Letters | Oct. 10, 2018


Kavanaugh article akin to lashon hara
A recent front-page article was a disappointment — indeed, it was a chillul Hashem, a desecration of the Divine name (“Kavanaugh allegations according to the rabbis,” Oct. 4) Only one of the rabbis you interviewed, Rabbi Pesach Lerner, president of the Coalition of Jewish Values, properly judged the allegations to be false as applying to now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The Torah states, “According to two witnesses or according to three witnesses shall a matter be confirmed.” Since none of the “witnesses” identified by Kavanaugh’s accuser would corroborate the accusations, Lerner properly ended his inquiry, declining to offer any further comment.

Not so the other rabbis you interviewed whose commentary regarded unconfirmed accusations as fact, addressing themselves to the wrongfulness of the accused act from various perspectives. Such commentary constitutes lashon hara — evil speech and gossip.

This is not to criticize the accuser in any manner. Indeed, to all appearances, she believed she was telling the truth as she believed she experienced it some 35-plus years earlier. However, under halachah, the strength of the belief of the accuser may not be a basis for denying the rights of the accused.

It is ironic that the gentile FBI agents tasked with the investigation seemed to have a better understanding of Talmudic teachings than the rabbis in your article.
Vienna, Va.


Zemel’s Zionism leaves much to be desired
Israel is governed by a democratically elected government that is responsible to its citizens (“Rabbi’s rebuke reignites debate,” Oct. 4). The administration of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the governing coalition is thus representative of the Israeli electorate. If Temple Micah’s Rabbi Daniel Zemel is really a Zionist who wants to strengthen and positively affect the actions of Israel’s government, he should make aliyah, organize a political party and get enough votes to get a seat in the governing

Sitting in his pulpit here in Washington and trying to alter Israeli opinion by remote control arm twisting only alienates the Israeli public from him and the Diaspora element he thinks he represents. His sermons also feed ammunition to the enemies of Israel who can use his words and statements to support their victim narratives. Meanwhile, these enemies teach their children that Israel belongs to them, the Jews should leave and the world should make that happen by supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

To support Zemel, The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank closed his column with a weak attempt to soften his strident statements by stating, “American Jews can’t appreciate the daily threat Israelis face from Hamas and Hezbollah.” I wonder if he includes the rabbi and himself among those American Jews who “can’t appreciate the daily threat that
Israelis face.”

Temple Micah’s rabbi knows his congregation
Rabbi Daniel Zemel does not need to be defended for his Kol Nidrei sermon, but I worry that rabbis in general feel beleaguered in choosing sermon topics (“Rabbi’s rebuke reignites debate,” Oct. 4). Simply, the rabbi who knows his or her congregation has an obligation to teach, challenge and comfort — not, of course, in each discourse, but in the aggregate. There is a difference between sharing a struggle and presuming a resolution, between spiritual uplift and platitudinous bromides.

Over the course of a rabbi’s tenure, the congregation should expect reliability, but not predictability. Just as there is no subject off-limits in our sacred texts, there is no subject inappropriate from the teacher of those texts. A wise rabbi is able to listen to the Jews in the pews and then sync her or his heart to their concerns, finding the words to speak the truth of personal wrestling by inviting their hearts to break just a little — and learn.

You have to know your congregation well to do so. Temple Micah’s Rabbi Zemel does.
Alexandria, Va.

CAMERA is non-partisan, not ‘right-wing’
Your report of the controversy surrounding Rabbi Daniel Zemel’s High Holiday sermon inaccurately characterized the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) as “right-wing” (“Rabbi’s rebuke reignites debate,” Oct. 4). As noted explicitly on our website, CAMERA is a “non-partisan organization” which “takes no position with regard to American or Israeli political issues or with regard to ultimate solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Rather, CAMERA’s mission is to foster “rigorous reporting, while educating news consumers about Middle East issues and the role of the media.” Suffice to say, this is neither a “left-wing” nor a “right-wing” objective. As the Washington Jewish Week itself illustrated, there is a great need for both “rigorous reporting” and for monitoring the media to ensure accurate, fair — and evidence-based — journalism.
Senior Research Analyst, CAMERA

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  1. “According to two witnesses or according to three witnesses shall a matter be confirmed,” Mr. Berman writes. Which explains the blind eye which Orthodox rabbis turn to issues of child abuse and sexual molestation, since it is a kid-says/adult-says matter; and, as minors, kids do not count as full witnesses in a Beit Din.
    Btw, he same applies to cases of a husband’s sexual abuse of his wife: since, like minors, a woman’s testimony is given half the value of that of a man.
    Leave it to Berman to privilege the perpetrator over the victim- in the name of God, no less! Outrageous- and the real Chillul haShem here!


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