Monday, February 28, 2005

'Machers in Meltdown'

This is the must-read feature in New York Magazine about the goings-on at the WJC which has had other communal leaders up in arms. It is essentially an interview with Stephen Herbits, a former Seagrams employee who is at the heart of it all and who is now the WJC's secretary-general. The interview opens with the reporter telling Herbits that other community leaders have said they were not surprised by the WJC's difficulties because of its 'weak administration':
Herbits, a tall, lean 62-year-old with gray hair and a gray beard, nearly levitates out of his chair, instantly going ballistic.
“As you talk to the leaders of the other Jewish organizations, check their accomplishments against their governance,” he says in a voice that’s rising to fill the room. “They’ve got perfect governance and no fucking accomplishments.
“If an investigation of Jewish organizational life takes place, I promise you that the last person standing will be Israel Singer,” he says, referring to the Brooklyn rabbi who is at the center of the controversy.... “There are no illegalities in Israel Singer’s behavior, and that is not true of some of the leaders of these other organizations,” he says, standing now.
“I know it and they know it and they better be careful, because if they cause enough problems in the press, then this organization won’t be the only one that has a preliminary inquiry from the attorney general’s office. Then you’ll see some real fireworks..."
But given the chance, he doesn’t back down. Instead he ratchets up the rhetoric a notch. “I’m not going to sit by and let this organization take the rap for their behavior,” he says. “If we get into that kind of pissing match, this organization ain’t going down by itself.”
Taking out his anger against the other Jewish organizations -- who are not, after all, behind WJC's PR/legal problems -- with wild and unsubstantiated accusations simply reeks of desperation, not to mention, a complete disregard for the welfare, reputation and credibility of the Jewish organizational world as a whole. The WJC has always been slick and hard-nosed; this aggressive, threatening, arrogant, and again rather desperate-sounding rant sounds like they're really beginning to feel the heat. And the most dangerous animal in the wild, as they say, is a wounded one.
That said, Mr. Herbits, if you have any credible information about 'illegalities' going on at other Jewish organizations -- not just vague accusations -- my email's above right. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Move over, Natalie Portman

Turns out that the Jewish world had not one, but two representatives vying for 'Best Supporting Actress' at the Oscars last night. In addition to Natalie Portman, it turns out that beautiful black actress Sophie Okonedo of Hotel Rwanda is also Jewish:
Ms. Okonedo, now a budding celebrity, has been embraced here as the new face of multicultural modern Britain: her mother is white and Jewish, and her estranged father, who left the family when she was 5, is Nigerian. She grew up in the projects, inside a notoriously rowdy and dangerous council estate (as the projects here are called)....
Teetering on the verge of fame, Ms. Okonedo is still at a point in her career where she is untouched by glitz. Her mother shrieked, loudly, and tried to do a cartwheel inside the gallery of a historic London house when the two heard about the nomination. A security guard shushed them, but her mother told everyone she saw on the way out. "I mean, she's a Jewish mother," Ms. Okonedo said.
Oh well, I suppose that means that now she didn't win, she'll be coming home to a big bowl of chicken soup. And does anyone know a nice Jewish boy?

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Did the Nazis know about the bombing of Dresden in advance?

As we discussed here a few months ago, in recent years, German requests that the allies apologize for bombing German cities during WWII have been getting louder.
Now the Scotsman raises the intreaguing possibility that Germany actually knew about the bombing of Dresden, exactly 60 years ago, in advance -- and rather than moving its residents out of the city at night time, as it had done elsewhere, left them to die:
Military investigators are checking a letter written by a German anti-aircraft gunner to his parents in the city, which gave the date of the raid two weeks before the fateful bombing in which 35,000 civilians lost their lives.
The letter has opened a debate in Germany as to whether the Nazi leadership, including Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goring, might have decided to leave the city to its fate for propaganda reasons, or even as part of Hitler’s belief that the German people, having "failed" him, deserved to be left to their fate.
The gunner, Günther Brückner, was stationed at an airfield used by special German Air Force intelligence planes that snooped on Allied radio traffic. His now yellowing letter has added to the controversy over the raid, which has been described by some critics of the Allied bombing campaign as a "war crime".
Investigations seeking to prove that the letter was indeed written before the raid are currently being conducted.

Friday, February 25, 2005


In response to my article on Artscroll's Schottenstein Talmud, a reader has emailed me the following question:
You wrote that the bill for the Artscroll Talmud was 21 Million and the bulk was donated by the Schottensteins [Plus funds from hundreds of other smaller donors -- MS]. What about the ridiculously high prices Artscroll charges for these Gemaras. I wonder how much of a profit is being made.
It's a good point. Even giving them the benefit of the doubt -- that Artscroll did need some funds to get the initial project off the ground -- surely after selling more than a million copies at c. $50 a pop, this for-profit company should be paying for its own researchers? Anyone?

Only Simchas -- a preview of Charles and Camilla's wedding album

Mazal Tov Posted by Hello

As it happens, I like Camilla (and never liked that psycho, manipulative, needy Diana -- if she'd looked like Camilla no one else would have cared for her either), so I'll just say this: the graphics are good.
Shabbat Shalom

IDF backs down

Following negotiations with the Hesder heads, the army will not disband the hesder units as recently announced, after all. They will, instead, carry the plan out with one infantly brigade and expand it if the experiment is successful.
Will comment on this later if I have time / Sunday.

What he said

He being OOSJ.


I received a tip yesterday about a senior Israeli figure who holds public office and was invited to a North American community to lecture. After the (first-class) ticket was bought, the event advertised, the community was advised that the whole thing was off unless a rather hefty sum of money was transferred 'under the table.'
I can't say any more -- don't really fance a libel suit -- but would be rather interested to hear if this rings any bells with anyone out there, who may have experienced anything similar over the past few months. If so, please email me -- address above right.

I didn't think my opinion of Israel's legislators could sink any lower, but then I read this

Ha'aretz is carrying a short but completely shocking piece about two rival groups of Israeli MKs going out of their way to lobby for/against a piece of (real) legislation -- because it was a challenge on a television reality show. Yes, you read that right.
The only reason I'm sure this wasn't a spoof is that there was no lame joke about voting one of them out the Knesset at the end. Please, someone, prove me wrong; I actually can't bear for this depravity to be true.

A 'Must read' - "Why would a career addict choose to purchase drugs in a strip plaza frequented by Jews, including haredi yeshiva students?"

Avrum Rosenzweig, a well-known Toronto character who is the brother of the late David Rosenzweig z"l, writes about his brother, the murderer and the circumstances of what happened at the kosher pizza shop on Bathurst Street on the night of the murder. A 'must read'.

CORRECTION: 'BrightSpark' points out: "Actually Avrum Rosenzweig was David Rosenzweig's brother-in-law. Coincidentally Mrs. Rosenzweig's maiden name was also Rosenzweig and she is Avrum's sister." My mistake - Paul

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Observant Writer

The Jewish Week's revisiting of Wendy Shalit's NYT essay on the way the Ultra-Orthodox world is portrayed in literature has made me revisit the issue as well.
Shalit's original thesis, as you will recall, is that the popular books about the Ultra-Orthodox world don't capture its charms, and are often written by authors who no longer belong, or who never belonged, to it. She singles out a few books written by ba'alot tshuva which haven't achieved great commercial success, but which, she says, "capture the subtlety and magic of [Ultra-Orthodoxy's] traditions," and which are therefore the real deal.
Here's a point no one (I believe) made at the time: why are the only authors Shalit approves of ba'alot tshuva/did not grow up in the Ultra-Orthodox community? Where are the women and men who were born Ultra-Orthodox, writing the kind of literature Shalit would like to see?
The answer, of course, is that they are either ill-equipped to write anything approaching real 'literature' due to a lack of education, or else encouraged to go in other directions. If Shalit has a complaint about the lack of 'insiders'' -- code word for more positive -- view of the community, perhaps it's because there's not many people to produce them.

