Washington Post: Religious Teens Break Virginity Promises and then Have Sex at Average Rates

A study shows that teens don't seem to care much about the sin of bearing false witness by taking a religious oath to remain virgins and abstain from sex and then engaging in sex at the same level of activity of teens who made no such pledge. "Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence," the report on the study says. The difference between the two groups? The religious teens who pledge abstinence are learning how to "retract their promises."

According to the story, "Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds," our government funds these 82% worthless plans with mega-millions. Here is a crucial excerpt:
...Rosenbaum analyzed data collected by the federal government's National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which gathered detailed information from a representative sample of about 11,000 students in grades seven through 12 in 1995, 1996 and 2001.

Although researchers have analyzed data from that survey before to examine abstinence education programs, the new study is the first to use a more stringent method to account for other factors that could influence the teens' behavior, such as their attitudes about sex before they took the pledge.

Rosenbaum focused on about 3,400 students who had not had sex or taken a virginity pledge in 1995. She compared 289 students who were 17 years old on average in 1996, when they took a virginity pledge, with 645 who did not take a pledge but were otherwise similar. She based that judgment on about 100 variables, including their attitudes and their parents' attitudes about sex and their perception of their friends' attitudes about sex and birth control.

"This study came about because somebody who decides to take a virginity pledge tends to be different from the average American teenager. The pledgers tend to be more religious. They tend to be more conservative. They tend to be less positive about sex. There are some striking differences," Rosenbaum said. "So comparing pledgers to all non-pledgers doesn't make a lot of sense."

By 2001, Rosenbaum found, 82 percent of those who had taken a pledge had retracted their promises, and there was no significant difference in the proportion of students in both groups who had engaged in any type of sexual activity, including giving or receiving oral sex, vaginal intercourse, the age at which they first had sex, or their number of sexual partners. More than half of both groups had engaged in various types of sexual activity, had an average of about three sexual partners and had had sex for the first time by age 21 even if they were unmarried.

"It seems that pledgers aren't really internalizing the pledge," Rosenbaum said. "Participating in a program doesn't appear to be motivating them to change their behavior. It seems like abstinence has to come from an individual conviction rather than participating in a program."

While there was no difference in the rate of sexually transmitted diseases in the two groups, the percentage of students who reported condom use was about 10 points lower for those who had taken the pledge, and they were about 6 percentage points less likely to use any form of contraception. For example, about 24 percent of those who had taken a pledge said they always used a condom, compared with about 34 percent of those who had not.

Rosenbaum attributed the difference to what youths learn about condoms in abstinence-focused programs...
The fundamentalist religious leaders will continue to support these failed abstinence programs even though, as we said, all they are accomplishing is training teens to lie about not having (often unprotected) sex - excuse me, I mean they, "retract their promises."


AP: Hamas Rocket Aimed at Israel Kills Gaza Schoolgirls Instead

I'm annoyed that in the print edition our local Bergen Record sub-titled its AP article today, "Punishing strike on Hamas: 230 killed as Israel retaliates for rocket attacks."

I will take the use of the term "Punishing" in the title in a neutral way. Not that Israel was executing a punishment on Hamas, but rather that the attacks were "harsh" which indeed they seem to have been.

However I cannot allow the use of the term "retaliates" to go unchallenged. The story below that headline makes clear that retaliation was not the motive for the Israeli attacks. Israeli policy is governed by modern and rational military and diplomatic principles. Hamas has an articulated policy in place to bombard Israeli civilian targets with rockets. The Israeli strikes were intended to inflict damage on Hamas to prevent future Hamas rocket attacks on Israel. No primitive notion of retaliation, no ancient notion of eye for an eye, was even hinted at in the AP report. The Bergen Record ought to know better than to use headlines to turn international AP reporting into a platform for a local paper to impute false motives to Israel's leadership.

I do make note that the sub-title is absent from the web version of the story.

Ironically, given the tragic events of last Friday, the efforts by Israel to halt Hamas rocket barrages, designed to help protect the safety of civilian Israeli citizens, will also protect the civilian children of Gaza from death by Hamas terrorist rocket.
Palestinian rocket misfires, kills 2 girls in Gaza
By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Writer Ibrahim Barzak

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A crude rocket fired by Palestinian militants fell short of its target in Israel on Friday, striking a house in the northern Gaza Strip and killing two schoolgirls.

The attack came as Israel sent mixed signals over its plans to respond to continuing Palestinian rocket fire. Israeli defense officials say politicians have approved a large-scale incursion into the territory once rainy conditions clear. But at the same time, Israel appeared receptive to international pressure against an invasion, opening the Gaza border Friday to allow in deliveries of humanitarian aid.

None of Gaza's militant factions claimed responsibility for the deadly attack on the house in Beit Lahiya. Gaza Health Ministry official Dr. Moiaya Hassanain said the two victims, ages 5 and 12, were cousins. Three other children were wounded, he said.

The girls were the first Palestinian civilians inadvertently killed by militants since their truce with Israel began collapsing six weeks ago. Family members and medics said they were killed by rocket fire...more


iSkoot Wins Our Harris Epstein Award for Best Invention of the Year

ISRAEL21c reports on the innovative iSkoot service that we have judged worthy of our Harris Epstein Award for great inventions.

Epstein was my great grandfather and a clever inventor and holder of several US patents. We unabashedly try to keep this award in the family. David Guedalia, inventor of iSkoot is my cousin and a great great grandson of the illustrious Harris Epstein.
Hooking up to Skype via your cell phone
By David Shamah

In these tight financial times, investors and venture capital companies won't part with even small funding commitments unless they really - but really - believe in a product. Much less $19 million. But iSkoot, an Israeli developed application that lets mobile phone users take full advantage of the Skype online phone system, inspires confidence, because of what the application does, and because of the people behind it.

