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January 25, 2008

School Is True to Torah In Banning Gay Couples

The Yeshivah of Flatbush behaved properly in denying a reunion invitation to the partner of a homosexual graduate (“Gay Alumni of Brooklyn Yeshiva Fight for Right To Bring Partners to Reunion,” January 18).

The institution prides itself on instilling in its students the values of the Torah, and as is well known, the Torah strongly forbids homosexual activity. How terribly wrong and hypocritical it would be if the school were to advocate religious behavior only up to the point of graduation!

One opponent of the school’s policy has claimed that there are no standards in Jewish law that pertain to class reunions, and thus there are no halachic grounds for denial of the invitation. This is a red herring. There also are no specific laws that apply to softball, corporate conferences or the use of instant-messaging software. In all of these activities, as in all others, one is expected to behave according to the principles of the Torah. The Yeshivah of Flatbush excels in imparting this lesson to students, and does well to remind its alumni thereof.

David B. Greenberg
Flushing, N.Y.

I had the pleasure of bringing my partner, a nice Jewish doctor, to my 25-year reunion at the Yeshivah of Flatbush in 1999. Out of respect to the institution and to the religious sensibilities of some of my classmates, I introduced him as my friend and didn’t make a fuss over it. I allowed for plausible deniability. I spoke of us naturally as “we” but didn’t dwell on it. Those who wanted to “get it” did so and those who chose to ignore it did. We had a wonderful time, and it was great seeing my old friends and teachers and sharing fond memories.

Once we go down the road of mean-spiritedness, we can find ways to exclude virtually everyone. There is always one more law that we can interpret more stringently than our neighbor and demonstrate our alleged piety — sometimes at the expense of our humanity. I think the school, while remaining a beacon of Torah and secular learning, should remember that we are all in this together. A way needs to be found for those of us who identify as Jews and choose to live authentic lives to be included in reunions. Everyone gets to pray in shul, even on Yom Kippur!

Bruce Karp
New York, N.Y.

Before Attacking Ms., Read the Back Issues

I am writing in regard to the American Jewish Congress-Ms. Magazine ad controversy (“Pro-Israel Ad Rejected by Feminist Magazine,” January 18).

Among Jewish feminists, there is concern about both bias against Israel in the media and efforts to silence discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is also growing distress about the toll taken on the lives of women and children, Jewish and Palestinian, by the lack of resolution to the conflict. On the Israeli feminist e-mail list to which I subscribe, many women, while acknowledging they didn’t fully understand the American context of the ad controversy, were supportive of Ms. Magazine’s rejection because the ad’s content does not fully reflect the reality of Israeli women’s political situation or their living conditions.

While some have called this controversy between two iconic organizations of the feminist and Jewish communities a tempest in a teapot, it is the teapot from which I drink. Therefore, I took a trip to my local library to look through several years of Ms. for myself. Now I can safely say that if Ms. had published the AJCongress’s “This is Israel” ad, it would have been completely out of character with every ad in the magazine.

The ads I viewed were for either feminist conferences, books, performers or non-profit foundations. There were zero corporate ads and zero ads from countries.

As for the articles, there were none that praised any country; all were critical of the conditions for women. In the issues I looked at, there was one article specifically on Israel, “Feminism: Israeli Style,” by the noted Israeli feminist Alice Shalvi, and it included information about the women’s peace movement as well as other feminist organizations. There were several about the oppression of women in Muslim-majority countries.

After looking through years of issues of Ms., I came away really furious, not with Ms., but with the American Jewish Congress for their scurrilous attack on the magazine. Ms. is not guilty of antisemitism or of having an anti-Israel bias. In fact, its rather wide berth around the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is more noteworthy than anything.

It is reprehensible that AJCongress has targeted Ms. Magazine, playing on fears of antisemitism. This is more of a witch-hunt, McCarthyism style, than it is an action in Israel’s or women’s interests.

Clare Kinberg
Bridges: A Jewish Feminist Journal
Ann Arbor, Mich.

Judging Heeb By the Character of Its Content

Silly me! I always thought that a magazine was defined by its content. Now along comes David Deutsch, humor editor of Heeb magazine, and insists that a magazine should be defined not by what is between its two covers, but by the religiosity of its editor — his “assorted fringes, yarmulkes and whatnot” (“When Is a Heeb a Heeb?” January 18).

