May 13: The motherhood brand

In Israel, the motherhood brand has fortunately not been lost - not to Mary, or any other figure.

letters good 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters good 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The motherhood brand Sir, - My son, a combat soldier, was home for Shabbat and had to be back at his Beersheba base by 10 a.m. on Mother's Day. He pointed out to his mom that if she drove him to Kiryat Arba (15 minutes each way ), he could take the bus from there - but he'd have to wake up at 6.30. However, if mom drove him all the way to Beersheba - 75 minutes each way - he would be able to sleep until 8:30 a.m. Mom's response? "Of course I'll take you the whole way!" I'll bet stories like these are told all over our country in one form or another. Jewish soldier's mom, Jewish student's mom, Jewish married couple's mom - the theme can be found over and over again on our TV and radio, and in our newspapers, too. In Israel, the motherhood brand has fortunately not been lost - not to Mary, or any other figure. The rich maternal Jewish heritage is alive and well, Mr. Novick. You just haven't looked in the right country! ("Where have all the Jewish mothers gone?" Abe Novick, May 10.) DAVID JACOBS Efrat Timely challenge, but... Sir, - Sam Ser's "Mr. Smith challenges the pope" (May 12) was well-timed. I have just finished a book by Leon Kahn called No Time to Mourn which describes the annihilation of the Jewish citizens of Eisikes, Radun and Grodno, three small towns in Lithuania during late 1941 and 1942. It was carried out largely by Lithuanian police, staunch Catholics who received a pat on the back from their clergy. JOYCE KAHN Petah Tikva Sir, - I hope Stephen D. Smith knows what St. Thomas Aquinas said - but for sure the pope does: "The intention of observing (the judicial precepts of the Torah) as though one were bound by (the old) Law is prejudicial to the truth of faith (Catholicism); for it would follow that the former state of (the Jewish people) still lasts, and that Christ has not yet come" (Summa Theologica, Question 104, Article 3). When this is expanded to include the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, so long as many Jews believe that God promised this Land to the Jewish people, it is as if Jesus never came! Given the above, is not the pope doing the best he can so as not to say things which could be interpreted as being outside the box of Catholic theology? JOSEPH DAVID Jerusalem ...thoughtless criticism Sir, - Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, expressed disappointment over Pope Benedict's speech at Yad Vashem ("There certainly was no apology expressed here"). Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev thought the speech was a "missed opportunity." Prof. Shevah Weiss opined that it was not what he had expected, and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin summed up with "Everything that we feared came to fruition" ("Pope under fire for Yad Vashem speech," May 12). I am not a devotee of the pontiff nor a member of the Catholic Church. But as an Israeli citizen, I think that some of our political and intellectual leaders have "gone overboard" in this matter. Here we have a prominent guest of the highest order, the representative of millions of the world's Catholics, doing all the "right" things. Together with our president, the pope planted an olive tree. He kindled the eternal flame in the Chamber of Remembrance and laid a wreath over the stone crypt containing ashes of Holocaust victims. He had a brief encounter with six Holocaust survivors, talking to each one individually, displaying evident compassion. Only a few hours before his Yad Vashem visit, during the official reception at the airport, the pope had said: "It is right and fitting that during my stay in Israel, I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the six million Jewish victims of the Shoah, and to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude." After all that, and almost before the guests had left the premises, the hosts poured out their unjust and undiplomatic wrath - the Knesset Speaker even reminding us that our guest had been in the Wehrmacht. However, he omitted the detail that the 17-year-old youngster had deserted before the end of the war. Surely that should be held to his credit. A few days ago, our new tourism minister, Stas Meseznikov, said that following the pope's present visit, Israel is expecting "hundreds of thousands" additional pilgrims this year. I'm afraid some of those potential tourists may change their minds after hearing the thoughtless statements of some of our leadership. ZEEV RAPHAEL Haifa Sir, - Thank you, Sheikh Tamimi, for demonstrating what Muslims mean by "interfaith dialogue" ("PA cleric spoils pontiff's interfaith evening," May 12). Thank you for confirming the pope's comments in his 2006 Regensburg address on the Muslim contribution to peace and freedom in the world. Thank you for invoking Saladin who slaughtered the Catholics of the Holy Land. Thank you for showing what kind of senior officials serve in the "moderate, secular" Palestinian