What's Natalie Portman doing at the Kotel? Shouldn't she be trying on dresses for the Oscars or something?

Excuse my cynicism here, but there is no way that an Israeli director (who has actually directed a movie about Israeli Haredi life) did not know that filming a scene with two people kissing passionately by the Kotel, without prior arrangement, would not end in the exact scene which did, in fact, occur ("Ultra-Orthodox nearby took notice and rushed toward them with shouts of “Immoral! Immoral!").
My guess is that Director Amos Gitai needed that scene for the movie and didn't fancy hiring extras. When the movie's released, I'm willing to bet (albeit not a lot...) it'll contain a bunch of Ultra-Orthodox men rushing towards the characters played by Natalie Portman and Aki Avni, shouting, "Immoral! Immoral!"

Jpost -- back to the future?

Thanks to Allison for forwarding me this article in Globes, which describes how the Jerusalem Post has fired its press staff and is going to be printed from now on in Rishon LeZion, in a printing house belong to, surprise surprise, the new owners. Traditionally, the printing press has been the most profitable part of the Jerusalem Post... if that goes, they really are in trouble.
The rumor more immediately relevant to the JPost-reading public, however, and the one not included in the Globes report, is that the new printing house can't cope with the Jerusalem Post's new design (new as of a year and a half ago), which is an elegant slimline shape no other Israeli paper prints in (similar to the National Post in Canada) -- and that the paper will soon return to printing in full broadsheet.
If this is true, it would be, of course, a move in the opposite direction to most other major newspapers in the world, who are moving away from clunky broadsheet formats in droves.

Link dump

Some noteworthy items from around the J-blogosphere:
  • Lamed unveils a new set of Tzniustic-looking Jewish dolls, accessories and all. Personally I think it's a good idea -- kids should be able to play with dolls with normal figures and which they can identify with, although the doll on the right looks like she's being choked by that shirt.
  • Reb Yudel posts a piece from Yori Yanover, wondering whether a recent 'Midrash' cited on Cross-Currents is actually a disguised Aesop's Fable. I tend to agree with Zman Biur's comment, however, it reminds me of the time someone in my Shul in Montreal gave a Dvar Torah citing a story about 'an ancient rabbi' -- not realizing the story in fact came out of the New Testament and that the 'ancient rabbi' was a Galilean who walked on water.
  • Allison links to an article I looked for yesterday while I was writing about the JNF, but couldn't find (thanks, Allison). "According to the annual report summarizing philanthropic activity in the U.S, six out of the 10 largest donors - with donations between $100 million $375 million - were Jews, and none of them made any significant donation to Jewish needs. Only 20 percent of the donations by Jews are directed to Jewish concerns, while 50 years ago that proportion was 50 percent. " Another reason -- if another was needed -- for Jewish organizations to clean up their act asap. While recent scandals have nothing to do with the stats above, tainted reputations and credibility issues aren't going to help matters.


Also in the Forward, Steven I. Weiss reports on plans for a new organization called JSafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment, which will "certify organizations that adopt policies to combat the problem" of sexual abuse:
The hope, [founder Rabbi Mark Dratch] said, is that the "seal of approval" he will provide will become "something that parents would begin to look for."
Any effort that makes dealing properly with the problem of sexual abuse into a basic requirement of Jewish communal life (and not having the tools to deal with it properly into something the community will effectively penalize you for) is of-course not only welcome but well overdue, although details still seem sketchy at the moment, and how well it will be received in practice remains to be seen. My initial -- and admittedly minor -- thought, however, is that while 'JSafe' is a clever acronym, it is perhaps not such a great name. You can never guarantee to parents that their children are in an abuse-free environment (which is what 'JSafe' makes it sound like), merely that the problem will be dealt with seriously and properly when it comes to light. The name 'JSafe,' I think, potentially lulls people into a false sense of security.

'Artscroll readers of all stripes find meaning in translation'

The Forward has a section on the Talmud this week -- my contribution, on the completion of the Schottenstein edition, here.

Experts agree that it is unlikely the project would have taken off in quite the same way just a few decades earlier. Beyond brilliant marketing, the Artscroll Talmud's success can be attributed to a confluence of historical factors.
According to Samuel Heilman, a sociologist at the City University of New York, members of an Orthodox community that had shifted to the right seized upon it. The community was looking for ways to demonstrate their increased engagement.
"Orthodoxy is raising the ante," Heilman said. "To call oneself Orthodox today, you have to do more than in the past. Along comes Artscroll and makes Talmud study easier, giving it to you virtually color coded, line by line. That's one answer for people who are looking to become more involved in the community.".....
Two other central factors in Artscroll's success were a serious drop in the ability to read and understand classical Hebrew and Aramaic fluently, which made an English edition particularly welcome, and the financial well-being of the community.
"For these kinds of projects, you need both people of means who can support them, and wealthy enough clientele to buy what they print," said Rabbi Professor Barry Levy, dean of the faculty of religious studies at McGill University. "This could never have happened in a less affluent time in Jewish history."
UPDATE: Out of Step Jew approves.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


This afternoon Bloghead made 100,000 hits. Only 40,000 of them were me, 20,000 my father, 15,000 my husband, 10,000 my mother... leaving more from the general public than I ever expected to get. Thanks to all of Bloghead's visitors for reading, commenting, emailing and -- a little belatedly -- for voting for us in the JIB Awards, where we were voted second-best 'Politics, Current Affairs, and Academia' Jblog, and third 'Best Jewish Religion Blog.' Not too shabby!
Thanks, too, to the guest blogger who stayed, and who is now an integral part of this blog. Remember, Abba, I can still kick you off if I don't get that free trip home this summer.
Just kidding!*
I hope you all enjoy Bloghead -- I certainly enjoy writing it, and have found myself much more aware of, thoughtful about, and passionate about the major Jewish issues confronting us today (plus a few minor ones...) since I began blogging in May. So here's to 100,000 more.
Oh, yeah. And to cap it all off, it's my first wedding anniversary.
Not bad for one day!

*I want the free trip on Rosh Hashana.

Next up in line of communal organizations destroying themselves from within...

