5/28/14

Is Edward Snowden Jewish?

New Yorker bloggers debated whether Edward Snowden is a hero or a villain:
Snowden was on NBC with Brian Williams.

But what we want to know: is Edward Snowden Jewish?

We will go out on a limb here and, even lacking firm evidence, based on his bio, we will say, no, Edward Snowden is not a Jew. 

Wikipedia says he, "listed Buddhism as his religion on a military recruitment form, noting that the choice of agnostic was 'strangely absent.'"

US News on NBC news reports: "Born June 21, 1983, he grew up in Wilmington, N.C., but later moved to Ellicott City, Md., he told The Guardian. His mother, Wendy, is the chief deputy clerk for administration and information technology at the federal court in Baltimore, a court official told NBC News. His father, Lonnie, is a former Coast Guard officer who lives in Pennsylvania, the Allentown Morning Call reported. A neighbor said he has an older sister who is an attorney."


A Peace Prayer Proposal for the Warriors Francis, Shimon and Mahmoud

For when they meet, I propose a new Peace Prayer for the warriors, Francis, Shimon and Mahmoud:
Our Father, Avinu, Abana, Pater Nostra…
Who art in Heaven, bashamayim, al samawat, in caelis…
Hallowed be Thy name, Hashem, Allah, God…
Thy warriors come, Israelites, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Catholics, Christians;
We all have said, "Thy kill be done on earth," and we blame it on the will of Heaven.
Give us this day a respite from our daily blood;
and forgive us our atrocities, as we have committed them against each other.
Lead us away from the temptations of belligerence, arrogance and triumphalism,
and deliver us at long last from the evils of our eternal conflicts. Amen.

5/23/14

Is the Golf Fad Over?

In "​Where have all the golfers gone?" CBS News asks why pareticipation in the sport has dropped.
Just a decade ago, it looked like the golf industry had hit a hole-in-one. Interest in the game was surging, and consumers snapped up equipment and booked tee times.

These days, though, the sport is caught in the rough.

Golf is losing more players than it's gaining, as 4.1 million people left the sport in 2013, outpacing the 3.7 million who picked it up last year. With an overall decline in the number of players, that's causing a ripple effect in the golfing world: Sales of clubs and other equipment are plunging, while some courses are pulling up their tees and calling it a day.

"The main issues that cause people to leave the game and not to try the game are the same. They boil down to time, cost and difficulty," said Steve Mona, the chief executive of the World Golf Foundation.

Golf reached what Mona calls its "high water mark" in 2005, when the sport had 30 million participants playing 550 million rounds of golf. Last year, that had shrunk to 25 million participants and 465 million rounds.

The recession had an impact, as well as tough winter and spring weather the past two years, Mona noted. But the industry is also aware that it needs to overcome some perception issues about the sport's expense, the length of a game and the time it takes to master golf, he added...
Recession and bad winters? CBS doesn't offer too many deep insights into why the interest in golf has weakened. Sure I think high prices for tee times and equipment could have something to do with it. The fall of Tiger Woods from super-stardom might be a factor, which they don't even mention.

Or maybe golf was a long-lasting fad whose time has passed. [HT to K :-)]

5/21/14

Why Teaneck Police Went Wild

I thank God that no Teaneck High School students were shot by police gone wild responding to their senior pranks, to practical jokes and mischievous acts.

We have 100 police officers in Teaneck NJ. That's way more than we need to patrol our town and keep the law and order. And we have a peaceful town with no major problems of gangs or drugs or thefts or the like. Accordingly we have excess officers who need to work hard to find crime to justify their continued employment.

In the world after 9-11 and Boston Marathon terrorist attacks and after numerous school and workplace shootings - we have allowed out police forces to grow without much objection. We are afraid.

So when 63 seniors broke into our High School at night to carry out their annual pranks (moving desks around and writing erasable grafitti on the walls) our overstaffed police department responded with all out force. With their guns drawn, and with 17 districts from the area called as back-up, they pinned students to the floor and marched them out in manacles.

A simple icy stare from a single officer and an order of "Go home" to the kids would have sufficed. Common sense. Pranks are funny. Pranksters pose no danger to police or to the citizens of our town.

This incident grew out of an annual senior ritual that should have been known to any informed police officer and should have been expected by the police department. They acted as if they did not know.

The result. This was an angry and excessive police reaction - as close to police brutality as we have come in a long time.

5/20/14

Does Chris Christie Merit Jewish Sainthood via a Shmuley Boteach "Values Award"?

Does Chris Christie merit Jewish Sainthood via a Shmuley Boteach "Values Award"? He got such an award at the "Champions of Jewish Values International awards gala" this week.

