Precedent-Setting President

Last week President George W. Bush made more explicit than ever before his belief that the war Israel faces against Arab Islamic terrorism is the same as the war the United States faces. His actual words were:

“The violence we are seeing in Iraq is familiar. The terrorist who takes hostages or plants a roadside bomb near Baghdad is serving the same ideology of murder that kills innocent people on trains in Madrid, and murders children on buses in Jerusalem, and blows up a nightclub in Bali, and cuts the throat of a young reporter for being a Jew.”

He is the first U.S. president to tie the destiny of the Jews and the Jewish state to that of the United States. Prior to the Bush presidency, U.S. presidents of both parties saw Israel as an important ally living in a tough part of the world who would ultimately have to sacrifice a major portion of its territory for the sake of world peace.

George W. Bush is the first president to see that there is no moral equivalence between the Arabs and the Jews, that terrorists do not want peace as democracies generally do. He is the first to support the idea that the Arab world must transform itself politically before a lasting peace can be achieved. He is the first to realize that forcing the Israeli government’s hand in negotiations with terrorists would amount to Israel’s signing a death sentence.

Not bad for someone derided by his enemies as a “stupid cowboy.”

Simon Jacobs
(Via E-Mail)

Retrench … Or Resign

The most important revelation so far of the 9/11 hearings is that Bin Laden discovered America’s Achilles heel when U.S. forces were precipitously withdrawn from Lebanon in 1983. If you recall, a lone Arab terrorist blew himself and 241 Marines to smithereens with a
truck bomb.

President Reagan turned tail and ran. No investigation. No retaliation. Nothing.

That horrendous event was Bin Laden’s wake-up call. He discovered that most awesome (non-nuclear) weapon: the suicide bomber. He also discovered that terror could be spread with impunity.

Did Ariel Sharon learn the lesson that withdrawal in the face of an enemy’s boldness will only bring worse disasters? Apparently he did not. Neither did he learn the lessons of Ehud Barak’s blunder of pulling out of Lebanon – a move that most analysts agree emboldened the Palestinians enough to start the second (and still ongoing) intifada.

Sharon’s planned unilateral withdrawal from Gaza should send shockwaves through Jewish communities all over the world. The uprooting of whole families – women, children, the elderly – reminds me of the nightmarish days when we were taken from our homes by the Nazis.

Arik Sharon! Is this why you were elected by an unprecedented majority? Is it the will of those who voted for you that you turn over Gaza to Hamas? Remember: you were not elected to cede territory. That’s something any incompetent can do.

You, on the other hand, were elected to save Israel from the ravages of Oslo. You can still do so. But if you can’t, then resign. Yes, resign. Resign before you start the catastrophic process of dismantling the Jewish state brick by brick.

Bezalel Fixler
Kew Gardens, NY

Capital Punishment

Many years ago, I would have agreed with Steven Plaut’s op-ed column favoring capital punishment – it’s in the Bible, so it must be right (“Preserving Human Dignity Through Capital Punishment,” Jewish Press, April 9). But that’s a literal reading which just doesn’t mesh with all of the intricacies of the oral Torah. I think we need to remember that our rabbis moved off the Temple Mount specifically to avoid the issue of capital punishment; without the full Sanhedrin
present, capital punishment would not be possible. They too knew that capital punishment is in the Bible, and they opted against it.

In the United States, we have a system of government very much in opposition to the Noahide laws. I’m assuming that the proponents of capital punishment would be less vocal about capital punishment for idol worshipers, adulterers, and those who consume the flesh of a halachically living animal. Even murder in Torah law has an entirely different definition than in civil law. In addition to a Constitution alien to Noahide laws, we have a jury system that has absolutely no
basis in Torah and which, in effect, places life and death judgments in the hands of peers instead of impartial, skilled, qualified judges.

All of which raises the question: In the full absence of any other aspect of Torah/Noahide laws, could one isolated element – capital punishment – be in any way considered biblical? I personally would like to know what our rabbis today have to say on this issue, and if they do unambiguously endorse it as Mr. Plaut suggests. Sources, please!

Miriam Levinson
Philadelphia, PA

Steven Plaut Responds: Yes, the Sanhedrin went out of its way to avoid having to enforce halachic guidelines regarding capital punishment for Jewish transgressors. But what does that have to do with the price of a kosher hot dog? Those Sanhedrin were not living in a time of genocidal terrorism and suicide bombings of Jews by anti-Semites. They were not operating in an age of Al Qaeda and Hamas, of massive and uncontrollable violent crime, of crack houses
and gang wars with automatic weapons.

No one is suggesting the United States implement capital punishment for idol worshippers and extra- marital peccadilloes. Let us recall that the original commandment to implement capital
punishment was for first-degree murder alone, in the Book of Genesis, chapter 9 verse 6: “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his own blood shall be shed by man, for in the image of G-d, He made man.” Throughout the Bible, capital punishment was utilized even other than in cases of first-degree murder (Samuel dispatching the King of the Amalekites, Pinchas’s heroism, the frequent use of it by King David and King Solomon, etc.).

