Don’t Blame Bush

I’ve received a number of e-mails recently blaming President Bush for Israel’s problems. This line of thinking is dangerous as well as silly, because it ignores the real reasons for Israel’s predicament. Israelis are getting killed because Israel refuses to defend itself. It’s not because of Bush or Powell. It’s because Sharon won’t do what he’s required to as prime minister (provide security for citizens of Israel) and because Israel’s right-wing parties keep him in power.

The foremost purpose of any government – as it has been since the earliest city-states arose in Mesopotamia – is to protect its citizens from external forces, whether that means wild animals or wild people. Anything else a government provides its citizens is secondary. The State of Israel was established so that Jews would be able to defend themselves and not rely on anyone else to defend them. No other country would only kill two “militants” in response
to a terrorist attack that killed 17 innocent people. The U.S. wiped out the Taliban regime after 9-11 – exactly what Israel needs to do to the Palestinian Authority.

What is Sharon afraid of? Bush will be pleased if Israel weakens the Arab terrorist infrastructure; but even if Bush would, say, stop sending financial aid to Israel, is that a reason for Israel not to take proper action? Can the lives of Israelis be bought with money? (In any event, Israel should not accept money from the U.S. government to begin with; a country, like an individual, should rely on its own wealth, not on gifts from others.)

So please stop blaming foreign governments for Israel’s problems and tell the leaders of Israel to start taking responsibility. It’s only because there were people who took responsibility that countries like the U.S. and Israel came into being.

Barry Verstaendig
New York, NY

That’s National Palestine Radio

The National Public Radio news program “All Things Considered” described the perpetrator of last week’s savage Arab homicide attack in Jerusalem as a “militant” and an “activist.” How obscene. When it comes to murdering and maiming Jews, no one is a terrorist in NPR’s eyes. I hope all Jews of reason will give the pledge drive currently underway at WNYC radio the attention it deserves. It’s bad enough our taxes are used to subsidize this distorted journalism.

Ellen Kaufman
Forest Hills, NY

Wake-Up Call

To Americans for Peace Now and similar-minded people:

The Arabs do not want peace – they want the peace of the grave for the Jews. Piece by piece, they seek to destroy Israel. Our very existence in our homeland is what they object to.

The British gave away 80 percent of our homeland to Jordan (when they governed it as a mandate), leaving a tiny area for the Jews. The Arabs do not want a part, they want Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv, and the rest, none for the Jews. That is their unabashed credo.

I want peace more than you do. Why can I say this? Hitler chased my family from Germany. We were able to escape to America, where, as soon as I was old enough, I volunteered to fight Hitler and Germany’s war machine. I was not yet an American citizen when I became an American soldier and swam to Omaha Beach on ‘D Day’ and fought from Normandy to Czechoslovakia.

I was the only Jew in the 2nd Infantry Division, a tough Texas group. I was almost killed a number of times and ended up wounded in a French hospital in 1945, just as Germany
surrendered. I know about war and have no love of it. Still, there are things worth standing for. Why don’t you wake up?

Lothar Brown
New York, NY

Necessary Credentials?

In his op-ed column “How Good A Job Are Our Yeshivas Really Doing?” (Jewish Press, June 13) Mordechai Kushner makes some logical-sounding observations and comes to some equally logical-sounding conclusions about how students fare under the pedagogical methods prevalent in our yeshivas. Indeed, many readers may have instinctively nodded in agreement as they read his article. Yet one wonders whether Mr. Kushner has the credentials to mount a serious inquiry into this matter, and whether he has the expertise necessary to evaluate the utility of, and place for, such approaches as repetition, rote learning, memorization, in-depth study, “covering ground,” etc.

Surely, his being described as someone who “currently studies Torah” at a yeshiva and is “completing a BS in computer science” does not inspire much confidence.

Sheldon Wanuker
New York, NY

Yeshivas Need To Adjust

I could not agree more with what Mordechai Kushner had to say about the state of yeshiva education today. I have always felt that our yeshivas are designed to cater primarily to the star pupil and retain methods and techniques that were adopted in a world vastly different from the one in which today’s students live. I think it is high time that yeshivas adjust, just as we in the business world must to survive.

