Friday, May 24, 2024

My Take on the News

Chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv

One of the main stories this week was chillul Shabbos on the railroad. The chareidi community has felt very hurt by the actions of the Minister of Transportation, as well as the backing he received from Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu. Interestingly, Netanyahu and Yisroel Katz, the Minister of Transportation, are in the middle of a feud of their own. Katz has already set his sights on the leadership of the Likud party when the post-Netanyahu era arrives – if such an era ever comes to exist.

The chillul Shabbos that has become the most recent issue involves the construction of a train station in Tel Aviv. The police claimed that in order for the work to be carried out, it was necessary to close down entire streets in the city, which would lead to life-threatening danger if it was done during the week. As a result, they insisted that there was no choice other than for the construction to take place on Shabbos. The chareidi representatives in the government warned that there would be dire consequences if the work was performed on Shabbos, but the transportation minister ignored their threats. In fact, he even visited the construction site personally on Shabbos to oversee the work. The construction was also documented in photographs taken from every angle, which were then published throughout the media, as if to make the point that the “chareidi threats” had not intimidated Minister Katz. There is no question that the minister crossed every possible red line with these actions.

Following these events, the chareidi representatives demanded an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu. It was rumored at first that they also demanded that Katz step down from his position, but a later report contradicted that. The meeting took place last Tuesday, and the chareidi politicians demanded that the director-general of the railway company be dismissed. It was revealed before long, though, that he is scheduled to be leaving his position soon anyway.

During the meeting, Netanyahu asserted that he considers himself obligated to defend the kedushah of Shabbos in the State of Israel. “I am not prepared to let it be said that I harmed Shabbos,” he insisted.

The officials agreed to establish a committee that would coordinate the construction work with the requirements of Shabbos. The committee includes representatives of the prime minister’s office, the Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of the Economy, along with representatives of the chareidi parties, a proxy on behalf of the Minster of Education, and a representative of the Chief Rabbinate. This committee has already held its first meeting, which led to some disagreements, as could be expected. The chareidi representatives demanded a complete halt to the construction work on Shabbos, while the prime minister’s office and the Ministry of Transportation insist that the work be carried out on Shabbos in cases when the police feel that performing the construction during the week might endanger human life.

A Responsibility and a Dilemma

Of course, there are some elements in our own community who saw these events as a pretext for attacking our political representatives. These pundits accused our government officials of lacking a backbone and issuing empty threats. They complained that our politicians had not done enough to fight for the kedushah of Shabbos. I will not get into the question of whether it is even appropriate for a chareidi journalist to write an editorial against a chareidi minister or member of the Knesset. What I will point out is that an issue of this sort – whether and how to respond to chillul Shabbos sanctioned by the government – is exactly the type of issue that must be decided by the gedolei Yisroel, and everyone knows that the chareidi politicians follow the directives of the gedolim.

The stakes here are very high, and the issues involved are both weighty and complex. On the one hand, there is the issue of the kedushah of Shabbos and how it should be treated in the public sphere in the State of Israel. This often leads to a potential for chillul Hashem as well. That problem could be solved if the chareidi parties resigned from the government. In fact, there is historical precedent for such a move: Under Yitzchok Rabin, the government once fell because of an episode of chillul Shabbos on an army base, when planes that had been delivered from America were received on Shabbos.

There is no question that we are obligated to threaten in the strongest terms that chillul Shabbos will result in grave consequences. But what if the government doesn’t listen to us? That is exactly what happened now. Should we carry out our threats? There is a good deal at stake if we do: There is the general welfare of the chareidi community, the funding for the Torah world, and the fact that our politicians are now in a position to minimize future damage. Dragging the country into elections now could jeopardize all of these things. That makes it a very serious question indeed, one that involves the issue of chillul Hashem along with many other things that we hold dear. But there is another consideration as well: If the country sees that we make threats and then do not carry them out, then they will certainly continue to ignore our demands.

In light of all this, I do not envy those who are responsible for making these decisions. Our political leaders are fortunate to have the guidance of the gedolim. And for the same reason, I cannot understand the writers of those opinion pieces, most of whom are quite young, who think they know better. What gives them the audacity to write so critically about the emissaries of our gedolim?

