Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

My Take on the News

Sukkos and the Surveys

Here in Israel, we are living in the shadow of polls and surveys. Every week or two, another poll comes out, and we spend hours analyzing and debating the results. The latest surveys show that Yair Lapid is steadily gaining popularity. But there have been plenty of times when the poll results seemed to show a candidate winning an election, while the ultimate result was that he was defeated.

Once again, in what has become an annual tradition, a survey on the rates of religiosity among the population was conducted before Rosh Hashanah. I do not know who is responsible for these surveys, who funds them, or what their purpose is, but I do know that they are not reliable. These surveys always include the non-Jews who were brought to this country, first by Yitzchok Shamir and then by Ariel Sharon, among the Israeli Jews who are polled. How do you expect a non-Jew to respond when he is asked if he believes that stores should be closed on Shabbos, or when he is asked to rate the importance of a sukkah on a scale of one to ten? These people have no idea what an esrog or matzah is, and they have no problem with stores being open even on Yom Kippur, which they see as a day that is supremely conducive to bicycle riding.

How can we measure the number of religious and traditional Jews in the State of Israel? Very easily, in fact – through simple observation. If you take a trip to the Machaneh Yehuda market in Yerushalayim, you will see thousands of people shopping for sukkah decorations. If you visit the Arba Minim market in Tel Aviv, you will find numerous “secular” Israelis buying esrogim. Even better, simply take a stroll through the streets of any city this week, and you will see the proliferation of sukkos everywhere you turn. These sukkos, a clear sign of some form of mitzvah observance, are in abundance even in places such as Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv.

Visit the Kosel Hamaarovi on Chol Hamoed, and you will see many bareheaded visitors searching for a cardboard yarmulka, hoping that a “dos” will approach them and offer to help them recite the bracha on the Arba Minim. At Birkas Kohanim at the Kosel, you will find thousands of “irreligious” Jews. All of these people yearn for some sort of closeness with Hashem, even though they do not know exactly how to achieve it. These people are part of our sector of society, the sector that values Yiddishkeit, even if they do not actually build sukkos of their own.

As a general rule, there is no correlation between the attitudes expressed by the media and online pundits and those of the Israeli public. This is true in the political realm. No one denies that the control of the left over the media makes them appear ten times as powerful as they really are. It is also true of the morals and values of this country: All the politicians, journalists, and academics trumpet their concepts of “pluralism” and “enlightenment” as if their words somehow represent the majority view in this country, but nothing could be further from the truth. The people of Israel support the Torah, not the invented “values” of modern society.

The same is true of the country’s Supreme Court, where the prevailing sentiments are completely detached from those of the people. The judges operate in an ivory tower that is hermetically sealed against the penetration of any idea or attitude from the outside – even a good one. They exist in a sealed bubble, lacking any comprehension of the world that exists to the right of their liberal philosophies. In an eerie sort of symbolism, I watch them emerging from their luxury cars and turning to the left, toward Rechaviah. It is as if they are unaware of the neighborhoods of Geulah and Nachlaot, which are to their right.

Sukkos, though, is the time of year when the true colors of the Jews of Israel are revealed. And to end these musings on a positive note, let me make one more observation: Without question, there is no other country anywhere else in the world where the digital display on the front of every bus announces “Shanah Tovah” at the beginning of the Jewish new year. For that matter, I am sure there is no other country in the world where cars parked on sidewalks do not receive tickets on Sukkos, for the simple reason that the parking lots are filled with sukkos.

Special Treatment in Uman?

Here is another news item associated with this vocal minority in the State of Israel. This time, it concerns the tens of thousands of Jews who travel to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. Personally, I have never been to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, although I have been there at a different time of year.

This year, in an unusual move, the Ministry of the Interior announced certain special accommodations in advance of Rosh Hashanah. Haaretz reported, “Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has announced an agreement with the Foreign Ministry that the Israeli embassy in the Ukraine will be open around the clock during the days after Rosh Hashanah… After the holiday, free transportation will also be provided from Uman to the embassy in Kiev.”

