Monthly Archives: October 2007

Even the ADL Must be Cringing

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Few things make us more uncomfortable than potentially dubious claims of antisemitism. One thing that does: obviously dubious claims of antisemitism.

This one’s just embarsassing. The New York Post reports:

THE Jewish Theater of New York is squaring off against the New York Times once again, this time accusing the Gray Lady of attempting to force the company out of business by refusing to review its drama about anti-Semitism, “Last Jew in Europe,” for the second time this year.

“A big percentage of the Times’ readers are Jewish people who care deeply about issues of rising anti-Semitism,” claims the Jewish Theater’s founder, Tuvia Tenenbom, who wrote the play about the plight of Jews in today’s Poland.

“Preaching for anti-discrimination while practicing discrimination against the only English-speaking Jewish theater company in New York sounds hypocritical to every person of sound mind. It would have been better if they just said, ‘[Bleep] you’ when we call to ask when and if they are coming.” …

But Times Culture Editor Sam Sifton responds to Page Six: “The Times is not reviewing . . . because the Jewish Theater of New York has been putting on substandard work for more than a decade and was showing no sign of improvement. We decided to take a pass after one of our critics filed a review of the company’s 2005 production of ‘Kabbalah,’ calling it ‘dreadful’ and ‘mind-numbing.’ Earlier productions were ‘unmemorable’ and ‘amateurish,’ according to Times critics. Mr. Tenenbom can cry censorship all he likes. He might be better served by writing better plays.”

MORE…

Posted on October 31, 2007

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The Bible

This entry was posted in Texts on by .

-The scriptures of Jews, Christians and Moslems each proclaim their own to be the Chosen Ones. In an age when these groups want to get along, what shall be made of these passages? (Jewish Journal)

-Jews traumatized by the expulsion from Spain and Portugal looked to the Book of Esther for explanation and succor. (National Foundation for Jewish Culture)

-If Scripture is not God’s handiwork, can these documents still be sacred, perhaps even to an atheist? (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

-The Book of Psalms, says James Wood, “is the great oasis in which a desert people gathers to pour out its complaints, fears, hopes,â€? and Robert Alter’s “translation yields an ancient text stripped of Christian ideas,â€? to give only their view of what God is like. (New Yorker)

-Robert Alter discusses why he set about preparing a new translation for the Book of Psalms. (JBooks)

Posted on October 31, 2007

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Perfected

This entry was posted in Culture, History on by .

ObamaGirl, aka Leah Kauffman, is back with her “wish” to be perfected just as Ann Coulter wants. It’s not nearly as funny, but isn’t intended to be.

What do you think? No more songs or right on target?

Posted on October 30, 2007

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On “Orthodox Bashing”

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Last weekend’s Jewish Week contained an op-ed by Sherri Mandell that seemed to want to make a point about “Orthodox-bashing” but gets seriously detoured along the way.

Mandell begins by citing Noah Feldman’s “freewheeling diatribe against Modern Orthodoxy” and Shalom Auslander’s “public pillory of the Orthodox world” and claiming that the prominence of these pieces of writing are connected to the fact that the most powerful people in pop culture are Jewish.

(It’s good she’s Jewish; otherwise, she might have the ADL breathing down her neck.)

Then she continues her short op-ed with a long list of writers and cultural products, past and present, including Walt and Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, IB Singer, Elizabeth Gilbert, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, AJ Jacobs, and CNN’s “God’s Warriors.”

Mandell seems to be saying that religion is under attack and that Auslander and Feldman are the platoon dedicated to Orthodoxy. People might laugh at Auslander’s book, but she concludes: “In America you can die laughing at the Jews; here [in Israel] you may die for being one.”

I’ve tried to analyze Mandell’s arguments, but it gave me a headache. She’s all over the place, and the more I read the article the more rough and hysterical it seemed. But two points:

1) What’s with that last sentence? Does Mandell believe that Jews in Israel are threatened because of their religious beliefs? Are religious Jews more likely to be attacked in Israel than secular Jews? When it comes to Jewish vulnerability in Israel is there any difference between Sherri Mandell and Shalom Auslander?

