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."...


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.


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.


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.

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:

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:

A grainy photograph shows a grim-faced, middle-aged man glancing furtively over his shoulder. Who is he? The black background again, and this:



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.


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.


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.


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
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.


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.
The Burning Bush They’ll Buy, but Not ESP or Alien Abduction


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...


Bergen Record: Ima's Kosher Restaurant in Teaneck

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

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.


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.


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.


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

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."


Steve Jobs Says Kaddish for the DVD

Yes, we can see the point. Netflix is inching daily towards total streaming movies. We are growing ever more tired of books on CD.

So according to pundits in the industry we are moving away from DVD and CD media just as we abandoned the floppy when it had outlived its usefulness. See, "Apple Looks to a New Computing Era" By NICK BILTON in the Times.
Remember the floppy disk? I’m willing to bet Steve Jobs does. I’m also willing to bet he remembers when he killed it.

It was 1998, to be precise, and the murder weapon was the new iMac, a computer that was missing the then-standard internal floppy drive.

Last month Mr. Jobs rang the final death knell for another piece of technology: optical discs like DVDs and CDs.

For this execution, his weapon of choice is the new MacBook Air, with a little extra help from the iTunes store, of course...more...

Recipe for Jewish Soul Food: Synagogue Cholent

We have to say that admittedly this cannot be totally intelligible without the 45,000 words that precede it in my newest book. Be that as mysterious as it may, here is the tantalizing closing page of my latest magnum opus.

Recipe for Jewish Soul Food

Synagogue Cholent


·         One cup of scribal beans
·         One cup of priestly flour
·         One half-pint of meditator sauce
·         One tablespoon of celebrity powder
·         One pinch of mystical spices
·         One half cup of performer topping


1.    Mix together the scribal beans and the priestly flour.
2.    Fold in the meditator sauce and add the celebrity powder.
3.    Sprinkle on the mystical spices.
4.    Simmer for 3000 years.
5.    Remove from the oven and coat liberally with performer topping.
6.    Serve warm.
7.    Will continually delight and perplex your guests with its rich and varied textures and vibrant flavors.

Serves: One


The Quintessential Scribe Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

The Quintessential Scribe
I had the privilege of studying in Rav Aharon Lichtenstein's Talmud shiur for two years, 1966-1968. Each year he invited us talmidim to his house for latkes on Hanukkah. There in his apartment we sat with his little kids and his wife, daughter of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik. The latkes were good and the Lichtensteins appeared to be a regular family. For some reason, that surprised me.
Once during the years that I was in his shiur, while I was out with some of the guys playing basketball on the courts between the Yeshiva College dorms, Rav Aharon came by. One of us asked him to join the game. He did and he played aggressively, and just like a regular guy. For some reason, that blew my mind.
And one year, in our Yeshiva College student Purim shpiel, I played the role of Rav Aharon. In my performance I hemmed and hawed and exaggerated my rebbe's mannerisms much more than I should have. And there in the audience sat my rebbe, laughing along with us. For some reason, that really blew my mind.
These three anecdotes aside, Rav Aharon imbued me with three indelible lessons that I took with me throughout my life.


JTA: Let's Celebrate, Except that Adin Steinsaltz Did Not Translate the Talmud into English

Good story JTA and Sue Fishkoff. Hurrah, "Steinsaltz completes Talmud translation with Global Day of Jewish Learning."
SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) -- On Nov. 7, noted Talmud scholar and teacher Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will formally conclude his Hebrew translation of the Babylonian Talmud, a monumental task that has occupied him for the past 45 years....
We don't want to diminish the rabbi's contribution to learning. It was significant and noteworthy, just not properly described or put into context by JTA. And hence we lament...

But wait, we don't understand. He translated the Talmud into Hebrew? But a lot of the Talmud was already in Hebrew in the original. And Rashi and all the commentaries to the Talmud for the last 1000 years were in Hebrew already. Huh?

And he did not translate the Talmud into English - except for parts, and that was by other people who used his Hebrew "translation." Huh?

And meanwhile others such as Artscroll did translate the entire Talmud into English in less than 45 years. Huh?

