Passover Shabbat Bris for baby Zev Zahavy

We welcomed Barak and Miriam's son, Elana and Maya's Brother, Shaiel, Yair, Gavi and Eitan's cousin, Yitz and Julie's nephew, our grandson Zev Mendel Zahavy, at his Passover Shabbat Bris today in Brooklyn, where he was named after my father Zev of blessed memory, who passed away 11 months ago.


No to the NYTimes Op-Ed: The Talmud is not a Valid Diet Book

From The New York Times: OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR Rabbi Jonathan Crane: The Talmud and Other Diet Books suggests that, "When Mayor Michael Bloomberg's anti-obesity programs fail, look to God and the ancient Greeks." And it suggests that local ordinances are not the way to resolve the obesity problem.

"...Perhaps a different approach can be considered, one that begins from within. Instead of fixating on indulgence and excess, as do so many top-down and outside-in efforts, we should focus on what it means for each individual to be sated..."

We are not impressed with this obvious advice. The Talmud derives from a culture at least 1500 years detached from ours and continents apart. Eating practices of today in the USA are not comparable.

And particularly today, we need to observe that the Talmud is not a valid diet book -- after two days of Yom Tov and two Seders, where surely we ate and drank more than we needed to and we were instructed by age old rabbinic writings that it was a religious necessity to do so!

Let's hope all people continue both to work on their inner appetites and monitor carefully what they eat and to observe the new regulations that help to curb the obesity outbreak in our midst. And let's pray for the success of legislation that helps end the epidemic of fatness brought on in large part by the relentless marketing of junk foods to our populace by greedy corporations in search of a fast buck.


Search for Chametz Android Smart Phone App

Originally for iPhone, this year there is an android app in the Google Play store for the search for chametz.

The No Chametz app helps Jews go through the process of searching, cleaning, destroying and selling their chametz prior to the Passover holiday.

Having Chametz in your possession can be a serious halachic issue. This app will help you make sure you properly remove any chametz under your ownership

The app helps you search for Chametz, the bedikat chametz, by giving you the halakhah, brachas zmanim, a checklist builder and a flash light. It also helps you destroy the chametz with the Bittul and Bi'ur with halakhah, brachas and zmanim for that process. Finally, it helps you sell, Mechirah, the chametz with zmnaim, halacha and a link to sell it to an organization.

* Sell Your Chametz: Selling Halachos, Zmanim, Transaction
* Search For Chametz: Searching Halachos, Zmanim, Checklist, Bracha,  Light
* Destroy Your Chametz: Destroying Halachos, Zmanim, Bracha, Transaction
* Flash Light for Compatible Devices
* English Translations for Brachas
* Zmanim Based on GPS
* Halachot from Rabbi Elozor Barclay, Rabbi Yirzchok Jaeger

Is Hawk Kosher?

Hawk is not kosher. It is a bird of prey.
Proof: Video above of a hawk eating its prey outside of the window of my den in Teaneck.


Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's Haggadah for the Passover Seder by Rabbi M. Genack

Rabbi Menahem Genack published, The Seder Night: An Exalted Evening: The Passover Haggadah: With a Commentary Based on the Teachings of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. A Haggadah in English and Hebrew (2009).

We think it's a great book and happily added it both to our collection of Haggadahs and to our library of works about the teachings of my teacher, the Rav, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. It is a handsome and professional volume, clearly written and packed with content based on the Rav's torah teachings.

Genack was known as one of the best students in the class when I was in the Rav's shiur back in college and in rabbinical school. He's pursued a career of Jewish service and teaching and continues over the decades to shine as an exemplary disciple of the Rav.

Like most books that present the Rav's torah, this one approaches the task with great reverence and nostalgia. Those are great characteristics for me and for the other several thousand students who personally sat at the feet of the Rav and gave themselves over to him as his uncritical disciples. Genack writes his condensed accounts of the Rav's lectures with the clarity that I need to hear again the Rav speaking. He was a charismatic teacher with a wealth of learning that he imparted in many ways.

In his public talks, the Rav emphasized the experiential side of Orthodox Judaism. He often spoke poetically, I think to prove two important points.