The Zechus of Learning Torah

The school year in Israel has now begun, and that is not something to be taken lightly. Millions of children are beginning a new scholastic year, thousands of them for the very first time. For the schools of Chinuch Atzmai, Shuvu, and Nesivos Moshe, every day of classes is a miracle, and beginning a new school year is even more miraculous. While no one will ever admit to this openly, our country is not pleased with these institutions of Torah education. The government is irked by the fact that there are families that turn their backs on the public school system, opting instead to send their children to schools in these independent networks.

This week also marked the beginning of the school year in chadarim across the country.

In other news, although the security situation in Israel has calmed down significantly, we have been reminded several times in recent days of the mortal enemies who will take every opportunity to do us harm. A Palestinian terrorist who was captured near the Meoras Hamachpeilah claimed that he had been planning to avenge the death of a family member. He aroused the suspicions of the Border Guard from a distance, and when they searched him, they found a knife on his body. The would-be terrorist is all of 18 years old. In another incident, a young Arab was shot and killed near Ofra, after he advanced threateningly toward an army position near the junction. And I haven’t even mentioned the dozens of incidents when rocks and Molotov cocktails were thrown at Israelis at traffic junctions and places of conflict everywhere, including Har Hazeisim and Kever Rochel.

Professor Hiss’ Bombshell

The 18-year-old Arab who was arrested at the Meoras Hamachpeilah claimed that he was trying to avenge the death of his uncle, who was killed in the vicinity. That uncle was the terrorist who was shot and killed by Elor Azariah, the soldier who is now standing trial for his actions. Azariah has been accused of violating army protocol and disobeying orders when he shot the terrorist. His case has become the focus of the entire country’s attention. In recent days, in fact, the Azariah trial seems to have taken a sharp turn, since several of his superior officers were summoned to testify against him but ended up bolstering the case of the defense. According to their accounts, there was indeed a concern that the Palestinian was wearing an explosives belt, and that he was still alive and conscious and therefore posed a threat. On top of that, the Minister of Defense has put out a call not to be too quick to condemn Azariah. This was a clear message not only to the media, but also to his commanders in the army, and perhaps even to the military court. (Since Azariah is a soldier, the trial is being held in a military court, rather than an ordinary one.)

The prosecution hurried to react to the testimony, explaining that the suspicions of wrongdoing had left them no alternative other than to press charges. It was clear that they were intimidated by the Minister of Defense. Meanwhile, a new revelation came from Dr. Yehuda Hiss, the former chief pathologist of the State of Israel. Hiss asserted that the terrorist was already dead when Elor Azariah shot him while he was lying on the ground. If the judges accept Hiss’ testimony, then it will mean that Azariah did not kill the terrorist at all, and the charges will have to be changed or even dropped altogether.

On a related note, last week the army demolished the home of the terrorist who murdered Rav Michoel Mark Hy”d near Otniel several months ago.

Tensions Between Police and Ethiopians

Another recent uproar was caused by a speech delivered by the police commissioner at a convention of the Israel Bar Association. The Bar Association holds a conference in Eilat every year that is attended by all the country’s elites, including the ministers of the government and, of course, the justices of the Supreme Court. Police Commissioner Roni Alshich probably meant well with his comment, but it backfired in a most explosive way.

The subject he was addressing was the police force’s relations with the Ethiopian community. In recent years, the Ethiopians of Israel have held massive demonstrations, claiming that their community has been singled out by the police and that the police are far too quick to arrest dark-skinned suspects, often in an unnecessarily violent fashion. Alshich claimed that it is only natural for immigrants to fall under greater suspicion, since studies have shown that immigrants are more likely than non-immigrants to be involved in crime anywhere in the world. It should not be surprising, he maintained, that a police officer will be naturally inclined to view an Ethiopian immigrant with suspicion. Alshich then added that the police force is currently working to correct that, but the end of his comment did not register with his listeners. The beginning of his statement was enough to arouse the ire of the leaders of Israel’s Ethiopian community. Former MK Penina Tamano-Shata (who is frum, incidentally) announced furiously, “The commissioner has given police officers the green light to turn our children into automatic suspects and targets for police brutality. Your children are not any better than ours!” she added.

