Is Stanley Fish Jewish?

Yes, Stanley Fish is a Jew.

In the latest Opinionator commentary of the Times, Fish asked, "What's Up With the Jews?" and then went on the list many dramatic news stories of late related to Jewish people.

That's just the point, and the one that Fish does not make. We Jews are a dramatic people.

The Bible tells us that we are dramatic, that God selected us to star in the great drama of human history. And we continue to live up to that assigned role.

Fish cannot bring himself to say just that. He circumlocutes with assertions like this, "...the Jew as a cultural/ historical figure is oversaturated, which means that the meanings that accrue to him (or her, but mostly him) are in excess of any empirical record and accumulate like barnacles without any regard for the law of contradiction. Attitudes, especially negative ones, toward Jews flourish whether there are Jews around or not."

Ah well, he is Stanley Fish, the Times' dramatic opinionator and he is authorized (by the gods of journalism) to say these things.

On 7/27/10 we wrote:
He once was a noted hotshot deconstructionist who caused consternation at Duke University.

On his Times Opinionator blog ("Is Religion Special") Fish summarizes the responses that he received to a recent blog post about religion,
...The entire point of religion — at least of the theistic kind, Christianity, Judaism, Islam — is to affirm a fidelity to an authority and to a set of imperatives that exceed, and sometimes clash with, what is required by the state. The denial of religion’s claim to be special is the denial of religion as an ultimate discourse, and is, in effect, the denial of religion as religion; it becomes just one more point of view....
Fish offers us more than opinions. He reports on court cases and decisions, facts and philosophers. He is quite a learned guy, an American literary theorist, legal scholar and a true public intellectual, worth reading.


Talmud Film Footnote Wins Award at Cannes

The world did not end last Saturday as one religious leader predicted. But surely there are signs that we are living in the messianic end of days, e.g., a funny film about Talmud professors at Hebrew University has won an award at the Cannes Film Festival.
Israel's Cedar wins award at Cannes
By Viva Sarah Press
Israeli film director Joseph Cedar clinched the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival for his film, Footnote.

Footnote is a drama-comedy about the rivalry between a father and son who are competing Talmud scholars at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The 42-year-old Cedar had already left France before the prizes were announced, and though called back for the ceremony did not make it in time to receive his award.

Footnote is scheduled to open in Israel on June 2. Sony Classics bought the rights to distribute the film internationally.


Is David Pogue Jewish?

No we don't think that New York Times writer David Pogue is a Jew.

David Pogue, Yale '85, is the weekly personal-technology columnist for the New York Times and an award-winning tech correspondent. With 3 million books in print, he is also one of the world's bestselling how-to authors. He wrote or co-wrote seven books in the "for Dummies" series.

He is also involved in an bitter divorce that has taken an ironic turn. Pogue, the man who wrote many columns and a book about the iPhone and its technology ("iPhone: The Missing Manual"), has allegedly hit his wife with an iPhone.

PC Mag reports:
David Pogue Allegedly Hits Wife With iPhone
By David Murphy
There is definitely not an app for allegedly bonking your soon-to-be ex-wife in the head with your iPhone. And the story only gets stranger from there.

Prof. Miryam Wahrman Wins Journalism Award for Aphasia Report

Professor Miryam Wahrman (our sister) has won the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists awardFirst Place, in Health, Science, Technology and Environment, for my article on Aphasia.

Weekly Health, Science, Technology and Environment:
  • First Place: Miryam Wahrman, The Jewish Standard, “Aphasia” .  An interesting and informative article on a health problem that most of the general public never even heard of.  Wahrman does a good job of explaining what it is, how it affects individuals and the treatment available at a local center.


Times: Neal Pollack discusses self publishing Jewball

In the Times Book Review essay (Peddling Your Prose) this week Neal Pollack discusses self publishing his new book, Jewball.

