12/30/11

Is Yossi Sarid Jewish?

Yes, Yossi Sarid is a Jew. He is, according to Wikipedia, "a left-wing Israeli news commentator and former politician. He served as a member of the Knesset for the Alignment, Ratz and Meretz between 1974 and 2006. A former Minister of Education and Minister of the Environment, he led Meretz between 1996 and 2003."

So Sarid is no lightweight. He is also the author of a pungent op-ed in Haaretz, "Orthodox Judaism treats women like filthy little things" which argues that Orthodox Judaism teaches, "If a man and a woman are drowning in a river, first they'll save the man, 'who is obligated to perform more commandments,' whereas a woman's 'wisdom is only in the spindle.' In fact, 'words of Torah should be burned rather than being given to women.'"

Those Odious Orthodox [we need some descriptive term to characterize those men in Beit Shemesh who spit on little girls] are a small minority of a minority. The other [polite] Orthodox ought to rein them in before it is too late. [And, sadly, judging from the Sarid op-ed, it is too late.]

Our snap Talmudic analysis: Orthodox Judaism has a wonderful comprehensive set of beliefs, rites and rituals. It does not need to preach misogyny too define its unique essences.

What is next? Best scenario, the secular majority in Israel will propose special legislation directly targeted to outlaw Orthodox discrimination against women. Worst case, riots and arrests.

12/27/11

Lonely Man of Faith: Meet the Gregarious Man of Faith


My great teacher Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik is known in part for his essay, "The Lonely Man of Faith." The article was published in 1965 in the Orthodox journal Tradition and then as a book with an introduction by Professor David Shatz. (A film about the Rav with the same title was produced by Ethan Isenberg.)

Koren-Maggid publishers have reissued the essay with a new introduction by Rabbi Reuven Ziegler, a clear and succinct summary of the article.

We greatly admire our esteemed teacher and have always believed that he meant well by publishing in this essay his emotional musings on the first chapters of Genesis and on the existential angst of the Orthodox Jew.

The dichotomy that the Rav imagined and spoke about between spiritual and material, religious and scientific, covenantal and majestic, for years did not speak to us, did not help us achieve religious understanding or satisfaction.

Finally we set forth our understanding of the "Gregarious Man of Faith" in our new book, which closely examines the core spiritual texts of Judaism and identifies six friends that accompany us daily in our own ideal unified and whole spiritual community.

We recommend you read both books, the Rav's lonely treatise, and our gregarious one.

Times: Feldheim Index of theTalmud

Joe Berger wrote an article in the Times about a new index to the Talmud Bavli.

It may be useful. We have not seen it. For sure, indexing is the driest work that a student can do.

Unfortunately, contrary to what Times reporter Berger was told by the publishers and editors of this new work, there were previously published concordances to the Mishnah and Talmud by Chaim Kasovsky, essentially indexing every word of the texts. We own the four volume Mishnah Concordance and have it open in front of us as we write this. You can order a used set on Amazon as of today.

JVL summarizes the Kasovsky work:
KASOVSKY, CHAYIM YEHOSHUA (1873–1960), Israeli rabbinical scholar. Kasovsky received his early education at the Eẓ Ḥayyim Talmud Torah in Jerusalem where his father Abraham Abele Kasovsky was an instructor. At the age of 20, he was contributing articles to various periodicals on such subjects as Hebrew language and grammar, geometry, and talmudic themes.

Kasovsky's reputation rests upon the concordances which he compiled of the Mishnah, the Tosefta, Targum Onkelos, and the Babylonian Talmud (the last of which he was unable to complete). He undertook this task alone and under difficult conditions. He finally evolved a scheme which served as the "key" to the compilation of the concordances. Unable to afford a publisher, Kasovsky acquired a primitive press and set and printed the first volume of the concordance of the Mishnah himself. Its appearance in 1914 caused a sensation in the scholarly world. A committee was established to provide the necessary means to enable Kasovsky to continue his work: the four-volume Oẓar Leshon ha-Mishnah (1957–60); the six-volume Tosefta concordance (1933–61); and the four-volume Onkelos (1933–40). Kasovsky's works subsequently became indispensable to all scholars in those fields. His Talmud concordance (1954– ) consisted of 24 volumes by 1970, up to the letter Mem. After his death, his youngest son Benjamin continued the work (from vol. 10, 1962). His oldest son, Moshe, prepared a concordance of the Jerusalem Talmud under the auspices of the Israel Academy for Sciences and Humanities and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
We do hope the printed edition of the new index gives proper credit in the book to the published  Kasovsky work that preceded it.

Kasovsky's Tosefta Concordance can be downloaded here -  אוצר לשון התוספתא

The other works are out of print or hard to obtain. So we do welcome this new Talmud study tool.

Note that these new index books are not available for ordering on the publisher's web site as of this posting.

Joseph B. Soloveitchik on REDEMPTION, PRAYER, TALMUD TORAH

In November 2009 we reflected:

In 1978, my teacher, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik published an essay titled REDEMPTION, PRAYER, TALMUD TORAH. It began,
Redemption is a fundamental category in Judaic historical thinking and experiencing. Our history was initiated by a Divine act of redemption and, we are confident, will reach its finale in a Divine act of ultimate redemption.

What is redemption?

Redemption involves a movement by an individual or a community from the periphery of history to its center; or, to employ a term from physics, redemption is a centripetal movement. To be on the periphery means to be a non-history-making entity, while movement toward the center renders the same entity history-making and history-conscious. Naturally the question arises: What is meant by a history-making people or community? A history-making people is one that leads a speaking, story-telling, communing free existence, while a non- history-making, non history-involved group leads a non-communing, and therefore a silent, unfree existence...
I decided to reread this essay because I thought I might add it to the readings in a seminar that I am teaching at JTS. I decided not to. The reasons - for just about every paragraph, I either don't understand the author's intent or I don't agree with how he characterizes Judaism.

To start with, I don't know what a fundamental category is, what Judaic historical thinking is or what experiencing is. It could be that he means to say in sentence one, "God's redemption of Israel is a prominent theme in Judaism." Or maybe not.

It could be that he means to continue in sentence two, "We believe God redeemed us in the past from slavery in Egypt and that he will redeem us in the future in the Messianic age." Or maybe not.

I simply disagree with the claims of the next paragraph. I just never heard anyone define redemption as moving to the center of history - becoming history-making and conscious - being able to speak, tell stories and commune and be free. And actually I do not know what all that means. But even so - I disagree with it, and I think that the physics example doesn't help matters.

The Rav goes on in the essay to speak about slaves and slavery - how slaves are mute and have no narratives, makes a passing reference to concentration camps, and how free people speak and have a voice, and a word, and a logos, how that is what prayer is all about and how prayer is related to the study of Torah.

