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January 16, 2009

Yoffie’s Right, Israel Needs Tough Doves

Rabbi Eric Yoffie is right on target both in his affirmation of Israel’s need to respond to the rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel’s cities and in his critique of J Street and of a few Jewish doves who “have demonstrated an utter lack of empathy for Israel’s predicament” (“On Gaza, Sense and Centrism,” January 9).

For those of us who believe in a two-state solution and in the need for Washington to be involved in achieving a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, it is important to acknowledge that Israel must protect itself as Hamas rockets, supplied by Iran and Iranian money, rain down on Ashdod and Beersheba, coming closer each day to Tel Aviv.

These are tough times for Israel. Israel is at war. None of us want to see innocent civilians killed or maimed in Gaza or in Israel. But Israel must defend itself and has attempted to do so with utmost care and precision.

If the pro-Israel pro-peace groups want to encourage a two-state solution, Israeli talks with Syria and a comprehensive peace — as we believe most American Jews do — then, like the American Jewish community, we have to be credible and responsible.

The security of Israel and its citizens should be, as always, our paramount concern.

Seymour D. Reich
New York, N.Y.

The writer is a past president of the Israel Policy Forum and a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Don’t Transmogrify Talmud’s Meaning

As I explained to your reporter but your article did not mention, any invocation of the talmudic categories of tumtum and androgynos as somehow pertinent to the issue of men adopting the identity of women or women of men is mendacious (“Transgender Jews Now Out of Closet, Seeking Communal Recognition,” January 9).

Those talmudic terms refer exclusively and clearly to people with physically indeterminate sexual organs — who are born with their conditions — and do not in any way imply “different possible sexual categories for people,” as a rabbinic intern at a San Francisco Reform congregation contends in the article.

The intern, born female, can certainly choose to present herself as male. In the interest of preserving the integrity of authoritative Jewish sources, though, she should not present talmudic terms as something they are not.

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

I would like to applaud Rabbi Leonard Sharzer for working to amend Rabbi Mayer Rabinowitz’s teshuvah for the Conservative movement on gender transition. As an advocate and a surgeon, I had contacted Rabbi Mayer to encourage him to recognize the complexities of sex and gender. But his teshuvah was frozen in the ancient approximation of equating sex and gender with genitalia. While it recognized the gender identities of those who had undergone genital reconstruction surgery, it failed to acknowledge the identities of many other transgendered people.

The rabbis of the talmudic era were fully aware of intersex variations, following on the work of the ancient Greeks. But we’ve been stuck in a simplistic, reductionistic approach for many centuries.

I would also like to correct Avi Shafran, who speaks as if the Orthodox community is of one mind on this issue. It is not; not only have former yeshiva bokhers transitioned to live as women, Orthodox trans women are now transitioning in place in their home communities. And it was Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Waldenberg, a leading Orthodox halachic authority, who first grappled with this issue in the modern era once genital reconstruction became an option. He opened the door with a humanistic halachic approach, which was one of the few beacons of hope to me during those years I lived in fear of rejection and ostracism.

Dana Beyer
Chevy Chase, Md.

The writer is a member of the board of directors of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Madoff Frivolity Does Readers a Disservice

Your two frivolous articles on Bernard Madoff in the December 26 edition of the Forward showed poor taste, poor timing and poor judgment (“Sconces and Scrapbooks: A Visit to the Madoffs” and “What Bernie Madoff Eats for Dinner”).

I don’t know if you were simply desperate for Madoff material, but you did your newspaper and its readers a great disservice.

Carol Mizrahi
Champaign, Ill.

Bush Was Bad, Obama Is More of the Same

Jonathan Tobin is certainly correct to say in disappointment that “by the end of the Bush administration its policies more closely resembled those of its predecessor than its own during the previous six years” (“Bidding Bush Adieu, Gladly,” January 2).

But it is a non sequitur for him to therefore conclude that “All of this ought to leave those committed to Israel’s security thinking that they will be better off once Bush is gone.” Indeed, it is perfectly possible for flawed polices to be followed by polices that are equally flawed, or worse — and that contingency is a likely one.

For example, Bush supported creating a Palestinian state, something that would bring only more terror. Some of President Bush’s advisers doubted that a Palestinian state would be peaceful: In contrast, President-elect Barack Obama and all of his recent Middle East advisers — Daniel Kurtzer, Dennis Ross and others — support the idea of a Palestinian state, as does secretary of state-designate Hillary Clinton, an idea she backed even before it became official American policy under Bush.

It’s a pity that, on the Middle East at least, an Obama administration signifies not so much change as it does more of the same — and that ought to concern Tobin.

Leonard Getz
National Vice President
Zionist Organization of America
Philadelphia, Pa.

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