By Rabbi Yisrael Rosen
Dean of the Zomet Institute
"And you shall make holy clothing for Aharon your brother, for glory and splendor" [Shemot 28:2]. "How do we know that if he is not wealthy his brothers the priests shall enhance his wealth? It is written, 'And the priest who is greater than his brothers' [Vayikra 21:10] – make him great from what is taken from his brothers" [Yoma 18a].
"Of booty that is taken – Half goes to the King and half to the nation" [Sanhedrin 20b].
The press has gone mad. Insignificant items having to do with the life of Sarah Netanyahu's family such as deposit bottle returns and exchanges of garden furniture between private and public residences have become a legitimate cause for disturbing its balance. There can be no doubt that the fanning of the flames by the media and the screaming headlines are what forced the State Attorney and the State Comptroller to dig into these affairs and others at this time. And the motive of the press is clear:When elections come, we increase the joy and the blasts of the horns. (When Adar comes...)
Let me state the following at the outset: It is clear to me that the instincts of the "nation" are so healthy that the press cannot dampen them. The nation is not stupid. Those who will vote for Likud support Netanyahu because of his stand on weighty and vital issues: The Iranian atom bomb, our country's foreign relations, the political dispute with the Palestinians, the military struggle against enemies from all sides, the murderous actions of ISIS in our back yard, making sure to maintain the growth of our economy and financial stability, problems with housing and conversion ("diyur" and "giyur"), the definition of a "Jewish state," and many other matters. One has to be foolish to think that all these issues will be pushed aside as a result of alleged unethical behavior, the character of the Prime Minister's wife, or the great importance of the rule that "the law of a Peruta is just as important as the law of hundreds of Shekels" [Sanhedrin 8a].
In this case I aim my barbs at the press and not at the competitors in the race. The candidates prefer (and rightly so) to drag the competition to side issues, to the alleyways of ethics, "equality before the law," and legal battles, where they feel that they have an advantage (at least until the press begins to uncover them in the bright sunlight...). In my opinion as an amateur political analyst, it will turn out in the end that the opposite is true: the descent into the realm "below the belt" will be beneficial for Netanyahu. In psychological terms, the masses tend to support the one who is pursued (see Kohellet 3:15) and many sane people will cry out, " Are you crazy? The country is in flames and you can find nothing more to worry about than such a paltry sum? We will respond by voting for the Likud!"
Public Bottle Behavior
So, my barbs are reserved for the press, which is losing all proportion to a greater and greater extent, with its fervor for scoops and side issues. Don't the creators of scoops know that in many public and institutional affairs it is standard for some patently unauthorized individual to collect all the bottles for his own benefit, either in secret or in the open? And it may even be worse: He may even collect the bottles and give the deposit to the workers committee, without getting permission from the management! I suggest that young investigators should be sent on a simple mission, one that will achieve instant results: Check what master sergeants in the IDF do with used bottles, and what the source is for all that petty cash available to the units in the IDF. I am sure that what will be revealed is that a soldier has been commanded to collect the deposits, to be used for the next campfire, without obtaining authorization from the head of the quartermaster division of the IDF or from the budget division of the Ministry of Defense – and not even from the battalion commander, the deputy battalion chief, or the deputy kitchen commander.
And beyond this, what is really important: I harbor a suspicion that even in the Israeli Police, which has the task of watching over the norms of abiding by the law and regular behavior, it may be possible that senior officers are aware that bottles are being collected without the deposits being sent to the major authority who should benefit from them – and that these people don't even report this to their superiors! (Note: if a reporter really is sent to investigate this matter in depth, I demand that I be given credit for the idea!)
The Torah Viewpoint
True to my title of "rabbi," my attitude towards these matters takes its cue from Jewish tradition, and I sincerely hope that the approach of Jewish halacha will someday be adopted within the Jewish state. As far as I can see, the story of the deposit bottles is pure nonsense. The custom of the land is that no "manager" expects the bottles to come back to him, they have the status of "hefker" – without any formal owner – for everybody, or at the very least for the people who participated in the affair. Such perks are well within the definition of "a general acceptance" – such as regular use of paper in an office or an occasional photocopy for private use, the use of telephones and cars, and so on. A pious approach and moderation should be practiced with all of these matters, but whoever is not strict about them will never be brought to court. Such matters, which are "general practice," lead to a general pardon for the activity.
Here is an idea that came to me by association, based on our sources. At the beginning of this article we quoted halachic rulings which give the King and the High Priest exaggerated financial perks, which go beyond logic and simple justice. (I assume that many readers were upset by the mention of these super-roles. Take it easy! I definitely agree that "statehood" is not "royalty" and that the "holy" clothing does not mean "the priesthood in the Temple.") These laws cause me to raise an eyebrow in wonder, asking "Where is justice?" The King is allowed to enrich his treasures with half of all the profits of war. Similarly, the wealth of the High Priest is enhanced at the expense of his brothers.