Thursday, Jul 29, 2021

My Take on the News

All We Wanted Was Peace and Quiet

What did we want? Nothing more than some peace and quiet. We hoped that the newspapers would deal with nothing more than England’s angst over seceding from the European Union. But while we didn’t experience a terror attack with numerous casualties, we came dreadfully close. (Incidentally, a large-scale terror attack is always reported over the radios and beepers of the emergency medical services with the code alef reish nun, which stands for eirua rav nifgaim – a mass casualty event. When this code appears, everyone equipped with a beeper is supposed to rush to the scene; for any other emergency, only a first responder who is actually nearby must come.)

What did occur this past week was an attempted terror attack on Route 443, one of the main traffic arteries in the country. This highway is the road taken by anyone traveling from Yerushalayim to Kiryat Sefer, Modiin (the chiloni city), Shoham, or Maccabim Reut (the city that is home to hundreds of members of the country’s security services, the IDF, the police force, and the Shin Bet, including some very high-ranking officials). Even a motorist traveling to Bnei Brak may opt to take Route 443 if the illuminated highway signs report congestion in the area of Shaar Hagai.

In the most recent incident, a group of Arabs threw rocks at cars traveling near Maccabim. Miraculously, there was no loss of life, even though some cars were damaged and their occupants – one Israeli citizen and two foreigners – were wounded. During the incident, a Shin Bet agent fired his gun at a car that appeared to belong to the stone-throwers – and then he learned that he had been mistaken. His bullets struck a boy who was sitting in the car and had not been involved in the violence. Now, of course, the circus will begin. There is no way to predict what will befall that man from the Shin Bet.

Relying on the F-35

On the diplomatic front, meanwhile, things have been quiet. In fact, one might even say that there has been some progress, as Israel has moved toward normalizing its relations with Turkey, which has remained hostile ever since the incident of the Marmara flotilla. Rumor has it that the text of an agreement between Israel and Turkey has already been settled between the two countries. On the other hand, the exact contents of that agreement are somewhat unclear. Israel, for example, has emphasized its accomplishment in securing the Turks’ agreement to cease recognizing the representatives of Hamas in Turkey. The Turks, meanwhile, have explained that this isn’t exactly what the agreement says; they have simply announced that Hamas has no representatives in Turkey.

Things have calmed down somewhat between Israel and America as well. We all know that President Barack Obama likes Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu just about as much as he likes Donald Trump. We are now in the middle of discussions regarding American military aid to Israel. I have already told you that our new Minister of Defense, Avigdor Lieberman, visited Washington last week. He is now pressuring Netanyahu to accept the deal in its current form rather than trying to push for more, and certainly not to wait for the next president to arrive in office before signing an agreement.

Meanwhile, the Americans have finished preparing the F-35 fighter jets that have been designated for Israeli use. An American test pilot at the Lockheed Martin manufacturing plant in Dallas, Texas, has announced that there is no other jet in the world that can defeat the F-35. What frightens me is that this type of boasting has always been met with a sign from Heaven to show us our true limitations. Let us hope for the best.

Public Transportation on Shabbos

So what were the things that elicited outrage and fiery polemics in Israel this past week? For one thing, there was the issue of the Yemenite children who were stolen from their parents in the early years of the state, a subject that will be addressed in a separate article. In addition, there was the issue of the police force’s secret file.

The country was shocked to learn that the police are in possession of a secret file containing incriminating evidence against dozens of government ministers and members of the Knesset. The revelation hit the political arena like a bombshell. Have we become like Russia? Are the police amassing information that they can use to threaten politicians when they feel the need? The issue gave rise to a major controversy, and the Speaker of the Knesset demanded an explanation from the chief of the police force. The police and the Ministry of Justice have tried valiantly to explain themselves and to calm down the raging tempers, but their efforts have been of little avail.

Then there was another story: Last week, two children died after they were forgotten in a car. The children were brothers from a Bedouin family and died in the Bedouin community of A-Sayid in the Negev. Their father is a teacher, and many people attested after the tragedy that his children were his entire world – meaning that even if he was responsible for their deaths through negligence, he has already suffered terribly for it. Everyone shared the Bedouin family’s grief, and the tragedy has spurred many people to begin working on new ideas to help parents avoid forgetting their children in their cars.

