June 22, 2007

TB Can’t Spread by Hand Tuberculosis is not spread by handshaking, as Jenna Weissman Joselit claims in an otherwise interesting and informative June 8 article (“In the News Again, Tuberculosis Victims Have History of Seeking Cures Far and Wide”). The disease is spread by the airborne route: Germs are contained in the air coughed out from the lungs of tuberculosis patients and then inhaled by someone in close and prolonged contact with that patient.

Tuberculosis is not spread by sexual contact, blood transfusions and certainly not by the casual contact of a handshake. Misunderstanding about disease transmission can feed underlying discrimination and lead to the stigmatization of patients. Such was the experience of many immigrants to this country, Jewish and not, in the early 20th century.

Gaza Not the Densest

Opinion writer Martin van Creveld repeats the frequently heard claim that Gaza, with 1.4 million residents on 146 square miles, is “the most densely populated area in the world” (“Let Palestine Split Into Two,” June 15). Intentionally or not, the description evokes a sense of misery for its approximately 9,600 residents per square mile.

But another coastal area, Miami Beach, with 93,500 residents on 7 square miles, has about 13,300 residents per square mile, not counting tourists. New York City, with 8.1 million residents on 303 square miles, has 26,733 residents per square mile, including the less-densely populated outer boroughs.

Gaza may be many things, but it’s not the most densely populated area in the world.

I can understand why a June 8 article on the new American suburbia beyond the Green Line does not concern itself with the political or even moral conundrums of settling on the West Bank (“Suburbia Sells Settlers on the West Bank”). It is, obviously, an objective news report on the real-estate habits of American immigrants to Israel.

Still, would it not be a little more candid to let the unsuspecting reader know that those settlements — bar none, no matter how spacious or luxurious — are illegal according to international law? More so, is it not a trifle disingenuous to present that lifestyle without a word as to the not-so-spacious-or-luxurious Palestinian surroundings?

Go Green, Forego Meat

Global climate change is today’s greatest threat to humanity, and it is urgent that the Jewish community, along with others, actively get involved in efforts to reduce global warming (“Congress Warned That Global Warming Is Threat to Israel and Moderate Arab States,” June 15). We should make the healing and repairing of the world a central focus in Jewish life today.

One important cause of global warming that is being generally overlooked is animal-based agriculture. In November 2006, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that livestock agriculture emits more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector, and that the number of farmed animals is projected to double by mid-century.

Hence, it is imperative that there be a major shift toward plant-based diets. Such a change would also improve the health of Jews and others, and be more consistent with Jewish teachings on preserving human health, treating animals with compassion, preserving the environment, conserving natural resources and helping hungry people.

Five Scholars of Note

Opinion writer Elliot Cosgrove asks readers to identify five contemporary Jewish theologians saying something interesting about Jewish belief who had not already published a major work by 1990, saying he couldn’t come up with any names (“Where Have All the Theologians Gone?,” June 15).

I don’t think he gave the question enough thought.

Certainly Rabbis Jonathan Sacks, Sholom Carmy, Nathan Lopes Cardozo and Meir Soloveichik, as well as Dr. David Schatz, all qualify as contemporary scholars who are asking the age-old philosophical questions about man’s relationship to God and providing important insights into these questions.

And I’m sure there are a few others I haven’t mentioned who qualify, too.

As long as individuals continue to search for meaning in their lives, there will always be a new group of Jewish thinkers trying to answer the timeless theological questions that have perplexed our people for many centuries.

Elliot Cosgrove is incorrect about Eugene Borowitz soon retiring at Hebrew Union College. True, having been designated university professor I now teach only one course in the fall (plus independent studies) and two courses in the spring, but as long as the student evaluations of my courses remain highly positive I shall continue teaching.

My writing also continues and in October, Jewish Lights will issue “A Touch of the Sacred: A Theologian’s Informal Guide to Jewish Belief,” which I co-wrote with Frances Schwartz.

And were I to stop teaching, two of my former students, among others, stand ready to take my chair and project their own views of Jewish theology.

In the Spirit of Accuracy

In a June 8 article on Jewish winemakers, Joshua Yaffa writes that the cabernets and pinots produced by Judd’s Hill winery “are not strictly kosher” (“Spiritual Vintners”).

That is a bit like saying that someone is not strictly pregnant. Kosher wines are either kosher or they’re not. It’s that simple.

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June 22, 2007

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