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May 17, 1996 - Image 23

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1996-05-17

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Community Views

Editor's Notebook

Following Our Desires
Or Doing Our Duty?

Detroiters Will Lead
Communal Revolution

RABBI HERBERT A. YOSKOWITZ SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

ALAN HITSKY ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Anthony and Su-
san Provenzino of
St. Clair Shores,
who recently were
found guilty of vio-
lating their city's
parental responsi-
bility law, were
placed in the glare
of a trial that drew
national media attention.
A parental responsibility law
has been enacted in many
communities because there
appears to be a feeling that
parents do not adequately
assume the obligation of ed-
ucating their children in so-
cietal values and norms.
Consequently, it is felt, in-
creasing numbers ofjuve-
niles are running amok,
violating the laws of the
land.
Local newspaper cover-
age focused on the implica-
tions of parental roles in
attaining a societal goal of
reducing crime. Should par-
ents be legally obligated to
fulfill moral responsibilities
as defined by government in
the raising of children?
The legal matter of this
issue is in the domain of the court.
But there is another issue raised
in my mind by this case. What de-
termines our roles and our ac-
tions: What we want to do or
what we are commanded to do?
In short, what motivates us more:
our desires or our duties?
When God gave His Torah to
the Jewish people at Mount Sinai,
Judaism as a religion was born
when the people agreed to accept
the covenant with the words
"naaseh v'nishmah" (we accept
the covenant as a duty and not as
an option).

Herbert Yoskowitz is rabbi of

Congregation Beth Achim.

Yet, in our society, as implied
in the Provenzino case, there is
an issue open before us of
whether or not we are obligated
to do that which we do not feel
like doing.
"If you do not feel like doing it,
don't do it" seems to be prevailing
in our society. Don't be a hyp-
ocrite. Be true to yourself instead.
"To thine own self be true" is fa-
miliar to us.

to theology. She continues, "Your
nation shall be my nation." Ruth
expresses a duty to national iden-
tity.
"Where you walk, shall I
walk" can be interpreted as a ref-
erence to duty, to Halachah;
"Where you shall lodge, so shall
I." That is, I shall observe laws
of morality in my home as I see
you observe laws of morality in
yours. For Ruth, loyalty to God,
to nation, to Jewish ritual
law, to Jewish morals are
matters of duty.
Having completed teach-
ing a semester at the Melton
Adult Mini School of Metro
Detroit and having taught
at other institutes, I note
that some adult students be-
gin to attend even though
their feelings at first weren't
"into it." What began as a
sense of duty to try to ex-
pand one's Jewish eduda-
tional horizons became a
source of great enjoyment
and of regular attendance.
With Shavuot — the last
major Jewish holiday of
5756 — coming, there are
people who just don't feel
like going to synagogue or
Sincerity is a fine virtue. But temple. Some will go out of a
assuming that we do not feel our- sense of duty. Often such people
selves acting out of conviction, leave with an uplifted feeling
should we not act out of duty any- and are glad they decided to
way?
come.
From my religious perspective,
There is room to act on the ba-
I am convinced that the future of sis of our feelings. Surely we do
our society and of our Judaism is not negate that. However, it is
less dependent on our feeling good important to act out of duty, too.
about what we do and more de- Even when you don't feel like it,
pendent on the results of our why not be a good, duty-bound
sense of duty.
son or daughter or parent or
In the megillah Ruth (read and brother or sister? When you don't
studied during Shavuot), when feel like being a good friend or
Ruth converts to Judaism, she a nice neighbor, try being one
speaks to Naomi in terms of du- anyway. Feelings are important,
ties and not in terms of feelings. but doing can often lead to find-
She says, "Your God shall be my ing that your heart is in it after
God," as she refers to ritual and all. ❑

Comment

A Supreme Right
Needs Defending

RABBI KENNETH L. COHEN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS

S

upreme Court Justice An-
tonin Scalia and I have lit-
tle in common. He is a
Catholic. I am Jewish. He
is a judicial conservative. I am
a civil libertarian. He is "pro-
life." I am "pro-choice." What di-

Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen is
spiritual leader of Congregation
Beth Shalom in Howard
County, Ga.

