4/23/17

Is John Oliver Jewish?

No, John Oliver is not a Jew.

His biting take down of Donald Trump was widely viewed since it first appeared on 2/28/2016 on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO).



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

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


On 2/6/2011 I wrote:

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

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

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

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

4/16/17

Is David Letterman Jewish?

No, former CBS Late Show host comedian David Letterman is not a Jew, although with his current beard (in 2017) he does look a bit rabbinic

On May 20, 2015 he finished 33 years of performing on late night TV.

He celebrated his 70th birthday last week (April 12, 2017) and also eulogized his mom who passed away the day before.

When he was young his mother, who is of German descent, worked as a church secretary for the Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.

Letterman is not a particularly religious man. He was married in March 2009 in a civil courthouse ceremony in Choteau, Montana.

In August 2011, Letterman was threatened by Islamic extremists on a jihadist website for a joke that he made on his show. One frequent contributor to the website referred to him as a "lowly Jew." Letterman is not a Jew, and he is not lowly.

In June 2009, Sarah Palin was offended by Letterman's jokes about her visit to New York City. The ensuing feud helped raise Letterman's viewership numbers.

The Times reported that, "David Letterman said on his show in October 2009 that he had been the victim of an extortion attempt over charges of sexual affairs with staff members, claims that he conceded were true." [8/2011]

Previous Updates

There was one noteworthy Jewish related item in the scandal. Gawker reported that, "The scuttlebutt on the set had it that current assistant-in-question, Stephanie Birkitt, received extra compensation for duties as his First Assistant, in the form of Letterman picking up the tab for her graduate law studies at the Yeshiva University Law School."

Robert Halderman, the man who plead guilty to trying to extort $2 million from Letterman, as far as we can tell, is not Jewish.

Ancient Videos about Ancient Synagogues in Israel (c. 1983)



Professor Tzvee Zahavy narrates his videos of ancient synagogue sites in Israel. The professor had the help of his sons, Yitzhak and Barak and the assistance of his wife Bernice.

He took these videos in 1983 with a hefty portable Panasonic two-piece VHS tape recording system. He added the voice over and edited the tapes in the studios of the University of Minnesota, where he was a young professor of classical and near Eastern studies.

Of course, nowadays you can take superior videos on your mobile phone and upload and edit them with great ease in short order at YouTube.

How Not to Remember Rav Soloveitchik on his Yahrzeit

Six years ago I wrote the post below. It's now 24 years since the Rav passed away.

I have many memories of him and I revere his intellectual and spiritual impact on me, on my family and on our community.

My critique from 2011 of the story of one of my colleagues follows here:

It's eighteen years on Friday since the passing of my revered teacher, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the Rav.

One of his students, Rabbi Steven Riskin, has published a recollection of the Rav drawn from a book that he has written, called, Listening to God: Inspirational Stories for My Grandchildren (Koren Publishers). It was originally published in The Jewish Press and is copied here from the YU News web site.

This article concludes with a story that we think should be forgotten, not remembered. It is not inspirational to us, it makes us cringe. It illustrates the interpersonal shortcomings of the rabbi, his raw edges and abrupt classroom mannerisms. It depicts a person who cannot apologize for an emotional outburst -- an explosion -- by simply saying that he is sorry. In our humble opinion, there is nothing good to be learned from the story and we are sorry to read it and to see that it has been published.

Rabbi Riskin recounts as follows at the end of his article:
I remember exactly what we were studying when the incident occurred: Masechet Pesachim, the topic of tesha chanuyot. It is a complex portion of the Talmud, and it’s very difficult to understand exactly what the Gemara is trying to get at. It deals with the laws of presumption. Rav Soloveitchik had presented a whole construct as to how he thought the Gemara should be interpreted, and then he reversed himself completely and gave a wholly different understanding. I was very excited about the second way in which he was explaining the repartee within the Talmud; this new interpretation was truly novel and eye-opening.

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

Molly Worthen discusses post-truth Christian society in the Times today.

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

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

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

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

4/10/17

Is that Pot Kosher for Passover?

Via Earth Times with a big smile. Passover pot is not a problem for Sephardic Jews. Is cannabis kosher for Passover for Ashkenazic Jews?
Is pot kitniyot? It's up to the rabbi

JERUSALEM (UPI) In Israel, rabbis are trying to determine if hemp and its cousin, marijuana, are on the list of legumes that some Jews must abstain from during Passover.

This year, the Green Leaf Party, which advocates legalization of marijuana, warned its members by e-mail that it may be considered kitniyot, or a legume. Observant Ashkenazi Jews abstain from kitniyot during the holiday.

Rabbi Daniel Ayin told the Jerusalem Post that the issue is whether hemp seeds -- and marijuana -- are considered edible. If they are edible, then Ashkenazi Jews should not eat them during Passover.

