My Take on the News

The people who visited Meron on Lag Ba’omer this year returned with glowing reports, mainly praising the hard work of the Center for the Development of Holy Sites. This year, there were huge crowds at Meron, and there were also new bonfires. One of those new hadlakos was Rav Elimelech Biderman’s bonfire, where a large number of people spent hours dancing, singing songs of deep emotion, and listening to his words of chizuk.

I remained in Yerushalayim. I attended the bonfire in my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul, and it was a choice that I do not regret. We have a man in Givat Shaul who is our own personal admor, in a sense. His name is Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Ullman, and he is the mora d’asra of the Zupnik shul and a member of the Badatz of the Eidah Hachareidis. He is also an incredible person. The Zupnik shul is an incredible place, whose mispallelim span the spectrum of religious Jewry, ranging from young men to the elderly.

The event was attended by a huge crowd, and the wonderful bochurim of Yeshivas Ner Moshe contributed to the festive atmosphere. Rav Ullman was given a chair, and all of the participants filed past him to receive brachos. The dancing was enthusiastic, and this year, the festivities were enhanced by the presence of a live band, rather than the recorded music that accompanied the bonfire in previous years. The hadlakah was followed by a lavish seudah.

Another subject that occupied our attention was, lehavdil, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s widely publicized speech and the resultant debate that divided the nation. Many felt that it was wrong for Netanyahu to reveal to the world that Israel was able to procure documents from the most secure location in Teheran. Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s political foe, accused him of acting rashly and endangering the lives of the Mossad’s operatives. According to Lapid, Netanyahu should have sent emissaries to the leaders of the world to convey the message privately, rather than announcing it in public. The Likud responded by mocking Lapid, pointing out that a man who had spent his own army career as a magazine correspondent has no business telling the state how to handle matters of security. The prime minister also claimed that no one in the intelligence community had been opposed to his speech.

It is likely that Netanyahu is correct. After all, the Iranians themselves undoubtedly know what materials were stolen from them and who is responsible for the thefts. His speech is unlikely to have revealed anything to them that they did not know already.

 

Paramedics in the Zupnik Shul

Since I mentioned the Zupnik shul, I am reminded of an amusing incident that occurred last week. I was passing the shul one day when I noticed something out of the ordinary: An ambulance bearing the logo of Magen David Adom had parked across from the shul, and two paramedics emerged from the vehicle, carrying large bags, and hastened across the street and into the building.

I didn’t need a particularly wild imagination to surmise what had happened. I was certain that the large bags they were carrying contained lifesaving medical equipment. Perhaps someone had had a heart attack and collapsed in the shul, and they had brought a defibrillator to shock his heart into functioning again. Imagining the worst, I parked my own car in a legal spot and hurried into the shul.

“What happened here?” I demanded of the first person I met.

“Nothing happened,” he replied with a shrug.

“What do you mean?” I demanded, and I hurried into the main shul. Everything was quiet there. I entered each of the side rooms, but found nothing out of the ordinary. Where had the paramedics gone? Then it struck me: They might be in the mikvah.

I ran downstairs, and indeed the two paramedics were there, busily removing new dishes from their packages. They had come to use the keilim mikvah.

 

A Study in Contrasts

At the Lag Ba’omer bonfire, a thought crossed my mind. Just two weeks earlier, we had watched as the rest of the country celebrated a holiday. On Yom Haatzmaut, the average Israeli leaves his home to find a suitable outdoor venue for a barbecue. He suffers through intense traffic congestion until he finally makes his way to a crowded park, where he stakes out a suitable spot and sets up his portable barbecue. The height of the experience arrives when he is seated on a plastic chair, with a bottle of soda within his reach, using his hands to hold a steak, kebab, or spare ribs. And, of course, the meal is not complete without French fries and hummus. And that is all.

