Monthly Archives: January 2007

Pitchfork to Matisyahu

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Pitchfork has weighed in on the new Matisyahu EP, No Place to Be, and it’s not pretty.

The big problem is Matisyahu’s voice, a flat, weedy simulation of Barrington Levy’s honeyed scatter-croon. He floats between singing and chatting without ever mastering either, and there’s precious little vigor or conviction in his washed-out tenor. His band, the abysmally named Roots Tonic, pretends that the past 20 years of reggae never happened, anchoring themselves firmly in lite-lover’s rock UB40 territory and letting their spit-shined lilt amble on without force or direction.

Luckily, at least, the review creates a new Jewish denomination along the way, referring to Matisyahu’s background as “Reformist.”

Posted on January 10, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Job Opportunity at MJL: Senior Editor

This entry was posted in General on by .

You read us, why not work for us?

We’re looking for a full-time Senior Editor to help Daniel and the rest of the editorial gang.

The Senior Editor will work out of our New York City office.

Responsibilities include:
-Identifying content needs
-Creating editorial calendars for article and homepage production
-Assigning and managing work of MJL’s editorial staff -Commissioning and editing work of freelance writers -Assembling homepages and email newsletters
-Publishing articles using MJL’s content management system (no knowledge of HTML necessary)
-Contributing to MJL’s blog
-Creating new editorial projects and features

The ideal candidate will have:
-excellent editing and writing skills
-the ability to manage a small staff of fellow editors
-a broad knowledge of Judaism and Jewish culture, including contemporary trends in academia and Jewish communal life
-good familiarity with the web and web publications

* The Senior Editor must have both knowledge of Judaism/Jewish life AND writing/editing experience.

The position will commence in February 2007.

To apply, please send a cover letter, resume, and writing sample to resumes@myjewishlearning.com.

Posted on January 10, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Philanthropy Studies

This entry was posted in General on by .

A new development in Jewish academia: Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School is starting an MA program in Philanthropy Studies.

This intensive two-year program is designed to create a cadre of community leaders with cutting-edge skills and ample theoretical and practical knowledge in the areas of leadership and philanthropy, who are acquainted with the Third Sector, i.e. non-profit organizations. This unique program offers the students a broad perspective in the management of non-profit and communal organizations and in the rapidly developing area of philanthropic studies.

(Thanks to JTA for the tip.)

Posted on January 9, 2007

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Operation Screwball

This entry was posted in History on by .

Apparently, there’s a new grassroots movement to protest the ultra-Orthodox, anti-Zionist, Iran-friendly Neturei Karta. Its code name: Operation Screwball. (The group’s website link is dead all of a sudden, but keep checking back. In the meantime, check out the YNet coverage.

All of this as Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi Yona Metzger brought his Neturei Karta protests to Australia.


“If someone from Hamas wants to come to Israel, Israel would welcome him?â€? he asked.

In the same speech, Rabbi Metzger suggested that Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, should consider Saddam Hussein’s execution a warning.

Posted on January 9, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Renewal Rabbis

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

This just in from JTA:

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder and leader of Jewish Renewal, ordained two rabbis, two rabbinic pastors and one cantor Sunday at the annual conference of Ohalah, the association of Jewish Renewal rabbis, in Boulder, Colo. (MORE)

Anyone know who the two new rabbis are?

Read more about the Jewish Renewal movement here.

Posted on January 8, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Free Will Today

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

The New York Times last week had an interesting article on free will and the current scientific debate about whether it exists or not. Of course, this is an age-old question, but in light of other science vs. religion debates happening in the United States today, it is, indeed, one worth contemplating anew.

Michael Silberstein from Elizabethtown College pointed this out explicitly:

“If people freak at evolution, etc.,” he wrote in an e-mail message, “how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?”

Of course, this assumes that the denial of free will could ever achieve the same kind of scientific unanimity as evolution. And that’s unlikely.

But chew on this: according to Silberstein,

every physical system that has been investigated has turned out to be either deterministic or random. “Both are bad news for free will,” he said. So if human actions can’t be caused and aren’t random, he said, “It must be — what — some weird magical power?”

Still, as the NYT article suggests, even if free will is an illusion, it’s likely a strong enough illusion to keep society-wide nihilism in check.

For a look at the Jewish take on free will, start reading here.

Posted on January 8, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Making It

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

In my latest column for the Jerusalem Post, I re-examine Norman Podhoretz’s Making It, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2007. Today, Podhoretz is known more as a political thinker (a founding member of the neo-conservative club), but he initially made his mark as a literary critic, in the (overwhelmingly Jewish) circles surrounding Commentary and Partisan Review.

