Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

My Take on the News

The Sights and Scenes of Chanukah

Come what may, there is one thing that is certainly on our minds these days: the effort to draw as much as possible out of the Yom Tov of Chanukah, the festival of Torah and light. I always find it immensely pleasurable to walk down the streets on Chanukah and to see the lights of the menorahs in every home. Those lights appear even in areas that are not religious at all. Because all Jews, wherever they are, feel a connection to Chanukah.

At the same time, there are many employers in the State of Israel who feel compelled to do something in honor of the Yom Tov. That is not to say that they have suddenly developed a tremendous interest in Yiddishkeit, but many people consider the Yom Tov of Chanukah to be a charming little holiday, a sort of piece of Jewish folklore, and they celebrate it as such. After all, why not? Well, I agree that it is acceptable, as long as their celebrations remain within certain bounds. All too often, though, Chanukah becomes a pretext for activities that have nothing to do with the religious nature of the holiday.

On Chanukah, employers put on shows for the benefit of the employees and their children. Would you expect these events to be on a certain spiritual level? Would you expect them to be dedicated to the theme of the triumph of the spiritual over the material, or the essence of the Chashmonaim’s battle? Well, that is not the case at all. Chanukah has become nothing but an excuse for ordinary entertainment with no connection to the Maccabim and the Greeks. It is simply a pretext for making a party.

This year, members of the Knesset received an invitation from the Knesset speaker to a Chanukah lighting event dedicated to the theme of “the rainbow of cultures.” The event will feature a number of performers. It is an event justified by Chanukah, but dedicated to all that is unholy. To my mind, that is a repulsive combination.

 

Trump’s Proclamation

The major story this week involves Donald Trump. On Wednesday, the entire State of Israel held its breath. People waited anxiously for 8:00 p.m., Israel time (or perhaps it would now be better to call it “Yerushalayim time”), to hear Trump’s address.

“When I came into office, I promised to look at the world’s challenges with open eyes and very fresh thinking,” Trump began his speech. Behind him stood Vice President Mike Pence, who is expected to visit Israel within the coming days. “We cannot solve our problems by making the same failed assumptions and repeating the same failed strategies of the past,” the president continued. “All challenges demand new approaches. My announcement today marks the beginning of a new approach to conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In 1995, Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act urging the federal government to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize that that city – and so importantly – is Israel’s capital. This act passed Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, and was reaffirmed by a unanimous vote of the Senate. Yet, for over 20 years, every previous American president has exercised the law’s waiver, refusing to move the US embassy to Jerusalem or to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city. Presidents issued these waivers under the belief that delaying the recognition of Jerusalem would advance the cause of peace. Some say they lacked courage, but they made their best judgment based on facts as they understood them at the time. Nevertheless, the record is in. After more than two decades of waivers, we are no closer to a lasting peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. It would be folly to assume that repeating the exact same formula would now produce a different or better result. Therefore, I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering… This is a long overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement. Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital. Acknowledging this as a fact is a necessary condition for achieving peace.”

By the way, do you know who has joined the campaign to block the move of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim? That’s right – the Reform movement.

 

Political Ploys in the Police Department

MK Dovid Bittan has been under police investigation. Bittan, the chairman of the coalition, is the closest man to the prime minister and carries out all of his orders. Last Sunday, the police arrested a number of people from Rishon Letzion, including the mayor of the city. Rishon Letzion is the city where Bittan previously held the office of deputy mayor. The police believe that he was guilty of accepting bribes at that time, as well as during his tenure as a member of the Knesset. Naturally, there was a sense that this was a bid for revenge and an effort to prevent Bittan from continuing to pass laws against the police, such as the Recommendations Law, which he and his colleague in the Likud, Dovid Amsalem, have been promoting with all their strength.

The critics of the police have remembered only now that they are driven by political interests. Yes, now that it is painfully obvious, they have finally remembered to condemn the police for their blatant vendettas, and the prosecution for making the proverbial kill on their behalf. I cannot help but be amused. Professor Daniel Friedmann, who served as Minister of Justice under Ehud Olmert, wrote some frightening things on this subject in his book, which describes his experience in his ministerial position. The police tried to eliminate Friedmann as well, and when they failed to do so, they targeted Olmert instead. The fact that Olmert was not found innocent does not detract from the severity of their use of the “rule of law” to liquidate political rivals. Even the current Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, revealed in an interview that she was warned that if she did not act in accordance with the spirit of the “rule of law” – in other words, if she didn’t conform to the dictates of the “enlightened” elite – they would find an excuse to prosecute her. The same thing happened to Rivlin, Neeman, Raful, and Kahalani, and Bittan has become their latest target.

