Compromise on the Charedi Draft Exemption
In response to Rabbi Yehuda L. Oppenheimer’s article, “Not the Time for a Basic Law Enshrining Torah Learning” (August 4, 2023), this is indeed the most inopportune time for such legislation. For purposes of discussion, may I suggest a compromise: In exchange for a long-term deferment from the draft, Torah students would be required to take basic military training and be placed in a reserve unit subject to call-up for non-combat assignments in the event of war, chas v’shalom.
Such an arrangement would assure charedi men they would not be taken away from their yeshiva studies for two years, while hopefully mollifying the resentment of secular society toward charedim for not serving the nation, as well as freeing up other service members in non-combat roles for combat duty if necessary. It would be analogous to the policy derived from parshas Shoftim of having men excused from combat to serve behind the lines, supplying the army with food and water.
Regarding the broader issue of leftist fears of Israel’s becoming a halachic state, this might be the right time to revisit the 20-year-old Gavison-Medan Covenant as a potential basis for defusing the secular-religious conflict. Why not try?
I was overcome by nostalgia while reading Rabbi Aaron Reichel’s memoir about the Hunter, New York, Jewish community (“Hunter Expulsion of 2023 In Context,” July 27).
In the early seventies, our family spent two full summers and part of a third summer in Hunter, and my wife and I have returned periodically (including immediately after our wedding in 1987). Most recently, while in the greater Hunter area in 2021, I had the honor of spending precious minutes with HaRav Hershel Schachter, who vacations annually in Tannersville.
My father, Arthur, ob’m, specifically chose Hunter for our summer vacations rather than the more popular lower Catskills because Hunter offered a less-crowded option. The region’s magnificently clean air and soaring mountains proved quite the contrast with New York City’s pollution. During our summers there, we got to meet Aaron (who likely does not remember me), his brother Hillel, and his wonderful parents, O. Asher and Josephine. In fact, it was Rabbi Reichel senior who drove me and my friend Yaakov (then Jakey) Michael to Manhattan on our way to my first day in Mirrer Yeshiva in 1971. (Today Yaakov is a highly regarded maker of tefillin battim in Brooklyn, and his son is our neighbor.) We enjoyed spending time in the Reichel home, which we visited in 2019 in its incarnation as the Fairlawn Inn, a wonderful bed-and-breakfast facility.
While today Tannersville is far more popular than Hunter (the two are only three miles apart, which was an easy bicycle ride for us), the Hunter of the early seventies featured a full shul almost every day. I recall meeting the sainted Bluzhover Rebbe, zt”l, who stayed at the Margareten Estates across from the shul, and Rav Dovid Singer, zt”l, of Boro Park’s Sephardishe Shul, who also vacationed there. Along with the families mentioned by Aaron, there were the two Perlow families from Boro Park, the Pessin family, the Kuntslingers, the Lehmanns (Osher Lehmann was descended from the famed author Marcus Lehmann), the Guggenheimers, and many other chashuve mishpachos. In 1971, my brother and I “hung out” with Osher Kalmanowitz, today the esteemed rosh yeshiva in Mir Brooklyn.
We had so many options for activities. Morning learning followed davening, and there was an available short shiur in the afternoon as well. Baseball, swimming in Dolan’s Lake (for the record, mostly mixed swimming!), even a testy relationship with some of the local teens – all these etched Hunter in my memory. And what could be better than climbing majestic Hunter Mountain, which we kids did without adult supervision.
One more recollection: Aaron was not in Hunter in the summer of 1970, but he was there in 1971. He had a stack of index cards, upon which (in those pre-personal computer days) he was recording factoids about his grandfather, Rabbi Herbert Goldstein, one of the builders of American Orthodoxy, for an envisioned biography. I suspect that Aaron was wise to reject my persistent offer to edit the book, since I was all of thirteen at the time. The Maverick Rabbi was published in 1982, and remains a must-read for those who desire a fuller picture of American Orthodoxy in the mid-twentieth century. (I did eventually spend almost 25 years in Jewish publishing.)
Thank you, Aaron Reichel, for this wonderful trip down memory lane.
Far Rockaway, N.Y.
McCain Was a Role Model
The late Republican Arizona senator and presidential candidate John McCain, born this week (August 29) in 1936, was always a breath of fresh air. What you see is what you got with the “Straight Talk Express.” He could work across the aisle with Democratic Senate colleagues, including Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and others, on a regular bipartisan basis. This also included Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy on comprehensive immigration reform and Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold on campaign finance reform. His history in the Senate harkens back to an age of collegiality no longer seen today. McCain, like New York’s late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, was an intellectual giant standing head and shoulders above today’s newer generation of senators.
Will we ever move beyond rigid ideological commitments and come together on behalf of all Americans? McCain was a role model others should be emulating. With his death (on August 26, 2018), Diogenes is still searching for an honest politician.
Great Neck, N.Y.
In his letter of August 18, Mr. Chaim Abramovich states, “Incidentally, Jews who berate and curse (President) Trump all the time should never call themselves supporters of Israel.” I find this statement particularly irksome. It makes me realize that there are two equally objectionable groups of Jews.
The first group, represented by those who agree with Mr. Abramovich, feels that any Jews who don’t totally agree with everything that President Trump says are not supporters of Eretz Yisrael or the Jewish people in general. The second group feels that we can’t support Eretz Yisrael because of its “apartheid-like” laws and policies regarding the Palestinians. Both groups have strong opinions and are very quick to condemn those who disagree with them. Neither group has any factual arguments to back up their opinions. The most egregious parts of the alleged arguments, used by both groups, is their attempt to interpret the Torah to conform to their opinions and to conflate two mutually exclusive topics. Those topics are secular politics and Torah-true Judaism.
In Pirkei Avot we are taught to pray for the well being of the government. This does not mean that we should berate, belittle, and/or insult those who disagree with us. Secular politics has no place in Torah-true Judaism.
The Chicken Little Dilemma
I fully agree with Dennis Prager’s column last week that the massive heads-up warnings for the projected hurricane and flooding in Southern California last week were way overdone, and that’s why I am moving to Maui, where the governing officials are more considerate and do not belabor their residents with warnings of gloom and doom.
Los Angeles. Calif.
Two corrections to an otherwise excellent story about the Williamsburg fire (Aug 25): The fire chief’s name is John Hodgens, not Hodges (his father by the same name was Chief of Fire Prevention when I worked there), and the agency is known as Fire Department of New York (FDNY), not New York Fire Department.