4/19/14

Is TurboTax Kosher?

ProPublica reports about a Rabbi duped by a TurboTax PR firm  into writing an op ed against free, simple tax filing.

Apparently, TurboTax software publisher Intuit mounted a deceptive PR campaign against tax-filing-simplification, enlisting among others, a rabbi, to write in support of keeping taxes complicated.

This is what ProPublica reported:
Over the last year, a rabbi, a state NAACP official, a small town mayor and other community leaders wrote op-eds and letters to Congress with remarkably similar language on a remarkably obscure topic.

Each railed against a long-standing proposal that would give taxpayers the option to use pre-filled tax returns. They warned that the program would be a conflict of interest for the IRS and would especially hurt low-income people, who wouldn't have the resources to fight inaccurate returns. Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote in a Jewish Journal op-ed that he "shudder[s] at the impact this program will have on the most vulnerable people in American society."

"It's alarming and offensive" that the IRS would target the "the most vulnerable Americans," two other letters said. The concept, known as return-free filing, is a government "experiment" that would mean higher taxes for the poor, two op-eds argued.

The letters and op-eds don't mention that, as ProPublica laid out last year, return-free filing might allow tens of millions of Americans to file their taxes for free and in minutes. Or that, under proposals authored by several federal lawmakers, it would be voluntary, using information the government already receives from banks and employers and that taxpayers could adjust. Or that the concept has been endorsed by Presidents Obama and Reagan and is already a reality in some parts of Europe.

So, where did the letters and op-eds come from? Here's one clue: Rabbi Dorff says he was approached by a former student, Emily Pflaster, who sent him details and asked him to write an op-ed alerting the Jewish community to the threat.

What Pflaster did not tell him is that she works for a PR and lobbying firm with connections to Intuit, the maker of best-selling tax software TurboTax.

"I wish she would have told me that," Dorff told ProPublica.
So bottom line: TurboTax has done some PR that is not so kosher.

4/14/14

Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah - a Star of the Seder

Passover is here once again. We will soon open our Haggadahs and find the familiar prologue stories to the Maggid section of the Seder. And soon we all will wonder, Who was Rabbi Eleazar ben Azariah?

Maggid is literally the "telling" of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the event that we celebrate in our evening of dramatic activity. My teacher Rabbi Soloveitchik always underscored that this is not a mere retelling of a story. The Maggid is an archetypal session of rabbinic Torah study. The major section that we read is a classic rabbinic midrash that expounds upon a few condensed biblical verses. This is the exodus story as told by the rabbis, not by the Torah of Moses. To make the point unmistakably clear, the rabbis go so far as to omit the mention of Moses altogether in the Haggadah.

The rabbis do mention several of their own rabbis by name and top among them is my favorite, Eleazar ben Azariah. He was a second century rabbi in Israel who also held the highest political position in his community.

4/13/14

Is Stephen Colbert Jewish?

No Stephen Colbert is not a Jew.

The Deseret News reports:
Stephen Colbert, the political comedian made popular on "Comedy Central," will be taking over for David Letterman as the host of CBS’ "The Late Show" once Letterman retires.

But Colbert is no ordinary host.

The late night comedian built himself up as a satirical political opinion character who rarely shows a normal side. The New York Times published an article in January 2012 that looked at the many sides of Colbert, including his connection to God through what his mother taught him.

“She taught me to be grateful for my life regardless of what that entailed, and that’s directly related to the image of Christ on the cross and the example of sacrifice that he gave us,” Colbert said to The Times. “What she taught me is that the deliverance God offers you from pain is not no pain — it’s that the pain is actually a gift. What’s the option? God doesn’t really give you another choice.”

Later in 2012, Colbert’s faith was brought up again by Splitsider, a news blog. Writer Marisa Carroll said Colbert is a devout Catholic, and when he spoke to 3,000 Fordham University students, it wasn’t the political commentator. Instead, it was a more religiously connected man.

"Instead of his pompous 'Report' character, the man on stage Friday night was Colbert the Sunday school teacher, bringing to life a bit of personal history previously reserved for magazine profiles,” Carroll wrote.

