6/30/14

Tada! Tzvee Zahavy Wants You to See His New Book at Amazon

6/29/14

A Misleading Encomium of the Rebbe's Virtues

From his opinion article in the Times (The Power of a Deed: Remembering Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson), I can tell that Shmully Hecht adores the Rebbe of Lubavitch. But that does not give him license to mislead the public about the nature of his movement.  After all, the Times is the paper of record. Not the paper of misrepresentations.

Here are a few points that Hecht gets wrong.

"....the Rebbe — who for decades was the charismatic leader of millions of Jews." Oops, not true. According to Wikipedia, based on actual statistics, "The movement is thought to number between 40,000 to 200,000 adherents." Well you could argue that indeed, "...up to one million Jews attend Chabad services at least once a year." And if a Jew who goes to a Chabad service is then a "follower" of "the charismatic leader..." well what more can we say? But wait! The number still stops at a million, not at "millions." Hey, you know with those cute beards and funny hats, who wants to pick nits over millions here or there?

So then we move on to the Hecht caveats: "But to many assimilated Jews, someone like Rabbi Schneerson, with his traditional black coat and white beard, can only be a symbol of an abandoned world. He appears as an archaic and mysterious figure that reminds them of their great-grandparents in the shtetls of Europe. His followers, the Lubavitchers, the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world, might make them angry or uncomfortable."

Let me assure Rabbi Hecht that I am not "angry or uncomfortable" about members of his movement because of their "archaic" dress or "mysterious" sartorial practices. Straw man, go away, that's all I can say. I know the uniform is their shtick. It reminds me of nothing else.

Let's get to the Hecht, "close reading of Rabbi Schneerson" because it is "important". "He stood for the acceptance of all individuals, a belief in the importance of the individual act, and in the value of bringing together people of different faiths." "Acceptance"? Don't know in what way Hecht means. Makes no sense. "Importance of the individual act"? Vague and meaningless! And "bringing together people of different faiths"? Baseball games do that! I never heard the Rebbe was an ecumenist. Ever.

"Today Chabad operates schools, synagogues, orphanages, summer camps, soup kitchens and drug rehabilitation centers in more than 80 countries." Overstatement alert.

"Those institutions serve the needs of people from every racial, religious and social background." Exaggeration alert.

"The rebbe never swapped a sermon for a sandwich, nor did he seek conformity among his constituents." Untruth alert - he most certainly did demand conformity.

"In a departure from leaders and organizations that often prey on the emotional and social vulnerabilities of the public, Rabbi Schneerson always pursued a genuine dialogue with others." Rebbe not known to me or anyone I know for his "genuine dialogue".

"He sought partners, not followers. In our new world of absolute transparency, religious movements will thrive only to the extent that their particular message seeks to unite humanity, not divide it." Nice sentiment. Sure -- he wanted to convert everyone to Chabad and unite them under his rule.

The main problem I have with this article and with the state of Chabad today is that they are not adhering to their own Hasidic principles! A Hasidic community needs a Rabbe. That is the definition of Hasidism. Not a dead Rebbe. A live Rebbe. But Chabad has refused to elect a new Rebbe for twenty years.

A dead person is not a leader and is no longer charismatic. Chabad needs a new live Rebbe. And it needs to reign in its spokesmen and have them adhere to fact and not spew forth misleading encomia of virtues.

Finally, I gotta admit that the beards and hats are really good shtick.

6/23/14

Is College Kosher? Not for Women, says Shas' Leader (Haaretz)

Is College Kosher? Not for women, says Shas' leader. Oy.
Shas spiritual leader: Women mustn't even think of higher education
Rabbi Shalom Cohen, who recently took over for the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, said academic study by women is 'not the way of the Torah.'
By Yair Ettinger

Rabbi Shalom Cohen, Shas’ new spiritual leader, recently came out against higher education for ultra-Orthodox women, a belated reaction to a 15-year-old education revolution in the community he represents.

