My Take On The News

Honor in India, Trouble in Yerushalayim

It is amazing that even when nothing changes, we are constantly inundated by sensational news. Every day, the country is flooded with newspapers with flamboyant headlines, their front pages dripping with yellow journalism.

Last week, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and his wife visited India, where they received the most enthusiastic royal greeting that they could possibly imagine. Major business deals involving huge sums of money were sealed on that trip. Netanyahu also visited the Chabad House in Mumbai. It was nine years and two months after the dreadful slaughter of November 26, 2008, which took the lives of Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg, the Chabad shluchim in the city. Netanyahu was accompanied on his visit by Moishy Holtzberg, the orphaned boy who was saved by his nanny. Moishy was accompanied by his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudis Rosenberg, who have raised him since his parents’ deaths, and by Sandra Samuel, the nanny who saved his life. If I identified them correctly in the pictures, I believe that Moishy’s paternal grandparents joined him on the trip as well, although their presence was less noticeable. I am acquainted with Moishy’s grandmother from Boro Park. I am a regular customer at the clothing store where she works. She is a remarkable woman.

Netanyahu was showered with honor in India, but his troubles at home are still continuing. The police have announced that they will recommend indicting Shimron and Molcho, two attorneys who are very close to the prime minister. Mrs. Netanyahu was also the subject of a hearing conducted in the Ministry of Justice – in her absence – regarding the investigation into claims that she benefited improperly from state funds.

Meanwhile, the dogged persecution of the chareidi community has continued. The Supermarket Law is continuing to serve as the basis of anti-chareidi incitement, with the result that Yair Lapid has risen in the polls. Lapid is an expert at taking advantage of such opportunities. The Supreme Court is also continuing its work. Ten days ago, the court discussed the Kosel arrangement. We cannot predict when the judges will render their decision, but we can certainly surmise that it will not be ideal for us.

Man Eats Dog

I know that you will find this hard to believe, but it is true: For an entire week, our country has been preoccupied by the fact that Ron Huldai ate a dog.

Yes, you read that correctly. He ate a dog.

How do we know that he ate a dog? Huldai himself told the story. He related that he was in Vietnam, and he was offered a soup or some other dish made from dog meat, and he felt uncomfortable turning it down. “It tasted like any other kind of meat,” Huldai related, adding that “it was very tasty.” It is said that “man bites dog” stories are the only kind that are considered newsworthy. It should go without saying, then, that a “man eats dog” story would be front-page news.

For those of you who are not familiar with Ron Huldai, let me explain who he is. Huldai holds the rank of brigadier general and has served as a fighter pilot and as a commander in the air force. He has also served as the headmaster of the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium, which is considered an elite school. The name “Huldai” is actually derived from his place of birth, Kibbutz Hulda. His family was originally known as Ubzansky. Since 1998, Huldai has been the mayor of Tel Aviv. Considering his public position, it was only natural that his comments would make waves. Huldai was fiercely attacked for his statements – not because he ate treif, but because he consumed the flesh of “man’s best friend.” He responded to his critics in bewilderment, “Then why is it all right to eat chicken?”

To be honest, I don’t know whom to pity more – Huldai himself or his detractors. An essay appeared in Maariv written by a woman who adopted a dog and who considers it an actual member of her family. “We don’t eat family!” was her pained cry. From her perspective, Huldai is essentially a cannibal. His deputy mayor likewise asserted, “Dogs are man’s best friend. Even if a person eats treif, he shouldn’t be eating the meat of a dog.” The chairman of the organization “T’nu L’Chayot Lichyot” (“Let Animals Live”) was even harsher. “I am saddened by Huldai’s choice, as a human being, to eat a dog,” he declared, “but at the very least, he said what we have been saying all the time: A dog, a cow, a pig, and a chicken are all living creatures, and all of them should be freed from the shackles of the meat industry.” A spokesman for another organization, known as “Tzaar Baalei Chayim,” announced, “This was a very embarrassing statement. Tel Aviv is a stronghold of veganism, and the mayor of Tel Aviv should be expected to think carefully before expressing himself in this way.” Someone else lamented, “It is terrible for a person who leads an enlightened city to take pride in eating the meat of a dog. We hope that the voters will have their say.” Fortunately for Huldai, dogs do not have the right to vote…

