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Archives Of Previous Articles XIII


MERITING A MIRACLE

Rabbi Avi Shafran

In 1943, after more than three years of German control over France, the Great Synagogue of Lyon continued to function. That December 10, the Lyon Milice, the shock troops of the Vichy government, decided to put an end to the Jewish worship.

The shul's rabbi survived the war to tell the tale, which is recorded in a book about Klaus Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyon" (the title, in fact, of the book, by Brendan Murphy - Empire/Harper & Row, 1983). A member of the Milice quietly entered the rear of the sanctuary that Friday night during services. Armed with three hand grenades, he intended to lob them into the crowd of standing worshippers from behind, and to escape before the explosions. After silently opening the door and entering the room unnoticed by anyone but the rabbi (who stood facing the congregation), he pulled the pins.

What he saw, though, so shook him that he remained wide-eyed and motionless for a crucial moment, and then only managed to toss the grenades a few feet before fleeing. Several worshippers were injured by shrapnel but none were killed.

What had so flabbergasted the Nazi was the sudden, unexpected sight of his intended victim's faces, as the congregation, as if on cue, turned as one on its heels to face him.

The would-be mass-murderer had entered the shul precisely at "bo'i b' shalom," the last stanza of the liturgical poem Lecha Dodi, when worshippers traditionally turn toward the door to welcome the Sabbath. The account came to mind of late because it is, at least to me, a striking reminder of something truly fundamental yet easily forgotten. We Jews often survive on miracles.

To be sure, we don't base our belief on them, as do some religions. Maimonides famously wrote that the miracles recounted in the Torah - even the parting of the Red Sea - are demonstrations not of G-d's existence but rather of His love for His people. We know G-d exists because of our carefully preserved historical tradition that He communicated with our ancestors at Mt. Sinai, an event we will soon celebrate on Shevuot.

All the same, though, His love and His miracles underlie our existence.

Our tradition teaches that our foremother Sarah was biologically incapable of conceiving a child; the very beginning of our people thus was miraculous. The perseverance of the Jewish people over the millennia is a miracle, as is our rebirth after countless decimations.

And recent Jewish history has been no less miraculous. When Israel destroyed the assortment of Arab armies arrayed against it in 1967, even hardened military men well aware of the Israeli air force and army's skill and determination spoke of miracles. And the rescue at Entebbe in 1976 may have entailed special-forces acumen, but sensitive Jews saw on it the clear fingerprints of the miraculous as well. And, in 1981, they recognized no less in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear plant at Osirak, signs not only of military might but of miracle, of G-d's love.

None of which is to belittle the tremendous efforts of Israel's military, may its members be safe and protected. But while "this world" efforts must always be made, believing Jews maintain a concomitant consciousness of the fact that success and failure are determined by something considerably more sublime. In the perspective of our religious tradition, that something is our merit as a people - our kindness to one another, our prayers, our study of Torah and our performance of mitzvot. In the end, those are the things, our tradition teaches us, that will make all the difference. In the Torah we read how the Jews, led by Joshua, fought the Amalekites. When Moses held his hands high, the verse continues, the Jews waxed victorious. "Were Moses ' hands waging war?" asks the Mishna. The answer, it continues, is that "when the Jews eyes [inspired by Moses' hands] were lifted heavenward, they were militarily victorious."

In these terribly trying times for Jews, when hatred carefully nurtured for decades has erupted in a plague of vicious murder and old, ugly ghosts have been stirred awake, it behooves us to remember that fact. We all ask ourselves what we can do on behalf of our beleaguered brothers and sisters. There are many things, to be sure.

But at the very top of each of our lists should be things like: prayer; with concentration and heart; charity, with generosity and concern; Jewish observance, with care and determination; Torah-study, with effort and commitment.

Because, unified spiritually by the expression of our common Jewish religious heritage, we are doing something nothing else can do: meriting a miracle.

[Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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WHERE CREDIT IS DUE

Abba Cohen

The Bush budget proposal has been unveiled and, buried within its pages, there is something new - an "education tax credit." It is an intriguing proposal. And, a good start.

But only a start.

The proposal goes like this: Students in failing public schools would be eligible to receive a refundable $2,500 tax credit that could be used for "qualified" education expenses. Such costs include, among other things, tuition and fees associated with transfer to a private or religious school.

This latest incarnation of the "school choice" concept follows on the heels of a similar effort during consideration of the President's centerpiece education legislation, the "No Child Left Behind Act." The original proposal, which had encountered strong congressional opposition and quickly pulled from the bill, would have given children attending failing or violent public schools the opportunity to opt for private school, religious or otherwise. In the end, the President and Congress had a meeting of the minds. Children in persistently failing public schools will be allowed to use federal funds for "supplemental" educational services offered by for-profit and nonprofit providers, including faith based institutions and private schools.

Now, the "education tax credit" is on the table.

Like supplemental services, the tax proposal is a worthwhile beginning. Any step, however modest, in the direction of greater parental involvement and control in their children's education - is a step in the right direction, and represents good public policy. Indeed, studies have shown that educational excellence and achievement are directly linked to the active participation of parents in their children's schooling. And there can be no greater participation than empowering parents with greater options.

But there is something sadly deficient with the proposed tax credit - in fact, there is an unfortunate pattern in all these initiatives - one that is deeply disheartening to traditional "school choice" proponents. It is that their benefits are limited to students in the public school system. Families, like ours, whose preference from the outset is to provide their children with private or religious education have been abandoned in these plans. The problem is not merely one of "equity" or "inclusion." It is not simply that school choice works best when the broadest options are made available to the broadest range of parents - including those who choose private school for their children. It raises a concern of a different sort - striking at the very heart of the "school choice" concept itself. "School choice," to be sure, is about upgrading the quality of public education, or at least improving educational opportunity for children already attending troubled public schools - and there is every reason to think that it will.

But it is more.

It is also about helping all parents provide their children with the most appropriate, effective and productive form of education. It is about providing some relief to parents who struggle mightily, and who sacrifice so much, to offer their children the best education possible and the best opportunities for their future - whether found in public, private or religious schools. It is about assisting all parents to fulfill their parental responsibilities and do right by their children.

That essential element of "school choice," that essential element of meaningful school reform, is unfortunately absent from President Bush's tax credit proposal. Reading the political tea leaves on both sides of the issue, the White House has indicated that the tax credit is still a "work in progress." Good. It needs work.

There is often a temptation to count congressional heads and go with any bill that Congress will pass. But the Administration should recognize what might result if, in the name of pragmatism or bipartisanship, it tries to seek consensus on a bill that reduces the initiative to the lowest (read: weakest) common denominator.

The risks are obvious. We are already witnessing the emergence of a "public school only" pattern. Will it become the standard starting point for "school choice" legislation? The accepted norm? The worthy ideal? Ultimate success? The more Administration proponents compromise and accept the notion, the more legislatively entrenched it will become.

The White House and Congress must work to find ways to broaden - through the tax code or by other means - educational assistance to all American families. To enshrine a limited "school choice" vision is to shortchange the concept and abandon many millions of parents - indeed, school choice's innovators - who have for years, and at great personal sacrifice, breathed life into the idea.

[Abba Cohen is director and counsel of Agudath Israel of America's Washington Office]

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TRAPPED IN TIME

Eric Sholom Simon

I was praying in shul late one evening when a beeping sound came from the Chassidic-garbed gentleman next to me. Seconds later, a similar sound emanated from my own shirt pocket.

We both chuckled as we realized what was happening. Each of us has a Palm Pilot, and a program that reminds us to "count the Omer," a Jewish ritual that mandates a blessing and the noting of the advent of each day of the period between the second day of Passover and Shavuot - during which time our ancestors spiritually developed to a point where they were ready to receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai. Ideally, the counting is done after nightfall, and each year we endeavor to emulate our ancestors' spiritual growth.

As I chuckled at the simultaneous sounding of alarms, however, I was reminded of the stereotypes held by many Jews about "ultra-Orthodox" or haredi, Jews. "Stuck in the 16th century" is a refrain I often hear. But a quick perusal of the internet will show that the lion's share of the Torah commentary on the Web is from the Orthodox, much of it from haredi Jews. Knowledgeable Jewish techies, moreover, know that the Orthodox were all over the internet even before the Web browser was invented.

