My Take on the News

A Story Heard on Chol Hamoed

Pesach has just ended, and the Yom Tov alone could supply me with pages of material to write. Chazal teach us that the festivals were given to us for the sake of Torah learning, and in Eretz Yisroel there is a widespread practice to spend the days of Chol Hamoed running from one shiur to the next as part of the festivities surrounding the Yom Tov. All the country’s most prominent shuls make sure to organize a schedule of shiurim delivered by prominent rabbonim over the course of the Yom Tov, and to publicize a list of speakers and times.

In my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul, for instance, huge signs were posted before Yom Tov at the two main shuls to notify the public about the shiurim that were scheduled to take place. Over the course of the Yom Tov, the neighborhood was graced by visits from Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, the rov of the Old City of Yerushalayim; Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron; Rav Asher Weiss, gaavad of Darchei Horaah; Rav Noam Alon, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir in Modiin Illit; and Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook, rosh yeshiva of Maor HaTalmud in Rechovot.

I also took a peek at the list of shiurim at Shaarei Tevunah, the well-known shul in Ramot, and decided to attend one delivered by Rav Elimelech Biderman. It was a decision that I did not regret. The shiur was a delight. Allow me to share one of the anecdotes he recounted during his shiur. It is a well-known story, but with Rav Meilech’s narration, it seemed to come to life.

A Yerushalmi Jew who was marrying off his daughter once traveled to America to collect money for the wedding. In keeping with the common practice, he hired a driver to help him make the rounds of various Jewish communities, and the driver dutifully took him to the homes of several philanthropists every night. One evening, one of the wealthy man subjected him to a shower of verbal abuse. “Stop being such shnorrers!” he shrieked. “You Yerushalmis don’t know how to do anything but ask other people for money! Go to work!”

The visiting collector sat silently throughout the rain of insults. Finally, when the wealthy man’s harangue had ended, he took out his wallet and handed the sum of 600 dollars to his visitor. “Please tell me,” he said, “how is it that you sat quietly throughout my diatribe without uttering a word in response?”

The visitor replied with a smile, “My driver has a notebook with a list of names, and there are comments next to each name based on his prior experiences. He has recorded the best times to visit each possible donor, whether it is appropriate to say a vort, and what type of sentiments are the most meaningful to each person. Next to your name, he wrote, ‘Screams and insults visiting collectors, but ultimately gives 600 dollars.”

“You see,” Rav Meilech remarked after he had concluded this story, “in Olam Hazeh, we all suffer from all sorts of tribulations and abuse, but in the end we receive our true recompense. We become frightened and intimidated only because we don’t know about it in advance. If we were aware of the reward that awaits us after all our suffering, we wouldn’t be so daunted by the hardships we encounter.”

A Night at the Kosel

Another place I visited on Chol Hamoed was the Kosel Hamaarovi. After all, how could a person go through a Yom Tov without visiting the Kosel? Tens of thousands of people flocked to the holy site on the second day of Chol Hamoed in order to hear the massive Birkas Kohanim. I wasn’t there for the occasion, but I saw photographs of it. As always, it appears to have been a massive event. The brachos were led by a descendant of the person who first established this practice. This is a privilege that the family adamantly refuses to surrender – and rightly so.

My visit to the Kosel took place on a different day of Chol Hamoed and at a very late hour, when the police barricades had been removed and private vehicles were permitted to enter the Old City. It was evident that I was not the only person who had that idea. Even though it was 2:00 in the morning, the traffic within the Old City was so heavy that it would have been more expedient for me to make the trip on foot. On the way to the Kosel, the nighttime air of the Jewish Quarter was filled with music being played by bands of street musicians. The Kosel plaza itself was so packed with people that one might have thought it was the middle of the day. In the crowd, I spotted a number of prominent roshei yeshivos. As the hour drew closer to three in the morning, I found a minyan for Maariv as easily as if it were just after sunset. Another four minyanim sprang up around us as we davened.

I can never fail to be moved by the sight of people immersed in individual prayer in front of the Kosel. It is quite moving to see a man in a black-and-white-striped caftan standing next to a man in an IDF uniform, with a Litvishe bochur and a young Yerushalmi bochur rounding out the lineup. It is difficult for me to convey the feeling in writing. You would simply have to be at the Kosel on Chol Hamoed in order to understand. With Hashem’s help, may we all be in the rebuilt city of Yerushalayim next year.

