Elections Lessons

November 15, 2018

7th of Kislev, 5779      Chanoch Ne’eman      Yerushalayim

On Yom Shlishi, myself and some 213,000 other city residents managed to drag ourselves out to vote again for mayor, in the run-off. It was a sorry task, choosing between two people I felt unfit.

One candidate claimed the other was in cahoots somehow with Deri and Liberman, who support him. Present mayor Barkat made the same claim against the same candidate five years ago, though now he backed that candidate!

Certainly Deri and Liberman are worrisome friends, as Deri has sat in jail for his corruption, and two MK’ s from Liberman’s party were convicted of wrongdoing.

But why do we have folks like that in power? Perhaps because we vote for parties , in one nation-wide district. If we voted for individuals in smaller districts, we would not have these sectarian parties (Sephardim, Russians, etc) with so much power. And people connected to corruption would be less likely returned to power. It makes a genuine difference.

Similarly, we have as of yesterday, the sad spectacle of Mr. Liberman, who was Defense Minister, resigning his post and calling for elections. If we had a Presidential System, where the leader chose his ministers from his friends, as opposed to other party leaders, who are often his rivals, – then all the mistakes of the executive would be attributed to the leader, who could be voted on at regular intervals. It is bad policy to leave it to politicians when elections should be held.

In short, the rules count. The rules of how your government operates.

It’s time to update our Operating System.


The Smiling Rabbi

November 6, 2018

28 Heshvan 5779 Chanoch Ne’eman  Jerusalem

When Rav Kook started the Chief Rabbinate during the Mandate Days, he of course had high hopes for it. And it has done great things, and does great things, and will do great things. But I doubt he would have imagined that someday the institution would be besmirched by a Chief Rabbi going to jail for bribery. How could it happen?

The Rabbi who managed to do this is indeed one of the most smiley people you will ever meet. Which, as Dale Carnegie might tell you, is a good way to win friends and influence people. It is also a good midda, as our Sages said, “Greet everyone with a cheerful face” (Pirke Avot). When he sat in court he was smiling too, and when he arrived in jail he was smiling too! So we can’t say we have nothing to learn from him – indeed – to smile through life, even in tough times, is a good midda.

But still we must ask, how did a bribe-taker become Chief Rabbi?

The answer alas is, I fear: by taking a bribe.

What do I mean?

A Great Rabbi, who many other Rabbis looked to for leadership, backed the Smiling Rabbis’s candidacy, which meant that many Rabbis on the electoral committee would support him, the Smiling Rabbi. This was despite the fact that there were other candidates of arguably higher caliber. The implication of this support, it seems, was an expectation that this Chief Smiler would advance halachic positions which the Great Rabbi favored. This, in essence, is a sort of bribe, is it not? A quid pro quo?

I am sure the Great Rabbi didn’t see it as that, and that he did not suspect the Smiling Rabbi of being a bribe taker, alas the truly righteous often fail to see the flaws of others, as our Father Yitzchak was ready to bless Esav.

All Rabbis and public servants have to be independent in their judgement. They must make their own decisions, regardless of who supported them. Trading influence for support is taking a bribe.

Interesting to compare this sad episode with the opposition of many Rabbis, in the year 5734, to the appointment of Rabbi Shlomo Goren, of blessed memory, to be Chief Rabbi. It was precisely because Rabbi Goren was so independent that they opposed him. The Rabbi who captured the Old City and Hebron with his shofar and sefer Torah was not someone to let others dictate his decisions! Indeed, it has often been said that the sign of a good Rabbi is that the kehilla wants to run him out of town!

The Hatam Sofer explains at length in Shut Hatam Sofer (Hoshen Mishpat, Chapter 21), that the Rishonim banned one who takes authority over a community without the agreement of the community. And therefore, appointing Rabbis without asking the community has no effect, and such a Rav does not have the din of Mora D’atra, Rav of that Place.

So exactly what the lessons are from the Smiling Bribe-Taking Rabbi are, I am still trying to figure out. Welcome your thoughts.


