My Take on the News

After the Yomim Tovim

Since the middle of Elul, we have all been promised that various things will be taken care of “after the Yomim Tovim.” Well, that time has now arrived, and not much has changed. The police have announced that Prime Minister Netanyahu will soon be questioned for the umpteenth time. This came after Netanyahu scored some major achievements on the diplomatic front. First, he addressed the United Nations, delivering a speech that earned him significant public approval. He also met with President Trump and with the president of Egypt, and last Thursday he met with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who visited Israel for a day. Merkel visited the prime minister’s residence, Yad Vashem, and the Israel Museum, and the entire area between these sites and the entrance to Yerushalayim was closed for many hours on Thursday.

Netanyahu had plenty of reasons for satisfaction on the international scene, but on the domestic front, he is dealing with a mess.

His diplomatic successes, meanwhile, do not include his dealings with Russia and Putin. The downed Russian plane sparked a conflict; even though it was shot down by Syria, Israel was blamed. As Menachem Begin once commented after the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, “Goyim kill goyim and the Jews are at fault.”

On the domestic front, another major issue is the draft law, which may lead to the fall of the current government. Netanyahu has grown tired of dealing with the issue and of being involved in the negotiations between Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel. He is hinting that he may be planning to move up the elections. The leaders of the various political parties – and not only the chareidi ones – have asked him to be clear about his intentions, but Netanyahu has been evasive, leaving them all in the dark. As we will soon explain, all of this also has a connection to the municipal elections, which are due to be held at the end of this month.

In any event, let us hope that this will be the beginning of a healthy and successful winter.

 

Three Chareidi Candidates in Elad

The deadline for submitting lists of candidates for municipal elections throughout Israel was during Sukkos. This applied to the elections for both municipal councils and local councils. In principle, there shouldn’t have been much drama when the deadline arrived, but everything always happens at the last minute, and until the deadline arrived, nothing was finalized.

The chareidi city of Elad is a case in point. The mayor of Elad today is Yisroel Porush, son of Meir Porush. According to an agreement that was reached four years ago, the Litvishe community, represented by Degel HaTorah, supported Porush at the time, and the Chassidim, Agudas Yisroel and Shlomei Emunim, pledged to support a Degel HaTorah candidate in the current elections in return. There was another stipulation: The candidate should be accepted by the Shas party too, which seems to represent the majority of the populace of Elad. In the end, all of the agreements were violated (and we will not discuss the question of who was at fault; of course, there has been plenty of finger-pointing in that regard), and there will now be three chareidi candidates running for the office: Yisroel Porush on behalf of Agudas Yisroel, Yitzchok Pindrus on behalf of Degel HaTorah, and Tzuriel Krispel on behalf of Shas. For this purpose, Pindrus moved his official address at the last minute from the Old City of Yerushalayim to the city of Elad. After serving as the mayor of Beitar Illit years ago, he moved to Yerushalayim to hold a position on the city council.

There was plenty of drama in every city. Almost all of the standing agreements were overturned, since political deals in every city were contingent on what would happen in other cities. Therefore, the developments in Elad had an impact on other chareidi cities as well. We will provide an overview of the full picture in the coming weeks.

 

Support for Leon in Exchange for the Draft Law

I mentioned that there is a connection between the draft law and the elections in Yerushalayim. As I reported to you a few weeks ago, Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel are running on two separate lists in Yerushalayim, in a break from their practice in previous years. Degel HaTorah officials explain that the internal division of power between the two parties has not been equitable and that the Litvishe community deserves a larger representation in the municipality. Agudas Yisroel claims that they agreed to an even split, but the members of Degel wanted more. Degel HaTorah has confirmed that the chassidishe party made that offer but explained that they could not accept the stipulation that went along with it – that they should not support Moshe Leon as a candidate for mayor. Agudas Yisroel has its own mayoral candidate, Yossi Deitsch, but Degel HaTorah could not agree to support him, since Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein ruled that the party should support Leon. Rav Shalom Cohen, nosi of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah of Shas, issued the same ruling for his followers. Although the parties tried to reconcile their differences until the last minute, the end result was that Agudas Yisroel, Degel HaTorah and Shas registered on separate lists for the elections. The politicians of Degel HaTorah state that the public will now see that they were correct all along, and that the Litvishe community in Yerushalayim is at least as large as, if not larger than, the chassidishe populace. Rav Boruch Soloveitchik was charged with overseeing the political dealings of the Litvishe party.

