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February 28, 2003

Leftist Rabbi Denied Podium Because of Ego

Once again, Rabbi Michael Lerner has made headlines with his self-aggrandizing egoism, and the Forward fell for it lock, stock and barrel (“Leftist Rabbi Claims He’s Too Pro-Israel for Anti-War Group,” February 14).

While it is true that one of the anti-war groups, International Answer, is flagrantly anti-Zionist and possibly antisemitic, that is not the reason why Lerner was denied the podium at the recent anti-war rally in San Francisco. The real reason was that there was an agreement among the four groups organizing the rally that anyone who criticized any one of them publicly would not be allowed to speak — which Lerner, unlike the three other Jewish speakers at the rally, did.

Once again, Lerner has again put his ego before any political coalition and given the press an excuse to taint the entire anti-war coalition.

Jack Nusan Porter

West Newton, Mass.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. Some people find that intolerable. I find it admirable.

During my experience as a peace activist, I have come to know many Muslims, Jews and non-believers. This has been an experience that has caused my mind and my compassion to grow.

As a Christian, I am commanded to respect all people. Hate evil, yes, but still to respect, as a creation of God, even those who do this evil.

Do I have concerns? Yes. I get concerned when anyone does evil to others no matter their faith or for reasons having nothing to do with God. It is evil we must look for, expose, and punish, no matter the source. Picking on Lerner doesn’t root out the evil.

Doug Willbanks

Beaverton, Ore.

Roses, Tape and Cipro

I very much enjoyed reading Alana Newhouse’s February 21 article on “war paranoia” (“Her Funny Valentine Charms Her With Water, Duct Tape and Cipro”). What the reporter conveniently left out of the article, however, was that I also gave her a dozen red roses that day.

Daniel McCray

New York, N.Y.

Critics of ‘Hate’ Article Don’t Refute Argument

A number of prominent Jewish scholars are quoted in a February 14 article as being severely critical of Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik’s take on Jewish attitudes toward forgiveness (“Critics Unforgiving of a Jewish Scholar’s Defense of ‘Hate’”).

Not one of the scholars, though, substantively disputes Soloveitchik’s central point — that there is strong support in Judaism for the notion that “hate can be virtuous when one is dealing with the frightfully wicked.” Instead, Soloveitchik’s article in the conservative religion journal First Things is denounced as “infuriating” and “immoral,” Soloveitchik himself is referred to disparagingly as experiencing intellectual growing pains, and reaction to his article is limited to hand-wringing about what Christians may think of Jews.

Three criticisms of Soloveitchik and his article, and not of them on the merits of the case he argues.

Daniel Ehrenreich

New York, N.Y.

Those who still make the simplistic division between Judaism as a “religion of hate” and Christianity as a “religion of love” would do best to revisit the Bible and New Testament.

The Torah admonishes us to love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus, 19:18). Furthermore, the Torah advises, when a stranger settles with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. “He shall be treated as a native born among you, and you shall love him as yourself, because you were strangers in Egypt” (Leviticus 19:33-34).

The Gospels, on the other hand, warns that “you must not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.… No man is worthy of me who cares more for father or mother than for me; no man is worthy of me who cares for son or daughter” (Mathew 10:34-37).

Michael Spielholz

Bayside, N.Y.

I found the reaction of Jewish thinkers to Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik’s article quite amusing. It is reminiscient of the reaction of Jewish liberals at the turn of the 20th century to the discovery of strongly anti-Christian invective in the writings of many of our Rishonim, whose manuscripts were published after centuries of being lost or buried. Too bad that an objective analysis of a major theological difference between two major faiths should ruffle so many feathers. What are we afraid of? Are we fearful that our neighbors will no longer converse with us? Are we fearful that we won’t be able to project the broadminded tolerance that seems to be so important to some of the Jewish scholars?

What has been the moral fiber and the concern for the wellbeing of others demonstrated by those committed followers of the “Wrathful God?” Is it possible that without the need to answer fully and completely for ones actions, that without the realization that there is divine retribution for the evil one has committed during one’s lifetime, it might be nearly impossible to scale the heights of moral greatness to wish we aspire?

Rabbi David Friedman

Oceanside, N.Y.

When ‘Being Different’ Is an Ethnic Criticism

Opinion columnist Leonard Fein takes as “an unusually high compliment” the confession of a friend that Fein is different from his fellow Jews concerning his relationship with African Americans (“After Col. Ilan Ramon’s Death,” February 14).

In 1944 I was an 18-year-old in the U.S. Air Corps. Among many others in our group, there was a soldier from Idaho and several Jewish soldiers, one of whom said and did things not too “socially acceptable.” This soldier from Idaho made some remark to the effect of “there goes that Jew boy again.” I told him that I resented what he said, that I was Jewish and that everyone is an individual and should be judged accordingly. His response was, “well, you’re different.”

Though he intended it to be a compliment, I told him it was nonsense. And really, how many Jews could he have known in Idaho, in 1944?

Fein is deluded in viewing of his friend’s remark as a “compliment.”

Jacob Hoffman

Wilmington, Del.

Mixing Law and Politics

Opinion writer David Klinghoffer struggles to fit Jewish tradition on issues into contemporary political categories, and for good reason: “Left,” “right,” “liberal” and “conservative” are not Jewish categories (“Animal Rights and the Political Animal,” January 31). They are modern Western ideas that emerged in the French Revolution and the Congress of Vienna around two centuries ago. Rabbinic law is two millennia old and is based on a tradition that is at least a millennium older than that.

The task of analyzing rabbinic literature to shed light on issues has to involve finding how the rabbis defined or would have defined the issues. The result is something that has nothing to do with “right” and “left.”

Instead of trying to figure out whether a Jewish law or opinion is “right” or “left,” Klinghoffer should try to see whether the views of those espousing liberal or conservative views fit in with our tradition. Not that this is always easy or obvious, but it is the best way to approach such questions.

Rabbi Philip Bentley

New Hyde Park, N.Y.

Review Rabbis’ Roles

The continuing aftershocks from Rabbi Baruch Lanner’s sex-abuse case, which indicate that rabbis have protected rabbis rather than their constituents, should leave all rabbis quaking (“Lanner Lawyer Says Sex Abuse Complaints Are Exaggerated,” February 14).

Those of us in national positions in organizations that provide communal and rabbinic services must review our policies and where none exist, create them.

And those policies must satisfy the highest standard of protection for those whom the Torah itself proclaims to be our weakest. For if they “cry out” before God, He will hear them, and we, God forbid, the failed judges of our day, will be called to account.

The religious community must not only speak out against physical abuse committed by rabbis, but also against one of the attitudes enabling such behavior.

There is an increasing tendency of congregants to see their rabbi as infallible. Respect is certainly due to rabbis. But the lay community must be empowered by its rabbis to understand Torah and rabbinic law well enough to challenge the behavior of its representatives.

According to Rashi, Moses was told by God not to be satisfied with repeating the laws two or three times before the Jews. He was charged with being certain that the Jewish people understood the ta’amei hamitzvot, the rationale behind the 613 commandments. When the rabbi’s behavior is in conflict either with that rationale or the law itself, both rabbis and congregants should be free to challenge.

Rabbi Ronald Price

Executive Vice President

Union for Traditional Judaism

Teaneck, N.J.

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