Jewish Journal

Letters to the Editor: Pope Cartoon, Dennis Prager, An Education, iMuslims

Posted on Feb. 10, 2010 at 3:00 am

Pope Pius Cartoon

Steve Greenberg really outdid himself in his predilection for being offensive in his cartoon regarding Pope Pius XII (Greenberg’s View, Feb. 5). Allow me to recommend an excellent book so that your readers can make an informed decision on this issue for themselves: “The Myth of Hitler’s Pope” by Rabbi David G. Dalin (Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2005). Essentially, Rabbi Dalin combats hysteria with facts and responsible scholarship.

With neo-eugenics hanging over humanity like the sword of Damocles, Jews and Catholics must be allies, not adversaries.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

No Comparing ‘An Education,’ ‘A Serious Man’

Your examination of alleged anti-Semitism in “An Education” and “A Serious Man” (“Realism or Anti-Semitism?” Jan. 29) was thoughtful and enlightening, but I would like to contribute to the debate with the following, probably controversial, thesis.

Judgment of quality in creative endeavors is widely held to be subjective, yet, in avoiding a qualitative comparison of these two movies, the true significance of each film’s putative flirtation with anti-Semitism is overlooked.

In my opinion, “A Serious Man” is an extraordinary work, as important a movie about Jewishness (not Judaism) ever to have been made in America. Those —particularly Jews — who look askance at its use of “stereotypes” are misunderstanding the film’s beautifully calibrated use of irony, folklore and cultural perspective; these characters are archetypes, not stereotypes, who exist inside a dark but deeply humane fable, a talmudic morality tale that achieves the status of Art.

“An Education,” by contrast — and again, in my opinion — is middlebrow ephemera, this year’s example of the kind of meretricious English nonsense for which those who should know better in the Academy annually surrender their critical faculties. It is not anti-Semitic by design, or from malicious intent, but its identification of David, the charming lothario, as a Jew is offensive simply because it is lazy, reflexive and devoid of any apparent interest in characterization. I would have respected this vacuous little movie more if, in fact, it had approached David’s Jewishness head-on and actually confronted the role of socially ambitious, opportunistic Jewish property developers in London in the early 1960s. Instead, because its sole creative aspiration is to glamorize the actions of its morally anaesthetized young heroine via the use of lazy, enabling stereotypes such as the opportunistic Jew, the buffoon of a father and, in Emma Thompson’s character, a dull, predictable caricature of an anti-Semitic headmistress, “An Education” surrenders all possible claims to insight into character and, in its complacent embrace of its own mediocrity, exposes itself to a fully justified charge of inane, reflexive anti-Semitism.

“A Serious Man” renders charges of anti-Semitism moot because it is great Jewish art, possibly the most important “Jewish” movie ever made in English. “An Education,” however, is cultural empty calories, undemanding and trite; it cannot approach truth, let alone art; its anti-Semitism is firmly rooted not in the filmmakers’ intent, but in their lazy resort to stereotypes in place of sound characterization and genuine insight into human nature.

Barry Isaacson
via e-mail

It is impossible to deny that the film “An Education” develops the character of David using negative stereotypes, such as economic parasite and sexual predator, that have long been associated with Jews (“Realism or Anti-Semitism?” Jan. 29). It does not follow, however, that the film is therefore anti-Semitic. The critical moment in the film comes during Jenny’s visit to the headmistress. Upon learning that Jenny has developed a romantic liaison with a Jew, she reminds Jenny that it was the Jews who killed Jesus. Jenny, ever defiant, responds by pointing out that Jesus himself was a Jew. This brief, but central exchange offers a vantage point by which to understand the film’s narrative and to judge its supposed anti-Semitism. Seen through Jenny’s eyes, David’s personal conduct and not his religion become the warrant for condemnation. Jenny is able to see this; so should we.

Gary Gilbert

I wish to compliment Tom Tugend on his recent piece in The Jewish Journal. In my experience, I have found that the most virulent of anti-Semites can be found among us Jews. That is certainly true in academia. Take for example the writings of Noam Chomsky, or the pro-Palestinian sentiment of myriad Jewish professors at Columbia University, if not the university itself. Or how about the fact that the local teachers union, UTLA (of which I am a member) was set to sponsor Palestinian activists to rail against Israel in a public rally until Jewish teachers rose up against Jewish UTLA president A.J. Duffy and his decision to allow it to go on?

Speaking of Israel, and with the above comments in mind, since I believe that the line between being anti-Israel and being anti-Semitic (the first a bad attempt at disguising the second) is very pronounced and not blurred at all, it should come as no surprise that in an industry begun and maintained largely by Jews, anti-Semitism in its product becomes a no-brainer. How else would it be possible for the PLO in the film “Munich” to be portrayed as regular people with regular emotions? 