You may be wondering why the Litvishe and Sephardic gedolim chose to support Moshe Leon’s mayoral bid. There are several answers to that question. First, some believe that chareidi interests would be much better served by a non-chareidi mayor who is indebted to the chareidi community rather than a chareidi mayor who is beholden to secular constituents. According to that view, Moshe Leon would be capable of giving much more to the chareidi community than Yossi Deitsch.

But there is another reason: In exchange for the chareidim’s support of Leon, Defense Minister Lieberman promised to find a solution to the problem of the draft law that would be accepted by the entire chareidi populace, including the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisroel. Why would Lieberman be willing to pay that price? For one thing, he is not interested in having the government fall. Even more than that, he is Moshe Leon’s political patron.

But what if Leon loses the race? Will the chareidim have compromised their interests by supporting him? The answer to that question is that nothing will happen. The mayor of Yerushalayim, whoever it may be, will not be able to function without the support of the chareidim, who will constitute a majority of the city council. As for Lieberman, he will be obligated to abide by his commitment even if his chosen candidate loses. The chareidim promised only to support Leon; they did not promise that he will actually be elected. An agreement is an agreement and Avigdor Lieberman keeps his word.

 

A Split in Haifa

This may have led you to question why Yossi Deitsch is still running for mayor if he has lost the support of the other two chareidi parties. In fact, what has impelled Meir Porush and Yaakov Litzman, his political patrons, to keep him in the race? Deitsch believes that he can defeat the other candidates – Moshe Leon, Ze’ev Elkin, and Ofer Berkowitz – even without the support of the other chareidi parties – if not in the first round of voting, then in the second. This week, he publicized the results of a poll that shows that he may be capable of defeating all the other candidates. He also claims that Leon does not stand a chance of being elected.

Deitsch is also counting on the fact that the chareidi parties may change their decision at the last minute and choose to support him. In that case, it seems that his victory would be guaranteed. This week, Deitsch published an advertisement claiming that the only way for the chareidi community to prevent Ofer Berkowitz from winning is to vote for him. There is no question that Berkowitz is the worst possible candidate for the chareidi community. His own advertisements make that clear. In one recent campaign ad, Berkowitz proclaimed, “If the chareidim threaten the chilonim, we will fight back!”

Deitsch hopes that he will be able to change the other chareidi parties’ decision to vote for Moshe Leon, and to transfer their support to his own campaign. This is despite the fact that, as I mentioned, some of the gedolim believe that it would not be a good thing for a chareidi to be elected mayor of Yerushalayim. Another possibility is that Deitsch will decide at the last minute to drop out of the race.

In Haifa, as well, there has been some conflict between the chareidi parties. While Degel HaTorah has been waging a fierce battle against incumbent mayor Yonah Yahav, the mayor has received the support of Agudas Yisroel. As I said, the abrogation of the agreement in Elad has had far-reaching repercussions – in Yerushalayim, in Haifa, and elsewhere as well. I must stress, however, that every party respects the others’ decisions. Fortunately, there is no trace of animosity in the atmosphere.

 

Shooting in the Tank

The Knesset will be resuming its work next Monday, and that means that many things will have to be resolved soon. For one thing, a new draft law will have to be passed sometime during the next two months in order to meet the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court. This issue is the main obstacle facing the current government. If a solution is not found, the government will fall. And it will not be easy to find a solution on which all the parties concerned will agree, despite Lieberman’s pledge to accommodate the chareidim.

In the meantime, the scent of elections is in the air – and I am referring not to the municipal elections, but rather to the national elections that will determine the makeup of the Knesset. Two of the key ministers in the government, Defense Minister Lieberman and Education Minister Naftoli Bennett, have been clashing repeatedly. Each one represents a right-wing political party, meaning that they are both vying for the same votes. As a result, each is trying to prove that he is more staunchly right-wing than the other. Lieberman has been seething and has accused Bennett of “shooting inside the tank.” That is a figure of speech that refers to fighting against one’s own allies. Bennett, for his part, feels that he understands security issues no less than Lieberman does and perhaps even more (considering that he once served in the elite Sayeret Matkal), and he has voiced harsh public condemnation of Lieberman’s defense policies, especially his approach to terrorists. Netanyahu has listened to all this and has made no effort to hide his anger toward the two of them.

