Friday, April 22, 2005

Pesach Kasher VeSameach

Sorry for the light blogging, which is likely to continue til Tue. May 3rd -- since I'm away from home for the Chag (Boston/NY), I don't have proper I'net access.
In the meanwhile, wishing all Bloghead readers (and the rest of Am Yisrael...) a Pesach Kasher VeSemeach!

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

A Karaite Pessach

JTA has an interesting feature on the way the American Karaite community celebrates Pessach:
Unlike at a rabbinic celebration... the Karaite seder does not include four cups of wine — or any alcoholic beverage, for that matter.
“We don’t allow anything that has fermented,” explains Neria Haroeh, grandson of one of chief hakhamim, or spiritual leaders, of the Karaite community in Israel.
“How do you make wine? You take grapes and let them ferment. The process is forbidden on Pesach,” he says.
Karaites do not have a seder plate, an afikomen or charoset. They do have maror made of lemon peel, bitter lettuce and an assortment of other bitter herbs, which together look like a salad.
I guess you need a more simple Seder if you're eating in the dark...

Pessach chumra watch

A Haredi organization promoting healthy lifestyles claims cigarettes are chametz.

Last word on the Pope -- I swear (Sorry, Tzemach)

Cardinal Ratzinger may have spent 20 years advising Pope John Paul II, but there's still a thing or two he has to learn in order to function properly as Pope himself.
For example, before you get into your Papal robes, remember to take off your regular shirt. The papal shtick just isn't convincing when we can see a thick black sweater under your sleeves.
(Thanks, Wikipedia, of all places).

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The genesis of the exodus from Exodus

Marvin Schick on Cross-Currents:

There are good reasons why so many religious Jews – and the number is growing – go to hotels for Pesach. Some have too few people around the table to make a seder, while others have too many. There are the elderly and frail who cannot cope and there are the families with working mothers who do not have the energy or time to prepare properly for Yom Tov. For many, this is the only or primary vacation. Affluence is obviously a factor, if only because it is costly to go to a hotel and there are religious Jews who can afford the cost. Affluence also has meant larger homes and this means more space to clean and supervise and this factor also contributes to the exodus.
All true, but Dr. Schick misses out on the main point: that in recent years, it has become harder than ever before to prepare for Pessach. The kind of cleaning people are expected (and expect themselves) to do today is much more thorough, time-consuming and exhausting than ever before (and probably uncovers little more chametz). The shopping list people are expected to get through -- including replacing half your non-edible household materials with a pessachdik equivalent -- is longer and more expensive than ever before. As a result, the 'switchover' takes much more planning and energy. The ever-lengthening list of chumras, in short (not that there's anything short about it) is making it increasingly harder to arrive at the festival feeling anything other than completely and utterly harrassed and exhausted.
I agree with Dr. Schick's main point, which is that it is a shame so many families today never / rarely get to experience Pesach preparations or Seder at home. The fact is, however, that a lot more people would be staying home if 'preparing properly' for the Chag, as Dr. Schick puts it, meant the same thing today as it did 30 years ago.
And on that note, I've got to go pack for my flight to the States tomorrow....

Rumor on the block...

...Probably only of interest to English readers and present and former JPost employees is that the new editor of the UK's Jewish Chronicle is going to be announced this week, and that the lucky winner is the paper's deputy editor, and former Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, Jeff Barak.

Something in the water?

Jerusalem residents are set to drink kosher-for-Pesach tap water during the upcoming holiday.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski asked the Gihon water company, Jerusalem's main supplier of water, to make sure the only chametz-free drilled water will run through
Jerusalem pipes during the holiday.
This is the first year Jerusalem residents are able to drink Pesach-kosher water, as part of Lupolianski's policy to enforce the chametz-law throughout the city.
"As part of the company's public service policy, the company will adhere to the mayor's request, Gihon will bring kosher-for-Pesach water to Jerusalem," said Gihon director Moshe Kalchen.
"The mayor called to thank us for our cooperation and quick compliance with his request," he added.
What this article doesn't explain is what wasn't kosher-for-Pessach about the water which usually flows from Jerusalem's taps, and which the most religious of Jerusalem's residents have been perfectly content to drink over Pessach until now. The answer, of course, is nothing. And how is this water more 'Kosher for Pessach' than any other water?
Shame on the water company for cooperating with Lupoliansky's public relations stunt.

Phew! For a moment I was worried!

"At the age of 14, he joined the Hitler Youth, as was required of young Germans of the time, but was not an enthusiastic member. " -- CNN profile [Italics mine -- PJS]

Just in time for Pessach -- Good Yontiff to the new Pontiff

So in this case, he who entered the conclave a Pope came out... a Pope.
The Cardinals seem to have taken the easy and rather boring way out, going for a new Pope with all of the conservatism of the old one, but little (it seems) of the charisma. Still, watching the Anglican Church lose all moral authority in the UK after giving in to every whim of the secular liberals, I must say I admire the Catholics for standing their ground (although if I was a Christian, I'd probably be a Protestant...).

Cardinal Ratzinger on the Jews and Jesus:

  • "... Israel still has a mission to accomplish today. We are in fact waiting for the moment when Israel, too, will say Yes to Christ, but we also know that while history still runs its course even this standing at the door fulfills a mission, one that is important for the world. In that way this people still has a special place in God's plans. ...
  • "... But they are not simply done with and left out of God's plans; rather, they still stand within the faithful covenant of God.
  • "... That does not mean that we have to force Christ upon them but that we should try to share in the patience of God. We also have to try to live our life together in Christ in such a way that it no longer stands in opposition to them or would be unacceptable to them but so that it facilitates their own approach to it. ...
  • "... we know that they are assured of the faithfulness of God. They are not excluded from salvation, but they serve salvation in a particular way, and thereby they stand within the patience of God, in which we, too, place our trust. Cardinal Ratzinger, God and World(Igbatius Presspp. 149-51).
  • "Catholics do not want to impose Christ on the Jews, but they are waiting for the moment when Israel also says yes to Christ"
  • YNet on the new Pope's mixed record with Jews: here
Jewish reactions so far:
  • "We are certain that he will continue on the path of reconciliation between Christians and Jews that John Paul II began," Paul Spiegel, head of Germany's main Jewish organization, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
  • Rabbi Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress, called Ratzinger, who took the name of Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday, “the architect of the policy that John Paul II fulfilled with regard to relations with the Jews. He is the architect of the ideological policy to recognize, to have full relations with Israel.”
  • British Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks said: "We welcome the new Pope and wish him every success in the daunting challenges that lie ahead. As a global leader in a global age, his voice will be important in framing some of the great challenges of the 21st century."
  • Ha'aretz headline: President Katsav offers congratulations to new Pope Benedict XVI (Itim)

....... and the next Pope is:

Cardinal Ratzinger.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany was elected the 265th pontiff today by the College of Cardinals. He was announced as tens of thousands of people cheered in St. Peter's Square. Ratzinger has chosen the name Benedict XVI, the Vatican announced. The announcement came shortly after white smoke rose from the Vatican chimney and bells rang to announce that a new pope had been selected

Bloghead: 30 seconds behind CNN; at least six minutes AHEAD of the BBC.

