Monday, May 10, 2021

My Take on the News

Rabbi Eichler and the Yakir Yerushalayim Award

Things certainly move fast in the State of Israel. The public has already gotten used to the idea of Avigdor Lieberman serving as the Minister of Defense, and the discussions over the state budget for the next two years have begun. The Knesset has also started its work for the summer. Last Wednesday, the government held a special session in one of the neighborhoods of Yerushalayim as part of its preparations for Yom Yerushalayim, the 28th of Iyar, the day when the Old City and the Kosel Hamaarovi were liberated from Arab rule.

In conjunction with Yom Yerushalayim, Monday marked the annual Yakir Yerushalayim award ceremony, when the citizenship prize was presented to the selected winners, including Rabbi Menashe Eichler. Summarizing Rabbi Eichler’s achievements, the award committee wrote, “Rabbi Menashe Eichler was born in 1929 and is a member of the fourth generation of his family in Yerushalayim. As a child, he attended Talmud Torah Shomrei Chomos and Yeshivas Toras Emes. Under the British Mandate, he joined the underground organization Lochamei Cherut Yisroel (Lechi), which was active in Yerushalayim. As part of a large group of about 20 young chareidim who joined Lechi and excelled as fighters in a number of battles, he helped drive away the violent Arab thugs who threatened Jewish neighborhoods. During this period, Menashe Eichler set out to aid people in need in the besieged city during the War of Liberation, and along with his brother, he established the organization known as Masmidim to support the city’s youth. Menashe fought in the Six Day War and in the Yom Kippur War, and was fortunate enough to see the Kosel Hamaarovi on the day it was liberated. He also volunteered for the military rabbinate and oversaw the work of identifying the dead and bringing them to burial in Israel. He founded one of the chevrah kadishah societies in the city and ran it for many years. He dedicated his life to the preservation of mekomos hakedoshim throughout Israel and in Yerushalayim in particular.”

I asked Rabbi Eichler’s son, MK Yisroel Eichler, why the committee’s statement doesn’t mention the decades during which his father lived near the tziyun of Rav Shimon bar Yochai in Meron and was considered the man most closely identified with it. He replied, “They mentioned only the things that were related to Yerushalayim.” In any event, the ceremony was very meaningful.

Another recipient of the prize was Professor Mordechai Eliav, also known as Rabbi Avrohom Mordechai Lauber. He was born in Poland in 1920 and came to Eretz Yisroel in 1934. When the state was first founded, he traveled to Germany to work as a teacher in the DP camps. He went on to assist the youth aliyah in Eretz Yisroel, and after the state’s founding he helped guide the young immigrants from Yemen. He has a fascinating life story. I interviewed him at length and will endeavor to write about it next week.

Almost Half of Yerushalayim’s Population is Arab

This year, as always, the Central Bureau of Statistics has provided us with some new statistics about the city of Yerushalayim. Here is some of the information it supplied:

First, Yerushalayim is the city with the largest population in the State of Israel. Today, the city is home to 870,000 residents, in contrast to the population of 84,000 that it contained in 1948, when the state was founded. This is certainly an indication of dramatic growth.

This number includes the Arab residents of the city as well. In 2014, the population of Yerushalayim was measured at 850,000 people, of which 320,000 were Arabs. That means that about 40 percent of the city’s populace at the time was Arab. That is quite a large percentage.

Aside from the city’s natural growth, where does the influx of residents come from? Statistics show that most people who move to Yerushalayim come from one of three cities: Beit Shemesh, Tel Aviv, and Bnei Brak. Among those who leave the city, most relocate to Beit Shemesh (these are chareidim seeking less expensive housing), Tel Aviv (chilonim who have grown tired of the city’s increasingly chareidi character), and Givat Ze’ev (which is located near Yerushalayim and, like Beit Shemesh, receives some of the city’s chareidi residents).