Rabbi Cohen wrote in an official letter Shas party letter: “women students should not even think of enrolling in academic studies in any setting whatsoever, since that is not the way of the Torah.” According to the Hebrew-language Haredi website Kikar Hashabbat, which published the letter on Monday, it is the first official letter Rabbi Cohen has written since he took office about two months ago.

Though the letter specifically addresses the issue of female students, his objections apparently apply equally to men.

In the letter, Rabbi Cohen wrote, “We are witness to the fact that women students, graduates of religious seminaries, wish to enroll in academic studies. Our rabbis, the sages of Israel (may their merit protect us), were absolutely opposed to academic studies, even in Haredi colleges, since many of the lecturers are university graduates and do not have the purely Torah-based outlook in which we were brought up,” He added, “The material studied in the colleges is based on scientific research and methods that fly in the face of Torah-based views! Therefore, women students should not even think of enrolling in academic studies in any setting whatsoever, since that is not the way of Torah.”

Rabbi Cohen’s new policy goes against that of the late founder and previous spiritual leader of Shas, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who was a frequent guest in the first academic college for Haredi women established by his daughter, Adina Bar-Shalom, and who was an open supporter of academic studies for women. In addition, Shas chairman MK Aryeh Deri continues to boast of the support he gave Bar-Shalom’s Haredi College of Jerusalem when he was Shas’ chairman in the 1990s.

Rabbi Cohen’s statement joins attempts by the Lithuanian Haredi movement to put a stop to academic education among Haredi women. These attempts reached a peak in 2007, when the late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, the leader of the movement, imposed a series of decrees on schools, the foremost of which was the abolition of the academic tracks that had begun to gain a foothold in the post-secondary Haredi teachers’ seminaries.

Despite Rabbi Cohen’s firm statement, his letter appears unlikely to stop Haredi women or men from attending academic institutions. Just a few months ago, Haaretz published a study showing that roughly one-fifth of Haredim aged 25 to 39 had academic degrees or were in the process of earning them — an increase of 41 percent compared to data from 2007. The increase was even sharper among women.

6/22/14

Is the Yo App Jewish?

Yes, Bloomberg reported that the incredibly popular, quirky and eccentric Yo app was invented by Jews in Israel.

Accordingly I'm awarding the app the Harris Epstein prize for great Talmudic inventions.

Stephen Colbert joined the Yo revolution with this take on it.



This reminds me of a song I heard as a kid at the first Broadway show I went to, "Milk and Honey". So I adapted the song lyrics for the app generation.

Yo, Yo,
You'll find Yo
The nicest greeting you know;
It means bonjour, salud, and skoal
And twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like peace be yours,
Welcome home.
And even when you say goodbye,
You say goodbye with Yo.

It's a very useful word,
It can get you through the day;
All you really need to know,
You can hardly go wrong,
This is your home as long as you say:
Yo,
The nicest greeting I know;
Yo,
Means twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like peace be yours,
Welcome home.
And even when you say goodbye,
If your voice has
"I don't want to go" in it,
Say goodbye with a little "hello" in it,
And say goodbye with Yo.

It's the most amazing thing
That I think I've ever heard
Wait till Berlitz hears of you
All my foundering's done
I'm a native with one little word

Yo, Yo,
I find Yo
The nicest greeting you know;
It means bonjour, salud, and skoal
And twice as much as hello.
It means a million lovely things,
Like peace be yours,
Welcome home.
And even when you say goodbye...
If your voice has
"I don't want to go" in it,
Say goodbye with a little "hello" in it,
And say goodbye with Yo.



Is it Kosher to Talk to Google Now?

Is it Kosher to talk to Google Now?
Yes it is, and the amazing things that you can do by talking to your phone are getting more amazing every day. Here are some examples!

6/19/14

NY Post: Why Yeshiva University Needs New Leadership Now (which was what I posted 5.5 years ago)

Owing to the latest articles and responses about the losses at the Yeshiva University endowments (Steven I. Weiss' award-worthy report) it behooves me to repost one of my critical posts regarding YU from five and a half years ago. I did speak up about the corruption and poor leadership at YU - and few listened. Now things are monumentally worse.

