What are the four forms of Jewish meditation?

Rabbinic Judaism is a thoroughly meditative religion. In a recently completed paper we show how the Jewish meditator’s kavvanah takes at least four forms. Here are some excerpts…

In the first form of kavvanah, blessings are formulaic texts that appear liberally around the landscape of prescribed rabbinic practice. Blessings demand mindful meditative awareness of the physical world. The blessings for deriving benefit and for the performance of the commandments are mini-mindful meditative experiences for the meditator, interspersed throughout the waking day.

Judaism articulates a system of blessings for food, the meal, other ritual performances and natural events. Though frequent and repetitive, those brief, even momentary, performances are habituated spiritual pauses for meditation. This manner of meditation that we describe in the liturgical personality approximates what we typically call “mindfulness.”...


Rabbis, Pirates and Goldman Sachs

Three respected rabbis spoke out on the issue of copyright piracy at a conclave in Israel, reports the IP Factor blog. Rabbi Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, Rav Shlomo Dzialowski and Rav Yitzhak HaLevi Clab made presentations:
...All three authorities accepted that since Halacha considers Civil Law on monetary matters as binding anyway, Copyright and Contract Law were sufficient to obligate parties not to make illegal downloads or installations. The ... discussion is, therefore, theoretical, in the sense that Talmudic or halakhic sources are not strictly speaking required...
We applaud this effort at leadership, even if it means that rabbis just provide Judaic support for existing civil law. That's welcome, it's good citizenship, we need more of it....more on the meeting here ...

And while we are on the subject of pirates, the Borowitz Report, hilariously rips into Goldman Sachs with this take down (hat tip to Mimi):
Somali Pirates Say They Are Subsidiary of Goldman Sachs

NORFOLK, VIRGINIA (The Borowitz Report) - Eleven indicted Somali pirates dropped a bombshell in a U.S. court today, revealing that their entire piracy operation is a subsidiary of banking giant Goldman Sachs.

There was an audible gasp in court when the leader of the pirates announced, "We are doing God's work. We work for Lloyd Blankfein."

The pirate, who said he earned a bonus of $48 million in dubloons last year, elaborated on the nature of the Somalis' work for Goldman, explaining that the pirates forcibly attacked ships that Goldman had already shorted.

"We were functioning as investment bankers, only every day was casual Friday," the pirate said.

The pirate acknowledged that they merged their operations with Goldman in late 2008 to take advantage of the more relaxed regulations governing bankers as opposed to pirates, "plus to get our share of the bailout money."

In the aftermath of the shocking revelations, government prosecutors were scrambling to see if they still had a case against the Somali pirates, who would now be treated as bankers in the eyes of the law.

"There are lots of laws that could bring these guys down if they were, in fact, pirates," one government source said. "But if they're bankers, our hands are tied." 


Israel Decides iPad is Kosher and it is not the Biblical Ephod

Israeli authorities determined that the iPad is Kosher and may be imported into the country.

Officially the government had circulated a dubious explanation for the three week ban based on claims that the iPad's wifi conflicted with bands used by the IDF.

Big cynics had come up with another explanation, summarized by Fortune's Brainstorm Tech:
Meanwhile a different, far more cynical explanation was gaining traction. Time magazine on Tuesday picked up a line of reasoning floated five days earlier in TG Daily by Aharon Etengoff, an Israeli-born journalist who spent a year doing public relations for the Israeli Defense Force:
"It is worth noting," Etengoff wrote, "that Apple's Israeli distributor, iDigital, is run by Chemi Peres, the hyper-entrepreneurial son of Israeli President Shimon Peres.
"Clearly, iDigital wants its lucrative cut of every iPad brought into the country — which it will undoubtedly receive when a modified European version of the iPad is approved for import over the next two or three months.
"But in the meantime, iDigital can't make money off the slow trickle of iPads entering the country via private citizens, tourists and international businessmen. (link)
The idea that the money and power at stake would be sufficient to influence Ben-Gurion custom officials seems a stretch.
We cannot resist offering our own (tongue-in-cheek) explanation.

At first religious authorities believed that the device was the sacred Biblical Ephod and would not permit it into the country fearing its power. In Exodus the bible describes the Ephod as a garment worn by the high priest upon which rested the Hoshen breastplate containing Urim and Thummim.
We note the close lexicographic similarity between the labels iPad and Ephod. And beyond that we note the eerie resemblance in appearance between the  Urim and Thummim on the priestly vestment and the way the app icons or photos display on the new Apple device.

We assume the authorities consulted with rabbinic experts and university scholars and decided that there was no biblical danger.

So bottom line the iPad is kosher for import into Israel.

We bring you the theories - you decide.


Our iPad addiction and our Review of the Crosswords app for puzzles

iPad strengths and weaknesses. Yes there are many. No question that for us the device has become addictive. Step-by-step we are figuring out what it's good for.

Reading. Yes. Everything digital - books, web sites, blogs, newspapers, stock market news, portfolio tracking... and we don't play games, so who knows what the device offers in that department? Music, for sure. Videos, yes. Pictures, once you get them onto the thing, it's great. Use it as a phone, yep, even without 3G, you can use Skype. We spoke to a colleague in India last week. Audio only, but hey, no complaints.

What is doesn't do so well: print (see humor on the topic). Multi-task, no and can you believe that? Word processing. Not tested yet. Using Notes and Evernote, input works. But no fancy stuff. This is too rambling. So let me shift gears.