The average family size in Yerushalayim has been calculated at 3.8 people, a figure larger than the national average of 3.3. Most of the city’s residents have lived there for many years. Over three quarters of the residents of Yerushalayim have been in the city for over 20 years. According to the survey results, one-third of the city’s residents define themselves as chareidi, while another 17 percent call themselves dati. Only 21 percent of the residents of Yerushalayim consider themselves chilonim. It is curious that the mayoral elections in the city did not appear to have been influenced by these percentages.

The bureau also determined – in what was likely a conclusion that could be taken for granted – that Yerushalayim has the highest tourism rate of any city in Israel. But in addition to all these encouraging statistics, there is one that is saddening: Yerushalayim is the city with the lowest income in the country.

A Two-Day Yahrtzeit

Another occasion marked this week in Yerushalayim was the annual pilgrimage to the kever of Shmuel Hanovi. This took place on Motzoei Shabbos and Sunday, and it continued through Monday evening. According to Rav Yosef Schwinger, the director-general of the National Center for Holy Sites in Eretz Yisroel, there were about 80,000 visitors to the kever during that time.

I presume that you know where the kever is located, but for those who are not familiar with it, I will explain. If you drive toward the neighborhood of Ramot in Yerushalayim and continue straight on the road, you will eventually pass Ramot in its entirety and will be continuing toward Givat Ze’ev and Har Shmuel. Until the new highway was built, this was also the way to Modiin, Kiryat Sefer, and Tel Aviv. On the right side of this road, between Ramot and Givat Zeev, is the kever of Shmuel Hanovi. This week, the masses of visitors to the kever led to the road being closed to traffic.

I asked Rabbi Schwinger why the visits to the kever continued for two days. “There is a dispute as to whether Shmuel Hanovi’s yahrtzeit is the 28th of Iyar or the 29th,” he explained, “and people come on both dates. Many people want to fulfill both views, so they come before shkiah on the 28th and stay into the night of the 29th. In any event, it has long been established that the hillula is observed for two days.” This year, the 28th of Iyar was on Sunday, so the hillula began on Motzaei Shabbos and continued through Monday.

Another event during these days, which had nothing to do with Yerushalayim, was the yahrtzeit of the Shela Hakadosh. The Shela is buried in Teveria, in close proximity to the Rambam and Rav Yochanan ben Zakai. It is considered highly auspicious to recite the Tefillas HaShelah on Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan, certainly at his kever. Indeed, this year there was a large influx of visitors at the kever.

When Reason Fails

Now for some political news: This week, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman became a national hero by negotiating a compromise between Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman. Nevertheless, a shadchan always takes a risk. If the “marriage” he arranges meets with failure, he will be the target of resentment. We have yet to see what the results will be of Litzman’s gamble in this respect. In any event, the same Yaakov Litzman recently went to the Knesset podium to respond to the parliamentary queries submitted by various members of the Knesset, but none of those lawmakers were present, and he left the podium without delivering a single address. He was particularly irked by the incident, since he had come to the Knesset solely to respond to their queries. The chairman of the sitting apologized.

Until a few years ago, parliamentary queries were a very important part of the work of every member of the Knesset. There was no more effective tool to extract information, to overcome barriers, and to help average citizens caught in a tangle of bureaucracy. If a Sefer Torah was stolen or a cemetery was vandalized, a single parliamentary query would see to it that the investigation was taken seriously. If the National Insurance Institute was derelict in paying a stipend or the Ministry of Transportation neglected to dismiss a reckless bus driver, the process would be accelerated by a parliamentary query. In most cases, the officials concerned were so intimidated by the query itself that the response, when it was received in the Knesset, was already favorable. After all, the minister responsible for the matter addressed by the query – or a member of his office – is charged with responding to it in the Knesset itself.