Again, kudos to Mr. Tugend.

Marc Yablonka

Critics who reviewed the movie “An Education” and saw no fault may have not perceived the true title of this movie. From the onset we hear about “The Eternal Jew” which is a typical Nazi expression, “Der ewige Jude,” a subject of a popular Nazi book and famous Nazi film. The Eternal Jew is an unmistaken anti-Semitic stigmatization that runs through this movie. The headmistress, famous Emma Thompson who specifically took a mini role here, questions: “Are you going to marry a Jew…. the Jews killed our Lord?” Sixteen-year-old Jenny answered: “Our Lord was Jewish.” But the rest of the story proved that the headmaster, indeed, was right: Them Jews are thieves, manipulators, pedophiles and the seductive Jew a married man. This movie is another version of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Shylock (David in the movie) is a Jewish moneylender who gives “good life” to his Christian (“victim”) Antonio (Jenny), setting the bond, a pound of Antonio’s flesh (Jenny’s virginity). Three Oscar nominations will widespread the movie and its anti-Semitic themes. One can only wonder how Muslims would have reacted, or how many massive Islamic demonstrations would have happened?

Isaac Barr
Bloomfield Hills, MI

Friendship Circle Honors

Thank you for featuring the Detroit chapter of The Friendship Circle in your Nation/World Briefs on Jan. 29 (“Friendship Circle Wins $100,000 in Chase Challenge”). We are thrilled that that chapter of The Friendship Circle has received the prestigious JP Morgan Chase Community Giving Project award, to enable them to continue helping Detroit’s Jewish children with special needs.

Our local Los Angeles Friendship Circle chapter will not be receiving any of the $100,000 prize money and, as always, we continue to rely on private donations and community grants for 100 percent of our funding. We invite the community to join us on May 5, at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills, as we recognize more than 250 teen volunteers from 30 local private and public schools, along with our honoree, Dr. Audrey Griesbach, a West L.A. developmental pediatrician.

Gail Rollman
Director of Public Relations
The Friendship Circle Los Angeles

Goldstone Versus Haiti

It is not Pesach yet, but this is a story as old as the haggadah (“Goldstone Versus Haiti,” Feb. 5).

Those who use the earthquake to contrast Israel’s behavior in Gaza and Haiti represent Tam, the simple son. Their question is misguided. You answer him and say simply:  Maybe it is all because the Haitian people do not lob rockets at Israel, and they do not kidnap Israeli soldiers and hold them hostages for years, and they have no formal charter calling for the destruction of Israel. And if the Tam will turn their criticism at the Gazans, and if the Gazans themselves will note the generous support Israel provided Haiti with, they (the Gazans) might change their ways and overnight become the beneficiaries of the same generous support from Israel.

Nahum Gat
Manhattan Beach

Compared to Haiti or a thousand other problems, “Jews and Movies” is a trivial problem. So forgive me one last intellectual indulgence, as I express sympathy for people with a deep Holocaust consciousness who struggle with an inevitably restricted aesthetic sensibility.

The depiction of Jewish people or the narrating of Jewish themes — either in a positive or negative light — does not mean that an entire work is best understood through a Jewish lens. Neither “An Education” nor “A Serious Man” are precisely allegorical — that is, they are not meant to represent an entire perspective on Jews as such. The attitude of the writer-director toward the depiction of the Jew is entirely secondary in “An Education,” and indeed, the anti-Semitism of the middle-class father is portrayed quite critically. The film’s themes and depictions (taken from a [memoir], one should note) seem to be not meant as any kind of message. Indeed, this sensitive film works better when understood as the story of foolish innocence susceptible to seduction, with the added complexity of the confused motives of almost all the people in the adult generation: teachers, educators and parents. Many in the audience actually found themselves rooting for the “bad guys” as the only solution to inexorable boredom. Of course I wish all good guys would be Jewish and all bad guys wouldn’t be, but life — as the movie demonstrates — is too full of surprises for that.

The more neurotic depictions and anecdotes of “A Serious Man” are a bit more obviously the mishegas of the Coen brothers spread on top of a pretty serious story about individual helplessness. I found myself laughing even where I was the butt of some of the whacky representations. Perhaps folks would have been more convinced if everyone loved Hebrew school, if the rabbis were wise, the adulterers noble gents and the Jewish protagonist created in the image of Paul Newman. And, as The Book of Job reminds us, there is always some whirlwind or the other waiting for us at the end of the story.

William Cutter
via e-mail

Pope Pius XII

Douglas Bloomfield’s assessment of Pope Pius XII is contradicted by the actual evidence (“Hitler’s Pope Was No Saint,” Jan. 19).

