Monday, December 27, 2021

Judaism and Other Religions-Why don't we missionize? Ruminations about Dec 25


Judaism and Other Religions-Why don't we missionize?

 Ruminations about Dec 25


Here is the link to the Dec 25 Shabbat Service. Discussion starts at 1:36 into the video

Dec 25- 

I started the discussion with an aside on how many Christmas songs were written by Jews. Here is a short video clip ( which I could not put up  at the time) which summarizes it:

We take note that we are a minority in a Christian civilization, just as we have been a minority in Muslim civilizations. When things go well, we are happy with our neighbors of all faiths.

 In Europe, it would have been unthinkable for a Jew to set foot in a church, other than to convert, and I am sure that in the Islamic world, that too would have been unthinkable. That is one element of the Western enlightenment that told strong roots here, for sure.


 As I said, through most of history, that wasn’t the case.Too often though, things don’t go well. 



My father’s comment on what to answer when Christian’s ask him what Jews think of Jesus. His answer- why ask? We Jews live among many religions? Do we need to answer what we think of Mohammed, or what we think of Buddha. It’s not a Jewish issue!

So- maybe turn the tables- what do we think of our neighbors, of other religions.

Or, since we have the original word of God, certainly as we saw it, why did we not do as our two cognate religions do:

Constantine- In Hoc Signo, Vinca -In this sign, you call conquer( The vision of a sword in heaven, shaped like the Christian cross)


In Islam, the division of the world into Dar Al Islam-the world of Peace( inside Islam)- or “ Dar al Harb” the World of the Sword ( those refusing to accept Islam).




We, too, had a period of militant missionizing- but very short lived- shortly after the time of the Maccabees- John Hyrcanus a) destroyed capital of the Samaritans b) conquered Idumea and forcibly converted them. There was a presumption that perhaps also the pagan populations of Galilee were forcibly converted, which gave rise to anti-Semitic claims that Jesus was never born a Jew. However, that seems to be inaccurate and Galileans were, to the most part, transplanted Judeans.

Very short lived, indeed. And restricted to lands that were historically part of ancient Israel. Some other later exceptions-when pagan kingdoms converted to Judaism  and then engaged in expansionist wars-like the early Jewish kingdom of Yemen a century before Mohammed.


However, we were, during the Greek & Roman periods, active missionizers-

So, the Christian Scripture has, in the words of Jesus, this condemnation:


23:15 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You cross land and sea to make one convert, and when you get one, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves! ( Matthew)


Jewish population in Roman Empire estimated 10%, about 7 million- some by birth, but many by conversion.


Growth stopped by 1) 2 disastrous wars against Rome 2) Intensive restrictions and repression of Jews after Constantine, as expressed in Justinian code .


Nevertheless, we weren’t fully committed to making the whole world Jewish- although some one did write a song and a movie ” When your in Love, the Whole World is Jewish”. Maybe that’s why we didn’t need to.


We eventually went beyond not actively seeking, to actively pushing away:


Keep in mind, under both Christianity and Islam, to convert to Judaism was essentially, to welcome suicide. The convert would have to escape to be protected from execution and the community that helped him convert would be in trouble.


Jewish reluctance to accept Christian converts to Judaism was grounded in Christian laws that prohibited apostasy; such laws punished apostates and those who converted them with death. Rabbi Mosheh Isserles noted in one of his glosses in the Shulḥan ‘arukh that “in these lands [Poland] . . . it is forbidden to convert non-Jews” (Yoreh de‘ah 267:4). The Magdeburg law, which served as the legal framework of Polish cities, and, after 1658, legislation enacted by the Sejm both demanded death penalties for apostasy from Catholicism.

Still operative in many Moslem countries till today. In Pakistan,for instance.

 Non-Muslims are forbidden to convert Muslims to another religion, a crime punishable by law. [Pakistan: Struggle for Human Rights, (Hong Kong/Singapore: Christian Conference of Asia - International Affairs, 1986),

p. 105.] For Muslims themselves, conversion is reportedly dangerous and may be punished under section 295A of the Pakistan Penal Code which imposes up to two years imprisonment for outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizen. [Rights of Religious and Other Minorities (Pakistan), (Geneva: International Commission of Jurists, 1987), p. 9.]

