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Orthodox Morality Tales

August 09, 2003

Re "Lessons in Division," Aug. 3: I was pleased that The Times chose to publish a front-page article on the unique Orthodox Jewish school Shalhevet. I have been an active parent volunteer in the school virtually since its inception. Our two sons graduated from there and our daughter is going into her third year. The school has broken new ground in the area of moral reasoning, at the same time providing a stellar grounding in religious and secular education. We constantly get inquiries from all over the world about how the Kohlbergian philosophy [Harvard professor Lawrence Kohlberg, the noted social psychologist] is incorporated into the school. Our "town hall" meetings have been copied by many schools in Los Angeles and elsewhere. I was puzzled that The Times chose to focus on one teacher's problems with the school.

Why not focus on the numerous children who have been turned on to community projects, like helping children to read, giving help to food banks, visiting the sick etc.? Why not mention the academic achievements of the school, the high rate of acceptance at the country's finest academic establishments? Why not talk about the religious stimulation that has motivated many students to carry on their religious studies in Israel? And what about the unbelievable drama program and theater that is organized by an amazing drama teacher? Yes, there are tensions in the school, and the school does not hide that fact. Therein lies the beauty of the school.

Charles Pollick

Los Angeles

*

What an amazing article! As someone who attended Jewish day school as a youngster, I can certainly appreciate the difficult line that educators must often walk when teaching and discussing the conflicted history and events in the Middle East. Jerry Friedman should be commended for spearheading an open-minded and progressive school like Shalhevet, which seems to combine the best aspects of Jewish education: impassioned debate within the context of solid religious foundations.

At the same time, the important story of Xander Maksik must be told and retold to underscore the long and difficult road we must all blaze if we are to ever have true peace and coexistence in Israel. Maksik should be held as an example teacher in every respect.

May we all have the strength and convictions of these two educators, and may Jews and Arabs teach our children to think critically so that they can one day live as peaceful neighbors.

Gideon Gradman

Chicago

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Why the huge front-page placement of the story about Shalhevet and the teacher, a ridiculously long "feature" -- not news story -- which should have been presented as such. So you have shown us that even a "modern" Orthodox school has trouble with provocative, "out of the box" thinkers ... simply a sad story to many of us Jews. It should have been half its length and placed in the features section of the paper.

Pearl Taylor

Sherman Oaks

*

Did some outsider sneak into Shalhevet's "just community" and teach those students to hate Palestinians, or is there something about a community based on religion that causes division, even hate? From Christian extremists' views on homosexuals and Muslim extremists' views on women's rights to Jewish extremists' views on Palestinians -- religious beliefs are not amenable to logical discussion.

Any view that rests on what God says in a holy book will never be accepted by those who find a different meaning in scripture or who embrace a different holy book. Faith always trumps reason; that's why misguided faith is so dangerous. Why is it that only religious extremists seem to know exactly what God said? If only God hadn't stopped writing over 2,000 years ago; perhaps he has changed his mind on a few issues, but fundamentalists will never know. Shalhevet's "democracy" is a tyranny of an intolerant majority.

Jim Corbett

San Clemente

*

The article points out the "cognitive dissonance" that many otherwise fair-minded Jews experience when the issue of Palestine arises. For some, unfortunately, Israel is no longer a state but rather a state of mind where dissent becomes heresy.

Lynn Kessler

Sherman Oaks

*

You opened a window into the world of private religious schools. After reading this story, is there anyone who still believes that tax-supported school vouchers add up?

Chris Ungar

Los Osos

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