Vanity Fair: Is George W. Bush a Muslim?

No, they don't really ask that question at Vanity Fair. They do point out that W held no Seders at the White House but he did hold 8 Ramadan dinners, on the excuse that he wanted to promote world peace.

Is George W. Bush a Muslim? We say, Let the record speak for itself.

Vanity Fair says:

Why This Night is Different From All Other Nights

Sunset today marks the first day of this year's celebration of Passover. It is a traditional springtime holiday for the Jewish people, and also for our President, Barack Obama, a non-Jew who has participated in a Seder since 2008, when he walked in on some campaign staffers with Manischewitz and matzo. Reports the New York Times:

"Top aides like David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett will attend, but so will assistants like 24-year-old Herbie Ziskend. White House chefs will prepare Jewish participants' family recipes, even rendering chicken fat-better known as schmaltz-for just the right matzo ball flavor.

If last year is any guide, Malia and Sasha Obama will take on the duties of Jewish children, asking four questions about the night's purpose-along with a few of their own-and scrambling to find matzo hidden in the gleaming antique furniture."

According to the Guardian, Obama is the first American President to hold a Seder in the White House, although George W. Bush "held eight Ramadan dinners in office to stress that America's war with violent extremists was not a war with Islam."

Anyway, tonight's dinner will presumably feature less macabre overtones—plus, matzo balls!

LA Times: Digital Haggadahs and Seder Resources with links

We were just talking yesterday to a writer friend about writing a custom White House Haggadah for the Obamas and wondering out loud why somebody hasn't come up with it yet. Lo and behold, according to the LAT they have. And they have come up with much more online for Passover. Here is the article - we added a few links.
Passover story goes digital
In the long-standing practice of adding to the Exodus tale, the Internet is changing the way some families will be relating the story of Jews' escape from slavery at Seder celebrations Monday.

By Nomi Morris

Thousands of years after Moses led his people out of Egypt, the Passover story is going digital.

At Monday's Seder meal, dozens of families will be reading the traditional tableside ceremony from a Haggadah, a text guiding the Seder, that they have personalized by uploading family photos to replace stock illustrations of Pharaoh and the slaves.

Behrman House, a Jewish educational publisher in Springfield, N.J., has sold more than 100 sets of the cyber-assisted version of its Family Haggadah.


Boston Herald: Pope Benedict XVI Should Resign

It's not just some blogger saying this, it is a serious editorial by a columnist in the Boston Herald.
Why Pope Benedict’s got to go!
By Margery Eagan
The Pope should resign. He should offer himself up to authorities for prosecution, like the sacrificial lamb he’s supposed to represent here on earth.

Long ago he should have opened the secret church books on priestly abuse. He hasn’t. Courts finally forced that in Boston almost a decade ago and, oh, what horrors we found. Remember? The Vatican hierarchy then blamed our scandal on a decadent American culture. Now the same priestly disease has swept Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, on and on across Europe and beyond. So was all the world, from the 1950s on, just one huge, decadent Gomorrah? Or was the Catholic hierarchy, from the ’50s on, run like an international crime organization aiding and abetting child abuse, then covering up its cover-up?

A few years back, former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating caused an uproar by comparing secret-keeping American bishops to La Cosa Nostra... more...
Maureen Dowd in the Times argues that the present pope should be replaced with a woman.

We wonder if the church were a business would its supporters claim it is "too big to fail"?

Odds have dropped to 6 to 4 at paddypower.com for those gamblers who want to bet on the pope's resignation.


Times: Obama's White House Seder 2010 - 5770

The Times describes the Obama White House Seder traditions.
...When Passover begins at sunset on Monday evening, Mr. Obama and about 20 others will gather for a ritual that neither the rabbinic sages nor the founding fathers would recognize.

In the Old Family Dining Room, under sparkling chandeliers and portraits of former first ladies, the mostly Jewish and African-American guests will recite prayers and retell the biblical story of slavery and liberation, ending with the traditional declaration “Next year in Jerusalem.” (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)

Top aides like David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett will attend, but so will assistants like 24-year-old Herbie Ziskend. White House chefs will prepare Jewish participants’ family recipes, even rendering chicken fat — better known as schmaltz — for just the right matzo ball flavor.

If last year is any guide, Malia and Sasha Obama will take on the duties of Jewish children, asking four questions about the night’s purpose — along with a few of their own — and scrambling to find matzo hidden in the gleaming antique furniture.

That event was the first presidential Seder, and also probably “the first time in history that gefilte fish had been placed on White House dishware,” said Eric Lesser, the former baggage handler, who organizes each year’s ritual.

As in many Jewish households, the Obama Seder seems to take on new meaning each year, depending on what is happening in the world and in participants’ lives (for this group, the former is often the same as the latter)...more...

New Yorker: Fake Interview with Philip Roth Exposed

It's hard for us to figure this one out. Judith Thurman writes about one Italian journalist who really interviewed Philip Roth who discovered that another had faked an interview with Roth.
... Zanuttini asked Roth why he was so “disappointed” with Barack Obama. She translated, aloud, remarks attributed to him in an article by a freelance journalist, Tommaso Debenedetti, that was published last November in Libero, a tabloid notably sympathetic to Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy (who is embroiled in his own sex scandals with much younger women). “It appears that you find him nasty, vacillating, and mired in the mechanics of power,” Zanuttini said. “But I have never said anything of the kind!” Roth objected. “It is completely contrary to what I think. Obama, in my opinion, is fantastic.” He had never heard of Debenedetti, or of Libero. The interview, with its bitter judgment of Obama’s banality, failure, and empty rhetoric about hope and change, was a complete fabrication...more...
Bizarre. What is the point of making this up?


