12/31/10

How to get free Siddurs for your Android phone or iPhone

Our new Android phone came with an app called Books that links to our Google Books account.

To add a Siddur to your Google Books account, simple search for:

Standard Prayer Book, Simeon Singer and add it to your book shelf.

Underneath the main link in the Related Books listings you will find links to a dozen or so other Hebrew prayer books with English, German, Dutch or Russian translations or instructions.

They can all be added for free to your Google Books account.

Then open your app on your Android or iPhone and go ahead and pray.

We have a great new Samsung Epic 4G Android phone, loving it.

Are the Owners of Triple Five Corp Ltd, the Ghermezian Brothers, Jewish?

Yes, the four Ghermezian brothers are Orthodox Jews. Eskandar, Nader, Raphael and Bahman emigrated from Iran to Edmonton Alberta Canada in the late 1950s.

We recall that they delayed the opening of the Mall of America in 1992 until after the fast day of Tisha B'Av in accord with the Jewish custom of not inaugurating a new business venture during the nine days before the fast.

The brothers have agreed now to rescue the beleaguered Xanadu development in New Jersey.

The Bergen Record reports that state senator Loretta Weinberg calls on company taking over Xanadu project to provide details on deal.

The web site Salam Worldwide reports about the family:
In their adopted home of Canada, the Ghermezian brothers -- Eskandar, Nader, Raphael and Bahman -- are figures shrouded in mystery. A fiercely private Orthodox Jewish family, they refuse to grant interviews, or to be photographed. The Encyclopedia Britannica gives few biographical facts about their father Jacob and founder of the Ghermezian real estate dynasty, other than he was born in Azerbaijan in 1902, immigrated to Canada in the late 1950s where he started out by developing a chain of Persian rug stores, and died in the year 2000. All of those who have dealt with the family describe them as hard-as-nails political and legal operators. These four Iranian natives have created one of Canada's biggest and most spectacular real estate empires through Triple Five Corp, their large asset-based financial conglomerate that consists of nearly 400 companies with offices across Canada, U.S., England, Japan, Taiwan and the Middle East.

The Ghermezian brothers boast, among other things, of having built the world’s largest shopping mall, West Edmonton Mall. Now a staggering 5.3 million square feet, the megamall features more than 800 stores, 25 sit-down restaurants, a casino, an amusement park, an indoor wave pool, a dolphin lagoon, and 26 movie screens in two theater complexes.

Since the mid-1980s, the Ghermezians have had plans to conquer the American real estate market as well. The family has done very well in Las Vegas, having become principals in at least 34 companies registered in the state. The Ghermezians also built the huge “Mall of America” in Minnesota. Since its opening, Mall of America has grown to more than 525 stores and now employs about 12,000 people. Inside the building, there are 49 restaurants, a cinema with 14 screens, and 8 night clubs. The mall has an economic impact on Minnesota of nearly $1.5 billion per year. It has become a must-see tourist attraction, with more than 270 million visitors both local and foreign since its opening. At the moment, Mall of America attracts more visitors annually than Disney World, Graceland, and the Grand Canyon combined, which makes it the country's most visited destination for U.S. travelers.

12/30/10

JTA Conned by Artscroll

It's amazing to us to see the simplistic public relations machine at Artscroll con the supposedly sophisticated Jewish Telegraphic Agency, who by the way has sent us dozens of appeals for donations this week, what is that all about? Is JTA a charity or is it a business?

The JTA lets Artscroll write its news story for them. And they write as if there is no digital prayer book online right now for free with Hebrew and English pages, or just English or just Hebrew.

How does Sue Fishkoff not know that thousands of Hebrew books are available for free download especially at hebrewbooks.org, sponsored by Chabad?

To wit, prayerbooks for free and readable on Kindle and iPad in Hebrew and English, off the top of our head:

The answer is, Artscroll consistently misrepresents what it does in Jewish publishing.

A few years back they went to the Times and announced they had translated the Talmud into English, the first to do so since Soncino. Admirable, except untrue. They had to apologize, and the Times had to issue a retraction.

Whoops.

These guys are at it again. It's the by now the familiar Artscroll Brooklyn hustle, not really untrue, but not entirely true either.

The Siddur is digitized in lots of editions. Why does Sue Fishkoff not know that? And why does she not know that the verdict is still out on the permissibility of using Kindles on Shabbat?

Silly really. Here is what JTA announces as if it was some revelation from Sinai, or in this case, from Brooklyn. 
Siddur going digital, but not for Shabbat
By Sue Fishkoff

ArtScroll is launching digital versions of many of its popular Jewish books, but not the Sabbath or High Holidays prayer books.

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- A major publisher of Jewish books is moving into the digital age while trying to strike a balance between technology and Jewish observance.

ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, which calls itself the world’s largest Jewish publishing house, has begun digitizing the first batch of some of its 1,500 titles.

But ArtScroll’s most popular books -- its Shabbat and High Holidays prayerbooks -- will not be coming out for e-readers like the iPad and Amazon’s Kindle. The reason?

The Shabbat prohibition against using electronic devices is a major barrier.

“The vision of people coming to shul on Shabbat with their e-siddur just doesn’t cut it,” Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, president of the Orthodox-run publishing house, told JTA.

There are other reasons, too -- notably a lag in technology. Amazon’s Kindle is not yet equipped to present Hebrew and English texts on facing pages, which the prayerbooks require, and the iPad’s capability to do so is “quite limited,” according to Zlotowitz... more ...
OMG Zlotowitz has decided that the iPad is "quite limited"?

Steve Jobs, start selling your stock!

Update: Sue Fishkoff called us and updated the JTA article based on what we discussed. Nice.

12/29/10

Times' Stanley Fish: Coen Brothers' True Grit and Religion

The Coen brothers know a lot about religion. We used to see them on occasion when they were young (or maybe it was just their parents talking about them) at our Orthodox synagogue in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. So yes, the Coen brothers are Jewish.

So it is not surprising to read that their current film conveys religious messages, that they are sensitive to the themes of faith in the book that is the basis for their remake of the film True Grit. Apparently, the book, Charles Portis’s novel, is in some respects a religious story and the film that the Coens make is in turn a story of faith.

From the discussion by Stanley Fish, "Narrative and the Grace of God: The New ‘True Grit’" we get the clear impression that the messages embedded in both book and resulting film are derived from mystical Christian expressions of faith, and not from Jewish beliefs. Whatever the content, the Coen brothers know and get religion and are not at all reluctant to use theology in their films, both as part of the expressed reflective thinking of their characters and in the overall results of the actions of their stories.

Fish concludes his extended discussion of the movie with this set of observations:
I watched “True Grit” twice in a single evening, not exactly happily (it’s hardly a barrel of fun), but not in revulsion, either.

The reason is that while the Coens deprive us of the heroism Gagliasso and others look for, they give us a better heroism in the person of Mattie, who maintains the confidence of her convictions even when the world continues to provide no support for them. In the end, when she is a spinster with one arm who arrives too late to see Rooster once more, she remains as judgmental, single-minded and resolute as ever. She goes forward not because she has faith in a better worldly future — her last words to us are “Time just gets away from us” — but because she has faith in the righteousness of her path, a path that is sure (because it is not hers) despite the absence of external guideposts. That is the message Iris Dement proclaims at the movie’s close when she sings “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms”: “Oh how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way / Leaning on the everlasting arms / Oh how bright the path goes from day to day / Leaning on the everlasting arms / What have I to dread what have I to fear / Leaning on the everlasting arms.”

The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.

Times: Should Adult Orthodox Men Work or Study Torah?

The Times reports on a significant Talmudic clash of cultures in Israel.

The mainstream secular culture considers it desirable and preferable for adult men to work in materially productive jobs. The Haredi Orthodox culture deems it worthy that adult men (now 60% of them) sit in Yeshivas and (ostensibly) study Torah, which they deem to be a spiritually productive occupation.

The Haredis believe that the study of Torah contributes to the welfare of the Jewish people and sustains the world in mystical ways. The secular believe that the men who sit and study are unproductive drains on the economy and society.