Levi Abromsky
Brooklyn, NY

More Modern Than Orthodox

Dr. Yaakov Stern is quite right when he warns against those who hide behind the label of Modern Orthodoxy while espousing concepts quite contrary to those who are truly Modern Orthodox (Letters, June 13). I attended Torah Vodaath in the same class with Shlomo Mostofsky, whose article in your issue of April 25 expressed the truth of what Modern Orthodoxy truly means.

Ten years ago I moved to Washington, DC, where a synagogue which stridently proclaims itself “Modern Orthodox” may be modern but it is certainly not Orthodox. The most flagrant of their several deviations from Torah and Orthodoxy is their defiance of a teshuvah from RIETS roshei yeshiva forbidding women’s prayer groups that simulate minyanim.

This Washington synagogue makes such a prayer group an official part of its program each month. Last year I asked Rabbi Herschel Schachter, one of the signers of the teshuvah, whether it was permissible to daven in a shul in Manhattan which had such a group. His reply to my inquiry was that if the shul has a women’s “minyan” as part of its official activities, I should not daven in the shul at all, even though he knew the rabbi personally.

Rabbi Schachter is very definitely a Modern Orthodox authority. For any student, ordained or not, of the roshei yeshiva at RIETS to defiantly pasken against them and allow what they forbade is chutzpah at the least and apikorsus at the worst.

Asher Kaufman
Fairfax, VA

Sharon Wrong To Denounce Donations

It is appalling to see the government of Israel, with Prime Minister Sharon at the lead, chastising Diaspora benefactors for donating money to our poverty-stricken brothers and sisters in Israel. Politicking is prevalent and at times perhaps even necessary, but there is certainly no place for it when rumbling bellies are at stake. Much more damaging to the image of Israel than fundraising campaigns for the country’s poor is a government that is more concerned with its perception overseas than it is with its own starving citizens.

Instead of criticizing donors, Mr. Sharon should embrace them while at the same time invest in ventures that would help boost Israel’s pitiful economy and provide badly needed jobs.

More than 1 million people in Israel – nearly 1 in 5 Israelis – live below the poverty line, including 24.4% of all elderly and 27% of all children. Included in these astonishing figures are
professionals, hard working, educated people whose only wish is to find some work to support their hungry families. These are not drug addicts or people not capable of responsible employment.

As a supporter of soup kitchens throughout Israel, I have seen first hand the many people who rely on the generosity of donors for their survival. In November, Finance Minister Netanyahu himself visited a soup kitchen established by our family foundation and spoke with many immigrants who sustain themselves on donated food.

It is time for Mr. Sharon to stop feeding the big political machine and instead start feeding our own.

Phyllis D. Schulman
Schulman Philanthropies
New York, NY

Save A Soldier

Are you concerned about Israel’s fight for its very survival? If so, please send a check or money order (with note or memo stating ‘bulletproof vests’) to:

Government of Israel
(Ministry of Defense)
Mission to the U.S.
800 Second Ave.
(11th Floor)
New York, NY 10017

You may save a soldier’s life.

Saul & Rose Weiss
Brooklyn, NY

Gratifying Review

It was an honor to have such a favorable article about us appear in the May 9 issue of The Jewish Press.

Alexia Foods was born about 15 months ago with little more than an idea and hope. Kind reviews such as yours will help us continue to grow.

Alexander Dzieduszycki
Managing Director
Alexia Foods

‘All Depends On The Woman’…Or Does It?

Exaggerated Emphasis

Re the article ‘Believing In Ourselves’ by Rebbetzin Leah Kohn, Jewish Press, June 13):

The article states, regarding women, “Her ability to shape those in her world far exceeds a
man’s, as the Talmud attests in the following parable: The Sages of the Talmud tell of a
righteous couple who divorce….The midrash concludes that all depends on the woman (Midrash Bereishis Rabba 17:7).”

