June 9

The Pope Speaks, and The Critics Pounce

Your June 2 article “At Auschwitz, Ire at What Pope Didn’t Say” reported on the criticisms leveled by some in the Jewish community at Pope Benedict XVI’s speech at Auschwitz. It is worth noting, however, that several days later, in his General Audience in Rome, Pope Benedict delivered the explicit condemnation of antisemitism that his critics were looking for in his remarks in Auschwitz. I would raise the question, though, about raising the concern in the first place. The pope had already on several occasions explicitly condemned antisemitism and doubtlessly will do so again. Must everything be said every time in order to avoid such criticism? Especially something which is already so clear on the papal record?

Eugene J. Fisher

Associate Director

Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Washington, D.C.

Kosher Meat, Treyf Labor Practices

First, we had to endure the reports from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on the AgriProcessors kosher slaughterhouse’s treatment of the animals, whose suffering and pain are supposed to be mitigated by kosher means of slaughter. Following those ghastly reports, we now discover that the rabbis running this place, with the utmost regard and rigor for the laws of kashrut, are far less scrupulous, to say the least, when it comes to ensuring decent working conditions, described by many in the know as the worst in the business (“In Iowa Meat Plant, Kosher ‘Jungle’ Breeds Fear, Injury, Short Pay,” May 26).

And the response from the Orthodox establishment? Mum. Business is business, I guess. I find it morally repugnant that there has not been a strong response to this chilul Hashem, this desecration of God’s name, from the Orthodox community, and I feel the only proper response would be for a boycott of all meat coming out of this plant, until it adjusts its working conditions to meet civilized, humane standards. Until that time, their meat, as far as I’m concerned, is treyf.

Yaakov Sullivan

Brooklyn, N.Y.

Thank you for a revealing and saddening article. Living in the far west of the greater Phoenix area, we have little access to kosher poultry, either fresh or frozen. For years, I bought Empire products (which my husband and I prefer anyway), but my local supplier switched to Aaron’s, and so that’s what I’ve been getting.

After reading your article, as far as I’m concerned, products from such a source are glatt treyf, and I will no longer be buying them. If we just eat vegetables, it’s better than supporting people who behave in a way that desecrates the laws that make Judaism important to me.

Rose Abrami

Sun City West, Ariz.

Distorting Judaism in Gay-Marriage Debate

In an effort that would no doubt impress even George Orwell, liberal clergy have joined together to defend gay marriage as a religious right whose restriction is an infringement of their First Amendment rights (“Liberals Defend Gay Marriage As Religious Right,” May 26). You quote a leader of a Reform congregation disputing the fact that “every spiritual tradition considers one man and one woman to be the only form of marriage,” and arguing that to enshrine such a view in law is an “affront” to his faith.

With the issue of how American law should treat same-sex couples occupying center stage this week — with the United States Senate debating a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage — it is critical to make clear what has been Judaism’s view on this matter for millennia.

The position of traditional Judaism on homosexual behavior is clear and unambiguous, terse and absolute. Homosexual behavior is absolutely forbidden by Jewish law, beginning with the biblical imperative, alluded to numerous times in the Talmud and codified in the Shulchan Aruch. The position of Judaism on marriage is equally clear. Judaism recognizes marriage as a fundamental human institution, and affirms marriage only between a man and a woman.

I contest the description of Jewish values that has been foisted upon the public by numerous spokesmen of various factions of Judaism. To argue that same-sex marriage is consistent with the traditions of Judaism is intellectually dishonest at best and blasphemous at worst.

People of good will can debate what is the appropriate policy stance toward this matter and how to enshrine it in American law. I believe that all religions have the responsibility of educating the public about core values that we believe have universal, as well as particular, religious import. In this regard, we ought to consider a talmudic passage that says that the nations of the world, however sinful, corrupt or perverse, still have the merit of at least three behaviors, one of which is “they do not write a ketubah for males.”

Other religious leaders and I did not foment this debate. It has been forced upon us. We are taught that certain aspects of human behavior, even very normal and natural functions, are best treated with modesty and privacy. However, the extreme statements and declarations that have been made, and in the very name of Judaism, simply cannot be allowed to pass. We cannot be silent when Judaism is fraudulently depicted as condoning something that its Torah clearly and irreversibly condemns.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb

Executive Vice President

Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America

New York, N.Y.

Super-Jews Aplenty

I am utterly ashamed to be writing to the Forward about such a matter, but if I remember correctly, back in the 1980s, Marvel had a rather obviously Jewish super-heroine: Sabra, an Israeli with superpowers, joined the X-Men for a period of time (“Our Own Superhero: A Matter of Pryde,” May 26). While it’s delightful to discover that Shadowcat is not your typical Jewish princess, she must yield her first-Marvel-Jewish-super-heroine title to, of course, a tough-talking Israeli.

Naomi Paiss

Director of Communications

New Israel Fund

Washington, D.C.

Viva Las Vegas

Like Las Vegas in general, our Jewish community is on an upward swing (“As Las Vegas Booms, Infrastructure Lags,” May 5). The temple in the funeral chapel you cited is a sign of growth and development, not a lack of foundation among Jews. There is a strong Jewish base that has been quite visible through our 40- to 50-year history.

Las Vegas is unique and, in a city that is all about casinos, the activities of some groups do indeed involve casino sites. Many groups, especially senior retirement communities, save money by meeting in available casino space rather than in the usual office space.

We are also a typical Western Jewish community, in that there is a percentage of unaffiliated greater than most Eastern Jewish communities. But the fact that the local Jewish federation, the Anti-Defamation League and the larger temples are raising four times the donations they did five years ago is proof that we are growing and maturing.

Another sign of the community’s strength and influence are the Jewish-sponsored programs for the community at large that are increasing every year. The ADL’s “No Place For Hate” and its many other anti-bias educational programs, along with the federation’s Senior Lifeline, are just a few examples.

We in Las Vegas see these changes as signs of vitality and growth, not disconnection and apathy.

Cynthia Luria

Las Vegas Regional Director

Anti-Defamation League

Las Vegas, Nev.

I read with interest your article on Las Vegas. But I would like to clarify some facts about our congregation. After our temple building was sold, we had to find places to hold our various activities. Our religious school takes place in a public school. We have rented office space, though not, as your article suggested, in a five-story building. And while we do meet in a funeral chapel, it is exactly that: a chapel. We could have met in a church or school or hotel, but this is a lovely building with a Jewish context. For bar and bat mitzvahs and weddings, we use hotels. This type of adaptation is not unique to Las Vegas. In many other communities, synagogues in transition have had to rent space whether in hotels, churches or office buildings.

Our building project will be phased in over a number of years. The first phase is a religious school, a preschool, offices and a social hall. Next will be a Jewish day school. The third phase will be an adult education building, which will include classes of all kind but it is in no way dedicated solely to Kabbalah. With time, we do hope to offer a Jewish healing center similar to ones that exist in Phoenix, San Francisco and New York.

In the 18 years that I have lived here, the Jewish community has grown by about 50,000 Jews. It is only natural that it will take time to build up the communal infrastructure. I personally am proud to be part of this process and look forward to the continued opportunities that our community’s growth presents.

Rabbi Sanford Akselrad

Congregation Ner Tamid

Henderson, Nev.

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June 9

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