Letters from June 27, 2013


Not provocative

There is a video going around Facebook of two haredim singing “Hotel California” at what, I assume, is Zion Square. It takes a few seconds to make sense of what is going on — two bearded men, one with an acoustic guitar, one with an electric guitar, singing about heroin addiction. But if this is how the spirit moves them, who am I to judge?

The same applies to Women of the Wall. Who is Chana Keleman (“Women of the Wall — a different perspective,” WJW, June 6) or the Israeli haredi community to judge? She was taught that a tallit and tefillin are “a man’s religious articles.” Many of us were taught or have decided for ourselves that they are simply religious articles. They facilitate one’s spiritual experience even if donning them is not required by tradition.

I was taught (and have taught my children) that, unless dictated by physiology, one’s choices in education, career, religious observance and social status cannot be dictated by others. Chana was taught there is “women’s prayer” and there is “men’s prayer”; many of us were taught about what constitutes “Jewish prayer.” But here’s the thing — our different upbringings don’t need to conflict or negate the other. Women of the Wall are not being provocative. They are only deemed as such by those who wish to impose their views on others.


Remember the story of the simple man who prays by reciting the alphabet because he can’t read? His prayers are accepted because he had “kavanah” — heartfelt purpose. Your heartfelt prayers may look different than mine but they ultimately reach the same place.




Incompatible functions?

The Washington Post of June 9 featured, on its front page, an article about the renascent Sixth and I Synagogue, which has become transformed into a very popular venue for “cultural” programs ranging from book talks to musical performances to stand-up comedy.

The music that is presented tends to favor genres such as folk rock, pop and gospel. The performers at Sixth and I, the article acknowledges, “sometimes swear, rage, grind and ridicule” while they are “on the altar directly in front of the wooden arc that houses the synagogue’s sacred Torah.” Sixth and I also functions as a synagogue on Sabbath days and holidays and provides religious education programs, while catering to all Jewish denominations and not charging any membership fees.

Question: Are these two functions of Sixth and I — the “cultural” and the religious — incompatible, or are they actually complementary? I am sure that Sheldon Zuckerman, Esther Foer and the other guiding lights of the institution would answer that the latter is true — that the revenue generated by the entertainment programs is used to subsidize the religious programs and that the people who are drawn to the synagogue in search of culture or entertainment may eventually seek a Jewish affiliation.

But this can be a difficult balancing act, requiring thoughtful consideration of the Jewish character of the venue and of the Jewish calander. Does a Jewish calender even hang on a wall of the staff office, where it could have cautioned the staff against scheduling a comedian on Tisha B’Av? Is it appropriate to schedule the “Sligo Creek Stompers and Bumper Jacksons” on a Saturday night in July at 7:30 p.m., when the Sabbath does not conclude until at least an hour and a half later? Is it really all right to allow an entertainer to present “edgy” material from the “altar” [bima] just “as long as the arc [ark] is closed”?



Slap in the face

Washington Jewish Week erroneously (“Orthodox shul opens doors to female spiritual leader,” May 30) categorizes the tasks of leading synagogue prayer and chanting Torah as “typical rabbinic duties.” In Orthodox Judaism, these are not so much clerical jobs as male functions, open to any Jewish Y-chromosome bearer who has the requisite skills to serve as shaliach tzibur and ba’al kore, respectively.

Also, according to WJW, at a recent ZOA luncheon (“ZOA garners bipartisan support,” May 30), Rep. Michele Bachmann was introduced as the “Queen Esther … of Congress.”

This is a slap in the face to Torah-loving Jews everywhere. According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column, Rep. Bachmann has told untruths, ranging from making minor factual errors like confusing legendary Western icon John Wayne with serial killer John Wayne Gacy; wishing Elvis Presley a happy birthday on the day that was his yahrzeit; or confusing Concord, N.H., with Concord, Mass., to whoppers like claiming a relationship between the HPV vaccine and mental retardation.

Comparing Mrs. Bachmann with heroic Queen Esther is nothing short of blasphemy. On behalf of all Jews who revere emes (truth), I demand an apology from the ZOA and its chief magsman, Morton Klein for this outrageous defamation.



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