At iSkoot, says company co-founder and CTO David Guedalia, it's all about making life easier for phone service suppliers, and their customers. "While there are many applications that let users make online phone calls, iSkoot is different, because our system doesn't overwhelm the service provider. Plus, it takes less of a toll on handsets," he tells ISRAEL21c.

Dialing into Skype

iSkoot allows callers to use a regular phone call to dial into an iSkoot gateway server. From there the call is completed via the Internet, as if you were using Skype from your computer.

The result: Users can hook into the Skype network from their cell phones, making long distance calls to other Skype users around the world for the price of a local call. And, they can make long distance calls to landlines using their Skypeout minutes. Users save money on their cell phone bills, and because the connections are made on iSkoot's hardware, service providers have less processing to do on their networks. Plus, the system also eliminates long distance termination fees due to other operators.

It's such a great idea, says Guedalia, that the Hutchinson's 3 network bundled iSkoot on its 3 Skypephone handset, a fully-featured 3G Internet phone that allows users to access Skype service from their cell phone. For Hutchinson and Skype, it's a natural: users dial in to their local number in order to access Skype services, and Skype gets contact with mobile users.

In its latest third round of financing led by the Vision Opportunity Master Fund, iSkoot, a 30-employee company, netted an additional $19 million in development money - amid rumors that the company is set to close a deal with another major cell phone operator, to build a mobile platform for them.

Guedalia, who founded iSkoot with brother Jacob (a third brother, Josh, who works with the team, makes iSkoot a family affair), has been tinkering with Internet/phone/voice services for years. His previous startup, which began life with the name Shoutmail (later called Mobilee), was eventually purchased by NMS Communications in the US.

From apples to emails

"At Mobilee, we tried to realize the vision of bringing the Internet to phone voice services," Guedalia says. "We started out with an application that let you hear your e-mail read to you over the phone, and eventually developed a platform that let users call in and get weather, news, and other information just by asking for it, bypassing phone menu buttons."

Before that, he was involved in a number of other startups, including Live Picture, where he was the chief architect for the team that developed Live Picture's Image Server products. His first programming venture? Apples. "I worked for a company called Fruittonics and helped develop a system to sort apples according to quality, using a new neural network approach," he says.

Both iSkoot and Mobilee are located in the hilly town of Bet Shemesh, where Guedalia and many of the company's employees live. Bet Shemesh, a growing city about a half hour from Jerusalem, has been a magnet for western olim over the past several years, with new housing built in the city's Givat Sharrett and Ramat Bet Shemesh neighborhoods. The area boasts some of Israel's largest forests, quaint small towns, wineries, and interesting archaeological sites.

Unlike many entrepreneurs who seek out fancy digs in "hot" high-tech areas, like Jerusalem's Har Hotzvim or Herzliya Pituach, Guedalia believes in building up local communities. So, iSkoot is located in an industrial zone about 10 minutes out of Bet Shemesh.

In a bid to encourage high-tech business to relocate to the area, Guedalia, and colleague Zvi Wolicki, established the Shimshon High-Tech Forum several years ago to enable local companies to network, show off their products and services, and help people find jobs in the area.

The eventual goal: Construction of a high-tech center in the area, similar to those found in places like Tel Aviv's Ramat Hahiyall or Petah Tikva's Kiryat Aryeh, where buildings housing high-tech companies revitalized aging manufacturing districts, attracting restaurants, shops, and leisure facilities.

Guedalia's interests don't end there. He has been active in local politics, establishing a political party called Chen that had a seat on the city council until the most recent municipal elections. Plus, he runs an internship program that allows disadvantaged youth to get involved in high-tech, giving them the opportunity to check out a career alternative they might not have believed would be open to them.


Times: Pope Benedict's Dignitas Personae Challenges Barak Obama

Yet another "pastor problem" for Barak.

John Allen, a Catholic journalist believes ("The Pope’s Real Message for Obama") the new hard-line Vatican document released last week presents serious challenges for the incoming administration.
... a tough new Vatican document on bioethics, released one week ago, that ratchets up the church’s condemnations of embryonic stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, the “morning-after pill” and a host of other techniques it regards as violations of human dignity.

In the United States, the tendency may be to see the document, titled “Dignitas Personae,” or “Dignity of the Person,” as a battle plan for resistance to the incoming Obama administration...more


Coleman Leads Franken by Two Votes as Recount Continues in Minnesota Senate Race

The two Jewish senate candidates are separated now by two votes as the recount continues.
2 votes separate Minn. Senate rivals; court orders counting of improperly rejected absentees
By PATRICK CONDON , Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Sen. Norm Coleman saw his lead over Al Franken in Minnesota's U.S. Senate race dwindle to just two votes Thursday. Meanwhile, a key court ruling put hundreds of improperly rejected ballots in play and promised the recount would drag into the new year...more


Gothamist Uncovers Starbucks Hanukkah Prank

Gothamist has uncovered what appears to be a Starbucks Hanukkah put-on, that is an imaginary, "special edition Starbucks menorah cup, which supposedly contained the chain's 'Hanukkah Blend.' This individual claims he bought it at an unspecified location on the Upper West Side..."

Tipoff that it is not real: no way, no how, no 7 branched menorah.


Is Sen. Ken Salazar Jewish?

No, the Obama nominee for Interior Secretary, Colorado Senator Kenneth Lee Salazar, is not a Jew.

Salazar is Roman Catholic. He was born in Colorado to parents of Mexican descent. Salazar attended St. Francis Seminary and Centauri High School in Conejos County. He graduated in 1973.

Salazar is known for his outspoken defense of Catholicism.


