July 5, 2012
Letters to the Editor: Pamela Geller, orthodoxy, kashrut
Hate Speech or Free Speech?
As Jews, Christians and Muslims united together to find paths to peace, we the participants and friends who are part of the Abrahamic Faiths Peacemaking Initiative, are grateful for The Jewish Federation’s decision to cancel the speaking engagement of Pamela Geller (“Federation Bars Anti-Muslim Activist From Speaking,” June 29). The last thing this or any other community needs is a hate and fear promoter “shouting fire in a crowded theater” in the name of “free speech” or “balanced debate.” Ms. Geller’s record of vitriol and venom speaks for itself, and her appearance, like her other talks, would have been a deliberate, hate-filled provocation. Her words of anger and panic would not have contributed to an honest, respectful expression of a contested viewpoint, but instead would have inflicted significant damage upon any fragile bridges of true understanding that we and others have been trying to build for years.
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels
I went to The Jewish Federation to hear Pamela Geller. What a disappointment to learn that Federation had canceled her due to “security concerns.” Geller does not endorse the use of violence or the threat of violence. Were the “security concerns” cited by Federation violent threats? And if yes, violence from whom? Geller is not about violence, and, contrary to other press accounts, she is not about “hate.” If someone hates what someone else is saying, does that mean it is “hate speech”? No, of course not.
Pini Herman’s argument that it is in the self-interest of non-Orthodox movements to support the Orthodox community, while a noble idea, is based on a false analogy (“Will Your Great-Grandchildren Be Jewish?” June 29). Herman cites the fact that in 1996, four out of five Los Angeles Jews who reported being raised in Orthodox homes chose other denominational affiliations, as evidence that today’s Orthodox Jews will also leave the fold. The problem is that the data he relies on includes the responses of people who came of age prior to 1960, when the term “Orthodox home” meant something vastly different than what it means today. In that earlier period of American Judaism, an Orthodox home more often than not referred to a family that attended High Holy Days services at an Orthodox synagogue and where some form of the dietary laws were observed. Very few of these families were Sabbath observant and virtually none of them sent their children to Jewish day schools. It is misleading to compare this earlier generation with today’s religiously observant and yeshiva-educated Orthodox Jews.
Industrialized Foods Prompt Spiritual Crisis
Rabbi Israel Hirsch amply illustrates the spiritual crisis in the mainstream attitude to the kashrut of industrialized food (Letters, June 29) — perhaps more poignantly than Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz himself did in the well-grounded cover story (“How Kosher Is Your Milk,” June 22) to which Rabbi Hirsch responded.
Rabbi Hirsch admits that major kashrut organization’s permission to drink milk from abused cows is based on a statistically untenable leniency. We have historically applied such leniencies only where they help achieve sanity or some other greater good. How can one justify the use of such a leniency to commercially endorse animal cruelties of exactly the type that our sages have tried to prevent for centuries?
A choice confronting Orthodox entities: (a) adhere to technical leniencies divorced from any semblance of their God-fearing, world-healing purpose, alienating Jews from the sense of discipline and tradition for which Orthodoxy normally stands; or (b) advocate for harder but more spiritually fulfilling sacrifices, increase ethical practices among Jews and the larger world, and make a kiddush ha-Shem for Judaism and pious life. Smaller organizations like Rav Shmuly’s are increasingly choosing the latter path. I encourage our larger institutions to consider the impact and positive publicity involved in a similar course of action.
Drop-Out’s Success Story
My own Hebrew school drop-out graduated college Phi Beta Kappa, had a bar mitzvah at the Western Wall during a Birthright trip, spent a year in Israel through Masa as a Menachem Begin Fellow in public policy, just completed graduate school at NYU and has a job as a program associate at a foundation supporting education and worker rights (“What Happens to a Hebrew School Drop-Out,” June 29). Not having a traditional bar mitzvah did not appear to color the rest of his youth or education.