And he tells us there is another type, an existential slave, whose world is in chaos because he is ignored and anonymous. Man is lost, sin is born until man "finds himself" through prayer in which he finds his needs awareness. Prayer makes man "feel whole" and it is where "God claims man."

My best estimate of what the Rav tried to do here - this is his exercise in insinuating an existentialist  philosophical reflection into a contemplation of Jewish prayer.

The Rav wrote more about prayer elsewhere, some of which I will assign to my seminar, just not this article.

12/26/11

Via JStandard: $1000 Hackensack and Maywood Synagogue Vandalism Reward

ADL announces $1000 reward
The Anti-Defamation League is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for defacing two New Jersey synagogues with swastikas and anti-Semitic messages. The first incident occurred in Maywood on December 10, while the second occurred in Hackensack on December 21st.

Anyone with information relevant to the case is urged to contact the Hackensack Police Department at 201-646-7777 or Crime Stoppers at 201-488-4222.

12/25/11

Video with subtitles: Icky Misogynist Bullying Orthodox Jews Spit on an Orthodox School Girl

This icky stuff makes no sense at all to us. Black hat Haredi men spit on an Orthodox girl. In the interviews, the Haredi men claim that only they know how to respect women.

This proves: Up is down, and down is up. Say the opposite of what you do, and expect that people will believe you. Unfortunately, based on our knowledge of the American experience of racism, this hateful activity will continue until people are maimed or killed and troops are brought in to restore and enforce civil rights.



Review: Dead Sea Scrolls Come to Times Square... and the Ten Commandments too

Michael Kaminer in the Forward gave a reserved review to the Times Square Dead Sea Scroll exhibition a few weeks back.

We saw the show today.  It is a professionally packaged exhibit of ancient artifacts and manuscript fragments. Some aspects of the recorded explanations are clear and some are amateurish. In the "Audio Tour" the use of sound bites of professors explaining some of the stops seemed pompous and unnecessary, especially when long multiple academic titles prefaced rather banal observations about the exhibit items.

A significant proportion of the viewers at the show appeared to us to be ignorant of the basics of the culture and history of the ancient materials. Many terms used in the captions and in the audio guide did not explain terms adequately. The display rooms and the display cases were dimly lit. Many small objects were presented in display cases without any magnification available. The same could be said of the small texts, although magnified copies were shown alongside some of them.

Bottom line: Based on this exhibit, we judge that a newcomer to the scrolls could not put together a coherent narrative of the contents or the context of the objects.

That said, the show is an ambitious undertaking that needs to be applauded. We hope the producers will obtain constructive critical feedback so that the next such effort is a greater success.

A side issue: We did think this ad from our cable company went a bit too far in promising us "The Ten Commandments" at the show (at a 20% savings; when we went we got $2 off of a $25 ticket. American Express gave us a better deal; one headset free, worth $7).

A gift for you today: the Kindle Edition of God's Favorite Prayers

Free today from Amazon: God's Favorite Prayers Kindle edition!

Update: Amazon "sold" 340 copies on a promotion last Sunday.

Read the Kindle Edition of God's Favorite Prayers.

Read it on the beach, on the train, anywhere. Use text-to-speech to have the Kindle read the book to you. Lend your Kindle version to your friend to read. Make notes. Highlight the text. Change the font size and font face.

12/24/11

Was Stieg Larsson Jewish?

No, the best-selling author Stieg Larsson was not a Jew.

Larsson's books are the "immensely successful Millennium trilogy" of which  the first two are, The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The third book, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest was reviewed in the Times Book Review.

The Times magazine's feature article in May 2010 on "The Afterlife of Stieg Larsson" explained the phenomenon of his books and the controversy that ensued over them.
...The novels come from Sweden, of all places, where the first one was published in 2005 and the next two over the following couple of years. They’re crime thrillers about a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist, who works for the magazine Millennium, and his sometime partner Lisbeth Salander, a startling and strangely appealing character who is a tattooed and pierced, bisexual computer hacker. Together this improbable pair solve mysteries involving spectacularly corrupt businessmen and politicians, sex traffickers, bent cops, spineless journalists, biker gangs and meth heads...

Times: Non-Jewish Couples are Using a Huppah Wedding Canopy

The Times has a surprising account of how non-Jews are adopting the Huppah as a part of their wedding ceremonies, "Exchanging Vows Under a Canopy, No Matter the Faith," by MARIANNE ROHRLICH.

The article explains, "In Judaism, a traditional huppah typically consists of a prayer shawl or other cloth attached to four poles, which is held aloft over the couple by family members, and is intended to signify the newlyweds’ new home. They are purposely open-sided to welcome the guests."


Huff Post: Teaneck's Ronit Hanan Turns To Cantorial School

An article in Huffington Post by Ann Brenoff, Boomers Turn To Divinity Schools, reports on one of our talented students at JTS, and our neighbor in Teaneck, Ronit Hanan, who is completing her cantorial degree.
Going to graduate school as a middle-age woman doesn't even register as a problem on the Richter Scale for Jewish Theological Seminary cantorial student Ronit Wolff Hanan, 52. She lives in a New Jersey suburb and commutes to her classes. The perspective that older students contribute to the class dynamic is valued, she says. "We bring life experience to the table." Hanan, the daughter of a cantor, says she was probably always meant to enter spiritual service, but took a circuitous route to get there. She performed musically in the secular world, raised a family, lived abroad for eight years and kept a foot in the synagogue door through lay teaching. She would hire herself out for High Holy days for congregations in need of cantorial support.

She likely won't be competing with her younger classmates in the job-hunt that begins for her upon graduation because of her strong roots to her home in Teaneck and family ties. "I'm not someone who is going to move to Ohio for a job," she notes. Continuing doing what she's been doing -- but armed with the credentials of an advanced degree -- were justification enough for Hanan to go to theology school.

Was Jesus Jewish?

Yes, Jesus was a Jew.

There are many ways modern Jews have chosen to deal with the fact that Jesus was a Jew.

In the Guardian, columnist Jonathan Freedland wrote a personal, simplistic and reductionist account of his reaction to Jesus' Jewishness, "The story of Jesus is the ultimate political drama," explaining, "I shouldn't be interested in the life of Jesus, but I can't help it – his story makes for gripping entertainment." So Freedland side-steps all the theological questions and turns the issue into a review of political drama. He concludes,
The truth is, the Jesus story is the ultimate political drama. Imagine it: a radical firebrand, whom the powerful want to silence and shut down. But the threat is not only external. He also faces a hidden challenge from within his own inner circle, a traitor in his midst …

I admit that I brace myself when I come to hear the story told again, whether through radio drama, rock opera or, say, some BBC experimental production on the streets of Manchester. I worry: will this version blame the Romans or the Jews? Of course it's always best when Pilate, the Roman occupier who gave the order, is the bad guy; certainly better than any suggestion, coded or otherwise, that it is the Jews who should bear the weight of guilt.