New Yorker: Malcolm Gladwell Punts on Finding Good Teachers

Here is our review of the New Yorker essay, Annals of Education. Most Likely to Succeed. How do we hire when we can't tell who's right for the job? By Malcolm Gladwell.

Picking a great football quarterback. Picking a great financial adviser. Picking a great teacher. Malcolm Gladwell argues in his New Yorker essay that these decision-making processes of selecting the right candidates for a job are related.

I'm gonna hafta dissent. Sometimes saying that apples, oranges and bananas are fruits just isn't enough to qualify as a starting point for an analysis of merit. And saying that scrambled eggs, fillet steak and a tossed green salad are all foods, well yes, but.

In the essay, to be sure, Gladwell does seem to say that selecting the right talent for these jobs are difficult decisions that defy formulaic solutions. Yet he wants us to accept that they share a common problem-solution space. He wants us to allow him to tell us what that is and to accept that there are universal ways to make it more likely that the gate keepers of the respective professions make the right selections.

That is a philosophical leap from the specific to the generalizable that I just don't swallow in this agglomeration of anecdotes. This is why.

Scouts who need to recommend professional quarterbacks observe their performance during real college games. Gladwell tells us that this is not a good gauge of future performance in the NFL. College football is not NFL football.

Managers who hire financial adviser trainees spend loads of time and money ferreting out the best prospects and then spend years grooming and assessing the performance of the lucky few who make it through the vetting processes.

And those who select teachers ought to more seriously evaluate the talent of the candidates for handling classroom interactions, Gladwell argues, so that schools will find the most talented teachers.

Finding the best talent is the universal question. And since there is a high-level question there must be high-level principles that point us to the solutions to the question.

We like Gladwell and his books because he strives in this manner to make the complex sound simple. He does this by seeking out broad and authoritative sounding principles. He does this by making provocative analogies between tangentially related spheres of activity.

But I am a teacher. And I agree that Gladwell is perceptive in isolating some of the outstanding characteristics of great classroom teachers. He has done his homework.

But in this case I am at sea. It appears the Malcolm has no answer, no high level "blink" or "tipping point" principle to offer up to help us see the way to identify or train great or even good teachers.

Gladwell says that it is hard to identify a potentially great professional quarterback based on his performance in college. But scouts do their best anyway.

He says that it is costly to find and groom a great financial advisor. And yet wealth management companies make the investment of time, money and energy to identify and cultivate such an animal.

In this essay when it comes time to answer how to find better teachers for our nation's schools, Gladwell runs some creative razzle-dazzle plays and then he punts.

When I reached the end of the article it felt to me like before he had a chance to write his answer, the teacher announced to the writer that time was up and that he had to put his pencil down, or that the closing bell rang on the Gladwell securities exchange or that time ran out on the Malcolm game clock.


Forward: Harvey Milk was Jewish

In a brilliant article, Rebecca Spence tells us that Harvey Milk was indeed a Jew.
Harvey Milk, in Life and on Film, Typified the Proud Jew as Outsider
Though He Shunned Official Religion, His Political Activism Came with a Yiddish Inflection
By Rebecca Spence

San Francisco — In an early scene in “Milk” — the new biopic starring Sean Penn as slain gay activist and San Francisco city supervisor Harvey Milk — Milk, a proud new shop owner in the city’s Castro district, seeks to join his neighborhood business association. He initially gives assurances to a skeptical association leader, saying, “I’m not an interloper.” But in a bit of self-effacing humor, he adds, “I may be a Jew.”

The quip is one of the film’s only mentions of the iconic gay activist’s Jewish identity. But it typifies his brash style and cheeky humor. It also points to Milk’s profound sense of himself as an outsider.

Milk, who grew up on Long Island, was an entirely secular Jew. But according to those who knew him, his New York Jewish upbringing was unmistakable in his character, sense of self and social activist values. In many ways, he embodied the “non-Jewish Jew” vividly described by Isaac Deutscher, the biographer of Leon Trotsky.

Despite their distance from Judaism — Deutscher cited Freud and Spinoza as examples — such Jews were “very Jewish indeed,” he wrote.

“They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect,” and “dwelt on the borderlines of various civilizations, religions, and national cultures… where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilized each other,” Deutscher argued. “They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations” and were “in society and yet not in it.” It was this, he said, that enabled them to “strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”

Sharyn Saslafsky, a manager at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission who was a friend of Milk in the 1970s, put it more simply. “He wasn’t a religious Jew, but he was always proud of being Jewish,” she said. “He always had a sense of pride that he came from New York.”

Saslafsky, then a young political activist on the verge of coming out, would often stop by Castro Camera — the camera shop that Milk founded when he moved to San Francisco in 1972 — to talk politics. Saslafsky said that she and Milk often spoke in broken Yiddish, trying to outdo each other with their recollections of their parents’ and grandparents’ phrases. “I would call it the one-upmanship of speaking in Yiddish,” she said.

Born in Woodmere, N.Y., on May 22, 1930, Milk would have been 78 this year. His grandfather, Morris Milk, was a Lithuanian immigrant who opened Milk’s, a successful department store in the family’s heavily Jewish Long Island town. Morris also co-founded a Woodmere synagogue, then known as Sons of Israel...more


WNBC TV New York Reports on the Weather in Harlem Minnesota

Don't ask me - I just watch the news. And I just saw WNBC TV New York report on the weather with a graphic for Harlem Minnesota. Hey guys. I know Minnesota. I lived in Minnesota for 19 years. And a rainy Harlem is no wintertime Minnesota!

JTA: CAJE Denies Rumors of its Demise

This rumor does not bode well for the health of Jewish education and, for that matter, of education in general.

