Monthly Archives: February 2008

Random Writers

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Writing in The Independent about Shalom Auslander’s Foreskin’s Lament, reviewer William Sutcliffe notes:

If there is a defining thread that runs through Jewish-American literature it is in the ability of writers such as Bellow, Heller and Roth, and other less familiar names such as Alan Isler and Elinor Lipman, to intermingle pain and humour seamlessly. When Jewish writing is tragi-comic, it is often not a case of alternating between one state and the other, more that the prose can be simultaneously dark and light, serious and funny. Shalom Auslander comes directly out of this tradition.

Certainly, Sutcliffe isn’t the first to note that Jewish literature often specializes in the intersection of tragedy and laughter, though this is hardly a Jewish American invention. It’s often cited as a defining feature of Yiddish literature, as well.

Even more interesting are the two names Sutcliffe cites alongside Bellow, Heller, Roth: Alan Isler and Elinor Lipman.

I must confess that I’ve only heard of these writers in passing and never read anything by them. Which isn’t to say they’re not wonderful writers. They may very well be.

(Indeed, Isler won the 1994 National Jewish Book Award winner for his first novel, The Prince of West End Avenue, which was also a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist).

But the examples of Isler and Lipman did seem a bit random. Anyone out there know more about these writers?

Posted on February 25, 2008

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Conservative/Masorti Judaism

This entry was posted in History on by .

-A report on Conservative Judaism’s annual Rabbinical Assembly convention, which had the theme “Religion in the Public Square.â€? (Washington Jewish Week)

-A look at Erica Lippitz, one of the Conservative Movement’s first two cantors. (NJ Jewish News)

-Masorti leaders talk about the difficulties of luring Israelis to non-Orthodox Judaism, and the lack of a level playing field for competing with the Orthodox establishment. (NJ Jewish News)

-A Conservative shul runs a “G2G serviceâ€? so different that the that the shul’s press release had to reassure that “it is NOT a Reform service …” (Washington Jewish Week)

-An interview with Chaya Baker, Israel’s only female Masorti pulpit rabbi, who didn’t originally set out to be a rabbi: “I went to rabbinical school because I wanted to learn Judaism on a high level.� (NJ Jewish News)

Posted on February 25, 2008

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

Super Bowl, Super Sized

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Good news for those synagogues who host Super Bowl-watching parties. The NFL reversed a previous ruling that prohibited houses of worship from showing the game on screens larger than 55 inches. This was due in part to complaints filed with the NFL by members of Congress. (MORE)

Posted on February 25, 2008

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Obama and the Jews…Again

This entry was posted in History on by .

It seems the campaign to paint Barack Obama as a candidate that’s bad for the Jews/Israel is not over. I got an email today urging me to forward Marc Zell’s anti-Obama editorial in today’s Jerusalem Post.

This despite the well-publicized conference call with Jewish reporters a few weeks back, in which he tried to respond to the allegations that he is hostile to Jewish concerns.

Zell’s article also plays the Muslim card, albeit in a more subtle way.

“Less than two weeks before the critical primary elections in Ohio and Texas,” Zell writes, “Democratic voters have made it very clear: Barack Hussein Obama is for real.”

It’s nice of Zell to remind us of Obama’s middle name. But you might not be surprised to learn that when Zell gets around to discussing John McCain, he doesn’t mention the Republican’s middle name (Sidney, by the way).

I don’t have a problem with someone arguing against Obama’s candidacy, but I do have a problem with appealing to Jewish fears about Islam. It’s unbecoming for the writer and the audience.

Posted on February 22, 2008

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Too Early

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Last night I was at the grocery store, stocking up before the snow storm hit New York.

I saw multiple signs advertising kosher for Passover food, as well as Passover specials.

What’s going on? Are stores so used to ordering Passover and Easter food together that they didn’t check the calendars? Due to the Jewish leap year, Passover isn’t until mid-April.

Posted on February 22, 2008

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

Hooking Up

This entry was posted in History, Practices on by .

-JDate is now offering “a bulk rate to rabbis who want to buy membership accounts for congregants.â€? But singles gotta sign themselves up: “No mothers, no grandmothers.” (Daily Herald)

-Lilith Magazine looks at whether online dating systems such as JDate are good or bad for Jewish women.

-Shmuley Boteach argues, “Curing the singles scene is one of the foremost priorities especially of the world Jewish community whose greatest challenge today is not intermarriage but lack of marriage.� The conventional approaches, as he ticks them off, don’t work. (The Jerusalem Post)

Posted on February 22, 2008

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

Emerging Orthodox Communities

This entry was posted in History on by .

