On the 15th of Sivan 5774 (June 12, 2014), Gilad Michoel Shear, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Yaakov Frenkel were murdered. Their deaths ripped a gaping hole in the heart of an entire nation. We had davened so much, we had so much hope, and we wept so much. Why, many have asked, are we unable to maintain the level of unity that the country displayed during those days? Last Tuesday, the State of Israel observed “Unity Day.”
“Unity Day” is an initiative of the three bereaved families – the Yifrach Family of Elad, the Shear family of Talmon, and the Frenkel family of Nof Ayalon – and includes the awarding of the Jerusalem Unity Prize, which is intended to highlight the efforts of organizations and individuals, both in Israel and abroad, who contribute to the unity of the Jewish people. The organizers of the award wish to preserve and perpetuate the unity that was demonstrated by our people after the boys’ abduction. The prize can be won even for endeavors in other countries.
The day was also marked by special activities held in schools, youth movements, and municipalities, as well as a ceremony at the Presidential Residence. There was also a special discussion in the Knesset, organized by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and the new director of the Knesset Education Committee, Yaakov Margi of Shas (who is a former Minister of Religious Affairs). All in all, it is a laudable idea, and we pray that we will indeed see greater unity in our nation.
Murdered for Being Jewish
As we mentioned, the Knesset also joined in the series of events dedicated to the topic of unity, at the request of the families. Here is a quote from Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein during the special discussion in the Knesset: “Unity does not mean uniformity. Unity is the understanding that in the midst of a multitude of voices, all of which have a place, we are all standing on common ground, and our ultimate goal is to achieve harmony. I hope that these beautiful efforts to achieve unity among us will remind us of where we came from, where we are going, and why, just as we were shown during those tense days after the abduction, when our inner sense of mutual responsibility reached its peak. Our strength indeed lies in being united.”
Edelstein said further, “I think that anyone with a little perception was able to see how these three incredible families – with their strength, and with the way they dealt with the tragedy – caused our nation to be uplifted in a very special way, and brought about rare demonstrations of brotherhood among the people. We watched while many civilians joined the soldiers in their search. We saw the participation of masses of people in the funerals of soldiers who were known as ‘lone soldiers’ while they were alive, but who became almost like family to tens of thousands of people on the way to their final resting places. Our task on this day is a simple one: All of this must not remain limited to times of crisis, tragedy or danger. It must become part of our lives all the time. If we manage to meet this challenge, we will become immeasurably stronger. Yasher koach, again, to all those who worked on the events for Jewish unity, and I thank all the members of the Knesset for their suggestions for today’s agenda. Of course, we send our encouragement to the Shear, Frenkel and Yifrach families.”
In his address to the Knesset plenum, Yaakov Margi said, “Precious families, we are in the middle of the days of remembrance for three wonderful boys, who succeeded in their deaths in uniting our entire nation, bringing together the hearts of every member of our people. I remind you – and we must remind ourselves – that Naftali, Gilad and Eyal, zichronam livrachah, were abducted and murdered by cowardly, heartless, lowly terrorists. Naftali, Gilad and Eyal were kidnapped and murdered for no reason other than the fact that they were Jews. I read, and I quote, that Gilad’s father said at a memorial service, ‘In their merit, the heavens were opened and hearts overflowed.’ And indeed, that is how it was. There is no one who cannot identify and agree with that description of the feelings that existed from the moment they were kidnapped until their bodies were found. There is no better way to preserve their memory than this initiative to promote unity.”
And here is another excerpt from his speech: “There was one other attempt in history when an effort was made to create a single language and mindset, and that led to the chaos of the Tower of Bavel. As I have said, we must train ourselves to be tolerant of those who do not look like us, who do not think like us, and who do not have the same abilities as we have. We must be tolerant of everyone. The purpose of this day is to promote and encourage tolerance and the elimination of prejudice.”
Disgrace in the Knesset
This past week, Tzachi Hanegbi, in his position as the chairman of the temporary committee in charge of events in the Knesset, asked the members of the Knesset to approve the installation of the members of all the Knesset committees, in accordance with the decisions that had been reached. Shortly thereafter, festive ceremonies were held to mark the appointments of the chairmen of the various Knesset committees. The Knesset breathed a sigh of relief; the disgracefully long wait had finally ended.
In my opinion, though, the only improvement is the fact that an agreement has finally been reached on the makeup of the committees, but it is still a disgrace to the Knesset that there is no way for the committee members to actually succeed in their responsibilities. In general, a committee member’s power is limited – with the exception of the Finance Committee, which dictates the allocation of funds, and the Law Committee, which chooses whether or not to approve proposed laws.
MK Uri Maklev is the chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, while MK Moshe Gafni heads the Finance Committee. Both of them, along with Menachem Eliezer Mozes and Yisroel Eichler, are slated to serve on six additional committees: the Interior Committee, the Education Committee, the Economy Committee, the Law Committee, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the Knesset Committee. We do not know which of them will serve on which committee, since UTJ hasn’t yet submitted its list of names, but in any event, the lawmakers will have to spend their time running from one committee session to another.
