Friday, December 31, 2010

The appeal of Orthodoxy to young, secular-born Jews

The appeal of Orthodoxy to young, secular-born Jews
From Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010 11:06PM EST
Last updated Thursday, Dec. 30, 2010 7:47AM EST

As Canadian youth continue their march toward secularism, with the majority of religious communities aging and shrinking, a small but steady trickle of secular Jewish youth have been heading in the opposite direction.

In what one scholar says is a movement of “tens of thousands of people” worldwide in the past two decades, Jewish youth raised in secular homes have been adopting Jewish Orthodoxy, one of the more demanding religious practices.

Becoming Orthodox means more than just giving up bacon. From bans against driving and using electrical or electronic devices on the Sabbath, to dietary laws so strict that very few grocers, restaurants or butchers can meet their requirements, to a daily routine permeated by prayer and ritual observance, adopting Orthodoxy is more than an embrace of faith, it is a dramatic change in lifestyle.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cholent Traditions From Around the Globe

Cholent Traditions From Around the Globe
By Elizabeth Alpern
December 29, 2010, 11:36am

Nowhere do form and function meet so well as in a warm bowl of cholent. The hearty Sabbath stew known by an endless array of names and flavors in Jewish communities around the world is essentially an outgrowth of two seemingly opposing forces: The Jewish laws prohibiting cooking on the Sabbath and the encouragement offered by the rabbis in the Talmud to have a hot lunch on Saturday afternoon. These dishes cook sleepily at low temperatures from Friday afternoon onward, coming together brilliantly right on time for post-synagogue feasting.

Cholent has even been somewhat in vogue of late, with Saveur and the New York Times recently publishing updated recipes for the Eastern European varieties.

How the Chinese use the Talmud

Selling the Talmud as a Business Guide
In China, notions of Jewish business acumen lead to a publishing boom—and stereotyping.

Jewish visitors to China often receive a snap greeting when they reveal their religion: “Very smart, very clever, and very good at business,” the Chinese person says. Last year’s Google Zeitgeist China rankings listed “why are Jews excellent?” in fourth place in the “why” questions category, just behind “why should I enter the party” and above “why should I get married?” (Google didn’t publish a "why" category in Mandarin this year.) And the apparent affection for Jewishness has led to a surprising trend in publishing over the last few years: books purporting to reveal the business secrets of the Talmud that capitalize on the widespread impression among Chinese that attributes of Judaism lead to success in the financial arts.

Double Marker: A Gay Jew in the Navy

Double Marker: A Gay Jew in the Navy
Ex-Sailor Recalls a Time When Honesty Led to Discharge
By Karen Loew
Published December 29, 2010, issue of January 07, 2011.
The Forward

Will the law allow return, Korrie Xavier wonders, for gay former military service members like her, who left the service only because they had to?

Just five years after her bat mitzvah, Xavier joined the Navy as a seaman recruit. She was trained to maintain and fire weapons systems on the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship based in San Diego. She liked the structure, the camaraderie, and sailing to ports from southeast Asia to Abu Dhabi. Barely in her 20s, the Michigan native became the nerve center of Jewish shipboard life — all while hiding her sexuality under her Navy uniform blues.

Limmud: a great Jewish alternative to Christmas

Limmud: a great Jewish alternative to Christmas
Somewhere between a retreat and a festival, the Limmud conference shows how Judaism can remain creative and vibrant

Keith Kahn-Harris,
Wednesday 29 December 2010 16.56 GMT

For the diaspora Jew, what to do over Christmas can be a taxing question. It's almost impossible to ignore the festival completely and it's a wonderful opportunity for rest and relaxation with family and friends. But how to avoid being compromised by the Christian connotations?

For a truly Jewish alternative to Christmas, the Limmud conference is as good as it gets. Taking place every year between Christmas and new year, this year's festive season sees Limmud's 30th anniversary conference, held at the University of Warwick. As much of UK stumbles tipsily between leftover turkey and the sales, 2,500 Jews of all ages from the UK and throughout the Jewish world will gather for a frenetic five-day festival of learning and playing.

Bible discovery reveals links with Jewish scholars

Bible discovery reveals links with Jewish scholars
Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

Letter urges Israeli girls to avoid dating Arabs

Letter urges Israeli girls to avoid dating Arabs
From Shira Medding, CNN
December 29, 2010 2:53 p.m. EST

Jerusalem (CNN) -- A letter from about 30 prominent rabbis' wives was causing a stir in Israel Wednesday because it urges Israeli girls not to date Arabs.

The open letter comes three weeks after the uproar caused by another letter, which was written by 50 state-appointed rabbis and told Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews.

The latest missive, which was published by some websites and news outlets, says Arab men act polite around Jewish girls and "act as if they really care about you," but it says that's a ruse. The men, it says, even change their Arab names to Hebrew forms like Yossi and Ami in order to get close to the girls.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

American Football Gains a Following in Israel

December 27, 2010
American Football Gains a Following in Israel
New York Times

JERUSALEM — On a Thursday night early in December, Pinchas Zerbib took off his traditional cotton skullcap. In its place, he put on a polyester one.

“It’s my Under Armour yarmulke,” Zerbib said. “For practice, it’s better. Plus, it’s still kosher.”

As an orthodox Jew, Zerbib, a native of Israel, believes he must always wear a head covering. He spends his days studying in a yeshiva, or a Talmudic learning institution. But three nights a week, he suits up as a linebacker.

“I sit down and learn all day,” said Zerbib, a 27-year-old student. “I love to do this sport and stay healthy.”

