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December 26, 2003

Anti-Gentile Book Aims For Moral High Ground

I was somewhat surprised by the December 19 article on Rabbi Saadya Grama’s book, which alleges racist views on the part of the author (“Charedi Rabbis Rush To Disavow Anti-Gentile Book”).

I have yet not had an opportunity to review the entire book. However, I can state with confidence that nowhere in his words that I have seen have I picked up a racist tone. You quote Lakewood rosh yeshiva Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler as saying, “Our philosophy asserts that every human being is created in the image of the Lord and the primacy of integrity and honesty in all dealings without exception.”

Nowhere in Grama’s book is there a hint to the contrary. He did not recommend dishonesty in our dealings with them, nor claim that they weren’t created in the image of God. Only an ignoramus would make such a argument.

I assure you that Kotler knew that as well, and did not intend to imply that Grama had written as much.

What Grama intended to highlight — as I understood it — was the moral high-ground that Jews have assumed for generations. This responsibility was accepted by Jews at Sinai and it is by no means an exclusive club. Judaism offers conversion for anyone interested in this added responsibility and it is unique among religions in that it doesn’t claim that all others are eternally damned. Nothing racist there. Nor is the position that one’s religion leads to a higher moral code racist. Why else would one choose it as a way of life? Every religion lays claim to the same.

I’m sorry that you chose to portray his work and character in such a negative light. Perhaps the moral high ground is not one that you’re familiar with, thus you find it uncomfortable to read a scholarly work laying claim to it.

Rabbi Elazar Meisels

Detroit, Mich.

One has to ask what is all of the fuss and concern about Rabbi Saadya Grama’s anti-gentile polemic?

As a Modern Orthodox Jew, I can tell you that I have heard comments similar to those made by Grama in reference to non-Jews, in the way of drashot and divrei Torah coming from alumni of many charedi institutions, including the Lakewood Yeshiva. Grama’s hate-filled rhetoric shouldn’t surprise anyone. His words are standard fare in many right-wing Orthodox circles. What is surprising and disturbing is that it took this long for groups like the Anti-Defamation League to wake up to the threat this kind of hate speech poses to Jewish credibility in this country.

David Blatt

Chicago, Ill.

It would seem to me that if the Forward prefers to quote the scripture as basis for your right to have a newspaper filled with slander such as that leveled at Rabbi Saadya Grama, you should take the time to read Rashi’s explanation on the subject in the Talmud and Midrash. I also recommend that the Forward think twice again before quoting the venerable Rambam, who deigned not write an explanation on the scripture because Rashi has already written a “perfect one.”

It would seem to me that if I were to approach any gentile on the street and tell him that his race is genetically superior to all other races, he would be pretty proud of the thought. So why is it that in today’s modern society we can not ascribe to such beliefs?

Granted there is no need to run and tell everyone. But why am I not allowed to feel superior? If I were to posses a special talent, would that not make me superior in that aspect? Must I hide the fact that I have a special talent?

Barry Rotenberg

Via e-mail

Jewish Media Singles Out Joe for Criticism

American Jews, as exemplified by their media, must be great subjects for amateur psychologists studying issues of self-esteem. No where is this clearer than in the coverage of Senator Joe Lieberman’s presidential campaign (“Gore’s Dean Endorsement Exposes Lieberman’s Woes,” December 12).

Nine months straight of leading the pack in national polls is reflexively dismissed as the product of name-recognition from 2000. Fundraising numbers on par with the rest of the field, with one exception, are derided for not exceeding the media’s unrealistic expectations. Any good news is always cloaked in dismissive phrases about the campaign’s long-term prospects.

While The New York Sun, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Boston Globe and many other media outlets reported on the unexpected boom to the Lieberman campaign created by Al Gore’s endorsement of Howard Dean, predictably the Forward finds a way to report Lieberman’s loss.

The lines are now drawn between an insular, isolationist, protectionist, weak Democratic Party, and the party of Bill Clinton combining progressive values with a sensible, strong and, yes, compassionate foreign policy. The only Democrat prepared to carry the Clinton mantle into the future is Lieberman.

Michael Granoff

Tenafly, N.J.

Differ Between Thugs And Freedom Fighters

Columnist Gus Tyler’s December 12 comments on President Bush’s statement calling the attackers of our troops “a bunch of thugs” are disgraceful (“Battling a ‘Bunch of Thugs”).

Tyler writes that when our own Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale said, “I regret that I have but one life to give to my country,” we hailed him as an exemplary hero. But when Iraqi suicide bombers give their lives for their cause, we give them the tag of “thugs.”

Yes, they get the tag of “thug.” These suicide bombers kill anybody who gets in their way as they kill their intended target. It doesn’t matter that there are innocent bystanders of any age who will be undoubtedly be blown to smithereens. It doesn’t matter that there are women and children on their way to the school or home. It doesn’t matter how many or who are killed or horribly injured. All that concerns them is that they kill an infidel.

Tyler also observes that at Lexington, Concord and in subsequent conflicts, the Minutemen fired from rocks and trees at the glistening targets of British Redcoats. Yes, they hid behind trees and rocks to kill the British. But they did not hide behind trees and rocks and target children on the roads walking with their mommies, or at the market place, as the suicide bombers do.

That is the difference between the two.

Leslie Foley

Springfield, Ill.

Time To Give President Respect He Deserves

In reporting the Bush administration’s appointment of James Baker III to negotiate the restructuring of Iraqi debt, the Forward takes a tone that implies that the development is somehow bad for Israel (“Unbeloved Bush Aide Baker Reemerges in Mideast Thicket”).

I am at least grateful that the Forward quotes the leaders of the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League, who understand that there is no subterranean attempt to pressure Israel. Baker’s responsibilities will have not the slightest thing to do with American policy toward Israel.

Although I too feel that Baker is of no help in matters of Middle East politics, I have great respect for his business and legal abilities. He is a good choice for this job.

The Forward’s reporting reflects an aspect of Jewish communal hesitation with respect to President Bush that is all together inexplicable when one dispassionately reviews the policy of his administration toward Israel, the Arab world and terrorism. The president has earned the respect and thanks of Jews around the world. It is time that we take him at his word.

Steven Levy

Greenwich, Conn.

Red Ribbon Can’t Ward Off Acts of Immodesty

As a student and teacher of Kabbalah for the last 10 years, I am always interested in such news items as the well-written December 12 article on the “Kabbalah Red String” (“Patent Office Rules Against Kabbalists”)

One thing I didn’t see mentioned and would like to point out is that the celebrities like Madonna and Britney Spears who wear the red string are making a mistake for another reason. The string is supposed to ward off the “evil eye,” namely jealousy. These two stars are baring themselves and enticing the eyes of the masses. Even if wearing a red string has an effect, wearing it along with their outfits is like trying to stop a tidal wave with a teaspoon. It just won’t work.

Rabbi Max Weiman

St. Louis, Mo.

The writer is author of “A Map of the Universe: An Introduction to the Study of Kabbalah.”

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