Monday, October 31, 2005

Child brides

YNet is carrying a strange story about a 'Hassidic Rabbi' (the Hebrew version clarifies he's a Bratslaver) who is under investigation for performing wedding ceremonies involving 13 and 14 year old girls from his community. The article does not explain why these girls were being married off at such ages, who they were being married to, what has happened to them in the interim and who else, if anyone, has been charged in this affair -- in particular, what about their parents??? -- all, you would think, important details. However, the article concludes:
the rabbi had been warned by the Chief Rabbinate not to perform the ceremonies.
A rabbi who's married even one 13 or 14 year old should not be 'warned not to perform the ceremonies.' He should be immediately stopped from performing ANY marriage ceremonies by reporting him to the police for taking part in something illegal and abusive. One can only conclude they were protecting him -- if true, a total disgrace on the part of the Rabbanut.

UPDATE: Ha'aretz has slightly more on the case.

More bright ideas from Iran's president

This guy's becoming a parody of himself. By way of background, the Iranian stock exchange has apparently shed 20% in the past four months (he was elected in the beginning of August).

Oct 8:

The downturn has been attributed to uncertainty over the future based on the nuclear question, as well as to President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's seemingly negative attitude toward the stock market.
Oct 23:
As indices remained fragile, Central Bank of Iran (CBI) governor said he is hopeful that the stock market situation will return to normal, stressing that the capital market will undergo certain changes.

Oct 30:

Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the latest cabinet meeting in the Iranian capital that “if we were permitted to hang two or three persons, the problems with the stock exchange would be solved for ever”, according to a Tehran-based newspaper.... Frustrated with the inability of his economic advisers and experts to come up with any solution, Ahmadinejad told them that the only way out of the current stock exchange and financial market problems was to “frighten” speculators by hanging two or three of them.
Yeah, that should do it....

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bad for the Jews?

Uh oh. Sitting here in the golus of London, I'm not really following President Bush's domestic troubles too closely. But then Jewish geography kicks in. According to JTA's breaking news,
Lewis Libby, a member of Temple Rodef Shalom in northern Virginia, resigned as Vice President Richard Cheney’s top adviser after he was indicted for perjury.
So far, the only things the combination 'Libby/Scooter Libby' and 'Jewish' brings up on Google are from racist sources such as David Duke, which I'm not going to link to, and it's hard to believe that the VP's COS was Jewish and there isn't one reference to that from a reliable or Jewish source online (and that Jewish organizations throughout the country weren't aggressively chasing him to speak at their events etc.). And being a member of a temple doesn't necessarily make you a Jew -- perhaps he's just married to one?
On the other hand, his real name is Irving.
On the other other hand, what are the chances of JTA actually getting a scoop or even a timely report?
On the other other other hand, his real name is Irving.
I guess we'll wait and see.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

King David's palace?

An article by David Hazony in the new edition of Azure helps to answer a question which has been niggling at me for some time, ever since the foundations of a building from the 10th century bce were uncovered in east Jerusalem by archaeologist Eilat Mazar a few months ago. What makes her so bold about asserting that the building might be King David's palace?
Hazony explains:
According to the book of Samuel, when David conquered the Jebusite city of Jerusalem around the year 1000 b.c.e., he did not destroy it, but instead left it standing, including its great citadel to defend the city along its northern approach. In this city, today known as the City of David, a neighborhood just to the south of Jerusalem’s Old City, he added a few things as well–most notably a palace, built by master craftsmen sent by the Phoenician king Hiram of Tyre, who had concluded an alliance with David against their mutual enemy, the Philistines...
Based on this evidence, coupled with textual clues as to the topography–as described in the book of II Samuel (5:17), when the Philistines mustered in Emek Refaim, David “descended to the citadel,” implying that the palace was higher up on the mountain than the citadel itself–Mazar formulated her proposal as to the location of the palace in a 1997 article in Biblical Archaeology Review. “If some regard as too speculative the hypothesis I shall put forth in this article,” she wrote, “my reply is simply this: Let us put it to the test in the way archaeologists always try to test their theories–by excavation”...
Indicators for the palace would include monumental structures dating to the late-eleventh or early-tenth centuries b.c.e.; distinctive Phoenician-style building, which would have been out of place in the Judean mountains; and a new building created just to the north of the borders of the older Jebusite city–resting on new land, rather than on destruction layers. Of course, any additional archaeological markers, such as inscriptions, pottery shards, or interior architecture, would further confirm such a find.
The find answers these requirements and more -- which still doesn't prove anything, but which does explain Mazar's thinking.

*Incidentally, another fascinating article in the current Azure is this one, about the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. A proper critique would have to go through all the references to nefesh, ruach, neshama etc. to see if they all fit with his thesis -- I look forward to reading this critique elsewhere....
UPDATE: I see that Biur Chametz is also linking to this article, and says: "If you read only one essay this decade on biblical interpretation (pshat), this should be it."

Khodorkovsky and the Jews

Whilst the media has generally referred to Mikhail Khodorkovsky as a 'Jewish' tycoon/oligarch, the Jewish media (including Bloghd) has followed his story with unusual interest, and his treatment by Putin has often been linked to anti-Semitism, it's not quite that simple. Some accounts have him with just a Jewish father; according to JTA, "Before his arrest in 2003, Khodorkovsky had mentioned privately to Jewish leaders on several occasions that he did not consider himself Jewish," and he has certainly not really been involved with the Jewish community.
Now, an interview in today's London Times with a Russian Orthodox priest who visits prisoners in the Siberian jail where Khodorkovsky has been for the past two weeks, and who met with Khodorkovsky this week, concludes:
Father Sergei... said that Khodorkovsky was also now a believer, although he had never been baptised. “The last two years have taught him patience and humility,” he said. “God has set him a difficult test, but I am sure he is strong enough to pass it.”
Now, in addition to the fact that Father Sergei has known Khodorkovsky for all of 20 minutes, he obviously might have his own reasons for claiming this. But the piece also notes that
Inna, [Kohdorkovsky's] wife, made a point of visiting a church built by the Decembrists in Chita, the regional capital, as she made her way to see her husband this week.
Whilst none of this changes an iota about the facts of his case, what it shows about Putin etc. etc. etc., perhaps it's time for the Jewish community to disengage emotionally, a little, from Mr Khodorkovsky, so that we don't all get a massive shock when he emerges from jail with a big cross around his neck....

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels

Chaptzem -- and the Jewish Week -- review the newly released book everyone's going to be reading this fall. According to Chaptzem, the Internet and blogs play an important role:
the author makes contact with many Chasidishe bloggers that live in Williamsburg and hide their internet from everyone. As a matter of fact one of the more salient characters interviewed by the author of this book is a well known Williamsburg internet poster... who she wisely disguises as 'Dini'.
He concludes:
I am actually impressed by how the author of this book as able to get so deep into the secret lives of these people. However there is a lesson to be learned from all this, these so-called 'bums' are frustrated and are anxious to talk and they will talk to anyone that will listen to them. Now here is a message for our Rabbonim, please be the one's to listen to these people and understand them and help them out, or else this will be only the first of such willing public exposes of the inner circle and shmutz of what goes on.
Review on Bloghead when Amazon delivers the book. It will be interesting to compare to Mystics, Mavericks and Merrymakers, which already covered some of this ground in the Lubavitch community a couple of years ago, and to see whether the secular author really did manage to understand what she was seeing/hearing.

(Via Failed Messiah and Yeshiva Orthodoxy)

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Women shul presidents? Old hat

Esther comments on Jewlicious in the context of 'halachic communities':
an UWS minyan just hired (or is about to hire, I think there are some quirks in the agreement that need to be worked out) a woman as its spiritual leader (I believe she is from Riverdale, as well). Should be interesting.
Er, I'll say. Anyone know who / what / where / what's in the agreement?

