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January 19, 2017 / 21 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘YU’

Culture Wars: From The Maccabees To Matisyahu’s Beard

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

The war is as fierce today as it ever was. It is a battle for culture and identity and it is the same war the Maccabees fought so long ago. While the original Chanukah victory had a military component, the battle was certainly first and foremost a fight against cultural assimilation – and that struggle continues today.

Exhibit A: Matisyahu. I am not about to rip on one of my all-time favorite musicians, but it was painful for me and many others to see our beloved chassidic reggae superstar looking no different from Sting. Matisyahu’s music was amazing, and hopefully will continue to be amazing, but he used to be so, well, outwardly Jewish, so proudly different. You just respected him so much for not caring what the world thought. In his full beard he appeared tribal, rebellious, revolutionary. But now it’s all gone and his formerly chassidic look is being portrayed as some ball and chain.

In Latin there is a saying: The name is an omen. Matisyahu’s very name comes from Chanukah and in his inner struggle to find his real self the battle of Chanukah was taking place – the battle to place oneself somewhere on the spectrum between Hellenist (totally assimilated) and Zealot (no outside influence). The signs of identity-strain already showed themselves when for last year’s holiday season Matisyahu released the brilliant and inspiring song “Miracle” – but in the video Matisyahu is seen dancing around in a bird cage dressed in a Santa outfit.

Having religious angst is one thing, but why did Matisyahu feel the need share his shave with the world? Why did it have to go out to millions via Twitter? Maybe he did not want to shock his fans next time he came out on stage. Or maybe by taking a new side in the cultural battle, Matisyahu chose to be a cultural combatant once again. Matis used to make Judaism seem awesome, but now he made it look like a prison. A bit sad, but I still love you Matis, and looking forward to your comeback!

Exhibit B: The scandal involving a column about a student’s premarital sexual episode, ending with her “walk of shame,” published on a website run by Yeshiva University students. YU wanted the website to get rid of the column. The website stood its ground, preferring to lose its funding (which it did) rather than its voice. This too happened right before Chanukah, and is part of the classic cultural war. Today’s Jewish students struggle between the passions of physicality and the values of timeless Judaism. Even the bastion of American Jewish education, Yeshiva University, is a battleground where the forces of Hellenism and traditionalism are locked in a competition for cultural supremacy.

Exhibit C: Absorption Ministry ads targeting Israelis living in America and calling them back to the Jewish state. In one of the ads, Israeli grandparents Skyping with their granddaughter who is living in America are shocked to learn she is more aware of Christmas than Chanukah. Here Israel struck back with an unequivocal Maccabean message: American culture is inferior to Jewish culture, so come back home before you lose your children to assimilation. Many American Jews were outraged, feeling personally affronted at having their host culture besmirched. While Matisyahu paraded his new clean face, and the YU girl lamented her walk of shame, the State of Israel pushed an alternative to Christmas and offered Chanukah as a remedy for the disease of assimilation.

Exhibit D: While in Exhibit C the State of Israel was the Maccabee, in Exhibit D the Jewish state took its own walk of shame: “The Ministry of Culture and Sport is sponsoring Chanukah happenings throughout the country under the banner ‘Nes Chanukah (Chanukah Miracle)’. In order to make more cultural options available to all, a new initiative is being undertaken to make 100 plays in more than 100 locations free for children. The plays will include Pippi Longstocking, Pinocchio, Aladdin, and more.”

Excuse me? What were those plays again? If we’re going to go to the trouble of making a whole series of Chanukah happenings, shouldn’t we use this opportunity to educate about our own cultural history, to teach Jewish identity?

Can’t we promote our own stories, our own heroes? Or are we too afraid of those cultural icons of the past because their story is too demanding for us? Those Maccabees were pretty serious folks, they sought purity and Temple offerings, and I guess not everyone in the Israeli elite is interested in inculcating Maccabee ideology.

And speaking of Masada, my friend Yehuda HaKohen pointed out that a McDonald’s is opening up at the famous desert palace/fortress. McDonald’s, not exactly a traditional Jewish food establishment, is rather the height of modern American soft-power cultural imperialism. Putting a McDonald’s at Masada offends the memory of the Zealot fighters who fled the Roman occupation army in search of cultural and religious independence. So why not put a nice Israeli restaurant there instead, something that feels authentically Jewish? But then again, what is authentic Jewish food – Shwarma? Gefilte fish? Jachnoon? Petcha? We’re still figuring that one out.

