A Time for New Beginnings
The Yomim Tovim are now officially behind us, and the winter zeman of 5778 has begun. First of all, we must give praise to all the yeshiva bochurim who are beginning the new zeman. On a personal note, I brought two of my sons to yeshiva in Bnei Brak, an experience that I have always found to be emotionally moving, regardless of the number of times I have been through it. I am not a young man anymore, but I still remember my own days in yeshiva. Plenty of mothers think that it is easy for their sons to sit throughout a seder without looking at anything other than the Gemara, but the truth is that it is quite a challenge. Getting up every morning for Shacharis in the yeshiva, even when the rain is hammering against the windows, is also not easy by any means. So let us recognize the efforts and strength of character of our yeshiva bochurim, as well as the talmidim in our yeshivos ketanos and even the boys in chadarim.
Here in Givat Shaul, we always sense the arrival of the new zeman when the talmidim of Yeshivas Ner Moshe come to the bimah, one after another, to bentch Gomel after arriving from America. Last Friday was Rosh Chodesh, and at krias haTorah we watched as a lengthy parade of American yeshiva bochurim made their way to the bimah to recite the bracha of Hagomel. I can only imagine how many bochurim did the same at the minyanim at Zichron Moshe and the shtieblach of Bais Yisroel. Let us daven that they will have a winter of growth and accomplishment.
Lehavdil, the Knesset is also beginning its own winter session. Last Monday, I watched as a series of speakers addressed the plenum during the festive opening sitting. Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Rivlin, of course, were the main speakers, but there were others as well, including Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset speaker, and Yitzchok Herzog, the leader of the opposition. Actually, Herzog is no longer the leader of the opposition, since he was defeated by Avi Gabbai in his party’s primaries, but Gabbai isn’t yet a member of the Knesset. I will discuss the Knesset and the Israeli political system in a separate report.
A New “Transparency” Law
I will add just a few more words here about the Knesset. Everyone knows that the Israeli legislature is hardly the most magnificent parliament in the world, whether in terms of the character of its members or their lackadaisical performance. Even more than that, there is the fact that the members of the Knesset are constantly squabbling with each other. The Knesset is also unique by virtue of the sheer number of bills that are drafted by the legislators and placed on the Knesset table. Thousands of proposed laws are submitted to the Knesset by its members, only hundreds are discussed, and no more than a few dozen actually make it into the books. The vast majority of the bills tend to be superfluous and are generally not implemented. Ayelet Shaked, the Minister of Justice, recently promised to do her best to limit the number of laws being passed and to prevent superfluous bills from being drafted. The coalition chairman, MK David Bittan, also pledged to make every effort to limit the number of laws that a member of the Knesset can prepare or bring to a vote.
I mentioned to you in the past that dozens of new bills were submitted at the end of the summer session, and I promised to share some of them with you. Well, here they are: Yaakov Peri, the former head of the Shin Bet who is now a Knesset member from the Yesh Atid party, introduced a bill titled “A Council for National Preparation for the Aging of the Populace.” The colorful MK Oren Assaf Hazan continued his feud with Yuli Edelstein by introducing a bill calling for a “cooling-off period” before a candidate can run for president of the state. MK Azbarga submitted a replica of the bill proposed by the now-imprisoned MK Basel Ghattas that would require the government to finance psychological treatments for the victims of hate crimes. Naturally, he was referring to Arab victims. MK Mickey Levi introduced a bill that would cut off government funding from schools that engage in incitement and deny the right of the State of Israel to exist. With this bill, he hopes to target chareidi yeshivos. MK Zehava Galon introduced a law that would prohibit influencing people to become religious. This, of course, is another effort to target chareidim; however, Galon has resigned from the Knesset in the interim.
MK Michoel Malchieli of the Shas party introduced a bill that would require the National Insurance Institute to respond within one month to a citizen who requests a disability stipend. MK Yigal Guetta wanted the government stipend for senior citizens to be linked to the average wage. However, he has also resigned from the Knesset. MK Yisroel Eichler proposed establishing a national database with details on every citizen’s parentage as a deterrent to the chilonim who advocate easy conversion for anyone who asks for it. MK Yaakov Asher introduced a law that would require banks to notify their customers before a check is bounced. Yaakov Asher and Malchieli also reintroduced a law that had been formulated by Meir Porush that would require the dates of manufacture and expiration printed on foods packages to include the Hebrew date as well. And while I did not count the number of bills on the Knesset table, I can guarantee you that these examples account for only a small fraction of the total volume of proposed legislation.
