Monthly Archives: March 2007

Jewish Grammar: Nebbish

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I’m not sure how I feel about the recent Jewcy article “Reclaiming the Nebbish,” in which Peter Hyman exhorts us to find our inner “klutzy, bespectacled mother-loving stereotype” of a Jew.

Meaning, I’m not convinced that Jewish men have really transcended this stereotype and passed it on to the gentiles. Hyman provides a handful of good examples of GentileNebs, but not enough MachoJews to convince me. In any case, the article is all in good fun, and more than anything it fixated me on the grammar of the word “nebbish.”

Hyman uses the word “nebbish” as a noun: “At a deeper level, the nebbish represents nothing less than a core aspect of the Jewish identity — a freedom from pretense and an obsessive nerdiness that combines book smarts with a lack of concern for social status.”

But I always assumed “nebbish” was an adjective. Like “skittish” or “squeamish. Or “Jewish” for that matter. I assumed the noun version was “neb” — or something like that.

But, alas, I was wrong. The etymology of the word: Nebbish is from Yiddish nebekh, “poor, unfortunate,” of Slavic origin.

Posted on March 14, 2007

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More Judaica

This entry was posted in General on by .

More on the new edition of the Encyclopedia Judaica:

A series of topics have been expanded in the new encyclopedia: women and gender in the Jewish world, Holocaust studies, Jewish law, kabbala research (in the period after Gershom Scholem), the Talmud, the Bible and Bible criticism, popular culture in the Jewish world (including Steven Spielberg) and more.

“The world has changed since the first edition of the ‘Judaica,'” says Berenbaum. “Forty years ago the Soviet Union still existed, Israel was a smaller country, and the first ‘Judaica ‘was written before the Yom Kippur and Lebanon Wars, before the increasing ultra-Orthodoxy experienced in Judaism and before the development of Jewish studies. Holocaust research was only in diapers then. American Jewry has changed and so have the Jewish communities everywhere.”

One of the main emphases in the current edition, says Berenbaum, is on women’s role in the Jewish world. “In the first edition, only 1.25 percent of all the entries were devoted to women. The ritual bath experience, for example, was written about by men. Now we have repaired this. About 2,600 of a total of about 14,000 new entries are about women.”  (MORE)

Posted on March 13, 2007

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Name That War

This entry was posted in History on by .

Reuters reports:

Israel is trying to put a name to the war it waged against Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas last year, but not without some infighting.

Defence Minister Amir Peretz, pressed by families of some of the 117 Israeli soldiers and 41 civilians killed in the 34-day conflict, has set up a panel to come up with a proposal…

Asked on Tuesday by Israel’s popular YNet news web site to offer a name of their own, readers came up with suggestions such as “Operation Failure”, “The Idiotic War”, “The Big Shame” and “Amir Peretz’s Final War”. (MORE)

Posted on March 13, 2007

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Losing Their Religion

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Thanks to FailedMessiah for pointing out a very interesting article in Biblical Archaeology Review in which Hershel Shanks interviews four biblical scholars about how their scholarship has affected their faith.

Several media stories recently reported that Bart Ehrman, a leading expert on the apocryphal gospels and one of BAS’s most popular lecturers, had lost his faith as a result of his scholarly research. This raised a question for us that is not often talked about, but seemed well worth a discussion: What effect does scholarship have on faith? We asked Bart to join three other scholars to talk about this: James F. Strange, a leading archaeologist and Baptist minister; Lawrence H. Schiffman, a prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar and Orthodox Jew; and William G. Dever, one of America’s best-known and most widely quoted archaeologists, who had been an evangelical preacher, then lost his faith, then became a Reform Jew and now says he’s a non-believer. The discussion took place in the offices of the Biblical Archaeology Society on November 19, 2006, and was moderated by BAR editor Hershel Shanks. (MORE)

Posted on March 12, 2007

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The Private Heschel

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Susannnah Heschel has a wonderful article in the Jewish Week about her father, Abraham Joshua Heschel, in which she writes about his life as a father and husband, as well as his life as a public intellectual and rebbe.

The end of the article has a beautiful take on the way Heschel transcended traditional Jewish denominations and categories.

Rabbi Samuel Belkin, who was president of Yeshiva University, once told my father, “You are rabbi to the world.” My father never claimed there was a single way to be a Jew, nor did he ever identify himself as a representative of Conservative Judaism. One might describe him as “strictly observant,” but that adjective seems inappropriate — he was lovingly observant, relishing with joy every mitzvah. My hope is that all who are inspired by my father’s work will absorb some of his wonderful personality as well — his enthusiasm for life, his joy in his family, the empathy he brought to his friends and also the seriousness and depth of his moral commitments. (MORE)

Posted on March 9, 2007

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Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007)

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Jean Baudrillard, the maddeningly-obscure, but prophetic, French philosopher died earlier this week at the age of 77.

Baudrillard wasn’t Jewish. But I am. And breaking my teeth on Simulacra and Simulation back in graduate school was one of my most frustrating and rewarding intellectual experiences.

