3/31/12

Times: Talmudic Speed Limit Sign

A truly Talmudic sign from the Times Magazine:



Road signs in a small town outside Detroit that listed six separate times for drivers to slow down in school zones have now been replaced after residents complained that reading them created a hazard all its own. The signs in White Lake Township instructed passing cars to slow to 25 m.p.h. from 6:49 to 7:15 a.m., 7:52 to 8:22 a.m., 8:37 to 9:07 a.m., 2:03 to 2:33 p.m., 3:04 to 3:34 p.m. and 3:59 to 4:29 p.m., but, thankfully, on “school days only.” The police chief, Edward Harris, says he had nothing to do with the mess. “Our only involvement was responding to the concerns raised by a number of individuals,” he says.

3/30/12

USATODAY: It is still men only at Augusta National the Master's Golf Course?

The Masters is the annual reminder to us all of how the old boys love their men only country clubs as USA Today asks, "Will Augusta National have its first female member?"

The story speculates on whether the club already has its first female member.
Three of the members of this most exclusive club in U.S. sports, if not in all of American culture, have traditionally been the CEOs of Exxon, AT&T and IBM. They have been invited to be members of Augusta National because they run the three corporations that sponsor the Masters. They've also been invited because they are men.

Last fall, however, IBM made a historic decision. It announced that as of Jan. 1, Virginia "Ginni" Rometty would become its first female CEO. Then, this week, on the eve of Masters week, Bloomberg News Service became the first to ask the logical question: Will Rometty become the first woman to wear a green jacket?

It's possible that the question actually might be moot. It is within the realm of possibility, remote as it might seem, that she's already a member and we simply don't know it yet.
As a famous Orthodox rabbi once told me, "When the women write the checks, then they will get called to the Torah." IBM writes a big check to Augusta National.

Yet let us not rejoice that egalitarianism has dawned at Augusta. As they say in French, "Un oiseau ne fait pas le printemps."

3/29/12

StarTribune: Minnesota author publishes six books and creates an instant legacy

The Star Tribune has a moving story about self-publishing by a Minnesota author.

The author is ill with cancer. The paper reports: "With time running out, Emily Meier started her own publishing company to share her life's work - six books at once."

Quite inspiring.

Is the Jordan Think Tank Arabic Babylonian Talmud Kosher?

JPost reports that and Arabic translation of the Talmud has been published.
A think tank on Middle East affairs in Jordan has for the first time published a translation of the Babylonian Talmud in Arabic.

Middle East Studies Center based in Amman produced the 20-volume work, which took six years to complete and is the labor of 95 translators, language experts and editors.
Sketchy details leave questions open about whether the motives of the translators are kosher or not.

We will follow up as more information becomes available.

3/27/12

Special Book Event This Thursday 7:30 at the Teaneck Public Library: Six super-models that you meet in the Synagogue

Teaneck Public Library Special Book Event 

Six super-models that you meet in the Synagogue - Thursday, 3/29, 7:30 PM

Not those "super-models" from the fashion magazines!

Professor Tzvee Zahavy will speak about his new book, "God's Favorite Prayers" that narrates his spiritual quest searching for perfect prayers. His talk will be on Thursday, March 29 at 7:30 PM at the Teaneck Public Library.

In his quest, Zahavy meets six ideal archetypes - those "super-models" of Jewish liturgy - the performer, priest, scribe, mystic, meditator and celebrity.

Come join and relive Tzvee's journeys and learn how to expand your own spiritual horizons.

The author will sign copies of his books and answer questions from audience.

The program is free and open to all. Call 201-837-4171 for further information.

3/26/12

Jewish Action: Is Rabbi Jonathan Gross the Chief Rabbi of Nebraska?

We salute our Teaneck favorite son for achieving recognition as a rabbi in Omaha. A certain young rabbi named Zev Goldstein (our dad) served as a clergyman in that town in the early 1940's.
The Chief Rabbi of Nebraska: Rabbi Jonathan Gross
By Bayla Sheva Brenner

The richest man in the world lives in Omaha, Nebraska, according to a 2008 Forbes magazine report. Although the publication was referring to legendary investor Warren Buffet, Rabbi Jonathan Gross, rabbi of Beth Israel Synagogue, would ardently insist that the author really must have meant him.

The spiritual leader of Beth Israel since 2004, Rabbi Gross, who is in his thirties, wakes up each day thrilled with his calling. From the start, he jumped right into the heart of Jewish Omaha—a city with an overall Jewish population of 6,500—offering educational programs and youth initiatives that have sparked the interest of Jews across the spectrum. Since his arrival, the shul has grown by one hundred members, many of whom are children. Rabbi Gross says he intends to keep up the momentum and draw even greater numbers from the larger community.

