February 28, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

The Old-New Middle East

From Haaretz - No one is blameless:

"The appellant only gained from his wife's death. When she was alive, he had to support her, but now he is freed from this obligation, so he has no claim."

(Reb Yudel)

Speaking up for (and explaining) the Yerushalmi

With the full-press coverage the Bavli is getting, isn't it time you read some Yerushalmi? It's not complete, but for what's posted, Yedid Nefesh - Talmud Yerushalmi provides a translation / explanation of the other Talmud.

(Reb Yudel)

Annals of frum landscape design

Haaretz - Israel News - Surroundings / Ultra-Orthodox battle for a green promenade

Even though pedestrian traffic on the promenade will not be separated by gender, it is sufficiently wide enough to prevent crowding and inadvertent contact and thereby will ensure the observance of codes of modesty. Along the length of the promenade there will be greenery, but there will be no hidden nooks, also for reasons of modesty. The benches will be situated in bunches so that couples will not be tempted to find a place where they can be alone.

The highlight of the promenade's design (and the object of anthropological curiosity on the part of a secular observer) will undoubtedly be the eruv (the halakhic practice that enables observant Jews to carry objects on Shabbat beyond a designated area). Unlike the wire that is usually strung around a designated area within which items may be carried on Shabbat, the eruv here will be embedded in the structure of the promenade and is a key element in its design, yet meets all the halakhic requirements for having one.

February 27, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

First female Torah scribe forging ahead with breakthrough project

From the San Francisco Jewish paper that starts and ends with J:

Aviel Barclay, a Vancouver, B.C.-based artist, has become the first known certified soferet, or female Torah scribe. Not only that: She’s landed her first commission and is now completing a Torah for Kadima, a Seattle-based Jewish community.

(Reb Yudel)

Speaking of Siyum Hashas and Madison Square Garden

One of my faovite Saturday Night Live skits, Weekend Update with Jane Curtin

Jane Curtin: And now, a special live report from correspondent Laraine Newman at Times Square.

Laraine Newman: Jane, I'm standing in the center of Times Square, New York's traditional celebration and meeting place. The turnout this year seems to be amller than expected - the crowds are lighter, the noisemakers quieter. A lot of feeling of excitement and expectation prevails, as the new year approaches. Of course at midnight, the big ball on top of the Allied Chemical Tower will drop, and the numeral 5737 will herald the new year. And, according to tradition, the Book of Life will then open, and God will decide the fate of the world for the next ten years. After ten days, however..

Jane Curtin: Uh, Laraine? Laraine?

Laraine Newman: Yes, Jane?

Jane Curtin: Are you talking about the Jewish New Year?

Laraine Newman: That's right, Jane - Rosh Hashana!

Jane Curtin:
Well, Laraine, that's usually celebrated privately in homes and in synogogues, not in Times Square.

Laraine Newman: I thought it seemed a little quiet. Well, this is Laraine Newman saying, "Happy Birthday, Steve", "Good Yanta", and sending it back to you, Jane.

(Reb Yudel)

Time for a Daf Yomi sabbatical?

Why start Berachos all over again, when you can jump into the middle of The Shevi'is with Mishna Yomi? The link also takes you calendars for Yerushalmi Yomi, Mishna Brura Yomi, and more.

One question: Who's the davkanik who set up a 30-daf-a-month cycle?

(Reb Yudel)

Is that a rebbe in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

The ShasPod is the all-in-one solution to joining the next Daf Yomi cycle. The complete set of Rav Dovid Grossman's shiurim, which have been converted from tapes to mp3 technology as featured on DafYomi.org, is now available pre-loaded on a 20 gigabyte iPod. No computer necessary. No technical knowledge needed. The ShasPod is sent to you fully ready for the next cycle of the Daf HaYomi.

February 26, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Help determine Norman Lamm's legacy!

How will history judge Norman Lamm? Take a look at the Norman Lamm Wikipedia entry and decide whether it's accurate as is, or needs some revising. Already there's been some discussion back and forth on what Centrism really means.

Since Wikipedia prefers that its entries not reflect a point of view or bias, it would be best if one could find a definition of "Centrist Orthodoxy" in his own words. Is there such a thing? Did he ever define the term he embraced, or was he waiting to write a book on the topic until he successfully sold movie rights to his "Torah uMadda" volume?

To whet you appetite for the editorialn endeavor, two different definitions of "Centrism" from a since-revised draft of the entry:

Dr. Lamm is a well known voice of "Centrist Orthodoxy" (which is used interchangeably with Modern Orthodoxy) regarding itself as the "center" between the "left wing" branches of Judaism, such as Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism, and the movements of the "right wing" such as Haredi Judaism.

and this:
In reality, centrism was a way of not admitting that he was modern and changing Torah, unlike his more honest more liberal colleagues. He was centrist between the left wing of Modern Orthodoxy whom he ignored and the Yeshiva world of his youth whom he always insulted.

Feel free to debate this here, if you hesitate to deface the Wikipedia.

February 25, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Daf Yomi: At last is heard a disparaging word

Rabbi Gidon Rothstein disses the daf:

The upcoming celebration of the completion of another cycle of Daf haYomi presents the paradox of a practice with great staying power despite the rigor of its demands and the minimal results it produces....

...[Daf Yomi] is ultimately destructive for implementing study of Torah as a central value of the Jewish religion and of avodat Hashem.

(Reb Yudel)

Meet Yamima: Micha Odenheimer introduces a new Israeli religious phenomenon

The latest article in Micha Odenheimer's exploration of contemporary Judaism for Haaretz: Studying `Yamima'

Yamima is not the first Jewish woman to have been recognized, even by rabbinic authorities, as a seer and as someone expert in spiritual matters without having undergone an apprenticeship in the requisite, demanding discipline of kabbala. She's just the first in a very long time.

You mean you haven't clicked through to read the whole article?

Well, please do so now!

February 24, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Reb Yudel's Assignment Desk: The Forward offered a couple more clues to JTS mystery; here are some more questions that need answering

Eric Greenber, in the Forward:
The Jewish Theological Seminary of America's new chief financial officer has resigned after just three months on the job at a time when the institution, the flagship of Conservative Judaism, is facing an unprecedented fiscal crisis.

The departure of CFO Richard Bengloff marks the second resignation in four months of a top seminary financial officer. Longtime seminary controller S. David Shapiro abruptly resigned his post November 9, 2004, only weeks before news stories disclosed that JTS was struggling to cover tens of millions of dollars in debt borrowed from undisclosed sources.

Some followup questions still to be answered:
  1. According to the article, the JTS endowment is not much more than twice annual operating expenses. Is that typical or appropriate?
  2. How much of the endowments are general, and how much are restricted?
  3. Is it legal to borrow against endowments?
  4. What have been general endowment returns over the past decade, both before and after the stock market boom?
  5. Who is involved in the JTS budgeting process?
  6. What do JTS board members think about this?
  7. Are there any scenarios in which this situation could be the result of criminal malfeasance?
  8. Are any board members liable?
  9. Are there any board members who have dropped off the board who might speak?
  10. Are there any board members still on the JTS board who might speak?
  11. Why have operating expenses increased so much?
  12. Why was fundraising not able to keep up with operating expenses?
  13. How does the JTS fundraising record compare to that of other Jewish institutions in the past decade?
  14. Who oversees JTS fundraising, both on staff and the board?
  15. Who are the people, on staff and on the board, who actually see the budget and signed off on the debt?
  16. Have there been any budget cutbacks?
  17. Do the cutbacks impact on the institution?
  18. What percent of revenue / expenses are covered by tuition?
  19. Are board members responding to the crisis by donating more?
  20. Has there been any emergency fundraising drive within the Conservative rabbinate?
  21. Who signed off on the decision (first reported by Debra Nussbaum Cohen in the Jewish Week) to change the institutions 501c3 status so as to avoid IRS reporting requirements?
More legwork and less time with the JTS communications department might bring up some answers to these questions. I, alas, have no inside info on any of these points, but would love to hear from those who do.
(Reb Yudel)

Da Swell Fox Fixit

lion_fox.gifEven with my site down, I appear to have stirred up quite a tsunami out there in Jewish Blogania. For one thing, I emailed you the wrong Aesop's fable. Should have gone with:


A FOX, very much famished, seeing some bread and meat left by shepherds in the hollow of an oak, crept into the hole and made a hearty meal. When he finished, he was so full that he was not able to get out, and began to groan and lament very sadly. Another Fox passing by, heard his cries, and coming up, inquired the cause of his complaining. On learning what had happened, he said to him, "Ah, you will have to remain there, my friend, until you become such as you were when you crept in, and then you will easily get out." (THREE HUNDRED AND FIFTY ÆESOP'S FABLES, LITERALLY TRANSLATED FROM THE GREEK. BY THE REV.GEO. FYLER TOWNSEND, M.A. CHICAGO: BELFORD, CLARKE & CO., 1882. p.132)

But, obviously, Midrash Kohelet does offer a version of the story of this dubious canine who's so prone to a binge & fast lifestyle. It is sad, though, that my mistaken copy & paste (with an intermittent Internet connection in Adi's Tel-Aviv apartment), allowed for the discussion to center on the cite and not the other, more poignant part of my note, regarding the dripping self-congratulation, etc.

