My Take on the News

Netanyahu Demands an Apology

Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu was questioned by police once again last Tuesday, for the umpteenth time. Although it was merely the latest in a long series of interrogations, this was the first time that Netanyahu was questioned about the submarine affair (“Case 3000”). He met with his interrogators in his official residence on Rechov Balfour in Yerushalayim. This particular investigation is nearing its conclusion. The police already announced that they would be questioning Netanyahu with regard to this affair, albeit not for the purpose of solidifying their suspicions of him. On the contrary, the purpose of the questioning was to confirm that Netanyahu wasn’t involved in the affair at all.

After the questioning had ended, Netanyahu’s office released the following statement: “Prime Minister Netanyahu delivered open testimony with regard to Case 3000. He gave a detailed explanation of the various professional considerations that guided his decisions regarding the submarines and naval vessels, and their importance to the security of the state. The prime minister is happy to have been given the opportunity to make the complete picture clear, and to put an end, once and for all, to the false accusations that have been made against him by politicians and others.” But that was not the end of Netanyahu’s response. He also demanded an apology from everyone who had publicly accused him of complicity in the affair.

One of Netanyahu’s main detractors in this regard was former Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon, who announced that if the police did not investigate Netanyahu’s role in the affair, he would file a complaint against the police themselves. This implied that Yaalon was certain that Netanyahu had approved the submarine purchase for the sake of personal gain. Yair Lapid also used the scandal as a basis for attacking Netanyahu, claiming that he knew things that others did not know. All of these proclamations certainly harmed Netanyahu’s good name. Everyone in the country knows that Netanyahu’s wife is virtually incapable of spending a cent of her own money, and we all pity him for it. We also know that Netanyahu has his own vices and tends to covet “the good life,” and we pity him for that as well. But it would still be difficult to forgive him for taking advantage of the country’s security needs in order to line his own pockets, and for allowing his personal interests to influence a decision with such a major impact on the country’s security.

I don’t know why Netanyahu was so quick to blame others and to demand an apology, since an official decision has yet to be made on the subject. If he was relying on the comments of the attorney general and the state prosecutor, who have both asserted that he is not a suspect, then those comments were made long ago; there was no reason for him to issue his reaction now. In any event, even if the investigation was a source of some discomfort to Netanyahu in the past, the latest results have certainly been pleasing to him. He has already proclaimed, “The air has been let out of this balloon, and it will soon be let out of all the other balloons as well.” He also wrote, “For many long months, we have all heard all sorts of trumped-up stories about me, and we have seen all sorts of pictures showing me entering and emerging from submarines, with the implication that I made decisions based on personal considerations. Yesterday, it became absolutely clear that my decisions regarding the submarines and naval vessels were completely appropriate and, as always, for the sake of the security of Israel. Now, I would expect that the media and politicians such as Lapid and Yaalon would apologize. They haven’t done that until now. Will they apologize now? I am not sure, but one can hope.”

Netanyahu’s claim that his version of the story had become “absolutely clear,” though, may be somewhat disingenuous. After all, that “clarification” came about only through his own statements to his interrogators….

 

An Illegal Table?

By now, I am sure that it is becoming quite difficult to differentiate between the various investigations involving Netanyahu. The submarine affair, or Case 3000, began as an inquiry in November 2016 and was upgraded three months later to the status of a full-fledged investigation. The investigation has continued for over a year and a half and has been overseen by police investigators working under the aegis of the Tax Authority. State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit have clarified several times over the past year that Netanyahu is not a suspect in this case. Following the testimony delivered by state witness Mickey Ganor, who served as a representative on behalf of ThyssenKrup, the German manufacturer of the submarines, several officials were questioned under warning in connection with the case, including Eliezer “Chainy” Maron, the former commander of the navy; David Sharan, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff; Avriel Ben-Yosef, the former Deputy National Security Advisor; and two members of the prime minister’s inner circle, attorneys Yitzchok Molcho and Dovid Shimron. Shimron represented Ganor in the negotiations with ThyssenKrup, and according to an agreement signed between them, he was supposed to receive a commission of millions of shekels if the submarine deal came to fruition. Molcho is suspected of acting on a conflict of interest when he complied with Ganor’s request to promote the various deals in the context of his diplomatic work. Both lawyers deny the accusations against them.

