Arizona Congresswoman Giffords: Jewish enough

Sure enough, barely 48 hours after the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and others, the Jewish media picked up on her Jewish roots. Now, little else will likely matter in the timeline of events.

It will be lost on most Jews, I predict, that this paragon of Jewish involvement — a leader within her Jewish community, a representative of Jews to America and beyond — was a proud, patrilineal, intermarried Jew who found Judaism late.

Giffords was the daughter of a Christian Scientist mother father and a Jewish father mother, raised in both faiths, as reported by JTA. She married astronaut Mark Kelly — not Jewish, as far as reports say — in a ceremony with two canopies, a huppah and Naval swords. She attended services at a local Reform synagogue. Apparently she came to her faith later in life, taking up mainstream Jewish causes in the Arizona legislature.

The community will, I predict, renew the claims of anti-Semitism without realizing that most of the Jewish world frowns on the very substance of her life. The Jewish community expends much energy discussing the dangers of non-Jewish influences on young Jews. Special condemnation is expended even in liberal circles on dual-religion households. Plenty recommendations are aimed against the very choices Giffords and her parents made. Yet it’s clear that Jewish values triumphed in both her outlook and her later-life affiliation. Genetics, as we mixed Jews know, convey no values — loving parents do. Seeking purity (read: kosher) in culture, faith, community and love leads directly to racism, xenophobia, paranoia.

While the headlines in Israel already ran “Jewish congresswoman shooter favorited Mein Kampf” and the-world-hates-Jews mantra rings again, it’s already forgotten that Giffords would be a second-class citizen in Israel. This woman who spoke so highly of Jewish women, wouldn’t have the right get a divorce in Israel. “In my family, if you want to get something done you take it to the Jewish women relatives,” she told JTA in 2006. “Jewish women, by and large, know how to get things done.”

Giffords represented successive generations of blending Jewish life with the surrounding world: a worldy Jew, not a ghettoed Jew. She may have championed Jewish causes in her legislative agenda, but by all glowing accounts was fiercely for justice, fairness and equality for all.  Including illegal immigrants.

She was Jewish enough to be killed for her Jewishness, if indeed that is the case. (Which seems unlikely to be the primary cause, but that’s not stopping the Jewish-Israeli media, it appears.) And she’s Jewish enough for the Jewish community to own a side-show of the media circus. Jewish enough to be our martyr, it seems, but not Jewish enough to be treated equally in life.

I, for one, see in Giffords the kind of Jewish choices and identity they’ll see tons more of: intermarried and mixed in heritage, uniquely Jewish, universally human. Like myself, like 50% of Jews under 25 today. More and more, we will be your leaders, your country’s leaders, and your faces to the world. We will make you proud of our accomplishments, even as we defy the protocols of Jewish continuity. If only the Jewish community would treat us with as much honor in life as in  martyrdom.

[Editor's note: subsequent editing confused sources. According to JTA, her father is Jewish, her mother is Christian Scientist.]

35 Responses to “Arizona Congresswoman Giffords: Jewish enough”

  1. If her mother was Jewish but her father wasn’t, how is she patrilineal?


    Rivka · January 10th, 2011 at 1:07 pm
  2. “Giffords was the daughter of a Christian Scientist father and a Jewish mother, raised in both faiths, as reported by JTA.”

    This seems to be at odds with your statement that she’s a patrilinear Jew.


    Naomi Sobel GSAS '08 · January 10th, 2011 at 1:13 pm
  3. Thanks, Naomi, corrected.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 10th, 2011 at 1:18 pm
  4. 1. I take issue with equating purity and “Kosher.” Simply saying that one is Jewish based on certain standards and not others has nothing to do with either purity or kashrut, thanks very much. If you get a tiny little ball and hit it with a stick,it isn’t soccer, any more, because that’s not how soccer is played, but it doesn’t make either soccer or baseball bad or impure.

