Reckless Talk

The growing incitement against Israeli government officials in response to the disengagement policy must be condemned by all people regardless of their stance regarding that policy. The atmosphere being created is one that should be abhorrent to those who respect the guiding principles of democracy, the very tenets of freedom which we all cherish.

As a member of the religious community, I painfully recall the backlash from the leftists and the irreligious who claimed after Rabin’s assassination that not enough was done or said to admonish a minority of people responsible for the incitement. At times the backlash was so bad that in Tel Aviv simply traveling on a bus while wearing a kippah was problematic. Subsequently there have been forums and much needed mending of the fences between the religious and irreligious. I fear that without a public condemnation by our organizations, community leaders and rabbis, we will not have learned from our past mistake of keeping silent on an issue that necessitates outspokenness.

Incitement against democratically elected officials is unacceptable, period. The free world is presently fighting to restore and protect democracy the world over. For many, this is their first taste of freedom. We have a system in place to voice our concerns and, if necessary, remove government officials from office in a democratic manner. At the same time, the government that we empowered with the right to govern us must take into account, and be more responsive to, the concerns of the citizenry. Let us be an example to these countries that are first experiencing or have yet to experience freedom and democracy.

Seth Friedbauer
(Via E-Mail)

Battling Anti-Semitism

I was thoroughly impressed with Mrs. E. Schonfeld’s response (Letters, Feb. 11) to Shlomo Mostofsky’s front-page essay “Never Again?” (Jan. 21). While Mr. Mostofsky would have us take up arms in self-defense as a means of preventing another Holocaust, chas v’shalom, Mrs. Schonfeld urges Jews to redouble their commitment to the faith.

Some two hundred years after the world’s first holocaust – the Great Flood – a meeting was convened to address the following concerns: The earth had been repopulated, cities had been reestablished, and commerce was flourishing – but all would be for naught should the world once again incur the wrath of Heaven. Rather than legislate against the behaviors which precipitated the earlier devastation, the people decided to build a great fortress they thought would insulate them against Divine punishment.

Obviously their plans were scuttled, but the lesson seems to be lost on our lay leaders. In addition to Mr. Mostofsky’s approach, we have those who would “educate” the world vis-a-vis the Holocaust hoping to stir its conscience; others who look to curry favor with politicians to whom they could turn in times of need; and still others who advocate interfaith dialogue. Now, such hishtadlus has its place, but as Mrs. Schonfeld pointed out, nothing is as important as increased Torah study, intensified prayer and improved middos.

The Mostofskys of the world take the wrong approach to anti-Semitism. Rather than appreciate it as a warning – a wake-up call to teshuvah – they view it as an evil unto itself, divorced from Hashem, which if eliminated would remove any and all dangers. We recall the words of Tehillim – Many are the thoughts of man, but it is the counsel of Hashem which ultimately stands.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Meaningful Bar Mitzvah

Kudos to Chananya Weissman for his op-ed article ”A Real Solution For Extravagant Simchas” (Jan. 21). I have benn saying much the same thing for years.

When our son became bar mitzvah, it was in our old shul back home in Pennsylvania. It is a shtiebel-type shul which barely manages a minyan many days, has a leaky roof (!), and is my home away from home. Everyone knows everyone’s name there, and to say I miss that shul terribly would be an understatement.

My son’s simcha may well be the last bar mitzvah that 200-year-old shul will ever see, and it was the first one in many decades in that formerly very Jewish, very frum neighborhood.

Did we have a big party the next day? No. All we had was a light meal after Kiddush on Shabbos, and a private family dinner the next night. Could we have afforded more? Yes. Did we want to? No.

I wanted (and so did our son) to have a simple religious, heimishe simcha almost identical to my late father’s bar mitzvah in 1935 in a similarly tiny shul not far from the one my son’s was in.

We are all very happy with our decision. I wish more Yidden would see that the spiritual nature of the simcha is far more important than “what will the neighbors think.”

Chana S. Rovinsky
Blackwood, NJ

Contra Cross Harbor

Congressman Jerrold Nadler (op-ed, Feb. 11) has such great praise for the so-called ”Cross Harbor Freight Program” that one might get the impression that this program’s fulfillment will not only ease truck traffic in Brooklyn but will cure disease and bring about world peace. In fact, it will be excessively expensive, will complicate traffic, disrupt neighborhoods such as Boro Park and Midwood, and bring noise and danger to Brooklyn.

Eight billion dollars is an estimated cost for a tunnel (or tunnels) cutting across New York Harbor going from Jersey City to 65th Street in Brooklyn. Does anyone know of such projects which do not end up with significant overruns? And who will pay? You, of course. New rail beds and tracks will be laid through Sunset Park, Boro Park and Midwood, just at the places where there is already a single track on the Long Island Railroad bypass. Anyone who believes that this can be done without noise, dirt, damage to adjoining structures is ready to buy a well-known bridge at the north of our borough.

And suppose this project is carried through. What will happen when 32 freight trains move back and forth in two-way traffic each day? More noise? More damage to the structural integrity of adjoining structures? Exodus of families living adjacent to these tracks?