A Haredi rabbi in Israel now agrees with the secular critics and says that too many Orthodox men are unemployed by choice and on welfare subsidies. Most of them should be engaged in material work, he proffers. We agree with him.
Some Israelis Question Benefits for Ultra-Religious
By ISABEL KERSHNER

JERUSALEM — Chaim Amsellem was certainly not the first Parliament member to suggest that most ultra-Orthodox men should work rather than receive welfare subsidies for full-time Torah study. But when he did so last month, the nation took notice: He is a rabbi, ultra-Orthodox himself, whose outspokenness ignited a fresh, and fierce, debate about the rapid growth of the ultra-religious in Israel.

“Torah is the most important thing in the world,” Rabbi Amsellem said in an interview. But now more than 60 percent of ultra-Orthodox men in Israel do not work, compared with 15 percent in the general population, and he argued that full-time, state-financed study should be reserved for great scholars destined to become rabbis or religious judges.

“Those who are not that way inclined,” he said, “should go out and earn a living.”

In reaction, he was ousted from his own ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, whose leaders vilified him with such venom that he was assigned a bodyguard. The party newspaper printed a special supplement describing Rabbi Amsellem as “Amalek,” the biblical embodiment of all evil.

The intensity of the attacks from his own ranks appeared to underscore their own fears about a growing backlash to the privileges and subsidies long granted to the ultra-religious. The issue is not just the hundreds of millions of dollars doled out annually for seminaries and child allowances. Worry — and anger — is deepening about whether Israel can survive economically if it continues to encourage a culture of not working.

Already, there are an increasing number of programs to prod the ultra-Orthodox to join the work force and to serve out the military duties required of all other Jewish Israelis. But critics say these are not enough: Rabbi Amsellem says what is needed is nothing less than “revolution.” ...more...

12/27/10

A Wovel is 10 times easier than a snow shovel

We gave the Wovel the "Harris Epstein Award for best invention of the winter in 2007." My neighbor Henry bought one of these. Each year we say we may need to borrow it soon...
To Ingenuity Add a Shovel: Meet the Wovel
By PETER APPLEBOME

NEW CANAAN, Conn. - Like Albert Einstein, like Isaac Newton, like Thomas Edison, Mark Noonan had an idea....

The Wovel (rhymes with shovel), looks like one of those high-wheeled 19th-century bicycles incongruously transported to that pile of snow in the driveway. It relies on two simple principles of physics, the wheel and the lever, to revolutionize the humble art of shoveling snow — at least the part that hasn’t been revolutionized out of existence by the plow guy who does it for you.

For those of us who actually take pride in getting rid of snow ourselves, the Wovel really is something new. It acts as a lever using as its fulcrum the axis of a wheel three feet in diameter. A shovel blade 26 inches wide and 18 inches deep and a handle extend in opposite directions from the wheel’s hub.

Rather than bending down and using your back to lift and throw 30 pounds of snow, you simply push the snow along, as if pushing a baby carriage, and then push the handle down, throwing the snow wherever you like. Think of pushing down on a seesaw with snow on the other end.

A study at the University of Massachusetts found back strain from the Wovel is roughly akin to walking, reducing the risk of lower-back injury from shoveling snow by 85 percent. This is not insignificant in that the Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that nearly 76,000 people a year are treated for injuries from shoveling and blowing snow, not to mention the deaths from heart attacks. And it’s a way to get rid of snow without burning fossil fuel. (It’s available at the Web site Wovel.com and online from retailers like Hammacher Schlemmer and Home Depot.)

“It’s the most amazing machine,” said Richard Lechner, 53, a dentist in New Britain, Conn., who spent much of the winter cursing the blue sky and wishing for snow so he could use his new Wovel. “The most astonishing thing is that someone didn’t come up with this 50 years ago. All it is is a wheel, a handle and a snow shovel, but it makes shoveling snow at least 10 times easier.” [more]

12/26/10

Israeli Made Bullet Proof Vest

Didn't get the gift you wanted for the holidays?

On Amazon, here is a concealed BulletProof Vest Personal Body Armor, V.I.P Style Protection Level 3A, light weight, only 4.85lbs / 2.2Kg.

This is a top quality level 3A NIJ 01.01.04 with features especially designed for VIPs at risk - like the controversial Talmudic readers of our blog.

It is easily concealed under your clothes. And best of all it is made by an official supplier for the Israeli army - Hagor Industries.

This item has adjustable Velcro straps at 6 different points for easy wear and fits under any suit.

12/25/10

The Forward Has to Be Kidding: Picower "Possibly Unaware of Ponzi Scheme"

The Forward has to be kidding us when it reports in a headline, Picower "Possibly Unaware of Ponzi Scheme."

The headline reads, "In New Madoff Filings, Largest Beneficiary of Fraud Was Possibly Unaware of Ponzi Scheme."

The story is about Jeffry Picower who ended up with at least $7.2 billion from Madoff investments, money which his wife is returning to the trustee Picard.

The story tells us, "... a new filing by the trustee following his settlement with the Picower estate suggests that Picower may just have been an innocent Madoff victim after all."

A picture caption in the article reiterates, "Barbara Picower with her late husband, Jeffry, who may have been an innocent victim of Madoff."

A bit later the article gets more specific, saying that Picard wrote in his filing, “the Trustee, through his investigation, has uncovered facts which the Picowers claim show that Mr. Picower did not know of or participate in the Ponzi scheme.”

To this blogger, and we would expect, to any ordinary thinking human being, the Picowers' "claim" that they honestly received $7.2 billion and were not complicit in the greatest financial crime in history is utter fantasy.

No way innocent, no how unaware.

The professional standards of journalism and the ethical standards of common decency require that the Forward issue an apology and retraction clarifying that it is sorry for insulting the intelligence of us all by calling Picower a possible "innocent victim" and by saying regarding his participation in the Madoff crimes that he was "possibly unaware".

12/24/10

Jews Study Jesus on Christmas Eve: Scholars Discuss the medieval Hebrew Toldot Yeshu at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton

In some Jewish communities, they have the custom to read this booklet on Christmas eve - instead of studying Torah. A strange ritual indeed.

My thanks to Professors Peter Jeffery and Carol Bynum of the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton for inviting me a while back to a Medieval Table at lunch to discuss the Toldos Yeshu, the medieval Hebrew "Adventures of Jesus" pamphlet.

The brilliant young Israeli scholar Professor Yaacov Deutsch presented some of the results of his research on the document. A lively discussion of manuscripts, culture, context and content ensued.

FYI: Toledot Yeshu, Toledoth Yeshu, translation of Morris Goldstein (Jesus in the Jewish Tradition) and Alan Humm, The Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and it's Links to the Gospel Jesus.

Added for 2009: Slate: Holy Night, The little-known Jewish holiday of Christmas Eve. Seriously. By Benyamin Cohen //repost from 12/10/08//

12/23/10

Gawker Blames the Jews: Scandalous Affairs Begin at Purim Parties

The Times published a scandalous wedding announcement. Gawker wrote it up. And somehow the Jews get blamed for marital scandals that start at Purim parties.

And no, so far the Times hasn't apologized and then un-apologized for running a controversial wedding story.

This weekend's New York Times wedding section tells the salacious tale of two people who coldly dumped their spouses for each other, and true love. How dare they disgrace the sanctity of the New York Times wedding section!
We are not going to rehearse the details, but we will just skip to the end of the Gawker post where the Jewish analysis of it all kicks in.

But how scandalous is this, really? Gawker weddings expert Phyllis Nefler, who has spent countless hours poring over the Times wedding section, explained that the Times has been probing the darker side of the "how did you meet" story for a while:

It's like the logical extension of a storyline the Times has been building towards for years. They constantly feature stories with questionable timelines that leave the reader thinking, with horror, 'Wait—what about the guy she was living with when they met at the Purim party? Here they just went all out.
The traditional wedding announcement rubs the reader's face mercilessly in a couple's perfection; this one does the same thing with their flaws. Which one would you rather read if you were the guy left behind at the Purim party?
Marriages of Gentiles end in scandals ... and they blame the Jews!