On the religious front, we dealt with two issues this past week. First, there was the matter of the Reform movement’s appeal to the Knesset Ethics Committee to discipline the chareidi members of the Knesset. The reason: In any Knesset committee that includes both chareidim and Reform Jews, whenever a Reform committee member begins speaking, the chareidim walk out. Our representatives cannot prevent Reform Jews from being invited to speak, but this is their way of demonstrating that we have no dialogue with them. What is most interesting about this story is the fact that the chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee is Yitzchok Vaknin of the Shas party, who engages in the same practice.

Another incident that made waves was the decision of the municipality of Herzliya to introduce public transportation on Shabbos. Under the status quo, public transportation shuts down on Shabbos throughout the country, with the exception of the city of Haifa. (The reason for that exception is a long story, which I may explain to you someday.) On the surface, the decision of the Herzliya municipality seems to be intended to benefit the public, but it has come under fire from chareidi public activists, who claim that it is a breach of the status quo and is even illegal. Naturally, the concern is that other cities will follow in Herzliya’s footsteps. As of now, we are still at the beginning of this story.

Sifter Deceptions

The business of counterfeit hechsheirim in Israel is still booming, despite of the fines that have been levied by the Chief Rabbinate’s inspectors. The most recent warning on the subject was issued by the Badatz of SKS Mehadrin, under the supervision of the Rebbe of Shatz-Ashdod, which cautioned the public that an importer had been found marketing mushroom preserves with a forged kashrus certification. The notice added that “legal steps” had been taken against those involved in the deception, although experience shows that the most we can expect is for them to be slapped with a monetary fine – which would only encourage them, and others like them, to continue their more profitable crimes.

This week, I discovered that the scourge of forgery has moved into new territory: flour sifters. Kashrus L’Mehadrin, under the supervision of Rav Yosef Efrati, recently released a warning that “in the past, we certified the kashrus of a shipment of flour sifters from the United States measuring 70 mesh. We have now discovered sifters on the market with a density of 60 mesh or less, which incorrectly bear our certification.”

Speaking of flour sifters, Rabbi Chagai Pinchas Bar-Giora, the director of the Department of Industry Etc. (yes, that is its name) of the Chief Rabbinate, gave the following response when a resident of Beit El queried him about a flour sifter manufactured by Selmor and certified by Tzomet: “After the product was removed from its package, we watched it being used to sift flour. The flour flowed quickly from the bottom portion of the sifter into the bowl. Examining the sifter with the unaided eye revealed that the flour flowing into the bowl beneath it was also falling through the gaps between the mesh and the inner sides of the moving sifter, so that a portion of the flour hadn’t been sifted at all. In this situation, it appears that consumers have been deceived, since the stated kashrus of the utensil is not in accordance with the reality. With regard to the density of the sifter, as well, it is unclear to me if this utensil measures 50 mesh or 45 mesh.”

Fanning the Flames of Incitement?

This past week, one of the chareidi daily newspapers published the following headline: “Incitement in the Fire Department? Firefighters Announce on Loudspeaker: ‘You Chareidim, Stop Burning Forests!’” The article claimed that an incident took place on Rechov Aminadav in Yerushalayim, although a spokesman for the fire department responded that the department had no knowledge of any such occurrence.

“These harsh words came about a week after severe incitement was heard from a senior official in the firefighting service in Yerushalayim, who accused the chareidim of failing to take sufficient precautionary measures during their Lag Ba’omer bonfires,” the newspaper went on to report. “They make large fires, they enjoy their hillula excitement, and they simply don’t listen,” Rashaf Roni Sonino, the deputy commander of the local fire station in Romema, was quoted as asserting. “The police have no control over them either; they don’t listen to anyone, and they do only what they want.”

“Rashaf” – a title derived from the word for “spark” – is a position equivalent to that of a major in the military. This makes Sonino a senior official indeed. The question, though, is whether the statement attributed to him constitutes incitement. His very name sounds traditional, perhaps even religious; he certainly cannot be anti-Semitic. I placed a telephone call to the fire station and asked to speak with him. I was told that he was there, even though the station was under renovation, but that he was unavailable. The man who answered the phone was very polite and confirmed that Sonino hailed from a religious background and was certainly not anti-religious. I left my telephone number, and Udi Gal, a spokesman for the department, returned my call.