The Cross Harbor Program calls for heavy freight traffic cutting across Brooklyn. What kind of freight? Will this include hazardous materials? Will the trains haul garbage on their way back to an initial Brooklyn terminal? And where will the freight be dropped off? If the answer is ”Maspeth, Queens,” then the idea that truck traffic in Brooklyn will be minimized is vitiated. In this case trucking material back in Brooklyn by automotive means will be unavoidable.

So who, one should ask, is interested in a real solution? What are Mr. Nadler’s interests here? What was he thinking when he packed Community Board 14’s hearing on the program with unionized construction workers whose primary concern is the creation of jobs, not the integrity of established neighborhoods and their residents (including many readers of The Jewish Press)?

Charles Evans
(Via E-Mal)

Editor’s Note: Professor Evans is the former chairman of the Philosophy Department at the City College of New York.

Secular Studies A Hopeless Cause?

Fear Of Science

I am very happy that Dr. Yitzchok Levine is tackling the program of secular education in our yeshivas (“Accepting a Challenge,” front-page essay, Feb. 11). Unfortunately, he deals primarily with the mechanics of secular education – such as the lack of proper curriculum and the lack of interest on behalf of yeshiva administrators – but does not present a solution to the core problem. That problem, I would suggest, is that the yeshivas do not accept the basic premise that secular knowledge of God’s world is essential and that we are mandated by our sages to be conversant with the mystical wonders that Hashem has created in this world for our use.

Dr. Levine is spinning his wheels in presenting his insightful and meaningful curriculum when he himself admits that he can’t get even one yeshiva to trail-blaze a sensible secular curriculum. Most yeshiva administrators are deathly afraid of science as a form of apikorsus. The idea that it was our own spiritual giants who said “moh rabu ma’asecha” (how wondrous are Your acts of creation) and “kulan bechochma asisah” (You encouraged the mind of man to fathom the mysteries of Your creation) is quickly dismissed.

The attitude that science is a completing philosophy has led to our abdicating an insightful view of the Creator’s wonderful world to the secular scientists, and therein lies the real tragedy.

Mike Senders
(Via E-Mail)

Blame Modern Orthodoxy’s Decline

The lack of response to Dr. Levine from yeshiva administrators is hardly a surprise. The state of affairs in our yeshivas is symptomatic of the ghettoization of the American Orthodox community – particularly in New York and increasingly so in other large cities.

Whereas as recently as the mid-1970’s it was possible to survey the Orthodox landscape and take pride in the dynamic intellectualism that suffused large parts of Modern Orthodoxy, the situation today could not be more different. For a host of reasons too complex to detail in a letter to a newspaper, Modern Orthodoxy has atrophied over the past couple of decades to the point where a Modern Orthodox group like Edah, whose leadership is comprised of distinguished rabbis and scholars, is viewed by almost every frum Jew I come into contact with as being unrepresentative of Torah Judaism – a fringe phenomenon to be shunned or ignored.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that had an Orthodox Jew been placed in a state of suspended animation in, say, 1968, he would not recognize the Orthodox world if he were to regain consciousness in 2005. That is the problem in a nutshell, and it is the reason why the dumbing down of the community shows no sign of abating. What we now call Modern Orthodoxy – it was viewed as mainstream Torah Judaism when I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s – has been on the defensive for years.

The Orthodox public has bought the notion that stricter necessarily means better, that isolation breeds spirituality, and that our sages in centuries past all wore black hats and spent their days searching out every chumra the human mind could conceive. The reality of Torah teachers who made their living in “secular” occupations, of scholars who counseled leniency within the parameters of the Law, of rabbis whose interpretation of Torah stressed understanding and conciliation between Jew and Jew and Jew and non-Jew – that reality is unknown to Orthodox young people today in all but a handful of yeshivas.

Yehuda Biebelberg
New York, NY

Deep Denial

I laud the efforts of The Jewish Press and Dr. Yitzchok Levine in keeping the issue of secular studies in yeshivas on the front burner. However, responding to the challenge of designing a curriculum al regel achas, independently and in a popular Jewish publication, is a non-starter. I do not for one instant deny Dr. Levine’s sincerity, but this matter needs to be approached differently.

Dr. Levine writes that he hasn’t heard from anyone involved in the administration of a yeshiva. “If there is no interest on the part of the hanhala and principals, there is nothing to discuss.” Dorten light der hundt bagroben. You can’t fix a problem and offer solutions if everyone is in denial about the problem existing in the first place.

Unless there is recognition and acceptance by the yeshiva world and the roshei yeshiva that secular subjects are necessary for parnossa, the status quo will not change. These schools will graduate students with minimal language skills, much less knowledge of Western culture. The readings suggested by Dr. Levine are far beyond what many can comprehend.

One of the most delicate and difficult subjects to discuss is the high number of Jewish families existing on welfare checks, food stamps, Section 8 rent subsidies, etc. Surely this is not a condition of which we can be proud. But many are unprepared or unwilling to enter the work force. This should be a priority discussion for the highest levels of Jewish leadership.

We do a disservice to our young people by not giving them the tools to earn a living. If there is acknowledgement and acceptance that secular studies deserve more than minimal pro forma lip service, there are many fine educators from the frum community who would be available to work on an acceptable curriculum. Ayn davar omayd bifnei haratzon.

Dr. Wallace Greene, Chairman
National Board of License of Teachers and Principals
in Jewish Schools in North America
New York, NY