Thursday, September 11, 2008

Translating the Bible - into Hebrew

In university, my version of Chaucer included a line-by-line translation of the Old English into more palatable modern English. Now, in Israel, someone has the same idea – for the Bible. According to Ha’aretz,

A move is afoot to publish the Bible in contemporary Hebrew. In other words, to translate the Bible into Hebrew. To rewrite it, in the same language, using different words.

This is a private commercial endeavor launched by a veteran teacher of the Bible, Avraham Ahuvia, and publisher Rafi Mozes of Reches Educational Projects. The entire text is vocalized, and each verse appears in the original form alongside the translated version.

The Education Ministry cried foul upon hearing of the idea and hastily issued a directive banning use of the new translation in schools. The danger has thus been averted: Even if they wanted to, Israeli teachers and students, at least officially, may not sample this work.

Although nothing will stop pupils using the translations at home, for homework.

And more is the pity. Although I fully believe that we must do everything possible to make Jewish texts accessible to our young, I simply cannot believe – as a graduate of an Israeli primary school – that ancient Hebrew, which is really not that different from modern Hebrew, really is beyond the reach of most Israeli students.

Evil men, named and shamed

The Israeli rabbinic court system has began publishing pictures and descriptions of men who have disappeared without giving their wives a get.

Some of these men have fled Israel and may be living in your community. If you have seen them, please contact the Rabbanut immediately.

And for once, credit where credit is due. The Rabbanut should be applauded for taking this important step in tracing these horrible men. Perhaps now, men considering leaving their wife unable to remarry and get on with her life, will realise that this will not just be treated as a private affair, but as a crime that will cost them their public reputations.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Barking mad

The Bark-mitzvah phenomenon – giving your dog a ‘barmitzvah’ party – has been around for a few years; but now - just like real barmitzvahs - the celebrations are getting more expensive.

One New Yorker has just made headlines after spending an astounding $10,000 on his pooch’s party – which was attended by 100 people, including Dr Ruth. Fur real.

According to proud owner – parent? – David Best, the dog, Elvis, “has a great personality and everyone loves him”.

Now, I’ll admit that the whole event seems to have been carried out with lots of humour, and Dr Ruth certainly seemed to be having lots of fun. But still……….. what a colossal waste of money. Couldn’t Mr Best have donated the cash to charity - and given the dog a bone or something?

Muzzle tov, I guess.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Sarah Palin sat through a sermon by a Jew for Jesus. Should we care?

Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, proved a huge problem for the Democratic presidential nominee – particularly (but by no means exclusively) amongst Jews. Now, Ben Smith of Politico puts the spotlight on Sarah Palin’s church – which, just a couple of weeks ago hosted David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus:

Palin’s pastor, Larry Kroon, introduced Brickner on Aug. 17, according to a transcript of the sermon on the church’s website.

“He’s a leader of Jews for Jesus, a ministry that is out on the leading edge in a pressing, demanding area of witnessing and evangelism,” Kroon said.

Brickner then explained that Jesus and his disciples were themselves Jewish.

“The Jewish community, in particular, has a difficult time understanding this reality,” he said.

Brickner’s mission has drawn wide criticism from the organized Jewish community, and the Anti-Defamation League accused them in a report of “targeting Jews for conversion with subterfuge and deception.”

Brickner also described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God's "judgment of unbelief" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity.

"Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It's very real. When [Brickner's son] was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment — you can't miss it."

According to Kroon, Palin was in church that day. But should this become an issue for Jews and/or the media – as Andrew Sullivan, for example, suggests?

Absolutely not. Barack Obama sat through 20 years of disgusting sermons by Jeremiah Wright, week in, week out, and considered him his mentor. Palin sat through one – one - repulsive sermon by a Jew-for-Jesus. There is really no comparison.

Although of-course, it would be interesting to know more about Gov Palin’s pastor – who apparently goes back a long way with Mr Brickner – and what other sermons Sarah Palin has sat through over the past 20 years…

Ancient Jewish city found - in Russia

Russian archaeologists claim to have found the capital of the ancient state of the Khazars - who, according to tradition, adopted Judaism as their state religion in the 8th century:

"This is a hugely important discovery," expedition organiser Dmitry Vasilyev told AFP... "We can now shed light on one of the most intriguing mysteries of that period -- how the Khazars actually lived. We know very little about the Khazars -- about their traditions, their funerary rites, their culture," he said.

At its height, the Khazar state and its tributaries controlled much of what is now southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan and large parts of Russia's North Caucasus region.

The capital is referred to as Itil in Arab chronicles but Vasilyev said the word may actually have been used to refer to the Volga River on which the city was founded or to the surrounding river delta region.

Itil was said to be a multi-ethnic place with houses of worship and judges for Christians, Jews, Muslims and pagans. Its remains have until now never been identified and were said to have been washed away by the Caspian Sea.

Archaeologists have been excavating in the area if Samosdelka for the past nine years but have only now collected enough material evidence to back their thesis, including the remains of an ancient brick fortress, he added.

"Within the fortress, we have found huts similar to yurts, which are characteristics of Khazar cities.... The fortress had a triangular shape and was made with bricks. It's another argument that this was no ordinary city."


Thursday, September 04, 2008

Locking up the women - in the name of modesty

Four years ago, Rabbi Nissim Karelitz, chairman of the rabbinic court in Bnei Brak, asked righteous women to kindly leave shul before the service was over, for reasons of ‘modesty’ – ie so that they should not mingle with the men.

But what if the women didn’t want to leave early? A shul in Tzfat has come up with a rather ingenious solution:

New guidelines imposed at the Breslover Shul in Tzfas determine women must leave after Shabbos morning Davening before Aleinu, or they are locked inside the women's gallery until men make their exit. According to the new rule, after Aleinu the women's gallery is locked for 15 minutes, during which the men make their exit. The women's gallery is then reopened to allow those who didn't make it out in time to leave.

As if physically locking up the women (why is it never the men?) wasn’t horrifying enough, the shul didn’t even bother telling them they were doing it – leading to distressing scenes:

"In the beginning we thought someone had locked the women's gallery from outside by mistake, but as time went on we realized we had been locked in purposefully, without being informed," said one woman, a guest who attended the Shul on a recent Shabbos. "It was horrible; dozens of women banging on the door trying to get out. In the men's gallery someone yelled to the manager 'the women have been locked in!' The men didn't know about it either, and many of them stood helplessly outside waiting for their wives."

Somehow, in the ever more radical search for “modesty”, all common sense seems to have been lost. Not to mention dignity, kindness and respect for others.

Tony Blair's sister-in-law: 'I'm a celebrity, get me out of Gaza!'

So Lauren Booth – journalist and, rather more famously, sister of Cherie Blair – is stuck in Gaza after being turned away from the Israeli and Egyptian crossings.

She arrived in the Palestinian territory last week on a boat with 45 other activists, aiming to defy Israel’s blockade of the Strip – and to show solidarity with the Palestinians.

Now she is complaining that she can’t leave.

Apparently, a week of solidarity is quite enough, thank you very much!

(Note of caution: according to the BBC, “sources claim that Ms Booth was offered an opportunity to leave Gaza over the weekend, but she declined to take it up” – which would make this just one more publicity-seeking exercise – and a very successful one at that.)

See also: Israellycool ; Meryl Yourish

Barack Obama's Jewish mishpocha

So who is the most ‘Jewish’ presidential candidate in America? Now that Joe Lieberman has missed out on being named Republican running mate, the slot is wide-open.

