June 2: Ooh, it's the hoopoe

In earlier, more modest days, we might have selected a bird like the Palestine sunbird.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Ooh, it's the hoopoe Sir, - Our new national bird, the hoopoe (duchifat), couldn't be more Israeli - but not, perhaps, in the way the contest organizers intended. The bird has many repulsive traits - most notably, it stinks and fills its nest with excrement to ward off attackers. It also has an annoying, nudnicky call. Still, informed or not about these traits, the public picked the hoopoe. Why? Because it's showy ("Dirty, treif, but fit for a king, the hoopoe is our national bird," May 30). In earlier, more modest days, we might have selected a bird like the Palestine sunbird (tzufit eretz-yisraelit). Quick, tiny, with shimmering colors, feeding on nectar and especially associated with the Land of Israel, it would have been a fine choice. But instead we chose the hoopoe, and many in the world will say this bird fits us perfectly. CAROL CLAPSADDLE Jerusalem Sir, - Rather than playing your part in encouraging the public to respect the hoopoe, and all birds, your headline diminished the issue immediately. I'm sure many religious readers didn't even bother reading the story. JAMES MURRAY-WHITE Jerusalem Sir, - As a well-travelled Israeli, I have yet to find a menu with hoopoe on it. But now we know it is a forbidden food, there will likely be citizens scuttling into shops selling other forbidden comestibles and asking for it, possibly in a plain brown paper bag to be handed over under the counter. NATALIE GILBERT Jerusalem Sir, - The Torah's view of the hoopoe is entirely positive. As Maimonides wrote in Guide to the Perplexed (III, 47) - supported by the late, renowned anthropologist Mary Douglas in her book on Leviticus - the category of "unclean" or "defilement" (tum'a) applied to an object by the Torah is not necessarily negative, but an abstract concept intended to separate us from that object. There is nothing intrinsically unclean about living things in the wild; but they are not to be interfered with, hunted or eaten. They are God's creatures, to be protected and left alone. (Neither is holiness intrinsic in any object; it is a category designed to cultivate reverence in the human mind.) The slaughter of, mainly, certain domesticated animals is a concession to human needs and not to be indulged in except by, as it were, special permission of the Creator, as Rav Kook emphasized. As many of our Torah authorities ruled, there is no mitzva to ritually slaughter animals ( just as there is no mitzva to write a bill of divorce). But should the need arise to eat meat, or divorce, the Torah provides us with the permitted means for doing so. ARYEH NEWMAN Jerusalem Stated, on the record... Sir, - David Kimche writes: "Twenty years ago, even the most dovish Israelis did not dare to declare support for a Palestinian state" ("A choice between Geneva and Hamas," May 29). In fact, a call for a "Palestinian state" appeared in your newspaper 27 years ago: "The Government of Israel expresses its readiness to accept the principle of self-determination for the Palestinian people, on condition of a reciprocal PLO declaration that it recognizes the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Israel is prepared to withdraw to the pre-June 1967 borders, with minor adjustments. Israel agrees to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" ("Call for an Israeli peace offensive," November 8, 1981). Sadly, almost three decades later, we do not appear any nearer to this only possible solution - if it is agreed that the continued existence of our Jewish and democratic state is important to us. ZEEV RAPHAEL Haifa ...but what about accepting Israel? Sir, - David Kimche, instrumental in creating the "Geneva Accord," continues to labor on behalf of a project that was undemocratic and financed by foreign governments. The participants were not elected or selected by the Israeli government and did not represent majority opinion among either Israelis or Palestinians. The foreign sources that financed the project did not always agree with Israel's foreign policy. Kimche quotes an An-Najah University poll showing that 72.2 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank support the idea of a hudna - which would give the Palestinians time to increase their weapons stocks. Hudna, maybe. But can even a peacemonger truthfully say that the majority of Palestinians are ready to accept Israel's existence? ARNOLD SULLUM Jerusalem Pastor Hagee, my true friend Sir, - Pastor John Hagee has defended our right to our historic homeland even when our enemies have attempted to disgorge us from our homes and drive us into the sea. He has organized Christian lobby groups for the only true democracy in the Middle East even when a former American president, and professors from Harvard and Chicago universities, have denounced our lobbying efforts as un-American and anti-democratic. Dare we, the recipients of his heart and goodwill, be silent now, when the political frenzy of primary elections seeks to defame one of the greatest voices on behalf of Christian-Jewish healing and cooperation? No, for the sake of Jerusalem and of the God of love and peace, we must raise our voices in support of an individual who has never faltered in his friendship for us. Does this mean I necessarily agree with all his theological positions? Not at all. True friendship means that I continue to love and even partner with my friend, despite disagreeing with him on even fundamental positions of theology and ideology - as long as his views do not threaten the life or limb of innocent human beings. I continue to proudly shout from the rooftops that this rabbi in Israel stands firmly alongside his beloved friend, Pastor John Hagee ("McCain rejects support of controversial pro-Zionist pastor John Hagee. Televangelist said God sent Holocaust to bring Jews to Israel," May 25). RABBI SHLOMO RISKIN Efrat Tommy Lapid Sir, - With the passing of Yosef (Tommy) Lapid, our foundation loses one of its most distinguished honorary members and spiritual guides. He was rescued by Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved 100,000 Hungarian Jews and was abducted by the Soviets, never to be seen again. A sharp-witted and -tongued journalist and politician, he never forgot the legacy of his rescuer and supported any action to perpetuate it. Our "100,000 names for 100,000 lives" campaign which demands credible answers from the Russian authorities as to the fate and whereabouts of Raoul Wallenberg, is in line with Tommy Lapid's combative spirit, which will be deeply missed. We mourn the death of this unique friend, and pledge to continue his legacy. BARUCH TENEMBAUM, Founder International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation New York