The tough economic climate is hitting deep into the usually well-insulated non-profit sector. Part of the explanation of this is that many endowments that should have stayed conservative in the management of their funds got far too aggressive with their investments - and lost large amounts of money.
Lasday: For right now, CAJE will not close its doors
By Jacob Berkman

Over the past several weeks, I have heard a number of rumors that CAJE, the Coalition for the Advancement of Jewish Education, could possibly be closing its doors. Among other things this would mean that CAJE, the organization that is the primary resource for secondary school and religious school educators, might not hold its annual conference this summer....more


Times: Big Crowd Gathers at Yeshiva University - but not for Worship or Torah Learning

I was just talking to a friend who sometimes goes to Yeshiva University on Sundays to study Torah with their great scholars and 50 other Jews in a regular weekly program.

I ruminated, Why do the Goyim attract thousands to their churches for programs every week and we Jews struggle to make 50? I knew the answer. We just don't get it. We just don't get it!

And now we have an event at Yeshiva University that attracts hundreds and is written up in the Times. And we Orthodox still don't get it. It's the Conservative Movement that is out ahead on this issue of the corporate corruption of the kashrus industry. The Orthodox are not even in the game.

And yes, rightfully so, Rabbi Avi Shafran gets his head handed to him in this story. That will be the case whenever the real world gets to check in on this disgusting bag of self-righteous rabbinic wind. Lord, who can even start to estimate the damage that this pomposity masquerading as "Rabbi" Shafran has done to the cause of Orthodox Judaism?
It was, for the most part, a subdued and scholarly discussion about ritual law, Jewish ethics and what to do if you suspect that the kosher meat on your table has been butchered and packed by 16-year-old Guatemalan girls forced to work 20-hour days under threat of deportation, as alleged in a recent case.

“Is it still possible to consider something ‘kosher certified’ if it is produced under unethical conditions?” asked Gilah Kletenik, one of the organizers of the student group that arranged the session, which drew an overflow crowd of 500, most of them students.
And for the Shafran fans among you, the man has gone on the record in the newspaper of record to wit:
In a more pointed comment, Rabbi Avi Shafran, who has defended the prerogative of the Orthodox rabbinate against what he sees as well-meaning but misguided efforts to add social-justice protections to the criteria for the production of kosher food, said, “Lapses of business ethics, animal rights issues, worker rights matters — all of these have no effect whatsoever on the kosher value.”
Yikes! Shafran has the audacity to usurp the authority to declare such utterly embarrassing statements of religious certitude.

And it is the utter inability of Yeshiva University rabbis to locate any meaningful message in their Judaism that guarantees they will remain in a dark era indeed, together with their 50 regular attendees.

Wired: The Deities GPS and CAM Protect Menorahs and Baby Jesus

Sinners cannot hide from these omniscient deities, the god GPS and his consort CAM.
GPS, hidden cameras watching over Baby Jesus
By ERIC GORSKI,AP Religion Writer

When Baby Jesus disappeared last year from a Nativity scene on the lawn of the Wellington, Fla., community center, village officials didn't follow a star to locate him.

A GPS device mounted inside the life-size ceramic figurine led sheriff's deputies to a nearby apartment, where it was found face down on the carpet. An 18-year-old woman was arrested in the theft.

Giving up on old-fashioned padlocks and trust, a number of churches, synagogues, governments and ordinary citizens are turning to technology to protect holiday displays from pranks or prejudice.

About 70 churches and synagogues eager to avoid the December police blotter jumped at a security company's offer of free use of GPS systems and hidden cameras this month to guard their mangers and menorahs.

Others, like the Herrera family of North Richland Hills, Texas, took matters into their own hands. Upset after their teeter-totter was stolen, the family trained surveillance cameras on their yard and was surprised when footage showed a teenage girl stealing a baby Jesus worth almost $500. Police have obtained the tape.

"They took the family Jesus," said Gloria Herrera, 48, a Catholic. "How can anybody do that?"

For two consecutive years, thieves made off with the baby Jesus figurine in Wellington, a well-off village of 60,000 in Palm Beach County, Fla. The ceramic original, donated by a local merchant, was made in Italy and worth about $1,800, said John Bonde, Wellington's director of operations.

So last year, officials took a GPS unit normally used to track the application of mosquito spray and implanted it in the latest replacement figurine. After that one disappeared, sheriff's deputies quickly tracked it down.

Sensing opportunity in that kind of success story, New York-based BrickHouse Security is offering up to 200 nonprofit religious institutions a free month's use of security cameras and LightningGPS products it distributes.

Chief executive officer Todd Morris said the idea was born after a few churches asked about one-month rentals instead of longer contracts that are the norm. The first 20 or so applications came from synagogues, he said.

Rabbi Yochonon Goldman of Lubavitch of Center City, a Philadelphia-area branch of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, signed up even though his previous biggest scare involved the wind knocking down a menorah.

"People are very security conscious, and this is simply a precaution," said Goldman, who will put a GPS on one menorah and a camera on another. "It's sad ... but it's the reality we're faced with."...more


Times: The Painful Morgan Stanley Bonus Claw-Back Polka

Our hearts go out to the indigent managers at Morgan Stanley who are subjected to diminished bonuses with strings attached.
Morgan Stanley’s three top executives — John J. Mack, the chief executive, and the co-presidents, James P. Gorman and Walid A. Chammah — will not be paid bonuses, the firm said. Bonuses for the bank’s 14-person operating committee will be cut by 75 percent.
What? You fainted when you read that they will receive any bonus at all this dismal recession year? There, there. You must learn to feel their pain. Story...

And you must learn to hum a few bars of the Painful Morgan Stanley Bonus Claw-Back Polka.