Monday, December 27, 2010

How Jewish emigration helped unravel the Soviet Union

How Jewish emigration helped unravel the Soviet Union
By Gal Beckerman
Monday, December 27, 2010; 7:00 PM
Washington Post

In his op-ed on Sunday, former secretary of state Henry Kissinger apologized for "undoubtedly offensive" comments he made 37 years ago about the fate of Soviet Jews, remarks that recently came to light with the release of tapes by the Nixon presidential library. But in trying to explain the historical context of his words, Kissinger presented a dismissive view of the Soviet Jewry movement as an ineffective irritant. This distorts the important role it played in the Cold War. The movement was a 25-year struggle to force the Soviet Union to allow the free emigration of Jews who were being discriminated against and robbed of their cultural and religious rights. It ultimately made the issue an inextricable part of the U.S.-Soviet relationship and contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union.

What If Israel Ceases to be a Democracy?

What If Israel Ceases to be a Democracy?
DEC 27 2010, 3:32 PM ET
Jeffery Goldberg
The Atlantic

Is it actually possible that one day Israelis -- Jewish Israelis -- would choose to give up democracy in order to maintain Israel's Jewish voting majority? Some people, of course, argue that Israel has ceased to be a democracy, because there is nothing temporary about the 43-year-old occupation of the West Bank. I believe it is premature to talk about the end of Israel as a democratic state -- mainly because the disposition of the West Bank is still undecided -- but I can't say that the thought hasn't crossed my mind that one day Israelis will make the conscious, active decision to preserve the state's Jewish character instead of its democratic character (I use the word "Jewish" in the demographic sense, not the moral sense, obviously).

The story behind "Chinese Food on Christmas" (The multi-million hit YouTube sensation)

"Chinese Food on Christmas" Deconstructed
Brandon Walker discusses the song he wrote about what Jews do on Christmas and its viral music video.
By Marc Shapiro
December 27, 2010
MoutainView Patch

It was a college songwriting assignment that exploded.

Mountain View resident and Owings Mills, Maryland native Brandon Walker had to write a Christmas song for his songwriting 101 class at James Madison University, in Virginia.

"They always say write what you know, and I know that I eat Chinese food on Christmas," he said.

Walker struck gold in 2004 when he decided to tell the tale of so many others Jews, like himself, who enjoy Chinese food and go to the movies on Christmas because, as "Chinese Food on Christmas" says, "there just ain't much else to do on Christmas when you're a Jew."

The song was, ironically, written in a church parking lot where Walker was waiting for his girlfriend.

Pilgrims arrive at Egyptian Delta village to commemorate 19th century Jewish rabbi

Pilgrims arrive at Delta village to commemorate 19th century Jewish rabbi
Almasry Alyoum English Edition
December 27, 2010

Dozens of largely Israeli Jewish pilgrims on Sunday arrived in Egypt to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Abu Hasira, a 19th-century Jewish Rabbi whose mausoleum is located in the village of Damtu in the Nile Delta.

Nearly 60 Jewish pilgrims have arrived and authorities anticipate an additional 280 tourists will arrive on Monday.

Marty Pertz says: Mr. President: Do Not Free Jonathan Pollard

Mr. President: Do Not Free Jonathan Pollard Part I and II
Martin Peretz
December 25, 2010

In the first instance and despite the brazen insinuations of his supporters, Jonathan Pollard is not a Jewish martyr. He is a convicted espionage agent who spied on his country for both Israel and Pakistan (!)—a spy, moreover, who got paid for his work. His professional career, then, reeks of infamy and is suffused with depravity. It is true that Pollard has achieved the status of hero for some in Israel. But you should know exactly who these people are: They are professional victims, mostly brutal themselves, who originate in the ultra-nationalist and religious right. They are insatiable. And they want America to be Israel's patsy.

Hasidic Jews protest repeal of ban on gay troops at West Point

Hasidic Jews protest repeal of ban on gay troops at West Point
DECEMBER 21, 2010

HIGHLAND FALLS — Braving the cold weather, four men from the Hasidic Jewish community in Monsey picketed Monday afternoon just outside of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to protest gays serving openly in the military.

Solomon Diamant, one of the protesters, said they were appalled by the Senate vote that ended the 17-year-old "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Greek Bishop denies antisemitism; equates Zionism with Satanism

Greek Bishop Equates Zionism to ‘Satanism’
New York Time

A Greek Orthodox bishop who was criticized by Jewish groups, the Greek government and some coreligionists for blaming Greece’s financial problems on a conspiracy of Jewish bankers and claiming that the Holocaust was orchestrated by Zionists issued a statement on Thursday in which he denied that he was anti-Semitic but also equated Zionism to “Satanism.”

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brouhaha in Texas House a Jewish test case for Tea Party

Brouhaha in Texas House a Jewish test case for Tea Party
By Ron Kampeas
Published: Thursday, December 23, 2010 10:38 AM EST

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- In Texas, the Tea Party passed its first Jewish test even before its legislators had been sworn in.

Deeply conservative forces in the Lone Star State firmly repudiated the effort by evangelical Christians to unseat the powerful Jewish speaker of the Texas House of Representatives because he wasn’t a “true Christian conservative.”

Speaker Joe Straus still faces opposition from his right flank because of his relatively moderate views, but his opponents have made clear that Straus’ Judaism is not a factor in the Jan. 11 race to be speaker.

“There is absolutely no place for religious bigotry in the race for Texas speaker, and I categorically condemn such action,” Rep. Ken Paxton, one of Straus' two challengers in the race, said in a statement to the Houston-area Jewish Herald Voice. “Furthermore, it is just as shameful for anyone to imply that I would ever condone this type of behavior.”

Wikileaks to Release Israel Cables

Wikileaks to Release Israel Cables
VOA News
23 December 2010

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says his website will publish hundreds of what he calls "sensitive" U.S. diplomatic cables on Israel.

Seattle Bus Ads Allege Israeli War Crimes

Jewish groups fear bus-ad backlash

By Keith Ervin
Seattle Times staff reporter
December 23, 2010

Leaders of four Jewish organizations asked senior King County officials Wednesday to reconsider plans to put an ad on Metro buses alleging "Israeli war crimes," saying local Jews have good reason to fear it could lead to crimes against them.

