Controlling Anger

Dr. Abraham J. Twerski stated (“You Can Control Your Anger,” Jewish Action, Winter ’95-’96), “there is no evidence that kicking the door or hitting a punching bag is of any value in discharging anger.  Any psychological advice to this effect is in error.”  Yet the Amora, Rav Abin, taught regarding one who tears his garment in anger, “This man too effects an improvement because he calms his wrath” (Shabbat 105b).  It is clear that Rav Abin considered this destructive act performed in anger as having a beneficial effect.

Generally concise and non-repetitive, Maimonides records and elaborates upon Rav Abin’s teaching in three places (Hilchot Shabbat 8:8, 10:10 and 12:1).  E.g., Maimonides writes ” he who tears a garment in rage…is liable [for violation of the Shabbat] as he calms himself with this act, and quiets his anger, and since his anger is calmed through this [act], it is viewed as a positive act.”

While Rashi and Raavad interpret the next passage in the Talmud as a refutation of Rav Abin’s position, Maimonides clearly codifies Rav Abin’s position on the beneficial effect of expressing anger, even in a destructive manner.  While such expression of anger is wrong, as Dr. Twerski notes, it nevertheless does have a calming impact according to Maimonides.

Menahem Meier

Principal, The Frisch School

Paramus, New Jersey


Dr. Twerski responds:

Rabbi Menahem Meier commented on my article wherein I stated that there is no evidence that discharging anger by kicking the door or hitting a punching bag is of any value, and Rabbi Meier cited the Talmud that one who tears his garment in rage is guilty of transgressing Shabbos, because although he might be exempt as having done a destructive act, he is liable because this “calmed his wrath.”  Ergo, breaking and tearing things in wrath does have a calming effect.

Obviously so, else the angry person would not have done it.  However, a calming effect could also be achieved by taking a drink of alcohol, a dose of a tranquilizer, or a fix of heroin.  While these would certainly have exerted a temporary calming effect, they clearly do nothing to relieve the anger, which returns immediately as the chemical effect wears off, and indeed, may return with even greater intensity.

Thus, while the destructive act cannot be considered a total mekalkel because it does provide momentary relief, it does nothing to eliminate the anger, and indeed, like recourse to alcohol or drugs, may even intensify it.

Freedoms in Israel

I was distressed to see a magazine as fine and important as Jewish Action lending its implicit “hechsher” to an article as full of distortions, exaggerations, and inaccuracies as “Where Has All the Freedom Gone” by Toby Klein Greenwald in your Fall 5756 issue.  Ms. Greenwald certainly has the right to hold extreme right-wing views on policy issues here in Israel, but fairness to your readers demands that she be identified as such.  Here follow a representative sampling of the problems in the article:

