One small step backward
As a co-founder of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy Dramatic Arts Society (HADAS) in the late 1980s, a word of historical perspective and a comment (“ ‘At the end of the day’: applause,” WJW, Nov. 28).
When HADAS began, no rabbinical decisor (posek) was consulted about musicals. The headmaster at the time, Rabbi William Altschul, had previously been headmaster at the Flatbush Yeshiva High School, which had a tradition of musicals with boys and girls singing. When I asked him whether we could perform Rice and Weber’s Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he agreed — it had been done at Flatbush — but the understanding would be that women would sing their solos as duets, because of the principle enunciated in the article. It took one “That’s not fair” from my daughter to convince me that under the circumstances we should not perform musicals.
So it seems that now the Hebrew Academy has caught up to Flatbush — and the Hebrew Academy — in the 1980s. This doesn’t surprise me. The prohibition of hearing women sing in musicals is a recent one and has little basis in the classical Jewish sources and for good reason — women singing in theatrical performances was unheard of before the modern period. When acculturated Jews started attending opera, the question was rarely asked; the talmudic prohibition of hearing a woman’s voice referred to her speaking voice, not her singing voice, and that, only under certain circumstances, and the modern extension is simply another case of the rightward move of contemporary Orthodoxy under the influence of Hungarian and chasidic customs and law, and, in the case of the Berman Academy, the influence of the Yeshiva of Greater Washington.
But the Berman Academy is not alone in its rightward move. In the 1990s, the Horev School for Girls in Jerusalem still invited fathers of eighth-grade students to the class play.
After my daughter graduated, that stopped (the developments were unrelated).
Still, I congratulate the school for taking one small step backward toward a historically less misogynistic Orthodoxy.
In “Group considers picketing play” (WJW, Nov. 28) David Holzel says that COPMA is “a group that opposes staging a play about the birth of Israel … .” COPMA loves and supports Israel and deeply appreciates accurate plays about Israel. We object to plays that spread lies to undercut support for the Jewish state.
What we oppose was the main topic of the evening discussed in the article: the false allegation of a massacre. At the event, Dr. Meyrev Wurmser, the speaker, said there was no evidence of a massacre. She came to this conclusion after interviewing in 2001 all of the participants involved in the false massacre allegation and resulting Israeli libel suit and reviewing the evidence, including tapes of Palestinian witnesses clearly denying that a massacre had taken place. Dr. Wurmser is no longer at the Hudson Institute, as was stated in the article.
For the record, there were significantly more than the 50 people in attendance. It was a standing room only crowd, and we had turned away many because of seating limitations.
It should also be noted that Michael and Susie Gelman, who were present, are now Ambassadors Council members of the DCJCC and are also members of the group that owns Washington Jewish Week.
Anti-Israel artistic director
Ari Roth, artistic director of Theater J at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, defends his recent selection of The Admission, a fictional play that everyone agrees depicts Israel in a very unfavorable light, to be shown at the DCJCC (“Controversy at Theater J,” WJW, Nov. 21). Mr. Roth states, with respect to Israel, that “Art can be the gateway to a mature engagement with the country and with each other as we celebrate and grapple with its founding.” And that is the essence of Ari Roth’s thesis: To project his personal grappling with the founding of Israel in his selection of plays. And this is who the DCJCC has chosen to curate?
He further states that art “has the potential to make us more humane,” which further illustrates his problem with Israel. If we need to be “more humane” about Israel, then he implies that we are less humane in our current thinking about Israel. If there ever was an anti-Israel artistic director, Ari Roth wins the prize. It is a fact that Mr. Roth has turned down at least one play by a well-regarded playwright who had his plays performed throughout America. The play, A Tiny Piece of Land, happens to be pro-Israel.
If Mr. Roth is so bent on airing his problems with Israel, perhaps he should work at a Palestinian Community Center.
In response to “A Marketplace of Ideas” (WJW, Nov. 14), I propose a common ground and bond that would resonate with various viewpoints to Jewish commitment — from Orthodox to Reform to secular, from Israel to the Diaspora. For there is a primal unity and identity not being fully brought to light by our institutions. Just when we need each other in respect and solidarity, we often become critical while being sanguine ourselves. We require various aspects to a common theme of aspiring to be a people in the image of God — authority, inspiration, love, and the joy of discovery and being alive. No one strand of observance can have it all for all Jews, and for reaching the alienated.
We need to ask big questions, more than the Passover: “Why is this night different from all other faiths?” And what are some implications: such as, taking full responsibility for the human side of the Covenant with God — through worthy legacies from our ancestors — how they wrought life together, and now for ourselves here in life. How we behave as society and with each other is part of Covenant with God.
TED L. BENDER
Either Secretary of State John Kerry or President Obama did not realize or did not care that Iran was negotiating from weakness because of its tattered economy. Instead of acting as if the U. S. had the upper hand in the negotiations, we capitulated to almost all of the demands of the Iranian delegation, with the most important and certainly not reversible one, namely the lifting of some sanctions and an immediate infusion of funds estimated to total about $20 billion to restore the Iranian economy.
What we got in return were empty promises of a possible temporary curtailment of the final enrichment of uranium to nuclear bomb levels, but with the wherewithal to accomplish the final step in a period of months if not weeks. Certainly we are being played as fools by an Iranian government that not only should have been and obviously was surprised and delighted at our naive approach to the uranium non-deal.