My Take on the News

A Tug-of-War Over the Draft Law

You may know the background: The previous draft law was overturned by the Supreme Court, in the final ruling issued by former Chief Justice Miriam Naor. This threw the entire political system into a tizzy, and several possible solutions were floated. This issue led to the discussion of using an “overrule clause,” a clause that would state explicitly that the new law overrides the opposition of the Supreme Court. This idea was the subject of controversy within the government until another Supreme Court ruling – this time on the subject of African infiltrators – led everyone to realize that it was time to put the court in its place.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Defense and chairman of the Yisroel Beiteinu party, seems to be the greatest obstacle to the formulation of a new draft law. In fact, Lieberman announced immediately that he would support a law only if it was written by the Ministry of Defense. The ministry indeed came up with the text of a law, and it may be one that we can accept. The objective is to draft a law with which we will be able to make peace (for one thing, it is already clear that there will not be criminal sanctions if we fail to meet the draft quotas), but that the Supreme Court will also accept.

The most important issue is that there is a deadline. When the Supreme Court issued its ruling, it ordered the government to draft an acceptable law by the end of the year, and we are now approaching that time. The Supreme Court demanded a law that will be more effective (by its standards), that will result in an enlistment rate in the chareidi community that will rise every year, and that will contain criminal sanctions. We can already see that some of the court’s demands will not be met, and we can only hope that the law that is ultimately passed by the Knesset will not be attacked again in the court. If it is, then we will have to fight for our yeshiva bochurim.

 

Tensions Rise Over Conversion

Then there is the controversy over giyur, which was also sparked by a Supreme Court ruling. In 2016, the Supreme Court decided that conversions that had been performed by private institutes in Israel should be recognized with respect to the Law of Return. This ruling was a source of great distress to the Chief Rabbinate, which prefers to maintain its monopoly over conversion. There is a legitimate fear that if that monopoly is lost, there will be no way to maintain appropriate standards for giyur. Following that precedent-setting ruling, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri hurried to introduce a new bill that would grant the Chief Rabbinate exclusive authority over conversions. The bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation in June 2017, despite the opposition of Yisrael Beiteinu. This led to a crisis in Israel’s relations with the Reform movement in America, and their representatives appealed to the Israeli Supreme Court to disqualify the law.

Prime Minister Netanyahu managed to reach a temporary agreement with the chareidi parties and the bill’s opponents, which called for the bill’s advance to be postponed by half a year and for the petition to the Supreme Court to be frozen. Two months later, in August 2017, Netanyahu recruited Moshe Nissim – a former Minister of Justice on behalf of the Likud party and a son of former chief rabbi and Rishon Letzion Rav Yitzchok Nissim zt”l – to head a committee that would be tasked with making recommendations regarding the issue of giyur. The committee recently submitted its recommendations to Netanyahu, including a rough draft of an alternative conversion law that it had formulated, which will be brought before the Ministerial Committee for Legislation for further discussion. This bill calls for the establishment of a new entity that will hold exclusive authority over the process of conversion and will recognize conversions performed by rabbonim in “recognized Jewish communities.” To put this in plainer terms, the new conversion authority would be authorized to recognize conversions performed by non-Orthodox clergymen overseas. The law defines a recognized Jewish community as “an established and active community with a known and shared Jewish identity, which possesses established frameworks of community management and belongs to one of the recognized streams of the global Jewish populace.”

It is important for me to emphasize one thing: The State of Israel already recognizes Reform conversions that were performed abroad. This has been the situation for many years already, as a result of a previous Supreme Court decision. On the other hand, Reform conversions that are performed in Israel itself are not recognized by the state. This has been the status quo for many years. And while Moshe Nissim does not intend to change the status quo, he also wishes to have it enshrined in law. According to his proposal, Reform conversions would be recognized in Israel by law, not merely because of the government’s tacit acceptance or by virtue of a ruling of the Supreme Court.