If Richard M. Joel is telling the truth in his defense of YU after the publication of the Weiss report (he says everything is just fine), then why in the last few months was the YU bond rating dropped to JUNK and why did they sell off ten major holdings in their real estate portfolio, and why did they lose control of Einstein Medical School?

I posted this on January 8, 2009:

The NY Post cites today an irate investment guru who "demands" the Yeshiva University board must be replaced in the aftermath of the Madoff and Merkin scandals [hat tip to the ever vigilant UD Blog].

In a letter to YU President Richard Joel, Andrew Sole of Esopus Creek Advisors says it is time for the school, "...to begin the healing process today by installing new fiduciaries that are untainted by scandal and embarrassment."

Note well that it looks like Andrew has an ax to grind against YU and one of its supporters Sy Syms. Sole leads a, "hedge fund that led a shareholder revolt last year against off-price retailer Syms when the chain's management voluntarily delisted its shares." We don't know what that's all about, but it sounds like Esopus may have lost some money in a failed deal.

We too believe the YU board should resign. But we have no ax to grind. We base our "demand" on our own informed analysis and on another letter, one that we received 1/2/09 by email from a prospective parent of a YU student. He was planning to send his son to YU but now appears to be reconsidering and asks me, "Given the state of affairs of YU... do you have another suggestion for a college program that would encourage him to learn at least an hour or two a day and not otherwise get absorbed by the American college experience." I told him I could not counsel him or his son...
I’m not able to advise you because I don’t know your goals or your son’s character.

You do sound sincere and committed from your brief email so I’m willing to say that wherever your son does go to school he will turn out just fine.

Sadly the leaders at YU are not stepping up to reassure people like yourself about the viability of the resources of their institution at this difficult juncture. Initially I thought it would just take them a little longer to regroup and then they’d do their jobs to get out the message that the school is sound. Now it looks like I was too optimistic...
This email wakes us up to realize that the real loss to YU has been to the capital of its good name. A school's success and viability rests primarily on its reputation, not its bank account. That reputation has been tarnished, perhaps blackened by the scandals of late which demonstrate an abundance of poor judgment over a long period of time, and more so now by what Mr. Sole accurately calls its "ostrich defense... ignoring the crisis."

We agree with Sole that just because you ignore it, this storm is not going to pass. And we agree with him that there is a failure of leadership at YU.

Where we disagree is that we judge the crisis to be critical to the health of the institution -- eating much more into the core of the school's essential mission than at its endowment's bottom line.

6/16/14

Bergen Record Chronicles the Amazing JFS Bike Ride

Thank you to all who supported us.
There is still time to contribute.

Hundreds of bicyclists turn out in Bergen County to raise funds for Meals on Wheels

JUNE 15, 2014, 1:46 PM    LAST UPDATED: SUNDAY, JUNE 15, 2014, 1:59 PM
THE RECORD

meals on wheels bike
AMY NEWMAN/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
ROCKLEIGH — They financed the delivery of thousands of Meals on Wheels by getting on wheels.
More than 450 North Jerseyans on Sunday morning pedaled 50-, 25-, 10- or 3-mile courses through upper Bergen County — hitting a dozen towns from Rockleigh to Fort Lee — for the fourth annual Wheels for Meals. The event raised $150,000 for the Jewish Family Service's Meals on Wheels program, which delivers 28,000 meals each year to the homebound elderly and disabled.

