Wednesday, May 29, 2024

My Take on the News

Tefillos for Rav Shteinman

At the end of this past week, two issues occupied the attention of the entire country: Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman’s medical condition and the ongoing chillul Shabbos in Eretz Yisroel.     On Wednesday morning, when it was announced that Rav Shteinman’s condition was serious – or, according to some reports, very serious – and then we heard that his condition had become critical, the atmosphere in Eretz Yisroel became heavy with foreboding. The gedolim asked the people to daven for Rav Shteinman, and the community responded to their call. People gathered throughout the country and poured out their hearts in prayer.

At the time of this writing, Rav Shteinman’s condition is still serious and he is still in danger.

At the same time that we were storming the heavens with our prayers, Rav Shteinman’s daughter, Rebbetzin Berlin a”h, was taken to her final rest. We can only continue davening that he will recover.

As for the chillul Shabbos, as I have mentioned in the past, we must now deal with the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Minister of the Interior does not have the authority to overturn the municipal bylaw passed in Tel Aviv. In response to that, the chareidi parties have demanded the passage of a new law that will give the Interior Minister that authority. The law may not make a difference in Tel Aviv itself, but it will certainly help for other cities that may attempt to mimic Tel Aviv. Ostensibly, the prime minister is obligated to comply with their demand, since the coalition signed an agreement requiring them to rectify any breaches of the status quo, and this certainly qualifies as a breach. Prime Minister Netanyahu is not denying that he has that responsibility, but he is also dragging his feet. That is how he operates: He always intervenes at the last possible minute, and sometimes even later. And so we are pressuring him, and he tells us that he is “looking into” the matter.


New Criteria for a Work permit

Another new law associated with Shabbos deals with the issuing of work permits. As I have written in the past, the State of Israel has a law known as the Law of Hours of Work and Rest, which prohibits a business owner from employing Jews on Shabbos. In order for an exception to be made, a special permit must be issued by the Ministry of Labor and Welfare. The Ministry of Labor has a committee that examines each request and determines whether a permit will be issued.

There are several factors that the committee considers valid reasons for a Shabbos work permit, such as security needs or lifesaving purposes. There are thousands of hospital employees, security guards at factories, and other workers whose employers received permits to have them work on Shabbos. Another consideration is significant financial damage; this clause has allowed the ministry to issue hundreds, if not thousands, of additional work permits. The Israel Railway Company, for instance, has hundreds of permits to conduct work on Shabbos. We are now asking the government to add an additional factor into its calculations: Shabbos itself! According to the new proposal, the minister must weigh any potential economic damage against the chillul Shabbos itself. The desecration of Shabbos should be viewed as a loss that may offset the gain derived from issuing a work permit. To date, this has not been the practice. Will it solve the problem if the minister is instructed to take Shabbos into account? We believe that even if it does not resolve the issue entirely, it will certainly make a major impact. Shabbos work permits will no longer be handed out wholesale.

These two proposed laws – the bill that would give the Interior Minister the power to veto a municipal bylaw, and the bill requiring Jewish values to be taken into account before a Shabbos work permit is issued – were discussed with the prime minister by the chareidi legislators both last week and this week.

Meanwhile, things are moving very slowly. Aryeh Deri and Moshe Gafni have asked for the bills to be brought before the cabinet and the Knesset this week. However, it is not clear at the time of this writing if that will happen. I discovered indirectly how much energy the prime minister is investing in these issues – not from Netanyahu himself, but from Yariv Levin, the Minister of Tourism, who is highly influential on the subject. Last week, I asked Levin to allow me to interview him for Yated Ne’eman. He is already familiar with the newspaper and he agreed to the request in principle, but he found it difficult to find the time to meet with me. Every time I called his aide to make an appointment, I was told that Levin was in the prime minister’s office, meeting with Aryeh Deri, Moshe Gafni, and Yaakov Litzman.