We have the JNF. According to Globes, JNF America has transferred only $8m. of the $30m. it raised from donations to JNF Israel, because Jewish National Fund (JNF) America president Ronald S. Lauder and JNF world chairman Yehiel Leket have "disagreed for months" about which causes to raise money for:
JNF US says the money should be used for security issues, whereas JNF Israel says the JNF has nothing to contribute to defense, and should raise money only for its declared purposes - planting and maintaining forests, and preserving Israel's environment.
JNF Israel believes that there is no reason to compete against organizations such as Magen David Adom, the Association for Well-being of Israel Soldiers and ZAKA (Zihui Korbanot Ason - Identifaction of Disaster Victims).
Of-course, the fight isn't really about that: according to Globes, there's a power struggle going on between the two branches as JNF America wants to 'transfer control of the situation from Israel to the US.' The reason?
Several months ago, Leket was elected vice president of the World Jewish Congress, whose president is Edgar Bronfman. Lauder reportedly wants to challenge Bronfman for the chairmanship. Part of this effort includes enhancing his status as president of JNF America.
You have to recall that a few years back, JNF America was already embroiled in a not-dissimilar scandal, regarding the fact it wasn't forwarding money to Israel but using the money to fund its local adminstration (can anyone remember the details / give us a link?). Any additional scandal is not going to do much for its reputation, and with serious doubts still surrounding WJC, things don't look good for Jewish communal fundraising organizations at the moment in general.
Bottom line: more and more, we need transparency and accountability in organizations that are appealing to the Jewish community for huge sums of money. There are major issues of credibility at stake here.
Incidentally, on the dispute over the use of the money, my sympathies are entirely with JNF Israel. JNF has an important niche. We don't need another organization raising funds for defense, when there are plenty of other good players in that field. But I guess defense is sexier -- and, re: the allegations against Mr. Lauder, more prestigious -- at the moment than trees...

UPDATE: You can see why Leket wants to keep control at home: According to this Ha'aretz report, also published today, although the JNF is in deep financial trouble, its top execs are living the good life, earning massive salaries plus generous benefits -- even if they haven't visited the JNF offices in 10 months due to an argument with Leket...

Madonna, the pinnacle of spiritual understanding

According to, the singer, who is a staunch follower of the mystical Jewish religion, was promoted to an upper category of Kabbalah followers in a ceremony conducted by the Kabbalah Centre founder Rabbi Berg.
"Her teachers think she has reached the pinnacle of spiritual understanding..." the source said.
It's only a matter of time before they ordain Madonna as a rabbi.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Another elderly blogger.....

MOChassid is turning fifty ..... he cannot decide between a trophy wife, a sports car or a racing bike to mark the occasion. I sympathise (having passed 50 a few years back!).

Thought -- who are the oldest and youngest Jewish bloggers on our circuit??? Who else is, er, middle-aged??

UPDATE: Dov Bear takes a guess -- although he gets me (Miriam) wrong for a start. Mysteriously, he leaves himself off the list, leaving us guessing at his own age (early 30s?).

On a need-to-know basis

Last month, it was reported that thanks in a large part to genetic screening (and some abortions), there were no Jewish babies born with the horrific Tay Sachs disease last year. The Jerusalem Report magazine has followed this up with a lukewarm report about Dor Yesharim, the organization that handles most of the screening in the Orthodox communities in Israel and in the US. The organization does not disclose results to those who have been tested unless both partners screen positive, in order to prevent a 'stigma' attaching to those who carry the gene; opponents say this merely reinforces the stigma and cultivates an unhealthy climate where people are unneccesarily, and out of ignorance, afraid of people with 'bad genes.'
It's all done, say the detractors, because Dor Yeshorim wants to maintain a powerful and lucrative mono-poly on genetic screening among Orthodox Jews...
The policy of withholding medical knowledge, [British ultra-Orthodox Rabbi J.J. Rosner] says, is not only "unethical, an infringement of civil rights and liberties and an insult to any person's intelligence," it's also a shrewd marketing tool. "By telling no one their test results, Dor Yeshorim is forcing everyone to be tested. Think about it. If I am tested elsewhere and know I'm not a carrier, then the person I want to date need not be tested." Rosner also says matchmakers are in the loop, implying that they get gratuities from Dor Yeshorim, and frequently tell shiddukh-seekers that they must take a Dor Yeshorim test as a condition for finalizing the match. And, he charges, because Dor Yeshorim throws so much business at laboratories that conduct its blood tests, it is able to force those labs not to handle samples from rival screening institutions.
Rabbi Rosner is "founder of the London-based Association for the Prevention of Jewish Genetic Diseases, which, he says, conducted its own nonprofit Tay-Sachs screening operation in Britain long before Dor Yeshorim came on the scene" -- and which does give recipients their results. Hmmm. However, he was not the only critic:
One correspondent [to the London Jewish Tribune, which apparently has 'covered the controversy' - MS], Y. Kornbluh, complained about being pressured to subject is adult child to screen with Dor Yeshorim as a condition to complete a New York-based shiddukh - even though he and his wife came armed with medical certificates from a bona fide London clinic that neither of them were carriers and so their children could not be....
Rabbi J. David Bleich of New York is also a critic... "It's expensive - why should every kid in a family of 10 have to be screened? Isn't it cheaper to screen the parents? Second, it cultivates a deliberate know-nothingness in the Orthodox world that is intolerable."
Now, I have no first-hand experience of Dor Yesharim and until I read this article had only ever heard good things about them; indeed, I believe, as do many, that they deserve enormous credit for making people aware in the Orthodox world that genetic screening is important and for preventing an untold number of tragedies. Certainly, I have no doubt the organization was founded with the best possible intentions.
Nevertheless, three accusations here disturb me: the stigma issue, which is probably unintentionally made worse in the long term, not better, by treating having the gene as something which must be kept secret; the cost issue; and the 'right to know issue.' Perhaps some people don't care about the latter; I can only say that when I was tested (not through Dor Yesharim), I did, because I wanted to know, and felt it was my right to know, whether there was a chance the gene could be passed down to our children (if one parent has the gene there is a 50% chance of passing it on, though the children can't inherit the disease itself).
On the other hand I do wonder if the problem of Shadchanim insisting on Dor Yesharim testing exclusively has as much to do with issues of conformity in the Orthodox community, which have been discussed on this blog many times before, as with anything else.
Any thoughts on all of this, particularly from people who have experience with Dor Yesharim?

Ha'aretz does cool

While the YNet blog has received lots of (negative) attention over the past couple of days, no one has noticed that Ha'aretz has launched a blog too, as part of a new, jazzy section called 'Underground' -- which seems geared almost exclusively towards an Israeli-based audience. Like YNet, the blog still leaves something to be desired in terms of format, and something else to be desired in terms of content, but hey, if staid old Ha'aretz launches a blog... the revolution is coming to the countryside.

YNet: An early verdict

As every Jblogger on the planet seems to have noted, YNet, the electronic version of Israel's most popular newspaper Yediot Aharonot, has now launched the long-awaited beta-version of its English website. You'll find good reviews here and here. To add my two cents (or pence, where I'm currently sitting), the site's main advantage is that it seems well-designed, a definite advantage over the Jpost and Ma'ariv's NRG, which is not easy on the eyes. It's also good to have access to Yediot's news coverage, which is often scoop-ridden.
My main two criticisms, however, are that:
  • I am surprised that it isn't a little more geared towards the overseas audience it wants to attract. Where is its 'Diaspora' section? And why no 'Judaism' section? And what's with the rather random 'Singles' section about the Israeli dating scene which, if it's not actually helping get singles together (which it's not), is probably more of a local interest?
  • Compared to Ha'aretz, the feature articles still feel too liteweight -- although that's only to be expected.
I'd also like to see how YNet handles its (print) weekend magazine and supplement -- at the moment there doesn't seem to be one single page for those and it would be nice to know all that good material was online in one place.
In any case, do check it out. It has plenty of potential and it will be interesting to see how it develops over time.

