5/31/07

Gear: Another "Obvious" Google Breakthrough

What makes genius? Sometimes it's just seeing what is obvious and going out and doing it. That is why Google succeeds. It created the culture of the obvious.

"Let's copy all the information of the world onto our servers and index it." Gee. That was obvious.

Now, "Let's make software that works both online and offline." Gee. Another obvious invention.

Google takes big step to make Web work offline By Eric Auchard
Wed May 30, 9:25 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. said on Wednesday it had created Web software that runs both online, and offline, marking a sea change for the Internet industry by letting users work on planes, trains, spotty connections and even in the most remote locations.

The technology, called Google Gears, would allow users of computers, phones and other devices to manipulate Web services like e-mail, online calendars or news readers whether online, intermittently connected to the Web or completely offline...more

Time: Putting God on Trial

Time magazine interviews Peter Irons about what sounds like a sober book that treats the religious battles of the culture wars in America.

Putting God on Trial

The never-ending march of court cases about church and state sometimes seems so rapid that they blur together. But Peter Irons, a longtime professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and a member of the Supreme Court bar, has slowed down time to take in-depth looks at several highly symbolic disputes in his new book God on Trial: Dispatches from America's Religious Battlefields (Viking $26.95). He talked to TIME's David Van Biema about swing votes, death threats, and the rule of law.

TIME: Your book treats six First Amendment religion cases, several of which went to the Supreme Court. Briefly, what were they?

There was the San Diego case against a 43-foot Latin Cross erected in a veterans cemetery in San Diego; the football-game prayer case from Santa Fe, Texas, two Ten Commandments cases, the attempt to remove "under God " from the Pledge of Allegiance and the Intelligent Design case in Dover, Pa. ...

5/30/07

Jewish Press Tells Live Reform Rabbi Not to Quote a Dead Orthodox Rabbi

Well just when you think you have seen everything along comes the alleged newspaper, the Jewish Press and takes up arms against an enemy soldier who dares to invoke the name and words of a beloved saintly deceased Rabbi.

That's one way to avoid discussing the real issue. Orthodox rabbis who are employed by the State of Israel are in revolt against the liberal conversion policies in place. It was Sharon who made decisions to grow the Jewish people faster by converting more willing souls to Judaism.

The state population stands now at over 7 million. The State is strong and growing stronger. Sure, this decision meant allowing more non-Jews to convert.

This is a big struggle. Grow faster via conversions or grow slower or not at all via conversions. There ought to be a debate over the issues.

It's pretty hard to avoid speaking to this issue and all the allied questions of who controls marriage and divorce in Israel. But lo and behold the Jewish Press found a way to sidestep it all.

It turns the debate over the lifeblood of our people into an excuse for carping about Rabbi Yoffie's choice of which authorities to cite.

I'd like to know where the JP stands on the question of whether to fire the insubordinate rabbinic employees of the State who refuse to carry out its deliberate policies.

How's That Again? - Eric Yoffie Invokes The Rav
By: Editorial Board Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Reform movement has long chafed at the so-called life-cycle standards maintained by Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. Despite the importuning and protestation of Reform leaders, since the founding of the state such matters as marriage, divorce and conversion have been accepted as being under the purview of the chief rabbis, who were mandated to enforce Orthodox standards as a common bottom line.

The frustration of Reform leaders with that state of affairs is quite understandable, given the movement’s revisionist approach to fundamental issues bearing on the integrity of the Jewish bloodline.

Even so, it was dismaying to read a recent article by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, titled “Reform Reflections: The Rav Was Right.” The gist of the piece was that the great gaon Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik, zt”l, would have supported efforts to prevent the Chief Rabbinate from enforcing Orthodox standards on marriage, divorce and conversion.

Rabbi Yoffie referred to a reported comment of the Rav regarding his refusal to accept an offer to become Israel’s chief rabbi: “One of the reasons why I did not accept the post of chief rabbi of Israel – and the offer was made to me several times – was that I was afraid to be an officer of the State. A rabbinate linked up with a state cannot be completely free.”

While the Rav expressed admiration for Israeli rabbis, he nonetheless explained that “the mere fact that from time to time halachic problems are discussed as political issues at cabinet meetings is an infringement on the sovereignty of the rabbinate.”

But in a lecture delivered in 1972, Rabbi Yoffie writes, the Rav was less complimentary about the Israeli rabbinate. Therefore, he postulates, it is wrong to assume that only Reform and Conservative rabbis oppose the current unholy alliance in Israel that marries the Orthodox rabbinate to the apparatus of the state and makes each party the servant of the other. In fact, a significant stream of modern Orthodox thinking has expressed profound doubts about the advisability of relying on the coercion of the state to enforce halachic precepts. The Rav…was always insistent that Mizrachi could best encourage observance of Torah through education rather than through legislation resulting from political influence.

The notion that the Rav would side with the likes of Eric Yoffie – particularly on the question of whether there should be an enforceable Orthodox standard in Israel – is the epitome of absurdity.

In his classic November 19, 1954 article in Der Tag, the Rav presented his now famous challenge to non-Orthodox groups, dismissing the Reform movement for acting “as the Christian apostle, Saul of Tarsus, did in his days. It rejects the halacha and its mitzvos ma’siyos [performance of commandments] entirely and selects the universal ethical principles of the Torah.”

The Rav proceeded to excoriate the Conservative movement, writing that while at least we know where we stand with regard to Reform ideology, the Conservatives speak of halacha without delineating what they mean by the term. “Against this kind of confusion Orthodoxy wages a battle, for its sees in it a very great danger,” he declared.

And then he wrote something that, while directly addressing Conservatives in 1954, can well serve as the ultimate rejoinder to Eric Yoffie some 53 years later:

I hope that the representatives of the Conservative camp will act just as carefully as the atheistic Mapai did in Israel. The Mapai realized that if it wanted to avoid a schism in the ranks of Jewish family life, it must transfer the authority on the laws of marriage into the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. The same must be clearly understood by the leaders of the Conservative movement, because obstinacy in this instance may split the American Jewish community into two camps.
We think Eric Yoffie needs to leave the Rav alone and look elsewhere for support.