What can I say, he who emails before proofing has a fool for a fact checker.

Still, the chronological thing of Aesop Vs. Midrash Kohelet deems discussion (which Alan Brill is so much better equipped to handle). The excellent Shamma Friedman article you pointed your readers to is a good start, but us, non-academic types, need to know the score in more concrete ways. Or, in other words, who came first, the 6th Century BCE fabulous fabulist, or the 7th Century CE sage midrashic editors?

Incidentally, just as Friedman suggests, the later Jewish version is better edited and the Ecclesiastic association takes a mere "Life is a dung-heap" moral to the level of "Life is a dung-heap 'cause God says so," which works for me.

So, while backflapping a desperate retreat, Yanover gets himself out of yet another jam, but only barely so. If at all...



(Reb Yudel)

The Definitive Wendy Shalit Smackdown

Daniel Schifrin takes on Wendy Shalit in a New York Jewish Week essay, The Superficial Reader

I would assume Shalit would not begin a review of the Torah in the New York Times by saying, 'The stories of Genesis portray Jews in a poor light. How God could write a book where incest and a lack of parental respect are represented as Jewish values is beyond me.'

February 23, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Little humor for a little Purim

Over in Cross-Currents, Emanuel Feldman puts the katan back into Purim Katan with a piece, Halakhic Creativity: An Intercepted Letter, that is at best only a little funny.

Very little, actually.

I'd really much rather hear what the editor of the Tradition makes of the current haredi creationism nonsense. Surely that's not how he was taught to interpret Torah when he was taking Old Testament courses, along with my mother and me (in utero) at Emory back in '64....

Closer reading shows that maybe this was joke directed at the author's own Cross-Currents community after all.

Consider, for example, this mock responsum:

DAILY PRAYER: A man submitted the following question to our office: It is frequently quite difficult for him to don his tefillin, recite the morning prayers, and eat his breakfast, all in the short span of time that is available between his getting out of bed until he leaves for work. Would he be permitted occasionally to skip his tefillin and prayers if he has a particularly important business appointment at an early hour?

Predictably, most traditionalist decisors would be insensitive to the needs of this questioner. A typically hidebound response would undoubtedly suggest that the man get up earlier. Some decisors might even go so far as to suggest that he abbreviate or entirely skip his breakfast. But such a response displays complete callousness, and would only turn a contemporary Jew away from his heritage.

It is the view of SHICR, however, that the challenge for Judaism today is to show the compassionate face of halakha. By applying the newest tools of halakhic jurisprudence, our creative halakhists propounded the innovative view that Judaism is a religion of life, which means that a person should not only get a good night’s sleep, but also a hearty breakfast. This is embodied in the Torah law, “and you shall guard your well being"(Deut.4:15), which stresses the crucial importance of preserving one’s good health. When the requirements for tefillin and/ or prayer prevent a good night’s sleep and a full breakfast, the Torah’s intent is quite clear: health concerns clearly override the requirements of tefillin and prayer. In our case, the issue is made even more urgent by the potential for monetary loss - to which the sensitive decisor applies the additional principles of compassion that are an integral part of the Torah.

The funny thing, of course, is that a pretty clear halachic argument could be made for donning tefilin during lunch hour, and only reciting shma itself before the meeeting.

That would seem to be the approach taken by the mishna in Berachot. A Hassidic psak would likewise put kavvanah first, decide that arising before coffe would be detrimental, and likewise urge that full davening be postponed.

It's only today's Haredi litvaks who seem to believe that a full-fledged tefilah, with birchot hashachar and all, is the most important part of a healthy breakfast.

(Reb Yudel)

Idan Raichel and the Radio Hazak revival

The definitive introduction to the currently-touring Israeli music phenomenon, The Idan Raichel Project, is a wonderful report on Morning Edition last week.

You can find it on Allison & co.'s new Israelity blog. Or, in the spirit of creative borrowing, you can find it on the Idan Raichel section of my newly-resurrected Radio Hazak Israeli Music web site.

(Reb Yudel)

Kids these days

I remember when I first visited Israel. I promised my mother I'd write, so every week I made the trek to the post office -- five miles uphill in the snow, both ways, in Israel's hot June heat -- to mail an aerogramme*.

Would our kids do that for us?

Luckily, we'll never have to find out, because the tour company escorting The-Tenth-Grader around Israel is posting digital photos to the web. That's her, third from the left.
*An aerogramme, for the youngsters out there in blog land, was the cheapest way to write across the ocean. It was a single sheet that doubled as stationery and envelope.

The only tricky thing was folding it -- not an easy task since, in my day, all international correspondence was inscribed on clay tablets.

(Reb Yudel)

Blogging vs. Writing vs. Reporting

I'm working on my first piece of journalism in quite some time, and the contrast with blogging -- or op ed writing -- is striking.

As a blogger, I could just throw out facts and quotes and questions for those who care about the matters at hand.

As a journalist, I need to keep in mind the reader who may never have heard of the broader question, and has no interest in the fine points that I revel in.

As an op ed writer, I can lead with my spin and take on the matter, convincing you that my perspective is right and those who disagree are wrong, wrong, wrong.

As a journalist, I really do have to ask whether the piece is fair to all concerned.

As a blogger, I can wait as long as I want to polish up a post (or let it sit in my growing queue of pending posts).

As a journalist, I have a deadline. It's a job, not a hobby -- so perfection is not something I can necessarily afford on every story.

As a blogger, I can tear into the old-time media for playing by old, outdate rules.

As a journalist, I'm stuck with those rules until my editor -- and perhaps my readers -- are convinced otherwise.

February 22, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

YudelLine -- the first draft of history

As the old saying goes, today's YudelLine is tomorrow's column. My most recent column resurrects posts on Shakespeare, Michael Scheuer, and Ward Churchill, but in fresh new packaging!

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Bob Dylan and the Encyclopedia Judaica

Our buddy Elli Wohlgelernter is profiled at YNET, the new Web version of Yediot, on his editing of the EJ's Jews in rock n' roll section.

(Reb Yudel)

Ya Gotta' Read Da Classiscs

Yori Yanover, whose USA Jewish blog is temporarily offline, sends the following piece from overseas:

Cross-currents.com blogger Yitzchok Adlerstein is utilizing Arthur Miller's departure as yet another opportunity for self-congratulation which threatens to throw his shoulder from all the patting. Most enjoyable is his educated reference to the teachings of a rav (indicating he's not just any old rabbi, but unzere rabbi) who apparently is still alive (hence the ever comprehensible "shlit'a" entry, as opposed to z'l or ztz'l), who's explicating (1 : to give a detailed explanation, 2 : to develop the implications of : analyze logically -- or, in English, Explain) a midrash:

"Rav Yaakov Galinsky, shlit”a, is fond of explicating a Midrash on the verse in Koheles that soberly tells us that we leave the earth naked as we enter it. The Midrash offers an analogy to a fox, separated by a fence from the vineyard it would love to raid. its ample body cannot pass through the one breach in the fence it finds. Determined to get in, it fasts for days until its emaciated body is able to slip through. Once inside, it eats to his heart’s content, until he tires of all the good food, and decides it is time to move on again. Once again, the fence proves impassable. Once again, it is forced to starve itself in order to fit through the hole. Emerging to the far side of the vineyard, the fox looks back, and realizes that it came into the vineyard hungry, and left the same way."

If the cited "Midrash" seemed familiar, it's probably because you read it in kindergarten or in the first grade, and back then they told you it had been written by Aesop (“Plagiarisms of our Fathers,” now, there’s a bestseller):

"A famished fox crept into a vineyard where ripe, luscious grapes were draped high upon arbors in a most tempting display. In his effort to win a juicy prize, the fox jumped and sprang many times but failed in all his attempts. When he finally had to admit defeat, he retreated and muttered to himself, 'Well, what does it matter anyway? The grapes are sour!'"

