Book Serialization Part 1: Six People You Meet in Synagogue

For 2013. We present our book in serial format on our blog - God's Favorite Prayers...


 invite you into the heart of Jewish spirituality, to learn about its idiom and imagery, its emotions and its great sweeping dramas. I invite you to meet six ideal personalities of Jewish prayer. And I invite you to get to know some of their respective prayers.
My thesis in this book is simple. Jews pray every day in holy synagogues and in ordinary places throughout the world. When they do so, they engage in sacred rituals and they recite and sing and meditate prayers that derive from six distinct archetypes. I invite you to meet the six personalities: the performer, the mystic, the scribe, the priest, the meditator and the celebrity.
My approach in this book is also simple. I use stories, anecdotes and personal references throughout this volume. But this work is not a personal memoir. My narrative framework in the text will help guide you to discover some deep and personal meanings in the classic Jewish liturgies.
I will tell you about a few of my experiences and several of my outstanding teachers to motivate your interest and humanize what can be difficult and abstract prayers. In the past, a lot of dry theological approaches have been applied to the readings of the liturgy. As a result, in our synagogues, it is common to hear that many are bored with the services or alienated from them.
My point is that liturgy is not dry theology. It is a vibrant enterprise of bright ways of expression, filled with colorful pictures, evoking sentiments and passions and full of exhilaration. To appreciate great prayers, people need to stop, to find their own personal threads of liturgical meanings and to discover all of its energy and excitement.


Is Menstruation Kosher?

Well that silly question got your attention... Kosher means fit or proper.

Yes, you will know that menstruation is kosher, if you are an educated person. There is nothing unfit about it. It is a normal part of human health and life.

But according to an op-ed report in the Times, "The Taboo of Menstruation," religious and cultural taboos concerning menstruation are widespread in India, to the degree that, "The taboo of menstruation in India causes real harm. Women in some tribes are forced to live in a cowshed throughout their periods. There are health issues, like infections caused by using dirty rags, and horror stories..."

Menstrual taboos also exist among Orthodox Jews, though to the best of our knowledge without the concomitant damaging physical health issues. We are not expert enough to comment on whether there are damaging psychological or social issues associated with the taboos. We were taught about only the beautiful meanings of the taboos when we studied at the Orthodox men's schools of Yeshiva University.

The Talmud has a tractate dedicated to the taboos: in English translation - Niddah (The Menstruant: 10 chapters, 73 folios, 509 pages) Nidah.PDF and in an improved edition 52a Niddoh 2a-23a | 52b Niddoh 23b-48a | 52c Niddoh 48b-73a, and a Kindle edition, Soncino Babylonian Talmud Niddah (Soncino Bablylonian Talmud).

Talmudic Conclusion: We don't like any taboos that are damaging, especially those directed by men against women.


New Yorker: Guns in Israel and Gefilte Fish in Brooklyn

New Yorker sometimes is our favorite Jewish magazine. The editors unintentionally juxtapose two articles of interest in the 2012 holiday issue:


...This year, I appended the Jewish holiday rites with a visit to the kitchen of the Gefilteria, a recently launched food company specializing in old-world Jewish foods. Started by three twenty-somethings living in Brooklyn, the Gefilteria sells gefilte fish with a pink layer of salmon gefilte topping each dun-colored loaf; jars of two types of horseradish, spicy-carrot and sweet-beet; and glass bottles of beet kvass, a probiotic fermented beverage. An Ashkenazi Jew, I was familiar with the idea of these items, but only in degraded factory form...

“A PROGRAM LIKE THEY HAVE IN ISRAEL” Posted by Hendrik Hertzberg, which we find worth reproducing:

According to Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association is demanding “a program like they have in Israel.” On “Meet the Press,” LaPierre, the C.E.O. of the N.R.A., said, “Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one thing: They said, ‘We’re going to stop it,’ and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then.”

Oh, really?

A piece in Ynetnews.com, the English-language Web site of Yedioth Ahronoth (“Daily News”), Israel’s largest-selling newspaper, explains why Israeli officials were upset by LaPierre’s comments:
The statements were quickly proven to be false. Israeli guards were not placed in schools to tackle mass shootings. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told the Daily News that the situation in Israel was “fundamentally different” from that in the United States.
“We didn’t have a series of school shootings, and they had nothing to do with the issue at hand in the United States. We had to deal with terrorism,” said Palmor.
“There is no comparison between maniacs with psychological problems opening fire at random to kill innocent people and trained terrorists trying to murder Israeli children,” said Reuven Berko, a retired Israeli Army colonel and senior police officer.
He further remarked that restrictions on gun ownership in Israel have been tightened in recent years, not relaxed.
“Israeli citizens are not allowed to carry guns unless they are serving in the army or working in security-related jobs that require them to use a weapon,” he said.
Tightening restrictions on gun ownership. Not letting people run around carrying guns unless it is in the public interest to have them do so. Now there’s “a program like they have in Israel.”