"No," critics will protest, "We mean that they are stuck in the 16th century regarding Jewish law." But they are wrong there too. It is true that Jewish religious law, or halacha, in Orthodox eyes, does not change simply because of society's whims or contemporary mores. But it does develop and evolve, in order to meet the particular challenges of every age. The famous 16th-century "Code of Jewish Law" or "Shulchan Arukh," was essentially a digest of earlier works, including those of Maimonides and others, themselves based on the Talmud and Oral Tradition. The process of applying halacha to new circumstances continues today as well. And, indeed, most of us who consult a code of Jewish law use a more recent compilation.

Still, some will protest, why must traditional Jews follow laws written by the proverbial "dead white men?" Interestingly enough, most of the protesters are not similarly disturbed by American courts' respect for the U.S. Constitution, written by men considerably less racially diverse than the Jewish sages of centuries past (whose geographical backdrop runs from Muslim Spain to North Africa to Europe to what are today Iran and Iraq).

I find it particularly ironic that what seems to particularly rankle some about haredi fealty to halacha is what the rankled see as traditional Judaism's "medieval" world-view with regard to women.

They have a point. Traditional Judaism flouts modern society's take on that topic. A quick look at any magazine rack - where the covers of both men's and women's magazines are festooned with scantily clad women - is proof enough of how the contemporary world treats women: as sex-objects. And if that evidence doesn't suffice, one need only wonder why television commercials and print advertisements employ women's bodies to sell most everything from beer to cars, or why Britney Spears dresses (so to speak) as she does.

Traditional Judaism treats women with more respect than that - indeed, it forbids men to leer at them, and commands husbands to respect their wives more than themselves.

As parents, my own wife and I read with interest a recent American Academy of Pediatrics report identifying our children's TV habits as a national health hazard. Television, the Academy concluded, contributes to kids' obesity and serves them an unhealthy portion of murder, consequence-free sex and commercial messages every year. I have read as well of the tremendous peer pressure faced by children to engage in sex, drinking and drugs. And of young girls wanting to "dress like Britney." And of cruel teen cliques and gangs, sometimes leading to Columbine-style violence. And, recently, a piece by a parent who, overwhelmed by the hectic pace of contemporary life, suggested that families set aside one night per week for a nice, quiet, uninterrupted and sacrosanct dinner together. She concluded that it could never happen. Their lives were simply part of modern society moving at light speed.

But a family dinner with no interruptions or competing activities does happen in my family and countless other traditional Jewish ones. And an elaborate lunch the very next day. Every single week. And I endeavor to protect my children from our modern societal notion that women are mere sex objects.

And so it occurs to me to suggest that it's not that I, my Palm-Pilot-toting Chassidic neighbor and other Orthodox Jews are trapped in the 16th century. It's that most everyone else is trapped in the 21st.

[Eric Sholom Simon, a Research Analyst for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is a former member of the Executive Committee of the UAHC Commission on Synagogue Affiliation. He and his wife are currently active in Jewish outreach and educational activities in Northern Virginia, where he studies and teaches Talmud and Jewish thought.]

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HATRED AND HOPE

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Current Jewish events are both foreboding and absurd. One "side" of the conflict preaches hatred and rejoices at every slaughtered child or parent; the other responds by seeking to arrest individuals guilty of murder, and regrets every unintended civilian casualty - the only kind there is. Then an "objectivity"-addled world labels the calculus a "cycle of violence" - as if it were a wheel without a beginning rather than Jew-hatred without end. The tragic zaniness proceeds with the solemn offering of body counts that obscenely mingle innocent victims and suicide bombers; and calls for "restraint" in dealing with terrorists are soberly issued by a world waging a war on terrorism.

If it all weren't so tragically reminiscent of Tisha B'Av, the traditional day of Jewish national mourning, it would instead bring Purim to mind. Yet even through our tears, we are afforded a recognition: yes, this is indeed the exile from whose shadow Jews have prayed for millennia to emerge. Our generation, we now know, has not escaped its tragedy; nor have freedom or even a Jewish State abbreviated it.

The shining hopes held out by the "isms" - to use the droll term coined by a great rabbi of the pre-Holocaust era, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman - have, as he predicted, proven only the phony glitter of fools' gold. The faith that was placed in internationalism, humanism, socialism and Zionism (created, no less to ensure, at last, a safe haven for Jews) has proven a poor investment indeed.

By stark and telling contrast, some Jews have always understood that there is only one ultimate path to our redemption, that our true power lies more in prayer than in politics; more in Torah than treaties; more in merits than munitions.

There is, to be sure, great value in pursuing diplomatic and military strategies. But such efforts, Jewish tradition cautions, must always be undertaken with a clear understanding that the race will ultimately go not to the swift or the clever or the strong, but rather to the good.

The global theater of the absurd has been graced (or, better, disgraced) too by another well-known performer: outrageous anti-Semitism. And so we have come to witness a resurgence of Jew-hatred, from old haunts like France to new ones like Scotland, and telling occurrences like the Islamist home movie of Daniel Pearl's confession of Jewishness, slaughter and decapitation. And then there is millions of Muslims' belief that Jews were really behind the September 11 attacks; an Arab press that has resurrected blood libels; and the publication of new editions of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," presented as nonfiction.

The madness has rained existential puzzlement on Jewish intellectuals. Jonathan Rosen, writing in The New York Times Magazine, described his discomfort during the Durban orgy of Israel-hatred, which receded prematurely into ancient history when September 11 arrived mere weeks later.

"Jews were the problem," he wrote, "and the countries of the world were figuring out the solution. The past had come calling."

In Commentary, Hillel Halkin wrote from a similar daze. He too received a first punch from Durban, "the largest and best-publicized international anti-Semitic rally in history," and remains confounded. "[T]he demoralization caused by the persistence of anti-Semitism is profound," he agonized, at least "for the Jew unshielded by religious belief." That dismissive phrase says it all, revealing how tightly shut even a brilliant mind can be. The persistence of Jew-hatred is explainable only in the context of Jewish religious belief.

We Jews were promised security and happiness, our tradition informs us, when we lived God-focused lives and heeded the Torah's laws; when we stuck to our collective identity and refused to dissolve in the ocean of nations.

Should we abandon our Torah, though, we were warned, we would be dispersed among those very nations. And, again as warned, should we try to escape into the mirage of assimilation and pretend to be things other than Jews, the world that had demanded our dissolution into itself will suddenly refuse to hear of it and mark us as Jews with the indelible paint of hatred and blood. Just as we have seen, and see.

More than an understanding , though, is discernable through out tears; so, incredibly, is hope.

After the destruction of Jerusalem's Holy Temple, the Talmud relates, Rabbi Akiva saw a fox emerge from where the Holy of Holies had stood. He responded by laughing. Challenged, he explained that the prophets had foretold both the Temple's destruction and the Jewish people's exile as well as the eventual return of the Jews to their land through the messianic redemption. Witnessing the extent of the former's fulfillment, he explained, reassured him that the latter would no less fully come to pass.

Like Rabbi Akiva's colleagues, we Jews these days find it difficult to smile, much less laugh. But we can still strive to internalize the faith the sage expressed - and help bring about what he foresaw.

[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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STAND AND DELIVER

Eytan Kobre

It's difficult to think of another time in which Israel has needed the support of every Jew as desperately as right now. And according to leading Israeli Reform Rabbi David Forman, writing in the Jerusalem Post, the CCAR, American Reform's rabbinical organization, held its annual meeting in Jerusalem this year to demonstrate that "the Reform Movement stands with the Jewish State."

Yet Rabbi Forman goes on to warn that "[o]ne must not take this support for granted." Why? Because Reform rabbis "have a hard enough time convincing their members to stand behind Israel" in the best of times, and all the more so when those congregants get "upset" at the "blatant violations of human rights that Israelis perpetrate against Palestinians."

What is more, Rabbi Forman asserts, "Israel cannot afford to alienate the majority of the Jewish world. If Orthodoxy persists in maintaining its [religious authority in Israel, then Reform rabbis] will find it harder and harder to encourage their laity to support Israel." Apparently, the Reform movement's resolve to "stand with the Jewish State" in its time of need is conditional.