Another case involving Netanyahu is the Bezeq-Walla case, in which the prime minister is suspected of having granted benefits to a businessman named Shaul Elovitch, mainly concerning the Bezeq telecommunications company, in return for positive coverage on Elovitch’s news site. This case is also under investigation at the moment, and it is expected that the investigators will soon confront Netanyahu with the testimony of Nir Hefetz, his former close associate who has now turned state witness. Hefetz allegedly provided the police with text messages and recorded conversations that may incriminate Netanyahu by proving that he had a “quid pro quo” arrangement with Elovitch. Netanyahu is expected to be questioned about the text messages sent by his wife, Sarah Netanyahu, to Mrs. Elovitch, in which she makes an explicit connection between Bezeq and the coverage of the Netanyahus on the website. The prime minister was last questioned about the case two and a half months ago. As for his wife’s text messages, he can always claim that he is not responsible for her actions.

A third investigation revolves around prepared food that was ordered to the prime minister’s residence. As I reported in the past, the attorney general agreed to forgo an indictment in exchange for Mrs. Netanyahu’s agreement to repay the state for her purchases that were in violation of the rules. Mrs. Netanyahu herself, however, has a hard time making peace with an arrangement that involves monetary payments. The public has not exactly accepted the premise of this investigation; it seems somewhat petty to investigate a sitting prime minister over such minor allegations. This week, the newspapers reported that the police are investigating if Netanyahu purchased a new table without abiding by the relevant regulations. At this point, the pattern of overzealous investigations has become quite sickening.

 

American Jews and False Friendship

This week, in honor of a conference that was held in Yerushalayim concerning American Jewry, a new study was publicized dealing with the relations between American Jews and the State of Israel. The study presents a very bleak picture, although I find that hardly surprising, since it relates to “general” American Jewry – i.e., the Reform communities and their compatriots. As far as those communities are concerned, I am not surprised by the study’s two principal findings: that they no longer feel a connection to the State of Israel, and that they are opposed to the relocation of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Yerushalayim.

Last week, I reported to you that the attorney general ordered the Women of the Wall to cease their monthly disturbances on Rosh Chodesh and to hold their “services” elsewhere – not at the Kosel, not in the ezras noshim, and not even in the outer Kosel plaza. Did you think that they would obey those orders? They listen to the law only when it supports their own agenda – which happens only when the Supreme Court becomes involved. But now that the attorney general of the State of Israel has ruled against them, now that he has decided that the rov of the Kosel holds exclusive authority over religious practices at the site, they have decided to ignore the dictates of the law and its representatives. And so it was that on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, they returned to the Kosel as usual, equipped with sifrei Torah, tallisos, and all their usual props.

Meanwhile, President Trump will be sending two envoys to the Middle East: Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt. They will be visiting Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel in order to promote Trump’s peace plan.

 

Hundreds of Terror Attacks Averted

This week, Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman revealed that since the beginning of the year, the security services have averted about 250 significant attempted terror attacks, including suicide bombings, kidnappings, and shootings. He made these comments at a conference on international security held in Yerushalayim, which was attended by Israeli and American security personnel (the latter representing the Department of Homeland Security in the United States). This conference was held by an established entity that was founded to create an international coalition against terror, and includes 17 government officials responsible for internal security in countries throughout the world. The sheer number of foiled terror attacks is indicative of a major Divine chesed. Think about the horrific possibility of 250 terror attacks taking place in the span of less than half a year! May Hashem protect us…

Argaman noted that in recent years, there has been an uptick in the phenomenon of “lone wolf” terror attacks – attacks in which the perpetrators acted independently, albeit on inspiration from organized terror movements and often in response to incitement spread through social media. The General Security Service, he added, has learned how to contend with this threat through technological means, as well as through intelligence and military operations designed to locate potential terrorists before they strike. What he probably meant to say but did not actually verbalize is that the Shin Bet has an extensive network of informants within the world of terrorism. However, this is effective only when a terrorist sets out to commit an attack as part of an organization. In that case, Israeli intelligence receives advance warning of an impending attack, since the terrorist first receives weapons, and possibly money and other items as well, from someone else in the network. This is not the case, however, when an Arab is sitting in his home and suddenly decides, because of something that he saw on television or the like, to get into his car and ram it into a crowd of Jews. It is virtually impossible to receive advance warning of an attack of that nature. Yet Argaman claims that the Shin Bet has managed to foil these terror attacks, as well, before they could take place. That is simply astonishing.