“People are trying to label him anti-chareidi,” Gal told me, “but he is a religious man. He is more than traditional. He has no agenda against the chareidim. All that happened is that after the large fire in Ramot last week, he said very simply that the fires were due to a lack of precautions. Incidentally, he and his staff were also attacked several hours earlier, on Erev Lag Ba’omer, by children. That may have affected him as well. And his comments may have been prompted by the fire in the forest beneath Romema, which was started by children. They don’t listen. We have nothing against chareidim, and there is no reason to attack us. We even have chareidi units. You are part of us. The chareidi community is like family; we and they are the Jewish people. We are all part of Am Yisroel.”

Gal himself did not seem hateful either, even though he once suffered a few broken teeth when a chareidi child threw a rock at him. I asked him why the fire department doesn’t work together with the rabbonim in areas where chareidi children are violent, and he replied that they do. In the past, he noted, Rav Ovadiah Yosef made a public call for a cessation of the violence, and there was a marked decline in attacks against firefighters. “We have now appealed to his son, Rav Yitzchok Yosef,” he added. I understood from his words that the fire department’s connections with rabbonim are managed by the rov of the firefighting service, a man named Rabbi Chaim Perl.

It is clear to me that my earlier concerns have become reality. Roni Sonino is not an anti-Semite, and there is no reason for us to suspect everyone who makes a negative comment of anti-Semitism. In fact, why should it be considered anti-Semitic to say that we don’t listen to the authorities, when that is actually the truth? This is especially so in light of the fact that chareidi children in Modiin Illit and Yerushalayim were caught throwing rocks at firefighters. Yet, instead of putting an end to the antics of these children, who seem to be unable to distinguish between unruly behavior and actual crime, we have been attacking the firemen instead.

When a Sefer Torah is Disqualified

It is saddening whenever a Sefer Torah is found to be invalid. It is especially saddening when it is the Ashkenazi Sefer Torah in the Knesset shul that is used from time to time for Krias HaTorah. The blemish in the Sefer Torah was discovered by the Knesset guards, who are tasked with keeping infiltrators out of the building. Why were they the ones to make the discovery? Simply because the defect in the Sefer Torah wasn’t in the passage read on fast days, which we read at Minchah on those occasions, but rather in a portion of the Torah read only on Shabbos – and the guards are the only people present in the building on Shabbos. The guards who are required to remain on duty on Shabbos gather in the shul for Shacharis and Mussaf, including the Torah reading. Yes, many of them are observant. In case you are wondering what the defect was, there was an entire extra letter in the sefer: The word “ka’asher” had been substituted for the word “asher.”

The Sefer Torah was immediately sent to be inspected in its entirety, at a cost of 1,200 shekels. The subsequent repairs came with a price tag of 2,600 shekels. How many errors were found, you ask? Quite a large number: 111! Some of the imperfections in the Sefer Torah were only borderline problematic, but some of them definitely warranted disqualifying the Sefer Torah. By now, the Sefer Torah has been returned to its rightful place in the aron kodesh in the Knesset, having been duly repaired and perfected. This is a Sefer Torah that has been in the Knesset for many years.

Yungeleit Will Vote in Kollel

Another item from the Knesset: At the beginning of the summer session, as is the case after every recess, the members of the Knesset returned from vacation to find their desks piled high with blue papers representing proposed laws that had been placed on the Knesset table. These proposals were distributed to the lawmakers to study before they would be discussed in the plenum – if they were to be discussed at all. Some of the new proposals were indeed worthy of consideration, although the majority were ludicrous. Allow me to share with you a brief sampling of the bills.

One law proposed by Yisroel Eichler would require the government, the Knesset, and the Israel Bar Association to be represented in the Judicial Appointment Committee by members of both genders. Does this mean that Eichler has become an advocate for the feminist cause? On the contrary, a requirement was recently enacted for women to be included among the representatives, and the result has been that the positions are sometimes occupied exclusively by women. The new law would require at least one man to be selected. Of course, in the committee that appoints dayanim, the presence of women is especially problematic.

Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid party remains obsessed with religious matters. His latest proposal calls for the terms of municipal rabbonim to be limited to eight years, after which they would have to run for reelection. A rov who is elected for a second term would be limited to another ten years in office, even if he is still very young. (On the flip side, even an elderly rov would be able to run for the position.) Stern is motivated by the belief that after many years in office, a rov tends to lose some of his feelings for his constituents.