In more recent years, Colbert has let his religious side show through his jokes, according to The Los Angeles Times. No matter how side-splitting the jokes may be, or how in-character Colbert remains, the comedy host is still devoted to his religion and continues to follow his faith.

“The man, in reality and character, is a devout and out Catholic, observer of Lent and teacher of Sunday school,” wrote Mary McNamara for The Los Angeles Times. “Unlike other comedians of his persuasion — liberal though disguised as conservative — Colbert does not hide, ignore, downplay or make light of his faith.”

4/12/14

Are Coronary Stents Kosher?

Yes, coronary stents are kosher. In fact they are a miraculous invention.

What are they? Wikipedia says: "A coronary stent is a tube placed in the coronary arteries that supply the heart, to keep the arteries open in the treatment of coronary heart disease. It is used in a procedure called percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). Stents reduce chest pain and have been shown to improve survivability in the event of an acute myocardial infarction."

The coronary stent was invented by Julio Palmaz. The stainless steel, insertable mesh stent is expanded once inside the body to hold an artery open and allow blood to flow more freely. Palmaz secured funding for the development of the stent from restaurant owner Phil Romano (Fuddruckers and The Macaroni Grill). Palmaz co-developed the stent with Dr. Richard Schatz, a cardiologist at the time at the Brooke Army Medical Center. We would guess that Schatz is Jewish. They patented their invention in 1985.

The coronary stent is one of the greatest inventions of our time. The stent can be inserted through a small puncture in the groin or wrist and via balloon angioplasty it can open up quickly and with little to no pain a 99% occluded major coronary artery. The procedure takes about an hour and the patient is ambulatory after four hours and can resume many of his favorite activities :-) within one day.

To a person (like me) with CAD this rapid and amazing restoration of a person's quality of life is a true medical miracle of our times.

4/6/14

The Most Expensive Haggadah is the Sarajevo Haggadah

I have posted here about all of the free Haggadahs for Passover Seders that are available on the Internet. That led me to ask -- what is the most expensive Haggadah in the world?

The answer is -- the rare illuminated Sarajevo Haggadah which also is said to be one of the most beautiful manuscripts and one of the most valuable books in existence.

My facsimile of The Sarajevo Haggadah that I bought a while back is awesome.

If you are at all interested in this Haggadah, you must read People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks.

Wikipedia explains:
The Sarajevo Haggadah is an illuminated manuscript that contains the traditional text of the Passover Haggadah which accompanies the Passover Seder. It is the oldest Sephardic Haggadah in the world, originating in Barcelona around 1350. The Haggadah is presently owned by the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Sarajevo, where it is on permanent display.

The Sarajevo Haggadah is handwritten on bleached calfskin and illuminated in copper and gold. It opens with 34 pages of illustrations of key scenes in the Bible from creation through the death of Moses. Its pages are stained with wine, evidence that it was used at many Passover Seders. It is considered to be the most beautiful illuminated Jewish manuscript in existence and one of the most valuable books in the world. In 1991 it was appraised at US $700 million....more...
You can view quite a few pages from the Sarajevo Haggadah here.  

Or you can purchase a facsimile edition of your own here: The Sarajevo Haggadah  or see this web site here.


More posts about the Haggadah...

Our Favorite Pesach Recipe for Passover Peach Kugel

Here once again is our favorite Passover Peach Kugel recipe! Happy and Kosher Pesach to all!

4/5/14

When Sinners Become Saints: The cases of Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin

In congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, for decades they have made a prayer every Shabbat on behalf of Jonathan Pollard, who is called a prisoner of Zion. There is justification in the minds of those who approve of praying for a man imprisoned for espionage against the US. They think Pollard is a hero because he spied for Israel. They think Pollard is a victim of anti-Semitic injustice endemic to the government of the United States.

The underlying narrative -- we saints against them bigots -- supports the tribal isolationism of the Orthodox. So sure it makes sense for the Orthodox doctors and lawyers and businessmen in Teaneck to continually clamor in prayer against the terrible wrong inflicted on the saintly Jonathan Pollard. Listen God. Pollard helped Israel and he was given an unjust punishment. Free him, O Lord.