    2. Of course the children of intermarried Jews can choose to capitalize on the values of intermarried parents. And some will even choose to be Jewish. But for how many generations will that be true without those individuals renewing those values by dipping into the texts, laws and customs of living a Jewish life? We’ve seen pretty clearly that without some commitment to Judaism, in a generation or two those values and commitments dissipate. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish, and plenty of non-Jews also have great values, customs and ways of living. But I would be sad if one particular, distinct way of being holy in the world and having a relationship with God and the mission of one particular people didn’t last.
    Turning Giffords into a symbol of either one side or the other of that debate seems just foolish to me. She may have been targeted because she was Jewish (or maybe not). The shooter, it seems pretty clear from the evidence out there is delusional at the least, and probably pretty severely mentally ill. I don’t think turning this tragedy into a continuity argument serves anyone.
    Now a debate about the ease with which people can get weapons inthis country, that’s a debate worth raising here….


    KRG · January 10th, 2011 at 1:37 pm
  5. Giffords was the daughter of a Christian Scientist father and a Jewish mother, raised in both faiths, as reported by JTA.

    You have it backwards. Her father is Jewish and her mother is a Christian Scientist. (It also seems more accurate to say that she was raised in neither faith, rather than in both.)

    See also this.


    TheWanderingJew · January 10th, 2011 at 1:56 pm
  6. I take issue with equating purity and “Kosher.”

    Kosher is a slang that is used with a plethora of meanings, including whether you’re “Jewish enough” for the speaker. “Oh, he may have unusual opinions, but he’s a synagogue-going Jew; he’s kosher.” Sadly commonplace.

    Of course the children of intermarried Jews can choose to capitalize on the values of intermarried parents. And some will even choose to be Jewish. But for how many generations will that be true without those individuals renewing those values by dipping into the texts, laws and customs of living a Jewish life? We’ve seen pretty clearly that without some commitment to Judaism, in a generation or two those values and commitments dissipate.

    No, we haven’t. From JJ Goldberg recently (who just suffered a heart attack, may he find himself healthy and writing again soon):

    That intermarriage rate of 52%? A mistake in the 1990 survey, as the sponsors acknowledged in a barely noticed passage in the 2000 follow-up survey. In fact, several errors were made, each of which tended to inflate the intermarriage rate, resulting in the alarming-sounding “more than half.” Whoops.

    And the population decline of 300,000? Poor presentation. The 2000 survey used different methods from the 1990 edition. This meant, as the survey itself stated in a little-noticed passage, that the results of the two surveys could not be compared. The 5.2 million Jews they found in 2000 did not in any way represent a decline from the 5.5 million they found in 1990. They represented different counting methods, rendered even more misleading by placing the 5.2 million figure in the headline and burying the cautionary note inside. Whoops.

    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with not being Jewish, and plenty of non-Jews also have great values, customs and ways of living.

    I would argue that some of them are better, even. But that’s not okay to mention.

    But I would be sad if one particular, distinct way of being holy in the world and having a relationship with God and the mission of one particular people didn’t last.

    There is no indication that Judaism will disappear from the world. None. Even based on the old (wrong!) statistics, Jewish population declined by 300K out of 6.5 million Jews. Not including Israel. To me, none of that warrants this conversation.

    Turning Giffords into a symbol of either one side or the other of that debate seems just foolish to me.

    It matters to me, it matters to others who have families that look like Giffords’. The “celebrity exception” hypocrisy is grating, a term coined by a friend at the Jewish Outreach Institute just told me. We don’t want mixed Jews, except when they’re famous or important.

    And Giffords apparently was an outspoken advocate of gun rights, interestingly enough.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 10th, 2011 at 2:11 pm
  7. She was, indeed, a matrilineal Jew and not patrilineal. Otherwise, this was a great article, reminding us of the debates still occurring in Israel and the diaspora. I used to live in Tucson and Giffords was a great rolemodel and leader for the community. The orthodox Jews I knew were thrilled when she was elected and I don’t remember any of them commenting on her intermarriage or her “late Jewish blooming”. She may be more of a second-class Jewish citizen in Israel but in America she has definitely been a first-class person.


    Shaun · January 10th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
  8. Support the muggles now my little pretties. Soon he who shall not be named will return, and you’ll be praying for his mercy.

    On a more serious note: depending on oneself for protection, up to and including the right to bear arms, up to and including arms meant for combat, is a Jewish value. If I am not for myself….

    and

    Is it to soon to call for an invasion of the state/city/county that gunman came from? Without a nice cruise missile attack of carpet bombing I feel strangely incomplete.


