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September 30, 2014 / 6 Tishri, 5775
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Letters To The Editor

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Marvin Sommers

(Via E-Mail)

The PA And International Law

I always enjoy reading Professor Louis Rene Beres’s articles in The Jewish Press. They are invariably literate and informative. “Why Oslo Failed” (front-page essay, Oct. 25) did not disappoint. However, while it is true that the Palestinian Authority violates international criminal law in failing to rein in and prosecute terrorists, that is a symptom of the problem rather than the cause.

The problem is that the Palestinian leadership has not yet decided to make peace with Israel, and the failure to deal with the anti-Israel terrorists as criminals is a consequence of that.

Edward Plummer

(Via E-Mail)

Being Different

I found Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss’s Nov. 1 column quite surprising. Quoting from the Chazon Ish, he says the first commandment is not to be different. Rabbi Weiss then brings other quotes from distinguished sources to make his point.

The problem is obvious: Different from what? To say Jews shouldn’t be different is to say they should be like the overwhelming majority of people in this country and the Western world. It is the argument of every assimilationist. To say they should not be different from other Jews would unfortunately mean telling Orthodox Jews to become Reform. After all, the overwhelming majority of affiliated American Jews are, tragically, Reform.

By leaving Charan, by seeking converts, by digging wells, by fighting powerful kings, even by sending a large dowry with his servant, much of what Avraham Avinu did involved being different.

A story is told about Rav Pam walking down the street with one of his students. From across the street, some non-Jewish teenagers started to taunt them. The student got upset, but Rav Pam smiled. When questioned, Rav Pam’s response was very direct: “People are supposed to know Jews are different.”

Rabbi Weiss writes that “The Rambam paskens emphatically, ‘Al tifrash min ha’tzibur.’ ” I would respectfully suggest that in Brooklyn (and maybe even in Staten Island) there is no tzibur – or there are a hundred of them, which is the same thing. I would also point out that the Rambam was very controversial in his time – he clearly stood out.

I sometimes daven in a Modern Orthodox shul. But on occasion – typically a Friday night – one or two lost souls show up in shul wearing chassidic garb. Is Rabbi Weiss telling them to change into a suit and tie before coming to that shul? On Shabbos morning, a distinct minority, including the rabbi, put their talleisim on their heads for much of davening. Again, is Rabbi Weiss suggesting they not do so? After all, they shouldn’t be different.

Even Rabbi Weiss’s story about the girl in the drugstore with a tongue ring is not so obvious. In some neighborhoods of New York she would no longer stand out. Is Rabbi Weiss suggesting that if enough girls wear tongue rings he will direct his daughters to also start wearing them?

His comment about the man who stands for davening is particularly troubling. I’m reminded of the story of the Yom Kippur afternoon when suddenly, in a frenzy, the rabbi starts beating on his chest and moaning aloud, “God, I am nothing.” And next to him the cantor starts beating on his chest and saying, “God, I am nothing.” After a minute or two an old, not terribly observant Jew in the back can be heard yelling “God, I am nothing.” And the rabbi turns to the cantor and says “Look who thinks he’s nothing.”

If the man standing throughout davening were the rabbi or a local rosh yeshiva, would Rabbi Weiss still say he should sit down? I doubt it.

Rabbi Weiss points out that “the boy who has purple hair…[is] begging to be noticed.” Yes, he is – and in a way that is not acceptable in the Orthodox community. But so is most everyone else in the world begging to be noticed, including the student who raises his hand in class, the man who gets up to lead the davening, the rabbi who stands up to speak, the person who writes a newspaper column, and even the guy who writes a letter to the editor of The Jewish Press. Certainly the girl looking for a shidduch and the person looking for a raise or promotion at work are looking to be noticed. That is human nature.

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