Thursday, March 31, 2005

Columbia still unbecoming

Columbia University's ad hoc committee investigating charges of intimidation of pro-Israel students by its professors released its report today, concluding that there was no evidence of anti-Semitism and that in only one of the reported incidents did a professor exceed "commonly accepted bounds" of behavior.
According to CampusJ's Columbia blog, the University brokered a deal to give the story to the NYT as an exclusive, before the report was shown to any students, on condition that they do not interview any of the students who made the complaints. If this is true, beyond issues of ethics here, I find it strange and surprising that the NYT would accept such a deal, which severely compromises its reporting for what is honestly not such a big scoop. Follow the details/allegations here.
In any case, the blog makes the convincing case that the report was primarily oriented towards addressing media concerns:

The report also made clear that “no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic.” Yet, no charges of anti-Semitism were ever filed by students and CAF has never alleged anti-Semitism. The Sun, among other media outlets, has made such claims and is the claims and voice of the media to whom the report was clearly addressed.
The university's behavior in releasing the report is indicative of the committee's guiding philosophy that apparently places a higher value on Columbia's image than its students. Denying students the right to see the report before the New York Times had published an article summarizing and defining the report to the public (the Times article was in fact published online late last night before any students even read the report) underscores the fact that the university’s investigation was foremost a response to mounting outside pressure and not motivated by concern for students' grievances.

Clearly I haven't read the report. However, from the newspaper/blog reports, it's hard not to notice that while the professors are basically exonorated, the harsh language seems to be reserved for the students who lodged the complaints, for (allegedly) disrupting lectures and seminars (which probably means contradicting some blatantly anti-Israel remark by the professor) and creating an atmosphere on campus whereby professors felt 'spied upon'. I find it hard to believe, and it's statistically unlikely, that with 60 complaints against the professors, it's the students who deserve to get slammed whilst just one complaint is (partially) upheld. Talk about turning the tables.

It's your own fault

The Israeli High Court came to a historic decision today, when it chose to recognize the conversions of 16 tourists and foreign residents who had undergone the process of conversion in Israel, but were actually converted by Reform or Conservative outside the country.
This still does not allow Reform or Conservative conversions in Israel -- the court left the issue to the Knesset -- but the direction of travel is clear. To all the Orthodox MKs who are blaming the courts for 'creating divisions in the nation,' I say this. The division is not the fault of the judges, but the fault of the Israeli Rabbanut, which had (has) a monopoly on conversions which it abused. Had it not made conversions so uneccesarily difficult and miserable for so many genuine people, it is likely they would never have reached this situation. Moreover, the writing has been on the wall for quite a few years now, and despite numerous pleas and warning signs, they were too arrogant and obstinate to change. The result you see today, and I can't see that there's any way back.

Gary Rosenblatt vs. Jewishwhistleblower

Gary Rosenblatt dedicates an annoyed column this week to Jewish bloggers, mostly complaining about their lack of accountability and accuracy ("Various writers, often anonymous, claim to know what investigative stories I am working on, or not working on, and why, or why not, though none of them have ever asked me"). The whole thing seems to have been inspired by Jewishwhistleblower, who has really got under his skin:
More upsetting are the bloggers who criticize individuals by name, make accusations against rabbis and communal leaders, but don’t have the guts to identify themselves, or bother to interview the people they write about.
One of the better known Jewish reporting blogs calls for “accountability and transparency within our institutions and leadership,” a noble goal, indeed. But the “About me” area on the home page where the blogger usually posts some details about him or her self is empty. To demand full disclosure of others without identifying one’s self seems the height of chutzpah and hypocrisy to me.
I haven't been following JWB very closely so I'm not sure which particular episode sparked this off (something specific clearly did -- I'm sure someone will enlighten me in the comments section). Indeed, just because it's now appeared in two major Jewish newspapers two weeks in a row, I'm not sure you can call JWB 'one of the better known Jewish reporting blogs.' Interestingly, it has introduced a type of yellow journalism which is virtually unknown in the Diaspora Jewish print media, and thus has attracted a certain audience. In the context of the rather respectable J-blogosphere, however, it is regarded as peripheral by virtue of its reflexively 'guilty until proven innocent' attitude and incessant self-promotion, which I think have proven untypical and unpopular. Unfortunately, a compliment like Rosenblatt's will probably only encourage JWB and cause people to flock to his/her website, and will probably have the exact opposite effect that Rosenblatt intended with his column.
The question of anonymous blogging is, of course, as old as blogging itself, and there's not much new to be said about it. I find Rosenblatt's righteous tone here somewhat annoying -- there are more safeguards with the press, it's true, but it's not like the press are always accurate, as blogs have demonstrated again and again. He sounds really put out that he has to deal with pesky bloggers actually monitoring what his paper publishes.
Nevertheless, on his major point, blogs like Jewishwhistleblower -- whose raison d'etre is making accusations against others -- he is most certainly correct. JWB is really giving a good cause which I wholeheartedly support, accountability and transparancy, a bad name. Just this week we have seen a minor example, of Jewishwhistleblower making uninformed but very aggressive accusations all over the J-blogosphere against a man who has been vindicated in a court of law. This is not accountability at all, but persecution for which the anonymous JWB will never be asked to answer outside the virtual world of the Internet.
Why is JWB free to trample all over someone's name, while protecting their own? If JWB is so confident about his/her information, why are they scared to reveal their own identity? JWB, when are you going to put your own house in order?

The money quote

From our comments section, re: Kitniot: "We are the only people where you can identify someone's ethnic-religious group by their margarine."

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A little harsh, don't you think?

Steven I. Weiss on the so-called Shidduch crisis:
[T]he downright foolishness of the claims of a "singles crisis" or "shidduch crisis" are something I just won't countenance. It is a product not of some profound problem in the larger Jewish community, but of a group of nebbishy singles who can't get their acts together; there's also the statistical weight of those who are intentionally unmarried as yet -- a position I cheer as representative of a personal choice that seems wholly grounded in a serious concern for self. The "shidduch crisis" is about being pathetic, timid and stupid.
Unfortunately, the 'shidduch crisis' has nothing to do with being pathetic, timid and stupid; I know too many pathetic, timid and stupid people who are married, and too many impressive, confident and clever people who want to be, but are not. Ah, to be young again, when the possibilities seem endless and open, and in your full control.

Medicine and modesty

Newsday asks, but doesn't really answer, "whether modesty among Jewish women might discourage breast cancer screenings."
One of the bases of the researcher's hypothesis was the idea that "relatively few Israeli women participated in breast screening programs, most likely because the procedure is thought to violate Orthodox rules of modesty by requiring a woman to disrobe and have physical contact with a technician. " While this is certainly a factor (as it is in other religious communites, as we've noted before), I would argue that simple lack of awareness -- partially for cultural reasons as well -- is just as important.

Forget strawberries ...... read this

I kid you not: Just an hour ago I went over the road to the Kosher bakery to get my salad (Greek, extra olives, no tomato). I met a senior Mashgiach of the Toronto kashrut supervisory agency, COR, and we started chatting. There are witnesses to this conversation. I mentioned strawberries, which he found amusing. He then went on to describe some of the problems that they are dealing with ........ including THE CHASHASH KITNIOT on Pesach Coca Cola BECAUSE OF THE ...... C A R B O N D I O X I D E (ie the bubbles!). THE BUBBLES ARE OSSUR (for Askkenazim). Apparently the CO2 may be generated from kitniyos. So -- the gas -- the AIR -- the bubbles -- are ossur. Makes the Kedassia / strawberry ban look, well, inflated ........


By now you may have heard that, just in time for summer, one of the UK's Kashrut authorities, Kedassia, has banned strawberries (or more accurately, rebanned strawberries, because I distinctly recall reading about this some months ago in the Jewish Chronicle's 'quirky' section):
Until now, the method of washing strawberries thoroughly in soapy water in order to remove any insects was considered halachically (by Jewish religious law) sufficient. However, recent tests have proven that even after this rigorous procedure, insects are still present.
Until this problem is solved therefore, fresh strawberries should not be eaten.
Recent tests? How many times did they have to test these strawberries, by how many times did they have to magnify the strawberries' surface in order to discover the bugs? And if you look closely enough, how many other types of fruit, vegetables, water (ahem) and other food should be banned? Probably a great number. If only our supervising authorities saw and cared about the big picture -- eg. the goings on at the Postville abattoir -- as well as they saw and cared about the micro-picture.
Thankfully, the London and Federation Beth Dins have not gone along with this mad misuse of technology. And if you hold by Kedassia -- well, until they come up with a better solution, you can always 'peel the strawberry like a potato'! Of-course...

