7/18/18

Times: Bruce Lincoln et. al. say NIMBY to University of Chicago Center for Milton Friedman Economics

10 years ago 7/12/2008 - this is what was on my mind... a blast from the past.... It looks like the opposition of a decade ago failed to stop the project - see the link here to the Becker Friedman Institute about page and activities summary.

Repost from 2008 follows:

Apparently, my old colleague Bruce Lincoln is leading the opposition at the University of Chicago to a newly established Center for Milton Friedman Style Economics.

The Chi Trib quoted Lincoln last month, '"It is a right-wing think tank being put in place," said Bruce Lincoln, a professor of the history of religions and one of the faculty members who met with the administration Tuesday. "The long-term consequences will be very severe. This will be a flagship entity and it will attract a lot of money and a lot of attention, and I think work at the university and the university's reputation will take a serious rightward turn to the detriment of all."'

Now the Times
(in a notably weak and poorly researched article) has him saying less, that is, "As an opponent of the entire institute, rather than simply its name, Mr. Lincoln characterized himself on the extreme end of the opposition. He said he would like to see a research center “much more committed to free inquiry and a larger debate, and not just grinding the same ax sharper and sharper.”"

7/7/18

Bikinis and Rabbis: My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for August 2015

Rerun of my previous popular summer advice. 

Dear Rabbi,

I’m a young modern Orthodox woman. I like to go to the beach in the summer. Recently some of my friends criticized me for wearing a bikini at the beach. They say their rabbis taught them that it is not in keeping with our religion to wear a bikini because it is clothing that is not modest. I see that the prevalent fashion for young and fit women at the beach or pool is mostly a bikini. What makes your fellow rabbis think that they have the authority to dictate to me and other women what fashions to follow on the beach —or off it?

Two Piece in Teaneck


Dear Two Piece,

I’m one rabbi who does not claim to have women’s fashion expertise. I am relieved that you ask me about rabbinic authority, rather than what is the right fashion for you.

I do know that in the world of fashion you hear often about trends, not standards. I recognize that there is a lot of variety in the choices that women have, on and off the beach.

One day this summer I had the occasion to walk the length of the boardwalk in a Long Island South Shore beach community and could not help but observe that bikinis are a quite common choice for women, young and middle aged, at the beach clubs along the way. And I did notice in the Target ad flyer in the Sunday newspaper that most of the women’s swim suits on sale are bikinis.

Before anyone criticizes me for gazing upon women, let me refer to a story about one of our greatest talmudic rabbis, Rabban Gamaliel. According to the Talmud, when he saw a beautiful woman, Gamaliel recited a blessing, Blessed be He who made beautiful creatures in this world.

I agree with Gamaliel. Beauty is something that God bestowed upon our world. When the appropriate fashion allows for us to admire beauty in a tactful and respectful way, we may do so, and perhaps we should thank God with a blessing.

Now you may wonder, why don’t other Orthodox rabbis agree with Rabban Gamaliel and with me? Why do many religious authorities who happily admit that they have no knowledge or understanding of fashion go ahead and teach and preach that it’s a religious obligation that women must cover up their arms and legs and midriffs?

I don’t know why other rabbis have taken upon themselves the authority to dictate fashion requirements to women. And I find it hard to approve of that.

It seems to me wrong for any man to require women to cover up. Even though there is a long-standing theme in Jewish customs for married women to cover their hair and there are other customs for all women to cover much of their skin, the requirement of long sleeves and long skirts using the category of “modesty” is at best capricious. In the preponderance of contexts it also is out of step with the normal and customary notions of fashion in our general communities.

And one more thing. It is not a stretch for some folk to criticize the cover-up rules in Orthodox circles as yet another means of segregating women and as a way of denying them the freedom to choose and the rights to decide their own fashion options.

The notion that covering up all of your skin on the hot summer beach or at the pool or in the marketplace around town is connected to virtue is patently unfounded. Hence the rules that mandate overdressing are arbitrary annoyances at best.

