3/30/11

Film: Love and Free Will Challenge Fate in the Adjustment Bureau

Adjustment TeamWe did not have any conceptions about the film "The Adjustment Bureau" when we saw it on Cedar Lane in Teaneck this week. We only knew that friends thought it was a good flick.

It turns out that we loved the film. The concept of religion it projected was 100% from what we call the "scribal archetype" - religion here was a big corporation run by managers and accountants. And the kicker for us was that in the film, "love" provided the great challenge to the Bureau's carefully laid out plans. Scribes know about love - and they do want it to motivate your faith, not challenge it. So this high concept film worked for me.

The film is based on a 1954 science fiction story by Philip K. Dick, "The Adjustment Team" which you can read here. The trailer is below.



Terry Mattingly reviewed the film for the Scripps Howard News Service. Here is part of what he said about it:
...The movie centers on David Norris (Damon), a congressman from New York City who meets a mysterious ballet dancer on the night of a crushing political defeat (tzvee notes: in this role she is a modern dancer, not a ballet dancer and there is a big difference).

3/29/11

Is the "Secret" Eliezer Society at Yale University Jewish?

Yes, the secret Eliezer society at Yale University is Jewish, according to Time Magazine.

We don't like the idea of secret societies, Jewish or not. If you have something of value to offer the world, why not let everyone in on it? Perhaps it's so your members can feel like special elite people.

Be that as it may, based on our cursory viewing of their videos, we think maybe that Time magazine has been had by a Purim story about a "secret" Yale social club that mostly hosts barbecues and beach parties.
Yale's Secret Society That's Hiding in Plain Sight
By Adam Pitluk

On the storied ivy-laden, well-manicured grounds of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., something secretive is going on. Granted, this cradle of American intellectualism has long been the keeper of secrets. Since 1832, when the now infamous Skull and Bones society was formed, the best and brightest students of one of the best and brightest institutions in the world have shown that, if nothing else, they know how to keep mum.

In the shadows of Skull and Bones — an organization that boasts Presidents William Howard Taft, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and FedEx founder Frederick Smith as members — a secret society of a different stripe is flourishing as the modish club du jour. And this one was started by four men who 60 years ago would have been shunned by Bones.

3/28/11

JStandard's Miryam Wahrman Covers Jewish Domestic Abuse and Child Abuse

A strong and self-confident social group polices and criticizes its own shortcomings. Teaneck's JStandard science editor Dr. Miryam Wahrman writes about Jewish domestic abuse and child abuse. Those are sad realities in every ethnic and religious community. These two important articles will raise consciousness and save people from actual misery in the Jewish community.
Confessions and warnings. Project S.A.R.A.H. addresses domestic abuse
...“There’s an enormous shift in the Jewish community, from being in denial that these problems existed in the Jewish community to really wanting to create a safer climate for families,” explained East. “People don’t have to live with abuse. Kids can keep themselves safer.”

Some of the support mechanisms for families provided by the agency include the Shalom Task Force hotline, opportunities for counseling, and the training of professionals in the community. “Abuse is a complex matter, with legal ramifications, financial issues,” said East, explaining that attorneys, physicians, and rabbis can all help families in crisis...more...
The second article is here:
Confessions and warnings. A ‘toolbox’ for dealing with sexual abuse

A new book, “Breaking the Silence: Sexual Abuse in the Jewish Community” (Ktav), addresses the disturbing, complex, and mostly hidden issue of child abuse in Orthodox Jewish communities.

In the Jewish community, “there’s a sense of secrecy, a sense of shame, as it contradicts the values of the community,” said Dr. David Pelcovitz, the book’s co-editor with David Mandel...more...

3/27/11

Video: Minnesota Yordim Celebrate the Mother Land in Park Slope Brooklyn with Al Franken



In this video a bunch of Minnesota Yordim (= the Hebrew term for expatriates -- implying a qualitatively downward move) celebrate their Mother Land in Park Slope Brooklyn with Senator Al Franken giving the Matzoball on a stick the "Most Jewish" food on a stick award.

The Star Tribune article about the event March 20 (Purim this year) is here.

Does Jewish Meditation Exist?