Review of the Crosswords app for iPad from Stand Alone
We wanted a way to access and solve the NY Times puzzle on our iPad. We first tried another program from Magmic that worked reasonably well with a free trial that lasted a week. Then poof it stopped and asked us to renew. But we pay for the daily NY Times so we have access to the puzzles included. Now we needed to pay again $16.99 for a year. That's double billing in our book. Boo.

Luckily we found the app from Stand Alone. Yay. It is $9.99 and gives you a means to tap into your existing subscription to the Times puzzles. It also has a neat interface, ways to get hints if you get stuck and access to puzzles galore. We give this app 4 stars.

The Crosswords App is currently available for the iPhone and iPod touch for $9.99 on the iTunes App Store at: http://itunes.com/apps/Crosswords. A free version of Crosswords, with a catalogue of sample puzzles, is also available at: http://itunes.com/apps/CrosswordLight. Crosswords website: http://standalone.com/iphone/crosswords/

Next we bought the BeautifulPlanet App to see the photo quality. It rocks.

More iPad apps that we like - Free Edition:
NYC Traffic - many cams to choose from, not such an intuitive interface
NY Times - Editor's Choice is a sample of the paper - nice format
WSJ - Gives you sample content - they clearly want your money
Bloomberg - great graphic charts and gobs of news, a gorgeous app.
QFolio HD - Nasdaq OMX - market tracking, charts with overlays, another winner
Reuters News Pro and Marketboard - both superlative
Skygrid - news browsing, not bad.

Kindle - without the Kindle, you have a Kindle!
iBooks - a nice start towards competition for Kindle
Free Books - not bad for free
Bible - Yep it is the word
Pocket Siddur - just the text sir
Hebrew PB - allows input in Hebrew - yes that is a big problem.

Fun things
iSigns HD - just signs
iBanner HD - iPad becomes a scrolling banner
Newton Free - a cute clock
Adobe Ideas - freehand notes and much more when we have the time (look for that little arrow in the top left to get the menu back out!)

Music - Pandora is good
Skype - it works...

What a great device.


All Religions Lose When Priests, Imams, Ministers or Rabbis Behave Badly

AP reports that an Irish Bishop has resigned from his position saying,
"The truth is that the long struggle of survivors to be heard and respected by church authorities has revealed a culture within the Church that many would simply describe as unchristian," Moriarty said in a statement Thursday. "This has been profoundly dispiriting for all who care about the church."
How about what it means for all of us who care about any organized religion?

And then we have reports of people purporting to defend Islam by threatening death to Matt Stone and Trey Parker (pictured), the creators of the cartoon South Park, for lampooning Muhammed.

We often mentioned on this blog instances of Jewish Rabbis and Protestant ministers behaving badly too, although not for abuse of children or death threats to heretics.

Religion is a voluntary association in most of the world. It's bad for all religions when the leaders of any one of them make it distasteful for good wholesome people to associate with their organizations.


Israel's Malaise and the Talmud's Blasphemy?

Two instances of the sad state of journalism in the United States.

An Israeli grieved at a Victims of Terror memorial at Mount Herzl 
Military Cemetery in Jerusalem on Monday.1. The Times reports, based on anecdote and oddball opinion alone, that the 7.5 million Israelis are in a funk - a bad mood - a malaise. Shades of Jimmy Carter.
Memo From Jerusalem
Mood Is Dark as Israel Marks 62nd Year as a Nation By ETHAN BRONNER
Both left and right in Israel are troubled, largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program and tensions with the Obama administration.
Meanwhile back in Teaneck NJ we saw record numbers of Jews celebrating Israel Independence Day in synagogues with prayers and dancing and no visible malaise. Go figure.

2. The Wall Street Journal publishes a list called "Five Best" with Diarmaid MacCulloch selecting books distinguished by blasphemous pasts. And guess which "book" is number one.
1. The Talmud, Edited by Isidore Epstein, Soncino Press, 1952

Is it offensive to include the Talmud on this list? Of course— but the point about blasphemy is that one person's revered sacred book is another one's blasphemous text, precisely because of its solemn claims about ultimate matters. This huge collection of rabbinic sayings and commentary was accumulated over at least four centuries after the final destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in A.D. 70. (I recommend the 35-volume first English translation of the most commonly used Talmud, known as the Babylonian version, edited by the British rabbinical scholar Isidore Epstein.) Medieval European Christians frequently burned the Talmud in public, decrying its supposed abuse of Jesus, but the real reason was that these volumes captured the rich variety of Jewish identity—the laughter of the wise as well as their most profound meditations.
The Talmud is not a book and it is not blasphemous. It is a massive collection of religious thoughts (he says that) about Jews, by Jews, for Jews. I never met a Jew who thought the Talmud was blasphemous. Isn't that the measure? That the insider judges a book by a fellow insider to be outside the line of acceptability? MacCulloch invents another scenario to explain and justify the blatant unwarranted anti-Semitism of the Catholic Church. He doesn't say the church was wrong. Oops. We are not surprised.


For Israel Independence Day -- Theodore Herzl's "A Jewish State"

For Israel Independence Day a free download of Theodore Herzl's "A Jewish State" -- perhaps one of the most influential publications in modern history.

Thanks to Google Books for the Digitization. Download: PDF - EPUB


When will the iPad be Kosher for Israel?

When will the high tech rabbis in Israel declare the iPad kosher for Israeli consumption?

It's been several days and still no solution to Israel's ban on the new device.  Apparently the issue has something to do with the  wifi bands used by the military there.