Yet I’ve been told that there is a new women’s clothing store on Cedar Lane in Teaneck that sells kosher swimsuits made of nylon and polyester, comprising pants under a skirt and elbow length sleeves. I would not be surprised if these bathing costumes have tags on them certifying rabbinical approval.

Truly, I have no idea where my colleagues got the notion that wearing a bikini at the beach is a bad thing. I can’t explain or justify this rabbinic attitude to you. My advice to you is to follow your own notions of comfort and the prevailing styles and fashions of your immediate community.

And if anyone criticizes you, you may answer with a confident and polite reply, Thank you for your opinion. I will wear whatever I deem appropriate.

Tzvee Zahavy earned his Ph.D. from Brown University and rabbinic ordination from Yeshiva University. He is the author of many books, including these Kindle Edition ebooks available at Amazon.com: “The Book of Jewish Prayers in English,” “Rashi: The Greatest Exegete,” “God’s Favorite Prayers” and “Dear Rabbi” — which includes his past columns from the Jewish Standard and other essays.

7/5/18

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for July 2018 - Let's Fix The Ninth of Av

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for July 2018 - Let's Fix The Ninth of Av

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Our U.S. government recognized Jerusalem as capital of Israel on May 14, 2018, and dedicated its embassy there, moving it from Tel Aviv. I don’t understand how we can continue to commemorate the 9th day of Av as a sad fast day that memorializes Jerusalem as a destroyed desolate city, when the facts of today totally contradict that. Doesn’t the reality of today’s circumstances make it time to abolish the fasting and mourning of that day?

Puzzled in Paramus

Dear Puzzled,

We need to ask in general — why should we cede to religion the ability to legislate our emotions? What is the benefit of making people sad and mournful through rituals? Religion can do this, to a degree. By requiring fasting, by forbidding weddings from taking place, banning music for three weeks, by prohibiting haircuts and shaving, religion can try to manipulate moods and motivations. But why?

7/4/18

The Star Spangled Banner in Yiddish - Video



It's the 4th of July this week and time for us to sing again the Star Spangled Banner in Yiddish. This version's Yiddish translation by Berl Lapin.

Here is an earlier version courtesy of Jack Balkin1943 translation of the Star Spangled Banner into Yiddish by Dr. Abraham Asen, described as "the foremost Yiddish adapter of English poetry," and proudly presented in commemoration of the anniversary of the death of Francis Scott Key.

O'zog, kenstu sehn, wen bagin licht dervacht,
Vos mir hoben bagrist in farnachtigen glihen?
Die shtreifen un shtern, durch shreklicher nacht,
Oif festung zich hoiben galant un zich tsein?
Yeder blitz fun rocket, yeder knal fun kanon,
Hot bawizen durch nacht: az mir halten die Fohn!
O, zog, tzi der "Star Spangled Banner" flatert in roim,
Ueber land fun die freie, fun brave die heim!


I repost this every few years. Enjoy!

6/18/18

The Oxymoron of Modern Open Inclusive Orthodoxy: My Column for June 2016 for the Jewish Standard

Update: My column was the subject of discussion by Rabbi Steven Riskin and Rabbi Kenneth Brander at a Ohr Torah Stone forum at the Rinat Israel Synagogue on June 13, 2018, moderated by Jerry Silverman, President & CEO, Jewish Federations of North America.

See the video here.

My Column for June 2016 for the Jewish Standard

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

In the past few years I’ve seen that people use the term “modern Orthodox” in news and opinion articles to describe a current form of Judaism. More recently, I read about a new group that sounds attractive to me, that wants to promote a more “inclusive” Orthodoxy. But I always have understood that Orthodox Judaism clearly says that it is the oldest and the original form of Judaism, that all of its practices are crucial to the survival of Judaism, and that they conform perfectly to God’s will as interpreted by the Orthodox rabbis. Why do people apply these fancy new labels for their faith? And is it hypocritical for me, if I embrace modern values, to continue to stay plain old Orthodox? Or should I join up with the new guys?

