Friday, December 30, 2005

How is the Kinneret doing this year?

You can check via this graphic daily update on the level of the Kinneret.

British Jewry's 'greatest ever' Jew: Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs

A poll initiated by the Jewish Chronicle (no link because it is accessible by subscription only) on the occasion of the 350th Anniversary of the Readmission of the Jews to England , asked readers to nominate and vote on the "Greatest British Jew of all time".

Results were:


1 Rabbi Dr Louis Jacobs,
leader of the Masorti community

2 Sir Moses Montefiore, 19th-century
philanthropist and Jewish communal leader who campaigned tirelessly for Jews at
home and abroad

3 Rabbi Hugo Gryn, Holocaust survivor and broadcaster
who until his death in 1996 was rabbi at the Reform community’s West London
Synagogue near Marble Arch

4 Ernst Chain, biochemist who was awarded the
Nobel prize for his work in developing penicillin

5 Rosalind Franklin,
20th-century physicist who researched DNA and the double helix

Benjamin Disraeli, 19th-century Prime Minister regarded as Jewish even though
his father had him baptised"

(List is courtesy of 'The Times', which ran a good article on the contest and its results)

In an Editorial, the 'JC' comments on the fact that it is interesting that Rabbi Jacobs - a very Jewish Jew, and one whose contribution to Anglo-Jewry has been purely religious, scholarly and intellectual - was the winner.

Rabbi Jacobs is without doubt the most versatile scholar ever produced by British Jewry, having published extensively on almost every field of Jewish learning. Despite his pariah status in Britain's Orthodox community (in that, although not in his theology, he was an early Slifkin), in the famous Lubavitch lawsuit over the Sixth Rebbe's library (did it belong to the Chasidim or to the family?), Louis Jacobs was the expert witness called by Chabad to testify about Hasidic doctrine.

It should give pause for thought that despite the fact that Britain's synagogue membership is still overwhelmingly Orthodox (whatever that means in the UK), no Orthodox figure appears on the list, apart from Moses Montefiore. His place on the list is almost certainly due to his communal leadership rather than his private practices. Altogether, the list is perhaps surprisingly literate - perhaps another indicator of change in Anglo-Jewry?

Anyway - congratulations to Louis Jacobs!

  • Some things never change, however - the official website of the anniversary of the 'Resettlement' is, frankly, pathetic. How about including - just a suggestion - some INFORMATION ON THE RESETTLEMENT ?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Christmas content

Some worthwhile seasonal pieces from last year:

David Patterson z'l

Professor DavidPatterson, the founder of the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies (later renamed the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies) passed away in Oxford on December 10, aged 83.

David loved Hebrew and Hebrew literature, and was perhaps the last surviving Hebrew maskil in the UK. He had a distinguished academic output in the field of early Hebrew literature. However, his lifetime achievement was in founding the Oxford centre. Unlike the USA, there was virtually no significant academic presence of Jewish Studies or Hebrew in UK universities. In both Oxford and Cambridge the residual Christian theological influence on academe had restricted Jewish Studies to a Hebraic subset of Biblical studies. The most famous Oxford figure, Cecil Roth, was actually a junior professor ("Reader", in Oxbridge language), and, apparently because of his most prickly personality, a marginalised figure in the intellectual life of the University. In addition, his emphasis on a marginal subject (Anglo-Jewish history) meant that there was no representation of Jewish religious, cultural or political thought in the University. The founding of the Middle Eastern Centre of St. Anthony's College in 1957 created a major centre in the University that exerted a huge influence on the perception of the Middle East in English diplomatic, research and academic circles.

David determined to create a major centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the University. His personal charm and self-effacing, but determined manner allowed him to overcome the natural Philistinism of the Anglo-Jewish community (most of whom to this day are blissfully disdainful of Jewish scholarship), and he raised funds to launch his project. The University gave the centre academic recognition, although it would not commit to funding it. In 1972 the Centre opened in a small house in central Oxford. Within a couple of years David persuaded the Wolfson Foundation to purchase Yarnton Manor, a stunningly beautiful C16 English manor house a few miles north of Oxford. Over the years Yarnton and its outbuildings were renovated, and a huge library, (originally based on the collection of the Israeli journalist Getzel Kressel) was assembled. Accomodation for visiting Fellows was provided, and Yarnton became an international centre for research and teaching, especially (but not only) in Hebrew literature, Dead Sea Scrolls research and Yiddish (utilizing the considerable, and hitherto ignored early Yiddish holdings of the Bodleian library).

