All You Have to Do for a Permit to Move Freely During Israel's Lockdown as a Prayer Leader Is Ask

Haaretz reporter sets up fake synagogue at publication's headquarters, contacts Religious Services Ministry, and within hours receives permit. Now all that remains is for him to learn to blow the shofar

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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A rabbi blows a shofar in 2017.
A rabbi blows a shofar in 2017.Credit: Gil Eliahu
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

It happened at 1:30 A.M. A new email landed in my inbox, with the subject: “Hello Joshua Breiner, attached is a travel permit for a shofar blower [prayer leader].” I haven’t managed to fall asleep since.

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I received the permit, an official document of the State of Israel with the official symbol of the state and the Religious Services Ministry. The signature on the permit is that of director general of the ministry, Oded Fluss, himself, and he informs the police officers who would dare to stop me at the road blocks that will be set up starting on Friday at 2 P.M. that he approves for your faithful servant, whose identity card number is being kept confidential by this newspaper, “to travel to carry out his mission during Rosh Hashanah, on the eve of Yom Kippur and after the end of Yom Kippur.”

If all this is not enough, the permit also allows free movement to all members of my household. Why not, let them move around and have a good time too – because there is no greater mission than to be cantor for the people of Israel and to blow the shofar – and also to fool the government to demonstrate the Israbluff in all its glory. And that is how, I, “empty of good deeds, in turmoil, afraid with the fear of the One who sits enthroned on the praises of Israel, I have come to stand up and plead with you” and cry out: Father, they are making a joke of us.

The truth is that it was not at all complicated to receive the longed-for permit: On Thursday afternoon I approached the Religious Services Ministry as a representative of a new synagogue established in Israel – the Ahavat Haaretz (Love of the Land) Synagogue. The synagogue is located in the editorial offices of the Haaretz newspaper, at 21 Salman Schocken Street in Tel Aviv. I happen to live in Modiin, but no one cared. The Religious Services Ministry also asked me to send a confirmation from the synagogue, but the problem with fake synagogues is that they do not have real confirmations – so I didn’t send anything.

It didn’t prevent anyone at the ministry from sending me the approval in the wee hours of the night. True, the permit does say that I must also present the police officer with the confirmation from the synagogue, but give me a break, what policeman would start now to demand such approval from some unknown functionary? With the permit in hand, a high holiday prayer book in my bag – and while you are all stuck within the single kilometer allocated to you – I will blow the great shofar to my freedom and the freedom of my family.

It’s not because I don’t have experience in being a cantor. In my younger days, I often sand the Anim Zemirot hymn in the central synagogue in Ashkelon, to the dismay of the worshippers. But since I received my permit, I have been singing all over the house at full volume the classic Unetaneh Tokef prayer. Now all I have left to do is to learn to blow the shofar.

Because of the feeling of unpleasantness – after all I have a permit to lead the prayer services during the High Holidays at the synagogue in the offices of Haaretz, I turned to notable figures from the newspaper. Maybe they would want to hear me blow the shofar, with all its fictitious blasts. Gideon Levy didn’t answer my calls. Chaim Levinson hung up on me. Aluf Benn informed me that he does not attend the synagogue – not even fake minyans.

But suddenly I was struck with terror and trembling. Maybe this was actually a message from the creator of world – The Day of Judgment is coming and Israel has given you responsibility: Raise up the prayer of the people of Haaretz before the King of Glory. And then I realized: The official roles of cantor and shofar blower for Haaretz’s synagogue are jobs that are too big for me. Your supplications are too large for my narrow shoulders. I decided to leave my permit in the drawer.

I spoke to the spokesman of the Religious Services Ministry, Avi Rosen, who told me the ministry has taken a number of steps to prevent such cases, and a large number of requests that did not meet the criteria were rejected. In marginal cases, people managed to receive the so-desired permit.

If a Haaretz reporter can invent a fake minyan and receive an official free passage permit from the government of Israel, during the perforated lockdown that not a single medical professional thinks will help reduce the coronavirus infection rate, it would also be proper for them to say in the traditional prayer of confession: We have sinned, we have acted treacherously, we have fooled everyone. And what about the lie I told the Religious Services Ministry? No big deal, imagine that I was released from that vow during the Kol Nidrei prayer – which will not be held in Haaretz’s offices on Yom Kippur.

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