March 2, 2010
Letters to the Editor: Dennis Prayer, UC Irvine, Our Purim Spoof Cover
Where’s the proof?
Mr. Prager attacks rabbis for stating that Judaism does not believe in the so-called afterlife but cites no Jewish sources or Jewish commentators (Rashi, the Ramban, the Malbin, et al. ) to substantiate his view that there is an afterlife (“Jews and the Afterlife,” Feb. 26). It’s not one of the Ramban’s 13 principles. I’m sure he hesitates to cite Christian sources since he’s writing in a Jewish-oriented weekly. We should just take this radio pundit’s word for it because he knows. (Conceivably, some unfortunate soul came back from God knows where to personally tell him all about it.)
In fact, there is nothing specific in the Torah that exhorts Jews to be good so they can get into the afterlife. Judaism is a system of laws, not theology. It does not use the afterlife as a marketing tool to accumulate fearful souls. Jews follow the Torah as a blueprint for a better life — not death. The various bereavement laws, e.g. shiva, is for the living. A means of coping with loss. We celebrate the life of a loved one that has passed, We don’t say or pray that since they are in heaven they have it better than those they left behind. We don’t promise any virgins to males that pass away or some hunk to females, and when we make a toast with alcohol, we say “l’chaim, to life” (not niftir, to death). By the way, in our daily prayers, we do pray that when the time comes, we should merit “the world to come — olam haba.” However, this has never been defined. The way I see it, the soul being energy has no end, therefore perhaps these souls congregate by hospitals or morgues, which would be a very unhappy afterlife. However, it could mean some kind of existence in another dimension or at another level of consciousness or maybe some existence in a parallel universe. Who knows? God does. Perhaps one day God will tell Mr. Prager all about it. When that happens, I hope he will then be kind enough to write about it in his weekly column.
James B. Auspitz
Mr. Prager’s article in the recent Jewish Journal impacted me tremendously (“Jews and the Afterlife,” Feb. 26). It is the first time that I have heard such a comprehensive explanation regarding an “afterlife.”
His comment that the physical world cannot be the only realm of existence
because God is the ultimate incorporeal reality made more sense to me than anything else I have ever heard. I believe in God as a Supreme power, and have wavered for years regarding an afterlife. I always stressed there was one — however, with some private doubt. I feel so much better and at peace since reading Mr. Prager’s article.
Thank you for including him in your wonderful Journal.
Bette Hirsh Levy
Thank you for inviting conservative AND religious columnist Dennis Prager to write for your Journal. Although I enjoy reading the editorials from your contributing staff, many times I simply did not agree with their views. Now even more I enjoy reading the Jewish Journal because I can expect to read a conservative perspective on current events and religious matters.
Regarding Prager’s article “Jews and the Afterlife” (Feb. 26), I appreciate his scholarly, persuasive, and incisive criticism that being born a Jew does not make one an adherent of Judaism, nor does “living on in someone else’s memory” constitute comfort in the face of bereavement in this life. Like him, I believe in the Afterlife, and it is a shame that many Jews still perpetuate the error that the Torah does not mention it.
I look forward to reading more of his insightful commentaries in the future. Thank you again!
In Dennis Prager’s column, “Jews and the Afterlife” (Feb. 26), he writes, “I am all for comfort — but I am not alone among those who cannot be comforted by the obviously meaningless or untrue.” Dennis believes what he believes because he wants two things: an authoritarian moral code and comfort. I want those things, too, but just because I want or need something does not make it true.
Dennis believes in God as a supernatural being who is just, i.e. who punishes the evil and rewards the good. As Dennis admits, there is no evidence of this in this life. So Dennis takes on the belief in the afterlife as the solution to his theological dilemma. I call this “The Grand Escape Clause.” Rather than question his definition of God, he invents a new piece of nonsense in order to hang onto the nonsense he already believes.
