NY Times Blog: Fundamentalist Christians threaten republicans

They meet in secret. They conspire to run their own candidate for president. And this is a classic example of deserting a sinking ship. But everybody knows they will never agree on a candidate.

David Kuo detailed in his book how gullible these guys are, how they were seduced and used by the Bush White House. These guys think with their egos.

Now David D. Kirkpatrick reports in "The Caucus: Political Blogging from the Times:"
September 30, 2007, 2:38 pm
Christian Conservatives Consider Third-Party Effort

By David D. Kirkpatrick

Alarmed at the chance that the Republican party might pick Rudolph Giuliani as its presidential nominee despite his support for abortion rights, a coalition of influential Christian conservatives is threatening to back a third-party candidate in an attempt to stop him.

The group making the threat, which came together Saturday in Salt Lake City during a break-away gathering during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, includes Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who is perhaps the most influential of the group, as well as Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, the direct mail pioneer Richard Viguerie and dozens of other politically-oriented conservative Christians, participants said. Almost everyone present expressed support for a written resolution that “if the Republican Party nominates a pro-abortion candidate we will consider running a third party candidate.” more...


Mormon Polygamist Guilty of Rape

Yet another religion that promotes violent crimes.

Sect leader found guilty of aiding rape of 14-year-old

Suzanne Goldenberg in Washington
Wednesday September 26, 2007
The Guardian

The leader of a breakaway polygamous sect of Mormons was yesterday convicted of abetting in the rape of a 14-year-old girl who was forcibly married off to a cousin.

Warren Jeffs, 51, is the leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and revered by his followers as God's prophet.

He was convicted by an eight-member jury in St George, Utah, on two charges of being an accomplice to the rape of the girl, who was one of the followers of his church. She was married despite her objections to a cousin who was 19 years old.

In testimony, the forced bride, now 21, told the court she had wept in despair as Jeffs presided over her "celestial marriage" at a Nevada hotel. She had told Jeffs and her mother that she did not want to be married.

She said she had been raised in such isolation that she knew nothing of sex, and had to be coaxed to kiss her husband. A month after they were married, her husband told her it was her duty to have sex with him.

"My entire body was shaking. I was so scared," she testified. "He just laid me on the bed and had sex."

Immediately afterward, she retreated into the bathroom and took two bottles of pain reliever. The woman's husband, Allan Steed, has not been charged with any crime.

Yesterday's verdict brought a rare spotlight on the continued practice of polygamy by a community of 10,000 which appeared to live under Jeffs's complete control. The splinter group has been disavowed by the mainstream Mormon church, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

Testimony revealed a society that operated like a cult, where Jeffs wielded all power, and routinely assigned young girls to marriages against their will, or ripped families asunder when he believed the unions should come to an end.

In the communities governed by the church, in border areas of Utah, Colorado and Arizona, the word of Jeffs was law. "Everyone should now know that no one is above the law, religion is not an excuse for abuse and every victim has a right to be heard," Utah's attorney general, Mark Shurtleff, who had supported Jeffs's prosecution, told the court.

Lawyers for Jeffs claim that he is a victim of religious persecution.

Yesterday's verdict arrived after more than 17 hours of deliberation, and only after one juror was replaced by an alternate for reasons that were not disclosed.

It brings to an end Jeffs's domination of the church he has led since 2002, dictating even the most minor details in the lives of his followers.

The charismatic church leader is also charged in Arizona with being an accomplice to incest. He was captured at a routine traffic stop in Las Vegas after more than 18 months on the run.

But Richard Holm, a former member of the sect, said he did not believe the conviction would have much impact on the sect or polygamy in Utah.

"He will be regarded as a martyr. There is a power base and system in place to carry on," Holm said.

But Holm was relieved with the guilty verdict. "I think he [Jeffs] saw an opportunity to take glory, credit and power for himself ... In doing so, he abused and hurt a lot of people," he said.

Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna guitarist Jorma searches for his Jewish Soul

This classic article in the Jewish Standard, Jorma searches for his Jewish Soul is worthy of an award.

Check it out.

Original post 3/12/06

Worse than we imagined. Barnard College professor Nadia Abu El Haj is a classic racist

Blogs expose the classic racism of Nadia Abu El Haj.

Yes Barnard College professor Nadia Abu El Haj is a classic racist.

Give her tenure? We think not.


Monstrous Idiocy is what the Daily News calls Columbia Dean Coatsworth's invitation to Iranian Maniac I-have-a-dinner-job

We agree, it was monstrous idiocy.
Monstrous idiocy
Monday, September 24th 2007, 4:00 AM

The Columbia University dean who is sponsoring today's obscene appearance by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is deeply unworthy of the position he holds. In saying that he would welcome Adolf Hitler to campus, John Coatsworth revealed that he lacks the moral compass, historical perspective and human decency to be the head of the university's School of International and Public Affairs.

Coatsworth's invitation to the Iranian president was a gross abuse of academic freedom that he has been attempting mightily and futilely to defend. But there is no way, at least in civilized society, to defend Coatsworth's expressed openness to granting a forum to a man who was the world's most determined, most efficient mass murderer.

Here is what Coatsworth said in a Saturday interview with Fox News. So shocking were his comments that we quote verbatim to assure the reader that he actually said what he said: "If Hitler were in the United States and wanted a platform from which to speak, he would have plenty of platforms to speak in the United States. If he were willing to engage in a debate and a discussion, to be challenged by Columbia students and faculty, we would certainly run it."

Coatsworth is grievously wrong on so many counts. His belief that Hitler would be invited to speak across the U.S. is an insult to America's character. And his thought of engaging the guiding force of the Third Reich in collegial debate is simply monstrous. In your worst nightmare, you can imagine the topics. For example: Yes or no, are Jews truly subhuman? Even to conceive of such a colloquy is both soul-deadening and a wellspring of fury. Identical thinking - repugnant on its face and grossly insensitive to the Jewish community and to all good people - drives Coatsworth's event with Ahmadinejad.

Coatsworth's efforts to justify his remarks further showed he is absolutely ill-equipped for his post. He told the Daily News yesterday he meant "in 1939, [when Hitler] had not started the war and the Holocaust hadn't begun." Oh. So six years after Dachau, four years after the anti-Jewish Nuremberg Laws and a year after Kristallnacht, when Hitler's intentions were known to all, he'd be a fine speaker for Columbia?

The Iranian president denies the Holocaust and has declared that he would like to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. His regime is a leading exporter of terror, provided munitions that are killing U.S. troops in Iraq and is openly trying to go nuclear. He is repressing his own people with radical Islamic law and would similarly repress everyone else if given a chance.

He's his own Hitler - for now without the resources. Despite the established record - right down to Ahmadinejad's "Death to America" rallies over the weekend - Coatsworth is determined to bring the Iranian to Columbia. And Columbia President Lee Bollinger foolishly agreed to legitimize Coatsworth's circus by playing Ahmadinejad's foil. Bollinger will challenge the madman, yes he will. As if Ahmadinejad will give a hoot to what any of Columbia's academics think - although he'll take full advantage of their forum. As if anyone will learn anything that isn't well-known from the record of Ahmadinejad's actions.