Yes of course, Jewish meditation exists. We've written about it extensively in our new book (forthcoming). And now in our latest teaching (Liturgy of the Days of Awe at the Jewish Theological Seminary) we have extended our explanation and definition of Jewish meditation to subsume more of the classical Jewish prayers and rituals.

We posited in one recent class that the Kol Nidre service was best understood as a brilliant Jewish meditation of compassion, expressed in the scribal idiom of rabbis. Needless to say that needs to be explained at greater length, as we will do  in our forthcoming article on the subject.

Meanwhile back at the New York Times in January, scientific reductionism was running rampant. Meditation was described as having measurable benefits for the brain in a "Well" blog post on the subject, "How Meditation May Change the Brain" by SINDYA N. BHANOO, saying for instance,
...those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The findings will appear in the Jan. 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging.

M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants’ meditation regimen found increased gray matter in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. The images also showed a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, a region connected to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not practice meditation showed no such changes...more...
We do deserve more sensitive treatments of religious practice than it appears that the Times can offer up.

3/25/11

Star Tribune: From Minnesota Will Go Forth the E-Books

Two Star Tribune article about ebooks place Minnesota in the center of the ebook universe.

1. The University of Minnesota is lamenting the legal setback for the Google books plans.
Google court case stalls U digital book plan
A blocked settlement with the book industry is a setback for the University of Minnesota's plans to make its books more available.
By STEVE ALEXANDER

For the University of Minnesota, the dream of a universal electronic library has been derailed -- or at least delayed -- by a federal judge's rejection of a settlement between Internet search leader Google and the book industry.

For a year, the U's library has been shipping its books to Google to be digitized and become part of a huge database of computerized library books that would be widely available.

The U planned to ship 1 million books, with the understanding that most of the digital copies would remain largely out of the public view until the Google settlement was approved. more...
2. A young Minnesota author is the top ebook seller in the US.
Minnesotan gets the best of 2 book worlds
E-book author Amanda Hocking signs with a traditional publisher. Tales of trolls and vampires are making Minnesota publishing phenomenon Amanda Hocking, 26, a millionaire. By KIM ODE

Now the 26-year-old author in Austin, Minn., considered the biggest e-book seller in the world, has signed with an ink-and-paper publisher for a book contract reportedly worth more than $2 million. more...

3/24/11

YouTube Your Video Question to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu



World View is a series of monthly interviews with the World's foremost leaders where you ask the questions. The top-rated questions will be asked in live interviews.

Three days left to submit your question to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

3/23/11

The New Maxwell House Haggadah Has a Teaneck Connection

Our block, Milford Terrace in Teaneck, is a talented block boasting artists, doctors, nurses, rabbis, lawyers, teachers, professors, engineers, businesspersons and more.

One of our neighbors has written a new translation for the most classic Haggadah of all time - the Maxwell House haggadah.

The Jewish Week has covered this new edition with a lovely feature story, "Good To The Last Dayenu: Iconic Maxwell House Haggadah gets a modern makeover. New cover, new contents: Revised Maxwell House Haggadah is available for seders next month."

It's a good translation. We like the new design and layout.

And the Haggadah is free, compliments of the coffee company, at your local supermarket.

Congratulations neighbor on your achievement. Yasher Koach.

A New Lite Haggadah from Jewish Boston

If you want a lite Haggadah with most of the text omitted, Jewish Boston has one for you.
All of us at JewishBoston.com and our parent organization, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, wish you and yours a wonderful, meaningful Passover. There’s really no one right way to do Passover; it’s all about exploring the story, asking questions, sharing the experience with others.

Our mission is to make it easier for more and more people to participate in Jewish life. We hope this Haggadah helps do this for you. You can download free additional copies of this haggadah at www.JewishBoston.com/passover
Note to Jewish Boston: Studies have shown that most Jews like the traditional way "to do Passover" and a complete Haggadah from which they can select and skip as they see fit.

Is Gene Simmons Jewish?

Yes rock superstar Gene Simmons is a Jew.

The Jerusalem Post reports that he is visiting Israel: "Kiss rocker Gene Simmons back in Israel after 51 years," by David Brinn.
The Israeli-born superstar calls boycotting artists "idiots," says "there ain't no place like Israel on Earth."