Every member of the Knesset has submitted dozens of queries. The chareidi Knesset members (as well as the Arabs) have used this device hundreds of times. It was always a highly effective and popular tool. Although the lawmakers who submitted the queries were not always present to hear the responses, they relied on the fact that those responses would be presented in the Knesset, and they could be read in the protocols of each Knesset sitting. Several years ago, though, in an effort to maintain the dignity of the Knesset and the government ministers, it was decided that no response would be delivered to a parliamentary query, nor would it be recorded in the Knesset protocols, unless the individual who submitted the query was present. The result was that the proverbial baby was thrown out along with the bathwater: The number of queries submitted to the government ministers has declined drastically, almost to zero. This does not prevent the Knesset members from continuing to submit queries, but they tend to take the form of direct questions, which are answered in writing, rather than ordinary queries, which must be answered in the Knesset plenum. At this point, regular parliamentary queries have become virtually unheard of, while the use of direct queries has increased dramatically.

The only possible explanation for this is that the decisions made in the Knesset are not always based on reason.

The Prisoner’s Son

In order to illustrate the efficacy of a parliamentary query, I will cite several examples. The Minister of Finance – who presides over the Bank of Israel, which, in turn, is responsible for all of the country’s banks – was asked why Bank HaPoalim chose to close its branch in the city of Kiryat Sefer (also known as Modiin Illit). Even the automatic banking machine was slated to be shut down, leaving the bank’s customers in the city with nowhere to conduct their banking. The minister responded that the Bank of Israel does not have the authority to intervene in the bank’s decision to close the actual branch, but the machine would not be removed. Thus, the query led to a slight improvement in the situation.

Also on the subject of Modiin Illit, the Minister of Transportation was asked to correct the current situation, in which the 230 bus from Bnei Brak to Brachfeld does not have a stop at the Shilat Junction. The query pointed out that there was a need for at least one express bus route to the junction. In his response, the minister announced that the staff of his ministry would begin working on an improved system immediately, and that they would examine the possibility of arranging for direct transportation from Brachfeld to the Shilat Junction.

In another instance, in response to a request from the residents of the Mekor Baruch neighborhood of Yerushalayim, the Minister of Health was asked to explain the closing of the Tipat Chalav clinic in the neighborhood. (Tipat Chalav is a government-run agency that provides health services for babies.) In his response, the minister enumerated the other locations of Tipat Chalav in the area, which would service the residents of the neighborhood, and added, “I am now working personally to restore the services of Tipat Chalav to the area of Mekor Baruch.”

One last example: The Minister of Internal Security was asked to explain why an inmate in prison had been denied visits from his son, who was suffering from cancer. The wardens of the prison had offered weak – and, in fact, infuriating – arguments to justify their refusal. When the prisoner asked for the visiting time to be extended from half an hour to an hour, and to be guaranteed that his son would not be forced to wait in the brutal heat of the sun – which can be very dangerous to patients receiving chemotherapy – the officials laughed at his requests. In response to the query, Minister Erdan wrote, “In accordance with the request of the prisoner in question, a longer visit with his son was recently approved.”

You can certainly see that a parliamentary query can be a highly effective means of bringing about a resolution for all sorts of problems.

A Friend of the Chareidim?

I mentioned that the government is currently working on its annual budget – or, in this case, a two-year budget. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kachlon have promoted the passage of a biennial budget, despite fierce opposition to the idea. Some of their opponents have based their positions on professional calculations, but many prefer an annual budget simply because the discussions offer them an opportunity to attack the government, and the two-year budget will deprive them of this yearly pleasure. I wrote about this subject at length in last week’s Yated.

We, the chareidim, must sit silently as the funding promised to us in the coalition agreements is approved in the Knesset Finance Committee. That is the wisest thing for us to do – to be silent and to allow the budget to be put together as it must. There were times when the entire country despised us and accused us of extortion. This time, Hashem has been kind to us and allowed the budgetary wrangling to take place out of the public view.

