Wednesday, May 29, 2024

My Take on the News

Mourning the Bais Hamikdosh

In the Knesset, which goes into recess this week, there was tension in the air as things wound down. The coalition is divided on the issue of the Nationality Law, as well as the draft law. The Nationality Law is a Basic Law that is supposed to take precedence over other laws, and some feel that it is racist. After President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter to the members of the Knesset calling on them not to enact the law in its current form, there was a major uproar in the Knesset. It is almost certain that the wording of the law will be changed. Prime Minister Netanyahu is determined to see to it that the law will be approved this week. Why is he so determined? Some believe that he feels threatened by Naftali Bennett, who may draw right-wing voters away from him, and he wants to placate that sector of the electorate.

The draft law has also caused its fair share of tension. For the chareidim, it has also been saddening. The mere fact that the issue is still a focus of public attention is distressing to the chareidi leadership. Netanyahu has already decided – as I wrote last week – to postpone the final approval of the law until the winter. He knows that the law will have to be changed in order to satisfy the demands of the chareidim, and he also knows that he will not manage to do that this week. The question is whether the Supreme Court will grant the government an extension until the winter. Unless an extension is granted, if the law is not passed this week, all the yeshiva bochurim in the country will become automatically subject to the draft.


A United Front Against Netanyahu

Yaakov Litzman informed Netanyahu that if the Supreme Court does not grant an extension, he will resign from the government. Irked by the threat, Netanyahu replied, “Then resign – you and both of your friends from Agudas Yisroel!” (He was referring to Yisroel Eichler and Menachem Eliezer Moses. The other member of Agudas Yisroel, Meir Porush, holds a deputy ministerial position and is not a member of the Knesset.) Shas and Degel HaTorah quickly informed the prime minister that even if there are internal differences of opinion between the chareidi parties, all three parties maintain a united front toward those on the outside. Therefore, if Agudas Yisroel quits the government, the other two chareidi parties will follow suit.

Netanyahu was frustrated for the simple reason that he does not control the Supreme Court. Why should Litzman threaten him if he cannot guarantee what the court will decide?

Nevertheless, the secretary of the cabinet announced that he was preparing a request for the Supreme Court to grant an extension. Logic dictates that they should permit the extension; however, the court isn’t always guided by logic.


Netanyahu Surprises His Interrogators

Binyomin Netanyahu is contending with a huge number of challenges at the same time, and one must wonder how much a single human being can bear.

Last week, Netanyahu was questioned by the police about his relationship with Shaul Elovitch, who was the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company as well as the Walla news site. The police suspect that Netanyahu, in his capacity as Minister of Communications (a position that he holds along with the offices of prime minister and foreign minister), granted certain benefits to Bezeq in exchange for favorable coverage on Elovitch’s news site. There is no question that the site changed its attitude toward Netanyahu dramatically before the elections for the current Knesset. Netanyahu insists that this has nothing to do with any decisions that he made concerning Bezeq. The problem is that the police have recruited a state witness – Shlomo Filber, the former director-general of the Ministry of Communications, who was a close associate of the prime minister and is now prepared to testify against him. Nevertheless, the burden of proof rests on the police.

This time, Netanyahu managed to surprise his interrogators, although it is generally their job to surprise the suspects. During the questioning, when they repeatedly brought up various statements that had been made by Filber and Elovitch, Netanyahu suddenly produced a document signed by the legal advisor of the Ministry of Communications during the period in question in which she had confirmed her approval of everything that he had ostensibly done for Elovitch’s benefit. That was a powerful rebuttal to the allegations that he had violated the law.

Shortly after his interrogation, Netanyahu left the country for another meeting – the third in recent days – with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. It seems that the prime minister has found a way to distract the media from the investigations surrounding him: He flies to Moscow to meet with Putin, or to Germany to meet with Merkel, or to any other country to meet with its leader, and then his travels abroad become the focus of press coverage, diverting the media’s attention from the scandals surround him. If his own demeanor is any indication, it appears that he is sure of himself.


The Lifesaving Work of B’Lev Echad

The day after Tisha B’Av, the talmidim of yeshivos will begin the three weeks of bein hazemanim. If you happen to visit Tzefas or Teveria during this time, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Bnei Brak. Thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands, of bnei yeshivos and chareidi families travel to the north for their summer vacation. The masses of chareidi vacationers make for an incredible sight, but it is also a time of year when tragedies sometimes take place, often due to carelessness or a lack of familiarity with certain activities. Yeshiva bochurim, for instance, are not accustomed to hiking, and they sometimes set out on trips without bringing enough water or without being familiar enough with the route they are taking. Let us daven that this bein hazemanim will pass peacefully.