First, he wanted to prove a personal point, to show the world that he was not a cold Litvak, not just a product of the Lithuanian Yeshivas who valued only factual erudition and cold logic.

Second, he had a program in his work, to create and express a form of Orthodox Judaism that was on par with the other great religions of the world. For him that meant in his time and place and out of his training in Europe that he had to demonstrate the validity and fecundity of Orthodox Jewish religious experience. He believed that he was the Jewish Rudolph Otto or William James and that from his teachings the world would see that Orthodoxy stands proudly next to any form of the esteemed Protestant religions of the Old or New World.

The Rav had another mission in his teaching and preaching. That was to transmit the Brisker Torah, the innovative conceptual insights of his own and his family's heritage of learning. So the Rav sought to investigate the phenomenology of Orthodox Judaism, to seek out and abstract the core idea from each performance of the numerous commandments and from each recitation of the many prayers.

Is Julius Genachowski Jewish?

Yes, Julius Genachowski is a Jew.

Barack Obama named Genachowski as Head of the Federal Communications Commission in 2009. He announced his intention to resign in March, 2013.

Several news reports confirmed that, "Mr. Genachowski, attended yeshiva through high school and studied in yeshiva in Israel before going to Columbia... His parents are immigrants who survived the Holocaust."

Calling him a "Talmud Ace," The Forward reported:
Julius Genachowski was born August 19, 1962, to Adele and Azriel Genachowski. He grew up in Great Neck, a Long Island suburb, in a family that attended the local Young Israel. He attended Orthodox day school at North Shore Hebrew Academy and summered at Camp Raleigh. His high school was the Marsha Stern Talmudical Academy, which is part of Yeshiva University. Though he says he cut classes to play basketball, he won the Talmud award.

Genachowski spent a year after high school studying in Jerusalem at Yeshivat HaKotel, where he and his peers practiced “learning, discussing, questioning each other, even the possibilities of different points of view,” he recalled. “One of the things that you take away from learning Talmud, learning Gemara, is that two or three brilliant people can look at the same passage and have different interpretations and views, each of which makes a lot of sense, but they’re not all consistent. So I enjoyed that.”

Today, Genachowski attends Sabbath services regularly at Adas Israel, Washington’s largest Conservative synagogue.
He is the cousin of Rabbi Menachem Genack (we assume shortened from Genachowski), rabbinic administrator and CEO of O.U. Kosher, an Orthodox rabbi with liberal political views.


Is the Daily Beast Kosher?

Used to be Newsweek, now it is the Daily Beast. It is a news site not an animal. So it cannot be kosher in the narrow sense of the word, that is permissible for physical consumption. Is it permissible to read the Daily Beast? We suppose it is kosher.

Here are some of the salient points about the site, mainly from Wikipedia (with our comments):
  • The Daily Beast was launched on October 6, 2008, and is owned by IAC (Barry Diller, the chairman). Edward Felsenthal, a former Wall Street Journal editor, was the site's executive editor, and Stephen Colvin was its president. (We believe that all three men are Jewish.)
  • The name of the site is derived from that of one of the fictional newspapers in Evelyn Waugh's novel Scoop. (Not all the postings are fictional.)
  • On November 12, 2010, The Daily Beast and Newsweek announced a merger deal, creating a combined company, The Newsweek Daily Beast Company. (Losing $ millions each year.)
  • One of the features of The Daily Beast is the "Cheat Sheet", billed as "must reads from all over". Published daily, the "Cheat Sheet" offers a selection of articles from online news outlets on popular stories. The "Cheat Sheet" includes brief summaries of the article, and a link to read the full text of the article on the website of its provider. (Sounds like an Internet site from 1997 all over again.)
  • Since launch, the site has introduced additional sections, including a video "Cheat Sheet", "Book Beast", "Hungry Beast", and "Sexy Beast", a Fashion and Entertainment section. (Theme is beginning to wear thin.)
  • The site's motto is "Read this Skip That" (Kinda like a medieval church index.)
The "Rabbi Beast" section (just joking, it's not a section yet) offers us 60 rabbis who now can proudly say they were chosen best by the Beast:
Read it or skip it. Some best rabbis' names are missing.

