4/30/11

Research Assignment: Explain Religion



How should we best explain religion? The Economist reported recently ("The good god guide: Tentatively, scientists are asking: exactly what is religion, and what is it for?") on the project called Explaining Religion, "To bring a little scientific order to the matter, researchers taking part in a multinational project called Explaining Religion have spent three years gathering data on various aspects of religious practice and on the sorts of moral behaviour that religions often claim to govern. The data-collection phase was wrapped up at the end of 2010, and the results are starting to be published."

In one part of this study, researchers involved found that high arousal, painful, emotional religious activities are more effective in building group solidarity:
...Psychologists distinguish two types of long-term memory. One, semantic memory, records things consciously learned without first-hand experience—history lessons at school, for example. The other, episodic memory, records memorable events from a person’s own life.

Harvey Whitehouse, also of Oxford, thinks these different ways of remembering are harnessed by what he sees as two distinct aspects of religiosity. The doctrinal religious mode, as he dubs the first of these aspects, favours frequent but not particularly exciting rites that allow large bodies of teaching to be stored in a person’s semantic memory. That explains Friday prayers in Islam, or daily mass for the more enthusiastic sort of Catholic.

The second aspect—the imagistic mode, in Dr Whitehouse’s terminology—relies on rare but highly arousing events that are etched into the episodic memory by dint of their emotional salience. In principle, these could be either cheerful or unpleasant. However, since depths of trauma are recalled more vividly than heights of euphoria, religions should, in his view, prefer the former. Which, indeed, they do.

In one particularly grisly rite of passage, for example, young men belonging to Australia’s Aranda tribe are first circumcised and then pinned face down as several of their elders bite the initiate’s scalp and chin as hard as they can, before slitting his urethra with a stone blade. That is the sort of thing you are not going to forget in a hurry. You are also going to feel a strong affinity with those others who have gone through it, and perhaps a certain disdain for those who have not—a solidarity-building exercise, then, if ever there was one...
Interesting to ponder. We await further interpretations.

Newsweek's List of 50 Famous Rabbis Juxtaposed with JW's Lament Over Unemployed Rabbis

A Talmudic juxtaposition worth noting.

Newsweek with the Daily Beast has just published their list of America's 50 most famous rabbis. The magazine calls them "influential" -- who is to say? Most of them surely are celebrities -- and that in America endows the designated rabbis with influence. (Want to read about the rabbis? Check out Larry Yudelson's Amazon book list of books written by and related to those 2011 Newsweek famous US rabbis.)

We note (again perhaps) that the heads of two major Jewish rabbinical seminaries are not on the list. Yes they are famous. No they are not rabbis, i.e. Richard Joel at Yeshiva University (Orthodox) and Arnie Eisen at Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative). Hence they cannot be listed on a 50 top rabbis list.

Coincidentally, Gary Rosenblatt, Editor and Publisher of the Jewish Week, raises a lament of sorts in his recent column, "Where have all the rabbis gone?" saying, "One of the little-discussed effects of the economic recession on the Jewish community is that more rabbis in the later stages of their careers are finding themselves out of work..."

Why are so many rabbis out of work? Just to start with, the answer to the question in two instances is, non-rabbis have taken their places at the top of two rabbinic seminaries.

Now if the seminaries do not deem it urgent to hire rabbis to take their helms, then it does send a message loud and clear to the communities. And who can blame the organizations and synagogues for passing over clergy when they go to hire, or for cutting rabbinical jobs?

The Talmud tells us often that an ironic juxtaposition may teach us an important lesson. In this case, let's say that respect or disrespect for rabbis starts at the top.

4/28/11

James Frey's Dazzling Messiah Book

Controversial author James Frey has written a brilliant book about a contemporary messiah, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible. The book is self published for Kindle via Amazon. And a luxury hardcover edition has been issued by Gagosian Galleries. Quite a creative way to publish this breathtaking work of fiction that raises dozens of important theoligical issues.

Here is what the publisher says about the book:
For two thousand years people have spent their lives waiting, praying, fighting, begging, and going to war for the Messiah. They continue to do so, every minute of every day, every day of every year. And yet, as far as we know, the Messiah has never come.

