Letters

Scheinerman family members hold up the issue of Jewish Action that features the article about their family. Letter writer Gloria Golbert is standing, top left. Photo: Esky Cook

JA RESPONSIBLE FOR FAMILY REUNION
I am writing to express my appreciation to Jewish Action for publishing “Unbroken Faith: American Jewish Families Who Defied the Odds” by writer Bayla Sheva Brenner (spring 2016). I was so delighted to read the article, which featured the family of my great-uncle, Peretz Scheinerman. As a result of the article I, along with three cousins, decided to arrange a family reunion, and invited the descendants of Yitzchok Aryeh Scheinerman, the family patriarch, who had emigrated to the US in the 1880s from Russia.

The reunion took place this past September in Baltimore and was attended by over ninety people from all over the US. We re-connected with relatives we had not seen in many years, and met some relatives we had never met before. I proudly distributed copies of the Jewish Action article to everyone, without which this wonderful simchah would never have happened.

Gloria Golbert
Princeton, New Jersey

 

MILLENNIALS AND THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY SYNAGOGUE
Re “Orthodox Millennials: Understanding the New Generation,” (fall 2016), the millennial generation remains a puzzle synagogues have yet to fully put together.

From what I observe, there are very few activities that Upper West Side millennials do that last more than 2.5 hours. Moreover, there are few clubs they are willing to join. Both the standard annual membership model and the lengthy services synagogues offer are often inconsistent with modern-day living. The success of our Modern Orthodox shuls will depend upon our ability to remain relevant in three areas: administrative functioning, marketing and content. Our synagogue has spent much time discussing the possibility of moving to a monthly membership model to be more consistent with the modern experience (each month I pay my cell phone bill and synagogue bill, et cetera). Similarly, we have been considering diversifying our portals of entry to cater to the millennial (such as a collaborative online Shabbat HaGadol derashah preparation through Facebook). Learning from the success of college campus programs like OU-JLIC and Hillel should inform our style of leadership, governance and Torah education. We have much reason for optimism because the Modern Orthodox community is uniquely positioned to embrace the innovations of general society in creating space for meaningful spiritual engagement with millennials.

Rabbi Yechiel Shaffer
Congregation Ohab Zedek
Manhattan, New York

 

THE GIFT OF LIFE
Bayla Sheva Brenner’s piece on kidney donation (“The Kidney Connection: The Lifesaving Power of Jewish Unity” [winter 2016]) was beautiful and touching. It described individuals showing the highest level of mesirut nefesh for another Jew. In giving one of their kidneys to another individual, the donors were fulfilling the Talmudic dictum: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Barbara Barry
Jerusalem, Israel

 

STANDING FOR A CHATAN AND KALLAH
I read with interest the recent article by Rabbi Dr. Ari Z. Zivotofsky (“What’s the Truth About Standing for a Chatan and Kallah?” [winter 2016]). Rabbi Zivotofsky faithfully demonstrates the misconception about an obligation to stand for a chassan and kallah walking towards their chuppah. But he misses another reason for standing; i.e., for the parents who are escorting the chassan and kallah to the chuppah. Just as there is an obligation to stand for those performing the mitzvah of escorting a body for a burial (as Rabbi Zivotofsky quotes from YD 361:4), there is an equivalent obligation to stand for those performing the mitzvah of escorting the chassan and kallah to their chuppah. (This is the literal fulfillment of the mitzvah of hachnassas chassan vekallah). One other example is standing for the kvatter carrying an infant to his bris (see Chiddushei Rabbi Akiva Eiger, YD 265:1). The only reason the case of chassan and kallah is not mentioned by the posekim is that, as Rabbi Zivotofsky mentions, the custom was always to stand at a chuppah.

During a chuppah ceremony where the chassan leaves the chuppah to greet the kallah and they walk together to the chuppah, the obligation to stand ceases when the parents have left the scene. This is because the chassan and kallah themselves are not doing a mitzvah at the time (unless one is of the opinion that each is performing the mitzvah of accompanying the other to the chuppah).