In defense of Ratzinger


Monday, April 18, 2005

When Shimon met Tiki

According to the NY Post,
Last week, [Shimon Peres,] the former Israeli prime minister was having dinner at Tao when he spotted NFL great [Tiki] Barber a few tables away. According to witnesses, "Shimon wanted to meet [Barber]." Barber came over and, "Shimon invited Tiki to Israel as a sort of goodwill ambassador for sports. Shimon has a program where Israeli kids and Palestinian kids play sports together so they can get to know each other, and Tiki agreed that he would love to come and even gave Shimon his cellphone number."
The unsaid assumption here is that 80-+-yr. old Peres saw Barber, recognized him, and wanted to meet him. I somehow find this highly unlikely -- he must have seen Barber with an entourage and asked who he is -- but the whole story fits right in with Peres' reputation as a total celebrity-chaser.

I wouldn't bet on it

Ha'aretz is getting a whole lot over-excited over reports that Irish bookies have shortened the odds of Jewish-born Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger becoming the next Pope from 20:1 to 4:1 -- on par with Joseph Ratzinger. The Irish have clearly been drinking too much...

Other blog news

  • The MOChassid outs himself, picture and all. Welcome to the small group of named J-bloggers!
  • The Commentator has a piece on CampusJ. The most elegant explanation for the popularity of the J-blogosphere I've heard so far: "[Menachem] Wecker, who also blogs for Yeshiva, attributes CampusJ's popularity to its resonance with classical Jewish texts. "I find that the blogosphere [world of blogging] particularly appeals to Jews because of its Talmudic quality," said Wecker. "The notion of malleable texts that use argument and citation as their exegetical currency has a lot to do with many classical Jewish texts."
  • Ha'aretz reports on the 'Slifkin Case,' getting the story pretty much right but not adding anything original (and not bagging an interview with R. Slifkin, either -- his restraint is remarkable). Gil says he was misquoted (although he does not say anything particularly controversial -- just perhaps uncomfortable sounding to rightwing ears) and promises an account of what he really said. First rule of being interviewed: although the reporter will hate you for this, make sure you ask for your quotes to be read back to you before they go to print.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Orange on the Seder plate -- the origin

The NYT is running a pretty boring article about women's seders and 'Miriam's Cup' (although one interesting claim is that "Last Sunday, 100 groups of women gathered throughout the former Soviet Union to hold feminist seders").
Curiously, of all the relatively new feminist Pesach "traditions", there's no mention of the orange on the Seder plate. A talk I attended at Leeds Limmud a few weeks ago discussed this custom, and more broadly considered the way new (invented) minhagim get accepted and develop.
In that context, some of you may find it interesting to read the account given by Susannah Heschel, who first came up with the 'Orange on a Seder Plate' idea, of the ritual's origin and subsequent evolution:
In the early 1980s, the Hillel Foundation invited me to speak on a panel at Oberlin College. While on campus, I came across a Haggada that had been written by some Oberlin students to express feminist concerns. One ritual they devised was placing a crust of bread on the Seder plate, as a sign of solidarity with Jewish lesbians ("there's as much room for a lesbian in Judaism as there is for a crust of break on the Seder plate").
At the next Passover, I placed an orange on our family's Seder plate. During the first part of the Seder, I asked everyone to take a segment of the orange, make the blessing over fruit, and eat it as a gesture of solidarity with Jewish lesbians and gay men, and others who are marginalized within the Jewish community (I mentioned widows in particular).
Bread on the Seder plate brings an end to Pesach - it renders everything chometz. And its symbolism suggests that being lesbian is being transgressive, violating Judaism. I felt that an orange was suggestive of something else: the fruitfulness for all Jews when lesbians and gay men are contributing and active members of Jewish life. In addition, each orange segment had a few seeds that had to be spit out - a gesture of spitting out, repudiating the homophobia that poisons too many Jews.
When lecturing, I often mentioned my custom as one of many new feminist rituals that had been developed in the last twenty years.
Somehow, though, the typical patriarchal maneuver occurred: My idea of an orange and my intention of affirming lesbians and gay men were transformed. Now the story circulates that a MAN stood up after I lecture I delivered and said to me, in anger, that a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange on the Seder plate. My idea, a woman's words, are attributed to a man, and the affirmation of lesbians and gay men is simply erased. Isn't that precisely what's happened over the centuries to women's ideas?

Stop the War coalition, still fighting on...

Last month, British MP and Saddam buddy George Galloway apparently launched a petition to get Iraqi deputy PM Tariq Aziz released. So far, he's amassed an astounding 182 signatures, including the former UN Humanitarian Coordinator of the Oil For Food Programme in Iraq from 1998 to 2000. Is it surprising that there seems to be an over-representation of French names -- and a distinct under-representation of Iraqi names?

DovBear gets the date of Purim wrong

.....and who is 'Yackov'??? And will DB get a job as a screenwriter? And can he improve his skill at writing dialogue?

  • I just realised that 'Yaakov" is Yaakov Menken, with whom I have enjoyed corresponding over the years on other listservs (precursors of blogs). But DB is bracketing together CrossCurrents and Bloghead. DB:I'd keep out of Miriam's way, if I were you.

However, Mizoram (between India and Bangladesh) appears to be a more comfortable place to be Jewish than the UK - at least, the British Universities.

As reported on Bloghead, three prominent student leaders in the UK have resigned from the National Union of Students because of its refusal to deal with rising antisemitism on British campuses. This week, a prominent University lecturers Union will vote on a proposal to boycott Israeli Universities. The SUnday Times runs a report. The academics, of course, many of whom are probably as anti-American as they are anti-Israeli, would never dream of proposing a boycott of US universities (or, say, Saudi Arabian Universities, or Chinese Universities, or Algerian or Libyan or Egyptian Universities) ...because then they would lose their chances of fat sabbaticals and visiting lectureships etc. Disgraceful. Where are the UK Jewish community???? It shows the difference between the US / N American Jewish organisations --- with all their faults -- and the pusillanimous British gentlemanly committees. The reason? UK Jews have no sense of pride of being an ethnic community, and still would like to see themselves as 'Englishmen of the Jewish persuasion'.

Making Pesach in Mizoram, N.E. India.

Not clear what the status of Pesachdik Coca Cola is in this community in N E India, who believe they are part of the lost TenTribes, and are about to be converted (isn't that a strange expression??) by the Israeli Sephardi Chief Rabbinate. A nice article from the Telegraph online. Note the references to Gush Katif.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Interesting opportunity for talented young individual...


