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March 31, 2015 / 11 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Riskin’

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, January 4th, 2006

Note To Readers

When we published Rabbi Moshe Faskowitz’s open letter of resignation from the Rabbinical Council of America in our issue of Dec. 23, we were unaware that he is a cousin of Rabbi Mordecai Tendler’s wife. While it has no bearing on the particulars of the Tendler-RCA controversy, or on the questions raised by the RCA’s response to recent decisions by the Jerusalem Bet Din of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, Rabbi Faskowitz should have disclosed his relationship to Rabbi Tendler.

In a telephone conversation this week with The Jewish Press, Rabbi Faskowitz acknowledged that he was remiss in not having mentioned the relationship in his open letter, though he pointed out that he had mentioned it in the second paragraph of a private letter he e-mailed the RCA on June 30, 2005 – a letter that detailed his concerns with the way the organization had pursued its investigation of the charges leveled against Rabbi Tendler and with what he viewed as its disrespectful reaction to the ruling of the Jerusalem Bet Din.

Rabbi Faskowitz said his resignation from the RCA is “all about the [Jerusalem] Bet Din. If my reason for resigning had anything to do with my relation to Rabbi Tendler, I would have resigned when the RCA expelled him.”


Fascinating Reading

Re Jason Maoz’s interview with Abigail Pogrebin, author ofStars of David (“Not such ‘Stars of David,’ ” Dec. 30):

I read the book and found it fascinating because, to her credit – sometimes overtly and sometimes implicitly – the author actually asks these people about the fact that for the vast majority of them the Jewish story, the saga of their families if you will, dies with them. And a lot of them go into very convoluted excuses. I thought Beverly Sills and Ruth Ginsburg were particularly pathetic.

Bill Pearlman
(Via E-Mail)
Rich Man With A Title

Coincidentally, a friend of mine had lent me “Stars of David” a couple of weeks ago, and I heartily second Mr. Maoz’s positive assessment of the book. As for World Jewish Congress honcho Edgar Bronfman’s denigrating the idea that God gave the Torah to the Jews, and his denying that the God of Israel is his father or his King – can anyone imagine the leader of a Catholic organization talking about Catholicism in such dismissive terms? He’d be forced out of his position in an instant. With us Jews, however, someone can be a total am haaretz and apikorus and still be hailed as a “Jewish leader” – providing that he’s a rich man like Bronfman.

Lawrence Franklin
New York, NY
Munich’ Fears Groundless

In taking ADL National Director Abraham Foxman to task for his assessment of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” you refer to the movie as “a presentation fraught with far more danger than Mel Gibson’s recent casting of the Jewish people as responsible for the death of Jesus, which drew much public ire in the Jewish community, stoked in greatest measure by…” Mr. Foxman.

Two years ago, you predicted in an editorial that the release of Mr. Gibson’s “Passion” movie “will ignite the kind of virulent anti-Semitism that provided the foundation for pogroms throughout history and the Holocaust little more than a half a century ago.”

Apparently, with the realization that the fears over “Passion” were unfounded, you are taking on a new bogeyman, predicting that “the consequences of Mr. Spielberg’s theme taking hold among American Jewry and being picked up by policy makers in Washington would be catastrophic.” In your view, “Munich” is scarier than “Passion” because many Christians already held Jews responsible for the death of Jesus and they “hardly needed Gibson’s encouragement.” You are thus suggesting the existence of novelty in the moral message conveyed by Mr. Spielberg’s film.

But does “Munich,” in fact, offer any chidushim? Doesn’t everybody “know” already that the “Israel-Palestinian” conflict is based on a misunderstanding between two long-suffering peoples with equal historical and religious claims to one small piece of land and why can’t we just all get along? And isn’t this “knowledge” already reflected in longstanding American governmental policy to pressure Israel to “share” this piece of land with the Palestinians regardless of the security consequences?

Like “Passion,” “Munich” is a movie – and just that. It will keep millions of people entertained for a couple of hours. It will be the topic of discussion at some cocktail parties and office water coolers. It will reinforce the views of those who agree with the views conveyed by the movie, and will offend those who do not (including those who deny Israel’s right to even exist). Mr. Spielberg will laugh all the way to the bank once again and might even win another Oscar. But by making bold predictions about the societal consequences of this movie, you are once again crying “wolf” – or “Foxman.”

Zachary M. Berman
Bronx, NY
More On `Torah Lishma

Rabbi J. Rosenblatt (Letters, Dec. 30) accuses me of being “out of my league” in discussing the purpose of Talmud Torah and refers to my front-page essay (“A ‘New’ Understanding of Talmud Torah,” Dec. 16) as “intellectually corrupt.” My conclusion that learning Torah merely “for the sake of learning” is not a Jewish concept he ascribes to “either egregious ignorance of the primary sources or willful distortion of them.”

In the interests of brevity and basic dignity I will not respond to his insults, only to the substance of his argument. I feel no need to defend my right to study the Torah and form significant conclusions despite being a non-gadol – something Rabbi Rosenblatt is clearly offended by. Indeed, I wonder how he feels permitted to challenge me on intellectual grounds if he does not consider himself to be a gadol.

When all the smoke is blown away, the extent of Rabbi Rosenblatt’s substantive response is a vague reference to Nefesh Hachaim. Without going into detail or quoting a single passage, he claims that R’ Chaim of Volozhin supports “a concept eerily similar” to the conception of learninglishma that I claim doesn’t exist.

In Section 1, Chapter 21 Rabbi Chaim writes “And this is the Torah of Man: when he is involved in Torah lishma – to observe and fulfill all that is written in it – he purifies his body from head to foot.” Clearly, Rabbi Chaim defines learninglishma as not random, aimless “learning for the sake of learning,” but learning with a clear and practical purpose: to observe and fulfill.

In Section 4, Chapter 3 he further explains, based on the Rosh in Nedarim referenced by Rabbi Rosenblatt, that learning lishma is “to know, to understand, and to increase acquisition and pilpul.” Unless one defines pilpul as irrelevant theorizing, Rabbi Chaim’s approach only supports my article.

It should also be noted that the vast majority of Rabbi Chaim’s remarks about Talmud Torah relate to its mystical benefits. For one thing, therefore, much of what he writes is complementary to my article, not directly related to it. For another thing, he merely refers to a different sort of benefit or goal of learning Torah. Nowhere does he, or any classic Torah authority, advocate the sort of aimless, esoteric, non-practical learning that is prevalent today.

If Rabbi Rosenblatt is troubled by the fact that I, rather than any “gedolim,” have noted the dubious foundation of the modern kollel approach, perhaps he should take it up with them.

Chananya Weissman
(Via E-Mail)
Words Have Meaning

In his letter of Dec. 30, Rabbi Riskin admits to having been “taken aback” by my criticism (Letters, Dec. 16) that he committed a “major error” regarding his translation. Actually, my criticism was that he had committed two major errors.

In his letter, Rabbi Riskin deals with only one of his mistakes. Specifically, he turns his attention to the Latin etymology of the adjective naive – nativus, “which means natural, unaffected candor and artless, actuated…by truth.”

