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Who Needs a Needy God?
Rabbi Jack H Bloom’s provocative article, “What God Can Learn from Us” (Winter
2008), raises the following questions, among others:
How can one worship a being who is not entirely good? Surely one needs to be worthy of
worship to be worshiped, and the God described in Rabbi Bloom’s article does not appear
to me to be so worthy.
What is the purpose of a God who is just like us? Where is the motivation to reach to be
better than we are?
I have difficulty accepting a God who is so much like us mortals.
Doris Sommer-Rotenberg
Toronto, Ontario
The Oil Challenge
We’ve known for years that we have to wean ourselves from foreign oil. We’ve also been
told since the 1980s, and Edwin Black is still insisting, that any new domestic oil will
take 3–5 years to hit the market (“Get Off Oil,” Winter 2008). Will we continue to be hit
with that excuse for the next 20 years?
Black’s solution, rather than developing available domestic resources, is twofold: 1.
Punish Americans by implementing a new dictatorship; 2. Punish the oil companies by
redistributing their honestly earned wealth. As for his model of retrofitting cars to use
compressed natural gases, he uses the theocratic dictatorship of Iran, but dictatorships are
always better at getting things done than democracies.
How much of our free society is Black willing to subvert in order to create his utopian
Harry Onickel
Ferndale, Michigan
In his enthusiasm to get thousands or millions of electric cars on the road, Edwin Black
omits two very expensive prerequisites. First, there must be a large increase in our
electricity generating capacity to fuel all these cars, and second, there must be a major
upgrade of the national electrical grid to get the power where it’s needed. To be
ecologically responsible, much of the new electricity must be generated by nuclear power
plants, since wind and solar energy cannot be expected to produce more than about 20%
of the total demand.
Werner G. Heim
Colorado Springs, Colorado
Reconsidering Circumcision
I am saddened that we, as a people who have always been in the forefront on progressive
human rights issues, have not reexamined our own backward views on circumcision,
which, counter to Professor Washofsky’s view (“Why Reform Never Abandoned
Circumcision,” Winter 2008), has done nothing to prevent assimilation or preserve
Jewish identity. While we rightfully stand up for women’s rights in objecting to female
genital mutilation, we have hypocritically failed to see the equivalent male ritual for what
it is: a barbaric, anachronistic glorification of the penis. Many Reform Jews feel this
ritual violates our ethics because of the extreme pain it causes the baby, and yet we are
shut out from the conversation. If Reform Judaism is truly committed to being a
progressive religion, we must do away with this sexist, barbaric ritual.
Ronald Eger
San Diego, California
A Pediatrician Responds
As a pediatrician who has performed thousands of circumcisions over 30 years, it’s most
distressing to read descriptions of the procedure as a brutal, bloody operation involving
intense pain. When a skilled, properly trained practitioner applies appropriate local
analgesia, there is no pain whatsoever. In fact, some boys just yawn at me.
As with any surgical procedure, analgesia prior to operating should be mandatory. And
this doesn’t mean merely a topical cream applied externally a half hour prior, which may
provide some numbness to the external skin only. Instead, a local “ring block” using 1%
lidocaine is infused through a tiny needle, providing for excellent numbing of the entire
field. Mohelim can quickly learn this simple technique. The local adds no more
than 60 seconds to the procedure and is acceptable by halachic authorities.
The brit is a basic tenet of Judaism. It predates Sinai and the giving of the Torah by more
than 500 years, linking each baby boy directly to our patriarch Abraham, the first Jew,
and affirming his covenant with God.
Harry Romanowitz, MD
Stamford, Connecticut
Immigration: A Complex Issue
In “Compassion Knows No Border” (Winter 2008), URJ President Rabbi Eric Yoffie
denounces xenophobia as affronting American and Jewish values in the context of
advocating “a system that will give illegal immigrants a way to earn citizenship” as well
as immigration reform. Rasmussen Reports and Zogby International report that 67–79%
of Americans do not support amnesty. Does that make them “hate-mongers”?
