April 6, 2006
Bigamist vs. Agunah
It is with horror that I read the article, "The 'Bigamist' Versus the 'Agunah' (March 24), by Amy Klein. Given Rabbi [Avrohom] Union's devastating error, which he claims was unintentional, it is clear that this head of the beit din should resign immediately. Imagine if he committed the same error regarding kashrut. There is not a person, rabbi or otherwise, who would tolerate his remaining in so powerful a position. If his creating yet another agunah happened "by accident," as Rabbi Union claims, what is to prevent it from happening again in the future? A rabbi unable to foresee and take responsibility for his actions should not be the head of a beit din.
Clara F. Zilberstein
Jewish women deserve fair and equal treatment when a couple seeks divorce and settlement. No woman should be left an "agunah" -- chained to her husband against her will. A modern beit din does not have to be rigid and sexist. The Sandra Caplan Community Bet Din of Southern California includes conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist rabbis, both men and women. It rules on matters of conversion to Judaism, and it models compassionate pluralism.
Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein
I truly believe that the man was required to give a bill of Jewish divorce -- the get -- as a way of making him conscious of the seriousness of divorcing his wife. He could not just send her out, but had to legally release her. Now this lovely protective get has turned into an ugly misogynistic chain.
This halachic demand needs rethinking. When interest payments were forbidden and debts were to be canceled on the sabbatical year stopped the flow of commerce, laws were changed so that business could move forward. Again, not charging interest, and debt release were wonderful laws that no longer benefited society.
We, the people, need to demand that the get laws be changed. When laws -- yes even Jewish laws -- no longer work, change is mandatory.
Let me get this straight, Orthodox law mandates that a man, who is remarried to another, can emotionally torture his first wife and forbid her to remarry until she consents to be financially raped by the rabbinical court. What God would have decreed such a law -- certainly not the one I pray to. It makes me ashamed to be a Member of the Tribe.
I was very impressed with Alice Ollstein's thoughtful reaction to her attendance at an [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] AIPAC conference ("Propaganda for the Insipid," March 31). It is very inspiring to see that young people can reject the preachy one-sidedness of organizations like AIPAC and still remain committed Jews. AIPAC does not do Israel any good by constantly whipping up false anxiety that the state is about to be destroyed, in order to promote its narrow, right-wing views.
Fortunately, Ollstein saw through the organization's orchestrated charade and realized that there are plenty of ways to support Israel and the Jewish community, such as the religious school teaching she is doing. We are a diverse people, whose loyalty cannot be captured by fear-based cheerleading or buying Israel Bonds after the end of a Yom Kippur sermon.
Peter L. Reich
AIPAC's near-obsession with an equally balanced lineup of speakers and plenary sessions at Policy Conference reflects that bipartisan support that the U.S.-Israel relationship (and AIPAC) enjoys. Alice Ollstein's labeling of the conference as the "belly of the conservative beast" says less about AIPAC and more about her own preconceived notions. With so many challenges facing Israel, especially Iranian nuclear weapons proliferation, our community can hardly afford such luxuries.
The U.S.-Israel relationship can thrive only when it is seen as a bipartisan issue. My hope is that friends of Israel such as Ollstein, whose own political views lean left, will join Rep. [Nancy] Pelosi (D-Calif.), Sen. [Harry] Reid (D-Nev.) and other decidedly nonconservative thinkers in their support of AIPAC and a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.
Alice Ollstein states she was "manipulated, disturbed and disgusted" with the AIPAC Policy Conference. Ollstein was offended by a "conservative slant of the conference" based on her hearing John Podhoretz speak. I read her remarks with a smile as I often hear the opposite criticism. Last year Hillary Clinton addressed the conference and many were offended by the liberal slant of the conference.
Today, Israel can rely on the U.S. in the face of dangerous and dire times, thanks to AIPAC. Regarding Ollstein's comments how AIPAC made everything "black and white." "That you are either for Israel or against it." You are right. With the threat of annihilation by Iran, Hamas in Palestine, anti-Semitism and war mongering by many Arab and Muslim nations -- you are either with Israel or against it. Where else could you be?
Joel A. Bertet
Having just returned from my first AIPAC Conference, it was interesting to read a high school student's perspective.
As one of this year's 5,000 participants, the highlight, for me, was the number of high school and college students who attended. I was seated with two of them. They listened with interest as speakers like John Edwards, John Bolton and Dick Cheney addressed us. They clapped with excitement and stood up with conviction. Our faces lit up as over 100 college student body Presidents walked across the stage.