In the spirit of all these prolific lawmakers, I would like to introduce my own idea as well. Let us call it the Yaakovson Law. My law would require every package containing a food product to have a transparent strip running across the entire length of the package, so that the customer can see exactly what he is purchasing, rather than having to guess at the appearance or quantity of the package’s contents. Regardless of how appealing or enticing the package may look, and regardless of how large and full it appears to be, the transparent strip will enable every consumer to see exactly what it contains. There is no reason anyone should object to this law, since it would not burden the government in any way, it is in the spirit of transparency, and it is intended to benefit the average consumer. The only people who might be burdened by this law are the manufacturers, especially those who try to misrepresent their products.
I would be happy for any member of the Knesset to adopt my suggestion and draft a new “transparency” law.
Rockets from Syria
A lot has happened since we dismantled our sukkos and returned the s’chach and wood panels to their places in our underground bomb shelters (which serve as makeshift storage rooms in the apartment buildings of Yerushalayim). As you know, the State of Israel is the world’s number one producer of news stories, and we have had no shortage of developments over the past week.
First of all, there was the prime minister’s feud with the police, which I will discuss in a separate report. There were also two episodes of rocket fire that landed in the Golan Heights, one last week and another this past Shabbos. In response, the Israeli air force bombed three rocket launchers in Syria. Israel’s attack was coordinated with Putin’s regime in Russia. Israel has no problem antagonizing Syria, but it has no desire to enter into hostilities with Vladimir Putin. Was Israel’s response correct? Most people believe that it was, although some claim that the government is intentionally dragging the country into war in order to draw attention away from Netanyahu’s woes and to stall for time for him to escape prosecution. During a war, after all, no one investigates the prime minister.
The subject of our missing and captured soldiers also came into the public consciousness again. This time, it was because of a new appointment: Two months after the resignation of Colonel Lior Lotan, the former coordinator of the efforts to retrieve the missing soldiers, the government appointed another person to hold that sensitive and difficult position. This time, it was Yaron Blum, a very senior official in the Shin Bet. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman had recommended someone else, but the prime minister chose Blum. Incidentally, Lieberman himself is currently visiting America. Last week, his counterpart from Moscow paid a visit to us in Israel.
Upon being appointed to the position, Blum said, “I accepted this task because I feel that it is a national goal of the greatest importance. My job is to try to bring home our sons and to leave no stone unturned in the effort to do so.” He decried the cynical tactics of Hamas, who have been toying with the sensitive emotions of the bereaved families. The family of Hadar Goldin released a statement declaring, “Yaron Blum has taken on a great responsibility and a very simple task: to uphold the values of the army and the security services and to bring Hadar and Oron [Shaul] back to Israel.”
Visiting Kever Rochel
There are two major events that will be occurring in the coming days. First, the Supreme Court will issue its verdict on the case of the grocery stores in Tel Aviv. I have already written plenty about the subject. The chareidi community is waiting for the court’s ruling with a significant sense of trepidation. This case will not affect Tel Aviv alone; it is bound to impact the rest of the country as well.
A somewhat discouraging sign is the fact that a particular organization, which is trying to promote the status quo, was not successful in submitting materials to the Supreme Court for review in conjunction with the case. The organization had several legal arguments that should have bolstered the case against the Tel Aviv municipality’s decision, demonstrating that the law that prohibits working on Shabbos should take precedence over any other decisions. The court, however, refused to recognize the organization as a respondent in the case, and their attempts to influence the proceedings were summarily dismissed. This is not a good sign, but we must continue davening and hoping that something good will come out of the court, which has become the ultimate seat of power in the country.
The second event is the yahrtzeit of Rochel Imeinu, which will take place next week. At Kever Rochel, intensive preparations are already underway for the masses of visitors who are expected to arrive for the occasion. The preparations are overseen by the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites in Eretz Yisroel, under the aegis of its dedicated director-general, Rabbi Yosef Schwinger. The logistical arrangements are extremely complex, since the compound containing the kever occupies a very small area, and the access road is made up of a series of twists and turns. If anything goes wrong, tens of thousands of people could spend hours waiting to enter or leave the compound. Therefore, everything needs to run with the precision of a Swiss watch. Schwinger generally receives glowing accolades for his work. Let us hope that he will be successful this year once again.
In order for everything to run smoothly on the day of the yahrtzeit, it is vital to have the cooperation of the police, the army, the Egged bus company, and the public themselves. Order must be maintained at all times among the visitors to the kever. If the flow of bus traffic is disrupted, the resultant traffic jam will affect the passengers boarding buses at the beginning of the road. Kever Rochel is the third most visited place of prayer in the country, following the Kosel Hamaarovi – which is the most heavily visited site of that nature throughout the year, and especially on Yomim Tovim – and Meron on Lag Ba’omer.
