Monthly Archives: July 2007

California Love

This entry was posted in History on by .

In one of his hit songs, California Love, the late Tupac rapped, “It’s all good, from Diego to the Bay,” well his words have not stood the test of time. It isn’t “all good” for some Jewish residents of No-Cal.

Eight years after the infamous public hearings that doomed the Palo Alto eruv, Congregation Emek Beracha is at it again. But until the local press began covering the latest saga in the eruv chronicle, opponents didn’t even know it was an issue.

Now that they know, some of them aren’t happy.

“The eruv forces upon us the necessity to live in a community devoted to the worship of a god foreign to our understanding and devotion,” one resident said.

It’s hard not to see responses like this as an overreaction, though. The eruv doesn’t have any spiritual significance for a non-Jew, and it can barely be differentiated from utility wires.

Clearly locals think otherwise. Said one resident of neighboring, Woodside,

“We live in a modern, secular, democratic world, and these wackos are trying to catapult us back into a 2,000-years-ago kind of deal…the sneaky way these folks do things.”

Interesting that this person considers calling people “wackoâ€? because of their religious beliefs acceptable in the “modern, secular, democratic world.”

While most opponents to the Palo Alto eruv argue that it is in violation of the separation of church and state, using provocative language to describe Jews or Jewish traditions detracts from their claims. It also begs the question: Is the problem really the separation of church and state or something else?

Regardless of opponents’ views, the Orthodox community of Palo Alto has legal precedent including the controversial Tenafly, N.J., eruv ruling in 2002. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that granting a permit to construct an eruv does not violate the ban on government establishment of religion according to the First Amendment. So it seems like the Orthodox Community may get their wish even without any “California Love”. Don’t worry, East Coast has your back!

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

Posted on July 25, 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

How to Judge People

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

If there’s one thing the Jewish community is all-too often missing, it’s self-criticism. Groups and movements tend to blame other groups and movements for their problems and the problems of klal yisrael.

In turn, there’s little that I respect more than seeing someone give an honest critique of their own.

So kudos to Rabbi Doron Beckerman over at Cross-Currents for publicly acknowledging the recent examples of haredi misbehavior:

Much virtual ink has been spilled in recent months over the acts of vandalism, hooliganism, and general bad Middos of various sub-sectors of Charedi society. One of the themes which one gleans from many of the comments decrying these actions, when coming from quarters other than internal, is that these actions show that the values of Charedi society are essentially rotten, and that a total reevaluation of the underlying messages given by the Rabbanim and Mechanchim of the Charedi world is in order. (MORE)

Rabbi Beckerman should also be commended for raising the question about what this says about the haredi world, generally. But he resists the conclusion that haredi misbehavior reflects poorly on haredi ideology.

Following this logic – of extrapolation from the actions of some members of a group to the nixing of its essential values – leads one to wonder how to relate to the values of the Torah itself, in light of Moshe Rabbeinu’s tongue lashing of the Jewish Nation. Moshe Rabbeinu, according to Rashi in last week’s Torah portion, tells his brethren that they are cumbersome, brazen people who have no respect for their leaders, as well as insufferable complainers…“Don’t judge Judaism by the Jewsâ€? was certainly part of Moshe’s thought process, or else he would have had to question his entire mission of Matan Torah – which he never did.

So Rabbi Beckerman asks: “How does one go about evaluating values of a religion/society if not by its adherents?”

His conclusion: Judge a people by their leaders.

The essential values of Charedi society cannot, and should not, be judged by the actions of some rabble in their midst. They must be judged by those whom they revere, who are held up as the true epitome of the values they seek to inculcate in their children – the Brisker Rav and the Chazon Ish and the Satmar Rebbe; Rav Chaim Kanievsky, Rav Elyashiv and Rav Tuvia Weiss. (MORE)

While, once again, I laud Rabbi Beckerman for his self-reflection, I’m troubled by his conclusions. Where does he think the hooligan-inspiring ideas come from?

Rabbi Elyashiv, for example, has led the charge against “immodesty,” going so far as to establish a modesty court that issues kosher certifications to women’s clothing stores. Is there no connection between this and the individual haredim who take modesty enforcement into their own hands?

In a recent article about Ramat Beit Shemesh, even Israelis from the national religious (daati leumi) sector were feeling the heat over this matter:

The national religious population has been driven out of town. “I am planning to leave with my family very soon,” said one national religious woman. “Every time I walk down the street, I’m frightened. Hundreds of haredim stare at me and scrutinize the way I’m dressed. It is not pleasant to live here.” (MORE)

Finally, I just disagree with Beckerman on a behavioral level. Our identities and ideologies are forged by our social environments. If corruption and immorality exist broadly (and I’m not saying they necessarily do in the haredi community), then yes, absolutely, there is something anti-social about the environment.

Posted on July 25, 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

iJerusalem

This entry was posted in General on by .

