6/30/09

Al Franken is the New Jewish Senator from Minnesota

After a record display of bad political sportsmanship, we are happy to note that Norm Coleman finally has conceded defeat.
GOP's Coleman concedes, sending Franken to Senate
By BRIAN BAKST

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Republican Norm Coleman conceded to Democrat Al Franken in Minnesota's contested Senate race on Tuesday, ending a nearly eight-month recount and court fight over an election decided by only a few hundred votes.

Coleman announced his decision at a news conference in St. Paul, hours after a unanimous Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that Franken, a former "Saturday Night Live" comedian and liberal commentator, should be certified the winner.

"The Supreme Court has made its decision and I will abide by the results," Coleman told reporters outside his St. Paul home.

"In these tough times we all need to focus on the future, and the future is that we have a new United States senator," Coleman said.

Franken's presence in the Senate would give the Democrats control of 60 seats, enough to overcome any Republican filibuster if they stay united.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the earliest Franken would be seated is next week, because the Senate is out of session for the July 4 holiday.

WSJ: New York Seizes and Sells J. Ezra Merkin's Rothko Art Collection

NYS Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has ramped up his efforts to recover funds from Madoff-funnel J. Ezra Merkin.
Cuomo to Sell Merkin's Art
By LIZ RAPPAPORT

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is selling art owned by financier J. Ezra Merkin in an effort to repay his investors who lost millions in the Madoff fraud.

The sale of several Rothko paintings and Giacometti sculptures belonging to Mr. Merkin and his wife will yield $191 million for investors. Mr. Cuomo's attorneys were in New York State Supreme Court on Tuesday morning to present the plan to a judge for approval.

Mr. Cuomo's office arranged for the artwork to be sold to an anonymous buyer for $310 million. Some of the money will go to pay commissions on the sales of the art work, other fees, and liens on the art. The money will be held in an account at Bank of New York pending distribution.

Mr. Cuomo charged Mr. Merkin with civil fraud in April, alleging he lied to investors, many of which were non-profit organizations and schools, about how he invested their money when he put more than $2 billion with Bernard Madoff....

Times: NYC Riverside Church Quickly Ousts Pastor Brad Braxton

In in April, out in June.

We don't know what's going on uptown but it sure does look ugly. Two months into his term, the Reverend is out on the street.

This makes the worst shul politics look like kindergarten.
Riverside Church Pastor Resigns After 2 Months
By Paul Vitello

The pastor of Riverside Church, the renowned bastion of liberal theology and social activism on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is resigning after just two months on the job.

The pastor, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, has been the focus of a fierce battle within the congregation over his compensation package and the mission of the church. He said he notified the church’s board Monday night that he was stepping down.

A week before his installation in April, a group of dissident congregants went to State Supreme Court in Manhattan seeking to block the ceremony, saying that he and the board had been unnecessarily secretive about the church’s finances. They also complained that Dr. Braxton was moving Riverside away from its tradition of interracial progressivism and toward a conservative style of religious practice. The judge refused to block the installation, and urged both sides to reach an accord.

Since its founding in 1930 as a Gothic cathedral built by John D. Rockefeller, Riverside Church has espoused a progressive and often pacifist agenda. But internal battles have plagued the congregation for more than a decade.

Longtime members ascribe some of the tension to changes in the racial makeup of the 2,700-member congregation, which was once about 60 percent white and 40 percent black, and now is roughly the reverse. Some of the troubles are traced to generational differences, between older whites with roots in the civil rights era and younger, middle-class black members who are less politicized.

Dr. Braxton, 39, a Baptist minister and former Rhodes scholar who was chosen in September by a committee that considered more than 200 candidates, appeared to knit together both those traditions, calling himself a “progressive evangelical.”

But his opponents kept up their attacks, saying that his pay package exceeded $600,000 a year, including a $250,000 salary and a housing allowance. Experts on American churches said the pastor’s compensation was well above average among pastors nationwide, but within the range of packages for senior pastors of similar major churches in other big cities. ...more...

6/29/09

Was Michael Jackson Jewish?

No, Michael Jackson, the king of pop who just passed away at age 50, was not Jewish. He was raised as a Jehovah's Witness. There were reports that the singer converted to Islam as early as 2005.

Notably though, technically, two of Michael Jackson's children are Jewish. JTA explains,
Jackson... and Debbie Rowe are the parents of Prince Michael I, 12, and Paris Michael Katherine, 11. By virtue of having a Jewish mother, they are considered Jewish...

...Iris Finsilver, Rowe’s attorney, told the Associated Press that she was certain that Rowe would seek custody of the two children. Finsilver had previously confirmed that Rowe was Jewish.

Jackson married Rowe, his former nurse, in 1996, when she was six months pregnant following his divorce from Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of the famed late singer Elvis Presley.
Another twist to the story is that Rowe says she never had sex with Jackson. She claims she was impregnated with sperm from an anonymous donor, "It wasn't Michael's sperm."

Update: The Daily News reports that it was not Rowe's eggs. "In another shocking twist, Debbie Rowe is not the biological mother of the two eldest children, 'Prince' Michael Joseph Jr., 12 and Paris Michael Katherine, 11, TMZ.com reported. Rowe merely acted as the surrogate - and was paid handsomely for her services, multiple sources told the entertainment Web site."

Times' Deal Professor Steven Davidoff: Charities Can Keep Money Tainted by Madoff Scandal

As Davidoff rightly describes ("Should Charities Repay Their Madoff Money?") aside from those who lost their endowments, numerous Jewish charities benefited in a big way from the cash donations they received out of the tainted Madoff monies.

Even charities (or is it especially charities) are subject to temptation when large sums of money are waved before them. How many charities can you name that - regardless of the source - refused or returned gifts of cash?

Sigh of relief. Davidoff concludes that any clawback legal actions against charities are unlikely to succeed.

Davidoff does ask, "Do the charities have a moral obligation" to return the tainted money?

He does not answer that. He correctly leaves that hanging since he is not a moralist, a philosopher or a theologian.
...The bottom line is that there were net winners in the Bernie Madoff scandal, and many charities received money that was at best tainted by Mr. Madoff, and at worst directly attributable to his crime. In the coming months, many of the people who benefited from Mr. Madoff, inappropriately or otherwise, are going to be sued or otherwise asked to return the money they received.

What about the charities who received this money after it was distributed?

In some cases, the money is not even there. The charities have already distributed it. In other cases, the money will be untraceable. For example. Carl Shapiro allegedly lost over a half a billion with Mr. Madoff (his profits, if any, are not public) — but before Mr. Madoff’s scheme was discovered, Mr. Shapiro was mightily generous with his money, millions of which he made himself. How do you differentiate between tainted and untainted money that he distributed — if indeed Mr. Shapiro did know what was occurring, or profited?

Charities, particularly Jewish ones, have been hit hard by Madoff. In some respects, this was a false bubble for them — these charities were benefiting from money that never should have been there. This is not to diminish the hurt they received. But they may have (or perhaps should have) to grapple with a much more difficult question. Do they legally have to return this money?

Under the law of fraudulent conveyance, there is a six-year lookback, and they could conceivably be sued to return the money. However, traceability of the money here will be a problem, and in many cases protect the charities.

But if they are not legally liable to return the money, do the charities have a moral obligation to do so? And can the charities even do it?

Mr. Madoff and those who collaborated or assisted him have left more pain and suffering in their wake that will continue to reverberate. These charities simply do not have the money to return and, in any event, it would affect the worthy causes to which they contribute. It is for this reason alone that I believe that this is more a rhetorical — but still necessary — exercise, and that the majority of charities as a practical matter will not be asked to return the money.

Still, this is part of bigger problem, which charities involved in the Madoff scandal need to come to grips with. They not only need to more formally organize their investing and giving along more official corporate governance lines — Yeshiva University in particular has been cited for this type of needed reform. But they may need to address their own unwitting complicity in the dissipation of the assets of Mr. Madoff’s victims. I do not envy them: they are now also unwitting victims.

But there is still the lingering and disturbing question of how much they benefited.
We are not sure, and he does not tell us, why -as a lawyer - he finds this question "disturbing."

Times: Madoff Investors Through Merkin Feeder Funds are Out of Luck

Later today Ponzi schemer Bernard L. Madoff will be sentenced by the court.

