Monthly Archives: June 2007

Mordecai Ardon

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Last week marked the 15th yahrzeit of Mordecai Ardon, arguably Israel’s greatest painter. This week, MJL features an article about the noted artist written by Menachem Wecker.

Ardon came into prominence for envisioning the landscape of Israel. Wecker writes:

When he first arrived in Palestine at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, Ardon complained he was “unable to see color–everything was gray.”

But the grayness did not last long. “For Ardon the streets of Jerusalem evoked memories of childhood,” wrote Michele Vishny in Mordecai Ardon (Abrams, 1973). “In the Orthodox Jew who lived in the Mea Shearim district he saw himself as a boy, with his little hat, caftan, and side curls. It was the landscape, however, which engraved itself upon his mind and heart. As he walked through Jerusalem’s hills he felt a mystical attachment to the earth.”

Ardon joined the faculty of the Bezalel Academy, Israel’s renowned art school, in 1935 and became director five years later. From 1952 to 1963, he served as artistic advisor to Israel’s Ministry of Education and Culture.

More significantly, Ardon began contemplating the nature of the Jewish artist. In his 1949 essay “The Artist and the Earth,” Ardon reflected, “It will happen that the Jewish artist, at first, will go out naively beyond the wall of ancient Jerusalem… And suddenly the view of the Kidron Valleywill be revealed to his eyes–revealed in all its primal state. And sometimes the artist will stand overwhelmed, almost afraid, will stand as though petrified … A first meeting takes place between the two [the artist and the earth]–and it is primal.” (MORE)

Despite the fact that his paintings were infused with Kabbalistic symbols, Ardon was not a mystic. He was a devout atheist and a secular Jew. He used imagery from Kabbalah because he enjoyed the graphical nature of the pictures, found in few other places in Judaism.

The estate of Mordecai Ardon has a comprehensive website, which includes audio of Ardon describing his artistic vision as well as Michael Ardon talking about his father’s life (both in Hebrew). You’ll also find a gallery of Ardon’s most notable works.

Posted on June 25, 2007

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Chutzpah Alert

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Ynet News recently reported the following story about Rabbi Avraham Yosef:

During a radio show on which he replies to halachic questions, the rabbi, son of Shas’ spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef, was asked by a listener whether names should be changed if, for instance, the bride and her mother-in-law share the same name.

The rabbi answered that a name must never be changed, though another name can be added to the first name, unless one carries the name of “an evil, indecent figure� like Herzl, the founder of Zionism, or the biblical Nimrod. “One must be careful not to name his children by these names,� Yosef stressed. (MORE)

So why was Herzl evil?

I imagine it has something to do with Herzl’s secular Zionism. And if that’s the case, Yosef’s comments are a genre of chutzpah I’ve encountered before: religious Jews who value and utilize a Jewish state, while conveniently forgetting the fact that, in the early years, religious Jews were overwhelmingly against Zionism.

Rabbi Avraham Yosef is the chief rabbi of Holon, but he doesn’t seem to realize that if Herzl had been frum, Israel wouldn’t have a chief rabbi of anything.

Posted on June 25, 2007

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The H Word, and Other News

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  • Avi Issacharoff looks at why Israeli media is so unconcerned about Palestinians killing Palestinians. (Haaretz)
  • The haredi in Israel are split over public opposition to the Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem: “Prominent ultra-Orthodox media are doing their best to ignore the subject altogether. Radio Kol Hai and the daily newspaper Hamodia, for example, are applying self-censorship and refraining from mentioning the issue.â€? It is a smaller faction, Edah Haredit, that is attempting to publicize the issue. (Haaretz)
  • And indeed, “None of the ultra-Orthodox newspapers has ever printed the H-word [homosexual]. Indeed, some of them are under strict orders to not even mention the event that is causing such strife; the others simply refer to it as ‘the abomination.’ â€? And that’s just the start of a list of taboo topics, mostly sexual. (The Jerusalem Post)
  • Micha Odenheimer reports that Mishpacha, a Haredi weekly magazine published in both Hebrew and English, “has successfully redrawn the borders of public discourse for this tightly disciplined community… serves as a filter, allowing features of contemporary society deemed worthy to enter haredi consciousness, while keeping other aspects far away.â€? (Foreign Policy)
  • A former Israel Broadcasting Authority news editor Dr. Chanan Naveh admits: “We slanted the news towards a withdrawal from Lebanon – because we had sons there… I am very proud that we had a part in getting of our sons out of Lebanon.” (Israel National News)
  • Anshel Pfeffer bemoans the fact labor primary winner Ehud Barak was able to “thumb his nose at the local media and get away with it.â€? (The Jerusalem Post)
  • Appreciations for the recently deceased Ze’ev Schiff, the “paragon of Israeli military correspondentsâ€?: Martin Indyk, Shimon Peres, Israel Tal, Itamar Rabinovich, and Eitan Haber (Haaretz).