David was a gentleman. Yehi zichro baruch.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Frummish LW MO - at 56, can you be more mixed up than that?

The 'Orthodoxy test' bouncing around the blogosphere defined me as "LW Modern Orthodox". I was a little reticent to post that, as I have enough trouble with labels, let alone my increasingly heretical views, to add to the tsimmes. BUT I then took Mirty's "Off the Derech Test' which categorized me as 'Frummish - you're still frum at heart'.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Jews for Jesus sue

Jews for Jesus is suing Google / blogger over, run by somone critical of the organisation, saying that it infringes their trademark. (The blogger, incidentally, calls him/herself "Whistle blower," but seems to have no connection to Jewishwhistleblower -- for one, they can write a straight sentence).
I was surprised to learn that JfJ had a trademark at all; however, a quick Google search shows that they have acted to protect their trademark on the net before (and won). What's weird here is that the blog in question posted exacty three times between Jan-May 2005 and has been neglected ever since. From this point of view, even if they are desperate to open their own blog under that specific address (although a JfJ-run blog with a similar address or on another domain would instantly overtake the blogspot blog on every search engine and ranking), the action doesn't seem to be worth JfJ's trouble. It certainly calls far, far, far more attention to the site than it would have ever received otherwise and makes it a forum for anti-JfJ comments it would never have been otherwise.
I am no lawyer so perhaps a knowledgeable Bloghead reader can fill us in on whether they actually have a case or not. Personally, the whole thing seems a little ridiculous. The blogger does not pretend in any way to be JfJ and no visitor will confuse the two -- he/she is not trying to use the trademark to pass as JfJ but rather using it in the 'blog about Jews for Jesus' sense. More importantly, if the court rules in JfJ's favor, it is putting a direct responsibility on blogger for the addresses registered which I don't think (? -- anyone know?) it has at the moment. It'll be interesting to see how this develops.

Marrano synagogue discovered

Must-read piece in the Independent about the discovery of a secret synagogue from the 16th century behind a false wall in a Portugese house:
The chance discovery solved an enigma that had baffled historians for years, said Elvira Mea, a lecturer who specialises in Jewish history at the University of Porto. Immanuel Aboab, a 16th-century Jewish scholar, had written that, as a child, he had visited a synagogue in the third house along the street counting from the 14th-century Our Lady of Victory church.
But he didn't specify which side of the street, and archaeological digs had turned up nothing. Then came confirmation of the accuracy of Aboab's text: the house Fr Moreira bought [in which the synagogue was discovered -- MS] was the third house down on the street the Jewish scholar had described.
Historians had been thrown off by the fact that Aboab never described the synagogue as clandestine. His childhood experiences took place five decades after the forced conversion - at a time when secret Jewish worshippers would be tortured and burnt at the stake if caught - so there was no chance a synagogue could function in the open.
"Everyone assumed Aboab had got his dates mixed up," said Professor Mea. "But it had been preying on my mind and, as soon as I saw the ark, all the pieces fell into place."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

We'll worry about the bill later

Weird column by Ismar Schorsch in today's Jerusalem Post, in which he recommends that the community provide a free Jewish education to every Jewish kid. Not weird, of course, in itself, but in that he never addresses the one really pertinent question -- how exactly does he plan to pay for this??? (His rather vague comment at the end, "American Jews have at their disposal the wealth to affect the wrenching shift in priorities called for," is hardly sufficient). How did this get past his editors? And is this surprisingly woolly thinking a sign that perhaps he chose the right moment to retire?

Farewell, poor Natbag*, I knew him well.....

Finally, someone is trying to 'make seder' in the chaotic world of road signage in Israel. Ha'aretz reports.

* The famous sign in English on the Jerusalem - Tel-Aviv Highway directed to something called 'Natbag'. This word, of doubtful utility to any Anglophone traveller or tourist, was a direct transliteration of the Hebrew acronym for Ben-Gurion Airport - Namal Teufah Ben Gurion

---- and while we are on the subject, and in keeping with the festive season, my all-time favourite Ivrit-English translation: When in the early 1980's we lived in Talpiot Mizrach (a Jerusalem suburb), the local grocer was very keen to capture the custom of the sizeable English-speaking religiously-observant community, so he got someone to translate his flyers and ads into English. Wishing to assure his purchasers that his produce conformed with the Torah laws affecting agricultural produce, he had the phrase 'Naki mehashash orlah' printed on his ads. It came out in English as 'Free from the doubt of foreskin'. [Any other examples? In the Comments,please!]

