Spielberg’s Selective Equivalency

It is clear that Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, “Munich,” attempts to portray the Muslim killers of the unsuspecting Israeli athletes as just simple family men, no different from the Israelis they murdered at the Munich Olympics.

We all should ask ourselves, given that we cannot ask it of Spielberg or his ultra-leftist screenwriter, Tony Kushner, why Spielberg’s earlier war movie, “Saving Private Ryan,” did not turn into a showcase of moral equivalency. Why were the Nazis not portrayed as simple family men and the Americans who fought them as guilt-ridden, tormented souls?

Here’s why: Because Spielberg knew he would have been lynched and his studio burned to the ground had he tried foisting that bit of morally equivalent liberal trash on the American public.

Jerry Boris
Philadelphia, PA
He’s No Icon

It’s a sign of the Jewish community’s spiritual bankruptcy that a man like Steven Spielberg was ever accorded iconic status in the first place. So he knows how to make an entertaining movie. Good for him. He’s rich beyond the average millionaire’s dreams thanks to his filmmaking ability. But how that makes him someone we as Jews should look up to is beyond me.

Daniel Graubart
(Via E-Mail)


Like Father, Like Son

I read Naomi Klass Mauer’s article about Shlomo Aumann,z”l, with great emotion (“A Teacher, a Boy, a Prayer and a Nobel Prize,” op-ed, Dec. 9). You see, Shlomo befriended me at Yeshivat Sha’alvim where I studied for two years. He was a great all-around guy, and with his fluent English he made us chutz l’aretz bochurim feel at home. He was the nephew of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Meir Schlesinger, but you would never have known it. He was just one of the guys.

It doesn’t surprise me that his students loved him as a math teacher. He was beloved by all the b’nei yeshiva. He was serious in his learning, and so very focused. Of course, nothing can bring back Shlomo, Hashem yikom damo, but may the family take comfort in knowing that both son and father were mekadesh Shem Shamayim – Shlomo in making the ultimate sacrifice to protect

the Jewish people and his father, a proud Orthodox Jew, in receiving the Noble Prize for economics.

Rabbi Mordechai Bulua
Montreal, Canada
The Meaning Of  `Na?ve’

I have never minded criticism, but I must admit to be rather taken aback by a critique by an individual who apparently doesn’t understand the English language. I was charged by reader Chaim Silver (Letters, Dec. 16) as having committed the “major error” of mistranslating the Hebrew word tam as na?ve and therefore as not having understood the classical Hebrew word.

He writes that throughout the Tanach tam is used in the sense of “honest, sincere and wholehearted devotion and is idiomatically linked to the kindred adjectiveyashar, honest and straightforward.” If he had only bothered to check Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (1949) he would have found that the word na?ve comes from the Latin “nativus” which means “natural or unaffected simplicity, candid, frank and artless, actuated by candor and love of truth.”

It would seem that my translation of na?ve is precisely the one that Chaim Silver felt should have been used – had be but understood the meaning of na?ve.

He also charged me with calling Jacob “out of touch,” although he did not cite my phrase in context. I was explaining the Malbim who attempted to justify Rebecca’s action, and in that context I wrote that she was trying to prove wrong Father Isaac’s contention that the “studious, spiritual, out-of-touch Jacob could never manage the materialistic political and military machinations involved in blessing.”

If you check the source in the Malbim you will see that this is exactly what the commentary was trying to say.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
(Via E-Mail)

We’re Not Worthy

I’m a student at a well-known yeshiva. Before you continue to call your publication “The Jewish Press,” let me introduce something to you. It’s called Judaism.

Several weeks ago I saw a copy of your paper on the table in my house and was astonished that the front page had a photo of an Arab man without a shirt on. (It is a halacha that a man may not walk around without a shirt – except in a pool or other bathing facility – even in the privacy of his own house.) I let that pass as perhaps some kind of technical error.

More recently, however, I was again shocked at your choice of a photo for the front page – a lady kissing her husband. The Gemara discusses the topic of looking at women. One amora concludes that a man may not look at the pinkie of a woman. Perhaps that only refers to looking at a woman with non-kosher thoughts. However, everyone agrees that looking at a man and woman making physical contact in any way, shape or form is forbidden.

I see no difference between your paper and the garbage that is sold at newsstands in Manhattan. Your publication is about as “Jewish” as the pope.

