February 28, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Bush Still Most Popular 21st Century President!

And he's more popular than Watergate-battered Nixon, to boot! As CBS says,

Bush's low job approval is far below that of some of his two-term
predecessors at this point in their second terms. In November 1985,
President Reagan had a 65 percent approval rating, and Bill Clinton's
job approval in November 1997 was 57 percent. Bush's rating is higher
than Richard Nixon's was at the same point in his administration.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

The Rabbi of Seville

How is the Jewish Theological Seminary like the Metropolitan Opera? Let me count the ways:

There’s no clear frontrunner in the search for a new chancellor. When he’s announced, you can only hope he considers the words of [incoming Met G.M.] Peter Gelb: “What I’m trying to do is to honor the aesthetic traditions of the Met while at the same time moving forward. If I were to function purely as a curator, then the Met would not continue to thrive.”

February 23, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Port Security: Jewish Republican Quits Party!

Mystical Paths declares that

There's a point where pro-business hurts, and a point where it's corruption and disingenious. George Bush has just jumped the shark.
He elaborates:
I support the ideals of the U.S. Republican party, but I no longer
support either President Bush, his administration, or the Republican
control of Congress (which has treated the U.S. budget as a piggy bank
to be raided.)

Just to emphasize this change in thinking, it should be noted that I'm...

-> A member of the Republican National Committee
-> A member of the Republican Jewish Coalition
-> A member of Blogs for Bush
-> A member of GOP Bloggers

It's unlikely I'll still be a member of them next week.

(Reb Yudel)

Shiites kill Sunnis -- and damn straight I blame the Republicans

A reminder of how Bush created the Iraqi civil war:

From the moment that Baghdad fell in April 2003 and much of the public infrastructure was systematically destroyed, the United States failed to fulfill the first overriding obligation of an occupying power: to establish and maintain order. Coalition (mainly American) forces failed to secure Iraq's cities, roads, electricity grids, oil pipelines and borders. The tenacious insurgency, fed and emboldened by an escalating influx of foreign jihadist terrorists, sabotaged roads and crucial facilities as rapidly as they were repaired.

Not surprising, Iraqis quickly lost confidence in the Americans. They now had to face, instead of Saddam, a new but still paralyzing fear -- of chaos, and of various possible forms of violent assault and sudden death.

Why did this happen? Both the military and civilian aspects of the postwar mission were astonishingly short of resources. Not only did the coalition forces not have nearly enough troops, but America also never had enough armored Humvees and other vehicles, including helicopters, or high-quality body armor. We never had nearly enough translators and interpreters, nor enough civilians who knew Iraq's culture, history and language.

The coalition government relied heavily on a revolving door of diplomats and other personnel who would leave just as they had begun to develop local knowledge and ties, and on a large cadre of eager young neophytes whose brashness often gave offense in a very age- and status-conscious society. One young political appointee (a 24-year-old Ivy League graduate) argued that Iraq should not enshrine judicial review in its constitution because it might lead to the legalization of abortion. A much more senior Iraqi interlocutor (a widely experienced Iraqi-American lawyer) became so exasperated with the young man's audacity that he finally challenged him:

``You must have thoroughly studied the history of the British occupation of Iraq.''

``Yes, I did,'' the young American replied proudly.

``I thought so,'' said the Iraqi, ``because you seem determined to repeat every one of their mistakes.''

Thanks to Atrios for the history lesson.

February 15, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Publishers Weekly looks at this season's religion books

Here are the ones that grabbed my attention (in no particular order):

On the Road with Rabbi Steinsaltz: 25 Years of Pre-Dawn Car Trips,
Mind-Blowing Encounters and Inspiring Conversations with a Man of Wisdom
(Aug., $24.95) by Arthur Kurzweil recalls more than two decades of traveling with the rabbi.

Foundations of Sephardic Spirituality: The Inner Life of Jews of the Ottoman Empire (Apr., $24.99) by Rabbi Marc Angel delves into the spiritual underpinning of SephardicJudaism.

Traces of God: Seeing God in Torah, History and Everyday Life
(Apr., $21.99) by Rabbi Neil Gillman details the ways that people shape their relationships with God.

Out of the Cave: Philosophical Inquiry into Dead Sea Scrolls Research
(June, $45) by Edna Ullmann-Margalit discusses contesting theories regarding the 11 scrolls.

