7/30/12

Romney in Jerusalem: Culture and Providence Led to Israel's Economic Success (Not Socialism)

In a speech in Jerusalem to rich donors, Mitt Romney disrespected the Palestinians and distorted the history of the State of Israel, according to our reading of a report from the AP. He insinuates that Israeli culture is superior to Palestinian culture, and that God loves Israel more than the Palestinians.

And he altogether forgets to mention that Israel began as an entirely socialist state and still runs its economy and society on strong socialist principles mixed together with vibrant free enterprise and capitalism.

It looks like Mitt perhaps was confused about the Israeli economy and the Palestinian people and might explain when he returns that he, "just had the greatest brainwashing that anybody can get" by the Israeli officials that he met with.

Here is the start of the story:
JERUSALEM (AP) — Having publicly pledged a "solemn duty and moral imperative" to protect Israel, Mitt Romney told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the nearby Palestinians. 
"As you come here and you see the GDP per capita, for instance, in Israel which is about $21,000 dollars, and compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority, which is more like $10,000 per capita, you notice such a dramatically stark difference in economic vitality," the Republican presidential candidate told about 40 wealthy donors who breakfasted around a U-shaped table at the luxurious King David Hotel. 
The economic disparity between the Israelis and the Palestinians is actually much greater. Israel had a per capita gross domestic product of about $31,000 in 2011, while the West Bank and Gaza had a per capita GDP of just over $1,500, according to the World Bank...

7/29/12

Update: Mittness Protection Program Dropped in Jerusalem

Update - WSJ reports that some reporters will be allowed at the Romney Jerusalem fundraiser. WSJ also reminds us that, "President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign was quick to note that Mr. Obama did not hold fundraisers on his visit to Israel as a candidate in 2008."

Original post:
CNN Politics Political Ticker reports that Romney will bar reporters from his Jerusalem fund raiser at the King David Hotel. They further report:
In response to the news, Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod tweeted, "After London debacle, Romney team re-institutes Mittness Protection Program. Now media will be barred from his Jerusalem fundraiser."

In another tweet, he added, "Is it because Sheldon Adelson, the SuperPac King, will be among the guests?"
The Times Magazine noted the irony of Mitt taking money back from Israel. Matt Bai wrote in the "One Page Magazine" section: "IT'S ALL KOSHER. By Matt Bai. American Jews send millions of dollars to Israel every year, but Mitt Romney will soon reverse the equation." It's $60,000 a plate to attend.

Note that it looks like the same rabbi hosted both candidates at the Wall, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich.
He is known officially as the Rabbi of the Western Wall and the Holy Sites of Israel.

7/26/12

The Annals of the Epitome of Bad Taste: The Causes of the Holocaust, Tisha B'Av and a 30% off Sale on Talmud Books - Lowest Price Ever!

In a Tisha B'Av email from Artscroll we find "The Antidote to the Destruction" containing the following incredibly crude theological insights (original typos included):
...The Ya’aros Devash maintains that jews were indifferent to the spiritual poverty of “outsiders.” Instead of reaching out to the spiritually famished, most Jews tended to “mind their own business” and feel no responsibility to bring Torah and mitzvos to their brethren. That is not what we normally call hatred, but in the truest sense it was extreme hatred, because no nation – especially our nation – can long thrive if it is morally and “culturally” empty. To the Jewish people, “culture” means Torah, and when people ignore the communal responsibility to disseminate its study, they are starving their brethren of spiritual nourishment. It is like feeding an entire nation on a tasty diet on saturated fats, sodium, and sugar.

On Tishah B’Av, as we mourn the loss of the Beis Hamikdash and long for the coming of Mashiach, let us also resolve to bring the Torah and the beauty of Jewiish tradition to our brethren wherever they are. Thanks to the generosity of friends and supporters like you, the Mesorah Heritage Foundation is your agent in doing so...
We understand none of these insights, starting from the use of "quotes", then on to the idea that Jews who "mind their own business" caused the destruction of the Temple, continuing with the comparison between "when people ignore the communal responsibility to disseminate its [i.e. Torah] study" and a "diet of saturated fats, sodium, and sugar".