12/22/10

Jstandard: Review of Yitzhak Zahavy's, “Archaeology, Stamps and Coins of the State of Israel”

Click here to purchase the book.

The Jewish Standard has an excellent review of our son's book.
Author has ‘an informed passion for archeology’
Book explores ancient artifacts on Israel’s stamps and currency
by Lloyd A. de Vries

Archeology is important to the State of Israel, and that’s why ancient artifacts show up so often on Israeli stamps, coins, banknotes, and medals, particularly the early ones.

According to Yitzhak Zahavy’s “Archaeology, Stamps and Coins of the State of Israel,” coins, pottery, seals and other archeological finds were a way to tie modern Israel to ancient Israel. They showed that Jews were not usurpers in then-Palestine, but were returning to reclaim their home.

Stamps and coins are more than just tools for delivering mail or retail transactions. They are important symbols for the countries that issue them. How else would you explain why the U.S. Postal Service still gets 40,000 to 50,000 letters a year requesting that subjects be honored on stamps, at a time when more and more mail is electronic? Or the arguments over the designs on the U.S. state quarters?

Zahavy, a Bergenfield resident, studied archeology under noted Israeli archeologists David Ussishkin, Israel Finkelstein, David Ilan, and Amichai Mazar. He worked on several major archeological excavations in Israel and served as an assistant area supervisor, from 2000 to 2002, on the Tel Megiddo expedition. Today he works in the field of information technology.

In the fascinating first part of his book, which reflects his informed passion for archeology, he explains how the designs for Israeli stamps and currency were chosen and the significance behind them...more...
Click here to purchase the book.

12/21/10

Erica Brown is wrong about what to do to combat corruption in the Orthodox Jewish Community in America

Looking back, we found this post about a crisis of a moral vacuum. We thought, well just buy a new vacuum bag and that's that. But no, not what the ersatz leading thinker Erica Brown says.

So here is our repost from 7/27/09 to illustrate once more that some urgent books just do not stand the test of time, to wit, there was no crisis and there was no vacuum and the author and her book offered no solution. Oh well, the post follows.


The list of recent Orthodox Jewish scandals continues to grow. The arrest by the FBI of Rabbi Saul Kassin and others with title rabbi in the Syrian community in Brooklyn has brought another spotlight on wrongdoing in our world.

Hat tip to Henry who pointed us to this interview in the Atlantic by Jeffrey Goldberg. Goldberg talked with Erica Brown, whom he calls, "One of the leading Jewish thinkers in America today." We don't know much about this person. But based on the interview, we beg to differ about his assessment of her "leading" qualities.

12/20/10

Casino Jack: An Awful Movie About an Awful Person

Overall the film Casino Jack is an awful movie about an awful person. The feeling we were left with after seeing it was somewhere between nausea and an intense desire to shower to wash the sleaze off.

The reviewers will praise all the components of the film - the acting, directing, writing, pacing, filming and so on. It is a professionally made Hollywood film. But in the big picture - it's all wrong.

Kevin Spacey plays a horrible person and he just does not pull it off. He tries hard with an opening scene that is the most in your face over-acting we have ever seen. Spacey lectures himself with a confused pep talk in a public restroom mirror. It made no sense, it set no tone, it did not define the character and the acting wasn't engrossing. We did not want to get to know Abramoff after seeing the scene. And we wanted to know less and less about that awful person as the film unfolded.

Barry Pepper and Jon Lovitz play equally distasteful colleagues of Abramoff (Michael Scanlon and Adam Kidan). We can't imagine why Lovitz would want the repelling part that he plays. There is in that character no attractive decadence, no movie gangster persona at all. The Scanlon part is even worse, sleaze with no point to it. None of the protagonists learn anything as the story unfolds. They are unbridled oily criminals who never have a second thought about what they are doing.

The final and well-known denouement leaves everyone unraveled and unrepentant, repugnant as ever.

We thought before seeing it for some reason that this would be a funny film, that these would be charming crooks. Spacey-Abramoff does get to invoke his Yeshiva building and kosher restaurant opening activities as sidelights to the unfolding action. That just leaves us with more random puzzle pieces that don't add to this unsatisfying, unnerving and unnecessary motion picture.

Sometimes real life tragic sleazy events need to be retold to entertain, inform or educate us. This clearly was not one of those times.

Don't waste your time or money on this movie mistake, the single worst film that we have ever seen.

12/18/10

Times: Did the U of Kentucky Discriminate Against Astronomer C. Martin Gaskell based on his Evangelical Faith?

The Times reports that jury will decide if a university discriminated against astronomer C. Martin Gaskell based on his evangelical faith in denying him a job at the MacAdam Student Observatory in Kentucky.

Talmudic analysis: The facts do appear to merit consideration by a jury. The university did deny him employment and his religious beliefs were considered in that denial.

On the other hand it is open to question whether an evangelical Christian could argue that his faith in the Bible was not a detriment to his ability to carry out unbiased scientific research in astronomy.

If so, the university had every right and obligation to raise the issue. And last, it appears that the professor got another, even better, job. So if he does win his lawsuit, there will be no damages awarded. Thus this raises the question of whether all this is a bullying law suit filed at the urging of the religious right to assert a political agenda and to garner publicity.

Here is the crux of the story from the Times, "Astronomer Sues University, Claiming Faith Cost Him a Job" by MARK OPPENHEIMER:
In 2007, C. Martin Gaskell, an astronomer at the University of Nebraska, was a leading candidate for a job running an observatory at the University of Kentucky. But then somebody did what one does nowadays: an Internet search.

Rabbis Gone Wild - Tasteless Titillation

There are some topics relating to Judaism that we don't analyze here because they fall into a category that we don't want to cover: Rabbis Gone Wild.

As in the similar sounding DVD series (i.e., Girls Gone Wild, which we have seen advertised on late night TV), the Rabbis Gone Wild series subsumes misbehaving rabbis who flash their commentaries to the media, reveal their law codes to the camera, and expose their responsa for all to see.

No, we won't be covering here the Teaneck Rabbis Gone Wild adventures of the past month wherein the Orthodox religious leaders in New Jersey talk incessantly about the kashrut of a single restaurant and do all kinds of wild and maybe not so kosher stuff out in public. We saw a graphic display of this rabbinic misbehavior in person in our synagogue in Teaneck following services one recent Shabbat. Not our cup of tea for passing the time of day.

And we won't be discussing here the Israeli, and now the American rabbis, who are parading around and showing off their giant responsa, or whipping out their big counter-proclamations about the permissibility of selling your home in Israel to a Gentile. We are amazed to see a wild new blog site that promises even wilder rabbinic antics on this very subject.

Some folks find it entertaining to view the titillating antics of these misbehaving rabbis. Not us.

And some people order Girls Gone Wild DVDs for entertainment to watch young college girls engage in pointless rowdy behavior. Not us.

Who can account for the lack of taste and the thirst for titillation in both our popular and rabbinic cultures?

12/14/10

Was Richard C. Holbrooke Jewish?

Yes, American diplomat Richard Holbrooke was a Jew.

Holbrooke was born in 1941, in New York City, to Dan Holbrooke and Trudi Kearl (née Moos). Holbrooke’s mother's Jewish family fled Hamburg in 1933 for Buenos Aires. She was a potter and said she was an atheist. His father also was said to have been an atheist. The family attended Quaker meetings.

Holbrooke’s father was born of Russian Jewish parents in Warsaw. He changed his name to Holbrooke when he immigrated to the United States in the 1930s. His original name is not known.

Holbrooke graduated from Scarsdale High School, from Brown University, and held a post-graduate fellowship at Princeton University.

During the final weeks of his term as ambassador to the United Nations (1999-2001), Holbrooke secured consultative status for Hadassah, the Jewish women's service organization, overcoming objections from Arab delegations.