5/28/07

Israel prepares massive dismissal of insubordinate rabbis

"Rabbis, rabbinical judges and registrars employed by the state" are going to be replaced -- i.e. fired from their employment -- because of insubordination.

We agree that they should be shown the gate.

Their recalcitrance to accept the governmental conversion process is detrimental to the growth and well-being of the Jewish State and the Jewish People.
State to reform conversion process to counter rabbis' stringency
By Amiram Barkat

Rabbis, rabbinical judges and registrars employed by the state are becoming increasingly reluctant to acknowledge state-approved religious conversions, and the government intends to retaliate by implementing a far-reaching reform of the conversion process, officials who deal with conversions told Haaretz recently.

One example of this reluctance was the case of a woman whose conversion was recently annulled by the Ashdod Rabbinical Court, as reported last week.
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The woman, who converted 15 years ago, was declared a non-Jew along with her children because she did not observe religious law.

The court also declared Rabbi Haim Druckman, the director of the government's Conversion Administration and the rabbi who performed the conversion, to be sinners who brought non-Jews into the Jewish community.

According to Rabbi Shaul Farber, founder of Itim (the Jewish Life Information and Advocacy Center), registrars in several religious councils have been instructed not to acknowledge conversion documents issued by the Conversion Administration.

Instead, they were ordered to direct the converts to a rabbinical court for further review.

Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze'ev Boim is therefore advocating the formation of an alternative conversion apparatus, independent of the rabbinical courts.

"Conversion should be entrusted to progressive rabbis who recognize the national importance of the matter and the immigrants' needs," he told Haaretz.

To address this issue, the director general of the Absorption Ministry, Erez Halfon, is currently drafting a reform of the Conversion Administration.

Halfon's reform committee is expected to propose unifying all institutions that deal with conversion under one administrative umbrella.

It will also advocate doubling the number of rabbinical judges who review conversions and appointing progressive rabbis to the panels.

"Rabbinical courts are intimidating converts as well as rabbis by setting unreasonable requirements," Halfon charged.

"For example, they even demand that converts' partners adopt a religious lifestyle," he continued.

The Conversion Administration was created by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who sought to increase the number of converts within the Russian immigrant community.

Currently, the number of converts totals approximately 1,000 per year, which constitutes a 20 percent increase since the Conversion Administration was established.

But the state had hoped for more converts and is not satisfied with this figure.

Herald Tribune: Israel and the Price of Blindness

Who is to blame for the ongoing "situation" in Israel? Roger Cohen apportions the blame to both sides:
Op-Ed Columnist

Israel and the Price of Blindness

JERUSALEM

A three-minute Palestinian movie says what needs to be said about estrangement and violence in the Middle East. It features a woman driving around Jerusalem asking for directions to the adjacent West Bank town of Ramallah. She is met by dismay, irritation, blank stares and near panic from Israelis.

The documentary, called "A World Apart Within 15 Minutes" and directed by Enas Muthaffar, captures the psychological alienation that has intensified in recent years and left Israelis and Palestinians worlds apart, so alienated from each other that a major Palestinian city has vanished from Israelis' mental maps.

Never mind the latest flare-up in Gaza. What matters in the world's most intractable conflict is the way the personal narratives of Israelis and Palestinians, coaxed toward intersection by the Oslo Accords of the 1990s, have diverged to a point of mutual nonrecognition.

Ramallah is about 10 kilometers north of Jerusalem. For most Israelis, it might as well be on the moon. It is not just the fence, called the "separation barrier" by Israelis and the "racist separating wall" by Palestinians, that gets in the way. It is the death of the idea of peace and its replacement by the notion of security in detachment.

I can understand that notion's appeal. Israelis have had reason enough to throw up their hands since 2000 and say: To heck with suicide bombers, Gaza mayhem, inept Palestinian leadership and annihilationist Hamas. They would rather focus on their dot-com boom, high-speed trains and Goa vacations. They would rather be safe than worry about peace.

But detachment is an illusion. Life goes on behind the physical and mental barriers Israelis have erected. Or rather, it festers. As Itamar Rabinovich, the president of Tel Aviv University, remarked to me: "Palestine is a failed pre-state."

For that failure, Palestinians must take responsibility. But this aborted birth is also Israel's work. I drove recently from Jerusalem to the West Bank city of Nablus. A beautiful terrain of terraced olive groves is scarred by the cold imprint of Israeli occupation: shining garrison-like settlements on hilltops, fenced highways for settlers alone, watchtowers, check-points.

The West Bank, after 40 years under Israeli control, is a shameful place. If this is the price of Israeli security, it is unacceptable. Power corrupts; absolute power can corrupt absolutely. There are no meaningful checks and balances in this territory, none of the mechanisms of Israel's admirable democracy.

The result is what the World Bank this month called a "shattered economic space." If Israelis could be as inventive about seeking bridges to Palestinians as they are now in devising restrictions on their movement, the results could be startling. As it is, the bank noted, Israeli policy has produced "ever smaller and disconnected cantons."

This has been achieved through remorseless permit and ID checks, roadblocks, checkpoints and the creation of closed areas. Palestinians are caged in islets where doing business is near impossible.

More than 500 barriers hinder Palestinian movement. Meanwhile, Jewish settlers move freely; their number, outside East Jerusalem, has increased to about 250,000 from roughly 126,900 at the time of the Oslo Accords. These numbers alone make Palestinian political and religious radicalization less than entirely mysterious.

In his April 14, 2004, statement on a two-state solution, President George W. Bush offered concessions to Israel. He said it was "unrealistic" to expect "a full and complete return" to the Green Line. But he also urged "the establishment of a Palestinian state that is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent."

More than three years later, there is no such state. What there is of a nascent Palestine is non-viable, non-contiguous, non-sovereign and dependent. While denouncing terrorism with appropriate vigor, Bush has an equal obligation to pressure Israel to accept that ruthless colonization is unworthy of it and no enduring recipe for security.

Israel has an obligation to open its eyes and do some wall-jumping. The country has just been shaken by the Winograd Report, a devastating look at last summer's war against the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah. It is now time for a report of similar scope on Israel's West Bank occupation.