On that basis he assures the reader that it would be okay to describe the Patriarch Jacob as a “naive” tent dweller. Rabbi Riskin’s mistake is that he relies on etymology without considering modern usage. (English has changed since the Roman Empire.) In modern standard English, the adjective naive is also associated with a lack of learning, experience, sophistication. It might be used to describe an individual who is devoid of wisdom and good judgment or someone who is gullible and easily duped. (One might be tempted to describe Esau in such a fashion, unjustly – certainly not Jacob. It would not fit the biblical context.)

Even according to Rabbi Riskin’s etymological reference, it would still be highly imprecise to select naive as a translation oftam. Quoting an unabridged dictionary, Rabbi Riskin cites “artless” as a worthy synonym. In modern American usage, artless is defined as lacking skill, crude, lacking knowledge. Is Rabbi Riskin still so sure about naive as an accurate translation of tam when referring to the Patriarch Jacob?

It is true that naive can connote qualities which are not so negative – in the sense of being natural and unaffected by guile; however, given the negative connotations cited above, there are far better English equivalents which would more accurately translate the Hebrewtam. (For example: wholehearted, which Rabbi Riskin used in his Dec. 2 column.)

I disagree with Rabbi Riskin’s interpretation of Malbim. Isaac did not think that his son Jacob was out of touch. It was a judgment call. As a parent, Isaac believed that Jacob should devote his life exclusively to spiritual matters as a Torah scholar. (That does not mean that he thought Jacob was naive or out of touch.)

Isaac was aware of Esau’s “problems.” However, he understood that Esau had great potential. Rebecca did not wish to confront Isaac about such an issue. She understood that her actions would be vindicated as indicated by the biblical context.

This exchange reminds me of the Italian saying Traduttore e traditore – roughly translated as “The translator is a traitor.” I do not wish to imply that Rabbi Riskin is a traitor. I am not speaking politically or theologically. The point is that it is simply very difficult to translate

from one language into another language, given the divergent cultures and vocabularies pertaining to the languages under discussion.

Chaim Silver
(Via E-Mail)
Don’t Discourage Aliyah

Reader J. Schwartz’s letter (Dec. 16) about Orthodox Jews andaliyah is full of distortions and errors from beginning to end.

1. No one ever claimed that the State of Israel as presently run is the geula – it is “the first flowering of the geula.

2. Zionist rabbonim do not speak out against the state – only against the present government and, in fact, are careful to differentiate.

3. If Reader Schwartz is displeased with secularism in Israel he should make aliyah, become a citizen and at least vote for change.

4. Terrorism also affects America; in fact, many Jews were murdered in the World Trade Center attack. In addition many Jews in America are victims of violent crimes – far more than in Israel.

5. Cuts in government funding mainly affect those who do not work. This situation also exists in America.

6. Who says living here means living in “dire conditions”? This is the sin of the miraglim. Just as in America, here there are rich, poor and middle class people.

7. Living in Israel is more than a great mitzvah. This is the only land in which a Jew can fulfill himself both individually and nationally.

Every Jew should be planning aliyah – or at the very least not discouraging others from doing so.

Avi Keslinger
Ofra, Israel
The Problems With Evolution

Evolution Is Anti-Science

Reader David Fass (Letters, Dec. 30) begins his attack on my views on evolution by saying: “Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it’s not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world, that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.”

There follow nine paragraphs, but I was unable to find (a) a direct quote of anything I said and (b) why I was wrong.

All physicists today believe in the Anthropic Principle – that the universe was designed for people. Is that objectionable? Science has proven it.

Dr. Stephen Jay Gould, the most prominent of the evolutionists, clearly stated that evolution is not a natural process but an accident. If you believe in accidents, you are not talking about science. Scientists had four theories about the origin of the moon until people actually went there, brought back rocks, and saw that all the theories were wrong. The latest theory? It was an accident.

The problem with evolution is that it is anti-science. That was the purpose of my letter. Does science believe that a tiny dot can emerge from nothing? It does not. Does science believe that a tiny dot containing the entire universe can expand? Einstein’s theory of Black Holes denies that such a dot can expand. Does science believe that a primal dot turned into a fiery plasma of simple material that became incredibly complex quarks and genes – all by accident?

Science teaches entropy, meaning that a closed system cannot gain in complexity, only decline. The simple plasma could thus not become complex atoms and genes.

Mr. Fass concludes by writing, “The image of the ‘idiot scientist’ conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn’s letter may be comforting to some, but it’s ultimately just crude escapism.”

Why not quote where in my letter I supposedly insulted scientists, or science? I didn’t insult science; to the contrary, I feel that modern science encourages our belief.

Rabbi David Eidensohn
Monsey, NY
Disdainful Attack

David Fass’s letter is, based on my experience, very typical of people who defend evolution. They shed little light on the subject, yet engage in attacks on those with dissenting views.

You’d think that if the viability of evolution were, in his words, “discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites,” he could refute at least one point made by Rabbi Eidensohn. Instead of offering refutations, Mr. Fass writes with an air of disdain for Rabbi Eidensohn, rabbis in general, yeshivas, Monsey and the “yiddishe kup.” What an earth does all this have to do with the shortcomings and fallacies of an outdated “scientific” theory?

It’s very encouraging to hear from Mr. Fass that “scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people” and that “their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective.”

The problem is that scientists can also be staggeringly dishonest when it come to furthering their careers, prestige or bank accounts.

One case in point (and there are others), reported by newspapers around the world just last month: Dr. Hwang Woo Suk of Seoul National University faked 9 out of 11 stem cell research experiments. His phony results were being reported around the globe as scientific breakthroughs. Obviously, being educated is one thing; having integrity is a different story.

If Rabbi Eidensohn had questioned internal combustion or the properties of electricity when he’s surrounded by cars and electrical appliances, I could understand Mr. Fass’s irritation. But questioning the viability of a far-fetched theory like evolution is not all that out of line. I don’t live in Monsey, but my guess is that chickens aren’t turning into monkeys – even in Monsey.

Josh Greenberger
Brooklyn, NY

(Editor’s Note: Mr. Greenberger is the author of “Human Intelligence Gone Ape” (NCSY) available free at EvolutionDead.com.)

Secular Faith

There was just one problem with David Fass’s contention that Rabbi Eidensohn (and by extension the entire frum community) looks askance at science for failing to accept evolution. Evolution is not science. Never was, is not now, and never will be.

Evolution was introduced as a theory, and like most other theories it should have long ago been discarded. But it has one important element on its side: Evolution is atheism, and trumped up by Satan’s “useful idiots” in the academic community this lie continues to be foisted on lemmings who lack the sophistication and backbone to lash out in disgust.

I am far from alone in my conviction that evolution is a pseudo-religion. The most recent edition of the Economist magazine featured on its cover the cliched progression of a hunched-over ape eventually morphing into a comely lass. In the accompanying article, evolution was described as one of the three great secular faiths (Marxism and Freudianism being the other two) of the 19th century. (The author of the article, it should be noted, is one of the creed’s staunchest supporters.)

That supposedly Orthodox Jews fall over themselves trying to inject evolution into the story of creation does not impress legitimate truth seekers. Troubled by science? I don’t think so. But evolution? That’s a whole different story.