The reason was simple: If the passports of even one percent of the tens of thousands of Israelis visiting Uman for Rosh Hashanah were lost or damaged, that would mean that several hundred replacement passports would have to be issued immediately. With so many travelers visiting Uman for those few days, it was necessary for the ministry to come up with creative solutions.

But even this move, as justified as it was, drew fire. Michal Zandberg, a leftist member of the Knesset, wrote to the attorney general to complain about the “discrimination” against ordinary tourists. “It does not make sense for Israeli travelers to receive special, accessible service in one place, at the government’s expense, while tourists in other places must deal with the same bureaucratic obstacles and hardships as always.”

This tendency to attack the right at any cost was also revealed in the cancellation of a performance that was scheduled to take place in Tel Aviv on Erev Yom Kippur. It was a chiloni initiative, their own effort to provide some sort of nourishment for their parched souls, but the organizers were shocked when they encountered fierce opposition due to the lack of female performers. Ultimately, they reneged on their intentions. “In light of the outcry that has erupted and due to our desire to be attentive to the public and to strengthen the unity of the people, we are canceling the performance, ‘Lifting Kippur,’ in the format in which it was advertised,” they announced. “In its place, a Selichos ceremony will be held in Rabin Square in advance of Yom Kippur, which will include performers appropriate for the adapted format of the event.”

The obsession of the anti-religious agitators renders them blind to the distinctions between good and evil. In their relentless battle against Yiddishkeit, they have trampled on the standards of justice and humanity. If the government must choose between providing services to tens of thousands of travelers in Uman and a handful of tourists in India, their response is, “If we can’t have it, then neither can you.” And a secular event with a spiritual theme in Rabin Square simply cannot be allowed to take place without female performers. It is the epitome of foolishness.

No Limit to Their Ambition

Another word about the disconnect between the elites and the rest of society: The Reform Jews are still continuing their relentless campaign for validation. It sometimes seems as if they have hired well-paid consultants simply to devise ways for them to tighten their hold on the country. Recently, they demanded that Reform and “pluralistic” programs be added to the “Orthodox” ones broadcast by the Heritage Channel, a government-run broadcasting station with a religious element to its programming. Their demands leave no doubt as to their agenda: They desire not only to be recognized, but to be viewed as equal to Judaism itself.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs is now in the process of allocating funds for the construction of shuls throughout the country. By order of the Supreme Court, the ministry is required to fund Reform shuls as well. It is significant that they did not settle for an allocation from a different ministry, such as the Ministry of Culture. The Reform movement insisted on receiving a share of the funding earmarked for religious institutions. I would not be surprised if they were to demand the appointment of a Reform chief rabbi (or perhaps “rabbah”) as well.

Most important, though, is the fact that even as the Reform movement chalks up numerous victories in the courts, and their allies in the judiciary allow them increasing portions of the budgetary pie, they have still failed to earn the recognition of the public. Although a recently published survey indicates that the majority of the country supports recognizing the Reform, this is not a reason for concern: That may stem from a genuine desire to repair the rifts in our society. There are many who feel that there is no need to combat them, or anyone else either. But the true test of public sentiment lies in the people’s actions, and indeed, when the average Israeli Jew needs to choose between an Orthodox chupah or pidyon haben and the corresponding Reform ceremony, there is no doubt as to what he will choose.

Because, after all is said and done, he is still a Jew.

Hostility from a Religious Judge

Since I mentioned the Supreme Court, allow me to give you a recent striking example of its utter disregard for the feelings of the public.

There is no doubt that the majority of Israelis are in favor of authentic Judaism. Even those who do not keep Shabbos are nonetheless aware that there is a difference between real Judaism and a counterfeit version. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court continues to lend its backing to the Reform movement. We received yet another slap in the face from the court recently, this time on the subject of the Kosel. The court was responding to a Reform complaint over the government’s delay in presenting its position vis-à-vis the Kosel. The panel consisted of Chief Justice Miriam Naor and two of her colleagues, Elyakim Rubinstein and Chanan Meltzer. Naor fiercely reprimanded the representative of the government, Nachi Ben-Ohr, for failing to properly explain why the government had retracted its previous stance in favor of the agreement with the Reform movement. (This took place because the chareidi parties informed the prime minister that they had withdrawn their support for the agreement, which they had initially been coerced to accept.)

