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Letters to the Editor: Prager, Settlements, Chevy Volt

December 15, 2010 | 1:15 pm

Yeshivas vs. Universities: Another View

As a liberal professor who studies the yeshiva world, I agree with Dennis Prager that there are interesting parallels (“Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and Secular Universities,” Dec. 3). But how can he say that social science professors study “increasingly irrelevant matters” and are “cut off from the real world”? I invite Prager to attend the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference, which includes talks like “Encountering Hostility to Jews: Research Ethics and Interim Findings From Conversations With the Westboro Baptist Church,” “The Purposes and Practices of Teaching Rabbinic Literature” and “Unintentional Hybridities: Christian Elements in Jewish Interfaith Families.” Are these exceptions to the disengaged scholarship Prager writes about? What about the scholars Prager quotes in his article? I’d write more, but I have to get back to my research, writing, teaching and administrative duties.

Sarah Bunin Benor
Hebrew Union College –
Jewish Institute of Religion
Los Angeles


Dennis Prager levels a very serious charge against the university system saying that its primary goal is to produce a secular leftist but offers not one iota of fact or argument to support his claim (“Ultra-Orthodox Yeshivas and Secular Universities,” Dec. 3).

He also attacks “secular left professors” as living off of public funds, but if he’s talking about private schools such as the Ivy League schools where presumably many “left” professors are employed, their salaries overwhelmingly come from tuition fees and private donations, not tax money.  Indeed, these “left” professors probably contribute more in taxes to the system than does the average taxpayer.

Dennis is troubled by the insularity of these professors and singles them out for criticism. Is he as troubled by the insularity of conservative “think tanks” and organizations such as The Heritage Foundation, National Rife Association and the plethora of conservative talk-radio outlets? Maybe the problem Mr. Prager has with professors on the left has more to do with their politics than anything else. In that case, he should make that argument instead of hiding behind red herrings. Perhaps Mr. Prager should consider enrolling at his local university and taking a class in writing for argument.

Elliot Semmelman
Huntington Beach


Settlements: The Real Issue

Settlements are not the issue (“Settlements Are the Issue,” Dec. 3). The issue is the impatience, even a touch of animosity between the two prominent scholars of our community. Let them and us relax and clarify what is meant by “settlement,” “occupied territory,” “Fourth Geneva Convention,” “international community” and, finally and most importantly, “Jewish state.”

Dov Malkin
Los Angeles

I hope my son will be taking none of professor David Myers’ history courses at UCLA. The professor commences his article misconstruing the talmudic idiom: “Tafasta Meruba, Lo Tafasta” [“If one grasps for too much, ones ends up empty-handed”] (see e.g. Sukkah 5a.). Our sages use this precept to teach that one should use the strongest source to support the rule of law. They did not intend misapplication of this idiom to express political views, as the professor does in arguing that the settlements place Israel’s very existence in jeopardy. His argument debases the sanctity of our oral law and tradition. However, even for one who engages in such sophistry, the far more logical conclusion is that the Palestinian Authority’s demand for everything has led to its empty-handedness relative to statehood. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to recognize Israel’s legitimacy remains the primary obstacle to peace. Further contrary to the professor’s suggestion, demographically, neither existence nor expansion of Israeli settlements will alter the birthrate of Arabs relative to Jews; but Israel’s miraculous existence has never been about size. Historically, settlement of the land has been Israel’s salvation. It will not be her undoing.

Mark Herskovitz
Los Angeles


The Obama Administration

Both Marty Kaplan and Raphael Sonenshein lament the failure of the Obama administration to bring about the changes to correct the evils imposed on us by the G.W. Bush presidency: unnecessary wars contributing to our huge deficit; favoring the wealthy and allowing them to obtain huge profits by sending our jobs overseas, thereby shrinking our middle class; and encouraging the bigotry of the religious right (”My Declaration of Independents” and “A Democrat’s Lament, and a Glimmer of Hope,” Dec. 10). Obama’s victory two years ago was probably brought about by the massive voting of the 18-25 age group. It is my understanding that only 11 percent of those eligible young people chose to vote this time. I believe it is because their hopes for change were destroyed by congressmen and senators who, in my opinion, hate the idea of having a black president. California bucked the national trend because the majority of Californians are more tolerant and do not believe that wealth alone is credential enough to rule our state.

Martin J. Weisman
Westlake Village


High-Voltage Response to Volt Test Drive

Rob Eshman needs to do his homework (“The Home Front,” Dec. 10). A road test by edmunds.com pegs Chevrolet Volt’s range at about 300 miles, and in extended range mode it only averages 31.4 miles per gallon.  That’s a huge scale-back from Eshman’s 235 mpg. If 9.2 seconds for the zero to 60 feels like “it takes off like a beast” and [has the] “handling of a muscle car,” in my humble opinion, Mr. Eshman is prone to irresponsible editorial exaggeration, especially where he writes [electric vehicles] “... are — finally — Detroit’s way of telling the Saudis to shove it.” Now there’s a line that’s going to embrace peace with the Saudis, shut down the Taliban’s opium profits and stop Sunni terrorist groups.

The Volt costs way north of $41,000. Add in tax and license and it’s nearly $47,000 cash out of pocket if you buy, and first you’ve got to put the money where your mouth is before you get the $7,500 federal tax credit. If you initially lease and then purchase it for the residual value after three years, you’re going to pay even more. And that doesn’t include interest if you finance. Do the math: To own the “beast” means during these bare economic times of hardship, with 15 percent unemployment, GM’s target customer will have to earn at least an additional $80,000 before tax over five years, not including a reserve for the expired battery pack. Let’s see, the odds are that I will get hit by lightning twice before I win the Lotto, so do I moonlight to buy a ridiculously expensive oh-I-look-green-cool Volt, or send my kid(s) to college? Oops, I nearly forgot, the damn thing still uses gas.

Mark Shapiro
Los Angeles

Rob Eshman responds:
The 235 mpg I referenced was the calculation for the length of my drive, as I pointed out in my story and in our Volt driving video at jewishjournal.com. Under average driving conditions, Motor Trend rated the Volt at 127 mpg — not chopped liver. GM and the EPA are still working out what “average” means in a vehicle like the Volt.

My report on the acceleration and handling (“takes off like a beast”) was subjective — your impressions may differ. Remember, I was comparing the Volt to a Prius, which takes off like a toaster oven.

I never said the Volt was cheap; in fact, I was discouraged by its lack of interior space. It’s not perfect, but the Volt is, as Motor Trend points out, a major leap forward in producing a hybrid/electric car for the American market.


Correction
An article on the Olive Tree Initiative (OTI) at UC Irvine (“Palestinian Speaker at UCI Event Creates Rift Among Local Jews,” Dec. 10) incorrectly stated that OTI has ties to the Free Gaza movement and the Boycott Divest and Sanctions campaign. The group that has been linked to those efforts is another group mentioned in the article, the International Solidarity Movement.

In the Dec. 10 Torah Portion column, the photo was of Rabbi Dov Fischer instead of Rabbi N. Daniel Korobkin.

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