Friday, May 24, 2024

My Take on the News

Adar Begins with Chaos

Here in Israel, insanity has set in.

It is as if our country misread the halachah of “mishenichnas Adar marbim b’simchah,” and instead of increasing the sense of joy, everyone has decided to foment pandemonium. Our country has been overtaken by absolute madness. Perhaps the police and political figures of the State of Israel consider this to be simcha; perhaps this is what brings joy to them. But from our perspective, it is sheer insanity.

First of all, there is the police recommendation to indict Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu (which I discuss in a separate report). Everyone has been reminding Netanyahu that when the recommendation was made to indict Ehud Olmert – and it was just a recommendation, not an actual indictment – Netanyahu himself said that a prime minister cannot function properly under such circumstances, and that Olmert should resign. Of course, they mean to imply that Netanyahu should follow his own advice … Well, as Moshe Dayan once put it, only a donkey does not change its mind. That is, things do not always look the same from different vantage points. Moshe Dayan, in fact, changed his own mind in a dramatic way. He was a minister in the Labor government, and went on to become a minister in the Likud government, under Menachem Begin. Many people called him a traitor, but Dayan was indifferent to the criticism.

Meanwhile, the state budget was approved. It was fascinating to watch as the voting took place. The budget was presented as a collection of five separate laws. The first law initially received 59 votes in favor. The number then moved up to 60, and it finally reached 61. Do you know what that means? It means that a few Knesset members or ministers heard the bell signaling that a vote was taking place, but they moved slowly. That could have made a major difference: 61 votes represent a majority of the Knesset, but 59 votes do not. Nevertheless, the budget was passed, after most of the speakers chose to focus on the police recommendations against Netanyahu.

Do not forget the Supreme Court case concerning the Kosel, which is still looming over our heads. The government has now announced that it considers the entire Kosel to be sacred, including the area designated for the Reform movement’s use. There were also a few incidents of anti-Semitism this past week. Mezuzos were ripped off doorposts in Antwerp, and in Poland, of all places, there is a move to outlaw shechitah. There was also an act of vandalism at the kever of the rebbe of Ostrovtza in Poland.


Arab Informants Foil Terror Attacks

On the military front, as well, things haven’t exactly been quiet. There have been several attempted terror attacks over the past month, and one of Israel’s planes was shot down two weeks ago. Within the past week, there were two incidents in which terrorists were arrested while carrying explosives on their way to carry out a terror attack. As you know, Dovid Hamelech says in Tehillim, “Praise Hashem, all the nations.” Why does he call on the other nations, and not the Jews, to praise Hashem? Because only the nations of the world know how many times they have plotted to harm us, and Hashem has saved us from their nefarious designs. We ourselves often do not even know about those salvations.

On a more mundane note, this should also give you an idea of the scope of the Shin Bet’s responsibility. Whenever a terror attack takes place, the intelligence agency struggles to understand how they had no advance warning of it. Dozens of attacks have been thwarted before they could be carried out, thanks to the alertness of the Shin Bet and their widespread intelligence network, which includes Arab informants.

I recently had a conversation with Yaakov Peri, who previously served as the head of the Shin Bet. I asked him if the Shin Bet’s successes can be attributed to astuteness, creativity, or simply pure genius. He revealed to me that the most critical ingredient in their success is the use of Arab informants. This enables the Shin Bet to have its proverbial finger constantly on the pulse of the Arab world, and to keep abreast of the plans being hatched in its dens of evil. The Israeli intelligence service has collaborators everywhere. In general, they are informed in advance of every terror cell that sets out to commit an attack. Their information even includes the names of the would-be perpetrators, descriptions of the cars in which they are traveling, and which roads they are taking to get to their destination. That is pure chssed from Shomayim.


