First, Ms. Ragen shamelessly attacks Rabbi Seidler-Feller as a Jew, mostly with hearsay and
innuendo (most of it untrue, but that is for another letter). I have known him for 15 years, so let me tell you some things about him:
He is a deeply committed and learned Orthodox Jew.
Zionism has been part of his self-definition his whole life. (If you knew his parents, you would
know what I mean).
He visits Israel at least twice a year, rarely to engage in any political activity, but rather to study Jewish texts and visit his family there.
He speaks Hebrew exclusively in his home to his children, so that they will grow not only to love Israel, but to feel comfortable being and living there.
While he has provided forums to Palestinian spokespeople, whom I detest, he has also provided a platform for the likes of Yoram Hazony, Dennis Prager, Shlomo Riskin and Alan Dershowitz - all prominent defenders of Israel.
He has led hundreds of college students to Israel on birthright programs, even during the
worst of times.
He has brought thousands of Jewish kids back to their Jewish roots as the UCLA Hillel director, many of whom also disagree with his political views.
He is about the most gentle person I have ever met.
None of the above excuses the widely-reported violent action toward Ms. Neuwirth. But a couple of items about the incident need to be made known in any fair account of the incident (Ms. Ragen insists that she “likes to be fair” – especially with another Jew):
Seidler-Feller was not chatting with the Palestinian protesters; he had approached them in
order to challenge them (“What do you mean Zionism equals racism?”).
The “upcoming event with Sari Nusseibeh” that he was discussing with them (which Ms.
Neuwirth felt compelled to disrupt) was in fact a dialogue with Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, the former head of the Shin Bet – a fact that Ms. Ragen conveniently omitted (I suspect that she and Ms. Neuwirth consider Ayalon, and the other three former Shin Bet directors who disagree with them, “capos” as well).
Eyewitnesses with whom I have spoken (in her quest for “fairness” did Ms. Ragen speak to any witnesses?) have told me that Ms. Neuwirth, who has previously harassed the rabbi, inserted herself in this discussion shouting invectives at him – including “You are worse than a capo!” At that point, Seidler-Feller reacted physically.
“Capo!” Is there anything more hateful that one Jew can call another? Do you think Ms.
Neuwirth knew (did Ms. Ragen know?) that Seidler-Feller lost grandparents in the Shoah?
(Can you imagine how deeply this has affected his psyche?) Do you think that Ms. Neuwirth realized (does Ms. Ragen realize?) that, in Israel, calling a Jew a “capo” is considered “hate speech,” punishable as a felony in its own right? Among those who have piled on to Rabbi Seidler-Feller, including Ms. Ragen, where is their outrage about what this woman screamed?
The fact is, both parties probably share blame in this matter. (The L.A. city attorney seems to
agree, since he is sending them both to an anger management course.) Several news reports have stated, however, that Seidler-Feller has repeatedly attempted to apologize to Ms. Neuwirth. But Ms. Neuwirth refuses to accept his apology or to accept responsibility in her own right – a fact that Ms. Ragen fails to mention. She - and others like Ms. Ragen – would rather exploit the incident, not only to silence Rabbi Seidler-Feller, but to destroy him and his family.
Rabbi Seidler-Feller’s political views are certainly the subject of fair criticism. And his
physical reaction to Ms. Neuwirth’s taunts cannot be defended. But much of the invective, including Ms. Ragen’s, that has been spewed at the rabbi’s expense represents the worst form of lashon hara, and only contributes to sinat chinam that our people can little afford today.
“I was one of those awful people who shouted at Yitzhak Rabin and called him a traitor. I stood behind the barricades, held up my placard and screamed: ‘Boged.’ … [A year later] I sat down on the cold stone fence opposite his grave, and I thought: The dead can’t hear our pleas for forgiveness or see our tears, only the living. And when I finally got up to face a day of fasting, prayer and hope for atonement, I understood for the first time the devastating finality of the words ‘too late.’ “
Those words were written by Naomi Ragen in 1996 (still published on her website,www.naomiragen.com
). It is too bad she has not learned her own lesson.David Eisner
New York, NY
Editor’s Note: Mr. Eisner is a Jewish activist and the CEO of a financial services
technology company in Manhattan.The Problem With Brooklyn Joe’s Views
I grant Joseph and Hadassah Lieberman of Brooklyn their socially conservative viewpoints
(“Brooklyn’s Joe Lieberman Answers a Skeptic,” Letters, Nov. 14), but I must say that I believe there is a difference between how a person votes in the Congress and his personal social outlook. There are those of us like myself who do not believe government should be in the business of legislating morality.
Abortion offers a good example of why legislating morality is a problem. I don’t believe abortion is the right or moral option but neither do I believe that the government should make that decision for others. There are, in fact, significant differences between Christian and Jewish views on abortion, and Christian conservatives would, as they have with the new partial-birth abortion ban, likely not make an exception for instances in which the life of the mother is in danger, at odds with most rabbinical authorities.
The point is not to make a case for abortion but simply to say that because there is not, in fact,
a common view on the issue, it is better left to individual choice, just like religion itself. Joseph
and Hadassah can still promote their views on abortion in any way they want, by picketing
abortion clinics, publishing books, or speaking to expectant mothers about adoption (probably the best option). Much the same argument applies to those who would outlaw all pornography; can Joseph draw a universal distinction between what is pornography and what is art? Perhaps in his own mind he can. But why should everyone else be forced to conclude exactly as he does?
Where exactly does the legislation of morality end? Would Joseph favor restriction on free speech as an attempt to stamp out lashon hara? Do those of us who would oppose such restriction help to promote lashon hara?
Social conservatives often mistake principled opposition by conflating those who oppose
legislating morality with those who favor committing the perceived immoral acts. Being
pro-choice is equated with being pro-abortion. A vote against outlawing pornography is cast as evidence that a legislator promotes pornography, an especially bizarre charge to throw at Senator Lieberman, since he has been at the forefront of the movement against movies with graphic sex and violence and obscene music lyrics.
A vote against public display of the Ten Commandments (an issue on which many conservatives agree with liberals) is cast as a vote for atheism. And when it is cast in terms of party politics, it is hypocritical, because there are certainly many immoral practices conservative Republicans would not legislate against when it is clear that legislation could make a difference. One need look no further than the links between Republicans and companies like Enron, who used the tax loopholes and corporate welfare favored by most Republicans to cheat their employees out of billions.
History is replete with attempts to legislate morality that have often been abject failures.
Prohibition was the most infamous example. Many drug laws are also failures, which, rather than setting a moral tone, simply clog up the judicial system or encourage teenagers to rebel. The effect of morality legislation is often to make certain immoral behavior more desirable among those resentful of being forced to act in a certain way when they would, perhaps, be less resentful and more amenable to moral action if they were the ones making the choice.
The founding fathers who wrote the First Amendment were certainly not promoters of vice,
but they understood that the freedoms of expression, speech and religion were intrinsic to
free and open society. No one is keeping Joseph and Hadassah of Brooklyn from living their lives, speaking their minds, or raising their children as they see fit. But if they insist on forcing their social views on others through legislation, there may well come a day when their ability to make those choices is inhibited.Michael L. Brenner
New York, NY