True Depravity

Last week’s bombings of Israeli armored personnel carriers in Gaza are to be expected during times of war. After the first attack, however, Palestinians paraded through the streets with body parts of the dead Israeli soldiers. Later, a video was broadcast throughout the Arab world displaying the decapitated head of one of the dead soldiers. This is not expected, even during times of war. What a coincidence that at the same time, terrorists in Iraq released a
horrific video of an innocent American being decapitated. Are not these acts at least as disgusting and deadly as the photos of naked men in prison wearing dog collars?

How should a parent react as the lifeless head of his/her child is broadcast by satellite to the world? How should the world react to the moral depravity exhibited by these terrorists of Islam?

Harry Grunstein
Hampstead, Canada

Israel’s Curious Democracy

In his column of April 30, Rabbi Rafael Grossman presents the opinion that American Jews should not challenge Prime Minister Sharon because such criticism is in opposition to principles of democracy. Phrases like “democratically elected officials of the government” and “the wishes of Israeli voters” recur throughout the piece. In Rabbi Grossman’s words, we should make aliyah and join the IDF if we want to change Israel’s official policy.

A better case can be made, based on the ideals of democracy, that we are in fact obligated to criticize. The voters in Israel after all did not cast direct votes for Sharon; they voted for the Likud party, whose platform opposes territorial concessions.

As Professor Paul Eidelberg has explained many times in The Jewish Press, the weakness of the Israeli system of parliamentary democracy gives the prime minister, because he is not directly answerable to the electorate, free reign to ignore its wishes and adopt the policy of the opposing party. The voters are rendered powerless by such a system.

Those of us who are against capitulation to terror should also press for reform of the Israeli system, which is not the true democracy implied by Rabbi Grossman. Readers wishing to gain
insight into the issue of democracy and modern Israel should visit the website of the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy (

Maury Lipson
Brooklyn, NY

Jews And Eugenics

The Jewish Press deserves an enormous amount of credit for publishing an article on eugenics (“Eugenics, Jews and History,” op-ed, May 14) that did not take the intellectually dishonest approach, so prevalent in academia and the media, of tarring an entire scientific discipline with the brush of Nazism. Dr. Glad masterfully laid out the historical facts and, while making no effort to airbrush the blemishes, presented a picture of eugenics and eugenicists that was both fair and enlightening.

Given the unthinking allegiance to political correctness and limp liberalism manifested on a weekly basis by other Jewish publications, I doubt we’ll ever see the day when your competitors carry this type of honest appraisal of an issue as controversial – and as
encrusted and overlaid with myth – as eugenics.

Gilbert Saperstein
(Via E-Mail)

Grim Situation

As usual, I found William Grim’s dispatch from Germany as educational as it was frightening (”The Strange Case of Horst Mahler,” front-page essay, May 14). In this article, as in his
previous pieces for the Jewish press, Mr. Grim reveals a side of present-day Germany that its apologists are trying their best to obscure.

It seems to me that, almost side by side with the German anti-Nazi legislation enacted in the decades since the end of World War II, there exists in Germany a nostalgia for the Nazi era, along with a very obvious defensiveness about what the fathers and grandfathers of today’s Germans did to the Jews.

That defensiveness can be attributed to a weariness with being seen as the descendants of uniquely evil people, and so perhaps it is understandable that there has been a steady diminution of whatever pro-Jewish and pro-Israel sentiment existed among Germans in the first decades after the Holocaust. After all, who relishes going through life bearing such an overwhelming burden of guilt?

As the years pass and the Holocaust recedes into the mists of history, the German people, I’m afraid, are not only shedding any feelings of remorse they may have had, but are actually
compensating for those now unwanted feelings by seeking to portray Israelis as the new Nazis and Palestinians as the new Jews.

Paul Heinreid
Brussels, Belgium

Instructive Difference

For students whose religious beliefs preclude them from taking the SAT’s on the regularly scheduled Saturday, an accommodation is provided in the form of Sunday testing. As an Orthodox Jew, I availed myself of this opportunity, and the test center to which I was assigned was the Jewish Educational Center, the well-known Orthodox day school in Elizabeth, New Jersey. An overwhelming majority of the test-takers were Orthodox Jews, but along with us
there were several Christians – and one Arab girl dressed in full Islamic attire.

Isn’t it amazing that an Arab girl can safely walk into a Jewish school, filled with religious Jews, and walk out completely unharmed, not even verbally assaulted? Could a Jew stroll into an
Islamic institution as comfortably, and be treated with the same amount of respect? We can’t even live safely in our homeland, in our own country; yet we provide protection and dignity for the rest of the world.