During the "open and candid and respectful conversation," the Jewish leaders said they feel the ads "are inappropriate here in this community and actually pose a public-safety threat," said Hilary Bernstein, Pacific Northwest community director of the Anti-Defamation League.

Rob Jacobs, Northwest regional director of StandWithUs, said the executives of the Jewish organizations described how synagogues and schools have upgraded security in recent years after their buildings were defaced, a man frightened students as he screamed "Heil Hitler!" on the Seattle Hebrew Academy campus and another man shot six women, one fatally, at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

People of the E-Book? Observant Jews Struggle With Sabbath in a Digital Age

People of the E-Book? Observant Jews Struggle With Sabbath in a Digital Age
Uri Friedman
Decemeber 21, 2010
The Atlantic

The migration of print media to the web and digital devices has stirred society to ponder many Big Questions: Is Google making us stupid? Has technology short-circuited our children's attention spans? Are we frittering away our lives gaping at smartphone screens? All this while the most obvious question goes unanswered: what will Jews read on the Sabbath?

Many observant Jews do not operate lights, computers, mobile phones, or other electrical appliances from sundown on Friday until three stars appear in the night sky on Saturday. They abstain from these activities because, over the last century, rabbinic authorities have compared electricity use to various forms of work prohibited on the Sabbath by the Bible and post-biblical rabbinic literature, including lighting a fire and building. The difficulty of interpreting the Bible's original intent and applying it to modern technology has rendered electricity use on the Sabbath one of the more contentious topics in Jewish law.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Death of the Blue-hat Jews, and why it matters

Mordecai Bienstock
Posted Dec 22 2010
Jewish Press

Once upon a time, there were Orthodox Jews who wore blue hats. Blue hats! Some wore brown, or shades of gray. In the summer, they wore white, or amber hats of straw.

Those hats are gone now. No big deal; they were only cheap, colored cloth. But the Jews who wore those hats are disappearing as well. And the death of the Blue-Hat Jew is a very big deal indeed.

What are Blue-Hat Jews, and why should we care about them?

Vandals target Pole working on Jewish remembrance

Vandals target Pole working on Jewish remembrance
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 1:00 PM

WARSAW, Poland -- Vandals threw firecrackers and bricks with swastikas into the home of the Polish head of a group devoted to Jewish remembrance, the man who was target of the attack said Wednesday.

Tomasz Pietrasiewicz was sleeping when the bricks and firecrackers were thrown at his house Friday night, shattering windows and causing minor damage. He said he was in a different part of his home and was not hurt.

Guardian: Jewish refugees must not be neglected in peace talk

Jewish refugees must not be neglected in peace talks
There are two sides to the refugee story, and the Israeli side is one of the best-kept secrets of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Danny Ayalon,
Wednesday 22 December 2010 09.00 GMT

For a long time now, we have been wanting and waiting to sit down and talk. After all, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not short of talking points that need to be urgently resolved. Unfortunately, however, instead of both sides discussing the problems, the Palestinians seem more comfortable issuing demands.

One of the topics that we could discuss is refugees, what some describe in the familiar mantra as the "right of return". The slogan itself is, of course, a misnomer – a right is a legal function and must be grounded in law to have applicable force. Yet, as with so many of the cliches and familiar refrains surrounding the Middle East, there are two sides to the refugee story, with the Israeli side one of the best-kept secrets of the conflict.

What happened to the Valmadonna?

Whither the Valmadonna? A Great Jewish Library's Uncertain Future
By David Stern
Published December 20, 2010.
The Forward

All of a sudden, the future of one of the great contemporary treasures of Jewish culture is clouded with uncertainty. The treasure in question is the Valmadonna Trust Library, a collection of some 13,000 Hebrew books that had been systematically and assiduously assembled over the last 50 years by a relentless English businessman named Jack Lunzer. This library — the world’s most important private collection of Jewish manuscripts and printed books — was sold on December 16 at Sotheby’s in a sealed bid auction to an unknown buyer. While we do not yet know what will happen to the library, its possible disappearance as an integral collection would be a colossal loss to Jewish culture.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

New York Times on Erica Brown, Jewish Educator

The Arduous Community
New York Times
December 20, 2010

For the past few years, there has been a strange motif running through my social life. I’d go out with some writers, and they’d start gushing about someone named Erica Brown. “She has an inner light,” one of them once said. I’d be out with my wife and some of her friends, and they, too, would be raving about Erica Brown. “If she taught a course in making toast, I’d take it,” somebody remarked.

This Brown woman was leading Torah study groups and teaching adult education classes in Jewish thought, and was somehow inspiring Justin Bieber-like enthusiasm. Eventually, I went to her Web site to figure out what all the fuss was about.

A New Anti-Semitic, Anti-Gitmo Myth is Born A former Gitmo detainee tells Al Jazeera that the Jews use witchcraft at Gitmo.

A New Anti-Semitic, Anti-Gitmo Myth is Born
A former Gitmo detainee tells Al Jazeera that the Jews use witchcraft at Gitmo.

by Thomas Joscelyn
December 20, 2010 5:40 PM
Weekly Standard

Earlier this month, Al Jazeera broadcast a lengthy interview with Walid Muhammad Hajj, who was detained at Guantanamo for several years until he was transferred to his native Sudan in 2008. (MEMRI has provided an excerpt of the interview here.)

When Gitmo detainees (both current and former) make up stories about torture and abuse, they usually stick to the script, claiming they were beaten, waterboarded, or had some other malady inflicted upon them. Even if there is no evidence to back these claims up (e.g. no detainee was ever waterboarded at Gitmo), their stories generally gain traction in the fever swamps online and elsewhere.