    Jew Guevara · January 10th, 2011 at 2:52 pm
  9. Now we hear speculation that Loughner may be Jewish himself.

    Tierney believes that Loughner was very interested in pushing people’s buttons—and that may have been why he listed Hitler’s Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books on his YouTube page. (Loughner’s mom is Jewish, according to Tierney.) Loughner sometimes approached strangers and would say “weird” things, Tierney recalls. “He would do it because he thought people were below him and he knew they wouldn’t know what he was talking about.”

    I thought also that the Communist Manifesto and Mein Kampf were opposing in nature. From his YouTube page, the full list of his favorite books:

    Animal Farm, Brave New World, The Wizard Of OZ, Aesop Fables, The Odyssey, Alice Adventures Into Wonderland, Fahrenheit 451, Peter Pan, To Kill A Mockingbird, We The Living, Phantom Toll Booth, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Pulp,Through The Looking Glass, The Communist Manifesto, Siddhartha, The Old Man And The Sea, Gulliver’s Travels, Mein Kampf, The Republic, and Meno


    Kung Fu Jew · January 10th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
  10. @KFG: I think you misunderstood my comment about generations – it wasn’t a general observation of one generation to the next, but of particular family trees – While the study you cite suggests that numbers over time haven’t gone quite as far towards shrinking numbers as the scare-mongers would have us believe, it does nothing to suggest any revision in the studies that show that the children of intermarrieds are significantly more likely to intermarry themselves, nor does it address the numbers (note I don’t call them facts, because I don’t think studies offer facts, just interpretations) that show that progressively in families where there is intermarriage, descendants are less and less likely to identify as Jewish (i.e. first generation may well call itself Jewish or half-Jewish, if they out-marry, as is reasonably likely for at least some of the children, perhaps second generation may call itself part-Jewish, but not likely to to identify as Jewish, by third and fourth generation, they’re some other -or no- religion with the last name of Levi who says, that they have a Jewish ancestor).

    In fact, the greatest predictor of whether someone is either self-identified as Jewish, or Jewishly involved are a combination of two Jewish parents, significant Jewish involvement with peers such as day school or summer camp and that one’s closest circle of friends are Jewish, and number of years of formal Jewish education (correlation is for each year of formal Jewish education -with the exception of one-day-a week religious school- likelihood of continued involvement goes up) or what Steven M. Cohen calls parents, peers and pedagogy.

    None of them are in a vacuum of course, but it is just self-delusional to think that one can get good results over generations by leaving any of these elements out.

    I find the celebrity exception as annoying as you do – I don’t really care whether Giffords is Jewish, to be honest, but I don’t really see why that should matter so much to people, unless perhaps it’s simply in the context of explaining why she was a target, which is unrelated to the continuity debates, IMO.

    Of course, I also don’t believe in racial Judaism – you’re Jewish, or you’re not – if you want to be and you aren’t, then convert, if you don’t, than don’t – if you don’t like Orthodoxy, then be Reform. If you don’t like Reform, be Conservative, or whatever. There are plenty of ways to be Jewish, and just because Ploni Schwartz doesn’t think you are (Including Ploni KRG, of course), so ignore him and go find another community.
    I don’t see why this should be insulting.
    Now if the insult is because there are Jews out there who don’t believe that someone who looks Hispanic or African or Chinese or Korean or Filipino or, for that matter, Scandinavian can’t be Jewish and treat you like a pariah in your own community, that’s just wrong – and quite contrary to Jewish law. Once you’re in, you’re in, and whether you’ve converted or have a parent who converted, or have a parent who comes from a Jewish background different than what we tend to think of as mainstream (i.e. German or Ashkenazi) doesn’t make any damn difference. You’re just Jewish.


    KRG · January 10th, 2011 at 4:16 pm
  11. Even as you extol inclusiveness and lambaste intolerance, you divide us into “worldy” Jews and “ghettoed” Jew. Ugly.