The Times v. the Orthodox Male Control Over the Non-Sacred Space at the Western Wall

The Times is helping to stir up anti-Orthodox political sentiment in Israel by focusing in a report on the denial of rights to women at the Western Wall.

Talmudic Analysis
In fact the area of prayer at the Wall is not a holy site in formal Judaism. It is outside the location of the ancient Temple, hence it is an ordinary space with no special religious sanctity.

We are not sure why in this day and age Jews find it meaningful to pray there. It is a reminder of destruction and exclusion from days gone by. It is not a symbol of building and achievement. Hence it is an area of negative energy for the Jewish people.

It might be better to prohibit all prayer at that location and send people to their respective new and beautiful synagogues in modern Jerusalem so they can find uplifting locales for prayer.

No, we do not subscribe to the notion that we must confront the suffering and destruction of the past to achieve the proper state of humility to pray to God. Quite enough that each of us has our own personal sufferings and that while we ponder them we have comfortable seats on which to sit while we pour out our souls to the Almighty.
Israel to Review Curbs on Women's Prayer at Western Wall

JERUSALEM — Amid outrage across the Jewish diaspora over a flurry of recent arrests of women seeking to pray at the Western Wall with ritual garments in defiance of Israeli law, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked Natan Sharansky, the chairman of the Jewish Agency, to study the issue and suggest ways to make the site more accommodating to all Jews.

The move comes after more than two decades of civil disobedience by a group called Women of the Wall against regulations, legislation and a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court ruling that allow for gender division at the wall, one of Judaism's holiest sites, and prohibit women from carrying a Torah or wearing prayer shawls there.

Although the movement has struggled to gain traction in Israel, where the ultra-Orthodox retain great sway over public life, the issue has deepened a dividebetween the Jewish state and Jews around the world at a time when Israel is battling international isolation over its settlement policy. Critics, particularly leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in the United States, complain that the government's recent aggressive enforcement of restrictions at the wall has turned a national monument into an ultra- Orthodox synagogue.

"The prime minister thinks the Western Wall has to be a site that expresses the unity of the Jewish people, both inside Israel and outside the state of Israel," Ron Dermer, Mr. Netanyahu's senior adviser, said in an interview on Tuesday. "He wants to preserve the unity of world Jewry. This is an important component of Israel's strength."

Mr. Sharansky, whose quasi-governmental nonprofit organization handles immigration for the state and is a bridge between Israel and Jews around the world, said that Mr. Netanyahu asked him on Monday to take up the matter, and that he expected to have recommendations within a few months. He and Mr. Dermer said the agenda would include improvements for Robinson's Arch, a discrete area of the wall designated for coed prayer under the court ruling, and the easing of restrictions in the larger area known as the Western Wall plaza, along with the more sensitive questions regarding prayer at the main site...


Is Brian Schatz Jewish?

Yes, Brian Schatz, the new US senator from Hawaii, is a Jew.

JTA reports:
Hawaii's governor named his Jewish lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to replace the late Daniel Inouye in the U.S. Senate.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, on Wednesday named Schatz, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party, to replace Inouye, who died last week.

Schatz, 40, lists his religion as Jewish on his Facebook page.

...Inouye, who was a pro-Israel leader in the Senate and who once considered converting to Judaism, had told Abercrombie that his preferred successor would be U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii).

Inouye's office said it was "disappointed" but wished Schatz the best of luck, the Associated Press reported.

Schatz will serve until 2014, when there will be a general election for the seat.

Schatz brings to 11 the number of U.S. Senators who identify as Jewish.

All are Democrats, except for Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Additionally, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) does not identify a religion but notes that his mother is Jewish.
Hat tip to Henry, David and others...


Yeshiva University Sex Scandal Widens

Sadly the child sex abuse scandal at Yeshiva University that has been in the news has widened with new abuse allegations and with a call for an independent investigation.

Rabbis' touch of 'evil': 11 more claim sexual abuse at Yeshiva University's high ...

New York Daily News
More victims of two creepy rabbis at Yeshiva University's high school have come forward with claims that the shocking sexual misconduct spanned more than two decades and affected at least a dozen students. The alleged abuse, by former principal Rabbi ...

