My Take on the News

Still Mourning for Rav Shteinman

This past week, like the weeks before it, was overshadowed by the recent passing of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l. Across the country, hespeidim were delivered at numerous events. Roshei yeshiva, along with Rav Shteinman’s close talmidim, traveled from city to city to speak about him. The speeches were delivered to communities in shuls, as well as in yeshivos. Hespeidim were delivered in almost every yeshiva in the country. Over the years, Rav Shteinman had visited virtually every yeshiva in the country to deliver shmuessen. Every week, a transcript of one or two shmuessen that he had delivered in yeshivos would appear in K’ayal Taarog, the weekly publication produced by his talmidim. An examination of old issues reveals that Rav Shteinman visited dozens of yeshivos throughout Eretz Yisroel.

The stories shared by his family members are astounding. Since his passing, a picture has emerged of a spiritual giant living in our midst, a man who transcended the norms of our generation. One of the talmidim who have been eulogizing Rav Shteinman in many locations is Rav Moshe Sechayak, who compiled the series of seforim titled Mizekeinim Esbonan. These seforim contain a wealth of the rosh yeshiva’s insights, along with anecdotes concerning him.

In other news, the investigation into Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu continued this week, as did the protests against him. This story has already become tiresome. The police have been trying to tighten their noose around Netanyahu’s neck, but it doesn’t seem to be working, even though they are constantly leaking reports to the press that the prime minister is in serious trouble. There has even been talk about moving up the elections, and there are those who have already set their sights on succeeding him. It is a sad situation indeed.

A Seven-Hour Speech in the Knesset Plenum

It has been a crazy week in the Knesset. Perhaps you have heard about it. Everyone has been talking about the filibuster and the fact that the opposition managed to wear out the coalition. Let me begin by explaining exactly what happened.

The Knesset’s agenda this week included the Recommendations Law, which prohibits the police to make recommendations to the prosecution after completing an investigation. According to the law, the police can do nothing but hand over the facts that they have gathered. They may not add their own suggestions regarding what should be done with that information. Everyone calls it the “Netanyahu Law,” even though Netanyahu himself has made it clear many times that the law will apply only to future investigations; it will not affect him, and he has no desire for it to apply to the investigations concerning him.

When a law is brought to the Knesset plenum for its final reading (which actually consists of both the second and third readings, which are conducted at the same time), the members of the Knesset vote on every clause in the bill, and then on the bill as a whole. In addition, the Knesset votes on any “reservations” that were proposed. After the first reading of a bill, before it is brought to the plenum again for its second and third readings, every member of the Knesset is allowed to submit suggestions for altering the bill. Those proposed qualifications – known as “reservations” – are also brought to the Knesset for a vote.

Submitting a reservation gives a member of the Knesset the right to speak in order to explain his suggestion. A specific number of minutes is allotted for each reservation. The opposition took advantage of this by submitting thousands of proposed qualifications to the bill. Dozens of reservations were written on each word. Many of them were ludicrous, such as the comment that “this law will not apply to a person named Binyomin.”

Another reservation proposed that “this law will not apply to person whose name begins with the letter B and who has a dog named Kaya.” A third comment suggested that “instead of ‘mishtarah’ [police], the law will state ‘mishtalah.’” The purpose of all this was to capitalize on the right to speak that accompanied every qualification. The opposition managed to rack up many hours of speaking time, and they announced that they planned to use every minute of the time allotted to them.

That is precisely what ended up happening. The debate concerning the Recommendations Law began on Tuesday morning. Prior to that, there had been another filibuster of sorts. This one was over the “Judaism Law,” which is how the Knesset refers to the new law requiring the Minister of Labor to take Jewish values into consideration before issuing a Shabbos work permit. The law was passed, but only after many hours of speeches, which began at 4:00 on Monday and ended after midnight. That was when the debate over the Recommendations Law began. The vote took place on Wednesday at 10 p.m. Thus, the debate in the Knesset plenum began at midnight on Monday night and continued for almost two full days. Dozens of Knesset members took advantage of the opportunity to speak.

What did they speak about? Absolutely nothing. MK Eitan Cabel of the Zionist Camp, for instance, donned a yarmulka and read Megillas Eichah, using the Yemenite pronunciation. He also asked his listeners to request other texts that they would like him to read. Someone sent him a message asking him to recite a prayer for a safe journey. Yisroel Eichler, who was serving as chairman of the sitting at that time, recited Tefillas Haderech (without the Sheim Hashem). Another member of the Knesset delivered a lecture on philosophy, and others read various books or poems. One MK even read aloud from the works of Shakespeare. Mickey Levi of the Yesh Atid party spoke for seven hours straight. It was truly absurd.