And according to the New York’s Forward, the unexpected answer is….. Barack Obama. Not only was he once a Shabbos Goy – his wife has a bona fide rabbi in the family:

Michelle Obama, wife of the Democratic presidential nominee, and Rabbi Capers Funnye, spiritual leader of a mostly black synagogue on Chicago’s South Side, are first cousins once removed. Funnye’s mother, Verdelle Robinson Funnye (born Verdelle Robinson) and Michelle Obama’s paternal grandfather, Frasier Robinson Jr., were brother and sister.

Funnye (pronounced fuh-NAY) is chief rabbi at the Beth Shalom B’nai Zaken Ethiopian Hebrew Congregation in southwest Chicago. He is well-known in Jewish circles for acting as a bridge between mainstream Jewry and the much smaller, and largely separate, world of black Jewish congregations, sometimes known as black Hebrews or Israelites. He has often urged the larger Jewish community to be more accepting of Jews who are not white…

Funnye converted to Judaism and was ordained as a rabbi under the supervision of black Israelite rabbis, then went through another conversion supervised by Orthodox and Conservative rabbis. He serves on the Chicago Board of Rabbis.”

Funnye describes himself as an independent but says he has donated money to the Obama campaign and is “cheering it on”.

Considering his at-times strained relationship with the Jewish community, I rather admire Obama for not exploiting this rather unusual relationship. Although not as unusual as you might think - there are, in fact, an estimated 150,000 black Jews in the US.

Friday, August 22, 2008

How one Orthodox rabbi joined Conservative

The New York Jewish Week has a piece on Rabbi David Lincoln, a British-born and British-trained rabbi who has just retired from a Conservative shul in NY and is now davening in an Orthodox congregation.

He recently angered the local Orthodox community by expressing surprise, on a Jewish cable television show, that “there was no sense of outrage” in Orthodox Jewry after a series of headlines about sexual molestation and financial scandals in the community.

But what is really fascinating is how this rabbi – who received Orthodox semichah in the UK and who has the Chief Rabbi’s certificate, which allows him to serve in communities under the Chief’s auspices – ended up in a Conservative synagogue:

After two years serving an Orthodox congregation in southern England, he looked west, to the United States. He contacted the United Synagogue of America, precursor to the present United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. He assumed the American organisation was Orthodox, like the United Synagogue in his home country. Impressed by his credentials, United Synagogue officials offered Rabbi Lincoln some pulpit positions, and Rabbi Lincoln quickly learned about Conservative Judaism. Theologically, “I felt very much at home,” he says.

On a serious note, this shows something about how different the British rabbinate was 40 years ago; I can’t think of many United Synagogue rabbis nowadays who would feel comfortable jumping ship like that (although some Conservative pulpits in North America are still filled by Orthodox-trained rabbis, by the way).

On a less serious note, Rabbi Lincoln may have had very impressive credentials; but had I been interviewing him, I would have been less than impressed by the amount of research he did about the organisation to which he was applying…..

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Is Jewish life in the UK as bad as Americans say?

Dave Rich of the CST attempts to refute, in Ha’aretz, the accusation, heard mostly from American Jews, that Britain is a terrible place for Jews to live – beset by antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and Muslim extremists waiting to take over the country and convert us all.

He argues that while antisemitism is, undeniably, on the rise, the community is prosperous and well-integrated, and that our defences against antisemitism – in terms of monitoring organizations like the CST, government awareness etc - are solid.

“This is not the 1930s,” he writes, “and a sense of proportion and balance is vital.”

Similar defensive pieces pop up with alarming regularity – see here and here, for example.

So who is right? The American Jews – or the Brits? How are we to understand such different perceptions of what it means to be a British Jew today?

The easy answer is that Americans are simply relying on press reports and have no idea what daily life here is really like. But the real answer, I think, goes deeper – and both groups are, in a sense, right.

The Brits are comparing life here today to life 20, 30, 50 years ago. By those standards, Jewish life in the UK really is very good. There is no question that we are far, far better integrated than we were a generation ago, thanks, in part, to the multicultural ethos which has become so dominant. Antisemitism may be on the up – but from a relatively low base; most of us have never experienced antisemitism on a personal level at all. We are a more confident, more proud, more open community than we used to be – see for example the annual Simchah on the Square celebration and this year’s Israel parade through the streets of the capital. It is easier than ever to be Jewish in this country, with a booming kosher food / restaurant industry, a wide choice of Jewish schools and extensive Jewish programming - for example through the JCC. There is a lot about which to be positive.

The Americans, meanwhile, are comparing British Jewish life to American Jewish life. By those standards, things here are uncomfortable. The levels of anti-Zionism (and occasionally antisemitism) with which we put up in our media, and often in public discourse, are inconceivable to an American audience. Jews are far more dominant there in popular culture, the media is far more sympathetic to Israel and casual antisemitism in far more politically incorrect than it is here. Their Jewish organisations are also far more vocal and aggressive than ours, when there is need for action (for example, in the one area where American Jews still do complain of harassment – campus life – students have strong support the wider community leadership). Moreover, Jewish life is far more developed in the major communities in terms of facilities, schools, etc.

Of-course, life being (possibly) better elsewhere does not make life here “bad”. And while there is, undeniably, a certain level of anxiety in the UK community about the future here, on balance, I think daily life is good here for most Jews. But there’s no point trying to argue that with members of a community coming from such a different experience. At the end of the day, quality of life, including quality of Jewish life, is entirely a subjective matter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Jews in the middle of nowhere: Lubavitch blogs them

Chabad are certainly the PR masters.

Each summer, some 400 young rabbis are sent to far-flung communities in order to make contact with local Jews, as part of a programme called 'Roving Rabbis'. This year they are running a blog about their experiences - which is actually quite interesting.

In this post, for example, two young Lubavitchers meet a mental patient at a top-security hospital in Connecticut:

X came up to us and we slowly ambled on into a conference room. It seems that last year he was in an intensive security wing, while now he's in minimum, which means that he has a lot more freedom. After introducing ourselves, we began to discuss Judaism.

He's a fan of Mussar and we talked about how Mussar and Chassidus differ. This distinction colored the rest of our discussion, which ranged from reward and punishment to heaven and hell, Gan Eden and the world of Moshiach, suffering in Jewish thought, and the purpose of our existence. I did most of the talking and congratulate myself on having made at least a bit of sense. Once we were finished, X put on Tefillin and we parted amicably.

In the middle of our discussion on Teshuva, wherein I mentioned that Teshuva is properly not repentance but rather return, he mentioned something along the lines of "Well, I did a big sin. I killed my parents." I didn't quite know what to say, and just responded with a "hmm". The conversation continued unabated, and I explained how no one is inherently evil, no matter how heinous a crime he or she has committed. If anything, their soul has merely become covered; all they really need to do is wipe off the grime.

Once we got back to the Chabad House, I of course asked the rabbi to explain what was going on here. In short: X was never all there mentally. At one point he wanted to go and study in Israel. His parents told him that he couldn't. He killed them both with furniture. He was found not guilty on grounds of insanity, and spent the next 16 years in a maximum security hospital.

When we visited X, he seemed perfectly normal. When I look back at our conversation, I think "Wow, he knows something about good and evil, huh?"

See also this cute entry from Bristol, in which the shluchim think they are going to find 'a ton of Jews' at a local hot air balloon festival; and this rather touching post from Ireland.


Monday, August 18, 2008

How many religious youth become secular?

Tzohar, a (usually) wonderful group that does much to advance religious-secular relations in Israel, held its annual conference recently - and for once focused on issues affecting the religious community. One of the topics that came up was how Orthodox parents deal with children who leave the path of religion.