Finally, Exhibit E in the battle for Jewish identity: Who else but the Maccabeats! These young men make fun music, but as their name suggests, they are cultural warriors. They took Matisyahu’s song “Miracle,” sang it a cappella style, and added to it a video that warms the Jewish heart. No walk of shame, no Santa outfits, just great energy and a love of Judaism. And if Chanukah is about broadcasting the miracle, the Maccabeats’ usage of YouTube to spread the light of Chanukah and make Judaism look attractive is to be lauded.

Yishai Fleisher

YU, Koren Collaborate To Publish Torah

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

             University presses often publish dense academic books that elicit little interest from the masses. Popular publishing houses sometimes take the opposite route, producing light, aesthetically-pleasing works that some people like calling “fluff.” Join the two together, however, and one hopefully gets books that both nourish the soul and please the eye. Such is the nature of a recent collaboration between Yeshiva University Press and Maggid Books (an imprint of Koren Publishers Jerusalem).

In October, the two publishing houses released Mitokh Ha-Ohel, a compendium of divrei Torah on all of Chumash by dozens of different Yeshiva University rabbis, professors, and instructors; in November, they published a special 20th anniversary addition of Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm’s seminal work, Torah Umadda,with an afterword by Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks; and this week, this publishing duo will release its third volume, The Laws and Concepts of Niddah, by YU Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky. This latest work is also the inaugural volume of a projected series of practical halachic books by YU’s roshei yeshiva.


“It’s part of a newly focused initiative to cultivate and develop works from the roshei yeshiva and rabbinic faculty of YU,” said Rabbi Daniel Feldman, the Practical Halakhah Series editor, and an instructor in YU’s Stone Beit Midrash Program.


Many of the ideas and halachic positions of YU’s roshei yeshiva already reach a wide audience via Yeshiva University’s Torah website, www.YUTorah.org. This new series of halachic works, however, promises to expand that audience further still. Rabbi Sobolofsky’s book on niddah includes supplementary notes and halachic rulings by noted YU scholars Rav Hershel Schachter, Rav Mordechai Willig, and Rav Yaakov Neuburger.


“A major component of Yeshiva University’s contribution to the world is to make the Torah available within our four walls,” said Rabbi Feldman, “but it’s also to make it available beyond our four walls to the broader community . We’re really excited about [Rabbi Sobolofsky’s book].”

Elliot Resnick

‘Reputation Always Lags Behind Reality By Several Years’: A Conversation With Touro College’s Future President

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

At 94, Dr. Bernard Lander, Touro College’s founder and president for 39 years, is finally ready to pass on the leadership mantle.

Last month Touro announced that Dr. Alan Kadish, formerly professor of medicine at Northwestern University, will succeed Dr. Lander as president in the near future with Dr. Lander set to become the university’s chancellor. Meanwhile, Dr. Kadish will serve as the college’s senior provost and chief operating officer.

Dr. Kadish, born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, received his medical degree from Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and postdoctoral medical training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (an affiliate of Harvard Medical School) and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. He currently lives in Bergenfield, New Jersey with his wife and four children.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with Dr. Kadish.

The Jewish Press: Northwestern University is one of the best universities in the country. What made you leave that institution to come to Touro?

Dr. Kadish: I believe, and I came here with the belief, that Touro is on its way to becoming an outstanding academic institution. It’s a relatively young school but we have over 17,000 students in 29 schools. There are outstanding faculty members. It takes time to develop a reputation, but what I saw when I visited Touro was evidence of academic quality throughout the institution which far exceeded its reputation.

Of New York’s two Jewish colleges – Yeshiva University (YU) and Touro College – Touro has a reputation among some for being the less “serious” of the two. How do you regard this characterization?

I don’t think that calling something serious or not serious is really useful. What I would say is that Touro and YU have different goals. YU has a particular philosophy, [Torah U’mada], that it tries to inculcate in its students and it directs its education accordingly. And that’s great.

But Touro feels there’s a role for another kind of education. In fact, the kind of education that Touro offers is really the kind of education most universities in the world offer. Most universities in the world don’t promulgate a particular political philosophy, at least not on paper. They provide education, and that’s Touro’s philosophy. We provide education.