On a similar note, one of my children spent this past Shabbos in the maternity ward in Hadassah Hospital. Over the course of Shabbos, he overheard the other couple in the room discussing their concerns as to whether the caregiver they had left at home had followed their instructions completely. Before Shabbos began, he heard them giving instructions over the phone: “Help him calm down before he goes to sleep, and make sure you serve him his meals at the regular times. The food is in the refrigerator downstairs. At 10:00 in the morning, you should take him to the park.” It was evident that the couple was very concerned about the well-being of the child they had left at home. But it soon became clear that their concern wasn’t for a child at all. “Make sure you clean up after him,” they said before ending the conversation. “The municipal inspectors are giving out fines.” With that, he realized that they were actually talking about a dog…

The couple explained that the dog was like a member of their family, and they had entrusted him to a caregiver while they came to the hospital for the birth of their first child, a girl. On Motzoei Shabbos, the new mother’s parents came to wish her mazel tov, adding that they hoped she would have a son the following year. Her father added, “A real son, not like the one you left at home…”

One Year for Trump, Seventy Years for Israel

Everyone has his own reasons to celebrate. In America, you are now marking the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration as president. Who would have ever believed that he would rise to power? It seems that America is indeed the land of unlimited opportunity. I imagine that even Trump himself didn’t believe that he would become president. In all likelihood, his election hit him like a bolt of lightning.

Here in Israel, our country is celebrating a different milestone: the seventieth anniversary of the founding of the state. It certainly hasn’t been a smooth journey, but seventy years is still a major milestone. One thing is clear: This country has experienced many miracles since it was founded. There is no question that Israel exists by the mercy of Hashem and in the merit of the Torah – that is, the merit of the fact that the country supports those who learn Torah.

The chilonim do not understand this, and the Torah scholars of the country are therefore rewarded for their contributions with ingratitude and harassment. That is a situation that cannot be helped; the secular Israelis are tinokos shenishbu, after all, and simply do not know any better.

This week, a new debate erupted within the Religious Zionist community over the joint service of male and female soldiers in the Israeli army. Several national religious rabbonim have already announced that it will be prohibited to enlist in the army if the situation continues. Rav Shmuel Eliyahu of Tzefas (son of former chief rabbi Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l) called on the prime minister to dismiss the chief of staff of the IDF. Naftali Bennett apologized on behalf of the dati leumi movement for that “insolent” request. Bennett later apologized to Rav Eliyahu himself.

Last week, a team of soldiers and Shin Bet operatives killed the murderers of Rabbi Raziel Shevach Hy”d. It was a highly complex operation, which took place in the Arab city of Jenin, and several soldiers were wounded in the process. In response to the operation, former Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak released the following statement: “Congratulations to the security forces for the liquidation of the murderers in Jenin. May the wounded have a speedy recovery. And let us all know that our true protectors are the IDF and the security forces – not Rav Eliyahu, Rav Aviner, or anyone else of their ilk.”

Here is one more tidbit related to Israel’s seventieth anniversary: From time to time, Yisroel Hayom has been publishing profiles of various Israeli personalities. This is part of a series in honor of the state’s 70th anniversary, and the articles feature all sorts of people. Last week, the newspaper featured a profile of a man named Dovid Weissenstern, who has been traveling to the Kosel with his wife every morning for the past 20 years and distributing coffee and tea to all the visitors to the site. Now, the truth is that the words “every morning” aren’t exactly accurate; the Weissensterns leave their home at 2:00 in the morning. How do I know that, you ask? Because they live across the street from my apartment. When I go to sleep for the night, I can often see them climbing into their Toyota and departing for the Kosel. They return home at about 8:00 in the morning. They are incredible people, and the article did create a measure of kiddush Hashem.