Is Tina Fey Jewish?

No, Tina Fey, the actress famous for her Sarah Palin imitation, is not a Jew.

Fey was born in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia to a Greek American mother and a father of German and Scottish descent.

Tina Fey is married to Jeff Richmond, a composer on SNL. They married in a Greek Orthodox ceremony on June 3, 2001. They have a daughter, Alice Zenobia Richmond who was born on September 10, 2005.

Did a Hitler-Youth-Pope Enable Child Molesters?

Did a Hitler-Youth-Pope Enable Child Molesters? Is this what religion is all about? Apparently so.

Why is any record at the Vatican a secret? What are they trying to hide? That they were Nazi sympathizers or child-molester-protectors? Apparently so.

The Telegraph reports:
Germany is fighting to keep sealed the Adolf Eichmann files detailing the years the Holocaust chief logistical organiser spent on the run before he was captured by Mossad agents.

Those hoping to have a 50-year secrecy order overturned believe the government is embarrassed by details within that may prove German and Vatican officials colluded in his escape and freedom.
According to the Times:
In an unsigned editorial on Thursday, L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, criticized The Times for an article published Thursday on the abuse issue. The Italian editorial said that Benedict had always handled such cases with “transparency, purpose and severity,” and accused the news media of acting “with the clear and ignoble intent of trying to strike Benedict and his closest collaborators at any cost.”
Just show us some real authentic "transparency, purpose and severity" - saying it is not the same as doing it. Open the Vatican records and let us see all the good you have done for the world - if that is what the record will show. Or not.

Is this not full out enabling? Per the Times:
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope and archbishop in Munich at the time, was copied on a memo that informed him that a priest, whom he had approved sending to therapy in 1980 to overcome pedophilia, would be returned to pastoral work within days of beginning psychiatric treatment. The priest was later convicted of molesting boys in another parish.

An initial statement on the matter issued earlier this month by the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising placed full responsibility for the decision to allow the priest to resume his duties on Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, the Rev. Gerhard Gruber. But the memo, whose existence was confirmed by two church officials, shows that the future pope not only led a meeting on Jan. 15, 1980, approving the transfer of the priest, but was also kept informed about the priest’s reassignment.
This is the Church that burned our Talmud.  Why we are really big fans of Popes. Per Wikipedia:
In 1242, The French crown burned all Talmud copies in Paris, about 12,000, after the book was "charged" and "found guilty" in the Paris trial sometimes called "the Paris debate". This burnings of Hebrew books were initiated by Pope Gregory IX, who persuaded French King Louis IX to undertake it. He was followed by subsequent popes. The Church and Christian states viewed the Talmud as a book hateful and insulting toward Christ and gentiles. The most ferocious haters of Judaism and Jewish books among them were Innocent IV (1243–1254), Clement IV (1256–1268), John XXII (1316–1334), Paul IV (1555–1559), Pius V (1566–1572) and Clement VIII (1592–1605). They almost succeeded in stamping out Jewish books entirely.
Maybe it is time to burn some other books.

ABC: David Frum says Republicans met their Waterloo and now they work for FOX News

Republicans are in disarray. They lost and are acting like the worst kind of sore losers, poor sports and just plain awful obnoxious people.

Even a few honest people from their own inner circle are willing to admit that the Republicans lost and now they are self-destructing.
David Frum on GOP: Now We Work for Fox

Prominent conservative David Frum, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, has raised some eyebrows in the past 36 hours with an assault on the Republican approach -- particularly on the airwaves -- to fighting health care reform.

It began with this blog post Sunday that declared the historic moment the Republican Waterloo.

Terry Moran interviewed Frum yesterday for last night's report, "Yes, He Can," which is embedded below and looks at the political fallout both parties may face in 2010 -- and beyond.

Among the comments Frum made to "Nightline" was the assertion that "nobody ever won an election by spitting at his political opponents" and that "anger trapped the [Republican] leadership."

But it was this exchange, which you can see starting at the 2:20 mark, that is generating some buzz today:

Moran: "It sounds like you're saying that the Glenn Becks, the Rush Limbaughs, hijacked the Republican party and drove it to a defeat?"

Frum: "Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us and now we're discovering we work for Fox. And this balance here has been completely reversed. The thing that sustains a strong Fox network is the thing that undermines a strong Republican party."
Yes we did! And we are not going back!


BAR: Was the Last Supper a Passover Seder?

It's not so simple to answer the question of whether the Last Supper described in the New Testament was a Seder. Jonathan Klawans does a good job of summarizing the state of the question in, "Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?" in the current BAR.
Many people assume that Jesus’ Last Supper was a Seder, a ritual meal held in celebration of the Jewish holiday of Passover. And indeed, according to the Gospel of Mark 14:12, Jesus prepared for the Last Supper on the “first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb.” If Jesus and his disciples gathered together to eat soon after the Passover lamb was sacrificed, what else could they possibly have eaten if not the Passover meal? And if they ate the Passover sacrifice, they must have held a Seder.

Three out of four of the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) agree that the Last Supper was held only after the Jewish holiday had begun. Moreover, one of the best known and painstakingly detailed studies of the Last Supper—Joachim Jeremias’s book The Eucharistic Words of Jesus—lists no fewer than 14 distinct parallels between the Last Supper tradition and the Passover Seder...more...