About UN Watch
UN Watch is an accredited non-governmental organization that monitors the performance of the United Nations according to the yardstick of its own Charter. Areas of concern include strengthening the role of democracies within the U.N. and ensuring the equal treatment by the U.N. of its member states. At the United Nations, UN Watch has been at the forefront in the fight against anti-Semitism and against the U.N.'s one-sided treatment of Israel. For more information, please visit

About the UN Watch Fellowship
We are currently accepting applications for a one-year UN Watch Fellowship, which will start in September 2005. To qualify, applicants must have:
* at least one university degree, and preferably at least one year of work or research experience * strong understanding of international relations, world history and the history of ideas * demonstrable commitment to our principal causes * exceptional English writing ability, preferably demonstrated by publications * ability to work in a small, team-oriented environment operating under strict deadlines * flexibility, patience, initiative, and intellectual curiosity.
The activities of a UN Watch Fellow may include drafting speeches, op-eds, correspondence and press releases; monitoring meetings at the UN; attending meetings and conferences with diplomats and UN officials; researching and fact-checking; and assisting with a range of administrative functions in the office. The Fellowship is located in Geneva, Switzerland, and includes travel to and from Geneva, a monthly stipend, accommodation and health insurance.
Interested candidates can download the application and instructions from:
Deadline: Postmarked no later than April 29, 2005.
For further information, please contact:

'Mother, there's a damn Yankee Jew outside!"

The excellent American Jewish Historical Society has a fascinating account of soldiers' Seders on the front during the American Civil War -- where questions of slavery and freedom inevitably took on an additional meaning.
One amusing account, for example, concerns a Union soldier, Myer Levy, who
was in a Virginia town one Passover late in the war when he saw a young boy sitting on his front steps eating a piece of matzo. According to Korn, when Levy "asked the boy for a piece, the child fled indoors, shouting at the top of his lungs, "Mother, there's a damn Yankee Jew outside!" The boy's mother invited Levy to seder that night. One wonders how the Virginian family and the Yankee soldier each interpreted the hagadah portions describing the evils of bondage.
In another, the soldiers got just a little bit too excited over their night off:
In 1862, the Jewish Messenger published an account by J. A. Joel of the 23rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment of a seder celebrated by Union soldiers in Fayette, West Virginia. Joel and 20 other Jewish soldiers were granted leave to observe Passover. A soldier home on leave in Cincinnati shipped matzot and hagaddot to his colleagues. Joel wrote:
"We . . . sen[t] parties to forage in the country [for Passover food] while a party stayed to build a log hut for the services. . . We obtained two kegs of cider, a lamb, several chickens and some eggs. Horseradish or parsley we could not obtain, but in lieu we found a weed whose bitterness, I apprehend, exceeded anything our forefathers 'enjoyed....'"
"We had the lamb, but did not know what part was to represent it at the table; but Yankee ingenuity prevailed, and it was decided to cook the whole and put it on the table, then we could dine off it, and be sure we got the right part.
"The necessaries for the choroutzes we could not obtain, so we got a brick which, rather hard to digest, reminded us, by looking at it, for what purpose it was intended....
"We all had a large portion of the herb ready to eat at the moment I said the blessing; each [ate] his portion, when horrors! What a scene ensued . . . The herb was very bitter and very fiery like Cayenne pepper, and excited our thirst to such a degree that we forgot the law authorizing us to drink only four cups, and . . . we drank up all the cider. Those that drank more freely became excited and one thought he was Moses, another Aaron, and one had the audacity to call himself a Pharaoh. The consequence was a skirmish, with nobody hurt, only Moses, Aaron and Pharaoh had to be carried to the camp, and there left in the arms of Morpheus."
A good time had by all, then!
Last but not least, the piece notes that President Lincoln was shot on the fifth day of Pesach.
Incidentally, while I enjoy my daily diet coke fix, I was amused to see that apparently the AJHS considers the story of how Rabbi Tobias Geffen managed to get Coca Cola certified as Kosher and as Kosher L'Pesach to be one of the notable chapters in American Jewish history....

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The other Blair's babe

The Independent has a scoop: one of the three Jewish 'leading members' of the UK's National Union of Students to resign this week claiming the organization is "is turning a blind eye" to anti-Semitism on university campuses is "romantically involved" with Tony Blair's son Euan. Quick, irrational moment of nachas; Now, how about a word with her boyfriend's father about turning a blind eye to anti-Semitism in the Labour party?

Mending wall?

Thanks to Karen Miller for drawing my attention to a recent article by our old family friend Erica Brown, about mechitzot in shul. Erica provides some interesting historical background (noting, for example, that "the mechitza ironically began to signal the appearance of women in the synagogue") and goes on to discuss how in addition to being a physical barrier, the mechitza is often a psychological barrier. Men, she says, become "insensitive to the spiritual needs of those who sit on the other side of the wall," practically forgetting they're there, and treating them as if they are not:

The profundity of this psychological separation became apparent to me on a Shabbat speaking engagement many years ago in a synagogue far from home. I was waiting for afternoon services to begin when two men, separated from me by a thin piece of wood topped by glass began to speak about me. “Where was I from? Where did I study, teach?” It was obvious that despite being physically visible and within hearing range, I became invisible because of the wall between us. I felt that the psychological barrier was far thicker than the “mechitza” itself.

It was as if I weren’t there. There they stood chatting in what they considered to be the back of the synagogue but it was, in actuality, the front of “my synagogue.” What came between myself and the person chanting the shemona esrei of Shabbat minha was one thin wall and another far thicker one – two men reviewing the week’s activities, the stocks and my lectures.

I've had the exact same experience, when I was the only woman in a small minyan in shul on Friday night and there was another minyan going on in the main shul upstairs at the same time. I don't remember the exact circumstances or what exactly prompted the outburst, but I will never forget one of the male congregants exclaiming really loudly, to another male congregant standing just meters away from me on the other side of the mechitza, "What's she doing here? She should daven upstairs!" (exact quote). I was davening shmone esre and couldn't reply, but again, I will never forget my utter humiliation and rage that someone -- in fact, as other men answered him, several people -- would talk about me as if I were utterly invisible, and that by virtue of my being on the 'wrong' side of the mechitza, my presence in shul was considered (for whatever reason, I don't remember any more) negotiable.
In general, I object to davening in any shul where because of the building's architecture or because of the mechitza, men cannot clearly see and feel that there are women present (ie. mechitzot where the women are on a balcony or in another room, where the women sit behind the men, or where the mechitza is too high or thick). This is not just because these things make the women feel detached from and perhaps unable to follow the service properly, although this is the primary factor, but because I find it disturbing in principle when women are 'out of sight, out of mind' -- as if they were incidental to the service and to the community. Unfortunately, this is too common an occurance. And as both stories illustrate, it's not enough for women to be literally visible; men must make an effort to 'see' them in the metaphorical sense as well.

"People do not choose their desires… and surely there is more need for compassion and empathy for [gay people].”

