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An open letter to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

 
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Dear Rabbi Boteach,

I am disturbed and offended by your campaign to purchase the Libyan mission’s property adjacent to your home in Englewood. While I join you in support of your condemnation of the Libyan government, its policies toward Israel, and its failure to take moral responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Americans, I fail to understand why you refuse to abide by the talmudic principle “Dina Malchuta Dina,” the law of the land in which we live must be observed by Jews. As Rep. Steve Rothman explained in a very detailed statement in response to your initial demand that the Libyans be forced to leave the property they own in Englewood, the issue of the legitimacy of their purchase and continued ownership has been adjudicated. Whether we like it or not, the United States courts have determined that they have the right to own that property.

My questions to you are:

1. Why did you choose to buy a home next to the Libyan property if you find living there so painful and distasteful? Would you really want neighbors of every embassy and consulate in our nation to have the right to pick and choose whether that nation has the right to house its ministers and offices in our nation? If a Muslim-American bought property next to the Israeli Mission to the United Nations, should that person have the right to force Israel to sell its residence? If you want Libya to pay property taxes to your town, do you want Israel to also pay property taxes to all the communities where there are Israeli diplomatic residences throughout America?

2. You keep making references in your attacks upon Rep. Rothman to the issue of public aid for private religious schools. Again, Rabbi Boteach, this is an issue that has been extensively debated in our American court system. As a parent who paid day school tuition for two children pre-kindergarten through grade 12, I am grateful that we have the right of school choice for our children and believe that with that right comes the responsibility to support a public education system that is open to all children. My question to you is: How can you square the circle of desiring to maintain a Jewish parochial school and demanding government money? Would you be willing to have your tax dollars equally support Muslim, Hindu, Baha’i, Sikh, Protestant, Catholic, Jain, and Buddhist school systems in northern New Jersey? We are a multicultural, religiously pluralistic community. Can you somehow justify why Jewish schools should get public funds without presenting a plan for how we could afford to have local options for every ethnic and religious group in our community?

3. Will your Jewish think tank be open to all Jews of all religious streams? This is no small matter, since your appeal for funds and support is being made to the entire Jewish community but you have no track record of inclusiveness and recognition of non-Orthodox rabbis, cantors, or academics. As a Reform rabbi who has lived and served in this community for 22 years, I want to invite you to come to the next meeting of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis at noon on Monday, Feb. 8, at the UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and open a discussion on your vision. We can then share with you the exciting progress that we are making through the Kehillah Partnership toward creating a cross-denominational Jewish day camp and retreat center that will serve the full spectrum of Jewish life in our community and that will be located on a property that is being legally and non-coercively acquired by the YJCC of Bergen County in Washington Township for the use of the whole Jewish community. We can also hear from you how you plan to attract Jewish sociologists, theologians, psychologists, social workers, and rabbis of all religious streams to your new center. I am confident that, if your vision is truly inclusive, working together we can find physical space for your think tank that I would hope would be more than just a “Jewish equivalent of the politically conservative Heritage Foundation,” but perhaps an American version of the Shalom Hartman Institute where Jews of all religious and political views come together.

According to the Midrash, all Jews stood together at Sinai. Rabbi Boteach, on this Shabbat of Parshat Yitro, I ask you to consider standing together rather than seeking ways to divide the Jews of northern New Jersey.

Temple Sholom, River Edge, Reform
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A community responsibility

Day schools are great.

Day schools are effective.

Day schools yield committed, knowledgeable Jewish adults.

The Jewish community has spent years touting the benefits of day school education. Have we been distracted by the shiny object?

Day schools are not the vehicle of choice for the vast majority of the North American Jewish community. In fact, a majority of our Jewish children are being educated in synagogue-based religious schools. Therefore, there is a moral imperative to invest in the vehicle through which we must inspire the next generation and our collective vibrant Jewish future.

 

 

Death and dignity in New Jersey

The New Jersey State Senate is due to consider a bill legalizing and regulating physician-assisted suicide — the “New Jersey Death with Dignity Act” — already approved by the State Assembly.

The law would permit “qualified” competent adults, whom physicians predict will die of a terminal disease within six months, to obtain lethal drugs in order to end their own lives. As the New Jersey Senate (before which, in 1861, Abraham Lincoln called Americans the “almost Chosen People”) prepares for this debate, the citizenry of the state and its legislators can benefit profoundly from the wisdom of Jewish tradition.

Suicide is not a sin in Judaism. Suicide is (as Catholic theologian G. K. Chesterton said) “THE sin.”

 

 

The murderer down the street

Of course, I haven’t seen him since he was 9, the year I left Chicago for New York. The only memory I have of him is as a dark-haired little boy, chipping golf balls by himself on his lawn.

I should mention here that he didn’t murder just one person. He murdered two. His mother and his grandmother. We’ll call him Andy.

Andy’s grandmother was a tough lady who lived two houses down, in a manicured sixties-era bi-level, with a friendly, pear-shaped husband and a fluffy orange Pomeranian named Fritzie. I encountered this neat, put-together lady and her dog every day on their regular walks down the street. Desperate for doggie contact, I begged her to walk Fritzie, and every now and then she let me hold the leash.

 

 

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The end of the covenant — almost

In an interesting note to one of the major codes of Jewish law, called the Tur, R. Moses Isserles, the great defender of Ashkenazic Jewish practices, writes about some activities that took place on Purim in his time.

Among these were cross-dressing, young men stealing items from other young men, wearing masks, and wearing forms of clothing prohibited by the rabbis because they looked like sha’atnez, the mixture of wool and linen prohibited by the Torah. None of these behaviors would be permitted under normal circumstances. Cross-dressing is forbidden in Deuteronomy 22:5. Stealing for any reason is prohibited according to the plain meaning of the text of the Ten Commandments and in the rabbinic interpretation of Leviticus 19:11. Wearing masks, depending what they were depict, often repeated the cross-dressing violation and occasionally worse.

 

 
 
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