I do think that Vanity Fair went too far calling "mealy mouthed" the name of the organization that was founded by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach: "The event (at which Christie was honored) was hosted by This World: The Values Network, an organization with a mealy-mouthed name run by celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach." That's a cheap shot. And it was unnecessary to dig that one up when more expensive shots are available right on the surface.

Christie presides over an administration that closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge for four days in order to punish a mayor who did not support his reelection. (Notice I do not say he ordered the lane closings. We have not yet proven that.) He's a nasty bullying politician who also cancelled giant public works projects that are essential for the long-term well-being of the region so that he could use the funds to close the massive gaps in his failed budget and save his administration from immediate economic failure. (See this story and many others.)

I don't know what Christie "values" were spelled out in the presentation of the "award" to him by "Champions of Jewish Values International." But let's pretend for a moment to take this whole scenario seriously - as if a panel of values experts reviewed many candidates for the award and decided that Christie was most worthy. It's fair to ask - on what basis does Christie embody "Jewish Values" and win this award? I cannot think of any basis.

But of course this whole line of analytical thinking is ludicrous. We all know that the "award" was invented by one man (Shmuley) and given to another man (Christie) as a stunt to maximize publicity for a politician in trouble and to get exposure in the press to try to rescue his failing political career.  As a publicity stunt - this one was a doozy.

It's sad that many news organizations (e.g. Time) are so eager to write about bullying politicians and about Jews and that they will present a fabricated mockery of an award event as if Christie received a legitimate honor bestowed by a bona fide organization.

So now some naive and uninformed people may believe that we Jews think that Christie is a champion of Jewish values. I do not think that.

For the record, I was not consulted about the propriety of giving Christie a "Jewish Values" award. If I had been asked I would have advised against it on legitimate substantive grounds.

Is Mark Zuckerberg Jewish?

Yes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is a Jew. He was named Time Magazine's man of the year for 2010.

He was born in White Plains, New York to Karen, a psychiatrist, and Edward, a dentist. He grew up in Dobbs Ferry, New York.

Zuckerberg was raised Jewish. He had a bar mitzvah when he turned 13.  He describes himself now as an atheist.

At Ardsley High School he excelled in the classics. In his junior year he transferred to Phillips Exeter Academy.

At Harvard, he majored in computer science and psychology, and belonged to Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity.

5/19/14

Rabbi Shmuley Proves Again that He is the Chief Rabbi of Congregation Public Relations



There is no questions that Shmuley Boteach has proven again beyond any doubt that he is the Chief Rabbi of Congregation Public Relations of our age in the USA.

"Hollywood star Sean Penn shines in 'Kosher Sex’ Rabbi Shmuley’s over-the-top gala - West of Eden Israel News," reports the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

The rabbi bestowed many "awards" at the Second Annual Champions of Jewish Values International Award Gala 5-18-2014.

Chemi Shalev gave mixed reviews in Haaretz to the rabbi saying things like this, that the event,:
...was as preposterous at times as its long name implies: When Boteach tearfully called up eight of his nine children to present the first award of the evening to his wife Debbie “so sure of herself she needs no spotlight”; when past and present beneficiaries of Sheldon Adelson – who hosted the evening together with his Birthright co-sponsor, Michael Steinhardt - showered him as well as each other with hyperbolic superlatives and over-the-top awards; or when the evening’s main attraction, New Jersey’s Republican Governor Chris Christie, tried to make amends for his original sin of saying “occupied territories,” only to forget to mention Israel at all...
Preposterous or not, who is to say? I admire the rabbi for his enormous overall success in the media and for his tireless genius in the realm of public relations.

5/14/14

Video: Ohab Zedek’s Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy and His Era

Tuesday, May 13 at Congregation Ohab Zedek, 118 W. 95th St.
TNLP Presented my brother Professor Reuvain Zahavy on,
"OZ's Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy and His Era"
My dad's second yahrzeit was Friday May 9, 2014




5/11/14

Women Really Don't Want a Male Rabbi Speaking on their Behalf

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has written an article based on his new book that does something that women really don't want. Namely he speaks on behalf of all women to explain to all men (I suppose, and maybe to let the women know too) what they really want.

That's just not right. I do hope that this idea that men need to speak for women is not an attitude shared by other Orthodox rabbis. Sadly, I think it is.

Here is an example of the mind-reading-rabbi's explanations of women's thinking.
"Women are not looking just for love in a marriage; they are primarily looking for lust. A woman wants to be wanted, needs to be needed, desires to be desired. A woman does not go into marriage principally to be loved; she goes into marriage to be lusted after, to be desired, to feel that there's a man who has a magnetic attraction for her. It's an easy point to prove. If a woman wanted primarily to be loved, why would she ever leave the comfort of the parental home? No one's ever going to love her more than her parents. Her parents are never going to divorce her. Her parents are going to love her unconditionally. She doesn't have to dress up for them; she doesn't have to impress them. They love her no matter what she does. If you want to be loved, you stay at home..."
I realize that by saying this, in effect it could be construed that I am speaking on behalf of women. I do not mean to do that. I strongly disagree with the notion that a man needs to speak for women. And even if for a nano-second I allowed that a rabbi should speak for women, based on my experiences and observations in my life, I disagree with all of the specific and general things that this rabbi says motivates women.

