My Take on the News

The Recommendations Law

The country has been mired in controversy over a new law that has been nicknamed the Recommendations Law. In Israel, as in other countries, criminal investigations take place in two stages. In the first stage, the police investigate the suspect, which may take a long time or a short time, and it may entail questioning one or two people, or it may require a long list of people to give testimony. Sometimes, as is the case regarding Israeli Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu, it may even require questioning people from outside Israel. If it is a sensitive investigation or one involving a public figure, then a member of the state prosecutor’s office will oversee the process, instructing the investigators about what to examine, whom to question, and what questions to ask. The purpose of this is mainly to make sure that no stone has been left unturned and that the suspect, if he is placed on trial, will not be able to evade the charges against him.

After the police have finished their work, the evidence they have collected is submitted to the prosecution in the Ministry of Justice. The ministry then decides whether the findings of the police are sufficient to justify pressing charges. In an ordinary investigation, this decision is made by the prosecution in a specific region of the country (the Yerushalayim district, the Tel Aviv district, the south, and so forth). In more sensitive cases, the decision is made by the State Attorney’s Office, generally with the participation of the attorney general and the state prosecutor.

All of that is fairly straightforward. The only question is whether the police should make their own recommendations as to whether there are grounds for pressing charges against a suspect. At the moment, that is indeed the case. The police often tell the prosecution what they feel should be done. The new law, which was advanced by MK Dovid (Dudi) Amsalem of the Likud party, a member of the prime minister’s inner circle, calls for the police to submit their findings without making any recommendations.

There is a certain logic to this. The job of the police is to investigate, not to decide whether to press charges. That decision is within the purview of the prosecution. Furthermore, when the police make recommendations, they create a certain slant that makes it very difficult for the prosecution to reach a different decision. And there is another consideration as well: Why should a person under investigation be stigmatized as a candidate for indictment before the prosecution makes an official decision to press charges?

Despite these logical arguments, everyone decided that Amsalem’s goal in promoting the law was to protect Netanyahu. Amsalem himself claims that that is untrue, but his claims have not dispelled that widespread suspicion. Moshe Kachlon, one of the members of the coalition, announced that he will support the law only if it is limited to future investigations. The Israeli media has reported feverishly on the debate surrounding the law. It has been the subject of major stories in every news outlet. Both Lapid and Gabbai have used it to denounce Netanyahu for his “corruption.” The law was approved in its preliminary reading and was transferred to a committee to complete the legislative process. After it was approved, the media felt compelled to launch another barrage of vicious attacks on Netanyahu. That is why this law has been the focus of attention in Israel for over a week.

 

Police Partiality Exposed

Meanwhile, between the preliminary reading of the bill and its first reading in the Knesset (which is to be followed by the second and third reading, which come at the same time), the law was transferred to the Knesset Interior Committee for discussion. This led to yet another uproar, which naturally included an appeal to the Supreme Court. The petitioners claimed that it was unacceptable for the law to be discussed in the Interior Committee, which is chaired by Dovid Amsalem himself. They argued that it violates the regulations of the Knesset for an MK who serves as chairman of a committee to oversee the discussion of his own law. They also claimed that the law should have been discussed in the Legislative Committee, not the Interior Committee.

Based on my own experience and familiarity with the Knesset regulations (which are contained in a small volume that is not particularly long and is fairly easy to understand), the petitioners are absolutely wrong. There is no legal problem with the chairman of a committee overseeing the discussion of a law that he proposed. There is also nothing wrong with having any law debated in any of the Knesset’s committees. Moreover, the Interior Committee is actually the more appropriate place for the law to be discussed, since the operations of the police force fall under the committee’s jurisdiction, and this law pertains directly and exclusively to the police.

Then there is another point: The police have announced that they will expedite the investigation into Netanyahu so that they can submit their recommendations before the law is finalized. First of all, that means that we have gained something from the brouhaha surrounding this law: The investigation will soon be over. Second, the mere fact that the police are so eager to make recommendations shows the degree to which they are one-sided and against Netanyahu. Finally, when the current police commissioner was appointed, he said that one of the first things he would do was to make sure that the police would no longer make recommendations to the prosecution. If that is the case, then what is the problem with this law?

