Salon.com: Bad Religious Ideas

Valerie Tarico, writing on AlterNet via Salon has come up with a 12 worst religious ideas list.

Unfortunately some of Judaism's core principles (e.g. chosen people and veneration of books) are disrespected in this diatribe. Even though I don't agree with Tarico (or do I?), it's the Talmudic way to publish opposing positions.

Here are the items named on her list, with a few choice text excerpts. See the article, if you dare, for the details of her objections.
Chosen People – The term “Chosen People” typically refers to the Hebrew Bible and the ugly idea that God has given certain tribes a Promised Land (even though it is already occupied by other people).... Religious sects are inherently tribal and divisive because they compete by making mutually exclusive truth claims and by promising blessings or afterlife rewards that no competing sect can offer.

Heretics – ...Those who don’t believe in a god are corrupt, doers of abominable deeds. “There is none [among them] who does good,” says the Psalmist...


Sunday Times: About Orthodox Sex and Google Sex Searches

The Times has a long profile of Orthodox sex counselor Bat Sheva Marcus describing how she helps Haredi Jewish women have better sex.

It's inspiring and comical and embarrassing, all at the same time.

And for some hilarious general sex statistics from Google data, check out the article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, "Searching for Sex". Starts off. "ARE you confused by sex? I certainly am." Well doh! And charts!

Grist for the mills of every late night comic.

Is Sheldon Silver Jewish?

Yes New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a Jew. He is a member of the Orthodox community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and a graduate of Yeshiva University, class of 1965.

Sadly, he was arraigned at a federal courthouse Jan. 22, 2015, on bribery and corruption charges.

JTA reported on the story and linked it to another scandal involving an associate of Silver.
William Rapfogel, the longtime CEO of New York’s Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, was arrested in September 2013 for involvement in a kickbacks scheme. He pleaded guilty to helping fleece more than $9 million from the charity, including $1 million that he pocketed himself, and was sentenced last July to 3 ½ years in prison and ordered to pay $3 million in restitution.

Rapfogel’s wife, Judy Rapfogel, is Silver’s chief of staff. After her husband’s arrest, Judy Rapfogel claimed she had no knowledge of her husband’s criminal malfeasance, and she remained on Silver’s staff.

Silver and William Rapfogel lived in the same neighborhood and went to the same shul, the Bialystoker Synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The two men often sat together in the sanctuary on Shabbat morning, though in recent years Silver began going to the early minyan on Saturday mornings, a neighborhood insider who declined to be identified told JTA.


שווה צפייה: לא תרקוד - "Thou Shall Not Dance" - a 2011 documentary about Religious Jewish men who study modern dance in Jerusalem

I subscribed to MAKO TV on my tablet and have discovered many TV shows and films in Hebrew from Israel. Through Chrome Cast I can watch the shows on TV in New Jersey as if I am in Israel.

"Thou Shall Not Dance" - is a 2011 documentary that I stumbled across on MAKO about Religious Jews who study modern dance in Jerusalem.

The premise of the film is that this is daring because religious Jews are not permitted to dance. To be technical about this, if you have ever been at a Jewish wedding you know that's not true. Men dance, women dance, not together, but there is a lot of dancing. Maybe not great quality. Also on Simchat Torah Jews dance.

Still there is a lot of struggle depicted in the film since these men decided to take up dance as an art for its own sake.

And yes, there is the big issue of Orthodox gender segregation that gets put on the table by telling this story about three men. They take as a given that they will not mix genders in their dancing because they are holding on to their Orthodox premises - paramount among those is the separation of the sexes. It was uncomfortable to me and odd to watch the struggle of these individuals within narrow constraints of their religion and culture as they grappled with their natural inherent needs to be artistic and expressive and to perform.