But- even before these codes and elgal restrictions, we were also of a split in opinion:


Common Rabbinic dictum:

כספחת קשין גרים לישראל

Based on Nidah 13b

Converts are as painful for Israel as scabs…

1)    They don’t learn enough and don’t live up to their commitments to mitzvot or

This would have been elicited by the sense that , under the Roman prosecutions, those who had converted in good times, ran away when things got tough. Furthermore, many of the half-way Jews, or pagans influenced by Jews, fell in to the Christian camp as it expanded.


 On the other hand- always an other hand--

2)    On that same quote, about scabs:The opposite, they are so devoted, it makes those born Jews look bad in comparison.


This would have been supported by the realization that  major teachers of Judaism were Ben Bag Bag and Ben Hehe as well as the author of  Aramaic Targum Onkelos, also identified as Aquila, author of a Greek translation. All converts.

Sanhedrin 96b

תנו רבנן נעמן גר תושב היה נבוזר אדן גר צדק היה מבני בניו של סיסרא למדו תורה בירושלים מבני בניו של סנחריב לימדו תורה ברבים ומאן נינהו שמעיה ואבטליון

מבני בניו של המן למדו תורה בבני ברק ואף מבני בניו של אותו רשע

The descendants of the great enemies of Israel became students and teachers of Torah- Sisera,Nebuzaradan, Haman, and even Nebuchadnezzar. Sancherib was the ancestor of the two great teachers, Shamayah and Avtalyon.Rabbi Akiba also reported to be descendant of a convert.


Not an unusual thought- the Jewish Museum of Berlin has in its archives, a folder, of some 300 cases of Germans who converted to Judaism after the Holocaust. My father was the officiating Rabbi.This was sent to me just this week!


But we did not take an active role in outreach- yad mekarev veyad docheh- One hand pulls in, and one hand pushes  out.


Story of the pagan who comes to Hillel and Shammai:

Al regel achat- on one leg( regel-leg-regulus-Latin-rule) Shabbat 31 a

שׁוּב מַעֲשֶׂה בְּגוֹי אֶחָד שֶׁבָּא לִפְנֵי שַׁמַּאי. אָמַר לוֹ: גַּיְּירֵנִי עַל מְנָת שֶׁתְּלַמְּדֵנִי כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ כְּשֶׁאֲנִי עוֹמֵד עַל רֶגֶל אַחַת! דְּחָפוֹ בְּאַמַּת הַבִּנְיָן שֶׁבְּיָדוֹ. בָּא לִפְנֵי הִלֵּל, גַּיְירֵיהּ. אָמַר לוֹ: דַּעֲלָךְ סְנֵי לְחַבְרָךְ לָא תַּעֲבֵיד — זוֹ הִיא כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כּוּלָּהּ, וְאִידַּךְ פֵּירוּשַׁהּ הוּא, זִיל גְּמוֹר.

This is, of course, a variation of the Golden Rule, something in use in Jewish sources well before the time of Jesus.

The strictness of Shammai drove him away, the patience of Hillel brought him close.

Still we ask the question- do we actively go out and push for proselytes?


My cousin’s daughter, you may recall, spoke to us on a recorded interview, on Yom Kippur, on the need to bring in more people.

But again. If we do bring in people from the outside, it is by social influence or connection or acquaintance, and not through coercion, whether political or through application of pressure. Even now, in US, where anyine can switch to any or no religion, we don’t push our way in, knocking on doors, leaving pamphlets, like Jehovahs Witnesses, or Mormons, or The American Board of Missions to the Jews  or Jews for Jesus.


Instead, we get Chabadniks knocking ONLY on Jewish doors.


Why our reluctance.

After all, we were the first recorded group in history to see a common source of humanity. It is the bible that traces all to one common ancestry-Adam. Concept of 7 Naochide laws

-        A universal moral and spiritual code, - Tzadikei umot haolam yesh lahem helek bolam haba-

-        The righteous of all nations have a place in the world to come.


So, we have a universalizing core—that core gave both Christianity and Islam its dynamic. If we possess what we consider to be true to all, we have an obligation to preach that truth. If I believe I have a vaccine for a pandemic- do I not have an obligation to vaccinate you? Even by force? To do less is to be immoral, in that perspective.

This is true not just of religion, but of all universal ethics- it drove Alexander to his great conquests, as a student of Aristotle. It drove Marxists to spread the faith, by the sword.

Unfortunately, universalist ideologues too often become universal destroyers.

Eric Hoffer on the True Believer:

All mass movements strive, therefore, to interpose a fact-proof screen between the faithful and the realities of the world. They do this by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside it. The facts on which the true believer bases his conclusions must not be derived from his experience or observation but from holy writ.( He meant Das Kapital and Mein Kampf, not the Bible or Koran).


Yes, we have a militant religion- especially at the start-

We are to enter the land of Canaan and take it by force. We are to cleanse it of its pagan inhabitants. But, except for the short , short period in which the Kingdom under David expanded deep into Syria, that land was restricted, very much to what is now the State of Israel with the West Bank-and not Gaza!

There was no imperative to take any other territory, and Milchemet Mitzvah was restricted to those wars essential to defend the land of Israel. We have no sense of “wakf” as in historic Islam, to say that whatever was once an Islamic land, remains forever Islamic, and must be regained by force.


Rather, the people of Israel are defined  in the Torah “ mamlechet kohanim” a kingdom of priests, not of conquerors.  Repeatedly, we are told that we were chosen, not because we were the mighty power, but precisely because we were the smallest of the peoples on earth.Deut 7:7-8

כִּ֣י עַ֤ם קָדוֹשׁ֙ אַתָּ֔ה לַיהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּךָ֞ בָּחַ֣ר׀ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֗יךָ לִהְי֥וֹת לוֹ֙ לְעַ֣ם סְגֻלָּ֔ה מִכֹּל֙ הָֽעַמִּ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־פְּנֵ֥י הָאֲדָמָֽה׃

לֹ֣א מֵֽרֻבְּכֶ֞ם מִכׇּל־הָֽעַמִּ֗ים חָשַׁ֧ק יְהֹוָ֛ה בָּכֶ֖ם וַיִּבְחַ֣ר בָּכֶ֑ם כִּֽי־אַתֶּ֥ם הַמְעַ֖ט מִכׇּל־הָעַמִּֽים׃

כִּי֩ מֵאַֽהֲבַ֨ת יְהֹוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם וּמִשׇּׁמְר֤וֹ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נִשְׁבַּע֙ לַאֲבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם הוֹצִ֧יא יְהֹוָ֛ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם בְּיָ֣ד חֲזָקָ֑ה וַֽיִּפְדְּךָ֙ מִבֵּ֣ית עֲבָדִ֔ים מִיַּ֖ד פַּרְעֹ֥ה מֶֽלֶךְ־מִצְרָֽיִם׃

To what purpose this elevation:The Romans believed it was to” divda et impera.” Dive and conquer.

The European colonialist believed it was their obligation of “mission civilisatrice”, for the Japanese Imperialists, it was the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere.”


That was never seen as the Jewish mission. Rather, in the words of the Prophet Micah, there would be a grand reconciliation of all nations, gathering in the Holy Mount of Jerusalem:


.In the days to come,

And the many nations shall go and shall say:
Let us go up to the Mount of the L
To the House of the God of Jacob;
That He may instruct us in His ways,
And that we may walk in His paths.”
For instruction shall come forth from Zion,
The word of the L
ORD from Jerusalem.

Thus He will judge among the many peoples,
And arbitrate for the multitude of nations,
However distant;
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares

And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up
Sword against nation;
They shall never again know war

But every man shall sit
Under his grapevine or fig tree
With no one to disturb him.
For it was the L
ORD of Hosts who spoke.

Though all the peoples walk
Each in the names of its gods,
We will walk
In the name of the L
ORD our God
Forever and ever.

Micah 4 1-5


Tuesday, December 21, 2021

SCOTUS, Abortion, and the Jewish Stance


What is Life before Birth? 


This is the video of the discussion on Dec 15.

The right and wrong of life itself is fast becoming the crucial moral and legal issue of our society. When does life itself begin, and when does it end? May I prevent a life, may I hasten its end? May I tamper with the way in which we begin life? Can I change my genes, so that my descendants will all have blond hair and blue eyes and be six-feet tall?


          Abortion has come to the fore as an issue again, as state legislatures weigh in on the topic of late term abortion.Now Texas has opened the possibility of civil suits by angered citizens, Mississippi is seeking to overturn Roe v Wade and the SCOTUS is about to opine on this topic. Maybe this is the ” Bloody Kansas” of our century that could split us up.


          Clearly, the most vocal answers, the ones that get in the press, are either the complete “pro-life” anti-abortionists, for whom all abortion, no matter the reason, is murder, or the very abstract “pro-choice” for whom, it seems , is very simply, a matter of a woman’s choice.


This is not just a matter of religious faith:

 I.                 A bitter reminder from modern history-

On race- abortion was part of a plank by progressives at start of 20th century- based on the “ science” of their day.