meals on wheels bike
AMY NEWMAN / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Lyle Nadler, 4, left, and his twin brother Luke were joined by their father Jeff Nadler for the 3-mile ride.
Karen Fujii of Tenafly watched her 8-year-old, Kay, take off for the 3-mile ride.
"I had to tell her it's not a race," she said. Her daughter sped off to the front of the pack anyway.
Her husband and 11-year-old had left earlier for the 10-mile ride.
The event pays for the delivery of meals, but it also promotes the program and Jewish Family Service to participants and onlookers, said Susan Greenbaum, executive director of the organization's Bergen and North Hudson branch, based in Teaneck.
Taking place in a part of Bergen County "with such affluence and privilege," Greenbaum said, the event "is an opportunity for people to gain some perspective and do something that is so, so meaningful."
The event, now in its fourth year, originated with David Feuerstein, now 19.
At the time of his bar mitzvah, Feuerstein said, he started a bar mitzvah fund to feed the hungry and delivered meals with his mother.
"You develop a connection that's really nice," he said of visiting homes, recalling how food recipients "just wanted to sit down and have a conversation."
The fund ran out when he was 15, and he decided to start a program modeled on the rides for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. It's run by a committee of Jewish Family Service members. Eleven students at Northern Valley Demarest High School helped out, starting at 6 a.m. Sunday to set up tables, slice bagels and pack gift bags. It was their second year helping out, said Heba Arsha of Closter, co-president of the student council.
Since 2011, the event has raised more than $400,000. The goal this year is to raise $180,000, Feuerstein said. Donors can still give at ridetofighthunger.com "Over these four years, our goal of the event is to make the community more aware and more involved," said Feuerstein, who is home for the summer after his first year at Cornell.
The event seemed to attract interest on Sunday from some participants.
"We're thinking maybe we'll get involved with Meals on Wheels," said Uri Herzog, a Cresskill resident, as he headed out for the 10-mile ride with his son and two nieces.
"I'm excited," his son, Natan, 11, said of the length of the course. "I'm not intimidated."
At the finish line, the riders were greeted by 27 cheerleaders from Cresskill High School.
"Awesome," Natan said after his ride.
"Natan led the way," Herzog said.
His cousin, Dahlia, 23, said she suggested they ride in together.
"I said, 'no,'" Natan said.
"He snuck past me at the end," Dahlia said.
Dov Torenberg of Cresskill parked his bike on a stand after finishing the 50-mile ride.
“It's a beautiful path,” Torenberg said. "Perfect weather. Very little traffic. Couldn't have been better."
- See more at: http://www.northjersey.com/news/hundreds-of-bicyclists-turn-out-in-bergen-county-to-raise-funds-for-meals-on-wheels-1.1035626#sthash.cWQdySWq.dpuf

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6/15/14

Herald de Paris: Wilpons Will Move the Mets to Montreal and Tear Down Citi Field

Speculation about the future of the Mets from Herald de Paris. A grand conspiracy to make billions. Credible?

Here is the crux of it from HdP:

...The Wilpons are, first and foremost, developers. Fred Wilpon was handed $500 Million worth of city-owned property, known as Shea Stadium, on which he built Citi Field. Then Fred was handed the adjacent Willets Point property by the City. The development of the Flushing-Corona location fulfills a proposed plan by NYC urban planner Robert Moses, the same guy who drove Walter O’Malley to take the Dodgers to Los Angeles, by planning to relocate them from Brooklyn to Flushing. Would a developer, like Wilpon, invest in the construction of Citi Field to secure $1 Billion worth of free land from the City of New York? In a heartbeat.

With the Willets Point project moving forward, how much more valuable would the adjacent Citi Field site be if it were also developed as a mixed-use development, and no longer played home to the Mets? Fully developed, each piece of the Flushing-Corona properties could easily yield $4-5 Billion. Thus, the Wilpons are sitting on a $10 Billion section of New York. Maybe more. They just need to move the Mets off the site to realize their developer dreams. All they really need to do is strip the club of its top players and its high salaries, then drive the fan base away with a lousy product on the field. They seem to be doing just fine, in that regard.

The Flushing-Corona location is a developer’s dream. It has water, sewer, an electrical grid, roads, a subway platform, a LIRR stop, highway access, and is located close to LaGuardia Airport. Nothing makes a developer drool more than a property which needs no infrastructure, as it has already been provided by the municipality. That the property is free, to boot, is like a perfect storm scenario for a property developer.