PS: Rabbi Boteach has good company in his quest for telling us "what women want". Mel Gibson starred in a movie by that title.

How do you define Judaism?

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.

This book is one way that I once defined Judaism. Hope you enjoy it.

Are men's bathing suits kosher?

The Times' T style magazine has an article about the styles of men's bathing suits, aka swim trunks, explaining which ones are kosher.

Apparently they think that Speedos are not cool: "(The least cool thing you could wear, even if you’ve lived a life full of male mistakes in the fashion arena, is a pair of Speedo trunks, or “budgie-smugglers,” which leave nothing to dignity or to mystery either.)"

Yes Please | Float, Memory
Clockwise from bottom right: C. David Claudon (2); Peter Marlow/Magnum Photos.

Yes Please | Float, Memory

Amid an ocean of style disasters, one man explores the sartorial and psychological conundrums of the swim trunk. More...

Is Timothy Geithner Jewish? No

No, Timothy Geithner, Barack Obama's former secretary of the treasury, is not a Jew.

Geithner was president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Peter F. Geithner of Larchmont, N.Y.

According to the Times, he is married to Carole M. Sonnenfeld and has two children. The Rev. Thomas Keehn, a United Church of Christ minister, officiated at his wedding in 1985.

On 11/22/2008 I received an email reply from Geithner's father-in-law, Prof. Albert Sonnenfeld, confirming that, "Geithner (is) not Jewish, (he was) raised Episcopalian, but (is) hardly religious now."

The reference in Wikipedia that previously (up to 11/2008) said he is a Jew - was removed. See the discussion.

Update 5/14: Geithner has a new book: Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises and was profiled in the Times magazine.

(Reposted.)

5/3/14

My Favorite Talmud Teacher Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein wins the Israel Prize for a Lifetime of Teaching

The Israel Prize is awarded on Yom Haatzmaut. There is a great profile by Professor Alan Jotkowitz of my favorite Talmud teacher: Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, "Talmud scholar Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein wins Israel Prize: Lichtenstein's work reflects an exceptional combination of knowledge of all aspects of the Torah and a depth of theoretical Talmudic thinking, incorporating original and creative thought, says award committee."

Jotkowitz quotes Rav Lichtenstein regarding the value of humanistic learning, "Above all, culture instills in us a sense of the moral, psychological and metaphysical complexity of human life."

Jotkowitz sums up Rav Lichtenstein's greatness and the premises on which it is built, "In addition to an obvious mastery of the sources, both Jewish and secular, relevant to the topic at hand, what distinguishes these essays is their ability to grasp the complexity of the issue and present both sides of an argument. This skill is sorely missing in the highly politicized and polarized modern Israel society. This skill was ingrained into Lichtenstein by the Brisker method, which highly values the ability to conceptualize and rigorously analyze two sides of an issue, and recognizes that two disparate values can coexist simultaneously."

My view is that it's not the Brisker Method that produced Rav Aharon. His pure and penetrating Talmudic analytical intellect cannot be reduced to any single methodology. He transcends categorization and labelling. I am grateful that I had the honor of studying in his shiur for two of my most formative years when I was a student at Yeshiva College.

5/1/14

In My Dear Rabbi Column for May I Give Talmudic Advice about Yizkor on Yom Tov

In My Dear Rabbi Column for May I Give Talmudic Advice about Yizkor on Yom Tov.

Dear Rabbi
Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

A liturgical conflict has bothered me for years. How is it possible to say Hallel and Yizkor in the same service? I note that except on Yom Kippur, on three occasions of Yom Tov we say Hallel and shortly after that we say Yizkor. I do not understand how the organizers of our prayer expected us to be capable of a rapid mood swing from the joyous praise of Hallel to the sad remembrance of Yizkor. I find it impossible to go from one extreme of emotion to another on demand in public in a single service. I’m not able to engage in bipolar liturgy. Am I right about this?

Tranquil in Teaneck

Dear Tranquil,

You are right to take our prayer services seriously. Those of us who attend during the holidays invest a lot of our time in shuls. We ought to be rewarded with meaningful, logical and aesthetically pleasing recitations, chants and sermons.

You put your finger on the pulse of an important issue. I did a quick survey of our local rabbinic speeches this past Passover and found that just this year the rabbis in several local synagogues made efforts to explain the propriety and consistency of reciting Hallel and Yizkor in the Yom Tov morning services on the last day of Passover. Although their justifications were learned and informative, they likely would not change the feeling of dissonance that you have regarding this issue.

