November 16, 2018

Letters to the editor: Mount Athos ethics, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Michelle K. Wolf

Trojan Horse Tourism

My late mother-in-law, Betty Lipsman, stood before Dr. Josef Mengele at Auschwitz and when asked if she was Jewish, and, with life and death on the line, replied, “Yes.” Marty Kaplan stood before a number of Greek Orthodox priests and monks and when asked if he were Jewish, with nothing on the line except tourism, replied, “No … Protestant … Episcopalian” (“Five Doubting Dudes,” June 20).

Marty Kaplan’s travelogue and coming-of-(middle)-age journey to Mount Athos is disturbing on several levels. First of all, he denied his Judaism for a relatively trivial reason: He wanted to go where Jews are not allowed. To masquerade as a non-Jew to penetrate a terrorist cell or the Aryan Brotherhood would be a greater purpose. To have a bonding adventure with old friends, however, seems demeaning to our faith and traditions.

Kaplan’s masquerade was also disrespectful to another faith, the Greek Orthodox. Yes, he might think it a terrible irony that Mount Athos, though dedicated to Mary, nonetheless forbids women from visiting. He may think their religious views are silly and that he is not bound by them. But are they to be mocked for trivial reasons? 

Mordecai Kaplan said that the challenge for the modern Jew was how to take our religion seriously without taking it literally. I think this is the job of all of us toward all faiths. However, I’d add a further challenge, and that is to take faith — ours and others’ — respectfully as well as seriously.

Jonathan Dobrer via email

From ‘Mission Accomplished’ to ‘Mission Impossible’?

While it’s nice that he visited West Point for a concert, I’m wondering if Rabbi Shmuley Boteach would send his sons off to fight in a war that would produce dubious results (“Obama Fiddles While the World Burns,” June 20). What exactly would Rabbi Boteach have Obama do? Does he think that American threats would actually deter ISIS? They are willing to sacrifice their own lives for the cause. Perhaps it’s time for some strategic diplomacy and coalition building rather than America’s past go-it-alone blunders. Nearly a decade of fighting and 4,000 American deaths in Iraq didn’t exactly bring democracy to Iraq. 

Finally, maybe it’s not always about Israel? ISIS is certainly a terrorist organization but their sights are east and south, not west toward Israel. When Muslims are willing to indiscriminately kill their own co-religionists, Jews and Israel might provide a useful foil, but by all appearances and actions this is far more about Muslim on Muslim violence than it is about Israel.

Ronald Stern via

Rabbi Boteach, a Republican, conveniently neglects to mention the disastrous foreign policies of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans, especially in misleading us into the disastrous war in Iraq, that has cost so many US and Iraqi lives, in addition to perhaps $44 trillion when all costs are considered.

I wonder if Rabbi Boteach might let us know about his support for our invasion of Iraq, and if he is willing to admit that he was wrong then.

Yet, it is the same people, including Cheney and Sen. John McCain, who were so wrong before, that are now so critical of President Obama.

Richard Schwartz via

A Mensch in Wolf’s Clothing

I’ve been a fan of Michelle K. Wolf for about 25 years — even longer than she’s been a Wolf! My admiration only increased as tears welled up in my eyes reading her Father’s Day love letter to her wonderful husband Aron (“Special Dads,” June 13). The Wolfs are just one example of what reminds me of how lucky I was to get involved and become part of this warm and caring Jewish community.

Bobby Meth, Marina del Rey


An article about a service celebrating Cantor Jay Frailich, who is retiring from University Synagogue (“Cantor Jay Frailich Retiring After 40 Years at University Synagogue,” June 20), underestimated the service’s attendance. Approximately 600 people were there.