*I'm a bit late on this because Blogger has been playing up for the past 24 hours. Sorry.

Monday, March 28, 2005

More Moscow madness

A couple of months ago, there was quite a stir amongst Jewish groups when a group of deputies from the Russian State Duma demanded a ban on all Jewish organizations in Russia. Putin, as you will recall, never really reacted to the letter, but the deputies ended up withdrawing it nevertheless.
No one seems to have really noticed that in the past few days, a very similar letter has been sent to the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, again demanding that Jewish organizations be banned. This time, it was signed by 5000 people, including former Chess champ Boris Spassky (what is it with former Chess champions, insanity and anti-Semitism?).
[The signatories] believe one of the basic Judaic books professes religious hatred, said a center that monitors religious freedom...
The signatories claim that "Kizur Shulkhan Arukh," an abbreviated version of a 16th-century book that lays out daily rules for Jews, teaches hatred toward non-Jews.
I'd be interested to know who else signed that letter.
I guess the lack of coverage means that we are really getting used to old-style Russian anti-Semitism again quickly.

Riding on a hope and a prayer

A British Christian woman is hoping to open a Biblical theme park in the UK. Visitors will be able to have "the experience of expulsion from the Garden of Eden, being swallowed by a whale, escaping from a lion’s den and walking on water."
To fund the development, which is scheduled to open in 2008, she hopes that a million Christians will donate £144 each. If believers cannot afford the money, they are being urged to pray for the park’s success.
Lady, you give people a choice like that, what do you think they're going to do??

Never been kissed

Directly relating to our discussion a few days ago about premarital sex in the Orthodox world, Renreb has linked to a new blog, Its strapline: "I am 34 years old. An Orthodox Jew. Female, healthy, friendly, successful in my work. I have never been kissed. This blog is my primal scream."
From her opening post:
[W]hy am I making a blog about something so personal?
First, because in the last few years, being S.N. to me has become a little like living in jail. There is a world out there (my married friends, my not frum friends) who are enjoying being sexual people, and I am imprisoned in my single, religious, Nice Jewish Girl life. Sometimes I think that if I do not have sex I will explode. Sometimes I think that if I do not find out what it feels like to have a man’s hands on me, I will go crazy. Maybe this blog is the explosion! Maybe after all I have gone crazy!...
There is also the judgement from the religious side. Fifteen years ago I thought that single women who were “older” like in their late twenties who started down the slippery slope and became less frum were somehow not as good religiously as me. I thought that if they really believed in halacha they would never do that. It was easy to think that when I was younger and thought I could get married soon. Now however I see how hard it is to stay strong all this time. It is bad enough to be alone, but to be not sexual is almost as bad, and the two together is terrible. I have been on depression medication for a long time. I have had fantasies of killing myself. I have considered hiring a male prostitute and getting it over with. No, I have not tried either of those last two things, chas vishalom. But it shows how hard it is to be 34 and single and a nice Jewish girl. I cannot blame anyone who decides it is not worth it. To all the married people out there telling older singles that they should deny themselves, I wish I could respond "let he who is 34 and never been kissed cast the first stone."
Please do not rush over to her blog to lecture this genuine young woman about the halachic reality (not that any Bloghead readers would...). She knows. Please just listen to her story (best read from the bottom up) with a sympathetic ear and offer her support if you can.


More nunsense from Madonna

Madonna celebrates Purim. Or Easter. Or something.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Justice, justice thou shalt pursue .....

I would like to make it clear that I have no personal knowledge whatever of the case that I am going to refere to in this posting, and nothing written here should be construed as any comment on anyone directly involved, other than conclusions or comment based on press reports. I am also deliberately not providing links.

A case recently reported on from the UK involves a teacher at a Jewish school accused of sexual impropriety with a girl student, but fully and quickly aquitted of the four charges against him. It should be noted that concerning one of the charges, which was quite specific, it was conclusively proven in court that the teacher could not have been in the place alleged at the time alleged, and also that courts in the UK and elsewhwere are generally notoriously unsympathetic to teachers accused of abusing the trust placed in them - which makes a complete aquittal, with costs, very unusual. From my reading of the press accounts, as someone who has dealt with similar issues on several occcasions, it sounds to me as though the teacher was:

a) young

b) relatively inexperienced

c) somewhat charismatic

d) very sincere, and from a 'kiruv' background

-- and therefore

e) exceptionally vulnerable.

What horrifies me, however, is the willingness of some bloggers and commentors to jump to conclusions about this case, ignore the aquittal and treat the teacher as though he is guilty. (I wrote a huge posting on this, but it's too long to post. ) Anyone in authority WHO IS REASONABLY PROVEN to have acted inappropriately deserves every consequence. [In fact, in schools in Ontario the level of proof required is less than in some other areas. The courts recognise the complexities of dealing with adolescents, and implicitly recognise the experience of school Principals in those situations, subject to further accountability. In Ontario law - the remarks of Mr. Justice Cory in the Canadian Supreme Court in M v R are the benchmark]. Where adolescent emotions are involved, the investigator must tread very, very carefully. An accusation by itself cannot ever be the basis for a presumption of guilt.

But justice is a two-way street. Were they themselves ever to be accused of anything -- shoplifting, for example - any of those who are baying for blood in this case would demand proof from their accusers. And an injudicious, and possibly professionally immature transgression of the laws of yichud does not mean that a person's name and reputation should be published on the internet. That is simply daft; possibly also irresponsible and cruel.

Finally, I am concerned that while a teacher's name can be published on the internet all over the place, and wild speculations and accusations made, his accusers hide behind anonymity.

The real thing

YNet in Hebrew now appears to be free of charge for readers outside Israel. Now that's good news!

The JAP is back -- and proud

Explains Alana Newhouse in the Boston Globe,
"The consumerist element that was criticized in the JAP has now been embraced by American society," says Riv-Ellen Prell, author of ''Fighting to Become Americans: Assimilation and the Trouble Between Jewish Women and Jewish Men'' (2000). "JAPs were the designated narcissists in the 1970s, but now we no longer feel shame about all being narcissists."
To some, JAP is just the latest slur to be embraced as a means of self-empowerment, much the way gay culture adopted "queer" and African-Americans use the n-word. JAP's comeback may signal a new era in identity politics, one in which Jewish women, feeling victorious after battling the double burden of misogyny and anti-Semitism, peel away many aspects of the old stereotype-the snobbishness, the dependency on daddy's Amex, the sexual frigidity-and keep... well, the shoes and the Chanel.
I still hate the idea that Jewish women are associated with money/consumerism, not so much for the sake of our 'outside image,' which is what the women in the article who object to the use of the term are concerned about, but for the sake of the very many Jewish women -- the majority -- who do not have endless supplies of money and who are left feeling inadequate.

Wolfowitz -- mixing business and pleasure

The world has suddenly woken up to the fact that Paul Wolfowitz, who's been nominated as next president of the World Bank, is conducting a romantic relationship with Tunisian-born Shaha Ali Riza, the bank’s former senior gender co-ordinator for the Middle East and North Africa and currently a communications advisor in the ME and NA Dept. Bloghead noted their relationship last August.
The prospect of Wolfowitz becoming head honcho is apparently making staff -- and others looking for any excuse to block his nomination -- uncomfortable:
World Bank regulations forbid couples to work on the staff if one reports directly to the other — an unlikely eventuality in their case. Through a spokesman, Wolfowitz stated enigmatically: “If a personal relationship presents a potential conflict of interest, I will comply with bank policies to resolve the issue.”
I hope that doesn't mean his girlfriend is going to end up giving up her job on his account.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

And perhaps a few Kabbalah references too?

Demi Moore's boyfriend Ashton Kutcher tried to sneak some Jewish references into his upcoming movie, but they were all cut out in the final version:
"I decided that I wanted to play my character Jewish...," Kutcher says, telling it was minor stuff, like saying, "Shabot Shalom, stuff like that."
Shabot Shalom? Sounds like he's been reading too many comics.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Purim Sameach

For me, Purim always brings memories of my Bat Mitzvah year, when each student in my class was supposed to create a project about a Biblical woman.
Most of the girls chose Sarah, Rifka, Rachel, Leah -- the usual suspects.
I chose Vashti.
My parents were called in for a long talk with the teacher and I narrowly avoided getting kicked out of school.
To this day, however, I believe Vashti is one of the most wronged characters in the Tanach. In the text, she is guilty of nothing more than trying to preserve her modesty -- surely a role model to us all -- and yet, she is villified by the Midrash. Perhaps there was room for only one female hero in this story; perhaps the Midrash felt the need to find some justification for her seemingly unjust fate. Either way, she is certainly more sinned against than sinning...