As Dennis correctly writes, it does drive me mad to see all the unjust suffering in the world, but unlike Dennis, I derive my “comfort” by seeing the world as it is, not as I need or want to see it, and not as an illusion or delusion. It seems clear to me that, despite what Dennis wrote, he is, in fact, “comforted by the obviously ... untrue.”
Mr. Prager’s addiction to attacking secularism often leads to absurd argumentation (“Jews and the Afterlife,” Feb. 26). It’s simply inconceivable that a Conservative rabbi would say that “Judaism does not affirm a belief in the afterlife.” Either Mr. Prager heard wrong or he doesn’t care about taking liberties with the truth in order to support his positions.
Second, people don’t literally believe we live on after we have passed away. Dennis knows that and instead fabricates a false choice between believing in the afterlife or believing that we live on through our good deeds. The irony is that our rabbis, Za’al, may their memory be for a blessing, said that our good deeds can help secure a place in the afterlife.
But the worst part of Dennis’ piece relates to whom he is directing it to—the bereaved. They are vulnerable, sad, angry and confused. The most important people at that moment are the bereaved, and as long as we act within the confines of Judaism, anything we can offer that provides comfort is what matters most and what we are commanded to do.
Dennis, I know you say to think a second time, but in this case you might have benefited from a third.
Prager is correct that for most people the college one attended is not crucial (“Jews, College, Money and Nachas,” Feb. 12). But, if one aspires to be president of the United States, a Harvard degree is a prerequisite.
Is Penn, Harvard, Stanford or Chicago worth $40,000? Probably not. But they offer a wealth of cultural activities outside the classroom, and alumni can partake of educational experiences long after they graduate.
That’s worth something.
Regarding Dennis Prager’s “Jews and the Afterlife” (Feb. 26), I’m aware that many Jews “do not believe” in “afterlife.” When I teach “Simchat Chochmah—Joy of Wisdom” (simchatchochmah.blogspot.com)—baby-boomer eldering at American Jewish University this Sunday, March 7, I speak about souls. I share that although our bodies have a limited lifespan and we need to do our good works in mentoring, and harvesting our wisdom, our souls have immortality.
Practicing soul memory and past-life regression work, I know places where my soul has been, since before Mount Sinai and when I was victim in the Holocaust.
Strangers spontaneously speak to me about the spirits visiting me and give me important messages from them. I feel great comfort, healing and tikkun/fixing. I have created art which I give to people to help them with their losses so they know they can communicate with their loved ones.
It feels good to invite my husband, z’l, to places he would never have gone in his lifetime. Veils and boundaries are lifted, and now he can join me in joy; without physical, religious and spiritual challenges. I believe there are no mechitzah/gender separators in heaven, nor wheelchairs.
Prager wrote he can’t recall a “single great-grandparent of mine.” How do I keep names of ancestors alive in addition to mitzvot, Kaddish and candles? As a feminist in ritual, I include the names of my matriarchal ancestors when I introduce myself as bat/daughter of __. I invite them in, as ushpizin/guests, to join me when I sit in a sukkah, when I have Torah aliyahs/called up, and when I am at simchas.
I do mitzvot in loved one’s zechut/merit so their souls ilui neshamah/continue to elevate. Moshe Rabeinu’s yahrzeit passed this week. There are known sages before and after Moses, it is said, who have the same Moshe soul reincarnated. That is afterlife.
Books include Rabbi Simcha Paul Raphael’s “Jewish Views of the Afterlife” and Rabbi Elie Spitz’s “Does the Soul Survive?”
I assume that you pay Prager by the word because he goes on and on with vapid criticism of well-meaning rabbis and agnostic Jews (“Jews and the Afterlife,” Feb. 26). Believing in an afterlife could mean going to heaven, or hell, or being reincarnated into another form. There is nothing wrong about belief in going to heaven if you are a good person, but Jews do not expect a guarantee. Belief or nonbelief is a personal matter unless you are a Catholic. A Catholic friend of mine told me, ”Judaism is a brutal religion. You can be a wonderful human being, but not sure of going to heaven. I know that I am going to heaven.” I confirmed this on a cruise with a Catholic priest who had been assigned to our dinner table. He said my Catholic friend was correct, and after our last dinner together, the priest told me that it would not surprise him if my wife and I made it to heaven as well.