Meanwhile, the Times' Eric Konigsberg reports that things don't look good for losers in the Madoff-Merkin Ponzi scheme as all the, "Investors Compete for a Piece of the Madoff Pie."
...Initially, those who were invested in the largest feeder funds, like J. Ezra Merkin’s Gabriel Capital and the Fairfield Sentry fund, were thought to be better positioned to recover their losses, in that those firms, unlike Mr. Madoff, would at least have assets to sue for. But several of the feeder funds are themselves being sued by Mr. Picard and are not likely to emerge with their money intact.

What is more, those who invested their individual retirement accounts in Mr. Madoff’s fund through feeder funds have been unable to obtain a theft-loss deduction on their federal taxes. They have had similar difficulties qualifying for an adjustment in their Medicare premium, which is based on income figures they now know to have been falsely inflated...more...

Coming this week: Deep Thoughts about What the Madoff Verdict Means for the Jews & Random Ruminations About Our Atlantic Beach Shabbos

We now are on our summer blogging schedule - a lighter volume of postings, more autobiography, less on current events.

Today we were busy with our early laps at the Teaneck Swim Club followed first by a formal photography sitting for our family, then loads of informal photos of everyone in the park, and then by a wonderful outdoor wedding for the daughter of friends in the backyard of other friends in Teaneck. What a delightful day.

This week we expect to have some postings on the Bernard Madoff sentencing to follow up on one of our more popular topics. Our original 12/11/08 post, Is Bernard L. Madoff Jewish?, received many thousands of hits and garnered 62 published comments. We screened and rejected quite a few others.

We also plan to write this week about our Shabbos in Atlantic Beach. It's a remarkable community where we spent for 20 summers growing up. And... it was the setting of a murder on tonight's new episode of "Law and Order - Criminal Intent."

Stay tuned for other follow-up and new topics. You never know what to expect on our Talmudic blog.

6/28/09

What is a Religious Culture of Violence and Terror?

The best social scientific analysis of the subject of religion and terror is the book Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence by Mark Juergensmeyer.

The author researched the subject and provides for us vivid descriptions of the cultural mechanisms of religion-based terrorism. The main theme of the book is to explain and analyze how religion has been made by some into a cultural system that supports terrorism.

Juergensmeyer's definition of religious terrorism spells out that terrorism requires both an act by the perpetrators and a response from the victims. He says,
...Terrorism is meant to terrify. The word comes from the Latin terrere, to cause to tremble, and came into common usage in the political sense, as an assault on civil order during the Reign of Terror in the French Revolution at the close of the eighteenth century. Hence the public response to the violence - the trembling that terrorism effects - is part of the meaning of the term. It is appropriate, then, that the definition of a terrorist act is provided by us, the witnesses - the ones terrified- and not by the party committing the act. It is we - or more often our public agents, the news media - who affix the label on acts of violence that makes them terrorism. These are public acts of destruction, committed without a clear military objective, that arouse a widespread sense of fear.
Juergensmeyer discusses some of the ironies of using religion as a basis for violence. He says for example,
This fear often turns to anger when we discover the other characteristic that frequently attends these acts of public violence: their justification by religion. Most people feel that religion should provide tranquility and peace, not terror. Yet in many of these cases religion has supplied not only the ideology hut also the motivation and the organizational structure for the perpetrators.
When governments use terror those actions are a different form of terrorist acts. He notes,
It is true that some terrorist acts are committed by public officials invoking a sort of "state terrorism" in order to subjugate the populace. The pogroms of Stalin, the government-supported death squads in El Salvador, the genocidal killings of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and government- spurred violence of the Hutus and Tutsis in Central Africa all come to mind. The United States has rightfully been accused of terrorism in the atrocities committed during the Vietnam War, and there is some basis for considering the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as terrorist acts.
The point of religious terrorism is hard to imagine. What is in the mind of terrorists? Juergensmeyer provides this insight,
...The term terrorism has more frequently been associated with violence committed by disenfranchised groups desperately attempting to gain a shred of power or influence. Although these groups cannot kill on the scale that governments with all their military power can, their sheer numbers, their intense dedication, and their dangerous unpredictability have given them influence vastly out of proportion with their meager military resources.
Juergensmeyer speaks of "cultures of violence" and explains that terrorists have ways to justify their religious violence,
This is a significant feature of these cultures: the perception that their communities are already under attack - are being violated - and that their acts are therefore simply responses to the violence they have experienced. In some cases this perception is one to which sensitive people outside the movement can readily relate - the feeling of oppression held by Palestinian Muslims, for example, is one that many throughout the world consider to he an understandable though regrettable response to a situation of political control. In other instances, such as the imagined oppression of America's Christian militia or Japan's Aum Shinrikyo movement, the members' fears of black helicopters hovering over their homes at night or the allegations of collusion of international governments to deprive individuals of their freedoms are regarded by most people outside the movements as paranoid delusions. Still other cases - such as those involving Sikh militants in India, Jewish settlers on the West Bank, Muslim politicians in Algeria, Catholic and Protestant militants in Northern Ireland, and anti-abortion activists in the United States - are highly controversial.
In the mythic structure of a religious culture of terror the leaders preach as their truth a strange belief system of their religion,
Whether or not outsiders regard these perceptions of oppression as legitimate, they are certainly considered valid by those within the communities. It is these shared perceptions that constitute the cultures of violence that have flourished throughout the world - in neighborhoods of Jewish nationalists from Kiryat Arba to Brooklyn where the struggle to defend the Jewish nation is part of daily existence, in mountain towns in Idaho and Montana where religious and individual freedoms are thought to he imperiled by an enormous governmental conspiracy, and in pious Muslim communities around the world where Islam is felt to he at war with the surrounding secular forces of modern society.
Finally, Juergensmeyer uses the term culture to include several aspects commonly considered part of religion,
I could use the term communities or ideologies of terrorism rather than cultures of violence, hut what I like about the term culture is that it entails both things - ideas and social groupings - that are related to terrorist acts. I employ it (i.e. the term culture) in a broad way to include the ethical and social values underlying the life of a particular social unit.
[repost from 2005]

6/25/09

Religion and Jewish Terrorists

In light of JTA's current series on Jewish "extremists" and "radicals" in the "settlements" [e.g., SPECIAL REPORT: JEWISH EXTREMISTS] it is urgent for us to review some of the pertinent issues that we treated in a course we gave on Religion and Terrorism.

Some of what we summarize here on the subject is based on the work of Marc Juergensmeyer in his book Terror in the Mind of God.

What is the Zionist vision and why do some Jewish terrorists think is has been betrayed?

Zionism is a form of Judaism that advocates for Jews to return to the land of Israel as part of a process of national redemption. Zionists do not believe in a Messiah per se. They do have a messianic vision of creating a better, more perfect world for Jews and through that for humanity at large

How then does a group of Zionists come to create for themselves an angry and destructive culture instead of the optimistic and constructive society envisioned by Zionism?

Mark Juergensmeyer starts right in with the history that you need to understand this distortion of the dynamics of redemption to the paths to violence.
The 1999 peace talks with Palestinians constituted a 'betrayal,' Jewish activists in Israel asserted, echoing remarks made after the Wye River negotiations in October 1998.' Members of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza described Israel's stance as a 'pathetic capitulation' and proclaimed that the Israeli prime minister was 'no longer our leader.' Intentionally or not, their strident posture in 1998 had helped to prepare a climate of hatred that justified a series of violent demonstrations against an already weakened government that toppled at the end of the year. These angry statements and outbursts of activism were not just expressions of disagreement with policy, however; they were signs of frustration with a world gone awry. The dissenters' anxiety was personal as well as political, and in a fundamental way their fears were intensely religious.
In my work I have written about these individuals as marginal members of Israeli society who are frustrated that they are not the leaders of the Zionist enterprise. Juergensmeyer says,
The antipeace demonstrations in 1998 and 1999, following the tragic assassination of Israel's Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 by Yigal Amir and the 1994 attack at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by Dr. Baruch Goldstein, have shaken many Israelis' image of themselves as a tolerant and peace-loving people. Yet the perpetrators of both of these acts of terrorism justified their deeds with Jewish theology, historical precedents, and biblical examples. In the world view of Amir, Goldstein, and many of their colleagues, their people are caught up in a war with cultural, political, and military dimensions. In talking with Israel's religious activists, it became clear to me that what they were defending was not only the political entity of the state of Israel, but a vision of Jewish society that had ancient roots.
This belligerent attitude is not confined to Israeli activists. A local rabbi in New Jersey wrote a tirade recently 'disengaging himself' from the 'corrupt' State of Israel.