Post Municipal Elections

November 2, 2018

24 Heshvan 5779 Chanoch Ne’eman (c) Jerusalem

Last Tuesday were the local elections. Now we can start cleaning up all the mess made by all the candidates who claim they want to clean up the city.

But not so fast! In Jerusalem we need to do a second round run-off election! Are you kildding? I barely had impetus to drag myself to the polls the first time to vote for one of these lukewarm candidates. Now you want me to return to vote for one of the two guys I did not even choose the first time? That is pushing it.

I have a better idea, for next time and the future. Let’s adopt what is known as the Instant Run-Off Voting method, known as IRV, where each voter designates both a first and second choice. The top two vote-getters are separated, and then they count second choices, until someone has the needed amount. Instant Run Off.

Of course we might have to move beyond our high tech envelope method of voting to do this. Might actually have to get voting machines for the Start-Up Nation.



Haim Tukachinsky

November 2, 2018

24 Cheshvan 5779

My Friend Rav Yochanan Cinamon, the Jerusalem teacher, author, and composer, made this compilation video of his friend and pianist, Haim Tukachinsky, who was taken from this world on the First Night of Sukkot, as he returned from the Kotel, when he was struck by a car.

May his memory be for a blessing.

May we make the Police better at keeping our roads safe. Amen.


October 30, 2018

22 Heshvan, 5779 Chanoch Ne’eman, Jerusalem (c)

Halloween is about Death, I am sorry to say. About Man’s fear of it. Some pagan baggage brought over from England in colonial days.

Its messages are negative at best, morbid at worst. Trick or Treat? –  Trick means deny your fears. Treat means indulge so to forget them.

If a child was afraid of the dark, would you advise them to dress up like a ghost? Or give them candy to take to bed?

I think one would do better to say, “Yes, the Dark can be pretty scary, but I am not far away, and really you will be fine, don’t worry.”

In other words, we need to give ourselves and each other Love, not tricks or treats. I suggest skipping Halloween and waiting for Thanksgiving, a more American holiday.

(written after recent visits in New Jersey and London)

Jerusalem Municipal Elections

October 11, 2018

1 of Heshvan, 5779 Scottsdale AZ Hanoch Ne’eman

Jerusalem Municipal Elections are something I care about, both as a Jew and a resident. I don’t have much to say, but what I have I will try to say succinctly and to the point, for those interested to hear.

I will likely vote for Zev Elkin. Not because I know too much about him, but because he seems the most innocuous of the candidates.

I don’t like his slogans: “More Homes, More Jobs, More Government Allocations”. The first two items, last I heard, are thankfully results of the private sector, so I do not know what mental space this former Russian is living in. Regarding the Government Allocations, well it sort of embarrasses me that Jerusalem should beg for help all the time, as it did under the current mayor. Maybe we should balance our own budget, even if it means spending less money!

Rachel Azaria is someone I also appreciate, with the caveat that I distrust her judgement. Example. She worked to have women’s pictures on city bus ads, claiming that opposition to that was based on gender discrimination. I disagree. It was about a culture of modesty, and those opposed to women’s pictures would, I hope and believe, readily agree to not having men’s pictures appear in bus ads either.

Similarly, she quickly advocated state takeover of land in Jerusalem owned by the Greek Orthodox Church, to prevent it from being sold to developers. Proposing State takeover of private land is something which they are now proposing in South Africa, and it will likely further sink that country. Her instincts to help are good, I hope, but her judgement is not nuanced.

The Charedi Candidate, Yosef Deutch, impresses me as  being even more monochrome. He wants cheaper housing for young couples. But he does not know how to get it. Indeed, that is not something the government can do. Sorry. So he will continue to work for city tax exemptions for large families, as the charedi parties have done for years. This will keep Jerusalem poor, begging money from the National Government.

Capital Gratitude

May 17, 2018

Chanoch Ne’eman Jerusalem 29 Iyar 5778 (May 14)

Today I am going to walk up from my house to the opening ceremony of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem. It’s in the same place I ordered my new US passport a couple years ago, about a twenty minute walk. Twenty minutes for me to walk, but seventy years for the Embassy to show up, to paraphrase that American Astronaut!

