12/31/09

Teaneck Municipal Judge James Young Jr. Reappointed

Judge James Young Jr. (left) in 1992
One of the best known personalities in Teaneck, and always a man of good cheer. Who has not gone before the good judge at least once to plead his case for dismissal of an unmerited traffic ticket? Good luck, good Judge! From the Bergen Record:
Teaneck reappoints municipal judge
TEANECK — Municipal Judge James Young Jr. was appointed to a new three-year term this week by the Township Council.

Young, the town's second black judge, has presided over the town's municipal court since 1988. The former Hackensack assistant prosecutor spent years as a teacher and principal in the Englewood school system before becoming a lawyer.

12/30/09

Times: Better Roads and Golf Course Boost Prices of Houses in Caesarea

Our local Jewish newspaper has an upbeat feature on rising house prices in Israel, even in these difficult times:
...Over the past five years, housing prices in Caesarea, a privately owned village about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Tel Aviv, have risen 30 to 50 percent, said Chana Kristal, owner of Chana Kristal Real Estate Caesarea. The growth was spurred in part by Israel’s improved infrastructure; better roads and railroads have allowed for easier commutes from Caesarea to Tel Aviv, said Yaron Netiv, sales manager of the Caesarea Development Corporation, which manages this 6,000-resident community. Also, in May, Caesarea’s golf course reopened after being redesigned by the golf course designer Pete Dye...more...

12/29/09

Was Pope Pius XII a Friend to the Jews?

Let the Pius XII revisionism games begin.

The NY Post reports (and what better and more reliable source than the Post) the news that Pope Pius XII was really a friend to the Jews.

Seven anecdotes of questionable value and a claim that as a boy his "best friend" was a Jew, that clears these terrible rumors about Pius XII up for all of us doesn't it?

And to top it off, the reason we were so mislead to believe how bad this pope was - that was not just a misunderstanding - it was part of a KGB plot to discredit him and ruin the Catholic church ("The evidence strongly suggests...").

Written by a crusading Catholic apologist, Gary Krupp, the article in the Post ends with a question, "Were all these witnesses who lived through the war misguided?" To this we must answer yes, the few random sources Krupp gathered do not add up to a prove anything, let alone that Pius XII was a friend to the Jews. Krupp says he was, "Unfairly tarred as Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite." Take a look at the wafer thin dossier of the best  evidence there is to defend the man, linked here, and judge it for yourself.

So on the one side, there is an amateurishly assembled handful of ambiguous sources and some innuendo that Pius XII was a friend of Jews, and thus the implicit conclusion that he should be canonized in the Church (a logic that escapes me).

And on the other side yes, there are the numerous writings of credible historians and the ghosts of 6 million contrary witnesses that say Pius XII did not show heroism, that he was no saint, and that he should continue to be at least shunned and most likely condemned as the Deputy who neglected his duty to humanity.

No, we do not believe that Pius XII was a friend to the Jews.

When conservatives grow up they become liberals



When conservatives grow up they become liberals... big hat tip to Mimi for her photo archive research.

Times: Watch Out for the Happy-New-Year-Heart-Attack and Don't Get Run Over

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year.

Just watch out for that coronary and the don't get hit by that bus.

From the Times' Well Blog:
...Why the number of heart-attack deaths should surge so significantly during the holidays still is not clear, although cardiologists have some well-founded guesses. “We suspect there is often an inappropriate delay in seeking medical attention” at this time of year, says Dr. Robert A. Kloner, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, a cardiologist at Good Samaritan Hospital and the lead author of both the 2004 study of deaths in Los Angeles County and the accompanying editorial. “People ignore the pain in their chest,” perhaps because they don’t wish to disrupt the festivities or they misinterpret the ache as overindulgence, Dr. Kloner says. By the time they get to an emergency room, it’s too late to save them...more...
From the Times' Health Hazards column, "Beware the Walk Home on New Year’s Eve":
Driving and drinking don’t mix. But walking home drunk after a New Year’s Eve party can also be dangerous.

Studies have shown that more pedestrians are killed on the first day of the year than on any other day, and many of those killed have elevated blood alcohol levels.

And as Dr. Thomas J. Esposito, a trauma surgeon at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill., recently noted, many drivers are also impaired on New Year’s Eve.

“Any degree of alcohol increases the chances your judgment or coordination can be impaired, whether on New Year’s Eve or any other day,” Dr. Esposito said in an interview. “Alcohol is associated with 50 percent of the injuries we see in the emergency rooms.”

Dr. Esposito recommended that revelers who are drinking stay in one place, call a cab, or go home with a sober “designated walker.” Walking in a large group and wearing lightly colored clothing may also decrease the risk of accidents.

Is Judaism a Spandrel of Evolution?

There is a common and spreading meme that has given rise to a new discipline that we have preferred to call "evolutionary theology or e-theology."

By that we mean the writings of evolutionary scientists (generally atheists or agnostics) that seek to impute some positive evolutionary function to the pervasive human belief in God and to the universal practice of religions.

We first came across a core etheological idea in the work of Richard Dawkins. We thought it was a real chiddush, a novel insight of major cleverness. His logic is that religion is a byproduct of evolution through natural selection. Humans who have a belief in God are "fitter" versions of the species. Religion enables greater social cohesion, solace in times of loss, stimulation to cohere in battle, in short all the positive benefits that sociologists have identified in religions over the past century.

This e-theological principal is one of  the most ironic ideas that we ever encountered because its purveyors assert that God does not exist, creation stories in the bible are a fantasy, humans evolved through natural selection, and the fittest of the species believe in religion!

It's such a delicious concept, that one book after another has taken up explaining how it allows atheists to write moral theology based on cultural evolution.

Here is where the concept of spandrel comes into play for some of those thinkers. A spandrel is, per Wikipedia, "...a term used in evolutionary biology to describe a phenotypic characteristic that is a byproduct of the evolution of some other character, rather than a direct product of adaptive selection." Scientists have been using the term for 30 years - and we see it as just a fancy way to say "byproduct". (Its original usage was in architeture as a descriptor of that which appears in the space between two arches or between an arch opening and its rectangular enclosure, as in the graphic above.)

In the theory at hand, it seems that evolution to a higher form of social and psychological fitness is the central product. It turns out that religious belief and practice are byproducts in the evolutionary development of humankind.

So the answer then to this post's title question is, yes, according to many evolutionary scientists, it makes perfectly good sense to say that all religion, including Judaism, is a spandrel of evolution.

12/28/09

Tzvee's Eleven Most Popular Posts of 2009

Buy ten, get one free.

Our eleven most clicked posts, by hit count, for 2009, mainly identified the Jewishness or lack thereof of celebrities, heroes and villains, with two Jewish holiday posts mixed in. Here is what our visitors were most interested in:
  1. Tim Geithner
  2.  Bernard L. Madoff
  3.  David Letterman
  4.  Quentin Tarantino
  5.  J. Ezra Merkin
  6.  Edwin Schlossberg
  7.  Kol Nidre Online
  8.  Robert Allen Stanford
  9.  Arthur Nadel
  10.  Free Haggadahs
  11.  Chesley Sullenberger

12/27/09

How Ancient Religious Bureacracies (and modern scholarship) Muffled Jewish Worship (and what we can do about it)

Here is part I of our series, "How Ancient Religious Bureacracies (and modern scholarship) Muffled Jewish Worship (and what we can do about it)."

Our work is cited in a new article in JSIJ (7-2008) by Ishay Rosen-Zvi, "Responsive Blessings and the Development of the Tannaitic Liturgical System" --ברכות הראייה והופעת המערכת הליטורגית בספרות התנאית

Rosen-Zvi summarizes the thesis that we advanced in several articles with some, but not total, accuracy on page 11 (e.g., with our name misspelled as Zehavy -- corrected below in the copied excerpt).

