5/31/12

Good for the Jews? Conservative and Reform Jews Can be Paid State Rabbis in Israel

Really. The Times reports that now, following a "brokered deal," Conservative and Reform rabbis will qualify to be paid employees of the State of Israel, "JERUSALEM — The Israeli government announced on Tuesday that, for the first time, it planned to pay the salaries of a small number of Reform and Conservative rabbis, as it does with many Orthodox ones."

Our experience with Israeli rabbis paid by the State is terrible, horrible, awful.

The rabbis we dealt with last year refused to allow us to officiate at the wedding of the son of a dear friend, even after we submitted our credentials. "Not enough wedding experience," they told us.

Note to world: a Jewish wedding is a simple ritual, no experience needed, five minutes of preparation will suffice for a complete novice. And PS, we have semicha from Rav Soloveitchik.

We were hurt and insulted and put down by the State employed Israeli clergy. (Names on request.)

Now, Conservative and Reform rabbis can join the ranks of Orthodox rabbis and serve as unfriendly and insulting clergy in the State of Israel.

But in achieving this "milestone" the liberal clergy accept insult upon themselves. "They will be classified as 'rabbis of non-Orthodox communities' and paid by the Ministry of Culture and Sport, not the Ministry of Religious Services," the Times says.

And further, "The deal says these non-Orthodox rabbis will not have any say over matters of religion and Jewish law, so it is unclear what their roles will be, or how many communities will request them."

And what hey, the Reform and Conservative rabbis apparently like to be insulted.
The Masorti movement’s chief executive, Yizhar Hess, called the decision historic, while Rabbi Gilad Kariv, the head of Israel’s Reform movement, described it as “a major breakthrough.”
Progress? You decide.

5/30/12

Funny Sexy Israel Tourism Ad



Funny Sexy Israel Tourism Ad (from 2010).

5/29/12

Using and Misusing the Tehillim

We have published on Halakhah.com the SYNOPSIS OF SEFER SHIMUSH TEHILLIM: Containing Protections Against Numerous Calamities. Attributed to Rav Hai Gaon, in Hebrew and English, compiled by Reuven Brauner.

From the Introduction:
Sefer Shimush Tehillim is a short and relatively little-known treatise attributed to Rav Hai Gaon (according to the Sedei Chemed) which describes the Kabbalistic uses of particular chapters and verses from the Book of Psalms for prophylactic or healing purposes. These selections are meant to be either recited alone, frequently multiple times, or in conjunction with some other action or prayer. Shimush Tehillim is mentioned in Teshuvas HaRashba (413), by the Chida, and others. This work is not to be confused with bibliomancy which is the use of Biblical verses for predicting the future.
We attend a synagogue where an additional Psalm is recited every weekday after Minhah on behalf of something. We believe that is an overuse and misuse of Tehillim.

Rabbi Lichtenstein's Foreword to Mikra and Meaning by Nathaniel Helfgott

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgott has written an incisive and perceptive book of literary approaches to selected biblical texts, Mikra and Meaning. The work must be examined within the literature of such studies written for the modern Orthodox reader, that is the college educated observant Jew. It stands out as a remarkable success within that genre.

What struck us in this book was the Foreword by Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, a former teacher of ours, and an exemplary individual whom we use to describe the scribal archetype in our recent book on prayer (God's Favorite Prayers).

He sums up his endorsement of the book  as follows, in a manner that we find less than exemplary, starting from the simple given that if you write a foreword, that you take the time to read the entire book (in this case not a great burden since the book is around 240 pages):

5/28/12

Is lying and cheating Jewish?

No lying and cheating is not Jewish. It is universal, everyone does it a little, a few people do it a lot.

In the WSJ, to promote his new book, Dan Ariely wrote, "Why We Lie" he explains, "We like to believe that a few bad apples spoil the virtuous bunch. But research shows that everyone cheats a little—right up to the point where they lose their sense of integrity."

Ariely's research shows that nearly everyone cheats and lies if given the opportunity. In his book, The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone---Especially Ourselves Ariely explains why.

Based on the WSJ write-up, this looks like a good book.

5/24/12

How "Rabbi" J. Ezra Merkin Bought His Co-op Apartment at 740 Park Avenue

Photo of 740 ParkThe J. Ezra Merkin of recent headlines and scandals -- known for eternity as a Bernie Madoff feeder -- and the Merkin family live in duplex apartment 6/7B at 740 Park Avenue.

A book by Michael Gross, 740 Park, is a fascinating account of rich New York through the prism of that single exceptional building.

We bought this book several years ago to read about the really rich folk in the neighborhood where we grew up, including Merkin's upstairs neighbor, our former Brown University buddy, Tommy Tisch (duplex 8/9B), and the rest of the club at the "tony" address.

There's barely a mention of Tommy in the book and the passage on Ezra, mistaken by the co-op board for a rabbi, is now, in retrospect, funny. Here's what Gross says on page 467 about how Ezra Merkin bought his apartment from Faith Perelman:

Detroit News: What is a Kosher Amigo Shabbat Scooter?

The Amigo Shabbat Scooter is a clever invention. We had bought one for our dad in 2007. It helped him get to shul on Shabbat.
Kosher scooters help Jews keep faith

Mich. company's device gets disabled Orthodox followers to synagogue

ORALANDAR BRAND-WILLIAMS
The Detroit News

Wixom --Michael Balkin observes traditional Jewish practices, but walking to services has been difficult for the past 20 years.

A worsening neurological disorder has made walking more than a few steps nearly impossible for the 59-year-old West Bloomfield resident. But in recent years, things have improved for Balkin, thanks to a motorized -- and perfectly kosher -- scooter.

"Now I'm able to do whatever and go to Shul and do whatever I want and how I want," said Balkin.

Orthodox Jews don't drive vehicles or use anything motorized during the Shabbat, or Sabbath, which lasts from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday. But a Bridgeport company has rolled out specially designed scooters that allow Orthodox Jews to follow their beliefs and still make it to the synagogue.

5/21/12

Was Christopher Columbus Jewish?

Yes, Christopher Columbus was a Jew according to some historians.

Charles Garcia, writing via CNN, summarized the case for Columbus the Jew in a story on May 20, 2012, the 508th anniversary of his death, "Was Columbus secretly a Jew?".

The crux of the evidence is this:
Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.

Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn't speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious -- and revealing -- provisions.

Two of his wishes -- tithe one-tenth of his income to the poor and provide an anonymous dowry for poor girls -- are part of Jewish customs. He also decreed to give money to a Jew who lived at the entrance of the Lisbon Jewish Quarter.

5/20/12

VIN: Rabbi Manis Friedman Says the Internet is not a Crisis for Judaism

On the day of a major stadium rally that was called by rabbis to warn against the dangers of the Internet, a prominent Lubavitch rabbi says there is no "unprecedented crisis." VIN reports:
In an address to a group of teenage students, noted author, lecturer and educator Rabbi Manis Friedman dismissed the notion of banning the internet and rejected the idea that the Jewish community is facing an unprecedented crisis.

Speaking on May 2nd at the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights, Rabbi Friedman called the internet the nisayon of today’s generation and advised students to do what Jews have been doing for years – stay strong and withstand the test that is being placed before klal yisroel...more...
Since we met him many years ago in Minnesota, Rabbi Friedman's trenchant observations have always made sense to us.

Celebrating Yom Yerushalayim

Today is Yom Yerushalayim. It is a Yom Tov. I recited Hallel in shul - with a berakhah.

This year 5772, a few weeks ago, I made a sad trip (with my brother, sister and son) to Jerusalem to accompany my father's remains on El Al and to inter him in his final place of rest at Har Hamenuchot in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem, gush yud, chelka bet, shura tet.

My father, Zev Zahavy, loved Israel, and especially Jerusalem. He owned two apartments there. He visited many times. He now rests there next to his wife and near his brother and his parents, all of blessed memory.

Here is how last year in 5771 we described our happier celebration in Jerusalem:

44 years ago in the Six Day War the IDF took the Old City in a fierce battle and united Jerusalem under a single government. From our point of view as a young Orthodox Yeshiva student at the time, this accomplishment was a great miracle. The old city of Jerusalem under Jewish control meant that the historical places of our people were again accessible to us, including the Temple Mount, or at least the Western Wall. A year later in 1968 we came to visit Israel and Jerusalem for the first time.

5/16/12

What does the Talmud say about Islam?

The Talmud says nothing at all about Islam.

The Talmud was published around 499 CE and Islam was founded may years later, around 622 CE. The Talmud mentions Arabs in numerous places, but that has nothing to do with Islam, the later religion.

For some reason a recent story about the new Arabic translation of the Talmud, "Lebanon news -Jordanian center translates Babylonian Talmud into Arabic" tells us that Mohammad Najem, spokesperson of the Amman-based Middle East Studies Center, said about the Talmud translation project, "It is important to understand how Jews view Islam as well as their own religion." Given the historical facts, the implication of this statement makes little direct sense.

Remembering Our 1964 Red Citroen DS19

In 2007 the NY Times reminded me of my 1964 Red Citroen DS19 with a picture spread of the author's car and a nice little story.

This essay is mentioned in the Times' spread.
The New Citroen
by Roland Barthes 1957

I think that cars today are almost the exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals: I mean the supreme creation of an era, conceived with passion by unknown artists, and consumed in image if not in usage by a whole population which appropriates them as a purely magical object.

5/13/12

Shmuley Boteach Warns the Forward of Legal Action

In February the Forward published an article about Shmuley Boteach's candidacy for congress in New Jersey. We did not like the article. We do not like the Forward. We consider it to be a high-school-quality newspaper with little original news reporting content of any value. The article about Boteach impressed us as an example of poor journalism, laden with suggestions and innuendo of wrongdoing, where none was merited.

According to a news report now (Boteach’s Battle Royale: Celebrity rabbi threatens to sue Jewish Daily Forward newspaper), Rabbi Boteach now has responded to the article with a lawyer's letter. Good for him. The article and a copy of the lawyer's letter was published in "The Washington Free Beacon" which we never heard of before but which describes itself as, "a nonprofit online newspaper that began publication on February 7, 2012. Dedicated to uncovering the stories that the professional left hopes will never see the light of day..."

Oh gee whiz why does he do this to us? We endorsed Shmuley's candidacy because we like the idea of a rabbi in congress. But by throwing in with the radical right wing, Shmuley is making it hard for us to continue to support him.

One thing for sure we disagree with. Shmuley chalks up the Forward's hatchet job on him as motivated by left wing political leanings at the paper. Oh gosh golly, we think of the Forward as a rightward leaning rag. Okay, we see that our perspectives differ.

We do hope this campaign will not get too dirty and that the Jewish press - especially the Forward - does not turn to raking muck to attack a hard-working serious and effective rabbi.

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5/12/12

Is the Internet Kosher?

Is the Internet kosher?

Now, the hot dogs served at Citi Field can be judged kosher or treif.

The Internet cannot. It is a medium for communications and hence cannot be kosher or treif. Some rabbis are making a mass rally about the Internet the center of attention for their communities.

We wonder if the rabbis know that every month we give away 25,000 tractates of the Talmud on our web site www.halakhah.com.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the "Orthodox Internet Rally Divides a Community".

Previously the WSJ reported, "A group of ultra-Orthodox Jews have rented out Citi Field for a meeting later this month intended to draw thousands of men to discuss the dangers of the Internet and formulate a communitywide response. The event, set for May 20, has been publicized internationally within the Orthodox Jewish press and tapped into a world-wide debate over how to reconcile modern life with the Internet's perceived moral dangers."

In our Talmudic view, this event is a giant mistake. Nothing of value can be accomplished through a rally in a stadium to remedy a perceived threat to morality. And clearly the Internet is not the problem. If the ease of accessing pornography via the Internet is at issue, and we assume that is the main concern, then the pornographers who create the content ought to be the target, not the communications and delivery mechanisms of the Net.

It looks to us like the rabbis are making a statement through the rally, but the wrong statement. The event says to us that the rabbis fear that the beauty of the moral life of Torah cannot compete with the attraction of the depravity of the x-rated content of the Internet. A rally, like the one planned, is a sign of panic that the battle is being lost, not a sign of confidence in the strength and validity of Judaism as a moral system and beacon to the nations.

There is much to be done to bolster morality in the world and to promote Judaism. A Citi Field rabbi-rally is not an effective means of doing either.

5/10/12

Yossi Abramowitz: Madonna is Jewish

We've been posting for nearly seven years that one of our favorite pop singers, Madonna, is not Jewish even though some of her music makes allusion to the Kabbalah and she has been involved in Kabbalah studies.

Now Yossi Abramowitz in the Jerusalem Report, strongly insinuates that Madonna is Jewish in actual fact ("YOSEF I. ABRAMOWITZ hails the arrival of Madonna to Israel – and to Judaism").

Yossi writes a nice column, but we just don't buy the premise of this story, especially because he has not interviewed Madonna to ask her if she has converted to Judaism. Nice try though.

5/1/12

Rabbi Zev Zahavy z"l (update)

I regret to inform you of the passing of my dad.

Rabbi Zev Zahavy z"l

Beloved husband of the late Edith Zahavy z"l; father of Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy '72R, Professor Reuvain Zahavy and Professor Miryam Wahrman; grandfather and great-grandfather, brother of May Chait and of the late Rabbi Noah Goldstein '51R z"l and Selma Guedalia z"l.

Rabbi Zev Zahavy was a wonderful son, husband, parent, grandparent, and great-grandparent. He served sincerely as a synagogue rabbi and worked diligently as a Judaic scholar and college professor. He was upright and honest in all his dealings. He loved his family and friends and his religion. He told wonderful stories and jokes and was an accomplished photographer and cartoonist. He enjoyed swimming and his summers at his home in Atlantic Beach. He cherished the State of Israel and his homes in Jerusalem which he visited with pride and enthusiasm.

He served as Rabbi in New York City at the West Side Institutional Synagogue, Congregation Ohab Zedek and as Senior rabbi at the Park East Synagogue. He worked as an esteemed Professor at the City University of New York. He was the author of books on cosmology and on kabbalah. More than 200 of his synagogue sermons were reported in the New York Times. He always inspired his family, his congregations and his classes with his unbridled idealism, optimism and good cheer.

The funeral took place at 10am, Wednesday, at the Park East Synagogue 163 E. 67 Street New York, NY. Additional eulogies and interment took place on Thursday at Har Hamenuchot in Jerusalem, (Gush Yud, Chelka Bet, Shura Tet) at 3:30 PM. Shiva started Thursday afternoon in Jerusalem at the Leonardo Inn Hotel. Shiva continued in New Jersey from Friday morning (5-4) through Wednesday morning (5-9) at Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy's home, in Teaneck.