This week also marks the fourth yahrtzeit of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, which has been commemorated with a lengthy series of events. The most significant aspect of the day was the fact that masses of visitors flocked to his burial site in the neighborhood of Sanhedria. The site is located in the center of a chareidi neighborhood, at the intersection of Bar Ilan Street and Golda Meir Boulevard, which makes it very difficult for the throngs of visitors to be efficiently transported to and from the kever. Rav Shmuel Berenbaum zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Mirrer Yeshiva, is buried in close proximity to Rav Ovadiah.
In honor of the occasion, I would like to cite a couple of Rav Ovadiah’s fascinating insights.
Not long ago, we read the posuk (Devorim 10:12) which states, “And now, Yisroel, what does Hashem ask of you other than fear Hashem, your G-d, to follow His ways, to love Him and to serve Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart and all your soul?” Regarding this posuk, Rav Ovadiah remarked that a person can learn virtually any positive quality from Hashem Himself. In fact, we are commanded to emulate Hashem, as Chazal teach us, “Just as He is merciful, so shall you be merciful. Just as He is compassionate, so shall you be compassionate.” There is one trait, however, that a person cannot learn from Hashem: yiras Shomayim. After all, Hashem does not fear Himself. Thus, when the Torah states that there is something that Hashem “asks of you,” it means that there is one trait that a person can derive only from within himself. And as the posuk goes on to state, that is “to fear Hashem.” Yiras Shomayim is the one quality that a person must find within himself and that he cannot learn from another source.
Rav Uri Zohar once told us that Rav Chaim Brim zt”l, one of the famed tzaddikim of Yerushalayim, once related in his regular shiur that he had encountered a friend in the Shaarei Chessed neighborhood on the morning after the Seder night. “Well,” Rav Chaim asked his friend, “what were you mechadeish last night at the Seder?”
“I haven’t checked this out yet,” the other talmid chochom replied, “but I think that the words ‘kol hamarbeh lesaper b’Yetzias Mitzrayim harei zeh meshubach’ have the same gematria as the names of the six sedorim of Shas.” Indeed, the gematria of each set of words is exactly identical: 2,148.
The Steipler Gaon’s sefer, Birchas Peretz, contains an entire section consisting of astounding gematrios. These are not collections of two- or three-word phrases with identical numerical values. On the contrary, the Steipler finds these links between entire sentences. For instance, on the posuk (Devorim 10:16), “V’ahavtem es hager ki geirim hayisem b’eretz Mitzrayim – You shall love the foreigner for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt,” Rashi comments, “Mum shebecha al tomar lechavercha – Do not criticize your fellow for a blemish that is in you.” The Steipler reveals that the words “v’ahavta es hager ki geirim” have the exact numerical value of the phrase “umum shebecha al tomar lechavercha.” The Steipler reportedly came up with these brilliant gematrios between aliyos during krias haTorah, and he would check his calculations on Motzoei Shabbos to confirm that they were accurate.
Here is another incredible insight from Rav Ovadiah Yosef: At the beginning of Parshas Korach, Moshe castigates Korach’s followers (Bamidbar 16:11): “And Aharon – what is he that you should complain about him?” Rav Ovadiah cites the Gemara’s teaching (Eiruvin 65) that a person’s nature can be gauged in three ways: “bekoso, bekiso, ubekaaso” – through his dealings with money, his behavior when he is drunk, and his actions when he is angered, The first two indicators, Rav Ovadiah explains, are not relevant to Aharon. As a kohein, he received the gifts designated for kohanim, and it was impossible to assess whether he was stingy. Furthermore, kohanim were prohibited to enter the Mishkan after drinking wine. Hence, he was never intoxicated and thus did not reveal his nature in that context. All that remained, then, was to gauge his personality through his conduct when he was angry. Thus, Moshe’s message to them was, “And Aharon – what is he” – i.e., if you wish to know what type of person Aharon truly is – “that you should complain about him” – i.e., try to provoke him by speaking out against him, and you will be exposed to his true nature.
The Missing Bridge
On Erev Sukkos, I paid a visit to Bnei Brak. I took my usual route to drive into the city, passing the Geha Bridge to enter Bnei Brak from the direction of Rechov Jabotinsky, in order to avoid the traffic congestion in the vicinity of the Coca Cola factory. This route took me past the former location of the bridge that collapsed two months earlier – the bridge that is no longer there.