We're into the Jewish video scene ....

... courtesy of

My favourite: Definitely Lipa -- "Abi meleibt!" !!!! Move over, Matisyahu!!!!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Not such a super-stition

In recent weeks, hundreds of gullible women have started leaving their underwear at the grave of R. Yonatan ben Uziel at Amuka in the Galilee -- where, according to superstition, those who pray will find their bashert within the year -- because they believe it will help them find their shidduch.
All of which just goes to show once again how quickly it's possible to slip from religion to superstition to sacrilege.
(On the other hand, I suppose that draping underwear across the gravesite may increase their chances of a shidduch by bringing more men to the site -- are these the types of men they are aiming to attract, though?)

(Via OOSJ)

We know better than the people

In a couple of days' time, gay couples in the UK will be able to form civil unions for the first time.
Whether you agree or disagree with this, what's interesting is that the decision was taken by the government without any public debate whatsoever. About a month ago it was simply announced that this was going ahead (presumably those following these kinds of things knew a while before); I have no recollection of any discussion on this in the public sphere at all. Again, whether or not you think this is a good idea, this is a big change in public policy and in any normal country would have been subject to a rigorous debate. That it wasn't shows much both about the social climate in Europe at the moment -- and how much the government trusts and values the opinions of the people (as Mark Steyn once wrote, the difference between the US constitution and the EU constitution is that one begins "We the people," whilst the other begins, "We know better than the people").

Putting our spin on the dreidl

It doesn't take a great genius to realize that the dreidl probably did not originate, per the myth, with Jewish children in Hasmonean times trying to disguise the fact that they were learning Torah. But where does it actually come from? I'd previously never really thought about it, but learned today that it was in fact a popular game in Europe, and especially Germany, in the 16th century -- particularly around Christmas time (aha!). As this site explains, the word 'dreidl' itself is derived from the German word drehen, which means to spin (the explanation I had today, which I don't have to hand , connected it to another German word as well -- will try and update this tomorrow).
So far, so unsurprising. I was intrigued to discover, however, that not only is the game itself Germanic in origin, but that the letters on the dreidl come directly from the German as well:
The letters on the faces of the gambling toy, which were mnemonic for the rules of the game, varied in each nation. The letters on the English spinning top were: T for Take, H for Half, P for Put, N for None. In the German game, the letters were: N for Nichts (nothing), G for Ganz (all), H for Halb (half), S for Stell (put). The Hebrew letters on the dreidel seem to have come directly from the German gambling toy: Nun for Nichts (nothing), Gimel for Ganz (all), Hay for Halb (half), Shin for Stell (put). In an effort to link the game to the celebration of Hanukkah, the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay and shin were said to stand for the phrase Nes Gadol Haya Sham, which means "a great miracle happened there."
Also interesting because I had always assumed that 'nun-gimmel-hay-pay' was the real thing and that our diaspora 'nun-gimmel-hay-shin' was the poor cousin....

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Becoming a Shabbos Queen

Some things in the haredi world I will simply never understand. Here's one of them; if you go to so much trouble to make sure you look good, why not simply wear a dress???

The diet better start tomorrow

The Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon, has apparently had a small stroke. He is lucky and will live to see another day, however the whole episode is a stark reminder of just how dependent the entire Israeli political system is on just one man.
It is no secret that Sharon is not in the best of health -- the only surprise in tonight's incident was that he had a stroke, not a heart attack. Unless Mr Sharon drops about half his body weight (and even then, considering his age...), the fact is that he is extremely likely to suffer from other, perhaps dehabilitating illnesses while he is still in office. What will happen then? There are simply no replacements of the same stature currently on the scene. Kadima will be finished. If Sharon dropped dead tomorrow (G-d forbid), chaos would ensue, with no truly popular or authoritative replacement, and the country would be left in a signficantly weaker position. Who is the center-right going to get to replace him?
I have no idea who/what the solution is. But this is a scenario which is becoming increasingly probable with each passing month.