The Harm Caused by the “Chareidi” Media

In the brouhaha surrounding the Supermarket Law, we discovered the enormous potential for harm in the small chareidi media outlets, which are guilty of incessantly hounding our representatives in the government. Their verbal attacks have caused significant damage by forcing Aryeh Deri, Moshe Gafni and Yaakov Litzman to reveal certain things that they would have preferred to keep hidden. For instance, when the city of Eilat was excluded from the Supermarket Law, the chareidi politicians came under fire for “giving up” Eilat. Now, even if they had indeed given up the battle for Shabbos observance in Eilat, it might have been necessary and perhaps even praiseworthy to pay that price in order for the bill to become law for the rest of the country. That is a decision that should be made by our rabbonim, not by smalltime journalists. But the truth goes far beyond that.

In the city of Eilat, stores and businesses operate freely on Shabbos. The mayor of Eilat has no need for a municipal ordinance to “permit” chillul Shabbos. He has an entirely different strategy: He simply does not enforce the law that requires businesses to be closed. He does not send inspectors to issue fines to stores that are open on Shabbos. And no one is capable of forcing him to do that. That means, unfortunately, that the Supermarket Law never had any bearing on Eilat in any event, since there will never be a municipal bylaw passed in Eilat that will make its way to the desk of the Minister of the Interior. We did not want to explain that line of reasoning publicly, though, since we did not want the mayors of other cities to follow Eilat’s lead. However, the chareidi media’s blistering attacks on our government officials have led them to feel that they must defend themselves by revealing their reasoning. Thus, the vociferous public attacks on the chareidi politicians have made them feel compelled to reveal things that they would have never otherwise wanted to be exposed.

The same is true about the other clause in the law that has been widely condemned – the exclusion of convenience stores at gas stations. Once again, the chareidi representatives have been accused of “giving up” those stores. There is a simple explanation, though, for their lack of insistence on this point: Most of the gas stations in the country are not subject to the provisions of the Supermarket Law in any event. From a chiloni perspective, the claim that the chareidim had been forced to accept the exclusion of the convenience stores was a major political gain, and there was no reason for us to make a point of shattering their illusions. But once again, the nitpicking journalists have forced us to play our cards openly.

Even more significantly, Aryeh Deri was criticized for stating in an interview with a secular newspaper that the Supermarket Law has no true meaning. The purpose of his statement was to appease certain sectors of Israeli society and to prevent Yair Lapid from capitalizing on the law’s passage to gain additional votes. But Deri was attacked for his statement – once again, by the chareidi media. Well, what did they expect him to say? If he had stated publicly that the law will have substantial repercussions, he would have effectively given a major gift to Yair Lapid and his party. What do these chareidi journalists hope to gain by criticizing the law? Do they want to force Deri to explain publicly that it does indeed have benefit? Yair Lapid would be truly overjoyed if that happened.

This past week, something similar took place. At a private event held by United Hatzalah, Moshe Gafni revealed that he hopes that the Supermarket Law will lead to a major upheaval, and that the cities will begin designating inspectors to enforce the requirement for businesses to be closed on Shabbos. Someone who was present at the event proceeded to leak Gafni’s comments to the outside world, and Yair Lapid was thrilled. Even Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Defense, quipped that it seemed that Gafni and Lapid had formed an alliance, since Gafni’s comments were helping Lapid gain popularity. In short, major damage was caused by the person who exposed Gafni’s comments to the secular media.

This week, a writer in a secular newspaper commented that the chareidi media is harmful to the chareidim but is a boon to the chilonim. That is exactly the case, and the chareidi media must learn to be more responsible.

