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?

12/16/10

Is Kevin Spacey Jewish?

No, Kevin Spacey is not a Jew.

Spacey plays the disgraced lobbyist and Orthodox Jew, Jack Abramoff in the new film, Casino Jack. At the web site for that film you can take a "Test" to find out how corrupt you are.

Spacey has already been nominated for this role, Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.

Previously Spacey played the Jewish attorney Ron Klain in the HBO film, Recount. Klain was Al Gore's chief of staff in the White House and General Counsel to Al Gore's recount committee after the 2000 election.

Spacey was born in South Orange, New Jersey, the son of Kathleen Ann, a secretary, and Thomas Geoffrey Fowler, a technical writer and data consultant. According to rumor, Spacey's father was an antiSemite.

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.”