Israel 2011, Documentary 50 min
Directors: Eyal Sela, Yochai Shalom Hadad
Producers: Zafrir Kochanovsky , Miri Ezra
This illuminating documentary explores the obstacles faced by three Orthodox men who establish a dance school for religious males. The sensual nature of dance, particularly in a public forum, poses a unique challenge to those who live in a community where modesty is valued as the highest virtue. The film chronicles the struggles experienced by three dancers, as they try to reconcile their desire to express themselves physically while still maintaining an Orthodox life.

"Thou Shall Not Dance" is a heartfelt documentary about Religious Jews living in Jerusalem, who choose - despite a personal and social price they pay - to express themselves through dance. This is the 4 minute official trailer for the film.

רציתי לשתף אותך:  קבוצה של דתיים אדוקים מקימה בית ספר למחול
See the whole 50 minute film (with random ads) on MAKO TV.


Is Sigourney Weaver Jewish?

Now it is far-fetched that anybody would think that actress Sigourney Weaver is Jewish. No, Sigourney Weaver is not a Jew.

The tall actress whom we know and love from Alien, to Working Girl to Avatar, and whom we once met, and told her how much we liked her work, is a Christian of Scottish-English extraction.

But it is noteworthy that IMDB reported that when she was young after graduating from high school in 1967, she spent several months on a kibbutz in Israel.

/repost from 7/16/10/

Help the Avalon Edgewater NJ fire victims

January 21, there was a devastating fire in Edgewater.
•    240 of the 408 units in the Avalon community were destroyed, permanently displacing more than 500 residents.
•    Over 500 residents from the Avalon complex's adjacent building were displaced.
•    Hundreds of our neighbors lost what they own.
•    Hundreds of the town's children are without necessities and need your help.

The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey in coordination with the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson are collecting school supplies, toys, games, small houseware appliances, new socks, new underwear (in original package), toiletries, diapers, feminine hygiene products, and pet food for our neighbors displaced by the horrific fire. We are also collecting Gift Cards- Visa/ Amex, Target, Pathmark, Home Goods, Trader Joe's, Bed Bath and Beyond, Pet Valu).

There will be two collection sites with donations being accepted during the following hours:

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey
50 Eisenhower Drive
Paramus, NJ 07652
Monday-Thursday 9am-5pm; Friday 9am-2pm
For more information contact 201-820-3947 or email bethf@jfnnj.org

Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson
1485 Teaneck Road
Teaneck, NJ 07666
Tuesday, Thursday 9am-5pm
Monday, Wednesday 9am-8pm
Friday 9am-2:30pm
For more information contact 201-837-9090 or email info@jfsbergen.org

For those in need, Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson is serving as a distribution center.


Shlomo Carlebach was the Charismatic "Soul Doctor"

Soul Doctor is the story of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach’s life as interpreted in a musical play. It's soon closing a run at the Actor's Temple Theatre. Go see it if you can. It is a wonderful play. [(212) 239-6200. ACTORS TEMPLE THEATRE, 339 W 47th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between 8th and 9th Avenues)]

Josh Nelson stars in this production as the charismatic Rabbi Shlomo.

Juda Engelmayer reviewed the current production in the Jewish Standard, "Shlomo Carlebach musical has the soul to heal frayed race relations."

Eric Goldman reviewed the previous production of the ‘Soul Doctor’ - in The Jewish Standard. Goldman liked the play, the acting and the music. He concluded:
For anyone who has ever been affected by having encountered Shlomo Carlebach in person or has been deeply moved by his music, this is a performance that you surely will enjoy. For everyone else, “Soul Doctor” is a story about a complicated man who changed Jewish life by doing Jewish outreach in a most unusual way...

“Soul Doctor” is a play with strong performances, incredible melody, and a moving story about a man whose music continues to revolutionize Jewish life and culture to this day.

“Soul Doctor” is playing at the Circle in the Square Theatre in New York.
I add a few comments to these excellent reviews. Carlebach's music is often played at Jewish weddings and sung in synagogue services. Professional musicians and cantors that I know have mixed feelings about his contributions. Many ordinary religious Jews today admire his tunes and are drawn to his work, years after his death in 1994.


