Tuesday, May 21, 2024

My Take on the News

Was Netanyahu’s Europe Trip Successful?

Last week, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu returned from a trip to Europe feeling very pleased with himself. As usual, he enjoyed respect and cooperation on his trip abroad, which is a welcome respite from the biting criticism of the opposition and the cold scrutiny of the prosecution that he faces in Israel. This particular trip took the prime minister to Britain, France, and Germany. In London, he met with the prime minister of Great Britain, Theresa May, and with British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson. Everyone agreed that it was an accomplishment for Netanyahu to meet with the leaders of the most significant European countries.

Netanyahu claimed that his meeting with Angela Merkel in Berlin was excellent, and that Merkel agreed that it is necessary to remove Iran from Syria. Netanyahu also seemed quite content with the results of his meeting with President Macron of France. He claimed that he was treated as an honored guest; that part is certainly true, as the French are renowned for their hospitality. He also claimed that Macron accepted his views on several issues concerning the borders with Syria and Lebanon. This part of his account may not be fully accurate, though, as the French are traditionally pro-Palestinian.

Was the trip as successful as Netanyahu claimed? It is not clear if that is the case. The newspapers reported that “sources who are close to Netanyahu” claimed that the three European leaders agreed that it is necessary to remove Iran from Syria. When a newspaper quotes “sources close to the prime minister,” it means that the quote actually came from Netanyahu himself. Customarily, when the prime minister travels abroad, he will grant interviews off the record with the journalists who accompany him, albeit on one condition: They are not permitted to quote the price minister directly. All of his statements are to be attributed to “sources close to the prime minister” or to “a senior official in the prime minister’s office.”

The day after Netanyahu’s return, a group of eight senior European economic figures, including several finance ministers from various countries, sent a letter to Steve Mnuchin, the Secretary of the Treasury in Washington, with a “small” request: to release them from the burden of the sanctions on Iran. They want to continue doing business with Iran as usual. If that could happen just one day after Netanyahu’s visit, then it is hard to believe that he was very convincing.


Why Are the Investigations Continuing?

Back home, as usual, Netanyahu continued to suffer. Right now, much of the tension stems from the accusations of Menny Naftali, the former manager of the prime minister’s residence who became embroiled in a bitter conflict with the Netanyahu family. Today, Naftali is one of the leaders of the protests that take place in Tel Aviv every Motzoei Shabbos, where the demonstrators repeatedly call for Netanyahu to be dismissed. Naftali is the source of serious accusations against Mrs. Netanyahu. He claims that the prime minister’s wife submitted false reports in order to receive government money, and that she billed the government for food that was ordered for her own family, falsely claiming that the meals were served to official guests.

In September 2017, the attorney general notified the government that the investigation had led to suspicions that Sara Netanyahu had falsely reported to the government that the prime minister’s residence had not employed a cook from September 2010 until March 2013. As a result, according to the allegations, the prime minister and his wife ordered catered food to the prime minister’s residence, running up a total bill of 359,000 shekels. Ezra Saidoff, the official who was responsible for overseeing food orders, is also suspected of hiring chefs to cook meals for the couple’s private guests and forging invoices. The attorney general decided to indict both Mrs. Netanyahu and Saidoff on charges of fraud and breach of trust. The Netanyahus have denied having any connection to the forged invoices, and have hinted that Naftali was responsible for the illicit orders. The Netanyahu family has succeeded in proving that their household expenses skyrocketed specifically during Naftali’s tenure. The implication is that Menny Naftali himself benefited from the food that was ordered (fraudulently, according to the allegations).

In the most recent development, the attorney general agreed to close the case if Sara Netanyahu pays for the benefits that she allegedly received. The prime minister’s wife turned down that offer. Perhaps her husband should explain to her that it is better for her to pay any amount of money than to be forced to face the court.

Meanwhile, the state prosecutor was asked this week to explain why the investigations surrounding Prime Minister Netanyahu are continuing for such a long time. Dragging out an investigation is torturous for any suspect, but it is especially injurious to a man who is responsible for so many things, including the security of the citizens of Israel. The prosecutor replied, “What can we do? We must leave no stone unturned in order to make sure that we don’t make a mistake.”