Consider the stark contrast to the experiences of Lag Ba’omer. We cram ourselves into buses, spending over three hours traveling through heavy traffic, until we manage to climb the mountain and find ourselves in Meron. We then lift our children onto our shoulders and make our way to the tziyun of Rav Shimon Bar Yochai. And why do we do all this? Simply in order to recite a chapter of Tehillim at the gravesite of the holy Tanna. And then there are chassidim who stand crowded together on bleachers, watching their rebbes perform the annual hadlakah and joining them in singing the zemiros of Lag Ba’omer. We fight the crowds on Lag Ba’omer just as everyone else does on the country’s secular holidays, but for us, it is for an uplifting spiritual experience, whereas their celebration is ultimately empty and unfulfilling.

Last year, for the first time in my life, I joined the crowds in Meron on the night of Lag Ba’omer. It was an exhausting experience, but it completely recharged my spiritual batteries. I was awed by the thought of the incredibly complex logistical arrangements that must have been made in order for the day to be a success. Temporary buildings, along with bleachers and concession stands, were erected for a period of only 24 hours, and all the emergency response organizations had to be prepared to leap into action in case they were needed. This year, if I understood correctly, arrangements were made in advance to help any small children who would become separated from their parents at Meron. I thought about the various organizations that make every effort to assist the visitors to the site, even providing them with food and drink. These people are tzaddikim who dedicate their lives to determining how they can help others – and in this case, tens of thousands of people benefited from their hard work.

 

A Disaster Caused by Conceit

What were the other news stories this week? Well, there was a speech delivered by Abu Mazen, who explained the “reason” for the Holocaust. What explanation did he find for the brutal murder of six million Jews? He claimed that it took place because Jews are thieves…

Meanwhile, an intensive investigation is underway here in Israel, with the purpose of determining who is to blame for the tragedy in Nachal Tzafit. The principal of the school and the counselor responsible for the youths have both been pointing fingers at each other. In retrospect, it has now been revealed that there were warnings about the possibility of flooding, and the school administrators have been taken into custody for questioning.

One of the ten victims of the flood was a young man named Tzur Alfi. It was later revealed that he was in a position to save his own life, but he tried to help other students escape from the flood, and he ultimately perished. That was pure, undeniable mesirus nefesh, the act of a young man who was dedicated to saving other Jewish lives. Apparently, it is a trait that runs in the family. After the burial, his bereaved father declared, “Despite the tragedy, we have no anger, only love. Our message is: Continue hiking and be the best.” May Hashem send a nechomah to the Alfi family.

 

Anti-Semitism on the Rise

Everyone condemned Abu Mazen’s speech as an anti-Semitic diatribe, and rightly so. But what about anti-Semitism in the rest of the world? Let me give you a glimpse into the Israeli government’s attitude toward the issue.

I enjoy monitoring the answers given by government ministers to the queries submitted by members of the Knesset. Sometimes, I discover that they have made an effort to distort the facts or to whitewash a situation. Sometimes, their answers are even contemptuous. One member of the Knesset recently asked a government minister to discuss the issue of anti-Semitism. He identified three different crimes against Jews that had occurred over the course of a single week: Mezuzos were torn off the doors of Jewish-owned homes in Antwerp, anti-Semitic graffiti was scrawled on a shul in Barcelona, and the kever of the tzaddik of Ostrovtza in Poland was desecrated. Anti-Semitism, as we all know, never ends. This week, the Knesset presidium approved the urgent motions for the agenda that were submitted regarding the rise in anti-Semitism in France and Germany. And the hatred of Jews exists in Israel as well; in fact, a shul in Kiryat Yovel was recently vandalized.

This particular parliamentary query was terse and to the point: “Are you aware of a recent increase in the level of anti-Semitism?” The Knesset member who submitted the query was hoping for a detailed response regarding the three incidents in Europe. Moreover, he hoped to hear what the State of Israel – or its emissaries in the Diaspora – would do in response to the general increase in anti-Semitism, and how it would respond to those three incidents. The minister replied that the government is monitoring the levels of anti-Semitism, that the cabinet receives annual reports on the subject, and that this past January’s report showed that the use of anti-Semitic epithets and anti-Semitic discourse throughout the world is currently increasing. That, of course, was something that we all knew. The real question is what will be done about it. But that was a question that he did not answer.

