March 31, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Maybe we shouldn't teach the kids the Haggadah

Tzvi Grumet suggests a different approach to the Pesah Seder

The current popular practice of studying the Haggadah in advance, so that the children (or their parents) can recite insights about the text of the Haggadah, is unknown to the authors of the Mishnah, and may even contravene the essence of the design of the seder. The oral and interactive/dynamic transmission during the seder was a seminal part of its conception.

Creating a contemporary educational program for the seder needs to focus on the parents as much as on the children, restoring the parent's role as a key transmitter of an oral tradition, and should account for the essentially non-text component of the evening.

In the younger grades, model seders should be held for parents, and not their children.

Educational packets should present parents with the tools for leading a seder which positions the children at the center of an inquisitive process directed by the parents; as their children grow, parents need to be taught how to encourage their children to ask more substantive questions.

Classroom activities can include the opening up of questions, which the students can then bring to their respective seders while their parents can be clued in to the types of questions their children will be asking and workshops offered them to help them formulate appropriate responses or direct further discussion.

In this manner, the dynamic created at the seder table will be a model of oral transmission, and a true reflection of the design established by the Mishnaic sages.

March 30, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

What's anti-Semitic, hates America, builds bombs, and not a terrorist?

A right-wing racist militia, reports Congressional Quarterly's Justin Rood:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does not list right-wing domestic terrorists and terrorist groups on a document that appears to be an internal list of threats to the nation’s security.

According to the list — part of a draft planning document obtained by CQ Homeland Security — between now and 2011 DHS expects to contend primarily with adversaries such as al Qaeda and other foreign entities affiliated with the Islamic Jihad movement, as well as domestic radical Islamist groups.

It also lists left-wing domestic groups, such as the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), as terrorist threats, but it does not mention anti-government groups, white supremacists and other radical right-wing movements, which have staged numerous terrorist attacks that have killed scores of Americans.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

O.U. kid

Purimshpiel from the Jewish Press:

Purim Bulletin:OU Calls For Immediate Ban On Shul Candymen

By Harris S. Judah

Coming less than 24 hours after a lengthy full-day meeting at the OU’s offices last Tuesday, the organization’s newly formed Synagogues-are-Only-for- Services (S.O.S.) advisory panel issued a carefully worded but clearly outright condemnation of shul candymen.

For some the ban was no surprise. “This is something they wanted to do for a long time,” said Rabbi David Sherbert, whose Five Towns synagogue has already taken steps to outlaw the practice. “We understand that our candyman’s upset that his talis bag is missing, but the shul’s bought him a new one — which he’ll receive right after Shabbos — and, frankly, it’s a lot nicer than the one he had before.”

March 28, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Zim Golly Golly: The Megillah according to Dylan

By Rabbi Don Cashman, P'nai Sholom, Albany, NY. Download the PDF

Grogger sounds ring out in the Purim night
Enter the rabbi through the synagogue door
He wears a costume, and a crazy hat
Carrying a bottle, and something more

Here is the story of the Esther Scroll
A fun holiday, a joy to behold
Especially when you do it here
Where the same old Megillah you won’t rehear
we take fun seriousleee

(ooo –ahh 2X – watch for fiddle solo)

All the Jewish rabbis wearing tallitot
Are free to drink tequila and sit and gloat
While Christian clergy prepare to promote
Their solemn holiday, I don’t mean Sukkot

Here is the story of the Esther scroll
A crazy holiday with no self-control
Especially at B’nai Sholom
Where the same old megilah takes new life
in the cold Albany night

That, of course, is only the beginning....

March 27, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Do you think we will have a special weekend session of Congress to stop the Dafur genocide?

asks Bull Moose.

March 25, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Government shouldn't meddle in Schiavo case

Reb Yudel's mother comments in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. I excerpt the only paragraph that's not a tear-jerker:
With each twist and turn in the current case, I ask myself, "What does this have to do with the legislative and executive branches of government? What right have a state Legislature, the Congress, the president to intervene in such an intimate, private matter? Why do people who have neither known nor loved Ms. Schiavo think they know what she would want? What gives them the right to presume what God wants for her?"
(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

What's a Jewish issue?

I tackle the debate in this column.

And yet Orthodox Jews total less than 10 percent of the American Jewish body politic, according to most surveys. For most American Jews, picking and choosing within the Jewish tradition is a way of life — Torah has a vote, but certainly no veto. For them, tikun olam is not a replacement for Torah, but a way of articulating the broader impulse that they say grows naturally from the place where Jewish law, the prophetic tradition, history, and sociology combine.

(Reb Yudel)

From when does one recite Goodnight Moon?

Excerpted from "Our People's Story Book: Traditional Stories, Modern Commentaries - Good Night Moon" published by Jewish Night Lights Publishing:

GEMARA: Until eight? What does that mean? Rav and Shmuel argued.

