December 28, 2007

Hold Moroccan King to Reasonable Standard

A December 14 article reports that the Moroccan weekly Tel Quel has suggested the late King Mohammed V not be designated one of Yad Vashem’s Righteous Among the Nations because of doubts about his willingness to protect Jews who were not Moroccan (“An Arab King Righteous Among the Nations?”). But this is a standard not applied to the most famous of the Righteous Among the Nations, the Danes.

In fact, the Danish government clearly distinguished between those Jews with Danish citizenship, to whom it afforded unconditional protection, and non-citizens, some of whom it deported to Germany. The Danish government also saw to the welfare of the several hundred unfortunates who had not been ferried across to Sweden but interned in Terezin. It did not, however, attempt to ease the lot of their non-Danish fellow prisoners.

One can hardly fault the Danes for limiting their activities to those that they considered feasible. But then the late Moroccan king should not be held to a higher standard.

‘Minyan Man’ Rebuttal

Bintel Brief guest columnists Rabbi Yitz and Rebbetzin Blu Greenberg offer “Minyan Man” good advice that, as someone who underwent a Conservative conversion process, he should respect the right of every minyan or community “to define its own standards for membership and practice” — including those of Orthodox congregations that do not accept non-Orthodox conversions as halachically valid (“Yitz and Blu Greenberg Peer Across the Denominational Divide,” December 14).

But the Greenbergs’ contentions that those Orthodox standards represent mere denominational politics, that they reflect politics of delegitimation and that those who hold to them are sectarians and splitters are as inaccurate as they are unkind.

The arbiters of Halacha in the Orthodox Jewish community are its respected scholars of rabbinic law. No one with any familiarity with, say, the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein could ever tar him with the slur of having played denominational politics, much less committed any sin against Jewish values.

Feinstein was, by all accounts —Orthodox and otherwise — someone whose sole concern in formulating responsa was the letter and spirit of the Jewish religious tradition. And he, like others, considered courts and witnesses self-affiliating with the Conservative or Reform movements to be, because of those movements’ theologies, halachically invalid — and thus, likewise, conversions they attempt to carry out. There was no animus whatsoever involved in that judgment, and Feinstein famously would seek every halachically acceptable leniency in issues that affected personal status.

To say that Feinstein and the other great rabbinic authorities who rejected Conservative and Reform conversions were motivated by anything other than their objective understanding of Halacha — let alone any political considerations — is hardly in keeping with the spirit of good will that the Greenbergs so forcefully and laudably advocate.

Denouncing Torture

As the Forward reports, most of the mainstream organized Jewish institutions have shamefully failed to forcefully oppose the use of torture by the American government (“As Torture Debate Heats Up, Jewish Groups Stay Mum,” December 21).

But Jewish organizations that are more in touch with the real opinions of most flesh-and-blood American Jews have spoken out. Four weeks after the revelation of the use of torture at Abu Ghraib, The Shalom Center helped organize the first interfaith denunciation of torture by the United States — and we insisted that it be described as not only a crime but as a sin, not only as an aberrant incident but as a systemic policy. We have continued to organize our members and readers to write to their representatives in Congress to demand new laws that would renew and strengthen all laws forbidding the use of torture.

Most recently, we joined in an amicus brief in the case of Yousuf v. Samantar, arguing that survivors of torture by other governments can, in the United States, sue officials of those governments as provided in American law.

Our amicus statement affirmed that all Jewish thought on these questions is rooted in memories of the liberation of ancient Israelites from slavery to Pharaoh, and reinforced by the experience of oppression under the Babylonian Empire, Rome, the Inquisition, the Russian Tsars, the Nazi regime and the Soviet system. In most or all of these historical situations, oppression included the use of torture.

Since our experience over the millennia teaches us that high officials are often responsible for the use of torture — not merely the particular functionary or employee who physically wields the rack, the waterboard, the burning cigarette or the electrodes — we must apply the process of law and justice to such officials.

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December 28, 2007

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