Publishers, start quaking. This is the wave of the present.
The Case for Self-Publishing

Many thousands of years ago, when I was still a whelpish newspaper reporter in Chicago, I did a short profile of a retired television repairman who’d written a memoir entitled “The Perilous Life of Boris B. Gursky.” As a boy in Ukraine, Gursky said, he was stepped on by a horse; when he was a young man in Mexico, his stepfather had tried to murder him; and when he was a middle-aged man in Chicago, his ex-wife had clawed his face with her fingernails and threatened him with a loaded pistol. Most perilously, Gursky suffered from prostate cancer. He wrote, “My body had become so sensitive from staying too long in an environment surrounded with radiation from television sets.”


Efraim Zuroff on the Demjanjuk Verdict in Germany

Efraim Zuroff writes in the Forward ("Hunting Demjanjuk: The End of a Decades-Long Case and What It Means") about the significance of the Demjanjuk verdict in Germany.

He speculates about the impact as follows:
Demjanjuk’s conviction marks the first time that a German court has found a suspected Holocaust perpetrator guilty without any evidence of a specific crime committed by the defendant, other than service in a death camp. As a Holocaust historian, I can easily justify such a decision. Imagine, though, what a profound impact such an exhibition of judicial will could have had on previous trials of Nazi war criminals and other cases that were never prosecuted if this standard of proof had been applied.

So now the question is: Will this verdict serve as a precedent that can pave the way for additional prosecutions?


Film Depicts Hebrew U Talmud Professors as "Stubborn Academics on an Epic Scale"

AFP via the Times of Malta has an article about the new film "Footnote" with an observation about the Hebrew University Talmud department that confirms what we have known for 33 years. Unfortunately, when we first came to meet our colleagues there in 1978, we did not know anything about the characters and their dispositions. It took us a short while to find out what now is the basis for a major film. Cedar tells the AFP about the professors there:
“I met stubborn academics on an epic scale, people who had been working on an esoteric, obscure area of research for their entire life, afraid to complete it because there might be a mistake somewhere and as a result never publishing anything, and rivalries that had been going on for generations, that were violent and harsh, really beyond anything I had heard of,” he told reporters.

The AFP photo shows Israeli director Joseph Cedar wearing his kippah in the center with Israeli actors Shlomo Bar Aba and Alma Zak during the photocall of Hearat Shulayim (Footnote) presented in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on Sunday. Here is the whole interview/article:
Israeli director Joseph Cedar, whose film about the army withdrawal from southern Lebanon garnered an Oscar nomination, said he was looking inward with his current Cannes entry.

Footnote, one of 20 features vying for the Palme d’Or at the world’s biggest film festival, tells the story of a father-son pair of Talmudic scholars locked in a decades-long rivalry.

Set in the rarefied world of academia, the film is a far cry from the gritty realism of Beaufort, his 2007 soldier movie which captured the best director prize at the Berlin film festival and was shortlisted for an Academy Award.

Mr Cedar said the story of an embittered researcher who sees himself as a purist rejected by the establishment and his relationship with his ambitious son arose during time he spent with the Talmud department of Hebrew University.


Is Israeli Writer-Director Joseph Cedar Jewish?

Yes, Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar is a Jew.

According to the LA Times, he is a Sabbath-observant Jew whose family made aliyah from New York City when he was a child.

Writing about how he had to wait until late Saturday night to interview Cedar, Kenneth Turan, the Los Angeles Times Film Critic said,
It is somehow appropriate that Cedar's Sabbath observance played a part in the interview situation, because "Footnote" is about a pair of competitive scholars of the Talmud, the central document of the Jewish religious tradition, rival academics who just happen to be a misanthropic father (Shlomo Bar Aba) and his gregarious son (Lior Ashkenazi).

"When you see a Chinese film, you often feel it is rooted in some kind of ancient Chinese tradition," Cedar says. "The Talmud is our primary text, our tradition. It's something I want to deal with if I am making movies in Israel."
Cedar discussed the university Talmud department setting for his new film, Footnote, that has had a warm reception at the Cannes Film Festival:
Though Cedar's father, the celebrated scientist Haim Cedar, teaches at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, the filmmaker wasn't initially familiar with that school's Talmud department, the setting for his film. "But once I began hearing stories," he says, "I fell in love with it.