The awful, evil, detestable, ironic act by bad Jews of photoshopping Angela Merkel out of the Paris march news photo

One of the worst articles that I ever read is, "Angela Merkel Got Erased — Don't We Have Better Things To Worry About?" by Tova Ross in the "Backward" magazine.

It is a carping complaint about the criticism levied against an Orthodox newspaper that cropped the women out of a news photo of the march against terrorism in Paris. One of those women was the Angela Merkel, the prime minister of Germany.

Here in bullet points is just a little bit of why I think Ross is all wrong.

  • The march was a watershed moment in world history where leaders joined arms to confront the evils of terrorism.
  • Merkel is a PM of Germany - marching on a street in Paris - to protest the slaughter of Jews. That is particularly noteworthy in light of European history and the Holocaust.
  • It is not the case that "merkel Got Erased." It is the case that very bad Orthodox Jews deliberately removed her image from the photo and then published it.
  • It does not matter what those bad Jews were thinking when they took Merkel out of the picture. It was an evil act. Publishing the doctored picture was an act of deception. The paper should know that. Just don't publish the photo at all if you don't want your readers to see her image.
  • There is no way I can accept this act as a religious quirk of Orthodox men who "believe" that it is "a sin" to look at a woman or a woman's picture.
  • It's not cute or quirky. It is evil to repress women in any way. It is not ignorant. It is evil. I condemn the action.
  • You can be critical of terrorism and also be critical of sexism, misogyny, discrimination and the denial of civil rights. In fact all of those bad things are on the same spectrum of evil. And the lesser evils can and do lead to the greater evils.

Is Yoga Jewish?

No, yoga is not Jewish, it is Hindu in origin.

I did yoga regularly in the early 1990s at the Northwest Tennis Club in Minneapolis Minnesota. My teacher was Bonnie West, an American woman from St. Paul with a wicked sense of humor and with no Hindu agenda at all. Her yoga classes provided wonderful exercise and discipline for the body and mind.

But the plot thickens. The Times chronicled in 2010 a controversy over the "ownership" of the practices of yoga in America..
Hindu Group Stirs a Debate Over Yoga’s Soul

Yoga is practiced by about 15 million people in the United States, for reasons almost as numerous — from the physical benefits mapped in brain scans to the less tangible rewards that New Age journals call spiritual centering. Religion, for the most part, has nothing to do with it.


חדשות 2: זעם בלהקה הצבאית: חיילות לא הורשו לשיר את התקווה At an IDF Military event - Outrageous! - Jewish soldiers were not allowed to sing Hatikva

