Letters – Summer 21

Appreciating Our Rabbis

The article on kavod by Mark (Moishe) Bane (“Observations of a Kavod Maven” [winter 2020]) really resonated.

In the piece, Mr. Bane expresses regret that respect for our rabbis has diminished. He also mentions how we all suffer from insecurity, which can cause us to be pained by the most subtle personal slight. He illustrates this with an anecdote. A rabbi shared with him his dismay that a congregant, instead of being elevated by the shul’s powerful Yom Kippur davening, could only remark how hurt he was by being the only man who was not invited to open the ark over the course of the High Holidays. Mr. Bane expresses his own dismay that the rabbi was incapable of empathizing with the congregant’s pain.

While I agree that it is important to empathize with the congregant, what about the rabbi? He may have put his heart and soul into creating a meaningful Yom Kippur experience and felt that he was successful. However, the feedback he received was from a congregant who was unhappy. Our rabbis have difficult jobs and they work very hard; they merit our support and, yes, our empathy when they do not receive the appreciation they deserve.

Robert Housman
Brookline, Massachusetts


Rethinking Philanthropy

The cover article (“The Art of Giving” [spring 2021]) retreads the worn tires of Jewish philanthropy. At the same time, it gave no space for consideration of the critical underlying factors impacting the ever-present and ever-growing demands on that philanthropy. Philanthropy is the supply-side of the equation. Let’s not fail to look at the demand-side of the equation—three of which come to mind:

All Jewish educational institutions—specifically including post-secondary yeshivot—must make clear through word and deed the expectation that everyone be self-supporting. It is unrealistic and dangerous to expect a life based on support by others.

As the problem of agunot became unbearable, the Orthodox Jewish community took action. Rabbis now require appropriate prenuptial documentation to avoid the potential for the agunah problem to arise. We need to do likewise to dramatically reduce family poverty. Along with other prenuptial duties, rabbis should require couples to complete a course in Jewish family economics.

Finally, the execrable cost of Jewish day school education must come to an end. Jewish day school tuition is not sustainable and must be reduced.

Bernard White 

Dallas, Texas


Loving and Caring for All Jews

I was fascinated to read the article by Dr. Morton Frank (“Why Jews Are Optimists” [spring 2021]). In the article, he writes that “as Orthodox Jews, we need to recognize the role that a Torah outlook plays in helping us be resilient in the face of adversity.” However, I feel that Dr. Frank has inadvertently not fully taken into account the Torah mandate “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh”—that all Jews are responsible for one another. In speaking of the miracle of the resurgence of Orthodox Judaism, it would have been preferable had he not connected the very positive strengthening of Orthodox Judaism with the sad reality of the waning of Conservative Judaism, which has served as the spiritual home for so many of our fellow Jews. It’s better to speak sympathetically about the misfortune of other members of the Children of Israel, and not set up a dichotomy that only separates fellow Jews from one another.

Catherine Mermelstein, PhD

East Brunswick, New Jersey

Dr. Morton Frank Responds

I clearly state in my article that the Torah requires all Jews to be responsible for the welfare of their fellow Jews. My role model in this regard was the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who never used the terms Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. He loved and cared for all Jews, and he was therefore loved by all. The Rebbe also had a deep respect for all mankind. Labels indeed do divide and should never prevent us from helping and respecting one another.


Rabbi Sacks and the Rav

I was surprised to read in Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter’s tribute to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (“In Memory of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks [spring 2021]) that “when he [Rabbi Sacks] was about twenty, he took a trip to the United States to visit two people in particular, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm. His encounters with them changed his life.”

I have long been an avid follower of Rabbi Sacks (though sadly I never had the privilege of meeting him). He wrote often about two life-changing encounters in his youth, but they were with the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Rabbi Sacks’ stories about the Rav always stood out to me because I am an alumnus (and child of an alumnus as well as the parent of a current student) of the Maimonides School, founded by the Rav in 1937. To cite just a few references from a quick search:

From Rabbi Sacks’ obituary in the New York Times:

In the mid-1960s, at age 19, he embarked on what he called a “Greyhound tour” of North America looking for academic and spiritual direction. Two encounters in particular were “life-changing,” he wrote. He met with Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the preeminent rabbinic scholar at Yeshiva University in New York, and with Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the head of the Lubavitch movement, in Brooklyn. “Rabbi Soloveitchik had challenged me to think,” Rabbi Sacks wrote. “Rabbi Schneerson had challenged me to lead.” 

From his Wikipedia entry:

In a pamphlet written to mark the completion of his time as Chief Rabbi entitled “A Judaism Engaged with the World,” Sacks cites three individuals who have had a profound impact on his own philosophical thinking.

The first figure was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson  . . .

The second was Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik whom Sacks described as “the greatest Orthodox thinker of the time [who] challenged me to think.” Sacks argued that for Rav Soloveitchik, “Jewish philosophy had to emerge from halakhah, Jewish law. Jewish thought and Jewish practice were not two different things but the same thing seen from different perspectives. Halakhah was a way of living, a way of thinking about the world—taking abstract ideas and making them real in everyday life.”

The third figure was Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, a former principal of the London School of Jewish Studies . . . 

I have no doubt that Rabbi Lamm was also an important role model, but if one is discussing those who influenced Rabbi Sacks in his early years, the Rav should absolutely be included.

Elka Tovah Davidoff 

Malden, Massachusetts

This article was featured in the Summer 2021 issue of Jewish Action.
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