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March 26, 2004

Same-Sex Nups Arrests Didn’t Violate Rights

While I was happy to be included in your article about clergy performing same-sex “marriages” (“Groups Say Ban on Gay Vows Breaches Religious Freedom,” March 19), and was quoted accurately as contending that those who violate civil laws are rightfully subject to prosecution, the main point I made to your reporter was absent. It had to do with why the religious rights of the clergy in question were not at issue.

That would be because it is one thing for a clergyperson to perform a religious ceremony, with religious significance and religious implications, for two people of the same gender (or for a group of people of the same or any combination of genders). To those of us who revere the Jewish tradition, it is offensive, to be sure, for a rabbi to do so under the rubric of “Judaism,” as that misappropriates the name of an unambiguous system of law that has a 3,000-year-old definition. But that, too, does not run afoul of the law; in many cases, Americans are free to misrepresent truths, and secular law has no business enforcing religious ones.

What is illegal, though, and was the reason for the clerics’ prosecution, is to attempt to effect a civilly recognized marriage where such marriage is not recognized by the law. The clergy in question pointedly indicated that they intended their ceremonies to have civil validity. And, as the rabbi quoted in your article explicitly said: “I will say some version of ‘by the power vested in me by the state of New York.’” That, of course, is why such ceremonies have been announced beforehand, and why the media has been invited to attend.

So what we have here is an attempt to force the state to hew to particular clerics’ notions of marriage. To present their prosecutions as a damper on religious freedom, as they and their defenders have done, is cynical and disingenuous.

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Director of Public Affairs

Agudath Israel of America

New York, N.Y.

On Gay Rites Leave Freedom To Disagree

Whether or not any one of us personally believes (as I do) that making same-sex marriage possible is wise and holy, I hope that practically all of us will agree that those rabbis and other Jews who do should be free in American law to marry and to officiate at such weddings, as an expression of freedom of religion (“Groups Say Ban on Gay Vows Breaches Religious Freedom,” March 19).

Rabbi Ellen Lippmann is to be commended for her courage.

Susan Kitchell

San Francisco, Calif.

Not All Israeli Leaders Were Elite Soldiers

In your article on young Israelis awaiting their induction into the Israel Defense Force (“Age 18 in the Western Galilee: Youths Await IDF Enlistment,” March 19), you report: “While idealistic soldiers might be harder to find today, there are still many who willingly endure the grueling tests required for training in the IDF’s elite combat divisions, such as the Tzanhanim, or paratroopers, and Shayetet 13, the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. Navy Seals. Every Israeli prime minister has served in one of these elite forces.” The statement that “Every Israeli prime minister has served in one of these elite forces” is incorrect.

Only four of Israel’s prime ministers even served in the IDF. Yitzhak Rabin served in the pre-state Haganah and later went on to become the IDF’s chief of staff. Benjamin Netanyahu served as a captain in the Sayeret Matkal, arguably Israel’s most prestigious commando unit, while Ehud Barak rose through the ranks to become that unit’s commander before going on to command Armor Corps units and later becoming the IDF’s chief of staff. Ariel Sharon was the commander of one of Israel’s first commando units, Unit 101, which was active in the border skirmishes and infiltrations of the early 1950s, and later the paratroopers, before going on to command the Southern Command in the early 1970s.

None of Israel’s earlier prime ministers (David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres), however, even served in the IDF, although Begin was in the Free Polish Army during World War II (he deserted when his unit got to Palestine), and in the Irgun underground. Yitzhak Shamir, for many years a top Mossad operative, was also active in the Irgun, which fought the British during the Mandate, while Ben-Gurion and Peres were involved with the Haganah as political leaders. Peres, despite his lack of military background, became entrenched as a politician in Israel’s defense establishment, and is widely considered to be the force behind the establishment of Israel’s nuclear program.

David Eden

Princeton, N.J.

A Minister’s Moral Misunderstanding

Israel’s housing minister, Effi Eitam, argues that the plan is “immoral” because it involves “transferring Jews from their homes” in Gaza (“Minister Urging Americans To Protest Gaza Pullout Plan,” March 19). In other words, ending the occupation has now become “immoral.” While Eitam also cites security concerns, an issue upon which there is disagreement among Israeli officials, his new moral logic deserves attention.

Coming from a far-left perspective, I can agree with Eitam’s basic logic, that is, Jews should be able to live anywhere in the historic land of Israel. However, if we are invoking a moral argument, the same must be true for Palestinians because there is no legitimate “moral” reason for favoring one community over another. Hence the extension of Eitam’s moral logic would result in two possibilities: one bi-national state or two bi-national states, one with a Palestinian minority and the other with a Jewish minority, Israel and Palestine.

In fact, this was suggested by one leader of the settler movement, who argued that he could support the end of the occupation and a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank if he could continue to live in his West Bank settlement as a citizen of Palestine. This suggestion, as strange as it might seem, is quite important because it makes the crucial distinction between the religious obligation to live in the land of Israel and the political reality of a state for which there is no religious obligation.

If Eitam wants to talk morality, he must stick to the confines of that discourse and follow its logic and not use morality as a guise for the continuation of immorality. When ardent defenders of the occupation begin using moral logic to protest the basic right of self-determination of the Palestinian people, and gaining support with such arguments, I think Jews should begin wondering about how this morass has seriously clouded our thinking.

Shaul Magid

Paris, France

The writer is an associate professor of Jewish thought at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Frank Rich’s Blind Spot on Antisemitism

If Frank Rich really were concerned about antisemitism, he would say something about his own New York Times (“It’s a Rich Battle as O’Reilly, Times Critic Square Off in Culture War,” March 12). In February, Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote that Ariel Sharon has “George Bush under house arrest in the Oval Office.” Last October, columnist Paul Krugman blamed Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahathir’s infamous antisemitic speech on Bush and his “unconditional support for Ariel Sharon.”

The New York Times is just as bad, if not worse, than Bill O’Reilly’s coded references to the “elite media.”

Diane Anderson

Lincolnwood, Ill.

Times Columnist Lacks The Courage To Debate

Bill O’Reilly’s “no spin zone” has long been one of my guilty pleasures (along with watching Bill Goldberg growl and flex his marvelous biceps on Monday night World Wrestling). As for Frank Rich, comparing O’Reilly, who states that he has raised big bucks for Jewish charities, to Father Charles Coughlin, a bigot, antisemite and rabble-rouser, reflects on the intelligence of Rich (“It’s a Rich Battle as O’Reilly, Times Critic Square Off in Culture War,” March 12).

As for O’Reilly’s comments regarding Jewish control of Hollywood, this is hardly a secret. Personally, I’m proud that our brethren actually created Hollywood and to this day are responsible for the marvelous films that bring enjoyment to worldwide audiences.

And I should add that O’Reilly is an equal-opportunity basher, lamenting the large number of homosexual priests in his own Roman Catholic Church. Yes, O’Reilly has loads of chutzpah, but Rich apparently lacks the cojones to accept O’Reilly’s invitation to go mano a mano with him on the Fox News Channel.

Irv Jacobs

San Diego, Calif.

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