November 18, 2018

Salvador Litvak: Can Talmud change your life?

Hollywood filmmaker and Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak recounts his journey of how one moment of learning Talmud led to a million followers on Facebook.

“What we learn from the students of Hillel is that you should be able to state the opinion of your opponent in a way your opponent will say, ‘yes, that is my opinion.’ When you do that, you are opening a door for him to say ‘I feel heard. Now I am willing to hear what you have to say.” -Salvador Litvak

Accidental Talmudist Salvador Litvak

From left: David Suissa and Salvador Litvak

Check out this episode!

Israel set to approve controversial force-feeding bill

This article first appeared on The Media Line.

The Israeli Knesset is set to approve a bill that would allow force feeding of Palestinian prisoners under certain conditions. The bill is similar to one that was about to be approved last year, before the Knesset was disbanded and new elections are held.

According to Israeli law, bills that were in the process of being approved can be picked up from where they were beforehand, rather than having to begin the process again.

“The bill was created for political reasons to coerce Palestinian hunger strikers into breaking their hunger strike,” Amany Dayif, the director of the Prisoners and Detainees Department at Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) told The Media Line. “The prisoners use hunger strikes to demand an end to administrative detention and solitary confinement, to allow family visits and to allow prisoners to continue their educations.”

PHR-Israel sharply condemned the proposed bill.

“The bill is ethically, medically and morally unacceptable,” PHR said. “By pushing physicians to engage in force-feeding the Israeli government threatens to defile the medical profession, its values and professionalism.”

The Chairman of the Israeli Medical Association, Leonid Eidelman, also criticised the bill, saying force-feeding prisoners against their will is “unethical”.

But the Ministry of Public Security is advocating for the bill, saying it is needed to save prisoners lives. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said striking prisoners could pose a threat to Israel. The Ministry says the decision will be made only in exceptional cases.

“Alongside attempts to boycott and delegitimize Israel, hunger strikes of terrorists in prisons have become a means to threaten Israel,” Erdan said on his Facebook page.

According to the current version of the bill, which is not as stringent as the previous version, force feeding will only be allowed if a physician believes that without it, “there is a real possibility that within a short time, the prisoner is at risk of death or irreversible disability.”

The bill was first proposed in 2014 when dozens of prisoners were on an extended hunger strike. Israeli officials worry that if a Palestinian prisoner died in jail, it could spark riots in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In April, there were 5800 Palestinian prisoners, including 440 administrative detainees, meaning they are being held without charges or trial and 11 members of the Palestinian National Council.

The bill to allow force feeding could have been used in the recent case of Khader Adnan, a long-time Palestinian prisoner being held under administrative detention who was on the verge of death after a 50-day hunger strike. Late last month, he broke his hunger strike after Israel agreed to his release.

Why They Hate the Jews

Just a day after twelve people were gunned down in a Paris newspaper office, an additional gunman walked into a kosher supermarket and slaughtered four Jewish men. All of this in the name of Islam. I was saddened to the core, but this was still no surprise to me. That after the first attack, there would be another – this time against the Jews. 

As the whole world grieved, I wondered: Why are the Jews so hated? Why do we always have to be the object of somebody’s wrath? Throughout history, the Jewish nation has been the target of such fervent animosity, it boggles the mind to see how we’ve actually made it. Whether it be Haman, or Pharaoh, inquisitions or crusades, pogroms or even an all out Holocaust – anti Semitism has always been raging through the veins of the nations of the world. Today, nothing has changed. What did we ever do to be detested throughout the way we are and the way we have been in the past? Multiple nations have made their life goal the extermination of the Jewish people.  In 2014’s list of most hated countries, North Korea took home medal for number one, and Iran struck bronze. Believe it or not, Israel was sandwiched in between the two. Yes, you heard me right, Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is the second most hated country in the entire world.  I have witnessed the hostility towards my people, I have heard the ugly accusations made against us, and I have thought long and hard. 

Thousands have attempted to answer this question and they have produced many theories. The first of three that I will mention, a very popular one, is pulled straight from the lips of the ancient Jewish Sages. “And Esau will hate Jacob”, Esau being the nations of the world, Jacob representing the Jewish people. Explained simply, the verse tells that ingrained into the minds, boiled into the blood, fixed into the heart of the gentile nations is an innate hatred that will last for all eternity. But it’s just not satisfying. I personally find this explanation overwhelmingly depressing. This explanation basically proves that no matter what we do and no matter how hard we try to ameliorate things, we will always be disliked. Once again, extremely bleak, and I cannot take it to heart. 

Theory number two: Jealousy. Every human being on earth knows the ugliness of jealousy and the grotesque consequences that jealousy has on a person’s well-being, on relationships, on life itself. Jealousy has a reputation for ripping people apart, and everyone has experienced that very specific feeling of rage that only jealousy can surface. If neglected, that rage ultimately turns into resentment, and this resentment can be fatal. Theory number two gives a clear explanation to the famous question addressed above. Everyone is just so damn jealous of the chosen nation. Jews run the world! They dominate Hollywood, control Wall Street and embezzle money. Who hasn’t heard of these before.

Lets get to the bottom of these lies. Every nation in the world believes they are chosen. They believe that they were lovingly chosen from among all the other nations, they were chosen to carry out G-ds mission on earth, to heal the world of it’s ills. No one is jealous of the chosen people, because every religion considers themselves the chosen people.         

Up until seventy years ago, Jewish blood was spilled carelessly and constantly. We have been expelled, persecuted, murdered, libeled against, gassed, hunted down and annihilated. You name it and we’ve gone through it. No nation on earth has a history as tragic as the Jews do. Jealous of what? What could they possibly be jealous of? I would have switched realities with any jealous person if I had lived seventy years ago. The Jews as a nation have only been making real progress for around sixty years now. Until then they were dirt poor with no place to call home. What a stupid approach. Jealous of gas chambers and crematoria? I think not. 

Theories one and two bring no reconciliation. But there is one more. Nobody likes the kid in class who reminds you not to cheat. Nobody likes the “righteous adviser”. I can recall many childhood stories involving in a noble advisor being thrown into prison, if not killed. We all hate that guy. The Jewish people have always been the world’s moral conscience, that constant,, annoying voice coming from somewhere in your mind. We were the ones who stood up for justice when society was barbaric. From the day we received the Ten Commandments, we reminded the world that you are not allowed to kill, no matter how much you hate that man. You can not steal from that man, no matter how much money he has, no matter how much you may need it.  No matter how bad your marriage may be, you can not covet your friends wife. We have taught the human to battle his nature and in turn, we have spoiled all the fun. When the Jews sinned in the Desert, Moses himself had the audacity to stand up tp Gd, telling Him to erase him from his book if he destroyed the Jews, no matter what their sin. Moses, the greatest leader of the Jewish people, reminded Gd himself that he was not abiding by the moral code he had created.  We, like Moses, have remained defiant and stubborn, in the face of wrongdoing. Gd gave us a mission to mold the world a certain way, and the world has chosen to shoot the messenger.   

Why did Hitler dedicate his whole life to the extermination of the Jews? What could have possibly been so important, how could his hatred have driven him to devote his whole life to our extinction? Hitler was not only trying to eliminate every Jew from the face of the earth, he was trying to construct a new moral code, by means of eradicating the old one. The Jews had built a moral foundation, a foundation given to them at mount Sinai that rested on the belief that every man is of equal and infinite value. Hitler’s way of life defied that completely. He believed in a superior race. Aryan blood was of more value. He detested Jews with his very being, and they therefor had to be erased from the face of the earth without a trace of their existence. He was framing a new world, where murder was justified if you had a good reason behind it, where cruelty was rationalized if it was for a greater good. His world included gas chambers and crematoria, killing machines of mass murder. This new order of ethics not only allowed for these evil things to be done, but shifted the moral compass of an entire nation so these acts were no longer evil. He created a world of monsters who had no distinction between good and bad. But he couldn’t do that with the Jews around. He was desperate to show the world that he had the power of life and death in his hands, that his power was limitless. The Germans believed that he was a gd of some sort, they worshipped him wholeheartedly. The Jews taught the world that as human beings we will always be number two. The Kipa symbolizes subservience to the all-powerful. It is a reminder to the man that wears it, that Gd comes before him, that there is a power, too great to comprehend that is the source behind all life.  

Judaism was the first to introduce feminine passiveness over male aggressiveness. Abraham was waiting by the entrance of his tent, desperate to feed passerby, while the quintessential male at that time was conquering cities. Jacob, the namesake of the Jewish people, was called a “simple man, a dweller of his tent”. He was a scholar who sat in his tent peacefully and learned. As a people, we have always tried to avoid war at all costs, but when given no other choice, we excersize the right to defend ourselves. We are the people of the book, not the sword.             

After my parents had come home from a trip in Senegal, I remember them mentioning how sad it was that all the billboards on the highways were advertising skin bleach. People, who hardly had enough money for food, were buying skin bleach to lighten their skin. The white man had tortured them for so long, that they internalized that hatred. After centuries of being treated as inferior, they began to believe it. 

We must never make the same mistake. We must never be apologetic for the way we live, for the way we defend Israel, for the way we defy evil. We can never blame ourselves for the wickedness of others, justifying it through believing that we are at fault. We will never be ashamed of our righteous, compassionate nature, no matter how hated we are for it. 

Rochel Leah Boteach is a High School student and writer. She lives in New Jersey.


IDF, fellow reservists rip refusal letter by intelligence corps members

The Israel Defense Forces said it will take disciplinary action against dozens of Israeli intelligence corps reservists who signed a letter vowing to stop collecting information on Palestinians.

Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz, the head of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, in a statement issued Sunday called the letter from 43 reservists, including 10 officers, an “exploitation of military service in order to express a political position. We see the incident as severe and serious disciplinary action will be taken.

“There is no room in the IDF for refusal to serve,” Almoz said.

The letter from members of the 8200 signal intelligence unit was sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Army Radio reported Friday, as well to IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and Aviv Kochavi, who heads the Military Intelligence Directorate.

“The intelligence gathered harms innocents and is used for political persecution and for invading most areas of Palestinians’ lives,” the 43 reservists wrote. “Our conscience no longer permits us to serve this system.”

In response to the letter, more than 200 former soldiers and officers from the 8200 unit published a letter saying they were “ashamed” of their fellow servicemen.

“We wish to express our dismay, disgust and complete disavowal of our friend’s unfortunate letter,” they wrote. “Refusal to serve on the basis of politics has no room in the IDF and certainly not in Unit 8200. When we as reserve soldiers are called to serve, we put our orientations and political opinions aside and serve our country.”

The response letter said that “when ethical dilemmas arose, we saw they were seriously and maturely addressed in accordance with international law and the IDF’s ethical code.”

Is kosher ethical?

Almost 40 years ago I spoke about “The Case for Judaism”  to members of the tiny Jewish community of Moncton, in New Brunswick, Canada. It was a speech I had given many times before and would give hundreds of times more. In it, I described the ethical preoccupation of Judaism, including practices dismissed as only ritual. One example I offered in almost every talk was the laws of kosher slaughtering. For example, to ensure as rapid a death as possible the shochet (slaughterer) had to kill the animal with one cut of the throat and with a blade that had no nicks, lest the animal suffer.

During the question-and-answer period, a young man about my age (early 20s) rose and introduced himself. He had just obtained smicha (ordination as a rabbi) from Yeshiva University and was in Moncton as a potential rabbi for his first congregation. He differed with what I said about kashrut; it had nothing to do with ethics or morality, he explained. For example, he noted, a shochet could, in fact, cut the animal’s throat very slowly, causing real suffering to the animal, yet the animal would still be kosher.

I was reminded of this rabbi’s argument last week. In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, Rabbi Avi Shafran, director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, the umbrella organization of Charedi Jews in America, wrote that “kosher has nothing to do with health or ‘ethics.’ There are Jewish ethical laws and Jewish ritual laws. Kashrut is entirely in the latter category. And it is simply not Orthodox to contend otherwise.”

My heart sank, just as it did 40 years ago. I had always believed that as much as kashrut involved ritual laws, its ultimate concern, like that of all of Judaism, was morality (and holiness). If I am wrong, why is there a law forbidding the use of a nicked blade? Isn’t it obvious that the only purpose for this law is the prevention of more suffering to the animal. Yet here was an Orthodox rabbi again announcing — to millions of people — that kosher has nothing to do with ethics.

Rabbi Shafran’s letter was written in response to an article published in the Wall Street Journal a week before by Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz. 

Yanklowitz is an Orthodox rabbi who has given up eating kosher animal and dairy products:

“It pains me to say this,” he wrote, “but given what I have learned in recent years, I cannot pretend anymore that kosher meat, poultry and dairy is any [more] ethical than non-kosher food. …

“The fact that the modern reality of industrial food production extends into kosher facilities — which are supposed to be held to the highest ethical standards of treatment — brings me embarrassment and shame as an Orthodox rabbi and as a Jew. …

“Story after story continues to emerge about kosher-slaughterhouse scandals in Israel, the primitive method of ‘shackle-and-hoist’ used in kosher slaughter, and the lack of standards for decent treatment.”

There was one other letter published by the Wall Street Journal in response to Yanklowitz’s article. It was written by Rabbi Menachem Genack, the CEO of OU Kosher. He simply denied the rabbi’s charges.

“To declare kosher slaughter inhumane and unethical,” Genack wrote, is “quite simply … untrue.”

In light of Yanklowitz’s concerns — which are shared by an ever-increasing number of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews such as myself — it would seem that Genack has the ability to alleviate many of our concerns. All he has to do is invite Yanklowitz and others to see (and video) how kosher animals are raised and slaughtered.

In the meantime, I am certain that there are enough Jews and non-Jews who would pay extra to eat animals and products from animals (eggs, cheese, milk, etc.) that we know were treated decently prior to slaughter, and then slaughtered in as humane a manner as possible. If that is what “kosher” came to mean, wouldn’t that be a major kiddush haShem?

I am no animal rights activist. In fact, I have a mistrust of most of those who are preoccupied with animal rights. While individuals who are cruel to animals almost always end up being cruel to humans, there is, unfortunately, no link between kindness to animals and kindness to humans. On the contrary, many who have been major animal rights activists have been indifferent to human suffering. The Nazis, for example, outlawed experimentation on animals while practicing it on human beings. And People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are moral imbeciles who, among other things, equate barbecuing chickens with the cremating of Jews by the Nazis (“Holocaust on your plate”).

But both elementary decency and Judaism demand decent treatment of animals. To believe, as the rabbi in Moncton and the spokesman for Agudath Israel claim, that kashrut has nothing to do with ethics is a distortion of the Torah and of the laws of kashrut.  

Ethics Plan Would Raise Sanctity of Business

An observant Jew was once brought before the judge on counts of tax fraud. Seeing the kippah-wearing Jew before him, the judge innocently asked, “Mr. Schwartz, you are clearly a God-fearing man. How do you explain your immoral behavior?”

Not missing a beat, Mr. Schwartz pointed his finger in the air and defiantly declared, “Your honor, religion is one thing, but business is business!”

Alas, we’ve witnessed several “Mr. Schwartzes” over the last few years, and each new headline evinces new winces of pain from our community. Rabbis have been beside themselves; for years, we’ve preached about the need to carry one’s Torah observance into the business place. Shockingly (as if), not all our parishioners were listening.

What’s more, an environment in certain industries seems to have developed where illegal business activity has not only been condoned but even considered the norm. The Jewish work ethic — what up until recently was the proud hallmark of pristine honesty and integrity — became tarnished.

L.A.’s Jewish community is the second largest in the country. We have much reason to be proud; we have established every imaginable organization or endeavor to dole out kindness and charity to those less privileged. Jews comprise a huge demographic of the righteous of our city.

At the same time, it’s been observed that life is like trying to make a bed using a fitted sheet that’s just a bit too small for the mattress. You pull one end of the sheet over one mattress corner, and the other end of the sheet pops off the opposite corner.

We all tend to focus on what we consider the important things in our lives at the expense of others. For some Jews, a focus on social action comes at the cost of Jewish literacy and ritual. For other Jews, a focus on ritual and Torah study comes at the cost of translating all that knowledge into action in the workplace.

Yet, the Talmud (T.B. Shabbat 31a) emphatically states that the first question a person will be asked when he or she ascends to heaven will not be, “Did you eat kosher food?” but rather, “Were you faithful in business?”

A group of rabbis and lay leaders, seeing this wound on an otherwise exemplary community continue to fester, felt that it was no longer enough to talk the talk. In order to really bolster awareness and education within the community, we needed to do something demonstrative that would raise awareness not only when in shul but also while shopping and doing business.

The Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative is nothing new. Several years ago, a group of Modern Orthodox Jews in Israel founded an organization called, Bema’aglei Tzedek (On Paths of Justice), with the mission of addressing the moral and socioeconomic challenges facing Israeli society (you can learn more at their Web site, One of their main projects is Tav Chevrati, which recognizes those businesses in Israel that provide minimum wage and other basic benefits to their employees. After launching an impressive marketing campaign, the Tav now boasts over 350 businesses that have the Tav seal hanging in their windows.

Using the Tav Chevrati model — with small modifications for the American business arena — our group realized that were we to attempt to redress all business ills we would be biting off more than anyone would be willing to chew. Under the direction of a team of attorneys, we instead chose to focus on the one area of business that has the most significant human impact, the area of labor law.

Peulat Sachir offers a covenant agreement to any business owner who complies with the six basic areas of labor law as required by the state of California: (1) minimum wage, (2) payment of overtime wages, (3) provision of meal and rest breaks, (4) leave policy, (5) workers’ compensation insurance and (6) discrimination/harassment policies.

Additionally, Peulat Sachir will host regular seminars on ethical business practices, which will be open to the general public.

Of course, one could argue: What’s the point of an attestation that someone is just obeying the law? In today’s world of Bernard Madoff rip-offs, kosher production scandals, subprime mortgage meltdowns and corporate greed, plenty. The simple public affirmation that I as a business owner comply with dina d’malchuta (the law of the land) is an important step toward the reformation of an unhealthy business culture.

One might also argue: Why focus so narrowly on this one area of business ethics? What about tax law? Immigration law? Clearly, there are many legal areas within the complex world of business that could and should be addressed.

For one thing, we’ve got to start somewhere. But it’s more than that; we believe that raising awareness about one area of ethics will positively spill over to others.

The employer who respects the law by meticulously paying overtime is more likely to report accurately on his tax return; someone who proudly procures workers’ compensation insurance for his minimum-wage employees is more likely to care about the needs of other underprivileged members of society.

The Peulat Sachir mission statement is thus twofold: To engender a new culture for Jewish businesses — one of commitment to the highest ethical and moral standards in all aspects of business — and to raise awareness of what we in the religious community expect from our vendors and, ultimately, from ourselves.

Those who appreciate what Peulat Sachir is trying to do will want to preferentially patronize those establishments that have signed a covenant. Those who don’t, won’t.

Peulat Sachir in no way penalizes or blacklists businesses that can’t or won’t sign on to the concept. Ultimately, it’s up to the public to decide the success of the Peulat Sachir initiative.

Who knows? Maybe Peulat Sachir will become a model for other communities. And just maybe, by elevating the sanctity of our businesses, we and our assets will all be blessed in the process.

If you are a local business owner and would like to receive more information, contact Peulat Sachir at

Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin is rosh kehilla of Yavneh Hebrew Academy, director of community and synagogue services for the Orthodox Union West Coast Region and a community mohel.

LETTERS: Torah Battle, Mormon Official, Ethics

Ethics Certificate

I heartily agree with David Suissa and his reservations about the new certificate indicating that Jewish businesses uphold labor laws (“Laboring for Ethics,” March 6). If the Rubashkin scandal [Agriprocessors kosher slaughterhouse] is what prompted the certification idea, it is hardly the most noxious scandal in the Jewish community.

Why are we not issuing certificates to money managers to avoid other Madoff-style swindles? Why do we not certify that rabbis in our community aren’t molesting children and avert scandals like the one that hit the National Conference of Synagogue Youth? Why single out the Jewish shopkeeper?

California has an exorbitant minimum wage, and aggressive labor regulation. If the rabbis involved in the certification movement believe that shops along Pico Boulevard are in violation of these regulations, they should report the store owner to the authorities, not engage in feckless, feel-good activism.

Janet Fuchs
Beverly Hills

Battle Over Torahs

Your article, “Public Court Battle Erupts Over Possession of Torahs” (March 13) is a horrible display of the decision making skills of your management and editing team.

I am a student of Rabbi Samuel Ohana. He is doing my wedding; his wife is catering it. I learn with him, and he has welcomed me into his home.

He has dedicated his life to serving the community and is a man of great moral and ethical standing. The slant on your reporting was not just slight, it was disgustingly obvious.

You offered a venue for lashon ha-ra (bad gossip) to be spoken about this man, and that makes you just as guilty as the person who is speaking it.

I do not care if the L.A. Times feels that this story is worth publishing, but how can we be a light unto nations when we will stoop down and publish the same filth and slander?

I do not know the details of the case, and as far as I can tell, it is just a dispute of ownership. What you and the lady involved have done is of greater notice and deserving of as much criticism. I hope that the community can see the misrepresentation that you have made.

Michael Sachs

Surviving Bernie

Yes Mr. Eshman, Bernard Madoff is a criminal and an evil man who hopefully will spend the rest of his life in prison (“Surviving Bernie,” March 13). Where, however, is the outcry against the people of the American-Israel Cultural Foundation in Israel responsible for investing its entire endowment, $14 million, with Madoff Securities that is now all gone?

Leon M. Salter
Los Angeles

Different Religion

I was not at all disappointed to see professor David Myers attacked for his notorious right-wing views (“20th Century Zionist Asks: ‘Has Jacob Become Esau?’” March 6). For the record, however, we should note that Esau, as referred to by Myers and by Rawidowicz, was Christianity, not Islam. After all, Rawidowicz was writing in the first post-Holocaust years.

Michael Berenbaum
via e-mail

Money for the Arts

In this economic recession, I feel that Cheryl and Haim Saban should be embarrassed to donate $5 million so that their name will be on a theater marquee. (“Sabans Donate $5 Million to Theater,” March 13).

This money could be better spent: scholarships for children to receive Jewish educations, Jewish aged under the poverty line and housing for Jewish disabled. The list goes on.

Laurie Saida
via e-mail

Editor’s note: As our story made clear, the theater houses the Temple of the Arts synagogue, which Cheryl Saban credited with playing an important role in their lives.

ZOA Mormon Official

How wonderful to be able to read news about the L.A. Jewish community while I sit at my computer in Israel! (“Zionist Organization’s New Mormon Director: Q&A With Mark Paredes,” March 6).

The appointment of Mark Paredes to the directorship of the Zionist Organization of America office in Los Angeles is great news. I met him when he worked at the Israeli Consulate and saw this bright and inspiring man in action.

Chana Givon

Building Bridges

On behalf of the American Muslim community, I applaud the efforts of Rabbi [Reuven] Firestone and The Jewish Journal in building bridges of understanding between the American Muslim and Jewish communities. (“An Appreciation of Islam: Q&A With Rabbi Reuven Firestone,” March 13)

Both Judaism and Islam have much in common — moral values emphasizing family ties and tending to the less fortunate, speaking up for justice and human rights and being good citizens of society.

While we may hold different legitimate political views, even within our own communities, let us continue to strengthen bonds between American Muslims and Jews, shun voices of extremism and together be a force of positive change in the broader society.

Munira Syeda
Communications Coordinator
Council on American-Islamic Relations,
Greater Los Angeles Area

Thank You Rabbi [Reuven] Firestone for your book presenting Islam to Jews and non-Muslims in a fair and more accurate manner.

Thanks to The Jewish Journal for being involved in this.

As a Muslim I always thought that there are much more things in common than differences between Jews and Muslims. I hope this will be realized by more people.

Majed Ibrahim
via e-mail


Marty Kaplan’s “Stem Cell Slippery Slope Fallacy” (March 13) tells us that the world is full of bigots. Live and let live has been abandoned in favor of our way or the highway, leading to hatred and violence: the religious fundamentalism of ultra-Orthodox Jews disdaining all other denominations, Islamists stoning to death a 13-year-old rape victim charged with adultery and lots of Christians wishing to disenfranchise our gay population.

Then we have the haters of anyone not like them, including white supremacists, anti-Semites and animal rights advocates who feel that the lives of laboratory-bred rats are more important than the lives of human beings.

Now we know of evil greedy people who worship money and think nothing of stealing from the needy. What a world.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village

Madoff’s Redemption

If you’re an active member of the Jewish community — and perhaps even if you’re not — there’s almost no way to properly digest the Bernie Madoff scandal. It’slike a quadruple shot of cheap vodka that you drink quickly on an empty stomach. You feel disgusted and drunk at the same time.

First, of course, there’s the alleged scale of the swindle. Fifty billion? You can cut that by 80 percent and it would still be an obscene number.

More than dry numbers, though, there’s the sadness we all feel for the tens of thousands of disadvantaged people — Jews and non-Jews — who will now suffer because the organizations that usually help them have been ruined, not to mention the many individuals and families who have lost their life’s savings overnight.

Then there’s the fear of the uncertain — what all this will mean for the future of fundraising and Jewish philanthropy in an already depressed economy, and to what extent the scandal will fuel the fires of anti-Semitism, as well as turn off many Jews to their faith.

Finally, just to add a touch of the surreal, we have a suspect who apparently immediately confessed to his crime. How often does a white-collar criminal who can afford the best legal advice tell the authorities who have come to arrest him that his financial empire is all “one big lie” — and that he has been engaged for years in a fraudulent Ponzi scheme to the tune of $50 billion?

Well, never.

Put all this nasty brew together, and you have a Jewish community that’s reeling with anger, shock, sadness and shame. We can’t speak fast enough to catch up with our emotions. We almost wish the guy would have kept his mouth shut and had his $900-an-hour lawyer give us the usual “my client will vigorously defend himself from these outrageous charges” response — so that at least we would have been broken in gently.

Instead, we got mugged with a sledgehammer.

One of the dangers of being overwhelmed with so much criminal havoc is that we will lose all perspective when trying to draw conclusions. We may feel, for example, that because the crime is so big, our conclusions must also be big.

But let’s remember that there are many things in this story that are not so big.

Bernie Madoff, for one. Here is a gonif who preyed on the weaknesses of his own people and stole money not just from the wealthy, but from charitable organizations. How much smaller can you get?

How many Bernie Madoffs are there in the Jewish community? The truth is, for every Madoff we hear about, there are probably a million honest Jews we never hear about. Madoff may be a disease, but he’s not an epidemic.

Every day, thousands of deals are made in our community, one Jew trusting another Jew and no one getting ripped off. We don’t hear about these, precisely because no one gets ripped off. There’s no doubt we ought to do more due diligence at all levels of Jewish philanthropy, and I’m sure that as a result of this scandal, we will. But let’s not kid ourselves: For as long as there are human beings, trust will play a central role in the affairs of men.

Trust serves as a convenient shortcut for making decisions, but it also serves a deeper human purpose — it strengthens our emotional bonds. It gives us a chance to show loyalty and faith in other people, and when it is reciprocated, we feel a deeper connection.

Complete Madoff CoverageFrankly, what worries me most is not that we will see more Madoff-level crimes of betrayal in our community, but that we so easily ignore the millions of little offenses we regularly inflict on each other. Those little offenses may not rise to the level of illegal behavior, but they have the cumulative power to corrode the human bonds that tie our families and communities together.

I’m talking about the little lies, the hurtful gossip, the verbal abuse, the arrogant looks, the inconsiderate gestures. How many thousands of instances are there every day when one of us will hurt someone — maybe by using hurtful language or breaking a promise or giving a family member the silent treatment? How many numerous opportunities are missed every day to help another person — maybe by bringing soup to a sick neighbor or simply saying something nice to our mothers?

Madoff’s “swindle of the century” is a tragic ethical breakdown for our community, and we should all help to pick up the pieces. At the same time, the scandal can also serve as a wake-up call to remind us of the myriad ethical obligations we have in our own lives and within our own communities.

Our rabbis and educators can lead the way in answering this call. They can start by making it clear to their congregants and students — many of whom will become our future leaders and financiers — that nothing is more important in Judaism than the way we treat one another. Yes, God loves it when we go to shul or study the Talmud or have a “spiritual experience” or contribute to the shul’s building fund. But God loves it even more when we make it our priority to follow the Jewish laws and principles of how we should properly interact with other people.

This is the Judaism of ethics — the only Judaism that every Reform, Reconstructionist, Orthodox, Conservative, Humanist, Chasidic, Renewal, Egalitarian, Ultra-Orthodox and gay rabbi on the planet will unite behind.

It’s the Judaism that Bernie Madoff shunned, but that the aftermath of his scandal may reawaken.

Imagine that. Instead of the Messiah coming down to redeem us, a sleazy villain shows up on Chanukah and shocks us into reasserting that great Jewish ideal of learning how to live an ethical life.

If you ask me, that sounds a lot easier to digest.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine, and He can be reached at

L.A. Orthodox rabbis want business ethics to be kosher, too

Seeking to accentuate Jewish traditions that place a premium on ethical integrity, Los Angeles Orthodox rabbis are encouraging local businesses to sign up for a new seal of certification that ensures employers are treating workers fairly and humanely.

The move comes in response to allegations over the past year that the nation’s largest kosher slaughterhouse, Agriprocessors in Postville, Iowa, routinely violated the rights of its employees, many of them undocumented workers and many of them underage.

“We have always considered ourselves to be a light onto the nations — we’re the ones who are supposed to be a paradigm and example and role model for the rest of the world of what it means to be an ethical, moral, Godly person,” said Rabbi Daniel Korobkin, leader of Kehillat Yavneh in Hancock Park. “If the world or if the media is looking askance, for whatever reason, at the Orthodox community, then it behooves us to address the issues.”

Korobkin rallied his colleagues, Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City and Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, to address the national crisis in kosher confidence by turning an eye toward businesses that serve the Jewish community on a local level.

They will offer, at no cost, a rabbinic seal of approval to any business or institution that volunteers to undergo scrutiny to verify that employees are being treated according to local, state and federal labor laws. The certificate will not be tied to kashrut in any way.

“We felt we had to do a kiddush Hashem [sanctification of God’s name], and the kiddush Hashem was to be really concerned about the employees and how they are being treated,” Muskin said. “It has nothing to do with kashrut — this goes way beyond kosher eateries and butcher shops and bakeries. We want to know our schools and shuls and businesses are treating employees correctly.”

The three rabbis, and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob, introduced the concept to their congregants in sermons during the High Holy Days. They have volunteered their own synagogues to be analyzed first and then within the next few months, hope to expand to other shuls, schools and businesses, starting mainly with the Pico-Robertson corridor and reaching out as the project grows.

A similar initiative in Israel, Bema’aglei Tzedek, was founded in 2004.

Last year, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism created Hekhsher Tzedek, a certification for kosher food processors that encompasses fair treatment of workers, corporate integrity and environmental responsibility.

The Los Angeles group is calling itself Peulat Sachir: Ethical Labor Initiative, based on language from the verse in Leviticus 19 that prohibits an employer from withholding wages overnight from a worker.

“Whereas we are appropriately extraordinarily careful about the laws of kashrut, clearly we have an attitude that is less rigorous and perhaps even somewhat lackadaisical when it comes to this whole other vitally important area of Jewish law,” Kanefsky said. “A religious community has to be very concerned about kashrut, about education, about mikvah [ritual bath], and it has to be very concerned that the people we interact with on a regular basis are being treated in way that is halachically proper.”

Peulat Sachir will involve itself in six areas: minimum wage, overtime, rest and meal breaks, workers compensation, leave policies and anti-discrimination protections. A lay board of labor lawyers, businesspeople and others with expertise in the field will analyze business practices by looking at paperwork and talking with employees.

The board will not deal with the complex area of immigration status. Labor laws apply equally to documented and undocumented workers, explained Craig Ackermann, a labor lawyer and lay leader on the project.

Businesses will not have to pay for certificates, but the rabbis acknowledge that businesses may have to spend more to qualify for the certificate, if, for instance, they have to start paying for overtime, giving paid leave or making sure workers get appropriate breaks.

Whether businesses which are not now in compliance will risk having to pass those costs on to customers is an open question.

“As people committed to halacha (Jewish law), we pay what has to be paid so we can fulfill the halacha — we do it for kashrut, we do it to teach our children Torah. Should we not do it for the halacha of following the law of the land or of how we treat our employees?” Kanefsky asked.

The halachic concept of “dina demalchuta dina,” the law of the land is the halacha, makes legal adherence and Jewish law one and the same, he pointed out.

Ackermann guesses that the first businesses to respond positively will be those that are already in compliance with labor laws.

The rabbis are hoping that once consumers begin to ask for the certificate or more heavily patronize businesses that are certified, business owners will see the benefits, both moral and monetary, to being able to display a Peulat Sachir certificate in the window.

“We’re hoping this is something store owners won’t be able to dismiss easily,” Kanefsky said. “And frankly, the idealist in me believes that store owners will want to be a part of this mitzvah of raising awareness about this in our community.”

Over the next few weeks, the rabbis will continue to constitute the lay board and will reach out to businesses and different segments of the community. They are contacting leaders of the Iranian community, because a large percentage of the businesses on Pico Boulevard are Iranian owned. They are also reaching out to the right wing of the Orthodox community, which on a national level has been wary of similar projects.

