Giving Due Credit

The tax credit legislation applauded by TEACH NYS in its two-page ad in last week’s Jewish Press was enacted by the New York Legislature over Governor Pataki’s veto. It certainly is appropriate to thank the governor and others, including the Sephardic Community Foundation, who supported alternative legislation – especially since their initiative got the ball rolling. It is not appropriate to ignore the vital role of Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Joseph Bruno. They got the job done.

We should all especially appreciate – in this matter and in so many others – what Sheldon Silver has done for our community.

Marvin Schick
(Via E-Mail)
Remembering Harry Fischel

Re the recent articles by Dr. Yitzchok Levine on the late Harry Fischel (“The Multimillionaire Who Remained True to Orthodoxy,” front-page essay, April 21, and “Glimpses Into American Jewish History,” May 5):

I worked at the West Side Institutional Synagogue in New York as the secretary to Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, Mr. Fischel’s son-in-law, for several years (before and after I was married) and met Mr. Fischel many times when he visited.

I once went to Mr. Fischel’s home to bring him some document. He gave me a tour of his Park Avenue apartment and showed me his beautiful sukkah. He lived on the second floor and had eliminated all the rooms above his sukkah at a serious annual financial loss.

Rabbi Goldstein gave me a copy of Mr. Fischel’s book, Forty Years of Struggle for a Principle, which he inscribed for me. I also have a copy of the Pirkei Avot given to guests at the wedding of one of Mr. Fischel’s daughters.

It became a tradition for Mr. Fischel to mark the marriage of each of his daughters with the publication of some volume of Jewish interest, which served the dual purpose of providing a souvenir for the wedding guests and propagating the teachings of Torah.

I have many fond memories of my time at the West Side Institutional Synagogue. Time marches on. I am now a widow. I live in Los Angeles and am the “Bubby” of three wonderful grandchildren who live in New York.

Rose Marateck Ptashkin
Los Angeles, CA

Chesler’s Insight

Kudos to Phyllis Chesler for her insightful “How a Holocaust Happens” (front-page essay, May 5). Ms. Chesler’s most telling observation is that by focusing on the European Holocaust, and concentrating on the memorializing of dead Jews, attention is diverted “from the impending Holocaust against living Jews.”

Has the American Jewish community come to the realization that, as Chesler writes, “Israel endured the equivalent of 9/11 every month for four years during the intifada that began in 2000”?

World opinion is being tested, and found wanting. There is no outcry against the calls from the Arab world for Israel’s destruction. As Ms. Chesler rightly points out, “What matters is not just what evil people do. What matters is what the good people do – or fail to do. The time to act is upon us. Heroism is now our only alternative.”

Helen Freedman
Americans For a Safe Israel
New York, NY

Chovevei Torah Ct’d (I)

You are to be congratulated for your forthright editorial of April 14, “Warm and Fuzzy Halacha.” Our sages long ago predicted that the Conservative movement would increasingly become like Reform. You were also right to expose what is going on in Yeshiva Chovevei Torah. Rabbi Avi Weiss violates the age-old restrictions on teaching Torah to non-Jews (even more so to upper level Catholic clergy) and thereby also the ban of HaRav Yosef Solveitchik, zt”l, on interfaith dialogue.

It is silly to suggest, as some have, that because Rabbi Weiss is a noted activist there is nothing untoward in his promoting and condoning conduct that is contrary to halacha and not in the best long-term interests of the Jewish people.

Robert Markowitz
Brooklyn, NY

Chovevei Torah Ct’d (II)

Having read some of Rabbi Avi Weiss’s pronouncements about the mission of his yeshiva, I was not at all surprised by the excerpts from Chovevei Torah’s own materials cited by Rabbi Avrohom Gordimer (Letters, April 28).

Rabbi Weiss’s encouragement of an easy theological and educational camaraderie between his students and functionaries of the Reform and Conservative movements; the Yeshiva Chovevai Torah newsletter extolling a new Haggadah designed by one of its students to “speak” to the understanding of “liberation” in the “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender” communities; and the rosh yeshiva of Chovevei Torah musing about whether halacha should be “bent” to conform to modern circumstances – all of this indicates an emerging problem for Orthodoxy.