Click to read the rant/essay, Leaving Israel Because I'm Disengaged where the rabbi clearly says, 'Israel has betrayed Jewish history' (whatever that means?).

What were the Jewish activists thinking?

In another post we discussed the 'moods and motivations' that served for Bray and Hill as religious justifications for their criminal acts. We see another set of ideas in the Jewish examples here.

The assassin of Prime Minister Rabin in 1995 acted on religious motivations:
Rabin addressed a cheering crowd of 100,000, telling them that he thought that Israelis believed in peace and were 'ready to take a risk for it.' Observers said that it was one of Rabin's finest hours, a high point in his political career, and a moment of great personal satisfaction. Minutes later, just after he had descended the staircase and was walking to his car beside the government building, a student from Tel Aviv's conservative Bar-Ilan University aimed his pistol and shot the prime minister at point-blank range. As Rabin lay dying on the sidewalk next to the car, the student, Yigal Amir, was apprehended by the police. He was quoted as saying that he had 'no regrets' for what he had done, adding that he had 'acted alone and on orders from God.'
The details of the justifications in people's minds vary. Amir thought he had legal Talmudic approval:
His decision to kill the prime minister was influenced by the opinions of militant rabbis that such an assassination would he justified by the 'pursuer's decree' of Jewish legal precedence. The principle morally obligates a Jew to halt someone who presents 'a mortal danger' to Jews. Such a danger, Amir reasoned, was created by Rabin in allowing the Palestinian Authority to expand on the West Bank.
What is Apocalyptic Orthodox Judaism?

I originally wrote an essay in 1987 to analyze and characterize some of the darker clouds that I started to see on the horizon within Orthodox Judaism. I've posted it with revisions that I made in 1994, taking account of Rabbi Schachter's opinions against women's prayer groups.I'm sorry to say that I don't see much improvement in sight. I still don't consider the violence committed by Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein in my assessment. I leave that to Juergensmeyer and others to analyze.

At the time I wrote this I did not have in mind to teach, "War and Peace in Judaism, Christianity and Islam." In the early years of my teaching I believed that we should study the positive side of religion and that we ought to consider the destructive impulses that religion fosters as mere aberrations.

That is not my opinion now. Here is the opening of my essay:
Fundamentalist spokesmen in Orthodox Judaism of late have grown more vocal and militant. Recent protests, proclamations, and actions of Orthodox Jews have not just risen in intensity. Rather a substantive transformation has overtaken a segment of the Jewish community. It does not suffice to categorize Orthodox groups as "reversionary" "ultra" or "right-wing". We must explain what generative conception distinguishes one group claiming to be Orthodox observers of Torah and mitzvos (commandments), true to the ideals of halakhah (Jewish law), and loyal to their rabbinic figures of authority, from another group claiming the same traits, but appearing to form its social life and defend its ultimate goals in recognizably different manners. Some forms of fundamentalist Orthodoxy have become apocalyptic styles of Judaism. This form of Judaism has coherent world views and particular ways of life that thrive on conflict, that live on the margins of society and that employ predictable modes of discourse.
Read more of my article...

How do some justify violence within Jewish culture?

You've read about Baruch Goldstein who killed Arabs in a mosque out of his anger and frustration. Others like him sought to make him a hero or martyr for their cause. We shall see more of this thinking when we examine the phenomenon of Islamic suicide bombers. Goldstein's tomb is treated as a shrine by some:
After Rabin's assassination, when public attitudes turned hostile toward zealots such as Goldstein, the Israeli government attempted to prohibit the construction of a shrine at Goldstein's gravesite by outlawing the building of memorials at the grave of any murderer. Yoel Lerner and his comrades had protested this law and claimed that it would apply to the grave of Yitzhak Rabin as well as Dr. Goldstein, since Rabin had authorized the killing of Jews in the Altalena incident at the time Israel was created, in 1948. Lerner and his allies set up a vigil on Mount Herzl across from Rabin's grave, and although they were not allowed to display signs directly referring to the fallen leader, they cleverly displayed words from the scripture, 'Thou Shalt Not Kill,' to make their point.
Ironically, the use of irony such as this in their protests further alienates the activists from the mainstream of their culture.

What are some of the distortions of the Messianic bases for believing in the centrality of the Jewish State in Zionism and Judaism?

Juergensmeyer discusses Rabbi Kook's theology and the popular ideology that followed the Israeli military victory in 1967:
Ever since the creation of the state of Israel, some Zionists have been impressed with the idea that the present-day secular Jewish state is the forerunner of the established biblical Israel. According to Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak ha-Kohen Kuk (also transliterated as Kook), the chief rabbi of preIsrael Palestine, the secular state of Israel is the avant garde for the religious Israel to come; it contains a 'hidden spark' of the sacred, a Jewish mystical concept used by Kuk. This messianic Zionism was greatly enhanced by Israel's successes in the 1967 Six-Day War. The military victory led to a great national euphoria, a feeling that Israel was suddenly moving in an expansive and triumphant direction. Jewish nationalists impressed with Kuk's theology felt strongly that history was quickly leading to the moment of divine redemption and the recreation of the biblical state of Israel.
Rabbi Meir Kahane twisted and distorted this theology in what Ehud Sprinzak called 'catastrophic messianism,' and what I would now call 'terroristic messianism':
Kahane deviated from Kuk's version of messianic Zionism in that he saw nothing of religious significance in the establishment of a secular Jewish state. According to Kahane, the true creation of a religious Israel was yet to come. Unlike other Jewish conservatives who held this point of view, however, he felt that it was going to happen fairly soon and that he and his partisans could help bring about this messianic act. This is where Kahane's notion of kiddush ha-Shem was vital: insofar as Jews were exalted and their enemies humiliated, God was glorified and the Messiah's coming was more likely.
Sanctioning Kiddush Hashem usually implies advocating martyrdom or other dramatic violent public acts.

Not surprisingly, Kahane was assassinated in 1990. He was a dangerous man and charismatic speaker. I met him on several occasions, once on a plane going to Israel. I was relieved when the plane landed safely. Kahane taught:
Kahane called on the people of Israel to rise up and reclaim the West Bank as an act of 'just war.' He argued that defense was not the only religious basis for warfare: national pride was also a legitimate reason. He reminded the Jews that their claim to the West Bank came from a two-thousand-year-old vision, when the Jews came 'out of the fear and shame of exile.'
Here Kahane takes from the universal classic themes of Zionism that led to the miraculous vision and creation of the modern State of Israel. He twists and distorts them to serve his own narrow angry and racist vision. As we have seen and will continue to see, that is often how religion and violence meet. [Repost from 9/2007]

15th Yahrzeit of the Lubavitch Rebbe. Where's the successor?

This is an auspicious day to reflect and ask the Rebbe to intercede on High on behalf of the Lubavitch movement.

They need to select a new Rebbe. 15 years - it is way overdue.

To remain Hasidim in good standing, Lubavitch Hasidim need to name a new rebbe already.

That is the main definition of Hasidism - to be followers of a living rebbe.

JPost: Israeli Rabbis Behaving Badly

A JPost article by Matthew Wagner that mentions in various capacities Rabbis Steven Riskin, David Stav, Shlomo Amar, Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Tzfania Drori and Seth Farber, claims that "Zionist rabbis break law for converts," saying, "Modern Orthodox rabbis have organized to violate the law to help converts who are unable to marry because they are not recognized by haredi chief rabbis of cities...more..."

First off, that headline is not acceptable. If it's an op-ed piece, the opinion on law-breaking ought to be attributed. And if it's a news story, the headline is just plain misleading.

OK. What about the circus surrounding conversion standards in Israel? You may be right to blame the non-hierarchical composition of rabbinic society for the confusion about who has the authority to sanction conversion standards.

Still, that does not excuse the bad behavior of these learned adult religious leaders.

