Rabbi Boteach’s errors

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s column, “American Fanatics” (Dec. 18) contains over a dozen errors, distortions, and unhelpful generalizations, as usual. Here are but four:

(1) “And science…is essentially pessimistic. It identifies all the diseases that can kill us and those that might only maim us.” This is nonsensical. To identify diseases is neither optimistic nor pessimistic but realistic. It is no more pessimistic than identifying other natural phenomena like the sun and the oceans. Science is a method of inquiry dedicated to systematic knowledge, and as such it is neutral. But if it were to be characterized as optimistic or pessimistic, it would tend toward optimism given its association with progress, discovery and technological innovation.

(2) “Religion, however, is profoundly optimistic, believing as it does, that all is from God and therefore promises eternal life.” A useless generalization given that there are thousands of religions of every type, and most do not hold by this tenet. Western religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), in their traditional (pre-Enlightenment) forms, tend toward pessimism, recognizing the pervasiveness of human sin, evil and disobedience, as well as generally construing suffering as divine punishment. If there is optimism it is for the next world, for those lucky enough to make it, some after enduring unspeakable posthumous punishment first. Hinduism and Buddhism (and Jainism and Sikhism) are even more pessimistic, seeking to escape the cycle of reincarnation in our world of suffering before achieving Moksha (salvation). Western religions became more optimistic after their encounter with Enlightenment thought in the 18th century and the embrace of… the scientific worldview, progress, and the belief that humans can ameliorate our suffering and improve our lives through science!

(3) “Mattathias’ battle cry was ‘Maccabees—Who is For God, Come to Me.’ ” Mattathias’ family were the Hasmoneans. Only Judah can be called “Maccabee”; Greek writings refer to him as “Judas Maccabeus,” which most scholars understand as a nickname from the Aramaic maqqava, meaning “hammer.” So Mattathias never could have said “Maccabees.” (Boteach refers to “Simon the Hammer” a few lines later, mistakenly attributing Judah’s nickname to Simon.) The cry “Who is for God, come to me” was spoken by Moses in Exodus 32:26, not by Mattathias. Later Jewish popular tradition refers to the Hasmoneans as the Maccabees, and (mis)attributes this cry to Mattathias, so Boteach could be forgiven were he speaking about much later tradition. But he writes in a historical voice, and his history is all wrong.

(4) “Socrates, who was put to death by the Greeks for asking too many questions.” Anyone who has actually read Plato’s Apology knows that Socrates was put to death for “corrupting the youth and not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but rather other spiritual things.” Even if there were deeper reasons for the hostility to Socrates behind these charges, as some scholars believe, it was not because he asked too many questions. (Almost everything else Boteach states about “the Greeks” in the column is wrong or distorted, but space does not permit a complete rebuttal.)

I have great respect for Rabbi Boteach for his Jewish Values Network, his efforts against anti-Semitism, and his general pursuit of Torah, mitzvot, and good deeds for all Jews. But he knows little of many of the subjects he pontificates about. Surely the Jewish Standard can do better?!

Dr. Jeffrey L. Rubenstein

The Karasicks and Sinai

My introduction to Sinai took place over a shared Shabbat lunch with Linda, Mark, Yakov, and Avi Karasick 20 years ago (“How the Sinai Schools started.” December 18). Bruce and I fell in love with this wonderful and loving family. We formed an immediate and lasting bond, being 50 percent Midwestern (St. Louis/Peoria) certainly clinched it! We discovered that our new friends were among the founders and lifeblood of Sinai. Their forward thinking, energy, compassion, and determination to secure Sinai then, now, and in the future was their joint mission. Grace, wit, goodness, and no-nonsense Linda, and warm, smart, determined, and genuine mensch Mark were the perfect couple, along with the other Sinai familie, to secure the success and future for Sinai.

I am humbled and honored to be their friend, and I’m grateful they brought me into the Sinai family.

Sheryl Schainker

Ms. Schainker is a member of Sinai Schools’ executive committee and its board of directors

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