Fear and Loathing in Israel, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Israel, 2010
by Ami Kaufman
Posted: December 21, 2010 05:08 AM
Huffington Post

I can't get away from it. Every place I go, everything I read, everything I watch -- it's always there. The racism is always there. Towards Arabs, towards foreign workers, towards Morroccans, Russians, Ashkenazim, Mizrahim.

This isn't the place I grew up in. Where is that place? Where did it go? Racism has always existed in Israel, but something about the ease in its surfacing, something about how violent it is is different. It's all out in the open, and nobody cares anymore.

I'm actually really, really scared.

Jewish gang that attacked Arabs arrested

Jewish gang that attacked Arabs arrested
Published: Dec. 21, 2010 at 11:23 AM

JERUSALEM, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Israeli police have arrested a gang of nine Jewish suspects, seven of them minors, that allegedly attacked Arabs in Jerusalem.

The gang members live in Jerusalem and West Bank settlements, police said.

The Jerusalem Magistrates Court released three of the teenagers on bail Tuesday, said.

Millions of Jewish Holocaust victims named

Millions of Jewish Holocaust victims named
December 21, 2010

Israel's Yad Vashem Holocaust museum has announced that it has managed to identify two-thirds of the estimated six million Jewish victims of the Nazi genocide.

"In the past decade we have succeeded in adding about 1.5 million victims' names to the names database," Yad Vashem chairman Avner Shalev said in a statement announcing the database now contains more than four million names.

Monday, December 20, 2010

WikiLeaks cables: Syria believed Israel was behind sniper killing

WikiLeaks cables: Syria believed Israel was behind sniper killing
Assassination of Syrian president's top security aide caused anxiety among the political elite, US embassy cables reveal

by Ian Black, Middle East editor,
Monday 20 December 2010 21.30 GMT

It was late in the evening of 1 August 2008 in the Syrian coastal city of Tartous when the sniper fired the fatal shot. The target was General Muhammad Suleiman, President Bashar al-Assad's top security aide. Israelis, the US embassy in Damascus reported, were "the most obvious suspects" in the assassination.

US state department cables released by WikiLeaks trace the panicked response of the authorities. "Syrian security services quickly cordoned and searched the entire beach neighbourhood where the shooting had occurred," the embassy was informed. Syrian-based journalists were instructed not to report the story. It was a sensational event, akin to another mysterious assassination in Damascus earlier that year, when a car bomb killed Imad Mughniyeh, military chief of Hezbollah.

WikiLeaks: Possibility of Israeli-Palestinian co-operation over Gaza

WikiLeaks: Possibility of Israeli-Palestinian co-operation over Gaza
The Daily Telegraph (UK)
5:10PM GMT
20 Dec 2010

A cable released by WikiLeaks on Monday suggested close co-operation between Israel and forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas when rival Hamas militants overran the Gaza Strip three years ago.

The disclosure could embarrass Mr Abbas and his Fatah movement, which Hamas has accused of working with the Israelis. Mr Abbas' standing among Palestinians has already been weakened by his failure to make progress in peacemaking with Israel.

The June 13, 2007, cable from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, citing a conversation that took place during the civil war that ended with Hamas' takeover of Gaza, cites Israeli Security Agency chief Yuval Diskin as saying Israel had "established a very good working relationship" with two branches of the Palestinian security service.
Mr Abbas' internal security agency, he said, "shares with ISA almost all the intelligence that it collects."

Is Judaism an Ethnicity or a Religion?

Speech Acts
by Nathan Glazer
December 20, 2010 | 12:00 am

A review of
Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America
by Kenneth L. Marcus

Kenneth Marcus has written what are in effect two books, one of them distinctly odd. The first book is the story of Marcus’s efforts over a number of years to have Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 reinterpreted to cover the harassment and ill–treatment of Jewish students, deemed necessary because of the widespread support, among leftist campus activists and Middle Eastern students, of the Palestinian cause. Title VI prohibits discrimination—and can lead to the withholding of federal funds—on grounds of race and national origin. But religion, which is not a permissible basis for discrimination in the other parts of the Civil Rights Act, is not included in the language of Title VI as a prohibited basis of discrimination. The reason apparently was that so many schools and institutions of higher education have religious connections and affiliations that a loophole was provided for them.

The Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education, a large operation that enforces Title VI, had taken the position that Jews are neither a “race” nor definable as a group on the basis of “national origin,” and thus discrimination against Jews (although not necessarily Israelis) was not covered by the Civil Rights Act. Marcus, in his role as Delegated Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights, the highest ranking official in the OCR during the first administration of President George W. Bush, was vexed by this situation. There were many reports from campuses of activist attacks on Israeli policy that skirted close to anti-Semitism. He decided that discrimination against Jews was indeed covered by the Civil Rights Act, on the basis of certain Supreme Court rulings.

The job of chief rabbi isn't worth the hassle

The job of chief rabbi isn't worth the hassle
When Jonathan Sacks retires as Anglo-Jewry's chief rabbi, the role will need redefining
David Goldberg,
Monday 20 December 2010 13.34 GMT

It was announced this week that Lord Sacks will be retiring as Orthodox chief rabbi – in three years' time. Why such long notice? Nowadays, all ambitious politicians and aspiring clerics (all of whom share many of the same characteristics, as Trollope's novels show) demonstrate their person-in-the-street credentials by declaring their lifelong passion for the local football team; in Jonathan Sacks' case, Arsenal.

It is surprising, therefore, that he didn't remember the lesson of the Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has said that the biggest mistake he ever made was to announce his going prematurely. Discipline wavered. Everyone relaxed and players got lippy. One told the press that he would still be there next year, the manager wouldn't. So when Fergie changed his mind, it must have given him particular pleasure to offload that player on to, erm, Arsenal.

