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Saturday 26 December 2009
Letters: Jewish Schools
When is a boy not Jewish enough for a Jewish school?
The decision by the Supreme Court to force the Jewish Free School to open its doors to a student whose mother is Jewish by conversion has been denounced by the Orthodox Jewish establishment as a threat to freedom of religion, dictating to Jews who is, and who is not, a member of their community. This is nothing more than a power play launched by one sect against another.
Orthodox Judaism believes that its people are chosen of God and have a particular covenant with Him. Each succeeding generation of the chosen must pass that on to its heirs. Chosen-ness is regarded as something almost genetic, eternally present and indestructible.
This acconts for a traditional reluctance to proslytise. It also results in the curious existence of people like myself, who are both Jewish by birth and atheist by conviction. I may be, in the eyes of the Orthodox, a bad Jew, but they cannot kick me out of the community, as, for example, the Catholic Church may excommunicate a member.
The last couple of centuries have witnessed the creation of various sects within Judaism. The liberal wing does not seem to have any problems with conversion as a way into full membership of the community. This does not sit well with the Orthodox who inhabit the office of the Chief Rabbi; and so, if they must accept the process of conversion, they wish to control it, not allowing any other group to certify that conversion has taken place.
There are other questions to which this judicial decision gives rise, notably that of the existence of faith schools in general and government funding of them in particular. But so long as they continue to exist, it is normal that the state may and should intervene in their mode of functioning.
I think both your report and your leading article of 17 December, have missed the point. JFS refused admission to the child because his mother had been converted at a progressive, not an Orthodox synagogue. He would have been admitted had she been converted at an Orthodox synagogue. The problem has nothing to do with race or ethnicity. It concerns a dispute about the authenticity of progressive Judaism.
It is easy to understand the frustration of the family but it is unfortunate that the civil courts are involved in an internal religious dispute.
Life of cheques in the balance
After the UK Payments Council decision to abandon the three-century history of the cheque, I have to wonder exactly how small and new businesses are supposed to accept payments?
As a specialist who helps small enterprises protect their transactions, I know of numerous occasions where banks and payment processing intermediaries have refused to provide card-processing services. If new and small enterprises are blocked from taking electronic payments, the only conclusion is that they either abandon trade or focus on accepting cash, because there appears no other alternative on offer when cheques cease to be issued.
This move is another burden for any new entrepreneur wanting to trade. Is this the future of the country, where every new and small enterprise is blocked by the banks as unprofitable?
We need a new bank prepared to serve those being barred from trade, by providing suitable processing services at a competitive price, or a new alliance of those banks prepared to continue issuing and processing cheques.
Sterling-Bond Escrow Services, Stockport, Cheshire
Would it be too much to expect the banks to devote some time over the next nine years to developing a replacement for the cheque?
I use digital banking and credit and debit cards, and shop on the internet (despite being a pensioner), but there are times when only a cheque will do. I live in a small village, and occasionally have to pay for logs delivered, the chimney-sweep, the man repairing our oven, the village shopkeeper for our papers, and tradesmen plastering ceilings, etc.
They all want cash or a cheque. As it's a drive to the nearest cash machine and I don't want to keep much cash in the house; a cheque is the usual choice.
Could someone develop a safe way to make electronic payments on the doorstep to someone who can't take debit or credit cards?
It is all very well for the banks to say most financial transactions use credit and debit cards. I use cards myself most of the time, but there are times when a cheque is the most convenient way to pay and receive money.
I run what amounts, in secular terms, to a small business: three smallish parishes of the Church of England. Every month, I receive cheques for a total of between £1,500 and £2,000 from funeral directors, monumental masons, wedding couples and others. It's the easiest way for people to pay for the services we provide.
None of this money is mine: I have to account for it, and every month I have to disburse it in various proportions to the diocese, to the two parochial church councils and to whatever organist has played for a particular wedding or funeral. I struggle to think of a more convenient and easily accountable way of doing this than simply to write a cheque.
West Wittering, Chichester
Your correspondent David Wilkie (letters, 19 December) asks what the alternative to a cheque might be when sending money to children or grandchildren? My two sons find crisp £20 notes are perfectly acceptable.
Pushing barriers on climate change
Mary Dejevsky's piece "Don't panic, Copenhagen wasn't such a disaster" (22 December) neatly illustrates that wise old saying, "If you can keep your head while all around are losing theirs, you don't understand the situation."
She asks, "Will, say, a year's wait for a global agreement to limit the projected temperature rise to C hasten the drowning of the Maldives? Or even parts of East Anglia?"
Well, actually, yes, or at least it will make them more certain to happen. We have only a very narrow window in which to cut emissions on the scale required to stop at a C rise, and knocking a year off the timescale will make it virtually impossible to achieve.