In our earliest work on Mishnah and Tosefta Berakhot we too validated the rabbinic amalgamation of its liturgy as a system. Rosen-Zvi endorses the apologetic in support of the rabbinic systematizing steamroller. He refers in his notes to our subsequent work where we sought to recover some characteristics of the structures of the liturgies prior to their bulldozing by the rabbis.

We are working now in new examinations at this same task from another vantage, the fruits of which will appear in forthcoming publications.

Coincidentally, Judith Shulevitz remarks in her review today in the Times of, The Faith Instinct, by Nicolas Wade, about how, "Church bureaucracies created crucial social institutions but also suppressed the more ecstatic aspects of worship, especially music, dance and trance."

We agree. We know that this suppressive process exists and, taken too far, that it stifles not only the threatening ecstatic aspects of worship but also many needed creative and imaginative aspects of that religious practice.


No question. The rabbis suppressed the independence of the elements of Jewish liturgy to minimize the dynamics of the parts in favor of a "system" of a whole.

In his current article, Rosen-Zvi merrily argues the specifics of some of the ways that they did that and in doing so, he extends them further.

Here is the part of his essay that quotes us along with the extrinsic way he smoothes over the seams that we had exposed in our articles:

צבי זהבי אף הציע בכמה מאמרים שמשנת ברכות מחברת יחד מוסדות ליטורגיים שלא זו בלבד שהם שונים בטיבם, אלא עצם מקורם בשלוש קבוצות שונות מימי הבית: ק"ש אצל הסופרים (שעל כן התורה במרכז), ברכות סעודה אצל הפרושים (המקפידים גם על אכילת חולין בטהרה) ותפילה כהנית (ולפיכך ירושלים והמקדש עומדים במוקד). ראו

T. Zahavy, ‘Three Stages in the Development of Early Rabbinic Prayer’, in: a professor et al. (eds.), From Ancient Israel to Modern Judaism, Atlanta 1989, pp. 233-265; idem, ‘The Politics of Piety: Social Conflict and the Emergence of Rabbinic Liturgy’, P.F. Bradshaw and L.A. Hoffman (eds.), The Making of Jewish and Christian Worship, Notre Dame 1991, pp. 42-68

להלן: זהבי, שלבים; זהבי, פוליטיקה; על דרכו של זהבי בחקר הליטורגיה ראו רייף, יהדות, עמ' 7. אמנם אין שחזורים אלה ורבים אחרים ממין זה יוצאים מגדר השערות בעלמא. יהיו אשר יהיו הגלגולים הקודמים, הניצנים והמבשרים של הברכות הללו, בצורתן שבמשנה (ק"ש וברכותיה, שמונה עשרה ברכות תפילה ושלוש ברכות לאחר סעודה) אלו הם חידושים תנאיים המרכיבים מערכת ליטורגית שלמה, שכל מרכיביה דומים בצורתם ובנויים כצירופי ברכות, כדלהלן. ההתעלמות של רוב רובו של המחקר הקיים על הליטורגיה הקדומה מן המבנה התנאי הייחודי של שלושת קובצי ברכות אלו יסודו במגמה הרווחת להתחקות דווקא אחר המקור הראשון, הקדום, של הליטורגיה, מגמה ששיאה בסדרת מאמריו של לואיס פינקלשטיין על הנוסחים ה'מקוריים' של ברהמ"ז, שמו"ע, ק"ש וההלל. ראו רייף, בית שני, עמ' 134 135. כאן יפים דבריו של סת' שוורץ שנאמרו אמנם במקורם על חקר בית הכנסת

“there is something disquieting in allowing narratives of origins to dominate accounts of the history of an institution or an ideological system” (S. Schwartz, Imperialism and Jewish Society, Princeton 2001, p. 215).

הדומיננטיות של 'חיפוש המקור' (גם) בחקר הליטורגיה עולה בבירור מתוך הסקירה של סאראסון, מתודות.

More to follow on this issue... stay tuned to this channel.

Yeshiva University Faces a Gay Rights Crisis

It's one year after the Madoff-Merkin crisis smited Yeshiva University. And now a big gay rights crisis has hit at the Orthodox school.

All this public tribulation. One wonders, why is God so angry at these guys?

The latest storm of fire and brimstone to rain down on the school, was provoked by an anonymous newspaper column by a gay student in The Commentator in November.

The controversy spilled over this week into a moderated public panel discussion in which several gay YU students spoke. That event instantly has become a source of much remarkable discussion in various comprehensive blogs and the video of the event is here.

YU rabbis quickly have taken to the road to do some anti-gay damage control - one hard-line rebbe spoke on the issue in Teaneck yesterday between Minchah and Maariv.

Up until now the YU policy, as set by former president Norman Lamm, has been 100% hard line anti-gay. Lamm had an instinctive approach to politics and policy. He feared the right wing Orthodox yeshivas would swoop down if he showed that YU was too liberal. He most likely was right to go with his gut. He thereby stanched to loss of YU students to the competing Yeshivas.

It's obvious that times have changed. The current president is a total outsider with little savvy of the yeshiva world or the academic world. Sadly, he has been unable to formulate a clear policy for YU in the present - though he grandly preaches to do so for its future. In such a scenario, crisis management rules the day.

So now a bit of analysis. Their new openness on the issue of gay identity, even if not accompanied by any change of policy on gay rights at the school, will cost YU some students and will gain YU some students. It would not surprise us if a few young men now dramatically announce that due to the events of late, they are leaving to go enroll in another more right wing institution.

It also would not shock us to see an uptick in applications at YU this year due to the change of atmosphere. Reconstructionist, Reform and Conservative schools have adopted open policies to gay students up to and including ordination. No doubt if the climate at YU had been different, some of the more serious students who went to other denominational seminaries and programs would have chosen to attend YU where they could have received better training in the classical texts of their religion by more learned and expert teachers.

No question that YU is today a different place then it was prior to November 1, 2009. As we suggested, we doubt that was a calculated part of the administration's grandiose grandstanding plans for the "Jewish future." It will be of interest to us to monitor how the leadership responds, now that they are forced by this unfolding crisis finally to come to grips with one important aspect of the "Jewish present."

Charlotte Observer: Is Your Charity Making Their CEO Wealthy?

That's right people. Your donation may not be helping the needy. We have noted this in the case of several Jewish charities over the past year.

So we thought it corrective to go to the most Gentile source we could find to see what they had to say. (Actually we extend a hat tip to the Bergen Record for doing that by reprinting part of this story and series in today's paper.)

The Charlotte Observer tell us, "How we did this story," as follows, "Using a Guidestar database listing compensation to more than 10,000 nonprofit executives in the Carolinas, the Observer examined top-paying charities in several categories. Reporters focused on mid-sized charities -- with budgets ranging from $2 million to $50 million - that depend on individual contributions and tax dollars. For this project, the newspaper did not focus on hospitals and universities, which tend to have larger budgets and more complex missions."

This is a sad account because it makes people who are generous and altruistic so confused.

We want to give to the poor and to worthy causes. Does that mean that we have to make these greedy CEO's wealthy in the process? We are afraid so; in many cases, the answer is a non-denominational yes...for Jewish and Gentile charities alike.
For too many nonprofits, charity starts at the top
Loose rules and scant oversight let nonprofits pay huge salaries. Some Carolinas CEOs reap the rewards.
By Ames Alexander

In Cornelius, a nonprofit set up to help people in debt paid its chief executive more than $5 million - nearly everything it had.

In Anson County, a charity that worked to keep troubled children in school paid its leader about $300,000 a year, roughly twice as much as the county superintendent of schools.