כתבה שפורסמה בחדשות 2 ועשויה לעניין אותך.
זעם בלהקה הצבאית: חיילות לא הורשו לשיר את "התקווה"
זמרות חיילות בלהקה הצבאית מעידות על תחושת השפלה לאחר שרס"ר הגדוד שבפניו הופיעו סירב לאפשר להן לשיר את ההמנון הלאומי באירוע שבו השתתפו. עוד קודם לכן, כששרו החיילות שירים אחרים באירוע, יצאו מהאולם כ-15 חיילים חובשי כיפה. דובר צה"ל: "המקרה מטופל, הדרת נשים אינה עולה בקנה אחד עם ערכי צה"ל"
מתן חצרוני 2015-01-11
שוב - נשים הושפלו לטענתן בלהקה צבאית בצה"ל, הפעם בזרוע היבשה: להקה צבאית המורכבת משלוש זמרות חיילות הופיעה בשבוע שעבר מול 300 חיילים באחת מיחידות צה"ל, ובתגובה כ-15 חיילים חובשי כיפה יצאו מהאולם. את זה החיילות עוד קיבלו בהבנה, אך לאחר שהרס"ר מנע מהן - לטענתן - לשיר את ההמנון הלאומי, הן לא נשארו אדישות.
רוצים לקבל עדכונים נוספים? הצטרפו לחדשות 2 בפייסבוק
"קרה לנו הרבה פעמים בעבר שבזמן הופעה שלנו חיילים חובשי כיפה יצאו מהאולם רק בגלל היותנו בנות", אמרה אחת החיילות. "אני מכבדת כל אחד והאמונה שלו אבל ברגע שהסגל הבכיר מעודד את זה, זה פוגע בי ובלהקה שלי".
"בסיום השיר השני שלנו ירדנו לאחורי הקלעים וחיכה לנו רס"ר הגדוד שהודיע לנו בכזאת קלילות כאילו זה הדבר הכי לגיטימי בעולם, שלא נמשיך את ההופעה שלנו ולא נעלה לשיר את ההמנון כי אנחנו בנות והם רוצים לכבד את בני הישיבות", תיארה החיילת. השיחה הזו גררה זעם בקרב הבנות.
בשיחה עם קצין אחר ביחידה, הסבירה לו החיילת שההתנהלות הזו גרמה להן לתחושת השפלה. "הבדילו אותנו בגלל שאנחנו נשים", היא אמרה לו, "ביטלו אותנו בגלל שהעדיפו לכבד מספר מצומצם של אנשים שהחליטו לצאת, והשפילו אותנו ודחקו אותנו לפינה עוד יותר".
היא טענה כי במקום שהקצין יבין ללבה הוא אמר לה: "את חיילת בצה"ל ולכן את תעשי מה שאני אומר לך! אני אזמין את מי שבא לי, ואת תשירי מה שאני אגיד לך".
"הגעתי למצב שאני עומדת שם עם דמעות בעיניים מתחושת ההשפלה שאני בכלל צריכה להסביר להם מה היה לא תקין בהתנהלות שלהם, אז בשתי מילים שיסכמו את הכל - הדרת נשים", היא כתבה בעמוד הפייסבוק שלה.
מדובר צה"ל נמסר בתגובה: "המקרה מוכר ומטופל על ידי המפקדים אשר מקיימים תחקיר בנושא, לכשיסתיים יופקו הלקחים. הדרת נשים אינה עולה בקנה אחד עם ערכי צה"ל".
לפניות לכתב: MatanH@ch2news.tv
חדשות 2 - איתכם בכל מקום
www.mako.co.il | www.reshet.tv

An article published in the news 2 and may interest you.

Military band Rage: soldiers were not allowed to sing "Hatikva"

Military band singers soldiers testify humiliation after the battalion before him appeared master sergeant refused to allow them to sing the national anthem at the event attended. Even before that, when the soldiers sang other songs at the event, they left 15 soldiers wear a yarmulke. IDF Spokesman: "The case is treated, the exclusion of women is inconsistent with the values of the IDF"
Hetzroni 2015-01-11

Again - they claim women humiliated IDF military band, this time Ground Forces: military band consists of three singers soldiers appeared last week in front of 300 soldiers in one army units, and in response to 15 soldiers wear a yarmulke walked out. That soldiers were more understanding, but after Master Sergeant prevented them - they claim - to sing the national anthem, they did not remain indifferent.

"We had many times before during our performance skullcap-wearing soldiers walked out just because we are women," said one of the soldiers. "I respect each and his faith but as soon as the senior staff encourages it, it hurts me and my band."
"At the end of our second song we went backstage and battalion drill sergeant was waiting for us with such lightness telling us like it's a legitimate thing in the world, that we will continue our appearance and superior to sing the anthem because we are girls and they want to honor the members of the conference", described the soldier. The conversation this led to outrage among girls.
In a conversation with another officer in the unit, the soldier explained this conduct made them a sense of humiliation. "Distinguish us because we women," she told him, "they canceled us because they preferred to honor a small number of people who have decided to leave, and humiliated us and pushed us further into a corner."
She claimed that the officer would understand her heart instead he told her, "the IDF soldiers and therefore you do what I tell you! I ask anyone who comes to me, and sing what I tell you. "
"I got to the point where I was standing there with tears in my eyes at all the humiliation I have to explain to them what was wrong with their conduct, then two well-chosen words everything - the exclusion of women," she wrote on her Facebook page.
The IDF said in response: "The case is recognized and treated by officers who have researched the subject, Llachshistiim lessons will be learned. Exclusion of women is inconsistent with the values of the IDF. "
Written inquiries: MatanH@ch2news.tv


The Terrible Theater of Religious Terror

The following is a post that I wrote when I was teaching a course on comparative religious terrorism.

