Agricultural worker Orfil Serrano waters the flowers at the Half Moon Bay Nursery. (Photo/Bryan Patrick-Courtesy ALAS)
Agricultural worker Orfil Serrano waters the flowers at the Half Moon Bay Nursery. (Photo/Bryan Patrick-Courtesy ALAS)

Help others during Sukkot; Which religions get their own month?; etc.

A Jewish atheist on driverless cars

While reading Maya Mirsky’s recent article, I thought of a Woody Allen scene from “Annie Hall” in which four ancient rabbis discuss the color of Rachel’s hair (“Are self-driving cars kosher? S.F. rabbis weigh in as robotaxis flood the city’s streets,” Aug. 23).

Today the Orthodox rabbis would be arguing whether or not it is OK to press an elevator button on Shabbat. No, that would be a violation of the Shabbat, would be their conclusion. It would be better to walk to shul and chance being hit by a vehicle or being mugged by a thug.

I am, as so many are, a Jewish atheist. This is today’s world, not the world of the 18th-century Hasids.

Tradition aside, Judaism will be diminished unless we stop being so rigid.

Bruce S. Steir
San Francisco

Editor’s note: Orthodox authorities have long held that pressing an elevator button on Shabbat is forbidden, leading to the creation of the Shabbat elevator, which stops on every floor so that riders need not press any buttons.

Technology marches on

I agree with opinion writer Miriam Menzel that driverless cars are not ready for “prime time,” but I take issue with her use of the job-loss argument (“Autonomous vehicles are bad for humanity — on Shabbat or any other day,” Sept. 18).

Technology often obsoletes jobs. Consider, for example, the automobile itself, which put thousands of blacksmiths and stable hands out of work. Or the pocket calculator, which all but destroyed the slide-rule industry. Or the cell phone, which obsoleted phone booths and thousands of their designers, assemblers, installers, repair technicians and coin-box collectors, and even deprived Clark Kent of his changing rooms (he could sue!).

Manufacturing efficiencies and general prosperity have almost ended the era of appliance and device repair, and the jobs of those who perform it.

Of course, new tech isn’t uniformly beneficial.

The internet, for all its joys, has sadly put many newspapers out of business and journalists out of work. (Hang in there, J!)

And I could go on.

Let’s judge technologies on their merits and facilitate retraining to mitigate any resulting job loss.

Rick Tavan

Help others this Sukkot

Jamie Beckett’s opinion piece was perfectly headlined (“California’s farmworkers feed us. This Sukkot, let’s return the favor,” Sept. 18).

As we celebrate the harvest on Sukkot, Beckett’s piece reminds us that those who harvest our food do not share in the bounty.

Our farmworkers in Half Moon Bay lack enough food themselves, appropriate housing, medical care, clean water, and other essentials for a good and safe life.

As Jews, we are exhorted to pursue justice. Our farmworkers are not living in a just situation, and we must not turn away.

As we sit in the sukkah and enjoy meals with our friends and family, we should thank not only God for what we have on the table. We should thank our farmworkers in Half Moon Bay through the several action items Ms. Beckett lists in her piece: donate to ALAS, donate $15 Safeway cards to Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills or ALAS, support other aid groups, and urge state and federal legislators to support legislation that assists farmworkers.

Happy Sukkot,

Natalie Krauss Bivas
Palo Alto

Palestinians need new brass

In her letter to J., Judith Schonebaum wrote she was raised as a Zionist (“Israeli grants that obfuscate?” Sept. 14)

Too bad she is not now.

She wrote that Israel forced deprivation on Palestinians, but I submit it was not Israel but rather Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of Fatah for 19 years with no re-election since 2009, and Yasser Arafat before him, who failed the Palestinian people.

Abbas recently renewed his antisemitism by saying the Nazis persecuted the Jews because they were predatory money lenders.

The two-state solution is impossible now, until the Palestinians get new leaders who are not terrorists and don’t want to destroy Israel.

Norman G. Licht
Palo Alto

Which religions get their own month?

The County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has proclaimed July as Muslim American Heritage Month. Georgia and New Jersey have proclaimed October as Hindu Heritage Month. Hinduism is the world’s third-largest religion. Did these proclamations result in “divisiveness”?

Muslims and Hindus, like Christians, are adherents of specific religions, so does the Muslim American Heritage Month — or would a Hindu Heritage Month — violate the California Constitution in exactly the same way as some claim American Christian Heritage Month does? (“El Dorado County reverses course on controversial ‘American Christian Heritage Month’ proclamation,” online, Sept. 19)

If not, why not?

After all, according to former President Obama “… we are no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”

Double standard, perhaps?

Julia Lutch

Israel to blame? Think again

In her recent letter, Judith Schonebaum refers to what she calls “the deprivation that Israel has forced upon its Palestinian residents and citizens” (“Israeli grants that obfuscate?” Sept. 14).

That characterization is erroneous.

Arabs who are citizens of Israel vote freely in every Israeli election; they serve in parliament; they have served as cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, ambassadors, and consul-generals; and there is an Israeli Arab justice on the Supreme Court.

So while Israel obviously is not perfect — neither is the United States — it is, in fact, doing a very good job of pursuing complete equality for all its citizens, especially for a country that is under daily siege by terrorists and is surrounded by aggressive totalitarian regimes that constantly threaten to annihilate it.

As for the Palestinian Arabs, 98% of them live under the rule of the Palestinian Authority (PA), or Hamas in Gaza.

So it is the PA and Hamas, not Israel, which bear responsibility for any deprivation they are suffering.

Sadly, the PA routinely arrests and tortures dissidents, crushes unions, relegates women to second-class status, and refuses to hold democratic elections. PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas is now in the 18th year of his four-year term; the last election to the Palestinian parliament was in 2006. The rule of Hamas in Gaza is characterized by similar authoritarianism.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin took a huge risk by turning over so much territory to the Palestinian Arabs in 1993 to 1995. Let’s not dishonor his memory by blaming Israel for the actions and policies of the Palestinian Arab leadership.

Stephen M. Flatow
New York City
President, Religious Zionists of America–Mizrachi

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