Posted on June 25, 2007

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Pharoah’s real reason

This entry was posted in Life on by .

First born sons have lots of responsibilities: being redeemed (Pidyon HaBen), fasting before Passover, and not losing their birthright to a deceptive younger brother.

Add one more to the list. Being smart.

A study in Norway has found that firstborn sons have higher IQs than younger brothers. But…

This study provides evidence that the relation between birth order and IQ score is dependent on the social rank in the family and not birth order as such…. Their studies confirmed what many scientists had suspected for more than a century — that firstborns have an edge. (MORE)

Oddly enough, Genesis revealed this millenia ago.

Posted on June 22, 2007

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Why Play Ball!?

This entry was posted in General on by .

With opening day of the Israeli Baseball League this Sunday, I thought it was time to revisit the multiple reasons for its founding.

Reason #1:

IBL officials are hoping the league will quickly spur Israeli interest in American baseball — they aim to draw about 1,000 fans per game in the first year — while government officials hope it will help boost Israel’s image abroad. (MORE)

I’ve been a die hard Yankees fan since birth, but give me a break. Can a sport, especially one dominated by the Evil Empire (America, not the Boston Red Sox), improve Israel’s image abroad?

Reason #2:

The opportunity to show Israel not only as a country at war but as a country involved in sports — quintessentially American sports at that — could help Americans bond with Israel. (MORE)

Right, Americans have really bonded with Cuba since the likes of Jose Contreras and Orlando Hernandez waded onto American soil to pitch in the major leagues. Will the IBL really change the relationship between Israel and America? The expansion of Sbarro, McDonald’s and Burger King has not helped Americans bond with Israel, on the contrary it is just Americanizing Israel.

Reason #3:

League officials are adamant about getting Israel into the 2009 World Baseball Classic, an international baseball tournament comprised of professional and amateur all-stars. (MORE)

Again, Cuba.

While these claims seem outrageous to me, I am a baseball fan so I’m looking forward to the start of the season. In fact, I can even watch the first game on television (Sunday night on PBS, which is another issue altogether)! And don’t worry, I already hate the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox.

(Matt Ring is the summer intern at MyJewishLearning.com)

Posted on June 22, 2007

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Gaza/West Bank Fantasies

This entry was posted in History on by .
  • Nahum Barnea argues that current notions, based on a total Fatah/West bank and Hamas/Gaza separation are based on utterly unrealistic assumptions about Fatah and Hamas. (Ynet)
  • Similarly, Uzi Benziman argues that such plans are “dreams,â€? based on a fantasy about what Egypt and Jordan are willing to do. (Haaretz)
  • And Johns Hopkins professor Fouad Ajami says: “SO the masked men of Fatah have the run of the West Bank while the masked men of Hamas have their dominion in Gaza. Some see this as a tolerable situation, maybe even an improvement, envisioning a secularist Fatah-run state living peacefully alongside Israel and a small, radical Gaza hemmed in by Israeli troops. It’s always tempting to look for salvation in disaster, but in this case it’s sheer fantasy.â€? (The New York Times)

Posted on June 22, 2007

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Debating Peoplehood

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Over at Jewcy, editor Joey Kurtzman and JTS provost Jack Wertheimer recently concluded a heated debate about the state of Jewish life in America, specifically the extent to which Jewish peoplehood still could (and should) exist.