That debate came into focus last month, when the right-wing Agudath Israel of America reacted tepidly to an announcement from the centrist Orthodox Rabbincal Council of America (RCA) that it is creating a guide to labor ethics to be distributed not only to kosher producers but to all businesses.

The RCA, which serves as the halachic adviser for the Orthodox Union (OU) kashrut certification agency, said it will write into kosher supervision contracts the need for companies to comply with all local and federal laws regarding labor and environmental issues. While the OU has long had a rule on the books that its certified companies must be in compliance with the law, this gives more teeth to the provision and raises awareness among kosher purveyors.

The RCA’s new guidelines will also delineate talmudic and biblical business ethics beyond American law, which it hopes businesses will voluntarily adopt.

Korobkin expects that the ethics initiative in Los Angeles will spread to other communities.

“I am hopeful that this will raise a greater level of awareness within various elements of the Orthodox community that this is an issue that needs to be addressed,” Korobkin said. “I think many times we in the Orthodox community want to know how to react to crisis, and sometimes the way we react is by having a tehillim [psalm reciting] rally, or we speak about the need to daven [pray] harder, or to do teshuvah [repentance]. We feel this is form of teshuvah, as well — this is a form of raising awareness in certain areas where there is room for improvement. We can act as a shining example to society at large and to other communities.”

For more information on the Ethical Labor Initiative, call (310) 276-9269.

What makes a good politico?

What makes a good politician? More to the point for Jewish Journal readers, what makes a good Jewish politician?

I’ve been thinking about this since I spoke to the Westwood Women’s Bruin Club about my book, “Big Daddy: Jesse Unruh and the Art of Power Politics.”

In my talk, as I did in my book, I dug into this powerful old politician to figure out why he sought power so relentlessly. The idea intrigued a member of the audience.

“Why do politicians do it?” she asked. “How can they put themselves through all that?”

It’s a great question. Since I’m Jewish and write about politics for The Journal, I decided to devote this column to exploring what makes some of our local Jewish politicians good at their jobs.

Good politicians are like actors, a combination of ego and ambition mixed in with a public-spirited desire to help people.

The public-spirited aspect is — or should be — part of the makeup of good Jewish politicians. Whether they are religious or secular, many have been brought up to with Jewish values, including the belief that they should try make the world a better place and that they’ll be judged by the good things accomplished in a lifetime. They extend themselves beyond the confines of their jobs and think of ways to help all kinds of people.

Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman, whose 30th District reaches from Santa Monica through Los Angeles’ Westside and into the San Fernando Valley, is a good example of what I’m describing.

I don’t agree with him all the time. His years of opposition to a Wilshire Boulevard subway delayed the project so long that it may be unaffordable. But as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he has launched investigations into White House secrecy, steroids in baseball, the subprime mortgage mess, big drug and tobacco companies and the recent Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to block California’s tough clean-air standards.

With his chairmanship and his eye for newsworthy subjects, Waxman has become nationally known.

It’s not so easy for a politician slogging away in City Hall or the Los Angeles County Hall of Administration. That’s because the ethnic politics of Los Angeles have changed in recent years.

As political observer Joel Kotkin and others have pointed out, the interest of many of the rich Westside Jews, who once were a powerful force in local politics, have shifted to the glamour and high visibility of presidential politics.

In addition, political coverage in our shrinking newspapers has diminished, and it has become all but nonexistent on television. Who notices activities relegated to Page 3 of the Los Angeles Times California section? And that’s on a good day. Usually, they are ignored altogether.

Los Angeles City Controller Laura Chick, another Jewish politician, has successfully struggled against the media blackout by conducting much-needed audits of major city departments that often make news. (Disclosure: Chick appointed me to the City Ethics Commission).

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents an area reaching from the Westside into the San Fernando Valley, has not been so fortunate. Like Waxman, he looks beyond his district. As a Los Angeles city councilman, he joined with his colleague, the late Marvin Braude, another good Jewish politician, as authors of voter initiatives that limited commercial developments near residential neighborhoods and stopped oil drilling in the bay off Pacific Palisades.

In those days, Yaroslavsky was hot news. He considered running for mayor. Influential Jews were still interested in City Hall. The newspapers –the Times, the Daily News and the now-dead Herald-Examiner — competed in the coverage of local politics. Television was interested, too.

Today, he’s the same Yaroslavsky, but not many people notice what he’s doing. That’s because he is a member of the five-person Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, a body that usually escapes media attention.

Yaroslavsky has deep roots in the Jewish community, and he works hard to maintain them. Most recently, he arranged for The Jewish Federation Council’s Menorah Housing Corp. to build a 45-unit senior citizen housing project on the site of the old county welfare office at Pico and Veteran boulevards in West Los Angeles. I live near there and think it’s a great project.

But he has also extended himself beyond his Jewish base into activities that benefit the whole city. As a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, he was the major force behind the Orange Line busway across the San Fernando Valley. The busway connects to the Red Line subway, making it possible for those who live in the Valley and work downtown to use public transit.

Yaroslavsky also was the sponsor of a countywide tax increase that provided needed funds to trauma centers in danger of closing. And he has taken the lead on the Board of Supervisors in efforts to provide housing and services for the homeless, although chances for success in that area are dim, given the board’s taste for inaction.

There are other good Jewish politicians. I happened to pick three I know pretty well –Yaroslavsky, Waxman and Chick — because each, in his or her own way, illustrates how the values of Jewish life can be carried over into the secular obligations of public affairs. They have been doing this a long time, setting an example for a new generation that will make sure our community is deeply involved in Los Angeles civic life.

Until leaving the Los Angeles Times in 2001, Bill Boyarsky worked as a political correspondent, a Metro columnist for nine years and as city editor for three years. You can reach him at

Controversial bioethicist pounces on animals in art

Bioethicist Peter Singer has received death threats for his views on incendiary topics such as infanticide and animals rights.

A human life is not intrinsically sacred because it is human, he contends. Affluent people who do not give most of their income to charity are “murderers”; parents who wish to kill a severely disabled infant should be allowed to do so, especially if the child’s death may result in the birth of a healthier baby.

Singer — an Australian Jew who is considered to be one of the most influential living philosophers — will lecture about how art depicts animals on May 24 at the Getty Center, in conjunction with the Getty Museum exhibition, “Oudry’s Painted Menagerie.” His point of view is a modern brand of Utilitarianism, as outlined by the philosophers Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. Both of these philosophers argued for policies resulting in the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

Singer — who spoke to The Journal from his home in Melbourne, Australia — replaces the term “happiness” with the idea of “personal preferences.” It’s immoral to kill someone who wants to live, because you’re making it “impossible for that person to fulfill his preferences,” as The New Yorker paraphrased him in 1999. “[But] if you kill somebody whose preferences don’t have much chance of success — a severely disabled infant, for example, or somebody in an advanced stage of Alzheimer’s disease — the moral equation becomes entirely different.

Singer uses the word ‘person’ to refer to self-conscious creatures: animals often fit that definition, and many humans do not. So when Singer says that you are more likely to do moral harm by killing a healthy cow than by killing a severely handicapped infant, he means that the cow is more likely to anticipate pain and suffer from it than would the child….. The more an animal is able to suffer and understand its surroundings, the more consideration it ought to be given.”

Singer has gone so far as to write: “Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Very often it is not wrong at all.”

Critics charge that such rhetoric echoes the words of Nazi eugenicists; no matter that three of Singer’s four grandparents died in concentration camps.

After the philosopher was appointed the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton in 1999 — provoking an outcry from pro-choice and disability activists — demonstrators reportedly sat in on his first class; Singer subsequently opened mail parcels only after an X-ray machine had screened them.

Love him or hate him, one cannot dismiss the professor’s impact on modern bioethics. He is the author of numerous essays and books that have become philosophy best sellers: “Animal Liberation” (1975), which has sold more than half a million copies, is regarded as a seminal text of the animal rights movement and helped launch People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Singer’s more recent work has included treatises on how factory farming fuels global warming.

The philosopher demonstrated his unorthodox views even as a boy in Melbourne, where his parents settled after fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria. His childhood home was nonreligious, affluent and steeped in the culture of Jewish Vienna, he told the Australian Jewish News. Even so, Peter stunned his father, a coffee and tea importer, when he stated that he would not become bar mitzvah because he did not believe in God.

Singer was raised with a sense of the horrors of Nazism, but the losses led him to foster anti-fascist, rather than Jewish, ideals. His “abhorrence of cruelty and suffering … and general compassion” might have come from the Jewish tradition,” he hesitantly told The Journal, “though such world views are not unique to Judaism.” Singer added that he feels neither a strong sense of Jewish identity nor of Zionism; the founding of Israel in the land of the Palestinians was immoral, despite the losses Jews suffered during the Holocaust, in his view.

Animal rights did not significantly enter Singer’s vocabulary until he attended Oxford University and met classmates who eschewed meat for moral reasons. He became a vegetarian and in 1973, submitted an essay, “Animal Liberation,” to The New York Review of Books. The feedback was so dramatic that he expanded the piece into his 1975 book of the same name.

Singer went on to publish a number of blunt treatises that outline his severe — sometimes nearly impossible to accomplish — social mores. (Sample: He believes it’s better to save 10 strangers than one of your own children.)

Even Singer’s admirers say such ethics fail to take basic human nature into account.The children vs. strangers tenet certainly contradicts Jewish tradition, which “recognizes that duties come out of our relationships,” said Rabbi Elliot Dorff, a leading Jewish bioethicist and rector of American Jewish University (previously the University of Judaism).

“One is first obligated to take care of oneself, then members of one’s family, then the larger community.”

Even Singer cannot live up to all of his own standards. When his mother could no longer speak or think due to advanced Alzheimer’s disease — rendering her a “nonperson” by his own criterion — he spent large sums to keep her alive. While he says he gives 20 percent of his income to charity, he admits he lives on far more money than the standards set in his books.

“I’m not altruistic enough to impoverish myself,” he said. “I have never claimed that I always do the best thing ethically.” He simply tries to do better each year.

Peter Singer will speak on May 24 at 7 p.m. at the Getty. Singer will speak on May 24 at 7 p.m. at the Getty. For information, visit

Robert David Jaffee contributed to this article.

Books: Yehoshua’s latest explores boundaries of responsibility

The U.S publishers hated the title of A.B. Yehoshua’s latest book “The Mission of the Human Resources Manager.” It was, they argued, better suited to a personnel manual than the work of one of Israel’s most venerated authors. Ignoring Yehoshua’s pleas, they christened the novel’s English translation “A Woman in Jerusalem,” and the book became a nominee for this year’s prestigious Los Angeles Times Book Prize, to be announced at the Times’ Festival of Books this weekend (see story page 36).

Rummaging through the shelves of his apartment in Ramat Gan, Yehoshua located a copy of the book and studied its cover, with its stylized picture of a woman’s glittery eyelid, another attempt by the publishers to inject sex appeal into his latest creation.

“I have to admit,” he said cheerfully, “they did a good job.”

Yehoshua’s political views have ruffled more than a few feathers, though he seems to take criticism in stride.

In May 2006, Yehoshua caused an uproar at a prestigious gathering of American Jewry in Washington when he declared that Diaspora Jewry cannot live genuinely Jewish lives unless they move to Israel, and that “Judaism outside Israel has no future. If you do not live in Israel … your Jewish identity has no meaning at all.”

While he eventually softened his remarks, his views have not changed significantly.

“In Israel,” he says, “you can be a full Jew with all the responsibilities and the obligations that come along with it.”

Israel’s ethical character, he believes, is a direct reflection of its people’s collective Jewish responsibility. “A Woman in Jerusalem” is Yehoshua’s attempt to explore the boundaries of that responsibility.

Following a suicide bombing at a crowded market, the corpse of Yulia Ragayev, a Russian-Orthodox temporary worker, lies unclaimed and unidentified in a Jerusalem morgue. A “weasel” of a journalist discovers a bloodied pay slip linking Ragayev to a well-established bakery and writes an expose condemning the bakery for its failure to claim her body. Shamed by the journalist’s accusations of heartless indifference, the bakery’s owner decides to atone for his company’s neglect. He assigns his human resources manager — a man whose family life has slowly disintegrated — to take any measures necessary to restore the bakery’s good name. While at first resentful, the human resources manager comes to share his boss’s desire for atonement.

Together with the journalist, he escorts Ragayev’s corpse home for burial only to discover that the dead woman’s mother wants her daughter buried in Jerusalem.

The novel has a palpable darkness to it and is almost bluntly allegorical.

Aside from Yulia Ragayev, whose name becomes almost a mantra for the human resources manager, the characters in the book remain nameless, defined only by their job titles. This is just one of the ways that Yehoshua distances himself from “A Liberated Bride,” his optimistic 2004 novel about a Haifa professor who breaks through personal, familial, ethnic and national boundaries.

The difference, Yehoshua said, was all in the timing. Whereas he began writing “Bride” before the outbreak of the second intifada, “A Woman in Jerusalem” was conceived during Israel’s gloomiest days.

“In one terrorist attack in Tel Aviv,” he says, “[many] people were killed — among them a whole family.”

Yehoshua began to be bothered by what he saw as Israel’s inability to cope with civilian death: “For soldiers there is a whole system of mourning. We are used to it, and it’s very important to Israeli society to commemorate the soldiers who were sent by us for us and were killed.

“But what about the lady who was drinking coffee in a cafe when she was killed or a foreign worker who was sitting on a bus? How do we make sense of that? They were not killed for defending their country or conquering territory — if it could happen to them, it could happen to anyone. It was disturbing.”

Also disturbing, Yehoshua said, was the way “that Israeli society tried to repress the deaths. In the beginning there was news, but after a certain time the bus was cleaned up and society returned to ‘normal life.’ It’s very dangerous for a society to repress things.”

As a non-Jew, an immigrant temporary worker, and a woman without a family, Ragayev represents death at its most marginal.

“I wanted to take my pen,” Yehoshua said, “and put it inside the black plastic shroud. I wanted to take this anonymous victim and try to make love to her.”

Like many of Yehoshua’s protagonists, the human resources manager has an almost neurotic obsessiveness about him, along with a desire to push past interpersonal boundaries and peek into the secret corners of peoples’ lives. Yehoshua says that while he no doubt brings this obsessiveness from “a personal quest, a turbulence, an unrest,” his characters’ missions are aimed at “accomplishing something, repairing reality and taking responsibility.”

Whether In “The Lover,” “Open Heart,” “A Liberated Bride” or “A Woman in Jerusalem,” those missions have involved crossing borders of some kind — an issue that continues to preoccupy Yehoshua, with no signs of abatement. It is the same issue, he says, that propelled his hotly contested remarks in Washington.

“The question of the borders is the most important one for the Jews,” he says. “If I had to define Zionism in one word, I would say ‘borders.’ For centuries the Jews crossed borders, moving from one country to another, exchanging national identities. Israel has been a tremendous change in the Jewish DNA. Today we must have borders and we must have sovereignty and responsibility on those borders.”

Tellingly, in “A Woman in Jerusalem,” the journalist tells the human resources manager that “true love requires separation.” Politically, Yehoshua has been a forceful voice in the call for separation. In 2002, at the height of the bloody second intifada, he joined other left-wing intellectuals and political figures in calling for unilateral disengagement from the Palestinians. In addition to withdrawing from the territories, Yehoshua suggested a security fence with openings for passage between Israel and the Palestinian territories.

When the Israeli army evacuated Jews from Gaza, he said, he was “very proud of Israel — proud of the way in which it was done, proud of how the settlers behaved. Not one drop of blood was spilled.

Ugly ties bind genocide past and present


The word evokes different, powerful references, depending upon who hears it.

For Jews, the primary thought is the Holocaust, officially recognized in the United States as the first genocide.

For Armenians, it refers to mass killings by the Ottomans in Turkey in 1915, though many countries, including the United States, have not recognized those as such.

These days the word immediately points to Africa — to Rwanda, Darfur and other recent bloodbaths that have involved ethnic cleansing.

But genocide is not a modern invention, and although the term has legal connotations — specific conditions must apply in a conflict for the U.S. government to officially use the designation — acts of genocide can be traced back to the Bible. Some scholars argue that there have been 15 or more additional occurrences that could qualify in the 20th century. And while the motives of the perpetrators, the identity of the victims and the region of the carnage have changed over time, genocides almost always share one common thread:

“Whenever genocide takes place, religion is involved — before, during or after — in one way or another,” said John K. Roth, founding director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College and the author of “Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy.”

Roth spoke last month at a conference titled “Genocide and Religion: Victims, Perpetrators, Bystanders and Resisters,” a collaboration between the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Pepperdine University School of Law, Institute on Law, Religion and Ethics.