Bollinger believes that he'll be standing up for what is right in confronting Ahmadinejad. He's mistaken. In truth, he squandered the opportunity to stand up for a higher good when he did not reject this perversion of academic freedom - a freedom that, like all others, must be exercised responsibly. Simply put, he should have told Coatsworth to stuff it. Fortunately, Coatsworth is only the acting dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. Now, given Coatsworth's disqualifying remarks about Hitler, Bollinger needs to find someone who is fit to lead the school.


Wednesday is thump-your-bible-in-school-day

From Hackensack, NJ comes a dramatic new tote-em and quote-em scheme for bible-thumpers nationwide. Look for this happy event on Wednesday, planned to coincide with pole-day. See the article text below for insight into that brilliant idea.

The difference between religion and cognition emerges right here. A pastor urges his young flock to tote their bibles to school and quote them in classes one-day-a-year.

If the children were actually learning anything in Sunday school, they would know some verses by heart and a whole lot more content every day of the year.

The picture above illustrates how bibles can help students in their math classes.

Anyway, this story reminds me of a few incidents involving bible-thumpers at the University of Minnesota.

One time a thumper enrolled in my Intro to Judaism class with the intention of converting me. He sat in the third row center in a class of about 300. Three weeks into the class he raised his hand and started asking me if I accepted Jesus as my savior. I looked at him for a second and then the other students started berating him. "Hey, this is a Jewish Studies class. Get out of here," and the like. I said nothing. He dropped the course the next day.

Another time a thumper came into my office hours to inform me of the "good news." She started to pull out her bible and I politely asked her to tell me what she wanted to without referring to any texts or written notes. She had next to nothing to say.

In a third incident I was approached by a thumper who offered me a little free green New Testament. I told him no thanks I'm Jewish. He said he knew all about Jews from the Old Testament. I said no you don't know about Jews unless you study the Mishnah, the Talmud, the rishonim and the achronim, and the shulchan aruch. He looked at me stupefied and I walked away.

It's amazing that out of eighteen years at the U - I can recall only these three incidents.

The local Bergen Record reports on the new scheme:
Teacher wants kids to use Bible in class

A New Jersey Christian activist will mount an unusual effort this week to carry religion into the nation's public schools.

Rather than lobbying the government to require school prayer or battling against the teaching of evolution, Bob Pawson is asking students to bring Bibles to school for the week.

And he doesn't want Scripture sitting in lockers or backpacks.

Pawson, a conservative evangelical and Trenton public school teacher, said students should use relevant Bible passages to complete assignments and contribute to classroom discussions. His Scripture in Schools Project also calls on students to leave religious tracts at "strategic places throughout school," such as in library books, desks and lockers.

"The only people keeping Bibles out of America's public schools are us Christians!" Pawson wrote on his Web site, bringyourbible.com. "Let's just bring them in. Millions of us. Tote 'em and quote 'em!"

Pawson has scheduled the project to coincide with a nationwide See You at the Pole event in which students will gather for prayer at their schools' flagpoles before classes begin. Organized by evangelicals, the annual gathering will take place Wednesday and is expected to attract several million participants nationwide.

However, it appears few North Jersey students will heed Pawson's call, despite his efforts to publicize the event through Christian media circles.

Pawson knew of just several local kids -- all members of Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Hackensack -- planning to take their Bibles to school.

One student said he plans to read his holy book during study halls and avoid aggressively promoting his faith.

"My friends consider me a cool Christian, because I don't ram my faith down people's throats," said Adam Van Clief, a senior at North Bergen High School.

Another student said she, too, will take a low-key approach because she knows no other evangelicals at her school.

"It's going to be a little awkward, because I have a lot of friends who aren't Christian," said Angelica Camacho-Malone, a sophomore at North Arlington High School. "But I'm hoping I can just let them know about the Bible and show them that it isn't as boring as it may seem to them."

Meanwhile, Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said he had concerns about Pawson's plan, though he also noted that there's nothing unconstitutional about students bringing Bibles to school.

Lynn said he was disturbed that Pawson's Web site asks students to distribute tracts and suggests that pastors should go to schools with their Bibles and clerical garb.

"You can bring a Bible to school," Lynn said in an interview. "But this seems to be a case of pushing the envelope, and in some areas, he pushes it right off a cliff."

Pawson, who said he started the event a decade ago, said the purpose isn't to proselytize or convert students, but to share the wealth of literature, history and theology in the Bible.

Still, he said he relishes the idea of students quoting Genesis in science class to contest the theory of evolution -- which many evangelicals say contradicts the biblical account of creation.

"We aren't looking to spark controversy," Pawson said. "But if the class discussion is on how life started ... then a kid who believes in creation can back up his viewpoint."

Lynn, however, said there's a fine line between legitimate classroom discussion and theological indoctrination.

He said a lecture on the works of William Shakespeare -- which contain many biblical allusions -- would be an appropriate place to discuss Scripture.

But he said some conservative religious groups have begun training students to aggressively challenge science teachers on evolution.

"I think in those cases it's appropriate for the teacher to say, 'This is a science class; we are not discussing religion,' and tell the student to sit down," Lynn said. "Students don't get to rewrite the curriculum just because they feel like it."

The Hackensack church, meanwhile, kicked off both the Scripture in Schools Project and the See You at the Pole event with a rally Friday evening replete with Christian rock bands and sermons by the pastor.

Mandy Leverett, the youth pastor, said it's important for students to bring their faith to school, because it sets a good example for others.

"To introduce young people to the Lord, a lot of times it will detour them from getting into habits that are destructive," Leverett said.


Blog Post #1000 - Why?

In honor of my 1000th blog post I am giving myself an award.

I'm also asking myself a question. Why?

For me the answer is simple. I like to write, I have opinions and I need diversions. I have no pretense of being or becoming a professional or an influential blogger.

It has been fun. I almost gave it up this summer. But somehow I persevered. And yesterday we had 1300 page views.

Thanks to all my readers. I hope you enjoy it too.


Calls to US Authorities to Arrest Ahmadinejad

This JTA article describes one effective way to protest the visit of Ahmadinejad.
Pressure to arrest Ahmadinejad
Published: 09/20/2007

Israel's friends are calling for the arrest of Iran's president in advance of his arrival next week in New York City

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be in New York for the opening of the new session of the United Nations General Assembly.

On Monday, a team of lawyers and diplomats who want Ahmadinejad tried for inciting genocide will call on the U.S. Department of Justice to arrest the Iranian president when he arrives on American soil.

"He is an international war criminal," said Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz. "He has repeatedly violated the anti-genocide convention. He is as guilty as the Rwandans who are convicted and sentenced to years in prison for inciting genocide."

