March 27, 2009

Yeshiva Is Incubator For Orthodox Activism

Reading your March 6 news article “Social Activism, Modern Orthodox-Style,” I was struck by consultant Shifra Bronznick’s assessment of three major factors that have caused the increased interest in young Orthodox engagement in social justice: Darfur, the Agriprocessors scandal and the plethora of nondenominational Jewish social justice organizations. It seems that the first may touch upon our Jewish national collective history and conscience, the second a desire for increased internal moral accountability and the latter an increased drive for universal justice through an inclusive Jewish framework. All great reasons to engage!

There is another factor, however, that I think has been imperative to the fast growth of the Orthodox social justice movement: the founding of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. At this Modern Orthodox yeshiva and rabbinical school, social justice and community-organizing training have been rigorously incorporated into the curriculum and embraced by students and graduates. In fact, Uri L’Tzedek: The Orthodox Social Justice Movement was initially founded by students at YCT with funding from a YCT donor.

While it is true that many of the factors that helped draw Orthodoxy into the fight for justice in all corners of the world have been external callings, it must also be noted that for the last 10 years YCT has been training leaders in Jewish activism from within Orthodoxy.

Hearing Hate Where There Is None

My composition “St John Passion” and character are the subject of a ludicrous attack by your reviewer Benjamin Ivry (“MacMillan and Strife: A New ‘St. John Passion,’” March 6).

Ivry’s implication that the Gospel of John is antisemitic is offensive to Christians. Likewise, his assertion that the Reproaches (Improperia) used at the Good Friday liturgy are also anti-Jewish is laughable, considering that much of the text of the Reproaches is taken from the Hebrew Bible.

In 1965 the Catholic Church issued the document Nostra Aetate, which addressed the relationship of the church to our elder brothers in faith, the Jewish people. Nostra Aetate specifically said that the death of Jesus cannot be laid at the door of the Jewish people, and that Jews should never again be wrongly accused of deicide. The document also condemned all antisemitism. As a child of Vatican II, I was not at all influenced in my thinking by the old tensions between our faiths. No sane Catholic today, hearing these Reproaches — or my “St. John Passion,” for that matter — imagines that they contradict Nostra Aetate; neither would any sane secularist believe them to be an occasion for heightening antisemitism. The Reproaches are a liturgical tool to remind those Catholics, present at Good Friday services, of their own sinfulness.

I am a staunch friend of Israel and a participant in joint Jewish-Christian ecumenical dialogue in the United Kingdom. Ivry’s accusations are therefore both comically wrong and profoundly unjustified. Many of my works are inspired by Jewish cultural practice and theological reflection. My second string quartet “Why Is This Night Different” is inspired by the Seder; my song cycle “Raising Sparks” is based on the writings of the Hasidic theologian Menahem Nahum.

Your readers have been seriously misled, but I hope that they will come to forthcoming American performances of these pieces and especially my “St John Passion” and make their own, more intelligent conclusions about them. Ivry has told them practically nothing about me. The real antisemitic threat today is to be found in the mosques of London and Birmingham, and certainly not in concert halls.

March 27, 2009

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March 27, 2009

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