Get together rabbis and stop acting like children.
[Hat tip to Mimi...]

Star Tribune: Add Two Jews and one Muslim to Keep the Minnesota Political Pot Boiling

The overwhelmingly Christian state of Minnesota has 10,000 lakes and over 5 million residents broken down thusly: 32.0% of Minnesotans affiliated with Mainline Protestant traditions, 21.0% with Evangelical Protestant traditions, 28.0% with Roman Catholic traditions, 1.0% each with Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist, and Black Protestant traditions, smaller amounts for other faiths, and 13.0% unaffiliated.

That little minority community of Jews and Muslims sure keeps the Minnstota political pot boiling. Here are two stories, one about a controversy over Rep. Ellison's Hajj to Mecca and the other about the still unresolved Franken v. Coleman election for the senate.
Ellison's privately paid trip to Mecca prompts debate
The ethics panel that signed off on his free pilgrimage will review whether he needs to report the cost.

The wait is agonizing for Coleman, Franken
The candidates and their staffs are keeping their phones close by because they know the ruling could come any day now, ending a seven-month odyssey.

6/24/09

The Mysterious Haganah Mission Building Plaque on East 60th Street

In front of the Harmonie Club on East 60th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in New York City you will find in the sidewalk underfoot the above plaque that proclaims it as the location for the, "Clandestine Mission of the 'Haganah', Israel's pre-state defense forces, which labored unceasingly for Israel's independence and survival," between 1945 and 1948.

Wikipedia tells us about the club as a meeting place for Jews but not specifically for the Haganah,
The membership was originally entirely Jewish, and it served as the location of the meetings of the American Jewish Committee for several years, especially in the tumultuous 1930s; it took a leading role in resettling refugees from the Nazis and in ensuring their contribution to the Allied war effort. Albert Einstein and other prominent Anti- Nazi figures of the day sponsored events at the club to raise awareness of the persecution of Jews by the Nazis.

6/23/09

Sports Illustrated: Barak Cheers for the Baracklyn Cyclones

It's almost unbelievable to come home from Coney Island's Keyspan ballpark and the first "Baracklyn Cyclones" minor league baseball game, where the home team won big, to find that Sports Illustrated had already reported on your son's attendance at the game.

What a story! Great weather, great crowd, everyone had fun!
Baracklyn Cyclones take the field

NEW YORK (AP) -Nearly an hour before the gates to KeySpan Park even opened Tuesday, the line stretched for two blocks down Surf Avenue, near the Coney Island boardwalk. Fans waited for the prized possession: a Barack Obama bobblehead.

For one night, the Class A Brooklyn Cyclones renamed themselves the Baracklyn Cyclones, in tribute to the new president. And tickets cost no more than $16, cheaper than nosebleed seats at Yankee Stadium and Citi Field.

Steve Fischer bought $5 seats when they were sold in January as an "Economic Stimulus Package.'' With the bobbleheads going to only the first 2,500 fans at 7,500-capacity stadium, he wanted to be at the front of the line before the Cyclones played the Hudson Valley Renegades.

"You can come to a nice little community ballpark like this, tickets are a couple of dollars. Food prices are much more inexpensive,'' he said, standing near Pee Wee the Seagull. "You get a lot closer to the action.''

The action included ceremonial first pitches thrown out by Amber Lee Ettinger, the Obama Girl, and presidential lookalike Randall West.

The real first family didn't take the Cyclones up on their invitation to attend, though in the first inning news broke that Obama planned to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the major league All-Star game in St. Louis on July 14.

Players on the New York Mets farm team wore white jerseys with "Baracklyn'' across the chest in red, red-and-white stripes on one sleeve and a mixture of stripes, white stars and a blue background on the other.

In a promotion invented by Cyclones general manager Steve Cohen, some fans received free Band-Aids as part of "Universal Health Care.'' People named Barack got in for free, anyone named McCain or Palin received free bleacher seats and plumbers named Joe got two free tickets. There was one plumber named Joe and a Barak Zahavy in the overflow crowd of 8,760, Cyclones spokesman Dave Campanaro said. The Hall of Fame even called, requesting a jersey...more...

Is Brad Greenberg Jewish?

Brad Greenberg says no, he is not Jewish. He admits that he "looks" Jewish. And he admits that his grandmothers both were Jewish. (And that makes him technically a Jew.) He is a proud practicing Christian.

But, you ask, who cares? Who is Brad Greenberg anyhow? Who ever heard of the guy?

True enough. So never mind.

P.S. He is a religion journalist from L. A. who has taken Ari Goldman's place on a blog site at http://www.getreligion.org/. These newfangled blogs are all one big blur to us. Be that as it may for whatever reasons we have the impression that Brad has the capacity to learn new things. And boy does he have a lot to learn.... good luck, guy.

SEC Sues Mr. Chutzpah Personified - Madoff Accomplice Stanley Chais Pocketed $816 million

Not a single losing trade in all of his Madoff investments! The SEC has him cold. They want all the money back. Can they - will they - clawback from the charities and universities? Now that would be a classroom lesson for the ages.
Beverly Hills money manager Stanley Chais accused of fraud
The Beverly Hills money manager kept investor funds flowing to Madoff and took profits and fees of $816 million, the suit says.
By Stuart Pfeifer and Claudia Eller

A key to the long-running success of Bernard L. Madoff's $65-billion Ponzi scheme was its secrecy and exclusivity. You had to know someone to get a piece of the action.

In Hollywood, that someone was often Beverly Hills money manager Stanley Chais, authorities say. On Monday, the Securities and Exchange Commission offered new details about how big a player regulators believe Chais was.

When the Ponzi scheme collapsed, Chais investors' accounts were valued at nearly $1 billion, authorities said. Although those accounts may now be worthless, Chais and his family took out nearly $546 million in ill-gotten profits from Madoff accounts from 1995 to 2008, the SEC said in a civil complaint.

On top of that, Chais collected nearly $270 million in fees from investors, the government said.

Madoff's misdeeds have been known for months, but the SEC lawsuit provided the most significant glimpse yet into the "feeder funds" that provided the new cash that allowed Madoff's operation to thrive.

Through his attorney, Chais denied wrongdoing and insisted that he too was a victim of the Madoff scheme.

Chais was prominent in Jewish philanthropy for decades.

To clients, he cast himself as an "investing wizard," never revealing that Madoff was actually pulling the strings, the complaint said. What's more, the SEC said that Chais knew, or was reckless in not knowing, that Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme.

From 1999 to 2008, for example, Madoff did not report a single loss on thousands of purported stock trades on Chais' accounts, "which should have made clear to Chais that Madoff's reports to Chais were false," the SEC said...more...

6/22/09

JTA: Tony Judt in the Times Called Bar Ilan University a Taliban Madrassa

Tony Judt does not like the "settlements" in Israel and he tells us about his opinion in the Times today, in "Fictions on the Ground."

JTA says that Tony Judt in the Times called Bar Ilan University a Madrassa.
In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, historian Tony Judt slams American acceptance of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and portrays Bar-Ilan University as a Taliban madrassa, writes JTA Managing Editor Uriel Heilman.
No. That is not what Judt did. Here is what Judt actually wrote,
(It is not by chance that he chose to deliver this speech at Bar-Ilan University, the heartland of rabbinical intransigence where Yigal Amir learned to hate Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin before heading off to assassinate him in 1995.)
Notice the parenthesis. It's not the main point of the article. And by the way there is no comparison to the Taliban or to a madrassa. Judt is actually correct that BIU is right of center as an institution overall. But it is a pluralistic, democratic school. It's a pure Judt fantasy to say that BIU teaches hate and assassination.

They say all the time in the universities when people object to over the top speeches (usually left wing, but sometimes in defense of inviting an Iranian nut-job to a campus), that the answer to that byproduct of free speech is more free speech.

We don't agree with Judt's opinions and we don't like his outrageous rhetoric.

Apparently the JTA editors believe that the answer to such egregious writing is even more ridiculous scribbling.

6/21/09

Times: Satmar Politico Rabbi Leib Glanz is big news


If it is true what they say in the newspaper business that, "Jews is News," then a big time politico Satmar ultra-Orthodox Jew who screws up - well that is by definition, "Ultra-News."