The LA Times Babylon and Beyond blog explains:
Legislator Robert Ilatov, of the Knesset's high-tech lobby, sent the communications minister a letter asking the ministry to soften its position on the matter. And if the problem is that the device's frequencies might interfere with those used by the Israeli army, according to the financial publication Calcalist (in Hebrew), Ilatov said the army could give up those frequencies. Other legislators have brought it up too.

Presumably, all this will be sorted out in coming weeks, and before long, the iPad too will be koshered for Israel.
Calcalist indeed does make the point that the IDF ought to adapt and permit the iPad to be imported:
אנשי מקצוע קבעו כי הבעיה היא שתדרי השידור של המכשיר עלולים להתנגש בתדרים הנמצאים בשימוש צה"ל, אולם אילטוב טוען כי הצבא יכול לוותר בנקל על התדרים הללו ולאפשר לישראל להיות בקו אחד יחד עם המדינות המתקדמות בעולם.
Weeks? That seems a bit slow. But then again, Microsoft has a lot of clout in Israel.


Is Oracle founder Lawrence Ellison Jewish?

Yes, Lawrence Larry Ellison is a Jew. He is the world's richest Jew according to the article, Who are the world's richest Jews? by Ronit Dumka and Dafna Maor in TheMarker.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Businessman Sheldon Adelson, Russian mogul Roman Abramovich and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rank among the world's richest Jews, according a new survey published by TheMarker.

The financial newspaper on Wednesday published an analysis of the world's richest Jews, ranking them by sector and industry and based on their standing on Forbes' list of the world's richest people.

Most of the people included on TheMarker's list have business ties with Israel and are also involved in philanthropy for Jewish causes.

Contrary to Forbes' list, a number of the Jewish billionaires listed have not inherited their fortunes, but rather earned them through entrepreneurial initiatives or political changes, such as the dissolution of the former Soviet Union.

So who ranks number one? According to TheMarker, Oracle founder Lawrence Ellison is the richest Jew in the world, with a net worth of $28 billion (Forbes No. 6).

Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg News service, ranks as the richest Jew in the media industry, with a net worth of $18 billion (Forbes No. 23). Isaac Perlmutter, CEO of Marvel Comics, ranked second on TheMarker's list, with a net worth of $1.6 billion (Forbes No. 616).

In the technology sector, Ellison came in first place again, followed by Facebook's Zuckerberg, the youngest member of TheMarker's list, with a net worth of $4 billion (Forbes No. 212).

Energy companies and Chelsea football club owner Abramovich led the way in the oil and commodities section, with $11.2 billion (Forbes No. 50), followed by Viktor Vekelsberg, the owner of Renova Group, a large Russian conglomerate (Forbes No. 113). His net worth stands at $6.4 billion.

Other categories ranked by TheMarker include real estate, finance and gambling and tourism, with Australian property developer Harry Triguboff (Forbes No. 316), entrepreneur George Soros (Forbes No. 258) and Adelson (Forbes No. 73), topping those categories, respectively.

Our iPad is Our Kindle

What a great device!

The Kindle app (free) on our iPad is now better than our 3 Kindles ever were.

Other people think so too.
...Consumers dumping Kindles for iPads

To keep pace with consumers' heightened expectations about what a tablet-style computer should do, Amazon may need to lower the Kindle's price or introduce such new features as a color screen to make the device more compelling, analysts say.

Many iPad buyers seem poised to use them as e-reader replacements. On Apr. 3, the day the tablet went on sale, Piper Jaffray surveyed 448 customers in line at Apple's New York and Minneapolis stores. Ten percent of prospective buyers said they had considered a Kindle but decided instead to buy an iPad. And 58% of the respondents who already owned Kindles said they planned to stop using them in light of their iPad purchase...more...

Times: South African Rabbis Behaving Badly Makes Front Page News

The Goldstone bar mitzvah brouhaha seems to us to be just another instance of rabbis behaving badly. In well mannered society the Goldstone family gets to conduct its happy event as any other. The grandfather receives an honor to be called to the Torah. But not if rabbis decide to use this as an opportunity to show the world how badly they can behave. And by the way. The Times is just as pleased as punch to put this demonstration of bad rabbinic behavior in the middle of the front page of the paper. And whoa their pardner. The solution is not to cancel your Times subscription. It is to write to the rabbis in South Africa and tell them to stop their childish tantrums.
Warren Goldstein, the chief rabbi of South Africa, said he had been involved in discussions about the possible disruptions to the ceremony. A severe critic of the Goldstone Report, he has written that the United Nations has an “anti-Israel agenda,” and that the investigation was “merely a cover for a political strategy of delegitimizing Israel.”

But on Friday he issued a statement saying that he, like most involved, believed the judge should be allowed to attend: “It is simply a question of decency and compassion to the bar mitzvah boy not to ruin his day.”

Times: Book Review Items That We Don't Understand

There are normally a few good Jewish themed books reviewed every week in the Times Book Review on Sunday. This week too. Note. We did not understand a few items. See below.

An Israeli at the Mandelbaum Gate, 1956. 'Crossing Mandelbaum Gate' By KAI BIRD. Reviewed by NEIL MacFARQUHAR. 
A memoir of growing up American in the postwar Middle East, free to cross the checkpoints that defined others’ lives. (That review is fine.)
Adam Thirlwell

This novel follows a licentious 78-year-old widower’s conquests in the Alps.

