Magnificent Rumsfeld

Your Feb. 27 editorial on the Democratic presidential candidates was on target. I know that liberal Jews – those whose prime concerns in life are gay rights, abortion and keeping any manifestation of religion out of the public square – will vote for any Democrat that comes down the pike. But I don’t see how any Jew who cares about a strong Israel and whose worldview is informed by biblical/traditional standards and values can support either Mr. Kerry or Mr. Edwards (let alone Mr. Sharpton or Mr. Kucinich).

There are many reasons to support George W. Bush, but what I like best about this president is the caliber of his advisers. We’ll never see a more pro-Israel group around any future president, Republican or Democrat.

I particularly like Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a non-Jew who has proven much more resolute in his support of Israel than any of the weak-kneed Jewish officials appointed by Bill Clinton, who inexplicably remains the darling of liberal Jews from the Upper West Side to Boca Raton to Hollywood.

A couple of years ago, Rumsfeld raised the hackles of Arabists and peaceniks when he referred to the West Bank and Gaza as ‘the so-called occupied territories.’ More recently, at a conference in Munich, Rumsfeld was asked why the Bush administration didn’t seem at all concerned about Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons. This was the magnificent reply given by a magnificent man:

“You know the answer by yourself, and the whole world knows the answer. Israel is a small country with a small population. It is a democracy, but exists among neighbors who want to see her in the sea. Israel has made it clear that she does not want to be in the sea, and as a result, over several decades, has organized in such a manner as not to be thrown into the sea.”

Can you imagine anyone in a Kerry administration (G-d save us) making that kind of forthright statement, and in a hostile environment yet? As Jay Nordlinger put it in his column on NationalReviewOnline: ‘Savor it now, ladies and gents, for we will probably never – ever – see the likes of this fellow, in an office this key, again.’

David Weisbrod
New York, NY

Haivri’s Treatment

For printing T-shirts with a picture of Meir Kahane and the legend “No Arabs, No Terror Attacks” David Haivri is charged with “seditious libel.” It is such a loosely-defined term that it intimidates anyone who might consider publishing dissident political views.

Typically, as in Israel, truth is not a defense against a charge of seditious libel. It is a means for tyrannical governments to use the criminal law to insulate themselves from disagreement. Before glasnost, “anti-Soviet agitation” was a form of seditious libel.

Any government that makes seditious libel an offense is not a free society, no matter what its other characteristics. See Anthony Lewis, Make No Law (Random House, 1991).

Jay Starkman
Atlanta, GA

Disrespectful Letter

I have been following, in your Letters to the Editor section, the arguments regarding the permissibility of an eruv on the Lower East Side. I found the halachic opinion of Rabbi Simcha Cohen very interesting, as was the response from Rabbi Romm.

In the Feb. 27 issue, however, the subject took a dramatic turn for the worse. One Heshy Jacob, who identified himself as a Lower East Side resident, took on Rabbi Cohen in a most
chutzpadik manner. Rabbonim often disagree on the interpretation of our laws, but all arguments that are l’shem shamayim have a right to be voiced.

I know Rabbi Simcha Cohen to be a very learned Torah scholar. I also know that when there is no kavod for the rav – who is, after all, the source of Torah education for the masses – what follows is usually a lack of proper respect for people in general.

I would advise Mr. Jacob to think very carefully before he insinuates himself into a dispute between rabbinic scholars and certainly before he sets out to publicly attack one.

I enjoy reading Rabbi Cohen’s weekly halachic column in The Jewish Press and sincerely hope he does not follow Mr. Jacob’s unsolicited advice to “keep his halachic opinions to

Nachum Myers
New York, NY

Furor Helped Sell ‘Passion’

As an Orthodox Jew, I wish to protest the New York Board of Rabbis’ call for a worldwide boycott of all Mel Gibson films. I think this move is self-defeating and will in any event be a
major failure. Despite the oft-repeated observation that we Jews seem to carry influence that is disproportionate to our numbers, I do not believe this will hold true in the current instance.

Mr. Gibson has touched the Christian world at its very core, and this will not be something that will be passed over lightly by any Christian, devout or otherwise, any more than anything that would touch the core of Judaism would be passed over by Jews.