Criticizing the Filibuster

The members of the opposition were proud; they had worn out the coalition with their interminable speeches. But in the Knesset, many people were angry at them, since the filibuster ultimately had no benefit. Their original plan was to force all the members of the Knesset and cabinet ministers from the coalition to remain in the building at all times. It was presumed that at any moment, if the opposition saw that they had a majority in the plenum, they could decide instantly to forgo the right to speak. The vote would then be held immediately, and the majority from the opposition would be able to defeat the initiative.

That, at least, was the initial idea, but it did not work. The members of the coalition went home, leaving two representatives, as well as the minister on duty, in the building. During every Knesset sitting, there is always a minister who is responsible for remaining in the plenum at all times, in addition to another government minister who is present to respond to the discussions. Different ministers are brought to the plenum to respond on different subjects, but the minister on duty always remains there. In general, the ministers serve in this capacity in shifts of two or three hours each.

Since there was a cabinet minister present in the plenum, it was actually impossible for the opposition to trigger an immediate vote. If they were to announce that they were willing to forgo the right to speak further, the minister would have the right to respond before the vote was held, and he could easily speak at length until all the members of the coalition returned from their homes. In effect, the filibuster served no purpose. All it did was irritate everyone who was affected by it. Aside from that, it also caused the entire schedule of the Knesset to be disrupted. All of the items that were on the agenda for Tuesday and Wednesday were postponed until the following week. The filibuster also caused hundreds of Knesset employees to have to work around the clock, even throughout the night. All the ushers and members of the Knesset Guard had to work additional hours, and that meant that they had to be paid overtime salaries. There is good reason that the opposition was roundly criticized for wasting the taxpayers’ money on a foolish exercise in futility.

There were plenty of comical moments during the speeches delivered over the course of those two days, but I will save the quotes for another time. There were also plenty of screaming matches, but I will spare you from that as well. I will mention that at one point, MK David (Dudu) Amsalem, who introduced the bill, went to the podium and loudly castigated the previous speakers. Amsalem was outraged that the speakers had denounced his bill as corrupt. “Do you know who the most corrupt person in this building is?” he demanded. “It’s Yair Lapid! He travels all over the world and stays in luxury hotels, all at the expense of the state. He is barely ever in the Knesset. He is paid a salary for being here and he is never here. If he had been an employee of the state, he would have been fired by now!”

On Wednesday night, the Knesset voted on the bill itself, along with all of the reservations. The vote took about two hours, and the coalition kept its majority. The law was passed by a majority of 58 to 54. Yair Lapid announced in advance that if the law passed, his party would challenge it in the Supreme Court. The Minister of Justice immediately responded that his statement was an affront to the honor of the Knesset.

More Delays Ahead

There is a possibility that a similar scenario will take place this week as well. While the Judaism Law has already passed, as I mentioned, we must now bring the Supermarket Law to a vote. This is the law that prevents municipal governments from inventing rules as they see fit. According to the bill, any bylaw passed by a municipal government that affects the lives of the city’s residents – including a bylaw that “permits” chillul Shabbos – will have to be approved by the Minister of the Interior. This week, the Supermarket Law is scheduled to be transferred from a committee to the Knesset plenum, where the second and third readings will be conducted and the law will be brought to a vote. The opposition has already threatened that they will speak for many hours again, and the vote will be delayed until Wednesday night. Again, one must wonder what they will gain from this ploy.
Meanwhile, several city governments are hurrying to enact new bylaws before the law is approved. They are presuming that a municipal bylaw that is passed this week will not require the Interior Minister’s approval. The city of Givatayim, which is adjacent to Bnei Brak, scheduled a session of the city council to discuss permitting stores to open on Shabbos. However, someone appealed to the court against the city, and the meeting was canceled. The cities of Rishon Letzion and Cholon have also scheduled sessions of their municipal councils to enact similar bylaws. Motti Sasson, the mayor of Cholon, claimed that his intent is solely to “preserve the status quo.”

This is something that I am having trouble understanding. Is he referring to stores that are already open on Shabbos? If so, how can they be operating on Shabbos in violation of the law? And since when is illegal activity considered the status quo? On the other hand, if the stores are not yet open on Shabbos, then there seems to be no status quo for him to preserve. This is all very saddening and painful, and his arguments are not convincing at all.

I would like to add one last word about the filibuster concerning the so-called “Judaism Law.” There were several speakers who did not seem to be anti-religious. Rather, it appeared that they had simply been poisoned by the media’s invective. For example, Yossi Yonah of the Zionist Camp made the following comments: “We do not live as chilonim out of spite. Many of us come from families with a longstanding tradition of respect for Jewish values… We appreciate Shabbos and we love Shabbos. Shabbos is part of our lives, even when we interpret it in different ways. Shabbos is Shabbos… All that we are saying is that laws should not be made in these areas. Sometimes, laws are superfluous. I want to say something for the other side of the divide as well. Sometimes, when anti-religious laws are passed, those laws themselves bring about an undesirable result. I address this comment to the people of Yesh Atid. There are statistics that show that the draft law actually caused a decrease in the number of chareidi soldiers enlisting in the army.”

