Rabbi’s Words Echo on
Thank you for today’s column. I wish I could have heard it [Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis’ speech], but reading about it was wonderful (“Because You Suffer…,” March 8). Old is good, and older is perhaps even better. Again, thank you.
A Frustrated God
I don’t believe in censorship but I wish the Journal had chosen not to print Rabbi Paul Kipnes’ Torah analysis (“God’s Road Rage,” March 1). At first I thought it was a Purim satire, but even as such it would be highly inappropriate for a Jewish publication to print. Describing the Almighty as a terrible tot, throwing temper tantrums and much worse, is shocking and unworthy for the author and the publisher. If this is the God Kipnes believes in, why become a rabbi? Why bother to pray? Why stand up for the Torah?
Would the Journal have published the same article while substituting the word God with Allah? I don’t think so. You would have too much fear from, or respect for, the Muslim faith.
My first instinct was to wish Kipnes had shown better judgment and not written such a scurrilous attack on God, but then I remembered Beruria’s advice to her husband, Rebbe Meir, and in that spirit, I hope Kipnes will do teshuva. I also hope the Journal will apologize to its readers for its complicity in this public act of chillul Hashem.
Rabbi Robert Elias
Knesset Israel of Hollywood
The comments of my colleague, Paul Kipnes, were theologically offensive in the extreme. Leo Baeck, one of my favorite thinkers, did much to bridge the gap between traditional and modern thought. Leo Baeck speaks of God’s “altruistic jealousy,” knowing full well that humankind cannot be at its moral best without a loyal devotion to ethical monotheism. Comparing God to an enraged motorist is way beyond the bounds of what is acceptable.
Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Rabbi Paul Kipnes responds: Upon receiving the comments of Rabbis Elias and Feldman, neither of whom I know, I did what any thinking person should do when confronted by those who seem offended by my comments: I picked up the phone and called both. By the time this letter is printed, I will have met for coffee with Rabbi Elias. I am still playing phone tag with Rabbi Feldman. I hope that both conversations become learning opportunities to bridge the theological gap, explain perspectives, and perhaps build a connection Jew to Jew, rabbi to rabbi. That’s how Jews disagree and yet remain one community.
Regarding the d’var Torah criticism, I offer these insights:
• Jewish mysticism — and midrash and Torah for that matter — posits a God that is not perfect, but rather grows in knowledge and understanding over time. The whole point of creating humanity, it teaches, is so that God can “self-actualize” (to borrow Maslow’s term).
• If God is not perfect, then it is permissible to experience God as becoming frustrated, even enraged, with the Israelites’ behavior. This need not weaken one’s belief in our God; rather it shows that God can be talked to and argued with (see Abraham at Sodom, Moses after the Golden Calf). We pray to a God who grows and changes. How wonderful if we, who are created in the image of God, could be more like God, listen to the advice of others and learning not to act out our anger.
• It is easy to condemn the views of others. We Jews particularly need not be afraid or enraged when someone makes theological claims that challenge our views. Unlike extremists in other religious groups, Jews allow for every argument about and with God. We encounter them with thoughtfulness to discern where there might be truth that we overlooked.
I believe in God with all my heart, soul and might. And I humbly apologize to those for whom my words offended their understanding of God.
The Ugly Truth About Food
In claiming that by rating products for their nutritional value, a supermarket violates capitalist principles (Ayn Rand 101), Marty Kaplan broadcasts his unfamiliarity with those principles (“Grocers: Don’t Buy Our Dreck,” March 8.)
It makes perfect sense for a supermarket to distinguish itself by offering customers something (information) that its competitors don’t; shoppers who want this data will be more likely to shop there.
There is no downside; once inside the store, customers concerned by a Cap’n Crunch’s low score won’t stop buying cereal, they will just substitute a healthier alternative. Purchases and revenues will be reallocated, not reduced.
It might be a problem for the producers of sugary cereals, but those producers also make healthier alternatives, so they too will simply see a shift, not a loss.
In sum, it is the self-interest of economic competitors (Adam Smith 101), not state paternalism, that is providing the social benefit that Kaplan celebrates.
I will suggest to my local stores that they use your system of quality food rating. What a great idea! I cook everything from scratch since I don’t like so many sub-par ingredients in prepared foods. But this system helps women who don’t have the time to cook every day.
Bleak Future Without JCCs
I am afraid that in the future, the withdrawal of support for the Jewish Community Centers (JCCs) in 2001 will be looked at as the start of the decline of Jewish life in Los Angeles (“Left Without a JCC, Valley Jews Look to Start Anew,” March 8).
The JCCs occupied a crucial niche both geographically, where there were no nearby synagogues, and psychographically, for those who wanted to remain affiliated with the Jewish community but couldn’t afford or didn’t want to join a synagogue.
They provided a full range of activities from preschool to youth athletics to senior care to Sabbath and High Holy Days services for those who otherwise would have nowhere to go.
Interfaith families found them uniquely welcoming.
Unfortunately, once the JCCs close and the land is developed, it will be difficult if not impossible to recreate them.
There were financial troubles and fiscal mismanagement, but for a community as wealthy as ours, shame on The Federation — and on us all — for letting this happen.
The article “Three Films to Focus on Israeli Air Force” (March 1), misstated a current project by Mark Lansky. He is producing a film on the life of his uncle, Meyer Lansky, based on the book “The Devil Himself” by Eric Dezenhall, and other sources.