After the George Tiller killing - some basic questions about American Christian Terrorism

The AP news reports that, "Late-term abortion doctor George Tiller, a prominent advocate for abortion rights wounded by a protester more than a decade ago, was shot and killed Sunday at his church in Wichita, a city official said." It's reasonable to assume unless proven otherwise that Tiller was killed by a Christian terrorist.

Update: AP reports additional facts about the killing including this characterization,
One of the few remaining late-term abortion clinics is in Boulder, Colo., where Dr. Warren Hern denounced Tiller's killing as the "inevitable and predictable consequence of decades of anti-abortion" rhetoric and violence.

"Dr. Tiller's assassination is not the lone and inexplicable action of one deranged killer," Hern said Sunday. "This was a political assassination in a historic pattern of anti-abortion political violence. It was terrorism."

In light of this event it is useful to review some of the pertinent issues that we treated in a course we gave on Religion and Terrorism. We formulate them as basic questions mainly about recent American Christian terrorism, with one added question on the violence in Northern Ireland.

1. Isn't Christianity the religion of peace?

Marc Juergensmeyer in Terror in the Mind of God rebuts the claim that Christianity is the religion of peace:
Despite its central tenets of love and peace, Christianity like most traditions has always had a violent side. The bloody history of the tradition has provided images as disturbing as those provided by Islam or Sikhism, and violent conflict is vividly portrayed in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. This history and these biblical images have provided the raw material for theologically justifying the violence of contemporary Christian groups. Attacks on abortion clinics, for instance, have been viewed not only as assaults on a practice that some Christians regard as immoral, hut also as skirmishes in a grand confrontation between forces of evil and good that has social and political implications.
2. What then 'justified' bombing abortion clinics in the minds of Christian activists?

Juergensmeyer develops the modes by which abortion opponents Bray and Hill clearly rely on religious justifications for their criminal acts.
According to Bray, Christianity gives him the right to defend innocent 'unborn children,' even by use of force, whether it involves destroying the facilities that they are regularly killed in, or taking the life of one who is murdering them. By the latter, Bray means killing doctors and other clinical staff involved in performing abortions.
The primary writings of Mr. Bray are themselves rather terrifying. See: Why I Shot An Abortionist Letter to the White Rose Banquet or A Time to Kill, A Call for Prolife Orgs to Repentance.

3. How do some theologians justify violence within Christian theology?

A prominent thinker who advanced a Christian just war theory was Reinhold Niebuhr.
Niebuhr wrestled with one of Christianity's oldest ethical problems: when it is permissible to use force - even violence - on behalf of a righteous cause. Niebuhr began his career as a pacifist, hut in time he grudgingly began to accept the position that a Christian, acting for the sake of justice, could use a limited amount of violence.
4. What are some of the Christian bases for fostering the role of religion in political life?

Juergensmeyer discusses Reconstruction and presuppositionalism in Christian thought.
Leaders of the Reconstruction movement trace their ideas, which they sometimes called 'theonomy,' to Cornelius Van Til, a twentieth-century Presbyterian professor of theology at Princeton Seminary who took seriously the sixteenth-century ideas of the Reformation theologian John Calvin regarding the necessity for presupposing the authority of God in all worldly matters. Followers of Van Til, including his former students Bahnsen and Rousas John Rushdoony, and Rushdoony's son-in-law, Gary North, adopted this 'presuppositionalism' as a doctrine, with all its implications for the role of religion in political life.
5. How did some Christians justify the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing (April 19, 1995)?

Juergensmeyer explains the thinking of bomber Timothy McVeigh in part as follows:
Christian Identity ideas were most likely part of the thinking of Timothy McVeigh, the convicted bomber of the Oklahoma City federal building. McVeigh was exposed to Identity thinking through the militia culture with which he was associated and through his awareness of the Christian Identity encampment, Elohim City, on the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.

One noteworthy book that influenced McVeigh was The Turner Diaries. Juergensmeyer explains how far these guys believe one must go to foster Christian hegemony over America.
Pierce's novel, written under the pseudonym Andrew Macdonald, was the main vehicle for his Identity/Cosmotheist ideas. Published in 1978, it describes an apocalyptic battle between freedom fighters and a dictatorial American government. The novel soon became an underground classic. Although written almost eighteen years before the 1995 Oklahoma City blast, a section of The Turner Diaries reads almost like a news account of the horrifying event. It describes in chilling detail how the fictional hero blew up a federal building with a truckload of - a little under 5000 pounds - of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil. Timothy McVeigh's own truck carried 4,400 pounds of the same mixture, packaged and transported exactly as described in the novel. According to Pierce's story, the purpose of the bombing was to launch an attack against the perceived evils of the government and to arouse the fighting spirit of all 'free men.' According to Pierce, such efforts were necessary because of the mindset of dictatorial secularism that had been imposed on American society as the result of an elaborate conspiracy orchestrated by Jews and liberals hell-bent on depriving Christian society of its freedom and its spiritual moorings.
6. How do Protestants and Catholics justify their ongoing terrorist struggle in Northern Ireland?

Juergensmeyer speaks about both sides of this conflict in Belfast and other areas of Northern Ireland. Tom Hartley represents the Protestant side and Ian Paisley serve as the example from the Catholic side. Juergensmeyer describes Paisely in the following:
Perhaps none of these Protestant figures was more quarrelsome than the Reverend Ian Paisley. Hartley agreed that Paisley, perhaps more than any other figure in the Catholic-Protestant dispute, brought religion into the politics of Northern Ireland and employed religious ideas and images in legitimizing the use of violence. Paisley was a firebrand Protestant preacher who was born into a Baptist family of Scottish ancestry in Northern Ireland in 1926. Eventually he broke with the established Protestant denominations and founded the Free Presbyterian Church, for which his own Martyrs Memorial Church on Ravenhill Road, Belfast, is the flagship congregation.
One really must read one of Paisley's sermons to get the full flavor of his utterances: The Irresistible Weapon of our Warfare in the Battle for Souls Chained by Rome


Times' Jewish News: On Bagels, Bombers and an Obituary

H and H Bagels Is Shut Briefly for Nonpayment of Taxes
New York State tax authorities shut down the bagel emporium, renowned even before it was featured on “Seinfeld” and in the Tom Hanks film “You’ve Got Mail,” for three hours on Friday because its owners had failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in sales and withholding taxes.

On Religion - Two Rabbis Find They're Separated Only by Doctrine
...So it remained until May 20, 2009, and the most unimaginable occasion for a reunion. That night, the New York police and F.B.I. agents arrested four men on charges of trying to bomb two Jewish buildings in Riverdale: Rabbi Lewis’s Riverdale Temple and Rabbi Rosenblatt’s Riverdale Jewish Center. To those suspects, described by law enforcement officials as jailhouse converts to Islam and jihadi wannabes, the distinctions between Reform and Orthodox were either irrelevant or invisible.... By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

Franklin Littell, Scholar of Holocaust, Dies at 91 - Obituary
Franklin H. Littell, a father of Holocaust studies who traced his engagement with the subject to the revulsion he felt as a young Methodist minister while witnessing a big Nazi rally in Nuremberg ... By DOUGLAS MARTIN

Wired: We Need to Move Towards the Talmudic Reading of Every Published Book

A Wired writer argues convincingly that there is merit to opening up every book via a certain kind of digital publishing to create a vivid public world of text and commentary for every paragraph of writing.

Now surely this mode of publishing will lead to a Talmudic-looking reading, by establishing quasi-canonical texts and a means for discussion and debate around them.

But what would be missing from such a universe? The silent hand of the redactors. All of us who have labored over the study of the Talmud for years know that it has a deliberate set of logical, rhetorical and stylistic characteristics imposed with care on the discussions of the texts by the work of its editors.

By contrast, the open model encouraged by Thompson in Wired, would lack such a finishing. And though its product would make some entertaining and wholly lively reading day-by-day, it would not produce the kind of lasting documentary legacy like that of the Talmud, a crafted dialectical literature whose collective wisdom and commentary in their final form grew out of the minds of compilers with a clear and consistent vision.
Clive Thompson on the Future of Reading in a Digital World

When McKenzie Wark wrote Gamer Theory—an analysis of why people enjoy playing videogames—Harvard University Press published it as a conventional hardcover. But Wark also put it online using CommentPress. The free blog theme blew the book open into a series of conversations; every paragraph could spawn its own discussion forum for readers.