The best approach to people like Yossi Yonah is for us to sit down with them individually and discuss the issues. Avrohom Ravitz used to do that in his day, and he managed to change the worldviews of several anti-religious MKs.

Misery in the Prisons

I have written in the past about the plight of the inmates in Israel’s prisons. I have also reported to you that the Supreme Court ordered the government to do something about the crowding in the prisons, and it will therefore be necessary to release first-time offenders, prisoners who are guilty of minor crimes, and others in special circumstances. The Prison Service will have to change its policy regarding early parole, which is now an option only for prisoners who have served two-thirds of their sentences, or to replace imprisonment with community service for some offenders. I have also noted the injustice of denying early parole to a prisoner who hasn’t paid a fine that was levied upon him. After all, how can anyone be expected to pay a fine while he is in prison? But these arguments have tended to fall on deaf ears and uncaring hearts.

Recently, though, something has begun to change. Last week, there was a meeting at the Knesset attended by Ministers Moshe Kachlon, Gilad Erdan, and Ayelet Shaked, as well as Police Chief Alshich and Attorney General Mandelblit, along with senior officials from the Prison Service and the Ministry of Justice. The group discussed various ideas about how to arrange for a mass release of prisoners, and one participant brought up the notion of allowing convicts to substitute monetary payments for spending time in prison. That idea was opposed by Kachlon, since it would mean that the poor would have no option but to remain in prison.
I would take this idea one step further: Kachlon’s argument could also apply to the fact that a person who hasn’t paid a fine is denied early parole. This, too, means that the poor will be unfairly kept in prison. I would suggest that the poor should actually be given preference for early release, since poor prisoners’ families tend to go hungry while their loved ones suffer behind bars. Unfortunately, this past week, the Minister of Justice rejected the idea of granting general clemency in honor of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state. That is a shame.

The State Comptroller Spouts Nonsense

In the State of Israel, there is a charming person known as the state comptroller. This person is charged with identifying flaws in the way the country is managed and demanding that they be corrected. Years ago, the comptroller’s reports were fairly gentle, but over the past decade, the comptrollers have become more aggressive, and have even begun recommending fines and police investigations. The average citizen, myself included, does not have the ability to know how serious the comptroller is in his criticism. Even if he were to read the report, the average Israeli would have a hard time making sense of the details.

Last week, the state comptroller released a report that shook up the political system in the country. Among other things, the report included some very harsh criticism of some of the country’s mayors, one of whom was the mayor of Be’er Yaakov.

Even if I were to read the hundreds of pages, I would probably not have an inkling of what it meant. I have always had a hard time reading the comptrollers’ reports, which tend to have a soporific effect on me, mainly because I don’t understand most of the subjects they discuss. But I always felt that the day would come when I would have firsthand knowledge of a subject discussed in the report, and then I would be able to formulate my own position.

The comptroller’s staff dedicated a lengthy chapter in the report to the local council of Be’er Yaakov. The main subjects of this chapter are the head of the local council, Nissim Gozlan, and the three members of the council: Naim, Ziyafti, and Boskilla. The third member of that group, Avrohom Boskilla, is a man who dedicates himself tirelessly to every worthy cause. A native of Teveria, Rabbi Boskilla first came to Be’er Yaakov as a talmid in Yeshivas She’eris Yosef. He married a student from the local seminary and became a member of the kollel, but his natural talents quickly led him to be recruited as a public activist. He is a loyal and immensely dedicated public servant. And since I was born and raised in Be’er Yaakov, I am certainly capable of responding to this comptroller’s report. I am well acquainted with every aspect of the town, and with every askan as well.

An Illogical Accusation

Now, here are my comments on the report. The comptroller states, “In the years 1987 and 1994, the municipality took possession of properties measuring 1102 square meters and 1999 square meters. Two buildings were erected on those lots. One building serves as a shul, and Deputy Council Head Boskilla serves as its gabbai… The review has determined that these lots were transferred to the recipients without going through the allocation process required by the regulations of the Ministry of the Interior. The municipality does not have documentation of the right of usage of the land having been granted to Deputy Council Head Boskilla or to Council Member Ziyafti, or of the approval of the entire council for the allocation. This suggests a possible violation of the principle of equality.”