"It's known for being the smallest and toughest department at the university. There are stories of epic rivalries, of people being stubborn in a way that is concrete solid, where you don't compromise on anything ever. These are people who have dedicated their lives to something esoteric, and they've done it with the drive of Julius Caesar."
There are many examples of successful film directors and actors who make a strongly Jewish theme film as soon as they reach a level of success that makes them confident and independent enough to pull it off. It shows how powerful Jewish identity can be for creative people. It's almost as if they can hardly wait to proudly say, "I made it, I'm creative, I'm successful, I'm Jewish."


Is the Polara Golf Ball Kosher?

No, the USGA "rabbis" have declared the Polara golf ball is treif, it is not kosher, as the Times reports.

The ball has special dimples that violate the rules. "Polara Golf claims to have engineered a ball that will fly straight and resist the most stubborn slice or hook, at least 75 percent of the time."

The Times (Teeing Up a Duffer Debate, By DON VAN NATTA Jr.) actually says, "...there is nothing kosher about the ball."
The United States Golf Association has already declared the Polara illegal, and there is nothing kosher about the ball. Even its miniaturized arrow flouts the rules. To point the arrow so the ball takes flight in the correct direction, a player needs to move it as it sits on the fairway. That in itself is illegal.
We don't ever hook or slice our shots... so we have no interest in, or use for, this new illegal golf ball.


Thumbs Up Review of Footnote at Cannes - a film about feuding Talmud Professors at Hebrew University

"There are things that are more important than the truth."

Who would ever believe that a film about Talmud professors at Hebrew University would impress the Cannes film festival?

Here is one fine review.
CANNES REVIEW | “Footnote” Finds the Comedy in a Talmudic Feud
by Eric Kohn
Israeli writer-director Joseph Cedar’s last feature, the Oscar-nominated “Beaufort,” was a tense war movie about the 2000 South Lebanon conflict. His latest effort, “Footnote,” involves a much more personal war, in which the opposing sides are a father and his grown son. In Cedar’s dark comic fable, bookish eccentrics pit their egos against each other on a shrewdly composed battlefield where the only potential casualty is self-esteem.

Cedar’s screenplay follows a tale two of Shkolniks: The aging Eliezer (Israeli comic Shlomo Bar Aba), a veteran Talmud professor at Hebrew University, and his middle-aged son Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), a more established researcher in the same field. From the first scene, Eliezer sulks in his son’s shadow, as the younger Skolnick accepts an award while his father watches from the audience. Cedar quickly explains the context with an introductory bit that surveys both of their backgrounds, aided by words on the screen and a deadpan voiceover seemingly imported from Woody Allenville. Like Allen’s best creations, Eliezer and Uriel harbor neuroses that run deep.

This Liturgy really isn't Theology

Liturgy | NYC @ St.Vitus Bar | 06 May 2011 from (((unartig))) on Vimeo.

This Liturgy really is not Theology. It's a Brooklyn band.

A Crop for a Crop: Free Williamsburg Removes Male Images from White House Photo

Citing modesty concerns, hipster website removes “sexually suggestive” male
images from Sit Room

"Brooklyn-based Der Zeitung, a religious newspaper for the borough's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, has a longstanding policy of not printing photographs of women, saying they are "sexually suggestive." When tasked then with printing the famous "Situation Room" photograph, which features Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director for Counter-terrorism Audrey Tomason, the paper simply edited the photo to remove both women, thus sparing the Orthodox community the danger of being seduced by Clinton's coquettish pose and Tomason's coy glances."

All of this "news" made the Rachel Maddow show.


Catholic Professors Condemn Boehner's Policies

Not what Mr. Boehner had in mind. From the Times, Critical Letter by Catholics Cites Boehner on Policies by LAURIE GOODSTEIN.
More than 75 professors at Catholic University and other prominent Catholic colleges have written a pointed letter to Mr. Boehner saying that the Republican-supported budget he shepherded through the House will hurt the poor, the elderly and the vulnerable, and that he therefore has failed to uphold basic Catholic moral teachings.

“Mr. Speaker, your voting record is at variance from one of the church’s most ancient moral teachings,” the letter says. “From the apostles to the present, the magisterium of the church has insisted that those in power are morally obliged to preference the needs of the poor. Your record in support of legislation to address the desperate needs of the poor is among the worst in Congress. This fundamental concern should have great urgency for Catholic policy makers. Yet, even now, you work in opposition to it.”

The letter writers criticize Mr. Boehner’s support for a budget that cut financing for Medicare, Medicaid and the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, while granting tax cuts to the wealthy and corporations. They call such policies “anti-life,” a particularly biting reference because the phrase is usually applied to politicians and others who support the right to abortion.

Demjanjuk Guilty

We've been unable to post this Times article for a day -- Google's blogger had a major outage.

…The case against Mr. Demjanjuk involved some 15 transport trains known to have arrived between April and July 1943 from the Westerbork concentration camp in the Netherlands, carrying 29,579 people. Prosecutors initially charged Mr. Demjanjuk with 27,900 counts based on the theory that some must have died in transit or been spared for a time to work at the camp. By the end of the trial on Thursday, that figure had been revised to 28,060 counts.

Some 250,000 Jews were killed at Sobibor, most of them poisoned with exhaust fumes.

Mr. Demjanjuk was convicted and sentenced to death in Israel in 1988 as the infamously sadistic Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka, only to have his conviction overturned in 1993. He was freed by Israel’s Supreme Court after evidence surfaced suggesting that another man was most likely to have been Ivan the Terrible.

In a statement on its Web site the day before the verdict, the Simon Wiesenthal Center said: “This case has historic meaning because while it may be the last ‘major’ case tried in Germany, it is the first time a non-German has been charged by Germany with Nazi war crimes and brought to trial in Germany.”

Speaking to the German news agency on Thursday, Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the organization was “very satisfied” that Mr. Demjanjuk had been sentenced to a prison term. The court’s decision “sends a very strong message that even many years after the crimes of the Holocaust, perpetrators can be held to account for their misdeeds,” he said.

Avner Shalev, the head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust remembrance authority in Jerusalem said that, while “no trial can bring back those that were murdered,” the conviction of Mr. Demjanjuk showed that there was “no statute of limitations on the crimes of the Holocaust” and that the killings “could not have taken place without the participation of myriads of Europeans on many levels.”

Elan Steinberg, the Vice President of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants said in a statement that the conviction was “a clarion pronouncement that the pursuit of justice should know no barriers of time and geography.”


How to know when you are an accomplished golfer

Irv Dubow was one of the regulars that we used to play golf with at the Braemar Golf Course in Edina Minnesota.

He was pretty good amateur golfer, with about a six or eight handicap. He shot consistently in the high seventies.

Irv was also an inventor. He devised and patented an amazing "Golf ball retrieving device." We are not sure if he ever got it produced and marketed.

One day, years ago, we asked Irv how we would know when we too could call ourselves an accomplished golfer.

Irv thought for a few moments and said, "After a round of golf, if you talk about and think about the few good shots you had, you are still a beginner and should not consider yourself an accomplished golfer.

"However after eighteen holes of golf, if you talk about and think about the few bad shots you had, then you know that you are no longer a beginner and accordingly you may consider yourself an accomplished golfer."

Instantly we knew that he was right and that he was a golf sage.

We've wondered time and again since that day if the same goes for our other endeavors of life in general.


Our Teaneck Neighbor's Zayat Stables' Nehro Places at Kentucky Derby

No doubt, the Kentucky Derby is the most famous horse race we know of, perhaps the most famous in the world, surely one of the premier sporting events on the planet.

We are happy to report that a horse belonging to our Teaneck neighbor, Mr. Zayat, has placed (second) at the race. It's the second time that a Zayat horse has come in second. That is a darned good record.

Here are some things that the Daily Racing Form have said just now about Zayat in a biographical background article, "Kentucky Derby: Zayat knows the ups and downs":
Zayat is one of the most fascinating people in racing... Though born in Egypt, he is Jewish, and is so observant that during Passover, for instance, there were days he would not return calls, owing to religious custom. He is a passionate racing fan, not just as an owner, but as a bettor. Four summers ago, after a dustup with Del Mar management over its installation of Polytrack, Zayat took his horses out of there, but Del Mar's management was equally concerned about him leaving the area and not putting his money through the windows.

Married with a wife and four children, Zayat's interest in racing has rubbed off on his family, particularly his oldest son, Justin, who has been at his father's side in the stable area this week. In addition to being at the Derby, they were heading over to Lexington this week to visit Eskenderaya, Pioneerof the Nile, and Zensational, former runners who are standing at stud in Kentucky....
We wish Zayat the best; Next year in the winner's circle.

Zeek: Ecstatic Pentecostal Prayer Services Derive from the Jewish Siddur

Some articles are so content-laden that they ought to be books.

Such is the case with, "How the Jewish Prayer Service Resembles Pentecostal Worship," by Sharon Alexander in the Zeek e-zine. Alexander says a lot in the article starting from the premises:
...The most visible example of congregational ecstatic experience is presently found in Pentecostal, charismatic, evangelical, or gospel Christian churches. “Praise,” “worship,” and “glory;” most Jews would identify these terms as coming from the Christian worship service and would not associate the concepts with Jewish services. In fact, however, there are interesting similarities between the Pentecostal and Jewish modes of worship. Though the experience of a holiness, Pentecostal, or charismatic Christian worship service may not overtly resemble that of a typical Jewish service, the underlying structure of the Christian service is actually based on the framework of the earlier form. During the course of her ministry of a Pentecostal church in East Jerusalem, Reverend Ruth Heflin developed a deep sense of the spiritual order of that Judeo-Christian worship service as a path of ascension, designed to evoke a profound mystical experience. This understanding led Sister Ruth to develop her simple yet revelatory recipe for raising the congregation to a group experience of ecstasy: “praise” to “worship” to “glory.” This model fits well into the structure of the Jewish Shacharit service....
The author goes on to explain some of the initial details of this comparison.

We want to hear much more about this topic and look forward to the author's book on the subject, which we hope is in the works.

Forward: Deborah Lipstadt Ponders Eichmann, Bin Laden, Ben Gurion and Obama

We have wondered about this issue. Deborah Lipstadt, author of a new book on Eichmann trial, considers the similarities and differences of the Eichmann mission and the Bin Laden mission, as follows:
Adolf Eichmann was responsible for the murder of close to 1.5 million Jews. Bin Laden had far less blood on his hands. And while both men wished to kill as many Jews as possible, bin Laden was, of course, also interested in killing any American or “Westerner” he could. Each man was ferreted out, in the end, by forces operating clandestinely on foreign soil. Both operations were decisive, swift and successful.

But, of course, what happened to bin Laden and Eichmann after each was located was radically different. One was shot and killed on the spot; the other was put on trial.

It was not inevitable, however, that this would be Eichmann’s fate. It was a decision by David Ben-Gurion that prevented Eichmann from ending up like bin Laden and having justice delivered immediately, with a bullet to the head. Read more...

Karen Armstrong and the Charter for Compassion

In 2008 Karen Armstrong undertook an effort to spread the word on a "Charter for Compassion" among the world religions.

A video of her acceptance of a TED prize is here:

FYI, TED is "a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design."

