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Immediate Response

Last week you published my letter about a firefighter at Ground Zero finding a sefer Tehillim that belonged to someone named Avraham Binyomin Shapiro or Spira. I asked anyone with information about that person’s whereabouts to contact me.

Wednesday evening – just hours after The Jewish Press hit the newsstands – I received an e-mail from Rabbi Avraham Binyomin Spira’s father, who had an office in the World Trade Center complex. Thursday I spoke with Rabbi Avraham Binyomin Spira himself and confirmed that he is the owner of the sefer Tehillim. We are arranging a time convenient to both Rabbi Spira and the firefighter for the return of the sefer.

Thank you for publishing my letter and helping to perform the mitzvah of hashavat aveidah.


Mordechai Dovid Levine
Spring Valley, New York

Sounds Of Silence

Your riposte to the Forward was right on the mark. Would that the Agudah be heard on this as well. Frankly, I am amazed that with all of the letters and articles the Agudah has placed in the Forward and the Jewish Week over the years, there has been complete silence from
that organization in response to those publications’ shameful distortions of the essence and significance of Chanukah. If the Agudah sent in letters or articles taking issue with those distortions, shame on those papers for not publishing them. But if the Agudah did nothing, all the greater is the shame on a once proud organization.

I strongly believe that this episode raises serious questions regarding the Agudah’s capacity to confront the attempts to eliminate religious imperatives from Judaism or achieve equivalence between Orthodox and non-Orthodox movements.

Elliott Rosen
(Via E-Mail)

Heartless Scam

It was with great interest that I read the articles by Rachel Weiss (no relation) titled “To believe or Not to Believe” (Jewish Press, Dec. 12) and the follow-up “Believe It or Not” (Jan.2).

A few months ago on a late summer Friday afternoon, my husband and children waited for me in our car while I ran up to visit a cousin at NYU Medical Center. A man came up to my husband and said he needed to get to New Jersey for Shabbos and that a cab had just left
with all his possessions. Feeling the urgency of this man’s predicament, my husband helped him flag down a taxi. The man inquired about the fare to his destination and told my husband that it would cost $90. My husband had $70, and my daughter chipped in the other $20. This man took our phone number and promised to repay. Of-course we never heard from him. Our stories are too similar. This sounds like one man using his trick over and over again.

What a zechus it would be for Rachel Weiss and The Jewish Press if some good will come out of these articles. Readers ought to be made aware of this story-teller who roams the city streets and peddles his bogus pleas. He should be stopped in his tracks.

Chany Weiss
Brooklyn, NY

Exercise In Futility?

By what right do the editors of The Jewish Press arrogate to themselves the role of Defenders of the Faith? It may be useful to confront challenges to the primacy of mitzvot in Judaism, but it seems entirely misplaced when you confront a respected rabbi like Shlomo Riskin over an interpretation he developed from the text of the Bible.

Furthermore, your criticism of Rabbi Riskin over such a minor matter was an exercise in futility. Those who are followers of his surely were not swayed by your arguments, while the rest of us were either amused or could not have cared less.

Sheldon Blaustein
(Via E-Mail)

Wish We’d Said It

Although I generally agree with your criticism of Rabbi Riskin, I would point out two things you missed.

In challenging Rabbi Riskin’s assertion that Yitzchak Avinu was reacting out of a sense of weakness when he decided to choose Esav over Yaakov, you correctly point to Avimelech’s prostrating himself before Yitzchak. You should also have noted that just prior to that, G-d spoke to Yitzchak and told him that He would be with him in all things.

In addition, you let pass Rabbi Riskin’s comment that if he were (as you said he was) “presumptuous” in his analysis, then “so were all of the commentators of the past.” I would have thought this astonishing display of hubris on his part deserved some comment from you.

Michael Lazar
Cincinnati, OH

Hey, We Were Merely Speculating

Whoever writes your editorials better get a grip. You really can’t believe that Libya threw in the nuclear towel as part of an Arab conspiracy to pressure Israel on the nuclear weapons issue. Or do you? It’s time you abandoned the self-centeredness that, as another reader recently pointed out in a different context, leads many Jews to believe that the world revolves around them.