JRB: Ending in Self-Absorption - Hillel Halkin on the Koren Sacks Siddur

How to evaluate a new Jewish journal, The Jewish Review of Books? Ask if it is yet another reactionary monthly? (It is quarterly.) Like they say, read it first. So we do, in search of the, "ideal of the thoughtful essay that illuminates as it entertains."

And in it we read first a review of the recent Koren-Sacks Siddur that turns into a rambling essay by Hillel Halkin about prayer and poetry and religion and then lo and behold, into a disconcerting confession of impiety. Not that unorthodoxy detracts from one's ability to write and think critically. More than likely it helps. But what distresses us is the fullness of ego that intrudes into the article. And the ego is so big it gets broadcast in autobiographical detail that was frozen "midway through adolescence" and then projected across to others. And the Siddur and all its poetry, religion and drama drops from sight. Is this what we do in our public performances: take the center stage and then get full of ourselves? Start with praise and end in Self-Absorption?

Perhaps Halkin is on to something after all, picking up his reflections towards the end,
...Nothing, however, can keep one focused on one’s prayers when one loses faith in the God to whom one has been praying. This happened to me midway through adolescence. Although since then I have attended many synagogues services, I have never really been able to pray. A part of me still yearns for the days when I could. It misses the thrill of the leather straps biting into my arm each morning as I said, “I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and justice, loving-kindness and compassion; I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.” It misses the soul-throb of God’s bringing on the evening while the last light goes out in the west, the spheres rolling out darkness over the face of the earth. It misses the devotion of bowing low like a servant leaving the room of his master, “the King of all kings, the Holy One blessed be He,” in the concluding aleinu.

There were times when I prayed mechanically then, too. There were times when I didn’t pray at all. But there were times when I felt like a priest in the Temple, binding my soul to the altar and offering the daily sacrifice at its appointed time and place. It was the intensity of that experience that makes me feel like an imposter when I take part in a synagogue service today. Like anyone skilled at playing a role, I alone know I am playing it. I go through the motions of prayer as proficiently as do the men around me. You don’t forget such things any more than you forget how to swim or ride a bicycle.

And yet I sometimes wonder how many of these men are having an experience more intense than my own. Not a large number, to judge by outward appearances. Most seem to be engaged in what they are doing without overly troubling themselves about it. They take pleasure in being together, as people take pleasure in any group activity—folk dancing, say, or a sing-along. I do not say they have no feeling of uplift. Clearly they do. But it is an uplift that could also be mine if I allowed it to be, which may be why I place no great value on it....
And then we turn the page to another review, wherein the writer confesses to reading the book that he reviews in the synagogue during services and discussing it with his neighbor, and the book is about Christian theology. Menachem Kellner starts off, "Reading Saving God in shul, I was asked by the person sitting next to me what it was about." I am glad he didn't include in the review the part about the chapter he read in the bathroom.

Which brings us to a book that informs us about an issue that blows our mind. Shalom Carmy reviews, Neither Beast Nor God: The Dignity of the Human Person by Gilbert Meilaender, in which he points out, "The second theme is expressed by the subtitle—the author’s conviction that the concept of human dignity is essential to ethical reflection. This question arose in part from the author’s work with President Bush’s Council on Bioethics."

And yes thankfully, Professor Carmy does not wax full of himself, does not confess the state of his faith, does not recount the places of his reading activities, and does pay close and critical attention to the book at hand and its arguments. But incredibly he does not comment on the literal elephant in the room of this review, to wit, the irony of "ethical reflection" in "President Bush's Council."

Harris Poll: 24% of Republicans Believe Obama "May be the Antichrist"

According to MSBNC's Countdown show tonight, a new Harris Poll found that 24% of Republicans believe President Obama "May be the Antichrist."

The report discovered that most Republicans believe Barack is a "Muslim" and two thirds think he is a "socialist".

Wait a minute. You mean that 76% of Republicans do not think that Obama is the antichrist? Wow, what good news.


The Heroic Democratic Mod Squad Photo

The Times front page picture just looked familiar so we set it side by side with the TV show picture from the "Mod Squad" circa 1973.

Is "Baby Killer" Shouter Randy Neugebauer Jewish?

No, Representative Randy Neugebauer is not a Jew. He is a Southern Baptist.

Neugebauer was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and reared in Lubbock. He represents Texas' 19th congressional district which includes Lubbock and Abilene in West Texas.

Neugebauer is the sixty year old member of the Republican Party who disgracefully shouted "Baby killer" or "It's a baby killer" on the floor of the House at his fellow Representative Bart Stupak after Stupak announced that he supported the health care reform bill on March 21, 2010.

Professor Tzvee Zahavy speaks at Bard College on "Six People You Meet in the Synagogue: Visions of Social Order in Early Rabbinic Prayer"

A conference, April 2010 at Bard College.

Judaic and Christian Visions of the Social Order -- Describing, Analyzing and Comparing Systems of the Formative Age

"Six People You Meet in the Synagogue: Visions of Social Order in Early Rabbinic Prayer," Tzvee Zahavy

List of Presentations


Video: Passover By Robots

Hat tip to David. Happy Passover to all. From the Robots of the R&D Institute for Intelligent Robotic Systems, Computer Science Department. Rishon Le-Zion, Israel.

On Sainthood: The Difference between Opinion and Scholarship

There's controversy afoot over the Vatican's effort to make a saint out of Pius XII, a man who some call Hitler's Pope.

Now our opinion and that of some others, Jews and Christians both, is that it offends us for the Vatican to take such action, that it is wrong and a bad idea. Pius XII should not be made into a saint.