Two things drew me into this exchange: (1) The writing — both Kurtzman’s and Wertheimer’s — is fantastic: clear, smart, sophisticated; (2) I found myself (at different times) fervently disagreeing with both writers.

In many regards I felt more of an affinity with Joey’s positions, and yet, I also found myself more riled up by his ideas. So I’ll focus on his thoughts.

Joey began the dialogue by making the claim that young American Jews are “not merely influenced by the non-Jewish world — we‘re inseparable from it.”

According to him, America’s multicultural reality negates the possibility of Jewish Americans feeling a sense of peoplehood: “What capacious definition of peoplehood could possibly include a population such as the generation of FrankenJews I‘ve described?” Thus, he calls upon Jewish leaders to forge a Judaism stripped of peoplehood.

I agree with Joey that, for the most part, American Jews are part of the non-Jewish world and that traditional notions of Jewish peoplehood could be challenged by contemporary America, but both in his first email and his last, he seems convinced that peoplehood today is not only different but dead.

“It seems to me that if Jewish-American leaders wish for Judaism to survive, they‘ll have to acknowledge that the era of peoplehood has ended, and help reinvent Judaism for modern life.”

This I don’t get. Joey seems to think that American multiculturalism negates any sense of communal identity/responsibility. While I would agree that most American Jews are not “unambiguously” Jewish, I’d argue that this is because American multiculturalism yields a situation in which we are part of multiple communities — i.e. share a sense of peoplehood with multiple peoples.

Wertheimer suggests “Pick a single religion and a single people.” Joey finds this ludicrous, and so do I, but I don’t understand why rejecting this means rejecting peoplehood. To me it means embracing multiple peoplehoods.

I recently told a friend: “If I had to choose between throwing in my fate with my fellow Park Slope liberal democrats or the haredim of Meah Shearim, I’d choose Park Slope.” But that doesn’t mean I’ve completely rejected Jewish peoplehood. I have multiple allegiances and multiple sources of identity and responsiblity. This doesn’t mean I’m alone, alienated without a people. Rather, I’m privileged to have several sources of meaning and connectivity.

Additionally, I’m not sure why Joey assumes Judaism is first and foremost “peoplehood-centered.” There are many other elements of Judaism that are sometimes viewed as the “essence”: Torah, God, Tikkun Olam, Ritual, Spirituality. There’s something odd about Joey’s insistence that the key to a revitalized Judaism is the disavowal of peoplehood. Does he truly believe that abandoning all notions peoplehood would bring the disaffected streaming back into the fold? (In fact he does: “Judaism-after-peoplehood, could sweep Frankenjewish America with all of the wildfire ferocity with which socialism once swept Jewish Europe.”)

I’m also troubled by Joey’s repeated assertion that this shift is something the leaders and scholars must initiate. Joey: If you believe this is important, why don’t you help articulate the vision? Here I agree with Wertheimer who invoked the young activists of 1969 who stormed the Federation’s General Assembly and made sure they were listened to.

Either you care about the future of Jewish life or you don’t. If you don’t, stop complaining about the current state of affairs. If you do, offer some alternatives.

To be fair, Joey does offer one positive aspect of post-peoplehood Judaism. It will be one in which “moral obligations outside the Jewish community are of fundamental importance.” The only problem is, moral obligations outside the Jewish community already are of fundamental importance to the Jewish community.

Ultimately, I think Joey is really bothered by two things: (1) Opposition to intermarriage (“it is unspeakably alien, almost laughable, to imagine that someone is a less appropriate object of our love and commitment because of the particulars of their genealogy”); (2) The idea of being extra responsible for a specific group of people (“You are right: I don’t regard the Jewish people as my family”).

In regards to the first, I think he’s right that too often the American Jewish community is concerned with intermarriage qua intermarriage, i.e. some fetishization of the Jewish “race.” So while I agree that “genealogy” may be an inappropriate marriage factor, tradition and values and ritual-lives are not.