Welcome to chapter two back in 2010 when Orthodox Jews embraced the convicted Russian Hassidic gangster of Iowa, Sholom Rubashkin. He too was doing holy work for the Jewish people, they cried out. He provided "kosher" meat. Never mind that we have no way of knowing that even one piece of meat from his plant was kosher. Never mind that the greedy Rubashkin constantly raised prices on his "kosher" meat and continually gouged the pious public.

But they said, Rubashkin was given an unjust sentence. 27 years is too much. Others who did worse got fewer years. Logic alerts us to ask, Is this a good idea to demand that gangsters guilty of federal financial offenses and much much more corruption be let off to go free? To have a just society would it not be better to insist that all those other gangsters who got off too lightly be brought back to prison?

And they said, Rubashkin was the victim here. Not the gouged consumers, or the banks that he cheated. Not the 300+ exploited under aged illegal alien Iowa workers.

It's obvious that Rubashkin is a saint and a victim. Just like Pollard. Yes. Let's add him to the list of the Prisoners of Zion and make a prayer for him in our synagogue in Teaneck every week for the next 27 years.

Rabbis are calling to us, instructing us in what is right and virtuous. Let's get the tribe together and stand against all those evil federal officials who are out to get those epitomes of both victimhood and virtue, Pollard and Rubashkin.

Sinners become saints. Gangsters become gedolim. Up is down, and black is white. And many simple, sincere and honest people look and listen, shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, and walk away.

/recast from 2010/

4/4/14

In My Dear Rabbi Column in the The Jewish Standard for April I Give Talmudic Advice about Anti Semitism on TV and Shady Appliance Repairmen

In My Dear Rabbi Column in the The Jewish Standard for April I Give Talmudic Advice about Anti Semitism on TV and Shady Appliance Repairmen!

Dear Rabbi,

My friend complains all the time about anti-Semitism on TV and in other media. Most recently she objected to an episode of “Family Guy” that depicted Jews as money grubbers running after pennies and showed other negative behaviors as stereotypically Jewish. She says that the show’s creator is an anti-Semite and the show is pernicious. I disagree and think the show is funny. Who is right?

Laughing Jew in Lodi

Dear Laughing,

It is true that anti-Semitism should be an urgent concern to all Jews. Soon we shall recall, as we are told prominently in the Passover Haggadah, “In every generation they rise up against us to destroy us. And the holy one blessed be he saves us from them.”

You should carefully parse that short prayer for thanksgiving for God’s protection. It conveys a valuable understanding of what constitutes essential anti-Semitism, and what does not.

It is anti-Semitism when others rise up to destroy us as a people with actions that target our well-being. Real anti-Semitism is where someone hates all Jews as part of his systematic world view or discriminates against Jews by policies or laws.

In his show “Family Guy,” Seth MacFarlane does not do that when he makes jokes about Jews loving money, or shows other truly tasteless and yet, as he sees it, humorous portrayals of Jews. MacFarlane surely does not want to destroy the Jewish people. He just wants to make a living producing cartoons. Such entertainment on TV will not annihilate us, no matter what its content.

4/3/14

Is John Oliver Jewish?

John Oliver formerly of "The Daily Show" is getting his own fake-news program on HBO, as reported in The Washington Post (April, 2014).

John Oliver filled in for Jon Stewart in summer, 2013. He is one funny dude.


On 2/6/2011 we wrote:

We laughed out loud at the latest video clip that the Jewish Humor Central Blog posted (hat tip) from the Daily Show's John Oliver.

And then we thought, he is so funny, yes, John Oliver  must be a Jew. But he isn't.

We base our conclusion in particular on his ability to invent a new Jewish holiday for the purposes of celebrating a political victory in Texas as you will see in the hilarious clip below.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Jewish Speaker of Texas State House
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

4/2/14

Ten Dramatic Commandments for Your Seder Extravaganza

It's a great performance! A dramatic Off-Broadway revue!