Sure enough, hundreds dove in, and pretty soon Gamer Theory had sparked erudite exchanges on everything from Plato's cave to Schopenhauer's ideas on boredom. It felt as much like a rangy, excited Twitter conversation as it did a book. "It was all because we opened it up and gave readers a way to interact with each other," Wark says. "It changed the way they read the book."

Books are the last bastion of the old business model—the only major medium that still hasn't embraced the digital age. Publishers and author advocates have generally refused to put books online for fear the content will be Napsterized. And you can understand their terror, because the publishing industry is in big financial trouble, rife with layoffs and restructurings. Literary pundits are fretting: Can books survive in this Facebooked, ADD, multichannel universe?

To which I reply: Sure they can. But only if publishers adopt Wark's perspective and provide new ways for people to encounter the written word. We need to stop thinking about the future of publishing and think instead about the future of reading.

Every other form of media that's gone digital has been transformed by its audience. Whenever a newspaper story or TV clip or blog post or white paper goes online, readers and viewers begin commenting about it on blogs, snipping their favorite sections, passing them along. The only reason the same thing doesn't happen to books is that they're locked into ink on paper.

Release them, and you release the crowd. BookGlutton, a site that launched last year, has put 1,660 books online and created tools that let readers form groups to discuss their favorite titles. Meanwhile, Bob Stein, an e-publishing veteran from the CD-ROM days, put the Doris Lessing book The Golden Notebook online with an elegant commenting system and hired seven writers to collaboratively read it.

Neither move should come as a surprise. Books have a centuries-old tradition of annotation and commentary, ranging from the Talmud and scholarly criticism to book clubs and marginalia. Stein believes that if books were set free digitally, it could produce a class of "professional readers"—people so insightful that you'd pay to download their footnotes. Sound unlikely? It already exists in the real world: Microsoft researcher Cathy Marshall has found that university students carefully study used textbooks before buying them, because they want to acquire the smartest notes.

The technology is here. Book nerds are now working on XML-like markup languages that would allow for really terrific linking and mashups. Imagine a world where there's a URL for every chapter and paragraph in a book—every sentence, even. Readers could point to their favorite sections in a MySpace update or instant message or respond to an argument by copiously linking to the smartest passages in a recent best seller.

This would massively improve what bibliophiles call book discovery. You're far more likely to hear about a book if a friend has highlighted a couple brilliant sentences in a Facebook update—and if you hear about it, you're far more likely to buy it in print. Yes, in print: The few authors who have experimented with giving away digital copies (mostly in sci-fi) have found that they end up selling more print copies, because their books are discovered by more people.

I'm not suggesting that books need always be social. One of the chief pleasures of a book is mental solitude, that deep, quiet focus on an author's thoughts—and your own. That's not going away. But books have been held hostage offline for far too long. Taking them digital will unlock their real hidden value: the readers.


Times' Roger Cohen: Smart Man, Good Writer, Wrong About Everything

In the Times Roger Cohen writes an erudite and literate op-ed, "Obama in Netanyahu’s Web." He concludes it with these seriously wrong statements.
Netanyahu talks a lot about the “existential threat” from Iran. The United States faces a prosaic daily threat: Many more young American men and women will die in Iraq and Afghanistan over the next several years if no Iranian breakthrough is achieved.

Obama must remind Israel of that. He should also tell Bibi that the real existential threat to Israel is not Amalek but hubris: An attack on Iran that would put the Jewish state at war with Persians as well as Arabs, undermine its core U.S. alliance, and set Tehran on a full-throttle course to a nuclear bomb with the support of some 1.2 billion Muslims.
The connection between American deaths in two wars and Iran is entirely fictive nonsense. Obama can end both of Bush's wars regardless of what goes on in Persia.

Cohen's closing doomsday scenario is more wrong both because it is a fiction meant to scare us and because it is ludicrous to imagine that the Israelis under Bibi or any other leader do not know and calculate every possible political and diplomatic outcome of every statement and action that they make.

Yes we are worried that Bibi may believe his application of the Amalek myth. But he's a hard-liner, not a maniac.

And isn't it utterly amazing to find a discussion of Amalek on the Times editorial page? Surely a proof that the messiah is on his way.


Is Judge Sonia Sotomayor a socialist?

Steve Waldman at Beliefnet was one of the first to point out that the White House has circulated Judge Sotomayor's 1976 Princeton yearbook entry, in which she quotes Norman Thomas. Citing Wikipedia, Waldman calls Thomas, "The leading American Socialist politician of the 20th century."

Actually, Wikipedia now describes Thomas as, "a leading American socialist, pacifist, and six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party of America."

There are a few problems with the potential tempest in a teapot that such a citation may stir up during the Judge's confirmation hearings.

First off, catching this socialist quotation is just a "gotcha" moment, not a serious review of any of the Judge's political attitudes.

But more to the point, we have a theory about how the Judge got this quotation.

The end of the Wikipedia entry on Thomas notes that a dedicatory plaque in the Norman Thomas '05 Library at Princeton University's Forbes college reads:
Norman M. Thomas, class of 1905.
"I am not the champion of lost causes,
but the champion of causes not yet won."
The Judge's use of this quotation cuts two ways with us. First it suggests to us that she scrambled for a last minute quote for her yearbook entry and picked one from the wall of a library.

But then, on the positive side, this confirms to us that Sotomayor was one of those students at Princeton who actually entered a library. As this professor can attest, many students he's taught did not know where any of their campus libraries were located.

But then again, this small library is in the Forbes residential college; it is not Princeton's main library. The Norman Thomas 1905 Library at Forbes College, "Contains a general collection, reference books and periodicals, as well as an extensive science fiction collection."

Admittedly, there are plenty of problems with our library-plaque-quotation theory. We don't know if there was a library at that residential college in 1976. And we don't know if there was a plaque up during that time. Prior to 1984 (from 1970 to 1983) the college was called the Princeton Inn College, and its residents were called "Innmates." We further don't know if Sotomayor was a resident of that college. It's a weak theory.

So, having explored all that, let the confirmation hearing socialist quotation gotchas begin.


Times' Obituary of Israeli Writer Amos Elon

Amos Elon in the mid-1980s.A serious loss. The great Israeli writer Amos Elon has passed away.

We assigned his books to many of our students. They told the story of the founding of Zionism and the State of Israel with great beauty, style and clarity.
Amos Elon, Israeli Author, Dies at 82 By ETHAN BRONNER
Mr. Elon, whose work examined his society’s flaws and myths, was for many years Israel’s most renowned intellectual.


Is Architect Frank Gehry Jewish?

Yes, architect Frank Gehry is a Jew and the grandson of a Talmudic scholar.

Gehry was born into a Polish-Jewish family in Toronto, Canada.

Barbara Isenberg says on HuffPost in her essay, "Travels with Frank Gehry" that, "Gehry's grandfather was a Talmudic scholar who taught him to be curious and ask questions, and the two of them would often talk about the Talmud when they were at the family hardware store fixing clocks or cutting glass."

[Update] Times: Lower East Side Jewish American Girl Doll Goes on Sale with a Teaneck marketing connection

Meet Jewish American Girl, Rebecca Rubin, "She is a 9-year-old girl living on the Lower East Side in 1914 with her Russian-Jewish immigrant parents, siblings and a grandmother known only as Bubbie."

The Lower East Side Jewish American Girl Doll goes on sale soon with a strong Teaneck marketing connection!

The line of American Girl toys has proven lucrative for its owners, the Mattel toy company, yielding $463 million in revenue last year. The Times reports,
...The goal is that no one be offended and that Jewish and non-Jewish little girls alike will want to play tenement house with their new toy, which costs $95 — plus more for accessories like a sideboard with a challah resting on it.

The preliminary research that led to Rebecca’s development started in 2000, said Shawn Dennis, the senior vice president for marketing. American Girl had wanted to do a doll focused on the immigrant experience. After work by two in-house historical researchers, and interviews with focus groups, it was decided to make the character Jewish.

“Russian-Jewish immigration, that group has an effect on the labor movement, that group has an effect on the burgeoning Hollywood entertainment business,” Ms. Dennis said. “We thought it would have the makings of what would be a relatable story to tell.”

To write the books, the company found Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who had written a historical novel for young adults set in 1654 about Jewish immigrants to New Amsterdam.

Ms. Greene and company researchers made a trip to Manhattan, visiting the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and a row house on East Seventh Street.

There was back and forth between Ms. Greene and American Girl executives about how to handle certain situations, including the fact that in the first book Rebecca and her father work in his Rivington Street shoe shop on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.

