8/30/12

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8/26/12

Times: Jesus and Talmudic Rabbis Set Examples for the Skinny Dipping Congressman Yoder

It's official. The Times will publish utterly silly stuff, like this op-ed by Dani Renan.

LOOSE ENDS

What Would Jesus Do? Skinny-Dip

A look at the history of skinny-dipping in the Sea of Galilee.
KEVIN YODER, a congressman from Kansas, apologized last week for swimming nude in the Sea of Galilee last summer during a trip with his wife and other members of Congress, who apparently were clothed. Actually, he apologized for “any embarrassment I have caused for my colleagues and constituents.”

8/20/12

The Adelsons back Rabbi Boteach

The WSJ reports that, "Billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, among the top donors to the Republican machine this election, is also now the top giver – along with his wife – to the New Jersey congressional race of the reality-TV rabbi, Shmuley Boteach.":
Mr. Adelson, who runs the Las Vegas Sands international gaming empire, and his wife, Dr. Miriam Adelson, who runs the Adelson drug clinic, have each given $250,000, or $500,000 total, to a new independent super PAC called the Patriot Prosperity PAC, according to people close to the Adelsons and the PAC. (Hat tip to David E. Y. S.)
Gambling profits money? No problem at all for Rabbi Shmuley.

On Piyyutim and Pesukim - two new Stellar Free Halakhah.com Publications

On Piyyutim and Pesukim - two new stellar Halakhah.com publications by Reuven Brauner are now available for free download.

1. "Synopsis of the Elul and Tishrei Piyyutim" summarizes each of the many Piyyutim we say in shul from just before Rosh Hashanah until Erev Yom Kippur. Most people read through them with virtually no comprehension of their content or meaning. Most proper Selichos books with translation and commentary are too cumbersome for use during the actual time of Selicha recitation and, therefore, Brauner felt it useful to have a terse, quick and easy summary with some interesting notes that can be used as an on-the-spot refresher to be perused in real-time during the communal Selichos recitation.

2. "Shimush Pesukim – A Comprehensive Index of the Liturgical and Ceremonial Uses of Biblical Verses and Passages" catalogues hundreds of verses from Tanach, from Bereishis through Divrei Hayomim, inclusively, and where they are used anywhere in our Tefillah or in our various rituals. The inspiration of this came from the simple observation that we often see in our better Siddurim, Talmuds, Midrashim footnotes and references to their sources in Tanach, but no reference that points from a Tanach to the Siddur. A reference to a verse, shows where it is used somewhere in our Prayers. Once you know the Scriptural source (chapter and verse), you can look the verse up in Shimush Pesukim and you will then find the location of its use or usages. For some, this may be a fun curios, but for budding scholars and students, this can be a very helpful aid in their studies.

Augusta National Golf Club Admits its First Two Women Members: Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore

ABC reports that Augusta National golf course, home of the Masters, has admitted its first two women members, Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.

Sigh. 2012 and yet this is news. We are not impressed.

Is J. J. Goldberg an Am-Haaretz?

Sam Norich has put up obnoxious nag screens with his picture on his site because he wants us to give him $120 to become a member of the Forward. We thought the paper was profitable and did not need to beg for donations. Guess we was wrong.

J. J. Goldberg has a column up on the Forward (Taking Ownership of Our Talmud) discussing the Daf Yomi Talmud program. It's rife with errors. To begin with he says, "...strangely, the commandment to study Torah appears nowhere in the Torah." Huh? He cites the first part of a verse in the Shema and discusses it.
It actually originates in the Talmud. The sages inferred it from the biblical commandment to “teach it (the Torah) diligently to thy children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). They figured you can’t teach it if you haven’t learned it yourself.
He somehow manages to skip over the second clear and distinct part which states the value of Torah study in unequivocal terms. "Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." We who pray daily say this twice a day with great and serious intention and concentration.

