Responsa / Letters to JWR
February 3, 1998 / 7 Shevat, 5758

The readers respond: a month's worth of mail


Dear JWR:

I know you won't publish this letter, so I don't know why I'm even bothering to write. Perhaps, I guess, because I'm just bored.

I, too, was at one point in my life very idealistic. I wanted to change the world, make it a better place. That was more than a half-century ago. My "cause" was Communism. Call it my adopted religion.

Let me give you a little warning: be prepared to fail.

My social worker, a young black woman who is dating a Jewish boy and thinking about converting, brought me a printed copy of your January issue. I had asked her to get me something interesting to read the next time she visited and she brought me Jewish World Review. She said it would be good for my soul. Yes, I was born Jewish. But I long ago stopped thinking about my "soul," whatever that's supposed to mean.

Let me tell it to you straight: As much as we like to, we can't stop the winds of change. You believe in an all-powerful G-d, I believe in the will of man. Your G-d promised you there will always be Jews. Well, if the calculations are correct, Jewry will be gone in a generation and a half, whether you or (S)He likes it or not.

I must say I really admire your naievete. It's indicative of a good and caring heart. I just don't want to see you hurt as bad as I was. Let's face it, son, you are on the losing team. Stop while you are ahead. Spare yourself the needless pain. I speak from experience.

Harry Lifner
Los Angeles, California, USA

In a generation and a half, Communism will be dead and buried, but there will be millions of Jews. The "will of man" is far better able to change that one man than the entire world. In the face of the latter challenge, frustration and despair are hardly surprising. In short, Mr. Lifner, while we may be fellow idealists, we have different ideals -- and different scopes of action. May we recommend Rabbi Hillel Goldberg's article comparing divine prophecy with Marxism? -Ed.

Dear JWR:

I got a big kick out of your story about Steve Walz. I've heard him from time to time and he does bring whining to a fine art.

Everything about the story I enjoyed except the gratuitous slap at the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. The Arabs, including Yasser Arafat, have made it clear what they want to do to Israel. Even the Arabs in Israel support him and lately Saddam Hussein as well. Is it racist to want to keep alive, or should the Jews be more Catholic then the Pope and forget about the Arabs' desire to destroy the Jewish State?

Regardless, the story was great.

Yaacov ben Shlomo

Dear JWR:

Your mission statement exhibits a lot of complaining, but no solutions. It appears to have come from the "Reform movement," reportedly of Judaism.

Your site also exhibited a lot of loshon hara directed at the Jewish Press. Do you consider it "Jewish" to publicly smear an old and traditional institution such as the Jewish Press?

It would also appear that either you, or the Jewish Press, are not orthodox; else the "controversy" would go to a Jewish Court rather than to a civil court. Who can explain this?

What do you propose to provide that is not provided by the Jewish Press, and why?

Michael Bowers
Coordinator, Houston Jewish Defense League
Spring, Texas, USA

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify a few things. While it happens that no one at JWR is affiliated with the Reform brand of Judaism, we must note that the Reform movement has been "reportedly of Judaism" since well back into the 19th century, a bit longer than that "old and traditional" institution, The Jewish Press (ca. 1962). Whatever one thinks about Reform's attempt to separate Judaism from Halacha, it makes no claim to be doing anything else. The Kahanist movement, reportedly of Judaism -- represented by both The Jewish Press and the Jewish Defense League -- seems, in our opinion, to be less about orthodoxy than about race warfare. In orthodox, even Chareidi, terms, it's a disgrace (shande) plain and simple.

As for loshon hara, it looks like you've got us by the tongue! We'll make it up to you with an audio feature on this subject this month.

As far as battei din versus the civil courts go, we've threatened no one with any action in any court. Go ask Steve Walz his opinion of one court over another. -Ed.

Plaudits, etc.

Dear JWR:

I saw your netmagazine reviewed in the Forward and decided to pull it up. What a nice surprise! It is obvious that a lot of effort and thought went into your first offering. Please keep it up, and e-mail me a preview of each issue.

You're doing a great job (so far).