“There were full meetings about that,” said Ms. Dennis, who learned a lot about Judaism during the project. “There were so many different styles of Jewish practice, some stricter than others, in 1914 and today. What our research told us was the greater pressure during that time period was assimilation and blending in and becoming American.”...
Note well that the accompanying books were reviewed by our neighbor in Teaneck, Elie Rosenfeld whose company will help market the product [hat tip to Henry - we initially missed the connection]...
To Elie Rosenfeld, the chief operating officer of Joseph Jacob Advertising, whose firm was hired to help market Rebecca through Jewish publications and direct mailings to Jewish households, historical matters were of less concern than ones which would trigger a reaction in modern Jews.

Mr. Rosenfeld read the books with an eye to weeding out mentions of garish physical characteristics, obscure religious practices, or stereotypical professions. But he said he found nothing to cut. “By the time we saw everything, it was so well put together there was nothing we had to pull out and say stop the presses you can’t run this,” he said.

Rebecca’s release date was originally scheduled to be June 1, but it was moved to coincide with Manhattan’s Israel Day parade.

The company hopes the doll will appeal to everyone. If a blond Christian girl in North Dakota enjoys pretending she is living in a tenement on the Lower East Side in 1914, helping her Bubbie make latkes for Hanukkah, American Girl will be happy to sell her a toy menorah...


What ever happened to the Rockaways in Queens NY?

It was a Jewish paradise for our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents in the summer and all-year-round. My father vividly recalls walking to his school in the Rockaways where his family lived when he was a child.

Here are the links to some fascinating answers from the Times about what happened to the Rockaways in Queens NY.

RockawayAsk About Rockaway, Queens
by The New York Times

Lawrence Kaplan and Carol P. Kaplan, the authors of Between Ocean and City: The Transformation of Rockaway, New York,” answered questions about the history of this once popular seaside resort in southern Queens.
Shortly after World War II, large parts of this narrow peninsula between the ocean and the bay became some of New York City’s worst slums.

Mr. Kaplan, a historian who grew up in the community, and his wife, a social worker, together present an illuminating account of this transformation, exploring issues of race, class, and social policy and offering a significant revision of the larger story of New York City’s development. For example, the authors qualify some of the negative assessments of Robert Moses, suggesting that he attempted many positive initiatives for Rockaway.

Based on extensive archival research and hundreds of hours of interviews with residents, urban specialists and government officials past and present, “Between Ocean and City” is a clear-eyed and harrowing story of this community’s struggles and resiliency in the face of grinding poverty, urban renewal schemes gone wrong, and a forced ghettoization by the sea.

Lawrence Kaplan, who has taught British and American history at the City College of New York, spent his formative years in Rockaway. Carol P. Kaplan is a practicing social worker and an associate professor at the Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service.


Dr. Judith Guedalia's Blog is on Kindle

Getting your blogs delivered to your Kindle is a great convenience.

We recommend one of the newest blogs available -- by Dr. Judith Guedalia of Jerusalem and New York -- Unraveling the Mystery of the Brain / Behavior Relationship --
Dr. Judith Guedalia, director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center's Neuropsychology Unit, applies her psychological and neurological training to understanding how physiological dysfunction affects behavior in order to provide psychotherapy for patients with or without neurological problems. Among the many symptoms the Neuropsychology Unit has treated are emotional trauma, anxiety, depression, parenting and family issues, stress, children of divorce, self-esteem, patient adjustment to neurological or cognitive problems, adjustment to chronic illness, family adjustment to and coping with a member's illness and adjustment to developmental disabilities.


Times' Krugman: Healthcare reform double cross by Barack W. Bush or William Jefferson Obama?

Fox's Minnesota Beauty Queen, Gretchen Carlson, repeated three time during the two minutes that we had her on this morning that people were starting to call our president, "Barack W. Bush" because he is adopting some of the policy positions of his predecessor.

We don't get why these right-wingers are mocking Obama for being hypocritical when he is capitulating to the stances that they want.

In the Times, Paul Krugman brings up health care reform, another area in which Obama appears to be backing away from his strong promises. In this case, Krugman insinuates, the president appears to be aping the cowardice towards health care reform that was emblematic of former president Clinton.

Krugman doesn't -- but we do ask if we should start to call our leader, William Jefferson Obama.

Our Talmudic question. Why is it that you can pass credit card reform in one day but not so for health care reform? Is it that the overgrowth of the jungle of the latter is so much more complex, which it may be? Or is it rather that the politicians have no serious intention of passing such reform?

We need government to get involved. The current state of health care is a nightmare, getting worse each day.
Op-Ed Columnist - Blue Double Cross

That didn’t take long. Less than two weeks have passed since much of the medical-industrial complex made a big show of working with President Obama on health care reform — and the double-crossing is already well under way. Indeed, it’s now clear that even as they met with the president, pretending to be cooperative, insurers were gearing up to play the same destructive role they did the last time health reform was on the agenda.

So here’s the question: Will Mr. Obama gloss over the reality of what’s happening, and try to preserve the appearance of cooperation? Or will he honor his own pledge, made back during the campaign, to go on the offensive against special interests if they stand in the way of reform? ...more...

Jewish Standard: Deena Yellin Covers David Holzer's “The Rav Thinking Aloud: Transcripts of Personal Conversations with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.”

We are quoted in this local feature story about a new book of verbatim transcripts of my Talmud teacher and rebbe, the Rav.

New book sheds light on Rav Soloveitchik's 'human side'
New Jersey Jewish Standard - Teaneck,NJ

...Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy of Teaneck, who studied with him from 1969 to 1973, said the book brought back wonderful memories.

“The book is by an insider and for insiders. A lot of the casual talk that the rav probably thought was off the record reminded me of the conversations that I had with him in the car on the way to the airport,” said Zahavy, who often drove Soloveitchik from Yeshiva University to the airport when the rav traveled to his home in Boston.

“It is quite a charming and idiosyncratic account. It certainly adds a less formal dimension to the previous literature that puts the rav high up on a pedestal,” said Zahavy, adding that he was particularly moved by the story of how the rav struggled with what prayers are appropriate for Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day....


Is singer Leonard Cohen Jewish and Buddhist?

Yes, songwriter and singer Leonard Cohen is a Jew. And yes he practices Buddhist meditation, but he says he does not accept Buddhist religious beliefs.

The Times reports and has a more complete audio of an interview with Cohen. The end of their article says:
About the meaning of those songs, Mr. Cohen is diffident and elusive. Many are, he acknowledges, “muffled prayers,” but beyond that he is not eager to reveal much.

“It’s difficult to do the commentary on the prayer,” he said. “I’m not a Talmudist, I’m more the little Jew who wrote the Bible,” a reference to a line in “The Future,” a song he released in 1992. “I feel it doesn’t serve the enterprise to really examine it from outside the moment.”

Mr. Cohen said he hoped to make a new record when the tour ends, and offered to play one of his newer compositions. Tentatively called “Amen,” it features a Farfisa-style keyboard, a trumpetlike solo played by Mr. Cohen on his synthesizer and lyrics like this: “Tell me again when the filth of the butcher is washed in the blood of the lamb.”

Jennifer Warnes, the singer whose 1986 recording of “Famous Blue Raincoat” helped revive interest in Mr. Cohen at a time when he was out of critical favor, said: “He has investigated a lot of deities and read all the sacred books, trying to understand in some way who wrote them as much as the subject matter itself. It’s for his own healing that he reaches for those places. If he has one great love, it is his search for God.”

Mr. Cohen is an observant Jew who keeps the Sabbath even while on tour and performed for Israeli troops during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. So how does he square that faith with his continued practice of Zen?

“Allen Ginsberg asked me the same question many years ago,” he said. “Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. So theologically there is no challenge to any Jewish belief.”

Zen has also helped him to learn to “stop whining,” Mr. Cohen said, and to worry less about the choices he has made. “All these things have their own destiny; one has one’s own destiny. The older I get, the surer I am that I’m not running the show.”
The Concert was taken off the NPR site -- but you can hear the Times interview at the Times (click on the link on the left for the audio for Zen and Judaism).

NPR Set List

  • "Dance Me to the End of Love"
  • "The Future"
  • "Chelsea Hotel"
  • "Tower of Song"
  • "Suzanne"
  • "The Partisan"
  • "Hallelujah"
  • "Recitation With N.L."
  • "Take This Waltz"
  • "So Long Marianne"
  • "First We Take Manhattan"
  • "Democracy"
If you don't know Mr. Cohen, you may need to develop a taste for him. He's like scotch whiskey. The first time you sip it, you wonder if it's any good. Over time, not much really, you decide that it indeed has much merit.[Cohen was in NYC this week at radio city - reposted from Feb.]