 

Netanyahu Flies to Kenya

As for the prime minister himself, he was pleased when State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan announced that Netanyahu had no connection to the submarine affair, in which a number of government officials have been accused of taking bribes in exchange for advancing the deal. “There is no evidence that would justify investigating the prime minister in Case 3000,” Nitzan declared. That isn’t to say that Netanyahu was afraid of the prospect. It seemed clear enough that he had no connection to the case. Nevertheless, it was pleasant to hear an official statement from the government confirming that.

The police have also begun hinting that it is not clear that Netanyahu committed any criminal acts by receiving gifts, a subject that has been the focus of a different investigation. They are now implying that the prime minister’s explanations under questioning will make it very difficult to press charges against him – something that the police would probably be all too happy to do, if they saw any possibility of succeeding.

It should be noted that the prime minister was coached for each of his six interrogations by Yaakov Weinroth, the chareidi lawyer who has saved many prominent government officials and economic figures from prison. Weinroth recently gave a lengthy interview in which he spoke about Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife. What fascinated most people about the interview, though, was the lawyer’s appearance. Yaakov Weinroth is suffering from a severe illness and was barely recognizable on the footage. The interview shocked the country. In the midst of all this, his daughter-in-law, Chani Weinroth, passed away on Wednesday morning after a struggle with cancer. She had become famous for giving chizuk to thousands of men and women during the course of her own illness. She wrote regularly for the Israeli Yated Ne’eman, sharing her thoughts and musings as she struggled to cope with her medical condition.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu left the country for a visit to Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, where he held a series of diplomatic meetings with senior African officials and attended the inauguration of the president of Kenya. Netanyahu, who is considered a friend of the president of Kenya, was invited to speak at the event. He then met with a series of dignitaries from Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, Togo, Namibia, and other countries. Before departing for his trip, Netanyahu also met with the foreign minister of the Ukraine in Yerushalayim. In short, he has been going about his ordinary activities, as if nothing unusual is happening.

 

A Partial Victory for Shabbos

We have been heavily involved in dealing with the issue of chillul Shabbos. The minister responsible for issuing Shabbos work permits has shown contempt for Shabbos. Two weeks ago, the railway company insisted on continuing to work on Shabbos, which led Yaakov Litzman to quit the government. The company’s insistence also infuriated the other chareidi representatives, who chose to boycott the cabinet and coalition meetings. Netanyahu grew frightened and finally chose to act. As usual, this happened only at the last minute and only when he was under tremendous pressure. The law that Aryeh Deri had asked for, which would give him the authority to overturn municipal bylaws, finally came to a vote. In addition, the law that Moshe Gafni requested, which would require the Minister of Labor to take Jewish values into account before issuing a Shabbos work permit, was approved in its preliminary reading after it was confirmed in a telephone vote by the cabinet.

Parenthetically, there is a third law proposed by Gafni that would retroactively invalidate any municipal bylaws permitting chillul Shabbos. Gafni has been told, though, that this bill does not have a chance of passing.

The first two laws seem to represent a victory for the chareidi parties. However, we were also forced to give in on a number of issues. First, the power of the Interior Minister to veto a municipal bylaw will not apply to Tel Aviv. The damage that has already been done there will not be reversed. Second, the chareidi legislators were forced to retract their veto on issuing Shabbos work permits for the soccer industry. Let me remind you of the situation: A group of soccer players who do not wish to play on Shabbos appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming that the industry wasn’t legally permitted to operate on Shabbos. As it turned out, they were correct; it was a fact that had simply been overlooked for the past 70 years. The Supreme Court gave the government two choices: Either there will be no soccer games in Israel on Shabbos or official permits must be issued for the games to take place. Netanyahu was prepared to convene the relevant committee immediately and to issue the permits; he claimed that he could not interfere with the soccer games on Shabbos, since most of the fans are Likud voters. He also argued that since the chareidim have been fighting to uphold the status quo, the same argument would apply in favor of the continuation of the soccer games. The chareidi representatives responded that they were not prepared to allow the permits to be issued for soccer games on Shabbos. Now, however, they have been forced to give in on that point. Our main demands were met, but some of our smaller battles were lost.

Of course, this is very unfortunate. We are chagrined by what we failed to accomplish, but we must also remember the famous moshol of the Chofetz Chaim, which was cited years ago by Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach. The Chofetz Chaim told the story of a woman who was selling apples in the marketplace, when a scoundrel flipped over her table and the apples scattered in every direction. As people scrambled to grab the stray apples, the woman simply stood there and cried. A passerby, witnessing the scene, said to her, “Ma’am, you can cry later, but this is the time to bend down and gather as many apples for yourself as you can!”