52 years after leaving Israel as the impoverished nine-year-old son of a survivor of the Auschwitz death camp, Chaim Witz returned to his birth country this week under different circumstances - as mega-millionaire rock star and TV personality Gene Simmons.

“It’s amazing to be back here,” said the outspoken 61-year-old co-founder of rock legends Kiss on Tuesday in Jerusalem’s David Citadel Hotel where his entourage has taken over eight rooms. Simmons is here with his long-time companion Shannon Tweed and their son Nick to film episodes of their US reality show part of his reality show, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels."
The article explains Simmon's background:
Simmons’ rags to riches story had a particularly difficult beginning as his father, a carpenter in Tirat Carmel, was barely able to eke out a living for his wife and son. When Simmons’ Hungarian-born mother Flora left her husband and moved with the young Witz to Jackson Heights, Queens in 1960 in pursuit of the American dream, they were not far removed from the European nightmare the family had experienced in the Holocaust.

Imprisoned at Auschwitz at age 14, Flora saw her mother, grandmother and almost all of her family go the gas chambers, but it was a story that Simmons, who changed his name to Gene Klein in the US and eventually to Simmons, didn’t hear until much later.

3/22/11

Why do Some Orthodox Rabbis Keep Spewing Bombast against Women's Rights and the Israeli Government?

We think some Orthodox rabbis keep spewing bombast against women's rights and the Israeli government because they fear feminization, threats to their imagined national identity, and they also cannot cope with their own marginalization.

We originally posted on this subject of why religious terrorists throw bombs to help us explain some of the motivations of those kinds of religious terrorists when we were teaching and using a book on the subject by Mark Juergensmeyer.

Now we find it useful to muse in another context over the specific theories of Roger Friedland, professor of religious studies and sociology, UC Santa Barbara,  in a review of Terror in the Mind of God in the journal Tikkun May/June 2000, "War, Sex, and God - Religious Terrorism in the Mind of Mark Juergensmeyer".

He argues with eloquence that religious terrorists throw bombs so as not to be misidentified as feminized males in a world of disordered sexuality. The homosocial Orthodox world for instance, sees that threat and the vulnerability of their perceived national borders as sexual humiliations that need to be met with symbolic empowerment, such as throwing real bombs or, we add, writing bombastic nationalist and anti-feminist op-ed letters in various newspapers.

This is the relevant section of Friedland's review, asking Why Do Guys Throw Bombs?
When Juergensmeyer catalogues the social origins of religious terrorists and those who support them, he finds that in every case they are peopled by powerless or vulnerable groups whose public honor, indeed existence, appears at risk-white American working-class folk threatened by the new economy and its nonwhite immigrants; young Palestinians without prospect or homeland; upper-caste rural Jats being displaced by the urban Sikh castes; Jewish settlers fearful of displacement; young Algerians without jobs, housing, or the prospect of marriage; blocked professional scientists in Japan. While group powerlessness may be a necessary condition, however, it is surely not a sufficient condition for terrorism: in our world, the powerless are legion. It is not on the who of religious terror, but its how, the psychic pathways by which religious commitment explodes into physical terror, where Juergensmeyer makes his mark.

3/21/11

Brilliant New Edition of the Classic Szyk Haggadah

I am glad to say that I have a copy of the New Edition of the classic Szyk Haggadah.

Simply put, this is a brilliant book, perhaps one of the finest I have ever held in my hands.

Since my childhood I have been fascinated by the Szyk Haggadah. We had a copy in a box in our home. Opening it and turning the pages always inspired in me flights of imagination and wonder. Over the years I have come to appreciate the extensive talent that Szyk brought to the text of Passover seder.

With Szyk as your guide you get to feel the full impact of the great drama of slavery and redemption in all its nuance as an Israelite, Jewish and rabbinic performance. Szyk bridges the ages with his art, which is both technically striking and piercingly creative.

3/20/11

Is Mike Tyson Jewish?



Yes, Mike Tyson is converting to become a Jew.