Passing the former site of the bridge led me to stop and think. That terrible accident took place on Monday, the 22nd of Av, 5777, and I was driving past the site of the accident on the day before Sukkos of 5778, almost two full months later. Looking up, I saw that the other half of the bridge, on the other side of the road, had remained intact, although it led absolutely nowhere. With half the bridge missing, no one had any reason to traverse the other half, and indeed it was impossible to get there. I couldn’t help but wonder if such a sight would ever be seen in another country. Two months after such an accident, would the bridge still be left in complete disrepair?
The Geha bridge, I realized, was an apt representation for our country. We live in a country where things are done at the last minute, or even after the fact, if they are done at all. As Yitzchok Rabin used to lament, the Israeli attitude is summed up by the words “yihiyeh b’seder” and “lamah, mah karah?” The country runs on inertia, reacting only to catastrophes. That is how we handle everything – politics, diplomacy, court cases, international relations, and our settlements. We simply roll from one crisis to the next. May the new year bring us better things.
Preserving the Shul in Caesarea
Here are a few more minor news items.
It is said that there are times when an apology may be worse than the misdeed itself. This idea is certainly applicable in the context of the parliamentary queries used by ministers of the Knesset to solicit responses from government ministers. Often, a member of the Knesset will ask a question, and it will be apparent that the responding minister is hiding something. Sometimes it is the overly vague phrasing of his answer that gives rise to that impression. At other times, it is a particular detail that he says will be revealed later. In the case I will present to you now, although there was no overt indication that the minister was being disingenuous, something still troubles me.
It began with an article in an obscure newspaper about an ancient shul in Caesarea. I had never even heard that an ancient shul existed in Caesarea, but the article related that the shul – which is officially classified as a site of antiquity, a status that creates certain legal obligations – is suffering from severe neglect. The site is not being cared for, there are no signs alerting travelers to its presence, and it is never visited. In effect, it is a veritable meis mitzvah and in a very sorry state.
A certain diligent member of the Knesset submitted a query on the subject to the minister responsible for the matter. In this case, it was Ze’ev Elkin, the Minister of Environmental Protection. The following is a translation of Elkin’s response:
“The ancient shul in Caesarea is on the grounds of the Caesarea National Park, which is under the jurisdiction of the Nature and Parks Authority. The shul in Caesarea is an archaeological site of great importance. At that site, archaeological excavations and preservation efforts have been carried out and are still being conducted, as a joint effort of the Caesarea Development Company, the Antiquities Authority, and the Nature and Parks Authority. In the near future, a project will be launched to preserve and develop the site, including the establishment of exhibits that will bring to life the Jewish story in Caesarea – the rebellion against the Romans, the story of the ten martyrs, Rabi Akiva, and so forth. Over the course of 2017, the site will be significantly upgraded to prepare it for visitors, as well as for ceremonies and traditional events in keeping with the values of the site and its surroundings.”
Something about this response is very unclear to me. First, with all due respect to “the Caesarea Development Company, the Antiquities Authority, and the Nature and Parks Authority,” why isn’t an organization that has some understanding about shuls involved? Shouldn’t the National Center for the Development of Holy Sites, perhaps, be part of this undertaking? Or perhaps the Ministry of Religious Affairs? Or the religious council, if such a body exists in Caesarea? And what does “over the course of 2017” mean? Aren’t we approaching the end of 2017? Furthermore, what are these “ceremonies and traditional events,” and who will decide on the content?
In other words, I hope that the Knesset member who submitted the question will follow up by determining exactly what is happening – or not happening – in Caesarea.
The Judge Predicts the Future
The Supreme Court is continuing to make waves. Miriam Naor, the retiring chief justice, recently decided to prohibit the judges from participating in a government event in Gush Etzion on the grounds that it was “political.” Her decision sparked a major uproar and widespread outrage, and some vowed to take revenge against the Supreme Court. Before long, it became apparent that this was a watershed event in the ongoing struggle between two of the branches of the government – the executive and legislative branches – and the court, which constitutes the third branch of the government.
Naor recently wrote the verdict that invalidated the current draft law. I don’t know if anyone actually read the 62 exhausting, repetitive pages of her decision, but her stance was clear: She maintained that the entire law was a farce. The chareidim are making no effort to enlist in the army and the quotas are not being met, she claimed. The number of enlistments has not increased, and the second half of the law (“the second period of acclimation”) has no teeth, since the Minister of Defense still has the right to continue handing out exemptions even if the enlistment rates do not rise. The number of chareidim joining national service programs also has not increased, she went on, warning us not to deceive her about the number of chareidim joining the workforce. In short, Naor concluded, the law is merely perpetuating a system of inequality, and she refused to accept that. Therefore, she insisted that the law must be overturned.
