Letters | Moral Relativism and Cantors

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Judaism Rejects Moral Relativism

In his letter (“It’s All Relativism,” Sept. 26), Steve Mendelsohn claims that “Judaism does not embrace moral relativism but thank God Jews do.” How wrong he is.

Judaism is not necessarily what nonobservant Jews practice. If that were the case, then violating the Shabbat or eating forbidden meat could be — according to his reasoning — the norm. Judaism rejects moral relativism. “Thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not steal” are absolute. Moral relativism can bring disastrous results. Nazi Germany made it legal to murder Jews and to plunder their belongings. Any dictatorial regime, as was the case under the Soviet Union, can claim moral relativism to arbitrarily pursue its expedience agenda.

The examples Mendelsohn picks from the Bible are taken completely out of context. They have long been addressed by our sages in the Talmud describing under which conditions, if any, they apply. Some “never existed and will never exist,” such as the rebellious son. Some punishments are heavenly decrees, and others could only be imposed by a duly constituted court of law operating under strict rules of evidence.

The laws of the Torah are immutable. On the other hand, human laws change according to the (capricious) will of society. Thank God, the majority of the Jews follow the absolute laws of the Torah.

Rabbi Albert Gabbai | Congregation Mikveh Israel

Keeping Cantorial Legacy Strong

How fitting that Oct. 10’s edition featured two contributions, seemingly disparate, but complementing each other.

The first article (“The Cantorate’s Future Is Bright at Hebrew College”) described the cantorial program at Hebrew College in Boston. As a native Bostonian, I know it well. The work it is doing, along with other fine institutions such as the Jewish Theological Seminary’s H.L. Miller Cantorial School, Hebrew Union College’s Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music, The Academy for Jewish Religion and Philadelphia’s own Cantorial Program at Aleph are testimony to a thriving cantorate in the United States. Cantor Elana Rozenfeld is right on target when she says “an ordained cantor brings a special depth of knowledge.”

The op-ed by Rabbi Charles Sherman (“Why Melrose Works”) describes what makes his congregation, Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El, so special. Its character is defined by a deep love and appreciation for tradition while, as Sherman wrote, “we also look to the future.” His comment that he “can still hear the voice of the cantor” of his childhood speaks to his understanding of the centrality of that role. I had the profound privilege of serving as cantor at MBIEE for these High Holidays, and I can say with total conviction that it is rabbis like Charles Sherman who will help to keep the cantorial legacy strong and undiminished.

Cantor Stephen Freedman | Ambler

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