Snippets in Israel

We have also been through a major development in a case whose details, for the time being, are not permitted to be publicized, but I assume that by the time you read these words, all of the details will already be known. It is difficult to keep anything a secret in Israel, and everyone knows that the case involves the capture of the arsonists who set fire to the Dawabshe home in the Arab village of Duma, causing the deaths of three members of the family. By Thursday, the court allowed the release of some information. (Parenthetically, someone told me that the suspects who were arrested live in my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul. It will be interesting to see if this rumor turns out to be true when all the details are released.) It is almost certain that the anti-Jewish incitement will reach a peak in the aftermath of this news, even though Arab terror has been dealing frequent blows to the country, while the incident in Duma itself highlights how unusual Jewish terrorism is. From the Arabs’ point of view, this incident is perfect fuel for fanning the flames of incitement.

 And then there was the “racist video” that roiled the country. A certain construction company that is building a residential project for the dati-leumi community released a video touting the fact that dati-leumi residents will find the neighbors there to their liking. The video shows a pleasant family lighting Chanukah candles, when a group of ill-mannered, ugly neighbors suddenly barge into their home and mistake the candles for a barbecue grill – in the middle of the living room. The “racist” component of the video is the fact that the family members are white-skinned – i.e., Ashkenazim – while the uncouth interlopers are Moroccan. The video led to a massive hue and cry, and the Minister of Housing appealed to the state legal advisor to disqualify the company from receiving any of the Housing Ministry’s construction tenders.

On the subject of racial tensions, there was another brouhaha this week: The design of the new 200-shekel bill was released, leading to another outcry over the fact that all of Israel’s currency bears the image of famous Ashkenazic figures. Aren’t there Sefardic poets and academics who are equally worthy of being featured on the bills? The fury evoked by this bill became a major focus of the media this week, especially when it was discovered that the committee within the Bank of Israel that designs the country’s bills is made up exclusively of secular Ashkenazim, with one exception: an Arab.

The Minister of Defense Clarifies Matters

In recent days, the Minister of Defense has become more of a politician and less of a defense minister. In the course of the dispute regarding the Ayeles Hashachar shul in Givat Zeev, he elicited outrage by making harsh statements against the mispallelim of the shul, drawing no distinction between the hilltop youth and the regular residents of Givat Zeev.

But the foolishness of those comments paled in comparison to his public statement this week about the security situation. In my opinion, the Minister of Defense has truly outdone himself this time. Here are his words: “I don’t know how long the wave of terror may last. There might be calm, but it is also possible that there will be an escalation. We know what we know, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we are doing what we can to prevent hostile terrorist activity. Of course, the results of the incidents will also have an effect on future events.”

Well, that certainly made everything clear!

Increased Chillul Shabbos

More than by anything else, we were troubled by the marked increase in chillul Shabbos in Yerushalayim. It began with a local newspaper in Yerushalayim, which set out to map the locations of restaurants that are open on Shabbos in the city and discovered that there are dozens of such establishments. This is a trend that is growing on a regular basis and has its roots in the current security situation. Until now, any Jew who wanted to eat in a restaurant on Shabbos would go to East Jerusalem, where there are restaurants owned by Arabs. Those restaurants, of course, are completely treif, and their owners are not bound by the law that prohibits Jews from opening stores on Shabbos. But now, with the fear of stabbing attacks, the demand has risen for restaurants to open on Shabbos in the western part of Yerushalayim. In fact, many Jewish-owned restaurants have indeed begun operating on Shabbos in the city.

This distressing phenomenon continued with a debate in court regarding the Cinema City complex in Kiryat Hamemshalah in Yerushalayim. The municipality originally decided that Cinema City would be closed on Shabbos, but someone appealed to the Supreme Court to nix the decision, claiming that the owners of the stores and movie theaters in the complex wanted to open their businesses on Shabbos, but the municipality wasn’t allowing them to do so. In March this year, the court ordered the City Council to reopen its discussions of the subject. The result that the court intended to achieve was abundantly clear. The City Council prepared to discuss the matter, in keeping with the court’s ruling, but the business owners in the complex announced this week that they were no longer interested in opening their establishments on Shabbos. The result was that the appeal to the Supreme Court – which had allegedly been lodged for the benefit of the business owners themselves – was completely undermined.

