Letters to the Editor, January 23

Property rights Sir, - Caroline Glick makes a strong case for Jews to live in property purchased in Judea/Samaria by the Magen Avot Sephardic Community 199 years ago ("Cool anti-Semitism," January 20). But it worries me a little because the house where I live in Old Katamon was abandoned by an Arab only 60 years ago. It seems that, legally, it still belongs to his family. What do the residents do if he knocks on the front door and insists that he wants his property back? I hope Caroline Glick won't represent him in court. She might win his case for him. CEDRIC LEVY Jerusalem Demise of the Orthodox pulpits... Sir, - Marvin Schick raises a genuine concern about the American (Orthodox) pulpit rabbinate, but misreads the history of the problem. The pulpit rabbinate is disappearing because the Orthodox pulpits are disappearing ("Where have all the rabbis gone?" January 22). I directed rabbinic placement at RIETS of Yeshiva University some years ago. I counted over a 43-year period the number of synagogues - of all denominations, but the overwhelming majority were Orthodox - in the five counties of New York City and the three suburban ones of Nassau, Suffolk and Westchester. In 1950 there were 2,100. In 1975 there were 761. In 1980 there were 601, and in 1993 there were only 548. In the past 50 years the yeshiva heads have systematically demoted the pulpit rabbinate to second-class status. The most respected and influential position in the yeshivishe world was that of rosh yeshiva, and the best students were encouraged to aspire to such posts. All students were taught to accept this as valid. As a result, when they left the yeshiva they took this thinking with them. They moved into communities but sought out the less institutionalized shtieblach for prayer instead of congregations. Where they did attend a community synagogue they - however politely - declined to recognize the pulpit rabbi as their spiritual leader. When a student had a religious question he called his yeshiva rebbe. VICTOR B. GELLER Jerusalem ...but not of the rabbis Sir, - As a rabbi myself I can appreciate the demands made of rabbis. But to Marvin Schick's question of who is willing to take over the high-pressure positions being vacated, the answer is: Chabad. It is Chabad rabbis who are taking pulpits and congregations and shouldering the responsibility of catering to the Jewish flocks. Boca Raton, where Rabbi Kenneth Brander recently left his position to take up a post with Yeshiva University, has at least two other synagogues, each as large and active as Rabbi Brander's former shul and both run by Chabad rabbis. You may not hear of them because, to Dr. Schick and his ilk, they don't exist. Only rabbis of shuls from his and similar institutions are "real" rabbis. Those who continue to labor under this delusion will go on wondering who's running the shuls. When they wake up, they'll know the answer. RABBI DAVID STERNE Jerusalem Let this light shine Sir, - Kudos to Mendel Zilberberg for "The price of being accepted by the world" (January 22). Pat Robertson has been a good friend of Israel for many, many years, and really believes, like many of us, that Israel should not divest itself of the promised land. Jews must not give up their uniqueness in order to be accepted by the world. The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas expressed this in very harsh terms: "To be a Jew means to swim eternally against the dirty, criminal tide of man. I am happy to belong to the most unhappy people on earth, for whom the Torah represents all that is most lofty and beautiful in law and morality" (Difficult Freedom, p. 24). Zilberberg is correct: We are unique in that we have the responsibility to be a light unto the nations. And that light must emanate from Israel. JENNY WEIL Jerusalem No sin by association Sir, - Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to various crimes, but that does not make everyone who came into contact with him a sinner. Nor does it make everything he did evil ("Unkosher in Washington," Eliyahu Stern, January 16). Rabbi David Lapin was dean of a Jewish high school founded by Abramoff. Essentially, he was hired to get the school off the ground and lay its foundation of excellence, which he did. He received a salary for his hard work. He was and is an inspiration to every student and parent with whom he came into contact, and to all his synagogue communities in South Africa and the US. Indeed, he never felt comfortable making a living as a rabbi, so he became a management consultant and teaches Torah without remuneration. He has made more than1,000 tapes of Torah lectures which are very highly regarded. Rabbi Lapin and many other rabbis worked and taught at the school founded by Abramoff. The school was a bona fide attempt at providing excellent education in religious studies, secular studies and spiritual development. No one has ever suggested otherwise. DORIS ADIN Washington