November 18, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Poland Holocaust Bill, Gun Violence, #MeToo and Hamilton’s Jewish Identity

Poland’s Controversial Holocaust Bill

Poland’s new law rewriting its World War II history about not having any involvement in creating concentration camps in their country is a lie. Three million Polish Jews died in their Polish camps, and Polish people were involved in helping the Germans. They pointed out Jewish homes, where the Germans took whatever they wanted, and they helped with building and running the concentration camps. And when 40 Jewish survivors came back in Kielce to claim their homes and businesses after the war, the Polish people killed them. This was going on in most cities in Poland if you dared to come home after being liberated.

This is an unfair law to pass in a country that was deeply involved in killing so many Jews. I know because I was there. I am a witness and I am a survivor.

Ella Mandel via email

No Solutions to Preventing Gun Violence

I find little reason to think that the CIA, FBI, state and local police, psychologists and psychiatrists, family, friends, neighbors or schoolmates will ever be able to identify all among us who may, someday, perpetrate a mass shooting, and it’s clear that we’ll never have the resources to track and monitor even those who are deemed suspicious.

The semi-automatic rifles debate and failed regulations won’t change until our politicians climb out of the pocket of the National Rifle Association, and there’s scant likelihood of this happening anytime soon.

The 300 million-plus guns in which we’re awash won’t be collected and will continue to be easy to obtain, and the gun manufacturers aren’t planning to go out of business.

Hunters, marksmen, hobbyists and those who own guns for self-protection shouldn’t have to fear that the government wants them.

The only solution I see for those who want to protect their loved ones and others is to move to another country, preferably one that isn’t rife with terrorists.

Hal Rothberg via email

A Dangerous Escalation Among Nations

One is cordially reminded of that ol’ shibboleth: “The more things change, the more they stay the same (“Down Payment,” Feb. 16).

It’s all very complicated, but is that still not true?

Walter Uhrman, Encino

Seeing the Light of Southern California

As a native Angeleno from Boyle Heights, it was an absolute joy to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s piece “Seduced by the Light of Los Angeles” (Feb. 16). Especially when all one needs to do to encounter the opposite sentiment is to visit or live some 500 miles to the north of us in San Francisco, as I did to attend college in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In “The City,” as many San Franciscans like to call it, you dare not mention you are from L.A. for fear of having them look down their collective noses at you, after which you’ll invariably be the recipient of some snide remark about our great city.

Thank you, Ms. Lehrman Bloch.

Marc Yablonka via email

Can Truth Survive?

Thanks so much, Shmuel Rosner, for the excellent analysis of the Rand Corp. study about truth decay and the great conclusion at the end of your article (“Truth Decay,” Feb. 9). I would like to just add a couple of things: From my observation, I think more and more people look for the truth in the wrong place — outside of themselves — and so become addicted to collecting more and more information. And second: It doesn’t matter how much information or knowledge or richness one has. What truly matters is what he or she does with them. But both my remarks only reinforce your great conclusion “that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.”

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

For the people who endure blood libels, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and college campus apartheid walls, do we really need the Journal to explore the “modern” decay of truth?

While I agree with Shmuel Rosner about “leaving [President Donald] Trump [and his hyperbole] aside,” why trace the beginning of the end of the era of truth to 2014 when former Vice President Al Gore provides such a better example? In 2007, British High Court Judge Michael Burton ruled that Gore’s global warming film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” while “broadly accurate,” contained nine significant errors in “the context of alarmism and exaggeration.” Burton found that the film was a partisan political view and that its “apocalyptic vision” was not an impartial analysis of climate change. Happily, we have your Journal as a beacon of truth.

Warren Scheinin, Redondo Beach

American Presidents and Jewish Values

Gil Troy, in his story about presidents (“Why Jews Love Presidents [Most of the Time],” Feb. 16) reflects the message and mindset of the mainstream fake news, liberal left media in trying to provide some confirmation to support the bias of Jewish Democrats toward the Democratic Party, notwithstanding the fact that only 27 percent of Democrats support Israel and 79 percent of Republicans support Israel. He refers to Republican support for Israel as giving it a toxic embrace. If that weren’t enough, he then bashed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alienating American Jewry.

He tries to give some emotional support to Democratic Jews who dislike President Donald Trump by consoling them as not being one-issue voters. The underlying premise of his story is that Jews can be patriotic Americans and hate Trump. He is oblivious to the fact that Trump is the best president for Israel and American Jews with the possible exception of Harry Truman, who recognized Israel 12 minutes after the formation of the state.