This past week, a meeting was held in an effort to reach a compromise regarding Shabbos observance in the country. It was suggested that stores on the streets would remained closed on Shabbos, but businesses in shopping malls would be permitted to open. This idea was promoted by Mayor Ron Chuldai of Tel Aviv. Of course, it is completely unacceptable to the chareidi community. No Jew can possibly support chillul Shabbos, wherever it takes place. The problem is that the city of Tel Aviv must respond to the Supreme Court on the subject, since an appeal was submitted to the court to compel the city to permit stores to open in shopping malls on Shabbos.

On that note, I have written in the past about the Sharona complex, whose organizers forced the owners of the stores within the complex to sign a commitment that their businesses would operate on Shabbos. It has since become clear that those who suffered the most from this enterprise were the local residents, who have lost their only quiet day of the week. Since the complex opened, the frenzy of activity on Shabbos has driven its neighbors mad. They have now petitioned the municipality to order the stores closed on Shabbos…

In the city of Beit Shemesh, meanwhile, a large group of rabbonim gathered this past Motzoei Shabbos, led by the members of the “Rabbinical Vaad for the Sanctity of Shabbos in Eretz Yisroel.” The stated purpose of the gathering was “to strengthen the bulwarks of Shabbos against the chillul Shabbos that is tragically increasing throughout the country.”

One of the resolutions made at the gathering was to raise public awareness that products manufactured through chillul Shabbos should not be purchased. One of the members of the rabbinic committee shared a relevant p’sak of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, who was asked by the administration of Lev L’Achim if they could take a group of irreligious youth on a trip to a place that is not Shabbos-observant. Rav Shteinman ruled that it is forbidden. The questioners pointed out that in a different venue, the entertainment potential of the trip would be reduced, and their kiruv efforts would be hampered. Rav Shteinman replied, “There is no heter. No spiritual benefit can come from going to a place that is mechallel Shabbos.”

Israel’s “Laquan”

Half a year ago, the State of Israel was in an uproar over the brutal beating of Damas Pakada at the hands of two police officers – one from Yassam and the other a volunteer – in the Jesse Cohen neighborhood. The two officers were so focused on the beating that they failed to notice the nearby security camera that captured the entire incident on film. The video sparked riots in the Ethiopian community, which demanded vengeance for the act of unprovoked violence. This time, the Israeli public supported the Ethiopians, especially when it was proven that Pakada had not been guilty of any wrongdoing, and even more because he was a soldier who was in uniform when he was assaulted. It seemed that the Ethiopians had been suffering from a massive amount of pent-up rage and resentment, long-simmering emotions that were merely waiting for a pretext to burst to the surface. The situation is reminiscent of what is taking place in Chicago right now, after Laquan MacDonald, a black man, was shot by white police officers.

In the wake of the attack on Pakada, the country was inundated by a wave of riots. The police commissioner ordered his officers to instruct the police on the streets to show restraint – in other words, not to respond to the rioters with violence and blows, but to show sensitivity, at least this time, as long as the cameras were recording them. The “shocked” prime minister invited Damas Pakada to his office and embraced him in front of the cameras. The president of the country called for intensive introspection on the subject of “the attitude of law enforcement toward various populations in Israeli society.” But then time passed, and the initial outrage subsided, until the next episode, which will undoubtedly come.

Meanwhile, Damas Pakada recently told Bamachaneh, the magazine of the IDF, “The video was a miracle. One of the boys in the house where the camera was hanging teaches me Torah once in a while, and another boy plays soccer with me in the neighborhood. To this day, I can hardly believe that I was attacked outside that house. If there hadn’t been a camera there, if the incident had happened just one courtyard over, I would have been in jail today. The police kept telling me that once two officers testify against you, you will be behind bars. When that video came out, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

What has happened since the incident? Damas Pakada, an orphan from both parents and an outstanding student in school, is still in the army. “My motivation to reach officer status has only increased,” he says. He hopes that the exceptions committee will approve his request to interrupt his service for an officers’ course. Meanwhile, it was decided this week that the police officer involved in the affair will not be tried. A statement released by the police force explained that “in light of the dismissal of the officer from the police force, it was decided that there is no reason to take any further disciplinary steps.”