Hey, I can be open-minded. If in another 600 billion years man evolves into a centipede, I’ll retract this letter. You have my word on it.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Dubious Hypothesis

There are many Young Earth Creationists who believe in the Torah’s chronology of a 6,000 year old universe, a number of top scientists among them. Even though most of them are non-Jews, Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, spoke highly of them and was very critical of Orthodox Jewish scientists who accept evolution, despite the Torah of Nature showing no evidence whatsoever of millions of years – let alone billions – that have been invented solely to support the vapid belief that the theory of evolution requires vast eons to even begin to operate.

It is remarkable how the solid scientific evidence of a young universe still has not registered on some Orthodox didacts. Evidence such as the rate of decrease of the earth and sun’s magnetic fields, the rate of decrease in the size of the solar disc, the high residual warmth of the moon and mere half-inch of dust on its surface (which amazed the Apollo astronauts who had been told to expect being swamped), the decrease in the speed of light, the paucity of helium and micro-meteoric dust in the atmosphere, the rate of mineral deposition into the oceans, the fallacious premises of radiometric dating, the still “unwrapped” state of the arms of the great spiral galaxies, the thickness of Saturn’s rings, the continued existence of short-term comets, human population statistics, the complete dearth of any human record or artifact older than 6,000 years, polystrate fossils, the non-organic theory for the origin of oil, dendochronolgy (no tree older than 5,100 years can be found), pleochroic haloes etc., are all indicative of an astounding recency of creation.

In view of all this, it is perplexing how some Orthodox Jewish writers are still wedded to the discredited idea of evolution over billions of years. As the late journalist Malcolm Muggeridge observed, “In the future evolution will be laughed at as one of the greatest jokes of history. Posterity will marvel that so very flimsy and dubious a hypothesis could have been accepted with the incredible credulity that it has!”

Amnon Goldberg
Safed, Israel

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, February 4th, 2004
Immediate Response

Last week you published my letter about a firefighter at Ground Zero finding a sefer Tehillim that belonged to someone named Avraham Binyomin Shapiro or Spira. I asked anyone with information about that person’s whereabouts to contact me.

Wednesday evening – just hours after The Jewish Press hit the newsstands – I received an e-mail from Rabbi Avraham Binyomin Spira’s father, who had an office in the World Trade Center complex. Thursday I spoke with Rabbi Avraham Binyomin Spira himself and confirmed that he is the owner of the sefer Tehillim. We are arranging a time convenient to both Rabbi Spira and the firefighter for the return of the sefer.

Thank you for publishing my letter and helping to perform the mitzvah of hashavat aveidah.

Mordechai Dovid Levine
Spring Valley, New York

Sounds Of Silence

Your riposte to the Forward was right on the mark. Would that the Agudah be heard on this as well. Frankly, I am amazed that with all of the letters and articles the Agudah has placed in the Forward and the Jewish Week over the years, there has been complete silence from
that organization in response to those publications’ shameful distortions of the essence and significance of Chanukah. If the Agudah sent in letters or articles taking issue with those distortions, shame on those papers for not publishing them. But if the Agudah did nothing, all the greater is the shame on a once proud organization.

I strongly believe that this episode raises serious questions regarding the Agudah’s capacity to confront the attempts to eliminate religious imperatives from Judaism or achieve equivalence between Orthodox and non-Orthodox movements.

Elliott Rosen
(Via E-Mail)

Heartless Scam

It was with great interest that I read the articles by Rachel Weiss (no relation) titled “To believe or Not to Believe” (Jewish Press, Dec. 12) and the follow-up “Believe It or Not” (Jan.2).

A few months ago on a late summer Friday afternoon, my husband and children waited for me in our car while I ran up to visit a cousin at NYU Medical Center. A man came up to my husband and said he needed to get to New Jersey for Shabbos and that a cab had just left
with all his possessions. Feeling the urgency of this man’s predicament, my husband helped him flag down a taxi. The man inquired about the fare to his destination and told my husband that it would cost $90. My husband had $70, and my daughter chipped in the other $20. This man took our phone number and promised to repay. Of-course we never heard from him. Our stories are too similar. This sounds like one man using his trick over and over again.

What a zechus it would be for Rachel Weiss and The Jewish Press if some good will come out of these articles. Readers ought to be made aware of this story-teller who roams the city streets and peddles his bogus pleas. He should be stopped in his tracks.

Chany Weiss
Brooklyn, NY

Exercise In Futility?

By what right do the editors of The Jewish Press arrogate to themselves the role of Defenders of the Faith? It may be useful to confront challenges to the primacy of mitzvot in Judaism, but it seems entirely misplaced when you confront a respected rabbi like Shlomo Riskin over an interpretation he developed from the text of the Bible.

Furthermore, your criticism of Rabbi Riskin over such a minor matter was an exercise in futility. Those who are followers of his surely were not swayed by your arguments, while the rest of us were either amused or could not have cared less.

Sheldon Blaustein
(Via E-Mail)

Wish We’d Said It

Although I generally agree with your criticism of Rabbi Riskin, I would point out two things you missed.

In challenging Rabbi Riskin’s assertion that Yitzchak Avinu was reacting out of a sense of weakness when he decided to choose Esav over Yaakov, you correctly point to Avimelech’s prostrating himself before Yitzchak. You should also have noted that just prior to that, G-d spoke to Yitzchak and told him that He would be with him in all things.

In addition, you let pass Rabbi Riskin’s comment that if he were (as you said he was) “presumptuous” in his analysis, then “so were all of the commentators of the past.” I would have thought this astonishing display of hubris on his part deserved some comment from you.

Michael Lazar
Cincinnati, OH

Hey, We Were Merely Speculating

Whoever writes your editorials better get a grip. You really can’t believe that Libya threw in the nuclear towel as part of an Arab conspiracy to pressure Israel on the nuclear weapons issue. Or do you? It’s time you abandoned the self-centeredness that, as another reader recently pointed out in a different context, leads many Jews to believe that the world revolves around them.

Doug Fischler
New York, NY

No Alternative To Day Schools

We subscribe to U.S. News and World Report, which is about the only weekly news magazine with a favorable viewpoint toward Israel. But I was angered by John Leo’s column in the January 4 issue.

He asserts that it is not harmful to a Jewish child’s sense of well-being to be forced to sing Christmas carols in school, as long as there are a couple of Chanukah songs to go with them.

When I was a child in the 1950’s, we were forced to sing those songs in public school. I knew there was something wrong with that, and when I told my mother, she said I should just move my lips and pretend I was singing along. That was the only “solution” back then.

But 28 years ago, when my daughter was in public-school kindergarten, she started bringing home Christmas artwork from school. I protested to her teacher, and she then started bringing home artwork with Jewish themes. But when I went to the kindergarten concert, I was shocked and appalled to hear my daughter singing about Jesus and the “virgin mother and child.” And it didn’t help that the concert included two requisite Chanukah songs.

Thereupon I made my choice. I pulled her out of that school and placed her in a Jewish day school. Today she is a rabbi’s wife. Needless to say, her children are all receiving an authentic Torah education.

Thank G-d that now, unlike when I was growing up, we have so many Jewish day schools available. Parents, if you care anything about your children’s Judaism, enroll them in a Jewish day school. Furthermore, all Jews should be sure that a good portion of their tzedakah goes to these schools.