In Spartanburg, a nonprofit religious broadcaster paid its president and her husband nearly $800,000 - a third of the organization's budget.

On paper, federal law prohibits charities from awarding excessive compensation to their leaders.

But in practice, loopholes and understaffed regulators allow nonprofits to pay almost any salary, an Observer investigation found.

"The (IRS) criteria for excessive compensation are so loose that they're virtually worthless...," says Pablo Eisenberg, a senior fellow at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. "The sky's the limit."

Regulators rarely enforce the rules that do exist. Most years, fewer than 10 of the nearly two million U.S. nonprofit leaders are penalized for receiving excessive compensation. And the IRS office that monitors nonprofits is so thinly staffed it examines just 1 percent of their returns...more...
Lot's more on this subject to read at the Observer.

12/26/09

Is the Google Calendar Jewish?

Yes, we found public Hebrew calendars that will make your Google Calendar Jewish.

To add them to your Google Calendar, select Other Calendars on the left and click on Add, then choose Add by URL and copy one from below, then click the Add Calendar button.
Copy the URL below (from the Google Help Forum 11/26/09 courtesy of a user named Ephraim):
Public Google calendar -- Hebrew date. (It excludes times, holidays, and Torah portions so that it can be used together with other calendars in various locales)
http://www.google.com/calendar/feeds/qhasa5afg633voo8j26mf1ntjs@group.calendar.google.com/public/basic
Public Google calendar -- Torah Portion.
For the Diaspora (outside Israel): http://www.google.com/calendar/feeds/olv18cdaciiflov66ah3qlkntk@group.calendar.google.com/public/basic
For Israel: http://www.google.com/calendar/feeds/tuojqh14bvmhomns7dod9fqci8@group.calendar.google.com/public/basic
Public Google calendar -- Daf Yomi.
http://www.google.com/calendar/feeds/v5bvdts4vlfhd2dfgdairv9t94@group.calendar.google.com/public/basic

12/25/09

Is James Cameron's film Avatar Jewish?



No, there is nothing Jewish about James Cameron's film Avatar.

This blogger just saw the film in IMAX 3D at Garden State Plaza at 9 AM. It left us speechless. All we could say on exiting the theater was, WOW! We just cannot recall any film that comes close to equaling this one in its creativity and drama. It is movie entertainment at its most extravagant, elegant and artistic. WOW! is really all that needs to be said.

Now some may argue that calling the indigenous people in the film, the Navi, hearkens back to the biblical prophets (Navi is Hebrew for prophet). But that's not a credible point. The Navi in the film are pagans in the purest sense. Their religious activity and prayer in the film is clearly pagan, as is their attachment to their planet.

Others may argue that the mother tree at the center of the story recalls the trees in the biblical Garden of Eden narrative in Genesis. It didn't do that for us. Sometimes a tree is just a pagan Hollywood tree.

The clear symbolic theme in the film is of the struggle of industrial greed and military might against human society and the purity of nature. Cameron does get epic but he does not get apocalyptic in his portrayal of this battle.

Books will be written about this film. PhD's will be earned just analyzing strands and elements of its brilliance.

It is a masterpiece of story, of animation and of 3D. WOW!

12/24/09

The Rabbi Leib Tropper Scandal - Most-Hollywood-Worthy of the Year

In a year in which we were beset with scandals in the Jewish community, this one is the most serious of all.

Here we have a rabbi, not in name alone, not on the periphery, not just bribing public officials for fun and profit, but working at ripping out the heart of the Orthodox movement.

Let us introduce you to Rabbi Leib Tropper.

Here we have a rabbi who insisted on the highest standards ever enforced for conversion to Judaism. He presented himself as a guardian of the purity and the sanctity of the People of Israel. He was head of the conversion organization, ironically called, Eternal Jewish Family.

Do you want to become an authentic Jew, accepted by all forms of Judaism? Then you must follow my standards, the rabbi said.

Here you have a rabbi whose activities caused international consternation - as he challenged and invalidated the conversions of other rabbis.

And now it turns out that here you have a rabbi who was in the business of converting Jews not for the sake of the sanctity of Judaism and the holiness of the Jewish people.

He was in it for the sex and the money. Now that is a scandal of biblical proportions. Even more, that is a story truly worthy of Hollywood.

Here you have a story that is a natural for a Law and Order TV series episode, maybe titled, "Exceptional Jewish Fraud" - ripped from headlines like this strange one in the Forward.
Advocate of Strict Conversions in Sexual Scandal
By Josh Nathan-Kazis

A key proponent of the successful campaign for stricter conversions in Israel and around the world has resigned from a senior post, and has not denied rumors of a conversion scandal of his own.

Rabbi Leib Tropper, a founder of the hard-line conversion group Eternal Jewish Family (EJF), announced that he had stepped down as its leader when allegations surfaced in news outlets that he had engaged in sexual misconduct with a woman while guiding her conversion. Tropper was among those responsible for major policy changes by the Israeli rabbinate that sparked a worldwide tightening of conversion regulations.

In a statement issued December 23 to the Forward, Tropper’s representatives said he “wishes to express his regret for the turmoil caused by his departure… and for what has appeared to be conduct not within our significant laws of modesty.”

“He was a big player in trying to make the conversion standards more extreme,” said Mark Angel, the modern Orthodox rabbi who founded the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, which opposed Tropper’s reforms.

Now, in an ironic twist, the rabbi whose organization questioned the legitimacy of conversions performed by others has had his own conversions called into question. On December 21, the Rabbinical Council of America, the mostly Modern Orthodox rabbinic association, issued a statement in response to the scandal. “What we have heard, if true, violates the fundamental elements of all that Judaism holds sacred,” the statement read. EJF has been involved in conversions since its founding, in 2005.

The allegations of sexual misconduct against Tropper, reported first on the Web site FailedMessiah.com, cite leaked, unauthenticated audio and video recordings in which Tropper apparently discusses orchestrating sexual encounters between an unidentified woman undergoing a conversion and other men. These allegations were also reported in the New York Post...more...

12/23/09

Is the Mercedes Benz Automobile Jewish?


Automobiles may be worshiped by some people with a sort of religious zeal. But they do not have religions of their own.

Now, it appears that this car model was named for a Jewish girl.

A friend has sent us information that the Mercédès car was named for Mercédès, daughter of Emil Jellinek, an entrepreneur and automaker, son of Rabbi Adolf Jellinek, nineteenth-century scholar in the so-called Wissenschaft des Judentums. Emil, "Convinced his colleagues at Daimler to name their new automobile after his daughter Mercédès."

[In the 60s, my dad wanted to buy a gorgeous classic 1953 Mercédès - like the one pictured - but my mom would not let him - more because it was a 15 year old car and not that it was a German auto.]

//Hat tip to David Sarna conveying the Mercédès information from Menachem Butler.//

Is David Beckham Jewish?


David Beckham at his grandfather's Funeral

It is possible that soccer great David Beckham is a Jew. Clearly, his grandfather was. TheJC reported,
In his first autobiography My World, Beckham talked about how his grandfather’s Judaism had influenced him, saying: "I've probably had more contact with Judaism than with any other religion."

"I used to wear the traditional Jewish skullcaps when I was younger, and I also went along to some Jewish weddings with my grandfather."
So if his grandmother was a Jew, then his mother Sandra is, and so is David.

Picture from Bangitout via Yitz

Good-bye to you old Halakhic-Man

In its blurb, Halakhic Man by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik is described as, "A profound excursion into religious psychology and phenomenology; a pioneering attempt at a philosophy of halakhah; and a stringent critique of mysticism and romantic religion. Exuding intellectual sophistication and touching upon issues fundamental to religious life, Rabbi Soloveitchik's exploration seeks to explain the inner world of the talmudist - or, as he is referred to here, halakhic man -- in terms drawn from Western culture."

