NY Times: Rabbi Zev Zahavy call for Fair Immigration Laws in 1952

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

NY Times 1953: Rabbi Zev Zahavy Calls for National Civil Rights and Ten Commandments

55 Years Ago: Rabbi Zev Zahavy Calls for Iraq Peace

From the archives of the New York Times...

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200 of My Dad's Sermons Reported in the New York Times


Times: Religion, Religion, Religion

Religion items of note in the Times this weekend:

"EARLIER this month state senators in Tennessee approved an update to our sex-education law that would ban teachers from discussing hand-holding, which it categorizes as “gateway sexual activity.” The bill came fast on the heels of a new state law that effectively allows creationism to be taught in our classrooms. Though he voiced misgivings, our governor, Bill Haslam, refused to veto it..."            

IT IS FICTION -- In the Magazine, "My Son Went to Heaven, and All I Got Was a No. 1 Best Seller" by MAUD NEWTON  puts 'nonfiction' in quotes - finally somebody is pointing out that the book is on the wrong list - and she opines towards the end about a book by Todd Burpo that has been a 'nonfiction' bestseller:  "...In the Middle Ages, Christians’ near-death narratives explicitly involved harsh judgment and infernal torment. All of that awaits the ungodly in Colton’s 'nonfiction' story too. You just don’t notice it at first, what with Jesus, his rainbow steed and the seraphim..."

The Book Review section has Barnard professor RANDALL BALMER at first dissecting Ross Douthat's book and then turning his review into a syllabus. The review part informs us that 'Ross Douthat’s contribution to this genre, “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” laments the departure from what he calls “a Christian center,” which “has helped bind together a teeming, diverse and fissiparous nation.” Absent a national church, he argues, Christianity “has frequently provided an invisible mortar for our culture and a common vocabulary for our great debates.”'

To the Editor:
Jonathan Rosen didn’t review my book “The Crisis of Zionism” (April 15); he evaded it. At my book’s heart is this claim: While the Palestinians absolutely bear part of the blame for the lack of a two-state solution (I call Yasir Arafat’s role in the second intifada a “crime” and Palestinian terrorism “grotesque”), settlement building imperils Israel’s future as a democratic Jewish state. Does Rosen agree? He doesn’t say. Does he agree that American Jewish organizations should be more willing to publicly challenge Israeli policy when it violates the promise of “complete equality of social and political rights . . . irrespective of race, religion and sex” in Israel’s declaration of independence? He doesn’t say. Does he agree that some of the most committed younger American Jews are alienated by the organized Jewish community’s unwillingness to permit a truly open debate about Israeli policy? He doesn’t say.

Instead, he calls my book simplistic. In fact, it contains a detailed, multicausal account of the failure of the peace process between 1993 and 2009, and the most in-depth account yet written, based on dozens of interviews, of its failure in the Obama and Netanyahu years.

Rosen’s review deals with none of this complexity. But there are simple truths as well as complex ones. One of those simple truths is that holding territory in which one ethnic group enjoys citizenship, the right to vote, free movement and due process while another ethnic group is denied those rights is unjust and corrosive of a country’s democratic fiber. Evading that basic truth does not constitute intellectual sophistication. It constitutes moral abdication.



Slate Magazine: How ex-Orthodox men Learn About Relating to Women (and it's not via Talmud)

The Talmud has seven whole Tractates in the division called "Women" and one of them is over 1000 pages in the English Translation. For starters check out tractates Yebamoth and Kethuboth (Soncino Babylonian Talmud Yebamoth, 1072 pages  and Soncino Babylonian Talmud Kethuboth, 877 pages in the Kindle editions).

And remember that about the contents of the Talmud, the saying goes, "Turn and turn it for you will find everything in it" -- presumably including some really good advice about relating to women.

That's why we cannot understand how come ex-Orthodox men need any dating advice at all.

(Hat tip to Rebecca...) On Facebook we found a link to this article in Slate, "Hey Baby, What’s Your Sinai? - Teaching ex-Orthodox Jews how to date in New York" by Diana Spechler.

As you can see from this quote below, in a heartwarming story, Diana thinks that some formerly Orthodox men are clueless about women and need coaching. All we can say is perhaps these guys skipped their Talmud classes at the Yeshiva.
...According to Irenstein, lack of self-confidence pervades the recently ex-Orthodox, who refer to themselves as OTD, or “Off the Derech” (derech is Hebrew for path). Once they’ve gone off the path, for a variety of reasons including loss of faith, distaste for the lifestyle, and longing to educate themselves beyond the Jewish texts, OTD’ers are like immigrants in the secular world, unsure of the language and customs of dating, battling the voices of their parents and rabbis, who warned them that touching the opposite sex before marriage would incur God’s wrath.