Phyllis M. LaVietes
DeSoto, Texas

More On Howard Adelson

Beth Gilinsky Spiro’s Dec. 12 obituary tribute to Professor Howard Adelson was simply peerless. Her evaluation of this good man’s life and work is right on the mark. His love of learning, his activism and his ability to defend the interests of the Jewish people was beyond

I met Professor Adelson in Eilat in 1970 while on a small tour of the Sinai area south of Taba. I was able to speak with him at some length in a local cafe. I was a liberal back then, but this did not stop either of us from conversing. I did not believe that a conservative could have been a professor at CCNY (today I would be right to think so, but for different reasons).

A few months later I saw him on television speaking against “open enrollment” at CCNY and the other CUNY colleges. I rememeber well his saying, “There hasn’t been a brilliant class at the city colleges since the 1940’s, and now there won’t be a very smart one,” or words to that effect. What arrogance, I thought back then; what a brilliant analysis, I think today!

During the years that followed I saw his name on many a petition to the powers that be defending the Jewish people and Israel against our enemies. Your tribute covered the ground very well.

I am fortunate to have met him; you, Ms. Gilinsky Spiro, are more fortunate to have known him.

David S. Levine
Hobe Sound, FL

Chanukah In Kuwait

Last month I celebrated my third Chanukah away from my family with the U.S. Army. I was deployed in 1994 for Operation Vigilant Warrior. I was deployed in 2002 for Operation Enduring Freedom. And I was deployed in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

We had a wonderful Chanukah party in the chapel at Camp Doha, Kuwait. We celebrated the eighth night of Chanukah and the Sabbath in a very moving service. It was truly remarkable that so many Jewish soldiers and civilians came from military camps in the area to attend our simple service. Ours was a mixed bunch; from California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Washington, and other locales, representing the Army, Air Force, and even the American Embassy. As for supplies, we were blessed with many Chanukah cards, dreidels, and chocolate gelt. Before our service ended, we made certain to add many prayers for our fallen comrades, and for those on patrol this evening keeping our compound safe.

Our meal was meager but appreciated by all. The latkes did not arrive in time, so we ate semi-stale donuts left over from earlier in the day. My Aunt Esther, Uncle Seymour and Cousin Farrell had sent a variety of nuts, fruits and nosh, so we had some kosher products for our table.

In the end, each individual left with a smile. We came together in the desert to remember a military victory for religious freedom more than 2,500 years ago. And we remembered that the same battle rages on all around us. So the work continues.

Major Jonas Vogelhut
Camp Doha, Kuwait

Who Is A True Zionist?

Wrong To Downplay Impact Of Secular Zionists

Bezalel Fixler’s “Who Is A True Zionist?” (Jewish Press, Jan. 2) was inspiring to read. The
ancient yearning of the Jew for Eretz Yisrael is, these days, all too often taken for granted.
However, while those who yearned for a return to Zion are unquestionably “Zionists,” the return to Zion in the last century and a half was the result of all those whom Mr. Fixler discounts: Herzl, Achad Ha’Am, Pinsker, Lilienblum, Nordau, Jabotinsky, et al.

The fact is, the frum establishment rebuffed or ignored, for one reason or another, all of those
Torah giants who before Herzl and company advocated a return to Zion en masse.

Take the case of Rav Akiva Yosef Schlesinger, who when he visited the then Szigeter Rebbe on his way to Israel was told not to go. The Szigeter assured him that there were positions in Hungary for such a young and vibrant talmid chacham. The Szigeter begged him to abandon his plans for making aliyah. When Schlesinger refused his offer, saying that he was in love with the land, the Szigeter circulated a directive to all who would listen that any aid given to Schlesinger in his pursuit of aliyah would be tantamount to support of idolatry.

Rav Kook left Israel in 1914 to attend a Kenessiah Gedolah of Agudat Yisrael. When he
pleaded with Agudah to reverse its hostile stance on Zionism, he was rebuffed and reviled. The records indicate that the Chofetz Chaim was shaken to the core over the attacks on a person such as Rav Kook.

In fact, the 1947 records of the United Nations Special Committee On Palestine (UNSCOP) indicate that Agudah testified against the idea of an independent Jewish state in Israel.

Now, there is no doubt in my mind that these Torah giants who opposed secular Zionism were, in Mr. Fixler’s words, true Zionists. The only problem is that were it not for all those secular Zionists whom Fixler cites, thousands of marginal Jews would never have been inspired to make aliyah to pre-state Israel.

All that he says about Herzl is accurate save for one detail: The Uganda issue for Herzl, in
Herzl’s own words, was a temporary solution, an overnight stay for streams of Russian displaced persons as a result of the ongoing waves of pogroms. Uganda – and nothing else – was offered to Herzl by the British. And so he jumped at it for a practical reason; namely, that the refugees needed a quiet place to run to. In fact, the British soon rescinded their offer.

The examples offered by Mr. Fixler of, in his words, true Zionism, are all correct and admirable. They do not, however, change the indisputable fact that the overwhelming number of frum Jews and their leadership were hostile to the secular Zionists and turned their backs on this movement. With the vacuum having been created, what is the point of trying to determine who was the first or the true Zionist?

Rabbi Chaim Wasserman
Young Israel of Passaic-Clifton
Passaic, NJ

Who Lived And Who Died

Herzl, Jabotinsky, and Nordau were the greatest Jewish leaders in our generation. Were it
not for Herzl, the existence of a Jewish state after two thousand years of exile would not have come about. It was the youth that followed Herzl and went to Eretz Yisrael to establish settlements, to cultivate the land and make it inhabitable for the thousands of Jews who came after them.

My late father was a chassid of the Rebbe of Czortkow. My father also was one of the organizers of the first Zionist congress in Basel in 1897. He knew Dr. Theodor Herzl and adored him. When Herzl’s body was brought from my home town in Vienna for reburial in Jerusalem, my father, a Cohen, changed our name to Hacohen; the ‘H’ in Hebrew stands for Herzl – Herzl Cohen, Hacohen.

Jabotinsky, whom I had the privilege to know personally, was another of the great Zionist leaders in my generation. I was present in Vienna in 1935 at the first congress of the new Zionist organization Jabotinsky founded. He warned the Jews of Europe to leave for Eretz Yisrael immediately. He said the hour was five minutes to midnight and that if you don’t liquidate the Diaspora, the Diaspora will liquidate you. He foresaw the Holocaust.

By contrast, many chassidic rebbes told their chassidim not to go to Eretz Yisrael because the
Zionist country was ‘treif.’ I mourn the loss of so many chassidim, so many friends of mine, so many venerable rabbis, who were misled by their rebbes and by the anti-Zionist Agudat Yisrael and perished with their families in the Holocaust.

Most of my friends who followed Herzl and Jabotinsky landed in Eretz Yisrael, some legally
and some not. They were the true Zionists.

Dr. Mordecai Hacohen
New York, NY

A Matter Of Terminology

Although I agree with Mr. Fixler’s basic thesis that “Zionism without a religious component is not real Zionism,” I have reservations about the use of the term “Zionist” to refer to the rabbanim, chachamim, and other individuals and groups who made aliyah prior to the nineteenth century.

