Letters, Feb. 24, 2016


Crème and brulée
Recently deceased Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonin Scalia (“The Court’s Jewish Gentile,” Voices, WJW, Feb. 18) was identified with a legal theory of the Constitution known as originalism.
Jewish history has had its own encounter with such an approach to textual interpretation in the form of the anti-rabbinic movement/heresy known as Karaism.

According to originalism, the proper understanding of the wording in the Constitution hinges on examining what its phrases meant when they were written.

Karaites, meanwhile, according to Wikipedia, “strive to adhere to the plain or most obvious meaning of the text … that would have been naturally understood by the ancient Israelites when the books of the Tanach were written.”

Crème, meet brulée.


What Jewish history has borne out in experience is that originalism cannot be maintained because finding intent in another time horizon is humanly impossible. As the saying goes: “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”

More consequentially, among the rabbis, what existed was a structure of authority characterized by robust, multi-sourced give-and-take. Rabbinic Judaism viewed Torah as a living document, its written aspect (Tanach) requiring elucidation by an oral complement (Talmud).

For rabbinic exegesis, the watchword was critique.

In Karaism, the watchword was deference.

What took hold sociologically in Karaism was a privileged plutocracy presenting itself as uniquely gifted to “read/intuit God’s mind” in the text.  Here, law is presented as fixed, but is manipulated by a self-serving elite.

We find Scalia explicating his originalist approach: “We don’t have the answer to everything, but by God we have an answer to a lot of stuff … especially the most controversial: Whether the death penalty is unconstitutional, whether there’s a constitutional right to abortion, to suicide, and I could go on. All the most controversial stuff … I don’t even have to read the briefs, for Pete’s sake.”

The rabbis would read the briefs.

Agenda in climate op-ed
The opinion piece “Why climate change is a Jewish racial justice issue” (Voices, WJW, Feb. 18), contained an egregious mistake, opinions presented as facts and, most dangerously, a hidden premise.

The egregious mistake was the assertion that the sea level had risen 6.7 inches in the past year. The actual sea level rise is about 6 to 10 inches in the past century, depending on the measurement and analysis protocol, not the past year. An example of opinion presented as fact is the assertion that floods and droughts have become dramatically worse. There are several definitions of flood and drought, and several ways to quantify them, and groups with an ideological agenda game the definitions and analysis to support that agenda. One way to look at floods is by fatalities. Using this, it is noteworthy that none of the world’s 20 highest-fatality floods have occurred in the 21st century.

The hidden premise was that the existence and funding of the Green Climate Fund would significantly address the problem of climate and justice as a net good. A number of international funding programs with nice-sounding goals haven’t worked out that way. For example, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency in Gaza has done some good things but also had its facilities used for weapons storage for Hamas, for terrorist training and propaganda, etc.

Polish and Jewish
I am a Polish Jew (or Polish Jewish) and a Holocaust survivor. (“Sanders’ Jewish roots so far have been quiet issue in campaign,” WJW, Feb.18.)

I have family and friends in Poland, and they also consider themselves Polish Jews.

I think this is the proper way to identify us Polish Jews.

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