Mail We Like (I)

I’m undoubtedly biased, since Harry Danning was my uncle, but I couldn’t agree more with you regarding the pathetic obituary The New York Times ran (‘Au Revoir, Harry Danning,’ Media Monitor column, Dec. 10).

Thanks for your article.

David Danning
Brookline, MA

Mail We Like (II)

I would like to commend The Jewish Press for Naomi Klass Mauer’s wonderful piece on Effie Eitam (‘Politics My mission, Not My Career,’ Dec. 10).

The Jewish Press is one paper we can rely on to get a true Torah perspective on events in Israel.

Rabbi Shea Hecht
Chairman of the Board
National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education

Call To Action

Some of the most brilliant and creative writing can be found in the Letters section of The Jewish Press. What about putting some of the ideas into action? Specifically, I have read letters addressing the issue of the need to raise more money for yeshivas; the need to improve pay, benefits and security for yeshiva rebbeim and teachers; the need to improve the teaching of secular studies in yeshivas; and, the need to improve the health, diet and welfare of our yeshiva students.

These are all wonderful ideas, but we need to get them off the Letters to the Editor pages and into action. It may be hard to believe, but you never know: perhaps klal Yisrael needs one more organization, a National Association of Yeshiva Parents and Friends. Is anybody interested? We can rent a hall, advertise a meeting, see who shows up, set an agenda, and get to work. If you’re interested, please contact me by e-mail at

Elliot B. Pasik, Esq.
Long Beach, NY

Heart To Heart

Robert Avrech’s front-page essay (‘To Repair An Unhinged Heart,’ Dec. 3) was a hard act to follow. But then again, who would want to, G-d forbid, step into his shoes? His pain is acutely felt as the reader is taken for a tour through the inner chambers of a fractured heart. With moving intrigue, a father bares his soul ? and in the process we are granted a glimpse of the beauty within, the delicious and priceless element of true love. It surely is no coincidence that the name Avrech has its root in baruch (blessed).

Even as the natural order of things calls for parents to take pride in their offspring – and oh, how the Avrechs do!) – their son is looking down upon them with beaming pride and adoration from his exalted place on high. And rest assured, Robert and Karen Avrech, that the blessings of his root renders him a most effective meilitz yosher on your behalf.

I’ve heard it said that when a bereaved parent reaches the heavenly court at the end of his/her earthly sojourn, the lost child’s neshama comes immediately forward to bear witness to the pain already suffered ? and escorts the parent straight to Gan Eden.

May you both live to 120, reaping blessings of joy and nachas from your beautiful family and from the success of your charitable venture.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rachel Weiss’s front-page essay ‘Forever Burning, Forever Yearning’ appeared in last week’s issue of The Jewish Press.

Appreciates Columnist

Thank you for publishing the insightful articles of Miriam Adahan. She has taught me much about daily life in Eretz Yisrael. Her teachings on mussar, Torah psychology and EMETT have been utilized in my own social-work practice.

I pass along her articles on the matzav in Israel to others and we are moved to contribute as we are able to the Adahan Poor Fund. We know by doing so that 100 percent of our tzedaka goes to the poor of Israel, and victims of terror.

Once again, thank you. May we all merit to have lives of increasing mitzvot and to see the geula.

Rahel Sherman
(Via E-Mail)

PETA Editorials Hit A Nerve

Orthodox And Horrified

I am an Orthodox Jew who is horrified by the reporting of what goes on at the AgriProcessors meat processing plant (‘PETA Is At It Again,’ editorial, Dec. 3). Though I am well aware that PETA has a double agenda of promoting vegetarianism as well as stopping the inhumane treatment of animals – and I only identify with the second (though my daughter is a vegetarian) – I wholeheartedly support PETA’s campaign against inhumane killing of animals masquerading as the most kosher type of shechita.