Last week, after Avigdor Lieberman demanded millions of shekels of additional funding for things that are important to his party (such as the needs of elderly Russian immigrants), Kachlon announced that he was so adamantly opposed to the demands that he would have no problem returning home by bus. That is to say, he would leave his government-sponsored car at the Treasury and return home without it. He was taken seriously; everyone knows that he means what he says. I recently saw him returning from the prime minister’s office to the Treasury on foot – without a car, without aides, and without even a jacket. “It is best this way,” I said to him, and he laughed and agreed with me. That is another of Hashem’s kindnesses to us: The Minister of Finance does not detest the chareidim.

Kachlon’s fellow party member, Minister of Environmental Protection Avi Gabai, is no longer a minister in the government. Gabai resigned in protest over the clash between Netanyahu and Yaalon. On Tuesday evening, Minister Yariv Levin went to the Knesset podium and announced, “In accordance with paragraph 9(a)(6) of the Government Law of 2001, the government hereby informs the Knesset that the Minister of Environmental Protection, Avi Gabai, has ended his membership in the government as of May 31, 2016, at 10:06 in the morning.”

Incredibly, just a few hours earlier, the Knesset Interior Committee had approved a number of regulations on which Gabai himself had signed, in particular the exemption of shaimos from burial fees. This was a personal achievement of the two directors of the Genizah Klalit, who work tirelessly to protect kisvei kodesh from desecration and who benefit from extraordinary siyata diShmaya in the process. It seemed as if Gabai had been kept in the government until the regulation was finalized. Perhaps this relatively obscure figure was placed in the government in the first place solely for this reason, and he has returned to obscurity now because his task was completed.

Respect for Police at an All-Time Low

This week, I read that the Israel Police Force has decided to add another seventy staff members to its public relations department in the hope that this will help counteract the negative public image that the police have developed. Indeed, recently, the public image of the police has suffered a number of serious blows, and they have lost a good deal of the public’s trust and admiration – and rightly so.

On Wednesday night, the Rishon LeTzion, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, celebrated the marriage of his daughter at the Binyanei Ha’umah convention center. One of the guests at the wedding was Ayelet Shaked, the Minister of Justice, who arrived with Miriam Naor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and her husband, Aryeh Naor. Justice Naor was the judge who presided over Aryeh Deri’s trial many years ago and sentenced him to prison. The wedding was covered extensively in the media, and the sheva brachos held the next day received even more exposure.

In any event, Shaked had recently given a round of interviews to the media for the benefit of the special newspapers released in honor of Yom Haatzmaut. With regard to the recent criticism of the Ministry of Justice, she said, “A process has been taking place whereby the state prosecutor has been demonized. I have been told by politicians, defense attorneys, and other prominent lawyers that if I oppose the state prosecutor, I can expect them to concoct some sort of criminal charges against me. My response has been that I do not believe any of that nonsense.”

Apparently, Shaked believes herself to be more intelligent than those who have experienced the prosecutor’s wrath. She has forgotten – or perhaps she never knew – what happened to Ruvi Rivlin, Tzachi Hanegbi, and Yaakov Neeman. Some say that even the investigations into Ehud Olmert were begun with the aim of toppling his government and thus removing Daniel Friedman, the nemesis of the country’s judges, from his position as Minister of Justice.

In a stroke of incredible timing, it was announced recently that the police intentionally targeted Gal Hirsch for investigation as soon as Gilad Erdan announced that he was a candidate for the position of police commissioner. We suspected as much at the time, since it seemed too coincidental that the “Georgia scandal” erupted as soon as he was nominated for the position, but the police had claimed that the investigation was an outgrowth of its efforts to combat money laundering. This week, in a claim filed in the Supreme Court, a member of the Lahav 433 unit of the police force asserted that the situation was exactly the reverse: When Hirsch’s candidacy for the post of police chief was announced, senior officials in the police force leapt into action to revive the scandal in order to overturn his appointment. According to the statement made in court, the hasty efforts to gather evidence against Gal took place on the direct order of an official with the rank of police superintendant.

The Israeli public’s low level of trust in the police is not exclusively due to the recent reports of police brutality. On the contrary, their distrust began long before that and encompasses the most senior officials in the force. Neither the police nor the state prosecutor has any qualms about trumping up false criminal charges in order to “liquidate” their professional rivals.