I can see no better way to arrest the cycle of alienation. Time is not on the side of a two-state solution. A fast-growing Palestinian population inhabits a neighborhood where the Ahmadinejad-Hezbollah-Hamas school has leverage.

If Israelis do not rediscover where and what Ramallah is, they may one day be devoured by what they choose not to see.

How Google Recruits New Talent

The business section of the NY Times explains how Google recruits its new talent:
In Fierce Competition, Google Finds Novel Ways to Feed Hiring Machine

Pizza parties, treasure hunts and programming contests are meant to create excitement around a company and impress potential recruits as young as college freshmen...

5/27/07

JTA: Kaddish and the Pope

JTA NEWS cleared up some of the ambiguities of other reports on the Pope's 2006 visit:
Poland's chief rabbi, U.S.-born Michael Schudrich, not only said Kaddish in the presence of the pope and the country's top elected leaders, but also recalled those non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the gas chambers.

The pope prayed with clasped hands as Simcha Keller, director of the Jewish community of Lodz, sang El Maleh Rachamim, a solemn prayer said to honor close relatives who have died.

Rome Rabbi Rips Pope

Agenzia Giornalistica Italia - News In English (2006 - translated):
AUSCHWITZ: ROME HEAD RABBI: THE POPE DID NOT SAY MANY THINGS

(AGI) - Rome, May 30 - Rome head Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, does not share everything pope Benedict XVI said in Auschwitz. Rabbi Di Segni comments the pope's speech on the online daily Affaritaliani.it. 'The pope's speech has raised many issues mentioning principles that we do not share. In detail I refer to Germany's lack of responsibility in the Shoah as if Germany after what has dared to do had no responsibility' he says.

"We must also mention the issues of the men's silence. The issue of God'silence is a strong theme we can share it, but it is not only it. There is also the men's silence and the pope did not speak about it" he says. "Our difference of opinions is the basis for the dialog" he says.

Di Segni also criticises the quotation made by the pope of the six million Polish people who have died in the concentration camps. "We do not share it because the Polish people who have died were not six million but five and three million of them were Jews. They remember the Jews as Polish people only when they must count the Polish dead.

The pope has marginalised the Jew martyrdom in Auschwitz, considering it one of the many elements of a complex process that is central instead. There is also the Christianization of this martyrdom because the only Jew martyr mentioned by the pope was Edith Stein who was a converted Jew" he says.

God: Where was the pope?

Pope: Where was God during Auschwitz horror? - News from Israel, Ynetnews 2006:


In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence - a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this? - he said in a speech delivered in Italian.
I don't hear silence. I hear a deafening roar from the heavens. "Where was Pius XII during the Holocaust?" "Why were you sir a Hilter-youth?" "Why did you fight in the German army?" "How dare you wear white to Auschwitz!"

Polish Chief Rabbi Attacked in 06:
A shadow was cast over the papal visit by Saturday's attack on Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who was to say Kaddish, or the Jewish prayer for the dead, during the ceremony led by the pope.

Schudrich told The Associated Press he was attacked in central Warsaw after confronting a man who shouted at him, 'Poland for Poles!' The rabbi said the unidentified man punched him in the chest and sprayed him with what appeared to be pepper spray.
Was he or was he not with the Pope during his visit to Auschwitz? Did he say Kaddish there? Will anti-Semitism never cease?

5/20/07

Frank Rich on the Waning Political Power of Religious Right

Frank Rich is relentless in his critique of Bush and the Right. We enjoy his columns in the NY Times. He may be wrong this week as he counts the Religious Right out of the picture. They are a stubborn and resilient bunch of characters:
May 20, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

The Reverend Falwell’s Heavenly Timing

HARD as it is to believe now, Jerry Falwell came in second only to Ronald Reagan in a 1983 Good Housekeeping poll anointing “the most admired man in America.” By September 2001, even the Bush administration was looking for a way to ditch the preacher who had joined Pat Robertson on TV to pin the 9/11 attacks on feminists, abortionists, gays and, implicitly, Teletubbies. As David Kuo, a former Bush official for faith-based initiatives, tells the story in his book “Tempting Faith,” the Reverend Falwell was given a ticket to the Washington National Cathedral memorial service that week only on the strict condition that he stay away from reporters and cameras. Mr. Falwell obeyed, though once inside he cracked jokes (“Whoa, does she look frumpy,” he said of Barbara Bush) and chortled nonstop.

This is the great spiritual leader whom John McCain and Mitt Romney raced to praise when he died on Tuesday, just as the G.O.P. presidential contenders were converging for a debate in South Carolina. The McCain camp’s elegiac press releaseagents of intolerance.” Mr. Falwell was always on the wrong, intolerant side of history. He fought against the civil rights movement and ridiculed Desmond Tutu’s battle against apartheid years before calling AIDS the “wrath of a just God against homosexuals” and, in 1999, fingering the Antichrist as an unidentified contemporary Jew. beat out his rival’s by a hair. But everyone including Senator McCain knows he got it right back in 2000, when he labeled Mr. Falwell and Mr. Robertson “

Though Mr. Falwell had long been an embarrassment and laughingstock to many, including a new generation of Christian leaders typified by Mr. Kuo, the timing of his death could not have had grander symbolic import. It happened at the precise moment that the Falwell-Robertson brand of religious politics is being given its walking papers by a large chunk of the political party the Christian right once helped to grow. Hours after Mr. Falwell died, Rudy Giuliani, a candidate he explicitly rejected, won the Republican debate by acclamation. When the marginal candidate Ron Paul handed “America’s mayor” an opening to wrap himself grandiloquently in 9/11 once more, not even the most conservative of Deep South audiences could resist cheering him. If Rudy can dress up as Jack Bauer, who cares about his penchant for drag?

The current exemplars of Mr. Falwell’s gay-baiting, anti-Roe style of politics, James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, see the writing on the wall. Electability matters more to Republicans these days than Mr. Giuliani’s unambiguous support for abortion rights and gay civil rights (no matter how clumsily he’s tried to fudge it). Last week Mr. Dobson was in full crybaby mode, threatening not to vote if Rudy is on the G.O.P. ticket. Mr. Perkins complained to The Wall Street Journal that the secular side of the Republican Party was serving its religious-right auxiliary with “divorce papers.”