The time is long past due for Rabbi Weiss to explain – perhaps in his Jewish Press column – just how his “Open Orthodoxy” is consistent with normative Orthodox Judaism.

Raphael Handler
(Via E-Mail)

Jewish Museum And Shabbos

New York’s Jewish Museum recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. But as of May 13 the museum, after a century of closing for Shabbos, will be open its doors on Saturdays. What message are the museum’s directors trying to send? Is the Jewish Museum really a Jewish institution – or a secular one that tries to fool the public with its name?

We Jews should be proud of all the aspects of Judaism that make us unique – our heritage, our religious traditions, our Jewish identity. We cannot remain silent. Readers should contact the Jewish Museum and make it clear that we do not support this new policy. Otherwise we may, before long, see a new name on the building: The Not-So-Jewish Museum. 

Debbie Jaeger
(Via E-Mail)

Biblical Blessing

It is interesting to note that the evil Islamic fundamentalist 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui shouts “God Curse America” – a statement completely at odds with the words and spirit of the song “God Bless America,” composed by Irving Berlin, a patriotic Jewish immigrant.

The Bible says, regarding the Jews, “Those who bless you will be blessed and those who curse you will be cursed” – which, in Moussaoui’s case, can also be applied to America, a country that stands for freedom for people of all faiths, including Islam and Judaism.

Robert Harris
Chicago, IL

Judaism And Western Democracy

Several recent articles in The Jewish Press seem to suggest that Judaism endorses Western political democracy. Rabbi Berel Wein’s op-ed piece “Judaism and Democracy” (April 7) cites historical examples of observant Jews deciding issues democratically and equates Israeli elections with Judaism: “In the 20th century, Jewish life was governed almost completely by elections, different parties and non-stop campaigning, a situation that obviously pertains today in the State of Israel.” Rabbi Wein concludes that “Jewish life is therefore quite democratic.”

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, in his column “The Case For Democracy” (March 31), commits the same flawed leap from Judaism to Western democracy. Rabbi Riskin notes the Rambam’s ruling that ordination for a Sanhedrin can be resuscitated by a majority of Sages in the Land of Israel and then cites sources for equating the entire congregation of Israel with the Sanhedrin as well as for equating the Congregation of Israel with the Congregation of Jews living in Israel.

Rabbi Riskin offers no rationale for equating elections in which only observant Jews living in the Land of Israel participate with the kind of elections held in Israel today – elections which include the participation of a substantial and hostile non-Jewish population.

Democracy is the best form of government for the nations of the world, who do not possess the Torah (Law) of Emet (Truth). But our Torah opposes Western democracy as the ultimate ideal government for Israel.

In his sefer Or Hara’ayon, Rabbi Meir Kahane writes the following concerning democracy and Judaism:

The nations and alien culture have crowned supreme the concept of “vox populi,” decision-making by majority, come what may, and it is this which is called “Democracy.” The Torah, by contrast, does not tolerate such foolishness. Abominable wickedness cannot possibly be rendered acceptable simply because a majority of fools, ignoramuses, or evildoers have declared it so. Bitter does not become sweet or darkness light, even if all the people say it is. One is not free to decide against the commandments of his Creator.

Rabbi Kahane was right. Judaism is not the same as Western democracy. One need look no further than Michael Freund’s op-ed article of March 31 – which described how the great democracies of Switzerland and Norway have forbidden the slaughter of animals in accordance with Jewish law, and of how democratic Sweden has imposed restrictions on circumcision – to understand the contradictions between Western democracy and Judaism.

In 1988, Rabbi Kahane’s Kach Party was poised to win anywhere from six to eighteen Knesset seats, as predicted even by polls conducted by those on the political Left. And so the “only democracy” in the Middle East banned Rabbi Kahane’s party, a party whose entire platform was taken from the Torah.

There are many Jews who still proclaim that Judaism and democracy are compatible. There are other Jews who see the contradiction. Both groups agreed on one thing in 1988: With few exceptions, they chose to remain silent when democracy was banned in Eretz Yisrael. After three intifadas, Madrid, Oslo, thousands of victims of terrorism, thousands of families destroyed, the Jewish communities of Gaza expelled, and a Hamas terrorist state installed in Eretz Yisrael, we’re still paying the price.

David Ferster
(Via E-Mail)