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August 29, 2015 / 14 Elul, 5775
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Can Hagel Be Stopped?

Re “Hagel, Amid Criticism Over Israel Views, Nominated for Defense Secretary” (front page news story, Jan. 11):

The playing field must not be left to Chuck Hagel’s ardent defenders, a coterie of the usual suspects who seek to deflect legitimate criticism by portraying him as a victim of the “Jewish Lobby.”

While the odds undoubtedly favor Senate confirmation, it can still be stopped. Hagel’s nomination must first be voted out by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Its membership is comprised of fourteen Democrats and twelve Republicans. Were just one Democrat to align with the Republicans in opposition, the tie vote would block the nomination from going to the full Senate.

Significantly, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is a member of that committee. Her office (www.gillibrand.senate.gov/contact) is the most important place to direct opposition to Hagel’s confirmation. Not only would a Defense Secretary Hagel be bad for Israel, he would be bad for America as well.

Richard D. Wilkins
Syracuse, NY

Reform vs. AIPAC (I)

I fear the Reform movement is terribly misguided in publicly urging that the U.S. passively accept the recent successful Palestinian UN initiative (“Reform, AIPAC Take Opposing Positions on Penalizing Palestinians for UN Move,” front page news story, January 4).

The Palestinians acted in what they perceived as their own interests, something they are certainly entitled to do as a general proposition. But it also flies in the face of a whole host of UN resolutions, in particular 242, which ended the 1967 war and the Oslo Accords. Israel has a right to be able to rely on both.

The Reform movement is doing nothing less than papering over these serious breaches. It will only encourage the Palestinians to abandon previous agreements and seek ever greater leverage.

Alice Geiger
(Via E-Mail)

Reform vs. AIPAC (II)

It is unfortunate, but the sad truth is that AIPAC’s hard-line, Likud-leaning advocacy really does not reflect the views of most American Jews.

Most Jews in this country are ardent liberals on both domestic and foreign policy, and their views are much closer to those of President Obama and J Street than they are to Netanyahu and AIPAC.

Leibel Kornman
(Via E-Mail)

Israeli Politics

The old adage that there is nothing certain in politics is being proven once again in the current election campaign in Israel (“Despite Big Lead in Polls, Bibi’s List Shows Slippage,” news story, Jan. 4).

Who would have thought that a high-riding and confident incumbent prime minister like Benjamin Netanyahu would show signs of weakness at such a crucial point in his reelection campaign? Unfortunately, this will only encourage the Palestinians in their recalcitrance in the hope that a weaker leader is in the offing – either a chastened Netanyahu or, eventually if not immediately, someone new with diminished expectations for Israel.

Shimon Katz
Jerusalem

History At The Great Synagogue

I think I recently made history at The Jerusalem Great Synagogue. For three Shabbatot in a row, I received the aliyah of kohen.

The first Shabbat I received the aliyah as the former mara d’atra of the Melbourne, Australia Mizrachi kehillah. The second Shabbat, the internationally known philanthropist Jack Nagle from Los Angles, California – a congregant from when I served as rav of Congregation Shaarai Tefila – told the gabbai to honor me with the aliyah of kohen. And the third Shabbat, the crowd was smaller than usual – since the chazzan and choir were not performing – and I, to my surprise and shock, was the only kohen in shul.

Even longtime worshippers could not recall the last time a kohen received an aliyah three Shabbatot in a row. I may well have been the first.

Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen
(Via E-Mail)

Setting Boundaries

In his Jan. 11 “Expounding the Torah” column, Rabbi Abraham Stone pointed out that the word Mitzrayim (Egypt) is related to the word metzorim (boundaries.) He says that “one of the reasons we mention the exodus every day in prayer is because the exodus in a spiritual sense is supposed to be a daily occurrence.” He goes on to say that “people feel various boundaries every single day, and every day we should seek to free ourselves from our boundaries…”

While I think I understand Rabbi Stone’s point, I feel he is placing himself on a very dangerous slope. After all, what is Judaism? What is any religion? It is all about setting boundaries, not abandoning boundaries. What is Shabbos? Shabbos is a very important – and for some people unfortunately insurmountable – boundary. What is muktzah? Put simply, muktzah is the sages setting a boundary or fence on what you can touch or move so that you ultimately don’t cross the “real” boundary of violating the Sabbath itself.

Consider other basic tenets of Judaism. What is keeping kosher? What is not eating chametz on Passover? What is fasting on Yom Kippur? All of those are boundaries on what we may put in our mouths. Every law, every custom, every chumrah of Judaism is nothing more or less than setting boundaries.

What is the primary function of both parents and teachers? In a real sense, one could say their function is setting boundaries. The difficult job is determining what those boundaries should be and how flexibly they should be enforced.

Think about secular law. It is all about boundaries. The current fight over gun control is a fight over boundaries. Even things as simple as traffic laws – speed limits, stopping at red signals, etc. – are all boundaries. Without boundaries, we have anarchy.

What was bad about Egyptian slavery was not even the slavery. We talk about Moses as an “eved Hashem” – a slave of God. What was bad about Egypt was who set the boundaries (Pharaoh) and what those boundaries were. I think we remember the exodus every day to recall which boundaries are important and which ones are not.

As someone once pointed out, there is “freedom from” and “freedom for.” Judaism obviously believes in freedom for doing mitzvos and maybe, as Rabbi Stone notes, freedom for doing mitzvos with warmth.

Harold Marks
(Via E-Mail)

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