 

Kite Terror and Netanyahu’s Woes

Recently, we have been experiencing “kite terror.” The Arabs in Gaza have been setting kites on fire and flying them over the border, directing the burning kites toward Israeli fields and orchards. This has resulted in many uncontrolled blazes, which have sowed tremendous fear and inflicted costly damage. I cannot help but wonder how we are supposed to combat this phenomenon. With tanks? With missiles?

There is also news regarding the prime minister’s legal woes – or, more accurately, those of his wife. Sara Netanyahu’s lawyers and the Ministry of Justice are reportedly planning to close a deal, whereby she will not be indicted in the so-called “residence case” and will simply pay the government instead. This deal began to come together after Mrs. Netanyahu’s attorneys, mainly Yaakov Weinroth, demonstrated that the accusations listed in the initial draft of the indictment may not be able to be proven. The case is based on the testimony of Meni Naftali, the former manager of the prime minister’s residence, who has signed an agreement to become a state witness. Naftali claims that Sara Netanyahu ordered food to the prime minister’s residence in violation of the official rules and at the taxpayers’ expense. Mrs. Netanyahu will probably avoid an indictment.

 

The War That Wasn’t

The Knesset resumed its work last Monday in the shadow of an expected military clash. However, nothing of the sort came to pass.

The first sitting of every Knesset session is always a special event. The president sometimes attends these sittings, and the prime minister always delivers a lengthy address. This time, however, Netanyahu was absent both from the Likud party meeting and from the Knesset. He was busy delivering his speech about the Iranian nuclear program, which diverted the attention of the entire country from the beginning of the Knesset’s session. Even in the Knesset itself, many of the legislators were focused on the screen showing Netanyahu’s speech.

Meanwhile, in light of the military situation, the motions of no confidence that were scheduled to be discussed in the Knesset on Monday were dropped. Throughout the day, we all had the sense that war was imminent. The political parties canceled their weekly meetings, partly because of the situation but also because all of the party heads, who hold ministerial positions, were attending an urgently convened cabinet meeting. That meeting alone added to the prevailing sense of fear. Some people expressed certainty that a nuclear attack from Iran was imminent. The Zionist Camp and Yesh Atid – unlike the Joint List and Meretz – went so far as to withdraw their motions of no confidence altogether.

It was a relatively insignificant week from a parliamentary standpoint. The opposition was beaten by the coalition, but most of the country was paying much closer attention to the executive branch of the government.

 

Protecting Accident Victims

 

Now that the Knesset has gone back to work, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation will once again be debating new laws every week. Last Sunday, the committee already discussed 36 different laws, most of which it opposed. Once the committee has opposed a law, the chances of it being passed are virtually nil. If the law was proposed by a member of the opposition, then the majority of the coalition will simply reject it. And if the law was proposed by someone in the coalition, then coalition discipline mandates its withdrawal.

Over the past two months, hundreds of potential new laws have been placed on the Knesset table for discussion. One of those laws, which was quite original, captured my attention. It was titled “Proposed Law for the Preservation of the Possessions of an Accident Victim.” The bill was submitted by MK Yitzchok Vaknin, who was joined by 17 other members of the Knesset from various parties. In the explanatory text that accompanied the bill, Vaknin noted that as of now, no agency bears the responsibility for collecting the personal effects of a person who is injured in an accident. As a result, the relevant authorities tend to ignore the matter altogether, and items left at the scene of an accident, some of which are quite valuable, often tend to be lost. The proposed law, which is a brilliant idea, would make the insurance companies responsible for those items.

This week, the committee supported a law proposed by MK Michoel Malchieli, which was approved in its preliminary reading. Under the current law, when the value of apartments in a particular area is increased by a change in zoning, the apartment owners are required to pay a “betterment tax.” Malchieli’s law would limit the tax requirement to specific circumstances. Since many homeowners never take advantage of the increased options to expand their apartments, he argued that it is not appropriate to tax them for the increase in value. That is a law that is eminently reasonable and justified.

