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Jews don't need faith tested by Southern Baptists

Re: The Southern Baptists are not out of line, by Jacob Neusner, July 20.

Of all the pointy-headed hypotheses regarding developing dialogue between Jews and Christians, Neusner takes the blue ribbon. The esteemed professor sees the Baptists as "seizing the moment" to help both Jews and Christians engage in more intensive examinations of their respective religions thereby creating more useful bridges for interreligious dialogue as well as giving Jews a sense of renewal in their practice of Judaism.

Neusner has somewhat of a problem grasping Christian and Jewish interface in history. Jews, ages ago, knew what Christian manifestos for conversion truly meant. Jewish faith has been tested for a long time, as Neusner knows, and its persistence does not need the Southern Baptists to exhort them to renewing their faith. And no amount of dialogue between two faiths will bridge the schism that exists. Baptists who truly believe in their faith have no room to retire from their missionary stance of converting Jews. That position rejects any compromise. Neusner knows that, and he should be able to explain to the Baptists why Jews do not seek to convert.

Hal Bronfin, Largo

Re: Southern Baptists aren't out of line, by Jacob Neusner.

Professor Neusner sees nothing amiss with Southern Baptists passing a resolution converting Jews to the "true religion" at their recent convention.

The professor seems to forget it is not a matter of one believing in one's religious convictions, but the way in which those convictions are carried out. It is not simply saying you are wrong and we are right, but the denigration and perception of Southern Baptists' view of the Jewish religion.

I did not notice any specific resolution passed by the convention relative to Hinduism, Shintoism, the Muslim religion, etc.

People do take offense with those who emphasize differences and rejections while trying to change one from different religious affiliations. Much of the world's religious strife comes from the quaintly put phrase, "No one should take offense when people affirm their religions including their differences, and rejections of all religions."

The differences and rejections have caused untold millions to die horrible deaths in the name of the right way to God.

What is even more harmful and incisive about religious differences is that many times it leads to anti-Semitic practices and action. Anti-Semitism needs no aid to live. It is virulent now.

It is interesting to note that Judaism does not try to convert as a precept of its beliefs. Its belief is you accept because you believe. It accepts the proposition there may be other ways to God.

In my view, Professor, this reassessment you speak of concerning Judaic and other Christian convictions indeed will come to a confrontation. However, it will not invigorate or expand the breadth and perspective of interreligious dialogue. Instead, it sets up barriers and boundaries that are sometimes impossible to cross.

What is needed is not a discourse on which religion is right or wrong, but methods, proposals, actions that allow us to work together to better the ills of the world while still retaining our own religious beliefs.

Sy Ginsburg, Hudson

Professor Jacob Neusner's essay expresses a chauvinistic logic that represents an insult to all religions. To him, the only legitimate model of a religion is one that excludes all others. His model is the model of the Ayatollahs; it is not the model of the Roman Catholic world, whose spiritual leader has recognized the Jewish people as "our older brothers in faith" _ and it is not the model of the Jewish world, which recognizes that the righteous of all faiths will share in glories of the world to come. Neusner's model of intolerance and exclusivity is totally at variance with the spirit of religious pluralism that has made America a home for the faithful of all beliefs.

As to the Southern Baptists' call for total conversion of the Jews, it comes down to one question: Do you believe the world would be a better place if it were Judenrein _ totally devoid of Jews? If that is your model of the world, the 20th century has already taught us where it leads.

Barry Augenbraun, St. Petersburg

Re: Jacob Neusner column.

I was incredulous as I read the words of Jacob Neusner in your July 20 edition. What absolute drivel! I found them highly offensive . Not what I would expect to find in the Times.

The statement "Rejecting Judaism and converting Jews represent the very foundation of Christianity" is absolutely absurd. Words right out of the 15th century and the Spanish Inquisition.

I find extremely bizarre the position taken that the only true religion is the Christian one. I am not a religious person, but I will defend the right of anyone to practice his religion whatever that religion may be so long as he does not try to impose his views on me. I believe in "live and let live." And I also believe that if a person finds comfort in his religion, then that religion is a positive force for that person.

Neusner needs to learn that there are no absolutes where religion is concerned. It is entirely a matter of faith. Truth lies in the eye of the beholder. Spare me arguments regarding the true religion and truth in that context.

Leonard J. Soman, Tierra Verde

On another note

Re: Southern Baptists aren't out of line, by Jacob Neusner, July 17.

Praise the Lord. Jacob Neusner has redeemed himself with this one! If only we could be certain that the Jewish community will be able to survive long enough for Southern Baptists to "discover that Judaism is a religion, too."

Saul Korn, St. Petersburg

Manatee mystery solved

During the last four months, researchers from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Marine Research Institute in St. Petersburg have worked above and beyond the call of duty during the manatee die-off episode. Researchers like Dr. Scott Wright and his staff at FMRI in St. Petersburg, and Tom Pitchford and his staff at the FMRI field office in Port Charlotte are to be commended for a job well done.