Is sportscaster Marv Albert Jewish?

Yes, the always dynamic and sometimes controversial Marv Albert is a Jew.

According to Wikipedia, he was born Marvin Philip Aufrichtig on June 12, 1941 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, where he went to Abraham Lincoln High School. Members of Albert's family owned a grocery store on Brighton Beach Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets known as Aufrichtig's.

Now did you know that Marv moonlights as a psychotherapist?

The piece by New Yorker's Jesse Eisenberg: “Marv Albert Is My Therapist” will make you chuckle.

The Fifth Question: Can we eat Legumes on Passover?

We endorse with enthusiasm Shammai Engelmayer's Passover rant in the Jewish Standard on the custom by some Jews to avoid legumes on the holiday.

He brilliantly observes:
...In Israel, several Orthodox rabbis have used this as a reason to abandon the ban on kitniyot — legumes and their derivatives (such as corn oil or peanut oil, for example). They note that the Land of Israel was inhabited by S’fardim and Mizrachi long before the Ashkenazim began their return there. Therefore, using kitniyot on Pesach honors the traditions of the land.

The same holds true for us in the United States. The waves of Ashkenazi immigration began in the 19th century. For centuries until then, the Jews of North America were S’fardim. They knew nothing about a kitniyot ban. They ate rice and the like during Pesach. It was a time-honored custom that goes back to the Talmud itself...
And he goes on to spell out the ramifications of the domineering Ashkenazi attitudes in this matter and others over the ages.

We took a quick walk through the Passover aisle at the supermarket yesterday. What? Tam Tams for Passover!? A good friend of ours noted that there's virtually nothing left to sing about in children's songs about the chametz prohibitions. Kids today have KP faux cheerios and donuts and on and on.

Shammai is right about legumes. Our friend is right about the explosion of faux products that look like chametz but according to some rabbi -- aren't leavened at all.

Questioning the rules has potential merit. Looser rules might make holiday things easier and more pleasant.

Of course, once you open the detailed topics up for conversation you run the risk that someone will ask about the essence of the chametz taboo.

The answer to that is: Chametz on Passover is forbidden by the Torah. This night is different. No more questions.


Google Keep Kosher?

Keep Kosher?

Yes we think that Google's newest service called "Keep" is glatt Kosher. It's a keeper.

Here is what Google says about Keep:

Quickly capture what’s on your mind and recall it easily wherever you are. Create a checklist, enter a voice note or snap a photo and annotate it. Everything you add is instantly available on all your devices – desktop and mobile.
With Google Keep you can:
• Keep track of your thoughts via notes, lists and photos
• Have voice notes transcribed automatically
• Use homescreen widgets to capture thoughts quickly
• Color-code your notes to help find them later
• Swipe to archive things you no longer need
• Turn a note into a checklist by adding checkboxes
• Use your notes from anywhere - they are safely stored in the cloud and available on the web at http://drive.google.com/keep


Amazon.com: Incredible Free Album of Shabbat Music

Tzvee writes:
15 track album, mostly guitar, incredible quality music, and free today.
Craig Taubman Presents Acoustic Shabbat Craig Taubman Presents Acoustic Shabbat
Various artists MP3 Music
Price: $0.00
Download or play now in Cloud Player.
Learn More  

1. Silent Prayer, Andrew Dennen 3:35
2. Angels Around Me, C Lanzbom 2:57
3. Eshet Chayil, C Lanzbom 5:37
4. Mi Shebeirach, Debbie Friedman 4:13
5. Swingin' on the Tree of Life, Eric Komar 4:11
6. Stairway to Shabbos, Larry Milder 2:39
7. Shalom Alechem, Laurence Juber 3:33
8. Nign Lshabes Vyontif, Pete Rushefsky 2:34
9. Kaddisch, Richard Locker 4:02
10. Hashkivenu, Sean Harkness 4:40
11. Lcha Dodi, Sean Harkness 3:55
12. Shabbat Prayer, Sheryl Braunstein 2:47
13. Shalom Aleichem, Salam Aleikum Sol Tevél 3:30
14. Elohai Naomi, Less 4:16
15. Hoshia Na, Hillel Tigay 2:42

For more albums of Craig Taubman music MP3 downloads on Amazon see these seventeen albums.


