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November 07, 1986 - Image 24

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-11-07

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PURELY COMMENTARY

Litvin's `Mechitzah' Campaign

Continued from Page 2

The complete text of the Michigan
Supreme Court ruling is included in the
Jeanne Litvin-edited edition.
Readers of the reprinted The Sanc-
tity of the Synagogue will become ac-
quainted anew with the determined
battle that was conducted singlehan-
dedly by Baruch Litvin, against the
overwhelming desires of the synagogue
membership. It was a battle conducted
as a principle based on conviction and
the piety of the man who went to the
state's high court in his demand that
mechitzah be retained in a congregation
that sought its abolishment.
Timely and immediate interest in
the mechitzah is provided in the insis-
tence upon adherence to it in current
demonstrations by the youth enrolled in
yeshivot in New York areas. Then there
is the most recent occurrence that be-
came an important New York court case.
It was reported in the following account
in the Oct. 21 New York Daily News:
A controversial wall built to
separate chasidic girls from His-
panic students in a Brooklyn
public school — triggering a bit-
ter racial and religious battle —
has come tumbling down.
Board of Education officials
yesterday confirmed that the par-
tition at Public School 16, which
walled off nine classrooms, was
removed over the weekend.
The move came two weeks
after the 2nd Circuit Court of
Appeals blocked implementation
of a remedial program for the
chasidic students at the school
because it violated the constitu-
tional separation of church and
state.
The wall was built to accom-
modate the religious beliefs of
nearly 400 chasidic girls from
Beth Rachel School, allowing
them to take federally funded
remedial classes. Public school
parents charged the separation
constituted segregation.
Board officials said that, even
though the court decision did not
order removal of the wall, it was
a "legal and symbolic victory" in
the fight that has raged in the
Williamsburg community since
school began last month.
But board officials refused to
rule out using the nine
classrooms for the $200 million
federal program that mandates
remedial classes for religious
students.
In a statement, Board of
Education President Robert
Wagner Jr. and Schools Chancel-
lor Nathan Quinones said PS 16
"remains a viable alternative" for
offering classes to religious
school students.
Board officials said they
hoped taking the wall down
would head off a court-ordered
trial.
But Martin Needelman, at-
torney for the public-school par-
ents, said they would continue
the court fight if the board does
not agree to permanently halt the
program at PS 16.
Board officials said they were
investigating the use of other
sites — such as Quonset huts —
to give the special classes to the
girls from Beth Rachel School.
For the dedicated to the mechitzah
practice, the Baruch Litvin court
triumph could serve as an inducement
for continiuing demands for support. As

Baruch Litvin

an American religious experience, the
Litvin Mt. Clemens case is indelibly re-
corded.

Litvin's Sensation
In Jewish Identity

Baruch Litvin earned world Jewish
attention with a book that preceded his
Sanctity of the Synagogue.
It was in 1955, in a volume entitled
Jewish Identity, that the late Mr. Litvin
contributed immensely to the discussions
then conducted heatedly in all Jewish
communities, with emphasis on Israel,
on the question then rampant of "Who
(or What) is a Jew?"
Seldom if ever before was such a
representative group of Jews from all
over the world assembled with their
views on the subject in a single volume.
Responses by 45 of the most eminent
Jews in the world were given in Jewish
Identity, a title Baruch Litvin preferred
to "What is a Jew?" in his strenuous ef-
forts to secure the desired opinions.
There were more than three years of
conflict during which the compiler met
with obstacles in getting his book pub-
lished. The documentary compilation by
Litvin was edited by Prof. Sidney B.
Hoenig. Able scholars assisted in some of
the translations from the Hebrew,
French and other languages. Morris No-
ble, Detroit educator, was one of the
translators. Another translator was Dr.
Alfred Greenbaum, one of the librarians
of Wayne State University Library.
"Jewish Identity," containing the
views of the Jewish scholars who were
selected to provide the answers to the
question posed by David Ben-Gurion, is
like a world who's who of the most noted
Jewish men of learning.
Litvin subdivided his compilation
into sections on rabbis, lay scholars and
authors. Views of Israeli rabbis and the
laymen head each section, followed by
the responsa from European and then
American writers. There is an appended
list of profiles of contributors, thus
enabling the readers to gain information
about the men expressing their views on
the subject. There are two indices — one
of sources of references and another of
subjects and names. The only Hebrew
material in the book is a letter to Ben-
Gurion from the late Chief Rabbi Isaac
Joseph Soloveitchik of Boston and the
late Rabbi Chaim Heller of New York.
This work was financed in its
entirety — including all mailing and
translating and editing expenses — by
Litvin. It was an excessively expensive