Religious Jew's Beard Prevents Him from Becoming an Army Chaplain

Rules are Rules
by Adam Kredo
Washington Jewish Week
12.20.10 - 10:30 am
<i>Mendy Chanin<br>Rabbi Menachem Stern, with his baby, Esther, says serving in the Army is "my calling and mission." </i>
WASHINGTON -- Menachem Stern's bushy black beard is at the center of a federal court case.

Stern, 29, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi from Brooklyn, N.Y., filed suit recently against the U.S. Army saying that a no-beard restriction violates his religious freedom.

In January 2009, Stern had applied to become a chaplain in the Army, which has been historically short on Jewish spiritual leaders.

That June, his application was accepted, according to a lawsuit filed Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., with one condition: He must shave his beard to comport with Army regulations prohibiting facial hair.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Women writing in the Times credits her relationship to a Rabbi's blessing

December 17, 2010
What the Rabbi Said

“A husband you want?” the old rabbi mumbled in Yiddish-accented English.

I was probably the last person you would expect to be going to a kabbalist rabbi for a blessing to marry. I’d stopped being religious 10 years earlier, uninterested in pursuing the typical Orthodox Jewish lifestyle of settling down and having babies straight out of college.

But the summer I turned 38, I freaked out about the approaching Four Zero — which was old even for the nonreligious world — so I went to Israel, where I had lived in my 20s, to visit old friends and figure out where my life had gone wrong. On my last day there I ran into the mother and father of my best friend from high school. Without prompting, my friend’s mother insisted I go see the rabbi she’d entrusted with such weighty matters.

Friday, December 17, 2010

``some rabbis shouldn't be given pens''

Povoking mayhem BY URI DROMI
Miami Herald

JERUSALEM -- Imagine that prominent Christian clergymen in the United States would have issued an edict forbidding renting or selling homes to Jews. What mayhem would erupt! Jewish leaders and organizations would raise hell, there would be rallies and legal actions attacking this on constitutional grounds, and ultimately the disgraceful act would be killed and buried.

Nearly 40 Years Later, Kissinger’s Words Stir Fresh Outrage Among Jews

December 16, 2010
Nearly 40 Years Later, Kissinger’s Words Stir Fresh Outrage Among Jews
The New York Times

Richard M. Nixon has long been the Freddy Krueger of American political life. You know in your bones that he is destined to keep returning.

Sure enough, though dead 16 years, Nixon is back onstage, with the release of a fresh batch of tapes from his Oval Office days. They show him at his omni-bigoted worst, offering one slur after another against the Irish, Italians and blacks. Characteristically, he saved his most potent acid for Jews. “The Jews,” he said, “are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality.”

Who should replace Jonathan Sacks as chief rabbi?

Who should replace Jonathan Sacks as chief rabbi?
It is an odd, many-layered job, and the kind of person a polarising Jewish community should choose is not at all obvious
Alexander Goldberg,
Friday 17 December 2010 10.31 GMT

Lord Sacks, the chief rabbi, announced on Tuesday that he will be stepping down from his post in September 2013 after nearly a quarter of a century in the job. In the next few weeks and months there will be speculation about his successor and the meaning of the role in the 21st century.

What sort of candidate should the community be looking for? Is it more important to have a candidate that can speak to the outside world or one who can speak to disaffiliated Jews? Should the candidate seek to unite orthodox factions, reaching out to the strictly orthodox, or try to engage with reform and progressive movements? How about a great intellectual or academic? Will he be a reformer or a reactionary?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Winona Ryder slams Mel Gibson as racist homophobe

JEWISH actress WINONA RYDER claims MEL GIBSON once drunkenly called her an "oven dodger" - a sickening racist slur.
The Sun
December 16, 2010

The Black Swan star says she realised the shamed star - whose vile phone rants at ex OKSANA GRIGORIEVA surfaced online this year - was "anti-Semitic and homophobic" at a party in LA 15 years ago.

She said: "I was at one of those big Hollywood parties and he was really drunk.

"I was with my friend, who's gay. (Gibson) made a really horrible gay joke.

Palestinian Authority cracks down on mosques to promote moderate Islam

Palestinian Authority cracks down on mosques to promote moderate Islam
By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 11:27 PM

EL BIREH, WEST BANK - Each week, Mahmoud Habbash, the Palestinian Authority's minister of religious affairs, sends an e-mail to mosques across the West Bank. It contains what amounts to a script for the Friday sermon that every imam is required to deliver.

The practice, part of a broader crackdown on Muslim preachers considered too radical, shows the extreme steps the Palestinian Authority is taking to weaken Hamas, its Islamist rival, as it seeks to cement power and meet Israel's preconditions for peace talks.

The Palestinian policy drew little notice when it was launched last year. But it has been enforced with particular vigor in recent months and, analysts say, has been a factor in Hamas's declining strength in the West Bank.

What will Columbia’s new Center for Palestine Studies become?

Political Education
What will Columbia’s new Center for Palestine Studies become?
Armin Rosen, Jordan Hirsch
December 16, 2010 | 12:00 am
Published on The New Republic (

The October launch of Columbia University’s Center for Palestine Studies (CPS), the first institution at an American university specifically dedicated to the study of Palestinian Arabs, received surprisingly little notice. Middle East–related brawls on Columbia’s campus have often captured national attention, featuring accusations of anti-Semitism lobbed at professors (recall the alleged bullying of Jewish and pro-Israel students in 2004 by Professor Joseph Massad) and controversial speaking engagements (for example, Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejadin September of 2007). Despite this tumultuous track record, the CPS opening took place without disruption. Paraphrasing Columbia University film professor James Schamus—a faculty member associated with the CPS—The Forward characterized the opening as “a new moment of civility” and a re-dedication to “open and courteous dialogue” on Middle East issues.