For the chareidi community, there is another hurdle ahead: The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the issue of the Kosel. The Reform movement, as you know, has demanded that a portion of the Kosel plaza be allocated for their use. I cannot imagine that the Supreme Court would reject their demands outright, although it is possible that the judges will be more cautious in light of the battle being fought by the Minister of Justice to curb the power of the Supreme Court.

 

An Incredible Story from Rav Amar

On the first night of Chol Hamoed, I found myself in Rav Meir Rosenthal’s sukkah in Har Nof. Hundreds of people were present for the gathering, including rabbonim, poskim, and communal leaders. Dozens of yungeleit came to participate in the festivities, and I saw Rav Sherman, the well-known dayan, and Rav Dovid Yosef, the mara d’asra, seated alongside the talmidei chachomim of the Rosenthal family. Among the other guests were Rav Doniel Bitton, Rav Meir Shmulevitz, Aryeh Deri, and the rov of Yerushalyaim, Rav Shlomo Amar.

Rav Shlomo Amar is a talmid muvhak of Rav Meir Rosenthal’s father, Rav Yaakov Nissan Rosenthal zt”l. In his speech Rav Amar recounted an incident that took place in his younger years, when he served as the rov of the moshav of Megadim:

“One day, shortly before Yom Kippur, I was approached by one of the baalei batim of the community, Reb Dovid Bin-Nun z”l. I greeted him and he returned my greeting, and I saw that he was in a state of great anxiety. When I asked him what had happened, he burst into tears. ‘The rov saw my son on Shabbos,’ he said slowly, and I realized that something must have happened to the young man. I feared the worst, and I said, ‘How is your son?’ He replied, ‘Boruch Hashem, he is all right … but there is a big problem.’ I think,” Rav Amar added, “that it will be good for all of you to hear this story….

“His son had spent Shabbos on the moshav, and he was supposed to return to the army on Sunday. His unit was in the Suez Canal. His father asked him to remain at home for an extra day to help pick cucumbers. If the crop was not picked soon enough, the vegetables would be ruined, and that day was a holiday for the Arab laborers. ‘Abba,’ his son said, ‘I have to go back to the army.’ His father said to him, ‘For the past two and a half years, you have never been late. You can miss one day now.’ But the son objected, claiming that his superiors would be angry. His father had the moshav secretary write a letter explaining that his son’s presence was very important and that they would suffer a serious financial loss without his help, and he said to his son, ‘If they are angry, just show this to your commander.’

“The son heeded his father’s wishes and went to join the workers in the field. The next day, he returned to his unit. He traveled from the moshav to Haifa, where he caught a flight to the area where they were stationed. When he arrived, his commander was addressing the soldiers. As soon as the commander spotted him, he began shouting at him, ‘Why are you arriving only now?’ The young soldier tried to explain what had happened, but the commander bombarded him with invective. He tried to explain that he had been helping his family with the cucumber harvest and the commander screamed, ‘Why should I care about that?’ The soldier said, ‘But I have a note….’ To that, the commander replied, ‘What am I, a kindergarten teacher?’ All of the soldier’s attempts to explain himself fell on deaf ears. He was derided and humiliated, and when he could no longer bear it, he said to the commander, ‘I think you are making too much out of this.’

“‘Now you are being insolent?’ the commander exclaimed. ‘I am sentencing you right now to 21 days in prison!’ The soldier was immediately hauled away to a jail cell. There was no opportunity to even appeal the decision. His father felt that it was a tremendous injustice. In truth, he was a very good boy. I know him; he is a grandfather today. He called his father from Prison 6, which is not far from Megadim. The boy was in tears. His father wasn’t concerned about the prison as much as he was distraught over the injustice that had been done to his son.

“I didn’t know how to calm a person who is in that state,” Rav Amar continued. “I told him the story about Rabi Akiva, the donkey and the rooster, and I assured him that there had to be a good reason for what had happened, and that everything that Hashem does is for the best. Fortunately, the father calmed down. I advised him to visit his son in prison in order to give him chizuk.

“The Yom Kippur War erupted twelve days later and not a single member of that unit survived. All of his comrades were captured and brutally murdered by the Egyptians. This young man, who seemed to have been the victim of the greatest injustice in the world, was the only one who survived. That terrible travesty of justice was what saved his life. That story has accompanied me throughout my life,” Rav Amar concluded. “There have been many times in my life when I have said to myself, ‘Who knows if this person is saving my life?’”