A Partial Victory in the Railroad Saga

Meanwhile, we have found ourselves embroiled in another battle over Shabbos, this time concerning the construction work on the railroad. As you know, the railway company decided that Shabbos is the best time of week to conduct repairs and improvements on its train tracks and train stations. After all, there are very few passengers using the trains on Shabbos, and it is easier to shut down train service on Shabbos, since fewer people travel on the day and any disruptions in the train schedule will not interfere with the operation of businesses.

Of course, we find this decision infuriating. With all due respect to the company’s economic considerations, Israel is still a Jewish state, and the value of Shabbos should supersede other issues. A previous government fell because the electric company insisted on moving a turbine from one place to another on Shabbos, since the lighter traffic made it possible to shut down a major highway for that purpose. The government insisted on allowing the turbine to be moved, and the chareidim resigned as a sign of protest. We now wonder if the same thing is about to happen again.

The chareidi lawmakers asked the administration of the railway company to refrain from violating the laws of Shabbos on the Shabbos of Parshas Vayeitzei. The company insisted that the work would go on. This dispute pertained to construction that was planned for the Dimona-Be’er Sheva line. The conflict reached the prime minister’s desk, and he asked the two cabinet ministers involved in the matter – Yisroel Katz, the Minister of Transportation, who is responsible for the railway company, and Chaim Katz, the Minister of Labor and Welfare, whose ministry issues the permits to work on Shabbos – to figure out a solution. They were unable to come up with one. Furthermore, Chaim Katz spoke out against the chareidim and announced that he felt the situation warranted holding new elections. The most important thing, he declared, was not to “surrender” to the chareidim.

At the same time, the secular media began denouncing the chareidim for inconveniencing the country over a “trivial” matter. As far as they are concerned, Shabbos observance has no particular value. We were attacked in editorials and political cartoons, and all the headlines were slanted against us. Last Thursday, for instance, Yediot Acharonot began its front page story with the words, “If the maintenance work on the railroad is performed on a weekday, it will paralyze the country. Nevertheless, the chareidim insist that they will resign from the coalition if construction is performed this Shabbos.” The issue occupied the country’s attention at the end of last week, until Netanyahu finally capitulated on Thursday night. This Shabbos, he announced, there would be no work on the railroad. The media reported this by announcing, “The political pressure has worked!”

On Thursday evening, the government released a statement: “Following extensive discussions that continued into the night [Wednesday night] as well as this morning [Thursday] between the chareidi legislators, Minister of Labor and Welfare Chaim Katz and the Israel Railway Company, it was decided that the work on the railroad will be significantly curtailed this coming Shabbos. The management of the railway company was asked to present a new plan to Minister Katz, which will include significant reduction of the work on Shabbos and will provide advance information of any work that is considered a matter of pikuach nefesh because it is necessary to prevent harm to passengers.”

Make no mistake, though: We haven’t resolved the situation yet.


The Tables Have Turned

Let us move on to some other topics.

Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu was questioned by the police. At the same time, Lior Chorev announced his resignation. Chorev is a public relations expert and political strategist who has recently been at the eye of the storm. We are living in an age when media experts manipulate the public agenda and exert tremendous influence over people’s thoughts and attitudes. Chorev was chosen to act as the spokesman for the police force and its commissioner, and since the police have been on the offensive against Netanyahu and the Likud, Chorev himself has been on the receiving end of the ricochets from the political arena. At the same time, he has also been fighting back on behalf of the police. In the Knesset Interior Committee, Chorev was recently criticized for failing to abide by his own commitment, in the context of his contract with the police, to refrain from making political statements. On the other hand, there were those who argued that he was being targeted for a political lynch. Two weeks ago, Chorev was the focus of an attack from Netanyahu. This week, as the prime minister was questioned by the police for the sixth time, Chorev announced his resignation from his position as spokesman for the police force. If I understood correctly, the company that employed Chorev will continue to offer its services, but he will not be one of the consultants to the police. That sounds like typical obfuscation.