These researchers virtually worked around the clock retrieving the more than 150 carcasses that died in Southwest Florida from early March through April, performing hours-long necropsies, collecting and packaging tissue samples or evidence and, somewhere in the midst of all of this, still have a life. When it appeared the die-off was ending, they never gave up searching for clues that would lead them to the cause of death.

Wright called in some of the world's top experts to help solve this mystery: Dr. Dan Baden from the University of Miami and Dr. Thierry Work from the National Biological Service, Honolulu Field Office. Together these expert minds were able to conduct test after test, plow through hundreds of pages of lab results, review historical data from similar marine mammal die-offs, eliminate the impossible and confirm that Red Tide killed the manatees.

All of this in only four months _ a remarkably short time for scientific results like these. A similar bottlenose dolphin die-off on the east coast in the mid-1980s took nearly 2{ years to solve. A 1987 humpback whale die-off in Massachusetts took about two years to resolve.

Unfortunately, with the discovery that Red Tide killed these manatees, there's always the possibility that this could perhaps happen again in the future. If it does, the information learned through the 1996 epizootic will serve as a guideline _ or map _ to direct researchers through.

Thanks for the efforts of all those who contributed to solving this mystery.

Virginia B. Wetherell,

Secretary, Florida Department of

Environmental Protection, Tallahassee

Pay more for "mediocre' education?

Re: For realistic tuition, July 15.

"It is time," say St. Petersburg Times editors, "for students attending Florida universities and community colleges to start paying tuition and other fees at a rate that is realistic by today's standards." I agree.

This summer at the University of Central Florida, I was charged $5 to send my transcripts. A minor fee but unrealistic nonetheless. Unrealistic because the transcripts were not sent across country or even across state, but across campus _ from the administration building to the fine arts building. Think of the cheapskate, undercharged college student the next time you complain about the price of a stamp.

Also this summer at St. Petersburg Junior College, I bought a Spanish book and accompanying workbook. At a price of nearly $75, I could have bought groceries for the next two weeks. Colleges and universities will contend that they are not making the prices and they are not receiving the money, but would it be too much to ask _ especially if the Board of Regents thinks students should start paying even more for our "mediocre" educations _ for schools to find a cheaper way to sell books? And don't suggest manufacturing _ the textbook fell apart halfway through the session.

It is even more distressing to think that the state believes its students are not paying enough, despite the abhorrent lack of fiscal responsibility at its institutions. However, it is downright galling to read an editorial in the St. Petersburg Times complaining that the education in Florida colleges and universities is "mediocre." Surely there must be some graduates of Florida schools working at this newspaper. Perhaps such "mediocre" education explains the ludicrous position that the editors have taken on this issue.

Jason Bellomo, Seminole

Safety sacrificed for dollars

Two points to consider about flying safety:

1. If and when your baggage is searched for explosives, the security employee is provided on a lowest bid basis. Existing scanners are ineffective.

2. The Federal Aviation Agency regulates the aviation industry while simultaneously promoting air travel.

The FAA's statement that advances in detection technology have not met their standards for speed and accuracy is simply not true. Cost is the issue _ and profit.

C.E. Hill, Pinellas Park

Praise for the aquarium

Bad news travels far and wide it seems, while good news often goes unreported. As far away as Hawaii, where I live, I have read reports which give the impression that the Florida Aquarium is a failure. Well, I visited Tampa recently and checked out the Florida Aquarium for myself. What a pleasant surprise! It's a wonderful experience, beautifully designed, highly educational and well maintained with healthy, well-cared-for animals.

Perhaps all the news about poor attendance and financial woes has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If all the news that people hear nationwide about the Florida Aquarium is negative, then why would they want to visit? It seems to me that Tampa should start singing the praises of its world-class aquarium so more travelers to Florida will stop by for a visit.

There are only a handful of world-class aquariums in the United States, and Tampa should feel proud to be the home of one of the best. I will certainly tell my friends to visit there when they are in Florida _ despite what they may have heard from the media.

Bruce A. Carlson, Honolulu, Hawaii

Research ignores reality

Re: CDC's gun research caught in congressional cross fire, July 14.

It would be a mistake to conclude that the National Rifle Association is trying to hide something when it objects to studies that seem to have a preordained conclusion. Nobody denies that firearms can be misused and that certain categories of persons should not own them. The problem with social science research is that it often fails to consider all of the factors and possible outcomes when trying to test a hypothesis.

For instance, it is often repeated that "guns in the home" are more dangerous to the occupants than to intruders. However, criminals, mentally ill persons, drug addicts, etc. are not all locked away safely somewhere. They generally live with other people and prey on friends and relatives. Why should anyone be surprised when a lunatic can travel from New York to California, buy a gun and then break both federal and state laws by taking it back home to commit a massacre?

Funding CDC research on ways to cut back on firearms misuse is like funding the WCTU (Women's Christian Temperance Union) to do research on ways to stop alcoholism. Both groups have a bias in favor of restrictive legislation. In the case of the latter, they had their way during Prohibition, and we learned the hard way that passing a law might make us feel good, but won't stop determined individuals from breaking it.

Leonard Martino, Tampa

Rich get richer

Re: No matter the outcome, the rich win, July 17.