Perhaps the fact that Touro’s education in some of its schools is more goal- oriented rather than philosophically motivated leads people to perceive it as less serious. But we certainly don’t view it that way.

How about Touro’s reputation, in certain circles, for providing a decent rather than a great education?

I think that reputation always lags behind reality by several years.

If you look, for example, at Touro’s undergraduate colleges right now, these are actually outstanding institutions with tremendous faculty and world-class deans educated at Ivy League schools who have tremendous commitment to education. I think our goal in the short term actually is not so much to change all that much in these institutions, but rather to get the word out.

It’s also true that because Touro is such a complex institution with many components to it, sometimes there can be some spillover effect [reputation-wise] if one component is not working so well. That’s why one of my goals is to increase quality throughout Touro.

What are some of your other goals?

The first goal, like I said, is to continue to strengthen the academic quality throughout the institution. It’s a large institution with 29 different schools, and there’s excellent education throughout. But there are some places where it can be made better.

A second goal is to solidify the health sciences programs. We want to increase integration and coordination among these programs to help cross-fertilize ideas and educational opportunities.

And a third goal that Dr. Lander has, which I fully support, is to try to help grow the international programs at Touro, which he views as outposts of Touro and Yiddishkeit for a variety of different communities throughout the world.

Any other goals?

No, those will take a couple of years!

Elliot Resnick

Mitzvah To Be Kind

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Title: Divine Footsteps: Chesed and the Jewish Soul

Author: Rabbi Daniel Z. Feldman

Publisher: Yeshiva University Press



The proliferation of seforim, and for that matter English seforim (and for that matter English seforim on halacha), in the last 20 years or so is mostly a blessing. But it has its drawbacks as well, chief among them the gobs of poor seforim. Poor can mean poorly written, poorly explained, poorly reasoned, or all three. Once, in an age when publication was expensive and not easy, usually only the very gifted would write a sefer, and certainly only the very gifted merited to have his sefer last more than a few years. And only the most useful and brilliant seforim from the most important Torah figures would make it into the beis midrash – and eventually people’s homes.


But now we have much – much too much. Not everyone who has written a sefer should be writing seforim. And that’s all the more reason to rejoice (rejoice!) – when a contemporary brilliant scholar produces an English sefer on Jewish law. Let’s hope the masses find it.


Divine Footsteps: Chesed and the Jewish Soul, by Rabbi Daniel Feldman – a Talmud and Jewish studies instructor at Yeshiva University as well as a rabbi in Teaneck, NJ – is a very enjoyable ride through as many sources and authorities as you can you think of on several topics of chesed. Chesed is commonly translated as acts of kindness, or as Rabbi Feldman puts it in the introduction: “Chesed describes an attitude, a demeanor, a sensitivity, and worldview, as well as acts of kindness themselves.”


This is Rabbi Feldman’s second English sefer of halacha and, like in his first one and in his Hebrew seforim on halachic topics, he draws from literally hundreds of sources (his index of sources for Divine Footsteps, itself categorized for the reader, runs over 50 pages) to present detailed explanations, instructions and perspectives on chesed – categories like visiting the sick, giving charity, and comforting mourners. Remarkably, he takes these many sources and delivers a clear, linear, and engaging read. The clich? that this book will be valuable for scholar and layman alike should have been held in reserve for Divine Footsteps.


Furthermore, far too many authors of halachic works know only how to translate the classic texts, but not how to make them meaningful for the average 21st century reader. And so we get chapters on how not to work our farms on Shabbos and detailed rulings on how to barter livestock. Rabbi Feldman’s book, on the other hand, keeps his modern audience in mind. For example, in the chapter called “Bringing Merit to the Masses,” Rabbi Feldman mentions that not every law that applied to the classic gabbai tzedakah applies to the “contemporary non-profit executive,” and he presents the chapter accordingly.


One other unique aspect of Divine Footsteps also makes the book vital to the landscape of halachic seforim. Unlike the large majority of other halachic authors whose books are on the market, Rabbi Feldman, a YU musmach, quotes from YU authorities – yes, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, but also Rabbi Zevulun Charlop and Rabbi Hershel Schachter.


Next time you are in the seforim store looking for a halachic work, remember that the bar for entry into the store isn’t very high. Look past the clutter for the cover with the rainbow over the horizon.


