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Jewish Journal

Spinker? I just met her!

January 17, 2008 | 7:00 pm

Spinka Money Trails

Sadly missing from Amy Klein's thorough investigation from "Boro Park to L.A. (Dirty Laundry)" was the question that seems to be embedded in every news article when reporting on a perpetrated evil. Why? ("Following the Spinka Money Trail," Jan. 11).

We are enjoined to search for the deeper meaning behind those who riot in the streets of Los Angeles or blow themselves up in Israeli pizzerias. Evil does not happen on its own, we are assured; there must be a "justification" or "rationalization" that explains it all.

So why would an otherwise holy and pious Jew -- a leader of Chassidic sect -- allegedly succumb to the temptation of being an accomplice to a crime just to help some greedy businessmen achieve an unearned tax write-off?

I can't be sure of the reason but I do submit a challenge to the Jewish community at large. Have we done our part in helping our brethren -- be they Chassidic schools in New York or any of our local Jewish day schools -- maintain their bastions of Torah scholarship and Jewish culture? There are no yachts in Brooklyn as Amy Klein points out, but there are thousands of Jewish kinderlach that need a quality education.

Michael Steinhardt, the famed Jewish philanthropist wrote in the pages of this newspaper on July 28, 2006: "We are donors to universities, museums, orchestras and hospitals, but when it comes to Jewish philanthropy, we fall short. Today, perhaps 20 percent or less of Jewish giving goes to Jewish causes.... Of the $5.3 billion in megagifts given by America's wealthiest Jews between 1995 and 2000, a mere 6 percent went to Jewish institutions....... Only 11 percent of Jews donate over $1,000 to Jewish causes."

No one I know is condoning the crime or the chilul Hashem that the article speaks of. But is it perhaps a wake-up call to all of us -- since a shande impacts all Jews, regardless of religious persuasion -- to prioritize our tzedakah by first and foremost helping our struggling schools and yeshivas? Wouldn't it be nice if a Chassidic rebbe could teach Torah and shepherd his flock without having to worry about covering an overwhelming daily budget?

Name Withheld Upon Request

In Amy Klein's piece about allegations of corruption against Rabbi Naftali Tzi Weisz and other members of a segment of the Spinka Chasidic community, she writes, "Weisz is just one of a number of Grand Rebbes of Spinka, a Chasidic sect."

I can't help but wonder what makes Chasidim members of sects.

Yes, I know that many dictionaries define sect as a subdivision of a larger religious group but the truth is, that is not really how the word is used today.

For example, in recent years a number of articles have appeared in The Jewish Journal and other publication about the "Satmar Chasidic Sect." There are approximately twice as many Satmar Chasidim in the world (100,000 to 150,000) as there are Reconstructionist Jews (50,000 to 75,000), yet when was the last time you read any left-wing Jewish journalist writing about "the Reconstructionist Sect."

The simple truth is we know that the "nod/wink" meaning of people who belong to a sect is that they are weird, unenlightened, lack individuality and don't think for themselves. The word sect robs people of their humanity. It is often used interchangeably with the word cult.

Let the case against Rabbi Weisz and other Spinka Chasidim play itself out, but treat individual Chasidim with the respect they deserve.

If sex discrimination is bad how can "sects" discrimination be good?

Rafael Guber
New York, N.Y.


The circumstances and substance of the accusations involving the Spinka Rabbi and the Spinka institutions are quite troubling to this tax lawyer whose son now learns in a yeshiva in Israel.

Without jumping to judgment, and maintaining the presumption of innocence accorded to all of the accused under American law, the following matters are noted:

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the leading halachic authority of his generation, issued a responsum allowing a Jew to be an IRS agent, even where the audit assignments might uncover criminal tax evasion by Jews and lead to prosecution and imprisonment of the Jewish tax evaders.

The Talmud (Baba Kama 113a) specifically requires that taxes imposed by a legitimate and just secular government be paid. Maimonides further expounded on this rule.

The very first paragraph of the first chapter of Pirkei Avot admonishes us to "erect a fence for the Torah," meaning that we must impose stringencies beyond the letter of the law so that we do not inadvertently transgress it.

Kenneth H. Ryesky, Esq.
East Northport, N.Y.
The author formerly served as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service, Manhattan District.