Doug Fischler
New York, NY

No Alternative To Day Schools

We subscribe to U.S. News and World Report, which is about the only weekly news magazine with a favorable viewpoint toward Israel. But I was angered by John Leo’s column in the January 4 issue.

He asserts that it is not harmful to a Jewish child’s sense of well-being to be forced to sing Christmas carols in school, as long as there are a couple of Chanukah songs to go with them.

When I was a child in the 1950’s, we were forced to sing those songs in public school. I knew there was something wrong with that, and when I told my mother, she said I should just move my lips and pretend I was singing along. That was the only “solution” back then.

But 28 years ago, when my daughter was in public-school kindergarten, she started bringing home Christmas artwork from school. I protested to her teacher, and she then started bringing home artwork with Jewish themes. But when I went to the kindergarten concert, I was shocked and appalled to hear my daughter singing about Jesus and the “virgin mother and child.” And it didn’t help that the concert included two requisite Chanukah songs.

Thereupon I made my choice. I pulled her out of that school and placed her in a Jewish day school. Today she is a rabbi’s wife. Needless to say, her children are all receiving an authentic Torah education.

Thank G-d that now, unlike when I was growing up, we have so many Jewish day schools available. Parents, if you care anything about your children’s Judaism, enroll them in a Jewish day school. Furthermore, all Jews should be sure that a good portion of their tzedakah goes to these schools.

Phyllis M. LaVietes
DeSoto, Texas

More On Howard Adelson

Beth Gilinsky Spiro’s Dec. 12 obituary tribute to Professor Howard Adelson was simply peerless. Her evaluation of this good man’s life and work is right on the mark. His love of learning, his activism and his ability to defend the interests of the Jewish people was beyond

I met Professor Adelson in Eilat in 1970 while on a small tour of the Sinai area south of Taba. I was able to speak with him at some length in a local cafe. I was a liberal back then, but this did not stop either of us from conversing. I did not believe that a conservative could have been a professor at CCNY (today I would be right to think so, but for different reasons).

A few months later I saw him on television speaking against “open enrollment” at CCNY and the other CUNY colleges. I rememeber well his saying, “There hasn’t been a brilliant class at the city colleges since the 1940’s, and now there won’t be a very smart one,” or words to that effect. What arrogance, I thought back then; what a brilliant analysis, I think today!

During the years that followed I saw his name on many a petition to the powers that be defending the Jewish people and Israel against our enemies. Your tribute covered the ground very well.

I am fortunate to have met him; you, Ms. Gilinsky Spiro, are more fortunate to have known him.

David S. Levine
Hobe Sound, FL

Chanukah In Kuwait

Last month I celebrated my third Chanukah away from my family with the U.S. Army. I was deployed in 1994 for Operation Vigilant Warrior. I was deployed in 2002 for Operation Enduring Freedom. And I was deployed in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

We had a wonderful Chanukah party in the chapel at Camp Doha, Kuwait. We celebrated the eighth night of Chanukah and the Sabbath in a very moving service. It was truly remarkable that so many Jewish soldiers and civilians came from military camps in the area to attend our simple service. Ours was a mixed bunch; from California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and other locales, representing the Army, Air Force, and even the American Embassy. As for supplies, we were blessed with many Chanukah cards, dreidels, and chocolate gelt. Before our service ended, we made certain to add many prayers for our fallen comrades, and for those on patrol this evening keeping our compound safe.

Our meal was meager but appreciated by all. The latkes did not arrive in time, so we ate semi-stale donuts left over from earlier in the day. My Aunt Esther, Uncle Seymour and Cousin Farrell had sent a variety of nuts, fruits and nosh, so we had some kosher products for our table.

In the end, each individual left with a smile. We came together in the desert to remember a military victory for religious freedom more than 2,500 years ago. And we remembered that the same battle rages on all around us. So the work continues.

Major Jonas Vogelhut
Camp Doha, Kuwait

Who Is A True Zionist?