Dublin: Contaminated Irish Pigs Recall Crisis and a Reporter's Jewish Boyfriend

It's free association day at the Independent.ie, where an unnamed journalist ruminates about the contaminated Irish pigs recall crisis and her Jewish boyfriend's sense of humor.
Pigs crisis is a good time to rethink production process

I once had a reasonably serious Jewish boyfriend, and in a woefully unproductive bid to prompt him to propose I would suggest converting to Judaism. "After all, most of what is in Christianity was first in Judaism," I'd reason.

"Ah," he'd tease, "but you'd never do without your rashers, would you?" Or sausages. Or black pudding. Or salami. Or ham sandwich. Or tender belly of pork with the crackling so crispy and sweet. Or bacon and cabbage. Or, indeed, anything from the flesh of the pig, which I consider to be the most toothsome of all meats. But for the pig, I could almost go vegetarian, for I wouldn't care if I never saw another rubbery chicken or indigestible steak. But the rasher! Oh, the rasher!

Jewish orthodoxy -- and Islam, too -- forbade pork, which in desert conditions was known to be vulnerable to disease and contamination. You would think, though, that in modern conditions of refrigeration and health and safety regulation, that pigmeat could be ensured to be pure. But now here's the catastrophe for pig farmers of a total recall of all Irish pork products, exporting all over the world.

Britain alone buys 68,000 tons of Irish pork a year, and in British supermarkets, Irish products are often very visibly labelled "Irish", with the understanding that they are safe -- since Ireland was so successful in keeping free from Foot and Mouth Disease and BSE.

In one sense, the very public recall of Irish pork products is a measure of health and safety regulations working effectively. Far better to take this action when the dioxin polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) is detected -- however small the risk -- than run the risk of a worse outcome...more


Times Casts Rabbi as a Jester: Rabbi Menachem Froman - maverick, eccentric and a kook

In the middle of this profile the Times says, "It would be easy to dismiss Rabbi Froman, who peppers his speech with talk of miracles and references to mystical texts, as a maverick, an eccentric and a kook." Even after the "But" clause that follows in the essay (see it below), the assessment remains that this man is a major fuzzball.

Obviously the Times wants to foster and deepen the perception that the rabbis who live on the West Bank are stars in the freak show of the Middle Eastern circus. Well done Times. Mission accomplished. I am convinced.

And so now what? Now we Arabs and Jews continue to wander without direction, or perhaps to stray in even greater misdirection. Is that helpful to the cause of world peace?

The person that the Times needs to profile, if it wants to be known as a responsible journal, is a person who has some credibility as a viable leader and role model, an individual who can lead his followers out of the limbo world of confusion and violence and into the promised land of stability, growth and cooperation. That's not what it has done in this piece.

I'm stunned that the Times would write a profile of such a clown - and in as many words portray him as such a fool. This choice of a profile subject is at best an insult to all hard-working and well-meaning rabbis and layman, all conventional sheiks, imams and even non-believers. The tone of the essay is bizarre, at once jocular and then pseudo-serious - as if this charming but nutty rabbi has the key to resolving decades of intractable conflicts, but we know that he is just a jester.

The "plan" that he proposed - alluded to in the essay - that was rejected by both sides for the release of an Israeli hostage was not a "plan" at all. We all know that the words and utterances of agreements are secondary to the primary objective of obtaining the commitments of the stakeholders to a conflict. Throwing forward a "plan" with no foundations in reality is tantamount to rubbing salt into the open wounds of each combatant.

I'm further stunned that liberal blogger Richard Silverstein plops down for us the fabricated assertion that Froman, "is now the target of the Shin Bet who sabotages his every effort to publicize his joint peace efforts with Palestinians." As if this rabbi is a serious player but the nefarious Jewish secret police have thwarted his ambitions. On what basis sir do you make such a silly claim? It is obvious to all that nobody in the world needs to sabotage this man's efforts. He does just fine self-sabotaging his own farcical activities.

As a rabbi myself, I wish more rabbis had more political power and influence in Israel and in America and in the world. But in order for that to happen, rabbis as a group need to step away from the strange paths they have followed for generations. They need to present themselves as normal, sane, sober and serious leaders, whose constructive goals can contribute to the betterment of humankind. And yes, these goals can be informed by biblical and rabbinic learning too.

This utterly idiotic profile in the Times, and the misguided valorization as some sort of a hero of this strange man, Rabbi Froman, by my fellow blogger, has caused me much consternation. Why? Because it has set rabbis as a group way way back into the category of "those strange folk that one who is sane ought not to touch with a ten foot pole."
The Saturday Profile
From an Israeli Settlement, a Rabbi’s Unorthodox Plan for Peace

ABOUT two weeks ago Menachem Froman, the chief rabbi of this Jewish settlement perched on the edge of the Judean desert, had a dream.

In the dream, he recounted in an interview this week, he was sitting with the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat “as we used to.”

“It was like he was pushing me to continue in my efforts to make peace between our peoples,” he said.

Rabbi Froman, 63, is a founding member of Gush Emunim, the ideological, messianic settlement movement that sprang up after Israel’s conquest of the West Bank, with its biblical landmarks, in the 1967 war. He has been living here for 35 years, teaches at religious seminaries in Tekoa and in another West Bank settlement in the Hebron hills, and wears a black suit and white shirt, conventional Orthodox rabbinical garb.

But that is about where his similarity with other Jewish settlers in the West Bank ends.

Among his close friends, the rabbi counts not only Mr. Arafat, who was reviled by most Israelis by the time of his death in 2004, but also a wide array of Muslim sheiks. He believes in making peace with his Palestinian neighbors and has engaged in “thousands of hours” of dialogue, he said, with Palestinian leaders, including Mr. Arafat’s rivals in the militant Islamist group Hamas.