In this review we did not follow the Orthodox metaphor about sex and the eruv. To wit,
...And yet, despite his guilt and melancholy, Haffner’s sense of his own sexuality remains a complicated tangle... “Haffner had used the infidelities within his marriage as the Orthodox used the eruv. They were exercises in invention; the riches of self-blame. His interior life was festooned with sagging squares of string, marking out the permitted areas within the forbidden world. He believed in marriage like the Orthodox believed in God. It was a territory for permitting the unpermitted. And for testing the soul of Haffner.”

This is fine psychological insight. And it demonstrates how powerfully Thirlwell can dominate the world of his story.
Perhaps there is insight here but we sure as heck don't get it. And speaking of things published in the section that we do not get, there is a letter that makes no sense to us responding to a review of 'Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years,' by Diarmaid MacCulloch: Thine Is the Kingdom (April 4, 2010):
To the Editor:

Jon Meacham ascribes a supernatural belief in the “kingdom of God” (heaven) to Jesus’ circle of rabbinic students or “disciples.” Yet this Hebrew term of a heavenly kingdom was recorded in books of the Prophets long in existence before the bar mitzvah of Jesus, when he would have studied them. The term’s meaning and usage was allegorical, not literal. Jewish rabbis like Jesus, whose wide range of quotations from biblical and other sources clearly depict an educated man, would not have attracted gullible dreamers who were awaiting his immediate supernatural return. As far as we know, none of the thousands of such proto-rabbis at the time were supernatural, including Jesus’ Jewish cousin, John the Baptist....more...
Not a word of the letter makes any sense, certainly not the use of terms like allegorical, supernatural, or literal or the anachronistic reference to the bar mitzvah of Jesus. We are mystified.

Is Goldman Sachs Jewish?

No, Goldman Sachs is a corporation hence it has no religion and cannot be Jewish.

But yes, Goldman Sachs was founded by Jews.

And now we learn from the London Times in a long and penetrating article that the current CEO thinks that he is on a religious mission: "I'm doing 'God's work'. Meet Mr Goldman Sachs."

Update 4/17/10: The SEC has accused Goldman Sachs of massive fraud, implying perhaps that the regulators think they were doing the devil's work.

Tzvee's Maxim: You don't make more money than any other smart bank just by getting up earlier in the morning or staying at your desk later at night.

Confused? That is right where they want you to be. From the London Times article...
...The bank was founded in New York in 1869 by a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria, Marcus Goldman. His son-in-law, Samuel Sachs, later joined him. Shut out of the clubby, largely Protestant world of stock and bond trading, Goldman established a profitable, if unglamorous, niche buying and selling short-term corporate IOUs, known as commercial paper. By the turn of the century, the firm was pioneering the market for initial public offerings, handling the stock-market debuts of blue-chip companies such as Sears and Ford.

As Goldman started outside the cosy Wall Street establishment, it hired the smartest, most driven people it could find, who learnt to exploit market loopholes, snatch business from rivals and win favours from friends in high places. Under Sidney Weinberg, chief executive from 1930 to 1969, the bank forged top business graduates into ad-hoc teams that would work around the clock for clients ...more...
/repost with update from 11-8-09/


Mazal Tov: Gmail Gets D & D Attachments

You weren't holding out on Gmail were you? It's been a no brainer for the past year that Gmail is the way to go for personal and business email users.

The official Gmail blog reports that now there is one less excuse. In Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox 3.6, you can drag and drop your local files to attach them to an outgoing Gmail message.

Mazal tov.

Haaretz: Israeli Customs confiscating iPads

Beware at Customs: Gov't has banned iPad imports - Haaretz - Israel News

We guess this is based on the biblical policy banning new tablets... Ten commandments and no more.

[hat tip to barak]

Daily News: Wife of Rabbi Avi Weiss Saved From Choking at Yankee Game

Iraq vet John Stone heroically saves prominent Bronx rabbi's wife from choking at Yankee Stadium

National Guardsman John Stone helps a choking woman (in sunglasses)
 in the stands behind home plate during the Yankees loss to the Los 
Angeles Angels
National Guardsman John Stone helps a choking woman (in sunglasses) in the stands behind home plate during the Yankees loss to the Los Angeles Angels
John Stone is all smiles in the front row seat he was upgraded to 
after he helped a choking woman
John Stone is all smiles in the front row seat he was upgraded to after he helped a choking woman
He's a true angel out of left field.

An Army medic who served in Iraq became a hero in the stands at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday when he saved a prominent Bronx rabbi's wife choking on a piece of kosher London broil.

John Stone, 38, of Montville, Conn., sprang into action when he spotted Toby Weiss gagging about 15 rows in front of him in the section behind home plate.

"It was a very big scare. Toby's life was saved by a man who really, for us, is a great hero," said Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.

"There were a bunch of people around her and I thought they had it under control," Stone told the Daily News. "But when I looked closer, it was evident they didn't.

"Basically, I just went down there and told the guy working on her that I'm an Army medic," said Stone, a staff sergeant with the Connecticut National Guard.

As the choking woman began to turn blue, the attention of fans turned from Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez to the rescuer in a Don Mattingly jersey performing the Heimlich maneuver in the stands.

"I stepped behind her, gave her about five or six abdominal thrusts and eventually she coughed up whatever she was choking on," Stone said.

Toby Weiss was checked out at a Stadium first-aid station as a precaution and returned to her seat to thank Stone. "I said to him, 'I'm a big Yankee fan, but I really didn't want to die in Yankee Stadium,'" she said.