Chaim Goldman
Brooklyn, NY
Editor’s Note: The photograph of the “man and woman making physical contact” depicted – as the caption made clear – the proud granddaughter of Prof. Robert (Israel) Aumann giving her grandfather an affectionate kiss on the cheek after he’d been awarded the Nobel Prize. The Palestinian without a shirt was photographed as he took part in the looting and burning of a Gaza settlement after the Israeli pullout.
Weissman Si

The sum of the “few people” who claim Chananya Weissman is “an unusually courageous person” (Mr. Weissman’s words from his Nov. 4 op-ed article “I`ll Sign My Name To It”) increased by one (yours truly) once I read his Dec. 16 front-page essay, “A ‘New’ Understanding of Talmud Torah.” Despite growing up myself defining torah l’shmah as a “self-contained pursuit” – the belief Mr. Weissman differs with – I find his article less incensing than thought-provoking.

I therefore itch to read the spitfire challenges sparked by his thesis, as well as how he meets them, just as he fields the presumed objection from the case of ben sorer u`moreh, where he points to its moral lessons to show that it’s not for study alone.

Ari Bornstein
Brooklyn, NY
Weissman No

Chananya Weissman has written provocatively in this paper aboutsimcha reforms and his specialty, shidduchim. He’s clearly out of his league, however, when it comes to Talmud Torah. His front-page essay was, as always, well written and passionately argued, but in this case intellectually corrupt.

Mr. Weissman asserts “there is no such concept in Judaism” as learning for the sake of learning. Even casual students of the Torah are familiar with the Nefesh HaChaim by R’ Chaim of Volozhin, the prime disciple of the Vilna Gaon. In what is undoubtedly the most famous exposition of Torah lishma, he explains (based on the Rosh Ned. 62a), a concept eerily similar to what Mr. Weissman claims doesn’t exist. While there may be differing opinions, to insist there is no such concept is either egregious ignorance of the primary sources or a willful distortion of them.

Mr. Weissman states the ramifications of this “new understanding” include the complete upheaval of the yeshiva curriculum and virtual obliteration of the kollel system. He goes so far as to equate learning as it is expressed in most yeshivas with bittul Torah. Of course, Torah study in our yeshivos and kollelim is not perfect, and there is definitely room for improvement, but that’s a far cry from Mr. Weissman’s challenge of the entire institution.

All too often people who acknowledge their relative inferiority when it comes to matters of halachic significance become self-proclaimed authorities when it comes to Torah hashkafa. Whereas I presume most Orthodox Jews will defer to recognized Torah authority when it comes to hilchos Shabbos or kashrus, many seem to have no qualms dismissing rabbinic consensus on fundamental Jewish philosophy. What they fail to realize is that Judaism is not a democracy – every opinion is not created equal.

Mr. Weissman correctly points out that Torah means instruction. It is the Source of not only laws but also our world view. I feel safe with our gedolim and Torah leaders as guides.

Rabbi J. Rosenblatt
(Via E-Mail)
Cheap Shots At Scientists Don’t Change Truth

Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it’s not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world, that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.

How else can we explain the rabbi’s readiness to believe that he has discovered fundamental problems in the theories of physics or biology that have escaped the notice of scientists who study these fields professionally? Such an attitude reflects either an unusual degree of hubris or a fundamental belief that scientists are all bumbling idiots. I suggest it’s the latter.

For example, the rabbi triumphantly cites the second law of thermodynamics as evidence against the possibility of evolutionary processes. Does he think the scientists who study thermodynamics and biological processes have absent-mindedly overlooked this issue? Or that because of their unfortunate stupidity they just cannot quite grasp the basic principles of thermodynamics that the rabbi somehow innately comprehends?

Surely even the faintest degree of respect for scientists’ intellectual capacities would have led the rabbi to inquire whether they had previously considered this issue. And they have. It’s discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites, which I assume are not yet banned in Monsey.

(Incidentally, if the rabbi will re-read his own letter, he will find that his repeated use of the term “closed system” provides an important clue to understanding why evolutionary processes do not violate the second law.)

The yeshiva world has long found it convenient to ridicule science and scientists, and the rabbi’s letter exposes a common conceit that a yiddishe kup and high school diploma provides better insight into the fundamental questions of science than does eight years of dedicated graduate study and a career of scientific experimentation. Well, let me break the bad news – a yiddishe kup and high school diploma provide virtuallyno insight whatsoever into the fundamental questions of science, especially considering the cadaverous state of most yeshiva science curricula.

I don’t mean to suggest that the layperson shouldn’t exercise his or her full intellectual abilities in trying to critically assess and assimilate the latest scientific findings. One need not believe everything one is told, by scientists or by anyone else.

But the fact of the matter is that scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people who have a substantial level of competence in their fields of study. Their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective over the past 300 years.

The image of the “idiot scientist” conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter may be comforting to some, but it’s ultimately just crude escapism.

David Fass
Highland Park, NJ