Here’s a great resource for your next trip to Israel: the city of Jerusalem has prepared a series of tours in mp3 format, including Ein Karem, the Mount of Olives, Nahla’ot and Ha’Nevi’im Street, the Jewish Quarter and the Via Dolorosa, and others. You pick the tour to download the file to your player, and can print maps and text files to go with.

Posted on July 25, 2007

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Eicha

This entry was posted in Holidays, Texts on by .

Cantillation or trope has always mesmerized me. I know of no other religion that has a similar system for chanting sacred texts. For those unfamiliar with the process, there is a set of signs that accompany each word of Torah, Haftorah and other writings. Each of these signs represents a certain musical phrase. In chanting the text, one reads the word according to that melody.

Trope, in addition to beautifying traditional texts, helps to the tell the story contained in the writing. The end of each troupe phrase generally corresponds with the end of an content phrase. There is a trope to represent a comma, period, and end of sentence.

One will also find special trope signs that emphasize a specific word, usually to note an important moment in the story. For example, in the portion Lekh-L’kha, God promises Abraham the land of Canaan, if Abraham is willing journey to a land that God will later reveal. As Abraham leaves the only home he has ever known, his name is sung in an elongated trope, meant to break up the text and notify the listener that this is a crucial detail.

As one studies and leins text, the trope becomes an essential part of telling the story. I mention this today, because tonight is the beginning of Tisha B’av. To commemorate the destruction of the Temple, Jews read the Book of Lamentations or Eicha. The trope perfectly captures the sorrow mood mixed with the eventually hope that God will comfort the Jewish people.

If you haven’t had the opportunity, take a few minutes to listen to Eicha. Even without understanding any of the words, the trope says it all.

Posted on July 23, 2007

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Fasting on Tisha B’av

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

The fast day of Tisha B’av begins tonight. Like Yom Kippur, this fast lasts a full 26 hours. Argh.

I know I’m not alone in my struggles with fasting…though that doesn’t make me any cheerier at 4pm when my husband is starting to look like a roast turkey with all the trimmings.

I’m used to a Judaism of feasting, not fasting. So how to shift gears and find meaning in a day of denial?

Here to help us get the most out of Tisha B’av, Jay Michaelson offers some surprising and inspiring thoughts on the function of fasting.

Posted on July 23, 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

Why Be Jewish?

This entry was posted in General on by .

On Sunday, I’ll be heading to Park City, Utah for a conference called called “Why Be Jewish?”

The 2 1/2 day affair, convened by Adam Bronfman and sponsored by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation, is meant to jumpstart a communal conversation about Jewish life and values that takes us beyond questions regarding survival, continuity, and intermarriage.

The conference was organized by Rabbi Eliyahu Stern, who detailed some of his thoughts on the theme in last week’s Jewish Week.

While modernity, the Holocaust, the American Jewish experience and threats to Israel’s existence have forced us to confront serious demographic concerns, oftentimes we use such issues as a veil to cover our ignorance of our own tradition. As the Hebraist Simon Rawidowicz described in his classic, “Israel: the Ever-Dying People,� it’s easier to kvetch about one’s grandchildren needing to be Jewish than to give them a reason why they should be.

It might be heretical to ask, “Why be Jewish?� The results are unpredictable: we run the risk of failing to provide a convincing answer, making matters worse. But it is a timely and genuinely Jewish question. If we do not pose it, we face the even greater difficulty of promoting a Judaism that we are not sure we believe in ourselves. (MORE)

Conference participants include an eclectic mix of leading academics, intellectuals, and communal leaders including: Leon Wieseltier, David Ellenson, Tova Hartman, Bernard-Henri Levy, Anita Diamant, Esther Perel, and Art Green.

Posted on July 23, 2007

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An End to Shabbos Shopping?

This entry was posted in Practices on by .
  • A poll shows that in Israel, 27 percent of the Jewish population observes the Shabbat according to Halacha, while 20% were keeping the Shabbat to a certain degree and 53% not at all. There was strong support for giving up shopping in favor of “having public transport services operating on that day and enjoying leisure activitiesâ€?. (The Jerusalem Post)
  • Rabbi Menachem Posner explains that “It is forbidden to pet, hold, or stroke an animal on Shabbat,â€? with very limited exceptions. You can walk your dog but that leash must remain taut outside an eruv, lest you be carrying the leash. (Chabad)
  • If you visit another for Friday night meal, but plan to return home to sleep, which is the best place to light candles? And do those candles you light have to be yours? (in two parts) (The Jewish Week)
  • The IDF rabbinate has ruled that “religious soldiers who wish to remain alert during Shabbat will be able to turn the radio on before Shabbat commences but only if they tune in to non-Jewish stations.â€? (The Jerusalem Post)

Posted on July 23, 2007

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Sam, the Banana Man

This entry was posted in History on by .

Before there were Halliburton and Exxon-Mobil, there was United Fruit.