JEW DA MACCABI - New Jewish Rap Video


Friday, December 16, 2005

Great videos of Hasidic life in New York

Google has a beta version running of something called 'Google video'. This is, roughly speaking, a blog service for videos - meaning that (within certain limits - the obvious restrictions apply) anyone can post videos on the web. A young man called Joseph Kolakowski has posted* dozens of short videos of Hasidic life in NY city - mainly celebrations and events. They are of varying lengths, and very varying quality, but some are compelling. He has his personal website, on Geocities, from which it appears as though he is a young Hassidisher, probably about 20, and seems to live in Woodmere. (The website is difficult to access, as he has so much posted that it exceeds the Geocities capacity, and it cuts out after a few moments' viewing.)

Fascinating material.

Kol hakavod.

* go to and then try searching under 'Kolakowski' or under 'Rebbe' etc.

UPDATE: I finally managed to get into the personal website. Some story here ... and the videos accessible from the website are equally amazing.

To Steve Brizel (see comments): It is true that the Hassidic community are photogenic. But they have the ruach which totally escapes the rest of us! Is there any other group within the Jewish world that could generate these videos of such music and such joy? The Litvishe???? I don't think so. We urgently need a new chassidus. [And someone will say - what's wrong with the old Chassidus?]

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Acronym finder

As a public service - acronymically challenged blog readers should check out this site. A few checks showed it was pretty good, including many Jewish blog-acronyms - 'RYBS', and, in fact 'BAYT'!

I learned a new acronym this week - used by teenagers -- 'POS' = 'Parent over shoulder' !!!

The grinch that stole Christmas (amongst other things)

The Forward, the NY Jewish Week and JTA are all running stories about the state of the Christmas wars in the US this year. All three seem to agree on two things: that whilst there hasn't really been an increase in the anti-Christmas movement compared to past years, there has been a significant pro-Christmas backlash from the Christian right; and that too often, the Jews have either explicitely or implicitely been blamed for the anti-Christmas moves.
I'm rather reluctant to write about this in great detail as, in the two years since I've moved back to the UK, I've become increasingly aware of how deep the cultural differences run between the UK and US/North America, and simply don't feel qualified any more to write about deeply American issues. However, based on my limited and now more European experience, I'll say this. Whilst there may be Jews who are vocally 'anti-Christmas,' the majority of the moves against so many public expressions of 'Western culture,' Christmas being just one element, across the West, usually come from two other sources. They are, first of all, left-wing, secular, somewhat self-hating do-gooders who assume they know what offends others -- even though they're usually completely mistaken -- and presume to act on their behalf; and zealous officials and petty bureaucrats who are so worried about any tiny possibility of being perceived as politically incorrect or insensitive to a minority group and hence getting into trouble that, on their own volition, and even though they probably don't care about these issues at all themselves, they act to 'protect' them -- which usually results in the most ludicrous cenorship of all. Of-course, this simply reinforces the extreme perception of what's allowed and what's 'forbidden' to say and do in our society and in that sense, political correctness has a momentum all of its very own and is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That the Jews are being targeted instead by some elements of the Christian right in the US is a whole other issue which again, I can't go into, but it is these groups (primarily the first) more than any minority who, as far as I can see, are to blame for the increasing intolerance of all things majority-culture (including Christmas) in the West.

Covenental Judaism, strike II

David Wolpe striking out to maintain the momentum in the bid for the JTS chancellorship? Or the Jewish Week trying to make up for the fact they missed out on the original story to the Forward? Of-course it suits both parties, but I'd love to know whose initiative this was...

In which I am publicly rebuked:

On the Fringe writes:

"...... Paul Shaviv, this is your last warning: So help me, if you use the acronym BAYT one more time without bothering to explain what it means, I’ll smack you upside the Bloghead. Or knock your Bloghead off. I’m kidding, obviously. But not by much. The Jewish blogosphere is not for Orthodox yeshiva graduates only. It’s full of seekers, late-learners, Baalei Teshuvah (“returnees” to Orthodox Judaism) and Jews by Choice (which, for those not familiar with that term, means those formerly known as converts to Judaism)...."