Rick Goldberg
Austin, Texas, USA

Dear JWR:

I would like to know how we can receive your news through e-mail. I have been a freelance translator for over 33 years and would like to know how I can find work. There are so many important things about Judaism that I would like to translate into Spanish, but I am a mother with a daughter and also need the income. We are Israel-loving women and consider ourselves Jewish for several reasons. We love, pray and bless Israel. I look forward to your kind news. Todah rabbah, shalom from Sefarad,

Tami and Rhode Flores
Star of David Translations
Madrid, Spain

We expect to have an email listserve up and running in the near future. We'll ask everyone interested in a preview to register at that time. -Ed.

Dear JWR:

Thank you for Julia Gorin's article. I will forward you any comments from my friends. And I hope someone answers her!

I just sent a note to the two dozen Jewish names on my mailing list, telling them about you. Keep us the quality -- and make some room for Letters to the Editor -- that should make it "leybedik."

Good luck and regards,

Bert Lippel

Dear JWR:

I am very happy to have found your site thanks to Project Genesis. I will continue to visit. Toda ve Shalom.

Major Bill Maniaci
Yerington, Nevada, USA

Dear JWR:

I am enjoying Nehama C. Nahmoud's series on the Yemenite Jews. I'm looking forward to this month's articles. Even though our new year is on Rosh Hashanah, I would still like to wish you a Happy New Year. All the best and good luck.

Shari Litman

Dear JWR:

I just found your online magazine and am impressed. I like your mission statement, which seems to have a sense of bringing a Jewish "vision for life" to young and old.

Know that I am a Gentile Catholic who loves Jewish perspectives on life and history. We Catholics have the same problems -- failure to bring our vision to our children, assimilation of our young into an increasingly pagan world and more. We have so much in common.

May your work be greatly blessed and satisfying,
HaKodosh Baruch Hu,

Michael Faulkner

Dear JWR:

First: I just found your publication on the net, and I'm pleased! Dropping back from a daily to a monthly format sounds reasonable. Too much of a good thing eventually leads to burnout and a second-rate product (witness Don Feder).

Second: Wow, Elliot B. Gertel's reviews of George & Leo and Ally McBeal certainly ring true for me. Unfortunately, most of your readers expect you to be trolling for dreck. Can you seek to review one or two "pop" programs which treat Jewish themes in a thoughtful manner, short of resorting to Jewish "happy news?" (O God, are there any such thoughtful programs? And is Bill Moyers the only certified-by-Good-Housekeeping thoughtful gentile? And is Good Housekeeping a crypto-Nazi publication?)

Keep 'em comin'!

Bill Hill
Richmond, Virginia

We received this letter around the same time we initiated our regular daily updates. -Ed.

Dear JWR:

I just found your website, mentioned in the Forward of December 19, 1997, which just arrived today. I read all the articles. They are excellent. Thank you.

Please keep us up to date on a weekly basis as to what is happening with Jonathan Pollard. I have been following his case for many years and have been in touch with his wife, Esther. All she wants and all we want is for Jonathan to be free.

There must be some reason that we do not know of that explains why he has not been freed Is it Weinberger's objections, or those of the State Department? What do you think is the motive for the consistent refusal to free him? As he is now an Israeli citizen, could he not be sent to Israel to live out his life in Israel under "house arrest" if need be? Does anyone remember the book by Ben Hecht called Perfidy? If not, I suggest they find a copy and read it! Jonathan Pollard is a hero!


Dear JWR:

Mazel Tov on putting together an exciting and, G-d willing, revitalizing resource for the Jewish community.

Saul Oresky
Technical Writer-Editor, Code 5231
Naval Research Laboratory
Washington, D.C., USA

Dear JWR:

This is terrific; truly outstanding. I wish you much naches and revenue from your undertaking.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin
Seattle, Washington, USA

We've got naches, anyway! Those interested in advertising should email us. -Ed.

Dear JWR:

I devoured your webzine with zeal, but next time I will try the veal. You have discovered a wonderful way to celebrate Judaism on the internet, and given exposure to some heretofore unknown talent. I have purchased subscriptions for all my friends.

David Bachrach
Baltimore, Maryland, USA

P.S. The subscriptions are free, right?

Avoid the veal. Please. -Ed.