With regard to this, I must invoke the oft-repeated vort on the words of Hallel, “Laud Hashem, all the peoples; praise Him, all the nations.” Why do we call upon the nations of the world to praise Hashem rather than praising Him ourselves? After all, we are the ones whom He saved from danger. The answer is that there are times when we are not even aware that we have been saved, when the nations of the world plot to attack and murder us and Hashem foils their plans. The gentiles of the world know even better than we do how much praise we owe to Hashem.

Incidentally, the Shin Bet doesn’t typically reveal the number of terror attacks that have been thwarted. The authorities in our country do not want the people to be aware of the frequency of our brushes with tragedy; they fear that it would cause a drop in the nation’s morale.

 

Destroyers from Within

Moshe Nissim’s report on giyur – which recommended establishing a national Conversion Authority with its own dayanim as a division of the prime minister’s office, and granting official recognition to Reform conversions performed abroad – appears to have been completely buried. Nevertheless, the rejection of the report does nothing to resolve the problem that it embodied – the problem of people who wear yarmulkas, who are ostensibly religious, yet who espouse ideas that are utterly foreign to Yiddishkeit. Moshe Nissim’s report advocated “friendly giyur,” as if the laws of giyur can be twisted or altered whenever we see fit. When I read the report, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry. But one thing is clear: Moshe Nissim does not have the slightest understanding of the meaning of giyur.

Nissim is a son of a former chief rabbi of Israel, yet he himself served as a member of the Knesset on behalf of the Liberal party, a purely secular political party. In his report, he wrote, “I call upon the rabbonim of Israel to consider the gravity of the problem. I beg of you to place the difficulty of giyur even for the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who are of Jewish extraction, on one side of a scale, and on the other side to weigh the danger of assimilation, which includes jeopardizing the practice of marriage and divorce in Israel based on the laws of the Torah. Which side will prevail? There is no third option.” He proceeded to quote various Gemaros, especially passages concerning the “lenient” approach of Bais Hillel, and he proclaimed that the time has come for us to take action in order to resolve the problem. His approach, however, is fundamentally flawed. The laws of giyur do not “belong” to us, and we have no right to tamper with them.

This is an attitude that we might expect of the chilonim, and even more so of the immigrants from Kiev and St. Petersburg who cannot understand what we want from them. From their perspective, it makes very little difference whether a person is actually Jewish in the eyes of halacha. The Meretz party, in fact, once suggested that a Jew should be defined as “any person who has tied his fate to the Jewish people.” That is to say, there is no need to accept the mitzvos or to undergo any sort of giyur or tevilah. It is enough simply to serve in the Israeli army…

Several months ago, the Immigration and Absorption Committee of the Knesset held a discussion in which they accused the Orthodox conversion system of placing undue hardships on converts “beyond what is required by halacha.” Several individual cases were cited as evidence of those “hardships.” And two of the people who spoke against the Rabbinate were men who are nominally religious themselves. Here are some excerpts from their comments.

The first was MK Elazar Stern, whose anti-religious approach has been the subject of discussion in these pages in the past. Stern is a member of Yesh Atid, the party chaired by Yair Lapid. “The story we have heard is a painful example, one that cries out that we must cast this Rabbinate to all the demons and the spirits,” he commented at one point. “They feel that they are in power, that they have a monopoly, and unfortunately they are causing harm to others. They do not give a thought to what they are doing, and they are simply fostering assimilation. How many people do you think will come to them in tears and fight [to be allowed to convert]? Most people will simply reject us. They will tell us, ‘Okay, you don’t want me? I don’t need your favors.’ In the State of Israel of today, it is possible to live without being a Jew. And then, as in the Diaspora, they bring assimilation upon us, and that is the greatest tragedy. The Chief Rabbinate pretends to support serving in the IDF, as if their children encourage even girls to serve, but they don’t even encourage the boys to serve in the army,” he griped. “Who are they to decide if a girl can be Jewish? … We will ultimately win and they will lose. We will establish a kashrus system and a giyur system, and it will all be in accordance with halacha, but it will not follow the Rabbinate…. My children and grandchildren are married, and they are all Shabbos observant. They married people who had halachic conversions, but without the stamp of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”