There are numerous other small and large errors in the piece, E. g., twice he speaks about starting study on page one of a tractate. One of the best known idiosyncrasies of the standard published Talmuds is that they start a tractate on page 2.

Poor editing at the Forward detracts from the column. Too bad, because Goldberg tries to raise some substantive points about the value of Daf Yomi. He laments that the Daf Yomi celebrations did not contain much information about the contents of the Talmud. True enough. But as he argues that it should have and could have he says things that are wrong at the core, that show that he is a major am-haaretz (ignoramous) when it comes to competence in Talmud knowledge.

He says, "But why not be creative? The Talmud is essentially a collection of lecture notes, grouped in rough categories. You could start almost anywhere." We've never read a wronger and more misleading negative characterization of the Talmud.

So, yes, Goldberg is an am-haaretz. Now we hasten to add, when you label someone an am-haaretz, that is not name-calling. That is the equivalent of a professor giving a failing grade to a student. It is an evaluative and substantive conclusion about the expertise of a person in a subject matter.

To be fair, Goldberg nowhere claims to be a Talmid Chacham - an expert in Talmud. So we are quite sure that he will take no umbrage that we pass on to our readers our evaluation of his competence in the field.

And of course, Daf Yomi does not purport to create competence in Talmud knowledge. It creates the illusion of competence since its participants turn the pages and never have to be tested on their cognition.

Daf Yomi is in many cases an extension of daily davening, i.e. the rapid recitation of daily prayers, with the expectation of reflection, appreciation and understanding secondary to the reading of the words.

Finally, reading the right words at the right time in the right order is indeed a valid religious ritual, one that rabbinic Jews practice diligently.


8/14/12

Was Ayn Rand Jewish?

Yes, the potential Republican Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan's hero Ayn Rand was a Jew.

We bring this back up because the Times reports on 8/14/12:
EARLY in his Congressional career, Paul D. Ryan, the Wisconsin representative and presumptive Republican vice-presidential nominee, would give out copies of Ayn Rand’s book “Atlas Shrugged” as Christmas presents. He described the novelist of heroic capitalism as “the reason I got into public service.”...
According to Wikipedia, "Rand was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum (Russian: Алиса Зиновьевна Розенбаум) in 1905, into a middle-class family living in Saint Petersburg, Russia, the eldest of three daughters (Alisa, Natasha, and Nora)."

Her parents were, "Zinovy Zacharovich Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna Rosenbaum, agnostic and largely non-observant Jews. Her father was a chemist and a successful pharmaceutical entrepreneur who earned the privilege of living outside the Jewish Pale of Settlement."

8/11/12

Thoughts on the publication of Alan F. Segal, "Sinning in the Hebrew Bible"

In an act of intentional irony we read in synagogue this morning during the reading of the Torah part of Alan Segal's book "Sinning in the Hebrew Bible: How The Worst Stories Speak for Its Truth".

We find Alan's book to be filled with erudition and common sense. That is why we admired Segal's past works and why we valued him as a friend. Segal believed in things that were mainly scholarly and he articulated them with clarity and enthusiasm.

The publisher's blurb for this book summarizes the many essences of the study:
Stories of rape, murder, adultery, and conquest raise crucial issues in the Hebrew Bible, and their interpretation helps societies form their religious and moral beliefs. From the sacrifice of Isaac to the adultery of David, narratives of sin engender vivid analysis and debate, powering the myths that form the basis of the religious covenant, or the relationship between a people and their God.

Rereading these stories in their different forms and varying contexts, Alan F. Segal demonstrates the significance of sinning throughout history and today. Drawing on literary and historical theory, as well as research in the social sciences, he explores the motivation for creating sin stories, their prevalence in the Hebrew Bible, and their possible meaning to Israelite readers and listeners. After introducing the basics of his approach and outlining several hermeneutical concepts, Segal conducts seven linked studies of specific narratives, using character and text to clarify problematic terms such as "myth," "typology," and "orality." Following the reappearance and reinterpretation of these narratives in later compositions, he proves their lasting power in the mythology of Israel and the encapsulation of universal, perennially relevant themes. Segal ultimately positions the Hebrew Bible as a foundational moral text and a history book, offering uncommon insights into the dating of biblical events and the intentions of biblical authors.
We has no idea that we would find it emotional to read a book by a dear friend who passed away in 2011. But we did feel the void of his loss even more while listening to the voice of his search for meaning and history in the texts of the Bible.