A bit thick to single me out from the entire www. Anyway, thanks to those who got their before me (and I only came across it by accident) and solved the mystery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

C.S. Lewis kashered his kitchen

Without getting into the 'Lion, Witch and Wardrobe' debate, on which Miriam has written with her normal devastating logic and good sense (genetic, actually), there is an intriguing footnote to the CSL story.
Joy Davidman's two sons, who bore their father's name of Gresham, lived with CSL after Joy died. The older of the two, David, became very interested in Judaism in his teenage years, and became observant. (This is referred to, somewhat inaccurately, here and there on the blogs.) CSL - at the time, and since, one of England's most popular writers on faith and Christianity - decided that it was his duty to accomodate the boy's religious faith, and made his kitchen kosher. In the film 'Shadowlands', the two boys are made into one character, and this is not mentioned at all. David Gresham, who changed his name to David Gershon, at the age of 17 or so went to live in Stamford Hill (London's Boro Park), and became a Satmarer, bekesher and all. I think that he lived with the Cohn family, cousins of the Swiss film director. He learned fluent Yiddish, and went to Yerushalayim to learn. By 1967 - he must have been in his early 20's - he had moved out of that milieu, and turned up in Cambridge to study Turkish at his father's old College (Magdalene), which is where I met him. On Rosh Hashanah in 1967 David Gershon and Simon Schama had yomtov dinner in my room.
David was briliant, and knew reams of gemara off by heart, which he would use in long arguments with the ex-yeshivah students at the Jewish Society (= Hillel, sort of). At that time there were several who had been in Gateshead or Ponovich for years. At a certain point he moved out even further, reverted to 'Gresham', and decided that he wished to live the life of an English gentleman. His younger brother became a Christian missionary. The boys were left the royalties on CSL's books. Last I heard of David he was living in Spain. {NOTE: Wikipedia states that he is 'living in India with his wife and one son'.}

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


It's that time of the year again where the Jewish blogosphere competes for the Jewish and Israeli Blog awards and everyone pretends it's all in good fun etc. while secretly checking in every 5 minutes to see how many votes they've got and to call their grandmother's neighbour's son's cousin to make sure they get his vote. This year, in an enormous coup, Israellycool has managed to get the JIBs co-sponsored by the Jerusalem Post. It's a lot of work and kol hakavod, Dave, for all the work.
In the meanwhile, if you've enjoyed Bloghead this year, please remember us kindly -- nominations are open until the 18th; voting begins on Jan 2. May the best blogs win ;-)

Best news we've heard all day

Page 6:
[Spielberg's Munich] was slammed yesterday by influential Hollywood trade magazine Variety. Editor-in-chief Peter Bart declared in his column, " 'Munich' takes such pains to avoid advocacy that it neuters its narrative. The story's thrust repeatedly stalls as all sides of an issue are didactically expounded."
Todd McCarthy, Variety's chief film critic, wrote, "Members of the general public will be glancing at their watches rather than having epiphanies about world peace," and called the movie "a lumpy and overlong morality play on a failed thriller template."
The script is "flabby," McCarthy wrote, and "Munich" "simply does not sustain intellectual interest on a meaningful level."
Previous reports were that it was absolutely brilliant. But if it sucks, it probably doesn't matter that Spielberg seems to be promoting a moral equivalence between the terrorists and the people who hunted them down. (For the latest example, see Spielberg's first interview on the movie, in Time magazine, in which he says: "I think the thing I'm very proud of is that [screenwriter] Tony Kushner and I and the actors did not demonize anyone in the film. We don't demonize our targets. They're individuals. They have families. Although what happened in Munich, I condemn" -- oh yeah, poor terrorists, individuals with families. I'd like to see him make a movie where he treats the 9/11 hijackers as 'individuals with families.' He wouldn't dare. (Of-course, I don't really think that Spielberg doesn't feel strongly against the murders, but the mealy-mouthed 'condemnation' formula... really...)