There is another difference, as well: Until now, Reform conversions have been recognized only for the sake of awarding Israeli citizenship to the converts under the Law of Return. The Rabbinate and botei din have not accepted the conversions as having halachic legitimacy. As a result, people who have undergone Reform conversions cannot marry in Israel through the Rabbinate, and the children of a woman who converted through the Reform movement are not considered halachically Jewish by the rabbinic authorities. That, of course, is a reason that the Reform Jews are bound to object vociferously to a law that will preserve the status quo.

The committee’s recommendations were initially supported by several rabbonim. At the beginning of the week, though, the rabbonim announced that they had been misled, and their support was withdrawn. “I was led to believe that the Rabbinate would have been given the authority to oversee conversions,” one of the rabbonim explained. “I have now found out that that is not the case.”

 

Private Investigators in Yeshivos and Kollelim

The Ministry of Education recently decided to employ private investigators to ascertain whether yeshivos and kollelim are reporting their enrollments accurately. When this was revealed to the public, it sparked widespread outrage, and the chareidi members of the Knesset spoke out against the apparent discrimination. The Education Ministry claimed that the policy was not their decision, and that the choice to send investigators had been made by the general comptroller in the Finance Ministry. We did not consider that a sufficient explanation. We demanded to know if there is any other sector in society that receives funding from the government and is scrutinized by private investigators.

Much attention has also been focused lately on the issue of tefillin. For some reason, there has been a spate of harassment of Chabad activists who set up stalls and offer irreligious Jews a chance to wear tefillin. The most recent incident took place in the airport, when a woman began screaming at a Lubavitcher man who was placing tefillin on another traveler. It was later revealed that the irate woman is an academic and the wife of a well-known professor.

 

The Judicial System Defends Itself

This past week, the Israel Bar Association held its annual convention in Eilat. This convention always attracts the top professionals in the legal field in the State of Israel, including the country’s most respected attorneys, politicians, and judges. The attorney general, the Minister of Justice, and other leading figures in the country’s judicial system were present as well.

Ehud Olmert was initially scheduled to speak at one of the panel discussions, but the Ministry of Justice delivered an ultimatum to the Bar Association: If Olmert spoke, they would not attend the convention. As far as they are concerned, he is completely off limits. Why? First of all, because he is a convicted felon, but also because he wrote a book that includes a blistering attack on the state prosecution.

It seems to me that the Ministry of Justice is hardly justified in their position. Olmert has completed his prison sentence. That means that he has paid his debt to society, doesn’t it? And doesn’t he have the right to think – and to write – that the prosecution targeted him? There are other people in the world, including judges and prosecutors themselves, who have erred. Why do they have the right to make him a pariah?

“The rule of law is under attack,” the state prosecution complained at the convention. In my opinion, they are mistaken. If there is an air of negativity with regard to the judicial system, it is not our doing. On the contrary, it results from their own actions.

Last week, the Ombudsman for the Judiciary – former Supreme Court Justice Eliezer Rivlin – announced that 22 percent of the complaints lodged against judges that were examined in the year 2017 were found to be justified. “Out of 534 complaints that were examined, 81 were justified,” Rivlin wrote in his official report. “Thirty-nine percent of the justified complaints dealt with deficiencies in the management of a case, 37 percent with delays in the issuing of a verdict, and 15 percent with the conduct of judges.” If fifteen percent of those 81 complaints dealt with the judges’ conduct, that means that at least 12 judges behaved in a way that the ombudsman found worthy of censure – and that is quite a large number. (That is not to say that we ourselves have much reason to take pride. Some of the judges reviewed by the ombudsman are dayanim, and many complaints against dayanim were found justified as well, at an even greater percentage than among the secular judges. “The highest percentage of justified complaints was found to be concerning the rabbinic courts,” Rivlin wrote. That is a shame. We expect better conduct both from our own dayanim and from the judges in the secular courts.) This type of phenomenon is what lies behind the negative public opinion concerning the prosecutor’s office and the Ministry of Justice – this, as well as the brutal approach exemplified by their uncompromising rejection of Olmert.

 

Sixty-Five Targets in Gaza

Once again, there has been much talk about two of the most sensitive issues affecting Israel: giyur and the draft. Efforts are now underway to prepare a new draft law that will be passed by the Knesset, and as I will soon explain, we have been forced to tackle the issue of giyur in the halls of government as well.