Dear JWR:

Ahhh! Is that a fresh breeze I feel on my cheek? Your description of a musty entry into Judaism is truly sad, true but sad. Although not raised a Jew, I am a convert, I know exactly how you felt from my own parallel experiences within the Christian church. It is that musty, dusty, guilty rendition of religion that is killing religious adherence for all faiths.

Fortunately, some are getting the message and things are changing. Our shul is one example. Our rabbi is enlightened and enlightening. He makes the worship and seeking of eternal wisdom a joyous quest rather a dull exercise with bulimic overtones. Our services are musical and often filled with laughter, sometimes with tears. We come together as a family, not a group of people there to ogle each others' belongings or social trappings. For us, young and old, and our population is from birth to ninety, our weekly gatherings are special, the focus of our week.

Judaism does need some freshening. I know that all shuls are not like ours. I know that some are still weekly fashion shows, places to be seen and make a statement. How terribly sad! What a waste of a such blessings! Why would anyone want to sleep with a whore when a loving wife waits at home?

I welcome your fresh views and look forward to vigorous debates over the years to come. Mazel tov on your new venture!

Frank Champagne

Dear JWR:

Yasher Kochacho -- and welcome to the (already crowded!) world of Jewish culture on the web. I look forward to future issues.

Barry S. Augenbraun
St. Petersburg, Florida, USA

Dear JWR:

Your description of the typical American Jewish upbringing sounded like we went to the same Hebrew school and were in the same family. I must say that as a 40-year-old man coming back to Judaism for the first time, I believe many American Jews wanted to blend in and be "one of the guys." In the process, we lost a great deal of who we are and are at a critical stage of our youth. I look forward to reading more from JWR. G-d bless!

Jeff Bander

Dear JWR:

I recently discovered your website. I am sending this because I want you to know that I think you have one of the best sites I have seen. I am not Jewish, so there are things I am unfamiliar with on your pages, but I am gaining information and insights I could not get anywhere else that I am aware of. You are now in my "favorites" and I go to your page several times a week. I have also recommended it to several people.

So this is just a short note to let you know that you and all your hard work are greatly appreciated, and that you are doing a great job. Please continue!

Joanne Lowe

Dear JWR:

I recently discovered the Jewish World Review. What a delight! The selection of articles was excellent, as were the editorials and columns. Keep it up.

Stephen Baron, Ph.D.

Dear JWR:

I liked what I read in your editorial. I belong to a very large Reform congregation in Teaneck, NJ. Since joining this synagogue my knowledge of Judaism has increased dramatically! You are helping me to increase it even more!

Bertram E. Levenson
Teaneck, New Jersey, USA

Print version?

Dear JWR:

I came across your website recently and wanted to know if Jewish World Review is only an online magazine or whether you also have a printed version.

Is this a digest of articles culled from other Jewish newspapers or are the articles written specifically for JWR? Do you accept freelance writing?

Thank you for your time,

Eta Kushner
Assistant Publisher
Bat Kol Jewish Women's Journal

JWR is an online journal only. Some of our material, though, will shortly begin being syndicated via Jewish publications worldwide. -Ed.

Politics, politics, politics

Dear JWR:

Congratulations on Mona Charen's great article of December 12.

Mona is right, some American Jews in the comfort of their great country have found it convenient to take the comfortable path to Jewish identity, "reforming" millenia of Judaism without answering to the apparent contradiction of collectively reforming and censoring sacred texts for political correctness.

The attitude toward Israel follows the same lines. Mr. Abraham is entitled to his own opinion, but he is hurting publicly the democratically elected PM of the state of Israel, placing him more in the role of overzealous kapo than of a respected Jewish American representing his community.

As a young (35 year old) Jew of French origin who emigrated to the US to escape the mounting pressures of antisemitism in France (where Jews are stuck between the rock of the National Front and the hard place of a viciously antisemitic Muslim community), I wish Mr. Abraham would go and visit other Jews in other countries and other spheres in Israel than bitter widows and left-wing radicals.

Keep up the good work, Mona, and may the current and future prime ministers of Israel make the right, careful decision for this country and the world Jewish community (including Mr Abraham).