The reason Rav Amar told this story is because Rav Meir Rosenthal himself is currently imprisoned in the religious wing of Maasiyahu Prison. Rav Amar has visited him there several times. His story is mind-boggling: He is a righteous Jew who was sentenced to five years in prison in connection with courses in Judaism that were taught to soldiers and police officers. This is not the place to go into the details of his absurd trial (which was labeled “a terrible injustice” by Rav Dovid Yosef, and which Rav Amar denounced as a “grievous error”), but Rav Amar’s message is important for all of us: We can never pretend to understand Hashem’s calculations. Sometimes, what seems to be a terrible misfortune can actually be a tremendous display of Divine kindness.

 

The Heroes of United Hatzolah

On Isru Chag, I attended a reception at the Binyonei Ha’umah convention center in honor of the volunteer paramedics who work for United Hatzolah.

At the event, everyone was commenting enthusiastically on its excellent production, but my thoughts were focused on my good friend, Reb Dovid (ben Perele), who is fighting for his life. I am referring to Dovid Azulai, the Minister of Religious Affairs, who is very ill. You may remember that I once interviewed him for the Yated regarding the government’s preparations for Lag Ba’omer. During the event at Binyonei Ha’umah, one of the Hatzolah volunteers, Yossi Muallem, was called up to recite a perek of Tehillim for Reb Dovid. The master of ceremonies explained that we were davening for the Minister of Religious Affairs, who is also the father of a Hatzolah volunteer in Ashdod, recently installed MK Yinon Azulai. The hall was filled with the deafening roar of hundreds of voices beseeching Hashem to restore Reb Dovid to health – and I was moved to tears.

Beyond that, there is little that I can write about United Hatzolah that hasn’t already been written. Eli Beer put it well when he said, “United Hatzolah has revolutionized the field of lifesaving emergency medicine to an extent that has never been seen before.” He also revealed an interesting fact: The organization has opened a women’s division.

Beer also revealed that on Yom Kippur, United Hatzolah dealt with almost 1,500 emergency calls. And when he asked who in the audience had saved a life that day, many hands shot up. One volunteer even revealed that he had performed lifesaving resuscitation on his way to the event.

The beautiful evening at Binyonei Ha’umah was the product of a tremendous investment of effort and caring. All three Werdygers – Mordechai Ben David, his son Yeedle, and his grandson – performed, as did Meilich Kohn. We also benefitted from the incredible talents of Shlomie Gertner from London, and I was deeply moved when Eli Beer from America –cousin of the Israeli Eli Beer, head of United Hatzolah –sang a song that he had composed.

The thousands of volunteers left the hall with the knowledge that their efforts are recognized and appreciated by the public.

 

The Power of an Individual

On Chol Hamoed, I had the opportunity to visit the sukkah of Rav Dovid Yitzchok Shapiro, rosh yeshiva of Be’er Yaakov and son of the previous rosh yeshiva, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro. As we were approaching Simchas Torah and the return to Parshas Bereishis, the conversation in the sukkah revolved around the creation of the world and Adam Harishon.

The Torah states that Hashem chose to create a wife for Adam Harishon because “it is not good for man to be alone.” Rav Dovid quoted his father, who once asked, “Does this mean that this is the only reason that Chava was created? What about the fact that it was necessary for Adam to have children in order for the purpose of creation to be fulfilled? The world was created so that people would receive the Torah and commit to serving Hashem. How could these goals have been realized otherwise?”

Rav Moshe Shmuel’s answer to this question was astonishing: “I heard from my rebbi [the Brisker Rov] that, in truth, Hashem does not need more than one person to accept the Torah and commit to serving Him. With that one person alone, the entire purpose of creation can be fulfilled, for the merkavah of the Shechinah can rest even on a single individual, as long as he perfects himself. Indeed,” Rav Moshe Shmuel concluded, “the power of a single individual is inestimable – as long as he is an adam hashaleim!”

I marveled at the degree to which the current rosh yeshiva is reminiscent of his revered father. I sat in a corner of the sukkah and listened in fascination to the exchange of insights and to the joyous songs. The festivity of the occasion was palpable in the air; it was a magnificent display of simchas hachag.

 

Standing Up for the Deceased

From time to time, we come across group pictures of the volunteers of Zaka taken in various countries around the globe. I would like to tell you a little bit about their quiet efforts to preserve the dignity of the deceased.

