12/21/13

Our First Sabra Zahavy

Our family has deep ties to Israel. In the late 1950's my American grandparents picked up from New York City and went on aliyah to fulfill their dream to live in State of Israel. When they passed away my father and his siblings inherited their property. My dad and mom loved Israel and visited many times. They are buried in Jerusalem near my grandparents and an aunt and uncle.

I brought my family along on my numerous research leaves and sabbaticals to live in Israel in our family apartment in Jerusalem. My son Yitzhak and his wife Julie met when they were both living in Tel Aviv. They came to live in New Jersey and now they and their children Shaiel, Yair, Gavi and Eitan moved from New Jersey to Israel on aliyah in August 2013 to live in Zichron Yaakov.

And now Yitz and Julie and family have a new member. Julie gave birth to a baby boy on 12/18/13.



I'm proud of my family connections to Israel that now continue in such meaningful and substantial ways!

12/19/13

Neshama Carlebach Converts to Reform Judaism

So there is no ambiguity - Bravo to Neshama Carlebach for her decision to convert to Reform Judaism.

I'm sure it was difficult for her even though it is such a rational move. A person who grows up Orthodox has a hard time leaving Orthodoxy. It is a really "sticky" form of Judaism.

Neshama explains her decision in a highly personal essay published 12/18/2013. I think it is important because of the sensitivity and metaphor with which Carlebach expresses her choice. She calls her decision "Aliyah" and her relationship to Orthodoxy that of a "refugee".

Although I am Orthodox and nearly all of the women in my family are too, it amazes me that women can tolerate Orthodox Judaism at all in the 21st century. Perhaps some Orthodox women would care to explain to me how they accept the idea that they sit in the back of the shul, that they don't count for a minyan, that they cannot be called to the Torah, that they cannot train to become rabbis and that they cannot sing in public. I'd like to hear the reasoning so that I can understand.

Carlebach has done a logical thing, and here is how she explains it. (Hat tip to KS for sending me the link!)
Why I Am Making 'Aliyah' to Reform Jewry
Reb Shlomo's Daughter on Being 'Refugee' From Orthodoxy

By Neshama Carlebach

(JTA) — I grew up Jewish. Simply Jewish.

My late father, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, raised us in an observant Orthodox household. Our lives were filled with beautiful ritual and we celebrated the wonder of a familial spiritual connection.

That said, we also danced along the fine line of progressive Judaism. My father’s Torah was an expression of the beauty of Judaism. He taught the world to love and cherish Shabbat – even on a Tuesday – and to love Jewish rituals in an open hearted, expansively spiritual way that often set him apart and alienated him from many established religious groups.

12/12/13

Is Bernard L. Madoff Jewish?

We memorialize the fifth anniversary of the discovery of the greatest theft in history with a rerun of one of our most popular blog posts. December 11, 2008 we posted this.

Yes, Bernard L. Madoff is a Jew.

Bernard Madoff was arrested and charged today with allegedly running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, according to U.S. authorities.

According to Yeshiva University, "Bernard L. Madoff, a member of the University’s Board of Trustees since 1996, was elected chairman of the Board of Directors of Sy Syms School of Business in 2000. Mr. Madoff is chairman of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, one of the nation’s largest third-market dealers in New York Stock Exchange and over-the-counter securities. A Benefactor of the University, Mr. Madoff recently made a major gift to the Sy Syms School."

Forbes reports this 'UNFORTUNATE SET OF EVENTS':
"Bernard Madoff is a longstanding leader in the financial services industry," his lawyer Dan Horwitz told reporters outside a downtown Manhattan courtroom where he was charged. "We will fight to get through this unfortunate set of events."

A shaken Madoff stared at the ground as reporters peppered him with questions. He was released after posting a $10 million bond secured by his Manhattan apartment.

The SEC filed separate civil charges.

"Our complaint alleges a stunning fraud -- both in terms of scope and duration," said Scott Friestad, the SEC's deputy enforcer. "We are moving quickly and decisively to stop the scheme and protect the remaining assets for investors."

The SEC said it appeared that virtually all of the assets of his hedge fund business were missing.

Madoff had long kept the financial statements for his hedge fund business under "lock and key," according to prosecutors, and was "cryptic" about the firm.

12/10/13

God Is Dead? Is Black Sabbath Kosher?

Google Play gave me a holiday gift last week - 26 free songs (December Deals) - and I have listened to them all several times. Wow. There is in this grab bag stuff in Google's offering of music I would never listen to, let alone own. (See the FREE PLAYLIST December Deals. All month long, Google Play is giving away free tracks and discount albums from some of music's biggest stars. Grab these while you can, and check back next week for another batch of gifts by your favorite artists by the Google Play Music Team.) (iTunes - goodbye! Google Play is so here!)