The events of this past week have proven that Gil Troy and the mainstream media are acting in conspiracy with the liberal left, mostly Jew-hating Democratic establishment.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills

Obama and #IranianWomenToo

Kudos to David Suissa for his column “Obama and #IranianWomenToo” (Feb. 16). I continue to be unable to wrap my Jewish, pro-Israel mind around the fact that liberal American Jewish Democrats don’t get it that Barack Obama, through the Iranian deal and more, was Israel and American Jewry’s worst nightmare in decades. The only fault that I found in Suissa’s column was the omission of two words: John Kerry.

Marc Yablonka via email

A Conversion With Eyes Wide Open

In last week’s letters to the editor, Peter Robinson wrote that he knowingly chose to convert to non-Orthodox Judaism, and now rails at the unfairness that his heterodoxic theology and practice of Judaism is denied legitimacy by the Orthodox branch he consciously avoided. Ironically, he appeals to a rabbi whose branch of Judaism is likewise not recognized by Orthodoxy. You can’t join one club and expect reciprocity from a club with much stricter membership requirements.

Zev Newman, Los Angeles

The Problems of a Missile Defense

Regarding Larry Greenfield’s column, “Blessings of Missile Defense” (Feb. 16):

1.  Even if the systems deployed by Israel are of limited utility, Greenfield expands his argument to include missile defense against intercontinental missiles (ICBMs), which is actually destabilizing rather than protective. If an adversary believes that an anti-missile system deployed against it is operational and effective, that adversary will indeed be more rather than less likely to use its ICBMs first in a crisis, fearing that it will be attacked and then left defenseless to retaliate.

2.  Greenfield is correct that “decades of startling scientific and technological advancements” have resulted in deployment of anti-missile systems in the U.S. (Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, for one), but he fails to note that even in “rigged” tests, when the timing and location of dummy attacking missiles is made known and no decoys are used, U.S. anti-missile tests have failed at least 50 percent of the time. The system is simply a boondoggle for defense contractors. “Missile defense doesn’t promise perfection” is a gross and dangerous understatement.

Steve Daniels via email

Hamilton’s Jewish Identity Debated

After reading your story on Hamilton several times, I brought it to share with the Freda Mohr Senior Center Current Events Discussion Group (“Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish?” Feb. 16). Being Jewish, I was pleased that Hamilton, one of our country’s honored founders, seemed to have been Jewish.

However, one of our members had extensively researched this matter. He agrees that the information that was presented about Hamilton is correct as far as it goes, but much has not been included that would likely lead to a different conclusion.

His mother, named Rachel Faucette, probably was not Jewish. She had been married off to a wealthy Jewish man, whom she left after several years. A few years later, she gave birth to Alexander Hamilton, whose father was James Hamilton — apparently not Jewish. Furthermore, the school he attended may have not been “a Jewish school.” It had a teacher who taught a class with some aspects of Judaism, including the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

In the final analysis, the panelists at the Feb. 7 event might have looked at some circumstantial information with a biased, prejudged viewpoint.

George Epstein via email    

Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish?

From the dawn of time — or at least for the past two centuries — it seems as if Jews have been obsessed with finding the answers to three monumental questions:

1. Why are we here?
2. How should we live our lives?
3. Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish?

While discussion and study continues about the first two questions, the third question was addressed in knowledgeable and entertaining fashion on Feb. 7 at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Before a packed and enthusiastic audience, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik discussed the question with law professor Andrew Porwancher.

Generations of biographers have written that Hamilton — a Revolutionary War hero, co-author of “The Federalist Papers,” the first secretary of the treasury and the subject of a boffo Broadway musical — was a Christian. But Soloveichik and Porwancher, who came armed with a load of supporting archival research, made their case that Hamilton was, in fact, born and raised as a Jew.

The two scholars are well-qualified to expound upon this topic. Porwancher is an associate professor of law at the University of Oklahoma, where he teaches legal history. He earned his doctorate from Cambridge, his master’s from Brown and his bachelor’s from Northwestern. He is currently at work on “The Jewish Founding Father: Alexander Hamilton’s Hidden Life” (under contract with Harvard University Press).