I like to think Jesus himself would understand this nervousness on my part. After all, and this is remembered less often than it might be, he was Jewish too.

12/21/11

NY Times Delves into Rabbi Yossi Pinto and his associates

Spin this narrative any way you want. The Times has run a nasty icky story about a high profile rabbi and his associates.

But, as far as we see it, since -- so far -- there is no crime, this matter is not worth any more of our time.

12/19/11

Happy Archetypal Hanukkah

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

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

12/18/11

Times: More whining from Auslander about Jews and a Nice Story about Kosher Toys

An awful fictional column in the NY Times magazine by Shalom Auslander, poorly written and utterly obnoxious: Grabbing Life by the Horns by SHALOM AUSLANDER

Traveling abroad with a group of Orthodox friends, a son finds that, alas, his mother knows best.

Offset to the above, a charming news story, well written with real content: A Store Where Toys Must Be Kosher by JOSEPH BERGER.

At Double Play Toys, which serves Orthodox Jewish families, figures that promote TV-watching or violence run against the store’s code.

12/16/11

Beyond Religion by the Dalai Lama - Free Audio Book

Audible gave us a free copy of the Dalai Lama's new book, "Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World". It is a wise book full of insight for individuals who want to better their lives, with a prophetic message for universal peace and compassion. It also provides a wonderful introduction to meditation.

We admire the Dalai Lama's simple and powerful style of writing, his insight into human nature and we aspire to share his essential naive goodness. His promotional materials for the book tell us:
...the Dalai Lama, at his most compassionate and outspoken, elaborates and deepens his vision for the nonreligious way. Transcending the mere "religion wars," he outlines a system of secular ethics that gives tolerant respect to religion—those that ground ethics in a belief in God and an afterlife, and those that understand good actions as leading to better states of existence in future lives. And yet, with the highest level of spiritual and intellectual authority, the Dalai Lama makes a claim for what he calls a third way. This is a system of secular ethics that transcends religion as a way to recognize our common humanity and so contributes to a global human community based on understanding and mutual respect
The audio book is free to download until 12/20/2011.

Elana Sztokman Still Likes Naomi Ragen

In an interesting and thoughtful Foreward article, "After Plagiarism Suit, Standing by Naomi Ragen," writer Elana Sztokman has made up her mind. She will not abandon her icon, writer Naomi Ragen, even after Ragen was found guilty of plagiarism.

Now, Elana wants to let us know that she is willing to forgive and forget and will stand by her woman, even though the infraction was not against her. That's a bit gracious of her, though nobody thought to ask her how she felt, since she did not suffer the plagiarism attack.

Ragen did not plagiarize Sztokman's work, so the forgiveness is not that difficult. Elana might have consulted with the victim first before deciding what is best for the Orthodox sisterhood.

Plagiarism is a vicious crime against our profession. It is a cardinal offense against a writer. We know this because we suffered a direct and eggregious attack of plagiarism and copyright infringement two years ago from a close mentor who published our work (some 900 pages) under his name. As a direct victim, we felt the full brunt of the attack, the "violence" of the crime. We searched our soul, maintained our dignity, forgave the transgressor, settled the matter out of court, and let it go. It was not easy.

12/15/11

Bergen Record: Teaneck Kosher Wine Store Extraordinaire: Queen Anne Wine and Spirit Emporium

We buy all our wine there! What more can we say?

Kosher wines have come a long way in short time
BY JOE IURATO

Admittedly, the closest I've come to celebrating Hanukkah is watching Adam Sandler in "Eight Crazy Nights." I am a Christmas-observing Catholic, one who's never experienced the Festival of Lights in his home, but I'm also a wine enthusiast. And wine, like love, is a beautiful language that knows no boundaries. It doesn't discriminate or separate. Wine brings people together. For as long as I've been interested in fermented grape juice, my knowledge of culture and geography has expanded and my eyes have been opened to worlds I may not have otherwise known. Now, with Hanukkah beginning Tuesday night, I'm on a mission to learn about kosher wines.

Where do I go to learn about the world of kosher wines without simply perusing the Web for morsels of most likely false information? One of the top stores in the country for kosher wines is located in Teaneck — Queen Anne Wine and Spirit Emporium. While the kosher wines selection in most wine shops is limited, Queen Anne offers an estimated 600-plus bottles to choose from. I talked with Kevin Roche, the store's owner and co-founder of WineMaster's — an association of retailers who are also sommeliers. It turned out to be an hour of enlightenment.

12/13/11

Is Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow Jewish?

No, as most football fans know by now, Tim Tebow is not a Jew. He is an evangelical Christian who is not shy about expressing his faith on the football field and off it.

But, it was a Jewish fan who came up with the idea for the Tebowing homage-to-Tebow web site. Patton Dodd writes about this in an article in The Wall Street Journal, "Tim Tebow: God's Quarterback."
As Mr. Tebow's acts of goodwill merged with his achievements on the field for the Florida team, Tebow fandom morphed into Tebow piety. Students launched websites dedicated to the young man, and blogs and message boards lit up with tributes. The blogosphere and Twitterverse produced a flood of over-the-top jokes declaring Tebow's greatness: "Tim Tebow has counted to infinity…twice." "When Tim Tebow walks on water, his feet don't get wet."

In recent weeks, as Tebow mania has re-emerged alongside the unexpected success of the Broncos, it has become clear that the fever is not confined to the quarterback's fellow evangelical Christians. Mr. Tebow's habit of taking to one knee in prayer on the field has given rise to an Internet meme called "Tebowing." Fans have posted pictures of themselves praying on one knee while doing everything from surfing and fighting fires to touring China and going into battle.

"Tebowing" is the brainchild of Jared Kleinstein, 24, a real-estate marketer in New York City who was raised in Denver, where he grew into a devoted sports fan. Mr. Kleinstein, who is Jewish, just wanted to pay tribute to the inspirational quarterback of his favorite team. He launched Tebowing.com from Manhattan in October, on the night after Mr. Tebow led the Broncos to victory over the Miami Dolphins.

Hug a Heretic Today

Writing in Fortune Magazine, Polly LaBarre explains, "Why you should embrace your company's heretics."

We find this article noteworthy for two reasons. First, we learn that management consultants can use religious terminology and concepts to speak lucidly about organizational behavior and corporate life.

Second, we start to think that perhaps what is good for a commercial corporation may be good for an organized religion.

LaBarre's observations begin, "Making your organization a home for heretics just might be the best way of making sure it has a future."

