Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Dirty (Crispy?) Underbelly of the Matzah World

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

I have always been appalled by the prices of various Kosher for Passover foods (yet again, I urge you to go simple, and eat normal food) but I never realized there was actually a price-fixing lawsuit on the books when it comes to Passover foods. In the early nineties it was revealed that Manischewitz, Streits, and Horowitz were all in cahoots in a price fixing scandal. According to the New York Times:
parade_manischewitz.jpg

Manischewitz faces a fine of $1 million, or two times either the losses inflicted on consumers or the gains won by the company, whichever is greatest. Those amounts have not been made public.

Justin Walder, a lawyer for Manischewitz, said the company was pleased with the judge’s decision.

A criminal price-fixing indictment, based on a two-year grand jury investigation, charged that between 1981 and at least April 1986, Manischewitz and unnamed competitors conspired to increase the wholesale price on about $25 million worth of Passover matzohs.

I wish I could say we had put this behind us, but if you’ve been to a kosher grocery store in the past few weeks you know that there has to be some more price fixing going on.

All I can say is that for lunch today I had a roasted sweet potato. Kosher for Passover, and free from the clutches of big corporations trying to gouge my pocketbook.

Chag sameach!

Posted on March 29, 2010

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Superman Never Had a Bris

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

We all know Superman has Jewish roots, but until today I never thought about whether he was circumcised. Now, of course, I am having many deep thoughts about Superman’s package, and his bulletproof foreskin. What brought this on? A missive from Comic-Con co-founder and letterer Shel Dorf to legendary DC Comics editor Julie Schwartz.

Read the text of the letter over at Letters of Note. There are also questions about whether Superman had a bar mitzvah (“Today I am a (Super)man.”) and whether Lois Lane was a fellow Jew. How come no one sends me letters like this?

superman.jpg

Posted on March 29, 2010

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Passover Fun

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

This morning, I went crazy in Crown Heights. If you’re a first-born child, the way I am, today should have been your fast — that is, unless you managed to be at a seudat mitzvah, or a feast given for the completion of a mitzvah, like a brit milah or the completion of a tractate of Talmud. Finally, I hit a minyan where someone was just finishing up a tractate, as a huge cluster of people around him, fellow first-borns, pushed and pressed and listened.

When I get home, it’s more Passover fun. Somehow, in the midst of moving and reproducing, we’ve decided to make our own Passover seder for the first time ever — and, yes, it will be a dairy one.

So here’s what’s occupying my space and interest. First of all, the genius who came up with the hilarious — and, curiously enough, the semi-Biblically-accurate Facebook haggadah has an all-new version for this year. My favorite interaction — although, of course, it looks way better with formatting and graphics:

Pharaoh: Rough day today, so be nice. My dad entered immortality this morning, and I’ve assumed the throne and become the new Pharaoh. I even took over his account. I’m doing my best to carry on his legacy, but it’s tough. And it didn’t get any easier after dinner tonight when the cat threw up all over the carpet. Comment · Like · Share
Joseph: I am sorry to hear of your loss, my master.
Pharaoh: Who are you, and why are you writing on my wall?
Joseph: I meant no disrespect, my master.
Advisor: He is an Israelite. There are many of them. I do not know whether they are with us or against us.
Pharaoh: Let us deal shrewdly with them, lest they join with our enemies in time of war.

So that’s what’s keeping me sane — or half of it, anyway. JDub Records’ kids’ band, The Macaroons, are, predictably enough, enthused — this is their holiday, after all, and they have a new mini-album out, for which they’ve managed to release this video:

Posted on March 29, 2010

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Happy Passover (and a kosher one)

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

A rabbi used to go around wishing everyone a kosher Purim and a happy Passover. Someone stopped him and said, What are you, crazy? Don’t you have it backward?

shlomo carlebachThe rabbi shook it off. “Not at all,” he said. “On Purim, everyone is very concerned about being happy, so they make sure to do it. And on Passover, everyone’s worried about cleaning their houses and getting rid of their hametz, so they make sure to do that. But on Purim, with all the happiness, people sometimes need to remember to keep it kosher. And on Passover, when everyone’s stressed out, they need to remember to keep it happy.”

I don’t remember where this originally came from, but I heard it from Shlomo Carlebach, as quoted by Shalom Brodt. Either way, have a rockin’ Passover. And, yes, a kosher one.