I feel that all the condemnations of the movie, many delivered even before it was screened in previews, did a major disservice to Jews. Most film experts had envisioned this foreign-language film barely breaking even. It was the furor raised by so-called Jewish leaders that has helped make it the box-office sensation of the decade. Hysterical charges of anti-Semitism have been so abused over the years that we risk sounding like the boy who cried wolf.

Most egregious, in my opinion, is the head-in-the-sand position of Jewish leadership in any discussion of the role played by Jews in the arrest and subsequent trial and execution of Jesus. We cannot simply continue to pretend that the Jewish leaders of that time had no knowledge of, no opinion about, no interaction with, and no complaints about this man.

We need to look at whatever role was played by the Jewish leaders of that time, even if it may not have been the central role in the actual execution of the man, and deal with it forthrightly. We must point out the historical untruths, but accept truths that may in some measure be painful or even embarrassing.

Robert M. Solomon
Brooklyn, NY

Gibson’s Agent

Wow, did Abe Foxman ever show Mel Gibson who’s boss! No doubt Gibson regrets the day he ever refused to submit to Foxman’s hysterical demands. Now that ‘The Passion’ has grossed more than 120 million dollars in just its first few days, with a lot more money still to come, I hope Foxman is giving himself a well-deserved pat on the back. Gibson could never in his wildest dreams have hired a more effective press agent.

Susan Wilner
(Via E-Mail)

The Danger

In case anyone is still unsure of how stereotypes can be entrenched through graphic media, let me share the following story with you:

Two weeks ago my husband traveled to Israel for a yahrzeit, and his flight was packed with Christian tourists on pilgrimage. When it was time for Shachris, a minyan assembled toward the front of one of the coach sections, the men donning their tallitot and tefillin. One of the passengers – an older man with a long flowing beard and true hadras panim – attracted the attention of the gentile passengers. Turning to my husband, who had davened with an earlier minyan, they whispered, “Is he the high priest?” Not knowing why they would assume this, my husband simply answered in the negative.

“Well then, he must be a Jerusalem Jew,” they proffered.

“No,” my husband responded, “he has lived in Brooklyn for about fifty years.”

A lively, friendly conversation then ensued about the relative safety of Israel as opposed to the Bible Belt states these tourists were from.

When “The Passion” began to be featured heavily in the news, with various horrific clips shown on the web, we realized where this concept of “high priest” originated in the minds of our gentile friends.

Let no one be deluded – this violently cruel depiction will wreak havoc. The Jewish characters are portrayed in the most classic of anti-Semitic caricatures and roles. The physical effects of watching such graphic violence, which psychologists themselves have documented, promotes the type of extreme reactions that plain or non-emotive prose would not elicit.

Thanks, Hollywood.

Meira Halberg
Lakewood NJ

Getting It Right

I thoroughly enjoy the illuminating Machberes column each week in The Jewish Press. It is a source for much information on our mosdos and leaders.

The Jan. 9 issue related interesting details about the Satmar shidduch, but there were a couple of errors.

The column cited Rabbi Dovid Dov Berish Meisels, Boro Park Satmar Rav, as the son of the late Veitzener Rav, when in fact he is a nephew. His father, Rabbi Eliezer Meisels, zt”l, was called the Eiheler Rav. The Veitzener Rav’s son, Rabbi Dovid Meisels, Montreal Satmar Rav, is also a son-in-law of the Satmar Rebbe. The similar names and relationship could have actuated this confusion.

Also, the column gave 1970 as the year of the Veitzener Rav’s passing. No. My mother was niftar on Isru Chag Pesach 5731 – 1971. The Veitzener Rav came to menachem ovel
while I was sitting shiva. He survived a few years subsequent to this date.

Shabsi Turner
Chicago, IL

Friedman A Creature Of His Times

I’ve always been impressed with the astute perception of Jason Maoz in his Media Monitor
column. His Feb. 20 effort, “Our Uncle Tom,” and the similar comments in Rabbi David B.
Hollander’s essay “Don’t Let the Face Fool You” (Jewish Press, Jan. 30), are especially welcome, casting sorely needed light on the nearly sacrosanct myth of Thomas Friedman’s brilliance and objectivity.