Dear JWR:

I believe I can provide some perspective on Mona Charen's column of January 16, which cast aspersions on child care generally. My mother kept children in her house in Evansville, Indiana, for 25 years. She did not graduate from high school (I graduated from Law School, thanks in large part to her).

Sometime in the mid-70s, Indiana created a child care department. Soon thereafter, my mother received a visit from a recent college graduate, a young women in her early twenties, representing this new state agency. After a complete inspection of my mother's house, she received a complete certification from the newly formed agency. The next year the young lady returned. This time, my mother had to insert some insulation in the furnace room to obtain certification. The next year, a new requirement surfaced. My mother complied. This went on for another five years. Finally, my mother was told that the new agency's studies proved that proper childcare could not occur without at least one helper for every three children. My mother had been keeping children for 25 years with no helpers. Her last fee schedule was: $10/wk for 1 child; $15/wk for 2 children and $25/wk for 3 children.

Something like 95% of all the children she kept those 25 years went to college. Not one child spent time in prison.

My mother died shortly after she gave up her business and retired. Now, of course, there are precious few Mrs. Lowe's around in the middle-to-upper class neighborhoods to keep children. Instead, parents are directed by the State to company-subsidized day-care centers. Is this progress? Thanks, Mr. Clinton, for jumping on the bandwagon.

Bob Lowe

Dear JWR:

Don Feder is bad to the bone! I love his take-no-prisoners analysis of the deluded left. May the force be always with him. I loved his reaction to the activist's auto parked in the tax-exempt parking lot and his yielding to the need to write the folks a little note. Two stories could summarize Don Feder: one, Emile Zola's passionate denunciation of the accusers of Dreyfus, and the other, the ancient story of the Naked Emperor, exposed by the unbrainwashed wunderkind. I am really pleased to find more of Don's editorials available.

Ron Bryan
Seattle, Washington, USA
KVI listener, Michael Medved fan, and careful listener and appreciator of Rabbi Daniel Lapin

Dear JWR:

I do enjoy reading Don Feder's and Mona Charen's articles.

Feder's recent article about the Republican party and partial-birth abortion was right on the money. So was his Dec. 28 article, "Hypocrisy Is A Liberal Survival Mechanism." Rarely does one have the guts to be merely point out the obvious double standards of the political left. That's our Don. Good man!

Mona Charen's common sense is so badly needed amongst today's writers. Her gentle-but-truthful style is a pleasure to read. I also had the opportunity to hear her speak a few years back. She's a real gem!

I'm Catholic, but because of these two writers, I now have JWR bookmarked for whenever I want to see some quality writing. I even recommended JWR's site to my close friend, who is a Catholic priest.

Keep the good stuff coming!

Thanks and regards,

Robert E. Maffucci
New York, New York, USA

Dear JWR:

The article by Paul Greenberg on the heartless nature of modern bureaucracy and its making possible such things as Churban Europa and abortion was one of the most moving things I have ever read! I have made a copy so that I may share it with a friend.

As a Ben Noach I am much distressed by the public identification of the advocacy of Biblical morality with Christianity, a false religion that has perpetrated great evil along with some good, while the people to whom G-d gave His Ultimate Revelation are mostly seen as silent on the abortion issue or even hostile to the halachic position (abortion is murder and punishable by death in Noachide halacha). How do I defend Biblical morality without sounding like, has ve'shalom, a Notzri or an antisemite?

I have a great quarrel with the American political spectrum. In America Zionism and philosemitism are classified as left wing. Not only are most Jews hostile to political conservatism, but that hostility is well-earned by a right wing that hates Israel for no d--n good reason! What is one to make of a country where support for Israel is linked by liberals and conservatives alike with support for the Sandinistas and other vehemently anti-Israel terrorist groups? To this day I wonder how Steve Solarz and Alan Cranston identified men like Moshe Dayan, Ariel Sharon, and Yitzchak Shamir with Daniel Ortega and Latin American Maoists while opposing Arafat, the friend of those very guerrillas! (But I forget, Mao's successors are considered Republicans now!)