Football Flop or Snowball Effect?

I know you won’t believe what news story overshadowed Netanyahu’s visit to Europe, but it is a fact.

Plenty of things happened in Israel during the prime minister’s absence. The epidemic of “kite terror” continued, as Arabs from Gaza continued sending burning kites across the border into Israel, causing 22 fires in two days. Meanwhile, the Shin Bet captured a terror cell whose members were planning to assassinate the prime minister (as well as the mayor of Yerushalayim). A senior officer in the IDF revealed that the number of murder attempts in Yehuda and the Shomron has doubled, and as the end of Ramadan approaches, Israel’s security forces are preparing for a potential escalation of Palestinian violence.

None of that, however, was what occupied the country’s attention during this time. Rather, it was an Argentinian football (or, in American terms, soccer) player named Messi. The Argentinian football team was scheduled to play in Israel last Motzoei Shabbos. The game would have caused massive chillul Shabbos, which we protested, but no one paid us any heed. The entire country was gripped by enthusiasm over the impending game. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority used its connections and managed to convince the Argentinian team to cancel the game, which was slated to be held in Yerushalayim. Actually, the game was originally supposed to take place in a different city, but it was then transferred to Yerushalayim, and that ended up causing it to be canceled altogether. The Argentinians explained that they had changed their plans after the team members received threats.

The Israelis were furious at this turn of events. They denounced the team’s decision as an act of surrendering to terror and an affront to Yerushalayim. We, however, had a different explanation: Shabbos was defending its honor.

The most astounding aspect of this entire episode was the media’s obsessive coverage of it. Last Thursday, for instance – the day after the cancellation was announced – the front page of Yisroel hayom bore the dramatic headline “A Kick in the Heart,” and the first eighteen pages of the newspaper dealt with this story, while pages 18 and 19 reported on Netanyahu’s meetings with the prime minister of England, which had likewise taken place on the previous day. I am certain you agree that there is something wrong with this picture.

Then again, perhaps there is a bit more logic to it than meets the eye. Yediot Acharonot and Maariv each devoted their front pages, along with other pages, to the story, but Maariv had an interesting take on it. The newspaper warned of a “snowball effect,” suggesting that other international events in Israel might be canceled in the future as well. The story, then, is not so much about soccer as it is about a boycott of Israel.

Personally, I appreciated the title of one of the articles in Maariv: “A Stinging Defeat to Israeli Conceit.” That is a topic about which I myself have written extensively.


A Blow to the Women of the Wall

Meanwhile, we received some good news, when the attorney general informed the Women of the Wall that they are no longer permitted to perform their shenanigans at the Kosel. These women, who come to the Kosel every Rosh Chodesh to create provocations by “davening” with Sifrei Torah and tefillin, were informed that they must restrict their activities to the area designated for them. An announcement issued by the Ministry of Justice states, “The attorney general has ruled that the Women of the Wall will no longer be allowed to worship in the plaza of the Kosel Hamaarovi like other women. Instead, they must remain in a separate, fenced-off area that will be designated for them. He warns that if they disobey this order, they will risk being distanced from the holy site altogether. Letters of warning were sent to the Women of the Wall, as well as to the women who generally protest their actions. The attorney general’s order directly contradicts a ruling of the Supreme Court, which stated that the women must be allowed to continue their activities at the Kosel.

By issuing this order, Mandelblit accepted a request from the police and the rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, who claimed that the women cause provocations and conflict at the Kosel. The police explained that their main objective has always been to protect the group, but the Women of the Wall insisted on davening anywhere in the ezras noshim that they pleased, rather than limiting themselves to the enclosures that they called “cages.” They demanded Mandelblit’s intervention, and that insistence merely led them to be placed under more severe limitations. This is not to say that the people of the Ministry of Justice have become tzaddikim. Rather, they have simply reached the conclusion that according to law, the rov of the Kosel should have complete jurisdiction over the area.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs hurried to take advantage of the new attitude of stringency, and its legal division sent warning letters to the Women of the Wall and the protestors who oppose them. The recipients of the letters were warned, in advance of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, that if they fail to abide by the decision that was reached – that is, if the Women of the Wall stage a “prayer service” outside their designated area, or if their opponents hold a raucous protest against them – they will be ordered to stay away from the Kosel for an extended period of time. The letters sent to the opponents of the Women of the Wall were merely for show. If the provocateurs themselves do not come to the Kosel, then there will be no reason to protest against them.