2) Shalom Auslander and Noah Feldman were both Orthodox. They’re not sharing their experiences from a position of a priori antagonism to Orthodoxy. This is your example of mainstream Orthodox-bashing? Two boys who were loyal community members for most of their lives until they — justifiably or not — felt like they were forced to make breaks because of who they were.

Whether you agree with their ideas and methods or not, dismissing them as merely combatants in the battle against God (and the Jews) is way too convenient.

Posted on October 30, 2007

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Survivors, Scholars, & Holocaust Fatigue

This entry was posted in History on by .

-A Muslim mother visits Dachau. (Jewish Journal)

-A new study asserts that Holocaust trauma affects grandchildren of survivors. (Haaretz)

-An Israeli teen writes, “modern Israeli society is completely dominated by the memory of the Holocaust…. I have come across many people whose grandparents are survivors, but who have only the faintest idea what Operation Barbarossa or Vichy mean; they’ve never heard of the Wannsee Conference.” (The Jerusalem Post)

-Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer pens an appreciation for his friend and colleague, Raul Hilberg, recently deceased. (Haaretz)

-The Holocaust Survivor Cookbook. (Jewish Exponent)

-Norman Mailer attempts to cite the Holocaust as a basis for a kind of belief in God. (The Jewish Week)

-Andrew Goldsmith, executive director of the American Society for Yad Vashem, addresses the issue of “Holocaust Fatigue.� (The Jewish Week)

Posted on October 30, 2007

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Hava Nagila

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Get out your party hats. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has officially declared October 28 through November 3 “Hava Nagila 100th Anniversary Celebration Week.”

Just what I’ve been waiting a century for. Well, closer to 97 years:

The technical anniversary is not until 2010, but 86-year-old Sheldon Feinberg has been barnstorming the country since 2005 with “My Name Is Moshe,” a stage show about his mentor, Moshe Nathanson. Allegedly, Nathanson wrote the song at age 12 as a homework assignment at a Jerusalem school, and Feinberg has taken it upon himself to ensure that his former teacher gets the credit he is due. (MORE)

But was Nathanson the actual writer of the song? There is debate surrounding the history of Hava Nagila. Most everyone agrees Avraham Zvi Idelsohn–the father of Jewish musicology–transcribed the melody of an old Ukrainian niggun and published the song. The lyrics are simply based off of a line from Pslams.

Those in the pro-Nathanson camp, Feinberg being the head, argue that when Nathanson was a young student of Idelsohn, he was the winner of a contest to come up with lyrics for the melody. Idelsohn took the lyrics from his student’s idea. Those in the pro-Idelsohn camp, including James Loeffler who wrote our article on the song, find no proof that Nathanson wrote the lyrics, except for his own claim.

But the larger question remains the year in which all of this occurred. Idelsohn writes in his book Jewish Music: Its Historical Development:

This song may serve as an example of how a song becomes a popular folk-song, and particularly how a sing becomes ‘Palestinian.’ In 1915 I wrote it down. In 1918 I needed a popular tune for a performance of my mixed choir in Jerusalem. My choice fell upon this tune which I arranged in four parts and for which I wrote a Hebrew text.

Feinberg argues that Nathanson wrote the lyrics in 1910 (thus the 97 or 100 year anniversary). How could lyrics be written to a melody that was transcribed and arranged at least five years later?

As Sheldon Feinberg told me in a phone interview, “Idelsohn wanted to change the date to conform to what he did.” Idelsohn took the lyrics that Nathanson had written five ears earlier, he says, but did not write down the song until 1915.

But Idelsohn was a bandmaster in the Ottoman Army during World War I. The song was sung first in 1918 at a concert to honor the British army’s defeat of the Turks in Jerusalem. Why would Idelsohn have sought out lyrics eight years prior to this historical event?

I, for one, won’t be celebrating this week. I’m too confused, though I tend to be in the Idelsohn camp–there’s more historical data.

But for those that are interested in marking the week, you may enjoy this blog posting from Amy Guth at Faithhacker. After Simchat Torah, she decided to search out the song on YouTube. She came up with some fascinating results.