The comptroller relates that Boskilla claimed that the building was given to the mispallelim; it was not given to him for his personal use. That did not satisfy the comptroller’s staff, and I was outraged by their reaction: “The State Comptroller’s office views with severity the fact that public property was given to members of the council for their use, even if they are using it for the needs of the wider public.” The comptroller claims that Ziyafti and Boskilla derived personal benefit from designating the building as a shul, and that the municipality should conduct the allocation process again. The council responded with a letter agreeing that the allocation had been a serious breach in protocol, and that they would correct the problem. The report goes so far as to call on the Interior Ministry to determine whether the three council members – Naim, Ziyafti, and Boskilla – should be held personally accountable.

I am not personally familiar with the land allocation process, and I can’t offer an opinion as to whether the allocation was indeed conducted improperly. The rest of the comptroller’s arguments, though, clearly do not hold water. As the comptroller acknowledges, the building is designated a “Torah center.” It is a highly active community center that is the site of frequent Torah learning, tefillos, mussar and kiruv programs. Hundreds of chiloni youths have become yeshiva bochurim and kollel yungeleit by virtue of the programs offered in the facility. The midrashot of El Hamaayan operate there, rabbonim deliver lectures in the large auditorium every week, and hundreds of local families have various types connections to the community center. In short, it is an incredible place that has worked wonders among the populace.
It is certainly true that Rabbi Avrohom Boskilla and his family members have given their hearts and souls to the place. His sons can often be found stacking the chairs and washing the floors. It is typically Reb Avrohom or one of his sons who turn on the heat early in the winter mornings, or the air conditioning in the summer, before the vosikin minyan. They are also responsible for turning out the lights when the facility finally closes for the night, and for ensuring that refreshments are available for the evening learning programs. But does that mean that the facility was given to the council members for their personal use? And why does the comptroller consider it wrong “even if they are using it for the needs of the wider public”? Is Boskilla actually using the facility for himself? Is he gaining anything from running the community center? He is certainly losing plenty of energy, money, and time. The only thing he is gaining is an abundance of reward in the Next World. He shouldn’t be criticized for his work; he should be showered with gratitude and praise. If this is the logic used by the state comptroller’s office in all of its reports, then our country is in a very bad situation indeed.

Avrohom Boskilla and his family have done wonderful things for the community of Be’er Yaakov, and they deserve accolades for all their work. We must also not forget the two government officials who deserve extensive credit as well for the community center’s operations: Eliyahu Suissa and Meir Porush, who held the positions of Minister of the Interior and Minister of Housing, respectively, from 1996 through 1999. The two ministers were responsible for the allocation of funds that laid the foundation for the community center’s construction. In doing so, they acted on the advice of Aryeh Deri and at the urging of my brother, Reb Aharon. Together with my father zt”l, my brother aspired to create a facility that would carry on the legacy of Rav Saadiah Ben Yosef zt”l, who was one of the pioneers in kiruv in this area. These people have certainly earned tremendous Heavenly reward through the community center’s work.

With all due respect to the state comptroller, then, I believe I have discovered that we cannot always rely on his assessments.

“What Is Your Name?”

You may find this story hard to believe, but I assure you that it happened exactly as I have written it. It took place on Tuesday, the seventh day of Chanukah, between Mincha and Maariv, at the cashier’s desk in the Knesset cafeteria. That evening, a young lady with a kerchief covering her head was seated behind the cash register. I did not recognize her, and it seemed quite evident that she was new on the job. As I stood there, a man approached her carrying a tray and gave her his personal number to record his purchase.

In the cafeteria that services the members of the Knesset, each MK has an individual code that is used to keep track of his tab. At the end of each month, the Knesset members pay for the previous month’s meals. The new cashier tried to locate the man’s code, but she was unsuccessful. “What’s your name?” she asked.

“Lieberman,” he replied.

“Lieberman,” she repeated, leaning forward to focus on her keyboard as she searched for each letter. “Lamed, yud, bet, reish, mem, nun. Is that right?”

“Yes.” Lieberman was in a bit of a rush, but he also seemed amused. “Did you find it?”

“There is one Lieberman. Avigdor Lieberman. Is that you?” she asked.

“Yes,” he replied, laughing heartily.

“Then you can continue,” she said, motioning for him to take his tray to one of the tables. The Minister of Defense merrily made his way into the cafeteria.

Avigdor Lieberman took the incident in stride, but someone else asked the cashier, “Do you really not know who that man is?”
“No. Who is he?” she asked innocently. She explained that she never reads newspapers, and she had taken a temporary job in the Knesset. She spends most of her time as a homemaker, and she has no interest in politics.

“If you don’t know anything about politics, how do you vote?” the man asked her.

“I always vote for Shas,” she replied.

“What about now?”

“Only Shas,” she insisted. “That is what Rav Ovadiah Yosef taught us, isn’t it?”