This past December, as I was visiting the US, President Trump made the surprising announcement that the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I felt the great contrast between just one year before, when the outgoing President, just before Christmas,
collaborated to pass a UN Security Council resolution, criticizing Israel for living in the post 1967 parts of her land.

I was amused by our non-Jewish neighbors, in both Arizona and New Jersey, who thought President Trump had made Jerusalem Israel’s capital! I assured them that no, Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital city for the past seventy years! But the odd reality was that America had never formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Why? Ask former presidents. I can only guess because they wanted to assuage the feelings of Arab oil partners, who objected. Indeed, when President Harry Truman recognized the creation of Israel in 1948, it was against the advice and urging of the State Department.

Truman was an independent President. He said “I make American foreign policy.” Mr. Trump may be the most independent President since. I was pleasantly surprised when Mr.Trump replaced his Secretary of State, who had been a former oil company CEO. Oil interests always seem to get their voices into an administration, be it Democratic or Republican. But Mr. Trump seemed to tire of competing with his cabinet, and, like Truman, decided to make foreign policy himself.

Average Americans, like our family’s non-Jewish neighbors, had little problem with Jerusalem being our capital. In fact, in 1995 Congress voted to insist that the State Department move the embassy to Jerusalem, or the next year it would cut funding for all US Embassies by fifty per cent. President Clinton, however, refused to sign the bill until a waiver clause was added, allowing the President to delay implementation every six months, if he chose. And so it was. Every President since 1995 has delayed implementing the Jerusalem Embassy Act. Surprising perhaps, to the average American, but true.

Interestingly, this Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 is an example of a species of legislation whereby the Congress tries to influence foreign policy using its power of the purse – appropriations. The first instance was in 1794, over the Jay Treaty. President Washington had sent John Jay to England, to negotiate a treaty that would keep America out of the war then being fought between England and France. Many Congressmen were upset when they learned of the treaty and threatened to not fund it, though it passed in the end. This balance of power between branches is a healthy element of the American system..

I salute President Trump’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. It is the right time. Critics say – good idea, but not the right time. Critics also said that about the Republican Party’s platform in 1858, which sought to contain slavery. Lincoln said then – You don’t want us to talk about it in the South, you don’t want us to talk about it in the North. Where would you have us talk about it?!

Indeed, any controversial topic will remain controversial so long as someone is willing to controvert it. Bravo to this President for saying what was clear to him, and many others – Jerusalem is the Capital of Israel. Too bad we had to wait for a former casino owner until someone was willing to take a risk for what is right.

Overboard in Jerusalem

April 23, 2018

7 Iyar 5778 Jerusalem  Chanoch Ne’eman

Today I was walking up KKL Street, with a shidduch, and I see my friend Shlomo the Chabadnik standing on the side with a small tefillin table. Shlomo I know from the hood and the shteeple’ach, and I respect that he walks the streets on Rosh Hashana blowing shofar for folks who did not hear shofar in shul, who want to hear. He says to me, “Chanoch, hi, come put on Rabenu Tam tephillin!” “That is a little much, Shlomo”, I reply, “I put on Rashi”. “Have you ever in your life put on Rebenu Tam?”, he asks. “I don’t know”, I say, but no thanks, and I am on a date”, pointing to my companion. “She wants you to put them on!”, he urges. “Bye Shlomo”, I say “another time”.

If I were a psychologist, I might name this phenomenon the “Shaliach Syndrome“; the condition of trying to get someone to do something, not so much because it is good for them to do, but because it would make you feel good to have them do it.

(I have to beware of falling into it myself, I admit.)

The week in review

February 20, 2018

Hanoch Ne’eman Jerusalem 5 Adar 5778

Iran in Syria

On Shabbos Parshas Mishpatim the Iranian forces in Syria sent a military drone into Israel, which Israel shot down. Israel then bombed many sites in Syria, both Syrian and Iranian.

The week before, on Feb. 7th, US troops engaged Assad-side Syrians near Oil Fields in the Deir el Zour region, and reportedly some Russian nationals on the job there helping Syria were killed too. I don’t know if that is related to Israel hitting the Iranians hard this week, but it is an interesting coincidence.

