The JC Letters Page, 5th July 2019

Harry Thompson, Geoff Roland, Frances CAnning, Flora Frank, Philip Levy, Herschel Zimonas and Geoffrey Pepper share their views with JC reader

July 04, 2019 10:27

Points of departure

Of the many farces currently afflicting the United Synagogue, the CRP points system for children whose parents want them to attend a Jewish primary school ranks among the most ridiculous. 

At our US shul in North-West London, the Shabbat morning children’s services — which are pleasant and enjoyable for most of the year — become utterly unbearable during “points season”. 

Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of families pour in with no intention other than having their CRP card stamped and to collect the points. Having never attended the shul or children’s services before, they have no understanding of the songs or stories and also have seemingly little thought as to appropriate ways to behave. 

It is now common for parents to pull out mobile phones to take pictures of their little ones during the service, for example. In my opinion, such behaviour should see the family immediately stripped of their accumulated points. 

It baffles me that these people profess a desire to have a Jewish education for their child but are so utterly oblivious to observing the most basic common decencies of Shabbat at a shul. 

Maybe I should be glad that these children will receive a better Jewish education than their parents clearly had, but it is infuriating when the vast majority are not fee-paying shul members, contribute nothing whatsoever to the community and then take up the school places which are hard enough to come by anyway. What benefit do I receive in this area from being a member? My £1,000-plus a year shul fees have rarely seemed so pointless. 

Harry Thompson
London NW7

Mobile embassy

Could Jonathan Freedland explain the reasoning behind his view (JC, June 28) that “mov(ing) the US embassy to Jerusalem sharply diminishes the possibility that the city might one day serve as the capital for two states”?

If there were to be a Palestinian Arab  state with its capital in Jerusalem, that’s where the Palestinians would quite reasonably expect and  insist that  the Americans locate their embassy. 

It would then have been politically impossible  for their embassy in Israel to remain in Tel Aviv as that would de-legitimise  the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

 Come to think of it, that’s probably why the Arabs were so vehemently opposed to the embassy relocation in the first place.

Geoff Roland 
Sale, Manchester

Not just Jacob and Esau

The correspondence regarding Esau (Letters, passim) has been entertaining and interesting.  It reminds me of an even worse case — that of Vashti, from the Book of Esther, always a heroine of mine.

I recently helped my granddaughter research the Purim story for her batmitzvah. It is well and directly told in the Bible, relatively brief, logical and clear.  Vashti was ordered by her husband the king, who had power over life and death, to dance before his male drinking friends.  She refused.  On looking at a religious website, I was shocked on Vashti’s behalf to find her character utterly traduced and all sorts of extraneous derogatory, vicious details added which were not in the story.  

Conversely, many details were also added spinning Esther’s modesty and goodness.  Correspondence with the organisation produced the explanation that these details have been handed down as tradition and are deemed to come from a worthy source.

Libels are being taught to youngsters as unvarnished truth.  Midrash or not, by this logic and with no caveats offered, potentially we would have to accept stories of evil concerning great rabbis or other heroes, if some rival began them.

Let’s hear it for Esau and Vashti!

Frances Canning

I applaud  the JC for allowing us space for religious debate — so vital if the paper is to represent and be accepted by all sections of our community.  

In answer to Renée Bravo  (Letters, June 28) I have been taught, and as a teacher I have always tried to impress upon my students, the importance of distinguishing between the Peshat (literal meaning) of Torah and Midrash (Oral tradition) encouraging  them to offer their own informed opinion.

Hence I mentioned the different approaches to biblical exegesis,  e.g. Pardes (Letters, June 21).   Evidenced by the fact that I did not give a Torah reference when referring to Leah’s weak eyes  (denoting the many tears she shed), I assumed,  obviously wrongly in Renée’s case, that  Midrash and not Peshat was to be understood.   

More importantly,  in answer to Renée’s dismissive response to authentic commentators, I would point out that the interpretation in question is attributed to one of our foremost biblical commentators, Rashi, quoting Midrash Rabbah and Talmud  Baba Batra. Rashi is widely recognised for both his literal and Midrashic interpretations of a word or verse,

Anthony Melkinoff put the case clearly  that my revered teacher at the former Jews College, Lord Jonathan Sacks, in his book, Not in God’s Name, dismisses the dualist idea of absolute good and absolute evil skilfully applying it to Esau and Jacob.  

Esau indeed had  redeeming features, especially in the realm of honouring his father and later in his genuine distress pleading for his father’s blessing.  Space did not allow a complete study of Esau and Jacob.  I was simply responding to Renée’s negative account of Jacob.  Renée Bravo prefers Esau and I prefer Jacob as my hero.

Whether it be a rabbi, teacher or lay person,  it is crucial  to have honest and friendly dialogue within your columns in order to dispel myths and intolerance, thereby fostering mutual respect and Shalom.  

Perhaps we should now beg to differ and lay the subject of Esau and Jacob to rest!

Flora Frank

We all have our idiots

I’m afraid I must take issue with Momentum founder Jon Lansman’s view that Jewish Voice  for Labour  (JVL) is not really part of the Jewish community (JC, June 28).

The JVL is part of a tradition that sprung up after the Russian Revolution in 1917.  When the Bolsheviks started committing appalling outrages, there were always those in the West prepared to defend them. Jews were prominent apologists of the Soviet regime, no doubt because the Tsarist government had been viciously antisemitic.

A member of the Soviet Politburo, rumoured to have been Lenin himself, called those idealists “useful idiots”, a term which many in the community apply to JVL.

JVL has a further link with Corbyn. Dear Leader Jeremy seems unable to see the faults in governments of Russia, Venezuela, and Gaza, driven by a naïve belief that nobody claiming to be left-wing can ever be in the wrong. This belief is mirrored in JVL. Since Chelm ceased to be a Jewish centre, we’ve lost our village idiots;  JVL has stepped into the breach.

Philip Levy

Terror of the Tonges

Older readers may recall that one of the main perpetrators of the Popish Plot conspiracy of 1678 was one Israel Tonge, and it is interesting to note that his namesake and spiritual descendant Jenny is still actively engaged in the business of fomenting conspiracies, not least the infamous and unfounded suggestion that the IDF were using their 2010 mission to bring humanitarian aid to Haiti as a cover for harvesting human organs.

Tonge is so certain, so morally pure in the anti-Israel cause, but, between them, the state of Israel and the IDF have contributed more to humanity in an afternoon than she has, or ever will, in her entire wretched career.

Herschel Zimonas
London N12

Harmony at the seaside 

With reference to Simon Rocker’s article,  Housing association looking to buy in Westcliff for Charedi influx (JC, June 28),  we would like to put the record straight in relation to the comment about  their moving out “after differences over their presence”.  

The “whole story” is that Southend and Westcliff Hebrew Congregation made a significant contribution to the new Westcliff Charedi community.  

Our assistance, in no small measure, enabled them to structure, grow and, in those early days, we helped them with their minyan, we allowed them to use our Talmud Torah and Beis Hamedrash completely rent free. We are still helping each other.  

Last Shabbat, several Charedim attended our services and no doubt new families and visitors from all over, will also come and sample the atmosphere of our beautiful, iconic synagogue where we often get 100 to 200 Congregants and 500 for the High Holy Days. 

The whole area is regenerating, with more kosher facilities. We wish the Charedi families every success.

Geoffrey Pepper
Southend & Westcliff 
Hebrew Congregation,

July 04, 2019 10:27

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