The Feb 17-19 symposium, which was open to the public and attended by a few hundred students, scholars, rabbis and community members, aimed to broaden the discussion beyond the usual focus on a single genocide, such as the Holocaust — the subject of many books, studies, films and classes.

It also went deeper than many such conferences by examining as many as possible of the various groups involved in a genocide — the perpetrators, the victims, the bystanders and resisters — all of whom can be found in every such conflict, past and present.

“We didn’t want it to be just another conference on perpetrators’ responsibility,” said Roger Alford, an associate professor in the law school at Pepperdine, who organized the conference with professor Michael Bazyler, of Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa.

“We wanted to basically focus on the issue of how law and genocide and religion connect with one another: Is there a religious motivation, why are certain groups targeted, why is it the resisters try to resist, is there a religious component to that, what is it about bystanders and why do they not do more?” Alford said of the three days of lectures by academics, legal scholars and government officials from around the world.

There are four motivations for genocide, Roth said: To implement a belief, a theory or ideology; to eliminate threat; to spread terror among enemies; and to acquire economic wealth.

“Religion can be an agitating factor in genocides,” he said, noting that it is impossible to understand the numbers of people affected by the devastation, which has effects for generations to come, because it destroys cultures and traditions. “The effects of genocide have not stopped. On the contrary. Genocide has gone on and on. It might continue to do so.”

Religion plays a role in conflicts today, said Sandra Bunn-Livingstone, of the State Department’s Office of International Religious Freedom, Bureau of Human Rights. “The less religious freedom, the higher the religious persecution, and it sets the stage for possible genocide.”

Today, she pointed out, “there is higher religious persecution in countries with Muslims.”

Of 143 countries monitored for the highest level of persecution, 40 percent had a Muslim majority, versus 3.9 percent with a Christian majority.

On speakers’ and audience members’ minds was the role that Islam plays in world conflicts today — conflicts that have not been designated as genocide, but which involve terrorism, murder and group persecution.

Is there something inherent in Islam that is responsible for the terrorist tactics we see being perpetrated around the world today?
“We have to be very careful about demonizing religion,” Bazyler said in an interview. “We in the Jewish community have to be careful not to do that; it doesn’t serve us well.”

Instead of condemning the entire community or religion, we should “criticize individuals in the Muslim communities for not condemning enough the extremist elements, and we can reach out to what we believe are moderate Muslims.”

Others at the event lamented a climate in academia in which there’s “a fear of political incorrectness,” in the words of Israel Charney, executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Although Charney is against those who completely vilify Islam, such as Daniel Pipes and Arianna Fallaci — “who are so inciting they inflame the process I’m against,” he said — he allowed that “the violent position has prevailed” many times in Islamic society, and he said that it’s important to tell it like it is.

Of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s call to eliminate Israel, Charney said, “I don’t think you send that to a committee for discussion; you treat it as incitement, you treat that as a call to kill, you add that to your evaluation to what it means that they’re seeking nuclear weapons, and unless you’re a complete jerk, you start looking for what actions to take, but you don’t do nothing and say, ‘We don’t really know if he means it, we don’t know if he has influence,’ That’s been the rationalization [so] that you don’t have to respond to stop him.”

Others at the conference were less certain.

“How Islam is to be interpreted,” Roth said, is still up for discussion. “If you go back to the Hebrew Bible or other traditions, you can see there’s a struggle taking place” between the injunction against murder and the allowances for it.

Trading in happy meals for real happiness

Living a life of dual identity is no simple task. On one hand, my peers and I are told to live up to the expectations of being Modern Orthodox teens, but on the other side of the spectrum we are tempted by the culture of the secular world on an everyday basis.

How then is it remotely possible to balance the blaring secular world with the scholarly teachings of our forefathers that have existed for thousands of generations? Easy.

Through the eyes of a child, the secular world clearly clashes with the classically Jewish one. From birth, I was raised in a Modern Orthodox home, and I attended a school that was comprised of non-Jewish children. I was exposed to the numerous differences between my sheltered Jewish world and the secular world around me.

In school, I was filled with envy knowing that my favorite battery-operated FisherPrice toys were put away during the Sabbath when all my secular friends used their electric-operated toys with abandon. I asked my mother with bewilderment why the other children were so “lucky”? They could eat McDonald’s Happy Meals while I was strictly forbidden to enjoy such delights.

What did not occur to me was that I was the lucky child.

To the norm of society, Judaism is looked upon as a religion that in essence deprives you of things associated with the secular world. For instance, observant Jews do not dine at certain restaurants, wear clothes that might be the latest trend or do even something as basic as eat bread during Passover.

However in reality, one must look at Judaism and realize what our spectacular religion has to offer. Our culture is enriched with crucial morals and ethics that, when integrated into a person’s life, have the capacity to elevate us to an entirely different level of consciousness. Numerous biblical characters that appear in our text serve as exemplary role models with angelic qualities.

One of the most crucial gifts I’ve received is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. This moral concept appears throughout our daily routines, and without our Judaic teachings one can be horrifically mislead. In a way, these practices end up being like a GPS guiding us and protecting us.

In the book of Leviticus, we are called a “treasured nation,” proving how special we really are. Judaism has a full heritage of the most intellectual people known to mankind. We are so fortunate to be associated with such a religion.

To stress this point even further, we must look at all the prayers in our siddur. Every day we are given the opportunity to converse with God, the Master of the World. This is an opportunity that should not be taken lightly, for in essence we can open our heart to God and let our lips overflow with any prayer or desire we might posses.

Now that I understand what Judaism really has to offer, I can step back and appreciate all the special aspects of the secular world and see that there aren’t any contradictions — that the hand of God is in everything. For example, the advances of medicine are essentially God giving us a cure, not merely great ideas from some doctor. The first man to walk on the moon also came directly from our Creator — as did the moon itself!

Nine years later I still look back at my 6-year-old self and smile.

Maybe playing with electric toys on Shabbos and eating Happy Meals is great, but once I figured out what Judaism was about, I think I had it better.

Rocky Salomon is a 10th grader at YULA.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the December issue is Nov. 15. Send submissions to

Books: ‘Holy’ Ethically Speaking — Rabbi Joseph Telushkin Covers It All

When it comes to ethics, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is an idealist and an activist. He’d like to see Jews develop moral imaginations as much as intellectual imaginations, parents praise children for their kind acts as much as for their academic achievements and individuals improve their track records in doing the right thing.

“God’s central demand of humans is to act ethically,” Telushkin writes in his latest book, “A Code of Jewish Ethics: You Shall Be Holy” (Bell Tower). Too often, he says, the word religious is associated exclusively with ritual acts, measured by levels of observance. He’d like to associate holiness, leading an elevated life, with ethics. Telushkin quotes Rabbi Hillel’s advice as the essence of Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.”

The book is a landmark work, the beginning of a planned three-volume series — it’s the first major code of Jewish ethics to be written in English, compiling 3,000 years of Jewish wisdom. While this first volume focuses on issues of personal integrity and character, the next book will be on interpersonal issues and the third on family, friendship and community.

I meet Telushkin in his Upper West Side New York office that he shares with his wife, writer Dvorah Menashe Telushkin, a few floors above their apartment. He reclines in a comfortable ottoman and says he thinks of this series, which he has concentrated on for the last four years, as his life work. Mentioning the words, “life work,” the 57-year-old pauses and jokes about the danger of that term” “When I finish this, how will I describe the books I write then?”

Telushkin, who was named one of the 50 best public speakers in the United States by Talk magazine, is a skilled conversationalist. He’s thoughtful, learned, funny, down-to-earth and easily admits his own struggles.

Even before we get down to the business of discussing his new book, we talk about the problem faced by many New York writers: what to do with books when there’s neither shelf nor floor space. How does one dispose of unwanted review copies? Is it ethical to give them to someone who’ll resell them? Questions lead to more questions, but then we return to his book.

“You Shall Be Holy” is presented in the traditional format of Jewish legal codes that have been written since the Mishna, which dates back to the early third century. Each thematic chapter — whether about gratitude, the obligation to be cheerful, obstacles to repentance, cultivating humility, controlling anger, reducing envy, permissible lying, judging others fairly — features numbered paragraphs, each with a specific and distinct point, along with an example illustrating how laws are translated into everyday life.

Telushkin’s tone is engaging and accessible; his range of sources is broad, drawing on the Torah, the prophets, Talmud, Midrash, medieval codes of Jewish law, teachings of the Mussar and Chasidic movements and contemporary Jewish scholars. The most frequently quoted source is Maimonides, but Telushkin also cites the biblical Ruth, King David, Rabbi Akiva, Rashi, the Chafetz Chaim, Sholom Aleichem, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Manhattan psychiatrist Isaac Herschkopf, Yale professor Stephen Carter and many others. In conversation, too, Telushkin makes a habit of crediting the source of his teachings.
Is this a work of self-help?

“Definitely. It gives practical strategies through spiritual orientation. It would be disappointing if reading didn’t lead to action. I want people to become kinder,” he says.

He emphasizes that ethical teachings are not self-evident, not for simpletons as some might think. Some sections might require reading and re-reading in order to absorb the deep and practical life lessons.

As to whether some people are born compassionate, Telushkin says that “a certain percentage of people seem to be born with a strong predilection to kindness and others to cruelty. But most of us are born with a mix of both. That’s why the biggest job we face is working on ourselves. It’s an ongoing process throughout our lives.”

“Life is relentless,” he says, “and leading an ethical life is relentless. There are always challenges.” He adds, “We repent for the same sins year after year. Hopefully, each year we get a little better.”

Telushkin believes that cultivating gratitude can lead to happiness.
He writes, “Gratitude is rooted in remembrance,” suggesting that individuals make a conscious effort to recall how others have helped them. Indeed, as Telushkin agrees in conversation, memory plays a role in other ethical behavior, as well.

“To live ethically is not only to live in the current moment but to acknowledge a lot of past moments — things we could do better, things we have done well in the past,” he says. “The recollection of good we have done can inspire more good.”

Every other month, Telushkin leads the Synagogue for the Performing Arts. As the suitcase in the middle of his office attests, he’s on the road frequently, giving lectures and teaching. Among his many books are the best-selling “Jewish Literacy”; “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal”; the novel, “Heaven’s Witness,” written with Alan Estrin (the pair recently completed a screenplay for a television movie), and “Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism,” written with Dennis Prager.

Telushkin cites Prager as one of his rebbes — the people he turns to with ethical questions. The two have been close friends since their sophomore year at Brooklyn’s Yeshivah of Flatbush. Additionally, he says that he is always moved by the writing of Rabbi Abraham Twerski and was affected early in life at Yeshiva University by Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg’s vision of Judaism.

His spacious office is cheerfully cluttered and informal. The father of three daughters and a son, he keeps many of their notes and family photos above his desk. He pulls out boxes filled with multicolored index cards covered with handwritten notes that are the basic components of his work. As he does research, he jots down ideas on these cards — he has thousands of them — and then pieces them together to form his chapters.

How can someone get started on a more ethical path? Telushkin suggests a list of four warmup exercises: “I tell people that if they make personal prayers to God, they should also make personal prayers for someone else to help develop empathy. Also, they should start praying whenever they hear an ambulance siren,” he says, noting the shortest prayer is the one Moses made for his sister Miriam’s health: “Oh God, please heal her.”

Judaism 101: everything we need to know

What is Jewish literacy? What does it mean to be Jewishly literate? Who is an educated Jew?

Paula Hyman, professor of modern Jewish history at Yale University, wrote in an issue of Sh’ma, “There has been no consensus on the issue of ‘Who is an educated Jew?’ for more than 200 years.”

Clearly, our definitions have changed over the centuries. But where are we today? What must we know to function as literate Jews?

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, in his introduction to “Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History,” observes, “At a time when Jewish life in the United States is flourishing, Jewish ignorance is, too.”

He goes on to say that while large numbers of Jews of all ages are seeking Jewish involvement, in many cases, they are secretly “Jewishly illiterate.”

Modern Jews, Telushkin writes, are either vaguely familiar with or completely unaware of the most basic terms and significant facts about Jewish life and Jewish history.

The traditional definition of literacy is the ability to use language – to read, write, listen and speak. In modern contexts, the word means reading and writing on a level adequate for written communication and generally a level that enables one to successfully function at certain levels of a society.

For our purpose, the phrase “successfully function at certain levels of a society” is where we must begin. What do we need to know to function in or create a Jewish home, to function in the synagogue, to function in Jewish communal life and to function in the world as a knowledgeable Jew? What should we know, feel and be able to do to be considered a literate Jew?

Jewish educators wrestle with these questions on a regular basis. Whether working in a congregation, in a day school or in a graduate program in Jewish education, the questions are the same, although the answers may vary greatly from setting to setting.

Let’s begin with some basic categories: God, Torah, Jewish nation, Israel, holidays, life cycle and deeds. These categories, once briefly explored, will form the basis on which most Jewish learning, leading to Jewish literacy, is built.

  • God: It is in this category where ideas and concepts about Jewish belief are explored. Understanding God and spirituality is a process with which Jews must wrestle. Discussion encompasses questions such as: What is the nature of God? What is Judaism? What do Jews believe?
  • Torah: This category can be expanded to focus on the “words” – the ideas and concepts – of Jewish life. It includes not only the Hebrew alphabet and Hebrew language, common expressions and greetings, Jewish names and names for God, but it also includes: What is the Torah? What are Torah readings? What is in the Bible? What are prayers and blessings? What is Jewish liturgy? What are the basic Jewish texts? What is biblical history and modern Jewish history?
  • Jewish nation: Who is a Jew? How many Jews are there in the world? What are the movements in Judaism? Who are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Oriental and Ethiopian Jews? What is “Jewish” food? Who are the patriarchs and matriarchs? Who are the prophets, the sages and the scholars of the Jewish people?
  • Israel: Why is Israel, the spiritual homeland of the Jewish people, important to all Jews? What is the difference between the Land of Israel and the State of Israel? Who lives in Israel?
  • Holidays: This area begins with a discussion of the Jewish calendar. How is the Jewish calendar the same and different from the secular calendar? What is Rosh Chodesh? What do we need to know about Shabbat and religious holidays? What is Yom HaShoah? What is Yom Ha’atzmaut? Which holidays are celebrated at home? Which are celebrated in the synagogue? What is the history of the synagogue?
  • Life cycle: What are the rituals and traditions that accompany each of the stages of the life cycle? Birth, naming and the first month of life are times of beginnings and celebrations. Bar and bat mitzvah and confirmation are milestones in a child’s religious education. Marriage begins a new Jewish home and family. Death and mourning have special customs to help the family and bring the community together. What does Judaism say about the afterlife?
  • Deeds: Ethics and ethical behavior are important Jewish values. How are we to behave toward Jews and non-Jews? What is tzedakah? What is meant by gemilut chasadim? What are the Ten Commandments? What does Judaism expect of us? How should we speak about others? What is lashon hara? How should we treat animals?

Judaism places great emphasis on caring for one another and the world around us. Jewish literacy requires that we be able to function successfully as knowledgeable Jews. If we accept that Jewish study is a lifelong pursuit, we will learn what we should know, feel and be able to do at each stage of our lives.

Jo Kay is director of education of the School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York City and vice president of educational resources for the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

Education in the synagogue should aim for enhanced Jewish living

For professors in a university’s Judaic studies program, Jewish literacy appears to be a straightforward proposition. They can insist on prerequisites, delineate academic standards, articulate a curriculum, impose the extrinsic motivation of grades and design objective tests of students’ achievements. That is because their program is one of Judaic studies, as opposed to Jewish education, and their goal is to impart information, rather than influence behavior.

For synagogue rabbis, Jewish literacy is much more of a moving target. Jewish education in the synagogue aims for enhanced Jewish living, as opposed to striving simply for increased Jewish knowledge. It addresses the mind, heart and soul. It addresses children, adults and families – people at every stage of life, with varied backgrounds and divergent interests.

Nonetheless, it is possible, even desirable, for a synagogue to design and promote a systematic program of Jewish education and enculturation that moves its members toward Jewish literacy. For some Jews, it is sufficient motivation to know that we are commanded to engage in study as a lifelong endeavor – the mitzvah of Talmud Torah.

For other Jews, the synagogue needs to help them understand that active Jewish living will enhance their lives, that a vibrant Jewish community gives them a context for celebrating life’s joys and coping with its challenges, that Jewish texts and rituals give them a vocabulary for expressing the deepest yearnings of their souls and that learning for its own sake can be profoundly rewarding. Often, the greatest barrier for individuals is a lack of confidence and competence. A program that moves its members toward Jewish literacy fills this gap.

There are some Jews who will eagerly respond to such a program and have the time and inspiration to immerse themselves in regular, serious study. The synagogue is obligated to respond by providing opportunities for learning.

