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December 19, 2003

Interfaith ‘Debate’ Is A Egregiously Wrong

Opinion columnist David Klinghoffer recommends that Jews and Christians enter full-fledged debate over the eternity of Torah and Jesus as Messiah (“Modern-day Disputations, December 12). He also speculates that Rav Joseph Soloveitchik never opposed debate — just amicable dialogue. He is egregiously wrong in both claims.

It is hard to think of a more damaging idea for both Jews and Christians than for them to renew the polemical disputations of the past. Such exercises are negative sum games, where both sides lose. Nothing is proven and nothing is accomplished other than divisiveness.

Soloveitchik understood the dangers in this kind of activity, as debate of theological convictions is explicitly what he did reject, not dialogue between empathic parties. Moreover, in arguing for this idea, Klinghoffer displays the same arrogance with which the Church approached Jews in the Middle Ages.

Faithful Jews and Christians have much to dialogue about today. They both face the threats of militant Islam and pervasive materialism. They both share the quests to find God in modern life, to be faithful to their religious traditions and to see God’s Image in every human being. Let them come together to discuss these common concerns, to strengthen their faiths and make the world a better, holier place for all humanity.

Rabbi Eugene Korn

Bergenfield, N.J.

‘Hebrew Hammer’ Hits Dull Note on Comedy

I’m grateful film critic Michael Bronski liked “The Hebrew Hammer” (“Hammer Time,” December 5). In my own way, I was looking forward to enjoying it just as much. And while I chose to escape from it during one of its commercials, his review made me wonder if we had seen the same picture. It was not only over the top, it lacked a spine upon which to hang a skeleton, which for me had no reality and lost any point as to why it was made. Superman was a better Jewish hero than was “Hammer.”

“Shaft” or some of the other black exploitation movies are acceptable because the mainstream audiences had seen only maids, butlers or chauffeurs in African-American roles. American filmgoers knew Jews as leading actors even if they were never represented as Jews. Producers and studio heads as Jews have not been a well-kept secret either, as well as a myriad of other behind-the-scenes contributors that were well publicized as Jews.

African Americans would have loved to have traded places with such names. But Jews seemed to feel that something bad would happen if they betrayed their heritage; African-Americans had difficulty hiding their heritage.

As a professional actor going to auditions where Jews were being portrayed, I often heard actors being asked to “pull it down, it’s too Jewish!” But what I saw in “The Hebrew Hammer” was a bad take on “Saturday Night Live,” where improvisation was spotty, and a “through line” felt as if it were a fishing line with too many hooks too close together. Groucho and Cantor were outrageous for their times. “The Hebrew Hammer” was too far along in history to pretend to be as self-conscious as it was.

Perhaps if they had placed the “Hammer” as an immigrant of the 1920s or 1930s, it would have played better, and sounded more like what Bronski assumed he saw. Now, too much of it was like a bad joke that went on much too long. The divisions between African Americans and Jews are too real to bear the frail humor that tried to casually cross that bridge.

Nevertheless, I’m glad it was written, I’m glad it was produced and filmed and seen, and that Bronski liked it as much as he did. Now all we need to do is to begin learning how to create humor that Jews have enjoyed, but used now to bridge the gaps that do more than titillate, but help us to be more respectful and less cynical of one another’s belief systems.

As Edmund Gwen, the Santa in “Miracle on 34th Street,” reputedly said: “Dying isn’t hard, comedy is.” This stuff was just too easy.

Nathan Adler

Rome, Ga.

Candy Menorah a Treat, But so Is Gingerbread

I found the December 12 Judaikitsch column on making a candy menorah creative, festive and refreshing. Building things out of candy and sweets is always a treat for children — and grown-up children too — and this is a wonderful idea for a way to spend time together over the holidays.

However, I was disappointed by the author’s expressed need to put down the Christmas tradition of building gingerbread houses in order to convince us of the potential merits of her idea. The Judaikitsch columnist calls them “boring, predictable,” claiming the candy menorah to be “superior.” Do we need to enter into a competition of name-calling in order to bolster ourselves? Why not just promote what could be a delightful new tradition for Jewish families and leave it at that?

Liz Rogers

Somerville, Mass.

Unilateralist Editorial Misunderstands Enemy

Unilateral separation by Israel from large areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip without a negotiated settlement and quitclaim with the Palestinians may, as argued in a December 12 editorial, be better than the status quo (“Olmert’s Choice”). And, just possibly, it might not be interpreted by Palestinians to mean that terrorism and suicide bombings are effective means of compelling Israeli retreat, although Israel’s evacuation from Lebanon was widely understood in the Arab world to mean precisely that.

But no perspective on this current painful debate can justify the mindless take on “unilateralism” expressed by the editorialist. The Forward argues that “every step that either side takes, from setting up a roadblock to blowing up a pizzeria, is unilateral.” Is it really true that the subhuman act of murdering mothers and children sitting down to lunch at a Jerusalem restaurant is unconnected to the setting up of roadblocks to interdict the murderers? Is not the latter a necessary, if imperfect, response to the depraved actions of the murderers? Would there be roadblocks if there were no killers to intercept?

The Forward’s offhand and deeply offensive equation of acts of heartless violence with necessary defensive response betrays a fundamental failure to grasp the meaning of the current Palestinian war against Israel’s existence. Whatever the best strategy, it is crucial to understand the nature and purpose of a cruel, immoral and heartless enemy.

Robert Moss

Metuchen, N.J.

Former Bosnian Official Faces Political Charges

As a member of former Bosnian foreign minister Muhamed Sacirbey’s legal team, I must note the incorrect characterization of the Bosnian investigation of my client in a December 12 article (“Former Bosnian Official Rails From Jail”).

The Forward asserts that Sacirbey is being investigated on the charge of embezzlement. Rather, the charge is “abuse of authority,” an offense created during Tito-era Yugoslavia to purge those officials who crossed the Communist Party leadership. Indeed, there is a separate charge in the Bosnian Criminal Code for embezzlement while in office — a charge not leveled against Sacirbey.

A closer look at the “case” leveled against him leads to the conclusion that political motivations in Bosnia are driving these proceedings. Unfortunately, such issues are beyond the purview of the extradition hearing.

Magistrate Judge Frank Maas will have only three questions to address: First, is there a valid treaty between the United States and Bosnia-Herzegovina? Second, is the alleged offense one that is extraditable pursuant to the treaty? And third, is there probable cause to believe a crime was committed and that the person for whom extradition is requested was involved?

Sacirbey’s legal team’s position on all three questions is “no.” As for the political motivations behind this case, these will come to light if Sacirbey’s case returns to the State Department for a final review.

Scott Johnson

Attorney at Law

Santa Monica, Calif.

No Place for Politics In Holocaust Story

Holocaust survivor Simon Rozenkier eloquently expresses the events he witnessed and experienced in his heart-rendering December 12 opinion article (“Let Courts Give Closure to Holocaust Victims”). As a teacher of Holocaust studies I was prepared to share this article with my students and to encourage reaction and writing expression on this issue.

However, as I came to the last paragraph I was taken aback by the ad hominem and unwarranted attack upon President Bush. To invoke the Holocaust to further one’s own personal political agenda is not only regrettable but dysfunctional to Jewish interests at a time of dire danger when we need all the friends we can garner to our cause.

The canard that “the apple never falls far from the tree” is as applicable to George Bush as it was to John F. Kennedy.

For Rozenkier, discretion would have been the better part of valor.

Alan Jay Gerber

Brooklyn, N.Y.

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