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January 21, 2005

For Rights Here, Too

While we appreciate your recent article on our organization’s human rights work in North America (“Rabbis’ Group Focuses on Rights in U.S.,” January 14), there were two inaccuracies in the article that we would like to correct. The letter that Rabbis for Human Rights signed along with a coalition of religious groups regarding the nomination of Alberto Gonzales did not explicitly call for the rejection of his nomination. In the letter, the members of the coalition expressed concern about the position Gonzales has taken on torture and civil rights issues and asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to thoroughly investigate his record and take it into account when making a decision.

Secondly, our decision to address human rights issues in North America was not made recently. In 2002, when we founded Rabbis for Human Rights North America, our goal was to build a visible national rabbinic organization that would support the inspiring and courageous work of our colleagues in Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel. Together with our colleagues in Israel, we decided that once the support for their work in Israel was secure, we would move on to the second part of our mission, to address human rights issues in North America.

Rabbi Gerry Serotta


Rabbis for Human Rights North America

Chevy Chase, Md.

Department Is Strong

The Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University is thriving and continues to be the pre-eminent academic center of its type in the United States. Regrettably, due to several misleading statements and factual inaccuracies, readers of your January 14 article “Judaic Studies Department Faces Cutbacks at Brandeis University” could come away with a different impression.

The truth is that the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department has expanded considerably in the last few years as a result of several new endowed appointments, including the Stoll Chair in Israel Studies, the Mandel Chair in Jewish Education, and the Safra Chair in Sephardic Studies. In addition, several centers and institutes that are concerned with different aspects of modern Jewish studies have been added or expanded in recent years.

We expect to become even stronger in coming years as the result of a very significant grant that will strengthen modern Jewish studies and the establishment of the Crown Center for Middle East Studies, two developments that will bolster the department through various synergies. Also, we are currently searching for three positions for next academic year, in modern Hebrew literature, in classical Islam, and in Jewish education.

Like other competitive and selective universities, Brandeis is engaged in long-term planning to address its future needs, including the reallocation of faculty. Throughout this process, the university will remain fully committed to maintaining the country’s leading Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department.

Marc Z. Brettler


Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies

Adam B. Jaffe

Dean of Arts and Sciences

Brandeis University

Waltham, Mass.

Clarifying Church Role

There were some mistakes about my childhood in your January 7 article “Letter Reveals Vatican Policy on Children of Holocaust.” Your article said that “the French church” blocked me from being returned to my family. But that’s not correct. I was in Belgium until I was 14 years old, and it was not the church as a body, but rather some Catholics and civil officials, operating in collusion with Fernande Henrard, the woman who had custody of me at the time, who didn’t want me to be returned to my family.

Henri Elias

Geneva, Switzerland

Siding With Pluralism

Your article “Canadian Group Sides with Muslims on Law” (January 14) demands additional clarification.

B’nai Brith Canada did not “side with” conservative Muslims, as your piece suggests. Rather, B’nai Brith supports Canada’s system of religious pluralism, and along with it the right of an individual to voluntarily enter into a faith-based arbitration process.

Our proposal to the Ontario attorney general in no way stands in contradiction to those secular Muslim women concerned about human rights abuses. Indeed, our position made clear that the concerns expressed by women and others in the Muslim community had to be taken into account by implementing even more safeguards before Sharia-based tribunals could be recognized under Ontario’s Arbitration Act.

In the case of the beit din, or rabbinic court, system, the isolated criticisms of the Jewish feminists noted in your article do not take into account the voluntary, fair and non-oppressive arbitration process that the Jewish model provides. It is now up to the Muslim community to determine for itself whether or not the safeguards recommended by former Ontario attorney general Marion Boyd — which would apply to all faiths — meet their needs and offer an acceptable alternative for settling civil disputes. And it is incumbent upon the Ministry of the Attorney General to listen closely to these Muslim voices when deciding on whether to act on Boyd’s recommendations.

While Boyd’s report incorporated many of the safeguards suggested by B’nai Brith, it did not make mandatory the organization’s number one requirement for ensuring a fair process — the Certificate for Independent Legal Advice, a mandatory sworn statement that a lawyer would complete after advising the litigants as to their rights. B’nai Brith will continue to press this matter to ensure that society’s most vulnerable are protected.

Frank Dimant

Executive Vice-President

B’nai Brith Canada

Toronto, Ontario

Collaboration Shorted

Your January 14 article “Messinger, AJWS Gain Prominence for Tsunami Relief” correctly notes the American Jewish World Service’s outstanding work regarding its tsunami relief appeal and the other efforts the agency has undertaken. AJWS’s president, Ruth Messinger, has used her energy and passion to successfully tap into fresh wellsprings of Jewish generosity.

Buried deep in the article was a brief mention of the fact that the Joint Distribution Committee and AJWS are spearheading the Jewish Coalition for Asian Tsunami Relief, which is enabling 36 Jewish organizations from across the ideological spectrum to pool their resources, talents and expertise in addressing this disaster. We wish that the Forward paid more attention to this wonderful collaboration.

Infinitely more important than which agency raises the most money, or who shakes the president’s hand, is how we will support one another in making “the light unto the nations” burn more brightly. Over the course of 90 years, the JDC has witnessed time and again the power of Jewish compassion. As the overseas arm of the organized Jewish community, we continue to ensure that our tzedaka has impact around the world for Jews and non-Jews alike. In doing so, we look forward to working with AJWS and the other groups that have joined our effort.

Steven Schwager

Executive Vice President

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

New York, N.Y.

Let’s Open the Archives

The discovery of a document in a French Catholic archive ordering church officials at the end of World War II not to return baptized Jewish children to their parents (“Pius Virtues,” January 7) reflects either the Vatican’s then complete indifference toward Jews as victims of the Holocaust or outright antisemitism on the part of the church led by Pope Pius XII.

We will never know whether Pius XII was an antisemite or just indifferent to the plight of the Jews until the Vatican’s secret archives from during the Holocaust and post-Holocaust period are fully opened to scholars for review.

In October 2000, the International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission, a group of six scholars — three Catholic appointed by the Vatican’s Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews and three Jewish appointed by the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, of which I was then chairman — whose purpose was to review 11 volumes of previously published Vatican archival material covering the Holocaust period and to raise questions that remained unresolved, submitted its 21-page preliminary report to the Vatican. It posed 47 specific examples or questions that required additional documentation. The Catholic-Jewish commission also requested that the Vatican’s secret archives for the period be opened to scholars.

The Vatican responded nine months later, in June 2001, advising the scholars that because of “technical reasons” the unpublished Vatican archives covering the Pius XII pontificate could not be accessed and requested that the Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission wrap up its work and submit a final report. Instead, the commission suspended its work and soon thereafter disbanded.

While there are those in Rome who are still anxious for the current pope to beatify Pius XII, it would be scandalous if that effort was undertaken before the secret archives are open so the world can determine what Pius XII knew and what he did or did not do during the Holocaust.

Seymour D. Reich,

Former Co-chairman

International Catholic-Jewish

Historical Commission

New York, N.Y.


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