What do stories of piety and mayhem have in common?
Let's focus on an interpretive framework called the "Logic of Religious Violence." We try to enter into the minds of those who perpetrate acts of violence in the name of religion. Then we try to step back and analyze what we observe.

What are the constructed events that serve as the elements of performative violence?
Mark Juergensmeyer ("Terror in the Mind of God") presents a convincing definition of the phenomena we have studied that are made up of acts of religious violence and terrorism.
"Instances of exaggerated violence are constructed events: they are mind-numbing, mesmerizing theater. At center stage arc the acts themselves--stunning, abnormal, and outrageous murders carried out in a way that graphically displays the awful power of violence--set within grand scenarios of conflict and proclamation. Killing or maiming of any sort is violent, of course, but these acts surpass the wounds inflicted during warfare or death delivered through capital punishment, in large part because they have a secondary impact. By their demonstrative nature, they elicit feelings of revulsion and anger in those who witness them.
Juergensmeyer further defines and presents his theoretical framework as follows:
How do we make sense of such theatrical forms of violence? One way of answering this is to view dramatic violence as part of a strategic plan. This viewpoint assumes that terrorism is always part of a political strategy--and, in fact, some social scientists have defined terrorism in just this way: "the use of covert violence by a group for political ends." In some cases this definition is indeed appropriate, for an act of violence can fulfill political ends and have a direct impact on public policy.


Is Stephen Hawking Jewish?

No, the famous scientist Stephen Hawking is not a Jew. He attended St. Albans, an independent Christian school, as a child.

Hawking is a noted British theoretical physicist and cosmologist. He has written a new book in which he challenges the notion that God created the universe.

According to the Guardian: Stephen Hawking says universe not created by God.

Even though Hawking is not a Jew, British Chief Rabbi Sacks has seen fit to challenge his heresy:

Chief rabbi challenges Stephen Hawking in row over origins of universe

Wikipedia informs us that, regarding religion:
Hawking has stated that he is "not religious in the normal sense" and he believes that "the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."
Our dad, Rabbi Dr. Zev Zahavy, wrote a book on the subject of cosmology and religion -- "Whence and Wherefore - Cosmological Destiny to Man Scientifically and Philosophically Explained: An Analysis Relating to 'In the Centre of Immensities' by Sir Bernard Lovell ".

Purchase the Kindle edition of this book here: Whence and Wherefore

He brilliantly defends the notion that God created the universe and finds solace and wisdom in that conclusion. In 2010 we sent a copy to Professor Hawking. We did not hear back from him.


My Jewish Standard Dear Rabbi Column for January 2015 - Books, Books, Books

Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

I’ve been buying books for many years. Now I look around my house and I’ve decided that I just have way too many volumes. I need to thin out my library, but I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know where to start. Please advise me!

Buried in books in Bergenfield

Dear Buried,

Yes, we are the people of the book. One of the major archetypes of Jewish culture is the scribe, the writer of books. We put passages from our sacred writings on our doorposts and we wear them in our t'fillin. In synagogue we embrace and kiss our Torah, the primary book of our religion.

And for many of us, buying and owning books is an important part of life. As a professor for several decades I amassed quite a library. And of late with the rise of digital books and internet archives of many reference materials, I find that owning paper books is no longer so necessary.

Also, as we get older, we realize the time will come when we leave our children our possessions. And they often do not want to inherit our books. I’ve dealt with the problem of too many books quite recently, as I ponder the destiny of my own impressive book collection and as I continue to deal with my father’s library after his death several years ago.

Here are some of the options and suggestions for what to do with your books that my siblings and I have tried with some small successes.