The book starts with a discussion of cognitive man contrasted with religious man (Homo Religiosus). Neither of these should be confused with Halakhic man who is called, “the master of talmudic dialectics” (p. 5). Sadly, a search via Amazon's Look Inside tells us that the Rav never comes back in this book to use either the term “talmudic” or “dialectics”.

So we recall a passage from Melville's Billy Budd (p. 7), where we are told of the protagonist, "Then making a salutation as to the ship herself, 'And good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man.'”

We say, good-bye to you old Halakhic-Man. And why? Because in the end the Rav does not, "explain the inner world of the Talmudist." He certainly knew the talmud, but surely does not talk about the corpus in any comprehensive or representative manner. He selects things talmudic to paint a picture of a "highly personal vision."

The Rav commits a succession of mis-steps in this book, seeking to be "profound" and in "exuding... sophistication" and in claiming to address the "issues fundamental to religious life."

In fact, we have eschewed the Rav's category formation in this blog from day one. What we do here is to apply the categorical conceptual model of what we might have called "Talmudic-Man" on a wide range of data from our contemporary world.

But we seek never to be profound, sophisticated or fundamental because those are not the underpinnings of talmudic living - as we see it. And dear readers, feel free to disagree -- for that is the prime directive of talmudic discourse.

Talmudic-Man does apply dialectics and does roam for his content across the broad spectrum of human experience, far and near. At least that is what we found in the talmud that we studied.

And that is what we try to do here.

Should Popes be made into Saints?

There will be controversy about every move by the Vatican to make Pope Pius XII a saint. The discussion should be conducted in a substantive manner within the Vatican on the criteria that exist for this process. We Jews ought to have input - if letters of recommendation from outsiders are taken into account in the "sainthood" evaluation.

We suspect such input is not officially welcomed. Catholics ask other Catholics who to make a Catholic saint.

We sure can and should express our outsider's opinion that Pius XII was not a hero because of his refusal to condemn Hitler and in his non-existent opposition to Holocaust.

From our talmudic vantage we see a deeper problem for the church.

We all know that by definition a pope is a political appointee, not chosen for his distinctive inherent saintliness, but on the basis of other and more complex criteria. Accordingly, even to consider a pope for sainthood creates a category confusion. To an objective outsider, one who is a great political leader in the church is not to be confused with one who is a great religious saint.

Plainly put our common sense tells us that if the pope is good at politics, that means by definition that he is  no saint.

Now Catholics will disagree and say that being a good pope is exactly what they mean by being a saintly person. We just don't buy that kind of muddled thinking.

We think that by rule no pope should ever be considered for sainthood. It's a category and archetype confusion of serious magnitude. The archetypal saint is a person who is a pure and elevated homo religiosus, a person of miracles, and not a political animal and a maker of deals.

If they insist that a pope can be a saint, then the only real solution for Catholics is to create another category of saint - a "papal saint." That way their other saintly saints will not be subjected to the papal taint and its concomitant controversy.
Vatican says steps to sainthood for Pope Pius XII are not anti-Jewish

The Vatican, fighting a public backlash from some Jewish groups, says the pope's decision to move controversial Pope Pius XII closer to sainthood is not an act of hostility toward Jews...more...

12/20/09

Invention of the Week: Digital Synagogue Memorial Plaques

We were in a TV store recently and we got shelf-shock from the sheer variety of 42 inch and bigger digital displays at prices that went down by more than 50% in some cases in the past year.

What does this video technology advance and price point mean for society? Is it good for the Jews?

One Israeli company has answered that question with their product line of Digital Memorial Plaques for synagogues.

It's so obvious that this is a good invention, there is no need for us to even spell out why. Here is what the Tel Aviv company says on its site. They even provide rabbinic endorsements....
לוחות הנצחה אלקטרוניים

‘זיכרון חי’ הוא לוח הנצחה וזיכרון דיגיטלי המנוהל על ידי מחשב המעלה לכותרת הלוח את שמות הנפטרים ביום הזיכרון שלהם, בהדגשה יתרה ובאופן אוטומטי. הכוונה להחליף את לוחות הזיכרון הסטטיים הקבועים בבתי הכנסת היום. במתקן הזיכרון החדיש, שגודלו כ - 70 ס”מ גובה ו-100 ס”מ רוחב "42 ואו "50 אינטש בגדלים של עד 123 ס"מ ( מטר ו - 23 ס"מ), במתקן המוצע הוכנסו שכלולים טכנולוגיים המתאימים את לוח הזיכרון לתקופתנו.

אנו מתכבדים להציג בפניכם מערכת חדשנית להנצחת שמות הנפטרים שהלכו לעולמם. באמצעות לוח הנצחה דיגיטלי של “זיכרון חי”. המערכת פותחת בפני באי בית הכנסת את האפשרות להתעדכן במועד יום הזיכרון של כל נפטר המופיע בלוח הזיכרון. המערכת החדשנית, שפותחה בעמל רב וביראת שמים, מאפשרת לגבאי בית הכנסת לנהל את מכירת שלטי הזיכרון בצורה פשוטה וידידותית כפי שנסביר בהמשך. לנגד עיננו עומדת מטרה קדושה והיא הנצחת יקירינו ההולכים לעולמם ואשר עם השנים, מטעמים אלה ואחרים, אנו פוגעים בכבודם שלא במתכוון, בכך שאנו שוכחים להתייחד עם זכרם במועד הפטירה.

לצערנו ישנם כאלה הנוטים לשכוח ימי זיכרון למקורבים ולרחוקים והדבר גורם לבושת פנים ותסכול רב. ‘זיכרון- חי’ היא מערכת המתריעה על מועד יום הזיכרון של כל נפטר ומראש, ההתרעה תוצג מספר ימים קודם ליום הזיכרון ועד למועד שבו יחול יום הזיכרון בפועל . המערכת החדשה מאפשרת בעזרת לוח ההנצחה הדיגיטלי, להוסיף שמות נפטרים ללא הגבלה ובאופן מיידי וקל במיוחד, (ללא תלות בגורם חיצוני המצריך חריטה והדבקה על הלוח המסורתי).
המערכת הוצגה בפני רבנים ידועים ואלה הביעו התפעלות רבה מעצם הרעיון והיוזמה לפיתוח המערכת ואף נתנו את ברכתם (בע”פ ובכתב).

בברכת הצלחה וברכה.
‘זיכרון חי’ בע”מ
לוח הנצחה וזיכרון דיגיטלי.

Hat tip to Rav Billy. Keep those business ideas coming.

12/19/09

Is Rachel Uchitel Jewish?

Yes, Tiger Woods' girlfriend, Rachel Uchitel is a Jew.

The Hollywood Jew Blog reports:
Uchitel, 34, is the granddaughter of Maurice Uchitel, a Jewish immigrant from Ukraine who parlayed a successful business in women’s shoulder pads into ownership of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami and the El Morocco nightclub, Manhattan’s society hotspot in the 1930 and 1950s.

Is Robert P. George Jewish?

No. Robert P. George, a Princeton University professor of jurisprudence and a Roman Catholic who is this country’s most influential conservative Christian thinker, is not a Jew.

According to the article by DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, "The Conservative-Christian Big Thinker," in the Times Magazine, George's wife Cindy is Jewish.
...George’s left-leaning colleagues say he is unfailingly polite and even helpful. He co-teaches­ a great-books seminar with the African-American scholar Cornel West, who told me he thinks of George as “just a nice brother.” George and his wife, Cindy, who is Jewish, socialize with liberal professors. But his relationships with other Catholic scholars are sometimes more contentious, especially about politics...