Originally from Teaneck, New Jersey, Rabbi Gross didn’t plan on being a pulpit rabbi. He majored in math at Yeshiva University (YU) and after a brief, unsatisfying stint as an actuary, he thought he should “do something Jewish.” In August 2001, he participated in YU’s summer Torah Tours program, which sends students to various communities to inspire greater enthusiasm for Torah. Rabbi Gross’ tour took him to Omaha. He found the people friendly and saw real potential for growth...more... /repost from 1/19/10/

3/23/12

Crimson: Egyptology and Christianity Alive at Harvard

We guess it was a slow news week at Harvard.

The Crimson reports that a "Professor Revives Egyptology At Harvard". You can now enroll in Egyptian Aa: The Language of the Pharaohs, Egyptian 150: Voices from the Nile: Ancient Egyptian Literature in Translation, Anthropology 1250: The Pyramids of Giza, or Societies of the World 38: Pyramid Schemes: The Archaeological History of Ancient Egypt.

And you can now find Christianity at Harvard (although we thought it was there all along, they have a divinity school for heaven's sake). We are not at all sure why this is a story, "Faith Emerging: Students Find Christianity at Harvard".

Haaretz: Jerusalem Fake Yeshiva Kollel Busted

Some would say there are redundancies in this headline: "Jerusalem police arrest four ultra-Orthodox men in fake kollel scam". Fake and scam in the same title seems over the top and repetitive to us. To others, the term "kollel" refers to a scam by definition, since it is where some men are paid to sit and read books, to engage in essentially unproductive activities, making the headline triply redundant.

What surprises us is that the secular formerly socialist State of Israel pays stipends to kollel students. When did all that start?
Jerusalem police arrest four ultra-Orthodox men in fake kollel scam
Men arrested for allegedly defrauding the Education Ministry of millions of shekels through a fictitious Torah study center.
By Oz Rosenberg
Jerusalem police have arrested three ultra-Orthodox men for allegedly defrauding the Education Ministry of millions of shekels through a fictitious Torah study center.

Following the arrests on Sunday a fourth man, from Jerusalem, was arrested yesterday in connection with the nonexistent center. Jerusalem police expect further arrests in the case.

3/22/12

Erica Brown's Encomium of the Virtues of the Talmud

From Erica Brown, published at the Algemeiner, nice words about the Talmud while reflecting on the demise of the Britannica:
...And the pause that I took to contemplate this new era also made me marvel all the more at our Jewish equivalent of the encyclopedia: the Talmud. Produced over several countries and four centuries, the Talmud has outlived the Britannica almost ten times over, at least from its humble beginnings as passages of Mishnah. Many Jewish books have gone into hundreds of printings, but the Talmud has outlived them all as our staple of rabbinic information.
From the first Bomberg printing of the Talmud once owned by King Henry the VIII when he searched for a solution to divorce his wives to the contemporary Schottenstein Talmud, a translation from Aramaic to English produced over 15 years at roughly one volume every 9 weeks, the Talmud's lasting impact is hard to fathom.
In 2010, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who translated the Talmud from Aramaic to English, added punctuation and divisions and commentary completed his entire 45-year project.
Why wasn't there some announcement centuries ago that "the era has changed" and the Talmud would no longer be reprinted? How can it be that when the Talmud was put on trial in 1240 by the Pope and then 24 cartloads of Talmudic volumes were burned in Paris in 1242 that European Jews made sure to replace them, as did so many other scholars and students after subsequent burnings?
It is only because the Talmud, unlike my old Britannica, was and is studied every day. This August tens of thousands of people will mark the completion of the seven year cycle—daf yomi—of Talmud study, one page a day. You can download it onto your iPOD and study it in a class on the Long Island Railroad and in synagogues early morning all around the world. We have never stopped learning it. It has always needed to be reprinted, even during our darkest hours.
To me, the most remarkable printing of the Talmud took place in Munich-Heidelberg in 1948, despite a shortage of paper and the lack of a complete Talmud in Germany. Two sets of Talmud were brought to Germany from New York, and a printing plant that had formerly printed Nazi propaganda printed its first Talmud, the only instance of a national government publishing the Talmud.
It was done at the request of a delegation of rabbis all of whom were survivors and is referred to today as the "Survivor's Talmud"; its frontispiece has a picture of Jerusalem on the top, underlined by the words: "From slavery to redemption, from darkness to great light"; it almost distracts the eye from the barbed wire fencing that decorates the bottom third of the page.
The Survivor's Talmud was dedicated to the United States Army: "The Jewish DPs will never forget the generous impulses and the unprecedented humanitarianism of the American forces, to whom they owe so much."
But more remarkable still is the way the introduction described the printing itself: "This special edition of the Talmud published in the very land where, but a short time ago, everything Jewish and of Jewish inspiration was anathema, will remain a symbol of the indestructibility of the Torah."
Most Jews today do not own a Talmud. They are distant from its incredible history. Even if you never open a page, the volumes would sit on your shelves like the Jewish soldiers that they are, making a statement of pride and indestructibility by their very existence. As we say a sentimental farewell to the Britannica, we as Jews know that words can live on shelves forever, but only if they also live within us.