The former world champion boxer was the subject of a glowing essay in the New York Times Magazine, Mike Tyson Moves to the Suburbs by Daphne Merkin, who describes in beautiful lyrical fashion the terms, "In which the ex-world champion learns to love the boring life."

Tyson was so impressed with Merkin, he has decided to convert himself to Judaism. "That woman has become my wole model," Tyson said. Merkin returned the compliment saying, "Meeting and interviewing Mike has been the highlight of my life."

Tyson will be undergoing the procedures of conversion this afternoon, Purim 5771. Celebrity Rabbis Arthur Schneier and Shmuley Boteach will officiate at Tyson's circumcision and ritual bath. Evander Holyfield had asked to perform the milah, saying, "It's only fair. It's in the Bible." Holyfield was rebuffed and told that "a foreskin for an ear" was not the actual wording of the biblical verse and anyhow that Holyfield was not Jewish yet. "OK. Never mind," he reportedly said.

3/19/11

Purim Video from St. Petersburg Russia



The Purim Song and Dance, by St. Petersburg Hillel. It's really beautiful to see them celebrating Purim publicly in the streets of Russia like that. And note that a woman is playing Esther. How novel! Happy Purim!
-Susie

We also like the original Black Eyed Peas song, I Gotta Feeling, because they throw in two mazal tovs...

3/16/11

Maccabeats Take a Beating for Blotting out Women from Purim Video

Hat tip to the Blog in Dm Jewish music blogger, for picking up this Jewish Week op-ed with the ironic question of the week, "Where are the Women in the Maccabeats Video?" by Natalie Blitt and Rabbi Josh Feigelson.

The Jewish male a capella group has tried to follow up its big viral hit Hanukkah video with a sequel for Purim. Here it is.



The JW editorial's authors make one point about the new release, "The video is once again slick and professional, and the music is catchy. But in a song and video devoted to the story of Esther, there’s one major missing element: women."

They then argue with eloquence that the role of women in the Orthodox world needs attention. They are right on that score too.

Then if you read the comments on the JW site, you get treated to a dozen or so pro-Maccabeats, pro-Orthodox entries -- that we think were all written by the same person using sock-puppet identities -- yes it is that obvious.

The mistake of the editorial is that the writers assume that Orthodoxy prohibits women from appearing in videos on YouTube. This is nonsense. There is no such prohibition.

Try watching this video of a wonderful instructional Torah class by Mrs. Shira Smiles. She practically sings her lecture, and nobody will question her Orthodox credentials. She's got dozens of equally lyrical and erudite videos online.

It immediately creeped us out when we realized that on the new Maccabeats video there was not a woman to be seen, not one sitting at the table, nor serving food, clapping, watching the men sing, clearing off the dishes, no women, none, though there were some little girl toddlers running around in the video. To us it was quite odd and we asked some of our friends and relatives and found that to others too all of this was noticeable and the video was a puzzling gaffe.

It's a shame, because these boys have talent, now spoiled by a bizarrely off key video -- one that parodies the wrong song too, as pointed out by authors Natalie Blitt and Rabbi Josh Feigelson. Pink's song "Raise Your Glass," they correctly tell us is, "a provocative salute to women’s empowerment." (Yes Pink is Jewish.)

Well, we think this failed parody version of Pink is a salute to the invisibility of Orthodox women that might have to be called, "Put Down Your Gals."

3/15/11

Is Terri Bonoff Jewish?

Is Terri Bonoff Jewish? Yes, Minnesota State Senator Terri Bonoff is a Jew. The Minnetonka politician is making waves in the legislature by protesting prayers made in the chamber in the name of Jesus by an anti-Muslim minister, Rev. Dennis Campbell of St. Cloud.

Instead of basking in unproductive hours or minutes of prayer, we think all legislators ought to try working harder while they are at their workplaces. They are public elected employees who ought to save their recreational praying for their days off.

Here is the AP story from the Star Tribune.
Minn. state senator wants Jesus out of state Senate prayers, seeks nondenominational approach

Associated Press ST. PAUL, Minn. - A state senator who is Jewish said Tuesday she was "highly uncomfortable" while a visiting Baptist pastor repeatedly mentioned Jesus Christ and Christianity in a prayer on the floor of the state Senate a day earlier, and wants to require that prayers in the chamber be nondenominational.

