Monday, May 10, 2021

Snippets from Israel

Emotions are running high in the State of Israel. Not that there is anything new about that. After all, this country is always in an uproar. We cannot be certain if that is due to its location in the Middle East, its weather conditions, or the nature of its populace, but in any event, public tumults are virtually a constant occurrence in this country. In recent days, it was the new Minister of Culture and former spokeswoman for the IDF, Miri Regev, who managed to create pandemonium by clashing repeatedly with the “artists” of the state. The conflict is still ongoing, as Regev has raised the old demon of the dispute between the right and the left.

And then there is the attack on the church in the north (see below). Who needed that? There was also the terrible murder of Danny Gonen, who pulled over to help a person who seemed to be in need of assistance – only to be murdered in cold blood by the man, who turned out to be a terrorist. And there was also the stabbing of the Border Guard policeman in the Old City.

Shaul Mofaz, who has served as both Minister of Defense and Chief of Staff of the IDF, recently went to London, where he spent every moment fearing that someone might lodge a complaint against him over alleged war crimes and he might be arrested. This is the same London that is currently threatening to burn sifrei kodesh, even though some maintain that the threats come from an extremely marginal group that is totally unworthy of attention and that we are merely strengthening it with our campaign against it.

And then, of course, there is Michael Oren. Today a member of the Knesset, Oren served in the past as the Israeli ambassador to Washington and recently published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal accusing President Obama of deliberately harming Israel. The American government seethed with anger and expectantly awaited an apology, but instead of apologizing, Oren published yet another piece, this one in the Los Angeles Times, in which he “explained” why Obama is mistaken in his nuclear policy. Dan Shapiro, the United States ambassador to Israel, was enraged and informed someone in the Israeli government that the country’s leadership needed to divest itself of Oren and to issue an official apology. Then came Oren’s third article, this one claiming that Obama suffers from emotional issues pertaining to his childhood and is haunted by his Muslim past. That was too much even for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Oren’s colleagues in the Kulanu party declared that he does not speak for them, and Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, the party chairman, called him to order. The Americans, for their part, are still deeply offended. One of them went so far as to say that Oren cannot rightfully be considered an ambassador or a member of the Knesset; rather, he is merely trying to promote his forthcoming book by using the lowest type of public attacks.

 

Of Churches and, Lehavdil, Shuls

This past Thursday, vandals attacked the Church of Loaves and Fishes on the northern Kinneret, leaving widespread destruction in their wake. Rav Yitzchok Yosef, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, ruled that those criminals have the halachic status of a rodef, since their actions are liable to result in attacks on Jews.

The attack drew condemnations from both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between, including one from Prime Minister Netanyahu. The head of Israel’s police force called the crime “very severe.” The vandalism received major coverage. It was the front page story in Haaretz, which added that “seventeen mosques and churches have been torched over the past four years, and not one of the perpetrators has been identified.” It is quite interesting that Haaretz was able to come up with such precise statistics. When one attempts to ascertain how many shuls in the State of Israel have been vandalized, one can expect to be told that the destruction of a shul is not designated as a separate category of crime, and no exact numbers are available.

In Iyar of 5773, two years ago, Aryeh Deri submitted an urgent parliamentary question titled “Hateful Graffiti on a Shul and School in Bat Yam and a Shul in Kiryat Malachi.” Bat Yam is the city where Deri himself grew up, following his arrival from Morocco with his parents. After asking if the incidents of hate graffiti were being investigated, Deri added another question: Has there been a recent increase in this type of crime?” Minister Silvan Shalom, who responded to the question in place of the Minister of Internal Security, revealed that the perpetrators in one case had been arrested, but since they were minors, they had been released. Three other cases of shul vandalism were under “intensive investigation.”

As for the criminality of the attacks on shuls, Silvan Shalom responded, “Criminal law does not identify defacing any specific type of building as a separate category of crime. These actions fall under the category of ‘destruction of property.’ …Since there are different types of incidents that are included in this category, it is not possible to isolate specific instances in the database relating to hate graffiti in general, or to graffiti on shuls in particular. Therefore, I cannot answer your question as to whether there has been a recent rise in this particular type of offense.” In other words, spray painting swastikas on a shul is not identified in the State of Israel as a separate category of crime; it is considered like any other form of destruction of property, and no statistics on such incidents are available.

The same appalling attitude was evidenced in another response delivered in the Knesset to a parliamentary question submitted by Deri, this one by Minister Aharonovich himself. This question, too, was classified as “urgent” and dealt with a rash of swastikas being spray painted on cars in the neighborhood of Canaan in Tzefas. Among the questions Deri asked was, “How many incidents were there over the past four years in which swastikas were sprayed in the neighborhood?”

