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Opinion: Letters
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Misunderstanding Noah

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In regard to the Noah movie (“‘Noah’ and the Jews,” March 28), issue of the Jewish Standard) I can see that adults may see the subtleties in a midrashic interpretation of this movie. Children, however, will learn that Noah was a homicidal maniac who wants to kill his daughters-in-law so that they won’t bear female offspring, not the “righteous man, perfect in his generation, who walked with God,” as the Bible tells us. They will learn from this film that only animals are fit to exist on the earth, as man is corrupted and should not have any more children. In the Bible, Noah’s three sons and their wives enter the ark to preserve mankind. I am sorry to say that a whole generation of children will now grow up with the wrong story.

 

Rosalie Greenberg
Teaneck
 
 

Finding pharaoh

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The connection between Amenhotep III (1390-1352 BCE) and the Passover seder (“Pharaonic Foursome,” March 28) may be far more significant than people realize.

The commonly held view is that Rameses II (1279-1213 BCE) was the pharaoh of the Exodus. But observations in a recent biography of Amenhotep III, and the possible connection between that pharaoh’s favorite deity, Sekhmet, and the 10 plagues narrative in the Book of Exodus, point to the possibility that he was the Exodus pharaoh.

According to Egyptologist Arielle Kozloff, Amenhotep III was obsessed with memorializing his life in great detail. Yet there is a surprising eight-year gap in the documentation of his reign. Dr. Kozloff’s theory is that Egypt must have been in the throes of a major national trauma. She cites reasons to believe that one or more plagues, possibly including bubonic plague, struck Egypt at that time. Although she shares the view that the Exodus occurred around the time of Rameses II, Dr. Kozloff acknowledges that her theory about this eight-year period bears a striking similarity to the Exodus story that we retell at every seder.

Amenhotep III is known to have ordered as many as 700 statues of Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war, plague and pestilence, to be made and prayed to twice daily. His motive remains obscure, but scholars note that Sekhmet was also looked to for protection and healing, and for revenge on the Egyptians’ enemies.

The Book of Exodus hints in several places at a link between Sekhmet worship and the 10 plagues, particularly in the narrative of the first and tenth plagues. The first plague, the blood-filled Nile, echoes a foundational Egyptian myth in which Sekhmet slaughters humans at the command of her father, the sun god Ra. Before the last plague, the death of the Egyptian firstborn, God says He will not allow “the Destroyer” to smite the houses of Israelites who comply with His directive to smear the blood of the Paschal lamb on their doorposts (Exodus 12:23). The ancient Egyptians referred to Sekhmet as “the Destroyer.” So, perhaps God used Sekhmet worship as the focal point for “executing judgment on the Egyptian deities” (Exodus 12:12) when He demonstrated that the Egyptians’ gods could neither protect them from the plagues nor wreak vengeance on the Jews.

The identity of the Exodus pharaoh may continue to elude clear proof. But if there is a connection between Amenhotep III and the Exodus story, the pharaoh whose four colossal statues are found in Luxor may well have been the Exodus pharaoh himself. This would give fresh reason to believe that the event we celebrate on Passover as a cornerstone of our faith did, in fact, occur.

 

Ira Friedman
Teaneck
 
 

Rethinking Heine

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In “From Rasha, with love” (March 28), Rabbi Joseph H. Prouser quotes the poet Heinrich Heine and calls him, in passing, a “Jewish apostate.”

But Heine was more complicated than that. He called himself “merely baptized, not converted,” and wrote to a friend: “From my way of thinking you can well imagine that baptism is an indifferent affair. I do not regard it as important even symbolically, and I shall devote myself all the more to the emancipation of the unhappy members of our race. Still I hold it as a disgrace and a stain upon my honor that in order to obtain an office in Prussia — in beloved Prussia — I should allow myself to be baptized.”

Later, he wrote, “I regret very deeply that I had myself baptized.”

And still later: “[I]f every kind of pride of birth were not a foolish contradiction in a champion of revolution and democratic principles, the writer of these pages might be proud that his ancestors belonged to the noble House of Israel, that he is a descendant of those martyrs who have given to the world one God and a moral law, and have fought and suffered in all the battle-fields of thought.”

This long-neglected “Jewish apostate” poet is worthy of contemporary study.

 

Rebecca Boroson
Jewish Standard editor emerita, Woodstock, N.Y.
 
 

It’s not her business

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At first I too was gripped by “Drafts of Wrath” (Editorial, March 14). In the end I determined that this issue is similar to others that I have read or experienced recently. In two words, it is about personal struggles. Whether reading about women/girls and tefillin or watching the movie “The Rabbis’ Daughters,” it is all about personal struggles.

There is not a living being who is untouched by personal struggle. We can debate their purpose or worthiness but in the end the hardships are in our lives. Sometimes they are self-created and sometimes they are not. Perhaps because of all I’ve read or in spite of it, I’ve determined that I don’t want my personal struggles scrutinized. Therefore who am I to sit in judgment of others when I have no clue how or why they have come to their determinations and actions.

Of course I have feelings of what I will and will not support, but in the end, I feel I have a moral and ethical obligation to mind my own business. My only obligation is to promote ahavat Yisrael, and I will do that out loud while encouraging myself to withhold judgment of my fellow Jewish people. I will not promote negativity but choose to accentuate the positive. My hope is that more Jews will make the same choice.