Despite these burning issues, there is no question that the violence of this past week overshadowed any other concerns that the citizens of Israel may have had. Think about the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, or even tens of thousands of people living in the cities of the south, especially Sderot and the surrounding kibbutzim, who lived with the constant fear that a missile or rocket might hit their homes at any moment. Dozens of rockets continued falling on the Jewish communities in the vicinity of Gaza. During those days, we heard of many incidents that ended with overt miracles.

War was in the air. Children were afraid to go to school, and professionals were brought in to calm the local residents. Entire families huddled together in bomb shelters, listening to the sounds of incoming rockets, the explosions as the Iron Dome system neutralized some of the projectiles, and the roaring sounds of Israeli fighter jets showering fire on their targets in Gaza. The air force struck 65 different targets, all of which had been identified by Israeli intelligence as centers of terrorist activity. No one understands exactly why Hamas decided to flex its muscles this past week. We do not know if the rain of rockets was triggered by their rivalry with the PA or by infighting within Hamas itself. We know only what happened as a result: Hamas went wild and their attacks triggered an extremely harsh response from Israel, to the point that Hamas themselves requested a ceasefire on Thursday.

 

Israeli Hubris

Apparently, Hamas asked for a ceasefire because the air strikes had been crippling to them. In fact, Netanyahu hastened to tell them that they had been struck with crippling blows. But as usual, some of our government officials released statements that were even more boastful. One of the government ministers, a member of the cabinet, bragged to the media about the intensive bombing that Israel had inflicted on Hamas. Prime Minister Netanyahu tried to sound more measured and responsible, but his remarks also smacked of arrogance. “Since yesterday,” the announced, “the IDF has been responding with force to the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip by attacking dozens of terrorist targets. This is the severest blow that we have dealt to them in years.” He accused Iran of supporting terror, and he announced that Israel has additional plans that he did not wish to disclose. “When they tested us, they paid the price immediately,” Netanyahu declared. “If they continue testing us, they will pay much more.”

I must ask: What is the purpose of all this bravado? Just take a look at what happened in the south: A shed belonging to the Fletcher family in a community in the Eshkol region was damaged by a rocket. (The exact location of the rocket strike is deliberately kept secret in order to prevent the enemy from learning how to aim their rockets more accurately.) If the rocket had landed just a meter away, their home could have gone up in flames and there might have been a tragic loss of life. Equally miraculous was the rocket that landed in a kindergarten in the area just a few minutes before the children were scheduled to arrive. If it had happened ten minutes later, dozens of children would have been wounded, chas veshalom.

Does Netanyahu deserve any of the credit for these miracles? Can the cabinet claim that they saved these people from harm? Obviously, the answer is no. Then why are they boasting? If anything, their comments are likely to goad the terrorists into committing even more acts of violence. After all, the Israelis are challenging their honor, and that will simply lead them to defend that honor by carrying out more attacks. How do these people justify their public pronouncements?

 

Treife Shame

This past week marked the shloshim of Reb Moshe Reich zt”l. With every day that has elapsed since his passing, we have learned about yet another fascinating chapter of his life, which was replete with acts of virtue and kindness. His family and friends established a new project in his memory: a special fund providing loans to people who lack housing. During his lifetime, Moshe worked to benefit frum families, encouraging the development of original and inexpensive housing solutions, assisting young couples, raising huge sums of money for various tzedakah funds, and founding organizations that provided much-needed succor to those in distress.

Rav Elimelech Biderman recently shared the following story, which he heard from Moshe Reich on a visit to Meron: There was a certain rosh kahal in Europe who found himself at odds with the rov of his community and began searching for a way to have him ousted from his position. One day, the disgruntled head of the community returned home to find his maid standing at the entrance to his home with a chicken in her hands. He quickly learned that his wife had sent the maid to the rov to ask a shailah about the chicken and the rov had ruled that it was kosher. The rosh hakahal was a learned man himself, and he realized that the rov had erred. Seizing the opportunity, he raced to the bais din of the Minchas Elazar – the rov of Munkatch – and presented the chicken to him. “What do you say? Is it kosher or treif?” he asked, as he placed the chicken on the table before the dayanim.