Rabbi Weiss said other people rushed to help his wife. "People tried very hard to do the Heimlich maneuver, but it just wasn't working and it was getting desperate," he said. "Suddenly this kind of Elijah figure appeared from nowhere. He knew exactly what to do."

Following the scare, fans applauded, hugged and high-fived Stone on his way back up to his seat. Stone was at the Stadium with his brother Jamie, an Army infantry soldier on leave from duty in Afghanistan.

Word of the heroics quickly spread to Bombers' honchos, who gave Stone gift bags and moved him, his brother and his brother's girlfriend down to the first row of the Legends section, where seats normally go for about $1,250 each.

Though Stone treated much more serious battle wounds during his tour of duty in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, he never performed the Heimlich maneuver for real until yesterday.

"I treated soldiers a lot worse than her, but this is the first time I've ever done it in the civilian world," Stone said. "I'm just happy that lady is okay."

Stone said he can't help but think he was destined to be at yesterday's game, his first visit to the new Yankee Stadium.

"I've been a Yankee fan my whole life," said Stone, proudly wearing his pinstripes and a University of Maine cap. "I'm kind of still in shock about everything that went on."

[hat tip to billy in jlm]


Traif Bicycles in Brooklyn, Π in Jewish Law and the Life of Pi author Yann Martel's Book Gets Panned as does the film Leaves of Grass with Ed Norton

More on shops with some traif bikes in Brooklyn -- in a long essay in NY Magazine, "Clash of the Bearded Ones: Hipsters, Hasids, and the Williamsburg street," by Michael Idov ...
...For South Williamsburg’s Hasids, Traif Bike Gesheft functions as a semi-secret window onto the larger world and a clubhouse of mild transgressions. Herzfeld rents bikes to Hasids at no cost, just to get them to venture beyond the neighborhood. (Among Satmars, bicycles are not specifically disallowed but are considered taboo nonetheless.) Inside the shop, otherwise righteous men let down their guard. Tongues loosen. "The men, they don’t know how to have a conversation with a woman," Herzfeld explains, talking a mile a minute. "Whenever they come to the bike shop, the first thing they ask me to find them a prostitute. I tell them, look, you’re searching for answers. You’re not going to find them in the vagina of a woman you’re paying $200 an hour. If you want to meet somebody, you need to step outside of the community, you need to get a hobby. Come over, and I’ll teach you how to fix a bike. So the bike shop is a kind of outreach program." A friend of Herzfeld’s also uses the shop to slip Hasids traif books like The Catcher in the Rye and The Great Gatsby....
 And bad reviews for a book and movie. You have to publish an occasional bad review... but perverse? Yann Martel's new "disappointing and often perverse novel" about the Holocaust reviewed in Books of The Times, From ‘Life of Pi’ Author, Stuffed-Animal Allegory About Holocaust, by MICHIKO KAKUTANI

(Which brings us to mention parenthetically a blog post on, Π and Other Precise Measurements in Halachah.)

And finally a detailed pan in New Yorker for Ed Norton in a movie "Leaves of Grass":
...To adopt the movie’s classical terminology, the Apollonian and the Dionysian temperaments are digitally joined in an agon. Tim Blake Nelson, who wrote and directed “Leaves of Grass,” combines the two Nortons in ways that look natural enough. They argue, talking over each other’s words, horse around, and fight. The movie is a showcase for digital technology and for Norton’s virtuosity, but I wish it weren’t such a weightless shambles. Nelson can’t seem to find the right tone; he veers from backwoods comedy to nervously unhinged violence to earnest talk of poetry and the meaning of life. Born Jewish in Tulsa (his maternal grandparents escaped the Nazis), Nelson has some heavy fun with his community. He makes Dreyfuss’s drug lord (who fronts as a businessman) a fierce Jewish supporter of Israel—his office walls are lined with pictures of Menachem Begin and other Israeli leaders. And Nelson throws in a foolish Jewish orthodontist (Josh Pais), who tries to blackmail both brothers, and accidentally kills someone. There’s no reason that Jews shouldn’t be treated as comically as anyone else in the movies, but the scenes are so crudely directed that they’re more embarrassing than funny. Recitations of Walt Whitman and a few encounters with a lovely teacher and poet (Keri Russell) begin to quicken the professor, but the movie, for all its high-culture flourishes, feels stale. The mix of cornpone shenanigans and intellectualism lands Nelson in Coen Brothers territory, and I never thought that I’d miss their brutally mocking tone so much. Edward Norton needs to put himself not only in the hands of a good writer but of a good director, too...


Are Jews Deicides?

We think that the term "deicides" means "killers of gods."

We've been phoning our friends all day to ask if any of them killed any gods lately. So far, no takers, no Jews we know have killed any gods. We personally admit we did kill a spider in our basement on Sunday.

We raise this nosensical question because a Catholic Bishop -- just now in the 21st century -- not during the middle ages -- said the following according to a story in the Times Online:
Bishop Babini, 81, said Jews “do not want the Church, they are its natural enemies”. He added: “Deep down, historically speaking, the Jews are deicides [God killers].”
Yikes. Any two-bit journalist on TV who said something like that would be toast -- fired on the spot.

On a related matter, atheists in Britain are calling for the arrest of the Pope when he arrives to visit in September, Richard Dawkins calls for arrest of Pope.

At some point the social critics who follow the Church and closely examine its recent activities will have to begin asking whether Pope Benedict XVI, by his chosen course of actions is willfully attempting to destroy his own church.


Traif Restaurant to Open in Williamsburg Brooklyn

What indeed is the news here? There are so many traif (i.e., non-kosher) restaurants in Brooklyn. Why even take note of this restaurant that is not kosher?

But this is not "a" traif restaurant. This is "the" traif restaurant -- the one named TRAIF. We have to admit that we were left breathless just now as we read about this new enterprise because of the boldness of the honesty of the name and its implicit comment on the innateness of Jewish guilt and pride and hubris.

A big hat tip to the Jew and the Carrot blog for bringing this to our attention.

And for explanation and contemplation of this phenomenon of Jewish Brooklyn see the Story of Traif posts on the proprietor's blog and meditate on the simple koan that underpins its philosophical raison d'etre -- "Celebrating pork, shellfish and globally inspired soul food" on the restaurant's web site.

On this blog we do not recommend  this or any other restaurant. And we observe only that if the traif food at Traif is high quality, we predict that the restaurant will be a big hit. If the whole idea is just a Brooklyn novelty, we expect that it will close in a matter of weeks.

We just can't wait to see the first Bar Mitzvah or Jewish wedding invitation to invite the guests to the reception at Traif.

Was Rudolf Steiner Jewish?

My cousin and one of my best friends both went to the Rudolf Steiner School on 79th Street in the 1960s. That private school was known as an institution in the avant garde of education and especially suited for the development of creativity of all varieties.

Was the school's founder, Rudolf Steiner, Jewish? No Rudolf Steiner was not a Jew. He was an unconventional Christian, accused by some Jews as being anti-semitic, although he attacked anti-semitism, accused by Nazis as being too close to Jews or a Jew himself, even though he was a proponent of Nietzsche.

He was a controversial man of great talent, contradiction, ferment and creativity. See Wikipedia as well as articles in Jewish Parenting by Dan Dugan and by Deborah Salazar for some of the allegations and facts about Steiner.

What triggered our sudden interest in Steiner was a short offbeat profile of him this week. In the avant-garde T Magazine of style of the New York Times, Douglas Brenner writes about Steiner in a Talk essay called "Soul Man".


Are the Vatican Scandals Bad for the Jews?

Sure the continuing scandals are hurting the Catholic Church. We need to ask, Are the Vatican scandals bad for the Jews?

That used to be a veiled way of asking whether such events will lead to an upswing in anti-semitism, surely directly bad for the Jews. Well that could happen but we don't see it as a likely direct outcome of the woes of the Pope and his cohort.

We do definitely think that the damage that is being done to the organized Catholic Church has started to reverberate loudly and negatively and is being heard by all religious people around the world. It's bad for all Jews who care about Judaism to see the world's leading religion under attack and suffering such wounds.

We've seen the studies of the sociologists from year to year. They suggest to us that a large proportion of affiliated members of churches, synagogues and mosques worldwide are always looking for an excuse to slack off or drop out, to disaffiliate.

The disgusting facts of the current raft of scandals give a road map to people of all faiths who want to find the doorway out of their respective groups.

In a word: this negative church history about religious leaders protecting and enabling pedophiles is bad for the whole religion industry, not just for Pope Benedict XVI, not just for the Vatican and the Catholic Church. That's why we are so continually incensed by the festering evil that needs to be rooted out of the specific organized religion that has harbored it so that all religions can maintain a stature of propriety.

Alas. It already may be too late. The facts that are out there defy deniability. They are bad for the Pope and the Church. And yes, indirectly but assuredly all of this is bad for Jews who care about the dignity of organized religion in general.

Is David Shields Jewish?

Yes, according to NYU's Bullpen, David Shields is, "a secular Jew who defines himself by his Jewish-ness." He was born in Los Angeles in 1956 and now lives in Seattle with his wife and daughter.

We know (or should we say it appears ) that David Shields was at Brown in 1976 when we were finishing our PhD there.

Of course he may not be Jewish at all. In his current work, Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, Shields makes it clear that he takes pride in how he blurs the lines between fact and fiction.

He also makes clear that he demolishes the distinction between his words and the words of others. The 200 pages of his anthology-essay mostly present the observations of other writers arranged according to Shields' 26 alphabetical chapters of varying length with cryptic sub-titles.

The problem is that in all his work of citation, Shields does not tell us who said what. The ancient Talmud would inform us in its anthological compositions that, "Rabbi X says" and an average modern essayist would provide footnotes to grant attribution. To be fair, there are some crippled notes in the back, which Shields explains are only there because lawyers for the publisher insisted on it. He'd rather the whole mess of citations go without assignment to its authors.

We are supposed to say either in praising him that Shields is daring or provocative, or in damning him that he has lost his senses and subverts literary propriety. Most books (post Unibomber) called "a manifesto" invite the latter appraisal.

If we copy his book and put our name on it, and start to sell it as our own or give it away, Shields would not rejoice, that we assure you. Subversive as subset of attention-getter is not the same as subversive as subset of social-disruptive.

You can enjoy the book in any event because Shields has assembled a Midrashic-Talmudic compilation of contemporary aphorisms on a wide variety of topics of varying length, depth and acumen. He clearly had fun "writing" this book.And about 30% of the material has some point to it.

So yes, Shields is a Jew, and to some degree he has written in style a rabbinic treatise. On occasion he slips in Jewish references, e.g. on page 50, "Verboten thematic: secular Jews, laureates of the real, tend to be better at analyzing reality than re-creating it..." followed by the dropping of the names of 14 names of Jews exemplifying the cryptic claim without telling us further what it means. We guess we must await the commentaries to come along and decode the meanings of each such undeveloped and incoherent passage in this assemblage.

We were hoping for some edification of a particular theme that was promised in a way in some blurb or other -- of why a person would steal another person's writing, put their name on it and publish it as their own. Nope. The author takes an "audacious stance" on hot issues. But not that one.

Bottom line. This book proves that audacity may generate some pleasant heat without much actual illumination.


WPost: 13,293 people attempted to call the German Church Abuse hotline over the course of the first week

It sure looks like a lot of people are in on the conspiracy of hatred against the Catholic Church according to the Washington Post (Reuters) -- "German Church abuse hotline flooded with calls" --
BERLIN (Reuters) - A German hotline for victims of sexual abuse by clerics was deluged with thousands of calls in the week after the Roman Catholic Church launched the counseling service in a bid to restore trust.

Some 13,293 people attempted to call the hotline over the course of the first week but only 2,670 were able to connect with the overwhelmed 11 counselors on duty, church officials said.

"We didn't expect so many calls," said Stephan Kronenburg, spokesman for the diocese of Trier where the hotline control center is located. "It's been well received. Many have called to say they're grateful for it." ...more...


Kindle and Nook v. iPad

No doubt there is a bit of panic out there at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Kindle and Nook have phenomenal ebook capabilities (if you don't mind being distracted every time you turn a page). You can read them in direct sunlight (as if anyone has ever read a real book in direct sunlight). And you can go without charging them for a week (iPad lasts 2 good days without a charge so far). And they don't get all those nasty fingerprints on them (because they are not touch screens). And they don't have all that distracting color (now we are getting cynical) and all those time-wasting apps (uber-cynical) and Internet and iPod capabilities (yikes stop that cynicism).

Today we installed the free Bloomberg, Reuters and Nasdaq apps on our iPad. Ayayay. There just is no contest.

Fast Company documents the panic at the competitors - "Kindle and Nook to Go Retail: Can It Save Them From the iPad?" Nook goes to Best Buy and Kindle to Target. Everyone will make some money - but iPad wins. Period.

NYC Arthur Szyk Exhibition

c1912. [Paris.] Serenade aeronautique (email).jpg

The exhibition “Arthur Szyk: Methods of a Master Illuminator” opens  Tuesday, April 13th

All-new exhibition of 60+ original works of art by the Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk (1894-1951)

April 13-25, 2010, Tuesday to Sunday, 11:00am – 6:00pm

Opening Reception
·         Tuesday, April 13, 6:00-9:00pm

Gallery Talks
·         Sunday, April 18, 3:00pm: The Haggadah for All Seasons: Szyk's Passover Masterpiece
·         Tuesday, April 20, 6:30pm: The Jewish State through the Art of Arthur Szyk
o   illustrated presentation in honor of Israel Independence Day

Broome Street Gallery, New York, NY 10012: Directions


NJ.com: IRS and NJ Tax Filing Extended for Teaneck to May 11

Storm relief comes in the form of an IRS filing extension.
IRS gives more filing time to taxpayers in 12 N.J. counties battered by storms
By Susan Todd
The Internal Revenue Service is giving a break to taxpayers in 12 New Jersey counties impacted by severe storms and flooding.Federal and state tax officials said today that they will give a break to residents in storm-battered parts of New Jersey.

Taxpayers who live or operate businesses in counties designated as federal disaster areas will have their tax deadlines postponed until May 11, including the April 15 deadline for filing individual income tax returns, making income tax payments and 2009 contributions to individual retirement accounts...

Our iPad Draws a Crowd

What can we say?

We've been at the cutting edge (some say bleeding edge) of technology many times as a repeat offender early adopter. But never did we witness a small crowd gather around to see a new product at the office as we did today.

Someone heard that we had brought our iPad in - now this is day 5 after the launch - and they asked to see it. A group of people gathered around just to see what it was like.

We've never seen such a buzz for a new tech product. The iPad really does continue to satisfy if not dazzle us. One reviewer at the Huff Post laments about the gadget that, "It Has Only One Flaw" and he goes on to say that it is the high price. But we all know that Apple products are overpriced.


What prayers does a religious Jew say on Israel Independence Day?

In 2010 Israel Independence Day is April 19.

Hard to believe that even after 62 years, the prayers that a religious Jew recites to mark the day have not been firmly set.

Here is one from Machon Shilo -Al Hanissim - In praise of the miracles...

Vatican Wounded-Bully-Chutzpah

Beyond belief is the chutzpah of this response of the Vatican to the measured and factual criticism that has been directed its way over the past few weeks. It fits the classic "wounded bully" response to merited rebuke. Let us assure the Vatican that nobody takes this mode of their response seriously.
Vatican blasts anti-Catholic 'hate' campaign

VATICAN CITY – The Vatican heatedly defended Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, claiming accusations that he helped cover up the actions of pedophile priests are part of an anti-Catholic "hate" campaign targeting the pope for his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

Vatican Radio broadcast comments by two senior cardinals explaining "the motive for these attacks" on the pope and the Vatican newspaper chipped in with spirited comments from another top cardinal.

"The pope defends life and the family, based on marriage between a man and a woman, in a world in which powerful lobbies would like to impose a completely different" agenda, Spanish Cardinal Julian Herranz, head of the disciplinary commission for Holy See officials, said on the radio...more...

Barbed New Yorker Cartoon Rips Catholic Priest Scandal

This New Yorker cartoon rips the priest scandal in the Catholic Church.


