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September 23, 1988 - Image 30

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-09-23

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

1 141

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Hair & Nails

30

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 23, 1988

drafted by Lewin for Agudath Israel,
designed to protect Orthodox Jewish
women in divorce cases. In Jewish law, a
woman must rely on the good faith of her
husband to obtain a get, religious divorce,
since he must agree to and initiate the
proceedings. In a number of cases,
husbands have demanded large sums of
money or refused to give a get for spite,
preventing their wives from remarrying
under Jewish law.
Lewin's get bill, the first of its kind in the
country, is an effort to prevent these
personal tragedies by requiring the giving
of a religious divorce as a precondition to
obtaining a secular divorce. Critics (and
there have been many, including some
COLPA leaders) maintain that this is an
incursion by government into the realm of
religious liberty in violation of the First
Amendment. But Lewin argues that the
law does not violate the First Amendment
because "it 'entangles' no court in any
religious matter." He says the secular
Jewish organizations have exaggerated
and flagrantly misdescribed the law and
that they are "trying to undermine
legislative remedies secured to help
religiously observant Jews."
He used far stronger language in an
exchange over Israel's Who Is A Jew
controversy in the pages of the
Washington Jewish Week several years
ago. In defending the right of Israel's
rabbinical courts to determine one's Jewish
status, Lewin accused American
Conservative and Reform rabbis of
engaging in "consumer fraud." These
rabbis, he wrote, "have not been warning
their converts that they will not be

accepted by the Israeli rabbinate as Jews."
When some in the community vigor-
ously protested Lewin's remarks, he wrote
in again. "There is a short and complete
answer to the assertion that what I said
is libelous," he wrote. "My statement is
true, and truth is never libel."
Blunt, opinionated, independent, eager
to do battle. Lewin's personality hardly
seems to fit the mold for a leadership
position in the organized Jewish commu-
nity. So it came as a major surprise when
he agreed to become president of the
Jewish Community Council of Greater
Washington in 1982. He acknowledges
that his aggressive style did not always
mesh with the consensus-oriented
approach of a Jewish communal organiza-

Soft-spoken in conversation, Lewin is known for his self-
confidence and willingness to take risks.

tion, but he says he enjoyed the experience
and strove mightily to work in a demo-
cratic way. "Sometimes it's frustrating to
see how the Jewish community operates,"
says Lewin, "but I worked aggressively on
specific problems, and had some success."
A key issue during Lewin's two-year
tenure was mustering support for Israel's
war in Lebanon and dealing with negative
media coverage. In a meeting with Wash-
ington Post editor Ben Bradlee to discuss
the newspaper's coverage of the war, Lewin
prepared a detailed critique with story-by-
story analysis. "Bradlee was impressed,"
says Michael Berenbauin, who headed the
professional staff of the council at the time.
"Nat was strong, but not too forceful. His
presentation was masterful."
Another hot topic at the time was voting
on whether or not to accept the local
branch of New Jewish Agenda, an organ-
ization calling for Israeli accommodation
with the Palestinians, into membership of
the Council. Lewin favored their accept-
ance but was outvoted.
"Overall, Nat displayed an extraordinary
level of tolerance during his tenure,"
observes Berenbaum. "He was a man
accustomed to cross-examining, and he
really learned to listen."
Lewin has maintained a less visible role
in terms of Jewish communal involvement
in recent years, though he is said to have
a hand in virtually every piece of
Congressional legislation involving Jewish
interests. "Nat is a pi:otal man in
Washington," said one Jewish insider on
Capitol Hill. "He has respect and
tenacity."
Or, as Michael Berenbaum puts it, "he
makes a great friend and a terrific
enemy." ❑

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