Aharonovich responded, “On January 6, 2014, the police received complaints about eight cars in the neighborhood of Canaan having been vandalized with painted swastikas. In the course of the investigation, forensics experts recorded their findings at the scene, testimonies were collected from witnesses, and additional actions were taken. The investigation led to an arrest: On January 12, a suspect was taken into custody, but he was released after further investigation revealed that there was no evidence against him. The police discovered that the man was mentally ill. The investigation is still continuing and the perpetrators must be found. Regarding the request for statistics on the spray painting of swastikas over the past four years, the law does not recognize spray painting swastikas as a separate category of crime. In the event that a swastika is spray painted on property, the perpetrator is punishable under Clause 196 of the criminal code – defacement of property. That is the crime as it is described by law. In accordance with this clause, a file is opened on every reported instance of graffiti, and not on the spray painting of swastikas alone. Therefore, I am not able to provide statistics on the spray painting of swastikas, as MK Aryeh Deri has requested. Of course, I condemn these actions entirely.”

Aryeh Deri then spoke up. “Mister Minister, with all due respect, I do not accept your answer regarding the mentally ill individual. Every time we bring up issues…”

Aharonovich interjected, “A person who was mentally ill was arrested, and he was released when it was found that he was completely uninvolved in the incident.”

“Then why did you mention it? What is the connection?”

Aharonovich said, “Because a person was arrested. There was an arrest, and he was held in custody for several days. The matter was investigated fully, and he was released because he was not involved.”

“Fine, but that isn’t relevant,” Deri said. “As you know, Mr. Minister, you said that the crime of spray painting swastikas on property is not a crime in and of itself; it is merely another form of vandalism. How can it be that the spray painting of swastikas is not viewed as a crime in its own right? I would like to ask if you intend to correct this matter by proposing a new law.”

“What needs to be corrected?” Aharonovich asked.

“Painting swastikas should be considered a hate crime. That is all,” Deri replied. “Is there any greater hate crime than that?”

“Then you submit the proposal,” Aharonovich responded.

These exchanges took place in Iyar of 5773 and Shevat of 5774, during the Nineteenth Knesset, when Aryeh Deri was an ordinary Knesset member. We are now in the Twentieth Knesset and Deri is the Minister of the Economy. It would seem that the time has come for a law to be advanced that will call for the desecration of a shul to be viewed as a crime distinct from the destruction of property. Not only are the two types of crime dissimilar, but such a law would make a clear statement that might affect the work of the police investigators. Based on the answers that have been given to various parliamentary questions, we know that the majority of incidents of shul vandalism have gone unresolved, and there have been far more such incidents than cases of vandalism at mosques, lehavdil.

 

Learning from Everything

Two weeks ago, I traveled with Rav Boruch Weisbecker to the Levin-Tabak wedding at a hall in an obscure town not far from Lakewood, NJ. We followed the directions that had been provided with the wedding invitation, but for added certainty, we used a GPS. Rabbi Weisbecker took an interest in the directions issued by the squawking, all-knowing device.

“Keep to the right,” the GPS ordered us, and Rav Weisbecker wondered aloud why it gave that instruction. I explained that we would need to make a right turn before long, and the device was programmed to warn us in advance, so that we would not have to cut across a lane or two in order to make the turn. When we made a wrong turn — an inevitable occurrence — the device announced that it was “recalculating” in the same tone it had used all along, without a trace of annoyance. The same thing happened again later in our drive, when we missed an exit. Rabbi Weisbecker remained fascinated by the gadget’s behavior.

You must understand that Rav Weisbecker is the rosh yeshiva of an institution attended by 600 bochurim. That yeshiva, Bais Mattisyahu, is considered one of the foremost yeshivos in the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel. It is a yeshiva to which hundreds of students vie for acceptance every year (at this time of year, in fact). Rav Weisbecker has taught many thousands of young men, some of whom are already roshei yeshiva in their own right, yet he listened to the directives of this tiny device and remained deep in thought.

 We were almost at our destination when Rav Weisbecker shared his thoughts with us. There were four of us in the car: Rav Weisbecker himself, me, Rav Eliyahu Pincus, who was driving, and Rav Aharon Dov Freund, who raises funds to provide for several hundred kollel families in Kiryat Sefer.

“This is a mussar haskel about how to deal with a bochur,” Rav Weisbecker said appreciatively. “First of all, it teaches us never to give up. Even when a bochur makes a mistake, you can always get him back on track. And even if he strays from the proper path repeatedly, you must not become angry or give in to frustration or annoyance. Rather, you must direct him back onto the proper path, speaking softly and pleasantly all the time. You must also remain constantly on guard to prevent him from stumbling, reminding him to ‘keep to the right.’