Another speaker was Chaim Amsalem, a rov who formerly served as an MK for the Shas party and left the party after a rancorous dispute. His comments were no less grating than Stern’s. “Whom are we dealing with?” he exclaimed. “With a Chief Rabbinate that is being held captive, a Chief Rabbinate that has grabbed the State of Israel by its throat? The institution of halachic conversion – and I respect Rabbi Peretz very much, and I know what he does – converts 1,600 people every year, yet we are approaching 500,000…. There is no one who makes religion, halacha, and Torah hated today more than that establishment…. The people see us. There is a person whose father was a Jew who sacrificed his life for Judaism. He served in the army and gave up his life for the State of Israel. Now this person wants to be a Jew, and he wants to join us, but instead of drawing him close, of embracing him and adopting him, what do we do? We drive him away. That is the greatest chillul Hashem. And do you know who is addressing you now? A rov who served in the Rabbinate for many years.”

 

Calls for Vengeance After the Nachal Tzafit Tragedy

Haaretz recently published an interview with the father of a girl who was killed in the flash flood in Nachal Tzafit. It was absolutely tragic. The father proclaimed that he felt as if his life had ended. His wife, the mother of the girl who died, felt the same way. I could sense the sorrow that had taken over the parents’ lives, but what I could not understand was their desire for revenge. The father seemed to feel that his anguish would be eased if he could only see the directors of his daughter’s school, the pre-military academy that sent the students on that fateful trip where they lost their lives, suffer the consequences of their actions. This is a feeling to which I could not relate. Even if the school directors are indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced, will that bring back the children who perished? I would never wish these parents’ horrific ordeal on anyone, but I do not believe that this is the way to cure them of their terrible pain.

“When the father begins to speak about his feelings in the wake of the tragedy and about the academy’s conduct before and after the trip, he cannot hold back his mixed feelings of anger and disappointment,” the reporter wrote, describing the pain that radiated from the father during their conversation. “It is clear that the fact that he and his wife had a close relationship with these people makes his feelings even more potent.”

The article goes on to quote the father, whose statements reflected his raw pain: “I am terribly disappointed with them. I am pained by the situation. I cannot even explain how much. I thought that the person who committed the greatest folly of his life – the director of the academy, Aviv Berdichev – would get up and say, ‘I apologize. I am guilty. I do not even know what to do with myself. I am guilty. Come and let us speak about the punishment.’

“There is nothing that we can do other than to use public pressure to see to it that they are brought to justice,” the father continued. “We believe that if the counselor is charged with manslaughter, then the school director must also be charged with manslaughter. And I believe that justice must be served for every one of the victims. If the sentence is a year in prison, it should be a year for each and every one of them. If the sentence is two years, it should be two years for each of them…”

 

An Inexplicable Disease

Last week, I visited a patient in the oncology ward at Hadassah Hospital. This ward, like many others, is filled beyond its capacity. Rooms designed to house only individual patients are now being occupied by two patients at once. This creates its fair share of hardships for the patients and their families, but it also indicates the dire medical situation in this country. This disease has become rampant, as the volunteers of Darchei Miriam can attest. Their volunteer drivers in Yerushalayim are not managing to keep up with the demand. The number of people in need of transportation for chemotherapy and radiation treatments increases from day to day. We are constantly receiving reports of more people who have fallen ill. It is like a plague, Rachmana litzlan.