The Women of the Wall responded with outrage. “The rov of the Kosel is authorized to enforce the prohibitions included in the regulations concerning holy sites,” they announced in a statement. “The Women of the Wall have not violated any laws, and they act in accordance with the decisions of the District Court from five years ago. Therefore, there are no grounds for distancing them from the Kosel. We are astounded by the audacity of the rov of the Kosel, with the backing of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, who – instead of distancing those who interfere with the davening of the Women of the Wall and have employed extreme violence against them for the past two years – is attempting to threaten the Women of the Wall, who wish to exercise their right to pray in accordance with their customs.”

My comment: The last phrase, “in accordance with their customs,” is the crux of the issue. The customs of the Kosel are not in consonance with those of the Women of the Wall, and the rov of the Kosel has the authority to determine which customs are acceptable at the site. That, after all, is the law.


All Because of the Supreme Court

Over and over, we have seen that the Supreme Court is the cause of many of our woes. I shudder to think of the tremendous responsibility that rests on the shoulders of the men who represent our community in the government, who have volunteered to bear the burden of making all the fateful decisions for the chareidi public. Every step they take has the potential to lead to tremendous gains or, chas veshalom, to disaster. There is so much at stake, and so many people simply do not understand that we are fighting for our most precious values. They oppose us, while we have our backs to the proverbial wall as we fight to defend the most basic and fundamental principles of Yiddishkeit.

The issue of giyur is one example. Moshe Nissim’s reports and recommendations have ignited a new conflagration. The State of Israel has recognized Reform conversions performed abroad for decades already – and I emphasize that the conversions were performed outside of Eretz Yisroel, and were recognized only with respect to the Law of Return. As a result, Nissim expected us to support his law, which would simply acknowledge the reality that has existed for years. Yet, it is unthinkable for us to actively support a law that would legitimize Reform conversions. And this entire furor came about because of the judges of the Supreme Court.

Then there is the issue of the draft. The Ministry of Defense has just finished formulating a new law, which will be publicized in the coming days. Once again, we are facing the threat of sanctions and other concerns. True, we agreed to allow the ministry to write the new law, but then again, was there any way that we could have opposed it? It is actually better for the law to come from the Defense Ministry; that will automatically diminish the opposition to it. Instead of being viewed as a “chareidi law,” it will be viewed as a “defense law,” which will make it easier for the public to accept it. But we already know that the law includes economic sanctions. And the problem is that the average chiloni cannot understand us; he has no way of comprehending the meaning of Torah or a ben Torah, or what it means for a person to devote his life to learning.             And then there is the Kosel. The Reform movement is waiting to find out if they will receive a third prayer area at the Kosel. This Supreme Court case is a ticking time bomb, whose ticking is growing steadily louder and more threatening. This issue, which has occupied our attention for a long time, has yet to go away. The court’s ruling will come without warning. It is unbelievable to see how determined the Reform Jews are in their war against Judaism, and how they are prepared to destroy everything in their quest for official recognition. They will stop at nothing to be granted legitimacy in Yerushalayim, and specifically at the Kosel. It is heartrending to witness their abuse of all that is sacred. In this case, at least, the majority of the public abhors their position, but that widespread sentiment will not be of any benefit to us in the courtroom. Once again, this is the product of the Supreme Court’s interference.


Laws Without Logic

A new law is about to be passed in Israel.

This week, an investigative report revealed that some caregivers for the elderly receive large bequests from the estates of the people in their care. According to the investigators, even when the bequests are properly stipulated in a will, it was determined that there is often untoward pressure exerted on the deceased to include the gifts in their wills. The report claimed that the elderly and infirm have been unfairly exploited by their caregivers. It did not take long for the members of the Knesset to jump on the bandwagon and file an urgent motion for the agenda, with a title that warned, “Caregivers Sent by the National Insurance Institute to Care for Elderly People Have Taken Over Their Property.” The Knesset presidium approved this as an urgent topic.