Richard N. Goodwin makes a good case that rich people run the country. That may explain why Congress and presidential candidates (with the exception of Pat Buchanan) are ignoring our huge trade deficits. While most workers are hurt by trade deficits, many business owners benefit from them.

The loss of industrial jobs drives down wages, which increases profits in our remaining businesses. With unrestricted imports, entrepreneurs can lower their labor costs still more by moving their factories to low-wage countries like Mexico. Even though good jobs are getting scarce, the rich are getting richer.

Jack Gregg, Largo

Wisdom comes with age

Recently I was at the commissary at MacDill Air Force Base, talking to another retired serviceman and his wife and we started talking politics. Of course, I, as a Bob Dole supporter, was telling just why I thought he would be a good president. The lady who was sitting with me stated that Bob Dole was too old to be president. I am 74, which is older than Bob, and I don't think that I am too old to do anything. There are many men and women at that age who are able to do the work required by that office and as an example just look around and see the judges of the Supreme Court and other courts.

In the Bible the wise men proceeded to find Jesus and bring him gifts. In those days you were considered wise only after you were an elder.

Let's get with it, all of you so-called Republicans, and stick up for what is right, but first let us stick together. Stop trying to get what you want as an individual, and get together and do what is right for our country and for our party. We have two things to beat in this election: the liberal press and ourselves. We can beat Bill Clinton and the other party.

William A. Cover, Apollo Beach

Lottery as panacea

Many states already have state-run lotteries, the state of Florida among them. Why not, then, have a national lottery (sweepstakes) once or twice a year ? Sell tickets for, say, $10 each, use the monies from lottery ticket sales to apply only to income taxes and to the replacement of the Internal Revenue Service. Another idea: Have a flat tax and use the lottery monies to pay off the national debt. The IRS is not needed or wanted. Other means, as aforementioned, would surely eliminate both income taxes and the national debt.

Edmond M. Graham, New Port Richey

Teach the Holocaust

Re: The war's many horrors, letter, July 19.

I know who should be the first person compelled to take a course on the Holocaust: the letter writer, who seems to blame the death of millions of Jews on a "food shortage caused by a blockade against Germany."

She apparently never heard of the gas chambers, the medical experiments by Dr. Mengeles, the trucks with the exhaust pumped into the occupants being carried, the brutal and fatal beatings by sadistic guards, and the almost complete extinction of one religious group, which had lived peacefully in Europe for hundreds of years.

She also smears the United States for being "the only country that dropped the atomic bomb." As if Germany or Japan would not have used it if they developed it first. She doesn't mention the untold American and Allied casualties and, yes, the hundreds of thousands of Japanese casualties that were avoided by not having to invade Japan.

The only way to avoid a repetition of an educated, modern, sophisticated nation wantonly slaughtering another people due to bigotry and prejudice is to teach the story of the Holocaust to children who were too young to experience it for themselves.

Lewis M. Unterman, Treasure Island

Re: The war's many horrors, letter, July 19.

The letter writer asks why Florida students should be compelled to take a course about just one of the many things that happened in World War II: the Holocaust.

As a retired professional soldier who spent nearly all of World War II in the Philippines, as well as seven years in Vietnam, let me try to explain.

War seems to be part of the human condition, just as the food chain is part of biological existence. Civilized nations try to limit the worst aspects of war by treating it as an armed struggle between sovereign states, not as a murderous fight between tribes or races. Despite the terrible sufferings of the troops in trench warfare, this objective was largely achieved in the First World War.

When the Nazi gangsters seized control of Germany, technologically the most advanced and best-educated state in Europe, and promulgated their racial doctrine of Nordic superiority and the subhuman character of Jews and Slavs, they challenged the very basis of Western civilization. The Holocaust was not an afterthought. It was inherent in Nazi racial doctrine, plainly reported in the American press in the 1930s. The only question was whether the Nazis could be overthrown politically before the world was consumed in flames. Alas, France, Britain and America failed to stand up to Hitler despite repeated opportunities and total war was the consequence.

Japan was a militaristic nation with concepts such as emperor worship and a willingness to die for the state, quite unlike those of Western people. Having fought the Japanese and been their prisoner, however, I never felt that they were warring on civilization as the Nazis were. Like most soldiers, I was relieved that the atomic bomb forced Japan to surrender. Until then, I had thought that it would take until 1947 to conquer their home islands, and that it might cost one-half million American dead and millions of Japanese dead.

Our planet is a very small island in endless space. If we want to survive, it behooves us to treat all men decently while keeping our powder dry.

Thomas S. Jones, Clearwater

Stop the insanity

Enough is enough!

I can't believe how easily the public has accepted the overkill of advertising on television and radio. There are so many commercials on TV that it is approaching 50 percent of the viewing time on some programs.

People should be jumping mad about it. If they can't sell their products with much less advertising, then they can fold up. If it doesn't stop, I am going to cease watching TV altogether. We have to make our feelings known.

Also, the caliber of most ads make you feel like you are considered an idiot.

Come on, people, let's start screaming like the stupid ads. Stop! Stop! Stop!

John Murray, St. Petersburg

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