It is heartbreaking to me to visit webpages of right-wing Zionists like JDL or the Jabotinsky faction and find them taking domestically liberal stances in US politics, and finding gentile conservatives, often invoking the Bible, uniformly hostile to both Israel and Judaism (the latter example is ironic considering the rabid Zionism and philosemitism of Fundamentalist Protestants, whom anti-Israel conservatives claim to represent!). I was horrified yesterday to come upon what I took to be anti-Israel and anti-Pollard sentiments on a Jewish website dedicated to a conservative position usually identified with gentiles. This was totally unnecessary, and I hope American Jews who are domestic conservatives, or even far right-wingers, do not feel a need to take the traditional anti-Israel position in order to qualify as such! As a matter of fact, I would love for a change to find somewhere out there a small number of Jews who are Feinsteinites in their Judaism, Kahanites in their Zionism, and Birchites in their domestic outlook. Hey, it would be interesting!

Don Feder does not go that far, but he is a commendable example of someone who is brave enough to break the mold. I have long agreed with him on domestic issues (mostly). I am glad to find that I agree with him on Israel's plight as well!

The cause of the parenthesis in the above sentence is that I totally disagree with the social darwinist economics of American conservatism. I myself have lived my life in poverty, sometimes in hideous poverty, and my parnasah comes from disability payments.

Distortions and misuses of the safety net do not mean that the safety net should be abolished. How ironic that spiritual religion is married to materialist economics, the exact counterpart of Marxism! One of the great injustices of our time is that Fundamentalist Protestants, who are conservatives for their moral and social beliefs, must talk themselves into believing in Social Darwinism in order to remain conservatives in good conscience! But then, Black Fundamentalists must do the same with "gay rights!"

May HaShem speedily send us Mashiach HaMelech and put an end to this mess!

Be'ahavat Yisra'el,

Roy Neal Grissom
Henderson, Tennessee, USA

Amen. We think. -Ed.

Dear Mr. Pollack,

I just finished reading your article on Bibi and Yasser's Washington visits and had some comments. You seem to be attempting to prove the point that it is good for Jewish people to support Arafat and the peace process. Why? If you know that the facts and a measure of common sense don't lend themselves to such support, why would you do it? It is apparent to any objective observer that Arafat is no friend of Israel and certainly no friend to "Peace." People that truly want "peace" do not blackmail others for free land in order to "buy" peace. That's not peace, that's extortion. It is also apparent that giving land away to appease your sworn enemies will only enbolden them while eroding Israel's security. I worry that many American Jews are so deluded that they cannot see the barely contained seething hatred that the Palestinians feel for Israel.

You then criticize Mona Charen in your article for stating a relevant fact. Is it not true that Arafat once ordered the killing of Israeli schoolgirls? Are you implying that it is bad to point out a relevant fact about Arafat that clearly goes to his character? You then seem to praise columnist Richard Cohen for stating that "Arafat might have learned something on the trip." What? Would he have gone to the Holocaust Museum with the same morals that have ordered the death and destruction of numbers of Jews over the years? Or would he have magically sprouted morals at the door? Surely you are not naive enough to ascribe morals where you know none exist?

And how ironic that you would criticize evangelicals, who seemingly have Israel's best interests in mind -- you give no concrete evidence to think otherwise -- and hail a known terrorist and sworn enemy, Arafat. I'm also very confused about your statement that Bibi Netanyahu associates with Americans who were not Clinton/Gore supporters. Wouldn't it work in Bibi's favor not to associate with Clinton/Gore supporters, but rather with conservatives of a higher moral caliber?

Dana J Swift
Traverse City, Michigan, USA

Josh Pollack replies: My point in describing this series of events -- a subject swiftly overshadowed by the president's latest and greatest bimbo eruption -- was not to argue that one side is right or wrong, but rather to shed some light on how American Jews today regard the peace process. For what it's worth, I am indeed a member of the large majority that I believe supports its continuation. I would not suggest, however, that this question is not subject to keen disagreement, or should not be subject to vigorous debate.

That Bibi Netanyahu chooses to associate with evangelical Christians, Bill Clinton's opponents, when he seeks to relieve the pressure Clinton is applying to him to come to the table with Arafat is quite revealing. It suggests two things: first, that Bibi doesn't think it's worth his time to attempt to rally members of the Jewish mainstream, who tend not to associate with the likes of Jerry Falwell; and second, that Bibi's American allies, not being Clinton-Gore voters in the first place, can't particularly threaten Al Gore's presidential chances by abandoning his candidacy in 2000. Bibi has become isolated among American Jews, where his base of support has grown slender and politically ineffective in terms of electoral leverage against a Democrat.