Rabbi Abba Zvi Naiman
Baltimore, Maryland

 

DISAPPOINTING REVIEW
I was disappointed with Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s attempts to sanitize Rabbi Meir Kahane’s ideology in his review of Rabbi Meir Kahane: His Life and Thought, Volume Two: 1976-1983, which appeared in the fall 2016 issue.

Rabbi Kahane was perhaps best known for advocating the forcible removal of non-Jewish residents of Eretz Yisrael. Libby Kahane’s biography is quite frank about this. The back cover of the book includes Rabbi Kahane’s assertion that “[if] stones are thrown from an Arab village, the entire village should be banished to Jordan.” The book also mentions how Rabbi Kahane wrote a book advocating stripping all Israeli Arabs of their citizenship, paying some Arabs to leave and forcibly deporting others.

Rabbi Dr. Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s review avoids presenting these extremist ideas fully or honestly. He writes euphemistically about how Rabbi Kahane advocated “enabling [Arabs] to emigrate,” when in fact Rabbi Kahane also advocated forcing Arabs to emigrate. The review claims that Rabbi Kahane “was not advocating harming Arabs,” as if the sort of ethnic cleansing that he proposed could be carried out without enormous brutality and harm to innocents.

As the electoral failures of Rabbi Kahane and his followers demonstrate, the vast majority of Israelis reject his political views. The vast majority of Religious Zionist posekim reject Rabbi Kahane’s halachic opinion that the Torah mandates expelling Israeli Arabs, relying instead on the sources cited by Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, who envisioned a halachic state in which Jews, Muslims, and Christians would live together in peace. Regardless of their merits, Rabbi Kahane’s ideas deserve to be presented honestly.

Jules Szanton
Washington, DC

Rabbi Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff begins his latest review of Libby Kahane’s biography of her late husband by quoting the Gemara’s assertion that wives experience the death of their husbands in a way that no other person can appreciate. Indeed, it is not surprising, nor is it objectionable, that the widow of a murdered husband would write a biography in honor of her husband and in support of their shared ideological commitments.

It was surprising to me, however, to read yet a second review of this multi-volume biography by Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff that echoes so much of Rabbi Kahane’s rhetoric and perspective with only the faintest words of critical evaluation or historical context. Rabbi Meir Kahane did indeed identify fault lines between Judaism and democracy that lie at the heart of life in Israel. And Rabbi Kahane did notice the deleterious impact of an aggressive ethos of secularism upon Jewish Israelis that created a generation of amaratzim robbed of so many of the riches of their Jewish birthright. But contrary to what one might conclude from Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s review, Rabbi Kahane was not the first to notice these tensions. Indeed, explorations of those very tensions fill volumes of the writings of the intellectual and political leadership of the Zionist and Religious Zionist movements for more than a century (going back to the Netziv’s correspondence with Leon Pinsker during the first shemittah controversy in 1888). Nor did Rabbi Kahane formulate useful strategies to resolve these tensions. To paraphrase Lessing, Rabbi Kahane’s helpful observations were not original, and that which was original to him (his radical solutions) were not helpful.

None of the positive changes in Israeli society during the past thirty years, such as greater integration of religious Jews into the army and greater Torah knowledge and Jewish literacy among secular Jews, has anything whatsoever to do with Rabbi Kahane’s activism or provocations.

If, as Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff suggests, there is greater reception today for Rabbi Kahane’s views than a generation ago, that should be a cause for deep cheshbon hanefesh and for marshaling the intellectual leadership of our community to respond and confront those ideas, as was done a generation ago by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt”l, among others, when he insisted that Israel investigate the massacres in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps perpetrated by Israel’s Arab Christian allies. None of that effort can be found, unfortunately, in Rabbi Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s gentle and admiring review.

Rabbi David Wolkenfeld
Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation
Chicago, Illinois

BDS-niks, J-Street-ers and the like owe Jewish Action a debt of gratitude for providing them with a stick with which to beat Religious Zionism and Israel. In the uncritical and laudatory review of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the reviewer’s observation that “a Religious Zionist will essentially agree with most of [Rabbi Kahane’s] viewpoints and criticisms” is representative of the tone of the review and also a priceless sound bite for anti-Israel activists.