Alan was a religious man and a serious academic. Both of those traits of character and personality come through with ringing clarity in the pages of the superlative book.

We wrote this  appreciation of our friend Alan for the Jewish Standard in February 2011:

Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and GnosticismWhen my dear friend Alan F. Segal died at age 65 on Sunday, February 13, this earthly world lost a diligent, productive scholar of religions and a sparkling lecturer and teacher. And more than that, a great force of positive energy departed from our midst.

I knew Alan for over thirty years. During that time he served as a professor of religion at Barnard College in New York City and lived in nearby Ho-Ho-Kus. We met at first in professional circumstances as young professors of religion at conferences at Brown University and at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature and American Academy of Religion. Both of us were enthusiastically discovering new facts and making original insights in areas of ancient religions. I concentrated more on explicating problems within the Talmud and Jewish liturgy.

Alan’s interests and energies ranged more broadly. He wrote at first about various topics such as mysticism and sectarianism in ancient Judaism that were published in his books "Two Powers in Heaven" and "The Other Judaisms of Late Antiquity." He branched out in a major work, "Rebecca's Children: Judaism and Christianity in the Roman World," to explain how Judaism and Christianity took shape as sibling religions in late antiquity. And next he tackled the images of the apostle Paul, the founder of Christianity in "Paul the Convert: The Apostasy and Apostolate of Saul of Tarsus." Some scholars have called that publication the most important recent book on the subject of Paul.

Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western ReligionSubsequently, Alan spent a decade investigating death and the afterlife in the world’s religions and published the results in "Life After Death: The Afterlife in Western Religions." His final book, which turns to subjects of ancient Israel, is complete and at the press awaiting publication. It surely will be influential in its own right. All of his books are widely cited in the scholarly literature.

Years ago, we discovered that we also shared a passion for new technologies. We continually probed how the newest software and hardware inventions could help us investigate some of the oldest and most puzzling problems of how humankind had searched in the past for God. At our professional conferences we talked together in equal measures about the theories and texts of scholars and about the releases and versions of advanced word processors and computers.

8/9/12

Yahoo: Romney Attends Orthodox Jewish Wedding in Lakewood

Yahoo News reports that Mitt Romney dropped in on an Orthodox Jewish wedding in Lakewood NJ.
On Wednesday, the Republican presidential candidate caused a media stir when his motorcade sped into the parking lot of Lake Terrace, a banquet hall in Lakewood, N.J., and appeared to disrupt an Orthodox Jewish wedding party posing for pictures outside the venue.

Reporters traveling with Romney, including this one, witnessed people standing near the bride and groom suddenly run away from the wedding party and chase Romney's motorcade hoping to catch a glimpse of the candidate.

But Lisa Ben-Haim, the mother of the groom, tells Yahoo News the family had been aware that Romney would be holding a fundraiser ahead of the wedding and said the people reporters saw chasing the candidate weren't affiliated with the actual wedding.

Ben-Haim, who described her family as "staunch supporters" of Romney, said she had been alerted "a week or so ago" that the GOP candidate would be at Lake Terrace at the same time as the wedding.

She confirmed that Romney popped into the wedding and posed for pictures with the bride and groom after he spoke at a fundraiser. She said the campaign had told the family Romney would be able to pose for just two photos, but the Republican presidential hopeful ended up lingering for longer than expected.

"We ended up taking many more, and we took videos," Ben-Haim said. "He was very gracious. And we were all telling him we were happy that he came to our wedding because we are all very strong, staunch supporters of his."