I am obliged to comment on one track among the free ones: God is Dead? by Black Sabbath?. It's heavy metal and yet I like it. Well, maybe like is too strong. I can abide it. As music I reluctantly admit it is kosher, it is intriguing and fun. Not certain about the group being kosher. Here is the official music video - not bad too.



No we should never do this. Song lyrics are not messages of philosophy or theology. But anyway, what does the song say? Here is the dramatic ending:
Nowhere to run
Nowhere to hide
Wondering if we will meet again
On the other side
Do you believe a word
What the Good Book said?
Or is it just a holy fairytale
And God is dead?
God is Dead [x4]

Right!

But still the voices in my head
Are telling me that god is dead
The blood pours down
The rain turns red
I don't believe that God is dead
God is Dead [x4]
And finally, the title. What is with the question mark?? I surmise that some producer decided a song with the title God is Dead will not fly. So he added a question mark to it. Just my guess. The song might strike you as a bit Kohelet-like. If you dared to make the comparison.

12/6/13

JStandard: My Dear Rabbi Column for December: Sad Divorcee & Doesn't Shuckle

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column
Published in The Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi,

A few years ago I divorced my wife, after a long marriage. We had grown apart and were living separate lives. Now my ex-wife is ill, and her prognosis is not good. Although we are not married, I still bear great affection for her and enduring admiration for her as the mother of my children. When she does pass away I will want to mourn for her in a visible way. At her funeral, I plan to tear my clothing in k’riah as a sign of mourning for her. What do you think?

Sad Divorcee
New Milford

Dear Sad,

You pose a woeful personal question, one that has possibly conflicting objective and subjective elements. Legally you are not married to this woman, and so you assume that you have no obligation or expectation to mourn your former wife. And socially it may not be acceptable in your community to adopt a standard different than what others practice. Those are the outer issues.

Your inner feelings tell you loud and clear to mourn for a woman whom you did love as a husband and continue to love in an adapted non-marital relationship as an ex.

On the merry-go-round that is our complex world, the variations on the issue you raise in this question can be dizzying. What will be the difference in the mourning practice if neither ex-spouse remarries? If one remarries? If both remarry? What will be the effect if marital infidelity triggered the divorce? In such a case, do children need to mourn a parent who was unfaithful as a spouse? What if the spouse was a convicted criminal? What about mourning for stepparents and stepchildren?

12/5/13

Richard Brody at New Yorker Rips Hannah Arendt

I've always despised Hannah Arendt for the chutzpah of mitigating Eichmann's horrifying evil, "He was a typical functionary" she says, and his evil was "banal".

And I am one of those, "Jews who were infuriated by [her] charges of Jewish complicity in the Holocaust."

Brody has a lucid powerful new post on the matter of Arendt in the New Yorker ("HANNAH ARENDT’S FAILURES OF IMAGINATION") in which among other trenchant observations he says,
... Arendt reveals the ground for her belief that Eichmann was no ideological Nazi but, in fact, was just a blind functionary. Not being an intellectual, he couldn’t have had “ideas” or “terrifically interesting things” to think about Hitler, and, therefore, he couldn’t have “really believed in Nazism.” I’ve long believed that her division of the world into those who “think” and those, like Eichmann, who speak in what she calls “clichés” reflects the snobbery of a proud member of the intellectual class. It’s a strange badge of intellectual honor to ascribe true belief in Nazism solely to intellectuals, and it is yet another sign that the passions and the hatreds on which the movement ran were essentially beyond Arendt’s purview. Second, her charge against the intellectual class—that they invent “completely fantastic and interesting and complicated things” and get “trapped in their own ideas”—is the perfect description of her own heavily theoretical and utterly impersonal view of Eichmann.

Frozen Chosen Minnesota Jews Make the News: Sigi Wilf Ceremony for a New Stadium and Binyomin Ginsberg Kvetches at the Supreme Court

Vikings ceremonially break ground on new stadium:

Team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf also attended, along with executives for HKS Inc., the stadium architect, and Mortenson Construction, the stadium builder, and star running back Adrian Peterson.

“What a day,” Zygi Wilf said to the gathering. “It was always our intention to bring a championship and a stadium” to Minnesota, he said. “We are embarking on our way to both.”

Wilf said the new stadium will “provide a tremendous game-day experience. … The fan experience has driven” the design of the stadium from the start, Wilf said.

Mark Wilf followed his brother to the podium and said the team will soon have “a great shot” at hosting a Super Bowl in the Vikings’ new home....