I’ve been spending a lot of my spare time over the last several months reading up on U.S. history, and one of the astonishing things that I’ve found is that before America allegedly/really (it’s not my place to say here) started to intervene in other countries on behalf of the oil industry, it in fact did do so on behalf of the fruit industry.

One of the best sources I’ve come across for info on this rather startling historical phenomenon is Stephen Kinzer‘s recently-released book, Overthrow.

One Russian-American Jew, Samuel Zemurray, played a significant part:

Samuel Zemurray (January 18, 1877-November 30, 1961) was a U.S. businessman. He made his fortune in the banana trade and founded the Cuyamel Fruit Company, which played a significant and controversial role in the history of Honduras. Zemurray later became head of the United Fruit Company.

banana.jpg

Zemurray’s original name was Schmuel Zmurri. He was born in Kishinev, Bessarabia, Russia (present-day ChiÅŸinău, Moldova) to a poor Jewish family that emigrated to America when he was fourteen years old. Zemurray had no formal education. He entered the banana trade in Mobile, Alabama in 1895, at the age of eighteen. His early wealth was largely due to a very successful venture in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he bought the bananas that had ripened in the transport ships and then sold them locally. His success earned him the nickname “Sam the Banana Man.” By age twenty-one he had banked $100,000. He later bought a steamship and went to Honduras. (MORE)

Which, according to Kinzer, is where Sam first immersed himself into geopolitics:

Like many other American businessmen in Central America, Zemurray considered his land a private fiefdom. He resented having to pay taxes and abide by Honduran laws and regulations. That put him in conflict with President Miguel Dávila, who not only insisted that foreign businesses submit to taxation but was campaigning to limit the amount of land foreigners could own in Honduras … Zemurray decided that Dávila was now ripe to be overthrown, and with typical resolve set out to do the overthrowing himself.

President Bonilla handsomely rewarded the man who had placed him in power. Soon after taking office, he awarded Zemurray 10,000 hectares of banana land-about 24,700 acres-near the north coast. Later he added 10,000 hectares near the Guatemalan border. Then he gave Zemurray a unique permit allowing his businesses to import whatever they needed duty-free. Finally, he authorized Zemurray to raise a $500,000 loan in the name of the Honduran government, and use the money to repay himself for what he claimed to have spent organizing the revolution. With assets like these, it is no wonder that Zemurray soon became known as “the uncrowned king of Central America.” He was certainly the king of Honduras. After Bonilla’s death in 1913, he controlled a string of presidents. In 1925 he secured exclusive lumbering rights to a region covering one-tenth of Honduran territory. Later he merged his enterprises with United Fruit and took over as the firm’s managing director. Under his leadership, United Fruit became inextricably interwoven with the fabric of Central American life. According to one study, it “throttled competitors, dominated governments, manacled railroads, ruined planters, choked cooperatives, domineered over workers, fought organized labor and exploited consumers.”

This wasn’t the last time the Banana Man meddled in Central American affairs. According to the United Fruit Historical Society, whose purpose is “is to disseminate educational material about the history of the United Fruit Company and to gather historical information of the company in order to keep this knowledge for future generations,” Sam moved on to Guatemala:

After Zemurray retired in 1951, he remained as chairman of the executive committee of United Fruit. In that position it has been said that he had an important role in engineering the overthrow of the government of Guatemala in 1954, after the democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz began expropriating the company’s plantations in order to follow his agrarian reform project. Zemurray led a campaign that portrayed Arbenz as a dangerous Communist in the American media. Working together with an advertisement company he distributed alarmist propaganda among the press and Congressmen in which he showed Guatemala as a foothold of the Soviet Union in the Western Hemisphere. This campaign was eventually successful, since the CIA sponsored a military coup against Arbenz, in which the rebels used United Fruit boats to transport troops and ammunition.

And, perhaps my favorite part (it’s fun when history is linked):

In 1961, United Fruit also provided two ships for the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.

Sam’s Jewish identity led him to get involved in another part of the world, as well. He and his family gave to the Zionist movement as a result of their friendship with Chaim Weizmann.

At least Zemurry was “philan-tropic.”

Just a historical token for the day.

Posted on July 20, 2007

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Harry Potter Frenzy: Day 4

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

As I was browsing articles on Harry Potter, I came across an item from last year where Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter of the silver screen) reveals that he is Jewish, or at least halakhicly so.

Radcliffe tells the Australian “Today Show:”

“My mum was of Jewish blood and my dad was protestant,� he said.

He then proceeded to reveal further details of his family background. “So I grew up in a very,� and then changed track to talk about religion in general. “I’m very interested in religion as something to study. But I’m not a religious person in the slightest.� (MORE)

I then began to find a few articles from Jewish organizations about this discovery including the Chicago Federation’s tween spotlight.

Why is that we are so eager to seek out Jewish celebrities? It’s clear that Radcliffe doesn’t have a connection to Judaism, same as the majority of the people listed in any of Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah Songs. But we love the fact that they are Jewish.

Why? What does this say about Jewish identity in today’s society?

Posted on July 19, 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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