As for Yasser Arafat and the Holocaust Museum, readers will be interested to know that Arafat ultimately did not pay a call, citing scheduling problems. Given the way Monica Lewinsky took over the American news media at the time, he may have concluded that any visit that passed unnoticed was not worth his while. What might the former terrorist have learned? Perhaps that Israelis view their national struggle not as that of colonizers against oppressed aboriginals, but as that of Jews fighting for their own lives and freedom, without any possibility of being deterred. Less demonization and more understanding of one's opponent's psychological makeup can do wonders for "peace," or as some of us call it, peace. That's a two-way street, by the way.

Stark appraisal

Dear JWR:

I've just read your mission statement. Good luck in having any impact in a world where a made-up, Marxist-style holiday (Kwanzaa) is given the same status as Passover or Easter.

I'll keep reading with interest (as an interested Presbyterian).

Phyllis Logan
Logan Appraisal Services

Fan mail

Dear JWR:

I like Binyamin Netanyahu. Can you supply his email or snail mail address? He probably needs some cheering up.

Charles Arney
Los Altos Hills, California, USA

The staffer designated to scan Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's email may be reached at -Ed.

Letters on letters

Dear JWR:

I find the title "Dispatch From Naziland" extremely offensive as well as obscure. What relation does it have to the contents of your journal? Inquiring minds want to know.

Inquiring minds may have to cope with a little ambiguity. -Ed.

Dear JWR:

I read the letters to the editor with interest. While all of these responses express the opinion of just one or a few persons, I must object to the last letter. "Holocaust" is an expression too sensitive to be spoken of in such a manner. It is a shame to do so, when we consider all those who suffered, died, or survived. The English language possesses many other words with which to express onself or even to provoke.

Hans Richter

The Big Questions

Dear JWR:

I am responding to the article by Julia Gorin, but in effect have a question for the rest of you. In effect for the rest of us -- I am Jewish also.

Julia's article seemed to be heartfelt, expressing her ambivalent feelings about "New Yorker and bagels" American Judaism. It was a good article, and she is a fine writer. But I have a different take on some of the issues raised. I think the problem is simply that the Jewish identity, the very concept of being Jewish, is faltering -- if not failing outright. Granted, it probably works well for conservative Jews happy to live in isolation from the rest of the world, awaiting the Messiah. But for anyone else -- there is, I think, a void of meaning in being Jewish.

I have two points to make, for now.

1. To be Jewish is to be separate. I never felt comfortable with this. Most other religions derive huge meaning from spreading the faith, spreading the word, spreading the truth... whatever that may happen to be. In Judaism, that is absent. Jewishness is, overwhelmingly, viewed as a blood trait, and as such is inherently race-based. It's hard for me to get excited about that, while trying to be a modern human being who wants to see love -- of all sorts -- among all people. I am more inspired by a pride based on openness and love than by a pride based on self-preservation and separatism.

While it is true that our persecution explains this fully, I don't want to embrace a Jewish future based on Jewish victimhood. I think that deep down, I am more inspired by being part of the world than I am by being a member of a tribe. For me, to the extent that Judaism separates me from the world, it loses out. In looking to the future, it's hard to see tribalism as the way to go.

2. Is being Jewish a religion or an identity? Israelis have solved this dilemma, for in Israel, being Israeli, being jewish, is a solid identity regardless of one's religious convictions. Here, in the U.S., a lack of true religious belief immediately undermines one's Jewish identity.

So the issue of American Jews vs. Russian Jews is just the surface, as I see it. The deeper truth, I think, is that all of us not super-religious Jews are faced by an identity crisis. What's the answer? (A) Move to Israel? (B) Keep the faith? (C) Acknowledge that being Jewish is, for many, just a cultural experience -- which makes bagels and lox and an occasional "Oy vey!" quite valid expressions thereof?

