The platform symbolizes a dangerous Israeli trend to accommodate non-Orthodox movements within Judaism. Last year, following an appeal to the High Court, Israel’s Religious Services Ministry said it intended to phase out state-employed neighborhood rabbis and provide funds to communities to hire Orthodox, Conservative or Reform rabbis. The Kosel platform is another step in that direction.
Minister of Yerushalayim and Diaspora Affairs Naftali Bennett was proud of the platform, even though it is only an enlarged version of an area the WoW had been using for years, until the court ruled that they could conduct their services at the Kosel plaza. Declaring that “the Kosel belongs to all Jews, all over the world, no matter what stream of Judaism they come from,” Bennett said it was “a continuation of the Western Wall, the same wall of the Temple, just a bit south,” and that “egalitarian Jews are now able to pray at a respectable place.”
The platform will be open 24 hours a day the whole week and provided with siddurim and talleisim. The smaller area available until now was open for limited hours.
As for the purpose of the prayer deck, Bennett initially contradicted himself. In a Hebrew announcement, he said the platform was a compromise in the dispute involving WoW. But in an English announcement, Bennet said that the new area was a gesture to the Reform and Conservative movements. He didn’t mention WoW at all.
The Prime Minister’s Office apologetically admitted that Bennett’s Hebrew version was plain wrong: “Reports that a government decision has been made regarding prayer arrangements in the Western Wall plaza are incorrect.”
Why did the government deem it necessary to create an egalitarian Kosel?
“In recent years,” Bennet explained, “a lot of tension has been created around the Western Wall. A large [portion] of the public, and I am specifically not referring to the Women of the Wall but to the Jewish people as a whole, feel that it is difficult to come to the Western Wall. That they don’t connect. There are many [Jewish] denominations in the world, and the majority of the Jewish people in the Diaspora are not Orthodox. As the Minister for Diaspora Affairs, I believe that the Western Wall belongs to all the Jews in the world, not to one denomination or the other.”
In fact, WoW has long rejected even the more ambitious Sharansky plan that calls for turning the Robinson Arch area into a new Kosel plaza rivaling the current location in size and grandeur. So it came as no surprise when WoW totally turned down Bennett’s tiny prayer platform, which has room for only about 450 people and doesn’t even reach the Kosel wall due to archeological and political considerations – archeologists and the Arab world might explode if the deck extended up to the Kosel.
In protest to the new development, WoW announced a 24- hour sit-in at the Kosel,as well as issuing a stinging condemnation of the “suntan” deck.
“Today Minister of Religious Services Naftali Bennet announced his support for the Mendelblit plan, the Prime Minister’s Office committee charged with the task of solving the problem of inequality at the Western Wall,” WoW wrote. “The committee is supporting a solution in which a wooden balcony has been built on scaffolding in the middle of Robinson’s Arch, an area separated by a wall and out of view from the Western Wall. The plan will effectively exile women and all Jews who pray in a way that is not ultra-Orthodox tradition, to Robinson’s Arch and away from the area of the Western Wall where Jews have prayed for generations. If this plan is accepted, the government will be excluding over 50% of Jewish population to the ‘back of the bus.'”
“Women of the Wall rejects the Mendelblit plan which dangerously circumvents the pluralist Sobel District Court decision [which sanctioned the group to pray in the existing Kosel plaza],” WoW continued. “We are at a crossroads for religious freedom and freedom of expression in Israel. Today this affects Women of the Wall but tomorrow it will affect every Israeli and Jew around the world… Mendelblit and Bennet have given in to the threats and violence of the chareidi extremist minority in Israel and this is a dangerous precedent for our democracy.”
WoW also complained that the mixed gender platform failed to provide place for its Orthodox members who want separate gender prayer, and that it left control of the whole area in the hands of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, an organization run mostly by Orthodox men.
“The stage is in no way equal topographically or geographically to the original plaza, not does it come close to the Wall itself, as it stands to the back of the Robinson’s Arch area,” WoW concluded. “This plan is the very definition of separate, and not nearly close to equal, it provides an out of sight- out of mind solution silencing women at the Western Wall. We call upon Tzipi Livni, Minister of Justice to reject this plan, to demand equal rights for women to pray at the women’s section of the Western Wall.”