Landmine Peril

Why is the Shin Bet sometimes unable to prevent a terror attack? Sometimes, it is because the perpetrator is a lone wolf, acting without connection to a terror organization or any other group. In that case, there is no way for them to have advance warning of the terrorist’s intentions. Another type of incident that the Shin Bet has no way to prevent is an encounter with concealed landmines. That is precisely what happened last week: Seven soldiers were injured when their car hit a landmine. These soldiers were performing routine repairs on a fence surrounding a suspected minefield in the Jordan Valley.

In another incident at the end of last week, during a routine sweep conducted by IDF forces with the aid of the Israeli police, a cache of weapons was discovered in the possession of Arabs in a village in the Shomron. In addition, 18 wanted suspects were arrested in the village. In general, the arrestees in these cases are willing to become informants in order to save themselves from imprisonment. Thus, the Shin Bet must work constantly to recruit new sources of information.

Interestingly, it was reported that in one of the raids, the soldiers discovered a machine that is capable of producing letters as they appear in a Sefer Torah. The significance of this discovery was clear: There are Arabs who are manufacturing ersatz mezuzos, tefillin, and possibly even Sifrei Torah. These are forgeries that are very difficult to detect. To the unprofessional eye, these items would appear to have been written by an actual sofer.


Yaakov Peri’s Resignation

MK Yaakov Peri, whom I mentioned earlier, resigned from the Knesset last week. Why did he do that? Because of an investigative report released in the media, which claimed that Peri never served in the army. According to the report, he received a medical exemption from army service because he suffered from back problems. That alone would not be a terrible offense, but Peri’s résumé claims that he did serve in the army. The country is angry at him for lying even more than they resent the fact that he did not serve. In response to this, Peri decided to resign from the Knesset and to disappear. He is used to living clandestinely; there was even a period in his life when he lived under the guise of an Arab.

The Knesset was pained by his decision, since he was one of its best members. He is an educated and friendly person, an intelligent man who was never involved in discord. He is a member of Yesh Atid, yet he felt a kinship to everyone, even the chareidim. During his tenure as the head of the Shin Bet, Peri worked closely with the Minister of the Interior at the time, Aryeh Deri, since part of his job was to prevent potentially violent foreigners from entering the country. Deri was probably the first person who refused to give the state prosecutor carte blanche to do as she pleased. (That position was held by the woman who later oversaw the judicial campaign against Deri himself, and went on to become the chief justice of Israel’s Supreme Court.) She was then forced to send the head of the Shin Bet to him. That was how Yaakov Peri met Aryeh Deri and the two became friends, with Peri joining the wide circle of Deri’s admirers. That also led to the false presumption that Peri leaked the information that the police had tapped the phone lines used by Deri and his colleagues, exploiting the resources of the Shin Bet to eavesdrop on their conversations. As if we needed Yaakov Peri to tell us that!

To his credit, it should be noted that Yaakov Peri maintained his ties with Deri even during the dark days that followed. It is possible that Peri agreed with the views of a long list of jurists, journalists, and public figures that Deri had been the victim of a witch hunt. Even during his tenure in the Knesset, as a member of Yesh Atid, Peri’s relationship with Deri remained one of friendship and mutual admiration. Yaakov Peri is a man who places his principles – including the importance of not abandoning a friend – above all else. His resignation has certainly been a blow to the Knesset. If it is true that he resigned because of the investigation into his lack of army service, then that investigation was far more harmful to us than it was beneficial.


“We Have Made Mistakes”

Several years ago, I interviewed Peri for an article in the Yated. We had a long and fascinating conversation. Peri revealed to me that his father’s family had originated from the area of Vilna. He related that although his father was not religious, he regularly attended davening in shul, and Peri himself often accompanied his father. “That means that I was exposed to Yiddishkeit, but only the ‘lite’ version,” Peri asserted. “Since that time, I have been completely in favor of ahavas Yisroel, of the Torah and its study, and so forth. I have never been an enemy of the chareidim.”

Our interview focused mainly on terrorism and national security. We also briefly discussed the draft law. I asked Peri, “In retrospect, do you feel that was it a mistake to pass the draft law in such an aggressive way, making the chareidim feel that they had their backs against the wall?”