Adlerstein's frumspeek is so dripping with ideological autoeroticism, the upgrading of Aesop to midrashic sagehood almost pales by comparison to his metaphor-mixer-on-overdrive conclusion, saying us Jews "understood that every moment of life afforded opportunities to throw bundles of mitzvos over to the other side! Bundles of good deeds would amount to an eternal nest egg."

Bad writing and self-congratulation: a marriage made in heaven, a sheva brochos celebrated further down under...

February 18, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Cry the Beloved Country

Whiskey Bar: Intelligence Test

"I'm pleased to announce my decision to nominate Ambassador John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence . . . John brings a unique set of skills to these challenges."

(Reb Yudel)

Everything Hoenlein is new again

According to Haaretz, Eric Yoffe and Abe Foxman claim that the Presidents Conference isn't doing enough to support the Israeli government and Malcolm Hoenlein replies that they're out to lunch

Sounds familiar. Didn't I write that story back in 1994?

February 17, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Carlos Castenda explains why reducing my promised social security payments is not a "benefits cut"

Pull up a stool at the Whiskey Bar for the details.

(Reb Yudel)

Breadcrumb sins? Bob Dylan's Passover schedule revealed

Bob Dylan's spring concert schedule has been updated through April.

22 April Fri Mashantucket, Connecticut Foxwoods Resort Casino
24 April Sun Atlantic City, New Jersey
25-30 April Mon-Sat New York, New York Beacon Theatre

Nothing scheduled for the first seder night; maybe he's interested in visting us in Teaneck before his Atlantic City concert the next night?

The Upper West Side certainly offers lots of access to hametz-free takeout, if he's so inclined.

Speaking of the Upper West Side, Peter Himmelman spoke there on behalf of Edah a while back, and to head off the inevitable questions about his father-in-law, he said something like this:

Seders with my wife's family are always special. In the middle, my father-in-law will grab a guitar that's lying around, jump up on the table, and start singing:

Lay, Lady Lay.

Lay across my big flat bread.

Ba bum bum.

February 16, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Warning: Kosher lettuce is treif!

From Kashrut.com - Kosher Food Alerts and Mislabeled Products:
Please be aware that due to a possible malfunction of machinery, Bodek is voluntarily recalling all products containing fresh lettuce with expiration date 16th & 19th february, 2005. Please return these products to the store for a full refund.
(Reb Yudel)

Science Fairly Innumerate

Last night was the Last Middle School Science Fair -- at least at Ms. Eighth Grade's current school.

Not a year too soon, I might say, because I'm not sure I can stand the rampant innumeracy that passes for experimentation.

Yes, they learn the classic scientific method of hypothesis-experiment-conclusion-fancy writeup designed to coverup a multitidue of methodological flaws. Wait, that's the Bush method. Too bad they don't learn anything about statistics or about controlling for other variables. Lots of psychological research (does breakfast help kids learn more) whose possible conclusions are lost in a fog of bad data. Only a small handful of exhibits showing something real enough about science (electricity, magnetism, killing e-coli) to explain to the Four Year Old.

Given that everyone presumably has Excel, or at least a calculator, is there a reason not to learn about standard deviations in middle school?

In any event, to end on a positive note, here's some useful science that you can try at home... and we probably will:

How to Extract DNA from Anything Living

DNA! You mean I can see it? How?

Just follow these 3 easy steps:
eNzymes (meat tenderizer)

(Reb Yudel)

JewSchool resurrects the Simpsons Gemara

From -=JeW*SCHooL=-:
You might recall that fateful Simpsons episode, "Like Father, Like Clown," when Bart makes a Talmudic argument on Krusty's behalf in order to reunite the estranged shababnik with his heimishe father. It has, indeed, been floating around for a while, but in honor of Purim (which is just around the corner), we've resurrected this lost classic — a full page of Gemara based upon the episode, created by Noah Gradofsky.
Thank you, Noah, and thank you JewSchool Jews!
(Reb Yudel)

Dudu Geva, 1950-2005

Via The Comics Reporter
Dudu Geva, an Israeli cartoonist whose career spanned animation, children's books, comics and political cartoons, has passed away at age 54.
His "Duck Song" series in Kol HaIr and Hadashot captured the spirit of 1990 Intifida Israel perfectly. Baruch dayan emet. Plessed be the Supreme Humorist.
(Reb Yudel)

If I had commute enough, and cash....

Association for Jewish Studies 2004 conference sessions on CD or cassette
Complete Conference Audio Set - Specially Priced - Save 40% - Comes In Attractive Storage Albums At No Extra Charge - only $1,599.00
(Reb Yudel)

Countdown to April: Cohen calls for Conservative Judaism to welcome gays

Rabbi Ayelet Cohen in Forward Newspaper Online:

I have heard many times the claim that full inclusion of gay people in the Conservative movement and in Judaism in general is of concern only to a small number of “activist rabbis” and outsiders. These critics forget that the movement has made gay and lesbian people outsiders by closing them out of its institutions while offering them an empty welcome.

It is time for the “insiders,” the heterosexual Jews whose participation in Jewish life is not called into question by the movement’s policies, to raise our voices to call the Conservative movement toward justice. The Reconstructionist and Reform movements have moved more swiftly to embrace the diversity of our Jewish families and call for civil and religious equality for gay and lesbian people. The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards has the opportunity to do so this spring in a way consistent with the process of the Conservative movement. It is time for the Conservative movement to stand behind its promises of welcome within the movement’s institutions and support for civil equality of gay and lesbian people in this country.

(Reb Yudel)

Truth and Consequences, Battleships and Bombs

Last Friday night, the Four-Year-Old interrupted our game of battleship because "I want to go to the couch to take a nap." A nap? Spontaneously?

Being Friday night, I was more obliging than suspicious.

But then the truth came out: He was hoping to lure me to sleep, so he could cheat and look at my position.

I indeed dozed off. The Four-Year-Old, though, resisted temptation. He didn't look at my position.

"Why not?" his mother asked later.

"I knew that God knows everything, and God doesn't sleep, and he would know if I cheated, and I didn't want anyone to know, so I didn't do it," he replied.

For those without the Four-Year-Old's ability to take God seriously, Matthew Yglesias brings a more utiliarian lesson entitled The Trouble With Lying. . .:

The White House seems to think that the government of Syria was behind today's assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who, lately, had been turning against the massive Syrian influence in (and semi-occupation of) his country.

It's certainly a plausible account.

The White House also believes that Syria must be punished for its complicity. If Syria is, indeed, complicit, that's surely right.

And as the White House moves toward trying to build support for some sort of retaliation against Syria, I can't help but think that I would be 100 percent behind the president in this were I not 100 percent sure that this administration is being run by people who would think nothing of trying to manipulate the country into a military conflict with a middle eastern nation based on flawed, overblown intelligence and misleading presentation of that evidence.

There's actually a reason that most presidents have chosen not to make dishonesty their main tool of policy advocacy, and the reason isn't that most administrations have been run by intrinsically honest people.

February 15, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

The Idan Reichal Project

Israel’s top pop band touring Bay Area campuses, reports the typographically-awkwardly-named j, the Jewish weekly serving San Francisco:

The Idan Reichal Project has released two multi-platinum albums there, emerging as the country’s No. 1 pop band.

A lot of that, says the dreadlocked Reichal, has to do with the band’s multicultural emphasis, especially on the musical style brought to Israel by the influx of Jews from Ethiopia.

“We represent the music of Israel 2005 as I see it,” says Reichal in a phone interview. “This is about emerging cultures and blending cultures. In Israel, about every 10 years there’s a new immigration — from Iran, from Russia, from Ethiopia. This project is about merging it all.”

(Reb Yudel)

Dylan on the distance-difference difference

I've been very slowly reading Dylan's Chronicles memoir. Slowly because it's so delicious. I've read a good number of the biographies, but this is an encounter with the interesting Dylan, the one who famously had an open Bible on a shtender in his Woodstock house and, according to Chronicles, spent days at the New York Public Library reading old newspapers from the Civil War.

Here's a worthwhile review from PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly by a senior editor for the Religion News Service:

CHRONICLES is also instructive for critics and theologians like Ricks and Gilmour, whose interpretations of Dylan's work, while often fascinating, informative, and suggestive, are sometimes overdetermined. Dylan writes, for example, of trying to "fix" the last line of "Ring Them Bells" -- "breaking down the distance between right and wrong." Ricks stresses Dylan's use of the word "distance" rather than "difference" between right and wrong. "This makes all the difference in the world and in the other world," he writes.