Martin J. Weisman
Anti-Semitic rhetoric at UC Irvine
The evidence is overwhelming that the Irvine campus has long suffered from the vicious anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and actions of the Muslim Student Union and its supporters. The university administration has coldly turned a blind eye to the problem and refused to protect the civil rights of its Jewish students. Dean Chemerinsky’s (“The Reality at University of California, Irvine,” Feb. 26) disingenuous denial of the existence of anti-Semitism on campus only serves to underscore why the University of California, Irvine, is inhospitable to Jewish students. The sad truth is that the ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) was correct in its assessment.
“I invite you to walk across campus ... I am convinced you will not see a shred of evidence of anti-Semitism.” I would like to address the Erwin Chemerinsky article, “The Reality at University of California, Irvine” (Feb. 26). I did just what he suggested and I witnessed intimidation by Moslem students. When I spoke to the campus police, I tried to give a witness statement of what I saw happen at the UCI campus. The police refused to take my statement and instead informed me that what I saw was a Jewish girl harassing Moslem students. Very interesting since she was surrounded 6 to 1. He mentioned an investigation of ‘08. He is correct here, but what is left out is that investigators did not call for statements. I know because I was told they would be calling. Still waiting!
How can Professor Chemerinsky, an ur-leftist department dean, possibly know how uncomfortable it would be for a pro-Zionist student in the face of the shrill campus hegemony that the Moslem students dictate (“The Reality at University of California, Irvine” Feb. 26)? While the Irvine campus might not be overtly hostile to a leftist non-Zionist intellectual, let him try to circulate a pro-Israel petition, so he can face his colleague’s true colors.
S. Zev Newman
It’s truly disappointing for a law school dean, professor Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California, Irvine, to make so many false and misleading statements about anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing at UCI, UCI’s abysmal response and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA).
Chemerinsky implies that the ZOA has never been at UCI or spoken to Jewish students or faculty there. False. Over the past six years, we’ve visited UCI and communicated regularly with students, faculty, community members and Hillel directors.
Chemerinsky claims he hasn’t “heard one complaint about an anti-Semitic incident on campus.” Actually, there’ve been many. In fact, two Jewish students transferred from UCI because of the hostile environment. Just last week, after members of the Muslim Student Union [MSU] heckled Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, a student told the UCI newspaper, “Personally, as a Jew, I feel scared and threatened. ... I didn’t expect it [the campus] to be so hateful ... .”
Citing a letter signed by five students in 2008, Chemerinsky insists that Jewish students see UCI as a “warm and hospitable place.” He ignores the fact that 20 other students signed another letter contemporaneously, “strongly disagreeing” with those five students and expressing their “deep concern about the anti-Semitism at UCI that has been frequently couched as false and hateful attacks on Israel.”
Chemerinsky also claims that Drake “has responded and expressly proclaimed the inappropriateness” of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel speech, and that local leaders “are uniformly highly praising of Chancellor Drake.” Wrong again.
Drake has issued vague statements about abhorring bigotry and wanting a respectful atmosphere. Last week, the ADL echoed the ZOA’s previous criticisms and requests and told Drake that his “efforts to maintain civility have not succeeded ... [T]he situation calls for forceful moral leadership on your part ... .
Chemerinsky claims that the ZOA’s civil rights complaint was dismissed because the evidence failed to show a hostile environment for Jewish students. False.
The U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) enforces Title VI and decided that our allegations should be investigated. But then OCR’s leadership changed. OCR decided not to consider Jews a “racial” or “national origin” group anymore, entitled to Title VI’s protections. OCR’s decision that there was no Title VI violation was no endorsement of the campus environment or the administration’s conduct.