And - oy vavoy - for the Mesorah Heritage Foundation to then to pat themselves on the back, and claim credit as "The Antidote to the Destruction" and as a finale to announce and "Amazing Special on Schottenstein Talmud Bavli, 30% off, Lowest price ever!"

Yes, in concluding the email, signers Rabbi Nosson Scherman and Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz thank us, "...thanks to you, the scholars and editors of the Foundation are making powerful inroads. Many people speak of a Torah revolution. The revolution is yours."

In what we consider the epitome of bad taste, Worst Theology Ever!, the email proposes to know the "causes" of tragedy and then that the Artscroll "revolution" is the remedy to the destruction of the Temple and the Holocaust. Revolution, no. Revolting theology, yes.

But of course in our time and place, bad taste in advertising is not a sin.  [hat tip to bernice]

Is Michael Phelps Jewish?

No. Michael Phelps is not a Jew.

Phelps is the all-time Olympic medal winner with 19. Newsday reported on 7/31/2012:
Phelps swam into history with a lot of help from his friends, taking down the last major record that wasn't his alone. He took the anchor leg for the United States in a gold medal-winning performance of the 4x200-meter freestyle relay Tuesday night, earning the 19th Olympic medal of his brilliant career, and the 15th gold.
By winning 8 gold medals at the Olympics in 2008, Phelps eclipsed the record of 7 Olympic gold medals in a single Olympics, set by Mark Spitz in 1972 in Munich. Mark Spitz is considered to be one of the greatest Jewish athletes of all time. Spitz spoke about Phelps in an interview with ESPN.

The efforts of Jason Lezak, a Jewish swimmer on the American team, helped insure that Phelps would indeed win 8 gold medals in the 2008 Olympic games.

Michael Phelps was back in the spotlight in February 2008 because of the publication in News of the World of a photograph of him smoking marijuana.

7/25/12

Our Comprehensive Book on the Origins of Jewish Prayers and Blessings

"God Bless You: The Origins of Jewish Prayers and Blessings" is our comprehensive Kindle book on the topic:
The origins of Jewish prayer in the first five centuries of the Common Era, known also as the epoch of early rabbinic Judaism, the time of the Mishnah and the Talmud, the era of the Tannaim and Amoraim, and the time of Jesus and early Christianity.

A detailed analysis of the textual evidence on the subject mainly from the books of the rabbis, the Mishnah, the Tosefta and the Talmud, that finds the seams of timelessness and recovers the outlines of the origins of the great prayers of the Jewish people.
Purchase your copy on Amazon today.

7/16/12

Is Marissa Mayer Jewish?

Yes, the new CEO of Yahoo!, Marissa Mayer is a Jew.

Hat tip to our friend David who points out, "I find it interesting that Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and as of Monday, Yahoo!, are all run by Jews."

Bloomberg reported:
Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) said Marissa Mayer will become chief executive officer, appointing a vice president from competitor Google Inc. (GOOG) to stem user defections and market-share losses that have fueled three straight years of revenue declines at the biggest U.S. Web portal.
See a video interview of Marissa at the 92nd Street Y in NYC: Marissa Mayer on growing up in Wisconsin, getting hired at Google, and the origins of Adsense

7/15/12

Times Op-Ed: Compassion is Good

We applaud the study of compassion, whether as part of theology, general religious studies or now as a subject of study in the social sciences.

In "Compassion Made Easy" DAVID DeSTENO wonders, "As a social psychologist interested in the emotions, I long wondered whether this spiritual understanding of compassion was also scientifically accurate."

His reflections begin,
ALL the major religions place great importance on compassion. Whether it’s the parable of the good Samaritan in Christianity, Judaism’s “13 attributes of compassion” or the Buddha’s statement that “loving kindness and compassion is all of our practice,” empathy with the suffering of others is seen as a special virtue that has the power to change the world. This idea is often articulated by the Dalai Lama, who argues that individual experiences of compassion radiate outward and increase harmony for all...
Some people are naturally predisposed towards compassion and some will never attain it. The middle group needs to work on compassion to change their lives.

Prayers are the main vehicles for this work. When recited with understanding and sensitivity the liturgies can elevate compassion within individuals for their own selves and within communities for the betterment of society.

In Judaism we do compassion-work every day and we escalate our compassion-prayers in certain seasons, festivals and fasts. Compassion is the core goal of our every major meditation.