Non-Orthodox leaders overseas seemed divided. While Rick Block, president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which represents thousands of Reform rabbis, complained that the new plan fell far short of the Sharansky plan and urged the Prime Minister’s Office to “commit itself to the Sharansky proposal in its entirety, promptly, publicly, and unequivocally,” Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Conservative Movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, was more positive, saying she hoped the ““statement and the opening of this new platform signifies several steps forward for the legitimacy of the liberal movements in the State of Israel.” But Schonfeld warned that the “crucial long-term issue is full equality,” saying that “the situation at the Western Wall is a symptom of the larger struggle for religious equality in Israel which we will continue to work toward.”
In reply to criticisms, Bennett admitted that the deck was never meant for WoW.
“I didn’t expect everyone to accept the plan,” he said. “It was not targeted at 20 to 30 specific people [the WoW activists] but at the mainstream of Jews who want to pray together with their families. For the first time ever, they can do so. I invite all Jews to come to pray at the Kosel.” Bennett also showed his disdain for the religious members of his party, saying that even if members of his party disapproved of the eventual plan of expanding the egalitarian section of the Kosel into a full-size plaza, it was nevertheless the “right decision.”
“I’m not focused just on my own voters, but on all Jews,” he said.
In similar vein, Bennett addressed members of the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly in the Knesset last June, telling them that he felt “the magnitude of the responsibility” when Jews “do not feel at home here,” and that all Jews, “in their own way,” can “contribute to the chain of generations of the Jewish nation.”
Tragically, the professed leader of Israel’s religious Zionists is helping Reforms and Conservatives widen their beachhead on Israel’s religious scene.
ARABS BLAME JEWS FOR HAR HABAYIS COLLAPSE
The Kosel area engendered yet another conflict with the collapse of part of the Har Habayis floor near the Kosel, the second such collapse in five years. Arabs used the opportunity to accuse Israel of weakening the Har Habayis area in preparation for demolishment of the whole mosque. The El-Aqsa Foundation and Cultural Heritage Organization said Israel wreaks damage by burrowing of tunnels in and around the mosque area.
Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, called upon Israeli Arabs from the Negev to Haifa, to rush to Yerushalayim and bar access to the Har Habayis with their bodies. He warned that Israel was planning to storm the area, build a shul, and set aside part of the Har Habayis area for Jews, just as Me’oras Hamachpeilah is already shared by Jew and Arab.
The Har Habayis is a source of constant conflict. Some months ago, Abu Mazen said that the El-Aqsa mosque was in danger due to malicious Israeli plans to destroy it and replace it with a shul. He ‘proved’ this from the fact that Israel was restricting Arab prayer on the mount while allowing extremist Jews to worship there. If this is the Arabs idea of sharing, what can be expected from the peace process?
CHAREIDIM APPEAL AGAINST CHILD-GRANT CUTS
In reaction to Lapid’s drastic reduction to child grants, four chareidim appealed to the High Court saying the cut was illegal, discriminatory, and unprofessional. Their lawyer, Rami Abramov, asked the court “to explain why it should not annul the clauses… which resulted in a destructive, cruel, aggressive, and disproportional cut in child grants.”
The petition stated that there is “reason to suppose that the clauses of the law were accepted out of extraneous considerations that discriminate between various sectors of the population, and in particular, intend to harm families with many children of the chareidi and Arab sectors, which are the poorest sectors in the country.”
But nothing has stopped Yair Lapid of boasting of his part in impoverishing the yeshiva world.
“We meant it when we said we would transform the country from a culture of stipends to a culture of work (and drastically cut yeshiva funding and child grants, while establishing a 200 million shekel food security fund and 70 million shekels as work grants for working people living beneath the poverty line),” he stated.
“What can I say?” Aryeh Deri said in reaction. “It’s an absolute disgrace. Even if you need to make reductions, hide, run away. Look at Bibi. Bibi knows the evil he’s responsible for, so he disappears. But to go and boast and say, ‘Every mother and father is responsible for their children,’ what is the meaning of such words – cruelty! I say that Lapid’s edicts are worse than those of Paroh. Paroh decreed against males; Lapid also decrees against females.”