And a professor and Zahavy and colleagues also did translate the entire Talmud Bavli into English, and threw in the Talmud of the Land of Israel (Yerushalmi) to boot, in less than 45 years. Huh?

Whoops. Great story Sue. Another JTA scoop, knowledge of the subject matter - optional, monumental.

Yeshiva U. Addresses the Ethics of Waiting on Line

The ethics of waiting in line.

We thought this was a joke. It appears that the sponsors intend this to be serious. Oh my.
Waiting in a long line can be frustrating, particularly when it does not move quickly. In today's fast-paced society, we are constantly looking for ways to beat the line. Some of these strategies can present ethical challenges, especially when you consider that  one's person's gain is another's loss. Let's look at the following scenarios:...
No actually, let's not.


The Celebrity-Monotheist: Twenty Years Since the Assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane

The Celebrity-Monotheist: It has been twenty years since the tragic assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane.

Rabbi Kahane was American-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, an ultra-nationalist writer and political figure and a member of the Israeli Knesset.

In the 1960s and 70s, Kahane organized the JDL, the Jewish Defense League. Its goal was to protect Jews in New York City's high-crime neighborhoods and to instill Jewish pride. Kahane was also active in the struggle for the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate. By 1969 he was proposing emergency Jewish mass-immigration to Israel because of the imminent threat of a second Holocaust in the anti-Semitic United States. He argued that Israel be made into a state modeled on Jewish religious law, that it annex the West Bank and Gaza strip and that it urge all Arabs to voluntarily leave Israel or be ejected by force.

By sheer coincidence, in 1982, I traveled with Kahane on a long Tower Air flight from New York to Israel. As was common on flights to Israel, Jewish men gathered on the plane as the sun became visible in the Eastern sky, to form a minyan, kind of an ad hoc synagogue. I prayed the morning services with Kahane and the others at the back of the jumbo jet plane. After that, during the remainder of the flight, I introduced myself and politely challenged Kahane at length about his radical political views.

In 1984 Kahane became a member of the Knesset representing his Kach party. In 1988, the Israeli government banned Kach as racist. On November 5, 1990 at age 58, Kahane was assassinated in Manhattan by an Arab gunman after delivering a speech that warned American Jews to emigrate to Israel before it was too late. In 1994 Kach was outlawed and listed by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.

Bearing all this in mind, in my new book, in my discussion of the celebrity-monotheist archetype of the synagogue, I call my illustrative character Rabbi Meir.


New Books for Review on Jewish Prayer

We've bought or received these handsome new books on the subject of Jewish prayer.

Our reviews will follow in due course.
  1. Making Prayer Real: Leading Jewish Spiritual Voices on Why Prayer Is Difficult and What to Do About It
  2. Innovation in Jewish Law: A Case Study of Chiddush in Havineinu
  3. Why We Pray What We Pray: The Remarkable History of Jewish Prayer
  4. On Changes in Jewish Liturgy: Options and Limitations
  5. Who by Fire, Who by Water: Un'taneh Tokef (Prayers of Awe)
  6. Comic Book Siddur: For Shabbat Morning Services
  7. Not directly on prayer but still promising... Elijah and the Rabbis: Story and Theology

Worst Book of the Week: Alan Nadler Pans Burnt Books by Rodger Kamenetz

See this negative review of some depth, "The Mad Mystic of Bratslav" of the new book, Burnt Books by Rodger Kamenetz. The review by an expert in the field, Alan Nadler, professor of religious studies and director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University, goes into the serious flaws of Kamenetz' book.

We've read bad reviews and good reviews and we've written both kinds too. This one has legs and it stomps on the book, concluding with these swift kicks in the groin about the author Kamenetz himself,
...had he himself heeded Scholem's and Kafka's shared endorsement of serious preparation before delving into difficult and arcane matters, Kamenetz—who cannot read, let alone decipher, either Hebrew or Yiddish—might have spared the world a great deal of self-indulgent twaddle. Instead, he has insulted his readers and the memory of both Nahman of Bratslav and Franz Kafka, two great men who shared so finicky an obsession with their written words that they burned many of them.
One wonders, Where oh where was the editor of this book?