Not so long ago, Rabbi Forman castigated American Reform Jews for pinning "their disenchantment with Israel on the fact that Reform conversions and rabbis are not recognized." On that occasion, he maintained that "agreement or disagreement with Israel's policies should have no bearing on one's commitment to a Jewish state."

Now, however, in an apparent about-face, the rabbi seems to have embraced precisely such a linkage. This, despite his own admission that "Israelis feel that while they are fighting to maintain Jewish survival, Reform Judaism is doing its best to combat Jewish survival" and that "so powerful is the image of [religious anarchy] in Reform Judaism, that even if the Reform Movement were formally recognized here [in Israel], its membership would not increase, nor its impact be felt."

The CCAR's decision to convene in Jerusalem is commendable, but Rabbi Forman ought to think twice before trying to sway Israelis on the pluralism issue by invoking his American colleagues' weekend convention.

For, at this very moment, thousands of young American Orthodox men and women are living and studying in Israel for a year or more. This has been the case for many years, and continues to be so, even as the enemy attacks have become more deadly and pervasive. And, unlike the Israeli branch of Reform's Hebrew Union College, which abruptly ended its school year a month-and-one-half early to enable nearly a third of the student body to return to America, the Orthodox students will, overwhelmingly, remain there for the duration. Perhaps even more astoundingly, the New York Jewish Week reports that the numbers of American Jews moving to Israel this year "will be 30 percent to 40 percent above recent years' totals of about 1,500. . . . Most of the new crop of immigrants-to-be are . . . young, Orthodox families."

Despite their supposed "triumphalist" tendencies, Orthodox groups haven't issued press releases touting the great sacrifices being made by these scores of Orthodox families and thousands of Orthodox students. That's because the latter are simply doing, with great determination but without fanfare, what might be expected of Jews who believe deeply in a G-d-given Torah that guarantees the eternity of this Chosen People and the holiness of its homeland.

To be sure, not every such Jew will do so; in fact, there's a case to be made that not every such Jew, given his or her individual circumstances, should do so. And, certainly, no one can fault the multitudes of Jews whose religious leaders have taught them that the Jewish nation is no more chosen or indestructible than any other, and that the Book that a hundred generations of Jews cherished as the Divinely-given deed to this land is actually the handiwork of deeply flawed humans, for not doing so.

But just as surely, when the movements that so vocally presume to speak for "the majority of Jews in North America" next press their claims upon the Israeli public, the latter will have to look no further than the arrivals terminal at Ben Gurion and the scores of Jerusalem mens' and womens' yeshivos to know who it is that truly "stands with the Jewish State."

[Eytan Kobre is a lawyer residing in Queens and part of Am Echad's pool of writers]

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DESIGNER THEFT

Yisrael Rutman

The Sages of the Talmud knew all about the temptation to steal. Most people, they said, in one way or another, succumb to it. But even those insightful scholars may never have dreamed of the extent people would go to in the most affluent society in history.

According to a recent report in The New York Times, the trendiest restaurants in America are constant targets of theft. Reporter Donna Paul interviewed dozens of restaurateurs and discovered that "from $3 water glasses to $1,200 silver ice buckets, from vintage photographs hanging on the walls to scented candles burning in the bathrooms, if it isn't nailed down, diners have walked off with it." In one Manhattan eatery, a designer sconce was ripped from the wall in the men's room during the dinner service.

People who are able to spend hundreds of dollars on a unique dining experience are obviously not poor. What is it, then, that emboldens some of them to take that enticing Peugeot pepper mill or a sample of the darling Frette linens? Well, as one customer said, "I rationalized that the restaurant probably had 200 of them," and so she swiped a little mother-of-pearl caviar spoon.

Of course, this line of thinking ultimately empties out the proprietor's inventory, not to mention his faith in humanity. It leads to the daunting experience of the owners of one restaurant who hand-carried thousands of pieces of silverware from Italy and France, only to have all of them stolen over the years. Now they use second-rate imitations.

The service industry is taking counter-measures: the installation of surveillance cameras, the training of staff in professional vigilance, and, last but not least, bolting and screwing down anything of value aside from food and flatware.

Of course, all of this only serves at best to manage the problem, but does not solve it. Is there no way to teach people that stealing, in whatever form and for whatever reason, is wrong?

In a society whose traditional moral restraints have taken a back seat to the pursuit of material possessions, it is difficult to see how. Jewish tradition, however, does offer a solution: Lo Tignov. Thou Shalt Not Steal.

Only recognition of a God-given law that allows for no rationalizations or loopholes can ultimately curb the natural human tendency to covet what belongs to others. No system can work as effectively as the internal security system of knowing that we live under the surveillance of the Master of the Universe.

But how is such a recognition inculcated? Only by constant emphasis. The Torah's prohibition against theft is not only engraved on synagogue walls and read aloud each year from the Torah, it is engraved on Jewish hearts through education and example.

In a traditional Jewish educational system, the first exposure of a child to Talmud is the chapter of "These are the lost items.," which concerns itself with the imperative to restore lost property to its rightful owner. Anyone imbued from childhood with the concept that God wishes that he locate a wallet's owner will not likely consider shoplifting an acceptable enterprise.

Meticulous honesty has always been an essential Jewish ideal. Abraham proclaimed that "I took nothing from a thread unto a shoelace" from the king of Sodom. Moses testified that he borrowed not even a donkey from the public trust. Jacob labored for his father-in-law Laban, weathering the chill of night and the heat of day to earn his honest wages, despite Laban's having cheated his son-in-law "a hundred times over." Jacob could have rationalized, but he didn't. As King David wrote, "Who can ascend the holy mountain? He whose hands are clean [of theft]."

The only real solution to the breakdown of respect for the property of others may not be fashionable in these "God-neutral" times. But the experience of thousands of years have proven its efficacy. The only real way to combat designer theft is with Designer obedience.

[Yisrael Rutman lives in Israel, where he teaches Jewish Studies, edits E-geress.org and writes for various publications.]

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VENGEANCE IS THE L-RD'S

Jonathan Rosenblum

The New York Times blew it again. Last October, the Times ran a gory front-page photo of a young man with blood pouring down his face and a bellowing Israeli policeman waving a billyclub immediately behind him. The caption informed Times readers that the young man was a Palestinian who had been beaten by the policeman on the Temple Mount.

Actually, the young man in question was Tuvia Grossman, a yeshiva student from Chicago. He and two friends had been on the way to the Western Wall on Erev Shabbos when their cab was stopped by a throng of Palestinian teenagers. The three young me were dragged from the cab, and Grossman was repeatedly smashed on the head with a large rock. Somehow he managed to break free for a moment and reach the Israeli policeman pictured.

Recently, after a 16 kilogram, remote-controlled car bomb went off near Jerusalem's historic Mirrer Yeshiva, with no one killed. Immediately after the blast, the street filled with yeshiva students. The page three photo in the Times was captioned: "Orthodox Jews chant anti-Arab slogans."

In fact, the yeshiva students filled the streets immediately after the blast to sing and dance in celebration of the miracle that had taken place - the usually-crowded vegetable store adjacent to the booby-trapped car was closed at the time for afternoon prayers, a truck laden with highly flammable gas cannisters had passed by just seconds before the blast. Ha'Aretz reported that it was Kach supporters who chanted "Death to the Arabs," and that they were confronted by the yeshiva students, who attempted to silence them.

The Times does not bear exclusive responsibility for the botched captions: the photo of Tuvia Grossman came from the AP and that of the yeshiva students singing and dancing with the twisted metal remnants of the destroyed car came from Reuters. Yet even the most cursory glance at the photos should have alerted the Times that the captions were seriously flawed.

The alleged photo of the Temple Mount showed a gas station clearly in the background. Even the Barak government, which has turned a blind eye to massive destruction of archaeological artifacts on the Temple Mount by the Moslem Waqf, did not permit a gas station to be built there. And the photo of the yeshiva students showed jubilant faces, not ones contorted in hatred that one expects from a mob bent of revenge.

In both cases, the Times was misled by stereotypes that it has helped to perpetuate. The first such stereotype is that of Israelis wantonly brutalizing Arabs. The AP caption raised no eyebrows because it so neatly dovetailed with the stereotype. Similarly the alleged photo of Orthodox Jews chanting "Death to the Arabs" fit the Times' stereotype of fervently Orthodox Jews as primitive fanatics.