3/21/12

Is the Brookings ConText site a Talmud?

Like Lloyd Bentsen said of Dan Quayle in 1988, "I know the Talmud, I studied the Talmud, and the Brookings ConText site is no Talmud."

The "Center for the Constitution" with the Brookings Institution presents online "James Madison's Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787" with commentary that can be augmented by users of the site.

The publishers of the site suggest that it is a lot like the Talmud.

From the American Interest blog: "The project, which aims to surround the notes themselves with columns of explanatory information, has a fascinating inspiration, explains Benjamin Wittes, Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings:
There is a model for this sort of thing, but it’s not a model from the American constitutional tradition; it’s the Talmud—the multi-volume exposition of Jewish law that developed after the Romans sacked the Temple in Jerusalem. The Talmud is a series of debates—and commentaries on those debates—on a text called the Mishnah. …On a page of Talmud, a passage of Mishnah is physically surrounded by layers of commentary text, more and more of them as the centuries wore on. So in the center of the page is a short passage, by tradition, of course, Divine, but often in practice dry as dust; yet radiating out from that passage is centuries of wisdom and thought. It is not merely a form of crowd-sourced scholarship, but it is a visual means of expressing that scholarship and crowd-sourcing that seemed to me to have broad application to the exposition of lengthy and difficult historical texts like the Notes.
No, we think all this is not Talmudic. The result as we see it on the site is an annotated text with two layers and five categories in separate note panes. The categories are:

H — Historical
E — Current Events
T — Theoretical/Philosophical
I — Constitutional Interpretation (this includes discussion of relevant court cases)
O — Other Commentary (also, when your particular column view does not show all available columns, commentary from “hidden” columns will appear in the “Other” pane)

These do not coincide, except in the most generic sense, with the Talmudic and halakhic modes of commenting on the Talmud text, which are not by the way "dry as dust".

And the two authority layers for comments at Brookings are contributors and scholars. Some unspecified people get Scholar-Level Access, "Approved scholars will also be granted advanced access to the site, which includes the ability to edit existing commentary. With scholar-level access, a pen icon will appear at the end of each note in the commentary panes. Click on the pen to edit text within each note." Ordinary Contributors cannot do that.

We wish the project luck, "as the centuries wear on" even if it is not Talmudic in any meaningful way. A truly open wiki-like effort would be much more welcome and more interesting to watch unfold. This looks like a pseudo "crowd sourcing" groupware effort that will be hampered, restricted and inhibited in any number of tangible ways.

Yet, as a post script, in one crucial high level way the ConText exercise and the Talmud are alike. Both are dedicated to providing life support or resuscitation for old documents to keep them alive so as to justify why things ought to stay the same as "we say" they always were because the old words (i.e., "as we interpret them") have special or even sacred meanings and great authority.

And the Brookings Institution is known both as liberal or conservative, depending on whom you ask. This ConText venture seems to us quite conservative, in that way yes, like the Talmud.

3/20/12

JTS publishes over 100 podcasts via Apple's iTunes

In a welcome initiative the Jewish Theological Seminary Announced the Launch of JTS iTunes U with quality recordings of events and presentations for the public at large.

The unanswered question in this press release is how (or whether) JTS leverages iTunes and all other digital technologies for instruction of its students in and out of the classroom.
The Jewish Theological Seminary is pleased to announce the launch of the JTS iTunes U site. The site, accessible via Apple’s iTunes, makes public lectures, Torah commentaries, and select JTS courses available for free streaming and downloading.

“The launch of the iTunes U site marks a fantastic step forward for JTS’s online presence,” says Rabbi Charlie Schwartz, director of Digital Engagement and Learning at JTS. “It is now possible to easily find, download, and experience the deep and meaningful learning that happens every day at JTS.”

