Friday, September 25, 2009

Has an image of biblical Joseph been found?

A report in the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, translated by MEMRI, claims that coins have been found from the time of Joseph, which bear his image:

"The researchers discovered the coins when they sifted through thousands of small archeological artifacts stored in [the vaults of] the Museum of Egypt. [Initially] they took them for charms, but a thorough examination revealed that the coins bore the year in which they were minted and their value, or effigies of the pharaohs [who ruled] at the time of their minting. Some of the coins are from the time when Joseph lived in Egypt, and bear his name and portrait...

"The researcher identified coins from many different periods, including coins that bore special markings identifying them as being from the era of Joseph. Among these, there was one coin that had an inscription on it, and an image of a cow symbolizing Pharaoh's dream about the seven fat cows and seven lean cows, and the seven green stalks of grain and seven dry stalks of grain. It was found that the inscriptions of this early period were usually simple, since writing was still in its early stages, and consequently there was difficulty in deciphering the writing on these coins. But the research team [managed to] translate [the writing on the coin] by comparing it to the earliest known hieroglyphic texts…

"Joseph's name appears twice on this coin, written in hieroglyphs: once the original name, Joseph, and once his Egyptian name, Saba Sabani, which was given to him by Pharaoh when he became treasurer. There is also an image of Joseph, who was part of the Egyptian administration at the time.

The debate in this case seems to revolve around whether these are really coins or not. Either way, it does seem extremly unlikely that these really are authentic pictures of Joseph. There is no other archaeological proof of Joseph's existence and a coin/amulet apparently confirming the biblical story seems particularly convenient.

But if only. I would love to see the picture of the man the Bible called "well-built and good-looking".

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'A democracy stands or falls with the courage of its history'

A brilliant, urgent piece by historian Simon Schama in the FT, on the feeble response of the West to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial:

The cowardice of embarrassment; the pragmatic humming and hawing about what to do about the buffoon frontman of a tyranny that endures through brutality and torture, is itself a depressing sign of moral collapse. The victims of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad’s onslaught on truth include not just the outraged memory of the murdered millions but history itself, the integrity of which is at the heart of the western political tradition. The most absurd affront to reality in his remarks may have been the Iranian president’s complaint that research into the history of the Holocaust was being thwarted by a conspiracy of its purported victims. What he has in mind of course is the kind of history he wants to read.

It is the great glory of the project inaugurated by Thucydides that it endeavoured to disentangle fact from fable and to make history the instrument of honest self-criticism rather than idle self-congratulation. Thus sternly conceived, it was to be the torment of despotisms. This was something fresh and breathtaking in the world, the conviction that the authority of history based on an unflinching scrutiny of evidence would always prevail over fantasies derived from claims of revelation.

But then perhaps we have already abandoned history as the rough upbraider of moronic turpitude. Perhaps it is easier to digest history as costume pabulum, a stroll with Dame Vera Lynn down memory lane; endlessly rerunning the Good War and wallowing in harmless period romance courtesy of Jane Austen, while tough history gets thinned and thinned until it is finally put out of its misery and the age of national amnesia is enthroned.

“Facts are stubborn things,” said one of the flintier Founding Fathers, John Adams, who well understood that democracy stands or falls with the courage of its history.

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The largest Palestinian diaspora outside the Arab world... apparently in Chile, of all places, with 300,000 people of "Palestinian descent" - although they seem to be using a rather broad definition of "Palestinian".

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Blair: 'shocking' how little I knew about the Middle East when I was PM

Tony Blair was asked last night how his work for the Tony Blair Faith Foundation informed his work in Israel and the PA.

According to Ruth Gledhill of the Times,

He went on to say how getting to know the region through visiting it with the [Tony Blair Faith] Foundation had increased his understanding of the issues: 'One of the most surprising and perhaps slightly shocking factors, given that for 10 years I was leading decisions as British Prime Minister, is how much better I understand it now than I did then.'

Now, you might argue that this is only natural: after all, Blair is now the Middle East envoy -- of course he knows more now. But what he is actually implying is how little he actually knew about the Middle East then.

As he himself says, this is "slightly shocking". But it's not altogether surprising. After all, a great portion of Diaspora Jewry spends a great deal of time complaining how little European governments truly understand about the region.

Still, it is a brave thing of Tony Blair to confess. So now, how about a crash course for European prime ministers and presidents - while they're still in power?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Are the Simpsons going to Israel?