Iran puts its cards on the table and the West gets into a tizzy

Whilst the world condemns the Iranian president for saying that he wants to "wipe Israel off the map," I'd like to congratulate him. Not for the repulsive sentiments -- but for (perhaps inadvertently) putting his cards on the table, and forcing the West to do the same. For too long, Iran has managed to pose as a 'moderate' country and get away with it -- and Western countries have enacted a 'don't ask, don't tell' / 'turn a blind eye' policy. As long as Iran's extremism and its aggressive intentions towards Israel were behind the scenes -- funding of Hizbullah, the Karine A, etc. -- the West didn't care. Suddenly when Iran openly states what it has always been, the West is forced to take a public stand. In that sense, whilst I applaud the British, French etc. strong reactions against Ahmadinejad's words, they are incredibly hypocritical. Where were they all these years when Iran was acting -- not just talking??? So yes, I hope Iran continues talking this way -- so that no one can claim any illusions as to what they actually stand for.

Just pulling your leg beard

Over Shmini Atzeret, two rival Satmar groups -- between 500-1,000 men -- rioted in a Williamsburg shul, forcing police to intervene and restore order. According to Newsday,
one person was treated at Long Island University Hospital for a slap to the face.
Must have been some slap. And, according to the NY Post, the brawl included "punches, slaps and beard-pulling."
I know this is very depressing stuff and a brawl on Yom Tov, of all times, in a shul, of all places, is particularly disgusting, but somehow I find it hard to take the whole thing seriously when the image that keeps popping into my head is of the police being called in to control up to 1,000 men pulling each other's beards...

The JPost's Christian market

Amongst all the sources that picked up the Guardian's story this week that The Jerusalem Post is going to start a monthly Christian edition, I haven't found one reference to the fact that the Post, in the not-too-distant past, already produced a Christian edition -- a weekly, as I recall, called 'The Christian Jerusalem Post.' It was closed very suddenly, to the best of my recollection, sometime in 2001-2 (? -- or thereabouts) because it wasn't making enough money, and a Christian page was instead inserted into the regular international edition. Of-course, Christians are a natural target for the JPost -- forming at least 25% of its readership (according to the Forward, 15% of its online readership) -- and the new owners announced their intentions to go after that audience when they bought the paper last year (so why everyone's so surprised I'm not so sure). Presumably, the new owners think that the failure of the previous edition was to do with Hollinger's manegerial incompetence rather than with the market itself, and it will be interesting to see whether they can do any better... (The fact that they've allied themselves with the International Christian Embassy already shows, if nothing else, some shrewder marketing.)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The making of a Godol....

Dr. Sherwin Nuland is a surgery professor at Yale, author of the acclaimed How We Die (which I haven't read) and of the less-well known Lost in America: A Journey with my Father (which I have, and which is absolutely terrific). Over the last couple of days I've been reading his latest effort, a biography of Maimonides, which is the second in a new series of books on "Jewish Encounters" sponsored by Nextbook. Although I haven't quite finished it, it's a concise, charming, intelligent little book, which places Maimonides squarely in the context of his time and paints, to the extent possible, a psychological portrait of the man. Refreshingly, and reflecting the personal approach of Nuland, MD -- who bills this as more of a 'personal encounter' with Maimonides than a full biography -- it also devotes quite a lot of space to an evaluation of Maimonides the physician, explaining why he was so well regarded although he made no medical breakthroughs and never really advanced medical knowledge.
This is not a deep treatise on his philosophy / writings and is unlikely to satisfy anyone looking for an extensive analysis of his religious ideas. But for once, it was a pleasure and truly fascinating to look at the sum of a man who we too often only look at in parts; to think of Maimonides as a human being, rather than as the author of this idea or that book. I hope that Nextbook's next offerings -- most of which look really exciting -- are as delightful as this one.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Koheles ....

Koheles (Ecclesiastes), read in the synagogue yesterday, gets more and more meaningful as you get older. Believe me.
Why do we ignore the Jewish 'Wisdom literature'? When was the last time any reader of this blog read Mishle (Proverbs)?

Edah ....

... should start Day Schools of its own. I sent a long letter about this to Edah some years back, but did not ever get a reply.

Another step towards universal brotherhood

Haarets quotes Yeted Neeman, quoting remarks of Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, a 'Litvish' gadol:

"In Haredi terms, Steinman is a symbol of moderation. A few weeks ago, Yated Neeman published remarks made by Steinman at a rally at the Hebron Yeshiva in Jerusalem in honor of the Jewish month of Elul (which this year coincided with September). "Most of the world is evil," said Steinman, "especially the gentiles, most of whom are robbers, murderers, thieves and all the bad things. They have no justice or integrity."

--- So, Harav Steinman said it and Yeted apparently had no qualms in quoting it. Of course, had a non-Jewish leader ( eg the Pope - can you imagine??) said anything even remotely similar about Jews, the cries and protests would be deafening.


1. Has R'Steinman spoken to, or met, any non-Jewish people in the last 50 years?

2. Why do I feel, at the age of 56, that I have nothing in common with this Orthodox world any more?

3. Given that I feel like that, why am I stilll taking any notice of these appalling statements, let alone allowing them to upset me? Should I not have grown out of this by now?

4. Why does the Haredi world continue to tolerate, let alone idolise, these characters (Ovadiah Yosef is in a similar category)? Any minor politician who said anything similar would put their career in jeopardy.