12/12/11

The Strange David Hartman Yediot Interview

We read the strange David Hartman interview in Yediot in Hebrew last week and our reaction was, "How sad." When asked whether we meant sad for Hartman, or sad for religion in Israel, we said, "Both."

But now, after reading again the article in English, we judge that there are more points that jump out from the interview, that overall coalesce, sadly, to portray Hartman as a kvetch and a crank.

Ynet titles the interview, 'Religion now more dangerous than Arabs' and explains, "Rabbi David Hartman, teacher and rebel, is celebrating his 80th birthday and cannot believe the kind of Judaism developing around him: 'Instead of creating a new humanity, Religious Zionism leaders are fighting over stones and verses.'"

Hartman should not have been allowed by his children or disciples to be interviewed without any filtering. Hartman misses every opportunity to explain modern Orthodox values and his own views. Instead he complains and carps and criticizes, here, there and everywhere. And most of what he says is raw opinion, confused, conflicting and self-contradictory.

The interviewer, Uri Misgav, did no favor to Hartman either. After asking, "Is anyone even listening to you?" and getting an evasion, he does not pursue the issue. After asking, "So your life work was in a sense a failure?" and getting no list of dozens of achievements, rather than pursuing the question, the interviewer abruptly changes the subject.

So we are sad, mainly for David Hartman. He comes across as a sore loser, a man of sour grapes. He lost his life's battle. The right wing religious Israelis won. And Hartman is hopping mad.

To sum it up wryly, Hartman's mentor (an ours) Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, published a famous self-defining essay, "The Lonely Man of Faith."

In this interview Hartman has clinched his life-persona as, "The Kvetchy Man of Faith."

12/11/11

Religious Celebrities: Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow and the Orthodox Jewish Taliban-Like Women

Amazingly, in our archetypal framework of analysis of religious personalities, two ostensibly different types of religious practice fall into the same personality category, the "Celebrity."

As we see it these two religious personae in the news today are "Celebrities" -- Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow (see Times Op-Ed Columnist Frank Bruni on, "Tim Tebow’s Gospel of Optimism") (and see the Times editorial, "Tebowing on the Gridiron and Off") and the Orthodox Jewish Taliban Women (hat tip to David for the latter VIN link).

Our sharp scalpel of analysis cuts it like this. Both are valid expressions of what we call in our new book, "the celebrity mode of religious expression" whose anthem is, "We're number one!"

Celebrities show their specialness and triumphalism in many ways, by slogans, by unusual and distinctive tribal dress, and in purely public mannerisms. You could point to war paint for native Americans, or to the Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow genuflecting in the end zone after a touchdown. Those kinds of public displays immediately reduce down to parallel archetypal content-less bravura put on for show.

Those acts have a dual purpose for the personality who puts them on for us. They say first, We are better than you, We are winning, and they, second, seek to intimidate the competition. The intellectual, theological and philosophical emptiness of the celebrity mode is so elegantly demonstrated when Tebow equates winning at a football game with winning at religion. It's all just a big game for him in both those cases.

And witness that neither of his celebrations of victory or supremacy has any depth or durability.

Eventually all teams will lose. And then they will have to go back and look for some actual defining knowledge or substantive meaning, some real content, not just bravura. Or else they just will disappear into the mists of former glory.

And oh well, we might go one step further in our parsing of religious personality.

If you are not an admirer of fundamentalist Christians or if you are not a fan of Taliban-like burka-wearing Orthodox women, the answers you may speak to the celebrities that you don't like are:  (a) simply and loudly tell them that they don't scare you; and (b) mock them mercilessly to everyone else for their utterly silly actions.

And of course, for the "Celebrities" that you do like, just wave your finger in the air and join them in the chant and the dance, "We're number one!" And, go out there and win that game! And if you win, take a bow.

12/10/11

The Jewish Channel: Steven I. Weiss' Exclusive Controversial Interview with Newt Gingrich

On the The Jewish Channel, Steven I. Weiss' conducted an exclusive controversial interview with Newt Gingrich. Newt called the Palestinians an "invented people."



Times: Nobody is responsible for publishing a story about student sex at Yeshiva University

The Yeshiva sex story episode continues. Now, we do understand that people must save face and try to avoid responsibility for a controversy. A student paper published a bland anonymous story of premarital sex at the University. Censorship efforts ensued. Journalists and bloggers became interested. And now the Times.

But the NY Times article ends with statements that make little sense to us. They seem to say, all kinds of conflicting things like, we had nothing to do with this, we had something to do with this, this is not official anymore, but other things like this are official, we are democratic and are not for censorship, but we did what we did, we are open, and we are closed.

All that we get from this episode is a picture that some forty plus years after we graduated from the college, the school has no clearer idea that what it represents is a liberal arts college within a comprehensive university, combined with a Talmudic academy, and an ethos of traditional Orthodox Judaism.

Hello. Reality check. The answer to what defines the Yeshiva College and Stern College is, and always has been and will be, "All of the above." That means that the rabbis, and the ethic they represent are one major facet in a complex composite. They are not the sole regulators of all practice. Not by any stretch of the imagination.

The Times says contradictory things at the end of their account, representing well the ambiguity of the current state of affairs at the school. In our view, ambiguity is not in this instance any sign of strength, any expression of value. The school tried to suppress and censor a student story. They seriously failed. They need to own up to that and make sure it never ever happens again.
...Mayer Fertig, senior director of media relations for Yeshiva University, said the administration had not been involved in the controversy, though several faculty members had served as mediators at the Wednesday night meeting at which The Beacon and the student council parted ways.

The Beacon, the student council reported, is no longer an official club, so it will no longer get student funding, which amounted to about $500 this year. Other publications, including a humor magazine, The Quipster, also function unofficially at the school, supported by donations.

“We have a vibrant student press and a vibrant democracy here,” Mr. Fertig said, adding that the council had acted according to the wishes of the students. Rather than being about censorship, he said, “this whole thing showcases our diversity in our campus that we are proud of. This is a yeshiva and a university, and we take both very seriously.”

12/8/11

WSJ: Student Sex at Yeshiva University

We waited. We thought, this item is not of any consequence. But the story is now on the Wall Street Journal.

What a lovely report. An anonymous author writes about a sexual encounter between a Yeshiva boy and a Stern College girl in a hotel room. The narrative is published in a second-tier college periodical. But wait. The Yeshiva U morality police could not restrain themselves. So instead of letting a non-story die, we now have a big deal here.

It is fair to assume that for over 50 years Yeshiva College men and Stern College women have been having sex. That is what college students do.