About the rabbi (and we would like to see his semicha) the Times reports:
...For two decades, he has been something of a Satmar master of ceremonies, arranging official tours of the community, based in Williamsburg, translating Yiddish for political leaders, charming mayors and their aides with gifts, then soliciting money and support for his sect’s priorities...more...

Times: Nazis v. Rabbi A.J. Heschel on a highway in Missouri

Take that, you Nazis.
When a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement volunteered last year to clean a Missouri highway, and get official recognition for it in the form of an Adopt-a-Highway sign, state officials felt powerless to refuse. So they took a rather clever tack.

Several years before, the Missouri Department of Transportation had lost a long legal battle to try and prevent the Ku Klux Klan from adopting a highway on freedom-of-speech grounds. So the state decided to counter the Nazi group’s speech with more speech, in the form of another roadside sign.

Officials are renaming the stretch of highway near Springfield that the organization cleans after Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who fled Nazi Germany and became a prominent Jewish theologian and civil rights advocate in the United States...more...

6/20/09

Times Magazine: Why Candidate Norm Coleman Won't Give Up

Matt Bai in "The Way We Live Now - Everyone a Winner? The Lost Art of Conceding Defeat" - believes he has identified a cultural shift in America. In our present society, we no longer accept losing.

We believe this is nothing new and that fifty years ago we mostly used to call this kind of behavior being a sore loser. But Bai thinks it is more culturally pervasive now. And his poster child for stubbornness is Minnesota's Norm Coleman who lost his election bid for the Senate but still will not concede defeat.

We think Bai is too soft on Coleman. His actions and of the other examples of extreme intransigence that Bai cites are part of the lack of civil behavior that eats away at the core of our political and commercial lives.They ought to be condemned, not analyzed.

Of course, Bai misses the obvious. The flip side of not conceding defeat is a Bush-like victory declaration of "Mission Accomplished" before anything of the sort is a fact.

We could argue that there is no cultural meaning to what Bai discusses. Simply put - the factual reality of the real world is of no concern to doctrinal Republicans like Coleman or Bush.

Bai proves to us by his perambulation of what he thinks is a "lost art" that it will take this country more than six months to completely awaken ourselves from the nightmare of the preceding eight years. He also has it backwards. Culture recapitulates politics, not the other way around.
...What happens in politics, however, can almost never be extricated from the culture at large, and the lost art of losing nobly is by no means an exclusively political phenomenon. At the upper reaches of society, we litigate ever more readily and accept misfortune with ever less stoicism. Being fired from a job becomes the beginning of a negotiation, while a routine school suspension instantly goes to appeal. In part, this is probably the inevitable reckoning for a culture that gives trophies to every Little Leaguer because, as the saying goes, we’re all winners. Shouldering defeat is, after all, a skill that has to be learned early, like speaking Mandarin or sleeping through the night. Then, too, we are guided by an unflagging faith in modern technology — a sense that no discrepancy is small enough to defy absolute quantification. A blown call on a home run hooking foul used to be part of the game, a generations-old lesson in the randomness of adversity. Now the crowd breaks for hot dogs while the instant replay delivers its verdict and the homer is revoked. There are no more bad breaks in life — only bad umps...more...

6/19/09

Be aware of the New and Mysterious Talmud Blog

Yes, there is a new mysterious blog on the Internet called The Talmud Blog.

We call it mysterious because we can't immediately identify the author.

Its focus appears to be on university events related to the study of the Talmud.

Good luck - whoever you are!

JTA: All Schnorring, All the Time - You give us your email, we bombard you with donation requests

We're being bombarded with donation requests from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. We did not even know that the JTA was a charity.

We just went to the JTA site to read an article titled, "Six percent of Israelis say Obama is ‘pro-Israel’" and found at the end of the post this urgent notice: "This article was made possible by the support of readers like you. Donate to JTA now."

Now we are critical of JTA here on several grounds. First off there is no value add to picking up an already published report from the Jerusalem Post and repeating it. Why would we donate for that? Every blogger on earth can do that for free with no schnorring. Google, Yahoo and every other aggregating service can pick the news up from other papers without begging for donations.

We are critical of JTA for this particular type of posting also because they regurgitate it with no links to the original source of the poll - which BTW you can find here.

And yes, we do want to know why there are no JTA polls? More to the point, we want to know why JTA just recycles the JPost poll without adding a single critical look at it by any known authority.

Back in April there was a dust up on account of a perceived slight to bloggers in a JTA fund raising newsletter.

Seems to us like the balabatim (owners) over there at JTA did not get the message. Instead they have intensified their electronic panhandling to the point that it seems to us to be truly tasteless.

We are sorry if the financial crisis has hit JTA hard, We will be sad to see it go away if that is the result. Reading the intensity and desperation of the current begging that JTA is engaged in, we think that will be the outcome.

Times change. The vacuum JTA leaves when it does go away will quickly be filled by other perhaps more tasteful and more value-laden Jewish news efforts.

6/18/09

Meme Alert: Five Books that Changed How We Read the Bible

Theophrastus of the famous What I Learned from Aristotle blog has tagged us to the meme about books that influenced how we read the Bible...
Books that influenced my reading of the Bible ...There is one of those memes going around in which people volunteer a list of books that influenced their readings of the Bible.  The rules say that works are not limited to Biblical studies literature, but can include religious works or works of literature.  The list is nominally set at 5 books, but that is obviously an arbitrary number, and I have more than 5 books to list ...
We try not to disappoint, so here we go for the Torah:
 ...and we could go on for each remaining book of the Tanakh... no explanations now, too much on our plate.

Dear reader-bloggers. Kindly continue the meme, as you see fit ...

6/17/09

Does the Times' Tom Friedman understand anything about religion?

Reading today's op-ed by Tom Friedman in the Times - "The Virtual Mosque" - he appears to act as a reductionist to equate the political and social power of the Mosque in Iran with that of twitter and facebook.

And yes he also literally asks about what is happening in Iran, "...is any of this good for the Jews..."

The first point is ludicrous. Religion through its leadership and via the mosques holds sway over peoples lives with authentic political power. Twitter and facebook are merely means of communication and publication. Yikes.

The second point is more ludicrous. When we say amongst ourselves, "Is it good for the Jews?" it is often in a self mocking tone, implying, let's get petty about world events.

Friedman may be breezy in his style but ordinarily he is not jocular in his column. So if he is serious, what is the deal?

We don't think Tom is losing it. Or is he?

Here's the conclusion of his op-ed on Iran as he turns to the "good for the Jews" part of his thoughts.
And that brings me to Netanyahu. Israel was taken by surprise by events in Lebanon and Iran. And Israeli officials have been saying they would much prefer that Ahmadinejad still wins in Iran — not because Israelis really prefer him but because they believe his thuggish, anti-Semitic behavior reflects the true and immutable character of the Iranian regime. And Israelis fear that if a moderate were to take over, it would not herald any real change in Iran, or its nuclear ambitions, but simply disguise it better.

But there are signals — still weak — that another trend may be stirring in the region. The Iranian regime appears to be splitting at the top. This could challenge Netanyahu’s security framework. Israel needs to be neither seduced by these signals nor indifferent to them. It has to be open to them and must understand that how it relates to Palestinians and settlements can help these trends — at the margins. But a lot starts at the margins.

“The rise of these moderate forces, if it is real and sustained, would be the most significant long-term contribution to Israeli national security,” argued Gidi Grinstein, the president of the Reut Institute, a think tank. “If some of these moderate forces started to converge, then the overall status of Israeli security would improve radically.” It is still way too early to know, he said, “but Israel needs to be alive to this process and not simply rely on its old framework.”

Teaneck's Avi Frisch Asks About Legality of Port Authority WTC Plans

wtc061509_opt Can the Port Authority legally finance Silverstein’s white elephants?

BY AVI FRISCH
The crashing economy and the end of New York City's building boom have made completion of the World Trade Center project seemingly impossible, unless the Port Authority itself agrees to finance the office towers. So far though, the Port Authority has resisted providing financing for more than one of the buildings, though there is political pressure for them to build more. As has been reported in the New York Times, Sheldon Silver, the Speaker of the New York State Assembly has called for the Port Authority to assist Silverstein Properties, Inc., in building two towers, along with the one tower being built by the Port Authority, while, according to the Times, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and New York Governor David Paterson "have expressed wariness about pouring additional public funds into the office towers."... more...