But Dylan writes that "while the line fit, it didn't verify what I felt. Right or wrong, like it fits in the Wanda Jackson song, or right from wrong, like the Billy Tate song, that makes sense, but not right and wrong. The concept didn't exist in my subconscious mind. I'd always been confused about that kind of stuff, didn't see any moral ideal played out there. The concept of being morally right or morally wrong seems to be wired to the wrong frequency."

Reading CHRONICLES is a little bit like listening to a Dylan album. There are always stunning moments, puzzling moments, and some clinkers. The book is studded with wonderful lines that defy easy explication. Of Roy Orbison he writes: "He sang like a professional criminal." You know it's a compliment, but what exactly does it mean?

(Reb Yudel)

Another brick for Jewish renewal

The publication formerly known as the Northern California Jewish Bulletin reports that an originally Berekely-based Renewal congregation purchases building

“When we first started almost 21 years ago, we had no idea to what extent this was a congregation that was here to stay,” said Rabbi David Cooper, who was just ordained by the Renewal movement’s Aleph program last month. Cooper has been Kehilla’s acting rabbi for years. The founding rabbi, Burt Jacobson, is still involved, but not in day-to-day matters.

“Maybe we were just a fly-by-night phenomenon, something that would be around for year or two like a lot of other alternative congregations, and then would fade away,” said Cooper.

But the building is proof that Kehilla isn’t going away. “We now have a sense that those of us who started it in our 30s will grow old in this congregation and will be there for each other.”

(Reb Yudel)

At last, an opposition party?

Senator Barbara Boxer on the Bush Social Security scam:

On January 6, 2005, the White House wrote a Social Security memo. Although marked “not for attribution,” fortunately, we have it.

The most telling sentence in the entire memo is this: “For the first time in six decades the Social Security battle is one we can win – and in doing so, we can help transform the political and philosophical landscape of the country.”

Imagine: for six decades – that’s 60 years – the right wing has been after Social Security.

(Reb Yudel)

Blogging the Edah Conference?

Lots of interesting sessions at next week's Edah conference; at least two (and often more) sessions I'd like to attend in every slot.

Being an old-fashioned, one-place-at-a-time sort of guy, I wonder whether anyone else will be covering the conference for their blog (or paper) and would care to coordinate schedules in advance.

February 14, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

That Wacky W. White House!

AMERICAblog sums up the blogger-investigated story of "Jeff Gannon," the pseudonymous pseudo-reporter who tossed softball questions in the White House press room... and turns out to have had some secrets of his own:
Say what you will about Monika Lewinsky - a tasteless episode, "inappropriate," whatever. Monika wasn't a gay prostitute running around the West Wing. What kind of leadership would let prostitutes roam the halls of the West Wing? What kind of war-time leadership can't find the same information that took bloggers only days to find?

None of this is by accident.

Someone had to make a decision to let all this happen. Who? Someone committed a crime in exposing Valerie Plame and now it appears a gay hooker may be right in the middle of all of it? Who?

(Reb Yudel)

21st century Judaism without a 20th century Holocaust: Counterfactual scenarios

DovBear asks the following question:
What if the Holocaust had never happened? What if Hitler had instigated and fought the Second World War, without making anti-Semitism part of his agenda. Jews would have dies, and communities would have been uprooted, but with no Final Solution, Jewish life in Europe could have continued after the war, uninterrupted.
Dov Bear offers his suggestions; feel free to offer yours! And then what?
(Reb Yudel)

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: Don't believe everything you read in the papers!

Did the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism really side with the Orthodox Union in support of an anti-gay-marriage amendment? Despite what you may have read in the Forward -- or in my previous post on the subject -- it seems not.

Here's the word from their press office, in response to my query:

As it happens, the Forward never contacted us and their story is inaccurate. We have no statement and led no charge against the resolution.

The JCPA has not yet announced which resolutions will be voted on at the plenum and it is not possible for us to determine our position on any specific resolution until that time occurs. At any rate, we opposed certain wording in the draft resolution for reasons of halakhah and suggested different wording.

So please, Gentle Readers, ignore my overwrought tightrope-in-the-wind metaphor for now, and in this context. The United Synagogue is too clever to fall for this highwire act.

If only the other arms of Conservative Judaism prove so clever....

February 13, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supports gay marriage ban? [update: No!]

Updated 10:30 am, on Valentine's Day This week's Forward report on JCPA resolutions -- the annual chance for all the Jewish organizations to try to come up with some common statement on everything from welfare in the midwest to warfare in the mideast -- has some provocactive remarks about the Conservative movement's policies. I posted them in this space last night. Unfortunately, after checking with a spokesperson this morning, they turned out to be mistaken. So who's better? The blogger who posted first, and then sought a response, and then issued a correction? Or the newspaper, which published and then didn't get a response? The original post, and the official reply, is after the jump. Relevant paragraph from this week's Forward report on JCPA resolutions:
The O.U., along with the Conservative synagogue movement, led the opposition to the anti-Federal Marriage Amendment resolution.
My response to the story:
The Conservative movement is walking a tightrope on this issue. They probably think they're brave; if they look harder, they might notice that it's a very long tightrope, they're very high up, and a hard wind is beginning to blow....
However, my windy windbaggery was for nought, it seems, because this is what the United Synagogue had to say:
As it happens, the Forward never contacted us and their story is inaccurate. We have no statement and led no charge against the resolution. The JCPA has not yet announced which resolutions will be voted on at the plenum and it is not possible for us to determine our position on any specific resolution until that time occurs. At any rate, we opposed certain wording in the draft resolution for reasons of halakhah and suggested different wording.
(Reb Yudel)

Goodbye Mose, Hello Moshe!

That and a zillion other interesting data points concerning shifts in American baby names over the past century can be wondrously accessed at the great Baby Name Wizard's NameVoyager.

(Reb Yudel)

Too few degrees of separation!

So I was just about to note, with raised eyebrows, how odd it is to see Arthur Herzberg interviewed by Lyndon LaRouche's Intelligence Review, and mutter something about my previous post in which I find myself siding with Pat Buchanan's magazine (!)... when a look at Technorati revealed that I was being cited as an authority on Palestinian leaders in a posting some Russian blog! Which turned out to be reprinting a piece from Alexander Cockburn's Counterpunch entitled, inevitablity, "The Formaldehyde Solution? Condi Rice and the Neocon Plan for the Palestinians". With help from Google it turned out that Counterpunch was crediting me with an analysis from the much more credible (and knowledgable on such matters) Yossi Klein Halevy, who had been quoted in a Harvard Crimson article which I had indeed cited on YudelLine, back in 2003.

From The Crimson to Counterpunch... what a red-letter day for yours truly!

(Reb Yudel)


Whiskey Bar looks at Conspiracy Theories, now and then.

(Reb Yudel)

Good news from outer space!

Wired News reports that Scientists Find Missing Matter

For years, astrophysicists have been boggled by the fact that the grand sum of all the known "normal" matter in the universe -- that which makes up the stars, the Earth and even our own bodies -- only amounts to half of what should exist based on computer simulations.

A new study conducted with the help of the Earth-orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory has revealed the existence of [normal matter] in at least two giant, intergalactic clouds of super-hot gas 150 million and 380 million light-years from our planet.

The matter in those clouds -- extrapolated over the rest of the universe -- accounts for the missing matter.

However, ordinary matter -- that is to say, anything that we are made of and anything that particle physicists have detected in particle colliders -- don't really amount to a hill of beans when the whole universe is added up.

Whereas baryons [normal matter] account for 4 percent of the total matter and energy in the universe, dark matter, a mysterious and unseen form of matter that has so far only been detected by the gravitational pull it exerts on other bodies in the universe, is thought to make up 23 percent.

The remaining 73 percent of the so-called matter-energy budget consists of what scientists call "dark energy." This energy acts like an anti-gravitational force that, in theory, is causing the universe to expand rather than contract.

(Reb Yudel)

Canadian Cosher Chicken Crisis?

Jewish Whistleblower brings word about problems with Canadian Kosher chickens:
The Marvid Kosher Chichen plant strike in Quebec, Canada enters its 5th month. There are violations of the Labor Code, a worker was fired for union activities, and just read the conditions workers are protesting in and the reasons why they are on strike.
Once again, a blogger seems to have scooped the American Jewish print press. Then again, the Jewish Whistleblower is Canadian, and seems to have better access to Nexis to boot than does JTA.

February 12, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

You know your country is in trouble when....