Restrict the growth of what they considered inferior people= such as blacks, Jews, Italians. It went hand in  hand with the original IQ tests, which were designed to prove the mental inferiority of the new immigrants coming to this country. Went together with eugenics, that we could breed a better  kind of humanity. Birth control, enforced sterilization of undesirables- Even in recent years, noted economists have paired the decline in crime since the late 20th century with the increase in access of abortion. Fewer births among the poor-fewer teenagers and young adults on the streets who get in trouble.

We can go a step further:

  “after-birth abortion” is a term invented by two philosophers, Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva. In the Journal of Medical Ethics, they propose:

[W]hen circumstances occur after birth such that they would have justified abortion, what we call after-birth abortion should be permissible. … [W]e propose to call this practice ‘after-birth abortion’, rather than ‘infanticide,’ to emphasize that the moral status of the individual killed is comparable with that of a fetus … rather than to that of a child. Therefore, we claim that killing a newborn could be ethically permissible in all the circumstances where abortion would be. Such circumstances include cases where the newborn has the potential to have an (at least) acceptable life, but the well-being of the family is at risk.


 Another factor muddling the issue, especially the last century- the ability to support an embryo out of the womb at earlier stages of pregnancy, and the ability to see live action through ultra-sound at even earlier stages. A noted neo-natologist whom I know well told me that he was appalled at abortion as he saw the embryo as a full human being from the perspective of his work.

Note that these are secular, not religious perspectives.


II.               For other ancient  perspectives

           For the Catholic Church, as for many evangelical Protestant groups, abortion is a grave sin, and for many, it is seen as murder.

           In classic Christian doctrine, and borrowed from Greek thought, from the moment the infant is conceived, the soul, the eternal, individual soul, enters the egg, and from that moment on, we have a full fledged human , with all rights and safeguards.

 .For example:

Aristotle believed a fetus in early gestation has the

 "soul of a vegetable, then of an animal, and only later became "animated" with a human soul by "ensoulment". For him, ensoulment occurred 40 days after conception for male fetuses and 90 days after conception for female fetuses [Aristotle, like other Greeks, had no sympathy for women!],[5][6] the stage at which, it was held, movement is first felt within the womb and pregnancy was certain.[7][8]

[But note for geometry students: -if you like your right angle hypotenuse, you like Pythagoras.]

Pythagoreans also considered ensoulment to occur at conception

 . III,  Jewish teachings on protecting children once born.

  Jews were very well known in antiquity for an exceptional trait: we did not abandon deformed infants.  You well know the Spartan practice of abandoning deformed babies to the wolves. Only fully healthy children could serve as warriors; therefore, any infant less than properly formed was doomed.

 Here is the law as it was recorded in The Twelve Tables of Roman Law: "Deformed infants shall be killed" (De Legibus 3.8)

. It was clear in Roman law that any baby less than fully desirable could be disposed of freely , and that applied, very often to baby girls who could be exposed to the beasts. Roman law gave the father “ius paterfamilias”, absolute power of `authority over life and death of any of his children.

Jewish concern for the newborn was abhorrent to the Romans. Thus, the Roman historian, Tacitus condemned Jews for their opposition to infanticide. It was another proof of the  "sinister and revolting practices" of the Jews.( Histories 5.5.)

 IV So, what is our stance? What are our sources?


The Covenant with Noah-which is considered binding on all, Jew and gentile-Noachide laws-

שֹׁפֵךְ֙ דַּ֣ם הָֽאָדָ֔ם בָּֽאָדָ֖ם דָּמ֣וֹ יִשָּׁפֵ֑ךְ כִּ֚י בְּצֶ֣לֶם אֱלֹהִ֔ים עָשָׂ֖ה אֶת־הָאָדָֽם׃

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
By man shall his blood be shed;
For in His image
Did God make man.

Is that what the text means?” Dam HaAdam , baadam damo yishafech.”In other words, there is a comma break between the two forms of Adam, so to say,as the translation- or,there is no comma until after the 2nd “ Adam”, so thatit measn the blood of the man inside the man.”In other words, the per R Ishmael-(Sanhedrin 57b) from the wording of Genesis 9:6.

Is it clear? Or not?

B What other guide do we have? A hypothetical “ If then” in the Torah.

Our key text is from Exodus, the portion of Mishpatim, Chapter 21, in the context of assault and battery and accidental and intentional murder. It is the context of the famous “ eye for eye.”