Knocking on our door

The Jerusalem Report, rather strangely, has taken down its old website before its new one is ready, leaving just a holding page. I wonder why?
More's the shame as it means I can't link to a hilarious piece in its Up Front section, about a Christian man who took out $25,000 (!!!) worth of full-page newspaper advertisements in Jewish media recently, asking to be recognized as a Jew based on a DNA test that showed he was an Ashkenazi Jew by paternal lineage, and asking to be awarded Israeli citizenship under the law of return. The ad included a personal plea to PM Sharon, as well as the full text of his Y-chromosome ancestry report, which confirmed that he had "a rather populous pedigree of Ashkenazi Polish Jews."
After someone read me this much of the story, I guessed that such a meshugganer must come from some deprived European village -- that this was a scheme to move into the first world; and barring that, he was clearly unbalanced. Well, no and no. John Haedrich, 43, is a nursing home director from Glendale, California. He started looking into his Jewish roots in 2000 when he drove around Europe and ended up in Krakow and Auschwitz and got a 'serendipitous feeling' that he might be Jewish. And now, he is going to some lengths to prove it (he won't convert as he says it's unnecessary because he's already a Jew).
Let me point out two things. Firstly, with the rate of intermarriage such as it is, and with hundreds of years of Jewish history in Europe and North America, I would venture that there are very few non-Jews in those places who wouldn't be able to trace back at least one Jewish ancestor at some point (I think I read somewhere that more than half of Brazilians are descended from Jews, or something similar). Secondly, if I had $25,000, here's a suggestion to Mr Haedrich. You would have been much better off writing to Mr Sharon to tell him you have $25,000 to spare -- rather than spending it on the ads. I can almost guarantee you a better response ;-)

The lion, the witch, the wardrobe, the Christians and the Jews

Blogger has just eaten this rather long post twice in 24 hours. Aaarrgh!
The short of it was a criticism of this JTA piece, which poses a strong thesis --
The re-oiling and firing up of the machinery that pulled Christians into theaters and made 'The Passion' a huge hit, as well as 'Lion's' Christian overtones, have given some Jews reservations.
-- and then fails to back it (or at least the first part) up, for one thing interviewing only two people (one of whom is a media professor -- is he even Jewish?).
It's true that the Lion's Christian overtones have made some people in the community ask whether they or their children should / could or are even permitted to see it -- see discussions on hirhurim and yudelline. From there to arguing that Jews have what is essentially a political objection to the movie is a long way. If they do -- and they might -- JTA certainly doesn't show it.
The closest they get is this quote from a young rabbi who, after a long rumination in which he in any case expresses no particularly strong feelings either way, says:
"I haven't seen the movie, but I wouldn't be surprised if they fleshed out the Christianity a bit more to be satisfying to the Christian audience. That's the part that's most disconcerting to me. I also have concerns about the marketing. Hollywood has a way of being very in-your-face."
Extremely respectfully (seeing as I was a bridesmaid at this very same rabbi's own wedding...), I beg to disagree. Would it really be disconcerting to Jews if the studio did flesh out the Christianity a bit to satisfy the Christian audience? Why? Christians are an audience like any other. Studios are allowed to make movies with Christian messages just as they are allowed to make movies with Jewish messages -- or perhaps Ushpizin should be 'toned down' before distribution? In addition, there is an implication here that if the Christian message is overt in the movie, it's somehow a misrepresentation in order to cater for the Christian audience. Let's not forget that the book was written as a Christian allegory, and just because most of us read it at an age when we weren't equipped to recognize this doesn't mean that the Christian message was ever secondary.
The fear of anything overtly Christian in the public sphere (so reminiscent of the great Christmas debate), even a movie, actually gets comical when JTA gets to Peter Sealey, a marketing professor at the University of California Berkeley's Haas School of Business and the former president of marketing and distribution for Columbia Pictures, who
saw "duplicity" in the way Disney is shying away from mentioning Lewis' Christian message in its general publicity materials. In a 16-page "Narnia Educator Guide" that Sealey found on the film's Web site, religion and Christianity aren't mentioned even once.
"The issue is secular audiences. Will they appreciate seeing a religious message without knowing it?" he asked. Disney "should make a statement, they should let people know. The lion is resurrected. "It's a great piece of entertainment and you can enjoy it if you're Christian or not. However, the underpinnings of the work reflect the New Testament."
Since when is religion something audiences need to be 'warned' about -- like sexual content or violence? Perhaps we should create a special label -- pg, pg-13, x, r and rel? Really.
It comes down to this. This movie isn't being imposed on anyone. No one is being forced to watch it. If you don't want to, ignore it. If you want to, enjoy. End of story.
Incidentally, as an English major I discovered pretty quickly that practically every major work in the English language written before 1900 had major Christian themes and influences (or at least that was the joke -- when all other essay ideas fail, you can always draw a parallel to the trinity). If you don't want your children reading the Narnia series, you might as well keep them away from the majority of the English classics.
Of-course, that is some people's choice. But that doesn't mean that the English cannon should be abolished or include warning labels -- or that movies like Narnia shouldn't be made.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Nothing to do with the Jews, everything to do with the Catholics

