Middle Jewish ground?
Sir, - I disagree with Eliezer Whartman's proposal to establish a middle ground of Jewish observance ("There must be a middle ground," UpFront, September 11).
I agree that Judaism conducted in Israel, particularly by the Orthodox bloc, is fractious, fragmented and inhospitable. I agree that allowing militant, powerful ultra-Orthodox camps to continue on the same political path in parallel with expanding numbers of assimilated Israelis is a danger to our state and the Jewish people. I also agree there is an urgent need to reform our decadent and defective electoral system.
That reform should certainly include a complete separation between religion and state together with a well-worded, protective constitution - it would eliminate the political blackmail in which coalition governments make shady deals with rapacious Orthodox factions that use voice and power disproportionately, to the detriment of most of the electorate. It would bolster our democratic institutions, to the advantage of all.
But a "middle ground of observance" would only widen the conflict between Orthodox and secular.
Sir, - It is a shame that Eliezer Whartman chose to be so vitriolic in his comments about Orthodox Israeli citizens. I am one of those who waded through to his final suggestions. I agreed with most of them. I'm sure there are many religious Israelis who very much favor separation between government and religion and strongly support electoral reform.
Writers with good points to make should just make them and leave out their personal prejudices.
S. L. WOOLF
Ramat Beit Shemesh
Sir, - Eliezer Whartman and Uri Regev ("Break Israel's Orthodox monopoly" September 15) attempt to propagate the myth that "American Jewry is made up largely of Conservative and Reform Jews." They must base this on the fallacy that if a person professes to be Jewish and does not identify himself as Orthodox, he automatically falls into the other categories.
The truth is that the vast majority of US Jews are secular and adhere to little, if any, religious philosophy. Asked to classify himself, the traditional or minimally traditional Jew may respond that he is Conservative. Told that Reform has no observance commitments, the completely secular Jew may choose this option.
A more objective measure would be the total number of participants in Shabbat (or Sunday, for some) services; or take even three-days-a-year (two for Reform) Jews. Worshipers at Orthodox services outweigh Conservative and Reform combined, while those who attend no services at all are probably greater than all three.
In Israel, where over 70 percent of Jews reportedly fast on Yom Kippur, even the non-observant would probably reply, "The synagogue that I don't attend is Orthodox." It is thus the height of hutzpa for Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative rabbis to demand equal representation on religious councils and in the media.
Whartman errs when he claims he is not accepted as an authentic and equal Jew by the Orthodox. He, as well as any born or duly converted Jew, is considered equal by all, irrespective of his level of observance. The Orthodox rabbis, however, do not accept him as a rabbi; every profession has its certification requirements, and they obviously believe that he doesn't meet these criteria.
Reconstructionism has redefined Who is a Jew, the approach to prayer, even the nature of God. In essence, its approach is much like The Ethical Culture Society. Although this society's chief supporters and its founder were Jewish, it never claimed to be an authentic stream of Judaism.
'A Zionist who loves Israel'
Sir, - It speaks well for Nicole Goldstone that she believes her father to be a Zionist ("Goldstone's daughter: My father loves Israel," September 17). Ms. Goldstone would, however, find it hard today to find many Israelis who agree with her.
A true Zionist would be unlikely to have accepted the UN mandate that was so obviously intended to add to the long-standing, obsessively anti-Israel fulminating of that weak-kneed and increasingly destructive organization.
The best thing that could be said is that Judge Goldstone fell into the trap the UN had set: If they could get a Jew to head this thing up, it would greatly enhance its impact. After all, if a Jew signs the report, it must all be true.
FRANK J. VAN BERS
Sir, - Many ex-South Africans living in Israel find it hard to decide what is more shameful: the fact that Richard Goldstone is South African, or that he is a Jew. It appears that he belongs with those self-righteous intellectuals worldwide who forget that Israel has been forced to fight for over 60 years to survive in a very hostile Middle East. His report has provided additional ammunition for those waging the present battle to delegitimize the existence of the State of Israel.