The prayer, and the reaction to it by Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, threatens to re-ignite a debate that's long simmered in the Minnesota Legislature over the content of the invocations that open each Senate and House floor chamber session. Bonoff said she's met resistance to her concerns from some members of the new Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

3/14/11

Should Jews Stop Reciting the Messianic Alenu Prayer?

Haaretz columnist Carlo Strenger recently wrote a strong op-ed reeling against religious messianism in Israel. He called it the, "Decline and fall of Israel’s Messianic politics" which he sums up thus, "Ultimately, Israel’s sane majority that wants peace and democracy rather than war and theocracy will wake up and break the destructive stranglehold of those who wish to make the country a theocracy."

In the heat of his argument Strenger, more freely than he ought, interchanges millenial, messianic and apocalyptic religious activism. Yet he does make his point clear. He prefers less messianism and more realism for Israel. Hence his wishful title.

3/13/11

At the Times they are a Changin'

Things are in flux over at the New York Times.

Last week three mainstay writers at the Magazine were terminated, including the ethicist, Randy Cohen, whom we criticized here more than once.

And this week Frank Rich announced that he is leaving his op-ed position. Actually we had noticed in the last few months that Rich had tempered (or lost) his edginess. He peaked in our esteem in the surge leading up to the Obama victory.

Add to this that The Public Editor, Arthur Brisbane wrote today about how Times staff members use Twitter to enhance their journalism. More changes. And in an opinion column Shelley Podolny mulls over the consequences of our inability to delete our digital information.

Our favorite essay of the day by far has to be Nicolas Kristof's, "Pay Teachers More." Wow, does he get it right. He understands and argues most of the key needs of the profession and the costs and benefits of having top notch teachers.

He even gets the value assessment of the intangible core of the profession (respectability) right. Here is how he sums that up in a nugget:
Moreover, part of compensation is public esteem. When governors mock teachers as lazy, avaricious incompetents, they demean the profession and make it harder to attract the best and brightest. We should be elevating teachers, not throwing darts at them.
Finally, you gotta thank the Times for entertaining you with great opinions, and sometimes with funny news. We never knew that you could get a doctorate in snowboarding and surely never could have imagined that it would involve an interdisciplinary crossover into religious studies. But at the Times, they found this, our favorite little news item of the day:
Soul-Riding the Slopes

Do spirituality and snowboarding intersect? A priest from St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Trail, British Columbia, thinks so, and explored the question in a thesis that recently earned him a doctorate in snowboarding from Kingston University in London, the CBC reports. The Rev. Neil Elliot said he became interested when reading about the term “soul-riding” in a Web discussion group. “Soul-riding starts with powder, it starts with some kind of almost transcendent experience in riding powder and in the whole of your life, so soul-riding is about being completely focused, completely in the moment,” he said.

Did the Pope Pardon Himself in his New Book?

Yes, we think that the pope did in fact pardon himself for any guilt of the Holocaust in his new book. Here is how.

In 1965 the Catholic Church exonerated the Jews and declared in Nostra Aetate of Varican II:
...True, the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Christ; still, what happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today. Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures. All should see to it, then, that in catechetical work or in the preaching of the word of God they do not teach anything that does not conform to the truth of the Gospel and the spirit of Christ.

3/9/11

Happy Purim! Yummy Hamantashen Recipe

Click to expand our standard Hamantashen recipe.
Happy Purim holiday to all.

Video: Times' Happiest Man in America - Alvin Wong - an Orthodox Jew in Hawaii

Is the happiest man in America, Alvin Wong, Jewish? Yes, he is an Orthodox Jew.

However, we think we are happier than Alvin Wong, and that he is at best the second happiest man in America. We offer to arm wrestle Mr. Wong for the title. (C'mon, don't we look happy in the picture?)