My favorite is this Bollywood version, simply because it’s the closest I’ll ever get to understanding a Bollywood film.

Posted on October 29, 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

The Motion

This entry was posted in History on by .

JTA is reporting something about an imaginary motion for a one-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What they’re reporting exactly, I’m not sure.

A motion calling for a one-state solution was defeated at the famous Oxford Union debating forum.

The motion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lost last week by a vote of 191-60 at Oxford University in Britain.

Professor Norman Finkelstein, a far-left critic of Israel, was scheduled to be on the team opposing the motion but was replaced by the Oxford Union at the last minute because of protests by the pro-Israel group Peace Now UK. After Finkelstein’s replacement by Peace Now UK activist Paul Usiskin was announced, the team that proposed the motion withdrew from participating in the debate. (MORE)

So Norman Finkelstein was supposed to be against the one-state solution? Does that mean he was supposed to be the right-winger in the debate?

And wait. Finkelstein was removed because of protests by Peace Now — and then replaced by a member of Peace Now?

I’m so confused.

Posted on October 29, 2007

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Ernst Ehrlich z”l

This entry was posted in General on by .

Historian and Jewish theologian Ernst Ehrlich passed away more than a week ago. I didn’t blog about his death until now, because I didn’t know about it until now. In fact, I didn’t know anything about Ehrlich until now.

Which is too bad. It seems like he was a remarkable man. From the AP:

The Berlin-born Ehrlich studied at Higher Institute for Jewish Studies, Rabbi Leo Baeck’s rabbinical seminary, until the Nazis closed it in 1942. He was made to perform forced labor until he was able to find shelter with a Berlin couple and was then smuggled the following year into Switzerland.

He obtained his doctorate at Basel and later he taught at universities in Switzerland and Germany. From 1961 to 1994, he was European director of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith, founded in New York in 1843.

At the Second Vatican Council in 1965, he was the adviser to German Cardinal Augustin Bea in preparing “Nostra Aetate,” a key document on Roman Catholic-Jewish relations.

And here’s a more detailed obit from the Times of London.

Posted on October 29, 2007

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Military Matters

This entry was posted in History on by .

-Reuven Pedatzur concludes that a war with Syria would include a missile attack on Israeli cities throughout Israel that the IDF is unable to prevent. (Haaretz)

-Daniel Levy makes the case that the Iranian threat to Israel ought to handled by US-Iran negotiations, not by Israeli military threats. (Haaretz)

-A look at the work of the 1120-strong United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan border. (The Jewish Week)

-A look at the military challenges the Israeli Air Force is preparing for, and how it has done recently. (Haaretz)

-A look at the efforts of Rabbi Eli Sadan, and other heads of Pre-Military Academies, to rebuild the frayed ties between the IDF and religious Zionist youth. He says, “A soldier’s uniform is like the holy garments worn by the priests in the Temple when they brought animal sacrifices before God Almightyâ€?. (The Jerusalem Post)

Posted on October 29, 2007

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Should Jewish children trick or treat?

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Each year the discussion surrounding Halloween festivities surfaces in conversations with Jewish educators around the country. Seemingly, regardless of socio-economic background or location, the same issue arises.

So we’ve asked three Jewish educators:

Should we permit our children’s participation in Halloween festivities?

BSL_Headshot.JPGFor me, the answer is clear. Our job is to inform; it is the parents’ job to determine what is permissible for their children. Just as we teach our children how to observe Shabbat and Kashrut, we should teach them about the history of Halloween. What individual families decide to do with this information is, and should be, up to them.

Halloween is viewed by many as a secular holiday, no different than Thanksgiving or July 4th. However for some, the holiday’s Pagan origins set it in another class altogether. Those who think that Jewish children can go trick or treating, including myself, have no problem separating Halloween’s origins from what it has become–an American holiday of collecting candy and dressing up.

Opponents to this idea believe that regardless of its current place in American society, Halloween’s origins are not only non-Jewish but really anti-Jewish.