How would a man like Jesus be perceived if he appeared today? How would he live, what would he say, what would he preach and believe? How would society react to him, and what would they to do him? And though he may be the Messiah, he is not the man that has been prayed for over the course of the last two thousand years. He believes religion is a fraud, government is a sham, and that love should be a choice, regardless of gender. He is, as Christ was, everything that religious leaders and government officials fear, what they speak against, and what they destroy. He did not burn books, or picket doctor's offices, or spend his time in religious institutions. He simply preached a message. Love your fellow man.

Written from the perspective of his family, friends, and followers, in the same way the story of Jesus Christ was told in the New Testament, The Final Testament of the Holy Bible is the story of Ben Zion Avrohom, also known as Ben Jones, also known as the Messiah, also known as the Lord God.

In The Final Testament of the Holy Bible James Frey, America's most controversial bestselling writer, has written the most compelling and provocative work of his career.

WikiHow: How to Convert to Judaism in 8 Steps

The good old American How To manual. What a wonderful cultural resource.

WikiHow has a page: How to Convert to Judaism.

It has 8 steps, 2 tips and 5 warnings. And guess what? WikiHow has another even more encompassing page, How to Convert People to a New Religion, in case you want to get into the business.

That one has 13 steps, 8 tips and 6 warnings.

While on the subject you may want to know How to Convert an Old TV into a Fish Tank. That entails 10 steps, 5 tips and 5 warnings.

More complex than converting to Judaism.

//repost from 2009//

4/27/11

Talmudic Differences Between the Poor Financial Conditions of Baseball's Dodgers and Mets

This article by Jon Heyman, "Selig had many reasons to act on McCourt but not Wilpons," has a Talmud-like point-by-point comparison of the poor financial circumstances of two baseball teams, the Dodgers and the Mets. It starts off, "The reason baseball commissioner Bud Selig appointed Tom Schieffer as emissary to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers while leaving the New York Mets alone for now is the vastly different history of the teams' ownership groups."

The nearly Talmudic analysis follows.

Is Plácido Domingo Jewish?


No, Plácido Domingo is not a Jew. He did live in Israel early in his career

YouTube has a video of ISRAEL MUSIC HISTORY in which Domingo shares his memories of Tel Aviv and speaks some Hebrew. Hat tip to Bella via Bernice.

Is Leon Panetta Jewish?

No Leon Panetta is not a Jew. He is a Catholic.

Barack Obama named Panetta Director of the Central Intelligence Agency in his administration.

Update: President Obama will nominate CIA Director Leon Panetta as secretary of defense, replacing Robert M. Gates

Panetta was born in Monterey, California, son of Italian immigrants. He was raised in the Monterey area, and attended Catholic schools - St. Carlos Grammar School and the Carmel Mission School.

Panetta commented negatively on 6/27/2010 about the prospects for ending the Afghanistan War

4/21/11

Why Do So Many Jews Attend a Seder?

A large majority of all Jews attend a Seder, though the precise percentages are a bit elusive. A somehwat vague post at YNet reported last week about the percent of Israeli Jews that will conduct a Seder. We assume that it means, attend a Seder:
According to a social survey, 82% of secular Israelis conduct the Seder, as do 93% of those who define themselves as "traditional but not so religious" and 98% of those who define themselves as "religious traditional."
The source of the survey and its accuracy are not provided by YNet. Other sources put the total percent of Israelis who attend a Seder at 85%; and it's only at 75% according to Haaretz.

4/17/11

We Wish You a Dramatic Passover

We wish all of our readers a dramatic Passover.

Actually we think it may be appropriate officially to wish you all an anxiety-ridden Passover. And most probably it is not at all proper to wish you a happy Passover.

It's a bit tricky to explain this. We start with the Midrash books called Pesikta Derav Kehana and Yalkut Shimoni. Both point out that regarding the Sukkot holiday the Torah says "happy" three times, for Shavuot, one time. But for Passover you will not find a single mention of "happy" in scripture.

Sure there's a generic holiday commandment that you should "rejoice in your festival" and that applies to Passover too. Note well: To have a happy holiday and to have a holiday that is happy are two different things. Happy as an adjective means to engage in happy celebrations, ritual activities. We wish each other, "Happy Festivals."

But "happiness" as a noun is state of mind or being. There is an emotional entity that we call "happiness" that is the goal or concrete product of some holidays. But the Bible tells us, not of Passover.

Why? Passover is the festival of freedom from slavery. We were slaves. Now we are free persons. The chains are unlocked. The enemies are defeated. Still, that does not create "happiness." The Israelites leave Egypt in "haste" - no time for the bread to leaven, no time to pack. And the GPS takes them to a dead end at the sea.

This then is the festival of anxiety and uncertainty. Where are we going? What now is our destiny?

Sukkot by contrast is a festival of happiness. The harvest is in the storehouse. What could bring more value and contentment? It is a celebration of achievement and material well-being. Hence happiness. Shavuot by contrast is a time of rejoicing. We have the first fruits and we have received the Torah, a concrete embodiment of our religion. Hence happiness.

Passover leads us to the desert where who knows what will happen? Yes there is the relief from bondage. But that is a fleeting sensation. Where now?

"May you have an anxiety-ridden Passover," seems like the greeting that is about right. Indeed why is this night different? We eat the flat bread of affliction, lest we miss the message of anxiety. We eat the bitter herbs, a strange ritual, but clear way to recall uncertainty. We dip twice, we are nervous wrecks. And we sit slumped in our chairs, worn out from our mental anguish.

We joke with some of our more informed friends, "Have a happy and kosher Pesach. And try not to crucify anyone." History tells us that this is a season of notable anxiety and violent conflict.

And we imagine the rabbis sitting to discuss what to do to deal with the anxiety of the festival. One rabbi speculates, We already have one or two cups of wine on the agenda, one for kiddush and one that we can require for the grace after the meal. Have we got the uncertainty covered yet? Two more cups of wine on the menu should do it, another rabbi decides. And so it is, four cups of wine to compensate for the anxiety of this festival.

We hope all of that explains something of our wishes to our readers.

Have a dramatic Passover!

4/16/11

Baptist Minister Mohler Comments on the Time Magazine Rob Bell Cover Story

Traditionally in the US, the Easter season provides an occasion for elevated public discourse on theological topics.

For those who want to know what is a hot topic, just check out Time Magazine. Baptist Minister Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, comments at length on the Time Magazine Rob Bell cover story, "Is Hell Dead" by Jon Meacham. The Time article starts with a quote from the Bell book about whether Gandhi is in Hell because he was not a Christian. Meacham opines,
...So begins Bell's controversial new best seller, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. Works by Evangelical Christian pastors tend to be pious or at least on theological message. The standard Christian view of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is summed up in the Gospel of John, which promises "eternal life" to "whosoever believeth in Him." Traditionally, the key is the acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God, who, in the words of the ancient creed, "for us and for our salvation came down from heaven ... and was made man." In the Evangelical ethos, one either accepts this and goes to heaven or refuses and goes to hell....
Mohler summarizes the article here, without injecting much of his own critical reaction.

Here is our brief Talmudic analysis.

We see from a distant vantage that this is a struggle among the religious archetypes of the church, the distinct personalities of Christian faith. We've identified our own six categories of synagogue worshipers. And we would put those who exclude non-Jews from salvation squarely in the category of what we call the "celebrity monotheist" that is the triumphalist type Jew. And we do have those voices in our camp. The Jewish scenario is not a heaven-hell drama, but one of the notions of messianic end times, when all nations will convert to Judaism and be saved.

The scribal, mystical and meditative personalities that we have identified of Judaism are not interested that much in such an exclusive end-time drama.

To preach that celebrity vision drama out of Judaism would be difficult. It is woven tightly into our worship. So we watch Bell to see how much he can achieve in unraveling his theology and orienting it to support the sort of worship that aligns with archetypes of his church who are not governed by the heaven-hell drama of the combative Christian celebrity personality. That vision is articulated so clearly in the Gospel of John at the core of their scripture. It's not just a liberal v. conservative argument. This will be a major battle among the avatars of the ideal personalities who speak for Christianity.

Indeed as Meacham says it, "And yet there is a contrary scriptural trend that suggests..." There is more than one contrary trend. In Christianity they do have strong mystical, meditative, scribal and mystery archetypes, all of whom tend to disregard more or less the messages of their "celebrity" type.

Time got it right, this is big religion news.

Top Free iPad iPhone Android Passover Apps

We got our iPad after the seder last year. So this is the first year we can explore the Passover apps. We confine this brief list to free apps plus one at .99. There are others at reasonable prices. Here they are:

No Chametz! - free - what you need to search for Chametz and a link for selling it for a fee.

iSellChametz -free - Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom - the National Synagogue - will sell you Chametz at no charge. Donations to his synagogue suggested. Find this app on the Android Market called "Sell My Chametz".

OU Passover - free - magazineware of the OU guide for Passover certified kosher foods.

Fishing - free game - not sure what it has to do with Passover - but will keep a 4 year old kid occupied for a while

PlagueAudio - free - cute sound effects for the ten plagues

iHagada .99 - Not (yet) for use by observant Jews at the seder. Has the Hebrew and English texts for the Seder.  Or try other Haggadah Android apps.

Just open iTunes or Android Market and search for "Passover" to find those and more.

Appy Passover!

4/15/11

Review of Laura Lieber's Yannai on Genesis

There's a glowing review at H-Judaic of a new book on Jewish prayer by Laura S. Lieber.Yannai on Genesis: An Invitation to Piyyut. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press. The review is by Debra Blank (Brandeis University). Published on H-Judaic (April, 2011).

In praising this book in many ways, Blank includes this specific assessment, “The volume’s raison d’être is the k’dushta’ot (poetic versions of the Amidah’s first three sections) that Yannai, one of the greatest early medieval Palestinian paytanim, wrote for Genesis. Given his time and place, one can begin to grasp why a study of his poetic and exegetical elaborations on that biblical book would have rich potential for scholars of Byzantine culture and religion, as well as for areas like midrash, biblical commentary, liturgical history, and theology. Lieber describes Byzantine Judaism as an “exegetical culture” and situates Yannai within its vitality, using these piyyutim as an example of that world’s cultural richness (e.g., pp. 39, 145). Because she focuses on context, the dense integration of non-Jewish symbols (zodiac), priestly concerns, and aggadic material that one finds in these poems finally makes sense, no longer an over-stylized hodgepodge.” Here is what the publisher says about this book:
Piyyutim are Hebrew or Aramaic poems composed for use in the Jewish liturgical context, either in place of or as adornments to the statutory prayers. Laura S. Lieber’s seminal study uses the piyyutim of a single poet, Yannai (ca. sixth century CE), to introduce readers to this important but largely unfamiliar body of writings. Yannai, the first Hebrew poet to sign his name to his works (by means of an acrostic), influenced Hebrew sacred poetry for centuries beyond his lifespan. Lieber demonstrates how Yannai’s poetic presentations in a liturgical context transformed common ideas into powerful experiences. With Yannai as creative guide and narrator, worshippers became active participants in still-unfolding biblical events.

Lieber points out that Yannai’s time and place situate him at a critical moment in Jewish cultural history: despite Roman oppression, important rabbinic sources were crystallizing; the synagogue was thriving; the liturgy was taking definitive shape. His works, with their dynamic mixture of messianism, defiance, and restraint, reflect this society in flux and show him to be a poet of transformative importance in a period when Judaism and Western culture itself were both coalescing and becoming something new. The book is divided into two parts. In part 1, Lieber examines Yannai’s poetic language and structures, considers broader questions of his exegetical, cultural, and societal importance, then explores intriguing motifs in Yannai’s worldview—mysticism, holiness, God, the Covenant of the Land, Jewish-Christian relations, and the roles and importance of women in his piyyutim. Part 2 presents the texts of the Yannai’s 31 extant piyyutim embellishing the Book of Genesis along with Lieber’s translation, annotations, and analyses. Lieber’s groundbreaking study is an invitation to scholars to approach these beautiful and neglected texts using all the tools of their own disciplines. It encourages those in diverse cognate areas—such as liturgical studies, rabbinic literature and targum studies, the early synagogue and its art, Byzantine Christian culture and society, and the history of biblical interpretation—to engage with the piyyutim and include them in larger intellectual conversations.
And here is an article published in RRJ that may be drawn from the book. Hat tip to Jim at PaleoJudaica for the link to the review.