But there is more to the story. Twenty years ago, Lior Chorev was a major participant in the chilonim’s struggle to have Rechov Bar Ilan in Yerushalayim opened to cars on Shabbos. If I am not mistaken, he was also part of the anti-chareidi campaign at the time.

Recently, I had occasion to peruse some old newspapers, and I found Chorev’s name plastered across the front pages of a number of newspapers from the month of Shevat 5763 (January 2003). At that time, he was the strategic advisor to Arik Sharon, who headed the Likud and ran for prime minister in the 2003 elections. Chorev appeared in the media and evoked a storm when he accused the police of placing him under surveillance. Although he also served as the director of the party’s public relations council, he led the media to a place that turned out to be very damaging to the Likud, to the point that they wanted to fire him. Sharon and Limor Livnat, the chairwoman of the public relations council, dissociated themselves from Chorev and denied his accusations. Yediot Acharonot quoted a “senior minister” who asserted that “Chorev’s appearance was terrible. It was embarrassing and highly damaging to us…. He made a mockery out of us. Our party is acting like Shas. We cannot constantly attack the police, the prosecution, the courts, and the media.” Fifteen years later, the tables have turned completely: The Likud and the prime minister are now attacking the police, and Lior Chorev, the PR strategist who was once on the opposite side of the divide, has been defending them.


Rav Nosson Wachtfogel’s Note: A Postscript

Before I go on, I must make good on a debt to my readers. Last week, I wrote an article about Rav Nosson Wachtfogel’s visit to Copenhagen, the capital city of Denmark. It was an interesting account, and I do not believe the story has ever been publicized before. I am certain that the story of Gavriel, the baal teshuvah who received a handwritten note from Rav Nosson, was never made public in the past. I did not mention Gavriel’s family name or other identifying details. I simply noted that he learns in the town of Telz Stone in Eretz Yisroel.

After the story was published, a few people asked me why I hadn’t included a picture of the note from Rav Nosson. That isn’t to say that they didn’t believe the story, but since I had mentioned that I had a copy of the note in my own possession, they were puzzled by the fact that I didn’t share the specimen of Rav Nosson’s handwriting. Of course, that would have added a good deal to the story, and the note itself is fascinating. Thus, I am including a picture of the note here.


The Keren Kayemet and Shabbos Observance

I recently wrote about the conflict between the Keren Kayemet L’Yisroel and the Israeli government, which is demanding that the KKL pay taxes on its profits from the sale of real estate. This week, the KKL was in the news again, this time because of a tender it released for a specific position. One of the requirements of the tender is that the candidate must be willing to work on Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim. MK Yaakov Asher responded by submitting the following parliamentary query to the Minister of Justice: ‘Does the Keren Kayemet L’Yisroel have a permit to conduct activities for organizations and groups on Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim? How can the ministry allow it to publish a tender that indicates such outright discrimination and such a flagrant breach of equality?”

Actually, I believe that the KKL, like the Jewish Agency, is not under the Knesset’s jurisdiction and is not subject to the authority of any particular ministry. I cannot imagine that Minister Shaked has any particular control over the KKL. But that is not my point.

Every lease signed by the KKL includes a clause prohibiting the lessee to engage in chillul Shabbos. The original text of the clause prohibited construction or any other work to be performed on KKL-owned properties on Shabbos or Yom Tov. This clause was challenged in the Supreme Court in 1968, and Chief Justice Agranat proposed to the two sides – the petitioner and the attorney general – that they reach a compromise. Instead of eliminating the clause altogether, they could limit its scope, so that “work” would be defined as “the management of a business or any other work performed on a regular basis by the lessee for compensation, or performed by any other person for compensation or publicity.” In other words, the contract does not place any restrictions on a private individual, but a business can never be run on land belonging to the KKL on Shabbos. This case reached the Supreme Court only after Justice Miriam Ben-Porat of the District Court accepted a petition to remove the clause altogether. The government itself appealed to the court against her decision, and the Supreme Court partially upheld the clause prohibiting chillul Shabbos. That was the situation in 1968, but today the KKL has made an about-face and is forcing Jews to be mechallel Shabbos.

