March 30, 2006
"The 'Bigamist' Versus the 'Agunah'" (March 24) was a classic reporter's balancing act. But there is only one side to this issue, and that side is despicable. The get law permits a man unfettered power to extort for his wife's freedom to remarry and procreate. It is a shameful, unjust law. Even the wife's ability to refuse the get is an illusory power. It doesn't prevent the husband from remarrying, nor can it force the husband to give her a get. And because only the wife and her progeny are punished for bigamy, not the husband, she has no opportunity to extort.
Rabbi Avrohom Union claims that the beit din does not deserve its reputation for favoring men. How else can one explain the complicity of the Rabbincal Council of California (RCC) in Hagai Batzri's extortion demand that Luna remove her case from the civil courts to the RCC? The beit din allows no women lawyers, no women judges and, in many situations, no women witnesses. And, while civil courts can jail Hagai for his failure to pay support, the RCC is powerless to enforce its orders. Why would any woman submit to such an impotent judicial system that does nothing but trample on her human dignity?
Amy Klein's thoughtful reporting on the plight of the agunah outlines the legal disadvantages women face when attempting to terminate a marriage according to halacha. She should have stipulated, though, that the plight of the chained woman exists today only among the Orthodox movements. The Conservative movement has successfully addressed the woman's legal inequality in marriage and has found effective halachic solutions. Women who are faced with the deplorable treatment endured by [Luna] Batzri might well consider the halachic remedies available in Conservative synagogues.
Rabbi Dan Shevitz
As Gershom Gorenberg often does in the Jerusalem Report, he once again makes statements as fact that are truly not so ("Distance Colors Israeli, Diaspora Views," March 24). He ends his rant against Diaspora Jews maintaining that the "mainstream political debate in Israel" is not over further disengagement or not, rather, over how far to pull back. He is marginalizing and disrespecting close to half of Israel's political spectrum by this declaration. And where did his bashing of Golda Meir -- inappropriate and incongruous for this article -- come from? Yes, she miscalculated, along with almost all her closest advisors and military officers, the Arab threat of war, but she always believed and acted for a unified Israel, representing all factions of Israeli society, and remains a hero today for many in the Diaspora and in Israel-valuable lessons Gorenberg is in need of learning instead of his fractuous posturing.
Bush and the Jews
Raphael Sonnenshein gloats over the prospect of Jews abandoning our friend in the White House ("The End of Bush's 'Jewish Moment,'" March 17). If the president's only motivation was oil, "money for Halliburton," winning in Iraq or gaining Muslim hearts in the war against terrorism, he has every incentive to act out what James Baker was reputed to have said, but his attitude toward Israel has been the opposite. When a friend makes mistakes, he is still a friend. However, we plan to vote, we owe this man our gratitude and respect.
I just finished reading your Torah Portion of the week: "A Woman's Touch" by Rabbi Karen Dietsch about Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudey (March 24). How beautiful, and perfectly in sync it is with the Torah I channeled this morning. We are truly "one."
Jamie Miriam Ader
Rob Eshman's reflections on Conservative Judaism in your March 17 issue started off complimentary enough, but veered off into a drastically offensive direction toward the end ("Carnival Time"). First, he describes Conservative Judaism as a "backlash" against "Reform innovation" and "Orthodox stasis." These are loaded words: "innovative" = good; "stasis" = bad. Then he calls Conservative Jews as "Jewish Goldilocks" (he used the term twice!). Quite the pejorative.
Then he described the Conservative movement as "dithering" over ordaining gays. Given that this (and officiating at gay marriages) would be a radical departure from thousands of years of Jewish doctrine and principles, the Conservative movement's leadership is well justified in being extremely deliberate in its considerations of such action.
Lastly, he says that the movement has been "sluggish about welcoming and including converts and the spouses of intermarried Jews."
That is quite an outlandish statement. Temple Beth Am (whose Purim carnival is the original source of his article) has never shown anything but true welcome to converts, and many are actively involved in synagogue life there. And I know Valley Beth Shalom is at the forefront of conversion issues. As to his criticism that the Conservative movement is cool to non-Jewish spouses of intermarried Jews, the door to conversion is always open and the movement would welcome anyone who wishes to join. If the non-Jewish spouse does not wish to convert (or learn about Judaism or conversion), then I don't think he or she really has much need for, or would benefit from, the rich Jewish lifestyle promoted by Conservative synagogues.
Rob Eshman suggests that liberalization of its policies (such as ordination of gays and an open-door policy for spouses of intermarried Jews) might help revitalize the Conservative movement. Lofty as those goals may be, they are hardly a panacea. Easing the rules has been tried before, but has failed to stem the flow of congregants to other denominations.
No matter how liberal Conservative doctrine may become, it's hard to beat such lures as videographers at a bar mitzvah ceremony, or shrimp cocktails at the reception, that Reform synagogues allow.
On the other hand, Modern Orthodoxy offers a comfort zone for observant Conservative Jews. One never worries that their child will be fed pepperoni pizza at a birthday party in an Orthodox home. Indeed, the major difference between what Conservative Judaism preaches and what Modern Orthodoxy practices is the role of women in prayer. At Conservative shuls, they may sing out loud, lead services and chant Torah.
