9/29/13

All Games 50 Cents with the NY Mets and NY Yankees Baseball Clergy Passes

Those were the good old days.

In 1966 both the NY Mets and Yankees Baseball teams offered Clergy Passes that allowed you to attend all the games for a service charge of 50 cents.

My dad got both passes. Someone used them. Often. Tickets cost more today, I am told.

(repost from May 2009)

9/28/13

Are smart watches kosher?

Yes indeed, smart watches are kosher. They are destined to be blockbuster products.

I have been wearing a pebble watch for nearly two months and can vouch for its utility and outright coolness. Especially on the golf course - using Free Caddie to measure the distance to the pin. Wow - this is a no brainer. And then there is the bike computer app - Pebble Bike - another freebee that makes the whole idea worthwhile.

Business Insider Australia reported on the prospects for the smart watch industry:
For years, some iPod users have worn those devices on their wrists as a watch. Now, millions of consumers will have a chance to own a bonafide smart watch.
The mass-market test for smart watches has arrived. The Samsung Galaxy Gear will arrive in the U.S. in October, and ATT has become the first carrier to offer the Pebble smart watch. Speculation surrounding a so-called Apple iWatch pegs its release date around mid-2014.
In a new proprietary forecast for the smart watch marketBI Intelligence has published a half-dozen charts and datasets illustrating the potential for smart watches within the wearable computing space and mobile.
Here are the dynamics and numbers driving the emerging smart watch market:

I vouch for the smart watch concept for personal consumption and for VC investments. It's a no brainer sure thing.

9/24/13

About Magritte: Ceci n'est pas une Juif

We cannot believe that we never posted anything about Rene Magritte, especially about his "Treachery of Images" series most famous for his this is not a pipe painting circa 1929.

At MOMA you will be able to view "Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938" September 28, 2013–January 12, 2014. "Bringing together some 80 paintings, collages, and objects, along with a selection of photographs, periodicals, and early commercial work, the exhibition offers fresh insight into Magritte’s identity as a modern painter and Surrealist artist."

And that is not us smoking a pipe in our photo. It is a digital photo of an original oil painting of us smoking a pipe, which we posed for a while back.

And second, this is not a blog. This is the image of a blog. And a blog is the image of an idea. And those ideas that you may find here are normally images of other people's thoughts, images and  representations, occasionally interspersed with some of our own original brainstorms.

Last, we always obey our own commandments here: Though shalt not be profound, foremost among them. And we try to heed other people's wisdom of the ages, such as Thou shalt not take seriously thine own press releases. But those too are only images of guideposts. And that was not philosophical.

Should we not ask, as is our wont, Was Rene Magritte Jewish? According to one unsubstantiated post, he was half Jewish. We are not convinced. We gather from our handbooks that Magritte was not a Jew, that he was baptized and practiced the Catholic rite as a youngster.  His art has little to no religious content. Enfin... Ceci n'est past une juif.

9/18/13

The Cool B-and-G Sukkah at Beth Elohim in Park Slope

The Brooklyn Paper reported in 2011 on a cool sukkah in Park Slope, Brooklyn,

"...when the annual harvest festival begins on Wednesday night, the Garfield Place temple will do its outdoor praying in a sleek, modern shelter created by the award-winning architecture firm B-an-G Studio...more..."

Hat tip to Barak for sending this.

9/10/13

New Year's Greetings and Free Books and Monographs from Reuven Brauner

Our collaborator Reuven Brauner writes...

Dear Everyone - Shana Tova to you all.
I am pleased to announce that www.halakhah.com (thank you Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy!) has just uploaded several new and updated monographs which I think you might find interesting and useful.   I hope you enjoy them.  Please feel free to print them out, distribute them to your friends, and send this post to everyone you know.  Help spread Torah!

1.     Totzaos Chayim
Laws of Visiting The Sick, Death and Mourning, by Dr. Seligmann Baer.   This is my translation of this classic  mid-19th century work (originally printed in Hebrew with German facing pages) covering this most important issues.  A very comprehensive little book, the author notes that it sold some 5000 copies – surely a best-seller in those days.  It is replete with prayers, laws, blessings, instructions, and many homiletic Agaddatos which were customarily learned in the house of mourning.
Interesting is that there is no mention of several customs which have become widespread in recent years, to wit, the learning of Mishnayos in the house of mourning (although he does say that this is good to do in the home of one who is ill), covering the mirrors, and not wearing the shoes of the deceased.  See how things have changed.
Hopefully, we will be presenting the Hebrew original, with some editing, on the site very soon, too.

2.     Rabbi Shimshon ben Raphael Hirsch’s Philosophy of Judaism
This has been available at www.613etc.com for some time, but now, with some updated graphics it is also on halakhah.com.  This is a compilation of a variety of short quotes from Rav Hirsch arranged by subject, as drawn from Rabbi J. Elias’ translation of Hirsch’s Nineteen Letters.
Hirsch was a genius, an original thinker and a real zealot for Torah-true Judaism constantly battling for authentic and traditional Jewish thought and practice.  This little work of ours is merely a tiny drop into his vast pool of ideas and concepts; just something for you to taste before, hopefully, you will partake in his banquet of amazing wisdom found in his large library of published books and articles.

3.     Shimush Pesukim Second Edition in English, and now also in Hebrew
A Comprehensive Index to the Liturgical and Ceremonial Usages  of Biblical Verses and Passage
I did a little more editing of this work, adding, modifying, correcting….the usual stuff.  And, it is now in Hebrew for those who prefer it and prefer to see the prayers and blessing in a more familiar, and not transliterated, form.
This is, as are many of our works, unique.   Hopefully, you will find it useful, interesting, and maybe even surprising.

4.     Synopsis of the Elul and Tishrei Selichos Piyyutim
Been out for a while, but I just wanted to remind you that it’s a great companion work to your usual Selichos book.   Short, compact and to the point. 

5.     Order  of the Avoda of the Kohen Godol on Yom Kippur
My first monograph.  Now in bright colors and a jazzy appearance.  Yom Kippur was never so exciting.   Something of a minor classic, I would like to believe, this booklet just lays out the KG’s Service in the Temple, step by step, in a most easy to comprehend manner.
Now, you actually can understand what he was doing all day!

Finally, just come and visit – and bookmark as a favorite –http://halakhah.com/indexrst.html  and www.halakhah.com for the only online, complete Soncino Talmud in English, in the old and new two-column formats – and it’s free.  Look around, too, for lots of other great reads there.
Enjoy.
חתימה טובה

Ponder the Questions of Whence and Wherefore
Experience God's Favorite Prayers

9/9/13

Bob White Reviewed My Book

The erudite and insightful Robert White reviewed my book on his distinguished blog, rwhitesf: 

Three Dot Journalism and A Book Review (Tzvee Zahavy, God’s Favorite Prayers)"

Thank you Bob!

Tablet Likes Novelist Dara Horn

Tablet magazine likes novelist Dara Horn calling her, "the Best of the New Breed of Jewish Novelists."

Her new book is "A Guide for the Perplexed".

She recently wrote a provocative column in the NYT Book Review - "Articles of Faith" - with which we have a quibble.

Horn discusses the Jewish capacity to value memory as if we Jews are the only one's who do that, or at least that we Jews do it better than other cultures and groups.

I have said for years that it is not the intensity of memory that makes us distinctive. It is the nature of the memory, the profound self-centeredness of our memory which shows up in two ways.

First, we really never forget when someone harms us. Second, in the great dramatic narrative of our memories, we are always on center-stage, always the stars of the show.

So I go beyond what Horn says: it's not just the constancy and the volume of the music of our memories, it's the particular tune that makes us distinctive.

9/7/13

JStandard: My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for September: Sex and Kol Nidre

Published in the Jewish Standard, Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

I attended an all-boys Yeshiva for high school, and I am going off to live on campus at a coed college. I have not been dating until now. To be upfront, will you give me some advice and guidance about sex?

Blunt in Bergenfield

Dear Blunt,

To be candid with you in return, no I will not. Why? First off, the subject is immensely complex and your question is overly vague. The spectrum of human sexuality is wide and it varies significantly from person to person. Some people are driven strongly and are intensely engaged by sexual forces and others are not. I’d need a lot more specificity about you as a person before I would even try to answer your question. And without any details I prefer not to infer or read between the lines of your inquiry.

Second, I simply have no training in counseling or expertise in advising anyone about that complex set of subjects related to your inquiry about “sex”. I am a rabbi, not a sex counselor.

To train as a rabbi I studied Bible, Talmud and religious law codes. Those books do in fact contain information related to sex and to relationships between sexual partners. But some people could contend (and I would agree) that content is anecdotal, antiquated and quirky at best.

Furthermore, as is well-known, many of the guidelines of the Talmud in this area are rules that instruct people in what not to do in sexual relations. On that subject of prohibited sexual things, you might consider me informed. But I sense that what not to do is not primarily what you want to know about.

And even in the area of sex-no-nos, I am not sure I qualify to offer you significant advice. I got some of my training in the laws of the rabbinic menstrual taboos, for instance, years ago from a series of lectures by a noted rabbinic authority in the field. While sitting in his classes in rabbinical school, I recall that I wrote one time in my notebook in puzzlement about why this man was teaching us this subject, “I’m pretty sure this rabbi has never menstruated.”

9/4/13

Is Google Glass Jewish?

Even though the last name Glass is often associated with Jews, no, Google Glass is not Jewish. Google Glass is a shiny piece of technology and as such does not have a personal religious affiliation.

But the fine folk at Rusty Brick software are busy at work developing JewGlass - apps for Jews who use Google Glass - to make them better Jews. They say:
JewGlass is now officially live and free for Google Glass users to experiment with. The software will intelligently send you Jewish notifications based on your location and your preferences. Such notifications include prayer time notifications with prayers, locations of synagogues and more. Also included are Shabbat time reminders and prayer tips to inform you what prayers to say that day. JewGlass will also provide you kosher restaurant data at breakfast, lunch time or dinner, with nearby restaurants, the ability to call them or even get driving or walking direction.
Check out this link for a series of pictures that will give you a good idea of what JewGlass can do to make you frummer. And the JewGlass apps are free! As they said at Mt. Sinai, "Free? We will take ten."

9/2/13

Is Diana Nyad Jewish?

No, as best as we can determine, endurance swimmer Diana Nyad is not a Jew and does not practice any religion. She professes to be an atheist. Diana discussed her atheism with Oprah (10/2013), "Oprah tells atheist swimmer Diana Nyad that atheists don’t believe in ‘awe’ and ‘wonder’".

She is one tough and determined woman. And she is an inspiration to us all to persevere. Even after having to abandon her goal to swim in open waters 103 miles from Cuba to Key West Florida several times, first more than thirty years ago, she returned to the water to try again. Her blog is here.

She finally did it 9/2/2013! "Diana Nyad completes Cuba-Florida swim." We identify so strongly with Dina Nyad because we swim over 400 miles a year. True, we don't swim 103 mile open water courses from Cuba to Florida all at once. We swim in a pool, one mile and a half a day. It took us all summer to swim 103 miles (and we did that! including one harrowing mile in the Hudson River!)

Diana claimed at age 62 to be in the best shape of her life. What an inspiration. And we mean this personally. Diana set a goal years ago and could not reach it. She tried again in 2011 and 2012 and had to stop. But that did not deter her from her determination to try once again.

She did it in 2013 at age 64 and the message she sends to us is loud and clear and utterly simple. If you have a goal that is worthy, keep at it. There is no shame in failure. Get up. Try to meet your challenge again.

God bless you Diana for your example of grit and determination. Godspeed to you. Swim on.

(Hat tip to Yitz who found out about the swim in Israel.)

Is Sex Expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer Jewish?

Yes, sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a Jew, a holocaust survivor and a former Israeli Haganah scout and sniper.

Wikipedia reports:
Westheimer was born Karola Ruth Siegel in Wiesenfeld (near Karlstadt am Main), Germany, the only child of Orthodox Jews Irma (née Hanauer) and Julius Siegel. In January 1939, she was sent to Switzerland by her mother and grandmother after her father was taken by the Nazis. There she came of age in an orphanage, and stopped receiving her parents' letters in September 1941. In 1945, Westheimer learned that her parents had been murdered in the Holocaust, possibly at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Westheimer decided to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine. There, at 17, she "first had sexual intercourse on a starry night, in a haystack without contraception." She later told The New York Times that "I am not happy about that, but I know much better now and so does everyone who listens to my radio program." Westheimer joined the Haganah in Jerusalem. Because of her diminutive height of 4 ft 7 in (1.40 m), she was trained as a scout and sniper. Westheimer was seriously wounded in action by an exploding shell during the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, and it was several months before she was able to walk again.

In 1950, Westheimer moved to France, where she studied and then taught psychology at the University of Paris. In 1956, she immigrated to the United States, settling in Washington Heights, Manhattan. She still lives in the "cluttered three-bedroom apartment in Washington Heights where she raised her two children and became famous, in that order." Because of the two synagogues she belongs to, the YMHA she was president of for three years, and a "still sizable community of German Jewish World War II refugees," she remains in the neighborhood. She speaks English, German, French, and Hebrew.

She earned a master's degree in sociology from The New School and an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University. She completed post-doctoral work in human sexuality at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, training with pioneer sex therapist Helen Singer Kaplan.

Westheimer has written several books on human sexuality, including Dr. Ruth's Encyclopedia of Sex and Sex for Dummies. 
Dr. Ruth's Sexuality Encyclopedia is available in full version here online. It is a valuable resource for people of all ages seeking professional expert counsel on matters relating to sexuality.

9/1/13

WSJ: Trustee Claims J. Ezra Merkin Knew Madoff's Business Was a Ponzi Scheme

The Wall Street Journal reported:

Suit Claims Merkin Knew Madoff's Business Was a Fraud
Money Manager 'Willfully Blinded' Himself to Clues About Ponzi Scheme, According to Madoff Trustee
By CHAD BRAY

Money manager J. Ezra Merkin, who funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Bernard Madoff, who pleaded guilty to operating a Ponzi scheme, knew that Mr. Madoff's results were impossible and his advisory business was "predicated on a fraud," according to the trustee seeking to recover funds for Madoff victims.

In an amended lawsuit filed late Friday, lawyers for Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee for Mr. Madoff's firm, said Mr. Merkin "willfully blinded" himself to a variety of indications that Mr. Madoff was engaged in a fraud and that Mr. Merkin enabled the fraud scheme. Mr. Merkin did so despite acknowledging in conversations with Mr. Madoff and others that Mr. Madoff's results were consistent with a Ponzi scheme, Mr. Picard said.

Mr. Merkin has never been charged with committing a crime related to the Madoff scheme.

"In desperation to meet a legal burden he cannot meet, Mr. Picard has concocted allegations that he cannot prove," said Andrew Levander, Mr. Merkin's lawyer. "These allegations are utterly baseless. Indeed, Mr. Merkin personally lost more than $100 million in Madoff's fraud."

Mr. Picard faced a Friday deadline to file an amended complaint in the case. The amended complaint contains some new allegations alongside a host of others that have surfaced previously in earlier lawsuits.