In addition to bookstores and the Internet, information about acquiring the book can be found at yutorah.org/yeshivapress.

Shlomo Greenwald

Requesting – “One Thing I Ask”

Wednesday, November 10th, 2004

“Achas Shoalti – One Thing I Ask”
The Seth Nadel Band
Distributed by Sameach Music, 2004

Seth Nadel is active – so much so that his guitar playing can be called “kinetic music,” to borrow Agam’s term. Though his side curls and beard certainly suggest a Hassidic persona, his music resounds of rock, pop, folk and blues.

Much of the “Jewish” music that sells today showcases velvet kippas and very Jewish looking musicians who capitalize on their appearance and insert a few passages of Hebrew texts into their music to make it Jewish.

Seth Nadel, in contrast, genuinely maintains his identity as a Jewish musician, though claiming that to him the roles of musician and educator are intertwined. As a second year Semicha student at Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) at Yeshiva University (YU) who transferred to YU undergraduate from the film program at Hunter College, Nadel laments YU’s lack of an education major, even though many of the Semicha guys end up teaching.

Education, however, is not only an amateur interest of Nadel’s, but lies within his arena of expertise; he has run a Sunday program for students at the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies (New Jersey) for six years, and he runs activities and Shabbatonim on occasion for them. He has taught a wide variety of elective courses at BCHSJS from surveys of Jewish music, Mesilat Yesharim and the Hassidic Revolution, to “Strumming Jewishly” and “MTV Challenge (Media Vs. Torah Values Challenge).”

This semester, he is teaching “G-d, Judaism and Rock ‘N Roll.” Nadel teaches his students through music generally, and this carries through to his public performances as well. “Ultimately, Jewish music has always been used to inspire,” he says. “It should move a Jew.”

“Music in Judaism was always part and parcel with the service of G-d,” Nadel feels, and one begins to grasp his meaning when one considers the central role the Levite song enjoyed in the Temple service. “There is a tachlis – a greater purpose,” he says, citing his tendency to tell personal tales, or words of Torah during his performances. He also cites much of the Hassidic literature that discusses the “holiness of song” and the necessity of a holy source for that song, like the Baal Shem Tov’s interpretation of the passage “Vehaya k’nagen hamenagen” (II Kings, 3:18), which maintains that when the musician is like the instrument, then the hand of G-d rests upon him. Nadel takes this mapping of the musician across the instrument as a statement about the removal of the components of ego, fame and fortune from the musician’s vocabulary.

Nadel released his debut CD “Achas Shoalti – One Thing I Ask” in May 2004. The backup for Nadel’s performance (vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, keys, banjo, percussion) is by David Keesey (electric guitar), Hillel Coren (bass), Elly Geldwerth (drums), Dan Cousin (piano, organ, harmonica), Bin Goldman (backing vocals) and a slew of guests for 14 original songs on “Achas,” the product of almost two years of effort. “Achas” draws inspiration from the tradition of Rav Shlomo Carlebach, though you would not necessarily recognize Carlebach – whom Nadel calls “one of my Rebbes” in an interview with Mordechai Shinefield on the Mima’amakim magazine’s website (www.mimaamakim.org) – in the distinctly American flavor that permeates Nadel’s music.

Whereas Carlebach occasionally suspended his own primarily Hassidic tunes to sing gospel songs like “On My Way To Canaan Land,” Nadel’s entire album overflows with rock-n-roll influence of the Bob Dylan variety. Nadel builds his music on the same premise that Dylan and the Band espoused when they insisted that the raucousness and joy of rock contained the spookiness of country and the soulfulness of the blues: the sound of what former “Rolling Stone” music critic Greil Marcus called “the old weird America.” Yet, instead of connecting these elements to hallucinatory poetry as Dylan did, “Achas” looks to Tehillim for most of its lyrics.

While this combination may seem more contemporary than your average niggun by rock standards, the “Achas” sound is more revivalist than revolutionary; rock like this hasn’t been popular in the mainstream for nearly 30 years. For Jewish music with a more contemporary pop attitude, you’ll have better luck with Blue Fringe or Moshav Band, but the upside is that the banjo picking, rhythm and blues horn parts and boogie-woogie piano which fill the album manage to capture the flavor of the words Nadel sings.