Pat Buchanan's magazine warns of the growing hunger for dictatorship:
I don’t think there are yet real fascists in the administration, but there is certainly now a constituency for them —hungry to bomb foreigners and smash those Americans who might object. And when there are constituencies, leaders may not be far behind. They could be propelled into power by a populace ever more frustrated that the imperialist war it has supported—generally for the most banal of patriotic reasons—cannot possibly end in victory. And so scapegoats are sought, and if we can’t bomb Arabs into submission, or the French, domestic critics of Bush will serve.
Read the whole piece.
(Reb Yudel)

America: Love it or Leave It (Lincoln's Birthday Edition)

For those of you who, through error or malice, don't visit the Whiskey Bar daily, a small piece of Lincoln's Passion:
Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a Nation we began by declaring that "all men are created equal, except Negros." When the know-nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal except Negros and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this, I shall prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty.

Abraham Lincoln
Letter to Joshua Speed

February 11, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Anyone know of any yeshiva which teaches Chinese?

PC Magazine's John Dvorak has some important news:
Meanwhile, for those of you who missed the news, Steven Chen—the supercomputer designer and one-time protege, then competitor, of Seymour Cray—has decided to go to China to develop his next generation of machines. Yet another example of the reverse brain drain taking place in the U.S., where expertise and knowledge are freely being shipped to India and China. As if the budget deficit and sagging dollar weren't bad enough. The Chinese are quite interested in developing a supercomputer market, and they have plenty of money, thanks to the American penchant for buying cheap Chinese products by the truckload.

This story, which should have been a front-page news item across the country, was lost during the election coverage, when people seemed more concerned about John Kerry's Vietnam record. We have one of the most influential computer designers in the world working for China, and nobody notices. Chen's newest designs are massive hypercube-like arrays and powerful blades using Opteron processors. At this point, it's looking as if the Opteron is going to become a building-block chip for many supercomputer designs. By the way, I'm convinced the Chinese are going to put a man on the moon much sooner than we expect. Take note.

You did notice that IBM sold its pc manufacturing division -- makers of the laptop on which I am writing this post -- to a Chinese company last month, right? And you noticed that Bill Gates has started buying Chinese currency, didn't you?
(Reb Yudel)

Where's the beef? JTA Hebrew National story doesn't cut the mustard

If the Jewish Telegraphic Agency really wants us to surrender our demographic data so they can get more sponsors for their online news products, perhaps they should refrain from serving up turkeys of reporting like this one, It’s no baloney: Kosher eaters are facing shortage of salami.

JTA reporter Chanan Tigay manages to ignore what should be the meat of the piece: Does the shortage reflect an upsurge in observant Jews eating Hebrew National now that its kashrut has been approved by both Orthodox and Conservative authorities? Has there, perhaps, been any impact from the scandalous behavior of the leading glatt kosher slaughterhouse?

JTA, apparently ignorant of those two issues, went instead to the OU for a quote and Menachem Genack happily obliged with spin that as much as said, kosher Jews don't eat Hebrew National.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Howard Dean makes another high-pitched squealing sound

Howard Dean 2.11.05.jpg

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Hide in plain sight

When does criticism of Israel become anti-Semitism? Seemingly, whenever Michael Scheuer, a.k.a. Anonymous, the author of "Imperial Hubris", opens his mouth. Scheuer's "remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations on Israel's influence in the United States are a goldmine of canards: that Israel is the tail wagging the dog of U.S. foreign policy, that its influence in this country is "clandestine" and that the Holocaust Museum is an Israeli/Jewish plot to guilt America into supporting Jerusalem.

I've bolded the naughty bits, but it's the use of "clandestine" and "covert" that strike me as the money quotes. The usual attack on the pro-Israel lobby is that they use raw, transparent political power -- PAC money, lobbying savvy, controlling the media, building Holocaust Museums -- to control the public debate. But according to Scheuer all that public lobbying is just a cover for... secretive lobbying,or worse -- I think. What might some of those clandestine activities be? Blackmailing senators with incriminating photographs of buxom Mossad agents? Implanting chips in the brains of Christian Zionists? Assasinating pro-Palestinian lawmakers?

Asked to give an example of a "clandestine" activity by pro-Israel forces, Scheuer replies, "clearly, the ability to influence the Congress--that's a clandestine activity, a covert activity." Luckily, our counter-intelligence agencies were able to uncover and photograph the undercover Capitol Hill visits of these folks.

Am I overdoing it? Judge for yourself :

SCHEUER: It's probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man to control--the important political debate in a country of 270 million people is an extraordinary accomplishment. I wish our clandestine service could do as well. The point I would make--the point I try to make basically in the book is we just cannot--we can no longer afford to be seen as the dog that's led by the tail. I've tried to be very clear in saying we have an alliance with the Israelis. We have a moral obligation to try to work through this issue, if we can. But I don't think we can afford to be led around, or at least appear to be led around by them.

Gary Rosen of Commentary asks Scheuer to "elaborate a little bit on the clandestine ways in which Israel and presumably Jews have managed to so control debate over this fundamental foreign policy question."

Scheuer: Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress--that's a clandestine activity, a covert activity. You know to some extent, the idea that the Holocaust Museum here in our country is another great ability to somehow make people feel guilty about being the people who did the most to try to end the Holocaust. I find--I just find the whole debate in the United States unbearably restricted with the inability to factually discuss what goes on between our two countries.

February 10, 2005

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The Most Happy Fella

Dame Edna and us.jpg

My wife and I made our Broadway debuts last night when Dame Edna Everage called us up on stage during her one, um, woman show at the Music Box Theater. The Australian gigastar tortured us for about 15 minutes, and sent us home with a good bottle of Aussie chardonnay. The biggest laugh came when I explained what I did for a living: nothing brings a Broadway house down like the words "New Jersey" and "Jewish."

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Evangelicals, Darwin, circumcision -- something for everybody!

A bunch of interesting stuff in this week's NJ Jewish News:

A look at how Modern Orthodox and Conservative Jewish day schools are teaching evolution.

I interview religion writer Mark Pinsky on getting to know the evangelical next door.

Plus, local rabbis react to the cicumcision/herpes tragedy, with this quote from Avi Shafran:

“In the yeshivish haredi world, it is de rigueur to do metzitza bapeh,” Shafran told the New Jersey Jewish News. “I have seen it at all of the brisim [circumcisions] I have been to, including my own sons and one of my grandsons. There’s never anything to talk about. It’s just done.”

And this:
But Shafran of Agudath Israel insists that there is not enough evidence to reject the practice. “Show me the money — show me the sampling of cases,” he said. “If the transfer of virus was likely, we’d be seeing a large number of babies from the haredi communities showing up in hospitals. But they’re not….If there is no evidence, then the guesswork about the danger is just that. This is a terrible tragedy. But to leap from an isolated instance to say there’s a problem with a practice going on from time immemorial, when worldwide there are only a handful of cases where this is even a suspect, it’s not the monster people say it is.”

UPDATE: Rabbi Shafran writes on the topic in his weekly column:

And so the questions must be asked: Should religious practices be more subject than entertainment or vanity to governmental or societal coercion? Does that really square with our nation's commitment to religious freedom?


Rabbi Avi Shafran

Not long ago, a Jewish family in New York suffered a terrible tragedy, the death of one of their infant twin boys. The cause was determined to be an infection of herpes simplex type 1, the virus that causes cold sores - and for which, according to the National Institutes of Health, antibodies are present (indicating at least a one-time infection) in up to 90% of adults. The HSV-1 virus causes only discomfort in adults, but in a baby, with its undeveloped immune system, the infection can be more dangerous, even fatal on rare occasions. This case, sadly, was one of those rare occasions.

The tragedy, however, did not remain a private one. It became the focus of media reports around the world, because of the possibility, raised by New York City health authorities, that the infant may have contracted the virus from the ritual circumciser who performed his bris, or Jewish ritual circumcision. Since the circumciser, or mohel (plural: mohelim), applied oral suction to the wound, which is a part of the bris-procedure in many Jewish communities, the suspicion arose that the virus may have been present in the mohel, at least in a dormant stage, and may have thus passed on to the baby during the procedure.

The mohel in question, who is widely respected and experienced (he has reportedly performed over 12,000 circumcisions), is currently under order to refrain from the oral suctioning procedure and to undergo tests for the herpes virus. He is cooperating with health authorities.

Many Jewish ritual circumcisers, particularly in the haredi community, consider the time-honored - and, for most of Jewish history, universal - oral method to be an indispensable religious requirement. Others, though, address the Jewish religious law of applying suction to the wound (itself, interestingly, based on a health concern, the drawing of infectious agents away from the wound) by employing an intervening glass tube. Some use gauze compresses and dispense with the suction altogether.

And so calls have been issued to insist that all mohelim hew to those approaches.

