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August 28, 2009

Sudan Still Needs the Jewish Community

Your August 14 editorial “Save Sudan” explained in great nuance the complexities of the situation in Darfur.

The Forward is correct in noting the importance of looking beyond semantics and recognizing the fact that, unless the comprehensive peace agreement between North and South Sudan is effectively implemented, the entire region could soon spiral into its bloodiest chapter yet. The level of death and destruction could eclipse the genocide in Darfur, which has claimed at least 400,000 lives since 1994.

The Forward also points out that American Jewish World Service — along with several other Jewish organizations, tens of thousands of individual Jewish activists and other groups, both faith-based and secular — have played a significant role in the Darfur movement for five years.

But we have much more work to do. We must stay mobilized and demand that the Obama administration does all it can to ensure a durable peace between the north and south, that serious peace talks take place between Darfuri rebels and the Sudanese government, that Sudan complies with President Omar al-Bashir’s indictment by the International Criminal Court, and that robust peacekeeping and humanitarian activities continue unimpeded. We must also support the work of grassroots organizations working inside the camps to keep millions alive and with hope that they can soon begin to rebuild their lives and their communities.

Ruth W. Messinger
American Jewish World Service
New York, N.Y.

Condemning Tel Aviv Attack, and Staying True to the Torah

It was responsible of Jay Michaelson to note that “we still don’t know” who perpetrated the murderous attack on a homosexual gathering in Tel Aviv on August 1. Would that he had demonstrated similar responsibility about writing a piece that all but blames the attack on those of us who affirm the Torah’s prohibition of homosexual conduct (“A Missing Culprit, but Culpability All Around,” August 14).

This is particularly true when, as Michaelson himself admits, “word on the street is that it had to be someone who knew” about the group “or may have even been part of it.”

Part of being liberal-minded — a moniker one assumes Michaelson claims — is allowing others their own points of view, and their right to share and teach their beliefs. Does Michaelson wish that rabbis and parents desist from teaching the Jewish faith’s precepts? If he does, he has an unusual take for a liberal-minded person on freedom of religion.

And insinuating that disapproval of a particular way of life is tantamount to inciting violence is certainly less than liberal-minded. Michaelson rails against “homophobia,” by which he presumably means no phobia at all but rather a religious conviction that sexual relations between members of the same sex are wrong. In the end, whatever a Knesset member’s or government minister’s speechifying, the Torah approach is to condemn not people but sin.

For the record, and Michaelson’s edification, two facts:

1) No respectable Jewish religious leader advocates or approves of violence against sinners. In fact, such leaders condemned the Tel Aviv attacks in no uncertain terms (condemnations that Michaelson dismisses as “post-hoc expressions of surprise”).

2) The Torah considers homosexual acts to be sinful.

No matter who turns out to have been the attacker in the August 1 attack, both of those facts are, and will always remain, true.

Rabbi Avi Shafran
Director of Public Affairs
Agudath Israel of America
New York, N.Y.

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