Here is the followup summary from Huff Post on the Times' original article. When we read that, we nearly fell down laughing.
Last week, Gallup published its annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, leading The New York Times on a search to find the person who fit the exact demographic specifications. Enter Alvin Wong, who they quickly labeled the happiest man in America.
Only days later, he's gone viral.
The New York Times reports that Mr. Wong has become a bit of a sensation. He's "gone viral" in Thailand, according to family, with international publications itching for an interview.
The Times selected Mr. Wong after asking Gallup, which interviews thousands of Americans to create the index, what the demographic make-up of the happiest person in America might look like.
Their answer:
[H]e's a tall, Asian-American, observant Jew who is at least 65 and married, has children, lives in Hawaii, runs his own business and has a household income of more than $120,000 a year.
Here's a video interview with The Honolulu Star-Advertiser:

3/8/11

Real Jerusalem Streets: Israeli Apartheid Rebutted in 24,000 Words



The Real Jerusalem Streets blog has effectively rebutted the accusations of Israeli Apartheid in a 24,000 word blog post, i.e., 24 pictures (each worth 1000 words) showing Arabs freely moving about and doing their business on the Jerusalem streets. Bravo.

Yes, of course, this is not a deep investigation into the charges of apartheid. No such process needs to be undertaken since there is no apartheid in Israel today and there never was and never will be. Such baseless charges undermine the credibility of the Arab world and the true supporters of the Palestinian people. If ever there will be progress for the latter, it will have to be after they abandon their false and self-defeating worldview of victimhood and stop the nonsense of such activities as Israeli Apartheid Week.

Why is the Synagogue so Complicated and Contradictory?

If we posit that an institution can be personified and hence can have a personality, how would we describe the synagogue?

Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist and author published an evocative essay on Huff Post, "After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer" that we think is relevant to the question. He says that creative personalities can be compicated, confusing and contradictory personalities, starting with Michael Jackson as an example.

All previous studies of the synagogue service claim that it represents a magnificent individual personality of liturgy. We've written a new profile of the synagogue that discerns through its prayers six major personalities within the multitude that resides there.

We find the essay by Dr. Kaufman helpful in explaining how and why the creativity in the synagogue can be so complex and contain contradictions which inhere cogently in the same performative entity. We think these insights are correct and can be powerful concepts for parsing and analyzing not just persons, but also cultural entities that are the projections of individuals.

3/6/11

One Year Later: Empowered Judaism

About a year ago (3/2010) we received a new book as a gift: Empowered Judaism by Rabbi Elie Kaunfer with a foreword by Jonathan Sarna.

Over the past year we have had some thoughts about the independent minyanim and we have watched what others are saying too.

Some observations about them are just silly and superficial, like the one in the Forward that compared indie minyans to barefoot jogging. We are still scratching our head over that one.

We think the indie minyan is a major formative trend in Judaism.

It is time to admit that a new social network model is taking shape for the theology and sociology of judaism and nothing will stop it.

3/5/11

Times: Sad Bad Religion News with Sins of Sex, Violence and Intolerance

A range of three sad bad religion news stories in the Times today, linking the major religions with sins of sex, violence and intolerance.

(1) Catholic priests are accused again of sexual abuse of children

In Philadelphia, New Cases Loom in Priest Scandal By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE
Dozens of priests accused of sexual abuse remain in their parishes, weeks after a report criticizing the Archdiocese.

(2) A Muslim imam is accused of preaching violence.

Radical Cleric Still Speaks on YouTube By SCOTT SHANE 

An interview with Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical American-born cleric now in hiding in Yemen, as it appeared on YouTube.

The videos of Anwar al-Awlaki, the man some have called the Osama bin Laden of the Internet, still appear despite an effort by YouTube to remove them.
 
Pastor Stirs Wrath With Views on Old Questions(3) A Protestant minister Rob Bell is accused of heresy because he is too liberal on who goes to heaven.


Pastor Stirs Wrath With Views on Old Questions

Without a New Taboo, What Will a Rabbi Do?

Fewer taboos means less work for the rabbis. If more activities are permitted, there is less of a need to call in the expert for an opinion.

Here is a example of an intelligent blogger who gets caught up in the strong currents of rabbinic prohibition and swept away in imagining new taboos.

Now these are not even remotely possible scenarios that said blogger proposes. A writer we accused, nay praised, for self-awareness just the other day now seems oblivious to a certain obvious conflict of interest in the thought and logic a some rabbinic thinkers.

