Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My Take on the News

Soldier Released to House Arrest

This week, I will begin my recap of the news by wrapping up some loose ends from last week.

First, let us return to the story of the soldier who shot the terrorist in Chevron. This soldier has been condemned from every direction, but he also has many supporters who have demonstrated on his behalf. The citizens of Israel are divided on the issue, but the leaders of the country’s security apparatus, including the chief of staff of the IDF and the Minister of Defense, have made strong statements against him.

This past week, the soldier was sent to house arrest, despite the prosecution’s demand that he be placed in a military prison. The hearing took place in a military court, and the judge explained that there are grounds for the presumption that the soldier felt that he was in mortal danger from the terrorist. An autopsy revealed that the terrorist was alive when the soldier shot him. This means, on the one hand, that the soldier is responsible for the terrorist’s death, but at the same time, it means that there was a basis for his fears. Other terrorists have attempted to commit murders even after they were wounded. The terrorist who attacked a bus stop on Rechov Malchei Yisroel, for instance, continued striking his victims with an axe even after he had been shot three times. Even after he fell to the ground, he got up again and struck one of the people at the bus stop.

This week, the soldier was released to house arrest. The charge against him, in any event, was already changed from murder to manslaughter, and now it has become a charge of disobeying orders. In short, the court’s decisions to date have wiped the smiles off the faces of Israel’s leftists.

Another major story last week was the situation concerning the Reform movement. They, too, have remained in the public consciousness, and it seems that they will continue to be there until the Supreme Court issues its ruling. The prime minister has instructed one of his close associates to attempt to reach an agreement on the subject. Binyomin Netanyahu understands that this subject is being discussed by the Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah – since, after all, the message came to him from the secretary of the Moetzes – and that he will not be able to deal with them in the same way that he deals with politicians. MK Moshe Gafni took advantage of the Degel HaTorah conference that was held last week at Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim, where he was the main speaker, to announce that we are in favor of compromising with the Reform by providing them with a designated area for their prayers, but we will never compromise on our principles. Let them do as they please in the area that is given to them, he asserted, as long as it is not connected to us. Gafni claimed that this was Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv’s stance as well.

When I mentioned that Gafni was the main speaker at the event, I should note that I was referring to the political portion of the conference. The other speakers included Aryeh Deri, as a guest speaker on behalf of the Shas party, and Menachem Eliezer Moses, who represented Agudas Yisroel. In the Torah portion of the program, it was Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman who was the main speaker, although he merely answered questions, rather than delivering an actual speech. For the keynote address itself, Rav Steinman asked Rav Gershon Edelstein to serve as the speaker.

The Winter Draws to an End

The closing of the Knesset for its Pesach vacation may not be the most important story in the news, but it certainly has major bearing on political events in the country. For the prime minister, it means that he will be spared from many major headaches. When the Knesset is not in session, he can enjoy some peace and quiet.

I often note that the Knesset is the only workplace in the world where people wish each other a “Pesach kosher vesomeiach” on Purim and a good new year on Tisha B’Av.

The final sitting of the Knesset was closed by Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset speaker. As usual, Edelstein used the opportunity to praise everyone involved in the Knesset’s work, asking his audience to hold their applause until the end of his remarks, since the list was long.

Edelstein proceeded to rattle off an endless list of people: the stenographers who record the protocols of the Knesset’s sessions, the managers of the various committees, the Knesset spokesman, the technical support staff, the employees in the printing and advertisement division (“for flawless professionalism and service, sometimes at a dizzying pace”), the maintenance staff, the cafeteria staff, the hardworking ushers, and so forth. “This brings the winter session of the second session of the Twentieth Knesset to a close,” he announced. “We will meet here at the beginning of the summer session, on Monday, the 15th of Iyar – the 23rd of May – at 4:00 in the afternoon, be’ezras Hashem. This sitting and the winter session are closed.”

The length of the Knesset’s recess provides a certain benefit in that it makes it possible for the building to undergo renovations without interfering with the work of the members of the Knesset. I have already begun to notice some repairs that were needed in the Knesset plenum. At the moment, the ceiling is being repaired. As for what will come next, the sky is the limit. It is quite amazing that the building is constantly under renovation.