Is it accurate that Religious Zionism agrees with Rabbi Kahane on core issues: opposition to democracy and ethnic cleansing of Arabs from the Land of Israel? Do the potential expellees include the Israeli-Arab diplomats, TV reporters, jurists and scientists featured in various hasbara efforts, as well as the many other decent and productive Arab-Israelis? Does it include the Israeli Arabs who serve in the IDF alongside the nephew of Rabbi Kahane?

I believe that the answer to those questions for mainstream Religious Zionists is “no.”

Marc Hess
Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia

RABBI DR. AARON RAKEFFET-ROTHKOFF RESPONDS

My goal in writing the review of Libby Kahane’s second book was to enable the reader to gain some insight into the volume’s contents and the period it encompasses. I did not aim to author a critique of Meir Kahane’s total ideology or to expound upon my personal outlook. It was simply a review of the new volume and its content. Albeit, I will address the overall tone of the critical correspondence.

I would not consider this work as hagiographic. I am fully aware that such books abound in our circles. However, in this book Libby Kahane has published voluminous detailed footnotes verifying the events described.

I have elsewhere written about Rabbi Meir Kahane’s role in Bnei Akiva in the Bronx during the 1950s (cf. From Washington Avenue to Washington Street, s.v. index). He had a deep influence upon me, my wife, my brother and many others. He inspired us with a love of Zion and the vision of living a dedicated life in the Holy Land. Many in our circle would later achieve these goals. However, this does not indicate that we agreed with the totality of his viewpoints. We certainly did not favor acting beyond the law and the democratic character of the Israeli reality. I thought my review made clear that I personally contend that conflicts between Judaism and democracy must be resolved within the structure of contemporary Israeli society and not in a partisan fashion. I consider the example I cited to be quite relevant. Decades ago, a yeshivah student was advised not to serve in the IDF because he would not rise in rank due to his religious lifestyle. Today Meir’s own nephew is a brigadier general in the IDF. I would summarize my attitude as being in accordance with the Talmudic concept that “we can divide a single statement into diverse applications” (Gittin 8b). In some areas I agree with my mentor from Bnei Akiva, in others I have reached my own conclusions and viewpoints.

 

GUN CONTROL IN HALACHAH
I read with great interest Rabbi Joshua Flug’s piece on “Gun Control in Halachah” (summer 2016). Rabbi Flug’s halachic analysis, while erudite, seems to have had a very narrow focus—namely the selling of arms to non-Jews. While he correctly asserts that the Talmud’s authors lived in barbaric times, thus requiring halachic stringencies on the selling of arms, he omits any halachic references to the ownership of weapons themselves (save for the issue of Shabbat). He does, however, offer a blanket assertion: “Jewish law does not guarantee anyone’s right to bear arms and such a right plays no role in the Talmudic discussion.” In fact, I posit that the opposite is true.

Jewish law does not infringe on anyone’s right to bear arms. The Torah records for posterity in perhaps the boldest expression of freedom “. . . and the Children of Israel went up armed out of the land of Egypt” (Shemot 13:18). No longer under Pharaoh’s lash, no longer under a taskmaster’s whip, the Bnei Yisrael were now free men. With Hashem’s command and under Moshe’s leadership, they took up arms against the Amalekites (Shemot 8:8-17), the Midianites (Bamidbar 31:1-10) and the mighty kingdoms of Sichon and Og (Devarim 2:31-37, 3:1-4). The great shofet Ehud ben Gerah carried a concealed weapon and smote Eglon the king of Moav (Shoftim 3:17). Recall also that the ancient Philistines sought to limit the ability of the Jews to create weapons, thereby maintaining their dominion and control over them (I Shmuel 13:19-22). While the Jews in ancient Persia were afforded the right to take up arms against those who would destroy them (Esther 8:11; 9:1-6), this was not the norm; we celebrate that miracle to this day.