Rav said: Until eight in the evening, for it is as my father taught: “No story for you, young man, if you’re not in bed by bedtime.” Can it be that bedtime is eight? Is it not written (Kohelet, 7:30), “of making of bedtimes there is no end”? [The cases of ] Kings are different, as it is written, “And David addressed them, saying: “You kids don’t know how good you have it. If I wanted a bedtime psalm growing up, I had to write it myself.”

The volume also includes historical perspectives:
“Goodnight Moon” holds the distinction of being rejected by almost every modern edition of the traditional bedtime liturgy. In 1819, the Hamburg Reform Liturgy and Children’s Programming Committee voted to reject Goodnight Moon as “contrary to the spirit of the age.”

Particularly upsetting to their sensibilities were the reference to the cow jumping over the moon — “contrary to all we know about astronomy,” as one committee member huffed, and the illustration of the uneaten, “unhygienic” bowl of mush.

Shortly thereafter, the Hungarian Orthodox authority, the “Burna Sefer,” would ban the age-old story as “reeking of heresy” after his granddaughter pointed out the “old lady whispering hush,” in defiance of the Mosaic prohibitions against women raising — or lowering — their voices.

Read it all in the Purim issue of Sh'ma, or download the PDF.

March 24, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Micha Odenheimer discovers American Jews discovering spirituality

The latest is his ongoing series for Ha'aretz visits the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and other outposts of liberal Judaism where God is being rediscovered. "In the holy spirit of the times" has too many excellent gems to excerpt, so just read the darn thing.

(Reb Yudel)

Jolkovsky Liberates Klein Halevy! from DC Liberals!

By reprinting Yossi's article In withdrawal, which originally appeared in The New Republic's subscriber-only online edition:

If soldiers' refusals to participate in the Gaza withdrawal endanger the cohesiveness of the IDF, they also threaten to undo many of the gains made by Israel's religious Zionists in the past decade.

In recent years, the religious Zionist community has been split between cultural moderates, who participate in secular culture and have even produced a religious feminist movement, and conservatives, who mimic the stringent observance and separatism of the fervently-Orthodox.

Though the moderates are a majority, massive refusals would pull the community closer to self-ghettoization. Indeed, voices calling on religious Zionists to separate from a supposedly hedonistic Israel that is betraying its pioneering roots are growing.

And some are even invoking the rhetoric of the most extreme fervently-Orthodox anti-Zionists — challenging the basic premise of religious Zionism, which sanctifies the Jewish state as the harbinger of the messianic era. A recent op-ed by Professors Arieh Zaritsky and Nissim Amzallag in Hatzofeh, the religious Zionist daily, called for "unilateral withdrawal from the state of Israel, including surrender of our Israeli citizenship." One leaflet circulating among settlers adds, "Their flag isn't our flag.... [The Zionist state] is a rebellion against God, a war against the Torah, the land of Israel, and the people of Israel."

(Reb Yudel)

Who's Brain Dead Now?

Could someone explain this Jewish World Review headline to me: Largest grassroots Orthodox Jewish group to Michael Schiavo: Spare your wife's life?

Since when does Agudath Israel -- which as presently constructed vehemently rejects the views of the grassroots, and only follows the top-down direction of its rabbinic masters -- call itself a 'grass-roots' organization?

March 23, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

We are the World (Bank): Wolfowitz' Arab romance raises neighbors' eyebrows, ire

What Will the Neighbors Say? Wolfowitz Romance Stirs Gossip (
Social Washington has been buzzing for months about the discreet romance between Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Shaha Riza, an Arab feminist and a communications adviser at the World Bank. Now that he's been nominated to head the bank and their relationship has become public, some of Riza's neighbors have become irked enough to dish.

Turns out that some Iraq war foes in the diplomat-heavy neighborhood south of American University don't seem to appreciate that Wolfowitz regularly spends the night at Riza's home. Two residents told us that Wolfowitz's guards wait in a car outside until he departs early in the morning.

Wolfowitz, 61, and Riza, who's said to be in her mid-fifties, are both divorced. They have declined to publicly discuss their relationship but share a desire to democratize the Middle East. Riza, an Oxford-educated British citizen, was born in Tunisia and grew up in Saudi Arabia. She's known for her expertise on women's rights and has been listed on the bank's Web site as a media contact for Iraq reconstruction issues. Acquaintances say Riza and Wolfowitz have been a couple for nearly two years.

(Reb Yudel)

Who needs Touro uMadda, when you have

From the Teaneck Shuls list:

A new college program for yeshiva students is being offered in conjunction with Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck. The degree is a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management.

We expect students to be able to complete the program in two years or less, bein hazmanim only.

Two courses (6 credits) are being offered during this Chodesh Nissan. Courses are given offsite (at a local shul) by male instructors.