How now does a student short story generate such heat? Well, that's easy. The no-sex team that runs the show at religious fundamentalist schools like Yeshiva and BYU and Liberty U did not get the memo. Students are having sex, and by the way, it is fair to assume that contrary to the literary angst in the Yeshiva story, students are enjoying their sex.
Essay Sparks Campus Uproar
By SOPHIA HOLLANDER

An essay about pre-marital sex published in a student newspaper has caused an uproar at Yeshiva University, the Orthodox Jewish college in Manhattan, prompting the student council to withdraw the paper's funding and igniting a campus-wide debate over censorship....[more...]

12/7/11

Gotcha! An Imaginary Poison Acorn in the Forest

Gotcha! Going back to 2006 we've written on occasion about the valuless and tiresome right wing sport called, "Gotcha!" That is what we call it when some conservative activist finds some small item in the verdant forest of liberal and progressive politics and holds it up for ridicule. The notion behind Gotcha! is that some small defect invalidates the whole liberal enterprise.

We've said in the past that the conservative Gotcha! game brings no value to the world.

Now we've thought through all the possible metaphors for further explaining our view and have come up with another way to make our point.

"Look here," says the radical right-wing Gotcha! player, "I have here a poison acorn. Because it fell from that tree over there, and that tree is part of the forest, this whole forest is poison! Run away from it as fast as you can because we must burn it down!"

"But," we object, "we don't see any acorn. You are imagining that it exists. You are imagining that it is poison. You are imagining that it infects the whole forest. None of that is reality."

Latest example is some alleged statement by an Obama administration diplomat that "blames" anti-semitism on the "Arab-Israeli conflict." It turns out that the statement never existed, that it wasn't poison, and that it did not prove there is any smattering of toxicity of the Obama administration's policies towards Israel.

Just say it along with me, "They cannot see the forest for they are locked in on gazing at an imaginary poison acorn."

12/3/11

The Great Neck SAT Cheating Scandal

The Times reported that in a Long Island suburb students have been cheating on the SAT college entrance exam (Exam Cheating on Long Island Hardly a Secret).

We have one comment on this that would render the whole matter moot in the future: get fingerprints of all the test takers.
...So far, 20 teenagers at five schools in Nassau County — Great Neck North, Great Neck South, Roslyn High School, the North Shore Hebrew Academy and St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset — have been arrested: the five suspected of taking the tests were charged with felonies, while the 15 accused of paying them $500 to $3,600 to do so face misdemeanor charges.

Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney, said that she had evidence against 20 others, but that they could not be pursued because of the two-year statute of limitations regarding misdemeanors, or the absence of testing records...

Sent from my iPad

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David Gruber: Teaneck Taxes are Out of Control

If this letter writer in our local Teaneck Suburbanite paper is correct, our Teaneck taxes have been skyrocketing out of control the past few years. We need to get them under control.
Keeping Teaneck affordable means better leadership

To the editor:

Between 2001-10, Teaneck property taxes increased 58.8 percent compared to an increase in the CPI of 26.6 percent, a measure of inflation experienced by consumers in their day-to-day living expenses. In other words, the Teaneck property tax growth rate was more than double (122 percent) the U.S. inflation rate. During this period, Teaneck's overall population (39,650), as well as its student population (4,310) remained nearly constant.

Details are provided for Teaneck and the Consumer Price Index on a year-by-year basis (last five years): 2006: Property taxes + 6.3 percent vs. CPI + 3.2 percent; 2007: Property taxes + 7.8 percent vs. CPI + 2.8 percent; 2008: Property taxes + 2.5percent vs. CPI + 3.8 percent; 2009: Property taxes + 4.0 percent vs. CPI -0.4 percent; 2010: Property taxes + 2.3 percent vs. CPI + 1.6 percent.

From an analytical perspective, Teaneck residents should compare the rate of rise in property taxes to the CPI for evidence of cost control. The difference is compounded over time. In aggregate, there is no evidence of cost controls or productivity savings, though a few isolated programs may have generated either/or both.

What are we paying for? Where is the value of our investment? Levels of academic achievement have not improved in our schools. Neither has the responsiveness our municipality. Teaneck already spends 10 percent of its municipal budget for Police and Fire pensions — a figure that has increased 617 percent since 2005. We don't even have garbage pick-up!

Contract reform is needed. Police earn $100,000 within six years of being hired. Our teachers are the third highest paid in New Jersey. At the same time, costly grievance procedures applying to all union employees, combined with disincentives for productivity enhancement limits the ability of management to make fundamental or even incremental changes on a timely basis.

We also don't need to spend $3.5 million for renovation of the police station (via a debt offering). Build now, pay later for what? We need better service, not a better building.

Bottom line: The local economy remains weak. People are frustrated by Congressional inertia. Foreclosures are happening even within Teaneck. A clarion call for "No More Taxes" and "shared sacrifice" by the unions exists. Change won't happen overnight. Strategic leadership is required.

David Gruber
Teaneck

11/30/11

Is that love song kosher?

Is that love song kosher?

Kipa, an Israeli Orthodox Hebrew web site, reports that Rabbi Eliyahu of Safed has declared pop love songs off limits - not kosher -- see the article, חדשות - הרב אליהו: לזמרים של היום אין מושג מה זאת אהבה.

Now, we have a suspicion that the rabbi is preparing to launch a kosher business for certifying those love songs that he deems to be rabbinically approved.

Well we are out there ahead of him.

Attention music publishers and performing artists! We are launching a new service that will review, inspect and certify your romantic music as kosher.

Contact us. Our rates are reasonable. You don't want your music to be declared non-kosher, do you?

The Kipa article reports as follows:
Rabbi Eliyahu: singers of today have no idea what love is

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu rules against hearing songs dealing with romance. "We must not drift through their songs after these low feelings. They sing songs of praise to the basest of our senses," he states.
The Rav of Safed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, rules against listening to songs or music are about romance. In a responsum to be published this weekend in 'Small World', Rabbi Eliyahu claims that this kind of popular songs, does not deal with love, but with passions and obscenities.

In a personal attack on the singers and poets of today, Rabbi Eliyahu claims that "Those who read the biography of these singers are seeing that most of them have never experienced true love, but mostly lust. They can not sustain a relationship with a woman for more than three days, weeks or months. They never heard of mutual trust. "

Rabbi Eliyahu says that, "You should not be confused. They call it love - because they just do not know any better." In practice, Rabbi Eliyahu explained that those singers, "Really sing songs of praise to our coarsest senses," and so he rules that, "It is forbidden to drift through their songs after these low feelings."

"There is true love in the world - it is a shame to lose it. It is worth everything," concludes the Rabbi
.
By the way rabbi, can you sing us a true kosher love song?

11/29/11

Is David Mamet Jewish?

Yes, David Mamet is a Jew. A Jew with lots of opinions about things.