TARGETTING LAPID’S FACE
Lapid popularity has dropped to such a low ebb that he has become a target for people’s shoes. The Janco Dada art museum in the artist village of Ein Hod near Chaifa recently presented an unusual exhibit: Visitors were invited to throw shoes at a six by 3 feet picture of Lapid as a protest against his social and fiscal policies. Those hitting the target were offered a shot glass of arrack as a sign of displeasure against the special taxes Lapid recently imposed on alcoholic drinks.
Lapid was against prosecuting the artist responsible for the exhibit, explaining that in essence, his attitudes and those of the artist were two sides of the same coin.
“I thank all those who protested when they heard of the exhibit at the Yanku Dada museum in Ein Hod where people throw shoes at my picture,” he said. “I don’t think anything needs to be done against it. To me, freedom of expression is much more important than my personal honor and I uphold the artist’s right to attack me. The job of young artists is to rebel and fight the institutions of society. Our job is to act and work for change.
ROSHEI KOLLEL CONTINUE TO PAY FULL SALARIES
In response to last week’s drastic cut in government stipends to bochurim and avreichim, many roshei kollel continued paying their avreichim as much as they received beforehand, taking the burden of raising extra funds upon themselves.
Rav Sholom Ber Sorotzkin, head of Ateres Shlomo, the largest kollel network in Israel, said that just as he saw Hashem’s chesed in funding his institutions until now, so he was confident that he would be able to open even more kollelim.
“We are in the midst of a war and must behave accordingly,” he said. “For my part, I do not intend to weaken or rest until we overcome these wicked people so everyone sees we prevailed. I’ll fight back. We won’t bend. We will enlarge the kollelim, we won’t cut the stipends. In fact, I very much want to enlarge them, specifically now, to show that we don’t need them to prevail.”
In Netanya, the local Merkaz Hatorah kollel network held a special collection to pay the yungaleit their regular stipends despite the 600 shekels cut, which requires collecting 150,000 extra shekels a month.
In Mir Yeshiva, a yungerman hung up a letter of encouragement on a notice board:
“Our fathers learned with hasmodah and simchah while fearing they might be taken out and killed. We will learn with hasmodah and simchah while fearing the mortgage payment might bounce or our oneg Shabbos may be diminished. Just as Torah was not forgotten in those days, so it will not be forgotten from us and from our children forever.”
Some yeshivos argued that since the stipends have been cut down to almost nothing, why bother cooperating with government inspectors when they check on bochurim attendance. When inspectors arrived at the beginning of morning seder to inspect the Knesses Hagedolah Yeshiva of Modi’in Illit headed by Rav Hillel Zaks, he instructed the bochurim to ignore the inspectors and continue learning. He said it was time to put a stop to the bitul Torah and indignity caused by the inspections, especially since the government was in any case giving almost nothing.
Some chareidim are even talking of creating their own fiscal system.
“Perhaps we need to build a system for ourselves, to stop taking services from secular bodies and create a chareidi alternative,” said chareidi writer and commentator Dovid Zibershlag. “No one appreciates the sales tax we give the state and in return we get nothing compared to the secular public. We don’t need art and the theater, sport and movies, and the other giant budgets spent for nothing. I’m not saying anything new. All I want is to adopt Netanyahu’s approach – give and you’ll receive, don’t give and you won’t receive.”
In a special letter, Rav Shmuel Auerbach wrote that we can depend upon Hashem to pull the yeshiva world through, provided we do our part.
“Everything depends principally upon us and only upon us, for Hashem is with us,” he wrote. “If we determinedly refuse to budge from the halls of Torah, the heart and soul of the nation, and steadfastly guard the chinuch of our sons and daughters, making no compromises or moving the slightest from our heritage, and strengthen and reinforce the study and fulfillment of the Torah, then, Hashem will certainly be with us. Hashem has many ways to ensure that the Torah perseveres and thrives and that Yidishkeit stands unchallenged.”
Asked what Jews overseas should do for the benefit of the Jews of Eretz Yisroel, Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman suggested strengthening commitment to shemiras Shabbos and in particular, to cease doing melachah half an hour before sunset.
“Accepting Shabbos early is particularly important overseas since people generally have cars. Because of this, they arrive at absolutely the last minute to where they are staying for Shabbos such as with parents. Through this, they can chas veshalom get close to sundown and transgress Torah prohibitions.”
