Circumcision and the First Amendment
I was appalled by Rabbi Reuven Taff's completely
inappropriate response to the San
Francisco anti-circumcision amendment ("Is
Anti-Semitism Alive and Well in San Francisco?"
Fall 2011). The
answer to hate speech is not
the governmental censorship
he proposes but to answer it
with more speech. That is precisely
what was done in San
Francisco. The end result was
not only a court decision
knocking the proposed
amendment off the ballot,
but legislation signed into law
by California Governor Jerry
Brown to ensure such proposals will not be
valid in the future.
Rabbi Taff, on the other hand, argues
that we should punish "hate propaganda
material" with the power of the state. The
argument that the First Amendment doesn't
protect offensive speech was made more than
30 years ago, when some neo-Nazis thugs
wanted to march in Skokie, Illinois, and were
denied a parade permit. I recall attending
a debate at my law school at the time in which
the ADL and the ACLU argued opposite
sides of the case. After listening to the arguments
I got up and said that the ADL representative
made a powerful argument about
the emotional harm that would be caused
if the neo-Nazis marched, given that there
were a number of Holocaust survivors living
in Skokie. I then asked what standard could
he devise that would stop the neo-Nazis
but could not be used also by pro-Palestinians
to challenge an Israeli Independence
Rabbi Taff no doubt would argue that being
locally pro-Israel is not indulging in hate
speech. But from a Palestinian perspective
it might well be, especially if some of the ideas
expressed included support for the settlers or
criticism of terrorist acts by Palestinians. And
it's not Rabbi Taff who would get to decide
which speech was okay and which was not.
It would be a judge, applying a law that stated
that anyone who "willfully promotes hatred
against any identified group is guilty." Rabbi
Taff might agree with me that Hamas is a terrorist
organization, but stating so conceivably
could be seen as
promoting hatred against
No, censorship is not the
way to go. In America we
allow "freedom for the
thought we hate," in the
words of Justice Oliver
Wendell Holmes. And we
fight back, as was done in
San Francisco, by exposing
it for the collection of hate
and lies that it is, not by having the government
approve which thoughts are permissible
and which will be punished.
DANIEL M. KIMMEL
Rabbi Reuven Taff decries Matthew Hess and
his group's un-American efforts to restrict circumcision.
Unfortunately, Rabbi Taff proposes
an equally un-American response. The
First Amendment is not a slippery slope
but rather solid bedrock. It guarantees freedom
of religion as well as freedom of speech,
and it is all that American Jews need to stop
cranks and kooks like Hess and his teenyweenie
group. Brit milah is protected by
the U.S. Constitution, end of story. The overwhelming
majority of Americans understands
and cherishes freedom of religion and rejects
bigotry; and if they don't, our courts can
remind them. We don't need new Canadianstyle
or any other laws that police our speech.
While I agree that Hess is clearly an anti-
Semite, I disagree with your free-speech limiting
First, I welcome anti-Semites to make
themselves known in clear and unambiguous fashion. Their voices give clarity to our
mission. It also helps us understand who is
who. Unfortunately, being an anti-Semite
is far too fashionable these days (especially in
Europe). I'd rather have these people out
in the open, exposed and identifiable, than
skulking in the shadows with effective whisper
campaigns that cannot be confronted
openly. As Justice Louis Brandeis said, sunshine
is the best disinfectant.
Then we can address it head on and educate
Finally, be careful of unintended consequences.
Limiting the First Amendment's scope
is not without danger. The Canadian law is
certainly, at its edges, subjective. Who's to
say that your legitimate criticism of, say, Palestinian
politics is not someone else's hate speech?
Although it is refreshing to see an originalist
constitutional argument put forth in this
publication, I am afraid that Rabbi Taff's view
that the "founding fathers (n)ever thought
that hate propaganda … would be an acceptable
form of free speech" does not hold water.
When the founding fathers wrote "Congress
shall make no law" they did not intend an
exception for speech that offends Jews. Speech
that is inoffensive is not in need of constitutional
Before Rabbi Taff rushes to replace the first
amendment with Canadian law, he should
reflect on the fact that the Canadian law in
question has been used, among other purposes,
to punish a citizen for publishing a
bumper sticker containing citations of biblical
verses from Leviticus (Hugh Owens v.
Saskatchewan). Not only was Mr. Owens
enjoined from further distribution of the
bumper stickers, he was ordered to pay $1,500
to each of three complainants who were
offended by them. I much prefer the freedoms
protected by our constitution to those
protected by the Canadian Human Rights
Monster Mohel is not the first manifestation
of the convergence of far left politics
and anti-Semitism, and it won't be the
last. Rabbi Taff 's call for "loud and clear
voices" in opposition is the proper response.
USY: Creating Memories
"Darn tootin'! We love Jules Gutin!"
When I read Jules Gutin's article (Fall 2011),
many wonderful memories of my years in USY
rushed back. For whatever reason, that chant
did, too. We used to shout it whenever Jules
took the stage at USY conventions. Do they
still shout it?
I was a member of USY from 1985 to 1988
at Congregation Beth El in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The summer of 1987 was spent on an amazing Israel trip with USY Pilgrimage.
What I remember most is the people that I
met along the way and the friendships that
have grown over the years. I have scrapbooks
filled with pictures.
I can only hope that my son and daughter
have similar experiences when they get
the chance to join USY.
Thank you, Jules, for being the director of
such an amazing organization and for writing
an article that reminded me of wonderful
ALANA (HUCHITAL) GOODMAN
My Father's Shoes
Artie Dean's touching and heartfelt article,
"My Father's Shoes" (Fall 2011), brought me
back more than 50 years to when I was
ordained at the Hebrew Union College.
My father, an Orthodox Jew and supporter
of religious Zionist causes, came to Cincinnati
from Detroit to witness my ordination.
That event was rather Reform, and
my father spent Friday and Shabbat in a
nearby hotel and walked to the temple on
a hot and humid day, surviving on vegetarian
food in order to keep kosher.
It was then that I committed myself to maintaining
a respectful approach to Jewish tradition
and preserving halachic customs as
much as possible. My father, who attended
school in Poland with Menachem Begin,
observed my rabbinate from afar as I served
congregations in Santa Barbara, California,
and Charleston, West Virginia. Until his death,
10 years after my ordination, he never challenged
my commitments nor disparaged
my membership in Reform Judaism. From
time to time he reminded me of the most
salient aspects of Jewish life: tzedakah, love of
Israel, education of children, respect for elders,
preservation of meaningful traditions. All
this was unearthed in my mind when I read
Artie Dean's inspiring and moving article.
ISRAEL B. KOLLER
Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Bnai Israel
Charleston, West Virginia
In 1985, I was asked by the cantor of my synagogue,
Temple Beth-El in Poughkeepsie,
New York, to chant the haftarah on the first
day of Rosh Hashanah. I had been a member
of the synagogue for 20 years and our
high holiday choir for almost 10, but I had
not chanted a haftarah since my bar mitzvah
I do not know why I said yes, but I did.
When the time came, I looked out into the
congregation. There were my parents sitting
with my wife and our three children, a glow
of pride and joy radiating from them.
11 months later, my dad died of cancer.
I am eternally grateful that he had the chance
to hear me chant the haftarah that first time.
I am not a very spiritual person, yet each
time I have chant it since then, I feel like I
am chanting toward heaven so my father can
hear me again.
ALBERT J. BAUMAN
Poughkeepsie, New York