Helfgot and Perlman Take Brooklyn by Storm

Israel-born American violinist Itzhak Perlman, performed tonight with Manhattan’s Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. It was the new arena’s first Jewish event.

In November, 2006 we interviewed Helfgot for the Jewish Standard prior to his concert at the Metropolitan Opera House...

Internationally renowned Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot will perform “Helfgot Sings Cantorial Classics,” the first solo cantorial concert at the New York Metropolitan Opera on Sunday, December 3. At press time the event has nearly sold out the 4400 seating capacity of the Opera House. Dr. Mordechai Sobol arranged the music for the orchestra and choir. The orchestra will include members of the New York Philharmonic conducted by Matthew Lazar with Cantor Daniel Gildar on the piano. The choir will be coordinated by Cantor Azi Schwartz. The invocation prior to the concert will be offered by the chief rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau.


Dov Hikind's Purim Blackface Draws Outrage

We don't see anything wrong with wearing an afro wig on Purim. In fact we did it this year (with a kippah clipped to it) and walked around giving generous "peace" signs and got no criticism.

Hardly any mention of an afro wig in the New Yorker or in the other media that is critical of Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind.

Mostly it's the blackface part of his Purim costume that raised people's hackles.
...The revelation that Dov Hikind, a state assemblyman from Brooklyn, had hosted a Purim party while wearing a costume intended to represent an African-American basketball player was first made by the New York Observer, which published a photograph of Hikind wearing an orange jersey, a nimbus of black wig, and sunglasses, with his face darkened with cosmetics. The image first appeared on the Facebook page of Hikind’s son, Yoni...Read more.
Hey Dov, give us a call. We'll explain all this to you. What you aren't calling? OK here is what you need to say, "I get it; I am sorry; I did a stupid insensitive thing; I won't do it again."

Is Movie Violence Kosher?

We had a short discussion with our son on Purim about whether the animated film "Wreck-It Ralph" had too much violence for the kids. Our son was worried that if the kids see violence on film that will cause them to act more violently towards each other. We argued that violence in film can be an outlet for the kids that may lessen their physical hitting of each other, as Kubrick put it, “a catharsis rather than a model."

In the book of Esther there is violence: the hanging of Haman and his sons and more, "...in Shushan the palace the Jews slew and destroyed five hundred men (Esther 9:6)," not to mention the implied violence in the Biblical statement by God that we read in the synagogue the day before to wit, "...that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven."

Back to our question: Who is right? Is film violence kosher? Can our kids safely consume it?


Is air kosher?

No, according to rabbis in Israel and Brooklyn, air is no longer kosher.

Air contains microscopic organisms that neither chew the cud nor have split hooves.

Kosher true Jews are now required to wear rabbinical approved gas masks when they wish to breathe.

Happy Purim.


New York Times Merges With Tzvee's Talmudic Blog

The New York Times announced that it has merged with Tzvee's Talmudic Blog to form "The New York Times Talmudic Blog."

The Times was already known as a premier Jewish newspaper in the city with high visibility Jewish editorial writers like Tom Friedman, Roger Cohen and Paul Krugman and Israeli news bureau chief Jodi Rudroren.

"We lacked Talmudic depth of analysis," said Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Chairman & Publisher of the Times. "This merger with the Talmudic blog will fill in that lacuna in our content."

Tzvee Zahavy, Chairman & Publisher of the Talmudic Blog said, "Contrary to some popular opinion in the Talmud blogosphere, we always liked the Times' Jewish stories and its coverage of Israeli politics." In Talmudic style he added, "Sometimes we vehemently objected to the Times and everything that it stands for. This merger will advance the ability of the Times' Jewish writers to seek out new modes of conflicted Jewish identity."

In other Jewish media merger news, the three major Jewish comedy publications announced that they will join together, "The Jewish Press," "The Onion" and "The Borowitz Report." The new entity will be called, "The Everything Bagel."

In worldwide Purim news, our old friend the peripatetic master journalist Yori Yanover reports on major developments from Israel and Cleveland:


Guardian: Pope Benedict retired after inquiry into 'Vatican gay officials'

"A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

"The pope's spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Guardian and La Repubblica."