Richard Friedman Cooks James Kugel's Cholent

First Richard Elliot Friedman figuratively cooked James Kugel's cholent. Then Kugel [in BAR 34:02, Mar/Apr 2008] responded to Friedman. [Ancient Biblical Interpreters vs. Archaeology & Modern Scholars, by Richard Elliott Friedman BAR 34:01, Jan/Feb 2008.]

This exchange is painful to me to read. Friedman obviously searched high and low for a unity of method or purpose in Kugel's erudite brain dump. Frankly, Kugel does not purport to present a systematic treatise on the Bible. He honestly says in concluding his rejoinder to Friedman,
I think Friedman is wrong in supposing that his one-size-fits-all assessment is the only valid one. In any case, I have no such global solution to offer. All I tried to do was to set this question in its historical perspective by putting down almost everything I know about Scripture, its past as well as its present.
Kugel does not claim to make or prove any case. He thinks that sharing his knowledge will be of interest to others. He has every right to his vanity. As he is a celebrity professor from Harvard, indeed many readers are eager to see what he has been thinking all these years.

But this baffles Friedman and I can see why. He assumes that a book should attempt to make or try to prove some case. "Who wrote the Bible?" is a clear question and Friedman gives it an answer in his popular Bible book.

By contrast, "How to Read the Bible," is not a question. In fact, the book should be called, "How I Read the Bible" since it is not a how-to guide at all. Kugel is confessing in this tome his life story of reading the Bible along with ancient and modern sources.

Friedman picks up on this and accordingly sees the need for offering effusive praise to Kugel the man at the outset of his review. Sure you need to do this since the book is a confession of the inner musings of a special man.

But then Friedman searches for the questions that the book seeks to answer. And not surprisingly he cannot find any big ones. Puzzled, Friedman decides that Kugel must be answering a set of questions inaccessible to Friedman. He must be speaking in the code language of the Orthodox Jews.

In concluding his review, Friedman says,
We have rather moved on from their assumptions because the textual and archaeological evidence revealed that their assumptions were not correct.

I realize how hard all of this is for Orthodox Jews and possibly for fundamentalist Christians. I have sat and studied with them, not as opponents but with mutual respect. If there is any meeting point between them and the people who are persuaded by critical scholarship, it should be that both recognize the Bible’s value and both are committed to the truth. Kugel’s book can be an exceptional starting point for that discussion.
In this statement Friedman says that he does not understand the code and the discourse of the Orthodox and "possibly … fundamentalist Christians." But they seem to like the same Bible that Friedman analyzes. So they cannot be bad people. So he really does want to talk with them.

The value of Kugel's book for Friedman is to provide a window into the mentality behind that secret code of the Orthodox. I suspect the folks at Christianity Today feel the same since they want to recognize Kugel's book for its value on its own terms.

So now the question is whether this window into Kugel's thinking shows readers such as Friedman or the CT selection panel anything about how and what Orthodox Jews (as Friedman would have it) or all Jews (as Kugel would have it) think about the Bible.

Kugel appears to concede that he'd like his book to be received by the reader as, "How to Read the Bible the way we Jews Read it." And the conceit in that presumption is that somehow Kugel has reached the pinnacle of clarity on this matter because of his rich erudition.

Come to think of it, that is the underlying assumption of the class of religious leaders that we call rabbis. Due to their special knowledge, they achieve individually and as a class a special religious charisma. It's nice when rabbis speak or write in well-reasoned common sense ways to state a proposition and prove it -- which they often do. But it is not required of them. Their positions of charismatic authority allow them to take a great deal of leeway. Even the raw brain dump of a rabbi carries inspiring significance for the follower.

Kugel speaks in this rabbinic mode in his magnum opus because that is how he sees himself after all -- as a rabbi.

Ever respectful to the rabbi, Friedman speaks well of Kugel the man and his learning in his opening sections of his review. Richard more comfortably wears the robes of the academic and hence cautiously circles back around to say that he does not understand the purpose of Kugel's book, that it must be because it is written in Orthodox code, and that he would like to hear more from Kugel and the Orthodox.

I frankly have to side with Friedman. I'd like to hear more from the learned professor Kugel about how he solves the problems of scholarship and makes new knowledge for some community -- be it academic or religious.

Friedman has shown his commitment to this cause and has brought significant progress to his field of endeavor throughout his career. The solutions he posits to the questions he answers in his books and articles can be sifted through and built upon by those who come next.

Kugel has thought great thoughts and now shares them with all of us. These notions will hang in the Jewish wing of the museum of great thoughts for the appreciation of the cultured viewer.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. [repost from 3/18/08]


Is "Pharisee of Pharisees" an antisemitic slur?

The road to antisemitism is paved with well-intentioned Christian theologians.

Below you will find one of the best demonstrations of that saying (which I just coined).

The author of the post that I cite, no doubt had the best of intentions to write some good Christian theology about the Pharisees. But instead of rehabilitating the Pharisees, he insults me further. You see, I am a rabbinic Jew and a direct spiritual descendant of the ancient Pharisees.

The author says in apparent innocence, "If someone called you 'a Pharisee of Pharisees' today, it would be one of the worst insults you could receive."

He then goes on to explain that is wrong -- even in the New Testament, the Pharisees are not all bad.


My life and my world is predicated on the notions that my faith is not a "burden," or "problematic" or "impossible to bear." Yet the author sees nothing wrong with a religion that preaches that those slurs about my religion are facts.

Let me be clear. When a Christian says that my religion is all those things, I see that as antisemitism. When a Christian theologian says that those beliefs are at the core of his faith, I see that as evidence that Christianity is essentially antisemitic.

I don't think the well-meaning author of this CNA essay understands how I see things. And that makes me sad.
A Pharisee of Pharisees
By Thomas Smith

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we cannot hope to understand St. Paul without first exploring his B.C. (before Christ) timeline. He was a tri-part person - a Jew (from the tribe of Benjamin and a member of the Pharisee movement), a Roman citizen raised in a Hellenized (Greek) culture, and a disciple of his Resurrected Rabbi, Jesus.

This week we will look at St. Paul in the context of his Pharisee background. If someone called you "a Pharisee of Pharisees" today, it would be one of the worst insults you could receive. In our time, a Pharisee has been reduced to a self-righteous hypocrite. Although Christ reserved some of his harshest criticism in the Gospels for the Pharisees, he also encouraged obedience to their teaching, while challenging the hypocrisy of some. In Matthew 23, Jesus highlights this fact, "practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice" (23:3). And all Pharisees were not the enemy of Christ and his Church. In the Gospels, some Pharisees warned Jesus of Herod’s murderous plans (Luke 13:3), and one of the greatest Pharisees in history, Gamaliel, urged Jewish leaders not to persecute the followers of Christ (Acts 5:34).

St. Paul wasn’t embarrassed to be a "Pharisee of Pharisees," and he never considered it something he must lay aside to follow Christ. Decades after his conversion, when he proclaimed the Gospel before the Sanhedrin, he declared, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees" (Acts 23:6, author’s emphasis). At the same time, the moment he met Christ on the Damascus Road, he would have to revisit everything he believed, and radically expand the boundaries of his belief. I believe this is why he went to Arabia (possibly even Mt. Sinai), to re-orient his ideas about the God of Israel (not unlike Moses and Elijah).

After meeting the Resurrected Christ, the Pharisee of Pharisees would spend most of his energies converting the Gentiles, yet this was not inconsistent with his Jewish heritage. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a light to the Gentiles (Isa. 42:6), language that the Lord will use of his servant Paul (Acts 13:47).

Pharisaism, in general, was consistent with the revelation in Christ, by preaching the resurrection of the dead (something the Sadducees rejected), and Paul’s writings, although influenced by Greek rhetoric, also show his knowledge of Jewish hermeneutics and halakah.

One of the ways Pharisees did become problematic is by creating "fences" around the Law. Pharisees recognized that the Jewish people were still under a kind of Exile. Although they had returned to the land, they were still under foreign occupation - a curse reserved for those who had broken covenant with God. The Pharisees believed that the only way to lift this occupation was by absolute holiness and obedience to the Law. Fearing that an average Jew may break a single commandment of the Mosaic Law, they created many additional laws around a single law (like a fence) to reduce the possibility of disobedience to God’s Torah. Unfortunately, this multiplication of laws became a burden. This is precisely Jesus’ critique of them in Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 23:4). A Rabbi or teacher’s "yoke" was his interpretation of Torah. The Pharisees yoke became impossible to bear, and Jesus did not hesitate to challenge their approach and to offer a different interpretation of Torah that could bring life (Matt. 11:29).