JTA reported that, "He became more interested in his Judiasm when his third wife, and widow, Kati Marton, raised a Roman Catholic, discovered that her own parents were Hungarian Jews who hid their identity."

Archaeology of the Rules of Toasts Scroll

We were surprised to read recently about the discovery of a new text related to toasting.

A paper boy in Ho-Ho-Kus New Jersey errantly tossed the Sunday Times into a garage and heard a breaking of pottery. He entered and found a Hebrew manuscript which he spirited away and sold on the black market.

Scholars are still arguing about the interpretation of the text using various pseudonyms on the Internet.

It appears that the text comes from an previously unknown book called the Toastefta and it represents a chapter from the Tractate Toast Hashanah. It contains the rules of toasting. A translation follows:
1. There are five kinds of toasts:
a. the solemn
b. the sentimental
c. the humorous
d. the bawdy
e. and the insulting
2. Before making a toast one must tap on his wineglass.
  a. Some say, Tapping is rude.

3. If there are more than ten people present, you must stand to toast.

4. The host offers the first toast to the guest of honor. Then the others may offer their toasts.

5. After hearing a toast one may say, "Hear hear."
  a. Some say, “Shema, shema”

6. During the toasts the honored guest neither stands nor drinks.

7. After the toasts the honored guest rises and thanks the one who has offered the toast.
  a. Some say he may offer a toast in return.

8. Guests should leave wine in the glass after each toast so there will be enough for many toasts.

9. It is improper to put down one's glass before the toast is over.

10. It is improper to hold your glass without drinking.
  a. Some say that even the non-drinker must hold up a glass of wine for a toast.

11. Over what may they toast?
a. The drink for a proper toast must be alcoholic, like champagne or sparkling wine.
b. Some say, On the New Year one must drink only champagne.
c. Others say, One may use sparkling fruit juice.
d. And still others say, One may drink water for a toast.
12. Toasting on an empty glass is boorish.
  a. Some say, If a non-drinking person toasted on an empty glass with the proper intentions, he fulfilled his obligation.

12/11/10

Times: Sonja Kohn Sued for $19 Billion and other Jews in the News


Madoff Trustee Seeks $19.6 Billion From Austrian Banker

The central defendant in the complaint is Sonja Kohn (yes, she is a Jew), who was the hub of a complex network of European and Caribbean funds.

Update 10/2013: Former Bank Medici AG chairwoman Sonja Kohn and directors of Bernard Madoff’s European operations, including his sons Mark and Andrew, don’t owe anything to liquidators seeking to recoup losses to repay the conman’s victims, a judge ruled.

Tragic related story:

Madoff’s Elder Son Found Dead in Suicide


Unrelated Jews in the news:
In Tapes, Nixon Rails About Jews and Blacks

Film: The Coen Brothers, Shooting Straight
WikiLeaks Archive - Cables Show Vatican Tensions and Diplomacy ... Documents reveal the Holy See's reactions to sexual abuse scandals and involvement in political issues and Catholic-Jewish relations...
Roger Cohen: The 'Real Jew' Debate

WSJ: Two Years Later and J. Ezra Merkin is mired in litigation

Two years after the discovery of the historic Madoff ponzi scandal, the WSJ does a where-are-they-now summary of some key players, "Life After Madoff's 'Big Lie'": Ruth, Peter and Shana Madoff, Mark and Andrew Madoff, J. Ezra Merkin, Maurice "Sonny" Cohn, his daughter, Marcia Cohn, and their firm, Cohmad Securities Corp., investigator Harry Markopolos, and victims Howard Siegel and Harry Pech.

We've followed J. Ezra Merkin in particular. Here is what the WSJ says about that man:
J. Ezra Merkin—art collector, former chairman of GMAC and the financier behind funds that funneled over $2 billion of charities' and other investors' money into the Madoff scheme—is mired in litigation.

Civil suits brought by the New York Attorney General and investors in his funds allege that he placed the bulk of the funds' money with the Madoff firm without investors' knowledge.

This week, in the attorney general's case, Mr. Merkin's lawyer filed reams of documents and correspondence between Mr. Merkin and his clients in an attempt to show that some knew his funds were largely "feeders" to Madoff. Mr. Merkin is also engaged in settlement discussions with the attorney general, said a person familiar with the matter.

"This has been a horrendous two years for Mr. Merkin and his family," said Mr. Merkin's attorney Andrew Levander. "He continues to do what he can to maximize the remaining assets for his investors and hopes someday to put this all behind him."

Mr. Merkin still lives at his duplex at 740 Park Avenue—the storied Manhattan apartment building that was the girlhood home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and has boasted high-profile residents such as ex-Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain and designer Vera Wang.

Last summer, he sold his massive collection of Mark Rothko paintings and Alberto Giacometti sculptures for $330 million, money that may help pay back investors, depending on the outcome of litigation. Authorities secured a freeze on Mr. Merkin's assets, including those funds, last year.

Mr. Merkin is no longer the president of the elite Fifth Avenue Synagogue on New York's Upper East Side. Members of his Jewish community still value his input on philosophical questions, said people who know him.

He's also been spotted dining out for lunch at the famed eatery Michael's with hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, and he attended financier and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt's 70th birthday party last Saturday at the Four Seasons restaurant. Mr. Steinhardt, who lost about $2 million through his investment in one of Mr. Merkin's funds, said he sees Mr. Merkin about once a month.

"He feels great remorse in a lot of ways," said Mr. Steinhardt. "Whatever happens in the future, this will be a permanent scar and there is very little he can do about that."

— Liz Rappaport

12/10/10

Does Google Docs OCR work?



Google announced in June that you could perform OCR - optical character recognition - on files when you upload them to Google Docs (as shown above, just check the box).

Does Google Docs OCR work? Yes, but we recommend it with serious qualifications.

We've tried the feature now and have a brief report. Our test was on 22 pages scanned into a pdf from a book. Our scans contained two pages side by side with one side in Hebrew, except for some footnotes on the bottom in English, and the other side in English.

We chose to upload the pages individually, a single page in each PDF file. Google imposes a 10 page limit so that you cannot just upload a large book and have google scan it.

Our test pages were admittedly more complex than average. The results were acceptable but not great.

The original scan was replicated as an image at the top of each resulting page in Google docs. Just above that Google inserted the disclaimer, "This document contains text automatically extracted from a PDF or image file. Formatting may have been lost and not all text may have been recognized."

The text that was recognized appeared below it. Not surprising - none of the Hebrew text was recognized. Somewhat disconcerting, in the English blocks, whole lines were skipped in no apparent pattern about 5-10% of the time. About 5% of the time individual words were skipped. Some paragraphing was preserved. But the remainder of the formatting, including bold and italics, was gone.

To begin with, we did have easy access to a copier with a feeder that scanned and mailed the 22 pages to us in PDF format. So that part of the process was not onerous. Our investment in time and effort to get the pages scanned out of the book was not immense. Still the question is did using this facility result in any net gain in time or effort for us?

We had to go over all of the text and edit it with some care, comparing it against the original. Could we have saved time by just sitting down and brute force typing in the text? For this sample, we think the answer is yes.

A larger question comes to mind, based on this small experiment. If for its own Google Books scanning, Google uses the same technology that it makes available to us end-users, then we are missing lots of text when we do a search on the scanned Google books. That's not good.

Is Claude Lanzmann Jewish?

Yes, Claude Lanzmann is a Jew. This secular Jewish intellectual is best known for his nine-and-a-half hour documentary film Shoah (1985) -- an oral history of the Holocaust.

New Yorker's film critic Richard Brody has a notice about the film that begins a run on 12/10/2010; see the CRITIC’S NOTEBOOK review of Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah” (1985), at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

We invited Lanzmann to the University of Minnesota to speak about the film at a conference that we co-sponsored shortly after its release.

Wikipedia explains the nature of the film, "Shoah is made without the use of any historical footage, and only utilizes first-person testimony from Jewish, Polish, and German individuals, and current footage of several Holocaust-related sites. Lanzmann persuaded Polish resistance fighter Jan Karski to be a witness in Shoah by calling forth - once again - his historical responsibility. Simultaneously, the complete text appeared in English translation, with introductions by Lanzmann and Simone de Beauvoir, providing multiple keys to the philosophical and linguistic preoccupations of the producers."

We recall our dealings with this writer now, because RICHARD BRODY of New Yorker cites Lanzmann's French autobiography as one of the most significant books of the year in 2009. We did not know at the time of our conference the details of his colorful and substantial life that he now recalls in his new volume.
The movie book of the year is, alas, still awaiting translation: Claude Lanzmann’s autobiography, “Le Lièvre de Patagonie” (“The Patagonian Hare”). Lanzmann, who was born in 1925, is, of course, the director of “Shoah,” which was released in 1985. Though Lanzmann recounts, in passionate detail, the difficulties he faced in making that epochal film—indeed, they form the book’s climactic episode—he also explains what is, in effect, the sixty-year gap in his resumé. “Shoah” is only Lanzmann’s second film (the first being the documentary “Pourquoi Israel” (“Why Israel”), which was completed in 1973); prior to that, what he had mainly done was to live, with an amazing, intrepid voracity—and one dominant theme of his teeming, first-person picaresque, is the dependence of the cinema, and of his great work, on a whole life’s experience.

12/7/10

YouTube: Google Launches eBooks

We entertain our grandchildren by starting them on a netflix movie on the big TV in the living room through Apple TV, then moving them to continue the same movie netflix on the computer monitor in the den and one time continuing them on their netflix movie on the iPad. They picked up without interruption as they moved from one venue to the next. That is cool.

Google promises the same transportability of media for reading books on Google eBooks. We are pretty sure that Kindle can do this now. But we only read Kindle books on our iPad. So we haven't tested whether we can pick up at the same page on our desktop Kindle app.

Here is the cool promise from Google for their eBooks service.



You can buy two of our books there:

Studies in Jewish prayer

and

The Traditions of Eleazar ben Azariah

12/5/10

Times' Frank Rich Sinks into Deeper Disappointment in Barak Obama

We don't even have the energy to begin to discuss how disappointed we are in the presidency of Barak Obama so far.

Frank Rich does a good job today on behalf of all of us who agree that we are watching the unraveling of, "the baffling Obama presidency."

What is the Jewish Population of Laptopistan?

David Sax wrote a funny profile in the Times of Atlas Cafe, a laptop hangout in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which as we all know is a Jewish neighborhood. He calls the locale, Laptopistand and explains why in vivid and charming detail. So we assume by the location that the Jewish population of the this domain is quite high. At least one citizen, mentioned by name has Jewish credentials, though we have not confirmed further his tribal affiliations, and his mini-profile gives you a sense of the bouncy tone of the article as a whole:
...Aaron Tugendhaft is the exception. He appears at Atlas every morning for a few hours, tie askew, black coffee at his side, some heady-looking book in front of him. Mr. Tugendhaft, who is an adjunct professor of religion at New York University and the editor of a small custom press, is one of the only Atlas regulars I observed sans laptop.

“I’ve made friends with people because I’m the only guy without a computer,” he told me, quietly, one morning. “A book can be a conversation starter.”

Mr. Tugendhaft has been coming to Atlas nearly every day for three and a half years, but there are many Laptopistanis he has never spoken to. (“Some of them are in the room right now,” he confided in a low voice, eyeing a woman in a jean jacket two tables over.) He has dated fellow Laptopistanis, but not anymore, preferring to keep romance out of the workplace. People tend to keep to themselves, he said, until something breaks the routine: an argument between lovers, news of a subway breakdown, or, most often, some sort of interaction around the power strips.

“Power is power,” Mr. Tugendhaft said...more...
I've got my passport ready and plan a trip over to Laptopistan as soon as possible.

12/4/10

Was Jacques Derrida Jewish?

Yes, the philosopher and literary critic Jacques Derrida was a Jew.

Although we tried hard, we never really understood much of what Derrida wrote. Now the Forward's Benjamin Ivry wrote, "Sovereign or Beast? Jacques Derrida and His Place In Modern Philosophy."

It's an excellent report. The problem with that Forward essay is that it has next to nothing to say about Derrida's place in modern philosophy. It tells us a little about who liked and disliked him.

Its main concern is the man's Jewish upbringing and Jewish identity during his lifetime.

Was he Jewish? Yes, and he was a complicated Jew. But really, is there any other kind?

Ivry tells us things about Derrida like this:
Born Jackie Derrida (named after silent-screen child star Jackie Coogan from Chaplin’s “The Kid”) in El-Biar, a Jewish suburb of Algiers, the youngster relished the Sephardic music he heard at the local synagogue, but loathed the “racist violence” he saw at school: “Anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, anti-Italian, anti-Spanish, there was everything!” he would later recall.

In 1949, he arrived in Paris for further studies at the École Normale Supérieure, only to discover a different form of the same old anti-Semitism. At the bourgeois home of a classmate, one parent informed Derrida at dinner that she could “smell Jews at a distance,” to which Derrida retorted: “Really, Madame? It happens that I am Jewish!” He later wrote to his host that “French anti-Semites are only anti-Semitic with Jews whom they do not know personally,” adding later, to another friend, “As soon as an anti-Semite is intelligent, he no longer believes in his anti-Semitism.”

Thus acutely aware of his ethnic identity, Derrida devoted early writings to such subjects as the Jewish authors Edmond Jabès and Emmanuel Levinas (and fellow Jews), both later collected in 1967’s landmark “Writing and Difference,” and in other works. While Jabès appreciated Derrida’s analyses, Levinas had a more nuanced response, and another subject of Derrida’s scrutiny, Claude Lévi-Strauss, dismissed Derrida’s writings as “philosophical farce.”

Despite such objections, Derrida was always surrounded by ardently supportive Jewish friends and colleagues, like Sarah Kofman, Peter Szondi, Hélène Cixous and Avital Ronell. ...Read more...
Not complicated enough? Okay, try this:
...When Derrida was buried, his elder brother, René, wore a tallit at the suburban French cemetery and recited the Kaddish to himself inwardly, since Jacques had asked for no public prayers. This discreet, highly personal, yet emotionally and spiritually meaningful approach to recognizing Derrida’s Judaism seems emblematic of this complex, imperfect, yet valuably nuanced thinker.

12/2/10

Are Orthodox Rabbis Trained in Medicine?

No, Orthodox rabbinical schools do not offer any courses in medicine. We should know. We graduated from one of them and there were no courses in medical subjects at our school.

And so that leads us to ask why rabbis think they are experts in determining what is a valid indicator of human death? Surely they cannot be serious that knowledge of the Talmud gives them any expertise in this area.

But they do think they have that expertise according to a story by Stuart Ain in the New York Jewish Week, "RCA Backs Off Stand On Brain Death For Transplants" with the subtitle, "Critics see move as jeopardizing lives of Orthodox Jews; internal study cites ‘rabbinic confusion’ on issue." And rabbis have the unmitigated ego to express a pseudo-authoritative opinion on this issue.

Now as to the Jewish Week, it's a poorly written story, clearly intending from the first paragraph to make rabbis appear to be confused. Rabbis have opinions about this issue of life and death -- but they are not a clear ones -- says the JW.

Now, it is okay for blogs and bloggers to inject bias and opinion into every line of what they write. I checked my license. It gives me the green light. But we thought that there were canons of journalistic professionalism that newspapers had to adhere to. Perhaps not any more.

No comment about my rabbinical colleagues, who though untrained, do not hesitate to expound. Why pay attention to anything they say then if they spout off opinion in this area, lacking any and all professional medical credentials?

Hat tip to Mimi, who does know quite a bit about this issue.