Every year, the B’Lev Echad organization holds its massive annual event during the month of Av. B’Lev Echad was founded by Dudi Weitman, a young man from America who was still a bochur at the organization’s inception, although he has since married. Dudi is a refined young man whose unassuming nature belies the fact that he is responsible for a project on such a massive scale. The organization he established has a volunteer corps consisting of hundreds of yeshiva bochurim and benefits from the contributions of dozens of highly capable activists who have joined Dudi in making a difference. For hundreds of families, B’Lev Echad’s work is truly lifesaving, and it has managed to enlist the aid of dozens of businesses and other entities – including Coca Cola, Osem, the Cholon municipality, and the prime minister’s office – and has garnered tens of thousands of admirers.

B’Lev Echad works to assist the families of children suffering from Down Syndrome, as well as a host of other conditions. Two years ago, after I attended the organization’s annual summer event, which was held at the time in Park Peres in Cholon, I wrote an article expressing my amazement at their accomplishments. I won’t repeat my observations now, but if I manage to attend this year’s event as well, I will try to share my impressions with you. Last time, I spent the event standing off to the side, alternately laughing and weeping.

This year’s event will take place next Monday. Yamit 2000, a large water park, has been reserved for that day for the families aided by the organization. The musical portion of the event will feature Simcha Leiner, Yeedle Werdyger and Yishai Lapidot. Yehuda Galili, who is responsible for the music, has already promised to pour his heart and soul into the event. Throughout the course of the day, there will be “dry” and “wet” activities available for the families, with boys and girls in separate groups. The volunteers will keep the special children occupied, while their families have an entire day to relax and enjoy their freedom from their usual responsibilities.


Guests in the Knesset

Last week, the offices of the Shas party were suddenly filled with voices speaking in English. A large group of visitors had arrived, and one of them explained to me in broken Hebrew that they had a meeting with “a member of the parliament, Rabbi Ben-Sur” – that is, MK Yoav Ben-Tzur, who often deals with visitors from abroad, having previously served as a member of the Jewish Agency.

The guests from America seated themselves around the round conference table and in the chairs that lined the walls. Ben-Tzur entered the room along with Amos Cohen and Shalom Cabessa, the two aides who advise him on his dealings with Diaspora Jewry. “Does everyone here know Hebrew?” Ben-Tzur asked. “Anyone who does not speak Hebrew, please raise your hand.” The entire delegation raised their hands – strangely, since Ben-Tzur himself was speaking in Hebrew, and if they did not speak the language, it seemed odd that they understood his request.

“The rov once said that he could tell who was listening during his shiurim and who was able to understand him based on whether they laughed,” Ben-Tzur commented. Everyone knew, of course, that “the rov” was a reference to Rav Ovadiah Yosef. The lawmaker went on to relate, “In the Shas party, the rabbonim choose the members of the Knesset and the government ministers. The rov once said to me, ‘You were elected to the Knesset as a representative of Shas, but keep in mind that at the moment you were elected, you became a representative of all of Klal Yisroel. You must help every Jew who turns to you for assistance.’” He also related that Rav Ovadiah once told him, “Our job here is to save people from the lions and the bears.” In other words, while the chareidi representatives certainly must procure funds for the Torah world, their primary responsibility is to save Jewish souls.

The guests were enthralled by Ben-Tzur’s stories about Rav Ovadiah, and they gazed raptly at the assortment of pictures from Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s life that lined the walls.

Ben-Tzur also told them about his own life (“I had a granddaughter two days ago; I hold a master’s degree in business management”) and spoke about the Jewish Agency (“We aim to save people from them, as well, for the Torah world”). Most of all, he spoke about the Shas party (“Today, our network of Talmudei Torah serves 6,000 students”), about Aryeh Deri, and about Chacham Shalom Cohen. After the meeting, the Israeli parliamentarian and the guests from abroad went their separate ways.

I asked the group about the occasion for their visit, and I was informed that they were all members of a single community. One of them was celebrating a bar mitzvah, and they had come to Eretz Yisroel for the occasion. The bar mitzvah boy is named Yehuda Mizrachi; he and his family belong to a kehillah in Brooklyn known as Ahavah V’Achvah. At least, I believe that is what they told me, although I admit that my English is inferior even to their Hebrew.