5. Why can't I get more enthusiastic about Edah?

Simchat Torah trivia

In the runup to Simchat Torah I've been skimming through bits of Avraham Ya'ari's classic history of the festival, 'Toldot Chag Simchat Torah' ('The Origins of the Festival of Simchat Torah,' pub. in Hebrew by Mossad Harav Kook). Whilst we often pride ourselves on / lament (depending on who you are...) the unchanging nature of our tradition, this history shows how enormously fluid some of our traditions actually are. Among the fascinating points:
  • Simchat Torah originated in Babylon and was not celebrated in Israel until the end of the Gaonic period (ie. - totally Diaspora festival!). The reason is that in Babylon, the Jews had the same one-year cycle for reading the Torah we do today, whereas in Israel they finished the Torah every three / three and a half years, and not always on the same date. When the EY communities finished the Torah, they would hold a festive meal, but no 'Simchat Torah' as we know it.
  • The festival originally did not involve reading from Bereshit, but merely finishing Devarim. Hence, the original term was not 'chatan Torah' but 'chatam Torah' -- sealer of the Torah. There was, of course, no chatan Bereshit.
  • The original name wasn't 'Simchat Torah' but 'Yom Habrachah' -- the day of the blessing, after Vezot Habrachah -- the last chapter of the bible which was read on that day, and after the haftarah they read then, in which Shlomo gave blessings (I Kings 8:22). In Spain it was known simply as 'the last Yom Tov of Chag.' In North Africa it was 'Yom Hasiyum' -- the day of completion. The name ST originated in Spain, after the Gaonic period.
  • The minhag of hakafot is an adaptation of the minghag of going round the bimah seven times on Hoshanah Rabah with lulavim/aravot. Hakafot on ST were not known at all until the last third of the sixteenth century, and the first time we hear about it is in Tzfat in the days of the Ari, from where it spread out to other communities. Previously, some communities in Ashkenaz took out all the Sifrei Torah, but it took 150 years for the minhag of hakafot to spread, after it was mentioned in several books and after Jews from EY travelling to other communities helped institute it.
  • Customs for Simchat Torah which we know about because there were Shailas as to whether they were permissable include bringing spices and incense to shul and burning them in front of the Sefer Torah.
  • In Israel between the 17th-19th centuries, during hakafot, people used to hold lit wax candles, and this minhag also spread (in several places they used to use havadalah candles...). Another fire-related minhag was getting the children to burn the schach from succot on ST.
  • Other lost minhagim: Worms -- they would dance around bonfires on ST. In other places in Ashkenaz celebrations of ST involved jumping over a fire. In a small number of communities the singing on ST was accompanied by musical instruments played by non-Jews -- and at times by Jews (In Venice, for example, there was a debate over whether the players could use an organ as it was used in churches; other instruments, however, were ok). In other places eg. Sarajevo, they played drums during hakafot. In some Ashkenazi communities, particularly in Poland and the Balkans, in the seventeenth century, they let off fireworks and firecrackers. Many people used to eat and drink in shul whilst the Torah was being read, often food baked by the women of the community...
  • There were many special minhagim for the women on ST, including in some places, decorating the sifrei Torah after Minchah on Shmini Atzeret in preparation for ST; selling the 'women's mitzvot' for the rest of the year -- which included, I note, sweeping the floor of the shul -- throwing candy on the chatanei Torah; and honouring the wives of the chatanei Torah as 'Kallot Torah.' Once hakafot began, women were graciously allowed to watch proceedings, even in communities eg. Yemen where women generally did not come to shul at all. In Southern Russia, women were actually allowed into the men's section; in Lithuania, women and girls came into the synagogue to kiss the Sifrei Torah; in Baghdad, each shul used to lay out all of its sifrei Torah and both the men and the women used to go from shul to shul kissing each Sefer.
  • The tendency to confuse ST with Purim has a long history. The Cohanim's blessing was changed from Mussaf to Shacharit so that the Cohanim would not be drunk when they said it; in some communities it was cancelled altogether. There are also a number of poems about ST which equate the festival with drinking and frivolity from very early on, as well as rabbinic warnings on the matter. There were lots of parodies of religious songs (including Echad Mi Yodeah, and Kiddush) that were popular in ST, and there was also a minhag of appointing a 'Purim rabbi / Purim head-of-kehillah' on ST and of allowing the young bochurim to take over proceedings, including the old shtick of tying people's tallitot together, stealing food from ovens, etc. etc. etc. This was all very widespread but apparently Salonika was particularly known for letting the service become jokey.

  • On that subject, check out last year's ST posting, on ST's appearance in the diary of Samuel Pepys.
    That's it folks -- I'm flying back to the UK today and going straight to work from the airport, so nothing more from me until Thursday. Chag Sameach!
  • What are they going to call Santa's Little Helper? and other problems

    No, this is not a joke (although the graphic -- via The Sun -- is). The Simpsons are being adapted to the Arabic market:

    When an Arab satellite TV network, MBC, decided to introduce "The Simpsons" to the Middle East, they knew the family would have to make some fundamental lifestyle changes."Omar Shamshoon," as he is called on the show, looks like the same Homer Simpson, but he has given up beer and bacon, which are both against Islam, and he no longer hangs out at "seedy bars with bums and lowlifes." In
    Arabia, Homer's beer is soda, and his hot dogs are barbequed Egyptian beef sausages. And the donut-shaped snacks he gobbles are the traditional Arab cookies called kahk. An Arabized "Simpsons" - called "Al Shamshoon" - made its debut in the Arab world earlier this month, in time for Ramadan, a time of high TV viewership. It uses the original "Simpsons" animation, but the voices are dubbed into Arabic and the scripts have been adapted to make the show more accessible, and acceptable, to Arab audiences.
    The family remains, as the producers describe them, "dysfunctional." They still live in Springfield, and "Omar" is still lazy and works at the local nuclear power plant. Bart (now called "Badr") is constantly cheeky to his parents and teachers and is always in trouble.
    On the plus side: Whatever we're being told, the Arab world is clearly still longing for / open to American culture. On the minus side: I can't imagine that a series which is essentially a riff on American life can be 'culturally amended' and still remain funny. But anyway, let's leave that aside for the moment. What I would like is an explanation of the following quote, which doesn't seem to read properly at the moment:
    Hot dogs will become Egyptian beef sausages, and donuts will become popular Arab cookies called "kahk." Moe's Bar has been completely written out of "Al Shamshoon." With characters who are Jewish (like Krusty the Clown), Hindu (like Kwik-E-Mart owner Apu) and Christian (like the family's pastor, Rev. Lovejoy), Al Jean -- "The Simpsons" executive producer -- says those changes mean they aren't "The Simpsons" anymore.
    "If he doesn't drink and eat bacon and generally act like a pig -- which I guess is also against Islam -- then it's not Homer," Jean said.
    Is the period in the wrong place -- ie. should it be, 'Moe's Bar has been completely written out, with characters who are Jewish...'? Or does he mean, 'without' these characters? Ie. -- are the Jews, Hindus and Christian reverends being written out / amended? I really don't care about the other changes, which merely ruin the jokes, but if Fox -- whose permission must be necessary for such major changes to the scripts to go ahead -- has allowed the references to the characters' religions to be taken out or changed because they are deemed 'offensive' to Muslim audiences, they have a lot to answer for.
    In the meanwhile, if all goes well on Al Shamshoon, MBC plans to launch other American cartoons in a similar format. Next up on Arab tv: South Park without the swearing. D'oh!

    Thursday, October 20, 2005

    Making a joke out of JTS

    Weirdest item in The Forward today:
    The NBC television network is developing a new half-hour situation comedy about seminarians in New York, written by the husband of a Los Angeles rabbi.
    The show is titled "Morningside Heights," after the New York neighborhood where The Jewish Theological Seminary and Union Theological Seminary have their campuses across the street from each other.
    David Light, the show's creator, is a onetime Camp Ramah camper and an observant Jew. His wife, Sharon Brous, is the rabbi of a thriving young congregation in Los Angeles known as Ikar. Brous was ordained by The Jewish Theological Seminary,
    Conservative Judaism's flagship institution.... Though he has done some writing for television, this is the first show he has created. "Morningside Heights" is being produced by Big Cattle Productions, a company founded by Eric McCormack (Will of "Will & Grace").
    It's natural to want to write about your former school; what's interesting here is that NBC is actually interested in the idea, for what reason I'm not quite sure. If the show ever reaches the small screen, it will be quite a challenge for Light to rise above the level of cliche and stereotype to make this palatable to a wide audience -- and jokes about JAPS, pushy mothers and gefilte fish don't go very far. It would be much better suited as a really good drama, West Wing-style.
    In the meanwhile, plot ideas for the comedy, anyone?


    NY Magazine is speculating that R. Alan Stadtmauer, the former principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush High School, was "outed before he was ready":
    Actually, it’s not clear that Stadtmauer, who’d taught at the school for ten years, intended to come out—at least not yet. In September, after the rabbi resigned, a student politely e-mailed him to ask about rumors that he was gay. Stadtmauer replied, “I appreciate your understanding about my coming out . . . ”
    But one close confidant of Stadtmauer’s, Rabbi Steve Greenberg (author of Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition), says that when Stadtmauer told the student he could share the e-mail “if your friends were wondering the same things,” he was thinking “maybe three or four friends. He didn’t want this information out like this. He told me this twice.”
    This is just incredibly naive. Put something (especially like this...) on an email to a student and it is more than in the public domain -- it is only to be expected that it will spread like wildfire, especially if you explicitely give permission to share it. This is not passively "being outed" before he was ready -- this is actively "outing himself" before he was ready. It's hard to believe someone who has a secret of this magnitude and does not yet want to fully share it would be so reckless.

    (Via SIW)

    Women as lay leaders

    Yesterday at a friend's house, we were discussing a few words the president of my parents' shul said from the pulpit on Kol Nidrei night, which had disturbed me at the time and which I was suprised to hear apparently others had noted as well. He was naming the chairs of each of the shul's committees to thank them for the work over the past year, and when he got to the chairwoman of the shul's Sisterhood, he thanked her for bringing to the Board's attention the women's point of view, adding something to the effect of, "which otherwise we would not have considered." (I can't remember the exact quote, but that was basically it; he didn't mean it meanly, he was trying to emphasise the importance of the Sisterhood chair.)
    Women are not allowed on the Board of this particular shul, and it was extremely jarring to me that the opinions and points of view of 50% of the shul's adult members had to be covered and conveyed by one informal representative, and that their opinions and points of view were incidental to the main discussions and considerations. The fact is, when it comes to an institution such as a shul, women's needs and wants are often very different to the men's, and as long as their voices are afterthoughts, the shul is unlikely to be fully accomodating to them or to serve their needs as well as it could; women will not feel like (or be) full and equal members; and the entire shul will miss out on women's talent, energy, leadership and contributions.
    It is hard to believe that in this day and age there are still Orthodox shuls where the women are not allowed on shul Boards, but there are, and it's a disgrace.
    Even when women are allowed on the Boards, however, they are too often not there in sufficient numbers, and there's usually a thick glass ceiling. Which brings me to this story from last month, which I originally missed (in fact, I don't think it was really discussed anywhere in the J-blogosphere) but which, in this context, I would like to note. Sydney's Central Synagogue has just appointed its first female president, Rosalind Fischl:
    Mrs Fischl cannot preside over services, a role that will be delegated to a senior male vice-president. Nor will she be able to process with the Torah, as is the executive's role, through the men's section. But on certain shabbats through the year, when there are two Torahs read, she will be able to take the second Torah to the women's gallery. She will sit in her own seat and wear her own hat, rather than a top hat. [! -- MS]
    Not only is her election massively important symbolically -- there are only a handful of Orthodox synagogues anywhere which have had female presidents -- but hopefully it will lead to greater participation of women and families in the synagogue, help make women's lay leadership the norm rather than the exception, and set an international precedent. We wish her a big Mazal Tov, lots of luck and hope many other women will follow in her footsteps all over the world.

    Temple Mount tour

    OOSJ is right -- this is fascinating footage (English here).
    The video of the mosques and structures on Har Habayit was apparently taken in the last few weeks by a young Israeli. YNet doesn't really specify how he got up there and how he got away with taking the video -- in the few seconds where there is sound, you can actually hear him speaking Hebrew -- but I'd love to know.
    In the same few seconds, you can also hear the sound of hammers, which according to YNet is the sound of the building work going on up there which has been worrying (some) Israeli archaeologists so much. To underline the absurdity of Israeli officials not being allowed up there, YNet is carrying some comments by Prof. Ze'ev Herzog, who has been on a long campaign to prove that the Waqf has not been damaging the site. Apparently, this poorly shot video gives him -- supposedly an authority on what's going on up there -- rare insight into the state of Temple Mount:
    The Waqf has been removing dirt from the site, Herzog says, but notes this dirt was only brought at a later period.
    “According to the video, the Waqf in fact reconstructed the site as it was during the crusader period and added a few accessories (such as fans and electricity) to make it a convenient prayer house,” he said.
    In fact, the Hebrew is more damning -- he says, "according to what I can see in the video." In other words, he has no direct knowledge -- and wants us to trust that the Waqf is not busy destrying artefacts of Jewish history on the Mount based on his say so, and now on the back of this amateur video. It goes without saying that as long as we do not know exactly what's going on up there, through evidence gained with our own eyes on the ground, the Waqf should not be trusted at all. And whilst individual Jews may not want to go up there for religious reasons, it is intolerable that Israeli officials, archaeologists etc. are not allowed to by decree of the Waqf, and that they have to rely on covertly-filmed videos to determine the condition of structures that are still, supposedly, within the sovereign state of Israel.

    Negation of the diaspora?

    Bet Hatefutsot (the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora / Jewish People) is building a new wing, presumably as one way of addressing the institution's ongoing decline. Last week, apparently, a group of museum officials and academics got together to discuss what should actually be displayed in this new building.
    To my surprise, most of the ideas seemed fairly constructive, and set about to redress, in some small way, Israelis' complete ignorance about the Diaspora today; to educate them about the major Jewish streams which most Diaspora Jews belong to, but which Israelis know nothing about; and to present the Diaspora's narrative in a fair manner, and not out of 'shlilat hagalut' -- the negation of the Diaspora, which so often leads Israelis to look down upon and to scorn Diaspora culture and Diaspora history. While the ideas are still extremely preliminary, it is encouraging to see that there are senior Israelis out there who seem to truly realize that it's time for a change in the way Israelis relate to their Diaspora cousins.
    One suggestion: Considering the number of foreign tourists who visit Bet Hatefutsot, and considering the unique opportunity to present a picture of modern Diaspora life, with all its pluses and minuses, for a new Israeli generation, I hope the committee deciding on the future of the new wing actually includes some representatives from the Diaspora. Judging by the report in Ha'aretz, the voices so far were strictly local-Israeli -- and it would be a pity (...and a total waste of time) if the Diaspora was not given a chance to contribute to its own story on its own terms.

    Monday, October 17, 2005

    Chumrah of the week

    According to Rav Ovadiah, You're not allowed to play backgammon in the succah.
    Monopoly and scrabble, I presume, are ok??

    Sunday, October 16, 2005

    Looking for a good investment?

    Try buying an apartment in Uman, near Reb Nachman's grave, which you can rent out / sell on to Bretslavers (or others...). At $5,000 (no digits missing) for a 1 1/2-bedroom apt., with prizes rising rapidly, you can probably make a quick return -- as have, apparently, more than 400 Israelis.

    (Via Yeshiva Orthodoxy)

    Bar Kochva's arba minim

    The Jerusalem Post is running a history of the etrog -- all you wanted to know, and much, much more. Among the interesting tidbits, it includes the factoid we wrote about last year plus the following:
    The use by Bar Kochba of the etrogim on his rebellion coins is all the more poignant when we discover that one of the very few letters found intact in the caves of the Judean desert by Yigal Yadin was written by Bar Kochba himself, and deals with his army and its supply difficulties.
    "Shimon to Yehudah Bar Menashe: Kiryat Arabaya. I have sent two donkeys. You shall send two men with them to Yehonatan bar Be'ayan and to Masabla. They shall pack and bring back to you palm branches and etrogim. You should send others from your place to bring back myrtles and willows. See that they are tithed. Send them all to my camp. Our army is large. Peace."
    This letter -- one of 18 found, written between 132 and 134 in Bar Kochva's name -- was in Aramaic. The letters are now in the Shrine of the Book.

    Nobel politics

    Our friend Eli Katz had a good letter yesterday in Canada's Globe and Mail:
    The Nobel committee is continuing to politicize -- and thus devalue -- the literature prize (Playwright Pinter Shocked By Nobel Win -- Oct. 14). While Harold Pinter is a solid, if somewhat, dated playwright, his current claim to fame is based on his loud and extreme left-wing views. Once again, the Nobel committee is bypassing great writers (such as Philip Roth) to make a political point. The message? The Nobel Prize in literature is about the money, not the recognition of genius.
    Although the different nobels are awarded by different committees, why stop at the literature prize? This year the same can be said for the peace prize, which went to Mohamed El Baradei, who has done nothing to prevent Iran getting nuclear arms. The award was clearly meant as an anti-American political statement. The economics prize, however, which went to a right-wing Israeli ideologue.....

    Friday, October 14, 2005

    Yom Tov pet hates

    Whilst I love being in Toronto for the chaggim, and also really like a lot about my parents' shul, the shul has two seemingly contradictory rules which drive me crazy and completely ruin davening for me. On the one hand, you're not allowed to repeat any word of davening -- so lots of favorite RH/Yom Kippur tunes are ruled out and others are ruined with 'oy yoy yoys' where the rest of the world has words (eg. vechol ma'aminim -- must say exactly that, not, G-d forbid, 'vechol, vechol, vechol'). On the other hand, they also insist that mitpallelim say every single stanza of a song to themselves before it's sung -- so you can never get into a song because it's so cut up (and indeed, whilst everyone says the lines, most people only end up singing half-heartedly if at all). As a result, the bits of davening which are normally the most uplifting seem to me completely deflated.
    The first of these minhagim is apparently a well-known row between rabbis and chazzanim everywhere. The second minhag I've never seen anywhere else (it ruins Lecha Dodi each Friday night as well). Anyone else's shul do this?

    Shaigetz interview

    I interviewed The Sheigetz for the Jewish Chronicle (UK); since the JC is registration-only, there's a copy here.

    A man of few words, most of them anti-American and anti-Israel

    The Nobel prize for Literature has gone to another Jew -- the British playwright Harold Pinter. Mazal Tov, Mazal Tov. But before anyone brings out the (kosher) champagne, note that, brilliant dramatist though he may be, his politics leave a lot to be desired. My father-in-law Chaim Bermant, alav hashalom, said many years ago that "Harold Pinter is a man of few words, most of them silly." Unfortunately, in the last few years, he's been rather more vocal, and most of his words have been stridently anti-American and anti-Israel (which may explain quite a lot about why he got the prize). Amongst his pearls of wisdom:

    • ‘The USA is intent on controlling the world and the world’s resources.’
    • ‘Bush is on a par with Saddam.’
    • '"Mordechai Vanunu is a man of immense courage and dignity. His sadistic treatment by the Israeli government is a disgrace, an outrage to what is left of civilised values in this world. '
    • 'The atrocity in New York was predictable and inevitable. It was an act of retaliation against constant and systematic manifestations of state terrorism on the part of the United States over many years, in all parts of the world.'
    • "Israel has these [nuclear] weapons and has used them."
    • This poem.
    He came from a working class Jewish background and was part of the post-war school of British dramatists and writers known as the 'angry young men,' who wrote about British working class life, in a socially realistic setting, earning them the additional title of 'kitchen-sink' dramatists (although Pinter's working class loyalties did not prevent him from marrying writer/biographer Lady Antonia Fraser). Unlike Arnold Wesker and Bernard Kopps, who drew heavily on their east-end and Hackney Jewish backgrounds, Pinter's Jewish content was marginal if at all. He has been, however, active in several anti-war and nuclear disarmament movements, and according to early press reports, he intends making a heavily political statement at his Nobel award ceremony. So watch this space...

    Wednesday, October 12, 2005

    Gmar chatimah tovah

    ...and a good fast to all our readers.

    Yom Kippur puzzles

    Apparently, in the weeks before Yom Kippur in Israel, there's been a dramatic rise in sales of... puzzles. Yes, puzzles are the new YK trend, particularly amongst religious families, so their kids will have something to do on Yom Kippur (when they're not davening, of course). You will all be relieved to hear that sales of bikes in the secular sector are still going strong, too.
    Talking of the secular sector, Ha'aretz is running an opinion piece complaining about an initiative, sponsored by the government and by the excellent moderate-religious organisation Tzohar, to encourage Israelis (but mostly secular Israelis who otherwise wouldn't go to shul) to go to 'prayer gatherings' organized on Yom Kippur by Tzohar. The gatherings, which are now in their sixth year, are a big success (as is practically everything Tzohar puts its hands to):
    Rabbi Hagai Gross, the director of Tzohar, boasted about the effect of these prayer gatherings on the secular participants: "One of the questions we got over and over was whether there would also be a minyan like this on the other holidays. A few even showed up at the entrance to the auditorium on Friday night and on Passover eve. We explained to them that they could go up to the synagogue and pray there, but that was not what they were looking for."
    The op-ed piece writer's beef is that these secular people really should just be going to their regular local shul, as many secular people used to do way back in the '80s:
    There are very few places left where the religious and secular still mingle of their own accord (as opposed to the forced encounters with the religious establishment in matters of personal status). Now it seems that even on the High Holy Days we are to pray separately.
    There is definitely something to this -- people should pray together, the secular should feel comfortable in regular synagogues, the orthodox should realize that synagogues are not their exclusive preserve. However, that's all in an ideal world, and there's been a lot of water under the bridge since the 1980s. The answer isn't simply to order secular people into 'regular' minyanim, which for whatever reasons -- probably mainly political -- they don't want to go to; which -- because they are geared towards people who 'know what they're doing,' they feel excluded from; and which, for the same reason, simply do not inspire them. What the Tzohar minyanim show is that there are lots of secular people out there who would go to shul on a more regular basis, if there was a synagogue that was right for them; the answer is either for regular synagogues to adjust to this (which most of them won't) -- or to run those Tzohar-type minyanim which do appeal to them more often, not less often.

    And for the ladies...

    Yeshiva Orthodoxy reports that at the most recent Lakewood anti-internet meeting,
    They announced the coming opening of a supervised internet library for woman to go shopping.
    I'd like to know whether this was as a result of complaints / dissent by the women; one can only assume so, and it's surprising -- and interesting -- that this was the issue that actually caused the rabbis to compromise. Will it be enough to placate the ladies? I doubt it; the convenience of shopping by internet is entirely in the fact you can do it from home.

    (Via SIW)

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    Not your bubbie's hobby

    Next Sunday, a (religiously) traditional grandmother who has been honored by the OU's women's division will open the World Erotic Art Museum on Miami Beach, made up of 4,000 objects from her personal collection, valued at some $10 million -- "considered to be the greatest collection of fine erotic art in the United States." Until now, millionaire Naomi Wilzig has had to house the pieces in just one of her homes -- " I never put [them] up in Jersey because rabbis and community leaders came to visit regularly" -- and has had to juggle preparing for the opening of the museum with preparing for the Yamim Noraim,
    buying honey and apples, candles to light to welcome the New Year. She reconciles her faith and her work with an earthy panache. "I was a little apprehensive about telling my dear family rabbi of 40 years, but when I finally got the guts to tell him, he told me `Naomi, you're a smart woman, I always knew you'd do something important.'"
    Well, at least she knows what she's praying to be forgiven for this Yom Kippur!

    Monday, October 10, 2005

    Ban, ban, thank you, ma'am

    One of the interesting points about the now-infamous and ever-expanding Lakewood internet ban is that people are being told that they can only have internet in their homes if they need it for work-related purposes -- and then, they need to get a signed heter from a list of pre-approved rabbis, which will be filed with their childrens' schools.
    All this feeds into a trend in the haredi world (and increasingly, in the mo world as well) to treat rabbis as chassidic rebbes who know what's best for a person on an individual basis, way beyond halachic issues. They want to ban the internet in general -- meileh. But what makes your average haredi rabbi (who is probably totally unfamiliar with the modern work place, has no experience of the internet themselves, and who defers to the people who have the kind of scientific knowledge which led them to ban R. Slifkin) capable of making an informed decision as to whether someone needs the internet for their livelihood or not? What I want to see is what happens when one of the rabbis decides that one Lakewood resident -- who needs the internet in a way that isn't immediately obvious -- will not receive a heter. Does anyone think they are going to sacrifice or compromise their livelihood in deference to a decision taken by a rabbi who doesn't really understand the needs of their business? I doubt it.
    In general, this is unenforceable, and there's no point locking the barn door after the horse has bolted; everyone knows that the use of the internet in the haredi world is widespread, and the irony, of course, is that more and more, haredim are making their living in computer-related professions. What will happen is that most people will conform in Lakewood -- and take every possible opportunity to look at the worst of the web when they think no one is looking. All the rabbis are doing, in short, is making liars out of an entire community.

    (Incidentally, I don't think anyone has noted yet that a similar ban was announced in Israel in early 2000, although it didn't include the kicking-out-of-school clause, and there was also [I believe] initially going to be a group of rabbis issuing similar heterim to have the internet at home -- which I assume came to nothing.)

    Torah U'Madda

    And here is a picture (courtesy of NRG) of the American - Israeli winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, Robert Aumann.
    This, of-course, makes him only the second (to my knowledge) kippah-wearer to win the prize. Mazal Tov!

    UPDATE: Bloghead has it on good authority that the co-winner, Thomas Schelling, is also Jewish.

    New Orleans -- not as new as you think

    Saying selichot this morning out of the edition used by the UK's United Synagogue (the Rosenfeld volume), published 1956, my husband came across a curious footnote, attributing one of the selichot to
    Joseph b. Isaac (Bechor Shor of New Orleans): French tosafist, exegete and poet
    There you go, ultimate proof Rav Ovadiah Yosef was wrong about Hurricane Katrina; Torah has apparently been flourishing in New Orleans since the 12th century...

    (He was, of course, from plain old Orleans.)

    Kosher capers

    A rabbi "somewhere in Canada", who is also a prison chaplain, had to make his pre-Rosh Hashanah visit to the local jail. Knowing that he would be there most of the day, he went equipped with 'tzeida la'derech' (= food for the journey ) - in this case the technologically advanced self-heating kosher meals from LaBriute meals. These work by water-activated heat-producing chemical reaction, and basically, the food cooks in the packet.
    The Rav went to have his lunch in the Chaplain's office, shared by the Catholic and Protestant clergy. He 'activated' the kosher meal, went out to wash his hands, and returned to the table to make the brachah (blessing), which he did out loud. As he finished making the brachah, the food package started to steam and jump around, as the heat did its job ..... The other two Chaplains took one look at this scene -- and fled the room ............

    • Heard from the same pulpit: Rabbi's phone rings and rings at 3:30AM. Finally, he answers it. "Rabbi, I'm sorry, am I waking you up?" opens the caller. "No, it's OK, I was already awake on the first ring".

    Sunday, October 09, 2005

    The Russian plot thickens

    JTA reports (in its news briefs):
    Several top members of the Russian Jewish Congress voted Thursday to oust the group’s head, Vladimir Slutsker, but Slutsker refused to step down, saying that only the group’s presidium could vote him out. Some leading RJC donors accused Slutsker of helping the Russian government deny Moscow’s chief rabbi, Pinchas Goldschmidt, entry to the country earlier this month, a charge Slutsker denies.
    It's so hard to keep track of who's who and who's affiliated to whom in the Russian Jewish community -- so many rival organizations with similar sounding names -- but more on Slutsker here (...interesting headline in this context) and here. In addition, Forum 18 (I have no idea who they are) sheds some light on the latest developments:
    "The Foreign Ministry knows nothing – whoever we address tells us to find out here the root of the problem lies," Tankred Golenpolsky, founder and editor of the Moscow-based International Jewish Newspaper, told Forum 18 on 5 October. Having spoken to people in Berl Lazar's circle, he doubted that Rabbi Goldschmidt's deportation was connected with FEOR [Chabad's org -- MS]: "They said, 'We're all rabbis, we wouldn't do a thing like that just before Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement, to be marked on 13 October 2005)'."
    Instead, while emphasising that he had no firm proof, Golenpolsky suggested that the situation was connected with a dispute between Goldschmidt and the Russian Jewish Congress – to which Goldschmid's Choral Synagogue is affilated - under its latest president, Vladimir Sluzker, elected to the post in 16 November 2004.
    Golenpolsky explained to Forum 18 that a building on the other side of Upper Spasoglinishchevsky Lane from the Choral Synagogue and now occupied by the Russian Jewish Congress was originally bought by Vladimir Gusinsky when he was the organisation's president in the 1990s. The building, which is on the books of the Choral Synagogue, was at first designated as a Jewish orphanage, he said, but this was changed to that of Jewish community centre when it was decided that the city centre location was not appropriate for children. Golenpolsky added that the Congress was supposed to be based there temporarily, but that Sluzker now refused to allow Goldschmidt's community to use any part of the building, "even though there's plenty of room."
    It was about this situation that Goldschmidt complained to the Rabbinical Court in Israel some three months ago, said Golenpolsky, and on 27 September – the same day that the Moscow rabbi was deported from Russia – the court ruled that the Congress should not prevent Goldschmidt or Shayevich from entering the disputed building. "Goldschmidt has been in and out of Russia every 15 minutes," Golenpolsky remarked, "and this comes slap bang after the court's decision, so you begin to put two and two together."
    It all seems so petty, but if true -- and it's all still just speculation -- it would explain the strange comment by Berl Lazar's spokesperson, who raised the possibility the visa revocation might have something to do with a 'conflict within the community,' even as everyone was pointing the finger at him.

    Saturday, October 08, 2005

    Nobel trivia

    As the Nobel prizes are currently being doled out (including to some particularly undeserving recipients), I was wondering how Jews had fared in recent years. Yes, everyone knows that Jews receive far more Nobel prizes than we theoretically should, considering what a miniscule portion of the world's population we make up, but has the rate at which we win Nobels changed at all in recent years (as the pool of Jews shrinks, for example, demographics change, professions Jews enter into change, etc.)?
    To my surprise, not only has the rate not slowed -- but we seem to be getting Nobel prizes more often than we used to. According to this source (and different sources do calculate this slightly differently, but anyway), at least 167 Jews or half-Jews have received the Nobel prize between 1901-2004. According to my calculations, 47 of them received the prizes between 1990-2004 -- ie., just under 30% of Jewish Nobels were received in the past 15 years alone. In that same period, a total of 166 people* (as opp. to organizations) were given Nobel prizes -- ie. again, we received just under 30% of all Nobels awarded to people since 1990 -- although we were "just" 22% of recipients since 1901.
    So there you have it. Whatever else you can say about the way the Jewish world is evolving, at least we're not getting dumber. And that's something!

    (Note: After making a statement like that, I have no doubt someone is going to point out some major flaw in my maths. I won't take it personally.)

    Mixed signals / competing pressures

    Orthomom links to an article in Ha'aretz about a piece in the Israeli haredi weekly Mishpacha, complaining about the discrimination newly religious families experience when trying to get their kids into school, which started an enormous and emotional debate.
    Discrimination against chozrim bitshuvah is not new in that community, although some of the statements in the article are particularly shocking -- read Orthomom for all the right points. What is new, and what should be pointed out, however, is the fact that the issue was raised so openly in a haredi publication. Regular readers of blogs might have become used to open criticism of such matters in the haredi world, by haredim -- but the blogs are there mostly to say things that can't be said in regular haredi papers. The issue of discrimination shows pressure in one direction -- to close haredi society off -- but the fact that this particularly sensitive issue was aired so publicly and vigorously debated shows some pressure in the opposite direction and is actually a sign of progress and increasing openness.

    Thursday, October 06, 2005

    Idealistic Israel vs. 'real' Israel

    I spent some of Rosh Hashanah reading The Other Side of Israel by Susan Nathan, a Jewish English woman in her 50s who made Aliyah out of Zionist motives and eventually went to live in an Arab-Israeli town in the Galilee, Tamra.
    I don't really recommend this book, as Nathan wastes a valuable opportunity to give a powerful and influential account of the uphill struggle facing Israeli Arabs and the discrimination against them, and to offer Israelis and diaspora Jews a thought-provoking and objective portrait of Israeli Arab life and instead goes off on a vile anti-Zionist diatribe. She has swallowed the Arab narrative hook line and sinker; in her account, the Jews are solely to blame for Arab suffering and reconciliation will only begin when we recognize that the establishment of the state was an unjust catastrophe for the Arabs, and apologize. This woman actually celebrates the Nakba; enough said.
    The reason I don't recommend the book is not because I don't think we should read such things; it's always useful and thought-provoking to be familiar with the other side's take. It's just that the book is so unbalanced, so extreme and so ideologically driven it's not really useful as a good analysis of the Israeli Arab relationship with the state or lifestyle, which is what there's really a need for.
    In any case, all that by way of background to what I really wanted to say about the book... Which is to address the one interesting question: How did a woman who grew up in a Zionist home, brought her kids up as Zionists and made Aliya out of Zionist motivations come to make such an about-turn?
    The change began when she spent some time in Hadassah Ein Kerem, and was first exposed to Israeli Arabs. Somewhat amazingly, she seemed to have had no inkling that they existed: "The Jewish state was clearly a lot less ethnically pure than I had been led to believe" (p. 48 in the UK edition). She was then startled to see a religious settler wandering around the hospital with a gun slung over his shoulder:
    "I engaged him in concersation as he was leaving. In a strong American accent he told me: 'I've just requisitioned an Arab home in East Jerusalem. I never leave home without a weapon.' I suggested to him he would be better off living in the Jewish quarter in the Old City. No, he retorted. 'All of East Jerusalem belongs to the Jews.'
    His words left a nasty taste in my mouth... I left the hospital confused by the signals Israel was sending me."
    A few months later, she was asked to help out with an organisation working to aid disadvantaged communities in Israel, including Israeli Arabs; as she read about the Arab communities, she decided to meet them for herself -- "I could not live long in ignorance" -- and before long, actually decided to move to an Arab town. As she becomes more familiar with the daily and systematic discimination facting this sector, her anti-Zionism grows.
    What's interesting (to me) here is her profound ignorance about Israeli society when she came to live in Israel, although she was a proud Zionist, grew up in a Zionist home etc. and was no stranger to Israel. In essence, she blames her Jewish/Zionist education for presenting her with a false idea of what Israel actually is, and the encounter with the 'real' Israel -- rather than the idealistic Israel -- is enough to tip her over the edge.
    It would be easy to say that anyone who does not realize that Israel has Arabs who are citizens in it, who do not realize the many injustices Israel does carry out in its Arab sector, who does not see Israeli history in a sophisticated manner rather than in a haze of mythology, etc. etc. etc., is simply ignorant and an idiot. Unfortunately, Susan Nathan is by far not the only diaspora Jew who sees Israel extremely naively and fully expects to be greeted, on landing, by kibbutznikim in kova tembels driving a tractor across the runway. (On my year off in Israel, one of my roommates, an Australian who had been through a Jewish day school but never visited before, told me completely seriously that she was surprised to discover there were no camels on the roads in Jerusalem.)
    I've been shocked to hear many otherwise intelligent and sophisticated people acting shocked when they discover some of the less perfect sides of Israeli life, history and ideology. Most can cope and adjust; many are, to varying extents, disillusioned. Where this leaves our education is hard to say, because it is obviously hard to strike a balance between instilling a love of the country, and an idealism, in people who are only exposed to Israel from a distance, and giving them a fair and realistic picture. However, I do think some more realism is in order; Susan Nathan is simply the most extreme example of just how much damage naivete can do.

    Wait til Melanie Phillips gets hold of this...

    According to CNN, British police officers who wore a pin showing the cross of St. George -- ie., the English flag -- were told off by a prison inspector for offending Muslim sensibilities.
    Chris Doyle, director of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British understanding, said Tuesday the red cross was an insensitive reminder of the Crusades.
    "A lot of Muslims and Arabs view the Crusades as a bloody episode in our history," he told CNN. "They see those campaigns as Christendom launching a brutal holy war against Islam.
    "Muslim or Arab prisoners could take umbrage if staff wore a red cross badge. It's also got associations with the far-right. Prison officers should be seen to be neutral."
    Doyle added that it was now time for England to find a new flag and a patron saint who is "not associated with our bloody past and one we can all identify with."
    Perhaps a crescent??

    Honor roll

    Gil sounds rather peeved that the Jewish Press hasn't included Hirhurim in a list of the paper's recommended/favorite blogs.
    Question: why would anyone want to be considered a favorite by that rag (and I'm not just saying that because I wasn't included either...)???????

    Wednesday, October 05, 2005

    Jew of the Year

    For a list of nominees, see here.
    Picking the Jew of the Year for 5765 was particularly difficult as the one overwhelmingly obvious candidate came with significant flaws.
    On the one hand, Ariel Sharon managed to do what the Left never could, and dismantled the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip. With this bold, brave and riskly move he provided the first real breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years, and provided the first ray of hope for Israelis themselves that Israel will be able to get out of (most of) the territories, on its own terms, and disengage itself from this ongoing war which has been so destructive both morally and physically. It was a truly historic and monumentous step which has already left Israel better off economically and diplomatically, and by all accounts its citizens are entering the new year with more optimism for the future than anyone would have thought possible just a few months ago.
    Unfortunately, Mr Sharon compromised this legacy with the way he executed the disengagement. I'm not referring to what some people perceived as its undemocratic nature, as he was the elected PM of Israel, and so I don't see it quite that way, but rather to the distinct lack of sympathy, or calculated coldness, that he showed towards the settlers, who, after all, were there with his encouragement and with the encouragement of successive governments of Israel, and who, after all, were being asked to give up their homes, communities and in some cases, livelihoods. By not keeping them properly informed of his plans; by not preparing them proper alternative housing; by not speaking directly to them or their supporters until the very eve of the disengagement -- he showed a lack of compassion and responsibility which is frankly shocking. Most importantly, his lack of leadership in this area made the feeing of betrayal in some segments of society, and the inevitable tear in the nation so much worse than they had to be.
    On balance, the magnitude of the move he initiated still makes him the only reasonably choice as Jew of the Year. However, with a little bit more courage and heart he could have been so much more deserving and so much greater.
    Runner up: The IDF Soldier. The Army was the only group that emerged totally heroically out of the single most important Jewish event of the year, the Gaza disengagement. Despite the hardest of circumstances, the soldiers carried out their mission professionally and calmly. The success of the operation ultimately largely depended on the men and women on the ground, and it is largely to their credit that the pull-out ended up being relatively smooth; in many cases, they diffused potentially explosive situations, showed the compassion to the settlers that the PM lacked, and reminded the nation that we were, after all, in this together, brothers and sisters.