You know the Russians have just about taken over Syria, since they moved in to help Assad stay in power. Syria was always a Russian client state, but now it is “not just a client, but also the President”, to paraphrase an old commercial.

According to A. Pe’er in Hamodia, Israel struck many sites, including ones 185 miles into Syria. Israel destroyed (we hope) Surface to Air missile sites, and attacked Iranian planes on one side of a runway while sparing Russian planes on the other.

An Israeli F-16 was damaged and crashed in Israel. It was damaged by an anti-aircraft missile. The two pilots got out. Thankfully to Hashem, it came down in Israel and not Syria, and the crashed plane landed in a field.

The Migrant Question

Another big issue this week was the plan of the Israeli Government to extradite many of the illegal migrants. As is known, many thousands of illegal migrants live in Israel. Most come from countries in North Africa such as Eritrea and Sudan. Many of them crossed into Israel before Israel built a bigger fence along the Egyptian border. There are over 37,000 of them here now.

The Government announced it would be helping the migrants to leave to a safe, unnamed third country. It would give them a plane ticket and some money, like $3500. Those who don’t take the deal can be deported.

At the heart of the issue, from both a legal and moral perspective, is the question whether the illegals are refugees or just migrants. The difference, legally, is that a refugee is someone fleeing persecution, and refugee law allows them to seek asylum. While there is Civil War in Sudan and Eritrea, Israel does not think the migrants are here because they are persecuted, rather because it is simply much better and stable here in Israel. In any case, Israel is not trying to send them back, but go to a third country.

Immigration usually helps an economy in the long term. I am in general in favor of immigration. Of course Israel wants to have a Jewish majority, so it can’t open the floodgates. And Israel has, like every country, the right to control illegal immigration.

Rabbi Shlomo Dov Rosen of Yakar in Jerusalem articulated the problem with the current plan: since it is secret, we don’t know if it is safe for them where they are going. They should not, he says, be deported unless we know it is safe. The problem is the third country likely does not want to admit the deal publicly. So we are left in the position of trusting our government. Trust is a beautiful thing, as one of my professors said, but don’t trust anyone. I especially feel that way as our Interior Minister, who is handling this, is Aryeh Deri.



February 19, 2018

28 Shevat, 5778 Jerusalem, Hanoch Ne’eman

I stopped in Copenhagen, Denmark, for one day (13 Shevat, 5778) on my way back to Israel. Here are some of my thoughts and impressions.

First of all, they do not pronounce the name of their city “Copenhagen” any more than we say “Jerusalem” for our city of Yerushalayim. That was comforting to know. They say something like “Ko-pu-hawn”, with the last part very nasal.

I stayed in a nice place downtown called The Ibsens Hotel, and enjoyed the staff and room, as well as staying in a place named after a playwright, howbeit Norwegian. I did fly Norwegian Air back to Israel, which I was very happy with too. We stopped in Stockholm for a couple hours and I walked around outside at the airport, enjoying seeing the frosted trees.

In Copenhagen, the bicycles are everywhere, by the thousands! This is one of the main reasons I wanted to see it. That and the fact they helped most of their Jews escape the Gestapo in 1943.

The bicycles make Copenhagen human, “heimish”. Real people live here. People I can relate to as humans, because they are on bikes. Windows do not separate me from them. Riding a bike in Denmark is the most natural thing to do. People commute in groups with their friends. They are simple and healthy. I love them. And most of the bikes don’t have motors. Some have carriages for kids.

Image result for copenhagen              photo credit – U. of Copenhagen

There is a street for cars, a lane for bikes, and a sidewalk for pedestrians. Each in its place. Parallel but separate. All stop for the lights. There are even special traffic lights for the bikes, which if you are a bile rider you can understand the need for. It is civilized, like it should be. Yerushalayim, take note.

Also beautiful are the buildings, most, but not all, of which are no more than six stories high. Like Washington DC, this makes a much more humane and lovely city.

Copenhagen makes good use of water in its cityscape. There are large, rectangular water areas which separate parts of the town, which gives a calming effect on the city. They are called the Lakes. Also there are lovely parks, which also have small ponds in them.