First, Pius XII spoke up many times during World War II. In his 1939 Christmas message, the pope said, “Atrocities and the illegal use of the means of destruction, even against non-combatants ...  cry for the vengeance of God….” In the same speech, the pope also articulated his conditions for a “just and honorable peace,” which included the protection of all “racial minorities.” A report by Germany’s Reich Central Security Office on the pope’s 1942 Christmas message complained: “In a manner never known before, the pope has repudiated the National Socialist New European Order…. Here he is virtually accusing the German people of injustice towards the Jews, and makes himself the mouthpiece of the Jewish war criminals.” If Pius XII was “silent” in the literal sense of the word, then how did the Nazis reach this conclusion?

Second, as soon as the pope was informed that the Nazis were arresting Roman Jews, he sent the Vatican Secretary of State and another bishop protest the roundups with Germany’s ambassador to the Vatican and the German military governor of Rome respectively. The Vatican’s protests stopped further arrests. Pius XII also ordered Rome’s Catholic institutions to shelter to Jews. Sir Martin Gilbert, the British Holocaust historian, gives the pope credit for saving thousands of Rome’s Jews.

Third, if the allegations against Pius XII have any merit, it seems likely that Jewish newspapers around the world would have condemned him during World War II. I examined many wartime Jewish newspapers at the New York Public Library’s Dorot Jewish Division, and I was astounded by what I found. On Aug. 28, 1942, the California Jewish Voice (which some of your readers may have heard of) hailed Pius XII as a “spiritual ally” of Jews after noting that the Vatican, through its diplomatic representatives, protested the deportations of Jews from France and Slovakia. Consider a few headlines and articles: “Vatican Radio Denounces Nazi Acts in Poland”— Jewish Advocate (Boston), Jan. 26, 1940; “Laval Spurns Pope-25,000 Jews in France Arrested for Deportation” — Canadian Jewish Chronicle, Sept. 4, 1942; “Jewish Hostages in Rome: Vatican Protests” — Jewish Chronicle (London), Oct. 29, 1943. In an editorial (July 27, 1944), the American Israelite in Cincinnati stated: “With Rome liberated, it has been determined, indeed, that 7,000 of Italy’s 40,000 Jews owe their lives to the Vatican…. Placing these golden deeds alongside the intercession of Pope Pius XII with the regent of Hungary on behalf of Hungarian Jews, we feel an immeasurable degree of gratitude towards our Catholic brethren.”

Fourth, Bloomfield cites British Catholic author John Cornwell’s book, “Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII” (1999) as an important work of scholarship. Mr. Bloomfield seems unaware that Cornwell, who actually relied mostly on secondary sources, has withdrawn some of his more extreme charges and now admits that “Vatican-sponsored initiatives” saved many Jews. In the previous decade, many scholars and authors have defended Pius XII. They include: Hans Jansen of the Netherlands; Pierre Blet and Philippe Chenaux of France; Michael Feldkamp, Konrad Low and Rainer Decker of Germany; Giovanni Sale, Matteo Luigi Napolitano, Andrea Tornielli, Antonio Gaspari and Alessia Falifigli of Italy; and Ronald Rychlak, Jose Sanchez and David Alvarez of the United States. Jewish scholars who have defended the wartime pope include Rabbi David Dalin, Jacques Adler, Michael Tagliacozzo and Sir Martin Gilbert.

The Vatican archives up to 1939 have been open for years. The archives covering World War II are in the process of being catalogued and should be open to scholars within five years. If evidence that establishes Pius XII’s guilt isn’t found, I suppose critics such as Douglas Bloomfield and Elon Steinberg will then accuse the Vatican of destroying any incriminating documents or still hiding them along with the Roswell UFO.

Dimitri Cavalli
Bronx, New York

Dennis Prager

I am very sorry to see Dennis Prager (“Messengers Who Forgot Their Message,” Jan. 29) as a columnist in The Jewish Journal. He represents a far-right point of view, which many in the Jewish community find repulsive, embarrassing and shameful. I have observed Dennis for many years. He does not help Jews. He is in the pocket of people who have very conservative, reactionary points of view on gender issues. I hope you will reconsider hiring this small-minded man.

Barbara Rosenkrantz
via e-mail

As a listener and reader of Dennis Prager for over 20 years, I am fairly familiar with his views. While Dennis may not be Orthodox in practice, he is Orthodox in his theology. Dennis is theologically a fundamentalist who views God as a supernatural being with thoughts and emotions that are knowable to man and are revealed in the divinely authored Torah. As a fundamentalist, he views God and the Torah in the realm of truth and fact, not interpretation and opinion. Therefore, Dennis not only dislikes and rejects secularists, he also dislikes and rejects “liberal religionists,” Jewish and non-Jewish alike. And if you are a “liberal religionist” who gets his religious values from a liberal interpretation of Judaism and therefore end up with liberal political views and values, you are doubly cursed in Dennis’ eyes. In Dennis’ view, God’s “message” is an Orthodox, fundamentalist and politically conservative message.