 

Miracles in Maayanei Hayeshuah

In the midst of all these events, our attention has been focused on Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital in Bnei Brak, where Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman has remained in serious condition. This week, I met one of Rav Shteinman’s grandchildren, who told me that he had just returned from visiting his grandfather at the hospital. “I know you won’t believe me,” he said, “but I spoke with my grandfather and he responded to me.” That is something that was impossible just a week earlier, and I have to say that I was quite surprised, not to mention pleased.

May we hear good tidings.

 

Minister Chaim Katz’s Problem

Chaim Katz, the Minister of Labor, holds the authority to issue Shabbos work permits. Last week, Katz was quoted in Maariv as saying, “It can’t be that the chareidi leadership will dictate things. When they want, they cancel agreements that were made in the past. If we have to go to elections over this, we will.”

This wasn’t an unusual moment of candor; Katz has been expressing these views to the media on an ongoing basis. Yediot Acharonot reported the following: “The discussion that Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu held last night with the relevant ministers regarding the crisis over the Shabbos railroad work concluded without results… Hovering over the talks was the warning sent by Minister of Labor and Welfare Chaim Katz to Health Minister Litzman, which might indicate the final conclusion of this affair: ‘Do you want elections? Then we will go to elections!’”

There is something that I have found perplexing about Chaim Katz’s attitude. In general, I might be able to understand a person who is prepared to commit political suicide for the sake of an ideological agenda. Shemiras Shabbos, for instance, is a value of such importance that a Jew might be prepared to give up everything for its sake. But when did chillul Shabbos become a value of equal importance? How could Chaim Katz be willing to go to elections for the sake of destroying Shabbos? I acknowledge that many chilonim do not understand the importance of Shabbos, just as they don’t understand much about the Jewish holidays and other foundations of our religion. Our struggle to maintain the purity of the conversion process also baffles them. But still, how could a Jew be willing to let the government dissolve in order to perpetuate the desecration of Shabbos? There was a time when the hand that signed the Shabbos work permits would tremble. Now, Minister Katz’s hand trembles when he does not sign the orders.

The answer to this enigma, I believe, lies in Chaim Katz’s personal background. He is a member of the Histadrut workers’ union and is firmly rooted in the narrow world of the country’s workers. He served as chairman of the workers’ council of the aircraft industry, and it was in that capacity that he developed his political standing. If you take away his efforts to advocate for Israel’s workers, there will be nothing left of him as a political leader. One of the most important ingredients in the salary of an Israeli employee today, as terrible as this is, is his work on Shabbos. An employee earns several times his ordinary wages for working a shift on Shabbos. In many factories and organizations, Shabbos work is viewed as a bonus and is handed out to the employees with the most connections. For Chaim Katz, issuing Shabbos work permits is an ideological cause.

That is why Katz fought for construction work on the railroad to continue specifically on Shabbos. As far as he is concerned, if he gives in on the railroad work, then the precedent may affect the electric company, Bezeq, and other major companies, even the aircraft industry. For a person like Chaim Katz, who defines himself as the former head of a workers’ council, the battle to preserve the railroad work is critical. If he loses this battle, he might lose his political throne. Having come from the ranks of the workers, he knows that he will have to give them an accounting for his actions in the political sphere. That is my analysis of what could motivate a Jew to place his entire political career on the line for the sake of perpetuating chillul Shabbos. In fact, it is the only way I can understand why Katz has been trying to pass off the authority to issue Shabbos work permits to a different government minister. If the law is changed to limit the government’s ability to issue work permits, and if the minister will now have to take the value of Shabbos into consideration, Chaim Katz does not want to be the minister responsible for doing that.

 

Continued Aid for the Shomer Shabbos Soccer Players

As for our capitulation on the issue of Shabbos soccer games, it is truly very sad. Everyone has been asking how we could have abandoned the soccer players. Of course, everyone understands that it is sometimes necessary to make small sacrifices in order to achieve one’s main goal, but it still appears as if we turned our backs on the observant soccer players in their struggle.

The answer to this question is that the soccer players actually have the upper hand. They have never been given an official permit to work on Shabbos, and the laws of the State of Israel prohibit working without a permit. That is why they won their case both in the Labor Court and in the Supreme Court; the courts decided that the games may not continue on Shabbos without the issuance of permits. While it is true that the chareidi representatives have removed their veto on the issuance of those permits, that does not mean that they have agreed to it. Even without the veto, it will be very difficult for those permits to be issued.