7/14/12

Free Sunday July 15 - Eleazar by Tzvee Zahavy

Free Sunday July 15. Eleazar: Rabbi, Priest, Patriarch. Amazon Kindle e-book edition.

Description: For anyone concerned with the formative period of rabbinic Judaism, the study of Rabbi Eleazar b. Azariah and his traditions is naturally important. He was prominent as a rabbi, a priest and a politician. According to rabbinic texts, Eleazar was a major figure among the rabbis at Yavneh in Israel in the second century C.E. Rabbinic literature speaks of Eleazar in more than two hundred places. One narrative describes that he was an important political figure at Yavneh and reports that he played a role in the events surrounding the deposition of Gamaliel II from the patriarchate. Many other traditions juxtapose his teachings with those of Aqiva, Eliezer, Joshua, and other major rabbis of the early era.

7/12/12

Two Masterpieces



Moroni’s “Portrait of a Little Girl of the Redetti Family,” from around 1570
(Metropolitan Museum of Art)



Tzvee’s “Portrait of a Little Girl of the Zahavy Family,” from 2008

7/11/12

Is Katie Homes Jewish?

No actress Katie Holmes is not a Jew. She was a Catholic, then a Scientologist and now, again, a Catholic, as the Examiner reports: Katie Holmes ditches Scientology, Tom Cruse; rejoins Catholic Church.

Wikipedia reports that she is quite Catholic, "Holmes was baptized a Roman Catholic and attended Christ the King Church in Toledo. She graduated from the all-female Notre Dame Academy (also her mother's alma mater), where Katie was a 4.0 student. At St. John's Jesuit, a nearby all-male high school, Holmes appeared in school musicals, playing a waitress in Hello, Dolly! and Lola in Damn Yankees."

She inches just a tad towards Jewish with these accomplishments, "She scored 1310 out of 1600 on her SAT and was accepted to Columbia University (and attended for a summer session); her father wanted her to be a doctor."

More of Merkin’s Madoff Murky Money Matters

Businessweek reports news of Merkin’s Madoff money matters:
J. Ezra Merkin’s so-called feeder funds for Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme will pay investors $110 million, bringing total recoveries to more than $500 million.

The third cash payment by Merkin’s Ariel and Gabriel funds, which has been approved by a New York Supreme Court judge in Manhattan, will be delivered within about 10 business days, liquidator Bart M. Schwartz said in a statement dated today that was e-mailed to Bloomberg News. The payments are separate from the money recovered for Merkin’s former investors by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in a $410 million settlement of a state lawsuit against the investment adviser, Schwartz said.

The $500 million payback from the two Merkin funds may be the largest so far in the Madoff case, Schwartz has said. Irving Picard, who is liquidating the Madoff brokerage, has paid customers about $333 million since the fraud collapsed in December 2008.

More distributions to Ariel and Gabriel investors are coming, Schwartz said in the statement. While Madoff bought no securities, Ariel and Gabriel invested in other funds, including Cerberus Capital Management LP, with assets that Schwartz could sell to raise money for the payouts, according to court papers.

Merkin was originally sued by Andrew Cuomo, then New York’s attorney general, for allegedly steering $2.4 billion to Madoff in exchange for almost $500 million in fees. As a result of Madoff’s scheme, investors in four funds controlled by Merkin lost more than $1.2 billion, the attorney general’s office has said.

7/10/12

DVD of the Talmudic Film "Footnote" by Joseph Cedar



Joseph Cedar's film Footnote explores the main definitions and contradictions of "Talmudic" living: the tensions between rivals, the relationships of humans to texts, the unquenchable thirst for the recognition of one's peers, and especially the unresolvable struggle of humor v. humorlessness.

The DVD is scheduled for release July 24, 2012.

The Times had a superb review for the film when it opened in New York. They have a nice short video interview at their site too.
Ego and Envy, So It Is Written
By KRISTIN HOHENADEL

THE world is full of unsung academics who toil all their lives in an obsessive quest for knowledge — and a reputation-making breakthrough in their chosen field — only to end up a footnote in someone else’s brilliant career.