That is opinion pure and simple.

Now with extensive due research into the matter, which admittedly we have not done, it might be our scholarly conclusion, although this may at first sound shocking to some, that evidence of antisemitism or a record of collaboration which failed to help Jews, is in fact a plus in the canonization process in the Catholic Church, and not a minus that would impede the honor.

We realized this when reading a new translation last week of the sermons of an ancient Christian saint, St. John Chrysostom. The text in question from the acid-tongued antisemitic orator (died 407 CE) contains such materials as, "Now then, let me strip down for the fight against the Jews themselves, so that the victory may be more glorious—so that you will learn that they are abominable and lawless and murderous and enemies of God. For there is no evidence of wickedness I can proclaim that is equal to this."

That's our Sunday morning homiletical and Talmudic observation on one difference between opinion and scholarship.

Bergen Record: Mike Kelly Eulogizes Two Good Jews

Tragedy in Teaneck last week and sadness recalling it to start the next week.
Kelly: Pondering the unthinkable after a tragedy
The wind and rain of the weekend’s nor’easter took two good men.
Mike Kelly
A TREE FALLS in Teaneck and two good men die — and then people naturally ask a question for which there seems no good answer: Where was God?

The deadly nor’easter that swept across North Jersey last weekend, uprooting hundreds of trees, cutting power lines and flooding rivers and streams, left many scars that need to be patched. But one scar persists in the form of an intractable question: How do we explain the randomness of nature’s violence on its victims?

Why did some basements flood and others did not? Why did a solitary tree smash into a home on one block while more trees fell a block away, and none struck anything except the asphalt on the street or the soft grass on a lawn?


What is the key to happiness?

Policy ramifications of happiness? Indeed? We suspect republicans hard at work trying to prove that redistributing a dime to the poor will accomplish nothing much hence we should not bother to try doing that.

In the New Yorker review, "Everybody Have Fun: What can policymakers learn from happiness research?" Elizabeth Kolbert examines three books on the matter. And you guessed it, there is no definitive answer to what makes a person happy.
But wait -- the Times comes back with the notion that deep substantive conversation is an essential key to happiness.

And proposing to your beloved on the 167 bus to Teaneck is also a way to achieve happiness.

Show by Genesis Artist R. Crumb at David Zwirner Gallery Through April 17

The art for the Book of Genesis by artist R. Crumb will be displayed at the David Zwirner Gallery Through April 17, originals from ‘The Bible Illuminated: R. Crumb’s Book of Genesis’.

Noted by KEN JOHNSON in the Times,
Loaded as they are with sex, violence, hallucinatory visions and miracles, the stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Lot and his daughters, David and Goliath (not to mention Bathsheba) and many others seem custom-made for Mr. Crumb’s bawdy sensibility and earthy draftsmanship.

Mr. Crumb may be irreverent, but in his attention to every detail of word and image he is as devout as any medieval manuscript illuminator. Scanning the 207 drawings on gallery walls is not the best way to take in the epical narrative, but it is good to see them in the original, undiminished by the inferior reproductive quality of the $24.95 book published by W. W. Norton. The inks are blacker, the pages whiter and the artist’s touch visibly subtler.

The real thrill, however, is in how Mr. Crumb’s richly hatched, firmly delineated drawings bring to unruly, comical life people and events that often seem puzzlingly abstract in the Bible, from the seven days of Creation to the happy death of Joseph at 110 in Egypt.

We especially like one phrase in Crumb's introduction where he says about his veneration for the text, "I believe it is the words of men. It is, nonetheless, a powerful text with layers of meaning that reach deep into our collective consciousness, our historical consciousness, if you will... " Honest and simple words. The kind of reflection that comes before and after a few years of hard work.

Times: Michiko Kakutani reviews 8 books about the end of Authorship

We wanted to call up the Times' critic Michiko Kakutani after reading her essay in the Times, "Texts Without Context" and explain to her that the mashup universe that she reviews in her essay and in particular, what David Shields does in Reality Hunger, to assemble texts without regard for authorship, is not something new or unfamiliar to a person who has spent time with the Talmud, Midrash, rabbinic literature or even many biblical texts for that matter.

Authorship is less urgent in such a collectivity of wisdoms -- so much so that on occasion a modern writer enmeshed in its study will forget to assign or attribute authorship to the originating writer -- as we learned last year.

A mashup culture is not new to us and maybe that is why we feel comfortable surfing the Talmudic sea of cyberspace.

Jason Lanier, Kakutani says,
... astutely points out in his new book, “You Are Not a Gadget,” of how online collectivism, social networking and popular software designs are changing the way people think and process information, a question of what becomes of originality and imagination in a world that prizes “metaness” and regards the mash-up as “more important than the sources who were mashed.”
The end of text has been a long time coming, as Kakutani muses that,
...deconstruction, which became fashionable in American academia in the 1980s, it enshrined individual readers’ subjective responses to a text over the text itself, thereby suggesting that the very idea of the author (and any sense of original intent) was dead.
Aside: Like a guppy swimming upstream, we fight the deconstructive tides in our current book on the prayers of the synagogue in description that targets the text, author, original intent, archetypal meaning, or as we used to call it, the meaning of the content.

Catholic Church Coverup Crisis Continues

Equally impressive is the vehemence of the actual protest in Ireland and the thousands (2500+ though many of them superficial) of posted reader comments to the simple AP news report of the matter published on Yahoo.

