My Take on the News

Earthquakes in the North, Fires in the South

Earthquakes are not very common in Israel, but this past week there were two in less than 24 hours. The first one took place early Wednesday morning, achieving a grade of 4.1 on the Richter scale. The second one, on Wednesday night, reached 4.5. Both earthquakes struck the area in the vicinity of the Kinneret in Teveria. This prompted the Home Front Command to begin issuing instructions for what to do in the event of an earthquake.

Meanwhile, the rash of fires is also continuing. This past week, a headline in one of the newspapers proclaimed, “100 Days of Fire.” We have been suffering through so many hardships, so many political and diplomatic woes, that we no longer pay much attention to the fires in the south, but they have not stopped. As of Friday, we had endured 100 consecutive days of fires. On average, Israel has been battling 20 fires every day. The fires have destroyed 6,000 dunams of agricultural land. Open areas, which are not used for farming, have taken an even more severe blow. The fires have destroyed 30,000 dunams of such areas. The damage has cost Israel between four and five million shekels. And that is to say nothing of the blow to the country’s morale. The residents of the Gaza area have been forced to acclimate to a different type of terror attack – terror through fire.

 

Draft Law and Kosel Agreement Still on the Table

From our perspective, of course, the most important issue is that of the draft law. That saga is not over yet. The law passed its first reading last Monday in the Knesset, but it is now being discussed in a specially designated committee (see the separate report on that subject). Religious MKs are hoping that a few changes will be made to the law so that it will be less damaging. For United Torah Judaism, this will determine whether they can remain in the government, since the chassidishe Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah ruled that if the law is passed in its current form in the final reading, then Agudas Yisroel will resign from the coalition. This is an issue that is extremely complex and must be handled with utmost delicacy.

The issue of the Reform plaza at the Kosel is likewise still looming over us. Last week, I explained the recent developments at length. There is a committee that has the exclusive authority to permit construction at the site, which is officially designated an archaeological site. This ministerial committee had three members: Miri Regev, Ayelet Shaked, and Dovid Azulai. Shaked and Regev have both resigned, and the Knesset gave its approval for Binyomin Netanyahu and Yuval Steinitz to take their place. Netanyahu has a very clear position on the issue: He is in favor of giving the Reform movement possession of Robinson’s Arch, the site that currently “belongs” to them. Steinitz is also known for his pro-Reform leanings. On Wednesday, he spoke passionately in their favor and thereby managed to infuriate many people. Despite the turnover on the committee, the representatives of the Yerushalayim city council, who are also required to approve any construction that will take place in the city, are preparing for the plan to get underway.But as I explained, we must be cautious: If no alternative is presented, the Supreme Court, which is also pro-Reform, is liable to decide to give them even more.

 

What Will Benny Gantz Do?

The political establishment in Israel has already set its sights on the next election for the Knesset. The election is currently scheduled to take place in November 2019, but there is a distinct possibility that it will be moved up. Prime Minister Netanyahu has good reason to be interested in early elections, as do some of the other parties in the Knesset, and it is certainly possible that they will come to an agreement to advance the next elections to the beginning of 2019.

Netanyahu has plenty of problems of his own. The police are continuing to question him, and anonymous sources have reported that they plan to indict him on at least one set of charges. Of course, the prime minister will continue repeating his mantra that “there will be nothing, because nothing happened,” but there is no guarantee that he will escape prosecution. There may have been no wrongdoing on his part, but he may suffer legal woes nonetheless. This past week, Yair Lapid seized on that possibility. In response to a rumor that he would be joining the government and would receive the post of foreign minister in exchange for supporting the draft law, he asserted, “We are waiting for the election, which might be moved up, since there will be an indictment against the prime minister!”

