Category Archives: News

Agudath Israel Reaction to Kotel Plan Freeze

Agudath Israel of America released the following statement today:

The Israeli Cabinet’s decision to not upend the status quo of normative, traditional Jewish religious worship at the Kotel Maaravi, or Western Wall, is a prudent and proper one.

The Kotel was a place of peace and Jewish devotion for decades after its liberation in 1967.  That peace was shattered, and the holy place turned into a place of protest in the guise of prayer, by Women of the Wall and its allies overseas.  That has been a tragedy.

Every man and woman can, as always, pray privately and with genuine emotion at the site.  But maintaining a standard for vocal public prayer is only sensible and proper.  That standard, since 1967, has been halacha, codified Jewish religious law.  Those determined to “liberalize” Jewish practice are free to do what they wish in their own synagogues.  To cause anguish and anger to the thousands of traditional Jews who regularly pray at the Kotel, however, is not what any Jew should ever wish to do.

Rather than balkanize the Kotel so that feminist groups today – and, in the future, other groups with their own social agendas – can promote their causes, the Kotel should be preserved as a place of Jewish unity.  As it has been for half a century.

###

A Tale of Two Testimonies

“Gentlemen! Start your engines!”

Or, maybe better, “In this corner, heavyweight champion…!”

Neither phrase was actually blasted from a loudspeaker on either June 8, when ex-FBI director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, or last Wednesday, the 13th, when it was Attorney General Jeff Session’s turn to answer questions. But, predictably, the reactions to the two men’s sworn responses to committee members’ questions came flying as fast and furious as any race car or boxer’s hook.

Mr. Comey, who served in the Department of Justice before being appointed to head the FBI in 2013, has the distinction of having drawn harsh criticism over the past year from both sides of the political aisle.

Last summer, Republicans condemned him when he told the media that he would not recommend that Hillary Clinton be prosecuted for using a private email server as secretary of state.

Democrats, for their part, castigated him for his pointed criticism of Mrs. Clinton’s actions. Then, when Mr. Comey announced mere weeks before the election that the FBI was reopening the investigation of Mrs. Clinton, her supporters were further outraged.

Being blasted by both sides in a dispute is often a sign that one is doing things right. Mr. Comey is clearly not beholden to any party, only to what he sees as his duty as a public servant.

That image was only enhanced, at least for me, by his Senate testimony, much of which focused on his impression that, in a private meeting with Mr. Trump on February 14, the president had subtly tried to pressure him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn, Mr. Trump’s erstwhile national security advisor.

Having subsequently been fired by the president, Mr. Comey was asked by Senator John Cornyn, “If you’re trying to make an investigation go away, is firing an FBI director a good way to make that happen?”

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Mr. Comey replied, “but I’m hopelessly biased given that I was the one fired.” That admission, to me, reflects a self-awareness all too rare in government today.

The partisan pugilists, though, took it as an admission that undermined Mr. Comey’s entire testimony. They also focused on Mr. Comey’s having shared with the media a memo to himself about his uncomfortable meeting with the president, written right afterward and intended to preserve his immediate impressions.

Fast-forward five days. Mr. Sessions acquitted himself well, too, convincingly condemning accusations that he had had conversations with Russian officials about the presidential election as an “appalling and detestable lie.”

The attorney general, too, was seized upon by the partisan pack, mainly for what it characterized as “stonewalling” – his declining to respond to questions about private conversations he had with the president. But, as Mr. Sessions explained, since Mr. Trump is protected by executive privilege, he, Mr. Sessions, did not feel he could relate information that the president might not wish to become public. Many of us might relish the thought of hearing about those conversations, but the attorney general’s point is entirely defensible.

The only conflict between Mr. Comey’s and Mr. Sessions’ testimonies lay in their description of what transpired on February 14, when Mr. Comey emerged from his private meeting with the president and expressed to the attorney general that he, Mr. Comey, felt that such a one-on-one meeting was improper.

Mr. Comey said: “I don’t remember real clearly. I have a recollection of him [Mr. Sessions] just kind of looking at me – and there’s a danger here I’m projecting onto him, so this may be a faulty memory – but I kind of got… his body language gave me the sense, like, ‘What am I going to do?’”

Mr. Sessions, for his part, testified that he did in fact respond to Mr. Comey’s expressed discomfort, and that he agreed with him on the importance of maintaining proper protocol.