Judaism today is a descendent of Pharisaism, and although there are clear differences in our beliefs, we can continue to learn from what John Paul II called our "elder brothers and sisters." I like how the Catechism puts it, "A better knowledge of the Jewish people's faith and religious life as professed and lived even now" can help us better understand our life of prayer, liturgy and approaching God’s Word (see Catechism, No. 1096).

I was thrilled to see Benedict XVI announce that Rabbi Shear-Yashuv Cohen (the Grand Rabbi of Haifa, Israel) would address the upcoming two day Synod of Bishops on the Word of God. For more information about the Synod keep an eye on a site I am collaborating with www.ScriptureSynod.com.

GQ: The Bad Idea was Bush's war in Iraq - we could care less about the Bible verses on the cover sheets

No, Bible verses on cover sheets is not the issue we want to discuss.

How about you keep on putting Bible verses on the cover sheets - only change the contents of the Pentagon reports to say that the war is over and the soldiers are coming home immediately?

Here's a Bible verse to use: "Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it (Ps 34:14)."
Pentagon reports no longer quote Bible

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon said Monday it no longer includes a Bible quote on the cover page of daily intelligence briefings it sends to the White House as was practice during the Bush administration.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said he did not know how long the Worldwide Intelligence Update cover sheets quoted from the Bible. Air Force Maj. Gen. Glen Shaffer, who was responsible for including them, retired in August 2003, according to his biography.

For a period in 2003, at least, the daily reports prepared for President George W. Bush carried quotes from the books of Psalms and Ephesians and the epistles of Peter. At the time, the reports focused largely on the war in Iraq.

The Bible quotes apparently aimed to support Bush at a time when soldiers' deaths in Iraq were on the rise, according to the June issue of GQ magazine. But they offended at least one Muslim analyst at the Pentagon and worried other employees that the passages were inappropriate.

On Thursday, April 10, 2003, for example, the report quoted the book of Psalms — "Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him. ... To deliver their soul from death." — and featured pictures of the statue of Saddam Hussein being pulled down and celebrating crowds in Baghdad.

"Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand," read the cover quote two weeks earlier, on March 31, above a picture of a U.S. tank driving through the desert, according to the magazine, which obtained copies of the documents.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, on Monday said U.S. soldiers "are not Christian crusaders, and they ought not be depicted as such."

"Depicting the Iraq conflict as some sort of holy war is completely outrageous," Lynn said in a statement. "It's contrary to the constitutional separation of religion and government, and it's tremendously damaging to America's reputation in the world."


Boston Globe: Zaytuna Institute Plans to become First US Islamic Liberal Arts College

In an important step in the institutionalization of Islam in America, the leaders to the Zaytuna Institute have announce plans to become the first Islamic liberal arts college in the US.

We welcome this as an important milestone in the maturation of the Islamic community.

Curiously... the original main building at the campus of the Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University in Washington Heights in New York City (pictured above) always looked to us like a perfect design for an Islamic college.

[Hat tip to Peter J.]
US scholars planning Islamic college
By Rachel Zoll, AP Religion Writer

PLAINSBORO, N.J. --A group of American Muslims, led by two prominent scholars, is moving closer to fulfilling a vision of founding the first four-year accredited Islamic college in the United States, what some are calling a "Muslim Georgetown."

Advisers to the project have scheduled a June vote to decide whether the proposed Zaytuna College can open in the fall of next year, a major step toward developing the faith in America.

Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheik Hamza Yusuf of California have spent years planning the school, which will offer a liberal arts education and training in Islamic scholarship. Shakir, a California native, sees the school in the tradition of other religious groups that formed universities to educate leaders and carve a space in the mainstream of American life.

"As a faith community our needs aren't any different than the needs of any other faith community," Shakir told the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals, as he sought donations at a recent conference near Princeton, N.J. "As Muslims, we need to develop institutions to allow us to perpetuate our values."

Others have tried to start Muslim colleges around New York and Chicago, but those schools remained obscure or quickly folded.

Shakir and Yusuf are believed to have a better chance than most to succeed.

Shakir, an African-American Air Force veteran, and Yusuf, a native of Washington state, are converts who spent years studying with Islamic scholars in North Africa and the Mideast. They speak flawless Arabic and have become widely respected teachers. Yusuf draws thousands of people to his talks and tens of thousands of viewers to his online lectures.

In 1996, Yusuf founded Zaytuna Institute, now based in Berkeley, Calif., which is dedicated to classical Muslim scholarship. Zaytuna means "olive tree" in Arabic.

The institute expanded to provide distance learning, workshops in multiple cities and conferences with prominent scholars. Shakir, a Zaytuna teacher for six years, ran a pilot seminary program from 2004-2008, partly to test the viability of a school. An intensive Arabic language summer course, in its second year, has doubled its enrollment.

"It is far and away the single most influential institution that's shaping American Muslim thought," said Omid Safi, an Islamic studies professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. "On the one hand they speak so much about being American. On the other hand, they have also plugged these American Muslim students into the global Muslim curriculum, that has all the rigor of traditional Islamic scholarship."

In earlier years, Shakir and Yusuf had made some anti-American statements, but that rhetoric is not part of their teaching. Zaytuna Institute has clips on its Web site of a lecture by the two scholars called "Curing Extremism." Following a White House meeting with President George W. Bush soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Yusuf made the now widely repeated comment that "Islam was hijacked" by the terrorists and he has condemned the attackers as "mass murderers."

A working motto for the school: "Where Islam Meets America."

Zaytuna College will start with two majors: Arabic language, and Islamic legal and theological studies.

It will not be a seminary, although some graduates could become prayer leaders, or imams. Most U.S. mosques are led by imams from overseas, considered an obstacle to Islam's development in America.

Other students could go on to start American Muslim nonprofits, or become Islamic scholars through advanced study at other schools, said Hatem Bazian, a Zaytuna adviser who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley and Saint Mary's College of California.

But administrators aim to teach analytical skills, along with ethics and theology, that can prepare students for many professional careers.

Zaytuna will start in rented space in Berkeley and will seek accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. All faiths will be welcome, academic freedom will be protected, and there will be no separation of men and women, Bazian said.

"It is a daunting task, there is no question about it," Bazian said. "But I'm completely confident and comforted that almost every major private university began with one classroom and possibly one building and sometimes it was a rented facility to begin with."

The college needs $2 million to $4 million to launch, a fundraising goal Bazian says organizers will comfortably meet by next year. Zaytuna will soon start raising the tens of millions of dollars needed for an endowment and a capital fund to build a campus in the Bay Area years from now, Bazian said.

Mahmoud Ayoub, a retired professor of Islamic studies Temple University, is among those who don't support the idea of a U.S. Muslim college, not only because of the enormous expense and risk involved, but also because he believes Muslims are better off attending established American schools. He said U.S. Muslims badly need a seminary since there are none in the country.

"I don't know that I would send my child to go to a college where they can only learn tradition. Young people have to live," said Ayoub who has worked with the U.S. State Department, representing America in the Muslim world. "I like mixing people. I don't like ghettos."

But Zaytuna considers the state of Muslim scholarship in the West so "anemic" that a crisis is looming. The Muslim community in North America and Europe, now in the millions, is growing, and has few properly trained leaders to guide them.

"Who will talk for the religion?" Shakir asked. "We have to train a generation."

Is Woody Allen a Hasidic Jewish Rabbi?

Woody Allen is a Jew but he is not a Hasidic rabbi.

He did appear as a bearded rabbi in a scene in his movie Annie Hall and in some other scenes in his other movies.

Woody was due in a NY court today in connection with his $10 million lawsuit against American Apparel for their billboard depicting him as a bearded Hasidic Jew.

Allen claimed he did not give the company permission to use a frame of him from his film "Annie Hall." American Apparel claimed it was exercising its freedom of expression with the billboards in 2007 in Hollywood and New York.

Company founder Dov Charney (also Jewish and also not a Hasidic rabbi) settled today at the last minute with Allen for a reported $5 million.

Reuters reported that Allen bragged about his settlement:
"I am told the settlement of five million dollars I am being paid is the largest reported amount ever paid under the New York right to privacy law," Allen told reporters outside Manhattan federal court where the case was being heard.
Allen was not wearing a beard, a black hat and glasses when he made that statement.

Traffic Alert: Michelle Obama at the Met in NYC

We are pretty sure we were passed by Michelle Obama's motorcade at about 9 A.M. on the FDR Drive this morning.