The Talmud (Shabbat 63a) prohibits the wearing or carrying of a sword, bow, shield, mace or spear on Shabbat. Rabbi Eliezer disagrees and believes weapons to be an adornment (Tehillim 45:4). The Chachamim reiterate the prohibition and state that those who wear weapons on Shabbat are worthy of scorn. As a matter of fact, this is normative halachah (Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 19:1; SA, OC 301:7). Shabbat, a sublime time of universal peace, enlightenment, tranquility and holiness that is our aspirational model of Olam Haba or Yemot HaMashiach, is incongruous with weapons of war and destruction. However, in the ensuing Talmudic discussion, nowhere is a prohibition mentioned against Jews owning or carrying weapons when it is not Shabbat.

Furthermore, in cases where weapons were necessary for the performance of a mitzvah—for example, saving a life as in the case of a rodef (Rambam, Hilchot Rotze’ach 1:7-8)—weapons were carried and used on Shabbat. Moreover, the Rambam (Hilchot Geneivah 9:7-13) discusses the laws of an intruder and how they pertain to a homeowner’s right to protection and self-defense, even on Shabbat (Shabbat 9:7).

Moreover, the Rishonim—the Rambam, the Ran, the Nimukei Yosef and the Ritva, all cited in Rabbi Flug’s essay—lived in a time no less brutal than Talmudic times due to Crusades, pogroms, expulsions, et cetera. Jews were barred from owning weapons and often relied on various lords and knights for their protection (Rambam, Hilchot Avodah Zarah 9:9). Indeed, questions of sales and accountability took on serious halachic import. Less relevant was the question of owning or using weapons. Therefore “extrapolating” a Talmudic prohibition on weapon ownership based on stringencies placed on sales of weapons to gentiles is tenuous at best. I would also caution against taking the seeming apologetics of the Chavot Yair and Chayei Adam at face value and applying it to this day and age. Though the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were by no means medieval, the assertion that “nowadays, we live in civilized societies and we don’t have to suspect that any non-Jew will attempt to murder us” rings hollow after the unprecedented barbarism of the twentieth century.

Schreiber, MD
Brooklyn, New York

We found Rabbi Flug’s analysis of the timely issue of gun control fascinating, and would like to respond to two points.

First, in analyzing the Talmud’s attitude towards weapons, Rabbi Flug refers to Avodah Zarah’s discussion of selling weapons to non-Jews and commentaries relating to this point. This seems to be an oblique approach to the issue, because there the question is the permissibility of Jews selling arms to non-Jews. Rabbi Flug does not mention a direct inference from this gemara: if it is prohibited to sell weapons to potentially hostile non-Jews, and it is permitted to sell weapons to friendly Persians, then surely it is permissible for Jews to sell weapons to Jews!

There are several other passages in the Talmud that also seem to imply that it is normal for non-criminal Jews to own weapons. In Makkot 10a, a baraita discusses “gun-free zones”: “And we may not sell in those [cities of refuge] weapons or hunting gear; the words of Rabbi Nechemiah—but the Sages permit it.” Rabbi Nechemiah was concerned that the Jewish blood-avenger would be able to purchase weapons in the refuge city, or would blend in among others with weapons; however, the rabbis rejected the weapon-free zone. Here we see that Jews are allowed to sell weapons to Jews, even in a city of refuge.

In Yoma 45a, we learn that Jews may take up their arms and carry them outside of the city on Shabbat in order to defend against a pending attack by non-Jews, and in Hilchot Shabbat 3:23, Rambam goes so far as to say that it is an obligation to defend one’s fellow Jews on Shabbat. It is not entirely clear that the baraita and Rambam speak only of standing armies or professional soldiers; in Yoma it seems that the Jews who are able to should form a sort of militia—they are not relying on the benevolent Persians in this scenario. Private ownership of arms by Jews seems to be understood.