Ms Dejevsky's question is equivalent to "The fire brigade didn't answer my 999 call, but won't tomorrow do?"
And to argue that Copenhagen failed only because climate-change "alarmists"' set the bar too high all but marks her as a denier. We "alarmists" set the bar where the scientists tell us it needs to be set, if we are to have any chance of averting catastrophe.
It is sad that Mary Dejevsky dismissed campaigners who are speaking up for the billions of people in developing nations who have the most to lose from climate change as "alarmists, prophesying doom". With such overwhelming and peer-reviewed evidence warning us of the consequences of doing nothing, NGOs such as ActionAid have every right to be involved in the debate and to continue to demand cuts in carbon and financial assistance for the poor to cope with the consequences of climate change.
If the "near-hysterical activists", as she puts it, had been allowed by governments "to make the running" then why isn't there an effective, legally binding agreement?
The Copenhagen Accord was frankly shambolic and has done little to help the poorest countries adapt to climate change. With decades of investigations and the vast majority of climate scientists agreeing that global warming results from our own actions; it is only the foolhardy who would champion Copenhagen as a positive outcome.
Climate Justice Co-ordinator
Dangers of rule by big business
I would really like to know who actually runs the country. I live in a small market town and it is clear to me, even in my isolation, that big business runs the country.
All around me, I see big business sucking the life out of the locality and, I must assume, the country. Pub companies are ruining towns and villages. In Kendal, I counted nine out of 15 pubs were boarded-up, tenant landlords driven out by rapidly rising pubco costs.
Did anyone else note that as soon as the union announced that British Airways staff were to strike for 12 days over Christmas the other airlines "sympathetic" to the plight of stranded travellers-to-be immediately hiked up the price of all their flights.
I own a bakery; if we had two bakeries in my town, one went bankrupt and I then doubled the price of bread to profit from this I would be vilified and driven out of business, and rightly so. Until we start to apply local standards of behaviour to big business, our lives will continue to be controlled by them.
After Ted Heath's destruction at the hands of the trade unions in the 1970s, everyone assumed that the Labour movement was untouchable. It had become a fact of life and there was nothing you could do about it. To Margaret Thatcher's credit, she didn't agree.
The Conservative Party and the Labour Party have now both been bought by big business. Perhaps now the answer is to look at the alternative, and let's hope they are both Liberal and Democratic.
Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria
Strange views on breast-feeding
What strange people the British are to find the natural act of a mother breast-feeding her child offensive, or even obscene (letter, 21 December).
I am thankful I had my children in Spain, where one could breast-feed anywhere at all and nobody gave a second glance. This was in the time of the Fascist dictator General Francisco Franco, whose ideas on public decency bordered on the fanatical, yet breast-feeding mothers were accepted by everybody as the natural part of life, which they are.
If there are people who find this natural procedure "offensive", or even "obscene", why do they not simply look elsewhere, which would in any case be more polite? It almost seems as though there are those who are looking for an opportunity to feel and express vicarious sentiments of shock and disgust
Harriet Walker ("Tom Ford's life in fashion", 22 December) describes a bottle of aftershave "nestling between a fulsome pair of breasts". The word "fulsome" really means unctuous or oily but, having read the article on Ford, I think Ms Walker has got it about right.
Shut that door
Why are shops permitted to leave their doors open? Walking down High Street UK in the winter months is an unnerving experience as gales of heated air blast passers-by. The retailers' strategy may increase shoppers' footfall but it does nothing to reduce our carbon footprint. Shopkeepers caught with open doors should be fined. This would be an elementary but significant carbon tax. It would also increase public confidence in CCTV.
Shouvik Datta (letters, 11 December) says of the digital divide referred to in Johann Hari's 8 December article on the internet, "Only those with access to a computer and the financial means to open an account can use email, or surf the internet". In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, every one of the more than 4,000 public libraries offers access to computers and the internet. Library staff help people to get online and set up email accounts. In Orpington, Kent, where Mr Datta lives, library internet access is free.
President, The Society of Chief Librarians, York
All the Rage
In Tom Sutcliffe's article, "Online Activists can be a force for good" (22 December), he seems to imply that, to date, the efforts of online campaigners has had a negative impact. Those of us involved with the recent Rage Against the Machine campaign beg to differ. Aside from achieving a win for Rage, the combined efforts of those involved raised more than £85,000 for Shelter. We may not be toppling dictatorships yet but considering the amount of opposition we faced just trying to get an outside track to number one, is it any wonder?
Labour love lost
Of course Labour support is rising despite their economic mismanagement. They created the mess. Let them clear it up.
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