Rabbi Froman used to travel to Gaza for talks with Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas who was killed in an Israeli missile strike in 2004 after his group spearheaded a years-long suicide bombing campaign that killed scores of Israelis.

The rabbi said he used to shout at the sheik and tell him, “you will go to hell because you are taking Islam, a religion whose name has connotations of peace, and turning it into a religion of terror.”

The sheik would reply that he was only defending himself, Rabbi Froman said.

He still maintains contact with figures in Hamas. And while he clearly has no following among his fellow West Bank settlers, he has many acquaintances in the Israeli establishment and has direct access to several leaders, including President Shimon Peres and senior figures in the Defense Ministry.

LAST February, together with a Palestinian journalist from Hebron, he drafted a comprehensive truce agreement for Israel and Hamas that called for the release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who has been held for more than two years by the Islamist group in Gaza, in exchange for a substantial number of Palestinian fighters, and eventually, the release of all prisoners on both sides.

The Hamas government in Gaza could not accept the deal because the Israeli government rejected it, Rabbi Froman said.

Next, he said, he has an intriguing proposition for President-elect Barack Obama. The idea is to bring a delegation of two rabbis, two sheiks and two bishops from Jerusalem and the Holy Land to bless the new president on Inauguration Day, an effort to rekindle faith in the possibility of peace.

“I believe that he was elected by God,” Rabbi Froman said of Mr. Obama. “I want to create an opening for God to perform a miracle here.”

Rabbi Froman, who was born in the Galilee, was pulling hard for Mr. Obama, posting clips on YouTube and praying for his victory at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron on the day of the American election. Now, Rabbi Froman said, he wants to put some practical content into Mr. Obama’s concept of change.

It would be easy to dismiss Rabbi Froman, who peppers his speech with talk of miracles and references to mystical texts, as a maverick, an eccentric and a kook.

But the letter he sent to several of Mr. Obama’s policy advisers in late November outlining his proposal was co-signed by Gershon Baskin and Hanna Siniora, the Israeli and Palestinian executive officers of Ipcri, the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, one of the most established nongovernmental peace institutes in the land.

Mr. Obama is “into symbolism,” said Mr. Baskin, explaining why he supported the initiative, adding, “We think it is really important that the Obama administration gets involved immediately” in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere.

Mr. Baskin describes Rabbi Froman as a “very esoteric kind of guy.”

“Maybe because he is so exceptional and authentic, a rabbi and a religious man, there are people in this country and around the world who listen to him,” Mr. Baskin said.

One of Rabbi Froman’s closest Hamas-affiliated associates in the West Bank declined, with profuse apologies, to comment publicly on their relationship. The circumstances were too sensitive, he said.

Rabbi Froman’s home in Tekoa is almost devoid of worldly goods. Other than shelves of well-worn holy books, the only ornaments in the sparsely furnished lounge are a series of small, unframed paintings, mostly of the local biblical scenery, by his wife.

“The Holy One tossed me into Tekoa,” he said, “because from the rooftops there is 2,500 years of Jewish history looking down on us.”

A settlement of about 250 families just south of Jerusalem, Tekoa has a reputation of being relaxed, with a mixed population of religious and non-religious Jews. It is in the shadow of the flat-topped hill of the Herodion, a fortress cum palace built by Herod the Great.

Biblical Tekoa was the home of Amos the prophet who, according to the rabbi, fought for social justice and against Jewish arrogance and pride. The letters of Shimon Bar Kochba, who led the Jewish revolt against the Romans from A.D. 132 until 135, were found in a valley nearby.

Rabbi Froman, who is active in interfaith circles, sees his mission, too, as fighting “Jewish arrogance.” He said he could comprehend why Israel, a modern, fast-developing state with liberal, sometimes decadent Western values, could be seen by more conservative Muslims as “a permanent insult.”

He mentioned that one of his 10 children lived in the desert canyon behind the settlement, in a cave. Another built a stone house with his own hands in Tekoa D, an unauthorized outpost of the settlement slated for removal.

As such, the settler rabbi’s vision of peace does not conform to the standard one of the past 20 years, involving the creation of a Palestinian state in a settlement-free West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

He said he would refuse to leave his home in the case of such a deal. The government “has no right to uproot people from their homes,” he said.

Instead, because the Jews and Arabs are “so mixed up,” Rabbi Froman proposed the establishment of two countries without borders, or two states in one land.

“From all my long talks with the Palestinians,” he said, “I came to the conclusion that while the problem is also political, about control over territory and so on, the core of the problem is religious.”

The quest for peace “won’t succeed without a religious, spiritual basis,” he said.

So, contrary to the current Israeli position that the status of Jerusalem should be left until last because of its complexity, Rabbi Froman puts Jerusalem first in negotiations with the Palestinians.

“The key to peace is peace in Jerusalem,” he said, “to re-establish Jerusalem as the capital of peace in the world.”

Rabbi Froman envisages a shared Jerusalem where the Old City, containing the main sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, is ex-territoria, a Jerusalem that houses the headquarters for international institutions.

It sounds like utopia — and at this point, as realistic as anything else.

Is General Eric K. Shinseki Jewish?

No, General Eric K. Shinseki is not a Jew.

President-Elect Obama has nominated this Asian-American to the post of Veterans Affairs secretary adding to the diverse character of his proposed cabinet. Shinseki was born to a Japanese American family in Hawaii.

The AP observes, "In Obama's eight Cabinet announcements so far, white men are the minority with two nominations — Timothy Geithner at Treasury and Robert Gates at Defense. Three are women — Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security, Susan Rice as United Nations ambassador and Hillary Rodham Clinton at State. Eric Holder at the Justice Department is African American, while Bill Richardson at Commerce is Latino."

In fact, none of these nominees to the cabinet is Jewish. Several of Obama's proposed White House staff members are Jewish.


Times: Obituary of Rabbi Emanuel Rackman

Rabbi Rackman was an influential Orthodox rabbi whom I remember best from hearing his eloquent sermons at the Fifth Avenue Synagogue every week when I was a young college boy.
Emanuel Rackman, Prominent Rabbi, Dies at 98

Emanuel Rackman, the spiritual leader of the prominent Fifth Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan and an outspoken advocate of a more inclusive, intellectually open Orthodox Judaism, died Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 98.

The death was confirmed by his granddaughter Jessica Rackman.

A lawyer and a Talmudist by training, Rabbi Rackman argued for a more flexible interpretation of Orthodoxy and the relevance of traditional Jewish law to modern life.

“Perhaps, like Socrates, I corrupt youth, but I do teach that Judaism encourages doubt, even as it enjoins faith and commitment,” he wrote in Commentary in 1966. “A Jew dare not live with absolute certainty not only because certainty is the hallmark of the fanatic and Judaism abhors fanaticism, but also because doubt is good for the human soul, its humility, and consequently its greater potential ultimately to discover its Creator.”

Rabbi Rackman was born in Albany, the son of a businessman and Talmudist who was descended from six generations of rabbis. He studied at the Talmudical Academy in New York, the high school affiliate of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, where he continued his Talmudic studies while attending Columbia University, which awarded him a law degree in 1933 and a doctorate in public law in 1952. In 1934 he was ordained a rabbi.

He practiced law for nine years and was a weekend rabbi on Long Island. In accordance with family tradition, he planned to earn his living as a lawyer rather than as a rabbi, but on entering the Air Force in 1943, he was made a chaplain. While in Germany, where he was military aide to the European Theater commander’s special adviser on Jewish affairs, his encounters with Holocaust victims caused him to reconsider his career.

In 1951, he was called up for active duty from the Air Force Reserve, but found that his security clearance had been revoked because of his outspoken opposition to the death penalties handed down in the Rosenberg spying case and his support for the radical singer Paul Robeson.

Given the choice between accepting an honorable discharge or facing a military trial, he opted for a trial. He not only won acquittal but earned a promotion from major to lieutenant-colonel.

After the war, Rabbi Rackman became spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila in Far Rockaway, Queens. He also taught political science at Yeshiva College and helped edit the journal Tradition. In the 1950s, he was president of the New York Board of Rabbis and of the Rabbinical Council of America.

He quickly emerged as an important voice for modern Orthodoxy. Shocking traditionalists, he made common cause with Reform and Conservative rabbis, notably on the issue of Jewish family law and the plight of women denied a religious divorce by their husbands.

He presented his case for modern Orthodoxy in “One Man’s Judaism” (1970) and “Modern Halakhah for Our Time” (1995). Halakhah is the set of rules and practices governing Jewish life.

In 1967, he became the rabbi of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and soon after was named provost of Yeshiva University. In 1971 he became the head of Jewish Studies at the City University of New York. In 1977, he became the first American president of Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

Rabbi Rackman is survived by a sister, Bess Falkow of Tucson, Ariz.; three sons, Michael, of Brooklyn, Bennett, of Queens, and Joseph, of Scarsdale, N.Y.; eight grandchildren; and 14 great-grandchildren.


Automobile Bailout Humor: An original Chrysler, General Motors and Ford Joke

The scene. Poetic Justice. (By Tzvee):

The heads of the big three automobile companies get the news at their hearing. Congress approved their $34 billion dollar bailouts.

But the congressmen tell them there is more about the deal that they need to know.

It seems that congress had to take back $1 billion for "documentation fees" - that's required by law.

Another $1 billion had to be deducted from the bailouts for the pin-striping on the bill - congress already applied that and cannot remove it from the bill.

Another $1 billion was withheld for the bills' mud-flaps and rustproofing. Congress assured the auto execs that they wouldn't want their brand new shiny bailout bills to corrode.


Who are the "anonymous Orthodox Jewish residents of cyberspace" who run the mysterious mainly Jewish news aggregator VosIzNeias.com

With all the amazing "journalism" and "scoops" and "we get involved" assertions from this "blog" - why don't they name some names, places, faces. Give us a hint. Who are they?

Inquiring minds want to know.

From the VosIzNeias.com site's about page:

20080331_vosizneias_q.jpg (Yiddish for “What’s news?”) is a highly popular, rapidly-growing blog that meets the demanding media needs of the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, across the United States, and around the world.

VIN News
delivers20080331_vos_about_laptop.jpg up-to-the-minute news, accurate reporting and research, hard-hitting, commentary and exclusive, mainstream-media-beating scoops-on the issues that matter to our readers most.

As a powerful voice in today’s new Jewish media, VIN News resolutely raises all issues of significant importance from the religious Jewish viewpoint. We don’t just report. We get involved. And together with our readers, we continue to make a difference.

Readers hail from the world over, including the Tri-State Area, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, Baltimore, Chicago, Denver, and other American religious Jewish communities, as well as Canada, Israel, England, Australia and Belgium.

is run solely by a group of anonymous Orthodox Jewish residents of cyberspace.

Times: Recession Slams Harvard

The president and VP of Harvard have issued a warning to their deans. Expect tough times and major cuts.

Here is my peeve. I thought university endowments were meekly ambitious pools of money, meant to be recession proof. After all, schools depend on the returns for their daily expenses.

It turns out that university endowments were plundered and now squandered by fund managers looking to make enormous returns to justify their equally out of proportion salaries and bonuses.

This of course is irresponsible behavior, no two ways about it.

Now the academic community - students to professors - must suffer - and indeed the near term future looks particularly bleak for the campus elite.