I have always had fun directing the reading of the Haggadah at the Seder. I learned this dramatic art as a child by watching my father (Zev Zahavy) masterfully conduct the performance of the communal synagogue Seders as the rabbi of the Park East Synagogue in Manhattan.

Program notes: Sad. I will miss dad again this year. Happy. Grandson Zev will be with us at the seder this year with his sisters Maya and Ilana and parents Barak and Miriam.

So in the spirit of the season of rebirth and freedom, let me offer you ten commandments for your seder extravaganza.

1. Script! 
Spend an hour before Passover reading through your favorite version of the Haggadah. Sort out the rituals (like Kiddush), the liturgies (like the Hallel) and the learning (like the ma nishtanah and what follows). Make marginal notes or use a highlighter.

2. Actors!
Find out who is coming (yes, Seder directors need to know that). Think through what their skills are and what role they can play in the Seder. Remember some guests may be simple, some wise, some won't know how to ask a question. Try to meet the needs of everyone assembled.

3. Casting!
The Best Ever Seder will be a collaboration of all the guests. Those who can't read Hebrew can read a passage from the Haggadah in translation (English, Russian or otherwise) or perform another essential task.

4. Props!
The matzo, maror, haroseth, shank bone, egg all have familiar symbolic meanings worth mentioning. You can include other props of your choosing for added flavor to the event: use miniature pyramids, toy or paper or chocolate frogs, relevant family memorabilia or a special illustrated Haggadah (hold it up to show it off or pass it around).

5. Child actors! 
Give them something nice at the retrieval of the afikomen or distribute something small anytime they start to lose interest.

6. Improvise!
During the reading of the Haggadah tell about how your family matriarch or patriarch conducted the Seder or prepared the meal. Reminiscing in small doses adds great flavor to your production.

7. Really! Drama!
The Seder is a drama. The guests are the actors. Yemenite Jews have the custom to dress up and walk around the table to reenact the exodus. Even if you are not much of an actor, at the very least, you can talk about how other people are dramatic.

8. No melodrama!
You and your guests all are on stage. This is not the time to bring up old family arguments. If you do, your Seder might become the "last supper" that you eat together.

9. Charm the critic! 
The matriarchs (of the families) must greet Elijah at the door. Watch as the wine in Elijah's cup changes color as he sips from it. Talk about loss and the mystical redemption.

10. Bring down the curtain with with over-the-top gusto!
Sing the closing songs in all the ways you can remember. You can sing Chad Gadya in Yiddish, if someone knows how, or you can add the animal sounds. Have fun -- these are supposed to be rowdy songs that you sing after drinking four cups of wine.

As the seder thespians say, "Break a shankbone!" Good luck and have a happy and kosher Pesach.

[annual repost, with a major rewrite]

Free Passover Seder Haggadah Online Downloads

Here are several of the best places you can go online to download a Passover Haggadah for your Seder.
We give Chabad credit for a great resource if you want a wide selection of Hebrew Haggadahs.  
Download Hebrew Haggadahs here.

Library Makes 1,000 Rare Haggadahs Available Online
An illustration of King David praising G-d in a rare Haggadah published in 1710 in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany
An illustration of King David praising G-d in a rare Haggadah published in 1710 in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany

The central Chabad-Lubavitch library in New York made 1,000 Passover Haggadahs, many of them rare, available on the Internet for browsing by the public. The Agudas Chasidei Chabad Library has one of the largest collections of the Passover orders of service in the world.

Housed at the Lubavitch World Headquarters, the library's Haggadah collection began years ago with a nucleus of some 400 volumes purchased on behalf of the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, by renowned collector and bibliographer Shmuel Wiener in 1924.

The posting at ChabadLibraryBooks.com represents close to half of the library's total Haggadah collection and is part of chief librarian Rabbi Sholom Ber Levine's goal of making the library more accessible to the public. All told, the library possesses more than 2,200 editions of the Haggadah. Although the rarest of the books, all handwritten, are not yet available, Levine is looking for ways to post them next year. Hebrew Books, directed by Chaim Rosenberg, collaborated on the project.