He replied, “I think that the law is a very sensitive law, and it is a good law. I accept that the atmosphere at the time made it seem that Yesh Atid was against the chareidim. That was our mistake. We should have been much more sensitive. We should have reached understandings and tried to explain the matter much more. In that way, we erred. The atmosphere was indeed anti-chareidi.”

“That wasn’t only regarding the draft law,” I said. “The same was true about budgetary issues–”

Yaakov Peri interrupted me and replied, “I said that the entire atmosphere was like that.”

“It wasn’t just the atmosphere; it was the essence of your party,” I objected.

“Yes,” he admitted. “I think that we made a few mistakes in that area as well.”

I do not believe that Peri himself ever promoted anti-religious sentiment. He did not rejoice in inciting hatred against the chareidim, and he did not try to wage war against everything that is holy. In that sense, too, it is unfortunate for us that he has left the Knesset. As a person who has always aspired to give to others, a person who has always been interested in what he can contribute rather than what he can gain – even though he has made plenty of gains over his lifetime – Yaakov Peri will certainly continue being such a noble figure outside the Knesset as well.


Welcoming the Newest MK

Now that Yaakov Peri has resigned, he has been replaced by his successor on his party’s list. The woman who replaced him, Penina Tamanu-Shata, is also not exactly anti-religious, despite her membership in the anti-religious Yesh Atid party. Tamanu-Shata served in the Nineteenth Knesset as well, and collaborated extensively with the chareidi lawmakers.

After she was sworn in, the newest MK remained at the podium to deliver a brief address, as is customary. Here is an excerpt from her remarks: “This evening, I am standing here before you with great emotion and awe, no less than the first time that I stood here five years ago. I was 31 years old when I was given the privilege to serve the public for the first time, and to be one of the 120 elected representatives in this parliament. At the time, I recited the words of shehecheyanu at the end of my speech. This time, I will begin with those words. Blessed is He Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this time. I give thanks to the Creator of the world, who always accompanies me closely.”

After a new member of the Knesset is sworn in and delivers their first address, it is customary for another legislator to deliver a speech welcoming them to the Knesset. This time, that duty was performed by Yair Lapid. Lapid announced, “Today, the Knesset has accepted into its ranks a woman who fights against discrimination, against preconceived notions, and against the efforts to turn us into a conflicted and divided tribal society. When Penina was 11 years old, she took a job as a cleaning girl in a reception hall. For an entire month, she washed dishes and scrubbed floors. At the end of the month, she went to the owner to receive her salary and he refused to pay her. After all, who was going to give backing to an 11-year-old Ethiopian girl? Who was going to stand up for her? The answer was given at this podium just a few minutes ago. Penina is here so that every 11-year-old girl can know that she has someone backing her, that there is someone to fight that war for her. There is someone who is committed with all her heart to closing the gaps in our society for the helpless and underprivileged, and to spreading love for all people.”

I wonder what MK Tamanu-Shata will do when she discovers that the father of “discrimination” and “preconceived notions,” the man who is working to change Israel into a “conflicted and divided tribal society,” is none other than the chairman of her own party.


Convicting the Innocent

I will not presume to take sides in the raging dispute between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Police Chief Alshich. However, I will make a general comment about the Israeli police. Last week, the Knesset observed a day in honor of the police force. For a full two days, senior police officials busied themselves hanging up signs, organizing presentations, and otherwise making preparations for the event. The event, which took place in the auditorium, featured an address from the Speaker of the Knesset decrying the practice of leaking information from police investigations. Alshich and Mandelblit were not pleased with the criticism. The former asserted that all those announcements are mere background noise and lack truth, while the latter proclaimed boldly, “The police force works to uncover crimes, and its officers operate without fear.”

This was reported in a small, barely noticeable article in a newspaper last Tuesday. A much larger article, which was plastered across several columns on the same page, bore the headline: “District Court Severely Castigates the Officers in Blue: The Failures of the Police Force May Cause Innocent People to Be Convicted.”

