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Opinion: Letters
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Rabbis and ties

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About the letter to Rabbi Zahavy about a friend who refuses to wear a tie in an unnamed shul (“Dear Rabbi,” June 6). The shul’s dress code is that in order to get an honor on Shabbos or Yom Tov the honoree must wear a tie. The writer says, “It hurts me to see him suffer this arbitrary form of punishment and humiliation.”

Rabbi Zahavy takes a strong stand with the congregant. He labels the shul’s dress code as “nonsense.” This is hardly appropriate language coming from a rabbi about a shul’s policy, which follows the dictates of no less a person than the prophet Ezra (6th century BCE), who enacted the rule that individuals should give special “kavod” (honor) to the Sabbath, marked by their change of clothing. This landmark saying of the prophet is quoted in the very first paragraph of chapter one on the laws of Shabbos in the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Laws).

I have heard from one person that since a tie is worn daily in the business world, then to really honor the Sabbath or a holiday, someone should wear a special suit or at least a special tallis. In comparison, the shul’s requirement is minimal. And yet Rabbi Zahavy sees fit to denigrate this duly constituted and halachically based rule, and he insults it as a “do-as-we-say intimidation.” Is he correct?

Is this Rabbi Zahavy’s attitude towards every group that has rules for its members? Would the rabbi hurl the same insult at the strict rules of attire at the Spanish and Portuguese shul in NYC, where the officers who sit on the bima wear tails and tophats? Or at the British House of Lords for its strict code, including the wearing a female-style white wig and black robe by its male members?

In fact, the shul’s rule is that a congregant may daven 24/7 without a tie, and would even be given an aliya without a tie on a weekday, but not on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Yet this congregant is willing to forego the mitzvah of an aliya or leading the congregation in prayer even on his parent’s yahrzeit if it falls on those days because he refuses to comply with the dress code. Rabbi Zahavy denigrates the shul but fails to note this congregant’s egocentricity, nor label and bemoan the congregant’s obstinacy in that he consciously chooses not to honor his dead parent davka to assert his defiance of a rule that he doesn’t like. Nor does the rabbi clarify that the shul’s policy is not a punishment or humiliation; that it is not arbitrary but applies to everyone, and that his friend’s “suffering” is his friend’s choice.

Rather than join a shul that suits him better, after having done his best to change the policy through persuasive halachic arguments, the gentleman prefers to ostentatiously parade his rebellion every time he enters shul. Isn’t there something wrong here with this behavior, and with Rabbi Zahavy’s response?

Further: Rabbi Zahavy’s denigration of the shul’s policy defies Jewish thinking as espoused by the greatly admired and beloved Hillel, who says, in Pirkei Avos, “love peace and run after peace” and “do not separate yourself from the community.” The rabbi’s point of view also is antithetical to the Jewish concept of imitato Deus, wherein we are encouraged to emulate Hashem’s qualities, including the fact that He is Indivisible and a Unity. We are encouraged to live harmoniously with our fellow creatures and promote unity at every turn.

People differ on many subjects, including halacha. There are thousands of rabbinic disputes recorded in the Talmud, but they are resolved peacefully and harmoniously. Once a law or minhag is established by majority vote, all are obliged to adhere.

Rabbi Zahavy’s reference to Moses and other prophets is disingenuous and misleading. Nowhere does he claim that any of these venerable leaders defied the dress code of their day. Further if we were ever fortunate enough to have one of them beamed down from heaven a la Star Trek, I believe that an exception would be made for their flowing robes, and they would get an aliya on Shabbos even without a tie. My congregation, which has a similar rule, has made exceptions in the past. But more important, don’t you think that those prophets would follow the custom that they dress superior to their weekday garb comes Shabbos or Yom Tov? Clearly, the tie is not the issue. The goal is to make an uplift in our garb to honor our holy days.

We are glad that Rabbi Zahavy raised this issue, giving the matter a forum for public discussion. And although we disagree with Rabbi Zahavy and believe that he erred on this one, we agree with him that the gentleman in question should daven at a shul where he can philosophically agree with the establishment and be at peace with himself and his fellow congregants.



DEAR RABBI RESPONDS:

As I argued in my column, it does not seem to me that enforcing an arbitrary and capricious petty tie rule does anything to enhance the Sabbath. It does annoy, embarrass, and intimidate some of the people who come to synagogue to worship. Almost no Orthodox synagogue in Teaneck and around the world has such a Sabbath-tie rule. I’m sorry that Dr. Gross cannot understand the overwhelming majority Orthodox point of view on this specific issue. He is correct that the Torah does teach that “We are encouraged to live harmoniously with our fellow creatures and promote unity at every turn.” I hope he sees fit to make more effort to help us all live by that principle in our sacred worship and I wish him well.

Reuben E. Gross, Ph.D.
 