This is a scandal with substance and body that strikes at the moral core of the Catholic Church. The policy to conceal evil acts of abusive priests is tantamount to perpetuating and enabling further sins and rewarding the sinners with continued sustenance. Is that not the polar opposite of moral leadership? This eats away at the church and it diminishes the prescriptive value of every organized religion worldwide.
Papal letter fails to calm anger over Irish abuses

DUBLIN – Pope Benedict XVI's unprecedented letter to Ireland apologizing for chronic child abuse within the Catholic Church failed Saturday to calm the anger of many victims, who accused the Vatican of ducking its own responsibility in promoting a worldwide culture of cover-up.

Benedict's message — the product of weeks of consultation with Irish bishops, who read it aloud at Masses across this predominantly Catholic nation — rebuked Ireland's church leaders for "grave errors of judgment" in failing to observe the church's secretive canon laws.

The pope, who himself stands accused of approving the transfer of an accused priest for treatment rather than informing German police during his 1977-82 term as Munich archbishop, suggested that child-abusing priests could have been expelled quickly had Irish bishops applied the church's own laws correctly. He pledged a church inspection of unspecified dioceses and orders in Ireland to ensure their child-protection policies were effective.

He also appealed to priests still harboring sins of child molestation to confess.

New Yorker: David Remnick Reviews Obama's Jewish Frienships and Israeli Credentials

Is editor of The New Yorker magazine since 1998, David Remnick, Jewish? Yes he is a Jew who, per Wikipedia, was born in Hackensack, New Jersey, the son of a dentist and an art teacher and raised in Hillsdale, New Jersey, in a secular Jewish home with, as he has said, "a lot of books around."

In a Comment called, "Special Relationships" Remnick reviews Barack Obama's extensive connections to Jewish friends and the Jewish political establishment in America and his substantial commitment to the state of Israel.

Remnick has little patience for the current right-leaning Netanyahu government in Israel and lays at his doorstep the blame for any perception of present coolness between the US and Israel.

The essay is a welcome reiteration of Obama's friendship towards the Jewish community and Israel. From what we know, Remnick does not strike us as any expert in middle eastern affairs nor as any particularly close confidant to Obama. So what one New Jersey born Jew says remains to us  evocative, perhaps a tad reflective of wishful thinking, not in any way prescriptive or even officially descriptive of any aspect of current White House policies.


The Lethal Obsession Called Antisemitism

The Lethal Obsession Called Antisemitism is the subject of a new book by prolific author, Robert Wistrich.

We've seen quite a bit of wacko antisemitism in comments to this blog that we have not published. Yes, we do have to filter them out.

Wistrich's 1200 page book is billed as a treatment of "Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad." Not quite accurate, say most reviews, the book is mostly a current and recent history of the hatred of the Jewish people, not at all surprising since the author is a professor of moder European history at the Hebrew University. We will have more to say later...

Do We Need More Hebrew in US Universities?

Yes indeed we need more Hebrew courses in US universities and in our communities.

The Jewish Week wrote (in 2006),
After much deliberation, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture decided that the northeastern corner of New Jersey, a New York City suburb with a large, deeply committed Jewish community, would host its pilot "Hebrew in America" program. The foundation, which provided the seed money for the project, is working closely with the local UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.
Some time ago we wrote and essay about Hebrew pedagogy, "Teaching Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud at the University". We raised some basic issues and described our approaches.

Courses in Mishnah, Midrash and Talmud at the University address the classical texts either in the original Hebrew and Aramaic or in English translation. In analyzing the nature of such offerings we need to treat several issues independently.

  • First, what are the goals and expectations of instruction of rabbinic texts in the original languages as part of the advanced Hebrew curriculum?
  • How does the background of students affect the presentation?
  • How does one select texts and textbooks?
  • What are the secondary resources available?
  • How does one achieve content-based language-skill acquisition?
Our full article is accessible here.

We have assembled a pedagogic resource of Jewish Studies course syllabi under the aegis of H-Net's H-Judaic Jewish Studies Network, including among them several courses devoted to Rabbinic literature.
  • And on Our Own Site:
Our Hebrew distance learning courses treat Biblical Hebrew. These are some of the course handbooks:
We offer again (republished) this assemblage of curricula to complement this worthy community initiative. (updated from 2006)


Is Monica Lewinsky Jewish?

Yes, according to Wikipedia Monica Lewinsky is a Jew. She is of Russian Jewish descent. Her father is Bernhard Lewinsky and her mother is Marcia K. Lewis, who adopted the shortened pen name after she divorced Bernhard.

Monica was born in San Francisco, California She grew up in the Westside Brentwood area of Los Angeles and in Beverly Hills. When growing up, Monica's family attended Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and she attended its religious school.

Monica's affair with President Bill Clinton led to his impeachment and is known as the Lewinsky scandal.

This subject is again in the public arena because of the release of the book, The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr by Ken Gormley.


Guardian: Abolish the Jekyll and Hyde Chief Rabbi

Who is a bigger rabbinic celebrity than a chief rabbi like the honorable and venerable Jonathan Sacks? And that one in the British Empire (ok that is an anachronism) is under fire in the Guardian in an essay by Jonathan Romain, "Sacks should be the last chief rabbi," saying, "Jonathan Sacks has proved a divisive figure within Judaism. Can the community be expected to unite around a single figure?" The article ends,
...The discrepancy between his positive external image and his negative internal one makes him appear a Jekyll and Hyde chief rabbi: Lord Sacks who works in wider society, having a very positive impact, along with Rabbi Sacks who works in the Jewish community, alienating many sections of it.