The following is a brief excerpt from the article, which should make the extent of the problem clear: “‘We are not referring only to a single team of investigators,’ the judges added. ‘It is clear that we are dealing with generally improper methods of investigation, rather than a temporary lapse.’ The judges did not content themselves with the prosecution’s announcement that it would make note of the flaws and would direct the attention of the police to the subject. In an unusual move, they announced, ‘Ultimately, we are dealing with investigative misconduct, and it seems that the only way to eradicate these practices is to use a heavy hand against them.’ The judges added, ‘These failures are liable to prevent the truth from being determined. In some cases, they may lead to innocent people being convicted!’”


Lessons from Gush Katif

Last week, the Knesset held a special discussion marking the 13th anniversary of the expulsion of the Jewish communities from Gush Katif and the northern Shomron. (Although the actual expulsion took place on Tisha B’Av, the Knesset observed the “yahrtzeit” last week.) The Knesset and its auditorium were packed with hundreds of members of the younger generation from those communities, along with their parents and grandparents. After the event, the attendees filled the visitors’ gallery to listen to the speeches in the Knesset plenum. Huge photo exhibits were set up in the corridors, displaying vivid images that intensified the sense of pain stemming from the Disengagement. One of the speeches was delivered by MK Michoel Malchieli of the Shas party, who described the historic trauma as an open wound in Israeli society.

The harshest words came from the Knesset speaker, Yuli Edelstein, who opened the discussion. “My friends, members of the Knesset, I will recall my own sin today,” he began. “I have been a member of this parliament for many years, and I have always tried to act by the book, but there was one time when I violated the regulations. That was on October 26, 2004, the day that the Knesset voted in favor of the Disengagement plan. The vote was conducted by a roll call, and I was the third on the list. When the secretary called my name, I responded, ‘Opposed, with revulsion.’ The Speaker of the Knesset at the time, who is now the president of the state, ordered the words ‘with revulsion’ to be stricken from the record. He acted correctly; that was his job. But now the time has come to reinstate those words.”

Edelstein became increasingly vehement as he spoke. “The Disengagement plan, which was a political injustice and an ethical abomination, was a plan that I opposed with absolute revulsion. It was revulsion at the destruction of flourishing communities in Eretz Yisroel for no reason, without justification, and without any explanation; revulsion at the violation of democracy that was perpetrated by those who formulated and carried out the plan; and revulsion at the images of our enemies from the terror organizations celebrating their victory amidst the ruins of the shuls and botei medrash that they themselves burned. Thirteen years have passed since that day, and despite the promises of those who dreamed up the Disengagement, Gaza hasn’t yet turned into the Switzerland of the Middle East. We have been forced to return there several times – not in order to plow and plant, as the residents of Gush Katif did, but to remove the security threat facing our settlements in the south, a threat that has grown to intolerable proportions specifically because of the Disengagement. To this day, the State of Israel continues to suffer from the horrendous consequences of the terrible tragedy that took place in the Gaza strip 13 years ago. The anguish of the 25 communities that were evacuated, the cemeteries that were uprooted, and the fields that were destroyed remains seared into our hearts. I am certain, though, that we have also learned our lesson to the same degree. I hope that there will never be another proposal in this parliament for a plan that we would have to oppose with the same revulsion.”

Personally, I have derived my own lesson from the expulsion from Gush Katif: It is possible for an entire nation to blindly follow a leader who is equally blind. In this case, that leader was Arik Sharon.


Israeli Stubbornness

Last Wednesday, the Knesset discussed the situation in Poland. The government’s response to the speakers was delivered by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. “The prime minister has publicly expressed his vehement opposition to the law passed by the lower house of the Polish parliament on January 26,” she said. “On the instructions of the prime minister of Israel, who is also the foreign minister, the Israeli ambassador to Poland discussed the matter with the Polish prime minister during a ceremony in honor of International Holocaust Memorial Day, which took place in Auschwitz on January 27 this year. The ambassador expressed our stance to him. At the same time, the relevant official in the Polish embassy in Israel was summoned for a conversation in the Foreign Ministry, where he heard similar sentiments.”