But is it? Given the highly sensitive subject matter of this dialogue, the CPS faces an important choice. It can host academics interested in serious Palestine-related scholarship, or it can advance political interests under the guise of Palestine studies. Should it move in the latter direction, it could make the boundary between politics and scholarship more meaningless than ever. And there are already troubling signs that this is exactly what is happening.

Kevin Spacey to Play Jack Abramoff in "Casino Jack"

NY Times
By, Melena Ryzik
December 15, 2010

In its current state Facebook has many virtues. Moviemaking is not among them.

But in the spring of 2009 the director George Hickenlooper (“Factory Girl”) wrote on his Facebook page that Kevin Spacey would be the right actor to play the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in his new film, “Casino Jack.” A mutual friend saw that post and pointed it out to Dana Brunetti, Mr. Spacey’s producing partner, via a Facebook message.

“So I friended George,” Mr. Brunetti said. “And he friended me back, and we started talking back and forth.” They looped in Mr. Spacey, and Mr. Hickenlooper eventually flew to London to see him. He got the part.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Czech court rejects Jewish restitution claim

Czech court rejects Jewish restitution claim
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 1:47 PM

PRAGUE -- A Czech court has rejected a restitution claim by the Jewish descendants of a man who owned a button factory that was taken over by the Nazis and then nationalized.

The Constitutional Court on Wednesday overturned a 2009 Supreme Court ruling and all previous rulings of lower courts that found in favor of three relatives of Zikmund Waldes, who owned the Koh-i-noor factory in Prague when the Nazis seized it in 1939 during their occupation of what was then Czechoslovakia.

The factory was nationalized after the war in 1945. No compensation was paid.

Al Jazeera on Lebanese Jewry

Return to the Valley of Jews
By Habib Battah
Al Jazeera
See the slide show

From her crumbling fourth floor apartment, Lisa Nahmoud gazes at the opulent palace of her new neighbour, Lebanon's billionaire prime minister, Saad al-Hariri. The multi-level complex with beige granite facades and Ottoman style arcades lies only metres from Lisa's shrapnel pierced building.

"Doesn't he ever see me," she wonders, before lighting another cigarette. It is late August, and smoking seems to be the only relief from the sweltering heat of her bombed-out flat.

Lisa is alone in her building - all the other apartments have been crudely sealed with cement and breeze blocks. And except for the Hariri mansion, ringed by multiple layers of heavily armed security agents, she is also alone in her neighbourhood, once known as the Valley of Jews.

What had been a dense cluster of red roofed homes has been almost entirely bulldozed. In its place, under a collection of construction cranes, a new district is steadily rising - one of luxury towers and gated condominiums.

As Hariri, the first high profile resident moves in, Lisa, the last surviving link to Jewish Beirut, has been asked to leave.

Who's Top Kosher Chef? A Jewish Cuisine Cook-Off

December 12, 2010
At Kosher Chefs’ Cook-Off, Forget Foie Gras
New York Times

Culinary school had its frustrations for Seth Warshaw, the executive chef and owner of Etc. Steakhouse, a kosher restaurant in Teaneck, N.J. He had enrolled in a prestigious cooking school in Manhattan, but it quickly became clear that his religious restrictions rendered many hallmarks of fine French cooking — like rich creams and luscious crustaceans — off-limits.

“I sat there with my container of water, drinking while everybody ate,” Mr. Warshaw recalled, sounding a bit pained.

“I didn’t eat foie gras. I wanted to. I wanted to take it home and take a bath in it.”

Mr. Warshaw, an observant Jew, had been asked to ruminate on this topic because he found himself in an unusual role on Sunday: a judge for the taping of an all-kosher cooking competition called “The Next Great Kosher Chef.” It was held at a commercial kitchen in Long Island City, Queens.

The event was being sponsored by the Center for Kosher Culinary Arts, a three-year-old organization in Midwood, Brooklyn, that offers instruction to kosher chefs seeking the secrets to fine dining, minus the tref, or nonkosher. Its founders claim the school is the only all-kosher culinary academy outside of Israel.

“They can come, they can taste, they can eat,” Elka Pinson, the school’s owner, said of her students. At secular institutes, she said, “you pay $45,000 and can’t taste a thing!”

The point is fast approaching when further talks between Israel and the Palestinians will be useless

December 14, 2010
Nothing Left to Talk About
The New York Times

Amid speculation over how Israelis and Palestinians might resume their talks, a reality is taking hold: The point is fast approaching where negotiations between the two will be, for all practical purposes and for the foreseeable future, over. As emissaries are dispatched and ideas explored, discussions could well carry on. But they will have lost all life, energy or sense of purpose.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might not have been wholeheartedly committed to a peace deal with the Palestinians, but upon taking office, several factors tugged him in that direction. He worried about U.S. and regional pressure; had concerns about his own public opinion; was unsure about how Palestinians would react to a prolonged impasse.

Roman Jewish cuisine

In Rome, a Hidden Jewish Cuisine
By Katie Parla
The Atlantic
December 13, 2010

The cucina ebraica romana (Roman Jewish cuisine) is famous among Romans and visitors alike for its carciofi alla giudia (Jewish-style—deep fried—artichokes), fiori di zucca (fried zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella), and aliciotti e indivia (anchovies with endive). These dishes, widely available in restaurants throughout Rome, are seasonal, generally made from local ingredients, and, above all, kosher.

"It is on holidays and Shabbat that these dishes are still made, but the traditions are disappearing quickly."
Far less well-known in Rome, but no less important, are the typical dishes of the Libyan Jewish tradition, called the cucina ebraica tripolina. It is found almost exclusively in homes, especially on T'fina (Shabbat). Its protagonists are hearty stews served with couscous. Cinnamon, cumin, caraway seed, paprika, turmeric, parsley, and hot chilies play supporting roles.