Supreme Court cool to Twin Cities rabbi who was booted from WorldPerks for complaining:

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case Tuesday of a Twin Cities man who was stripped of his top-level Platinum Elite status in Northwest’s WorldPerks program because, the airline said, he complained too much and schemed to get bumped from flights in return for compensation.

Rabbi S. Binyomin Ginsberg, 52, of St. Louis Park, said that Northwest, which has since been absorbed by Delta Air Lines, failed to act in good faith when it barred him in 2008 from its frequent flier program and took his miles away. The airline countered that federal deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 rules out claims like Ginsberg’s.

Most justices during arguments signaled that an opinion favorable to Ginsberg could give rise to state-by-state rules that the deregulation law was intended to prevent....

Is Rapper Kanye West Anti-Semitic?

Is Kanye West Anti-Semitic?

Abe Foxman thinks he is because he said Jewish people have "connections." Slow racism day, Abe? Gotta go digging for publicity, Mr. Foxman?

Hey ADL! We do have "connections" whatever that means! Abe! We have you, the ADL. What better "connection" than that?!

Kanye West said some silly meaningless general things about blacks, Jews and "oil people". He is entitled to make dumb statements. He is a rapper, that's what he is paid to do. Rap is provocative and really dumb. It's not philosophy or political or social commentary.

Kanye! Keep entertaining us with your really dumb things and saying your dumber things. That's what makes you so gosh darn charming and popular.

You are hereby certified as rap-kosher.

Here is the post with the scoop, "Kanye West upsets Jewish leaders with Obama commments:"
Outspoken rapper Kanye West has found himself in trouble with U.S. Jewish officials over remarks he made in a radio interview last month.

While chatting to Power 105 in New York on November 26 , West was asked for his opinion on U.S. leader President Barack Obama - and his thoughts appear to have upset the national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

The rapper said, "People want to say Obama can't make these moves or he's not executing. That's because he ain't got those connections... Black people don't have the same level of connections as Jewish people. Black people don't have the same connections as oil people."

His statement has been called anti-Semitic by Abraham H. Foxman, who is demanding he apologizes.

The ADL director says, "This is classic anti-Semitism. There it goes again, the age-old canard that Jews are all-powerful and control the levers of power in government. As a celebrity with a wide following, Kanye West should know better.

"We hope that he will take responsibility for his words, understand why they are so offensive, and apologise to those he has offended."

12/2/13

Were J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller Jewish?

Were J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller Jewish? No, they were not Jews. But many people in China think that they were. An utterly amazing positive stereotype of Jews permeates China.

I felt this great warmth when I visited in 1991 as a professor of Jewish Studies. I was invited to lecture at universities and institutes and was treated like royalty.
Chinese equate Jews with wealth
SHANGHAI, China -- Showcased in bookstores between biographies of Andrew Carnegie and the newest treatise by China's president are stacks of works built on a stereotype.

One promises "The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of the Jewish."
Another title teases readers with "The Legend of Jewish Wealth." A third provides a look at "Jewish People and Business: The Bible of How to Live Their Lives."

Is a Smart Wig Kosher?

Sony has filed for a patent for a smart wig. I have a smart watch - that makes sense. But a smart wig - I am not so sure. Nevertheless, I deem the idea both kosher and intriguing.

Here is the gist of the report from Gizmag, SmartWig: Sony wants to sweep wearable electronics under the rug, by Brian Dodson (hat tip to David E. Y. S.):
The developers of Sony's SmartWig, Hiroaki Tobita and Takuya Kuzi, shared their thoughts on this...

“There is a wide variety of wearable computing devices, such as computational glasses, clothes, shoes, and so on... However, most wearable devices have become neither common nor popular... We think one of the biggest reasons is the style... the focus has been [on] function, not style... The goal of SmartWig is to achieve both natural and practical wearable devices.”

Function, however, is an important part of wearable electronics. Digging into US Patent Application Publication US20130311132, the key components of a SmartWig appear to be a sensor, a CPU, a communications interface to a second computer, and (of course) a wig that hides all this.

Although the patent covers a number of serious potential applications, such as a SmartWig to help a blind user navigate their surroundings, a health monitor, or an EEG interface for neurofeedback applications, most of the applications contemplated appear to be on the fringe, likely only to serve niche markets.

Other applications approach the ridiculous, such as the Presentation Wig. This coiffure will allow its user to control a laser pointer by wiggling one's eyebrows (that's right, it comes with frickin' laser beams attached to the head), and to step through a PowerPoint slideshow by tugging at the right sideburn.