Scrolls of Love: Ruth and the Song of Songs
(June, $26), edited by Peter S. Hawkins and Lesleigh Cushing Stahlberg, pulls together the views of diverse interpreters.

The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People
(Mar., $24) by Cathleen Falsani. The syndicated columnist interviews well-known personages about their beliefs.

Face to Face: Gay and Lesbian Clergy on Holiness and Life Together

(Mar., $18 paper) by Jeffrey Heskins records the views of clergy who are ordained in the Anglican church and who live with partners of the same sex.

Essene Book of Everyday Virtues (Mar., $14.95 paper) by Kenneth Hanson. The Hebrew scholar presents a handbook for living spiritually.

Inside the Red Tent
(Aug., $12.99 paper) by Sandra Hack Polaski unravels the facts behind the popular novel The Red Tent.

The Papacy, the Jews and the Holocaust (Mar., $59.95) by Frank J. Coppa is a history of the relationship between the papacy and Jews in the modern age.

The Truth Is Out There: Christian Faith and the Classics of TV Science Fiction (June, $18.99 paper) by Thomas Bertonneau and Kim Paffenroth discovers Christian messages in six SF TV series.

The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians and Muslims(July, $24.95) by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Joan Chittister, O.S.B., and Saadi Shakur Chishti. Three religious thinkers use the story of Abraham to deepen interfaith understanding.

Abraham: The First Historical Biography (Apr., $26.95) by David Rosenberg centralizes the biblical Abraham and his world. 

Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America-An Evangelical's Lament
(July, $24) by Randall Balmer argues that evangelical leaders have hijacked the Christian faith on behalf of the Republican Party.

A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar (May, $17.95 paper) by Ira Stone tells about a late 19th-century Jewish renewal movement with a focus on ethics.

(Reb Yudel)

Talking about Jewish poetry

Looking for good Jewish poetry?

We at Ben Yehudah Press have a poet we're looking forward to sharing with the public... which is perhaps why the following comments from Publishers Weekly about a new work from Sheep Meadow Press, Morning Prayers, caught our eye:

Eve Grubin draws on her commitment as an observant Jew in fashioning poems that connect biblical text with contemporary life.
"Many of my poems would be considered prayers because they convey religious ideas or spiritual yearnings,"
said Grubin, programs director for the Poetry Society of America in New York.
"All poetry is filled with struggle, praise, gratitude, despair—it's a crying out of those struggles or noticing the things in this world that evoke praise. Prayer notices all of these qualities, and some poems are consciously written from those conditions."
and there's more from Publishers Weekly on Amazon:
In her strong, spare debut, Grubin writes from, and about, her Jewish faith, exploring and justifying it in careful images from modern city life, and in juxtapositions of Jewish liturgy with her own memories of crisis and epiphany:
"I have had moments that make hope/ superfluous."
Her most ambitious work gives philosophical and theological propositions a dramatic clarity, even when they explore what she does not know:
"Heaven is like unhappiness/ on earth only inverted into a finer tone/ I am certain of nothing."
Grubin (based in New York City and currently program director for the Poetry Society of America) is also a poet of illness and recovery, of childhood and of maternity, watching and worrying about young daughters, then considering (in the exceptional "Brooklyn Window") her links to her own mother and to the radical '60s.
"My transgressions hope I will seek them,"
Grubin speculates in one passionate, long-lined meditation,
"as God wants me to pray."
For all its explorations and doubts, however, Grubin's collection finds a final strength in paradoxical belief,
"living/ inside the laws and the lightning."
A bit of Googling finds some of her poems published in The Drunken Boat.

Here's my next question: Any other poets we should be paying attention to?

(Reb Yudel)

Joe Lieberman is not my Valentine

Nope, he's George's, says CNN:

For the second year in a row, President Bush and his wife spent the lovers' holiday formally entertaining about 100 friends and associates at the White House.

Singer Michael Feinstein capped the romantic evening by serenading the crowd, which included new Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, actor Chuck Norris -- wearing black cowboy boots with his tux, of course -- singer Wayne Newton and Sens. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn.

Good luck with your primary, Joe!

February 14, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Dick Cheney: Standing Up for Biblical Values

Accidentally shoot a man and try to cover it up? Heck, King David did worse.

But then, this is America -- where it's the victim of the vice president's gunplay that traditionally gets his picture on the 20 dollar bill.