Israel’s contender for this year’s foreign-language Academy Award was Joseph Cedar’s “Footnote,” a tragicomic tale of rival father-and-son Jewish scholars in the Talmud department of Hebrew University in Jerusalem. A universal story with an esoteric setting, the film was a box-office hit in Israel, winning that country’s version of an Oscar for best picture, and best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie, which was an Oscar finalist, opens in New York on Friday.

7/9/12

Walmart and Iran: Wipe Israel Off the Map

In 2003 we ordered a Genuine Gemstone Desk Globe from Walmart. It looked nice on the web site - just what we wanted for our office. When it came we found "Palestine" where "Israel" was supposed to be. We sent it back with a note, "I ordered a simple globe and got an insult. The globe has big letters for a non-existent country 'Palestine'. It has big letters for Jordan. It has no reference to Israel. It is disgraceful that Walmart would sell such an item."

In 2006, as we all know, the president of Iran said that Israel should be wiped off the map. At least that is what we thought. The Times ran a story which made us think, "Uh, oh. Here we go. Maybe he never said that." Well after much hemming and hawing and philology, the Times admitted. He said it.
Just How Far Did They Go, Those Words Against Israel? - New York Times:

By ETHAN BRONNER Published: June 11, 2006

EVER since he spoke at an anti-Zionism conference in Tehran last October, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has been known for one statement above all. As translated by news agencies at the time, it was that Israel 'should be wiped off the map.' Iran's nuclear program and sponsorship of militant Muslim groups are rarely mentioned without reference to the infamous map remark....

So did Iran's president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so. Did that amount to a call for war? That remains an open question.
They had to put in that dig at the end. Anyway, seems clear that Walmart and Iran agree on this issue. [Repost from 2006.]

7/8/12

VIDEO: Waves sweep Tyler Madoff out to sea in Hawaii

A tragic act of nature swept a New York boy out to sea. A high unexpected "freak set" of waves caught a group of young hikers off guard near the Captain Cook monument on the Big Island of Hawaii.

We visited there last year and spent two hours snorkeling in the cove near the monument. The seas were calm that day but they can get big and rough on other days. (And as far as we can tell, the victim of this terrible act of nature is not related to Bernie Madoff.)



7/7/12

Times: Is Starbucks Kosher?

Yes, many items at Starbucks are kosher according to sources cited in the Times, "Blending a Strong Interest in Kosher Ingredients With a Taste for Starbucks Coffee" by Mark Oppenheimer.

The Times profiles Uri Ort who runs a web site on the topic at www.kosherstarbucks.com
...Mr. Ort helpfully marks all Starbucks products with either a green light or a red light. The Frappuccinos all get red lights. The Tazo teas, green lights. Hot chocolate, green light — but white hot chocolate, red light. The Vivanno smoothie? It depends on the flavor. Mocha drizzle on top — yes! Caramel drizzle, no.
Yes to whipped cream.

Mr. Ort is not the only macher in this game. Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, the kosher supervisor for the Chicago Rabbinical Council, spent more than two years stopping into Starbucks stores all over the world, researching his definitive 2011 document, “Guide to Starbucks Beverages.” “I’d say I visited 50-plus Starbucks,” Rabbi Fishbane said, calling from his vacation house in the Catskills. “It’s safe to say I’ve been to three-quarters of the states. I’ve been to Japan.”

Rabbi Fishbane’s paper is a thorough, painstaking document. For example, he discusses at length the Starbucks dishwasher, which uses 180-degree water — a reassuringly sanitary temperature, but bad for Starbucks’s kosher status, because it is considered hot enough to absorb nonkosher flavors into a pot.

And he gives permissible ratios for nonkosher ingredients in a kosher food: “Even though it is possible that a tiny bit of nonkosher grease might be on the rag used to wipe the steamer wands and that grease might end up in my steamed milk, the milk remains kosher because the volume of the milk is more than 60 times the volume of the grease.”

Rabbi Fishbane is a full-time kosher supervisor, and his Starbucks visits were just side trips on his travels. Mr. Ort, by contrast, is part of the Starbucks community — and, he says, a more reliable guide than even some of the professionals.

“The large certifying agencies, such as the Star-K and the Chicago Rabbinical Council, are far too quick to simply say beverages in Starbucks are not kosher,” Mr. Ort said. They are thus “keeping themselves safe while inconveniencing thousands of people, when in fact, according to Jewish law, many beverages are completely kosher.”...

