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L’chaim: Letters to the Editor

Comments from our readers about the future of Israel, carcinogens, Israeli activists, and God doing human things

January 08, 2016

Editor’s Note: On Fridays we publish a selection of letters our readers have sent in regarding articles and podcasts published the week prior on Tablet. This week, because of the holidays, we are also publishing letters from prior weeks.

On Josef Joffe’s “Stop Worrying About Israel“:

Thank God for the “World Happiness Report,” that pillar of established wisdom that Joffe seems to rely upon to help us abolish worries about the State of Israel. This purported scientific survey (whose methods are as obscure as its existence) tells us Jews in Israel are hap-hap-happy these days. The happiest people on Earth!

So much happiness they have little time for concern about knifings, stabbings, and the like. Lighten up you parents of children stabbed to death before your eyes! Smile for the cameras parents knifed to death before your children’s eyes! Don’t you know you’re supposed to be the happiest people on Earth? Oh but this is all parents “over dramatizing” over the safety of their kids, writes Joffe. I’m sure Israeli parents would appreciate the author’s snickering at their anguish.

Indeed Joffe’s happy talk response to my “lament” for the clouded future of Israel, written out of love and apprehension (“a haunting cri de couer” as the National Director of the ADL’s education programs called it), is an attempt to dismiss all threats with various wishful sophistries and Fiddler on the Roof homilies.

I will just dwell on one singularly naive argument he makes, the one on nuclear deterrence. His worshipful lauding of Israel’s second strike nuclear capability. A second strike, needless to say, will be used only if there has been a first strike. That is a nuclear first strike on the state of Israel, which has been called by experts (other than Joffe) a “one bomb” state. Potentially a six minute Holocaust.

And his confidence on the efficacy of a second strike as deterrent against a first strike has been called into question by those who take the question seriously. By the “no return address” problem. In other words, if a bomb is smuggled into Israel by parties unknown there may not be an obvious target for a retaliatory second strike. People who can’t be found can’t be deterred and so of course the perpetrators of a first strike will not seek to leave those mighty U-boats with certainty of what to target.

Joffe thinks Iran is the only nuclear problem, though Iran likely doesn’t even have a bomb yet. But there are some 200 nukes right now in the insecure possession of the Islamist state of Pakistan, 200 nukes that could be stolen by or handed off to terrorists who would not be subject to deterrence. Joffe needs to do some reading up on he complexities of a problem of which he’s aparently blissfully unaware. I suggest he start with Israeli ethicist Moshe Halbertal’s thinking on the question some of which he can find in my book on nuclear war perplexes.

His other arguments are mainly wishful thinking. He seems to claim Israel has won all its wars (Lebanon? Really? Gaza, hardly. These were, at best, stalemates). And will never ever suffer a defeat. Again, it only takes one. He seems to find comfort in the catastrophes of Babylon and the destruction of the Temple. Some comfort! I guess the Holocaust too—not a problem, some Jews survived after all. Certainly some will survive a defeat of Israel, so what me worry, right?

And I love the way he disposes of the Hitler problem. There were Polyanna types like him among German Jews before Hitler. As a German Jew, perhaps he feels the need to defend their horribly wrong headed optimism. Evidently he thinks those who expressed concern then too were “just kvetching,” and that we shouldn’t learn from what became of them.

My piece was not meant as prophecy so much as an attempt to shake some contemprary (mainly liberal) Jews out of complacency. In this case I clearly failed. I envy Joffe secure in his happy place.

Ron Rosenbaum, New York City

On Eric Ofgang’s “Bacon Goes Kosher“:

The World Health Organization recently classified bacon and red meats as carcinogens. This has been well-known for many years by cancer researchers. Processed meats are full of nitrates and nitrites—red flags! Ofgang’s article seems to be endorsing the increased use of bacon and its substitutes. How about popularizing good health?

Gloria Brodkey

On Liel Liebowitz’s “New Ad Accuses Israeli Lefties of Treason“:

The author’s criticism of Israel’s efforts to curtail Israeli leftist activism raises two points. One is that the activists of left-wing NGOs genuinely believe in their cause and thus are not mercenaries of their European funders. They also believe that silencing any group from the domestic debate, no matter how reprehensible their views, runs counter to democratic values. Both of those points are legitimate, but certain facts counterbalance them.

I have not read enough about the specifics of the other NGOs, but I have read a few things about nonprofit Breaking the Silence. From what I have read, their activity is not centered around influencing the domestic debate within Israel; rather it is centered on providing justification for those in Europe who wish to promote BDS. One manifestation of their focus is the language of their output. To influence the debate within Israel, all that is needed is Hebrew. Yet, Breaking the Silence puts great effort into translating its output into German, French, Swedish, and other European languages. What purpose do such such translations serve other than to justify diplomatic warfare against Israel?

As for the Left pursuing its genuine beliefs rather than representing the interests of their foreign funders, there are two problems. One is that their beliefs can be shifted slightly in order to deliver what their funders desire, slightly enough that they would not realize that the positions they wind up taking differ from what they would if they did not depend on foreign funding. The second is that even if every position they take would be taken in the absence of foreign funding, their methods are not democratic. As described above, the NGOs do not attempt to persuade their fellow countrymen that their concerns should outweigh all other concerns; rather the NGOs attempt to threaten their fellow countrymen that if they do not accept their arguments that the NGOs will have the Europeans sanction Israel and cut her off from the world economy. Vladimir Putin faces no such threat from the NGOs operating in Russia and it is that difference which sets Im Tirzu’s bill apart from Putin’s crackdown of Russian NGOs. Perhaps any Israeli anti-NGO legislation should have language more narrowly focused on those providing material for foreign lawfare campaigns, but doing so would require criteria that are comparably objective to percentage of operating funds coming from foreign governments.

Scott Smith

On Adam Kirsch’s “Talmud: God Studies Torah, Too

I take issue with this line from the penultimate paragraph: “…We have also seen, in Tractate Berachot, that God Himself prays and wears tefillin. Now, in Gittin 6b, we see that God also engages in Torah study…”

It is concepts such as these that have helped turn me off to Rabbinic Judaism altogether. Whether literally or as metaphors, I can no longer accept statements such as these from Berachot and Gittin tjat depict God as engaging in all-too-human activities. Isn’t this warmed-over Paganism with a monotheistic veneer? God wears tefillin (as it were); Zeus wears a laurel wreath. And the difference is? If one takes such statements literally, then one crosses the line into actual paganism. To Whom does He pray? To Himself? If you believe that God has arms to put His tefillin on (is He right-handed or left-handed?) and that He has curly black hair (as per Anim Zemirot), then why can’t He father children? By declaring that God does these things (wear tefillin, learn Torah, etc.), the Rabbis are casting Him in our image. (See here from Kirsch’s column: “…But God cherished both Evyatar’s and Yonatan’s insights, saying, ‘These and these are the words of the living God’—the famous formula applied to the disagreements of Hillel and Shammai…”)

By putting words in God’s mouth to the effect that ‘These and these are the words of the living God’ the rabbis are engaged in the sheerest chutzpah. ‘These and these’ are the words of two flesh-and-blood rabbis who ought not to presume that their utterances, however sincere, are those of God Himself.

— Sabi A-Libee