There was one aspect of the discussion in the Supreme Court that I found highly distressing: the hostile approach of Elyakim Rubinstein, the religious justice. Rubinstein understands the sensitivities involved, and he should know that the gedolei Yisroel instructed us to oppose the agreement, yet he insisted on challenging the government’s stance. Ben-Ohr explained that even though the government had previously decided to adopt the compromise agreement, it was subsequently canceled due to “various disputes.” Perhaps playing dumb, Rubinstein demanded, “What disputes? What reason could there be for a dispute? An agreement was reached, and the new rules were established. The government made a decision. What dispute could there possibly have been? Why wasn’t this matter put to rest?” Could it be that Rubinstein truly didn’t understand why the issue hadn’t been resolved? Doesn’t he realize that this affects some of the things that are most precious to us?

“The prime minister has already released a statement about that,” Ben-Ohr said in response to Rubinstein’s questions. “There were certain parties who expressed their opposition.”

“The same parties who previously agreed to it?” Rubinstein demanded. “That is simply unbelievable. And the government is defending this?”

With “friends” like these on the Supreme Court, who needs enemies? Rubinstein came across as the most implacable foe of Judaism. “What Sharansky and Mandelblit have done must have substance,” he insisted. “The person who will serve as the representative in the Kosel Heritage Fund will not be permitted to reject the claims of the plaintiffs [i.e., the Reform, the Conservative, the Hiddush movement, the Women of the Wall, and the others involved]. The agreement must stand, and we therefore request that the petition be amended.”

The representative of the Reform movement responded, “I accept Your Honor’s recommendation, and I request the opportunity to amend the petition after the holidays.”

Rubinstein replied, “It can be done within a week. Why wait until after the holidays?”

Chief Justice Miriam Naor’s comment, while equally harsh, was less grating to me. “This has been dragging on interminably,” she said. “I am under the impression that in this case, we are the ones who are expected to rectify the situation, even though that is the government’s job.” But Naor cannot be expected to understand that there are certain decisions that are simply unacceptable. I am even more pained by the fact that Rubinstein, who wears a yarmulka, gave his backing to the Reform movement’s petition and was openly hostile to the religious position, as if he somehow represented the plaintiffs. Rubinstein reads the newspapers; he certainly must be aware of Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl’s position on the issue. Indeed, he posed a question that indicates just how much he understands it: “Is there any chance in the world that the Minister of Religious Affairs will sign on the new ordinances, or will we have to take steps so that someone else can sign them?”

How, then, did he make those statements during the court session?

Our Complex Relationship with Shimon Peres

The death of Shimon Peres was another major news story over the past couple of weeks. It isn’t every day that our country is visited by so many foreign heads of state. In fact, the last time I saw so many foreign rulers in Israel was at the funeral of Yitzchok Rabin. At that time, I somehow managed to enter the area that had been cordoned off for the visiting dignitaries, and since I arrived at an early enough hour, I found the president of France, the prime minister of Canada, and the queen of Holland standing around idly. I took the opportunity to make small talk with them, and half an hour later, I shook hands with Bill Clinton and with King Hussein. This time, though, I decided to forgo that “pleasure.” I suppose I have become older and more mature, and besides, this funeral took place on a Friday when Shabbos was beginning to start earlier, and I had my Daf Yomi shiur to attend.

Much has been written about Shimon Peres, and much more will yet be written. There is a lot to say about him, both good and bad. Peres was one of the founding fathers of the State of Israel. He established the nuclear reactor in Dimona and played a major role in procuring planes and armaments from France and the United States. He served for decades as a member of the Knesset and as a government minister, ending his career by serving as the president of the state. At the same time, Peres is also responsible for the Oslo Accords. He was obsessed with achieving peace and creating a “new Middle East,” and he was blinded to the evil in our Palestinian enemies.