You know Bnai Braq culture's in trouble when...

teenagers start collecting cards of 'different professions' rather than cards of rabbis. (It would be interesting to know a little bit more about what's on those cards -- are the professions of the 'Shochet/Sofer Stam' variety or of the 'Computer programmer/Hi-tech mogul variety, but the ultimate point is the same.) You read it here first.

Red Ken confounds predictions - refuses to apologise

The Mayor of London (not, incidentally, the 'Lord Mayor', as some N American papers are calling him -- the LM is someone else entirely), known as 'Red Ken' Livingstone, called a Press Conference today and, contrary to predictions, including those of his Jewish Deputy, Nicky Gavron, refused to apologise for calling a Jewish reporter 'a concentration camp guard'.
Ken Livingstone is a throwback to the 1970's, New Left, Marxist-Maoist student and 'world cause' activists. But a better clue to his obtuse behaviour may be in an article in the current Spectator - a UK political-literary-cultural weekly of somewhat erratic record on Jewish issues - which points out that the Jewish vote in the UK is now totally dwarfed in size and concentration by the Moslem vote. The author, Ron Liddle, suggests that the Government has done its sums, and, as the sidebar says, "is preparted to alienate Jewish voters in order to win Moslem support". Ken may be betting that he will pick up many, many votes simply by showing that he refuses to apologise for offending Jews. This article in the Observer (Sunday version of the Guardian) also analyses his thinking and his embrace of extremist Islamic leaders. Is this a pattern that will eventually be repeated all over the western world - including N America??

Edomites get a whole lot older

A new archaeological dig has confirmed the existence of the Edomites as early as 1000 BC.:
While previous investigations in Edom had been carried out in the Jordanian highland zone and put the rise of the Edomite kingdom during the 8th to 6th centuries BCE, the new archeological data from modern-day Jordan presents strong evidence for the involvement of Edom with neighboring ancient Israel as described in the Bible and indicates the existence of the biblical nation of Edom at least as early as the 10th Century BCE – when David and Solomon were alive....
The archeologists dug up evidence of construction of massive fortifications and industrial-scale metal production activities, as well as over 100 building complexes. Egyptian scarabs of a "walking sphinx" and a hunting scene provide additional evidence of metal-working activities at the site in the period around 1200 to 900 BCE.
Bit of luck Oded Golan can't forge entire archaeological sites... can he?

All Jewish educators please read

This posting by 'daashedyot' should be compulsory reading for all teachers, Principals, Rabbis, would-be book banners (back to Slifkin again) etc.

Slifkin reflections

Once the parties start communicating via wall-posters ('pashkevelim') in Meah Shearim, you know that matters have truly descended into anarchy. (The old Satmarer Rebbe, Reb Yoelish z'l, who came to Yerushalayim for a year or so after the war, before relocating to Brooklyn, had a wicked sense of humour. He commented on his first visit to Meah Shearim that it looked exactly like Eastern Europe - ie a hurvah - a tumble-down ruin. "Only the glue from the pashkevelim keeps the walls from falling down", he pronounced.)
Anyway, now that I learn that I am talking about mishpachah on both sides (see previous post from Miriam 'All in the family') I shall be more guarded in my comments...... Nevertheless, some thoughts on the present situation (as thoroughly documented by Bnei Levi).
1. Those who come out with dignity and integrity in the whole mess include:
--- Rabbi Slifkin himself, whose website remains restrained and factual
--- Rabbi Aharon Feldman of Baltimore, whom I don't know, but alone in the yEshivah community seems to have had the courage to try and right a moral wrong. Kol hakavod.
--- The Blogosphere - yup, the whole gang. Had it have been left to the Jewish print media, the issue would have been left fairly unnoticed (even they fed off the blogosphere).
--- Gil Student, who took on publshing / distributing Rabbi Slifkin's books when 'another publisher' (see category #2, following) dropped them like hot cakes
2. Those who come out with less dignity and less integrity in the whole mess:
--- most everyone else involved who either signed, or backtracked, or equivocated, or who kept silent, or who don't read what they sign, or allow "aides" to sign in their names etc etc etc
--- Feldheim's
3. Those left with most food for thought:
--- fine, good people who are appalled by the behaviour, or the theology, or both, shown by some sections of the frum / Haredi / neo-Haredi sector.
4. Those who stand to gain most from this sorry mess:
--- Link here, here, here and here. Any other nominations welcome.
5. Those who have lost most
--- I believe that the credibility of the Haredi 'Gedolim' has been significantly undermined by this episode, especially in N America. The blog, the internet and email have been important factors in this. There are perhaps historical parallels in the loss of Rabbinic authority in Europe in the early modern age. Most of all, the staggering intellectual shortcomings (putting it politely) of the yeshivah world have been exposed by their own spokesmen. Rav Sternbuch and the anti-scientists, the apologists of 'Cross-currents' ("we accept technology but not science') - all have effectively consigned themselves to oblivion in the engagement of Judaism with the real world. One other side-issue - noted and argued with great erudition by many bloggers, including and perhaps especially Gil Student on Hirhurim - is the lack of sophistication (arising from lack of knowledge? .......) of the anti-Slifkinites in handling earlier rabbinic philosophy and thinking.

That's all for the time being, folks.

PS: In looking for one of the links for this posting, I scrolled through some sections of Rabbi Slifkin's site -- --- it is really fascinating, and I suggest all readers of this posting click on it now. And, by the way, as I've already said some weeks ago, I don't actually hold with Rabbi Slifkin's theories.......

Monday, February 21, 2005

All in the family

There’s been a lot of confusion recently over Rav Elyashiv’s position on the Zoo Rabbi. I wonder if R. Elyashiv would clarify matters – to R. Slifkin’s satisfaction – if only he realized that Rabbi Slifkin is his mishpoche. For R. Elyashiv, as you will recall, is my first cousin’s husband’s great-uncle. And Rabbi Slifkin, I now discover a little belatedly, is my sister-in-law’s brother’s brother-in-law. (Also known as my sister-in-law’s sister-in-law’s brother – Everyone following?) In other words, Rav Elyashiv and Rabbi Slifkin are practically flesh and blood, one and the same, with me (!) as the crucial connecting link. Family reunion, anyone?

Who said...

there was no such thing as a really happy ending?
Mazal Tov, She.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Rabbinic will

Out of Step Jew, a consistently good blog, links to an article in the Jerusalem Post about Rav Elyashiv's opposition to the use of prenuptual agreements. As a result, there is almost no chance that they will be adopted by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar or the Rabbinate, and more women will suffer as agunot.
Rav Elyashiv is, of course, entitled to his halachic opinion. What is infuriating here is a system which, for political reasons, appoints Chief Rabbis who don't have enough clout or backbone to make their own decisions. Either appoint Rav Elyashiv to the job (the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi ain't all that either), or stop wasting a salary.
Individual dayanim, the article points out, can still choose to honor prenups which are drawn up; they have on occasion honored them in the past and the director general of the Rabbinical Courts, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben-Dahan, is on public record supporting them. But as OOSJ says, it is also infuriating that the national religious camp, large parts of which have already agreed to urge couples getting married to sign a prenup, is hardly represented in the courts, affecting a whole gamut of decisions. The dayanim are appointed by a committee headed by the religious affairs minister and composed of the chief rabbis, representatives of the dayanim currently on the bench, and representatives of the Knesset, the government authorities and the Israel Bar Association. Perhaps one avenue in the future to fight for agunot is to pressure this committee into appointing a more religiously diverse court (Meaning, under current conditions, more diverse Orthodox).