Dr. Chaim Milikowsky
Ramat Gan, Israel

Jews Must Exemplify Humaneness

My grandfather was a kosher butcher who loved animals (and, interestingly, became a vegetarian in the last year of his life). Through the years I have seen disturbing footage taken in kosher slaughterhouses, but when I’ve tried to tell rabbis and other Orthodox people, they dismiss it and refuse to watch, stating “Oh, but that is not done anymore.”

Many Jews are afraid to speak up for fear of being labeled ‘self-hating.’ If a non-Jew says something, he risks being called an anti-Semite. Aren’t we, as Jews, supposed to be more compassionate and evolved? Aren’t we supposed to exemplify gentleness and humaneness toward our fellow creatures – human and non-human?

Rina Deych
Brooklyn, NY

Avoiding Needless Suffering

Jewish law instructs us to feed our animals first at meals. It is not that the animals are necessarily hungrier than we are; but, while in our care, it is our duty to alleviate anxiety and unnecessary distress, to demonstrate the principle of tzaar baalei chayim – not causing needless suffering to living beings.

David Perle
(Via E-Mail)

Five Requirements

True: PETA’s extremist declarations do not help its cause.

False: Your insinuation that the animal slaughtered in PETA’s clandestine video was killed properly. Please, watch the video snippets” again, refresh your memory regarding the Law, and then honestly tell me, tell all of us, if you think the slaughter conformed to halacha.

There are five halachic requirements that the shochet is obliged to ensure in the performance of shechita (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 23):

a) there should be no interruption of the incision (shehiya);

b) there should be no pressing of the chalaf (sharp knife used by the shochet) against the neck (derasa) – this would exclude use of a guillotine;

c) the chalaf should not be covered by the hide of cattle, wool of sheep or feathers of birds (chalada), and therefore the chalaf has to be of adequate length;

d) the incision must be at the appropriate site to sever the major structures and vessels at the neck (hagrama) – the frontal structures at the neck including the trachea, esophagus, the carotid arteries and jugular veins are severed in a rapid and uninterrupted action causing an instant drop in blood pressure in the brain, resulting in the immediate and irreversible cessation of consciousness and sensibility to pain;

e) there must be no tearing of the vessels before or during the shechita process (ikkur). The ability to be honest enough with oneself to admit that one did something wrong and that one is to be held responsible for it is a prerequisite for a Jew’s relationship with Hashem (Seforno on Bereshis 3:12).

Although the wild accusations of the activists reveal their irrationality and destroy their credibility, we must show more courage than deflecting the real issue onto PETA.

Jonathan Wildman
Pittsburgh, PA

Our ‘Ludicrous Suggestion’

Your editorial suggesting that PETA should be sued for exposing cruelty at a kosher slaughterhouse is ludicrous. Do you find cruelty acceptable as long as it is done in the name of Judaism?

As a Jew, I’m ashamed that such sickening animal abuse is done in the name of Judaism. As a human being, I’m ashamed that any member of my species could take part in such reprehensible behavior.

I applaud the compassionate people at PETA for their chutzpah and willingness to speak

up for those who cannot. Shame on you for condoning these atrocities.

Stewart David
(Via E-Mail)

What Halacha Says

In your Dec. 10 editorial ‘The PETA Controversy Continues,’ you wrote: ‘Under the humane slaughter laws, rendering an animal insensitive prior to the throat cut is required except when Jewish ritual slaughter is involved, which requires the simultaneous severance of the carotid arteries by the sharpest knives of a fully conscious animal.’

From our holy seforim it is obvious that not a single sage takes the position that cutting the carotid arteries in a cow is obligatory. While it’s true that Rabbi Yehuda, in the first Mishna of the second perek of Chulin, holds that one must cut the carotid arteries, the sages, who are the majority, take issue with him. Also, the Talmud (Chulin 28 b) makes it very clear that even Rabbi Yehuda is only talking about the carotid arteries of a chicken, not a cow.

