Sir, - A front-page article in Thursday's Jerusalem Post featured a summary of a legal opinion defending the right, indeed the duty, of rabbinic court judges and even civic employees to question and/or annul conversions to Judaism, even those authorized by the Chief Rabbinate ("Legal opinion: Rabbinical courts have the power to annul conversions, even if conducted by Chief Rabbinate," December 24).
I have not had access to the original text under discussion, and I take the Post summary at face value. The problem with this opinion is that it is exceedingly one-sided, taking the strictest possible views (often held by contemporary haredi rabbinic court judges) and omitting the numerous sources in rabbinic literature, medieval decisors of Jewish Law, and contemporary responsa of the last 200 years, many written by the most authoritative and highly respected respondents of their, and our, times.
While no one (to my knowledge) authorizes or defends mass conversion, which historically has always ended in catastrophe for the Jewish people, there is a near-unified opinion that a conversion, once properly done, is irreversible, unless there was proof of fraudulent intent at the time of conversion. Indeed, there are far more lenient views in rabbinic sources.
It all boils down to an age-old halachic argument between those who feel converts are "good for the Jews" or "bad for the Jews." These subjective decisions all have good Talmudic basis, and depend primarily on whether the deciding authority is more influenced by a sense of gevura or a sense of hessed - in contemporary terms, a strict constructionist interpretation of stated Halacha, or a more charitable one.
In the present time, the division between these two views among religious leadership may be more destructive than the issue itself.
RABBI MACY GORDON
In a word, corruption
Sir, - If politicians are offered positions as ministers, deputy ministers and Knesset committee chairs in order to join another political party, how can this be anything other than corruption ("At least six MKs sign deal to leave Kadima," December 24)? This is exactly what it was called whenever it occurred in the past.
Contradiction in terms?
Sir, - According to newly elected ADL chairman Robert Sugarman, his organization supports the Israeli government's current freeze on construction in Judea and Samaria ("New ADL chair: Praise for construction freeze in line with support for government," December 24). In fact, the ADL recently described the move as "courageous and unprecedented."
Why would the ADL support a policy stating that Israelis living in only certain parts of the country can build freely while others can't? According to the ADL's Web site, the organization is committed to fighting "anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in the US and abroad." Isn't only allowing Jews who live in a certain area to build a "bigoted" policy?
The merits of coal
Sir, - The article "Electric cars - wave of the future or specialty item?" (December 23) misrepresents the electric vehicle (EV) and coal, and fails to mention problems associated with the hydrogen fuel cell (FC) vehicle. The questions to ask about FC vehicles are where the hydrogen is coming from, what the effects of that process are, and where the infrastructure for it is. All of that is energy-intensive, expensive, and not environmental friendly.
Suggestions to use any kind of natural gas (NG) must take the NG's source into account. Most NG (like oil) is located in countries unfriendly to the US and Israel - and for anyone concerned about Israel, the US and energy, the No. 1 issue is oil dependence: the resultant transfer of our wealth to our enemies, and the threat of an oil cutoff. The impact of oil dependence should be thrown into any cost calculations and should result in a substantial government subsidy for an effective alternative to oil.
Coal is the answer to that problem, certainly in the short and intermediate terms. Coal is America's major domestic fossil fuel; the US is the Saudi Arabia of coal. No new electric power plants would be required for many years, since the output from electric power plants is hardly used between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. It has been estimated that existing power plants in the US can accommodate the charging needs of about 20 million EVs. Existing environmental controls and the efficiency of coal-based power plants and EVs would significantly reduce the output of SOx/NOx and CO and CO2 from that of gasoline-based conventional cars with internal combustion engines.
Range is a problem with EVs, but even in the US, it will satisfy almost all commuting needs. In Israel, range would be less of a problem. Also, an infrastructure of rapid charging stations (easily established, since electricity is available everywhere) would greatly increase the effective range. For longer-range trips, coal can be used to produce liquid fuel (as the Germans did during World War II and the South Africans do today) - even for use in airplanes, as has been recently demonstrated in the US.
Israel should be in the forefront of efforts to use coal and EVs.
Memories ofthe Bostoner
Sir, - My husband and I met the Bostoner Rebbe in 1974 ("Bostoner Rebbe dies at 88," December 6). I was expecting our third child, and my parents had offered to babysit the others so we could get away for a few days to Cape Cod. We detoured to Brookline (a long story) and spent Shabbat with the Bostoner Rebbe and rebbetzin. I was standing at the sink, helping to clean up from dinner, when the rebbe spoke his first words to me: "Don't your legs hurt when you stand so long?" His compassion and down-to-earth attitude characterized him as long as I knew him.
The rebbe didn't make light of things or try to put on band-aids. One of our daughters, at age 10, had gone through several months of excruciating pain. She wrote to the rebbe and asked him why God wanted her to suffer so much. The rebbe wrote back with a blessing for a speedy recovery and explained that no one could say why God made people suffer; people have to find the reasons for themselves, and perhaps when she grew up, her path in life would somehow have been shaped by this experience. She is now a physical therapist, devoted to relieving people's pain.
The rebbe and rebbetzin made every guest feel welcome in their home. The rebbe also made an extra effort to speak with the women, to take us seriously in our quest to balance the practical demands of our lives with our spiritual needs.
One incident - typical of the rebbe, but unusual, I think, for many people in power - exemplified to me his respect for each person's holiness. My husband and I were very conflicted over an important decision. After long hours of discussion, we decided to go the the rebbe, ask him to decide, and then obey. The rebbe starting asking probing questions, and I stopped him: "Rebbe, we have spent hours and hours trying to figure out what choice to make and we have explored all the possible consequences. Please just tell us what to do, and we will do it." The rebbe banged his hand on his desk and declared that one of the main differences between animals and people was that people had free choice. If I tell you to do something and you do it because I told you to, he said, then I have taken away your kedusha. In the end we made our own decision, and the rebbe blessed it.
My heart aches for the loss of such a great heart, mind and light.