But most synagogue members are not prepared to study regularly. The synagogue must respond to this population, as well, by offering introductory programs and then helping it progress beyond the basic classes.

Synagogue membership that is diverse in background, knowledge, experience and interest also challenges synagogue leadership to be teachers of Judaism. That teaching must be guided by the conviction that Jewish literacy is not simply about book learning but also Jewish heritage and life.

To be Jewishly literate, a person need not know everything. Rather, he or she must be familiar with the basic aspects of the religion: the rhythms and cycles of the Jewish year; sacred texts; Jewish history, ethics and values, and the obligations and opportunities of being a Jew. Also, a person needs to know Hebrew – not necessarily to be fluent but at least conversant with the vocabulary of Jewish life.

Jewish literacy is a goal to be sought. Synagogues need to create communities of learning wherein members come to understand that it isn’t so much the attainment of that goal that is meaningful as the journey to get there. l

Rabbi Michael Weinberg is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Israel in Skokie, Ill., and a past president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education.

L.A. Times violates journalistic ethics in Anaheim City Council election coverage

Normally, a race for a seat on Anaheim’s City Council garners little attention beyond Anaheim. But this year, one candidate is drawing some outside attention.

Bill Dalati, a Syrian-born insurance agent, is running for a spot on Anaheim’s City Council. His candidacy has come under scrutiny because of his association with a controversial organization with known links to the Hamas terror group and his participation at a virulently anti-Israel rally this past summer.

But the Los Angeles Times has been singularly trying to portray the criticism of Dalati, made by Republican Shawn Steel, as racist and unsubstantiated.

On July 29 of this year, during the war between Israel and Hezbollah, which was set off by Hezbollah’s July 12 cross-border raid and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers, Dalati attended an anti-Israel rally in Anaheim. In its coverage of the City Council race, the Associated Press reported that Dalati referred to the event merely as an “anti-war rally.” And the L.A. Times reported on Oct. 9 that Dalati “defended his association with the rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict,” quoting him as saying, “I’m not against Jews or Christians … I don’t support Hezbollah. I just don’t believe wars solve any issues; love does.”

But the situation is not nearly as innocuous as the L.A. Times and Associated Press would have one believe. The Anaheim protest was about anything but “love.” The rally was not merely “anti-war” and the attendees were not merely “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.” The event in question was billed by the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, one of the sponsors of the demonstration, as a “Rally Against U.S.-Israeli Terror in Palestine & Lebanon,” hardly a neutral, let alone credible “anti-war” sentiment.

Although the rally drew little mainstream media attention, what little coverage there was whitewashed the content of the demonstration, giving cover for the AP, the L.A. Times and Dalati himself to downplay the nature of the event.

Fortunately, a participant at the rally created a slideshow of the demonstration, posted on YouTube, which shows various demonstrators carrying such signs as “Israel Likes Killing Kids,” “Killing Kids Is Not Self Defense” and “End the U.S.-Israeli War,” as well as the more typical signs seen at various anti-Israel protests, such as “Stop Israeli War Crimes” and “$134 Billion US Taxes To Israel — Enough.”

Whatever one thinks of American foreign policy and support for Israel, the July rally cannot be fairly described either as simply “anti-war” or just “protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”

There were no signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s actions — the capture of Israeli soldiers — which started the war, nor were there any signs indicating any disapproval of Hezbollah’s indiscriminate shelling of Israeli towns with Katusha rockets (packed with scrap metal and ball bearings to cause as much damage to humans as possible), nor any condemnation of Hezbollah’s use of civilians as human shields in Lebanon. There were no signs indicating any disapproval of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants and no calls for Hamas — now the majority in the Palestinian government — to moderate its stance rejecting the existence of Israel to help pave the way for peace.

Yet, the L.A. Times again came to the defense of Dalati on Oct. 13, in falsely describing this rally in evenhanded terms as a “rally protesting the Israel-Lebanon conflict.”

In the original story on Dalati, the L.A. Times also refers to Dalati’s support of and association with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), describing the organization as it often describes itself: “the largest Muslim civil rights group in the country” and stating uncritically that CAIR is “largely viewed as a mainstream organization.” In the second L.A. Times story, the newspaper drops any pretension of reportorial objectivity in its embrace of CAIR: “The largest Muslim civil rights group in the country, CAIR is widely viewed as mainstream and helps the FBI in combating terrorism.”

While CAIR may call itself the “largest Muslim civil rights group” in America, the Times completely ignores CAIR’s well-documented history of extremism, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, as well as its origins in a now-defunct group, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), an organization that was a losing defendant in a $156 million civil judgment related to the Hamas murder of an American citizen. In the case, the judge noted that there is “evidence that IAP provided material support to Hamas.”

Similarly, during a 1994 speech at Florida’s Barry University, CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad stated, “I am in support of the Hamas movement.” Awad was the public relations director of IAP before founding CAIR.
And this is what Awad said six years later, on Oct. 28, 2000, in a Washington, D.C., anti-Israeli rally: “Brothers and sisters, we are at least 8 million people, but there are 265 million people in this country who have been deceived, who have been misinformed, who have been intimidated by a small group of people who have been hijacking the political process.”

Additionally, several CAIR officials have been convicted on terrorist-related charges. One of them, Randall “Ismail” Royer, CAIR’s former communications specialist, trained to fight with Lashkar-e-Taiba, a designated foreign terrorist organization, against Indian forces in the disputed territory of Kashmir. Royer pled guilty to weapons and explosives charges and was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the notorious “Virginia jihad” case.

A founding board member of CAIR-Texas, Ghassan Elashi, is in even greater legal trouble than Royer. Elashi was convicted on a variety of charges in July 2004, including violating the Libyan Sanctions Regulations, and he was found guilty in April 2005 of a Hamas-related money laundering conspiracy, handling money of top Hamas official, the Damascus-based Musa Abu Marzook. Elashi is awaiting his sentencing for both convictions (Elashi’s brother, Bayan, was sentenced to seven years in prison on Oct. 11, 2006, for his role in laundering money for Hamas). And Ghassan Elashi is still awaiting another trial, slated to begin in 2007, for his leadership role in the Hamas-linked “charity,” the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based organization shut down in 2001 for allegedly funneling millions of dollars to Hamas.

CAIR has defended Marzook, participating in his legal defense fund when he was arrested in the United States, as well as including his arrest in its annual catalog of hate crimes against Muslims. CAIR’s defense of, and links to, anti-Semitic individuals is also unfortunate and extensive.


The Reagan Library was the setting when more than 500 Jewish Republicans gathered to pay tribute to U.S. and Israeli armed forces.RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman, and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) set a powerful model of the necessity for firm resolve at this time of international crises.

Guests also heard from California Secretary of State Bruce McPherson, Jewish Republican statewide candidate for insurance commissioner, and Tony Strickland, statewide candidate for controller.

After touring the library and taking photos on the impressive Air Force One at the musuem, guests enjoyed a kosher cocktail party and dinner.

Larry Greenfield, Republican Jewish Coalition’s California regional director, says what is motivating their membership is the quality of the conversation.”RJC members and guests consistently value an honest appraisal of the international situation and a realistic approach to a dangerous world that the Jewish community respects,” he said. “Support for a beleaguered Israel, concern about a UN that has broken its promises, and moral clarity about Islamo-Fascism all resonate with American Jews today.”

According to Greenfield, under RJC CA Chairman Joel Geiderman, the RJC would continue to focus on supporting Jewish college students and the need for “fair play.” The RJC has been working with other Jewish groups to confront anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism at universities.

“We have begun to mature as a Jewish political community. Those in attendance included current White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolton, past and present Federal Reserve Chairmen Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke; and former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

“Many thoughtful Jewish Republicans are making a strong contribution rooted in Jewish values, both as, and with senior access to, American policymakers,” Greenfield said.

The Great Statesmen

Van Nuys High School American government students enjoyed an informative Q-and-A with Stanley Sheinbaum and Mike Farrell on June 8. The event, titled “14th Amendment Equal Protection Under the Law,” was the first in a series of discussions produced by California Safe Schools.

The two celebrated statesmen in the social justice community have been recognized for their humanitarian efforts: Sheinbaum for the protection of constitutional rights, education, public justice, human rights and international peace efforts; Farrell for his opposition to the death penalty and children’s rights. Farrell is also well-known for his portrayals of B.J. Hunnicutt on the long-running series “M*A*S*H” and as veterinarian Dr. James Hansen on the NBC drama “Providence.”

“It was inspiring to see the students so well versed in national, international and environmental issues. We look forward to replicating these programs for other students throughout the State and Country,” said Robina Suwol, executive director of California Safe Schools.

Both men were honored at the event with the California Safe Schools Humanitarian Award for their decades of service. The office of Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) and Assemblymember Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys) joined in the celebration presenting additional awards to each. The event as moderated by David Allgood, Southern California director of the state’s League of Conservation Voters.

Fond of the New Rabbi

Native Angeleno Rabbi Devora Fond became the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Torah in Arcadia in July, following her recent ordination by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism (UJ). Fond received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UC Santa Cruz in 1991, and a master’s degree in rabbinic studies from the UJ in 2002. She has served in a variety of capacities, including hospital chaplain at Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, rabbinic intern at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley and educator and rabbinic intern at Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles.

Fond feels called to serve God by helping Jews connect with themselves, others, God and Torah, and through working with people of all faiths to make this world a better place. Fond says she is enthusiastic about having the opportunity to build relationships with the people in her community: to touch other people’s lives and be touched by others. She is committed to reaching out to new members, leading spiritually meaningful and innovative services, and making Judaism come alive through creative programming and thought-provoking teaching.

All About Ethics

Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo nominated Helen Zukin, a lawyer in private practice and an active member of the State Bar of California, to the City of Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

“Helen’s skill as a lawyer and commitment to the highest ethical standards will be tremendous assets to the Ethics Commission,” Delgadillo said. “Her counsel and insight will serve the Commission well as it takes up the challenge of interpreting and implementing changes to our campaign finance laws, as well as maintain its critical role as city watchdog.”

Zukin, who also serves as a temporary judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court system, served on the State Bar’s Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation for nearly a decade. She has a long history of community and professional involvement, including membership on the Board of Governors for the Consumer Attorney’s Association of Los Angeles and as a trustee of the Jewish Community Foundation.

A civil litigator, Zukin’s practice has an emphasis on toxic torts, product liability and environmental property damage.

In addition to the city attorney, the mayor, controller, city council president and council president pro-tem each nominate one member to the five-member Ethics Commission. Commissioners serve staggered five-year terms, and are subject to review by the City Council’s Rules and Elections Committee, and to confirmation by the full L.A. City Council.

The commission was established in 1990 as part of a comprehensive package of local government ethics and campaign finance laws.

Letters to the Editor 07-07-06

As a convert to Judaism, I was reassured to read your series of articles on those like me who chose to become Jews (“Did It Stick?” June 2). A lapsed Catholic with many Jewish friends growing up on Long Island, early on I was attracted to the ethics and worldly focus of Judaism. Following a course of study at Temple Emanuel in New York City, I converted in 1967, and my first wife and I raised our three children in the Jewish tradition.

In 1992, on the eve of her bat mitzvah, my youngest daughter asked if I would be bar mitzvahed with her. That glorious day came to pass at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, with Rabbi Harvey Fields observing that in the 130-year history of the temple, there was no record of a father and daughter having a b’nai mitzvah. At the party afterward, when Tessa and I greeted everyone, I said that I had checked around the room, and I was the only person who had had a first holy communion and a bar mitzvah.

In my life in Los Angeles with my wife, Wendy, inspired by Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller at UCLA and through my work with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, enriched by interfaith activities, Judaism has strengthened and complemented my struggle for civil liberties, human rights, peace and justice.

Stephen F. Rohde
Los Angeles

From reputation and general veneration, I had always believed Rabbi Jacob Pressman to be an intelligent and reliable community leader. Reading his foolish letter June 16 convinced me I was wrong on all counts (“But Is It Kosher?” June 9).

Pressman would have us believe that there is some Orthodox cabal controlling the purse strings of the literally hundreds of kashrut supervising agencies; that a group of black-hatted, white-bearded rebbes control the bank accounts and policies of these “for profit” groups — this is America after all — shades of the protocols! And all that has to be done to properly fund day schools is to divert these funds to cover the schools’ budgets, how simple and how asinine and misleading. Shame on you Rabbi Pressman. You do know better!

Growing up in Los Angeles I know that neither Pressman nor his Conservative (and Reform) colleagues contributed one whit to kashrut observance in this city. There were no restaurants or widespread bakery products available while he was in his prime, so he has nothing to say.

As regards high and truly unbearable tuition rates in our city, there is a simple solution, one that both the secular rabbinate and The Jewish Journal oppose — vouchers. I and my fellow community members pay thousands in taxes to fund a public school system that we choose not to use. Can’t we get some credit?

Howard Weiss
Los Angeles

I enjoyed reading Rob Eshman’s article that detailed the controversy that followed People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) with the Orthodox Union over kosher slaughter practices, and AgriProcessors’ questionable treatment of its own workers. Most interesting to me was the latter part of the article, which tried to discuss the nature of kashrut.

The article quotes scholar Meir Soloveichik as calling the nature of kashrut “mysterious and obvious … the Bible insists that it be perfectly clear to the non-Jew that the Torah-observant Israelite lives a life that reminds him constantly of his unique relationship with God.” In other words, it is to let the non-Jew know that we are special and follow laws meant to “set us apart and elevate our souls.”

Then in the last breath of the article, Eshman recommends that “the kosher label should not just imply the humane, responsible treatment of animals and the just treatment of food industry workers, it should certify it.”

In other words, kosher should mean that universal standards of humane treatment are being met, standards that any reasonable person would want.

So, which is it? Do we follow kashrut to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world or to encourage the rest of the world to join with us? It can’t be both.

Les Amer
Los Angeles

Finkelstein Syndrome
Roz Rothstein’s article on the anti-Semitic Jew, [Norman] Finkelstein, highlights a major lapse in common knowledge about Jewish history (“Beware the Finklestein Syndrome,” June 9). While every effort is made to inform the world about the Holocaust, very little information is disseminated about the history of lies and hate against the Jews, or its relationship to the Holocaust. I have seen history books that devote two pages to Anne Frank but fail to mention that Jews were patriotic Germans and no threat to Germany.

Theobald of Cambridge, a 12th century apostate to Catholicism, created the “blood libel” which has lasted to this day and caused thousands of Jewish deaths. If there was general awareness of the history of hatred against the Jews, then when people hear a Finkelstein, they can wonder, is he a whistleblower or a modern-day Theobald?

Those who wish to spread vicious lies against Jews today do not convert to another religion; their venom is more credible when they remain Jews, especially if they can claim to be from a family of survivors.

Ronnie Lampert
Los Angeles

DaVinci Code
Enjoyed your articles on “The DaVinci Code,” (May 19), but only the first three gospels of the New Testament (Mathew, Mark and Luke) are synoptic gospels. They are synoptic because they are similar to each other and different from the writings of the fourth gospel of John.

Brett Thompson
via e-mail

John Fishel
While the article titled, “A Private Man,” about John Fishel that ran May 26 was informative, it did not highlight one of Fishel’s key strengths.

Expert after expert has declared that a vital dynamic causing growth and change in 21st century Jewish life is directly proportional to the successful rise of entrepreneurial, Jewish, social venture startups. Jewish Los Angeles has spawned more of these new and creative organizations that address the myriad interests and needs such a diverse population requires than any other area outside of New York.

A great deal of these initiatives are being adapted and re-created in cities across the country, such as new spiritual communities, organizations that decry global genocide and serve the special needs of Jewish children among many others. Fishel has consistently taken the position that new organizations can and should arise and that their existence alone adds immeasurable value.

This is not true in most places. I believe the prolific number of creative ventures attest to the success of this position and must be noted.

Rhoda Uziel
Executive Director
Professional Leaders Project


Class Notes – National Nachas for Shalhevet

Shalhevet School is on a winning streak, bringing the Los Angeles yeshiva high school to national prominence in the areas of ethics, politics and sports.

Shalhevet is the only Jewish school and the only school in Los Angeles included in a national report on how to produce students who are not only intelligent, but have a sense of moral maturity.

The 14-year-old high school is one of 24 schools from across the country included in “Smart and Good High Schools: Integrating Excellence and Ethics for Success in School, Work and Beyond,” a 225-page report recently published by State University of New York College at Cortland.

Researchers spent time at Shalhevet to observe how it builds character in its students — for example, through its weekly town hall meetings and moral discussions that permeate the classroom and extracurricular activities.

“In a ‘Smart and Good High School,’ all things in the life of the school — routines, rituals, discipline, curriculum, co-curricular activities and unplanned ‘teachable moments’ — are intentionally utilized as opportunities to foster excellence and ethics,” the report reads.