Rabbi Chaim Rappoport states loud and clear that he opposes homosexual marriage, and doesn't really see how they can have a "legitimate outlet for their sexual desires." Fairly standard stuff from an Orthodox perspective. However -- and this is the important bit -- some of the commentators to my recent post about a gay commitment ceremony might like to take note of his tone:
...Rabbi Rapport shunned those who criticize and demonize homosexuals, pointing to the Torah to make his point.
“Nowhere does the Torah in its broadest sense criticize a person who craves for homosexual intercourse,” Rabbi Rapoport said, adding he strives to “save homosexuals from ridicule.”
Rabbi Rapoport also spoke out against fellow rabbis who make hyperbolic comments about homosexuals.
“It is devastating that rabbis and others will often mould a stereotype of homosexuals,” he said, noting such remarks could result in “emotional homicide” for gays and their loved ones.
With respect to why God would allow homosexuals to be plagued by no legitimate outlet for their sexual inclinations, the rabbi did not give a definitive answer.
“I admit that is an excruciating question,” he said.
“The issue has turned many people into agnostics.”
What the rabbi emphasized was the importance of keeping homosexuals in the faith and showing them compassion.
“My prayer is that when I come to stand before the throne of God Almighty, I would be able to say with a clear conscience that I for one have done nothing to alienate any of his children,” he said.

Meanwhile, back on our side of the pond...

No one's noticed but there's a very non-exciting British election going on. The only interesting points are that:
  • The Iraq war does not seem to be a large issue -- except in that after quite a few years in power, Tony Blair's personality has become an issue and the way he lied over the war has contributed to the public's distrust of him
  • After years of discussion about immigration being taboo, it is suddenly an issue
  • After years of slumber and total disarray, the right-wing Tories finally woke up a few weeks ago, just a couple of years too late. Still, they don't seem brave enough to actually stand for anything really right wing -- Danny pretty much expresses my thoughts on this here.

If you're going to do something, do it right

It's impossible to cover Israel's Gaza disengagement plan and its effect on the Israeli national mood from this distance and I'm not even going to try. Even from here, however, it is obvious that Sharon is messing up, whether you support the plan or not. The whole thing seems poorly organized and poorly planned -- in this turning point in Israeli history, the government is flying by the seat of their pants.
Just 10 weeks before disengagement, for example they are still arguing over where they are going to relocate Gaza's 8000 Jews to, and what they are going to be housed in. According to The Jerusalem Post, the latest plan is for 'temporary' trailer parks in the Negev, and we all know how 'temporary' those proved for the Ethiopians, for example. Another option is to send many of them to an area which was previously proposed to be given to the Palestinians, making another removal probably only a matter of time.
Certainly if I was one of the people about to be removed from my home and life as I know it in 10 weeks time, I'd want a little more clarity than that. In short, even if you believe as I do that the settlers must be evacuated -- and that the writing has been on the wall for many, many months and that anyone who claims to feel betrayed by Sharon must have been in serious denial -- there is no question that Sharon is not doing enough to keep the settlers and their supporters on side, and is not treating them with the sensitivity and care that they do deserve as Israeli citizens who were sent to settle this land by the government. This is both callous and quite simply bad long-term strategy and not in Sharon's own interests, if he wants the disengagement to go smoothly, to maintain his support in the next election and to maintain some sort of national cohesiveness. I hope he gets his act together quickly because this is not looking good.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Zev, Dude, Steve Brizel & co - a question

Can you blog on Chol Hamoed ?

This just in: Pesach is expensive

Kudos to NYC's Consumer Affairs Dept.:
New York City officials want to be sure people are not overcharged for Passover items. The city's Consumer Affairs Department says anyone who believes a store has jacked up prices on traditional Passover items, such as grape juice, matzoh and Gefilte (Geh-Fill-Teh) fish - to call 3-1-1.
The consumer affairs commissioner promises investigators will look into any claims it receives by May 1st. Consumer Affairs Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra says New Yorkers are the eyes and ears of her department.
Now, if only they could do the same thing for Kosher consumers the rest of the year round, as getting ripped off in the food dept. is unfortunately not restricted to Pessach.
The truth is that, overcharged or not, Pessach shopping is still a burdenesome and difficult expense for many/most people. We worked out that it was only marginally more expensive to fly to the States for the week than to cater for ourselves and a couple of meals with guests. How do people afford to be Jewish? Sometimes it beats me.

(Via Jewschool)

Talit HaKatan Shel Shabbatai Tzvi

Mobius, aka the Orthodox Anarchist, is sporting rather, ahem, unusual home-made tzitzit. He concludes:
...Oy, the hell I'm gonna catch for this one. I'd wear 'em out on the street but I'm afraid I might get stabbed.
Hat tip: Harry

Miriam, Steven, the Pope, DOVBEAR and Me

The title, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is not a list of the total readership of the Jewish blogosphere who are talking to each other non-stop and racking up hundreds of thousands of hits .....
It is, in fact, a slightly amended copy of DovBear's latest post. If you can follow this, in it he comments on one of Miriam's posts, refers to a comment on that by Steven. I Weiss on Canonist, on which both he, DovBear and Miriam have commented already, in which DB repeats his comment already posted on bloghead, and then for good measure repeats that comment by commenting on his own post on DovBear ....... [It may be the new glasses I got today, but my head is spinning from this.]

ANYWAY -- in the middle of these multiple and somewhat incestuous blogs and comments, our ursine friend brings up the case of Edith Stein. See on this my comments ... and -- the point of all of this -- the original and interesting comments contributed by a Catholic priest, Father Tom Dowd, to Chakira. (Scroll down, there are several.)

Monday, April 11, 2005

We are not amused

Israel's Foreign Minister, Silvan Shalom, is an annoying, incompetent nebbuch who has only got where he is through the money, influence and push of his wife Judy, whose family owns Yediot Acharonot, read by 70% of the Israeli population. Judy herself is a total airhead and freak, who turns up to state events in jeans and hair dyed fire engine red, has long conversations on television about her belief in astrology, and is something of a big mouth and a loose cannon, particularly when it comes to incessantly and nauseatingly promoting said hubbie.
Now, YNet and JTA are reporting that she was actually allowed to accost Prince Charles at the Pope's funeral:
Prince Charles got a Jewish good-luck charm for his wedding from the wife of Israel’s foreign minister.
Judy Shalom-Nir-Mozes, who accompanied Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, said Monday she used the opportunity to bestow on Charles a golden amulet with a Hebrew prayer that had been blessed by an Israeli kabbalist. “Prince Charles was very charming about it, not at all the drip that Israelis assume he is,” Shalom-Nir-Mozes told Army Radio. A multiple divorcee, she said she hoped Charles and his second wife, Camilla Parker Bowles, would find happiness. “It’s all about love, isn’t it?” she said.
'Not at all the drip that Israelies assume he is'... Very diplomatic from the wife of our Foreign Minister. And does she really think Prince Charles, a man of considerable wealth and extravagant taste, would appreciate a piece of old rubbish from Rabbi Kaduri (apparently she visited him the day before the funeral specifically to get the talisman for Charles)? It's bad enough we get represented by no-English Silvan, when is this flaky woman going to be banned from representing Israel?