Rome has the most ancient Jewish community in Western Europe, stretching back to 161 BCE. Over the past 22 centuries, the city's community has been shaped and enriched by the arrival of diaspora groups, first in antiquity—the slaves of Pompey (63 BCE) and Titus (70 CE)—then refugees fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Southern Italy (1492), and most recently, Libyan Jews escaping pogroms (1967).

Several thousand Libyan Jews settled in Rome, arriving primarily from Tripoli. Although they were embraced by the local community, they continued to preserve their unique culinary traditions, which differed greatly from those already present in the city.

Is the Kotel Off-limits?

Rabbi says Western Wall cameras desecrate Sabbath
The Associated Press
Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 7:28 AM

JERUSALEM -- A leading Israeli rabbi has declared the Western Wall off limits to the faithful on the holiest day of the week because of security cameras that he says desecrate the Sabbath.

The trouble at Judaism's holiest prayer site is with the technology, says Yosef Shalom Eliashiv, a 100-year-old rabbinical authority widely revered among ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Devout Jews strictly adhere to the biblical commandment to refrain from work on the Sabbath. Eliashiv says those coming into view of the closed-circuit surveillance cameras activate a light inside the devices, violating the Jewish prohibition on operating electronics on the Sabbath.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish newspaper in Israel published the rabbi's warning to the devout last weekend. He says Jews should not to visit the site on the Sabbath until the technology has proper rabbinic supervision.

In defense of Kissinger

Kissinger and Nixon: The Soviets And Another Contemplated Genocide of the Jews
Martin Peretz
December 13, 2010
The New Republic

Richard Nixon was a psychopath for whom Henry Kissinger worked, first as national security adviser and then concurrently in that position and also as secretary of state. Nixon's psychopathology included his hatred of Jews, their intellectual character, their State, and them broadly as a nation and people. Still, he had many Jews around him, doubtless for what he thought to be their devilish smarts: Leonard Garment was his general counsel, Herbert Stein was his chief economic adviser, Arthur Burns was head of the Federal Reserve, Murray Chotiner was his campaign manager, William Safire (who conceded that "Nixon just didn't like Jews") was a trusted speechwriter. And, of course, Kissinger was Kissinger. Let's face it: the smartest, and perhaps the wisest caretaker of American diplomacy since Thomas Jefferson, who was the first. (A valued former staff member of TNR, David Greenberg, wrote about "Nixon and the Jews" for Slate in 2002.)

Every so often as the secret tape recordings President Nixon made in the Oval Office are released we assume that some scarlet blush will come to Kissinger's face. No doubt Kissinger is very much embarrassed today.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Jewish Boss Sued for Prohibiting Employee's Crucifix

Jewish Boss Sued for Prohibiting Employee's Crucifix
by John Del Signore

A Roman Catholic sales executive is suing her Orthodox Jewish boss for allegedly prohibiting her from wearing her crucifix at work. Jamie Errico, who was the VP of Sales at watch and picture frame wholesaler Concepts in Time near Herald Square, has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company and its owner Saul Jemal, for allegedly treating her and other non-Jewish employees "in a most unorthodox manner," as the Daily News puts it. Errico claims Jemal was "adamant" about keeping the crucifix off company property.

We're guessing Jemal also hates garlic.

What happens when Jews forget they aren't farmers

2/8/2010 11:30:00 AM
An udderly implausible tale: The strange saga of Kemp Mill's go-to goat guy
by Adam Kredo
Staff Writer
Washington Jewish Week

It was 11:30 p.m. when a police officer rolled up on a frantic man clutching a screaming goat.

That man was Silver Spring resident Joe Orlow, and he was attempting -- unsuccessfully -- to milk his newly purchased pet goat.

"I'm holding this goat, milking it [and] the goat is screaming its head off," recalled Orlow, who, with a friend, Leah Shmist, purchased two goats last year, aspiring to collect fresh milk.

Small problem: Neither Orlow nor Shmist had ever milked a goat.

Eating disorders a problem among Orthodox Jews

Eating disorders a problem among Orthodox Jews
The Associated Press
Friday, December 10, 2010; 1:19 PM

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. -- Hilary Waller remembers begging her mother to let her fast on Yom Kippur. At 10 years old she was a bit too young, but embracing the rigid discipline seemed desperately important.

"It felt like I was practicing not eating. It was something that was reassuring and gave me strength and a sense of pride," said Waller, a 28-year-old teacher at a religious school in Blue Bell, Pa.

It was the same rush she got years later in college each time she saw the scale tip downward. Waller, who suffered from anorexia, starved herself until she stopped menstruating, lost some of her hair and was exercising several times a day.

Should Jews Own Christmas Trees?

Should Jews Own Christmas Trees?
Dec. 13, 2010, at 8:37 PM ET

Dear Jessica,

Slate has challenged us to debate a truly crucial matter this holiday season, one of weighty philosophical significance—whether it's OK for Jews to have Christmas trees. We've never met, but I understand that you are a fellow member of the tribe, a Hebrew sister, and thus I feel a personal mission to save you from the blandishments of mainstream Christian material culture (a culture I happen to adore, but for other people). Also, I am hoping you can ask your mom if she has a good kugel recipe.

To start out, we should agree that the argument over Christmas trees is not a theological one, for Christians or for Jews.

Rabbi Sues Jimmy Kimmel

Joke's on Jimmy
Batty 'rabbi' in skit suit vs. Kimmel
Last Updated: 7:19 AM, December 14, 2010
New York Post

He may be funny, but talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel is no mensch.

Kimmel swiped a YouTube video of a ranting Hasidic man and spliced it into a skit to poke fun at hoops superstar LeBron James without permission, according to a suit filed yesterday in Brooklyn Supreme Court.

Dovid Sondik was featured in the YouTube video, titled the "Flying Rabbi," which shows the Borough Park man raving in Yiddish in the street.