Ahmadenijad's visit has been roiling New York for days. A scheduled appearance at Columbia University has prompted calls for the school to rescind the invitation. Columbia refused, invoking the principle of free speech. The New York City Police Department also announced that it would not accompany Ahmadinejad to Ground Zero as he had requested, though some reports suggest he plans to travel there anyway.


Iranian Maniac Leader Will Entertain Columbia University Students Monday.

The NY Times reports that Columbia University's president will "challenge" Ahmadinejad. Huh? This Columbia is a University. This Iran is a country. That's like me challenging Tiger Woods to a golf match. He could care less. So that said, Columbia is affording a maniac a platform and credibility. Not a good decision.

Also today, Mr. Bollinger said that Mr. Ahmadinejad would speak at the World Leaders Forum, organized by Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs, on Monday. Mr. Bollinger said in a statement:

In order to have such a University-wide forum, we have insisted that a number of conditions be met, first and foremost that President Ahmadinejad agree to divide his time evenly between delivering remarks and responding to audience questions. I also wanted to be sure the Iranians understood that I would myself introduce the event with a series of sharp challenges to the President on issues including:

  • the Iranian President’s denial of the Holocaust;
  • his public call for the destruction of the state of Israel;
  • his reported support for international terrorism that targets innocent civilians and American troops;
  • Iran’s pursuit of nuclear ambitions in opposition to international sanction;
  • his government’s widely documented suppression of civil society and particularly of women’s rights; and
  • his government’s imprisoning of journalists and scholars, including one of Columbia own alumni, Dr. Kian Tajbakhsh.

I would like to add a few comments on the principles that underlie this event. Columbia, as a community dedicated to learning and scholarship, is committed to confronting ideas­ to understand the world as it is and as it might be. To fulfill this mission we must respect and defend the rights of our schools, our deans and our faculty to create programming for academic purposes. Necessarily, on occasion this will bring us into contact with beliefs many, most, or even all of us will find offensive and even odious. We trust our community, including our students, to be fully capable of dealing with these occasions, through the powers of dialogue and reason.

I would also like to invoke a major theme in the development of freedom of speech as a central value in our society. It should never be thought that merely to listen to ideas we deplore in any way implies our endorsement of those ideas, or the weakness of our resolve to resist those ideas, or our naiveté about the very real dangers inherent in such ideas. It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices. To hold otherwise would make vigorous debate impossible.

That such a forum could not take place on a university campus in Iran today sharpens the point of what we do here. To commit oneself to a life­ and a civil society ­prepared to examine critically all ideas arises from a deep faith in the myriad benefits of a long-term process of meeting bad beliefs with better beliefs and hateful words with wiser words. That faith in freedom has always been and remains today our nation’s most potent weapon against repressive regimes everywhere in the world. This is America at its best.

Hey, just a thought, why not have the infamous almost tenured professor and equally loony Nadia Abu El-Haj introduce him?


Intelligent Design = It's Deism

Our friends (we miss them) over at Canonist Does Intelligent Design Need A Specific Emotional Cocktail? criticized a Slate article by Will Saltetan that says:
Proponents of ID claim that complex systems found in nature-the cell, the bacterial flagellum, the immune system-are evidence of "intelligent activity" by a designer. But what kind of intelligence? Is the designer brutal or loving, jealous or forgiving? Look at the ancient crocodilelike predator we just dug up. Its mouth is a perfect killing machine. Does the same intelligence that designed us design our murderers?
Canonist asks:
Why does any of that matter to the basics of the theory? And, further, his examples - Pat Robertson (vindictive God) and Pope Benedict XVI (loving God) - probably have provided numerous quotes indicating the precise opposite position.
This kind of red-herring assessment doesn't do much for Saletan's argument, and it's unusual to see him resort to this.
I said over there, "As I see the argument underlying that article: if ID is not science and is really theology, then it is fair game to pose the whole range of theological questions to the proponents. Is the designer brutal or loving, jealous or forgiving? These are classic theological concerns and quite apropos of ID - because it is theology under a wig and a funny nose." (I like to quote myself. Occasionally I agree.)

There's a lot of verbiage out there in the press on this Intelligent Design Debate. So where do I stand on ID? It's Deism plain and simple. It should be taught in American public schools in the history curriculum. Many of our founding fathers were deists. Students will find it curious to know about this arcane chapter of our early colonial culture. All Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, George Washington (though he kept his religion to himself) .

Franklin wrote cleverly, "Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."

What then do the fundamentalists expect to achieve by preaching and promoting Deism? Do they even know anything about how they may accomplish "quite contrary to what was intended by them" by teaching it?

-repost from 11/05

Adobe: World's Best Pure Software Company

The Adobe suite of software includes Acrobat, Indesign, Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and more and more.

In May they released Creative Suite Version 3. It is a blockbuster and will be gobbled up by digital professionals worldwide.

And so another earnings report to be followed by more upticks in the stock:
NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of Adobe Systems Inc. jumped in premarket trading Tuesday after the graphic design software maker topped estimates for the fiscal third quarter and lifted its fourth-quarter sales outlook above Wall Street expectations.


Madonna, Rabbis, and the President

You have to follow up on Madonna in Israel. Real Kabbalists are not happy with her trip. But she exchanged gifts with the President...
Jpost (with AP) reports:
During her trip to Israel, Madonna toasted Rosh Hashana with President Shimon Peres and declared herself an "ambassador for Judaism."

The singer, who is not Jewish, met Peres at his official Jerusalem residence on Saturday evening, and the two exchanged gifts, with Madonna receiving a lavishly-bound copy of the Old Testament.

She presented Peres with a volume of the Zohar (The Book of Splendor), the guiding text of Jewish mysticism, or Kabbala, inscribed, "To Shimon Peres, the man I admire and love, Madonna," the Yediot Aharonot daily said. A Peres aide confirmed the meeting but had no details.

Madonna arrived in Israel Wednesday night, the eve of the New Year, with her film director husband, Guy Ritchie, to attend a Kabbala conference.

Other celebrities who flew in for the event included movie star Demi Moore and her husband, actor Ashton Kutcher, ex-talk show host Rosie O'Donnell and fashion designer Donna Karan.

"You don't know how popular the Book of Splendor is among Hollywood actors," Yediot quoted Madonna as telling Peres. "Everyone I meet talks to me only about that." Kutcher was quoted by an Israeli daily as telling a group of Israeli businessmen and entertainers on Saturday that Kabbala had answered fundamental questions in his life and made him a better actor.

Madonna, who was raised a Roman Catholic, has taken the Hebrew name Esther, and has been seen wearing a red thread on her wrist in a Jewish tradition to ward off the evil eye. Madonna paid her first visit to Israel three years ago, on another Kabbala-centered trip.

"I can't believe that I'm celebrating the new year with you in Israel," Ma'ariv quoted her as telling Peres on Saturday. "It's a dream come true."


Looking at the 50 Top Bloggers: Jews don't contol the media

Maybe six or seven Jews among the 50 top bloggers in the world....