Ben-Haim said Romney's fundraiser did not cause any problems for the wedding.

"It was really wonderful," she said "It just topped off our wedding. … It was a nice surprise and something that we will remember forever. Everyone remembers their wedding but this was just even more special."

ABC: Romney's Dirty Religion Ad

Mitt Romney, who has served as an official of the Mormon church, which pothumously baptizes Jews, knows a thing or two about waging war using religion.

USA Today reported in March 2012 that in the past Romney was, "a Mormon bishop (equivalent to a pastor) and a stake president (presiding over several area congregations) in suburban Belmont, Mass."

In February 2012 Allison Yarrow wrote, "Mormons Still Baptizing Dead Jews Despite Agreements to End Practice":
The Church of Latter-day Saints apologized Tuesday for posthumously baptizing Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s parents amidst much Jewish vitriol. But despite more than two decades of negotiations and agreements between the two groups to prevent such baptisms of dead Jews, the practice persists.
The charge that Romney's ad makes against Obama is false and inflammatory, as the ABC report describes. In America, those who use religion as a political weapon, often find that it blows up in their face. We think this ad will backfire and leave Romney's campaign damaged.
Romney ad accuses Obama of waging a ‘war on religion'

Mitt Romney is out with a new television ad that accuses President Barack Obama of declaring a war on religion.

The 30-second spot renews a fight Romney launched against Obama at the height of the GOP primary, when he trashed a provision under the Obama health care law that required religious institutions including schools and hospitals to offer its employees free access to contraception and the morning after pill even if its against their beliefs.

In February, Obama responded to the uproar by signing off on an "accommodation" that exempted religious institutions from the rule by allowing women to get free birth control directly from their insurance provider. But that's not mentioned in the Romney ad, which begins with a narrator asking, "Who shares your values?"

8/8/12

Times: Is Einstein's Physics of Relativity Jewish?

In George Johnson's review of a new book by Steven Gimbel, the Times considers the issue of the connection between Albert Einstein's science and the Talmud. We're glad to see that the Talmud is given credit for such great scientific advances. Still, we need to reserve judgement on the assertions at least until we read the book.

The book blurb announces that, "There are some senses, Gimbel claims, in which Jews can find a special connection to E = mc2, and this claim leads to the engaging, spirited debate at the heart of this book."

Here is the Talmudic crux of the review:
...“Jewish physics.” With Einstein’s theories now at the bedrock of modern science, the Nazi’s words have been justly forgotten. It seems almost perverse that Steven Gimbel, the chairman of the philosophy department at Gettysburg College, would want to bring back the old epithet and give it another spin. In his original new book, “Einstein’s Jewish Science: Physics at the Intersection of Politics and Religion,” he considers the possibility that the Nazis were on to something. If you can look past the anti-Semitism, he proposes, “maybe relativity is ‘Jewish science’ after all.” What he means is that there might have been elements of Jewish thinking that gave rise to what is now recognized as one of the deepest insights of all time.

...What gives Einstein’s work a Jewish flavor, Gimbel believes, is an approach to the universe that reminds him of the way a Talmudic scholar seeks to understand God’s truth. It comes only in glimpses. “Thou shalt not steal” may seem clear enough. But is it stealing to keep a $100 bill you find on the ground? It depends. Did you see the person who might have dropped it? Was it found on a busy street or in a friend’s backyard? In a hotel lobby with a lost and found? Without the luxury of a God’s-eye view, we must reckon from different vantage points.

“The heart of the Talmudic view is that there is an absolute truth, but this truth is not directly and completely available to us,” Gimbel writes. “It turns out that exactly the same style of thinking occurs in the relativity theory and in some of Einstein’s other research.”

From our blinkered perspective we see qualities called space and time. But in relativity theory, the two can be combined mathematically into something more fundamental: a four-dimensional abstraction called the space-time interval. Time and space vary according to the motion of the observer. But from any vantage point, an object’s space-time interval would be the same — the higher truth that can be approached only from different angles. The same kind of thinking, Gimbel says, also led to Einstein’s thought experiments with the elevator showing that when we feel the pull of gravity from the Earth or the push of acceleration from the takeoff of a jet, we are experiencing the same under­lying phenomenon.

Gimbel isn’t saying that only a Jew could have discovered these things but that being Jewish just might have given Einstein an edge...
And by the way, our dad wrote about relativity in several places in his book, Whence and Wherefore, as for instance this observation:
Consider the excitement generated by Einstein’s theory of relativity in the early years of the twentieth century. Its implications shook the very pillars of scientific determinism. At the outset, there was no way to test its validity. The scientists who accepted its credibility, could do so only as an act of faith. On the other hand, its recognition would indicate a challenge to the undisputed principle of scientific determinism. Courageous scientists, in those early inconclusive days, boldly took that leap of faith, and by doing so, they incautiously placed their scientific reputations on the line. The rest of the tale is now common knowledge. Einstein was vindicated and proved correct. A revolution ensued in the world of physics and related sciences. The behavior of the light of stars acted in accordance with the remarkable conclusions of an ingenious intellect, and those who indulged in the early leap of faith were rewarded by the ultimate triumph of their convictions.

8/7/12

The World's Most Expensive Bible at $130,000 a copy from St. John's in Minnesota

Partly it's because it's handiwork by calligraphers and artists, and partly because it is a fantastic fund raising device, St. John's University is offering copies of their Bible at the discount price of $115,000. But you have to hurry. The Star Tribune reported in 2006:
Some colleges woo supporters with tailgate parties, others with exotic trips. St. John's Abbey and University in Collegeville, Minn., is offering alumni and friends the chance to buy a really big Bible for $115,000. That's the price for orders placed before July 1, 2007. After that the tab jumps to $130,000.

If all of the Bibles sell at the introductory price, they would bring in $41.4 million, minus expenses.

At next year's rate, the school would realize $46.8 million before costs.

8/5/12

Talmud will be an Olympic Medal Sport in 2016


In a dramatic reversal after refusing to conduct a minute of silence in memory of the slain Israelis at the 1972 Olympics, the IOC announced that Talmud will be a recognized Olympic medal sport at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

The recent Talmud event at the MetLife sports stadium in New Jersey impressed on the IOC that Talmud is indeed an international sport practiced daily by millions of competitors.

NPR reported on the event in their story, "Jewish 'Super Bowl' Praises Years Of Talmudic Study," saying:
Finishing the text, of course, called for a celebration, and in New Jersey on Wednesday, thousands flocked to the MetLife Stadium — which usually hosts the Jets and the Giants. 
"It's the Super Bowl," Y.M. Siff said. In fact, with nearly 90,000 in the audience, the celebration actually topped the attendance of the last Super Bowl. The majority of people there were men dressed in the black robes and hats worn by the most traditional Orthodox Jews. They filled the stands and the field, and, when the opening prayers began, their voices filled the air...
Training for the coming Olympic competitions has begun in earnest at Yeshivas, synagogues and other venues around the world.

8/3/12

Post: Trustee Irving Picard wants to undo Ezra Merkin's settlement with NY State

Trustee Irving Picard wants to undo Ezra Merkin's settlement with NY State.
The trustee tasked with unwinding Bernie Madoff’s fraud is trying to block the state from paying $410 million to investors with fallen money manager Ezra Merkin. 
Irving Picard, the court-appointed lawyer responsible for clawing back money for Madoff victims, wants a bankruptcy judge to block a settlement between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Merkin, who has been accused of secretly steering client money to Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme. 
In a sharply worded motion filed with the US bankruptcy court in Manhattan, Picard said Schneiderman’s settlement will “wreak havoc” on his efforts to recover funds for Madoff victims.

“Every victim should be treated equally,” Picard said. “That fundamental principle cannot be abrogated by the state of New York.”
Read more.