JPost: David Sarna Praises Tikkun Olam

Repairing the world or Tikkun Olam is a good virtue, says writer David Sarna in the JPost, and we agree.
...Lurianic Kabbala inspired Bee Season, a highly praised first novel by Myla Goldberg, later made into a movie of the same name. Goldberg says, “For modern-day Jews who aren’t so into the traditional and deistic elements of religion, tikkun olam provides a philosophy of volunteerism. This is the idea that the world is flawed, and the only way it’s going to get better is if each individual does something to try to make it a better place.”

This secular use of tikkun olam has been embraced by Madonna, who has studied Kabbala but says she retains her belief in Jesus, as well as by Britney Spears, Demi Moore, Gwyneth Paltrow (the daughter of a Jewish father and Quaker mother) and others.

When Shai Agassi, originally from Israel, named his low-emission electric car infrastructure company Better Place, he was undoubtedly informed by tikkun olam, making the world a better place....more...


New Yorker Cartoon Contest Misses the Obvious Seder

Our caption: This seder really is different from all other Seders.

Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa makes a big Messa at the Vaticana

First, we must always be sure to differentiate the Vatican administration and management from the thousands of local Catholic Churches and the many millions of Catholic peoples of the world.

Nobody has to do much research to discover that the Vatican is in a lot of trouble these days. Most recently the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa gave a Good Friday sermon in the presence of the Pope in which he compared the growing criticism of Vatican administration to the evils of antisemitism against the Jewish people.

This will forever be known in the university textbooks as the classic case of attempted damage control that does exceedingly more damage than control. Read about it here, here, here and here. [Hat tips to Yochanan Hashlishi, and welcome home.]

The story of the rapid decline and fall of the Pope and the Vatican as we see it is simple and tragic. A cardinal named Joseph Alois Ratzinger assembled massive files over several decades on Church pedophile scandals worldwide, did nothing to respond to them and then lo and behold got himself elected pope. Does it appear to the suspicious outsider that the Vatican leadership was blackmailed into voting for said ambitious and unscrupulous cardinal? He had secret files on scandals covered up by every one of them. We cannot offer any other logical explanation for the self-defeating selection of a reactionary antisemitic German, a former member of Hitler's Youth, to the papacy.

The thousands of Catholic churches in every country will persevere long after the earth opens to swallow up the unceasingly evil purveyors of cover-ups, lies and immorality. Catholic believers around the world will stay faithful to their religion and continue all the good that their religion does for the poor and the downtrodden, without the Vatican. Our heart goes out to them all. Be strong and of good courage.

No question that the entire immoral authority of the Vatican is bankrupt and determined to declare itself so - going headlong into what we will call the biblical Prophet Nahum's version of absolute bankruptcy -- i.e., Chapter 3 (Verse 19, revised to apply to the present travails): There is no easing your hurt; your wound is grievous. All who hear the news about you clap their hands over you. For upon whom has not come your unceasing evil?

Our iPad has landed!

Our iPad was delivered today. Unboxing and activating tonight.

We can tell it's a winner. Details and inevitable criticisms to follow.

Update 1: We love it, love it. But there are some drawbacks, we agree, as described by the Daily Beast,

 "David Pogue of the Times also wrote a review just for techies, and he says they’ll be less than impressed, calling it “a gigantic iPod Touch." He writes that its hailed e-book reader app, which is difficult to read in direct sunlight, is not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries with its puny 60,000-title selection. Another big turnoff is its inability to play Flash video, resulting in thousands of Web sites showing up with empty white squares."

Sums it up for us, so far.


The TV Simpsons Tour Israel with Sascha Baron Cohen as the Tour Guide

Here is the video from Hulu.

A first look at the Simpsons' upcoming visit to Israel
By Matan Abramovich, City Mouse Online

The first images from the upcoming episode of The Simpsons, in which the animated family visits Israel, were released this week after six months of buzz over the special show to be aired in the United States on March 28.

The episode, titled "The Greatest Story Ever D'ohed," includes scenes of Homer and Bart at the Western Wall with their Israeli tour guide, who will be voiced by British comedian Sascha Baron Cohen, of Borat and Bruno fame.

In the episode, Homer gets "Jerusalem Syndrome" and believes that he is the Messiah. Also, the tour guide bickers and exchanges political barbs with Marge.

"This is an episode that people from all three religions will be equally offended by," said Simpsons producer Al Jean.

The show has featured many Jewish jokes and characters during its 21 seasons on air, most prominently Krusty the Clown (whose Jewish name is Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofski).

Baltimore Sun Op-Ed: Let's Civilize Our Political Rhetoric

We second this voice from the Baltimore Sun calling for reason and civility in our political discourse. Hat tip to Mimi.
Politicians: Let's try fairness, nuance and precision in debate

Whether debating health care, national security, or creationism, many politicians, commentators, and media personalities exhibit what psychologists call "cognitive errors." These errors include over-generalization, dichotomous (all-or-none) thinking, selective abstraction (i.e., taking a detail and only dwelling on it while ignoring the larger context), maximization (e.g., of an opponent's weaknesses) and minimization (e.g., of an adversary's strengths). Such errors are not unique to liberals or conservatives -- they are prevalent across the political spectrum.


Hebrew Users Unaffected by Gmail Vowel Outage - Google Offers Hebrew Lessons

Gmail is reporting a widespread vowel outage today.

Fortunately Gmail Hebrew users manage daily without vowels and hence are not affected by the failure.

To compensate for the outage and to guarantee uninterrupted service in the future, Google has offered to  teach interested users Hebrew and to convert them to Judaism.

For details see this post at the Gmail blog.