Let's talk about (premarital) sex

A few months ago I commented that the increasing number of Orthodox singles in their late 20s and 30s grappling with issues of negiah, and suffering real stress, guilt and difficulty as a result
is yet another issue which sooner or later the community will have to talk about more openly and more creatively. It's in the community's own interest to grapple with this, both because it has a duty not to neglect its singles who are in a truly impossible situation, and because facts are being created on the ground which soon will be impossible to reverse.
In just a few short months, the issue seems to have become the 'hot' topic. This week, both the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz are reporting on a symposium which took place in Jerusalem on sex in the Orthdox singles scene (although apparently the word 'sex' was never mentioned...). In addition, Sahrah Blau, one of the Orthodox community's most prominent single women in the Israeli media, held a discussion following the symposium on tv.
The best article to appear on the subject, however, appeared in Hebrew in De'ot, and in fact formed the basis for the discussion at the Jerusalem event. Apparently fully one third of Orthodox women are still single at 30; like it or not, there are thousands of Orthodox singles out there who are having premarital sex. What this article brings out clearly is that this is having a sociological impact, the full extent of which we probably don't even appreciate yet. At the very least, it is threatening the centrality of family in Jewish life, associating sexuality with guilt and stress for a large chunk of the Orthodox population even for many years after marriage, and driving a wedge between the rabbinical establishment and a large part of the community.
As I've said before, I have no idea what the answer is, but I am glad it is being discussed more openly, both for the sake of the community as a whole, which has a stake in this, and for the singles, who are in genuine distress.
Finally, I find it rather ironic that Ohel Nechama Synagogue, where the symposium took place, broke links with Ne'emanei Torah Va'avodah, which organized the event, because they found this particular topic too controversial. Ohel Nechama is one of Jerusalem's main 'meat markets' and probably the place where half the Orthodox singles having sex meet in the first place.

Putting Harry in perspective

Just a couple of months ago, the Jewish world threw up its arms in horror at pictures of Prince Harry dressed up as a Nazi soldier for a costume party.
It's hard to maintain righteous indignation, however, when Israeli teenagers have been captured on film arriving to Purim parties dressed up as concentration camp inmates and as suicide bombers. And while you may argue that they are still several years younger than Harry is, and so perhaps even more immature, you certainly cannot argue like you might have done for Harry, that
"[T]he kids didn't understand what they were doing," another youngster at the party said. "They obviously don't know much about the Holocaust, not like me, who did lose relatives; it was very sad."
Sorry, but I don't think it's possible to grow up in today's Israel, with Yom Hashoah, etc., 'not knowing much about the Holocaust.' Even more so the trauma and pain suicide bombers caused the entire Israeli society, which is still raw.
On the surface, what this shows is that silly, insensitive and ignorant behavior is the province of youngesters everywhere. On a deeper level, perhaps it also reflects a certain amount of desensitization in Israeli society, both to terror -- which is simply too hard to deal with so people switch off -- and the Holocaust -- discussion of which has perhaps become mundane. The real question in my mind is, where were these kids' parents? How on earth did they let their children out of the house dressed as suicide bombers and concentration camp inmates? At least they should know better.

I treasure this [rare] moment .....

I agree completely, Paul.
Zev | 03.21.05 - 9:40 am | #

-- a freilichen Purim to all!

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Law and Order, today's Russia: a snapshot

You think David Klinghoffer has a tin ear for history? How about the Russians, who are re-establishing a Cossack Army in the Russian Far East -- including in the Jewish Autonomous Region (Birobidzhan)! -- to fight 'terrorists and criminals'??
As this op-ed explains,
[S]ince the collapse of communism in 1991, the Cossack communities have experienced a rebirth. Many Cossacks today, of course, are simply interested in reviving other, more positive aspects of their community traditions, but some want to go further and again play a role in maintaining public order.
In some parts of the Russian Federation, regional officials have encouraged them to serve as adjuncts to the militia.
But at least occasionally in the Russian Far East and elsewhere, the Cossacks involved in such law enforcement activities have routinely violated the law, ignoring statutes that protect the rights of citizens and employing disproportionate force in the name of maintaining "law and order." Consequently, at least some observers may argue that what Moscow's man in the Russian Far East [Konstantin Pulikovsky, Putin's envoy in the Far Eastern federal district, who took this decision -- M.S.] did last week with regard to the Amur Cossack Host is nothing more than an entirely reasonable attempt to regulate and rein in the actions of the Cossacks in that far-flung region of the Russian Federation. But there is a real danger that the Cossacks will see this latest move in a different way, as representing an official blessing of what they are doing and an invitation for them to behave even worse than in the past -- especially when they are dealing out of the media spotlight with Jews and others they have traditionally seen as their enemies.
Wonderful news. Next up: the return of the crusaders.


I read a few good books on vacation and plan to write about at least one of them, Rescued from the Reich: How One of Hitler's Soldiers Saved the Lubavitcher Rebbe sometime in the next few days. In the meanwhile, Mentalblog has an email interview with the author here.
Stuck at the airport, I managed to get a fair way through Melvyn Bragg's The Adventure of English, an extremely entertaining 'biography' of the English language, which traces its rise, fall, rise, fall, and rise and rise and rise. The discussion of the way English was virtually shut out of affairs of state, law, literature, high society etc. for centuries after the Norman invasion in 1066 certainly put the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, and other early 'greats' into a perspective which, as an English literature major, I'd never properly considered.
From a Middle Eastern perspective, Bragg briefly mentions an interesting little etymological fact, regarding the origin of the word 'Checkmate.' It came to English through the French, from the Arabic/Persian, where it was originally Sheikh Met -- The King, or Sheikh, is dead!
From a religious perspective, Bragg also discusses how the early Church did its utmost to prevent the Bible being translated from Latin into English. This was not merely an issue of 'Lashon HaKodesh,' as it were, but a way of stopping the masses being able to access religious texts for themselves and retaining power and control over them. The Church was willing to stage plays enacting biblical stories outside its Churches but would not allow the masses to actually read these stories for themselves. The stories of John Wycliffe (14th century), who first translated the Bible into English and whose bones were actually exhumed by the Church and burnt into order to prevent him from gaining eternal life (40+ years after his death!), and of William Tyndale, whose translation later formed the basis for the King James version of the Bible but who was executed by stranglation for his efforts, show much about the power of language -- and the language of power...

Chabad-watchers --- this should be worth waiting for!

My good friend Binyamin "Bill" Weiss, with whom I enjoy many informed conversations, has received the following email from Professor David Assaf, whose article on the shadowy Moshe, son of the Ba'al haTanya, has been referred to in discussions on the blogs [see this link, the comments thereto, and several excellent subsequent posts on Mentalblog]:
The article is not available on the web. Only in Zion, as you wrote (and in Hebrew only).
A new extended version of this article based on new archival documents will be published (hopefully) next year in my forthcoming book "Ne'echaz ba-sevach". By the way, it is obviously now that Moshe converted into the Catholic faith not to the Russian church.

-Professor David Assaf,
Chair, Department of Jewish History
---- This sounds really explosive! It is interesting that the history of Chabad is attracting a range of non-Chabad-establishment historians of diverse backgrounds -- from the talented autodidact Shaul Shimon Deutsch (when are the rest of the volumes appearing? is his work still in progress?), through the apparently sidetracked military historian Brian Rigg (is he Jewish??? -- Tzemach has the answer) to the exotic Avrum Ehrlich (apparently a former Habadnik who now appears to be a Professor of Jewish Studies in China), and now a mainstream Israeli historian .......... No disrespect to any of them, all of whom are making excellent contributions to Jewish scholarship, but together they are the sort of crowd you might meet at, say, Seder in Chabad Thailand!! [Link is not to Chabad, but it seems just as interesting.]

Tuesday, March 22, 2005


Well I'm back... Just about, after getting bumped from my flight, spending the better part of the day in the airport, having to fly home on a seperate flight to my husband, having no Kosher meal and having to make my own way home on the tube and train. Oh well, there's a week worth of rest and relaxation forgotten already!
But it was a great week. Tenerife -- 'Europe's Carribean' -- is best known, in the UK at least, for a horrible little town called Playa de las Americas, which is a sprawl of hotels, nighclubs and yobbish British tourists, and is probably the tackiest place on earth. The rest of the island (which still belongs to Spain, and is situated off the coast of Africa, 'opposite' Morocco) is magnificent. Firstly, there's the Teide, a snow-capped volcano in the middle of the island, which last erupted in the 1700's, and which is surrounded by a lunar landscape and stunning rock formations (I'm told part of Star Wars was filmed there). We went on a great hike and I hope I'll be able to post some pictures once we've developed them. The North of the island (which is really very tiny-- it only takes a few hours to drive round the whole thing) has lots of little towns with all the authenticity and character Playa de las Americas lacks, and is completely charming. One of its towns, Puerto Cruz, has the highest 'return rate' of tourists in the entire world, according to the Rough Guide. Another town, Santa Cruz, was the site of Lord Nelson's only unsuccesful battle -- and the place where he lost his arm. You can still see 'The Tiger,' the cannon supposedly responsible, in a local museum. Another attraction is a site full of ancient pyramids, which are supposedly the 'missing link' between the ancient Egyptians and Incas. Last but not least, this side of the island also has several beaches -- some with the island's famous black sand, and one stunning white-sand beach, which reminded me, lehavdil, of Sydney's Bondi Beach (lehavdil because all this beach's sand is imported). Which brings me to the island's best attraction, namely, its weather. The Brits were wrong to fight Spain Argentina over the Falklands, they should have gone against Spain for the Canaries instead!
Anyway, back to regular blogging tomorrow. Thanks to my dad for holding the blogging fort. Good night!

List the best Purim blogs!

All readers are invited to click on 'comments' and direct Bloghead readers to the best Purim blogs - but ONLY original, funny sites - no recycled 'oldies', please!

My first nomination: - (thanks to DovBear) - this is truly hilarious. It must have taken someone hundreds of hours to put up. Look at it before it gets taken down.

Monday, March 21, 2005

This sounds like a really good idea........ (not!)

Over the last three months I have done a great deal of reading about Judaism and the origins of CHristianity, because I gave a series of six adult education lectures at my shul on the subject. Fascinating stuff, and different from my normal medieval-modern historical focus. (I did it because I've been giving a Jewish History course at the BAYT for seven years, and the subject of the origins of Christianity has consistently been the single most-requested topic.)
So I was interested to see that David Klinghoffer is publishing a new book called "why the Jews rejected Jesus". His website contains the following excited declaration:

For the first time in modern history, Klinghoffer, an Orthodox Jew, revives an ancient tradition – that of the disputation, going back to the Middle Ages – to explain the Jewish rejection of Jesus.

--- is he, or his publicist, a)ignorant b) out of their minds??????? c) both???

Next -- David Klinghoffer, an Orthodox Jew, will revive the ancient tradition of the pogrom, an exciting opportunity for direct Christian-Jewish dialogue.


In a different way, I am not at all sure that this somewhat 'in your face', unsubtle, almost daring a confrontation popular scholarship is such a good idea at all. We are a tiny, tiny group. Sometimes we seem to behave without 'sechel'.

The distaff -- as promised

Here is the promised posting** on the origin of the word ‘distaff’ – as in ‘The distaff side of Chabad’.
According to my cd-rom of the great, 20-vol Oxford English Dictionary (one of the truly great, enjoyable, fascinating works of scholarship of all time, and one of the best cd-roms available – remember next time you have a birthday) …. Distaff, meaning the female lineage of the family -- has the following derivation:

------ spinning was originally done with a distaff and spindle – the distaff being the long rod (about a meter long) on which the raw wool or flax was wound, drawn through a cleft in the top of the rod, and then twisted and wound on the spindle
------ thence ‘distaff’ became synonymous with womens’ work (often contrasted to the ‘spear’ – man’s work)
------- thence “symbolically, for the female sex, female authority or dominion; also, the female side of a family, the ‘spindle-side as opposed to the ‘spear-side’ …..
------- thence – ‘distaff side’ – the female branch of a house or family. Sample citation: 1895: Pollock and Maitland, History of English Law II 305: For a male to get a share by ‘distaff right’ [iure coli] was by no means uncommon.

The original entry is nearly two pages long. A feast!

Barry Gourary z’l, as a descendant on his mother’s side of the Schneersohn’s, was thus a distaff heir.

** see note at end of this posting.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

We get thousands of clicks .......

This posting [the cell-phone matzeivah] was somehow forwarded to a techie website, which has caused us a'spike' of 8,000 hits over the last day or so -- from all over the world, including the FSU, Japan, China etc. Some of their comments (on the tech site) are quite funny. No idea what they make of the rest of Bloghead, however. (Sorry, Nushworld! ) The photo has actually been circulating for a couple of years.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Fortunately we don't believe in science, so this can't apply to us .....

The New Scientist has an interesting report about genetic influence on religious belief (via the JTA).

Talking of clunky websites .. anyone else having Blogger problems??

Blogger / blogger dashboard is driving me mad -- difficulty loading, posts not loading properly etc etc -- anyone else having problems?

At last - a new website for the Jewish Chronicle!

The world's clunkiest website - the UK Jewish Chronicle - has been updated. The old one was totally impossible - requiring page after page of scroll-downs to get to anything. Frequently regular pages were blank, and there were several menus that, even years after its introduction, had no pages attached. The new one, at first review, frankly still seems a total mess(!) - very confusing with side menus, top menus, etc - but at least they've corrected one totally infuriating feature, which was that to read the letters, you had to click on a letter, read it, then go back to the main page etc etc etc. They also now have more than three news items visible on each page.
To understand why anyone - including me, from 6,000 miles away - bothers, you have to understand the indelible place occupied by the 'JC' in the psyche of any English Jew. The late Chaim Bermant - its most illustrious and interesting columnist, ever, and to whom this blog is proudly now related [skip this link if you looked at the wedding pix already last week] - once said that the definition of 'Who is a Jew?' in England was easy - if you read the Jewish Chronicle you were, and if you didn't, you weren't.
What made / makes the JC almost unique is its total financial independence. Unlike the US (and other) Jewish papers, it is beholden to no-one, and was restructured some years ago to ensure that it is owned by a trust that can nebver be bought out by any commercial or other interest. Of its editors, for my money the best was Geoffrey Paul, in the 1970's and early 1980's. The current editor, Ned Temko, who has been there for over a decade, is moving on. I'm not sure he ever really got the pulse of the community, and in recent years it has often been difficult to see that any of its reporters ever actually left the JC building in Furnival Street and got out into the community ......
Everyone is waiting to see who the new editor will be - as far as I know, no announcement has been made. I have a suggestion, of course -- but then I'm biased!

Hesder decision reversed - interesting numbers

The plan to integrate all hesder soldiers in the IDF into regular (as opposed to separate) units has been replaced by a smaller pilot study, according to an IDF announcement. In the JP report are some interesting statistics:


In each platoon of about 40 soldiers, a maximum of 12 hesder soldiers will be integrated, as opposed to the present situation where entire platoons are made up of hesder soldiers.
Heads of the hesder yeshivot are split on the issue of integrating their students with non-religious soldiers. Some, such as Rabbi Yuval Sherlo of the Petah Tikva yeshiva, favor integration, while others fear it will expose students to negative influences.
. . . . . . . . . . .
Hesder ranks ballooned over 50% from 810 in 1996 to 1,272 in 2003. Over the past two years numbers have grown 10% annually to about 1,500.In contrast, overall drafting of Israeli youth is falling due to dwindling birth rates and the increase in exemptions. Some 23.6% of eligible Israeli males are exempt from military service, up from 17.8% in 1991. The main increase
is due to a growth in youth seeking exemption on religious grounds. Nearly one in 10 18-year-olds receives deferments to continue studying in yeshivot.
Overall, there will be 300 fewer recruits this year compared to last year.
In a few years the numbers will decline by thousands, putting a serious dent in the army's combat requirements.

Miriam sneaks a comment from the beach .....

I think it's genuine!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Israeli arrest in Britain's biggest-ever attempted bank robbery

The Times of London reports that an arrest in Israel has been made in connection with what they describe as an attempt to perpetrate Britain's biggest ever bank robbery -- by hacking!

Extract (the link may be behind registration for some systems):

Police have foiled an audacious attempt by criminal hackers to steal £220 million from a Japanese banking group in the City, it emerged today.
A high-tech crime ring planned to use "keylogging" technology - which records every keystroke typed into computers - to gain access to Sumitomo's systems in London and transfer money electronically to ten bank accounts around the world.
But the bank's own security officers discovered the breach last October and called in the National High-Tech Crime Unit (NHTCU), which, according to a source familiar with the investigation, monitored them until arrests could be made. "They strung them along," the source said.
If the heist had been successful, it would have been Britain's biggest ever bank theft, easily dwarfing last year's £26 million Northern Bank raid in Belfast. Experts said that it would also have been the world's biggest cybercrime.
News of the attempted theft appeared in today's Financial Times after the arrest yesterday of an Israeli man whose business account had been the intended recipient of €20 million (£13.9m). The NHTCU declined to comment on the case today, although sources close to the organisation said further arrests were expected in the coming days.
Police in Israel identified the man arrested as 32-year-old Yaron Bolondi. He appeared at a Tel Aviv court this morning charged with attempted money laundering and deception and was remanded in custody for a week.

80 comments - is this bloghead record?

This posting (and I'll leave you to click and find out what it was about!) attracted 80 comments to date. Possibly a Bloghead record.
It is actually always fascinating to see which postings atract high 'Comment' numbers - I can't predict it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Israel: Transplants, organ donations, Rabbis, Doctors -- update

Excellent, informative article by Shahar Ilan in Haaretz describing the current state of play in Israel regarding halakhic-medical definition-of-death debates and the consequences for organ donation / transplants in Israel. It seems as though -- as in most things -- resolution depends on trust and on relationships.
Israel does not have a great reputation in the organ donation field; reticence about donations means that the demand far outstrips the supply, occasionally creating ugly situations.

  • While young Miriam and Danny are sunning in Tenerife, most of the time all I can do is point to interesting stuff rather than go into long Shaviv-type exegeses and discussions. I do plan, however, to post on the origins of the word 'distaff', which popped up from unknown depths of my memory to feature in a recent posting, and which has occasioned a couple of (off-line) queries ....

For once I agree with Lily Galili

Commenting on the opening ceremonies for the new Yad Vashem, Haaretz journalist Lily Galili - a lady of feisty and usually somewhat eyebrow-raising views -- concludes her article:

"Jerusalem was under siege yesterday because of the unusual number of foreign dignitaries, a number not seen in Jerusalem since the funeral of Yitzhak Rabin, some said with satisfaction. But it was a sad happiness, it should be said. It would have been so much nicer to have seen them all here for a happier occasion."

--- agreed.

The distaff side of the Chabad dynasty

The passing of Barry Gourary, nephew of the the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe (M.M. Schneersohn z'l) and the only grandson of the 6th Lubavitcher Rebbe z'l (Y.Y. Schneersohn z'l), is a time to reflect on the dynastic struggles in Chabad. As Tsemach Atlas, Shmarya and others relate, Barry could have been the seventh Rebbe (see Tsemach's 'Update #2' on his posting for a series of links). Instead, as result of feuding at the time of the passing of the 6th Rebbe, he and his mother were permanently sidelined out of the Chabad court. He entered public profile again at the time of the lawsuit over the Rebbe's library - where the Judge, if I remember correctly, was Reinhold Niebuhr's daughter's former husband, and Rabbi Louis Jacobs, long anathemized by the Orthodox establishment in the UK, appeared as an expert witness on Hasidic lore for Chabad. (Seeking to discredit him, Barry's attorney asked him if it was true that he had been rejected by Britain's then Chief Rabbi as the 'Head of Jews College in Oxford' on grounds of theological unsuitability. Rabbi Jacobs was able to answer in the negative and avoid the challenge to his credibility - not because the relationship with the Chief Rabbi had been incorrectly described, but because Jews' College was in London!)
Anyway, the point of this posting is to ask for some info: Years ago, I was told by an impeccable source that the reason why the 'Mittler Rebbe' was so called was not because he came betweeen the first and third Rebbes, but because he was the middle son of the Baal Hatanya, and the eldest son had become a Russian Orthodox priest. At one time I saw a photo that was apparently of the apostate son's gravestone in a Russian Orthodox cemetery. I have only ever seen sparse references to this son in print.
Can anyone give comprehensive information??? References ????

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

"Eitzah Toivah" -- good advice for international visitors to the Yad Vashem opening

David Horowitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, has some excellent and pointed advice for the international statesmen (statespeople?) and visitors in Jerusalem for the opening of the new Yad Vashem Museum. BTW, I was fascinated to read (somewhere - Haaretz, I think) that Kofi Annan's wife is the niece of Raoul Wallenberg ..... I am still waiting to hear what KA says at the ceremony.

Tenerife / Toronto

Miriam departs for Tenerife. Dad is left holding the fort from Toronto - (don't be misled by the symbols - look at the temperatures!)

What is the difference between Mozart and Yeedle Werdyger?

The Jewish blogosphere is steaming over the discovery by Pravda Ne'eman that Yeted Ne'eman quoted a KKK/racist publication ....... in an article posted in OCTOBER 2003!! It is, of course. disgusting, and sad. (In parenthesis, the editor of Pravda Ne'eman should go get a life rather than spend his (?her) time reading back issues of Yeted Neeman.)

However, relate for a moment to both the quote itself and to the subject of the Yeted article -- the banal and tiresome level of music at (some) frum weddings. Look at the fact that Yeted can quote from a KKK publication (and then defend the quote, apparently, in equally offensive ways) and simultaneously complain about the low cultural standard in their own community.

Both are actually products of THE SAME PHENOMENON -- lack of basic education and culture in wide sections of the Haredi community, meaning that they lack the tools to discriminate / discern between any levels of culture. Putting it another way -- if you don't teach history or literature, your children cannot tell (or appreciate) the difference between a KKK paper and the New York Times; and if you don't teach music, they cannot tell (or appreciate) the difference between Mozart and Yeedle Werdyger.

In fact, this point was made decades ago in a really important, and prescient, article* by Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. In Tradition, some time in the late 1960's (??) he wrote an article called 'The greening of American Orthodoxy', in which he pointed out precisely that the lack of cultural sophistication in the Orthodox community, a result of the negative attitude towards general education and culture, led to a general 'dumbing down' of standards - in which the cheapest and most meretricious products of mass culture, because the most easily accessible, were the ones which penetrated Haredi society. The rejection of education thus led to exactly the oppposite result of what was intended.

Rabbi Luft - if you want to raise the level of music at frum weddings - start teaching serious music appreciation in your schools.

* all the rest of this paragraph is from memory. If anyone can correct my memory, or, even better, find the article on-line, I'd be grateful. It was the first time I came across Yitz Greenberg. He was decades ahead of his time, then and now.

Sorry -- Comments have disappeared! Feel free -- Zev and Anonymous - to re-comment

Monday, March 14, 2005

See you...

Off to sunnier climes for a week, and probably will not have Internet access... Back on Wednesday 23rd.
Have a good week!

Princeton unbecoming?

While our eyes are on the Columbia University Middle East Studies controversy, another row is brewing at Princeton, where a popular and centrist/right-wing Near Eastern Studies professor, Michael Doran, has been denied tenure, and professors and students are lobbying hard for/against. The University apparently claims it chose to defer his consideration because he was invited to serve as the chairman of a new program at Brandeis, although he declined the offer. NRO's take:

[H]is presence serves as a symbol of Princeton's resistance to the post-modernization — and with it, the politicization — of its Middle East studies. The fact that he is not only a serious and right-leaning scholar but also a popular and influential one means that, if he sticks around, Princeton will be even less likely to succumb to trendy approaches in lieu of rigorous scholarship. As Martin Kramer puts it, "The attack on [Doran] comes from the very far-left 'popular front' that has squelched diversity in Middle Eastern studies for the last 20 years. They'd like every place to be a Columbia or NYU or Berkeley — they regard the existence of even one pocket of diversity as a mortal threat." (Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi's recent decision to apply for a position at Princeton's Transregional Institute suggests the battle may have just been ratcheted up a notch.)

Essential background here.
It's hard to tell from this distance whether these specific allegations in the Doran case have any validity or not (can anyone report from the ground?) -- although it is clear that university campuses and Middle East-related depts. are, in general, under increasing pressure to conform to a political position on the Middle East which is more extreme than the PLO's... Watch for further developments.


For some reason the number of comments on each post isn't being properly displayed today. In other words, posts which say '0 comments' might actually have some there; you can't see when comments have been updated by the number displayed. Blogger!