The “Middle Child” from Be’er Sheva

On Tuesday, I found myself in an auditorium where two members of the Knesset were receiving the Outstanding Parliamentarian Award from the Israel Democracy Institute. At the front of the room sat former MK Yochanan Plesner and Judge Theodor Ohr, who were presenting the award. Beside them were the recipients, Yaakov Margi of the Shas party and Itzik Shmuli of the Zionist Camp, and Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, who served as the intermediary.

I do not know what parameters are used to select the recipients of this award. In my view, there is no exact way to measure an outstanding legislator. I have seen thousands of speeches in the Knesset and thousands of MKs who made sure to attend all of the legislative sessions, yet many of them exerted no influence at all. On the other hand, no one denies that Yaakov Margi (the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee) is a hardworking lawmaker who is deserving of honor and praise. He is unfailingly pleasant and attentive to those who seek his help, and he is a reliable source of aid to every disadvantaged citizen. There is no question, then, that this award was well-deserved.

Margi came to the Knesset from Be’er Sheva. In the past, he served as the chairman of the religious council in the city. “I would like to express my profound gratitude,” he said in his acceptance speech, “to the State of Israel, which provides opportunities even to a child from Be’er Sheva, a middle child in a family of 11. I would like to thank my father z”l, who left a respectable business to come to Eretz Yisroel and struggled to deal with the birth pangs of the State of Israel, and my mother, may she live and be well.” His father, Rabbi Meir Margi, passed away during Adar 5759 (1999). His mother, Elise Margi, still lives in Be’er Sheva. Her “middle child,” who is today a member of the Knesset, visits his mother’s home regularly.

“In the year 2000,” he remarked in his speech, “I was selected by our master and rebbi, Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l, to serve as the director-general of the Shas party. I was called into his study, and I thanked him for choosing me for the task. The rov said to me, ‘We are not in an election period right now; therefore, you have time. Go travel around the country; listen to the public and become acquainted with their needs.’ He also said to me, ‘After today, your time will not be your own; it will belong to the public. If you are negligent or lazy, you will be stealing from the people.’ Those instructions have guided me every day.”

Aryeh Deri, who was present for the ceremony, was asked to deliver a spontaneous speech in honor of the occasion, and he related an anecdote that I had never heard before. “I will let you in on a secret,” Deri said. “In 1999, I called Yaakov, who was working for the Shas party in Be’er Sheva, and I told him that I was going to recommend to the rov to include him in the list for the Knesset. He refused vehemently, because he was afraid of offending another member of the Shas party from Be’er Sheva who was a member of the Knesset at the time.”


The Female Passenger Was Not Moved Against Her Will

Two weeks ago, the entire country was in an uproar over the refusal of three chareidim to sit next to women on an El Al flight from New York to Tel Aviv. The news reported that the flight was delayed for an hour and a half because of their intransigence. El Al issued a thousand apologies and insisted that the incident would never be repeated, and that any passengers who refused to sit next to women in the future would be immediately removed from the planes. The part of the story that infuriated the secular public (primarily the journalists in the chiloni press and those who make a profession of inciting against the chareidim) was the report that the flight attendants had asked a woman to move to a different seat and had almost forced her to comply.

This week, a letter written by a passenger on that flight was published. The passenger revealed that the flight delay was not the fault of the three chareidi passengers at all. On the contrary, the delay had been announced in the terminal even before anyone had boarded the plane. The claims that the chareidim had delayed the flight were entirely untrue!

To be honest, I was puzzled all along by El Al’s profuse apologies over the incident. If a man does not wish to sit next to a woman – or a woman does not wish to sit next to a man – why should that be considered prejudice, discrimination, or a breach of equality? I was present in the Knesset two weeks ago when the incident was discussed there. A few aggressive members of the Knesset denounced the flight crew on the plane for telling a female passenger to switch her seat for the benefit of the chareidim. They decried the “discrimination” and “insulting behavior,” and even called for a chiloni boycott of El Al. In fact, there was once an attempt by the chilonim to boycott the airline, but it did not succeed. The chilonim are always willing to sacrifice the convenience of others, but they are not willing to suffer the consequences of a boycott themselves. They will speak pompously about their ideology, but they will never actually give up any of their comforts.