Yet even a passing familiarity with classic Torah values, as well as the traditional behavior of religious Jews would have known that the idea of taking revenge against innocents to even the score is anathema from a Torah viewpoint. Whenever the canonical Jewish writings speak of nekama, revenge, positively, it is Divine vengeance, not that of men. That vengeance redresses a situation that calls into question Divine justice in the world, and it is uniquely the province of G-d.

In the Av Harachamin prayer, read after the Torah reading on Shabbos morning, which commemorates our many martyrs over the ages, we beseech G-d to "avenge the blood of his servants that has been shed." Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary on the Siddur, emphasized the significance that of G-d's promise that the blood of His people would not be forgotten:

"This promise sustained them and kept them free of bitter and burning lust for vengeance against their oppressors and murderers, and it made them strong enough to suppress every impulse of vengefulness. They left vengeance to G-d and never lifted up their hands to avenge themselves or their own.''

Sometimes violent responses are necessary for the purposes of deterrence. Were Israel, for instance, not to respond to katyusha attacks by Hizbullah, it would only encourage more such deadly attacks. The responses are calibrated to encourage those with the power to restrain Hizbullah to do so.

But random violence against innocents for the purpose of evening the score or beating up any Arabs found in the vicinity to exorcise anger, as Kach is wont to do, is anathema to the Torah. The Times has wronged all Torah Jews by suggesting otherwise.

[Jonathan Rosenblum is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and other newspapers, and serves as director of Am Echad's Israel office.]

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BIBLE LIBEL

Rabbi Avi Shafran

  • "The Jews' spilling human blood to prepare pastry for their holidays is a well-established fact.
  • "During the holiday [of Purim], the Jews wear carnival-style masks and costumes and overindulge in drinking alcohol, prostitution, and adultery.
  • "For this holiday, the victim must be a mature adolescent who is, of course, a non-Jew - that is, a Christian or a Muslim. His blood is taken and dried into granules. The cleric blends these granules into the pastry dough.
  • "A needle-studded barrel is used. about the size of a human body. the victim's blood drips from him very slowly. [the victim's] torment affords the Jewish vampires great delight."

The above was excerpted from an article entitled "The Jewish Holiday of Purim" and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. The author is a faculty member at King Faisal University in Al-Damman and the piece was published in the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh on March 10.

One day earlier, an entirely different sort of untruth, considerably more subtle but in its own way no less shocking, appeared in the pages of The New York Times. While free of any gore or menace, it offered a sad revisionist account of its own - not of hamantaschen, but of the Torah itself.

The Times story was about "a new Torah and commentary" produced by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and which is "expected to become the standard Bible in the nation's 760 Conservative synagogues."

The revisionism lies in the approach the book's editors took, and an essay they took care to include. The upshot of both is that the Torah, the carefully preserved gift of God to the Jewish people transmitted from Jewish generation to Jewish generation over millennia, the soul of our nation and the lode of so much that is treasured in contemporary civilization, is only a collection of human fabrications.

Denying the Torah's divine origin opens many doors. "When the tradition asks us to do something that does offend us morally," the new book notes, "Conservative Judaism claims the right to challenge and, if necessary, change the tradition."

That is, of course, essentially the Reform movement's position, though when this writer dared point out that convergence of both movements in Moment Magazine just over a year ago, and the resultant absurdity in the Conservative claim of fealty to halacha, Conservative leaders fumed and hurled insults. The emperor stands utterly naked now.

Truth be told, the new Conservative publication goes even further than has the Reform movement. As The Times tells it, the current official Reform Torah commentary, while it rejects the historicity of the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people, nevertheless affirms that the Exodus from Egypt belongs "in the realm of history." The Conservative publication, by contrast, rejects the veracity of both the Exodus and the Jewish settlement of the Holy Land.

Given current events, that is not an insignificant point. Besides spreading the canards that Jews need blood for their religious rituals and seek world-domination, Islamists tirelessly insist that we have no historical connection to the Holy Land, that our tradition is a fraud. In that allegation, tragically, they can now claim prominent rabbinical allies here in the United States.

Conservative leaders see themselves as on the cutting edge of what they imagine to be incontrovertible science. Archeologists, they delicately (or, like one West Coast rabbi last Passover, indelicately) explain, see no evidence for an Exodus or a Jewish influx and settlement of the land. So, at least to sophisticates, those things must not have happened.

Leave aside that archeologists argue among themselves whether or not evidence for those events exists. Leave aside that the "argument" against the Jewish historical tradition largely boils down to a lack of evidence. Leave aside that that the discipline of archaeology, unlike biology or chemistry, is inherently speculative, based almost entirely on assumptions, and predicated on imagining things that simply cannot be known with certitude. Focus simply on the fact that, from the very start of its enterprise, archeology effectively ignores the unparalleled testimony of the Torah and Jewish tradition; and that preserving that testimony is the essence of the Jewish mandate.

At a time when the existence of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps is vehemently denied by some - a mere 50-odd years after they functioned - one might be forgiven one's skepticism toward pronouncements that recorded events of several thousand years ago never happened. Especially when such pronouncements contradict - indeed, undermine entirely - the meticulously preserved and transmitted historical tradition for which a people, scattered throughout the world over the course of millennia, have lived and died.

Years hence, the current era may well be seen as having been a crucial turning point for hundreds of thousands of American Jews, the period when they were presented with, and had to act upon, a stark choice: to affirm the specialness of the Jewish people, the Jewish land and the Jewish mandate - or to follow their leaders into eventual Jewish oblivion.

We in the Orthodox world - and it is a variegated world, with Haredim and "Moderns," Torah-scholars and scientists, professionals and professional parents, blue collar workers and academics - hope with all our hearts that our cherished brothers and sisters join us in choosing to affirm the truths of the Jewish past and in remaining part of the Jewish future. in, as the Torah puts it, choosing Life.

[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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CROSSING LINES

Rabbi Avi Shafran

Conservative rabbis don't hate Jews or wish them harm.

That statement shouldn't be necessary, of course, but some overly casual readers seem to have interpreted a recent essay of mine as implying otherwise.

I did juxtapose two happenings that, coincidentally, were reported in the media on two consecutive days. The first was a blood libel that appeared in a Saudi newspaper; the second, a New York Times report on a new Conservative movement bible and commentary that, among much else, denies the historical veracity of the Exodus from Egypt and the Jewish conquest of the Land of Israel.

While I took care to address ideas, not people, and while I explicitly wrote that the subjects of the reports were "entirely different", and while I noted that the latter development was "free of any gore or menace," I did call both "sad[ly] revisionist" and contended that both are (or should be) shocking to Jews.

"Howls of protest" - in The Forward's phrase - emanated from an assortment of Jewish leaders. The national director of a secular Jewish group found my column "unconscionable," proof that "we, too, are not immune from intolerance and bigotry." A Conservative official denounced my "venomous language"; an Orthodox organizational leader, my "despicable imagery."

They were baying at the moon. I never wrote, nor do I believe, that any of the editors of the new book or any non-Orthodox leader bears any similarity to anti-Semites. What I wrote, and believe, though, is that the theology of the former group is as dangerous to Jewish souls as the beliefs of the latter group are to Jewish bodies. And that Jewish tradition teaches that the state of our souls matters most.

However impolitic (and perhaps, in retrospect, unwise) it may have been for me to mention the two types of dangers in the same sentence, I certainly intended no slur of any Jew's good will. I simply felt that matters that strike at the very essence of Jewish belief demand more than a perfunctory expression of dismay.

Vigilance against biblical revisionism is especially important today, moreover, when the Jewish people is threatened by a seething mass of hatred spread over several continents, and a fierce determination to expel us from our ancestral land - yes, with all due disrespect to the new Conservative bible, the land that was promised to real patriarchs named Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the land that a real Moses saw from afar and a real Joshua conquered on the orders of a real G-d.

Jews who remain faithful to the Jewish religious tradition know that the only solution to the current Jewish crisis is a more determined embrace of that real G-d's Torah - its historical accounts, its wisdom and its laws alike.

What the Conservative movement has instead chosen to foist on us at this critical juncture is an official "version" of our holy tradition that not only undermines the Jewish claim on the Holy land but which views the Torah as human-sourced, historically unreliable and, of course, continuously evolving - the better to continue to revise as we choose.