Was the Maxwell House Haggadah Received by Moses at Mount Sinai?


How many wonderful articles have we read this year about the traditions and merits of the Maxwell House Haggadah. Dayyenu! Pick up one or more of these free haggadahs at your local super market.

4/13/11

Tim Geithner's Brilliant 10 Minute Interview on PBS on the Deficit Deal that America Needs


Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner spoke clearly on the PBS Newshour on what is needed to fix the deficit. He made his case eloquently in just ten minutes.

And by the way, once again, if you are wondering, we have posted previously that Geither is not Jewish.

Yom Kippur and the Shawshank Redemption

We were finishing up teaching our course on the "Liturgy of the Days of Awe" today and observed at the close to our class that we talked about many dramatic aspects of the worship of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but not that much about theological concepts like repentance or atonement, nor especially about transformation. That's because in particular we don't know what transformation means, we noted.

One student chimed in that what we just said reminded him of a pivotal scene in the film, The Shawshank Redemption, wherein Morgan Freeman's character is asked by the parole board if after serving forty years he feels as if he has been "rehabilitated." He responds in a dramatic and memorable way.

This was another flash of insight from one student in a wonderful class. The bursts of understanding coming back from the students started flowing fast and furious the past few weeks. That's the rich dividend that a teacher gets on a good educational investment.

Here is the link to the classic clip from the movie on YouTube. They won't allow us to embed it here. Suffice to say, we love the comparison.

4/12/11

Hey Jewlicious: Where is Rabbi Ingber's Romemu Center?

We don't read Jewlicious that often. Not sure why, perhaps because we always have the feeling that the site seems to be missing something.

In the case of an article on the Romemu Center and its rabbi, the two simple things missing that we wanted and expected to know from the piece were (1) Where is the center? and (2) What is the rabbi's first name?

The article tells us a few things about Romemu:
Take the work of Rabbi Ingber, for example. Ingber is the grounded and dynamic young leader of the Romemu Center. His background is deeply orthodox and traditional, but he also happened to study psychology, Buddhism and healing at different points of his life...

“I understand all the reasons that there needs to be an authenticity (in temple) that we’ve done for centuries, but there is also like this prayer not to just be Jewish but to be a person who is having a spiritual moment,” he says. “Judaism has always been willing to borrow from other traditions, complementing areas that were not very strong in the Jewish tradition. Abraham, the son of Maimonides, borrowed Sufi techniques from the mystical branch of Islam. It’s hard not to see spiritual aspects to yoga practices, so we bring it into the shul,” he says.
Sounds interesting and we'd like to visit the place. But where is it?
“One if the biggest principles of Buddhism is that there is no such thing as the self. All you are is parts. What we call the self, or give ourselves a name — it’s our way of giving ourselves a handle on something that doesn’t need a handle. We are so much more complex than the simplistic labels that we use. Labels are important but often turn something fluid and complex, into something simple and solid.The shul, like Romemu itself, is very complex,” he adds.
More tantalizing now. Still no address, no links, no clues. And as to the rabbi, maybe his first name is Rabbi.

(FYI we found that the locations are: brick and mortar services: 165 West 105th St. @ Amsterdam Ave and office: 308 West 92nd St, Ste 5B; web site; the rabbi's first name is David; see his about page; a primary mission of the center is. "Romemu was created in 2006 and now offers Shabbat and holiday services infused with meditation and yoga, as well as a myriad of community groups, teachings, and events.")

And last point, the title of the post, "Mind, Body and Soul in Synagogue," we do believe this applies to every synagogue.

4/11/11

On Time Magazine: A Tiger Woods Swing Midrash

One of Time Magazine's top stories this week during the Master's Golf Tournament is the saga of "Golf: Why Tiger Woods' Swing Overhaul May Hurt His Game."

The gist of the account is that top golfers don't understand why the great athlete Woods is renovating his swing for a third time.

It's no great midrash to interpret what is going on with this golfer.

We speculate on solid ground that Tiger really wants to redo his life choices. He's made some bad "swings" and now he wants to correct them. The only thing Tiger knows is golf and thus he is for a third time trying to "fix his swing." Yes, he should make strenuous efforts to do that.