Two seniors from last year, Leor Hackel and Sara Hoenig, served on the National Student Leaders Panel for the study.

Shalhevet also chalked up a win in Yeshiva University’s Model United Nations, where about 40 Jewish high schools faced off in debates on issues such as the crisis in Darfur, how to define terrorism and providing nutritional support to alleviate the HIV crisis in sub-Saharan Africa.

Shalhevet’s win continued a long Model U.N. crosstown rivalry with YULA High School, which came in second. In the last five years Shalhevet has placed first twice and YULA three times.

Phu Tranchi, adviser to the 14-member Shalhevet team, notes that aside from spending many hours preparing, students hone their persuasive abilities at town hall meetings.

And, Tranchi added, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have great overlap between the Model U.N. and the drama club — they can really get up and put on a show.”

The same can be said for Shalhevet’s Lady Firehawks, who won first place in the Hillel Community School invitational basketball tournament in Florida last month, where teams from Jewish high schools across the country competed. This was the second consecutive year that the Lady Firehawks won the tournament. Tamar Rohatiner, a Shalhevet senior, won tournament MVP.

Sun Strong for Camp Ramah

Camp Ramah in Ojai will be getting some new décor atop the Gindi Dining Hall this summer — about 250 photovoltaic panels to generate enough solar energy to cut the camp’s energy bill by about $30,000 a year.

This is phase one of a three-part project that will eventually save the camp up to $75,000 a year and will reduce toxic emissions by approximately 15 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 37,800 pounds of nitrous oxide and 121,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide over the 50-year life of the installation.

The camp received a $500,000 gift from alumnus David Braun to begin construction on the $1.3 million project. Camp Ramah expects reliance on solar power to insulate tuition against future energy cost spikes.

“By both using and educating about solar energy during future encampments, we believe we will create generations of Jewish leaders who are environmentally conscious and who will seek to move more and more Jewish and non-Jewish institutions to environmentally friendly energy options,” said Ramah’s Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber.

Greyber has been working with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Van Nuys) to obtain IRS approval of a strategy to offer nonprofits the same tax incentives currently given to for-profit companies to build solar installations.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the solar energy project, call (310) 476-8571.

YULA Girls Face History

Facing History and Ourselves, a Boston-based organization dedicated to teaching morality and tolerance through the study of the Holocaust, will hold a seminar for teachers this summer at the YULA girls’ school. The five-day workshop will be geared toward, but not limited to, teachers at Orthodox schools.

“What I hope people come out with is a better way of teaching about this history and also a way to help students think about their own participation in the society in which they live,” said Jan Darsa, director of Jewish education at Facing History.

The conference runs June 25-30 and costs $500 for the first teacher and $400 per teacher after that. Applications are due April 15. For more information, contact Jan Darsa at (617) 735-1613, or visit

Jewish Peace Corps

Looking for a great summer experience of hard physical labor and few amenities? American Jewish World Service, an organization dedicated to sustainable development, will bring 16- to 25-year-olds to Africa, Central America and Asia to engage in tikkun olam, repairing the world, in the most literal sense.

The seven-week program couples intense physical work — building schools, water systems, homes and agricultural projects — with Jewish study and community experience.

The program is open to high school juniors and seniors, and adults 18-25. The application deadline is March 31. For more information, contact Sonia Gordon-Walinsky at (800) 889-7146, ext. 651, or visit

Prejudice Awareness Summit

More than 300 middle school students from area public and parochial school participated in a Prejudice Awareness Summit at the University of Judaism (UJ) last month. UJ undergraduates led the younger students in exercises that encouraged honest and open dialogue and allowed them to explore their own feelings about prejudice. Workshops focused on reducing harmful actions and developing techniques to resolve conflicts. For more information on the summit, call (310) 476-9777.


The Waiting Game

If dating was a simple game, we’d all travel effortless paths to love, and we’d enjoy the dating process so thoroughly as to rush toward it with glee it when it’s time. But years of falling into the mosh pit with no one to catch us leaves us jumpy and tentative at best, and although I hate to admit it, I have absolutely fallen into this watchful and wary category.

Yet I have always loved dating. I love getting to know someone new — the chat, the laughter, the best behavior, the witticisms. And the accoutrements have always thrilled me in their deliciousness: the high heels and cocktail dresses, the masculine gallantry, the lingering eye contact, the exquisite restaurants and the luscious new territory of first kisses.

Dating, in the first few years after my divorce, was rather effortless. I’d meet men everywhere — a class, a hiking trail, the library, a party. It seemed that there were available men all over the place, and I just had to be open and friendly to avail myself of a great dating life. And these were nice men. Fun. Lively. Men with manners and senses of humor who knew how to choose a good restaurant and knew how to kiss.

But suddenly all of that has gotten serious. I’m “ready,” as we like to say these days, so dating has taken on a purpose, and now somehow it seems ridiculously challenging just to get to the first date.

Case in point: I expressed my interest to a man I had a professional relationship with. His career didn’t offer him the luxury of doing so (given what he does and what I was affiliated with him for), and after some months of sensing the hey-we-like-each-other vibe, I finally got up all my courage and asked him if he was interested. He said yes, but asked that we wait until there were no professional ties of any kind. Good. Great. A man with strong ethics. I like that. We smiled at each other, and I said I’d wait.

No intrigue occurred between that day and the day of our last professional
exchange, no ethical breaches at all. Just delight and kindness. So when the
exciting day finally came (four months later), when God knows it was
absolutely time to show up with something (if not just a clear explanation),
my ethics boy was suddenly stricken by a wave of fear that he may still be
breeching some code here, and although he said he’d call, he hasn’t.

Disappointed? You could say that. Hugely disappointed. But beyond the particular boy-girl stuff with this man, my dissatisfaction is rooted in the narrowness of my current dating path. I mean, where has all the fun gone? Where’s the delightful electricity of just meeting someone and having those terrific sensations that read, “Hey! You’re great. I’d really like to go out with you,” and then a week or two later, I’m dressing up and we’re heading out. Why has it become a character-development exercise to just get to the first damned date?

These days I’m really trying. I’m not just letting whatever happens happen. I’m not falling into things, or happening into love, or “hanging out.” In fact, I’m not dating at all unless I’m truly interested. I’m telling the truth about what I really want, about what works for me in terms of heart, energy, humor, willingness and easy-going grace.

In the lesson-learning category, I can certainly cite my lack of wisdom, waiting for a man without assurance. But God knows there’s never any assurance where dating is concerned, and that seems to be the point of all this nonsense about mating anyway: its uncertainty is part of its allure. Read “Jane Eyre” or any Jane Austen novel if you need proof on that one. The obstacles only serve to make us fall harder and more passionately when we finally do give it up for true love.

But — somebody help me here — how long does it have to take? How many lessons are required before actually attaining something? Are we turning into an entire generation of lesson-learners with no capacity to actually live in love? Do we even remember what it was like to fall in love without self-invented obstacles blocking our paths?

“The path gets narrower,” my older, wiser girlfriend said to me when I said I was ready for the real thing. “Most times, it’ll be over before it starts. You won’t waste time anymore.”

Although she’s right, I have to admit that I miss the ease of meeting someone without so much on it. Does finding genuine companionship have to be such a job?

What I’m coming to is that “trying” just doesn’t seem to work. Trying is efforting, and I honestly don’t believe that dating should be this much effort at the outset. I want joy, I want delight and I want to fall into the deliciousness of newness, sweet meetings and exquisite anticipation. I don’t want angst before I’ve even donned a pair of stockings for him.

So enough already. Ask me if I’ll wait again? No way. Not a chance. You’re available or you’re not. No tests, no hurdles — no more. Life’s too short to make this big of a deal out of one date. I’ve done my time in the lesson-learning arena. I’m stamping out hope for beautifully blocked men who just can’t seem to get there.

The waiting game, for me, is officially over.

JoAnneh Nagler is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. She writes articles, philanthropic proposals and has recently been at work on Fox’s telenovellas “Table for Three” and “Fashion House.” Her newly completed folk-pop CD “I Burn” is online at


Remember Sinai?

Immediately following the Ten Commandments, we read a series of instructions that seem a little out of place: You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make yourselves gods of gold. You need make for me only an earthen altar and bring your sacrifices there, and I shall come and bless you wherever my name is mentioned. If you build an altar of stone do not build it of hewn stones because you have desecrated them with your sword, and do not ascend my altar by steps lest your nakedness will be exposed upon it” (Exodus 20:23-26).

Before we delve into these verses let us eavesdrop on a tent in the Israelites’ encampment:

“Let me tell you son, what happened to me when I was about your age, shortly after leaving Egypt. It was the greatest moment of my life. I was standing with all the other Israelites, gathered around a mountain in the Sinai Desert when all of a sudden I felt that my soul is connected to the soul of every single person around me and to a higher, much more powerful source of spiritual energy. The whole world became quiet then and I heard the voice of God talking to me. Imagine, I, who was but a worthless slave yesterday, was now hearing the voice of God. I was overwhelmed, my legs were trembling and my whole body was weakened, I had a tremendous sense of fear but it was one of reverence and awe, not of terror, and it was accompanied with a great sense of joy. I felt that I didn’t want to let go, I wanted to drink that energy in and let it flood my whole being. Yes, sir! That was definitely the experience of a lifetime.”

“But grandpa, what did God tell you?”

“Honest to God, kid, I don’t remember.”

As strange as this conversation might sound, I have heard in many cases similar statements from people who have attended classes and lectures they thoroughly enjoyed but could not recall a word of what was said. As a matter of fact, God himself was concerned about the possibility of selective amnesia following the Mount Sinai experience, as we can learn from God’s words to Moses shortly after the event: “May [the Israelites] always be of such mind to revere me” (in the recap of the story in Deuteronomy 5:26).

The most sublime spiritual experience and the greatest motivational speech are rendered worthless if the listeners don’t come out with a practical application, something that they can take home and practice on a regular basis to enhance their own spiritual growth. One possible solution is to create a guide that will recapture the most important points of the lecture and will offer a program to be followed in order to maintain the initial spark and enthusiasm, and in the verses and chapters that follow the Ten Commandments, God does just that.

The following chapter in the Torah deals with financial laws, laws of damages, loans and properties. The message is that in order to keep the flame of Sinai alive, one should not indulge in nostalgia and live in the past but rather translate the spiritual experience to daily actions, actions that are carried out throughout our regular work day. Our personality is crafted and our spirituality is enhanced not only by offering prayers and attending services but by paying attention to the small details of our mundane life. How we deal with our employers, employees and clients, how ethically and honestly we run our business and practice and to what extent are we willing to take responsibility if we caused damage to anyone or infringed upon their rights. The Torah leads us up the road of spiritual growth and we can see that it is paved with myriad small acts of mutual consideration and constant self-education.

If we now analyze the verses that immediately succeed the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:19-23) we may read them as follows: You shall not bow down to gold and silver, rather conduct your business and financial life ethically. Wherever I mention my name I will come to you and bless you, because you can bring holiness everywhere you go and with everything you do. The reverence of God and the Torah-directed life are not limited to the precincts of a temple, a tabernacle or a synagogue. An altar cannot be built of hewn stones, desecrated by the sword, an instrument of war, because if holiness is everywhere there is no place for religious fanaticism and for spreading God’s word by means of war and bloodshed. Finally, the Torah warns not to ascend the altar by steps, an allusion to people who use religion’s power as a means to aggrandize themselves and control others. The Torah places the authority and responsibility of leading a balanced religious life in the hands of every individual, and while in a sense it decentralizes religion, it empowers us to create a better world.

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at


Friedan: Universal Woman, Particular Jew

Betty Friedan was, like most ordinary mortals, a mass of contradictions.

She was loud and sometimes imperious, yet she could be charming, funny, gentle, kind and winsome. A public persona, at times her ego needed massaging, but she remained surprisingly unassuming and unpretentious.

Though she exuded self-confidence, her vulnerabilities were right out there for all to see. She could fix her eyes and set her jaw in a ‘take no prisoners’ position, but she could also listen to opposite views, change her mind, and soften at the distress of others.

Friedan, who died last weekend at age 85 at her home in Washington, D.C., was both universal woman and particular Jew. The word Jewish does not appear at all in “The Feminine Mystique,” her seminal work, yet every heartbeat was a Jewish one. Once, in her 50s, after fame, fortune and independence had filled her life, she asked one favor of friends — to find her a nice Jewish husband.

She wrote about the drudgery and mindlessness of family work, yet her family was the sustained love of her life. She was totally invested in her children and longed for grandchildren well before they came.

This complicated, complex woman changed all of our lives, even those who never read “The Feminine Mystique” or never heard of NOW, the National Organization for Women.

She spawned perhaps the most profound social revolution of the last few centuries without a drop of blood being shed. She will go down in history as one of the great change agents of modern history; and for us, she will be a continuing source of Jewish pride, characterized in our own history books as one of the contributions we made to the world.

How and why was her impact so great? For that matter, how was it that she changed my own life as a Jewish feminist — for I came from a very different place in the 1960s, from a community that offered women great satisfaction and sense of value in their roles as wives and mothers?

Her book seemed to be anti-family, anti-men. Though her chapter “Housewifery Expands to Fill the Time Available” carried some truths, mostly she managed to put down so many of the great women I knew, full-time homemakers and mothers. Moreover, as the women’s movement got off the ground in the ’60s, building on her book’s steam, it quickly became more radicalized. The rhetoric of family as locus of abuse and man as exploiter grew more shrill. I’d have none of that!

Yet along with the excesses of early feminism was the underlying idea Betty Friedan offered the world: gender equality. This meant much more than the women’s vote. It meant equal access, equal talent and brains, equal dignity of women — and all of it a matter of justice.

For me, she did not adequately answer the question of equal careers and who would make lunch for hungry toddlers, prepare for Shabbat dinner with guests or meet the school bus each afternoon. She could not, because someone had to do the drudgework that accompanied the peaks and joys of raising children and running a Jewish household — and society was not yet organized to split these roles. But once she implanted in our minds and hearts the idea of equality of genders, once she posited this as ethics rather than as a battle between the sexes, each of us would try to work out the details in our own lives.

More than that, she opened the door to broader application of the idea of equal access and dignity to other spheres of life. In 1963, I made no connection between feminism and Jewish religious life, the imbalances in traditional Judaism created by gendered religious roles, the prevailing limitations on women studying Talmud or even the real disabilities in Jewish divorce.

But others did. These were a handful of Jewish women of the 1960s, women of Ezrat Nashim, women of other denominations who were writing about or modeling the new values, women who mediated secular feminism into Jewish feminism. Once these pioneering Jewish feminists established the connections, I could apply them to my own community — not out of a sense of abuse for I still felt none, but out of a sense of ethics, of meeting the original biblical paradigm — male and female created as equals in the image of God.

Friedan taught us several other important lessons. Not content to rest with the mighty power of her pen, she understood the covenantal nature of organizational life: For a job to be done and the work to continue, one needed more than an idea, more than cohorts. One needed organizational structures that would allow others to find an address and to take up the work. Friedan went on to found or co-found NOW, the National Women’s Political Caucus and the First Women’s Bank and Trust Company. She co-organized the first protest march and the Women’s Strike for Equality in 1970. In 1969, though already beleaguered by opposition to feminism, she was unafraid to publicly take on the abortion issue, founding NARAL, the National Abortion Rights Action League.

These organizational models and her writings spawned hundreds of others. A spate of books and periodicals followed hers, and many hundreds of independent feminist organizations were created on these shores and far distant ones. Thus, her work in the world was multiplied in the arenas of politics, domestic life, religion, economics, education and all of the professions. It was, I believe, more than some of her sisters in the movement would acknowledge in later years.

As for her Jewishness, Friedan wore it proudly. In 1975, Rabbi Isaac Trainin and I invited her to join a New York Federation Task force, then called Jewish Women in a Changing Society. She joined in an instant, as if she’d just been waiting for the Jewish community to invite her in.

At her first meeting, she spoke of how Jewish values of justice had influenced her feminism, indeed her entire outlook on life. Later, we would learn that being a smart, Jewish girl growing up in Peoria, Ill., would shape her sensitivities as an outsider and sharpen her abilities to engage confrontation, both of which helped her in the early feminist battles.

She also was concerned specifically about the Jewish family. Once, in the early 1980s, as she, Susan Weidman Schneider and I shared a panel in Chicago on “Feminism and the Jewish Family.” I quipped that I was a slow learner for I had read “The Feminine Mystique” in 1963 while pregnant with my second child but went on to have three more children. (In the book, she caricatures the woman with a vision of five children). Friends though we were by then, she took considerable umbrage at my comment for she disliked being associated with a decline in the Jewish birth rate.

She saw Jewish feminism as a logical extension of secular feminism; the same rubrics applied: access and education; the need for ‘outside’ or public roles as well as inside ones defined as women’s primary space; freedom to control one’s destiny in marriage and divorce.