From the end of the article in the Times:
In their letter, President Faust and Mr. Forst said that to have the cash necessary to meet demands and minimize risk, the school would issue “a substantial amount of new taxable fixed-rate debt.” Harvard also plans to convert a significant amount of short-term tax-exempt debt into bonds with longer maturities, so it can reduce its exposure to volatility and continue to finance operations and other priorities.

The school also indicated concern that just as Harvard was suffering the worst endowment returns in its history, it stood to be hit by declines in other revenue streams — presumably contributions and tuition, as families find themselves increasingly in need of financial aid.


Times: Meet My Teaneck Neighbor, Stan Steinreich, Kosher Traveler

We live in the kind of communication age where you get to know all about your neighbors who live around the corner by reading about them in the New York Times. Nice article.
Frequent Flier
Eating Kosher, Even in Guatemala

MOST business travelers worry about rental cars and flight delays. I also worry about the ability to follow religious dietary laws.

I’m a practicing observant Jew who follows a kosher lifestyle. And that’s usually a private matter and no big deal. Except when I’m meeting myriad clients who are used to doing business over a meal.

Some things are a bit easier on the road, like milk. A well-respected rabbi gave an edict years ago essentially saying that any milk produced in the United States is kosher. That means I try to steer clients to breakfast meetings. You can’t go wrong with cornflakes and milk and some freshly squeezed orange juice.

But when it comes to those dinner meetings, all bets are off. I have made an art out of nursing a dry salad for hours. When clients see my spartan fare, some ask me if I’m sick. Others think I’m a vegan. Others, I’m sure, wonder how such a big guy can eat so little.

One thing for certain: When I get back to my hotel, I’m often starved. I’ve been known to polish off a pint of kosher Häagen-Dazs or a couple of Snickers bars.

I do try to pack some food for myself on longer trips to more remote locations when I can.

I once represented the government of Guatemala. And I had to go there for a very important meeting. I knew that eating kosher was going to be near impossible. So I brought some vacuum-packed corned beef with me. But by the time I arrived in Guatemala my luggage was sporting a large, ugly, seeping stain.

I was stopped by a Guatemalan customs agent, who wanted to know the source of the stain. I went into my explanation. I lost him once I said kosher. Eventually, a supervisor came over and let me get through. It was the best corned beef I ever had, by the way.

I’m not alone. There are thousands of business travelers in the same predicament. Fortunately, I’ve met other business travelers at synagogues and kosher restaurants across the world. It’s almost like an Orthodox travel underground. And we’ll share stories about the best places to eat, stay and worship across the globe.

But like any other traveler, some of my tales of woe have nothing to do with religious practice. I’m just trying to get from one place to another, with the least amount of hassle. And some dignity.

A few years ago, I was in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos. When I got to my hotel, my room was unavailable. I was in desperate need of a shower as I was already running late for a meeting, and I was told to go to the pool locker room. It was an open shower area. I was the only person in the room, and I got right down to business.

I was completely soaped up when I heard some shuffling and a strange, atonal whistle. I was shocked to see a cleaning woman merrily going along doing her job, even though I was standing there in the buff.

I looked at her. She looked at me. I grabbed the nearest towel to cover up. And she kept right on cleaning and whistling her little Nordic tune like nothing abnormal had just occurred. I was embarrassed and I wanted nothing more than to forget what just happened.

So I went to the gift shop and bought some Häagen-Dazs and Snickers and ate until the memory began to fade.

However, on occasion, I can still hear strains of her little song. I guess Häagen-Dazs and Snickers can only do so much.

By Stan Steinreich as told to Joan Raymond.


Five Star Review: The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption by Yori Yanover

Yori Yanover has crafted the Jewish answer to the blockbuster TV action series "24."

The Cabalist's Daughter: A Novel of Practical Messianic Redemption by Yori Yanover is the most clever action-packed Jewish novel ever written.

This book is informed by Yanover's deep knowledge of Jewish religion and beliefs and his wide learning of kabbalah and Jewish messianism. Yori maintains a pace of action in this book that can rival that of any of the best screenwriters in Hollywood today.

I will be astonished if a savvy TV producer does not grab up the rights to this book. Yanover's story cries out to be adapted to a major creative TV release.

Who is this outstanding author? Yori is a well-regarded journalist and writer who also pioneered the Jewish Internet and virtually invented the Jewish blog.

I must issue this disclaimer. I worked as a colleague in awe of Yori at the Jewish Communications Network in 1996 and 1997. I am forever indebted to this man who showed me how to persevere in the face of great business challenges and maintain a focus on the tasks at hand - in this case inventing the Jewish Internet in a company that was run by the proverbial management team of well-intentioned amateurs.

Yori is at once a pious Jew, a heretical Israeli and a voracious consumer of modern pop culture. Nobody I know could craft a more clever assemblage of the latest news of the Jews as Yori did at JCN - every day of the year - with absolutely astonishingly brilliant photoshopped images, clever headlines and acutely on the money judgment of what was and was not newsworthy.

Now Yanover tells a story in this new book of a master cabalist in Brooklyn -- father of the messiah. With allusions to the Hasidic mystical dynasty and to ancestral legend, Yanover keeps one eye on Judaism's core beliefs and the other on the Kojak-like tensions that make up the Lower East Side of New York City.

Does this description of this book seem like it marks a totally fresh and novel writer's formula? You bet it does.

Is the world ready for Yori's outlandish messiah story replete with "firefights, helicopter battles and strange visions"? In an era that has witnessed one bestselling Christian apocalypse series of books after another it is high time that we, the founding dramatic Israelites, came back to the center of the stage and offered up our answer, as Yanover does indeed in this great new book.