4/1/14

Free Halakhah.com Book Downloads on the Red Heifer and the Korban Pesach

Free books on Halakhah.com ("Over 300,000 Free Downloads Each Year") from author Reuven Brauner, who writes us:

"It’s Rosh Chodesh Nissan, and that means we are just a couple of weeks away from Pesach. I remind you that you can read and/or download my works concerning the Red Heifer (which I call the Red Cow) and the procedure for bringing the Korban Pesach which, if the Third Temple is rebuilt or restored this year, will become a reality."

3/31/14

Is Belief in God Jewish?

Believe it or not two professors of philosophy discuss this question online: Is Belief a Jewish Notion? is discussed at the NYTimes.comin a section they call Opinionator: THE STONE. Gary Gutting interviews Howie Wettstein who wrote a book, "The Significance of Religious Experience." The subtitle of this interview is, "Theoretical views about God may be less important than religious practice."

Gutting starts off asking Wettstein, "You say you’re a naturalist and deny that there are any supernatural beings, yet you’re a practicing Jew and deny that you’re an atheist. What’s going on here? What’s a God that’s not a supernatural being?"

The discussion hovers around the most basic and primitive notions of prayer, i.e.,the overarching meta-visualization of prayer is that the acts of recitation of prayer texts constitute a dialogue with God.

This is the starting point in discussions of prayer articulated in one way by the former Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Sir Jonathan Sacks, who summed this up saying, “Prayer is the language of the soul in conversation with God. It is the most intimate gesture of the religious life, and the most transformative.” Sacks characterized the Jewish prayer book saying, “The Siddur is the choral symphony the covenantal people has sung to God across forty centuries from the days of the patriarchs until the present day.” He called it a “calibrated harmony.”

I have said in my essays that this representation articulated by Sacks and many others before him is the general and foundational meta-visualization of all acts of prayer, the contextual background music in which I find the more detailed and specific visualizations that I discuss in my work.

Gutting and Wettstein discuss this basic issue of prayer and speaking to God in the context of belief and practice. In short Gutting can't seem to accept that it makes sense to speak to a God that you don't believe exists, which is what Wettsteins seems to be saying that he does.

3/29/14

Was Noah Jewish?

No, of course the biblical Noah was not a Jew. There were no Jews in the world until much later.

Abraham, the first Hebrew came ten generations after Noah. And Moses received divine revelation six generations after that.

According to BBC News the new film "Noah" has been criticized by religious groups.

Regarding the Jewish links to Noah (the film) Eric Goldman, my favorite film critic, wrote about the film's Jewish director Darren Aronofsky in the Jewish Standard, "Noah and the Jews." Here is some of what he says.
...Jewish tradition has a long history of encouraging interpretation of the “p’shat,” the literal text. Mr. Aronofsky and Mr. Handel have done so, drawing from a rich mix of rabbinic literature. In contrast, some Christian and Muslim scholars and clergy have had trouble with the film, because it changes the Noah story’s fixed literal reading. Because of this initial reaction, Paramount, the film’s distributor, has chosen to alter its advertising, now saying that the film was “inspired” by the Bible story.

3/25/14

Was David Koresh Jewish?

No David Koresh was not a Jew. He was the leader of the Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists Christians who perished at Waco in 1993.

New Yorker has a section title "ANNALS OF RELIGION" under which they published, Sacred and Profane: How not to negotiate with believers by MALCOLM GLADWELL. Gladwell tells us about Koresh, "David Koresh was born in Houston in 1959, to a fifteen-year-old single mother. He arrived at Mount Carmel at the age of twenty-two, pulling up to the retreat in a yellow Buick—another in the long line of disenchanted Seventh-Day Adventists in search of a purer church."

Gladwell is a journalist known for works which I cite often, like "Blink" and "The Tipping Point." Wikipedia describes his writing thusly, "Gladwell's books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology."

In this New Yorker article he turns to the area of religion and finds an "unexpected implication" in an unfortunate event that occured April 19, 1993. That "implication" is that you cannot negotiate certain things with some believers. It is "unexpected" because neither the ATF/FBI nor the professors of religion involved in the affair at Waco understood that they were not going to be able to negotiate with the Branch Davidians. Gladwell convincingly argues that the standoff in Waco became a human tragedy because it was a fatally bungled attempt at negotiation.

