For Part I of a Bridge to Somewhere (Messages 1 to 11) click here.

-- 11 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: Auguest 03, 2006

Dear Eliezer,

My understanding is that faith allows one to enjoy spiritual tranquility. It means having clarity in many areas that destabilize those of us that do not yet have it. It is really envious that you even know what happens after death. Believing in reincarnation or life after death fills one's soul with peace and hope.

By contrast, those of us who think that there is nothing after this life, have a very different attitude, more limited to the ups and downs of life .

Regarding the subject of intermarriage, it is very intertwined with the subject of assimilation. In my youth, intermarriages were very rare. I think that the Zionist youth movements played an important role in this regard. I participated in them since my adolescence and I can say that none of my friends would ever have considered marrying a non Jewish woman.

Unfortunately these groups have disappeared, at least in our community. By the same token, I remember that it was also rare to see a religious adolescent. It was considered to be for "old people." I consider the phenomenon that we see today of many young people turning to religion to be an important factor in preventing assimilation.

At the World Jewish Congress it was said that in some 15-20 years Judaim in the Diaspora might disappear. At the rate that we are going, with the ever increasing amount of intermarriages, that prediction is perfectly believable.

Is it perhaps religion that can assure the continuity of the Jewish People? I have no doubt regarding the response in the affirmative.

Anyway, my esteemed cyber-rabbi, as I sign off, I once again thank you for your words.

Mario Grinberg


-- 12 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: August 3, 2006

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

I agree with you that faith gives one much tranquility, but that is not the reason to have it. It is not something one accepts because of convenience…

By the same token, however, I would like to say that my understanding of faith is that it is not a matter of "either you have it or you don't." Faith is something that one can and must cultivate. Think of an apple seed. When one looks at it, one cannot imagine that it can produce a tree with succulent fruit. But the fact of the matter is that it does have that potential. One must simply provide it with the necessary conditions so that the potential that it has can flourish.

Every Jew – without exception – has innate faith in G‑d. It must simply be cultivated. It must be provided with the nutrients, sun (light and warmth), air (space, environment) and water in order for its natural potential to come out.

The necessary nutrients are the study of Torah and observance of the mitzvot. They serve to nourish the soul. One must also have light and warmth that is provided by living according to G‑d's will.

Of course, you must have a good "gardener" who can guide you regarding which seeds to plant and how to cultivate each plant…

The "gardener" of our generation, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, may his merit shield us, has taught us many things and has given us many tools which allow us to successfully accomplish this goal.

I am unaware of your present level of observance of mitzvot, but I would like to suggest that you consider making a small move forward with regards to cultivating your personal spiritual "seed."

What do you think?

Sincerely,

Eliezer


-- 13 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: August 7, 2006

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

A I was reviewing our correspondence, I came across one of your questions that I did not address.

"Regarding women, is not wearing pants and covering the hair so important for Judaism? The Taliban do the same, just look at the clothing their women wear. They base themselves on the same principle, namely preventing seduction."

I cannot speak for the Taliban, but as far as the standards and criteria of modesty in Judaism are concerned, the objecive is not to repress but to protect the dignity of the woman.

I think that today, more than ever, it is enough to look around and seeing how the woman's body is used to sell anything from batteries to cars, to realize how fragile and vulnerable a woman's dignity can be.

It has reached a point where many modern women have incorporated into their own way of thinking and feeling the pathetic idea that in order to be valued they need to expose themselves and entertain the male instinct. They do not realize that by doing so they transform themselves into cheap objects. A shmateh, as we say in Yiddish.

Judaism understands sexuality to be a holy facet of the human experience and deserves to be reserved for expression exclusively within the intimacy of marriage.

The Jewish norms for dress are based on the idea that a woman is a dignified princess, and not merely a source of entertainment for the man.

I welcome your comments.

Eliezer


-- 14 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: August 08, 2006

Dear Eliezer:

It is true that there are women nowadays that use their bodies to make the ads for thousands of products and services more enticing. But there were always women that sold their bodies. You do not need to be scantily dressed in order to do that; there are very well-dressed women that accomplish the same thing. I think the problem lies also within the observer. Take, for example, a female athlete, or swimming champion, who uses clothing thats fits the activity; only an unhealthy mind would see that as a sexual provocation.