  1. Ms. Greenwald writes that the Israeli government’s handling of the events leading up to the Yom Kippur War was the first great trauma which undermined confidence in the government; “The next great trauma is now” (referring to the peace process in general and the handling of right-wing demonstrators in particular). To ignore the tremendous assault on public confidence in the government caused by the Lebanese War of 1982 is peculiar and clearly indicates where Ms. Greenwald stands in the Israeli political landscape.
  1. Closing Channel Seven was dumb, and hardly a major blow for democracy, but Channel Seven is not the “only non-government radio station in Israel.” There are plenty of local governmentally licensed but non-government radio stations in Israel.  Channel Seven is a pirate radio station, one which broadcasts incitement against the government and against the Arab population of Israel.  There is no way the U.S. government, for example, would tolerate such a station.
  1. Emil Fackenheim is a wonderful man and an important philosopher … But only a person of extreme right-wing views could possibly call him “a man in the political center.” Professor Fackenheim is as far from the political center (on the right) as, say, Abie Natan is on the left.
  1. Ms. Greenwald decries the “administrative arrests” of people “merely suspected of being Kach sympathizers or the like.” Administrative detention is a stain on Israel and it is shameful that our government still uses it, but the individuals held under its provisions from the far right over the last year or so (like Noam Federman, Baruch Merzel, and others of that ilk) are more than “merely suspected of being Kach sympathizers or the like.”  They are extremely dangerous individuals who have publicly called for the overthrow of the legal government of Israel and who have applauded acts of terror carried out against Arabs.
  1. Ms. Greenwald cites Dr. Mordecai Nisan as an expert on “the abuse of democratic values by government figures since Oslo.” Mordecai Nisan, his fine personal qualities aside, is as far to the right on Israel’s political spectrum as one can get without falling off the edge.  That does not mean that what he has to say is necessarily false.  But citing him as an authority, without “warning” the reader where he stands on the issues is an indication of Ms. Greenwald’s own extremist position.  Furthermore, “methinks the lady doth protest too much”: to be lectured on democratic values by figures on the right in Israel, who regularly reject the authority of the government because it is supported by Arab voters and members of the Knesset, is a bit much to swallow.  Picture the ruckus Jewish Action would raise if it were suggested that Jewish members of the U.S. Congress be prevented from voting on issues like school prayer!
  1. Speaking as the father of two children who went through Bnei Akiva (and as the outgoing gabbai of the Bnei Akiva minyan here in Haifa), I must say that had Bnei Akiva indeed organized a demonstration against Prime Minister Rabin in Russia, Deputy Minister Goldman would have been absolutely right to cut off government funding for the movement. To cite this as an attempt to limit free speech strikes me as bizarre.  Let us say that the U.S. government helped fund Boy Scouts of America.  If the BSA organized demonstrations against President Clinton in foreign parts (or at home), would anyone be surprised if they lost their government funding?  The real question should be, why is Bnei Akiva involved in politics at all?

I personally have no sympathy for the way in which our government has cut off all dialogue with the right ….  Nor can I pretend to be enamored with the way our police handle demonstrators (of the right and left).  But Ms. Greenwald’s article can only confirm [the government’s] conviction that there is no one to talk to on the other side of the political fence.  That is a shame.

Professor Menachem Kellner

Department of Jewish Thought

University of Haifa, Israel



Toby Klein Greenwald responds:

In the aftermath of the horrifying and tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and the subsequent McCarthyesque witch hunt that has been initiated by some politicians, academics and journalists, I feel it all the more necessary to respond to the biased, extreme attack of Professor Menachem Kellner against myself and others.  It is unbridled, bitter reactions like Professor Kellner’s that have kept respectable writers like myself … from going public before now with information which is deeply troubling, but politically incorrect to publish.

I would like to remind readers that I was the journalist who published interviews in the Spring 1994 issue of Jewish Action with Rabbis Menahem Fruman (who meets on a regular basis with Hamas religious leaders), with Hanan Porat of the National Religious Party, and most significant today, with Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun, who endangered his own life by exposing those rabbis whom he felt may have contributed by their statements to the atmosphere that led to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin.

Firstly, Professor Kellner’s contention that I hold “extreme right-wing views” (an accusation that would raise amused eyebrows among many of my friends), is absurd both in its factual inaccuracy and in its irrelevance, even if it were hypothetically true.  Professor Kellner has lived in Israel long enough to know that there is not a journalist in this county without a point of view (one poll revealed that approximately 70% voted Labor and Meretz in the last elections); the test of one’s professionalism is if he gets the facts straight and gives the side he is investigating right of response.  I note, therefore, with satisfaction that Professor Kellner did not contradict the main premise of my article and could not disprove any of the unhappy facts — not surprising since they were meticulously double and triple checked and right of response was given in every instance.  As a matter of fact, many Jewish Action readers who live in Israel commented to me that the article was far too mild, and proceeded to inundate me with their own additional horror stories.

Regarding his number 1: I am said to have been proved devastatingly correct concerning the enormity of this current trauma, for it led to the greatest trauma of all, the assassination, from which Israel may not recover for decades to come.  As to the “tremendous assault on public confidence in the [Likud — T.K.G.] government caused by the Lebanese War of 1982” (Professor Kellner’s words), I would ask, which public?  Certainly not the thousands of Israeli citizens who live in towns and kibbutzim along the northern border, whose children had, until the Lebanese War, grown up sleeping in bomb shelters.  It is true that there was controversy over how far north the Israeli army should have progressed, and what Israel’s responsibility was in the Sabra and Shatilla tragedy, but the equal split between two population groups in Israel was nowhere as extreme or as bitter then as it is today.

2) I find Professor Kellner’s semantic differentiation between “government” as opposed to “government-licensed” radio stations disingenuous in the extreme.  Abie Nathan’s “Voice of Peace” pirate station broadcasted under the Likud for years without interference.  The pirate Channel Seven began in response to a situation in which a large segment of the population, most of whom identified with the political right, felt they had no media voice.  (A well-known anecdote concerns a woman from a settlement with superb professional credentials who answered a want ad for Israel Radio.  Her application was rejected.  She re-mailed it with a Jerusalem address and was offered the job.)  As to incitement, the one broadcaster (who had bought time privately from Channel Seven) who praised Baruch Goldstein was thrown off the air by the Channel Seven management and denied future broadcasting rights.  Yes, Channel Seven broadcasters are sometimes scathing in their criticism of the government, but I disagree with Professor Kellner’s contention that the United States government would not tolerate a scathingly critical radio station.  That is what democracy is all about.

3) Perhaps a mathematician or an etymologist could explain to Professor Kellner that when the left renames itself “center,” the previous “center” appears to move to the right.  This optical illusion is, apparently, the situation in which Professor Emil Fackenheim and many other “centrists,” though they do not subscribe to the “greater Israel” dream, find themselves today….

4) Professor Kellner has, I would like to believe, unintentionally misread my paragraph on Kach sympathizers and quoted it out of context.  I wrote “some people [my emphasis], merely suspected of being Kach sympathizers or the like, have been held for up to six months…”  I was not referring to Noam Federman, Baruch Merzel or others similar to them, but to young men known to have no connection with Kach, whose arrests were shocks to themselves, their families and their acquaintances.  Unfortunately, Yigal Amir was not among those placed under administrative arrest, which shows how tragically non-foolproof the system is.

5) It is true that Dr. Mordecai Nisan holds right-wing political views, but as Professor Kellner himself writes, “that does not mean that what he has to say is necessarily false.”  One of the problems Dr. Nisan has pointed out is the fact that Oslo I was signed when the government coalition numbered only 45% of the popular vote (56 out of 120 Knesset members).  In the U.S., far-reaching treaties of less importance require a two-thirds majority.  It must have been a relief for Professor Kellner to be able to point a finger at Dr. Nisan and cry “right wing,” since he cannot point a similar finger at others I quoted: State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, Judge Eliahu Ben Zimra, Colonel Benzion Farhi, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Dr. Michla Pomeranz, Ehud Ya’ari, Peace Watch, etc.  In any case, is Professor Kellner insinuating that only left-wingers have the right to express an expert professional opinion?  Is that his version of democracy?

6) To expect Bnei Akiva youth who have been raised on the legend of Gush Etzion, who have prayed at Kever Rachel and Ma’arat Hamachpela, whose families and heroes have been involved in the settling of Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan Heights, not to be “involved” in politics, when the vast majority of youth groups in Israel, especially the secular ones, are throwing their full weigh behind the policies of the political left, is to demand a dangerous disymmetry.  I have no doubt that most Americans would strongly disagree with Professor Kellner’s contention that any organization receiving government funding must muzzle its opposition to U.S. policy in any area of life.

In closing, let me say that I have been involved in religious-secular, right-center-left, and settler-Palestinian dialogue for decades.  The principles on which we build our dialogues are: mutual respect, and refraining from generalizations, stereotyping and mud-slinging.  Since Professor Kellner has made it clear by his letter that these are ground rules which he does not subscribe to, it is true that he would find it impossible to join our dialogues.  And yes, that is a shame.

This article was featured in the Spring 1996 issue of Jewish Action.
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