Sep 6, 2009

According to Al Jean, one of the Simpsons' writers,

In other upcoming episodes, popular movies get skewered Simpsons-style. "We have a Transformers-type movie," Jean said. "The Simpsons go to Israel, and there's a movie playing called The Reformers where the robots can't fight each other because it's the Sabbath. So they power down and start davening."

They could get so much more out of Israel than that.... Hope they do it properly!

A shul that pays its members to belong

Looking to attract new members to your community? A shul in a NY suburb - which apparently once had a substantial Jewish community but is now in decline - has come up with an unusual scheme.They are offering $30,000 to two couples who are willing to join the shul for 10 years, and $25,000 to couples after that.

The couples must go through a selection process.

The money, says the shul,

can be used toward the purchase of your home,
or its renovation, or tuition for your children’s
education. It’s yours. In exchange for the money you
agree to be full dues paying members of the synagogue and remain living
in the community for ten years. When that’s been completed,
you’re done – no need to repay a penny. If, for some
reason you are unable to complete the ten years, you’ll need to
repay the $30,000, but you will not pay any interest. The loan
will be secured, just as a mortgage is.

So basically a portion of the money is ploughed straight back into the community in the form of shul fees. And a few thousand dollars a year isn't that much to spend in order to gain active new members - not to mention all the publicity they've just bought themselves.

Still, for $2,000+ a year I think I would at least be asking my new members for a commitment to turn up to shul once in a while, and maybe do some volunteering, as well....

Friday, September 04, 2009

Eggy challah

During my recent maternity leave, I became quite an avid challah baker, and even began to experiment with 'exotic' challahs - for example, challahs with apple slices baked into them (it tastes like a strudel - yum).

But here's one I've never seen before. According to Yediot, it is a Moroccan-style challah, and has raw eggs - whole - baked into the top:

Anyone know where the custom comes from?

Should Israel demolish illegal Palestinian homes in the West Bank?

The Israeli High Court - usually regarded as heavily leaning to the left - has asked the state to explain why it dismantles so many illegally-built Jewish homes in the West Bank (that is, outposts), compared to illegally-built Palestinian homes (that is, homes built on land owned by someone else). The hearing was held following a petition by a right-wing group, "Regavim movement for the protection of national land".

Judging by some of the comments on Ha'aretz, the idea that the law should be applied to Palestinian homes sits uncomfortably with many people who are adamant that it must be applied to Jewish outposts.

Historian Yaakov Lozowick comments:

Now I understand that lots of folks will be rolling their eyes at this point in deepest frustration: Don't you understand... the entire Occupation is illegal! The State of Israel is illegal! Zionism is the abomination!

Ah, but that's exactly my point... these people don't care about law, international or otherwise, unless they feel it says what they wish it to say. Were someone to prove otherwise, they probably would reject him (or her) as a Neocon or a fascist or an AIPAC-stooge; but it wouldn't make any difference anyway, because were the legal pillar of their argumentation to be seriously weakened they'd simply abandon it and move on to other arguments.

In other words, legal arguments are being used by the left-wing only because it suits them politically. Of course, this works both ways. This legal petition was only brought by the right-wing activists in order to prove their political point too. And once they have forced the state to commit to demolishing Palestinian homes, they can no longer really argue that the law should be ignored in their case as well.....

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Natan Sharansky on how to lose a KGB trail

My friend Amir Mizroch, who is the highly talented news editor of The Jerusalem Post, went to Moscow this week with former Prisoner-of-Zion and current Jewish Agency chair Natan Sharansky, who was there to open a new Jewish school.

Yesterday, on his Facebook status, Amir revealed that "Sharansky showed me how to lose a KGB tail on the Moscow subway if it ever comes to that again".

So go on, I asked, how do you do it?


You get onto the train and wait by the sliding door while looking at the opposite carriage. The person closest to the window looking at you is a KGB spy. As the doors start closing, and they all close together, you stick your foot out to close the doors, so only yours is open. That's when you step out and wave nicely to the spy.

In other words - as I understand it - you get onto the train, wait until the doors are almost closed, and then jump out.

No wonder Sharansky ended up in jail!