Not a hate crime

The murderer of David Rosenzweig -- whose case we discussed here -- has been sentenced to at least 15 years in prison. However, the judge also concluded that Rosenzweig z'l was not the victim of a hate crime.
Lawyer Tim Danson, who represents the Rosenzweigs, said later that the family is content with the outcome.
So, too, was Len Rudner of the Canadian Jewish Congress, voicing confidence in the police and prosecutors. "They have all the evidence and we bow to their knowledge.
"But as the Crown said, while this may not have been a hate crime, it clearly had a tremendous impact on the Jewish community and I have to believe that played a role in the decision of the judge to accept the 15-year [minimum] sentence that was proposed."
The 'tremendous impact on the Jewish community,' one should point out, was mostly due to the fact that the community leaders whipped everyone up into a frenzy claiming this was a hate crime although there was never any evidence of this.

Chew on this

Weird psak of the week:
Your chewing gum has just lost its flavour, but there is no rubbish bin in sight. What do you do?
According to Jewish law, get ready to swallow it.
A prominent Israeli rabbi has ruled that spitting gum on a pavement or hiding it under a desk is a violation of Halacha or Jewish law.
“Gum cannot be thrown where others are liable to be disgusted by it,” said Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, the rabbi of the holy city of Safed.
Improperly discarded gum may appear to be hidden, but "God knows” where it is, Eliyahu said.
Swallowing the gum is a better solution, the rabbi said, though he criticised the use of chewing gum in general.
“Chewing gum is the practice of lower forms of life. It expresses inner tension and lack of control. People with self-respect do not chew gum except on special occasions because of special circumstances,” he said.
Except on special occasions??? Like what??

What is happening in Misrad haPnim (again)?

An interesting article in the Jerusalem Post relates the current situation of the Subbotniki -- a community of Sabbath-observing Russians, dating from a couple of centuries ago, who never formally converted to Judaism but adopted many Jewish practices. (The late former Chief of Staff, Rafael 'Raful' Eitan, was said to be descended from a Subbotnik family. Many Subbotniki settled in the Galil at the turn of the century, with the first and second Aliyyot, especially around Rosh Pina and the Huleh area. See this interesting site.)
The article speaks for itself. But again, on this as well as on a dozen other issues, the activities and policies of the Ministry of the Interior ('Misrad haPnim') seem to be working against the Israeli and Jewish mainstream. This Ministry has control of issues of citizenship and status in Israel. For the last few years, it has been given to Haredi parties (after decades as a Mafdal fiefdom), but PM Sharon has restored it to its former position. Current Minister is Ophir Pines-Paz, who is "Labour-Meimad" , and, to boot, a former Deputy D-G of the Jewish agency's Aliyah and Klitah depatrtment. He seems like a reasonable enough chap ... which makes the Ministry's attitude on this issue puzzling.
It raises, of course, the philosophical-ideological question of the attitude of the Jewish people and of the State of Israel to not-quite-Jews who really, really, want to be part of our nation, our people and our religion ...... ("Artzecha, moladetcha, u'bet avicha...." - as Genesis distinguishes them.) I'd, personally, vote for a more sympathetic attitude.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

All bets are off

YU's student newspaper is running an important and honest article about the rise in gambling problems among the university's students, prompted by the increasing availability of gambling sites online and "the advent of, and exposure to, televised gaming courtesy of the World Series of Poker coverage, the Travel Channel's World Poker Tour, and Bravo's Celebrity Poker Showdown."
Until recently, one of the bodegas near Yeshiva's campus was a haven for gamblers and sports fanatics, an illegal operation running in the back that took in thousands of dollars of bets each Sunday during the football season. Many students and sports enthusiasts posed as grocery shoppers in order to get their prized money line, designed to resemble an ordinary receipt, announcing the day's match-ups and lines. When the business shut down over the summer - rumors of a police bust were never verified - some aficionados opened up online accounts. With internet accessibility, students can now manage their online betting accounts from their dorm rooms and free of public scrutiny.
Nevertheless, the overall attractiveness of poker on television has in part carried the message that this is a game, and a lifestyle, that is not merely tolerated, but largely supported. Vast viewing of WSOP episodes on the Yeshiva dorm network has sparked interest in students, many of whom never knew how to play prior to the televised explanation and walk-through. And it has surfaced beyond cyberspace. Just listen closely during lunch hour in the school cafeteria, and you can overhear impassioned discussion related to poker technique and methodology. Even a student who doesn't play for money, instead settling for a free account that many websites provide, has the power to amaze attentive crowds with his own tales of fortune.
The article doesn't say how many YU students are actually addicted to gambling (or how many are exaggerating their 'tales of fortune'), but Yeshiva is planning to open a counseling center on campus in the spring. What's important to note here is that this is not a problem unique in any way to YU, but a much wider problem in the general and Jewish community which usually gets little attention because it is not perceived as a true addiction or truly dangerous (although people lose their homes and the shirts off their backs due to such problems), particularly in comparison to drug and alcohol addictions. Good for YU for taking it seriously.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Unfortunately, the Jewish vote doesn't count for much in London

London Mayor Ken Livingstone has admitted that comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi concentration camp guard was 'offensive' -- but insists he won't apologize because he's 'not a racist.' Right. Any day now, he's going to claim the transcript of the exchange with the reporter came from a Zionist Front Organization.
In the meanwhile, Londoners' main concern seems to be that Livingstone's comments might cost them the 2012 Olympics, for which they are running neck-and-neck with Paris. How about a little concern that their mayor is an anti-Semite?

Public Service Announcements

  • Hot on the heels of -- coincidence?: New Voices, the national Jewish students' magazine, is launching a student blog in the Spring, and is looking for student bloggers. Email Miriam Felton-Dansky at for more details.
  • Hot on the heels of Valentine's Day: EndTheMadness Symposium On Dating and Shidduchim. Motzai Shabbos, February 19, 7:30 PM. Discovery Room, 70 Misgav Ledach St. Old City of Jerusalem (across from Bonkers Bagels, next to the Burnt House) 20 NIS, payable at the door
  • Forwarded to me under the headline, 'Please tell me this is some sort of Purim spoof': At the Washington JCC, February 17, 2005 -- Blessings of Our Blood: In ancient times, women's menstruation was revered as deeply powerful. By embracing the wholly transformative potential of honoring our mooncycles, our wombs and our menstrual flow, we deepen our connection to our own creative energy and to themystery of the divine feminine. Join us for an exploration of practices including connecting with the moon, keeping a bleeding Sabbath, letting our blood flow, embracing conscious language and thought, and opening to receive our womb-wisdom.

A mystery is solved

Much has been made over the picture of Artscroll's Rabbi Nosson Scherman in the New York Times this week, which featured a volume of a Steinsaltz Gemara on R. Scherman's desk.
You will be glad to hear that I had occasion to speak to R. Scherman today, as part of some research I'm doing for an article on the completion of the Schottenstein edition, and he assured me (after a good chuckle) that there was no conspiracy... Apparently the NYT reporter wanted to contact R. Steinsaltz and R. Scherman took out the Steinsaltz Gemara, which he happened to have in his office (and which, incidentally, he called a 'masterpiece'), to see if his Israeli publishers' contact details were in there.
And there you have it.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Post-denominationalism on the rise?