Previous chief rabbis have also had their controversies, but the difficulties that have arisen during the Sacks era are on such a scale that it may be time to abolish the office of chief rabbi entirely – and for two reasons that apply whether one is a Sacks-admirer or a Sacks-critic.

Suburbanite: Worst Storm in Teaneck History

Worst Teaneck storm in history? We would say yes.

458,000 without power.  200 large trees uprooted and thrown about like toothpicks. 70 roads closed by debris. Two men killed in a sad tearful tragedy.  Is our breath that fragile? Yes it is. And so what to do? Make every day of your life count for good and beauty and add value to the this so ephemeral enterprise that we only borrow for a few moments.
Teaneck still shaken by storm

Local and state officials declared a state of emergency Saturday evening as a violent nor’easter tore through the state, downing trees and electrical wires and killing at least two persons in Teaneck.

On Tuesday, PSE&G spokesperson Nicole Swan described the storm as the worst in the company’s history. She said that 37,000 customers remained without power, 30,000 of them in Bergen County. At the storm’s height, 458,000 customers lost power. The utility expects that power will be restored to all customers by Thursday, Swan said.

Teaneck Police Chief Robert Wilson said on Tuesday that 200 complete trees had been downed in the township including both public and private trees. All major road closings had been resolved, he said, except for those on Queen Anne Road and Roemer Avenue. More than 70 complete trees had been removed from roadways since Saturday, Wilson said.

Both police and fire headquarters lost power Friday and had been operating on emergency generators as of Tuesday.

"I have been here for 25 years and have never seen anything of this duration or magnitude," Wilson said.

In the most serious episode of the storm, two Winthrop Road residents were killed when a 50-foot maple tree fell on them as they were walking home from Sabbath services.

The tree, in front of 1558 Jefferson Street, split about 10 feet from the base, crushing Lawrence Krause, 49, and Ovadia Mossaffi, 54.

The men were returning from Shaarei Orah, a Teaneck Sephardic congregation, at approximately 7 p.m.

Police had to wait for PSE&G to shut off power before extricating the bodies, which had become entangled in downed live wires. Police were uncertain whether the men had been walking on the sidewalk or in the street near the curb...more...

Is Streit's Matzo Kosher for Passover?

Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik used to give the kosher approval to Streit's Matzos. He was the younger brother of my revered teacher Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Aaron died in 2001. In recent years other matza companies have raised questions about the kashrus of Streit's matzos. Not nice.

Streit's is not taking this lying down. Here is an ad we saw online, it may be a picture of Rabbi Soloveitchik, we are not sure, and it makes the claim that the matzo is, "Still the same after all these years."

We don't think this is the best slogan we've ever seen. We prefer fresh matzos on Passover. But we get it. In religion it's not the label "New" on the package that sells. It's the label "Old Original Never Changed" that carries the day.

Anyway, yes, Streit's Matzo is still Kosher for Passover.

Herman Wouk's new book is The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion

Herman Wouk has a new book coming out April 5. He is 94 years old.

Update: We've read an advanced proof. The title is misleading. The book is a clever retrospective by Wouk about his own work and his thinking on various and sundry big philosophical topics along with small observations about people and events.

We got the impression that Wouk was traumatized by a meeting with the great physicist Richard Phillips Feynman who offered Wouk little respect and instructed him to learn calculus, the language that God talks. Wouk claims to have tried unsuccessfully to do that late in life by returning to school. He closes the book with his answer to Feynman (who died in 1988). This came across to us as more of a personal reflection by a personality of big ego than any insight of intellectual value. We learned about jousting celebrities who enjoyed speculating on big thoughts outside of their areas of special knowledge and talent - quite entertaining but not at all edifying - and that's okay - except that we suspect that Wouk believes his scribblings on subjects beyond his ken are awfully important. Perhaps they are. That's surely beyond our realm of expertise.
Herman Wouk's Surprising Passion
G. Jeffrey MacDonald -- Publishers Weekly
For much of the 20th century, readers counted on Herman Wouk to probe-in both fiction and nonfiction-the existential questions raised by war, love, and coming-of-age. An observant Jew, he always kept a theological lens close at hand.

Now Wouk, 94, puts such works as Winds of War and War and Remembrance in a new context by fleshing out his own backstory. In The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion (Little, Brown; Apr.), Wouk reveals an abiding fascination with science as a key to understanding God's world. Wouk brings readers along to meet the scientists who granted him interviews, became his friends, and supplied fodder for his trademark lengthy novels over many decades.

The Language God Talks "is a sort of Summing Up," Wouk told PW in an e-mail when asked about his intended legacy. He explains that science is not a new topic for him; it figures prominently in many a Wouk subplot. But readers may not know the lengths of his quest-as a self-effacing man of letters, not numbers-to get a handle on scientific methods...more...


Why Chief Rabbi of the British Empire Sir Jonathan Sacks Chose the Wrong Metaphors to Describe the Siddur

The Chief Rabbi of the British Empire Sir Jonathan Sacks begins his introduction to the new Koren Siddur - Sacks edition, entitled, "Understanding Jewish Prayer," with this statement, "Prayer is the language of the soul in conversation with God. It is the most intimate gesture of the religious life, and the most transformative." The introduction goes on in lofty terms and continues for a page or two with additional poetic statements such as, "Language is the bridge joining us to Infinity."

When the rabbi turns to speak about the siddur itself, he says to start with, "The siddur is the choral symphony the covenantal people has sung to God across forty centuries from the days of the patriarchs until the present day." He calls it a "calibrated harmony."

