February 5, 2009

Hateful Book Violates Jewish Values

It is shocking that a book suggesting the biblical imperative of “Thou Shalt Not Murder” only applies to “a Jew who kills a Jew” is widely available in religious bookstores in Israel and has been enthusiastically endorsed by several prominent rabbis (“Rabbinic Text or Call to Terror?” January 29).

The teachings of Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira in “The King’s Torah” represent the warped ideology of a small minority of radicalized settlers who pervert the tenets of Judaism to justify acts of violence and hatred. Those teachings have found their ultimate expression in the alleged acts of students of his West Bank yeshiva, including the arson and vandalism of a nearby Palestinian mosque.

The Judaism Shapira presents in his book is contrary to the teachings, values and morals that are fundamental to the Jewish faith.

As a people of conscience, we cannot stand idly by while extremists carry out attacks in the name of Judaism. These are nothing more than acts of terrorism that serve to undermine the rule of law and Israel’s democracy. They must be forcefully condemned by all responsible Jewish community leaders.

Aging Hippies, Maybe, But Not ‘Rave’-Goers

As a board member of Chochmat HaLev who was quoted in your otherwise excellent January 29 article “How a ‘Jewish Rave’ Grew Up To Be a Synagogue,” I must take issue with our congregation being compared to a rave.

I am a journalist myself, so I couldn’t help but notice that “Jewish Rave” is in quotes in the headline as if it were a direct quote from someone in the article. But the only person who described it as such was the article’s author, who wrote that Chochmat HaLev “became what can best be described as a Jewish rave by the turn of the century.”

Dancing in the aisles, standing when moved by song and even twirling are all part of the scenery at our joyous place of worship. But there has never been earsplitting techno music, and the only people who are in ecstasy are so from song and prayer, not because they took an illegal drug. If the number of aging hippies had been mentioned, or if our services were compared to a Grateful Dead show, I wouldn’t be the least bit offended. But the “rave” characterization is just plain wrong.

Meeting the Demand For Hebrew Learning

Your January 29 editorial “Taking Hebrew Seriously” notes that there are “Jews in their 20s who return from Birthright Israel all aglow, eager to learn Hebrew, only to find that once they leave a university environment, there are few options they can access or afford.”

I am pleased to report that Birthright Israel NEXT is working to meet this need. Birthright NEXT is launching ulpan initiatives in 10 major American cities as part of a national access-to-Hebrew program, called Hebrew Now. Birthright NEXT has also developed new educational Hebrew-learning software that can be accessed via text messaging and iPhones.

By partnering with local Hebrew instructors and with educational software developers, Birthright NEXT is enabling Hebrew learning to reach the post-college crowd in record numbers.

Alarmed by Benedict

If I was concerned before reading John L. Allen Jr.’s January 29 opinion article “Making Sense of Benedict’s Jewish Policy,” I am now alarmed.

Allen states that the pope’s “Jewish policy” may “not be everything some Jews would desire, but at this moment in Catholic history, it may well be as good as it gets.” In brief, the pope rehabilitated a Holocaust-denying bishop; moved Pope Pius XII — the wartime pope whose public record in the face of the Nazi genocide was mostly silence — a step closer to sainthood; and reintroduced a Good Friday prayer that calls for the conversion of Jews.

Granted, this German pope visits synagogues and Nazi death camps, and couples these important gestures with professions of abiding and meaningful “esteem and affection” for Judaism. But it is important to remember the Catholic Church’s centuries-old religion-based, persecutory antisemitism. Given this dreadful history — and in light of Benedict’s papal predecessors’ ecumenical efforts to confront and reverse some of the church’s doctrinal basis for religious antisemitism — the inconsistencies in Benedict’s “policy” reignite the flames of mistrust and fear in the hearts of many Jews.

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February 5, 2009

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