The current members of the Knesset also called on the police commissioner to amend his statement. Yitzchok Herzog proclaimed it unacceptable that anyone should cast aspersions on the law-abiding character of Israel’s Ethiopian citizens. The Arab members of the Knesset took advantage of the brouhaha to blow Alshich’s comments even further out of proportion, declaring that “it should be unthinkable for a person responsible for law enforcement to announce that anyone who is not Jewish and white is automatically suspect.” Of course, Alshich didn’t exactly say that, but this is what happens when the media pounces on a statement with the potential for controversy and does everything in its power to fan the flames of discord. The police responded by explaining that Alshich had meant the exact opposite: He is opposed to stereotyping, and he will work to improve the relations between the police and the Ethiopian community.

Bypassing the Knesset

The Speaker of the Knesset has also found himself in the headlines this week after he wrote to the Minister of Finance to express his disapproval of the state budget as it has been formulated. This is not to say that Yuli Edelstein has joined the opposition; rather, he is acting at the behest of the Knesset’s legal advisor, who has the status (and salary) of a judge.

The problem with the budget, according to Edelstein’s letter, is that among its thousands of clauses are many subjects that have no connection to the budget at all. The reason this is done is so that the budget is guaranteed to be passed by the Knesset. If it is not passed by a certain time, the government will fall. As a result, all the ministries in the government arrange for various clauses that are important to them to be included in the budget bill, as a sort of “back door” means of getting legislation passed. But that is precisely the reason for the Knesset legal advisor’s objection. His message to the government ministers, and even the prime minister himself, is that if there is something that they want the Knesset to approve, it should be brought up for consideration independently; no new law should be snuck into another bill.

Edelstein’s letter is phrased delicately. “We must make sure,” he said, “that the Arrangements Law [the official name of the budget law, by which it is known because it includes certain arrangements in addition to the budget – which is precisely the problem] does not serve as a means of bypassing the Knesset for matters that are not connected to the state budget.” Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, who was on a trip to America this past week, decided to return to Yerushalayim early in order to participate in the government meeting that took place last Tuesday. Kachlon has already announced that some of the clauses in question will be removed from the bill.

One clause with dubious relevance to the budget, by way of example, is the tax levied on an owner of three apartments. This may be a financial issue, but it is a tax, not a budgetary allocation. The issue itself is problematic and fraught with controversy, and there is ample reason to assume that it would not be approved if it were brought before the Knesset as an independent bill, regardless of how badly the Minister of Finance wants to see it passed into law. It was included in the budget in the hope that its approval would be guaranteed, since no member of the coalition would dare oppose the budget law. But that is precisely the subject of Edelstein’s objection.

Reaching Lofty Heights in the Desert

This week marked the beginning of the new zeman in yeshivos, but I feel compelled to write a few words about the very special Shabbos of inspiration for yeshiva bochurim that took place just before the beginning of the zeman, in the city of Yerucham, the southernmost city in Israel with the exception of Eilat. Yerucham was once home to a prestigious yeshiva headed by Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus. Today, the city has a large community of yungeleit. The yeshiva bochurim who spent Shabbos in Yerucham stayed in the dormitory of a school and spent the Shabbos discussing issues such as having aspirations for greatness, shteiging, the extent of their responsibility for others, and how to take on kabbalos for the future.

The Shabbos was geared for bochurim of yeshiva gedolah age who had chosen to set aside the leisure period of bein hazemanim and spend their time basking in the presence of giants of Torah and mussar.

“You are the army!” Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi roared during the opening event on Thursday, reminding the bochurim of their place as members of Hashem’s army.

The next part of the weekend was a symposium, a typical feature of most of the camps for yeshiva bochurim in Eretz Yisroel, but this one was free of the banter and one-upmanship that typically characterizes these events. The symposium was titled “Bochurim in Halachah,” and the panel members were rabbonim and poskim: Rav Meir Kessler, Rav Yisroel Marmarush, Rav Yosef Rappaport, and Rav Shimon Galai. That evening, there was a musical presentation by Rav Hillel Paley. Anyone who knows Rav Hillel well can attest that he is a renowned maggid shiur who uses his guitar to stir his listeners’ souls, inspiring them to rise to higher spiritual levels. Every bochur who has listened to Rav Hillel has been transformed by the experience; along with his music, he drives powerful messages deep into the bochurim’s souls.