vides us, it would seem, is
greater than what unites us. But
after the lambasting he received
in much of the press a few weeks
ago for asserting the importance
of religion, he needs to be de-
fended.
The pundits of the press and
many of my fellow liberals are
bearing false witness against an
innocent man. The judge from

Virginia is being judged. But be-
fore pronouncing sentence,
ladies and gentlemen of the jury,
it behooves us to examine the ev-
idence.
Justice Scalia was invited to
speak before a group of religious
conservatives. His offense, it
seems, was that he declared a
belief in biblical miracles. He

SUPREME page 24

A few years ago,
speaking at a
Council of Jewish
Federations'
General Assem-
bly, demograph-
er Steven Cohen
questioned
American Jew-
ry's obsession
with anti-Semitism.
He postulated that the small
number of incidents of bias
against individuals and the
demise of institutionalized anti-
Semitism in North America
made it unnecessary to have —
and fund — an American Jew-
ish Committee, an American
Jewish Congress and an Anti-
Defamation League.
His well-intentioned speech
set off a firestorm. Audience
members lined up at the mi-
crophones to tell of bias inci-
dents that affected them, their
families or their neighbors. Not
a single one would accept Dr.
Cohen's thesis or his conclusion.
Now, leaders are sounding a
similar clarion call to shake up
the national and international
Jewish federation structure. Af-
ter several years of study, they
are seeking a merger of four ma-
jor organizations: the Council of
Jewish Federations, the um-
brella group for 800 local Jew-
ish federations in the United
States and Canada; United
Jewish Appeal and United Is-
rael Appeal, which both send
funds raised by federations to
Israel; and the American Jew-
ish Joint Distribution Commit-
tee, which sends federation
funds to overseas Jewish com-
munities in need. A vote is
scheduled in June on a reorga-
nization of the Jewish Agency
for Israel.
Joel Tauber, a past president
of the Jewish Federation of Met-
ropolitan Detroit and current
president of the United Jewish
Appeal, outlined a broad spec-
trum of ideas last Sunday at a
speech before the Shaarey
Zedek Men's Club. He was plan-
ning to talk on the same topic
this week in 12 cities around the
country.
Mr. Tauber said the Jewish
community in the Diaspora, for
the first time in 2,000 years, is
moving from concern about
physical survival to concern
about creative survival. "We
need new institutions, not be-
cause we have failed, but be-
cause we have been successful,"
he said.
The emphasis must shift
from defense of our people from
attacks coming from outside the
Jewish community to attrition
from within. To those ends, he
said, the Jewish community will
have to close old organizations

and create anew.
He said North American
Jews should send 50,000 teen-
agers each year on visits to Is-
rael. Such trips would cost the
community $200 million. He
also pointed out that only half
the teachers in Jewish schools
in this country have certifica-
tion, training in Judaic studies
and have visited Israel.
But some people fear change,
Mr. Tauber said, and the reor-
ganization plan has been meet-
ing with some resistance.
One federation official from
outside Michigan who talked
with us on condition of
anonymity was skeptical of the
changes. Mr. Tauber and oth-
ers are talking broad strokes,
not details. The official also wor-
ried that a Jewish superagency
would ignore individual needs
of local federations.

A merger
for a new
Jewish
direction.

"In the Southeast and South-
west," he said, "our needs cen-
ter on a rapidly growing elderly
population. In Detroit, you are
focused on maintaining your
population."
How the local fund-raising
campaigns will be divided be-
tween local, national and inter-
national needs — and by whom
— is another bone of contention.
Mr. Tauber responds that it
is too early to say how the reor-
ganized community will oper-
ate, even though the plan is to
implement the merger by Jan.
1. He and others who partici-
pated in a national 2 1/2-year
study believe they can create as
they go.
According to Detroiter and
International President of Is-
rael Bonds David Hermelin,
who attended Mr. Tauber's
Sunday speech, "The existing
agencies are good at raising
money, but they just don't work
anymore.
"We can't be Jews out of fear.
We must be Jews because Ju-
daism has something to offer us
individually."
With Joel Tauber as presi-
dent of UJA; Dr. Conrad Giles,
the presidential designate at
Council of Jewish Federations;
and Max Fisher, a continued
force at the Jewish Agency for
Israel, they and other Detroi-
ters may be pivotal in the up-
coming Jewish communal
revolution. ❑

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