September 23, 2019

Letters to the editor: Berlin spas and Tikkun Olam

Bare Necessities?

Sitting in shul on Shabbos at Chabad of Westlake, do we really need to read about Rob Eshman’s naked exploits (still not sure what the point of that undignified article was) and a glorified Pride parade in Tel Aviv (a half-page article, no less)? 

There’s the old Yiddish axiom,”Es past nisht.” There’s news, and then there’s news that belongs in a Jewish publication. And then there’s stuff that belongs in magazines that I would never allow into my shul. Come on, guys. You could do better. Es past nisht!

Rabbi Sapo, Chabad of Westlake Village

The fact that the Berliners were unfazed when hugging naked fazes me (“The Key,” June 19). A young German woman once said, after seeing so many men in the nude, it meant nothing to her anymore. I told her I was sorry.

A relative who visited there said many Germans do not have an issue with going to the bathroom in public.

I think there is a connection with the desensitized nature here, and their desensitized mindset during the war.

Let’s be grateful to the Lubavitch Rabbi Manis Friedman, who wrote the book “Doesn’t Anyone Blush Anymore?” which helped me to become Orthodox.

Daniel Chai, Los Angeles

Be the Change You Want to See

Dennis Prager says Judaism teaches that the way to a better world is through moral improvement of the individual (“Tikkun Olam Doesn’t Repair the World,” June 5). Yet, amazingly, in a 770-word essay on the topic, he fails to offer even one piece of evidence to support this claim. When I think of the topic, I think of the talmudic statement, “All of Israel are responsible for each other” (Kol Yisroel Arevim Zeh Bazeh). I think of Hillel’s admonition in Ethics of the Fathers (Pirke Avot), “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I?” which argues that a person should be responsible for oneself and others. But most importantly, I think of the Jewish communities in every part of the world for thousands of years who disproportionately created more helping social agencies than other groups in bad times, and yes, in good times, as well. Limiting tikkun olam to perfecting the self I believe is a fundamental misunderstanding of the concept, but more importantly, could have dire results if followed.

Elliot Semmelman, Huntington Beach

Dennis Prager responds: Does Elliot Semmelman really need “evidence” that “Judaism teaches that the way to a better world is through moral improvement of the individual”? It is hard to believe that anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of Judaism needs such evidence. Why else would there be 613 laws in the Torah? And isn’t that why the Ten Commandments are all directed toward the moral and religious behavior of the individual? In fact, if everyone only lived by the Ten Commandments, the world would be repaired. Doctrines devoted to repairing the world caused almost every genocide of the 20th century. Let’s take a break from focusing on fixing the world and work on producing good people. They will fix the world, and only they. That’s not only Judaism. It’s common sense.

We discussed at our Shabbos table Prager’s article “Tikkun Olam Doesn’t Repair the World.” Although we agree with Prager that many actions that are called tikkun olam do not repair the world and are not consistent with Torah values, we did bring up many actions that do make the world a better place and promote Jewish values. For example, a 16-year-old guest discussed volunteering at a camp for children with special needs. Certainly Prager would agree actions like that help repair the world. We also discussed how helping others can improve your character. Giving to others is one aspect of personal growth.

We also discussed Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ article on that week’s parsha called “Inspiring Greatness in Others,” found on the Aish website. Rabbi Sacks quotes Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s famous assayThe Lonely Man of Faith,” in which he speaks of Adam I, who is concerned with only himself. In contrast, Adam II is concerned about others.

Prager concludes that we are producing Americans who are passionate about tikkun olam but who cheat on their tests. In other words, people who don’t work on character development and are too concerned with tikkun olam. Judaism values both helping others and working on character growth, and the two complement each other. In other words, merging Adam I with Adam II to just have Adam.

Theodore C. Friedman, Los Angeles