Furthermore, the Levush, in Yoreh Deah, Siman 22, writes explicitly that cutting the carotid arteries in a chicken is not betoras shechita, meaning that their cutting is not required to validate the shechita ritual. The true reason for the cutting of the carotid arteries is to insure the release of the animal’s blood, which is a separate concern, wholly unrelated to the actual shechita process.

As far as shechita is concerned, we have a tradition, halacha l’Moshe miSinai, that the kanah and veshet, the food and windpipe, must be severed, and that’s all.

Trying to fend off the likes of PETA does not give one license to misrepresent what halacha actually says.

Yossie Newfield
Brooklyn, NY

Veggie Diet Looking Better

Israel has more religious vegetarians per capita than any other country except India because Judaism has always taught kindness to animals. For all of us who think cruelty to animals is wrong, a vegetarian diet suddenly looks like the right choice.

Dorit Rogan
Evanston, IL

At Last, A Kind Word

Your Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 editorials on PETA and the shechita issue are right on the mark. It is just like PETA to try to take on the issue of shechita in the guise of animal rights. Regardless of what PETA says to sugarcoat this, they are really launching an attack on all Jewish ritual slaughter. One just has to remember the letter they sent Arafat blasting him for using a donkey to transport bombs to kill Jews. (The donkey was blown up.) After all, why should a poor animal have to suffer? Not one word did they mention, about Arafat killing innocent humans.

Face it, slaughter is not pretty. It is very bloody. But we have mashgichim there to supervise. If we can’t trust the OU for kashrus, then I don’t think we can eat anything here in the U.S. If there are improvements that have to be made, I am sure the OU will see to them, but let’s not blow this whole thing out of proportion. I would be very wary of anything put forward by PETA.

Amy Wall
New York, NY

Chassidic Grandma Chats With The President

The hottest ticket in town on the other side of the Canadian border was for the recent dinner given in honor of President George W. Bush.

On Tuesday night, November 30, the Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, was guarded by a security detail that rivaled the defense of Fort Knox. Alex Werzberger and his wife Chana, longtime residents of the Outremont section of Montreal, were the lucky recipients of a pair of tickets to the coveted soiree.

A spokesman for the chassidic community in his locale, the fluently bilingual (French and English) Alex is a well-known figure on the political circuit. His admittance to the stately affair was procured by Prime Minister Paul Martin himself, with whom he enjoys a warm comradeship.

Chana, a young grandmother and social worker, had promised her brood that she’d bring back a souvenir of the regal occasion. Undaunted by having to leave her camera behind in their car (which they were obliged to park fifteen blocks from the bus that shuttled the thoroughly searched and screened guests to their destination), she was not about to disappoint her grandkids.

Dinner (of which they did not partake) in progress, Alex and Chana left their seats and nonchalantly walked the 10-table breadth to where Mr. Bush was enjoying his meal in the company of First Lady Laura Bush and the Canadian Supreme Court Justices.

Chana, a vivacious and outspoken type, took the guest of honor by surprise. “Excuse me, Mr. President, but I wondered if you’d be so kind as to autograph my menu. I promised my grandchildren. . .”

She was interrupted mid-sentence by a female assistant to the prime minister who appeared out of nowhere, visibly horrified at this unexpected breach of protocol. “Please…you can’t disturb the president…”

The mother of seven sons and three daughters was not about to be dissuaded from her mission. “Mr. President, our five sons who live in America voted for you.”

President Bush gestured toward the prime minister’s assistant. ‘It’s all right.’ Using a napkin to wipe his mouth, he quipped, “I can use the votes.”

Taking pen in hand to inscribe the elegantly embossed menu Chana had handed him, Mr. Bush listened graciously as my proud cousin availed herself of the precious moments at hand. “Mr. President, my son Sam Werzberger was polled by the Associated Press and was quoted in no less than 136 publications saying, ‘the president knows what he wants and he focuses on what he wants to do. He’s not wishy-washy … his opponent seems to say what people want to hear…'”

In the company of 700 guests, Sam and Alex were two of only four civilian attendees. Of the seven Jewish participants, they were the sole chassidic ones. Members of parliament, cabinet ministers, ambassadors, senators, judges, etc. made up the rest, with Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell in the mix.