My daughter was a tennis champ and of course wore shorts when competing. It simply makes playing tennis easier. Do you think that that denigrated her as a woman? I don't think so. Do you mean to say that she cannot practice any sports? She must wear a wig? She cannot swim? I sincerely think, Eliezer, that many aspects are very questionable. Sports are very healthy; it is scientifically proven to be so. In order to do sports you must use adequate clothing. It is not a matter of sex, it is a matter of sports. Can you imagine a swimmer wearing a wig?

As far as my level of mitzvot is concerned, I do not know. What is a mitzvah? Doing the right thing? Not being a bad person? I always try to do that. Does one need religion for that?

Okay, my esteemed Eliezer, I gratefully await your comments.

Mario Grinberg


-- 15 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: August 8, 2006

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

Thank you for your reply.

When I talk about the issue of clothing, I do not refer to women that intentionally look to provoke. Because, as you rightly point out, they can accomplish that even while being fully clothed.

Where I disagree with you is where you say that only a sick mind would be provoked when seeing a woman athlete in sports clothes. It is true that not every man is affected by every woman, but by the same token it is true that it is only natural for a man not to be indifferent to a woman's body when he sees it. The question is simply whether one is happy when he sees something that excites him or if he prefers not to be exposed to it. One of the values that Judaism supports and encourages is to mantain a healthy mind and not give free reign to sexual stimulation. The less provocations one is exposed to, the easier it is to accomplish this.

No, it is not necessary that a woman practice sports in a wig or a skirt, as long as she is amongst women. In other words, the scientifically proven benefits that sports accrue are not at all beyond the reach of the religious woman. As a matter of fact, there are many gyms, not necessarily religiously inclined, that cater exclusively to women. Did you ever think why there are "non-religious" gyms that are exclusively for women?

Regarding your question about your level of mitzvot, "mitzvah" means "command" as well as "connection." When one fulfills a divine command, one connects himself to the One who gave the command. In order to somehow quantify your level of mitzvah observance, you might ask yourself: How many things do I do because G‑d asked me to do them and because I want to have a relationship with Him?

I await you challenging comments,

Sincerely,

Eliezer


-- 16 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: August 21, 2006

Dear Eliezer:

After a long break, I am again able to resume our contact. My computer broke down and I was unable to get it to work until now. I had asked my daughter to write to you, explaining what was happening.

Before continuing, I would like to clarify, dear Eliezer, that under no circumstances do I pretend to be able to challenge you. It is impossible because I simply do not have the level of knowledge to do so. All I am doing is sharing thoughts and feeling based on my personal point of view. The problem is that in the written word, no facial or tonal expressions are perceptible, hence room for misinterpretation.

The fact is, I believe, that it's all a matter of faith; either you believe or you don't.

The reason that I say that it's all a matter of belief is because one should follow the rules without questioning them; being that the Torah is unquestionable, just as the Bible is for the Catholic. Nevertheless it is subject to interpretation which gives rise to different religious expressions both in Judaism as well as in Christianity.

Let me share with you an episode that happened in my profession (I don't remember if I told you that I am a gynecologist). A patient of mine had an abortion and got infected. The doctor that she was seeing consulted with me as how to proceed. My opinion was that he should operate and give her a blood transfusion. The family opposed the decision based on their religious beliefs. The patient died. The point is that the biblical interpretation of their particular religious sect prevented her from receiving the blood transfusion.

I think that the same holds true for the Torah. Different religious movements interpret it differently. Which is the true one? Who can know? Why must we dress in a certain way? Anyway, the impression that I have is that the 10 Commandments comprise the fundamental basis which has no varied interpretations. Everything else is interpreted according to the particular lens through which it is observed. Rabin's death is an example.

With regard to the issue of clothing, I do not agree with what you said, because in gyms that are geared exclusively to women, you will also find homosexuals. If we are to be concerned about people's sexual sensitivity, we should have to prohibit women from being dressed in sports clothes there as well.

