November 16, 2007

Recognize Importance Of the Temple Mount

I was pleased to read Tzvi Hersh Weinreb and Stephen Savitsky’s vigorous defense of the future of a continued, unified Jerusalem (“We Cannot Forget Jerusalem,” November 9).

I was utterly dismayed, however, by their description of the Western Wall as Judaism’s holiest site. We have come to expect such words from the BBC and CNN, from Catholics and Anglicans, and from mortal enemies, but to hear it from the leadership of the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America gives one pause, and indeed a sense of despair and devastation.

We who have prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem, who have kept Jerusalem as the chief of our joys, who continue to proclaim “If I forget thee, oh, Jerusalem” on our happiest occasions, cannot so dismissively relegate the Temple Mount to insignificance, or even just second place in our hearts.

That the conquerors and destroyers of Jerusalem and the Jewish people over the centuries granted the surviving remnants of our people the pittance of access to the remotest corner of a retaining wall built by an Idumaean interloper gives the location no more holiness than the 7th step of the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which was until 1967 the limit of our access there. That Moshe Dayan, with the acquiescence of the chief rabbinate, ceded control of the Mount to the Waqf reflects not on the holiness of the site but on the character of Dayan and the rabbinate.

The primacy of the Temple Mount as Judaism’s holiest site must, especially now, be proclaimed to the nations ceaselessly, proudly and, if need be, defiantly.

Ban Is Indiscriminate

The American Jewish Congress’s differences with the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination over their support for wholesale efforts to ban all religious discrimination by government grantees stems from a serious divergence over policy, not nuance (“Push To Investigate Bush’s Faith-Based Office Puts Jewish Groups in Quandary,” November 9).

In the context of a coalition in which some members are opposed to any form of religious discrimination by religious groups (except perhaps in the hiring of clergy), let alone religious discrimination in government-funded programs, a request to them to abandon their position would have been futile. In the interest of maintaining unity, AJCongress asked only for less than blanket opposition to any discrimination by government grantees. As the Forward notes, this modest request was rejected out of hand.

For the Jewish community, the issue is of great importance. Government funding is essential to the Jewish social services network, beginning with nursing homes, continuing through programs for the elderly and Jewish poor, but including day care.

If the rule is that accepting government dollars means that these agencies must be entirely secular in character — the underlying principle motivating the Coalition Against Religious Discrimination — we will end up with a situation in which we will not be able to insist that even the heads of Jewish agencies, and even executive directors of synagogues, must be Jewish. In fact, lawsuits are now pending against Jewish and other religious agencies seeking to implement this principle.

Accepting government funds legitimately carries with it restrictions, including those barring discrimination. The Coalition Against Religious Discrimination would use this principle as an ax against grantees.

Jewish agencies cannot afford that indiscriminate approach. We urgently need a more carefully crafted position.

In Praise of Prenuptials

Prenuptial agreements, as used by many Orthodox rabbis today, do not annul the marriage should the husband refuse to give a get, as a November 9 article suggests “Rabbi Faces Protest Over ‘Chained Women.’” What they do do is effectively empower a beth din, or religious court, to enforce their decision with regard to a get, and create a financial incentive for a husband to give a get within a relatively short period of time.

As a rabbi who has been using the prenuptial agreement of the Beth Din of America for many years when officiating at weddings, I can state that they indeed have accomplished a great deal in agunah prevention, and I urge all about-to-be-married couples to sign one as a matter of course.

Ethiopia Isn’t Darfur

The situation in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia is a far cry from what has been happening in Darfur (“Calling Our Ethiopian Ally to Account for Abuses,” November 2).

The Ogaden region has been a training ground for militia groups from all over the world, primarily radical Islamic groups. They have proudly acknowledged their participation in massacres throughout Southern Ethiopia of many Ethiopian Christians. These militia groups claim to be part a persecuted minority group, but a country as diverse as Ethiopia, with more than 80 different ethnic groups, has far bigger tasks to tackle than committing genocide against this group.

Daniel Hemel notes in his opinion article the persecution that the Jews of Ethiopia faced under the military regime of the 1970s and 1980s. While no Ethiopian denies what happened to Jewish Ethiopians, Hemel and Forward readers would do well to remember that people from many different groups were being murdered and jailed for their religious or ethnic background during those times. Jewish Ethiopians were not singled out by any means.

In Tigrai, the region in Ethiopia most hard hit during the 17-year civil war that ended in 1991, bombs were dropped over civilian areas on a regular basis as a means to eliminate the Tigrai people. Tigrai is the most ancient and historic part of Ethiopia, and was once home to the Queen of Sheba. Where, I would like to know, was the outcry for the people of Tigrai who died just a few years ago?

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

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November 16, 2007

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