Is Madonna Jewish?

No, superstar singer and dancer Madonna is not a Jew. She was born and brought up Catholic. However in recent years she has been linked to the Jewish mystical practice called Kabbalah.

On Madonna's 2005 album, "Confessions on a Dance Floor" the tenth track is controversial because it is called Isaac and contains allusions to the Kabbalah. Rabbis in Israel (mistakenly) thought Madonna was trying to cash in on the good name of Isaac Luria, the Ari, the great founder of Lurianic Kabbalah. So those good men condemned the singer and the album.

It turns out that the singer named this song in homage to her quite living London spiritual guide, a Mr. Yitzhak Sinwani - Isaac is his English name. So what do we think? Is Madonna misappropriating the Kabbalah in this song, distorting it in her now-expected sacrilegious manner? (See below for the lyrics.)


This Week - Six New Kindle Talmud Tractates in English - Buy Now!

Srugim Blog: Rav Amar to Rav Sharki at the Kotel, "My Talmudic is Bigger Than Yours"

Reported from the Srugim blog via a nice summary-translation by Life in Israel "Rav Amar And Rav Sharki get Into It At Kotel About Hallel."
There have been lots of interesting events, incidents and news stories regarding Yom HaAtzmaut, but the one I find most interesting is the one regarding the tefilla led by Rav Sharki at the Kotel last night.

Rav Uri Sharki , head of the beis medrash of Machon Meir, started, a few years ago, leading a festive holiday tefilla at the kotel. It started off small, and has grown every year, with now thousands of people participating. Rav Sharki is of the opinion that halachically it is necessary to say hallel, with a bracha, on the night of Yom HaAtzmaut as well, as an expression of faith in the redemption.

At the tefilla last night led by Rav Sharki, according to this report on Srugim, the chief rabbi, Rav Shlomo Amar, decided to participate. Just before the chazzan was about to begin the hallel, Rav Amar told rav Sharki that he is prohibiting him from making a bracha on the hallel.

Rav Amar explained that Ravv Sharki's opinion, that had been published and publicized in a journal and detailed as well in a pamphlet of tefillot for Yom HaAtzmaut,, is incorrect. Rav Amar explained one cannot make a bracha on the hallel, and if he does it is a bracha l'vatala.

After some back and forth between them, Rav Sharki decided to stand down and not argue with the chief rabbi. Rav Sharki decided that hallel would be said but with no bracha.

After the tefilla, Rav Amar explained to the crowd that his decision and statements were not personally against Rav Sharki, but were to clarify the halacha. Rav amar explained that in Morocco and North Africa they used to say hallel with a bracha, but in Eretz Yisrael the psak of "Maran" (Rav Yosef Karo) is accepted to not say the bracha on hallel, and definitely once Rav Ovadiah Yosef has paskened that way.

After Rav Amar left, Rav Sharki said he had not responded so as not to argue with Rav Amar publicly, however he feels that the bracha must be said and Rav Yosef Karo was only referring to hallel on Rosh Chodesh and not the full hallel as it is said on Yom HaAtzmaut, as we make the bracha on Hannukah as well. Rav Sharki said that next year he will say the bracha on the hallel, and hopes by then to convince the rabbonim as well that that is what is correct....
As Srugim put it pointedly:
שניות ספורות לפני שהחזן החל בברכת ההלל, פנה הרב עמאר לרב שרקי ואמר לו כי הוא אוסר לברך על ההלל

So to sum it up, first he publicly humiliated Rav Sharki at a most dramatic moment and then before leaving the Wall the Chief Rabbi apologized and assured those assembled that he has nothing personal against Rav Sharki, just that Rav Amar needed to "clarify the halakhah."

That raw rabbinic powerplay in front of thousands at the Kotel inspired our blunt headline for this post.

Yom Haatzmaut Addition for Your Daily Prayerbook

For Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day, here is how you may legitimately add to your siddur using a "liturgical loophole."
The Artscroll Siddur has personal prayers for livelihood and for forgiveness that "during the silent Shemoneh Esrei one may insert" into the paragraph of shema koleinu (p. 108 in shacharit in some editions).
If you use that siddur, or any prayerbook, and if you do wish to follow the advice therein, our recommendation is that you upgrade your prayerbook as follows.

