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The Washington City Paper printed a letter from Mark Oller under the heading “Hebrew Schooled” (The Mail, 10/21). Oller made a series of claims and included a long quote from a book by Israel Shahak. Shahak’s book has been thoroughly discredited, and is filled with the same sort of anti-Semitic canards found in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Two examples of texts that debunk the specific allegations made may be found here: http://www.wernercohn.com/Shahak.html and http://andrew.mathis.net/shahak.html.

In addition to the quite long quote from Shahak’s book, Oller makes several other claims about Jewish beliefs and practice and leaves them unattributed. These claims (such as worshipping Satan, for instance) are quite thoroughly false, and in fact are quite offensive to those of us who are actually Orthodox Jews. Point of fact: I wash my hands before eating bread because the Rabbis of the Talmud made a decree to do so. That’s it. No specific mystical meaning attaches itself to this act.

Oller would do well to acquaint himself with one or more actual religious Jews before purporting to be an expert on Jewish religious practice. My suggestion to anyone who is interested in an actual primer on Jewish religious practice would be to examine the work of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin—in particular, Jewish Literacy.