Sounds like there's a discrimination suit there waiting to be filed.

And I wonder how well those degrees will go over with the Israel Department of Education....

March 22, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Advice from James Wolcott

James Wolcott says:
Whenever a Voice of Moderation addresses liberals, its sole purpose is to stomp out any real sign of life.

March 14, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Pay no attention to the man at 3080 Broadway

AP reports on the Conservative Rabbinic Assembly confab. Though the piece leads with JTS chancellor, on the whole it appears that wisdom, once again, is coming from Boston, not Broadway:

Jonathan Sarna, an expert on American Jewish history at Brandeis University, said the Conservative branch began faltering when it decided to more rigorously define itself, narrowing its appeal. Synagogues that once felt welcome, believed they didn't fit in anymore and broke away.

Among the issues that drove some out: The movement's decisions over the last two decades to ordain women and to not ordain gays, although the role of homosexuals is once again under review by the movement's Law Committee. The Reform movement ordains gays and women, while the Orthodox do not.

"Some left because the Conservative movement wasn't liberal enough and some left because it was too liberal," said Sarna, who spoke at the assembly. "The tent has become smaller and smaller."

Sarna said the Reform and Orthodox movements have succeeded partly because they are tolerant of a spectrum of practices in a way that the Conservative branch is not.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Postion wanted: Tri-lingual non-profit administrator with legal background seeks compatible career.

Gannett News Service advice columnist fields a question from a rabbi:

"I am an energetic, 61-year-old rabbi who will be leaving my pulpit of 21 years in August 2006 and moving to Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla., where my son and daughter-in-law live. I wonder what skill sets you feel I might have and what related jobs and salaries I might look forward to applying for."

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

"Our Germans are better than their Germans."

The Forward's Ami Eden clocks in on Sen. Byrd's Nazi analogy:

Byrd's Nazi analogy was objectionable on several levels. But more offensive, perhaps, was the sanctimonious and frenzied response of GOP officials and activists who have ignored or downplayed even more egregious Nazi comparisons emanating from their own ranks.

March 13, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Former New Voices editor Mik Moore takes on Abe Foxman

Does Abe Foxman Speak for You?:
In your statement, you claim that it was "hideous, outrageous and offensive for Senator Byrd to suggest that the Republican Party's tactics could in any way resemble those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party." This is ridiculous. Senator Byrd's comparison is both fair and accurate. He argues that Hitler came to power "with, and not against, the power of the State" and "turned the law inside out and made illegality legal." The Republican attempt to eliminate the filibuster to force the confirmation of radical right wing judges, thereby ending the long-standing Senate tradition of unlimited debate, is a Republican ploy to consolidate power.

Byrd never suggests a remote resemblance between the Republican agenda and Hitler's agenda. He doesn't suggest that the Republicans are using Hitler's tactics as a model. He doesn't call Republicans "Nazis" or "Nazi-like" or even fascists. He doesn't warn of a possible holocaust if Republicans succeed in ending unlimited debate in the Senate. His points are simple and clear: minority rights are vital to democracy and should be protected vigorously; procedural changes can have serious consequences.

(Reb Yudel)

Democracy begins at home? asks whatever happened to the glory days of the Gingrinch Revolution:

This report examines in detail how, over the past two years, the Republican leadership ignored the House Rules and the basic standards of legislative fairness and regular order with an impunity that is unprecedented in the history of the House of Representatives.

March 11, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Big shul hires woman rabbi

By hiring Francine Roston, Congregation Beth El in South Orange, NJ, becomes the largest Conservative synagogue led by a woman rabbi. See Reb Yudel's report in the NJ Jewish News.

Plus, a Silow-Carroll column (inspired by one of RY's posts ) on "secular" Judaism and those who would deride it:

There’s even a growth industry among Jewish conservatives in blaming secularists for the decline of just about everything. They tend to refine this thesis in the company of their Evangelical friends by singling out the Jews among the non-believers.

March 10, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

"The reality is that there is a limit to how much funding is available for Jewish creativity"

The Jewish Week reports:
After five years aiding the launch of some of the country’s most innovative and successful programs to reach young Jewish adults, the organization Joshua Venture is closing its doors at the end of this month.

In a Feb. 18 memo e-mailed to those connected with the group, Joshua Venture executives wrote that although the project has “achieved real impact and the need for the program still exists … the current incarnation is not sustainable despite efforts by the board, founding funders and other funding partners to move it forward. Therefore the board has decided to close down operations.”

March 9, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

The Lord's Our Shepherd Says the Psalm

But just in case, MSNBC interactive has a nifty interactive graphic of where Israel has stashed the Bomb.
(Reb Yudel)

Pre-Purim thoughts on Providence, the Lord and the Ring

Ralph the Sacred River: What Almost Happened at the Cracks of Doom
Since March 25 is fast approaching — the day on which the Ring of Power was destroyed at the Cracks of Doom (as well as the Feast of the Annunciation and, this year, Good Friday [and Purim]) — it is interesting to read about Tolkien's initial conceptions of the event.

