Eli Yishai's Request for Forgiveness

The interior minister will have to ask forgiveness from seven and a half million Israelis this year - and it is not certain they will give it.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year. It is the most important day for penitence and forgiveness. But even if you fast all day, recite all the prayers and torture your soul, that is barely enough for God to grant you forgiveness. It is not sufficient unless you also get forgiveness from your friends. For that you have to ask the forgiveness on a personal basis of everyone whom you harmed during the year.

From this we can understand that the interior minister, Eli Yishai, will have an enormous task. He will have to ask forgiveness from seven and a half million citizens of Israel because of the injustice and damage he caused them this year. And it is not certain that they will agree to forgive him.

Only this week it transpired that the computer people in his ministry have been instructed by Yishai to do away with the possibility of making payments on the ministry's website on the Sabbath or holidays. Why does he care? Why does he insist on invading the individual's privacy in so callous a way? After all, making the payment on a Saturday does not force anyone to work on the Sabbath. The action on the website happens automatically on the computer system and is meant to assist all those who work long hours during the week and have time to take care of their accounts only over the weekend.

This annoying and vexing move affects our quality of life and is reminiscent of backward regimes like those in Iran and Saudi Arabia. But why should we be surprised? After all, that is exactly the way in which Yishai acted over daylight saving time. Yishai said we shouldn't be impressed by the fact that daylight saving time continues in Europe until the end of October, because we are a Jewish country here. But who said that a Jewish country must also be a crazy country?

Behind Yishai's insistence on the daylight saving time issue lies his desire to prove to the public that he is the one who decides, that he is the decision maker. From his point of view, any public organization in favor of lengthening daylight saving time is nothing more than a caprice on the part of some annoying Ashkenazis from Sheinkin Street whom it is a "mitzvah" to screw so as to gain another few points with his voters.

But now it transpires that not everyone in Shas thinks like Yishai. The housing and construction minister, Ariel Atias, proved his independence when he stated this week that from his point of view, daylight saving time could continue throughout the winter. Knesset member Chaim Amsellem of Shas said there was no advantage for those who fast in moving the clock, and in fact there were some disadvantages. It appears that even Rabbi Ovadia Yosef does not see any religious problem in this issue, and also does not object to extending daylight saving time. So we are simply left with Yishai's intransigence.

But that is not the only sphere in which Yishai has to ask for our forgiveness. He must ask forgiveness for disgracing Judaism and turning it into a parasitic and exploitative religion and thus distorting its substance. Judaism does not mean life without working, at the public's expense. Judaism is not merely studying the Torah, without mathematics and without English. Judaism is not shirking the need to defend one's home and country like a coward.

There is no instruction in halakha (Jewish law ) that one must not serve in the army. In "A Strong Hand" in Hilchot Melachim (The Kings' Laws ), Maimonides rules that in a holy war, it is the duty of every person to go and fight, "even a bridegroom in his bedroom or a bride under the marriage canopy." But it is much more pleasant to leave this dangerous obligation to the secular and [regular] religious populations.

The parasitic approach that Yishai espouses is not just about evading military service. The yeshiva students in the kollel (adult study center ) do not work for a living. They live off stipends and donations. In "A Strong Hand" Maimonides writes that anyone who believes he should study the Torah but not do any work, and lives off charity, is in fact desecrating the Lord and degrading the Torah. Studying the Torah without working leads to idleness and brings with it misdemeanor, Maimonides says, and a person like that ends up robbing others. Could anyone have said it better?

But Yishai not only sanctifies evading work, he also does not make it possible for ultra-Orthodox youths to study mathematics, English, science, history and civics. He wants his public to be unable to support itself and remain forever dependent on others for a living. For three sins of Yishai, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath, the prophet Amos would have said had he known Yishai. We are not prophets. We are prepared to forgive. Only before that Yishai must repent and ask for forgiveness.