Pope Asserts Ownership and Control of His Copyright and Brand

We applaud the Pope for standing up to protect his copyright. We know how much aggravation the Pope must feel when he sees others using his intellectual property without attribution, or worse, infringing on his brand.

And yet, we see this no-context-mode of a blanket declaration by the Vatican, without reference to any specific violations that provoked it, to be inviting humorous responses. And so we begin by saying, we hold the truth to be self-evident that the Pope was endowed with certain unalienable copyrights...
Holy See declares unique copyright on Papal figure
Vatican City, Dec 19, 2009 / 12:23 pm (CNA).- The Vatican made a declaration on the protection of the figure of the Pope on Saturday morning. The statement seeks to establish and safeguard the name, image and any symbols of the Pope as being expressly for official use of the Holy See unless otherwise authorized.

The statement cited a "great increase of affection and esteem for the person of the Holy Father" in recent years as contributing to a desire to use the Pontiff's name for all manner of educational and cultural institutions, civic groups and foundations.

Due to this demand, the Vatican has felt it necessary to declare that "it alone has the right to ensure the respect due to the Successors of Peter, and therefore, to protect the figure and personal identity of the Pope from the unauthorized use of his name and/or the papal coat of arms for ends and activities which have little or nothing to do with the Catholic Church."

The declaration alludes to attempts to use ecclesiastical or pontifical symbols and logos to "attribute credibility and authority to initiatives" as another reason to establish their “copyright” on the Holy Father's name, picture and coat of arms.

"Consequently, the use of anything referring directly to the person or office of the Supreme Pontiff... and/or the use of the title 'Pontifical,' must receive previous and express authorization from the Holy See," concluded the message released to the press.
Hat tip to Sarx

12/18/09

StarTribune: St. John's Returns Petters' Tainted Donations

If you want to preach morality, you must practice it impeccably. The Catholics at St. John's University in Collegeville Minnesota have acted in a way that sets the standard for religious institutions in an era of financial corruption. We are impressed.
St. John's Abbey monks drop Petters name from pavilion, will return $2M
PAUL WALSH, Star Tribune

The unhitching of the disgraced Petters name and his money from various locales continues.

The latest reversal of fortune -- in this case $2 million -- came when the monks of Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., voted Tuesday to return the gift from the Thomas J. Petters Family Foundation for construction of the Petters Pavilion, the order announced.

The Petters name will also be removed, the monks decided. A new name for the facility, which was completed in May 2007, has yet to be determined.

The donation by Wayzata businessman Tom Petters, convicted Dec. 2 by a federal jury of orchestrating a $3 billion Ponzi scheme, was made in honor of his parents, Fred and Rosemary. The Abbey Church is where his parents have worshipped.

The abbey said it is currently negotiating the terms for how the money will be returned.

12/17/09

Times: Reform Buddhism on the UWS of Manhattan

Not to worry. We are not converting to Reform Buddhism or any other Reform type of relgion.

In 2006 we read about Buddhism With a New Mind-Set - in the New York Times:

"Western spiritual seekers who have focused on meditation have fueled a remarkable growth in Buddhist practice in the United States. So what to do if you are part of an ancient Buddhist tradition that is huge in Asia but has failed to catch on in the United States, in part because it has no real place for meditation?"

The Times reported that Rev. T. Kenjitsu Nakagaki (they call a monk a reverend) has added meditation to his Pure Land Buddhist service in his Upper West Side NY Buddhist Church (they call a Temple a Church). If this sounds vaguely reminiscent of the Reform Judaism, or at least of assimilationist Judaism, reporter Luo makes the comparison more explicit.

"In some ways, the story line is familiar. Religious traditions have long adapted to fit changing cultural circumstances. Consider how Hanukkah, a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish religious calendar, has leaped in importance among many Jews in the face of the crush of attention surrounding Christmas in this country. But while Zen and Tibetan Buddhism — the Buddhist forms that have largely driven the religion's surge among Western practitioners — focus on meditative practices as a way to achieve enlightenment, Shin Buddhism, the Pure Land school that the Buddhist Churches of America embraces, teaches that meditation is ultimately useless because of the inherent human limitations."

Finding this Pure American "give-the-people-what-they-want" philosophy in Buddhism is jarring but not surprising. After all this is the Upper West Side - where women study Talmud and Pure Land Buddhists practice meditation. Wow. Anything goes. //repost from 6/13/06//

12/16/09

Jewish Press: How Archaeology Boosted Jewish Nationalism



By: Yitzhak Zahavy

Collectors have long recognized that Israel uses archaeology on stamps, coins and currency to advance its political and nationalist goals. Actually, while archaeology in recent years has declined as a mechanism that helps shape Israeli national identity, it has, at the same time, grown both as a discipline and in the way it is practiced in Israel.

My new book illustrates this pervasive early use and recent decline and sheds light on how archaeology found its way - through stamps, coins and currency - into the daily lives of Israelis.

In the summer of 1997 I came to Israel to participate in the first season of excavations at Tel Rehov with Professor Amichai Mazar. Two years later I began studying archaeology with Professor Israel Finkelstein at Tel Aviv University's Institute of Archaeology. During my studies at Tel Aviv University I participated as an excavator, assistant registrar, assistant area supervisor and area supervisor in a number of archaeological excavations including Tel Yaffo and Tel Megiddo.

While studying in Tel Aviv I benefited from the excellent archaeological methods and practices taught by the professors, as well as the theoretical or non-practical seminars they offered.

One of these seminars was Dr. David Ilan's "Archaeology and the Public." This seminar came for me at a perfect time in my education. I had taken a number of the theoretical classes and found them interesting and intellectually challenging. But I had a hard time making the connection from theory to what archaeology means for the average person.

I would ask myself: How can I explain the importance of archaeology; why is archaeology important and what is its connection to everyday life? Dr. Ilan's seminar helped me find the answer.

That answer inhered in everyday objects such as stamps, coins and banknotes.

My book demonstrates some aspects of how and why symbols and motifs from archaeology have made their way onto everyday objects. It shows that archaeology has helped create a collective identity in modern Israel through the construction of a shared past.

Resurrecting the God Idea

We recommend “The Evolution of God,” by Robert Wright. It's the single most logically argued book we read in many years. Wright has read widely and has understood the scholarly insights into numerous biblical studies issues. He presents them lucidly and all within a framework of analysis that seeks to trace exactly what he promises, the evolution of an idea, a social construct, and with that the meaning and import of the development of the concept over centuries and through several cultures.

Not many writers could pull off this task. Wright does it with great skill. And he even tries to rescue God out of his historical account and construct a universal theology of sorts. We admire that attempt at resurrecting the God Idea after having parsed it into its little pieces.

 The Time's reviewer seems to like this book too.
The Religious Wars
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Just a few years ago, it seemed curious that an omniscient, omnipotent God wouldn’t smite tormentors like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. They all published best-selling books excoriating religion and practically inviting lightning bolts.

Traditionally, religious wars were fought with swords and sieges; today, they often are fought with books. And in literary circles, these battles have usually been fought at the extremes.

Fundamentalists fired volleys of Left Behind novels, in which Jesus returns to Earth to battle the Anti-Christ (whose day job was secretary general of the United Nations). Meanwhile, devout atheists built mocking Web sites like www.whydoesGodhateamputees.com. That site notes that although believers periodically credit prayer with curing cancer, God never seems to regrow lost limbs. It demands an end to divine discrimination against amputees.

12/13/09

Was Paul A. Samuelson Jewish?

Yes, the celebrated economist, the late Paul A. Samuelson, was a Jew.