March 8, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

What do you call someone who won't drive on Shabbos but prefers promoting ribis to helping the poor and sick?

ex-Senator Lieberman

March 7, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Israel's first mass pillow fight: 500 participants, no injuries

As seen in - Haaretz - הארץ of all places! click for the photos.
קרב הכריות ההמוני הראשון הסתיים ללא נפגעים

מאת שחר סמוחה קהל מאושר ופרוע שמנה לפחות 500 בני אדם השתתף בקרב בכיכר רבין

למרות הגשם, קהל מאושר ופרוע שמנה לפחות 500 בני אדם השתתף אתמול (שני) בקרב הכריות ההמוני הראשון שנערך בישראל, בכיכר רבין שבתל אביב. מארגני האירוע, חברי חבורת "מובייל קלאבינג" המסתורית, המשיכו באמצעותו מסורת שהגיעה לישראל בשנה האחרונה, ומטרתה להוציא אנשים מהבית, להזיז קצת את העצמות ולשמוח. האירוע הראשון שקיימה "מובייל קלאבינג" בישראל היה מסיבת ריקודים בכיכר דיזינגוף שהמשתתפים בה חבשו אוזניות ורקדו איש איש לצלילי הקצב האישי שלו.

(tip of the kova tembel to M.K.)
(Reb Yudel)

Blogging from Damascus

Amarji - A Heretic's Blog is the title of the blog, run by a an American-educated Syrian activist.
This is the year of decision for Syria, barring some miraculous recovery by the opposition and devil society dissidents, our fate will be determined by a potentially bloody showdown between the various power centers in the regime. Reform is not the issue here, but promises of reform will be on everybody’s lips.
(Reb Yudel)

Thoughts on the Evil Inclination

A new blog, A Frum Guy's Yetzer Hara, tries to be an online support group for men dealing with impure, aka sexual, thoughts.

Best line so far:

When students at Yeshivat Netiv Aryeh complain to their Rosh Yeshiva (R' Bina) about having sexual thoughts, he has a habit of responding "Well, at least you're not gay..."

(Reb Yudel)

Why do Christians hate America? Why does Michael Medved hate Jews?

The Light Of Reason has lengthy excerpts from the National Religious Broadcasters' convention.

See Michael Medved declare all of us who aren't fundamentalist fellow travellers to be apostates.

See a Christian broadcaster proclaim her loyalty to America is second only to her loyalty to Israel.

Read this and ask: If, having come for the communists and trade unionists they come for me and the other liberal Jews, will any of the "Jewish" Republicans raise a peep?

March 6, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

All for Peace Radio

Listen to All for peace Radio, an Israeli-Palestinian radio station
The idea of a joint Israeli-Palestinian radio station is unique and innovative, and one through which we can bring the vast accumulated experience of both the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva and the Palestinian organization Biladi - The Jerusalem Times to bear through the electronic media and reach a new audience, previously not exposed to the message of peace, and bring to them our message.
(Reb Yudel)

Disengagement: Yossi likes it!

The Connecticut Post reports on a local mission to Israel, with this tidbit from YudelLine's favorite Israeli analyst and '80s indie movie star:
Yossi Klein Halevi, an Israeli author, told them he felt more optimistic about Israel's future than any time since the 1993 Oslo accords.

Halevi said the advantages of Israel's planned unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip outweigh the primary disadvantage: that Palestinians might see it as a weakness. It will be interesting to see, he added, if the sovereign Palestinian state left behind dismantles its refugee camps or not.

March 4, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

PostModern Orthodoxy

Jerusalem's Kehilla Yedidya joins the discussion on Women and communal Torah reading as it decides whether to give women aliyot. Biur Chametz has the details.
(Reb Yudel)

Asparqlaria explains two Talmudic traditions

Aspaqlaria expounds on the Brisk and Telzh:

Still, the mussar roots of Telzh meant that the notion that halakhah as a whole has a purpose was a given. As was the idea that the purpose is sheleimas ha'adam, completion of the self.

Therefore, while Brisk sought the explanation of individual laws in terms of halachic principles, Telzh looked for the purposive explanation. Therefore while Brisk looked at multiple opinions of a single case, or multiple cases, Telzh focused on the singular. Even if looking at multiple opinions, it was to find what they shared in common, not to find contrast. What do these opinions say about what is essential about the meaning, purpose and role of the mitzvah?