Pope Orders Talmud Confiscated and Burned

We recommend the blog, "This Day in Jewish History" which reports for today (June 17):
1242: At the decree of Pope Gregory IX and King Louis, all copies of the Talmud were confiscated in Paris. Declaring that the reason for the stubbornness of the Jews was their study of the Talmud, the Pope called for an investigation of the Talmud that resulted in its condemnation and burning. Twenty-four cartloads of Hebrew manuscripts were publicly burned. Rabbi Meir was an eyewitness to the public burning of the twenty-four cartloads of Talmudic manuscripts (and he bewailed this tragedy in his celebrated "Kina" Shaali serufah (שאלי שרופה) which is still recited on Tisha B'Av.

6/16/09

Surfing Video: A truly awesome numinous religious experience


If he saw this, Rudolph Otto might say that this epitomizes the "Mysterium tremendum et fascinans." [repost]

Times: Satmar Hasidic Rabbi Leib Glanz Under Investigation in NYC Jail Bar Mitzvah Scandal

The Times reports more details about the Satmar Hasidic Rabbi Leib Glanz who is under investigation in the NYC jail Bar Mitzvah scandal.
Rabbi in Jailhouse Bar Mitzvah Inquiry Met With Mayor’s Top Political Strategist
By WILLIAM K. RASHBAUM

The rabbi at the center of an investigation into a bar mitzvah that was held at a New York City jail last year had three scheduled meetings in the last four months of 2008 with Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey, the man in charge of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s political operation, records show...more...

What is the proper state of mind or concentration - kavvanah - that one must have when reciting Jewish prayers?

We wrote about this subject in a paper, "Kavvanah (Concentration) for Prayer in the Mishnah and Talmud."
...Rabbinic sources express sophisticated notions regarding inner states of consciousness. When we examine several rabbinic texts and translate into more contemporary terms some concepts of the rabbinic rules and interpretations regarding inner states of mind, we discover strikingly mature attitudes towards those aspects of consciousness, intention or concentration during prayer, called in the texts, "kavvanah for prayer." ...historical analysis of the concept of kavvanah in early rabbinic sources shows that the idea does not remain static within rabbinic thought but evolves in the various documents...
You can read our essay here.

6/15/09

Times Blog: Real David Letterman Apologizes Again for Performer David Letterman's Bad Joke - or does he?

Michelle Malkin and other wing-nuts who inhabit the right wing echo chamber utterly confuse TV performances with real life and TV personae with actual people.

That is why they manage to make it seem that jokes told by a performer in a role as a late night comic reflect the comic's personality. Nonsense.

A Times blog reports that DL is doing an apology do-over.

We find tonight what appears to be the real David Letterman trying to apologize to the real Sarah Palin. But, since he does this on his televised show during air-time, the performer DL muddies the waters. He should have called long distance - person-to-person - to Sarah Palin - off the air. But he didn't do that.
Letterman Apologizes — Again — to Governor Palin and Her Family
By Bill Carter

David Letterman directly apologized to Gov. Sarah Palin and her daughters on his program Monday night, saying he took responsibility for a joke that had offended Ms. Palin, her family and her supporters.

Mr. Letterman opened the desk portion of his show with the apology, in which he said he wanted to say he was sorry to “the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke.” Two weeks ago on his “Late Show” program on CBS, he had joked about Governor Palin’s attending a Yankee game with her daughter.

The joke, in which Mr. Letterman seemingly confused Willow, who is 14 and attended a Yankee game with Governor Palin that week, with Bristol, who is 18 and an unwed mother, had to do with the Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez impregnating Ms. Palin’s daughter.

Last week Mr. Letterman somewhat defiantly said that there was a misperception going on and that he would never make a sexually charged joke about a 14-year old. But he never expressly explained that he had inadvertently confused the two Palin daughters.

Monday he acknowledged that as the host of the program it was his responsibility to get the joke right. “I told a joke that was beyond flawed, and my intent is completely meaningless compared to the perception.”

He also insisted he was confused about the daughters. “I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani,” Mr. Letterman said. “I should have made the joke about Rudy.”

The issue has been seized upon by supporters of Ms. Palin, who have called for everything from a boycott of Mr. Letterman’s advertisers to his outright firing. They have planned a rally for Tuesday at Mr. Letterman’s theater on Broadway in Manhattan.

Some media commentators said that Mr. Letterman was keeping the controversy alive for the sake of ratings, but he seemed to make a special effort Monday to get the apology right. He even taped it a second time after he mistakenly referred to Bristol Palin once as “Brooke” in the first effort.

CBS executives said Monday that they had exercised no pressure on the late-night star to offer any apology and that they had seen no real impact on advertisers from the protests.

One advertiser, Embassy Suites Hotels, sent word to Ms. Palin’s supporters that it had ceased advertising on CBS’s Web site and did not want to be associated in any way with Mr. Letterman’s comments.

6/14/09

Netanyahu Postures in Prime Time Speech at Bar Ilan University (clips)


Benjamin Netanyahu did not quote from the Talmud. Listen, we are not impressed with a man who says after 61 years, "Let us begin..." And we ask ourselves whether this was just a vanity speech by a man who is saying to his party and his people, "Look at me. I am just like Obama. I can give a big policy speech." Differences? To start with, Obama had the courage to deliver his speech in Cairo. Netanyahu went all the way over to a right wing Israeli campus to speak.

We here at our blog are not diplomats. But Bibi must know that this is obvious to all calculating human beings. You need to first run your ideas up the flagpole by letting surrogates float them to the public. Then, and only then, you can deliver your pre-discussed ideas with some notion of what the rest of the universe thinks of them.

Especially because of the track record of the Palestinian leadership, specifically, e.g., dancing in the streets after 9/11, there will never be a Palestinian state. Neither the US, nor the Israelis, nor any other sane and normal body will allow such a worldview to govern a new entity of a sovereign nation.

When some diplomat finally says this in the open, we will have turned the corner. Then we can address the giant impediment to peace. Until then, when diplomats speak about peace in the middle east, we are listening only to prevarication and posturing.

Update from the Times -

Israeli Premier Backs State for Palestinians, With Caveats

Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday endorsed the principle of a Palestinian state for the first time, but Palestinians immediately rejected his conditions...

To which we ask - what is the point of speaking and caveat-making if you know that the other side will reject what you say before you finish saying it?

Ynet: Rabbi Calls for Jewish non-profit executives to take 60-80% pay cuts

In our view, it's a perfect opportunity for Jewish leaders to show that they can be lights unto the nations, i.e., examples of high moral behavior that will redound to the culture at large.

Writing on Ynet, Rabbi Levi Brackman, makes a strong Talmudic case against excessive pay and calls on Jewish non-profit executives to take big pay cuts. In his op-ed, "Our self-serving execs - Is it proper for executives of Jewish non-profit organizations to be paid huge salaries?" the rabbi concludes,
One, however, who seeks wealth from a pool of money donated for a specific worthy communal cause, becomes the subject of derision from Judaism’s ethical and rabbinic writings. It is time for the executives of our organizations to step up and show some real leadership. That begins with internalizing and then modeling the concept of working in the service of others—a mere ten percent pay cut does not show that type of leadership. For most of them a 60-80% pay cut would be much more appropriate.

New Hebrew Israeli Portal and Seach Site: Kosher + Google = Koogle


What took so long?

The rabbis approve of the new kosher Israeli portal and search site called Koogle, an obvious play on the words kosher and google.

You certainly won't find via this site anything like nude, naked, painted photos of Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli from the cover of Esquire.

You will find a site that uses an attractive and very Zionist blue and white color scheme.

6/13/09

Sign up fast for your personal vanity facebook URL

We just signed up for "tzvee" as our personal facebook URL.

Don't know what that means?

Read this CNET article, "A users' guide to personalizing your Facebook URL." and act fast to log in and get the vanity URL that you want.

At Last - Hebrew Books on our new Kindle DX (3) in Native PDF Format

We got our large size Kindle DX on Friday - our third Kindle.