In those years, the Task Force held conferences on the agunah (the problem of women who have trouble obtaining a Jewish divorce), on infertility, on the Jewish family. Though peripherally involved in those conferences, she remained curious and interested in their outcomes.

Friedan’s greatness also lay in her ability to rethink matters. In publishing “The Second Stage,” she recognized that she had gone too far in “The Feminine Mystique” in denigrating women’s roles in the home. She wrote of transcending the false polarization between feminism and family, between men and women. She addressed the realities of work in the home and the satisfactions of women who chose that as their primary role. She was criticized by some of her more radical counterparts for selling out the original vision, but then, as earlier, she held her ground.

She once acknowledged that some of her writing in “Second Stage” was influenced by her contact with Jewish women of the federation world who successfully put together family and service and who made sequential choices in their lives regarding family and career.

Jewish history is full of flawed models, sometimes more powerful because of their flaws, and certainly more accessible. Betty was straight as a narrow, totally transparent, nothing behind a veil. What you saw was what you got, including anger or bruised ego. But that made the love, the caring, the creative mind, the generous spirit and the passion for justice all the more precious.

Blu Greenberg is founding president of JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, and founding chair of One Voice: Jewish Women for Israel.



Jack Abramoff

We stand guilty as charged — and we are proud of it.

David Klinghoffer correctly notes (“In Defense of Jack Abramoff,” Jan. 27) that Orthodox writers — left, right, and center — expressed their embarrassment about Jack Abramoff’s behavior. Jews are meant to be exemplars of God’s teaching. When they get it wrong, the Divine Name itself is desecrated. If the rest of the community fails to speak out — with a communal “Not in Our Name” — they are seen, with some justice, as being complicit.

Klinghoffer is right that Abramoff — the person — should not be abandoned or distanced. It is the behavior that needs the public criticism, not the person. We should feel for his tragedy, and wish him well.

He is wrong about other issues. Unanimous court verdicts are perfectly acceptable in a Jewish court, except in capital cases. Abramoff’s repentance does not change the need to distance ourselves from the original misdeeds for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that repentance before God is ineffective in sins between Man and Man. Mitigating Abramoff’s behavior with a Robin Hood defense is a worse error. It is precisely because so many people feel that they can take ethical shortcuts for a “higher” purpose that we need to remind ourselves and the world that this is unacceptable.

While I didn’t claim to know what Abramoff was actually thinking when he wore the hat (I was trying to put a more positive spin on his behavior, something I recall that Klinghoffer elsewhere in his piece suggest we all do), I do have a pretty good idea of what I wrote and thought. I did not suggest that returnees are more likely to have character flaws than those born into observance. My life’s work with returnees to Jewish tradition and my regard for them are a matter of record [at], including my belief that many show up at the gates of observance with better character traits than those who preceded them since childhood.

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Sydney M Irmas Chair, Jewish Law and Ethics
Loyola Law School

David Klinghoffer’s article on Jack Abramoff was so full of lies, distortions, half truths and illogic that it should win the first annual James Frey award for deception in Jewish journalism.

According to The New York Times (Jan. 10), Abramoff has expressed contritions to some, while “in conversations with people he considers sympathetic, he has insisted that his practices were Washington business as usual.”

Klinghoffer said Abramoff’s confession was “not a stark and true representation of crimes committed” but a confession squeezed by a plea bargain. But The New York Times also reported that Abramoff “recounted in detail” his crimes to prosecutors. Is Klinghoffer implying that Abramoff is now compounding his crimes by committing perjury during the testimony required in his plea agreement?

Finally, the Klinghoffer/Abramoff team can’t even get its spin straight on the “fedora issue.” Abramoff told Klinghoffer it was just a “a crushable rain hat.” But The Forward (Jan. 6) reported that Abramoff purchased the fedora from Bencraft Hatters, a Brooklyn-based haberdasher, for $200. A quick look at The Jewish Journal cover or many of the other photos of that day show clearly that was no “crushable rain hat”

Hmmm, doesn’t inspire confidence as to the rest of the article does it? It would take an hour of Oprahlike dissection of Klinghoffer’s piece to do it justice.

Perhaps The Jewish Journal should publish future articles by Mr. Klinghoffer in its fiction section.

Lawrence Weinman
Los Angeles

I am ashamed that The Jewish Journal not only carries [David] Klinghoffer, but that you allow such anti-Jewish hogwash when he spouts about the crook, [Jack]Abramoff. There is no question that Klinghoffer is spouting his Republican right-wing apology for Abramoff and does it in the name of Judaism. That is too much.

Abramoff stole money from Indian tribes, used the money to support his own style of life and has created a crisis in government in Washington through his using such money to buy Tom DeLay and Bob Ney. He created false organizations, including Jewish ones, hired wives and daughters of congressmen who did nothing but rake in money from him. Then has the chutzpah to want sympathy as a poor Jew in a black hat, and Klinghoffer supports him.

It is not bad enough that he has pleaded guilty to multiple crimes, but he has demeaned the good works of Jews in this country. Abramoff deserves nothing less than a prison term, a loss of citizenship and for my part, the use of RICO [Act] to take all of his possessions that he acquired. He is and has been an evil man, who has helped to destroy democracy.

How Klinghoffer can have the guts to absolve him and accuse other Jews of turning against Abramoff is totally beyond me. I would say the same whether Abramoff was a Democrat or a Christian. The fact that he was Jewish only offends me more. It means that he learned nothing from his religion.

Al Mellman
Los Angeles

The less said about your whitewashing this man due to his “good deeds” the better.

I. Grossman
Los Angeles

There is good reason to be critical of [Jack] Abramoff.

Anti-Semites throughout the United States will point to him as an example of the corrupting influence of Jews in the United States. What happens in the United States is reported throughout the world; so this will effect the greater Diaspora.

This is just something else that militant Islamic extremists will point out to their children as to why Israel must be wiped off the face of the earth.

Michael L. Stempel

We thank David Klinghoffer for his thoughtful article regarding the dreadful way many in the Jewish community have behaved toward Jack Abramoff.

Elaine and Robert Leichter

THE JEWISH JOURNAL welcomes letters from all readers. Letters should be no more than 200 words and must include a valid name, address and phone number. Letters sent via e-mail must not contain attachments. Pseudonyms and initials will not be used, but names will be withheld on request. We reserve the right to edit all letters. Mail: The Jewish Journal, Letters, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010; e-mail:; or fax: (213) 368-1684


Holy Moly! Robertson Apologizes

The Rev. Pat Robertson has long preached as though God is on his side — including when he recently cast the stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as God’s punishment for “dividing” the Holy Land by pulling Israel out of Gaza.

But last week, Robertson apparently decided that he’d better have the government of Israel on his side, too, especially if he wants to build a sprawling evangelical center on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

In a letter to Sharon’s sons, Robertson asked forgiveness for his comments.

“My zeal, my love of Israel, and my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father’s illness,” Robertson wrote.

He also mentioned his concern over the danger to Israel posed by two terrorist groups — Hamas and Hezbollah — as well as by Iran and international anti-Semitism.

In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Israeli Ambassador Daniel Ayalon said he believed that Robertson had taken to heart the outrage over his comments.

“I felt he was very sincere. He is a great friend of Israel,” Ayalon said.

Ayalon added that he expected that Robertson will again be allowed to participate in the evangelical project. Plans for the site include an auditorium, a broadcast center and a chapel, as well as paths to connect holy sites, according to the Associated Press.

Robertson’s contrition did not arrive in time to head off a rebuke by David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee.

“Robertson’s comment,” he said, “reflects the height of insensitivity and is also a perfect example of what happens when theological fanaticism clouds good judgment.”

And there was this from fellow evangelical Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission: “I am both stunned and appalled that Pat Robertson would claim to know the mind of God concerning whether particular tragic events, such as former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995 or Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke, were the judgments of God.”

On the other hand, the episode does suggest a name for Robertson’s proposed theme park: Holier-Than-Thou Land.


Abramoff Linked to Jewish Ventures

Reading the indictment against Jack Abramoff, one might not know that he was prominent in Washington Jewish circles. But in coming months, his ties with Jewish and Israeli organizations may emerge as a prominent piece in the lobbyist’s web of questionable activities.

Last week, Abramoff pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts in Washington and Miami as part of a settlement in which he agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their ongoing government corruption probe. In the Washington case, the 46-year-old lobbyist admitted defrauding at least four Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars, enticing government officials with bribes and evading taxes. In the Miami case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats.

While Abramoff is best known as a political wheeler-dealer, he also was a player in the Jewish community of the nation’s capital, starting several short-lived, money-losing ventures to fill what he perceived as religious gaps in the city’s Jewish world.

He also used his largess to further Israeli businesses and charities that appealed to his conservative worldview. Some of these activities have come to light in connection with the cases outlined in the federal indictments.

Specifically, Abramoff allegedly using money from a Washington charity he oversaw to fund military-style programs in the West Bank. Indian tribes donated money to tax-exempt charities, believing they were supporting anti-gambling foundations, but the money was redirected to help a “sniper school” in the West Bank, operated by a friend of Abramoff.

According to congressional documents, Abramoff sought night-vision goggles and a vehicle for the sniper-training facility.

Abramoff also allegedly worked on behalf of an Israeli firm that sought to wire the Capitol for cellular phone use. While leading cell phone manufacturers in the United States settled on JGC Wireless to install antennas in repeaters in House buildings, an Israeli company with ties to Abramoff, Foxcom Wireless, ultimately won the bid.

The switch is allegedly linked to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, who accepted numerous favors from Abramoff over the years, and placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff’s ventures.

Foxcom didn’t pay Abramoff to lobby for the House job, but it did donate $50,000 to the Capitol Athletic Foundation, an Abramoff charity, the Washington Post reported.

Foxcom has changed its name to MobileAccess and moved its headquarters to Virginia. A spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.

Abramoff also has been tied to two rabbis, the Lapin brothers from South Africa, who aided his political and personal ventures. David Lapin was hired to run a Jewish school Abramoff created in suburban Maryland to teach his children and others.

Lapin also received close to $1.2 million to promote “ethics in government” to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of Abramoff’s clients. Officials on the island said Lapin did little for the money.

His brother, Daniel Lapin, is president of Toward Tradition. Abramoff allegedly asked him to create an award to bestow upon Abramoff to help his acceptance into Washington’s Cosmos Club. Abramoff suggested he could be a “scholar of Talmudic studies” or a “distinguished biblical scholar.”

Lapin said yes, according to e-mails obtained by congressional investigators, and asked whether Abramoff needed a letter or a plaque. Lapin told the Washington Post he meant the exchange to be tongue-in-cheek and never produced an award for Abramoff.

Two other Abramoff aides moved to Israel last year as investigators continued their probe. Sam Hook and his wife, Shana Tesler, both worked at Abramoff’s law firm and had been cooperating with investigators before moving to Israel in July, according to The Hill, a Washington newspaper. The Orthodox Jews had long planned to move to Israel, their attorney said last year.

Abramoff also made contributions to several Jewish lawmakers, among numerous congressmen Abramoff and his associates help finance. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) donated $7,000 — the amount he received from Abramoff — to charity last week.

A spokesman for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) did not respond to questions about his own donation from Abramoff — in the amount of $1,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

In Washington, Abramoff was well-known for the idiosyncratic use of his money. He shunned other religious schools in the area, choosing to open Eshkol Academy specifically for his children’s education.

The school closed within two years, and several teachers say they are owed back pay. David Lapin, the school’s dean, was not an active administrator, former teachers said.

Abramoff also opened several kosher restaurants that failed quickly. Stacks, a deli, was welcomed by the city’s Jewish community, but never made money. A more formal restaurant upstairs, Archives, never stayed open for more than a few weeks at a time.

Some Jewish professionals found it noteworthy that the Abramoff that appeared outside a Washington courthouse Jan. 3 — with a long, double-breasted black coat and black hat — resembled a devout Jew on his way to Shabbat services. In a New York Times interview last year, Abramoff compared himself to the biblical character Jacob, saying his involvement in lobbying was similar to Jacob’s taking the identity of his brother, Esau. A spokesman for Abramoff later told JTA his client was misquoted.


Foul Mouths

This is my fourth presidential scandal. Watergate was my first, and it had the counterintuitive effect of making me less — rather than more — cynical about government. The dirty tricksters were found guilty and almost all of them imprisoned, and the president, who disguised if not micromanaged their crimes, resigned. It was a bad time for America, but a good time for those who believe in the idea of America.

But this idealism took a couple of gut punches with the Iran-Contra Affair, during which members of the Reagan administration sold arms to the Iranian mullahs in secret — how could they ever pose a threat to us? — to finance Nicaraguan rebels, in express violation of U.S. law. Of the 14 charged with crimes, 11 were convicted, and one was imprisoned.

President George H.W. Bush stepped in to pardon six of the men convicted. Two others, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, received pardons before trial. Two of those convicted, Oliver North and John Poindexter, had their convictions overturned on appeal, for legal technicalities.

Iran-Contra could make one believe that in Washington, D.C., it’s not what you did, it’s who you know. There was even an element of self-dealing on the part of the first President Bush, who set free insiders who would, as a result, never be tempted to disclose anything damaging about Bush’s own record as vice president under Reagan.

The third presidential scandal was the lying-about-sex matter that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. To put it mildly, that episode did nothing to reduce any accrued cynicism.

Now comes the indictment of Irving “Scooter” Lewis Libby, which arises out of his role in outing covert CIA agent Valerie Plame.

In the end, Libby is not actually charged with revealing Plame’s identity, but with perjuring himself — lying — during grand jury testimony about the case.

He has protested his innocence and predicted he will be exonerated. Given the evolution of these scandals, he is at least likely to escape time behind bars for his alleged role in this traitorous episode.

But not going to jail or even not being judged guilty is not the same as being innocent. If there is, as commentator David Brooks cheered, “no cancer on this presidency,” there is certainly a gruesome moral and ethical open sore. And if it’s not within our power to make those in power actually pay for their trespasses, we needn’t be fooled either about exactly what sin the perpetrators allegedly committed:

They lied about really important things.

In the realm of ethics, Jewish law parses lying with great precision. In his upcoming book, “A Code of Jewish Ethics – Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy” (Harmony 2006), Rabbi Joseph Telushkin notes that while the Torah prohibits stealing, cheating, adultery or taking advantage of the less fortunate, falsehood is the only sin the Torah deems necessary to admonish people to avoid actively.

“Stay far away from falsehood,” reads Exodus 23:7.

If one of God’s attributes is truth — you could argue a primary purpose of religion is to set people on the path toward discovering what is true — then swearing false oaths or bearing false witness “indicates a lack of God’s presence.”

Certainly you are forbidden to lie in God’s name, that is, telling others what you think God told you. You are also warned against telling half-truths, against speaking with imprecision, against exaggerating. You are admonished to avoid lying by readily admitting what you don’t know, by being willing to change your mind, by avoiding false statement even to help another or to help a cause. In this spirit, the Talmud reminds us to carry out our obligation to truth and our vows even when they disadvantage us. We are to do what we say we’ll do, to avoid false excuses or lies of convenience (even to our children and our parents — what do these rabbis expect of us!), and to stay far from deceptive behaviors in our business and civic practices.

But what makes the discussion of lying in these matters so fascinating and challenging are the exceptions. Shouldn’t you be able to avoid unnecessary hurt or to lift someone’s hopes or avoid humiliating the poor? Doesn’t every good business negotiation contain the assumed lie that a final price may not in fact be final? And what of lies, even those told under oath, that enable one to avoid punishment by an unjust or evil regime?

Telushkin quotes educator Dr. David Nyberg’s Golden Rule on the issue of beneficial lies: “Be untruthful to others as you would have others be untruthful to you.” A religion doesn’t last 4,000 years by being blind to the grays.

But even so, there are what Telushkin calls “three particularly destructive lies”: lies that promote evil, or that make it impossible to distinguish good from evil; lies told in a courtroom setting under oath; and lies that destroy another’s good name.

It is into this less-than-gray territory that Libby apparently wandered.

To lie under oath is to profane God’s name and to thwart justice itself, the underpinning of a moral society. It is one thing to commit a wrong in the first place, quite another to undermine the justice system itself.

“You shall not take the Name of the Lord, your God, in vain, for the Lord will not absolve anyone who takes His Name in vain” (Exodus 20:7). The Third Commandment offers precious little wiggle room.

To lie to destroy the good name of another person is particularly grievous, a sin in Hebrew called moztzi shem ra. “The great wrong of such a lie is that the damage inflicted might well be irrevocable,” writes Telushkin, noting that this is one of the few offenses for which the victim is not obligated to forgive the offender. Whichever White House officials outed Plame destroyed her professional identity, and in so doing tried to destroy the credibility of her husband, as well.