Baudrillard is best known for his idea that we are living in an age in which reality has been vanquished. There is no real anymore, only simulation, only simulacra — copies without originals. Think this is just masturbatory French theory? Consider Bill O’Reilly on Steven Colbert’s show a few months back.

O’Reilly is already the hyper-real version of the news. He performs the news. Colbert is the simulacrum of O’Reilly, in a sense — the copy of the copy. And then O’Reilly (the character or the man?) shows up to be interviewed by a character copying him. This is our entertainment. For some people, this is news. Yet the entire conversation is taking place in a realm utterly divorced from the “real.” And then, to boot, Colbert acknowledges it all.

The clip is below, but basically it goes something like this.

O’Reilly: “I’m really effete…This is just an act.”
Colbert: “If you’re an act, then what am I?”

If you’re interested in even more Baudrillard. After the jump, I’ve pasted a relevant article I wrote about Don DeLillo’s White Noise for the Jerusalem Post a few year’s back.

Continue reading

Posted on March 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

Morbid Jews

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

The other night I went to an Emerging Jewish Writers panel/reading as part of the Steinhardt Jewish Heritage Festival. The panel was moderated by Forward editor Alana Newhouse and featured Shalom Auslander, Jennifer Gilmore, Aaron Hamburger, and Rachel Kadish.

Kadish read from her novel Tolstoy Lied, in which the protagonist, Tracy Farber, grapples — broadly speaking — with the famous first line from Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In other words: Is happiness, fundamentally, uninteresting?

But Kadish’s remarks before her reading raise another question: Is happiness, fundamentally, un-Jewish?

Kadish discussed her interest in memory, quoting the old joke that the opposite of Alzheimer’s is Jewish, and then she said something like: “I’m interested in memory, which means I think a lot about tragedy.” Perhaps, this is something Kadish explores in Tolstoy Lied, but it’s interesting that when we, as Jews, remember, we remember all the bad things — the tragedies. Shalom Auslander echoed this in his reading:

On Purim, we remember how the Persians tried to kill us. On Passover, we remember how the Egyptians tried to kill us. On Hanukkah we remember how the Greeks tried to kill us.

Are we Jews really this morbid?

This isn’t just a theoretical question. It’s really bothering me. If I had a friend who was obsessed with the past, but who only thought about the bad things that happened in the past, I’d push him into therapy. I’d consider the tendency pathological.

Do we as a community suffer some sort of psycho-cultural pathology?

Now, you might think this is obvious. You might say: This is Jewish history. A history of tragedy followed by tragedy. But let’s face it, before modern liberalism acknowledged basic human rights and before modern medicine gifted us longer healthier lives, life sucked for everyone. The Polish peasants might have made life miserable for us, but it wasn’t like they were all living on Park Avenue.

I guess the question is whether other ancient peoples remember the past in other ways and respond to tragedy in other ways.

So do they? I don’t know. Help me out here, guys. Do we need one big family therapy session?

I hope not. I’m pretty sure my HMO won’t cover it.

Posted on March 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

Rashi Roundup

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

In the world of Jewish learning, understanding Rashi is one of the most basic—and the most difficult—skills you’ll have to master.

Rashi’s commentaries on the Torah and the Talmud are indispensable and the first ones any scholar consults. But his commentaries are most-often found in what’s come to be known as “Rashi-script�—a way of writing so different from normal Hebrew print or cursive that it’s almost like learning to write a new language. 

If it’s so challenging to read, why not skip it? As one of our discussion board posters commented: If you want to understand the Jewish point of view, you have to read commentaries. That is to say, you need the Written Torah and the Oral Torah, the Word and its Interpretation.

Chabad.org offers a full English text of the Tanakh with English Rashi. Rashi Yomi, which also provides English Rashi along with a Hebrew text (all in a searchable database), also strives to teach you HOW Rashi works and what his commentaries mean.

When you’re ready to move on to Hebrew Rashi, Torah School offers an interactive crash course in Rashi script. Study up, then test your skills with this fun game from the Jewish Theological Seminary! 

Posted on March 8, 2007

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UJ Accepts Gay Rabbinical Students

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

As expected, the University of Judaism made the first practical move toward integrating the Conservative movement’s new responsum on homosexuality:

Two gay applicants — one man, one woman — have been accepted for the fall by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. The move reflects the school’s longstanding position that it would immediately begin considering gay candidates once the movement’s top lawmaking body — the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards — sanctioned gay and lesbian clergy. (MORE)

Posted on March 8, 2007

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New Torah Commentaries

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

Thanks to our friends at American Jewish World Service and the Jewish Outreach Institute you can now read weekly Torah portion commentaries from these organizations on MyJewishLearning.

The AJWS commentaries are written by different writers each week. JOI’s are written by Rabbi Kerry Olitzky.

You can find the commentaries for this week’s parsha, Ki Tisa, here and here.

And if you haven’t yet, you can sign up here to get links to these and other Torah portion commentaries via email.

Posted on March 7, 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