By this novel theory, Playboy should stop referring to itself as “entertainment for men.” Its editors include people named Amy, Jennifer, Heather and Amanda. Ladies Home Journal, by the same token, should stop advertising itself as a magazine “for the modern American family woman.” It has an associate publisher named Richard.

Silliness aside, I think that most readers would indeed define Heeb as secular. Deutsch, after all, writes that the impact Heeb has “on the religious life of the Jewish people is not at all a concern of ours.” Moreover, I see a great deal of evidence that a resurgence of Jewish secularism is taking place in America today. Beyond my short essay posted on (to which Deutsch was responding), I invite readers to see my longer discussion, “The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of Jewish Secularism,” in the latest issue of Contemplate: The International Journal of Cultural Jewish Thought.

Jonathan D. Sarna
Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History
Brandeis University
Waltham, Mass.

Why Have So Many Palestinians Died?

As an American who has lived in Gaza and the West Bank while working in church-related programs, I’m puzzled by your editorial’s statement that “Israel does not deliberately target civilians” (“Reckless in Gaza,” January 18).

Does that mean that the hundreds of Palestinian civilians killed by Israel in the past two years, including scores of minors, were all killed by accident? Then surely their families deserve compensation from the Israeli government. If, on the other hand, the Israeli military authorities don’t seem overly concerned about Palestinian civilian deaths, would that not mirror their lack of concern about civilian deaths at checkpoints when ambulances are not permitted to reach the hospital?

It seems that your editors are not in the habit of reading human rights reports, even from Israeli sources, describing the conduct of the Israeli army in the occupied territories. The Israeli military’s Web page is not the definitive source on this topic.

Leila Richards
Pittsburgh, Pa.

The Headline’s Wrong: Chabad Cannot Split

The Forward recently ran an article on the top of its front page titled, “Rabbi’s Incitement Against Olmert Threatens To Split Apart Chabad” (January 11).

I am amazed that the Forward thinks its readers are interested in the internal politics of Chabad. It is a testimony to how important Chabad really is.

Although most people will not realize it, the headline itself does not make sense. Chabad is a decentralized movement — how can it split? Years ago, Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, said: “The Rebbe was not interested in creating followers; he was interested in creating leaders.” Indeed, each Chabad house is responsible for their finances and policies. The Rebbe instructed his leaders to adapt to their location, while maintaining all Torah precepts to the utmost.

What is happening inside Chabad is not that one side of the split will continue to follow the Rebbe and the other side will not. All Lubavitchers, by definition, have one Rebbe. True, his words are interpreted differently by different personalities in different locations, but no Chabadnik is “splitting” and heading elsewhere. When you look at the global picture, Chabad is strong. A crack in the surface, due to differences in interpretations, does not fall into the category of a “split.”

Aliza Karp
Brooklyn, N.Y.

PETA Believes Ripping Cows’ Throats Is Cruel

In the January 11 article “Kashrut Certifiers Fight Over Slaughterhouse Turf,” the president of K’hal Adath Jeshurun, Eric Erlbach, is mistaken in claiming that Rabbi Chaim Kohn “helped PETA to understand” that the AgriProcessors practice of ripping out cows’ throats “did not violate humane standards.” This is patently false.

PETA continues to believe that this method of slaughter is cruel and that it does indeed violate humane standards. To learn more, visit .

Bruce G. Friedrich
Vice President
International Grassroots Campaigns
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Norfolk, Va.

Bombing Iran Would Be Even More ‘Awkward’

A January 4 editorial speaks of how awkward it is for Israel’s friends that all the Democratic presidential candidates, except perhaps Hillary Clinton, favor war as a very last resort, if at all (“Voting Our Hopes, Voting Our Fears”). The editorial says nothing of how awkward the implied alternative of bombing Iran would be — for the United States, which is already mired in two failed wars; for a world economy already approaching free fall; and yes, for Israel, which would suffer more from both the short- and long-term consequences of such an attack than from the combination of improbabilities that Iran will get the bomb and then use it against Israel.

This much greater awkwardness is the reason that so many of Israel’s friends of long-standing and deep commitment oppose the threat of war against Iran except as — or even as — a last resort.

Berel Lang
Riverdale, N.Y.

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