Conservative leaders took issue with that description, with my assertion that the new bible and commentary portrays the Torah as essentially fiction (duly "inspired", of course). "Only a few of [its] essays," the apologists contended, clearly reject the historicity of the Torah - a statement that lends new life to the old saw about being but a wee bit pregnant.

The New York Times was more objective, and accurate; its article on the Conservative publication began: "Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred."

Or, as the new commentary's top editor, Rabbi David L. Lieber, put it to the Associated Press: "[The Torah] was not written by God. It was not written by Moses either." Indeed, the commentary asserts that Moses is but a "folkloristic national hero" who may or may not have existed.

That "modernist" approach to the timeless was pointedly, and vehemently, rejected by one of the Jewish Theological Seminary's most illustrious alumni, Joseph H. Hertz, who served as chief rabbi for the British Empire and whose own popular bible and commentary was used by most Conservative congregations for better than 60 years. Rabbi Hertz condemned the revisionist theory that the Torah was compiled from several human sources as "a perversion of history and a desecration of religion." Treating the patriarchs as mere legends, he said, is "blasphemous."

That which had long been seen in Conservative synagogues as "perversion," "desecration," and "blasphemy" is now apparently normative Conservative theology.

My essay was my personal howl of pain. Perhaps I crossed a line by juxtaposing a gory, hate-filled, immediate threat with a subtle, gradual one. Perhaps my point could have been made, and had the same impact, had I focused on the new bible alone. Perhaps.

But one thing I know is that my intention was only to try to effectively reach my cherished brothers and sisters, fellow Jews I believe are being grievously misled by those they look to as leaders.

If I crossed a line I shouldn't have, I apologize. But, as the Talmud observes: "Love obliterates lines."

[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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When Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson recently asserted that Islam "is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist" and that Muslims only "want to coexist until they can control, dominate and then, if need be, destroy," he was accused of wielding an excessively broad brush.

There are many hundreds of millions of Muslims in the world, it was argued, and it is hardly fair to assume that they all were sympathetic to the September 11 terrorists or support those who have murdered innocents in the name of Islam in Israel, India, the Philippines or any of a number of other countries.

But Hussein Ibish, a spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee went somewhat further. He charged that Mr. Robertson's "rhetoric is exactly the same as traditional anti-Semitism."

"All you can do," he claimed, "is change the word 'Jew' to 'Arab' or 'Muslim '."

That statement, at first glance an innocent plea for tolerance, on closer inspection takes on a less attractive color. Its equation of Jew-hatred with fear of Islamist terror is not only misleading, it is offensive.

When Jews have been accused of seeking world-domination or of killing innocents, the charges were outright lies, fabrications born of nothing but a devil's brew of fantasy and hatred. There are no malevolent elders of Zion (reportage to the contrary in much of the Arab press notwithstanding), no Jews who kill children to use their blood for Passover matzos (ditto), and no Jewish plots to coerce others to accept Judaism; Jews are in fact enjoined by their faith from proslytizing. There are no Jews who kill in the name of Judaism or who have exploded bombs in public places; there are no calls from synagogue pulpits to kill infidels. When, nearly a decade ago, an individual Jew acting entirely on his own killed innocent Arabs in Hebron, every Jewish religious leader of note condemned the Jewishly outrageous act without reservation.

In stark contrast, whether the Islamic world's malicious haters express a perversion of Islam or are inherently characteristic of it, they certainly cannot be dismissed as insignificant aberrations. And violence in the name of Islam is regularly "explained" and justified, if not embraced outright, by an assortment of leading Islamic religious leaders. Imagine if those leaders - or Mr. Ibish - reacted to every Muslim murder of an "infidel" like Jewish leaders unhesitatingly reacted to the isolated act of Boruch Goldstein.

The same day The New York Times carried Mr. Robertson's and Mr. Ibish's remarks, it also reported that some words and the death of Daniel Pearl, the Wall St. Journal reporter abducted by Muslim extremists in Pakistan had been preserved by his murderers on videotape, a sort of radical Islamic home movie. Whether of his own volition or by coercion, Mr. Pearl identified himself as a Jew before his throat was slit and his head cut off.

The reporter had harmed no one. His only crime was that of the thousands killed on September 11: being an American. And, in his case - like Kobi Mandel, the 14-year-old Israeli boy beaten and stabbed to death while hiking with a friend, or Shalhevet Pass, the infant targeted by an Arab sniper, or the hundreds of others murdered or maimed over recent months - being a Jew.

Mr. Ibish would do well to consider the vicious hatred behind all those murders, and what they all have in common: the invocation of Islam. And then he might consider further whether he knows of any Jews who cut off innocent people's heads, stab children to death or aim powerful rifles at babies. And why there are no Jewish camps where young men are trained to murder innocents, and why no Jewish children are taught to hate and shoot and kill.

How refreshing it would have been had the Muslim spokesman responded to Mr. Robertson with an acknowledgment that there is indeed, regrettably, an evil and hateful element within the Islamic world. How hopeful it would have been had he offered a clear and unqualified condemnation of that stream, and a straightforward denouncement of the Arab world's ongoing demonization of Jews and Americans - instead of a subtle but snide insinuation that anyone who dares condemn that stream is no different from an anti-Semite.

[Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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WHO IS A PERCEPTIVE JEW?

Rabbi Avi Shafran

It's tempting to dismiss as insignificant the recent Israeli High Court ruling that the state's Interior Ministry must recognize Israeli converts to the Reform and Conservative movements as Jews.

Indeed, the decision has no repercussions for religious matters, and no impact on the Israeli Rabbinate. Its effects are limited to things like population rolls and identity cards. And no secular court's opinion can budge the deep-seated belief of Orthodox Jews like me that halacha alone, not any temporal judge, must define Jewishness.

All the same, though, the ruling carries an undeniable symbolic cachet, and perhaps even something more. Giddy claims of non-Orthodox leaders notwithstanding, truly perceptive Jews of all affiliations know that it bodes ill for the Jewish future.

For starters, it is sure to sow confusion, disillusionment and heartbreak. With the large number of non-Jews who have immigrated in recent years to Israel from the former Soviet Union, we can expect (and non-Orthodox leaders are eagerly awaiting) a surge of non-Orthodox conversion applicants. Innocent people will come to be convinced that they will be widely accepted as Jews when, in fact, neither Jewish religious law nor Orthodox Jews anywhere will be able to recognize their conversions as valid.

What is more, the decision will serve to only further widen the gulf between Jews who remain faithful to halacha and those who choose to reject or revise it. Israel, tragically, is now one step closer to our regrettable situation here in the United States, where there are two distinct "Jewish worlds" - one that in effect validates all "Judaisms" and all "conversions," and another that stubbornly clings to what has kept us a single Jewish people for more than three thousand years.

At the moment, anyone in Israel claiming to be a Jew can likely be assumed by all other Jews to be just that. Unless a law is enacted to render the High Court's decision null, that will not long remain the case. The easy availability of wholesale non-halachic conversions, sweetened now with the promise of the word "Jew" on an identity card, will see to that.

Ironically, whether the "two Jewish worlds" model indeed spreads, G-d forbid, to Israeli society or whether some legislation is crafted to avoid it, we can be sure that non-Orthodox Jewish leaders will inform us who the villains are: the "rejectionist" Orthodox, the usual suspects.

Yet all that those who remain faithful to halacha have done is uphold the Jewish religious heritage that lies at the roots of all of us Jews. The Orthodox have not been the sowers of discord, but, on the contrary, the nurturers of what forged Jewish unity in the first place, millennia ago.

The story is told of a middle-aged couple in the front seat of a car, back in the days when bucket seats were the exception. The husband addresses his wife, the driver, and says in an injured tone of voice, "Remember the days, dear, when we were young, and would sit close to one another on trips?"

The wife responds with a tear in her eye, "Yes, I do. But I'm still in front of the steering wheel, where I have always been. It is you who, over the years, has moved gradually away."

That message, in the context of Jews' relationship to the Jewish religious tradition, is one that all perceptive non-Orthodox American Jews need to share with their leaders. Along with another: Israel is facing a challenge to its very existence, targeted by a violent, cruel and hate-consumed enemy and bereft of any evident military or political solution. What we Jews desperately need today is to merit G-d's protection, to affirm, not chip away, at our spiritual heritage.