Confounded in Clifton

Dear Confounded,

If there was a supermarket where you could buy a religion in a box, you would not find many products with the label description “New and Improved.” But you would find most with the description, “Same Classic Ingredients for Centuries (or Millennia).”

So you are correct to be confused about the term “modern Orthodox.” Orthodox Jewish authorities’ main claim to legitimacy is that the content of their system is not modern. They insist that it is ancient, dating back thousands of years, to God’s covenants with our patriarchs, and to God’s revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. And you legitimately can scratch your head in disbelief when someone comes up with an incongruous title that implies that a religion can be ancient and modern at the same time.

So, you may ask, what then is all this talk about “modern Orthodoxy”? On the surface, I might dismiss that new label, or the similar tags “open Orthodoxy,” and “pluralistic Orthodoxy,” as marketing names without any deep meaning. I might say that they are meant to make the brand of religion that its leaders are selling more attractive to consumers.

6/17/18

Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy

We are observing the 18th Yahrzeit of my mother Edith Zahavy (aleha hashalom).

We miss her so very much. She would have loved to see the progress of her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and take pride in all of their accomplishments. She would have loved to read books to her little great-grandchildren and to watch them play and grow.

She was born in NYC and attended the public schools in Washington Heights. She watched from her classroom window as they built the George Washington Bridge.

She graduated from Hunter High School, Hunter College and went on to a career in public service at the OPA and then into the field education. Together with my dad, she founded the Park East Day School when my father was rabbi at the Park East Synagogue, then called Congregation Zichron Ephraim. She subsequently taught in NYC public schools for many years.

She is interred on Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem. Her memorial photo site is here.

6/8/18

Was Charles Krauthammer Jewish?

Was columnist and Fox TV commentator Charles Krauthammer Jewish? Yes he was a Jew.

In JPost interview Krauthammer reflected on his Talmudic upbringing. He described himself in the interview we cite here as not very religious:
As for my own practice, it's fairly minimal, but I go on the required days. I go to Yizkor, those kinds of things. I once described to a friend my Jewishness - I said, I'm a Jewish Shinto. I believe in ancestor worship. That's the heart of my Judaism.
We disagreed with most of what neoconservative Charles Krauthammer said about foreign policy. But from the excellent interview he gave to the Jerusalem Post, "The unfashionable Charles Krauthammer," we learned that his eloquent argumentation skills derive in part from his Orthodox Talmudic education.
Can you talk a little bit about your own Jewish upbringing and sense of Jewishness, and how that influences you? ...
I grew up in a Modern Orthodox home. I went to Jewish day school right through high school, so half of my day was spent speaking Hebrew from age six to 16. I studied thousands of hours of Talmud. My father thought I didn't get enough Talmud at school, so I took the extra Talmud class at school and he had a rabbi come to the house three nights a week. One of those nights was Saturday night, so in synagogue Saturday morning my brother and I would pray very hard for snow so he wouldn't be able to come on Saturday night and we could watch hockey night in Canada. That's where I learned about prayer...
He suffered a tragic swimming accident when in medical school which left him paralyzed.

He was the subject of a Fox News program and was on Jon Stewart's show to promote his book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics.



Here is the entire article. It is no longer available at jPost.

"The unfashionable Charles Krauthammer"

5/31/18

My Jewish Standard - Dear Rabbi Zahavy - Talmudic Advice Column for June 2018 - The Milk and Meat Kosher Taboo Explained

Why Not Milk and Meat? 
Because we must Segregate Men from Women to be a Sacred People
My Dear Rabbi Zahavy Talmudic Advice Column for June 2018

Dear Rabbi Zahavy,

Though I was raised observant of the commandments in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, I woke up one day recently and realized that I don’t understand the ban on cooking or eating dishes that combine dairy and meat ingredients. The logic of those laws suddenly puzzles me. If the milk and meat foods are kosher separately, why are they forbidden when they are mixed together?

Flustered in Fair Lawn

Dear Flustered,

You do understand that most of the time, each religion is based on its own brand of logic. You don’t apply the general laws of deduction and inference to a religion. You accept how the system works internally, and you build on it. That buy-in and acceptance of the reasoning of your own religion is a big part of what we call faith.

Apparently, you do accept that God decreed that his chosen people avoid mixing milk and meat. Unique beliefs and practices like this one can be found in Judaism — and in all the major world religions.

You would like to apprehend the deeper meanings in this set of Jewish rules.

Jews have been questioning the relevance of these laws for some time. In 1885, classical Reform Judaism officially scuttled the laws of kashrut, calling them “foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.”

But in 1979, backtracking speedily (that is, speedily for religious leaders), the Reform rabbinical association proclaimed that “It is reasonable to ask the Reform Jew to study and consider kashrut so as to develop a valid personal position.” In 2011, the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis published “The Sacred Table,” which encourages an “ethical, health-based, spiritual approach to culinary culture in the Progressive Jewish community.”

5/27/18

New Yorker: At His 80th Birthday Party Philip Roth talked of Death

New Yorker has been churning out amazing content in the past few issues. David Remnick continues that flow with his account of Philip Roth's eightieth birthday celebration in Newark.

Remnick explains that death was Roth's main topic in his birthday remarks. An odd choice for a birthday festival for most folks but not for Roth.

Now, we usually don't dwell on the subject of death in our thoughts. But today we conclude our recitation of Kaddish for our dad. And that put us face-to-face with the subject. As we said in another post, we feel that through the public synagogue Kaddish ritual we firmly rooted our dad's soul into the community of Jews that he so loved and served with such dedication. As the community of Israel lives and flourishes, so does the energy of our dad live on. One form of immortality.

Dad's body rests in a cemetery in Israel on Har Hamenuchot overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. His presence there roots his soul in the Zionist dimension of our collective reality as a people. As the State of Israel lives and flourishes, so does the vitality of our dad live on. Another form of immortality.

Roth eloquently writes of the stones in a cemetery in New Jersey and the memory of his family. Roth has certainly rooted his soul in a public vital body of writing that will live on for a long time. A Rothian form of immortality.

Here is Remnick's teasing conclusion to his essay:
...Roth is the author of thirty-one books. His favorite, he has said, the one in which he felt the most free as he wrote it, is “Sabbath’s Theater.” Laughing a little to himself, Roth said that the novel, which was published in 1995, could easily have been titled “Death and the Art of Dying.” Its epigraph is Prospero’s line in Act V, Scene 1 in “The Tempest”: “Every third thought shall be my grave.” And within is the line from Kafka: “The meaning of life is that it stops.”

“The book is death-haunted,” Roth said. Mickey Sabbath, the turbulent, profane, and libidinous hero, is a man who is beyond discretion and taste, whose outrageous adulterous behavior is, Roth said, “his response to a place where nothing keeps its promise and everything is perishable.” As a boy, Sabbath lost the person closest to him in the world—his older brother, Morty, whose plane was shot down, in 1944, over the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

With that introduction, Roth read pages three hundred and sixty-three to three hundred and seventy of “Sabbath’s Theater,” one of the most stunning passages in all his work. He was not about to let us forget what eighty means. In the novel, Sabbath has gone south (“Tunnel, turnpike, parkway—the shore!”) to visit the Jewish cemetery where his grandparents, parents, and brother are all buried. I will not ruin it for you. To get the feel of the night, you must read the passage in full—or, better, read the novel entire. And imagine that this passage—with its great elegy of gravestones, with its memories of life lived, of a life cut short, and all of it in particular—imagine that this is what Philip Roth chose, very deliberately, as his birthday message, his greeting, his farewell. These were not his last words—please, not that!—but they were what he chose. Death-haunted but assertive of life. The passage ends with his hero putting stones on the graves of the dead. Stones that honor the dead. Stones that are also meant to speak to the dead, to mark the presence of life, as well, if only for a while. The passage ends simply. It ends with the line, “Here I am.”

Philip Roth was Attacked and Excommunicated at Yeshiva University in 1962


VI. The Holocaust in the Discourse of Popular American Jewish Culture

The role of the Holocaust in the civil discourse of American Jews comes more sharply into focus through critiques in contemporary imaginative fiction. It plays an important role in popular Judaic non-systemic (counterculture) folk representations. Consider the blunt example of the writings and experiences of Philip Roth. (Cf. Young, pp. 109-112, for further discussion of Roth.)
Roth in The Facts: A Novelist's Autobiography (New York, 1988, pp. 127-130) recounts an anecdote that he calls his "excommunication" at a Yeshiva University symposium on fiction he participated in New York in 1962. At this "trial" he tells us he was grilled mercilessly by a moderator and audience who began after him with the question: "Mr. Roth, would you write the same stories you've written if you were living in Nazi Germany?" As framed, the query was merely a cloak for a dagger aimed at the heart of Roth's literary expressions. The questioner transparently meant, "Are you not a self-hating Jew?" Roth was so shaken by the attack, he could not respond at the time. Instead, he says, he has given his answer many times over in the fiction he has published, in his discourse, since that incident.

Of course, Roth could have answered easily and obviously. He was a product of Jewish cultural processes over several generations in an American democracy. He wrote for an American non-racist audience. He was nurtured on the great achievements of English literature. Jews within German society had no such nurture and faced an openly hostile racist culture. Roth could only have written his oeuvre for us. We read him, understand him, despise him or laugh with him and respond to his characters and caricatures.

Through his fiction he challenges the basic discursive truths of Judaic life and, in my view, allows us to better judge their cultural value and purpose. Roth's recent parody of Holocaust memory within American Judaism and the Zionist setting was also one of his most radical. In The Counterlife he developed the following.

The book's protagonist Nathan Zuckerman finds himself on a jet flight from Israel sitting next to Jimmy Lustig, of the West Orange Lustigs. Jimmy is a psychotic reversioner returning from study in the Diaspora Yeshiva. He plans to hijack the plane to Germany and issue a press release aimed at "regeneration for the Jews," (Philip Roth, The Counterlife, New York, 1988, pp. 188-9)

FORGET REMEMBERING
I demand of the Israeli Government the immediate closing and dismantling of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Museum and Remembrance Hall of the Holocaust. I demand this in the name of the Jewish future. THE JEWISH FUTURE IS NOW. We must put persecution behind us forever. Never must we utter the name "Nazi" again, but instead strike it from our memory forever. No longer are we a people with an agonizing wound and a hideous scar. We have wandered nearly forty years in the wilderness of our great grief. Now is the time to stop paying tribute to that monster's memory with our Halls of Remembrance! Henceforth and forever his name shall cease to be associated with the unscarred and unscarable Land of Israel!
ISRAEL NEEDS NO HITLERS FOR THE RIGHT TO
BE ISRAEL!
JEWS NEED NO NAZIS TO BE THE REMARKABLE
JEWISH PEOPLE!
ZIONISM WITHOUT AUSCHWITZ!
JUDAISM WITHOUT VICTIMS!
THE PAST IS PAST! WE LIVE!
In the novel, but a few pages later, Jimmy backs off. The press-release was just an irrepressible, offensive Jewish joke. As Jimmy says, "Come on, you think I'd be crazy enough to f--k around with the Holocaust? I was just curious, that was all. See what you'd do. How it developed. You know. The novelist in me." (Ibid., p. 193)

Roth's artifice is an inversion of remembrance. He casts the scene in terms of the most visible contemporary context of political violence - airline hijacking. Roth pits recent reversionary forms of Judaism against accepted American communal forms, and against State-sponsored monumental discourse. These fictive memories have undoubtedly been shaped and cultivated under the repression of the corporate personality of the system of civic American Judaism. Roth's characters express as their response a fierce struggle over the acceptance or rejection of the central belief system.

Cited from my,
Judaisms and Memories: Systemic Representations of the Holocaust -- keynote address, Conference on the Effects of the Holocaust on the Humanities, University of Minnesota, March, 1989.

- repost from 4/25/06