Jewish miracle, my foot

The campaign to have Pope John Paul II declared a Saint began in earnest today, with the claim by his longtime secretary that he once cured a man with terminal cancer, causing his tumor to disappear within hours.
Except that we're not talking about just any man. We're talking about a Jewish man, a millionnaire, who had three wishes before he died, one of which was to meet the Pope. When the meeting took place, he did not disclose his Jewishness, and actually took communion.
If he really exists, I'd like to know the name of this man, who is anonymous, because as the story currently stands -- "Pope heals Jew who takes communion" -- it stinks of anti-Semitism and of a crude attempt to show, through a story, the Church's superiority and power over Judaism.

UPDATE: SIW thinks the man in question is Marc Rich -- probably a good guess -- and thinks I'm alarmist. To clarify, I don't fault the Pope, but I do think it's an odd choice of story to begin this unofficial campaign with.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Shmuley Boteach is worth hearing on this

The exotic Rabbi Boteach writes about the Pope in the Jewish Press, and encapsulates the reservations about the Pope held by those not totally enthusiastic about this religious leader:

" .....The great failing of John Paul`s life was that he actually loved too much. Like a parent who cannot see the failings of a child, John Paul refused to accept that real evil lurks in the heart of men. John Paul II so loved God`s children that he could not see that there were those whose actions had erased the image of God from their own countenance and forever severed themselves from a compassionate Creator.John Paul loved the innocent but he never hated the wicked. He loved justice, but he all too seldomly condemned injustice. He fought for the poor and the oppressed, but he would not fight their oppressors – the exception being Soviet oppressors. Declaring in word and deed that hatred of any sort was an ungodly emotion that dare not be given sanctuary in the human heart, John Paul II never summoned the faithful to have contempt for the wicked, instead extending them the considerable softness of his gentle touch....."

I think that on this occasion Shmuley has it accurately - perhaps better than the much-respected Israeli expert on the Vatican, diplomat and historian Yitzhak Minerbi, who argues in an interview in the Jerusalem Post that JP2's actions/attitudes on Jews and Judaism were a) only continuing a process started by John XXIII b) were always balanced with reciprocal gestures tot he Palestinians and c) in fact showed no departure from traditional Catholic theological negativism regarding Jews and Judaism. a) and b) may be correct; I don't accept c). One of the most astonishing aspects of the coverage of the death and funeral of the Pope has been the prominence given to his gestures towards Jews and Judaism - it sometimes seemed (eg on CNN) that that was the story.

A British officer recalls discovering Belsen

This article is a sobering account by a British officer (now in his 80's) of how he stumbled across Belsen at the end of the War.

  • Linked here from the Daily/Sunday Telegraph site (which is openly accessible), it is actually reproduced from the current issue of the Spectator, the British political/cultural weekly. The 'Speccie' veers backwards and forwards on Jewish issues. It doesn't seem to quite have a perspective on this likeable, but strange tribe.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Er, not quite -- why we didn't see Noa at the funeral

Just as I was wondering what happened to Achinoam Nini ('Noa'), who was supposed to "sing at the Pope's funeral" accordingto Israel radio (and as posted by me a couple of days ago**) -- the JTA (today) fills in the picture:

"An Israeli singer will take part in an Italian television commemoration of Pope John Paul II. Achinoam Nini will perform her version of "Ave Maria" during Friday's broadcast of the pontiff's funeral in the Vatican. "Friends of mine from Italy called and said that 'Ave Maria' was being played all the time, and referred to it as the 'anthem of the funeral,' " Nini told Ma'ariv on Thursday. "

--- quite what a nice Jewish-Yemini girl from Israel-NY is doing singing 'Ave Maria' is a bit of a mystery (and a bit icky), but then Irving Berlin wrote "I'm dreaming of a White Christmas" (didn't he??). I seem to remember reading somewhere else that she had once sung this in front of the late Pope.

**--- and in addition, Haaretz carries a banner saying that according to Israel radio Israeli singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) will be the "only" performer at the funeral.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

How one of Hitler's Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe

The Guardian reports on Chabad's latest efforts to reclaim the 6th Rebbe's library from Russia -- which gives me the perfect 'in' to discuss Rescued from the Reich : How One of Hitler's Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe by Bryan Rigg. The Rebbe's attempts to get the library out of Russia when he escaped to the US (from Poland) in 1940 is one of the main (and least original) subjects of the book, which raises the question of why he went to such lengths to rescue books while there were human beings to get out.
The main contribution of the book is the rather astounding story of how the Rebbe was smuggled out of Poland by a team of Abwehr (German military secret service) soldiers -- who were almost all mischling (half/quarter Jews) who had been 'aryanized' by Hitler. Rigg explains that mischling had to serve and there were tens of thousands of them in the Wehrmacht. The secret rescue was coordinated at the request of the Americans, following intense pressure by Lubavitch, by Helmut Wohlthat, the chief administrator of Goering's Four Year Plan, who considered it a gesture of goodwill towards the US.
The account of Lubavitch's maneuvers on the American side are also interesting. Clearly, the movement was already extremely politically savvy. Nevertheless, it took months to get the correct visas as the US would not allow the Rebbe into the country without proof that he would have a job waiting for him! Strangely, Lubavitch never properly compensated the lawyer who worked for them day and night despite numerous requests -- which is puzzling because you would have thought they would have spent any amount of money to ensure his rescue. In any case, Rigg argues that the German soldiers' efforts on behalf of the Rebbe and the American reluctance to help show that the 'good vs. evil' dichotamy was at times, on the ground, more complicated than we sometimes think.
Eventually, the Rebbe arrived in the US with a small entourage which did not include his daughter Shaina Horenstein and her husband, who were not allowed out of Poland as Polish citizens. They were both killed in the Holocaust.
The end of the book explores the Rebbe's actions after he came to the US, and in particular his emphasis on bringing US Jews back to tradition instead of trying to rescue European Jews. He did not, for example, join the Va'ad, criticised Jewish organizations which worked for the rescue of European Jewry on Shabbat and discouraged mass demonstrations. The point, the Rebbe seemed to think, was not to hope and work for the defeat ofHitler but to work for the coming of the Messiah, which would guarantee redemption. How ironic -- and again puzzling -- that the Rebbe, who was rescued himself by political contacts and pressure, did not really try very hard and basically did not approve of employing these on behalf of others.
Last but not least, Rigg interviewed the recently deceased Barry Gourary, the 6th Lubavitch Rebbe's grandson who was rescued together with him. He gives (...albeit only in the footnotes) interesting insight into the relationship between the Rebbe's sons in law, Menachem Schneersohn and Gourary's father, while the 6th Rebbe was still alive:
The brothers in law disliked each other intensely, according to Barry Gourary, because they knew they were both candidates for the position of Rebbe.
Gourary describes their relationship in 1940 as resembling that of Cain and
Abel, without the murder. He claims that after Samarius, his father, initiated the rescue of Menachem, his mother, Chana, asked, 'Why are you doing this? Don't you know Menachem hates you?" Samarius replied, "Yes, I know he probably will do me [political] harm if he comes to the US, but I have been given my orders"...
The candidacy of RAbbi Menachem was not a foregone conclusion until 1951 and in fact Samarius seems to have been groomed for the position, traveling around with Rebbe Schneersohn on most of his important trips throughout the 1920 and 1930s.
[Rabbi Heschel] Greenberg feels that Menachem never felt anything but love for his brother-in-law and that the whole conflict was caused by Barry and Chana's jealousy and resentment.
It's a shame such interviews could not be accomodated in the main text; indeed, the book suffers from a slight absence of primary source 'color.' Nevertheless, most of the information it contains is highly original and fascinating. The question in my mind is, why has the story of the Rebbe's miraculous rescue been virtually unknown for all this time -- rarely discussed or perhaps even rarely known by Lubavitchers? Is there another part to this story which even Rigg has not uncovered which would account for this mysterious silence?