In any event, in that very Knesset session, Minister of Transportation Yisroel Katz informed the lawmakers that the story was not being reported accurately. “The company claims that the accounts that have been heard do not accurately reflect the sequence of events,” he said. “In a discussion with the company, I was informed that the rules are clear and are carefully observed; a passenger is required to sit in the seat that has been given to him or else he will be removed from the plane…. The company management makes an effort to accommodate the variety of requests that it receives from its passengers to change the seats that are provided to them. In this instance, in contrast to what was described in the media, the female passenger was not removed from her seat, and passengers from other seats agreed to a switch… The company will continue maintaining the dignity of its passengers, male and female alike, under the complex circumstances of Israeli society.”

If that is the case, then what was the cause of the widespread outrage? Even without knowing that there was an independent reason for the delay, we had already been told that there was no actual discrimination and that the incident had been exaggerated in order to defame the chareidi community.


How Many Jews Are There in Denmark?

One of the daily papers in Eretz Yisroel carried an article this week titled, “Many Jews in Denmark Consider Emigration.” The article went on to relate, “Many Jews in Denmark say that they are seriously considering leaving their country to reside elsewhere. This was revealed after the Danish parliament began discussing a proposed law that might completely prohibit the proper observance of the mitzvah of bris milah. If this becomes the law, Jews will not be able to continue living in Denmark. The Jews point out that the idea of leaving Denmark first arose several years ago, when a wave of terror attacks against Jews began, including the murder of a Jewish security guard at the entrance to a shul in Copenhagen in 2015.”

My own roots are in Denmark. My grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson zt”l, was the rov of the Machzikei Hadas kehillah in Denmark during the era of Marcus Melchior (the spiritual leader of the “general” Jewish community in Copenhagen, which is essentially a Reform community) and during the mass flight of the Danish Jews to Sweden. My father, Rav Moshe Menachem Yaakovson zt”l, was the rov of the Machzikei Hadas kehillah during the era of Bent Melchior, who was even less religious than his father. During my father’s tenure as rov, the community flourished under his guidance. In the following years, my brother, Rav Shlomo, served as the rov of the religious community in Copenhagen, where he opened a yeshiva and founded a kollel, most of whose members came from Yerushalayim. Every time I read about Denmark, even if the report is inaccurate, something stirs within me.

During my father’s tenure in the country, the leader of the Copenhagen community was Rabbi Avrohom (Erik) Gutterman zt”l, father of Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman of Shuvu. Rabbi Gutterman was a noble and compassionate man who used his wealth to support the impoverished community, which was sustained primarily as a result of his generosity. He even purchased a building next door to the Machzikei Hadas shul. Today, his son-in-law, Rabbi Eliyahu Katzenstein, is working to keep the community afloat in collaboration with the shliach of Chabad, Rabbi Yitzchok Loewenthal. I could write volumes about the religious community in Copenhagen in particular and about the Jews of Denmark in general. Today, however, the community has dwindled; there isn’t even a daily minyan in the religious shul in Copenhagen. With great reluctance and sorrow, the religious Jews have begun davening in the Great Synagogue, where no religious Jew set foot for many years. There is a minyan in Machzikei Hadas only on Shabbos, and even then it is assembled with great difficulty. Despite of that newspaper article’s account, though, Denmark has not been struck by a “wave of terror,” with the exception of the attack that took the life of the Jewish security guard, and the Danish parliament won’t outlaw bris milah.

In any event, I cannot help but be perplexed by the reporter’s claim that many of the Jews of Denmark are considering moving to another country. Does he mean that many of the religious Jews are considering moving? Since the community doesn’t even have a minyan, the entire community could hardly be considered “many.” As for the nonreligious Jews, they do not seem to have a reason to move.

In fact, the religious Jews of Denmark emigrated long ago. There are a number of well-known families in Israel (such as the Kahan, Heiman, Samson, Katzenstein, and Gutterman families) who hail from Denmark. As I mentioned, Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman is the director-general of Shuvu, a school network in Israel that has saved tens of thousands of families and has led thousands of young men to begin learning in yeshivos. His dedication is reminiscent of his father, who made no compromises in his quest to fulfill the will of Hashem. The other day, in Netanya, Mayor Miriam Feirberg commented that the Shuvu school is the best school in the city. The network’s success has earned it plenty of animosity in many cities throughout the country.

No one can possibly claim that “many of the Jews of Denmark” are seriously thinking about leaving the country.