Rabbi Miller’s Tapes

Last week, I wrote about the Shuvu delegation to Eretz Yisroel, focusing on their visit to the Knesset and their meetings with various government officials. But in a way, that article overlooked the main purpose of their visit, which was to see the schools of the Shuvu network. The delegation members also visited Rav Chaim Kanievsky at his home in Bnei Brak, as well as Rav Yaakov Edelstein at his shul in Ramat Hasharon, emerging from each visit deeply affected by the experience.

The leading figure in the delegation, without question, was Rabbi Eliyahu Mansour. I am sure that many of you have heard his shiurim. Personally, I once visited his shul in Flatbush to hear a shiur after I learned of his reputation and my curiosity was piqued. I am certain that many of my readers who haven’t actually been to his shul have nevertheless heard recordings of his shiurim.

When I met Rabbi Mansour, I remarked that he is undoubtedly one of the greatest mezakei harabbim in the Jewish world, since every shiur he delivers is recorded and disseminated, with tens of thousands of copies being distributed. I added that he is following in the footsteps of Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l. Years ago, I learned about the incredibly prolific production of cassette tapes from Rabbi Miller’s shul. In a small apartment on Fifteenth Avenue in Flatbush, a great tzaddik named Rabbi Reuven Beck –father-in-law of Rabbi Gershon Bess of Los Angeles and of my brother, Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakovson of Flatbush – sat and produced cassette after cassette, disseminating innumerable recordings of Rabbi Miller speaking. The entire Shas, taught by Rabbi Miller, was recorded and copied onto tapes, and the demand was so great that the machines that copied the tapes could not keep up. I fondly recalled attending Rabbi Miller’s shiurim and watching him daven on Shabbos when I was a guest at my brother’s home.

“I hope I am fortunate enough to follow in his footsteps,” Rabbi Mansour replied.

At the end of the Shuvu trip, Rabbi Mansour and his companions returned to America deeply moved by their experiences, both the sight of the incredible fruits of Shuvu’s educational network and their moving encounters with the great luminaries of our people in Eretz Yisroel.

A Fine for Forgeries

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel is in the process of disseminating an email alert about the presence of fake oils on the market. The deception is twofold: First, these products are being passed off as pure olive oil, and second, the hechsher printed on the label – whether it is the seal of the Eidah Hachareidis, Rav Rubin, or Bais Yosef – is forged. The so-called “kosher olive oils” on the list are actually neither kosher nor olive oil.

Many years ago, I argued with the attorney general at the time – who is now a justice on the Supreme Court of this country – as to whether forging a hechsher should be considered an administrative offense or a criminal one. He eventually accepted my position, and as a result, the monitors working for the Chief Rabbinate now have the authority to levy a monetary fine on the perpetrators of these forgeries for their administrative offenses or press criminal charges against them. For some reason – perhaps because of the revenues it generates – the monitors prefer to impose fines, but as long as the penalty for forgeries is merely a monetary one, there is no question that they will continue. Experience has shown that the fines are not a sufficient deterrent. After all, the Rabbinate’s list of forgeries grows longer with every passing year. It seems that only criminal sanctions will put an end to the phenomenon.

And the same is true of the forgeries that are perpetrated all year long. This past week, a certain kashrus agency released a warning to the public, informing consumers that a particular brand of frozen French fries, under the brand name “McCain,” carries its seal fraudulently. But did the Badatz in question file a complaint with the police rather than merely publicizing the forgery? If they failed to do so, then they have indirectly encouraged others to falsify hechsheirim. What could they lose by turning to the police for help?

Chillul Shabbos and Rabin’s Legacy

The memorial day for Yitzchok Rabin is on the 11th of Cheshvan. This year, the date fell on Shabbos, and the events scheduled for that day were therefore postponed to the following Monday and Tuesday. The memorial rally in Rabin Square was held on the following Motzoei Shabbos, the 18th of Marcheshvan, October 30, exactly one month ago. That week, Shabbos ended at 5:29, while the rally was set to begin at 8:00 in the evening. There was plenty of time to prepare for the event without trampling on the sanctity of Shabbos.