Even if it becomes clear that the coalition chairman is guilty of acts of corruption, that doesn’t justify the investigation being conducted at this time and under these circumstances. In fact, as grave as his alleged crimes may be, it is no less deplorable that the police hold on to open cases against public figures and use them when it is convenient.

They have no mercy, and they are interested in no one but themselves. As far as they are concerned, they may use any method in order to achieve their goals. They have the audacity to do things that no ordinary citizen would ever contemplate, such as in the case of Moshe Mizrachi and Avigdor Lieberman. Anyway, how could anyone claim that the Recommendations Law is wrong if Police Chief Alshich himself declared when he was appointed that he would abolish the practice of making recommendations? And what about the police force’s recent announcement that they are expediting the investigation into Netanyahu in order to preempt the Recommendations Law? Is that proper? Do they think that they are somehow above the law? They are making no efforts to hide their hostility toward Netanyahu and their blindness to normal parameters of behavior.

Let me tell you a story. There was a certain Knesset member from the Shas party during the period of the Deri investigation who used to file numerous parliamentary queries that became a nuisance to the Minister of the Police. He was also a vocal critic of the police, both in the Knesset plenum and in its committees. At a certain point, the police began investigating him for a minor procedural aberration. As soon as the investigation began, he was effectively silenced. There were no more parliamentary queries, no more speeches, no more motions for the agenda, and no more interviews. He kept an extremely low profile, and it worked: Despite the open investigation, he was not summoned for any further questioning. He made no efforts to criticize the police, and the police ignored him – until the term of that Knesset came to an end. He was not elected to the next Knesset, and he was summoned for questioning two days later. Just two months later, he was indicted. That should give you an idea of the way things work.

 

A Law to Commemorate Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l

Speaking of new laws, MK Michoel Malchieli of the Shas party has introduced a proposed law to preserve the memory of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. As soon as he made the proposal, he was attacked from every direction. Some predicted that the law would be opposed “because of the rov’s statements against the Supreme Court.”

The bill is actually quite lengthy and proposes the establishment of a public committee that would perpetuate Rav Ovadiah’s memory and legacy, both through educational activities and through the establishment of a special day in his memory. In the explanatory text for the law, Malchieli notes that Rav Ovadiah was the preeminent Sephardic rov of his generation, a spiritual leader of towering stature, a posek and spiritual guide to thousands, and the author of numerous written works. The law was proposed at the beginning of this month.

I laugh. Yoav Ben-Tzur, another MK from the Shas party, proposed a similar law exactly two years ago (on Tu B’Shevat 5776). His bill also spoke about the establishment of an archive of Rav Ovadiah’s works and a “center for preserving the memory of Rav Ovadiah Yosef and for researching the heritage of Sephardic and North African Jewry.” At the time, though, that law did not make waves. Apparently, even a law in the Knesset needs mazel.

Now, if you are following this story, you may be surprised to learn that Ben-Tzur’s bill was actually a replica of a previous law on the subject, which had been introduced by MK Dovid Amsalem. Yes, Amsalem, the same member of the Knesset who introduced the Recommendations Law, which has infuriated the police. In his own explanatory text for the law, Amsalem wrote, “For decades, Rav Ovadiah Yosef was a central figure in Israeli society in general, and in Sephardic society in particular, in many diverse areas – in halacha, in politics, on social issues, and in public affairs. Among his many tasks, Rav Ovadiah served as the deputy chief rabbi of Egypt, a dayan in the cities of Petach Tikvah and Yerushalayim, the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv and Yaffo, the Rishon Letzion, and the founder and leader of the Shas party, which united the religious Sephardim. His contributions to Israeli society can be recognized in many areas.”

Now, this is quite amusing. Amsalem began the legislative process long ago, and he even brought the bill to a ministerial committee. For some reason, though, he failed to follow through on the initiative and Yoav Ben-Tzur took up the cause instead. Now, he has been joined by Malchieli.

