Times' Frank Rich: Is the Tea Party a Terrorist Organization?

They crossed the line and the Times' Frank Rich has called them out for what they are, "The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged," concluding,
...In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”

Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.


Is Paul Krugman Jewish?

Yes, Paul Krugman, winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics is a Jew.

He is the subject of an insightful March 1, 2010 New Yorker article, "The Deflationist - How Paul Krugman found politics" by Larissa MacFarquhar.

A Newsweek cover story about Krugman appeared in the April 6, 2009 issue titled, "Obama’s Nobel Headache" with the tag lines, "Paul Krugman has emerged as Obama's toughest liberal critic. He's deeply skeptical of the bank bailout and pessimistic about the economy. Why the establishment worries he may be right."

Exclusive: Celebrity Purim Party Picture

Mel Gibson, Madonna and Elton John 
attend a Purim party in Brooklyn.

Times Letter: George Washington Did Not Believe that America was a Christian Country

Among the great letters in the Times Magazine, a comment on, How Christian Were the Founders? (February 14, 2010):
It would come as a surprise to George Washington to learn that the Texas State Board of Education is considering requiring students to learn that the United States is a Christian nation founded to advance Christian ideals.

In his letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I., of 1790, Washington described our nation as one in which “all possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” Washington went further: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights,” he said. “For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens . . . while every one shall sit under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The Texas State Board of Education should note that Washington invoked this phrase from the Bible (Micah 4:4) to extend religious diversity, not to favor any particular religion.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark, Chairman of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, New York

Is Depression Good for You?

Some hilarious Purim Torah. Billions of dollars of research have been sunk into understanding the diseases (plural - there are many forms that we have seen) called depression and yet it's like they are constantly starting from square one. What do they spend all that research money on? Seems the more they spend on it, the less they know about depression.

Let's see. You suffer from depression. Should you take pills? Should you go to talk therapy? Should you just grit your teeth and bear the pain? And now the clincher -- Is depression good for you?


We've Got Snow and it reminds us of Leprosy, of Sin and of God's Clothing

Yes, we do have snow in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible.
  • Exodus 4:6
  • Again, the Lord said to him, "Put your hand inside your cloak." He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow.
  • Numbers 12:10
  • When the cloud went away from over the tent, Miriam had become leprous, as white as snow. And Aaron turned towards Miriam and saw that she was leprous.


Ten Orthodox Rabbis who Hate Women

With a heavy heart we post the names of these ten Orthodox rabbis of the Agudath Israel Of America who hate women:

Rabbi Simcha Bunim Ehrenfeld
Rabbi Yitzchok Feigelstock
Rabbi Dovid Feinstein
Rabbi Aharon Feldman
Rabbi Yosef Harari-Raful
Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky
Rabbi Aryeh Malkiel Kotler
Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin
Rabbi Yaakov Perlow
Rabbi Aaron Schechter

Voz in Neis posted their misogynist proclamation:
Rabbi Avi Weiss has conferred “semikha” upon a woman, has made her an Assistant Rabbi at the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale where she carries out certain traditional rabbinical functions, and has now given her the title of “Rabbah” (formerly “Maharat”). He has stated that the change in title is designed to “make it clear that Sara Hurwitz is a full member of our rabbinic staff, a rabbi with the additional quality of a distinct woman’s voice.”

These developments represent a radical and dangerous departure from Jewish tradition and the mesoras haTorah, and must be condemned in the strongest terms. Any congregation with a woman in a rabbinical position of any sort cannot be considered Orthodox.
In the strongest terms we must condemn these women-hating-rabbis. Any rabbi who issues such an evil proclamation cannot be considered a nice person.

Our favorite typo: God's Texts are Like a Massage from a Lover

Found in an iconoclastic op-ed in The Tribe from the Jewish Journal (Unchain your faith, by Rabbi Paul J. Kipnes) about where and how to find God, at first we pondered whether it could be literal, and then we decided it was a typo.
....Choose a text — Torah, Talmud, Midrash, siddur — and get to know it. Like a massage from a lover, God’s texts must be explored on multiple levels to uncover any hidden meanings or delicious nuance...more...

RNS: Catholic Experts Pawlikowski and Fisher Ask Pope to Stop Sainthood for Pius XII

What propels Benedict XVI to seek to make a saint out of Pius XII?

There are learned and respected scholars in the Catholic church that now are publicly begging the pope not to go down this road. [hat tip to henry.]
Call to suspend pope sainthood

VATICAN CITY — Catholic historians and theologians are urging Pope Benedict XVI to suspend the sainthood process for the controversial World War II pontiff Pius XII until further research clarifies Pius' record during the Holocaust.

"Holy Father, we implore you, acting on your wisdom as a renowned scholar, professor and teacher, to be patient" with the sainthood cause, the academics wrote to the pope. "History needs distance and perspective to arrive at these conclusions."


What is the Kabbalah?

Mystical ideas were a part of Jewish belief from its earliest times. In the Middle Ages the doctrines of Jewish mysticism came to full flower. Some historians think that the bleak historical circumstances of the riots, expulsions, and persecutions of the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries forced many Jewish thinkers to retreat into the complicated and esoteric realms of mystical contemplation.