וְכִֽי־יִנָּצ֣וּ אֲנָשִׁ֗ים וְנָ֨גְפ֜וּ אִשָּׁ֤ה הָרָה֙ וְיָצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א יִהְיֶ֖ה אָס֑וֹן עָנ֣וֹשׁ יֵעָנֵ֗שׁ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֨ר יָשִׁ֤ית עָלָיו֙ בַּ֣עַל הָֽאִשָּׁ֔ה וְנָתַ֖ן בִּפְלִלִֽים׃

 When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage results, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning.


וְאִם־אָס֖וֹן יִהְיֶ֑ה וְנָתַתָּ֥ה נֶ֖פֶשׁ תַּ֥חַת נָֽפֶשׁ׃

But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life,


עַ֚יִן תַּ֣חַת עַ֔יִן שֵׁ֖ן תַּ֣חַת שֵׁ֑ן יָ֚ד תַּ֣חַת יָ֔ד רֶ֖גֶל תַּ֥חַת רָֽגֶל׃

eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,


כְּוִיָּה֙ תַּ֣חַת כְּוִיָּ֔ה פֶּ֖צַע תַּ֣חַת פָּ֑צַע חַבּוּרָ֕ה תַּ֖חַת חַבּוּרָֽה׃ (ס)

burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Mishpatim ( Exodus 21:22)

 The controlling phrase:

וְיָצְא֣וּ יְלָדֶ֔יהָ וְלֹ֥א יִהְיֶ֖ה אָס֑וֹן

“ her children have gone out”- a clear term for miscarriage.

“but there is no “ason”, tragedy. In other words, she does not die as a result of the strike. Then there is only a compensation, set by the court.

However, if there is “ ason”, a tragedy, then there is penalty depending on the degree of injury to the mother, hence, the lex taliones to give guide lines on compensation for physical injury-nefesh tachat nefesh- life for life- of the mother. eye for eye, tooth for tooth.

 We read it one way, Catholics read it another way:

 They have a different text of the Torah- they have the Septuagint

 The Catholic Church based its position on the Greek translation , Septuagint, which they claim is the closer to the original Hebrew than our text. That text seems to deal of death to the fetus, but this does not appear to be our text.   The Greek renders ason  as form, yielding something like: "If [there be] form, then shalt thou give life for life." The "life for life" clause is thus applied to fetus.

           Our text of The Torah speaks only of a miscarriage, caused in a fight. If the fetus is killed, the aggressor pays only a penalty. He has not committed murder, nor has he caused an accidental death. By implication, in Jewish law, the fetus is not yet a living independent human being. As for the penalty for hitting the pregnant woman, the Talmud Bava Kama 40a makes it clear that what is involved in this fight is a valuation of the fetus in terms of material damages, not in terms of taking a life.

 Note- this account of a woman caught in a fight which causes a miscarriage is found in many ancient law codes in the middle east, all of which  make just the same case, of monetary penalty- except for the law codes of the Assyrians—probably because they were a military society, and the loss of an infant was the loss of a future warrior!

 C.We go to our next source, the Mishnah :

 Mishnah Oholot 7:6

הָאִשָּׁה שֶׁהִיא מַקְשָׁה לֵילֵד, מְחַתְּכִין אֶת הַוָּלָד בְּמֵעֶיהָ וּמוֹצִיאִין אוֹתוֹ אֵבָרִים אֵבָרִים, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁחַיֶּיהָ קוֹדְמִין לְחַיָּיו. יָצָא רֻבּוֹ, אֵין נוֹגְעִין בּוֹ, שֶׁאֵין דּוֹחִין נֶפֶשׁ מִפְּנֵי נָפֶשׁ:

If a woman is in hard travail, one cuts up the offspring in her womb and brings it forth member by member, because her life comes before the life of her foetus.

But if the greater part has proceeded forth, one may not set aside one person for the sake of saving another.


The classic Catholic teaching was and is, that the mother has already gained life, eternal, through her faith, but the infant must be saved in order for that soul to gain eternal life. We want life in this world, the Catholic, in the next.

For that reason, in the past, at catholic hospitals, the infants life took precedent over the mother’s life. A Jewish woman would not  want to have complications at birth in a Catholic country.

D.          In later Jewish law, also, in the Mishnah and the Talmud, the embryo is not yet a living entity. The fetus has no legal rights; it can not inherit property, nor can any purchase be made in its name, for one can make no legal transactions on behalf of someone who does not yet exist.

 In Jewish law, the fetus is ubar yerech emo--the fetus is a part of the mother, just as her thigh is, or any other organ, stomach, heart, bones.

