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October 27, 2006

War Without End Means Endless War Powers

I applaud your October 20 editorial, “Human Rights in Wartime.” You correctly emphasized the greatest concern about the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — its permanence. This war can only end when a future president declares victory and says it’s over, since there can never be a surrender or some other point of closure to the war. In addition, it’s reasonable to assume the act will not be repealed until such a declaration of victory occurs. Therefore, the act gives President Bush and future presidents unchecked power, in essence, forever. That should be a sobering thought for anyone who seriously contemplates this act that was rushed into law during this election season. Sobering and troubling.

Michael L. Presant
Ada, Mich.

Three Percent Is Nothing To Brag About

You report that UJA-Federation of New York chief John Ruskay “is taking right-wing groups to task” and “unapologetically stating that support for Israel cannot be limited to Jews” (“Charity Hits Back in Feud Over Arab Aid,” October 20). All this when United Jewish Communities gave a mere 3% of the money raised in its emergency campaign to Arab citizens of the State of Israel. It is hard to decide whether to laugh at the heroism required to give the 3%, or to cry at the level to which American Jewish community has fallen. Israel’s Declaration of Independence states that it “will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex,” and yet, almost 60 years later, Arab villages have far less resources and far more poverty and unemployment than equivalent Jewish towns.

Only when the American Jewish community stops thinking of the State of Israel as a Jewish Disneyland, or as New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman once said, “Yad Vashem with an air force,” will it be possible to relate to Israel as a liberal democracy with obligations toward all its citizens, and to demand of Israel to fulfill those obligations.

Aryeh Cohen
Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature
University of Judaism
Los Angeles, Calif.

Carter Isn’t Alone on ‘Apartheid’ Analogy

Those who would criticize Jimmy Carter for using the word “apartheid” in discussing Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza would do well to read an article by Michael Ben-Yair that appeared in the March 3, 2002, issue of Haaretz, titled “The War’s Seventh Day” (“Carter Book Slaps ‘Apartheid’ Tag on Israel,” October 20).

In that article, Ben-Yair writes, “In effect, we established an apartheid regime in the occupied territories immediately following their capture. That oppressive regime exists to this day.”

For those who might be inclined simply to dismiss those statements as the baseless rhetoric of an anti-Israel know-nothing, I should point out that from 1993 to 1996, Ben-Yair was, in fact, the attorney general of Israel.

Jeffrey Gaynes
Silver Spring, Md.

You Say ‘Flexidox,’ I Say ‘Observant’

Jay Michaelson wrote a heart-felt piece (“Old labels feel stiff for ‘Flexidox,’” Oct. 13) about where a new generation of non-Orthodox, observant Jews fit into the rich, complicated continuum of Judaism. He was, however, addressing the wrong concept with the new moniker “Flexidox.” The “dox” of “Orthodox” comes from the Greek doxa for “opinion” or “belief,” so that Orthodox means “right belief,” and “flexidox” means “flexible belief.” Michaelson’s point was that he had correct observance but not the right belief, so I would suggest an older term, “orthopractic” coming from praxis (action) and meaning “correct action,” or “correct observance,” making no representation about doctrine. The mundane, colloquial term would simply be “observant.” This nicely identifies a person as someone who respects and observes the mitzvot, according to rabbinic law, but sidesteps any denominational or doctrinal issues.

The rabbis of the Talmud would be satisfied if someone were simply observant, for Judaism places much more emphasis on action than on theology. It is only in the last 200 years, as a result of the vitriolic battles between the secular reformers and traditional believing Jews, that the term “Orthodox” developed and the application of doctrinal litmus tests became necessary.

Seth Cohen
Mamaroneck, N.Y.

Irving Struck First, But I Laughed Last

I delighted in the opportunity to teach Maimonides’s Laws of Repentance at Edgar Bronfman’s minyan on Yom Kippur (“Bronfman ‘Kvells,’ Debuts New Holiday Services,” Oct. 6). As I told the minyan, for someone, such as myself, who generally teaches about Jews as object (i.e. what is done to Jews), it was a wonderful opportunity to teach about Jews as subject (i.e. what Jews do). We explored how teshuvah, or repentance, can be life changing.

One small correction, however, needs to be made. In your news article, you identify me as having “launched a lawsuit against Holocaust denier David Irving.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Irving sued me for libel, and I fought to defend myself against his charges. I was vindicated when the British court threw out Irving’s charges and inscribed me in its book of justice.

May we continue to be inscribed in both the earthly and heavenly courts’ books of life, justice and blessing.

Deborah E. Lipstadt
Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies
Emory University
*Atlanta, Ga.

Refugee Ship Found No Safe Harbor Here

I am amazed that you printed a letter from Robert Rosen (“Jewish GIs Served Bravely,” Oct. 6) in which he defends the United States against charges that it did not do enough to help Jewish refugees during World War II by writing that “the Roosevelt administration and American Jews saved the passengers on the S.S. St. Louis from going back to Germany and that two-thirds of them survived the Holocaust.” That is a blatant distortion! The ship was denied entry to Cuba and America. Some passengers were admitted to Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and many of them ultimately perished under Nazi rule. These are historical facts. And I happen to be personally acquainted with the family of one of the ship’s passengers.

Sydell Hirschfeld Aventura, Fla.

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