Actually, the matter is not so simple.

1) The story from the midrash cannot be understood literally. After all, if  ‘everything depends on the woman,’ perhaps men deserve no reward for doing mitzvos. Are men just putty in the
hands of their wives to be shaped by them in any way, manner or form? Our tradition does not teach that.

On the contrary, a famous Gemara asks, ‘noshim bimai zachyan’? (from what do women
accrue merit?) and the Gemara answers, from waiting for their husbands to come home from
learning Torah and taking their youngsters to the house of study. If ‘everything depends on the
woman,’ how can we understand the question of the Gemara there? Even if we say that those two teachings contradict each other, we know that Gemara is considered more authoritative than midrash, so the Gemara would trump the midrash on this matter.

2) The Gemara, commenting on Yeshaya 54:5, states that a woman is completed only through her husband – something far different than saying that ‘all depends on the woman.’

3) The midrash (I think that it is wrong and misleading to label it as ‘Talmud,’ which term is
usually reserved for Gemara) cited by Rebbetzin Kohn is a tiny isolated story in the vast sea of
Torah literature from the Tannaim and Amoraim. One cannot generalize from an isolated tale.

4) An illuminating discussion of the midrash is found in the excellent sefer ‘Male and Female He Created Them – A Guide to Classical Torah Commentary on the Roles and Natures of Men and Women’ by Yisrael Ben Reuven (Targum Press 1996). A whole chapter there is devoted to the matter. The sefer states that perhaps the midrash may talking about a case of a man who is not particularly driven by his own internal motivations. In such a case, the woman may play such a decisive role. However, in a case of a motivated man, one cannot say that; after all, men have bechira chofshis (free choice).

To sum up, while it is good to encourage b’nos Yisrael to work for lofty goals by telling them that they can accomplish great things, nevertheless, since our Torah is a Toras Emes (a Torah of truth), it is improper to exaggerate their roles and tell them that ‘all depends on the woman’ when the woman is only one partner in a marriage, and not the controlling/dominant one in all times and cases.

Boruch M. Selevan
Brooklyn, NY

Unfashionable Torah Truths

As a woman, I wish to register my complaint regarding last week’s article by Rebbetzin Leah
Kohn. It disturbs me greatly that an Orthodox woman – a rebbetzin, no less – would seek to
emulate the rallying cry of secular feminism and downplay the male role as ba’al habayit –
literally, master of the house – by taking an obscure midrash and giving it the status of a
Commandment from Sinai.

It may not be politically correct to say this – then again, since when is our eternal Torah
supposed to be politically correct? – but Hashem and our Sages have communicated to us in no uncertain terms that males and females have different roles; that the husband is the kohen
gadol, the high prist, of the home; and that, in the words spoken to Chava (Eve) in gan eden, ‘your desire shall be to your husband and he will rule over you.’

To refer to a line from a midrash, and then to extrapolate from that line – without any qualifiers
or other references to Judaism’s teachings on men and women – that ‘all depends on the woman,’ is to distort the Torah and belittle the role of men as ordained by Hashem.

While I expect non-believers and perverters of Torah to abandon or modify any and every part of Torah they find unfashionable and embarrassing, I am distressed when Orthodox Jews, however innocently, parrot the attitudes so prevalent in secular society. Rebbetzin Kohn is hardly alone in this; I remember when your esteemed columnist Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis used to rail against feminism in no uncertain terms; in recent years, however, she seems to have softened her opposition to a considerable degree.

Why do Bible-believing Christians have no problem teaching G-d’s ordained roles for men and women – including the truth that men are to lead their families and that women, as important and unique as our mission is, are to be the subordinate partners – with no fear of what the feminists and the intellectuals will say, while our Orthodox thinkers and leaders are scared to death of unambiguously proclaiming the same biblical truth?

