A Place At The Seder
His Eminence HaRav Mordecai Eliyahu, the former chief rabbi of Israel, has given his blessing to a proposal by Rabbi Shlomo Aviner calling on all Jews to set a place at the table for Jonathan Pollard on Seder night. His empty chair symbolizes the longing and hope of the nation to see Jonathan (Yehonatan Ben Malka) free and speedily returned home to Israel.
Moynihan Wrong On Pollard
Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a true friend of Israel and a strong voice at the UN on behalf of the causes we held dear. He gave of himself selflessly and we remember him and his efforts with gratitude.
However, we must also note that together with Senator Joseph Lieberman he was a loud and strong advocate for the life sentence meted out to Jonathan Pollard. In this case his convictions, not Jonathan’s, were very wrong.
Cardozo Honors Tutu
On Tuesday, April 1, Cardozo Law School, a subsidiary of Yeshiva University, presented its annual International Advocate for Peace Award to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for his work in ending the apartheid in South Africa. The recipient of the award is chosen by two student groups and sponsored by the school.
The archbishop has been making public anti-Semitic statements for years. In a 1989 trip to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, for instance, he “urged Israelis to forgive the Nazis for the Holocaust”; in 1988 he stated that Zionism has “very many parallels with racism.”
As recently as April 2002, Tutu compared the Israeli government to “Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic and Idi Amin,” and advised Americans not to fear the “powerful [American] Jewish lobby.”
In response to these latest comments, the Zionist Organization of America “urged Jewish allies of Tutu to publicly protest Tutu’s latest anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slurs.” ZOA National President Morton Klein referred to the remarks as “vicious libel.”
As a Jewish Cardozo student, I appreciate being able to attend a law school that has a mezuzah in each doorway, sells only kosher food and makes sure its Spring break coincide with Passover.
While I haven’t agreed with everything the school has recently done, such as inviting the Iraqi Ambassador to the U.N. to speak on the topic “Democracy in Times of War,” the school’s intellectual honesty – its willingness to encourage an exchange of ideas – is something I value
Presenting a peace award to an open anti-Semite is intellectually dishonest. I expect more from Cardozo, and from Yeshiva University.
What They Really Mean
The liberal who unctuously says, “I support the troops, I pray for their safe return,” but who markedly fails to say that he supports the mission to which those troops were ordered by their commander-in-chief, and the cause to which they are devoted, is in reality expressing contempt for those troops.
He sees them, not as soldiers risking their lives in a war, but simply as victims to be kept safe from harm. In doing so, he has abstracted the harm from the mission which has placed them in harm’s way and which gives the potential harm its meaning. The liberal is, in other words, treating the soldiers as bodies without souls. But what else would you expect from a liberal?
New York, NY
Rumsfeld’s On Our Side
Your paper is usually perceptive in analyzing historical forces, so it was particularly distressing to see you highlight incorrectly the partisan views of General McCaffrey and other of his ilk trying to undermine Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (news story, March 28).
There are two elements in this campaign against Rumsfeld. The first attack dogs are the entrenched Pentagon Bureaucrats aided by the Clinton-era retired Army officers who are challenged by Rumsfeld’s plans to eliminate encrusted archaic policies and pork barrel waste.
More important, the second echelon attack dogs are the State Department Arabists who recognize that Rumsfeld is a man of morals and integrity who threatens their views and plans for the Mideast. They understand that his view of ensuring democracy requires the complete elimination of terrorist rogue Arab regimes.
Rumsfeld’s strategic plan will of necessity be opposed by Secretary of State Powell and those pushing the notorious “Road Map.” We will therefore see attempts to demonize Rumsfeld and undermine his relationship with President Bush as Rumsfeld pushes support for the Iraqi National Congress and complete elimination of Ba’athists in post-Saddam Iraq. And Rumsfeld’s view of what he termed the “so-called” occupation of the West Bank sticks in the
throats of all foes of Israel and bespeaks possibly a more honest appraisal of Judea-Samaria at the highest levels of the administration.
You should, therefore, be very careful not to give aid and comfort to the opponents of Rumsfeld and to correctly grasp the forces opposing each other in the Bush administration.
Marvin Belsky, M.D.
New York, NY
Marxism Run Amok
I am a 1980 graduate of Barnard College, Columbia University. I cannot say that I am surprised by the weak response and relative silence of the university administration to the De Genova incident. The content of Prof. Nicholas De Genova’s diatribe (during which he explicitly called for an American defeat in Iraq and wished for “a million Mogadishus,” referring to the ambush of American troops in Somalia in 1993 that left 18 Americans dead and 84 wounded) is one of countless instances of Marxist ideology run amok, not only at Columbia, but throughout most of academia.
Free speech is an inherently ambiguous concept that requires definition and interpretation. Freedom of speech can be acceptably curtailed during times of war to prevent propaganda which might undermine the national interest (Schenk vs. United States, 1919). Clearly, the law accepts a limit on free speech.
Claims of “academic free speech” are specious, at best. Feelings of self-entitlement and the desire to indoctrinate generations of students with leftist propaganda do not automatically endow academic institutions with a different brand of free speech.
The De Genova scandal, coupled with Columbia’s long-time courtship of unabashedly pro-Arab, anti-Jewish professors, has led me to request that the Barnard Office of Alumni Affairs permanently remove me from its mailing lists. I will no longer associate myself with a university that either implicitly or outwardly condones anti-American, anti-Jewish, and Communist activity.
Joel Exhibits Courage, Leadership
I’m confused as to why reader Joyce Herschenson feels that Richard Joel, as president and international director of Hillel, has done nothing to combat the increasing problem of anti-Semitism on campus (Letter to the Editor, April 4).
Consider the following facts:
● Just this past week, Hillel sent 700 students from campuses across the country to attend the AIPAC Conference. The sessions and workshops they attended will help prepare these students to be more forceful pro-Israel activists on campus.
● Last month, Hillel executives met with the Senate Republican Conference at the Capitol building to discuss the rise of anti-Semitism on campus.
● At a recent Hillel rally at the University of Michigan, more than 1,000 people gathered together to voice support for the university’s investments in Israel – and to preempt an anti-Israel rally scheduled on campus later that week.
● Hillel has been responsible for sending more than 10,000 Jewish college students on the Birthright Israel program, and they have returned to their college campuses as stronger advocates of Israel and other Jewish causes.
● The Israel on Campus Coalition, a partnership of Hillel and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation, provides a united community front to promote a pro-Israel agenda, and to respond to the resurgence of anti-Israel activity on college campuses.
As the guiding force behind Hillel, Richard Joel has strengthened Jewish identity among Jewish students on campus, and has certainly provided them with the ammunition to counter anti-Semitic activity that they might face.
I, for one, am looking forward to his tenure as president of Yeshiva University, where I’m sure he will exhibit the same courage, leadership, and commitment to excellence that earned him such respect at Hillel.
By The Rivers Of Babylon…
In Mishna Berurah, the halachic masterpiece of the Chofetz Chaim, under the heading of “blessings to be made upon seeing seas, rivers, mountains or hills,” it says that upon seeing one of the four rivers mentioned in Scripture one should make a blessing. These four rivers include the Tigris and the Euphrates. There are Jewish troops among the Allied forces and the reporters covering the war. There are about 40 Jews still living in Baghdad itself. And in a
democratic Iraq of the future, no doubt more Jews will visit. Upon seeing the rivers, the words of the blessings will certainly be uttered once more.
Dr. Elie Feuerwerker
Highland Park, NJ
Points For Education
A hearty thank you to The Jewish Press for your “Points for Education” feature that is helping our Judaica collection to grow.
Bruriah High School
Kashrut Controversy: Jeff Wiesenfeld Answers His Critics
You, the editors and publisher of The Jewish Press, know very well of the paid and
uncompensated service I have provided to the Jewish community with a full heart and
conscientiousness for 25 years. Being off the public payroll is liberating as it permits one to express the full and unvarnished truth of a matter – however unpleasant that truth may be. What your readers are about to learn in this letter are facts that until now have not been widely known but which should be, as they contain larger lessons on how our community acts for and against its own interests.
The following is not meant to impugn the late Rabbi Schulem Rubin, for I operate under the
assumption that he was well intentioned. He was, however – as we all sometimes are – wrong on the points described. As for the long-time nemesis of many of us in public service, I will detail some of the antics of one Isaac Abraham.
First, as to the issue of kosher law: It’s time that our community know the truth concerning the
New York State kosher law saga. As Governor Pataki’s former executive assistant, I can give you the facts:
The so-called kosher laws, which stood for many decades, greatly benefitted kosher consumers, Halal observers, the lactose-intolerant and many others as a simple and, yes, pure
consumer protection measure. Enforced for many years as intended, they upheld what was a simple standard of kosher – i.e. separation of meat and dairy, no pork or shellfish, ritual slaughter and unleavened products for kosher Passover sales. This was “definitional” kosher for centuries.
In recent decades, however, many Orthodox Jews adopted the “glatt” standard as popularized
by Hungarian Jews who came here following World War II. Despite the anachronistic “Orthodox” misnomer, New York State in fact enforced only the basic, definitional consumer-protecting “simple” standard.
About 20 years ago, then-governor Mario Cuomo elevated Orthodox Rabbi Schulem Rubin,
an employee of the kosher law division of the New York State Department of Agriculture and
Markets, to the director’s position of that division. The late Rabbi Rubin had a knack for making himself the “kosher hero” in the press, and he was supported by some influential members of the Orthodox community in his endeavor to enforce the more Orthodox standards.
Rabbi Rubin decided that he would pay extra attention with his inspectors to kosher
delicatessens that were open on Shabbos, and he expressed his disdain for non-Orthodox kosher supervision – this despite the evidence that violations of the kosher statutes occurred with equal frequency across the board. Remember, our laws related to the product, not whether the storekeeper was shomer Shabbos.
I have yet to meet an Orthodox Jew who relies on the State to determine what is kosher. The
State standard was intended to be – and worked for so many years – as the basic standard. It is to my regret that I did not fervently recommend the replacement of Rabbi Rubin early in our
administration. Because of the support for him voiced by several leading Orthodox organizations and individuals, I felt I would be doing the governor a disservice by urging him to immerse himself in a Jewish political quagmire. How could I recommend to the governor that he uphold the intended (or “lesser”) standard, when that would put him at odds with his “core” Jewish supporters?
Even as a non-lawyer, I knew Rabbi Rubin and his supporters were headed down a road
toward the collapse of the near-century-old kosher laws, but I was not about to fight with them or give the governor’s political competitors false ammunition.
Rabbi Rubin’s legacy, in part, is that he is responsible for the legal collapse of these exemplary consumer protection statutes. It was irresponsible of him to deem Commack Kosher Meats “unkosher” because the supervising rabbi was Conservative and not Orthodox.
The successor I ultimately recommended, Rabbi Luzer Weiss, is, as a chassidic Jew, even
more to the right on the Orthodox spectrum, but he has always understood the true nature of the laws he is bound to enforce. He has been universally regarded as fair and equal in his enforcement. I wish I had moved to replace Rabbi Rubin four years earlier. Rabbi Rubin believed what he believed, but these beliefs were not the laws of New York State.
On these and other matters, sometimes – only sometimes – government knows better than
those in the community who have other ideas.
Now, because no one else has the nerve to do so, I will speak to the issue of Isaac Abraham. This individual and his cohorts spend much time playing one public official off against another. They have done this for 25 years and anyone who is anyone in the Jewish community knows about it, but I am the first to put it in writing.
I wish to emphasize not only that Abraham’s continuous charges against me are false – I
adamantly deny making the statements he attributed to me – but that I filed an official
complaint, three years ago, with the New York City Police Department.
In the 1994 gubernatorial election, the Satmar community supported Mario Cuomo over
George Pataki. That was understandable, as they felt they were being loyal to the former governor. But in government, when elections are concluded you have to govern, so I convened a meeting of the then-Satmar leadership with Gov. Pataki in April 1995.
Isaac Abraham had been a volunteer in our campaign and was certainly treated properly, but
he threatened me to the effect that he would “get me” if I brought Rabbis Glantz, Weider, Freund, Lefkowitz and others to meet with the governor. He insisted that he should be the go-between for Satmar and the governor, as well as others.
Well, that is not how government works. Government is compelled to deal with legitimate
leadership. Isaac Abraham may have been a volunteer the Pataki campaign of 1994, but he did not have, and still does not have, any formal standing in the Satmar leadership. At any rate,
from that day forward he has been embarked on a campaign against me.
I remain a respected public servant. I don’t know where Isaac Abraham and his allies are busy
now, nor do I care.
Jeff S. Wiesenfeld
Editor’s Response: It is unfortunate that Mr. Wiesenfeld continues his calumny against the late Rabbi Schulem Rubin by insisting that he brought about the demise New York’s laws protecting the kosher consumer. To be sure, he has now toned down his charge. Thus, in a recent editorial we noted that Wiesenfeld had claimed in another publication that “Rabbi Rubin’s legacy is that he is singularly responsible for the legal collapse of these exemplary laws….” (Emphasis ours.) Now Mr. Wiesenfeld says in his letter to The Jewish Press that “Rabbi Rubin’s legacy, in part, is that he is responsible for the legal collapse….” (Emphasis ours.)
And he also now concedes in his amended remarks that he “operate[s] under the assumption that [Rabbi Rubin] was well intentioned.” Yet it is very troubling that so key a former official seems incapable of acknowledging the incontrovertible fact that those laws were invalidated by the Supreme Court, not for the manner in which they were enforced but for their substantive provisions which were based upon “Orthodox Hebrew requirements.” That is, the Court specifically ruled that there was no way the kosher consumer laws could be constitutionally enforced precisely because they called for adherence to that standard.
Mr. Wiesenfeld’s lament that he did not put an end to Rabbi Rubin’s tenure because the latter persisted in rejecting the notion that his job was to enforce a “lesser” standard for kosher is most curious. All Rabbi Rubin did was enforce the law on its terms. What seems to bother Mr. Wiesenfeld is that Rabbi Rubin did not pull his punches. Nor is his attributing to Rabbi Rubin’s successor, Rabbi Luzer Weiss, the adoption of the lesser standard all that complimentary to Rabbi Weiss – if indeed the charge is accurate, which we doubt.
We also find Mr. Wiesenfeld’s summation regarding the enforcement of the kosher laws odd, to say the least. “On these and other matters,” he writes, “sometimes – only sometimes – government knows better than those in the community who have other ideas.” This sounds dangerously close to allowing government the right to mislead those it assures it can be relied upon.
Takes Issue With “Purim Prayers” Claim
In the March 14 issue of The Jewish Press I came across (page 49) an insertion encouraging
people to have special kavana (concentration) in tefilla (prayer) on Purim. It stated that Chazal say that on Purim “we beseech, and he [Hashem] answers, no matter what our merits, no matter what our flaws.”
While it is surely fine and laudable to encourage people to daven with kavana on Purim, as well as all year round, it nevertheless seems that the extravagant words in the piece are off the
mark and misleading, for the following reasons.
1) The piece claims that “Chazal tell us….” The term Chazal is used to refer to the Sages of the
Mishna, Talmud and Midrash. However, no source from those great sages is given to back up the claim. The three named sources (Divrei Yechezkel, Nidvas Pi and Toras Emes) are relatively recent works – not Chazal with their universally accepted authority.
2) The impression the piece gives is that on Purim anyone can ask for anything from Hashem
and be guaranteed that his request will be granted. In addition the fact that there is no basis for such a guarantee in Chazal, disseminating such words can be harmful to those who might believe them literally and who could suffer great letdowns and loss of faith if they don’t get everything they ask for.
3) Let us examine where this notion came from. It seems to be (at least partially) as follows.
There is a halacha that on Purim, with regard to giving tzedakah to an individual of unknown
veracity, “kol mi sheposheit yado nosnin lo” (whoever stretches out his hand, we give to him).
Some people took the aforementioned halacha and combined it with the general principle that
Hashem treats people as they act toward others (mida kineged mida – measure for measure). So therefore, goes the logic, if we give to anyone who asks, so too Hashem will give anything to anyone who asks Him for it on Purim.
This line of thought seems to have serious limitations however. After all, we are not obligated
to, and indeed do not, give every collector on Purim anything he asks for, but rather just at least a nominal donation. So the claim that Hashem will give anyone anything he requests on Purim (with no limitations) does not come under the principle of Heavenly mida kineged mida (reciprocity) but actually far exceeds it – and therefore falls outside its bounds.
4) Another issue is the claim that Purim is unique with regard to automatic and guaranteed
acceptance of prayers. Rambam (Mishna Torah, Hilchos Teshuva 2:6), based on Chazal, states that prayer during aseres yemei teshuva is immediately accepted, as is prayer by a congregation that repents and cries out fully and sincerely at any time. He does not mention a special status in that regard for Purim. Perhaps Purim might be a good time to pray – but we should not overemphasize it at the possible expense of the rest of the year, when Hashem is just as close to a tzibbur that prays properly.
5) There are things that can block acceptance of our prayers, such as the aveira of gezel (see
interesting discussion by Rav Solomon, mashgiach of Lakewood Yeshiva, entitled “Unanswered Prayers” in the book With Hearts Full of Faith (Mesorah). Even on Yom Kippur there is no guarantee that we will get everything we ask for; although Hashem hears our tefillos, He may not always say “yes” to them. Presumably the same holds true for Purim, even for those who want to claim a Purim-Yom Hakippurim correspondence.
6) Finally, I was also taken aback to see that the piece carried the name of the Chofetz Chaim on it. While it undoubtedly gives strength and credibility to the message, I believe that it is of
questionable propriety to use it to promote an idea that he arguably would not have accepted. I looked through his renowned Mishna Berurah and did not find, in the lengthy chapters of commentary on Purim, such a promise as was promoted in the article. This strongly supports my suspicion that he would not agree with it. Not everything written in any sefer was accepted by the Chofetz Chaim – sometimes omissions can speak volumes.
To sum up, the attempt to promote proper and better prayer on Purim, though presumably well intended, is not well served by poorly chosen words and exaggerated promises. Hopefully, those behind it will not repeat such mistakes in the future.
Boruch M. Selevan
A Place At The Seder