Sure, this is the rabbi’s poetic introduction for the faithful. We don't want to parse its every lyrical phrase. Can one ever disagree with poetry? Yet, we must say something because the siddur is not a magnificent symphony festooned with harmonies. The rabbi is close to being accurate. He is on the right track but he stops at the wrong metaphor.

Times: Child Sex Abuse Scandal Closes in on Pope Benedict XVI - priest Peter Hullermann suspended and Prelate Josef Obermaier resigns

Based on this dramatic new development, it appears to us certain that Pope Benedict XVI will be forced shortly to abdicate his office. We do not see how he can continue to represent his Church in a public mission of leadership.
German Priest Close to Pope Is Suspended in Abuse Case

MUNICH — The priest at the center of a German sex-abuse scandal that has embroiled Pope Benedict XVI was suspended Monday, more than 30 years after the church first heard allegations that he had molested children.

The priest, Peter Hullermann, was suspended after church officials acknowledged in a statement on Friday that he had continued working with children even after being forbidden in 2008. His supervisor, Prelate Josef Obermaier, resigned, according to the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising.

In 1980, Benedict, then archbishop there, approved Father Hullermann’s move to Munich after he was accused of sexually abusing boys in the Diocese of Essen, though on Friday a deputy took full responsibility for allowing the priest to return to full pastoral duties shortly thereafter. Father Hullermann was convicted of sexually abusing children in the Bavarian town of Grafing in June 1986 by a district court in nearby Ebersberg, church officials said Friday.

Hundreds of victims have come forward in recent months in Germany with accounts of sexual and other physical abuse from decades past. But no case has captured the attention of the nation like that of Father Hullermann, because of the involvement of the future pope, then Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger, but also because of the impunity that allowed a child molester to continue to work with altar boys and girls for decades after his conviction...more...

Nature's wrath visited on Teaneck

Never saw a devastation like this in our life. Just got power back last night after more than 26 hours. Thousands still without power. Two young fathers in our community were killed tragically a few blocks away on their way to synagogue by a freak accident - leaving behind large families. It's beyond sadness.

No hurricane we ever saw left such devastation. Hundreds of massive trees were knocked over  like twigs. Streets are still blocked by fallen trunks and branches all over town. Metal sheds were thrown off like toys leaving neatly stacked storage exposed. Cars and roofs were smashed by trees and destroyed.

We cannot exaggerate the extent of the violent devastation all around the town. Thank God we got through it all basically intact.

News Stories: Downed trees and wire dot Teaneck
Teaneck was devastated during last night's storm. This violent storm ripped through the township, uprooted trees, downed wires and has left homes without ...

Falling Tree Kills 2 In Teaneck During Storm  WCBS-TV New York 

In one of Teaneck's predominantly Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods, where residents on the Sabbath walk home from synagogue, the timing of last night's storm ...

Authorities ID 2 men killed by tree in Teaneck The Star-Ledger - NJ.com 

By AP TEANECK — Bergen County officials say two men killed by a falling tree in Teaneck... during the weekend nor'easter were neighbors headed home from a

Storm claims two lives New Jersey Jewish Standard 

Saturday's storm took the lives of two Teaneck men, killed by a falling tree on their way home from synagogue. According to town officials, 49-year-old ...

Falling tree kills NJ synagogue-goers Jewish Telegraphic Agency 

... president of The Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, according to local reports. Heavy rain accompanied the winds, which reached 60 mph. The storm ...

Rain--wind storm leaves 3 dead New York Post - Tim Perone, Larry Celona 

Lawrence Krause, 50, and Ovadi Mussaffi, 52, were returning from synagogue in Teaneck, NJ, when a massive tree fell on them. And last night, a 73-year-old ...

Two People Killed By Falling Tree In Teaneck, NJ New York's PIX11 / WPIX-TV - Meredith Traina 

TEANECK, NJ (WPIX) - Two men were killed Saturday by a falling tree in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Two killed by falling tree in Teaneck identified NorthJersey.com - Joseph Ax 

TEANECK — A pair of neighbors walking home from a prayer service were killed Saturday night when they were struck by a falling tree on ...


Christian Anti-Semitism Goes Back a Long Way

Kevin at biblicalia has posted the Ending of Second Oration Against the Jews: "Roger Pearse has posted and released to public domain a translation of the until recently missing ending of the Second Oration Against the Jews by St John Chrysostom."

The text from the acid-tongued orator (died 407 CE) contains such gems as,
Now then, let me strip down for the fight against the Jews themselves, so that the victory may be more glorious—so that you will learn that they are abominable and lawless and murderous and enemies of God.  For there is no evidence of wickedness I can proclaim that is equal to this.
We can only reiterate that scholarship aside, it is always hurtful for us to revisit how far back Christian antisemitism goes and what grave and unfathomable damage it has done to our ancestors.


Roasted Kugel

Something strange going on in the world of Jewish Studies (as if that was a new thing). The journal JQR has published several negative articles on the work of James Kugel (hence "Roasted Kugel"). And the professor was not given a platform to reply. So he posted a rejoinder on his own web site.

THE JEWISH QUARTERLY REVIEW, Vol.100, No.1 (Winter 2010)
  • Review Forum: on James L. Kugel, How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now
  • Problematizing the Bible . . . Then and Now, JOHN C. REEVES
  • Two Introductions to Scripture: James Kugel and the Possibility of Biblical Theology, BENJAMIN D. SOMMER 
  •  The "Real Thing": How to Read How to Read the Bible, WILLIAM KOLBRENER
We have been critical of Kugel's work for years. But he is always welcome to post his defense here.