To understand this important side of medieval Jewish thought, we need first to set out a general definition of mysticism. Rufus Jones, an interpreter of mysticism, defines it as follows: "Mysticism expresses the type of religion which puts the emphasis on immediate awareness of relation with God, on direct and intimate consciousness of the Divine Presence. It is religion in its most acute, intense and living stage."

This definition focuses on the experience of God and the extreme feeling of the participant. According to this view, the mystical "moment" is far from a routine and quiet contemplation. It is an alive and vibrant dimension of religious life.

JTA: Jewish Ice Skater Charlie White Wins Silver at Olympics

We've been enjoying the games and would have liked the ice dancing even more if we had known while watching him skate for the US that Charlie White was Jewish. We just found out thanks to JTA.

The ice dancing team of Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky skating for Israel also gave us much nachas.
Jewish ice dancer takes Olympic silver

NEW YORK (JTA) -- Jewish ice dancer Charlie White took a silver medal at the Winter Olympics.

White, with partner Meryl Davis, edged fellow Americans and 2006 silver medalists Ben Agosto and Tanith Belbin, who finished fourth at the Vancouver Games. Agosto also is Jewish.

"We had three great programs, so we are very happy," White said Monday, according to the Vancouver Sun.

Israel's brother-and-sister ice dancing team of Roman and Alexandra Zaretsky finished 10th. They performed to music from "Schindler's List" in the free dance Monday night at the Pacific Coliseum. The music was chosen in part as a tribute to 27 family members that died in Minsk, Belarus, during the Holocaust, the Jewish Chronicle reported.

“The music is amazing. We just weren’t sure we could skate it or not,” Roman Zaretsky told The Star-Ledger, a New Jersey newspaper. “I think it brought the balance -- music and skating together. It doesn’t matter when you hear it, it’s the greatest music, and we wanted to try it.”


CSM on the Israeli Masbirim Program: 70 ways to avoid shouting and arguing

Ilene Prusher from CSM writes, "From Israel, a plan to win friends and influence people by working on its image." She summarizes the initiative of citizen propagandists (our term) that the government launched as described on their site, Masbirim Yisrael.

See if you can pick up the not so subtle irony in the CSM story as the head of the program talks about why they have 70 workshops in place.
The government is launching a media campaign to get Israelis to "change the picture" of how they are portrayed through the global media, and dozens of workshops on how to conduct one-on-one discussions with people they meet when they travel abroad....

"In this climate, anti-Semitism is flourishing. Israeli speakers can't appear on university campuses without being heckled and booed. And some outlets will spread terrible lies, such as Israel going to Haiti to do organ harvesting, when we're busy saving lives," says Yuli Edelstein, the Benjamin Netanyahu's Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, who is in charge of the program....

"We already have 70 workshops scheduled in which we will address the issue of how to deliver the message, how to avoid shouting and arguing," Edelstein explains. "This is very important. Israelis sometimes have this image of being, you know, loud and arrogant." ...more...

Is the JPost Personal Mehitza Story a Spoof or a Sad Fact of Haredi Life?

We honestly don't know if this is a real story or a Purim spoof. The blogger Muqata has spoofed it in either case with a variety of mild and well-deserved mockeries.
‘Personal mehitzas’ marketed for haredim
Portable nylon device serves as shield from in-flight movies, neighbors.

Haredi airline passengers are being advised to hang a new type of mehitza – a halachic barrier to separate the sexes – around the top of their airplane seats, to shield their eyes from immodest neighbors and in-flight movies.

The Rabbinical Council for Public Transportation, which is also representing the haredi community on the issue of gender-segregated “mehadrin” buses, is now placing advertisements in haredi newspapers encouraging the community to purchase the traveler mehitzas.

The new mehitzas, made of white nylon, stick onto the fabric of the airplane chair using Velcro and can be arranged to make a protective “shield.” The mehitza goes around the head and is mostly in front of the passenger’s face, protruding only a little to the sides. Its designer, who asked that his name not be published, declined to share pictures and his design details, but said the mehitzas were “airy” and did not bother anybody.

“They’re very nice,” said Rabbi Shimon Stern, spokesman for the Rabbinic Council for Public Transportation. “Very cute. It’s very practical.”

The mehitzas are designed to be portable and fit into a small box, which passengers can bring on the plane.

The airplane mehitzas come in the wake of other recent steps by the haredi community to avoid immodesty, such as the mehadrin bus lines and separate-sex sidewalks in Jerusalem’s Geula neighborhood...more...

Video of The Olympic Yarmulka on Ice - Zaretzkys Ice Dancing

We are always moved by Israeli athletes in the Olympic games. It's a great source of pride, a symbol of the accomplishments of Zionism and the State of Israel in the world. In this video of the Zaretskys in the ice dancing competition you get a bonus. As part of his composite folk costume, Roman Zaretsky wears a yarmulka (kippah).

A very good friend commented, "This reminds me of the Thursday night years ago when I asked my future wife for the first time to skate with me at Sky Rink during couples only. I was wearing my kippah and (allowing for some embellishment in recollections over time) the both of us looked and skated back then just about like the Zaretskys did last night at the Olympics."

See the video here.


Was Moses Maimonides Jewish?

Yes, Moses Maimonides was a Jew. Many erudite Jews would say that the scholar Maimonides was the greatest Jew of all times.

Here is a summary about Maimonides that we wrote a while back.

The contributions of Maimonides in the twelfth century (d. 1204) illustrate how deeply Judaism absorbed the impact of Islamic culture, even while rejecting its religion.

