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October 29, 2004

Without ‘Peoplehood,’ Judaism Is Meaningless

When I began my career as a rabbi some 25 years ago, I was told by a senior colleague to “be prepared for everything and be surprised about nothing.” Over the course of the years, I have generally followed this sage advice, and there is very little that can shock me in congregational or communal life.

However, a statement attributed to Edgar Bronfman in an October 15 article caused me no small degree of shock (“Rabbis Improve Outreach to Interfaith Families, Survey Finds”). That a leader in the Jewish community can espouse abandoning “its fight against intermarriage” and could term “the concept of Jewish peoplehood” as beginning “to sound a little like Nazism” is mind boggling, indeed. Exactly what does the word “Jewish” — as in World Jewish Congress, the organization headed by Bronfman — mean, if not peoplehood?

Kenneth Auman


Rabbinical Council of America

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Blind Faith Won’t Make The World a Safe Place

Opinion writer Kenneth Bialkin recommends re-electing President Bush for reasons purportedly securing democratic values (“The Case for Bush,” October 22). Yet no administration in modern memory has so threatened core democratic values as that of Bush.

According to recent books and publications, including an in-depth analysis just last week in The New York Times Magazine, Bush’s messianic faith permeates his administration and decision-making. I believe this is a grave threat to American democratic values, dangerous to Israel, and contrary to Jewish values and customs steeped in the talmudic tradition of coming to resolution through an inter-change of ideas.

I am not raising merely academic or theological concerns, but concerns regarding how life-and-death decisions are being made today in Washington. The president appears to extend his concept of faith beyond fundamental Christian ideology to require the blind faith of senior advisers and deputies. Anything less is apparently considered disloyal, including attempts at factual discussions testing the reality of assumptions underlying administration policy.

Bush’s inability to cite any mistake he might have made in the past four years goes beyond sheer arrogance; he and his closest followers believe he is God’s messenger. We can be sure it is not the Jewish God on whose behalf he is speaking.

Fire and brimstone has never has been the Jewish way or the American way. And it’s not particularly effective in making us or Israel any safer: While the hunt for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is being abandoned, American troops are being sent to their slaughter, under-equipped, in Iraq. While the investigations into Saudi Arabia’s financing of Al Qaeda’s operations are being abandoned, funds still flow unimpeded to Osama bin Laden and his henchmen. While the Bush administration wages war in Iraq — a country with no weapons of mass destruction — Iran, on Israel’s doorstep, is increasing its nuclear capacity. While abandoning any role in stabilizing the Middle East, the president is quoted as preferring a showdown between Israel and its enemies.

Whose side do we think Saudi Arabia and Iran will be on?

Gun slinging, blind faith and Bible thumping still might be popular in some Texas precincts, but they’re no way to run a nation, win the peace in Iraq, make Israel safe or bring peace to the Middle East.

Rosina Abramson

Adjunct Professor, Public Sector Management

New York University

New York, N.Y.

Report on Revisionist Disturbingly Friendly

I found the October 22 article on Michael Santomauro disturbingly friendly (“Some of His Best Friends Are Jewish: The Saga of a Holocaust Revisionist”). The article managed to turn a Holocaust revisionist into an offbeat but harmless “character.” If the Forward can’t tell the difference, who can?

Mike Bookman

Suffern, N.Y.

Israel Bears Partial Blame for Church Flap

As a Christian, I appreciate your frank description of assaults on Christians in Israel (“Church Flap in Jerusalem: Bad Blood — and Saliva,” October 22). In my view, however, the Israeli government shares the blame with Jewish leaders for condoning this kind of behavior, which is not confined to the Orthodox community.

During a recent trip to Israel, I walked into a chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as an Israeli youth was using a candle on the altar to light his cigarette. An Israeli policewoman who had been watching him looked amused.

I was stoned by settler children on the Jewish Sabbath as I escorted a group of Palestinian girls to the Cordoba School in Hebron’s Old City. Israeli soldiers, who had just examined the girls’ book bags, as they do every morning, looked on and did nothing. In recent weeks, Christian volunteers in Hebron have been attacked by settlers wielding chains and clubs.

The destruction of church property, which is more systematic, affects all denominations. St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Gaza, located inside a hospital compound, was damaged heavily by a direct attack from an Israeli missile. Israeli troops destroyed a new $2 million arts and conference center run by the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem in what a commentator in The New York Review of Books called “an oddly pointless bout of thuggery.” And, violating a 1993 agreement it signed with the Vatican, the Israeli government has routed the separation wall through Catholic Church property in the West Bank. The wall that now cuts across the grounds of the Passionist Monastery in Bethany — separating the priest and nuns from those it has served for generations — was built despite strenuous protests from the Vatican and the Israeli Department of Antiquities.

Leila Richards

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Evangelical Messages Shouldn’t Be a Surprise

I am always somewhat surprised when we act with some astonishment at the news that an evangelical, such as the Reverend Pat Robertson, preaches an evangelical message (“At Christian Rally for Israel, Robertson Pitches ‘Messiah,’” October 8). Evangelical Christians believe that as Jews, we — along with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and others — are bound for a sinner’s hell because we do not accept Jesus as the messiah and as the son of God.

Inviting Robertson or any other evangelical to speak in Israel, or at any synagogue in the United States, is like inviting the fox to visit the hen house. They will try to gobble us up. Evangelical Christians are as much a threat to the spiritual life of a Jew as an Arab terrorist is to the physical life of a Jew.

Thomas Roper

Virginia Beach, Va.

Rethink Outdated

Circumcision Ritual

On the surface, circumcision sounds like such an easy, harmless thing to do (“In New Trend, Adult Emigrés Seek Ritual Circumcision,” October 22). But it’s so easy to ignore and overlook the pain, damage and suffering it causes. In know this, being half-Jewish with many Jews among my friends and family.

I know a lot about Judaism and circumcision, having taken a yearlong course in basic Judaism and having read extensively on the Jewish religion and on circumcision. I do realize that circumcision is an important and significant ritual.

However, like so many other Jewish practices, it is symbolic. This is why I believe an alternative ceremony should be introduced where the baby is spared the excruciating ordeal and can one day choose for himself whether or not he wants this damaging procedure done. This alternative ceremony could then be egalitarian, which would include baby girls equally in the covenant. I am not saying the rite should be done away with completely — only the cutting. The ceremony can still be a religious one, performed by a rabbi and with a group of people attending.

Judaism has shown itself to be a dynamic, changing religion over the millennia it has been around. Originally circumcision was practiced among many other barbaric customs, such as slavery and stoning people to death for blasphemy. However, these have been done away with. Unfortunately, circumcision for Jewish males has remained. This doesn’t make sense.

As concerns the Russian immigrants mentioned in the article, if they opt for circumcision then it is fine — they have the choice. But Jewish babies do not have the choice. Their most sensitive body part of is being ripped away without them having a say, and with them protesting vehemently. Every Jewish baby boy minds at the time, believe me.

All I ask is that you think about this practice. Give it some serious, impartial, genuine thought. This would benefit Judaism and many newborn boys of future generations.

Alex Myers

Cape Town, South Africa

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