Say the Mets move to Montreal, where baseball fans and elected officials are so thirsty for major league baseball that they would gladly build a new ballpark for a new ownership group. The sale of the team would yield the Wilpons $2 Billion, more than covering their ill-fated ballpark construction, and help Selig fulfill his shell game of moving teams hither and yon. And if the WIlpons don’t sell the franchise? Jeff Wilpon owes Montreal a favor, for the Expos having drafted him. But why would Selig want the Mets out of New York? The 2000 Subway Series, between the Mets and the Yankees was great for New York. It was a nightmare for MLB.

Selig has insisted he is leaving the Commissioner’s post since 2012. His latest decree has him in the position until January, 2015. Is Selig part of the whole plan? Seems likely. It also seems likely that upon exiting the Commissioner’s Office, Selig will turn up as a trustee of the Corona-Flushing development.

Inevitably, New York baseball fans would clamor for another National League team in New York. Ultimately, MLB would have to allow another National League team to move to NYC, or the league would have to expand to accommodate two new teams. Where would a new team in New York build a ballpark? Why, Brooklyn, of course, the fashionably revived Borough which has already become the home of the NBA Nets and the NHL Islanders. And who owns the baseball rights to Brooklyn? None other then the Wilpons, who have a minor league team at Coney Island. Could it be true? Sadly for this Mets fan, it could.

- See more

6/14/14

Is David Brat Jewish? No, he is a Christian Theological Conundrum

No, David Brat is not a Jew. He is a Christian.

"Brat upsets Cantor" is not the title of a Bar Mitzvah boy's memoir. Brat beat Eric Cantor in a primary election in Virginia.

What kind of Christian is Brat?

The answer to that is not clear.

He is a theological conundrum according to two writers in (A)theologies via Religion Dispatches. He is the subject of "multiple denomination disorder."

Here's part of what they say:

"...There’s his PhD dissertation from American University, of which the last chapter is a discussion of Protestantism and science in the nineteenth century. There’s his unpublished textbook on economics and philosophical ethics,The Philosophy of Economics: A History of Science, Method and Ethics.  And there is also the article he wrote in 2011 for the journal Interpretation, entitled “God and Advanced Mammon – Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”  
"In that article, Brat defends usury against unnamed “theological types” who believe it un-Christian to charge interest on loans based on the historic proscription of usury. Here, curiously, Brat describes himself as an “orthodox Calvinist” and describes his theological tradition as “the Reformation,” even though hiscampaign site says that he attends a Roman Catholic Church.
"His Curriculum Vitae  does little to shed light on the matter of his ecclesial home. Under “Affiliations” are listed four different congregations: St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian Church, and Shady Grove Methodist Church. (No dates or locations are given.) Brat’s interview with The National Review supports this picture of theological eclecticism, inasmuch as he cites John Calvin, Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr as influences. .." 

6/13/14

Is Invention Piracy Kosher? Questions and Ironies regarding Samsung and Apple, China and America

Based on a New Yorker article, sometimes invention piracy is kosher (when you do it to others) and sometimes it is not (when others do it to you).

I love my new Samsung Galaxy S5 smart phone. No doubt in my mind that Samsung and Google's Android system copied a great deal from Apple's iPhone. James Surowiecki in New Yorker's financial column wrote, "Samsung... is known for being a "fast follower" in its consumer business, which really means that it's adept at copying other companies' good ideas."

Surowiecki makes clear that there's historical irony in the recent American claims that China is stealing our inventions. Citing Israeli-American scholar Doron S. Ben-Atar's book, "Trade Secrets" which investigates early American invention piracy, Surowiecki describes how our nation was a perpetrator, not a victim of piracy in the colonial period.

The publisher describes the main thrust of Ben-Atar's expensive book:
During the first decades of America's existence as a nation, private citizens, voluntary associations, and government officials encouraged the smuggling of European inventions and artisans to the New World. At the same time, the young republic was developing policies that set new standards for protecting industrial innovations. This book traces the evolution of America's contradictory approach to intellectual property rights from the colonial period to the age of Jackson. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries Britain shared technological innovations selectively with its American colonies. It became less willing to do so once America's fledgling industries grew more competitive. After the Revolution, the leaders of the republic supported the piracy of European technology in order to promote the economic strength and political independence of the new nation. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the United States became a leader among industrializing nations and a major exporter of technology. It erased from national memory its years of piracy and became the world's foremost advocate of international laws regulating intellectual property.
Note Well: Ordinarily I don't reproduce the entire text of an article here on my blog. I thought it would be an additional irony for me to copy the whole text of this one. Read more.