The Islamic cultural context of the Jews in the Middle Ages influenced the style and thought of Judaism. In the thought of Judah Halevi we see, for instance, how a rabbi used the style of philosophical discourse. Still, Halevi rejected the content of the philosopher's message. Reason and rationality, he said, were subservient to revelation, philosophy, and tradition. Some trace a relationship between Halevi and Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111, author of the Incoherence of the Philosophers).


Is Tiger Woods Jewish?

Yes, Tiger Woods is a Jew by avatar. The Buddhist golfer has served as the avatar of former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who is a Jew.

Film director James Cameron apologized on all the major networks on Friday for enabling the world's most awful politician Eliot Spitzer to enter the body of the world's greatest golfer and avatar Tiger Woods each night for the last several years.

Cameron said, "Tiger has nothing to apologize for. All the trouble Woods got into is my fault for allowing Spitzer to inhabit Woods' body."

Cameron enabled this to occur because for several years he has been shooting his next film, "Governor Golfer's Avatar Journey on the Titanic."


Torah wins gold medal in olympic snowboarding

Torah BrightIs she Jewish? No, Torah Bright is not a Jew. She is a Mormon. But we could not resist that headline!
Torah Bright wins gold medal

Australian snowboarder Torah Bright has won gold in the women's half-pipe at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

After falling on her first attempt in the final, the 23-year-old had a near perfect run in her second attempt to post a score of 45 and claim gold ahead of Americans Hannah Teter and Kelly Clark.

Fellow Aussie Holly Crawford finished eighth.

The town of Cooma in New South Wales' Snowy Mountains is celebrating the Olympic Gold Medal won by their local.

Acting Mayor of the Cooma-Monaro Shire Council, Dean Lynch, says the whole town is proud of its home-grown hero.

Bright's gold is Australia's first at the Games.
[hat tip to david]

Bais Yaakov administrator Rabbi Milton Balkany arrested in Dumb Talmudic Hedge Fund Extortion Plot

What ever happened to the simple old fashioned days when an extortionist demanded that a brown paper bag full of bills be left on a park bench?

You ask, how convoluted and dumb can a criminal get? Apparently one rabbi has been charged with getting stupidly Talmudic.
Brooklyn School Dean Charged With Trying To Extort $4 Million From Hedge Fund

NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- The dean of a Hebrew day school in Brooklyn was arrested and charged Thursday in an alleged scheme to extort $4 million from a Connecticut hedge fund.

Rabbi Milton Balkany, the dean of the Bais Yaakov day school in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn, was charged with wire fraud, extortion, blackmail and making false statements.

Balkany, 63 years old, faces up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud count...

On Thursday, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan alleged Balkany, between December 2009 and February 2010, contacted the lawyers for a Connecticut hedge fund, claiming an inmate to whom he was a spiritual advisor told him the hedge fund received inside information in 2004 and in 2005 to make profitable trades in at least six stocks...

Annals of Jewish Spirituality: Bob Arum fights Jonathan Ballan over a bar mitzvah and a Yuri Foreman boxing match at Yankee Stadium

Just when you thought that spirituality had disappeared altogether from New York Jewish life, along comes a deeply meaningful tale that restores your faith in the mystical purpose of the ritual celebrations of Judaism in the context of a classical Talmudic dispute.

We hasten to add to the story below that perhaps the disputants in this utterly Talmudic melee forgot how this can be resolved. We still have the two Yankee Stadiums. One can be used for a bar mitzvah - where they can serve ice cream and cokes - and at the very same time the other can be used for an Orthodox Jewish boxing match where they can serve all beef kosher hot dogs and beer.

Another chapter in the Annals of Jewish Spirituality and Talmudic Disputation ripped from the headlines of the Times. [Hat tip to Barak.]
Bar Mitzvah May Complicate Plans for a Bout in the Bronx

Bob Arum, the boxing promoter, has seen his share of great fighters: Muhammad Ali, Ken Norton, Manny Pacquiao. He can add Jonathan Ballan to that list.

Ballan, the lead bond lawyer for the financing of Yankee Stadium, reserved the stadium for his son’s bar mitzvah on Saturday, June 5. In addition to providing lounges, the Yankees promised to give the Ballan party access to the stadium’s giant scoreboard in center field for 30 minutes.

But now the Yankees are negotiating with Arum to hold the first boxing event at the new stadium on, you guessed it, June 5. The 30,000 or so fans expected at the bout would probably not enjoy seeing a montage of Ballan family photos on the scoreboard.

Archives of Journals Judaism and Hebrew Studies online

Two Jewish studies journals have come online on an ad sponsored site, The Free Library.


Is the Tea Party Jewish?

No, the Tea Party has very few Jews as members or supporters.

The Buzzflash Blog wrote this up in January, "The Tea Pary Movement's Jewish Problem." He concludes, "...a seasoned kibitzer might say that if you put all the Jews that have attended Tea Party rallies together, you still wouldn’t have enough for a minion."

The Jewish Week deals with the question this week in, "Tea Party Revolution Could Undermine Republican Jewish Outreach." Their conclusion is, "Jewish voters in general won’t be dramatically affected by the Tea Party movement `because most of them already vote Democratic,' Ginsberg said."