12/1/10

GigaOm: The Eight iPad Apps of Hanukkah

GigaOm's Dave Greenbaum recommends these Eight iPad Apps for Hanukkah:

1. Siddur HD ($19.99)
2. Dreidel HD ($0.99)
3. Jewish Radio ($0.99)
4. Torah for iPad ($7.99)
5. 123 Color (Hanukkah Edition, $1.99)
6. Synagogues ($0.99)
7. iTalmud – iPad Edition ($29.99)
8. Talking Hebrew ($5.99)

We have reviewed the Torah for iPad and we like it.

Dave instructs: To gift an app, click the triangle next to the price on the app’s iTunes Store page and choose “Gift This App.”

11/28/10

Bergen Record: Teaneck Man Will Build a Passive House Without a Furnace


The Bergen Record reported that a neighbor of ours in Teaneck, Ray Evangelista, plans to build a "Passive House" that is energy efficient enough that it will not need  a furnace. The house will have thick walls and a heat pump. The house won't be in Teaneck. The article is, "N.J.’s first true ‘passive house’ will have no need for a furnace":
Teaneck resident Ray Evangelista is building a 4,400-square-foot, two-story colonial that’s got everything a homeowner could want — except a furnace.
Ray Evangelista, right, of 411 Energy Services, LLC, and William G. Severino, Architect, LLC, left, discuss plans for the first-ever passive home in New Jersey.

The house has been designed so that there will be no need to heat the home in winter or cool it in summer. Energy costs will be as little as 10 percent of a traditional home, said Evangelista, who owns a company that provides energy audits to homeowners.

It will be the first home ever built in New Jersey to be certified a true "passive house," and only the 17th in the nation to earn that designation.

"We’re at the onset of what could be a revolution in house design," said William Severino, the Little Ferry architect whom Evangelista hired for the project.

The home will have 14-inch-thick walls instead of the standard 5 inches, thicker-than-normal windows, and joints that will be fitted, taped and sealed with far greater precision that a typical house. The house is designed to be airtight, and the wider walls provide room for extra cellulose insulation.

All those relatively minor differences will work together to create the biggest difference of all — no need for heating or cooling....more...
Want to help build the house? CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS! If you would like to participate in the construction of New Jersey's first passive house, Call Ray Evangelista at 201-735-7600.

Is Jill Schensul Jewish?


Jill Schensul is a Jew. She calls herself a lapsed Jew several times in her most recent article.

Jill is our local travel writer for the Bergen Record.

She's written a lively and informative article about the new and breathtaking National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

Jill lapses reflective at the end of her piece:
I kept thinking, as I went through the museum, how non-Jews might experience the place. I'm at a disadvantage here, being a Jew — granted a lapsed one. In one way, I suppose it's like visiting any "ethnic museum" where you are an outsider looking in. Trying to gain insight and understanding about how other people live.

But as an American, you're not altogether an outsider here. Everyone, save the Native Americans, came here from somewhere else. We found new challenges in the New World — getting along with fellow immigrants, being one of them. We came, we overcame, we contributed.

Like the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence, American Jewish history is an inextricable part of who we are, and how free we are, today.

Some critics of the new museum complain that by going light on the religious aspect of Judaism, by trying to make the message more universal, the curators drained the color and the heart from the Jewish experience. Others complain that we don't need another museum about Jewish history at all.

There will probably be more opinions and reactions than people to proffer them. But, hey, only in America, right?
Barak called our attention to the innovative way the museum will accommodate Sabbath observers. The USA Today reported on this, "Sabbath compromise at Philly museum of U.S. Jewish history":
...The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York closes for the Sabbath and Jewish holidays, but the Jewish Museum in New York is open on the Sabbath, although its gift shop is closed. The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles and their gift shops are open on the Sabbath.

So this month, the panel took its recommendations to the board and an unusual approach was approved:

The museum will be open Saturdays, but tickets for Saturdays will not be sold on the museum's premises that day; they can be bought online or in advance, or outside the museum at locations to be determined.

The gift shop will also be open Saturdays but will handle no cash that day; any credit card transactions will be processed after sundown.

And the museum will be closed on Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and on the first two days of Passover.

"It's kind of a compromise," Rosenzweig said, adding that officials do not claim the policy is dictated by Jewish law. "It's a policy the board embraced for its symbolic power, showing that in Jewish tradition, Shabbat and holidays are different."...

11/24/10

iPad's Magical 4.2 Upgrade

We love our iPad. It's a new class of device that has many uses. Not a phone, not a laptop, something else.

Now we have upgraded the system to OS 4.2. There are dozens of nice things about the upgrade. These stand out.

We bought an HP ePrint printer model 110 in anticipation of the new release. After the upgrade we went to the menu on Safari on our iPad and chose "Print" and it found our printer and printed the page. No setup, drivers or anything else needed. It's magic.

Then we upgraded our Apple TV and went back to our iPad to watch YouTube videos. We looked for the little icon that allows you to transfer the video playback via AirPlay to your Apple TV. It was fantastic, worked like magic. There are other nice features in the new release, but these stand out.

Yes, it is magical.

11/23/10

A Breathtaking Rabbinic Bestseller: Avigdor Shinan's Pirkei Avot, A New Israeli Commentary

Avigdor Shinan's Hebrew volume, Pirkei Avot, A New Israeli Commentary, is a breathtaking rabbinic bestseller. The publication of this book was supported by the Avi Chai foundation. We've know professor Shinan for over thirty years. He is a leading Israeli scholar both of rabbinics and of Jewish liturgy.

The most common English renderings of the title of this tractate of the Mishnah are, "Ethics of the Fathers" or "Chapters of the Fathers." We've always preferred to render Pirkei Avot a bit more elastically as "Outline of the Primary Principles" since Av in classical rabbinic usage often implies a primary category.

That is what the tractate is about - the primary principles of rabbinic etiquette and daily wisdom. The book is a diverse collection of sayings about how to be a good Jew according to the rabbinic view of life. It's also been the subject of many previous commentaries, as is the case for every rabbinic primary text.

Why is this commentary different from all the others? The reviewers emphasize that it is more accessible in its presentation and more aesthetically attractive. Each mishnaic pericope is accompanied by two pages of textual commentary and an appropriate artistic illustration chosen by David Sperber.

It's what we in the USA call a coffee table book in the best sense of the idea. And we are told that Israelis do not have a comparable concept. Books are for reading. Who would buy a book, to put it out on a table in the living room to display it?

Zvia Walden in Haaretz ("The art of succinct statements") summed up the reasons for the book's success:
How can one explain the suc­cess of a volume such as Shinan's? Is it due to the ever-growing thirst to "preserve the spiritual and moral image of the individual and society in Israel," as Dinur had it? Or is it due to the acces­sible writing style of the editor, a professor of Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University? Or, per­haps native Hebrew speakers are attracted to this edition because Shinan chose to devote much at­tention to the Hebrew text and to connecting the tractate to names, places and landscapes in Israel, while sufficing with only a brief survey of Pirkei Avot's tradi­tional commentators? Certainly, one factor behind the volume's popularity is the abundance of artwork, carefully and wisely chosen by David Sperber, with the goal of not only providing an aesthetic accompaniment to the text, but also -- and perhaps main­ly -- to foster an ongoing dialogue between the text and contempo­rary readers.

It is interesting that the num­ber of artists and works of art in the book nearly equals the num­ber of sages whose words appear in Pirkei Avot. The book's success can also be attributed to its el­egant design, which is the work of Dov Abramson: easy-to-read fonts printed in green and pages laid out in columns, inviting readers to stroll briskly through the text.
Others have given the book good notices.

11/22/10

Are Glenn Beck and Fox News AntiSemitic?

Yes, as Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker shows, Glenn Beck and Fox News are most certainly antiSemitic.