And why did this reluctance only make itself manifest as feminism came to the fore as one of
those philosophies no ‘sophisticated’ person dares question? As far as I’m concerned, I’d rather be considered a loyal and unflinching Torah Jew than a ‘sophisticated’ feminist any day. When I come before the Heavenly Court, I expect to be judged by the Kadosh Baruch Hu, not Gloria Steinem.

Batya Hiller
(Via E-Mail)

Baalei Teshuvah, Converts And Shidduchim

Closed Minds

Re the letter to the editor by Mr. Chaim Steinberg concerning ba’alei teshuvah and
shidduchim (Jewish Press, June 6):

How considerate of Mr. Steinberg to notify us baalei teshuvah (BT’s) that we wouldn’t have been so disappointed if we had been informed prior to our teshuvah of our limited choices when it comes to possible marriage partners. Perhaps if we had been informed of the “rules” pertaining to whom we could and could not choose from in the Jewish community, we might have made a decision to look elsewhere for religious fulfillment.

Let me remind all the BT’s and righteous converts reading this that, contrary to the prejudices of the Chaim Steinbergs of the world, you are just as beautiful in Hashem’s eyes as anyone raised in an observant home. The story of Ruth is proof of that. If someone won’t marry you
because of your status, he or she is just not worth your time.

Let us all pray that one day the closed minds in our midst will be opened, and maybe then the
Exile will come to an end.

Rozalind Sentell
Monsey NY

Treated Like Garbage

Having read Chananya Weissman’s painfully honest letter concerning shidduchim in the June
13 issue, I would like to voice a few comments of my own. I would especially like to point out that while the system doesn’t work too well for people in their 20s, for those who are older and/or ba’alei teshuvah or converts it doesn’t seem to work at all.

In your May 23rd issue there was a letter from a ba’al teshuvah who complained that he was
treated like garbage in the shidduch world. I’ve heard the same thing from other ba’alei teshuvah and I believe it – you see, I happen to be a convert.

I love Torah and I love Judaism but I am not too impressed by what I see in the Jewish
community. I did not convert to marry, but I am a little angry that my chances of marriage are
limited by my being a convert, as I seem to be below garbage in the estimation of some.

I converted in a lovely community where I was treated with respect. A job transfer put me in a
large Jewish community where converts were not welcome and I was regularly humiliated by the sort of men people set me up with. Men who were unemployed (and usually unemployable), uneducated, misfits of all sorts.

Fortunately I have been able to transfer again and this Jewish community is simply too self-absorbed to notice a newcomer. I have decided not to rely on matchmakers or the community
anymore. I am passing myself off as a ba’al teshuvah. I’ve joined an Orthodox synagogue where the membership requirement is a check, and am going it alone in my pursuit of a marriage partner.

Now I surf the web and so far have met (in person) two lovely men whom I don’t want to marry but who have become friends. It is tricky meeting and checking out someone this way, but it can be done. And it sure beats the rejectionist attitude all too prevalent in frum circles.

Chavah bat-Abraham
(Via E-Mail)

Doors Were Shut To Europe’s Jews

Until now, I did not want to get into the exchange concerning Modern Orthodoxy; more than enough angry nonsense has been said. However, I wish to take strong exception to reader
Leonard Herschman’s statement that ‘there were rabbis in Europe who urged Jews to stay put, who warned Jews that fleeing to Palestine or America was not the proper solution’ (Letters, June 6). Unfortunately, fleeing to either place was not an option prior to World War II.

From 1920 on, the United States had a strict immigration quota, tightened in 1924, so that
annual quotas for Polish Jews were restricted to 6,000 per year, for Russian Jews 2,000 per year, and for Romanian Jews, 600 per year. Even as the Nazi menace grew, the State Department did not relax the quotas significantly. From 1933 to 1937, fewer than 40,000 Jews were admitted to the United States. From 1938 to 1941, the number was 110,000. When the St. Louis, carrying 900 mostly Jewish refugees was off the Florida coast, the
Coast Guard was ordered to prevent it from landing and to keep any passengers from
swimming ashore. In short, fleeing to the United States was not an available solution, whether
proper or not.

Unfortunately, Palestine was not much better. The British, in 1929, had restricted Jewish
immigration, and the Zionist establishment was not inclined to challenge them. When Hitler came to power, the German Zionist organization actually tightened its requirements for obtaining an immigration certificate to Palestine, and opposed all attempts at illegal immigration. In Poland and Hungary, immigration certificates were apportioned by political affiliation, and the Agudah, representative of most of Poland’s religious Jews, was allocated five percent of those available.

In Palestine itself, the Jewish Agency was more concerned with bringing in immigrants who
would help build the Jewish state than those fleeing persecution. Ben Gurion generally opposed illegal immigration, and believed in targeting permits to those who would help form a working class. The attitude toward refugees per se was expressed by Chaim Weizmann in 1935 in the following words: “Only G-d knows how the poor little land of Israel can take in this stream of people and emerge with a healthy social structure.’

Eliahu Dobkin, a Mapai member of the Jewish Agency Executive, considered refugees from
Europe to be ‘undesirable human material.’ Henrietta Szold, who headed the agency’s social
work division, protested that too many sick and needy persons were entering Palestine; she
demanded that such cases be returned to Nazi Germany so they would not be a burden on the
yishuv. At one point, merchants and businessmen were also excluded, unless they were veteran Zionists. When the St. Louis was stopped off the Florida coast, the Joint Distribution Committee asked the Jewish Agency to allot several hundred immigration certificates for passengers; the Jewish Agency refused.

For too long, well-meaning individuals have accused the rabbis of Europe of discouraging
emigration to America or Palestine; unfortunately, neither option was truly available to the great mass of European Jews.

Lawrence M. Reisman
New York, NY

Passover Now Just Another Excuse To Get Away?

Follow closely the instructions given to the Hebrews in Egypt whose Covenant with Hashem
was sealed in their flesh with blood: Assemble by families. If your family is not large enough to
consume the pascal lamb, then invite your neighbor. Stay in your homes. I, the G-d of Abraham, will pass over you when I personally smite the firstborns of Egypt. No mass
demonstrations. No speeches to the multitudes by Moses or Aaron. No stadium gatherings. Look inward. As you entered Egypt so you will leave. Family by family.

This formula was kept for centuries. In the weeks between Purim and Passover, each family
returned home sometimes from the four corners of the globe and prepared its abode in the fashion of its forefathers. Each room was scrubbed and was searched for chometz/bread and non-Passover items. Blankets were removed and beaten in the cold spring mornings. All utensils were koshered again and again if needed for the Seder. Every action performed with a timetable in mind. Passover is coming. Passover is near. We are going out. Our redemption was at hand then as it is now. Not just our forefathers but we too are going out. We are leaving our bondage. Hashem is redeeming us here and now. He is the ancient and available
G-d of Israel, the one who hears and sees all.

Until only 20 years ago, this formula was unbroken from year to year, generation to generation for three thousand years.

A new phenomenon has occurred. Passover is now Parrot Jungle, a Caribbean getaway, a golf outing, casino gambling, a mountain hike, even a scuba dive. Gone is the powerful tradition of family participation. Broken is the intimate discussion and recollections of Passovers past. Here and now our Passover is redefined. Mountains of food to gorge on day after day. Tables laden with so many food items that food has become the determining factor for selecting a Passover hotel. Seven days of gourmet delights – and each day gargantuan
amounts of food are thrown away as the minimum-wage help watch in despair.

Essence has been replaced by excess. The spiritual with the material. The wisdom behind the
ritual cleaning of the home is dismissed. ‘Spare your wife the labor. Emancipate her!’ No longer is the family the harbinger of the good news – the long-awaited redemption! The ambience of the 24-hour tearooms, humming with fashion and business topics, replaces that special magic felt by children in their search for the broken pieces of matzah on Passover night.

The stark reality is that we are on a downward spiral. We are witnessing the loss of a
treasured family event in the psyche of Judaism.

Samuel Messinger
Miami Beach, FL