Monthly Archives: November 2009

Hanukkah Flash Mob in Israel

This entry was posted in Holidays, Israel on by .

I wanted to roll my eyes at this, but dammit if it isn’t downright adorable.

Does anyone know if that male dance leader is single?

Posted on November 24, 2009

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Just $2! Just $2!

This entry was posted in General on by .

Have you ever heard the phrase “If 5,000 people gave you $2, you’d have $10,000″?

What if I told you you could turn that empty phrase into a reality? Intrigued?

MyJewishLearning.com has received a wonderful matching grant of $10,000 to help us continue bringing high-quality Jewish content to each and every one of you. The catch: in order to receive the $10,000, we need to raise $10,000 ourselves. That’s where you come in.

Now, you might be thinking: “I can spare $2 for a website that offers me valuable Jewish articles, resources, and recipes!”

But what’s in it for you? Is there a raffle for an iPod Nano? Well, Nanos don’t grow on trees. All we can provide are our amazing e-letters, articles, and great (and informative) blog posts.

Seem like a good deal to you? Then please, give MyJewishLearning a $2, tax deductible donation today.

Posted on November 24, 2009

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Frum Toilet Paper

This entry was posted in Practices on by .

99 reasons why I love being Orthodox….

orthodox toilet paper


…but this ain’t one.

Here’s my big question. Why does pre-cut toilet paper exist? Tissues are easy, and comfortable. If you want to be hardcore about toilet paper feeling different than any kind of paper, then grab a hacksaw and cut an old-fashioned roll in half.

The only possible conclusion I can come to is this: You waste less toilet paper. Which is more environmentally-friendly, and it means we care about baal tashhit. And that is why I am Orthodox.

Posted on November 24, 2009

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Billions Of Dollars Doesn’t Equal Good Choices

This entry was posted in History on by .

I’ve never totally understood the fascination people have with vintage cars. I have two reasons. #1) The word vintage doesn’t impress me. If it was so good, wouldn’t we still be using it? 2) I don’t like cars. What a boring thing to obsessed with. Sorry.

Then again, sometimes you can buy a vintage car that is so powerful, that even I will care about it. According to Haaretz, and a German newspaper, an unidentified billionaire has purchased Hitler’s Mercedes.

Supposedly, he paid between 6-15 Million dollars (which, by the way, is an insane estimation Couldn’t they get something a little more exact?). How was this thing not in a museum though? How did someone make a profit on this?

Whatever happened to the days of making a ton of money and spending it on chesterfields and ottomans?

Posted on November 23, 2009

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Side Hugging is the New Shomer Negiah

This entry was posted in Life, Practices on by .

Apparently good Christian teens don’t hug members of the opposite sex these days. If you want to express affection without turning someone on too much, the thing to do is “side hug.”

Here’s my thing: If I am going to be that excited by touching someone, I think the side hug is still going to set my mind a-racing. Also, it looks dumb.

But maybe my point would be stronger if I wore several t-shirts on top of one another, danced around like Lil’ Wayne, and had a sample of sirens and the sounds of shooting and breaking glass playing on aloop while I made my case.

Behold:

Christian Side Hug from The Fathers House on Vimeo.

The best part, by far, is the married guy bragging about how he can “front hug” all day now that he’s married. I also enjoy that for some reason they all fall down dead at the end of the song.

Posted on November 23, 2009

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From the Academy: Mysticism and Philosophy

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

Elliot R. Wolfson is the Abraham Lieberman Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies at New York University, where he teaches courses in mysticism, Kabbalah, and the philosophy of religion. Two of his books, Language, Eros, Being (2005) and Through a Speculum That Shines (1994) have been awarded the National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship, and the latter volume also won the American Academy of Religion’s Award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the category of Historical Studies. His most recent publications include Alef, Mem, Tau (2006) and Venturing Beyond (2006); Footdreams and Treetales (2007), a book of poems; and Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson (2009), which was published last month by Columbia University Press. His work explores the rich, complex symbolic systems elaborated in mystical and philosophical texts. Elliot Wolfson

How do you define Jewish mysticism and Jewish philosophy? What’s the relationship between them?

Both Jewish mysticism and Jewish philosophy are complex and multifaceted phenomena that cannot be easily defined. In general terms, however, we could demarcate mysticism as an intensified path (encompassing both ritual and knowledge) that facilitates the individual’s communion with or direct experience of what is considered in a particular cultural context to be ultimate reality, whereas philosophy is the pursuit of knowledge and truth about the world and the human through the mediated exercise of reason and logical argument (even irrationality is examined philosophically through the prism of the rational).