Those were not the only inspirational young people. In one incredible session, I heard a wonderful speaker, a student in Florida from a historically black college. She created "I Fest," a campus celebration of Israeli culture. It was planned for 200 -- and 600 people showed up.
From the motivating speeches to the thought provoking panels, the AIPAC Policy Conference gave me a sense of confidence that there are many people standing up for Israel. I am proud to be one of them.
Robert Jaffee writes: "Unsophisticated Jews may have once viewed [filmmaker Spike] Lee as anti-Semitic based on some of his statements about Ed Koch and the film industry...." ("Crime Scribes Do First 'Inside' Job," March 24).
Criticizing Koch does not make a person anti-Semitic, something that Koch himself is the first to acknowledge. (I know that, because I called him up and asked him, before writing this letter.) But Lee's statements about Jews in the film industry are certainly troubling.
In 1990, for example, Lee told ABC-TV that "a large part of the people that run Hollywood are Jewish. I mean, that's a basic fact."
In 1998, he strongly intimated that the number of Jews in the top echelons of the film industry was the reason that a Holocaust film, rather than his latest film, won that year's Oscar for best documentary: "When the film is about the Holocaust and one of the producers is a rabbi and it comes from the Simon Wiesenthal Center ... that was a sure thing when you consider the makeup of the voting body of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences" (Washington Post, May 1, 1998).
In a 2001 conversation with "Ain't It Cool News," Lee complained about Hollywood's portrayal of African Americans, and then "began to discuss how Jews are the only minority that seems to be protected from slurs," as the interviewer put it.
Nor can one ignore the fact that Jewish characters in Lee's films have been portrayed in extremely negative and offensive ways. With good reason, the author and critic Nat Hentoff has compared some of Lee's Jewish characters to "the coldly vicious caricatures of Jews in the works of Father Coughlin and Gerald L. K. Smith."
"Hineni" (March 24) by Anne Brener zeroed right in on it so clearly, so heartfelt and terrifically moving. I wish her all the best in the world.
Hineni v'kadimah (in the old sense of the word!).
Jews for Jesus
I am compelled to respond to David Klinghoffer's article (March 31, "A Tenuous Claim as a Jew for Jesus") not because he takes issue with the Jewishness of the leader of Jews for Jesus -- in my opinion a Jew for Jesus is a Christian regardless of his birth -- but rather to challenge some of the basic assumptions that are presented in his essay.
First: Genetic Judaism. The Reform movement's position is not that a person is Jewish merely if either his mother or his father is Jewish. It is that if that child is born of one Jewish parent and raised as a Jew with positive, affirming Jewish life experiences, such as religious education leading to bar/bat mitzvah and a life dedicated to Jewish living, then we consider that person Jewish. It is not about genetics, it is about commitment. To be a Jew one must have connections to the Jewish community through a parent and live as a Jew. We live in a world of shrinking Jewish populations, what good does it do our community to circle the wagons and challenge the Jewishness of people who live within our community and declare their commitment daily through life choices? How will one more committed Jew threaten the integrity of the Jewish community? Far from it, that person will bring his or her commitment to our synagogues and enrich Jewish life, regardless of which parent is Jewish. It seems to me that we need to bring them in, not figure out ways to keep them out.
Second: The "Jewishness" of our biblical ancestors and their marriage choices. For the record, King David married many non-"Jewish" women, as did Moses and Abraham for that matter. There simply is no mention of conversion as we know it today anywhere in the Bible; any assumptions to the contrary are ahistorical projections. Yet their children were certainly members of the Israelite community and carried on their fathers' traditions. King Solomon, the son of Batsheva and David who was a non-"Jew" previously married to the non-"Jewish" Uriah the Hittite comes to mind as one example.
Finally, we dignify Jews for Jesus when we challenge their claims with Jewish texts and traditions. There is simply no Jesus in Judaism. Though Jews for Jesus may assume the outward appearance of Jews and quaintly use Yiddishims while referring to their Jewish ancestry it is all irrelevant in the face of one reality: Christians believe in Jesus, Jews don't. End of story.
Rabbi Ron Stern
An advertisement for Classique Raphy kosher catering contained an unfortunate, obvious typo. Raphy offers Cornish Hen in a Wine Sauce for Passover, not Cornish Ham.
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