Sir, - The idea seems to have been propagated that Richard Goldstone was a good judge in the apartheid regime. I strongly challenge this concept. There were bad judges, and less bad judges, but it was impossible to be a "good" judge.
What Goldstone was, in fact, was the goat being eaten by the python of apartheid - he simply lay there and allowed himself to be consumed instead of fighting back. And he was duly rewarded by Mandela's regime for his complacency.
Now he is at it again, the goat being consumed by the chronically anti-Semitic UN snake. And, we can be sure, he will be rewarded again.
Sir, - With all due respect to Richard Goldstone, he does not appear to be experienced in the way terror groups conduct their sophisticated war against Israel.
It was unfair to choose a judge with no previous experience of conflicts in the Middle East; to do justice to the assignment, he needed to have studied other conflicts prior to Operation Cast Lead - for example, the Second Lebanon War, to see how reliable, experienced media companies were "sold" stories such as the fabricated Kafr Kana massacre.
In the strangest phenomenon of all - possibly because it has not existed in other conflicts - civilians received prior notice via telephone and leaflets dropped from the air warning them of an impending attack and advising them to vacate to safe ground; and yet, in the main, they did not comply. There is substantial eyewitness evidence that Hamas prevented them, and that those who tried to leave were severely beaten or even killed.
The partial blockade of Gaza - never the sole initiative of Israel but of the EU and US, with the required cooperation of Egypt - was designed to force Hamas to cooperate with Fatah to enable plans to proceed for a Palestinian state. EU members undertook not to make contacts with Hamas.
Comparing 28 Israeli deaths with 1,250 Palestinian dead takes no account of the psychological damage done to thousands of Israeli men women and children who were subjected to shelling day and night for nearly a decade. The numbers, moreover, have to be investigated in depth: the Palestinian tally includes Fatah supporters summarily executed by Hamas gunmen while in hospital. No real attempt has been made to distinguish Hamas forces from civilians.
To sum up, Judge Goldstone was no match for Palestinian propaganda techniques, which allow the telling of untruths if it serves the cause. Possibly it did not occur to him that Gaza is a police state run with all imaginable violence and terror. Serious, in-depth investigation is not something its rulers would ever tolerate.
Sir, - For some years, I sat as a part-time Crown Court and Circuit Judge in England. The procedure, as in most civilized countries, was for the court to hear the evidence as adduced by all sides, and then to deliver a judgment in accordance with that evidence. It could, of course, only consider the evidence before it and could not take into account evidence which had been withheld.
The terms of reference of the Goldstone Commission were in accord with these precepts - indeed, no court system can give a judgment other than on the evidence before it. When that commission was convened, all interested and involved parties were invited to give evidence to enable the commission to consider all aspects.
Israel chose, for reasons which can well be understood, to refrain from presenting evidence - with the result that the commission was obliged to base its judgment only on the evidence before it. Its findings were, therefore, without reference to the Israeli viewpoint, which indeed was a very valid viewpoint; but which Israel had chosen to withhold.
NEVILLE C. GOLDREIN, CBE
Prayer's efficacy, or not
Sir, - Last month the chief rabbis instituted a day of prayer and fasting in order to remove the threat of swine flu from the people of Israel. Unfortunately, it does not seem to have worked, as the number of cases is on the rise and is expected to continue into the winter ("Woman dies of swine flu," September 14).
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins describes a scientific study in the US designed to test whether the outcomes of cancer patients for whom vigorous prayers were said was any different from those unfortunates for whom no organized prayer effort was made. The results showed no statistical difference, although the non-prayer group showed a slightly more favorable tendency.
Perhaps our own home-grown experience of praying for the sick could be used as a basis for another scientific study? If prayer is effective, then it should be adopted as government policy, being much cheaper than tablets and immunizations. If not, then the reasons for the non-efficacy of such prayer should be investigated, and will no doubt in themselves be of great interest.
DR. ANTHONY LUDER
Ziv Medical Center