Is Lena Dunham Jewish?

Yes, Lena Dunham is a Jew. She is creator and star of the controversial hit HBO series Girls, which "we hear" is edgy and entertaining.

Wikipedia reports, "Dunham's father is Protestant, and according to Dunham, a Mayflower descendant; Dunham's mother is Jewish."

Dunham told the Jewish Journal: “I went to Hebrew school for, like, two weeks, and then didn’t get the part I wanted in the play and quit,” she said. “But I’ve always had a great love of all the holidays that we celebrate together as a family: Passover, Chanukah. I’ve spent a good amount of time in temple, and I definitely feel very culturally Jewish, although that’s the biggest cliché for a Jewish woman to say.”

Dunham dates Jack Antonoff, also Jewish and a former neighbor of ours in Bergen County. JStandard reported in a cover story that, "Solomon Schechter’s Jack Antonoff is a Grammy Award winner!" He won for song of the year and best new artist.

Dunham Instagrammed the cover of the Jewish Standard (3/11/2013) observing that, "Jewish boys are best." Thank you Lena.


Where Can You Find the Best Deals on Passover Wine?

We wanted to know where to get some wine for Passover. A friend showed us wine-searcher.com and we were impressed. Here is what the site claims about their wine search service:
The Wine-Searcher search engine lists 5,554,710 wines and prices from 38,491 merchants around the world, making it easy to locate and purchase wine at the best available prices. The database grows day by day, and we use various procedures (both manual and automated) for removing lists that are out-of-date, incorrectly priced, or deceptive in any way. ... The search engine offers two levels of service:
1. Free-For-Use: searches all wine retailers' price lists, but if the searched-for wine is available at one of Wine-Searcher's sponsors, other results do not show.
2. Pro Version: shows all results for your chosen wine, not just those of our sponsors. A Pro Version subscription costs $39.00 (USD) per year, and includes extra services such as searches by bottle size and tracking your purchases at multiple stores.
In the case of Kosher wines for Passover, we found the local area search results excellent.

Update: The Times has a bunch of recommendations for Passover wines here.

Is TV Kosher for Dogs?

Is TV kosher for dogs? Yes it is, now that the Israeli Dog Channel offering, DOGTV, is live in California, at $9.95 a month.

TV channel for dogs launched in Israel

An Israeli cable TV company has launched a television channel that is aimed primarily at dogs.

The channel, available in Israel via the Yes satellite company was first launched last February in California's second-largest city San Diego, where it reached some 483,000 homes.

"DOGTV is scientifically developed and Pup approved. DOGTV is cable's first television network for dogs that is created exclusively for canines, and the humans who love them," the Jerusalem Post quoted the company's website as reading.

It further read that the channel provides TV for dogs with three types of programming offering relaxing and stimulating content as well as positive behavioural reinforcements.

The company's site said that dogs that are left alone tend to become anxious so the calming sounds and music in the relaxing segments on DOGTV were created to keep them peaceful.

The site added that unlike any other TV channel, every frame and every sound on the channel is designed 100 percent for dogs.

The company has claimed that years of research led it to develop special content to meet the specific characteristics of canine vision and hearing, like enhanced colouring to emphasize details and stress on contrast, brightness, and frame rate; and the use of sound effects, music and specific ranges of frequencies that best suit dogs.(ANI)
See more news about the channel.


Is Niacin kosher for your heart?

No, niacin is not kosher for your heart.

USA Today via Detroit Free Press alerts us to a new study that found, "Niacin doesn't help heart, may cause harm, study says."

We knew this eleven years ago. After Lipitor gave us hepatitis and the cardiologist told us to take Niaspan, instead we looked it up and found no reason to believe that Niacin pills would be a benefit to us.

After doing the math, we politely refused to take any cholesterol reducing medication. The studies showed a "reduction in risk" which meant that the meds did not cure or prevent disease.

Now it turns out that we were right. The meds actually can cause disease.

PS: Friday we got our cholesterol numbers (first time in about 5 years): 191 total, 88 HDL; 2.2 ratio Total/HDL. We eat eggs every day and take no meds. We swim 100 laps a day and eat nuts and vegetables, fish, yogurt, cheeses and lean meats.

