Bush And Knishes

I’m new to The Jewish Press, or maybe I should say The Jewish Press is new to me. I live in the Miami area, and only recently began reading your paper as a result of my newly kindled interest in Judaism. There’s so much to read each week, and I particularly appreciate the Torah columns and your great op-eds and editorials.

Speaking of editorials, I loved your editorials endorsing President Bush, although I knew – as did you – that outside of the Orthodox community, most American Jews would sooner vote for the worst imaginable Democrat than for a Republican. In fact, my next door neighbors, transplanted New Yorkers in their eighties, calmly informed me that they’d have voted for Al Sharpton over Bush, because, in their words, “the Republicans want to take away our Social Security.”

I was glad to read that younger Jews were more likely to vote for Bush than their elders, so at least there’s hope that the next generation won’t be the mindless, robotic Democrats their parents and grandparents prove themselves to be election after election.

In closing, I’ll share with you an observation a friend of mine made about these Florida senior citizens all around us who still think Roosevelt was the greatest thing that ever happened to Jews and who believe that the essence of being a good Jew is to support any liberal Democrat: “Bush could convert to Judaism and then complain about his colonoscopy over diet soda and knishes, and still those old Jews wouldn’t vote for him.”

Sam Jacobson
(Via E-Mail)

Worthy Role Model

Re Boruch Selevan’s Dec. 24 letter to the editor criticizing frum Jews who follow the career of a rising young superstar boxer who happens to be frum himself:

I am a frum Jew who’s been involved in kiruv for over twenty years and can claim to have brought – with the help of dedicated rabbanim and community members – a very large number of students to some level of Yiddishkeit. I say this not as a boast but to qualify my opinion.

I have also boxed, and I have a black belt in Jiu-jitsu. In my opinion, it is about time that Jewish youth have a strong frum role model in the media. Our Torah is replete with heroes, from Avraham to the achronim, who fought and won decisive battles for Torah and Hashem. Contrary to some opinions, they did not just set down the sefer and pick up the sword. It takes years of practice, physical conditioning and some measure of pain to produce a fighter.

Today we encounter the phenomenon of a Jewish community losing its hold on its youth to non-Jewish gang-style rappers, tough-guy Hollywood actors and left-wing “freedom fighters.” (If you think this is a phenomenon exclusive to the non-frum world, you just don’t know your kids.) And why not? Youth admires strength and courage over all things. How many kids dress up as soldiers, cowboys and swordsmen on Purim? How many as gedolim?

It is when I understood that Jewish youth need a constructive character-building environment, supported by the Torah and the empowerment that physical skill and strength provide, that I started to succeed in kiruv.

Tamir Elias
Brooklyn, NY

Admirable Young Boxer

Given all the world’s ills, I find it appalling that Mr Selevan has nothing else to worry about besides what an admirable young boxer chooses to do with his life. I happen to know the young man in question personally, and the fact that he wears his frumkeit on his sleeves is commendable and should be given at least the moral support of the frum community at large.

I am not writing to debate whether boxing is the frum thing to do. I simply wish to salute a man who is “mekadesh shem shomayim befarhesia.”

Mordy Chaimowitz
Monsey, NY

Those Pro-PETA Letters (I)

I was shocked and horrified at the number of recent letters to the editor agreeing with the ludicrous claims put forth by PETA. Readers who claimed that PETA is correct according to our Holy Law neglected to indicate how exactly the practices at AgriProcessors contradict the Shulchan Aruch.

The fact is that the cutting of the arteries in the neck during shechita causes an immediate loss of blood pressure in the brain. This means, in laymen’s terms, that the cow no longer has enough energy in its brain to power its nerve cells. As a result, the cow doesn’t feel a thing. All twitching by the animal is due to muscle spasms – a reflex action not connected to the brain, and therefore the nerves, at all.

I congratulate Nathan Lewin, reader Amy Wall, and The Jewish Press on their excellent points and strong stances on this issue. I am dan lekaf zechus all those readers who did not respond; I assume they agree with the position of The Jewish Press on this subject.

Yitzchak Brand
Brooklyn, NY

Those Pro-PETA Letters (II)

The Gemara teaches that inappropriate foodstuffs have a dulling effect on the mind. I can only surmise that the respondents to the anti-PETA editorials who, with the exception of Amy Wall, sided with the radical organization must have ingested halchically forbidden materials.

