Where was God, Rabbi Boteach?
Before Shmuel Boteach forgets his name, he can easily talk to or take a look at the writings of the families and survivors of the many many such tragedies we’ve had in the past, and still are Boteach (“Where was God on October 7?” January 12).
I can judge no one for what they say or do. I don’t know what they’re going through. How much more can we not judge God, who is entirely beyond our understanding and experience?
On the other hand, if you shrink God down to human size, into a fluffy, one-dimensional zeidy who just smiles and gives with no expectations, Judaism into comfort food with no responsibility or purpose, and this world into an end of itself, then even the smallest things truly make no sense.
I’m in Israel. Some break, some complain, some hate. Here I see they grow. I can’t put down anyone. But I can choose to stop breaking further. I can choose to grow.
formerly of Teaneck
How very simplistic!
It is difficult to imagine a more simplistic and selfish column than Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s “Where was God on October 7?” Simplistic because he imagines a God who can “stop every tragedy.” Based on God’s track record, it is clear that God cannot and does not. Selfish because the rabbi appears to concern himself only with innocent Jews, especially babies. Aren’t Palestinian babies also “sweet and innocent?” Aren’t innocent Gazans also worthy of protection? Finally, when the rabbi claims that “those who arrogantly worship religion successfully advance the cause that their religion is more important than life itself,” he is actually describing the religious West Bank settlers who harass, intimidate, assault, and kill Palestinians. No, Rabbi Boteach, the real question from October 7 is, “When will Israelis and Palestinians learn to coexist in peace, security and justice?”
Why they hate us
My father, Harold Lerman (z’l) regularly wrote letters to the Jewish Standard, usually on matters pertaining to Israel and always from a conservative perspective. Occasionally his letters would critique opinion pieces written by Rabbi Engelmayer, whom he liked but never agreed with. Although my politics are considerably to the left of my father’s, I find it necessary to continue that tradition.
In his column, “Our silence is no longer an option,” (January 5) Rabbi Engelmayer, in my view, makes several valid points about the extremist nature of many of the leaders in the current Israeli government. He also makes some assertions regarding Israel’s conduct of the current war that I disagree with. Fair enough. Reasonable people can disagree about tactics when fighting terrorists who hide behind and underneath their own people.
What is grievously wrong and frankly shocking is his blaming Israel for the rise in antisemitism. In the aftermath of WW II, there was a temporary lull in publicly expressed antisemitism. As the memory of the Shoah fades, antisemitism has been surging throughout the world. The Tree of Life, Poway, and Jersey City shootings and other deadly attacks on Jews, occurred before October 7, 2023. Condemnation of Israel in the aftermath of October 7 was in full swing by October 10. Grotesquely, the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Groups and others blamed Israel for Hamas’s attack!
Antisemites never lack excuses for their antisemitism. An antisemite’s Yom Kippur prayer would include:
For the sin of:
• Killing our God
• Rejecting Christianity (or Islam)
• Accepting Christianity (or Islam) but not with a full heart
• Being insular
• Being cosmopolitan
• Being vile communists
• being greedy capitalists
• Living among us rather than going back to where you came from
• Going back to where you came from
• Leading the Great Replacement
• Being white, privileged oppressors
For all of these, we hate you, we condemn you, we attack you.
The cause of antisemitism is not found in the actions of the Jewish people or the Jewish state, it is found in the hearts of the antisemite.
Rabbi Engelmayer arouses ire
I am writing this in response to some of the points and innuendos that Rabbi S. Engelmayer’s editorial opinion brought up in “Our silence is no longer an option.” January 5. I do agree with his assessment that antisemitism is exploding all around the world and especially with Gen Zers.
Some of the statements that arouse my ire include: “It is being fueled by the public’s perception of how Israel deals with all things Palestinian” and “Policies of and the tactics used by Israel’s right-wing extremist government play a huge role in promoting Jew hatred.”
Rabbi Englemayer’s complaint is that there are so many civilian deaths in Gaza, and he links this to the current rise in antisemitism. I appreciate that he acknowledges that Hamas uses its own people as human shields and has placed its people on rooftops, which has prevented several Israeli pilots from dropping their bombs.
But then he blames the current rise in antisemitism on the IDF using “dumb bombs.” This is where I draw the line. If he is so opposed to Israel using them, then why doesn’t he use his superior writing skills to contact each government official and ask them to authorize the sale or simply supply Israel with more “smart or precise directed bombs”? Better yet, why doesn’t he write to all the democracies of the world and ask them to supply Israel with these “smart, precise bombs”?
Rabbi Engelmeyer seems to be forgetting that this is a war. In war, people get killed. There has never been a time when there has not been collateral damage in war. As it says in Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3:8, “A time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” War is not pretty, but sometimes objectives must be accomplished. At least, this is a declared war and not a premeditated act of terrorism and barbarism as committed by Hamas on October 7.
Does Rabbi Engelmeyer have a child — son — brother — husband — father with boots on the ground in Gaza? Well, I do. It is my understanding that the air force tactic is to bomb an area with these so called “dirty bombs” to prevent terrorists from hiding inside a building to shoot at approaching IDF soldiers or to prevent Hamas operatives from planting bombs or booby-traps that will entrap IDF soldiers when they enter a building. This is urban warfare. Hamas operatives can be hiding in any story of a building, using any window, or popping up from the underground tunnels with machine guns, rifles, grenades, etc., at any time. Our soldiers are walking into these unfamiliar areas.
Rabbi Engelmayer and myself seem to be on the same page when he states, “Yet we cannot survive yet another loss of a Jewish state” and “Israel must defeat Hamas.” But how exactly does he propose to defeat Hamas?
Rabbi Englemayer wrote brilliantly in “The Oft-Ignored Truth about Hamas” in the December 8th issue. And yes, it is important that we address antisemitism. Yes, we should each do introspection. But he seems to be putting the blame on the victims and not the attackers.
Bibi must go — but not now
I did not support Mr. Netanyahu in any of his political career, and I certainly understand and appreciate Rabbi Engelmayer’s criticisms of him (“Our silence is no longer an option”). But I do not believe that it would be prudent to replace him at this time.
I recall the tremendous confusion and disunity that accompanied the multiple previous Israeli elections, where no one else was able to assemble a coherent coalition. I also recall the tone of Israeli society this past September and early October. I understand that Hamas had been waiting for exactly such a chaotic situation during which to launch their terrible outrage. I fear that if Israel starts another round of critical campaigns and divisiveness, Hezbollah and others could (God forbid) seize such an opportunity to launch their own attacks. Not to mention that Israeli response time would then be hindered by the need to transition leadership and intelligence data between different entities.
So, Bibi Netanyahu may not be the perfect or best person for the job at hand, but I submit that it is much preferable to stick with him with a united front, than to try to change leadership during this critical time.
We need nuance, not binary thinking
Alexander Smukler swaps nuance for thinking in absolutes.
I have great respect for Alexander Smukler and his insightful analysis of the Ukraine war these past two years. However, his comments in last week’s edition about Israel and Palestine are more binary thinking rather than nuance. (“The curious case of Mx. Masha Gessen,” January 12.)
Mr. Smukler does start with a very important and personal discussion of Jew-hatred during his years growing up in the Soviet Union, before then discussing fellow Russian Jew Masha Gessen’s New Yorker piece critical of Israel’s wartime conduct. Instead of merely disagreeing with Mx. Gessen based on facts and interpretations, Mr. Smukler instead opts for ad hominem attacks, calling Gessen his “enemy” and assuming that they “probably always concentrated more on gender issues more than on being a Jew.” He also claims that Gessen “supports a terrorist organization,” yet nowhere in the article do they justify or support Hamas; on the contrary, Gessen has also discussed Hamas’s October 7th atrocities both in this article and in others.
Mr. Smukler also says that Mx. Gessen and other Jews who are critical of Israel’s conduct towards the Palestinians are people who “betray their Jewish roots and family,” and are a “disgrace to the Jewish people.”
Now, I understand that for Mr. Smukler, supporting Israel is important because of his experiences with Jew-hatred. Yet his words here are extremely simplistic, unproductive, divisive, and outright uncivil. The Jewish tradition is all about open passionate debate, not about just unconditionally accepting the prevailing mainstream views in our community. It is therefore not disgraceful, but in fact imperative, that we seriously engage and reckon with Israel’s actions, even as our hearts still weep for the carnage of October 7th,
even as we fear for our safety in the face of rising Jew-hatred.
The “you’re-with-us-or-against-us” attitude does more harm than good by creating an echo chamber of ideas, and shuts down meaningful dialogue within our community about the present and future.