Monthly Archives: March 2009

Interview: Erez Safar/Diwon

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Erez Safar is busy these days. Known also by his stage name, Diwon, Safar, along with being a DJ and producing his own music, is the founder and director of Shemspeed (largest, most diverse Jewish music site), Modular Mood Records (an independent record label), Hip Hop Sulha, and The Sephardic Music Festival.

His album “Shir HaShirim,” with Benyamin Brody and Dugans, is coming out later this month. In it, Brody sings the entire Song of Songs with Diwon providing the beats.


Currently on the South by Southwest Tour in Texas, Safar gladly sat down to answer a couple of questions for us.

Jeremy Moses: Producing an album of a book from the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) is a novel idea. How did the idea come about? Did you approach Brody? Or was it the other way around?

Erez Safar: I heard Benyamin singing Lecha Dodi to this Akon song and was blown, so I remixed it and put it out there (song is featured below). I then invited him to my studio to listen to some of my music and there was this one beat that I played him that was very meditative, a sort of beat that one could listen to on repeat throughout a night. He looked over and said, “I could sing Shir HaShirim to this!”.  I was thinking this is perfect because I had always wanted to do a beat driven, meditative Moroccan album and so we hit the studio a few days later.

JM: When I was a little kid, my friends and I would sit in the back of synagogue and read Shir HaShirim, thinking we were huge rebels. When listening to the tracks, I couldn’t help but feel that same sexuality in your music. Did you and Brody purposely make the music sound sexual or is it just me?

ES: The music is definitely sensual. I wouldn’t say sexual. It’s more meditative. The idea was to make an album you could listen to and be put into a trance throughout. The singing has a sensualness to it, with that style of crying out and the music is a bit seductive. But more in line with the interpretation of Shir being a love song to God. This album is definitely a project driven by our love for God and our desire to awaken souls to the oneness of it all and God consciousness.

JM: The whole album is done in one recording, with the tracks being broken up after. What was your rationale?

ES: Well we wanted the singing to feel like it was all ONE. The best way to do that was to do it all in one take. So it feels natural and real. We looped the progression over for an hour so that Benyamin could sing the entire Shir HaShirim in one take. After that Dugans and I spent 2-3 weeks on the music.

JM: When I listen to this album, I can’t help but be reminded of old cantorial albums that my dad owns. While I haven’t done the research for this, I’m assuming that cantorial music is on the decline, especially in album sales. What influence do you get from cantorial music (if any) and do you think cool/hip Jewish music is filling a void that’s been missing in the Jewish world since our/my parents’ generation?

ES: It is on the decline outside of the frum world and the idea of this record and artists like Jeremiah Lockwood is to bring it back and present it in a fresh way. I used to and sometimes still drop Cantorial records as samples into my mixes while I was still DJing. I grew up passionate about going to Yemenite synagogue because it was so hypnotic and I loved their voices. This record is sort of an offering a way for other people to connect to that beauty and tradition. People that would never listen to the same style of Chazanut that didn’t have the back drop of a hip hop beat and layers of guitar.

JM: On to the future, based off of what I consider to be a successful concept, do you plan on recording any other books of the Tanakh? Or do you think it only works well because of what Shir Hashirim is?

ES: Dugans and I definitely do. I want to record the next one with Yitzchak Bitton. He is an amazing musician and Chazzan of a little Moroccan synogogue in Crown Heights. He mixes deep southern blues with Moroccan chazzanut and it MUST be documented. The music that Benyamin and I will continue to make will mix in a bit of this style with singing in English and Hebrew over Middle Eastern hip-hop music.

“Shir Hashirim” will be available on this upcoming Tuesday, March 24th. You can pick up your record at Here is a free download of their first single off the album, “Yehi Ratzon (Final Prayer).” You can also check it out on the Shir HaShirim MySpace page here.

If you are in the NY area on Monday, March 23rd, Diwon, Brody and Dugans will be holding an album release party, along with a live performance of Shir HaShirim at Joe’s Pub. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Posted on March 20, 2009

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Wise Fridays: How to Read the Torah

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wise fridays: now with 25% more wisdom

It is not my place to teach people how to read a chapter of Tanakh because the keys to this book [the Tanakh] have not been given to me. And more importantly, it is questionable whether any individual can establish for others one way to read Tanakh. Every person must strive for his own reading, for the reading that is appropriate for his spirit and soul such as they are. Each person’s reading, then, is unique in time; it never existed before, and will never exist again. So the way a person reads Tanakh, and hears what is said in it, must be unique in time, entirely his, never imitating anything that already was.