Dear Eliezer, best regards and Hasta pronto.

Mario Grinberg


-- 17 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: August 22, 2006

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

Thank you for your email.

Your daughter did indeed inform me of the problem with your computer.

In any case I would not have had much time to correspond because I was traveling and have just returned today.

I did not understand your comments about the homosexuals in the gym dressing room.

Regarding that which you wrote about the Bible and its interpretation, it is true that there is a good dose of faith necessary, as in fact is true regarding any system of thought whose axioms are neither provable nor refutable. However, although faith serves as a base, it is not the whole structure. The structure is indeed very logical.

Let's use an example from your field, the field of medicine.

When a patient comes to see you, you apply your scientific knowledge in order to protect her health and life. Do you ever ask yourself: why should one help save and protect lives?

Answering that "saving a life is a noble act and the correct thing to do" is based on faith. It is neither rational nor provable that one must save other people's lives. To the contrary, if one believes in the "scientific" theory of the Big Bang and Darwin's Theory of Evolution, human life has no value intrinsically superior to that of the monkey, and one should not help sick people recover in a system where only the fittest are meant to survive…

In spite of the irrational principle that motivates you, your aptitudes and decisions as a doctor are not based on faith, but rather on the rational study and application of medicine.

Something similar occurs with regard to interpreting the Torah. Although the conviction that the Torah is of Divine origin is largely based on faith and confidence in the credibility of the generational transmission of this historical fact (in addition to some very strong rational arguments that support the belief that the Torah was given at Sinai by G‑d…), the interpretation of the Torah and its its practical application, however, follow a rigorous set of rules. This does not mean that there is no room for differing – even contradictory – opinions; what it does mean is that all opinions, in order to be considered valid options, must be based on the same set of rules, going back all the way to Sinai.

I think that in order to understand this concept more clearly it would help to study an example of one specific topic and the varied interpretations related to it and see in what they differ and in what they coincide and how their differences serve to reaffirm the coincidence as far as the system itself is concerned. It is difficult to accomplish this in the context of a written dialogue such as this one.

Regarding the standards of modesty related to the Jewish dress code, they are clearly defined in halachah. There might be differences in certain details between one community and another, but all communities that follow halachah agree on the basic norms that define Jewish modesty.

Of course, these standards may seem to be strange and "repressive" to one who was not exposed to them in his or her education, but they are nevertheless the genuine Jewish standards that express – and do not repress – the natural Jewish sensitivity to modesty.

Regarding Rabin's death, I think that never was there a more universal agreement amongst religious groups as there was in the condemnation of the said act.

Best regards,

Eliezer

P. S. When I used the word "challenging," I meant it in the most friendly way. I did not say it by way of complaint. No need to apologize for it...


-- 18 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: August 26, 2006

Dear Eliezer,

You write:

"No, it is not necessary that a woman practice sports in a wig or a skirt, as long as she is amongst women. In other words, the scientifically proven benefits that sports accrue are not at all beyond the reach of the religious woman. As a matter of fact, there are many gyms, not religiously inclined, that cater exclusively to women. Did you ever think why there are 'not-religious' gyms that are exclusively for women?"

To clarify what I stated in my previous email: I understand that in women-only gyms there are also female homosexuals, and that in that case a woman dressed in sports clothing could still be "provocative." In other words, even in a woman-only environment, a woman would not be safe from personal issues one may have with their sexuality. Should I therefore conclude, based on your argument, that a religious woman should be precluded from practicing sports even in a woman-only evironment?

I am convinced that the respect a man has for a womn, and vice versa, is unrelated to how she is dressed, because if that were to be the case, a woman would have to be totally covered. Aren't a wink and a nod enough to incite passions? Let's cover their eyes as well, then. How can they do sports that way? How can they live a normal life within our society?

Again I ask, regarding the various interpretations of the Torah, who has the truth? Every religious community, whether Jewish or not, thinks they have it.

You get to the point where, as I mentioned, "to believe or not to believe, that is the question." If you believe, you accept everything without questioning, and every one lives his life according to the interpretation that he believes to be true.