There are so many reasons for me not to like Making It — Podhoretz’s politics and its self-congratulatory tone to name a couple — but every time I go back to it, I remember how much I love the book. Podhoretz evokes a lost Jewish/intellectual world that’s hard not to be amazed by. (I had forgotten, for example, his descriptions of attending the Jewish Theological Seminary while an undergraduate at Columbia. Interestingly, for all the intellectual firepower at JTS at the time, Podhoretz found the place pretty parochial.)

Also amazing is that much of the great intellectual work that Podhoretz describes was done in book reviews. I’ve blogged before about my issues with contemporary book criticism and re-reading Podhoretz’s thoughts on the genre reminded me how influenced I’ve probably been by the old-school ways.

A snippet from my column:

Today, most book reviews are glorified summaries with a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down attached. Back then, book reviews were a primary medium for intellectual advancement, something that was possible because the genre’s model was different.

Podhoretz describes the reviewing method of the “family” as an attempt “to relate aesthetic judgment… to some social or cultural or literary issue outside the book itself – the strengths and deficiencies of the work being assumed to mean something more than that the author was operating at the top of his bent here and nodding, as even Homer occasionally does, there.”

You can read the rest of the article here.

Posted on January 5, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Gershon Shaked z”l

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I don’t mean to start the post-holiday period with death notices, but the great Israeli literary critic Gershon Shaked died last week.

Shaked was the cartographer of Hebrew literature: He examined the changes that Hebrew literature underwent over the past century from historical, social and cultural perspectives. He mapped local writings, defined generations of Israeli authors, shaped the literary canon and taught and influenced authors and literary critics. For years, Shaked has been considered the leading international authority on Israeli literature. He published more than 20 books and hundreds of articles.  (MORE)

For an introduction to his work, you can read this MJL article about the Israeli “New Wave.”

Posted on January 4, 2007

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There is No More Fiction

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I emailed Alice Mattison (author of the wonderful story collection In Case We’re Separated) and asked her to share some thoughts on the life and work of Tillie Olsen.

This is what she wrote back:

From: Alice Mattison
To: Daniel Septimus
Date: Jan 3, 2007
Subejct: Re: Tillie Olsen

Hi, Daniel–
Happy New Year to you too. I’d love to say something about Tillie Olsen, who mattered a lot to me. Here’s what I jotted down and I hope you can use it. All best, Alice

I never met Tillie Olsen, but I’ve loved her small body of work since the nineteen seventies, when I came across Tell Me A Riddle — a collection of just four stories — and was so struck by the matter-of-fact clarity with which she described the complexities of ordinary life and ordinary love that I recognized an entire new way to write stories, and began to think that even I, a young urban Jewish mother, could write them. I still suggest to new writers that they read Tillie Olsen and she still inspires them. One story is about a mother reflecting (while ironing) on the ways her daughter’s life might have been better, another concerns young best friends, black and white girls, as they try to grow up together. The third is about an alcoholic sailor and the family that continues to love him, and the fourth, the title story, concerns an old immigrant couple who’ve been loving and enduring each other — and driving each other crazy — since their young political days in Europe. The stories aren’t exactly political, but they’re infused with a strong old lefty belief in the significance of ordinary working lives, and the one time I heard Tillie Olsen speak — lecturing at Yale about the Great Depression — she interrupted herself to sing “Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?” As a young woman, she had children and difficult jobs, and little time for writing. When her stories were finally discovered and published, it was somehow too late, and though a partially completed novel, Yonnondio, was also printed (and though she wrote a nonfiction book, Silences, about why women don’t write and publish as easily as men), there is no more fiction.

Posted on January 3, 2007

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Tillie Olsen z”l

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

A couple of weeks ago, I hosted an event at the 92nd Street Y with the writer Alice Mattison. When asked about her favorite writers, Mattison’s short list included Tillie Olsen, the author of Tell Me a Riddle and Silences.

Olsen, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants who settled in Nebraska, was also a labor activist and pioneering feminist. She died on Monday at the age of 94.

You can read Olsen’s New York Times obituary, here.

Other resources:

- Tillie Olsen on Wikipedia

- Scott Turow on Tillie Olsen on NPR

- Reading list for a class on “The Literature of Poverty, Oppression, Revolution, and the Struggle for Freedom” that Tillie Olsen taught at Amherst College in 1969.

Posted on January 3, 2007

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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