The JJ tells us that, "David Mamet is a Pulitzer Prize-winning and Tony- and Oscar-nominated playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director." Mamet was born, says Wikipedia, "in 1947 in Chicago to Jewish parents, Lenore June (Silver), a teacher, and Bernard Morris Mamet, an attorney."

In his recent article in the Jewish Journal, Conflict, choice and surrender, Mamet railed against "Reform Judaism" against "Jobs bills" and for "common sense."

But have no fear. The JJ replied to Mamet with an essay by anonymous that vigorously defends Reform Judaism,  Dear David Mamet: Reform Judaism doesn’t surrender.

Wikipedia explains about Mamet, "Mamet's style of writing dialogue, marked by a cynical, street-smart edge, precisely crafted for effect, is so distinctive that it has come to be called Mamet speak."

Unfortunately, we think that this artistry does not transfer to Mamet's op-ed writing which seems to us to be mainly words used as punctuation.

11/26/11

Is Mitch Albom Jewish?

Yes, best selling author Mitch Albom is a Jew from New Jersey.

His book "Have a Little Faith" will be aired in a TV version on ABC on Sunday, 11/27/2011.

The LA Times' Mary McNamara did not give it a sterling review, saying in part, "At least a half-hour too long, it is slow, repetitive and predictable — a self-indulgent exercise on Albom's part (he wrote the script). And it's the actors who pay time and again in scenes that have no sense of pacing, often no point, and in Fishburne's case, require a ludicrous wig-hat, the likes of which has not been seen on network TV since Howard Cosell. Watching, you can only hope that each of these fine performers finds a home on some perfectly splendid series and becomes permanently unavailable for projects like this one.'

We liked the book and said back on 11/19/2009:

We heard Albom speak tonight at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC. He reprised many vignettes from his book in what we have to say was more of an artistic performance by an outstanding talent than a lecture.

11/25/11

Hanukkah Sale: 4 copies of God's Favorite Prayers for the Price of 3

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11/20/11

Times' Joseph Berger Profiles the Actors’ Temple in NYC



The Actor's Temple is one of the many colorful synagogues in NYC. Joseph Berger wrote a wonderful story about that shul in the Times.

It seems these actors need money. Hmm. On the West Coast, actors are giving generously to their temple in LA. The Los Angeles Times reports on what may be the most expensive renovation for a Temple or Synagogue -- a $175-million renovation and redevelopment project as we blogged in October. Indeed.
Once a Realm of Stars, a Temple Is Now Bereft of Them, and Their Money
By JOSEPH BERGER

Here is how the Actors’ Temple went from being an Orthodox synagogue to a Conservative one — at least for a time.

Sophie Tucker, the self-proclaimed “Last of the Red Hot Mamas” who was famous for her vaudeville renditions of “Some of These Days,” and “My Yiddishe Momme,” was sitting in the women’s balcony during the High Holy Days and spotted a wealthy woman she was acquainted with enter the men’s section below to pray with her husband, causing something of a stir. The formidable Tucker rose, marched downstairs and joined her, making an emphatic statement that the rabbi was loath to challenge. This was Sophie Tucker, after all. From then on, more women and men sat together in the Conservative custom, or so goes the story as told by the congregation’s current rabbi, who happens to be a woman, Jill Hausman.

The Actors’ Temple, sandwiched among the low-rise buildings of West 47th Street in Manhattan’s theater district, is rich with such tales about its celebrated worshipers, entertainers like Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Red Buttons, Eddie Cantor, Eddie Fisher, Al Jolson, Shelley Winters and two of the Three Stooges. They had started from the bottom of the industry, after growing up in observant Jewish homes, and, even if they had changed their names and outer shells, they wanted to reconnect once or twice a year, maybe even accepting the honor of a call to bless the Torah. Edward G. Robinson, who played the mobster “Little Caesar,” donned a prayer shawl to lead a service... more...

11/19/11

Rabbi Sacks Mocks Steve Jobs - but he is dead and cannot answer

Oy, oy, oy. The rabbi maybe should have retired last year, not next year. He's got it wrong, oy, oy, oy.

"The late Steve Jobs helped create a selfish 'i, i, i' consumer culture that has only brought unhappiness, the Chief Rabbi has claimed."

There is nothing at all about Apple products that is any more selfish or materialist than any other consumer market product. iPad has Torah apps! What is the man talking about?

[The rabbi sort-of apologized for his dumb remarks according to the EJP, to wit, "Rabbi Sacks, the clarification statement added, "uses an iPhone and an iPad on a daily basis" and "was simply pointing out the potential dangers of consumerism when taken too far.""]

iPad has brought this writer more happiness than any previous technological invention, and that includes the remote garage door opener and the cell phone, two previous inventions that changed our lives completely.

The iPad and iPod machines are not sources of unhappiness or selfishness or materialism. That blast from the chief is way out of line.

Now if we were chief rabbi (like the if we were a horse anthropologist) and we wanted to chastise Steve Jobs, there is ample room for criticizing the man. We wouldn't do it as a criticism though because that is contrary to the Torah. You are not permitted to mock the dead. They cannot answer. The rabbis remind us that one who mocks the dead is like one who insults his creator. It's based on a verse in the bible about the poor and weak, only it is applied to the dead. Proverbs 17:5 is the verse that is invoked in this regard, לועג לרש חרף עושהו "One who mocks the poor affronts his Maker."

The rabbi ought politely to have raised issues about Jobs' actions as a person during his life. We complimented last week the president of a respected company because he brought representatives of an NGO to his corporate office and recommended that all employees support their charitable efforts. We applauded him for following the model of Bill Gates in seeking to bolster philanthropy. And we mentioned to him by contrast Steve Jobs, who was not known as a philanthropist during his lifetime.

Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote about this known issue (a bug in the program?) in August 2011 ("The Mystery of Steve Jobs’s Public Giving") saying among other things, "...the lack of public philanthropy by Mr. Jobs — long whispered about, but rarely said aloud — raises some important questions about the way the public views business and business people at a time when some 'millionaires and billionaires' are criticized for not giving back enough while others like Mr. Jobs are lionized."

The chief rabbi had an ample opportunity to raise the p-question, without insult to Jobs' memory, to probe why he never set a public example as a big philanthropist or even as a simple charitable person.

But for the rabbi to attack the iPad and insinuate that it is a source of the world's unhappiness -- that is silly talk. The Telegraph reported the story of the rabbi's rants in front of the queen:
Chief Rabbi blames Apple for helping create selfish society
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, and Martin Beckford

Lord Sacks said that advertising only made shoppers aware of what they did not own, rather than feeling grateful for what they have.