Dennis often says that he doesn’t judge people by their motives, but rather he judges them by their actions. The problem with Dennis and many other fundamentalists is that they misuse God and the Bible as a trump card, and it often leads to religious-based intolerance.

Michael Asher
Valley Village

Double Standards

How can someone say they support national movements if they oppose Zionism?

Why is it that no Arab country is even 1 percent Jewish, and Israel is 20 percent Arab, yet if Israel asks to be recognized as a Jewish state this is flatly rejected by the Arabs?

Israel’s enemies repeatedly call for its destruction with impunity. What would happen if Israel did likewise to its enemies just once?

How come the Jews who live in Judea/Samaria do not demand the Arabs leave their land, yet if the Arabs get a state on this same land they demand the Jews must leave?

How come the Israeli citizens of Sderot had to endure over 8,000 rocket attacks while the world did nothing, yet when Israel finally responded they are accused of using “disproportionate force” and war crimes?

Why is it Hamas intentionally places themselves and their arsenals among civilians knowing innocent people will be killed, yet only Israel gets accused of killing civilians?

Why is someone who intentionally and indiscriminately murders innocent Israelis called a “militant” instead of a terrorist?

What military other than Israel drops millions of leaflets and places thousands of calls to warn as many innocent people as possible prior to attacking?

Is anyone familiar with the term “double standard”?

Dan Calic
San Ramon

Women of the Wall

Oh the inhumanity of it all. Poor Rabbi Rosove and the other members of the Reform Zionists of America (there’s an oxymoron for you akin to the religious left). How can they sleep at night thinking about these poor, oppressed Women of the Wall (“Questioning of the Women of the Wall Leader Sparks Protests,” jewishjournal.com, Jan. 12) who only want to create a Chillul Hashem (descration of G-d’s name) at Judaism’s holiest site. These modern, enlightened, secular women are being harassed by the misogynistic, fanatical, living in the past, delusional Jews with their misguided belief in halachah and that God wrote the Torah. These women who know more than God and all of our sages, who say that the Kotel belongs to every Jew and who only want to break the laws of halachah, which the Reform movement by the way picks and chooses what it wants to believe. Tell me, if the Reform do not believe in the oral Torah, then why do they celebrate post-biblical holidays like Purim or Chanukah, even though both holidays are alluded to in the Torah?

The Kotel does belong to us all but it doesn’t mean that each of us can do what we want. It is in effect an Orthodox shul and as such we are expected to behave accordingly.  I don’t see these brave women going into an Orthodox synagogue here and demanding to sit in the men’s section. God forbid I’m not putting ideas in their head. Their actions are the same as if I, God forbid, awoke one day and said that I want my tefillin to be red or orange or a combination thereof instead of black. After all, tefillin are commanded to be worn by all men. I should be able to have mine whatever color I want.

This is what separates the Reform movement. With them it is all “I” and what I want.  It never is about the only “I” which is God and what God wants of us as stated in the written and oral Torah.

Mort Resnick

Support All Families

I agree with Rabbi Boteach that whether gays have the right to marry or not has nothing to do with heterosexual marriage (“Focus on Divorce, Not Gays, To Fix The Family,” Feb. 5), and all couples should focus more on the extreme work it takes to make a good marriage last, rather than the ridiculous notion that somehow allowing different definitions of marriage would be harmful. But, let’s not use the avoidance or belittling of another equally important message as a platform for communicating this one. Expressing the importance of strong marriages does not have to be and mustn’t be at the expense of the equally vital obligation not to discriminate. Unfortunately, one of the main reasons prejudice against gays remains an issue is the fact that Orthodox religion, even though they may let gays practice, still passes unsubstantiated judgment while ignoring the explicit evidence that homosexuality is not by any means just a “lifestyle choice” any more than Rabbi Boteach chooses to be straight. The Torah’s teachings may be clear to him on the issue, but the facts are clearer. If you want to talk about reversing the high divorce rate, please do. It is a much-needed discussion. But, don’t do it at the expense of an equally important issue. I’m with you on the importance of “the family.” But, I consider that to mean all families — gay, straight or otherwise.

Joshua Lewis Berg


Reading Mona Eltahawy’s article (“iMuslims Reforming Islam Online,” Feb. 5) I might be lulled into fatal complacency concerning the role of Muslims in American society. At least, balance this propaganda with the revelations of Robert Spencer.

Louis Richter
via e-mail


Kertes Among National Jewish Book Award Winners” (Feb. 5), left out the Jewish Family Literature award to Rabbi Paul Steinberg of Valley Beth Shalom for “Celebrating the Jewish Year: The Spring and Summer Holidays: Passover, The Omer, Shavuot, Tisha b’Av” (Jewish Publication Society).

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