Since you may insert an additional prayer into the standard formula of the Shemoneh Esrei, make your supplication special - a prayer for livelihood and forgiveness - and especially for the welfare of the State of Israel.

Each day, three-times-a-day (according to the Artscroll editors) you can insert the "personal" prayer into your Amidah prayers. So, why not just do it? Insert the broad, meaningful, timely and powerful liturgy at the appointed location -- the Prayer for the State of Israel.

To make this easier -- print out this text below, cut it out and paste it into your Artscroll siddur on p. 108 and throughout that - or any other - siddur at the appropriate places.

Click and Print
Our Father Who are in Heaven, Protector and Redeemer of Israel, bless Thou the State of Israel which marks the dawn of our deliverance. Shield it beneath the wings of Thy love; Spread over it Thy canopy of peace; send Thy light and Thy truth to its leaders, officers, and counselors, and direct them with Thy good counsel.

O G-d, strengthen the defenders of our Holy Land; grant them salvation and crown them with victory. Establish peace in the land, and everlasting joy for its inhabitants. Remember our brethren, the whole house of Israel, in all the lands of their dispersion. Speedily let them walk upright to Zion, the city, to Jerusalem Thy dwelling-place, as it is written in the Torah of Thy servant Moses: "Even if you are dispersed in the uttermost parts of the world, from there the L-rd your G-d will gather and fetch you. The L-rd your G-d will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it."

Unite our heart to love and revere Thy Name, and to observe all the precepts of Thy Torah. Shine forth in Thy glorious majesty over all the inhabitants of Thy world. Let everything that breathes proclaim: The L-rd G-d of Israel is King; His majesty rules over all. Amen.
We hope that your celebration of Yom Haatzmaut will be meaningful and that you will continue your special concern for the the welfare of the State of Israel with daily prayers throughout the year. Repost edited from 5/06

A prayer for Israel Independence Day

Here is a poetic prayer for Yom Haatzmaut from Israel. (Hat tip to Menahem Mendel who has links to the other relevant and important sources for the IID liturgy as well.)

על הניסים ועל הפורקן ועל הגבורות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם בזמן הזה

בִּימֵי קִבּוּץ שְׂרִידֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאַרְצוֹת חֹשֶׁךְ וְצַלְמָוֶת לְחֶמְדַּת נַחֲלָתָם, קָמוּ חֲלוּצֵי אֻמָּה, הֵרִימוּ נֵס וְחִבְּרוּ מְגִלָּה, וְתָבְעוּ אֶת זְכוּת הָעָם לַעֲמֹד בִּרְשׁוּת עַצְמוֹ, כְּמַמְלָכָה יְהוּדִית בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתּוֹ. בְּתֻפִּים וּבִמְחוֹלוֹת רָקְדוּ בַּחוּצוֹת, טַף וְנָשִׁים, זְקֵנִים וּנְעָרִים, בְּקוֹלוֹת שִׂמְחָה וּבְצָהֳלָה. בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה תְּקָפוּם בְּנֵי עַוְלָה, לְהַכְחִיד מִן הָאָרֶץ שֵׁם וּשְׁאֵרִית, וְלַיָּם לִזְרֹק כָּל שׁוֹמְרֵי אֱמוּנֶיהָ. וְאַתָּה לְיֵשַׁע עַמְּךָ מִהַרְתָּ, יְדֵי מְגִנֵּיהֶם חִזַּקְתָּ, וּכְלֵי אוֹיְבֵיהֶם נִפַּצְתָּ. תְּקוּמַת פְּאֵר עָשִׂיתָ וּמְדִינַת הָדָר הֵקַמְתָּ, רֵאשִׁית שְׁאִיפַת דּוֹרוֹתֶיךָ, מַחְסֶה וּמָעוֹז לְכָל שְׁבוּת עַמֶּךָ.

ניתן להוריד גרסת הדפסה או גרסת כיס

חובר בידי אבי שמידמן ובן-ציון שפיץ. הארות והערות תתקבלנה בברכה


Is Mitt Romney Jewish?

No Mitt Romney is not a Jew. He is a Mormon.

There are those who argue that Romney is not even a Christian because Mormons are not Christians. That is a question that the Mormon Church has cleverly blurred since the 1980s. (See the text that we bolded in the article below.)