The underlying issue is do rabbis tend to extend taboos to new scenarios to protect Jews from sin, or to make sure there is more work for the rabbis?

The case in point is a futuristic discussion at Havolim ("A New Discussion about Computers and Shabbos") over whether one can violate the Sabbath by using (still mostly imaginary) controller mechanisms that are governed by a person's brain processes alone and do not result from any measurable physical actions by that person.

Now this is not a scenario that has kept us up at night. Yet the clever blog writer wants to argue that indeed one can violate the Sabbath by thinking a forbidden act into happening.

We send out some brain waves on this matter to wit, this is no slam dunk of the logical extending of Talmudic principles. We broadcast our thought electronically that if there is no physical act, there is no forbidden act. We emanate our electron ideas that there is no need to find more work for the rabbinic lawyers or to find new reasons to seek their questionable guidance on even more matters.

Apparently Havolim's brain waves signal that we ought to extend the taboos and keep the rabbis involved in our lives, and gainfully employed.

Yes, the philosophical debate, if there is one here, might be expressed between one side saying, "Without a new Taboo, less for a rabbi do" and the other saying, "Without a new taboo, a better life for every Jew."

3/4/11

Ham, Sex, Wool and Linen: "I want to perform all those forbidden acts"

Here is a troubling theological question.  Should one say that the biblical commandments are perfect and any truly pious person would by nature want to observe them?

Or should we admit that we want to sin, but that we overcome that natural impulse in order to observe the commandments?

I came face-to-face with a simple rabbinic statement of this dilemma while working on my doctoral dissertation at Brown some years back on the traditions of Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah. (You thought maybe I was going to tell you about my personal experiences with temptations? Nu, no such luck.)

According to the midrash in the collection called Sifra, Eleazar takes a definite side in this debate. He adduces proof that one should say that yes, he wants to sin and that yes, he curbs his inclination in accord with the precepts of the Torah.

3/3/11

Are you a hedgehog-blogger or a fox-blogger?

My teacher, Rabbi Haym Soloveitchik c. 1971 in a seminar at the Bernard Revel Graduate School mentioned a book by Isaiah Berlin with great enthusiasm. He then applied the concept of the two archetypes, hedgehog and fox, to describe the nature of the work of two medieval rabbis (I forget which ones, but I'll wager he said Rabbenu Tam was a hedgehog and maybe Rashi was a fox.)

So I went over to the library and read the book, as I often did when one of my teachers mentioned a volume with high praise.

The other day at the office I tried to explain the archetypes to a talented programmer, noting after summarizing Berlin's theory that said developer came across as a hedgehog. And right then I realized that apparently I lapsed into speaking Aramaic - or that was the look I got from my colleague.

Wikipedia has a nice precis of the book (it's just an essay really of 90 or so pages)...
"The Hedgehog and the Fox" is the title of an essay by Isaiah Berlin, regarding the Russian author Leo Tolstoy's theory of history.

The title is a reference to a fragment attributed to the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: πόλλ' οἶδ ἀλώπηξ, ἀλλ' ἐχῖνος ἓν μέγα ("The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing"). In Erasmus Rotterdamus's Adagia from 1500, the expression is recorded as Multa novit vulpes, verum echinus unum magnum.)

Berlin expands upon this idea to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea (examples given include Dante, Plato, Lucretius, Pascal, Hegel, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Ibsen, and Proust) and foxes who draw on a wide variety of experiences and for whom the world cannot be boiled down to a single idea (examples given include Shakespeare, Herodotus, Aristotle, Montaigne, Erasmus, Molière, Goethe, Pushkin, Balzac, Joyce, Anderson).

Turning to Tolstoy, Berlin contends that at first glance, Tolstoy escapes definition into one of these two groups. He postulates, rather, that while Tolstoy's talents are those of a fox, his beliefs are that one ought to be a hedgehog, and thus Tolstoy's own voluminous assessments of his own work are misleading. Berlin goes on to use this idea of Tolstoy as a basis for an analysis of the theory of history that Tolstoy presents in his novel War and Peace.