 

Jofa minyan correction

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Congregation Netivot Shalom is pleased to host the sefer Torah used in Jofa’s Torah Lending Program and to have inaugurated the program with a women’s kriyah on Rosh Chodesh. I write only to correct the erroneous statement in an otherwise excellent article (“Jofa and the point of no return,” June 21) that referred to a women’s minyan at our shul. Our synagogue is committed to providing opportunities for women to participate in synagogue ritual, in accordance with halachah, under the guidance of our morah d’atra, Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, including hosting women’s Torah readings and tefilah groups on special occasions. However, these do not constitute halachic minyanim and no devarim sheb’kidushah are recited.

 

Michael Rogovin

President, Congregation Netivot Shalom

Teaneck

 
 

Koach closing

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I found the juxtaposition of the article about the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism’s decision to stop funding Koach (“Koach closes,” June 21), its campus outreach arm, and the one about Jofa (“Jofa and the point of no return,” June 21) seem somehow intertwined. Judy Heicklen described in the Jofa article how her commitment to kashrut in college brought her into an Orthodox circle in spite of her Conservative upbringing. It is lonely being a committed Conservative Jew in many places. Indeed, many committed Conservative college students find that they do not have a cohort in college and move either toward Orthodoxy because they want to be a part of a vibrant Jewish community in college, or away from commitment. United Synagogue’s challenge is to foster vibrant Conservative Jewish communities on college campuses, so that those students mature into adults who bring vibrant Judaism to their communities. United Synagogue’s misguided decision to stop funding college outreach may well be one that will hasten the flow of committed Conservative college students away from Conservative Judaism, and that is a shame.

 

Rebecca Ivry
Tenafly
 
 

Full voltage ahead for Israel electric cars

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I have been driving Renault EV using the Better Place system for nearly ten months and some 18,000 miles (“Not really so much better,” June 14). Works like a charm!

This is a masterpiece of systems thinking: unlike other EVs, whose battery capacity must be such that the worst case scenarios are covered, the BPLC approach has the battery swapping stations to take care of the rare events, thereby cutting the required battery capacity by a factor of three or so. This means hundreds of pounds in weight, and some $20,000.

The adoption process faced two main hurdles (plus the fact that the financial deal was no worse than gasoline but not dramatically better either): 1) the natural tendency of most people to sit on the sidelines and let others experiment with the system, and 2) the uncertainty regarding the long-term availability of the charging infrastructure. With a total of some 7,000,000 miles driven and hundreds of satisfied customers with diverse driving profiles and needs, the first hurdle has been removed. It is the second one that is threatening to kill the project.

The importance of this project to Israel cannot be overstated. EVs and all the related technologies, ranging from batteries through software and algorithms to robots and swapping stations, are slated to become a huge market. As was the case in the transition from piston engines to jet engines in airplanes, such changes give rise to opportunities for new players. Having an operational “EV world” on a country-wide scale gives an enormous advantage to the Israeli companies, including the extremely high value of information being gathered and insights being gained through experience.

Therefore, the government should step in. It must guarantee customers that the charging and swapping infrastructure will exist, at least so to allow a car to reach all locations in Israel. This will break the chicken-and-egg cycle of lack of confidence leading to limited adoption, which in turn leads to a slow revenue stream, in turn leading to inability to fund the operation of the infrastructure.

Tax breaks, providing a role model by purchasing several hundred cars for the government fleet, will further accelerate the process, but the guarantee is a must.

This is not unprecedented: when the first toll road, Route 6, was constructed by a private company, the government guaranteed a minimal revenue stream for the first few years, in case it would take Israeli drivers time to realize that time is money and agree to pay for using a road. This enabled the company to raise funding. It turned out that after 14 months the revenue stream sufficed and the government actually started receiving dividends rather than paying. So, as usual, some leadership is called for.

This case is a relatively simple one, in that the system is operational and road-proven. Also, it is quite likely that, with such a guarantee, along with the fact that customers are extremely satisfied and the recent declaration by Tesla Motors to the SEC that, for large market penetration, one would need the ability to rapidly swap batteries and would have to have a broad deployment of swapping stations, investors are likely to step forward and go for it, so no government funding would be required at this time. There is thus no need for our cabinet members to be great visionaries; they only need to open their eyes and see what is right in front of them!

 

Yitzhak Birk
Hod Hasharon, Israel
 
 

Acts of tikkun olam never wear thin

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My disappointment in Rabbi Korff’s remarks regarding tikun olam (“Enough with the tikkun olam,” June 7) was exceeded only by my respect and admiration for Rabbi Konigsburg’s much more humanistic outlook (“Setting the world is a Jewish imperative,” July 7). In a world that can bring heartache, despair, tragedy, and as we’ve recently seen in Boston, Rabbi Korff’s own city, the worse that man can do to his fellow man, is discouraging people from pursuing random acts of kindness. It seems irresponsible and certainly not in keeping with our faith. Rabbi Konigsburg better understands that tzedek and chesed are as fundamental to Jewish tradition as Torah study.