Though he used the term only once in his 2007  "Faith in America" speech, an Indiana University professor argues that Romney's oration was a quintessential Mormon statement.

See the perceptive article in the CSM from 12/11/2007.
What made Romney's big speech so Mormon
His tent vision fits his church's bid to enter the religious mainstream.
By Jan Shipps

Bloomington, Ind. - When Mitt Romney gave his "Faith in America" address last Thursday, observers wondered how "Mormon" it would be. "Not very," is the understandable consensus. Mormonism 101 it was not, and he said very little about his personal religious beliefs, sticking to his announced topic.

Still, in the way he talked about religious diversity, the nation's symphony of faiths, the way religious liberty stands at the heart of the American constitutional system, and how religion belongs in the public square, this was a consummate Mormon speech. Moreover, despite its political agenda, it is possible to read what Mr. Romney said as being in harmony with a major effort his church has been making since the 1970s: to be included in the American religious mainstream.

Shouting in Shul About the Prayer for the State of Israel

Originally posted 10/30/05...

There was a shouting match this past Shabbat morning at the 8:30 minyan at the Bnai Yeshurun synagogue in Teaneck. The Gabbai added the single word sheteheh to the Prayer for the State of Israel. That meant he said that we prayed that the Lord protect Israel and that the State will be the first flowering of our redemption -- instead of praying that the Lord protect it because it is the beginning of our redemption.

The policy at CBY officially is to add that will be qualifier. The 9:00 minyan always does. The 8:30 has not -- based on a "don't ask, don't tell" understanding. But then recently the Rabbi got wind of this unfortunate laxity. He scolded the Gabbai and insisted that the policy of qualifying the prayer be rigidly enforced. The resultant shouting match followed.

Who wrote the Prayer for Serenity?

We wrote several books on the history and development ancient Jewish prayer. The more we worked carefully and seriously on the textual evidence, the less certain we were of the conventional history of our religious texts and rituals.

A while ago we read about a ritual and a text, not from 2000 or 3000 years ago. The so-called Serenity Prayer was first uttered less than 100 years ago.

And the short of it is, according to this story below from the Times, that the more we study the less we are sure who actually wrote this recent modern prayer. How much more difficult is it to say with certainty anything about the origins of ancient prayers! As we say in our recent book, God's Favorite Prayers, "A real crucial characteristic of any prayer is to make it appear to you to be a timeless tradition, with no beginnings."

Here is what the Times reported.
Serenity Prayer Stirs Up Doubt: Who Wrote It?

Generations of recovering alcoholics, soldiers, weary parents, exploited workers and just about anybody feeling beaten down by life have found solace in a short prayer that begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

Now the Serenity Prayer is about to endure a controversy over its authorship that is likely to be anything but serene.

For more than 70 years, the composer of the prayer was thought to be the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, one of modern Christianity’s towering figures. Niebuhr, who died in 1971, said he was quite sure he had written it, and his wife, Ursula, also a prominent theologian, dated its composition to the early 1940s.


Are iPhones, Android devices, iPads, and Blackberrys Kosher?

David Assaf (in his wonderful Hebrew blog "Oneg Shabbat") writes at some length and detail about how a few 19th century rabbis apparently permitted speaking on a telephone on Shabbat.

He ends up with a "that was then, this is now" contrast citing a rabbinic wall poster that was seen in Givat Shaul in Jerusalem a few weeks ago. The poster warns Jews that "iPhones, Android devices, iPads, Blackberrys, MP4 and the like" and all video players and Internet devices, all of these "endanger the sanctity of the house of Israel" and they are bringing a "spiritual Holocaust" upon those who use them, "G-d Forbid..." 

"It is surely forbidden to own or use these devices" the rabbis warn. 

Just so there is no confusion, we disagree with those rabbis. We rule that these devices are kosher, permitted for use by all Jews. We are sure that is a relief for some of our readers.

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Times Mag: Does Swimming Make You Smarter?

Yes, according to an article in the Times Magazine, "How Exercise Could Lead to a Better Brain" by Gretchen Reynolds, swimming does make you smarter.
The value of mental-training games may be speculative, as Dan Hurley writes in his article on the quest to make ourselves smarter, but there is another, easy-to-achieve, scientifically proven way to make yourself smarter. Go for a walk or a swim. For more than a decade, neuroscientists and physiologists have been gathering evidence of the beneficial relationship between exercise and brainpower. But the newest findings make it clear that this isn’t just a relationship; it is the relationship. Using sophisticated technologies to examine the workings of individual neurons — and the makeup of brain matter itself — scientists in just the past few months have discovered that exercise appears to build a brain that resists physical shrinkage and enhance cognitive flexibility. Exercise, the latest neuroscience suggests, does more to bolster thinking than thinking does...

Just how exercise remakes minds on a molecular level is not yet fully understood, but research suggests that exercise prompts increases in something called brain-derived neurotropic factor, or B.D.N.F., a substance that strengthens cells and axons, fortifies the connections among neurons and sparks neurogenesis. Scientists can’t directly study similar effects in human brains, but they have found that after workouts, most people display higher B.D.N.F. levels in their bloodstreams...
We swim a mile a day. That's why this blog is so darn smart.


How can we better Memorialize the Shoah in our Synagogues?

The Holocaust now is memorialized in synagogues mainly peripherally through added events and tacked on references or via artwork in the building vestibule. We think that the Shoah must be more tightly integrated into the ritual and symbolism of every Jewish place of worship.

We have pondered over the years how we could make this particular meaningful change in our synagogue. We want to add tasteful and appropriate symbolism for the Shoah in a more central shul location, to commemorate and offer a pause for reflection for the Holocaust, the most traumatic epoch in Jewish history.

Modifying a synagogue in any way is a difficult project for anyone. There are many pitfalls that can get in your way. You may find obstinate trustees, reluctant rabbis, timid members and the like that make accomplishing any change in a synagogue - no matter how well-justified - at least utterly aggravating and probably well nigh impossible.

As a result, as we said, most projects of this nature - adding a Holocaust memorial symbol to the synagogue - are relegated to a hallway or basement - not to the main sanctuary. But like us, many of you will prefer to have your own chosen symbol centrally located - in the main sanctuary in a more meaningful place of honor and prominence.

Accordingly we suggest it is best and most practical that you follow these five steps to complete your own synagogue-symbol-project promptly and without interference, rejection or aggravation from others.

Step #1
Enter your synagogue and visually locate the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light, in your synagogue's sanctuary. This perpetual light is commonly installed right above the Aron Kodesh, the Ark, at the front and center of the synagogue.

If you ask, officials of the synagogue may tell you that this light currently signifies either the menorah of the ancient Temple, or God's presence in the chapel, or the spiritual light that emanated from the Temple of old. Be that as it may, you are going to make a change in that signifier.

Step #2
This is the tricky part. Do not even think about touching the light. It is tempting to try to make some physical change during a revision project. However you must resist this impulse.

As we intimated, every shul has people who make it their business to oppose any visible improvement in the structure or decor of the synagogue. You do not want to run afoul of these folks. Your project is a work that you create independently with the help of your imagination.

Step #3
Close your eyes and imagine an inverted Hebrew letter vav. Yes, the eternal candle or lamp with its flame looks to us like an upside down vav, the letter that has the numeric value of six. Recall that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Step #4
Say to yourself the words, Ner Tamid lezichron Hashoah - meaning, this is the eternal light in memory of the Holocaust.

Step #5
Open your eyes. You have change the signification of a symbol that stands front and center in every synagogue sanctuary and you have completed your project.

Now you can meaningfully remember each time you enter the synagogue to look first at that eternal light at the focal center of your house of worship - to take a moment to reflect on the enormity of the suffering of the Shoah - and to give thanks for the constant resilience of the Jewish people.

[Repost from 2007.]


Is Kevin Youkilis Jewish?

"Kevin Youkilis, known for his fiery disposition, was selected for his first All-Star Game."

Yes, he is a "fiery" player and a "grinder" and Kevin Youkilis is a Jew.

According to JTA, he has an honor: Top Jewish player in the 2000s, awarded by Jewish Major Leaguers, a suburban Boston-based organization that each year produces a set of trading cards of Jewish baseball players.

We have few Jewish professional baseball players and we take pride in the achievements of each one. From the Times, July 2008:
Grinder Earns Place in All-Star Spotlight
...Youkilis, 29, has been one of the Red Sox’ unsung heroes in recent seasons, delivering a steady stream of base hits from the middle of the order and Gold Glove-caliber defense from either corner of the infield. And, one year after he was overlooked for the All-Star Game when he was posting similar statistics, Youkilis is one of seven Red Sox players who will be back at Yankee Stadium on July 15....

Talmud: The Ten Commandments are Embedded in the Shema Passages

Rabbi Levi in the Talmud Yerushalmi proposes a kind of Midrash, namely that in the verses of the Shema` one can find the principles of the Ten Commandments. [Translation by Tzvee Zahavy]

[II.A] Why do they recite these two passages [Deut. 6:4-9 and Deut. 11:13-21] each day? R. Levi and R. Simon [disputed this question].

[B] R. Simon said, "Because in them we find mention of lying down and rising up [in Deut. 6:7 and Deut. 11:19. These are allusions to the beginning and end of each day when the Shema` is recited]."

[C] R. Levi said. "Because the ten commandments are embodied in the [paragraphs of the Shema` as follows:]

[D] [1] "I am the Lord your God" [Exod. 20:2], [is implied by the phrase], "Hear, O Israel the Lord our God" [Deut. 6:4].

[E] [2] "You shall have no other Gods before me" [Exod. 20:3], [is implied by the phrase], "One Lord" [Deut. 6:4].


Monday Special: "God's Favorite Prayers" a Free Kindle Book Today April 16

Our Best Selling Kindle book edition of "God's Favorite Prayers" by Tzvee Zahavy is free 4/16/2012 - a gift for you.

Here is why on occasion we offer our Kindle books for free.

In the Kindle Direct Publishing KDP Select program we are permitted to offer our books free for five days out of every three months. Kindle explains to us:
KDP Select - a new option to make money and promote your book. When you make your book exclusive to Kindle for at least 90 days, it will be part of the Kindle Owners' Lending Library for the same period and you will earn your share of a monthly fund when readers borrow your books from the library. You will also be able to promote your book as free for up to 5 days during these 90 days.
We believe that the theory is that when we promote our books, and hundreds of people download them, they will be better linked and marketed in the Amazon system, and as a result more people will buy them or borrow them when they are not free. Logical? You decide. Meanwhile, Enjoy your free books!


Times Total Hatchet Job: Jonathan Rosen v. Peter Beinart

Jonathan Rosen's review in the Times, "A Missionary Impulse" of the book ‘The Crisis of Zionism,’ by Peter Beinart, is a total hatchet job.

Rosen is the editorial director of Nextbook, which seems at first to give him some credentials to review this book, but he is also the author, most recently, of “The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature” which cancels his credentials for this review. He is a published expert in birding, and a memoir writer, not a scholar nor even a pundit versed in Zionism, nor in American Judaism.

We are not a big fan of Beinart's views, often too liberal even for us. Oy but we do wince as his nemesis Rosen declares that Beinart is wrong because he is like a Mark Twain character, "Like the Widow Douglas trying to civilize Huck Finn before he lights out for the occupied territory, Beinart has a missionary impulse toward Israel. His faith resides in 'liberal ­ideals,' which he often makes synonymous with Judaism itself, or what Judaism ought to be."

The Rosen hatchet chips away until the final blow, where Rosen sums up modern Israel, and dismisses Beinart all in one sentence, "Sometimes it does this well and sometimes badly, but the struggle itself is the hallmark of a civilization far beyond Peter Beinart’s Manichaean ­simplicities."

Beinart may have written a bad book or a good book. It surely is a sophisticated work of argumentation. About that, other reviewers of all different stripes agree.

We will read the book and decide our own opinion of it. Meanwhile, Rosen has penned by far the worst "review" of the week in the Times, "Manichaean" or otherwise. In the Times Book Review we expect more substance and nuance, especially when a right winger outside of his area of expertise reviews a book by a trendy left winger who happens to be an expert in the subject matter of the book.

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What is "Displaced Talmudic Energy?"

Jenna Weissman Joselit asks at HuffPost, "Do These Amazing Jews Have 'Displaced Talmudic Energy?'" If we bought the analysis referred to in the article about talented contemporary Jews, we would begin to refer to this syndrome as DTE. Alas we do not buy the theory.

The Talmud is a literature with distinctive contents and ways of thinking about the world. If it was a source of "energy" we would be among the first to market Talmud-Water or Talmud-Bracelets and try to get Madonna interested in the Talmud.

Wait a second, those are not bad ideas.

We do track a high sense of drama in the world of the Talmud and a conviction that we Jews are stars at the center of the stage. That is at most an idea, a concept or a meme, and not an energy bar.


Tzvee's Talmudic blog in New York Magazine

On “Reflections on the Influence of the Rov on the American Jewish Religious Community” by Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein

Notes by Tzvee Zahavy on "Reflections on the Influence of the Rov on the American Jewish Religious Community" by Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein

Dr. Tovah Lichtenstein, the daughter of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (the Rov) wrote an essay, "Reflections on the Influence of the Rov on the American Jewish Religious Community." (TRADITION 44:4, 2011, Rabbinical Council of America, pp. 7-22.) In it she is up front in her self-assessment and thus characterizes her observations as opinion. She says at the outset, "I hope that my understanding of the Rov's influence on the community in which he lived will ring true to those who knew him and who wish to appraise his contributions to the American Jewish religious community."

She further limits her scope to appraising her father's,
a.       impact upon the religious community
b.       its commitment to Halakha
c.       its public stance in relation to the general society
d.      its self-image

This limited range is disappointing. We would prefer from the daughter of a noteworthy figure some new inside knowledge, perhaps about her father's self-appraisal of his successes or failures. A daughter's mere opinions about abstract issues concerning her father can be highly personal and more than likely they are biased.

WSJ: Golf Practice, Daily Talmud Study, and "the illusion of competence"

We liked this WSJ article for two reasons. First, we agree that spending lots of time at the driving range does not translate directly into better golf shots on the course.

Second, we agree that practice sessions can lull one into the "illusion of competence" in golf and in many other activities in life.

We like the concept and now we are thinking about how it may help us characterize relgious activities (such as the daily Talmud study called Daf Yomi). Here is the article about golf drills.
Not at Home on the Range:

Why Much of the Work Golfers Do to Improve Their Games Isn't Helping Them Get Better


You're on the range, pounding balls, and suddenly golf seems easy. All the parts of your swing sync and you start striping one career-best drive after another. "By golly, I've got it," you say to yourself. You can't wait to get to the course.

Science has a name for this exalted state, but unfortunately it's not "flow" or "in the zone." It's "the illusion of competence," and the odds are it's doing your golf game more harm than good.


The Haggadah as an American Best Seller

So we do not really care about what is inside of the New American Haggadah by Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander and two other popular writers. 

The watershed event of this Passover season was the appearance of a Haggadah in the top 100 best sellers at Amazon.com - today at # 39 and 34 days in the top 100. What the hey?

We had guests at the Seder who had the NAH but it turns out that they had no contributions to make to our table based on the contents. 

Who cares if the NAH is quirky or a masterpiece? As a result of the NAH's popularity we do expect many other popular writers and celebrities to publish Haggadahs next year. That is a good thing for Jewish books, and so that is a perfectly good result, from our perspective.

 The Kindle Edition of the Classic Soncino Talmud in English


Anti-Abortion Activist Lou Engle Hijacks and Twists the Story of Esther

Katie Toth at Religion Dispatches calls her op-ed the Lou Engle's Bizarro Esther recalling the Superman comics Bizarro Superman from the Bizarro world where everything is skewed almost to the opposite of what it should be. She explains:
Lou Engle’s “Esther Call” will be finishing in Dallas, Texas today on Good Friday. The “mass event […] focuses on God's forgiveness for those who have been involved in abortion […and calls on] viewers to pray for an end to the bloodshed of innocent lives.” Along with co-leader Laura Allred, Engle has called on women to repent for the nation’s abortions on behalf of America’s women.

That’s a far cry from the original Esther—a biblical queen who used the power of prayer, fasting, and a ballsy appeal to the king to save the Jews after her stubborn cousin Mordecai nearly got them all massacred.

One video calls on women who have been “hurt” by abortion to come together to “release the pain,” a process through which political change will be possible. At face value, Engle seems to be calling on some conservative Christian reconfiguration of girl power—uniting women so they can refine their political voice.

Problem is, for these Esthers power is only realized through the humiliation of themselves and their peers.

The biblical Esther doesn’t really do any ‘pain-releasing.’ She’s busy using her cleverness, faith, and womanly wile to protect her people after her cousin puts them at risk with his ego (Esther 3:1). Engle’s Esthers, however, will only be able to protect their land once they repent their own failings. 

In other words: Sure! Women can have power to influence national policy… if they start crying about what dirty sinners they are. Engle borrows from rhetoric about women’s power, but tells them to turn that power in on themselves.
This Engle campaign sounds to us like an extreme hijacking of a biblical story which distorts it for aims that are diametrically opposed to the original intents of the narrative.