Best regards,

Mario Grinberg


-- 19 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: August 26, 2006

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

Thank you for your email.

I mentioned "women-only" gyms to demonstrate the fact that a woman dressed in sports attire is not a simple matter; even non religious women feel more comfortable doing sports not in the presence of men...

In other words, it is not just a religious consideration. A religious person will choose to respect this sensitivity while amongst non religious people there are those that don't care or even prefer to see everything they can in order to satisfy their instincts.

The essence of my argument is that the objective of Jewish standards of modesty is not repression of a woman's femininity, but the contrary: consideration for and protection of the woman's dignity.


Regarding your question about how one can determine who has the truth, I concede that it is not an easy question to answer. It requires much study and familiarization with the subject matter and methodology of biblical interpretation in order to develop an opinion. I invite you to enter the fascinating and rich world of millennial Jewish wisdom and come to your own conclusions.

Regards,

Eliezer


-- 19* --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: September 2, 2006

Dear Dr. Grinberg,

Long time, no speak.

How've you been?

Eliezer


-- 20 --

From: Dr. Mario Grinberg
To: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
Date: October 3, 2006

Dear Eliezer:

Thank you for your interest. I am fine. I am a bit busy as I am moving to a new office and that leaves me with little free time.

Regarding our last exchange regarding dress codes, I understand your point of view. I do not agree with you, although I respect your point of view. It is the interpretation of a religious movement that you belong to and that follows certain guidlines.

"Many people do not consider faith to be a basic human function, but rather the lack of reason, or a sign of weakness; what one resorts to when all else fails" (Towards a Meaningful Life). That is not exactly what I think, I think that faith is a basic need, we feel vulnerable in the face of life's trials and tribulations, and one has a tendency to channel one's problems towards something that will provide security and hope.

Are logic and faith incompatible? I don't know. I think that when one has faith, one has more answers and less questions. Take, for example the subject of life after death: one who has faith doesn't question it much; he merely accepts it as a fact. Faith helps a person who has it live with more hope.

I therefore think that one who has faith lives a better life, with less anxiety and insecurity.

Un abrazo,

Mario


-- 21 --

From: Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
To: Dr. Mario Grinberg
Date: October 3, 2006

Dear Eliezer:

Thank you for your interest. I am fine. I am a bit busy as I am moving to a new office and that leaves me with little free time.

--- Good luck!

Regarding our last exchange regarding dress codes, I understand your point of view. I do not agree with you, although I respect your point of view. It is the interpretation of a religious movement that you belong to and that follows certain guidlines.

--- I'm fine with that. My objective was not to convince you, but to explain the reasoning behind the behavior. My aim was not to impose, but to expose.

"Many people do not consider faith to be a basic human function, but rather the lack of reason, or a sign of weakness; what one resorts to when all else fails" (Towards a Meaningful Life). That is not exactly what I think, I think that faith is a basic need, we feel vulnerable in the face of life's trials and tribulations, and one has a tendency to channel one's problems towards something that will provide security and hope.

Are logic and faith incompatible? I don't know. I think that when one has faith, one has more answers and less questions. Take, for example the subject of life after death: one who has faith doesn't question it much; he merely accepts it as a fact. Faith helps a person who has it live with more hope.

I therefore think that one who has faith lives a better life, with less anxiety and insecurity.

--- I think there are different types of faith. The faith that one accepts because it makes him feel better can end up leading him to believe in false beliefs and superstitions. In Judaism, faith is not just something that appears spontaneously, but rather it is something that one cultivates. Judaism defines very clearly what it is that we should believe (in) and what it is that we should not believe (in). In fact, one might say that in Judaism faith also implies confidence in the fidelity of the millenial transmission through which we received that which is beyond the reach of our intellect...

Un abrazo,

Mario

--- When you are in the mood, we will continue our exchange...

--- Regards

--- Eliezer

--- P.S. It ocurred to me that being that you are a man of science, you might be interested in doing an experiment of a spiritual nature and to document the results...

If your answer is in the affirmative, I will tell you what I have in mind...

:)

to be continued...