2/18/18

On the Awfulness of Our Post-Truth Society - reflecting on a New York Times Op-Ed

Molly Worthen discussed post-truth Christian society recently in the Times.

She vividly described living in and with a social world governed by a "Christian Worldview". I am not sure why she was so accepting of this cultural phenomenon that is so widespread. Sure there are good aspects of that preaching. Teaching people to be moral and ethical and loyal and faithful - who can argue with that side of the equation?

But many aspects of the thought systems that she described are now, and have been in the past, racist, anti-Semitic, anti-intellectual, gender biased, anti-gay, triumphalist, tribal to the extreme and generally obnoxious and awful.

Worthen concluded with a summary of a professor's ruminations on the contrast between a person who teaches academic thinking, whom she calls the skeptic, versus on who preaches fundamentalist religious thinking, whom she calls the cynic. Citing a professor of journalism at a Christian college she presented this pithy summary:
"The skeptic looks at something and says, 'I wonder,' " he said. "The cynic says, 'I know,' and then stops thinking."
He pointed out that "cynicism and tribalism are very closely related. You protect your tribe, your way of life and thinking, and you try to annihilate anything that might call that into question." Cynicism and tribalism are among the gravest human temptations. They are all the more dangerous when they pose as wisdom and righteousness.
Yes, I agree with the professor's words and conclusions. In the worldview of some of my Orthodox Jewish neighbors, the best rabbi is the one who is the most cynical and tribal - and who poses most vociferously as the wisest and most righteous.

That posing doesn't fool me. The danger of that person is real and awful. 

2/8/18

Is Janet Yellen Jewish?

Yes, my favorite person of the past four years, Brown graduate (Pembroke), and the now-newly-retired Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System of the United States, Janet Yellin is a Jew.

Wikipedia reports, "Yellen was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Anna (née Blumenthal) and Julius Yellen, a physician. She graduated from Fort Hamilton High School in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn. She graduated summa cum laude from Pembroke College (Brown University) with a degree in economics in 1967, and received her Ph.D. in economics from Yale University in 1971 for a thesis titled Employment, output and capital accumulation in an open economy: a disequilibrium approach under the supervision of James Tobin and Joseph Stiglitz."

Yellin presided over the bull market of 2014-2018 during which the DJIA rose from 15,372 to 26,616, a gain of 74% in 4 years.

That's why she is my favorite person of the past four years.

2/2/18

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for February 2018: Is Bitcoin Kosher? Should I post my medical status on Facebook?

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for February 2018
Is Bitcoin Kosher? Should I post my medical status on Facebook?


Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

My friend says I should buy bitcoin. He predicts I’ll make a big profit. He says that even though the value of the cryptocurrency recently has risen dramatically relative to the dollar, it’s not too late to buy. Should I trust his advice? And honestly, I do not understand how the currency works. Can you give me some insights? Should I trust bitcoin?

Taking Risks to Get Rich in Ridgewood

Dear Taking Risks,

I checked thoroughly and want to let you know that my research shows that the Talmud has no teachings about bitcoin. The Talmud is an ancient literature. Bitcoin was invented quite recently. Never the twain shall meet.

And although I worked for years in the financial services industry, at big banks and at hedge funds, I did so as a technology expert, not an investment adviser. I have no credentials to give financial or investing advice. And if the truth be told, I am not very good at following the sage advice I received over the years from the real money experts. Accordingly, please do not construe anything I say here as guidance for your investing. I will not and cannot tell you what to buy or sell or when to do so.

But while I researched and pondered what the Talmud might say about your inquiry — as if prophetically the Talmud could know about bitcoin — I did realize there are some striking similarities between the two systems — between traditional religion and the blockchain technology that underpins all cryptocurrency.

1/10/18

My Plea - In Mommy Edith's Memory on her Birthday - Quit Smoking Cigarettes Today

My mother was a strong athletic woman. I believe that she would be alive and 97 years old today, if not for cigarettes.

In 2000 my mother Edith Zahavy passed away on the 4th day of Tammuz after six months of hospitalization at Mt. Sinai in NYC. She was 79.

For 63 years she smoked, mostly menthol cigarettes. The corporate tobacco pushers hooked her into addiction by giving her free samples outside her school, Hunter College, when she was a teenager. They supplied her habit for six decades.

For several years prior to her death she could hardly walk because of her profound vascular disease, heart disease and emphysema. Her last months in the hospital on a respirator were awful as all of the organs of her systems weakened and failed.

My mother was a beautiful, selfless, generous, creative, religious person who dedicated her whole life to her family, to her friends and to her students. She first brought us up (myself and my brother and sister) and then went on to teach in the NYC public schools. She also founded the Park East Day School.

She stood behind my father, me and my siblings through thick and thin. But through the years she always smoked, mostly Newports and Salems. When I was in high school she would send me down on Fridays to buy her Challahs for Shabbat and a pack of cigarettes for Friday.

As I remember her -- an active vibrant woman -- I plead with you -- if you smoke cigarettes -- QUIT TODAY. Please for the sake of the memory of my mother -- for your own sake -- for the sake of your spouse, your parents, your children, your friends -- please stop.