“And did you notice,” the venerable rosh yeshiva added, continuing to draw inspiration from the tiny electronic device, “that the GPS reminded us from time to time, ‘Keep on the New Jersey Turnpike’? Even when a bochur is on the proper path, when he is sitting and learning well, he deserves some attention from time to time. He must be patted on the shoulder and told, ‘You are on the right track. Keep going on this path.’”

 

Concocted Criteria

This year is a Shmittah year, and for several Shmittah cycles already, the government has allocated funds, albeit severely limited in quantity, to Shmittah-observant farmers. Everyone involved in the process, of course, endeavors to maximize the allocations to the area of particular concern for him. One person might press for support for the farmers who have taken it upon themselves to keep the laws of the Torah and to leave their flourishing hothouses unattended. Another might work to procure funding for the kollelim designed for Shmittah-observant farmers. And some might claim that the government should give priority to funding the various Otzar Bais Din organizations.

Ruth Calderon, a member of the Knesset under the previous government, pressured the chairman of her party, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, to allocate a portion of the Shmittah funding to schools — at the expense of Shmittah-observant farmers — for the purpose of “inculcating the ideals of Shmittah in students in keeping with a pluralistic spirit.” Fortunately, the demise of that evil government spared us from Calderon’s twisted designs. Interestingly, the greatest degree of admiration for Shmittah observers was expressed by the Minister of Agriculture, Yitzchok Shamir, the son of a man who never claimed to understand even an iota of Yiddishkeit. In any event, everyone now hopes that the chareidi parties in the coalition today will be able to increase the size of the budgetary pie.

An investigation conducted this week by an expert in the field revealed a disturbing clause among the criteria for funding formulated by the previous government: “Activities conducted on a volunteer basis will not count for purposes of support.” This paragraph makes the receipt of government funds contingent on employing workers for pay. Clearly, someone concocted this criterion for the purpose of preventing someone else from receiving a portion of the “pie.” It isn’t clear who is responsible for this clause, but it is abundantly clear whom it is designed to harm: an organization whose workers provide their services on a volunteer basis. In other words, this clause primarily targets the Otzar Bais Din organizations, which are careful to make sure that every possible shekel is directed to the farmers themselves, not to some administrative apparatus. The issue was brought to the attention of Dovid Azoulay, the Minister of Religious Affairs, who will certainly not allow any entity to be placed at a disadvantage for no reason. Nevertheless, it would be worthwhile to determine who had the temerity to create such a bizarre criterion and what legal authority approved it.

 

The Man at the Entrance to Yerushalayim

I promised you a story about Finance Minister Moshe Kachlon, and the time has come for me to make good on that promise.

Moshe Kachlon established a new party in the elections for the current Knesset. As was expected, his party was highly successful in the elections. Today, the party’s members include three government ministers, two of them occupying highly influential positions: Moshe Kachlon himself, who serves as the Minister of Finance; Yoav Galant, the Minister of Construction and Housing; and Avi Gabai, the Minister of Environmental Protection. Gabai is a minister but does not hold a seat in the Knesset.

Yoav Galant previously served as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the IDF and was supposed to succeed Benny Gantz, who recently retired from the position. Galant’s ambitions were dashed, though, by an investigation that revealed an irregularity in the construction of his palatial home. As a result of that investigation, appeals were made against Galant to the Supreme Court, and the government’s legal advisor announced that he would not be able to defend Galant’s appointment to the position. Galant therefore entered politics bearing the scars of his experience, yet determined to show that he was worthy.

Behind the Knesset plenum, there is a room that few people are permitted to enter. Everyone in that room is friendly. It is a place where everyone can speak openly, without fear of the prying ears of journalists or other interlopers. In that room, I have had several opportunities to speak with Yoav Galant, and it is clear to me that he is still deeply embittered.

In that very room, Moshe Kachlon once revealed to me that his mother had been hospitalized. “In which hospital?” I asked.

“Hillel Yafeh Hospital, in Chadera,” he replied.

“I wouldn’t want to criticize Hillel Yafeh,” I told him, “but there are other hospitals in the country that are somewhat better. As a government minister, you can certainly have your mother transferred to Hadassah in Yerushalayim, or to Tel Hashomer. Both of those facilities are medical institutions of renown.”

Kachlon disagreed. “Ultimately, it is Hashem Who heals,” he said. “It doesn’t matter which hospital you go to.”