Moses of Burgos, a kabbalist active in the second half of the 13th century, famously said that the kabbalists stand on the head of the philosophers. This statement underscores the intricate relationship between the two worldviews, marking the point of their convergence and divergence. In my own scholarly practice, I have elicited mystical elements from philosophical works and philosophical insights from mystical sources.

How does the study of mysticism and philosophy complement historical or sociological approaches to the study of Jewish experience?

Jewish studies is eclectic but the predominant methodology remains the historical, which tends to examine phenomena from the vantage point of a linear chronology. More recently, a greater attention has been paid to sociological and anthropological approaches, but this has only reinforced the conception of time presumed by intellectual and social historians. The study of mysticism and philosophy provide an alternative orientation to comprehend the experience of Jews. In Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision of Menahem Mendel Schneerson, I provide a striking example of how a philosophical inquiry yields an understanding of this hasidic master’s apocalyptic vision that ostensibly contradicts the view that has been informed by the ethnographic study of his followers. Previous discussions on the messianism of the seventh Rebbe of the Habad-Lubavitch dynasty have been informed by considering the movement and thus they have ignored the theological and philosophical dimensions of his teaching, which in my view, are precisely what fueled the movement.

Schneerson, like his predecessors as well as a plethora of other Hasidic masters, is indebted to the kabbalistic notion that all that transpires in the physical world is a symbolic mirroring of what occurs in the supernal world of divine emanations. Based on this conception there is no way to understand Schneerson’s understanding of historical events without interpreting them symbolically. It is with regard to this insight that I think the philosophical study of mysticism can complement historical and sociological approaches to the study of Jewish experience.

What do you see this field offering to Jews outside of the academy?

The field can contribute immensely to Jews outside the academy by enriching their understanding of the complexities and profundities of Judaism as a religious and spiritual culture. But a gift cannot be received unless there is a recipient sufficiently engaged and willing to receive it. The delivery of a complex message demands a rhetoric that is commensurately complex and too often Jews outside the academy are not willing to be pushed to think harder and to expand their vocabulary. I would note, parenthetically, that the field also has much to contribute to non-Jews, as it delves deeply into the human condition more generally and the pursuit for truth and meaning. But let me be clear: I do not think an academic discipline plays the role of mandating behavior of contemporary Jews or non-Jews but I do believe that the more one knows of the past the better informed one will be of the multivocality of a particular tradition, which sometimes entails coming to terms with problematic aspects that need to be reformed.

What drew you toward this field?

I was raised in an Orthodox environment and thus was exposed to Jewish practices and texts from the time I was a small child. As a teenager, I started to read Hasidic sources, especially Habad and Bratslav, and through them I had my first encounter with the mystical dimensions of Judaism. In college I pursued the study of philosophy and started to become interested in Hindu and Buddhist sources, which led me to the intense study of Jewish mysticism. To this day, my work on Jewish mysticism reflects both my philosophical training in phenomenology and hermeneutics and my interest in Asian religions.

What are the most pressing questions that remain to be answered by scholars of Jewish mysticism and philosophy?

There are still dozens of texts buried in manuscript, so in some sense we are still charting out the different contours of the fields, especially in the case of Jewish mysticism. One of the most important issues to be explored is the relationship between the philosophical and the mystical approaches. The 19th-century pioneers of the critical study of Judaism bifurcated these disciplines and, to a great extent, they still are treated as separate. The most pressing question for the future is to determine to what extent this bifurcation is an accurate reflection of the past. I would also say that it is necessary to cultivate a comparative approach that does not neglect the specificity of each tradition but also is open to lines of commonality. As I write in the preface to Open Secret, my hermeneutic belief is that “by digging into the soil of a specific cultural matrix one may uncover roots that lead to others.”

Are there particular challenges, whether institutional or intellectual, facing students who are interested in studying Jewish mysticism and philosophy?

Both disciplines are extremely demanding, requiring mastery over several languages and a rather large corpus of material. In addition to the Jewish sources, a student must also become familiar with the philosophical and the mystical texts of other traditions, so it is quite a daunting task. I would say that this is the greatest intellectual challenge. Institutionally, the challenge is one of financial support for this kind of research, to convince donors that these subjects are worthy of study without any political or ideological agenda being served, but this is a larger matter that needs to be discussed in a different venue.

If a reader wants to learn more about the study of Jewish mysticism and philosophy, what would you recommend he or she read?