Hotovely insisted that Israel is involved in a “dialogue” with the Polish government. Most importantly, she said, “I must make one thing clear: Israel agrees that the term ‘Polish death camps’ is a misnomer. The death camps were established by Nazi Germany on conquered Polish land, and it is important to make that clear. But this does not excuse those members of the Polish people who participated in the murder of Jews.” It was an evasive statement, but it was definitely an apology.

I have one question about this: January 27 was a Shabbos. Does that mean that Netanyahu telephoned the ambassador in Poland on Shabbos? What about the memorial ceremony where she delivered a speech and had a conversation with the Polish prime minister? Was that also on Shabbos?

There is another point to be made here as well: In her official response, Hotovely asked the Knesset to accept her explanation and to end the discussion of the subject. At the very least, she asked for the matter not to be referred to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. She insisted on that, even though she knew that the majority would be against her. All of the MKs who had brought up the issue had asked for it to be transferred to the committee. Hotovely could have spared herself an embarrassing loss if she had simply given in to their demands, but instead she insisted on bringing the matter to a vote. The result was two votes in favor of her position (one of which was presumably from Hotovely herself) and six against her. This is classic Israeli behavior: maintaining the same position until the bitter end, even when it is clear that it would be wiser to change one’s course.

Another example of this behavior took place after the shooting at the Israeli embassy in Jordan. Prime Minister Netanyahu met in his office with the Israeli ambassador to Jordan and with the security guard who shot the Jordanian aggressors. Their meeting was highly publicized, implying that Netanyahu gave his backing to the embassy staff – but then the Israeli government capitulated completely to Jordan’s demands, including the payment of five million dollars in damages to the families of the people who were killed in the incident. (It seems that the shooting was a mistake; the suspect hadn’t actually intended to attack anyone.) He also accepted the humiliating demand to recall our ambassador to Jordan and to replace her with a different diplomat. From now on, the Israeli ambassador to Jordan will be Abir Weissbrod. If that is how our foreign policy works, can anyone expect anything different from our domestic, security, and economic policies?


Economics for Adar

Economics and I do not get along very well. I am the ultimate customer of choice for financial institutions such as banks, insurance companies, cell phone carriers, and the like. I do not examine the terms of their agreements because I do not understand any of it; I do not read annual reports, and I always forget to switch to better plans. Such is the case with my mortgage, for instance: Every month, with the regularity of a Swiss watch, I make my required payment, ignoring all the experts who claim that I could improve the terms. That is simply the way I am.

When it comes to insurance, I rely on my insurance agent, Uri Trablesi. He and his staff impress me as people who are reliable and responsible, to the point that they are willing to put their clients’ best interests ahead of their own. Uri and I also attend the same shiur in Daf Yomi. Would you ever imagine being unable to trust another participant in a shiur you attend? That is why he handles my car insurance policies and even my life insurance policy (which my mortgage bank forced me to take out, to my great chagrin). He has already proven his worth when he was put to the test.

When it comes to banking, I am completely lost. This week, I received a letter from Bank Leumi, where I maintain an account that exists solely for my monthly mortgage payments. For some reason, the bank refused to take those payments – which are withdrawn automatically every month – from my regular account (in Bank Hapoalim). Therefore, every month I transfer the requisite payment into the account in Bank Leumi – an account that I have no interest in having, and that is considered an “inactive” account. From that account, the money is withdrawn to pay my mortgage.