Needed: Independent Investigation On YU High School Scandal

The Jewish Week
The media has reported serious accusations against two former employees of Yeshiva University's High School (known as MTA), Rabbi Macy Gordon, a Talmud teacher, and Rabbi George Finkelstein, the principal. According to reports in The Forward and ...
44 Talmudic Books for Kindle | The Amazing 36 Volume Kindle Talmud in English | Whence and Wherefore | God's Favorite Prayers


God Season Serious at the NY Times and Funny at the New Yorker

It is God Season at the NY Times and New Yorker. Here are some of the better articles.

From The New York Times Sunday Review a long OPINION: One Nation Under God? The Christian consensus that long governed our public square is disintegrating. http://nyti.ms/ZrxOse

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR: The Moral Animal. How Darwin explains religion. http://nyti.ms/12JkM7l

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR: The Hell of Online Shopping. Ordering Christmas presents online has obliterated the idea that there should be some grace to a present, and that the receiver should experience it. http://nyti.ms/RNhrDp

OP-ED COLUMNIST: When Prophecy Fails. The prophets of doom still won't stop. http://nyti.ms/TfPWjP

Time Magazine Names Mitt Romney Man of the Year 1912 : The New Yorker

And Really Laugh Out Loud:

Shouts & Murmurs: Holly or Challah? : The New Yorker


NYTimes: A Dissident Egyptian Blogger's Visit to Israel

Inspiring courage. From The New York Times:

THE LEDE BLOG: A Dissident Egyptian Blogger's Visit to Israel

Maikel Nabil, an Egyptian blogger who was jailed for eight months last year by Egypt's military for expressing his views on politics and religion, began a tour of Israel...



Was Sherlock Holmes Jewish?

No, Sherlock Holmes was not a Jew. He was and is a fictional character created by Conan-Doyle and hence has no actual religion. And that character is not depicted in the fiction as anything near a Jew. And on a related matter...

MARIA KONNIKOVA author of “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes" and a doctoral candidate in psychology at Columbia wrote "The Power of Concentration" for the NYTimes. In the article she equates the concentration of Sherlock with the practices of mindfulness.
MEDITATION and mindfulness: the words conjure images of yoga retreats and Buddhist monks. But perhaps they should evoke a very different picture: a man in a deerstalker, puffing away at a curved pipe, Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. The world’s greatest fictional detective is someone who knows the value of concentration, of “throwing his brain out of action,” as Dr. Watson puts it. He is the quintessential unitasker in a multitasking world.

More often than not, when a new case is presented, Holmes does nothing more than sit back in his leather chair, close his eyes and put together his long-fingered hands in an attitude that begs silence. He may be the most inactive active detective out there. His approach to thought captures the very thing that cognitive psychologists mean when they say mindfulness...
We have practiced mindful meditation in our lives for over twenty years and we can say that Maria is wrong. She confuses common misconceptions about meditation as a practice of acute focus with the entirely separate practice of mindfulness.

If her article contains a wrong and misleading characterization of mindfulness, then her book must present that as well. Elementary deduction, my dear reader.


Reports of "Reprehensible" Sexual Abuse at Yeshiva University

We found it sad to read reports in the Jewish Week and New York Times about sexual abuse of boys at Yeshiva University by a teacher and a principal in the 1980s.

During the eleven years that we studied at the all male campus of the school in Washington Heights when we were in High School, college and rabbinical school, we did not hear reports or rumors about such behavior.

Do people study the Talmud on the Subway?

A New York blog (The Underground New York Public Library - a visual library featuring the Reading-Riders of the NYC subways) has some graphic proof that yes, people do study the Talmud on the subway.

The Jewish Press reported on this in June 2012, "An Ultra-Orthodox man reading the Talmud on the subway from Underground NY Public Library. The photo blog is a project of acclaimed street photographer, Ourit Ben-Haim. In an interview, Ben-Haim said that when she takes a photograph of someone reading she sees 'people who are contemplating description of new possibilities. In this way, every book says that its reader is simply great.'"

Is BVO Kosher?

The Times reports on the possible health issues of BVO, an additive found in Gatorade and other drinks. According to Jewish law, the chemical is kosher. But given the health risks, we don't think anyone should consume it.

We are told that, "about 10 percent of drinks sold in the United States contain brominated vegetable oil, including Mountain Dew, also made by PepsiCo; Powerade, Fanta Orange and Fresca from Coca-Cola; and Squirt and Sunkist Peach Soda, made by the Dr Pepper Snapple Group."

The Times reports on a young woman who started a petition on Change.org to ask for the removal of brominated vegetable oil from Gatorade.

This information about the chemical in the article is particularly troubling:
...While most people have limited exposure to brominated vegetable oil, an extensive article about it by Environmental Health News that ran in Scientific American last year found that video gamers and others who binge on sodas and other drinks containing the ingredient experience skin lesions, nerve disorders and memory loss.