Chemerinsky and the rest of the administration should finally acknowledge the truth that anti-Semitism is a problem at UCI and the administration needs to take serious steps to fix it.
Morton A. Klein, national president, Zionist Organization of America, and
Susan B. Tuchman, director, ZOA’s Center for Law and Justice
Not your grandfather’s Journal
I’ve always seen a copy of The Jewish Journal on our dining table but assumed that the articles were geared toward a much older demographic. I viewed it as a paper that my parents and grandparents read and thus could be of no interest to me. On that assumption, I always turned toward other magazines and periodicals to read in the morning and afternoon. After reading the two pieces by Ryan Torok (“Open-Mic Night at The Improv” and “Jewlicious Opts for Music and Art Over Religion and Politics,” Feb. 26), my opinion has certainly changed. Simply put, I wish to read more articles by Ryan Torok.
As to being informative, before reading about Jewlicious, I did not even know that such an event existed. I liked how his article focused on the event as well as addressed a point (whether attending an event such as Jewlicious carried the excess baggage of being preached to or being dominated by politics) I would have liked to know before I attended.
I look forward to reading more articles from The Jewish Journal and Mr. Torok.
In “Short Memories: Jews & Immigration” (Feb. 26), Jeffrey Kaye argues that most Jews who immigrated to the U.S. during the years 1881 to 1914 actually came for economic reasons and not because of persecution. He concludes that we therefore should empathize more with those who are now immigrating illegally, usually for economic reasons, to the USA. But I draw just the opposite conclusion. If all we are talking about is economics, then Jews have no more reason to tolerate illegal immigration than do other groups of Americans who mostly came to the U.S. for economic reasons.
Regarding legal immigration, by far the largest portion is due to “reunification” (about 60 percent of 1.1 million immigrants, according to the 2008 Yearbook of the Department of Homeland Security). To equate family reunification or economic hardship now with the plight of European Jews during the Nazi era is to trivialize the Holocaust and to dishonor the memory of those who died then.
A war of numbers
In “Goldstone Versus Haiti” (Feb. 5), you referred to “the 1,400 Palestinians killed in Israel’s incursion.” That is the Palestinian figure, which is far higher than Israel’s estimate. The Palestinians have frequently inflated casualty figures and allow no independent confirmation of them. Israel’s official response to the U.N. report, titled “The operation in Gaza—Legal and Factual Aspects,” gave Israel’s estimates of Palestinian casualties as 1,166 total, including 295 civilians. Hamas, predictably, presented opposite claims, with very high civilian and very low armed terrorist casualties. Also, and very importantly, Goldstone’s team did not only charge Israel with “war crimes”; the U.N. report claimed that Israel’s “main reason” for the Gaza campaign was “to terrorize the civilian population.” The U.N. perverted the facts by charging Israel with Hamas’ war crimes, of deliberately terrorizing Israel’s civilian population for nine years, which produced no U.N. report.
Civilian casualties are tragic but usually unavoidable, even when great care is taken, as Israel did in its defensive Gaza operation. Where is a U.N. report on the Afghan war? Afghan officials and others claim some 10,000 civilians killed in NATO air strikes since 2001. The Marjar offensive has added scores more.
Humor in the balance
The Journal’s cartoonist, Greenberg, has never met a leftist position he doesn’t support, nor ever showed nonleftists in a positive light. Well, at least he doesn’t show the Im Tirzu supporter (Feb. 26) with a hooked nose—or does he?
Of course, the leftist Jewish Journal shows its balance by countering his cartoons with no one else’s.
S. Zev Newman
The cover is a hoot (Feb. 26)! Keep up the good work!
Sara L. Cannon
Director, Museum Education and Tours Program
Curator, L.A. Municipal Art Gallery and Hollyhock House
How sad, but how true (“Frayed Trust,” Feb. 19)! I was trying to help my Persian cousins out of a jam and ended up being badly burned. They believe that business is business, no matter who gets hurt. I am sorry to say that your article made me realize that I am not the only one.