The Terror Attacks That Didn’t Happen

This may sound bizarre, but what didn’t happen this Pesach is just as newsworthy as what did happen. I am referring, of course, to the lack of terror attacks, bechasdei Shomayim. It is no secret that when we celebrate our Yomim Tovim, our enemies do everything in their power to rob us of our joy. Some of the most devastating terror attacks have taken place just before Pesach.

This year, too, there was a bombing in Yerushalayim during the week before Pesach, when a terrorist blew himself up on board a bus. Incredibly, it was not clear at first if the explosion was deliberate or if part of the bus had blown up due to a malfunction. One of the blast victims brought to the hospital was a young Arab who was critically wounded in the explosion. After the doctors fought for his life for two days, his death was pronounced. Once he had died, the Hamas terror organization released an official statement claiming that he had been the terrorist. The perpetrator was a 19-year-old resident of a refugee camp near Bais Lechem. Two moderately wounded victims were hospitalized at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Yerushalayim: a 13-year-old boy and a 34-year-old man. Both had suffered wounds from a combination of shrapnel and burns.

Fortunately, Pesach itself went by in peace, but that is not to say that there were no attempted attacks. In fact, there was an attempted attack on Route 443, a major highway in the center of the country that leads from Yerushalayim to Modiin Illit and goes on to intersect with Highway One (the Yerushalayim-Tel Aviv Highway). In that incident, two female terrorists approached a military checkpoint on the highway and attempted to stab the soldiers stationed there. The Har Habayis was also a focal point for violent disturbances, but the violence ended with that, boruch Hashem.

As the posuk states, if Hashem does not protect a city, the guardsmen labor in vain. Nevertheless, we must still express our gratitude to those who stood watch and diligently worked to thwart the terrorists’ plans before they could come to fruition. People are happy when there are no terror attacks, but few are aware of just how many tragedies were averted by alert intelligence forces. Yaakov Peri, the former head of the Shin Bet, once remarked to me on that subject, “It’s a good thing that people don’t know.”

The window of my home overlooks the road leading out of Yerushalayim. Throughout the last day of Pesach, I saw a large number of ambulances racing out of the city with their sirens wailing. There were also a number of fire trucks speeding down the highway. The sight made my blood freeze.” In general, when there are many ambulances dispatched from the Magen David Adom station in Romema, it means that there has been a terror attack. I waited until Motzoei Shabbos to find out what had happened, and I was relieved to learn that the incident had “merely” been a car accident, which was no longer even reported on the radio.

The Lev L’Achim Convention

Over the course of the Yom Tov, as I was immersed in the sublime atmosphere of Pesach, I didn’t pay much attention to the discussions on the global scene concerning the State of Israel. After Pesach had ended, I discovered that regardless of how much we attempt to appear in the eyes of the world, the world will continue to be hostile toward the State of Israel in general and to Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu in particular. This past week, the opposition to Israel came from Germany and England: The Germans criticized Netanyahu scathingly, while England was the source of some blatantly anti-Semitic invective. Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone was quoted as declaring that Hitler supported Zionism before he exterminated six million Jews.

Naturally, Netanyahu has been radiating an air of business as usual. He claims that we simply misunderstood the Germans’ position. “Our relationship with Germany has never been better,” the prime minister claimed. On Erev Pesach, Netanyahu met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow and returned to Israel with an air of great satisfaction.

This week the annual convention of Lev L’Achim was held. Every year at this time, the organization holds a convention attended by the gedolei Torah and roshei yeshivos of the country. It is a highly impressive event, whose primary goal is to provide encouragement and a boost of motivation for the thousands of dedicated volunteers of the organization.

One of the highlights of the evening is a presentation of Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein’s answers to unique shailos that arrive at the desks of the directors of Lev L’Achim. For example, a newly religious boy once asked if he was permitted to ask his parents to buy him a motorcycle, when he knew that his brother would ride it on Shabbos. Another boy asked if he was permitted to lie to his mother about where he was going when he attended shiurim, since she had forbidden him to learn Torah.