A Small Consolation for a Major Tragedy

This past week, we experienced a major tragedy: A three-year-old boy named Eliyahu Weingot was forgotten in a car and passed away. I haven’t stopped thinking about him. Eliyahu’s parents will never enjoy the light of the sun again; they won’t want to derive any pleasure from it. Their grief is like a huge, black void that contains nothing but an endless sea of anguish. As Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus once said, there are some things that cannot be solved. They will live and die with the pain; there is no doubt of that.

But despite it all, we are still believing Jews. We know that everything that occurs is Divinely ordained. Hashem decrees what will take place, and He also carries out those decrees. There is a limit to mourning, and it is forbidden to grieve more than what is permitted. I had a nephew who passed away at approximately the same age as Eliyahu, when his parents were about the same ages as Eliyahu’s parents. I personally buried him on Har Hazeisim, in a plot without tombstones. When I visited them during the shivah, I was at a loss for words.

Although I didn’t feel that there was much I could say to offer them consolation, I quoted Miriam’s argument to her father, Amram, in Mitzrayim, as it is recorded in the Gemara (Sotah 12a): “Father, your decree is worse than Paroh’s decree. Paroh’s decree applies only to the males, and you have made a decree against the males and the females; Paroh decreed only [to take away their lives] in this world, and yours applies in this world and in the next; the evil Paroh’s decree may or may not be fulfilled, but you are a tzaddik and your decree will certainly be fulfilled.”

We all remember the first part of Miriam’s argument: that Paroh had decreed death only upon the male Jewish children, but Amram would prevent any children, male or female, from being born. But the next part of her statement, that Paroh’s decree would rob a child only of life in this world, is less well-known. Why should this be so? The answer is that every child would be alive, even if for only a few minutes, before he was thrown into the Nile. Once he had lived, he would be granted admission to the World to Come. In fact, he would be pure and completely free of sin, like the greatest tzaddik. Indeed, this is how Rashi explains her statement: “For they would be born and die, and then they would live in the World to Come. But you [Amram] have decreed [that they will not live] in this world or in the World to Come, for since they will not be born, they will not arrive in the World to Come.”

Eliyahu Weingot was born and lived for three years. His death was painful and tragic, but he is now alive in the World to Come. To all of us, the pain of his passing is tangible, but Eliyahu himself is certainly smiling in Olam Haba, basking in the presence of the greatest tzaddikim. Can anyone say that he would have achieved that if he had lived to a ripe old age? This is one meaning of the phrase “haMakom yenacheim eschem”: The place of the deceased in the World to Come, the place where he is now, should be a consolation to those who mourn his passing.

A Gift and a Sacrifice

This past week, the Knesset experienced one of the most stirring events in its history. An organization known as Matnas Chaim, which works to raise awareness on the subject of kidney donations, was a guest of honor at the Knesset on a special day of appreciation for kidney donors. The audience in the Sprinzak Hall listened to the stories of a donor and a recipient, and their eyes filled with tears. Avshalom Koor, who presided over the program, choked on his emotion when he attempted to read an excerpt from a book written by a kidney donor in Beit Shemesh. Rabbi Yeshayahu Haber and his wife, the heads of the organization, were rightfully showered with accolades over the course of the event.

As the program drew to a close, its organizer, Yoav Ben-Tzur, rose to deliver a concluding address. His speech was one of the most powerful addresses I have ever heard. “Kidney donors,” he declared, “are the very embodiment of sacrifice. Providing money or other goods to another person is an act of giving, but donating a kidney is a true sacrifice. The donors are deserving of great admiration and respect, not only because of their act of donating an organ, but also because of who they are, because of their emotional and spiritual strength.”

It should be noted that when Ben-Tzur began his address by acknowledging the dignitaries in the front row, he referred to Yaakov Litzman as “the best Minister of Health.” Yuli Edelstein called out, “And he’s a good middleman as well!”

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