Letters | June 17, 2020


Is Sen. Cotton Shammai or Goebbels?

I’ve long admired Yehuda Kurtzer’s thoughts on how pluralism moderates extremism and divisiveness in the Jewish community and, in extrapolation, greater American society. Thus, I was surprised when I read “Pluralism is a Jewish value. But pretending all ideas are equal destroys democracy” (Voices, June 11).

Kurtzer has previously quoted the Rabbis after the Second Temple’s destruction: “All who have already taught, let come and teach, and all who have not yet studied, let them come and study.” But not, it seems for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to express his views in the New York Times, regardless that he represents at least 52 percent of Americans who, in a recent poll, favored deploying troops to quell the violence in American cities. One can disagree with every instance of the senator’s argumentation but still appreciate the criticality of publishing his opinions.

Kurtzer would be correct that an editorial board has the right not to publish Der Sturmer-like articles. If Kurtzer believes Cotton’s views are no different than Julius Streicher’s, then pluralism is not in play, and let’s have an end to dialogue.

But in doing so, Kurtzer would be participating in the great tragedy of our times — the incessant, baseless denunciations of the other as an enemy of the people. Is discussing the meaning of “insurrection” tantamount to “Mein Kampf” argumentation? Is seeing violence in our streets and asking Americans to stand up against it Goebbels-like propaganda?


Not even God, Kurtzer points out, asserted “godliness” when it came to pluralistic debate. To employ Kurtzer’s own reference, we look back and see that the Talmud clearly chose Hillel, and most of Shammai’s rulings went by the wayside. But as abrasive as Shammai seemed to have been, doesn’t rabbinic normativity also record his views?



Regarding “Alana Suskin’s deep dive” (June 11):

The question I would pose to Rabbi Suskin, in her going from being a Conservative Jew to an Orthodox one, is the same as I would pose to a mainstream Protestant woman embracing Islam: As an educated, 21st-century female, how to do you justify moving from a tradition featuring egalitarian participation in formal public worship to one which favors a separate but equal, sit-in-the-back-of-the-bus approach to female attendance?


Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

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  1. Saul gets it right per his comments concerning the NY Times’ handling of Senator Cotton’s op-ed. The airing of different points of view should be the standard—in newspapers, on college campuses…..regardless of how misinformed or despiccable they might seem.
    On the other hand, the 1st Amendment does not give all speech “carte blanche” treatment: you cannot yell “fire” in a crowded theater when there is none, for instance. Better to know where people are coming from, but as Saul suggested, not every individual or thought deserves a public forum.
    The NY Times, however, could/should have handled the reviewing and publishing of the Senator’s comments with greater forethought.


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