Talmudic Video Clips: Yossi Cedar and Footnote at Lincoln Center and Our Non-video Comments about Daniel Boyarin


Yossi Cedar came out on stage to introduce his film at the screening at the New York Film Festival on 10-10-11. He was funny. That is the first clip above. (The clips are from our Samsung smart phone Epic 4G.) He then came out on stage to answer questions after the film was shown. In our second clip (below), Cedar explained where he got the idea for the core concept of the film (the father-son prize mix-up).


In our third clip (below), he explains where he got the notion for one of the funniest scenes in the film (the meeting at the ministry office).



In the beginning of the film itself, Cedar creates a scene at a cocktail party in Jerusalem where in the background conversation you can hear professors discussing the merits of the scholarship of "Boyarin". This is a reference to Daniel Boyarin's work going back twenty plus years that ostensibly tried to combine trendy literary and gender critical methods with the study of Talmud and Midrash. That is the antithesis of the kind of work that Talmudic philologists at the Hebrew University considered to be proper scholarship.

We reviewed a book by Boyarin many years ago and had some strong sentiments of criticism at the time. Our negative judgements did not stem from a premise that Hebrew University style criticism was the proper model for Talmudic scholarship. We did not see Boyarin's work as an intelligible advance in knowledge in the field. Others do. We still don't.

Here is what we said back then. This assessment applies as well to the new Hebrew edition that is now being published 20 years after the original book appeared.

11/15/11

Talmudic Puzzlement over the Kindle Fire

"God's Favorite Prayers" Kindle edition looks great on the Kindle Fire.

Our new Kindle Fire tablet arrived today. We like it. It's a compromise between an android phone and an iPad. We have a Samsung Epic 4G android phone that can do most of what the Kindle Fire can do. But it is smaller and it is a phone. We have an iPad that is an iPad. It is 10 inches and it is amazing. We use both devices daily. We depend on both.

The Kindle Fire is 7 inches. It is plenty big enough for reading. In fact it is the same size as the standard Kindle. But yes, it is much heavier. And it is color and touch screen and quite slick. We like the navigation that Amazon put on top of the Android operating system, and the browser (called "silk" by Amazon). In short, this is an impressive device.

Questions abound, subject to answer over the next few weeks. Will we use this device? Since we already have an actual Kindle (much lighter) and an actual Android phone (3G most of the time from Sprint) and an actual iPad (we take it everywhere and use it for everything) -- where will the Fire fit in to our lifestyle?

What is the essence of this new creature? Now that is a big Talmudic question.

"God's Favorite Prayers" Kindle edition looks great on the Kindle Fire.

On completing the study once again of Talmud Tractate Hullin

Today marks the completion of daf yomi study of Tractate Hullin.  We are reposting our previous post of our recollections and of Rav Soloveitchik's remarks in 1974 at a siyyum for Hullin, previously published in a well-known compilation .

My translation of Talmud tractate Hullin, as described below, was re-issued recently by Hendrickson in print and on CD.

On April 1, 1973 in Rabbi Soloveitchik's Talmud shiur at Yeshiva University we completed learning the first chapter of Talmud Bavli Tractate Hullin. The Rav gave a dvar Torah at the Siyyum. He explained the meaning of the recitation of the hadran alakh, the prayer that promised upon the completion of learning a Talmud chapter or Tractate that we would return to study you - speaking to the text - again.

I kept the promise. Between 1992 and 1994 as a professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Minnesota I directed my research to the study of this chapter and the remaining eleven chapters of the tractate.

Siyyum -- Talmud Bavli Hullin 142a-b - translation by Tzvee


B.            Why do this? If it is in order to acquire them, let him acquire them [by the customary symbolic transfer] with a fabric. If it is a festival day [142a] [when foods that one wishes to use must be prepared in advance, let us presume that] it suffices if he stands and says [before the festival], “This one and that one I am taking [to designate them for use].”

C.            [We may say that] these were newly laid eggs and Levi Bar Simon himself had not yet had a chance to acquire them.

D.            And here is what he said to him, “Go and disturb the nest so they will fly up and Levi bar Simon will acquire them and after that you will acquire them from him [by the customary symbolic transfer] with a fabric.

11/14/11

Talmud Bavli Hullin 141a-b - translation by Tzvee


K.            It is necessary to state the instance where she is hovering [above the nest]. For [we learn from this that] even where its wings were touching the nest, one is exempt from letting the dam go.

L.            But lo we know it was taught on Tannaite authority: When its wings touched the nest, one is liable to send forth the dam [M. 12:3 B-C]. Said R. Judah, “Concerning what case did the Mishnah teach us the rule? Where she touched [the nest] on the side.”

11/13/11

Talmud Bavli Hullin 140a-b - translation by Tzvee


F.             Come and take note: [140a]The birds of the air nested in its branches, and from it all living beings were fed” (Dan. 4:12) — [the verse indicates that the term spr refers to all birds, even unclean ones]. [No. This indicates that unclean birds] are called, “The birds of the air.” They are not called just plain “birds” [spr].

G.            Come and take note: “You may eat all clean birds” (Deut. 14:11) — may we derive from this the conclusion that there are unclean birds [called spr]? No. We may derive from this the conclusion that there are prohibited birds [called spr]. What case is that? If that is the case of terefah, that is stated explicitly [elsewhere that it is prohibited]. If it is the case of the slaughtered bird of the leper, we may derive that rule from the continuation of the verse, “But these are the ones of which you shall not eat: [the eagle, the vulture, the osprey]” (Deut. 14:9) — [the words “of which”] include the slaughtered bird of the leper. [This is not an acceptable line of reasoning.] Invariably [the first verse includes the case of] the slaughtered bird of the leper. [And the verse informs us that one who eats this bird] violates thereby [both] a [positive] commandment [“you may eat”] and a [negative] prohibition [“of which you shall not eat”].

11/12/11

Logic and the Voyeur Rabbi

In the development of a paper a long time back, "It is Not in Heaven: Judaic Systems, Laws and Discordant Discourses" we referred to a spicy Talmudic rabbinic anecdote.
...Discourse and the law
The fundamental rabbinic religious system of discourse rested on law, legal training and social associations of legal experts. Rabbinism placed strong value for instance on the relation between the master of the Torah and his disciple and on legal training, based on defined paradigms of logic and argumentation, techniques for the manipulation of texts, and training in rituals of study. The system emphasized obeisance to the master and mimicry of his official rituals and personal mannerisms.
The relationship of master to disciple virtually dominated the official articulations of the system. Accordingly rabbinic anecdotes themselves at times exaggerate the intensity of the bond in the system, but in doing so illustrate one of its salient facets. A caricature of the rabbi-disciple link appears in the following talmudic pericope:
R. Kahana [a disciple] went and hid under Rab's [his master's] bed. Hearing Rab "discoursing" and joking with his wife ..., [Kahana] said [out loud], "You would think that Abba's [Rab's] mouth had never before tasted the dish." [Rab] said [upon discovering his voyeur-disciple], "Kahana, are you here? Get out! This is disgraceful!" [Kahana] replied, "My lord, it is a matter of Torah, and I have the need to learn" (B. Ber. 62a).
This pointed rabbinic self-satire claims that even by learning the proper methods for love-making a disciple fulfills his obligations to study diligently the discursive practices of Torah of his master....
For more of this paper ....go here...

