11/26/13

Was the Family Dog Brian Griffin from the Family Guy TV Series Jewish ?

No, Brian was an atheist, as revealed in an episode in 2009. We say was because, as Mail Online reported, "On Sunday's episode of the long-running animated Fox staple Family Guy, family dog-writer-alcoholic Brian met his maker when he was hit by a car. The anthropomorphic pup died on the operating table when doctor's were unable to save him in time."

Update: Brian was resurrected after three weeks, saved by Stewie. (Hat tip to KS.)

But, in the episode on October 4, 2009 titled “Family Goy,” the matriarch of Seth MacFarlane’s Animated show Family Guy, Lois Griffin, learned that she is a Jew and then conducted a Seder during which Stewie recited a berakhah in perfect Hebrew.

Here's the twisted plot summary from Wikipedia:
While at the Drunken Clam, Peter falls in love with a cardboard cut out of Kathy Ireland. He takes her home and has an 'affair' with her. Soon he is caught by Lois who calls him an idiot. Peter introduces Kathy to the kids as their new mom, but after finding that Chris took her into his room, he angrily confronts her and ends up ripping her in half. He tearfully buries her in the yard and begs Lois for forgiveness. Lois forgives him and they have sex and Lois is shocked when Peter discovers a lump on her breast, causing her to go to the hospital the next day to have it tested for breast cancer. The test comes back negative, but while looking through her medical records, Dr Hartman discovers that Lois's mother is a Jewish Holocaust survivor, making Lois and her children Jewish by heritage. Barbara confirms her heritage, and Carter admits he kept it a family secret so that they could join the country club. Despite not being Jewish himself, Peter takes to it eagerly, much to Lois's frustration. That night, Peter is visited by the ghost of his stepfather, Francis, who warns him that he will go to Hell for not being Catholic. The next day, Peter decides to re-convert the family to Catholicism and becomes prejudiced against Lois' heritage, becoming anti-Semitic.

11/25/13

For Hanukkah Free 665 page translation of Hullin by Tzvee Zahavy

Incredible 665 page translation of Talmud Hullin!

Free for Hanukkah Kosher Talmud is free for your Kindle or Kindle App. Here is the Product Description:

To know what food is kosher, that is, fit to eat according to rabbinic Judaism, you must study the principles set forth in this volume, the Babylonian Talmud Tractate Hullin.

This translation, (approx. 665 pages) adheres closely to the text so that the reader has a sense of the structure and balance of the original. Yet at the same time it conveys the flow of the legal arguments and debates, the dramatic unfolding of events in stories, and the sensitivities to words and language in the exegetical texts.

Its aim is to facilitate a smooth conversation between readers and the text so that, without consulting the original Hebrew and Aramaic version, they can appreciate the substantive meaning and recognize some major aspects of the style of the Talmudic text.


Define Judaism: Ten Seminars by Tzvee Zahavy, Kindle Edition is on sale for Hanukkah!

Define Judaism: Ten Seminars, Kindle edition, is on sale for Hanukkah!

When I taught “Introduction to Judaism,” a popular Jewish Studies course at the University of Minnesota, as a final essay assignment I gave to the class this task: “Define Judaism.” Even though it was an open-ended question, my students considered this to be a tough assignment requiring analysis, synthesis and much thought. I originally wrote up these “seminars” as part of an independent study guide for one version of “Intro to Judaism”—a distance learning offering in the continuing education division of the university. I now offer this volume to the general reader to help seekers and students of all ages and all faiths to better understand and define Judaism.

11/22/13

Is Yoga Kosher?

Does doing yoga make you a Hindu? asks William Kremer across the pond at the BBC. He wrote a smart article on the subject with insights from a number of smart people.

He frames the issue in terms of whether people see yoga poses as religious practices.
For many people, the main concern in a yoga class is whether they are breathing correctly or their legs are aligned. But for others, there are lingering doubts about whether they should be there at all, or whether they are betraying their religion...

Farida Hamza, a Muslim woman living in the US, had been doing yoga for two or three years when she decided she wanted to teach it.

"When I told my family and a few friends, they did not react positively," she recalls. "They were very confused as to why I wanted to do it - that it might be going against Islam."