For observant women who wish to participate in those religious activities, the Conservative bimah is the one venue that best meets their needs. They may very well be the market segment that enables Conservative Judaism to stay viable.
Leonard M. Solomon
Jammys Are Here
JVIBE should be aware that a Jammy award (www.jammys.com) already exists (Make Room for the Jammys," March 17). The Jammys celebrate the best in Jamband music, and the sixth snnual Jammy awards will be held on April 20 at the Theatre at Madison Square Garden with a lifetime achievement award for Frank Zappa and performances by Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Guster, Martin Sexton, DJ Logic Richie Havens and many more. Matisyahu's "Live at Stubb's" was nominated for live album of the year.
Judy Gruen holds herself out as a maven on Jewish affairs. So it was a shock to read her comment in "Ready, Aim, Birthday! (March 10): "Geez, this is heavy," she said. "Someone could really get hurt with this thing."
Perhaps she could arrange to invoke some power other than the Christian deity?
Arts at Shul
The Jewish Journal missed one other important synagogue that sees itself as an "arts and religious community" and that is Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills ("Studio Secured to Create Spiritual Art," March 17). The innovative Emanuel Arts Center (EAC), created in 1997, has been at the forefront of illuminating Judaism through the arts. Over the years, the EAC has sponsored a wide variety of programs, from our remarkable intergenerational theater production, to play readings, chamber music, concerts, film screenings, artists in residence and speakers, all exploring the intersection of Judaism and the arts. We have been privileged to partner over the years with the Casden Institute at USC, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity and Fox Searchlight Pictures. The particular advantage of the focus on arts, in a large synagogue with three schools, is that the arts permeate the curriculum of each of our schools, so that Jewish children as well as Jewish adults benefit from this multi-faceted approach to Jewish life. In fact, the arts permeate all aspects of Jewish life at Temple Emanuel ... from the powerful visual and poetic images in our New Emanuel Minyan Prayerbook, which serves as a Midrash on prayer, to the exploration of music that is unfolding through our ongoing relationship with the Bryant Temple A.M.E. Church. Hence, we are proud to claim that Temple Emanuel is leading the way in Jewish education and the arts.
Cantor Yonah Kliger
Robert Jaffee states that "unsophisticated Jews may have once viewed [Spike] Lee as anti-Semitic" ("Crime Scribes Do first 'Inside' Job," March 24).
I am a well-educated professional (and serious Torah student) who has not only studied anti-Semitism at the university level and worked professionally in the Jewish community for many years, but has also experienced Jew-hatred first hand here in Los Angeles on several occasions. Lee's anti-Semitic film content is not at all questionable. The characters and dialogue in "Mo' Better Blues" and "Bamboozled" employ typically disgusting anti-Semitic images. What is questionable is Jaffee's understanding of Jew-hatred. One of the main problems of assimilation is a willingness to gloss over obviously prejudiced images in an effort to be accepted. As an "unsophisticated Jew" who can easily discuss the finer points of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi in l964 or Shakespeare's imagery in "Macbeth," the real question is: what can Jaffee do to eliminate the kind of drek that Lee produces?
Response to Dream Freedom
It is important that our readers know a little bit more about the Dream Freedom program at Milken Community High School, Middle School ("Passover Prep," March 24). This program began in 2002 and preceded Jewish World Watch by three years. Through the Dream Freedom Program, the Middle School has been raising awareness of modern day slavery in the United States, worldwide and, especially, the Sudan. From 2002-2004 the students raised $25,000 and last year expanding on the program and joining with Jewish World Watch raised an additional $18,000. The students' money has helped to dig and build six6 water wells in the desert to help the refugees' survival. Last year, Rabbi Leah Kroll and Diane Kabat were awarded the Irving J. Sain Award for the program, by the Union of Reform Judaism. Our students have been leaders in the world community for many years, and we continue leading the ways of tikkun olam.
Everyone recognizes [Joshua] Sobol's play as a defense of the refuseniks, except Sobol himself (he protests). Is he a knave or a fool? ("Sobol's 'iWitness': Principled or Treasonous?" Arts in L.A., March 17).
The former, if he is dissembling; the latter if he really does not understand the effect of his script, and if the timing of its release, 63 years after the event, is truly a coincidence.
A terrorist is one who terrorizes civilians, regardless of whether he is a freedom fighter or a fascist oppressor. The difference between the latter two is not their tactics, but that one defends his own people and land while the other attacks other people to take their land.
A soldier may not pick and choose which orders to obey, trusting only his own conscience. No army could operate that way. He can refuse only orders against the law, not against his conscience.
The Palestinian Muslims were attacking the Palestinian Jews long before the "social and political situation inside Israel" developed, and their quarrel with us has nothing to do with it, as they make clear: So a "peaceful solution" has nothing to do with it. They couldn't care less about our society nor our politics.
THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail: email@example.com; or fax: (213) 368-1684