As explosive contradictions of testimony go, this was more a fizzled-out sparkler than a bombshell. The discrepancy between the “body language” of Mr. Comey’s recollection (especially qualified by his admission that his memory of the moment is unclear) and the short response of Mr. Session’s remembrance is hardly the stuff of perjury.

And so, what the two testimonies leave me with is a favorable impression of two upstanding public servants responding as best as they feel they can to Congressional questions.

Pundits are expected to take sides here, to find some fault in Mr. Comey or Mr. Sessions. But I don’t see any glaring ones. I’m left only with a positive impression of two honorable men.

Is that allowed?

© 2017 Hamodia

Make Learning, Not War

I don’t know about you, but until President Trump’s trip to the Middle East last month, I had never heard of a “sword dance.”

Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, you’ll recall, were welcomed to Saudi Arabia at the Murabba Palace, near Riyadh, where they joined a lively group of Saudis clad in traditional Arab garb and headdress in a ceremony known as the ardah, whose choreography includes the brandishing of swords, in rhythm with tribal chanting and drumming.

Sword dances, I came to discover, are a feature of much of the Arab world, but also of other cultures, like those of China, Turkey, India and Pakistan.

A sword is also the image on the Saudi national flag, and weapons of various sorts are prominent in other countries’ flags as well, like Angola (a machete), Kenya (spears), Oman (swords) and Mozambique (an AK-47 and bayonet). Hands clenching two AK-47s are featured on the Fatah movement’s flag, which also includes the image of a hand grenade and is graced with some blood-red Arabic text as well. (I can’t find a translation of the words but am pretty sure they aren’t “give peace a chance.”) Hamas’ logo settles for swords…

To read further, please click here.

Science and Scientism

A high school science teacher in Wellston, Ohio was the focus of a front page New York Times story last week. James Sutter was subtly lionized by the report’s writer, who sympathized with the teacher’s tragic burden.

That would be 11th grader Gwen Beatty, who wouldn’t accept his teachings about global warming.

Mr. Sutter ascribed the observed ongoing warming of the Earth to heat-trapping gases released by burning fossil fuels. Fuels “like the coal her father had once mined,” the paper of record helpfully added.

And when the teacher described the flooding, droughts and fierce storms that scientists predict within the century if such carbon emissions are not sharply reduced, Miss Beatty dared to observe that “Scientists are wrong all the time.”

They might be entirely right here, of course, and what Mr. Sutter asserted is definitely the scientific consensus at present. But then again, his student’s broader observation, over the course of history, is certainly true.

To its credit, the article, although it cast Mr. Sutter as a noble white knight fighting for the future of the planet, acknowledged that he “occasionally fell short of his goal of providing… calm, evidence-based responses. ‘Why would I lie to you?’ he demanded one morning. ‘It’s not like I’m making a lot of money here’.”

But the piece makes clear its premise that global warming is real, that it threatens the future, and that it is caused by – and can be arrested by – human beings.

But Ms. Beatty isn’t ready to buy in. “It’s like you can’t disagree with a scientist or you’re ‘denying science,”’ she told friends.

Eventually, the student left the class and hasn’t returned. Her teacher, disappointed, said, “That’s one student I feel I failed a little bit.”

Whatever the truth about the cause of global warming, the threat it poses and what humans can do to slow it, the high schooler is anything but a failure.

Before global warming became the cri de coeur of enlightened scientists, the looming danger was overpopulation. In 1968, biologist Paul R. Ehrlich published “The Population Bomb,” in which he proposed radical steps for preventing the realization of his prediction of worldwide famine by 1988.

And in the 1970s scientists sounded an alarm that the world was cooling.

Pure science is sublime. It yields greater understanding of the world and improves lives and as it communicates an awe of Creation, inspires. But when it seeks to imagine the unexaminable past or predict the unknowable future, it ventures beyond its proper limits.

Mr. Sutter is well-meaning, and can’t be blamed for not doubting the scientific consensus. But he might try harder to better appreciate a student who, rightly or wrongly, is skeptical about what is ultimately only indirect evidence.

And he might wish to consult Israeli chemist Daniel Shechtman, who in 2011 won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of something called “quasicrystals.” He had seen a diffraction pattern in a heated metal that resembled the atomic order of a crystal but whose symmetry seemed different from that of any known crystal.