Ayin said that individual rabbis can make the decision for their congregations.

One couple, who for some reason did not want their last names used, told the Post they only realized that they might have a problem when a friend offered to buy their marijuana. Daniel and Sarah, both recent emigrants from Chicago, said he told them he was making the rounds of all his observant friends before the holiday.

To play it safe, the couple got rid of their stash -- not by selling it, which they decided would be inappropriate -- and gave the house an extra ritual cleaning.
[repost]

4/6/17

My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for April 2017: Bickering Seders and Vanity Memoirs

My Jewish Standard Talmudic Advice Column for April 2017: 
Bickering Seders and Vanity Memoirs

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

I’m worried about my upcoming seders. Our extended family of three generations and our cousins and aunts and uncles all get together at our home for the Passover seder rituals and the festive meal. It should be a joyous occasion — but in recent years it has become a stressful event. There always seems to be bickering and sometimes outright fighting and arguing over past imagined sins and slights. Recently the political divides in our family also have erupted into messy debates.

What can we do to avoid the frictions of the evening and keep things more harmonious?

Petrified of a Passover Powder Keg in Paramus


Dear Petrified,

You are a wise person to assess past experiences and to anticipate future troubles. That’s a good start toward a solution.

You surely know that the potent energies that are released in the springtime season of rebirth can at times lead to great positive celebrations, and on occasion to explosive events.

I need not remind you that the central drama of Christianity, celebrated at Easter, is the springtime crucifixion of Jesus. That was one noteworthy confrontation of a Passover season of the past. And through the ages we Jews as a community have suffered blood libels and other forms of anti-Semitism that triggered pogroms and awful acts of terrorist violence against us at Passover time.

Jewish Standard Feature Article: Color-coded Haggadah highlights seder’s origins: The Polychrome Historical Haggadah

Jewish Standard Feature Article: 

Color-coded Haggadah highlights seder’s origins: The Polychrome Historical Haggadah

Teaneck rabbi reprints classic work of seven-hued scholarship

By Larry Yudelson

Who wrote the Haggadah?

We know who wrote the Hogwarts Haggadah. (Moshe Rosenberg.) We know who wrote the Rav Kook Haggadah. (Bezalel Naor.) We even know who wrote the ArtScroll Family Haggadah. (Nosson Scherman.)

But who wrote the original text?

Like all the siddur and other classic works of Judaism, the Haggadah dates back to before people started putting title pages and copyright notices on their books and listing them on Amazon. So we don’t really know.

We do know that most of the text we use today is found in the earliest Jewish liturgical manuscripts, which date from the ninth century. And the outline accords with the teachings of the Mishna from six centuries earlier.

But who put this together, and exactly when?

Truth be told, we don’t know.

Now, however, a Teaneck rabbi — and Jewish Standard columnist — has republished a classic work that highlights all the different pieces of the jigsaw puzzle.

“We are having a conversation with Jews across all periods of history,” Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy said. “This is not just something we’re doing with our family. We’re having a dialogue across the ages.”

This month, Rabbi Zahavy reissued the Polychrome Historical Haggadah. Originally published in 1974, it was the work of Rabbi Jacob Freedman of Springfield, Massachusetts. It highlights the different levels of the Haggadah by putting each stratum in a different color. Biblical verses are black. Mishna passages are red. And so on — until contemporary additions like the Hatikvah, appropriately in Israeli-flag blue.

It is a seven-hued rainbow.

4/5/17

Incredible: The Talmud in English for Kindle for $.99

All the Babylonian Talmud tractates in English for Kindle for $.99 Each 

Kindle Babylonian Talmud in English 


I thought you might be interested in this new for 2017 reprint of a classic haggadah with a foreword that I added - available from Amazon. - Tzvee

The Polychrome Historical Haggadah                            
The Polychrome Historical Haggadah 
by Jacob Freedman et al.
  Learn more                      

3/30/17

Download 2017 Online a Free Passover Seder Haggadah

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

My new Haggadah is not free - but it is really fantastic!
I thought you might be interested in this new for 2017 reprint of a classic haggadah with a foreword that I added - available from Amazon. - Tzvee

The Polychrome Historical Haggadah                            
The Polychrome Historical Haggadah 
by Jacob Freedman et al.
  Learn more                      
Library Makes 1,000 Rare Haggadahs Available Free Online
An illustration of King David praising G-d in a rare Haggadah published in 1710 in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany
An illustration of King David praising G-d in a rare Haggadah published in 1710 in Frankfurt am Maine, Germany

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

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

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

3/29/17

Who wrote the Haggadah?



They say that the Seder is the most widely observed Jewish ritual. Assuming that is true, the Haggadah then is a near universally used Jewish book. It also is one of the most frequently published Jewish books in history, surpassed perhaps only by the Hebrew Bible and the Siddur and Machzor Prayer books.