Explosions in Elad

Michoel, Avrohom and Mendy may or may not be comforted by the news. All three boys were wounded before Sukkos this year, when they decided to play in an area adjacent to the chareidi city of Elad that had previously been used for military training exercises. Yonasan, Chaim Dovid, and Tzvi may be more reassured, since they themselves were the subject of the debate in the Knesset. The latter three were wounded in the same area just a month ago; Yonasan is still dealing with the effects of the shrapnel that lodged in his body. This week, MK Yaakov Margi filed a motion for the agenda dealing with the mortal danger posed by this area outside Elad.

“The mayor of Elad, Mr. Yisroel Porush, has contacted the director of the Division of Assets in the Ministry of Defense, Mr. Alon Yifrach, who is responsible for clearing the area, and asked him to expedite the process,” Margi related in the Knesset. “This is a very distressing phenomenon. I feel that we certainly could have prevented the injured children and their parents from experiencing this suffering. We could have avoided the disabilities and the emotional and financial damage that were caused both to the state and to the wounded. If the IDF had cleared the area, this tragedy would certainly have been avoided. Even at this moment, as we are discussing this here, that area of danger is alive, breathing, and kicking, and there may be other explosives there. It is my hope that there are no children playing there and gathering dangerous materials at this very moment.”

The Deputy Minister of Defense responded, “The unit conducted an additional sweep for explosive materials before this past Chanukah in response to the order given by the Central Command. In this area, live weapons have not been used for the past two years. Nevertheless, in light of the identification of the potential for harm to civilians who enter the area in violation of the law, the additional inspection was conducted. Unfortunately, the child who was injured was harmed by an old mortar that was not located by several inspections conducted in the area. As a result of that incident, the Central Command ordered a thorough sweep of the area in order to ensure that no other explosive materials remained there. This inspection was conducted recently, with the participation of over 150 soldiers, and several explosive devices were indeed found and disarmed. I hope that the area is now completely clear.”

The deputy minister, Eli Ben-Dahan, reminded the residents of Elad that it is forbidden to enter the area without permission from the army. Nevertheless, more children have been wounded in the interim. It is indisputable that the area hasn’t been completely cleared of dangerous explosives. And I have to wonder what happened to Ben-Dahan’s good news.

Wiretapping and the Shin Bet

Another man who was in the news this week is MK Yaakov Peri, the former head of the Shin Bet. This week, it was reported that Peri informed Aryeh Deri during the criminal investigation 30 years ago that the government had tapped his phone lines and those of his associates. That is actually quite amusing; it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that phone lines might be tapped. In fact, every police investigation is accompanied by wiretapping, and that would certainly have been the case in the largest investigation in the history of the State of Israel. And the truth of the matter is that Yaakov Peri did not reveal anything to Aryeh Deri.

I remember Yaakov Peri from those days. At the time, it was permissible to identify him in the media only with his first initial, as “Y from the Shin Bet.” I remember him arriving in a Peugeot and entering the Ministry of the Interior. He was a highly charismatic man, and we were all told in whispers that he was the director of the Shin Bet. Peri respected and was fond of Aryeh Deri, as were Mayor Teddy Kollek of Yerushalayim, Mayor Shlomo Lahat of Tel Aviv, Mayor Aryeh Goral of Haifa, Yitzchok Rabin, and Yitzchok Shamir. As a man of principles, Peri did not turn his back on Deri even when the latter became a suspect and then was placed on trial. Even today, when Peri is a member of Yesh Atid and Deri is part of the governing coalition, he hasn’t become personally hostile to Deri.

It is a shame, though, that the reports did not address the most important point: the conflict between the police and the Shin Bet during the Deri investigation. At the time, the intelligence agency refused to allocate the large number of lines that the police demanded for their eavesdropping efforts. The Shin Bet was afraid that those efforts would impinge on their war on terror. The investigators, however, were not perturbed by that fact. Their battle against Deri took precedence over any other considerations.

The Missionary Has Been Found

Not long ago, I quoted a report of an alleged baptism at the beach in Ashdod, and I promised you that I would find out the truth about the incident. I noted that there were only two possibilities: Either this was one of the greatest outrages of the past decade or it was simply a case of “fake news.” According to the reports, several minors had been baptized at the seashore without their parents’ knowledge. If that was true, then a horrific criminal act had been committed.