The soulfulness which captured the imagination of a generation of musicians from the Sixties who were searching for their own piece of the American experience complements the verses from Tehillim and the Siddur, which Nadel has chosen to adopt. The album’s back cover has a picture of Nadel approaching the train tracks, guitar in hand, like a blues-singing, train-jumping, hobo of the Jack Kerouac variety.

Ultimately, though, the nomad, wandering amongst the train tracks, wears his side curls long and his kippa large. He talks about Dylan in the same breath that he calls his purposeful union of pesukim with melody “a shidduch.” He argues that Jewish music has always been a product of contemporary society, from the Arabic influences in Mizrachi music to African rhythms in Jewish African music to heavy Ukrainian and Gypsy influences in Klezmer music.

“It’s the story of the Jew in the Diaspora being influenced by the surrounding, larger culture,” he says. And yet Nadel brings another piece to the puzzle. To him, Jewish music means teaching, and his music carries that message. He blends together a wide panoply of sounds. Like a grand tableau, he mixes in a lot of personal narrative and Hassidic tales. What emerges is a very personal, religious sound that is both experiential and instructive.

Menachem Wecker edits the Arts and Culture Section of the Yeshiva University Commentator. As an artist, he has trained at the Massachusetts College of Art. Menachem may be contacted at: mwecker@gmail.com.

I gratefully acknowledge the insightful comments of my good friend Aaron Roller throughout this article.

Seth Nadel will be playing at Young Israel of East Northport on October 3rd; Tifereth Israel (Passaic) on October 4th; and at Rock B’Davar (Teaneck) on October 30th. For more information on these performances, and future ones, visit www.sethnadel.com.

Menachem Wecker

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, December 24th, 2003

Where’s The Outrage?

Kudos to Rabbi Yehuda Levin for his on-target op-ed article regarding the silence of Orthodox organizations as the homosexuals prepare to take over Jerusalem for ten days (“Defiling the Courtyard of the King,” Nov. 21).

At what point will the Agudah, the OU and Young Israel at least issue a statement of protest? Are they condoning the deviant behavior of tens of thousands in the backyard of the Holy
Temple? What do they think of the smut film festival to be celebrated in Jerusalem, right next door to the yeshivas and seminaries their children attend?

I have seen the agenda of the forthcoming Agudah Convention, and there is a huge gap. My question is: What does it take to outrage the Torah and lay leaders of Orthodox Jewry? This is obviously a direct attack at our jugular, and we should be able to feel confident that Orthodox organizations will protect us from this defilement.

There should be an immediate and urgent response from all Orthodox organizations around the world. This open and brazen threat should send the Agudah, the OU and Young Israel into
a frenzy of activity and protest. I have yet to see or hear a cry of anguish, a call to prayer, a directive of action, or even a whispered sigh.

This resounding silence is not only offensive and cowardly, it is downright scary.

Rabbi Dr. Reuven Poupko
Baltimore, MD

Speak, Mr. Mayor

As a proud congregant of Kehilas Mevakshei Hashem, I wish to express my gratitude to The Jewish Press for providing Rabbi Levin a prominent forum to enlighten your readership as to the insidious and unrelenting assault on society’s moral standards by militant gay groups. Just ten years ago the very idea of ‘gay marriage’ would have been considered preposterous.

It is my sincere hope that the haredi mayor of Jerusalem will publicly condemn, from the pulpit of the Agudah convention, the international gay conference planned for Jerusalem and will use
all his resources to try to cancel it.

Shlomo Winter
Brooklyn, NY


Please allow me to express my support for Rabbi Rafael Grossman’s criticism of Thomas Friedman of The New York Times (“Thinking Aloud,” Jewish Press, Nov. 21).

Even though Mr. Friedman and The New York Times continue to discredit themselves with what Rabbi Grossman accurately describes as dangerous foolishness, they continue to enjoy
widespread circulation and to affect public opinion – and that is what makes them dangerous. As long as they continue, someone must stand up to oppose them and expose them. I salute
Rabbi Grossman for taking the time and showing the courage to publicly refute these charlatans.

I must, however, respectfully differ with Rabbi Grossman’s opinion that Mr. Friedman is sometimes brilliant and incisive. It could be that Mr. Friedman displays certain academic skills
that allow him to write with a surface impressiveness, but his mistaken, warped and dangerous ideas cancel any benefit from those skills and reveals the fool lurking behind them.