Authority. J. GILBOA Jaffa 'Exaggerated' demise Sir, - Rabbi Norman Lamm's predicting the Kaddish memorial prayer for the Conservative and Reform movements reminds me of Mark Twain, who, on reading his obituary in the newspapers, declared: "Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated." At a time when we need to get every Jew we can, Lamm's lambasting of people who have a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother as "goyim" is incredible. Lamm, who lives outside Israel, may come in like a lion, but... ("'We will soon say kaddish' for Reform, Conservative Judaism, YU chancellor says," May 11). ELIEZER WHARTMAN Jerusalem Sir, - I suggest that Rabbi Lamm not hold his breath, but concentrate on the fate of his own constituency, the "centrist Modern Orthodox," who are fast being eclipsed by the movement to the right in Orthodoxy and often appear to be an endangered species - and I say that with sincere sorrow. I appreciate Rabbi Lamm's expression of sympathy for our movement, which he says is uttered "with a heavy heart"; the rest of the interview, however, sounds as if it has more than a little of "joy in sorrow" about it. Exactly how he knows that "the Conservatives are in a mood of despondency and pessimism" escapes me. If anything, I would say that the past year or two have seen a greatly increased measure of enthusiasm in our movement. The Jewish Theological Seminary, under Chancellor Arnold Eisen, is more active than ever and is energizing both the rabbinate and the laity toward greater observance and study and greater loyalty to the movement. Had Rabbi Lamm been present at the recent Rabbinical Assembly convention in Jerusalem, he would have been surprised to see the tremendous enthusiasm of the assembled rabbis. There are any number of Conservative communities and schools he could visit where he would see the vitality and energy and, yes, growth going on in our movement. Of course JTS and all our institutions have been hit by the severe financial problems that now beset the entire American Jewish community - including his own institution. Yes, there is belt-tightening, as demanded by these difficult times, but there is certainly no plan to close the shop. I would remind Rabbi Lamm that with a third of all affiliated Jews belonging to Conservative synagogues, we are still a force to be reckoned with in the US, as well as in South America and elsewhere. Nor are our synagogues and institutions in Israel something to be lightly dismissed. The Conservative Movement is a major factor in American Jewish life, and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future. No leader of American Jewry should want to see our movement or any other positive Jewish movement disappear, for such a disappearance would not benefit Orthodoxy. It would rather be a tragedy for organized Jewish life. RABBI REUVEN HAMMER Past President International Rabbinical Assembly Jerusalem Jewish non-Jews? Sir, - In considering the issues in Avi Shafran's "Trying to bequeath a Jewish future" (May 10), my sympathies are all on the side of the grandfather who willed his fortune only to grandchildren who marry Jews. I am against intermarriage. However, as an officiating rabbi for many years, I often wondered if I was sanctioning a marriage between two non-Jews who were born Jews. How could the groom say: "kedat Moshe veyisrael - "according to the Law of Moses and Israel" - if he did not believe in that law? Are two born Jews who deny everything in the Torah bequeathing the Jewish future? Yet rabbis in Israel, and in the Diaspora, do not hesitate to marry born Jews who deny their Jewishness. RABBI JACOB CHINITZ Jerusalem Game of charades Sir, - "After outcry, PM rethinks budget cuts" (May 8) failed to mention the fact that every year the Finance Ministry produces an initial budget which everyone knows is so tight-fisted and fiscally irresponsible that no Israeli government will pass it. The liberal media scream about how it injures the poor, the Histadrut moans that it hurts the workers, the social lobby yells about how it harms single parents and the poorly educated, and haredi politicians threaten to bring down the government rather than vote for it. Then, as if on cue and just as we have come to expect, the government, like a knight in shining armor saving the beautiful princess, firmly rejects the budget as presented and demands the creation of a softer, more user-friendly one in its stead. This silly charade has gone on for so long that I am surprised anyone still pays enough attention to take it seriously. For me, the interesting story isn't even about the budget. It's about how the Finance Ministry and the government orchestrate this dance and get away with it every single year! KENNETH BESIG Kiryat Arba Vintage Boteach Sir, - Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's "Sex is for adults" (May 12) was right-on again, with seven spotless, comprehensive and rich arguments for pulling back from early sexual activity. The rabbi, a worthy teacher and powerful ambassador for Judaism, is like a good wine - getting only better with time. M. VAN THIJN Jerusalem