On the surface, Friedman’s acclaim, prominence, and influence are mystifying, considering his pedestrian literary skills and his often naive assumptions about international affairs, particularly when contrasted against the diversity of writers whose analyses of foreign affairs are far more original and penetrating.

Yet, on second thought, Friedman’s success makes perfect sense. Indeed, it’s utterly predictable, for it’s a reflection of the philosophy of The New York Times and that newspaper’s mindset vis-a-vis the Jewish people. At this point the Times seems to have come to nominal, highly qualified terms with the re-establishment of the Jewish nation-state. But it is patently obvious that the ethos that has pervaded the Times from Adolph S. Ochs’s acquisition of the newspaper in 1896 – and which continued unabated through the Holocaust – still animates the alleged paper of record’s choice of columnists, let alone its reporting and political agenda, more than a century later.

I refer to a near-pathological reluctance to accept the fact that we Jews are a distinct people
as well as a community of faith, unapologetically meriting the same right of self defense taken for granted by all other peoples. Accepting the full implications of these truths would demolish
assumptions about Jewish acceptance and assimilation (and our quiet disappearance?) which
have been part of the secular religion of the Times for over a century.

Thomas Friedman is not at all surprising. He is simply the most recent, prominent exemplar of
this dismal tradition.

Though he occasionally displays insight in other areas, when it comes to Israel Friedman has
– like an American parody of a Soviet apparatchik – eagerly parroted, in forced, folksy prose, the longstanding agenda and prevailing beliefs concerning Israel held by the foreign policy
bureaucracies of the United States, the European nations, and the “third world,” let alone the
prevailing winds of thought in the news media and academia.

Since ethnically he is a Jew, he provides a perfect mouthpiece for those who wish to cast the
burden, sacrifice, and risks for an illusory “peace” in the eastern Mediterranean almost entirely upon the Jewish state while denying the very notion that their agenda may be driven by anti-Jewish animosity.

The alleged Saudi peace plan of February 2002 is a case in point. Looking back at how he
touted the agenda of Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, it’s difficult to determine if Friedman was duplicitous or simply in denial. Perhaps a heady combination of both.

Friedman?s personal motivations are open to conjecture. But I?m curious whether, as a self-described “three-day-a-year-Jew” growing up in middle class Minnesota in mid-twentieth
century America, his Jewish beliefs consisted of the knowledge of anything more than, in the words of the playwright David Mamet, “Jewish food and Jewish jokes.”

It’s hard to see, in Friedman’s writings, anything other than a rabid compulsion to negate
his own identity in a search for acceptance.

Still, there lies a small, quiet consolation that is almost poetic in its irony. No matter how ardent his quest for fame, there is a very small thing Thomas Friedman will never quite be able to escape: His own identity. And all the world knows it. As does he.

Michael G. Moskow
Drexel Hill, PA

NRP Safeguards Judaism In Israel

Re Rabbi Menachem Porush’s “As I See It” column of Jan. 2:

It was not the National Religious Party (NRP) that began the cooperation with Shinui, it was the Israeli public: some 400,000 voted for Shinui, giving the party 15 seats in the Knesset. On the other hand, ”our people” stuck a knife in the back of the NRP, the party that was supposed to serve as a balance to Shinui, and gave it only 132,000 votes, about 8,000 less than in the previous elections. And that is where we now stand in the battle for the Jewish image of the State of Israel: 15 to 6.

Although from the beginning the forces have been unequal, so far the unbelievable has
happened: despite Shinui’s actions and determination, the Jewish character of the State of
Israel has not been damaged in any way. Shinui constantly tries to damage the Jewishness of the state, from the inclusion of Reform Jews in the body that elects our chief rabbis to he elimination of rabbinical rulings on issues of personal status to a complete separation of religion and state. For Shinui, anything goes, so long as there is less Judaism in Israel.

And is it not only Shinui. The Likud party is also involved. The vice prime minister and minister
of employment, Ehud Olmert, has abandoned the Law on Work and Rest Time. He failed to send inspectors and reduced fines on offenders by 90 percent – all this with the clear aim of damaging the principle of keeping Shabbat in public.