BREAKING NEWS: Pope's Will mentions only two living people -- his personal secretary and Rabbi Toaff

"-- John Paul wrote that he left no material possessions behind and asked that his personal records be burned. Other than his family, he mentioned only two people -- his personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the former chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who hosted John Paul in 1986 when he was the first modern pope to visit a synagogue. "

-- CNN [Full text of will is not yet available in English, but will be posted when it is]

UPDATE: Thank you 'Atlantic' (see comments, and, yes, Rabbi T was only one of two living persons recalled, which the posting heading made clear. However, he is also the only specific religious leader - Catholic or not - mentioned. ) I think that in Catholic theological terms that is a huge gesture. The relevant text is:

"During the more than 20 years that I am fulfilling the Petrine service "in medio Ecclesiae" I have experienced the benevolence and even more the fecund collaboration of so many cardinals, archbishops and bishops, so many priests, so many consecrated persons - brothers and sisters - and, lastly, so very, very many lay persons, within the Curia, in the vicariate of the diocese of Rome, as well as outside these milieux.
How can I not embrace with grateful memory all the bishops of the world whom I have met in "ad limina Apostolorum" visits! How can I not recall so many non-Catholic Christian brothers! And the rabbi of Rome and so many representatives of non -Christian religions! And how many representatives of the world of culture, science, politics, and of the means of social communication!"

From: The complete text of the Pope's Will in the UK 'Times'. It is of itself a fascinating document.

--- and in addition, Haaretz carries a banner saying that according to Israel radio Israeli singer Noa (Achinoam Nini) will be the "only" performer at the funeral.

  • Can anyone give any other source / confirmation for this??

If accurate, both (or, in fact, either) of these pieces of information are astonishing, IMHO. We live in interesting times.

Rabbi Sacks misses both the funeral AND the wedding; and I repent of some of my comments about the Israeli Chief Rabbis...

UK Chief Rabbi Sacks will now not be attending the Prince Charles / Camilla wedding as it has been moved to Shabbat, so as not to clash with the Pope's funeral.

And - I have been thinking about my earlier post criticising the Israeli CR's for not attending the funeral in Rome. I may have been wrong.
On reflection, the attendees are Heads of State, not necessarily religious leaders, and the protocol probably didn't generate any expectation that they would attend. I do notice that the archbishop of Canterbury, as the head of the Anglican communion, will be there. I still believe very strongly that they probably should go, and that there are certainly ways of dealing with any halakhic problems that they may have. (BTW, I am not going to argue with commenters onthe earlier posting who discount this Pope's feelings towards Jews - he was a giant in that regard, and only very shortsighted Jews can fail to recognise or understand that. )
SO - what was it that upset me about the announcement? I think it was the excuse given about preparing for Pesach (and, in fairness, again, it is not clear that the CR's office actually said that). But if they did, it was a hugely inelegant, unfitting and unstatesmanlike 'excuse' - in other words, fairly typical of the problems of contemporary Orthodox leadership.
What could they have said - well, something like; "[words of positive appreciation of the Pope]. The Chief rabbis are proud that the State of Israel and the jewish people will be represented by the president of the State of Israel and a distinguished delegation, who travel with our blessing to pay last respects to this very distinguished religious leader." That would have been a lot better.
But if I was unfairly critical - I apologise.

  • Windsor and the Chief Rabbinate: The historic town of Windsor, west of London and visible from aircraft as they land at Heathrow, is home to 900-year old Windsor Castle. Windsor is the Sovereign's next residence after Buckingham Palace, and is also the home of the Royal Chapel where many Kings and Queens of England are buried. During WWII, many Londoners were evacuated to Windsor to escapr the bombing on London. At that time it housed a small Jewish community. Among the wartime evacuees, and for a time the official rabbi of Windsor, was Dayan Julius Jakobovits z'l, the father of the late UK Chief Rabbi Lord Immanuel Jakobovits z'l. Dayan Jakobovits had been a Dayan on the Berlin Bet Din, and arrived in the UK as a refugee.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"Proper estimation to the cited action" -- I hope that sounds more serious in Russian

The Russian Foreign Ministry has at last responded to the letter signed by more than 3000 Russians, including former Chess champ Boris Spassky:
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Alexander Yakovenko, called the letter signed by thousands of well-known Russian public figures and church officials seeking to ban Jewish organizations an attempt to spoil the relationship between Russia and Israel.
He said such attempts are “inadmissible, no matter from what side they are performed” and promised the ministry will oppose them in the future, Russian Information Agency Novosti reported.
Israel is one of Russia’s main partners in the Middle East, Yakovenko said. He asked the Prosecutor General’s office to “give a proper estimation to the cited action.” Yakovenko reminded the ministry had earlier condemned the similar xenophobic letter published in January in Rus Pravoslavnaya newspaper.
The letter of-course had nothing to do with Israel; it was anti-Semitism pure and simple, and part of a rapidly growing trend at that. The Russians should be directing any soothing noises towards its own Jewish community -- the ones who really need them and the ones at whom the letter was really directed. But instead, they're playing Middle Eastern politics as usual. Nice little transparent move, Mr. Yakovenko.

Jews in the Rainbow Nation

Not much has been said in the general Jewish press (other than the Jerusalem Post) about the inauguration of the new South African Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein, but I think it's worth a mention, because I am such a fan of the South African Jewish community (which I have visited). Four of the five cities I've lived in -- Toronto, Montreal, London, Sydney and Jerusalem -- are magnets for former South Africans and it's always been a mystery to me how a community emerging from an apartheid reality has managed to produce so many exceptionally wonderful and down-to-earth people. Not disregarding its many problems, the community, which is still losing many members (but seeing a small proportion of emigres return as well) is close-knit, increasingly traditional and very dynamic; it apparently has the highest rate of ba'alei teshuva in the world.
In many ways Rabbi Goldstein is emblematic. He's young (32), a Ba'al Teshuva, holds a doctorate in human rights law in addition to his smicha, and is very much at home in the New South Africa. He sees the Jewish presence there as important and positive, and wants to be part of the ongoing rejuvination and healing of the country.
It's worth noting that many major posts in the community are held by under-35s -- a situation unique in the Jewish world. Rabbi Goldstein's inauguration is another exciting opportunity and I wish him good luck in his new position. I also wish a refuah shlemah to the retiring Chief Rabbi, Cyril Harris (who was, incidentally, best man at my parents' wedding). Last but not least, I'd also really like to read some Jewish blogs from the Rainbow Nation but (with one exception) don't really know of any -- suggestions welcome. Perhaps the young Chief Rabbi should start one...

Pope Idol 2005

Posted by Hello
(PS. British version of American Idol is called Pop Idol.)

NYT Unbecoming

The NYT today published a 'correction' -- more like an apology -- following their decision to accept a deal from Columbia University whereby they would get the results of the University's Ad Hoc Committee's investigation into allegations of harrassment of pro-Israel students on campus as an 'exclusive,' on condition that they do not interview any of the students who made the complaints.
Under The Times's policy on unidentified sources, writers are not permitted to forgo follow-up reporting in exchange for information. In this case, editors and the writer did not recall the policy and agreed to delay additional reporting until the document had become public. The Times insisted, however, on getting a response from the professor accused of unacceptable behavior, and Columbia agreed.
Frankly, the 'did not recall' line is ridiculous; this is an issue of journalistic ethics and not an issue of the Times's specific policy. In addition, the paper knew enough to insist on a response from the professor; that they did not insist on a response from the students as well, as SIW says, 'speaks volumes.'
As I said previously, the whole thing is puzzling because we're not exactly talking about an earth-shattering scoop here. In any case, kudos to CampusJ for breaking the story and following it up so effectively.

Saul Bellow, 1915 -- 2005

Nobel Prize laureate Saul Bellow died yesterday at the age of 89.
In addition to reading appreciations of Saul Bellow (such as this and this), and short of picking up one of his novels, you may want to check out his lecture at the Nobel Prize ceremony; in addition, the NYT (from a supplement in 2000) has a collection of interviews with him going back as far as the early 1950s. An interview from December 1981 began with this anecdote from Bellow:
"I sometimes enjoy saying that anybody's life can be encompassed in about 10 wonderful jokes. One of my favorites is about an American singer who makes his
debut at La Scala. He sings his first aria to great applause. And the crowd calls 'Ancora, vita, vita.' He sings it a second time, and again they call for an encore. Then a third time and a fourth ... Finally, panting and exhausted, he asks, 'How many times must I sing this aria?' Then someone tells him, 'Until you get it right.' That's how it is with me - I always feel I haven't gotten it quite right, and so I go on singing.''
More here.

Hakarat hatov

Thank you!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


The first Hollywood movie to be filmed in Israel since late 2000 is about to begin shooting -- and it sounds like a crashing, unoriginal, cliched bore. Remember I said that when it breaks box office records.

Not news, but interesting nonetheless

The Detroit Jewish News this week includes a fascinating account of the friendship (according to some, love affair) of Goebbels' wife Magda and none other than Chaim Arlozoroff (!). It also mentions that Magda's step-father was a Jew who observed Pesach and Yom Kippur and was killed in Buchenwald.

Doesn't look well, does he?

I know it may be a case of 'It's not what I grew up with so I'm not used to it,' but, like MOChassid, I too am grossed out by the pictures of the dressed-up dead Pope lying in state -- and by the pictures of people standing and staring at this dead body (which has apparently been embalmed). To make matters worse, the Poles want (and apparently are going to get) his heart buried in Poland. It seems to me disrespectful to his body.

Busy checking the bubbles in the pesachdik Coca-Cola: can't attend the funeral.

Israel's chief rabbis are "too busy preparing for Pesach to attend the Pope's funeral".
What others have done / are doing:
  • Prince Charles is delaying his own wedding for one day in order to attend
  • On some previous occasions, when, for example, UK Chief Rabbis have not wanted to attend Church services, they have attended and respectfully stayed outside the church.

Fact: flying time from Israel to Rome ... 2 hours? 3 hours maximum?

Question: how can we possibly ask others to respect us, when our religious leaders so manifestly make no effort to respect others????

Oy l'dor; oy l'manhigut.......

Blogs may topple the Canadian Government

An interesting example of the power and importance of blogs is playing itself out right here in still-quite-cold Canada. Briefly - a Government Commisiion of Enquiry (the 'Gomery Commission') is investigating allegations that the previous Liberal Government under John Chretien handed out tens of millions of dollars (albeit Canadian $$ !) in government advertising contracts and "Sponsorship" programmes for sporting and cultural events. It seems that the money was channelled to many semi-fictitious "advertising' and 'marketing' companies, where it was promptly redirected back to the Liberal party for political / campaign purposes, most of it to counter separatist politics in Quebec. Totally illegal.
The proceedings of the enquiry are subject to a legal publication ban, apparently so as not to prejudice possible criminal trials arising from the findings of the commission. But an American blogger (to whom the ban cannot apply) has been publishing details of the testimonies given, including what are regarded as "explosive" evidence of the last 2-3 days. The Canadian press is saying that a) the south of the border publication, with one site registering "over 300,000 daily hits from Canada" will force the lifting, or partial lifting of the publication ban in Canada b) if the evidence given in the last few days becomes public in Canada, which may implicate current members of the Govt and the Liberals, contrary to PM Paul Martin's assurances that he has 'cleaned house', then resignations and possibly an election are inevitable.

Vesha'avtem oil

Another day, another dreamer/conman drilling for oil based on a Biblical verse:

John Brown, a born-again Christian and founder of Zion Oil & Gas of Dallas, can quote chapter and verse about his latest drilling venture in Israel, where his company has an oil and gas exploration licence covering 96,000 acres.
"Most blessed of sons be Asher. Let him be favoured by his brothers and let him dip his foot in oil," Brown quotes from Moses's blessing to one of the 12 Tribes of Israel in Deuteronomy 33:24. Standing next to a 54-metre (177-ft)-high derrick at Kibbutz Maanit in northern Israel, Brown said the passage indicated there is oil lying beneath the biblical territory of the Tribe of Asher, where the agricultural community is located.

Someone warn Tuvia Lushkin some guy's about to get in on his act.

Monday, April 04, 2005

The third Singer

One of the interesting sessions I went to at Limmud on Sunday concerned the life and works of Esther Kreitman -- elder sister of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Israel Joshua Singer, and apparently the inspiration for Yentl. She wasn't as lucky as Yentl, however -- she resented her father for never giving her a proper education and after being essentially rejected by her mother, was forced into an unhappy marriage with a man whose own son described him as a 'schlemiel.' Unlike Kreitman's brothers, who settled in the US, the Kreitmans settled in Belgium and later in the UK. There, Kreitman wrote two novels, the highly autobiographical -- and by all accounts rather miserable -- Der sheydim-tants (The Demon's Dance), available in English as Deborah, and the only slightly less autobiographical Brilyantyn (Diamonds), which will be published in English next month. She also wrote a collection of short stories, orginally published in 1950 as Yikhes, which was published in English last year as Blitz and other stories. She never was as famous as her younger brothers (although she never really got the chance they did to develop as a writer); from the excerpts that I heard, however, she is well worth checking out.
For more on Esther Kreitman, see here.

