by the demands they are imposing on Netanyahu on the basis of his status as a public figure?


The Reward for a Mitzvah is a Mitzvah

Last week, I found myself deeply moved at an event in the Shaarei Ha’Ir reception hall. There were speeches that expressed the desire of the Sephardic religious community in Eretz Yisroel for a newspaper of its own. There was also a very impressive video presentation. This was an event at which Aryeh Deri announced, to an audience of hundreds of activists of the Shas party, that Shas will be launching its own newspaper, titled Haderech. Rav Shalom Cohen, the president of the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah, sat in a place of honor at the front of the room.

All those who make up the backbone of the Shas party were present. Some of them are already older. They were young in the year 1988 and were filled with a sense of mission, with the drive to bring the light of Sephardic Jewry into every corner of the country. These are men who, in their youth, were part of the revolution created by Rav Ovadiah Yosef – the revolution that threatened the state, and that caused its rulers to go to war against everyone and everything associated with Shas.

I was moved by all the sights and sounds of the event, but there was one thing, in particular, that captivated me: an amazing chiddush that I heard from Rav Shalom Cohen. Rav Shalom spoke about the spiritual contamination produced by secular newspapers and the obligation to maintain a newspaper that is clean and pure. He praised the dedicated members of the Shas party, and commented in passing, in the midst of a stream of chiddushei Torah and mussar ideas, “We all know that the Chasam Sofer says that the reward for mitzvah is considered a mitzvah in his own right.” I was amazed. The reward for a mitzvah is considered a mitzvah?

Sure enough, I found this idea in Toras Moshe, the Chasam Sofer’s commentary on the Torah, on the posuk in which Hashem states, “For I have known him [Avrohom Avinu] that he will command his sons … in order for Hashem to bring upon Avrohom what He has spoken about him.” This posuk seems to say that Avrohom would teach his progeny to serve Hashem in order to receive the reward that he had been promised. Regarding that, the Chasam Sofer says, “Did Avrohom do this in order to receive a reward, in order to bring the brachos upon himself? He separated himself [from the rest of the world] out of love, as the posuk says, ‘The seed of Avrohom, who loved Me.’ This can be explained based on the interpretation I heard [of the Mishnah that states that] the reward for a mitzvah is a mitzvah – that Hashem is good and bestows good on His creations, and when we do a mitzvah for which Hashem rewards us, this gives Him great satisfaction through the fact that He is able, as it were, to do good. For that, too, one receives reward, and that is the reward for a mitzvah. That is the meaning of the phrase ‘in order for Hashem to bring upon Avrohom what He has spoken about him’ – i.e., in order to give satisfaction to his Creator.”

When the Chasam Sofer says that he “heard” this explanation, it is a reference to his rebbi muvhak, the Hafla’ah, who discusses the concept at length in his sefer Ponim Yafos.

Hashem created the world in order to bestow His kindness upon us. If we have in mind while performing a mitzvah that the reward for the mitzvah should also be for the purpose of doing Hashem’s Will, then that reward will also be considered a mitzvah.


An Accomplishment of an Askan in Yerushalayim

In general, I do not put much faith in articles that heap praise on public figures, here in Israel. There are publications of the parties, which place themselves at the disposal of the public servants on a national level, and then there are local papers that report on the activities of askonim in each city. The askonim gain from the publicity, and the newspapers gain from having stories to report. Most of the articles are about things that are supposed to happen in the future, when it is unlikely that anyone will remember to check if the subjects actually earned their lavish praise. The mere act of being publicized is considered an achievement in its own right. I find it irritating, sometimes even embarrassing, but it is not the worst possible offense.

Here is one news item, by way of example: “The leaders of the religious parties in the municipality of Yerushalayim have insisted to the attorney general: ‘Instruct the city to enforce the municipal bylaw and to close the businesses that are operating on Shabbos in violation of the law, just as you insisted on the enforcement of the law against tzinus signs.’” Well, what happened after they made that demand? In all likelihood, nothing happened at all – aside from the public accolades they received.

There are some exceptions to the rule. There are some reports that are published about things that actually happened, rather than about demands that were made for the future. Recently, for instance, a newspaper reported that “the allocation of land for Bais Medrash Torah U’Tefillah in Neve Yaakov, Yerushalayim, has been completed.” According to the article, this was the culmination of an eight-year effort led by Rabbi Yisroel Kellerman, a resident of Neve Yaakov and a member of the city council. “Over the years,” the article related, “the effort to secure the allocation of land was joined by Rabbi Eliezer Rauchberger, a member of the city council and chairman of the United Torah Judaism party, and Rabbi Michoel Malchieli, a member of the Knesset, with the professional assistance of Rabbi Yitzchok Hanau, director of the Religious Facilities Administration.” The article also reported on a Kiddush attended by hundreds of yungeleit and by the rabbonim of the neighborhood, Rav Tzvi Weber and Rav Yisroel Yitzchok Zilberman, to celebrate the occasion. “Along with the construction of Bais Medrash Torah U’Tefillah, which will be a center of davening and learning for hundreds of yungeleit, including the members of the Ateres Shlomo and Be’er Moshe kollelim, a spacious, magnificent mikvah is also expected to be built to benefit the entire neighborhood,” it added.

In short, there are some news stories that rely on the short memory of the reader, but there are also occasional reports of ongoing efforts that have finally reached their conclusions. With my personal familiarity with Bais Medrash Torah U’Tefillah in particular and with the neighborhood of Neve Yaakov in general, I must also express my own praise for “Srulik” Kellerman, the indefatigable askan who brought this saga to its end.


