Sage Was No Mystic
I take issue with Barry Holtz’s characterization of Rabbi Akiva as a “mystic” (“Rabbi Akiva Made the Jews Who They Are Today, Says Biographer,” April 13).
The basis for such a portrayal seems to be the Pardes incident (Hagigah 14a). But that passage actually demonstrates the opposite. Mysticism requires real imagination — of which Akiva seems to have been bereft. Proof being the instance where Akiva’s attempt at trying his hand at aggadah fell so flat that he was admonished to go back to what he was actually good at: halachah (Sanhedrin 38b).
Whether Pardes is considered a mystical experience or gnostic speculation, Akiva was able to emerge from Pardes intact/unscathed precisely because he lacked the degree of fanciful cognitive expanse necessary to appreciate, and to be affected by, let alone be attracted to, its marvels and enthrallments. For all his exemplary talents and numerous skills, in this instance, Akiva was not above such speculative temptation, as much as beneath it.
Stanley Cohen | Baltimore, Md.
Just Who Is to Blame for Political Violence?
Here we go again, flinging the words “xenophobia,” “knave,” “fool” and, of course, the ever-present label of “fascist” at the boogeyman, Donald Trump (“Political Rabbis Should Heed Pirkei Avot,” June 1). The constant misuse, for political purposes, of these words degrades the atrocities that they are meant to convey.
Let’s go back to the recent presidential campaign. At that time, there was a constant assault on Trump’s rallies, including verbal disruptions during his speeches and physical attacks on his supporters. It was later revealed that some of these disruptions were designed to promote an overreaction by Trump’s supporters.
I will not defend Trump’s call for his supporters to beat up these provocateurs, but let’s be honest here: It was Hillary Clinton and the DNC — by instigating violence and disruptive tactics — whose actions should be condemned.
Steve Heitner | Port Jefferson Station, N.Y.
Give Bigotry No Sanction
I was disturbed by the letter attacking yard signs that say, “Hate has no home here,” in five languages, and its suggestion that we should hate Islam (“Hate Should Have a Home Here,” April 27).
While I agree with the writer’s claim that the signs betray narcissism, his characterization of political Islamic fascism, which threatens mostly Muslims elsewhere in the world, as “the greatest evil” serves to code Islam in our brains with evil, permitting readers to demonize Muslims. This vague rhetorical scapegoating mirrors anti-Semitism throughout history and the globe. We’re morally obligated to criticize it.
Overt hate speech should not be legitimized in the pages of the Jewish Exponent. Perpetuating Islamophobia (or other bigotry) in the American Jewish community is an act of evil. l
Josh Hoffman | Wynnewood