(Repost annually from 2006)

1/4/18

Your Employer's Dirty Tricks - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column - January 2018

Your Employer's Dirty Tricks
Dear Rabbi Zahavy - My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column 
January 2018

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

After I worked at my job for three months, my manager suddenly, without warning or discussion, tried to change the terms of my employment, to give me additional responsibilities, and to take away from me my vacation. This was directly contrary to the terms we had agreed upon when I accepted the job.
What can, or should, I do about this?
Blindsided in Bergenfield
Dear Blindsided,
Our Torah clearly defends the basic rights of the worker, “You shall neither steal nor deal deceitfully or falsely with one another… You shall not defraud your fellow; you shall not commit robbery. The wages of a laborer shall not remain with you until morning” (Leviticus 19:11-13). And more recently, many of our grandparents, in the spirit of our traditions of justice and fairness, in the United States and in Europe, led the global movements for unionization and for social justice to protect the rights of workers worldwide.
But today, though, I assume that you do not have a union to represent you. Given the power differential in your case, there is not much effective unilateral action that you can take. If you stand your ground against your boss, chances are that you will find no compromise and be forced to resign and walk away. If you seek compromise, likely you will be met with blank stares or glares from your bullying manager.
And if you give in, you may be able to remain in your job, but at significant personal costs to your dignity, and potentially to your happiness and health.

1/1/18

Is Pink Jewish?

Yes, Pink is a Jew. The star performer dazzled everyone at the Grammy's with her singing, acrobatics and revealing performance in 2010 and again in 2014. Her mother is Jewish.

A 2006 interview with Pink said about her plans for tattoos (which I do not think were carried out),
Her Jewish mom will be honoured on her right arm, “with Hebrew writing and a cat ’cause she’s a snob and she’s a nurse and all that stuff,” she says cryptically. “And my dad is this country boy and he’s a wolf, or a tiger – I’m not sure which animal yet. And my mom grew up in Atlantic City so I’m gonna have all sort of casinos. And Carey has tattoos of Las Vegas casinos… Then for the country I want a spider’s web, Charlotte’s Web, all that stuff.”
Wikipedia says, "Pink was born (1979) Alecia Moore in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Judith Moore, a nurse, and James Moore, Jr., a Vietnam veteran. Her father is Catholic and her mother Jewish, and her ancestors immigrated from Ireland, Germany, and Lithuania."

I don't think she got the Hebrew tattoo.

Pink's "Raise Your Glass" video below gets seriously into religion at about 2:00.



[repost from 3/2011]

12/31/17

Is New Year's Eve Jewish?

Is the celebration of New Year's Eve allowed in accord with the Jewish religion?

No, not in Haifa, Israel, according to the rabbinate there. They say that a New Year's Eve party is an act of "Idol worship," as JTA reports:
Haifa rabbinate forbids New Year’s Eve parties

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- The Haifa rabbinate has warned local hotels and event halls that they could lose their kashrut supervision if they hold New Year's Eve parties on their premises.

"No parties celebrating Christian New Year's Eve should be held on the premises, and our supervision will be further denied to those who disobey our instructions," read a letter from the rabbinate sent to area businesses, Ynet reported.

The decision is based on a previous decision made by the Chief Rabbinate, the head of Haifa's Religious Council, Avi Weitzman, told Ynet.

The Chief Rabbinate said that its kashrut supervisors could not be present to supervise the food at celebrations of Christian holidays, such as New Year's, and therefore the kashrut certificate would have to be revoked.

“It is forbidden for a Jew to be present in a place where ‘idol worship’ is being conducted,” said a statement from the Chief Rabbinate, according to the Jerusalem Post.
There are numerous reasons to argue that celebrations on this day at some point in history indeed were pagan festivals. December 31 was known as Saint Sylvester Day and January 1 was a time for the commemoration of Jesus’ circumcision. See this historical summary.

Since today's secular New Year's celebrations mark the turning of the calendar to a new year and make no recognition of such pagan or Christian events, we respectfully disagree with the rabbis.

12/14/17

Happy Archetypal Hanukkah to all you Priests, Scribes, Performers, Mystics, Meditators and Triumphalists

Whose holiday is Hanukkah? In the mode of examination that I use in my book, "God's Favorite Prayers," I answered that it is the "priest's" festival. The holiday prayer, "And for the miracles..." recounts a narrative of historical figures who serve as "avatars of the priestly archetype". In fact, I explain there, "The Hanukkah narrative glorifies an actual priest, Matthias, and celebrates his victory of reclaiming and purifying the Temple."

But I admit with glee that there are more archetypes at work in this liturgy and in the festival. I see elements of the redemptive theme of the "celebrity" in the assertion in the prayer that the Hanukkah victory, "...brought about a great deliverance and redemption for your people Israel to this very day."

Is Chairman of Renaissance Technologies Jim Simons Jewish?

Yes. The retired Chairman of Renaissance Technologies Jim Simons is a Jew. A smart and rich Jew.

Wikipedia tells us: James Harris Simons was born in April 1938 to an American Jewish family the only child of Marcia (née Kantor) and Matthew Simons, and raised in Brookline, Massachusetts. His father owned a shoe factory.

The hedge fund guru, Simons is now worth $18 billion, give or take.

New Yorker has an amazing profile of him and his incredible Flatiron Institute. You must read this.

11/30/17

About Sexual Harassment: My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column - for December 2017

Dear Rabbi Zahavy
Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I have been subjected to sexual harassment by a person of authority. I cannot avoid this person. He is persistent and aggressive towards me. He has made it clear that he wants to have sex with me. I am not interested in his proposition. I find his unrelenting advances intimidating and awful.
Is there some advice that you can offer to me from the Jewish perspective that will help me deal with this terrible situation?

Harassed in Hackensack

Dear Harassed,

I’ll try to offer some guidance, but as you can tell from the daily barrage of recent news stories, this sort of problem is serious in our society at large, it is widespread in our world, and it is terribly hard to resolve.

First, I’ll remind you that this problem is not new.

Second, I’ll assure you that this problem is nearly intractable. The Talmud has a saying that there is no such entity as a guardian who can be appointed to protect us from wanton sexual aggressions.

Third, I’ll nevertheless suggest some steps that you may take to help you avoid harassment, and protect your personal integrity.