I'm worried. Hey chevra, what happened to our conspiracy to control the media?
Leo Babauta names NxE’s Fifty Most Influential Bloggers

There are literally millions of bloggers out there, each of them with their own voice and style, and yet in the blogging world, a handful stand out. These are the movers and shakers. When they speak, the blogging world listens. These are our Fifty Most Influential Bloggers, and if you don’t know them, you need to.

Haaretz: Orthodox Prefer to Worry About Chulent - Not Madonna


Shimon Peres hosted her - lucky dog.

Supposedly the Orthodox oppose her visit. Haaretz is sometimes quite comical in their realism about the news of the Jews.

Here the paper straightens out those who would like to create some imaginary clash between the Material Girl and the Haredi World.
By Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz Jewish World Correspondent

"Rage on the streets of Mea Shearim," was until about ten years ago a pretty standard sentence in any report of real or perceived insults to Jewish ultra-Orthodox sensibilities.

It took the best efforts of a small group of dedicated journalists to change the accepted stereotype of the Haredi community as a homogeneous group, ready to take to the streets at the drop of a black hat. Most news editors and at least part of the paper-reading public now understand that there are different views within the ultra-Orthodox sector and that not all of them are Pavlovian demonstrators.

This paragraph in a Associated Press report over the Rosh Hashanah weekend proved that there at least some who still see Jewish orthodoxy in black and white: "Madonna Louise Ciccone Ritchie was raised a Roman Catholic, but she has become a follower of Jewish mysticism in recent years, raising the ire of many Orthodox Jews who see the adoption of Kabbalah by non-Jewish pop figures as an abomination."

Yes, well not quite.

Madonna's current visit to Israel as part of a group of Hollywood celebrities and hangers-on and their "Kabbalah conference" at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv was not high on the list of subjects for gossip among the faithful who thronged synagogues over Rosh Hashanah.....
Yes it is sad but true. They don't care about Madonna.


California Law School Fuzzballs Hire/Fire New Dean and Meanwhile Harbor AntiSemitism

The NY Times ran an editorial about UCI Chancellor Michael Drake:
A Bad Beginning in Irvine

A law school would be mighty fortunate to have Erwin Chemerinsky, a distinguished Duke Law School professor, as its dean. The University of California, Irvine, realized this when it asked him to head up its new law school. This week, however, it rescinded the offer, evidently because of his political views. It’s a disgraceful decision. The University of California system should admit its mistake and, with apologies, extend the offer again.

Mr. Chemerinsky, a constitutional scholar and much-admired teacher, is one of the shining lights of legal academia. He has also taken his profession’s public service obligations seriously, working tirelessly for civil liberties. He argued in the Supreme Court against the constitutionality of California’s “three strikes and you’re out” law and agreed to represent Valerie Plame Wilson, the C.I.A. operative exposed by the Bush administration.

His record made him an ideal choice to run the law school that U.C.-Irvine plans to open in 2009. Chancellor Michael Drake offered him the job, and Mr. Chemerinsky signed a contract. But the job was withdrawn this week. Mr. Chemerinsky says that Mr. Drake told him he was “too politically controversial” for the appointment, which still had to be confirmed by the California regents. Mr. Drake does not dispute those words, but he insisted “it was no one thing” that led him to withdraw the job, and said vaguely that he doubted he and Mr. Chemerinsky could work toward a common goal.

Applying an ideological litmus test for academic appointments is offensive. Good deans also understand their institutional responsibilities. At Harvard Law School, Elena Kagan, a former Clinton administration lawyer, has been embraced by both liberals and conservatives for her inclusive management style. Professor Chemerinsky made clear that he intended to create a law school that was neither liberal nor conservative, and he had already recruited prominent conservatives to serve on its advisory board.

Mr. Drake insisted that he made the decision himself, with no outside pressure. But his “too politically controversial” comment suggests otherwise.

If the U.C.-Irvine law school proceeds without Mr. Chemerinsky, it will open under a cloud. Law professors and students should be wary of signing on with a school founded in a spirit of intellectual intolerance. Just as unfortunate, we will never get to see the law school that the talented Professor Chemerinsky would have created.
Susan Estrich writes (The Most Corrupt Man in California) about this fracas - giving it another context:
Dr. Michael Drake, Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine, is the most corrupt man in California. His job is, or should be, to protect the "liberty" of both students and faculty, the academic freedom that is the cornerstone of great universities.

But Dr. Drake has a twisted view of academic freedom, one that allows Muslim students to engage in open anti-Semitism, to hold rallies on campus attacking Zionist control of the media, equating Jewish support for Israel with Hitler's Nazis, even (according to campus Republicans) displacing previously scheduled Young Republicans meetings with rallies denouncing Israel's right to exist. But there's no room for a liberal, Jewish law professor who is routinely the object of bidding wars between top-rated law schools vying for his services.

Last February, Hillel of Orange County formed a task force to investigate what it viewed as a troubling number of anti-Semitic speeches and incidents on the UCI campus, including complaints by Jewish students that they were being followed and harassed by their Muslim classmates. That was before UCI's Intifada week this past spring, which included speakers supporting the terrorist group Hamas and a speech entitled "Zio-Nazis." That was before the infamous Ward Churchill, defender of the 9/11 attacks, was invited to speak on campus.

This past June, at a meeting attended by hundreds of concerned members of the Jewish community in Irvine, Dr. Drake told one parent, whose children don't want to attend UC Irvine because of the virulent expressions of hatred, not to worry because these incidents "are not every other day. It's a couple times a year." Asked why he didn't exercise his own right to free speech to "speak directly to statements made on campus" (as former Harvard President Lawrence Summers did when he opposed calls for divestment from Israel by terming such actions "anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent"), Dr. Drake ducked. "We have 1,000 guest speakers on campus every year. Could I evaluate them and say this one is anti-Semitic? I could not. What I could say is that as a person and a campus, we abhor hate speech, period."

On the other hand, we have no room for a liberal law professor — whose views were well known before he was hired, who is squarely in the mainstream of modern constitutional thought — because we're afraid to take the heat that may be coming from some of Drake's biggest donors. While Drake told Erwin it was the Regents he was worried about, that was an out-and-out lie. He later admitted he didn't consult a one of them, and instead pointed to an op-ed Erwin wrote back in mid-August about death penalty procedure — even though he signed a contract with Chemerinsky three weeks after the op-ed was published.

No, this was Drake's call, and it will doom his law school, if it doesn't doom him first.

NY Times Book Review: Church and State, Capitalism is Good, and How to Read the Bible

Lots of good book reviews this week......

'The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West'

Mark Lilla argues that the separation of church and state was not, as some would have it, a foregone conclusion.

Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism

Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,”a glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest, influenced Alan Greenspan and others.

