Monthly Archives: June 2007

A New Image for Israel

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

For our blog readers who also subscribe to Sports Illustrated (I know this may be a small percentage), “This Week’s Sign that the Apocalypse is Upon Us” is a familiar feature. Each week, SI shares one of the most outrageous stories from sports news.

Below is MJL’s version:

This Week’s Sign that the Apocalypse is Upon Us: Controversy ensues over scandalous invitations for party co-hosted by Maxim Magazine and the Israeli Consulate of New York.

Yes, Maxim and the Israeli Consulate.

invitation.jpg
The invitations featured a picture of a former Miss Israel scantily clad in a bikini. David Saranga, consul for media and public affairs offered that:

We found that Israel’s image among men 18-38 is lacking…. Israel is viewed as a very macho society. We want to show that we are a normal society like others. (MORE)

MK Collete Avital disagrees.

Israel’s image has been tainted by sex scandals involving high-ranking officials as it is. I wonder if the best way to encourage tourism is by advertising sex.

I guess this takes Hasbara to a whole new level.

Posted on June 20, 2007

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This is not kosher, Shlomo!

This entry was posted in Culture, Practices on by .

A passing reference to last year’s Morgan Freeman movie 10 Items or Less reminded me of a hilarious short film by the same name featuring Michael Rapaport and Adam Goldberg.

Rapaport stars as an overly aggressive supermarket checkout guy who tries to keep the Manischewitz-buying Goldberg from buying bacon-bits by donning a yarmulka and shouting: “This is not kosher, Shlomo!”

The film’s only a minute and a half long, so you have no excuse for not watching it (though you will have to watch an ad first).

Posted on June 19, 2007

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Coming to Israel

This entry was posted in History on by .

Posted on June 19, 2007

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The Future (or Death) of Theology

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

The other day, Meredith blogged about Elliot Cosgrove’s Forward op-ed about the unfortunate decline of Jewish theology. But I’d like to add my two cents because, though I agree with much of what Cosgrove wrote, I think there are additional factors worth noting.

Cosgrove asks “Where have all the theologians gone?” — and continues:

There are many reasons for the dearth of theological thinking, but there is one reason that is particularly worrisome: Maybe there are no fresh Jewish theological voices because Jews are no longer interested in listening.

We are so focused on Israel, antisemitism and intermarriage that we have come to ignore the linchpin for all discussions on Jewish continuity — namely, a compelling case for Jewish belief.

Here’s what I think Cosgrove missed: Theology isn’t really about belief — that’s dogma; theology is about narrative, the stories that articulate our religious visions and values. (For example, the 13 Principles of Faith were Maimonides’ beliefs/dogmas; his Aristotelian view of the purpose of life: a perpetual apprehension of God and the intelligibles, a state of constant intellectual perfection — with all the language that goes with it — that’s his theology.)

Why does this distinction between belief and narrative matter?

Because the last several decades has seen the decline of all (meta)narratives, not just Jewish ones. In other words, I’m not sure the decline in Jewish theology is a distinctly Jewish problem. Postmodernism ushered in a self-consciousness about truth — be it religious or academic — that introduced a modicum of skepticism about the stories we tell ourselves.

Cosgrove nostalgically points to the community of theologians who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s.

So what’s changed since then? Well, consider this: Peter Berger’s The Sacred Canopy was published in 1967; Clifford Geertz’s “Religion as a Cultural System” was published a year earlier. These two masterpieces both highlighted the social (i.e. human) construction of religious truth. Any potential theologian writing in the 1970s would have been aware of these works and would have felt severely challenged by them in trying to write a (meta)narrative of Judaism.

Why do I keep saying “(meta)narrative”?

Because while postmodernism sensitized us to the ways social perspectives/conditions influence our perceptions of reality and our creation of knowledge, it also empowered previously marginalized groups to become more active in the production of knowledge, hence the rise of university Feminist Studies, African American Studies, and Queer Studies.

And this leads me to the most important omission in Cosgrove’s analysis: the fact that there has been significant Jewish theology done in the past few decades by previously marginalized Jews. The last two decades has seen the publication of seminal works of feminist Jewish theology: Judith Plaskow’s Standing Again at Sinai; Rachel Adler’s Engendering Judaism; Tamar Ross’ Expanding the Palace of Torah — to name a few.

We’ve also seen the first attempts at creating gay Jewish theologies (like Rabbi Steven Greenberg’s Wresting with God and Man and this article by Jay Michaelson).

So while I agree with Cosgrove that we ought to spend more time talking about the meaning and purpose of our Jewish lives, I think he somewhat misdiagnoses the problem at hand.

In the Jewish world and beyond, grand theological narratives are dead. They’ve been replaced by limited ones, told from self-consciously specific perspectives. And many of those Jewish theologies have been written — and have already contributed to Jewish life and learning.