Is Punk Rock Jewish?

No, punk rock is not Jewish. Yes, there are a few Jewish punk rock musicians. The Times' story, The Orthodox Fringe Moshiach Oi! Merges Orthodox Judaism and Punk Rock, misses the point entirely.

The fact is that both Orthodox Judaism and punk rock are quirky versions of their respective genres. And so the story of Orthodox-punk-rock is an account of quirkiness to the second power. Maybe nine people are involved in this globally. Get it? We don't.


Dramatic Video: NBC's Richard Engel Reports on the motives for the Pope's Resignation

This video from NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams ("Exposing Vatican secrets a 'dangerous' mission, says Vatileaks journalist") raises many questions about the motives for the Pope's resignation.

"NBC News' Richard Engel talks to Gianluigi Nuzzi, one of Italy's top investigative journalists, about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI. Nuzzi's interviews with Benedict's whistleblower butler led to the Vatileaks scandal. Nuzzi and others allege that within the Vatican there were financial cover-ups and a twisted web of money, power and sex."

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy


Is Times' Columnist David Brooks Jewish?

First off, is David Brooks Jewish? Yes, David Brooks is a Jew.

Okay then. Midday today there were over 400 comments on David Brooks' Times op-ed praising Orthodox Judaism. Many of those comments on the Times' web site were not quite as laudatory of the kosher lifestyle.

Brooks toured a Kosher supermarket in Brooklyn with a modern Orthodox rabbi and then waxed quite eloquent about the virtues of Orthodox life.
For the people who shop at Pomegranate, the collective covenant with God is the primary reality and obedience to the laws is the primary obligation. They go shopping like the rest of us, but their shopping is minutely governed by an external moral order.

The laws, in this view, make for a decent society. They give structure to everyday life. They infuse everyday acts with spiritual significance. They build community. They regulate desires. They moderate religious zeal, making religion an everyday practical reality.

The laws are gradually internalized through a system of lifelong study, argument and practice. The external laws may seem, at first, like an imposition, but then they become welcome and finally seem like a person’s natural way of being....
Is David Brooks Orthodox? No, Brooks identifies as a Conservative Jew, "in the political and religious sense,” according to a report in 2011 in the Jewish Week:


Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker on The Talmudic Life and Tragic Death of Aaron Swartz

Larissa MacFarquhar in The New Yorker published a long profile of what we call the The Talmudic Life and Tragic Death of the young technology visionary Aaron Swartz (REQUIEM FOR A DREAM: Aaron Swartz was brilliant and beloved. But the people who knew him best saw a darker side).

We see his life as Talmudic because he was such a thorough questioner of all sides of reality. The profile describes Aaron's persistent Talmudic temperament:
He believed that there were objective facts about what made people’s lives better, and that these were the facts that mattered. He disliked any analysis that attributed social consequence to amorphous, subjective, unmeasurable, unfixable causes.

“I think the essential fight of his life was to never be satisfied that he’d figured out the fight of his life,” Ben Wikler says. “He was constantly trying to figure out how to be more effective and what he should be working on. He had a beautiful willingness to change his mind completely.” It is a vertiginous thing to have so much freedom—to be always self-skeptical, always testing the reasons for your beliefs, always prepared to abandon them for something better. If you can do anything you want, then every day becomes an existential problem—an empty space of possibility that has no ceiling but also no walls and no floor.


Was Ludwig Wittgenstein Jewish?

At the Times, philosopher Paul Horwich asks, Was Wittgenstein Right? His answer is that most philosophers vote no, and yet Wittgenstein's reputation is stellar.

We want to know, was Wittgenstein Jewish? Despite his extensive Jewish heritage, according to Jewish law, no, Ludwig Wittgenstein was a not Jew. He was a Catholic.

His mother and maternal grandmother were Catholic. Despite that, Wittgenstein rejected religion, yet at times claimed to be Jewish in spirit and thought. And some have speculated that he went to school with Adolf Hitler.