TED, "was established in 1996 by Chris Anderson, who was at that time a magazine publishing entrepreneur."
The goal of the foundation is to foster the spread of great ideas. It aims to provide a platform for the world's smartest thinkers, greatest visionaries and most-inspiring teachers, so that millions of people can gain a better understanding of the biggest issues faced by the world, and a desire to help create a better future. Core to this goal is a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea.
The charter for compassion sponsored by TED and Ms. Armstrong can be found here.

It propounds, "The Charter for Compassion is a document that transcends religious, ideological, and national difference. Supported by leading thinkers from many traditions, the Charter activates the Golden Rule around the world."

In our view of religious typology, compassion is indeed central to one of the six archetypes of Judaism, the meditator. It is, in our scheme of analysis, diametrically opposed to the core value of another of our ideal categories, that of the celebrity-monotheist.

Accordingly, we do not fully agree that the world's religions are, "based on the principle of compassion" as Armstrong states in her wonderful 2010 book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, page 24. That value is an important one among many others in Judaism and in most of the religious traditions that we know.

But we do agree that we ought to press forward towards a world more full of compassion and less populated by the religion-based triumphalism that feeds on, "pet hatreds and prejudices that give us such a buzz of righteousness (p. 23)."

Bravo to Ms. Armstrong for her efforts that we need to revisit more vigorously and frequently in these days of religious egotism.


Barack Obama, George W. Bush and a Talmudic Irony

George W. Bush, the cowboy, hunted down and sent Saddam Hussein off for trial, to meet vengeance following the rule of law, followed by a sanctioned hanging.

Barack H. Obama, the moral beacon, ordered a hit on Osama bin Laden, hunted and killed him, no trial, no rule of law, to meet pure raw vengeance, with a bullet to the head.

Possibility one: everyone wants to be someone else.

Possibility two: what we think about our leaders is diametrically wrong.


eWeek: E-Readers Like Kindle are Destroying the Publishing Industry

In a dramatic article, eWeek declares that e-readers like Kindle and Nook are destroying the publishing industry.

They make a good case. Even so, the transition will take more time than they imagine. Many people will be slow to abandon their paper books.

Here is what eWeek says in, "Kindle, Nook, Other E-Readers Wrecking Publishing Industry: Report":
Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and other e-readers might dangle the prospect of convenience for millions of bibliophiles around the world, with their light weight and instant access to whole libraries of e-books, but a new analyst report suggests the devices could eventually prove bad news for the publishing industry as a whole.

“The book publishing industry has entered a period of long-term decline because of the rising sales of e-book readers,” reads an April 28 research note from IHS iSuppli, which predicted a decrease in book revenue at a compound annual rate of three percent through 2014—a reversal from the period between 2005 and 2010, when revenue rose.

For the traditional book publishing industry, the implications of the rise of the e-book and e-book reader markets are frightening, given the decline in paper book printing, distribution and sales,” Steve Mather, IHS iSuppli’s principal analyst for wireless, wrote in an April 28 statement. “The industry has entered a phase of disruption that will be as significant as the major changes impacting the music and movie business.”


The Death of Osama bin Laden Marks the end of a Cosmic War of Religious Terrorism

The death today of Osama bin Laden marks the end of one terrible Cosmic War of Religious Terrorism. Previously we taught about this subject in our course on Religious Terrorism, War and Violence, as summarized in our post here below.

What is a cosmic war?

Marc Juergensmeyer, in Terror in the Mind of God, makes a convincing case that the religions that practice violence share some common assumptions. One of those is that their members are engaged in a great war. The most dramatic of such statements to this effect comes from Osama:

The world is at war, Osama bin Laden proclaimed in a fatwa delivered in February 1998, months before the bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania--bombings he was accused of masterminding and financing. Bin Laden wanted to make clear that it was not he who started the war, however, but Americans, through their actions in the Middle East. These had constituted, in bin Laden's words, "a clear declaration of war on God, His messenger and Muslims." His own acts of violence, by implication, were merely responses to a great ongoing struggle.

The text of that fatwa concludes as follows:

On that basis, and in compliance with God's order, we issue the following fatwa to all Muslims.