We should all be appreciative that The Jewish Press offers a credible and formidable forum to deliver the antidote for their poison. Thanks also to The Jewish Press for publishing my letter
(July 11) in which I categorically renounced and rejected Mr. Friedman and The New York Times for the same reason Rabbi Grossman did last week.

Norman Shine
Brooklyn, NY

Appreciates Truth About Kennedy

As always, I immensely enjoyed Jason Maoz’s Media Monitor column last week. It was a bracing tonic to the Kennedy worship one was confronted with all over the media for at least five days running.

There were some exceptions to the near-total whitewashing of John F. Kennedy’s real record – some documentaries on the History Channel, for example – but by and large the media once
again acted as a public relations machine for the House of Kennedy.

Any assassination of an American president is a tragic event (the way the media focus on JFK every Nov. 22, it’s easy to forget that there have been other presidents murdered while in office, about whom we almost never hear), but it really is time for supposedly hard-boiled journalists to grow up and stop giving us a John Kennedy fit for a children’s storybook instead of the deeply flawed man he was.

Howard Meltzer
(Via E-Mail)

Not Out To ‘Get’ Seidler-Feller

I am surprised at David Eisner’s lack of knowledge of the sad events that took place at UCLA after Alan Dershowitz’s speech (“Is The Jewish Press Proud of Naomi Ragen?” Letters, Nov. 21).

What occurred had nothing to do with politics or one’s views on Israel. What took place was an assault by one of the Los Angeles community’s most visible rabbis. It is shocking, unforgivable, and in my view an act that merits his resignation or dismissal.

Just to set the record straight, let me give you a short biography of Rachel Neuwirth, the woman attacked by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller. Among other things, she was a commander
in the Israeli Air Force, a member of the Israeli national women’s basketball team, an El Al flight attendant, a guide for the Jewish Agency in Israel (which means she passed a test on
Israel’s history and biblical heritage), and an actress in Israel.

Today she is a respected member of the community who is a strong advocate for Israel and the quest for true peace.

There is no campaign to “get” Rabbi Seidler-Feller for his political views, but rather an effort to see him removed from his post for a long series of verbal abuses against his ideological
opponents, and now this physical violence directed against a woman.

Gary Ratner
Santa Monica, CA

‘Angry And Threatening’

Re David Eisner’s remarks in defense of Rabbi Seidler-Feller:

I was there. Although I was nowhere near the altercation, Rabbi Seidler-Feller came toward me in a rage after he was restrained following his kicking of Rachel Neuwirth. As he approached me, his bearing was angry and threatening, and students had to hold him back. He was ranting, blaming me for Rachel’s coming to the Dershowitz event because he had seen me
sitting next to her during the lecture.

Rabbi Seidler-Feller is aware that I have chosen at this time not to file charges of assault pending the outcome of the Neuwirth case.

The fact remains that Rabbi Seidler-Feller was completely out of line in his attack against a woman. This is not an incident of left versus right, but one of right versus wrong.

Allyson Rowen Taylor
Valley Glen, CA

Unjust Criticism Of Joel

I do not know Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, Rachel Neuwirth or Naomi Ragen. Neither do I know what happened between Neuwirth and Seidler-Feller at UCLA. If, however, Seidler-Feller did what was reported in the UCLA Bruin as Ragen wrote, he should be severely disciplined, if not fired.

I suspect that if he were still president of Hillel and the facts turned out as alleged, Richard Joel would indeed discipline Seidler-Feller if not terminate him.

But Richard Joel is no longer associated with Hillel. And what he said about Seidler-Feller last year while president of Hillel, even if true, certainly did not warrant the attention-grabbing
title on Ms. Ragen’s opinion piece, or warrant the slap she took at Yeshiva University for hiring Joel as its president.

I do know Richard Joel – first as a student-adviser many years ago working under Joel when he headed YU’s kiruv program for high school students (known as “Seminar”), and more recently as a friend and neighbor and in his capacity as a local Jewish community leader.

I have not necessarily agreed with everything Joel may have said or done in the past, and I personally am at odds with Hillel in terms of halacha and hashkafa. And I may not agree with Joel in the future as to every policy he may wish to implement at YU. But knowing Joel, I am confident that he was hired by the trustees of YU not solely for his fund-raising prowess, as Ragen writes, but also for his integrity, his overall leadership qualities and his unique ability to motivate and inspire others, especially young people.