As noted on the FireDogLake blog,

Just in case you were wondering, it's been FOUR days since the Vice
President of the United States shot a man in the face, neck and chest,
and still no public accounting and acceptance of responsibility from
him. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Still hiding behind Mary Matalin's and
Katherine Armstrong's skirts -- allowing them to take all the media
heat, along with Scotty McClellan, who faced another round of peppering
from a still-pissed press corps, who seem to be sick of being lied to
by this White House.

I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise,
seeing that it is Dick Cheney and all...but still, what kind of message
is that sending to the kids in this country?

"Go ahead and shoot
your friends. Then blame them for getting in the way of the shot, and
have a female friend deal with the press for you so you can hide behind
her skirts and never have to accept any responsibility. Ever."


February 13, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

How many other people has Dick Cheney shot?

Given that the White House didn't announce the shooting on its own, one wonders: Is there anyone else who Cheney has shot at close range? It seems to me that the Wall Street Journal should start investigating this ASAP.

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Adoshem Ish Milchama

My reaction to the Danish cartoon crisis:

Perhaps the most confounding reaction comes from various Muslim spokesmen and apologists, who insist that the riots are an aberration and that Islam is a “religion of peace.” You know what? It’s not. Islam is not a religion of peace. Right now it’s a religion of conflict, and conquest, and the violent suppression of individual rights in the name of God.

How do I know this? Because Judaism is not a religion of peace either. Neither is Christianity, or Hinduism, or Zoroastrianism. All of these great faiths are rich, complex, and ancient, and each speaks in a multitude of voices. Some of those voices, I admit, are more peaceful than others. Sometimes they honor God as one who makes peace and seeks harmony among all humanity. Sometimes that same God is in a less peaceful mood and seeks absolute victory over those who would deny Him. Or Her. Or Them. Sometimes the voices prescribe civil disobedience in the face of tyranny. And sometimes they glorify violent revolution for the glory of the One True God.

I've taken heat from Reby Yudel for denigrating Zoroastrianism. But you know my theory on free speech: The brave journalist doesn't flinch from the truth about a religion, especially when that religion has about 200,000 adherents and almost zero capability of mounting a violent reaction.

February 8, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Why can't we just get along and trust Big Brother?

I guess we are supposed to believe that an administration that will strong-arm its own caucus on a fundamental constitutional question of the separation of powers would never spy on its political rivals.
says Digby, as the rightwing Washington Times reports that
The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the administration's unauthorized wiretapping.

Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.
I mean, it's not like the party of Richard Nixon would obstruct justice or try to sabotage free elections, is it?

(Reb Yudel)

It only stands to reason....

Quoted from a former Reaganite via Arthur Silber:

Having eliminated internal opposition, the Bush administration is now using blackmail obtained through illegal spying on American citizens to silence the media and the opposition party.

Before flinching at my assertion of blackmail, ask yourself why President Bush refuses to obey the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The purpose of the FISA court is to ensure that administrations do not spy for partisan political reasons. The warrant requirement is to ensure that a panel of independent federal judges hears a legitimate reason for the spying, thus protecting a president from the temptation to abuse the powers of government. The only reason for the Bush administration to evade the court is that the Bush administration had no legitimate reasons for its spying. This should be obvious even to a naif.

The United States is undergoing a coup against the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, civil liberties, and democracy itself. The "liberal press" has been co-opted. As everyone must know by now, the New York Times has totally failed its First Amendment obligations, allowing Judith Miller to make war propaganda for the Bush administration, suppressing for an entire year the news that the Bush administration was illegally spying on American citizens, and denying coverage to Al Gore's speech that challenged the criminal deeds of the Bush administration.

The TV networks mimic Fox News' faux patriotism. Anyone who depends on print, TV, or right-wing talk radio media is totally misinformed. The Bush administration has achieved a de facto Ministry of Propaganda.

The years of illegal spying have given the Bush administration power over the media and the opposition. Journalists and Democratic politicians don't want to have their adulterous affairs broadcast over television or to see their favorite online porn sites revealed in headlines in the local press with their names attached. Only people willing to risk such disclosures can stand up for the country.

That certainly would explain why the media gave more coverage to the Attorney General's pro-Monarchy defense of illegal, unaccountable spying, than to Congressional critics.