Irreconcilable Differences in Bible’s Interpretations

Published: September 15, 2007

“How to Read the Bible” is a most unusual how-to book. For one thing, it is more than 800 pages long and has 971 endnotes. It is true that all the familiar figures and events of the Hebrew Scriptures or Old Testament are here: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets.

First Chapter: ‘How to Read the Bible’ By JAMES L. KUGEL
“In going through the Bible . . . this book will focus not only on what the text says but on the larger question of what a modern reader is to make of it, how it is to be read.”

NY Times Magazine: Lev Leviev is Wealthy and Orthodox

He looks like a saint, doesn't he? ;>)
The Missionary Mogul

He has empires in diamonds and real estate and the ear of two governments. But what Lev Leviev really cares about is what is good for the Jews (at least the Chabadniks).


Happy New Year: Israeli Lands Sold to an Arab

Rabbi Yosef. They say he's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One day he says ridiculous things and the next day he does intelligent things.

Land sale for the Sabbatical Year. It's called a legal fiction. And it's good enough for me.
Ovadia Yosef hosts 'sale' of land to Arab for shmita year
By Yair Ettinger, Haaretz Correspondent

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the highly influential Sephardi rabbi, publicly backed a controversial land sale of 2 million dunams Tuesday to meet the religious law of shmita, obliging farmers to let land lie fallow for a year, a requirement that begins next week under the Jewish calendar.

Traditionally agricultural land is sold symbolically to non-Jews for the period during which cultivation is forbidden - which Jewish law calls the sabbatical year. The Jewish New Year, which begins Wednesday, marks the beginning of a sabbatical year. The nominal sale is meant to allow farmers to keep on cultivating agricultural land throughout the sabbatical year as the land technically is not theirs.

Yosef, former Sephardi chief rabbi and spiritual leader of the Shas party, hosted in his Jerusalem home the symbolic sale of 2 million dunams (approximately 500,000 acres) of Jewish-owned land to an Arab man from Abu Gosh near the capital.

The chief Ashkenazi rabbis - headed by the leader of Israel's Lithuanian non-Hasidic ultra-Orthodox community, Rabbi Yosef Sholom Eliashiv - are opposed to the practice of symbolic land sale. The detractors regard the symbolic sale as a way of dodging religious obligations. The Ashkenazi rabbinical establishment is therefore attempting to deny farmers who participate in such a sale kashrut certificates for their produce.

Eliashiv's followers are also lobbying Israel's chief rabbis to oppose the symbolic land sale. If they succeed, Israel might experience a severe shortage in locally produced kosher produce, costing farmers untold sums of money.

Ovadia Yosef's son, Rabbi Avraham Yosef, who attended the bill of sale's signing, told Haaretz that his father had "saved the country" by sanctioning the sale. However, Ovadia Yosef did not attend the actual signing.

The discontent over the symbolic sale resulted in its being conducted for the first time since the founding of the state outside the Chief Rabbinate Council's offices. Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar were not present at the signing.

The sale at Ovadia's home was the last of a succession of token transactions involving the Israel Lands Administration. In total, non-Jewish partners "bought" approximately 1.75 million dunams of state-owned land, plus some 30,000 dunams of private plots for some NIS 71.5 billion. The buyers paid a down payment of several thousand shekels, to be returned next fall.

The affair has also reached the High Court of Justice. Last week, the court demanded the Chief Rabbinate Council find a solution that will allow farmers to keep on cultivating land without losing their kashrut certification.


Brown University President Ruth Simmons' Address at the Newport Synagogue

A good speech by a brilliant college president:
I extend my heartfelt gratitude for the invitation to be present at this historic site on the occasion of the 60th reading of the letter of President George Washington “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport.” My gratitude derives from the fact that today’s ceremony is the culmination of a period of study and reflection. The opportunity this summer to visit holy sites in Israel for the first time was a satisfying and stimulating dimension of this summer of reflection. Today’s event is yet another station in a phenomenal personal journey through history’s lessons. That journey began in my youth. Many of you know that the Jewish Diaspora is a prominent theme and reference point in African American Southern Baptist practice. Our songs, rituals and imagery are filled with the inspiring story of the flight from Egypt, the struggle for freedom from bondage, and the making of a community in exile. As a child, experiencing first-hand the strictures of segregation and discrimination in the South, I was enthralled and inspired by the example of wise and just Biblical elders who, through love, faith and a genuine concern for the plight of others, “made a way somehow.” I feel very much that the tenets that inspired the founding of this institution reached out and made a way for me.

Read the original letters....

Sunset Wednesday: Have a Blessed Ramadan and Leshanah Tovah Tikatevu

"Ramadan, the holy month of fasting from dawn to dusk, celebrates the divine revelation of the Koran to Prophet Muhammad."

This year the start of Ramadan coincides with Rosh Hashanah Wednesday night.

Let us pray to Allah and to Hashem that this coincidence of the inception of high holy days be an omen for peace and goodwill for all Muslims and Jews in the coming year.

Prison ban on Jewish books spawns lawsuit

A prison ban on Jewish books - along with other religious books - has spawned a lawsuit according to the NY Times:
The plan to standardize the libraries first became public in May when several inmates, including a Muslim convert, at the Federal Prison Camp in Otisville, N.Y., about 75 miles northwest of Manhattan, filed a lawsuit acting as their own lawyers. Later, lawyers at the New York firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison took on the case pro bono. They refiled it on Aug. 21 in the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Otisville had a very extensive library of Jewish religious books, many of them donated,” said David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group. “It was decimated. Three-quarters of the Jewish books were taken off the shelves.”

Mr. Zwiebel asked, “Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?”

Hamas 9/11 Anniversary Rocket Attack:There will never be a Palestinian State

Six years ago, I witnessed from Jersey City the second plane hit the WTC and the subsequent mass murder in the collapse of both towers.

Later that day in Teaneck I saw my neighbor Yonah with whom I had previously debated the merits of a Palestinian State. He had been firmly against the idea. I had been in favor.

When I saw Yonah that day, I said to him just one thing, "There now will never be a Palestinian State." Muslim Arab terrorists had attacked us on our soil. Palestinians were dancing in the streets. Regardless of my views or Yonah's or anyone else's opinions, I was certain that in the aftermath of 9/11, there would never be a Palestinian state.

Now today Hamas has launched a 9/11 Anniversary Rocket Attack against Israel wounding dozens of soldiers.

There was never any doubt since 9/11. Yet here is another confirmation. Militant Islam wants to kill Israelis and Americans and destroy Western civilization.

In this context and for this reason, there will never be a Palestinian State.


Barnard Professor Speaks out against shabby anti-Israel scholarship

It takes guts these days for a professor to go on the record about anything, certainly about anything controversial.

My colleague Alan Segal has stood up for what he knows to be true and has been cited in the NY Times.

The case is a bitter contest over tenure at Barnard for a pseudo-scholar who obviously hates Israel. Here is what the Times reports that Segal said,
Dr. Abu El-Haj has some opponents at her own college. “There is every reason in the world to want her to have tenure, and only one reason against it — her work,” said Alan F. Segal, a professor of religion and Jewish studies at Barnard. “I believe it is not good enough.”