If Elor Azaria Had a Different Name…

Last week, Elor Azaria began serving his prison sentence. Although he submitted a request for clemency to the chief of staff, he has already entered prison – with his head held high, as he asserted to his supporters. Before beginning his sentence, he released a statement to the public. He was escorted to the prison gates by dozens of people who are pained over his fate.

I cannot help but think that Elor Azaria would have been received very differently, both in court and by the public, if he had a different name – a name with, shall we say, a broader appeal. His last name, which is spelled with an alef, sounds like the first name “Azariah,” which begins with an ayin. And “Elor” sounds somewhat like a right-wing, religious name. Perhaps if his name were Uri, or Nadav, or Weitzman, or Canaan, his fate would have been different.


Knesset Convenes to Discuss the Dogs

I know you will find this incredible, but the Knesset convened last Wednesday for a special sitting during its recess, with a single item on the agenda: “A Proposed Law to Prevent Rabies.” MK Itzik Shmuli delivered an address in which he described it as “the Kaya Netanyahu law.” Kaya is the Netanyahu family dog that bit MK Sharren Haskel during a solidarity meeting of the members of the Likud party in the prime minister’s home. “When will the Knesset convene not because of the royal pet, but to discuss the needs of the elderly and the disabled?” Shmuli demanded.

Why, in fact, did the Knesset convene during its recess? This law, which is meant to address the treatment of dogs that have bit people, was discussed on the last day of the Knesset’s session, when it was rejected after the vote resulted in a tie of 12 to 12. The leader of the coalition, MK David Bittan, had relied on an agreement he had made with the Zionist Camp party and hadn’t even bothered voting, but the opposition failed to keep to its side of the deal. Furious over the results, Bittan decided to teach the opposition a lesson by bringing the bill for a vote during the summer recess. However, the same “lesson” was learned by the coalition. This time, Bittan made sure that there would be a majority in the Knesset plenum, and even Moses and Maklev were present.

Moses took the opportunity to speak about the events of 1929, when Jews were massacred in Chevron on the pretext of a supposed Jewish takeover of the Har Habayis, the most potentially explosive location in the world. He called on his listeners to refrain from provoking the Arabs by visiting the site, which is prohibited by halacha in any event, and quoted Rav Yitzchok Yosef, the Rishon Letzion, on the subject. As usual, Moses managed to wake up his sleepy colleagues in the plenum, and he even infuriated the minister who had proposed the bill, Uri Ariel. Ariel then used his own ministerial right to deliver a speech in response, in which he insisted that there are some rabbonim who maintain that it is not only permissible but actually obligatory to visit the Har Habayis. He called on all the ministers of the government and members of the Knesset to do so.

This time, the law was passed by a vote of 18 to one, and the chairman announced that the next sitting will take place on the third day of Cheshvan. This sitting was chaired by Yitzchok Vaknin, who made the trip to Yerushalayim from Moshav Yaara in the north.


When You Give, You Receive

We have all been taught to believe that when a person gives to others, he himself is the one who benefits. That is why the word “venosnu” in the Torah is a palindrome; it can be read both backward and forward. If you would like a further illustration of this point, let me tell you a story that happened to me.

One night, I parked outside the Zupnik shul and prepared to make my way inside for Maariv. A young man wearing a kippah serugah approached me and asked hesitantly if I would agree to complete a minyan in the shul “below.” Now, what Jewish man can refuse a request to complete a minyan? Who could have it on his conscience that he may cause a scheduled tefillah to be canceled? But then, I wasn’t familiar with a shul below…

I soon learned that there is a shul that is almost a secret, that was built in a lightning-fast, surreptitious operation, without the requisite building permits and away from the watchful eyes of the city’s building inspectors. It is located on my own street and I hadn’t been aware of its existence. “Below” meant that it was built at the bottom of a steep incline, among the trees. “I have no objection to joining you,” I told the young man, “but I won’t have the strength to climb back up to my car again.”

“All right,” the bochur said. He made no effort to argue with me; he didn’t even let out a disappointed sigh. I was impressed by his refinement and I changed my mind. “I have an idea,” I said. “I’ll drive around with my car, so that I can go directly to the shul. I will see you there.”

When I arrived at the shul, I discovered that I wasn’t exactly the tenth man. That is, unless the sixth man can be called the tenth, since he will eventually be one of ten. That gave me some time to examine the makeshift building and its occupants. There was one person I was particularly glad to see: a young neighbor of mine who, according to my calendar, was scheduled to be getting married the next day. I approached him and wished him mazel tov, adding that I would be seeing him the next day in Bnei Brak.

He raised his eyebrows. “Tomorrow? Why?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, flustered. “I am coming to your wedding. I have it written in my calendar: Thursday of Parshas Eikev. I will be there for the chupah, be’ezras Hashem.”

He laughed. “You have all the details right, except one: It is next Thursday, not this Thursday. The Thursday of Parshas Re’eh.”

This reminded me of the famous story about a notice that was posted in a shtiebel claiming that one of the congregants had won 700,000 dollars in the lottery. When his friends approached him to congratulate him, he was mystified. “Mazel tov for what?” he asked. They explained what they had read in the notice, and he said, “Yes, it’s all true except for a few small details. First of all, it wasn’t 700,000 dollars; it was 600,000 dollars. Second, it wasn’t the lottery; it was the income tax authority. And third, I didn’t win the money; I lost it…”

In any event, I made an extra effort to attend a minyan, and in exchange I was spared from traveling all the way to Bnei Brak on the wrong day.





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