The Return of Yossele

Two weeks ago, one of the free weekly newspapers in Israel featured an interesting front-page story – an interview with Yossele Shumacher. The headline revealed that Shumacher, whose disappearance had once driven Ben-Gurion and the Mossad mad, had entered the world of politics and was prepared for a “tell-all” interview. I wondered if his quest for political advancement had led him to spill his secrets, and I prepared myself for a fascinating read.

As it turned out, Shumacher is running for a position on a local council in a small community in the Shomron, and the article consisted of a grand total of 26 lines, including the questions. Shumacher was asked what had motivated him to enter public life, and he revealed that he already serves on the Mishamr Ezrachi (Civilian Guard) and on the board of the local swimming pool.

“If you had remained in the chareidi community, you might be running for the office of mayor of Beit Shemesh,” the interviewer commented.

Shumacher replied, “Mayor? Why are you detracting from my potential? Why not the position of chief rabbi?”

The interviewer then pointed out, “You actually belonged to the Neturei Karta. Doesn’t that mean that you wouldn’t have been able to vote or to hold public office?”

“My last stop was in the Satmar community in Williamsburg,” Shumacher responded. “I visited them a few years ago, and we enjoyed a Shabbos together. They told me that as a child, I was a great lamdan, and they had predicted a brilliant future for me. ‘Now look how far you have fallen,’ they said.”

That was all. The much-touted interview did not contain any scintillating revelations, after all.


Giving Thanks to Hashem

The young couple walked through the front door, and the husband and wife both exclaimed in unison, “The shaitel!” They had forgotten the wife’s shaitel box in the trunk of the taxi. The husband ran down to the street, arriving just in time to catch a glimpse of the cab turning the corner and disappearing from view. His wife pledged a few shekels to tzedakah. They remembered that the sign in the taxi’s front windshield had identified it as belonging to the Moniot Malcha taxi company. They tried both of the numbers listed for the company in the phone book, but there was no answer.

In desperation, the husband asked a neighbor to drive to the mall where the taxi company presumably had its headquarters and to see if the shaitel had been found. When he arrived, though, he could not find the office. One of the company’s taxis was idling in the parking lot, the driver dozing off in his seat. The man rapped on the window and called out, “Excuse me, where is the office of Moniot Malcha?”

“The company doesn’t have an office,” the driver responded sleepily.

“Why aren’t they answering the phone?”

“It happens,” he said with an indifferent shrug.

“What should someone do if he forgot something in a taxi?” the man demanded.

The driver looked up and said, “Are you referring to a couple from Neve Yaakov who forgot a shaitel box?”

“Yes!” the man exclaimed.

“They left it in my taxi. It’s still in the trunk. You can take it!”

The kindly neighbor hurried back to Bayit Vegan with the reclaimed shaitel. But he made sure to drive home the lesson to the young couple. “Don’t wait until you have lost a shaitel and recovered it to give thanks to Hashem,” he said. “Don’t wait until a child chokes and is saved before you thank Him. Why not give thanks to Him before a calamity happens?”


Appearances Can Be Deceiving

There is probably nothing else in the world that has the same power as a doctor’s waiting room to bridge different worlds and to bring different people together.

This incident took place in Misgav Ladach Hospital, where a group of women sat on plastic chairs, waiting their respective turns to be seen by an ultrasound technician. One of the women related that a growth had appeared on the back of her hand and her finger had begun moving of its own accord. Her doctor had sent her for an urgent ultrasound to determine the cause of the phenomenon, and her heart was fluttering with apprehension.

“Nonsense!” the woman sitting beside her exclaimed.

The woman’s dark skin indicated that she was likely of Moroccan extraction, or from some other country in the vicinity. It was obvious that she was highly vocal and opinionated, hardly the sort of person with whom anyone could have a pleasant conversation. “A lump on the hand – ridiculous!” she continued, guffawing at the thought. “It’s just a buildup of fat, that’s all!” She went on to divulge her own medical issue to her captive audience: “I can’t see. That is a problem! Not a lump on the hand! I am afraid that I am going to become blind.”

With that, silence prevailed. It was a sad pronouncement indeed. Finally, one of the women tried to come up with some words of reassurance. “You mean you can’t see at all?” she asked.

The Moroccan woman said, “Every Shabbos, I recite the entire Sefer Tehillim. This week, I couldn’t see the letters. I was able to say only the Tehillim for Shabbos.”

With that, the other ladies’ perceptions of the woman seated beside them were radically altered. She had suddenly gone from being a self-righteous loudmouth to a tzadeikes who recited the entire sefer Tehillim every week. Indeed, one can never judge another person by a superficial first impression!



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