It has now been discovered, though, that hundreds of people violated the Shabbos because of this event. Some of these people were maintenance workers, stage workers, and many others who were involved in organizing and producing the event – people who have no qualms about desecrating the Shabbos, although it is clear that the chillul Shabbos could have been prevented if the event had been held at a different time. But then there were others who were forced to violate the Shabbos – the security guards, soldiers, police officers, intelligence officers, and Border Guard policemen who were responsible for securing the area of the rally. An investigation that took place a bit too late revealed that the security forces began to be deployed in the area at 4:30 on Shabbos afternoon. For those who arrived from remote locations, this meant that they began being mechallel Shabbos early in the day. Some of those people are generally Shabbos observant.

This was not a case of pikuach nefesh. The rally was part political event and part festival. Of course, we cannot force those who wish to carry on Rabin’s legacy to observe Shabbos, nor is there any sense in forcing them to respect those who do observe it. Such respect would have to come from within them, but we can certainly expect them not to force others who keep Shabbos to desecrate the day, whether for religious reasons or on the basis of humanistic considerations.

My Gratitude to Hashem

And now, a personal note:

Last Wednesday, I had a grandson. He is a healthy baby boy, with two feet and two hands. A healthy baby! You are undoubtedly wondering why I am so emotional about this. For one thing, we should be moved whenever a child is born in good health. Every birth is a miracle and cannot be taken for granted. Aside from that, the doctor in the medical clinic who cared for the young mother – my middle daughter – professed to “know” over the past few months that the child would not be born in good health. This was as clear to the doctor as the daytime sun. Her only uncertainty was regarding the type and extent of the damage that the child had suffered. From her perspective, we simply had to make peace with the fact that it had been decreed upon us to raise a child and grandchild who would be severely sick.

The doctors advised us to perform many tests, some simple and others quite complex, some more dangerous and others less so. For our part, we did what any Jew would do: We asked a rov. Rav Chaim Kanievsky advised us not to perform any tests, adding, “Everything will be all right.” We received the exact same response from Rav Yaakov Edelstein.

Professor Samuelov, the director of the maternity department at Shaarei Tzedek and a wonderful man and highly professional doctor, understood our approach, with the rov having far more say than a doctor in a medical clinic. Nevertheless, he asked us to perform an echocardiogram, since it could have practical implications for us: If the defect was in the heart (and I remind you that the doctor was certain that there would be a defect; she was only uncertain as to where it would be), then the birth would have to take place in Schneider’s hospital, rather than in Shaarei Tzedek. We consulted with Rav Chaim Kanievsky again, and we saw that he was not in favor of the test, but he instructed us to present the question, in his name, to Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein. Rav Zilberstein ruled that the echocardiogram should be done, and the results showed that the baby’s heart was in perfect condition.

We breathed a sigh of relief – both because we preferred to have the birth take place at Shaarei Tzedek, a hospital that is familiar to us, and because we could at least be certain that the baby’s heart was functioning properly. At the very least, we knew we would not be forced to fly to Boston with the newborn infant after birth.

On Tuesday evening, after a regular checkup at the clinic in Beit Shemesh, my daughter was told by her doctor to hurry to Shaarei Tzedek, even though her due date was still far away. The reason: The doctor saw that there was a problem; the baby hadn’t grown in a month. When she arrived at the hospital, they decided to induce labor. “Go home,” they told my daughter, “and come back tomorrow morning for the birth.” She and her husband made their way to my home in Yerushalayim to prepare for the following morning.

I stayed up late that night, reciting Tehillim and studying the subjects of emunah and bitachon in order to prepare for what awaited us. In the course of those efforts, I came across a powerful insight. There is a posuk in Tehillim (32:10) that states, “The wicked man has many pains, and he who trusts in Hashem will be surrounded by kindness.” The Malbim explains that this doesn’t simply mean that an evil person suffers from pains while a tzaddik receives Heavenly kindness. Rather, the very same things that pain a wicked man are viewed as acts of chessed by a person who trusts in Hashem, for his bitachon leads him to be certain that even his suffering is sent by Hashem for his benefit.

On Wednesday morning, a baby boy was born – a son to my daughter, and a grandson to me – and he was completely healthy. His arms, his legs, and all the other parts of his body were healthy and whole.