November 27: Getting to the core

Today, every rabbi seems obsessed with attempting to alter the very DNA of his students so that they mimic his view of God and the world.

 Sir, – Finally, an article that gets to the core of the problem with Jewish God-think (“Judaism: The art of bold ideas,” Comment & Features, November 24).
Today, every rabbi seems obsessed with cloning himself, attempting to alter the very DNA of his students so that they mimic his view of God and the world.
Nathan Lopes Cardozo seems to understand that the continuity of a vibrant, energizing Judaism lies in its fluidity, in its ability to develop multiple answers to individual questions and perhaps redefine itself (albeit slowly and carefully) within Halacha.
I doubt that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were of one mind about God, although they worshipped the one God continuously and intensely. They followed God, traveled alongside God and walked before God, alternately questioning, arguing and analyzing – but always believing. Why should we strive for anything less?
Sir, – “...Jewish education today is mostly about producing a generation of religious Jews who know more and more about Jewish observance but think less and less about what they know,” Nathan Lopes Cardozo writes. “This is even truer of their teachers.”
Why do we not have the Abraham Joshua Heschels, the Samson Raphael Hirsches, the Samuel David Luzzatos? According to the writer, “We encourage the narrowest specialization rather than push for daring ideas.” And why can’t our yeshiva boys think for themselves and explore creative ideas? I believe it is because they are discouraged from using the university studies the Rambam advocated.
I hope in the second part of his essay, Cardozo will give some innovative solutions within Halacha to many of the important questions he has raised.
JENNY WEIL Jerusalem
Not limitless
Sir, – Michael Freund slams Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein for ordering an investigation of Safed’s chief rabbi, Shmuel Eliyahu, for possible incitement to racism (“Israel’s thought police,” Fundamentally Freund, November 24). In doing so he lectures us about freedom of speech, of which he appears to have scant understanding.
He is right, of course, that freedom of speech is one of the pillars of democracy, although it is not absolute or limitless. Many democracies have laws that limit freedom of speech regarding, inter alia, libel, treason and hate-speech.
In Germany, for example, denying the Holocaust is a criminal offense. So does Freund argue that denial of the Holocaust should be allowed there in the interest of free speech? In Australia, where I come from, the policy of multiculturalism governs the limits of free speech when it aims to offend or harm citizens from different backgrounds.
There, Eliyahu, paid by taxpayer’s money, would have long been fired and probably indicted.
I commend Weinstein for this initiative, not just because it aims to truly defend Israel’s democracy, in which all must be equal before the law and the rights of all citizens must be guaranteed, but because we live with the growing global accusation of Israel being an apartheid state.
This is ridiculous, of course, but we don’t need the likes of Eliyahu to pour oil on that fire.
URI THEMAL Kiryat Tivon
Sense of place
Sir, – I was particularly pleased to learn that the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel has “expressed support for the Sunflower Project,” especially on the restoration of Jewish cemeteries there (“Israel has a friend in Lithuania,” Comment & Features, November 24).
Under the auspices of this program and with the aid of historian David Gelfand, the gravestones of two of my great-greatgrandfathers, Aaron Singer and Moshe Odes, have been recovered.
Such concrete historical information is important not only for the general understanding of Lithuanian Jewish heritage, but because it provides such a personal take on the historical landscape where my family came from, giving me a profound sense of my own little place in the long chain of being.
Zip the lip
Sir, – Regarding “Frattini’s advice to Israel: Talk less about settlements” (November 23), the former Italian foreign minister is absolutely right. We have no need to discuss or make excuses to anyone for building homes in the Jewish land.
Let’s just get on with the job of building our land for the Jewish people.
Sir, – Why does it take Franco Frattini to think of this? Why can’t our own politicians? By the same token, we need to speak less of the fighter planes we develop, the missiles we manufacture, etc., etc. The enemy doesn’t have to know all that is going on in our country, including settlement building.
It’s about time we talked less and acted more.
Access to the trough
Sir, – Your editorial “Rabbis and the state” (November 23) says that “the practice of keeping rabbis on the state payroll must end...,” particularly “considering the fact that city and neighborhood rabbis are elected to office in a highly undemocratic way.”
If that’s to be the criterion for who may and may not feed at the state’s trough, then the no-less undemocratic way in which membership on Israel’s High Court is determined ought to put the eminent justices at the head of the line for pink slips.
Sir, – The rabbi mentioned in “Rabbis and the state” is not inciting people, nor is he guilty of racism. He is telling it like it is.
The biggest problem the world faces today is fear. America, Europe and Israel are afraid to deal with the Islamists, who are slowly planning to take over the world. If you don’t name it, you can’t claim it.
Your editorial said that rabbis should not receive state money.
What about the Arab members of our Knesset who go and speak to our enemies about us? Nothing is done about that.
If you call right wrong, you will never right the wrong. At least some among us are not afraid to speak out.
Start them young
Sir, – Regarding both Judy Montagu’s column (“Your food – is it friend or foe?,” In My Own Write, November 23) and “MKs present legislation to halt the display of ‘sugar bombs’ at check-out counters” (November 22), I am reminded of the many years I spent as an inner-city public school teacher in New Jersey.
At the beginning of the school year I often took my class to a large fruit and vegetable market and invited parents to join us. I encouraged the students to bring salads and fruit to class and allowed them to snack whenever they wanted to.
Candy and other junk foods were not allowed and were confiscated, but my students began to enjoy this new idea. We had fruit and vegetable birthday parties and celebrated the holidays that way as well. I received special grants from the local board of education and often used those funds for fruit treats that I regularly brought to class.
To this day when I visit, former students I see around town, now adults, will ask me if I still eat “those foods.” They warmly remember those experiences.
With Israel regularly displaying God’s bounty of beautiful and colorful fruit and vegetables in all its markets, such a program would be easy to accomplish in order to start training students to make these choices at a young age.