How praiseworthy Jews are that others can make bold religious statements, in Jewish institutions, without fear or trepidation. The Jewish people deserve recognition and accolades for their decency and tolerance, in a world in which these principles are rapidly disappearing.

Michael Friedman
Linden, NJ

Last Chance For Palestinian State

The recent turn of events in the Middle East does not bode well for those who hope for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Terror groups from the Euphrates to the
Mediterranean have mobilized the Arab street to join in the barbarism, either actively or, more often, passively.

Arab doves are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they are in hiding from those who would silence critics. But it is getting more and more difficult for us in the West to feel for the position of the
moderates among the Palestinian people. The only way to motivate them out of their current silence and lethargy is to make them realize that they, not the terrorists, are the ones who will foot the bill for the current deluge of savagery.

America and Israel must announce, jointly, that if the Palestinians continue on their current track, all hope for an independent Palestinian state west of the Jordan River will be gone
forever. There has been too much blood spilled already. It’s time for a nonviolent solution to this problem. Though this suggested course of policy could, if effective, lead to a Palestinian civil war, in the long run it would be the least violent outcome of all the options currently available. The end result would be a true partner in peace for Israel and true hope for the Palestinians.

As long as the dream of a Palestinian state is a guaranteed pot of gold at the end of the terrorism rainbow, there can be no real hope for peace. Paradoxically, a time limit – perhaps it could be called a blood limit – on Palestinian barbarism could hasten the formation of a Palestinian state. Israelis who care even a whit for the Palestinians must realize that the last chance for Palestinian liberty is at stake.

Alan Betsalel Friedlander
New York, NY

Converting Cards To Seforim

Reading the May 14 letter to the editor from Isaac Levy (“The Jewish Way?”), I was reminded of a childhood incident. I had a friend who saved up every last penny he had to buy baseball cards. By the time he turned 12, he’d amassed a collection of thousands of cards. I occasionally bought from him a few of his more expensive cards. When my friend turned bar mitzvah, he gave up all secular pursuits and left home for an out-of-town yeshiva. Before he left, I asked if I could buy off his whole collection of cards. He looked at me and said, “What cards?” He then explained that he had gotten hold of a blow torch and destroyed every last remaining card!

Hearing this unfortunate news, I could not help think of all the money he had just wasted. Similarly, if the yeshiva referred to in Mr. Levy’s letter wanted to send a message to its students regarding the worthlessness of baseball cards, it could have accomplished that goal in a much more useful manner. The yeshiva should have had the boys bring in all their cards, sell them to a card dealer, and use the proceeds from the sale for Torah books and the like.

Yossie Newfield
Brooklyn, NY

Isaac Levy, You’ve Been ‘Sterned’

Add Isaac Levy’s name to the growing list of malcontents who seek to blame the ills of contemporary Judaism on the yeshiva world. With a ridiculous and sickening display of hyperbole, Mr. Levy compares a yeshiva’s burning of its students’ sports card collections to the Nazi practice of incinerating thousands of our holy tomes.

Mr. Levy uses this incident as a pretext to launch a tirade against all yeshivas, accusing them of preaching hatred and intolerance for anything and anyone outside their sphere. In particular,
Mr. Levy argues that yeshiva students in the formative grades are brainwashed into believing that gentiles are essentially worthless. Mr. Levy, your comments are not only ill-advised, they are patently untrue. Most rabbis in the early grades relate stories of our Torah sages as a means of developing yiras shamayim (fear of Heaven) in their students. Pre-teenage boys tend to look for heroes, and the yeshivas are simply trying to impress upon their flocks that the
worship of sports stars should be left to the mainstream.

Are there rabbis who are so overzealous in preaching the virtues of Torah Jews that they minimize the virtues of non-Jews? Perhaps. But these rabbis are individuals. There is no concerted effort on the part of any yeshiva to defame the secular world.

There has been a wonderful marketing campaign aimed at curbing drug abuse. Its slogan reads “Parents: the anti-drug.” All parents must engage their children in meaningful conversation. In
short order, whatever misconceptions and biases exist will come to the fore and it is a rather simple matter in most cases to set one’s children straight.

Mr. Levy is correct in stating that Jewish tradition in no way belittles non-Jews. During my years at a secular college and dental school, I met a great many gentiles who were of the highest intellectual caliber. In addition, I maintain a “melting pot” dental practice and so have had the good fortune to meet and treat people of all backgrounds. From this perspective know that non-Jews can have exemplary middos.

I suspect that Mr. Levy had some negative experiences while in yeshiva and now he’s looking to vent. Listen it’s not a perfect world. The yeshivas face a very difficult task in trying to mold the next generation of Torah Jews. They need support for their work, not incendiary remarks which fan the flames of anti Semitism.