Here is what Sean Gregory says in Time about the athletic expression of Tiger's personal needs:
Woods first overhauled his technique after the 1997 Masters, which he won by a record 12 strokes. Woods felt that victory had more to do with good timing on his shots, which you can have in any given week, than sound mechanics, which you need to sustain long-term success. Essentially, Woods felt he got lucky. So Woods and his first pro coach, Butch Harmon (who now instructs Woods' longtime rival, Mickelson), worked on slowing down Woods' torso movement on the downswing, which would presumably lead to less erratic shots.

4/10/11

WP's Milbank: Why Fox Dumped AntiSemite Glenn Beck

It has amazed us that the rabid antiSemite Glenn Beck rose to such popularity in democratic America in our times. WP columnist Milbank theorizes that it was only possible in the midst of the great fear of economic ruin. Now that things are better, Beck is gone.

Milbank does not convince us of the cause and effect. He does summarize the bizarre and dangerous content that Beck spewed forth on his TV programs. And yet, Beck is not gone yet!
Why Glenn Beck lost it
By Dana Milbank

On Friday, the unemployment rate dropped to 8.8 percent, as businesses added jobs for the 13th straight month.

On Wednesday, Fox News announced that it was ending Glenn Beck’s daily cable-TV show.

These are not unrelated events.

When Beck’s show made its debut on Fox News Channel in January 2009, the nation was in the throes of an economic collapse the likes of which had not been seen since the 1930s. Beck’s angry broadcasts about the nation’s imminent doom perfectly rode the wave of fear that had washed across the nation, and the relatively unknown entertainer suddenly had 3 million viewers a night — and tens of thousands answering his call to rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

4/9/11

Times' Review of Deborah Lipstadt's new book, "The Eichmann Trial"

The Times has a review of Deborah Lipstadt's new book, here, The Eichmann Trial.

And you can hear the author interviewed as part of a pod cast.

ArtsBeat: Book Review Podcast: Francisco Goldman
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Featuring Francisco Goldman on his novel "Say Her Name"; Deborah Lipstadt on the Eichmann trial; and Pamela Paul on Beverly Cleary. 

Our family knows the Lipstadt family since the 1940s on the UWS. It's nice to know someone who gets a rave review in the New York Times Book Review.

4/6/11

Liturgy is not Theology

We've been teaching liturgical analysis. Self-evident to us that liturgy is not theology, they are two distinct domains. Yikes, you can take a photograph of your blackboard and post it online.

Simple. To analyze a liturgy you must ask about its idiom, its emotional content, and its position in a larger dramatic structure. Liturgy is comprised of emotionally resonant categories. That is what defines it as liturgy.

Theology resides in a distinct domain, not overlapping into liturgy, though surely contributing to it. It is comprised of emotionally empty categories, and so it should be.

Theology is a cognitive enterprise, where religious belief resides. Liturgy is a place with distinctive idiom, emotion and drama, with connection to the Jewish soul and to feeling, as opposed to an enterprise of deductive reasoning. Multiple archetypes actively express themselves in liturgy. Turn the dial and switch the channels. How diverse are your tents O Israel.

Kol Nidre, the Avodah of Yom Kippur and Eleh Ezkerah. Unparalleled powerful prayers. Now understood in a new key. Reminds us of a long past classic, Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, by Susanne K. Langer.

Too bad you couldn't be there today. It was a breathtaking class. And one student virtually present via laptop, at home with her newborn child. We see her on the screen raise her hand to ask a question. We answer. Minutes later we hear her child crying from the LCD screen. Brave new virtual world. We love it.

Forward Loves Haggadot.com

The Forward reviews new haggadahs and they love the web site haggadot.com.

We are confused by the site. And we are not exactly technically illiterate. Still we cannot figure out how to assemble a haggadah on this site.

We think Google docs, for instance, offers a better platform for collaborative project of assembling a document like a custom haggadah. On our desktop or notebook, we'd use powerpoint to make a custom haggadah. Much easier. And yes, you could always make your own haggadah by photocopying whatever you wanted in it and stapling that together.