Similarly, most U.S. citizens recognize that immigration isn’t victimless; cheap
immigrant labor impacts poor and working-class Americans. A National Academy of
Sciences study found that immigration has caused 44% of the decline in wages for
America’s poorest workers. The massive importation of poverty is a significant threat to
our social safety net.
Mexicans, the largest immigrant group, are not assimilating successfully; only 19.8%
have naturalized. Most are still loyal to Mexico, raising legitimate concerns about how
their irredentist attitudes affect America’s social cohesion and sovereignty.
Rabbi Yoffie’s ostensibly irreproachable social ethic is much more complex than he
Dr. Stephen Steinlight
Washington D.C.
Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie Responds
Thank you, Dr. Steinlight, for your letter. I would suggest that “giving illegal immigrants
a way to earn citizenship” is not amnesty. I do agree that this topic is complex and
difficult. Nonetheless, Jews need to remember that the arguments used against Mexican
immigration and “cheap immigrant labor” are often, word for word, precisely the same
arguments that were used to halt Jewish and Eastern European immigration in the 1920s.
I do not know of a single Jewish leader or organization, whether liberal or conservative,
who believes those argument were compelling when applied to us. I simply do not see
how we can now in good conscience find them acceptable when they are applied to
Healthcare—Single-Payer Is Better
Your recent article on “Confronting the Healthcare Crisis” (Winter 2008) fails to
acknowledge the important work of single-payer activists in Reform congregations in this
country, including B’nai Sholom in Albany, New York and Temple Sinai in Pittsburgh,
The article also ignores the 1993 URJ Resolution entitled “Reform of the Health Care
System,” which resolves to “advocate a single-payer system as the most likely means of
fulfilling the principles articulated in past…resolutions on healthcare reform...”
And while you praise the work of Massachusetts congregants in passing that state’s
healthcare reform bill, many people cannot afford even a stripped-down insurance
package. Why should ability to pay be the determining factor in the quality of available
The Massachusetts model is not the solution to our healthcare crisis. Turn your attention
instead to the single-payer bill in Congress: H.R. 676, “Expanded and Improved
Medicare for All.”
Sandy Fox
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Richard Propp, MD
Albany, New York
Dianne Bridges
Pittsfield, Massachusetts
Editor’s Response
The Union’s policy is to support all plans that meet its criteria for addressing the
healthcare crisis, including single-payer. As a strategic matter, the Commission on Social
Action of Reform Judaism believes that it’s better to cover some people who are
currently uninsured as soon as possible than hold out for a single-payer plan that might
not come to fruition any time soon.
The Fly Fishing Rabbi
Reading “The Fly Fishing Rabbi” (Winter 2008), I found a severe disconnect between
Rabbi Eisenkramer’s discussion of his “spiritual experience” in nature as a “sanctuary”
and the fact that he was catching, and then releasing, fish. Fishing for food doesn’t bother
me, but to me, catching and releasing fish is like torturing the fish. Instead of torturing
the fish for your spiritual experience in nature, go for a hike in the woods. It is a lot
kinder to the fish.
Micki Miller
Mountain View, California
Rabbi Eisenkramer Responds
I share your concern about the ethics of fly fishing. To insure that the fish are returned to
the water with a minimum of disturbance I use barbless hooks, wet my hands to protect
the trout from oil on my skin, and return the fish to the stream as quickly as possible.
Every fish that I release lives to see another day. If every fish caught were kept for food,
our streams and lakes would soon be empty. Fishing is not hiking; it is an activity that
involves life and death, and connects us to a more primal side of ourselves that we do not
often experience in our 21st-century lives.
Send letters to: Reform Judaism, 633 Third Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY 10017,
www. (click on “Submissions”).
In the new fan-shaped sanctuary of Temple Emanu El, Orange Village, Ohio, sandstone
walls anchor the bimah and light streams in from the windows. Through the Union’s 21st
Century Photography Project, member synagogues showcase photographs of their life
and architecture. Submissions will be considered for RJ magazine, a URJ Press book, the
Union’s website, and display at Union headquarters. For guidelines visit