Wrong To Downplay Impact Of Secular Zionists

Bezalel Fixler’s “Who Is A True Zionist?” (Jewish Press, Jan. 2) was inspiring to read. The
ancient yearning of the Jew for Eretz Yisrael is, these days, all too often taken for granted.
However, while those who yearned for a return to Zion are unquestionably “Zionists,” the return to Zion in the last century and a half was the result of all those whom Mr. Fixler discounts: Herzl, Achad Ha’Am, Pinsker, Lilienblum, Nordau, Jabotinsky, et al.

The fact is, the frum establishment rebuffed or ignored, for one reason or another, all of those
Torah giants who before Herzl and company advocated a return to Zion en masse.

Take the case of Rav Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, who when he visited the then Szigeter Rebbe on his way to Israel was told not to go. The Szigeter assured him that there were positions in Hungary for such a young and vibrant talmid chacham. The Szigeter begged him to abandon his plans for making aliyah. When Schlesinger refused his offer, saying that he was in love with the land, the Szigeter circulated a directive to all who would listen that any aid given to Schlesinger in his pursuit of aliyah would be tantamount to support of idolatry.

Rav Kook left Israel in 1914 to attend a Kenessiah Gedolah of Agudat Yisrael. When he
pleaded with Agudah to reverse its hostile stance on Zionism, he was rebuffed and reviled. The records indicate that the Chofetz Chaim was shaken to the core over the attacks on a person such as Rav Kook.

In fact, the 1947 records of the United Nations Special Committee On Palestine (UNSCOP) indicate that Agudah testified against the idea of an independent Jewish state in Israel.

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that these Torah giants who opposed secular Zionism were, in Mr. Fixler’s words, true Zionists. The only problem is that were it not for all those secular Zionists whom Fixler cites, thousands of marginal Jews would never have been inspired to make aliyah to pre-state Israel.

All that he says about Herzl is accurate save for one detail: The Uganda issue for Herzl, in
Herzl’s own words, was a temporary solution, an overnight stay for streams of Russian displaced persons as a result of the ongoing waves of pogroms. Uganda – and nothing else – was offered to Herzl by the British. And so he jumped at it for a practical reason; namely, that the refugees needed a quiet place to run to. In fact, the British soon rescinded their offer.

The examples offered by Mr. Fixler of, in his words, true Zionism, are all correct and admirable. They do not, however, change the indisputable fact that the overwhelming number of frum Jews and their leadership were hostile to the secular Zionists and turned their backs on this movement. With the vacuum having been created, what is the point of trying to determine who was the first or the true Zionist?

Rabbi Chaim Wasserman
Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton
Passaic, NJ

Who Lived And Who Died

Herzl, Jabotinsky, and Nordau were the greatest Jewish leaders in our generation. Were it
not for Herzl, the existence of a Jewish state after two thousand years of exile would not have come about. It was the youth that followed Herzl and went to Eretz Yisrael to establish settlements, to cultivate the land and make it inhabitable for the thousands of Jews who came after them.

My late father was a chassid of the Rebbe of Czortkow. My father also was one of the organizers of the first Zionist congress in Basel in 1897. He knew Dr. Theodor Herzl and adored him. When Herzl’s body was brought from my home town in Vienna for reburial in Jerusalem, my father, a Cohen, changed our name to Hacohen; the ‘H’ in Hebrew stands for Herzl – Herzl Cohen, Hacohen.

Jabotinsky, whom I had the privilege to know personally, was another of the great Zionist leaders in my generation. I was present in Vienna in 1935 at the first congress of the new Zionist organization Jabotinsky founded. He warned the Jews of Europe to leave for Eretz Yisrael immediately. He said the hour was five minutes to midnight and that if you don’t liquidate the Diaspora, the Diaspora will liquidate you. He foresaw the Holocaust.

By contrast, many chassidic rebbes told their chassidim not to go to Eretz Yisrael because the
Zionist country was ‘treif.’ I mourn the loss of so many chassidim, so many friends of mine, so many venerable rabbis, who were misled by their rebbes and by the anti-Zionist Agudat Yisrael and perished with their families in the Holocaust.