The JTS iTunes U site features a wide variety of content. The weekly Torah commentary podcasts are easy to find and subscribe to, as are recordings of public JTS lectures and events, such as the popular series of Library Book Talks that feature JTS faculty and other distinguished authors discussing their latest books. Collections of lectures detailing issues in contemporary Jewish philosophy, theology, and ethics highlight how JTS scholarship engages with the challenges of the 21st century. In the near future, full courses—complete with course materials—will be made available, providing access to JTS’s world-class faculty and high-level Jewish learning. 
“Opening access to the wealth of learning, scholarship, and meaningful engagement with Jewish tradition that embodies JTS is core to the university's mission,” says Rabbi Marc Wolf, the newly appointed vice chancellor and chief development officer of JTS. “In the coming months, JTS will dramatically expand the ways, both innovative and traditional, that communities and individuals can be inspired by the energy of JTS,” Rabbi Wolf adds.
The JTS iTunes U site can be visited via iTunes at http://itunes.apple.com/us/institution/jewish-theological-seminary/id472010491

Download iTunes for free: http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/.

Talmudic Books for Kindle on the Talmud, Bible, Kabbalah and Prayer
  The Kindle Edition of the Classic Soncino Talmud in English

StarTribune.com: Are liberal arts colleges kosher?

Liberal arts colleges are kosher although they are having a tough time proving it, reports the StarTribune.

"In tough times, liberal arts colleges defend their value,"
recounts the efforts at St. Olaf's in Northfield MN:
...St. Olaf has transformed its career center, called the Center for Experiential Learning. "I don't know why that name was selected," Anderson quipped, "but I'm guessing it was to avoid using the word 'career.'"

Once on the fringes of campus, the center now shares a bright, newly renovated building with the president's office. It's a key stop on campus tours and a regular sight along students' routes. Since the move, the center has seen a 69 percent increase in traffic.

Soon, it will get a new name: the Center for Vocation and Career. If St. Olaf once eschewed the word, now it's shouting it from the hilltop.

Like other schools, St. Olaf has touted alums with cool jobs in its publications and released an employment figure or two. But soon, a prospective student will be able to browse a database: What share of grads with English degrees have jobs? What are they earning?

In May, the college will begin publishing employment and salary data for the class of 2011, building on it with every class. A spokeswoman for the Council of Independent Colleges said its president and researcher had never heard of a nonprofit, private college making such data public....
It's getting increasingly harder for a liberal arts college to keep its kosher reputation in a world of increasingly conservative values.

Maybe they can change the label to "conservative arts" - yeah that sounds about right.

3/18/12

Times Travels to Uman and Rabbi Nachman of Breslov's Grave

Our son Yitz told us he did not like one of the pictures in this story about Uman in T the Times' Travel magazine. We said, what is Uman?

In "One Schlep Forward" Gideon Lewis-Kraus explains in a funny story from his forthcoming book - A Sense of Direction: Pilgrimage for the Restless and the Hopeful - that it is a gathering in the Ukraine of 50,000 Jews:
The big event, we’d heard, was at the Tzion, Rabbi Nachman’s grave, at noon before the start of Rosh Hashanah. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov was a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidism. The three generations following the death of the Baal Shem Tov saw the Hasidic movement — populist, ebullient, mystical, messianic — splinter into all of the sects that jostle up against each other in Brooklyn today, each of which has had its own rabbinic lineage; Nachman’s adherents, called Breslovers, however, have promoted no leading rabbi since Nachman himself, and have thus been called the “dead Hasids.”

Before his death in 1810, Nachman told his followers that if they came to visit his tomb on the holiday and repeated 10 particular psalms, he would grant them redemption in the world to come...
We'll go one day, if they have good golf courses nearby.

Is Goldman Sachs Critic Greg Smith Jewish?

Yes, Greg Smith is a Jew.

Paul Berger of the Forward writes about Smith, "Goldman Rebel is Latest Outspoken S. African Jew." He suggests, as a question, that Smith's criticism of Goldman Sachs, "was simply continuing a South African Jewish tradition of speaking truth to power."

Okay, but what about the substance of Smith's criticism? It could be dismissed as sour grapes or it could be acclaimed as a brilliant analysis. Which one is right?

And what of the Times decision to run the column by Smith? Is this not a brazen attack on New York's Wall Street club? Which powerful group of New Yorkers then is behind this assault? Are the NY real estate barons pushing the nuclear button? If so, why now?

But the Forward is happy to turn our attention away from all that and back to the Jews of South Africa. Can you say "distraction"?