Wikipedia explains all of this.
Wittgenstein's mother was Leopoldine Kalmus. Her father was Czech Jewish and her mother was Austrian-Slovene Catholic—she was Wittgenstein's maternal grandparent and only non-Jewish grandparent, whose ancestry was Austrian and an aunt of the Nobel Prize laureate Friedrich Hayek on her maternal side. Ludwig was born at 8:30 pm on 26 April 1889 in the so-called "Wittgenstein Palace" at Alleegasse 16, now the Argentinierstrasse, near the Karlskirche. Karl and Poldi, as she was known, had nine children in all. There were four girls: Hermine, Margaret (Gretl), Helene, and a fourth daughter who died as a baby; and five boys: Johannes (Hans), Kurt, Rudolf (Rudi), Paul—who became a concert pianist despite losing an arm in World War I—and Ludwig, who was the youngest of the family.
The children were baptized as Catholics, and raised in an exceptionally intense environment...
Some speculated that W. went to school with Hitler.


Is Carlos Slim Helú Jewish?

No, Carlos Slim Helú is not a Jew. He is of Lebanese origins and a Maronite Catholic by religion.

This Mexican businessman and philanthropist made his fortune in the telecommunications industry and other ventures such as retailing, construction, banking, insurance, railroads and mining.

Carlos is said to be the richest man in the world. Slim's wealth was estimated at $53.5 billion by Forbes (2010).

Helú topped the Forbes list again in 2011 at $74 billion. Yes, that was quite a nice bump. In 2012 he held steady at $73 billion according to Forbes.

He made an investment in the New York Times in 2010, "a $250 million loan intended to help the newspaper company finance its businesses." /updated repost/

Israel's Plagues Hotline: Press 8 to Report Locusts

AP reports a real news story from Israel.
Israel opens locust hotline as devastating insects hit neighbouring Egypt ahead of Passover

JERUSALEM - Israel is on a locust alert as swarms of the destructive bugs descend on neighbouring Egypt ahead of the Passover holiday.

Israel's Agriculture Ministry set up an emergency hotline Monday and is asking Israelis to be vigilant in reporting locust sightings to prevent an outbreak.

Locusts have a devastating effect on agriculture by quickly stripping crops.

Swarms of locusts have descended on Egypt, raising fears they could spread to Israel.

The locust alert comes ahead of the Passover festival, which recounts the biblical story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. According to the Bible, a plague of locusts was one of 10 plagues God imposed on Egyptians for enslaving and abusing ancient Hebrews.
And here's the "menu" you get when you call the "Israel Plagues Hotline."
Listen Carefully, Our Plagues Hotline Menu Selections Have Not Changed

Press 1 to Report a Plague of blood (דָם): Ex. 7:14–25
Press 2 to Report a Plague of frogs (צְּפַרְדֵּעַ): Ex. 7:25–8:11
Press 3 to Report a Plague of lice or gnats (כִּנִּים): Ex. 8:12–15
Press 4 to Report a Plague of flies or wild animals (עָרוֹב): Ex. 8:20–32
Press 5 to Report a Plague of pestilence (דֶּבֶר): Ex. 9:1–7
Press 6 to Report a Plague of boils (שְׁחִין): Ex. 9:8–12
Press 7 to Report a Plague of hail (בָּרָד): Ex. 9:13–35
Press 8 to Report a Plague of locusts (אַרְבֶּה): Ex. 10:1–20
Press 9 to Report a Plague of darkness (חוֹשֶך): Ex. 10:21–29
Press 0 to Report a Death of the firstborn (מַכַּת בְּכוֹרוֹת): Ex. 11:1–12:36

Why do we say when we pray, "Let my soul be like dust to everyone"?

At the conclusion of the Amidah prayer, three times a day, we say the concluding prayer of Mar the son of Ravina as found "with monor variations (Steinsalz)" in b. Berakhot 17a.

Rabbi Yissocher Frand comments on this:
Tosfos [Brochos 17a] comments on the prayer recited at the end of the Shmoneh Esrei: "My G-d, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking deceitfully. To those who curse me, let my soul be silent; and let my soul be like dust to everyone." What is the meaning of the term "let my soul be like dust to everyone?" Tosfos suggests the very idea introduced by the Medrash above: Just like dust (afar) is never destroyed and always remains, we pray that our descendants should always remain and not be destroyed.

