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July 23, 2014 / 25 Tammuz, 5774
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Letters To The Editor

Unforgettable Impression

I’ve read with interest the ongoing multi-part biographical sketch of the late Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz, the Rabbi of the Kotel, in the “Profile” column.

I shall never forget the first time I saw him. My sister Binyamina was living in the Old City of Jerusalem. On Friday night I went to daven with my brother-in-law, Harav Eliot Sherman, at the Eliyahu HaNavi Synagogue.

Physically, Rabbi Getz was an impressive man. He was dressed all in white, from top to toe. He had on a white shtreimel, a white bekeshe, white pants, and white shoes. Everything was white except for his black beard. He was a vision of purity and holiness.

I would saw him several more times, including in his official capacity at the Kotel. I remember hearing Menachem Begin, when he was prime minister, speaking at the plaza next to the Kotel with Rabbi Getz sitting on the dais.

That first Friday night welcoming Shabbos in the Old City in the presence of Rabbi Meir Yehuda Getz, this chassid and Kabbalist all dressed in white, is still vivid in my memory some thirty years later.

Dr. Elie Feuerwerker
Highland Park, NJ


Defending Neturei Karta

Steven Plaut’s op-ed column on Neturei Karta is insane (“Open Letter to Neturei Karta,” op-ed, April 23).

It takes a sick mind to write that members of Neturei Karta aid terrorists. No Jew in the universe aids terrorists. Nor does any Jew in the universe favor the obliteration of the state of Israel, which can only be accomplished by a bloodbath. Neturei Karta’s position that the Zionist state must cease to exist is only a concept, not an actuality.

The absurdities expressed in Plaut’s attack on Neturei Karta must be retracted. Slandering other Jews cannot be abided by an Orthodox Jewish publication. Ten people protesting in Washington with Arabs does not mean Neturei Karta is in favor of killing Jews. Just the opposite: They maintain that protesting in this manner will save Jewish lives, because such protests proclaim to the world that Jews are against Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish
state by atheists – a state where only 10 percent of children attending school receive a Jewish education.

Zionists, by force, removed Arabs from their homes. And took their property. Arabs have a complete right to protest this.

I do not claim that protesting alongside Arabs is the proper place for Jews. However, the Jews who do so cannot be condemned – even if their actions are wrong.

The fact is they are wrong, because their protests don’t accomplish anything. They are seen as a group of fanatics who are helping the Arabs, which is totally untrue. Yet this is the only way
they have of delivering their message to the public. They feel they are performing an important service for the Jewish community. They may be wrong, but that doesn’t mean they are in favor of killing Jews.

Rabbi Shiah T. Director
Brooklyn, NY


The Beat Goes On

So, at least according to reader Moshe Shochet, it is not musical notes that threaten to corrupt, but rather “the beat” (Letters, April 23).

In responding to my earlier letter to the editor, Rabbi Shochet sounds the alarm: The pulsation of a ‘rock beat’ will so craze us that our very souls will become corrupted. But what really stands out in his letter was that rather than address the facts, he resorts to name calling and then retreats behind what he perceives to be the invincible wall of claiming to speak for ‘Daas Torah.’ (Kind of like in yeshiva when you’d ask a sincere question that the melamed couldn’t handle and he’d throw you out of class and call you a chatzuf.)

Sorry, Rabbi Shochet, but much as you might wish it to be, you as an individual are not infallible, nor is the right-wing community you presume to speak for.

As far as my alleged chutzpah is concerned, I welcome the charge. Better that than being a purveyor of skewed spiritual theory, a declarer of fatwah-like pronouncements, and an instigator of needless anxiety and guilt among innocent music lovers.

As for that “rock beat,” I guess the good rabbi hasn’t been to any Mordechai ben David concerts lately, or joined the men contorting themselves to the “rock beat” at frum weddings.