Mel Gibson's film company, Con Artist Productions, is going to be involved in making a tv miniseries about a Jewish girl who was saved during the holocaust by her Catholic boyfriend.
This is not Gibson's personal production and it's unclear just how involved he will be; it's unclear even if his name will be attached to the project. Not only that, the miniseries will be made for ABC in collaboration with two other film companies. So -- it is actually pretty reasonable to assume that Gibson will have little to do with the decisions over how this series is made. The blustering and hype coming from Jewish sources as to whether Gibson can be trusted to make this movie, etc etc etc is exactly that -- blustering and hype. Most likely, the movie will have little to do with Gibson. He shouldn't be attacked for it and -- contra Rabbi Hier's pronouncement that the project would "give Gibson a chance to redeem himself from the controversy over 'The Passion of the Christ,' which did not portray Jews fairly" -- when it turns out to be just as superficial and predictable as most other made-for-tv miniseries, Gibson shouldn't be given any of the credit either.
The one thing Gibson possibly -- probably -- had a say in was whether his company should collaborate on this in the first place. If so, the first thing that popped into my head was what Deborah Cohn says at the bottom of this Reuters piece -- basically, the pertinent piece of info here is not that it's a movie about a Jew in the Holocaust but that it's about a Catholic savior during the holocaust. Rabbi Hier, you've completely misunderstood.

Death of Rabbi Edward Washington: Truthfully, next to this the odd 'Semikhah' to a traffic cop doesn't look so bad .....

A report of the petirah of Rabbi Washington.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Essential reading / surfing

A truly outstanding Havel Havelim #48 [the weekly volunteer survey of the Jewish blogosphere]- with links to some outstanding (and in some cases very moving) blogs. Go surf through it now. It linked me to several blogs I had never seen before. I truly believe that the Jewish blogs are the real voices of the Jewish community - it is what Jews are thinking and feeling. All of the newspapers seem remote by comparison. Only thing I can't understand is how awhisperingsoul found time to survey so many blogs ......

The fight for Israel at Princeton

An exasperated post on Israpundit detailed what happened when the Walid ShoebatFoundation tried to put on an event at Princeton, and the reaction of the local Jewish students when Princeton applied pressure to stop the event taking place. Disclaimer: I wasn't there,I know little about the WS Foundation, I don't normally read Israpundit, and I have only read the linked account.

But it doesn't surprise me.

On every turn, we face several almost impossible hurdles in defending Israel and Jewish rights on campus:

1. Our enemies are politicised; we are not. As simple as that. Jews are educated to see Israel/Judaism as 'feel-good' items. The political context - day-by-day more important -- is a traumatic shock to many of them.
2. Young students at any University are going to find it incredibly difficult to stand up to University pressure, and to peer pressure. Where were the Princeton Faculty? And where was the Hillel rabbi?
3. Contrary to popular belief, we are not very powerful.
4. Jewish leadership still believes that we will protect ourselves by ingratiating ourselves to political leadership. Given point (3), they may be right, but it is a fatally short-term approach.
5. Local Jewish student leadership is very, very varied, and does not always consist of knowledgeable, proud, intelligent students.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Chief Rabbinate complicit in another scandal...

This story (in the Ivrit Haaretz - no full English translation as yet) relates a new scandal whereby the Chief Rabbinate in certain districts issued fictitious rabbinic ordinations to policemen and othe government employess (see the pop-up link at the beginning of the story for a sample document on CR letterhead). The motivation - no different from the other scandal involving fake degrees issued in Israel by overseas 'Universities' - is that in Israel sizeable pay increases come with additional academic qualifications. (Even seminars and short courses may give you a permanent pay rise. )

Between Slifkingate, this, and a dozen other* wearying stories -- what's left????

*recent local samplers include: Kashrut/hashgachah issues, rabbis who refuse to mention certain names/institutions, schools that exclude .......

Thursday, December 08, 2005

S R Hirsch redux

I just gave a talk on Hirsch as part of my regular adult ed Jewish history course at the BAYT in Toronto. Hirsch is a most interesting individual, rather like Rav Kook in that everyone claims him as their own. Some aspects of his career (eg his compromises with early demands for liturgical change in his first rabbanut in Oldenburg 1830 - 41) are barely talked about today. The best book on Hirsch, which is Prof. Noah Rosenbloom's study 'Tradition in an age of Reform', JPS, 1976, is ignored in all Orthodox bibliographies.