This prayer is speaking about people who are not our friends, people who curse us and abuse us. We pray that to those who curse us, we remain silent and we pray that our soul will remain like dust vis-à-vis our enemies. What is the intention when we pray that we should be like dust? It expresses a desire to be among those "who are insulted by others but do not respond in kind, who hear themselves being shamed, but do not respond" [Shabbos 88b]. Such people are the ones who eventually come out on top. We express this aspiration with the words "may my soul be like dust to everyone." ....
We are not satisfied with this explanation for several reasons, one of which is that our wish that our soul be "like dust to everyone" is followed in the next line of our prayers by our wish, "May my soul pursue your mitzvot."

Now that is one versatile soul. One second it is like dust, the next second it is pursuing religious acts.

Just one minute. If the soul is like dust, then wait, we say daily in the preliminary psalms (Ps 30:9), "What gain is there in my destruction, in my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness?"

So here we have the makings of a complicated puzzle. We want to protect our souls and yet we want our souls to purse the commandments. We want to protect them perhaps because we ask a lot of our souls. Or perhaps there are other ways to look at the soul and dust comparison. Perhaps we need to know more about the soul... and about the dust comparison. Perhaps we need to write a book about the soul, with a chapter on the dust comparison.

Our thinking and searching about this topic and those words led us to an amazing book by Nicolas Humphrey, Soul Dust: The Magic of Consciousness.

Humphrey posits that, "Consciousness... is nothing less than a magical-mystery show that we stage for ourselves inside our own heads. This self-made show lights up the world for us and makes us feel special and transcendent. Thus consciousness paves the way for spirituality, and allows us, as human beings, to reap the rewards, and anxieties, of living in what Humphrey calls the 'soul niche'."

We've written several articles and chapters about the ideas of consciousness in the Talmud. And we've written a bunch of stuff about prayer. Accordingly all that's how we decided that we do need to write a theological-humanological book about the soul and dust and the magical-mystery show of our Jewish consciousness in our prayer.


‘The Cheesy TV Bible’ Mini-Series on the History Channel

The Times calls it, "a rickety, often cheesy spectacle that is calculated to play well to a certain segment of the already enlisted choir but risks being ignored or scorned in other quarters."

Well are they referring to the mini-series or the Bible itself? Hard to tell.

‘The Cheesy TV Bible’ Mini-Series on the History Channel begins tonight.

The Bible
History, Sunday nights at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time.
Produced for History by Lightworkers Media and Hearst Entertainment & Syndication. Created by Mark Burnett and Roma Downey; Mr. Burnett, Ms. Downey and Richard Bedser, executive producers; Dirk Hoogstra and Julian P. Hobbs, executive producers for History; Keith David, narrator; Hans Zimmer, composer.
WITH: Roma Downey (Mother Mary), Diogo Morgado (Jesus Christ), Darwin Shaw (Peter), Sebastian Knapp (John), Amber Rose Revah (Mary Magdalene), Greg Hicks (Pilate) and Simon Kunz (Nicodemus).

Bad News Times: The Holocaust was worse than we knew; the Pope was worse than we knew

"The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking,"
...researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington...
Maureen Dowd, How Mary Feels About Being a Virgin,
In “The Testament of Mary,” a one-woman show with Fiona Shaw previewing later this month on Broadway, Toibin imagines his own version of how the Virgin Mary felt about crucifixion — “the most foul and frightening image that had ever been conjured up by men” — and whether she really had not known Joseph in a biblical sense....
Hans Kung on the "Vatican Spring":
The major scandals during his papacy are known: there was Benedict’s recognition of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s arch-conservative Society of St. Pius X, which is bitterly opposed to the Second Vatican Council, as well as of a Holocaust denier, Bishop Richard Williamson.

There was the widespread sexual abuse of children and youths by clergymen, which the pope was largely responsible for covering up when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. And there was the “Vatileaks” affair, which revealed a horrendous amount of intrigue, power struggles, corruption and sexual lapses in the Curia, and which seems to be a main reason Benedict has decided to resign.