The Pope as a post-War phenomenon

Out of Step Jew writes:
Pope John Paul II contributed to Judaism in general and religious Judaism in particular in ways that are often overlooked. He was the most influential and the last in a group of superior religious thinkers and leaders that came to prominence after WWII. These thinkers and leaders faced the challenges that freedom and modernity brought to faith with courage, honesty and integrity. Jewish thinkers such as R. Yosef Soloveitchik and Abraham Joshua Heschel, Protestants like Reinhold Niebuhr and Catholics like Pope John Paul II were able to identify not only the evils of totalitarianism but the nihilistic tendencies of materialistic ethics that developed from unfettered freedom.
These leaders and the Pope as the leader with the largest following paved the way for a life of faith in a free materialistic society. How much of the growth of Orthodox Judaism in the United States can be attributed to the moral and intellectual climate created by religious Christians, whose greatest and most eloquent spokesman was the Pope? Could acculturated Orthodox Judaism have really thrived in an atmosphere where the choices were an anti-modern fundamentalism or a radical secularism?...
Had the Pope given in to the liberation theology that was the intellectual "in thing" in the Catholic Church at the time or had he reverted to an unthinking conservatism and not dared to challenge communist totalitarianism on the one hand and ideological secularism on the other, it is difficult to imagine that a modern, rationalist Orthodox Judaism would have left the confines of Yeshiva University (if it was there at all) and a handful of neighborhoods in Jerusalem. His work in spreading Catholic teachings based on reason and faith (see Fides et Ratio) helped create a framework for Judaism to do the same.
For this alone we ought to mourn the death of Pope John Paul II.

"Were you the best Pope you could be?"

I'm not going to write a screed about the late Pope, as most everything that could be written has been written. Some of our fellow-bloggers seem to be a little ungenerous in their appreciations. As I commented on DovBear:

"DB: The Pope was not the Chief Rabbi. To paraphrase the Hasidic story, when he gets to the World to Come, G-d will not ask him why he wasn't a Rebbe; He will ask him whether or not he was the best Pope he could be. On that scale, it seems to me that he will get an excellent score."

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Pope is dead

Unfortunately I don't have time to post anything about the Pope's death as I am rushing off to Leeds (see below). In the meanwhile, here's Rabbi Steinmetz's Jewish-slanted obit -- mysteriously published on Friday afternoon (did he know something the rest of us didn't?)!

Friday, April 01, 2005

Hey - just wait till THESE guys want their children to go to Jewish schools in England!

A quick erev shabbat blog -- click here for the story!

Shabbat Shalom

I'm going to be away again until Monday: I'm off to speak at a regional Limmud conference. Hope to come back with lots to blog about!
Shabbat Shalom,

The haredi-isation of mainstream Diaspora batei din -- whether its waffles or humans, if its Israeli Rabbanut, we don't recognise it ...

This report, from the Jewish Chronicle (since you can't access it wthout a subscription, here is a heavily- edited version of the text), is highly upsetting. See also the JC's editorial on the subject, which is right on the nail.

In the comments to another posting ('Forget the strawberries...) I mention the fact that the Toronto COR won't "automatically" accept the kashrut of Rabbanut-hechshered chocolate waffles from one of Israel's best-known food companies, which has a huge badatz-supervised product line as well.

See also this posting by Miriam, and, for what it's worth, my comment.

Do the same rules apply to any local, haredi-hassidish conversions, hechsherim etc? Did the list of wonderful hechsherim at Rubashkins ensure top-quality shechitah? Dude, Zev, disagree with me all you want -- but all of this stuff just makes me feel ill.

The JC news report (April 1):

Israeli conversion dismissed by Beth Din, denying boy JFS place
By Leon Symons
" ...... Helen Sagal converted to Judaism in 1990 under the auspices of the Sephardi Beth Din in Israel. Mrs Sagal .. spent 15 months on her conversion and married her husband Raoul in an
Orthodox ceremony in a Tel Aviv synagogue. She told the JC this week: “I am shocked and upset at what the Beth Din has decided. I and my family are accepted as Jews in Israel, my son went to a Jewish school and my husband served in the army.“Yet when we want to send our son to a Jewish school here, we are told we are not Jewish. How can we be Jewish in one country and not in another? It’s not as though I converted in some banana republic. ...” said the 41-year-old.
.... Mrs Sagal added that the Beth Din had not questioned her conversion when the couple
asked for the services of a US mohel for Guy’s brit milah — circumcision. JFS [ School] sent the Sagals a letter from Rabbi Dr Julian Schindler, the director of the Chief Rabbi’s office, stating that her conversion was not recognised. As a result, said JFS, Guy would be offered a place only if
the school was “unable to fill its standard admissions number with children who are recognised as being Jewish by the Office of the Chief Rabbi.” After receiving the letter from JFS — which is oversubscribed for September — the couple met the Beth Din’s Dayan Menachem Gel-ley in early January in the hope of clearing up the matter. They showed him the relevant certificates with
signatures authenticating her conversion, as well as a letter from the personal aide of Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar giving further confirmation. But after meeting the family, Dayan Gelley wrote to them declaring: “Regrettably, given the details of your conversion with particular regard to the level of commitment and observance to Orthodox Jewish practice at the time of your conversion, the Beth Din is not able to recognise your conversion effected in Israel.” ....... After another exchange of correspondence in February, Dayan Gelley e-mailed Mrs Sagal saying he had not contacted Israel’s Sephardi Chief Rabbi, whom he knew, “and I am not sure that I intend to, since I have no doubt that Israel recognises your conversion.” ...... Neither Dayan Gelley nor any other representative of the London Beth Din would comment on the

== note, by the way, the fact that a Sephardi Bet Din was involved, which is probably another factor in the London bet Din's stance. In an editorial, the JC states:

" .............. Increasingly in the past few years, leading figures in British Jewry, including Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks, have placed identification with Israel at the very heart of their definition of Jewish identity. Moreover, they have defined delegitimisation of the Jewish state as a core feature of a “new anti-Semitism,” a virus which Rabbi Sacks has eloquently described as having survived the horrors of the Holocaust, but in a newly mutated form. It is ironic that his own Beth Din should reject the conversion standards of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate — and understandably painful for Mrs Segal’s Israeli husband, who commented: “I have fought for my country, yet this man [the Beth Din’s Dayan Menachem Gelley] questions whether we are Jewish.”

========== oy, kinderlech, what is happening????????

  • and see my 'Commment'.