Weiss never speaks for me, but Bowman often does


(re: “Bowman defends Israeli aid bill,” April 22)

Avi Weiss has chosen to engage in disagreement. He could also engage Jamaal Bowman in agreeable dialogue on issues such as community and education.

At the most basic level, Weiss does not speak for me because he refuses to engage in Talmudic, intellectual dialogue for its own sake, and Bowman speaks for me when he does.

Why does Avi Weiss not speak for me? Everyone is free to make public statements, but when Avi Weiss does so, he presents himself as a rabbinic leader. In order to attain such status, one must be a legitimate Talmudic scholar.

As a student of the “OG” Rabbi Weiss, Rabbi David Weiss-Halivni, I know as well as any student of Talmud that Avi Weiss is not a true scholar of Talmud, and not a scholar at all. He has never crafted a legitimate halachic work, not even a responsa. He has never demonstrated any interest nor ability in engaging in halachic dialogue with accepted contemporary Talmudic giants.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Feel free to visit the Beis Medrash in Lakewood, New Jersey; Yeshiva University and Satmar. Any student there who has heard of Avi Weiss will likely laugh at the idea that he is a Talmudic scholar.

To the rest who never heard of him, he is irrelevant, just as he is in true Torah/Talmud circles today — and will be for eternity.

When does Jamaal Bowman speak for me? Jamaal Bowman speaks for me and all Jews when, as an elected congressman, he emphasizes the importance of community and education. He speaks for me when he points to the interrelated nature of dialogue, education and community. He speaks for me when he defends ordinary people, their doctors and local hospitals from greedy insurance companies.

I can empathize with him when he is insulted by calls for him to be educated. I empathize with him just as I empathize with my Hasidic brothers and sisters when some claim that they are not educating their young.

I feel the attack, and relate to Jamaal Bowman’s response.

In terms of the proposal itself, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism motivate some supporters of this bill. Not Jamaal Bowman. However, Jamaal Bowman is moved by impulses that are as Jewish as they are American. Jamaal is moved by Palestinian pain.

Jewish law, Halacha, requires that Jews treat all with the dignity worthy of God’s creation. Halacha also stipulates that “at the fall of your enemy, do not celebrate.” Certainly, Palestinian pain is not something to celebrate. Even if one argues that Palestinian leadership brings this pain upon their own people, the pain itself is undeniable, and the individuals feeling it are innocent.

As Jews, we can and should sign on to the truth of pain and a desire to make it go away. We can embrace that common ground with Jamaal Bowman, even if we would not sign on to that bill.

In that common ground, we can commence dialogue and then get to the issues that truly matter to the communities in the Bronx and Westchester County, such as education.

Avi Weiss is a follower, par excellence. He does not seek to listen. He does not seek to learn. He follows a path to self-promotion.

As a child at Salanter Akiba Riverdale, I remember being impressed by the rabbi who chained himself to a fence and stood up for Soviet Jews. As an adult, I look back at a man following others who spoke out more effectively before him. I look back at a false leader following the media for attention behind the mask of Jewish leadership.

A follower is not a leader.

Jamaal Bowman is a leader. Jamaal Bowman is a learner. He is a teacher. Jamaal Bowman wants to engage and listen.

Perhaps we as Jews might not always agree with the representative, but we cannot vilify him and follow the path of Avi Weiss to engage only when we disagree.

There is so much about education and community that Jamaal Bowman shares with Jewish readers of this newspaper. We are fortunate to have a representative with a rare commitment to ameliorating educational and community challenges.

The people and communities are best served when solutions are executed with broad cooperation, dialogue and agreement. It would be especially sad if Jamaal Bowman’s position on one issue distorts the Jewish commitment to dialogue, community and education.

When it comes to dialogue, community and education, Jamaal Bowman speaks with me and for me.

Avi Weiss does neither.

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Josh Eisen,