Rav Shimon Galai is a man who has reached an extraordinary level of kedushah, which made it quite astounding to watch him interact with the bochurim without the slightest trace of self-importance. He spoke freely about his experience battling illness, he sang along with them, and he acted as if he were on the same level as all of the young guests. In the Torah world, in sharp contrast to the secular world, the people who have the greatest reasons for pride tend to be the most self-effacing. Over the course of that Shabbos, Rav Shimon’s wife felt ill and was forced to leave for the hospital, but she insisted that her husband remain at the event. “If there are any shailos, you can guide me over the telephone,” she told him. Rav Shimon agreed and immediately sat down to learn Mishnah Berurah. “I don’t make any important decisions without learning for ten minutes first,” he explained.

On Erev Shabbos, there was a “seder of hachanah” reminiscent of the preparations for Shavuos. This part of the weekend featured another panel discussion on the subject of mesorah, with Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi, Rav Shmuel Yaakov Bornstein, and Rav Aryeh Levi serving as the panelists. Rav Aviezer Piltz delivered a mussar shmuess prior to a swimming session. “A ben yeshiva must always be a ben yeshiva,” he asserted, “wherever he goes and under any circumstances.” The tefillos and the seudah on Friday night took place in an atmosphere of great elevation, in the company of the roshei yeshivos. Rav Tzvi Yehuda Edelstein presided over the seudah, which was an uplifting experience for the bochurim. Rav Dov Yoffe, who is the very embodiment of gentleness and pleasantness, was called upon to describe the proper form of a debate in a bais medrash.

In short, the entire Shabbos raised the bochurim to an ethereal plane. The seudos, the singing, and every other aspect of it left them suffused with spiritual delight. When Rav Shmuel Yaakov Borenstein, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Kiryas Melech in Bnei Brak, sang “Kol Dodi Dofeik,” the audience could sense Elul’s imminent arrival. One of the highlights of the weekend was a speech on Motzoei Shabbos delivered by Rav Chaim Mordechai Hertz, a close talmid of Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, who told the story of his own miraculous salvation. He claimed emphatically that he owed the miracle to the power of emunas chachomim. His address ended with a sweeping rendition of Nishmas. In that remote desert city, it was a powerful weekend filled with mussar, halachah, and Torah.

On Sunday came the greatest pleasure of all, as we watched our sons make their way to yeshiva, toting suitcases and brand new Gemaros, accompanied by their parents’ tefillos. And the parents who are not fortunate enough to be learning in kollel themselves escorted their sons out of their homes with a pang of yearning, longing for a life of immersion in talmud Torah for themselves as well.

Posthumous Potshots

Yossi Beilin, a staunch leftist and former government minister, spoke about the recently deceased Binyamin “Fuad” Ben-Eliezer, in a series of comments that said a good deal more about Beilin himself than it did about the deceased. Even if “Peres’ boy,” as Beilin was known (since he served as Shimon Peres’ aide for many years and was considered one of the youngest members of his inner circle) has a negative opinion about the “boy from Basra” (Ben-Eliezer came to Israel from Basra, Iraq, as a young man, without his parents), there are some things that should never be said, and certainly not at a time such as this.

Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, for those who do not know, was one of the leaders of the Labor party and was a candidate for the presidency who vied against Reuven Rivlin. He passed away this past week. At the time of his passing, he was weak, ill, and broken, and was in the middle of criminal proceedings after he was accused of taking bribes during his tenure as the minister responsible for Israel’s energy sources.

Ben-Eliezer was a popular public figure. In the Labor party, he was Yossi Beilin’s counterpart. The two were probably political rivals, and their rivalry extended into the personal realm as well. After Ben-Eliezer’s death, Beilin went from one news program to the next, declaring that Ben-Eliezer, who was discharged from the army with a rank of brigadier general, never belonged in politics. Beilin himself was widely criticized for this round of interviews.

