Steely Determination

As I watch the amazing resoluteness and steely determination displayed by our president in the face of vociferous domestic opposition and international condemnation, I can’t help thinking that had George W. Bush been in the White House in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, far fewer Jews would have perished at the hands of the Nazi beasts.

William Schorr
New York, NY

Meaningful Date

I write this on April 9, 2003, truly a historic day – the Fall of Baghdad! I have been trying to get work done all day, but am glued to the TV as I am sure many others are, even at offices and schools around the country and the world, watching the jubilant scenes in the city center.

It is also the 100th birthday of David Horowitz, the late Jewish Press UN correspondent. May his name be remembered for a blessing.

I find this highly significant and meaningful. How David would have rejoiced at the fall of this modern “King of Babylon.” So much is yet to come out, and the battle is far from over, but it seems that once again, as David always said throughout his life, Joseph comes to the aid of Judah, and stands as a beacon to the whole world for freedom, justice, and righteousness.

James Tabor
(Via E-Mail)

Times Ignored Pro-Israel Resolution

Re the March 28 cover story by Tom Gross regarding bias at The New York Times:

While Mr. Gross’s article was both enlightening and thorough, I would like to add another example of bias at the Times. I was frustrated to read the Times article (3/13, pg. B4) that reported on the New York City Council resolution against war in Iraq. If, indeed, the Times
believes this body to be a great moral voice, or an authority on world affairs, then it becomes difficult to understand why it ignored another resolution passed by our City Council that related to a similarly grave and controversial issue.

On August 15, the Council passed, by an impressive margin, a resolution calling for the United States government to declare the Palestinian Authority a terrorist entity. It further called for the closing of the Palestinian mission in Manhattan, on the grounds that the offices of a terrorist organization pose a danger to all New Yorkers. Yet the Times did not report on that resolution at all.

It seems that the Times engages in selective reporting. When there is an opportunity to report on a resolution that liberals approve of, such as the antiwar resolution, the Times provides substantial coverage. By contrast, when a pro-Israel resolution was passed, the Times ignored it.

Eliezer Schnall
West Hempstead, NY

Khalidi’s Numbers

I love your paper. Thank you for your wonderful reporting and columns. Especially the recent article on The New York Times by Tom Gross – absolutely first-rate reporting that ought to be published in every paper in the United States and Israel.

I copied you yesterday on a letter I sent to the University of Chicago Center for International Studies about Dr. Rashid Khalidi claiming 2000 Palestinian civilian deaths. Apparently he does not believe that Palestinians are trying to kill Jews in Israel. Or perhaps he counts as “civilian” anyone who is not wearing an official uniform. Although he accepts the Red Crescent figures, I’ll almost guarantee that he would not consider Magen David Adom as equally official.

I guess his response should have been predictable, but to me it is still sad that a world-renowned university would accept such levels of “scholarship.”

Kori Lessing
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH

No Settlements When PLO Was Created

Once again the editorialists at The New York Times take the old and fallacious PLO propaganda position that it’s “all about the settlements.” With all due respect, anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that the PLO was founded in 1964 – three years before Israel’s victory in the 1967 war.

The PLO charter still calls for the destruction of Israel. PLO schools teach hatred of Jews and incite school children to become martyrs by murdering Jews. The PLO has been complicit in terrorism, is irreparably corrupt and has shown no interest in improving the quality of life of its
own people.

There were terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians prior to the 1967 war and on Jews in the area prior to the birth of the State of Israel.

Why is it so hard for the Times to recognize that the real problem is the inability of the Muslims to accept the sovereignty of Israel and the civil rights of Jews, period? For Israel to give up land for mere promises is insane. When Muslims stop the incitement and the anti-Semitism,
when they leave behind their culture of violence, perhaps then peace will have a chance. Until that time, would any New York Times editorial writer put his or her family at risk on the basis of the PLO’s promises?

Louis Averbach
Santa Monica, CA

Shafran’s ‘Hasbara’ Reaches Non-Orthodox

I must take issue with your April 4 editorial’s characterization of Rabbi Avi Shafran’s “seeming
continuing obsession … to appear in the pages of The Jewish Week.”

Rabbi Shafran is the director of public affairs for Agudath Israel and the director of Am Echad, Agudath Israel’s effort to represent the values of Orthodoxy to the secular world. It is his job to articulate – in a concise and accessible way – profound concepts (such as the
controversy with Rabbi Berman over Rav Soloveichik’s views). He does this admirably and tirelessly. Unfortunately, as the public “front man” for Orthodoxy in the media at large Rabbi Shafran is frequently the recipient of vitriolic criticism from those in the secular world who would rather keep the view of the Torah world tucked away in the shtetl.

Am Echad was created as a “hasbara” effort on behalf of Orthodoxy, and as such, Rabbi Shafran’s columns and comments regularly appear in the secular press. The point is precisely to counter and challenge the secular world view. Given the Orthodox community’s (and Israel’s, for that matter) experience with being misrepresented, caricatured, and belittled in the media, Rabbi Shafran’s (and Am Echad’s) efforts should be welcomed, encouraged, supported – and lauded.

Orthodoxy is the only growing Jewish segment of the population not only because of less intermarriage and a (Im Yirtzeh Hashem) higher birthrate, but because many formerly secular Jews recognize the value and integrity of the Torah way. Without ambassadors like Rabbi Shafran in the media, many potential ba’alei teshuva would never be exposed to what Judaism really means.

Sincerely (and speaking as one of those people).

(Dr.) Nicole Brackman
Silver Spring, MD

Editor’s Response: The critical comments directed at Rabbi Shafran’s appearance in the pages of the Jewish Week were at the tail end, actually in the last paragraph, of an almost column-long editorial in which we took Rabbi Saul Berman to task for the free and easy way he attributed motives on great issues to Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveichik, zt’l, and for “cavalierly defaming such luminaries as the Brisker Rav and the Chafetz Chaim among others”
in order to make negative points about the concept of Da’as Torah.

The thrust of the editorial was clearly not about Rabbi Shafran, and we are surprised that Dr.
Brackman focused not on its main points, with which she presumably would agree, but on some peripheral and brief comments.

In any event, Dr. Brackman says that “It is [Rabbi Shafran’s] job to articulate – in a concise and accessible way – profound concepts (such as the controversy with Rabbi Berman over Rav Soloveichik’s views)” to the secular world.

We can only reiterate the concern we expressed. There is no “concise” way to explain the notion of “Da’as Torah” to an audience that is primarily secular and which generally dismisses the notion of halachic imperative and certainly scoffs at its jurisdiction in non-religious decision-making.

And let’s take a look at just what Rabbi Shafran told the readers of The Jewish Week as part of his “hasbarah” responsibilities:

“Jewish tradition refers to Torah leaders as the ‘eyes of the community.’ That is because they see things more clearly than the rest of us. Not necessarily perfectly. And there are times when G-d purposefully hides things from even His most accomplished disciples. But more clearly all the same.”

Wow! We can just see with the mind’s eye the devoutly secularist readers of the Jewish Week, heretofore convinced of the efficacy of their own intellect, rising as one and acknowledging an epiphany.

Misuse Of Rashi In Antiwar Ad

Dr. Mandell Ganchrow’s point-by-point rebuttal of the Shalom Center’s full-page antiwar advertisement in The New York Times (“Jews Must Support the War in Iraq,” Op-Ed, April 4) failed to mention the key flaw in the ad.

The quotation (“Seek just end by just means”) attributed to Rashi in the verse in Deuteronomy 16:20, which is cited as the proof for the opposition to the war, is not found in Rashi. Instead Rashi explains that it instructs Israel to “Seek a proper Court of Law.” This explanation actually makes the case for the U.S. government’s decision to go to war. Rashi and all other leading Jewish commentators of the past 2,000 years state that this verse instructs Israel
to select just, honorable, and impartial judges to enforce the Law, for without a just and impartial legal system a state cannot exist.

Our president, George W. Bush, went to great lengths to implement this dictum by going to the UN Security Council for approval, which he obtained in Resolution 1441, and then going even further in seeking a second resolution. It was only when France with its veto power made it clear that it would not approve any war resolution, no matter the evidence, that the president decided to act.

What is even more ironic is that this verse cited in the ad (and approved by the numerous signatories) is in the section of the Torah dealing with the rules of war, which our government and our armed forces are following. The Torah begins with the requirement of first offering peace negotiations with the enemy (verse 20:10), which the president did. It continues with the prohibition of wanton destruction of the land (verse 20: 19), which the Coalition forces have implemented by the using directed bombs, respecting holy sites and refraining from random firing into population centers.

On the other hand, the enemy disregarded this by placing armed fighters and weapons in the midst of houses of worship, hospitals, and civilians. The Torah forbids the random slaughter of woman and children (verse 20:14), which the Coalition forces are practicing. On the other
hand, the enemy, by placing themselves among civilians, and even using woman as suicide bombers, is not.

But the ultimate irony of using Rashi to make the case in the ad is that Rashi witnessed the wholesale slaughter of Jewish men, woman, children, and babies by Christian religious fanatics in France and Germany during the First Crusade in 1096. The First Crusade ushered in hundreds of years of persecutions, massacres and wholesale book burnings in France and Germany that ended with the theft of the very extensive Jewish property in France (evidence
of which has been recently excavated in archeological digs), and the expulsion of Jews from France in 1306, which ended more than 1000 years of Jewish presence in France. The rest of the sorry history of Jews in France and
Germany to this day is well known.

(Dr.) Bert Zauderer, Sc.D.
Philadelphia, PA

Chutzpah Of France, Germany

The audacity of the pompous French and the nerve of the eternally aggressive Germans know no bounds. They and the other dwarf nations were, and still are, opposed to the action taken by America to rid the world of one of its cruelest dictators.

Realizing that America, along with her allies, is successful in the war effort, and that Saddam with his henchmen are either dead or on the run, the shameless French and Germans insist that the post-war reconstruction of Iraq should be delegated to the forum of the inept United Nations.

Of the close to 200 UN member nations, 49 are Muslim countries that hate us. (I will be generous and say that perhaps there is an exception among them that proves the rule.) That puts 25% of the UN membership in the hostile corner even before you add France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Holland and the other nations that refused our request to have them join us in the noble endeavor to free the world of a tyrant.

Were President Bush to cave in to the demands of France, Germany, Russia and others, he would render the war effort a failure and betray the brave men and women in uniform, especially those who died in the valiant effort to make the world a better place.

Joseph Ceder
Far Rockaway, NY

Wiesenfeld’s ‘Selective Memory’ Tarnishes Him, Not Rabbi Rubin

I applaud the firestorm of criticism that has been leveled at Jeff Wiesenfeld for his intemperate
and gratuitous attack upon the late Rabbi Schulem Rubin, of blessed memory. It is as sad as it is shocking that Wiesenfeld is so devoid of human sensitivity and so disconnected from accepted norms of human courtesy that he remains (in his letter of last week) totally oblivious to the gross impropriety of his rant against a deceased spiritual leader.

Even if his argument were correct (which it is not), it should have been couched as a critique of a policy (which he now belatedly admits was the policy of many Orthodox leaders, and not just of Rabbi Rubin) rather than as an assault upon an individual who can no longer respond. To those who have written letters and editorials in support of Rabbi Rubin’s tenure as director of New York State Kosher Law Enforcement and in horror at Wiesenfeld’s inexplicable, belated attack upon a departed communal leader, I extend my thanks and would merely add the following:

Wiesenfeld seeks to blame Rabbi Rubin for the court ruling which struck down the kosher
laws, but his argument is based on a flawed understanding of both the law and kashrus.
Wiesenfeld does not hold himself out to be either a lawyer or a student of halacha (Jewish law), yet he apparently believes himself to be an expert on both. Your editorial writers have already responded in erudite fashion to the legal inaccuracies in Wiesenfeld’s tirade. As to kashrus, suffice it to say that Wiesenfeld would have readers believe that the kosher laws were meant to uphold merely a “simple” standard – “separation of meat and dairy, no pork or shellfish, ritual slaughter and unleavened products for kosher Passover sales.”

Oh, really? Is there any conceivable way of describing “ritual slaughter” as a simple matter?
(Imagine trying to put this argument over on the Jewishly learned readers of this newspaper!)

And what of vendors who claimed they were providing “kashered” meat and poultry, but
performed such “kashering” in a manner unacceptable to the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan
Aruch)? Would Wiesenfeld deny that a consumer fraud existed in such practice, or would he have preferred that the issue be ignored because it did not fit his personal definition (found nowhere in the law or in Judaism) of what constituted “basic” kashrus?

Wiesenfeld makes the absurd claim that Rabbi Rubin deemed the Commack Meats (plaintiffs in the Court case) unkosher because the supervising rabbi was Conservative rather than
Orthodox. The truth, as he well knows, is that Rabbi Rubin only prosecuted cases when butchers were caught in a violation. Many butchers thereafter attempted to avoid being penalized by making all sorts of claims (including trying to intimidate Rabbi Rubin with full-page newspaper ads). Ultimately, the Commack butchers tried to wrap themselves in the flag of “Conservative rights.” But the premise for the violation could never have been anything other than the physical evidence that the inspectors found. As Wiesenfeld knows, every violation had to be reviewed by the attorney general. Does he imagine that the New York State Law Department would have approved a case based on the Conservative credentials of the mashgiach?

Wiesenfeld’s own stridency undermines his statements. He makes a curious reference to the
recent kosher laws as “these exemplary laws” when he, as well as everyone else, knows (and as Jewish Press editorials have pointed out) the laws were struck down because of what Federal judges considered constitutionally flawed 100-year-old language about enforcing “orthodox Hebrew requirements.”

Laws with problematic language can hardly be called “exemplary.” When Wiesenfeld uses the
term, it emphasizes how much his diatribe is motivated by personal animus rather than reason.

Wiesenfeld purports to now regret that he did not agitate for the replacement of Rabbi Rubin
early in the Pataki administration, although he admits that Rabbi Rubin’s continued tenure was
supported by leading Orthodox organizations and individuals. (Does he imagine that this was a mere Orthodox cabal, or does he understand that the support was garnered by Rabbi Rubin’s impressive work over many years?)

He now asserts that only his fear of political repercussions kept him from acting. Yet, the
history of Rabbi Rubin’s tenure during the early days of the Pataki administration was marked by Wiesenfeld’s repeated assertion to many persons that Rabbi Rubin had to be kept on (despite his original appointment by a Democratic administration) because he was scrupulously

Kashruth supervision was thought to be susceptible to corruption in the wrong hands, and
Rabbi Rubin’s reputation as a person totally devoted to honest kosher enforcement was a great comfort to the new state administration. Wiesenfeld, now consumed by some inexplicable bitterness, cannot seem to remember why it was that he concurred in Rabbi Rubin’s retention, but he spoke of it to enough people with long enough memories that he cannot now get away with obfuscation on the subject.

Finally, and most important, Wiesenfeld’s assertion that the “collapse of these exemplary laws” is part of Rabbi Rubin’s “legacy” is patently incredible on its face. The laws collapsed for legal
reasons that need not be further detailed here, but Rabbi Rubin’s legacy is, in fact, that he, with
single-minded determination and unbounded energy, built up the Kosher Law agency from a
small, ineffective, often inactive bureau, occasionally suspected of corruption, to a dynamic,
incorruptible powerhouse of consumer protection.

For a generation, his was the voice (and the face) of Kosher Law Enforcement. Those who
sought to make an extra dollar by cheating the kosher consumer were deterred, or exposed, by the inspections which he put in place and, when a violation was found, he would not back down from following through, regardless of the size, importance, connections or the religious affiliation of the perpetrator. That was Rabbi Rubin’s legacy.

Even before I knew Rabbi Rubin well, certainly more than a decade before I had the great honor of becoming his son-in-law, I was an admirer of his work on behalf of kosher law enforcement and I said so, most notably perhaps in a 1986 letter to then-Governor Cuomo which I wrote as president of the Riverdale Jewish Community Council. Everyone knew of, and acknowledged, this impressive legacy – even Jeff Wiesenfeld. His selective memory does
greater dishonor to him than to his intended target.

Mark Friedlander
Riverdale, NY

Still Talking About That Talking Fish The Case For Reincarnation

The concept of a soul being reincarnated into a fish should not be ridiculed. The chief disciple of the Arizal stated: “If a man’s good deeds outweigh his misdeeds, his soul will pass on into a human body. If otherwise, into that of an animal or an inanimate object. For example incest will cause a soul to be reincarnated into an unclean animal; the souls of two adulterers will be placed into two opposing granary millstones, to grind against each other forever; an arrogant
communal leader into a bee; dishonest shochtim who falsely purvey treif meat as being kosher and informers (mosrim) into barking dogs; those who are cruel to the poor into crows; a murderer into the sea and so on” (R. Chaim Vital, Sha’ar Hagilgulim – “Gate of Reincarnations”).

The soul of the evil prophet Balaam was restituted by being reincarnated into the donkey of R. Pinchas ben Yair. R. Moshe Teitelbaum stated that in a previous life he had been one of the sheep in Jacob’s flocks!

An even more astounding concept is that of men’s souls being reincarnated into women’s bodies and vice versa, and that of Jewish neshamos being reincarnated into gentile bodies
(geirim) and vice versa (apostates)!

Very occasionally pristine “new” souls descend to this world, never before reincarnated into neither man nor beast. This has been said of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, R. Shneur Zalman of
Liadi, who is considered to have been the last and the greatest of the Acharonim.

Amnon Goldberg
Safed, Israel

Makes Us Look Primitive

The view expressed by Dr. Yaakov Stern in his letter to the editor of April 4 – namely, that a
story about talking fish can be taken seriously because anything within the scope of Torah is
possible – is irrational, particularly for someone who goes by the title of Doctor.

How is a silly talking fish story “within the scope of Torah”? This story was reported in the
secular media and made the Torah community appear to be primitive and steeped in superstition. This will not bring any Jews closer to Yiddishkeit. Dr. Stern does the community a great disservice by stating that this nonsensical story should be given substance and by analogizing it to stories about rabbonim curing people today with brachos.

I do not know of one documented case in modern times where someone with an untreatable
malady was cured by a bracha from a rebbe. There is not one accepted gadol today who claims that he can treat diseases with a bracha. I do, on the other hand, know of situations in our community where people with medical problems, instead of rapidly seeking advice from physicians, relied on brachos or received erroneous medical advice from rabbonim – with tragic results.

I hope Dr. Stern treats his patients instead of sending them to rabbonim (or maybe he entertains them with talking fish stories).

Dov Cohen
Brooklyn, NY