Photo caption contest

Posted by Hello

My best effort: 'A Grave Mistake'

(Via Nushworld)

We won't take Manhattan, already taken Berlin

According to YNet, Israeli authors are much more successful in Europe, and particularly in Germany, than in the US:
[Independent literary agent Deborah] Harris says authors such as David Grossman and Meir Shalev, who sell more than 100,000 copies in Israel and 20,000-30,000 copies of their works in Europe, rarely pass the 5,000-copy mark in the U.S....
Matthew Miller, owner of Toby Press in Jerusalem, says Germany is probably the single largest market for Israeli literature, along with Italy and France, but America is weak...
Harris says the European market is receptive to a wide array of Israeli writers, not only to the big names.
"Look at Zeruya Shalev, who is a major success in Germany; she's a sensation," she says. "Look at Etgar Keret and Batya Gur; both do very well in Germany."
Most of the article is about why Americans are less interested in Israeli literature -- suggestions include that statistically, they're not particularly interested in any foreign literature, are perhaps more insular, and already have a strong tradition of Jewish literature of their own. Fair enough. The only real explanation offered as to why Europeans buy Israeli lit., however, is that they have more 'sophisticated' literary tastes, and the top Israeli writers are quite highbrow. It doesn't seem to fully explain, however, why a continent which is supposed to be so hostile to things Israeli enjoys their books so much. Anyone?

A headline of her own

This weekend feature in the Jerusalem Post, about how difficult women ordained by the Conservative movement in Israel are finding it to be accepted as community rabbis, really must be read in conjunction with this JTA article. Apparently, 20 years after the first Conservative women rabbis were ordained in the States, a woman has finally been hired as rabbi of a community with more than 500 families.
“We see this as groundbreaking,” said Rabbi Perry Raphael Rank, president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s rabbinical arm.
“It’s groundbreaking from the perspective that we have been talking about a glass ceiling, and she has broken that glass ceiling and risen to a much larger congregation than women have risen to until this point,” said, Rank, who is the spiritual leader of Midway Jewish Center in Syosset, N.Y.
Puts difficulties in Israel into perspective.
Incidentally, the JPost really must find a new headline writer. This week's feature was 'A pulpit of her own'; last week they had, 'A Gemara of her own.' Some creativity, please!

Political / cultural debate over the new Yad Vashem museum.

Haaretz gives interesting background to the opening this week of the new museum at Yad Vashem.
The article seems to me to be correct in many of its observations. In the 1980's I had some contact with the Yad Vashem Board of Governors. It was a depressing experience. The original founding legislation of Yad Vashem had provided for the Board of Governors to be composed mainly of representatives of various Partisan and Survivor organisations - exceptional men and women. No-one thought ahead and planned for what would happen when, with the passing of time, they became of more advanced age. By the end of the 1980's, the Board was extremely elderly and unable to deal with the changing demands on the institution. For some reason it was starved of funds - the archive was crumbling away in a totally un-airconditioned/uncontrolled environment; the photo archive was deteriorating; and there was one person working on conservation. Only the opening of the US Holocaust Museum caused someone to wake up, and the new Director, Avner Shalev, has revolutionized the institution. Kol hakavod. (Interestingly, I can't find any reference to the Governing Body on its website...)
The other interesting fact about Yad Vashem I learned from an offprint of an article written by an engaging character called Mooli Brog, who was a shaliach in Montreal. Mooli wrote about the founding of Yad Vashem, and the argument over where it should be located. One 'almost' was on Mt. Carmel, near Haifa. The eventual location in Jerusalem was chosen because of the ambivalence (then) in Israel of giving the Holocaust a national profile, and the feeling that Jerusalem was suitable since in the eyes of the Israeli establishment of the early 1950's it was something of a religious backwater, and identified as a sort of relic of the Diaspora which happened to be within the State ......
Finally, I am waiting to hear what Kofi Annan says at the opening ceremony. Interesting that he's going at all.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Indulge me for a moment while I talk about... rats

One of the unexpected consequences of spending the last few years in Jerusalem has been a terrible fear of... rats.
Yes, rats. It's the Holy City's dirty little secret: it's rat infested. And whilst they say you're never more than 15m. away from a rat in London, and that North America has more rats than human beings, Jerusalem is the only city I've ever lived in where I've been really aware of rats everywhere. 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 8 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.
So I was happy to discover that apparently, they weren't just picking on me:
Zohar, from Bayit Vegan, recalls how a huge gray rat ran into her home one evening, when her husband left the front door open as he went to throw out the trash.
"I was able to trap the rat, but we couldn't catch it. All night I heard it having a party in the bedroom and I got a good look at it through the glass door was when it jumped on my husband's robe," she says.
David Arenson had a rat encounter on Palmach Street.
"I was walking up the stairs in my apartment block when suddenly two big rats came down the stairs," he recalls. "One ran over my friend's shoes. Then they ended up running down the bannister, and disappearing out of sight"...
Jerusalem provides a very hospitable and welcoming environment, if you're a rat. After all, there are frequent garbage strikes and many open municipal dumps, which, unlike garbage containers, do not have lids. And even those garbage bins that do have covers are often left open, stuffed to overflowing with household waste.... According to many Jerusalemites the number of rats is increasing. Most people attribute it to the constant digging and redigging for the light rail, which has exposed drainage and sewage pipes.
Yuck, yuck, yuck. At least London's rats are out of sight, out of mind.
Incidentally, according to the article, "some believe 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." Anyone ever heard of this?

Friday, March 11, 2005


Israeli troops are now sporting gear that Dick Tracy might envy: tiny video screens, worn on the wrist, that display video shot by unmanned airplanes....
Military drones have been used by Israel since the early 1980s. But until recently, the information they gathered was sent to a ground command center that interpreted it and then shared it with forces in the field. The Tadiran systems allow the information to be received instantly by the various forces, company officials said.
Hanan Ashrawi -- who hasn't been asked for a quote from anyone since 2002 -- trotted out the usual lying (and perhaps unwittingly punny) cliche:
"Nobody doubts Israelis can develop these weapons," she said. "But is this the kind of sophistication they need against defenseless people? It seems like a case of overkill."
Well, what else could the poor woman say? Congratulations?


Thursday, March 10, 2005

More Siyum Hashas pictures

Posted by Hello

Mentalblog asks: Is this Mechitza in the record books?

Now we've done women's Aliyot, on to Women's Tefilla Groups

For all those Bloghead readers who are clearly itching to write about WTGs, here's your thread. Out of Step Jew -- who on most issues seems to be very much in step with at least one other Jew, me -- has announced the grand opening of his local Women's Tefillah Group, in Kfar Saba. Please follow his links, and read this too; he explains his reasons for supporting women's tefillah groups very clearly.
It is so refreshing to hear an Orthodox male voice in the Jewish blogosphere taking up what is traditionally, and wrongly, regarded as a 'female' issue. It is similarly refreshing to hear a male voice that doesn't treat this issue as some dry halachic exercise, as I'm afraid the men in the thread below did, but who understands this involves real human beings with genuine needs, emotions and intentions, and shows some sympathy (something you can do even if you disagree with these women, incidentally -- and something which seemed sorely lacking from the rather condescending and brusque men in the Bloghead thread). Most of all, it is refreshing to hear a man who understands these women are not the enemies, but your wives, sisters, daughters and neighbors, whose spiritual welfare should be your concern as well. Thank you, OOSJ.

You read it here first....

The Forward this week includes two stories which may sound familiar to Bloghead readers...
  • More Mikveh -- not only is there a blog, soon there'll be a play too -- although the Israelis have actually beaten them to it
  • The Klingon/Jewish wedding of the (24th) century -- some revalations from the authors:
    At the end of the ceremony, Khor stomps on the glass.
    "There was some discussion" about the breaking of the glass, [author] Hauman said. "It's supposed to be about the destruction of the Temple, and... we weren't sure whether the Temple would be rebuilt in the 24th century."
    The writers finally decided that the breaking of the glass has taken on many more meanings within Judaism, and the tradition would endure — rebuilt Temple or not.


Rumor has it that Azure, the Shalem Center's highbrow quarterly journal, will launch an upgraded, newly-designed Internet site next month.

Changes / trends in Haredi society in Israel

Posted by Shmuel Himelstein on Mail-jewish Vol 47 #21:
Yediot Acharonot of 8 March carried two items of interest in the Jewish realm:
  • R' Vozner, one of the leading Poskim in Bnei Brak, ruled that if anyone sells caps or fireworks, one is permitted to report him to the police because of the dangers of these products.
  • A seminar was held on Charedim in Israel, and the findings are veryinteresting, including the following:
a. There are no fewer than 40 Charedi papers in the country
b. At least 12 health clubs for Charedi women were opened in the last year
c. 36% of Charedi families went on vacation in the last year
d. 82% of the families have at least one cellular phone, but unlike the other groups, these phones are not given to young people.
e. Between 20-25% of all food sold now has a Mehadrin Hechsher. One of the reasons for this is that non-religious people often buy at Charedi supermarkets, which are cheaper. Further, of the National Religious stream, 45% can be classified as "Chardal," or "Chareidi Dati Leumi,"whose food buying patterns are like those of the Charedim.
f. The percentage of men in the "Litvak" stream learning full time hasgone down from 60% a few years ago to 30% today.
g. In the next ten years they expect a massive entry of Charedim intothe job market, including jobs which require academic degrees.
h. 55% of families have a home computer
My (PJS) instant gotta-get-out-to-work analysis of this is that the gap between the 'public' and the 'real' character of Haredi society is widening. The public demonstrations of a) control (Slifkin etc) and b) conformity (?? Siyyum Ha Shass) are the louder precisely because the reality is drifting in the opposite direction...