Love Me or Drop Dead: A Psycho-Talmudic Inquiry into Calderon's Choice of her Knesset Talmudic Passage

Somewhere on the road between quirky and bizarre, Ruth Calderon chose a passage from the Talmud to present in her inaugural address as a member of the Knesset in Israel. The passage talks about the consequences to men who fail in their obligation to have sex frequently enough with their wives. See our previous post for the video of the speech and see the transcript of it here.

The immediate context of the passage she chose from Ketubot 62b is this:
Sages ruled: Students may go away to study Torah without the permission [of their wives even for] two or three years. Raba stated: The Rabbis relied on R. Adda b. Ahabah (according to whose statement the Sages permitted students to leave their homes for long periods) and act accordingly at the risk of [losing] their lives (they die before their time as a penalty for the neglect of their wives).
The Talmud thus allows students of the Talmud to neglect their wives for long periods of time so that they can study in a Yeshiva.


SNL Video Parody: Djesus Uncrossed

SNL did a sendoff of the latest Quentin Tarantino film. If you have seen the last two Tarantino films, it's funny. If not, you won't get it.

Video: Ruth Calderon talks Talmud to the Israeli Knesset

The Haredi Israeli periodical Kikar Hashabat reported on a speech by the new member of the Knesset Ruth Calderon: זה האיום הקיומי האמיתי: רות קלדרון לומדת גמרא -- complaining (oy) that the fact that Calderon learns and teaches Talmud is a real existential threat to Israel.

Here is Calderon's speech in Hebrew on video with English subtitles.

We thought it was a good speech, remarkable because Talmud is not often considered to be relevant to the workings of a secular legislative body like the Knesset.

She teaches a story from Ketubot 62b about a rabbi who comes home from the Yeshiva once a year on the eve of Yom Kippur to see his wife. One year he doesn't come, she cries and he dies. It's nice that she cites the Talmud, even though we don't quite understand the connection between this story and Calderon's coming work in the Knesset.


Is Warren Buffett Jewish?

No, Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, and (according to Forbes) the richest person in the world, is not a Jew.

Warren Buffett is an avowed agnostic.

He was raised as a Presbyterian. His father was a Presbyterian who served in Congress as a far-right Republican. Buffett attended Sunday School as a Presbyterian.

Warren does not subscribe to his family's religion.

In the 1950's Buffet was friendly with and played bridge with his Omaha neighbors, Rabbi Myer and Mrs. Kripke. Over the years Buffet has had many links to Jews and the Jewish community in Omaha.

In 2006 Buffet bought an 80 percent share in the Israeli metalworks conglomerate, Iscar, for $4 billion. /repost from 9/24/08/


Avi Steinberg thinks Philip Roth gave Talmudic Advice to Julian Tepper

In New Yorker we learn that Avi Steinberg ("IS WRITING TORTURE?") thinks Philip Roth gave Talmudic Advice to Julian Tepper.

Steinberg describes a literary storm between Elizabeth Gilbert and Roth wherein Gilbert defends writing as a happy profession, contrary to Roth who allegedly did the following to Tepper:
Julian Tepper published a piece describing an encounter with Roth at an Upper West Side deli. Waiting on his hero’s table, Tepper tremulously presented Roth with “Balls,” his first novel. Roth warmly congratulated him, and then offered: “I would quit while you’re ahead. Really. It’s an awful field. Just torture. Awful. You write and you write, and you have to throw almost all of it away because it’s not any good. I would say just stop now. You don’t want to do this to yourself. That’s my advice to you.”
Steinberg thinks he knows that Roth really loves writing but was pushing away the young writer to test his dedication. This reminded Steinberg of the Talmud.
...[Roth's] newest message, we are told, is: “Don’t write. Get out while you can.” But what did he really mean by it? My guess is that he was joking. Which isn’t to say that he wasn’t serious. It was a serious joke. Roth’s cranky advice for the young writer is an old Jewish chestnut. The sages of the Talmud offered the same piece of advice to anyone who wanted to join the faith: don’t do it, it’s seriously not worth it, it’s just an objectively bad idea. The ancient rabbis suggest that you ask a potential convert, “Are you not aware that today the people of Israel are wretched, driven about, exiled and in constant suffering?” It’s a rhetorical question. But if the person replies that he or she indeed embraces wretchedness and constant suffering, you explain to him or her how taxing it is to practice the religion. You mention the gruesome punishments for breaking the Sabbath and other laws. You try very hard to dissuade any would-be applicants. You mess with them—and that is how you welcome them. Joining, in other words, happens through a process of opposition, irony, and dissent. If you’re going to join a messed-up club, you have to pass the messed-up entrance exam. You enter into the sect only when you push back, when you finally say, Listen, I don’t care what you tell me. I know it’s a bad idea, but I’m determined to do it, and I will do it.