Right now, all eyes are on Benny Gantz, the former chief of staff of the IDF. Gantz has been sitting on the proverbial fence, and everyone else has been trying to recruit him to their respective parties. This week, a survey found that if Gantz takes over the Zionist Camp party, replacing Avi Gabbai, the party will leap from the 14 or 15 mandates that it generally receives in the polls to a total of 24 mandates. If Gantz launches a new party, the surveys show that he will receive 14 mandates, while the Zionist Camp will drop to ten. Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, is steadily dropping in the polls in any event. If Gantz chooses to introduce his own list, then he will siphon off votes from both the Zionist Camp and Yesh Atid, and the latter will drop even further to a mere 15 mandates.

Incredibly, the polls still show the right-wing bloc achieving a minority. The Likud party fluctuates between 29 and 33 mandates, depending on where Benny Gantz chooses to position himself, while UTJ and Shas are predicted to receive a combined ten or eleven mandates, and Bayit Yehudi and Yisroel Beiteinu should receive between seven and eight mandates apiece. Netanyahu has never been in a better position than this.

 

Azrieli Mall Reaches Agreement with Chabad

This week, Chabad was saluted by the Knesset.

This is the third time in recent weeks that Chabad has attracted media attention. First, there was the cancellation of the Chabad event in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Then there was the series of incidents of harassment of the Chabad activists at tefillin stalls around the country. In this case, MK Shuli Muallem of the Bayit Yehudi party decided to hold an event in honor of Chabad.

On that note, MK Michoel Malchieli presented the following terse, highly focused question to the Minister of Internal Security: “Chabad activists in Azrieli Mall who set up a station where passersby who were interested would have a chance to put on tefillin were asked by police to refrain from doing so. This incident joins a series of others in which inspectors or police officers insisted that the Chabad activists stop offering others a chance to wear tefillin. I would like to ask: Is placing tefillin on those who are interested in it, or offering other Jews a chance to wear tefillin, a violation of the law? Will you order the police to stop harassing those who are involved in offering others a chance to wear tefillin?”

This time, Gilad Erdan’s response was clearer than ever: “The police reported to me that the Chabad activists in Azrieli Mall were offering the various patrons of the mall a chance to wear tefillin. The activists were not detained or arrested. They were asked by the police, who were called by the management of the mall, to cease their activities, and they complied. The police have also informed me that the mall is a privately owned facility that serves the public, and the public has the right only to pass through it. I was also informed that the management of the mall has the right to determine what activities are permitted there and which activities it opposes.”

It was a response that could not be disputed, but one must wonder why the management of the mall would be opposed to the activities. Is it out of fear of a couple of shoppers who might share the attitudes of the notorious female professor who accosted the Chabad chossid at Ben Gurion airport?

Most important is the conclusion of Erdan’s response: “At the same time, I have been informed that the management of the mall is now formulating an agreement that will allow the men of Chabad to engage in their activities in the mall.” Indeed, such an agreement was reached shortly thereafter.

 

The Israeli Government’s Deafening Silence

There is a city in Poland known as Kazimierz (formerly Kuzhmir). There is a Jewish cemetery in the city. The city used to be a thriving hub of Jewish life before the Nazis obliterated the Jewish presence there. At the center of the cemetery is the burial place of Rav Yechezkel of Kuzhmir, one of the great chassidishe leaders of his day. Why am I telling you this now? Because that Jewish cemetery is about to become the site of a Polish school. Even now, the remains of Jewish people buried there are being exposed as the site is prepared for construction. For a long time already, the leaders of the chassidus have been appealing to the local government, as well as the Polish national government, to leave the cemetery untouched. Their efforts, however, have been in vain. The officials are completely apathetic to their pleas.

Nor is this the only such case. We are constantly hearing about cemeteries being desecrated, whether it is the theft of headstones or the actual construction of new buildings over existing graves. It is happening everywhere – Algeria, France, Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus. The phenomenon may be rooted in greed for real estate rather than anti-Semitism, but it makes no difference. And in some cases, when the cemeteries are defaced with swastikas, it is clear that the cause is indeed anti-Semitism.

What is saddening about all this is the silence of the Israeli establishment. Neither the Ministry of the Diaspora nor the Foreign Ministry, nor even the prime minister’s office, has uttered a word of protest. The Jewish Agency has also remained silent in an open display of apathy. There isn’t a single government office or ministry in Israel that feels the need to address the issue. And as far as the governments of Europe are concerned, that amounts to a tacit acceptance of their decisions. For shame!

