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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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Letters To The Editor

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Trusting A Savage

Small wonder that so many of us cannot bring ourselves to believe Bashar Assad’s stated intention to turn over all of Syria’s chemical weapons (“Skepticism Abounds in Israel Over U.S.-Russia Deal on Syria,” front-page news story, Sept. 20).

It cannot be lost on anyone with a brain that a man who would deliberately bomb non-combatants and innocent women and children in order to terrify rebel soldiers cannot be considered a reliable partner in any deal over the disposal of those weapons. He is a savage and a butcher who cannot be trusted. He has demonstrated that he will do anything to come out on top. Sandbagging well-meaning Americans is certainly on his to-do list.

Esther Mintz
Jerusalem

EU’s One-sidedness

Re “Those New Over-the-Green-Line EU Rules” (editorial, September 20):

I can’t understand why no one from the EU crowd makes a peep about Palestinian construction of a new city near Ramallah. Or that Palestinians insist on continued Muslim control over the Temple Mount area.

Why is it that Israelis can’t build because final boundaries have yet to be negotiated but the Arabs can?

Joseph Davis
(Via E-Mail)

War Fatigue

I disagree with reader Reuven Solomon, who apparently blames George W. Bush for the antiwar sentiment that is now so widespread in the country (Letters, Sept. 20).

It is certainly true that since the war in Iraq Americans have soured on military interventions not calculated to defend against direct foreign invasions. However, it is also true that our problems in this regard started with the Korean War, in which our military power, though unmatched, could not truly vanquish our enemies. The same held true in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not do so well when we mix into someone else’s civil war.

Gary Schoenfeld
(Via E-Mail)

Selective Memory?

Abraham Foxman’s op-ed article (“The Legacy of the Leo Frank Travesty,” Sept. 20) accurately recalls the Leo Frank trial. However, Foxman claims that “America has come a long way in the past 100 years. A Leo Frank incident is unthinkable today.”

Did Foxman forget the 1991 Crown Heights riots? Or the travesty of the trial of the accused murderer, Lemrick Nelson? Or is Foxman’s omission deliberate because the perpetrators of the Crown Heights riots were not white?

I would like to know what Foxman did during those riots. After all, he has no problem denouncing what he sees as bigotry against African-Americans and Muslims. But what did he do or say during the riots? Was a representative of the ADL even present at the rally to support the Jews of Crown Heights after the riots?

On November 1, 2007, Foxman issued a joint statement on hate crimes – together with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Sharpton, for those who don’t recall, was an instigator during the Crown Heights riots.

Ben Feigenbaum
East Brunswick, NJ

Palestinian Apartheid

The more the Palestinians speak out about the type of “independent state” they envisage, the more it becomes clear exactly what they have in mind for the Jews of the region.

The supposedly moderate Mahmoud Abbas has declared time and again that no Israeli will be permitted to reside in a Palestinian state. Would the United Nations tolerate any state or putative state whose leader said that no Christian or Muslim could live in it? Would the United States?

Thelma Susswein
Jerusalem

Superior Souls?

Due to a very busy pre-Yom Tov schedule, I just got around to reading Alan Krinsky’s marvelous op-ed piece, “Impurity, Heresy, and Immorality” in your Aug. 23 issue.

I was particularly taken with his observation that there has been an increasing focus in the Orthodox community on “genetic purity and impurity,” specifically the belief that there exists “some genetic or otherwise essential aspect of our souls that makes us different from (and, in some unclear sense, ‘better’ than) non-Jews.”

This is something that has been bothering me for some time, and as someone who has worked in kiruv I know more than a few ba’alei teshuvah who have become severely disillusioned upon coming across this notion of a “superior neshamah.”

As Rabbi Menachem Kellner, a prolific author and scholar specializing in medieval Jewish philosophy, has written, it is largely due to the influence of the 12th century philosopher Judah Halevi and some cryptic and by no means widely accepted kabbalistic texts that this idea came to be thought of by some Jews as somehow normative to Torah Judaism.

(Halevi, Rabbi Kellner notes, was so extreme that “[f]lying in the face of received halacha, he maintains that converts to Judaism remain inferior to born Jews.”)

In fact, one can look far and wide in the huge corpus of rabbinic literature and not find more than a handful of statements, none of which carries the imprimatur of halacha, concerning any supposed difference between Jewish and non-Jewish souls. In sharp contrast, we find a tremendous number of statements and observations concerning the righteousness of individual non-Jews and the reward that awaits them in the World to Come, as well as how both Jews and non-Jews will one day worship the one true God.

“The doctrine concerning the special innate ontologically superior nature of the Jews,” writes Rabbi Kellner, “is so obviously insane, so observably false in the real world (as Judah Halevi himself had to admit), and so totally unsupported by the overwhelming majority of biblical and rabbinic texts…that one is driven to wonder how anyone could take it seriously…” (From the book Radical Responsibility: Celebrating the Thought of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Maggid Publishers, 2012.)

Michoel Shriver
(Via E-Mail)

Doctrine Versus Attitude

Over the Sukkos holiday, secular newspapers carried a report on comments Pope Francis made in a lengthy interview. According to The New York Times, the pope, in office for six months, said “the church had grown ‘obsessed’ with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception…” Pope Francis “criticized the church for putting dogma before love, and for prioritizing moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized.”

The pope is quoted as saying, “I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a severely injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars. You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.”

It would appear to me that this is a message that many Orthodox rabbis need to consider. It is clearly a foundation of the Jewish religion, but perhaps it’s a message that has been getting swallowed by all the “do nots” being preached, especially over the high holidays.

The pope did not change his church’s position on abortion or any other issue. He is just trying to change the focus. What happened in various shuls over the high holidays? How many times did rabbis in those shuls get up and say something along the lines of how happy we are that you are here, and how can we help encourage you to come every holiday, every Shabbos, every day, 365 days a year?

On the other hand, how many times did the rabbi (or someone else) get up and lecture about it being too noisy in the shul? Are people greeted to shul with a warm welcome – or a complaint that they’re late?

That’s not to say it’s OK to talk during davening or to come late to shul. It is not. But is that supposed to be the main message conveyed in shul? Is that supposed to be the message conveyed in advertisements in Jewish newspapers?

There is positive talk in the community of ba’ali teshuvah, Jews who have returned or who are at least trying to return to Orthodoxy. But in terms of numbers there are, unfortunately, at least as many Jews who are leaving Orthodoxy, youth at risk, and people who are shomer Shabbos except for texting.

I am not suggesting changing halacha any more than, lehavdil, the pope was changing church doctrine. What I am proposing is a change in emphasis of the message. A man who comes to shul every Shabbos, I would venture, is more likely to stay connected to the observant community than one who doesn’t. To say that you are better off not coming to shul than coming and occasionally talking during davening might be halachically correct, but it is not necessarily the message we should be conveying to people.

In the pope’s words, there are “seriously injured people” in our Jewish community – religiously at risk, as well as physically ill and financially desperate. We can never ignore halacha, but we do need to help heal people’s wounds, to be encouraging to people, to help move people to the next step in their lives and in their observance. I think, tragically, too many of us forget that.

Harold Marks
Brooklyn, NY

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