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January 2, 2004

Don’t Count GOP Votes Before They’re Hatched

In your interview with Senator Norm Coleman, he expresses the view that “in the Arab world people understand strength” and that the policies of the Bush administration, including the current war in Iraq, will redound to the benefit of Israel and help persuade Jewish voters to side with the administration on that basis (“Senator: Saddam Nab, Dean’s Rise Make GOP an Easy Sell,” December 26).

I’m of the opinion that the senator has it exactly wrong. Almost nothing so arouses the anger and opposition of Arabs nearly everywhere as the repeated attempts by Western powers over the centuries to impose their will by military conquest. The continuing “war after the war” in Iraq should be a sober reminder of that. Nor does one need to cite the dozens of such attempts in the last two centuries to show that, practically without exception, they have resulted only in failure.

The sense of humiliation at the hands of conquerors — even if they try to pass themselves off as “liberators” — felt across that part of the world is one of the most palpable consequences of such ventures. One cannot argue that such outcomes are in anyone’s interest, let alone that of the conquerors, and certainly not of the subjugated people.

I will remain an unpersuaded Jewish voter.

Herbert D. Rosenbaum

Rockville Centre, N.Y.

I believe that Senator Norm Coleman is in for a big surprise as Jews consider President Bush’s overall record: promoting regressive environmental policies that have lowered standards for our air and water; providing tax cuts that only benefit the rich; contributing to a shift from record budget surpluses to record budget deficits; failing to respond to global climate change, arguably today’s greatest threat to humanity; underfunding homeland security, while involving us in a quagmire in Iraq that we entered because the Bush administration consistently misled the American public, and much more. Once Jews take George Bush’s complete record into account and see how far it is from Jewish values and Jewish concerns, I think the overwhelming majority will vote to remove him from office.

Richard H. Schwartz

Staten Island, N.Y.

Critic of Zionism Should Be Heeded

Why is everyone attacking Tony Judt? (“Embattled Academic Tony Judt Defends Call for Binational State,” December 26.)

I read Judt’s article in The New York Review of Books, which is a variation on the myriad other articles and books that are critical of Zionism and call for the establishment of the state as democratic and a state for all of its citizens.

Much of the literature in this area that I have seen has been written by Jews, rabbis, talmudic scholars and professors of Jewish education and Jewish history. There is a theme that they seem to have in common: The State of Israel as “Jewish and democratic” has reduced itself to close to neither. Judt sees what has happened to Israel as totally undemocratic and, yes, anachronistic.

It might do us well to read Judt’s article once again and enter into a discourse that will include fewer attacks and more reflection. This does not mean that everything that Judt wrote is correct. But the basic premise of any such discourse must be that Zionism is as vulnerable to criticism as any other nationalistic movement. When it falls into the hands of extremists, as Zionism seemingly has, and calls for exclusive rule in a place not exclusively populated by one group, it becomes dangerous. This is the anachronism.

Most of the Western, democratic countries have recognized that they are no longer ethnically exclusive. Only Israel, which claims to be a member of the enlightened, democratic and Western community, has not accepted this formula.

Louis Frankenthaler

Jerusalem, Israel

Religion Demands ‘Walking the Walk’

Recalling her encounter with chasidim in a camera shop in lower Manhattan, Rosaline Glazer writes that she was tempted to “take them on and start arguing about how most Jews in the world weren’t like them — and yet, were still Jews” (“A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words,” December 19).

Glazer places herself as the stranger in the narrative of her story at least partly because she wears pants and does not wear a sheytl. But the Orthodox sales staff makes the author feel “dissected” because they cannot understand such selective and partial fidelity to Judaism. Glazer and her husband don’t keep kosher but refrain from pork and shellfish. They sometimes light candles for the Sabbath, but they keep the car in the garage because sometimes it is “too much trouble to take it out” and not because it is the right or, heaven forbid, Jewish thing to do.

This will never seem questionable to the author who ends up on her high horse, arrogantly lecturing religious Jews about the virtue of her own Jewishness by proclaiming “Jews come in different colors and traditions, and that each are blessed no differently, even if they no longer sing the song or walk the walk of centuries past.”

If each are blessed no differently, each must be equally holy. Glazer claims that she understands the traditional world but wishes to validate nontraditional living as equally Jewish instead of admitting that some Jews are walking the walk and others are not.

David N. Friedman

Bethesda, Md.

Senator Santorum’s Postmodernity Problem

Senator Rick Santorum’s remarks as quoted in the Forward reveal, once again, his unfathomable ignorance (“Sen. Santorum Blasts France on Religious Symbol Ban,” December 19).

While I am in agreement with him that the proposed French law banning the wearing of religious symbols in schools is a very bad one, it borders on the idiotic to say that it is a product of French postmodernism.

The attitude that there is a supposedly neutral secular universal identity and that assertions of particular identity are aggressive is, if anything, one of the most purely modern of ideas, while postmodernism, with its recognition that every position is ideological and power-laden, would certainly lead toward the exact opposite result of allowing such individual religious observances in public space. It is postmodernism that has taught us to look for the implicit Christianity of such universal secularism and resist it.

It would be good if the honorable senator would think, learn and read a little (just a little) before delivering us more of his tripe.

Daniel Boyarin

Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture

University of California at Berkeley

Berkeley, Calif.

Judaism Insists on Decency to Gentiles

We should lose less sleep over Rabbi Saadya Grama’s little tract on the Jewish soul than we might think to (“Charedi Rabbis Rush To Disavow Anti-Gentile Book,” December 19). Let’s assume he actually said all those things. Let’s also say we disregard all of the material in Judaism that stresses the majesty of the human soul and the Jewish goal of bringing the light of Torah to all of mankind, material that is valued, cherished and studied in the same circles that produced the book. We are still way ahead of our competitors.

Unlike other faiths, traditional Judaism is a system of law, not creed alone. Jewish law, fixed and immutable as its major features are, quite simply and plainly forbids killing, stealing from, lying to and deceiving non-Jews — even the pagan idolater. End of discussion. People can entertain all kinds of notions, and base them on their private reading of debatable sources, but it is the law that has the final say. And it will never allow us to do unto them what they have done unto us.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein

Sydney M. Irmas Chair

in Jewish Law and Ethics

Loyola Law School

Los Angeles, Calif.

Lakewood yeshiva religious leader Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler demonstrated that he holds his reputation, and the reputation of his yeshiva, in low regard when he admitted that he endorsed the book by Rabbi Saadya Grama without carefully reviewing the text. Kotler stated that “I did glance briefly at the book but did not read it carefully — which is the general practice in providing approbations to the many books by alumni that come across a desk like mine.” This thoughtless statement provides us with reason to disregard any comments he may have made with regard to anything! Even if there is a “general practice” of doing this, he, as a leader of such a famous yeshiva, should have provided the public with his own high standards and not have indulged in such a practice.

Yale M. Harlow

Los Angeles, Calif.

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