 

When It Is Easier to Say No

A fierce battle has begun to rage within the Israeli government. Ayelet Shaked, the Minister of Justice, has proposed that the ministers of the government should be entitled to appoint their own legal advisors rather than having those positions filled by the attorney general. This has enraged the members of the legal establishment in a reaction that was entirely predictable; they are bound to reject any measure that could limit their own power.

I certainly understand the ministers’ position. It can be very frustrating when one of the central figures in a government ministry views himself as an emissary of the attorney general rather than as a member of the ministry staff whose function is to help the minister carry out his policies. Naftali Bennett said it very well: “Let the advisors advise, let the judges judge, and let the government govern.” The current situation, though, is that the legal advisors are ruling the government, while the ministers’ hands are tied. Of course, no one is suggesting that any legal advisor should permit a violation of the law. However, he should certainly listen to the minister’s wishes and tell him whether his intentions are legal. And if the law prohibits what the minister wishes to do, then the advisor should instruct him on how to bring his plans into compliance with the law. He should not simply disqualify every idea without offering a better suggestion. But today, most of the government’s legal advisors tend to adopt a small-minded approach. They rule that everything is prohibited, and they make no efforts to help the ministers find a better solution.

I know one particular legal advisor who responds in the negative to every request he receives. After all, he has no incentive to accommodate anyone. His decisions can always be appealed to the court, and if the judges rule in favor of the citizen, then he will suffer no personal loss. He certainly has no need to pay for the aggravation and the loss of time and money suffered by an ordinary citizen (or bank or contractor) as a result of his decisions. Whenever I encounter him, I always say, “So, whose plans did you foil today?”

I once had a bill proposed that would require any government official, regardless of their rank or position, to bear personal responsibility for any decision they make that causes harm to a person, a community, or some other concern if it is later determined that the decision was mistaken. The proposal included police officers and members of the prosecution as well: If a person was indicted and acquitted, the official who submitted the indictment would be personally responsible for it. The Minister of Justice at the time responded furiously to the proposal from the Knesset podium. The reason for his feelings is certainly clear.

 

How Was Mudrick Chosen?

On a related note, Maariv recently featured a short article written by Professor Oded Mudrick, a retired judge from the District Court. Mudrick claimed that when he served as the legal advisor to the police force, he had to invest tremendous effort in order for them to believe in his integrity. Therefore, he favors the new law. Personally, I do not believe a word of what he wrote. Mudrick was appointed by the Minister of Police at the time, Roni Milo, who was specifically searching for a legal advisor who would side with him. Oded Mudrick was identified with the Likud, and some say that he was even planning to build a building in Kochav Yair along with Roni Milo on the same plot of land. Milo and Defense Minister Moshe Arens debated where Mudrick, as a member of the Likud party, would be of the greatest benefit to them, as the chief military prosecutor or as the legal advisor to the police force. I personally overheard their conversation. Therefore, Mudrick does not prove anything.

Mudrick was the judge in my own trial, which I have written about in the past. I was indicted for helping an officer in the army by preventing his wife from losing her job with the Ramat Gan municipality. The judges claimed that he “repaid” me by helping yeshiva bochurim whom I asked him to assist due to their entanglements with the army. The entire trial was bizarre. The judge harshly criticized the practice of promoting one’s political cronies, and I had to keep a straight face when he pretended to be personally innocent of any such corruption. In fact, I am waiting for him to sue me for writing about him. I would have Arens called to the witness stand. I imagine that Milo would have no problem denying that their conversation ever took place, but the honest Moshe Arens could never deny his conversation with Roni Milo, which took place just outside the cafeteria reserved for the members of the Knesset.