Jews, Cocaine and Courage on Bathurst Street

A follow-up column in the Canadian Jewish News by Avrum Rosenzweig - "Jews, cocaine and courage" - takes up some of the issues about substance abuse in the Toronto Jewish community he raised in his previous, much-copied and circulated column.
This week he is more direct:
"Zalman Goldberg, a professional with JACS Toronto (Jewish Alcoholics, Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others) recently spoke at a fundraiser for the organization. In his speech, he said: “Two years ago the city of Toronto was hit with a terrible tragedy. An upstanding member of the community was brutally taken from us in his prime…no matter what we tell ourselves… no matter what we wish to believe, he was murdered by a drug-addicted youth who was at Lawrence and Bathurst looking to buy drugs from our kids." [My emphasis - PS]

Can't put it more directly than that.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The end of Shabot

In honor of the new series of Dr. Who, the first episode of which is already online...

Only Simchas weirdness

Would you name your baby boy 'Aspaklaria'? Even temporarily?

UPDATE: Mystery solved. The baby's father is apparently in a band called Aspaklaria. Close call for the kid...

IRA's idea of good PR

If President Bush really wants to make war against terrorists, and not just against Islamic terrorists, here's a case he should be taking on. In the last few weeks, the IRA has shown conclusively that it is no partner in the peace process and that bringing Sinn Fein into the democratic process has not tamed it. Just before Christmas, the IRA carried out the largest bank robbery in British history; last month, some of its members stabbed to death a fellow Catholic after a pub brawl. Today, the IRA officially announced that it found the killers -- and is willing to shoot them if the family of the murder victim so desired!! That this organization, which is officially supposed to be 'disarming' as part of the peace agreement, could come out with such a statement and expect it to be well-received is simply mind-boggling. Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams is due to begin a speaking tour in the US mid-March. A good symbolic start would be for President Bush to cancel this terrorist and thug's visa.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Only in America

Posted by Hello

UPDATE: More than you probably ever wanted to know about this picture.

Latest new Jewish dating site

here. Looks like it's still under construction.

WJC revisited

Following my post about the WJC last week, I've had an email from a reader defending the WJC's honesty, arguing that the media has not covered the controversy either fairly or adequately, and wondering whether Herbits's controversial comments were perhaps the result of sheer frustration that after four internal audits and a long document explaining the issues under discussion, he is still discussing and defending the same points.
I agree that the media has not adequately covered the WJC's side of the story, if at all, and refer readers to the WJC's lengthy report on the issue, to be found here. Whilst even the short version comes in over 100 pages, it's not hard to follow and is an essential, and under-reported part of the story. Please check it out.

More YNet, if you so desire

In the month or so since YNet-English launched, it's had some fun stories, but overall has not had enough new material every day, and has not been fast-moving enough, to seriously rival either the Jerusalem Post website or Ha'aretz Online. The good news for all those who were excited about getting access to Israel's largest paper, however, is that YNet's Hebrew edition briefly posted an announcement today that it will shortly drop the registration fee for its overseas readers. 'Bout time.

This is what happens when decisions are not made on a purely professional basis

Zvi Hefetz was never a popular choice for Israeli ambassador to the UK. He had little/no experience, inadequate English, and was clearly only being appointed because of his personal ties to Ariel and Omri Sharon. The British Jews didn't want him, and many Israelis were astonished that Israel would send such an amateur to one of the most important diplomatic posts in the world.
And now, there are serious rumors that he has been involved in a major money-laundering scandal in Israel. One of the major suspects in the case is Russian-Israeli businessman Vladimir Gusinsky, and before Hefetz left for London a few short months ago, he represented Gusinsky locally. According to Ha'aretz, the Police say Hefetz will be questioned.
At the moment, Hefetz's involvement is only speculation, and he denies any involvement. Let's hope he's telling the truth, because should it emerge that Israel has sent a crooked ambassador to the court of St. James, it will be a total embarrassment internationally, a total insult to the local Jewish community and to the Brits, and destroy Israel's claims to be taking its hasbara seriously in one fell swoop. As it is, should it be proven that Gusinsky was involved in such criminal activity (money-laundering is, incidentally, has been a major problem in Israel for years and the country was, as a result, on the Financial Action Task Force blacklist as recently as 2002), Hefetz's proximity will not look good.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Triumph of style over taste

According to Jewsweek, 'Queen of Kosher' Susie Fishbein's new cookbook, Kosher by Design Entertains,
has already exhausted it's (sic) initial printing of 30,000 -- all in only its first week of release. A second printing of an additional 20,000 copies have (sic) already begun.
If so, I find this extremely surprising. Kosher by Design was ambitious, beautiful, modern, and did set new standards for Kosher cookbooks. It didn't, however, do much for Jewish food. Let's be honest -- the recipes didn't hold a candle to the vastly superior Kosher Palette. Too many of them either didn't work very well, took too long to prepare or involved ingredients which were too obscure. I guess when you've already sold 30,000 copies one less won't make much difference, but I for one will not be buying a copy of the new book.

'Your taxes at work'

The Israeli newspapers have come out with their annual review of how MKs have spent their budgets meant for "public outreach." Predictably, many of the items are only tangentially connected to public outreach, and include satellite navigation devices, wedding presents, bar-mitzvah celebrations, psychological tests for their assistants, computers and Palm Pilots, espresso machines, mini-bars and refrigerators, a 'cup cleaning service' and carpet cleaning bills. The most puzzling items, however, come from MK Chaim Ramon, who spent NIS 289 on 'an injection kit,' and NIS 854 on 'handcuffs and twine.' What the...?

Etymology corner

Mentalblog on the surprising, Middle Eastern origins of the word 'assassin.' See also here and here.

A moment of schadenfreude

Britain's most evil man, arch-terrorist Abu Hamza, has been attacked in jail by another inmate.
Obviously, as much as I detest Abu Hamza (who has been charged, amongst other things, with inciting murder of Jews), I believe that he should be dealt with fairly through the legal system and that prison authorities must protect him from vigilante action.
Nevertheless, allow me a moment of schadenfreude. According to this Sun editorial*, Abu Hamza, supposedly one of the most ruthless men on the planet, has reacted to recent threats against him by prison inmates by... crying himself to sleep every night.
I don't believe it, but it's a nice thought.

*Can't find the original article, but it's referenced again in the Sun's report -- not fully online -- of yesterday's attack.

New blog / Google group: "Isaiah B"

As an act of homage to the late Isaiah Berlin, I note the creation of a new Google-group named after him, and dedicated, apparently, to discussion of secular Jewish issues in his spirit. The Google-group access and registration - if you wan to join and contribute - seem to be very cumbersome.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

What's the matter with these people???

Just came back from an absolutely beautiful wedding -- beautiful, that is, in all aspects but one. It started with the rabbi, who under the Chuppah talked about 'good things being worth the wait,' and rehashed this point for a good three minutes. Cringe. It continued with the mother of the bride, who thanked the groom for finally taking the bride off her hands, and went on about just how long she'd had to wait for this moment. Cringe, cringe. It ended with the best man talking about the groom's long bachelorhood and going on about how no one thought they'd ever seen him under the Chuppah. By this point, although this was typical best man fare -- Cringe, cringe, cringe.
The groom was 39, the bride was 36. I, and many people in the room could not help but feel aghast that at the moment of their simcha, when they were celebrating one of the happiest moments in their life, the time it took them to get there was still being rubbed in their faces. Not to mention, just how insensitive this was towards the many singles in the room, who were also in their late 30s and perhaps even older.
If this is what this couple was subjected to after they'd actually tied the knot, I dread to think what they must have gone through as singles. Is this kind of pressure really helpful???

Women's Aliyot -- come soon to a synagogue near you?