The L.A. Times Culture Monster reports on what she is doing today in our fair city:
...On Monday, Michelle Obama will be in New York City for a day with the Mets — and we're not talking baseball, as the National League East leaders will be hunkered down in Dodger Stadium, opening a series with our home team.

No, it's the Metropolitan Museum of Art by day, where the first lady is scheduled to help local school kids cut the ribbon for its newly renovated American Wing. Later, Obama will be at the Metropolitan Opera House for a gala evening kicking off American Ballet Theatre's eight-week season at the Met. She and other attendees will see ABT principal dancers perform highlights from the season's ballets, with a guest turn by jazz pianist Herbie Hancock and a performance by would-be professional students from ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School...
The blog also reveals some L.A. arts envy in another post,
New York City is the nation's No. 1 tourist destination. After Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum is the city's No. 1 tourist attraction. The first lady will be doing what 4.5 million people, mostly out-of-town visitors, did last year. The city's tourism industry will surely be thrilled at the demonstration of support. But for the struggling arts infrastructure elsewhere across the nation, which doesn't rely on tourist hordes, the New York event is pretty much a snooze.
We did not know how popular the Met Museum was.


Scary Times Op-ed by Jeffrey Goldberg about Benjamin Netanyahu's Beliefs in Amalek

There is a scary Times op-ed today by Jeffrey Goldberg about Benjamin Netanyahu's beliefs in Amalek.

The column is an amazing and penetrating review of Netanyahu's worldviews as they pertain now especially to Iran. As we interpret it, Goldberg argues that in the guise of historical narrative, Bibi was fed by his father a set of religious and mystical beliefs about the nature of antisemitism in the world and the recurring danger of a transcendent archenemy of the Jewish people, who must be labeled by the ancient near Eastern tribal name "Amalek."

My rebbe, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, lectured frequently on the truth of the two-part Amalek narrative in rabbinic Judaism. In every generation, the first part of the story goes, there is a tribe or nation that rises up to obliterate our people. The Rav proposed that in the 1940s Amalek was the Nazis. In the 1960s Amalek was the Russian communists.

These instances of national antisemitism are political and historical facts that can be examined and verified or falsified. The notion that this trend repeats itself eternally -- well that is a mystical religious belief and one that we really don't want our political leaders to base their decisions on.

The second part of the Rav's (and Judaism's) Amalek narrative is where the religious obligation kicks in with a literal vengeance. You see the rabbis teach that it is a high level mitzvah to attend synagogue to hear the reading of Parshas Zachor -- the ominous warning about Amalek -- on the Shabbat before Purim, before the reading of the book of Esther in which Haman -- a descendant of the Amalek tribe -- proves the religious and mystical theory to be absolute historical fact. In that biblical book's narrative, Haman tries to exterminate the Jews of Persia. But through cunning and guile and an implied divine intervention, Mordecai and Esther foil his plot.

According to the rabbis, and the biblical text is quite clear on this too, the mitzvah in the Torah is to blot out the very memory of Amalek. Hence, and this is what scares me, the very essence of ancient near Eastern account of Amalek is the license to kill. You must obliterate the nation that wants to obliterate you.

Goldberg makes it clear that he believes that Bibi Netanyahu operates under the license of Amalek. What he does not spell out in the Times is that religious Jews believe that gives them a blank check to do anything and everything to their mortal enemies -- including to commit a preemptive genocide against them.We specifically filled in the blanks to spell out the whole religious and mystical narrative of Amalek.

But wait. Today there is more. As if reading the script right out of the Bible, the Persians in Iran recently have clearly proclaimed on their own religious grounds that they are Israel's mortal enemies and that they do in fact want Israel to disappear from the map. Bibi calls Iran's leadership a “messianic apocalyptic cult.”

So yikes. Now we have both sides reading from the religious texts of the ancients -- only they are not in Sunday School. Both sides possess the weapons and armies and are loudly beating the drums of war.

It appears to us that Goldberg comes to the Times with a raw message so urgent that he puts it up in his op-ed's title, "Israel's Fears, Amalek's Arsenal."

Our fears go way beyond Goldberg's op-ed. We fear an imminent conflagration between two sovereign political states -- both possessing great resolve and both possessing way too much religion and mysticism which colors and even guides their worldviews and their policies.

Accordingly, we hope that Goldberg has overstated his case regarding Netanyahu's worldview. We pray that Bibi is not a true believer in the ancient mysteries of Amalek - rather that he is a tough and imaginative pragmatic and realistic political leader and modern-world statesman.

Times' Frank Rich: Bush was Bullied by Rumsfeld’s Bible Quotes

We do need a commission of inquiry into the Bush years. It's not just the 3000 dead in the WTC attack on his watch and the 4296 dead in his personal Iraq war. It's the legacy that will haunt us for decades. We need to clear the air.

Frank Rich brings to our attention some seriously creepy new information. From his column:
...This Sunday, GQ magazine is posting on its Web site an article adding new details to the ample dossier on how Donald Rumsfeld’s corrupt and incompetent Defense Department cost American lives and compromised national security. The piece is not the work of a partisan but the Texan journalist Robert Draper, author of “Dead Certain,” the 2007 Bush biography that had the blessing (and cooperation) of the former president and his top brass. It draws on interviews with more than a dozen high-level Bush loyalists.

Draper reports that Rumsfeld’s monomaniacal determination to protect his Pentagon turf led him to hobble and antagonize America’s most willing allies in Iraq, Britain and Australia, and even to undermine his own soldiers. But Draper’s biggest find is a collection of daily cover sheets that Rumsfeld approved for the Secretary of Defense Worldwide Intelligence Update, a highly classified digest prepared for a tiny audience, including the president, and often delivered by hand to the White House by the defense secretary himself. These cover sheets greeted Bush each day with triumphal color photos of the war headlined by biblical quotations. GQ is posting 11 of them, and they are seriously creepy.

Take the one dated April 3, 2003, two weeks into the invasion, just as Shock and Awe hit its first potholes. Two days earlier, on April 1, a panicky Pentagon had begun spreading its hyped, fictional account of the rescue of Pvt. Jessica Lynch to distract from troubling news of setbacks. On April 2, Gen. Joseph Hoar, the commander in chief of the United States Central Command from 1991-94, had declared on the Times Op-Ed page that Rumsfeld had sent too few troops to Iraq. And so the Worldwide Intelligence Update for April 3 bullied Bush with Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Including, as it happened, into a quagmire.)

What’s up with that? As Draper writes, Rumsfeld is not known for ostentatious displays of piety. He was cynically playing the religious angle to seduce and manipulate a president who frequently quoted the Bible. But the secretary’s actions were not just oily; he was also taking a risk with national security. If these official daily collages of Crusade-like messaging and war imagery had been leaked, they would have reinforced the Muslim world’s apocalyptic fear that America was waging a religious war. As one alarmed Pentagon hand told Draper, the fallout “would be as bad as Abu Ghraib.”...


Tzvee in the Jewish Standard: Cheerios and the future of Judaism in America

When we translate our ideas to the print medium, the output gets longer, gets edited and gets read by different readers. Here's our guest column from our local Jewish newspaper of record, the Jewish Standard.
Cheerios and the future of Judaism in America
Tzvee Zahavy • Columns
Published: 15 May 2009

When we say that we aspire to live the talmudic life, that means two things.

First, it means that we question rigorously all those facts and influences around us. We especially separate our certainties from our doubts.
Guest column

And second, it means that we live in constant touch and tension with our present world to which we can respond and sometimes over which we can exercise some control. A good talmudist does not pretend to have dominion over the unknown future.

OK, what do Cheerios have to do with the future of Judaism in America? ...more...

Is Senator Charles Chuck Schumer Jewish?

Yes, New York's Senator Charles Chuck Schumer is a Jew.

Schumer was born in Brooklyn, New York to Jewish parents, Selma Rosen and Abraham Schumer. He attended Harvard College, where he became interested in politics and campaigned for Eugene McCarthy in 1968. He continued to Harvard Law School, earning his Juris Doctor in 1974.

On May 15, 2009 news media reported that Arkansas State Senator and U.S. Senate candidate Kim Hendren called Senator Charles Schumer "that Jew."

He did correctly identify Schumer's religion, but some of the candidate's political opponents criticized the remark in its context as unacceptable, derogatory and an indication of prejudice.

Hendren apologized for his remark.

Is David Geffen Jewish and does he want to buy the New York Times?