THE FINANCIAL PAGE

SPY VS. SPY

by 

6/11/14

Is Eric Cantor Jewish?

Yes, Eric Cantor is a Jew.

Wikipedia reports about Cantor:
Cantor, the second of three children, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Mary Lee (née Hudes), a schoolteacher, and Eddie Cantor, who owned a real estate firm. His paternal family immigrated from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s and his maternal grandfather was born in Romania. His father was the state treasurer for Ronald Reagan's 1980 presidential campaign. Cantor was raised in Conservative Judaism.
Cantor is the House Majority Leader in the US House of Representatives, making him, "the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress in its history." He was defeated in a primary election 6/10/2014.

I met Cantor and his wife at a friend's wedding September 3, 2012 and I chatted with them. I told Eric that I was proud of his accomplishments and that I disagreed with his politics.

Cantor was in the news at that time because he received information about the Petraeus affair several weeks before it was revealed in the press.

Buy my book: God's Favorite Prayers

6/9/14

Woody Allen was Right in his film Sleeper in 1973 - Red Meats and Fats are Healthy



Woody Allen was right in "Sleeper" in 1973. Hat tip to MZW.

A new book backs him up and asserts that the dangers of saturated fat is now under debate viz. 'The Big Fat Surprise' - see the story at CNN.com:
For the past four decades, we've been told to stay away from red meat, dairy and cheese -- foods high in saturated fats -- because saturated fat is bad for the heart.

But investigative reporter Nina Teicholz says that isn't the case...


6/3/14

My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for June (II): You Stole - Now Repent and Repay

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

Ten years ago when I was shopping in a big department store I saw a nice leather belt for sale on a table. Something came over me. I picked up the belt, I liked how it looked and I put it into my pocket. Shortly thereafter I walked out of the store without paying for it. No alarms went off. I went home and started to wear the belt. I had not done anything like this before and truly I do not know what moved me to act this way, to shoplift a small and paltry item that I surely could have paid for.

Recently I have become reflective and am trying to understand myself, introspective of my inner motives and some of my inexplicable actions of the past. Will it help me to give back the belt to the store or to offer to pay for it? If so should I do that anonymously or let the store know who I am?

Remorseful in Randolph

Dear Remorseful,

How are we supposed to act once we regret a little or a big action that we took in the past? What is better – to actively make amends involving other parties, or to privately recognize that we are human and prone to occasional failure, to learn from that, and to move on?

A situation like this where there appears to be a contradiction among value systems can be clarified when it is approached talmudically. On the one hand, commercial stores expect to incur some percentage of losses from shoplifting. After years have passed it makes no sense to me for you to go back with the belt or directly to offer payment. At this late date, the store managers probably would be amused by your story and not know what to do with your restitution.

On the other hand, you did violate a commandment. To make true amends you need to repent and repay. It seems like you have grown in self-awareness and repented. To repay the company, I suggest a simple, unconventional method. Go to the store (or go online to the store site), buy a gift card for the value of the belt, go home (or offline) and shred the card (or delete the emails and codes pertaining to it). The store will have received value back to its bottom line and you will have satisfied your needs to make restitution.

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

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My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for June (I): Heaven Film and Book is Really Manipulative, Patronizing and Protestant

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic Advice Column

Dear Rabbi,

I'm puzzled by a new film based on a 2010 book called, "Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back" by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. First, I don't understand how a fictional story has been classified and ranked as a bestselling "non-fiction" book? More disturbing, I find it offensive that the book portrays heaven of Christians, by Christians and for Christians. Please help me understand what to believe about all of this?