We've all just celebrated Purim, whose most basic theme is that seeming darkness and threat can turn out - through the merits of the Jewish people and G-d's resultant will - to be light and salvation.

If those who seek to advance their religious agendas in Israel at the cost of true Jewish unity are confronted by their perceptive congregants' principled protest, and thereby come to reconsider their dangerous folly, the recent High Court decision could turn out to be a truly beneficial turning point indeed for the Jewish people, the beginning of a moving together rather than a moving apart.

[Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

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MERCY REDEFINED: An Ailing Academic Reflects on Euthanasia

Yisrael Rutman

I was not looking forward to interviewing Dr. Rachamim Melamed-Cohen, Israel 's most famous terminally patient.

The thought of the five-hour round-trip by bus, train and taxi to Jerusalem from my home in northern Israel was daunting, and I was reluctant in any case to visit with someone suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (or Lou Gehrig's Disease), paralyzed from the neck down and waiting to die.

My mistake. Melamed-Cohen is not waiting to die. On the contrary, he greets his visitors with a cheerful countenance and a list of projects that would fatigue someone in good health and half his sixty-five years. Although confined to a wheelchair, the former National Supervisor of Educational Programming for Israel's Department of Education brims with intelligence, humor and an astounding creative energy. In the past two years, after being connected to life-sustaining equipment, he has authored two books on educational methods and has three more in the works, one of them on the subject of euthanasia. He also lectures, receives a steady stream of visitors and follows the Daf Yomi, a challenging daily regimen of Talmudic study joined by Jews all over the world.

What enables Dr. Melamed-Cohen to overcome the pain and hopelessness that has driven other victims of incurable illness to consider suicide? Self-definition is a large part of it. As he explains, "I don't define myself as 'ill,' or 'a patient.' Rather, I am a human being who has an illness, and who receives treatment. The term 'ill' connotes someone who lies in bed passively and does nothing. I do many things, though I also have an illness."

"And I am not terminally ill, no more than anyone else who is eventually going to die. It's already 8 years that the doctors have been calling me 'terminally ill,' but with each passing day I feel less and less terminal." Initially, when he was diagnosed with ALS, doctors gave him 3 to 5 years to live, and he continues to disprove their prognosis.

Equally essential to Melamed-Cohen's determination to carry on is his religious faith. "I feel at times that God has allowed me to live in order to show the world that even in such a condition one can continue to be creative and contribute to society... The message of Judaism is that one must struggle until the last breath of life. Until the last moment, one has to live and rejoice and give thanks to the Creator."

Melamed-Cohen has gained a certain prominence in the Israeli media for his outspoken opposition to the euthanasia movement. "What is mercy-killing?" he asks. "For whom is the mercy? Is it for the person with an illness? Or is it for the family, so that they should not have to suffer? For the medical establishment, to reduce expenditures? For the insurance companies? Mercy means helping others to live, and with dignity. Helping people to cut their lives short cannot be called mercy." And indeed, as he notes, the cessation of life-sustaining measures, "pulling the plug," is forbidden by Jewish law.

"In the last two years, I have been fighting with senior medical officials and journalists who advocate euthanasia. I am trying to be a mouthpiece for all those people who want to go on living, but are subjected to tremendous pressure by an 'enlightened society.' Instead of devoting our efforts and resources to persuade people to die, it would be better to direct them toward improving the conditions of those for whom a cure has not yet been found."

Melamed-Cohen points out that the ramifications of euthanasia advocacy go far beyond the realm of the "terminally ill." The euthanasia movement threatens to redefine the very meaning, and sanctity, of human life. "Life today is becoming cheaper and cheaper," he observes. "Among young people it finds expression in drugs, violence and suicide. A [healthy] 16-year-old girl came to me and said, 'If it's okay to shorten the life of someone because of their suffering - well, I'm also suffering, and I'd rather die than live.'"

A few weeks ago, another ALS sufferer in Israel decided to end his life. His family assented, and his request to be disconnected from his respirator was approved by the Israeli medical and legal authorities. When interviewed on Israel television, he described his suffering: "Speech is now difficult for me. I can't walk, eat or move. I've lost interest in life. My condition is irreversible, the pain will only increase, why should I drag it out?" Then, in his last moments, he added, "I hope that I am not making a mistake."

Melamed-Cohen, who viewed the live broadcast from his home, commented that "It's clear to me that this man was ambivalent. On the one hand, he wanted a good place in Heaven; on the other hand, he wasn't sure that he was doing the right thing. I heard in his voice a great deal of hesitation and doubt. In my opinion, societal pressure...drove him to the decision that it would be better to die than live. Had he been taken care of at home, in a warm and supportive atmosphere, it could be that he would have felt differently."

Indeed, Melamed-Cohen was not always as resolute as he is today regarding his own case. He relates that two and a half years ago, when he was rushed to the hospital after his breathing stopped, he indicated to his loved ones that they should not take extraordinary measures like connecting him to a respirator to prolong his life.

"It was my good fortune that I was hooked up anyway. Now, two and a half years later, I am happy that they didn't listen to me. I would have missed out on the best, most beautiful years of my life. A person can have a change of heart."

[Yisrael Rutman lives in Israel, where he teaches Jewish Studies, edits E-geress.org and writes for various publications.]

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FIGHTING IRON WITH IRONY: A Contemporary Purim Thought

Rabbi Avi Shafran

On a beautiful clear night in 1924 at Landsberg am Lech, where he was imprisoned by the Bavarian government, Adolf Hitler remarked to Rudolf Hess: 'You know it's only the moon I hate. For it is something dead and terrible and inhuman. It is as if there still lives in the moon a part of the terror it once sent down to earth I hate it!'

A chill accompanied my first encounter with that quote. Because the Jewish religious tradition sees the ever-rejuvenating, shining disk of the moon as a symbol of the Jewish people. Indeed, the very first commandment we Jews were given as a people, while still awaiting the Exodus in Egypt, was to identify ourselves through our calendar with the moon. The moon Hitler feared.

There is much other oddness about Hitler with connections to ancient Jewish tradition, things like his fondness for ravens, in Jewish lore associated with cruelty; he went so far as to issue special orders protecting the birds. And like his fascination with the art of Franz von Stuck (the artist who had the 'greatest impact' on his life, he once said), whose major themes are snakes and sinister women. In the Jewish mystical tradition, snakes evoke evil and its embodiment, Amalek; and there are hints of an antithetical relationship between the irredeemable wickedness of Amalek and women.

And then there is the matter of the most loathsome of Hitler's henchmen, Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Sturmer, the premier journal of Jew-baiting.

At its peak in 1938, print runs of Streicher's vile tabloid ran as high as 2,000,000. A typical offering included a close-up of the face of a deformed Jew above the legend 'The Scum of Humanity: This Jew says that he is a member of God's chosen people.' Another displayed a cartoon of a vampire bat with a grotesquely exaggerated nose and a Jewish star on its chest. In yet another, a Jewish butcher was depicted snidely dropping a rat into his meat grinder and, elsewhere in the issue, the punctured necks of handsome German youths were shown bleeding into a bowl held by a Jew more gargoyle than human.

In 1935, speaking to a closed meeting of a Nazi student organization, Streicher, displaying an unarguably Amalekian approach, declared:

'All our struggles are in vain if the battle against the Jews is not fought to the finish. It is not enough to get the Jews out of Germany. No, they must be destroyed throughout the entire world so that humanity will be free of them.'

The suspicion that in Streicher's blind, baseless, and absolute hatred of the Jews lay the legacy of Amalek makes the story of his capture and death nothing short of chilling.

Purim is the only Jewish holiday that celebrates the defeat of an Amalekite, Haman. Even a passing familiarity with the Purim story is sufficient to know that the downfall of its villain is saturated with what seem to be chance ironies; he turns up at the wrong place at the wrong time, and all that he so carefully plans eventually comes to backfire on him in an almost comical way ' a theme The Book of Esther characterizes with the words v'nahafoch hu, ' and it was turned upside down!'

Such 'chance' happenings are the very hallmark, of Amalek's defeat ' a fact reflected in the 'casting of lots' from which Purim takes its name. Chance, Esther teaches us, is an illusion; God is in charge. Amalek may fight with iron but he is defeated with irony.

