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October 14, 2005

Atone for Editorial Sin

The October 7 pre-Yom Kippur editorial outlining the Forward’s regrets for journalistic sins committed this past year overlooked your most egregious misstep (“Begging Pardon”). I refer to the recent front-page nonstory about a gifted former educator’s personal struggle to come to terms with his sexual identity and his place in a traditional community and its values and prescriptions. There was no story, no scandal, nothing that merited the crossing into the realm of the private lives of the teacher, his students and the school community in question.

The fact that the educator indicated in a private e-mail to a student that he could share his missive with other students who had inquired as to his life decisions does not render that a “public” document or a “public” story. People indicate their permission to share e-mails with others related to their work or community circle all the time without the expectation that there words will be plastered on the pages of a newspaper.

The Forward does not seem to have even had the decency to hold off publishing the story until the principal even could return from an overseas trip for a comment. One suspects that the only reason the Forward went ahead with the story was the headline-seeking and ultimately sensationalistic impact of having the words “Orthodox,” “rabbi” and “gay’” appear in print in the same sentence.

Jewish values as well as journalistic ethics were violated, and of this we should all be profoundly saddened this Yom Kippur.

Nathaniel Helfgot

New York, N.Y.

Losing Faith in Canada

Kathleen Peratis’s September 30 opinion column reveals a shocking lack of understanding of the issues underlying the discussion in Ontario surrounding faith-based arbitration and, frankly, an attitude of disturbing arrogance regarding the multicultural foundations of Canadian society (“When Kabul Came to Canada, and the Rabbis Fought To Make Shariah the Law of the Land”).

Let us begin at the beginning. Faith-based arbitration has likely been in place in Canada for as long as there have been people of different faiths living in this land. The Ontario Arbitration Act of 1991 did not specifically endorse this type of arbitration. The act laid out specific rules to be followed.

Within this legislative context, Canadian Society of Muslims President Syed Mumtaz Ali was not asking for revision of the law, but announcing his intention to create a more formal structure for those who wished to arbitrate their differences under the aegis of Islamic law. Such an option, however, has always been available to members of the Muslim community — with our without the Arbitration Act.

Second, the position of Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario Region, on this matter has been consistent from the time that Marion Boyd released the results of a study that had been commissioned by the government of Ontario. We believe that the report is an attempt to strike an important balance between the rights of minority communities and the rights of vulnerable minorities within those communities. It is interesting to note that many of Boyd’s 46 recommendations focus on the importance of ensuring that consistency with Canadian law is enforced, and that members of Ontario society understand their rights within the framework of Canadian law.

Third, the position of Canadian Jewish Congress in the matter of the announcement by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to end enforcement of religious arbitration has been to question the wisdom of the decision, to decry the lack of process and to request a meeting with the premier to discuss this matter before legislation is drafted. We also have observed, as have many in the wider community, that McGuinty’s statement that there will be “one law” for all Ontarians is rather ironic, considering that, in the matter of educational funding, only the Roman Catholic community receives funding for its school system. Ontario remains the only jurisdiction in North America where such discrimination is permitted.

There is no doubt that McGuinty was faced with a difficult choice, but his decision to cut the Gordian Knot rather than untie it will ultimately prove to be unworkable. The removal of the requirement of the civil courts to enforce the decisions of arbitral boards will not address any of the concerns raised by opponents of faith-based arbitration. It is the protection of the law that has been lost. This is hardly a victory — for either side.

Joel Richler


Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario Region

Ontario, Canada

Searching for Truth Is The Essence of Science

There is a well-written book that compellingly argues the case for Intelligent Design: “Darwin’s Black Box” by Michael Behe, a professor of microbiology at Lehigh University (“A Great Civil War,” October 7). In Darwin’s time, microscopes were not able to see proteins. Scientists of the 19th century thought cells were bags of protoplasm. The inside functions and workings of cells were unknown. A cell was like a black box.

Evolution accurately describes the order of life’s changes over time. However, Neo-Darwinism cannot describe how it happened. for example, random mutation and natural selection are not sufficient to explain the creation of protein machines. Behe describes several of these protein machines, such as cilia and flagella, that help cells swim, and protein machines that help blood clot on time and in the right places.

Remove one of the several independently created proteins in the machine and the rest of the machine has no purpose, which Behe calls “irreducible complexity.” Natural selection depends on small incremental changes to improve a function, but Behe proves that these small improvements were not possible in the creation of at least some protein machines; they had to be planned and constructed as a whole, because of their irreducible complexity. Behe thus claims that irreducible complexity disproves natural selection and proves Intelligent Design for these protein machines.

Behe does not deny that we may be descended from bacteria, nor does he claim that the intelligent designer is God. He just proves that the getting from here to there is not merely through the random natural forces; it also needs an intelligent agent. Francis Crick, a Nobel Prize-winner who co-discovered the double helix structure of DNA, wrote that aliens must have seeded our planet with life.

Intelligent Design is not a religious or political issue, it is a scientific and historic issue: How did we come to be? The debate on Intelligent Design is clouded by right-wing and left-wing political agendas. However, we cannot make our scientific conclusions by siding with the political agenda with which we are most comfortable. Science is a search for truth.

Joseph Mirzoeff

Port Washington, N.Y.

The October 7 editorial on the Intelligent Design controversy in American schools captured all the primary issues, especially the most important: any discussion of a Supreme Being — by any name — is religion, and religion does not belong in science classrooms. If only more Americans could see this simple point and its constitutional foundations, let alone remember the dismal history of science kept shackled by religious and ideological dogmas.

Mark Wilson

Professor of Geology

The College of Wooster

Wooster, Ohio

Stay Loyal to Lobbyists

I appreciate the thoughtful and detailed reporting that gave depth and analysis to the progress of the Larry Franklin case, but I am concerned about the tone of the Forward’s coverage (“Plea May Affect Aipac Lobbyists’ Cases,” October 7). The substance of the article was written with a dispassionate tone, almost a benign neutrality as to the gravity of the outcome.

Please don’t underestimate what the government intends to do, and how serious the fallout may be.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is a symbol of Jewish acceptance and success in the United States. The State of Israel’s good reputation among American leaders can largely be credited to this well-informed and devoted group.

I believe this is a scandal that requires expert Jewish defusing before it blows up in our faces. This time, Aipac needs some outside help.

I suggest that rather than participating in the slow-frying of Aipac lobbyists Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, the Forward should start reporting on White House and Pentagon laxity on security matters. The Forward’s neutrality on this matter is not a good thing. I find it unseemly, especially toward such a lover of Israel as Rosen. He deserves better after a life’s work protecting our Jewish homeland.

The Franklin plea deal is disgusting. I think he is the only one who should bear responsibility for disclosing his information on Iran. He must have known that Rosen and Weissman were representing Israel’s interests — Franklin was a Pentagon employee, after all.

Jewish leaders are trying to downplay Franklin’s Iran expertise in order to take public scrutiny off the case. But his aptitude in this arena reportedly runs pretty deep, and Franklin was dealing with key issues and key players. His work was a key element meant to topple those Iranian antisemites and their nefarious plans.

The government stonewalling the evidence is also a disgusting element of this case. Hopefully it will backfire and result in a total dismissal of any charges against Rosen and Weissman.

Please try to keep a Jewish soul and ear toward this particular case. I think it’s a big one for us.

Daniel Leeman


Beth Israel Congregation

Bath, Maine




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