Jewish Journal


December 29, 2005



Midnight Clear

Kudos to Darcy Vebber for her evocative account of childhood Christmases in the Arizona desert and her spiritual journey to Judaism as an adult ("A Midnight Clear," Dec. 23), particularly fitting this year, when Christmas Day and the first night of Chanukah happen to coincide. The "surrender of her past," as she terms it, is described with poetic grace and an open heart exquisitely attuned to the feelings that underlie most religious experience: "the longing for peace and the connection to something holy."

Throughout the essay, Vebber touches on what was left behind -- her family names, her Christian identity -- without regret while retaining a deep acknowledgment of the power of Christmas and the early, indelible imprint it made (and continues to make) on her sense of the sacred.

The author's words remind us, most especially in a world so torn by sectarian religious violence, that true Holiness knows neither dogma nor denomination. That the manifestation of the Divine in the material world, whether it be to Moses on Sinai or to the Apostles in the thrall of Pentecost or to Mohammed rapt in the Ghar-i-Hira -- to each of us everyday when we look into the eyes of our fellow human beings, is an expression of transcendent, unconditional love, not of the rigid intolerance, ignorance, hatred and paranoia that only serve to limit the Infinite and threaten to fracture the world community beyond repair. Amen to Vebber's midnight clarity.

Barry Smolin
Los Angeles

Stop the Fighting

The Dec. 23 issue containing letters from rabbis attacking each other hits the nail right on the head. Not one word focused on the importance of Israel in maintaining Jewish identity. After 57 years, many American Jewish leaders still don't get it. Rabbinic dictates do not exclusively define Jewish identity to millions of American Jews. If they did, there wouldn't be a need to change the rules to allow sexual orientation or ability to pay synagogue dues to become a basis to join a synagogue.

Myles L. Berman
Beverly Hills

As an Orthodox Jew active in the Modern Orthodox community, several adjectives come to mind after reading the Orthodox Union leadership's criticism of Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's call for greater dialogue with non-Orthodox Jews ("Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role," Dec. 9). These include ironic, baffling and disingenuous.

Ironic because the night the letter appeared, all three synagogue rabbis on a panel at the OU Regional Convention supported such dialogue. Baffling because I wonder what all the fuss is about. Is the OU concerned that after engaging in such dialogue Orthodox Jews will abandon Orthodoxy? If so, we have a lot more to worry about than dialogue. Are we concerned about legitimizing non-halachic Judaism? Frankly, non-Orthodox Judaism, composed of 90 percent of American Jewry, doesn't need our legitimization.

Finally, the whole "slippery slope" argument is disingenuous. Halachic Judaism has remained vital precisely because it has adapted over time. From Hillel's prozbul to the incorporation of bat mitzvah ceremonies, halachic Judaism has always sought to come to grips with the issues of the day. The greatness of halachic Judaism is its struggle with the tension between the demands of a changing society and those of halacha. Unfortunately, what those who invoke "slippery slope" often really are doing is trying to alleviate the neck aches caused by looking over their shoulders, worried about what the more right-wing Orthodox will think.

Robert M. Smith
Los Angeles

Misguided Single

I have liked several of Orit Arfa's columns and disagreed with some. Overall, I regard her as a writer who sides with the traditional Jews who support Israel 100 percent.

So I was concerned about this column ("The Married Charedi and Me," Dec. 23).

If you think about it, what does this piece really serve? Wouldn't it have been possible to speak to the young man about how to meaningfully reconnect his soul to the tradition -- get marriage counseling, anything but encourage his slide into the soulless secular world.

It is painfully ironic that this column appears during Chanukah time when the real battle of Chanukah was not only against the Syrian Greeks, but against the Hellenized Jews who wanted to live secular lives focused on the body and not on the soul.

Joshua Spiegelman
Via e-mail

'Munich' Missteps

Tom Tugend's article on the film "Munich" says both too much and too little ("Judgment on 'Munich," Dec. 16). Why present as a negative someone else's view that "Munich" is really about America's response to Sept. 11? Of course it is and more. All good drama is universal at heart. "The Merchant of Venice" does not survive because we are desperate to understand the Venetian merchant oligarchy; it survives because the drama provides insights for audiences today. "Munich's" exploration of what vengeance does to one's soul and civilization is a universal topic, worthy of discussion. All other questions ignore the purpose of art and send the debate to dead ends, devaluing the movie and its potential contribution to our lives.

Stephen Mark
Santa Monica

I wonder how Steven Spielberg would react to a film that portrayed Nazi concentration camp officers as reluctant soldiers merely following orders, despite the bouts of conscience and inner turmoil in their hearts. The Shoah Foundation creator would, I assume, walk out of the theater in disgust.

The problem with "Munich" is that it takes an actual historical event -- one which continues to have a powerful impact on Israelis and Jews around the world -- and twists the facts for a political agenda. While we should feel pride at Israel's response to the Munich massacre, carrying on the tradition of "Never Again," Spielberg inaccurately portrays the Israeli heroes of the story as guilt-ridden and doubting the justness of their mission. He disappoints us, choosing to cast his lot with the rest of the radical Hollywood left by trying to draw a moral equivalent between terrorism and the forces that seek to destroy it. By doing so, he insults the integrity of those brave people who have fought and continue to fight terror, as well as the memory of its victims.

Daniel Iltis
Los Angeles

In an article on Steven Spielberg's new film "Munich," you quote Spielberg as stating that he objects to the "tit-for-tat" cycle of Arab attacks on Israel, Israeli responses and Arab counter-responses. Spielberg misunderstands what's going on. The "cycle of violence" exists only because the Arabs' numbers and territory are too vast for Israel to conquer and occupy as the World War II allies did to Germany and Japan. The Arab states dropped the regular-warfare option some years ago, finding it ineffective. They turned to the political offensive (delegitimizing Israel and offering it a "peace process"), which is aided by their Islamic and leftist allies, and the terrorist option, which is subsidized by Arab and Islamic states and wealthy sympathizers. The means have changed, but the goal (destroying Israel) has not.

Chaim Sisman
Los Angeles


In the obituary for Rabbi Jacob Ott (Dec. 23), it should have been noted in the headline that he died at age 86. Also, he died on Dec. 17 and retired in 1994. The Journal regrets the errors.

Orthodoxy's Role

People who write well are to be admired. For this, I do appreciate Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky's article ("Orthodoxy Has Chance to Reshape Role," Dec. 9) about interfaithing with non-Orthodox groups. How wonderful it is that these outside groups are adapting some Orthodox ideas and examples. What Rabbi Kanefsky doesn't say, and has no intention of doing, is adapting any non-Orthodox ideas. In the words he doesn't write is the implicit fact that these ideals and tenets are non-negotiable. As with many Orthodox, the only correct way to be a Jew is his way. Read his words and listen to his remarks from his pulpit. This rabbi is not interfaithing. He is just proselytizing,

Howard Fink
Van Nuys

The OU is a commercial organization that strongly competes for kashrut business with other Jews and wants to be the last word on Torah.

Sadly, it was totally silent while Jews were expelled from their homes on God-given Jewish land. Once the expulsion was complete, the OU sent e-mails asking for money to help the settlers.

It is perfectly rational to place more trust in a local rabbi, such as Rabbi Kanefsky than in a commercial organization that stood idle while birthright land of the Jews was transferred to terrorists.

Last week, five Jewish members of the Israel Defense Forces were injured by terrorist shrapnel fired from the land formerly occupied by the Jewish settlers and there is no peace from the expropriated land.

"Each generation gets farther and farther from the Torah," taught a local rabbi and it has never been more true.

Bunnie Meyer
via e-mail


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