As Ragen herself acknowledged, Joel is a “great guy” who, I would add, has the potential and ability to help YU accomplish great things in both Torah and secular matters.

Certainly if Ragen wishes to legitimately – yet respectfully – criticize Joel for substantive things he does or says as president of YU, that is one thing. But it is beyond the pale for Ragen to gratuitously link Joel and YU to a person and an incident at UCLA over which Joel no longer has authority or control.

Yitzchak Kasdan
Silver Spring, MD

Israel … Or Iraq?

I read with sadness the Nov. 21 Jewish Press article by Ruth Matar, of the Women in Green, on the abuses by the Shin Bet.

How can my people behave and act in such a manner toward their brethren who only seek peace and the perpetuation of the State of Israel?

To mistreat Jews like this is a disgrace and a chillul Hashem as well as a violation of halacha.

To incarcerate Jews without bringing charges or even informing them of their alleged crimes does not befit a country that calls itself a democracy.

How can we be a ‘light unto the nations’ if we behave no better than Iraq and other totalitarian countries?

Eugene Singer
New York, NY

Religious Politicians In The Public Square: The Lieberman Dilemma

Public, Private Personas

I come to praise William Brenner and to bury him (figuratively, of course). In a beautifully
crafted letter (Jewish Press, Nov. 21), Mr. Brenner takes “Brooklyn Joe” Lieberman to task for criticizing Senator Joseph Lieberman’s alleged failure to advance the moral agenda. He argues that the senator’s public and private personas are distinct, and should be allowed to remain so. With all due respect, I do not concur.

Several weeks ago, Dennis Prager graced the front and back pages of The Jewish Press with a brilliant piece making the case that America is now engaged in its second civil war, a bloodless skirmish between conservative and liberal ideologies. While this may be an overstatement, clearly the demarcation lines have been drawn.

The Republicans, once viewed as the party of “Big Business,” are now considered the protectors of family values, while the Democrats, long regarded as the “Party of the People,” seem to champion every cause that runs counter to this country’s Judeo-Christian foundation.

We are not living in a vacuum. Look at the Supreme Court. Surely our finest jurists must
place fealty to the Constitution above all else, but in reality those judges with a liberal bent
consistently rule according to their political ideology – as, in all fairness, do the conservative
arbiters. Similarly, many single-issue politicians in both camps are embraced by their constituencies for advancing their particular concerns. Simply put, despite the real and imagined pressures (and let’s be careful about speaking against the man), there is no reason for Senator Lieberman, who has earned and established his reputation as a man of principle and is known as an observant Jew, to make any concessions in his faith.

Sadly, Mr. Brenner seems to believe that Judaism should only be practiced at home or in the
synagogue. But it was King David who wrote, “Shevisi Hashem kinegdi tomid” – I set G-d before me at all times.

Baruch Hashem, the United States has provided a wonderful haven for the Jewish people.
We’ve been afforded the opportunity to grow, both spiritually and materially. A midrash tells us that before Hashem brought the Great Flood, He allowed for a period of “Heaven on Earth.” We must not delude ourselves that our present good fortune will continue if we continue provoking the Creator.

It is our obligation, as we view the moral decay around us, to speak out – both for our own
and for our country’s sake. If doing so for Senator Lieberman means committing political suicide, remember that Jews throughout the millennia have made far greater sacrifices to demonstrate their allegiance to the G-d of Israel.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Man-Made Morality Or Torah Law?

While visiting American servicemen, President George W. Bush noticed a sign that Jewish troops had prepared in his honor which stated, “For our Country, for our G-d”. The born-again Christian and leader of the free world remarked to the young men that the sign should
have G-d?s name before the name of our great republic.

To me, that little anecdote is but a small yet poignant illustration of the relationship we Jews
have, on a very large scale, with our Christian countrymen in this great democracy. Increasingly, the people who are promulgating immorality and paganism in the U.S. are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, while those who are reprimanding them lovingly, both privately and publicly, in many instances are not.

Man-made morality that is not rooted in the holy Torah or tied to the Seven Noahide Laws can lead to many evil outcomes. Nazi Germany is a perfect example of how the will of the masses, when allowed to supersede the validity of a moral and just constitution rooted in Judeo-Christian ethics, can bring about horrors the likes of which the world had never seen.

