To the Editor:

Benjamin Forgey's discussion of the Corcoran's architectural plans ("The Corcoran Sculpts Its Future," Sunday Arts, June 6) was a welcome, thorough and thoughtful commentary on a project that will undoubtedly be on the minds of many civic-minded Washingtonians over the next few years.

Forgey sounded an appropriately cautionary note when he described the Corcoran's building program as offering the possibility of "using every square inch and then some."

It seems important to point out, therefore, that one of the most gratifying outcomes of our recent research has been the discovery that, contrary to our original assumptions, the unbuilt zoning envelope is considerably larger than the legally buildable space. So while we do intend to maximize the buildable space, there is, in fact, much more flexibility than we originally believed possible. This means that the architects have a great deal more latitude to deal effectively with the important issues of open space and light that Forgey so correctly identifies as critical needs.

We originally underestimated the available building envelope because we applied the same principles of space allocation that had been used in the earlier Hartman-Cox proposal. However, that plan was for an essentially free-standing commercial building, which by its very nature could not take advantage of space within the infrastructure of the existing Corcoran building. The new plan will be fully integrated into the main building and consequently has far more flexibility. We think this new information should make a very positive difference in the ultimate realization of our plan as well as in the ongoing dialogue about its design.

David C. Levy

President and director,

Corcoran Gallery of Art

To the Editor:

"In the Jewish religion there is no forgiveness! . . . There is no mercy! There is only retribution."

--Hal Holbrook, who is playing the role of Shylock the Jew in "The Merchant of Venice" at the Shakespeare Theatre (Sunday Arts, May 30).

There is no forgiveness in Judaism? I wish someone had told me this years ago, before I had spent so many long days fasting in Yom Kippur services, seeking to remember and repent my many misbehaviors and mistakes. Why on earth should I have used my time this way, if my God is unforgiving, if my God has no mercy? Why should I have gone to my friends and neighbors each year, extending apologies for my offenses, if my religion teaches only retribution? Why should my friends have sought forgiveness of me, unless they believed, as I believe, that just as God is merciful so should we be merciful?

In truth, if there is no mercy or forgiveness in Judaism many more of my doings and those of my family and community must have been in vain all this time. The observant among us begin each day asking God's forgiveness in the daily prayers (Shmoneh Esrai). Before eating we bless God's bounteous creation and end with a prayer, the Birkat ha-Mazon, which extols God's mercy.

We did these things in Shylock's day, too, and well before. I don't suppose this is a good place to explain how the view represented in the comment that Judaism is a religion without forgiveness and mercy, a religion of strict justice and retribution, is a classic antisemitic conceit propagated over the centuries by folks with a particular theological agenda. I do not think that anyone who repeated it in this instance shared such intentions. I hear that Mr. Holbrook read extensively about Judaism and studied with a rabbi to prepare for his role as Shylock. I am the director of the Jewish Study Center, and later this month we will present a course examining "The Merchant of Venice" and the problems it offers to Jewish audiences and artists.

I also plan to take a group of more than 40 people, most of them Jewish, to the Shakespeare Theatre production. I have been following this production for some time, and recently attended an open rehearsal. In the fragment that I watched, I could see how Holbrook's respect and empathy for Jews clearly undergird his performance and give it its moral force. Still, I must confess to being disheartened at the staying power of this virulent misconception.

Nancy Roth


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