Posted on June 18, 2007

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Something to Chew On

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Puppies are cute, cuddly, and loving. They can even be Jewish. (Who hasn’t been to a bark mitzvah these days?)

Puppy toys can even be cute, too. And apparently puppy toys can be Jewish as well.

But what happens when we take this too far? Introducing Faigelah the Bird, from Copa Judaica’s Chewish Pet Toy line. Faigelah is a rainbow-colored doggie squeaky toy, with his name written across his chest.

faigelah.jpg

Yes, faigelah does mean “little bird” in Yiddish. As most of us know, it’s also a derogatory term for a gay person.

My dog, Peyton the Cockapoo, doesn’t eat pork products, gets a Hanukkah present, and has frizzy hair. He’s a Jewish dog.

But do we need to teach him to be a bigot?

Posted on June 18, 2007

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Force or Diplomacy?

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Posted on June 18, 2007

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Where Have All the Theologians Gone?

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

The week The Forward has an op-ed from Elliot Cosgrove, a young, dynamic rabbi out of Chicago, asking “Where Have All the Theologians Gone?” He astutely points out the dearth of thinkers contributing to the body of Jewish ideas and belief in the past 15 years:

The Jewish achievements of our age, and there are many, have overlooked the importance of Jewish belief. Our campus Hillels, federations, Holocaust museums, commitments to Israel and social justice work are all extraordinary feats, but they are cultural, institutional or political, not theological.

Ironically, the very successes of the Jewish community have also worked to the detriment of Jewish theological inquiry. The past 50 years have witnessed an extraordinary growth in Jewish studies programs and professors. But with very few exceptions, their achievements have been in journals and the classroom, not in the day to day of Jewish communal life. (MORE)

His thoughts couldn’t be more poignant as the Jewish community struggles to find effective and captivating leaders across all sectors of life.

He issues a thought-provoking challenge, which so far has gone mostly unanswered:

It is incumbent upon every generation to formulate a theology that makes Judaism compelling to the Jews of its age.

The time is ours. Nevertheless, the question remains: Is anyone interested in being part of the conversation?

Posted on June 15, 2007

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My Holocaust, Part III

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

I’ve already blogged about my negative response to Tova Reich’s novel My Holocaust and the NYTimes’ similar critique.

And, indeed, the first wave of reviews which were extremely laudatory, seems to have given way to a second, more critical, wave. Most recently, the Jewish Week‘s Gary Rosenblatt has thrown in his two cents.

Rosenblatt cites Reich’s letter to the editor in last week’s NYT Book Review and sums up the letter and the novel well:

Reich…has solid Jewish literary and communal credentials. But her letter to the editor in the New York Times Book Review last Sunday expressing contempt for Margolick and his review, written as a letter from a minor character in her book, is Exhibit A of her style in the novel: subtle as a sledgehammer, embarrassing and decidedly unfunny. (MORE)

I’m not noting this latest jab in order to further insult Reich. I have real issues with book reviews that seem unnecessarily harsh. But I believe this novel is seriously problematic — as literature and Holocaust writing — and the early, glowing reviews deserve to be counterbalanced.

Posted on June 14, 2007

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From Midway to the Mideast

This entry was posted in History on by .

In the latest issue of Newsweek, NYC District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau and Frank M. Tuerkheimer, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, have an interesting piece about relationship between the victory at the Battle of Midway and the creation of the state of Israel:

Last week marked the 65th anniversary of the Battle of Midway; in May we commemorated the 59th anniversary of the state of Israel, and every year we set aside a day to remember the victims of the Holocaust. There is a line that intimately connects these events. (MORE)

They argue that were it not for the victory at Midway, FDR would not have had the confidence to have 300 Sherman tanks redesigned for the desert. These tanks were then sent to the Suez and used to defeat Gen. Rommel in North Africa. Behind Rommel’s forces were new mobile gas units waiting to kill the Jews of Palestine, in accord with an agreement between Hitler and the grant mufti of Jerusalem.

As they point out:

Who would have fought the 1948 war if there were no local Jewish population?

Posted on June 14, 2007

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Kurt Waldheim, Dead at 88

This entry was posted in History on by .

This just in:

Kurt Waldheim, whose legacy as U.N. secretary-general was overshadowed by revelations that he belonged to a German army unit that committed atrocities in the Balkans in World War II, died Thursday. He was 88. (MORE)

The World Jewish Congress and its troubles have been in the news a lot lately, but when the storied history of this organization is discussed, its role in exposing Kurt Waldheim’s Nazi past is duly noted.

For some archival material on the case, see:

  • Review of Eli Rosenbaum’s Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Kurt Waldheim Investigation and Cover-Up (October 10, 1993)

Posted on June 14, 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