MK Yitzchok Vaknin, for instance, is a Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, as well as a member of the Immigration and Absorption Committee, the Economy Committee, and the Finance Committee. Yaakov Margi, in addition to being the chairman of the Education Committee, is also a member of the Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee and the State Control Committee. Yoav Ben-Tzur is a member of the Interior Committee, the Law Committee, and the Knesset Committee. It is simply impossible for any person to keep up with such a plethora of responsibilities. In Bayit Yehudi, as well, the situation is very complex. Betzalel Smotrich, for instance, is a member of both the Finance Committee and the Interior Committee. Motti Yogev is a member of the Immigration Committee, the Education Committee, and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Membership in either the Finance Committee or the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee alone constitutes nothing short of a full-time job.
The problem facing the coalition parties is that they have no players left in the parliament itself. Ministers and deputy ministers cannot submit motions for the agenda or parliamentary questions, cannot represent their parties in debates in the Knesset, and cannot serve as members of the committees of the Knesset. All of this is meant to create a separation of powers between the legislative branch of the government and the arm of the government that carries out the laws.
In short, the celebratory overtones of Hanegbi’s announcement were rather overdone.
Slamming the Justice System
The Wallet and the Sword is the title of a book by Professor Daniel Friedman, who served as the Minister of Justice during Ehud Olmert’s tenure as prime minister. It is an explosive book about the judicial revolution in Israel and its failure, but for some reason, its publication made relatively few waves.
Here is a quote from the book, regarding the attack launched against the author, upon his appointment as Minister of Justice, by Supreme Court Justice Cheshin: “Cheshin’s words signaled the beginning of a media campaign that was waged against me, with the support of the president of the Supreme Court and her allies, and with the assistance of a chorus of voices from a number of retired justices.” Regarding an attack on him in an interview given by the President of the Supreme Court, Friedman writes, “That was something that should never be done.” Friedman destroys the concept of the “rule of law” without batting an eyelash. The book sums up his years of experience as the Minister of Justice, with the addition of his unique perspective on a number of the judicial affairs that have rocked the country, for better or for worse — mainly for worse.
Regarding the Aryeh Deri affair, he writes, “Part of the price we paid for Deri’s downfall was a severe blow to the country’s faith in the courts and the judicial system.” He quotes Yigal Arnon, who asserted that a grave injustice was perpetrated against Deri, and he adds that Deri’s public trial violated every principle of fairness and reason. The judges, along with the rest of the political left, viewed Friedman as a threat precisely because of his status as an academic and a person who is viewed as being a notch or two above them. They were even more distressed by the fact that he was not a right-winger. From our perspective, Friedman was one of the most attentive Ministers of Justice in the history of the country. It was precisely because he was so Israeli and so far removed that he was endowed with a certain curiosity and naÃ¯vetÃ©. I will always remember the weekly shiur in Gemara that took place in his room in the Knesset. I was permitted to attend the shiur several times on the condition that I would not make a big deal about it. And I did not.
This week, copies of The Wallet and the Sword were mailed to all the Knesset members, accompanied by a letter from a person who called on them to combat the idea of the separation of powers “after decades in which the judicial system has brazenly trampled on this lofty principle.” The letter writer implored the Knesset members to read the accompanying book “so that you will understand the scope of the devastation brought upon us by the concept of judicial activism [which is part of Aharon Barak’s ideology].”
No More Discrimination
A delegation of friends of the Shuvu educational network from America and England headed by Rabbi Chaim Michoel Gutterman, the director of Shuvu, and David Blachman, the director of Shuvu in England, appeared in the Knesset as the new government was being installed. The delegation came to give encouragement to the chareidi members of the Knesset who had been chosen as government ministers, committee members, and committee heads. But while the people of Shuvu came to give chizuk to others, they themselves ended up receiving plenty of it.
The series of meetings began with MK Rabbi Moshe Gafni of UTJ, who was chosen to head the Knesset Finance Committee. The guests praised him for assuming his new position, while Gafni, for his part, promised that he would continue doing everything in his power to help the Shuvu educational network. Gafni shared his view that every child in the State of Israel is the same, and that all the children deserve the same services. This is one of the causes that he has worked to promote since he entered his position, and as a result of his involvement, the Ministry of Education will be funding summer camps even for chareidi children this summer, unlike the situation last year.
The representatives of Shuvu also attended a lengthy meeting with Uri Maklev, who expressed his admiration for the organization. The meeting gave Maklev an opportunity to get to know Ms. Chana Hoch, who had come from the United States. Ms. Hoch is a daughter of Mr. Yossi Hoch, the chairman of Shuvu, and she conveyed the gratitude of the friends of Shuvu in America in general and of her father in particular. Maklev laughed and said, “In general, the children of Knesset members do not follow in their fathers’ footsteps; they do not want to become members of the Knesset, since it is the most difficult work imaginable. I admire the fact that you are following the example of your father’s dedication to Shuvu. That is very impressive.”