Biur Chametz reports from a recent meeting at the Orthodox Kehillat Yedidya in Jerusalem, in which congregants discussed the practice of giving women Aliyot to the Torah, as already happens at Shira Chadasha down the road, with a view to perhaps adopting it.
Both speakers, R. Prof. Daniel Sperber and R. Yehuda Henkin, agreed that giving women Aliyot was, in theory, permissable. Where they disagreed, however, was whether this was a good idea in practice. As R. Henkin has previously written:
Regardless of the arguments that can be proffered to permit women's aliyyot today... women's aliyyot remain outside the consensus, and a congregation that institutes them is not Orthodox in name and will not long remain Orthodox in
practice. In my judgement, this is an accurate statement now and for the foreseeable future, and I see no point in arguing about it.
This puts the congregation in something of a catch-22. They can't give women aliyot because it's outside the consensus. It won't become part of the consensus, however, as long as no one does it.
The answer, of course, is for congregations who are interested in giving women aliyot to simply go ahead and do so. According to R. Henkin, they are not breaking halacha, merely breaking a sociological code. By doing so, however, they will be setting 'facts on the ground' and helping change that sociological code -- just as the first women to hold megillah readings changed a consensus, and the first women to study Talmud changed a consensus, etc.
This is best explained by Tamar Ross in her new(ish) book Expanding the Palace of Torah, in which she explicitely brings the Henkin/Shapiro/women's Aliyot example -- p. 179:
If several individuals share Shapiro's interpretation of the sources and are willing to act upon it privately, and if this practice become intelligible to the wider halackhic community, quite possibly the practice will eventually be accepted, at the very least, as a tolerable variation of the mainstream view. Such a view of halakhic development conforms completely with the optimistic belief of R. Kook that if the urge for a particular halakhic innovation becomes widespread, no doubt the additional necessary factors for its acceptance (a genuinely conceived interpretation and institutional approval) will be forthcoming. This comes alongside his warning against wholesale adoption of the innovation before the rest of the community is ready for it. Until that time, nothing is to stop individuals from privately assuming such standards for themselves, though imposing them on the public at large could only cause harm.
Ross, of course, is not advocating exactly what I did above; When she says 'privately,' she is keeping in line with R. Henkin's ultimate ruling that women can receive "an occasional aliya'... in a private minyan of men held on Shabbat in a home and not in a synagogue." I, however, don't see why an entire congregation which shares Shapiro's interpretation of the sources and is willing to act upon it, but happens to be situated in a synagogue, is much different. Either women receiving aliyot is halachic or it's not. Telling people that if they go ahead in a synagogue (but not in a private home...) they will fall outside the consensus is perhaps a warning of the sociological consequences -- but not halachic advice.
In any case, to my mind, changing the halachic landscape through 'self-determination' is not an adequate/systematic solution to the question of women and Orthodoxy, because it is simply too slow; change on this basis will take generations. At the moment, however, in many cases it's all we have, and much better than nothing. Biur, please keep us updated on events at Kehillat Yedidya!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

How Hizbullah almost liberated Wales

The London Times ran a strange, quirky feature yesterday by BBC correspondent Phil Rees, recounting his meals with various terrorists over the years and ranking their cuisine (he gives thumbs up to Algeria's Islamic Salvation Army and the Basque seperatists; Islamist terrorists are hopeless unless their meals are cooked by women; he doesn't rank the IRA because all his meals with them have been liquid...).
The very idea of this article, which trivializes terrorism and terrorists, makes me extremely uncomfortable, and indeed, the author seems to be suffering from a variation of Stockholm Syndrome. After so many meals with terrorists, he will only use the word terrorist with quotation marks, and explains, "I witnessed the personal side of men described in official news reports as mindless killers. The label of “terrorist” is used to demonise political foes." Remember, this is a BBC correspondent -- although this doesn't excuse the Times.
Nonetheless, if you can get over such comments, there was one rather amusing anecdote which bears repeating, from the correspondent's 1993 meal with Hizbullah (ranked no. 6 in the terrorist cuisine tables):
There have been occasions when I was gasping for a beer. During a meal with Hezbollah “terrorists” in Lebanon, a mullah spent nearly an hour lecturing me on Britain’s colonial misdeeds in the Middle East. The table was less than 2ft off the ground and about a dozen fighters were kneeling on the floor; I cannot kneel for long and had to sit cross-legged. A plastic cloth had been placed over the table and men with beards brought in a spread of mezze, including tahina, a sesame dip, and baba ghanouj, an aubergine paste flavoured with lemon and parsley. It was eaten with thin, flat bread that had burnt in places.
While the mezze was appetising, there was little bonhomie. The guerrillas stared as I scooped each mouthful of mezze with my bread. The mullah repeatedly used the Arabic word Inglizi to describe me and after a while I interrupted his monologue by declaring that I am Welsh. In a playful manner, I said that Wales had been colonised by the English for nearly 500 years, much longer than the Israelis or anyone else had occupied Arab lands.
The mullah fell silent before asking: “Do you have a Resistance?” I replied that some Welsh nationalists had burnt holiday homes owned by English families. The mullah seemed pleased but hinted that that was not enough. He suddenly asked: “Do you need any military assistance?”
Rees concludes that once the group believed he belonged to an “oppressed” nation, they warmed to him and the main course (greasy mutton kebabs) arrived. With all the upheaval in the Middle East at the moment, however, perhaps the Brits still better watch out...

Friday, March 04, 2005

I hope they said Hagomel

An American bomb squad in Iraq finds this:

'01 Call Missed' Posted by Hello

Full explanation here.

Beats a paper round...

An Orthodox shul in Milwaukee is offering students $150 bribes -- sorry, that is, "scholarships" -- to attend Friday night services, dinner and discussion.
“A few people have questioned it,” Lake Park Synagogue Rabbi Shlomo Levin said of the stipend. “One student actually told me he felt uncomfortable and would come even if there were no payment. I said, ‘You tell me what charity you want to donate it to.’”
Curiously, he neglects to mention how the student responded. I wonder why.

I'll drink to that!

Now that it's taken a stand on Kiddish Clubs, the OU is going after teenage drinking on Purim.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Beeb issues a 'correction'

A couple of years ago, CNN was forced to fly Eason Jordan into Israel to apologize for giving air time to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. The network earned widespread condemnation by broadcasting less than a minute of an extensive interview with the wounded Israeli woman who lost her mother and daughter in an attack in Petah Tikva, and then spending several minutes talking about the plight of the suicide bomber's mother.
The BBC, it turns out, hasn't learned CNN's lesson. According to its very own website,
The BBC has issued a correction over its coverage of the aftermath of a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.... [D]ozens of people have contacted the BBC to complain about a related news item on Sunday's Breakfast programme on BBC One.
It showed footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning but failed to show any footage of victims' families to balance the report....
In response, head of BBC television news Roger Mosey said: "The programme editors and I agree it was inappropriate to begin the report with footage of the suicide bomber's family in mourning.
"It was also inappropriate to include this footage without coverage of the suffering of the victims' families.
"Using this picture sequence in this way was a mistake. However, the report's coverage of the political ramifications of the bombing and this week's London conference was balanced and fair - and we did, of course, report fully the events in Tel Aviv in our bulletins on Friday night and Saturday."
Unfortunately, reporting the 'political ramifications' of a peace conference has nowhere near the impact on viewers as footage of a family in mourning.
In addition, what's the deal with the 'correction'? Surely an apology is in order!

'We're wrong' seem to be the hardest words

Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian (and also of the UK's Jewish Chronicle) admits that perhaps, just perhaps, the recent moves towards more democracy in the Arab world are a positive result of President Bush's Iraq war:
This leaves opponents of the Iraq war in a tricky position... Not only did we set our face against a military adventure which seems, even if indirectly, to have triggered a series of potentially welcome side effects; we also stood against the wider world-view that George Bush represented. What should we say now?
First, we ought to admit that the dark cloud of the Iraq war may have carried a silver lining. We can still argue that the war was wrong-headed, illegal, deceitful and too costly of human lives - and that its most important gain, the removal of Saddam, could have been achieved by other means. But we should be big enough to concede that it could yet have at least one good outcome. Second, we have to say that the call for freedom throughout the Arab and Muslim world is a sound and just one - even if it is a Bush slogan and arguably code for the installation of malleable regimes. Put starkly, we cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of opposing democracy in the Middle East simply because Bush and Blair are calling for it. Sometimes your enemy's enemy is not your friend.
In this, Freedland goes a helluva lot further than most people on the Left, who often can't bear to admit that anything good has come out of the war in Iraq at all, and at times seem almost to be rooting for America's failure, out of sheer spite. He still seems incapable of admitting that perhaps Bush and Blair's actual intentions were good (not merely the incidental side-effects), and that perhaps they were actually right that there were more important, and better strategies for the region than stability. But the cracks in the Leftist opposition to the war are beginning to show.