The Jerusalem Post has a long feature on blurring denominational boundaries, or 'post-denominationalism,' which we discussed on Bloghead a few months ago.

ATTN: Jerusalem Post circulation department

My local Friday newspaper seller tells me that the 'Jerusalem Post is not going to be available for several weeks, because there is an argument about whether they should print it [ie the North American edition] in Israel or America". Finely tuned to her customers' needs, she knew better than to offer me 'Yeted Ne'eman' as a substitute. Ha'aretz English edition must be celebrating. Can anyone shed light on this situation??

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Don't be a blockhead. Vote Bloghead!

**This post will remain at the top until Sunday, February 13th.

Fresh posts below**

It's close! It's very close!

After the morning in the lead, we are now second again in the Best Politics, Current Affairs and Academia Blog category in the JIB Awards. But -- as of this writing -- there's only two votes in it! If you are a regular Bloghead reader and have not voted yet, please just take a moment of your time to vote for us and help us win the category. We need YOU!

And if you have another moment... you could also help us out in the Best Jewish Culture Blog category, Best Overall Blog, Best New Blog 2004, and Best Religion Blog -- which we won in the preliminary round. Full list of categories and results here. This is the final vote, the only one which really counts -- and it's one vote per person. Polls are open until Sunday morning (Israel time) So... vote Bloghead!

A royal Mazal Tov

Charles and Camilla make it onto Only Simchas. No gushing messages from long-lost roommates, campers etc. as of this writing. Suggestions, anyone?

UPDATE: Talking of royal weddings, one of the Jr. Gutnicks recently tied the knot. Lucky girl.

London Mayor shows his anti-Semitic colors -- again

London's repulsive Mayor, Ken Livingstone, has struck again.
The Jewish community reacted angrily tonight to London Mayor Ken Livingstone apparently likening a newspaper reporter to a concentration camp guard. The Board of Deputies of British Jews said they were “appalled” at Mr Livingstone’s “insensitivity” following his comments to Evening Standard journalist Oliver Finegold. On being told Mr Finegold was Jewish, Mr Livingstone told the reporter he was “just like a concentration camp guard”, it was claimed.
This follows directly on from Mayor Ken inviting a radical Muslim cleric, Sheikh Qaradawi, to London, although Qaradawi has publicly supported Palestinian terrorism, wife beating and throwing gays off cliffs (bizarrely, Livingstone is a well known supporter of gay rights -- the incident with Oliver Finegold took place at a party celebrating the 20-year anniversary of an MP coming out the closet). Fed up with all the criticism, Livingstone then accused his critics of being under the influence of a "Zionist front organisation."
As time goes on, Livingstone is becoming less and less reticent about letting his anti-Semitism (and anti-Zionism) show. He is fast becoming an extreme embarrasment. And yet, there hasn't been any real change in public sentiment towards him. The main reason, as far as I can figure out, is his ruthlessness at tackling London's traffic problems, which are extremely severe and really impede the quality of daily life in this city.
But then, Mussolini made the trains run on time. It's amazing what people will put up with for an easy commute.

Anti-Zionist criminal rabbi given refugee status in Canada

This week, the Federal Court of Canada upheld a ruling giving refugee status to anti-Zionist Rabbi Erez Shlomo Elbarnes, a convicted criminal and leader of what is, by all accounts, a strange cult, because he claimed his life would be in danger (-- from no less than Israel's own intelligence services who, he claims, might be plotting a 'targetted assassination' against him) if he were deported back to his native Israel.
According to the judge,

Elbarnes advocates the end of Israel as an independent country and turning the land over to the Arabs, he would likely not enjoy protection by the Israeli government because his ideas could be viewed as dangerous.
“...[T]he evidence revealed that [Elbarnes] believes and teaches that the existence of the State of Israel is an insult to the teachings of the Torah; that the State must cease to exist because it should not have become a nation before the coming of the Messiah; that Arab domination of the land must be accepted by the Jews and that they must leave Israel or perish,” Beaudry wrote. “Given the state relation with Arabic citizens and given the fact that [Elbarnes] preached that the Arab domination must be accepted, I understand why the [Immigration and Refugee Board] concluded that state protection would not be available.”
Regardless of Elbarnes' experience in Israel in the 1980s, which I know little about, it is a slander to imply that Israel does not defend (or even worse, targets) its dissidents and anti-Zionists. If Israel were to target Orthodox anti-Zionists, half of Jerusalem and most of Bnai Braq would be on the list. I rather suspect -- although again, I do not know the details -- that whatever violence Elbarnes was involved in in Israel two decades ago (supposedly with 'settler vigilantes') was probably the result of intra-haredi arguments in which he has been embroiled in North America as well. This is quite different to 'persecution.'
More importantly, the ruling is yet another demonstration of just how perverted and outrageous Canadian policy on refugees and asylum-seekers has become. In recent years the gates have been flung wide open to hardened criminals and most importantly, viscious terrorists affiliated with al Qaida, who are impossible to get rid of once they're in. It sometimes seems that the only qualification to get into Canada is to be, in some way, undesirable. This problem, which stems from a completely misguided sense of 'tolerance,' is one of the most important issues facing the country today and should be of concern to anyone worried about criminal and terrorist elements finding a haven in North America. When it comes to deciding who gets to enter Canada, the True North has simply lost all sense.

For Women, Middle Ages Might Have Been Golden...

My review of two books about Jewish women in the Middle Ages, discussed extensively on this blog, appears in the Forward this week.
Eight hundred years ago, thousands of Jewish Egyptian women refused to immerse in the ritual bath. Only Maimonides’s threat that they would lose their Ketubah money quelled the orchestrated rebellion, years after it began. A century later in Ashkenaz (Christian Europe), rabbis were astonished by the large number of Jewish women who refused to have marital relations with their husbands, asking instead to be proclaimed “rebellious wives” and divorced.
“Between the lines,” writes Avraham Grossman in a new book titled “Pious and Rebellious,” “echoes the voice of powerful women, very different from the ideal of the submissive and shy figure depicted by thinkers during the Middle Ages and the early modern period.”

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Feeling the squeeze

The Rabbanut intends to issue new directives limiting the ability of rabbis to perform marriages in Israel if they come from the Diaspora, earn their living from a profession not connected with the rabbinate, or teach in yeshivot hesder, high schools or advanced education institutes. In other words, they are giving themselves a near-monopoly.
Why? The Rabbanut, of course, claims it is merely trying to combat 'a sharp drop in professionalism' amongst rabbis performing weddings. But this is completely contrived; if it were true, would they really need to restrict at which wedding "Heads of Yeshivot Hesder and Hassidic sects" can officiate??? I think not.
The rabbis of Tzohar, an organization which has done much to improve the way secular Israelis feel about religion simply by being open and respectful, feel that the Rabbanut has acted specifically to sabotage its own rabbis. This sounds more likely; faced with a rival who have struck a real chord with the secular public, the Rabbanut's only answer is to flex some legal muscle. It's depressing to watch them act to protect their own narrow institutional interests instead of finally taking the hint, which I'm sure they understand full well, about what the secular public really want in their rabbis. But then again, this wouldn't be the first time the religious establishment has acted this way in recent months. The pressure is clearly on.