Maklev noted that the chareidi community is often accused of looking out only for its own interests. These claims, he asserted, are untrue. “Even though we were sent to the Knesset to represent the chareidi community, Rabbi Gafni knows that he is working on behalf of the entire Jewish nation, as do the other chareidi representatives.” When we are attacked, he added, we should point out how many chessed organizations – such as Yad Sarah, Yad Eliezer, and Ezer Mizion, among many others – are run by chareidim. And Shuvu, he concluded, is yet another example. “When the subject of education comes up, Shuvu is our answer,” he asserted. “Shuvu takes care of all Jewish children, not just the children of religious families.”
The Shuvu delegation also met with Meshullam Nahari and congratulated him on his appointment as the Deputy Minister of Welfare. Nahari, too, promised to do everything in his power for the sake of Shuvu, particularly by speeding up the absorption of French immigrants into the network.
Their visit concluded with a meeting with Dovid Azoulay, whom they congratulated on his appointment as the Minister of Religious Affairs. Azoulay has provided significant assistance to Shuvu in the past, particularly to its school in Akko, the city where he lives. He, too, promised to do everything in his power to aid the organization in the coming year.
“Cursed is Canaan”
In his day, Professor Uzi Ornan was one of the most peculiar enemies of chareidi Judaism. He was so detached and so bizarre that his actions, from a historical perspective, had barely any consequence. Around the time of the founding of the state, he established the League Against Religious Coercion – a term that he invented – and channeled all of his meager energies and limited knowledge into the battle against all that is sacred to the Jewish people. He also identified with the “Canaanite movement,” which consisted of people who wanted to be known as “Canaanites” rather than “Jews” – yet another dubious movement that definitely warrants scrutiny – which was founded by Yonatan Ratosh.
Ratosh, whose real name was Uriel Heilprin, was a son of Yechiel Heilprin, who grew up in a Chassidishe home in Warsaw. Ornan’s real name was Uziel Heilprin; he was Yonatan/Uriel’s brother. This past week, an interview with Ornan was published in advance of the release of a book about his “accomplishments.” In his old age, he still clings to the ideas of his youth, which made the interview painful to read. But one item that caught my eye was a question about a granddaughter who became chareidi. On that subject, Ornan had this to say: “She has eight adorable children. The truth is that we didn’t see each other for a long time… A person can take any path they choose; I have no objection in principle to that. Today, I have begun visiting her at home. Her 15-year-old son and I are always careful not to talk about religion, faith and politics. We don’t even say a word about it; I have no intention of creating arguments or fomenting upheavals…but I hope that they will all come around eventually.” Unbelievable!
On the subject of the Canaanite movement, here is another interesting story: Amos Keinan (whose original name was Levine), a well-known Israeli publicist, was one of the founders of that bizarre movement. Keinan was once sitting at a coffee shop in Tel Aviv, as was his habit, and decided to tell a joke to his companions. “Two Jews once met on a train. One of them said to the other, ‘Where are you going?’ The other Jew said, ‘To Lodz.’ The first man exclaimed, ‘Liar! You told me that you are going to Lodz so that I would think that you are going to Warsaw, but you are actually going to Lodz, so why are you lying?”
Keinan enjoyed his friends’ laughter, but one of them suddenly stood up and said, “You think you’re a Canaanite? You look like a Galicianer, you talk like a Galicianer, and you even tell jokes like a Galicianer…” The enraged Keinan showered the other man with a variety of scornful remarks, along with the contents of the cup in his hand.
On Chanukah of 5774, a bochur from the Belzer yeshiva in Beit Chilkiyah, Yosef Yonah Rothner, was killed while crossing a heavily trafficked road at a major junction. The road is one of the main arteries leading to southern Israel, and immediately after the accident, fingers were pointed in every direction as countless officials worked to prove that efforts had been made to install a traffic light at the junction, which is universally agreed to be dangerous. The Shas party, meanwhile, decided to save the next life that would be endangered there.
The subject was brought up in a motion for the agenda and was discussed in the Knesset Interior Committee. When the promises that were made in that discussion were not fulfilled, a parliamentary question was submitted, followed by a second one. In the middle of 2014, Transportation Minister Yisroel Katz promised that a traffic light would be installed at the junction “by the end of the year” – i.e., by December 2014. That promise was not fulfilled and another parliamentary question was submitted. Knowing that having to answer the question in the Knesset would turn him into a laughingstock – with the clear implication being that his word is meaningless – Katz begged for the question to be withdrawn and for additional time to install the traffic light. Recently, the work has actually begun, and it is clear that the intersection will soon be graced by a light.
It seems that the junction might be renamed the Rothner Junction, since the spilled blood of that precious yeshiva bochur was the driving force behind the efforts of the Knesset members from the Shas party, as well as Yisroel Eichler and Menachem Eliezer Mozes, to bring about a solution. Who knows know many lives will yet be saved by this traffic light?