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

This week in the NJ Jewish News: Saks, plugs, and absolutely no rock n' roll

New this week at the NJ Jewish News:

Reb Yudel on the Edah conference (and a profile of Jeff Saks, founder of the Israeli Modern Orthodox education outfit ATID)

A look at an effort by the Union of Reform Judaism to recruit NJ synagogues in “intense” effort to reassert a liberal religious political agenda.

And Silow-Carroll on CampusJ, and the brouhaha at Columbia:

Beery came to my attention thanks to a new Web site called CampusJ, the brainchild of journalist and blogger Steven I. Weiss. I’ve written before about Weiss, who is on a personal crusade to save Judaism and journalism from, well, folks like me.


(Reb Yudel)

Open Orthodoxy in Action

Washington Jewish Week profiles growth of two frum shuls in the District of Columbia, one Chabad and the other headed by Avi Weiss protoge Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld.

An Orthodox blossoming In District, traditional offerings grow, as do names

by Paula Amann

News Editor

For years, Kesher Israel Congregation has carried a neighborhood tag, the Georgetown Synagogue. Last fall, another District synagogue expanded its name and seemingly its mission, as Ohev Sholom Talmud Torah also became the National Synagogue.

At the same season, the American Friends of Lubavitch in the city's Kalorama area took on the title, Shul of the Nation's Capital, as it launched weekly Saturday morning Shabbat services, in addition to holiday and Friday evening worship.

The name change, says Rabbi Levi Shemtov, AFL's Washington director, have flowed out of the expanded religious menu, which in past years, was confined to major Jewish holidays.

"We are not the pedestrian synagogue with a large board of directors and an overarching bureaucracy," said Shemtov. "We're simply a place where anyone who wants to come to enjoy services is welcome to do so."

He has also invited guests to the shul, including author-congregant Tom Diaz this week and on Friday, Cantor Jeff Nadel of Potomac's Beth Sholom Congregation and Talmud Torah.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom justifies his modern Orthodox congregation's new moniker as one more inviting to newcomers.

"We're living in Greater Washington, the least affiliated Jewish community in the country. We need a tag line that makes us accessible, that makes people feel welcome," said Herzfeld. "While we're proud of Ohev Shalom Talmud Torah, it's a mouthful."

Kesher Israel's Rabbi Barry Freundel declined to comment on the nomenclature changes at neighboring Orthodox congregations.

Meanwhile, Ann Chernicoff, 23, a coordinator of the D.C. Beit Midrash, which meets weekly at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, applauds the wider range of services now available to District Jews.

"Having more Jewish options in the area definitely strengthens our program," said Chernicoff, a District resident and federal contractor.

But she suggested that recent name changes by District congregations might prove puzzling to some Jews seeking a spiritual home.

"Particularly as the establishment of these new groups enhances the variety of options in D.C., I think it makes the pull to brand that much stronger, but it also makes it more confusing to newcomers," Chernicoff said.

Jeremy Kadden, a steering committee member for the traditional DC Minyan, which holds services at the DCJCC, hails the religious explosion in the District.

"The more, the merrier. We feel whatever brings Jewish life to this area is a good thing," said Kadden, 27. "Each group is filling a different niche. We don't feel like there's a competition."

Herzfeld, meanwhile, is widely credited with bolstering what was seen as a flagging congregation. Former synagogue president Leonard Goodman points to a "complete transformation" at Ohev Sholom.

As recently as a year ago, daily morning and Friday evening services had ceased there, for want of people.

"There's no comparison," said the District's Goodman, 71, a member since 1979. "We had trouble meeting a minyan" or Jewish quorum of 10 men, at that time.

He recalls keeping the 16th Street shul open on Friday evenings, just in case a visitor happened by.

"I didn't want them to find a locked door," said Goodman.

Now, he reports, between 40 and 200 people attend Friday and Saturday morning services, depending on the program and the weather. He credits the young new rabbi, who joined Ohev Sholom last summer, with the shul's metamorphosis.

"The biggest magnet is Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld; he is so warm, so welcoming," Goodman said. "I have had a person say they would not want to join an Orthodox congregation -- except this one."

Herzfeld has instituted an array of new programs, including such guest speakers as scholar-educator Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg and author-speaker Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who both visited the shul last fall.

A promotion in December offered a free pair of tefillin to "make you feel like a minyon" for the first 20 people who attended morning services 30 times in the next 60 days.

(Reb Yudel)

How the Bush Administration turned a government agency into another tool of the Republican Party

The Stakeholder :: Pelosi, Waxman: SSA Politicized

WASHINGTON - Today Reps. Henry A. Waxman, Rep. Charles B. Rangel, and Rep. Sander M. Levin, along with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and Reps. Obey, Miller, and DeLauro, released a new report that shows how the Social Security Administration has modified its communications strategy to undermine public confidence in Social Security.

The report, based on a review of over 4,000 pages of Social Security documents from 1995 to 2005, reveals that the agency has systematically altered agency publications, press releases, PowerPoint presentations, website content, and even its annual statements to foster the impression that Social Security is "unsustainable" and "must change." The agency's new pessimistic tone and emphasis echo President Bush's warnings about the future of Social Security.

"The job of the Social Security Administration is to run the Social Security program, not to provide political cover for President Bush," said Rep. Waxman. "The agency has sacrificed its independence and abandoned its tradition of nonpartisan administration of Social Security."

"This blatant change in message and tactics is shameless politicization," said Rep. Levin.

"The Bush Administration must stop using the SSA as it tries to scare up support for privatizing Social Security. The agency must reassert its independence and promote its goal - professional, nonpartisan administration of the Social Security programs."

(Reb Yudel)

If America is richer, why are its families so much less secure?

Important series from the Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Times reporter Peter G. Gosselin has spent the last year examining an American paradox: Why so many families report being financially less secure even as the nation has grown more prosperous.

The answer lies in a quarter-century-long shift of economic risks from the broad shoulders of business and government to the backs of working families.

Safety nets that once protected Americans from economic turbulence — safeguards like unemployment compensation and employer loyalty — have eroded or vanished. Familes are more vulnerable to sudden shifts in the economy than any time since the Great Depression.

The result is a daunting "New Deal" for many working Americans — one that compels them to cope, largely on their own, with financial forces far beyond their control.

March 3, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

JTA Headline of the Week

This award goes to JTA's run through the index of Ari Fleischer's new book, entitled Former Bush aide’s book reveals
few Jewish anecdotes, high praise

The article also features a strong contender for dependent clause of the week:

Fleischer does not say much about his Jewish upbringing and does not address his decision to marry a non-Jewish woman, which surprised some in the Washington Jewish community.

I confess to not paying much attention to Ari Fleischer. Were people suprised that he married a woman, that he married rather than just shacking up, that he married only one woman, or that he decided to marry a non-Jew?

(Reb Yudel)

George Bush and the party of the camel

From Talking Points Memo, guest hosted by Ed Kilgore:

Bush did not bother to include the simplest and least controversial part of his original faith-based initiative--a charitable contribution deduction for non-itemizers--in his latest budget.

As in past years, this tax cut got bumped from the menu of revenue goodies in favor of tax cuts aimed at high earners--you know, those folks of whom Jesus Christ said: "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:24).

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The anxiety of influence

Who says I haven't left a lasting influence at The Forward? While I was managing editor, I got hell from the (much younger) opinion editor Oren Rawls for my all-too-frequent references to If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, the mediocre 1969 movie comedy starring Suzanne Pleshette that had an inexplicably strong hold on my childhood imagination. But Oren has at last succumbed to IITTMBB madness, as you can see from the headline he gave to the Klinghoffer column cited below.

(Reb Yudel)

It's time to end Conservative Judaism we know it!

As the Forward might say, Two Conservative Parleys Highlight Need for Name Change!

Yep, one article about a parley of American conservative activits.

And another about next week's convention of Conservative rabbis.

Headline confusion!

And, underneath it, a certain sense that 'conservative' in 1887 context doesn't really capture Conservative Judaism today. It doesn't do the movement justice.

Well, maybe it does do it justice. But certainly no kindness.

So as the Conservative rabbinate meets in Houston, perhaps it's time brainstorm a new title.

Any suggestions to get them going?

(Reb Yudel)

Steven I., call your accountant!

Call your dad's accountant. Call any accountant. Because in Steven I. Weiss' Forward piece about Malcolm Hoenlein's compensation, he doesn't answer the key question: Is it standard business practice for a vesting pension to turn into a $700,000 salary boost on an organization's 990 filings?

I know nothing about vesting pensions; the closest I ever got was a 401k plan, which vested about three months before my department was closed down.

But there are plenty of accountants out there who do know, and can put the critical 'buzz' -- and Hoenlein's response -- into proper perspective.

He buzzed, he said -- we can do better than that, everyone.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

TWO days of rest!?

David Klinghoffer comes down on the side of blue laws:

[Pat] Robertson endorses the old American blue laws, forbidding some commerce on Sunday. That idea got a boost this past summer in Virginia where the state legislature reinstituted a nifty law, going back to the 1600s, requiring employers to grant requests from employees for a regular day off on Saturday or Sunday.

Of course, I live in Bergen County, whose blue laws keep shops closed on Sundays. Plus, I'm shomer Shabbat, whcih means I CAN'T FRIGGIN' SHOP ON WEEKENDS. I think this is a case for Nat Lewin.

(Reb Yudel)

Conservative, Reform rabbis praise ArtScroll Talm;ud

From The Jewish Week books section:

David Kraemer, professor of Talmud and rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who is also librarian of JTS, uses the Schottenstein edition and encourages his students to do so.

“It’s clear, straightforward and sensitive to the needs of intelligent English-speaking students,” he said, noting that he promotes its use as “a first step, to help them figure out the basic argument. This can serve as another hevruta partner, a study partner. Once they’ve got it, they can return to the unmarked [Hebrew and Aramaic] texts.”

“I often have found myself teaching particular sugyot (selections) from the Gemara using the Schottenstein Edition,” said Rabbi Leon Morris, director of the Skirball Center for Adult Jewish Learning at Temple Emanu-El. “I do so because this translation seems to have been shaped by educators who explain difficult passages with clarity and simplicity. The editors’ comments are by no means the final word in our classes, but the method of translation allows the text to be accessible even by those who have never seen a page of Talmud. While I wish the many transliterated words were in Sephardic pronunciation to correspond to other Hebrew terms used in our courses, it has nonetheless been a helpful aid for our students. For that alone, ArtScroll deserves a ‘yasher koach.’

(Reb Yudel)

Can the seminaries play in the big leagues?

While the Jewish Week headline writer lifts the "a sign of maturation of Judaic studies" quote, the significance of this story is mentioned in a Higher Ed piece Steven I linked to last week: It's the decntralization of Jewish studies.

Or, perhaps, a vote of no-confidence in the Jewish studies institutions in New York? Did the JTS Development department know that these folks had millions burning a hole in their pocket? Oops, too late now!

The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor last week announced the creation of an institute for advanced Judaic studies, made possible by a $20 million gift from Samuel and Jean Frankel, two UM alumni. It is believed to be the largest gift ever earmarked for Jewish studies at any university, and the most sizeable donation ever given to UM’s College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

When it opens in the fall of 2007, the institute, to be housed in the existing Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, will bring together 14 international Jewish studies scholars. They will spend a year at the university collaboratively researching a single pre-selected topic. The area of study will be expansive enough to be relevant to academics focused on a wide range of eras and regions, UM officials said.

“Our goal is to become the place that sets the national agenda for Jewish studies … by giving [scholars] a place to figure out where the frontier is,” said Terrence J. McDonald, the LSA dean.

(Reb Yudel)

Praise for Klingon-Jewish intermarriage Star Trek novels

The Trek Nation reviews Creative Couplings Parts 1 and 2

I have to admit that I have anticipated reading Creative Couplings from the moment I read the description and learned that one of the plot elements was going to be the first ever Klingon-Jewish wedding.

By the time I was finished reading Creative Couplings I was impressed by the ability of authors Glenn Hauman and Aaron Rosenberg to pull off a tension filled story with lots of twists and still manage to answer the burning question: Is gagh kosher?

March 2, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Alcohol, Drugs no bar to teenage religion

Or at least, that's one interpretation of the National Study of Youth and Religion numbers. Data and discussion at my new Jewish Education Blog

(Reb Yudel)

Hebrew School without the School

Homeschooling diary--by Steven Waldman on

Steven Waldman pulled his kids from Hebrew school and is trying to teach them Judaism himself. This is his "homeschooling diary."

Why Toomey's Diner Is the Ideal Place for Hebrew School
Posted February 21, 2005 | 7:22 p.m.

We often have our Hebrew school sessions in a booth at Toomey's diner. Gordon orders Belgian waffles, Joe corned beef hash with hot sauce. Plus hot chocolates. But while I'm fond of Toomey's food--best reubens in Brooklyn, I maintain--I find it is the peer support that makes it an excellent venue for religious education. Pretty much every time we've done Hebrew school there, someone from a nearby booth will stop by and say something like, "You're doing a wonderful thing! Keep it up!"

This past week Joe was looking very grumpy about having to do Hebrew school and the waitress actually challenged him: "Ok, if you don't need this, tell me what the principles of the Bible are?"

(Reb Yudel)

More fun with RNS - now with PBS Religion and Ethics Newsweekly!

Religion News Service: Press Releases -
This week's edition of the PBS newsmagazine program RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY

check local listings) will feature the following reports:

Cover Story: "Teaching Evolution"
News Feature: "Anglican Primates Meeting"

Praise the Lord and Greystoke....
(Reb Yudel)

We'd hear it all the time / on Ben Yehuda Street

Haaretz Underground:

Street tongue - The Hebrew they never taught you

This is the first edition of the underground guide to the spoken street. The Hebrew that you don't learn, you just pick up.


[Literally, "Eaten up by Movies"]

Adjective describing person consumed by anxieties, or one who imagines nightmare scenarios.


Rhymes with "Got Gosh"

Acronym for Dati L'she'avar, or Formerly Religious.

Click for a dozen more

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Fun with Religion News Service Headlines

Fun with Religion News Service Headlines

NCC Cautions Against 'Aggressive' Evangelism in Wake of Tsunami
(Stick to the beaches and highlands, pastors advised)
Alert Pope Speaking Again in Multiple Languages
(Pentecostals respond, 'We told you so')
Sen. Clinton Promotes Aid to Palestinian Authority to Increase Security
(I'd've gone with an extra bodyguard, but it's her call)
Religious Teenagers Embrace Abstinence
(Rejected headlines: ""...take hold of their virginity," "...say 'oh yes, yes, yes' to 'no, no, no'", and "...say 'intercourse? Screw that!'"

(Reb Yudel)

Jewish Unity and Shared Torah Study

An interesting tidbit from Yair Sheleg's Daf Yomi piece in Ha'aretz, reminding us that the reason we have the verse to teach us that Torah sages "increase peace in the world" is that absent the verse, we would observe no such thing:

Ultimately, despite the celebrations, it is also impossible to avoid the political aspects of the event. One of the reasons for the large number of events to celebrate the completion of the cycle is not only the desire to have as many people as possible participate; it is also the fallout from disputes among the followers of various rabbis.

Thus, for example, the rabbi who is called "the Rabbinical Ruler of the Generation," Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, will not participate in the main event this evening at Yad Eliyahu but is in fact expected to participate in an event that will be held next week at Binyanei Hauma. The official reason given is that the elderly rabbi does not leave Jerusalem. However, one of the ultra-Orthodox newspapers relates that the real reason is that "Rabbi Elyashiv does not want to participate in any ceremony with three of the Torah sages who are supposed to participate in the ceremony at Yad Eliyahu: Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman, whom he considers a reformer (Steinman supported the Tal committee, which encourages ultra-Orthodox men to go to work, and the ultra-Orthodox Nahal unit in the Israel Defense Forces); the admor of Ger, with whom he disagrees about a number of issues, and the Ger Hasidut is considered the main sponsor of the daily page project in the ultra-Orthodox world; and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who disobeyed Rabbi Shach's instruction at the time not to enter the government of the left - Shas joined Yitzhak Rabin's government, and was also a partner in the government at the time of the signing of the Oslo agreements.

(Reb Yudel)

Gary Rosenblatt misses the point of Daf Yomi

Gary Rosenblatt once again asks, "Why can't we just all get along?" in last week's

Jewish Week column:

Daf Yomi classes began more than eight decades ago and are attended primarily by Orthodox Jews.

Five years ago, the Conservative movement launched its own daily learning program, Perek Yomi, enlisting members to learn one chapter of the Bible each day.

Surely the leaders of the various religious movements of our country, and world Jewry, would advocate and endorse a program that could include all Jews studying a common sacred text.

What if each of us learned the same page a day of the Bible, or Ethics of the Fathers, or other chosen texts, in classes or individually?

The power of the text, and of binding us together, one Jew to another, would not only heighten our sense of unity but provide us with a common language that may lead us to spending more time talking to, and learning from, each other.

What makes him think that Agudah wants Jews bound together by anything other than its own auspices? What makes him think Agudah trusts the amcha to actually read-and-comprehend a text? Isn't part of the wonder of Daf Yomi its ongoing message that the learner isn't competent to study without the aid of the Sage, whether as maggid shiur or ArtScroll author?

March 1, 2005

(Reb Yudel)

Teaneck to Nahville to The Bowery: The Village Voice loves Eef Barzelay

Record review by Joe Levy

He's long been one of New York's most underappreciated songwriters: a lanky fellow in a thrift store suit and horn-rim glasses sending hesitant melodies skyward from a Gibson hollow-body, melodies that deploy the open spaces of 1950s country, rock & roll, and cha-cha-cha for their own modern and often devious ends. Think of Lou Reed singing Buddy Holly songs, though that may just be the combination of the voice and the glasses.

Barzelay's songs return again and again to love and hostility and the paper-thin walls between the two, and his lyrics are graced by an ambiguity too complex to be called irony.

Hmmm. Is he any good?

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Why this Jew loved Narnia

In response to this article, I wrote this column last week:

In fact, kids with strong religious groundings are probably better equipped to both understand and “resist” those differences. That’s why I felt comfortable discussing the Christian themes of Narnia with my oldest son: For a kid attending a Jewish day school, it was a rare opportunity to discuss Christianity and how it differs from Judaism.

(Reb Yudel)

Read Out the Old, Read in the New

Daf Yomi for the American masses: My take on the phenomenon for --
The holy and the mundane, ancient wisdom and modern technology, quiet scholarship and glitzy p.r. all share a satellite-broadcast stage on Tuesday, March 1, as tens if not hundreds of thousands of Orthodox Jews mark the completion of a seven-year-plus cycle of daily Talmud study at gatherings from New York's Madison Square Garden to Los Angeles' Walt Disney Concert Hall, and dozens of other venues between.