For me, the argument can be made if this is something that we should be supporting as Jews. With that said, I believe firmly that we must find a balance of our American culture and our Jewish heritage, and there are ways to find a “happy medium.”

Primarily, a family should make the commitment to sending their children to religious school, should Halloween occur on a day when school is in session. If after school individual families trick or treat, I believe that’s fine. Many of us struggle with our own Jewish identity and I am impressed when families can find this middle ground. For each family, what is acceptable is different, as it should be.

As educators, we must teach about the secular world while never casting judgment, something we see too frequently. It is our job to inform, and it is the parents’ job to decide. As long as we are able to maintain this separation, we reacting in the best interest of our students.

Benjamin S. Lewis is the Director of Formal and Informal Education at New City Jewish Center in New City, NY. He is pursuing his master of education in administration & supervision from Loyola University Chicago, and has been working in Jewish education for over 10 years.

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oz.jpgI am working off the basic assumption that, from a Jewish perspective, the celebration of Halloween is not something that we view positively. Whether it is because the holiday has its origins in certain pagan celebrations, or because it was later appropriated by the Catholic church as the evening before All Saints’ Day, or that the values espoused (such as the glorification of death and horror or the vandalism that often takes place that is not discouraged enough), Halloween is a holiday that runs contrary to our value and belief system.

Nevertheless, because it is a holiday that is focused on children–who are often very innocent in their simple desire to dress up, have fun and get free candy–a school must respond very sensitively. To some extent, emphasizing alternative Jewish approaches and holidays that provide similar enjoyment, such as Purim, may be the way to go. For example, in the modern State of Israel, Purim is widely celebrated by even the non-religious public, simply because it is something which they experience positively and as fun. Obviously, that kind of experience is difficult to duplicate in the Diaspora, where we are a minority living among the Gentiles. But from an educational perspective, it is very important that students recognize that these types of things exist within their own heritage.

At a basic level, no Jewish school should actively encourage celebration of Halloween. If some families are going to celebrate it, they should not celebrate it thinking that it is sanctioned by the Jewish community. That doesn’t mean that any specific individual or family should be castigated, God forbid. But, it is entirely appropriate that we present a message that the tension does exist, and though it might be uncomfortable, that is part of the burden of living a committed Jewish life in the Diaspora.

Rabbi Yoel Oz is the Assistant Rabbi at Kesher Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. He also teaches Judaic studies in the Upper School of the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, MD.

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sara.jpgIf Jewish tradition teaches us uvacharta bachayim, choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19), then Halloween, the holiday which glorifies death, cannot be something that fits into my Jewish life. With its ghosts and goblins, witches and zombies, fake blood and skeletons, Halloween is a vivid reminder of the presence of death in our lives, a celebration of the fear of death and an opportunity to play pranks on others in the name of scaring them “to death.” No matter how much Halloween comes to resemble any other Hallmark holiday–with the cute costumes, tasty treats and greeting cards–it still has its roots in death.

When I was growing up, my parents reluctantly allowed me to trick or treat. Friends’ parents took me, or my parents would stand at the street when I ran up to ring the doorbell. They always darkened the house and never gave out candy. Although I was embarrassed, I always knew that this was not a Jewish holiday, and understood clearly why my parents made their choice.

Today, I am not so sure. Today, I choose life. I choose to give my son the opportunity to have a life in both the Jewish world and the larger world in which he lives, a life which embraces the beauty of life and glorifies God’s creation. I will take my son trick-or-treating, but will make sure that he never dresses up in something that celebrates death. I will see that he carries a UNICEF box to collect pennies for tzedakah. And I will leave a basket of treats by the door for all visitors: I won’t actively give it out, but I will participate somewhat by having it there. I recognize the inherent contradiction here, but I cannot avoid it. Uvacharta bachayim, choose life. We will choose to live with both feet firmly planted in our Jewish tradition, but with one finger on the doorbell of American tradition as well.

Sara Shapiro-Plevan is a doctoral student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the director of the Teacher Development Institute, a project of USCJ’s METNY region.

Posted on October 28, 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