For one thing, the soccer players themselves are not interested in receiving permits. Can another person request a permit on behalf of a worker who doesn’t want it? And can a worker be coerced to accept a permit? Even more important is the fact that according to the new law, Jewish values must be taken into consideration before a permit is issued. It seems likely that a blanket permit for soccer games to be held on Shabbos will be considered a violation of that law.

The athletes, with their determination and their seasoned legal advisor, are certainly going to fight this battle until they are victorious. I was present for a meeting between a group of Shabbos-observant soccer players and the Knesset members of the Shas party. Moshe Arbel, who was appointed by Aryeh Deri to handle the matter, was also there. I am confident that the players will win this battle. Without going into details, let us say simply that the final word has yet to be spoken on this subject, both from our perspective and from theirs.

 

The Decline of the KKL

Here is another item relating to Shabbos. Yaakov Asher, a member of the Knesset from the Degel HaTorah party, recently submitted a parliamentary query to the Minister of Justice regarding a tender issued by the Keren Kayemet L’Yisroel for a particular position. The tender specified that the candidate for the position must be willing to work on Shabbos. Asher asked if the KKL has a permit to conduct activities for organizations and groups on Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim, and how the ministry could permit the KKL to engage in blatant discrimination against observant Jews. Actually, I believe that the KKL, like the Jewish Agency, is not subject to the authority of the Knesset or to any government ministry, including the Ministry of Justice. Thus, Minister Shaked is probably powerless to do anything about this tender. That, however, is not my main point.

I would like to point out the following: Every lease agreement signed by the KKL includes a clause prohibiting the lessee to engage in chillul Shabbos on the property. In 1968, a lessee appealed to the courts to disqualify this clause. Naturally, the case reached the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Agranat proposed a compromise to the two sides – the petitioner and the attorney general. According to the compromise, instead of deleting the clause altogether, the KKL would specify that it applies only to business activities. They would not seek to regulate the actions of a private individual on his own property, but it would not be permitted to run a business on land owned by the KKL.

It was actually at the request of the government that this case made its way to the Supreme Court. Prior to that, Justice Miriam Ben-Porat of the District Court (a judge who later made her way to the Supreme Court, and went on to serve as the state comptroller) accepted the claimant’s petition completely and ruled that the clause should be stricken from the lease agreement. The government appealed her decision, and the case of the “Shabbos clause” thus reached the Supreme Court. This was the situation in 1968. Today, though, the KKL is seeking to force other Jews to violate the laws of Shabbos. And that is sad.

 

Draining the Meaning out of Chanukah

Another sign of the decline in the State of Israel is the current attitude toward Chanukah. Many places of work in Israel have decided to make a point of acknowledging the chag. That is not to say that they have suddenly become interested in Yiddishkeit, but many people view Chanukah as an enjoyable holiday, a piece of Jewish folklore with its own pleasant little customs. Well, why not enjoy such a simple holiday?

Indeed, there is no reason not to celebrate it, as long as certain red lines are not crossed. The problem is that the celebrations sometimes go too far.

As an example, take the Knesset, which is an institution with hundreds of employees. During Chanukah, the Knesset will be hosting events for employees and for their children. But are these events in keeping with the spirit of the holiday? Is there going to be a lecture about the triumph of spirituality over hedonism, or perhaps a play that will bring the victory of the Chashmonaim to life? No. On the contrary, Chanukah has become a pretext for hosting events with no connection to the holiday whatsoever; it is simply an excuse for making a party.

I can’t really complain about the events held by the Knesset employees, though, when the same scourge has infected the upper echelons of the legislature itself. According to a notice from the Knesset speaker, the members of Israel’s parliament have been invited to the traditional Chanukah candle lighting ceremony at the Knesset building. The theme for the event this year is “A Rainbow of Cultures.” The event will feature a number of artists. It is an event being held on the pretext of lighting Chanukah candles, dedicated completely to all that is not holy.

Another interesting event in the Knesset will be held on Tuesday, the eighth of Teves, and is billed as a “salute to the police force of Israel.” The Knesset speaker will be present for the event, which will also be attended by Minister Gilad Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alshich. It will be interesting to see if Netanyahu attends the event in the Knesset auditorium or the festive discussion scheduled to take place in the plenum in honor of the occasion.