3/15/12

For Parshas PARAH: LAWS OF THE RED COW (THE RED HEIFER)

From Reuven Brauner - free download PDF:

SUMMARY OF THE BASIC LAWS OF THE RED COW (THE RED HEIFER)
DESCRIBING THE RITE OF PURIFICATION FROM DEFILEMENT WITH A CORPSE USING THE ASHES OF A RED COW

Each aspect of the red cow procedure is steeped in esoteric symbolism which addresses the fundamental concepts and meaning of life and death, as well as purity and defilement.

Talmudic Books for Kindle on the Talmud, Bible, Kabbalah and Prayer The Kindle Edition of the Classic Soncino Talmud in English

Manic, Panic, Titanic

We don't usually make random psychological posts. But in thinking just now about what is called bipolar disorder, we were bothered by how the mood condition is commonly described, to wit, "Bipolar disorder or bipolar affective disorder, historically known as manic–depressive disorder, is a psychiatric diagnosis that describes a category of mood disorders defined by the presence of one or more episodes of abnormally elevated energy levels, cognition, and mood with or without one or more depressive episodes (Wikipedia: Bipolar disorder)."

Our reservations with a common label for the disorder are twofold.

First of all "manic depressive" does not rhyme.

Second of all the common labels do not adequately describe what we have seen of the disorder over many years of observations of the experiences of people we are close to who suffer from it.

The main component that is missing if either of the labels "manic-depressive" or "bipolar" is used, in our completely non-professional opinion, is the intermediate time between the manic phase and the depressive episode. That is not necessarily a "normal" mood time, but more commonly (in what we have witnessed) an interval of "panic" interlaced with anxiety, between the elevated and the low moods.

And since "manic, panic, depressive" does not rhyme, we propose a new label for the conglomorate disorder: "Manic, Panic, Titanic". We think that it is important to be accurate in naming.

Were visions of angels in Bible real?

No, visions of angels were not perceptions of anything real according to recent studies. They were the products of lucid dreams.

The UK paper the Daily Mail reports that, "Recorded Biblical angels and religious encounters may have just been lucid dreaming suggests a new sleep study that claims the historic stories were merely 'out of body experiences'"

The research center that conducted the study is not a recognized academic unit. Still the claims provoke much thought at a time of year when many people experience vivid types of dreams of their own.

That reminds us to think about the Talmudic materials in Bavli Berakhot on dreams and their meanings. We may even post the Talmud selection as a separate file, or a new short book. Hmm. A real idea or a lucid dream?

Here is the crux of the news report.
Visions of angels in Bible were 'lucid dreams' claims new sleep study after 15 studied 'see angels'
By Nina Golgowski

Recorded Biblical angels and religious encounters may have just been lucid dreaming suggests a new sleep study that specializes in 'out of body experiences.'

Asking 30 volunteers to try to re-create a scene out of the Bible where a prophet is aided by an angel during sleep, the researchers taken from the University of California Los Angeles say the majority reported similar encounters.

We endorse Shmuley Boteach for Congress


JTA has reported that our neighbor in nearby Englewood, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, announced his run for Congress.

We endorse his candidacy. We believe that overall it would be a good thing for rabbis and the for all things connected with the Talmud to have a Rabbi in Congress.

We do not endorse all of Boteach's positions on issues. He needs to clarify where he stands on many things. It seems he is a political conservative on many issues, something we are not comfortable with. But his views as reported are somewhat quirky, which may be a valued asset in a complex campaign.

Given the make-up of his district, and his complete inexperience in politics, we expect that there is little chance that Boteach will win in the election. But we do wish him well and offer him our support. Here is the JTA story:
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author and media personality, announced his candidacy for a New Jersey congressional seat.

In a statement Wednesday, Boteach announced that he will be seeking the Republican nomination in northern New Jersey's 9th Congressional District. Boteach had said previously that he was considering a run.

The Democratic-leaning northern New Jersey district has a fierce redistricting-induced Democratic primary battle taking place between two incumbents, Reps. Bill Pascrell and Steve Rothman.

Boteach's stated platform includes support for school vouchers, a flat tax and making marital counseling tax deductible in order to lower the divorce rate. He has criticized what he sees as an excessive Republican focus on sexual issues such as gay marriage.

Boteach, who once was affiliated with the Chabad movement, bills himself as "America's Rabbi." He hosts a show on TLC called "Shalom in the Home" and is the author of several books, including "Kosher Sex," "Kosher Adultery," "The Kosher Sutra" and, most recently, "Kosher Jesus."

3/12/12

Progress Report: The Worried Waiting of West Side Jewish Women

Our question lately is, if Orthodox Judaism says that modesty is such a virtue, then why is it imposed upon women and not men? Shouldn't men also be modest in all the ways they require women to be? Why not?

We posted this below four years ago, 3/3/08. Is there any progress to report after four years? Looks to us like lately Orthodox women are losing ground, not making progress. Here is our question from 2008.