This winter was a difficult time for the chareidi parties in the Knesset. Throughout the season, we were forced to work to restore all that had been taken from us by the enemies of the Torah world in the previous government. The current government has kept its commitments, though, and the budget for the Torah world has been restored to its previous levels. Laws have been passed to benefit individuals and the public alike, to provide for the poor and disadvantaged, and for the yeshiva world as well. Our representatives acted responsibly, wisely, and with integrity, and their efforts were blessed with success. The result has been a kiddush Hashem. The lawmakers of the chareidi parties have earned accolades from every sector of society.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the sitra achra went on the offensive again after the conference.

The Reform Movement Laments Its Losses

How can we be sure that we were successful this winter? The Reform Jews have told us. This past week, the Reform movement in Israel released a statement that this winter’s session was “one of the worst in the history of the religion and the state.” They are pained by “the transfer of large allocations to the religious.” I cannot help but wonder at their begrudging attitude toward the country’s Torah scholars. Does Reform “halachah” call for starving the Orthodox? And why are they fighting for chareidi enlistment in the army? The sentiments they have expressed leave me with the impression that they are simply opposed to religion, even when they stand to gain nothing from their positions.

One of their “rabbis” wrote the following: “The government has approved massive allocations that will encourage chareidim to remain in their yeshivos instead of going out to work and will fund schools without the core curriculum. The struggle for equality in sharing the burden has been set back by many years. Even more severe is the growing trend in the Knesset for the approval of unconstitutional laws. This coalition has marked itself as the enemy of democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of religion.”

He went on to bemoan the current state of affairs: “The budget of the Ministry of Religious Services, which was 376 million shekels under the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government, has been heavily inflated. The ministry’s effective budget in 2014 reached the sum of 687 million shekels, and in 2015 it jumped to 828 million…. In the budget of 2014, the allocations for yeshivos stood at 454 million shekels (not counting the supplementary income payments to avreichim), and in 2015 that number soared to 1.001 billion. This was a growth of about 120 percent. The budget for Jewish culture serves, among other things, as a pipeline for channeling funds into organizations associated with the chareidi parties, or organizations that promote teshuvah. In the state budget of 2014, these allocations totaled only 48 million shekels, but in 2015 the funding leapt to 133 million shekels, an increase of 177 percent.”

The writer went on to decry recent “unconstitutional” legislation and to express outrage at the statements made by chareidi figures against the Reform movement. His article was accompanied by charts and graphs illustrating his points, and a section was devoted to praise for the Yisrael Beiteinu party. As I read his words, I was remi0nded of the old joke about the Jew in Cracow who was reading a Yiddish newspaper and grew disconsolate over the Jewish people’s many woes. As he began to weep, his friend turned to him and said, “Why don’t you read Der Sturmer instead? You’ll be happy when you read their articles. They report that the Jews are controlling the world!”

If you don’t feel that you credit yourself with many achievements, you can always turn to an enemy to do it for you…

A Lesson in Nobility

Since I mentioned the Knesset and its employees, let me note that there are hundreds of people who work at daily jobs in the Knesset building. These people are government employees; they are not employed by the political parties.

One of the departments of the Knesset is the printing department, located in the newer wing of the building. The printing department is an elite department consisting of a group of about ten employees, who run an operation that would befit a printing house with at least twice the number of workers. These employees are subject to the random caprices of all 120 members of the Knesset and their aides, as well as those of the government ministers and their staffs. They provide their services to all the committees of the Knesset, to the Knesset’s legal department, and to the Knesset secretaries. Since the regulations of the Knesset require documents to be on the legislature’s table at specific times, the employees of the printing department often find themselves working at a frenetic pace. This is what Edelstein meant when he said that they sometimes work at a “dizzying pace.” The printing department has achieved record levels of efficiency and speed, yet its employees are constantly pleasant and prepared to offer their services without the slightest complaint.

The printing staff is known for their dedication and the excellence of their work. In fact, they received an award last year from the director-general of the Knesset. What is less known about them, but no less true, is the sense of unity and camaraderie that characterizes the department. Itzik Cohen, the assistant to department head Shlomo Levi, recently retired from his post after decades of service and a tender for the position was advertised. Most of the employees in the department, even the younger ones, submitted their own candidacies, presuming that the position would be filled by someone from within the department and not by an outsider. Bentzion Toledano did not apply, since he felt that it would not benefit him in any way. It was evident to all concerned that the position would be filled either by Chaim Ayubi or by Mordechai Gonen (a resident of the Mattersdorf neighborhood of Yerushalayim, who is one of the most exemplary workers in the Knesset). Ultimately, the position went to Ayubi, who is the most senior employee in the department.

Why is this interesting? Because the members of the committee handling the tender remarked that they had witnessed a remarkable phenomenon: Every candidate was asked during his interview why he felt that he was more suited to the job than his colleagues, and every one responded that the others were no less suitable than he was. The interviewers were astounded. Never before had they met a group of candidates for a job who insisted on praising each other in this fashion. At a modest reception in honor of Ayubi’s promotion, his colleagues truly rejoiced over his good fortune. Their good wishes for their colleague were neither faked nor forced. This is the way it is when people truly honor and appreciate each other. It is a trait that is even more admirable in a group of people who are accustomed to working under intense pressure.

The “ordinary” employees of the Knesset are certainly deserving of our appreciation; without them, after all, the government would not function. But above all, the employees of the printing department have taught us all a lesson in bein adam lachaveiro.

Challenging the Courts

The judicial system of the State of Israel is in an uproar in the aftermath of a conference of lawyers and legal experts in Eilat. The reason: At the conference, Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked lambasted the Supreme Court for “interfering in matters that are not its domain.” Shaked was sitting next to the chief justice of the Supreme Court when she made that incendiary comment, and she proceeded to twist the blade further without even batting an eyelash. “Once again,” she said, “the court has turned itself into a forum for the resolution of important political and microeconomic questions.” This makes Shaked yet another Minister of Justice who has dared to challenge the doctrine of former Chief Justice Aharon Barak that every issue is subject to the court’s authority, an approach that was adopted by all his successors.

If the country’s lawyers had spent less time vacationing and more time perusing their own publication, the journal of the Israel Bar Association, they might have spared themselves the shock over Shaked’s controversial statements. The limits of judicial authority have been debated by five Ministers of Justice (Professor Daniel Friedman, Tzipi Livni, Dr. Yossi Beilin, Chaim Ramon, and Meir Sheetrit), three justices of the Supreme Court (Yaakov Tirkel, Aharon Barak, and Meir Shamgar), and a number of attorneys and members of the Knesset. The most extreme views were represented by the obvious candidates: Aharon Barak, on the one hand, with his thesis that the courts have the right to weigh in on any issue, and Daniel Friedman, on the other hand, who is considered the main opponent to “Barakism.” What is most incredible, though, is the fact that both of them have cited the same example to illustrate their respective positions: the case of Aryeh Deri.

“Take the Deri scandal, for instance,” Aharon Barak declared. “Deri was prosecuted for a number of crimes, including taking bribes. According to the Basic Law of the Government, the prime minister has the authority to dismiss him. But the prime minister refused to do so. We decided – in a ruling authored by Meir Sheetrit – that the prime minister’s decision was unreasonable to an extreme degree, since it would have major repercussions on the government’s standing.”

Barak’s reasoning, though, is hardly convincing. He noted that the prime minister – in this case, Yitzchok Rabin – had the “authority” to dismiss Deri, not that he was obligated to do so. By definition, this meant that Rabin was entitled to choose whether he would exercise that authority. Barak went on to invoke the notion of the “enlightened community,” a term that he coined in his judgments and that he used as one of his chief weapons of destruction.

Daniel Friedman, meanwhile, made the following argument: “The question is, for example, if the dismissal of Deri or Pinchasi serves to protect human rights. One of the problems is that the court wants to be a player in the political arena, but it is not protecting human rights in that way. When the court decides to involve itself in subjects that are dealt with in the political arena, it is changing its own character. The price we pay is that the court disrupts not only the functioning of the other governing bodies, but its own functioning as well.”

Friedman, a first-class legal expert and a well-known professor who identifies with the center-left, is far more convincing than Barak, the father of the notions of the “enlightened community” and unlimited judicial authority. At least, I find Friedman’s arguments far more cogent.

During the current upheaval in his own life, meanwhile, Aryeh Deri is radiating an air of business as usual. True, the inquiry into his affairs has evolved into an official investigation, but for the time being, Deri has remained calm, and there have been no leaks to the media. The problem will arise if the investigation reaches the stage of interrogations and arrests. Let us hope that it will not come to that, and that the allegations against him will prove to be unfounded. In this country, sometimes there can be smoke without fire.

Donkey on the Menu in Tel Aviv

This past week, there was another uproar when a special unit of the Ministry of Agriculture discovered that donkey meat, camel meat, and meat from cows slaughtered by Arabs is being marketed to certain upscale restaurants: “Dixie” in Ramat Hachayal, “HaSinit HaAdumah” in Tel Aviv, “Zozobra” in Herzliya, and several other establishments with bizarre names such as “Topolopompo” and “Kimmel.” After the animals are “slaughtered” in keeping with Muslim practice – i.e., with a bullet – the meat is smuggled into Israel and marketed as the product of Jewish shechitah. Somehow, the epicureans of Tel Aviv were less perturbed by the fact that the kashrus certification was forged and more by the fact that they had consumed meat that had been produced under unsanitary conditions and whose expiration date had been falsified.

In fact, that is precisely the problem. The outrage of the media, too, had nothing to do with the fact that treife meat had been passed off as being kosher, even though the distress of the kosher consumer at being fed non-kosher food is far greater than that of the bon vivant who learns that his meal has passed its expiration date. Sadly, this is the attitude of the Israeli public today: If the flesh of a donkey is sold as beef, the public demands a criminal investigation, but if treife liver is passed off as being kosher, the people consider it a matter for the rabbonim.

We have been raising the alarm over this state of affairs for years. The Rabbinate should see to it that kashrus counterfeiters face criminal charges. If the perpetrators in the cases that were exposed this week are charged only with violating sanitary standards, and their forged kashrus certifications are ignored, it will be a serious lapse – of Israeli society as a whole.

If that happens, then the violations of sanitary standards will certainly decline, but the forging of kashrus certificates will not, for the courts will have shown the criminals exactly what is permitted and what is forbidden, and they will know which offenses will cost them dearly – and which ones will not.

A Flurry of Forgeries

On that note, it seems that in the period between Purim and Pesach, there is a sense of laxity in the food industry. This past week, the national kashrus division of the Chief Rabbinate sent out an email listing the various kashrus violations that have been discovered recently. The infractions included the sale of vodka containing treife flavoring that was similar in appearance to an unflavored, kosher vodka, and the marketing of treife meat in a restaurant in Netanya. As Pesach approaches, the frequency of forgeries has been growing exponentially. The Chief Rabbinate is tightening its supervision and increasing its fines, but the fines are simply not deterring the offenders.

Just recently, two notices were issued on the subject of forged kashrus certificates. One notice came from the offices of Rav Landau and warned the public about a certain liqueur that bore a falsified hechsher. “The hechsher is a complete forgery. I have never given a hechsher to his company, and I have never given a hechsher to a dairy liqueur,” Rav Landau asserted. The badatz of Rav Rubin, meanwhile, issued a warning about a brand of frozen French fries: “Although it bears the [forged] kashrus seal of the badatz mehadrin, it is not under our supervision and is not overseen by us at all.”

As I have mentioned in the past, I once had a debate with the attorney general of the State of Israel on this subject. After extensive remonstrations, he finally relented and wrote an opinion that forging a hechsher is a crime at least as severe as forging an official document and constitutes a criminal offense. Until that time, he had claimed that the only measures that could be taken against kashrus counterfeiters were administrative penalties – i.e., the imposition of fines. But despite the attorney general’s turnaround, the Chief Rabbinate seems to prefer imposing fines rather than pressing charges in court, even though experience has shown that only criminal charges serve to deter counterfeiters. Incidentally, the announcement from Rav Landau’s kashrus agency added that a complaint was filed with the authorities. I will certainly look into the outcome of that complaint. I presume that the “authorities,” in this case, are the police, and I will make an effort to prevent them from ignoring or covering up the case.

Would you like to know how many fines were levied by this special unit in the Chief Rabbinate? In 2012, the unit issued 846 fines. In 2013, the figure grew to 1,844, and in 2014, there were 1,800 fines. In 2015, it had levied 927 fines as of the date the statistics were collected. Over a period of five years, when the unit levied 3,464 fines, 515 of the violators asked for the case to be adjudicated in court, and another 588 paid the fine. The remaining cases are still “unresolved.”

Rav Edelstein Appears On Screen

Last Wednesday, I traveled to Bnei Brak to attend a dinner on behalf of the institutions of Rav Yaakov Edelstein in Ramat Hasharon. Rav Edelstein runs a kollel, an outreach network, and other institutions, all of which are in need of funding. Every guest at the dinner pledged a modest sum, but the organizers hoped that the guests of means would contribute much more. The event itself was sponsored by a generous individual from America, and as a result, all the proceeds of the evening went directly to the cause.

The event was particularly stirring. Rav Yaakov himself is ill and has been hospitalized at Tel Hashomer. He was supposed to be the guest of honor at the event. The solution to this problem was a video hookup between his hospital room and the hall where the event took place. In the hospital, Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin sat next to the venerated rov.

It was saddening to see Rav Edelstein surrounded by all the familiar trappings of a hospital room. It was even more saddening to see him in his weakened state. Even more than that, it was painful to see the tube running into his neck. He was barely able to speak; he could do nothing more than gesture with his hands and write messages on a piece of paper. One of the most emotional moments of the evening was when he asked for the song “Ana Avda” to be performed. Motti Steinmetz sang, and Rav Edelstein listened from his hospital room, closing his eyes and motioning with his hands. The guests in the hall wept.

Ultimately, I was informed that the dinner had been far more successful than the organizers had ever envisioned. Each guest received a copy of a sefer authored by Rav Yaakov. Allow me to quote a few lines from the sefer on the subject of suffering: “As we all know,” Rav Yaakov states, “Hashem has thirteen middos of rachamim. We must understand why the word ‘tov’ does not appear among the middos, although they do include ‘rav chessed,’ ‘rachum,’ and the like. After all, the word ‘tov’ is written many times in the Torah about Hashem. Why isn’t it included among the thirteen middos?”

Rav Yaakov answers his question: “Presumably, the reason is that ‘tov’ isn’t necessarily an attribute of mercy, for even when Hashem exercises His middah of judgment on a person, it is also for his benefit – if not for now, then for his future. Everything that Hashem does is good, but it is not always based on His attribute of mercy.”

Let us all wish Rav Yaakov a refuah sheleimah.

Bein Adam Lachaveiro

Nowadays, everyone has an explanation for the occurrence of tragedies. The gedolim often point to laxity in the laws of bein adam lachaveiro, which has the destructive capacity of a fire – and a fire can burn even long after it has been ignited. The retribution for an offense against another human being may come years later. A person who is concerned about events in his own life should ponder his past behavior and consider that he may have harmed someone in the past. There are many true stories about people who have made amends with friends, students, rabbeim or family members years after a conflict, and who subsequently were saved from their troubles.

In the same vein, but on a more humorous note, let me share the following amusing yet fictional story. A man who was suffering from terrible woes once asked a mekubal to rid him of the ayin hara that was responsible for his suffering. His tribulations were unbearable, he related, and his life was barely worth living. The mekubal collected his fee and advised the man to think back and try to recall if he had ever harmed or offended another person. It didn’t take long for the man to recall the most noteworthy such incident: In his youth, he had become engaged to a young lady and then had broken the shidduch.

“I advise you to find her and seek her forgiveness,” the mekubal said. “Go to the woman’s husband tonight and ask him to prevail on her to forgive you. Come back and tell me what happens,” he added.

The man accepted the mekubal’s suggestion and did as he was told. The next day, he returned to report on his experience.

“Did you do as I suggested?” the mekubal asked.

“Yes,” the man replied.

“And did the woman forgive you for not marrying her?”

“Yes,” the man replied hesitantly. “The only problem is that her husband won’t forgive me!”



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