The Times reports in its a brilliant obituary:
...Paul Anthony Samuelson was born on May 15, 1915 in Gary, Ind., the son of Frank Samuelson, a pharmacist, and the former Ella Lipton. His family, he said, was “made up of upwardly mobile Jewish immigrants from Poland who had prospered considerably in World War I, because Gary was a brand new steel town when my family went there.”
The Times observes further,
...In 1940, Harvard offered him an instructorship, which he accepted, but a month later M.I.T. invited him to become an assistant professor.

Harvard made no attempt to keep him, even though he had by then developed an international following. Mr. Solow said of the Harvard economics department at the time: “You could be disqualified for a job if you were either smart or Jewish or Keynesian. So what chance did this smart, Jewish, Keynesian have?”

Indeed, American university life before World War II was anti-Semitic in a way that hardly seemed possible later, and Harvard, along with Yale and Princeton, was a flagrant example..

For Sure the Messiah is Coming: The Times Reviews 3 Glatt Kosher Teaneck Restaurants

It's hard not to do a double take when you see the venerable NY Times review glatt kosher restaurants. And when they are all in Teaneck, then that is nothing short of sign of the imminent coming of the messiah.
Where Glatt Kosher Restaurants Come in Many Flavors
By DAVID CORCORAN

ONE restaurant is quiet and soothingly lighted, with a high-priced menu offering sweetbreads and beef-cheek gnocchi and oat-and-dill-crusted branzino. Another is straight-ahead Indian, with first-rate pakoras and rousing kebabs. A third has longhorns in its logo and serves its secret-spice-rubbed brisket only after a 14-hour sauna in a Southern Pride smoker.

Quick: What do they have in common?

Well, all three are in Teaneck. But their essential feature is one that may not occur to you until you notice that most of the male diners are wearing skullcaps.

The three — Etc. Steakhouse, Shalom Bombay and Smokey Joe’s — are all kosher restaurants. And not just kosher, glatt kosher — which technically has to do with lesions on the lungs of the animals used for meat, but is often used by restaurants to indicate extra-strictness...more...

12/12/09

Hebrewbooks.org has digitized Rabbi Saul Lieberman - שאול ליברמן

We have mixed feelings about the legacy of Professor Saul Lieberman. On the one hand, many literate Talmudists venerate his work and consider him a genius of the past generation.

On the other hand, a review, attributed to Lieberman and published after his death, committed a grievous act of unmitigated disrespect to the work of one of my teachers. Alas, diatribes do not expire after a set time, unlike copyrights.

We assume the JTS copyrights to these works have lapsed and that leaves them in the public domain. We hope and trust that the Lubavitch Hasidim who run hebrewbooks.org have confirmed their rights to post all of their digital versions, since the physical books are still being sold by JTS. 

"Who owns the rights to digital editions?" is a hot topic of debate now if we judge from the article on the front page of today's Times, "Legal Battles Over E-Book Rights to Older Books" by MOTOKO RICH.

Hebrewbooks.org is a mighty useful Talmudic resource. Here are their links to some Lieberman books:
 על הירושלמי

ירושלים
תרפט
 תוספת ראשונים-חלק ראשון

ירושלים
תרצז
 תוספת ראשונים-חלק רביעי

ירושלים
תרצט
 תוספת ראשונים-חלק שלישי

ירושלים
תרצט
 תוספת ראשונים-חלק שני

ירושלים
תרצז
 תוספתא כפשוטה על סדר זרעים

נ.י.
תשטו
 תוספתא כפשוטה על סדר מועד

נ.י.
תשטו
 תוספתא כפשוטה על סדר נשים-חלק א

נ.י.
תשטו
 תוספתא כפשוטה על סדר נשים-חלק ב

נ.י.
תשטו
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק א-זרעים ח”א

נ.י.
תשטו
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ב-זרעים ח”ב

נ.י.
תשטו
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ג-מועד ח”א

נ.י.
תשכב
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ד-מועד ח”ב

נ.י.
תשכב
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ה-מועד ח”ג

נ.י.
תשכב
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ו-נשים ח”א

נ.י.
תשכז
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ז-נשים ח”ב

נ.י.
תשכז
 תוספתא כפשוטה-חלק ח-נשים ח”ג

נ.י.
תשלג

PS: The most comprehensive Tosefta site (yes there is one) is Tosefta Online, which links to these and many more Tosefta resources.

Note Well: Many of the questions about the nature of Tosefta and its relationship to Mishnah were thoroughly researched and resolved in published works that are not referenced on that site - specifically e.g., our own monograph, The Mishnaic Law of Blessings and Prayers: Tractate Berakhot, republished as, Part One: Mishnah-Tosefta Berakhot in The Law of Agriculture in the Mishnah and the Tosefta: Translation, Commentary, Theology. Handbook of Oriental Studies. Section 1, the Ancient near East. Brill Academic Pub, 2005.

What is Hanukkah?

As the Talmud asks, What is Hanukkah?

David Brooks in the Times gives the holiday some sort of odd spin (pun intentional) as if it was an allegorical foreshadowing of the politics of our times.

If you are wondering what is the official meaning of Hanukkah as presented in our Jewish liturgy, here is the text we insert for the holiday, no spin added,
And [we thank You] for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds, for the saving acts, and for the wonders which You have wrought for our ancestors in those days, at this time.

In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanan the High Priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget Your Torah and violate the decrees of Your will.
But You, in Your abounding mercies, stood by them in the time of their distress. You waged their battles, defended their rights, and avenged the wrong done to them. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the wanton sinners into the hands of those who occupy themselves with Your Torah.

You made a great and holy name for Yourself in Your world, and effected a great deliverance and redemption for Your people Israel to this very day. Then Your children entered the shrine of Your House, cleansed Your Temple, purified Your Sanctuary, kindled lights in Your holy courtyards, and instituted these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and praise to Your great Name.

Times: Students have Sex with Rabbi Haskell Lookstein

Nothing for us to add to what the Times reports, "For the last 23 years, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein has taught Jewish Sexual Ethics to every 10th grader to pass through Ramaz, a Modern Orthodox institution in Manhattan."
In a Manhattan Classroom, Judaism Meets the Facts of Life
By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

Nearing his ninth decade, formal in vested suit and cufflinks, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein strode purposefully into a classroom of Ramaz High School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side one recent Monday afternoon. He checked the presence and location of his 18 students against a seating chart. He chided one for arriving moments late.

Then he led off the discussion of the homework assignment. It consisted of an article from the national Jewish newspaper, The Forward, about a married couple who participate avidly in both synagogue and swinging. “Aren’t these people just being honest?” Rabbi Lookstein asked. Five or six hands immediately shot up.

So began another day in Jewish Sexual Ethics, the course better known around Ramaz, even to its teacher, as “Sex With the Rabbi.” For the last 23 years, since Rabbi Lookstein devised the class, he has taught it to every 10th grader to pass through Ramaz, a Modern Orthodox institution combining rigorous secular and religious curriculums.

“This is one of the most favorite things I do in the world,” Rabbi Lookstein, 77, said in a recent interview. “I love the interaction with students — and being able to open their eyes to the way in which Judaism approaches the basic facts of life.”

Over the span of 18 sessions, Rabbi Lookstein covers topics from infidelity to abortion, same-sex marriage to religious divorce, as well as the Jewish laws dictating family purity, or taharat hamishpacha. The readings range from newspaper articles to theological essays, and the discussion in the classroom is unrestrained.

Once, that is, the students get over the initial shock of listening to a gray-haired authority figure talk about menstruation or homosexuality or spouse-swapping. The slang name for the course plays on the incongruity...more...

