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August 8, 2008

Clinton Might Not Like The Seward Analogy

Rabbi Menachem Genack argues that Senator Barack Obama should follow the example of Abraham Lincoln, who appointed political rival Senator William Seward as his secretary of state, and select his own rival, Senator Hillary Clinton, as his running mate (“The Man From Illinois and the Senator From New York,” August 1).

The analogy is imprecise, since Seward was appointed after Lincoln was elected and was not his running mate. His actual running mate was Senator Hannibal Hamlin of Maine, who was selected because he belonged to a different faction of the Republican Party.

Once elected, Hamlin, like all other vice presidents before the latter part of the 20th century, was given nothing to do beyond his constitutional duty of presiding over the Senate. (In that capacity, he was at least able to establish and enforce a rule against consumption of alcohol on the Senate floor, thus making the Senate a far more decorous institution.)

Bored with his lack of meaningful duties, he served as a private in a Maine regiment, and was subsequently promoted to corporal. Being vice president, however, he was accorded officer privileges.

I somehow doubt that Clinton would be eager to follow Hamlin’s example.

Michael Ticktin
Roosevelt, N.J.

On Haredi Women Invoking Rosa Parks

Contrary to what was implied in an August 1 article in which I was quoted, I am neither a proponent of segregated bus lines nor a Zionist (“Invoking Rosa Parks, Haredi Women Move to Back of the Bus”).

My belief is that these bus lines serve a need in specific communities and that the practice of having special mehadrin bus lines does not discriminate against women. It is just too facile to insist that the practice is somehow distasteful, since its prime purpose is to protect women by preventing their objectification by men. The community also believes that the practice prevents men from occupying their minds with inappropriate ideas, thus reserving their brain power for holy subjects.

For the Forward to imply that I am a Zionist is like stating that since apples and pears are both fruit, apples are pears. I was asked if I believed that all Jews should live in Israel, and I answered in the affirmative based on my belief in the Jewish religious imperative. This belief no more makes me a Zionist than it implies my membership in the Neturei Karta.

Varda Epstein
The writer lives in theWest Bank town of Efrat.

The spirit of Rosa Parks is invoked to justify mandatory segregated seating — women sitting in the back of the bus — because men may be aroused if they see women.

I’d like to instead invoke the spirit of Golda Meir. Responding to a plea to women to stay in their homes after dark, to keep them safe from predatory males, she responded that it’s the men who should be locked up.

Lynn Somerstein
New York, N.Y.

The Operatic History Of a Jamaican Cantor

No historical tour of Jamaican Jewry is complete without the fascinating story of Myer Leoni, an English cantor at the Great Synagogue of London and an opera singer who composed the much-loved and often-sung melody to “Yigdal” known as the “Leoni Yigdal” (“Discovering Jewish Jamaica: A Historical Tour,” July 25).

So beautiful was this melody that the non-conformist Protestant churches adopted it and a modified text of “Yigdal,” with an extra verse about Christ, appears in their hymnal — a rare case of a Jewish hymn being adopted by Christians.

Leoni’s contract in London stipulated that he should behave as a religious Jew and not sing opera on Friday nights. After he appeared in Handel’s “Messiah,” he was fired from his cantorial job and blacklisted by the Jewish community.

He became cantor and baal kriyah of the synagogue in Jamaica and remained there until his death in 1797.

Eric Mendelsohn
Toronto, Ontario

Let Them Play Richard Strauss in Synagogue

We know that Richard Strauss was not himself antisemitic; we also know that he made efforts to protect several Jews (“A Synagogue Is No Place To Perform Richard Strauss,” July 4). But the fact that he may also have been a flawed human being in giving some support to the Nazi regime should not be the sole criterion for judging him as a person — particularly when he, like many artists, had little interest in politics.

Whatever our judgments about Strauss as a person, he was a brilliant composer. The criterion for playing his music should be its quality, not Strauss’s personal life.

Determining the appropriateness of playing a composer’s music by his personal life or views would be like choosing a surgeon by his personal life instead of his ability.

The war is over. Let us not continue to fight a conflict which is now history.

S. J. D. Schwartzstein
Washington, D.C.

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