It is my conviction that historically referenced terms such as “Zionist” and “Zionism” have a
reality and validity all their own. As such, it should not be applied to acts of aliyah to Eretz Yisrael which were an expression of love of Zion or the fulfillment of the mitzvah of yishuv Eretz Yisrael before the advent of the Jewish nationalist movement called “Zionism.”

One should not reference a historical phenomenon back to previous generations who had
no concept that their acts of aliyah would produce the mass migration of Jews to Eretz Yisrael. Even those that hoped for it did not plan for it in the manner that the Zionist movement would later undertake.

We have Medinat Yisrael today because Hashem blessed the Zionist movement. It is likewise true that our inalienable relationship to Eretz Yisrael is based on kedushat haaretz from the
Torah, as we learn from the very first Rashi, cited by Mr. Fixler in his comprehensive article.

Toby Solomon
Kew Gardens, NY

Materialistic Malaise

In his op-ed article in the Dec. 26 issue of The Jewish Press, Rabbi Yehuda Levin did a masterful job of demonstrating that contemporary Hellenization, generally considered the province of halachically-challenged Judaism, has infiltrated the ranks of Orthodoxy (“Orthodox Hellenists, 5764″).

Rabbi Levin cites as evidence the disinclination of ostensibly Orthodox politicians both here and in Israel to stand up to the pro-gay lobby as well as the royal treatment lavished by
certain Orthodox groups on politicians whose stated positions are antithetical to the Torah.
Rabbi Levin views these acts, along with the general apathy regarding them, as proof that
Orthodoxy has lost its moral compass. He is right, but it behooves us to understand how this has occurred.

The answer actually is rather simple. Modern-day Orthodoxy has not rejected the Torah, it has embraced materialism. In parshas Mikeitz, Yaakov Avinu sends his sons to Mitzrayim to purchase grain before their supplies would be depleted. Rashi explains that he wanted to avoid instilling enmity in his non-Jewish neighbors who had been profligate with their produce. In charging his sons, our Patriarch employed the expression “Lomo tisroe” – why do you make yourselves conspicuous” – and here he was speaking to all of his children throughout the millennia.

But this message is lost today in our society. We need look no further than the “edifice complex” that has gripped so many Orthodox communities, as the well off capriciously dismantle perfectly livable abodes to erect visual testimonies to their surfeit. Duly impressed, the neighbors follow suit, finances be damned; must keep up with the Schwartzes, you know.

But then comes the next big decision: Where to go for Pesach? The Catskills? Surely you jest.
Miami? Been there, done that. So it’s Mexico or Europe or whatever exotic port of call is ‘in’ that year. Have no fear, chassidishe shechita and non-Gebrokts are here.

But it doesn’t end there. Not by a long shot. No, we have midwinter cruises, summer vacations, weekend ski trips – all under the protective umbrella of kashrut but all at loggerheads with at least the spirit of Judaism.

So Rabbi Levin is correct. We have become Hellenists and we don’t even know it. Certainly we pledge allegiance to the Torah – but it’s mere lip service. Does the person who imports Italian marble for his kitchen anxiously await the coming of Moshiach? How many families stiff the yeshivas when it’s time to pay tuition, yet drive their kids to school in late model autos yapping away on their high-tech cell phones? Given this atmosphere we can readily understand the lack of outrage when the Torah is slighted or defamed.

Is there an answer? I believe it’s time we speak about olam haba (the world to come) and
return it to its once-prominent place in the spiritual lives of Torah Jews. Throughout the
centuries there was no need to impress upon Jewry its importance. As people lived in poverty, in fear of the next pogrom, it was the belief in a better world  than this one that sustained them. It may be the only antidote available to the materialism that is steadily eating away at our spirituality.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Letters To The Editor

Friday, January 30th, 2004

Out Of The Ashes

A firefighter found a sefer Tehillim at ground zero. The name inside is Avraham Binyamin Shapiro (it may be Spira). If anyone knows whom this may belong to, please contact me
by either sending a letter to 9 Dorset Road, Spring Valley, NY 10977; by calling me at work (908-582-5384); or by e-mailing me at mdlevine@lucent.com.

Mordechai Dovid Levine
(Via E-Mail)

Prescient Columnist

In the December 26 issue of The Jewish Press, the opening sentence to Rabbi Hollander’s weekly Sedra of the Week column states, “A psychology student was given an assignment
to find out how different groups in society would react to a sudden warning that an earthquake was about to explode and bury the world.?

BAM! The next day, Iran is jolted with an earthquake that killed 40,000 people, with an estimated 30,000 more injured. Rabbi Hollander’s timely introduction preceded the cataclysm
by one day. It will be interesting to observe the reaction.

President Bush has labeled Iran a member of the “Axis of Evil.” Let us examine the accuracy of that label. The president offered to send the suffering Iranians food, medicine, and clothing relief as did many other countries including Israel. This morning’s newspaper reported that Israel’s humanitarian offer of assistance was rejected. Rejected! Who can comprehend this intensity of mindless hatred? President Bush was correct. We are witnessing a regime so blind in its wickedness that it is stumbling around in the realm of pure evil.

Rabbi Hollander was also right when he reminded us in a previous article that “we should be proud that our enemies hate us.”

Thank you, Rabbi Hollander, for sharing your keen insight. With enemies like this, you could not be more correct. Happy birthday.

Norman Shine
Brooklyn, NY

Teanukah, Anyone?

Re ‘Bizarre Doings at The Jewish Week’ (editorial, Dec. 26):

Jewish Week publisher Gary Rosenblatt seems troubled that “… every Jewish child knows about the heroism of Judah Maccabee and his brothers, though the saga is of marginal
importance today. But so few are familiar with the courage and accomplishments of Herzl, Ben-Gurion, Begin and Sharansky…”

This shows a serious lack of understanding of his own religion and a total disregard for its age-old established values.

The Battle of Jericho, for example, was fraught with miracles, courage and accomplishments, and culminated with the Jews entering the land of Israel as a nation for the first time. Yet, although most yeshiva students learn of this historic event, there are no holidays or widespread celebrations commemorating the battle.

Apparently, physical prowess absent redeeming spiritual values is not much cause for Jewish celebration. Whereas the Jews’ entrance into the land of Israel for the first time had great potential, the battle itself was basically a means to an end.

The courage and heroism behind the story of Chanukah, on the other hand, were directly responsible for the salvaging of the Temple ruins and allowing the Temple-related services to
continue. It was a case of courage and heroism for the sake of spiritual values, and such a message is as relevant today as it was then.

I’m a strong supporter of Israel. But bereft of any spiritual values or aspirations, our repossession of the land of Israel in 1948 would have had little more significance than conquering Teaneck, New Jersey. (And while we have, in fact, just about conquered Teaneck, we don’t have a holiday called Teanukah.)

The Jewish nation was never about flaunting military might or conquering land. As for Chanukah being an “ugly story,” as Mr. Rosenblatt puts it, that would be the case only if we were celebrating our having had the might, the courage, and the willpower to sacrifice our people for a conquest that represented no loftier objective than acquiring a piece of land.