Nehama Leibowitz, “How to Read a Chapter of Tanakh”
(translated by Shoshanna Lockshin)
Go here to get more Wise Fridays wisdom.

Posted on March 20, 2009

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Infinite McCloud is Overrated

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Not into College Basketball? There is a great alternative to keep you busy.

Check out the official Name of the Year Bracket. The people who run this hilarious blog compiled the 64 funniest REAL names that they could find over the past year.

Like I did for the March Madness pool, here are two people whom you should be cheering for.

edJew.jpgThe first is one of the #11 seeds, Ed Jew, a San Francisco supervisor who was sent to jail this year. Ed Jew is not Jewish.

The second is #9 Larry Warmflash. Larry Warmflash is up against #8 Larry Koldsweat. A tough matchup. Why root for Larry? Because he works for a synagogue.

Man, I just love March Madness.

Posted on March 19, 2009

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Rav Ovadia Yosef Has Some Catching Up To Do

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The New Republic blog The Plank has a funny post about Sayyid Ali Kameini’s website. Now, I’m not surprised that the Supreme Leader of Iran has a website (if they’re building nukes they have probably mastered basic HTML) but the Plank points us to the Q&A section which really is priceless:


Q: A car’s tires crushed a cat’s dead body in the street. If tires become najis with the cat’s blood, do they become pure by going on street asphalt immediately after crushing the body?
A: If tires become najis, they do not become pure just by moving on the street paved with asphalt.

Q: During the menstrual period is a woman allowed to dye her hair with henna? And is the use of an artificial dye for the same purpose allowed?
A: It is permissible, yet disliked.

Q: What is the ruling on billiards. What is your opinion respecting it?
A: If it is played with betting, leads to moral or social corruptions or entails association with a haram practice as per shar`, it is impermissible.

Q: After reciting the formula of the permanent marriage contract, if it appears that the wife was not virgin, is the contract void? Is there a need to recite the divorce formula?
A: By itself, the said defect does not entail revoking the marriage contract.

Q: Is Friday prayer obligatory? What about someone who do not participate in it intentionally?
A: Friday prayer is considered an alternative obligation during this period of time that the infallible Imam( may Allah hasten his reappearance) is not present. One has the choice to perform either Friday or zuhr prayer although it is preferred to say Friday prayer and it is religiously dispraised when one does not attend or participate in this religious and political prayer out of not considering it important.

Q: Some fluid is discharged on sexual stimulation, whether it is intentional or unintentional. Is it pure or najis? Is it ruled as manī?
A: For a man, it is ruled manī and makes janābah ghusl obligatory only if its coming out is accompanied by sexual pleasure, ejaculation, and weakness of the body. For a woman, it is ruled as manī when its coming out is accompanied by orgasm. Otherwise, nothing is obligatory.

In some ways this reminds me of rabbinic responsa I studied in high school, and in other ways it reminds me of the questions that people send in to us at MJL. My real question is, when is Rav Ovadia Yosef going to get with the program and start his own website?

Posted on March 19, 2009

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Israel: The Need to Rebrand

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Last night, I had dinner with Ronald Lauder and some other folks who tackled a lot of different political, philosophical, and theological questions — most of which can be summed up pretty simply: Why does everyone hate Israel?

And then this morning, I woke up to Rupert Murdoch saying the same thing:

rupert murdochWeirdly, his editorial in the Jerusalem Post takes a bit of a stand-uppy beginning — “Let me set the record straight: I live in New York. I have a wife who craves Chinese food. And people I trust tell me I practically invented the word ‘chutzpah'” — and then segues directly, and intelligently, into an impassioned and fairly creative analysis of Israel’s (failed) PR battle. He reiterates several points — “If you are committed to Israel’s destruction, and if you believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond, it will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian – no matter how many precautions Israeli soldiers take” — but this editorial succeeds so profoundly because of two things:

1. These are facts that, in the past, have primarily been said by Israeli strategists to other Israeli strategists, like shipwreck victims screaming into the wind.
2. It’s Rupert Murdoch saying it. Dammit, he’s Australian. People listen to him.

The International Herald-Tribune also featured a prominent article on Israeli rebranding — or it was touted that way, anyway. The text actually ended up spending most of the article talking about Avigdor Lieberman, the allegedly racist head of the Israel Beitenu party (and prospective appointee to be foreign minister) before turning to these sage words — which have some pretty hot “duh” action, and which most of us could probably recite in our sleep:

“When we show Sderot, others also see Gaza,” said Ido Aharoni, head of a rebranding team at the Foreign Ministry. “Everything is twinned when seen through the conflict. The country needs to position itself as an attractive personality, to make outsiders see it in all its reality. Instead, we are focusing on crisis management. And that is never going to get us where we need to go over the long term.”

