The racially focused critiques of Chabad-Lubavitch reggae star Matisyahu lack merit (“Trials of a Hasidic Rapper,” March 24). Matisyahu and his band are attacked for being white. To paraphrase the late Miles Davis, it doesn’t matter if this cat is black, white or polka dot with green breath, as long as he can play.
Matisyahu is called a cheap substitute for the real deal. Matisyahu knows he is no Bob Marley, the same way Mick Jagger is well aware he’s no Muddy Waters. Would the New York Times music critic who dismissed Matisyahu disparage the Rolling Stones by reminding us that The Neville Brothers, Al Green or Solomon Burke are still in business?
As to Matisyahu’s business affairs, I quote the late Hunter Thompson: “The music business is a cruel and shallow trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs for no good reason. Then, there’s the negative side.”
That being said, let’s just let Matisyahu sing.
I hope that Caspar Weinberger’s still-secret testimony against my son, Jonathan Pollard — in which the secretary of defense insisted on a maximum sentence for Jonathan — can now be unsealed (“Caspar Weinberger Dies,” March 31). Weinberger is now beyond any charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, of the sort he faced in regard in the Iran-Contra affair.
In a taped interview in August 2002, he was asked, “Why did you omit the Pollard case from your memoirs.” His response was, “Because the case was not important” — which can be interpreted as his changing his position on my son from fact to allegation.
I hope that the Jewish community now understands why Appeals Court Judge Stephen Williams declared that “the Pollard case is a fundamental miscarriage of justice.”
Notre Dame, Ind.
I appreciate the April 7 article about Jonathan Safran Foer’s eloquent plea for Jews to consider a compassionate diet (“Novelist Sharpens His Knife for Those Who Eat Animals”). My late grandfather, a kosher butcher who loved animals and rescued many, would be horrified to witness the unbelievable brutality uncovered at AgriProcessors. He would argue, I am sure, that the horrifyingly tortuous practices at AgriProcessors are not only unnecessarily cruel, but they also cannot remotely be considered kosher.
My grandfather rescued many dogs, cats and birds. He always assured me that our laws of kashrut prevent unnecessary suffering of the animals. He really believed that, as the Torah suggests, animals should be free to roam the fields and spread their wings on the Sabbath day — something we now know never happens in factory farms — and that animals were killed with the swiftest stoke from the sharpest blade and not caused undue distress.
In his last year of life, after learning about the abuses involving veal calves, he stopped eating meat. He was a true tzaddik.
I’m glad his kind, compassionate soul was spared the painfully tortuous images I witnessed in the undercover AgriProcessors videos. If he were alive today, I am sure he would strongly urge us to spread the word that the wrist slap AgriProcessors received was neither adequate nor acceptable.
John Hagee, the televangelist who is spearheading the creation of the Christian pro-Israel lobbying organization Christians United for Israel, believes that “all other nations were created by an act of men, but God Himself established the boundaries of the nation of Israel. God gave to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a covenant of land that was eternally binding” (“Christian Pro-Israel Lobby Gets a Boost,” April 7).
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is alarmed by this. He asks, “What does supporting Israel in matters related to biblical issues mean in today’s world?”
What a strange new world we live in when evangelical Christians are mobilizing to defend the biblical heartland of the Jewish State of Israel and mainstream Jewish groups are alarmed about this. Presumably they fear it might interfere with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan for further evacuations of thousands of Jews from their homes in the West Bank. When the entire Jewish world population should be crying out against Olmert’s plan to move Jews out of the Land of Israel and to give away control over parts of the Jews’ holiest of cities, Jerusalem, just the opposite is happening.
Foxman — as well as the other community leaders in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations who share his concerns — should understand that Bible-believing Christians are ready to be selective in their support of the Israeli government. Isn’t it time Jews began to do the same?
Ambassador at Large
Americans for a Safe Israel
New York, N.Y.
The Forward came to report on the “Yiddish/Jewish Cultures” graduate student conference held recently at New York University, and left with only one observation: The participants spoke English rather than Yiddish (“In Academia, Yiddish Is Seen, but Not Heard,” March 24).
To all appearances it created for the Forward a linguistic barrier, otherwise at least one of the hundreds of lines in the article would have been devoted to issues discussed in the papers proper. At the end of the day, quality of papers is the yardstick most applicable to an academic conference.
Given the international and interdisciplinary character of the forum, its language was, indeed, predominantly English, though some of the participants’ Yiddish was more fluent. The Forward, though, somehow missed it.
Also ignored in the article was the ceremony at the end of the conference, held to honor the best young Yiddish journalists and the new Yiddish newspaper Vayter. I conducted it davke in Yiddish, but perhaps the Forward could not follow my litvakish idiom.
Associate Professor of Yiddish Studies
New York University
New York, N.Y.
For a young adult Jew, beginning to learn how to study traditional texts and how to pray in the traditional manner is humbling and daunting, not because it’s hard — after all, law school is also hard — but because many well-educated Jewish college students are used to seeing themselves as members of an elite (“Building Identity, One Roof at a Time,” March 24). In the world of traditional Judaism, most of these students would be in remedial classes and just beginning to tune in to the devotional experiences of traditional prayer.
If this is the case — and, being the survivor of an Ivy League education, I know whereof I speak — isn’t a focus on social justice as “accessible” just a way for students to stay within their elite comfort zone? We secular Jews need help and support to survive the humiliation of being brought face to face with the inadequacies of our Jewish education and upbringing; we don’t need easy ways to avoid this reality.
The March 10 point-counterpoint opinion articles on confronting discontinuity on campus rightfully pit philosophy against religion (“Teach Model Citizenship by Example”; “Expand Access to Spiritual Tradition”). On such a scale, Judaism is bound to lose.
Both Judaism and leadership must be granted freely to our young people if tzedakah or tzedek are ever to be seen as genuine Jewish virtues. Our young never will become leaders — and especially Jewish leaders — if the agenda is not their own, or if they are yoked into position to serve their more experienced leaders.
Either we respect our students enough to let them grow into our future, or we will, always and only, remember them as our past. And with little appreciation for a Jewish heritage that they have been denied, as well.
At this rate, assimilation, like technology, will spread further and deeper than anyone expected, and crowd out those Jews who, at least in the past, once acknowledged their heritage, even though they may have denied its religious echoes. Much will be lost if this occurs.