When Professor Shechtman brought his observation to the head of his research lab, he was directed to a basic textbook on crystallography and told to read up on the subject. When he insisted that he had seen something new, he was asked to leave his research group.

Undaunted, he submitted a paper on the topic to the Journal of Applied Physics. It was rejected. The celebrated chemist Linus Pauling said Shechtman was “talking nonsense” and that “there is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.”

What became apparent with time, though, was that the stubborn professor had indeed discovered a new type of crystal. His Nobel Prize is a monument to the importance of recognizing that science is always a work in progress.

A world that progressed beyond idols of stone and wood has compulsively sought new objects of veneration. Some have been political systems, the various “isms” – nationalism, Nazism, Communism – that have been inflicted on societies over the centuries; others are isms of a different sort, like atheism, or scientism – the unyielding and unquestioning reverence for contemporary scientific dogmas.

It may well be that the earth is warming dangerously as a result of human activity,

But what is unarguable is that skepticism of accepted notions is the very core of the scientific method.

Or, as Professor Shechtman put it: “A good scientist is a humble and listening scientist and not one that is sure 100 percent in what he reads in the textbooks.”

© 2017 Hamodia

Agudath Israel letter to U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley

 

Click on the link below to access a PDF of a letter from Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zwiebel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America, to Ambassador Haley.

Letter to Ambassador Nikki Haley — 6-13-17

 

 

 

June 13, 2017

 

Honorable Nikki R. Haley

United States Ambassador to the United Nations

United States Mission to the United Nations

799 United Nations Plaza

New York, NY  10017

 

Dear Madam Ambassador:

On behalf of the leadership and constituents of Agudath Israel of America, the national Orthodox Jewish organization that I serve as executive vice president, I wish to commend you for your courageous and principled stance on Israel.

Your recognition of the adversarial attitude of elements of the United Nations toward Israel, and your repeated calling out of the same, constitute a refreshing breath of fresh air in the long polluted geopolitical atmosphere of Turtle Bay.

Your recent strong and pointed address to the Human Rights Council, in which you straightforwardly denounced the Council’s indefensibly negative focus on Israel, and the indiscriminate blacklisting of Israeli companies, is particularly appreciated.

Also appreciated is your demand that “Agenda Item Seven,” which you accurately characterized as “the scandalous provision that singles out Israel for automatic criticism,” be dropped from the Human Rights Council’s list of priorities.

Your well-deserved reputation as a person of character and principle has only been enhanced by your words and actions in your current role representing our country in the United Nations.

May G-d give you continued strength and wisdom, and may you forge on to help foster a world where ugly hatreds will be mere embarrassing relics of an ancient past.

Sincerely,

Rabbi David Zwiebel

 

Mr. Berman’s Bubby

“An ugly chapter in voter suppression is finally closing,” declared Dale Ho, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Voting Rights Project.

He was referring to the U.S. Supreme Court’s declining last week to judge a North Carolina voting law that a federal appeals court had struck down as an unconstitutional effort to “target African-Americans with almost surgical precision.”

The law, enacted in 2013, effectively rejected forms of voter identification used disproportionately by blacks, like IDs issued to government employees, students and people receiving public assistance. It was part of a wave of voting restrictions that followed in the wake of Shelby vs. Holder, that year’s 5-to-4 Supreme Court decision overturning a requirement that certain states with histories of voter discrimination obtain preclearance from a federal court before making changes to their voting laws.

The federal appeals court also noted that North Carolina had “failed to identify even a single individual who has ever been charged with committing in-person voter fraud” in the state and that the only evidence of fraud was in absentee voting by mail, a method that was both exempted by the law and is used disproportionately by white voters.

The court also found that the law’s restrictions on early voting had a much larger effect on black voters, who “disproportionately used the first seven days of early voting,” the result of free rides to polling places offered by black churches on “Souls to the Polls” Sundays. (Note to Agudath Israel voting drive officials: See if that slogan’s been copyrighted!)

Last week’s Supreme Court decision not to revive the North Carolina case, however, turned on procedural issues, not on the substance of the suit, so the now-full-bench court’s current leanings remain unknown.

Attempts to curtail blacks’ ability to vote are a regrettable part of American history. They took the form of things like literacy texts and poll taxes.

And, of course, at the founding of the republic, neither women nor members of various religious groups (ours included) were eligible to vote. Only in 1920 were women allowed to vote in all federal and state elections; and only in 1964 were poll taxes outlawed.