Dr. Yaakov Stern
Brooklyn, NY

Early-20th Century American Yeshivas

In his front-page essay “Rabbi Avigdor Miller: His Early Years” (Jewish Press, April 30), Dr.
Yitzchok Levine inaccurately stated that during the 1920’s, Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan was “the only yeshiva in America at that time with a beis medrash.”

The context of this statement is that Rabbi Avigdor Miller learned at Yeshivas Rabbeinu
Yitzchak Elchanan under Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik before moving on to study at the yeshiva in Slabodka, a transfer done at the request of Rabbi Isaac Sher, son-in-law of Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the famed Alter of Slabodka.

William B. Helmreich in his monumental work The World of the Yeshiva describes the history of the formation of the advanced  yeshiva movement in the United States, listing Yeshivas
Etz Chaim, founded in 1896, which then merged with Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan in
1915, as the earliest still established advanced yeshiva in the United States. Helmreich then lists the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, started as a rabbinical seminary in 1922, as the second advanced yeshiva established in the United States.

Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and the Hebrew Theological College were not the only
two existing yeshivas with batei medrashos in the United States; in 1923, Rabbi Yehuda Levenberg founded the Bais Medrash LeRabbonim in New Haven, Connecticut. However, due to factors related to the Great Depression and internal dissension within the yeshiva, Rabbi Levenberg relocated to Cleveland, Ohio in 1928. While the Bais Medrash LeRabbonim ultimately closed in 1938, members of the yeshiva, led by Rabbi Yaakov Ruderman, moved to Baltimore in 1933 where they established Yeshivas Ner Yisrael.

Other prominent students and faculty members of the Yeshiva of New Haven included Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (the 20th century’s foremost American halachic authority and rosh yeshiva of Manhattan’s Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem); Rabbi Dr. Samuel Belkin (rosh hayeshiva of RIETS and second president of Yeshiva University); Rabbi Baruch Kaplan (father of the Bais Yaakov movement in America); Rabbi Menachem Zvi Eichenstein (chief rabbi of St. Louis, Missouri); Rabbi Alexander Linchner (builder of Boys Town Jerusalem); Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg (rosh yeshiva of Torah Or, and spiritual leader of Yerushalayim’s Mattesdorf
community); and Mr. Charles Batt (the late prominent and distinguished lay leader in the New
England Jewish community).

Another yeshiva of the time was Torah Vodaath, founded in 1917 as an elementary school.
In 1926, Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz established a high school there, followed in 1929 by a beis medrash with Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz at its head. In fact, concerning the longstanding, and perhaps integral, relationship between Reb Mendlowitz’s Torah Vodaath and Rabbi Levenberg’s Yeshiva of New Haven, biographer Yonoson Rosenbaum wrote of a pioneer trip by Reb Mendlowitz to the Yeshiva of New Haven. “He wanted his students to experience a real Beis Medrash on the European model, so he took them on Lag Ba’Omer up to New
Haven, Connecticut where Rabbi Yehuda Heschel Levenberg, the rav of the city, had founded the first advanced yeshiva in America” (Reb Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, p. 80).

Notwithstanding the memorable beginning of the Beis Medrash LeRabbonim, very little has been written in English regarding Rabbi Yehuda Levenberg and his Yeshiva of New Haven. Rabbi Ari Zivitofsky’s recent article in the Jewish Observer (December 2003) was quite informative in describing an oft-forgotten chapter in American Orthodoxy.

As an undergraduate student at both Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Yeshiva College who is fascinated with Jewish history, I take pride in the history of the yeshiva that I attend, as one should. I appreciate the effort The Jewish Press has demonstrated in presenting
the history of American-born gedolim. Rabbi Avigdor Miller truly was, as Dr. Yitzchok Levine
stated, “one of the foremost proponents of Orthodoxy in the United States.”

Menachem Butler
Jamaica Estates, NY

Dr. Yitzchok Levine Responds: My statement about Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok
Elchanan was based on the following sentence from “Remembering Rabbi Avigdor Miller,” an article, written by Rabbi Shmuel Brog, one of Rav Miller’s sons-in-law, that appeared in the November 2001 issue of the Jewish Observer (see In this article Rabbi Brog wrote, “His love of learning led him to a second galus. At age 17, after graduating high school, he left Baltimore for Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan in New York, the only yeshiva in America at that time with a beis midrash.”

I thank Menachem Butler for pointing this error out to me and your readers. I also thank him
for providing us all with some interesting history about the yeshivas that were in existence in the first part of the 20th century.

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