Eitan Cabel, who has the backing of a large group of Knesset members, has advanced a proposal to extend the “Deposit Law” to include large soft drink bottles. This was the subject of a major controversy in the past, and the efforts of the Shas and UTJ parties succeeded in having large bottles excluded from the law. Our argument was that the charge for a deposit for large bottles would primarily harm the weaker sectors of the populace and families with many children, who are the primary purchasers of large bottles and who lack room in their homes to store the empty bottles to be returned. Let us hope that this proposal, like many others, will not pass into law.

Last, but not least, there is the bill titled “Proposed Law of Elections to the Knesset (Amendment – Voting for Students and Talmidei Torah).” The proposal states that “any student or talmid Torah will be permitted to vote at a polling station located in their institution of study.” Meir Cohen, the originator of the bill, explains that it was prompted by the fact that many students, both in secular schools and in yeshivos, fail to exercise their right to vote because they attend schools at a considerable distance from their homes. This proposal aims to counteract that inequality by placing polling stations in the institutions of higher learning themselves.

Letters in Limbo

Here is another story from the Knesset, which is actually a story about the Israeli postal system. The logo of the Postal Service is an image of a deer running at top speed, but many people have suggested that a picture of a tortoise would be a more fitting emblem…

MK Yoav Ben-Tzur recently celebrated the marriage of his son. When the time came to send out invitations to the simchah, Ben-Tzur did not rely on the miracle of the mail arriving punctually and instead sought an alternative service. How do I know this? From a parliamentary query that was presented in the Knesset plenum.

Here is an excerpt from the Knesset protocols:

Ben-Tzur: “Mr. Speaker, honored minister, and my friends, members of the Knesset: This week, a man who lives in the center of the country received four envelopes that were sent to him from the Knesset, which were sent at intervals of a week at a time. This indicates that the failure of the Postal Service to deliver mail to its destination on time is continuing. Exactly one year ago, Minister Regev promised to bring about a rapid solution to the problem, but that promise has not been fulfilled. I would like to ask: What will be done to expedite the delivery of mail? And what is causing these delays?”

(The response was delivered by Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin, perhaps because of the bit of personal background that he revealed in his comments.)

Levin: “First of all, I must tell you that I worked as a mailman about 25 years ago….”

Edelstein: “Then you have a conflict of interests.”

Levin: “I hope that I am not in a conflict of interests, but I can tell you at least that the employees of the Postal Service do their work faithfully and invest great effort in it, and that their jobs are neither simple nor easy. They are definitely worthy of admiration. The problems and lapses, of course, must be dealt with. It is no secret that over the past year, the Israel Postal Service has been undergoing a process of restoration, which has included – as I believe the public already knows – improvements in the quality of the services it offers.”

Ben-Tzur: “Mr. Minister, if I were to read the response of Minister Regev from a year ago, with some slight changes in the wording and a few sentences here and there, it would be the exact same statement. Someone wrote your response for you, and that is fine. But I want to tell you something from my own personal experience; I am making a simchah soon. Most of the invitations were sent through the Postal Service, since the people I am inviting are not connected to the internet. I had a choice: There is a mail distribution company that works exclusively in chareidi cities, and for the invitations that I sent through that company to my guests who live in chareidi communities, I paid one shekel less for each envelope. I checked a random sampling of those recipients on Friday and Sunday in all the cities where I sent invitations, and I didn’t find a single person who hadn’t received their invitation. At the same time, on Sunday I contacted some of the people who were to receive invitations through the Postal Service, and I learned that only 5 to 10 percent of those invitations had been received… Sir, our Postal Service reaches every location in the country, and while it is very nice that they are opening new mail sorting centers, and they are introducing new distributions, and changes are being put into effect and plans are being made, still…”

Is it any wonder that the chareidi community in Eretz Yisroel still uses private companies to send its mail in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak?

Stories of the Gedolim

Last week, the Knesset was visited by a special guest: Pia Kjaersgaard, the Speaker of the Danish Parliament. Her visit was marked by an impressive reception, and the Speaker of the Knesset spoke highly of the close ties between Denmark and the State of Israel. All the talk about Denmark reminded me of a story I recently heard:

In his youth, the mashgiach, Rav Shlomo Wolbe, once heard that three European kings had planned to meet in the city of Copenhagen, Denmark. One was the king of Denmark, another was the king of Sweden, and the third was the king of Norway. (Rebbetzin Wolbe insists that this must have taken place in Sweden, rather than in Denmark.)