In any event, the letter informed me that a payment had been deposited into my account in the bank on December 31, 2017. It was an interest payment for a deposit made into a savings plan on July 4 for a period of 180 days, with an annual interest rate of 0.07 percent. The principal was 2568.81 NIS, and the interest reached a grand total of 0.89 NIS, from which 0.13 NIS had been deducted for income tax. I didn’t understand a word of what had happened. I gathered only that the bank had credited me with interest for the money that I had deposited there. After taxes, it came out to the princely sum of 76 agurot. This was news to me, of course. It seems that I will have to find an investment banker who can make some sense of the matter. Maybe Trablesi will be able to help me…


Endless Inspiration in Meron

Meron is a site that receives a constant stream of visitors from every direction. The arch at the entrance, the large letters, the kever, the Tehillim, and the tziyun – all of it combines to make for an incredible experience. According to the Center for the Development of Holy Sites, Meron is the most heavily visited holy site in the country aside from the Kosel. But we have no need for their statistics; we can see it for ourselves. It seems that there is never a moment without someone davening in Meron. We are a nation with many needs, and many people go to daven for their own needs in Meron.

Where else can you go on an ordinary Motzoei Shabbos – such as this past week – and hear Rav Elimelech Biderman holding forth in an impassioned shmuess? The air was electrified as he spoke. Where else can you encounter people who seem to have been transported to the present from some bygone era?

And then there is the hachnosas orchim of Meron. Today, it is a phenomenon that is accepted throughout the world. In Meron, it has always been the norm. Over a cup of coffee, I listened to the mind-boggling statistics: On Rosh Hashanah, hundreds of trays of kugel were served there, each tray holding hundreds of pieces. You can calculate the total for yourselves. I also watched as the organizers of the hachnosas orchim engaged in an intensive discussion with Reb Mordechai “Motti” Rabinowitz, an accomplished event producer. Believe it or not, they were preparing for Lag Ba’omer.

Whenever I leave Meron, I am always gripped by the desire to return. This time, I met a Sephardic yungerman on my way out. “Tell me,” I said to him, “can you describe how it feels for you to visit Rebbi Shimon’s kever?”

He laughed. “Why don’t you ask me my name first?” he said.

“What is your name?” I asked.

“Shimon. I am named for Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai. Do you have any more questions?”


Never Stop Davening!

Last week, I shared a series of shailos that were relayed by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein to Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt”l. Here is another story, which came to my attention only this week:

One day, Rav Zilberstein received a letter from a group of older single girls who bemoaned their ongoing failures to find shidduchim. Their pleas for help seemed to be fueled by much pain. Rav Zilberstein went to visit his father-in-law, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, to ask for his advice on how to respond.

“At first, in his great humility, he tried to evade the question, saying, ‘Who am I to answer such a difficult question?’” Rav Zilberstein relates. “I told him that I had come on a mission on behalf of Klal Yisroel, that the girls were suffering from terrible anguish, and that they were eagerly awaiting his response. He replied, ‘The only thing that I can suggest to these girls is to daven, daven, and daven!’

“The girls replied, ‘We have davened so much that our mouths have gone dry, and we still have not received our salvation!’

“Several days after I returned from Rav Elyashiv, I visited the home of the rosh yeshiva [Rav Shteinman],” Rav Zilberstein’s account continues. “I told him about the letter and about my father-in-law’s response, as well as the girls’ insistence that they had already davened until their mouths were dry. Instead of answering me, Rav Shteinman went to the bookshelf in his home and took out a novi (Sefer Melochim), which he opened to the fourth perek, which describes the miracle that occurred for the widow of Ovadiah Hanovi with the jug of oil. The first posuk in that perek states: And one woman from the wives of the students of the neviim cried out to Elisha, ‘Your servant, my husband, has died!’

“The rosh yeshiva then said, ‘Does anyone know how many times the widow of Ovadiah cried out? How many times did she plead before she was saved from her plight? The answer appears in the Radak, quoting the Targum: She cried out to Elisha 265 times. This is the gematria of the word tze’akah. But it was only after she visited her husband’s kever and then returned to Elisha that she was saved.’ If she had cried out only 264 times, she would not have been answered. But with that one final tefillah, the miracle took place.”



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