My Zaide, the President

This might be the closest thing to Jewish royalty. Joshua Boettiger, a handsome 31-year old Reconstructionist rabbinical student, is the great-grandson of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Boettiger is quick to acknowledge that his great-grandfather could have helped save more Eastern European Jews [from] an almost certain death in Hitler’s Europe. “People ask me ‘How culpable was FDR?’ ” Boettiger said. “I’m ambivalent to talk about it because I’m not an historian, but it’s clear he didn’t do all he could have. I think he was blinded by the larger focus of ending the war as soon as possible.”
Of-course, the article just happens to mention he's single. So subtle.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The to Israel's hi-tech bust

According to Harry and Allison, the hot story in (certain circles in) Israel at the moment is not the Sharm summit -- but the wild success of an Israeli hi-tech company, GuruNet, which employs lots of Anglos and which is apparently going to sign major deals with Google and Amazon in the coming day or so. The company, whose shares are suddenly out of control, has just launched a site,, which gives you precise answers to your questions instead of a bunch of links. According to Forbes, " is the most useful, smartest, coolest, easiest-to-use Web innovation to come around in years."*
Is the timing auspicious? The outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada/Oslo War/Arafat War/Second War of Attrition (!) spelt the death-knell of Israel's amazing hi-tech boom. I hope the fact that an Israeli hi-tech company is soaring so high on the very day that peace breaks out in the Middle East turns out to be a sign of things to come!

*Actually, the site clearly has a way to go. It could tell me who Rabbenu Gershom was, but not Rav Kook, and who the editor of the Jerusalem Post was, but not the editor of the Jerusalem Report (actually, it kind of suggested Natan Sharansky -- who was, before you scoff too much, once an editor at the magazine, but never THE editor and besides, that was a long time ago). Worst of all, it had no idea who Miriam Shaviv was. Apparently I'm "not one of the 1 million AnswerPages at," although " has AnswerPages for most words, phrases, places, famous people, companies, and more." Hmph.

The Toronto kosher pizza shop murder of 2002 comes to court

The murder case of David Rosenzweig z'l, who was stabbed outside a Toronto kosher pizza shop in July 2002 has now come to trial. A drug addict, drunk and probably stoned, went to the pizza shop on a Motzai Shabbat looking to buy drugs. Some yeshivah bochurim sent him off on a false trail to a nearby gas station. Enraged, he returned to the shop and stabbed a highly respected member of our community, David Rosenzweig z'l, who had come out to help his son who was having trouble with his auto.
For me, it was then, and it is even more so now, difficult to characterise this as a 'hate crime' -- tragic as it was. The murderer did not come out to attack Jews. I think it is upsetting to see representatives of the community still making those allegations (see the material in the link). Much more germane to the tragedy was the role a) of the drug sellers in the neighbourhood (why did the murderer think that he could buy drugs in the pizza shop, which was opposite a large Toronto yeshivah???) and b) the people in the shop.
The local rabbis dealt with the first problem (suspected drug trafficking by yeshivah students) by ordering the shop to close early for a time on Saturday nights .......... No students were expelled from the yeshivah, and no investigation was made. I have no idea whether any of the people in the shop have the incident on their consciences.
Incidentally, to this day a local non-Jew maintains a small memorial of flowers at the site of the murder.
May David Rosenzweig z'l rest in peace.

  • Paternal note: The sad case of David Rosenzweig z'l was a journalistic scoop for one Miriam Shaviv, on duty at the breaking news desk of the Jerusalem Post that Sunday morning (Israel time). Because of the time difference, the online Jerusalem Post lead with the story, and young Miriam was interviewed and quoted in several different countries - not least in Canada itself -- as the story unfolded.


One of the "greatest mysteries" of the Second World War appears to have been solved. Herbert Lee Stivers, 78, a former guard at the Nuremberg Tribunal, claims it was he who smuggled a vial of poison to Hermann Goering, Hitler’s second-in-command, allowing him to escape the hangman’s noose. And he did it because he fell for the oldest trick in the book:
One day a young, dark-haired beauty who called herself Mona approached Mr Stivers outside a hotel housing an officers’ club.
“She asked me what I did, and I told her I was a guard,” Mr Stivers said. She said, ‘Do you get to see all the prisoners?’ ‘Every day,’ I said. The next day I guarded Goering and got his autograph and handed that to her. She told me that she had a friend she wanted me to meet. The following day we went to his house.”
There, Mr Stivers was introduced to two men — “Erich” and “Mathias” — who told him that Goering was “a very sick man” who was not getting the medicine he needed in prison. Twice he took notes to Goering that Erich had hidden in a fountain pen. The third time, Erich put a capsule into the pen.
“He said it was medication, and that if it worked and Goering felt better, they’d send him some more,” Mr Stivers said.
After delivering the “medicine” to the Nazi leader, he returned the pen to the woman.
“I never saw Mona again,” he said.
Experts, at the end of the article, seem to believe the story, albeit cautiously. I, however, am absolutely sure he's telling the truth. Only someone dumb enough to fall for such an obvious ploy in the first place would, after having almost sixty years to mull over the events, wistfully tell the world press: "I guess she used me."
You guess????? You guess?????

What's in a name?

Now that the hostilities between the Israelis and Palestinians are officially (if not practically – a completely different matter) over, the Jerusalem Post has opened to the public a question it posed to Israeli thinkers a couple of years ago: What should we call the past four years of violence?
The Al Aksa Intifada is, of course, the name the Palestinians gave it and reflects only their own propaganda, that this war was sparked by Ariel Sharon’s visit to Temple Mount in September 2000. To use this name would simply perpetuate the mistaken idea that the Israelis were to blame for its outbreak.
As the Post points out, any name involving the word ‘intifada’ also serves to further the Palestinian agenda, by making it seem that the past four years were an uprising against Israeli occupation – which we know could have been solved peacefully in the summer of 2000.
Popular suggestions on the Post website include ‘the Oslo War,’ ‘Arafat’s War’ and ‘The Terror War.’
Of the three, I would go for ‘Arafat’s War,’ as I believe the conflict was driven by and masterminded personally by him. But since we’re being asked to be creative here, I also have another suggestion: ‘The Second War of Attrition.’
After all, that was the grand Palestinian plan: to wear Israel down with ongoing guerrilla warfare, undermining the Israeli economy and morale until at last, in sheer fatigue, the country caved to Palestinian demands (or collapsed altogether). This was their aim and strategy, what the last four years were really about; terror was simply their method.
What would you call it?

Monday, February 07, 2005


I would say this marriage was worth another go.

Somehow, I can't picture my local rabbi doing this

An unusual letter in Dear Abby on Friday:
DEAR ABBY: After reading the letters about hospital gowns, I thought I'd share my story. I am a rabbi. When I first trained as a chaplain, I was taught to make my hospital rounds in full dress -- wearing a suit and tie, with my jacket buttoned. However, one day a patient expressed that although she needed to talk to me, she felt terribly uncomfortable lying there ``in a hospital gown with her tuchas sticking out'' while I sat there in a three-piece suit.
I stood up, told her I'd be back in a moment, went to the nurse's station and got a hospital gown. I took off my suit, donned the gown over my briefs and T-shirt, and headed straight back to the patient's room. The minute she saw me in that gown, she brightened and relaxed enough to open up about all the concerns on her mind.
The visit took a little longer than usual, and when I finished our session with a prayer for healing, I rose from the chair. As I did, the sound as my thighs ripped themselves from the Naugahyde brought a huge smile to both our faces. I was laughing so hard I forgot to hold the back of the gown as I headed back down the hall -- so I was exposed.
Fortunately the nurses had a sense of humor. One said, ``Not a bad tush for a rabbi!''
I learned an important lesson on creativity that day. But I also learned that two hospital gowns are better than one -- if you remember to put one on backward.