12/10/09

Is Senator Orrin Hatch Jewish?



No. Everyone knows that Senator Orrin Hatch is not a Jew. He is a member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- a Mormon -- for heaven's sake.

Tablet e-zine informs us that he has written a new Hanukkah song.

Hey Tablet. So you want to be a "New Read on Jewish Life"? OK we guess, whatever that means.

This is the reaction that you publish to your big deal article on a Hanukkah Song by Mormon Senator Hatch. And a story about how there was no good song for Hanukkah and the dramatic unfolding of this mythic tale...

Biggest clicking day on the Jewish Internet and that's the main "New Read on Jewish Life" holiday message you got for us?

Oy - a waste - you have not done good.

12/8/09

Is the JooJoo Jewish?

A new tablet computer that was called in its development phase the CrunchPad is now the called the JooJoo.

No, the JooJoo is not Jewish because (a) except for the two that Moses got, tablets do not have religions and (b) this gadget was supposed to sell for $200 when it was first announced and now it will be sold for $499 - a real un-discount - not Jewish at all.

Still it sounds like a cool invention, as PC World reports:
The CrunchPad is now the JooJoo
Ian Paul

The fate of the once-named CrunchPad has been decided: The device will be coming to market by the end of the week under the name JooJoo. Fusion Garage -- the onetime manufacturing partner with TechCrunch -- held a video call for reporters and analysts Monday morning led by CEO Chandra Rathakrishnan, and announced his company's intent to move ahead without TechCrunch and bring the JooJoo to market.

Rathakrishnan claims his company has every legal right to do launch the JooJoo itself, and disputes TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington's previous claims that intellectual property rights for JooJoo are shared between Fusion Garage and TechCrunch. The JooJoo will be available for pre-order beginning Friday, December 11 for $499 at theJooJoo.com. JooJoo is an African term meaning "magical," according to Rathakrishnan.

The JooJoo is a tablet device, with a 12.1-inch capacitive touchscreen that can display in both portrait and landscape mode. The device has only one button (the power button); all other controls are touch-based. For text entry, the JooJoo has an on-screen keyboard that can disappear when not in use. The JooJoo uses gestures (such as swipe) for navigation, and they'll likely be the same as what we saw earlier this year.
The device has Wi-Fi connectivity, and a Unix-based operating system that boots directly into the browser much like Google Chrome OS does. Fusion Garage claims it can render full HD video, but Rathakrishnan did not specify if that meant 720p or 1080p resolution...more...

12/7/09

David E. Y. Sarna - Guest Blog: The Bostoner Rebbe – A Quiet Revolutionary

REMEMBRANCES: Grand Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz (1921 - 2009)
The Bostoner Rebbe – A Quiet Revolutionary

Grand Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz, America’s first US-born Hassidic Rebbi died on Saturday. He served his congregants for 66 years, in Boston since assuming his father’s mantle at Congregation Beth Pinchas  in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1943 and since 1999 in Har Nof, Jerusalem, Israel as well.
Fervently Orthodox, and the descendant of the Hasidic dynasty which traces its origins to Rabbi Dovid (1746-1814) of Lelów, Poland, he was an unlikely revolutionary.
Bostoner_Rebbe_at_Koissel.jpgI was privileged to know him since 1965. His passing, after an illness of several months, brought back to me a flood of memories.
He had a long string of “firsts.”
He was the first to make a primary thrust of his Rabbinate the Boston area's large number of college students, many of whom were away from home for the first time. He turned his own home into a virtual hotel, filling it to capacity (and beyond) hosting college students for weekends, and training his congregants to do likewise. Many had tried to dissuade him, saying that Hasidism and college did not and could not mix, but the Rebbe persevered and was personally responsible for returning thousands of students at Brandeis University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts and the Boston areas’s other famous universities to their Jewish roots.

12/6/09

About Bad Book Covers, Bad Books and Bad Authors


If you ever bought a book just because of its cover or if you ever did not buy or read a book because of its cover, and who hasn't, you must read Joe Queenan's back page essay in today's Times Book Review. It is funny.

And we think you can tell a lot about a book and its author by what he puts on the cover. It can ruin or make a book and sometimes ruin or make a relationship.

The adage ought to be revised and lengthened.

You can tell about a book and its author by its cover. It's just that a book is not identical to its cover and a cover does not tell us everything about the integrity of a book's author.

The essay...

12/5/09

Six People You Meet in Synagogue

I got a call in August (2009) from the dean at the Jewish Theological Seminary inviting me to teach a liturgy course at the school. He was confident that I was qualified and prepared to do this because he knew my published work in the field. I was not so sure because that work was written for scholars, not for theological students.

I accepted the assignment and then set out to re-purpose and refocus my previous research so that it could serve to prepare students to engage in meaningful constructive theology, not in the dispassionate history of religions.

The result – instead of teaching my abstract speculations about the origins of prayer in this or that presumed social milieu of a distant time and place, I created a new framework of present and personal entities. I taught that davening originates in a timeless minyan of archetypes. My students were able to leave behind some echoes of a positive historical vision of Judaism and were quick to accept a clear and vivid, present and personal liturgical reality.

I've started writing up the course for publication and presentation in a variety of media and venues.

I've given the project a working title, "Six People You Meet in Synagogue."

In this regard I apologize to and thank the writer Mitch Albom. This project's title is a play on that of his inspiring book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, (New York, 2003) though my content bears no similarity to that work.

I do owe a debt to him for his subsequent and current work, Have a Little Faith, (New York, 2009) which confirms my esteem for what I call the seventh archetype, the community organizer.

In a narrative with archetypal impact, Albom reverentially describes in this book how two heroic characters, Rabbi Al Lewis in South Jersey and Reverend Henry Covington in Detroit, sustained and inspired their respective faith communities.

You will find a community organizer in every liturgical culture. He may come from the ranks of the laity or from the clergy. That person will rarely get formal recognition. In the synagogue, a single Sabbath prayer asks for a blessing for him from God, “May he bless those who unite to form synagogues for prayer … and all who faithfully occupy themselves with the needs of the community (Koren, p. 518).”

The Talmud Yerushalmi in its own idiom, praises the sanctity of this work:
R. Jeremiah said, “He who is involved with communal needs is like one who is involved in the study of words of Torah.” [By stipulation, he has the suitable disposition out of the context of his activities to go ahead and engage in prayer.] (Y. Berakhot, Chapter 5, Mishnah 1).

The task of the community organizer archetype is to facilitate the social order of the synagogue, the society out of which our liturgy comes and within which we need to address those urgent theological notions of how to conduct liturgical discourse, how to foster Jewish culture.

Speaking of synagogues, there is a powerpoint of the Acco synagogue circulating in email. It is dynamite. Get a taste of it here.

12/3/09

Bring Back the Chazan

I was happy to read in 2006 about the film, "A Cantor’s Tale".

Perhaps this film will help us bring back that lost art of cantorial singing. Alas, today, in many of our Orthodox synagogues, its stead we have DIY (do-it-yourself) davening.

That's what I call it when a non-professional leads the services at the synagogue.

In the Teaneck area that's about all you can ever expect in an Orthodox shul. It's a rare occasion when a professional chazzan, a cantor, leads the prayers.

I don't like DIY davening. First of all I don't favor it because I grew up in Manhattan where nearly all the shuls had chazanim. Hence I do know how formal davening sounds. I know how formal davening changes the character of the sanctuary. A good chazzan can create a palpable focus, a presence, a numinous, holy quality in the house of prayer.

Consequently I don't like DIY davening because of its informality. When a non-professional lay person leads the prayers, it contributes to a sense of casualness that is conducive to talking. It engenders a lack of focus that frequently leads to congregants daydreaming and engaging in idle chatter.