 

Varda Hager
Teaneck
 
 

Talking to Mr. Hantgan

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Last week my eighth-grade class in Yavneh Academy interviewed three residents from the Jewish Home at Rockleigh via Skype. George Hantgan, who was interviewed by your paper as well (“And then here comes George,” March 21), was one of the residents whom we interviewed, and he answered our questions with earnestness as he told us his story. When we asked about bullying in his teenage years, Mr. Hantgan told us of his experiences in Flatbush, where he had gone to high school. At that time, there were rarely any Jews in the area, and therefore he was an obvious target for bullying. However, his attitude about it did not seem at all negative, as he told us that they were only making fun of him to try to prove that they were smarter than him. His attitude toward bullying inspired me to look at bullies from a new perspective; as them being the victims of insecurity and the others as the ones who are being dragged down. Our generation could learn a lot from his wisdom, as even at a young age he knew how to deal with bullying.

Mr. Hantgan continued telling us that there was also a large amount of anti-Semitism in this area. Nowadays, we could never imagine the things he saw — signs that said, “No Jews or dogs allowed,” put there by the government. Obviously, society has changed dramatically since then.

We also questioned him about his life during the Great Depression and how he was affected by it. At this, he started from the beginning of his life, with his father’s lamp business. Many times Mr. Hantgan would help his father out and earn 5 cents for himself as well as dinner in a restaurant, a rare treat. When the Great Depression grew worse, his father was forced to sell the factory and look for a new job, which was no easy task. Mr. Hantgan shared with us how he worked for a newspaper route, delivering papers for 5 cents a paper, and giving all his earned money to his parents.

Today, we take many things for granted, especially America’s recovering economy. Mr. Hantgan’s stories reminded us to be grateful for all the money which we have and the big houses which we own. We should always remember to especially be grateful for being born in such a peaceful time, when anti-Semitic signs such as he saw no longer exist in the U.S. Listening to how Mr. Hantgan cared for his parents was a major lesson for me and my classmates. Many of our relationships are not as caring and do not include the same amount of responsibility that Mr. Hantgan felt for his parents. Mr. Hantgan is an amazing role model for the next generation, and we should always remember the lessons the past can teach us!

 

Jessie Gronowitz
Yavneh Academy
 
 

Talking to Mr. Hantgan

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On Wednesday, my Yavneh Academy eighth-grade class had the privilege to Skype with residents at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh. The questions ranged from memorable fads to the satanic Holocaust. One resident interviewed was George Hantgan.

Any question we fired at him was answered with an eagerness to share and inspire. We received information firsthand from someone who experienced effects from the Holocaust while living in America, anti-Semitism, and even the Depression. He recounted countless tales from his childhood, which included stories from his father’s business to singing in the shower. As we listened to the memorable anecdotes, it became clear that wisdom radiated from his very lips. Mr. Hantgan’s fascinating childhood captivated the class.

One important point that he brought up was the anti-Semitism in his lifetime. He explained that he was one of the only Jews while in high school and was constantly downgraded because of his ethnic group. Mr. Hantgan shared how he “beat” the anti-Semites. He did his best to forget about it and move on, but, most importantly, he was resilient. This lesson is one that should be learned by all Jews everywhere.

George Hantgan is the perfect example of a person that all Jews should strive to be. His unpretentiousness and modesty is most inspiring. With his amazing character and calm personality, he really is a dedicated and compassionate person.

 

Noam Putterman
Yavneh Academy
 
 

More on U4U

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Many thanks for your wonderful article “Unite4Unity brings Synagogues together for Israel” but I do wish to correct one omission. Ari Hirt of Teaneck is our other partner in Unite4Unity, and he has been a core member from the outset supporting the mission and efforts of U4U.

Unite4Unity is an innovative, grassroots, lay leadership-driven organization that seeks to create interesting, dynamic, and social programming and opportunities for Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, unaffiliated and all Jews to interact, learn from each other, connect, and build relationships. U4U hopes to serve as a catalyst, fostering the unity of Jewish people by encouraging the various segments of the community to collaborate better and focus on the critical, transformative, inspirational, and existential issues facing us all.

U4U was founded by Ian Zimmerman and me in connection with our participation in the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program. We are assisted by others, including Ari, and work in conjunction with the JCRC, the Jewish Community Relations Council of The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey.

If you feel passionate about building greater unity in the Jewish community and breaking down walls and silos and want to join our efforts please email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). We need great people who can both imagine a united Jewish community and do the work required to make this happen to join us.

 

Lee Lasher
Englewood
 
 

Naming names

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In reminding us of the anomalous names of the protagonists in Megillat Esther, Rabbi Engelmayer raises what might be an even more disturbing question than the names themselves (“Highlight of the Gods,” March 14). Mordechai, he tells us, actually means a follower of Marduk, the Babylonian god of war, while Esther is named for Ishtar, the pagan goddess of love. These were common names in the Persian empire. It is as if prominent Orthodox Jews today were to name their children Jesus, Christopher, Mohammed, or Christine.

This situation certainly calls for some rather vigorous commentary and explanation One looks in vain, however, for a discussion of the issue in commentaries to Megillat Esther. Just about all of the commentaries, especially ArtScroll, totally ignore this problem. When discussing the origins of the names of our Jewish protagonists, Mordechai and Esther, the commentators tie themselves in linguistic knots trying to find some exceedingly obscure Hebrew or Aramaic origins for these names, and yet amazingly totally ignore the elephant in the room, to wit, that our protagonists are named for prominent pagan gods! Nowhere is this even mentioned, much less discussed! If I were inclined to be disrespectful, I might say that such blatant avoidance smacks of a lack of intellectual/religious integrity, if not actual dishonesty.

Explanation, anyone?

 

Jeff Bernstein
New Milford
 
 
 
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Vaccinate your kid!

 

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Sweet Taste of Torah

 

 

 
 
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