Yes, David Geffen is a Jew. Wikipedia reports, "He was born into a European-Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York. David Geffen's father, Abraham Geffen, is of Polish ancestry, and his mother Batya Volovskaya is of Ukrainian ancestry. Both were immigrants from Europe who met in the Land of Palestine (before the creation of Israel) and then moved to Brooklyn. Geffen graduated from New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn... His mother owned a clothing store, Chic Corsets By Geffen, in Borough Park, Brooklyn."

Newsweek reports that the record and film mogul wants to buy the New York Times and convert it to a non-profit venture.
All the News That's Fit to Buy
Inside David Geffen's play for The New York Times.
By Johnnie L. Roberts | Newsweek Web Exclusive
At 66, David Geffen has amassed a fortune that Forbes estimates at $4.5 billion in its annual list of the global megawealthy. The Hollywood impresario, one of the world's most prescient investors, has scored mammoth returns in art and hedge funds, having cashed out of the financial and art markets well ahead of the crashes. But the foundation of Geffen's wealth—and his first love—remains the media industry, where his touch has been consistently golden, managing and producing legendary music acts such as Joni Mitchell and the Eagles and to helping launch DreamWorks.

So why is Geffen, having already sought unsuccessfully to acquire the Los Angeles Times and now reportedly eyeing The New York Times, so keen on stuffing his portfolio with an investment that seems dead on arrival—newspapers? Geffen declined to publicly comment on media reports that he recently tried to acquire a large stake in the financially distressed New York Times Co., parent of the storied newspaper. But two people familiar with Geffen's thinking say the answer is simple: an acquisition of the Times wouldn't be a financial investment. If Geffen were successful in landing The New York Times, said one of the confidantes, he'd convert it into a nonprofit institution. He would regard the newspaper, perhaps the world's most influential journalistic enterprise, as a national treasure meriting preservation into perpetuity. His model would be the ownership structure of Florida's St. Petersburg Times, which is controlled by a nonprofit educational institution, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. "David would hope the newspaper makes a profit," said the confidante. "But he believes that operating without the ultimate responsibility of paying dividends or necessarily having to be profitable is the best way to run an institution like The New York Times."...more...


Go Figure. The Hoboken Film Festival will take place mainly at the Cedar Lane Cinemas in Teaneck

Go Figure. The 2009 Hoboken Film Festival will take place mainly at the Cedar Lane Cinemas in Teaneck, May 29 to June 4, 2009.

It looks like there will be some dynamite films coming to our sleepy little town.

The Hoboken411 site has the schedule with descriptions extracted to PDF from the festival site (what may be one of the worst designed sites on the internet).


Pope Benedict XVI Davens at the Kotel

It is quite noteworthy to see the head of the Catholic Church making a symbolic stop at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem Israel. He spent several minutes in silent devotion at the site.

We give the pope good marks so far on his visit to Israel. We don't need to recapitulate our previous criticisms of the pontiff. There are plenty of critics in Israel who have no trouble at all pointing out the pope's shortcomings. See reports here and here.

And remember, we withhold criticism because the pope's visit will spur 200,000 additional tourists to visit Israel in the next year.

Techcrunch: Michael Arrington Joins Brian Cuban in the Facebook v. Holocaust Denial Fray

Within the discussion of a provocative post at Techcrunch you will find questions about whether Mark Zuckerberg and Michael Arrington are Jews.

Yes, Mark Zuckerberg is a Jew. Zuckerberg was raised in Dobbs Ferry, New York, by his Jewish parents, Edward and Karen Zuckerberg. His father Edward is a dentist in Dobbs Ferry, New York, and his mother is a physician.

Michael Arrington won't say if he is a Jew. Nothing definitive one way or the other in his mini-bio from Wikipedia: "Arrington grew up in California, USA and Surrey, England and graduated from Claremont McKenna College with a major in economics. He went on to Stanford Law School and graduated in 1995."

Here is how Arrington gets into the fray over at Techcrunch:
Jew Haters Welcome At Facebook, As Long As They Aren’t Lactating
by Michael Arrington on May 10, 2009

Way more countries have laws against holocaust denial (11 or so) than breast feeding (0), but guess which one is banned on Facebook? That’s right. Pictures of breast feeding babies are indecent, so they’re a no go.

But Holocaust denial is totally cool because it fosters open discussion. Facebook wants to “be a place where people can discuss all kinds of ideas, including controversial ones.” Even, apparently, the discussion of the idea that someone might be a “Nigger faggot, Jew nosed cunt.” That’s just one of many hateful messages I found written on a Holocaust denial site on Facebook.

Brian Cuban is making the removal of these sites a personal mission. He’s arguing the law. He’s arguing terms of service. He’s arguing common sense and decency. These groups are clearly little more than excuses to spew hatred towards Jews, and Facebook is too timid to do anything about it. The first amendment doesn’t apply to private companies. So why is Facebook so willing to take a stand when it comes to hungry babies, but won’t do a damn thing when it comes to the Holocaust.

Because they’re cowards. ...more...

FDA to Cheerios - Stop claiming you are a cholesterol drug

Under the do-nothing George Bush FDA, anybody could claim anything and nobody would say a word.

The Cheerios ads and the "Heart Healthy" claims on their boxes are egregious. We think their reasoning is based on a Talmudic compound doubt. First, we doubt that there is any real science that validates the notion that eating Cheerios lowers a person's cholesterol any more than eating cardboard lowers one's cholesterol. Second we doubt that lowering cholesterol actually has a benefit for a person's heart. True on the latter claim there are many studies claiming benefits for the heart of reduced cholesterol. But when you look closely at the results of those medical studies, you realize that they show a modest reduction in risks, not a cure of any disease. Hence these double doubts undermine the cereal's claims.

We are glad the Obama FDA has chosen cheerios first to start making clear that we will not tolerate the antics of 19th century snake oil salesmen in the 21st century.
U.S. objects to General Mills' Cheerios health claims

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - General Mills made unauthorized health claims about the heart-related benefits of its Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal, U.S. regulators said in a letter released on Tuesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it considered language about cholesterol-lowering on Cheerios boxes to be unapproved drug claims. The language did not qualify under the government's approved claims associating fiber from whole grain oats with reduced risk of heart disease, the May 5 letter said.

General Mills officials were not immediately available for comment.


Some Sikh Men Cut Their Hair and Most Islamic Women Hide Their Hair

We suppose that the third world revival of the Broadway musical "Hair"will feature musical numbers with Sikh men brazenly cutting their hair and losing their turbans and Islamic women stubbornly keeping their hair tightly covered under their head scarves or burkas.

The Bergen Record keeps us informed of these latest trends in religious coiffure...

Saudi pageant touts inner beauty

Younger Sikhs giving up long hair, turbans

[hat tip to mimi]


Be Nice. Visit of Pope Benedict XVI Brings Many Tourists to Israel

Israel's Ministry of Tourism sends us a completely materialist message about the Pope's visit this week to Israel: Tone down your rhetoric and criticism.

Why? Because the Pontiff's trip will net the State of Israel up to 200,000 additional tourists this year.

Okay, we get it.
Israel hopes for tourism, image boost from pope

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli officials are hoping that the visit of Pope Benedict XVI will boost tourism, improve Israel's image and bolster relations between the Jewish state and the Vatican.

Benedict was starting a five-day trip to the Holy Land on Monday, visiting sites in Israel and the West Bank and celebrating Mass in three locations — Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem.

He becomes the second pope to make an official visit to Israel, following John Paul II, who made a trip to the Holy Land for the 2000 millennium year.

Israeli tourism officials said Sunday that 15,000 Christian pilgrims are expected to join the pope, in addition to the 35,000 who come to the Holy Land every week.

Tourism officials said they hope the papal visit will attract an additional 200,000 Christian pilgrims to visit the country during the rest of the year. Officials already are expecting about 2.6 million tourists this year.

"I call on every person of faith in the world to visit Jerusalem at least once in their life," Jerusalem's Israeli mayor, Nir Barkat, said Sunday.

Briefing reporters, Israeli Tourism Minister Yuli Edelstein hoped the images of the pope at prayer would push aside some of the impressions of Israel as a focus of war and violence....more...

ChattahBox: Brian Cuban Wants Facebook to Remove Holocaust Denial Groups

Now for a walk on the dark side of social networking.

While brother Mark roots for his NBA Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs, Brian Cuban is battling Facebook to get it to remove overtly antisemitic Holocaust denial groups from its system.

Cuban has made a strong and clever Talmudic case against Facebook, arguing that such materials are illegal in many countries hence their presence on Facebook violates its Terms of Service. So far Brian has not prevailed.
FaceBook Says: Holocaust-Denial Groups Will Stay Put

(ChattahBox)— Dallas attorney Brian Cuban is on a mission to remove Holocaust-denial groups from the social-networking site, Facebook. Cuban, 48-years old and younger brother of Mark Cuban, the colorful billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, is of Russian Jewish descent and appalled at the hate speech on the Holocaust revisionist sites.