RELIGIOUS ZIONIST YESHIVOS ALSO HURTING
So far, the government yeshiva funding cuts are hurting not only chareidi yeshivos but religious Zionist ones as well and they’re fighting back. At an emergency meeting, dozens of directors of Hesder and other Zionist yeshivos discussed how to handle the cuts, which so far apply to their institutions no less than those of the chareidi world. They too will only be receiving 155 shekels per bochur instead of 476 shekels in 2012, and 279 shekels per avreich instead of 856 shekels.
Rav Ari Katz, director of the Kerem B’Yavneh yeshiva near Ashdod said the cut came as a surprise and would make it difficult for the yeshiva to pay stipends and salaries.
“The boys by us serve in the army, we contribute to the country and we don’t know what to do,” he said. “We’ve decided to take off the gloves and that our voices should be heard about the war against the Torah world in Eretz Yisrael.”
Former Knesset member and ex-chairman of the National Union party Yaakov Katz (Ketzaleh) once again called on the Bayit Yehudi MKs to immediately depose the chairman of the religious-Zionist party, Economics Minister Naftali Bennett. His weekly Basheva paper shouted in a headline that “[Habayit Hayehudi has] 12 Mandates – and the Yeshiva World is Collapsing.”
“I call on the Knesset members of Bayit Yehudi to convene immediately and depose Naftali Bennett from all of his functions in the leadership of the party, because of the impending destruction of the Torah world and demolition of the settlement enterprise that we are facing,” he wrote. “Bennett knows, just as I do, that Bibi-Livni-Kerry-Abu Mazen have already agreed on an interim agreement in which, 8 months from now, the Jewish communities around Shechem will be razed. Just as Bennett knew about the harsh cut in funding for yeshivos and Torah educational institutions, and told his faction and the heads of the institutions that nothing would happen, just to keep them quiet, so today, Bennett is hiding the great threat to the settlement enterprise from everyone today.”
“Everyone now knows that Bennett’s messages of calm were baseless,” he continued. “66% of the funding for the Torah world was cut, and the same thing will happen now if the Bayit Yehudi postpones Bennett’s dismissal until the presentation of the agreement for destruction of communities. By then it will be too late, and our public will again have to face the same horrific sights that it experienced only 8 years ago in Aza and northern Shomron.”
Katz called on the party to “immediately conduct negotiations with its natural partners in the chareidi parties, for their entry into the government instead of Lapid.”
MK Moti Yogev of Habayit Hayehudi agreed that it’s time for a change after he entered a bakery in the chareidi town of Modi’in Illit near his town of Dolev and a customer yelled out, ‘Go out everyone! The shop’s tomei. There’s a tomei person from Bayit Yehudi here.”
“I understand him and I agree with him,” Yogev said afterwards. “When the government was set up we already tried to speak and prevent [the partnership with Lapid] but we didn’t succeed. The truth is we never dreamed that what happened would happen. From their worldview, Yesh Atid is pushing us into a place forbidden to us to be in. Looking back, entering the government by keeping the chareidim out was a mistake.”
Yugev claimed that many Bayit Yehudi MKs would like a different coalition, but that merely talking about it hasn’t been enough.
In municipal elections too, not everyone is following Bennett’s line. Jackie Edri, head of Habayit Hayehudi in Beit Shemesh, spoke out against the parties support of a secular mayoral candidate who is competing against chareidi mayor Moshe Abutbul.
“Throughout the five years he served as mayor, Moshe Abutbul’s door was open for all communal needs of the religious Zionist community in Beit Shemesh,” Edri said. “I am disappointed at the decision to fight him for irrelevant reasons. It is very sad that our tzibbur has reached the stage of disqualifying someone because of his black kipah.“
LIBERALS STILL AFTER BLOOD OF 608 BOCHURIM
Since November, liberal organizations haven’t ceased petitioning the High Court to force 608 bochurim to be drafted. Officially, the bochurim are supposed to enlist between August and October. No law protects them from serving in the IDF since the High Court abolished the Tal Law in August 2012. The new draft bill only passed its first reading and doesn’t yet exist.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon deferred the bochurim for four months, by which time he hopes they will be deferred by the new draft law. As he constantly repeats, compelling them to conscript would only cause huge resentment and undermine the government’s efforts to resolve the yeshiva draft issue.