It is unbelievable how things in this country change for the worse.


Poor Access at Me’oras Hamachpeilah

Many of the causes adopted by the members of the Knesset come in response to reports published in the newspapers. There is nothing wrong with that. When a Knesset member acts in response to a problem, such as the injustice of a disabled child not being provided transportation to his school, why should it make a difference if he learned about the problem from a request for help from the family or from an article in a newspaper? The most important thing is for him to act on the information. Of course, if he manages to solve the problem, it is even better.

This was the case with a recent news report that the Me’oras Hamachpeilah is not accessible to the disabled, under the headline “The Torturous Path for Jewish and Muslim Worshippers.” This is indeed a serious problem, and it is amazing that no one thought of it sooner. The body of the article reported an astounding fact: There is already a budget in place to build an elevator for the disabled. The problem is not that the Kiryat Arba municipality is being uncooperative. Rather, it is the Minhal Ezrachi (Civil Administration), a semi-military government body, that has not permitted the elevator to be built. The explanation offered by the Minhal is that the problem lies in an interim agreement with the Palestinians, which gives them jurisdiction over the Me’oras Hamachpeilah compound. In other words, the Me’oras Hamachpeilah is controlled by the Palestinian municipal authorities in the city of Chevron. As outrageous as that sounds, it is a fact.

MK Yaakov Margi, who feels a connection to the issue because he lives in the south, submitted an urgent parliamentary query on the subject, which was certified as urgent by the Knesset speaker. On Wednesday, his question was addressed in the plenum. “This week,” he wrote, “there was discussion about the subject of access to the Me’oras Hamachpeilah by the disabled, and it was revealed that the problem is political rather than financial. The current diplomatic arrangement gives control over the planning at the site to the municipality of Chevron and the Waqf, and the establishment of access for the disabled has been delayed on account of their refusal to permit it. I would like to ask the following: Why were they given sovereignty over the site, and what will be done to make it accessible to the disabled?”

The response, on behalf of the Ministry of Defense, was delivered by Deputy Minister of Defense Eli Ben-Dahan. “No Arab or other entity was given sovereignty over the Me’oras Hamachpeilah,” he asserted. “The issue that you have raised is actually very painful. They say that Rav Levinger zt”l, in the last years of his illness, used to take an entire hour to make his way up the steps… I will contact the relevant authorities in order to advance this process. I will not rest until we have found a solution so that the disabled can also visit the Me’oras Hamachpeilah.”

Ilan Gilaon (Meretz) spoke up. “If you don’t do it soon, I will stop going there.” Gilaon himself is disabled and moves through the Knesset on a motorized scooter.

“Then they will say that you forgot how to be a Jew,” said Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein.

Chas veshalom. Chas veshalom,” Ben-Dahan said.

“The things that I have forgotten are things that he [Gabbai] never even learned,” Gilaon said.

“Resolving this matter will be a historic victory for justice,” Ben-Dahan said. “MK Margi, my friend, I am telling you that I will not give up. I will do everything in my power to resolve this issue. But I can tell you, on the other hand, that the Jewish settlement in Chevron has quietly undergone a revolution over the past two years. I am proud to tell you that I have played a significant role in that process. Boruch Hashem – of course, with the help of the residents of Chevron, who have been the driving force behind these changes – we have approved the Chevron Municipal Committee as an independent governing body, and we will also—”

“You mean the Minister of the Interior approved it,” called out Yoav Ben-Tzur.

“Yes, the Minister of the Interior approved it, but only when he was pressured to do so,” said Ben-Dahan. “There were a few people who helped him. I am not detracting from his role, chas veshalom, but I can tell you that since the committee was approved, the Civil Administration began refurbishing the roads and sidewalks throughout the Jewish settlements of Chevron.”

All of this, however, is merely talk. Will there actually be an elevator for the disabled in the near future? There is no way to tell.


