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Letters to the editor: George W. Bush, the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute and Jewish pluralism

November 20, 2013 | 2:38 pm

This Argument Will Not End Until the Messiah Comes 

Rob Eshman’s criticism of former President George W. Bush’s public support for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI) is well put (“Why Bush Was Wrong,” Nov. 15). However, the participation of a former president in MJBI’s activities should be profoundly insulting to all Americans regardless of religion. As stewards of the American civil religion, presidents symbolically affirm the unity-in-diversity that is at the core of our national theology. Ironically, it was George W. Bush himself who broadened the civil religion by becoming the first president to mention mosques alongside churches and synagogues in his first inaugural address. But by supporting a group committed to undermining the spiritual integrity of an American community — American Jewry — Mr. Bush is making a sad mockery of e pluribus unum. In effect he has done more than abandon the civil religious post former presidents are expected to occupy as elder statesmen; he has forsaken his vows. And that should anger not just Jews but any American who celebrates our nation’s unique tradition of pluralism. Prior ex-presidents seeking privacy certainly have taken off their mantles, and others have continued partisan political battles, but to my knowledge none has thrown down the sociocultural gauntlet like this. It is very sad.

Shawn Landres, the co-editor with Michael Berenbaum, of “After The Passion Is Gone: American Religious Consequences.”

Rob Eshman’s editorial misses the target completely. Messianics do not want to put an end to Jews. Their target is Judaism. They believe they are “perfecting” Jews. They love Jews. Why not? Look again at the Pew report. A huge percentage of those who claim to be Jews declared that their faith is not Judaism. In fact, only 4.2 million Americans declare Judaism as their faith. Non-Orthodox Jews are easy targets, especially those for whom Judaism is merely humor on a bagel. The Messianics are blameless for picking low-hanging fruit. Rather, look to those enlightened philosophers who took the flavors, Hebrew literacy, fast days, prayers and obligations out of Judaism and reduced them all down to tikkunism. The unintended consequences are that Messianics sell the happy deal: A Jewish Christian can easily tikkun the world without Judaism and enjoy a Christian spouse at the same time without the guilt.

Gary Dalin via e-mail

Rob Eshman states in his article, “When Jews believe Jesus is the Messiah, they stop being Jews. This is something all Jews agree on.” As a Jew, I have to politely disagree. A Jew’s beliefs do not dictate his or her Jewishness. A Jew is a Jew is a Jew. He or she is free to accept any false messiah or believe in any misguided doctrine or dogma while still maintaining their Jewishness. It is this very freedom that makes being Jewish so challenging. Unlike other religions, your inclusion into ours does not rest on whether you believe our tenets to be true. As a result, Jews have often accepted and even spearheaded some pretty dubious belief systems. There have been Jewish atheists, Jewish pagans, Jewish communists, Jews who converted to Islam, Jews who collaborated with Stalin, and yes, Jews who believe Jesus to be the Messiah. We may grieve for these Jews. We may mourn the fact that they have placed themselves so far outside the borders of their own community. But we may never revoke from them their Jewishness. To be Jewish is to be Jewish forever. 

Isaac Himmelman, Santa Monica


What Is the Future of Pluralistic Judaism?

The 21st century Jewish landscape of Los Angeles does not support Dennis Prager’s thesis of the future of pluralistic Judaism (“No Faith, No Jewish Future,” Nov. 8). Sixty to 70 years ago, it was rare to see a Jew wear a kippah in a Reform shul. Now all Reform rabbis and cantors wear tallit and kippot. The Conservatives survived the schism over women rabbis and cantors. They will survive same-sex marriage.     

If an Orthodox Jew, with an open mind and respect and love for all Jews, would participate in a pluralistic service, he or she would note that when the Torah is taken from the ark and the congregants recite the Shema, whether in silent whisper or full-throated outburst, he or she would feel confident of the future of pluralistic Judaism. It is in that moment that all Jews affirm Prager’s God and Torah. 

Ken Lautman, Los Angeles

Dennis Prager responds: Mr. Lautman might be surprised to learn that I have been a member of a Reform synagogue (Stephen S. Wise) for more than 20 years. The services I attend each Shabbat and the High Holy Day services I independently conduct are “pluralistic.” I didn’t argue against pluralism. I argued that few Jews — or Jewish movements — without faith in the God of the Torah and that the Torah is from God will, over the course of generations, remain Jews.


correction

For the article “How to Run a Gala” (Nov. 6), a series of quotes attributed to the Anti-Defamation League’s development director, Maggie Howard, should have been attributed to ADL Regional Director Amanda Susskind.

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