The chareidi community will always remember Peres for being the greatest advocate of the status quo regarding bnei yeshivos. He supported exempting yeshiva bochurim from the draft since his days as Ben-Gurion’s right-hand man, and he continued to support it until the end of his life. That was the reason for his friendships with many of the gedolei Yisroel, particularly Rav Ovadiah Yosef. All of the gedolim respected him. It is not a contradiction that Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, in his day, preferred the Likud. Rav Shach was afraid of the left, and Peres was part of the left. Gratitude is one thing, but entrusting a person with power is something else entirely. To his credit, Peres did not hold a grudge for that, nor did he seek to exact revenge – and that is no trivial matter.

Peres actually received the office of president from the chareidim. The president of Israel is elected by the Knesset, and the Shas party’s vote tipped the scales in his favor. Rav Ovadiah Yosef ruled at the time that the party should vote for him. I will share the full story with you at the next opportunity.

Without a doubt, Shimon Peres was a notch above all the other secular politicians. There is good reason that the leaders of many countries came to Israel to pay their final respects to him. He was a fascinating man, who always had intelligent things to say. I myself had several opportunities to speak with him. One of those was when I joined him on a visit to Jordan and Morocco while he was serving as prime minister. On another occasion, I accompanied him in my capacity as a journalist on a trip to Washington. I interviewed him several times as well. On one occasion, the editors decided afterward that the interview should not be published. I will tell that story, too, at another opportunity.

Peres had a knack for making witty, original comments. One of those remarks was made at his ninetieth birthday party, which was attended by many prominent dignitaries, including Bill Clinton. After listening to the speakers showering praise upon him, Peres said, “I am not as good as you are all saying, but I am also not as bad as you are thinking…”

Do Not Antagonize Uncle Sam

The United States is constantly in the headlines here. Soon, a new president will be elected. Israel is waiting quietly to find out the outcome of the election and, even more importantly, what approach the new president will take toward our country. Even though Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both claim to be pro-Israel, there is no guarantee that either of them will act that way as president. In any event, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has not repeated his mistake from the last election cycle, when he publicly supported Mitt Romney against Barack Obama.

Even Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Defense, has learned some diplomacy. He has come to understand that we cannot be defiant toward America as long as we are dependent on them (b’derech hateva, that is). Rav Shach cautioned us against hisgarus ba’umos, antagonizing the nations of the world. That was precisely what Lieberman did when he drew a parallel between the nuclear agreement with Iran and the infamous Munich Agreement, which earned him the wrath of the United States. He hastened to apologize, which was a sign that he had changed. In the past, Lieberman would never have apologized for anything.

On that note, I should quote an article from the recent issue of Bamachaneh commemorating the passage of a decade since the Second Lebanon War. The article was written by Danny Ayalon, the ambassador to Washington at the time, and it reveals his complex relationship with the White House in general and with the State Department in particular, which was headed at the time by Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley. Ayalon describes a telephone call that he received from Dan Harel, the IDF attaché in Washington, in the middle of an interview. “I left the interview during a commercial break,” he relates, “and I was shocked when Harel told me that we didn’t have enough bombs, and that the Americans weren’t releasing armaments to us because they didn’t have Rice’s signature. At that time, our weaponry came from American aid. Rice claimed that she hadn’t seen the document on her desk. She said that she would find it and sign it, and that is precisely what happened.

“Although that incident ended well,” Ayalon continues, “if we had needed to ask the Americans for another shipment after that, it would have been much more difficult. Immediately after that exchange with the secretary of state, there was an incident in Kafr Kana, when a stray IDF shell hit the village and caused the deaths of dozens of civilians. That made her very angry. After that episode, their entire attitude toward the fighting changed, and the pressure to reach a ceasefire grew much more intense.”

Another article of note was written by Lieutenant Colonel Giora Levi, the commanding officer of Emanuel Morenu, who was killed in the war. Levi relates that he was angered by the fact that Morenu was buried immediately instead of being left until the morning. “I felt that a hero of Israel like Emanuel deserved a daytime funeral, so that everyone could attend.. When we arrived in Yerushalayim that night, we were shocked to find the entire city at a standstill. Thousands of people were on their way to Mount Herzl to pay their final respects to Emanuel. All the senior officials in the army and security services were there. All the commanders of his unit throughout its history were also in attendance.”