As was Streicher. In the days after Germany's final defeat, an American major, Henry Blitt, en route to Berchesgaden, made an unplanned stop at a farmhouse just off the road. It was occupied by a short, bearded man.

'What do you think of the Nazis?' Blitt asked.

'I'm an artist,' came the reply, 'and have never bothered about politics.'

'But you look like Julius Streicher!' Blitt joked, trying to make conversation.

'You recognized me?' the man blurted out incredulously, startling Blitt, who managed to compose himself and arrest his serendipitous catch.

Major Blitt, incidentally was Jewish.

Another happy irony in Streicher's life involved the fate of his considerable estate. As reported in Stars and Stripes in late 1945, his considerable possessions were converted to cash and used to create an agricultural training school for Jews intending to settle in Palestine. Just as Haman's riches, as recorded in the Book of Esther, were bestowed upon his nemesis Mordechai.

There is a good deal more of interest in the life of Julius Streicher to associate him with Jewish traditions about Amalek. But one of the most shocking narratives about him is the one concerning his death. Streicher was of one of the Nazis tried, convicted, and hanged at Nuremberg in 1946.

During the trial, Streicher remained disgustingly true to form. When the prosecution showed a film of the concentration camps as they had been found by the Allies, a spotlight was left on the defendants' box for security reasons. Many present preferred to watch the defendants' reactions rather than the mounds of bodies, matchstick limbs and common graves. Few of the defendants could bear to watch the film for long. Goering seemed calm at first, but eventually began to nervously wipe his sweaty palms. Schacht turned away; Ribbentrop buried his face in his hands. Keitel wiped his reddened eyes with a handkerchief. Only Streicher leaned forward throughout, looking anxiously at the film and excitedly nodding his head.

While no proof was found that Streicher had ever killed a Jew by his own hand, the tribunal nevertheless decided that his clear-cut incitement of others to the task constituted the act of a war criminal; and so he was sentenced, along with ten other defendants, to hang.

And hang he did. But not before taking the opportunity to share a few final words with the journalists present at the gallows. 'Heil Hitler. Now I go to God,' he announced. And then, just before the trap sprang open, he blurted out most clearly: 'Purim Feast 1946!' an odd thing to say in any event, but especially so on an October morning.

The 'Amalek-irony' of the Nuremberg executions doesn't end there, either. The Book of Esther recounts how Haman's ten sons were hanged in Shushan. An eleventh child, a daughter, committed suicide earlier, according to an account in the Talmud. At Nuremberg, while eleven men were condemned to execution by hanging, only ten were actually hanged. The eleventh, the foppish, effeminate Goering, died in his cell only hours before the execution; he had crushed a hidden cyanide capsule between his teeth.

Something even more striking was noted by the late Belzer Rebbe. In scrolls of the Book of Esther, the names of the ten sons of Haman are unusually prominent; they are written in two parallel columns, a highly unusual configuration. Odder still is the fact that three letters in the list, following an unexplained halachic tradition, are written very small, and one very large. The large letter is the Hebrew character for the number six (Hebrew letters all have numeric values); the small letters, added together, yield the number 707. If the large letter is taken to refer to the millennium and 707 to the year in the millennium, something fascinating emerges. According to Jewish reckoning, the present year is 5762. The year 5707 ' the 707th year in the sixth millennium ' was the year we know as 1946, when ten sworn enemies of the Jewish people were hanged in Nuremberg, just as ten others had been in Shushan more than two thousand years earlier.

The Book of Esther, (9:13), moreover, refers to the hanging of Haman's sons in the future tense, after the event had been recounted, presaging, it might seem, some hanging yet to happen.

To believing Jews, the Holocaust was the tip of an unimaginable iceberg of evil, stretching far and deep into the past even as one of its ugly tips punctured the relative peace of the modern world.

And so, as we prepare to celebrate Purim and the downfall of the Amalekite Haman, especially these days, when Jew-hatred has once again made itself manifest in the world, we would do well to ponder that the evil he represents may have been defeated at times throughout history but it has not yet been vanquished.

[Rabbi Avi Shafran serves as public affairs director for Agudath Israel of America]

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WELCOMING MY JEWISH COUSIN HOME

Eric Sholom Simon

Recently, I discovered a fourth cousin - or, better, she discovered me.

The discovery began with an e-mail from a college student who had come across my surname in connection to another name she had been researching in an effort to fill in some branches on her family tree. After a few electronic communications, we figured out that we were indeed related. I was delighted to have a more complete picture of my own family tree, as well as to make the acquaintance of a charming young woman, who in turn was thrilled to be reconnected to a "new" branch of the family. She had particularly wanted, she told me, to make contact with her Jewish relatives, because she is interested in exploring Judaism.

Her mother, it turned out, had been born to Jewish parents but the father, my correspondent's grandfather, had died shortly thereafter. His widow then married a non-Jewish gentleman who adopted her child. My fourth cousin's mother had then been raised as a non-Jew, and went on to marry a non-Jew herself. Two children resulted, one of them my e-mailer from the blue. My newfound cousin, though, never liked church and, aware of her Jewish roots, had decided to explore Judaism more deeply, and has been studying assiduously on her own.

I reassured her that she was on a noble quest (one I myself undertook several years ago, and which led me from the Reform movement to Orthodoxy) and also that she would be accepted openly and without reservation as a Jew by other Jews, since she had been born to a Jewish mother, as her mother had been.

When I related the e-mail conversation to my wife, she said, "Wait a minute. Does the Reform movement consider her Jewish?"

Her question was a pithy one. A Jew by choice, my wife is quite familiar with the various Jewish movements' varied standards. When she underwent a Reform conversion, she fully understood and made peace with the fact that the Orthodox world would not accept her conversion. She knew, too, as Refor m Rabbi Mark Warshofsky, chair of the responsa committee for the Reform movement, would later write, in explanation of why Reform would not accept "Messianic Jews" into the Reform movement, that each group has its own rules for defining who belongs to the group. To challenge those rules, he wrote, was tantamount to denying the group's right to define itself. At the time, my wife was not involved with the Orthodox community and so the issue of her acceptance there was of little concern.

When, though, we decided to become more observant and connected to the Orthodox community, my wife undertook the process of an Orthodox conversion.

What my wife knows, and what prompted her question, is that under Reform's misleadingly named "patrilineal descent" decision, any child born to a couple where only one partner is Jewish must have been raised as a Jew to be considered one.

And so she knew the answer to her question before I spoke it. "Actually," I said, realization dawning, "no."

Though I had been fully aware of the implications of the Reform position, and realized, at least hypothetically, that there could be scenarios where a Jew would be recognized as such by the Orthodox but not by Reform, it was suddenly no mere hypothetical. My cousin would be welcomed as a Jew in Orthodox synagogues anywhere on earth, but only as, at most, a candidate for conversion in a Reform temple.

My confrontation with a personal reality then spurred me to consider the larger Jewish societal implications. Given the high rate of intermarriage (some say as high as 70% for Reform) and the fact that the great majority of children of intermarriages are not being raised as Jews, there must be hundreds of thousands of American Jews - by the definition of traditional Jewish religious law - who are not considered Jewish by the Reform movement.

What struck me further was how amazing it is that the Reform movement routinely accuses the Orthodox of sowing Jewish disunity for daring to define the word "Jew." Reform leaders chastise the Orthodox community for maintaining standards that exclude those who are born non-Jews and undergo non-halachic conversions, thus "reading people out" of the Jewish community. But with their own "patrilineal" policy, Reform rabbis read fully halachically Jewish Jews out of our people at a drastically higher rate.

Thankfully, my cousin is unaware of all this - at least at this point. I told her what I believe - reflecting what Jews have believed for at least 2500 years: that she is a full Jew, and that I would consider it a privilege to assist her in her quest to reclaim what is rightfully hers, her Jewish heritage.

And I know what my community's reaction will be should she choose to reclaim her full religious heritage. The same as mine: "Welcome home, Jewish cousin!"

[Eric Sholom Simon, a Research Analyst for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, is a former member of the Executive Committee of the UAHC Commission on Synagogue Affiliation. He and his wife are currently active in Jewish outreach and educational activities in Northern Virginia, where he studies and teaches Talmud and Jewish thought.]