On April 6th, the Orthodox Union will be hosting an event called “Meet Emerging Jewish Communities” in New York. They will promote 12 growing Jewish communities from around North America and provide information about synagogues, day schools, and yeshivot; kosher stores and other Jewish communal resources; job opportunities and affordable housing; and “Torah atmosphere in which to raise children.”

What’s surprising is the list:

Charleston, South Carolina
Columbus, Ohio
Dallas, Texas
Denver, Colorado
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Houston, Texas
Indianapolis, Indiana
Memphis, Tennessee
Oakland, California
Omaha, Nebraska
San Diego, California
Seattle, Washington

I’m still trying to figure out what they all have in common.

(HT PresenTense)

Posted on February 21, 2008

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Education in Israel

This entry was posted in History on by .

-Former Harvard University president Neil Rudenstine argues that the only real solution for Israel’s universities is private philanthropy. (The Jerusalem Post)

-Children who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union outperformed their Israeli-born counterparts in high-school matriculation and college admission requirements. (Haaretz)

-A look at the first woman to be a principal of an Arab High School in Israel, and her struggle to find acceptance. (The Jerusalem Post)

-A new Israeli government report “reveals the decrepit condition of schools in two sectors: ultra-Orthodox and non-Jews.” (Haaretz)

-In the Sephardi religious world, the complaints continue about the discrimination at the Ashkenazi schools. Yet, that is where the elite want to send their children. But now, there are stirrings of revolt against this. (Haaretz)

Posted on February 21, 2008

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The Inspired Kitchen

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Za’atar, a spice blend popular throughout the Middle East, is ideally a blend of hyssop, sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and other seasonings. Jewish food historian and cookbook author Gil Marks notes that hyssop appears frequently in the Bible, playing an especially prominent role in the Passover story, where Jews were instructed to add hyssop to the blood they smeared on their doorposts. Sumac, the dried and ground red berry that lends za’atar its distinct tanginess, is referenced in the Talmud as a cultivated spice. More…

Posted on February 21, 2008

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Liberal Minhag

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

I was looking for an article on Jewish customs, minhagim, on MyJewishLearning and, lo and behold, there wasn’t one. Which got me thinking: Does the concept of minhag exist in liberal Judaism?

Let me explain.

In traditional Judaism, there are two types of ritual norms: those that are mandated by Jewish law (halakha) and those that are (merely) customary. I put “merely” in parentheses because a minhag can often attain power similar to a halakha.

For example, Ashkenazi Jews do not eat kitniyot (legumes) on Passover. Essentially, these foods (including rice, beans) are forbidden.

But Sephardic Jews do eat kitniyot on Passover. And, while it is considered inappropriate for an Ashkenazi Jew to randomly change his/her custom vis-a-vis kitniyot. It is, traditionally, considered acceptable for an Ashkenazi woman who marries a Sephardi man to take on his tradition. (Similar rules apply to the different traditions about waiting between eating meat and milk.)

Other minhagim, like kaparot pre-Yom Kippur, have become standard rituals of traditional Judaism. And still others — like the custom of wearing a kippa — began as a minhag and became something a little stronger.

What’s the practical difference between a minhag and a halakha? This may be simplistic, but I’d say one practical difference is related to punishment. In traditional Judaism, violating or eschewing halakha is a sin, an affront to God, and something that one may be punished for. Abandoning a minhag may be inappropriate, but it would likely not be considered a punishable offense.

Now, of course, all of this presumes that Jewish law, halakha, is normative, that one must follow it. If there are rituals that one must perform (halakhot), then we can conceive of a category of rituals that are (merely) optional or laudatory — customs or minhagim.

But liberal (or post-halakhic) Judaism does not view Jewish law as binding. Rituals are chosen, abandoned, and adapted. If the concept of binding halakha disappears, what happens to minhag?

I was tempted to suggest that, in a sense, all of Jewish ritual becomes minhag. But this conclusion would ignore one of the most salient features of minhag: continuity. A minhag becomes a minhag when it is repeated over and over, within a cultural/geographical matrix, by generation after generation.

And here we see another problem for the possibility of modern, liberal minhag. Modern, liberal Jewish identity is, in many ways, defined by its individualization. Within a framework that favors personalization, can there be rituals that are passed down — intact — from generation to generation?

Which brings us back to the original question: Is the concept of minhag irrelevant to liberal Judaism?

I don’t mean this as a slight to liberal Judaism. I came to this question from the assumption that this website, to some extent, operates within the paradigm of liberal Judaism. That’s why the question intrigues me.

Posted on February 20, 2008

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