Personally, I tend to be hesitant to join these crusades for justice. Sometimes, a little thought will reveal that there is another possible side to the story. Perhaps a caregiver will be motivated to tend to his job with greater dedication because of the chance that he may be rewarded with an inheritance. Besides, is it really wrong if an elderly person with no family chooses to reward a kind Jew who took care of him with devotion for many years? Is there some reason that it would be better for his assets to end up in the state coffers?

I am personally acquainted with a righteous man who took care of an elderly relative in an admirable fashion. In the final years of her life, this woman lived in his home and practically became a grandmother to his children. The family brought light to her life, and she certainly would not have lived to the age of 92 if not for their dedicated care. Ultimately, they inherited half of her apartment. The man never knew about this provision in her will, and it was not the motivation for his kindness to her. Nor was the value of the apartment sufficient to justify his kindness on its own. He was motivated purely by his commitment to performing chesed. But is there anything wrong with the fact that she repaid some of the kindness that he demonstrated to her?

Yes, it is forbidden to take advantage of another person in their moment of weakness. Anyone who exploits the confusion of an elderly person is certainly worthy of condemnation. But why should anyone assume that that is the reason for every bequest? The recent investigation, for instance, found that a certain elderly chossid had received a substantial gift from his caregiver, and the agency that had referred the caregiver praised him highly. The new law, however, will prohibit caretakers from receiving rewards of any sort from their charges. This can only cause them to lose their motivation to demonstrate extra devotion to their employers. The pursuit of justice has robbed us of our sense of proportion and has actually fostered injustice. And this is but one example of that phenomenon.


No Help for a Spoiled Image

The chief justice of the Supreme Court has hired a personal spokesman: Chai Lugasi, a lieutenant colonel in the military reserves and former spokesman for the Israel Air Force. The police force, too, has an entire public relations department. But even a thousand PR specialists cannot salvage certain public images.

Two weeks ago, a policeman in the Bedouin community of Rahat in the south was caught on video slapping an Arab and the entire country was thrown into an uproar. The policeman was suspended from duty. Meanwhile, a policewoman on Rechov Bar Ilan in Yerushalayim was filmed accusing a driver of running a red light, when the camera in his car proved that she was lying. These officers and their ilk are giving the police force a bad name, and rightly so. Until the police themselves change their ways, their negative image will remain the same. And if the Supreme Court decides to exercise judicial tyranny, no amount of “Chai Lugasis” will be able to restore their esteem in the eyes of the public.

Here is a story to illustrate my point: In Sivan 5775, a police car arrived in the neighborhood of Givat Shaul on Shabbos. The police officers were searching for a chareidi draft dodger, but they knocked on the wrong door and frightened an elderly man. A parliamentary query was sent to the Minister of Internal Security, asking a simple, terse question: “Why was a police car sent to search for a deserter specifically on Shabbos?” The introduction to the query noted that the incident took place in a chareidi neighborhood.

This week – three years after the episode – Gilad Erdan answered the question. “According to the information I have received from the police,” he wrote, “after an examination of the records of incidents, the police activity conducted in the area described in the query was not located. I have also been informed that the police do not conduct independent efforts to locate and arrest deserters from the army. Rather, they assist and coordinate with the relevant IDF forces. Police regulations prohibit this type of coordination on Jewish holidays and on the preceding days.”

All of that, however, is completely untrue. I have seen police cars arriving in chareidi neighborhoods on Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim in order to capture army deserters. Sometimes, it seems that they decide specifically to come on Shabbos or Yom Tov, when they believe that it is more likely that the deserter will be in his home. I also know that police officers come to chareidi neighborhoods on Shabbosos in order to check if a prisoner on furlough, who has been confined to his home, has indeed remained there. But this case is even worse: In the incident described in the query, I personally saw the police car and heard the officers’ exchange with the elderly man. If the police are feeding false information to a minister in the government, then there is little hope for their reputation to be salvaged.