In the course of Ha'aretz's piece on the conference, reporter Yair Sheleg comes up with this astonishing claim:

Prof. Shraga Fischerman of Orot Israel College in the West Bank settlement of Elkana, who chaired the session on children who leave religion, said that about 25 percent of religious Zionist youths "defect" to secular lifestyles.

This seems to be extremely high - especially compared to the diaspora. A book I recently read - and reviewed here for The Forward - on the effects of taking a gap year in yeshivah in Israel included a throw-away line from Chaim Waxman, professor emeritus of sociology and Jewish studies at Rutgers University, who claims that, “According to estimates… more than 10 percent of the participants [in the Year in Israel program] leave Orthodoxy within five years of returning home.”

If either of these statistics are true - and based on proper research rather than just guesstimates - it would be interesting to know why the drop-out rate in Israel seems to be so much higher than in the US.

Either way, a 25 per cent drop-out rate seems to me to be indicative of a community crisis - and not just a problem for individuals to contend with privately.

'This weird guy'

The former long-time Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Mohammad Bassiouni, has provoked the wrath of the Egyptian authorities after claiming that he was sent to Israel primarily as a spy; calling Ariel Sharon a "sleeping corpse"; and confirming allegations that Nasser's brother-in-law, Ashraf Marwan, who fell off a balcony in London late last year in mysterious circumstances, was a double agent working for both the Israelis and the Egyptians.

But one magnificent quote stands head-and-shoulders above the rest:

Bassiouni said that when he brought Shas's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, to meet Mubarak, the latter was angry at him and bluntly said, “What are you doing bringing me this weird guy?”

On no other issue does Mr Mubarak speak for so many Israelis....

Friday, August 15, 2008

Julie Burchill's semichah programme

Julie Burchill - the most enthusiastic advocate of Jews and Zionism in the British media - has made an amazing discovery:

Dawkins' critique of Judaism seems way too aggressive, when one compares it to the excesses of other belief systems. The oldest and least evangelical of the monotheistic religions, it is also arguably the most civilised and liberal; there are female judges and rabbis in the Old Testament, which makes the C of E's foot-dragging over the ordination of women look a bit sad.

Female rabbis in the Old Testament? With Julie Burchill as their advocate, Rabbi Sacks just might be in trouble....

(Hat tip: Simon Rocker)

Why I hope the case against Olmert proceeds

The key witness in one of the several cases against Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert, American businessman Morris Talansky, has declared that he won’t be returning to Israel in order to complete his testimony.

Olmert’s people say this shows how unreliable a witness he is – and leaves the prosecution’s case in tatters. The prosecution retorts that its case is still strong, and that Olmert will still be indicted.

And I hope the prosecution is right.

Why? After all, having a former Prime Minister in the dock – and convicted – will be a major embarrassment and a tragedy, particularly in a country in which confidence in the political system has reached an all-time low.

But I worry that having the prosecution’s case fail would be even worse.

Although there have, recently, been a couple of convictions of minor MKs – Naomi Blumenthal and Haim Ramon – Israeli police have now gone after quite a string of very senior politicians with very few cases ever coming to court, let alone ending with a guilty verdict.

Serious corruption investigations which went nowhere were launched against, amongst others, former PMs Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon. None of them were ever charged with any wrongdoing, but the cases seriously damaged their reputations and hampered their ability to function in the political arena.

Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon fired minister Joseph Paritzky in 2004 after he was accused of attempting to incriminate a political rival – but the case was closed for lack of evidence in 2005. The Attorney General this week decided to close a corruption file against Tourism Minister Ruchama Avraham which goes back to 2004, due to lack of evidence. Similarly, he dropped one of his criminal investigations against former minister Avigdor Lieberman this week, although he will continue several others; the file against MK Lieberman goes back at least as far as 2001, so far with no charges. The trial of former environment minister Tsachi Hanegbi, for handing out government jobs to his political allies, has been dragging on since 2005. Only the embezzlement case against former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, for theft and fraud, actually seems to be moving.

All these dead-ends are bad enough. But this time round, the prosecutors have actually forced the resignation of a prime minister. This is an extremely serious result, which cannot be taken lightly. Should it emerge that the prosecution’s case was built on sand; or that they cannot carry the case through because their main witness won’t appear – this will truly devastate confidence in the police and the legal system, which many already suspect of deliberately targeting certain politicians for political reasons.

Clearly, I would not want Olmert to be convicted of anything of which he is not actually guilty. But for the law enforcement authorities to emerge once again as destabilising and distorting Israel’s politics on a flimsy basis would be a true blow to the rule of law, from which the country would find it hard to recover.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What to read today

-- A court in Illinois has struck down a will by a couple who stipulated that their grandchildren would only receive their inheritance if they married within the Jewish faith. This piece argues the decision was correct

-- London isn’t the only place where an eruv fight has turned ugly:

An anti-eruv ad in a local weekly asked, “Is Westhampton Beach an Orthodox Jewish Community? ... Don’t let it happen.” E-mails and rumors have warned that local shops were being coerced into closing on Saturdays.

-- Honest Reporting asks why The Guardian includes the “Hamas military wing” in its list of “useful links”

-- Good question: how will the credit crunch affect rates of aliyah? The cost of Jewish living is probably lower in the UK than in the US – as most of us don’t have to pay the same kind of school fees to send our children to Jewish schools – however, the drop in property prices might affect us more….

-- The LA Jewish Journal examines the contradictions of Bob Saget (of Full House fame)

Even when he's riffing about his synagogue, Kehillat Israel in Pacific Palisades, an animal somehow enters the picture.
"We have a great synagogue -- the rabbi will marry a man to a goat," he said. "It's Reconstructionist -- they'll do gay marriage if you need it, they'll do interfaith -- and interfaith's nothing after a goat."

-- AB Yehoshua laments Israeli corruption in The Guardian. Some of the comments question whether this was the right forum for this piece

-- A ‘chnyok’ nowdays is a derogatory term used by religious people for the ‘holier than thou’ super-observant. But what did it originally mean? Some suprising answers

-- Is Lindsay Lohan converting to Judaism?

-- The NY Times suddenly cottons on to the fact that there is a Jewish dating scene on the Upper West Side. I suppose that wouldn't have anything to do with the recent piece on Jewish dating in the Wall Street Journal?


L'chaim! Even in the grave

The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE) was recently confronted with an unusual halachic question. As their press release explains:
A German Jew who passed away had expressed as his last will a peculiar request: to be buried together with a bottle of Vodka.

As the community rabbi heard this weird request, he immediately contacted the RCE's office in order to forward this question to one of the RCE's halachic experts in order to determine if it is permissible to place a bottle of vodka in the grave of the man. The Jew emigrated from Russia in the 70s and was not connected to the local Jewish community. However, a good friend of his, a regular participant of community events and an acquaintance of the local Rabbi, delivered this last message of his friend to the rabbi.

"Every day he would drink a half a glass of Vodka in the morning and a half in the evening", he told the rabbi.

This ostensibly odd question actually raises a serious halachic dilemma. On the one hand it is of extreme importance to fulfill the last wish of a Jew, but on the other hand it is unacceptable to bury any object together with the body of a deceased person.

Rabbi Yaacov Rozhe, who serves as chairman of the Zaka Rabbinical Council and as representative of the chief Rabbinate of Israel in the Medical Institute of Abu Kabir, to which the question was forwarded, replied that there is no halachic prohibition of placing the bottle near the coffin but under no circumstances may it be placed in the coffin, nor beneath it so that no object interposes between the coffin and the ground.

With the implementation of this ruling the man and the bottle passed away side by side…

So a happy ending then.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Is it safe to fly in and out of Ben-Gurion airport?

This week, I wrote about the serious security implications of the story of the little girl who got left behind at Ben-Gurion airport while her family flew on to Paris.

How, I asked, could an airplane take off from such a security-sensitive airport with luggage on board that did not belong to any passenger? Isn't this a basic security no-no?

Now it emerges that the same problem exists on planes coming into Israel. As Haim Watzman blogs:
Here I am stuck in New Jersey, while the four suitcases checked by me and Ilana are in flight. In other words, while security at Kennedy International Airport kept Ilana and me from bringing hand cream into the secure area, our luggage was allowed to fly on its own to Israel. If a terrorist wanted to blow up an airplane, would he rather use a jar of Ponds or a large valise?

Meanwhile, the American Federal Aviation Administration has uncovered other serious security flaws at Israeli airports:

The FAA cited a lack of proper supervision from civilian authorities as the major problem affecting flight safety. Among other findings, the FAA found that Ben-Gurion International Airport suffers from serious flight safety shortcomings and cited Israel's especially crowded airspace as a serious safety concern.

The FAA critique comes after a civilian committee headed by former Israel Air Force Amos Lapidot issued findings a year ago highlighting severe shortcomings in flight safety at Israeli airports. The Lapidot public committee found that aviation safety in Israel is in a "catastrophic state."

The panel's final report criticized the infrastructure at Ben Gurion International Airport, legislation pertaining to the matter, and air traffic control systems, adding that Israel has not fully seen the technological developments of the last decades in the field of air traffic control. They called to increase supervision on air traffic control systems, and to better train the controllers, many of whom do not always speak in English or use the proper terminology.

Amos Lapidot resigned from his post as head of the committee in charge of examining flight safety two months ago, reportedly because the committee would not implement his recommendations.

The FAA is due to submit its final report in just under 90 days. There is a possibility that it will severely reduce the number of flights on the US-Israel route.

While I, of-course, in no way wish to see Israel suffering an economic blow, perhaps the threat of losing so much money and making it difficult to travel to America will be more effective than the "mere" threat of a catastrophic loss of human life - and those responsible will implement some urgent solutions.

Friday, August 08, 2008

When husbands used their wives' maiden names

The Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Yona Metzger, recently called on women to take on their husband's surname.

As a married woman who (mostly) still uses her maiden name, I am grateful to blogger Lion of Zion for providing this fascinating reminder that the way we allocate surnames has changed greatly throughout the centuries - and that a woman taking on her husband's name was not, historically, the only Jewish practice.

As he explains:

If it is so deleterious to a marriage when the wife uses her maiden name, how much worse would it be for the husband to take on that name for himself (rachmana litzlan - G-d forbid)?

A famous example of a husband using a name from his wife's family is R. Shmuel Salant, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem in the nineteenth century. His father's name was not Salant; rather, he adopted it from his second wife's father, R. Yosef Zundel of Salant.

Even before the adoption of surnames -- which, contrary to popular opinion, was already in limited use centuries before the Austrian edicts of the 1780s -- there may be evidence that some Jews chose to identify themselves by their fathers-in-law rather than the standard ploni ben ploni.

Records from the Jews of medieval England list some names as ploni the son-in-law of ploni or ploni the brother-in-law of ploni (click here. I don't know the information on this website is reliable)...

Likewise, some Jews in Galicia (and elsewhere?) used "names that indicated son-in-law of" (click here)...

This website (unverified) notes the following concerning R. (Yehuda) Leib Eskeles of Olkusz (Elkesh), near Krakow (17th c.?):

Rabbi Yehuda [Leib Eskeles] married the daughter of Rabbi Moshe Israel Hendels of Krakow. As it was often the case, R' Yehuda Leib, entering the family of his father-in-law was known under this surname and was known as "Rav Leib Hendels" (and not Leib Eskeles)...

Finally, not all newlyweds in Europe registered their marriages with the secular authorities (like today, although probably for different reasons). In such cases wives continued to use their maiden names by default and their children were even registered with their mothers' surnames as illegitimate children (click here).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Benzion Dunner's inquest is a wake-up call for the Charedi community

So Benzion Dunner, a pillar of Charedi society, had cocaine in his system when he died, according to his inquest. Whatever next?

The temptation for the Charedi community will be to suppress this genuinely shocking story, internally, altogether. But since it has been widely reported in the national press this may prove impossible.

And a good thing, too.

Benzion Dunner was not some kid smoking dope behind a bicycle shed, who can be dismissed as a “problem child” unrepresentative of the Charedi community. He was the best, the brightest, the kindest, the frummest, the richest, the most generous of his group. If a man of his calibre was taking drugs - and knew where to find them - you can sure there are many others. And while there is no suggestion he had a regular drug habit, are we really to believe that he had only ever tried it once – to celebrate Purim, the day before he died? Cocaine is a highly addictive Class A drug which is not for beginners – or anyone.

Last week, 200 Charedim chased an American rabbi down a street in Stamford Hill, because he campaigned against Charedi pedophiles. It is high time the community recognised that it is not immune to the addiction problems and social ills of the secular world. Because without admitting the problems, it has no chance of dealing with them.

If the tragedy of Benzion Dunner is not treated as a serious wake-up call, what will be?

Monday, August 04, 2008

Is alcoholism on the rise in the Orthodox community?

Newsweek is running a piece on the supposed rise of alcoholism among American Jews, particularly Jewish ones.

The assertion is unsupported by any real figures - numbers about "Israelis younger than 33" do nothing to shed light on trends in the Orthodox community in the diaspora - but anecdotally, I can believe there probably has been such a rise (no word on whether there is a similar trend in the UK).

In addition, while the article goes some way to explaining why alcohol addiction among Jews has traditionally been low, it never really even attempts to explain why that might be changing now.

Doing a little research on the web, I was fascinated to come across this piece from Time magazine in 1958, about a Yale study asking why there is so little alcoholism in the Jewish community. It includes the following strange theory, which I have never heard before:

...A more convincing theory, [Yale Sociology Professor Charles R.] Snyder believes, is the Jewish emphasis on food, "so that 'compulsive' eating is more likely to be selected as a means of alleviating psychic tensions [than] addictive drinking." He cites one psychological study showing that Jewish mothers' anxiety about their children's eating often causes the Jewish child to remain an infant, "so far as taking food is concerned, much later than other children.

Could the much lamented death of the Jewish mother -- and the diet culture -- be responsible for our descent into alcoholism???

Thursday, July 31, 2008

What to read today

-- Ha’aretz is carrying an excerpt of an interview, which will be published in full over the weekend, with the son of one of the leading Hamas men on the West Bank. He has converted to Christianity, moved to LA, and has some very nice - yes, nice - things to say about Israel.

-- Haim Watzman reveals the best advice he ever received as a soldier - shouted at him by his company commander. It’s not what you might think:

“No matter how little time you have to sleep, no matter how miserable you are, don’t shut your eyes until you’ve washed yourself and changed your underwear. It’s not just hygiene – it’s to remind yourself that you are human being, not an animal.”

I really hate to think what brought on that advice.

-- The Israeli government has charged a family of American olim for towing away their car - which was damaged in a bulldozer terrorist attack last month. Their daughter was also lightly hurt. Was that really necessary?

-- Meanwhile, a factory owner in Sderot is giving pay rises to workers who become more observant.

Since the offer was made, many of the factory's employees have indeed become more religious, organizing groups who break for morning and noon prayers and Torah studies.

Apart from any financial incentive, all these examples involve taking time off work. Is it any wonder “many” employees have taken the bribe? Personally, I think pay rises should be based on merit - not on mitzvah points.

-- What is it with Britney Spears and Jews? First there’s her Kabbalah obsession. Then there was boyfriend Isaac Cohen. Now she is apparently dating her new minder - “a former Israeli soldier”, according to the Sun. I don't know what he did in the army, but I'm guessing that whatever it was, it was easier than dealing with Ms Spears.

-- The Times interviews comedian Josh Howie, who aims to be “the Jewish Woody Allen” - and who has written a piece in this week’s JC.

-- Cute(-ish) Milton Friedman anecdote.

-- Thinking of making aliyah? Read Chayyei Sarah first.

-- And finally, reading material for a (very) long Shabbat: Dr Elliot Cosgrove has just finished his dissertation (University of Chicago), titled “The Insoluble contradictions in the life and thought of Louis Jacobs”. It can be downloaded in two volumes, here and here. Review, anyone?

The conspiracy theories around Obama's note get murkier

Charedi news blog Vos Iz Neias has posted a link to a video on YouTube which, it says, documents the moment at which the note Senator Obama placed in the Kotel was “lifted“. The blog explains:

The videographer identifies himself as David Cohen, “a freelance photographer/videographer currently living in Jerusalem.” He reports that “Seconds after Obama left the stones, some of his entourage stepped up to the wall (dressed in suits) and I recorded a young man gathering notes in his hands in what appeared to be the search for Obama’s freshly placed personal note. He is joined by others who unwrap notes and read them. One person [is shown] walking away from the wall with a note that he unwraps as he tries to aggressively block the camera lens.”

Cohen’s testimony provides new evidence that suggests that the alleged pilferer, dressed in the garb of a seminary student, may in fact have been a member of Obama’s entourage. If so, there would not need to have been an official authorization by the campaign to publish the note. The actual “pilferer” may have been working for Obama. This possibility would go a long way to account for the mixed messages emanating from both the Maariv and Obama spokesmen.

I don’t know what the Obama team members were doing; and it is certainly not clear whether any of these men, the Obama staffers or the obviously Israeli Charedim in the rest of the video, actually did pick up Obama’s note. Just because a guy walks away from the Kotel with a note in his hand, trying to block the camera, does not mean he is the guilty party.

I fully understand why sites such as Vos Iz Neias might be uncomfortable with the idea that a Charedi man might have been behind the scandal (although it reflects on no one - no one - but that man himself). But one question: If the Obama camp really did want to make Obama’s words public, why would they go to the great lengths of dressing up one of their own staff “in the garb of a seminary student”?? (As it happens, the Obama staffers on the video were actually only wearing knitted kippot and did not look like Charedi yeshivah bochurs at all. If, in fact, that is what these men were - in this video Obama's entourage all seem to be wearing white kippot.) Why wouldn’t they just release the text?

The Pope did, after all…

Are Charedi women at the back of the bus the modern-day Rosa Parks?

About a month ago I wrote about a directive, issued by the Rabbinical Transportation Committee, calling on Charedi women to sit at the back of the bus.

The Forward picked up on this last week, and adds an interesting angle to the story. The move towards segregated bus lines, it says,

has sparked a row over who may lay claim to the legacy of Rosa Parks, the African-American civil rights activist who famously refused to obey an Alabama bus driver’s order to give her seat to a white passenger. Opponents of segregation say the mantle is theirs. But enthusiasts for segregation have begun to argue that by making their way to the back of the bus, they are actually Parks’s heirs.

“I see Haredi women who sit at the back as being the Israeli Rosa Parks,” said writer Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, one of the leading proponents of segregation. “We see it as a stand against the deterioration of standards in the public arena, and view the chance to sit at the back without men gazing at us as a form of empowerment.”

Later in the story it quotes a woman petitioning against the separate seating:

A co-petitioner, Chana Pasternak, director of the Modern Orthodox women’s organization Kolech, said it was “impossible in the 21st century to justify discriminating against women like this.” She added, “I feel the need to take a stand, like Rosa Parks.”

Strictly speaking, of course, Pasternak is the true heir of Rosa Parks - who would probably be horrified that women anywhere (of any colour) were invoking her name to justify segregation. But I do get Leibowitz's Schmidt point that she, in her own mind at least, is fighting to retain her dignity.

Nevertheless, I wonder if shaping the debate around Rosa Parks is to completely miss the point.

Parks is a very American icon; her name and her struggle would mean nothing to the great majority of Israeli women whose lives this is actually about.

But more than that, Parks took her stand spontaneously, of her own volition, in a moment of deep conviction (although she was, admittedly, an advisor to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] youth council, which was looking for a case just like this in order to challenge bus segregation laws).

Ms Leibowitz Schmidt notwithstanding, how much of the push to get Charedi women sitting at the back of the bus is coming from women - and how much from the men? Is this a cause women actually wanted and were behind - or are they adjusting to, and adopting, and justifying, what is becoming a new social norm, at the insistence of men, more out of inertia than anything else?

Particularly as we already know what can happen to women who decide they prefer to sit at the front of the bus, after all.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Reading into Obama's note to G-d

The Israeli daily Ma'ariv is currently being blasted by all sides for publishing the (actually rather charming) note left by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in the Western Wall.

The paper has been criticised by no less than the rabbi who supervises the Kotel for interfering in Obama's relationship with G-d and for acting in a "sacrilegious" manner. The Police have even been called upon to intervene. Meanwhile, one of the yeshivah students who supposedly took the note has apologised publicly, although one does wonder why he had to go on national television in order to make his regret known.

A rare dissenting voice comes from blogger "Jameel", who asks whether Ma'ariv would still be in hot water for publishing Obama's kvittel had the sentiments he expressed in his note been more politically loaded.

(Of-course Obama must have known perfectly well that his note could be read and so was never going to write anything sensitive, but nevertheless.)

Norm Geras on Normblog also has an interesting perspective:

I'm waiting on all those secular liberals who have been longing for a Democrat to succeed Bush in the White House, and were in the habit of sneering at Tony Blair's acknowledgement of having a relationship with his Maker, to back off from their enthusiasm for the candidacy of the Senator for Illinois. I mean...'make me an instrument of your will'.

What? I'll wait in vain? You don't think they will back off? Devoutness is bad only when you want it to be? Hey, you may just be right about that.

Reason makes a similar point, asking how the media would have reacted had the same words been penned by George W.

Friday, July 25, 2008

How blaming Israel can get you off in a court of law

This is one of the most worrying examples of anti-Israeli bias I have ever come across.

Last month, six men were acquitted in a Belfast court of causing more than £300,000 of damage to an office belonging to an American arms manufacturer in Derry, Northern Ireland, in August 2006 (one was convicted of theft of two computer discs).

They had broken into Raytheon’s building, destroyed its computer mainframe, damaged PCs, thrown documents out the window, and barricaded themselves inside the building for eight hours.

The Israel connection?

The men – actually nine of them, who became known as the “Raytheon nine”, although only six were charged – claimed that "weapons manufactured by Raytheon were being used by Israel to bomb Lebanon" during the Second Lebanon War that summer.

And this was apparently a good enough defence for the jury.

According to the BBC Northern Ireland website, the company, which does make missiles, “has said its Derry operation is limited to software development and not the physical manufacture of weapons.”
Nevertheless, as one of the defendants, Eamonn McCann explained outside the courthouse,

"The jury have accepted that we were reasonable in our belief that the Israeli Defence Forces were guilty of war crimes in Lebanon in the summer of 2006. The action we took was intended to have, and did have, the effect of hampering or delaying the commission of war crimes."

So now we are in a bizarre, and frightening situation, where causing significant damage to another’s property is all right – as long as it is meant to hurt Israel. Exactly when did this become an acceptable legal defence? And at what point did the Palestinian / Arab narrative become so dominant and such a norm, on these isles, that Israel committing “war crimes” is accepted, in a court of law, as a "reasonable belief"?

Unfortunately, though the case appeared to receive some local coverage, it never made the national news and really only came to light this month, when the Journalist, the magazine of the National Union of Journalists, ran an interview with Mr McCann. (This week it was picked up by Mark Steel of the Independent, who wrote in support of the defendants.)

Which brings me to my second point. Not only is Mr McCann – the only member of the so-called Raytheon 9 who was actually convicted of anything – a member of the NUJ national executive, he had the support of the union’s Irish Executive Council.

It is unclear to me whether this means moral support or practical support. But either way, is this really an appropriate stance for the union to take? And should this man, now convicted of theft and sentenced to a 12-month conditional discharge, really be representing other journalists?

I leave you with the final words of his statement outside the court:

“We have not denied or apologised for what we did. Personally speaking, and I believe I speak for all of us, it was the best thing I have ever done in my life.”

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Russian revolution continues

A few weeks ago, The Jerusalem Post's Calev Ben-David reported that the brand-new editor of Ha'aretz, Dov Alfon, was making substantial changes at the paper, toning down or getting rid of many of the best-known voices on the far left and firing (and then rehiring) its social affairs reporter, who focused on the plight of the poor.

Ben-David explained at the time that:

Like all print media nowadays, Haaretz is struggling to keep and attract readers and advertisers, and some of the editorial changes seem to clearly reflect an effort to make the paper a little less heavy, including reducing and putting less emphasis on its most radical voices. There is only so much space on a news page, and if you start focusing more on economic, consumer and lifestyle issues, it's going to come at the expense of other fields, including politics and social affairs.

What makes these changes particularly significant at Haaretz is that there has long been a seeming contradiction between the paper's progressive stance on peace and security issues and its editorial support for free-market capitalism... The more laissez-faire economics, long advocated by business editor Nehemia Strassler and exemplified by [business paper] The Marker's content, is now very much the outlook of the establishment, and given the increased editorial influence that publication is having on Haaretz as a whole, it seems inevitable it would bleed over to its news coverage and editorial line.

And now another change. Ha'aretz's US correspondent, Shmuel Rosner - author of the highly popular Rosner's Domain blog - announced a couple of months ago ago that he would be returning to Israel and leaving Ha'aretz. His replacement, notes the Tikun Olam blog - although this was already reported on Israeli sites a few weeks ago - will be 29-year-old Russian-Israeli journalist Natasha Mozgovoya, a former Yediot Achronot correspondent and news anchor on Channel 2 and on one of the Israeli-Russian television channels.

According to this profile from 2006 (Hebrew), she had problems being accepted by viewers on Israeli television because of her Russian accent - though she made aliyah at age 11, and has lived more than half her life in Israel.

Tikun Olam calls her arrival in Washington "welcome news for the Jewish peace community". - presumably because he doesn't like Rosner. But more to the point, if Tikun Olam is right, is the rise of the Russian community on the Israeli media scene. Not only is the Russian-language paper Vesti increasingly influential; Ma'ariv is part-owned by Russian-Israeli businessman Vladimir Gusinsky, and the paper, it was revealed just this week, is currently in talks with Russian-born American-British businessman Len Blavatnik, who wishes to acquire all or part of it. The Jerusalem Post is also owned by a company, Mirkaei Tikshoret, most of whose other holdings are Russian-language.

Now Ha'aretz - bastion of the old Ashkenazi establishment - appoints a talented young Russian-accented woman to one of its most coveted positions. Surely this could not, would not have happened a few years back. It's a great opportunity for her and I wish her luck.

However, in a way it is a shame that she will be "stuck" in Washington, out of the Israeli media hub. It would have been nice - and important - to continue hearing her Russian accent on the Israeli airwaves, and keep her in sight, in mind.

Then again, I guess she is only 29. Still time enough for all that.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gordon Brown's speech defect

Yesterday I reported that, according to Sky News's Adam Boulton, our prime minister has difficulty pronouncing the word 'Jerusalem'. Now The Evening Standard's diary adds,

Sources at the Jerusalem Post note that Brown mangled his attempt at a Hebrew quotation before going on to pronounce "Auschwitz" as "ouchwhich".

How do you think he would pronounce, "complete disaster as prime minister"?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why can't Gordon Brown pronounce 'Jerusalem'?

Adam Boulton of Sky News is puzzled about one aspect of Gordon Brown's visit to Israel:

He seems to have trouble with the word Jerusalem, repeatedly pronouncing it Joo-rislem. The only explanation we can find is that he’s trying to remember how his father, the Reverend Brown, named the Eternal City in Hebrew. I’m told that pronounced correctly in the local language the name should sound like Yerooshalyam (sic)

Or is he making a political point: Jew-rislem?

Monday, July 21, 2008

Living in denial over Samir Kuntar

Dion Nissenbaum visits Samir Kuntar, back home in Lebanon, and tries to explain the question haunting so many: How can the Lebanese possibly take pride in, even celebrate, a child-murderer?

Clearly, many people - the majority - simply want to harm the Israeli "enemy". But Nissenbaum adds:

Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Beirut-based political analyst and Hezbollah specialist, said people here simply don't accept Israel's version of events.

"I don't think all Lebanese believe he actually killed the child," she said.

Not impossible; there is a respectable tradition of living in denial in the Middle East - witness the number of people who do not, for example, believe that Muslims were responsible for 9/11.

UPDATE: SoccerDad fisks Nissenbaum's interview

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chumra of the week

First, we had Orthodox Jewish women wearing burkas. Now, we have Charedi women coming back from weddings and other simchas being told they should wear 'overcoats' - because the sight of them in their best clothes in the street could be too much for some men. (According to the Kosover Rebbe of Boro Park, "Though it may be hot in warm weather, it is a good thing".)

The burkas were bad enough - but at least (if there is an 'at least' when you are talking about women feeling they must cover up their own faces) the initiative came from the women themselves, and was really not supported by most rabbis or others in their community.

But the idea of women having to cover up perfectly modest, but nice-looking clothes, comes from another source: a commercial company, called Modest Design, which came up with the idea, and then sought rabbinic precedent and approval.

Let's hope that what is after all simply a money-making scheme does not evolve into a completely unnecessary social norm, as these chumras are prone to do.

(See also Parshablog)

Friday, July 18, 2008

Barack Obama, Shabbos goy

Colin Powell and Elvis Presley are two famous Shabbos Goys – they were both employed, in their youth, by Orthodox families to carry out certain acts forbidden to Jews on the Sabbath, such as turning lights on and off.

But are they about to be eclipsed by one Barack Obama? According to Newsweek,

In 1999, while still in the Illinois State Senate, he shared an office suite with Ira Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew. Obama peppered Silverstein with questions about Orthodox restrictions on daily life: the kosher laws and the sanctions against certain kinds of behavior on the Sabbath. "On the Sabbath, if I ever needed anything, Barack would always offer," remembers Silverstein. "Some of the doors are electric, so he would offer to open them … I didn't expect that."

The article, about Obama’s faith, also adds:

Thanks to the efforts of his religious outreach team, he has an army of clerics and friends praying for him and e-mailing him snippets of Scripture or Midrash to think about during the day.

Shame no one sent him a proper definition of what “undivided Jerusalem” actually means.

The new Zionist weapon: giant, indestructable rats

Palestine Today reveals the latest Zionist weapon, which they allege is being used against Jerusalem's Arab population: rats.

Rats have become a weapon used by new Israeli colonizers against citizens in the Old City of occupied Jerusalem, in order to displace and expel them from their homes.

Districts in the old part of town are suffering and facing recently this new type of Israeli actions that aim to harass Jerusalemites in order to force them to leave...

For two months, dozens of settlers have been going to the alleys and streets of the old town, carrying with them dozens of iron cages full of rats, and to release them in the town into open drainage channels.

The citizens of the old town say that the rats grow very large, adding that different types of poisons did not contribute to eradicating them, and pointed to the large municipal slowness in dealing with this issue which is causing a humanitarian catastrophe and environmental losses.

According to Hassan Khater, Secretary General of the Islamic-Christian Front for Defending Jerusalem and its Holy Sites, these rats pose a major threat to Jerusalemites who inhabit these neighborhoods, and that the situation is serious and very poor, emphasizing the failure of the occupation in the municipality of Jerusalem to address the issue.

He reported during a press conference held in the government media center in Ramallah yesterday that the purpose of this measure is to increase the suffering of Jerusalemites in the old town, transforming their lives through the tragedy of fact, with the aim of pushing them to leave their homes and leave the city.

Khater added that the Front had received many complaints and comments from citizens Jerusalemites living in the revival of the old town, according to sabotage these rats property large number of houses and shops, calling to shed further light on this disaster.

There is a link between the colonists active in the deployment of rats in alleys of the Old City meant for the deportation and displacement of populations, and between the occupation and the deployment of hundreds of pigs in the mountains and valleys of the West Bank aimed at sabotaging the property and crops.

Of course, the idea of settlers roaming the city, freeing feral rats is highly unlikely: not just because such a plan would be ridiculous and useless, but because both sides of Jerusalem, East and West, are already swarming with feral rats - and always have been.

Some people believe, for example, that the siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE was caused by an infestation of rats that led to a sudden deadly plague in the city.

A couple of millenia later, in the 1930s, a heavy rat problem led to the British - then in control of the country - releasing hundreds of cats in the city. The long-term result was that Jerusalem became plagued by stray cats, a problem which remains - and which Jerusalem is notorious for - to this day. But the rat problem was never really solved.

They say that you are never more than 15 metres away from a rat in London, and that there are more rats than human beings in North America. But Jerusalem is the only city I have ever lived in where I have been constantly aware of them.

It started when I opened the door to my bedroom one evening to find an enormous rat scurrying across my desk (it had climbed in through an open window); it took me another eight months to be able to open the door again without staring at that exact spot to make sure the rat had really gone. It continued several months later with a rat making its way into my roommate's closed food cupboard and munching its way through some of her best chocolate and nuts. Not to mention several other too-close encounters across the city, in some of its very finest neighborhoods, which I won't go into here; Suffice to say, I've been left with a real phobia of rodents.

The Holy City's dirty little secret.

(Via, who had the Palestine Today piece auto-translated through Google)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Chassidic rebel goes public

The cover story in New York magazine this week is a must-read. It features Gitty Grunwald, a Satmar Chassid who lost religion, left her husband, and is now fighting her former spouse for custody of their daughter, Esther Miriam, 4:

In early 2007, Gitty fled Kiryas Joel for good, taking Esther Miriam with her. At first, they lived in the relatively relaxed frum (Orthodox) community of Monsey, New York, then moved to Brooklyn. “It was just the two of us. I loved it,” Gitty says. Then in January of this year, as Esther Miriam was walked with her class to a Flatbush playground, she was taken, says Gitty, who believes her husband was behind the act.

“Some KJ guys snatched her off the street. Esther Miriam said they were wearing masks. All she remembers was crying, crying so hard,” Gitty says, calling it the worst day of her life. “When they told me what happened, I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was being suffocated. I still do.”

The article is told exclusively from Gitty's point of view, without any attempt at telling her husband's side of the story. Nevertheless, there are plenty of insights to be gained - such as the role of blogs in cementing her desire to rebel (a point which was made quite clearly in Hella Winston's book The Unchosen, about Chassidic rebels, several years ago); the problems faced by children of ba'alei teshuvah, or returnees to the faith; and the difficulty Chassidic renegades experience coping with the outside world, once they leave their community.

But my real question is this. To what extent is New York magazine taking advantage of Gitty by featuring her story in this way?

Her custody battle is still ongoing, and there is no question that the publicity in this article cannot help her case; nor can it do anything to help her relationship with her former husband or give him any sort of incentive to come to an agreement with her. Her new lifestyle - including experimenting with drugs - is revealed openly. Some of the pictures of Gitty in the article - such as the one of her changing into her 'Chassidic' outfit - may be artistic, but are not exactly modest. And her language, speaking of her former husband and community, is not very diplomatic. How exactly is any of this in Gitty's interests, while her daughter's fate is still being decided?

Throughout the article, Gitty, still only 23, is portrayed as extremely unworldly and sheltered. She is unfamiliar with basic aspects of secular culture, has no qualifications or job prospects - she can't even get a job as a waitress. I can understand that she may have had many reasons for wanting to tell her story - desperation over her daughter; emotional venting; perhaps even revenge, of sorts. But it seems to me that doing so, in such a public forum, is just another aspect of her dreadful naivete.

Even if it is too much to expect New York magazine to turn away such a great (and apparently willingly told) story, it is a shame no one - her lawyer? her friends? - stopped her, for her own good.

Israel's POWs - as they were in life

Israel's Channel two is carrying a video of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev's miluim (reserve duty) unit in 2004. The two men, who were buried today, pop up occasionally, smiling naturally at the camera and even flirting with it.

For those of you who understand Hebrew, but even if you don't, perhaps there is no more appropriate time to take a moment and remember these two fallen soldiers - as they were in life.


More on flying sukkot

One of DovBear's commentators, "Rabbi Noah", has imagined what would happen if all sukkot really were transported to the land of Israel come the Messiah.
Comic gold.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Why were the terms of the POW agreement not clear in advance?

Many have contended that the POW deal with Hizbollah is bad for Israel. Not only does it reward and encourage terrorism and kidnap, but Israel has – yet again – given up far more than it has received in return. Is 199 bodies and five live men in exchange for two bodies a good strategic move? And should Israel really have given up its most important bargaining chip, the murderer Samir Kuntar, without even getting any definite information on Ron Arad’s fate?

But just as important a question is why Israel gave up so much – when it was unclear what it was getting in return. Although Israel was fairly sure that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were dead, until the black coffins were passed over the border (and the identity of the bodies was confirmed, hours later) it was not certain. There was no definite proof, such as pictures of the bodies; the IDF rabbi had not declared them fallen soldiers; and the families still had reason to express a (faint) hope that the men might be alive.

As The Jerusalem Post’s Calev Ben-David argues, keeping Israel in the dark as to the two kidnapped soldiers’ fate was a deliberate tactic for Hizbollah. For Israel to agree to any kind of deal without establishing and clarifying its exact terms in advance is strange negotiation.

UPDATE: Shlomo Avineri, in Ha'aretz on Thursday, makes the same point.

Abu Mazen congratulates the family of Samir Kuntar

According to Israeli radio (Reshet Bet), Palestinian President Abu Mazen has passed his personal blessings to the family of Samir Kuntar - the Lebanese terrorist who shot Danny Haran and drowned him in front of his 4-year-old daughter, then smashed her head against a rock until she was dead, and who will be released later today as part of the prisoner swap with Hizbollah.