Interestingly, there is no explicit “right to vote” in the U.S. Constitution. What the country’s foundational legal document includes, in various amendments, are prohibitions against certain forms of discrimination in establishing who may vote. It is a distinction with a difference, if a subtle one.

Voting in America is a privilege, not something any American can claim a right to, as he can to speak or worship freely, or to a speedy trial. And that means that restrictions, if they don’t discriminate against any group or to favor a political party, are perfectly acceptable.

Likely heading for the Supreme Court now, though, is a Texas law requiring photo identification. A district judge and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit have declared the law discriminatory, even though it accepts seven types of photo ID and can be satisfied by a voter presenting a utility bill or paycheck and signing a form asserting that they have a “reasonable impediment” preventing the obtaining of a photo ID.

A similar law was recently enacted in Iowa.  Ari Berman, a writer for The Nation, wrote a piece titled, “Iowa’s New Voter ID Law Would Have Disenfranchised My Grandmother,” about his late bubby, a Holocaust survivor who moved from Brooklyn to Iowa (go figure) when she was 89.

She had no driver’s license, birth certificate or passport; thus, Mr. Berman contends – well, his article’s title finishes the sentence.

Iowa’s law, however, specifies that the state Department of Transportation will provide free voter IDs to voter registrants who don’t already have state-issued identification. So Berman’s bubby, aleha hashalom, would have no trouble registering and voting today.

Does widespread voting fraud exist? President Trump’s repeated claims notwithstanding, no. Does that mean that laws to prevent it are wrong? No, again. Are voting restrictions racist or reasonable? Well, they can be either.

And yet, as things go in our black-and-white world, when it comes to voting requirements, Democrats and Republicans; minority advocates and establishment types; liberals and conservatives, all line up their regular armies, giving orders to take no prisoners and make no concessions.

A judicious person – a characterization to which each of us should aspire – doesn’t fall into formation on either side of such issues. There are distinctions to be made, nuances to discern, factors to weigh. Tasks that, here, will fall eventually to the land’s highest court.

© 2017 Hamodia

POTUS and the Piñata

“Fire this ignorant teacher for inciting violence against our POTUS,” read one of the many overheated comments to l’affaire piñata (forgive the language cholent). “More indoctrination from the filthy left,” contended another commenter. On the other side of the controversy was someone who wrote, “Um … This is genius. This teacher deserves a medal.”

In case you’re unfamiliar with the Colorado contretemps that birthed the above: A celebration of the Mexican cultural holiday of Cinco de Mayo at Roosevelt High School, in the Rocky Mountain state town of Johnstown, included an assault on the aforementioned POTUS, or President of The United States.

Well, the assault, while physical, wasn’t on Mr. Trump’s person but rather on his countenance, which graced a piñata, a papier-mâché figure traditionally filled with sweets, released by celebrants’ banging at the container with sticks until it breaks. Which it did here, leaving the president’s smiling, if deflated, image lying on the ground as the candies were liberated.

Whether the teacher who oversaw the celebration, who was quickly suspended, was guilty of any crime isn’t clear. The contention of some present that the other side of the piñata featured Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto certainly complicates any judgment.

The candy kerfuffle raises the issue of teachers’ conveying their personal political or social attitudes to their charges. That educators should not engage in overt politicking is entirely reasonable, of course; but entirely inevitable is that more subtle, and thereby more insidious, conveyances of their outlooks will take place.

I am reminded of my English class in 1970. Our teacher – I’ll call him Mr. Levin – was an unabashed liberal, an implacable foe of then-POTUS Richard Nixon, and a vociferous opponent of the Vietnam War, societal moral norms and all that stood in the way of what Mr. Levin considered progress. Teenage me, by contrast, was vocally contrarian whenever political or cultural matters came up in class readings, assignments and discussions; the teacher and I thus had many opportunities for what might politely be called dialectic. My grades in Mr. Levin’s class were not what I felt they deserved to be, but I attributed that to a persistent recurrence of the laziness with which I had been accurately diagnosed. I wondered, though, if there may have been more to my B’s and C’s than met the eyes.

And so, one day, when the members of the class were assigned to write a poem about any topic we chose, a devious idea dawned: I would write an entirely disingenuous anti-war sonnet, making no more of an effort than I ever did, just to see if it might affect my grade. I held my nose and did the deed. Sure enough, I received an A+, my first (and, I think, only) one. Mr. Levin even hailed my accomplishment in a glowing comment beneath the grade.

And people wonder why I can sometimes be cynical.

What I gleaned from that experience was the realization that grades sometimes reflect a grader’s biases rather than a gradee’s mastery of material or skill. And that teachers, being human, bring their personal attitudes and outlooks to their classrooms.

That truism escapes some public school parents, who delude themselves into thinking that their children’s minds are being filled with only facts and skills, not with the values of those into whose care they place their progeny. All classroom education, no matter the subject, involves a relationship between teacher and student. And so, the character and life-philosophy of a teacher is always – or always should be – an important consideration.

Including for those of us who entrust our children to Torah institutions. You won’t find anyone more dedicated than I to the view of secular education expressed by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch. He rejected the valuation of secular studies as limited to their “practical utility,” an attitude, he maintained, that deprives young Jews from “the pure joy of acquiring knowledge for its own sake.” He asserted that secular learning can be “a road leading to the ultimate, more widespread dissemination of the truths of Judaism.”

But for that to be so, it must be transmitted by Jews who comprehend that purpose. If we dismiss “English,” the catch-all term for secular studies, as unimportant, and thus entrustable to teachers who have knowledge of facts but not the perspective for presenting them in a Torah context, we fail our children.

Creating a capable cadre of bnei Torah who can expertly teach writing, literature, science and history from an authentic Torah perspective requires the guidance of Gedolim. It is guidance, though, we do well to seek.

An edited version of this essay appears in Hamodia

Open Season on the Orthodox

The description of the scene fairly leapt off the page: Shabbos at the Kosel, people davening, a paraplegic in a motorized wheelchair, a group of Orthodox Jews approaching…

“…like a big-league pitcher [one religious Jew] cocked his arm and flung the rock at the man in the wheelchair. The rock hit him in the middle of his forehead, his neck reeled back and blood oozed down this face… Then the adorable little children, who only seconds ago were throwing candy [at a bar-mitzvah boy] turned into savages and started picking up rocks and hurling them at the man. Two of them grabbed the brightly colored prayer shawl from around the man’s neck and cracked it like a whip in his face.

“Some Americans tried to intervene but were themselves stoned. Nearby guards stood by, apparently assuming that the man was getting just punishment for his crime: using electricity on the Sabbath.”

That report appeared in the November 15, 1994 issue of the Arizona State University daily paper, The State Press; it had been recommended for publication by the chairman of the university’s journalism department and the director of the school’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. It was, after all, compellingly written and important.

Only one problem: what it described never happened.

Eventually (although after being read by thousands), the report was retracted, when a law student dared to demand corroborating facts and none were found. Pressed for the truth, the aspiring 24-year-old senior journalism major who had penned the piece admitted that the entire account, from start to finish, had been the product of nothing but her own fertile imagination.

It was a particularly gross, but far from singular, example of journalistic malpractice in the realm of reportage about Orthodox Jews. In Moment Magazine’s February, 2000 cover story, which carried the title of this column, I detailed a number of more subtle, but perhaps even more disturbing for the fact, journalistic “liberties” taken by media when “reporting” on the Orthodox community. And in the years since, countless others have come down the pike.

Only last week, a video by an Israeli broadcaster, Reshet TV, depicted reporter Guy Hochman walking around Bnei Brak holding an Israeli flag. The video showed two chareidi motorcyclists grabbing the flag and breaking it.

Another news organization, however, Kol Hazman, reported that the video had been orchestrated by Mr. Hochman himself. And an eyewitness recounted that, before the depicted incident, the reporter had walked “for four hours on the streets of Bnei Brak without being attacked.”

Then a man claiming to be one of the motorcyclists claimed he had been asked to break the flag as part of a “satirical skit,” and just wanted to be of assistance to the reporter.

At first, Reshet TV denied that the video had been manipulated. Several days later, however, the respected Israeli business newspaper The Marker reported that, apparently, it had been, and that the broadcaster had dismissed both Hochman and his editor.

Are there chareidim who act indecorously? Of course there are. But what does it say that media seek out misbehavior, and even, when they can’t find any, fabricate it?

Depressing, no? But we must remain hopeful that, even after so many years of anti-chareidi animus, haters might one day come to their senses.

Just before Pesach, a CNN program depicted Israeli chareidim as a threat to the country, as potentially doing to Israel what the mullahs did to Iran. I wrote an article for a secular Jewish publication pointing out the ridiculousness of that contention.

Most of the responses I received were positive. In the opposite category, though, was one from someone I’ll call E. S. (he signed his full name), a self-described Conservative-turned-Reform Jew. He called chareidim “an abominable blight upon world Jewry and an absolute curse within Israel,” and wants “the entire detestable bunch” to be driven out of Israel “with bayonets and bullets.”

There was more, too, but I’ll spare you. The degree and illogic of the loathing, though, seemed familiar; I remembered something, and decided to write him back.

After politely responding to various accusations he made, I wrote: “I’m heartened, though, by my knowledge that no less a luminary than Rabbi Akiva once remarked that, back when he was an ignoramus, he would have viciously bitten any Torah scholar he came across ‘like a wild donkey’.”

“So I retain hope,” I concluded, “that one day you, too, may have your mud-covered glasses wiped clean.”

His, and others’.

© 2017 Hamodia

An Impossible Pretzel

Some people, it seems, like some dogs with teeth planted firmly in mailmen’s legs, just can’t let go.

Take Peter Beinart.

I have no problem with the columnist and former The New Republic editor’s expressing liberal Zionist views, much as I may disagree with some of them. There is room in this world for different perspectives.

Nor am I particularly vexed by his longtime opposition to President Trump; the president has certainly left himself open to criticism on many occasions. Mr. Beinart’s past insinuation that the president harbors tolerance for anti-Semitism was a silly and unfounded charge, but there are always plenty of those to go around.

What’s more troublesome is the columnist’s refusal to give Mr. Trump credit when it is due, like after the president’s speech last week at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.

Speaking to a crowd of several hundred at the museum, and belying once and for all accusations of his insensitivity toward the Jewish people, the president spoke of how “the Nazis massacred six million Jews,” how “two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide.”

Addressing survivors present, he said, “You witnessed evil, and what you saw is beyond… any description,” and asserted that, through their testimony, they “fulfill the righteous duty to… engrave into the world’s memory the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people.”

He also spoke of Israel as “an eternal monument to the undying strength of the Jewish people.” And he deemed Holocaust denial “one of many forms of dangerous anti-Semitism that continues all around the world,” concluding with the words: “So today we mourn. We remember. We pray. And we pledge: Never again.”

Enter Peter Beinart. Well, not into the museum, but into the pages of the Forward, where he cited Mr. Trump’s recounting of the story of Gerda Weissman, who, in 1945, as an emaciated 21-year-old veteran of Nazi work camps and a death march, was liberated, and elated to see a car sporting not a swastika but an American star. Her liberator turned out to be a Jewish American lieutenant, Kurt Klein, and they eventually became husband and wife.

Mr. Beinart reflects on “how [Mr. Trump’s] views might have affected people like Gerda Klein had he been president back then.” The original “America Firsters,” war-era isolationists, he contends, “shared a mentality” with the president – to protect the United States’ “shores and its people” and to “not squander money and might safeguarding foreigners in distant lands.”

“It is this mentality,” he asserts, “that earlier this year led Trump to propose a budget that cuts U.S. funding for the United Nations in half,” which could bring about “the breakdown of the international humanitarian system as we know it.”

The postwar Displaced Persons Camps, Mr. Beinart goes on to remind us, were administered by a U.N. commission, and paid for largely by the U.S. President Trump, he confidently states, “would likely have seen it as a prime example of other countries ripping America off,” and would “surely have disapproved,” in 1946, when anti-Semitic pogroms in Poland “sent tens of thousands of Jews streaming across the border into U.S.-administered DP camps in Germany,” of allowing any of them onto our shores.

Because Mr. Trump is president, Mr. Beinart concludes, “the Gerda Kleins of today are unlikely to see America’s symbols the way she did.”

One needn’t be a proponent of a Mexican wall to recognize that there is no comparison between, on the one hand, caring for people who narrowly escaped a multi-national genocidal effort only to face murderous pogroms, and, on the other, welcoming every foreigner seeking to improve his economic welfare.

Nor need one like Mr. Trump’s immigration ban to understand that, justified or not, the fear of terrorists infiltrating our country is somewhat more plausible today than it was regarding Jews in 1946.

Mr. Beinart, though, insists on twisting Mr. Trump’s sentiments into an impossible pretzel, into something cynical and hypocritical.

“He praises Holocaust survivors today,” the columnist writes about the president, “because it’s politically expedient. But his actions desecrate their memory. Had he more shame, he would not have spoken at the Holocaust Memorial Museum at all.”

But Mr. Trump, Mr. Beinart surely knows, isn’t currently running for office. And if there’s one thing most everyone agrees about, it’s that he expresses things bluntly, as he believes them to be. Had Peter Beinart more shame, he would not have written his article at all.

© 2017 Hamodia

Homicide Prevention

Observant Jews might be lulled into thinking that the issue of physician-assisted suicide doesn’t affect us personally. After all, while there are certainly cases where treatments may rightfully be declined by patients or, if incapacitated, their families, halacha clearly codifies the prohibition against actually acting to end a human life.

The societal issue, however, in fact very much does affect us. And not just because a culture that sees life as a commodity worth preserving only if it meets certain “standards” of liveliness flouts a universal, fundamental charge that the Torah directs at all human beings. But because societal sanction of ending the lives of “terminal” patients (and every living thing, of course, has a terminus, since Adam Harishon) may come to endanger our own lives.

No, not necessarily because of overzealous doctors and “mercy killers,” though both do exist. Dr. Jack Kevorkian may no longer be active; he departed this world himself in 2011, though not before helping 130 people (according to his lawyer) predecease him. Nurse’s aide Donald Harvey, who was recently beaten to death in his Ohio prison cell, claimed to have poisoned or suffocated 87 people.

The less obvious, more insidious threats, though, are… insurance companies.

Physician-assisted suicide is legal in several European countries and, in the U.S., in Washington D.C. and six states, including California.

Last year, an ailing California wife and mother of four, Stephanie Packer, who had been diagnosed with a terminal form of scleroderma, said her insurance company initially indicated it would pay for her to switch to a different chemotherapy drug at the recommendation of her doctors.

But shortly after California adopted its “End of Life Option Act,” which authorizes doctors to diagnose a life-ending dose of medication to patients with a prognosis of six months or less to live, Ms. Packer’s insurance company informed her that her coverage for the new drug had been denied.

She says that she then asked whether suicide pills were covered under her plan, and was told that, yes, they were, and that she would have to shoulder only a co-pay of $1.20 for the medication. A bargain.

There may have been no causal connection between the then-new California law and the denial of coverage for Mrs. Packer’s prescription. But it can’t be denied that, as physician-assisted suicide becomes available in more states, which will likely happen, it will be regarded by the public and by insurance companies as an enticing option to providing expensive life-prolonging medicines.

The New York State legislature is currently considering a bill that would permit physician-assisted suicide. What’s more, the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest state court, is considering a case that, if decided in favor of the plaintiffs, will legalize assisted suicide in New York without any legislative overturning of the current ban on the practice.

As reported before Pesach in Hamodia, the case, Myers v. Schneiderman, is an effort to claim a constitutional right to enlist help in committing suicide. The plaintiffs argue further that existing end-of-life laws were never intended to restrict terminally ill, mentally competent patients from deciding that they no longer wanted to live. Lower courts rejected the plaintiffs’ claim, which has now led them to the Court of Appeals.

Agudath Israel of America has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the case, pointing to the experience of its Chayim Aruchim division, which has handled hundreds of cases where critically ill patients and their families have been subjected to substantial pressure to allow physicians to withhold lifesaving treatment in end-of-life situations.

In many of those cases, health-care facilities have simply refused to provide the treatment the patient or his health-care proxy requested, claiming that the patient’s “quality of life” was so diminished that there was no point in pursuing treatment.

Agudath Israel’s brief asserts that health-care facilities have withdrawn nutrition, hydration, medication, and other forms of life support from patients even over “the adamant objections of the health-care decision-makers for the patient, and against the explicit wishes of the patient as stated in the patient’s advanced health-care directive.”

Whatever the fate of New York’s ban on assisted suicide, though, it can’t be denied that the idea that a person has a right to enlist others to help end his life is on the ascendant in contemporary society. It is, after all, consonant with the decidedly un-Jewish but nevertheless lauded concept of personal autonomy embraced by so many.

But it needs to be fought at every step, to protect the rest of us.

© 2017 Hamodia