A Story of Hashgachah at the Airport

Tefillin have featured prominently in several recent news stories. There were the municipal inspectors who issued summonses to Chabad volunteers for setting up tefillin stalls in several cities. There was also the women professor who screamed at a man from Chabad in the airport because he dared to help another man put on tefillin in the “public space.”

This reminded me of a story involving the gaon av bais din of the Eidah Hachareidis, Rav Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss: A young man once went to Rav Weiss and asked for a tikkun for the fact that he had forgotten to put on tefillin. Rav Weiss looked at the young man wordlessly, but the tears glistening in his eyes indicated his distress. He could barely bring himself to speak. “Really? Azoi?” he said. He took hold of the young man’s hand without uttering another word, but the simple word “azoi” conveyed a loving rebuke. “You forgot to put on tefillin?” he finally said. “That never happened to me.”

The young man explained that he had refrained from wearing tefillin at Shacharis because of an upset stomach, and he had forgotten to put them on at Mincha instead. When the sun set, he suddenly remembered his lapse and tearfully bemoaned his error. For our purposes, the actual tikkun that he received is immaterial. Rav Weiss’s tears should be sufficient for us to realize the value that he attached to the mitzvah of tefillin.

This story has been etched into my own memory, and I recalled it in light of the recent spate of attacks on people offering others the opportunity to wear tefillin. Those who decry this practice are also outraged at the use of Shabbos sirens, or the laws protecting Shabbos observance, or even the existence of religious schools, but for some reason, tefillin evoke their ire even more. They also scream in protest when we organize minyanim at the airport or on a plane, but they completely lose their composure when they encounter tefillin. Why is this?

Regarding the mitzvah of tefillin, the Chinuch states (mitzvah 422), “The use of these four parshiyos, more than any other parshiyos in the Torah, is because they speak about the acceptance of the yoke of Divine Kingship, the Oneness of Hashem, and the departure from Mitzrayim, which compels us to believe in the creation of the world and in Hashem’s providence in the earthly realm, all of which are the foundations of the Jewish religion. Therefore, we were commanded to place these foundations between our eyes and on our hearts every day.” Tefillin are not merely leather boxes containing tiny scrolls; they encapsulate all of Yiddishkeit. They preserve the Jewish soul; they subjugate the Jewish heart to the Kingship of Hashem and instill emunah in Him. It is no wonder that the mere sight of tefillin causes so much distress to those who have cast off the yoke of Jewish observance.

Tefillin is a mitzvah through which any Jew, regardless of how far he has gone astray, can still connect to his Creator – whether at the Kosel, at a shtiebel in Bnei Brak, or at the kever of Rav Meir Baal Haness, or even in a city square in Tel Aviv, at Ben Gurion Airport, or in the far reaches of Thailand. Tefillin are not just an obligation; even more than that, it is a connection to Hashem. Even a former IDF soldier in India or a Jewish tourist in Johannesburg can sense his Jewish roots through the tefillin stirring his soul. It does not take much mental effort; all it takes is the simple act of putting them on. And it works for every Jew, everywhere. He needs only to wear tefillin once, and he will be saved from the torturous fate of a person who has never fulfilled the mitzvah. Perhaps that is also part of the reason that this mitzvah, which is so readily available in so many places, and which symbolizes the accessibility of Yiddishkeit to anyone who seeks a connection, infuriates them so much.

There is a Chabad desk at Ben Gurion Airport, where Chabad also maintains a special room that every Israeli leaving the country enjoys visiting. That small room offers travelers a chance to have a cup of coffee and enjoy the Jewish atmosphere. Once, Menachem Alon, a former justice of the Supreme Court, approached the Chabad desk and greeted the chassidim who man the station. He told them that he wanted to daven, and he proceeded to withdraw his tallis and tefillin from his hand luggage – and immediately turned pale. Alon realized that he had accidentally packed his Shabbos tallis bag instead of its weekday counterpart and now he had no tefillin. “What can I do now?” he exclaimed in dismay. “The plane is about to take off and I have no tefillin!”