I stood my ground, pointing out the obligation of hishtadlus. Kachlon didn’t quite understand my meaning, but he decided to tell me a story. “There was once a certain man who wasn’t exactly mentally stable, who had a habit of going to the entrance to Yerushalayim every morning to ‘direct traffic.’ The drivers of all the cars paid no attention to his gestures, of course. Instead, they obeyed the traffic lights at the entrance to the city, but this man was certain that he was directing the traffic and that everyone was complying with his instructions. This was especially true since he would motion for the cars to stop and go exactly in accordance with the traffic lights. One morning, he wasn’t feeling well, and his wife tried to convince him to go to the doctor. The man was horrified at the idea. ‘How can you suggest that I shouldn’t go to the entrance to the city?’ he demanded. ‘Do you want there to be a mega-tragedy? I am needed there to direct the traffic!’

“The point of this story,” Kachlon concluded, “is clear. The doctors only think that they are healing their patients, just as that man at the entrance to Yerushalayim thinks that he is controlling the flow of traffic. In reality, though, both are mistaken.”

 

Who Should Remain Home?

A distinguished man once went to Rav Elyashiv with a question that he described as a matter of life or death. “My eldest son has gone off the derech,” he said, “and the situation has reached the point that he is influencing his brothers and sisters. It’s not that he’s acting out of wickedness, but it’s still an issue of pikuach nefashos. He simply cannot remain at home!”

“What is your shailah, then?” Rav Elyashiv asked.

“I have the ability to send my son to stay with relatives, so that he won’t influence his siblings,” the father replied.

“And what will happen to him there?” Rav Elyashiv asked.

“Hashem should have mercy!” the father replied in a pained voice. “It is possible that his heart will be opened and he will return to Yiddishkeit.”

“Then what is the shailah?” Rav Elyashiv repeated.

“Should I remove him from my home and send him to live with relatives?” the father said.

Now Rav Elyashiv asked, “Is it possible for you to find relatives who will take care of all of your children?”

“For what?” the surprised father asked.

To the astonishment of everyone in the room, Rav Elyashiv ruled, “You should keep your eldest son in your home and pour all of your energy into him until he returns to Yiddishkeit – and his siblings should be sent to live with relatives!”

On the subject of chinuch, I recently heard another idea: The mashgiach of Yeshivas Be’er Yaakov, Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz, remarked, “The Chazon Ish said that every bochur today needs a mashgiach. The fate of every bochur will affect generations!”

After his address was over, I approached the mashgiach to seek an explanation. “Every bochur needs a mashgiach?” I repeated. “Is that because of the difficult situation today?”

Rav Moshe Dovid responded, “That is not the reason. It is because we must invest in every bochur. Every bochur needs all the love he can receive.”

“Did you hear that from the Chazon Ish yourself?” I asked.

“No,” the mashgiach replied. “My father, Rav Michel Yehuda Lefkowitz, heard it from him, and he passed the idea on to me.”

 

Hashgachah on the Way to the Kosel

In conclusion, another brief story on the subject of Hashgachah Protis: Someone recently asked me to drive him to the Kosel, since he had not been to the holy site for a long time. “You will also gain from it,” he told me. “You’ll be able to daven Maariv at the Kosel Hamaarovi.”

“Look,” I told him, “if I take you there, it will be solely for your sake, because the closest place I will be able to find parking will be near Kever Dovid, and I don’t have the energy to walk to the Kosel from there and back.”

The man was not convinced. “Have a little bitachon,” he said. “You’ll see that you will be able to park in the lot next to the Kosel.” I didn’t bother arguing, since experience has taught me that this individual always wins a debate.

As we drove toward the Kosel, after we had passed the entrance to the Jewish Quarter but before the police could motion to me to drive out of the Old City, it was evident that there was nowhere to park. “You see?” I whispered.

“Do you see?” he responded, pointing to Rav Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rov of the Kosel, who had just emerged from a nearby building. Rav Rabinowitz maintains a weekly chavrusahshaft, every Tuesday, with Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl. At the conclusion of their learning session, Rav Shmuel walks to the Kosel, where his car awaits him in the parking lot.

I pulled up alongside him, opened my window, and asked, “Would the rov like a ride?” Rav Shmuel had no need for a lift from that spot, but he agreed to join us, since his presence in the car automatically entitled us to enter the parking lot at the Kosel plaza. As my companion had said, all it took was a little bitachon.

In the end, I gained more than just the opportunity to daven Maariv at the Kosel. The visit gave me a chance, as always, to witness the incredible show of purity and deep-rooted spiritual yearning at the site of our Bais Hamikdosh. The sight of a small boy reciting Tehillim with profound intensity caught my eye. “What were you davening for so intently?” I asked him. He merely laughed and went on his way.

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