    Victor · January 10th, 2011 at 7:43 pm
  12. @Wandering Jew, thanks for that. I thought I had it right the first time. Although the JTA article says she was raised in both, which I think is their interpretation.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 10th, 2011 at 8:05 pm
  13. Unfortunately Mrs. Giffords is not Jewish. A Jew must either be born of a Jewish mother or convert to Judaism through a conversion process. This cannot be changed by anyone because it is clearly written in the Torah that Judaism is passed through the mother. It is sad that so many people want to disregard what the Holy Torahs says and create new religions in the name of Judaism. Judaism is a faith which has withstood the test of time only because the Jews have clung to the principles of the Torah. If Mrs Gifford truly wants to be Jewish she is invited to go through the proper conversion channels. But as it stands her Jewish-status is clouded because of intermarriage and ‘patrilineal’ meshugas.

    It is important to keep Judaism as it is intended to be kept. Those who throw away the Torah are throwing away 3000 years of Jewish history and fate. I implore all Jews to avoid intermarriage like the plague, it destroys the Jewish people… Do not turn to the left or to the right and guard your eyes and ears from straying… These are the commands given, and recited by religious Jews every day, in the Shema prayer…

    I am sorry about Mrs Giffords, but maybe this will save a Jew from making a very sorry mistake in the future…


    muman613 · January 10th, 2011 at 8:36 pm
  14. @Victor: to whom are you responding?


    Kol Ra'ash Gadol · January 10th, 2011 at 10:36 pm
  15. This cannot be changed by anyone because it is clearly written in the Torah that Judaism is passed through the mother

    Care to enlighten us with sources?


    ML · January 11th, 2011 at 12:40 am
  16. I am sorry about Mrs Giffords, but maybe this will save a Jew from making a very sorry mistake in the future…

    Wait. What? Or should I say … WTF?

    Are you saying this happened because she was intermarried? Because she was the product of intermarriage?

    About the shooter’s list of books, it strikes me as a list put together by a high school kid who wants people to think he’s smart. I wonder if he even read half those books.

    Outside the Jewish press, I’ve seen very little indication she was targeted because she was Jewish, but yes, patrilineal Jews in Congress seem to be the only patrilineal Jews everyone is keen to call Jewish.


    em · January 11th, 2011 at 1:33 am
  17. em, I first read it the same way you did. We should give him the benefit of doubt and presume that he meant to separate those two statements – first, that he is sorry about what happened to Rep. Giffords, and second, that he hopes that despite the difficult time and awkward setting he chose to air his views on the Torah and intermarriage, that his words will be of some benefit to Jews.

    KRG, I was responding to KFJ, who never seems to miss an opportunity for communal reconciliation to disparage fellow Jews. But what do I know, I’m just another ghet-t-o Jew, certainly not on his “wordly” level.


    Victor · January 11th, 2011 at 1:56 am
  18. Victor, I think it’s an interesting experiment to watch purebred Jews get prickly and offended when someone like myself implies that their pedigree puts them at a disadvantage. It’s petty on my part, perhaps, that sometimes I just wish people felt the consequences themselves of being told their pedigree is an issue of communal conversation.

    Although really, I do not feel mixed Jews are better; I feel mixed Jews offer something purebred Jews cannot, which is neither better nor worse. If only the community would value those strengths we bring instead of treating us as failures, exceptions and lesser-desirables.

    Indeed, my thesis is that Judaism has only ever survived because of reaching harmony with the majority culture — and we mixed are the living bridges and syntheses to those cultures. We are ambassadors to Jews and of Jews, which the Jewish community needs to survive. Without folks like us, the Jewish community is like a tumbleweed, without roots.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 11th, 2011 at 12:05 pm
  19. Just a reminder to everyone that the present tense is still the correct tense to refer to Rep. Giffords.


    BZ · January 11th, 2011 at 12:25 pm
  20. Giffords represented successive generations of blending Jewish life with the surrounding world: a worldy Jew, not a ghettoed Jew.

    I realize that you have a preoccupation with the intermarriage issue, and I understand it, even sympathize. As a Jew from the FSU, I have my own concerns over elitist, self-entitled arrogance within the Jewish establishment. That’s really not how I read your “worldly” vs. “ghettoed” terminology, however. If that’s how you meant it, as a slight at “pure-bloods”, I can understand.