I remind you that our prayers often take us in a single service through many dramatic visualizations that ought to move a thoughtful supplicant’s moods from petition to awe to thanksgiving, or from humble compassion to haughty triumph.

That said, I agree that the incongruence that you raise between Hallel and Yizkor is basic and troubling to me too. The “El Male Rahamim” for a departed relative that we say at Yizkor is also said at funerals. So here is some of my thinking about this discordant matter. This review may not resolve the problem for you, but it might make you feel better about the supplication oscillation that you detect.

The solemn Yizkor remembrances for our deceased martyrs and close personal relatives were recited at first in the middle ages and only on Yom Kippur. That seems right and proper because of the solemnity of the Day of Judgment when God examines our lives and decides the eternal rewards for our souls and the souls of our departed relatives. Yom Kippur is not a holiday of joyous thanks. Solemnity dominates the day. Because of that our synagogues are full on Yom Kippur and especially packed with worshippers at the time of Yizkor.

Some local synagogues in Bergen County have published special internal booklets for Yizkor. And the national movement of Reform Judaism is in the process of further recognizing the popularity of Yizkor with innovative and resourceful plans for a new Mahzor for the service.

So then how did Yizkor get beyond Yom Kippur and into the festival prayer book? I have at times imagined fancifully that at some occasion in medieval Europe the leading rabbis gathered to discuss a pressing issue. It seemed that by the time the last day of Passover and Sukkot came around, synagogue worshippers suffered from shul fatigue and attendance was sparse.

After much discussion at my imagined synagogue synod a suggestion was put on the table. A clever rabbi argued that if we instituted Yizkor for the last day of the holiday, we could draw even the most fatigued people into the shul. Other rabbis may have objected that it will compromise the festivity of the holiday to add this serious section to the liturgy. But the proposal carried the day and the controversial addition was made to the services. And once you augmented prayers for Pesach and Sukkot, then for consistency, the services Shavuot had to be modified as well.

Indeed this means that we sacrifice the thematic congruence of our davening for the sake of filling the pews.

Now due to the professed intent of this column, I need to Talmudically swing back to argue the other side of this issue. It appears to me that most worshippers do not detect or are not troubled by the Yizkor-propriety issue that you and I and others see. For many people Yizkor, without any reservations or questions, is warmly welcomed as a mightily meaningful part of the services, on all of the four occasions that we say it in our temples, synagogues and shuls.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy was ordained at Yeshiva University and earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Brown University.

My Dear Rabbi Column for May: Talmudic Advice about Sexuality and Modesty for Women

In My Dear Rabbi Column in the Jewish Standard for May I Give Talmudic Advice about modesty for women.

Dear Rabbi
Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

I attend a Yeshiva High School where I must follow a strict dress code and wear a skirt that goes below my knees and long sleeve dresses or blouses.

The teachers and administrators at the school defend this requirement as part of “tznius” -- meaning the religious requirement to dress modestly. I don’t approve of these rules. I like to dress as I see fit and to follow fashions and not be told what to wear.

At times all of this makes me feel miserable. Please don’t tell me that I need to transfer to another school. My parents won’t allow that. And so, what should I do?

Fashionable in Fairlawn

Dear Fashionable,

I empathize with you and I will try to explain to you what I see as the principles behind tznius practices. But I fear that for now knowing that may make matters more difficult for you.

Here is how I see the basics. The idea that a girl or woman must dress in a certain modest way rests on a binary assumption, namely you can be either modest or immodest, and modest is better.

Unfortunately, the belief that modesty is better is not based on some neutral economic notion, such as that a girl should give her money to charity rather than spend it on expensive clothing. It is based on the idea that exposing to view some parts of a woman’s body is always a sexual action that must be avoided.

You may say that this assertion that it is a sexual action to go out in public with a bare arm or a leg bare above the knee seems arbitrary and that this may be confusing to you. You may see other persons in the communities around you who assume that sexual situations are determined not by simple measures of skirt length but by many other intricate aspects of personal and social situations and interactions. And if that is how you see things, then I believe you are right in your perceptions of the complexity of human relations and sexuality.

So no, I do not suggest that you must transfer to another school to resolve your dress code dilemma. For now it is good if you can accept the practices, and without public protest or announcement, you can reject for yourself the shallow premises on which they are based.

After high school you may go off to live and act according to your own more individual, complete and intricate understanding human relations. You then will be freer to express your own preferences for fashions and styles without instantly mistaking one’s manner of dress as a manifestation of a person’s sexuality.

I do hope that you find helpful this brief Talmudic analysis and advice for the day-to-day reality of our contradictory world, where one person's modesty may be another person's misery.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com

Rabbi Dr. Tzvee Zahavy was ordained at Yeshiva University and earned his Ph.D. in religious studies at Brown University.