Observer via HuffPost: Times Plagiarist Zachery Kouwe has Resigned

Plagiarism is a capital crime in journalism and in academia. As the offender Kouwe himself says, there are no excuses.

There will be more on this sad event, but for now the NY Observer via HuffPost reports that Times plagiarist Zachery Kouwe has resigned.
Update: The New York Observer's John Koblin spoke to Kouwe, who resigned on Tuesday.

"I was as surprised as anyone that this was occurring," Kouwe said. "I write essentially 7,000 words every week for the blog and for the paper and all that stuff. As soon as I saw, I guess, like six examples, I said to myself, 'Man what an idiot. What I was thinking?'"

"I was stupid and careless and fucked up and thought it was my own stuff, or it somehow slipped in there," he added. "I think that's what probably happened."

Still, he acknowledged the seriousness of his mistakes and did not excuse himself.

"There's no excuse for this," he said. "I understand the seriousness of it. Even if it was inadvertent, that doesn't make it any less serious."

Read Koblin's entire piece here....
Times' editor comment from Koblin, “We have a zero tolerance policy for unethical journalism,” wrote Mr. Keller in an e-mail to The Observer. “Plagiarism is unethical journalism.”


Times: Dan Ariely suggests accept the loss and close your options

Fascinating research that concludes, "the mechanism underlying the tendency to keep doors open is a type of aversion to loss rather than a desire for flexibility."

The Advantages of Closing a Few Doors
We can always tell ourselves that it’s good to keep options open, but is it really?

The book:

"Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions." Dan Ariely. HarperCollins, 2008.

The research paper:

"Keeping Doors Open: The Effect of Unavailability on Incentives to Keep Options Viable." Jiwoong Shin, Dan Ariely. Management Science, May 2004. (PDF)

[repost from 2/09]


Barron's / TechCrunch: Amazon Rumor - Free Kindle

Barron's Eric Savitz reports regarding the TechCrunch story, Amazon Wants To Give A Free Kindle To All Amazon Prime Subscribers,
According to TechCrunch, Amazon.com (AMZN) is considering offering a free Kindle to subscribers to Amazon Prime, a service which gives customers free two-day shipping on everything they buy from the site. A one-year subscription is $79.

The one hitch, according to TechCrunch, which attributes the story to “a reliable source,” is that they want to figure out a way to do it without losing money....
Kindle is worth free.


Good Grief - Google Buzz Goofed - Not

Mea culpa's galore tonight on the Gmail blog (which still has the tag line "Copyright © 2008 Google Inc. All rights reserved.")

The Gmail group apologizes that they lit up their Buzz social networking last week with too much chutzpah - turning on for users their followers and sharing their picasa albums and google readers - without asking them first.

Mega-corporation Google knows they own their services and by contract can do what they want. But they also know that users can walk away from them. So they played a game with Buzz and with us and we are sure it went exactly as planned. The little mock dramas, oops, we made a mistake, we worked hard, and we fixed it, all that does not ring true to us.

We think they "goofed" on purpose, got just what they wanted, millions set up on buzz without having to do a thing, many pages worth of publicity, good press over how "responsive" they were to "user privacy"... smart people over there at Google.

In Mock Defense of Argyle Orthodox Judaism

As we sit and write this post we are wearing a Brooks Brother's Cashmere Argyle Sweater. The sweater represents a style and substance that differentiates us from other types of Orthodox Jews. Together with the other 2 or 3 Jewish bloggers who wear argyle sweaters we constitute what you need to call "Argyle Orthodox Judaism." And it matters not that we have no formal structure for uniting together our various congregations into a denominational movement. It matters not that we have not even a single congregation registered anywhere as Argyle Orthodox. Our movement exists because we say it does.


Did G. W. Bush ever say about the Constitution: 'It's just a goddamned piece of paper'?

A fine article in the Times Magazine ("How Christian Were the Founders?" by Russell Shorto) reviews the struggle in Texas by members of the school board and their backers to inject their brand of Protestant Christian beliefs and values into the public school curriculum of that state.

It's obvious that this activity primarily benefits the majority religion in the country and the larger religious groups with more members and influence to begin with. It's less helpful to Jews and other small religious minorities.

The struggle harks back frequently to "clarify" the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and to other utterances of the founding fathers as a sort of proof of the essential nature of our nation. That's quite a Protestant attitude, instead of waving the bible to support their preaching, they wave another document and claim they providentially know how it supports their agenda.


Newsweek on Gerald Posner: Lies heaped on top of plagiarism

We stopped telling students not to plagiarize when we realized that they did not know what that word meant. Instead we told them that they may not copy anything from anywhere into the work that they present to us as their own unless they tell us they are doing that by using attributions and quotation marks and footnotes.

Students continue to plagiarize no matter what we say. Professors plagiarize too and apparently so do journalists.

When caught, the students are failed, the professors and the journalists are fired, except when they are not, when they get away with their misdeeds, which is most of the time for professors and on occasion for the journalists.

When a plagiarist gets caught he tells a story to explain how it happened, which given the circumstances, we ought to assume is an outright lie.

Is Moishe House Kosher?

No, Moishe House is not kosher. The food there is not kosher and the co-ed living arrangements are not kosher.

That does not mean it's a bad idea. It might be a good concept to promote Jewish activities for young 20 something Jews. It's just not kosher. And the original Moishe might not be happy to hear about that.

