Hillary? Seriously?

In the JT’s Oct. 14 Opinion page endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president, you said that she has an “even temperament.” However, according to former Secret Service agents, she is known to have thrown plates and dishes at husband Bill more than once while she was first lady.

You called her a “left-leaning centrist,” yet she has stated she’s in favor of a one-world government with no borders, as proposed by George Soros, the largest donor to the Democratic Party.

You stated that she has  “experience to face foreign leaders.” Who created the vacuum that paved the way for the creation of ISIS? Who made a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin to sell many of our uranium mine companies to a Russian company that sells uranium to Iran? You call this “experience”?

She is the only presidential candidate in history to have been criminally investigated, and had there not been a “fix” in place, she would definitely have been indicted.

As a supporter of Israel, how can the JT justify supporting her when her foundation got millions of dollars from terrorist countries bent on the destruction of Israel?

I can understand you not wanting to endorse Trump, but why endorse anyone, when both are unfit?

No Go on Endorsement

Since when did the Jewish Times become a political publication (“Hillary Clinton for President,” Oct. 14)? Everyone who subscribes is not a liberal Democrat, and I am personally offended that my subscription money is being used to promote Hillary Clinton. The Your Say letters of Oct. 28 (“Clinton Corrupt,” “Clinton a Liar”) said it all, and I hope that it wakes up some Jews who think it is a crime not to vote Democratic.

I have been a subscriber since 1954 and have enjoyed all of the Jewish information and articles, but I will never read another word.

The Perils of Zero Tolerance

When Hillel International announced last week that it was canceling a speaking tour featuring Israeli journalist Ari Shavit, we ran a thought experiment. Shavit, widely lauded for his 2013 book “My Promised Land,” had publicly admitted that he was the man who a Jewish reporter said sexually assaulted her in 2014.

Hillel’s response was swift, almost as if it was waiting for Shavit to hit “send” on his admission of unwanted groping on Danielle Berrin.

“In light of recent circumstances, and in keeping with our strong position against sexual assault, Hillel International has suspended Ari Shavit’s campus tour,” the group said in a statement. “We  actively oppose rape culture and sexual assault on campus and are committed to supporting survivors.”

Other Jewish organizations followed suit: A spokesman for the Jewish Federations of North America told JTA that had JFNA been arranging a speaking tour for Shavit, “he would be suspended immediately based on his admission of harassment alone.” AIPAC reportedly cut its ties with Shavit. And the JCC Association of North America told JTA that its policy of zero tolerance for sexual assault extends to speakers.

We think the behavior that Shavit is  accused of is appalling. Like Hillel and every other organization that has gone public on the issue, we are disturbed by and wish to see remedies for the incidences of sexual attacks on campus, in the work place and throughout society.

Given all of the above, this was our thought experiment: What if former President Bill Clinton wanted to address Hillel? Or the upcoming General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America? Or your local JCC? Would they turn down Clinton, whose affairs and accused sexual assaults were revisited during this year’s election campaign, but who remains immensely popular?

Are some people too big to ban? Are we talking about zero tolerance for just the act — or for the act and the person?

The concept of “zero tolerance” while at first apparently sensible and understandable — to tolerate sexual assault would be to encourage it, after all — is troubling. Drawing the line at zero sounds clear and cleansing and morally pure. But reality is not so clear or so clean. In the case of Shavit, his admission of involvement made the drawing of lines easier. But what about someone who denies the accusation? Does zero tolerance extend to them as well?

We hope that those who that have rightly used the Shavit incident to state their serious opposition to sexual harassment and assault will not succumb to one-size-fits-all responses to allegations that deny people due process.

Biased against Trump

Regardless of who each of us is voting for, it is irresponsible to blame either candidate for the kind of people they attract. That is why we were very surprised to read your article claiming anti-Semitism in Donald Trump’s campaign, even though he has never been instigated for it or condoned it (“Report Cites Anti-Semitism in Trump Campaign as Factor in Hateful Tweets,” Oct. 28).

It seems far-fetched that  a grandfather of Jewish grandchildren who are raised strictly religious with his blessings would condone anti-Semitism. Moreover, in the same report, the JT has quoted his representatives as denying and condemning it strongly; yet, you still insisted on bringing it up.

We feel that the JT is very biased and will use anything  at its disposal to promote its candidate.