Puppetry
by
Hendrik Hertzberg 


It’s hardly news when Fox News airs something nasty. This time, though, it’s personal—or, at least, institutional. Recently, the nation’s highest-rated cable-news network’s biggest star devoted three hour-long episodes of his program to an attack on a single prominent citizen. The in-house advance publicity for these broadcasts was lavish. A promotional spot, distilling to thirty seconds the moral essence of the programs it advertised, is worth describing in full.
An empty black screen. Then a quotation is superimposed:

“MY MOTHER WAS QUITE ANTI-SEMITIC,
AND ASHAMED OF BEING JEWISH.
Cut to black-and-white footage, nineteen-thirties-era, of anxious-looking people, presumably Jews, hurrying on a European street; a synagogue door; shawl-wearing Jews praying. On the soundtrack, the faint tha-thump of a beating heart. Another quotation, this one superimposed on a Star of David:

“I DON’T DENY THE JEWS THEIR RIGHT
TO A NATIONAL EXISTENCE—
BUT I DON’T WANT TO BE PART OF IT.”
A grainy photograph shows a grim-faced, middle-aged man glancing furtively over his shoulder. Who is he? The black background again, and this:

SOURCE: THE WORLD ACCORDING TO SOROS
BY CONNIE BRUC,
THE NEW YORKER, JANUARY 23, 1995

11/21/10

Is Sandy Koufax Jewish?

Yes, former baseball star pitcher Sandy Koufax is a Jew. He is considered by some to be the most famous American Jew of our era.

According to Wikipedia, Koufax was born in Borough Park Brooklyn in 1935. He pitched for the Dodgers from 1955-1966.

We were checking out the best selling Judaism books on Amazon the other day. Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy was near the top of that list.

Wikipedia reports:

Koufax was the final player chosen in the inaugural Israel Baseball League draft in April 2007. Koufax, 71, was picked by the Modi'in Miracle. "His selection is a tribute to the esteem with which he is held by everyone associated with this league," said Art Shamsky, who managed the Miracle. "It's been 41 years between starts for him. If he's rested and ready to take the mound again, we want him on our team." Koufax declined to join the Miracle.


Sandy Koufax (center of first row) at first White House reception for Jewish American Heritage Month, May 27, 2010. At Koufax's right is Vice President Joe Biden and First Lady Michelle Obama

On May 27, 2010, Koufax was included among a group of prominent Jewish Americans at the first White House reception in honor of Jewish American Heritage Month. President Barack Obama recognized how well known Koufax's decision not to play on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur was in a humorous mention in his welcome remarks. Saying that he had "something in common" with Koufax, President Obama continued: "He can't pitch on Yom Kippur. I can't pitch." The President also directly acknowledged the high esteem in which Koufax is held:
"This is a pretty fancy ... pretty distinguished group," he said of the invited guests, which included members of the House and Senate, two justices of the Supreme Court, Olympic athletes, entrepreneurs, Rabbinical scholars, "and Sandy Koufax." The mention of his name brought the biggest cheer at the event.

11/19/10

YouTube: Animated Rabbi's Vort on the Parasha from Krumbagel


Animation and automation meet the yeshiva world.
Yeshiva guy says over a dvar torah he heard from his rebbe.
Absurdity ensues.
Hilarity follows.
Hat tip to Joel.

11/18/10

Daniel Sperber's brilliant new book "On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations"

A brilliant new book has been published by Daniel Sperber, On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations (Urim Publications).

The publisher's summary says:
Although Jewish liturgy has its roots in antiquity, it evolved and developed throughout the ages to emerge in its present, largely standardized form. However, in some aspects, it is archaic, containing passages and statements that apply more to past eras than to the present day. In some cases, these passages may even be offensive to certain segments of our society. It is for this reason that this book attempts to delineate the parameters of halachically permissible changes in Jewish liturgy -- changes that have precedents in traditional sources and that may correct anachronisms and defuse possible conflict, thus enhancing the experience of prayer for an ever-widening spectrum of Orthodox Jewry.
The chapter headings of the learned short chapters will give you a clear picture of what the author covers and what are his perspectives on the subject.

• Introduction
• The Complexity of the Hebrew Prayer Book
• The constant Evolution of Our Liturgical Text
• The Variety of Liturgical Versions
• Blessings Offensive to Women
• Recommended Changes
• The Legitimacy of Change
• New Prayers and Innovative Creativity
• Talmudic Sources Forbidding Change in the Liturgy and Maimonides’ Understanding of Them
• Limits of Flexibility in Change
• The Dynamic Process of Change in Our Liturgy
• The Main Reasons for Change
• Examples of Internal Censorship
• The Talmudic Sources Revisited
• The Positions of Geonim and Rishonim
• Attempts to Fix a Single, Crystallized Version, and Their Failures
• Nusah ha-Ari and the Hasidic Position
• The Response of the Mitnaggedim
• The Impact of Printing on the Hebrew Prayer Book
• The Permissibility of Making Changes
• Afterword

The appendices cover interesting related topics that fall outside the main arguments of the book.

1. On the Liturgical Theories of Hasidei Ashkenaz
2. Seven Version of Birkat Nahem
3. The Ha-Siddur ha-Meduyak Affair
4. Corrupt Versions or Alternate Versions
5. The Piyyutim Controversy
6. The Avodah Prayer – An Example of the Complex Development of a Benediction
7. “For Your Covenant Which You Sealed in Our Flesh”
8. On R. Meir’s Three Benedictions

Also important to users for a book so rich in content, there are several indexes
1. Index of Primary Sources
2. Index of Prayer Books
3. Index of Prayers, Benedictions and Piyyutim
4. General Index

Talmudic analysis:

Sperber has read and mastered the entire range of scholarship on Jewish prayer. He draws liberally from primary texts going back to the Talmud and down through the middle ages to the present day. He knows the scholarly and halakhic literature inside and out. He translates the passages of all of these texts that he uses in his discussions with great facility and style.

Sperber argues his points with clarity and persistence. He clearly shows that prayers, over two millennia and across the Jewish communities of the world varied and that they changed. He also shows that rabbis of the past noticed and grappled with these dynamics.

The book includes many original Hebrew texts along with English translations of parts or all of them. There are photocopies of some of the prayers and commentaries from various manuscripts and printed books and other illustrations to illuminate the discussions.

The body of this book ends with this somewhat poetic paragraph:
The rich tapestry of our liturgy with its many themes can satisfy the variety of conflicting experiences to which Rabbi Soloveitchik refers. Indeed, just as "prayer does not proceed slowly along one straight path," so, too, out liturgy has leapt in a variety of directions creating that multicolored mosaic that is our prayer book.
We cannot disagree with the poetry of this ending statement, especially since it quotes the words of our revered teacher, Rabbi Soloveitchik. Tapestry, paths, leaps and mosaics are all valid and pertinent to the metaphoric reveries that a devoted Jew may apply to descriptions of the act of prayer.

We are completing our own little, humble book that will add to the discussion of prayer a bit more -- the ability to speak of six independent and distinct categories of prayer and from that to generate a more accurate, analytical and discursive theological description and discussion of the contents of the siddur and of the acts of Jewish devotion that we call davening.

11/17/10

JPost: Team Tzvi is Training For Jerusalem Marathon

Once upon a time a few years ago together with my son and his friends we organized Team Tzvee as a way to recognize our continued determination to ride in the 26 mile five borough bike tour in New York City. We even made a web site.

Now a group of runners has started yet another Team Tzvi to train for the first ever 26 mile Jerusalem marathon.

Well we were there first and we spelled it right.

We wish them good luck in running and in studying!
Talmud, Tanach and distance running
By DANIEL BLAS
Yeshiva students prep for Jerusalem marathon.

Most post-high school yeshiva students come to Israel for the year to learn Jewish texts and tour the land.

Not Joe Benun.

Benun, 18, of Flatbush, New York, came to study at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi in Jerusalem this August, one month after he completed the Lake Placid Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run), and 11 months before his next Ironman competition in Switzerland. To stay in top form, Benun will be running in the first-ever Jerusalem Marathon this March.

For nearly two decades, Jerusalem has hosted an international halfmarathon.

But at last year’s competition, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat – himself a four-time marathoner – announced that “the world’s most beautiful setting for running” would be hosting a full marathon.

What is a Mahzor?

What is a machzor or mahzor? It's a prayer book usually for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar. It can also be a prayer book for the other Jewish holidays.