But that’s not how many liberals feel about the matter. In response to their latest petition, the High Court gave Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon until December to answer the liberals’ complaints. By that time, the new yeshiva draft law will probably have passed its second and third readings and the 600 bochurim will hopefully be exempted by the new law.
Meanwhile, bochurim and avreichim continue to display an increasing lack of interest in leaving their shtenders for the army. The IDF was disappointed when no more than twenty youngsters showed up at an enlistment meeting in Kfar Chabad. The army didn’t help its cause by recently throwing a Chabad chosid into jail after he refused to remove his wool arba kanfos during a running exercise. Nor were chareidim impressed by the recent announcement of General Ornah Barbivai, head of military personnel, that “there will be no military ceremonies which do not incorporate women.”
BOCHURIM APPEAL TO PERES
During a special forum, about 60 bochurim from Mir, Chevron, and Ponevez complained to President Shimon Peres that the chareidi world has been relegated to underdog status. They said that the government has destroyed any trust and respect that existed between Israel’s different sectors and that focusing on the enlistment issue is delegitimizing the chareidi way of life.
At the end of the meeting, the bochurim surprised the president with the gift of the first 1881 edition of Shu”t Chut Hameshulash authored by three roshei yeshiva of the Volozhin Yeshiva including Rav Chaim of Volozhin. Shimon Peres’s grandfather, Rav Zalman Perski (Meltzer) from Volozhin, was a direct descendant of Rav Chaim of Volozhin and influenced Peres to be shomer mitzvos when he was young, despite his parents’ non-observance. He took him to Radin to get a brochah from the Chofetz Chaim. Tragically, involvement with secular Zionism destroyed Peres’ early enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos.
EDUCATION MINISTRY WANTS YESHIVOS HIGH SCHOOLS
It is no secret that Israel’s Education Ministry would be delighted if the country’s yeshiva ketanos transmuted into chareidi high schools. A recently publicized letter revealed that the ministry and Yerushalayim municipality have been plotting just such a procedure since last year. In the letter, General-Director of the Education Ministry Dorit Stauber told Mayor Nir Barkat that her ministry wanted to triple the number of matriculating chareidi youth within five years. She considered it “very important to allow the establishment of a chareidi yeshiva-high school in Yerushalayim,” and recommended moving the Nehardea chareidi high school presently located in Nachalim to Yerushalayim.
Deputy Mayor Rav Yitzchok Pindrus of UTJ who publicized the letter said the government is now planning to set aside a building for the Nehardea yeshiva despite the lack of buildings for special education children.
Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach fiercely fought every change to the traditional yeshiva curriculum and particularly opposed to opening chareidi high schools. Upon hearing that such a yeshiva was about to be opened in Antwerp, he wrote, “Every effort must be made to stop this, especially as there is already a yeshiva in Antwerp and it is certain that this will cause less talmidim to learn there because yeshiva high school attract people, especially youngsters who think their future will be brighter with a matriculation certificate. But the truth is that this is a mistake.”
BARKAT PROMISES MORE JOBS
Uri Lupolianski announced that rumors saying he is considering running for mayor of Yerushalayim are baseless.
“I won’t deny that I am being pressured by different directions at this time to be mayor of Yerushalayim again, but I am still not in the picture. I am in Yad Sarah.”
This greatly increases the chances of Mayor Nir Barkat’s reelection. He launched his campaign with a five year plan for Israel’s capital, promising that under his leadership the city will have more jobs, better public transport, and improved education. Central to his program is a plan to create 100,000 new jobs there within the next five years.
“Employment is the number one reason why young people are leaving the city – so increasing employment means more people will stay and escape the cycle of poverty,” he said. “First, I want to create 100,000 new jobs in Yerushalayim to strengthen employment. Additionally, we’re planning a new business district near the entrance of the city that will create 40,000 new jobs.”
Barkat also promises to provide a longer school day and affordable afternoon childcare. He plans to extend the city’s light rail from Neveh Yaakov to Ein Kerem, as well as constructing a cable car leading from downtown to the Kosel and Har Hazeisim.
