March 23, 2007

Published March 23, 2007, issue of March 23, 2007.
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If There are No Better Options, Then Back Bush

What makes Iran a major threat to Israel is the deadly intentions of its rulers (“Candor Among Friends,” March 16). So far, this has taken the form of steady funneling of Iranian arms and funds to Hezbollah forces in Lebanon and Hamas terrorists in Gaza.

The ominous threat of Iran’s future nuclear capability grows out of that reality. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was similarly a threat to Israel because of its deadly intentions, acted upon in the form of Scud missiles fired at Israel in the first Gulf War and in the bankrolling of bloody Gazan terrorist attacks against Israel’s civilian population — which one must assume would have continued to take place, and have grown more ominous, had Saddam not been stopped.

That remains true regardless of whether new or greater threats have surfaced since then, and regardless of whether you like to hear that the risks and losses incurred by the United States in Iraq have, at least in some temporary way, relieved part of our survival anxiety.

America’s military presence in Iraq makes it harder for the United States to deal with the Iranian threat, as the Forward argues, only in the political sense: Logistically speaking, America’s presence in Iraq makes it easier to plan for further contingencies in the area.

But politically, it is true that a president who is hobbled by negative public and congressional opinion will find himself second-guessing the tactical pros and cons. As an American Jewish historian, I find it more than ironic that our problem was the same 65 years ago: namely, an American president with perhaps very good intentions was hobbled by a resistant American public and Congress. The Jewish public, that time around, was wise enough to know that a hobbled president of the free world’s only great power was not “good for the Jews.”

I have always taught my students that the charge that American Jews reacted to the Holocaust “only” as Americans, and not as Jews, is simply not true. Still, though the Jews backed President Roosevelt to the hilt, they did not reap the benefits of his stated intentions. That was their tragedy and the European Jews’ catastrophe.

Were Jews back then wrong to back the president? Only if there was a better alternative — and there wasn’t.

What about now? I wonder if it is a wise Jewish public that takes such a vocal and active part in politically hobbling the great strategic asset that the White House represents.

Eli Lederhendler
Professor of American Jewish History and Institutions
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel

Day Schools Successful In Attracting Donations

That Jews continue to give charitably at rates far exceeding their proportion in the American population is not surprising (“Rapid Rise of Mega-donor Reshapes Communal World,” March 2). The potential that these mega-donors and mega-foundations have to transform the Jewish community, as a related article asserts, resonates deeply with those dedicated to Jewish day school education (“New Foundations Set To Dwarf Big Givers,” March 2).

All five of the Jewish mega-foundations described in the Forward are generous supporters of day school education. Along with Israel trips, adult learning and summer camping, Jewish day schools provide compelling ways for individuals, families and communities to promote and enhance Jewish identity.

In response to the challenge offered by Marc Charendoff, president of the Jewish Funders Network, to “put visions before these people that capture their imaginations,” I point to the success that day schools have had in attracting major donors. As school leaders articulate a compelling vision of Jewish literacy and community for the future, they are able to engage a growing number of new and significant donors.

Rabbi Joshua Elkin
Executive Director
Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education
Boston, Mass.

Protect the Mother

In a March 16 opinion column, David Klinghoffer presents an interesting but flawed analysis of Jewish biblical and rabbinical views on abortion (“When the Divine Image in Man Is Defaced”).

For example, the interpretation that harming a fetus is a capital offense, based on Rabbi Yishmael’s use of the phrase “ba’adam,’ is overstated: Exodus 21:22-23 clearly states that the accidental injuring of a pregnant woman to cause a miscarriage requires monetary restitution — that is, there is no involuntary manslaughter, since the fetus has not attained the legal status of personhood.

This status comes at birth, when Jewish tradition holds that a newborn is imbued with a soul, not after 40 days of gestation, as stated by Klinghoffer. Moreover, the investment of soul could not be dependent simply on fetal sexual differentiation, as posited by Klinghoffer, because infants born with congenital gonadal ambiguities would be considered rabbinically void of a soul, which is not the case.

In the absence of any clear reference to elective abortion in the Torah, the rabbis balanced abhorrence for the casual discarding of potential life against the well-being of the mother. The interpretation that abortion should be proscribed because it is legally ancillary to murder — as discussed by such sages as Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein — is valid to establish a Jewish moral position regarding abortion, but Klinghoffer should know that an indirect interpretation of an indirect talmudic reference cannot establish biblical legal precedent. If the Torah wanted to address the issue of elective abortion, it had plenty of opportunity to do so. Ultimately, a traditional Jewish validation for abortion is to protect the mother, and many respected modern authorities — including Rabbi Ben-Zion Uziel, former chief rabbi of Israel — have interpreted this to mean even the causing of undue suffering and pain. Indeed, in cases such as ectopic pregnancies — in which the fetus directly threatens the mother’s life and is considered by many rabbinic authorities as a “rodef,” or “pursuer” — there is an obligation to abort.

Irwin Gelman
Buffalo, N.Y.

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