The word mahzor means a cycle, a return, which is what holidays do; they recur annually.

The new Conservative mahzor is called "Lev Shalem" meaning a whole heart. It's a beautiful book, one which we shall be reviewing and commenting on in the coming months. Why now? It's not the right season, you say!

Now, because we are preparing a new course, "The Liturgy of the Days of Awe" for the Jewish Theological Seminary in the spring semester.

Here is the professional promotional trailer video for the book.

11/14/10

Why is Mark Oppenheimer Mocking Religion in the Beliefs Column of the Times?

We hope we are wrong but it seems like Mark Oppenheimer in the Beliefs column of the Times decided to mock the American Academy of Religion’s annual conference. Instead of picking up on the mainstreams of what transpires at the meeting, he goes after a guy name Jeffrey Kripal who wants the paranormal, including claims of psychics and UFO nuts to be treated as equals to claims of religious experiences of the major faiths of the world.

The claim is bizarre and it shows a deliberate disregard of the canons of humanistic learning and social scientific research -- both of which easily differentiate the core beliefs of the major faiths from the idiosyncrasies of nutty psychics and UFO chasing publicity seekers.

What blows our mind is that the editors at the Times would allow this pointless palaver to be printed, thus devaluing all the serious work that takes place in the meetings of the American Academy of Religion. For shame.
Beliefs
The Burning Bush They’ll Buy, but Not ESP or Alien Abduction

By MARK OPPENHEIMER

Practically anything goes at the American Academy of Religion’s annual conference, where scholars of dozens of religions convene annually to debate, relate and on occasion mate. Conversation ranges from the Talmud to tantra, from Platonism to Satanism. This year, from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 in Atlanta, nearly 5,000 people attended panels including “Seeking New Meanings of God and Dao” and “Madness, Smallpox, and Death in Tibet.” ...more...

11/13/10

Bergen Record: Ima's Kosher Restaurant in Teaneck

A mother-daughter dynasty: New Teaneck restaurant has a well-known counterpart in Jerusalem
BY ABIGAIL LEICHMAN

Six thousand miles and seven times zones apart, Miriam Binyamin in Israel and Ofira Zaken in New Jersey serve up the same dishes to hungry diners. The key link in the mother-daughter chain is kubbeh.

Kubbeh (also called kibbeh) are fried, baked or boiled dumplings made of semolina or bulgur and stuffed with rice and spiced chopped meat or vegetables. This substantial and versatile Middle Eastern menu staple was often on the family table in Mosul, Iraq, where Binyamin lived until she was 11. Kubbeh remains a menu staple at her Jerusalem restaurant, which opened in 1981, and it figures just as prominently in her daughter's Teaneck restaurant, which opened last month.

"Ofira was the one of my six children who cooked the most like me, who had the knack for it," said Binyamin.

The Banality of Terrorism - Buruma reviews The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink

Ian Buruma reviewed The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink in the Times last month. We just read the book. Here is the crux of what Buruma thought,
The problem with the book is not intellectual. Although he is far too skillful to preside as judge and jury over his invented characters, it is plain where Schlink’s own sentiments lie: on the side of decency, of muddling along as best we can, and of incremental social and political change rather than violent action inspired by grandiose dreams. Just as “The Reader” cannot be read as a justification of Nazi atrocities, there is nothing in “The Weekend” that condones the behavior of antifascist agents of terror.

What makes this a bad novel is that the characters are dead on the page. They are cutout types to whom the author has tacked arguments and opinions to keep the conversation going, but nothing more than that, despite the sexual couplings that go on when people run out of things to say. The sex, too, one feels, is there for the sake of argument...more...
He did not like the book. Neither did we. But we felt much more uneasy about the banality of the novel, wondering if perhaps that was the point of the book.

We have been working on decoding the motives of terrorists for years, going back to our course on terrorism and religion at FDU. The underlying suspicion that we have of any German book about evil actors is that the writer starts with the assumption that it is a basic human flaw that some people are evil. That relieves the German people of their guilt over the Holocaust.

In an Arendt-like manner this novel banalizes the evil of terrorism. We did not like it one bit. We prefer it if the German people maintain their stigma as a nation with a special talent for evil and an accompanying unique guilt. They earned it.

11/9/10

Dancing and Heckling at the Dueling Jewish Fundraiser Mega-Meetings

At the same time that the Chabad Hasidic rabbinic leadership met Brooklyn, the Federation of Jewish charities mainly lay leadership met in New Orleans. Amazingly this caused a conflict and quandary for not a single person. There is not the slightest overlap between these two organizations of Jews who were meeting simultaneously to plot their next moves in seeking domination of the Jewish non-profit world.

Reports varied widely of these instances of the great organized Jewish conspiracy. People with a sense of humor wondered about all sorts of superficial things, like where do you check 4500 identical black hats and coats? How do you dance in a circle around chairs and tables crammed in to seat so many rabbis in Brooklyn?

And they pondered such immensities as for instance Jacob Berkman at the JTA at the GA opening wondering who would stumble bourbon-inebriated down Bourbon Street during that competing meeting in New Orleans.

We trust these get togethers accomplished something more than partying in different styles. We hope the collectives came up with strategies for Jewish organizational solvency in tight times.

The political side of the news out of New Orleans was not inspiring. Hecklers interrupted the Bibi speech and had to be dragged out of the auditorium. Not a very nice Nazi-like pose of the PM accompanying the CBS story. Has the GA gotten too political for its own good?

We wonder if JTA was covering the Chabad event with enough interest.

And a final thought. Wouldn't it be great if perhaps at either one of these meetings they even got a brief chance to discuss Judaism. Yes indeed, I am an irrepressible dreamer.

11/7/10

In the beginning God created... jobs?

Every time we hear about how this political policy or that one "creates jobs" -- we cringe.

First off, God creates things, businessmen hire people. Politicians - who knows what they do?

Second off, creating jobs is an awfully minimal accomplishment. Not much to take pride in.

Young people want CAREERS, not jobs. They want employment with benefits, with a future, and with a modicum of ownership in the means of production.

The Pharaoh in Egypt CREATED JOBS FOR THE ISRAELITES.

Jobs with lifetime tenure!

The bible called that slavery and some left-winger named Moses came along and interfered with it, claiming some dude named God told him to bud in.

No, No, November

For those of you out there with seasonal affective sensitivity of any kind, know well that we all agree - November is the month that starts with NO.

It soon will pass, trust us.

Meanwhile we are over the hump. The clock has been turned and the early afternoon of darkness is now certain, not looming. 

So arise earlier, get to the pool for your laps and adjust your biological clocks.

Every year you recover. This year you will too!

A serious Jewish liturgy blog by David Wilensky

We read what we can when we can and we only just now found a serious Jewish liturgy blog today, "The Reform Shuckle: My world stands on three things: Peace, Sense and Liturgy."

Now this is what the Jewish world needs. Someone who takes liturgy seriously, knows how to write, and cares to criticize and comment.

Good job David Wilensky, young davener!

JPost: Rabbi Steinsaltz completes his commentary on Talmud with Tractate Hullin

Congratulations to the Rabbi on finishing his task.
Rabbi Steinsaltz completes commentary on Talmud
By JONAH MANDEL

Jewish communities worldwide will celebrate the completion of the 45-volume work, which took 45 years to write, on Global Day of Learning.

More than 350 Jewish communities worldwide will mark the Global Day of Jewish Learning on Sunday, in an unprecedented day of dialogue, study and exploration, celebrating the completion of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s monumental 45-volume translation and commentary on the Babylonian Talmud.

Summing up 45 years of work on the Talmud commentary aimed at giving Jewish texts back to the people, Steinsaltz, who recently completed the work on the Hulin tractate, will address the communities in classrooms, synagogues and community centers spanning from Albania to Uruguay in a live broadcast from Jerusalem’s City Hall at 9 p.m....
Now of course it is time to start over. See why, "My Translation and Publication of Bavli Hullin: Keeping My Siyyum Hadran Promise to the Talmud."