    Monday, October 03, 2005

    Shanah Tovah

    Wishing the entire Bloghead readership -- and klal Yisrael... -- a sweet, happy and healthy new year. Jew of the Year to be posted on Motzai Chag (due to pre-Yom Tov rush...).
    -- Miriam and Paul

    Sunday, October 02, 2005

    So go on, consult

    Rabbi Berl Lazar has been named by President Putin as one of the first 40-odd members of the "Public Chamber, a consultative body of prominent citizens ostensibly aimed at bridging the gap between the authorities and the public."
    When's he going to consult the President on how to get the Moscow chief rabbi allowed back into the country?
    Really, as a self-styled Russian chief rabbi, you would have thought he would have come out with an active public statement demanding this matter to be cleared up as soon as possible, or would have actively intervened. (Were it not for that pesky "conflict within the community...")
    Meanwhile -- apart from one strange, reactive comment from his spokesperson -- the silence is deafening...

    The Queen of Pop losing touch with her subjects, fast

    Madonna's new album -- "Confessions on a Dance Floor" -- apparently includes a paean to... sixteenth century Kabbalist Isaac Luria . And somehow she thinks this is going to revive her flailing music career???
    (I guess she's taking a leaf out of hubbie Guy Ritchie's book -- he reportedly blames the flop of his latest movie on Kabbalah).

    (Hat tip: Tamara)

    Negotiate a divorce, not a marriage?

    Geoffrey Alderman in the Jewish Chronicle:

    I agree with the Blair and Bush bashers that Iraq is a mess. This is not because of the presence of American and British troops. It is because Iraq is an artificial entity that was held together only through Saddam’s terror machine, torture chambers and poison gas. Once these instruments of oppression were removed, the artificial entity that we call Iraq was as bound to fall apart as was the Soviet Union once the forces of democracy reared their unsettling heads.
    The entity we call Iraq was invented in the Colonial Office, in Whitehall, after the First World War. Its present borders were drawn up by clerks with rulers and set-squares. The Kurds, who had been brutally treated by the Ottoman Empire, ought to have been given their independence. Instead, they were compelled by Britain and France to join with various Sunni and Shi’ite tribes to form a completely artificial country over which Faisal, son of Hussein, guardian of the holy places of Mecca and Medina, who had fought alongside Lawrence of Arabia against the Ottomans, was set as ruler.
    I can see little useful purpose in perpetuating this artificial creation. Perhaps it should be allowed to revert to the constituent but distinct ethnic groups compelled to submerge their identities within it almost a century ago.
    This is not a new idea, however it is one that, as soon as Saddam was toppled, was dismissed out of hand by most people who perceived it to be too difficult to implement, mainly because the main population groups (sunni, shiite, kurds) do not live in completely separate geographical areas; because the sunnis don't want to be left in the most resource-poor area of the country on their own; the Turks don't want a Kurdish state; fear of Iranian interference in a shi'ite state, etc. We haven't heard much of it since then.
    In just 2 weeks, the Iraqis are going to the polls to ratify their new, barely agreed upon constitution. The Sunnis have already said they are going to vote against en masse, so even if the constitution does pass, stability will probably not be restored, the insurgency is unlikely to quieten, and Iraq will still not be functioning comfortably as a whole.
    Under such circumstances, when one option has been tried, tried, tried, tried and tried again, without success, perhaps a completely fresh approach is necessary -- a complete rethink, out of the box? It is clear that these people simply do not want to live with each other. Why not at least explore the option of letting them go their separate ways?
    All the old objections still hold true, and there's no question that working out how to split up might be almost as difficult as trying to work out how to live together (and will not mean a quick exit from Iraq for US/British troops). That doesn't mean it can't be done, however -- and depending on the results and aftermath of the constitution referendum, perhaps it should be considered?

    Mit Mazel

    Chabad has a dating website for its waifs, strays and hangers-on. My favorite detail: the button at the bottom of each profile which says, "back to top (bli neder)." Bli neder? Sounds like they need a better computer programmer!

    Majorly inaccurate article about Canadian Jews in World Jewish Digest

    This article on Canadian Jewish life in the current WJD contains a major error.

    It states:

    "For example, the Canadian government provides financial support for ethnic schools that offer secular studies. Included among these institutions are Jewish day schools. As a result, day school tuitions in Canada range from $3,100 to $3,800 per ear."

    1. "The Canadian Government" does not provide a single cent. Some Provincial governments do.

    2. However, Ontario - home to Toronto's 180,000 Jews, 50%+ of all Jews in Canada, and with 11,000 students in full-time Jewish education - does not give any support whatever to Jewish schools. Given the constant amount of publicity and discussion about this issue in the last 2-3 years, which is the most important argument the community has with the Provincial Government, it is just breathtaking that the writer isn't aware of this.

    3. For this reason, tuition fees in Ontario's 37 Jewish schools range from CAN$8-10,000 (Elementary) to just over CAN$15,000 (High School) - and not as stated.

    4. One important (unmentioned) fact is the support given to Jewish Education in Toronto by the local UJA Federation, which amounts to approx. CAN$12m per year - the most, probably, of any Federation in N America.

    There are numerous other perspectives in the article with which one might take exception. The glaring error about school funding, however, is enough. Hope the other articles are better researched .....

    • NOTE: This posting was about the World Jewish Digest, not about who gets paid what in the Toronto Jewish School system. I have, I am afraid, taken editorial prerogative and stopped the comments. The person who is commenting / was commenting on that issue is welcome to initiate his/her own blog and debate the issue there. Shanah Tovah to all readers!

    Amnon of Mainz and the Greek legions

    See two excellent articles by Rabbi David Golinkin on 'Unetaneh tokef':

    The Mishnah manuscript can be viewed, courtesy of the Hebrew University, here. The word 'ki'v'numeron' can be seen six lines up from the bottom of the right-hand column.

    Saturday, October 01, 2005

    Jew of the Year -- nominations so far

    Here's who we have so far:
    • Gaza settler -- "As recognition for all they have done and represented over this year, and the awareness and emotion they brought tothe rest of us; and for the classy and heartbreaking way in which they left."
    • Simon Weisenthal -- "who dedicated his life to bringing Nazi monsters to justice and making them pay for the murder of 6 million Jews"
    • Wendy Shalit - "for enlightening the world to the truth about theultra-orthodox."
    • Ariel Sharon -- "for sheer guts -- and for showing that a right-wing PM can dowhat a left-wing one can't."
    • The settlers of Gush Katif AND the members of the IDF who expelled them -- "for creating one of the most riveting and heartbreaking news stories of the year" / "for reminding us at that despite all of ourdifferences, at our core we are one. Even when pitted against each other, we still have the ability to cry together; to mourn together. They have reminded us that no matter what, am Yisrael chai."
    • Rabbi Slifkin
    • Dov Bear
    • Shiri Maimon -- "clearly the most talentedat Eurovision and her 4th place finish was a source of pride to Jews inIsrael and Europe."
    • Paul Wolfowitz -- "for his changes to IMF"
    • Stanley Fisher -- "for his celebrated Aliyah and subsequent hard nose attitude to hold Israel's interest rates steady and keep our economy growing."
    • The anonymous philanthropists who donated $45m. to Boston's Jewish day schools in October, setting a wonderful example and setting a trend
    • Natalie Portman -- Hollywood star goes to university in Israel and stars in an Israeli movie
    • Mikhail Khodorkovsky -- symbol of political oppression in Russia
    • Rabbi Ismar Schorsch -- Retires from JTS after 20 years, "while still in top form"
    • Orit -- the Agunah who starred in 'Mekudeshet,' who finally received her get after 4 1/2 years and a long struggle with the beth din; for bringing the problems of Agunot to public attention and becoming a symbol of their plight
    • Edgar Bronfman -- "without whom there would be no such thing as Hillel, and therefore alot less identifiably Jewish people in the world"
    • Matisyahu -- "for quickly rising to be the world's most famous orthodox entertainer"

    -- Anyone else? Last chance...