February 8: Faith, belief...

Faith can be delusional and false. Belief per se is not virtuous, and denial is not always harmful.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Faith, belief... Sir, - Re "Absolute atheism" (February 7): Elliot Jager makes a useful suggestion - that non-fundamentalist Judaism presents a viable alternative in today's conflict between the science of Richard Dawkins and the religion of those he attacks. But several times he uses the words "faith" and "belief" as being identical with religion. Are they? Doesn't Dawkins have faith in his own theory of religion, or believe in what he believes? We gain nothing for religion when we use those words as if religionists alone believe and atheists are, by nature, "non-believers." Faith can be delusional and false. Belief per se is not virtuous, and denial is not always harmful. We are told that Abraham came to the One God by a process of denial, disbelief and lack of faith in the idols of his father and his generation. Putting halos around these words advances neither religion nor science. I suggest we specify what we have faith in, and what we believe. RABBI JACOB CHINITZ Jerusalem ...and mitzvot Sir, - A propos Elliot Jager's wrestling with Richard Dawkins's atheism and obvious ignorance of Judaism, I wish to add the ancient rabbinic dictum attributed to God: "Would that they abandoned Me, but still kept my mitzvot." The mitzvot constitute the Jewish people's roots, without which no living thing can healthily survive. The rabbis never tired of emphasizing the highly personal nature of the individual experience of what we call "God," whom we can only know through what we see around us. What Dawkins calls atheism is his God-experience, since he regards himself as committed to the moral values, abiding by which is, for Jews, the only way to "know" God. ARYEH NEWMAN Jerusalem Top Jews?... Sir, - Re "Top British Jews join new group opposed to Israeli policies" (February 6): Top Jews? Not in my book. For me a top Jew is the mensch who comes home from work, puts his change in the pushke and phones the kids with the good news that he has two tickets on El Al for next week. Zoe Wanamaker et al.? No way. HENRY HASLETON Moshav Sde Nitzan ...nah! Sir, - Virtually none of this unrepresentative consortium of known detractors of Israel plays any part in Jewish communal life, and a considerable number are Jewish in name only, coming out of the woodwork only to criticize Israel. What unifies them is their historically distorted view and condemnation of everything Israel stands for. The suggestion that anti-Zionists have not had the freedom to speak out until now is ludicrous. Jews for Justice for the Palestinians, the Brian Klugs, Rabbi David Goldbergs and Tony Lermans of this world have been expressing their negative views about Israel loud and clear. The Guardian has given many anti-Zionists free rein to express their views in print - this week six or seven critical articles about Israel have appeared. The plain fact is that the Board of Deputies and the Zionist Federation are respected voices of the community and representative of a large majority of Anglo Jewry. Many of us are tiring of being told we equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, which we don't. Sadly, though, the anti-Zionists tend to feed the anti-Semites, who undoubtedly exist in the UK, as last week's report testifies ("31% jump in anti-Semitic incidents in Great Britain - more attacks on individuals, organizations than at any time since tracking began in '84," February 2). JOY WOLFE Manchester, UK/Jerusalem Ganging up Sir, - To answer "Take responsibility" (Letters, February 7): Israel has always been stopped from protecting its citizens by the double standard of governments and media worldwide who, crocodile tears streaming down their faces, castigate Israel for defending itself. We are supposed to be "accumulating points" for not retaliating against the daily rocket attacks in Gaza. But they will not be carried forward to next time. One of the big problems is the concept of "proportionality," under which it is impossible to fight a war. It becomes a tit-for-tat situation in which Israel is never allowed to win. Leading the battle against Israel and against it being able to protect its citizens are, regretfully, Jews and Jewish organizations who gang up against us, threatening IDF officers with prosecution for "crimes against humanity." This leaves them fighting with their hands tied behind their backs, while the real perpetrators of crimes against humanity get off Scot-free. CYRIL ATKINS Beit Shemesh For the record Sir, - As chairs of Rabbis for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights North America, we feel that a story describing our sister organizations as being "at odds" in a debate over "Zionism's… misuse of military might" conveys an inaccurate impression ("Left-wing rabbis split over honoring anti-IDF group," January 23). Such differences in approach might derive primarily from the perspectives of simply living in Israel and abroad and are not an "ideological rift." Our organizations share an ideological commitment to responsibly interpret the texts of Judaism; our starting-point is the teaching that every human being has ultimate worth as a reflection of the Divine Image. This and the highest values of Zionism expressed in the Declaration of Independence are the basis of all our work, whether struggling for the economic rights of disadvantaged Israeli Jews or working to protect the human right of legal access to land of Palestinians, or work RHR-NA chooses to do on human rights questions in the North American Diaspora. We do not view either of our organizations as made up of "left-wing rabbis," as your headline suggested. Our membership and boards include rabbis of all movements and political persuasions. Our shared ideology is to represent, embody, teach, and practice the human rights values of the Jewish tradition, and our common commitment to this ideology far outweighs any differences of opinion that naturally will surface when many people - particularly Jews, most particularly rabbis! - work together. RABBI MA'AYAN TURNER Chairperson, RHR RABBI GERRY SERROTTA Chairperson, RHR-NA, Jerusalem and Washington That's hutzpa Sir, - You've got to hand it to Palestinian leaders for bare-faced hutzpa that dwarfs the old joke about the parent-killer asking for mercy because he is an orphan. To claim that our rebuilding of an unsafe bridge 60 meters from the Temple Mount is threatening their holy places defies belief. The Palestinians had no qualms when they destroyed Joseph's Tomb and threw out truckloads of antiquities following their illegal excavation on the Temple Mount. How do they manage to keep a straight face? ("Islamic leaders call for new intifada over work near the Temple Mount," February 7.) MAURICE STEINHART Jerusalem Respect brings peace Sir, - No one loathes Hamas more than I do. But the Palestinian people voted for Hamas in a democratic election. To suggest relacing it with Fatah over the wishes of the populace is bound to end in disaster. The problem lies in what brought about Hamas's popularity in the first place: an educational system which has preached hatred of Israel for the past 20 years. Only when respect for one's neighbors is taught in Palestinian schools for another 20 years will there be any chance of peace. Until then, for Israel to surrender more land would be a costly mistake. DAVID LEE London