Michael F. Jacobson, co-founder and executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said some studies show that B.V.O. collects in fatty tissues, raising questions about what its effect might be during weight loss. Dr. Jacobson, who looked into the research on brominated vegetable oil after being asked about it by The New York Times, concluded, “The testing of B.V.O. is abysmal.”

He said the longest studies of the ingredient he could find covered only four months, while most food additives are usually tested for two years, making it impossible to establish a safe level of consumption.


Koren Jerusalem Bible on an Israeli Stamp

Only in Israel. A bible edition, the Koren Hebrew Tanakh, [on Amazon, The Koren Classic Tanakh: A Hebrew Bible for Personal Use (Hebrew Edition)] was honored with its own postage stamp.
Official Israeli Stamp Honors  50 years of The Koren Tanakh
The publisher informs:

December 12, 2012, the Israel Postal Authority issued an official stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of The Koren Tanakh,  the first Hebrew Bible designed, edited and published in the State of Israel. 

The envelope for the first day of issue features a quote from the former Speaker of the Knesset, Kadish Luz, who declared in 1962:  "From this day forth, all of Israel's presidents shall take their oaths of office on this Bible."  


Google's "Rabbi" Swiffy will Convert Flash to HTML5

Our Samsung Galaxy S3 phone (which CNET calls the best device of the year) surprisingly does not support Flash. Our iPad never supported Flash. These devices do support HTML5. So we went out to look for ways to convert Flash to HTML5.

Our initial result was good. We recommend Google's "Rabbi" Swiffy if you want to convert from Flash SWF to HTML5. It worked for us on a fairly complicated Flash animated graphic.

Note, this free converter works in beta mode for small Flash files, a typical Google limitation. If you try a larger one you get told, “Sorry, Swiffy currently does not convert SWF files larger than 1024 KB.”

Google says:

Swiffy converts Flash SWF files to HTML5, allowing you to reuse Flash content on devices without a Flash player (such as iPhones and iPads). Swiffy can't yet convert DoubleClick Studio creatives.
...Swiffy 5.0 introduces experimental support for ActionScript 3.0.

Swiffy can be used in two ways:
  • With the Swiffy Extension, you can directly publish to HTML5 from Adobe Flash Professional.
  • On the Swiffy homepage, you can upload your SWF file to convert it to HTML5.
Both methods will always use the most recent version of Swiffy.

How Swiffy works

Swiffy converts a SWF file to an HTML page that contains an efficient representation of the file as a JSON object. The HTML page uses the Swiffy runtime (a JavaScript library) to render the animation using mainly SVG. Compiled ActionScript code is also contained in the JSON file and executed as JavaScript in the browser.

Moses vs Santa Claus and Is Snoop Lion Jewish?

We warn you. It does not get any sillier than this video on YouTube, "Moses vs Santa Claus. Epic Rap Battles of History".
This image of the rapper wearing a Jewish star and playing Moses prompted our inquiry, Is he Jewish?

No, Snoop Lion is not a Jew. According to Wikipedia, "A DNA test read by George Lopez on Lopez Tonight revealed Snoop Dogg to be of 0% East Asian, 23% Native American, 6% European, and 71% African descent."

And see the additional video on the making of the nonsense, Behind the scenes of Moses vs Santa Claus.


A Hanukkah Analogy at West Point and a Plea to Light a Menorah in Protest

We'd like to see Cadet Blake Page retract his resignation from West Point, and go back there, and light a menorah in the Chapel as a protest against religious oppression in our day in our country. Here is our basis for that plan.

Blake's story out of the US military academy at West Point reminded us of our Hanukkah narrative. The analogy is far from perfect but this sums it up.

In place of the worship institution known as the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, we have the training institution known as West Point. In place of bullying Hellenizers forcing the observance of paganism, we have extreme fundamentalists forcing the observance of a type of Christianity. In place of many oppressed Jews who fight back with armed force, we have one cadet who fights back by resigning from the academy in protest.

Frank Bruni summarizes some of the points about the West Point case in a Times op-ed which examines the larger question of the place of religion in public political life in America, “The God Glut”.
Last week, a fourth-year cadet at West Point packed his bags and left, less than six months shy of graduation, in protest of what he portrayed as a bullying, discriminatory religiousness at the military academy, which receives public funding.

The cadet, Blake Page, detailed his complaint in an article for The Huffington Post, accusing officers at the academy of “unconstitutional proselytism,” specifically of an evangelical Christian variety.

