November 18: Inflated mojo?

I am not challenging the legitimacy or rightful place of Reform Judaism per se – just its extravagant claims.

Letters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Letters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Handout )
Inflated mojo?
Sir, – I would like to know the factual basis for the oft-heard claim of Reform Judaism that its branch is “the largest movement in American Jewry,” as Rabbi Evan Moffic states in “Can Reform Judaism get its mojo back?” (November 15).
Moffic writes that there are 900 Reform congregations in the US.
Well, there are more shuls, shtiblach, kloisn, beis medrashes, etc. in a single neighborhood in Brooklyn (this absolutely is not an exaggeration).
These places of worship have services every single day, often two or three shifts. Nearly all have Torah lessons several times a week, often daily and often more than once a day.
Most are not officially affiliated with any organization, such as the Orthodox Union, but they are far, far more vibrant than Reform temples.
As for the supposed 1.5 million members of Reform congregations that Moffic claims, how many are really Jews by non- Reform standards? How many do not have Jewish mothers and have not undergone a conversion recognized by someone other than Reform Judaism? It seems to me that Reform defines “Who is a Jew” as anyone who can be put on its rosters and artificially swell its ranks.
I am not challenging the legitimacy or rightful place of Reform Judaism per se – just its extravagant claims. I know that Reform rabbis do not recognize the binding authority of the Torah, but perhaps they can start with “Keep yourself far from a false matter” (Exodus 23:7).
Spell it out
Sir, – With reference to the first item in Grapevine of November 15 (“SOS Professor Henry Higgins”), Dominic Grieve, attorney-general for England and Wales, “felt the need to convey the message that it is difficult for Israel’s friends to defend her when she is in breach of international law, as, for instance, with the ongoing construction of settlements in the disputed territories or the treatment of Palestinian minors who are often subjected to human rights abuses.”
I am surprised that the attorneygeneral, from whose government came the Balfour Declaration, whose country had the mandate over the whole of the Palestine area, and who should know the extent of the land left to the Jewish people by the League of Nations and the United Nations, could suggest that Israel is in breach of international law.
Why did he not refer, chapter and verse, to the law that Israel is breaching? It would be of great interest to Israeli citizens.
As for the treatment of Palestinian minors, if any of our soldiers or citizens are caught abusing them in any way they are subject to severe punishment.
These are crimes punishable by the law of the land. I am sure the British government has laws to punish those criminals who, unlike the abuse of Arab children, kidnap, rape and murder multitudes of kids in his country.
The Arabs around us pound our cities with rockets with the deliberate purpose of murdering civilians, including our women and children.
Dare I mention, too, their determination to wipe Israel off the face of the map, killing us all without mercy? Perhaps the attorney-general for England and Wales will suggest these arguments to our tongue-tied friends.
EDMUND JONAH Rishon Lezion
Teaching morality
Sir, – Jay Ruderman (“Managing Israel’s psychiatric hospitals,” Comment & Features, November 13) describes, justifiably, the tragic treatment of patients in our institutions. It is even more tragic in that the abuse and mistreatment of patients has caused the closure of such sorely needed facilities here and abroad. (The fact that the US has suffered from a similar problem doesn’t make it any easier to digest.) If one thinks outside the box a little bit, one could come to the conclusion that there is a much more basic problem behind this phenomenon. Employees have to be much better trained and monitored for sure, but our basic education system, even for those who are not involved in caring for the unfortunate in our society, lacks a moral angle.
If there is any hope for future generations to create a better society and values, our school curriculums have to begin to include courses in ethics and moral standards. This is not too difficult to do and should not add too much to school costs.
There are many texts available to use, including Pirke Avot (“Ethics of the Fathers”) as a basis for such instruction.
It is not difficult to imagine how much improved our society would be if moral values became a required course in our schools.
Peres did it right
Sir, – Your president, Shimon Peres, recently visited Moscow, where he witnessed the opening a Jewish museum, an unprecedented event in recent Russian history (“Peres inaugurates Russian Jewish tolerance museum in Moscow,” November 9). In his speech, Peres praised Russia as a place where the Jewish community has thrived for a thousand years.
Critics of his speech say he overlooked the centuries of discrimination and pogroms under the czars, and the genocidal pogroms of the civil war, in which members of my own family suffered. They also point to the discrimination against Jews in the late Soviet era, which played a crucial role for thousands of Russian Jews in emigrating to America, my family included.
But they ignore the fact that Peres came to Moscow at a time when America’s support of Israel is unquestionable and an Iranian crisis is looming. In this situation, the Jewish state, the interests of which Peres represents, should look for all possible support.
Russia is an important geopolitical player and its role in the Middle East should hardly be discounted, especially when Moscow has tried to conduct a more balanced foreign policy in this area. Indeed, Putin was the first Russian leader to visit Israel, and many times he has reiterated his respect for Israel and the Jewish people.
It would clearly be counterproductive for Peres in such a situation to engage in an objective analysis of the complicated and often tragic relations between Russians and Jews, who indeed have lived together for centuries. His major goal was to ensure the maximum benefit for the Jewish state, and he seems to have achieved his goal, reporting that Russia and Israel’s positions on Iran are quite close.
This certainly needs to be taken into account by those who criticize Peres’s Moscow speech.
The writer is an associate professor of history at Indiana University South Bend
End the addiction
Sir, – Your post-election editorial “Obama and Israel” (November 9) is hopeful of a better relationship between the newly reelected US president and Israel, but I, for one, am far less optimistic.
Setting aside his shabby treatment of our prime minister, President Barack Obama has bought into the absurd premise that it is the settlements that are standing in the way of peace and brotherly love in the Middle East. Unless his views have dramatically changed, it is unrealistic to expect Obama to be a friend of Israel, or even an honest broker in any peace negotiations.
What Israel needs to do in response is take drastic action. I propose that our government immediately inform Congress that we will be seeking less US aid in the coming years. I would suggest starting with a 10 percent cut in 2013. The reduction could be replaced by the revenues from our newly discovered natural gas fields.
It’s time we ended our chronic addiction to US aid and started acting like a truly independent country.