In Sanhedrin 72, the case of the tunneling thief is discussed—the original “Castle Doctrine.” The rabbis permit the homeowner to use lethal force to defend himself—implying that the homeowner may have the means to do so—and go so far to state that the thief may be killed by any means necessary. Would the rabbis have required a homeowner to go up unarmed against a dangerous thief?

Secondly, Rabbi Flug writes that there is no such concept as a right to keep and bear arms in Jewish law. It seems to us that there is room for an interpretation that does imply a reasonable right to keep and bear arms. The Torah protects Jewish life, by allowing Jews to kill in self-defense, and therefore establishes a “right to live,” as in the case of the tunneling thief. If we are allowed to use lethal force to defend our lives, then it is reasonable that we should normally have the right to own the means to do so.

Moses Fridman
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Rabbi Aharon Yablonovsky
Baltimore, Maryland

RABBI JOSHUA FLUG RESPONDS

I thank the letter writers for their comments. It is important to distinguish between a right and a permission. For example, kavod habriyot, human dignity might be viewed as a right and therefore, the rabbis waived any requirement to follow rabbinic laws that conflict with human dignity (Berachot 19b). By contrast, according to Torah law, it is permissible to play musical instruments on Shabbat. However, it is not a right and therefore, when the rabbis were concerned that it would lead to the desecration of Shabbat, they were authorized to prohibit it on Shabbat. The many sources quoted by the letter writers prove that, historically speaking, it was permissible for Jews to own weapons and when they had the ability to bear arms, it was seen as positive. At times, it may have even been obligatory to do so. However, it doesn’t prove that every Jew had a right to bear arms. In fact, the case of mashmuta (Jewish bandit) cited by the Gemara (and mentioned in the article) proves that when there is cause for concern, we don’t provide weapons even to Jewish individuals. The “right to bear arms” in US law is a right and in order to restrict someone from bearing arms, there must be due process under the law. Consider, for example, the recent “no fly, no buy” debate that took place in the aftermath of the Orlando shooting. This is not true according to Jewish law. The thesis of the article is that the rabbis of the Talmud and the Rishonim (as most evident in the comments of Nimmukei Yosef) took a common sense approach to the distribution of weapons. If their distribution would lead to a safer society, then their distribution is permissible, and if not, then it is prohibited. They did not provide anyone with a natural right to own a weapon.

The citation of Chavot Yair and Chayei Adam must also be understood in the context of the thesis of the article. Their comments are not apologetics but pragmatics. In earlier times, the rabbis instituted a series of safeguards when interacting with non-Jews because there was a legitimate concern that a Jew who was not cautious may get murdered. Chavot Yair and Chayei Adam are pointing out that we live in safer times and those safeguards can be eased. If one assumes that this is mere apologetics, then these restrictions would apply and many of our personal interactions with people outside of the Jewish community would be very limiting. However, it seems that common practice is to be lenient on this matter. Yet, as I pointed out in the article, that doesn’t allow one to discard the general concern for safety of society and society has a responsibility to determine what is safest with regards to distribution of weapons.

I most certainly appreciate the concern for the “unprecedented barbarism of the twentieth century,” and there definitely are Jews who own guns because of this very concern. However, the article is not about whether a Jew may own a gun out of concern for a wave of anti-Semitism. The article is about providing perspectives on how a Jewish person might apply Jewish values to the gun control debate that is prevalent in US society. If one could somehow show that tightening gun control laws would make society as a whole safer, but at the same time, put Jews at a greater risk for anti-Semitic attacks, then the Talmudic discussion might be applied differently. However, those who advocate for Jews owning guns to protect from anti-Semitism are likely of the belief that looser gun control laws can make society as a whole safer.

 

Correction:
Due to an editing error, Rabbi Dr. Aaron Rakeffet-Rothkoff’s review in the winter issue incorrectly stated that Rabbi Meir Kahane advised a student not to enter the IDF, as he would never be able to advance because he was religious. It was Rabbi Yissachar Meir (1927-2010), the founder and head of Yeshivat HaNegev, who gave that advice.

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This article was featured in the Spring 2017 issue of Jewish Action.
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