          The Talmud explicitly calls for abortion, up to the moment of birth, for the sake of the mother's life, because clearly, as Rashi explains, before physical birth, it is not considered alive. Only after birth is it alive.

 Clearly, terminating a pregnancy is not in and of itself an act of murder.

          From this perspective, Rabbis required abortion in the case of physical danger to the mother, or even mental danger to the mother even up to the moment of birth. The Rabbis actually considered the fetus to be the equivalent of a “ rodef”, a very harsh term, a word used to indicate one intent upon killing another—the fetus, in this case is the “hunter”. There is a very clear dictum that , in the case of “ rodef”, one must  kill the hunter to save the hunted. Other rabbis used it to indicate “ rodef min hashamayim” as, even though Heaven itself is pursuing the mother, as if to kill her, we must perform an abortion.

However- although abortion is not murder, so not neither mother nor abortion provider are liable for the death penalty, does that make it permitted under other circumstances?

 There are those Rabbis who justified fear of pain, or mental anguish or shame as legitimate grounds for abortion in earlier stages. In all cases, the operative concept is that the active ( mother) takes precedent over the  potential ( fetus). However, the moment, a large part of the fetus emerges, whether naturally or by Caesarian, it is at that moment, considered a full human being who must now be brought to full birth.

    Great sages authorized abortion in cases which involved, not only the life, but also the mental and emotional health of the mother. The great philosopher, Ramban, himself performed an abortion for a gentile woman in order protect her form future sterility. They were, clearly, more lenient at the earlier phases of pregnancy, before the fetus began to take recognizable shape.

 As an example of modern application, in the State of Israel, abortion is allowed with the approval of a termination committee if the woman is unmarried, because of age (if the woman is under the age of 17 - the legal marriage age in Israel - or over the age 40), the pregnancy was conceived under illegal circumstances (rape, statutory rape, etc.) or an incestuous relationship, birth defects, risk of health to the mother, and life of the mother

          Abortion at will or personal choice?

Can we say “  It’s my body and I can do as I see fit?” This is a faulty premise and Justice Ginsburg saw the flaw in the Roe v Wade decision based on an implicit right to privacy. She wanted the case decided on the basis of equal opportunity, on the basis that the risk involved falls on the women, not on the man. But in itself , it is a faulty premise. not just on abortion, but on every aspect of human life- our existence as social beings, not lone wolves, means that society has the moral authority to make demands of our bodies-both of males and females. Males are expected, in time of a major war, as World War II, to offer their bodies for the greater good.

Perhaps instead there needs to be a greater general principal between the extreme ends.

         Abortion is not murder, nor is the unborn fetus yet a full human being, yet on the other hand we also are concerned, lest we lose our sensitivity to the potential of life in each pregnancy. We are we get closer and closer to full gestation, the fetus shows more and more signs of viability outside of the womb. It further clouds the issue.

          As Jews, we recognize that we must confront moral responsibility from both ends of the equation, never form an abstract absolute. It used to be accepted that, in Bill Clinton’s words: Abortion should not only be safe and legal, it should be rare.

That was 30 years ago. Today, the lines have been hardened.

For the democrats, the word “ rare” is forbidden, and for Republicans, the word “legal” is forbidden.

Both women and infants are caught up in our cultural wars.

          In our tradition, every child born is a special event. May we make every effort possible, so that, when life begins, at birth, that life is a blessing, a joy, and a comfort for all. Amen.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

THE SECRET OF SADAT'S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: A Communication between the First Lady of Egypt and an elderly Holocaust survivor in New York


THE SECRET OF SADAT'S JOURNEY TO JERUSALEM: A Communication between the First Lady of Egypt and an elderly Holocaust survivor in New York


Rabbi Norbert Weinberg    10/14/2021

Follow the discussion here:

Just this past July, the widow of Egypt’s President, Anwar Sadat, passed away. While President Sadat was widely acclaimed for his role in making peace with Israel, the First Lady was highly regarded as a person of great achievements on her own, especially in advancing women’s rights in Egypt.


Now, just a few months since her passing, and as we approach the anniversary date of the Yom Kippur War on the Jewish calendar, it is time to showcase an interesting communication between Jehan Sadat and my great aunt.

1st Lady Sadat with PM Begin

The late Dora Iger Kitzay of Manhattan, my "Tante" Dora, with her own private diplomacy through the mails, may have set in motion the machinery for peace that followed on the heels of the Yom Kippur War.