February 7, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Bob Dylan: First the Good News

First the good news: The Poughkeepsie Journal reports that

Music icon Bob Dylan spent four days at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie last week, privately rehearsing and writing music for an album he is set to record this week in Manhattan.
Now the bad news: Dylan's last album was released September 11, 2001. Even worse: That wasn't the first time that Dylan's creativity coincided with Middle Eastern events. I've got the scoop right here.

February 6, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Debra Nussbaum Cohen: Reform Jews Examining Ways to Retain Their Young Men

Writing in the New York Times, Debra Nussbaum Cohen brings coverage of Reform Judaism into the 21st century:

There was a new option among the dozen kinds of worship services available last winter at the biennial convention of the North American Federation of Temple Youth, which attracted about 1,400 young Reform Jews to Los Angeles.

As always at the conventions, there were lots of choices: one service was totally in Hebrew, for example, another used meditation and another was tailored to gay men and lesbians.

But one service, offered for the first time, seemed a throwback to a different time. It was for men only.

Male-only services could be considered a paradox in the Reform movement, a denomination established in the United States in the 1870's with sexual equality at its core. It broke from tradition by introducing mixed seating, bringing women down from balconies and from behind the partitions that had separated the sexes in synagogue sanctuaries.

(Reb Yudel)

David Holzel solves the Conservative dilemma: "MOR Judaism. It isn’t less Judaism."

David Holzel speaks to two high-profile Conservative rabbis, and then offers his own opinion:

Try this experiment. Well, it’s a game, actually. It’s called “Who would belong to a Conservative Synagogue?”
Of the Three Stooges:
Moe would be Orthodox.
Curly, Reform.
And Larry? Conservative.

Now, the Marx Brothers. Even Zeppo wouldn’t be the Conservative Jew. Gummo would. Gummo.

Great Jewish songwriters of our time: Bob Dylan–Orthodox. Paul Simon–Reform. Neil Diamond–Conservative.
So what to do? Time for rebranding:
We could follow the Kentucky Fried Chicken paradigm, and reduce Conservative Judaism to its initials, thereby removing information about the product that could discourage consumers. That gives us CJ. Or CeeJay.

The movement could embrace its inner middle-of-the-roadness with a name like MOR Judaism. "MOR Judaism. It isn’t less Judaism."
Go ahead: Read it all.

(Reb Yudel)

"The Price of Being Brown in America"


But on the same evening that President Bush was lauding democracy and freedom, there was one other person in attendance whose rights were infringed upon. The man, who did not want his identity revealed after the disturbing incident, was a personal guest of Florida Democrat Alcee Hastings. He is a prominent businessman from Broward County, Florida who works with the Department of Defense-and has a security clearance. After sitting in the gallery for the entire speech, he was surrounded by about ten law enforcement officers as he exited the chamber and whisked away to a room in the Capitol.
Sure puts that Coretta Scott King tribute at the beginning in a different light....

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

What if G-d were one of us?

Rabbi JOSHUA GUTOFF reviews How to Read the Bible By Marc Zvi Brettler:

As a scholar, and as a teacher of scholarship, Brettler is clearly a master, and his book should be a first choice for any non-specialist interested in the field. Where How to Read the Bible feels less than satisfying is in its attempt to negotiate the tension between modern scholarship and religious commitment. Brettler describes himself as an observant Jew for whom the Bible “stands at the core of who I am as a person, and as a Jew.” How, then, does he relate to a text that he knows was not written at one time by a single author, is frequently inaccurate in its history, and owes much to the cultures in which it arose? He does this through his choice of particular texts and sources within the Bible, and through a revaluation, even a radical reinterpretation (itself an old rabbinic approach), of problematic texts. While these may be valuable techniques, they do not really address how it is that the Bible can be seen as sacred at all, given that Brettler’s entire book is dedicated to exploring its human and historically conditioned nature.

Actually, I thought Brettler did a pretty good job of addressingjust that when I wrote about him last year, but Gutoff asks what remains probably the most fundamental (ahem) question Conservative Jews should be discussing and debating.

(Reb Yudel)

NYC battles vampire rabbis

Wouldn't Debra Nussbaum Cohen's serious reading of the meziza paper trail -- "Correspondence shows health department officials, fervently Orthodox
community bringing widely varied perspectives to a controversial rite." -- have worked just as well with Sploid's tabloid hed, NYC Battles Vampire Rabbis?

And the Jewish Week wonders why its newsstand sales are so anemic....

(Reb Yudel)

David Holzel solves the Conservative dilemma: "MOR Judaism. It isn’t less Judaism."

David Holzel speaks to two high-profile Conservative rabbis, and then offers his own opinion:

Try this experiment. Well, it’s a game, actually. It’s called “Who would belong to a Conservative Synagogue?”

Of the Three Stooges:
Moe would be Orthodox.
Curly, Reform.
And Larry? Conservative.

Now, the Marx Brothers. Even Zeppo wouldn’t be the Conservative Jew. Gummo would. Gummo.

Great Jewish songwriters of our time: Bob Dylan–Orthodox. Paul Simon–Reform. Neil Diamond–Conservative.
So what to do? Time for rebranding:
We could follow the Kentucky Fried Chicken paradigm, and reduce Conservative Judaism to its initials, thereby removing information about the product that could discourage consumers. That gives us CJ. Or CeeJay.

The movement could embrace its inner middle-of-the-roadness with a name like MOR Judaism. "MOR Judaism. It isn’t less Judaism."
Go ahead: Read it all.

February 5, 2006

(Reb Yudel)

Will Vicki Polin's history of distributing child pornography catch up with her?

New web site up: http://jewishsurvivor.blogspot.com/

It seems that some fine neighbor of mine didn't appreciate that the first Google hit on his name came from a story of a summer-camp rape gang posted on self-styled sex-abuse-counselor / ritual cannibal Vicki Polin's web site.

Said neighbor is innocent, having been two years old at the time. But he has a rather rare name.

Vicki, who was lying to Oprah before it was fashionable, refuses to take it down.

But here's the kicker: The story of summer camp rape is quoted from a 1996 usenet posting by a convicted sex offender!

Polin prefaces the material with this disclaimer:
NOTE: The following information is graphic in nature.  It came from an old Newsgroup.  The information in the thread has NOT been authenticated.  It appears to have come from [... ] who is a convicted sex offender.  It is being provided for background information on the mind of a convicted sex offender.  During the same time frame that [... ] allegedly posted the following message he also posted some very disturbing personal ads and stories of a more predatory nature which ended early 1997.
So, are these real memories of an abused child? Or are they the fantasies of a child molester, attempts, as later suggested in the newsgroup, to use the sympathies of abuse survivors to learn how to navigate the internet and ultimately set up a tryst with a little boy?

Well, here's a clue: the stories cite abuse that happened at a Jewish summer camp and "the nearby WILKINSON reform school in 1977."

So I Googled the Wilkinson reform school, to see whether it was indeed next to a Jewish camp in 1977. And sure enough, just as the child molester described, the Internet tells that after
"four friends pull a prank that that goes awry, they find themselves serving time at the Wilkinson School for Boys, where they are repeatedly and sadistically violated and tortured by four guards--"
which would convince me, except that the site continues,
"the most menacing being Noles, portrayed by Kevin Bacon."
Yep, the convicted child molester made up the story from Sleepers, a movie released a couple of months before his posting.

So, given the choice between deleting a name in a posting by a lying child molester and saving the reputation of someone who is totally innocent, or mildly censoring her online pornography collection, Vicki Polin bravely chooses the former.

To recap: Vicki Polin has actively chosen to aid, abet, and increase the harm done by a convicted, lying child molester.

I wonder why that would be?

Perhaps it's time for someone working in the Jewish media to find out what's really going on with Vicki and her blissfull unawareness.

February 3, 2006

(Andrew Silow-Carroll)

Gidi Up

I met Gidi Grinstein at LimmudNY, and write about him this week. He's CEO and founder of the Re’ut (“Vision”) Institute, a two-year-old Israeli think-tank that is helping a growing list of government agencies question their basic premises, list the long-term implications of various courses of action, and then move quickly toward decisions that are informed and relevant.

Grinstein’s ability to frame Israel’s challenges in the language of policy consulting — “analysis-base,” “infrastructure mode,” “systemic overview” — is both comforting and disarming. Grinstein wows audiences and attracts American donors by offering the hope that there is no problem that cannot be broken down into a series of policy options. Critics may find the approach naïve, even delusional.

But I can't give up the hope that eventually, cool minds like Grinstein's will prevail in the Wild, Wild Mid East:

And yet, even if Re’ut’s is a language and approach learned at Harvard, it speaks to a certain Jewish capacity for finding hope in reason, and against awful odds.