To everyone’s astonishment, the Minchas Elazar immediately took a bite out of the chicken. The other dayanim stared at him in shock and the rosh kahal fled in shame. As soon as he had left, the Munkatcher Rov removed the meat from his mouth. “You all know exactly what he planned to do,” he explained to the dayanim. “The rov probably made a mistake, and the rosh hakahal wanted to shame him publicly.” Then the Minchas Elazar raised his voice and thundered, “But is the flesh of a man permitted to eat?”

“This is a story that was so fitting for Moishe Reich,” Rav Biderman concluded. “This is exactly the way he lived his life; the idea of shaming another person, of consuming his ‘flesh’ by embarrassing him, was anathema to him. When he told the story, it was clear that the words came from his heart. Eating a treief chicken or a pig is forbidden, but it is equally wrong to destroy a person!”

 

A Troubling Thaw

Freezers have an unfortunate habit of breaking on Erev Shabbos or Erev Yom Tov. That is simply one of the facts of life. Last Friday, a certain yungerman came home from Shacharis and decided to surprise his wife by preparing cholent for Shabbos. He opened the freezer and discovered, to his consternation, that all of the food had defrosted. Clearly, the freezer had broken; perhaps the thermostat needed to be replaced. Whatever the problem was, it was clear that it needed to be repaired by a technician. And since the service contract with the company had expired, that meant that he needed to call a private technician. After a number of phone calls were made, though, it became clear that there was no one available to help. Every technician he contacted was busy.

“Why is Hashem doing this to me?” the yungerman wondered morosely. He hurried to banish the troubling thought from his mind, reminding himself that everything that Hashem does is for the best. Even if he was being punished for something, he was fortunate that it was only an inanimate object that was affected. He closed the freezer door and did not allow himself to become despondent.

When his wife returned home from her teaching job in Tel Zion, he prepared to break the news of the freezer’s demise to her. Before he could utter a word, though, she said, “I forget to tell you something. This morning, I realized that I had left the freezer open all night. All of the food thawed, but nothing was spoiled.”

It goes without saying that our hero was deeply relieved – and glad that he had not had to pay for a house call from an appliance repairman for no reason.

 

Suffering with Faith

Rav Yosef Fogel lives in Rechasim and teaches Torah in the nearby cities. He is very ill; his body no longer responds to his commands, and he communicates through a computer. Suffering accompanies him through every second of the day, yet his spiritual influence is felt everywhere in northern Israel. And he always declares that everything is for the best.

Not long ago, Rav Yosef asked a well-known speaker to attend an event for newly religious young men in the north. The speaker agreed, but he asked Rav Yosef, “Who organized this event?”

“What do you mean?” Rav Yosef exclaimed. “I organized it!” Yes, a man who is incapable of moving a single limb organized an entire event. Rav Yosef’s example should be a lesson to all of us.

Rav Yosef is affiliated with Arachim. In fact, he is so heavily involved in the organization’s activities in northern Israel that he has become known as “Arachim of the north.” Despite his unfathomable hardships, Rav Yosef is unstintingly dedicated to his principles. Even when his suffering is at its greatest, he will never skip davening with a minyan, regardless of the hardship it entails. Once or twice a year, he publishes a collection of the shiurim that he delivers to baalei teshuvah. This week, I received a copy of his latest kuntrus, titled “Tov Lehodos LaHashem.” Throughout his suffering, Rav Yosef never stops giving thanks to Hashem.

Here is an illuminating excerpt from the kuntres: “Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman was once asked how one could give encouragement to a person who was suffering in every way and who seemed to have nothing in life that was working out. He was unable to earn a living, his home was riddled with conflict, and his health has begun to fail.” If not for the fact that he mentions difficulties within the person’s family, I would have thought that Rav Yosef was referring to himself. “His answer was: He must be made to contemplate the things that he has and that others do not have. For instance, if he is able to breathe on his own, he should think about the fact that he is better off than some people, who are so ill that they cannot even do that. That should raise the spirits of a person who is ill, and he should go on considering other examples of the things that he possesses and for which he can give thanks to Hashem.”