Two doctors, for example, in a study in The Pediatrics Infectious Disease Journal urged that "public health officials and leaders of the Jewish community should act to modify the part of the circumcision ritual that involves direct oral contact with the blood... of neonates."

Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, an Orthodox rabbi and biologist, is even more adamant. "I'm particularly disturbed," he told a reporter, "that once this information becomes available, the mohelim don't do what they're told," namely dispense with the oral suctioning procedure.

In a medical paper in Pediatrics, a group of medical doctors and researchers, including Rabbi Dr. Tendler, assert, without evidence or citation, that "the great majority of ritual circumcisions" are performed without oral suction. They further declare that Orthodox religious authorities who insist on the traditional method (a list that includes some of the most distinguished rabbinic leaders of recent decades) have done so only because they "have felt threatened by criticism of the old religious customs."

Scientists should certainly offer the results of their research. They are perfectly welcome, too, to take positions on medically related matters. But when they begin to wax derisive of rabbinic authorities, impugning their motivations and challenging their religious decisions, expertise threatens to morph into arrogance.

To be sure, were infections like the one that took the life of the New York infant to be proven likely, or even common, results of oral suctioning, medical authorities would have the right to do what was necessary to protect the public - and religious authorities would be no less concerned. Indeed, even in Talmudic times, when a risk was perceived by the deaths of a baby's brothers after their circumcisions (implying hemophilia), the newborn was not to be circumcised at all unless it became clear that he was healthy.

But the evidence of material risk as a result of traditional circumcision is far from persuasive. In fact, a number of pediatricians and pediatric urologists with scores of years of experience between them serving communities in which countless baby boys were circumcised in the traditional manner - have reported that they have never seen even one case of circumcision-related herpes infection in newborns.

So if there is a risk in the age-old method, it does not appear at present to be a great one. And while our first reaction might well be to righteously insist that "any risk is too great," we might pause to consider: Is there no risk at all to circumcision itself? Or to any of myriad activities that society happily sanctions without any pang of conscience - not only things like bungee-jumping and motorcycle riding (or SUV driving), but prosaic activities, too, like high school football, cosmetic surgery and crossing city streets?

And so the questions must be asked: Should religious practices be more subject than entertainment or vanity to governmental or societal coercion? Does that really square with our nation's commitment to religious freedom?

They shouldn't, of course, and it doesn't.


[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America]

February 9, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

So-called "liberal" media praised for following Party line

USNews.com: Washington Whispers (2/14/05):

While Fox News Channel remains the favorite network of Republican lawmakers, NBC's new anchor, Brian Williams, is the one turning GOP heads. Message guru and former MSNBC contributor Frank Luntz says in a confidential memo to Hill leaders that Williams has emerged as the "go-to network anchor" because of his brains and "lack of detectable ideological bias."

Luntz credits NBC Executive Producer Steve Capus for "a flawless transition to a new generation of news anchor." Still, Fox and CNN lead the nets when it comes to GOP loyalty.

Good thing we have a press loyal to the Party. Nothing gets in the way of the wondeful world of spreading democracy like the press performing its watchdog functions.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Even New Yorker writers get the blues (and rock, and pop...)

Rock Museum Sues to Stop Jewish Rock Web Site

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum ...has asked a federal judge to stop two journalists and a radio company executive from putting up a Web site called the Jewish Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, saying the site will infringe on the original's trademark name and that the public would confuse the two...[T]he museum said journalists David Segal, Jeffrey Goldberg and radio executive Allen Goldberg "misappropriated Rock Hall's substantial intellectual property rights...." Jeffrey Goldberg, Washington correspondent for the New Yorker, said, "Speaking as a layman, I don't think they own rock and roll and I don't think they own the phrase 'Hall of Fame' and I know for sure they don't own the Jews."

Watch out, Joseph Siegman!

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Putting the loco in loco parentis

The New York Sun reports on "a proposed bill of rights aimed at protecting college students from political indoctrination in the classroom," a creation of lefty-turned-righty author David Horowitz.

The "Academic Bill of Rights" calls for students to be graded based on their reasoning and not their political beliefs. The measure also requires that professors offer diverse reading lists and "not use their courses for the purpose of political, ideological, religious or anti-religious indoctrination.... The bill also seeks to upend ideological conformity on campuses by insisting that decisions to hire and fire be made without regard to an academic's political views.

Josh Gerstein goes on to report:

Mr. Horowitz said his campaign for the measure has been bolstered by recent controversies about what he described as "extremist" professors at Columbia University and the University of Colorado.

Columbia is investigating allegations that professors in the school's Middle East studies department acted inappropriately toward students who expressed pro-Israel views.

And last week, Hamilton College in upstate New York canceled a speech by the then-chairman of the ethnic studies department at the University of Colorado, Ward Churchill, after it was disclosed that he had compared the victims of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center to the notorious Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann.

How are these two cases similar? The first, if true, may speak to Horowitz's point, that a professor was bullying students for their ideology. But the Churchill case is really about stupidity, not coercion. If a student gets an F because he's Zionist, then he deserves some sort of "protection." But do students really have a right not to hear from teachers who say stupid things?

February 8, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

When Harry Turtledove met Sue Fishkoff

Cross the detail-oriented alternate history approach of Harry Turtledove (whose novels explore what would have happened had the Confederate States of America won the war, or had World War II been interrupted by an interstellar alien invasion) with the Sue Fishkoff's profile of Chabad, and you get either a science fiction novel with a very small market, or an absolutely brilliant (if not totally comprehensible to an outsider) blog post: mentalblog.com: What if R. Shmaryahu Gourary became the Lubavitcher Rebbe? (Mental Blog)
After serving as his father in law's right hand man, Rabbi Gourary took a dormant Chassidic group [in 1951] and rebuilt it as a small but intellectually significant movement in Orthodox Judaism. While Lubavitch is hardly a large group, its scholarship, piety and mystical bent lend it a great deal of prestige in all Orthodox circles.
Schneersons? Soloveitchiks? Crown Heights? Boro Park? Boston? It's all there.

Still, I can't help wondering how the previous rebbe would have greeted an alien invasion....

(Reb Yudel)

Yossi KH on Sharon-Abbas

TheStar.com - Sharon, Abbas to declare truce, separately
"I've had a very unsettling experience these past few days," said Israeli analyst Yossi Klein Halevi. "I'm starting to feel strains of actual hope." Halevi, senior fellow at Jerusalem's Shalem Center, said that like most Israelis, he endured the past 4 1/2 years of intifada reminding himself that "we won't get fooled again" by the false promise of an Oslo-style peace process. "Now I'm wondering whether to let down my guard," he said. "There is a different dynamic now."
(Reb Yudel)

Gettin' them ol' Blackboard blues

Every now and then one runs across a tech blog that tells it like it is. For example, Blackboard Blues:
Unfortunately, I forgot the first principal of the Blackboard Learning System: Blackboard sucks.
My experience exactly.

February 7, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Google and the great Gaza sell-out

googlesettlement.gif"Sell Your Settlement! More Cash for Your Settlement." That's the message appearing on my Google Ads over on the left right now.

Nope, it's not sponsored by Ariel Sharon or Peace Now; it's from be-insurance-smart.com.

(A copy appears here on the right.)

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Our synagogues, our selves

My column on the OU kiddush club ban:

[B]eyond the issue of alcohol consumption there is a question about unity and authority, and what happens when community and self-expression collide.

And here's Reb Yudel's column on Buster.

February 4, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Scoop! Busted Buster Baxter visitee Emma Pike has at least one Jewish mother!

Someone sees the controversial Buster Baxter episode and files this report (emphases added): Daily Kos :: PBS's Buster airs on UNC-TV - society doesn't crumble

Well, this new Secretary of Education must have some kind of paranoid delusions because this show was as edgy and in-your-face gay agenda as, say, an episode of "Kate and Allie." Seriously! Buster arrived at the house, met one woman, she took him inside and said hi to another woman. Then, kid stuff - Buster cleverly noted that the two brothers, one African-American and one Caucasian, didn't look alike. They explained they were stepbrothers. Okay. The daughter did show a photo of the two moms and said it was special to her because it was a photo of people who meant a lot to her. Something like that.

I am waiting for the controversy. Their house is clean, the mom makes chocolate chip cookies, they are JEWISH.(was this the problem?) My son wondered why he couldn't light candles at dinner as they did. They prayed. Buster visited a farm, saw a guy milk cows, saw maple sugaring, ate a lot. The family and another family with two moms who were NOT mentioned in any way - it was all about kids - had a bonfire. They dragged out a Christmas tree to burn and yelled, "Goodbye Winter!" Oh, the dog ate Buster's gifts for his mom, and Buster fainted, but he recovered.