Worse, sometimes this background hum of conversation in the shul leads to problems for the synagogue staff. The rabbi, who should maintain his dignified leadership and stature at all times as the spiritual model for the synagogue, sometimes finds it necessary to rise up at the pulpit and berate the murmuring congregants -- as if they were schoolchildren talking during quiet time in a classroom.

The grisley details include these stories.

One local rabbi in town has gotten up in front of his flock and announced, "We welcome you all to our shul, except for the four of you who were talking during the davening."

Another rabbi once cancelled the concluding Shabbat Musaf hymn, Ayn Kelokeynu -- because there was too much talking -- and he told everyone to go home. Another time he simply told people who talk in synagogue to, "Stay home."

A third rabbi usually stands in the middle of his shul's pews as if he was a monitor in the hall, waiting to catch children misbehaving.

I feel bad for those Rabbis who berate or monitor their membership and are forced to take leave of their assigned roles to add dignity and awe to our holy rituals of prayer.

In the old days, that monitoring, when needed, was the role of the shammos. Nowadays in our DIY synagogues, that professional also seems to be absent.

Accordingly, I propose that we bring back these two professionals of the American synagogues of yore. We should bring back the chazzan to insure that a constancy of quality and a regular sense of holiness permeates our services.

I further propose that we bring back the shammos who will patrol the aisles of our shul. Then, on that rare occasion, when a congregant leans over to speak with his neighbor, the shammos will politely and privately ask him for respectful silence.
//repost from 9/8/06//

12/1/09

Tzvee's 5th Kavvanah: Writing takes precedence over blogging

Soon to be fully fleshed, we are working out the archetypes of our liturgy.

A cryptic snippet for today.

There are at least four types of kavvanah at play in the activity of the Meditator archetype in our minyan, and they are:
  • Daily mini mindfulness of the body, food, weather etc. (berakhot)
  • Full fledged Meditations of Compassion for all sentient beings (Jewish first) (birkat hamazon)
  • Scribal focus for textual presence (shema)
  • Authoritative control over all distraction (amidah)

11/30/09

JTA: Do Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky Live at the Jewish Theological Seminary?

We just got home from teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and can attest that we did not see Chelsea and her beau Marc there. But the way JTA words their story (below), that is where the couple now lives.

We suppose that we wish them a mazal tov. Will Chelsea convert? We don't really care.

Kushner-Trump now this. Do we see a new felon-shiksa pattern emerging here, i.e., Your dad goes to jail for a felony and then you marry a famous non-Jewish girl?
Chelsea Clinton to wed Jewish boyfriend
WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Chelsea Clinton is engaged to marry her Jewish boyfriend of two years.

Clinton, 29, the only daughter of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, became engaged over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to investment banker Marc Mezvinsky, 31.

Mezvinsky, who works for Goldman Sachs, is the son of former U.S. Reps. Ed Mezvinsky (D-Iowa) and Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinksy (D-Pa.). The elder Mezvinsky recently served a prison term for swindling $10 million from investors in a series of Nigerian e-mail scams. He was released in 2008.

Mezvinksy and Clinton met in Washington in 1993, and both attended Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. Clinton, a Methodist, was seen attending Yom Kippur services in September with Mezvinsky at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where they both now live.

The couple announced their engagement last Friday in a mass e-mail to friends, a Clinton spokesman said, according to media reports.

11/29/09

Talmud and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

If you haven't read Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values lately (or ever) you need to do so.

In his exploration of a metaphysics of quality, Pirsig gives clear priority to the "classical" approach to life over the "romantic" approach.

He gives preference to the notion that to understand and deal with life one needs to be a hands on mechanic and not give your responsibility to specialists and remove yourself several stages from experience, reality and responsibility.

The quality of life deepens as one is immersed directly in the maintenance of responsibilities.

Now, this philosophy has some relationship to the Talmud and to Talmudic living, we are sure. But that's not where we are heading today.

At hand, we have a book to comment on, What is Talmud: The Art of Disagreement, by Sergey Dolgopolski.

This book is about some aspects of the Talmud as filtered mainly through two media: (1) an introductory work to the Talmud by Rabbi Izhak Canpanton (d. 1463) and (2) several 20th century post-modern philosophers.

The author makes grand and sweeping claims that are way beyond the scope of his 273 page dissertation. He claims to uncover the essence of Talmud (not the Talmud) and the nature of disagreement exposed therein. He proposes that he has done this through reference to a handful of random Talmud texts and closer attention to that student's manual by Canpanton.

Now, Mr. Pirsig would not be happy to hear about this approach. Dolgopolski shows no interest in getting his hands dirty taking apart the actual engine of Talmud texts. He's given over much of the responsibility for knowing how the vehicle runs to third parties. And true, he does read the repair handbook and parse it with vigor.

But yikes, I would not claim to be able to write a book about, "What is Motorcycle" based on reading about the machines and closely examining the maintenance manual.

There is an extensive literature about Talmud out there - libraries of books - rishonim, achronim, philosophers from the middle ages to the present, apologetics, and then the scholarship of the German wissenschaft and modern academic Talmud scholarship in the US and Israel. None of that seems to be of more than passing interest to Mr. Dolgopolski.

And lest we forget, the subject of argumentation is one part of the personality of (the) Talmud. I dunno. Many of my friends know how to disagree about things. I would not proclaim that to know how they argue is to appreciate their essences.

Oh yes, one more thing. Talmud that we know, with or without the "the", is central to the definition of a religion called rabbinic Judaism. Dolgopolski cares not a whit to look at that characteristic of the corpus. He dissects a study guide and proclaims he has control of the essential knowledge of a rhetorical system, its religion omitted.

Canpanton may be quite an astute educator, perhaps even a philosopher. Yet, his voice is one of many in the history of ideas that runs through the sea of Talmudic discourse and reasoning. His may indeed be a, "radical reaffirmation of the traditional sources in terms of their authority and their rationality." But we sure don't prove that by stipulation alone.

And you know, even if the repair manual is really faithful to the machine, I still prefer to know that the man who wrote the manual and the man using it and working on my BMW -- that they have actually ridden the machine themselves and felt the wind whistling through their hair.

So if you want to read a book about a manual about (the) argumentation in the Talmud, this may be the perfect volume for you. It doesn't get much more Romantic than that.

If you want to know the Classical feel of acceleration up a mountain on a sleek well-tuned bike, you won't find that here.

11/28/09

Times: Kabbalah brought Jesus Luz and Madonna together


 Here is a celebrity and her boyfriend at a Jewish mystic's tomb in Israel. 

Now, the Times is not a gossip sheet, nor is this blog interested in such mundane matters as celebrity pairings. But if Kabbalah is involved, well that is a whole other story for us.
...Jesus Pinto na Luz, who has two younger brothers, moved frequently as a child, especially after his parents split when he was almost 5 years old.

“I grew up with many ups and downs,” he said. “I also saw the beauty of people who were living an intellectual life and also people who were humble and had nothing.”

As a teenager he pursued modeling and acting, working odd jobs, including as a salesman at a surf shop in Ipanema.

“When I was a teenager, I thought I couldn’t do nothing in my life,” he said. “I felt very hopeless. And then something started to happen.”

He studied Buddhism and yoga and an ex-girlfriend introduced him to kabbalah. “I’m just looking for something to make me strong, and kabbalah has given me that,” he said. “I’m looking for something to make me comfortable and happy in my life.”

In 2006, he spent six months in New York, living with an aunt and learning English.

When he met Madonna, also a kabbalah devotee, last December, she had been divorced from the filmmaker Guy Ritchie for one month...more, "For Madonna’s Boyfriend, Fame by Association"...