I hope that Rabbi Korff is never in need of an unexpected and unreciprocated gesture of human care, but if he is, I will be there for him, as will my children, who have been raised to look for opportunities to fulfill these mitzvot.

 

Martin Basner
Paramus
 
 

Angels on the Garden State

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In response to Jeff Bernstein in his recent question about angels reciting Kedusha even though they have no free will (“More on the Kedusha,” June 7):

The “yeshivisha terutz” or classic answer given in a yeshiva focuses on why angles don’t have free will.

For example, two people are driving on the Garden State Parkway. Both are late to an important meeting.

One is driving a jalopy whose top speed is 50 mph. The second is driving a Porche, which can easily cruise at 170 mph.

The first has no free will to speed. His car just CAN’T. The second has the ability to choose to speed.

What if the second is driving alongside a state trooper? Technically he has free will and can choose to speed. Practically, however he does not. Speeding next to a state trooper is not an option.

The same with angels. There are many Talmudic and midrashic sources in which angels question God’s commands. They have the capacity to choose to question God rather than blindly accept His doings. Angels, however, are acutely aware of the inside story, of how God’s hand controls the universe. They know that they cannot realistically choose otherwise.

Their saying Kedusha is not a tape recording, which is meaningless, but rather an expression of their complete recognition of God’s omnipotence.

 

Yitzchok Weinberger

Coordinator, Torah Links of NNJ

New Milford

 
 

Hearing women’s voices

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I read Dr. Zvi Zohar’s op-ed, “On the question of hearing women’s voices” (June 7) with great interest. This has been an issue that I have confronted personally over the past several years. As a non-affiliated “cultural” Jew and the son of Holocaust survivors, I grew up in a community steeped in Jewish culture and Yiddish culture. We listened to beautiful Yiddish and sometimes Hebrew music, often sung by women. We attended Yiddish theater and watched Yiddish films in which female actors sang Yiddish songs. I belonged to a Yiddish youth theater group in which boys and girls participated. We put on full-length Yiddish plays at Camp Hemshekh, where campers were immersed in Yiddish culture and yes, we all sang.

The notion that a man cannot listen to a woman sing was unheard of in the very Jewish community in which I grew up.

I now live in Teaneck with my wife and our three children. My daughters both sing, one of them professionally. So when I first attended the Holocaust commemoration at Teaneck High School I offered to contribute to the program by presenting Yiddish songs of the Holocaust, was graciously invited to participate, and did so for many years. One day my older daughter suggested that she and I both sing while her zayde played the mandolin. That’s three generations of a Jewish family, here only because two people manage to survive the horrors of the Holocaust. The organizing committee, chaired by two women who were members of Congregation Beth Shalom, an egalitarian Conservative synagogue, declined the offer, saying that the Orthodox rabbis rejected it and would advise their congregants to boycott the commemoration were my daughter to sing. Needless to say, my family was distressed. We met with Rabbi David Feldman of the Teaneck Jewish Center, who held the position that there is no basis for the belief that a man is forbidden to hear a woman sing. The denial was upheld nonetheless.

My daughter, my father, and I were invited to a different commemoration at the Workmen’s Circle in New York, where we shared this gift with those who could appreciate how significant it was.

I did not sing at the Holocaust commemoration the year they denied my daughter the opportunity to sing with her father and zayde and have not been back since. The Teaneck Holocaust commemoration is a community event at a public high school for all people who wish to attend to remember those who were persecuted and who perished. This program is not about religion. It is about humanity, tolerance, and respect for all people. It is about the passing on of these values to future generations so that we never forget.

 

Philip Yucht
Teaneck
 
 

Focus on things that bind

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I am tired to death of opening the pages of the Jewish Standard and reading yet another article about why the religious practices of one group of Jews is less legitimate than another’s. The latest op-ed about why it really is all right to hear women singing is one of a long line of articles in a similar vein (“On the question of hearing women’s voices,” June 7). There have been similar articles on practices during the nine days, kashrut, and many other subjects. Despite a sometimes scholarly approach, the purpose is always the same: someone’s practice is not valid, not based in real Judaism, and “what I do is better than what you do.”

The purpose of a community paper is to focus on the things that bind the community and all the things we have to share. No one should have to open the paper for Shabbat and read why their practice is invalid or silly. People take their religious practices seriously; no one is going to convert to another stream of Judaism based on an article in the Jewish Standard. They will, however, become offended.

The Jewish people have far more critics than we need and far more enemies than we want. Sniping at one another is pointless. This paper and our various groups need to focus on those things that bind us together. Our shared history, faith, and dreams are more interesting and worthwhile than our superficial differences.

 

Dr. Scott David Lippe
Fair Lawn
 
 
 
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