Carmel Fire Unites Some Arabs and Jews

Israel’s Arabs and Jews, United by Flames
New York Times
December 13, 2010

EIN HOD, Israel — The flames encircled Ed Sernoff’s house in this Israeli artists’ village in the Carmel hills near the northern port city of Haifa, licking a corner of the stone structure and cracking a window but otherwise leaving it intact. A small child’s playhouse survived in the middle of the mostly charred garden, but the chalet-style home that Mr. Sernoff’s son had built next door was destroyed.

From the Israeli Arab village of Ayn Hawd on a nearby hilltop, Zakaria Abu al-Hija looked down at the rooftops of Ein Hod, the village his father and other relatives fled, or were driven from, during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, when Israel was established, and to which the family was not allowed to return.

Most of the original Arab residents of what is now Ein Hod became refugees, landing in refugee camps in the West Bank city of Jenin or in Jordan. Yet Mr. Abu al-Hija says that those who stayed and became Israeli citizens have good relations with their Jewish neighbors in the artists’ colony, and that the deadly wildfire that broke out nearly two weeks ago and raged for four days did not distinguish between Arab and Jew.

“It hurts all of us that Ein Hod burned,” Mr. Abu al-Hija said, “no matter who is living there.”

Nixon Disses Us Again

Nixon's Jewish Problem
Speaking from the grave, Richard Nixon talks trash about members of the tribe once again.
By Jack Shafer
Posted Monday, Dec. 13, 2010, at 3:57 PM ET

From his throne in hell, Richard Nixon commands our attention once again with newly released White House tapes from February and March 1973 that drop another tanker load of piss and bile on Jews.

"The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality," he told an aide.

"Most Jewish people are insecure. And that's why they have to prove things," he said.

"I didn't notice many Jewish names coming back from Vietnam on any of those lists; I don't know how the hell they avoid it," he remarked.

When then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said, "If [the Soviets] put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern," Nixon concurred. "I know," he responded. "We can't blow up the world because of it." (See the Dec. 11 New York Times story for more background.)

Evangelicals to the Rescue

U.S. Jews and Evangelicals Help Israel Rebuild After Fires
First Posted: 12-13-10 09:00 PM
Updated: 12-13-10 09:00 PM

Michele Chabin
Religion News Service
Huffington Post

JERUSALEM (RNS) American Jews and evangelical Christians are taking a central role in rebuilding the Carmel region in northern Israel after a deadly fire decimated large swaths of the Carmel forest and left many people homeless.

Several Jewish and evangelical Christian organizations have launched fund-raising drives to assist the region after a massive wildfire in early December killed 43 people in one of Israel's few green belts. It took a team of international fire fighters to put out the blaze.

The fire highlighted the woeful state of Israel's fire service, which employs fewer than 1,500 fire fighters in a nation of 7 million people. There is a severe shortage of fire trucks and the under-funded service does not own a single fire-fighting plane.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Turin returns an Aron Kodesh

Turin returns Torah ark to Jewish community
December 13, 2010
by JTA

ROME (JTA) -- In an unusual and highly symbolic move, the city of Turin has formally returned to the local Jewish community an ornate Torah ark.

The Jewish community had presented the ark to the city more than a century ago.

"This is recognition of the role Jews play in society," Turin Jewish community President Tullio Levi said at a ceremony Sunday night.

The gilded and intricately carved wooden cabinet, probably dating from the early 18th century, is the oldest example of furnishings from the synagogues that once stood in Turin's Jewish ghetto, which was established in 1679.

After Jews in the city were emancipated in 1848, they built a large new synagogue, still in use today. When that building was inaugurated, in 1884, the community donated the ark to the city as a sign of recognition and good faith in public institutions following emancipation and the formation of the united Italian state.

New Zealand Editorial About the Tefillin Scare

Editorial: Foolish false alarm
The Nelson Mail 
Last updated 12:41 14/12/2010

OPINION: As far as embarrassments go, the weekend's incident where a terrorist alert was sparked on the inter-island ferry by a Jewish man observing a prayer ritual is right up there.

While the sight of a man lacing small leather boxes to his body – the practice known as tefillin – is certainly uncommon in New Zealand, to then leap several degrees of logic to decide that it might be the start of a planned suicide bombing suggests there wasn't much clear thinking going on on board the ferry.

Teaching the Holocaust to Arabs

Israel's Yad Vashem memorial struggles to teach Holocaust to the country's minority Arabs
Associated Press

Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. >> Read it here

The Failed US Attempt to Bribe Israel

Reality Check
December 11, 2010

The failed attempt by the U.S. to bribe Israel with a $3 billion security assistance package, diplomatic cover and advanced F-35 fighter aircraft — if Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu would simply agree to a 90-day settlements freeze to resume talks with the Palestinians — has been enormously clarifying. It demonstrates just how disconnected from reality both the Israeli and the Palestinian leaderships have become.

J Street founder to discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict tonight

J Street founder to discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict tonight
Monday, December 13, 2010
By Len Barcousky, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The founder of a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is coming to Pittsburgh tonight to discuss the Obama administration's decision to stop pushing for a freeze on new Jewish settlements.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is president and founder of J Street, which describes itself as a "political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans." He will talk about "Israel at a Crossroads" tonight at the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill.

His visit comes after the Obama administration announced last week that it is giving up its efforts to persuade Israel to stop construction of Jewish settlements in disputed areas for 90 days. That decision leaves the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks uncertain.

NYT on the Chevra Kadisha

Reviving a Ritual of Tending to the Dead

The volunteers are taught to begin at the head, washing the face before proceeding to the neck and right shoulder. The right side is to be washed before the left side, the front before the back. There are prayers to say. Small talk is forbidden.

The Jewish protocol for tending to the dead governs almost every interaction between the living and the deceased from the moment of death until burial. The ritual, which has been part of religious law for two millenniums, mandates the protection of the physical and spiritual remains.