Another of the convention’s major attractions is Rav Uri Zohar’s interviews with the baalei teshuvah of Lev L’Achim’s midrashot. This year, Rav Uri has adopted a posuk from Parshas Vayigash as his mantra: “Ve’avdecha arav es hanaar – Your servant has taken responsibility for the youth.” All of us, Rav Uri asserted, are responsible for the youth of Klal Yisroel who are pining for someone to bring them back to Yiddishkeit.

Yom HaShoah – In Nissan?

The subject of Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Memorial Day observed by the State of Israel, is one that offends observant Jews every year. When the day was first established, the Chief Rabbinate suggested that it be observed on the tenth of Teves, but the government of Israel preferred to adopt the 27th of Nissan instead. Ten years after the founding of the state, the Knesset passed a law titled “The Day of Commemoration for the Holocaust and Heroism.” The text of the law states, “On the memorial day, there shall be two minutes of silence observed throughout the country, when all work must cease and all traffic on the roads must stop. There shall be memorial services, public gatherings, and ceremonies observed on military bases and in schools. The flags on public buildings must be flown at half-mast and the radio programs should express the nature of the day. In places of entertainment, only topics that befit the spirit of the day shall be addressed.”

All of this, though, is more or less acceptable. Of course, there are some who object to the term “Shoah,” which is derived from the word shav (“in vain”). There is nothing that Hashem does that is “in vain,” they point out. Many also object to the siren that is sounded throughout the country, a practice that has no basis in Judaism. But an issue of far greater concern is the fact that this day was established specifically during the month of Nissan, when halachah prohibits hespeidim. It is as if the date was chosen specifically in defiance of this halachah. And then, to compound the offense, the country celebrates its independence on the fifth of Iyar, in the middle of Sefiras Ha’omer, on a date when music is categorically forbidden.

On the subject of Yom HaShoah, it should be noted that Yad Vashem recently received a valuable collection of previously unseen pictures from the Jewish ghetto in Bialystok, Poland. The pictures were taken by a Nazi soldier and were given to Yad Vashem by his son.

Attendance by Proxy

Every Wednesday, the Knesset begins its sitting with urgent parliamentary queries. Four or five government ministers are called upon to answer questions that the Speaker of the Knesset has approved as “urgent.” One of these queries was recently addressed to the Minister of Finance and bore the stinging title, “Your Presence at the Ministerial Committee for Legislation,” a reference to the finance minister’s failure to be present at the committee’s sessions. The response was delivered by Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchak Cohen. Cohen, who is not a minister, is not a member of the committee, which led some to be surprised by the fact that he was delivering the response. Moreover, it was difficult to understand why the query had been characterized as “urgent.”
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In his introduction, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein explained the unusual situation. “Members of the Knesset,” he said, “the question that is about to be presented by Knesset member Razvozov was not initially urgent. MK Razvozov submitted an ordinary query to the Minister of Finance and did not receive an answer in time. He then complained to the Knesset secretary and to the Speaker’s office about the lack of a timely response. It was almost automatic that I declared it an urgent query, so that the Knesset member would receive his reply in a timely fashion. Let this be brought to the attention of all members of the Knesset and all the ministers of the government, who are supposed to answer every parliamentary question on time.”

In fact, this procedure is codified in the Knesset regulations, although the members of the Knesset are not aware of it.

There are three types of parliamentary queries: an ordinary question, a direct question, and an urgent question. The former two are submitted to the Knesset secretary and passed along to the minister responsible for the matter, who is required to respond within 21 days. The response to an ordinary query is delivered in the Knesset plenum, while a direct query is answered in writing. An urgent query, in contrast, must be answered within two days, on Wednesday morning, and after the minister delivers his response, the Knesset member who submitted the question is permitted to ask additional questions. Two other members of the Knesset are also allowed to present questions to the minister, who is required to respond to all three. This turns the query into a mini-tribunal of sorts, which takes place at the beginning of the Knesset’s sitting on its busiest day of the week.

A member of the Knesset may attempt to submit an urgent query every week, but the Speaker of the Knesset has the final say on whether it will be recognized as urgent, and he recognizes only two urgent queries every year from each member of the Knesset. Of course, the unusual privilege accorded to MK Razvozov did not detract from his annual quota; it was a bonus of sorts.