Heavenly Jew in Hackensack

Dear Heavenly,

I'm critical of the book you mention because its story is so obviously manipulative and because the premise of its narrative is so patronizingly Protestant.

For those unfamiliar, the book recounts, "the true story of a four-year old son of a small town Nebraska pastor who experienced heaven during emergency surgery. He talks about looking down to see the doctor operating and his dad praying in the waiting room. The family didn't know what to believe but soon the evidence was clear …"

This book builds on a familiar narrative about the soul and death that is common in the belief systems of Western religions. That story proposes that every living person is made up of a body and a soul which is the life-force that animates the body. When a person dies, that life-force no longer inhabits the body. It does not cease to exist. It goes to another domain. Since death by definition is irreversible, that domain is a mystery to us.

No matter that it is unknowable. Many have speculated about whether a heaven or a hell exists and if so, what it/they look(s) like. This book that you refer to purports to settle the speculations only about heaven, with nothing to say about hell. It presents us with an account of an innocent young boy whose soul departs his body, goes to heaven, and comes back to inhabit his body and to report to us what he found in the next world.

So yes, this book's framework account is legitimately non-fiction in parts because it tells us about a "true" story about a little boy who did undergo emergency surgery and had a near death experience. And because the book, and now film, both allege to report what the boy said to his parents after his operation, that can be classified as a non-fiction chronicle of a boy's conversations with adults.

Then, by a manipulative literary sleight of hand, the tale weaves into the framework of bare facts a wildly imaginative fundamentalist Christian account of heavenly ascent by an ostensibly guileless little boy. It mingles wholly imaginary details of what the boy says he saw in heaven into the factual background of his hospital procedures.

You need to know that this type of tale is nothing new. Jewish, Christian and Islamic mystics and religious visionaries have provided us in the past with reports of heavenly ascents, mainly achieved in ecstatic states of meditation or other events. The Jewish Hekhalot literature, for instance, describes mystical rises into heaven accompanied by divine visions, including in them ways to summon and control angels and to find in heaven some new knowledge of the Torah.

Our religious traditions have a variety of idealized stories of heaven. But you seem not to care much for the conclusion that a Christian heaven is "for Real" and that the Burpo boy was there and back.

Neither do I, partly because I had a near death experience which does not confirm the boy's story.

In 2006 my heart stopped at the beginning of a routine angioplasty procedure in a hospital catheterization lab. I fell unconscious while the cardiology practitioners were inserting a catheter into an artery near my leg. By the doctors' criteria, I was clinically dead for two minutes.

Did I go to heaven? Do I have a report about what wonders I saw there? Did I have any out-of-body experience? No, I had none of the above. My experience contradicts Colin Burpo's. With the help of his father who is a minister, he recollected a whole lot of "facts" about the spiritual experiences of his soul as it travelled outside his body and made a visit to a Christian heaven.

Unlike Colton, my soul did not see bright lights suggesting the divine presence of a God. My soul did not soar to heaven or float around outside of my body. My soul did not meet my dead relatives or greet any great religious personages of any faiths or persuasions.

In spite of my own non-ascent, if you do insist, I can weave for you a narrative of a Jewish heavenly experience. There are multiple possibilities based on the strands of Jewish religious traditions.

The great medieval rabbi Maimonides presents us with a visualization of Gan Eden, a heavenly depiction based on the Talmud that has always seemed attractive to me.

"In the world to come, there is nothing corporeal, no material substance. There are only souls of the righteous without bodies -- like the ministering angels... The righteous attain to a knowledge and realization of truth concerning God to which they had not attained while they were in the murky and lowly body (Mishneh Torah, Repentance 8)."

In some Talmudic views, the Garden of Eden is the eternal destination for the righteous. In that realm of joy and peace the Talmud in some instances describes golden banquet tables (Talmud, Taanit 25a), stools of gold (Talmud, Ketubot 77b), lavish feasts (Talmud, Baba Batra 75a), celebrations of the Sabbath, basking in sunshine and engaging in sex (Talmud, Berakhot 57b).