 

Looking Out for the Parents of the Disabled

Two other noteworthy bills were advanced this past week. One of them, proposed by Yaakov Margi, was titled “Proposed National Insurance Law – Grant to the Parent of a Disabled Person Upon Their Death.” This proposal law stipulates that if a person who was receiving a disability stipend from the National Insurance Institute passes away and is not survived by a spouse or children, the grant should be paid to the parents of the deceased. The rationale is simple: In general, when a disabled person passes away, the National Insurance Institute pays the sum of 8,857 NIS to the person’s family. This grant is intended to assist the family members during the time of mourning and to help cover the costs of the burial and tombstone. If the deceased was childless and was predeceased by his or her spouse – or, even more commonly, was never married – the grant is not paid at all. Margi’s bill proposes that the grant should be paid to the parents instead, a proposal that is eminently reasonable. I will be interested to see if the National Insurance Institute goes along with this, or if it maintains its tendency to refuse to part with money that it is not legally obligated to pay.

The other proposal of interest is a law that is also eminently reasonable – that is from the Palestinian point of view. The “Proposed Law for the Evacuation of Settlements,” which was advanced by Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi, and Joumah Azbarga, suggests that the government should adopt United Nations Resolutions 446 and 2334, which state that the Israeli settlements in “occupied” territory are illegal. The explanatory text adds, “It is likewise proposed that the state should take every action necessary in order to evacuate the settlements.” One thing is for certain: We have no doubt about what they are trying to accomplish.

 

A Rebbetzin for the Knesset?

I know that you will find this hard to believe, but you can take my word that it is true. This week, it was announced that the Knesset had canceled the tender for the position of “rov of the Knesset” after the Knesset legal advisor gave in to pressure from the Reform movement. The tender was reopened with the new provision that women may also apply for the position, and the requirement for “Yoreh Yoreh” certification was canceled. The new tender was advertised in newspapers this week as an “administrative position” entailing responsibility over “kashrus and halachic issues.”

I found out about this development from one of the candidates for the original tender, who received a letter informing him that the tender had been withdrawn and would be reissued, first “internally” and then “publicly.” He asked me to find out why the tender had been canceled, and a source in the Knesset informed me that the purpose was to enable women to apply for the position as well. I did not publicize my discovery at first, since I believed that it would be better to address the issue behind the scenes. Once the matter becomes public knowledge, it is much more difficult to effect a change. But one thing is clear: This is an absolute outrage.

 

Incentives for Working on Shabbos

It was recently reported that the Israel Railway company has suffered financial losses. Here are a couple of interesting statistics about the company.

In the year 2016, the five highest-earning employees in the company received annual salaries exceeding one million shekels each (the exact figures were 1,271,000 NIS, 1,111,000 NIS, 1,098,000 NIS, 1,080,000 NIS, and 1,053,000 NIS). This works out to monthly salaries of about 80,000 NIS for each of these executives.

In addition, we know that the employees of the company who work on Shabbos receive heavily inflated paychecks for that work. According to the law, an employee who works on Shabbos must be paid between 200 percent and 275 percent of the wages offered for the same work when it is performed during the week.

This information was released by Yisroel Katz, the Minister of Transportation.

 

Candle Confusion

In conclusion, I would like to share a story that I heard from a talmid of Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein.

Rav Zilberstein once received a letter from the father of a newly married young lady. The father prefaced his halachic question with an account of the events that had led up to the incident, beginning even before the couple’s marriage. “My daughter became engaged to a young man,” he related. “When we investigated the bochur, we were told that he was a lamdan, a yorei Shomayim, and extremely meticulous in his observance of halacha. We were also told that he possessed extraordinary middos. During one of their meetings after the engagement, the chosson told my daughter that he planned to manage his future home in strict compliance with the halacha. Even if it would be difficult or burdensome to observe the ideal dictates of the halacha, he told his kallah, he was determined to do so. ‘For example,’ he said, ‘in many homes, Erev Shabbos is a time of great pressure, especially on the short Fridays of the winter, but I would like for the Shabbos candles in my home to be lit at the time of hadlokas neiros. The halacha states explicitly that if a husband sees that his wife is late for lighting the candles, it is a great mitzvah for him to light them himself, and he should pay no attention to her complaints.’”