Posted on March 29, 2010

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Preparing for Passover: There’s an App for That

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According to this precious Washington Post article, there’s an iPhone app that you can use to learn the four questions (iMah Nishtana, seriously) and you’re probably already familiar with Tweet the Exodus which is (was?) pretty awesome.

There are also many great apps that let you plan your menu way ahead of time, automatically make you shopping lists, and so on. If I had an iPhone, I’d be all about those apps during Passover.

There’s The Story of Passover: Second Edition. And of course there’s an Omer Counter app. There’s an app called Passover Food Street which might be a Passover recipe manager but I honestly can’t tell and it doesn’t look particularly good. Finally, there’s an app for the seder night—Find the Matzah. See you tap to put the matzah in a napkin, and then you hide your iPhone, and then the kids go looking for it, and when they find it, they tap to unwrap the matzah. It saves you the crucial step of picking up the piece of matzah.

Posted on March 26, 2010

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Best of the Week

This entry was posted in General on by .

Around this time every year, I count my blessings. Because as much as I’m not a fan of Passover, I try to keep the glass half full. Because, what if we lived in a bizarro-Judaism world? In that world, all year round, you’re not allowed to eat hametz, and twice a week, you have seders. Of course, Passover would be awesome. Imagine eight days a year when you could eat anything you want. It would be glorious. But then again, the rest of the year would stink.

Kosher for Passover desserts can be very risky. In fact, I try to avoid them at all costs. But that might have to change after I read this cool recipe for chocolate espresso cookies.

Just in time for the seders, here are some tips to make sure than you and your guests enjoy yourselves on Monday and Tuesday nights. That is, if you don’t already love seders.

Finally…I set a world record. It’s Passover themed. So give it a watch.

Posted on March 26, 2010

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

100,000 Strong

This entry was posted in General on by .

I have some good news to pass on from the offices of MyJewishLearning.com. Hopefully, by weekend’s end, MyJewishLearning’s YouTube videos will have passed the 100,000 views mark (as of this post, we are at 99,957). We want to thank you for all the support. This past year, we’ve been focusing on making cool, innovative and Jewish videos for our audience. And we’ve had an amazing time making them too.

So please keep watching and subscribe to us!

Here are a few of my favorites…

Posted on March 26, 2010

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Based on a “True” Story

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Nora Rubel is the author of the recently-published Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination. In her last posts, she wrote about kosher and ethical food and Jewsteria Lane.

jewish authors blogI love television, I love movies, and I read too (when I can squeeze in time between my regularly scheduled programming). I have always been interested in how popular culture attempts to warn us about the dangerous influences of our time. Such literary and cinematic narratives warn us about the consequences of certain behaviors. Sometimes they warn us about the influence of alcohol or drugs as in the 1980s afterschool specials Angel Dusted and Desperate Lives (both of which feature Helen Hunt). Sometimes, we can learn to fear the influence of certain types of people and religious beliefs (think about Iranians and Islam in the 1991 film Not Without My Daughter). If we examine the context of such films, however, we can see that they tell us more about ourselves and our times than they do of the chosen subject matter.

When I was in college, my mother gave me the Naomi Ragen novel Sotah. While I ravenously devoured it, enjoying the sneak peek into the hidden world of ultra-Orthodox (haredi) Jews, I imagine that I (embarrassingly uncritically) swallowed the content as completely true. Ragen’s books—and there are quite a few—on the haredi community are an entertaining mix of Jewish Harlequin-style romance novel and quasi-feminist theological critique. The heroines awaken to their own oppression and find love and happiness in what is essentially a Modern Orthodox lifestyle. As a grad student in American religion, I began to notice a pattern of such “sneak peek” narratives, beginning with the seventeenth-century Indian captivity narrative giving way over time to anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon, and anti-Muslim stories. Such fictions employed manipulative tactics in order to rouse the passions of the reader; a dominant theme is that of the oppression of women.

One such famous (and false) tale is the 1836 bestselling exposé Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, or, The Hidden Secrets of a Nun’s Life in a Convent Exposed, which told of unspeakable horrors that took place in a Montreal convent: the sexual solicitation of nuns nora rubelby priests, infanticide, and murder. Read by many at a time when convents were actually being burned down by angry mobs, these convent tales fueled already existing nativist passions. A ghostwritten work, its purpose was to warn Protestant women of the dangers of the Catholic Church.