 

Noisy Neighbors

The bochur – if that word can be applied to a 27-year-old student of mechanical engineering – currently learns at Yeshivas Ashrei Ha’ish, headed by Rav Yosef Ben-Porat, in Bayit Vegan. He was an ordinary irreligious youth in the neighborhood of Armon Hanetziv, who happened to step inside a local shul where volunteers from Lev L’Achim were conducting their weekly chavrusashafst, and he was immediately placed on a path toward a major transformation. Today, he is a changed person.

Six years passed since that fateful day, when he began a regular chavrusashaft with a yungerman from Bayit Vegan. Much can be written about this distinguished yungerman, who advised his young chavrusah to enroll in an actual yeshiva. Today, the bochur resides in the dormitory of Yeshivas Ashrei Ha’ish, where he davens Shacharis before hurrying to his classes or to work. Beginning at 3:30 in the afternoon, he becomes an ordinary yeshiva bochur for all intents and purposes, resolutely maintaining his sedorim, learning mussar, and scaling spiritual heights along with his chavrusos. The metamorphosis practically defies comprehension.

Yirbu kemoso.

 

Obscure Rulings from Rav Elyashiv

Wednesday, the 28th of Tammuz, was the yahrtzeit of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l. Rav Elyashiv passed away on this date in the year 5772 (July 18, 2012). In honor of his yahrtzeit, I would like to share a couple of paragraphs from a kuntres that was recently authored by Rabbi Chaim Zaivald, a resident of Givat Shaul, in honor of the wedding of his son. Reb Chaim’s father, Rav Shimon Zaivald, was one of the people who were closest to the Chazon Ish and the Steipler Gaon. The chosson is also a great-grandson of Rav Elyashiv and is therefore a great-great-grandson of Rav Aryeh Levin, who is also his namesake.

Rabbi Chaim Zaivald is not only a grandson-in-law of Rav Elyashiv (as a son-in-law of Rav Moshe Elyashiv), but is also well-versed in Rav Elyashiv’s teachings, and has published several compilations of his chiddushim. He is in possession of many teshuvos and chiddushim written by Rav Elyashiv that have not yet been published. In honor of his son’s marriage, Reb Chaim compiled a small kuntres entitled Ahavas Olam. I would like to quote two brief passages from this incredible work.

Here is the first: “Kislev 5758 – After the shiur, the rov was asked [by Rav Bentzion Kook, on behalf of his uncle, Rav Simcha Kook] if it is permissible to suggest a shidduch to Sephardim if the two mechutanim have identical names. The rov replied that it is not a problem. Rav Bentzion Kook told him that the question had been asked to the rov’s son-in-law, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and he had said that even though the Sephardim do not object to this, it is impossible to know if it does not cause harm to them. The rov replied that there is no cause for concern, since the reason for this does not apply to the Sephardim at all, for they readily name their children after people who are alive.”

And now the second: “Sivan 5759 – Before the elections that were held on the 2nd of Sivan 5759 [for the Knesset and the office of prime minister], a Sephardic yungerman came to the rov and said that he was a talmid of Rav Yehuda Tzadkah zt”l and had never participated in any election due to his rebbi’s instructions. Therefore, he wished to know what he should do in the current election. The rov did not discuss the question of the definition of a rebbi or the nature of the obligation to obey one’s rabbeim. Instead, he asked simply, ‘Do you want there to be more chillul Shabbos, chas veshalom, and for public transportation and businesses to operate on Shabbos?’”

 

A Chumra in Ahavas HaTorah

The same date is also the yahrtzeit of Rav Moshe Chodosh, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon, who passed away two years ago, on August 3, 2016. Two of my sons learned at Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon L’Tzeirim. Therefore, I was invited to many events in the yeshiva. Every year, toward the end of the summer zeman, Rav Moshe would arrange a festive siyum for all the talmidim of the yeshiva. The banquet also served as a farewell party for the boys in their third year in the yeshiva, who would be moving on to yeshiva gedolah.

Despite the fact that it was the Nine Days, chicken was served at every siyum. Rav Chodosh – a wonderful man who loved everyone and was universally loved in return – used to explain, “This should not be taken as a sign that we are belittling the halachos of the Nine Days. Rather, we are machmir in the laws of ahavas haTorah.”