The other new haggadahs reviewed in the Forward in their bloglike-brief snippets are these:

A Passover Haggadah: Go Forth and Learn

By Rabbi David Silber
Jewish Publication Society of America, 232 pages, $18

Creating Lively Passover Seders: A Sourcebook of Engaging Tales, Texts & Activities
By David Arnow
Jewish Lights Publishing, 464 pages, $24.99

Our Haggadah: Uniting Traditions for Interfaith Families
By Cokie and Steve Roberts, illustrated by Kristina Applegate-Lutes
HarperCollins, 192 pages, $19.99

The Szyk Haggadah
By Arthur Szyk, translated by Byron Sherwin
Commentary by Irvin Ungar
Abrams, 128 pages, $40

The Washington Haggadah
By Joel Ben Simeon
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 248 pages, $39.95

The Urban Family Passover Haggadah
By Arielle Mir and Tsilli Pines
Alef Betty, 64 pages, $14

The Medieval Haggadah: Art, Narrative & Religious Imagination
By Marc Michael Epstein
Yale University Press, 344 pages, $65

4/5/11

You Must Bury the Dead Holy Books

As most Jews know, when holy books die they must be buried with dignity, not discarded, not burned. It's called geniza, as in the Cairo Geniza, subject of a new book, published today, Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza.(Although in this famous case, the discarded books and papers were not buried, they were stored in an attic in a synagogue - go figure.)

Jon M. Sweeney at Huff Post tells us that the same is true for books of other religions. At the end of their useful lives, they too must be buried with respect.
How to Properly Dispose of Unwanted Holy Books

You don't burn them. You never, ever burn them.

An unwanted holy book, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or any other scripture, can be disposed of humanely and appropriately, but not burned.

A holy book is afforded the same respect as a human being in every religious tradition in the world -- except, apparently, the one practiced by one pastor in Florida.

You bury them.

I've actually buried quite a few Bibles in the last decade. At my old church in Vermont, I was in charge of the annual book sale. Donations would pour in over a six-week period, and I would weed through them all, sorting, pricing and packing them into cartons, where they waited until the day of the fair on the village green.

4/4/11

Newsweek: Madonna's Philip Berg Kabbalah Center Raising Malawi Scandal

It is sad to report that instead of doing good for impoverished children in Africa, Madonna's project Raising Malawi has become a "disaster" according to Newsweek ("Madonna's Malawi Disaster").

The story implies that Philip Berg and Kabbalah Center are to blame.

Was Gandhi Jewish?

No, political leader Mohandas Gandhi was not a Jew. He was a Hindu.

A new book described in a review in the WSJ (Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi And His Struggle With India, by Joseph Lelyveld) reports that Gandhi had a longtime lover who was a Jew and a Zionist.
WSJ: Among the Hagiographers
Early on Gandhi was dubbed a 'mortal demi-god'—and he has been regarded that way ever since
By ANDREW ROBERTS

Joseph Lelyveld has written a ­generally admiring book about ­Mohandas Gandhi, the man credited with leading India to independence from Britain in 1947. Yet "Great Soul" also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him. Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive ­intellectual, professing his love for ­mankind as a concept while actually ­despising people as individuals...

...the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. "Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom," he wrote to Kallenbach. "The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed." For some ­reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were "a constant reminder" of Kallenbach, which Mr. Lelyveld believes might ­relate to the enemas Gandhi gave ­himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations.

4/3/11

Times: Where to Buy Shabbos Flowers in Brooklyn

Amazing to us that we turn the pages of the paper and find this story in the Sunday Times. Where to buy your Shabbos flowers in Brooklyn - and a perfect shop for Seder guests to buy flowers from Paul Berger, "Where Every Bouquet Tells a Story."
ON Friday afternoons, the headquarters of the Chabad sect of Orthodox Judaism comes alive as men in black jackets and hats stream like worker bees in and out of the subterranean entrance on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. Those exiting scatter across Crown Heights to prepare for the Sabbath — Shabbos in Yiddish — many drawn a block east by the overpowering smell of lilies and the ebullient welcome of Chani Frankel to Mimulo, a flower shop on Albany Avenue.

“Shalom, rabbi! How are you?” she asked one customer on a recent Friday, greeting others with a “Happy Shabbos!” ...more...

