July 19: Who's a rabbi?

It seems time to change the debate from "Who's a Jew?" to "Who's a rabbi?"

letters 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Who's a rabbi? Sir, - It seems time to change the debate from "Who's a Jew?" to "Who's a rabbi?" Anyone can set himself up as a rabbi if he or she can command a following. As "rabbi" means teacher, I suppose anyone can claim the title even if what they teach is relevant only to the lunatic fringes at both extremes of Judaism. In days of yore, rabbis would organize fast days when the Jewish people were in danger; now we have rabbis fasting for the Palestinians. At the other extreme, we have rabbis participating in a rabble to protest the arrest of a mother accused of child abuse ("Workers evacuated as haredim stone J'lem welfare office," Online Edition, July 16), and rabbis organizing violent Sabbath demonstrations to protest what they deem Sabbath desecration. So from the rabbis who don't keep kosher, drive on Shabbat and perform same-sex marriages to the rabbis who do not believe in Israel's right to exist and indulge in immoral or even illegal pursuits - but recite the correct blessing before doing so - where are the real rabbis, the rabbis prepared to teach morality, and that strange, archaic word that has gone out of use - goodness? Will the real rabbis please stand up! YEHUDIT COLLINS Jerusalem Now that's a rabbi! Sir, - Full marks for "Amar-led panel upholds conversion canceled by Haifa Rabbinic Court" (July 16). That's how authentic Orthodox Jewish law works, with empathy and moderation - away from campaigning with semi-Torah, unbalanced standards and over-exaggerated principles for political gain. M. HAGENAUER Jerusalem Group libel Sir, - In response to your ongoing onslaught against the haredi community: There is a small group of people called Natorei Karta living mainly in Mea She'arim and a section of Beit Shemesh. I know them personally - they are extremists and unwilling to listen to reason. They are extremely anti-Zionist and, helped by numerous undisciplined children, practice violence to demonstrate a point. Ninety-nine percent of haredim distance themselves from this fringe group and have nothing to do with them. I am insulted by the use of "haredi" to refer to these extremists. This is group libel, totally unacceptable from a paper with a reputation as fine as yours. If 20 Hebrew University students burned the Israeli flag, would you dump all university students into the same heap? RABBI ELIEZER PARKOFF Jerusalem My country, wrong or wrong Sir, - Is Larry Derfner a real person, or a "virtual" writer dreamed up by your staff to play the bad cop for all the other good cops featuring in your newspaper? Derfner unfailingly descends to denigrating Israel and Israelis at every possible opportunity, the most recent being his blind acceptance of the report issued by Breaking the Silence containing the tendentious and uninvestigated complaints of 26 anonymous soldiers ("Our sons are lying again," July 16). DEREK PENTOL Tel Aviv Sir, - Larry Derfner is spot-on in observing that we - large portions of the Israeli public, officialdom, media and, of course, the IDF - have a knee-jerk reaction of immediate disbelief and disparagement toward anything critical of our conduct in war. This is carried to the absurd, as the writer points out, when we so vehemently doubt "our own sons," with the pathetic justification that they are either "left-wing" or manipulated by groups with such an "agenda." Perhaps it should not be expected from the IDF to be forthcoming, since like many fighting armies of past and present, it tends to automatically whitewash "dirty" deeds to protect itself and brush off controversy. But it's about time this self-righteousness had more than an occasional dent put in it. Anyone who understands what it's like to be a soldier testifying against his comrades should realize how difficult it is to wish to be exposed. This is no excuse for branding these dedicated combat troops liars. And why should they lie? Why should they want to tarnish their friends' name? Because they're "left-wing"? Have all the naysayers got a serious answer to that? Sorrowfully, we will deny our country's and army's wrongdoing because it punctures a painful hole in our national pride and sullies our sons' name - even though it is precisely our sons whom we harm by so doing. RICKY GOLDBERG Haifa Sir, - Lying by omission is also lying. Although Derfner's article begins: "First, we saw the destruction of Gaza," he is actually not starting with what came first. There were good and urgent reasons to destroy as much of Gaza as possible in order to prevent more rockets flying at us and the destruction of Israeli towns and property. This is a war, and in war innocent people get hurt along with the not-so-innocent. For a while it looked as though leaving Gaza would be a good start toward peace. Misjudging our enemies' motivation - believing their lies about wanting peace - turned that move into a bitter disappointment. The two reasons given by the battalion commander for destroying abandoned homes - to make sure they didn't pose a threat to us and ensure Hamas would have no place to hide - are splendid reasons, protecting the men we sent in to do the job and making it harder for those who would attack us. Derfner tars all but those who agree with him with the same brush: All are lying. I wonder if he thinks the people of Sderot concocted a scenario of steady rocket fire just to give the IDF an excuse to march into Gaza? Someone so concerned with lying should take the time to investigate the lies of Jenin. MARCELLA WACHTEL Jerusalem I'm volunteering Sir, - Michael Freund's idea to build a museum to victims of terror is interesting. Why not start with a virtual museum on the Internet? That way more people can access it, and it can go up much faster. The bricks-and-mortar version can come later. I am willing to donate my Internet marketing skills to the project. Any content writers, project managers or web developers want to join in? ("Build a museum of Arab terror," July 16.) RON SPINNER Hoshaya Bleak and hopeful Sir, - "Gone but not forgotten" (July 15) was bleak and hopeful and heartbreaking all at the same time. It also reaffirmed why I am a Zionist, though a very liberal one. It reminded me of some of my other favorite Zionist voices, like Amos Oz (in his A Tale of Love and Darkness) and Daniel Gordis (in his If a Country Can Make You Cry - Dispatches from an Anxious State). We may differ in our politics, but the piece conveyed a sense of the tragedy of the Jewish people - and of its unbreakable fortitude; and also of the individual human being carrying on, tenaciously. Those old slings and arrows of (all too often outrageous) fortune affect us all, but we work through our losses because, as Judy Montagu pointed out, we simply have no choice. JAMES ADLER Cambridge, Massachusetts CLARIFICATION The op-ed articles by Yossi Alpher and Ghassan Khatib that ran on page 15 of our July 15 edition originally appeared in www.bitterlemons.org and were reprinted by permission.