He said he was particularly troubled by her suggestion that ancient Israelites had not inhabited the land where Israel now stands, and he said that she had either misunderstood or ignored evidence to the contrary. “She completely misunderstands what the biblical tradition is saying,” he added. “She is not even close. She is so bizarrely off.”

He also said that a Barnard official, whom he declined to name, had asked him to suggest people who were not Jewish to comment on Dr. Abu El-Haj’s work for the tenure review, and that he had refused.

Elizabeth Gildersleeve, a Barnard spokeswoman, said that a high official of the college had met with Professor Segal on the tenure case and asked him to submit names for letters of reference. But Ms. Gildersleeve said that “the charge that restrictions were put on that request is absolutely untrue.”
Bravo to you, brave Alan, for speaking truth to tenure. You have been I fear too kind. And P.S. I have learned that a person who uses the denial, "absolutely untrue," is most often themselves in fact the one who is lying.


9/9/07: Join the Guiness World Record Shofar Blow

  • The Great Shofar Blow Out - At 1:00pm bring your shofar and all your shofar-blowing friends and family to Overpeck Park in Leonia.
  • Make history…help us break the Guinness world record for greatest number of shofars sounded at the same time!
  • We’ll also try to establish a brand new record for the longest note sounded by the most shofars simultaneously.
  • Click here to register as a shofar blower.
  • Anyone and everyone is invited.


Shanah Tovah 5768

Ebay: $1.8 million for Rosh Hashanah Seats!

Yes you heard it right. Ebay Temple Seats auction in Miami Beach Florida:

Starting bid is $1.8 million.... such a deal!


Temple Emanu-El "Membership for Life" begins September 2007 and includes: • Two comfortable seats in Section DD, Row 1, Seats 1 & 2 (Right in front of the Rabbi!) • Includes all Jewish holidays... Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, etc. • Includes all Shabbat services • Family name engraved on seats • Seats transferable within family (some restrictions apply) • Two custom-made Israeli tallitot and kippot • Free parking • Temple Emanu-El located in the heart of Miami Beach, Florida (walking distance to beach, Lincoln Road, etc.) For more information on Temple Emanu-El, please visit tesobe.org.

Is CNN God's Jewish Warriors biased? Yes - in our favor!

Much ink is being spilled to protest the CNN documentary by Christiane Amanpour because they say it is not balanced and it is biased against the Jews.

I've watched it now and yes it is biased - towards the Jews!

It is a first rate piece of journalism. I am integrating into my current course on religious terrorism this program and its two companion programs on Muslim and Christian terrorism.

Watch it for yourself and decide. It's on youtube in ten segments, you have to search to find it since it keeps changing as people post and take it down.

Good Luck at JTS Arnie!

Arnie Eisen was inaugurated today as chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

According to the report in the Columbia Spectator, he sounded a theme of confidence:

Eisen assured the crowd that he is confident and ready to take on the challenges of leading JTS.

“Let me say—not only as a leader of Conservative Judaism, but as a lifelong Conservative Jew and a scholar of American Judaism—that I utterly reject talk of decline when it comes to the state of the movement and its prospects,” he declared. “Malaise is in the eye or head of the beholder.”

Nazism, sex and violence. The NY Times further exposes Holocaust Pornography in Israel

Surprising and somewhat shocking to find a native Israeli genre of literature like this. Why is this coming out now? Perhaps with the advent of the web, the mentality is that all the secrets of a culture, a society or an individual, are fair game.
Jerusalem Journal
Israel’s Unexpected Spinoff From a Holocaust Trial

JERUSALEM, Sept. 5 — It was one of Israel’s dirty little secrets. In the early 1960s, as Israelis were being exposed for the first time to the shocking testimonies of Holocaust survivors at the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a series of pornographic pocket books called Stalags, based on Nazi themes, became best sellers throughout the land.

Read under the table by a generation of pubescent Israelis, often the children of survivors, the Stalags were named for the World War II prisoner-of-war camps in which they were set. The books told perverse tales of captured American or British pilots being abused by sadistic female SS officers outfitted with whips and boots. The plot usually ended with the male protagonists taking revenge, by raping and killing their tormentors.

After decades in dusty back rooms and closets, the Stalags, a peculiar Hebrew concoction of Nazism, sex and violence, are re-emerging in the public eye. And with them comes a rekindled debate on the cultural representation here of Nazism and the Holocaust, and whether they have been unduly mixed in with a kind of sexual perversion and voyeurism that has permeated even the school curriculum.

“I realized that the first Holocaust pictures I saw, as one who grew up here, were of naked women,” said Ari Libsker, whose documentary film “Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography in Israel” had its premiere at the Jerusalem Film Festival in July and is to be broadcast in October and shown in movie theaters. “We were in elementary school,” he noted. “I remember how embarrassed we were.”

Hanna Yablonka, a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, says the film highlights what she calls the “yellow aspects of nurturing the memory of the Holocaust.”

“Are we taking it into the realm of semipornography?” she asked. “The answer is, we are.”

The Stalags were practically the only pornography available in the Israeli society of the early 1960s, which was almost puritanical. They faded out almost as suddenly as they had appeared. Two years after the first edition was snatched up from kiosks around the central bus station in Tel Aviv, an Israeli court found the publishers guilty of disseminating pornography. The most famous Stalag, “I Was Colonel Schultz’s Private Bitch,” was deemed to have crossed all the lines of acceptability, prompting the police to try to hunt every copy down.

The Stalags went out of print and underground, circulating in specialty secondhand bookstores and among furtive groups of collectors.

Mr. Libsker’s 60-minute documentary puts the Stalags under a spotlight for the first time and exposes some uncomfortable truths. One is that the Stalags were a distinctly Israeli genre, created by Israeli publishers and penned by Israeli authors, although they had masqueraded as translations from English and were written in the first person as if they were genuine memoirs.

Until the Eichmann trial began in 1961, the voices of the Holocaust had hardly been heard in Israel. The survivors sensed the ambivalence of the old-timers who blamed them for not having emigrated in time, and questioned what immoral deeds they might have done in order to stay alive.

In the movie, the publisher of the first Stalag, Ezra Narkis, acknowledges that it was the trial, in all its sensational and often gory detail, that gave momentum to the genre.

More provocatively, the movie contends that Stalag pornography was but a popular extension of the writings of K. Tzetnik, the first author to tell the story of Auschwitz in Hebrew and a hero of the mainstream Holocaust literary canon. K. Tzetnik “opened the door,” and “the Stalag writers learned a lot from him,” Mr. Narkis said.

K. Tzetnik was a pseudonym for Yehiel Feiner De-Nur. The alias, short for the German for concentration camper, was meant to represent all survivors, a kind of Holocaust everyman. One of K. Tzetnik’s biggest literary successes, “Doll’s House,” published in 1953, told the story of a character purporting to be the author’s sister, serving the SS as a sex slave in Block 24, the notorious Pleasure Block in Auschwitz.