That’s the kind of a person it takes to be a writer: someone who’s zealous and ready to argue, someone who has Philip Roth tell him, “It’s torture, don’t do it,” and replies, “You had me at ‘torture.’ ” You don’t enter into it because it’s a great lifestyle decision—it isn’t—you do it because, for whatever reason, you believe in it, and you believe in it because, for whatever reason, you need to believe in it. Roth was messing with Tepper; he was testing his faith and strengthening it. He wanted the guy to earn the title: author of the novel “Balls.”

My guess is that Tepper was heartened to discover that even the great Roth, it turns out, hates his life. For struggling writers, wretches that they are, that is inspiring.
If Steinberg is right then Gilbert was wrong about Roth when she, "launched an earnest defense of the scribbling life, declaring that writing is a “fucking great” job. This is a classified piece of information, she claims, kept secret by vain, jealous older writers."

Turning the question back on the rabbis, is it true that the conversion to Judaism must always be preceded by a Rothian "messed-up entrance exam"? If the answer to that question is always yes, we are sad. Surely there must be some rabbis who (like Gilbert does for writing) are willing to tell people that Judaism is a “fucking great” religion.


Requested Book Excerpt: The Mindful Meditation of Berkahot Blessings

Here is the much-requested excerpt from my book "God's Favorite Prayers"  ("The Meditator," pages 111-120) wherein I define just how the berakhot (blessings) of rabbinic Judaism constitute a complete system of mindful meditations.
Deborah sits in the synagogue visibly engaged in her prayers. She closes her eyes at times. She sways as she prays, rhythmically and persistently, but slowly, gently and with deliberation.You cannot tell just from these external cues that Deborah is a meditator. To know that, I need to probe and ask her about her innermost thoughts during her time in the synagogue and at many other times when she is out and about throughout the day. During her prayers, you need to know, is Deborah attentively introspective of her own needs and desires and those of her friends and loved ones? Does she see her dreams fulfilled? Is she accepting of her personal and spiritual shortcomings and failures? Is she aware of her own breathing and heartbeat and the air that swirls around her, the heft of her Siddur and the humming of her fellow daveners?Does Deborah recite one-hundred daily blessings with mindful recognition? Does she reach a state of compassion as she says the grace over her meals? 
I might describe the activity of meditation as “study or thinking intently and at length, as for spiritual purposes,” or as “contemplation of spiritual matters.”
But the ancient rabbis did not have a term to describe meditation, so they called the meditative dimension of prayer, “the service of the heart.” To them, that indicated an inner intellectual and emotional activity, which they located in the heart, since they could detect that as the organ which beats slower or faster depending on one’s state of mind. Ancient rabbis had no ideas of brain activity and surely had no devices to monitor it or methods to speak about it.
Today, there are indeed multiple ways that we use the term meditate to describe a person who practices meditation through a variety of activities that we may call meditative. It’s enough to make your head spin. Before I get to what goes on in and around the synagogue, consider for instance those meditators from the 1960s or 70s, who practiced a popular form of Transcendental Meditation (TM), Zen or other related types of meditation. Far outside of establishment places of worship—separate from synagogues and churches—they sought a regimen that would help them achieve a sensation that they could transcend or go beyond themselves. They sought to bend their consciousness by a variety of methods, such as by finding their mantra or via deliberation on gnomic Zen sayings, called koans.