What do women want? On the West Side of Manhattan, Orthodox Jewish women apparently want to wait for some imaginary time when they will be accepted as equals to their male counterparts.

All the men have to do is to say yes, women are equal, and that will be the end of the struggle. Ha'aretz reports....
Who's that woman in the pulpit?
By Shmuel Rosner

NEW YORK - She waits patiently for the end of the service before going up to the synagogue's pulpit. This is the policy and she respects it. Women are not allowed there until the service has been completed. This is how it was before her, and this is the custom now. Her husband doesn't get it - he thinks that she ought to propose a change. But Elana Stein Hain is not in any hurry. "Caution" is the key word in a conversation with her that took place recently in Manhattan's Upper West Side. This caution "is the only way for me to be effective," she said.

She is part of a new fashion that is getting quite a lot of attention in modern Orthodox circles in America, an offshoot of one of the few trends that are occurring almost simultaneously in America and Israel - the Orthodox women's revolution. Or to use plain English: women taking key, quasi-rabbinic roles in synagogues. They are almost rabbis, but not really. Or maybe really, but just not called by that name. They deliver sermons, but they cannot lead prayers, nor can they officiate at weddings. But maybe at other ceremonies: for example, funerals...more...

3/11/12

Henry Frisch's Maxwell House Haggadah Beats out the new one by the Trendy Novelists Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander

Our neighbor Henry Frisch (he lives mamash on our block in Teaneck) has beaten out the two hoity toity hotsy totsy novelists who have published a really strange new Haggadah this year.

According to the Times, none other than the President of the United States, Barack Obama, has considered the Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander Haggadah and has rejected it in favor of Henry's translation in the Maxwell House Haggadah.

Boo-yah to Henry. Way to go man!
Two Novelists Take on the Haggadah
By ALEX WILLIAMS
AFTER a lengthy interview with President Obama in the Oval Office two weeks ago, Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for the Atlantic, had one more question, and it had nothing to do with Iran.

“I know this is cheesy ...” Mr. Goldberg started, but before he could finish, the president interrupted him. “What, you have a book?” Mr. Obama asked. Turns out, Mr. Goldberg did, but “it’s not just any book,” he replied.

Mr. Goldberg reached into his briefcase and handed the president an advance copy of the “New American Haggadah,” a new translation of the Passover liturgy that was edited by Jonathan Safran Foer and contains commentary by Mr. Goldberg and other contemporary writers.

After thumbing through the sleek hardcover book, Mr. Obama looked up and asked wryly, “Does this mean that we can’t use the Maxwell House Haggadah anymore?”

Mr. Goldberg was impressed. “Way to deploy the inside-Jewish joke,” he later said. Since the 1930s, Maxwell House has printed more than 50 millions copies of its pamphlet-style version of the Haggadah. It has been the go-to choice at the Obamas’ White House Seders, though Mr. Goldberg hoped the president would consider using their version this time around.

In the end, the White House decided to stick with the Maxwell House next month...more...
Cheesy? More like dumb to report that your president rejected you. Or not, the book is the #7 best seller on Amazon! Utterly amazing all around.

3/9/12

Sarna Slams Soloveichik, but too Softly

Professor Jonathan Sarna has levelled a strong critique against Rabbi Meir Soloveichik in an essay in the Forward, criticizing Soloveichik's testimony to congress about the funding of birth control, concluding:
...one hopes that Congress will ignore the testimony of Soloveichik. To focus on the religious liberties of employers while overlooking those of their employees, and to focus on only the free exercise clause of the First Amendment while ignoring the dangers of coercive religious establishments, is to pervert what Washington meant when he spoke of “liberty of conscience” and to set back the cause of liberty and justice for all.
The problem with Sarna's critique is that it is correct, but it is on a level too high to be meaningful. Sarna measures in theory, weighing institutionally wrapped religious rights against the clear legal individual rights of citizens. In our democracy all rights of organized groups derive from the rights of citizens on an individual basis. The Church does not have constitutional rights per se or any rights articulated in the Declaration of Independence. In fact, as we learned in grade school, a major impetus for the democracy in our land is "freedom of religion" for individuals. That never meant freedom of a religion to oppress the rights of individuals.

3/7/12

The Sunrise and the Redemption of the Jews in Yerushalmi Berakhot and in the Book of Esther



Talmudic life extends the space-time continuum with an acute awareness of the physical here-and-now and deepens the spectrum of thought and meaning with trajectories back into the distant past of the scripture and forward to the hopeful expectation for salvation.