World in a whale Sir, - Tough though it may be to stomach (even to an Englishman myself, born and raised) my former countrymen, and it seems the world, generally would pay more attention to one beleaguered mammal than to the imminent threat from Iran's lunatic leaders ("River Thames whale dies despite rescue efforts," January 22). This whale will now act as posthumous ambassador in the cause of preserving marine life at risk. If an "aahh" factor is needed to awaken the world to the threat of Iran's deadly regime, someone had better come up with a link between "Save the Whale" and "Save the World." MARTIN LEWIS Hod Hasharon Bad idea Sir, - I am an Iranian Jew. Recent media reports seem to say your government is trying to urge the international community to ban Iran from the World Cup. I hope you understand that most Iranians (in and outside Iran) are against the Iranian regime. However, barring Iran from the World Cup would have indirect detrimental effects for the international community. It would anger most Iranians and unite them with their current leaders. This is exactly what the ruling party wants - a justification for unity against the world, including Israel. For poor, hopeless, unemployed Iranians (the majority of the population of Iran) or the young Iranian who hates the government's social restrictions, the national football team is all they have to enjoy and show their pride. Taking this away would incite rage in Iran against the nations responsible and give the government unconditional popular support to do anything it desires. IMAN PARHAMI Tarzana, California First fortify Israel... Sir, - Your editorial "Save the Diaspora" (January 20) contradicted the basic assumption of Zionism: that the future of Jews and Judaism lies not in the permanently uphill battle to fight assimilation and intermarriage in America, Russia and Europe but in fortifying Israel, where Jews are in the majority and where the majority of the Jews in the world will soon live. A constant drain on Israeli resources to shore up the faltering loyalties and education of Diaspora Jews backfires upon what should be the central focus and our real and ultimate strength. There is no need for neglected Jewish cemeteries in outlying regions to serve as mementos of Jewish communities that used to live there. Is the purpose of the State of Israel to preserve the Diaspora - whose problems made the establishment of the Jewish state necessary in the first place - or the purpose of the Diaspora to preserve Israel by sending members of that Diaspora to live here and supporting Israel with whatever resources it has? Harvard and other institutions serve American and human causes, and should be served by them. JACOB CHINITZ Jerusalem Sir, - How often in life do we concentrate on the problem across the way, only to ignore the more vital one on our doorstep. The recommendation for Israel to help stem the tide of Diaspora assimilation would be more convincing if it did not ignore Israel's own demographic problem. Israel's Jewish population is not, as suggested, growing at a healthy rate. It increased 1.3% in 2005, with the growth coming largely from aliya. Israel's Arab population increased by 3.4%, with the growth coming largely through natural increase. However dangerous for the Jewish people the decline of its Diaspora populations may be, more dangerous still is the declining Jewish majority in the world's one Jewish state. SHALOM FREEDMAN Jerusalem ...then bring youth here Sir, - As I approach the 20th year of my aliya from the US I believe there is no worse time to go ahead with birthright israel than at present. True, birthright is a well-intentioned philanthropic endeavor aimed at teaching Jewish university students about their roots. But now is not the time for such an effort, for at least these reasons: Political corruption here is becoming more intolerable than ever; unemployment rages throughout the economy; our streets and nightclubs are the scene of more and more violent crime; there has been a horrible upsurge in sex-related crimes including pedophilia, rape and incest; continuous rocket attacks make everyday life in parts of Israel unbearable; and the police admits that organized crime is rapidly on the rise here, with gangland killings endangering people not only on the street but also in the lobbies of five-star hotels. Yes, birthright is a wonderful idea. But let us wait until things improve. JUDITH HOCHBERG Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi How kosher? Sir, - In his interesting "When an overdraft isn't kosher" (January 20) Matthew Wagner states that because of the biblical prohibition against interest charges, Israeli banks treat customers as business partners. But is this meaningful? If the bank is a partner, shouldn't it share in losses as well as profits and therefore not be entitled to foreclose on mortgages or overdrafts which clients who suffer misfortunes are unable to pay? MAURICE OSTROFF Herzliya