The Pitputim Blog Makes us a Wonderful Post

Thanks go out to the wonderful blog Pitputim for the promotions for our publications by Reuven Brauner et. al.. They said:

I am pleased to inform you that several new ETC publications by Reuven Brauner are NOW available on Rabbi Tzvee Zahavy’s wonderful Torah resource site http://www.halakhah.com (http://halakhah.com/index.html).
Newly uploaded are:
1. An updated and revised edition of 25 RULES FOR PERFORMING MITZVOHS derived from the famous Halachic compendium, the Chayei Odom. This is available at http://halakhah.com/rst/25rules.pdf.
2. A completely new translation with commentaries of SEFER MISHLEI (the Book of Proverbs). This you can find at http://halakhah.com/rst/mishlei.pdf.
3. The first volume (Bereishis) of Dr. Seligmann Baer’s (author of Siddur Avodas Yisroel) famous MASORETIC TEXT OF THE TANACH. This can be accessed at http://halakhah.com/rst/baer1.pdf. The remaining books of Tanach (except for Shemos through Devorim which were never produced) will be available, too, but due to their large size we are trying to figure out if it should be made available as zip files or on Drop Box or something like that.
4. Another volume in the Hadgashas Hane’emar series, SEFER YONA http://halakhah.com/rst/yona.pdf. Soon to be available on halakhah.com, please G-d, will be Sefer Esther (in time for Purim) and Sefer Ruth http://halakhah.com/rst/ruth.pdf. BTW, the entire Tanach has been formatted like this and, please G-d, will be made available in due time, as well. I think this format is an excellent study tool, particularly for young students, facilitating faster and better comprehension of the text.
Besides these items, halakhah.com hosts a number of other ETC monographs and works including the comprehensive Hebrew Verb Root thesaurus Shoroshim http://halakhah.com/rst/shoroshim.pdf, hundreds of non-esoteric passages from the Zohar http://halakhah.com/rst/kkz.pdf, an index to the usage of all verses and passages from Tanach in our liturgy, called Shimush Pesukim http://halakhah.com/rst/pesukim.pdf, a nice translation of Pirkei Avos with many unique and interesting lists http://halakhah.com/rst/pirkeiavos.pdf and lots more unique, fun and educational material.
On top of all this, you have the entire two-column, easy to read and download, REFORMATTED SONCINO TALMUD – the only complete, online, English language translation of the Talmud at http://halakhah.com/indexrst.html as well as the more traditional format of the Soncino, found scrolled-down lower on the same page. 
Rabbi Zahavy has made available some of his excellent works there, too, including access to an outstanding, world-class and highly-recommended philosophical exposition called Whence and Wherefore written by his late father, Rabbi Zev Zahavy, ztz”l. This book explores the most fundamental issues of the purpose and meaning of the creation, life and existence.


New Yorker: God's Valentine

A cute cartoon from the New Yorker issue of February 11 & 18, 2013.

Also of note in the issue, a review by Emily Nussbaum of the HBO series "Girls" (which we watched in its entirety for the first time on demand over the past two weeks) and an essay by Joseph Mitchell, "Street Life," about NYC streets and people, which captures many of the personalities of the neighborhoods of New York.


Is Geraldo Rivera Jewish?

Yes, attorney, journalist, writer, reporter and former talk show host Geraldo Rivera is a Jew. Rivera has worked with distinction for 40 years in TV journalism and entertainment. He has hosted the program Geraldo at Large, and appears on Fox News Channel.

In February 2013 Rivera disclosed that he was considering running for the Senate as a Republican candidate in New Jersey.

Rivera was born July 4, 1943 at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City (where this blogger was born some years later). He is the son of Lillian (née Lillie Friedman), a waitress and a cashier for the E. J. Korvettes store in Massapequa, N.Y., and the late Cruz "Allen" Rivera (October 1, 1915 - November 1987), who managed a kitchen at Republic Aviation, formerly in Farmingdale, N.Y. Rivera's father was Puerto Rican of Spanish ancestry and his mother is of Ashkenazi Russian Jewish descent. According to Wikipedia, Rivera was raised "mostly Jewish" and had a Bar Mitzvah.

We met Geraldo's wife Erica one time {10/4/2010) at the JCC on the Palisades where she served on the board of directors (and swims laps in the pool). The couple resides in Edgewater, N.J., with their young child.