Yes, and it is doing so with an abruptness and rudeness reminiscent of Mr. Giuliani’s public dumping of the second of his three wives, Donna Hanover. This month, even the conservative editorial page of The Journal chastised Republicans of the Perkins-Dobson ilk for being too bellicose about abortion, saying that a focus on the issue “will make the party seem irrelevant” and cost it the White House in 2008. At the start of Tuesday’s debate, the Fox News moderator Brit Hume coldly put Mr. Falwell’s death off limits by announcing that “we will not be seeking any more reaction from the candidates on that matter.” It was a pre-emptive move to shield Fox’s favored party from soiling its image any further by association with the Moral Majority has-been and his strident causes. In the ensuing 90 minutes, the Fox News questioners skipped past the once-burning subject of same-sex marriage as well.

What a difference a midterm election has made. The Karl Rove theory that Republicans cannot survive without pandering to religious-right pooh-bahs is yet another piece of Bush dogma lying in ruins, done in by two synergistic forces. The first is the raw political math. Polls consistently show that most Americans don’t want abortion outlawed, do want legal recognition for gay couples, do want stem-cell research and never want to see government intrude on a Terri Schiavo again. On Election Day 2006, voters in red states defeated both an abortion ban (South Dakota) and, for the first time, a same-sex marriage ban (Arizona).

But equally crucial is how much the “family values” establishment has tarnished itself in the Bush era. Some of that self-destruction followed the time-honored Jimmy Swaggart-Jim Bakker paradigm of hypocrisy: the revelations that Ted Haggard, the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, was finding God in the arms of a male prostitute, and that the vice president’s daughter and her partner were violating stated Bush White House doctrine by raising a child with two mommies. But a greater factor in the decline and sullying of the Falwell-flavored religious right is its collusion in the worldly corruption ushered in by this particular presidency and Mr. Rove’s now defunct Republican majority.

The felonious Jack Abramoff scandals have ensnared a remarkably large who’s who of righteous politicos, led by Mr. Robertson’s former consigliere at the Christian Coalition, Ralph Reed, who was so eager (as he put it in an e-mail) to start “humping in corporate accounts.” Among the preachers who abetted (unwittingly, they all say) the bogus grass-roots “anti-gambling” campaigns staged by Mr. Abramoff to smite rivals of his own Indian casino clients were Mr. Dobson, the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association and the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition. Tom DeLay, a leader of the Schiavo putsch in Congress, was taken out by his association with Mr. Abramoff, too. Mr. DeLay’s onetime chief of staff, Edwin Buckham (an evangelical minister, yet), pocketed more than $1 million, largely from Abramoff clients, that was funneled through a so-called U.S. Family Network, ostensibly dedicated to promoting “moral fitness.”

The sleazy links between Washington scandal and religious-right hacks didn’t end when Mr. Abramoff went to jail and Mr. DeLay went into oblivion. The first Justice Department official to plead the Fifth in this year’s bottomless United States attorneys scandal — Monica Goodling, a former top Alberto Gonzales aide — is a product of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law, formerly known as CBN University School of Law, after the Christian Broadcasting Network. As The Boston Globe discovered, Regent’s Web site boasts that some 150 of its grads were hired by the Bush administration, and not, it seems, because of merit. In Ms. Goodling’s graduating class, 60 percent failed the bar exam on their first try. U.S. News & World Report ranks the school in the fourth — a k a bottom — tier.

Having been given immunity, Ms. Goodling is scheduled to testify before House inquisitors this week. We know already from The National Journal that she was so moral that she put blue drapes over the exposed breasts in the statuary in the Great Hall of the Justice Department (since removed). The Times found that she had asked civil-service job applicants, “Have you ever cheated on your wife?” Yet her strict morality did not extend to protecting the nonpartisan sanctity of the American legal system. An inexperienced lawyer just past 30, Ms. Goodling exercised her power to vet some 400 Justice Department political appointees by favoring Republican and Rovian loyalty over actual qualifications. Though the Monica at the center of the last presidential scandal did enable a husband’s cheating on his wife, at least she wasn’t tasked with any governmental responsibility more weighty than divvying up pizza.

Mr. Giuliani’s rivals for the Republican nomination just can’t leave behind the received wisdom that you still have to appease the Robertson-Dobson-Perkins axis of piety that produces the likes of a Monica Goodling. They seem oblivious to the new evangelical leaders who care more about serving the ill, the poor and the environment than grandstanding in the fading culture wars. They seem oblivious to the reality that their association with the old religious-right taskmasters diminishes them, however well it may play to some Iowa caucus voters. Mr. Romney, a former social liberal whose wife gave money to Planned Parenthood, is crudely trying to rewrite his record by showering cash on anti-abortion-rights groups; he spoke at Regent U. even as a Pat Robertson Web site mocked his religion, Mormonism, as a cult. Mr. McCain, busily trying to disown past positions unpopular with the declining base, is trapped in a squeeze play of his own making: he’s failing to persuade the hard right that he’s one of them even as he makes Mr. Giuliani look like a straight-talker by comparison.

“America’s mayor” has so much checkered history in his closet — by which I mean Bernard Kerik, among other ticking time bombs, not the gay couple he bunked with before 9/11 — that he is hardly a certain winner of his party’s nomination, let alone the presidency. But whatever his ultimate fate, the enthusiasm and poll numbers Mr. Giuliani arouses among Republicans to date are a death knell for the political orthodoxy of the Rove era. The agents of intolerance are well on their way to being forgotten, even in those cases when they, unlike Jerry Falwell, are not yet gone.

5/17/07

Now that's a sack of potatoes

JTA Reports: Scholar wins big for Holocaust project

A UCLA scholar won a $1.5 million prize for a three-year project on the impact of the Holocaust on American literature. The Mellon Foundation Award presented to English and literature professor Eric Sundquist is America's largest in the humanities.

Sundquist, 54, argued in his study that English-language books are largely responsible for “Americanizing” and universalizing the Holocaust in the world’s consciousness.

He is described by colleagues at Columbia and Harvard universities as "the most productive American literature scholar of his generation." His book "Strangers in The Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holocaust America" won the Weinberg Judaic Studies Institute Award last month from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

5/15/07

Great letter in the Forward: Ex-Chief Rabbi’s Words Are Essentially Sorcery

Yes they did publish my letter.

Ex-Chief Rabbi’s Words Are Essentially Sorcery

Rabbi David Ellenson opines about Orthodox rabbis in Israel who are saying that Reform Judaism is the cause of the Holocaust and who refuse to give legitimacy to the Reform rabbinate (“Obscene Orthodox Hatred Demands a Clear Denunciation,” May 4).

This pains Ellenson — as it should — since he is the head of the Reform movement’s seminary, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

But this Orthodox rhetoric does not trouble me. My rebbe, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, would say about pronouncements like those of Mordecai Eliyahu, the former Israeli chief Sephardic rabbi, that they are essentially sorcery — neither theology nor history, but rather the equivalent of witchcraft, magic or the occult.

And I say that pushing a Reform rabbi out of a memorial ceremony is nothing more than sheer bullying.

So, if these Orthodox rabbis want to be known as sorcerers and bullies, they have my blessing. But in my eyes, they are no longer rabbis.

Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy
Teaneck, N.J.

5/9/07

The Mayhem of May

In the academic calendar, May is a frantic time when everyone scrambles to finish courses, to trot out guest scholars, to spend budgets and then... to graduate and go on vacation.

In the corporate world it's also frantic, but without the firm deadlines and the graduations.

So right now I am busy and will not blogging much until June.

And add to all that - I just started using awesome software - Windows Vista and Adobe Dreamweaver CS3 and Fireworks CS3.

Lots to do! Gotta go!

5/7/07

The Bullying Sanhedrin?

It would be great for rabbis to revive the Sanhedrin and make decisions on some of the questions of religious belief and practice that need to be clarified. It is horrible when instead the rabbis say they want to bring back the Sanhedrin so they can declare who is a friend and who is an enemy. Religion is perverted when religious leaders use it for supernatural bullying.
Rabbis call for re-establishment of Jewish court
Australian Broadcasting Corporation - Broadcast: 04/05/2007
Reporter: Matt Brown

In Israel, a group of rabbis are working to re-establish an ancient Jewish court and those against it have are accusing them of fostering radicalism.

Transcript
VIRGINIA TRIOLI: Meanwhile a group of rabbis try to reestablish the ancient Jewish court of Torah sages is taking on the military establishment and making waves in Israel. The court is called the Sanhedrin and those seeking its revival have been accused of fostering the sort of radicalism that led to the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995. Middle East correspondent, Matt Brown, reports from Jerusalem.

MATT BROWN, MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: It's a fundamental clash between religion and the state, and in a Jewish state, it can get pretty heated. A group of rabbis and scholars have re-established the ancient Jewish court, the Sanhedrin.

PROFESSOR HILLEL WEISS, SANHEDRIN RELIGIOUS COURT: We are not serving the Christians or the Muslims, we are serving the only truth that is in the world, and it is the Jewish law and the Torah, and all the nations have to obey this law.

ANNAT HOFFMAN, REFORM JUDAISM: If we are going to be a democracy, the rule of law has to prevail, not the rule of religious law.

MATT BROWN: The Sanhedrin believes the Israeli decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip last year and give it back to the Palestinians was a disaster of the highest order.

HILLEL WEISS: We must stop this process because it comes from self hatred, from weakness, from anti Semitic inside urge.

MATT BROWN: So, the Sanhedrin is determined to stop Israel from giving up any more Palestinian land in the West Bank. That's where Meir Bertler comes in. He's a radical activist who normally lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. He's not afraid of confronting his Palestinian neighbours. And the Israeli military has actually banned him from entering the settlement because he's too great a security risk.

MEIR BERTLER, ISRAELI SETTLER: (Translation) They simply come to you saying, 'You're dangerous, you have to leave your home. Go'. They throw you into the street and you don't have any way to fight against them. You don't have any say and you have no means of re dress.

MATT BROWN: But Meir Bertler did take his complaint to the Sanhedrin.

Yair Naveh, the general who issued the ban, is a religious man and the Sanhedrin summoned him twice to explain himself.

HILLEL WEISS: This general, personally, took decisions that destroy and enters the holocaust to the Jewish people again.

MATT BROWN: But the general ignored the rabbis and they branded him a Moser.

HILLEL WEISS: We told him that, according to the Jewish law, he's like a Moser, one that delivers Jews to gentiles, one who delivers land, one who delivers property.

MATT BROWN: In ancient Jewish law, being a Moser amounted to a death sentence.

HILLEL WEISS: "It's lawful to kill the Moser in any place, in any time."

MATT BROWN: The Sanhedrin says that these days the general should be punished simply by being ostracised by the Jewish community. He should die only a spiritual death. But in a land where the Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was murdered by a religious zealot, this is an especially sensitive judgement to make.

ANNAT HOFFMAN: What rabbi said at the time is that this zealot was a wild weed. 'He is a mad man'. He is growing in a well-tended garden. He is well-watered and well nourished by rabbis such as these.

MATT BROWN: The Sanhedrin says the Rabin assassination was just a government conspiracy to shock the nation and make the religious right look bad.

Professor Weiss says no-one would actually seek to impose the ancient death penalty on the general today.

HILLEL WEISS: Saying is hard - maybe act like this? I don't believe.

ANNAT HOFFMAN: Think of the terrorists who are suicide bombers. They are brainwashed the fact of giving total commitment to religion, 'giving your whole body and soul to a religious cause is a good thing'. They are actually making - they are actually creating our own Jewish suicide bombers.

MATT BROWN: The Israeli state prosecutor and the police have been investigating this case for around three months. They're yet to reach a conclusion.

Dutch airline helped nazis flee after the war

This is not a story about altruism and good deeds. It shows in yet another way how depraved European society was back then.
‘KLM ignored warnings on flying Nazis to Argentina’
By Paul Scheltus for the Buenos Aires Herald

KLM airline knowingly airlifted fugitive Nazis to Argentina in the years following WWII, a Dutch television programme has revealed, prompting Dutch Parliament members to call for an investigation.
Hans van Baalen, legislator for the VVD-party has told Elsevier-website he was "shocked to learn that the national airline co-operated with the escape of war criminals." He says his party is calling for an investigation into the airline’s past to be carried out by the National Institute for War Documentation.
Although KLM’s alleged role in the transport of Nazis had already been documented by former Buenos Aires Herald journalist Uki Goñi in his book The Real Odessa (2003), the probe by television show Netwerk has gone even further in making the case against the Royal Dutch Airline.
In a phone interview Marc Dierikx, a Dutch historian specializing in the airline industry, commented to the Herald from the Netherlands on Netwerk’s findings: "If you look at the evidence you have to conclude KLM knew who it was they were flying to Argentina," he said.
That evidence includes documents which, according to Dierikx, demonstrate that KLM tried to persuade the Swiss authorities to turn a blind eye at border checks to Germans prohibited from travelling. Other findings, he said, point to numerous warnings by US authorities to the airline that it was transporting suspected war criminals. Those warnings were ignored.

5/6/07

"Holocaust capitalism at its funniest "

This review by of MY HOLOCAUST, by Tova Reich; HarperCollins,

With lacerating humor Tova Reich manages to pay tribute to Holocaust victims, while coming down hard on those who try to cash in on the survivors' pain and suffering, and the disturbing memorial "businesses" that have sprung up around them.

A quick glance at the perky cover of "My Holocaust," with its garlands of barbed wire, tiny figurines -- some in striped prisoner garb and some with shovels -- and candy-striped signposts to Auschwitz and Birkenau, all done in the manner of a cutesy toy village, is your first tip-off.

And soon after beginning this viciously funny, head-spinning novel about the commoditizing of victimhood and the marketing of memorialization, you're hesitant to touch its pages, lest the coruscating satire burn your fingertips.

And once you've been introduced to the venal camp survivor Maurice Messer, who speaks with a Jackie Mason-style accent and once manufactured girdles but now runs Holocaust Connections Inc.; his son Norman, nerdy and self-aggrandizing in equal measure; and Norman's mysterious daughter Nechama, who converts and becomes Sister Consolatia of the Cross -- not to mention the finagling Rabbi Monty Pincus; the ditzy donor Gloria Bacon Lieb; her dopey, DustBuster-toting daughter Bunny; a Polish interpreter with a heart of malice and assorted other charlatans, true believers, conspirators and just plain loons -- you'll know why this book is different from all other Holocaust books.

There have been countless deeply serious, heart-rending, stomach-turning, mind-boggling accounts of man's inhumanity, Nazi-style -- but this novel is clearly in its own class.

With humor that excoriates and rage that radiates from the page, Tova Reich lays into people who, in the process of avenging the 6 million Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, sell their own souls.

Reich, the author of three novels and a contributor to Harper's Magazine and The Atlantic Monthly, takes no prisoners in this Swiftian satire. Not only does she mercilessly caricature Jews who find power, prestige and perks in merchandizing the response to the slaughter by creating a museum with "Teach a Terrorist" programs and box-car replicas and piped-in narrations -- and then must go whoring after funding to support it -- she also cudgels representatives of other religions and groups who want their own piece of that grief-filled, guilt-filled, "gelt-filled" pie.

Reich, by the way, is no disinterested observer of this subject. Her husband, Walter Reich, a champion of keeping the U.S. Holocaust Museum focused on academic research, was ousted as its director in 1988 during a brouhaha over whether Yassir Arafat should be allowed to visit. Her brother, Rabbi Avi Weiss, made headlines when he scaled a fence during protests over the Carmelite convent on the grounds of the Auschwitz camp. He gets tagged in the book as "that crazy Spiderman rabbi." But while Reich might have a few large axes to grind, the book soars far above any personal settling of scores.

In the end, though, she abandons the lacerating humor for a cry from the heart. Nechama/Sister Consolatia glides unnoticed through the hubbub at the museum, and she expresses what is owed -- not memories, not memorials, not museums, but eternal pain. She prays:

"It also is my passion -- to keep all the suffering that ever was and ever will be everlastingly fresh in my mind ... to be forever in a state of shock, of not believing my eyes, of being unable to breathe, of not being able to comprehend. ... Don't let me get used to it, Lord; that's all I ask."

"Let it always hurt just as much."

NY Observer on the new Chabon Book

This review gives you a great taste of the book's complexity and substance. Meanwhile the Post called the author and book antisemitic to which the response was:

“It’d be like calling Groucho Marx anti-mustache,” the best-selling author Michael Chabon said of recent criticism in the New York Post that he and his new detective novel, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, are anti-Semitic."
At Celebration, Chabon Confounded By Chauvinism Charges—And Hey, Where Was Wacky Wife Ayelet? by David Foxley | Media | The Transom | 05/01/07


The Big Schlep: Chabon’s Alaskan Lantzmen by Emily Barton | Arts & Culture | Book Review | 05/01/07

NY Times Lauds Beliefnet and Mazal Tov Becky

The Times extols Beliefnet.com as a tenacious and ultimately successful new media business.

And a big mazal tov to Ms. Becky Phillips - a Team Tzvee founding member and Beliefnet producer - who is getting married today.
May 5, 2007 Talking Business
Keeping Faith in a Venture Built on Faith

“I found the Chapter 11 period exhilarating,” Steven Waldman was saying the other day.

Mr. Waldman, 44, was sitting in his mildly shabby office in Manhattan, smiling from ear to ear. Atop a bookcase next to his desk stood a brand-new Ellie, that oddly shaped trophy that symbolizes a National Magazine Award, which Mr. Waldman’s Web site, beliefnet.com, had won Tuesday night in the General Excellence Online category. This small, independent voice of religion and spirituality, which had been a finalist three times before, had beaten out better-known brands including ESPN, People.com, businessweek.com and Slate.

Beliefnet calls itself a “multi-faith” site, meaning it has sections devoted to every religion, from Buddhism to fundamentalist Christian. It also has areas devoted to health, relationships, inspiration and so on. It produces daily e-mail newsletters and offers a place where like-minded people can create communities.

One of the most powerful such communities, for instance, was begun by a mother whose child died in his early 20s; she wanted to create a place where other parents who had suffered the same awful pain could find support and comfort. Beliefnet is an editorially rich site, with diverse voices, and a nice mix of high-brow thinking and low-brow entertainment. Advertisers have warmed to it.

“It is hard to be both ecumenical and ambitious and aggressive at the same time,” said Newsweek’s editor, Jon Meacham, who has a strong interest in religion and whose magazine once had a business relationship with beliefnet. “Steve has succeeded in that.”

Indeed he has. Mr. Waldman, a former magazine writer and editor, conceived beliefnet in the late 1990s, and has been its guiding light and editor ever since. In March 2002, he also became its chief executive. And in that latter fact lies the story I want to tell this morning. Born during the dot-com boom, beliefnet is a company that by all rights should have died with all the other failed ventures when the bubble burst. That it is still here — and is now thriving — has a lot to do with the fact that Mr. Waldman isn’t just a good editor. He has turned out to be an awfully good businessman as well.

THOUGH I’m not a regular visitor to the site, I’ve been following the beliefnet story for years, largely because the company’s other co-founder, a consultant and a longtime magazine executive named Robert Nylen, is an old friend and colleague of mine. (I’ve also known Mr. Waldman for years, though not nearly as well.) Mr. Waldman had been working at U.S. News & World Report during the brief editorship of James Fallows. He had long had an interest in spirituality and religion and had noticed, both at U.S. News and at Newsweek, where he’d been a writer, that religion covers always did well. (“The old joke was that if you could put the Jesus diet on the cover, you’d have your best newsstand seller,” Mr. Meacham told me.)

When Mr. Fallows was axed in 1998 by U.S. News’s owner, Mort Zuckerman, Mr. Waldman decided it was time to pursue his dream: a magazine about religion, which he planned to call Belief. But as he and Mr. Nylen, who was going to be the magazine’s publisher, made the rounds of venture capitalists, they heard the same refrain: “If you ever decide to turn it into a Web site, give us a call.” Needless to say, they decided to turn it into a Web site.

That decision gave them two things. The first was money; from the fall of 1999 to the spring of 2000, they raised $26 million. And, as Mr. Waldman soon realized, it also gave them more editorial flexibility than they would have had with a magazine. “One of the iron laws of magazines is that you have to have a voice,” Mr. Waldman said. But beliefnet needed many different voices, which was much easier to do online. It could offer interactivity and community. And it could allow people to explore other faiths — or dig deep into their own religion.

What that decision didn’t give them was a business model. It was not obvious back then that advertising was going to be the engine that drove Internet profits. So while beliefnet had ad-supported editorial content, it also had a Web hosting service, an e-commerce division and a number of other businesses. None of them generated much revenue, though the company’s backers didn’t seem to care. “The V.C.s kept saying, ‘There’s a new paradigm,’ ” recalled Elizabeth Sams, beliefnet’s executive editor. The point, everyone believed, was to get big fast, to plant the flag as the dominant site in the category.

You know the next part of the story, right? Boom turns to bust, and all the backers who didn’t care about revenue suddenly care about nothing but revenue. They stop handing over checks. Beliefnet goes through several rounds of painful belt-tightening. First go the free lunches and short-lived masseuse, the only two dot-com perks the company ever had. Then the layoffs begin. By March 2002, the company is bankrupt.

There were those on the company’s board who wanted beliefnet to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy — to liquidate, in other words. “We were a bankrupt dot-com with content, which wasn’t cool, about spirituality, which was thought to be non-monetizeable,” said Mr. Waldman.

But he was determined not to give up on his idea. “It was six months after 9/11. I thought, ‘This is not a time for a multifaith religious Web site to go away.” During a contentious climactic board meeting, he argued that the site had one million unique visitors a month, and some steady advertisers, mainly in the dieting and dating category. The board finally agreed to let him take the company into Chapter 11 instead, where it would be protected from creditors while it reorganized, and would at least have a fighting chance.

Here’s what Mr. Waldman did next. He laid off everybody except a core group of five people, including Ms. Sams, and he offered them the following deal. If they would work for minimum wage, he would give them equity in the company to make up for the huge cut in pay they were taking. (Once the company filed for bankruptcy, of course, the original backers lost all their equity.) They all agreed. As Mr. Waldman notes now: “The people who were left were the ones who really wanted to be there and totally believed in it.” They then sold most of the company’s furniture, and even canceled its contract with its cleaning crew. The beliefnet executives cleaned the bathrooms themselves.

Here’s a surprising truth: if Mr. Waldman had succeeded in his original desire to start a magazine, it would surely have gone bust. The fact that beliefnet was a Web site had a lot to do with why it stayed alive. The “pay for performance” ad model, which largely doesn’t exist offline, meant that it didn’t matter to advertisers that beliefnet was in Chapter 11, or even whether it would stay in business: If they ran an ad and viewers clicked on it, that’s all they cared about. And the site never went dark, not for a day.

There was one venture capitalist, John C. McIlwraith of the Blue Chip Venture Company, who also still believed. Though his firm had lost $5 million on beliefnet during the bubble, he put in another $250,000 at a time when the company desperately needed the money.

By the time Beliefnet emerged from bankruptcy six months later, cash flow was positive and growing. And Mr. Waldman and his small staff had learned an enormous amount about their business. “It was in that period that we realized that vitamin ads did well for us, and we realized that health is a big category for us,” he said. So he began doing more health coverage, and soliciting more health-oriented ads.

Ms. Sams recalls the period after bankruptcy as a time when “we had the luxury of limited choices.” What she means is that with money tight, the company had to focus its efforts on what made the most sense; it could no longer throw business models against the wall to see what would work.

In the subsequent four years, beliefnet’s revenue has grown by at least 50 percent annually. Last year, it had $12.6 million in revenue. Its advertisers include giants like Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Disney. And in 2005, it could finally breathe a little: Softbank made a $6.5 million investment. (Softbank and Blue Chip Venture together own a little more than 40 percent of the company; Mr. Waldman and the employees own the rest.) Mr. Waldman did not use the money to get fancier offices. He used it to upgrade the company’s technology.

Someday, beliefnet will probably be sold to a larger company; as Mr. Waldman concedes, Softbank is going to want to cash in with “a liquidity event.” He told me he was fine with that, and why wouldn’t he be? If beliefnet were sold tomorrow, my guess is that it would get somewhere in the range of $100 million.

At which point, Mr. Waldman will probably give up the title of chief executive and go back to being a full-time editor. Which is a shame, in a way. Mr. Nylen, who remains on the beliefnet board, said one thing that most impressed him about Mr. Waldman was his calm nerve. “He’s a skinny, frail-looking intellectual who turns out have a steel heart and gut. He’s the best entrepreneur I know.”

Ms. Sams described him as “a very understated leader; he’s not a rah-rah cheerleader.” But, she added, his passion is palpable, and in both good times and bad, he never lost sight of his mission.

As I was preparing to leave his office, Mr. Waldman took me down a flight of stairs and into a conference room, where he showed me some hideous orange chairs. “We had these chairs in the old days,” he said with a wry smile. “They’re so ugly that when we were selling the furniture nobody would buy them. We kept them and they became an emblem. They remind us to remain humble.”

Everyone should have a boss like that.

5/2/07

JTA: Jew v. Christian v. antiSemite - a Tempest in the Land O'Lakes

The repugnant congresswoman knows that Jews is news and is using that to get publicity yet again. She has no point to make. She is repugnant, repugnant, repugnant. [For those of you who don't understand overdone critiques - I am trying to be reflectively ironic.]

Please recall that in every county, save two, in Minnesota, there are more lakes than Jews.

A Minnesota congresswoman declined an invitation to attend "A Night to Honor Israel," saying the views of the event's evangelical founder are "repugnant."

A Minnesota congresswoman declined an invitation to attend "A Night to Honor Israel," saying the views of the event's evangelical founder are "repugnant."

The Living World Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, a Minneapolis suburb, is hosting the evening on April 29. The event is a project of Texas televangelist Pastor John Hagee, who founded Christians United for Israel.

"Well-publicized statements by Pastor Hagee demonstrate extremism, bigotry and intolerance that is repugnant," U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat, said in a two-page reply declining a form invitation from Pastor Mac Hammond.

McCollum cited comments by Hagee describing Hurricane Katrina as the "judgment of God" against sinners in New Orleans and that "those who live by the Koran have a scriptural mandate to kill Christians and Jews."

McCollum noted Jewish criticism of Hagee and said, "unlike Pastor Hagee I support working for the 'road map for peace' in the Middle East, Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with an independent Palestinian state."

Steve Hunegs, director of the Minnesota/Dakotas Jewish Community Relations Council, said he would attend the event because "coalition building means finding common ground with people of diverse views." Of Hagee's controversial remarks, Hunegs said, "Those statements are wrong, but we're attending for their support for feeding the hungry and helping the widows and orphans in Israel. It's a Jewish value to say thank you."

David Brog, director of CUFI, said the "Night to Honor Israel" was a "big tent" event.

"We all enter this tent knowing that while we don't agree on everything, we do agree on one urgent proposition -- that we must stand with Israel against those who daily threaten to destroy her and her people," Brog said. "It's unfortunate that Rep. McCollum has decided to exclude herself from this big tent rather than seek to work with us in a constructive fashion."

Last year, McCollum broke for a few weeks with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee after a Minnesota AIPAC activist allegedly accused her of "supporting terrorists" because she voted against a bill banning assistance to the Palestinian Authority. She later reconciled with the organization.

JTA: Eisen Reinvigorates the Conservative Movement

Go Arnie go. The Conservative Movement needs some energy. Give it all you've got.

Frank Monkiewicz

JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen speaks at the Rabbinical Assembly’s convention in Cambridge, Mass., April 30.

New chancellor energizes
Conservative movement

By Ben Harris
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (JTA) -- He was given four standing ovations and received universal praise from Conservative rabbis this week, but Arnold Eisen still has his work cut out for him as he prepares to help steer the Conservative movement out of the doldrums.

On July 1, Eisen will assume the chancellorship of the Jewish Theological Seminary and with it the de-facto leadership of the Conservative movement.

Eisen, a professor of Jewish studies at Stanford University for the past 20 years and a leading scholar of contemporary Jewry, is only the second non-rabbi to lead the movement's flagship seminary. His appointment last year raised some hackles.

ig = igoogle

We've wondered what the ig is in the url for your personalized google search page http://www.google.com/ig?hl=en. OK now we know - it's igoogle. Guaranteed to be a giant hit for Google and a big challenge to myspace etc.

Google expands personalization with iGoogle

Tue May 1, 2007 By Eric Auchard

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., April 30 (Reuters) - Google Inc. <GOOG.O> is stepping up efforts to allow its users to personalize how they search the Web, moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach to search it already offers.

Officials told reporters at Google's Silicon Valley headquarters on Monday of moves to allow users to share their own writings, photos, lists and other creative efforts, as well as to give consumers personalized views of the Web through use of their geographical location and search history.

The world's top provider of Web search services is bringing together the more idiosyncratic approach to finding information on the Internet under the umbrella term "iGoogle", the new name for its enhanced personalized home page services.

"We want to personalize the traditional notion of search," Sep Kamvar, lead engineer for the personalization push, told reporters. "I am an eclectic person. But everyone is. We can't go about designing products for the average person."

Reinventing the classic Google.com home page -- with its simple, uncluttered design -- the company is introducing features that range from colourful new Web page designs to helping users publish their own creative content.

Google is borrowing or reinventing ideas that have already become popular features on many social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Bebo and Photobucket, where users are encouraged to share their own creative work with friends.

To help users create personalized features on iGoogle, the company introduced "Gadget Maker", which allows any user who knows how to upload a photo and fill out a simple Web form to publish their content without knowing computer coding.

Google introduced seven templates for creating personalized "gadgets" -- publishing features -- that include tools for publishing photos, sending virtual greeting cards or creating personal profiles or lists of favourite songs or films.

"I look at personalized search and I think it is one of the biggest advances we have had in the last couple of years," Marissa Mayer, Google's vice president in charge of search and user experience, told a news briefing.