I was disappointed that it did not even PROVIDE an opportunity to talk about same sex marriage or couples and kids. I asked my son what he noticed about the families, and it was all about candles, how much sap it takes to make maple syrup, and the dog eating the presents. He did not notice the two moms at all, and he is a pretty observant kid.

Similarly, here's a report from
The Chicago Tribune:

got a copy of "Sugartime!" and watched it with my 2-year-old son, who has been a fan of "Buster" since it debuted last fall.

Though there is more than just a cavalcade of mothers in the episode -- Buster visits a dairy farm and a store selling maple sugar products -- mothers are the central theme of "Sugartime!" In addition to meeting the two mom-headed families, Buster spends a lot of time deciding what to get his own mom for Mother's Day (wisely, he decides against a dairy cow).

After meeting her family, he and Emma go to a nearby home, where Emma's friend Lily lives.

"She's one of my best friends," Emma says as they bike down a Vermont back road. "Tracy and Gina are her moms, and Tracy and Gina are friends of Gillian."

At Lily's house, Buster meets Tracy and Gina and their three children. With some of his new young friends in tow, he then heads to a family-run maple sugar store, where he meets a young boy named Cameron, who explains how maple syrup is made. At the store, Buster samples an odd Vermont treat: shaved ice with hot maple syrup, with a doughnut and a pickle piled on top.

"Interesting combination," Buster says diplomatically.

After buying some maple syrup treats, Buster and friends go to a local dairy farm, where the young rabbit meets some wobbly kneed baby cows and learns how cows are milked.

Buster's visit winds up with a feast at Lily's house, where all four moms and all six of their kids are ranged around a table. The feast doubles as a Sabbath meal for some members of the group, so candles are lit and traditional Hebrew prayers are briefly spoken.

Meanwhile, I'm waiting to hear back from the Public Affairs office of the Department of Education concerning the following question:
I understand that the show featured a Jewish sabbath candle-lighting ceremony. Does the Secretary think parents will be uncomfortable exposing children to that? Why or why not?

(Reb Yudel)

Education Secretary stands firm against 11-year-old Emma!

The AP has another interview with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who is not at all abashed about bashing Buster Baxter for visiting the 11-year-old daughter of two moms:
"We need to know what we're getting," Spellings said Tuesday. "We need to have a clearer, brighter line so that we don't discover late in the process that this is what is coming down the pike."
"Pike," indeed. What a funny, perhaps Freudian, reference to the girl at the center of the controvery, 11-year-old Emma Pike.

Who said the Bush Administration wasn't willing to play tough with children?

(Reb Yudel)

Today's obscure Israeli music query: Shultz

A reader writes:

Is there anything you can tell me about an Israeli band/performer that I
saw back in the 1980s in the East village that went by the name of
"Schultz"? A very strange but terrific group, consisting of a 270-lb.
man in a derby and sports jacket and a slight, hippyish
guitarist/bassist. Do you know if they ever recorded an album?
So, nu? Ever hear of him?

(Reb Yudel)

Busted Bunny Sends Sad Postcard of American Intolerance

On Monday, Andy asked for an op-ed. This is what he ended up with on Tuesday morning:

By Larry Yudelson

It turns out certain segments of America are sick and tired of tolerance and diversity. Don't believe me? Then talk to the rabbit. Buster Baxter, to be precise -- an animated bunny who parlayed his friendship with Arthur the Aardvark into a children's show of his own, "Postcards for Buster," another seemingly innocuous show wedged between Sesame Street and Arthur on public television.

Innocuous, that is, until the Bush Administration cottoned on to him last month.

Now, Buster Baxter is so busted. It seems he has more tolerance for diversity than does Uncle Sam.

You see, Buster visited maple farmers in Vermont, part of an ongoing journey across America designed in part "to help children understand and respect differences and learn to live in a multicultural society." In Vermont, as elsewhere, the focus of his show was on the child he stayed with, in this case the real, human, 11-year-old Emma Pike who, in an episode entitled "Sugartime!" taught Buster about maple syrup and dairy farming.

Emma knows a lot about farming. She also has two mommies.

So, in her first day as the new Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings decided the most burning issue on the American educational agenda was Buster Baxter's travel itinerary. She lashed out at PBS, suggested that the network refund the Department of Education grant which helps pay for Buster's show, writing to PBS that "Many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in this episode."

Diversity, it seems, goes only so far. While intolerance isn't exactly fashionable, anti-tolerance is becoming as hip as multiculturalism once was. When was the last time you heard a cabinet official declare that some 11-year-olds live outside the boundaries of American diversity and tolerance?

Spellings is not even the highest profile official taking part in this new era of anti-tolerance. That honor goes to President George W. Bush, who in response to questions about the Buster fracas offered patently false "statistics" to support his view of the threat posed by gay parents.

The Buster brouhaha cuts particularly close to home for me. In an earlier episode, Buster had paid a visit to New York City, and visited a boy named Ari, who wears a kippah, tzitzis, and attends the Ramaz day school.

I remembered being 11 years old, the only kid on my block who went to a Jewish school or who wore a kippah away from synagogue.

It would have felt great to have seen another kid like me on television, even if he did consort with an animated bunny.

I'm sure that's how a lot of Buster's young viewers felt when they saw children just like them: The Mormon kids, the five siblings who share a bedroom in a trailer, the children of Laotian refugees. All real kids, from (so far) 24 different states. You can meet a lot of different people in America, particularly if your father's a pilot and you have your own camera crew.

At PBS, the limits of diversity are no longer subject only to the imaginations of writers and producers, and the pluralism represented by real-life, tax-paying, law-abiding citizens.

The limits of diversity are now being drawn by the Secretary of Education.

Is Spellings correct when she says that "many parents" would object to the show? And, having stated that by law such programs must pay attention to "research-based educational objectives," does she have any research to back up her contention?

And what does the research say about us Jews and our place on PBS? Does she know with certainty that there are not many parents who would object to their children being exposed to Orthodox Judaism?

The nature and timing of Spellings attack on Buster Baxter - or, to be accurate, on Emma Pike and her family - bespeaks a deliberate desire by the administration to jump on the anti-tolerance campaign for political purposes. (At press time, the Department of Education had not yet replied to my email asking how Spellings learned of the episode in question.)

Spellings' remarks came one week after Focus on the Family leader James Dobson attacked SpongeBob SquarePants and other cartoon characters for taking part in a campaign that promoted tolerance of people of different races, religions, national origins, and sexual identities.

And it came the same day leaders of the Evangelical Christian movement told The New York Times they would not support President Bush's Social Security privatization efforts unless the president came forward on issues they saw as important.

For the president, hurting the feelings of an 11-year-old girl is a small price for whatever it is he has in mind for Social Security.

So let's enjoy the reruns of Buster's visit to Ari while we can. Because Ari's - and our - place on public television and the American scene is no longer a pluralistic given.

No, our new Secretary of Education has made herself clear: Tolerance extends only as far as she deems fit, only as far as what - in her own, unscientific, politically calibrated estimation -- "many parents" dictate.

It's not what I was taught America was about, but I guess things have changed.

Just ask Buster Baxter. He'll tell you that, personally, he finds diversity and tolerance swell. It's what he loves about traveling America.

But he'll also add a warning: Throughout history, intolerance and scapegoating have combined to build a winning platform for aspiring politicians. It's a platform that our new Secretary of Education chose to ascend her first day in office.


Larry Yudelson lives in Teaneck, where his children would rather watch Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers fight bad guys than learn about dairy farming.

(Reb Yudel)

Haredi leader confesses: Torah values can't solve urban problems!

Or so we can deduce from the editor's note in the latest Jewish Observer, apologizing for parts of its recent article celebrating the 80th anniversary of Bnai Brak, Israel's leading haredi city:
Several readers...took... exception to some critical remarks regardnig aspects of Bnai Brak -- that are likely no different from the situation found in other large cities.
Not having read the offending article, we have no idea whether the reference was to traffic jams, jay walking, or something more serious.

But: Likely no different from other cities? You mean, they might be unique to TorahTown?

And even if not, shouldn't -- if Haredi propagandists are to be believed -- following Torah make the city better than less pious places?

February 3, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

For the record: Teaching Buster Baxter's Travels

Postcards from Buster . Lesson Plans | PBS Kids gives a good taste of where Buster travelled, before being busted for consorting with gays in Vermont.

Particularly noteworthy is this lesson plan (pdf file) for episode 127, wherein "Buster observes shabbos and goes to a bat mitzvah party in Manhattan."