After I read this piece, my thoughts turned back to Sotah, a novel that (like Awful Disclosures) highlighted anxiety about the nature of power and authority, primarily the power wielded over women. I thought of my response to the novel, particularly my feelings of certainty that the haredi world was a dangerous place for women, and wondered if perhaps I was being manipulated as a reader. I began seeking out fictional narratives that featured ultra-Orthodox characters and found that for many this theme of Ragen’s was common. Sometimes the agenda was in favor of a more moderate religiosity, sometimes it favored a progressive secularism. In all cases, the texts seemed to function as weapons in an ongoing culture war, one that is an argument over authentic Judaism.

The texts pursued in my new book, Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination, emerge therefore in a period of cultural contestation, a moment when the dominant group, mainstream American Jewry, consciously or unconsciously believes it is being threatened by an invasion of the marginalized group, the ultra-Orthodox. As in the earlier anti-Catholic and anti-Muslim narratives, the dominant culture constructs extreme portraits of the marginalized group as an articulation of its own cultural insecurity and anxiety.

The anti-haredi writings that I profile in this book place this American Jewish culture war in a long line of American ethnic and religious conflict. The narratives replace the lecherous priests in anti-Catholic tales with manipulative rabbis, the abusive convent with the repressive yeshiva, but the formula remains the same: these people are different and threatening, and the public should be warned.

Nora Rubel is the author of the recently published Doubting the Devout: The Ultra-Orthodox in the Jewish American Imagination. She has been blogging here all week.

Posted on March 26, 2010

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Passover Round-Up

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

I’m not even going to try to cover all the Passover happenings in Internetland. I’m just going to throw it out to you — and you can try to keep up with them all (or not).

And while you’re reading, we’ll start you off with some perusing music.

* The new single by Darshan, “Chad Gadya,” was released yesterday. You can listen to or download it right here, for free.

<a href="http://darshan.bandcamp.com/track/chad-gadya">Chad Gadya חד גדיא by Darshan</a>


* Have you sold your chametz yet? Chabad.org’s online chametz seller is a trusty path — and, while you’re there, you can sign up for a daily email reminder to count the Omer — since, as of the second night of Passover, the game is on. The USCJ’s Koach.org also has a online submission form.

* In Melbourne, Rabbi Meir Rabi introduces “laffa style” soft matzah — which has always been available in Israel for Sephardim (and anyone who likes to live on the edge), but not as readily purchasable in such Ashkenazi-centric areas as, well, Australia. However, as Galus Australis‘s David Werdiger reports, not everyone appreciates its newfound availability. Werdiger writes:

When you consider that the Pascal offering was a young lamb, cooked on a spit, and it was not permitted to break any of its bones, the whole seder is looking more and more like a family barbeque. Picture the lamb roasting on the spit, with people carefully carving off meat onto a plate. As per Hillel’s custom, they would then place a quantity of the lamb slices into their pita-style matzah, and add some bitter maror (shredded horseradish or perhaps harif), and voila! You have perhaps the first documented shawarma!

(In the article, Werdiger also notes that Wikipedia hat-tips Hillel in their article about the invention of the sandwich.)

* Finished with the song? Good. Because now you can tune in to G-dcast‘s tremendous new Passover episode featuring the Four Children (and a bunch more).


The Passover Seder…With the Four Sons! from G-dcast.com

More Torah cartoons at www.g-dcast.com

Posted on March 26, 2010

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

Jewish Politics Making Headlines

This entry was posted in Life on by .

Last night I was reading the New York Times online and saw the following headline: Frum Forced Out At Conservative Institute.

Maybe I’m crazy, but my first thought was, “Since when does the Times cover internal Jewish politics?” Also, which Conservative Institute? Also, how can the Times assume we know what frum means? Also, why is this news worthy of the front page of the Times?
david_frum.jpg
So I clicked on the article, and here’s the lede:

Updated: Over the past week, David Frum, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research organization, has emerged as one of the leading critics of the way Republicans dealt with President Obama’s health care bill.

It turns out this is a story about a guy named David Frum ($50 says he’s a Jew) getting forced out of a conservative think tank. I don’t know why, but I’m really relieved. I was thinking, once JTS insider politics makes front page headlines, the Conservative Movement is in really bad shape.

Posted on March 26, 2010

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