work that was published by Philip Fel-
dheim of New York. It represents a labor
of love — Litvin's desire to reaffirm
basic principles that should lead to a
check on assimilatory tendencies in
Jewry.
It was not an easy task. One of the
men who responsed to Ben-Gurion pro-
tested against the book's publication,
and Ben-Gurion withdrew his permission
to have the compilation published. There
was an intercessilon by a prominent Is-
raeli leader and after added pleadings
permission was renewed. That, too, in-
volving the incurring of great expense.
In the course of the controversy that
ensued, there arose the dispute over a ti-
tle, and Litvin finally decided to call his
work Jewish Identity instead of what had
by then become the hackneyed phrase
"What is a Jew?"
Respons,a expressing views on
Jewish identity were written by Israel's
leading rabbis, by noted rabbinic leaders
in Switzerland, England, France, Hol-
land and Italy as well as the United
States.
Among the world scholars who
authored responsa were Hebrew Univer-
sity professors, Israeli jurists, learned
men in this country (Profs. Abraham
Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, Saul Lieber-
man, Harry A. Wolfson and Alexander
Altmann) and men of great culture in
France, Italy, England and Belgium.
In essence, this is much more than
an anthology: it is an encyclopedic work,
and the eminence of the respondents at-
tests to the seriousness of the subject.
Typical of many of the responses is
this statement by Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov
Weinberg of Montreaux, Switzerland,
who declared:
"Generations of our people withstood
great pressures of various government
authorities in the many lands of our dis-
persion. Suffering and martyrdom has
been the banner of our people through-
out. All these had been our lot because
of our devotion and adherence to our
Monotheistic religion, its order of wor-
ship and observance of its command-
ments and traditions.
"Can the Government of Israel af-
ford to minimize those historic outlooks,
evaluations and characterization, and
bring upon our Jewish horizon an almost
profane and secular idea of Judaism?
Can this political and imitative ideology
be the aim and goal of Judaism hereaf-
ter? Are we to abandon Torah and
Prophetic objectives for political recogni-
tion? Do we want a diluted yielding
Judaism or an invigorated one of reli-
gious conviction and State sovereignty?
"The character of our future Jewish
generation is in process of formation and
stabilization now. We must be influen-
tial in helping it form along historic and
traditional loyalties. Reverence for the
old and planning for the new, will give
us a strong and true type of a Jew. Secu-
lar Judaism will not enthuse nor inspire
long even in our own ranks, how much
less if our gates open widely to those not
of our origin?"
And there is this telling declaration
by the famous Israeli author, Shirr
Shalom:
"As long as an individual does not
profess to be Jewish, he benefits from
the privilege of equal rights accorded to
those affiliated with other religious
groups in the State. When he professes
his Jewishness and wishes to enjoy the
privilege of "being either religious or ir-
religious,' specifically in his capacity as
a Jew, he must first assume the obliga-
tion of 'being a Jew.' For the assumption
of this obligation, the acceptance of the
traditional ritual is essential, that tradi-

tional ritual endowed with the sanctity
of the ages.
"The fact that this ritual is under
the jurisdiction of religious functionaries
does not detract from its value for the to-
tality of the Jewish people ..."
Prof. H. Baruch of the Establish-
ment Nationale de Bienfaisance de Saint.
Maurice, Paris, France, dealt with the
subject of the Ger Tzedek — the saintly
convert to Judaism — and stated:
"The 'ger,' the non-Jewish stranger
who becomes Jewish by conviction had
always been admitted. One may declare
that these spontaneous, but not looked
for, conversions have played an impoi-
tant role in the history of the Jewish
people. As this history has always been
tragic and marked by persecutions, this
situation has played the role of selection
and has eliminated weak and self-
seeking personalities.
"One has seen on several occasions
the phenomena of the Ger-Tzedek, the
stranger leaving a happy and peaceful
situation in order to come and partake of
the persecutions of the Jews and to hap-
pened with Queen Helen of Adiabene
who embraced Judaism. The mass place
himself under a law which is more dif-
ficult than that of other peoples. It is
even told that certain Romans wanted to
be converted at the time of the siege of
Jerusalem. The same happened with
Queen Helen of Adiabene who embraced
Judaism. The mass conversions of the
Khazars is well known. In any case
there is no distinction made between the
original Jews and the descendants of
these converts so much has Jewish law
molded them in a profound fashion.
These facts show the extreme importance
of the practical observance deepened by
a civilization with the faith which in-
spires it. One can note, above all, that
quite often he who embraces a faith, just
as difficult and just as menaced and who
gives such proof of his love and of his
will by is deeds, sometimes becomes a
Jew more learned and more profound
than he who is merely Jew by birth." _
It can now be told that the single
world famous scholar who withdrew par-
ticipation in the compilation was Sir
Isaiah Berlin of London, England. Dr.
Berlin's objections caused Prime Minis-
ter Ben-Gurion to withdraw his approval 1
for the book's publication. The agonizing
dispute was prolonged, the Berlin com-
ment was omitted and Ben-Gurion gave
his OK to Litvin. The book appeared
with sensational acclaim.
Both Litvin books retain signifi-
cance. Both inspire interest with ex-
pressive information on the subject of
the mechitzah and the identity of Jews
in all aspects of identifications. It is im-
portant that neither of the themes, as
they were treated by Baruch Litvin,
should be ignored.

Purifying The Air

It comes a bit late, but
the cancellation by the Republican Party
of a radio commercial appealing specifi-
cally to Christian voters, inviting voters
to "a close relationship with Christ,"
should be judged as a lesson for politi-
cians never again to resort to such tac-
tics.
Air was polluted during the political
competitions of the past weeks. The
guilty in such tactics should be judged as
the defeated and they will surely be
closely watched and scrutinized, espe-
cially as the presidential campaign now
commences. American citizens will
surely always know how to deal with
traducers of common decencies.

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