Other parts of the lesson plan include:

City life
Cultural traditions: Orthodox Jewish

Discussing rituals and rules
We have to… We don’t…
We’re not allowed to…
You have to… Can you…?
Why do you do that? Because…

City life: skyscraper, subway,
taxi, traffic, apartment, elevator

Compare Cultures. Have students compare the Jewish rituals Aryeh’s family observes,
such as shabbos, with their own family rituals. Create Venn diagrams

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The Passion of Shakespeare

Unconvincing Shylock-Mel Gibson comparison in the Chicago Tribune:

The dramatic engine of "The Merchant of Venice" is the Shylock character, a money-grubbing Jew fixated on literally having a pound of Christian flesh. Yet the movie has drawn respectful reviews, not picket lines, perhaps because it is easier to criticize Gibson than Shakespeare.

Gibson is a Hollywood actor. He is a self-advertised conservative Catholic.

But Shakespeare is the Bard. His poetic diction established the modern English language.

The author misses a big difference between Gibson and Shakespeare, and why we give one a pass and not the other. Shakespeare takes a stock villain and attempts to humanize him; Gibson takes human beings and turns them back into stock villains.

"Merchant" seems to take the anti-Semitism that was a given in Shakespeare's day and tries to explore both it's causes and effects in dramatic form. On the surface, Shakespeare hands his audience a stock Elizabethan character-- and if he were an average dramatist, he would have left it at that, the way a modern tv drama paints its villains in the broad, stereotypical colors. But Shakespeare is not an average dramatist, and subverts his audience's expectations: Shylock is villainous but human; we see how the hatred of the Christians wounds him, which in turns indicts the Christian characters for their "un-Christian" behavior.

Gibson, by contrast, comes along at at time when anti-Semitism is on the wane in Christian teachings, and re-injects it into the middle of his Christian narrative. He doesn't attempt to humanize or understand Jesus' Jewish protagonists (any rachmones that he might display is extended toward Pontius Pilate, the Roman). He turns them back into stock villains, straight out of medieaval mystery play.

(Reb Yudel)

Do you know where your congressman's finger has been?

John Podesta on the State of Union Address:

While I truly admire the courage of the people of Iraq for going to the polls on Sunday, watching members of the house hold up their ink stained fingers is ironic since Tom DeLay won’t let them vote on anything.

February 2, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Should this television show be rated OU?

The Town Crier notes that the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America has signed on to a letter urging President Bush to support the FCC clamp-down on indecency in his selection of a new head for the agency.

Call me a libertarian, but wouldn't it be more effective -- and less statist -- to apply a free-market solution?

I think the OU should provide its popular trademarked hechsher to shows it considers kosher.

Today, vegetarians and observant Muslims look for the OU symbol to know that food (and, now, cough syrup) is free of animal products.

Tomorrow, the rated "OU" could tell concerned parents which shows contain no nudity, short skirts, or pre-marital hand-holding.

(Reb Yudel)

Merciful fathers? Deceptive authors? Shalit and Twersky at, well, cross-currents

At 21, I was on the outside looking in, on my first trip to Israel with a friend who was, like me, a Reform Jew. One day, we wandered into a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem, and suddenly there were black hats and side curls everywhere. My friend pointed out a group of men wearing odd fur hats. ''Those,'' he explained, ''are the really mean ones.''

I never questioned our snap judgment of these people until, a few years later, I returned to study at an all-girls seminary and was surprised to discover that my teachers, whom I adored, were men and women from this same community.

Wendy Shalit
The New York Times Sunday Book Review Essay: The Observant Reader

Every child who falls between the cracks [of our yeshiva educational system] is a child at risk. Any family that has suffered the tragedy of a child who has left the Torah fold is devastated. I have had parents tell me that they wish they would receive a telephone call telling them that their child had been killed in a plane crash. [emph. added]

Dr. Aaron Twersky
"Our Burgeoning Yeshivos" in the latest issue of The Jewish Observer, the magazine of the ultra-Orthodox haredi movement.

(Reb Yudel)

The American Alliance of Jews and Christians

Ever hear of American Alliance of Jews and Christians? Me neither. But looking into James Dobson (enemy of non-homophobic cartoon characters and defender of the Passion movie on that grounds that noone can "believe that the Gospels — written by Jews about a Jewish Messiah and His Jewish disciples — are anti-Semitic?") I stumbled across:

The American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC) is led by Rabbi Daniel Lapin. The Alliance unites American Jews with Christians on behalf of traditional values.

The AAJC’s Board of Advisers includes Dr. James Dobson, Gary Bauer, Charles Colson, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Rev. Pat Robertson, Pastor Rick Scarborough, as well as Rabbi Barry Freundel, Rabbi David Novak, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Michael Medved, John Uhlmann.

Rabbi Lapin, president of Toward Tradition, comments: “Let us remember that friendship is a two-way street. American Christians consistently stand by Israel, and while they ask nothing in return, they deserve friendship and support from American Jews. Christians seek an America that is strong both morally and materially, as do Jews, and such an America is the best friend Israel can have.”

Lapin, you may recall, has recently crossed the line toward self-hatred in his criticism of "the role that people with Jewish names play in the coarsening of our culture" which he punctuated with a quote from Adolph Hitler. (See the bottom of this post for details).

As Jonathan Tobin of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent recently put it, "who but an anti-Semite or a Jew who hates liberals more than he despises Jew-haters would place the blame for this solely on the Jews?" Tobin added, "Blaming liberals for anti-Semitism is as vile as blaming it on Jewish actors."

It's worth keeping an eye on the other members of this group. Who else, in Tobin's phrase, "hates liberals more than he despises Jew-haters"? And who else will go native, spending so much time with the anti-American Christian groups that they see everything through rosary-colored glasses?

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)


Ami Eden replies to the fallout from his NY Times oped on anti-Semitism.

I had problems with Ami's piece, especially his contention that the moral power of the defense groups is being threatened by "an increasing reliance on raw political muscle over appeals to conscience." I think that put too much of the blame on the groups (and left him open to the charge that he had bought into the anti-Semite's fantasies of Jewish power), and not enough on the anti-tolerance camp that is exploiting their newfound political clout to marginalize diversity as "P.C." or "extremist."

UPDATE: Besides, I think he's wrong in labeling the tools used by the defense groups as "raw political power." Raw political power is what the PACs demonstrate when they flood a congressional race with cash to oust an unfriendly candidate. What ADL and SWC wielded is a sort of raw MORAL power, based on their ability to level or withhold a charge of anti-Semitism. That, of course, depends on whether such a chrage is considered damning. What O'Reilly and Gibson discovered is that the Jewish groups' power of moral suasion has eroded -- not because the Jews played the Holocaust card too often, but because the culture has become intolerant of tolerance. Their antagonists rightly calculated that being labeled anti-Semitic is not only no longer the stigma it once was, but that such a label can actually HELP them play to their base. That was Gibson's genius -- not Foxman's failing.

But I think Ami was right in diagnosing that the effectiveness of these orgs is on the wane -- witness O'Reilly's labeling Foxman a "nut" -- and they are going to have to rethink how to play the whistleblower. I think the answer lies in coalition-building -- let their Christian allies carry the water on Gibson-like controversies, for example, or quietly urge the British version of Veterans of Foreign Wars to lead the charge against a Harry. I think the Jewish community loses the battle whenever reporters write a sentence like "Baraka delivered a poem that JEWISH GROUPS considered anti-Semitic." Think how much more effective it would be to read that "civil rights groups and civic leaders considered the poem hateful.") Of course, that means less visibility for Foxman and Hier, which would hurt their bottom lines (and now I'm sounding like Daniel Lapin).

February 1, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Tuma, Tahara and Mada: AJS session on 'Purity from the Bible to the Mishna'

Today's lucky Google find: “Purity from the Bible to the Mishna,” a collection of papers from a session of the 2003 convention of the Association for Jewish Studies. As the introduction explains:

The recent years have witnessed a spate of studies on the topic of ‎purity in ancient Israel, spanning the Bible, the book of Jubilees, the Dead ‎Sea Scrolls, the Mishna, and more. The seminal work of the past several ‎decades has been that of Jacob Milgrom, culminating in his massive ‎multivolume Leviticus commentary (Anchor Bible) (1991-2001). Three ‎monographs devoted specifically to our subject are those of Hyam Maccoby, ‎Ritual and Morality: The Ritual Purity System and Its Place in Judaism ‎‎(1999), Jonathan Klawans, Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism (2000), and ‎Christine Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and ‎Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud (2002).

For the record, I've browsed Milgrom's magestrial commentary but have not read the other works under consideration.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The brains in the family

My brilliant, quotable wife.