3/24/14

Is Jewish Studies too Jewish?

What kind of a question is that? Is Jewish Studies in colleges and universities too Jewish?

A very good one, it turns out when discussed by Aaron Hughes in the Chronicle for Higher Education. He says that Jewish Studies is too Jewish and he spells out his reasoning and his conclusion that, "Jewish studies, rather than liberating itself from its ideological heritage, has re-embraced it."

Here is one line of his thought that many of us have been harboring but not saying:
Recent years have seen the creation of numerous well-funded and ideologically driven private organizations that seek to make inroads in Jewish studies. I refer, specifically, to the conservative Tikvah Fund, the secular Posen Foundation, and the pro-Israel Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation. These organizations seek entry into the academy—and presumably the intellectual legitimation that it provides—by establishing programs, professorships, and conferences in both Jewish studies and Israel studies at North American universities.

The Tikvah Fund, for example, funds centers devoted to Jewish law (at New York University) and Jewish thought (at Princeton). It also created and subsidizes the Jewish Review of Books, in which scholars (some of whom are associated with other Tikvah programs) air personal grievances, review one another’s books, and trash those with whom they disagree. Tikvah even sponsors a book series, the Library of Jewish Ideas, at Princeton University Press, in which, as a colleague of mine remarked in a recent review, "faith-based sermons and empirically anchored scholarship" commingle uncomfortably. Like Tikvah more generally, the books in this series have no qualms about articulating authentic Jewish ideas and, especially in the inaugural book, these ideas not surprisingly tend to be constructed as religiously Orthodox and politically conservative.

We should be ashamed that we have allowed foundations that push a particular vision of what Judaism is or should be to operate within the administrative structures of universities. None of these foundations, despite appeals to the contrary, are interested in funding scholarship simply for its own sake. The unfortunate result is that Jewish studies, rather than liberating itself from its ideological heritage, has re-embraced it.

Catching up on the News of Jews: Chained Melodies and Celebrities Good and Bad

Chained Melodies:

I support civil rights for Jewish women in all marital and in all ritual issues. I am surprised that the Agunah issue has become mainstream news all of a sudden in the Times and at the Jewish Channel. The Times has this, "Unwilling to Allow His Wife a Divorce, He Marries Another - NY Times" The reporter presents some of the baffling facts about the rabbinic legal jungle:
Mr. Kin, who in recent years moved to Las Vegas, has repeatedly insisted that Ms. Kin agree to binding arbitration from one particular religious court based in Monsey that is controversial and has been widely denounced by rabbinical authorities in the United States and Israel. Several leading rabbis, including the chief rabbinical office of Israel, have said they would not accept a divorce document signed by this particular court. Mr. Kin has said that the head of the beit din, Rabbi Tzvi Dov Abraham of Monsey, granted him dispensation to marry again.

“The rabbinical court system is such an ad hoc system where any man is able to call himself a rabbi and any three rabbis are able to call themselves a court, so that even if it’s not accepted by anyone, he is able to hide behind this,” said Rabbi Jeremy Stern, the executive director of the group that organized the protests against the wedding. “What empowers him to continue is the support of friend and family and community. We need everyone to say clearly we will not tolerate this kind of behavior.”
The notion that rabbis act within a legitimate system of law has always seemed to me to be a grand exaggeration at best. In the realm of rabbinic law, there is no transparent means of publishing decisions or appealing decisions. Facts are hard to come by and rumors rule. Often a rabbinic case works like this: you go to the local rabbi of your choice and he whispers his opinion in your ear. Then you go tell everyone what he said.

Speaking of rumors, I stumbled on this blog (which when asked, a reporter first told me was Kin's former husband's blog and then he changed his mind and said he was not sure that is the case): THE PHONY AGUNAH: LONNA KIN RALBAG IS A PHONY AGUNAH. The post raises issues and makes me think - did Lonna Kin ever actually go to the court to receive her get? One begins to wonder if this case is a clash of two manipulators who no longer wish to live together. Something doesn't smell right. This instance is probably not going to turn out to be the best poster case for the issue of women's rights in Orthodox Judaism, once we hear all the allegations about these two people. Too bad - the cause of women's rights overall is a just one.