“Don’t worry about it!” the Chabad volunteer hastened to assure him. “Take a pair of tefillin from us and you can bring it back to us when you return.” He proceeded to hand the judge a pair of tefillin of excellent quality. Alon was deeply moved. He hurried to don his tallis and the borrowed tefillin, and after he had davened, he told the chassidim, “I was one of the judges who rejected the petition against the Chabad activities in the airport.”


Expired EpiPens and a Comical Exchange

Last Wednesday, toward the end of the day, the deputy health minister was responding to parliamentary queries. The minister, Yaakov Litzman, had just concluded a debate with his predecessor, Yael German, and the final query was about to be read. Apparently, MK Esawi Frij, who was chairing the session, had trouble reading the topic of the query: “A Shortage of EpiPens.”

“It’s called ‘EpiPen,’” Yaakov Margi said.

“EpiPen,” Frij repeated. “Did I say it correctly?”

“Who is this ‘EpiPen’?” Litzman asked flippantly.

“We are about to hear the answer to that,” Margi replied, and began presenting the query. “Honored minister, members of the Knesset,” he began, and was immediately interrupted.

“I am a deputy minister,” Litzman corrected him.

“In my mind, you are still a minister,” Margi said.

“With the salary of a deputy minister,” Litzman said.

“Do you want to get him in trouble?” MK Nahmias-Verbin asked Margi.

“I would actually advise the Minister of Health, Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, to appoint a deputy minister to respond to parliamentary queries in the Knesset, so that we do not have to trouble him to come here,” Margi remarked. “That is what is done in other ministries. I do not understand the reason that the Health Ministry is different….”

An EpiPen, of course, is a type of medication, which is injected to relieve the symptoms of a person suffering from an allergy attack. Margi went on, “In light of the global shortage of EpiPens, which resulted from a problem with the substance used in the syringe – according to the FDA – it has been reported that the Ministry of Health has approved the use of EpiPens that have passed their expiration date.” He asked Litzman to clarify if that was true, and if there was any danger involved.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Litzman said, beginning his response. “First of all, I do not want anyone to have the impression that I do not know what an EpiPen is in light of my earlier quip. Because of the global shortage, the replacement of the medical device in the kits in MDA ambulances has been delayed for up to two months after the expiration of the device. The Ministry of Health has not extended the validity of the medication, but at the same time, it has given instructions for emergency vehicles not to be left without a supply of EpiPens at all during this time, due to the potential danger to human life if it is not immediately available. I am not aware of any danger that results from using the device within two months after its expiration date. On the other hand, there would be a clear and immediate danger to human life if the drug was not available in an emergency vehicle. For that reason, other health ministries in other countries have taken the same step in light of the global shortage. At the moment, efforts are being made to increase the supply of the medication.”


“I Get a Mazel Tov!”You are surely familiar with the scene: A young married man comes to shul and practically pounces upon you as he exclaims with joy, “I just had a baby!” It is always a recent occurrence, perhaps one that took place early in the morning or in the middle of the night. He has already told his parents and his in-laws, but that is not enough. He anxiously awaits the first three people in shul with whom he can share his good news. Of course, you share his excitement, although you try to free yourself somehow from his embrace.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was in an elevator in Shaare Zedek Hospital immediately after learning of his wife’s petirah, when a yungerman in the elevator announced joyously that he had just been blessed with a son. Rav Shlomo Zalman embraced him and congratulated him with fervor, despite his own personal sorrow.

Something similar happened to me this week. I arrived in the Zupnik shul one night, where I found a yeshiva bochur entering the building in a state of extreme excitement. It seemed that I was the first person who he encountered after receiving the good news, and he assailed me with joy. “I was accepted!” he exclaimed. Evidently, he had just received the official notice of his acceptance to yeshiva gedolah.

“That’s great!” I cried joyously along with him. “Mazel tov! To where?”

“Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu!” he said.


Let it Take Care of Itself

Let me conclude with one last witticism that I heard this week. Two yungeleit were discussing the sorry state of their respective finances, when one asked the other, “What are you going to do about your overdraft?”

The other man replied, “Don’t worry about it. It is big enough to take care of itself.”



The Holy Count

    This week, in Parshas Emor, we encounter the mitzvah of counting seven weeks between when the Korban Omer is brought on the second

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