Mr. Rosenblatt must remember that we are not Jews because we have Israel; we became Jews first and then we were given Israel. The fact that there are many Jews today who rant and rave about Israel, yet display no other tell-tale signs of being Jewish, is about as ugly as a story gets.

Josh Greenberger
Brooklyn, NY

A Quick Acceptance Of Our Invitation

In the interest of the final line of your response “we would look forward to a continued exchange of ideas,” I feel constrained to respond to your response. You charge me with giving the appearance that “Yaakov Avinu was being slighted since his father was portrayed as leaning toward choosing the militaristic Esau over the Torah student Yaakov.” You righteously ask, “How could anyone have taken this as anything other than a statement of Yaakov’s unreliability and the correlative denigration of Torah as the fount of the Jewish people?”

First of all, I would send you to the Malbim who says that Yitzchak did choose Esau because he believed that Yaakov was not aggressive enough; it was because of this that Yitzchak wanted to distinguish between the more spiritual birthright (to go to Yaakov) and the more materialistic blessing (to go to Esau). And this is only a “hava amina,” in yeshiva terminology. Rivka proves that Yitzchak’s fears were not grounded. So how does my commentary, which merely attempted to explain the motivation of Yitzchak, prove Yaakov’s unreliability and denigrate Torah as the fount of the Jewish people? Much the opposite. My purpose is to show
the greatness of Yaakov who combined the voice of Torah with the hands of aggression if it were to be necessary.

Second, you mention your concern about “the extraordinary notion that Yitzchak Avinu was prepared to define Klal Yisrael as a militaristic nation for eternity.” Militaristic is your word, not mine. I portray Yitzchak as loving the land of Israel and having been humiliated at the hands of Abimelech – who acted as the arch anti-Semite who exiled the Jews from their rightful homes. How is this to be identified with describing Yitzchak as wishing a militaristic nation for all eternity? From his own experience, he understood the suffering of the Jews, the exile of the Jews and the humiliation of the Jews. From this perspective, he realized the importance of a stronger and more aggressive “first born.” I truly believe that I was only strengthening the position of the Malbim with the peshutu shel mikra of the incident with Abimelech coming as it does in the midst of the story of the blessings.

Finally, it is told that Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen Kook cried inconsolably during the week of mourning for his mother. When visitors commented on the fact that she had lived such a long and fruitful life, insinuating that there was little cause for such anguished sorrow, Rav Kook responded, “I am not crying for her. I am crying for me. There is now no one in the world who will call me Avramele with such love in her voice.” It was in this context that I used the loving language of Yankele – I did not want to give the impression that Yitzchak had rejected this studious son out of any feelings other than love.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
(Via E-Mail)

Editor’s Response: In Rabbi Riskin’s first comment questioning our point about Yaakov being slighted, he unfortunately quotes only part of the paragraph wherein we made the point – and, in addition, takes the point out of context. While we do not question Rabbi Riskin’s word, we are constrained to note that when the full text of the paragraph is read together with the paragraph that preceded it, it is not possible to understand Rabbi Riskin’s characterization of Yaakov as “Yankele, the naive dweller of tents,” as anything other than a slight.

According to Rabbi Riskin, Yitzchak’s desire to choose Eisav over Yaakov was rooted in a sense of powerlessness arising out of “humiliations” at the hands of Abimelech and his anxiety over his descendants being able to conquer Canaan. What else but a negative comparison could we have understood from Rabbi Riskin’s commentary as he went on to say that when Yitzchak “looks at his twin sons – Yankele, the naive dweller in tents, and Esau, the aggressive hunter – he concludes that only an Esau will have the wherewithal to stand up to our enemies and fight for the patrimony.” [Emphasis added.]

Plainly, the use of the diminutive “Yankele” when referring to Yaakov Avinu and the description of Yaakov as an other-worldly “benk kvetcher” is surely a less-than-
positive evaluation of both the reliability of one of the Patriarchs to deal with the
challenges to come and also of the utility of the Torah to prepare him for that task.

Nor does Rabbi Riskin’s claim to “strengthen” the Malbim compute. To be sure,
according to the Malbim the blessings of material success were intended for Eisav
because of his non-spiritual, material pursuits. But this was to enable Eisav to
assist the spiritual Yaakov in attaining a particular world mix of the spiritual and
mundane and also because of Yitzchak’s belief that that mix could not otherwise be
achieved. This is hardly an analysis that is nurtured by the idea that Yitzchak preferred Eisav’s militaristic bent over Yaakov’s spirituality out of his own supposed sense of powerlessness.

Finally, we too are taken with Rav Kook’s well-known anecdote, even as we question its applicability.

Tzedakah, Tikkun Olam And Jewish Values

Responding to my placement in the Forward’s top 50 list for the third year in a row, The Jewish Press worries that my work sets a bad example for the Jewish community because it, or I, or both are not sufficiently Jewish. The question at heart seems to be whether or not working in a non-Jewish community to better the world is Jewish work.

I assure you that the work I do as president of American Jewish World Service to fight poverty, disease and oppression and to intervene to save lives, regardless of religion, is as fundamental a Jewish value as any. But you don’t have to take my word for it. Just ask any reputable rabbi or scholar.

We are exhorted to care for the “stranger,” to leave food for the poor and to not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor. We are told that “these are the ways of peace.” Such deeds are as important as any other act of tzedakah we might and should perform on behalf of the Jewish community.

I have never stated that providing such service is all one needs to do to be Jewish, nor, by the way, is it all that I do. To imply that this is my intention is to degrade me and to attempt to make illegitimate my organization’s good work.

What The Jewish Press ran in response to a letter that disputed its editorial seemed not to get
the point. You might have called me or checked our website which lists Jewish text sources to explain why we do what we do. You might have inquired and been told that each and every one of our 178 project partners throughout the developing world knows that their help comes from the American Jewish community and has opportunities, which they take advantage of, to ask about Jews and Judaism. You might have learned that this interaction helps break down preconceived ideas and deters the spread of anti-Semitism.

Or you might have inquired and learned that the 200-plus college students, teens and young
adults (some of whom are Orthodox) whom we take to work in the developing world go with a Jewish educator. They participate in informal text study and discussion once or twice a day in between the work they are doing building homes, planting seeds or plowing fields.

I would be happy to provide you with contact information for a number of Orthodox alumni who have participated in our service trips who would be delighted to share with you why they have participated and why this was a Jewish experience for them. In fact, in January, four rabbinical students from Yeshivat Chovevei Torah are joining 20 other rabbinical students from all of Judaism’s movements on a work, service and study trip to El Salvador. I welcome the Jewish Press’s coverage of this trip.

Jewish ritual is important and I would never deny its value, but fulfilling tikkun olam and providing support to the majority of the world’s population who are poverty stricken is a very Jewish thing to do and complements our different and various levels of observance.

Ruth Messinger
President and Executive Director
American Jewish World Service

Editor’s Response: If Ms. Messinger had read our editorials more carefully, she would not have come to the conclusion that “The Jewish Press worries that my work sets a bad example for the Jewish community because it, or I, or both are not sufficiently Jewish.” She could also not say that we accused her of stating that the service to the poor she and her agency provide “is all one needs to do to be Jewish.”