On the phone on Sunday, he explained to me that a few of them urged attendance at religious events in ways that could make a cadet worry about the social and professional consequences of not going. One such event was a prayer breakfast this year at which a retired lieutenant general, William G. Boykin, was slated to speak. Boykin is a born-again Christian, and his past remarks portraying the war on terror in holy and biblical terms were so extreme that he was rebuked in 2003 by President Bush. In fact his scheduled speech at West Point was so vigorously protested that it ultimately had to be canceled.

Page said that on other occasions, religious events were promoted by superiors with the kind of mass e-mails seldom used for secular gatherings. “It was always Christian, Christian, Christian,” said Page, who is an atheist.

Mikey Weinstein, an Air Force Academy graduate who presides over an advocacy group called the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, told me that more than 30,000 members of the United States military have been in contact with his organization because of concerns about zealotry in their ranks.

More than 150 of them, he said, work or study at West Point. Several cadets told me in telephone interviews that nonbelievers at the academy can indeed be made to feel uncomfortable, and that benedictions at supposedly nonreligious events refer to “God, Our Father” in a way that certainly doesn’t respect all faiths.
So that is why we say to Blake, Go back, fight back, light a menorah. You do not have to be Jewish to fight religious oppression.


Times: Op-Ed Knows the Truth of the Hanukkah Meaning

In the opinion of Hilary Leila Krieger, the Washington bureau chief for The Jerusalem Post, there is "The True Meaning of Hanukkah" in the political triumph of the Hasmoneans, and then there is the (non-essential) miracle of the oil.

Here they go again intruding politics into the synagogue.

Along with the Talmud, which clearly states what Hanukkah verily is all about (i. e. the oil miracle), we will make our "true" opinion known.

It is better to keep politics, be it Liberal or Conservative, out of the synagogue.

Teaneck gets The Shalom TV Channel

Optimum in Teaneck has The Shalom TV Channel on 138 now as a full time channel in addition to the previous On Demand service. Via PR:

Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) today announced the addition of the new Shalom TV Channel to Optimum’s comprehensive line-up. Shalom TV, available on channel 138, is America's Jewish television network with a strong array of shows covering the panorama of Jewish life and of interest to everyone.

Shalom TV programming addresses everyone with a sense of Jewish identity and those seeking their roots. Televised offerings resonate with anyone who has a passion for learning and a desire to gain a greater understanding of Jewish tradition, Jewish life and the land of Israel. Viewers can tune-in to daily news from the Israel Broadcasting Authority, timely interviews with the leading personalities in the Jewish world, live call-in programs, Friday evening Sabbath services and Jewish children's programming every morning and afternoon....


Hillary Gets a Boost from the Saban Forum

New Yorker' David Remnick reports that Hillary Clinton has some backing from some prominent Jews to be the next president of the United States.

Times' Lazy Profile of Andy Statman and God

Our friend Andy is a great musician and a great person. But unlike the Times, we are sure that God has nothing to do with that.

We don't know why the Times thinks Andy's religion is a factor. They just put his yarmulka picture up there and don't do the work to make much thoughtful connection between his religion and his music. Perhaps that is because there is little or none.

Does the GOP Use Religion to Manipulate Voters?

Yes, in a cynical fashion, in the most obvious and in the least successful way, news stories are showing that the GOP does use religion to manipulate voters.

See a brief account of some of the bad actions here.


How much is that Torah in the Window?

In an article, the Times describes a new Jewish fund raising craze, Underwriting Abraham - Synagogues Offer Sponsorships for Torah Texts.

Hey, it's kids, it's adults, it's a woman scribe, it's Brooklyn, it's money, it's so much more, it's a multi-faceted mitzvah (with a big ROI)...

On Page One of the Times' Metropolitan Section. Hmmm. Shouldn't it be in the Sunday Business Section?

Toronto Star asks, Is Israel getting too orthodox?

It's an obnoxiously phrased title question, but turns out it's a decent article, laying out the trends, issues and numbers.

Is Israel getting too orthodox? in The Toronto Star sets out the topic:
The country’s 1 million ultra-Orthodox, also known as Haredim, account for about 19 per cent of the country’s Jewish population of 5.4 million.

Many Haredim, a Hebrew word meaning those who tremble before God, marry in their teens. Academics say they typically have eight children, compared with two for secular couples.

In 1960, 15 per cent of Israeli primary students attended schools in the Arab or Haredim systems, rather than non-religious state-run schools. Now it’s about 50 per cent, and is on pace to reach 78 per cent by 2040, according to the Taub Centre, an Israeli think-tank.

By 2050, 25 per cent of Israel’s population will be Haredim, the International Monetary Fund estimates.... more...