Her claims are easy enough to refute, and her logic is simple to disprove. Naor writes that “the same tune is playing again; the past will merely repeat itself in the future.” But how can she know that? Does she profess to be a prophetess as well as a judge? In fact, Judge Noam Sohlberg disputed her arguments, questioning how she can claim to foresee the future. He also saw no justification for her outrage over the lack of an arrangement after the year 2023, which Naor dubbed a “serious structural deficiency” in the law. In Sohlberg’s view, this is not a serious flaw. When the time comes, we will deal with it. Indeed, is the lack of a plan for the future truly a reason to disqualify a law?
“What is the basis of the conclusion that the lack of a clear permanent arrangement will impair the ability to reach the intermediate goals that have been defined?” Sohlberg asked. “Why is it argued that the lack of clarity regarding the future demonstrates a lack of resolve on the part of the government to bring about a fundamental solution for the issue of the draft of yeshiva students?” He also argued that “the lack of a permanent arrangement, in and of itself, does not necessarily constitute a serious structural deficiency.” That is not to say that Sohlberg has suddenly become a member of the Vaad Hayeshivos. However, he did demonstrate the intrinsic fallacies of Naor’s reasoning.
There is another solid argument, as well, against Naor’s conclusion: The numbers show that the draconian law passed during the Lapid-Bennett era brought about a drop in chareidi enlistment in the army. The sense of being under attack from the government caused the chareidim to be hesitant to join the army. The “problem,” from the court’s point of view, was that the more lenient law, drafted under the Bennett-Deri-Litzman-Gafni alliance, did not cause the numbers to rise, and Naor therefore demanded a law with “teeth.” This is inherently illogical, though, since experience has shown that the “teeth” of the previous law caused the numbers to drop. If she were truly sincere about promoting equality, it would have been much more sensible for her to support the less antagonistic law.
There is also another judge who resigned but still managed to write a ruling on this subject: Elyakim Rubinstein, whose contribution takes up pages 62 through 74 of the court’s decision. It, too, is saddening to read. He begins with the word “despair” and concludes with the phrase “kesivah vachasimah tovah.” Rubinstein makes as much sense as a court jester. In the past, I have demonstrated how his extrapolations and inferences yield the most laughable conclusions. I heard that Rubinstein once told his chareidi critics to learn the sefer Chofetz Chaim. I would like to refer him to the Daf Yomi, which states that “if not for Dovid, Yoav would not have succeeded in battle, and if not for Yoav, Dovid would not have learned Torah.” We would be in a very sorry state indeed if the “Dovids” of today took Rubinstein’s advice and forsook their Torah learning.
Driven to Alarm
“I have a drive now. I can’t be late.” These were the last words that a kollel yungerman said to his chavrusah at the end of their seder, before he hurried out the door. The young man, a typical kollel member, lived from hand to mouth, as did most of his peers. Still, his chavrusah was somewhat alarmed by the comment, and he approached his rosh kollel.
“Something happened to my chavrusah,” he said. “I am afraid that he is on his way to leaving kollel.”
“Why do you think that?” the rosh kollel asked, alarmed.
The young man repeated his chavrusah’s parting words. He knew that the other yungerman drove a dilapidated jalopy. Perhaps, he suggested, his chavrusah had decided to bring in some extra income by transporting children to and from school. “What would be wrong with that?” the rov responded. “I would have no objection to it, especially since it is not taking place during the hours of kollel. Then again,” he added, “this might mean that we should investigate if he is in financial straits, so that we can help him if there is a need.”
The rosh kollel and the worried yungerman decided to discuss the matter again after the Yomim Tovim. “Meanwhile,” the rosh kollel added, “see if you can find out some more details.”
After some consideration, the yungerman decided to ask his chavrusah outright. The next day, he found an opportunity to broach the subject. “When you told me that you were going to be late for a drive yesterday, what did you mean?” he asked.
“I volunteer for Darchei Miriam,” the other man replied. “I had to drive a patient from the Shmuel Hanovi area to Hadassah Hospital, and I didn’t want him to have to wait for me.”
Darchei Miriam is an organization that provides transportation for patients to and from the hospitals in Yerushalayim. Upon hearing that explanation, the yungerman breathed a sigh of relief.