In a shmuess delivered in the Mir Yeshiva, Rav Wolbe related that he hoped to take advantage of the opportunity to recite the brachah upon seeing a king. “But what did I see?” the mashgiach said. “Three goyim!” He concluded his account: “Do you know when I was able to say that brachah? After I came to Eretz Yisroel and I saw Rav Leizer Yudel [Finkel], the Tchebiner Rov, and the Chazon Ish!”

Here is another story I was told this week: A man went to Rav Aharon Leib Steinman to ask for a brachah for success in business, as he was about to finalize a business deal that had the potential to bring him 200 million dollars in profits. “If I make that money,” the man announced to Rav Shteinman, “I will donate one-fifth of my profits to tzedakah.” Rav Shteinman looked at him but did not say a word. The visitor evidently assumed that the gadol hador was not impressed by his promise, and he hastened to up the ante. “I will give half the money to Rav Sorotzkin’s kollelim,” he declared.

Rav Shteinman then asked, in his quiet voice, “And what will you do with the other 100 million?” The rosh yeshiva was asking, in all sincerity, for what reason a Jewish person could possibly want such a fantastic sum of money. After all, how much could a person need to pay for some toast and margarine? And what else could he possibly require?

The businessman, though, assumed that he was being pressured to increase his promised donation, and he announced loudly, “I will give 190 million dollars to tzedakah.” Then he changed his mind and declared, “Actually, I’ll give all of it to tzedakah!”

To that, Rav Shteinman responded, “Do you really think that Hashem needs you to be the middleman? He can simply give the money directly to tzedakah!”

On a related subject, there are some affluent people who refuse to allocate more than one-fifth of their earnings for tzedakah, claiming that the accepted practice is not to exceed a chomesh. When he was told about that attitude, Rav Shteinman said, “If they had a court case, would they also refuse to spend more than a chomesh on their lawyers?” He then added, “Don’t they know that tzedakah saves them from gehennom? If a rich person has ten million dollars, why wouldn’t he give nine and a half million to tzedakah?”

A man once gave a sum of money to Rav Shteinman and informed the rosh yeshiva that it was for “strengthening Torah.” Rav Steinman immediately corrected him, “It’s for strengthening bnei Torah. The Torah itself has no need of being supported; it is strong enough on its own.” In a letter to a philanthropist who used all of his funds to support widows and orphans but not to support Torah scholars, Rav Shteinman once wrote, “If people realized the tremendous value of supporting a single ben Torah, they would give all their money for that purpose.”

One last story for this week: When Rav Yerachmiel Yehuda Meir Kalish of Amshinov first arrived in the Bayit Vegan neighborhood of Yerushalayim, his right-hand man was a neighborhood resident named Rav Menachem Sternhell. Eventually, the rebbe became ill and frail, and his devoted chossid became weaker as well. When Rav Sternhell asked his rebbe for a brachah, the rebbe replied, “As long as I am alive, you will live as well.” The Amshinover Rebbe passed away on the 27th of Iyar, 5736; Rav Menachem Sternhell passed away on the first day of Sivan of that same year.

Rav Menachem’s son-in-law, Rav Yaakov Levi of Bayit Vegan, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Kol Yaakov, related to me that the Amshinover Rebbe used to become deeply disturbed whenever he saw someone leaving shul during Krias HaTorah. In fact, he would grab hold of the person to prevent him from leaving, out of fear of the posuk (Yeshayahu 1:28), “Those who leave Hashem will be destroyed.”

He also told me the following: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach observed that the posuk, “I have hastened and have not delayed to observe Your commandments” (Tehillim 119:60), appears to be redundant. If a person “hastened” to perform a mitzvah, doesn’t it stand to reason that he didn’t delay? Rav Shlomo Zalman explained that there are indeed some people who delay the performance of a mitzvah, squandering their time on minutiae, and then find themselves rushing to perform a mitzvah when the time arrives, but rather than indicating love and respect for mitzvos, this haste actually bespeaks the opposite. Thus, in this posuk, Dovid Hamelech attests that he hurried to perform the mitzvos because of their value to him, not simply because he had delayed their observance until the last possible moment.

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