The problem we addressed in our editorials on the “Forward 50″ is its context -
the palpable sense that making a positive impact is all that Judaism requires. As we
noted here several weeks ago, the working assumption on the part of those who put
together the Forward list is that if one contributes positively to the common good, it
matters not whether one even thinks about the observance of the Sabbath, the laws of kashruth, family purity, etc. As we said then, we think it does matter ? a great deal, in fact – whether one commits to the observance of mitzvot as mitzvot.

We did not – and do not – in any way denigrate the value of efforts to better the world. To the contrary, we applaud such efforts. Our continuing point, however, is that these efforts – in and of themselves – do not define one as a Jew, even though the efforts could be identified with mitzvot and may qualify one as a good person. Our view is
that Judaism by any meaningful definition implies responsibility to perform the mitzvot, however many Jews there are who either observe very few or none at all.

Letters To The Editor

Sunday, January 25th, 2004

’Activist’ Doesn’tMean Liberal

I really enjoyed reading “Fighting Carter: Memories Of 1980″ (op-ed, Dec. 19). As a college activist, I particularly appreciated how it demonstrated that not everyone of my age group – and this was as true in 1980 as it is in 2003 – is necessarily a liberal.

We often picture in our minds young people at leftist demonstrations and their elders on the right side of the political divide. These stereotypes are false; today there are growing numbers of young people who are abandoning campus leftism to support both our president and the state of Israel. As a Hillel activist at City College, I know that not everyone in my school hates Bush and supports Arafat.

Like most Jews, I remain a Democrat in terms of party registration. But don’t let that
fool you. My family voted for Mayor Bloomberg, and we don’t intend to vote for Howard

Sergio Kadinsky
Forest Hills, NY

Jimmy’s Lesson For Dr. Dean

Wonderful column by Larry Domnitch on his experiences campaigning against that soneh
Yisrael (enemy of Israel) Jimmy Carter.

I am confident that the American Jewish community will deliver the same message to
Howard Dean, should he emerge as the Democratic presidential nominee, that it did to
Carter 23 years ago. Not that I expect a majority of Jews to vote for a Republican (the
American Jewish community, especially the more secular among us, has, as we all know,
long since substituted allegiance to the Democratic party for adoration of the G-d of Israel),
but I believe that many Jews will follow the lead of the former Democratic mayor of New
York, Ed Koch, who has announced that he will vote for George W. Bush in 2004.

Democrats like Dr. Dean need to relearn the lesson learned by Jimmy Carter in 1980
- namely, that when someone running for president, whether a challenger or an incumbent, has raised enough red flags about how he views Israel and the Middle East, there are enough Jews out there who will put their interests as a people ahead of political ideology and party loyalty.

Jerome Fiedler
New York, NY

Invisible Bride (Continued)

Reader Barry Koppel last week complained about a recent “Machberes” column which
failed to include the kalah’s (bride’s) name in an item about a young man’s engagement to
“the daughter” of the Williamsburg Vishnitzer Rav.

I found Mr. Koppel’s comment very interesting, as I have made similar observations upon reading engagement notices in certain weekly publications (no, not The Jewish Press) where, except for details on the kalah’s yichus (pedigree), she is never dignified with a mention of her name. While it is important to maintain a high level of tzinius (modesty), it does seem a stretch to think that modesty is being violated if anything about her, including her name, is mentioned.

Your readers may have noticed that in some chassidish or “heimish” publications, the
faces of women are blurred or blacked out. I leave it to the editors of those publications to
determine how far one should go to insure tzinius. I don’t, however, think a mention of a
bride’s name violates anyone’s standard, especially since she was probably named for an
important and righteous relative (who, because of this practice of not including the bride’s
name, also remains anonymous).

Shlomo Kleinbart
Brooklyn, NY

Revoking Semicha

Although the subject has not, to my knowledge, been covered in The Jewish Press, I feel
it worth the while of our community to at least consider revoking of semicha of Orthodox
rabbis who accept pulpits or positions in non-Orthodox institutions.

Regarding semicha, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, writing on the pasuk “ve’samachta es
yadcha a’lav” (when Moshe Rabeinu placed his hands on Yehoshua, parshas Pinchos 27:18)
explained that the reason for the leaning of the hands is unclear. Perhaps it was meant to
symbolize that Yehoshua should be attached to and subordinate himself to Moshe’s teachings for the rest of his life. This is the idea of semicha as conferred in subsequent generations, done not by the placing of hands but rather by calling the recipient ‘rabbi’ (Sanhedrin 13b) and based on the tradition that the recipient is to be subservient to his master (Darash Moshe, page 264, ArtScroll Publications).

It is clear that conferring semicha should not be solely based on passing a Yoreh Deah
exam, but also on a person’s yiras shomayim, etc. and the criteria described above. So, if
a semicha recipient of an Orthodox institution takes a Conservative pulpit and allows mixed
seating, driving to shul on Shabbos, using a microphone, etc., then he has broken the
allegiance he made to all those who signed his semicha. He can no longer be relied upon
or trusted.

Rav Aaron Soloveichik, zt”l, required that all prospective recipients of his semicha sign
a document pledging they would not accept a position without his prior approval. That was
an act of true emes. Rav Aaron was careful to protect the honor of the institution of semicha.

Semicha is not a license to practice Judaism according to one’s own whims, dictated by
political correctness or financial interests. It is a privilege, bestowed on those who, with
sincerity and humility, report to a Higher Authority.

Yisroel Friedman
Rochester, NY

Soldier Of Zion

The entire Jewish community should be in mourning for Howard Adelson, the longtime fighter for Jewish rights who has been taken from us.

First, we send our sincerest condolences to his family. Second, let us reflect upon the great doings of Dr. Adelson, a”h. He was a lover of Zion who stood steadfast against the treacherous act of appeasement called “Oslo,” correctly comparing it to another delusion
of “peace in our time” – Munich, which helped pave the way for the Holocaust and World
War II.

Dr. Adelson tirelessly used his pen and his mouth against modern day Hitlers and spoke
at several Jewish Defense Organization protests. He wrote of how JDO went directly to
Louisiana to fight David Duke. Not only did he rip the Nazi swine Duke to shreds (while
taking on the do-nothing Jewish Establishment for sitting on its hands), he encouraged
readers of his popular column in The Jewish Press to attend our anti-Duke protest meetings.

It was also Dr. Adelson who went head to head against Professor Leonard Jeffries and
was, in fact, the first to demand that Jeffries be fired. Dr. Adelson spoke at our anti-Jeffries
rallies and also spoke out loudly during the 1991 Crown Heights pogrom.

Most people may not understand what made Dr. Adelson tick. The answer is threefold: his love of Israel, his love of Jews, and his being a follower of the Zionist warrior Zev Jabotinsky. In fact, the last time I spoke with him was a month ago, when I was trying to locate the exact address of the training camp where Jabotinsky died suddenly in August 1940.

Let me conclude by quoting from the anthem written by Jabotinsky for his movement – a movement to which Dr. Adelson dedicated his life:

“Even in distress a Jew is a prince, no matter if a slave or a tramp.”

These are the words by which we remember Dr. Howard Adelson, lifelong soldier in the
army of Jabotinsky. May Hashem comfort Zion and all its mourners.