Free Sunday July 8: The Kindle Edition of "Whence and Wherefore: The Cosmological Destiny of Man Scientifically and Philosophically Considered" by Zev Zahavy

At Amazon.com -- Free this Sunday July 8 from Talmudic Books the Kindle Edition published June 1 in honor of Zev Zahavy's sheloshim, thirty days after his passing. This book was originally published by my dad in 1978.

Whence and Wherefore
The Cosmological Destiny of Man Scientifically and Philosophically Considered 
An Analysis Relating to "In the Centre of Immensities" by Sir Bernard Lovell

BY ZEV ZAHAVY

This important book explores the possibility that science and theology may harness their energies in a unified endeavor, and thereby assume a creative role of leadership in formulating a meaningful outlook for a bewildered, aimless society. A new power structure of science and theistic existentialism can serve to direct man along sensible paths of behavior, particularly since civilization now stands at a crossroads wherein the whole cosmological destiny of the human species appears to be at stake.

7/5/12

The Talmud of Swimming

In a Talmud-like fashion, the Times discusses which of the two main styles of swimming the freestyle is superior, more effective, or as we would like to say, more kosher.

"Delineating the Perfect Swim Stroke," by GRETCHEN REYNOLDS, describes the dispute over whether the best stroke is the drag or is the scull.

Here is how the article explains the dispute between the "ancient saints" of swimming and the "House of Counsilman." (It helps if you chant this out loud in a sing-song Talmudic fashion.)
...until Doc Counsilman weighed in, it was widely believed that swimming, for humans, involved primarily drag forces. You pulled against the water, like someone paddling a canoe, your arm remaining straight, palm perpendicular to the body. This stroke technique is often called a “deep catch” style of swimming, since you pull long and deep against the water.

Coach Counsilman was convinced, however, that lift could and should provide a majority of the propulsion for human swimmers, and that the way to generate lift was to scull, or move the stroking arm through an S-curve underwater...
We've always decided the Halakhah of the stroke in favor of the House of Counsilman, mainly for the reasons that the article describes.

7/1/12

Is philosopher Saul Kripke Jewish?

Yes, the famous philosopher Saul Kripke is an observant Jew. His father, Rabbi Myer Kripke, played bridge with, and later invested with Warren Buffet in Omaha Nebraska. His father became wealthy as a result and later donated to the Jewish Theological Seminary, his alma mater. There is a wing of the Seminary named for him.

The Times has a story today by Jim Holt ("Is Philosophy Literature") about philosophy, which concludes by describing the contribution of Saul to the field:
Literary pleasures can turn up even in the most seemingly abstruse reaches of analytic philosophy. Take the case of Saul Kripke — widely (though not unanimously) considered the one true genius in the profession today. Kripke’s work can be dauntingly technical. The first volume of his collected papers, recently published by Oxford University Press under the arresting title “Philosophical Troubles,” will be a treasure trove to his fellow philosophers of logic and language, but it is not for the casual reader. However, an earlier work of his, the revolutionary “Naming and Necessity,” is so lucidly, inventively and even playfully argued that even a newcomer to analytic philosophy will find it hard to put down. The book is actually a transcription of three lectures Kripke gave, extemporaneously and without notes, at Princeton in January 1970 — hence its lovely conversational tone.

Ranging over deep matters like metaphysical necessity, the a priori and the mind-body problem, Kripke proceeds by way of a dazzling series of examples involving Salvador Dalí and Sir Walter Scott, the standard meter stick in Paris, Richard Nixon (plus David Fry’s impersonation of him), and an identity-like logical relation Kripke calls “schmidentity.” There is not a dogmatic or pompous word in the lectures — and not a dull one either. Kripke the analytic philosopher reveals himself to be a literary stylist of the first water (just as, say, Richard Feynman the physicist did). The reader more than forgives Kripke when he remarks at one point, apropos of his unwillingness to give a thoroughly worked-out theory of reference, “I’m sort of too lazy at the moment.”

I hope I have clinched my case for analytic philosophy as belles lettres. But perhaps I should give the last word to a real literary man, John Milton, who prophetically wrote of Kripke, Russell and their kind:

How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and crabbèd as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets…
Next question: Is Talmud literature? (PS: Reality check. No and no.)