But amazingly, the status quo is maintained. Shinui has recalled all its anti-religious initiatives
and constantly votes together with us in the Knesset against anti-religious initiatives by the
Labor party and Meretz.

This restraint is due only to our presence in the coalition. Because of us, the conditions relating
to the safeguarding of the status quo were included in the coalition agreements.

It is quite clear that if we were not there, Labor would be – and perhaps even Meretz. Then
the Jewish state would indeed be destroyed, and for generations to come we would cry over the catastrophe that our generation allowed and initiated.

This phenomenon, where six MK’s counteract 15, must certainly indicate help from G-d who
guides and strengthens the NRP representatives and empowers their actions.

The dismantling of the Ministry of Religious Affairs was actually a Shinui initiative, but any
honest person must admit that we, with our own hands, brought this upon ourselves. We, the entire religious public, all the parties, rabbis and leaders, brought parts of the Ministry to a state of chilul Hashem (desecration of G-d’s name).

Year after year, the Holy One Blessed be He gave us extra time to mend our ways and prevent the chilul Hashem in certain areas (very specific areas) of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, but we simply ignored it. And then G-d brought on us what was foreseen by Rabi Yehoshua in Sanhedrin (68:2): ”Those who do not repent are not redeemed, but the Holy One Blessed be He sends them a new king whose decrees are worse than those of Haman…”

When Shinui says dismantle [the ministry], they mean demolish it. There is no doubt that if
the NRP had not been in the Coalition, the dismantling would have become demolition. We
demanded that each area should be transferred in its entirety to another ministry. Each department was indeed transferred, together with budgetary and practical instructions, so that the religious services and Jewish law would continue to function as in the past.

With regard to the rabbinical courts, historical decisions were taken that give the president of the Beth Din powers that he never had before, and so the ideological independence of the
rabbinical courts was preserved.

To write that the NRP is a partner to the erasure of the Jewish character of the state not only reflects ignorance, but ingratitude as well.

Gila Finkelstein
Member of Knesset
National Religious Party

For Parents On Purim

Listening to the news nowadays can really pull one’s heartstrings. People dying. Parents critically ill. Children with life-threatening diseases. A bombing – 20 dead. A shooting – family killed. They are all just words that bounce off our immune minds. We don’t seem to hear the
message until it hits close to home.

Why is it that when a bochur goes to Eretz Yisrael to learn, he won’t step on a bus or go near
a bus stop because his father is too scared to let him, yet when that bochur goes out on Purim his father won’t say anything to him about drinking?

Simchas Purim is the common excuse. How many times did you go into a closet on Purim and
get drunk? Never? Somehow on Purim everyone is makpid on “B’rov am hadras melech.”

Imagine if there was a halacha on Purim to drink “ad d’lo yado” by yourself, with absolutely
no one around. How many people would be drunk? Nobody!

People hear the news after Purim: “My neighbor’s son went to the hospital.” “My nephew
almost died on Purim.” A mother says, “Purim is my Tisha b’Av.” And yet while everyone hears the same message year after year, no one seems to listen. It is time to realize that the news is hitting close to home; it’s not just someone else, it could happen to you too.

Why don’t parents who are so careful about their children – about which yeshivas they send
them to, when they can begin crossing the street, when can they can begin driving, etc. – say
anything to their children about drinking on Purim?

On billboards and radio ads there is a campaign about stopping drugs, and the motto is
“Parents, the anti-drug: Talk, they’ll listen.” The same motto applies here as well. Your neighbor is not going to talk to your son about drinking this Purim, and you definitely don’t want your son’s friends to talk to him about drinking this Purim.

Listen to anybody who got drunk on Purim recap their story. It will sound something like this: “I was going around with my friends having a great time collecting tzedakah, we were dancing
in everybody’s houses and were really having fun. Then I got drunk.” It doesn’t enhance your Purim, it ends your Purim.

Two years ago, I got drunk on Purim, and that was my story.

Talk, they’ll listen!

Reuven Epstein
(Via E-Mail)

Happy Vegetarian Purim

There are many connections between vegetarianism and the Jewish festival of Purim, as the following partial list would indicate:

● According to the Talmud, Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, was a vegetarian while she lived in the palace of King Achashverush. She was thus able to avoid violating the kosher dietary laws while keeping her Jewish identity secret.