Dora Kitzay Iger


My "Tante", a survivor of the Holocaust, came to New York from Poland and made her living with reparations money, some sewing and an occasional care-taking of a sick and elderly roomer. How she made ends meet was one of her mysteries, but she had many such mysteries. She and my mother, Irene Weinberg, had helped each other survive, right  under the nose of Nazi officers in Lwow and Warsaw during the Holocaust.  


She claimed to have seen Trotsky speaking from his train car before the Revolution( she was just a younbg girl at the time) and worked for an import-export office on the Russian-Austrian (later Polish border).


She always said she was a Jewish gipsy. She dressed that way and told the future from the cards. My mother told me she was frightened because Tante Dora called the future to well too often.

Here she is, on the doorsteps of a house in Poland, perhaps in Bolechow, where the family settled for a few years, just before the outbreak of war. She, in her gypsy scarf and cards in hand.( Colorization thanks to software from B &W original).

She was highly resourcefuland something of a prankster to boot. For example:

     My mother hid  Dora,  in a closet in her own room, inside the apartment of the Nazi officers ( she was given a room there ) and she could only go out of the closet when the apartment was empty. However, they were, at all times, true “officers and gentlemen” and never touched Irene or went into her room.

Even times of persecution had lighter moments.

Once, my mother came back to the apartment, and couldn’t find her aunt. She was in a panic, and searched high and low, and then went to the closet. As she was going through the clothes, and hand touched her from behind. My mother’s heart dropped—it was Dora, playing a prank on her.

At another time, the officers brought back a turkey and asked her to cook it for them. They were going to take it with them for the holidays. My mother was in a panic-she could paint and sing, but not cook. She agreed, on the condition that they stay out of the kitchen, and allow her to work patiently. Men of honor, they left her to her own in the kitchen. Dora sneaked in, started to cook, and when ever the officer’s queried,” Is it ready”, my mother would pop out, with work apron and smeared gloves, and ask them to wait patiently. The turkey was cooked, given to the officers, to left to go for their holiday.

At the end of the war, my mother and her aunt had to split up. Dora found safety in a small Polish village, where she blended in very well. After the Kielce massacre, my mother decided it was high time to leave Poland, found her aunt, and had to convince her almost by force-my aunt had set up a thriving small business in the village:


This may be Dora seated on the rug preparing to make her sales


Her prime occupation was letter writing. She began writing to local and international political figures on all topics under the sun. She prided herself on her linguistic skills, writing in English, German, and Russian, while Polish was her native tongue. Each time she received a politely worded  response acknowledging her concern -- "Your thoughts are appreciated and we will certainly take them under consideration...".


One day, it paid off. She had written to the Mayor, complaining about the ill-managed condition of some statue in the park; this time, the response really was a response. City Hall promised to take action, and a local paper reported it. It drove her to greater undertakings.


When Anwar Sadat succeeded Gamal Nasser as President of Egypt, she sent him her sage advice. She warned him, "Keep far from the Soviets. Don't trust them; they will only try to take over your country". A few months later, Anwar Sadat sent the Russians packing out of Egypt. She was sure that her words had helped Sadat see the light.


Shortly after the Yom Kippur War, Jehan Sadat, the wife of the Egyptian President, visited the United States. She said to a New York Post reporter, "We are not filled with revenge; we are committed to peace". She told of a soldier in the hospital, who promised that he would take her, in victory, to Tel Aviv. She had answered him: "Tel Aviv is for the Israelis. It's not ours. We only want a land, a free Palestine, and to live in peace with the Jews.”


That statement prompted Dora to write; here was a mind open to peace, awaiting only the right advice to give it a shove in the right direction. She once again took up the mighty pen. She reminded Mrs. Sadat that it was the constant Arab threat to "throw the Jews into the sea" and the direct aggression of Nasser that had led to

the Six-Day War. She complimented her on her comment about Tel Aviv and her wish for peace, if only those were not merely poetic words!


Several months passed, and there arrived in Dora's mail a reply from Jehan Sadat.

This time, however, it was not mimeographed, photo-copied or computer printed. This was typed on official stationery with the seal of the Egyptian government, the image of an eagle, embossed upon it and a heading, in Arabic, in green print.

The heading was an invocation in the name of Allah, the gracious and merciful , and over the date, what I ( or Google translate) can make out” Muharram al Rais.”  It looked to have been typed on a manual typewriter, typed perhaps, by Mrs. Sadat herself. This is her reply:






Cairo, March 1974.