Often, when people pass away in Israel – mainly if they have no family members or other acquaintances to advocate for them – the police and pathologists swoop in. The latter have their prey brought to the Abu Kabir forensic institute near Yaffo, where they begin working feverishly to examine the remains of the deceased. They work by systematically ruling out possible causes of death. First, they examine a piece of the deceased’s foot in order to eliminate the possibility that his death was caused by a foot issue. Then they examine another part of the body to rule out yet another cause. And so they continue slicing up the defenseless body, until there isn’t a single organ or limb that has been left intact. When the mutilated body is finally delivered to the chevra kadisha, there is nothing left for them to do to preserve its dignity.

The only people who come to the aid of the deceased in these situations are the volunteers of Zaka. They race to the courts – generally the Shalom Court – where they demand an injunction for the forensic scientists to stop their work and for the body to be sent for burial. The judges of the court, most of whom are young, newly appointed judges who have their sights set on a position in the District Court, are typically intimidated by the sight of professionals, such as police investigators or pathologists in their official garb. In most instances, the case is passed on to the District Court, and sometimes even to the Supreme Court, where the ruling is almost always in favor of the rabbonim and professionals sent by Zaka.

Recently, Zaka won several cases, in which they were represented by their own rov and attorney, with a single argument. In each case, the doctors had a theory to account for the death, and the representatives of Zaka argued that the postmortem examination should begin with the body part in question, rather than encompassing every part of the body. Furthermore, the cause of death in each case was so clear that there seemed to be no reason for an examination at all, certainly not an invasive one. These arguments were accepted by the judges.

When people grumble about Zaka’s eagerness to travel to the sites of catastrophes all over the world and to be photographed performing their work at the scene of a disaster, we would be well advised to remember that there are many less glamorous cases of need in which they are the only ones to intervene.

 

A Visit to Shaare Tzedek

Before Sukkos, I visited Rav Aharon Chodosh, mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim, who was hospitalized at Shaare Tzedek Medical Center. Rav Aharon, son of Rav Meir Chodosh, is a remarkable individual who embodies the unique characteristics of both Chevron and Mir. Every encounter with the mashgiach, even on his sickbed, is an incredible experience. When I arrived at the hospital, I was surprised to find that he was in an ordinary room, which he shared with two other patients, a nonreligious Jew and an Arab. The room was very crowded; the mashgiach was situated next to the window.

I found the mashgiach surrounded by several visitors. One of them identified himself as his grandson, Meir Chodosh. Rav Aharon’s devoted son, Reb Benny (Benzion, who is named for the father of Rav Meir Chodosh), was seated there as well, and he shared a remarkable story about his grandfather: “During my years as a bochur, I once entered my grandfather’s room in the afternoon. He perceived that I had just gotten out of bed, but he didn’t utter a word of rebuke. He merely asked me, ‘Where is your brother?’ I replied by quoting the posuk, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ He said nothing. It was only when I was leaving that he remarked, ‘The time someone asked if he was his brother’s keeper, he knew where his brother was….’”

Rav Aharon received a steady stream of visitors. I was present when Rav Avrohom Shmulevitz arrived along with Rav Menachem Zaretzky, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir L’Tzeirim and right-hand man of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. The two visitors informed me that they had just paid a visit to Reb Yaakov Bistricer of Canada, who had sat shivah in Yerushalayim for a few hours. They related that Reb Yaakov had told them that during his time in the Mir, American bochurim made a habit of having their meals at a nearby restaurant. When Rav Aharon heard about their practice, he summoned Reb Yaakov and said to him, “I can’t prevent bochurim from America from eating outside the yeshiva, but I would like to ask you to eat with the bochurim in the yeshiva at least once a week.”

 

To this day,” Reb Yaakov told his visitors, “I am grateful to the mashgiach for that.”

Upon hearing this story in his hospital room, Rav Aharon spoke highly about “the bochur” in that incident; it is a well-known fact that he is blessed with a phenomenal memory. Reb Menachem Zaretzky then explained the reason for the mashgiach’s request: “The point was for the bochur not to cut himself off from life in the yeshiva, but to continue to live as part of the yeshiva.”

I stayed at Rav Aharon’s bedside for a relatively long time. At some point, the mashgiach put on his oxygen mask and closed his eyes. His grandson, Meir Chodosh, offered me a cup of coffee with milk. At that point, the mashgiach suddenly opened his eyes and motioned to him to add sweetener to the coffee as well. Even in a hospital bed, he made sure to be a solicitous host.