The Times writes about Moishe House on what must be a really slow news day in a poorly-titled story, "The Four-Bedroom Kibbutz" (hat tip to Henry):
... Moishe House, a nonprofit group founded in 2006 to help Jewish 20-somethings create communities. Its model is simple: Moishe House subsidizes the rent of groups of three to six residents, in exchange for their promise to organize events for other Jews in their 20s. Just four years old, it now has outposts in 29 cities, including Beijing, Cape Town and Warsaw.

Picture “Real World” — the MTV series — with challah.

Moishe House is run out of a rented office in Oakland, Calif. Its founder and executive director, David Cygielman, who is 28, said that its budget, provided through donations, is now about $1.35 million, or “about that of a medium-sized synagogue, and for that we do about 225 programs a month.” ...more...


Is Gossip Kosher?

In synagogues and yeshivas the evil of gossip is a recurring theme of teaching and preaching.

It's not a coincidence that some rabbis ramp up their interest in this topic just about the time their contract comes up for renewal or during a particularly challenging political struggle.

It's also apparent to anyone who listens to the discourses of the rabbis on this topic, that the content rarely rises above the level of popular psychology.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. In fact we were impressed by this current posting about gossip, "Around the Watercooler: Exploring the psychology of rumors," by Nicholas DiFonzo in a blog of Psychology Today - and nothing shouts pop psych louder than that surprisingly long-lived magazine.

Is gossip kosher then?


Newsweek Loves The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldaña

Lisa Miller in Newsweek loves The Bread of Angels by Stephanie Saldaña and we have no clue why.

Miller says it is because of how she writes about prayer. Just give us a little hint...but no,
...What sets Saldaña's book apart from so many others is the very convincing way in which she writes about prayer—and the difficulty of praying. The best section of Elizabeth Gilbert's best seller Eat, Pray, Love was the first—forever etched in my mind as "Eat"—in which the heartbroken narrator wanders around Rome, seeking comfort in pasta. "Pray," though—an account of her tenure at an ashram in India—is a disaster; in a book hailed for its authenticity, Gilbert's attempts at penetrating the spiritual experience are clumsy and too-cute. "I got pulled through the wormhole of the Absolute, and in that rush I suddenly understood the workings of the universe altogether." The wormhole? Dante, poor man, spins.

Some of Christianity's first monks and hermits inhabited the same caves that Saldaña seeks out, in a desert that's as frigid, desolate, and inhospitable as any place on earth. Saldaña knows well this desert's history and its importance to her own tradition. When she wrestles with the demons and angels that are her thoughts—which come to her through close reading of Scripture—she is rooted (unlike Gilbert) in decades of Catholic practice, and in her more recent study of biblical literature. In the monastic tradition, she writes, the desert is "a mirror, where the silence and emptiness become so vast that the only things left to meet here are the self and God…Here is the strange world where the blue line between the interior and the exterior world collapses, where the imagination is given a body. Our thoughts take on flesh in the empty air." Alone in the desert, Saldaña weeps, she sleeps, she gnashes her teeth. One believes in her visions. Better, one believes in them without being embarrassed for her....more...

Thanks for dropping in 500,000 times. Y'all come back again soon.

Tzvee's Talmudic blog crossed (can we use that term here?) the 500,000 visitor mark today.

Thanks for dropping in.

Y'all come back again soon.

Celebrity look alike factoid. Did you know that Tzvee x 61% = Leonard Cohen?

Science Validates the Bible: Genetics Proves Again that Cohanim are Cohanim

You want proof that Cohanim are Cohnaim, that Jewish priests are Jewish priests? Okay, we got proof.
Extended Y chromosome haplotypes resolve multiple and unique lineages of the Jewish priesthood. Hum Genet. 2009 Nov;126(5):707-17. Epub 2009 Aug 8.

Hammer MF, Behar DM, Karafet TM, Mendez FL, Hallmark B, Erez T, Zhivotovsky LA, Rosset S, Skorecki K.

ARL Division of Biotechnology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ 85721, USA.

It has been known for over a decade that a majority of men who self report as members of the Jewish priesthood (Cohanim) carry a characteristic Y chromosome haplotype termed the Cohen Modal Haplotype (CMH). The CMH has since been used to trace putative Jewish ancestral origins of various populations. However, the limited number of binary and STR Y chromosome markers used previously did not provide the phylogenetic resolution needed to infer the number of independent paternal lineages that are encompassed within the Cohanim or their coalescence times. Accordingly, we have genotyped 75 binary markers and 12 Y-STRs in a sample of 215 Cohanim from diverse Jewish communities, 1,575 Jewish men from across the range of the Jewish Diaspora, and 2,099 non-Jewish men from the Near East, Europe, Central Asia, and India. ... These results support the hypothesis of a common origin of the CMH in the Near East well before the dispersion of the Jewish people into separate communities, and indicate that the majority of contemporary Jewish priests descend from a limited number of paternal lineages.
And to understand what this means, read, "New Genetic Research Indicates Jewish Priesthood Has Multiple Lineages".


Understanding America 101: The 2010 Super Bowl was the most watched TV program ever

So you want to understand America. You want to know how to succeed in the USA. You want to know what makes us tick. This is not the whole story, but it is a simple place to start. Pay attention to what people watch on TV.
Super Bowl most watched program ever
Posted by Judd Zulgad

The Super Bowl always has provided an extraordinary number of viewers. But it wasn’t the most-watched program in U.S. television history -- until Sunday.

