Terrorists’ evil inclination

There are still those who blame successful terrorist recruitment on “lack of jobs,” “political oppression,” etc. But by now it is well known that many, if not most of the “militants” have been and are middle and upper class, with good educations and opportunities.

More realistically, the traditional rabbinic duality of “yetzer ha-ra” and “yetzer ha-tov” points out that every human is born with an evil inclination and a good inclination. The evil inclination, “yetzer ha-ra,” is predominant until a child is molded into a decent human being.

What we are seeing are people who have plugged into an ideology that justifies and even celebrates their evil inclination. Although especially vicious in a significantly powerful segment of Islam, that ideology not unique to Islam. The same process permeated various societies throughout history. Naziism was the most dangerous international plague during the last century. But, like Nazism, the manifestation cannot be combated and defeated with politically correct platitudes.

Arthur Rabin
Wynnewood, PA

Conservative representative’s complaint

Uriel Heilman of JTA gets the facts right (mostly), but the story wrong when writing about Conservative Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism in “Amid Identity Crisis, Conservative Judaism Pays for Rebranding” (November 27).

While the article is ostensibly about our recent convention, Shape the Center, it focused instead on a separate project — a branding initiative — and a rehashing of the Pew data. In fact, the convention was marked by interactive workshops offering practical solutions to many of today’s most pressing issues, including LGBTQ and special needs inclusion, leadership development, millennial engagement, interfaith families, financial stability, and more.

The article references the analysis of Steven M. Cohen to demonstrate a decline in the number of self-identified Conservative Jews, but this research also showed, as CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick spoke about in his opening session speech, that “while the quantity of Conservative Jews has diminished, the quality of Jewish involvement of those continuing to engage has stayed relatively strong.”

Engagement was actually the theme of Rabbi Wernick’s speech, contrary to what was reported in the article (“Moving Beyond Crisis” was presented by Linda Sussman, Kehilla Relationship Manager of the Metropolitan New York (METNY) District, and explored best practices that relate to crisis management in a kehilla). Rabbi Wernick shared some of Mr. Cohen’s statistics and then identified teenage engagement as a keystone habit of thriving congregations. He followed this up with a call to action for kehillot to reach more than 50 percent of teens and for the movement to collectively raise substantial funds to support this goal.

USCJ has recently begun a branding initiative in order to sharpen our focus and expand our reach, effectiveness and influence, but this certainly was not the predominant story of the convention. Twelve hundred Jews gathering over five days to influence the future of Conservative Judaism was, and it’s unfortunate that JTA instead relied on a click bait headline and a tired narrative of decline.

Alissa Pinck
Director of Marketing and Communications,
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Manhattan

Settlement stance

Dr. Scott David Lippe’s comments on my book, “Our Promised Land: Faith and Militant Zionism in Israeli Settlements” (Letters, December 4), are entirely inaccurate.

He attributes views to me to which I do not subscribe and accuses me of criticizing Israeli settlers for labeling settlers as “extremists” because they defend their families and communities from attack. My book said no such thing, nor do I hold such views. To the contrary, “Our Promised Land” argues that Jewish theology, halachic writings, and contemporary rabbinic response support settlement in the whole of the biblical Land of Israel. Moreover, the thesis of the book is that after centuries of living as a defenseless pariah people, the rise of the state of Israel made it possible for Jews to assert their rights to their biblical homeland and rightfully engage in religiously sanctioned wars (milchemet mitzvah) to protect themselves and secure their ancient homeland, eretz Israel.

This is not to say that all violence is justified. What I did write is that many settler rabbis and leaders object to vigilante violence and killing innocent people. Jews are so new to political power and military defense that at times some Jews seek to deny the need for a robust militant defense, seeking escape into pacifist fantasies for solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while others mistakenly believe that vigilante violence and murder will bring peace.

Charles Selengut, Ph.D.

Knives and guns

Gold and Simon are at it again, with their rabid left-wing Orwellian distortions (“Strength and consciousness together can combat terror,” December 4). They say the Palestinian Arab walks into his kitchen “overcome with anger and frustration” and grabs a knife, justified by his hurt feelings. What justification do the Arabs of Gaza have to rain rockets on Jews, as they are now ruled by their own? What frustration did the Arabs have when they massacred Jews in Hebron in 1929? That a significant number of the recent Arab murderers were privileged middle class dispels the notion of poverty and desperation as a cause. Furthermore, truly oppressed people have not waged war on women and children. The Tibetans burn only themselves; the Rohingya Muslims rot in peaceful squalor; Coptic Christians are oppressed second class citizens and do not stab people. Justifying Arab inhumanity infantilizes them, disrespects them, and removes their responsibility for their behavior.

Gold and Simon then go on to criticize that Israelis “shoot first and ask questions later.” This obscene belittling of the mortal danger of knife-wielding murderers is the same stupidity that the world uses with their “proportionate responses” criticism against Jewish self-defense. As any law enforcement member will tell you, a knife is as dangerous as a gun at close range. In a normal world, if you attack someone with a deadly weapon, you can expect to be killed in defense. Only in Israel is this right to be circumscribed, as if the Arabs are badly behaved children rather than rabid child-murderers and cowards who stab people in the back. These leftist, anti-Israel double standards are dangerous, and support the enemies of the Jewish people. Only the potential victim has the right to decide his fate, and this cannot be dictated by effete, arm-chair leftists in American Jewish newspaper columns. Suicide, personal or national, is not a Jewish concept in these circumstances. “Attack a Jew and surrender your life” is the only normal Jewish response acceptable. That is truly Jewish “strength and consciousness.” Whose side are these guys on?

Scott David Lippe MD
Fair Lawn