Razvozov’s question challenged the Minister of Finance to explain why he had not been present at any of the sessions of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation during the current government. The response was delivered by the minister’s deputy, Itzik Cohen, who has been sent to the Knesset podium on many occasions to respond on his behalf – a typical practice of any government minister who has a deputy. Cohen explained that the Minister of Finance, Moshe Kachlon, relays his positions to the committee via a proxy, which was also the practice of his predecessor, Yair Lapid, the leader of Razvozov’s own party. Naturally, this point was a bit of a jab at Razvozov.

Razvozov parried, “Is the legislative process so unimportant to the minister? Is this going to be the practice of the Minister of Finance in every term – to transfer his authorities to others?”

Cohen replied, “That is no longer a parliamentary question. It is a matter of politics.” And he left the podium without responding further.

The Reform Movement’s Underhanded Tactics

Not long ago, I discovered that a representative of the Reform movement in Israel has been attending the sessions of one of the Knesset committees. I asked the committee chairman to explain her presence, and he told me that she was there in the context of a specific job. There were only two possible explanations for that: Either she has been attending the committee sessions under false pretenses, because her actual purpose in being there is to lobby on behalf of the Reform movement, or she has been openly advocating for the Reform movement, in which case her presence is even more deplorable. I investigated the matter further, and I discovered that her pretext for attending the sessions was her position as deputy chairman of a parents’ group in Yerushalayim. Is this a form of deceit?

This woman advertises herself as having worked most recently as “a lobbyist for the Center for Jewish Pluralism.” She does not claim to have terminated her work for that organization. Is she indeed representing the Reform movement? The committee records show that she participated in a discussion in the Knesset Education Committee regarding the organization known as Breaking the Silence; that fact alone should enable us to draw conclusions on the subject. Moreover, I called the Center for Jewish Pluralism and asked to speak with her. I was told simply that she wasn’t there at the time, but not that she no longer works there. The secretary even offered to take a message for her. Does that leave any room for doubt?

On a similar note, the State Control Committee recently announced that it would be holding a discussion after Yom Haatzmaut titled “Request for the State Comptroller’s Opinion on the Subject of the Legislation and Enforcement Concerning Rabbonim Engaging in Incitement – a Follow-Up Meeting.” The meeting was later cancelled, but the list of participating groups was interesting: the Israel Democracy Institute, the Ministry of Internal Security, the Reform Movement, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Justice, the State Comptroller’s Office, and the Tzohar rabbinical organization. One must wonder why the Reform movement is interested in enforcement of the law against rabbonim engaging in incitement. Has the committee become a political tool in the hands of the Yesh Atid representative who runs it? I tried to get answers to these questions from the committee, but I received no responses.

Motti Steinmetz at the Dead Sea

Following the resounding success of the Keren HaTorah organization in the neighborhood of Ramot in Yerushalayim (about which I have written in the past), it was only natural that other neighborhoods would follow in its footsteps. Recently, there was a gathering at Kibbutz Chofetz Chaim of neighborhood leaders from throughout the country who met with the leaders of Keren HaTorah in order to receive their guidance and instruction.

My own neighborhood of Givat Shaul also followed suit. Before Pesach, the neighborhood established an organization called the “Union of Bnei Hayeshivos of Givat Shaul.” This new organization was designed to aid the neighborhood’s residents with all of their needs throughout the year. It aims to prevent youths from leaving the derech and other problematic situations from arising. “We are not an imitation of Ramot,” one of the founders declared. “Rather, we are a continuation of Ramot.” This is the type of healthy competition practiced by our askanim.

Meanwhile, the branch of Keren HaTorah in Ramot known as “Irgun Bnei Hayeshivos” has been reaching new heights. On Monday, the tenth of Nissan, it held a special event titled “Gratitude, Praise, and the Proper Preparations for the Seder Night,” featuring the renowned speaker Rav Moshe Druk and singer Reb Motti Steinmetz. I was there, and it was indeed a moving event. Hundreds of yeshiva bochurim from Ramot were given an opportunity to go swimming in the Dead Sea, after which they were treated to a fantastic shmuess from Rav Druk and zemiros sung by Motti Steinmetz, continuing until the wee hours of the night.