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February 20, 2004

Harsh Tone of Bible Not Reserved for Gays

Columnist David Klinghoffer, it seems to me, adds to the confusion he so scorns when he cites Leviticus and “ancient Jewish midrashic tradition” to argue that Judaism condemns homosexuality (“Communal Confusion,” February 13).

Yes, the Lord is alleged to have said, by the writers of Leviticus, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (18:22). Abomination seems to be a very strong word, but it is used more than once in the same book to tell us that “Everything in the waters that has not fins and scales… is an abomination to you” (11:10-11:12). Is Klinghoffer as exercised about the eating of shellfish by Jews as he is about the condoning of homosexuality and homosexual marriage by Jewish individuals and organizations?

Leviticus also tells us that “you may buy male and female slaves from among the nations around you” (25:44) and worse yet that we shall “put to death” he “who blasphemes the name of the Lord….” Indeed, “all the congregation shall stone him… to death” (24:16). And what are we 21st-century Jews to make of these explicit instructions?

Gerald Sorin

Director, Jewish Studies

SUNY New Paltz

New Paltz, N.Y.

David Klinghoffer takes liberal Jewish organizations to task for preaching a religion of “comfort” far removed from true Judaism when it comes to gay rights issues. Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress seems to have swallowed this argument whole, suggesting that the conflict over gay rights is one between people whose morality is “purely secularly derived” and those whose morality is “determined religiously” (“Big Groups To Address Gay Rights Questions,” February 13).

“Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), “In the image of God” (Genesis 1:27) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) are just three of the many passages from Jewish tradition that hold sway over my moral compass, and each leads me in the same direction.

The conflict over gay rights is not between secular and religious worldviews; rather, it is between two religiously derived worldviews that are in conflict with one another. To borrow Abraham Joshua Heschel’s language, it is between those who seek to live by their understanding of “God’s inner motives” and those who dwell only (or primarily) upon “His historical decisions.”

Rabbi Larry Bach

El Paso, Texas

David Klinghoffer looks at Jewish support for secular recognition of gay couples and sees heresy, but a Jewish position opposing government discrimination against homosexuals should resonate for anyone who has seen photographs of the emaciated survivors of Nazi camps, some with yellow stars and some with pink triangles.

Whether or not there is a single Jewish position on homosexuality is not the point. All Jews should be able to agree that the state has no business legislating who can or cannot marry: Marriage is a spiritual, religious union and not a question for civil government.

Argue over whether a rabbi should honor the unions of these and those, but don’t argue over whether the government should intervene.

Neil Litt

Princeton, N.J.

A Plan That Supporters Of Israel Should Back

The only thing misleading about the recent Americans for Peace Now survey of Jewish Americans regarding the Geneva initiative is Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein’s letter responding to it in your newspaper (“Poll Presents Geneva in a Misleading Light,” February 13).

First, Geneva is not a product of “the Israeli far left,” as Klein would have readers believe. It is supported by a wide range of Israelis, including former army chief of staff Lieutenant General (res.) Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Major General (res.) Gidon Shefer, Brigadier General (res.) Giora Inbar, Knesset member and former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg, Knesset member Amram Mitzna, Knesset member Yuli Tamir and former justice minister Yossi Beilin.

Second, on the issue of Palestinian refugees, Klein fails to mention that while Geneva does indeed discuss U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 and the Arab peace initiative as the basis for solving this problem, it goes on to say that the parties agree that the rights mentioned in these resolutions “are fulfilled according to Article 7 of this agreement.” In other words, regardless of whatever issues are raised in those documents, they are considered met by the terms laid out in Geneva.

Third, Klein fails to mention that the Arab peace initiative specifically talks about an “agreed upon” solution to refugees, meaning that Israel has the right to determine what a final formula for addressing refugees entails.

Fourth, Klein fails to give full weight to Israel’s sovereign rights regarding how many refugees it would be required to absorb under the Geneva plan. The passage on this matter says that the option for refugees to move to Israel “shall be at the sovereign discretion of Israel and will be in accordance with a number that Israel will submit to the International Commission…. As a basis, Israel will consider the average of the total numbers submitted by the different third countries to the International Commission.” Under no circumstances would Geneva require Israel to absorb any refugees if it didn’t want to — that’s the meaning of sovereignty. Israel may consider what other nations are doing with refugee numbers and still decide to accept no refugees. Hamas and Islamic Jihad understand that, which is why they object to this provision.

Fifth, Klein fails to mention that elsewhere in Geneva, the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of a new Palestinian state. So even if Israel did decide on its own to take in a few thousand Palestinian refugees, those numbers would be more than offset by the several hundred of thousands of Arabs in East Jerusalem who would become citizens of a new Palestinian state.

The Geneva initiative offers Israelis and Palestinians a working model for peace that will preserve Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state — something that true friends of Israel should welcome.

Mark Rosenblum

Founder and Policy Director

Americans for Peace Now

New York, N.Y.

Overlooking Jewish Women Athletes

Let’s hope that forthcoming celebrations of the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in America will be more inclusive than your recent tribute to Jewish sports heroes (“In David’s Footsteps,” February 6). Just a little research would have demonstrated why Jewish women’s role in sports history deserves more than a single paragraph on figure skaters at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.

A short list of Jewish American women sports stars would include Lillian Copeland, one of the greatest track-and-field athletes of the early-20th century; Basketball Hall of Famer Nancy Lieberman, the youngest player in history to win an Olympic medal for basketball and the first woman to play in a men’s league; tennis legend Julie Heldman, founder of the Virginia Slims Tour; Deena Drossin, the fastest female marathoner in American history and Helen Hines, who has won the wheelchair divisions of the New York Marathon three times and the Boston Marathon twice. To carry on the Mendoza tradition, there’s boxer Jill “The Zion Lion” Matthews, one of pro boxing’s top females in the 1990s.

Jewish women were major leaguers in “America’s Game.” At least five Jewish women played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (memorialized in the film “A League of their Own”). One of the league’s top players was 1946 all-star Gertrude “Tiby” Eisen, a pioneering American sportswoman and an outfielder who averaged 70 stolen bases a season.

Jewish Olympic glory? Who could forget gymnast Kerri Strug in Atlanta 1996? After sustaining a leg injury on her first pass, she courageously vaulted the U.S. team to gold on her second, an instant Olympic legend.

In commemorating the history of Jews in sports, the Forward should have recognized that Jewish women have made history here, as they have in nearly every field.

Nancy F. Vineberg

Director of Communications

The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

Brandeis University

Waltham, Mass.

Unbaptized in Romany

In Joshua Cohen’s interesting travelogue about Sighet, Romania (“Sighet and the Middle Ages,” January 23), he reports that the local Romany (Gypsy) word for “Jew” is “Biboldo, derived from the same Latin root as biblio, meaning library, and liber, meaning book.” Nice if it were true, but in Romany bi- means “un-” and boldo means “baptized” (from a verb meaning “dunk”). And biblio- comes from the Greek word meaning “book.”

Robert A. Rothstein

Professor of Comparative Literature

University of Massachusetts Amherst

Amherst, Mass.

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