We Americans have been blessed that the founding fathers, inspired by our Founding Father,
wrote just such a contract – a contract that includes G-d. Our Declaration of Independence, the opening statement to the world and to the ages, clearly identifies us as a people who believe in a Creator who has guaranteed our freedoms, not an intrusive government.

Chanukah, my favorite holiday, is fast approaching, and I would like to remind my fellow
Jewish Press readers that the central victory of that ancient war was not a physical or military
conquest. Rather it was – and is – the celebration of light overpowering darkness.

Homosexuality and abortion certainly are the epitome of darkness. It is not the goal of citizens
like myself to outlaw either one. Only our Redeemer can accomplish that. However, for the
Jewish senator from Connecticut to have advocated that my hard-earned tax dollars be used to legitimize acts labeled an ‘abomination’ by our Torah – Lieberman has stated publicly that if he’s elected president he will sign legislation allowing federal employees’ benefits to cover their gay ‘spouses’ – is tantamount to heresy.

Today it is abortion, and tomorrow the courts may find that the “quality” of life – as defined by
fallible human beings in black robes – should be the deciding factor when a family considers pulling the plug on an ailing loved one.

Morality and values are not relative. They are directly tied to our holy and eternal Torah. The
Christians, Jews and Muslims of this country who have faith in the One Creator will continue to fight for what they not only believe, but also for what they know to be the truth set forth by G-d through his servant Moses.

Joseph Lieberman
Brooklyn, NY

Shorefront JCC Needs To Help Us, Too

The Shorefront Jewish Community Council is indeed doing a commendable job regarding the
neighborhood’s indigents (“Hungry Receive Food from Shorefront JCC and Councilman Recchia,” Jewish Press, Nov. 14).

It is very important to see to it that the truly needy receive their entitlements. In fact, according
to a speaker at the last council meeting, other neighborhoods are sending people to the Shorefront Jewish Community Council to receive help in obtaining their entitlements.

That is all nice and good, but I have a question. What is the Shorefront Jewish Community Council doing for the Jews of the community? Many of our synagogues are on the verge of closing, if they have not already done so. Our mikvah is in financial hot water. At one time
there were 29 shomer Shabbos stores on Brighton Beach Avenue. Now there is one.

You want to buy chalav Yisrael milk? You have to go to a Palestinian grocery. You want
certified kosher ready-made salads? You have to go to the same Palestinian. Rubashkin chicken? Again, you have to patronize the Palestinian.

What is the Shorefront Jewish Community Council doing about getting affordable housing for
the Jews of the community? Or about getting young, Orthodox people into the neighborhood?
(The few remaining young people in our synagogues will have to leave the neighborhood
when they get married if nothing is done about the housing crisis now.)

First our community leadership thought that senior housing was the answer to the neighborhood’s problems. When that proved wrong, the next song was that “the Russians are coming to save the neighborhood.” Well, I?m sorry to say this, but a once-vibrant Jewish community is no more.

Our synagogue is, baruch Hashem, holding its own. We struggle with a daily shachris minyan but have had to discontinue the daily Mincha-Maariv minyan for the winter. Our Shabbos minyan is thriving, but we know we will not be successful in keeping our doors open unless we have young, Orthodox families moving into the neighborhood.

Perhaps it is time to ask the “haves” of the Russian community to take a more active part in
assisting the “have-nots” of their community. (Don’t we in the Orthodox community do the same thing? It’s called tzedakah. We donate money to organizations that in turn distribute food, clothing, and money to those in need.) Then the Shorefront Jewish Community Council will be able to direct its limited assets toward solving the problems of the entire Jewish community.

The Shorefront Jewish Community Council must bring the neighborhood?s landlords into the
picture so that together we can try to overcome our housing crisis. We need affordable homes, not the deluxe co-ops that are going up in the neighborhood and which only the affluent can afford.

The Shorefront Jewish Community Council must take the reins in uniting all our neighborhood
Jewish organizations for the purpose of discussing and solving our problems.

It is time for the Shorefront Jewish Community Council to take an active and leading role in helping to solve the problems of the Shorefront Orthodox Jewish community.

Alan Solomon
Young Israel of Brighton Beach

Letters to the Editor

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