Dr. Robert M. Solomon
Brooklyn, NY



In Praise Of ‘Heavenly Matches’ (I)

Rarely have I read something that moved me as much as Rachel Weiss’s April 9 front-page essay “Heavenly Matches, Down-To-Earth Matchmakers.” As a recently married woman who spent too many years trying to navigate the singles swamps, I could have used Mrs. Weiss’s advice and observations during that trying time of my life.

Besides being beautifully written, the article was bursting with Jewish wisdom and insight. I e-mailed copies to friends who live out of town; it turned out many of them already had seen the article and several had forwarded copies to their single friends and acquaintances. Thanks to the Internet, Mrs. Weiss?s words of wisdom will continue to inspire people from all walks of life and all over the world.

Jenna Halpern
New York, NY



In Praise Of ‘Heavenly Matches’ (II)

Rachel Weiss sure can write, and she knows how to take a serious, potentially depressing message and package it in a shiny and attractive manner.

Too many Jewish singles love to feel sorry for themselves, and they wallow in blaming everybody but themselves for their predicament. The truth is, it is because of our own choices that many of us are still single well past the age at which we were certain we’d be married.

Too many Jewish men and women these days put career advancement ahead of settling down, and even among those who are seriously looking, there is a definite preference for style over
substance – “He doesn’t make enough money,” “She’s overweight,” “I only date tall men (even though I’m only five-foot-three),” “I only go out with women who will work after marriage” – despite all their protestations to the contrary.

Reading Rachel Weiss’s piece, one realizes that making a good match has always been hard work and a far from exact science – and that a healthy dose of luck often trumps good intentions and careful plans. It’s time for Jewish singles, myself included, to stop whining and to ditch our unreasonable, unattainable expectations. We’d do a whole lot better by expanding our field of potential mates and putting our trust in the G-d Whom we as Orthodox Jews claim
to believe in.

Shmuel Reese
(Via E-Mail)


Rhymes With ‘Doe, A Deer’

I read recently that former Councilman Noach Dear, currently attempting to unseat State Senator Kevin Parker in this fall’s Democratic primary, has altered the spelling of his first name to “Noah.”

Parker, whose district is mostly African-American, says Dear is “trying to Christianize his name” on the assumption it “will make it easier when he goes to campaign in places like black churches.”

Of course, one doesn’t have to agree with Parker’s characterization of Dear’s motives (Dear claims he’s dropped the “c” because “Noah” is easier to pronounce). But I, for one, was outraged at Dear’s response. “I’m not going to dignify those remarks,” he was quoted as saying. “I think it’s sad that he has to stoop to the gutter and attack me for my religion.”

Huh? How was what Parker said in any way an attack on Dear’s religion? And talk about trivializing the very serious and very real problem of anti-Semitism! Noach - I mean Noah – can’t be serious, can he?

Mordechai (Mordehai) Fairchild
(Via E-Mail)


Offensive Depiction

Although I agree with the sentiments portrayed in Rivie Rosenthal’s editorial cartoon of April 23, her depiction of the Palestinian should have no place in your publication. The portrayal
of the Arab in that cartoon is dehumanizing and reminiscent of the hideous, hooked-nose Jews depicted in the anti-Semitic cartoons we reflexively and justifiably condemn.

It is not necessary for Jews to demonize Arabs in order to rightfully and forcefully oppose their policies and actions.

Aaron Wapner
Toronto, Canada




More Dissent On Capital Punishment


Neither Ethical Nor Moral

I was somewhat disturbed, if not surprised, to read Steven Plaut’s defense of capital punishment (“Preserving Human Dignity Through Capital Punishment,” Jewish Press, April 9).

Mr. Plaut claims that there is an enormous amount of evidence proving capital punishment is
an effective deterrent. I would like to know how he came to this conclusion, especially since he so brazenly dismisses the views of most legal scholars that it is not an effective deterrent without citing a single source for his contention. An article discussing several inquiries into the question of deterrence published in the University of Pittsburgh Law Review in 1999 (see 60 U. Pitt L. Rev 321) found no empirical evidence to support the deterrence theory and no difference in the homicide rate between states that have the death penalty and states that do not. Given Mr. Plaut’s penchant for bashing left-wing opinions as lacking empirical evidence, it is strange that he would offer a claim of his own that is completely devoid of it.

It is particularly naive to argue that capital punishment could deter terrorism, and completely
illogical to argue that it could deter suicide terrorists. Islamic fanatics are clearly willing to die
to perpetrate atrocities. Why on earth would they be frightened of the death penalty if they already value death over life? Deterrence depends on the perpetrator valuing life over death.

Mr. Plaut does what many conservatives have been doing now that the theory of deterrence has largely been disproved; he claims the death penalty is moral. Perhaps it is. But the moral death penalty, particularly as discussed in the Torah and Gemara, assumes a compassionate criminal justice system staffed by wise elders using the death penalty sparingly and putting someone to death only after a very high bar is met regarding witnesses and testimony.

The Gemara says that a court that executes a man once in seventy years is cruel. In my view, the Jewish approach to the death penalty shows a concern for evidentiary standards and due process that far exceeds what we find in the Unites States. Were these the values of the U.S. justice system, I would consider supporting the death penalty in extreme cases – though I fail to see why it is implicitly any more moral and ethical than life imprisonment. Must we define morality solely in terms of extracting maximum retributive vengeance?

The death penalty in the United States is not administered in a way that is ethical or moral. Mr.
Plaut claims, totally incorrectly and again with absolutely no source, that there is no serious
evidence that an innocent person has ever been put to death in the U.S. Does Ethel Rosenberg ring a bell? Sacco and Venzetti? DNA evidence has exonerated many defendants on death row. Only an ignoramus would fail to draw the obvious conclusion: before DNA evidence was available, innocent people were put to death. Mr. Plaut seems totally ignorant of these facts. (His bizarre argument that other government agencies and activities kill people is beside the point. Those deaths are unintended and accidental. The death penalty is administered purposefully.)

Defendants can be convicted on as little as the testimony of one witness in a circumstantial case. Defense counsel is often incompetent, overworked, and underpaid. And though Mr. Plaut may dismiss this as more political correctness, those put to death are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately minority; there is evidence that shows that a minority defendant is significantly more likely than a white person to be sentenced to death for committing the same crime. This state of affairs cannot be described as moral or ethical under any reasonable definition of either term.

Mr. Plaut is entitled to make a moral case for the death penalty. He is not, however, entitled to
ignore the facts or to arrogantly dismiss all those who disagree with him as politically correct, or, worse, as people who place the rights of murderers above those of victims.

Michael Brenner
New York, NY



Biblical Sources Insufficient

In my April 23 letter responding to Steven Plaut’s article on capital punishment, I requested
that Mr. Plaut provide rabbinic sources to support his claim that our rabbis endorse capital
punishment. Once again, he brought only biblical sources and references to the days of the prophets and Jewish kings. How can one compare today’s secular court systems to what was then and what will be when Moshiach comes?

Mr. Plaut, you agreed with me that the Sanhedrin chose to disallow themselves the option
of capital punishment, but you attributed that action to their supposedly living in a time of peace instead of the terrorism we have today. Mr. Plaut, the Sanhedrin lived in the days of murderous Rome and Jewish collaborators with Rome (Sadducees). You state that capital punishment deters crime and violence. Yet Rabbi J. David Bleich, in his book Contemporary Halachic Problems Volume II, wrote, “Taking notice of the increasing incidence of homicide, the Sanhedrin recognized that capital punishment imposed by the courts had lost its deterrent force and under such circumstances the Sanhedrin was unwilling to continue to impose this
harsh penalty.”

No, Al Qaeda and Hamas were not around, but how can you suggest that capital punishment
would be a deterrent to a suicide bomber? Suicide bombers are already dead before they can be brought to trial, and it’s not likely that their passionate desire for death as martyrs could be
offset by a fear of execution.

You say there is no Judaic basis for criticizing the various states in the United States for
implementing capital punishment. I am not so sure, and this is why I requested sources. Many
years ago in Massachusetts, innocent women were put to death because the authorities in Salem believed they were acting in accordance with the Bible. This is the danger of empowering states with life and death decisions when they have no knowledge of, nor interest in, the Noahide laws. It would be pure coincidence if a secular court happened to execute one criminal in harmony with what the Noahide laws permit, but the door would then be opened to many executions which would not be allowable and which, in themselves, could constitute murder.

Rabbi Bleich’s book brings different opinions regarding the powers of Noahide courts in the
post-Sanhedrin days. It is not clear to me, however, if the sources he brings are referring to secular courts or properly formulated Noahide courts. At one point in his discussion, Rabbi Bleich wrote, “In fact, on the basis of the sources cited thus far, it would appear that Noachide courts have no right to impose the death penalty on the strength of circumstantial evidence. It should be noted that fingerprints, forensic evidence and the like must be relegated to the category of circumstantial evidence.”

In another discussion of the Noahide courts, in the book The Path of the Righteous Gentile,
Rabbis Clorfene and Rogalsky state, “A court system that perverts justice by handing down
rulings in conflict with the Seven Universal Laws is an instrument for driving G-d’s blessings out of the world. Anyone who fails to establish a court system … is punishable by death. One who
establishes or maintains courts of law that operate contrary to the Seven Universal Laws is similarly liable.”

Not only are secular courts operating contrary to the Noahide law’s requirements, but they are
hostile to them. Noahide laws are unconstitutional. If anyone doubts this, next time you are called for jury duty, tell the judge that you will prioritize biblical/Noahide law over civil law and see how fast that gets you out the door.

One again, I’d like to see the contemporary rabbinic sources which support capital punishment
as imposed by today’s secular court systems.

Miriam Levinson
Philadelphia, PA


Steven Plaut Responds: Remarkably, Mr. Brenner denies that killing terrorists could deter
terror, this just one week after the massive counterattack against terrorists in Fallujah, Iraq
by Allied forces, which reduced terrorist activity there enormously.

So Mr. Brenner thinks that “legal scholars” have proved that capital punishment does not deter
crime, does he? The only problem is that this is not at all an issue that “legal scholars” can call - even if they were all really in accord with Mr. Brenner, which they are most decidedly not - any more so than legal scholars can decide whether radiology is an effective medical treatment or whether program trading causes stock market crashes.

The issue requires not judicial pontificating but careful statistical analysis, of which very few
legal scholars are capable. Mr. Brenner instead offers self-righteous posturing and appeals to lay intuition. As it turns out, the statistical evidence is overwhelmingly in support of the finding that capital punishment is an extremely effective deterrent. Here is just the tip of the statistical
iceberg of evidence:

1. “Does Capital Punishment Have a Deterrent Effect? New Evidence from Postmoratorium Panel Data,” American Law and Economics Review V5 N2 2003 (344-376), probably the best study to date.

2. “Getting Off Death Row: Commuted Sentences and the Deterrent Effect of Capital
Punishment,” Journal of Law and Economics, Volume 46, Number 2, October 2003.

3. Capital Punishment and the Deterrence Hypothesis: Some New Insights and Empirical
Evidence, December 2001, Eastern Economic Journal, forthcoming, by Zhiqiang Liu
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=352681.

4. “Murders of Passion, Execution Delays and the Deterrence of Capital Punishment,” March
2003, at http://people.clemson.edu/~jshephe.

5. “State Executions, Deterrence and the Incidence of Murder,” Paul R. Zimmerman, March
3. 2003, Social Science Research Network.

6. Dezhbakhsh, Hashem and Shepherd, Joanna, “The Deterrent Effect of Capital Punishment: Evidence from a ‘Judicial Experiment’” (Aug 19, 2003). Emory University Economics Working Paper No. 03-14.
 
7. “Pardons, Executions and Homicide,” H. Naci Mocan and R. Kaj Gottings, Journal of Law
and Economics, forthcoming.

As for suicide bombers “preferring life over death” in Mr. Brenner’s words, that is about as
good an argument as any for executing, jailing, or expelling the family members of dead suicide
bombers, in order to deter future attacks. Mr. Brenner thinks the death penalty can be moral only if courts are staffed by infallible saints and prophets. Nonsense. Judaism does not restrict
authority to saints but grants authority to real-world, fallible, human court justices.

How does Mr. Brenner know the American courts do not adjudicate correctly in capital cases
with justice? Because he does not like their rulings! Some legal evidence that is. And did he really assert in his letter that Ethel Rosenberg was innocent, or are my old eyes playing tricks on me? The fact that a few innocent people on death row in the U.S. were exonerated before they were executed proves, if anything, that the American system works quite well.

As to the arguments presented by Ms. Levinson, It would be presumptuous of me to
represent myself as a Talmudic authority, and in any case I do not believe that the issue of capital punishment in the United States or in Israel can be reduced to a comparison of competing citations from the Talmud.



Take My Mother-In-Law - Please!

I’m not going to name names, but you know who you are: the mothers-in-laws (and mothers)
out there who, having reached the stage in life where the children are grown and out of the house, when yom tov would presumably be the time of serenity and spiritual regrouping that you always suspected it should be, choose instead to go to your married children’s homes, cook, bake, help out with the kids, and all but make the whole yom tov.

Shocking and unbelievable, but true. I know, because it happened to me three weeks ago.

There may be many reasons for such behavior; in my own case, it was the arrival of our
newest baby (a boy!) just around the time when most people are busy getting ready for Pesach. My mother-in-law did most of the Pesach cooking at her home, my father-in-law bought whatever needed buying, and then the two of them came to our place and proceeded to do almost everything else that needed doing for yom tov, thus totally depriving my wife and me of what would surely have been a fun-filled and memorable experience: cleaning and cooking for Pesach while settling in at home with a three-day-old infant and two older
siblings, roughly ages 1 and 2, ka”h.

We all know the stereotype of the meddling mother-in-law who’s way too involved in her
children’s lives, but nothing I’ve watched or read could have prepared me for this bizarre conduct. Here’s a woman who works at her full-time job in a yeshiva office – was there, in fact, right up until a few days before yom tov. She could have spent Pesach in a hotel, relaxing and getting her meals served to her for a change; instead, she and my father-in-law came and virtually took over our home.

When the kids were loudly demanding breakfast, or needed a playmate or a hug (and let’s
face it, anyone under 3 with a brand-new adorable baby brother/competitor needs lots of both) “Bubby Z” was there, and never without a smile. Motza’ei Shabbos chol hamoed, when my in-laws were leaving and my wife and I thanked them for all the help, my mother-in-law insisted that, no, thanks was due us for the wonderful time she had. Scary, huh?

And these symptoms are neither unique nor isolated. My own parents stayed with us for the
second part of yom tov, and displayed the same tendencies. I’ve heard reports of similar activity from many acquaintances. It seems Jewish parents have an overabundance of loving concern for their children, and even when those sons and daughters have kids of their own, these folks just can’t seem to stop giving.

The apparent widespread nature of this phenomenon does not by any means make it more
predictable by the laws of nature, or any less strange; this is pure, selfless giving – payment
acceptable only in children’s expressions of gratitude and grandchildren’s giggles and hugs.

So, take my mother-in-law. Take her seriously, take her as a role model, take her out for
lunch - but don’t take her for granted. I sure don’t.

Thanks, Mom Z.

Josh Stern
Brooklyn, NY

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