Dear Mrs. Dore Kitzay,

I have received your message concerning what was written in the "New York Post"

about the events in the Middle East and your own impressions about the Arab territories

occupied by Israel.


I would like to inform you that each country has its own style in solving its own problems. Israel, as I wish you to bear in mind, depended on violence and intimidation to usurp Sinai, Jerusalem, Gaza, the West Bank of Jordan and the other Arab territories. She also perpetrated assassinations at Der Yasin, bombed school children and dismissed unarmed civilians from their homes.


The Arabs on the other hand, and with the support of the United Nations have resorted to the most honourable means to liberate their lands.


We, Arabs are not sadists or savages as you have mentioned in your message but we are people who have great faith in their God and their land. We are not ready to give up an inch of our land and in the same time we believe in cooperation that leads to human prosperity.


President Sadat has tried all peaceful means to settle the dispute but in vain. Our demand is clear and just and that is restoring our land usurped by zionists.[lower case z]


We are for peace, justice and prosperity.

With my best wishes,

Yours Sincerely

Mrs. Jehan El-Sadat."


Dora was not satisfied. On the one hand, Mrs. Sadat spoke of peace; on the other, she repeated the old canards. It required a reply:



Dear Madame Jehan El Sadat,


I thank you and value much your answer, but I didn't find in it anything new,

nor an answer to any of my questions.


I know it wouldn't be easy to answer such complicated questions. As you know

from the letters I wrote to President Sadat three and two years ago, I am not against

the Arabic people, only the wrong, lightheaded politics, because everything I promised,

you have now.


You don't want to admit that since 1967 Israel has not had one single day of peace, and because it is a small corner, the world ignored it, and even America didn't make one step to help the Israelis, but today, America is the best friend and respects them--because of the Six Day victory, for which they fought.


Madame Sadat, why by such way, should I believe that the Jewish blood and tears make you happy.

From the beginning, I was sure that the Soviets will disappoint your people and they have a great deal in all Arabic mistakes and disaster.


Madame Sadat, only by an honest will and way we can create a permanent peace and live like good brothers.


The Israelis will not disappoint your country and people.


With best wishes for peace for you and us,

Sincerely yours,

Dora Iger Kitzay"


Yet a short while later, she received another reply from Mrs. Sadat:





Cairo, June 1974

Dear Dora Kitzay

I have received your kind letter with interest and appreciation.

I would like to thank you for all what you have mentioned in your message,

and would like you to know that we are peaceful people, but we are for peace based

on justice. I am extending to you and the friendly people of America my best wishes.



"Sincerely yours,

"Mrs. Jehan El-Sadat"


This important piece of shuttle diplomacy went by virtually unnoticed; only

one Yiddish monthly, Freie Arbeter Shtimme (Free Voice of Labor) took notice of

the first letter in its June issue, in an article by N. Kahn, "Sadat's Wife Sends

a Letter to a Jewish Woman in New York".

From:     FREIE ARBEITER STIMME         (Free Voice of Labor Association)

33 Union Square - Room 808                                                           WA 9-3799 New York

June 1974


Sadat's Wife sent a letter to a New York Jewess – E. Kahn


"A Jewish woman in New York,· Dora Iger Kitzay, a refugee from Lemburg, a descendant of Rabbi Akiba Eger, had  written a letter to the  wife  of   Sadat, the all-powerful chief of Egypt. It was sent in reference to an interview given by Jehan Sadat to a local paper.

        She told the New York Post that since the '73 war, she has not worn a ballgown and she regularly goes to visit the wounded soldiers in the hospitals.

She said, "we are not filled with revenge and we are committed to achieve peace".

            She told the wounded soldiers who had offered to take her to Tel Aviv - in victory - "Tel Aviv is for the Israelis. It's not ours.            We only want our land, a free Palestine, and to live with the others in peace".


The article went on to summarize the account of the Yom Kippur War and then presented the correspondence in Yiddish translation.





We are led to believe, especially by media hype, that big names make big news. Leo Tolstoy once offered the example, that to confuse famous names with major events in history was like assuming that the whistle that one hears when a train is about to leave the station is what makes the train go. Maybe it wasn’t Barbara Walters!



Perhaps it is, rather that just such a letter, sent by a well-meaning, elderly lady, in addition to the thousands of dead and wounded, the damaged economy, and the years of agony, may have tipped the scales for peace.


My aunt Dora died in February of 1977; just ten months later, November,43 years ago, Anwar Sadat made his fateful trip to Jerusalem. Unfortunately, neither of them lived to see the fruition of their dreams.