Times: Demille's Ten Commandments on a 6 DVD Gift Set

A perfect gift set from the Seder guest. From the Times, "When DeMille Parted the Red Sea":

CECIL B. DeMILLE would probably have approved of the concept behind Paramount Home Entertainment’s 55th anniversary gift set edition of “The Ten Commandments,” an appropriately colossal undertaking that includes three Blu-ray discs and three standard DVDs, a commemorative book, reproductions of the original program and assorted documents and costume sketches. It’s all packaged inside a dictionary-size box with a lenticular 3-D image of the Red Sea on the front; when the sea is “parted” on a built-in hinge, a plastic reproduction of DeMille’s sacred tablets rises majestically into view.

The tablets themselves split open to reveal the six discs, which contain both DeMille’s famous 1956 version of the story starring Charlton Heston and his 1923 silent feature with Richard Dix that was his first pass at the material. The discs are loaded with commentaries, newsreels, trailers and a new 75-minute documentary, “Making Miracles.”...more...

Is Passover Catholic?

No, Passover is not a Catholic holiday. Even so, a new book certainly shows how important Passover is to the essences of Catholicism.

Brant Pitre's, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper, is a work of immense and approachable scholarship. It is a constructive theological treatise that surely will influence how Catholicism understands itself and specifically its place in relation to Judaism.

Pitre has written the kind of book that we prize. It is an American style theological treatise. That means it is written with the intent that an average educated Catholic can read and follow its premises and arguments. We'd say that this book is a masterwork of concision and clarity, two rarities in the theological universe.

Pitre connects the dots between Passover and the Eucharist (see p. 180) because he had to do this to satisfy himself. There can be no better motive for writing a tome.

4/2/11

Cablevision Optimum TV Anywhere in Your House on the iPad App

Newsday reports, "Cablevision Systems Corp. Saturday launched a service that allows subscribers to view 300 live digital cable channels on an iPad in the home. With the free Optimum App for iPad, the tablet device essentially can be used as another TV set."

It works on our iPad at home here in Teaneck.

4/1/11

Are Independent Minyans bad for the Jews?

Are Independent Minyans bad for the Jews? We think the trend towards ad hoc voluntary prayer groups -- called Indie Minyans -- is good for Judaism, enabling more choices, more competition and greater spirituality, and at less cost to financially strapped young people.

However if you are a rabbi or a cantor looking for a job, you should conclude that Indie Minyans are not a good thing for you.

Ben Dreyfus does not address this point directly in his otherwise perceptive op-ed on the subject in the Forward, "The Bum Rap Against Independent Minyanim".
Recent months have seen a wave of opinion pieces and statements — in these pages and elsewhere — that have been critical of independent minyanim. Minyanim are portrayed as too independent and not independent enough, and their participants are painted as both selfish ingrates who take from the community without giving anything back and energetic super-Jews who would automatically revitalize any synagogue they joined if only they were willing to set foot in one.

Let’s set the record straight.

“Independent” means that these minyanim are not affiliated with any of the Jewish denominations or with institutions such as synagogues. That is all...Read more...
That is not all. Indies as a rule have no professional employees: no rabbi, no chazan, no shamash... all told, this means lower costs for synagogue services and fewer jobs for synagogue professionals.

Is Passover Jewish?

Is Passover Jewish. Yes and no. Jenna Joselit informs us in her (poorly titled) Forward essay, "How Religious Customs Take Their Toll" that Passover is no longer exclusively Jewish.

Christians have taken a fancy to Passover celebrations, especially to celebrating the Seder. This trend used to be condemned as "Judaizing" in the early church. Apparently in the modern American pluralistic context, curiosity rules. Few Christian leaders fear that mass conversions to Judaism will follow a dinner started with the eating of matzah and horseradish.

As Joselit puts it:
...More pronounced by far is the frequency with which this millennial Judaic phenomenon has appeared over the course of the past decade or so within avowedly Christian — and largely evangelical — contexts. I have in mind here the Holy Land Experience, a religious theme park in Orlando, Fla., where, day in and day out, visitors in shorts queue up in front of the Shofar Auditorium to see the “Passover Seder Presentation.”