Now it behooves me to ask of this book, who wrote the Haggadah?

Over the past five or so years I can attest that many prominent rabbis have written or edited and published Haggadahs. Here are some of my blog posts to support this assertion, Haggadah Posts.

And so five years ago, not to be left behind, I set out to publish a Haggadah of my own. More specifically, I started to republish my favorite classic out-of-print Haggadah: The Polychrome Historical Haggadah. 

Life intervened and so, I stopped short of publishing the book even after having done significant work towards that goal. 

Fast forward (actually the intervening years were full of many kinds of events and activities and did not go by that fast) - to 2017 and I found myself with a window of time and opportunity, and I said let's do this. Let's push that book out into print. 

And so I did release The Polychrome Historical Haggadah in a new edition. I have published yet another Haggadah.

Ah, but that's not the answer to who wrote the Haggadah, is it?

A bible scholar friend of mine, quite a few years ago wrote a book, Who Wrote the Bible? That question is a fine inquiry for academic scholars, but a heretical question for a rabbi, because we assert that Moses, inspired by God, wrote the whole Bible -- and by this I mean the Torah, called the Pentateuch or the Five Books of Moses. Scholars, on the other hand, posit that the work is a composite historical document written by many people over numerous epochs.

So much for the Bible. But what is the answer to the question of the season, who wrote the Haggadah?

It is correct  and sanctioned to say historically, literary critically and theologically that many people over many epochs wrote parts of the Haggadah.

So you may say to me, okay show me how that works. Explain to me who wrote the various composite texts and when did they write them.

And concisely that is what The Polychrome Historical Haggadah sets out to do - in a brilliant way - by color coding the layers of the text from the Biblical, rabbinic (mishnaic and talmudic), geonic, medieval, modern and contemporary periods - each in its own color. And by providing critical notes to show the sources of the distinctive literary strata of the work.

So here is the answer to who wrote it. The Haggadah evolved organically over millennia. It is the output of many authors, mostly anonymous, assembled by many editors and used throughout history by nearly all Jews, every year.

And a colorful way to see the strands of the composition is to use the The Polychrome Historical Haggadah  at your Seder. 

Please do that and have a wonderfully happy Passover.
I think you will be interested in this new reprint of a classic haggadah with a foreword that I added - available from Amazon. - Tzvee
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =                            
The Polychrome Historical Haggadah                            
The Polychrome Historical Haggadah 
by Jacob Freedman et al.
  Learn more                      




3/26/17

Awesome: I published three paperback books in March on Amazon!

Awesome: I published three paperback books in March on Amazon!

      

My first unboxing video:



My first Talmudic Advice podcast:



My Haggadah Unboxing Video:





3/23/17

Ten Tips for a Better Seder - with Trump Tips Added




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

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

So in the spirit of the season of rebirth and freedom, let me offer you ten tips for your seder extravaganza - this year we must add Trump Tips.

3/22/17

YouTube: Unboxing my new CreateSpace book, The Polychrome Historical Haggadah

Enjoy!
                                             
Way to go, Tzvee!
Your video is now on YouTube.
Unboxing my new CreateSpace book, The Polychrome Historical Haggadah



"Das Reine Denken Und Die Seinskonstituierung Bei Hermann Cohen" - Rav Soloveitchik's Dissertation at the University of Berlin 1930

In honor of the upcoming yahrzeit of the Rav's passing (on Hol HaMoed Pesach, the 18th of Nisan, in 1993) and of the anniversary of his recent birthday (Feb. 27, 1903) we offer to our readers a link to a scan of my teacher Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's doctoral dissertation in the field of philosophy written at the University of Berlin, 1930.

The thesis is in German and the scan is a PDF file: "Das Reine Denken Und Die Seinskonstituierung Bei Hermann Cohen" by Josef Solowiejczyk. ("Pure Thought as the Constitution of Being in Hermann Cohen's Philosophy")

Manfred Lehmann wrote briefly about this dissertation and the Rav's biography:
...It is reported that the Rav would have liked to write his dissertation on Maimonides and Plato, but since no experts in these subjects were available in Berlin, he chose a field of pure philosophy, tempered with mathematics.

Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Lichtenstein, Prof. Weidhorn, Prof. Flatto, Prof. Levy: My Five Greatest Teachers at Yeshiva University

I realized over the years since I graduated from Yeshiva College that so many of my teachers there imprinted upon me indelible lessons for life and learning. I have chosen here to recall five special teachers. I apologize to the many other wonderful teachers that I have omitted. I especially beg the forgiveness of those that I have chosen to so briefly and inadequately remember. Nothing that I say can do them justice.
[Periodic re-post -- to celebrate these great teachers.]