In other views (which Maimonides seems to prefer) Talmudic rabbis declare that in Gan Eden there will be no eating, drinking, procreation or commerce, no envy, hatred or rivalry. The righteous will sit in Gan Eden with crowns on their heads, and bask in the light of the Shekhinah (Talmud, Berakhot 17a).

Every religion has its own meaningful storylines that are used to educate its adherents and promulgate its beliefs. The (unarticulated) deal in our pluralistic American culture has been that each religion agrees to tell its stories to its own members and to stop there.

The Burpo book cleverly sidesteps an understood status quo that encourages plural religions to coexist calmly in our complex society. Your unease was caused by the loud unsolicited declarations of faith that come forth in this book and movie. Those proclamations are tantamount to acts of proselytization – to active attempts to convert others to one's faith. They ought to make you uncomfortable or even angry.

Using a cute boy's medical emergency to preach fundamentalist Christianity to the populace at large is a tacky activity that you appear to recognize for what it is, to question its validity and to properly reject it.

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

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6/1/14

Bike June 15 to Help Fight Hunger in Bergen County NJ


Dear All,

On June 15th I will join hundreds of cyclists in Rockleigh, New Jersey to help raise funds in support of  JFS Wheels for Meals Ride to Fight Hunger.  In the last year alone, JFS has delivered over 27,000 meals to the homebound and elderly and have helped feed hundreds of families through their food pantry. I serve on the board of the JFS.

Since its inception in 2010, the Ride to Fight Hunger has raised over $260,000 and this year they are raising the bar with a fundraising goal of $180,000.  I’ve done my part by accepting the challenge and now you can do your part.  With a donation of just $18 you can feed a family in need for a day; $90 will keep the food pantry open for one day; $180 will provide meals for an elderly couple for a month and $540 will provide meals for a person for 8 months. Whatever you can give will help - it all adds up!

Please Visit My Fundraising Page to make your tax-deductible donation towards this great cause.  You can also find us on Facebook.  Feel free to invite your friends.
I greatly appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my progress.

Sincerely,
Tzvee Zahavy

P.S.  If you prefer to make donation by check, please make check payable to JFS Wheels for Meals, write my name in the memo and mail to JFS c/o Jaymie Kerr, 1485 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666.

Yes Pope, Jesus Spoke the Language of Our Jewish Talmuds

The Daily Beast reported on the brief public dispute between Netanyahu and the Pope about the language that Jesus spoke,
“Jesus was here, in this land. He spoke Hebrew,” said Netanyahu firmly. The Pope looked unhappy, correcting the prime minister. “He spoke Aramaic, but he knew Hebrew.”
I must say that Bibi missed his chance to reply back to the Pope.

He could have said, "Ah yes indeed, Jesus spoke Aramaic - the language of our two Talmuds."

The DB continues, observing this:
Indeed, he would have spoken Aramaic, as the Pope said. That's one of many closely related Semitic languages with deep roots in the past, related to Arabic, Hebrew, Ethiopic, and Akkadian (the language of the Babylonians and Assyrians). Hebrew itself, in its written form, uses the original Aramaic script....

Aramaic had a wide currency among Jews at the time of Jesus... 
To be clear, Aramaic is not the language of the Bible.

Except for a few passages in Aramaic, the Tanakh aka the Hebrew Bible aka the Old Testament was written in Hebrew. And the New Testament, except for a few even shorter passages, was written in Greek.

The Talmud of the Land of Israel aka the Yerushalmi was written in Palestinian Aramaic (yes, that nomenclature ought to confuse people) and the Babylonian Talmud was written in Babylonian Aramaic.

Had Jesus lived into the 5th century and attended a Talmudic school in Israel or Babylonia, he would have understood both Talmuds since the later two dialects are not so distinct from one another or from the earlier forms of the spoken language.

On a related matter, some of us believe that the angels in heaven speak Aramaic, the language of the Kaddish prayer. See this 2013 controversy on that subject.

Lesson to learn: Be careful about claiming people or spiritual beings speak Aramaic. It's a touchy subject!

[Hat tip to K]