Their suspicions about yoga are shared by many Muslims, Christians and Jews around the world and relate to yoga's history as an ancient spiritual practice with connections to Hinduism and Buddhism.

11/19/13

Countdown deal for the Kindle edition of "God's Favorite Prayers" by Tzvee Zahavy

Countdown deal for the Kindle edition of God's Favorite Prayers starts 11/20/13. Price goes down to $.99 and then back up again. Hurry and get your copy!

Why is this book on prayer different from all the other books on prayer? Because this book introduces you to the six ideal people of prayer and the different ways that we all pray to God.

When you pray, are you doing so as a Scribe? A Performer? A Mystic? A Meditator? A Priest? A Celebrity? Find out how these archetypes use different methods of prayer in this exciting and entertaining book about spirituality.

Reviewers have praised this book:
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"Tzvee Zahavy's artful melding of memoir, analysis, and typology enriches our understanding of liturgical experience and encourages us to emulate him by reflecting more thoughtfully on our own prayer lives."
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"... An engaging, humanly sensitive introduction to the types of religious personalities whose views are expressed in the diverse parts of the Siddur and, more generally, in components of Jewish liturgical practices... A fine text for helping students and interested lay people gain an understanding and appreciation of the spiritual viewpoints expressed in Jewish liturgical texts."
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--Rabbi Shimon Altshul, Director, the Ludwig and Erica Jesselson Institute for Advanced Torah Studies, Bar Ilan University

11/17/13

Who says: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise?

I was speed reading through a pile of new books last week and came across a marvellous article in a new collection by Charles Krauthammer, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics. The book looks really good. I recommend it.

Here's the little article that caught my eye because I am known to be asking the "are-they-Jewish' question here on my blog.

Krauthammer says in the article (partly tongue in cheek) that everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise
Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise
By Charles Krauthammer

Strange doings in Virginia. George Allen, former governor, one-term senator, son of a famous football coach and in the midst of a heated battle for reelection, has just been outed as a Jew. An odd turn of events, given that his having Jewish origins has nothing to do with anything in the campaign and that Allen himself was oblivious to the fact until his 83-year-old mother revealed to him last month the secret she had kept concealed for 60 years.
Apart from its political irrelevance, it seems improbable in the extreme that the cowboy-boots-wearing football scion of Southern manner and speech should turn out to be, at least by origins, a son of Israel. For Allen, as he quipped to me, it's the explanation for a lifelong affinity for Hebrew National hot dogs. For me, it is the ultimate confirmation of something I have been regaling friends with for 20 years and now, for the advancement of social science, feel compelled to publish.
Krauthammer's Law: Everyone is Jewish until proven otherwise. I've had a fairly good run with this one. First, it turns out that John Kerry — windsurfing, French-speaking, Beacon Hill aristocrat — had two Jewish grandparents. Then Hillary Clinton — methodical Methodist — unearths a Jewish stepgrandfather in time for her run as New York senator.

11/15/13

Kindle Countdown Deal for "God Bless You" and "Eleazar: Rabbi, Priest, Patriarch" by Tzvee Zahavy

It's Underway 11/16/13!

Kindle Countdown Deal for my 
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"God Bless You" and "Eleazar: Rabbi, Priest, Patriarch"



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.



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.

Check Out Talmudic Books
See the 36 Volume Kindle Talmud in English
Ponder the Questions of Whence and Wherefore
Experience God's Favorite Prayers

11/14/13

Are Statins Kosher?

The NY Times Op-Ed, "Don’t Give More Patients Statins" by JOHN D. ABRAMSON and RITA F. REDBERG argues that no, it is not kosher to start giving more classes of people statins in order to prevent heart attacks.

I have a high risk profile but in June 2008 I stopped taking statins (and several other drugs). The "side effect" for me was liver disease - quite an "effect". My liver readings were so high that the doctor called me to tell me to stop the Lipitor statins immediately. I also stopped monitoring my cholesterol - no point doing that if you are not trying to magically reduce the numbers with drugs.