JPost: Jonathan Rosenblum Confuses Talmud Study and the Liberal Arts

In the JPost article, "Think Again: Talmud Study and the Liberal Arts" Jonathan Rosenblum mixes up the study of the Talmud and the Liberal Arts.

We think Rosenblum believes that because the Talmud has some logical structure and, at times, some rigorous argumentation, that makes it useful as a part of a liberal arts curriculum.

But no, no, no the Talmud is not "Liberal". It is a set of books whose aim is to propagate one special form of religious life and thought. True, it is full of argumentation and analysis as a means of achieving its aims. But overall there is nothing "Liberal" about the Talmud. The big answer and indeed the purpose of the Talmud is known and never open to question. That is, God gave the Torah to Israel and through the Talmud one can spend his time and effort studying the content of that revelation and expanding upon it. That study is a mitzvah, a religious act of merit, and not a thought exercise of the "Liberal Arts".

It seems to us that Rosenblum says that from the standpoint of the "Liberal Arts" it is not a complete waste of time to engage in this study, because in the process one increases one's "ability to learn new skills." That to us is an apologetic opinion that is directly reductionistic. It is a viewpoint that diminishes the essence of the Talmud as a religious corpus and nullifies its study as a momentous religious act.

Here is how Rosenblum unfortunately reduces Talmud to something that is a palatable part of the "Liberal Arts" at the end of his JPost essay:
IF ONE key test of a liberal education is the ability to learn new skills, then talmudic learning could be an important component. True, talmudic learning will not teach one math, unless one studies the rabbis’ complex calculations of the lunar cycle; nor will it provide grounding in a specific science. But it is not irrelevant to any of these pursuits. And the combination of intellectual rigor, discipline and concentration required is unsurpassed.

The great Harvard medievalist Harry Austryn Wolfson described talmudic study as “the application of the scientific method to the study of texts.” Hypotheses are continually being formulated and either successfully defended or rejected. The Talmud says that one who studies alone grows stupid, and the battles between study partners are nothing less than the “wars of Torah.” Even when one studies alone, he must act as his own study partner, constantly asking: Does my theory fit all the facts? Is there another way to explain all the relevant data? Students must learn to follow complex arguments that proceed over pages of text, and to hold firm at each step as to whether the argument is being advanced or questioned. Ten-year-olds learn to apply, without being aware of it, the tables taught in mathematical logic to actual cases.

At every level, the student is exposed to conflict and competing views. The Tannaim of the Talmud argue with one another; the Amoraim argue with one another and over the proper understanding of the Tannaim. The Rishonim (early commentators on the Talmud) differ from one another over the principles that emerge from the debates of the Talmud, and sometimes over the text itself. Each Rishon must be understood on his own terms, and in terms of why he argues with another Rishon.

But while a single right answer can never be given in talmudic debate, it is often possible to demonstrate that a particular solution is wrong. Thus Talmud study is the antithesis of much of contemporary academia, which, in Mead’s words, “encourages mushy thinking about mushy disciplines.” One cannot just offer opinions; one must argue propositions. That itself is a healthy antidote for the young for whom the height of wisdom is: Everything, including morality, is a matter of opinion, and all opinions are equally valid – a view, incidentally, held by no great thinker of the past, no matter how greatly they differed with one another.

Though the study will not teach elegant prose style, it demands clarity of expression and the ability to structure a logical argument. Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, the great 19th- and early 20th-century talmudic genius, whose style of analysis dominates much of contemporary talmudic study, emphasized that there is no such thing as a concept that cannot be expressed.

Finally, the study of Talmud places one in a dialogue with many of the greatest minds in Jewish history, and grounds a Jewish student in his own culture – one in which the legal and moral realms are seamlessly intertwined.

11/11/11

The Cantor Was a Crook, by Michael Wex in Tablet Magazine

In Tablet magazine, Michael Wex published a funny tragic true tale set in a Toronto synagogue subtitled, "First I learned that a wanted criminal from New York had fled to my Canadian shul; then I remembered that, as cantor, he'd begged God to forgive me." The vignettes that Wex describes about how people act in his synagogue are a complete riot.

Talmud Bavli Hullin 139a-b - translation by Tzvee


C.            What is the situation [regarding the bird]? If they passed judgment on it — [139a] it is put to death [and would not have escaped]. Rather it must be the case that they had not yet passed judgment on it. And they needed to bring it to the court and to fulfill by [killing it the requirement of the verse], “So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (Deut. 13:5).

D.            What is the circumstance regarding these consecrated ones? If we say the case was that he had a nest in his house and he consecrated it, would he be liable [to let the dam go]? [The verse stipulates], “If you chance to come upon a bird's nest, [in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting upon the young or upon the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young]” (Deut. 22:6) — this excludes from the obligation that which is captive [in a house].

Talmud Bavli Hullin 138a-b - translation by Tzvee


I.             [138A] And is there a Tannaite authority who taught that a maneh is forty sela? Yes. For lo it was taught on Tannaite authority: A new waterskin [not yet fully sealed], even though it can hold pomegranates, it is clean. [It is only susceptible to uncleanness when it holds water.] If he sewed it completely and it tore, the measure [of the opening needed to render it no longer susceptible to uncleanness] is the size a pomegranate will fit through.

J.             R. Eliezer b. Jacob says, “[An opening to disqualify it must be the size of] a warp clue, one fourth of a maneh of forty sela [T. Kel. B.M. 6:5 C-D, cf. M. Kel. 17:2].” [This shows that a Tanna knew of such a measure.]

11/10/11

Is either Jerry Sandusky or Joe Paterno Jewish?

No, neither Jerry Sandusky nor Joe Paterno is a Jew. We won't report any other details of their religion.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld wrote an excellent essay with a Jewish view on the obligations of an individual to act when they see wrongdoing, such as the crimes that are reported in connection with the awful scandal at Penn State.
...In the Jewish tradition it is an absolute sin to stand by while another person is being hurt. The Torah states, “Do not stand by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16). The great medieval commentator, Rashi (d. 1105), explains that this means: “To see his death while you were capable of saving him, like, for example, if he was drowning in the sea or bandits were coming upon him.”...
See the rabbi's whole article in the Washington Post, "Joe Paterno had to go: a religious argument".