In the 2001 primaries, Fuad Ben-Eliezer ran for the position of defense minister. He won, and he described the aftermath of his victory in his memoirs: “Victory has an intoxicating aroma, and many people gathered around me. Matan Vilnai and Ephraim Sneh, who ran against me, came to congratulate me. Someone handed me a phone, and Ariel Sharon was on the line; he congratulated me and told me that he was happy that I had been elected. I thanked him, and he offered to meet with me at the beginning of the following week. After Sharon, Ehud Barak called, sounding excited. Binyomin Netanyahu called and told me, ‘The Jewish people need you. I am certain that you will restore our personal security.’ Even Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz called to wish me the best. ‘We will work together very well,’ I assured him.” Ben-Eliezer went on to list the names of other public figures who called to wish him well (“even Rav Ovadiah Yosef”), and made note of those who did not (such as Yossi Sarid). At that point, an interesting line appears: “Yossi Beilin also called and was very effusive.” Such is the world of politics. I believe it would be fitting to write an entire article about Binyamin Ben-Eliezer; perhaps I will do that in the near future.

I have one more comment to make about Ben-Eliezer. There may be many negative things to say about him, and I cannot say for certain whether he was guilty of taking bribes. It is certainly sad that he never learned Torah, that he was educated in chiloni schools and lived the life of a tinok shenishbah. To his credit, though, he never rejected his heritage. He observed the little that he knew, and he was respectful of the things that he did not know. Anyone who saw him on his visits to Rav Ovadiah Yosef will know exactly what I mean.

A Heartbreaking Tragedy

Once again, we have experienced an unbearable tragedy. Again, it was a mother of small children. The Master of the Universe came to His garden and removed the most beautiful flower, and while we do not question His decisions, the pain is almost unbearable. The passing of this young woman can be added to a list of many more tragedies, including the sudden deaths of a number of young people, that have befallen the chareidi community of Eretz Yisroel in recent times.

I paid a shivah call to the bereaved husband, Rav Avrohom Gedaliah Shapira, who is a son of Rav Aviezer Shapira, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Torah L’Tzeirim, a well-known mashgiach, and the rov of a shul in Geulah, and who is hailed as a veritable admor. We have known each other for many years. His wife is a member of the Machzikei Hadas community of Denmark, where my grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson zt”l, served as the mara d’asra. In later years, my father, Rav Moshe Menachem Yaakovson zt”l, held the same position.

At the shivah, the young widower offered solace and encouragement to his visitors. He spoke about his wife, painting a picture of a devoted mother and a bas Yisroel suffused with unshakable emunah. She was a woman, he related, whose every movement was a kiddush Hashem, who painstakingly avoided causing even the slightest distress to others, and who was a source of amazement to everyone who knew her. When she passed away, the doctors at Tel Hashomer who had treated her burst into tears. In many years, they asserted, they had never met such an incredible person. Tragically, she passed away at the age of 32.

Rav Aviezer Shapira, the bereaved husband’s father, assured him that his wife’s good deeds had accompanied her to Gan Eden. She had certainly merited a place of honor in the World to Come. But what about all the tefillos that had been recited on her behalf? What about all the kabbalos that had been undertaken in her merit?

“Those things, too, will accompany her,” the orphaned children were assured by their grandfather. “Tefillos, like tears, never go unanswered. Hashem keeps them in His treasury.”

Rav Yitzchok Menachem Berger, father of the nifteres, added that he had once heard a similar thought: When Avrohom Avinu davened for the people of Sedom, it appeared that his tefillos were in vain. After all, Sedom was destroyed despite his pleas. But in truth, he explained, the answer to Avrohom’s prayers appears in the seemingly unrelated posuk that precedes the episode of Sedom’s destruction: “For I have known him, that he will instruct his children and his household after him.” In the zechus of Avrohom’s campaign of prayer on behalf of Sedom, he concluded, Lot survived the city’s destruction. As a result of that, Rus was born and became the ancestress of Dovid Hamelech and his royal line.

Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach once told an orphaned child, “Every child has one Father in Heaven; you have two.” In the same vein, I will note that every child has a Father in Heaven, but the children of Hadas Shapira-Berger now have a Father and a mother in Shomayim. May the family be comforted, and may Hashem wipe away their tears.



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