    If, however, you meant that anyone who doesn’t subscribe to your definition of what it means to blend Jewish life with the surrounding world is a “ghettoed Jew”… Well, that kind of terminology has a pejorative history; I would go as far as to say a history of dehumanization. I think that’s how you meant it, and that concerns me, but maybe I’m wrong.


    Victor · January 11th, 2011 at 1:21 pm
  21. “It is clearly written in the Torah that Judaism is passed through the mother.” The Talmud, not the Torah. Karaite Jews follow the rules of patrilineal descent.

    “Numerous Israelite heroes and kings married foreign women: for example, Judah married a Canaanite, Joseph an Egyptian, Moses a Midianite and an Ethiopian, David a Philistine, and Solomon women of every description. By her marriage with an Israelite man a foreign women joined the clan, people, and religion of her husband. It never occurred to anyone in pre-exilic times to argue that such marriages were null and void, that foreign women must “convert” to Judaism, or that the off-spring of the marriage were not Israelite if the women did not convert.”
    - Shaye J.D. Cohen


    benjamin · January 11th, 2011 at 2:27 pm
  22. @Victor: I think you’re over-reading KFJ, who as best as I can tell, doesn’t have anything (in person anyway) against Jews both of whose parentsare Jewish
    KFJ: I still remain at issue with your talking about purebred and mixedbred Jews. There really isn’t any such thing: you’re Jewish or you’re not. If your mother is Jewish or if you convert, you’re Jewish (The issue of non-Israeli Reform jews, who count the children of Jewish fathers as jewish, is problematic, but it actually doesn’t affect the discussion, since if you follow the way their responsa is interpreted (not what it actually says, which is actually more complicated than just having a Jewish father) you’re still either Jewish or not Jewish).
    There isn’t any such thing as pure or mixed bred Jewish. If you’re born Jewish, you’re Jewish, if you convert to be Jewish, you’re Jewish. If you have a Jewish maternal grandmother, you are technically Jewish, not “part Jewish.”

    The thing that bothers me about this phrasing is how many Jews who have no Jewish commitments take phrasing like this to beat up Jews who don’t look like them, whether they’re Mizrachi, Beta Israel, Beni Israel or one of the many other groups of Jews who don’t look Ashkenazi, or someone who has converted – I can’t tell you how often I hear from Jews who have converted who are regularly told that they aren’t “really Jewish,” when in fact they are “really” Jewish.

    Judaism isn’t a racial category, it’s a group identity which is joined through birth or process. Talking about “purebred Jews” is like talking about “Purebred lawyers” it’s just nonsensical. If you passed the bar, you’re a lawyer, if not, you aren’t.


    KRG · January 11th, 2011 at 3:25 pm
  23. that dude is a complete nut-job…i cant believe the media is pointing fingers at rush and the like


    ed shultz streaming · January 11th, 2011 at 4:29 pm
  24. [comment edited for incivility by Jewschool editors]

    Lastly, Giffords is not a Jew. Her mother is not Jewish and she did not have a conversion. Maybe “Jewschool” is alright with claiming she is “Jewish enough”, but Torah Law is very clear on this issue—and on the issue of working on Shabbos. Had she not been working, it might have saved some lives.


    JIDF · January 11th, 2011 at 6:37 pm
  25. You’re all mixed up. If she’s not a Jew, then there’s no problem with her working on Shabbos.


    Victor · January 11th, 2011 at 6:52 pm
  26. you censored far too much of my comment. none of my criticism was lacked civility. the fact that you did not correct your mistake despite many people mentioning it, many times, and you even acknowledging it, and claiming you were going to correct it is not “incivility.” i can’t help how that makes you look. stating that this site publishes lies is not “incivility,” either, especially as you published lies in this case, and in a piece about the JIDF, and G-d knows how many other pieces.

    it appears you cannot handle criticism. i will be posting my comment, in full, on Twitter—along with your butchering of it.


    JIDF · January 11th, 2011 at 7:32 pm
  27. Mistakes are not lies, Mr. Brodsky.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 11th, 2011 at 7:38 pm
  28. So sensitive to criticism that you can’t even take it without trying to put the lives of Jews who support our work at risk. Talk about incivility!