The Saints’ 31-17 victory over Colts was watched by an estimated average of 106.5 million viewers on CBS, meaning it surpassed the final episode of M*A*S*H in 1983 (106 million) to become the most-watched program in television history according to Nielsen.

CBS’ coverage had a fast national household rating of 45.0 and a 68 share, up 7 percent from last year’s 42.0 rating and 64 share for Pittsburgh’s victory over Arizona.

Sunday’s game was the highest-rated Super Bowl in 14 years.

Times: Eric Lax Argues Love is Greater than Faith

In a moving and confusing op-ed ("Have Faith in Love") Eric Lax (not Jewish, but is the author of "Woody Allen: A Biography") argues that love is, or ought to be, greater than faith.

We say confusing because we see religion as a public corporate entity and we see love as a personal bond of individuals.

Yet while we don't follow his logic, we do admire Lax's sentiments.

Is Eli Broad Jewish?

Yes, Los Angeles businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad is a Jew. He is the son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. Broad grew up in Detroit where he was at first a $75-a-week accountant. He now has a net worth of about $5.2 billion, making him Forbes' 93-richest person in the world. Quite an achievement.

Nevertheless, in 2008 Dean Rotbart chastised Broad in the Jewish Journal for not giving enough to Jewish causes.

It turns out now that his weak beneficence to Jewish causes may have been a blessing in disguise. Mr. Broad, it appears, is also a control freak. And yes, saying that highlights the difference between the NY Times and this blog, for those of you who confuse the two.

True, the Times' story, "Wielding Iron Checkbook to Shape Cultural Los Angeles," about Broad's style of philanthropy, does not use the term "control freak." Constrained by the canons of good journalism, it uses circumlocutions and euphemisms for that concept. But the article paints a picture of a man whose involvement in his charity is so intrusive and overbearing that no other description befits him.

Only the Lord knows what Broad would have wanted the Yeshivas to do if he had donated more money to them.


Talmudic Darwin by Ben Fry

"On the Origin of Species: The Preservation of Favoured Traces" by Ben Fry is a truly amazing Talmudic site that graphically illustrates in a compact fashion the how the six editions of On the Origin of Species evolved from 1859 to 1872. You just mouse over the changing image (you can set the progression to fast or slow) and you read the text. (Hat tip to Wired.) Fry explains,
We often think of scientific ideas, such as Darwin's theory of evolution, as fixed notions that are accepted as finished. In fact, Darwin's On the Origin of Species evolved over the course of several editions he wrote, edited, and updated during his lifetime. The first English edition was approximately 150,000 words and the sixth is a much larger 190,000 words. In the changes are refinements and shifts in ideas — whether increasing the weight of a statement, adding details, or even a change in the idea itself.

The second edition, for instance, adds a notable “by the Creator” to the closing paragraph, giving greater attribution to a higher power. In another example, the phrase “survival of the fittest” — usually considered central to the theory and often attributed to Darwin — instead came from British philosopher Herbert Spencer, and didn't appear until the fifth edition of the text. Using the six editions as a guide, we can see the unfolding and clarification of Darwin's ideas as he sought to further develop his theory during his lifetime.


A Video Boo: Tim Tebow's mother's fabrication about her abortion choice

New Yorker has a dynamite rebuttal story, The Tebow Defense, posted by Amy Davidson.

They also embed this effective video response to the Tebow ad.

We did our own a two minute search and concluded that Pam Tebow made up her story.

Tim Tebow's mother claims in a national TV Superbowl ad that she was told to have an abortion in the Philipines in 1987 and decided not to do it. That claim is just patently false since abortion was illegal in the Philippines at that time and still is today.

Mrs. Tebow made no choice or decision based on religion. Her only legal option in that country at the time was to have the child, who is the athlete Tim Tebow.

Wikipedia reports:
The basic status of Abortion in the Philippines is that it is illegal, or banned by rule of law.

The act is criminalized by the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines, which was enacted in 1930 and remains in effect today. Articles 256, 258 and 259 of the Code mandate imprisonment for the woman who undergoes the abortion, as well as for any person who assists in the procedure, even if they be the woman's parents, a physician or midwife. Article 258 further imposes a higher prison term on the woman or her parents if the abortion is undertaken "in order to conceal [the woman's] dishonor".

There is no law in the Philippines that expressly authorizes abortions in order to save the woman's life; and the general provisions which do penalize abortion make no qualifications if the woman's life is endangered. It may be argued that an abortion to save the mother's life could be classified as a justifying circumstance (duress as opposed to self-defense) that would bar criminal prosecution under the Revised Penal Code. However, this has yet to be adjudicated by the Philippine Supreme Court.

Proposals to liberalize Philippine abortion laws have been opposed by the Catholic Church, and its opposition has considerable influence in the predominantly Catholic country. However, the constitutionality of abortion restrictions has yet to be challenged before the Philippine Supreme Court.

The present Constitution of the Philippines, enacted in 1987, pronounces as among the policies of the State that "[The State] shall equally protect the life of the mother and the life of the unborn from conception." (sec. 12, Art. II)
Analysis: Running this ad is a big mistake for the religious right. They crudely violated a cultural convention about keeping all religion out of our sports. They've been eroding that boundary for years and finally thought they have the money and can do what they please. Well, they cannot. The backlash to this breach will be mighty, long-lasting and decisive.

So boo to Pam Tebow for her misleading story and to her friends for trampling on our cultural norms. And yay to the American public, to freedom and to pluralism.

Recap: For the top 5 Tebow eye black biblical verses, see the Christian Science Monitor.

We believe wearing your verses in your eye black during a sporting contest gives a black eye to your respect for your own religion and attacks the values of religious pluralism in the USA.

Postgame: The actual ad was so silly, inconclusive and ambiguous that there will be no backlash, no further controversy over this matter.

The Other Controversial Super Bowl Ad

JC Warning: Fake Judaica on Ebay

Fake: spice boxes with “cherubs”. Beware! JC.com warns us that in Europe there is a lot of fake Judaica for sale on Ebay.

Fake Judaica floods online auction sites

By Marcus Dysch

Collectors of Judaica are being warned of a rise in fake items being sold online.

Internet market sites such as eBay advertise hundreds of items including yads, figurines, kiddush cups and havdalah spice boxes.

But buyers have reported incidents of pieces being advertised as 19th century Russian antiques which, when purchased, turn out to be cheap, modern replicas.

Times: How Alan Shlomo Veingrad went from the Super Bowl to Baal Teshuva

There's an inspiring and true story in the Times of how Alan Shlomo Veingrad went from the Super Bowl to Baal Teshuva.
...A promotional flier announced the evening’s subject as “Super Bowl to Super Jew.” There was truth in that advertising. Mr. Veingrad goes these days by his Hebrew name, Shlomo. He wore a black skullcap and the ritual fringes called tzitzit; he wore the Super Bowl ring he won in 1992 with the Dallas Cowboys and the Rolex watch that was a gift from Emmitt Smith, the team’s star running back.

Within his 6-foot-5 frame, Mr. Veingrad embodies two Jewish archetypes that do not often meet. He is the ba’al guf, the Jewish strongman, and the ba’al teshuva, the returnee to the faith. While two Jewish boxers on the scene now — Yuri Foreman and Dimitriy Salita — also are prominently observant, Mr. Veingrad may well be the only Orthodox athlete from the United States’ hugely popular team sports.

“I believe I played in the N.F.L. and have that ring so I can share my story with other Jews,” Mr. Veingrad, 46, said shortly before the U.S.C. event.

During it, he told a spellbound capacity audience, “The Torah is a playbook for how someone can live their life...” more
See the video in our post from last year on Veingrad.

jstandard: Dr. Miryam Wahrman's cover stories on cystic fibrosis

"Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease affecting about 30,000 people in the United States. It is more prevalent in Caucasians. The incidence among Ashkenazi Jews is similar to that for Tay-Sachs: About one in 29 Ashkenazi Jews is a carrier. Carriers have no symptoms, but when two carriers have a child there is a one in four chance that the child will have CF."


Chilton: Was Jesus a mamzer?

Was Jesus a mamzer? Bard Professor Bruce Chilton discusses the question in an interesting article on the web.

He asks, "So why did some people accuse Jesus of being born of fornication (porneia, John 8:41)? Was it for the same reason he was called “son of Mary” in his own town (Mark 6:3) rather than “son of Joseph”? What emerges from both Rabbinic literature (supplemented by Origen) and the New Testament is that Jesus’ mother was clearly known and that the identity of his father was contested."

See the answers in the article here.

repost from 1/24/07

WP: Mannequin Pisses Off the Police

Here is something we always mused about doing - especially on the bridges where a carpool means a big discount.
Cops: NY driver used mannequin in car pool laneISLANDIA, N.Y. -- The tip-off was the sunglasses.

A New Yorker faces a $135 traffic fine for using a mannequin as her "plus one" in the high-occupancy vehicle lane of the Long Island Expressway.

An alert sheriff's deputy on Long Island became suspicious this week when he saw the "passenger" wearing sunglasses and using the visor. The problem: The sky was overcast.

When he stopped the vehicle, he found the mannequin, fully dressed with a long dark wig, blazer, shirt and scarf.

The 61-year-old driver left with a summons.

Larry David - One Sick Puppy - And a Treatment for Schizophrenics

Reposted from 2007 because we are getting visitors from a popular web site that has raised the question of what we think about Larry David...

Without fail every time I watch the Larry David Show on HBO, I say out loud at the conclusion, "That man is one sick puppy." I think his show is a riot - especially the episodes with the neurotic Jewish content.

Now New Yorker reports that psychologists have discovered that his sick comic situations are perfect illustrations for demonstrating to schizophrenics what not to do in social situations. So I am right... but I will keep watching 'cause it's just too funny.

From the article, The Best Medicine: We Are All Larry David
by Jacob Ward

...So Roberts began showing TV clips during therapy sessions. Soon he had narrowed his selections down to one show: television’s purest expression of social dysfunction, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Roberts considers Larry David to be the perfect proxy for a schizophrenic person. “On his way into his dentist’s office, he holds the door open for a woman, and, as a result, she’s seen first,” he said. “He stews, he fumes, he explodes. He’s breaking the social rules that folks with schizophrenia often break.” He went on, “Or the one where Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen invite Larry and his wife to a concert: the night arrives, they don’t call, Larry assumes they don’t like him, then it turns out he got the date wrong. It’s a classic example of a major social cognitive error—jumping to conclusions—that schizophrenic patients are prone to.” As the patients watched David flub situation after situation, they laughed, and they willingly discussed with Roberts how they might behave in the same circumstances. “That bald man made a mountain out of a molehill!” one woman called out during a session... more  [reposted from 10/22/07]


Euphemisms at the JCC on the Palisades?