Jacob Arbitman
New York, New York, USA

It's unlikely that the editors of JWR or any other reasonably diverse group of Jews could agree on answers to these thoughtful questions -- clearly the questions of the day. There are alternatives to chauvinistic or paranoid particularism or superficial cultural coloration. You must decide which, if any, to pursue. It will have to suffice to say that, as this journal aims to demonstrate, Judaism is a religion and a common culture, not unitary, but vital and drawing on ages-old tradition. To neglect it is to neglect oneself. -Ed.

Dear JWR:

Kudos -- a fine site!

I've believed since childhood that secular Judaism is spiritually bankrupt, defined only by what we "don't" do, e.g, worship Jesus, have Christmas trees, eat bacon, etc. etc. This criticism is always met by near-hysterical outbursts by my parents, who know too little about Judaism to refute what I've said, but are apoplectic at the heresy. Usually they sputter something about how I don't "know enough" about Judaism to have an opinion.

What are these mysterious tidbits of information that would make me appreciate my heritage? Mom and Dad have no idea. But they've always been told Judaism is a rich, wonderful religion/heritage/whatever, and that's good enough for them. Oy vey. If this isn't enough to drive a young Jew to David Koresh or the Dalai Lama, what is?

I'd like to put the same question to you. You say that the Jewish religion is worth preserving, and you hope your web site will help. May I ask what you find valuable about Judaism? Compared to the New Testament, how does it help us ennoble our lives, or teach us to treat others with dignity and compassion? Does it depict a God who can be loved and emulated -- or simply one who must be feared for his mood swings and vindictiveness? If there's anything about Judaism that shows us how to love God and our fellow men, how to transcend our base and selfish natures, I'm afraid I've missed it. I seem to require something beyond instructions on how to sacrifice goats.

Most of the Jews I know believe that God (if any) simply expects them to be a "good person" -- whatever that means. To most of them -- having received no ethical or moral guidance from their religion -- it means embracing a liberal political agenda, because that means they "have compassion." What else could God expect, right?

Can you please enlighten me? I really wish somebody could.

Best wishes and congratulations again,

Anita Warren
Washington, D.C., USA

"Secular Judaism" is a meaningless paradox, and to state that secular Jewishness is spiritually bankrupt is to observe a truism. Don't make the mistake of identifying your parents' vague and insipid sense of identity, more philosemitism than actual Judaism, with the genuine article. The "mysterious tidbits" they couldn't produce happen to be the entire religion, which, sadly, has become a well-kept secret.

This problem, common to all faiths today, surely is enough to drive young Jews to contort themselves into the lotus position in pursuit of mystical revelation, or to swallow the theological contortions and obfuscations of Jews for Jesus in pursuit of a mainstream religiosity that they have learned about from the mass media.

Given your curiosity, however, your parents' ignorance cannot justify your own any longer. Everyone interested in learning about Judaism should speak with a rabbi, who might say:

Judaism offers mankind the original and as yet unparalleled system of ethics and morality. It shows us how to sanctify our lives through daily observances and offerings of lovingkindness, not to despise this life in the expectation of the next. Judaism is a celebration of life, teaching us how to be a "good person" in close detail.
In the meantime, a considerable body of Jewish educational resources exists on the Web. For starters, check out the excellent, non-denominational Project Genesis site, the world's largest "virtual yeshiva," and Outreach Judaism, where Rabbi Tovia Singer gives thorough responses to questions about Judaism and Christianity. Also, be sure to see our own Rabbi Hillel Goldberg's weekly insights into Torah. -Ed.

Finally, something special

Feb. 2, 1998

My list of favorite places on the web had gotten so long I swore I would not add another site to it, until I came across yours.

I'm glad I found you.

Russell Betts
Xishan City, Jiangsu, People's Republic of China

This couldn't have worked better if we had planned it. Just imagine Russell's expression when he sees the new issue. Nihao and shalom to our Chinese readership. -Ed.

Keep writing, guys and gals! Your letters mean the world to us as we struggle to publish JWR daily. We will -- G-d willing -- be publishing your thoughts more often as things settle down. Please drop us a line to let us know what JWR means to you; how, if at all, it has affected your life. Tell your friends to read us and write to us as well!


© 1998, Jewish World Review