But it struck me again what an unappreciated giant he was. He single-handedly created and articulated a Europeanised Orthodoxy that was intelligable and credible, operating over sixty years of his career in a most hostile environment. It is possible to critique him and his movement on a number of counts (and which movement cannot be criticised?), but his achievement was, and is, enormous - and, IMHO, far more radical than the self-appointed bearers of his standard would have us believe.

So, question: Who is the nearest we have today to a Hirsch? (My nomination is Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks)

Way, way beyond teshuvah

A new blog for BT's has made its appearance. It is an interesting read, and I wish the blog much success. The list of contributors is interesting (see the r.h. side coloumn of the blog) - three rabbis, plus Zelig, Rivka, Arye Leib, Mordechai, Melech, Meyer, Dovid and Chava. No Zekes, Rosemarys, Arthurs, Michaels, etc etc. The discussions show great concern about ..... conformity, and integrating into Haredi society.

Which leaves me asking - why have the non-Haredi Orthodox been such failures in being able to harness and encourage the interest in Judaism among young people of the last 20 - 30 years? There is no non-haredi equivalent of Aish, or Or Sameach, or Arachim. [Cynics might say that there is, and it's called: Chabad ...]. Isn't there a place for a movement which shows a different dimension of Judaism, that does not demand of those becoming interested in deepening their Jewish observance that they adopt a Haredi lifestyle and Haredi attitudes and beliefs?

What did we do wrong?

Gourmet sufganiyyot

Impossible to buy anything like these on Bathurst Street .....

Monday, December 05, 2005

Did I say Kol Nidrei for Lord Haw-Haw's daughter?

The Guardian has an astonishing piece about the daughter of William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw"), the English traitor who broadcast Nazi propaganda from Germany during WW2. He was tried and executed for treason after the war. Seems that his daughter (now aged 77) does not share his views, and has for many years quietly attended the synagogue in the historic English town of Chatham (about 50 miles SE of London, a port on the River Medway in Kent, and famous for its British Navy and Charles Dickens connections.) Well, as I write here in Toronto, on the wall near me is a large, framed, colour photo of the Chatham shul, built in 1837 (or so), on the site of an earlier synagogue. Why? Because for some years I went to Chatham (with the family) to daven for the Yamim Naroim. So did I, unwittingly, say Kol Nidrei for William Joyce's daughter????

Slifkin in Toronto - partial perspective

I wasn't going to blog on this, for various (unimportant) reasons, but since a) Miriam and Danny have flown off for a (well deserved) holiday and the blogmistress has cheerfully unloaded on her poor father the responsibility for the blog (since she can't edit this post, I'm enjoying it!) and since b) an 'Anonymous' has asked about it , here is some info:

1. Rabbi Slifkin was in Toronto over the last few days. He spoke at a programme organised by a very enterprising local organisation called 'Torah in Motion', organised by Rabbi Jay Kelman and Dr. Elliott Malamet (his earlier comments on l'affaire Slifkin here). The local Orthodox rabbis heartily disapprove of TiM, seeing it as a sort of local "Edah".
2. I didn't manage to attend Rabbi Slifkin's public lectures, although I understand that he spoke to packed audiences and was enthusiastically received. He spoke at CHAT to our Grade 12's earlier in the week, on 'Evolution'. Students and staff (Jewish/non-Jewish) found him fascinating, reasonable, helpful, knowledgeable and interesting. i have great sympathy and respect for Rabbi Slifkin.
3. As reported elsewhere on the blogosphere, the major posek of Toronto, Rabbi Shlomoh Eliyahu Miller, issued a letter calling Rabbi Slifkin every name under the sun, condemning his books, and then for good measure adding some science. You can read the letter here and judge its contents for yourself. I think English translations are being posted on the web. I doubt that any LOR in the city will dare comment on it.
4. As to an earlier document circulated in the city - allegedly forged - I have no idea of this incident.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Slow blogging

Sorry for the untypically slow blogging this week -- I've been particularly short of time. In fact, I'm actually going on vacation next week so you're not likely to hear much from me until the Monday after next (the 12th). I think I've lined up an excellent guest blogger, though, so stay tuned!
UPDATE, 5 Dec: Sorry, the guest blogger didn't pan out. I'm off for a vacation in the sun and will be back, blogging as usual, next Monday pm. In the meanwhile, hopefully our Toronto correspondent will be increasing his blogging output. Have a good week!