“In our last term we proved that the negative trends characterizing Yerushalayim are not destiny,” he said. “I knew and I believed that we can create change. We proved that it is possible to restore peace in Yerushalayim. We laid the foundations and must not go backward. The plan we presented for the next five years will continue to develop Yerushalayim. I plan to turn the vision into reality by realizing the Barkat 2013 plan.”
A forgotten third candidate for mayor of Yerushalayim is long bearded, long haired Pappa Allou, head of the united Meretz-Labor list which has taken up the slogan, “Together, we will stop the chareidization.”
Allou announced his candidacy for mayor of Yerushalayim in April, vowing to break the status quo and introduce public transport into Yerushalayim on Shabbos. Now, some chareidi councilmen ironically asked him not to remove his candidacy, not out of a new-found support for him, but in order that he should siphon votes from Nir Barakat and increase the chances of Moshe Lion who is preferred by some chareidim.
Allou didn’t find the chareidi encouragement humorous.
“The whole business is ridiculous,” he said. “I refused to discuss the matter with them. It’s none of their business.”
Another activist in the upcoming Yerushalayim elections is right-wing activist Aryeh King who pasted slogans throughout the city reading, “Are you afraid in the park?” “Muezzen Cackling?”
King promises to rid the city’s parks of Arabs and to quiet the raucous of muezzins who call Muslims to prayer over high-volume amplifiers in the small hours of the night.
“The problem of Arabs in parks is a problem that spans beyond the seam neighborhoods,” King told the Haaretz paper. “It starts with the fact that the government and the municipality did not invest in East Jerusalem like they did in West Jerusalem. The Arabs have no choice but to go west to the parks. The result is that many families stay away from the parks. I have no problem with his, I live with Arabs, but many Jews do have a problem with it, and that’s understandable… It’s no secret that there are abandoned parks in Neve Ya’akov, Pisgat Ze’ev, and Gilo. They’re abandoned because of the Arabs from the nearby neighborhoods.”
King’s plan is to lock all parks except for one in each neighborhood equipped with security cameras and lighting.
He considers Barkat a left-winger and is determined to drive him out of office.
“If I’m convinced that the chareidim support Leon, I’ll pitch in and support Leon, in order to get the left-winger out of the mayor’s office, and if the chareidim support me, I expect Leon to support me, too,” he said.
The municipality cannot be accused of being completely left-wing. Together with the government it intends to invest over 16 million shekels into further development of the Ir David national park next to Har Habayis, which is run by the pro-settlement Elad organization. The park is a thorn in the eyes of local Arabs who consider it an attempt to rob them of the Silwan neighborhood where it is located. The city and government also intend to invest 150,000 shekels for a mikveh in the Jewish Nof Tzion neighborhood. This is one of several Jewish mini-neighborhoods founded in the heart of Arab neighborhoods in east Yerushalayim in order to establish a Jewish presence.
JUMP IN RABBINATE FEES
Despite the promise by Israel’s new chief rabbis to build a more public-friendly rabbinate, through no fault of their own, fees for religious services such a burial, marriage registration, mikvaos, and kashrus supervision are due to rise next month. The Religious Services Ministry said that this is because “price rises, linkage to the Consumer Price Index and various changes since the last fee update, in 2003.”
Marriage registration and certification will jump from 870 shekels to 1,123 shekels, mikvah fees will rise by 50%, and restaurants will pay between 117 and 306 shekels more annually to get a hechsher. With restaurants and hotels, the increase depends on size. Large restaurants, for example, will pay 1,356 shekels instead of 1,050 shekels, while large hotels will pay 12,295 shekels for supervision instead of 9,520 shekels.
Burials, which cost 85 shekels for children and 190 shekels for adults, will now cost a flat fee of 300 shekels.
Fees of rabbinical botei din services such as divorces, certificates attesting to one’s Jewishness, and confirmations of inheritance, remain unchanged so that the gap between the expense of getting married, 1,123 shekels, and getting divorced, 242 shekels, will become wider.
NOT QUITE MEHADRIN
Until now, the Yerushalayim rabbinate had two types of hechsherim, standard and mehadrin. Now it has now invented a third category called mehuderet for people who want something better than regular rabbinate supervision but without the full cost of mehadrin supervision.
