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May 16, 2008

Rabbi Stands By Words

A May 9 editorial compares me to Reverend Jeremiah Wright by accusing me of “inflammatory rhetoric” and of publicly hurling “strong epithets” in 1995 at then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, including calling his government “the Rabin Judenrat” (“Wright and Wrong”). The latter accusation is false.

Here is some of my “inflammatory rhetoric,” from the early years of the Oslo process: I spoke and wrote about the idolatry of “peace,” and how it would devour Israel with its insatiable demands; how Oslo would lead to the restoration of Gaza as the center of domestic and international terrorism; how it would lead to the relinquishment of the West Bank — the heartland of Israel — and for calls to surrender the Golan Heights and to divide Jerusalem; how it would cost Israel control over 80% of its water supply; and, mostly, how it would spark an unprecedented wave of terrorism that would wreak havoc in Israeli society but which Israelis would be urged to accept with equanimity as the price of peace.

Those are facts, not epithets. I was right, but sadly, to no avail.

I plead guilty to shouting fire in a crowded theater — because the theater was, in fact, on fire. The fires of Oslo have already destroyed thousands of lives in Israel, consumed Gaza and the northern West Bank, devastated northern Israel. They now threaten to engulf the rest of the West Bank, the Golan and Jerusalem.

That fire ignited buses, pizzerias, malls and shopping centers in Israel, has ravaged Sderot and other towns, and is still raging because Israel’s current leaders are still genuflecting before the peace idol. That fire has shredded Israel’s international support, and provoked questions and doubts about its very legitimacy.

I do not retract even one word that I said or wrote at the time. Indeed, I wish I had spoken out more forcefully, and that our prayer asking God to “thwart the designs of this evil government” had been heeded. If I had known that speaking out even more forcefully might have had greater success, I would have done so.

What must gall the Forward is that I was right and my critics, among them prominent Jewish leaders, were wrong. Jews were killed and maimed in horrifying numbers, and not one of these Jewish leaders here or in Israel — or the glib editorialists who were their reckless “Amen corner” in indulging the peace fantasy — has even been held accountable for their catastrophically poor judgment.

When the issues are profound and Jewish lives are at stake, rabbis should not mince words. Perhaps that is why I still hold my pulpit, and why, in your unintentionally kind words, I have “actually grown in esteem and prominence within the Orthodox community over the years.”

Some Jews still value truth, and are not afraid to swallow it even in large doses — rather than absorb the politically correct palaver force fed by the self-appointed oligarchs who pretend to the world that they are “Jewish leaders.” I see the rabbinate as a calling of true leadership — not as an echo chamber for the foolish pronouncements of wild-eyed fantasists — with the priorities of saving Jewish life, spreading the truth of Torah, and preserving the land of Israel.

The membership of Bnai Yeshurun — even those who do not necessarily agree with me on every statement — appreciates that, and my words have been successful in triggering both an energetic dialogue and vigorous action. My congregants are a sophisticated and thoughtful group of people, and most value our dynamic intellectual environment. Some don’t. That’s life. But to compare my lucid and correct analyses with the hallucinations of Wright is incomprehensible, even bizarre.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Teaneck, N.J.

Tithing Not Affordable

As a member of an independent synagogue, I’m not unsympathetic to the needs of synagogues for money (“With Synagogues in Jeopardy, It’s Time To Talk About Tithing,” May 2). But synagogues compete for scarce resources with other Jewish organizations — day schools, day care and summer camps, not to mention a plethora of appeals for charity that come in the mail.

Tithing for synagogue is just not a viable option for many people like my husband and myself who are paying well more than 10% of our gross household income on Jewish day school and day care tuitions alone. We’re grateful that our synagogue’s membership dues are affordable, while being well aware that our synagogue could use more money.

The problem is a more general one of the costs of involvement in the Jewish community. Middle class people especially feel the weight, and I know of other families that, for example, choose not to send their children to day schools because of the financial burden.

It is my impression that Orthodox institutions do a better job of affordability than non-Orthodox ones do. I don’t know if this is at the sacrifice of quality — for example, in teacher qualifications, pay and benefits. Are there lessons that non-Orthodox institutions can learn from the Orthodox?

I wish there could be some centralized way for non-Orthodox intuitions to be funded, rather than each isolated organization having to fend for itself. I doubt a national or even regional pooling of funds is possible, but surely there could be a more efficient and cost-effective way of both easing the burden on families wishing to be engaged fully in the Jewish community and on organizations trying to provide the services that we need.

Felice Whittum
Somerville, Mass.

Kaplan’s Idea Misused

Arts & Culture columnist Jay Michaelson asserts that “peoplehood is so vacant, it’s vacuous” (“Peoplehood: There’s No There There,” April 25). Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism and the person who brought the concept of peoplehood to the Jewish community, understood this potential pitfall.

Peoplehood without content can indeed become empty. But Kaplan’s concept is one that leads to engagement and action.

Like so many other aspects of Kaplan’s thought, peoplehood has been misunderstood and therefore misused as it has made its way into the language.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz
Reconstructionist Rabbinical College Wyncote, Pa.


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