Though a Holocaust classic, many scholars now describe it as pornographic and likely made up.

"It was fiction," said Na'ama Shik, a researcher at Yad Vashem, The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority. "There were no Jewish whores in Auschwitz."

Yet “Doll’s House” and other writings of K. Tzetnik, who died in 2001, are treated as historical fact by many in Israel, and are included in the high school curriculum. Mr. Libsker’s movie shows the vice principal of an Israeli school guiding a group of teenagers through Auschwitz, pointing out Block 24 and quoting from K. Tzetnik.

This approach to Holocaust education is being eschewed by an increasing number of Israeli academics. “The Holocaust was bad enough, without making things up,” Dr. Yablonka said.

Sidra Ezrahi, a professor of comparative Jewish literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said, “His books were so graphic and so barbaric.” Maybe at first they had an important impact, she said. “But over time,” she added, “if this is what they have chosen to leave in the Israeli curriculum, it’s a scandal.”

For many Israelis, the most dramatic part of the Eichmann trial was the testimony of K. Tzetnik. His true identity was revealed for the first time on the witness stand, where he passed out. Simultaneously, the Stalags were reaching the peak of their commercial success.

Yechiel Szeintuch, a professor of Yiddish literature at the Hebrew University, rejects any link between the smutty Stalags and the writings of K. Tzetnik as “an original sin.” He insists K. Tzetnik’s work was based on reality.

But Mr. Libsker, 35, himself the grandson of Holocaust survivors, contends that it is the same mixture of “horror, sadism and pornography” that serves to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust in the Israeli consciousness to this day.


NY Times: Letter writer in favor of melting pot assimilation

Do we disagree about these charter schools? Or is the letter writer right?

Re “Hebrew Charter School Spurs Florida Church-State Dispute” (front page, Aug. 24):

If our society is to be one of assimilation and inclusion, that very concept of a melting pot, then charter schools such as Ben Gamla and Khalil Gibran International Academy, and who knows how many others of like ilk, have no place in public education. These are schools teaching ethnic specifics having value only to these groups. Not only do they reinforce separateness, but they also provide no knowledge that could be considered necessary for the furtherance of an American society.

Moreover, English is the language of this country. Our efforts should be furtherance of English competence. Those who wish second language proficiency can do so on their own time with their own financing.

Charter schools that teach specific knowledge that would have wide application might have a place somewhere in the public school pantheon. Those cited above do not.

Richard M. Frauenglass
Huntington, N.Y., Aug. 24, 2007

Camping? Get the Pop Up Sukkah - try eBay

This is clever.

Portable Popup Sukkah with Schach

The Popup Sukkah is the amazing, patented 1" flat portable Sukkah that pops open into a full, Kosher size in seconds - No tools required. And at only 7 lbs. it's truly portable.


* Sukkah

* Roll-up schach mat

* Instructions and Demo Video on CD

* Convenient carrying case with shoulder strap


* Weighs only 7 lbs.

* Folds to 1 inch flat

* Tear-resistant floor

* Pops open in seconds

* One convenient carrying case for both Sukkah and schach (included)

* Built under Rabbinical supervision & Kosher certified

* Four buckle straps to secure the Sukkah

* 2 screened windows

* No tools required

* 78 x 54 inches and over 6' tall

* Instructional CD Rom included

Pop Up Sukkah ebay


Someone Please Put a Sock in Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef's Mouth

Here he goes again:
In one ill-conceived outburst, Shas Party mentor Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has created yet another firestorm, and taken a bite out of the hearts of Israel's bereaved families.

"Should it come as a surprise that soldiers are killed in war," asked the rabbi, "when they do not observe Shabbat or the Torah, when they do not pray each day, or put on tefillin? God have mercy on them and cause them to repent, so they will lead a good life in peace."
Get this fella outta here! Truly this is his most obnoxious comment ever!

See jpost for more (not ynet!).

Rabbi Nadich Obit in the NY Times

Rabbi Judah Nadich passed away last week at 95. He was a brave man, down-to-earth and a master of common sense, and a former summer neighbor of ours in Atlantic Beach.

The NY Times obit
concludes with an account of some of his actions at the Park Avenue Synagogue (Conservative NYC):
In July 1961, when his synagogue first called a woman to the Torah, Rabbi Nadich told The New York Times that the decision was not a contravention of Halakhah, traditional Jewish law. There is evidence, he said, that it had been practiced hundreds of years earlier.

In a 1960 sermon protesting segregation, Rabbi Nadich said: “Freedom is colorblind, and the yearning for it is God-implanted within the breast of every human being. To help those who seek it and who have the right to it is our sacred obligation.”
See the Jewish Standard obit.

Interesting background, Nadich was a Yeshiva University product:
Nadich was born in Baltimore, MD. on May 12, 1912. He was the son of a Jewish socialist and member of the Workmen's Circle. At the age of 14 he was awarded a scholarship to study at the Yeshiva high school in New York City. After graduating, Nadich attended a number of universities: Yeshiva College, during the day, City College of New York, in the evenings, and The John's Hopkins University, during the summers. Upon the completion of his undergraduate studies he enrolled in the Rabbinical school of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and a master's program in history at Columbia University, where he studied with the renown Jewish historian, Salo Baron. In 1936 Nadich received both his rabbinical ordination and his masters degree. He later received a doctorate in Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Pandora's Cultural Charter School Box has been opened - and that is not bad

Four years ago an Arabic charter school opened in Minnesota. It is successful. So is the Hmong charter school in Minnesota and so is the Chinese charter school in Minnesota.

The Arabic charter school in Brooklyn will succeed and so will the Hebrew charter school in Florida.

The Pandora's Cultural Charter School box has been opened. Republicans support them because they want to remove government from all our institutions. Democrats support them because they are progressive ways to use government funding and guidance.

By the time either side discovers what Charter Schools are all about it will be too late to put them back in the box.

So kiss the public school melting pot goodbye....

Forward editor, Nathaniel Popper, discusses many of the issues in the Wall Street Journal blog:
HOUSES OF WORSHIP: Chartering a New Course
Do culture-themed public schools cross a legal line?

When the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy opened four years ago in suburban Minneapolis, the school was a bold experiment and its survival was in question. There was the scramble to attract students that any charter school faces, but Tarek ibn Ziyad had the additional worry of a constitutional challenge, given the school's sponsorship by a nonprofit called Islamic Relief and the curriculum's emphasis on Muslim culture and the Arabic language.

The school has not only survived but thrived, and there are plans for local expansion. Perhaps the surest sign that the experiment worked came last week, when a new charter school opened up thousands of miles away in Hollywood, Fla.--founded by Jewish parents, Ben Gamla Charter School has kosher food in the cafeteria and Hebrew posters in the classrooms. In the planning of the Florida school, Tarek ibn Ziyad's experience was taken into account.