This passage below from the Talmud Yerushalmi Tractate Berakhot demonstrates key aspects of the logic of a Talmudic life - what we explore every day in this blog. The rabbis in the passage practice a mindfulness of the natural world on a seamless continuum with thoughtfulness about their textual world, their imagined pasts and futures.

Below, in this passage that we cite, they want to understand the dynamics of sunrise, part of their everyday natural lives. They need to know when day begins so they can start to say their daily prayers at the correct hour.

On their way to determine this they talk about visual observation and use poetic terms from scripture. They measure the elapsed time of a pre-dawn period by specifying durations for physical activities of walking. But their walking has no physical or temporal boundaries. The dusty roads of the Land of Israel in late antiquity lead them directly into the book of Genesis.

The four miles that the rabbis might walk to determine a period of elapsed time are the same four miles that Lot and his wife and daughters would walk at the behest of heavenly angels. And if those biblical four miles were really not four miles, miracles made them so.

And yet the passage tells us, when rabbis Hiyya and Simeon once were walking in a real valley at daybreak, they were not satisfied to speak about the technical definitions of the durations of the pre-dawn periods, though they surely could have done just that and stopped.

They instead looked at the rays of the dawn and launched their time machine into the future, into a peroration on the redemption of the Jewish people. As they mindfully noted the real rays of that dawn, they pondered the equally real rays of the prophetic words of Micah and of the melodramatic story of biblical Esther.

3/6/12

Is Robert Allen Stanford Jewish?

No, we are pretty sure that Robert Allen Stanford is not a Jew.

Stanford is a prominent financial executive who was sought by U.S. marshalls 2/17/09 and charged with a multi-billion dollar fraud. (SEC Statement)

On 6/18/2009 he was arrested and indicted on criminal charges stemming from his operation of a massive investment fraud operation that bilked thousands.

He was convicted on 3/6/2012: "Stanford Convicted by Jury in $7 Billion Ponzi Scheme"

Stanford was born March 24, 1950 in Mexia, Texas. He is a fifth-generation Texan who resides in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands and holds dual citizenship, having become a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda ten years ago.

Our reasonably certain conclusion about Stanford's religion is derived from indirect evidence. Sperling's provides this data about religious affiliation in Mexia, Texas: 56.71% of the people in Mexia, TX are religious, meaning they affiliate with a religion. 3.64% are Catholic; 47.87% are Protestant; 0.00% are LDS; 5.19% are another Christian faith; 0.00% in Mexia, TX are Jewish; 0.01% are an eastern faith; 0.00% affiliate with Islam.

The SEC Complaint charged:
  • Since 1994, Stanford International Bank claims it has never failed to hit investment returns in excess of 10 percent a year.
  • In 2008, the bank said its "diversified portfolio of investments" lost only 1.3 percent, while the S&P 500 U.S. stocks benchmark declined 39 percent.
  • SEC says the bank's historical returns are "improbable, if not impossible."
  • The bank quoted certificate of deposit rates of more than 7 percent during 2005 and 2006, and quoted a 3-year CD at 5.375 percent annual rate in November 2008, against comparable U.S. bank CDs of 3.2 percent.
  • Did not disclose that its investment portfolio includes a significant portion in illiquid private equity and real estate investments.

3/5/12

Is Democracy in Israel Kosher?

A lot of people are pushing the notion in Israel that democracy is not kosher, says David Remnick of the New Yorker magazine in an editorial comment.

He reviews a wide number of examples of how democracy is "threatened" in Israel and indeed centers in on the religious tensions that are current there. Here is his pungent prose on that matter.
Herzl envisioned a pluralist Zionism in which rabbis would enjoy “no privileged voice in the state.” These days, emboldened fundamentalists flaunt an increasingly aggressive medievalism. There are sickening reports of ultra-Orthodox men spitting on schoolgirls whose attire they consider insufficiently demure, and demanding that women sit at the back of public buses. Elyakim Levanon, the chief rabbi of the Elon Moreh settlement, near Nablus, says that Orthodox soldiers should prefer to face a “firing squad” rather than sit through events at which women sing, and has forbidden women to run for public office, because “the husband presents the family’s opinion.” Dov Lior, the head of an important West Bank rabbinical council, has called Baruch Goldstein—who, in 1994, machine-gunned twenty-nine Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron—“holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.” Lior endorsed a book that discussed when it is right and proper to murder an Arab, and he and a group of kindred rabbis issued a proclamation proscribing Jews from selling or renting land to non-Jews. Men like Lieberman, Levanon, and Lior are scarcely embittered figures on the irrelevant margins: a hard-right base—the settlers, the ultra-Orthodox, Shas, the National Religious Party—is indispensable to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

Video: Is the Megadeth style Hatikva Kosher?