When Rav Shalom Lipshitz zt”l demanded that the Knesset pass a law against missionary activity, he used to visit the homes of the gedolei Yisroel and speak strongly about the subject. His insistence was discomfiting to the chareidi members of the Knesset, including those who were close to him (Werdyger, Mizrachi, and others). The politicians explained to him that the government did not have the ability to prohibit the dissemination of evangelical materials. If they were to do that, they would also have to prohibit advertisements for organizations such as Arachim or Hidabroot. Similarly, it was impossible for the government to outlaw lectures, performances, or other forms of proselytizing, for the same reason: If it becomes illegal to preach, then the law cannot distinguish between different religions in that respect. It would then become forbidden even for Lev L’Achim, for instance, to teach Torah to children.

According to the article about the alleged baptism, the family (or families) of the minors involved had filed a complaint with the police. In truth, the article was somewhat confusing. It spoke of “the members of the families of the youths who participated in the event,” describing them as “shocked young men who were beside themselves with aggravation,” but then referred to “the guidance given to the family,” which led “the parents” to file a complaint at the Ashkelon-Lachish police station. But was there one family? Were there several youths involved in the incident? Was there only one complaint? If it was only one family, how many children were baptized? If there were two brothers involved in the episode, then most of the article makes sense. But it is also confusing that the youths allegedly submitted to baptism, but then were described as being “shocked” and “beside themselves with aggravation.” If they were so distraught, why did they submit to the caprices of the missionaries who sought to lead them astray?

In any event, since the article claimed that a complaint was filed with the police, all I had to do was find if there was indeed such a complaint, and whether the police investigated the incident. This was the response of Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Internal Security: “According to the information provided to me by the Israel Police Force, a complaint was filed at the Ashkelon police station last month by a woman who claimed that her two younger brothers, both minors, were baptized at the beach and began to take an interest in Christianity. Testimony was collected from the brothers, and the complainant submitted a video in which a person can be seen entering the water with the boys and praying. I have been told that that man was forcibly hospitalized and is not expected to be released soon. The complainant mentioned another man in her complaint, but her brothers did not mention that person in their testimony, and he does not appear in the video. About two weeks ago, the case was sent to the prosecution for their examination.”

Lev L’Achim’s Plea for Help

Last week, I was present at an event held for the coordinators of Lev L’Achim’s activities. The event was attended by many rabbonim and by the leaders of the organization: Rav Boruch Shapiro, Rav Tzvi Eliach, Rav Eliyahu Chaim Klugman, Rav Tzvi Schwartz of Rechovot, and others. The coordinators, of course, are the heart of Lev L’Achim, and we are now entering the busiest and most important period of the year for the organization: the school registration season.

I was impressed by many things at the event. For one thing, there was the passion and drive that beat within the hearts of the dedicated activists. Then there was the letter from Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who declared, “How great is the merit of those who bring righteousness to the multitudes, who work among our brethren to bring them the light [of the Torah] that returns them to good, especially in the Lev L’Achim organization, for which the great tzaddik Rav Aharon Leib zt”l exerted himself and worked with great self-sacrifice to increase their activities.” Rav Gershon Edelstein delivered an address, in which he emphasized that the central means of influencing others is through the Torah, which is precisely the tool that Lev L’Achim employs in its prodigious kiruv efforts. “The power of the Torah is a greater influence than anything else,” he proclaimed. The sense of responsibility for Klal Yisroel that enveloped the entire hall and everyone present was also palpable.

Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, recalled one of his visits to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman’s home, when they discussed the activities of Lev L’Achim and the responsibility of this generation to slake the spiritual thirst of the Jewish people. At one point during their conversation, Rav Shteinman opened a copy of Chovos Halevavos and read aloud, “And so, my brother, a person who improves only his own soul will have little merit, but if a person improves his soul and many other souls, his merits will be multiplied.” Rav Cohen also noted, “The rosh yeshiva was the heart of Klal Yisroel, as the Rambam says about a king (Hilchos Melachim 3:1), ‘His heart is the heart of the entire community of Yisroel.’ Lev L’Achim was the apple of his eye. He felt that it was his personal responsibility, and he constantly worked to encourage it, because Lev L’Achim is truly the heart of Klal Yisroel. It is the heart that pumps blood to all the organs of the body, and all of the organs are responsible for each other.”

The director of Lev L’Achim, Rabbi Avrohom Zaibald – not to be confused with Rabbi Eliezer Sorotzkin, the director-general of Lev L’Achim, who was stuck on a grounded El Al flight in snowy Canada – related that Rav Shteinman cared deeply for Lev L’Achim and for all the Jews who sought a closer connection to Yiddishkeit. He recalled an exchange that took place 21 years ago, when Rav Shteinman urged them to increase their activities. “That will cost a lot of money,” Rav Sorotzkin said, and Rav Shteinman replied, “That isn’t your concern. You need to do your job, and you will be aided from Shomayim.”

“That year,” Reb Avrohom related, “we registered a record number of boys and girls – over 3,000 children – in religious schools. We were so successful that Rav Shteinman traveled to America the very next year, along with the Gerrer Rebbe, to raise funds for the founding of Nesivos Moshe, and nine more religious schools were established.” Two decades later, Lev L’Achim has become a massive kiruv movement and has led tens of thousands of Jews to return to their Creator and His Torah.

I was deeply shaken by Lev L’Achim’s cry for help. Rav Boruch Shapiro spoke about the upcoming school registration season and said, “We have debts of millions of shekels, and we cannot bear the burden alone… We hear the cries from the field, the cries of other Jews calling out to us to save them. Thousands of families are begging for mercy and for spiritual aid, and they can be saved. Thousands of children are learning in yeshivos today. We are your emissaries, and we are asking you to continue carrying the burden of saving Jewish souls along with us. We cannot do it alone. Please forgive me for standing before you and shouting,” he concluded. “It is a cry from the heart.”

Undeserving of Merit

Rabbi Maimon Ben-Shushan was born in Morocco, where he became acquainted with the Baba Sali. After he moved to Eretz Yisroel, Chacham Maimon – as he was known – settled in Be’er Sheva and became one of the most prestigious residents of the city. He often traveled from Be’er Sheva to Netivot to visit the Baba Sali, and a profound friendship developed over the years between the two rabbonim. Chacham Maimon’s son, Rav Binyomin Ben-Shushan, is a famous figure in Israel today. He moved from Be’er Sheva to Yerushalayim 25 years ago, but until that time he held a variety of important positions, including serving as a member of the city council, working as the director of Chinuch Atzmai in Be’er Sheva, and delivering shiurim and engaging in kiruv activities. He later moved to Givat Shaul in Yerushalayim and founded a kollel. The rosh kollel of Zohar Binyamin is Rav Yehonasan Ben-Tzur. This week, Rav Binyomin Ben-Shushan shared with me an anecdote about one of his father’s visits to the Baba Sali.

On one of Rav Maimon’s visits to Netivot, he was accompanied by his young son, Rav Binyomin. As always, the two were greeted with great warmth, and the Baba Sali instructed his family to prepare a meal in their honor. During the meal, the rebbetzin entered the room and placed an envelope on the table, near her husband. “Someone asked me to give this envelope to the rov,” she explained. “It contains money.” The Baba Sali left the envelope in its place and continued the meal.

Toward the end of the meal, the rebbetzin entered the room again and informed her husband that she had had to call a plumber to correct a problem in the pipes and that she had to pay him. The Baba Sali gave her the envelope and said, “Here, use this money to pay him.” He looked at Rabbi Maimon Ben-Shushan and said, “People bring me money, and I try to distribute it immediately to the needy, but there are some people who do not have that merit, and their money must go to pay a plumber. It seems that min haShomayim, the person who brought this money is not deserving of merit.”