Being the Right Kind of Agnostic Parshat Noach

101014_riskin_sholmo_rabbiWhen it comes to questions of belief, the agnostic is the loneliest of all. On one side of the fence stands the atheist, confident in his rejection of God and often dedicated to the debunking of religion.  the other side stands the  believer, who glories in his faith that the universe is the handiwork of God. The agnostic stands in the middle, not knowing whether or not God exists, usually despairing of the possibility of acquiring certitude about anything transcending observable material phenomena.

Our biblical portion makes reference to two very different agnostics, Haran and Noah. The contrast between them contains an important lesson for agnostics, believers and atheists, alike.

The Bible states that Noah didn’t enter the ark until the water literally pushed him in. Rashi’s phrase that “he believed and he didn’t believe” is really another way of describing an agnostic who remains in the state of his uncertainty; he  believes and doesn’t believe. Noah is therefore described by Rashi as the first agnostic.

The second biblical agnostic appears in the guise of Haran. Terah, the father of the clan and a famous idol manufacturer, brings charges in the court of King Nimrod against his own son. He accuses Abram of being an iconoclast who  destroyed his father’s idols while preaching heretical monotheism. As punishment, Abram is to be cast into the fiery furnace. Haran is present at the trial and takes the position of having no position. Only after Abram emerges  unscathed is Haran ready to rally behind his brother. He confidently enters the fiery furnace, but no miracles await him. Haran burns to death.

Is it not strange that the fate of the two agnostics should be so different? We read how Noah was a man of little faith, and yet not only does he survive the Flood, he turns into one of the central figures of human history. Haran, father of Lot, brother to Abraham, hovers on the edge of obscurity and is even punished with death for his lack of faith.

Rabbi Moshe Besdin explained that while Noah and Haran shared uncertainty about God, there was a vast difference  between them. Noah, despite his doubts, nevertheless built the ark, pounding away for 120 years, even suffering abuse from a world ridiculing his  eccentric persistence.

We learn from Noah’s life and Haran’s death that perfect faith is not necessary in order to conduct one’s life. Belief is never as important as action. In the World to Come, there is room for all kinds of agnostics. It depends primarily on how they acted on earth.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin is the chief rabbi of Efrat.

Getting Out the Vote

Editorial Director

Editorial Director

It’s a safe bet that come Tuesday night, Maryland and its 10 electoral votes will be found to have gone to Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, in the 2016 presidential election. Despite electing a Republican governor two years ago, our state is still reliably blue.

So much so that Republicans in Cecil and Harford counties to Baltimore’s northeast have in the last several weeks been crossing the border into neighboring Pennsylvania to do battle on behalf of party standard-bearer Donald Trump in the must-win swing state. Statewide, Trump partisans have even been directing their money to efforts outside of Maryland, in essence effecting a strategic retreat from the Free State  in favor of a right flanking  maneuver in the Keystone State.

As you’ll read in this week’s JT, Democrats here, long loyal foot-soldiers farther up the  I-95 corridor, have been answering the charge with convoys of Hillary Clinton canvassers from Maryland appearing — including a dozen Baltimore-based Jews United for Justice volunteers — in Lancaster County to the north and across the ring of voter-rich suburbs surrounding the Democratic stronghold of Pennsylvania.

“No one wants to sit in our safely ‘blue’ Maryland when Trump victories in our neighbor states could plunge us into a ‘Trumpian’ dystopia,” said Claire Landers, a member of JUFJ. “Their fear, I think, is literally driving them to do something that might make a difference in a scarily close race.”

It’s not just the foot soldiers who have been making the trek. Last week and into the weekend, high-profile Clinton surrogates from the Jewish community popped up in Pennsylvania, with Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin  appearing in Philadelphia and Alan Gross, the Washington-based contractor who spent five years in a Cuban prison, appearing in Pittsburgh.

Such migrations of politically motivated diehards in the moments leading up to Election Day are a good thing. Democracy requires an engaged and energetic public, and if these armies of Republicans and Democrats are required to get Pennsylvanians to the polls, so be it. Where it should stop is Election Day itself.

According to USA Today, just more than half of Americans are concerned the election may be rigged, which reasonable people know is not possible. The sheer size of the conspiracy that would be required to  improperly swing this election is impossibly large. But voter intimidation, on the other hand, is a real thing. It’s prohibited by federal law, and yet, in every election we hear cases of voters being prevented from entering polling places by  either “concerned citizens”  demanding identification or militant gang members making voters fearful for their safety.

Might voter intimidation also exist when busloads of people who are not poll watchers show up unannounced under the pretense of “monitoring” democracy in action.

This is the last week of campaigning. Come Tuesday, maybe we should let the election take its course … by casting a ballot and going home.


Donald, Israel and the Jews

ftv_abramson-artIt’s that time of the year, shortly before a presidential election with control of Congress also on the line. The American Jewish community is, as usual, asking a perennially problematic question: Which candidate will be best for  Israel? For the last 26 years, as executive director of a Jewish communal relations organization and as someone with a Ph.D. in political science and a particular expertise in the politics of the Middle East and American foreign policy, I have always been able to answer that question relatively easily: As  Israel’s only reliable ally, what is best for Israel is what is best for America. A strong, reliable United States reinforces and enhances Israel’s safety and  security in a very insecure world.

Hillary Clinton brings years of involvement in dealings with Arab and Israeli leaders. Trump has no such  experience and has yet to  indicate any real understanding of Middle Eastern history and present problems.


Using that variable as the primary factor in determining voting choice should help alleviate concerns about divided loyalties and/or confused  responses from those who may ask the question. But, too often, that is not the case. For example, while Republicans and Democrats are both  increasingly concerned about Donald Trump as a serious national security challenge, too many in the Jewish community remain complaisant about Trump’s background and perceived unquestioning support of Israel’s hardline policies regardless of how they may negatively impact American national interests.

Traditionally, when the national security establishment converges on a foreign policy recommendation to the president, we  expect them to bring acquired knowledge, empathy, common sense and rational thought to its final shape. For instance, when the primary actor, i.e. the president, brings few of these variables to the table, the process is flawed, and a poor outcome is likely to result.

In fact, following many years of historical research and the conducting of countless interviews with former and contemporary policymakers, I have found no evidence that presidents and/or their senior colleagues act upon these issues in a manner that is — first and foremost — contrary to their perception of American national security.

But, other factors often  intrude that can have a major factor in shaping the policy-making process. Be it religiosity, domestic and/or bureaucratic politics or simply a belief in the “righteousness” of the cause, a president’s worldview almost  always becomes structured in a manner that can justify action in order to protect the nation’s interests regardless of the many other variables that may actually intrude when making decisions.

While Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Ford, Bush I and II and Obama rarely shifted from a security-oriented modus operandi as they sought to determine Middle East policy, different presidents were strongly influenced by other significant concerns. With Harry Truman, for example, biblical influences and a sincere “desire to do what’s right,” moved him to find a haven for Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in a newly created and recognized Jewish state. For Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, personal relationships reinforced their security concerns. In terms of our current presidential candidates, while Hillary Clinton brings years of involvement in dealing with Arab and Israeli leaders. Trump has no such experience and has yet to indicate any real understanding of Middle Eastern history and present problems.

In addition, as the Republican standard bearer, Trump has gone along with his party’s move away from a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. Now, the Republican Party platform calls for  a “one-state” solution that  imposes Israeli control over the Palestinians into the future.

While that stand may pander to some in the American Jewish community as ensuring Israel’s security, national security experts in both Israel and the United States would argue otherwise. For them, a one-state solution would create an “apartheid”-like situation in which public support for Israel would diminish by the day, leaving her a pariah state that is increasingly isolated on the world stage. In turn, more  regional and localized conflicts would likely arise as Israel’s  enemies take advantage of her reduced international support.

So, American Jews (like all Americans) should ponder their choices wisely come election day: Who do they trust to make decisions that are in America’s interests first and foremost, interests that should be guided by policies developed from reasoned thought, a strategic understanding of the world (including the need to maintain American commitments globally) and a recognition that a secure America is a  well-led America? That answer should not be difficult to  discern.

Arthur C. Abramson is former  executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council.

The Power of Light Parshat Bereshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8

This week, we read from Parshat Bereshit. Berershit is the first parsha in the Torah. According to the Torah, God created the world in seven days. He separated night from day and light from darkness. “God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.”

Torah can  bring light into someone’s world. Torah teaches us  about Jewish  life and how we should behave  as Jews. Knowing  this helps to guide us in our decisions and how to behave.


How do we understand light and darkness? Light can be seen as something positive. Light symbolizes happiness. If you see light you are reassured;  if you are stuck in a dark place, you see light and you feel like you know where you are going. Light also symbolizes good. Light can be seen as knowledge, Torah, happiness, life and joy.

Darkness represents sadness, grief, tragedy and a time of need. People may think that darkness represents something bad. However, without darkness you wouldn’t be able to have light. If you never have darkness, you wouldn’t appreciate the light.

There are different kinds of darkness and different kinds of light.

What brings darkness to someone’s world? Nobody would want a time of darkness, but everyone has had a time of darkness. For example, there are little things that could cause darkness — if you lost something or if you tripped and embarrassed yourself. There are also big things that could cause darkness — if someone in your family dies or  if you worry about people in the world who are hungry. We wish light for everyone in a time of darkness.

What brings light into our world? If we do mitzvot or charity, it makes someone’s day. For example, we can donate clothes or food to charity. Giving people something that they don’t have makes people happy. Also, people feel good about themselves when giving to others.  That is not the only way light is brought into someone’s world. Learning Torah also brings light into someone’s world.

Light also represents knowledge. People might call you bright, which means that you are smart. Learning Torah can bring light into someone’s world. Torah teaches us about Jewish life and how we should behave as Jews. Knowing this helps to guide us in our decisions and how to behave. When God created the world, He separated light from darkness. This speaks to us the way we live our lives today.

Gabrielle Moshkatal is a seventh-grade student at Krieger Schechter Day School.

Clinton a Liar

When are you liberal Jews going to wake up?

Hillary Clinton is a liar and has been taking millions of dollars from the U.S. and Israel’s enemies. She gave $150 billion to Iran to spread terrorism. And what is the purpose of having open borders and allowing in hundreds of thousands of illiterate people from all over the world who have no intention of becoming Americans and are only here for the free handouts or to cause harm to America and Americans? Can someone explain this to me?

This woman has promised to raise taxes. Promised! Are you so fond of paying for people who don’t work, paying for their housing, food, medical care and everything else the Democrats can think of to give away with your money? Are you blind or just stupid? Are you so happy with the way Obama has run this country — Black Lives Matter, the assassination of police, ISIS?

Hillary is going to be four more years of this disaster. Are you better off now then you were eight years ago? If you say yes, you are either a liar or just plain ignorant of what is going on in this country.

I take personal offense at a supposed religious magazine pimping for this hateful, corrupt person (“Hillary Clinton for President,” Oct. 14).

Why Banning the Burkini is Possible in France

Every society is, in large part, the product of its history. France is no exception. In analyzing the widespread attempt by French municipalities to ban the full-body female swimsuit known as the burkini that some Muslim women insist on wearing on public beaches, it is  essential to understand the historical underpinnings of the concept of religious freedom — not as we know it here, but as it has developed in France. When French local officials try to ban the burkini, they do so within a historical context.

It must be remembered that for a thousand years, France was dominated by the Catholic Church. The Church wielded great power, controlled much of the wealth of the nation and stifled freedom, especially religious freedom. In a first effort to establish new freedoms in revolutionary France, in 1789, the French National Assembly adopted a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. That document was inspired by the American experiment with freedom. However, it also reflected a specifically French approach.

Article 10 of the declaration addressed the same issues as were addressed by the First Amendment to our Constitution. However, it did so in a distinctly different manner. Our First Amendment reads in relevant part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The text of Article 10 of the French Declaration, however, reads: “No one ought to be disturbed on account of his opinions, even religious,” but then, significantly, adds, “provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order.”

While in the United States, wearing a kippah, a Muslim head scarf, a Sikh turban or any other religious symbol in public does not pose any threat to societal stability and could not conceivably be banned, that is not necessarily the case in France.

The burkini, which is not in and of itself a religious vestment, is a very public manifestation of a religious identity. Denying its presence on public beaches is not necessarily the repression of a religious opinion. It is, however, the repression of a manifestation of that opinion that can be considered a disturbance to a delicate public order. This is not to justify any ban of the burkini anywhere, but it is to understand why in France it is even possible to contemplate imposing such  a ban.

In its efforts to be tolerant, France has to take its very  difficult history into account and has to be conscious of its traditions. Simply put, religious freedom in France does not necessarily have to look precisely like religious freedom in our nation.

Gerard Leval is a partner in the  Washington, D.C. office of Arent Fox LLP.