● During Purim it is a mitzvah to give mat’not evyonim (added charity to poor and hungry people). In contrast to these acts of sharing and compassion, animal-based diets involve the feeding of over 70 percent of the grain in the United States to animals, while an estimated 20 million people die of hunger and its effects annually.

● On Purim, Jews emphasize unity and friendship by sending gifts of food (shalach manot) to friends. Vegetarians act in the spirit of unity and concern for humanity by having a diet that best shares the earth’s abundant resources.

● Because Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people, it is the most joyous Jewish holiday. By contrast, animals on factory farms never have a pleasant day, and millions of people throughout the world are too involved in trying to obtain their next meal to be able to experience many joyous moments.

● Mordechai, one of the heroes of the Purim story, was a nonconformist. As the book of Esther states, “… And all of the king’s servants … bowed down and prostrated themselves before Haman … But Mordecai would not bow down nor prostrate himself before him”  (Esther 3:2). Today, vegetarians represent non-conformity. At a time when most people in the wealthier countries think of animal products as the main part of their meals, vegetarians are resisting and insisting that there is a better, healthier, more humane diet.

● Purim commemorates the deliverance of the Jews from the wicked Haman. Today,
vegetarianism can be a step toward deliverance from modern problems such as hunger, pollution, and resource scarcities.

● Jews hear the reading of the megillah twice during Purim, in order to reeducate themselves
about the terrible threats to the Jewish people and their deliverance. Jewish vegetarians believe that if Jews were educated about the horrible realities of factory farming and the powerful Jewish mandates about taking care of our health, showing compassion to animals, protecting the environment, conserving resources, and helping hungry people, they would seriously consider switching to vegetarian diets.

● Hamantashen, the primary food associated with Purim, is a vegetarian food.

In view of these and other connections, I hope that Jews will enhance their celebrations of the
beautiful and spiritually meaningful holiday of Purim by making it a time to begin striving even
harder to live up to Judaism?s highest moral values and teachings by moving toward a vegetarian diet.

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Jewish Vegetarians of North America

More Words About Chezi, z”l

Editor’s Note: We hope to have a number of different columnists alternating in Chezi
Goldberg, z”l’s, spot.

Although I did not know Chezi Goldberg, z”l, personally, we exchanged e-mails for a short while regarding the subject of teens at risk. I had an idea for which I wanted his opinion, and even though he had no plans to use it in his column, he took the time to answer me. I got the feeling when reading his reply that he was already my friend. That was Chezi Goldberg; he was that rare individual who connected to everyone with whom he came in contact. To Chezi
there were no barriers, no prejudices, just simple Ahavas Yisrael. We are all Jews despite our
differences, and that’s all that mattered to him. 

I must relate an obvious case of hashgacha pratis. A week before the terrorist attack which
claimed his life, I came across his article, “If We Don’t Cry, Who Will?” It was in Aish Hatorah’s weekly e-mail letter which I had saved for two years, since I hadn’t had a chance to read it. After, I read this article, I decided to send it out to the 150 Jewish newspapers, magazines, and web sites which receive my Torah e-mails under the name, The Kaddish
Connection Network (The Jewish Press is on my distribution list). I had felt the sentiments
expressed in this article for a while. I planned to send it out at the appropriate time. That time,
unfortunately, came the following week after the Jerusalem bus attack. The day after I sent it out, I found out that Chezi was one of the victims.

It always bothered me that we hear about our own brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisrael being killed, injured and maimed for life, and yet we don’t even shed a tear, myself included.

For this reason, I make it my business to read the news in Israel from an Israeli source every day. That is the least I could do to show I care. This is what Chezi was pleading with us to do in that article – to become less numb to these atrocious acts against our people and let our hearts feel our fellow Jews’ pain. This is the least we can do. Chezi sacrificed his life, al Kiddush Hashem, practicing what he preached.

Yisrael Friedman
Rochester, NY

Dear Editor,

I feel a tremendous loss about the passing of Chezi Goldberg. His was the first article I read every week. He addressed issues that people don’t like to discuss and educated us about them. He even published a letter of mine. He will be sorely missed.

A Mother From Brooklyn