Mordechai Levy
National Director
Jewish Defense Organization

Intermarriage American Style

When the Enlightenment began making its mark on Western European Jewry more than two centuries ago, the rabbinic leaders of the time, notably Rabbi Moshe Sofer, zt”l, the Chasam Sofer, attempted to combat the very dangerous and very short-sighted goals of the haskalah leaders.

Unfortunately, that secular movement succeeded in robbing many millions of Jews of their ancient heritage. Traditions that had survived horrible pogroms, and outlived the countless bloodbaths of Christian Europe, were lost to the pursuit of equality.

Then came the Holocaust, which proved with stunning finality that assimilation, far from stifling anti-Semitism, actually ignites it.

There is a very clear difference, however, between intermarriage in America and intermarriage in pre-Nazi Germany.

A Jew in Europe who was disillusioned with the hatred that his very existence inspired among his fellow citizens often intermarried in order to escape that hatred, which in many cases had preventing him from effectively assimilating. American Jews today, by contrast, are not confronted with anything close to that level of hatred, and intermarry for love, without any thought of escaping persecution. In all probability, most of these poor souls know less of our Torah than do their non-Jewish spouses.

Out top priority should be introducing Torah-true Judaism to those Jews who, despite being intermarried, still want to share the bond to our eternal heritage, to our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We must approach them and try to light the fire of teshuvah in their hearts. What will hopefully follow is either an amiable break-up or the conversion of a loving spouse (Shulchan Aruch 268:12).

Our people are experiencing a Holocaust of the spirit. In this case, however, we have it in our hearts and pocketbooks to do something about it.

Joseph Lieberman
Brooklyn, NY

Taken Aback By Editorial

I must admit to having been shockingly dismayed when I read that my Torah commentary in Toldot was considered “dismaying” and a “shocking affront” by The Jewish Press (editorial, Dec. 12).

In my commentary, I attempted to understand why our Patriarch Isaac initially chose to bestow the blessing-birthright on Esau, who, after all, had just taken two Hittite wives causing a “bitterness of spirit” to his father. I explained that I believe that the key is to be found in Isaac’s confrontation with Abimelech, King of the Philistines, a biblical narrative which interrupts the story of the blessings-birthright which is the main subject of parashat Toldot.

In this narrative, Father Isaac is exiled from Gerar, an area which is part of the promised borders of Israel and in which there had been guaranteed Hebrew settlement in previous treaties with both Abraham and Isaac. Moreover, both Abraham’s and Isaac’s wells are stopped up by Abimelech’s citizens. Hence my suggestion that Isaac felt that he had been humiliated by Abimelech; he now realized that the land of Israel which he loved would have to be defended by aggressive military might. And so he turns to the more aggressive Esau to receive the blessing-birthright.

Furthermore, with this interpretation I attempted to set the stage for Rebecca’s ruse, in which she demonstrates to Isaac that the “Torah-true” Jacob is capable of utilizing the “hands of Esau” to secure what is rightfully his, that he is not as “naive” as his father had thought. And, from this perspective we can now understand why when Isaac discovers what Jacob has done, instead of being angry, he exclaims, “And indeed, he shall be blessed.” He realized that Jacob too has the capacity to be aggressive, if need be.

Wherein lies my sin in this commentary? Is it that “I reduced cosmic matters to modern-day notions of nationalism”? Since when is defense of Israel by battle “modern-day notions of nationalism”? I thought the Holy Torah deems it a milchemet mitzvah.

Was I “intellectually presumptuous” by trying to understand Father Isaac’s motivation? If so, all the commentaries throughout the ages have been intellectually presumptuous. And, after all, I was only attempting to buttress the famous interpretation of the Malbim, who suggests that Isaac from the beginning had intended to give the material blessing to the more materialistic, aggressive Esau and the spiritual birthright to the more spiritual and religious Jacob!

Was it that my “insights seem to have escaped transcendent commentators throughout the ages”? Whatever happened to the primacy of attempting to discover a chidush and to the concept of “no biblical verse might be removed from the plain meaning of the text,” which I attempt to do. I am even accused of “shameful stereotyping and gross denigration of the principle of Torah as the fount of the Jewish people” by my referral to Jacob as a “naive dweller of tents.” How else would you translate “ish tam, yoshev ohalim”? After all, tam can be “whole” or tam can be “simplistic”! I think “naive” is as good a translation as any!

Or was my sin in referring to young Jacob as “Yankele”? Certainly I meant absolutely no diminution of honor by using this appellation of love. After all, Jacob emerges as the hero, who receives both blessing and birthright which he rightfully deserves, by combining chesed and gevurah, the Kind Torah voice of Jacob with the more militaristic and aggressive (when needed) hand of Esau.

(And the famed Rav Yitzhak Blazer was lovingly called Rav “Itzele,” and a school of Meah Shearim chassidim to this day follow Reb “Arele.”)

Nevertheless, if, G-d forbid, my use of “Yankele” was seen by anyone as a denigration of a towering biblical giant who is to be venerated and admired, I humbly and sincerely apologize.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
(Via E-Mail)

Editor’s Response: While we welcome Rabbi Riskin’s apology in the event that anyone may have misinterpreted his remarks, we disagree with his references to Reb “Itzele” and Reb “Arele.” It’s one thing for someone to be known by an appellation. It’s quite another for someone to coin one. It would be as if an individual were to suddenly begin referring to Rabbi Riskin as “Reb Shloimele.” Surely this could not be taken as anything other than a slight – if
the opportunity presented itself, we would be among the first to protest.

Moreover, in context, it certainly appeared that Yaakov Avinu was being slighted in Rabbi Riskin’s article. His father Yitzchak was portrayed as leaning toward choosing the militaristic Esau over the Torah student “Yankele” because Yitzchak was obsessed with overcoming the humiliations he suffered at the hands of the more powerful Abimelech and the need to secure Canaan. How could anyone have taken this as anything other than a statement of Yaakov’s unreliability and the correlative denigration of Torah as the fount of the Jewish people?

On another point, we certainly did not mean to question the right of someone of Rabbi Riskin’s stature to offer commentary. If that was what some read into it what we said, then it is we who apologize. Our concern was rather that the extraordinary notion that Yitzchak Avinu was prepared to define Klal Yisrael as a militaristic nation for eternity had to be based upon the teaching of Chazal, rishonim or acharonim.

This concern is all the more pointed given the fact that just prior to the events surrounding the conferring of the blessings, Abimelech prostrated himself before Yitzchak specifically because Abimelech felt that G-d was with Yitzchak. Thus, in no way did we imply that the defense of Israel today is not “milchemet mitzvah” as Rabbi Riskin’s letter suggests we did. We stand second to none in that regard. But we continue to believe that not everything one asserts in defense of Israel is necessarily on point.

Rabbi Riskin’s letter is also welcome for the clarifications he provides on some other points in his original article. We admit to not having read his article in the way he now says it should be understood.

Finally, our editorial was offered to readers in the same spirit of “chidush” referred to by Rabbi Riskin. We read and we reacted according to our understanding. We certainly had nothing else in mind. We would certainly look forward to a continuing exchange of ideas.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-45/2004/01/25/

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