For the non-academic reader, I would suggest Abraham Joshua Heschel’s essay “The Mystical Element in Judaism,” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, edited by Susannah Heschel (1996); Louis Jacobs, The Schocken Book of Jewish Mystical Testimonies (1998); Brian L. Lancaster, The Essence of Kabbalah (2005); and Byron L. Sherwin, Kabbalah: An Introduction to Jewish Mysticism (2006).

Posted on November 23, 2009

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Everyone Loves Bad Poetry

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Who doesn’t love bad poetry? As part of their new issue on poetry, 614 Magazine posted a new interview with Yonah Lavery, the winner of our Bad Poetry Contest. Now, we don’t mean to be down on poetry — and Ms. Lavery is one of our favorite people — but bad poetry just gets us giddy. And, fortunately, the interview doesn’t focus solely on Lavery’s poetry, although it does get in some good points about the nature of poetry — and the nature of calling something “Jewish”:

I told everyone! In fact, I thought about making business cards with “Worst Jewish Poet” on them. Yesterday I told a good friend of mine, a 90-year-old woman who used to be my landlady.
“Guess what, Miriam? I wrote the worst Jewish poem!”
“The worst Jewish poem? You?! You are writing a Jewish poem?”
To my amazement, she started hugging me and weeping tears of joy. “I am so proud of you! And now I have somebody to talk to!”
I was confused at her reaction but happy for the hugs, until she asked, “But tell me—when did you learn to speak Jewish?”
I felt so guilty that I’d given her false hope for a fellow Yiddish-speaker that I started learning Yiddish from her right away.

Check out 614‘s page to read the rest of the interview. And while you’re there, check out the rest of their features about poetry — including a new poem I wrote.

Posted on November 23, 2009

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Best Of The Week

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History, Texts on by .

Shabbat is starting earlier and earlier. Someone please stop the sun. It is on a reign of terror that I just can’t handle right now. Then again, ending Shabbat at 5:15 in the afternoon isn’t such a bad thing either. So…I guess…keep doin’ your thing sun (and no one write me with that whole “it’s the Earth that is revolving stuff.” I get it).

I’m a middle child. I don’t think there has ever been an instance in my family where my older brother was eating lentil soup where I didn’t try to take his birthright. Here is our recipe for the soup for all the conniving younger siblings.

For centuries, common belief was that the Jews had killed Jesus. Only recently, it has become more apparent that, in fact, it was Mel Gibson.

In a couple weeks, we’re going to premiere a video that features the Lower East Side of New York. But if you’re not a visual learner, here is our article on the Lower East Side–Then and Now.

Posted on November 20, 2009

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Full of Hate, or Too Nice?

This entry was posted in Beliefs, Practices on by .

A few days ago a friend sent me a link to this site, and my head has been spinning ever since. There is a lot to see at The Geulah Company, but so far my favorite thing is the button I was originally directed to.
middos.jpg
The Geulah Company suggests other things that you may want to substitute for VERY CRITICAL:

A Nag, Afraid of People, Argumentative, Arrogant, Bitter, Complaining, Conceited, Condemning, Controlling, Cowardly, Critical, Cruel, Degrade People, Dishonest, Distant, Easily Angered, Eat Too Much, Fake, Fault Finding, Full Of Hate, Grouchy, Haughty, Impatient, Inconsiderate of Others, Insolent, Irrational, Irritable, Lazy, Lie A Lot, Make Fun of People, Mean, Nervous, Noisy, Nosy, Not Nice, Obnoxious, Paranoid, Resentful, Revengeful, Rude, Sad, Sarcastic, Secretive, Self-Centered, Self-Important, Selfish, Severe, Shy, Sloppy, Stingy, Talk Too Much, Too Neat, Too Nice, Too Strict, Unemotional, Unmotivated, Unreasonable, Unreliable, Wasteful, Whiny, Withdrawn, Worried.

Is it me, or is that list eerily similar to the Ashamnu prayer?

Also, I really like the idea of walking around wearing two buttons, one saying “By Nature I’m Full of Hate” and the other saying “I’m really a nice person but sometimes I can be too nice. I am trying to change.”

HT DWolkin

Posted on November 20, 2009

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Wise Fridays: The Perils of High Office

This entry was posted in Life, Texts on by .

wise fridays: sharpen the reception on your WiFri

Rabbi Judah ben Tabai said: If anyone had said to me before I entered high office, “Assume that office,” my only wish would have been to hound him to death. Now that I have entered high office, if anyone were to tell me, “Give it up,” I would pour a kettle of boiling water on his head. Because to high office it is hard to rise, yet…it is even harder to give it up.

-Avot d’Rabbi Natan 10:3
Find more Wise Fridays wisdom on MJL.

Posted on November 20, 2009

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