The Passover Seder: When we all must become children | Morethodoxy | Jewish Journal

On JewishJournal.com we found an essay by Rabbi Hyim Shafner, "The Passover Seder: When we all must become children" which captured part of what we taught at our Seder this year. He starts off,
“One is obligated to see themselves on the Seder night as if they are actually now leaving Egypt.” -Maimonides
“The child at the Seder asks: “Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights we eat leavened or unleavened bread but on this night only unleavened. On all other nights we eat regular vegetables but on this night bitter herbs….”” -The Talmud
If the Passover Seder meal is one of remembering that God redeemed the Jewish people from Egyptian slavery, why not do precisely that? Read the Biblical account of the Exodus (which we do not); ask about slavery and freedom, divinely brought plagues and miracles, nationhood and history. Why all the questions about why this night is different?
Children live in the present, their questions straight forward; they observe and ask, observe and ask. According to some Jewish sources we do strange actions at the Seder meal, like dipping our food, drinking many cups of wine and delaying the meal, precisely so that the children will notice and ask: “Why is this night different?”...
We put it differently at our Seder and a bit more dramatically. When the time came for the four questions I explained that now we all, children and adults, must become meditators, looking closely at our immediate actions and surroundings. (The meditator is one of the six primary archetypes that I develop in my book, God's Favorite Prayers)

And I distributed to the children magnifying glasses and told them that they were all appointed Pesach detectives. But they were so well rehearsed and anxious to recite the four questions that this idea did not get much traction, although the point was made -- and it is obvious. Part of the Seder is reflexive and meditative.

Another part of the Seder is triumphalist and we were not about to avoid that this year. We went with the flow. We gave out "We're number one" foam fingers to the kids and at three occasions we had them wave the cheering fingers in the air. (When we said “at first our forefathers were idolaters..." and shortly thereafter we became monotheists, when we said, "Therefore..." we give praise, and when we greeted Elijah and recited the passage about pouring out wrath...

And do you know what? Triumphalists are childlike in an altogether other way. (The celebrity triumphalist is one of the six primary archetypes that I develop in my book, God's Favorite Prayers).


iPad Haggadah, Passover and Seder App and online Seders

Update; WSJ has a nice article about online Seders and the digitalization of Judaism: "Matzo Ball Soup, Check. iPad, Check. For Passover, Jews Try Techie Seders"

Now our review.

The Rambam says that it is a mitzvah for every Jew to write a Sefer Torah. To us it seems that there is a mitzvah lately for every Jew to write a Haggadah. We like that idea. And we have a tall pile of different editions of the Haggadah which we draw upon for the Seder.

Oh and by the way just about everyone we know is writing an iPad app or wants to write one. That is an urgent technology mitzvah of its own.

And so now this year David Kraemer, professor at JTS, is the author of a new Haggadah multimedia app for the iPad. The Haggadah includes eloquent introductions and commentary by Kraemer.

Here are some of the excellent additional features of this app. You can toggle between English and Hebrew in the Haggadah text. There is a cute Seder plate page that you can spin around - and see explanations of each item.

There is an oral commentary by Rabbi Irwin Kula, and nu, it could have been better and more insightful but we will take it for now as long as he redoes it for next year with more preparation and depth.

There is an oral commentary  that is a bit hard to find by Sharon Liberman Mintz, curator of Jewish art at The JTS Library, on the artwork. Featured are images of historical Haggadot from the Library’s collection, awesome. If you expand the art images that have a gold magnifying glass icon, you can hear her intelligent explanations.

There is an alternative “Sayder” by Amichai Lau-Lavie, rabbinical student at JTS, which is a bit hokie and uber-current, but we liked it. Your mileage may vary.

There is audio with transliteration of the Seder's most popular songs, very nice.

There are games for children, but we must critique the coloring pages. They seem to us to be too detailed for iPad coloring, even with small fingers. And we know this because? Because we have a three year old grandson who loves to color on our iPad. More user acceptance testing for next year please.

There are really bad jokes, sort of related to the Seder, and some fine recipes, which we have not tried so don't go by our generous opinion, and other features that we would discover if we had more time, we just got the app to evaluate, quite late in the season. 

David Kraemer and his crew have fulfilled with great aplomb the dual mitzvahs of writing a new Haggadah and of writing an iPad app. Bravo. Link.

Talmudic Books for Kindle on the Talmud, Bible, Kabbalah and Prayer
 The Kindle Edition of the Classic Soncino Talmud in English