Capital punishment is moral, ethical, and there is enormous evidence that it does indeed deter crime and violence, politically correct agitprop against it notwithstanding. Ms. Levinson forgets that one of the other Noahide commandments is for all nations to establish rules of law and judicial systems for law enforcement. If many states in the United States have decided to realize this Noahide commandment in the form of implementing capital punishment for murderers, there is no Judaic basis for criticizing them for doing so, regardless of whether the due process in these courts follows Torah rules. It is one of Israel’s greatest follies that it has not implemented capital punishment for terrorists.

More On Non-Jewish Melodies (I)

I wish to protest the tremendous chutzpah exhibited by reader Robert M. Solomon in his April 2 letter to the editor responding to Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser’s earlier criticism of non-Jewish music being appropriated by frum Jews.

I have no problem with debating the issue in a respectful manner (see reader Kalman Fischer’s letter in the same issue), but what Mr. Solomon did was to attack a beloved rabbinical figure and insult Daas Torah.

I’m sure that Rabbi Goldwasser in his column was not referring to simple and harmless melodies that our holy tzaddikim and rebbes adopted and to which they added genuine Jewish ruach and taam. What Rabbi Goldwasser was no doubt warning against is the type of rock or rap music distinguished by wild and provocative beats (and whose original lyrics celebrate immorality and sinful lifestyles).

L’havdil bein kodosh l’chol, bein Yisrael l’amim.

Rabbi Moshe Shochet
Brooklyn, NY

More On Non-Jewish Melodies (II)

Re the recent discussion in your news paper regarding non-Jewish songs being utilized for Jewish purposes:

In chassidus it is stated that song is a pen of the soul, meaning that a composer puts his inner essence into the songs he composes. This leads to the logical conclusion that a song composed by a person whose inner essence is unholy will contain that dimension in the song.

In most cases we are not on the spiritual level necessary to discern the negative dimension of a song. It is true that Chabad rebbes have made chassidic songs out of non-Jewish songs. But it is generally accepted in Chabad that the only ones who can do such a thing are rebbes – tzaddikim who, because of their great spiritual powers, can raise the song from the mundane to the holy.

Rabbi Pesach Scheiner
Boulder, CO

The State Of Orthodoxy, Modern And Otherwise

If the Letters Section of the April 2 edition is any indication, I will not be the choice of Jewish
Press readers for American Idol. To my detractors’ credit, their rebuttals of my position vis-?-vis Modern Orthodoxy were, on the whole, quite good. The gist of their remarks was that Modern Orthodoxy should not have been singled out for condemnation as there are individuals within the yeshivish-chassidish community who are likewise guilty of behavior unsanctioned by the Torah. Actually, I tried to forestall this argument with the disclaimer that I was not addressing any particular group.

I was raised Modern Orthodox. When I graduated high school it was with the assumption
that my Torah education was completed. Reader Sol Friedman flippantly derided me a hypocrite for violating the supposed prohibition against attending college. Mr. Friedman, I went to college almost thirty years ago. It was a different world and I was a different person. Would I send my son to college? That’s a thorny issue which I plan to discuss with my rebbeim when the time arrives.

I know that there are those in the modern Orthodox community who like to portray the
yeshiva world as being saddled with a Medieval mindset. Sorry to burst your bubble. The majority of those who devote their lives to Torah do so from strength, not because of any intellectual deficit. Forgive my digression, but I am acutely aware of the tepidity of my religious practice in the years before I discovered the joy of devoting oneself to Hashem and His Torah. Those who do not actively pursue spiritual advancement will find themselves on the slippery slope. Unfortunately, most are blind to their flaws and it is to that end that I write – while acknowledging that my particular level of observance has tremendous room for improvement.

The thinking Jew should formulate the following kal v’chomer: If a young Muslim can forfeit his life in the most horrific manner for the empty promise of sensual bliss, then we who are
guaranteed olam haba if we live in accord with the Torah should certainly devote ourselves to a life of spirituality.

But do we? Let’s see now: increasingly exotic Pesach vacations, summer homes, luxury cars. We are all too familiar with the stranglehold that materialism has on us. And it follows that if we are consumed with living it up in olam hazeh, we make certain religious compromises. So we call for unwarranted eiruvim, demand “equal rights” for women, etc.

Consider the singles crisis. Much has been written and much has been done, yet little has
been accomplished because the root cause is not addressed. Young men and women (and some who are not so young) present themselves as observant while their aspirations mimic the mainstream culture. And we can apply the same principle to the burgeoning population of “children at risk.” My son’s tales from yeshiva are about family vacations, new cars, expensive toys.

We read in the Haggadah that “those who expand the recounting of yetsias Mitzrayim deserve
to be praised.” Rabbi Dovid Feinstein explains that people talk about what is important to them. For far too many Orthodox Jews, Torah has become an afterthought. Hashem does not expect us to live a monastic existence, but we have gone far beyond the pale. So let’s drop the Modern Orthodoxy tag, because this phenomenon is all-encompassing.

The truth is that those who devote their lives to materialism do so more for others than themselves. They want the respect of family, friends and peers. But is this worth losing the
ultimate reward – recognition of a life spent in avodas Hashem?

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY