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.