Finally, there is the lie that promotes evil, or that makes it impossible to distinguish good from evil. Telushkin cites the example of The New York Times reporter in the 1930s who acted as an apologist for Josef Stalin during his murderous purges.

But what of a man who in advancing a political agenda that would entail the loss of life and human suffering — however justified it might be — deliberately paints honest criticism as traitorous falsehood, thereby punishing people of good intention with professional retribution? And what of the same man if he then lies to cover up such misdeeds?

We live in dangerous times, and a political culture that sanctions dishonesty — especially if one can get away with it — heightens the danger to us all. Not the least risk is that such official misbehavior merely promotes deeper cynicism among us all. This politics of doublespeak, what George Orwell called, “the vast system of mental cheating,” only makes us less apt to believe our leaders when real danger is imminent.

“Such is the punishment of the liar,” the Talmud says, “that even when he speaks the truth, no one listens to him.”


Q & A With Bruce Feiler

“Where God Was Born: A Journey by Land to the Roots of Religion” by Bruce Feiler (William Morrow, $26.95).

With daily reports of suicide bombings in Iraq, never-ending violence between Israelis and Palestinians and Iran’s nuclear threat, it can be hard to imagine the Middle East as the birthplace of monotheism and all the ethics and piety that implies. But this heritage is exactly what Bruce Feiler explores in his new book.

In it, Feiler writes of his travels to Israel, Iraq and Iran — accompanied by various archeologists, theologians and historians. He tells the story against the backdrop of regional violence, interspersing observations on the Bible with descriptions of his bulletproof clothing. He shares his fear of being attacked and the very real danger of traveling on Iraqi highways. The book, in places, becomes an extreme travel memoir, depicting in lucid detail both risk and incredible cultural beauty.

Feiler spoke to The Journal by phone while taking a break from moving into his new Brooklyn home, which he shares with his wife and his 6-month-old identical twin girls.

Jewish Journal: Your new work follows on the heels of two that touched on consonant themes: “Walking the Bible, a Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses” (William Morrow, 2001) and “Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths” (William Morrow, 2002). What compelled you to write this new book?

Bruce Feiler: When I did “Walking the Bible,” it was a very personal journey. [I wanted to know] were these stories real? Could I find the places where they took place? But between then and now religion no longer has the luxury of being personal. It has really become much more urgent, and much more a matter of life and death, it seems. Conflicts from Afghanistan to Iraq, and even in the United States, everything from the battle over the Ten Commandments to Terry Schiavo to gay marriage [all have to do with religion].

I recently read a Time magazine cover story from 1966 titled “Is God Dead?” that said religions was dead as an influence in world affairs, and would never return again. I wanted to figure out why religion was the dominant story in the world now. The idea was to go back to the roots of religion itself, and to ask: Is it tearing us apart or bringing us together?

JJ: How do you view the Bible — as history? As a God-written manuscript?

BF: I view it as a story of how God and humans tried to develop a relationship with one another, and I believe that it had to contain great truth, and I think that it contains great meaning for life. I also believe it contains a wide variety of rhetorical techniques — history, law, poetry, really boring filibusters, a kind of legislative tedium, legend, psalms….

One reason for the Bible’s enduring power is that it is not a complete history. If you were turn it in to a newspaper editor, he would say, ‘please go out and do more reporting.’ What is left out is as important as what is put in. It invites each of us to enter the story…. Every generation can reinterpret it.

The story of Abraham sacrificing his son, for example. If you read that story on Sept. 10, 2001, and on Sept. 12, 2001, you would get a totally different understanding of it.

JJ: How so?

BF: The idea of killing in the name of God is introduced with Abraham, and that is just one story that seems very relevant to the times we live in today.

JJ: Do you think that the current Middle East conflict is a religious one or a political one?

BF: I think that it is primarily a geopolitical conflict, but that all sides use religion when they want to and ignore it when they want to. I don’t believe that you can use the Bible to draw borders and solve political problems. It is not what it was intended for.

JJ: Do you think that the ancient cities you visited, such as Jericho in Israel, Nasiriyah in Iraq and Pasargardae and Persepolis in Iran, fostered ancient societies that were more religious than the current communities who live in them today?

BF: That is a very hard question to answer. On the one hand, religion infused ancient society. There had not been science and rationality, nor the enlightenment and modern technology, which have changed the way we experienced religion. And literacy was not as widespread.

When religion was being formed in the middle of the first millennium, great religions were being formed all over the world, and it is pretty clear that the great religions were in dialogue with one another and in dialogue with the cultures around them. And the idea that one religion had an exclusive claim to the truth, I don’t think was a very widespread notion. I think that something that Christianity and Islam introduced into the world was that there can be one universal faith and everyone in the world will follow it. That has been a very destructive idea in the world in the past 1,000 years.

JJ: The history that you give of the Jewish people in “Where God Was Born,” which comes from a literalist reading of the Bible, is one of a bellicose, combative nation of militants. Does it worry you that our ancient leaders, like King David, were so bloodthirsty? How do you reconcile these bloodthirsty heroes with their current canonization, which is something that is taught in most Hebrew schools and Jewish day schools?

BF: I kind of understand why day school teachers want to teach David as a hero, because young Jews are looking for heroes who are strong and stick up for themselves. But I would say that one of things I have learned about the Bible is that we don’t have to accept the way we are taught. The stories are not black and white, and that is why they are interesting. One of the reasons that people don’t like the Bible is because they talk about it the same way that they did when they were 5. The fact that David was a failed leader gives me a lot to think about, and that is interesting.

JJ: Tell me about your own Judaism — how have the journeys taken in your last three books transformed your experience of faith?

BF: I have discovered a number of positive reasons to be Jewish, to balance off a lot of the negative reasons I heard when I was young — such as the Holocaust, discrimination, Israel is imperiled. The question [I am interested in] is can the religions get along, and Judaism has a very powerful, positive message to contribute to that conversation. We can teach the Christians and the Muslims that it is OK if everyone doesn’t agree with you, and it is OK not to impose your faith on others.

In the end, we all have to make our own relationship with God, that we can no longer accept what our politicians tell us, or our journalists tell us, or our parents tell us. We don’t have to just accept what our religious leaders tell us either. Each of us has to make our own relationship with God.

Meet Bruce Feiler Oct. 25, 7 p.m. at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. For information, call (626) 449-5320 or visit



Birds and Bees

Three cheers for the gutsy parent who spoke up about the sexual ethics program at Alonim. (“Beyond the Birds and the Bees,” July 17). I was a CIT at Alonim 45 years ago during the “golden days,” when founding pioneer Dr. Shlomo Bardin was running the camp.

We had sessions on sexual ethics. However, Bardin would never trust a “facilitator” with such a subject. This task was entrusted to no less a person than Rabbi Jacob Pressman. Pressman gave us solid Jewish values to carry with us for the rest of our lives. He also accomplished this without squandering $20,000 of the Jewish community’s money.

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

Goldberg’s List

Rob Eshman does not refute that the 25 Jews, or for that matter the remaining 75 non-Jews, do not “screw up America.” (“Goldberg’s List,” July 29). The reason he does not do this is because he can’t.

Though a few of the book’s entries I do not agree with, I do agree with the book’s general thesis that there is a media-education-legal elite which is doing significant damage to this country.

Instead of trying to morally equivocate Bernard Goldberg to various hate groups, Eshman would do his readers a big service and evaluate a much more important question: Why is it that when liberals (Jewish or otherwise) try to tear down America, they get upset when there are consequences and strong reactions to their behavior?

Loren Picard

If the directors of news at the major networks (except, of course, Fox) are on the list of people screwing up America, how long will it take for a politician bent on “saving America” to push the FCC to require that the network news divisions take steps to become more “fair and balanced” like Fox.

And, if The New York Times columns critical of the Bush administration are no longer honest critiques of policy by a Princeton professor, but rather the product of one of the 100 people screwing up America, what right-minded reader that cares about America won’t support a campaign for their local paper to stop carrying Paul Krugman’s columns?

I’ve heard Bernard Goldberg on television stress that words have consequences. How true. That’s why a book like his on the top of the best-seller list is so dangerous.

David Spencer
via e-mail

For Bernard Goldberg’s response to Rob Eshman’s editorial, see Opinion

Meet Dov

For a long time I withheld reading The Journal, but recently started again only to find out that nothing has changed. The front page story, “Meet Dov,” a story of depravity and Chilul Hashem, had no place in The Journal and especially featured as it was (“Unfashionable Crisis,” July 29). Isn’t there any “Jewish” news that the editors can feature which would make our people proud rather than ashamed?

Uri Hirsch
Los Angeles

The Israel Vote

Idan Ivri’s article on Israelis living abroad was right on point (“Political Journal,” July 29). I recently returned from Israel and met with members of the Knesset (Dr. Yuval Steinitz, Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan) who all agreed it was time for Israelis living abroad to have the right to vote in Israel.

The next generation of Israeli politicians does not hold in contempt Israelis living abroad as did previous generations. Today, Israeli leadership is well aware of the vibrant Israeli Jewish community in Los Angeles who regularly watch Israeli television, read Israeli newspapers, quietly financially support the State of Israel and do business with Israeli businesses.

Once Israelis living abroad are given the right to vote in Israel, the Israeli Jewish community living in Los Angeles will most assuredly become a leading Jewish community.

As was confirmed to me over and over again, those who grew up in Israel, served in the Israeli military, lost friends and loved ones who defended the State of Israel and who have a vast network of family and friends living in Israel know more than any other Diaspora Jewish community what is in Israel’s best interest.

Those of us who grew up outside of Israel would be well served by a politically active, vocal Israeli Jewish community living among us.

Myles L. Berman
Chairman Beverly Hills Chapter
American Friends of Likud

Jewish Leaders

As a federation that has been a supporter of the Kol D’or think tank for young Jews, I think that the Rachel Pomerance article misses a crucial point (“Can Jewish Groups Get Back on Track?” July 22).

The annual UJC General Assembly serves a very different purpose than the other initiatives. Just by virtue of the number of registrants, in the thousands, it changes the focus of the GA conference to a more grass-roots, broad-based opportunity to exchange ideas and best practices within the Jewish world.

The Jewish People Planning Institute, Kol D’or and the Israel President Moshe Katsav meetings are structured to engage elite leaders in a small group setting, allowing for serious engagement on strategic issues for the Jewish people. This is not the focus of the General Assembly, which is more tactical in its thrust.

The General Assembly will take place in Los Angeles in November 2006. Anyone interested should contact The Federation with ideas on how to make it a more effective event for a meaningful exchange on issues core to Jewish life.

John R. Fishel
The Jewish Federation
of Greater Los Angeles

From the List

The Jewish Journal criticizes the Bernie Goldberg book for naming many Jews whom Goldberg believes are hurting the country — the critique is that extreme right-wing Web sites will use Goldberg’s arguments to tar Jews (“Goldberg’s List,” July 29). Yet, mainstream leftists tar Jews and Israel all the time to the general public, glorifying Rachel Corrie (a member of an organization supportive of Palestinian terror against Jews) and compare the Israeli separation wall to the East German death walls.

So which is worse: lending aid and comfort to fringe obscure Web sites, or lending aid and comfort to anti-Jews and anti-Israelis in the general media?

Paul Almond
Via e-mail

Once again, Jews achieve — however dubiously — far exceeding their proportion of the general population. Hooray for us! Notwithstanding Rob Eshman’s condescending commentary regarding Bernard Goldberg, I can understand how some of the listed folks could belong on this list within their respective fields.

John Hindsill
La Crescenta

Rob Eshman’s July 29 editorial attack on Bernard Goldberg’s recent book included an accusation that publishing his list of dangerous individuals could lead to an outbreak of anti-Semitism.

Eshman identified 25 percent of those on his list as Jewish. One whom he particularly seems to admire is “radio pioneer” (his words) Howard Stern. Sadly, several weeks ago, you also featured an article by one of your editors, Howard Blume, which, as several of your readers noted in letters to the editor, provided ammunition to those hostile to Israel and made little effort to offer a balanced account.

By the way, is this the same Howard Blume who appears as a commentator on KPFK, a fiercely anti-Israel station that has in the past had (and maybe still has) a weekly Middle East program that consists largely of Israel bashing? (With friends like The Jewish Journal….)

Sheldon Friedlander
Via e-mail

Leder ‘Madness’

Rabbi Steven Leder departs from a whole history of Jewish thought and seeks to turn his personal political convictions into religious dogma (“The Way of Madness,” July 22).

To argue that Pinchas was awarded the priesthood so that he would calm down is opposed to the whole history of Jewish discussion of the subject, as well as God’s explicit approval of Pinchas’ action: “He skewered the two of them, the Israelite man and the woman, in her belly, and the plague ceased from upon the Israelites…. God spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Pinchas son of Eleazar son of Aaron the priest removed My wrath from the Israelites when he avenged My vengeance among them, so that I did not annihilate the Israelites in my vengeance.'”

Additionally, Leder’s assumption that those who support continued Jewish life in Gaza, Judea and Samaria value settlement of the land more than life is highly offensive. There is, and has been, a debate about whether giving the Palestinian Arabs more land will cause an increase or a decrease in loss of life.

Those who oppose the plan note that most Palestinian Arabs view disengagement as an Israeli defeat, that Hamas is poised to seize power and that Israel’s borders before the Arabs provoked the 1967 War — the very borders to which some would now return without even a paper treaty — were indefensible.

Nobody seeks to minimize the value of life; indeed, opponents of Ariel Sharon’s plan fear the violence that would be provoked by the perception of a victory for terrorism. I would like to see an apology from Leder for his dreadful accusation.

David B. Greenberg
Flushing, N.Y.

Steven Leder’s comparison of Pinchas’ zealotry to the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin is imprudent. Since God rewards Pinchas with a “covenant of peace” and identifies him with his famously peaceful grandfather, Aaron, it is clear from the context that his action was justified. (Numbers 25:11-12)

Worse, Leder’s suggestion that in light of the plan to expel Jews from Gaza, “we all wait and wonder whether” a Pinchas will “live again” (i.e. a religious Jew will murder another Jew) is a slap in the face to the entire Orthodox community, which condemned the murder of Yitzchak Rabin.

In addition, huge numbers of Jewish Israeli members of the nationalist Zionist camp oppose the transfer of 9,000 Jews in Gaza and northern Samaria from their homes, synagogues, schools and businesses, yet have illustrated in dozens of demonstrations that they are committed to expressing themselves peacefully. Leder should be ashamed of himself for comparing a biblical leader of the Jewish people to a murderer who was ostracized by the entire Jewish community.

It is ironic that in a piece about the Torah portion, Leder so offensively slanders those who differ from him religiously or politically as not valuing human life.

J.H. Iskowitz
Los Angeles

Ugly Words

It’s a shame that Joseph Aaron is more upset by the ugly rhetoric on Gaza than he is by the ugly action threatened by the government, encouraging the enemy by “ethnically cleansing” the area of Jews (“There’s No Place for Ugly Words on Gaza,” July 28).

This does not represent one of “those unifying values” of our people, and it is the action, not the words, which is “endangering the Jewish people”.

This is not comparable to exercising eminent domain to use land for a public purpose. A truer comparison would be removal of all Americans from California because Iran or Libya wants the territory.

The nonpolitical role of the army is defiled when it is used against Jews, not our enemies, for enforcement of a policy, not defense.

Louis Richter

Joseph Aaron is entitled to his opinion. But he is not entitled to engage in calumnies against groups of Jews he disagrees with.

The expulsion of Jews from Gush Katif and other areas of Gaza is to be done forcibly. Jews are to be expelled from Gaza and later, most of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and never to return.

This is not an “eminent domain” or a “land-use” issue. The fact that Ariel Sharon managed to pass this “lawful” expulsion order through the Knesset still marks this as the first deportation of Jews from a part of the Land of Israel since the establishment of the State of Israel.

Gaza, by Jewish law (halacha), is part of the Land of Israel. The Sinai peninsula was not considered part of the Land of Israel. The fact that most North Americans and Israelis of Jewish ancestry are secular simply points out that Jewish law is meaningless to them.

Aaron alleges that “senior rabbis” made “halachic references” that it would be a mitzvah to assassinate the prime minister of Israel. Say what? How about some small details like who, what, where and when? And this guy is an editor of a major Jewish newspaper in a major American city?

He ends this outrage with the idea that “two things” have “always” been “unifying forces” for the Jewish people: The “sacred” memory of the Holocaust and “respecting the nonpolitical role of the Israeli army.”

Excuse me, sir — just what held the Jewish people together before 1940?

As a personal observation to the editor: This could simply be a case of the visiting village idiot. Or just when you think the Jewish people have hit bottom, some Jews insist on digging yet deeper.

Howard Winter
Beverly Hills