I, for example, want to marry a Jew because living Jewishly is something I’d like to do with a spouse. While some Jews may lament intermarriage on genealogical grounds, I’m guessing Jack Wertheimer is more disappointed by the fact that young Jews are less interested in living Jewish lives as part of their most important relationships.

But ultimately I take more issue with the second point. From my experience, those with strong ties to a particular community are more, not less, likely to do hesed and social activism — even for people beyond the borders of that community. Yes, too much ethnocentrism could lead to racism, but my instincts tell me that if you surveyed New Yorkers tied to specific religious/cultural communities and compared them to your free-floating New Yorker, the former group would be giving more charity and doing more community service.

Once again, my critique here issues from my identifying with much of Joey’s brilliantly written thoughts. Read them. Read Wertheimer’s response. I’d love to hear some comments on this one.

Posted on June 21, 2007

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Trying to be colorblind

This entry was posted in History on by .

Apparently there’s a new crisis in our community–addressing Jews of color.

Or at least Jewish communal leaders are creating said crisis.

The Forward yesterday published an article by Dr. Bethamie Horowitz, on “How Jews Became Not Just White Folks.” As she points out:

In the past several months three different organizations have held gatherings highlighting the growing racial-ethnic diversity of the American Jewish population. They have been advocating a “big tent” approach, pushing the organized community to adapt to perceived demographic changes. (MORE)

Unfortunately, I attended some of those events only to find that the community is making an issue out of an intellectual exercise and not actual concerns.

Horowitz sites the historical notion that Jews have entered the American racial category of white, and that if we want to include Jews of color we must

widen the normative expectations normally contained in the term “Jewish” so that it can begin to include a multitude of subculture, choices, and flavors.

I’m sorry, but isn’t it an individual’s own fault if he or she is narrow-minded about what a Jew looks like. I’m not surprised when I see a black or Hispanic Jew walk into a sanctuary, JCC or Hillel.

Why should I be? For hundreds and in some cases, thousands of years, Jews have lived across the globe in a variety of cultures. As for Jews of choice, Judaism has no such restrictions.

Are there actually organizations whose “tent” isn’t open to Jews based on race? Are there Jews in our community who face discrimination because of their color? Let me know, so we can root our bigotry, not fix a “communal demographic change.”

I suggest to fellow communal service professionals that instead of wasting our time living in a hypothetical land of imaginary barriers, we address actual issues facing Jews of color, such as this one received by MJL this week:

It would be appreciated if you expanded your coverage of preparing for the mikveh to include issues regarding various types of hair, particularly dreadlocks. Specifically, if the water has to touch every strand of hair, does the individual with dreadlocks have to cut off his/her locked hair (which is permanently bonded, NOT braided)?

Posted on June 21, 2007

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Paying the Price

This entry was posted in General on by .
  • Moishe Ayre Friedman attended a Holocaust denial conference in Tehran, and in response, the Vienna Orthodox school has expelled his 5 kids. Is “the school is punishing the children because of their father’s actions or … protecting its students from youngsters who parents fear enthusiastically support their father’s anti-Israel opinions and Holocaust revisionism?â€? And the school’s defiance of a court order may bring financial ruin. (The Jerusalem Post)

Posted on June 21, 2007

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Democracy and the Internet

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the internet’s potential to help democratize Judaism. I hadn’t seen these lines from Al Gore’s new book then, but if I had I surely would have quoted them:

In fact, the Internet is perhaps the greatest source of hope for reestablishing an open communications environment in which the conversation of democracy can flourish. It has extremely low entry barriers for individuals. The ideas that individuals contribute are dealt with, in the main, according to the rules of a meritocracy of ideas. It is the most interactive medium in history and the one with the greatest potential for connecting individuals to one another and to a universe of knowledge.

An important distinction to make is that the Internet is not just another platform for disseminating the truth. It’s a platform for pursuing the truth, and the decentralized creation and distribution of ideas, in the same way that markets are a decentralized mechanism for the creation and distribution of goods and services. It’s a platform, in other words, for reason.

Posted on June 20, 2007

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