“Kashrut mehuderet is here to help businesses who basically conduct themselves as mehadrin, but do not adhere to all mehadrin conditions,” a mashgi’ach explained.
For example, whereas the mehadrin hechsher of Yerushalayim only accepts meat slaughtered in Yerushalayim under supervision of the mehadrin rabbinate, the mehuderet hechsher will accept mehadrin meat from other towns. Also, the mehadrin hechsher of the rabbinate only uses food products made under the supervision of badatz. However, mashgichim will have to put in more hours at mehuderet establishments than at regular rabbinate eateries. A shawarma stand in Yerushalayim’s Ben Yehuda mall already has the new mehuderet sign in the hope of attracting more frum tourists at a cheaper price.
Meanwhile, due to the violence in Egypt, organizations providing a hechsher to Egyptian producers deem it too dangerous to send their mashgichim there.
“At a time when we cannot guarantee our workers’ safety one hundred percent, the policy is not to put them in danger,” said a statement from Rabbi David Moskowitz, the Admor of Shatz in Ashdod and head of the SKS-Lamehadrin kosher label.
He said that the moment things calm down, it will be possible to reconsider the question of sending mashgichim to Egypt.
HOTLINE FOR KASHRUS FRAUD
Arutz Sheva reports that people with gripes against mashgichim of Israel’s rabbinate now have a convenient easy address for their complaints. Bayit Meshutaf, the non-religious department of Habayit Hayehudi just opened an anonymous hotline where customers and owners of food businesses can report mashgichim shenanigans, which are examined and transferred to the Ministry of Religious Affairs. A number of calls were received the day it opened.
“The idea was initiated following a series of scandals and complaints about the poor work of mashgichim despite business owners being required to pay them high amounts,” said Yaniv, operator of the hotline. “Business owners are paying money with no orderly standards and procedures. There are many people, religious and secular, who are willing to pay more for kosher food so it is important that mashgichim are subjected to supervision.”
“Actually, the Ministry of Religious Affairs should be running a hotline and not a private or political body,” Yaniv admitted. “But we are currently working in cooperation with the ministry with hope that in future, it will take full responsibility for the issue. We are just the beginning of the initiative.”
CLASS ACTION AGAINST BANKS FOR DEFECTIVE HETER ISKOS
A group of six chareidim is trying to take a class action for billions of shekels against six of Israel’s largest banks with the claim that the heter iska used by the banks to permit interest is invalid.
Their lawyer, lawyer Boruch Ben Yosef, explained that this is for two reasons. First, banks don’t make it clear enough that they are operating with a heter iska, and secondly, the banks contravene the heter iska by taking penalty fines for late loan payments.
“Our argument is that a heter iska does not cover penalty interest, which is like a fine,” he said. “Halachah permits a onetime fine for someone who fails to pay in time, but charging interest as a fine is forbidden al pi halachah. Therefore, we say this is not covered by the heter iskah.“
“Most people don’t know at all that the banks are subject to a heter iska, people don’t know its significance, and don’t know how to exercise their rights according to the heter iska,” he added. “All this is because the bank does not exercise the rule of proper disclosure.”
Ben Yosef estimates that banks have earned about 50 billion shekels from penalty interest during the past seven years.
CHIEF JUSTICE TO OPEN HIGH COURTS ON ROSH HASHANAH
Due to Rosh Hashanah falling on Wednesday and Thursday this year, followed by Shabbos, High Court President Osher Grunis instructed court presidents to open their courts on Thursday from 6:00 pm in order to allow arrested people to be arraigned in court within 32 hours of their arrest, according to the law.
Chevron activist and attorney Itamar Ben Gevir challenged Grunis that opening the courts for this reason was not strictly required by Israeli law. Because although Israeli law demands that if a combination of Shabbos and yom tov reach over 72 hours, a person must be arraigned within 32 hours of his arrest, nonetheless, the law also says that “every effort should be made to prevent the chilul of Shabbos and chag during the process, if possible.”