Celebrities Good and Bad:

New Yorker had two fantastic profiles: one on actress Scarlett Johansson - Anthony Lane: The Unstoppable Scarlett Johansson- and the other on Paul de Man who was an acclaimed academic until he was exposed as a writer for the Nazis and all-around scoundrel - Louis Menand: Paul de Man's Hidden Past

And the Times brought us news of some wonderful New York Jews, They Kept a Lower East Side Lot Vacant for 47 Years: telling us, "Nearly four decades ago, a new assemblyman named Sheldon Silver and his young protégé escorted Edward I. Koch, then a mayoral candidate, through the Orthodox Jewish enclave on Manhattan’s Lower East Side where the two had both grown up. It was the first day of Rosh Hashana, 1977..." and going on to extol (?) the contributions of William E. Rapfogel to this neighborhood preservation effort. to recall, "Mr. Rapfogel, who led the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, was arrested last year and accused of looting the agency." I got a mailing today from the Met Council asking for a Passover donation. I'm gonna pass. You may want to shower thoroughly after reading that article.

3/20/14

Comic Genius Seth MacFarlane is Not Anti-Semitic

The Forward's critic Mark I. Pinsky asks, "Is 'Family Guy' Anti-Semitic?" Actually he doesn't ask at all. He informs us that there is not a shadow of a doubt that the show's creator Seth MacFarlane is anti-Semitic.

Pinsky is terribly confused about the meaning of anti-Semitism. He is wrong to say of MacFarlane that it is "well past time to call him out" for being an anti-Semite.

'Family Guy' is a satirical TV cartoon. It is a brilliantly funny show. It mocks just about everything in our culture from family values to relationships to religions in general and in specific - all religions, all values, all relationships - without prejudice for one over another. We all know that stereotyping in jokes is not the highest form of humor. It's usually cheap and crass and obnoxious, it's bigoted, but it's not anti-Semitic to make a joke about Jews loving money.

Real anti-Semitism is where you hate all Jews as part of your systematic world view or you discriminate against Jews by policy or laws. Seth MacFarlane does not do that. Mel Gibson does do that. Pinsky ends his article making the ridiculous claim that, "Seth MacFarlane, it seems, is simply a wittier version of Mel Gibson."

Pinsky obviously did not pay attention to what Mel Gibson has done in his personal life and his career. Pinsky is all wrong when he equates tasteless cartoon jokes with Gibson's flat-out full-blown anti-Semitism.

Here's the beginning of an awful ill-conceived opinion article that should never have been published, that is so bad it should be retracted and removed from the Internet. And I rarely say things like that. I mean it.
Sunday night’s episode of “Family Guy,” the long-running animated comedy, included a 25-second segment that illustrated once again creator Seth MacFarlane’s unapologetic anti-Semitism.

In the episode, main character Peter Griffin and his friends are off on a typically absurdist search to find God and to get Him to stop thwarting their favorite football team, the New England Patriots. In a Jerusalem square they spot Mort Goldman, the obviously Jewish pharmacist from their hometown of Quahog, Rhode Island.

Actually, they spot a “flock” of bobbing Morts, whom they attract by tossing pennies, as you might use popcorn to draw pigeons. The message being, Jews love money. MacFarlane used similar imagery in a much earlier episode, in which Peter’s anti-Semitic father-in-law tries to use a dollar bill tied to a string to distract his wife, who has just told Peter’s wife Lois that she was raised Jewish.

Anti-Semitism is a serious charge, made too quickly and too often. But as someone who has followed MacFarlane’s career, I think it is well past time to call him out. His star is clearly on the rise in Hollywood — he has hosted a major awards show, been writing and directing movies and, most recently, produced the Fox series “Cosmos.” And thus far he has been unimpeded by his consistent record of anti-Semitism...
My opinion, shared by many, is that Seth MacFarlane is a comic genius, and he is not anti-Semitic.