No Justice Among the Nations

The current American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, was appointed by Donald Trump. Haley replaced Samantha Power who was appointed in 2013 to replace Susan Rice. At the time, Rice was preferred by then-President Barack Obama to serve as an advisor on national security. Power’s appointment was received with disappointment in Israel, as were all of Obama’s appointments. Naturally, we all breathed a sigh of relief – and some of us even cheered– when Power left her position and Haley was appointed to replace her. Our relief may indeed have been justified. Since her appointment, Haley has adopted a highly pro-Israel stance that has shaken the United Nations.


On the other hand, it turns out that her predecessor, Samantha Power, did something good before she left her position: She arranged for the declassification of the United Nations archives containing documents from the Holocaust years. There are hundreds of thousands of documents preserved in thearchives of the United Nations War Crimes Council, dating back as far as 1943. For seventy years, these documents were kept classified and only a select few individuals were given permission to examine them. Access to the documents was granted only with the special approval of the secretary-general of the United Nations, and even then, visitors were strictly forbidden to photograph or copy the documents. In recent years, it has become commonplace for formerly secret documents to be declassified. The results were immediate and clear – and very painful.

It has now been revealed that the entire world, including the United States, knew about the Nazi industry of death by the end of 1942, for a period of two years before the end of the war. Throughout this time, they knew what was happening and they did nothing about it. Two million Jews were slaughtered during those years, when America was aware of the unfathomably brutal crimes being committed against them – and did nothing in response.

As could be expected, a book has already been published on the subject. This book proves, based on the UN documents, that America, England, and the countries of the Eastern bloc were aware by the end of 1942 of the murders of two million Jews, and of the five million Jews who had been designated to be taken to their deaths. One of the ministers of Churchill’s government made sure that the matter would be ignored. It was also revealed that in the State Department in America at the time, there were anti-Semites who preferred to avoid ruining the relations between the United States and Germany, even if it meant that the acts of wholesale slaughter would continue. For the same reason, they also preferred to avoid pressing criminal charges against Nazis.


Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel in Praise of Yissurim

We all know that Lavan was “crowned” with two titles: He was known as a rasha and a ramai (trickster). Yaakov Avinu, meanwhile, was the exact opposite: He was a tzaddik and an ish tam, a wholesome and honest person. Yaakov worked for seven years to marry Rochel, only to discover that his bride was actually Leah. Based on the continuation of the story, one might surmise that Yaakov forgave his wicked father-in-law for his deceitful act; after all, he went on to work for another seven years in order to marry Rochel. Rashi infers from the posuk that just as Yaakov worked for Lavan faithfully throughout the first seven-year period, he remained equally devoted and honest during the second set of seven years despite Lavan’s trickery. In a beautiful shmuess included in a recently published collection, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l expounds at length on this passage in Rashi.

A two-volume collection of Rav Nosson Tzvi’s shmuessen on the parsha was recently released by the Kolmus publishing company. These volumes are filled with incredible insights and ideas. Regarding this Rashi, Rav Nosson Tzvi comments that the Medrash quoted by Rashi illustrates Yaakov Avinu’s enormous tzidkus: “Even though he was tested with very difficult trials, he accepted them with tremendous love and was not embittered against Lavan for deceiving him. Nor did he complain against Hashem, for he had the clear understanding that everything that Hashem did was for the best.”

This statement is especially fitting when coming from Rav Nosson Tzvi himself, who lived a life of tremendous suffering. I remember being present when Rav Nosson Tzvi came to the yeshiva in Brachfeld to deliver a shiur at the beginning of a z’man. I watched as he struggled to emerge from the car that had brought him there. His confidant, Rabbi Menachem Zaretsky, and his son, Rav Shmaryahu Yosef Finkel, supported him on either side. It was a laborious process for him to reach his spot beside the massive aron kodesh, and the struggle did not end there. When he spoke, he fought to pronounce every word, toiling over every sentence as he swayed back and forth. At one point, his hat fell on the floor. I stood and watched from the ezras noshim, mesmerized by the sight. The shiur was astonishing not only because of what he said, but because of the way he said it. The degree of exertion was incredible. And it was Rav Nosson Tzvi, the man who accepted his own profound suffering with love, the man who poured every ounce of his energy into delivering a shiur to the point that his entire reserve of strength was completely depleted, who explained the suffering of Yaakov Avinu in a way that bespoke his own attitude throughout life. “Nochum Ish Gamzu earned the title ‘gamzu,’ which is the most honorable title a person can have,” the Mirrer rosh yeshiva asserted in the same shmuess. “There can be no greater praise than the fact that a person recognizes the goodness of his Creator at every moment of his life.