“I am concerned that the instruction you issued today may ‘break the dam,’ and cause massive chilul of yom tov (taking into consideration that not only judges are involved but also typists, guards, legal assistants, and suchlike),” Ben Gevir wrote him. “I beg your honor to reconsider your instructions, and, in any case, to make clear that the instructions deal only with files related to pikuach nefesh and that all the rest should wait until Shabbos and yom tov are over. Uva l’Tzion go’el.”
DERI CONDEMNS ARAB-ARAB VIOLENCE
With the backdrop of massacre of demonstrators in Egypt and gassing of civilians in Syria, Shas leader Aryeh Deri called on Israel to protest against Arabs killing Arabs.
“Currently, we are witnesses to cruel carnage in our neighboring countries whose rulers are taking advantage of their power and doing monstrous things to weak groups of their citizens,” he stated. “…The Jewish people must be foremost in the family of man to protest and cry out. Only a few decades ago during the Holocaust in Europe, the main complaint was – why did the world keep silent. Only a few hundred miles from here people are being murdered every day and the world once again keeps silent.
“In this case, the fact that this is happening in enemy countries makes no difference,” he said. “Human conscience cannot be silent and we will not be silent! We will not do to others what they did to us! The voice of Israel must be clear and unambiguous.”
Other politicians have also said that Israel cannot remain silent at times like these, even if the people being slaughtered are hostile to the country.
OVER 2,000 JEWS AT KEVER YOSEF
In honor of the upcoming days of selichos and rachamim, over 2,000 Jews took the dangerous journey to Shechem in order to daven at the kever of Yosef Hatzadik. After the worshippers arrived in the area, there was a moment of drama when the army announced that the tefillah was canceled. The army’s obstinacy crumbled before the insistence of Head of the Regional Shomron Council Gershon Masika that many Jews will be visiting the kever from now until the Yomim Noraim. Although the kever is officially open to Jews according to the terms of Israel-Palestinian peace agreements, in practice, it is too dangerous to go there except under army escort.
This time too, Arabs hurled rocks at the reinforced busses of the mispalelim but no injuries or damage were reported. The kever has been vandalized numerous times and one Jew and one Druze IDF soldier have lost their lives there.
Among the visitors was the brother of the Nadvorna Rebbe as well as the prominent poseik Rav Mordechai Gross.
“Specifically at a time like this, it is important for the religious Zionist and chareidi communities to unite around shared issues,” Masika said. “One of them is certainly kever Yosef, which has deep importance for the Jewish people and ma’aminim of every sector and strip of the population.”
YESHIVAT CHOVEVEI TORAH – OFF TO A NEW START? THINK TWICE
Rabbi Avi Weiss, founder and original president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, is stepping down from that position, although he will still be active in YCT and will hold his other ranking positions at Open Orthodoxy’s institutions, including Yeshivat Maharat, which gives semichah to women.
While we had hopes that some of the radical and divisive moves that YCT made under the leadership of Rabbi Weiss would cease with the appointment of Rabbi Asher Lopatin as the next president of YCT, in particular due to Rabbi Lopatin’s sensitivity to how many of the controversial paths taken by YCT were not well received and led to YCT being ostracized and labeled as non-Orthodox even by many in the Modern Orthodox camp, our hopes are now shattered.
YCT has just announced that Rabbi Lopatin’s October 6 installation ceremony will include the participation of these rabbis: “Rabbi B. Elka Abramson – Wexner Foundation, Rabbi Arthur Green – Hebrew College (interdenominational/non-Orthodox), Rabbi David Ellenson – Hebrew Union College (Reform), Dr. Arnold M. Eisen – Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative).”
These rabbis, along with Rabbi Lopatin, will lead the installation ceremony with a roundtable discussion titled “Training New Rabbis for a New Generation.”
It is interesting that YCT finds that these non-Orthodox clergy, who do not believe in the divinity of Torah, do not observe its commandments, and preach that they are not binding, are the most appropriate rabbinic leaders to join Rabbi Lopatin to discuss rabbonus.
YCT and its Open Orthodox movement have been justifiably criticized for so many pirtzos hadas. One would think that they would now seek to prove their Orthodox credentials as they are off to a new start. Sadly, by honoring and seeking counsel from the heads of heretical Jewish movements as part of Rabbi Lopatin’s installation, YCT is further confirming its identification with non-Orthodoxy.