Cuban notes that social media has allowed hate groups like Holocaust-deniers, to find other like minded individuals and operate under the Internet cloak of anonymity. These sites have names like, “Holocaust: A series of Lies,” and “Based on the facts…There was no Holocaust.”

To be sure, Holocaust denial is an ugly phenomenon and promoted for the most part, by extreme fringe groups. But even some educated people who should know better are Holocaust deniers...more...


CSM: Pope Benedict XVI Damage Control Tour Celebrity Hype

Pope Benedict XVI's Damage Control Middle East Tour schedule includes 28 speeches and visits to controversial locations throughout the area. We think the trip is one big bad idea.

Benedict has stirred up trouble with Jews and Muslims in the past. We don't see anything positive for either group in this Papal trip. Ruth Ellen Gruber at JTA spins the trip as, "Pope's visit to Israel fraught with potential minefields." It does not sound like the CSM is too optimistic either.

The good news is that Papal influence on world politics is at an all time low. We see this whole exercise at best as a lot of celebrity hype and one big photo-op for the news media, especially interesting if there are any papal gaffs, anti-pope demonstrations or terrorist security breaches.
Pope embarks on Mideast fence-mending trip
His pilgrimage this week is also a chance to reassure Jews and Muslims about Vatican views.
By Jane Lampman | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Pope Benedict XVI calls his visit to the Holy Land this week a spiritual pilgrimage, a journey to the sites most sacred to the Christian imagination. Yet it also may become a defining moment of his pontificate, presenting opportunities to reach publics in the Muslim and Jewish worlds that continue to express outrage or dismay over papal actions of recent years.

While his predecessor's 2000 visit to the region came after John Paul II had engaged for decades with other faiths and apologized for the church's historical wrongs against Jews and Muslims, Pope Benedict has been embroiled in controversy for actions many people have considered insensitive, if not provocative.

"It is a pilgrimage, but we can understand pilgrimage as an encounter not only with holy places but with religious communities and political leaders," says a Vatican source familiar with his plans. "It will give the Holy Father the occasion to say again what he believes with regard to religious relations."

As the pope travels from May 8 to 15 to Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel, he also will spend time with local Christian communities, which are themselves under great pressures. Stops include Bethlehem, Nazareth, and Jerusalem, where he'll visit the Dome of the Rock (Islam's third-holiest site), the Western Wall, and the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust.

Since becoming head of the Roman Catholic Church in 2005, the pope has continued the religious outreach initiated by the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, meeting periodically with Jewish leaders and joining last November in a Catholic-Muslim Forum sought by Islamic leaders.

But he also has had serious missteps, such as a 2006 speech that included a historical quote denigrating Islam and the prophet Muhammad, and his reinstatement in January of a once-excommunicated bishop who denies the Holocaust.Jewish leaders who've met with Vatican officials since this latest furor are satisfied with the church's reassurances, but many other Jews remain doubtful.

"There is still an impression that there has been some backtracking on the part of the Vatican," says Rabbi David Rosen, a longtime participant in top-level Catholic-Jewish dialogue. "If all goes well, the trip will be very important in reinforcing the Christian-Jewish relationship and putting to rest the fears" of the public.

Pope Benedict has chalked up one successful trip involving damage control. He calmed many Muslims' fears during a 2006 visit to Turkey, where he respectfully prayed next to the grand mufti in Istanbul's Blue Mosque...more...


Forward: A Blast from the Jewish Studies Past - Dropsie College Remembered by Jenna Weissman Joselit

Jenna Weissman Joselit writes in the Forward, "Succeeding Yourself Out of Business" about The Dropsie College for Hebrew and Cognate Learning which functioned from 1907 until 1986.

When we were deciding on a career, we read a lot about Dropsie. And we read a lot of books and articles by scholars who had studied or taught there. Indeed, Bernard Revel the first President of Yeshiva College wrote his doctoral thesis on Karaite Judaism at Dropsie in 1911.

In its time the school served an important purpose in the cultivation of Jewish scholarship in America and helped pave the way for Jewish Studies to enter the mainstream of academic life. Joselit writes,
...A chance encounter with a book from that library, now a part of the holdings of Penn’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, fed my curiosity about Dropsie’s once glorious past. Coming of age in a different era, I had remained completely in the dark about the school’s existence until I happened upon a volume that still bore the shadowy markings of its former steward. I don’t recall the title, but the sobering realization that a proud institution named Dropsie College had once existed but was no more stayed with me through the years....more

BR: The Nasty Teaneck Layoff Plans and School Budget Cuts

We've seen in the last day a thread of mean spirited emails circulating among citizens and local politicians about Teaneck's school budget and related issues.
Teaneck set to cut $1M from schools

TEANECK — The Township Council appears set to cut approximately $1 million from the failed $94.8 million school budget, but council members said the reductions should not affect teacher staff... more...
Not surprising in the current climate, the Bergan Record reports that the town has sent layoff notices, which may not be acted upon, to 47 employees.
Teaneck layoff plan approved
TEANECK — Forty-seven employees — including 28 in the Fire Department — will receive letters today or Friday informing them that they might be laid off or demoted on June 25. But... more...
We've said it before and it's gotten worse. Teaneck is a nasty town with large cadre of boorish local politicians.


Israeli President Shimon Peres Has Lunch at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel

We were passing by on 59th Street - Central Park South - at 2:00 PM today and snapped this phone photo of Israeli President Shimon Peres getting into his limo after leaving his luncheon at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel. A tent entrance was set up for security for his visit and all traffic along the streets was stopped for his departure from the hotel.

Newer Bigger El Grande Amazon Kindle Coming this Summer for $489

[Update - click to pre-order one today]
Amazon has released a newer bigger Kindle. The talking points surrounding it make it a device that will save the faltering newspaper industry. But the only thing that will impact that debacle is the end of the recession and the accompanying revival of advertising.

After our initial euphoria, we found the Kindle 2 sadly lacking - and it reminds us of 1990-like crippled technology.

We tried sending a simple Hebrew file of the Megillah to our Kindle 2 but it displayed pages and pages of boxes. Enough. We don't need no retro-tech. (See the comments below regarding the hack that enables Hebrew - reminding me of 1984.)

But wait. Kindle DX has a native PDF reader. So does this change everything? We sure do hope so.

Some will say that... Kindle 2 and Big Kindle are just gadgets. (But those of us who spent the money have been too embarrassed to admit it.)

The new big one is $489. We just don't understand the business plan yet. Order one anyway!


Video of Living the Biblical Life in Melbourne - Redeeming a Firstborn Male Donkey with a Sheep

The biblical ritual of redeeming a firstborn male donkey with a sheep was performed by Orthodox Jews in Melbourne Australia on Sunday 3rd May 2009.

They called it the Special Mitzvah of Pidyon Petter Chamor. The story of the events leading up to this ceremony, including dramatic DNA tests, can be found at the Yeshiva World News.

Hat tip to our chavrusa Billy, a former Melbourne resident, for bringing all of this to our attention.

The relevant verses are:

Exodus 13:13 - But every first offspring of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, but if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck; and every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.

Exodus 34:20 - You shall redeem with a lamb the first offspring from a donkey; and if you do not redeem it, then you shall break its neck. You shall redeem all the firstborn of your sons. None shall appear before Me empty-handed.

And the video speaks for itself...

Hamas' Khaled Meshal Interview Perpetuates the Impossibility of a Palestinian State

The world will never grant statehood to a people whose leaders are bereft of any semblance of statecraft.

The Hamas leader interviewed by the Times expresses opinions that are so completely out of touch with reality that it should be an embarrassment for any ordinary Palestinian person.

Transcript: Interview With Khaled Meshal of Hamas

The only good news is that Hamas says they have decided to stop firing rockets at Israel.

All the rest is bad news - as for instance this refusal to disavow the Hamas charter which calls for the destruction of Israel - a beautiful, modern, progressive democracy that has celebrated its 61st anniversary as a state.

Hamas invokes logic as a premise while it denies the basic facts of Israel's existence:
...it's not logical for the international community to get stuck on sentences written 20 years ago. It's not logical for the international community to judge Hamas based on these sentences and stay silent when Israel destroys and kills our people.
There is not the slightest indication that Hamas will ever renounce its world-denying worldview. And thus there is not the slightest chance that there will ever be a Palestinian state.