May 20: Conquered territory & artificial boundaries

In countries which occupied territories like the US, the occupied natives became full citizens, unlike in Israel.

letters 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Conquered territory... Sir, - In his May 15 letter to the editor ("Who's an occupier?") Lawrence Uniglicht correctly pointed out that the United States contains much territory that has been conquered. That is true of almost every country in the world: Human migration and conquests change the boundaries of nations over time. However, the analogy does not help Mr. Uniglicht's case. Residents of New Mexico, California, Texas etc., are all full US citizens. Is Israel willing to annex the territories, be they disputed or occupied, and grant full citizenship to all their residents? No. There are good reasons for that. But as long as Israel treats the land as if it is occupied, who are we to say otherwise? JACOB GORE Denver ... & artificial boundaries Sir, - British- and Western-colored glasses have shaped the destiny of millions of people across Africa and Asia. Creating nations while the Ottoman Empire was crumbling, as the Sykes-Picot agreement did during WWI, created artificial boundaries and nations, blocked the benefit of natural resources shared in a region, ultimately cost countless lives in nearly a century of wars - and led to today's strife. I am very ready to accept Seth J. Frantzman's contention that Hinduism and the struggles in India need a closer look than the way the public has been trained to view them ("India and Israel: Diverse in a homogeneous world," May 19). BARNEA LEVI SELAVAN Codirector, Foundation Stone Jerusalem Dumbing down... Sir, - I was shocked to read Ghilad Zuckerman's evaluation of biblical Hebrew ("The Hebrew Bible should be taught like a "foreign language," May 18). Perhaps he should reread the late Prof. Chaim Rabin's Short History of the Hebrew Language, which concludes that the maintenance of Hebrew as a living medium for comprehending the Bible and for praying enabled it to serve as a lingua franca for correspondence, business, religious, personal and even face-to-face conversation between communities in Asia, Europe and Africa who no longer shared the same vernacular. This greatly facilitated the revival of modern Hebrew so that an Israeli child can understand the words of a page written down millennia earlier. Modern Hebrew is related to biblical in the same way as mishnaic to biblical. Every language absorbs structures, vocabulary - and even idioms and sound and intonation patterns - from surrounding languages and immigrant populations down the ages, but that does not necessarily turn it into a foreign language. I can understand the need for a simplified school commentary to the Tanach with the original clearly differentiated from the "translation," as noted in Shira Leibowitz Schmidt's admirable critique on the same page ("Don't dumb down the Bible"). But, then again, there exists a competent school commentary to the biblical text by Hartom and Cassuto, which I believe is still used in some Israeli schools. The Bible is indeed a poetic text, but not any more distant from modern Hebrew than Haim Guri's poetry or S.Y. Agnon's prose. Would we suggest issuing an interlinear edition of them? The answer lies not in "dumbing down" the Tanach, but in uplifting our children to become as familiar with the good book as our forbears were. Even the math teacher in my Leeds state school was prone to quote the Bible when making a point. A. NEWMAN Jerusalem ...and raising up Sir, - The debate over the RAM Bible resonates with me because of a similar experience with the English translation. Years ago, I was all for colloquial English, but then decided that the cadence of classical language has a majesty and mystique which is lost when the text is brought down-market. I therefore utilized only classical English both in ministering to an English-speaking congregation and in teaching Bible at both school and college level. Hence I support Shira Leibowitz Schmidt when she argues that children (I would add, "and adults too") should hold a real Bible in their hands. Incidentally, how can Hebrew grammar accept the vocalization of the title page of the RAM Tanach with a kamatz under the tav? RABBI RAYMOND APPLE Jerusalem Sir, - Ms. Leibowitz Schmidt's objections to the RAM Bible are very surprising considering her own background as a member of the English-speaking Jewish world, and a translator at that! If bringing the Bible closer to modern Israeli children is "dumbing down," what does she say about the unprecedented proliferation of English - and many other language - translations of almost every major and minor Jewish holy book known? And what about very fine linear translations in both English and Hebrew of Jewish prayerbooks of every kind? Does she see Feldheim, Artscroll, Torah Educational Software, Soncino and many other English and foreign language publishers of classical Hebrew literature as "dumbing down" Judaism and Jewish literature for the non-Hebrew speaking world? It is true that many "old-world" rabbinical figures often objected to such publications and translations when they first came out (including the Artscroll Torah and Bible series in its various forms) because of what they also perceived as "cheapening" the classical Hebrew originals. And no doubt the many translations differ in quality, accuracy and readability. Yet their purpose has always been to allow as wide a Jewish audience as possible to study these Jewish texts in their native tongue. This goal has obviously succeeded far beyond anyone's imagination; in fact, myriad very Orthodox Jewish yeshiva students, community members and leading rabbis have become totally reliant on English and other translations to gain even a basic understanding of classical Jewish texts such as the Talmud, Zohar, Mishna, Midrash and, last but not least, the Jewish Bible itself and all our classic commentators. Painful, perhaps, to the Hebrew purist, but indispensable to the vast majority of theJewish world. Ms. Schmidt objects to "lowering the Bible to the level of schoolchildren," but I would argue the exact opposite. It is almost tragic that no one has until now taken up the challenge of making our holiest book more user-friendly to modern Israeli schoolchildren. Who says a more comfortable format has to lead to disrespect or lessening of the Bible's holiness? Quite the contrary: The more it is read and understood, the more relevant and awe-inspiring it will be for modern Israelis as they understand and eternalize its infinite wisdom and beauty. GERSHON HARRIS Hatzor Haglilit Dirty books Sir, - I see from Dvora Waysman's letter ("Root cause," May 18) that a "bookstore owner friend" kept a section of "Dirty Books" for the exclusive use of the haredi clientele. And it seems that this nasty obsession with sex stems from the vigorous separation of the sexes in that particular population. We should therefore thank the Lord that such restraints are not imposed on the general secular population - otherwise our television, theaters, literature, Internet, movies, music, dance and all other elements of culture would be inundated with pornography, and woman viewed as sex objects. MARCHAL KAPLAN Jerusalem Professorial paradox Sir, - David Newman is to be commended on his scholarly appraisal of the challenges to academic freedom ("Academic freedom under threat," May 18). Unfortunately, the professor seems to have missed the fundamental paradox in his position: supporting academic freedom to defend one who would use an academic boycott to deny it to others. His toleration of intolerance is reminiscent of the ancient definition of hutzpa. ROGER KINGSLEY Jerusalem