One can state categorically and unequivocally that vegetarianism is not, never was, and never will be a higher form of Judaism. Certainly it is any Jew’s prerogative to choose the herbivorous life – that is, until the Beis Hamikdosh is rebuilt, whereupon all must partake of at least the korban Pesach – but to aver that God considers us sinners for eating properly slaughtered animals is an outright lie. From the advent of our nation, when kosher meat was available it was unstintingly consumed.

And what, pray tell, do Orthodox vegetarians suggest we’ll do when the Third Temple is rebuilt (speedily and in our days)? Right, we’ll shecht tomatoes (beef tomatoes to be sure) and sprinkle the juice on the mizbeach.

As to the insinuation raised by some of the writers that yes, PETA represents a lunatic fringe but Hashem made them a tool to highlight religious and ethical infractions at the plant: I can accept this possibility, but as Ms. Wall deftly noted, we must turn to our accepted kashrus organizations to rectify the matter (I am in no position to determine whether anything is in fact amiss), and not play into the hands of a group that would not only bar all consumption and use of four-legged creatures, but fish and fowl as well.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Rav Teitz’s Approach To Torah

Since last Wednesday friends have been telling me how much they enjoyed Dr. Yitzchok Levine’s memories of my father, HaRav Mordechai Pinchas Teitz, published on page one of The Jewish Press (“Master Builder: Rav Teitz and the Elizabeth Kehilla,” Dec. 24).

Dr. Levine is one of a group of scientists and mathematicians that my father welcomed to Elizabeth, New Jersey. He saw their enjoyment and accomplishment in their fields combined with their love of Torah as a promising sign for the Jewish future.

I was struck by one passage in Dr. Levine’s engaging account. “My eldest son,” he wrote, “was born in July 1970. I asked Rav Teitz to be the sandak at his bris, and he graciously agreed. The bris was on a Shabbos. We davened in the Bais Yitzchok shul and then walked across the street to my home for the bris. Since he and I needed our taleisim for the bris, we wore them as we made our way from the shul to my home. As we were walking outside with our taleisim clearly visible, Rav Teitz turned to me and said, “Thirty-five years ago, who would have believed that one could walk in the streets of Elizabeth wearing a tallis?”

Dr. Levine concludes, “The fact that we could do this in 1970 without any qualms was evidence of how far Rav Teitz had taken the Jewish community since he had become the rav.”

What surprised me was my father walking outside with his tallis visible. He had remarked more than once that only in Israel should one do this – that is the only place that is our home, and where we can feel completely at home; everywhere else we are guests and must conduct ourselves accordingly.

This was not a “golus Jew” mentality; he was not afraid. It was a Torah view of the difference between living in Israel and all other countries. He also disliked ostentatious displays of observance; parading one’s piety made the piety suspect.

Then how did he not only wear a tallis outside but make a positive comment about doing so? Some context will give the answer. A person who studies Torah is aware that “one p’sak [decision] does not fit all.” If one senses the complexity of life and appreciates the depth of Jewish law, one realizes that different circumstances require different responses. One can dislike flamboyant frumkeit, but on a mid-summer Shabbos when one will be sandak at a bris (and the eruv would be built a few years later), one can leave his tallis on to walk from shul to the baby’s home.

This consideration of the variables in life is crucial to the vitality of halacha. When I encounter the phrase about the Torah being written in “black on white,” I think that the Torah holds all the contrasts and does not reduce life to a uniform grey.

His positive remark about doing something unusual is equally revealing. His “gam zu l’tovah” wasn’t a sentimental echo. He thought that if you analyzed it correctly, an obstacle could be a challenge and even an opportunity. He could not abide complaining, bemoaning and criticizing. His favorite quotation in the Torah was Avraham’s answer to Hashem, “hineni,” here am I. He interpreted all that was contained in this single word: “here,” not with the excuse that elsewhere you could be an observant Jew; “am,” at this moment, not saying previous generations could keep Torah but not a modern individual; “I,” not ‘someone else should do something,’ but I will act now. Because he wanted to see what was good he found it in people and in situations. He was positive about making an exception for a simcha.

I am glad that Dr. Levine’s reminiscence led to this exploration of an approach to Torah that is both profound and positive. Thank you for mentioning Learn Torah, Love Torah, Live Torah, the biography of Rav Teitz published by Ktav.

Rivkah Teitz Blau
(Via E-Mail)