On the first Shabbos of the couple’s marriage – the Shabbos of sheva brachos – the father went on to relate, the young kallah entered her living room one minute after the time for hadlokas neiros. As soon as she entered the room, she was surprised to discover that the candles had already been lit. You can certainly imagine the distress she felt at that moment, which brought her to tears. Her righteous chosson wasn’t even at home. One of the guests who had come for the sheva brachos had called to ask for help finding his accommodations, and the chosson had left his apartment in a hurry in order to show him the way.

When the kallah arrived at the shul where the family would be davening and having their seudah, she was on the verge of collapse. Her mother noticed immediately that something was amiss, and, like any good mother, she insisted that her daughter tell her what had happened. When she heard that her new son-in-law had lit the Shabbos candles himself, rather than waiting for his wife to be ready just one minute after the zeman, she hurried to bring the matter to the attention of the chosson’s mother. The result was a major uproar.

All of this information was merely background to the shaalah that was presented to Rav Zilberstein: Was the kallah required to light an additional candle on every subsequent Erev Shabbos, in keeping with the penalty imposed on a woman who neglects to light the Shabbos candles? On the one hand, the kallah herself hadn’t lit the candles; on the other hand, the candles had been lit, albeit by someone else. Then again, as we will soon see, the chosson had actually lit the candles with the intent to extinguish them immediately, and the father speculated that this might not be sufficient to exempt the kallah from the penalty. One of the darshanim went so far as to suggest that the kallah should indeed light an additional candle on every subsequent week, which would be designated their “shalom bayis candle.”

Rav Zilberstein replied that the kallah was not, in fact, obligated to light an additional candle in the future. He had three reasons for his p’sak: First, the kallah hadn’t actually had the opportunity to light the candles herself; therefore, she could not be considered negligent. Second, the notion of “adding” a candle on subsequent weeks is not applicable to a person who has never lit candles in the past. And finally, there were candles that had already been lit at the location where the seudah was held.

But let us return to those tense moments when the chosson’s offense was first revealed. The kallah’s family was outraged. It was unthinkable that a young man who had been lauded for his middos could be guilty of such an insensitive act, but it seemed clear that the chosson had decided to take matters into his own hands and to light the candles on his own. After all, that was precisely the example of rigid adherence to halacha that he had given to his wife before their marriage. But was it really appropriate to ruin the very first candle lighting of her life, to shatter the night to which she had been looking forward for so many years?

Of course, when the kallah’s mother informed the chosson’s mother of what had taken place, the latter reacted with disbelief. “That is not something that my son would do!” she exclaimed. An argument began between the two sides, with voices steadily rising as each insisted that the other was wrong. The kallah’s relatives insisted that she would not have lied, while the chosson’s family was equally vociferous in protesting that he must have been innocent.

Finally, the chosson himself was called in. “Did you light the candles instead of your wife?” his mother demanded.

The chosson immediately became distraught. “I forgot to put them out!” he exclaimed.

With that, the true story came out. The chosson had never intended to light the candles in place of his wife, especially on the first Shabbos of their marriage. Rather, he had intended to observe the halachic dictum that it is meritorious for a husband to light the Shabbos candles and then extinguish them immediately, before his wife actually kindles the flames. Immediately after he lit the candles, though, he received the panicked phone call from the guest who had lost his way. The guest’s children were crying, and he begged the young chosson to come down to the street immediately and to help him find the apartment where he was supposed to be staying. “I hurried outside to direct him,” the chosson said in a pained tone, “and, of course, I called out to my wife that I was leaving and would be going directly to shul. I simply forgot to put out the candles…”