Levi prefaces his account by noting that he himself was not religious. “Emanuel,” he relates, “was the type of person who would always volunteer for everything.” He proceeds to list several examples, adding that the deceased soldier had first earned his respect as one of the commanders of the troops who captured Mustafa Dirani in his home. “In general, when you break into a house, with all the commotion and adrenaline that accompanies it, the slightest suspicious movement will cause you to fire your gun instinctively. At that time, the troops led by Emanuel entered the house, and Dirani’s wife immediately began screaming, which caused many of the soldiers to shoot at her. Emanuel, though, realized that she wasn’t dressed appropriately, and he covered her in order to preserve her dignity. I have commanded many other good fighters, and I can’t say if any of them would have done the same…”

A Lesson Not Learned

Two weeks ago, two construction workers were injured on the job in separate incidents. Both of them fell from scaffoldings. One was injured on Rechov Ibn Gavirol in Tel Aviv, while the other incident took place on Rechov Doresh Tov in Yerushalayim. Both workers suffered head injuries. At about the same time, another two victims of the parking lot collapse in Tel Aviv were identified in the Abu Kabir forensic institute. Three weeks ago, Mahmoud Shacharne, a 34-year-old construction worker from Beit Lechem, was killed upon falling from a precipitous height at a construction site in Raanana.

We may be the wisest of the nations, but it seems that we simply do not learn our lesson. In March 1994, there was a similar disaster at the Shafirim Bridge, where three people were killed. In July 1997, the bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed, killing four people and injuring 69. In May 2001, the Versailles wedding hall collapsed; 23 people were killed in that incident, and another 380 were injured. In April 2012, a lighting rig at Mount Herzl collapsed in the middle of a rehearsal for a military performance, killing a young woman and injuring six others. Since the beginning of 2016, 35 workers have been killed at construction sites and another 156 have been injured. The six fatalities in the Ramat Hachayal parking lot collapse can now be added to the list.

It appears that people are simply gambling with lives. After all these disasters, it still seems that no one has learned the appropriate lessons and taken precautions.

The Most Valuable Pursuit

There is a certain yungerman who is not only a great masmid, but an expert in examining hadassim as well. One day, he set out on an excursion to a riverbank, along with his entire chaburah, to examine the hadassim that grew there. As each branch was picked, the group catalogued it according to its level of hiddur.

The yungerman had been told that this was an easy way to make some extra money during his break. It was meant to be a one-time outing only, but the seller of the hadassim picked up on the yungerman’s sharp eye and expertise, and offered to increase his pay if he would continue to work every day until Erev Yom Kippur – not only during his break, but during the sedorim of the kollel as well.

“Why not?” the yungerman replied. After all, the job was associated with a mitzvah, the atmosphere was pleasant, and he would have the opportunity to work alongside a group of other yungeleit and talmidei chachamim. Furthermore, his employer was offering respectable wages. During a break, he found himself perusing a sefer that he had brought along with him, Kuntres Eitzos Lizkos Badin BaYomim HaNoraim. After the break ended, he gathered his belongings and informed his employer that he had decided to return to kollel. “I don’t want to continue this work,” he said.

“Why not?” the other man exclaimed. “Did someone mistreat you? Did I say something unkind? Is the salary not sufficient?”

“Not at all,” the yungerman replied with a laugh. “I just read in this sefer that Rav Elchonon Wasserman relates in Kovetz Maamarim that he heard from the Chofetz Chaim that in the days of the Vilna Gaon, there was a group of people who used to travel from place to place to deliver mussar shmuessen, and one of them asked the Gaon what issue he should emphasize. The Gaon replied that he should speak about talmud Torah, because it encompasses every other mitzvah. Rav Elchonon also quoted the Chofetz Chaim as saying that the yeitzer hara wouldn’t mind allowing a person to fast all day long, as long as he doesn’t learn.

“You see,” the yungerman concluded, “I realized that this whole business of checking hadassim may be the work of the yeitzer hara, and I should return to the bais medrash…”

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