Rabbi Craig H. Ezring,
Boca Raton, Fla.

DEAR RABBI EZRING: Your suit may have been off for her, but my hat is off to you for going the extra mile to make a difference in a sick woman's life. Your method may have been unorthodox, but your message of healing far surpassed any fashion statement. Thanks for your letter.
What this hospital needs is some Muslim patients to complain about the gowns. I guarantee the problem will be solved for everyone.


An interesting linguistic lesson from The Velveteen Rabbi. We pick up in the middle of a Hebrew session with her rabbi:

I learned that the dagesh (a diacritical dot) in the first letter of the word mishpatim ("laws" or "judgements") denotes a missing letter; there used to be a lamed before that word. In an apparent digression [the rabbi] asked, "What's the Arabic name for Jerusalem?" Al-Quds, I said. "And what does it mean?" It means the-Holy; the Arabic qds shares a root with the Hebrew word kodesh, and we too call Jerusalem "The Holy City," in Hebrew ir ha-kodesh. Turns out that same diacritical dot (the one denoting a lost "l" sound) appears at the start of the word kodesh: in some Semitic linguistic of Hebrew, we too would have said ha'l-kodesh. Al-Quds by any other name...

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Blog break

I'm afraid I'm a bit under the weather at the moment and so am taking a (rare) blog break for a few days. Will be back soon. Sorry....


PS. In the meanwhile you may want to check out Steven I. Weiss' new venture, Bnei Levi on a potential reversal of the Slifkin ban, and Tova Mirvis' reply to Wendy Shalit's piece in the NYT on Sunday.

UPDATE: I'm back but may take it slower-than-usual for the next few days.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Will the pontiff survive to see another yontiff?

The Pope's spokesman has assured the world he has 'just a little fever,' and the world's reacting like they were told Yasser Arafat had 'just a little stomach bug...'

A vote for Bush....

Was apparently a vote for Ned Flanders, who is preparing to take centre stage in the world's longest-running cartoon:
Before on The Simpsons, Ned was a secondary figure - Homer's cloyingly pious next-door neighbour. But the values he embodies in exaggerated form now monopolize the political scene. In fact, one might say that Homer is Ned's next-door neighbour, not the other way around, so clearly does Ned bask in the mainstream.
"The values he represents have become more visible in American life," agrees Simpsons executive producer Al Jean, "as people who maybe are outward advocates of Ned's values have come into positions of power. We always satirize who's in power and what the cultural zeitgeist is, so currently the point of view Ned has is a little more ripe for satire."
Ned stands front and centre in Sunday's edition of "The Simpsons" when, in an unlikely collaboration with Homer, he co-produces the Super Bowl halftime show as (what else?) a biblical pageant. Homer portrays Noah. The stadium is flooded from a Duff's Beer blimp. Ned preaches the Word. Take that, Janet Jackson.
Okely-dokely-do; I think we can trust there will be no wardrobe malfunctions in this halftime show.

What's good for Las Vegas....

According to the richest Jew in the world, Sheldon Adelson, who made his money building hotels and casinos in Las Vegas,
"'Israel must build casinos. If not throughout the country, at least in Eilat... It will be good for your tourism and economy. As for crime, you have nothing to worry about: Las Vegas is one of the safest places in the world.'
Unfortunately, the day will come when Adelson's vision comes true; there is already lots of talk in Israel about legalizing gambling and building casinos. Also unfortunately, if the day does come, there will be no room for tourists in these casinos because they will be jam-packed with Israelis, who have already shown at the Jericho Casino just how potentially addicted to gambling they are (breaking military curfews to get there, for example). Indeed, there is lots of anecdotal evidence that Jews are more prone to gambling addictions than the general population; I hope the country, which has enough on its plate without such problems, can hold out for as long as possible.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

"Don't believe the news, it's controlled by the Jews!"

Check out this photo-essay documenting some frightening goings-on at an anti-terrorism rally in Berkely a couple of weeks ago. Frightening because counter-protesters

  • Demanded that all Jews "go back to Europe"
  • Accused the Jews of stealing organs from Palestinian bodies (a variation of the blood libel)
  • Denied the Jews' ancient roots in the Holy Land (with a sign that read "Hebrew Genocidists Out of Canaan")
  • Chanted slogans saying they "can't wait" to become suicide bombers
  • Dressed up as terrorists
  • Chanted "Don't believe the news, it's controlled by the Jews"
  • Yelled that they would take "a pound of flesh" from a Jew every time a Palestinian is killed
  • ... and praised suicide bombers, made threats, and in general expressed an attitude of agressive anti-Semitism.

Which doesn't mean the pro-Israel demonstrators didn't have their share of racists on the spot (see the very last picture on page 2, which I don't think is anything to 'smile' about at all), plus some definite meshuggenes. But overall, another demonstration of just how rabidly anti-Semitic and aggressive the pro-Palestinian demonstrators across North America and Europe actually are.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, at the University of Toronto, an Arab club is holding a week-long series of lectures called 'Israeli Apartheid Week' -- to coincide with IsraelFest, an annual celebration of Israeli art and culture. The University is supporting the event because of 'freedom of speech.' First clashes here.

Is the British Labour party deliberately stirring up anti-Semitic feelings?

Britain's ruling Labour Party is currently embroiled in an anti-Semitic scandal. In the runup to the general election, which will be held sometime in the next few months, it presented four possible campaign posters on its website. One showed the faces of Tory leader, Michael Howard, and his Shadow Chancellor (Treasury secretary) Oliver Letwin, superimposed on flying pigs. Both men are Jewish. Another showed Michael Howard dressed in black, one hand outstretched and the other clutching a gold watch (supposedly conveying that he is a 'hypnotist' fooling people into believing he's fiscally responsible). Even normally reticent commentators have said how much the image reminds them of a 'Fagin' or 'Shylock' character -- and accused Labour of flirting with anti-Semitism.
If true, it wouldn't be the first time; last year Labour chairman Ian McCartney was criticised for explicitly describing Letwin as a '21st century Fagin' -- although at the time he was widely defended by members of the Jewish community, who defended his Jew-friendly credentials.
Some have suggested that the current posters are either a deliberate attempt to suck up to the Muslim community; a deliberate attempt to play to the anti-Semitic currents in British society today; a deliberate ploy to get massive, free publicity; or just a naive/innocent mistake.
Truth be told, I simply can't imagine that New Labour's leaders would have deliberately come up with a campaign with anti-Semitic overtones. Anti-Semitism in Britain, as it exists today, is mostly more covert. And indeed, I don't find the posters particularly offensive; certainly not the pig one (the prohibition is against eating pig, not being associated with a pig). In the current climate it seems to me that everyone is a bit over-sensitive. If I were a Tory, I'd shut up now about the posters (which aren't going to be used anyway) and stop making an issue out of Howard and Letwin's Jewishness, which is both irrelevant -- and can't possibly do them any good....