The essay has been published separately and as part of the collection Russian Thinkers, edited by Henry Hardy and Aileen Kelly.

Some authors, for instance Michael Walzer, have used the same pattern of description on Berlin, as a person who knows many things, compared to the purported narrowness of many other contemporary political philosophers. Berlin's former student, Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, has been dubbed a hedgehog by Berlin and readily admits to it in an interview after receiving the 2007 Templeton Prize.

Berlin expanded on this concept in the 1997 book The Proper Study of Mankind. Philip Tetlock, a political psychology professor in the Haas Business  school at UC, Berkeley, draws heavily on this distinction in his exploration of the accuracy of experts and forecasters in various fields (especially politics) in his 2005 book Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?.
You can read the first ten pages or so at Questia or here.

And now we must, ask, fellow blogger, Are you a hedgehog-blogger or a fox-blogger?
(reposted from 7/08)

Catholic Herald: Pope Kicks Off New Book Promotion Saying Jews are Okay

Pope Benedict XVI has a new book out March 10 and to kick off its sales promotion he is mounting a major "Jews are Okay" campaign.

And by the way, we sure are relieved that we are not being blamed anymore, wow, thanks for the three pages. No, really, we were worried.
Pope: Jewish people must never again be blamed for crucifixion
By Simon Caldwell
Benedict XVI is to make a major new contribution to Catholic-Jewish relations with a gripping theological assessment of who was culpable for the death of Jesus Christ.

The Pope takes a significant step forward in furthering the cause of inter-religious dialogue by explicitly exonerating the Jewish people from all blame for the Crucifixion and death of Jesus.

In his forthcoming book on Jesus, the Pope dedicates three pages to the famous passage in St Matthew’s Gospel in which “the Jews” demand the execution of Christ and shout to Pontius Pilate: “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”...more...

3/2/11

Is Met Soprano Natalie Dessay Jewish?


Updated: Natalie Dessay as Lucia di Lammermoor at the Met.

Yes, Natalie Dessay is a Jew.  She converted to Judaism to marry husband and baritone, Laurent Naouri. They have two children.

Our source is Rebecca Mead who wrote a vibrant, colorful profile (The Actress) in The New Yorker, of Natalie Dessay, operatic soprano, who sang in “La Sonnambula” at the Met in 2009.

In the middle of this charming 2009 article Mead tossed in the surprising fact of Dessay's conversion to Judaism. Here is the abstract, you will need to register to read the entire piece online.
ABSTRACT: ONWARD AND UPWARD WITH THE ARTS about opera singer Natalie Dessay.

YouTube Video for the People of the Book


If you spend your weekend rearranging your books...
Hat tip to Miriam G.

3/1/11

Who was Beruryah?

BERURYAH, Second Century C.E., Israel (from our article in the Encyclopedia of Religion)

Beruryah was one of the few famous women in rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity. She was the daughter of R. Hananyah ben Teradyon, wife of R. Meir.

In rabbinic sources Beruryah appears several times together with the rabbis of the generation of scholars centered around the Galilean town of Usha. She is mentioned twice in Tosefta (in T. Kelim B.M. 1:6 by name and referred to in T. Kelim B.Q. 4:17 as the daughter of R. Hananyah ben Teradyon) and seven times in the Babylonian Talmud.

Beruryah's contemporary importance lies in her prominence as a rare woman-scholar in the male-dominated rabbinic culture. Goodblatt believes that Beruryah exemplifies the possibility, though quite uncommon, of a woman receiving formal education within rabbinic society. Goodblatt argues however that the traditions which ascribe rabbinic learning to Beruryah appear to be late, not telling us about Roman Palestine, the setting which they depict, but informing us better concerning the situation of Sassanian Babylonia, the place where they were formulated in the process of Talmudic compilation.

Whether historical or not, the rabbinic traditions do portray Beruryah as a sensitive yet assertive figure. The Talmud recounts anecdotes illustrating Beruryah's piety, compassion and wit. In one source she admonishes her husband Meir not to be angry at his enemies and not to pray for their death. She suggests that instead he pray that their sins cease and that they repent (b. Berakhot 10a)...more...