And this is the "moderate" Palestinian leader.

Is the Maccabiah too expensive?

Amir Mizroch, the Jerusalem Post's news editor, makes a convincing case on his blog that it is:

This year’s Jewish Olympics, more than in years’ past, have become the Rich Jew’s Olympics. Even though these games are the biggest to date, so many athletes couldn’t afford to come that the very character of the competition is in question. If only rich Jews from rich countries can afford to come to the Maccabiah, what does that say about our solidarity as a people? The world financial crisis has had a huge impact on the capacity of the World Maccabiah to get sponsorship for teams. Many longtime sponsors have remained loyal, but their contributions have decreased. The worsening economic climate has also made it harder for teams and individuals to raise the money needed to travel to the games.

Australia didn’t send a junior cricket team and kept two soccer teams at home. South Africa’s 2005 gold-medal winning rugby team stayed home, and so did the water polo team. There is a young Canadian swimmer, top of his age group in that sports-mad country, who stayed at home because of lack of funds. The cost for the South African team has almost doubled since the last games. In 2005 the South Africans paid R25, 000 each. Now, as the Rand continues its descent, the price for competing in the games has shot up to
R45, 000, leaving many priced out of the market.

Even in Israel, there are some athletes who chose not to miss several days of work in order to compete, because they know there are 14 unemployed people lining up for every job, and they don’t want to irritate their bosses.

To make matters worse, there has been a deluge of complaints about the organization of the games, mostly around the issue of accommodation. Some competitors have already pulled out and gone home, others are staying with relatives, and some others say they won’t be coming back to the next Maccabiah. When the cost of coming is so high, sub-standard living conditions add real insult to injury.

Read the whole piece here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Divorces increase in the frum community

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Orthodox 'Shidduch crisis', in America at least, has turned into a 'post-Shidduch crisis':

The only thing worse than being an "older single" male, it seems, is being a 25-year-old divorcé with two children. It is women, though, who are usually more stigmatized by a split.

"We're seeing more and more recently married, young Orthodox Jews getting divorced," says Mr. Salamon, who estimates that the divorce rate among the Orthodox has risen to an alarming 30% in the past five to 10 years. (Hard data are difficult to come by, Mr. Salamon says, because the Orthodox shun research studies for fear of harming their own or their children's shidduchim.)

Surely when a third of marriages are breaking down, this calls for an overhaul of the entire system?

Iran fakes pictures of its missile launch

The Iranians have been busted by the New York Times for digitally manipulating an image of the missile test which so alarmed the rest of the world this week.

Sepah News, the the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, distributed a picture of four missiles being fired into the sky on Wednesday. The photo was reproduced by, amongst others, The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Chicago Tribune, MSNBC, Yahoo! News, and our very own BBC News.

Except it turns out that one of the missile images was, in fact, an amalgamation of two of the others, and was strategically placed in the picture in order to cover up a missile which had misfired.

What is particularly striking is the amateur level of the cover-up. Just like Adnan Hajj's fake images of Israeli strikes on Beirut during the Second Lebanon War, distributed by Reuters, the alterations seem to involve nothing more than a simple cut-and-paste job. The repeated sections in the picture are very obvious to anyone taking a second glance.

Still, it's hard to be too smug about Iranian incompetence when dozens of senior Western journalists, in the best papers, apparently fell for the scam.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Frummer than the Chafetz Chaim

A few months ago I wrote about how "modesty has moved from being about modest clothing to being about keeping women, and images of women, away from men."

Here's the latest example. A historic picture of the great sage, the Chafetz Chaim, sitting in front of a building with two women standing behind him has had the women in the photo removed. Admittedly, I don't know when the Photoshopping took place, but the doctored pic was sent out recently by an American yeshivah as part of its fundraising efforts.

Surely, if the Chafetz Chaim didn't mind the women milling around him, it shouldn't be a problem for us to see a fuzzy picture of the event? Or are we 'frummer' than the Chafetz Chaim nowdays?

American shuls raise fees to pay for electricity bills

Shuls in New York are raising their fees, levying special 'fuel taxes' and consolidating events in order to compensate for rising oil and natural gas costs. In some cases, this means congregants paying an additional $150-$200 - which is a lot to tack onto a shul membership bill.

How long before this starts happening in UK synagogues?

Friday, July 04, 2008

The Zionists infiltrate Al Jazeera

Al Jazeera English is clearly falling out of favour with some Muslims - because it is too "pro-Israeli". A blogger on the website of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee complains that the coverage of the terror attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday was completely unbalanced:

You need to see the TV coverage to understand my sentiments in full; I was genuinely sad about the needless loss of human life - three Israeli civilians dead and dozens injured. However, as I watched the coverage I became shocked at the pro-Israel bias, which included an interview with a representative of the Jerusalem Post.

No such coverage was afforded to any Palestinian representative to negate the accusations of Palestinian ‘terrorism' nor did they provide any reference for contextual purposes, to the hundreds of Palestinians that have been killed since the start of the year.

What's more, she is very angry at the short shrift she is given when she phones the station to complain:

The initial point of contact listened courteously, acknowledged my comments and then put me through to someone who I understand has some editorial control. She was rude, abrupt and downright aggressive. She barked "Give me a break, lady" and said they were still working on the story as it was breaking news... This ‘editor' then advised me that they were showing pictures of the Palestinian's home and interviewing his family in later broadcasts. After a minute or two, she told me she couldn't spend hours talking to me as she had to work on the next bulletin and sarcastically said goodbye and hung up!! Clearly not Al Jazeera's greatest Public Relations asset. What a disgrace!!

A reader further down the page has commented, "I've heard a reliable source has said Al Jazeera International (not Arab one) has some zionist ownership". Those Zionists really do control the world.......


Thursday, July 03, 2008

'Saved by a smelly tramp'

Manchester reader Ya'akov Wise sends us the following update:

A former Manchester woman was on the number 13 bus in Jerusalem at noon on Wednesday and was saved because she did not want to embarrass a smelly tramp who was sitting next to her. Corinne Silver, formerly of Tewkesbury Drive Prestwich and a part-time employee of the Manchester Beth Din, left the bus two stops before an Arab worker drove his bulldozer into it and overturning it.

Mrs Silver who now works as a house mother at a seminary for girls near Jerusalem said: "I went to Jerusalem and after seeing my son Yosef got the number 13 bus from his office towards the central bus station. The bus was full but eventually I got a seat and then, a really smelly tramp came and sat next to me, the smell was overwhelming and I decided, 'ha just what I need...'

As the bus went up Rehov Yaffo the overwhelming smell pushed me towards the door and I got off the bus... less than a minute later an Arab terrorist driving a bulldozer charged into a crowd of pedestrians, rammed the bus killed 3 people and injuring many more ... As I stood there I thanked Hashem for sending me a smelly bus companion.

But what happened to the man who saved her life??

Hamas - or hummus?

Sacha Baron-Cohen, now "disguised" as a German rock star, has been set loose on the Middle East... and respected analyst Yossi Alpher still doesn't quite get (or appreciate) the joke.

The Telegraph's 'heartbroken killer'

The Telegraph's coverage of the terror attack in Jerusalem yesterday is somewhat sickening. Accompanying a full-length report - which does not even name the victims, most of whom were named early evening UK time - is a box focusing solely on the murderer. And the paper seems to swallow whole the story spun by his family, that he was "heartbroken" following a failed romance with a young Jewish woman several years ago. As if this could ever explain or justify murder; as if this is where our sympathies should lie. What on earth are they thinking?