    JIDF · January 11th, 2011 at 7:50 pm
  29. JIDF supporters have a right to privacy. We respect that and do everything in our power to protect them. Everyone online has a right to privacy, actually:

    www.eff.org/issues/anonymity

    It’s a shame Jewschool editors/writers do not respect that right whatsoever, as they try to “out” the identity of people who dare to make a critical comment on their measly site.


    JIDF · January 11th, 2011 at 7:54 pm
  30. KRG: The terminology of purebred and mixed pleasantly highlights the stupidity of the terms of this conversation. If we were having this conversation about not parentage but Jewishly-active parents, then we might be able to make progress. But you’re talking about two Jewish parents, no matter how central Jewish life is or isn’t to them. It was a generation of purebred Jews who decided to intermarry in such high rates in the first place. Shouldn’t we diagnose why that happened, since dual-parentage clearly wasn’t enough? Maybe there is a greater cause at play?

    Intermarriage isn’t discussed as the fleeing of a deteriorating and stagnant American Jewish community failing to adapt to new demands on religious communities, universally high fluidity in religious identification, and a distaste for ethnic homogeneity. This is an American phenomenon, not a solely Jewish one. While the Christian Right blames “the war on Christmas,” the Jewish community blames intermarriage. That sex lives are singled out seems Freudian.

    And it’s sad but true that Jewishness includes a racial element — thanks to Hitler, anti-Semites and the enshrinement of it in the Law of Return. We’ve all heard someone’s parents (like my own) ask after a new significant other, “Is she Jewish?” And the reply comes, “Yes, but she’s not religious.” The racially-tinged reply inevitably follows: “That’s okay, at least she’s Jewish.” That’s definitely not the definition you’re proposing, KRG, but that’s how the conservation goes.

    Any conversation where intermarriage defines the terms of discussing Jewish continuity necessitates to me the use of “purebred.” Just to highlight how far astray we are.


    Kung Fu Jew · January 11th, 2011 at 9:14 pm
  31. trying to put the lives of Jews who support our work at risk.
    delusions of grandeur, much?


    Justin · January 11th, 2011 at 10:15 pm
  32. Funny hearing about privacy from the guy who put my twitter feed onto a FriendFeed list entitled “Traitors”.

    MY TWITTER FEED WHERE I TALK ABOUT COMIC BOOKS.


    Balaam's Donkey · January 11th, 2011 at 11:20 pm
  33. @Muman613:”I am sorry about Mrs Giffords, but maybe this will save a Jew from making a very sorry mistake in the future…”

    Excuse me, what is this supposed to mean? Don’t intermarry, you might get shot in the head, but that’ll be cool because you’ll serve as an example to all the other Jews? Clarify your statement, if you will. If not, I will take it for what it appears to be: a justification of violence towards intermarried Jews, and Jews who are born of intermarriages. Your statement is utterly vile, especially in the aftermath of this tragedy.

    As a Jewish woman with a Jewish father and quaker mother, I really don’t like this whole “purebred, mixed breed” terminology. For goodness sakes, we’re human beings, not showdogs. I don’t see my parents’ backgrounds as making me different from other Jews. The distinction barely even comes up in my everyday life. I feel the same way about the term “half” Jewish: I’m not half Jewish, my identity is not fractured.


    Brooklynjew · January 11th, 2011 at 11:39 pm
  34. Muman613 is not the only person commenting on this post who believes he has a lock on Torah. Those who share with him his antiquated ideas should join him in waking up and smelling the coffee.

    The Torah is a living document, and there are many people who live it and live with it, reading it differently than do Muman613 and JIDF. You don’t like Ms. Giffords’ way of being Jewish, or my way — that’s your problem, not mine. One reason that 90% of American Jews are not Orthodox is the attitude in some segments of the Orthodox community of my way or the highway. In choosing the highway, and by being players in American society, we made it possible for you to live your lives as you see fit — demonstrating once again that no good deed goes unpunished.


    Larry Kaufman · January 12th, 2011 at 2:11 am
  35. Thank you, Larry. My family survived the Nazis and the Communists, but here in America we would be lost without you. *barf*


    Victor · January 12th, 2011 at 3:07 am

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik