Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Do The Right Thing (Jewish Week)

Do The Right Thing

Staff Report

Randy Cohen, above left, who has been writing “The Ethicist” column for The New York Times for 11 years, asserted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should win the Nobel Peace Prize for his anti-secrecy campaign.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman, above right, who writes about ethics for The Jewish Week, described a tough call he had to make as a fledgling rabbi when he learned of two synagogue board members carrying on an affair. He forced them to resign.

There was no shortage of what to talk about at “Ask The Ethicists,” The Jewish Week Forum held at Temple Emanu-el last Tuesday evening, including scenarios posed by some of the estimated 350 people in attendance.

The conversation, moderated by The Jewish Week’s editor and publisher, Gary Rosenblatt, above center, ranged from privacy in an increasingly open society, to what to do when houseguests apparently steal a knick-knack from your house. (Steal it back, was what the audience member did.)

Cohen, an Emmy Award-winning writer for “Late Night With David Letterman” in the 1980s, brought a mix of humor, thoughtfulness and instinctive ethics to the discussion, noting that he sometimes finds it disturbing when his mother usually agrees with his advice.

By far the most controversial column he wrote, he said, was eight years ago when he advised a woman not to deal with an Orthodox Jewish real estate agent who would not shake her hand for religious reasons.

That’s no excuse, Cohen said at the time and still maintains. He said he lost count after receiving more than 4,000 letters, most of them angrily disagreeing with him.

Rabbi Hammerman said he relies on Jewish texts and values, and the teachings of his late father, a cantor, who always told him to “be a mentsch.” The rabbi recounted how just a few days earlier he discovered an unpaid-for yahrtzeit candle in his shopping cart after shopping at a local supermarket in Stamford, Conn., where he leads Temple Beth El, a Conservative congregation. He said he went back in to the store, waited in line again and paid the 94 cents, feeling good that his dad, whose yahrtzeit he was about to observe, would be proud.

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