 

The Soccer Extension

I mentioned to you last week that the final word has yet to be spoken on the issue of soccer games on Shabbos in Israel. Well, it has now become clear that the official permits for the athletes to play on Shabbos will not be issued any time soon, if at all. Furthermore, even if the permits are issued, they will certainly be challenged in court, and it is not at all clear that they will pass that test. After all, what is the legal justification for permitting soccer games on Shabbos? Furthermore, why should the Soccer Association be able to apply for permits, when the workers themselves – the soccer players – are not interested in “working” on Shabbos?

In truth, this issue was on the public agenda over 15 years ago. At the time, the Soccer Association and the chareidi parties worked together with the goal of having the games moved to weekdays or Motzoei Shabbos. The Soccer Association was motivated by monetary concerns, but the chareidim were promoting a religious value: the sanctity of Shabbos. This took place in January 1998. The sports edition of Haaretz at the time bore a huge headline that announced, “Millions of Shekels Transferred to the Soccer Association and Players in Exchange for Moving the Soccer Games to Weekdays.” In truth, there was never any such agreement. The soccer games were moved to weekdays because the players demanded it. The games were then moved back to Shabbos because the Sports Channel lost an international contract or something of that nature.

Haaretz reported the following: “The two chareidi parties, Degel HaTorah and Shas, in conjunction with the Soccer Association, have developed a plan over the past few months to reschedule the games of the National League on Motzoei Shabbos and Sundays, and in the early hours of Friday afternoon during the summer months.”

The reporter was even aware that Gavri Levi of the Soccer Association had met with Avrohom Ravitz, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, and he added, “Haaretz has learned that MK Aryeh Deri is scheduled to meet with the heads of the Soccer Association this week in order to discuss the subject in greater detail. Haaretz has also learned that the liaison between Aryeh Deri and the leaders of the Soccer Association is Eli Ochana, the captain of the Beitar Yerushalayim team. MK Deri has already spoken with several former soccer players who have become religious. According to sources within the Soccer Association, it is not unthinkable that Shas and Degel HaTorah may collaborate so that the plan, which would prevent National League games from taking place on Shabbos, will come to fruition.”

The reporter had also collected responses to his story. Aryeh Deri had said that he would be happy if the soccer games were not held on Shabbos. Gavri Levi said that it would have to be anchored in the state budget, and that funds would have to be channeled for that purpose from the chareidi parties. Avrohom Ravitz, as always, had an original response to that demand. “Ravitz asserted that he was opposed in principle to the idea of monetary compensation for keeping Shabbos,” the writer reported. “He said that a person who does not desecrate the Shabbos receives reward both in this world and in the next, but not money.”

It is unbelievable how history has repeated itself today. Let us hope that the matter is settled more quickly and with greater finality this time, and that the games will indeed be moved to weekday slots, as the majority of the athletes demand.

Meanwhile, this is what is happening today: Netanyahu has not convened the committee that issues Shabbos work permits, and the soccer industry has not received its permits. For now, that is because of a technical issue: Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, a special committee was assembled to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of terminating the Shabbos soccer games. The chareidim notified the prime minister that it is impossible to study the committee’s report properly within a short span of time, and Netanyahu asked the court for an extension of three months before his decision is due. In the meantime, then, we have gained three months. As for the future, we pray that Hashem will help us.

 

What Happened to Jewish Compassion?

On Monday, the front-page story in Yisroel Hayom was titled “Concern: The Prisons Will Not Be Able to Take in Prisoners.” The first two-page spread was devoted to the subject. According to the Prison Service, unless there is an immediate change, it will be impossible for any new prisoners to be incarcerated. The problem is simple: Several months ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the crowding in the country’s prisons is illegal, inhumane, immoral, and un-Jewish. It was Elyakim Rubinstein who wrote the decision, one of his final rulings before his retirement. He ruled that every prisoner must be given four square meters of living space. He also ordered the Prison Service to provide every prisoner with three square meters of space within nine months of the ruling, and to reach the required four square meters within 18 months. That should illustrate the harshness of the conditions in Israel’s prisons today.

The issue at hand is not merely the number of square meters that a prisoner should be afforded, but the entirely inhumane approach of the Prison Service to the inmates in the country’s prisons. As a frequent visitor to Israel’s corrective institutions, especially Maasiyahu Prison, I am often exposed to practices that cannot be categorized as anything other than sheer abuse. From the perspective of the Prison Service and its officers, an inmate lacks even the most basic human rights until he proves his worth. Abusive treatment of inmates is routine for the Prison Service, which regularly issues new decrees to create additional hardships for them. For example, they forbade bringing kittels into prisons for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They also instituted a regulation requiring any prisoner in a hospital to be handcuffed to his bed despite the presence of two wardens guarding him.

Not long ago, a yungerman from Kiryat Sefer went to visit a prisoner in Maasiyahu Prison. At the entrance, the guards forbade him to bring almost any items into the prison, including the cap that he was wearing. The problem was that the visitor did not have a yarmulka under his cap. He explained to the guards that he couldn’t enter the prison bareheaded, but they were adamant: Hats and caps were strictly forbidden. Ultimately, he was forced to relinquish his cap and enter the prison with his head bare. Why? For no good reason at all!

What I find disturbing about the complaints of the Prison Service is that they are not adopting the most obvious solution: releasing prisoners after they have served half their sentences, rather than two-thirds. If they did that, hundreds or even thousands of inmates would be set free. I would not suggest it for serious offenders or for those who are likely to repeat their crimes, but it seems reasonable for prisoners who have committed a single crime or minor offenses, and who have a record of excellent behavior.

Two weeks ago, after a representative of the Prison Service appeared before the Knesset Interior Committee, a newspaper article reported that he had complained, “In order to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling, we will have to release 6,000 prisoners.” Following that article, MK Michoel Malchieli sent an urgent parliamentary query to the Minister of Internal Security. Malchieli wrote, “The Prison Service claims that in order to implement the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding the crowding in prisons, it will be necessary to release 6,000 prisoners after they have served half the period of their sentences rather than two-thirds, as well as transfer prisoners for community service and house arrest with electronic monitoring. I would like to ask: Is this true? And if so, what is wrong with allowing these leniencies for prisoners who have behaved appropriately, or who are imprisoned for the first time or were convicted of minor offenses?”

The query was not approved as an urgent query. Every member of the Knesset is permitted to submit as many queries as he desires, but an urgent query requires the approval of the Knesset speaker. An urgent query receives an answer within two days, in the Knesset plenum, and the MK who submitted the query is allowed to ask an additional question, as are two other Knesset members. In effect, it becomes a mini-tribunal of sorts, which takes place at the beginning of the Knesset sitting on Wednesday. But there is a quota: The Knesset speaker approves a maximum of two urgent queries for each member of the Knesset every year. And this query was not approved. Why not, you ask? Because the members of the Knesset also do not feel much compassion for the plight of prisoners.

I, on the other hand, would take the opposite approach. There are many inmates in the prison system who are being punished for making a single error. There are others who may not have actually committed the crimes for which they were convicted. There are also inmates whose families are suffering terribly – and unjustly – as a result of their imprisonment. Why shouldn’t they be shown some mercy? Why is the official policy so draconian? What happened to Jewish compassion?

 

Prayers for Rain

There is no rain in Israel.

Some people may be ignoring that reality, but most of us are gazing at the sky and wondering when the rain will come. It seems that we are in a year of drought. This has often been the case in recent years, and on a practical level, it means that various water sources will dry up, the water level in the Kinneret will drop, and even trees will dry out due to the lack of water. The Nature and Parks Authority and the Keren Kayemet L’Yisroel are both watching the situation with concern. The farmers of Israel are likewise worried about the future.

Hillel Glazman, the director of stream monitoring for the Nature and Parks Authority, spoke with reporters this week. “In the streams in the north and in the Kinneret, a very disturbing picture is developing,” he said. “We are seeing more and more streams drying out.” He pointed out that many major water sources have dried up, and the situation seems dire. I don’t know much about the science, but I do know that it is almost Teves and those who understand the country’s water supply are extremely apprehensive.

 

Nevertheless, what caught my attention was the following statement: “The meteorological service has issued a forecast stating that the likelihood of having a good year of rainfall is about 20 percent. There is nothing we can do but pray.” When this statement appeared in a textbook that was used in the public school system, and the same book related that farmers often pray for rain during a drought, the offending lines were brought before the Knesset, with the leftists protesting that the book was promoting religion.

But a person who senses the need for rain is a person who knows the truth. There is one thing that we can do about the situation, after all: We can daven. Two days after this statement was publicized, it began to rain and the situation improved slightly.

When Will the Knesset Begin Its Recess?

Before the members of the Knesset even had time to get comfortable in their seats in the plenum, the Knesset Committee convened to discuss when the winter session would end and their vacation would begin. According to the official announcement, the committee decided to end the winter session on Sunday, the second day of Nissan, 5778 (March 18, 2018). That is quite late, relatively speaking. The winter session generally concludes immediately after Purim. Evidently, the public criticism of the Knesset has accomplished something.

As for the summer session, it is slated to begin on Sunday, the 14th of Iyar, 5778 (April 29, 2018), and to end on Sunday, the 10th of Av, 5778 (July 22, 2018). That is, the summer session will end after Tisha B’Av, as usual, with all due respect to the widespread criticism of the Knesset’s lengthy vacations.

As always, the dates of the Knesset’s recess were announced in a deceptive fashion. The Knesset’s work week spans only three days – Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. The Knesset does not convene on Thursday, Friday, or Sunday. Therefore, when it is announced that the Knesset’s session will end on a Sunday – which is the case regarding both the winter session and the summer session – that is a bit of parliamentary doubletalk. In reality, the session will end on the Wednesday prior to each Sunday, since the legislature does not meet on the remaining days of the week in any event. The announcement should have said that the recess will begin on the previous Wednesday, but it sounds better to the public when it is phrased this way.

 

A Miracle at Hadassah Har Hatzofim

This week, I heard a story about a child who was born thirty years ago. As an infant, the child was admired by everyone who saw him. Of course, he was especially adored by his parents. One evening, the mother of the child summoned her husband urgently. The baby was pale and listless. His gaze had become vacant, and he had a fever. The father, who was not one to worry, called a neighbor who was a physician. After examining the child and bending his head backward, the neighbor instructed the parents to rush to the hospital. He feared that the baby had contracted meningitis, which was potentially life-threatening at the time.

The parents rushed to Hadassah Har Hatzofim Hospital, where the doctors began performing a series of tests. Their expressions did not bode well. The baby was given large doses of intravenous antibiotics, but the doctors did not have much else to offer.

The father wasted no time and sped to Rechov Jabotinsky 36, the home of Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l. He was a member of Rav Ovadiah’s inner circle, and he had no doubt that the rov and his brocha would help his son. He calculated that the rov would be arriving at his home at that time from delivering a shiur. Indeed, the rebbetzin met him at the door and confirmed that her husband should be on his way home. He was a few minutes late, and she acknowledged that it was unusual. Perhaps some people had stopped him on the way home, she said. She was confident that he would be arriving within two or three minutes, and indeed, Rav Ovadiah himself appeared shortly thereafter.

Before the rov could even sit down, his visitor burst into tears. Rav Ovadiah asked what had happened, and the distraught father recounted the entire sequence of events, adding that the doctors expected the worst. The rov rested his head on his hand for several minutes and then said, “Look, my son, the next three days will be very hard for you, but on the fourth day he will recover and you will go home.”

The yungerman was completely calm when he returned to the hospital. His wife listened to his account and understood his reaction, but the doctors thought that he was insane. His son was hovering between life and death. How could he remain so calm? “We will be going home in three days, with Hashem’s help,” he told them. The doctors felt that he had lost his mind. Meanwhile, the child’s temperature rose and the doctors tended to him. The nurses were panicked, but the father was calm. On the fourth day, the child’s situation improved, and at night he was released. It was astonishing – either the result of the brocha of a tzaddik or an indication of his prescience.

The story does not end there. Twenty-five years later, that child became a married man. To the great chagrin of the young couple, as well as the young man’s parents, several years passed and the couple was not blessed with children. But his father knew what to do: He invited his son to accompany him to visit Rav Ovadiah Yosef. The rov blessed him warmly, hugged the son and slapped his face, and then cried and laughed. Finally, he said, “Do not do any treatments. With Hashem’s help, you will have a son without any intervention by the doctors.” Two weeks ago, that man celebrated the bris of his firstborn son, in fulfillment of Rav Ovadiah’s words.

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