I read the Journal article, "Following the Spinka Money Trail" with embarrassment and shock.

My greatest shock is in observing that I hear little from those who revere the Spinka rabbi about the enormous illegal inflow of money to those laundering it without shame for donors who are scofflaws. Rather is the anger directed against the informant, and the misguided self-righteousness that defrauding the government is justified?

A strong principle in Jewish law, stated in Baba Batra and Gittin, is Dina d'Malchuta Dina: the law of the government is the law, (binding upon the Jewish people.) This is stressed by leading authorities from the Rambam to Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. He wrote in Igrot Moshe: We are certainly forbidden by God, may He be blessed, who commanded us in his holy Torah from taking more funds or assets than is permitted by the laws and regulations of the government. This is true even if we can somehow get more from certain functionaries who would like to help our institutions not in accordance with established governmental guidelines ... so that they should not cause stealing and losses to the government, even inadvertently, in violation of the laws of the Torah and laws of the government."

My hope is that this current public exposure will lead to a complete sanitizing of the treatment of monies donated to all our Jewish institutions. Let the Jewish name be identified with honesty and integrity. Let us demonstrate that the Jewish community will keep its promise to Peter Stuyvesant that we will always assume responsibility for maintaining our Jewish life in this land, which has given us the opportunity to conduct it in peace.Rabbi Jacob Pressman
Via e-mail


Dialogue With Islam

Rabbi Haim Ovadia seems bent on convincing us that Christianity is much worse than Islam when it comes to relationships with Jews ("Its Time to Open Dialogue With Islam," Jan. 11).

It is a silly project at best, and his history is wanting in many respects.
The real issue is, "which is worse for Jews now, and for the foreseeable future?"

Anybody who has read the Koran recognizes that there is absolutely no possibility of a real relationship with Muslims now or ever in the future, even if they seem to be sleeping at any particular moment.

And they ain't sleeping right now. And make-nice talk never worked with them.

Brad Scabbard
Via e-mail


To build bridges with those Muslims who desire to confront the radicals is a goal that even Dennis Prager would fully support. However, Rabbi Ovadia's summation of history is skewed and his desire to call himself a "Jew of Islam" is outrageous. In the first place, in its first millennium Christians were no more oppressive of Jews than Muslims. Furthermore, Jews have all in all fared better in Protestant countries.

While Muslims, like Christians (who the rabbi denigrates in every way and with whom he certainly does not want to identify himself) both oppose gay rights and abortion, Islam proscribes draconian punishments for disobeying its precepts; and it condones wife beating. Finally, both Muslims and some Christians believe that a benevolent God will ban all non-believers to eternal damnation, and all Muslims believe in the last Sura which states that in the end of days, Allah will help Muslims commit genocide against Jews. No rational Jew can identify with Islam.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles


In "It's time to (re) open dialogue with Islam," Rabbi Haim Ovadia provides a thoughtful approach to counteract religious fanaticism.

At the same time, he also offers a fascinating history lesson about the "Jews of Islam," reminding us of the beauty and richness of our culturally diverse Jewish community. Indeed, his ongoing efforts to revive the cultural heritage of Sephardic Jews reflect, as did this piece, his commitment to strengthening Jewish identity, tolerance and multiethnic awareness. For all of this, we are proud that Rabbi Ovadia is a member of the Academy for Jewish Religion, California's Rabbinical School Faculty.

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
Dean
Rabbinical School and Chaplaincy Program
Academy for Jewish Religion, California


Maybe A Little Blood

I read with great interest your editorial regarding hearing points of view that may differ from our own ("There Won't Be Blood," Jan. 11).

Fine message for all of us regardless of our perspective on life and issues, but I believe others and I have found Karl Rove to be outside the pale.

Mr. Rove has proven himself over a number of years, but especially over the years in the White House, as being a dishonest, disingenuous and deceitful leader and has not earned his right to be heard. Differences of opinion is not the issue with him but rather is willingness, near eagerness, to lie, to cheat and to implement the philosophy of 'the ends justify the means,' particularly when those ends bring power without honor or justice.

Sorry, your effort to convince me to purchase tickets for the lecture series after the first three years when I was an eager and satisfied listener were aimed at the wrong target, for Mr. Rove is not worthy of your commentary, my ears nor the potential of what the Lecture Series can be.

Ben Tenn
Northridge


There is cause to be grateful in the editor's "There Won't Be Blood" op-ed: Mr. Eshman argues for a polyphony of opinion within the Jewish community, something desperately needed these days -- particularly where Israel and U.S. foreign policy are concerned. Actually, there isn't just one Israel, any more than there is a single "Jewish community"; there are many Israels and many Jewish communities. Isn't fearless iconoclasm, therefore, our best option?

Jordan Elgrably
Via e-mail


Benazir Bhutto

Thank you for the opinion piece titled, "Who Killed Benazir Bhutto?" by Rami G. Khouri (Jan. 4).

Former Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto became another innocent victim, from an assassin's bullet on the streets of Pakistan. Today, lone gunmen, militias, suicide bombers, state armies and elected leaders of so-called democratic countries have all played into this violent global drama.

When humans use violence, death and intimidation as their daily routine, or expression of their corrupt political agendas, we have lost something special, and it's called peace.

Everyone deserves to live in peace. However, we continue to hear from dictators, presidents, kings, emperors, and warlords on a daily basis as they extort democracy, freedom and peace.

Benazir Bhutto embraced humanity, democracy, freedom and peace. However, a sick generation that is proud of violence, assassination and death has silenced another voice of one crying out in the wilderness of peace!

Gerald Steven Tlapa
Los Angeles


Yiddish Dancers

This article insinuates that Lithuanian Americans are right-wing and anti-Semitic since Yiddish dancers will not participate in the Lithuanian Dance Festival in Los Angeles this summer ("Lithuanian Festival Excludes Yiddish Dancers," Jan. 11). This is simply not true. What does dancing have to do with Jewish-Lithuanian relations or politics?I suppose that freedom allows any group to dance their native folk dances. As a Lithuanian American, I have participated in three Lithuanian Folk Dance festivals in Chicago, Toronto, and in Lithuania. Minority ethnic groups never participated in any of these festivals. This doesn't in any way demean or ostracize these groups.

I doubt if any reasonable person could infer anything negative about a National Folk Dance Festival. We dance traditional dances in our native costumes just as our ancestors did years ago. It is a celebration for young and old to enjoy and hopefully encourage other Lithuanians to continue the tradition.

Paulius Klimas
Germantown, Md.


Ethiopian Immigration

I read with interest the article from JTA concerning controversies about Israel accepting additional Ethiopian immigration ("Ethiopian Advocates Push for 8,500 More Aliyot," Dec. 21).

Whatever those controversies suggest about who qualifies for aliyah, Ethiopian Jews continue to come. Their integration into Israeli society is an obligation the Jewish people must continue to undertake with the partnership of Israelis.

Kids from Ethiopia need help in ensuring their long-range success in the educational system, in national service and in passing exams for professional training within Israel.

Anyone who cares about a just Israeli society should support Operation Promise and other efforts to create a better, more welcoming state.

Jake Farber
Chair
Operation Promise Campaign
The Jewish Federation


Azeri Jews

Gabriel Lerner's article "Azeri Jews: Centuries of Coexistence in Azerbaijan" is full of fabrications (Jan. 11).

He falsely states that the Azeri government is a model for religious liberty in the world "especially compared to Armenia" where he claims there are "less than 10 Jews." During and after World War II hundreds of displaced Jews settled in Armenia, bringing the population to 10,000 by 1959. In 1995 the Chabad house was established in Yerevan and in 2004 it began producing kosher food.

When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament along with the majority population comprising 94 percent of Armenians voted to unite itself with Armenia after suffering years of repression of its cultural and religious freedoms under Azeri rule, ever since the British and Soviet Bolsheviks after World War I handed the Armenian land to Azerbaijan. Ancient Jewish cemeteries have been unearthed in Armenia and the friendly relationship between Jews and Armenians dates back to over 2,000 years.

Gabriel Lerner is clearly not very learned as seen in his poor attempt to portray a bad picture of Armenia especially in comparison to the suppressive Azeri regime.

Talar Toprakjian
Los Angeles


Long ago in Moscow the student who very seriously studied Torah in underground classes but had for lunch anything that could be found in the dorm, met another one, who hardly knew what the weekly portion was about but could hardly imagine that anyone could eat food that is not kosher. Her eyes and long hair turned out to be the most decisive factor of all, and contrary to family insistence that she choose a "nice Jewish boy" (Ashkenazim were not considered), we even got married. This is how I first became involved with "tats" or "mountain Jews."

I was very pleased to see Gabriel Lerner's article talking about this virtually unknown community that easily traces their roots to the times of Esther and Mordechai. Many times I heard from my wife's family and others that their ancestors ended up on the other side of Caspian Sea because they tried to escape from the hands of Haman. The picture of this community presented in the article is very far from reality. Like most of the former Soviet republics, Azerbaijan today is a dictatorship run by the former KGB officer and his son, and it appears that the author went a long way with an official propaganda.

"Mountain Jews" are not "Azeri Jews." While the big part of this community did reside in Quba in Azerbaijan, the other very big centers were Derbent and Machachkala, which is in Russian Daghestan. The less than 20-year-old border obviously did not split the more than 20-centuries-old community. There also was a big number of Ashkenazi Jews who were calling Azerbaijan their home. The physics Nobel Prize winner Leo Landau was one of them. It is true, and the same I've observed in Georgia and in Uzbekistan, that although Ashkenazi and "mountain" Jews had very little contact, at every opening of the borders both groups equally stormed the visa offices. I witnessed times when every other house in Quba and Derbent were for sale and towns went virtually empty.

There is a much better chance to find a Quban Jew now in Netania and Hadera than in Quba. True, many returned to due to economic reasons. They built palaces, drive expensive cars and hold to their Israeli passports.

Compared to other parts of the Soviet empire, Azerbaijan was one of the most tolerant and Baku was a truly cosmopolitan city. There was a big Armenian diaspora in Azerbaijan. The relationships between communities could be described by the fact that world chess champion Garry Kasparov was born in Baku from Jewish and Armenian parents.

Azerbaijan may be a solid partner with Israel and a good place for Jews to live; yet it is very doubtful that "Azeri Jews" willing to sacrifice their lives in the war for Nagorniy Karabakh. During the creations of the Soviet Union, the "Father of the Nations" decided this historically Armenian region Artzah to be a part of Azerbaijan republic. This resulted in what Armenians justifiably believe was a quite a genocide and destruction of Armenian culture -- Armenian children were forced to learn Azerbaijani, churches closed, etc.

When the empire collapsed, the population of Karabakh rebelled. In response Azerbaijan staged a wave of Armenian pogroms. This, along with following war and a neighboring Chechen conflict, very much helped those who were not decided about aliyah to make their move. The only sides that I know Jews were taking in this situation was giving shelters and helping victims. This reality is very far from the propaganda presented in article.

Yehuda Leibman
Santa Monica


Bad Rap for Single Girls Am I the only Jewish woman who found Orit Arfa's column "Not a Fixer-Upper" offensive ("Jan. 4)?

Disparaging a man for his lack of height, social grace and the size of his nose!

Even worse, the poor guy had a desk job at a cellphone company. According to Arfa, this is proof that he is "not one to understand the life of an adventurous writer and artist." Puhlease. Some of the world's greatest writers and poets had boring day jobs to pay the rent. A true artist does not judge character by such superficial first impressions.

Arfa comes off as a totally self-involved, yet shockingly unaware, young woman. We've all had date duds. That's part of the "adventure," Arfa. God bless and keep my sons ... far away from the likes of you!

Name Withheld Upon Request


Waiting for Raoul

Jan. 17 will mark the 63rd anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg.

A protestant by faith and the son of a powerful Swedish family of industrialists and bankers, tenacious, courageous and with a persuasive personality, in 1944 a group of prominent countrymen suggested that he should be entrusted with the dangerous mission of saving the lives of the Hungarian Jews. He accepted this mission, risking not only a comfortable way of living but also his own life. He was only 32 years old and saved tens of thousands of lives.

He was last seen on Jan. 17, 1945, when Soviet military men escorted him to the headquarters of the Red army in Debrecen. Since then Wallenberg's whereabouts remain unknown.

We find that life comprises things that are more important than life itself. One of these things is truth. When we renounce truth the fall is unavoidable and unlimited.

Perla Graisman
New York



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