This past year I increased my aerobic workouts by more that 50%. I swim 1.5 miles a day. I finally had my cholesterol tested and not surprisingly the numbers were good - especially for the HDL good cholesterol, and the good ratio was high. I don't smoke, I reduced my bad activities, the stress in my life, by orders of magnitude. And I increased my good activities significantly - e.g. golf, etc. ;-) I lost weight - a lot of weight - by watching everything that I eat. And I do not plan on ever taking a statin again.

Now the drug industry wants to detach the statin prescriptions from the cholesterol numbers - and guess what? This is not going to mean that fewer people should take statins. It will mean that more people should take them. Get it? I sure as heck admire the chutzpah of those drug companies.

But in answer to our title question, no statins are not kosher. Even those "studies" that show some correlation between statin use and fewer cardiac incidents are suspect to me. The math makes no sense. Reduction of risk by 50% is actually reduction of incidents by 1%. And my guess is that some time soon real scientists will conclude that it is the reduction of smoking, not of cholesterol levels, that has lead to the decline in cardiac disease in recent years.

Here is what Abramson and Redberg argue in the Times.
ON Tuesday, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued new cholesterol guidelines that essentially declared, in one fell swoop, that millions of healthy Americans should immediately start taking pills — namely statins — for undefined health “benefits.”

This announcement is not a result of a sudden epidemic of heart disease, nor is it based on new data showing the benefits of lower cholesterol. Instead, it is a consequence of simply expanding the definition of who should take the drugs — a decision that will benefit the pharmaceutical industry more than anyone else.

11/11/13

A Menorah is not a Torah


Fairlawn NJ allowed the display of a Menorah in its Borough holiday display on public land a few years ago for the first time -- after debating the matter for a mere 30 years.

Why was that a good thing? Let me probe into this issue.

Like handshakes and holiday greetings -- seasonal trees and lamps can represent religion on a permitted surface level.

But Fairlawn and other municipalities should not feel free to promote all religious symbols in public government displays. Nativity scenes and Torah Scrolls, for instance, always symbolize faith in a more serious and illegal manner.

So says the U.S. Supreme Court in a classic decision in 1989 that allowed some displays of religious symbols on government property while prohibiting others. At that time many expressed dismay over the ruling. Conservative Roman Catholic scholar Michael Novak, for instance, argued that the ruling represented a governmental aversion to religion, that the court was saying that, "The religiousness of Jews and Christians is to be shunned as if it were an infectious disease."

11/10/13

Is it kosher to force your neighbors to pray?

Is it kosher to force your neighbors to pray? No, it is not. I hope the Supreme Court agrees. Noah Feldman sees the issue too broadly in his op-ed, "The Founders Prayed, Why Can’t the City Council?" at Bloomberg - regarding the lawsuit over prayer at public meetings in Greece, NY.

Coercion is part of life. I believe coercing religion on other people should not be tolerated. I am against it whether it is Christians in America coercing Jews and atheists to hear their prayers or whether is it the Orthodox in Israel forcing non-religious Jews to follow their strictures.

Thoughts on coercion: There are many forms of coercion. Some are overt and pushy. Others are subtle and even seductive. Those may be more dangerous because it takes us time to detect them.

Some coercion is good for you. Some is good for other people, but not for you. It's best to ask "who benefits" from the coercion, and it is usually them, not you.

Some coercions make sense and some coercions defy logic. Some are serious and some are comical. Some are urgent and current and others are nostalgic and historic.

In America we believe that life is better lived with less coercion and more freedom of choice. It's silly to argue that I should be free to coerce you to do something. Freedom is absolute and two sided.

Thoughts on prayer: All good prayer is poetry. All prayer is ritual. Many prayers are a framing devices. They mark the beginning and end of other activities, like a meal. That's confusing to some who think we need to frame a council meeting with a prayer. We don't. Politics is not sacred and no matter what we do to frame it with rituals, we cannot make the profanity of politics into a sacred activity.

I think the founding fathers were wrong allowing prayers to open sessions of congress. I think they were joking around, giving the reverends some ceremonial role to make them feel good because they were not going to cede them any influence over public life in America.

For a time recently (and I hope that time is passing) the Christian right organized into a political bloc and did have some ostensible influence over politics in the public arena. That was not what our founding fathers envisioned.

Within a religious group of like minded members, prayer is an expression of common beliefs. Prayer is a hope for relief or guidance or reward -- primarily for the members -- and as an afterthought for the universe.

Feldman believes that "What’s most likely is that the court will reaffirm the exceptional nature of legislative prayer, warn the town against official coercion, and live with the contradictions between past and present."

That's like punting on first down. It makes no sense to those who understand the nature of the game. I hope the justices take a stand on this. I think they do know the game and will not avoid some aggressive play.

America is stronger when all coercion is limited and when all prayer is kept out of our public political life.

11/5/13

Forcing Two Religions on Your Children

The Times op-ed "Being ‘Partly Jewish’" by SUSAN KATZ MILLER appears to make the case for forcing two religions on one's children. Katz Miller is the product herself of such an upbringing, which she thinks is just fine and dandy and she is the author of “Being Both: Embracing Two Religions in One Interfaith Family.”

Here is how she starts her opinion article:
IN the course of a year, my family celebrates Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana, Sukkot, Simhat Torah, Hanukkah, Passover and many Shabbats. We also celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. We are part of a growing movement to raise interfaith children with both family religions.

Many Jewish leaders and institutions consider this a terrible and potentially damaging choice — one that will confuse young people, create Jews for Jesus and ultimately contribute to the demise of Judaism. But as an interfaith child and an interfaith parent, I refuse to accept this blame, or subscribe to such pessimism. Both my experience and my research tell me that we are turning out young adults who feel deeply connected to Judaism, not through coercion, but through choice.
And here is how she ends the article:
My own community, the Interfaith Families Project of Greater Washington, is led by the Rev. Julia Jarvis and Rabbi Harold White. Ms. Jarvis told me, “I think actually we’ve made Judaism very attractive, because we’re not trying to force these kids to stay Jewish — because it’s a choice.” Rabbi White agrees, adding that these interfaith communities “might even increase the numbers of Jews.”

Dual-faith parenting is an exercise in letting go. We dare to give our children full knowledge of their religious backgrounds. We think it’s working: for the parents, for the kids and even for Judaism.
"We do it so it must be good" is not a strong argument. And yes, the sociological conclusion that intermarriage is a net gain for the Jewish people is mathematically defensible but psychologically difficult for many Jews to accept. If a Jewish man marries a Jewish woman you have potentially one Jewish family. If both marry "out" and 51 percent of the resulting families raise Jewish kids, that is a Jewish population gain.

My problem is with the assertion, "it's a choice" for the kids to decide what religion to follow. In America it is always a choice because we live in free country and nobody is forced to join a religion. Unless you are a child and your parents force you to go to synagogue or church. That is no choice. That is parental coercion - something that we tolerate and even value because we have the notion that parents ought to pass a religion along to their children.

When parents coerce children to attend the services and practice the rituals of two religions, that is not enabling a "choice". That seems to be a case of dual coercion. And it is something that we ordinarily do not tolerate well in our society. Why? Partly it is because it's too much for the average child to learn and practice not one but two religions.

Let's be honest. Double coercion does not foster the lovely ideal of choice. It forces two religions on children. That is legal but in spite of the op-ed's best intentions to make it so, it may not be laudable. Children do not have unlimited bandwidth to absorb the details and demands of two religions. And they are sensitive to the approval and disapproval that may come their way from many friends and neighbors who witness odd behavior.

So is it as claimed by the op-ed, "you may choose one of two"? Or is it more honestly, "you must come with us to both"?

Letters to the editor criticize the op-ed from other perspectives.

11/4/13

CNN: Apple software sucks

CNN Money says: "Apple should focus on its mediocre software".

The article points out shortcomings in major apple software offerings, "...nearly every offering from Apple ranges from mediocre (iTunes) to awful (Maps)."

I asked a few IT professionals about the recent decision by Apple to give away free its iPad software like Pages, Numbers and Keynote. They said they are giving it away because the software is not very good, and not popular.

I think iTunes lacks in many respects - it is not intuitive - it is at times confusing. And I have been frustrated trying to use it for years. IOS 7 just came out and it too lacks any noticeable sophistication. It does not allow any significant customization or creativity.

I have an Android phone and a 7" Android tablet. I'm thinking, Why not just get a 10" Android tablet and ditch the iPad 3?

I bought an iPad Air on 11/1 and brought it home. Can't honestly think of why I want to keep it. Yikes. Looks like the magic of the apple spell has been broken. I returned it 11/4.

Yes, 11/4 I returned the iPad to the Apple Store in the Garden State Plaza - just a few hours before a man fired shots in that mall and then committed suicide.

Ironic: my kids heard the news and called me from Israel to see if I was okay. I was okay.


11/3/13

Sunday Speculation: Will Sheldon Adelson pay Yeshiva University's sex victims settlement costs?

This Daily Beast article, "Israel as a Totem for Jewish Identity" by Lisa Goldman, describes at some length a strange event at Yeshiva University involving Richard Joel, Shmuley Boteach, Sheldon Adelson and Bret Stephens and concludes with the following biting assessment:
One can perhaps tolerate the views expressed on Tuesday night in semi demented, rich old uncles. But not from a man who purchases and wields political influence at the highest levels. And not from someone who writes for one of the most important newspapers in America. It was embarrassing to witness this anti-intellectual event, particularly at an academic institution that was supposed to be the crown jewel of Judaism's modern Orthodox movement.
I was not at the event but there is no dispute that she summarized correctly what went on there. At one point Goldman reported, "Adelson also mentioned, as reported by several media outlets, that the United States should lob a nuclear bomb at a swathe of unpopulated Iranian desert as a means of forcing the Islamic Republic to give up its enrichment program."

My question is why did YU host such an odd event? Perhaps the juxtaposition of names and concerns earlier in the Goldman article helps us understand: "Boteach and Stephens were joined by Yeshiva University president Richard M. Joel, who is currently dealing with the dire fallout from a $380 million class action sex abuse suit brought by former students, and by Sheldon Adelson, a casino mogul who is one of the richest men in the world."

Joel suffered a setback at the courts this week regarding the sex abuse lawsuit. From what has been reported, it sounds like the matter will go to trial. He ought to be worried.

So what then is my talmudic Sunday Speculation? That Adelson already has written Joel a blank check to cover the cost of settling the suits. Hence he gets on a panel, gets credibility, and can say whatever he pleases.

And note well, if my speculation is correct, there is nothing at all illegal about what I have described here. Adelson got creds. YU got an evening of panel entertainment. Boteach and Stephens got paid. Everybody wins.

Note further, Adelson is #11 on the Forbes 400 list with a net worth of $28.5 billion. If he pays the entire $280 million as a settlement for YU, he will still be worth over $28.2 billion.

11/1/13

JStandard: My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for November: Praying for a sick pet and making Talmudic Life Decisions

Published in The Jewish Standard: Dear Rabbi. Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

In our shul on Shabbat, in the middle of the Torah Reading Service, the Gabbai announces that he is going to recite the prayer for those who are sick. He says that when he pauses at the place for the name of the sick person, anyone who wishes to make a prayer for someone who is ill should stand in his pew and speak the name of the person they wish to include in the prayer. I follow the instructions and in an undertone, at the pause, I recite the legal name of my friends and relatives who are ailing. I also include the name of my pet dog who is ill. Is this okay?

Love my pet
Alpine

Dear Pet Lover,

You ask about whom we can pray for in the synagogue, and how we can pray for them. Yes, in my view you can include anyone you want in your mesheberach prayer list. In that prayer we ask that God who blessed our ancestors (Hebrew words: “mi sheberach”) to bestow on the people whom we name, “healing of the soul and healing of the body -- along with (healing) all the ill of Israel (some add: and all the ill who dwell on Earth)… soon, speedily, without delay, and let us all say: Amen.”

There are several issues related to your question. To begin with, is there any evidence that prayers like this one that we make for the sick are effective? Second, when you recite the prayer does it matter with what name you identify the person for whom you are praying? Third, can you pray for the health of an animal?