Hat tip to Menachem Mendel.

Bergen Record: Settlement on Seats and Tents for Englewood's East Hill Synagogue

The Bergen Record reports, "Neighborhood group, synagogue settle dispute" BY JOHN PETRICK, that in our neighboring town, the Englewood East Hill Synagogue lawsuits have been settled, with details to follow. The issues involved the number of seats in the synagogue and the number of tents it could put up each year for social events.

Some local neighbors are not happy, one commenting ironically on the article about how the synagogue tents are okay but the Khadafi tents are not.


Jewish Week: Rabbi Aderet Gone Wild in Great Neck

Rabbi Mordecai Aderet crashed a party of Persian Jews in Great Neck and all hell broke loose as reported in the Jewish Week, "The Curse That Rocked Great Neck," by Sharon Udasin,
...For Rabbi Aderet, the path that brought him to barge into the Great Neck home began earlier that December day, according to sources. He apparently heard about the upcoming party that morning at a brit milah, through friends of those hosting the get-together. Allegedly, the rabbi objected to both the mixed dancing that might occur at the private party and the idea that people would be celebrating on the night before the Fast of Tevet, which marks the siege of Jerusalem. A second supporter said the rabbi gave the hosts ample warning that he’d be stopping by to see about the mixed dancing. The hosts deny the rabbi contacted them...more...


Safe for Tiger Woods - No Women Members at the Masters' Augusta National Golf Club

The most famous US golf tournament, and it is held at Augusta National, a club that does not allow women to join as members.

We call it a Tiger Woods safety zone.

Ian O'Connor in the Bergen Record:
...No, sameness isn't always a virtue at Augusta. Nobody here stands accused of being an overly progressive thinker, and the guardians of this all-male sanctuary won't make this tournament everything it can be until its membership goes coed.
Billy Payne, chairman, is moving toward that inevitable day when a woman is invited to join. He's taking baby steps in Hootie Johnson's wake, hoping to avoid embarrassing his Jurassic-minded predecessor any more than he has to...
[Annual repost updated for Tiger!]

Times: Page One Man Bites Dog Story of the Week - Jew Loves Pope Pius XII

Jews is news every day and when a Jew loves Pope Pius XII, that is a front page feature in the Times.

The strange tale of Gary Krupp of Long Beach unfolds in "Wartime Pope Has a Huge Fan: A Jewish Knight," by PAUL VITELLO,
...It is a compelling tale in itself: how Mr. Krupp became only the seventh Jewish papal knight in history, dubbed by Pope John Paul II in 2000 for persuading American manufacturers to donate $12 million worth of high-tech medical equipment to an Italian hospital.

But the more curious and complicated story is the transformation Mr. Krupp has undergone since. With no previous training or special interest in history, he has emerged as the Vatican’s most outspoken Jewish ally in a heated debate at the crux of tensions between Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders and historians: whether Pope Pius XII, the pontiff during World War II, did as much as he could have to save Jews from the Holocaust...more...


Diaspora Jews Merit One Day of Yontiff

The diaspora of the Jews is over. Jewish Globalization lives. We Jews all over are one world with Israel. Jet travel to Lod in ten hours. Phone calls to Israel at $.04 a minute. Video streaming from the holy land. Satellite Israeli TV.

The idea of the Galut, the exile or dispersion of the Jews around the world separated from Israel - that weakens every day.

Free Birthright trips to Israel for every Jewish child. What do they bring back? They bring back five days of productivity. They come back wanting to know why we don't cut five days out of our festivals.


Reports are Misleading: Yes Orthodox Women Can Be Ordained Rabbis

It has been reported that after objections from many Orthodox Rabbis, unfortunately that Rabbi Avi Weiss has agreed not to ordain Orthodox women with the title Rabba. He will still grant them the title Maharat.

We want to make sure that Orthodox women know that they can still be ordained rabbis with the full title - not maharats or rabbas - at the following serious theological seminaries - which represent the great majority of America's Jews and where they will be welcomed with opened arms.
Good luck on your applications, future rabbis!


Not one of our teachers was a champion

Elizabeth Green, a Spencer fellow in education reporting at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has written a feature story "Building a Better Teacher" in the NY Times Magazine about a book by Doug Lemov to be published in April, “Teach Like a Champion: The 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.”

It's an enlightening and stimulating article about what must be an equally challenging new book.

It made us think about how many very poor teachers we studied with over the years. Yes, even some of the teachers whom I have extolled in the past were as terrible at the art of teaching as they were brilliant in their cognitive mastery and presentation of their disciplines.

We don't know if this is part of the Lemov taxonomy, but on occasion we imagined that the champion exceptional teacher will know the interior nature of each of his or her students and teach to them according to their individual styles of learning, to draw out and develop their native talents. (Um, we wonder why it is that we cannot recall meeting such a teacher.) And we wondered how successful we have been at trying to do those champion things.


Reuters: Burqas are not a Berakhah for Women

Forcing women to wear prison-clothing is not anything we would associate with spirituality. Forcing women to wear burqas is surely no blessing for them.

Reuters Faithworld agrees.
Opinion: Why France is right about the burqa

...In truth, many Muslim women seek relief from the pressure to cover themselves. It is these sentiments that led to France’s initial law in 2004 that banned all exterior religious signs, not just Muslim ones, from public schools. And it is these sentiments that have pushed France to currently consider the partial burqa ban in public spaces — and rightfully so...