But none of the other patrons had Chana’s spunk. Their dignified stations and political correctness kept them in their assigned places. And if she’d given any of them the idea of following her lead, well, she’d also succeeded in alerting security personnel, who kept a more vigilant watch over their exalted guest for the rest of the night.

Rachel Altman
(Via E-Mail)

The Debate Over Copepods (Cont’d.)

David Berger’s Oct. 22 op-ed article, “On the Prohibition of Water: An Appeal to Poskim,” reflects the views of one who is only casually familiar with copepods. Fortunately, there are scientists called copepodologists who dedicate their entire careers to the study of these fascinating creatures. They have graciously spent tens of hours relaying their knowledge of these animals, and the information they have provided dispels many of the points raised by Professor Berger.

One issue raised was whether “learned and pious” Jews throughout the ages have unknowingly consumed copepods in any significant amount. The likely answer to this question is no. Wells do not contain planktonic (open water) copepods. Fast moving rivers also are copepod-free. And even when bucket after bucket of water is hauled up from a lake (or reservoir), copepods typically do not appear. This is due to several factors, including built-in escape mechanisms and diurnal migration (copepods tend to sink to lower waters by day, and surface only at night).

New York City’s infestation problem is a unique modern-day phenomenon. Two pipes, each eighteen feet of diameter, suck a million gallons of water per minute out of Kensico reservoir. These pipes are positioned sixty feet below the surface level of the water. Since there is no filtration in the New York City system, we are, in effect, drinking water from the very center of the lake – an area infested with copepods. It is the modern-day method of water delivery that creates a new, modern-day infestation problem.

The second point, which states that the visibility of copepods is “not identical, but it is very close” to that of microscopic organisms, is inaccurate. Copepods are significantly larger (adults are typically from 0.8-1.4 mm long, not counting antennae and ‘tails’). Also, their unusual movement makes them easily visible. They move in rapid bursts, called ‘hops’ by the scientists. The hops occur about once every second, and momentarily accelerate the copepod to a velocity of 80 mm/s. In between hops is a sinking phase, during which the copepod remains passive. These bursts of movement make live copepods easily visible to the unaided eye. The copepodologists have found written descriptions of copepods as far back as Aristotle.

In New York City tap water, the copepods are difficult to see (unless isolated) because all of the copepods that show up in tap water are dead, killed by the chlorine treatment and the rigorous journey through the distribution system.

Occasionally, a lake will become overpopulated by copepods, which then will turn up in hand-drawn water. A review of the halachic literature shows that there was a great awareness of a potential bug problem with water. This is reflected in the significant amount of material on the topic, in the Talmud, Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 84:1-3), and poskim (summarized in Darchei Teshuvah ad loc.). Even in Hilchos Shabbos, a method of filtering water from bugs on Shabbos is casually discussed (O.C. 319:16).

There is an interesting way to prove that even very small water creatures, in the copepod size range, are an issue in halacha. R’ Yeruchim (quoted by Beis Yosef 84 and all later codifiers) prohibits bugs that infest vinegar. Well, there is one creature that survives (and indeed thrives) in the extreme conditions of acidity found in vinegar. This is the nematode Turbatrix aceti, commonly know as the vinegar eel. This extremely thin worm-like creature is similar in size range to the copepods.

The question of whether New York City water is permitted without filtration is indeed a serious one, due to the severity of the issur of tolaim on one hand, and the basic necessity of water on the other. It is also a complicated issue, with many factors weighing in to the ultimate decision. It nevertheless is a halachic issue, and should be left to the poskim to debate and decide. We encourage every individual to follow the guidance of his particular rav and posek on this issue.

Yaakov Lach
(Via E-Mail)

Editor’s Note: The writer does volunteer work for the Brooklyn-based Vaad L’kashrus Hamayim, which is dedicated to facilitating the availability of effective and affordable filtration for those who wish to filter their water. The organization’s hotline number is (718) 907-6498. The Vaad wishes to thank the Orthodox Union for sharing its scientific research into copepods.

Dr. Berger Responds: I am grateful for Mr. Lach’s observations about copepods in lakes. My article did note that the “percentage of these creatures in New York City tap water [may be] higher than the percentage in a bucket of water drawn from the upper level of a lake,” but I assumed that the likelihood of their presence in lake water was somewhat greater than Mr. Lach indicates.

The key point of my article, however, does not stand in conflict with the data presented by Mr. Lach and in fact assumed the validity of those data. The piece began by citing a ruling “affirm[ing] that once copepods can be seen as moving entities in the city’s reservoirs, they remain prohibited even when they are not discernible in tap water.” Thus, when I wrote that “the situation here is not identical [to that of genuinely microscopic organisms], but it is very close,” I was saying that although – unlike microscopic organisms – copepods can be seen with the naked eye in some circumstances, they are – like microscopic organisms – generally not visible in a glass of New York City water.

‘The proposition before us,’ I wrote, ‘is that the Torah prohibits drinking a glass of perfectly clear water in which no one has ever observed a forbidden substance’ – and which, of course, may contain no copepods at all. I then underscored the point by noting that a stellar array of gedolei Yisrael drank this water for generations without in fact noticing anything. (I should add that some observers report that after appropriate training they can see copepods – generally as mere dots – in a halachically relevant percentage of cases, while others assert that they cannot.)

I am in full agreement with Mr. Lach’s concluding paragraph.

Tefillah, No Strings Attached

On a recent bilkur cholim visitto Charleston’s Medical University of South Carolina, I met a sweet elderly woman together with her daughter who sat vigilantly at her bed side. As soon as I entered the room, I noticed the facial expressions of both women light up. Often this is the warm and rewarding greeting that a rabbi encounters when he visits the sick.

However, on this particular visit, I learned that the two women were not merely happy to be visited by their rabbi; rather, they were excited to see me because they were burdened with a difficult question of Jewish law to which they so desperately needed an answer. Both women immediately held up their hands to me to show me the thin red thread which encircled their wrists.

They wanted to know if it was acceptable to remove the mystical string. I asked them where they obtained the red string. The daughter responded, “It was given to us by a friend who said that we should wear it if we wish to recover from illness. However, we are not fully convinced of its power, and are not sure if we are allowed to remove it.”

I asked the two women if they had considered reciting prayers or Psalms as a merit to help them down the road to recovery, but the two women just looked at me with blank stares and confused expressions.

I explained to them that regardless of whether a string has an intrinsic spiritual value, nothing can replace genuine heartfelt prayer and tears. Tefillah, the power to communicate directly with G-d, is among the greatest gifts that Hashem has given us, and should not be forgotten, as it is our primary tool to evoke the mercy of Heaven.

Living in this Madonna, Brittney and Demi world of new-age kabbalah, we are led to believe that there more accessible, quick-fix ways to attaining spirituality and peace. However, in reality, nothing can replace the beauty of our tradition, so cherished and utilized for thousands of years.

Therefore, before you spend $36 on a piece of red thread, consider what Jacob would have done. After Yaakov avinu conducted the funeral for his wife Rochel, did our forefather conclude the funeral service by wrapping a red string around her grave, and then tying the strands around the wrists and ankles of all those in attendance?

The Jewish response to tragedy, illness, or adversity is to turn directly to G-d to find help. True strength develops, and spiritual growth occurs, when we face hardships head on, and overcome it by clinging to the threads which comprise the tapestry of our Torah and our heritage.

Rabbi Ari Sytner
Brith Sholom Beth Israel Congregation
Charleston, SC