The Times Ethan Bronner chronicles the controversy in Israel over an Arab judge who did not sing Hatikva at an official ceremony, "Anger and Compassion for Arab Justice Who Stays Silent During Zionist Hymn." We think that not singing is perfectly kosher.

This reminded us of another instance of Hatikva (guitar but no singing) that we took at the time as a proof that Israel is the full flowering of Jewish redemption. Here is a 2007 story from Ynet and a YouTube video clip of Megadeth style Hatikva, which we deem to be glatt kosher.
Hatikva, like you've never heard before
(VIDEO) 'Coming here twice and playing my music for these people is the best,' says Marty Friedman, who performs in Israel for second time in his life

Over 1,000 people came to the Theatre Club in Jaffa Saturday to see the great guitarist Marty Friedman.

He delivered the goods, captivating the audience for two whole hours.



Friedman (44), who is Jewish, is known for his spectacular performance with Megadeth in Israel a decade ago. Back then, he played Hatikva, Israel's national anthem, on the stage. Saturday, he did it again. He opened the performance with the national anthem. The audience sang along with him, or rather, screamed along…

After the Hatikva, Friedman and his excellent band (especially crazy drummer Jeremy Colson) continued with a rocking two hour evening,, not losing an ounce of energy for even a moment...

Video: Artscroll Talmud App for iPad -"This will change everything again" at what price?



At first we thought this was a Purim spoof video. It is not.

The overstated and over dramatized video promotion for the Artscroll Talmud App informs us that this is "far beyond anything" and that this new app "will change everything - again." And then it shows us (without a touch of self awareness) how the exact page of the Romm Talmud will be reproduced on the iPad and the exact page of the Artscroll elucidation will be reproduced on the iPad. This is the true irony of "look at how many new, new, new ways we can reproduce the old, old, old texts." They are at the same time absolutely faithful reproductions and "elucidations" and, gevalt, astonishingly new and revolutionary editions.

Putting all the irony aside, in fact the app video does show clever "fusion" technology for text study, a layering the original Hebrew and Aramaic text with the English translation, the notes and the sources. This is how the iPad (Kindle etc.) does brilliantly enable true hypertext reading and learning with potential interactivity. The ecosystem of the iPad is the revolution. Artscroll forgets to mention in its marketing pitch that it is actually a clever implementation of the revolutionary Apple platform. A bit overly self-centered, how much patting oneself on the back can one company engage in, now brought to yet another new pinnacle.

Everyone in the media and on the Internet wants to know how much all of this will cost.

It ought to be free. If the purpose of all of this innovation is to bring the Torah to the multitudes, let the wealth of our community (Schottenstein et. al.) bring it to us at no cost.

Unfortunately, the Artscroll-Schottenstein notion we fear is that once again the price will be higher and higher for access to Torah learning. The Artscroll shas 73 volumes on sale is $2,182.50. This high cost commercial model runs directly counter to all of the Talmudic values of our sages.

We hope that we are wrong about the pricing of the new apps and that the video claim "this will change everything - again" does not mean that "this will make Torah learning more expensive than ever - again."

3/1/12

Was Andrew Breitbart Jewish?

Yes, Andrew Breitbart was a Jew. He died suddenly March 1.

The conservative pundit said he "grew up in Brentwood (i.e., Los Angeles, California) a secular liberal Jew" who celebrated his bar mitzvah and "has the tape to prove it."

In an effort to discredit the congressman, in June 2011, Breitbart publicized personal tweets and emails sent by Rep. Anthony Weiner to various women.

Fox News reported:
News of Breitbart's death reverberated on Capitol Hill and on the presidential campaign trail. Rick Santorum said he was "crestfallen."
"What a powerful force," Santorum said. "What a huge loss, in my opinion, for our country and certainly for the conservative movement." 
New Yorker magazine had profiled him earlier in brutally unflattering terms.
Rage Machine: Andrew Breitbart’s empire of bluster
by Rebecca Mead

On Sunday, March 21st, the day that the House voted to pass health-care reform, Andrew Breitbart, the conservative Internet entrepreneur, was thousands of miles away, at home in Westwood, a neighborhood of Los Angeles. Breitbart, who in the past year has become a fixture on Fox News and a regular at Tea Party events, spends a lot of time on the road. In the preceding weeks, he had addressed the California Republican Spring Convention, in Santa Clara—“It’s warfare to save the soul of the United States of America,” he told the audience—and had introduced Sarah Palin at the National Tea Party Convention, in Nashville...more...
/original post 2010/