We just loaded by cable a 553 page Hebrew book in PDF format onto our Kindle. We downloaded it last week from hebrewbooks.org -- a truly wonderful resource site.

The book is clear and readable. The "Go to" takes you to the page you want and yes, you can save bookmarks.

We like the new big Kindle size. The chicklet keyboard still is a joke. The early adopter premium $489 price is too high.

Much more needs to be said but we have so many books to read - so conveniently  now - and so little time.

We are secretly dreaming at last about our gigantic book-garage sale.

6/11/09

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Video: Rabbi Morton Pomerantz Cited on the MSNBC Ed Show Psycho Talk Segment


Rabbi Morton Pomerantz's column on newsmax.com - "Rabbi: Obama Breeds Climate of Hate Against Jews" - earned him mention today on the MSNBC Ed Show segment called, "Psycho Talk."

The rabbi has some valid points to make and clearly loves Israel. But he comes off in his writing as a raving maniac. An example of the meshuggenah rhetoric that earned him the opprobrium of the Ed Show:

In Cairo, Obama said things that pose a grave danger to Jews in Israel, in America and everywhere.

And if his views are not vigorously opposed they will help create a danger as great as that posed by the Nazis to the Jewish people.

Forward: Yeshiva University President Richard Joel fired 60 employees but won't take a pay cut

In December 2008 we pointed out that Yeshiva University paid its president Richard Joel $698,495, plus the institution gave him an expense account of $84,869, according to the Chronicle for Higher Education, Facts and Figures, Executives' Compensation at Private Institutions for 2006-7.

According to our analysis, that's an $80,000 raise from his compensation package of the previous year. At that rate of increase it's fair to assume that two years later, i.e., this year, 2008-9 his compensation is more than $940,000.

The Forward this week, with both a detailed report and a principled editorial, has mounted an attack against Richard Joel and other Jewish non-profit executives who have fired employees in their organizations but have not themselves taken a pay cut.

In particular we agree with this conclusion that the editors draw, "...Nonprofit organizations that exist to serve the Jewish community ought to exemplify the empathy they ask of us. We are asked to join, to donate, to volunteer, to offer up the hours and miles and sweat and money out of a deep caring for our fellow Jews and fellow human beings. But if the man in the corner office — and it’s nearly always a man — does not hold himself accountable to his workers and clients, then the organization is bankrupt, no matter what the balance sheet says."

Arutz Sheva: Jewish History Professor Menachem Ben-Sasson Selected President of Hebrew University in Jerusalem

It is utterly breathtaking for the field of Jewish History that one of its leading professors has been chosen as head of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Ben Sasson has been active in the Society for Judeo-Arabic Studies and has served as President or World Union of Jewish Studies. His research interests are listed as: Medieval Jewish history in Muslim lands; Social and intellectual history; Geonic Responsa and texts; Geniza research.
Former Kadima MK Elected Hebrew University President
by Yehudah Lev Kay

(IsraelNN.com) Former Kadima Member of Knesset Dr. Menachem Ben-Sasson was elected to the post of President of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He replaces Dr. Menachem Megidor, who was President since 1997.

Ben-Sasson holds a doctorate in Jewish History from Hebrew University and completed post-doctorate studies at Cambridge University in England. He served as an MK between 2006 and 2009, but was not reelected to the current Knesset. He served as Hebrew University's rector in the past.

“These are difficult times,” Ben-Sasson said after being elected to the new position. “The financial situation is so severe as to cast doubt even on the opening of the coming academic year. I call upon the government of Israel to honor its obligations [to education],” he added.

Ben-Sasson has taught in academic centers around the world, including Yeshiva University, the University of Pennsylvania and the Russian National Academy of Sciences. He also served as president of the World Union for Jewish Studies and as the head of a pedagogic committee at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.

The new President of Hebrew University lives in Jerusalem with his wife Dr. Ada Ben-Sasson. He has three children and three grandchildren.
Last year Prof. Sarah Stroumsa, a Maimonides scholar and specialist in Medieval Jewry, a member of the departments of Arabic Language and Literature and of Jewish Thought, was selected to serve as rector of the Hebrew University.

Sarah Palin to David Letterman: I did not meet any Jewish People in New York

Sarah Palin has been famously complaining about David Letterman's jokes regarding her visit to New York City.

Little covered was this Palin objection.

On his top ten list, "Top Ten Highlights of Sarah Palin's Trip to New York," Letterman joked at # 3 the following, that Sarah, "Finally met one of those Jewish people Mel Gibson is always talking about."

Palin objects vehemently to this joke on these two grounds.

She says she did not knowingly meet any Jewish people during her trip to the city.

She also says that she does not know Mel Gibson, but she did like his Aramaic film, "The Passion of the Christ."

We do hope that Mr. Letterman will clarify this misunderstanding before any further damage is done to Palin's sterling image.

6/10/09

Why You Should Not Confuse Jewish Studies with Jewish Education

Jewish Studies at colleges and universities should never be confused with communal Jewish Education. The two processes may look alike at first glance. But in their goals and methods they are quite distinct from one another.

Jewish Education is supposed to help make people better Jews. That process, whether at a Day School or a Talmud Torah or in adult programs, has a deliberate agenda. Yes, the precise list of purposes may vary depending on the sponsorship. Federations want Jews to have a stronger identity. That means they should know enough to feel an affiliation to the community, to contribute financially to Jewish needs and, in some cases, to participate in the governance and decision making of Jewish organizational life.

Synagogues want Jews to know enough to feel that they ought to belong to the institution. The major religious movements also need to convince their membership that they are the true Jews and the other forms of Judaism are not. As we know, some expressions of this form of polemical argument are more polite than others.

Jewish schools serve the needs of Federations and synagogues. They serve to foster social solidarity by imparting knowledge and by shaping attitudes. At their best, they also serve the spiritual needs of the individual student. They contribute to his or her personal growth as a Jew for no extrinsic purpose. Hence the finest Jewish education correctly nurtures the student's soul. And quite obviously, Jewish educators presume they will serve the needs of Jews exclusively.

Jewish Studies within higher education is directed at making college students better people. That process has its own agenda. The study of the Jews and Judaism helps the student understand the development of Western civilization. It opens up vistas into our own contemporary pluralistic society. At a basic level, Jewish Studies helps students become more sensitive and knowledgeable citizens.

The analysis of Jewish culture in the liberal arts curriculum makes use of the most current methods available for social scientific and humanistic investigation. Students in Jewish Studies learn how to dissect culture through the specific study of Judaic examples. When it is done best, this form of learning nurtures the student too. But it directly serves the intellect, not the soul. Sure, some may argue that a strong and cultivated mind feeds the growth of the spirit. That may be a great fringe-benefit of the finest examples in liberal arts education.

Needless to say, most teachers of Jewish Studies do not expect to serve the needs of Jews exclusively. Naturally, Jewish students are likely to be interested in Jewish Studies courses. Many may take advantage of what is available to try to further pursue the goals they sought in earlier Jewish education at a Day School, synagogue or Talmud Torah. However, it may come as a surprise to learn that the majority of the students in Jewish Studies courses nationwide are not Jewish.

True, at the major Midwestern research institution, the University of Minnesota for example, where we taught for eighteen years, a significant percentage of the Jewish students did take a course in Jewish Studies. A popular offering, Introduction to Judaism, which we taught each year, frequently ranked among the largest courses at the college with 200-300 students. One Jewish student remarked to me about attending the lectures of this course, "It's like you go to a friend's Bar Mitzvah three times a week. You get to see all your Jewish buddies in one place." Yet, year-in-and-year-out, we estimated though that more than two thirds of the students in the large courses in Jewish Studies at that University were not Jewish.

So, what were all these goyim doing in Jewish Studies courses? These offerings fulfilled the needs of the intellectual agenda of the liberal arts student. They also fulfilled college distribution requirements for World Studies, Historical Studies and Literary Studies. These courses were a significant part of the humanities in the liberal arts in the public discourse of the life of the University. They were integral to the purposes of the academic mission. And they were interesting and consistently well-taught.

We educators know that the goals of the liberal arts curriculum are deliberately broad. College should prepare all students to be good citizens at the very least. Professors should strive to instill in each student a commitment to leadership in whatever profession or occupation or civic activity they pursue. And at the optimum level, the teacher must attempt to do more than instruct the student on the objective tasks of how to think or the impersonal ways to analyze phenomena.