...adult male members? (call us what you will...)
...permanent changes... downstairs? (...what did you have in mind?)

on seeing this post, a good friend writes, "didn't anyone ever teach them the meaning of double entendre? what a riot!" and we reply, "isn't it fun to be talmudic?"

Newsweek: Irving Kirsch Book Claims Antidepressants no better than placebos

A new book by Irving Kirsch claims that antidepressant medications like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Effexor and Wellbutrin are no better at curing depression than placebos.

"The belief that antidepressants can cure depression chemically is simply wrong," the author told Newsweek.

His book is The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Anti-depressant Myth.

This is scary stuff. Yikes.


Orthodox Judaism Caused the Holocaust

Sounds pretty stupid when you turn it around, doesn't it?

Our friend David Ellenson opined in 2007 in the Forward about the Orthodox rabbis in Israel who were saying that Reform Judaism is the cause of the Holocaust and who refuse to give legitimacy to the Reform rabbinate.

This pains Ellenson as it should since he is the head of the Reform seminary, president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

But this Orthodox rhetoric no longer bothers us. Our rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, would say about pronouncements like those of Mordecai Eliyahu, the former Israeli chief Sephardic rabbi, that they are essentially sorcery - neither theology nor history - but rather the equivalent of witchcraft, magic or the occult.

And we say that pushing a Reform rabbi out of a memorial ceremony is nothing more than sheer bullying.

So, if these Orthodox "rabbis" want to be known as sorcerers and bullies, they have our blessing. But in our eyes they are no longer "rabbis."

Here is start of Rabbi Ellenson's article.
Obscene Orthodox Hatred Demands a Clear Denunciation
David Ellenson | Fri. May 04, 2007

Several weeks ago, the former Israeli chief Sephardic rabbi, Mordecai Eliyahu, charged that the Holocaust was divine punishment meted out against our people on account of the sin of Reform Judaism. Such an accusation is infuriating, and unleashes unnecessary hatred and incitement among Jews.

But there is unfortunately nothing particularly novel about this obscenity. I heard this charge made from the pulpit of my Orthodox synagogue by a rabbi when I was a teenager, and all students of modern Jewish intellectual history and thought are aware that the Satmar rebbe issued this charge against Reform and secular Zionism in the years immediately after World War II.

Indeed, it is commonplace enough that I might not have been moved to speak out were it not for a second incident that occurred at a memorial ceremony in Israel, in the coastal city of Hod Hasharon... more
//repost from 5/3/07//

The Holocaust Denial of Orthodox Judaism

[Thoughts reposted from 4-15-07. Haven't changed our opinion.]

Orthodoxy claims to be the most authentic form of Judaism. All those fasts and feasts and taboos and rituals - who can surpass the Orthodox? The special clothing, the mannerisms, the cloistered study of Torah - who can deny that they are the real deal?

It's time to look again.

The Tanakh teaches us that our history matters. What happens to the Jews is real and meaningful and G-d is visible to us through our history.

It's up to us to recognize that and to be the active protagonists in the historical role that's been decreed for us.

Denying that is heresy.

And that's what the Orthodox have been doing for years...
Denying the story of the Holocaust has theological meaning and should be part of our faith and ritual.
Denying the State of Israel has theological meaning and should be part of our faith and ritual.
You will point to a few meager prayers and say that I am wrong. I will point to book after book, lecture after lecture, that refuses to acknowledge any theological meaning in the reality of our people's sadness and triumphs over the past century.

By not recognizing the sadness of the Holocaust at the center of our religious life - that is the real crime of Holocaust denial.

By not recognizing the triumphs of the State of Israel every day, three times a day, and in a glorious and central expression of our practice and preaching - that is another crime of gross denial.

And so the most pious looking can also be the most heretical.

That's my koan for today.

Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Out-of-the-box Orthodox Bible study

We liked our 2007 review so much that we are running it again.

“Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Tanakh Companion to the Book of Samuel: Bible Study in the Spirit of Open and Modern Orthodoxy,” Ben Yehuda Press (2006), Teaneck, $19.95, 284 pages.

The Two Wives Club; Job Requirements for Israelite Kings; David’s Delivery Service; Dressed to Kill; Private Affair; Nepotism and Regret; Up on the Roof; Woolly Parable — are these the titles of this year’s fiction best-sellers or Oscar-nominated films?

No, they are a sample of the section titles that the reader will find in a locally published, exciting new volume of studies on the biblical book of Samuel published by the Ben Yehuda Press.

Teaneck has become a vibrant locale for Jewish publishing thanks to Larry and Eve Yudelson. The works coming out of their press provide traditional Jewish learning informed by what they call “the spirit of open and modern Orthodoxy.”


Is Henry Paulson Jewish?

No, Henry Paulson, is not a Jew. He is a Christian Scientist.

Before he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury in July 2006, Paulson did serve as Chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs (1999-2006), an investment bank that has had numerous Jewish executives over the years.

After he engineered the national financial bailout in September 2008, Newsweek proclaimed Paulson "King Henry" and put him on its cover.

His new book is called, On the Brink.