What will work for the long term? G*d knows, probably not Rupert Murdoch. But he’s headed in the right direction, at least.

Posted on March 19, 2009

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I Smell a Sitcom!

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There’s a headline on ynet today that I am begging someone to make into a sitcom pilot or the premise for a feature film.

Tel Aviv stripper gets drunk, wakes up in Ramallah.


May I suggest Natalie Portman for the role of the stripper? She has already done both strippers and Israelis before, so I feel she’s a natural choice, though I imagine some people would rather see Bar Rafaeli.

What I’m envisioning is kind of a cross between Striptease, Walk on Water and Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Who’s with me?

Posted on March 19, 2009

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Interview: The Idan Raichel Project

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idan raichel projectOnly a few years ago, Idan Raichel was just some dreadlocked guy in a Tel Aviv basement, composing music on his synthesizers. First schooled on the accordion at the age of nine, Raichel branched out to Latin American and gypsy music. His time in the Israeli Army band solidified his musical skills. While there, he also came into contact with many Ethiopian Jews, which tuned him into the greater frequency of world music.

Soon, it wasn’t just Raichel and his synthesizer anymore. He was utilizing upwards of 70 musicians, changing a cast on every episode. In 2006, after releasing two proper albums in his native Israel, Raichel’s self-titled “greatest hits” album became a channel to international success. Now, in preparation for the release of his new record, Within My Walls — in Hebrew, “Bein Kirot Beiti” — Raichel prepares for an even greater reception, an ever-expanding Project (now numbering nearly 100 musicians) and an international tour which brings him to New York’s Town Hall next week, as well as Los Angeles, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and other locations on his United States leg.

Unfortunately, Raichel’s voice gave out days before. While recuperating, we had to exchange our telephone interview for an email one, and so we got to catch the master of the Project in the middle of his globe-trotting schedule.

What’s your songwriting process? Do you always work with the same musicians?

The idea of the Project is to have a new “cast” for each song. It gives us the ability to be very precise by the sound and vibe that we want to create, the right leader and right musicians that will support him.

The Israeli perception of pop, and of music in general, is very different than in the United States — it feels, as a listener at least, like there’s a lot more freedom in Israeli music, like when you drop a jungle beat on a slow song like “Bein Kirot Beiti.”

I always start a song with the vocals and I let the melody and the rendition of the song guide how the rest of the song develops. Then I just add what the singer needs to support him or her. If he needs only an acoustic guitar, then we give him that. If he needs something more electronic to contrast with what he is doing, we add that.

I like many different types of music, so I just try to use the best thing to enhance the melody and the singer’s voice. If it needs a contemporary beat, I’ll take it in that direction. The vibe is what is most important. I feel lucky that the listeners have an open mind and can follow where the music goes.

Some of the songs on your new album are in languages that most of your listeners don’t speak. What do you want people to get out of those songs?

I would like the listeners to hear themselves in something they maybe don’t understand completely. Sometimes, distance and language can be a challenge, but music has a way of overcoming these difficulties.

Do you feel more constrained when you’re making an international album than when you’re making an Israeli one?

No, our music in any case is Israel music, even if we distribute or performing with it out of Israel, so for us it is just a challenge to sing to the world in our native languages, Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic, Spanish, and so on…although the only official language in Israel is Hebrew. We have all these languages because we are all immigrants from other parts of the world.

Do you write your own Spanish lyrics? How much of the project is collaborative?

Working with [Colombian-born, New York-based] Marta [Gómez, Raichel's vocal collaborator on several songs on the new album] is a pleasure. On “Within My Walls” I wrote songs in Hebrew and Marta took the song and wrote her own version in her native language so each song that is in another language is a real collaboration.

How do you go about adapting these songs for your live show?

The live show is a powerful experience. We work to create an ensemble that can represent the 90-plus artists that have been involved in the project over the years. We sit in a semi-circle on stage, I am off to the side, and each artist gets a chance to shine. I thought this embodied the collaborative spirit of the project.

We have been touring with the live show for a few years now. It ranges in mood from soft, beautiful songs to very powerful and upbeat songs.

What’s it been like to connect with U.S. audiences? Are the audiences all Jewish, or mostly Jewish?