How the Nazis replaced a Jewish woman athlete with a man in drag

A new German film, Berlin 36, tells the strange story of Gretel Bergmann, a German Jew who was heading for an Olympic gold in high jumping when the Nazis decided to replace her... with a man in drag:

The Nazis wanted to ensure that Hitler would not be embarrassed by a Jewish athlete winning a gold medal for Germany. Her room-mate and eventual replacement, the film reveals, was Dora Ratjen — real name Horst Ratjen. “Dora”, despite his male hormones, managed to gain only fourth place.

Two years later, still posing as a woman, he set a new world high jump record for women of 1.70m — but was disqualified after a doctor discovered that he had strapped up his genitals. He was stripped of his title and was quickly conscripted into the army; his personal details disappeared from German archives.

“I never suspected anything,” Ms Bergmann, now 95 and living in the United States, told Der Spiegel news magazine. “We all wondered why she never appeared naked in the shower. To be so shy at the age of 17 seemed grotesque but we just thought: well, she’s weird, she’s strange”...

Horst “Dora” Ratjen survived the war, despite being sent to the Eastern Front, and later worked as a barman in Hamburg. He said that he had been pressured into the subterfuge by the BDM — the Nazi League of German Girls — to save the honour of Germany.

Read the whole thing here.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Has Hizbollah lost $680m to fraud?

Last week in Lebanon, a well-known Shiite businessman who was "close to Hizbollah" was arrested on suspicion of fraud, allegedly heading a Ponzi-style scheme worth some $1.3 billion. Inevitably, Salah Ezzedine is already being called the "Lebanese Madoff" (although he has not yet been charged - it is still unclear whether he is a fraudster or just a bad businessman...).

So just how "close to Hizbollah" was he? According to a Kuwaiti paper, cited in Yediot, close enough to have lost them $683 million - almost half the money that he allegedly embezzled.

That's pretty close.

According to the report, the money came from Iran, and Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wanted it invested in Europe and the US.

Yediot comments (my translation):

"It is a financial blow for Hizbollah, which in any case was in a difficult financial situation following the Second Lebanon War and because of the tremendous sums it had to spend reconstructing southern Lebanon, its military capabilities and the last election campaign in Lebanon."

A financial blow, to be sure, but not a knockout one. Before the elections this year, alone, Iran was rumoured to have smuggled into Lebanon more than $1billion in cash to help the organisation win the vote. A few years ago, it was receiving up to $200 million a year from Iran.

So $683 million is a lot of money, but probably nothing Iran can't replace, if it so desires.

Too Jewish for Shakespeare?

Comedian Jonah Hill, currently starring in Funny People with Adam Sandler, says he's "too Jewish for Shakespeare".

This might come as something of a disappointment to all those conspiracy theorists out there who believe that Shakespeare was really a Jewish woman.

In the meanwhile, how about Merchant of Venice? It was, after all, first classified as a comedy...

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

If journalism doesn't work out... I still wouldn't do this

Picking nits out of kids' hair (other people's kids' hair, noch) comes pretty high on my list of worst jobs in the world, but apparently it is becoming more popular among Orthodox women in Brooklyn. Gross gross gross.

Hold on - they charge $100-$200 a head (literally). The woman profiled used the money she earned to put six kids through college.

Suddenly I see the appeal. If it weren't for the nits...


Meaning of the word 'get'

Dovbear on the origins of the word 'get' (religious divorce):

Get was first a Sumerian word for document (then written on clay.) It made its way into Rabbinic Hebrew via Aramaic and Akkadian...

Even after it entered Hebrew, the word get meant document. It became our word for one specific type of document, i.e. the divorce document, via specialization, a not-very-unusual type of semantic change. In our own language deer (originally any animal) and girl (any child) also changed via specialization.

Just in case you wondered...

Rabbis with guns

Meet the members of the "International security coalition of Clergy", which is part of the "Tzedek Task Force on Counter Terrorism".

Behind this mouthful are a group of American rabbis and pastors who are going through 100 hours of combat shooting practice in order to protect their congregations. The press release explains:

There is a clear a present danger emanating from extremist Muslim Jihads.

Clergy must protect their flock from both spiritual and mortal dangers.

This group of religious leaders is the sheepdogs and shepherds for the sheep they lead.

The question is, does this photo make you feel more secure - or less secure? Personally, the thought of these middle-aged Rambo wannabes running around my shul with guns, on the lookout for Muslim terrorists behind the bimah, is petrifying (although it might put a quick stop to the problem of talking during the rabbi's sermon).