Most of my friends who followed Herzl and Jabotinsky landed in Eretz Yisrael, some legally
and some not. They were the true Zionists.

Dr. Mordecai Hacohen
New York, NY

A Matter Of Terminology

Although I agree with Mr. Fixler’s basic thesis that “Zionism without a religious component is not real Zionism,” I have reservations about the use of the term “Zionist” to refer to the rabbanim, chachamim, and other individuals and groups who made aliyah prior to the nineteenth century.

It is my conviction that historically referenced terms such as “Zionist” and “Zionism” have a
reality and validity all their own. As such, it should not be applied to acts of aliyah to Eretz Yisrael which were an expression of love of Zion or the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael before the advent of the Jewish nationalist movement called “Zionism.”

One should not reference a historical phenomenon back to previous generations who had
no concept that their acts of aliyah would produce the mass migration of Jews to Eretz Yisrael. Even those that hoped for it did not plan for it in the manner that the Zionist movement would later undertake.

We have Medinat Yisrael today because Hashem blessed the Zionist movement. It is likewise true that our inalienable relationship to Eretz Yisrael is based on kedushat haaretz from the
Torah, as we learn from the very first Rashi, cited by Mr. Fixler in his comprehensive article.

Toby Solomon
Kew Gardens, NY

Materialistic Malaise

In his op-ed article in the Dec. 26 issue of The Jewish Press, Rabbi Yehuda Levin did a masterful job of demonstrating that contemporary Hellenization, generally considered the province of halachically-challenged Judaism, has infiltrated the ranks of Orthodoxy (“Orthodox Hellenists, 5764”).

Rabbi Levin cites as evidence the disinclination of ostensibly Orthodox politicians both here and in Israel to stand up to the pro-gay lobby as well as the royal treatment lavished by
certain Orthodox groups on politicians whose stated positions are antithetical to the Torah.
Rabbi Levin views these acts, along with the general apathy regarding them, as proof that
Orthodoxy has lost its moral compass. He is right, but it behooves us to understand how this has occurred.

The answer actually is rather simple. Modern-day Orthodoxy has not rejected the Torah, it has embraced materialism. In parshas Mikeitz, Yaakov Avinu sends his sons to Mitzrayim to purchase grain before their supplies would be depleted. Rashi explains that he wanted to avoid instilling enmity in his non-Jewish neighbors who had been profligate with their produce. In charging his sons, our Patriarch employed the expression “Lomo tisroe” – why do you make yourselves conspicuous” – and here he was speaking to all of his children throughout the millennia.

But this message is lost today in our society. We need look no further than the “edifice complex” that has gripped so many Orthodox communities, as the well off capriciously dismantle perfectly livable abodes to erect visual testimonies to their surfeit. Duly impressed, the neighbors follow suit, finances be damned; must keep up with the Schwartzes, you know.

But then comes the next big decision: Where to go for Pesach? The Catskills? Surely you jest.
Miami? Been there, done that. So it’s Mexico or Europe or whatever exotic port of call is ‘in’ that year. Have no fear, chassidishe shechita and non-Gebrokts are here.

But it doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot. No, we have midwinter cruises, summer vacations, weekend ski trips – all under the protective umbrella of kashrut but all at loggerheads with at least the spirit of Judaism.

So Rabbi Levin is correct. We have become Hellenists and we don’t even know it. Certainly we pledge allegiance to the Torah – but it’s mere lip service. Does the person who imports Italian marble for his kitchen anxiously await the coming of Moshiach? How many families stiff the yeshivas when it’s time to pay tuition, yet drive their kids to school in late model autos yapping away on their high-tech cell phones? Given this atmosphere we can readily understand the lack of outrage when the Torah is slighted or defamed.

Is there an answer? I believe it’s time we speak about olam haba (the world to come) and
return it to its once-prominent place in the spiritual lives of Torah Jews. Throughout the
centuries there was no need to impress upon Jewry its importance. As people lived in poverty, in fear of the next pogrom, it was the belief in a better world  than this one that sustained them. It may be the only antidote available to the materialism that is steadily eating away at our spirituality.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY