Right Gestures

The Israeli government has decided to once again make ‘good will’ gestures by pulling the army back and releasing many terrorists. This has been done dozens of times in the past with disastrous results.

Mr. Sharon, how about good will gestures to the Jewish people for a change? These can include: reasserting control over har habayit; giving Jews unlimited access to kever Yosef and rebuilding the yeshiva there; doubling the size of our holy cities of Hebron, Bet El and Shilo (instead of talking about destroying them); and giving up the suicidal Gaza expulsion plan.

Ken Abrams
Margate, NJ

Exit Polls (I)

Re Joseph Schick’s op-ed (‘The Jewish Vote: Don’t Believe those Exit Polls,’ Nov. 26):

I am pleased to hear that my fellow Jewish voters have not lost all their senses. I?m originally from New York but have been living in the Midwest for many years. I’d been having fits with the reporting I’d seen on Jewish voting – I was even ready to give up my seat for the high holy days.

Paul Filler
(Via E-Mail)

Exit Polls (II)

Joseph Schick’s penetrating critique of the Jewish vote as measured by the exit polls should be required reading for anyone interested in our political system. It was interesting to see how the various liberal and Federation- aligned Jewish newspapers trumpeted the 25 percent figure with such apparent glee. The relief they were feeling that most Jews were still reliably liberal was palpable throughout their coverage of the election results.

No one disputes that Kerry won a large majority of the Jewish vote, but the obvious underpolling of Orthodox neighborhoods means that the 25 percent figure is about as reliable as a John Kerry campaign promise.

Asher Gaines
Brooklyn, NY

Trust Not In Princes

Having attended a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, I came away thinking that there was some real opposition to Arafat’s policies. I heard representatives from Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian community reiterate their plans for Palestinian democracy. The Palestinian spokesman said that Arafat was a ruthless dictator who’d made it impossible for opposition to function. He also stated that Abu Mazen had resigned due to his opposition to Arafat.

I began to think that maybe Abu Mazen would have the strength of character to say what needed to be said to the Arab world and especially to the Palestinian Legislative Council. But instead he’s been pushing the old Arafat agenda, speaking of the ‘right of return’ and Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital.

This should teach us more than ever not to put hope in princes and so-called statesmen, but to believe in G-d’s plans for this world and especially the State of Israel.

Toby Willig

Secular Studies Crisis

Re Dr. Yitzchok Levine’s Nov. 19 front-page essay ‘The Case for Secular Studies in Yeshivas’:

This issue is very serious and needs more discussion. However, it starts from the roshei reshiva themselves who often belittle limudei chol. True gedolim have always understood what to take from hochmat hagoyim. Insulation and isolation only serve to perpetuate a vicious cycle of unemployment since only a few talmidim will themselves be able to earn a living as a rebbe or in other Jewish fields.

The Rambam equates learning the sciences as a kiyyum of talmud Torah. How can anyone understand the luach, ibbur hachodesh, kiddush hachodesh, etc., without “secular” knowledge? Many rishonim were physicians, scientists, cartographers, poets, and even (lo aleinu) philosophers. The ROSH had scientific books translated for him by his talmidim.

Dr. Levine’s points about oral and writing skills are on target. Most schools do a poor job in these areas, and they fail as well to teach critical thinking skills. Even the rudimentary skills needed to deliver a d’var Torah are lacking. Thoughts are not organized and ‘Yeshivish’ has become an acceptable lingua franca.

The frum community is in denial about these issues. This topic should be on the agenda of the annual Torah U’Mesorah conference in the spring. There is always a session with the roshei yeshiva. In my day these sessions were an open exchange. Rav Shneur Kotler, Rav Moshe, Rav Yakov Kamenetsky, Rav Hutner, Rav Ruderman and others of their stature would answer questions from the mechanchim. In later years, when some questions became political hot potatoes, all queries had to be submitted in advance and group answers were given to selected shailos. Here is where the policies are set. Here is where Dr. Levine needs to make his case.

Dr. Wallace Greene, Director
Jewish Educational Services
UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey

Get The Dreidels Out

Everyone knows how to play the dreidel game by the standard, traditional rules. But who says we can’t change the rules to make the game more interesting and exciting?

The following are some variations. Try them or make some yourself.

Dreidel Challenge: In this game, two players place their bets and challenge each other to see who will be able to spin a “higher” letter. Gimel equals 4, hey is 3, nun is 2 and shin is 1. Winner takes all. If there’s a tie, let it ride.

Slot Machine Dreidel: This was thought up by my friend Mendel Markel. You spin four dreidels at a time. If you get one gimel, you get a quarter of what’s in the pot. Two gimels, one half. Three gimels gets you three-quarters and four dreidels you win 100 percent. (And by the way, you should buy a Powerball ticket too.) But a shin cancels a gimel. If you get a shin, you have to put in 1/4, and so on of whatever is in the pot. In this game, nuns and heys count as neutral.

Blackjack Dreidel: Saw this in Jewish magazine. Just as in regular Blackjack, you and the “house” compete to see who can get 21 or closest to it without going over. So too, in Blackjack Dreidel, you assign numbers and try to get as close to 18 as possible without going over. Try it with nun as 2, gimel as 3, hey as 4 and shin as 5.

Good luck and happy Chanukah!

Rabbi Eli Seidman
Jewish Association on Aging
Pittsburgh, PA

Political Debate Always Draws A Crowd

Hakarat Hatov Not Misplaced

Re ‘Lonely, Liberal, and Orthodox’ by Menashe Shapiro (op-ed, Nov. 19):

Mr. Shapiro states that many frum Jews have a ‘misplaced and misunderstood notion of hakarat hatov’ for President Bush. I truthfully don?t think my feelings of hakarat hatov for the president are misplaced or misunderstood at all. The president has been a true friend to Israel and has supported Israel in many ways. He and his representatives (at his behest) have spoken out on Israel’s behalf on numerous occasions.

How many times have we heard the president himself state that Israel has the right to defend itself against terrorism? This may not seem like a big deal, but it really is, especially when most of the rest of the world – including America’s number one ally, Britain – condemns Israel for defending itself. In the United Nations, the U.S. stands alone in its support of Israel. For these reasons alone we have more than ample reason to express our hakarat hatov to President Bush.

Mr. Shapiro also blames the war in Iraq for destabilizing that country and turning the region into a den of terrorists. He also states that the war is not the supportive act of a ‘friend.’ What Mr. Shapiro fails to understand is that the war in Iraq was indeed the act of a friend, and President Bush is that friend.

The main point of the war is that the U.S. and coalition armed forces were successful in toppling the brutal dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein. Do we not realize that while Saddam Hussein was in power he was Israel’s number one threat? Are we unaware that Iraq was the only country in the past 20 years to attack Israel? Have we forgotten the terror that Saddam caused the Jews of Israel by forcing them to don gas masks and enter safe rooms at a moment’s notice at the sound of sirens?

Everything else that is said about the war in Iraq is secondary to the remarkable success of that war, which has been waged by a true friend of Israel.

Mr. Shapiro also compares the Palestinians living under Israeli rule to black slaves on plantations under the rule of their masters. This comparison couldn’t be further from the truth. Slavery in America began through no fault whatsoever of the blacks, who were kidnapped and sold into slavery. In stark contrast, the Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank are living under Israeli rule today because in 1967 Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbors. It’s really as simple as that.

In addition, the Negro slaves did nothing to warrant their harsh treatment, while the measures imposed on Palestinians living under Israeli control are the result of the Palestinians? wanton belligerence.

Yehudis Peretz
Brooklyn, NY

Perversion Of Reality

I’ve always maintained that liberal Jews, no matter how loudly they may protest to the contrary, really do have an enormous guilt complex when it comes to Israel. They are uncomfortable with Israel’s strong military posture, apologetic about the harsh but necessary measures Israel is forced to implement, and downright sympathetic to those who would cut the throat of every Jewish man, woman and child if given the opportunity.

Now comes Orthodox liberal Menashe Shapiro to prove that this pathology is not limited to our secular and assimilated brethren. Orthodox liberals – and as someone who until recently lived in close proximity to Yeshiva University, I can tell you there are all too many such self-contradictory individuals who, unless you notice their little yarmulkes, could easily be mistaken for the most militantly secular Upper West Siders – tend to be just as conflicted about Israel as their non-Orthodox liberal counterparts. And indeed Mr. Shapiro gives the game away by his outrageous equating of the Palestinians? plight with that of African slaves in 18th and 19th century America.

I expect to read such a perversion of history and reality in far-left magazines or on neo-Nazi Internet sites, but not in an article by someone claiming to be an Orthodox Jew. If Mr. Shapiro speaks for Orthodox liberals – and based on my experience I believe he does – then the Democratic Party is more than welcome to him. Sane Orthodox Jews want nothing to do with his ilk.

David Fishman
(Via E-Mail)

‘Narrow-Minded Bush-Loving Jews’

Like Menashe Shapiro, I too am an Orthodox Jewish Democrat who eschews mainstream Orthodox politics, preferring to vote for the sum rather than the single issue.

It is precisely because the yeshiva world taught you to listen without question to rebbeim – your rebbeim in yeshiva that is – that this phenomenon occurs, in my opinion. I say “your” because I am public-school educated and went to a secular university. No Stern College for me.

The same can be said of my family and friends who are of similar mind – even my yeshiva-educated daughter who is now at Rutgers University campaigned for John Kerry at Chabad and Hillel Houses.

The shtetl mindset – that parochial view of what is best for the Jews – seems not to have left us, even after three generations in America. I agree that what is best for the Jews is a strong Israel – but the fact that Israel cannot be strong without a strong America that is well-regarded internationally has not penetrated the small, narrow minds of Bush-loving Jews. That Bush would turn the U.S. into a Christian country seems not to enter into their calculations either.

I am disgusted with these Jews, with these rabbis. They don’t speak for me.

Beverly Barton
(Via E-Mail)