The success of Tarek ibn Ziyad's model, and its adoption outside of Minnesota, heralds a potentially explosive new trend in America's charter schools: publicly funded schools tied to a particular religion. The founders of Ben Gamla are already promising more branches in other states, and parents from other religions are sure to venture into similar territory, pushing the constitutional limits even further. As Peter Deutsch, the Orthodox Jewish congressman who started Ben Gamla, has said, it "could be a huge paradigm shift in education in America."

To be clear, both Ben Gamla and Tarek ibn Ziyad have worked to ensure that their actual curricula have no discussion of religious doctrine. Their language classes have been carefully scrubbed of any mention of God--and in Ben Gamla's case, Hebrew classes were suspended after state inspectors found a few questionable lines remaining. (The matter will be taken up at the next school board meeting in September.)

Aware of the constitutional questions, Ben Gamla goes to great lengths to avoid ever using the word "Jewish" to describe the motivation behind its creation. Tarek ibn Ziyad similarly steers clear of the word "Muslim"; its mission statement says that students learn Arabic because it is the "language of culture that holds together the peoples of the Middle East, South Asia, North Africa and East Africa."

The schools can make a strong claim to being only the latest in a string of culturally specific public schools that have been set up during the past decade, most of which provide language immersion alongside a normal secular education. This week a German-culture charter school opened in Alaska, while Minnesota, the charter-school innovator, has one school for Hmong culture and another for Chinese.

The most famous such school of late is the Khalil Gibran International Academy in Brooklyn, which aims to create a student body fluent in Arabic. Even before its opening on Sept. 4, Khalil Gibran has been accused of being a front for Islamists. But unlike the charter schools, this one was not set up by religious parents. It is a creation of the New York City Department of Education with input from Arab-Americans, and initial signs indicate that it will be attended by few Muslims.

There have been others, though, that blur the boundaries between religion and culture a bit more. In New York, a Greek charter school was set up in the same building as a Greek Orthodox parochial school. In Minnesota, the Eci' Nompa Woonspe' charter school is dedicated to teaching Dakota culture, which has a religious component that would be difficult to excise.

In this educational landscape, Ben Gamla and Tarek ibn Zayid are, in one sense, merely the furthest along a spectrum, but they are entering legitimately new territory. Both schools, for instance, have religiously mandated food in the cafeteria and both have executive directors who are also spiritual leaders--in Florida, an Orthodox rabbi; in Minnesota, an imam who has called himself a "Quran thumper." It is no coincidence that Ben Gamla is the first charter school to retain legal counsel from the Becket Fund, an organization defending religious freedom.

If the schools face some backlash--particularly in the Jewish community, which has always been an ardent defender of church-state separation--precedent suggests that they would likely stand on firm legal ground in court. "Religious Charter Schools," a book that had a timely publication date earlier this summer, argues that while a publicly funded school cannot endorse one religion, the courts have granted schools a wide latitude in accommodating religion.

The book's author, Lawrence Weinberg, says that for many religious parents the most important part of a religious school is what it does not teach, and charter schools are allowed the privilege of excluding Harry Potter books if they offend Christian sensibilities. On the other side of the coin, public schools have always been able to range widely over the culture and history (as opposed to the theology) of any religion.

"Charter schools offer parents an opportunity to create schools that meet their needs," said Mr. Weinberg, "and religious needs are some of the most profound and important needs that people have."

The most trenchant criticism of the new schools may be that they are part of an unhealthy atomization of American culture. But there's nothing illegal about that. So, the natural question is, what comes next? Not too surprisingly, the most concrete planning has been within the Jewish community, where culture and religion dovetail the most seamlessly.

Kevin Hasson, the Irish-American founder of the Becket Fund, says he would like to see an Irish school that touches upon the country's Catholic tradition and religious wars. "Only Jews have approached us for now," Mr. Hasson said, "but I believe there is no reason in the world to limit it to that."


Warning to passing boats: Madonna to Cast Her Sins into Mediterranean Sea

jpost tourism blog reports that Madonna (our favorite pop singer and (non) kabbalist) will be performing tashlich ("casting off of sins accumulated over the past year") on the beach in Tel Aviv this year.

Small craft alert - you may be swamped by the turbulent seas that follow.
Pop star Madonna knows where she'll be performing tashlich this year. Do you? The singer, who will spend her second Rosh Hashana in Israel this month, will participate in the traditional High Holy Days ceremony on the shores of the Mediterranean, where she'll join other participants on her Kabbalah Center trip in throwing bread crumbs into the water. The ceremony, a symbolic casting off of sins accumulated over the past year, is just part of the season-long process of requesting forgiveness.
More from jpost on High Holiday touring while we are on the subject...
For non-pop stars still struggling to decide where they'd like to perform slichot, or forgiveness prayers, Mini Israel is offering a solution: the entire country. The Latrun park, which features 360 models of historical and religious sites around Israel, is promoting special slichot tours of its grounds, where visitors can, within a short period, visit places of religious importance including Rachel's Tomb and the Cave of Machpela. Those unable to visit the actual Western Wall in Jerusalem this year can place private messages to the Almighty in a collection box next to a replica of the site - which, like the park's other replicas, is precisely 4 percent the size of the real thing. Visitors' notes left at Mini Israel are delivered to the original Western Wall every Thursday. Organized slichot tours of Mini Israel should be arranged in advance, park officials note.
Pardon me but I do not see the connection between the Penetential Prayers and the Mini Israel park.

Rabbis Gone Wild: Ultras Warn of Sabbatical Doom

Reading the terrific report in the Forward, it appears that Ultra-Orthodox rabbis warn of doom and destruction if the sabbatical year - the shmita - is not observed this year in Israel.
“The destruction and the exile of Israel were brought about because of those who did not observe the Shmita,” said Rabbi Aaron Feldman during a visit to a Haredi farm near Jerusalem.

Not all Orthodox have gone wild over this issue (just the meshuggenah Ultras). Some (saner Orthodox) favor a tried and tested legal solution.

Nationalist rabbis support the idea of selling permits that would symbolically transfer ownership of the land to non-Jews. This permit was first devised decades ago as a provisional measure meant to help struggling farmers during Israel’s early years. Since then it was renewed every seven years, allowing farmers belonging to the national-religious movement to maintain their crops.

And it seems like hypocrisy and double-standards come in to play here for the Ultras. For the sabbatical year prohibitions for produce - they are fundamentalists. But for the biblical law requiring the seventh year release of debts - whoa there pardner -
In dealing with the unwillingness of the Haredim to reconsider the religious law, Giat and other nationalists have pointed to biblical rules that also call for a financial sabbatical in which all debts are forgiven. This rule was amended in the Middle Ages, and Haredi groups gave up these rules, but they have proven less flexible on the rules about the land.
See the entire article for all the other entwined issues... Gaza, Palestinians, Cyprus etc.