 

The Poike Incident

An article that appeared in a recent newspaper, and that somehow managed to escape most people’s attention, was titled “Poike Cooked on Yom Kippur; Maglan Commander Dismissed.” If I understood correctly, “poike” is a type of dish that originated in South Africa, and the Maglan unit is a commando unit within the IDF named for the ibis, a bird known in Hebrew as maglan. The officer was dismissed because he allowed the soldiers under his command to cook on Yom Kippur. Although the soldiers are not religious¸ and possibly not even Jewish, the army does not allow the fast of Yom Kippur to be violated publicly, even though it does not obligate the soldiers to fast.

This is an important news item, because it reveals much about the situation in the IDF today. The army contains tens of thousands of soldiers who have no connection to Judaism whatsoever. The fact that they are in the army does not mean that they are Zionists; this is not the same IDF that existed years ago. Nor is the State of Israel the same country that it once was.

 

An Eyewitness Account from the Bais Yisroel

I recently shared with you a story about Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l, and I quoted an eyewitness who was present at a minyan attended by a number of gedolim, one of whom was Rav Aharon. My source related that while he was at the minyan, he heard a loud bang in the middle of davening, and he turned to find the Bais Yisroel pounding on the bimah. As it turned out, a secular newspaper was sitting there. The Bais Yisroel motioned to Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Moses, father of MK Menachem Eliezer Moses and then-secretary of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, to remove the newspaper from the room.

Somehow, Reb Menachem Eliezer Moses himself heard about what I had written, and he informed me that he has also heard this story from several sources. In fact, one of those sources was the Bais Yisroel himself, with whom Moses had a close bond. He added that the meeting of the Moetzes, where the minyan took place, was held at a hotel, and the newspaper had been left behind by another guest. His father, according to the Bais Yisroel, had held the newspaper with the edge of his jacket; he didn’t want to touch it with his own hands.

 

The Long-Awaited Visitor

Mendy is a supporter of Lev L’Achim who lives overseas. Whenever he comes to Eretz Yisroel, he makes a point of visiting one of the organization’s kiruv schools or midrashot in order to witness their activities firsthand and to gain a deeper appreciation of what his substantial donations are accomplishing. On his most recent visit, he was accompanied as usual by Rabbi Natan Chaifetz, one of the directors of Lev L’Achim, who works to maintain a relationship with the organization’s friends and patrons abroad. Like other visitors, Mendy asked to take advantage of Rabbi Chaifetz’s extensive connections in order to visit the gedolei Yisroel. He noted that it was especially important to him to visit the home of Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Last Tuesday evening, at 9 p.m., Rabbi Chaifetz and his companion arrived at the gadol’s apartment on Rechov Rashbam. “I tried to reach you,” said Rav Chaim’s grandson, who met them at the door. “My grandfather went to bed; he wasn’t feeling well. I wanted to tell you not to come, but you didn’t answer your cell phone.” The visitor was crestfallen and Rabbi Chaifetz was equally disappointed.

“Perhaps we can still see the rov anyway,” Rabbi Chaifetz told the grandson.

Mendy added, “I am at a very important juncture in life right now, and I want to hear what the rov says before I return to America.”

“When are you leaving?” the grandson asked.

“I am going straight from here to the airport,” Mendy replied.

“I am very sorry,” the devoted grandson said, “but my grandfather has already gone to bed. Maybe you can write your question on a piece of paper and I will bring it to him.”

Seeing no alternative, the visitor jotted his question on a note and added a request for the rov’s brocha. He signed his note “Menachem Mendel ben Elisheva.” The grandson took the paper, glanced at it, and gave a start.

Your name is Menachem Mendel?” he asked.

“Yes,” Mendy said. “What difference does it make?”

Rav Chaim’s grandson made no effort to conceal his emotion. He called out to his father and exclaimed, “Abba, you won’t believe this! This man is named Menachem Mendel!”

The two visitors stared in puzzlement at the gadol’s grandson. “What’s going on?” they asked.

The answer left them gaping in disbelief. That evening, Rav Chaim had asked both his son and his grandson if a man named Menachem Mendel had come to see him. Neither of them understood the reason for his question, but they did not press for details; they simply answered in the negative. “Did my grandfather know that you were supposed to be coming? Did he know anything about you?” the grandson asked.

“No,” Rabbi Chaifetz replied. “You were the only person I spoke with.”

Ultimately, the two guests were ushered into Rav Chaim’s private room and received a heartfelt brocha.