I heard from the mashgiach Rav Don Segal that this disease defies explanation. In most cases, the doctors cannot explain why a person has contracted the illness. There is no clear connection to a particular country of origin or lifestyle (with the exception of smoking cigarettes, a practice whose ill effects are clear), nor has any link been identified with a type of work or specific foods. There is also no evidence of any genetic aspect to the disease. It is simply an illness that strikes by “chance,” suddenly and without the slightest explanation. In some cases, there are no warning signs; the news of the disease suddenly lands on the person like a bombshell. A tiny lump removed from under an arm may prompt a hysterical phone call from a doctor, with the chilling command, “Come to my office right away, preferably with a companion!”

Perhaps it is a fulfillment of the Torah’s warning in Parshas Bechukosai that if we behave with “keri” – casualness – toward Hashem, then His conduct with us will mirror that attitude. This disease is the epitome of “keri” – one that strikes without any rhyme or reason, without any apparent cause or explanation. Sometimes the victim is someone we know from shul; sometimes it is someone who lives down the block. It may be a yungerman in kollel or a boy who delivers groceries. Everyone, regardless of who they are or what they do, is equally vulnerable.

Speaking of Rav Don Segal, I was present last Tuesday when he served as sandek at the bris of a grandson of his good friend, Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus zt”l. The father of the baby, Rav Shmuel Eliezer Pincus (who was named for the Maharsha, Rav Shimshon’s ancestor), is a prominent marbitz Torah in what has become the kiruv stronghold of Odessa (the “Bakst-Kruskal” community), and dozens of his talmidim, who have become bnei Torah, were present at the bris. It was a remarkably stirring sight. The baby was named Mordechai Leib after Rav Pincus’ father-in-law, Rav Mordechai Mann zt”l.

 

Nonstop Learning

I will conclude this column with a fascinating tale of hasmadah that appears in a new sefer that was released this week.

“The concept of chazzarah as it was practiced by Rav Yeshuah Attiah zt”l, author of Shaarei Yeshuah, was utterly remarkable. Until the very end of his life, his phenomenal hasmadah and his practice of constantly reviewing his learning set an incredible example for everyone who observed him. Even though he was one of the great talmidei chachomim of the Porat Yosef yeshiva in Geulah, he used to learn in the nearby botei medrash, which belonged to the chassidim of Ger, to Brisk, and to Spinka. He learned in solitude in order to avoid being disturbed. Several maggidei shiur and roshei yeshivos attested that they credited him for their own growth in Torah, for they saw his example as a model for any person who wishes to spend his life in the tent of Torah. When he walked down the street, he used to review perakim of Mishnayos by memory. One of his talmidim related that he once encountered him in the street and greeted him, and Rav Yeshuah was visibly startled, since his thoughts had been completely focused on his learning. Even when he served as a mesader kiddushin at a wedding, he took advantage of the time between brachos to continue his chazzarah. He attended to all of his physical needs with haste in order to return to learning Torah as quickly as possible.

“When he was asked how he was capable of capitalizing on his time in such a dramatic way, he replied that most people devote too much time to all of their concerns. He related that his own preparations for Shabbos took no longer than ten minutes. At the end of Yom Kippur, twenty minutes after the fast ended, he could be found learning intently in the bais medrash, where he would remain until the wee hours of the morning. On Purim, he learned from the morning through the afternoon. Even on the days when he married off his children, he did not change his routine. Someone once found him in a bais medrash and asked if he had forgotten that it was the day of his daughter’s wedding. He replied that he had not forgotten; the time for the chuppah simply had not arrived. During the wedding, he slipped out of the simcha hall and made his way to a nearby bais medrash, where he sat down to learn once again.

“He habitually reviewed his learning six times – for a quarter of an hour before the end of each seder, before he went to sleep at night, and at the end of the week. Thanks to his tireless hasmadah and his intense schedule of chazzaros, he was able to finish Shas many times. Rav Yehuda Tzadkah zt”l and Rav Bentzion Abba-Shaul zt”l, the roshei yeshiva of Porat Yosef, attested that during the final 27 years of his life, Rav Yeshuah finished Shas 17 times.”

(This story appears in Yerushalayim Klilas Yofi, a sefer that describes the heights of spiritual elevation and avodas Hashem that were manifested in Yerushalayim, which was released by the Kulmus publishing company.)