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BIGOTRY FOR POLITE COMPANY: The Intellectuals' Assault on Observant Jews

Rabbi Avi Shafran

On September 11, like most Americans, we observant Orthodox Jews felt we had stared into the face of evil. And so it came as a rude surprise to realize over ensuing weeks that, at least in the minds of some, we ourselves had something in common with the Islamic terrorists who gleefully murdered thousands of innocents.

A columnist for The New York Times led the pack. International terrorism, Thomas L. Friedman wrote mere days after the attacks on New York and Washington, reflects a struggle not between civilizations or religions but "between those Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Jews with a modern and progressive outlook and those with a medieval one." One could only imagine how Mr. Friedman might judge an outlook that has been preserved for millennia.

Karen Armstrong, an ex-nun who teaches at Leo Baeck College for the Study of Judaism, expressed a similar conclusion Time Magazine. Every fundamentalist movement, she explained, "in Judaism, Christianity and Islam is convinced that liberal, secular society is determined to wipe out religion" and "fighting, as they imagine, a battle for survival, fundamentalists often feel justified in ignoring the more compassionate principles of their faith."

Not to be upstaged, Mr. Friedman felt compelled to revisit his verdict in a second column several weeks later, this time leaving the Hindus and Buddhists alone and focusing exclusively on his own co-religionists. Religious Jews, he proposed, should "reinterpret" their faith "in a way that embrace[s] modernity" and that subscribes to a Creator who "speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays." He characterized the alternative, the belief that one's religion, exclusively, is true, as "single-minded fanaticism."

Then there was Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, who was "shaken" by the sight of a Muslim man politely refusing a woman's outstretched hand at a meeting (he explained that his religion didn't allow him to shake it) and as a result bemoaned the "ancient evil" of "religious fanaticism" (and, from there, the contemporary scourge of school choice).

The Rabbi Weighs In

In the meanwhile, Reform Rabbi Uri Regev, the then-director of his movement' s Israel Religious Action Center who has since been tapped to lead the World Union for Progressive Judaism, delivered a sermon that - likely, or at least hopefully, to his everlasting regret - was the subject of a detailed report in the Cleveland Jewish News. The Reform leader spent the first part of his speech, made on Shabbos Shuva, mere days after September 11, quoting the hate-filled words of Islamic fundamentalists. Then he went on to speak about "our own share of people who currently in Israel are spreading the venom of religious fundamentalism," segueing smoothly to and from Yigal Amir and Boruch Goldstein to Haredi Jews like those who have opposed his efforts to change Israel's religious status quo.

Though several quotations the article attributed to his sermon were subsequently claimed by the Cleveland Jewish News reporter herself to have been embellished or lifted from a separate interview, an examination of the transcript of the speech (the Shabbos sermon, sadly, had been taped) confirmed that her article, carelessly written though it may have been, had nevertheless well captured the implied comparison. (The description and quote above are from the transcript.)

Veteran Forward columnist Leonard Fein (a cherished personal friend, as it happens, despite our disagreement on most everything besides the crucial importance of ahavas Yisroel) would not be left behind, either. Following the others' lead, he rejected the characterization of the current international struggle as a clash of civilizations, and called President Bush's description of it as a war between good and evil, "fatuous."

Mr. Fein's reading? What we are witnessing is a "conflict of cultures," to wit: the "culture of rationality" versus "the culture of belief." Though the writer did not explicitly refer to his fellow Jews who hold deep and traditional religious beliefs, it is hard to imagine that he would (even as he loves us) exempt us from membership in the camp of rationality's enemies.

Of Love, Faith and Yogurt

What the confident commentators seem intent on asserting is that since the Taliban study religious texts and wear beards and shun elements of Western society, all who do the same are perforce their brothers in evil. It might be called the "yogurt principle." If Osama Bin-Laden eats yogurt, we must be wary of all who share his taste for cultured milk.

To be sure, Mr. Bin-Laden doesn't invoke his breakfast habits as his inspiration to murder, maim and otherwise wreak havoc. But those who are quick to bind all "fundamentalists" with the same turban would do well to ponder the fact that every spouse-murderer on the planet lays his or her actions on feelings of love (either for the deceased or for someone else), and yet most people would not therefore brand love a crime. Faith, likewise, is not inherently implicated when murder is committed in its name. Both faith and love are powerful entities; indeed, they are hardly unrelated. What makes either, in the end, laudable or despicable, though, is what is done with it.

A Lonely, Laudable Voice

A happy exception to the parade of pretentious pundits was Seth Lipsky, a columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who characterized the words of some of the more prominent personages mentioned above as "glancing sneers."

"What is one to make," he asked his readers, "of all this carping about Jewish fundamentalism?"

Quoting extensively from (and with kind comments for) letters written by this writer and my esteemed colleague Chaim Dovid Zwiebel and published in, The New York Times in response to the Friedman columns, Mr. Lipsky concluded that "Jewish fundamentalism seeks neither material success nor world domination but rather good deeds and the study of Torah" and that the efforts of Orthodox Jews "to spread the faith extend only to other Jews who may lack traditional Jewish educations." Mr. Lipsky's, though, was a lonely voice in a wilderness of religiophobes.

Modern Malignment

Perhaps most depressing of all was the fact that the kulturkampf against religious tradition was joined, late and feebly but offensively all the same, by a voice within the Orthodox world itself.

Writing in December in the New York Jewish Week, for example, a "Modern Orthodox" rabbi from Queens felt the need to make sure that the paper's readers fully recognized the primitive and superstitious essence of Orthodox Jews less enlightened than himself

As examples of the "immaturity and obscurantism, superstition and intolerance," he feels "abound in the Orthodox community," the rabbi cited practices like checking one's mezuzos at times of travail, ascribing Jewish national tragedy to the Jewish people's sins and seeking to merit G-d's blessing by eschewing loshon horah.

Leaving aside entirely the distasteful and profoundly unJewish nature of the writer's sneering tone and words (as well as his astounding assertion in the same piece that most American Jews are alienated from their religious heritage because of the beliefs or practices of those Orthodox Jews he detests - as he surely must know, the most successful kiruv efforts are those operated precisely by the very Jewish universe that so embarrasses him), his message to the Jewish Week's readers is clear: Those Orthodox Jews who actually take things like mezuzahs and loshon hora seriously are not sophisticated moderns like the rest of us. They, are, in other words, the bad guys, the fundamentalists.

That portrayal is sad in its own right, to be sure. Coming, though, on the heels of a campaign by others to paint those of us committed to the entirety of the Jewish religious tradition as part of a conglomerate of backward, sinister, faith-crazed fanatics, the rabbi's words are not only offensive but pose potential danger to his fellow Jews. He and others like him would do well to pause to consider that the bandwagon they are panting to catch and jump on may well carry nothing less than the contemporary equivalent of anti-Jewish accusations of other times and places.

Some Fundamental Facts

The pundits and rabbinical critics need to face some fundamental facts:

The principles and tenets to which we "Jewish fundamentalists" are committed are those of the Jewish People's holy Torah, which places us - as it has Jews over the generations - on a path leading to spiritual refinement, not hatred and violence.

The enemy we arise each morning prepared to engage in battle is not another religion or culture but rather an entirely invisible, if formidable, foe, the yetzer horah (our inclination towards evil behavior).

Anger and violence are things we abhor, not cherish.. We do not operate explosives factories or fly airliners into skyscrapers. Our weapons in our "holy war" of trying to be the best Jews we can be are not bombs, germs and rage but tefilla, mitzvos and mussar (prayer, good deeds, and introspection).

Our shunning of elements of what passes for contemporary culture these days bespeaks not some frustrated fear of modernity but rather a principled stand for morality and G-dliness in human life. We seek to present a moral model to the larger world, and even to influence that world at times, but with reason, wisdom and example, not threats and worse.

And so, comparisons, blatant or implied, between religious Jews and people of other faiths dedicated to violence, terror and world-conquest are not only deeply offensive, they are deeply wrong.

Because we Jews, in the end, are fundamentally different.

[Published article in Jewish Observer]

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In Loving Memory Of Our Father, Mr. Joseph Black (Yosef Ben Zelig) O"H
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