Soloveichik is director of the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought and rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City. He graduated summa cum laude from Yeshiva College and in 2010 received his doctorate in religion from Princeton University. Rabbi Soloveichik has lectured throughout the U.S., Europe and Israel on topics relating to Jewish theology, bioethics, wartime ethics and Jewish-Christian relations.

Why do these two learned gentlemen believe Hamilton was Jewish?

At his Jewish school, Hamilton learned to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

For starters, Hamilton’s mother, Rachel Faucette, was married off by her mother to Jewish merchant Johann Michael Lavien (a variant of the Jewish name “Levine”) on the Danish-controlled Caribbean island of St. Croix in 1745, a time when Danish law would have required her conversion to Judaism before the wedding. She left Lavien in the early 1750s and lived with James Hamilton on the island of Nevis in the British West Indies. She bore two sons out of wedlock with James Hamilton, one of whom was Alexander, who was born around 1755. This would mean that, according to Jewish law, Alexander Hamilton was born a Jew. Also, while growing up on Nevis, Alexander attended a Jewish school.

Historians have discounted all of these points, arguing that Lavien was not recorded as a Jew in Danish records, and that Alexander Hamilton only attended the Jewish school due to his illegitimate birth, which kept him from being baptized or attending a Christian school. But parish records from Nevis show that infants born out of wedlock were indeed baptized. Plus, observed Porwancher, “None of St. Croix’s Jews were identified in the records as Jews.” He added, “If Alexander wasn’t Jewish, he would have to be the first person in history whose mother was named Rachel Lavien, and who went to a Jewish school, but who wasn’t Jewish. It was simply not a designated category in the island’s registers.”

In his research, Porwancher found a plethora of evidence linking Alexander Hamilton to Judaism, including from one of Alexander Hamilton’s grandsons, who referred to Johann Lavien as “rich Danish Jewish.” Also at his Jewish school, Hamilton learned to recite the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

Complicating the matter, Porwancher said, is that Hamilton apparently cut his ties to Judaism at the age of 13, when his mother died, not wanting to align himself with what he perceived to be a second-class religious status.

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik. Photo by Lulu Krakauer.

Andrew Porwancher. Photo by Lulu Krakauer.

Even so, Porwancher’s and others’ research has revealed numerous ties Hamilton had to Judaism throughout his career. Fighting in the American Revolution and serving as George Washington’s aide-de-camp, Hamilton studied the history of European Jewish banking. While doing so, he formulated the idea of financing the Revolution through credit, an idea which eventually proved successful. In addition, Hamilton was the only Founding Father willing, via his law practice, to represent Jewish clients. And in his copy of Washington’s Farewell Address, he put forth the idea of religious liberty as crucial to the young nation’s vitality.

“It was in Hamilton’s America that an orphan from the Caribbean could become secretary of the treasury,” Porwancher said. “It was in Hamilton’s America that Jews could have equal opportunities and rights.”

“The heart of Hamilton’s story was dispossession,” Porwancher added. Just as the Jews had been dispossessed from their various homelands throughout history, so Hamilton, due to his illegitimacy, had been dispossessed of his inheritance and, despite his accomplishments, always identified with outsiders.

Hamilton was repeatedly accused of promoting practices that benefited Jews. If true, Hamilton’s practices would appear to have been consistent with a European trend at the time, according to “The Hebrew Republic” by Eric Nelson, a book Porwancher recommended. Nelson argues that the familiar story of modern political thought in the West resulting from secularization is wrong. Rather, Nelson contends, it was the Christian encounter with Hebrew sources that led to a radical transformation.

Nelson further argues that Christian scholars began to regard the Hebrew Bible as a political constitution designed by God for the children of Israel. Newly created rabbinic materials became authoritative guides to the institutions and practices of the perfect republic and central features of modern political thought emerged from an attempt to emulate a constitution designed by God.

Even though the Jewish population in colonial America was small, it is telling that the Founding Fathers realized the importance of freedom of worship for even this small minority. In George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island, he affirmed his resolve that bigotry would have no place in America and that Jews would not be a tolerated minority but would “possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

That commitment has withstood the test of time and surely we have Alexander Hamilton’s ties to Judaism to thank, at least in part, for it.

Mark Miller is a humorist and journalist who has performed stand-up comedy on TV and written on various sitcom staffs. His first book, a collection of his humor essays on dating and romance, is “500 Dates: Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Online Dating Wars.”