“Every person in the world goes through difficult challenges over the course of his life,” Rav Nosson Tzvi continued. “If he looks at every hardship in his life as an isolated event, he will not be able to withstand it. But if he manages to look at these nisyonos as we have learned in these parshiyos, it will be easier for him to cope with all of his suffering. This is not a trivial accomplishment. It requires tremendous patience for a person to wait to see how every detail adds up to form the complete picture. But if a person lives with the feeling that everything Hashem does is for the best, he will be able to have this mindset from the start, and it will ultimately become a tangible reality to him.”

In other words, a person must elevate himself to the point that he can see the entire picture. When Rav Nosson Tzvi passed away, I wrote that if someone had offered him a house full of gold, it would have meant nothing to him in contrast to the Gemara he loved so deeply. I saw the same statement made in other places as well. Evidently, it was an accurate assessment. In the context of this shmuess, Rav Nosson Tzvi offers an analogy: “This can be compared to learning a sugya. A person’s life is a complex sugya. The masechta of life is exactly like Maseches Bava Kamma, or Kiddushin or Zevachim. It is only when a person finishes the entire sugya that he can understand how every detail adds to its completion.”

Taking the discussion a step further, Rav Nosson Tzvi even hailed yissurim for their benefits. “It is not our job to try to understand the reasons for suffering,” he said. “We must leave all of those calculations to Hashem, and we must simply know to accept yissurim as a display of pure kindness from Hashem.” He added later in the shmuess, “This feeling is not easy to attain. Nevertheless, it is something that a person must become accustomed to thinking at every time. He must constantly contemplate the fact that everything Hashem does, all the challenges and suffering that He sends to a person, results exclusively from His mercy, and will ultimately spare him from much distress and pain in the World to Come.” These were the words of a man who contended with more hardships and pain than most other people in our generation.


Caught on Camera

I heard the following story directly from one of the parties involved: In Bayit Vegan, there is a beautiful mikvah that can be accessed from Rechov Shaarei Torah, as well as from Rechov Breuer 13. It is a facility that is comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. The person who oversees the mikvah is very particular about maintaining its beauty, and the people who use it follow his lead. There is only one thing that the local residents find troubling about it: The pushkah located next to the keilim mikvah is occasionally targeted by thieves. This small metal box is designated for payment for the use of the keilim mikvah, and it can also be used to pay debts incurred for the use of the regular mikvah. The box doesn’t usually contain large sums of money, but many find it outrageous that any person could pilfer coins that were donated for such a sacred purpose.

Recently, the security camera at the mikvah was turned to face the keilim mikvah in the hope that the thieves could thereby be identified. The video camera is connected to the gabbai’s computer and constantly transmits images from the site. One evening, it seemed that the thief – or, rather, thieves – had been found. The computer screen showed three people – a secular couple and one other man – standing beside the mikvah in the middle of the night. There was no conceivable reason that a young secular couple should be standing outside the mikvah at that hour, unless they had come to break into the pushkah.

To make a long story short, it was soon discovered that they were actually baalei teshuvah who had come to tovel their dishes in the mikvah. Why, then, did they come in the middle of the night? There were two reasons: They worked during the day, and they were also embarrassed at the thought of being seen there during the daylight hours. Since they weren’t familiar with the procedure of tevilas keilim, they were accompanied by the yungerman who had helped them kasher their kitchen.



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