But most certainly, the Jewish Studies professor's ultimate goal is to nurture the intellect of each individual. We do this for our Jewish students. We do it for all our students. And correctly so, we leave it to the Jewish educators to nurture the souls of the next generation of Jews.
______
Tzvee Zahavy was ordained at Yeshiva University and received his Ph.D. from Brown University. He taught Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota for eighteen years. He currently resides in Teaneck, N. J. [Reposted from June 2006.]

Our Teaneck Neighbor Avi Frisch has Opened his New Law Practice in Paramus NJ

Avram Frisch, our Milford Terrace neighbor in Teaneck, has opened his own practice at 4 Forest Avenue in Paramus.

He will be doing real estate, transactional, immigration and general law.

Avram has been an associate at the Wall Street firm of Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP following his graduation from Columbia Law School. Before that Avram participated in the Semicha program at Yeshiva University and is a summa cum laude graduate of that institution.

You can find his website or email him at avi@avifrischlaw.com for further information.

Times: Ethnic Jewish e-magazine Tablet Launches in a pretty bubble

Nice of David Carr at the Times to mention "Tablet" in his "Media Decoder" blog in his post, "A New Online Magazine About Jewish News and Culture." It would be nicer yet if he read the site and made some comments about its content.

He quips to conclude his blurb,
With the tag line “A new read on Jewish life,” Tablet features a podcast of Joy Ladin, a poet and a professor of English at Stern College for Women at Yeshiva University who underwent a sex change. Safe to say that not everything that will be covered in Tablet came down from the mountain on those original stone artifacts.
We looked around the new site and have praise for its attractive design and impressive sounding staff. The mag also has clever headline writers.

But "a new read" is a bad tag line. What happens after three months when it is no longer "new"? Do they shorten the tag to "a read"? And BTW it's not descriptive of the nature of the content is it? Are they progressive or conservative? Young or old? (Of course, silly question, everyone on the web is young.) If they are a "read" does that include multi-media? (There is "weekly" audio on the site.) And are they pro-religion or anti-religion? Pro-Zionist or pro-Palestinian? Do you really want us to guess about all of these questions?

And then what of the other part of the tag, "Jewish life." Nothing about dead Jews? No obituaries? We gather that this means concern with "culture" but as opposed to what?

Culture, religion and politics of an ethnic group. Look at us. We are so hip and special.

No, no. Please tell us what distinguishes you from a hole in the wall.

Why do we need another Forward or Jewish Week?

What big stories did your people break in their previous lives?

What kind of new knowledge will you create? What value will you add?

Will you be honest with us? Too much among the stories, posts and reviews that you published so far that claims or insinuates they are your own new discoveries - when they are not. Other journals or blogs have written witty insights on those subjects days or weeks ago. Are you hoping nobody will notice that?

Are you planning to stay in the sparkly bubble that you so gleefully appear to have erected around your enterprise?

And please realize that we mean all of this interrogation in the nicest way. We would like to see you succeed, not just float around the Internet until this pretty bubble bursts. [hat tip to henry and others]

6/9/09

Teaneck's Democratic State Senator Loretta Weinberg Gains Momentum in her Bid to Run with Corzine for Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey

Wally Edge at PolitickerNJ.com reports that Teaneck's Democratic State Senator  Loretta Weinberg is gaining momentum in her bid to run with John Corzine for Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey.
In what could be the second most important endorsement of the race for the Democratic Lt. Governor nomination, Newark Mayor Cory Booker is set to endorse State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck), according to a high ranking Democratic source.  Booker's endorsement sends a signal that African American Democratic leaders will support a white woman, obviating any chance of a backlash for Gov. Jon Corzine. Weinberg, a 72-year-old State Senator from Bergen County, has received considerable consideration to become Corzine's running mate in recent weeks.
Further, he reports that Cory Booker is a careful politician:
The conventional wisdom, at least among a group of Democratic insiders, is that Newark Mayor Cory Booker would not be prepared to back State Sen. Loretta Weinberg for Lt. Governor without the blessing of Gov. Jon Corzine. It would not be Booker's style to get involved in this race.

And in case you forgot, Weinberg, then an Assemblywoman, was one of the earliest supporters of Corzine's 2000 U.S. Senate bid, and was one of three Democrats picked as campaign co-chairs.
Looks to us like the Weinberg train cannot be stopped.

The Ten Commandments Translated into Text Messages to Moses

God texts the Ten Commandments
BY JAMIE QUATRO [McSweeney's]

1. no1 b4 me. srsly.
2. dnt wrshp pix/idols
3. no omg's
4. no wrk on w/end (sat 4 now; sun l8r)
5. pos ok - ur m&d r cool
6. dnt kill ppl
7. :-X only w/ m8
8. dnt steal
9. dnt lie re: bf
10. dnt ogle ur bf's m8. or ox. or dnkey. myob.

M, pls rite on tabs & giv 2 ppl.
ttyl, JHWH...
[hat tip to mimi]

Times Op-ed: In his Cairo Speech Obama Neglected to Note the Arab Persecutions of the Jews

Two years ago we posted on this blog information identifying an Egyptian Jew living in our community,  Teaneck. That person immediately, within minutes of the post appearing, called us to beseech us to remove the post from our blog so as to protect the safety of members of his family who still live and do business in Egypt. If they were identified as Jews, he said, they would be put in danger of harm. We removed the post.

Now, related to this concern, in a Times Op-ed, Professor André Aciman reminds us all of a gaping omission on the part or President Obama from his Cairo speech.
The president never said a word about me. Or, for that matter, about any of the other 800,000 or so Jews born in the Middle East who fled the Arab and Muslim world or who were summarily expelled for being Jewish in the 20th century. With all his references to the history of Islam and to its (questionable) “proud tradition of tolerance” of other faiths, Mr. Obama never said anything about those Jews whose ancestors had been living in Arab lands long before the advent of Islam but were its first victims once rampant nationalism swept over the Arab world.

Nor did he bother to mention that with this flight and expulsion, Jewish assets were — let’s call it by its proper name — looted.
The writer, who is professor of comparative literature at the City University of New York Graduate Center, and the author of the memoir “Out of Egypt” concludes with this brilliant understatement:
It is strange that our president, a man so versed in history and so committed to the truth, should have omitted mentioning the Jews of Egypt. He either forgot, or just didn’t know, or just thought it wasn’t expedient or appropriate for this venue. But for him to speak in Cairo of a shared effort “to find common ground ... and to respect the dignity of all human beings” without mentioning people in my position would be like his speaking to the residents of Berlin about the future of Germany and forgetting to mention a small detail called World War II.
The president also forgot to mention the peace accord of Anwar Sadat and his subsequent assassination, chapters of history that were worthy of note for a statesman orating in Cairo about peace.

Mort Kondrake pointed this out immediately in a discussion that appeared on Fox:
The crowning missing ingredient in this entire speech, was any mention of Anwar Sadat. This is the 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat, in Cairo, making peace with the Israelis. He should have said Anwar Sadat is a model for the entire Islamic world, especially the Arab world....
And one more thing. We think instead of a perfunctory citation from the Babylonian Talmud (should he have called it the Iraqi Talmud?), it would have been more appropriate for Barack to cite a passage from the writings of Maimonides, a famous medieval Egyptian Jewish rabbi-physician, or perhaps for the president to cite from the Palestinian Talmud, thus confounding the entire world.

6/8/09

Which is Better, Talmudic Chaos or Halakhic Linearity?

We were asked to write about Talmudic logic for a journal so we've written a new paper for publication. In a nutshell:
In this paper we first examine what several modern Judaic scholars have said about the halakhah in Judaism. Then we show how their approaches fail to correlate with some of the basic the philological and historical evidence of the Talmudic texts which employ the term halakhah. Finally, probing beyond the historical and philological theories of the texts, we advance a new and intuitive hypothesis. We posit that to fathom the logic of the Talmud and of modes of thought of the halakhah one needs to go beyond standard notions of linearity and consider concepts from within chaos theory.
We don't really decide whether Talmudic chaos is better than Halakhic linearity. We do know which is more complex and we discuss fractals.