I love playing in the U.S. because the shows attract a great mix of all types of people. Of course, the Jewish community is very supportive as is the project and it is great to play for them. In the U.S., as with all over the world, I want my shows to be a meeting place for people of all faiths or beliefs to come and share in music.

Are the crowds at your American shows much more Jewish-identifying than the crowds in Israel? Does it ever affect your own Jewish identity, or cause you to become a Jewish spokesperson of sorts?

The Project is Israeli, but not a Jewish one. Not all of the members are Jewish. We are happy to have in our audience Israelis or Jewish people that are proud to have us all over the world, representing the music of Israel of this decade.

The Idan Raichel Project’s United States tour starts next Sunday, March 22, in Ridgefield, Connecticut, and comes to New York City on Thursday, March 26. Visit Mr. Raichel’s website for the Project’s full schedule.

Posted on March 19, 2009

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Debunking a Theory of a Deadman

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God, you’re an idiot Josephus…

Everyone has heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. For years, most scholarship on the scrolls has maintained that the scrolls were written by the Essenes, a Jewish sect that was too pious to survive this mad, mad world. Written about extensively by Philo and Josephus, it was natural to assume by the location of the Dead Sea Scrolls and the time they were written, that they came from the Essenes.

Well, Rachel Elior, a scholar from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, will have none of that. You see, for Elior it is pretty hard to believe that some people wrote a bunch of scrolls if those people never existed.

That’s right. Throw out your Jewish Day School education now. She says the whole Essenes people existing is all Josephus hogwash. And even if they did exist, they clearly didn’t write the scrolls. Her proof of that is right in the text.

For one, the Essenes are never mentioned in them. According to Elior, you would think that in such a vast amount of scrolls giving the biography of the Jewish people, they would mention themselves. But, of course, they don’t.

But here is Elior’s biggest piece of evidence. Wait for it…

In the scrolls, it actually says the author are “priests, sons of Zadok.” Zadok, according to the article (because I know nothing about any of this), was a Priest in the Temple who’s family was eventually deposed. Zadok’s family, according to Elior, were not Essenes.

Elior’s next book will prove that Santa doesn’t exist either. You’re no fun Elior. Seriously. You’re a buzzkill. Buzzkill.

Posted on March 19, 2009

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The True Difference between Secular & Religious Jews

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Via Frum Satire, who bridges the gap himself with an impressive wallop of humor and self-mockery. He wrote an (as far as I can gather) imaginary conversation between two secular guys looking for a date on JDate, and two religious girls in the very same situation.

Shani: So, nu, what did this boy have to say?

Fraydie: Well, he first called me “very sweet” and asked me for a date, in his car! He said there was nothing to be afraid of. Fear, yiras shamayimso Godfearing!!

Shani: He is perfect!

Fraydie: Wait till you see his picture. Here, isn’t he cute?

Shani: Oy veh! (she turns away) He is not wearing a shirt! Where are his tztizis? And no kippah!

Fraydie: Hello! Earth to Shani – isn’t it obvious?

Shani: No.

Fraydie: It is a picture from the mikvah!! He’s obviously very frum.

( continued )

Posted on March 18, 2009

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Recent Commentary on Israel and Two Opinions on Gaza

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What does the rise of Avigdor Lieberman mean for Russians in Israel, and for the non-Russians? (Slate)

If Hamas-Fatah Unity talks succeed, what kind of challenges–and opportunities–would this provide for Israel and the US? (Jewish Week)

Zvi Bar’el argues that the region is reshaping its alliance structure: “The convenient division between “moderate” and “extremist” Arab states is no longer useful.” For example “Syria, along with Iran, Iraq and Turkey, plans to set up a joint electricity grid… Friendly Qatar has become an ally of Syria” but Israel is turning its back on the whole thing. (Ha’aretz)

Yoel Marcus argues that the endless public saber-rattling over Iran accomplishes nothing whatsoever. (Ha’aretz)

From the left, Gideon Levy sums up (on Gaza): “Deterrence wasn’t reestablished, arms smuggling into Gaza was not stopped… Gilad Shalit was not freed. On these facts we all agree… Hamas is stronger, the hurt Palestinian people are even more hateful toward us, and Israel is viewed as a pariah in world public opinion.” And, it will be the first war in 36 years without a Commission of Inquiry formed in its wake. (Ha’aretz)

From the right, Martin Sherman noted that Hamas unequivocally conveyed “to the world that it remained defiantly undefeated.” That and the “calamitous diplomatic defeat that Israel sustained … are the result of a loss of faith in “Victory” – both as valid cognitive concept and as an attainable military objective.” (YNet)

Posted on March 18, 2009

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