Author Archives: Daniel Septimus

About Daniel Septimus

Daniel Septimus is the Editor-in-Chief of MyJewishLearning.com.

Rothschild Fellows Program

This entry was posted in General on by .

A friend recently passed on info about this new program designed for social entrepreneurs with an interest in fostering mutual respect and dialogue between Jews and Muslims.

Here are the details:

An initiative of the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation, the Ariane de Rothschild Fellows Program: Dialogue & Social Entrepreneurship is a new, innovative program designed for social entrepreneurs with an interest in fostering a culture of mutual respect and dialogue among Jewish and Muslim communities.

Delivered in partnership with Columbia Business School and Cambridge University, this 2-week program blends three educational components:

* an innovative and action-driven social entrepreneurship program
* training in cross-cultural dialogue and leadership
* exposure to state-of-the-art scholarship

Application Criteria

Acceptance to the program is by application only. Selected Fellows will be invited to the program in New York City in July 2009, inclusive of travel, lodging and some meals. Application criteria include:

* Social entrepreneurs who have already created their organization and are engaged in the early stages of development (one to four years) and who are interested in fostering a culture of mutual respect and dialogue among Jewish and Muslim communities.
* Residence in the US, UK, and/or France, or operation of their venture from these countries.
* Social entrepreneurs who demonstrate their interest in and commitment to sustainable civic engagement. There will be no specific sector focus.

In exceptional cases we will also consider individuals with an outstanding background in social activities even if they have not created a legal entity, per se.

Click here for detailed information on eligibility, program curriculum and application process. While on the Web site, be sure to sign up to receive regular updates.

Posted on December 7, 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

Oops: Hanukkah in the White House

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

For those who still care about dysfunction in the Bush White House, the President delivered a special, early Hanukkah Christmas present this week. The New York Post reports:

AS if President Bush doesn’t have enough gaffes to atone for, he had to send out an apology to Jewish leaders this week. As The Post first reported, prominent Jews were aghast when invites they received to the official White House Hanukkah reception had a Christmas tree and Christmas wreaths on it. It prompted Brooklyn Jewish community leader Isaac Abraham to crack, “It’s obvious . . . the Christmas tree is being taken out of the White House and the menorah is being brought in the back.” New invites went out yesterday with a menorah on them and a note saying, “Please accept our apologies as the invitation you previously received had the incorrect artwork on it.”

Posted on December 3, 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

On Racism

This entry was posted in Beliefs, History on by .

Last week, I blogged about the Jewish community’s (and particularly the Orthodox community’s) confrontation with residual racism (in light of the Obama victory).

Well, the ever-wise Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein has continued this movement with a sensitive and important post over at Cross-Currents.

As always, Rabbi Adlerstein is willing to take a hard and honest look at communal problems: “This was no isolated incident. Frum teachers in our community use racial and ethnic slurs in the classroom; too many rabbonim still use disparaging language – or words like shvartze – thinking that they are harmless within the “inâ€? group.”

But more importantly, Rabbi Adlerstein acknowledges that there are those who believe that racism is, in effect, condoned by Judaism — and he argues forcefully against this possibility.

A third reason can be found in the selective reading and misappropriation of rabbinic texts. Many people “knowâ€? that all non-Jews hate all Jews. Chazal said so. הלכה ×”×™×? בידוע שעשיו שונ×? ×?ת יעקב. Underscoring “halachaâ€? means that this is a fixed, immutable rule.

Just how Esav turned into all non-Jews, rather than just one group of them, is a bit of a mystery. In fact, I have a hard time figuring out how Esav the person turned into Esav the nation. Searching a few Torah databases a few years ago, I could find no source before the end of the 19th century that took Esav to mean a group of people, rather than Esav the biblical figure – who had every reason to hate Yaakov!…

More puzzling is the assumption by some of us that Genesis 9:25, 27 consigns all black people to perpetual servitude. This becomes the basis of looking down upon black people. (MORE)

According to Yeshiva World News, this last notion was cited — after the Obama election — by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, considered by many to be one of the gedolei hador.

Maran Hagon Rav Chaim Kanievsky Shlita is quoted as having said [on Wednesday] – following the election of Senator Barack Obama as America’s next president, that this is not the first time that a black person was elected to a leadership post, ‘News1′ reports.

Yiddishkeit believes a person with black skin is a descendant of Cham, the son of Noach, upon who it is written “he will serve his brother�. Rav Kanievsky stated in regard to the president-elect that he will be a “servant who rules�, adding there is a historical precedent with King Herod (Hurdus), who was also black. “Herod made Tzaros for Am Yisrael, but he also built the Beis HaMikdosh� stated the Rav. (MORE)

Indeed, Rabbi Adlerstein may be referring to Rabbi Kanievsky in the last paragraph of his article when he writes: “Statements that have been attributed to names in New York and Israel simply elude my comprehension, if there is any truth to them in the first place.”

In any case, Rabbi Adlerstein deserves our admiration for taking on this issue so forcefully and honestly.

Posted on November 24, 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

Obama Introspection

This entry was posted in History on by .

In the wake of Barack Obama’s victory, there’s been quite a bit of laudable introspection on behalf of the Jewish community — and particularly the Orthodox community — about lingering racism.

Dr. Elliot Prager, the principal of Morah, an Orthodox day school in New Jersey, wrote a beautiful and bold letter to parents lamenting the disturbing comments he heard from some of his young students.

Now come similar words from Rabbi Reuven Tradburks, the President of the Toronto Bais Din. On Cross-Currents, Rabbi Tradburks writes:

There is a tendency, I believe, in our world to paint the world in the paradigms of Yaakov and Esav – good versus evil. But we often paint the wrong people with the Esav label.

There are Esavs in the world. There are people who display principles and attitudes that are dark and evil. Arafat, Hamas, Hizbulla, Aryan Nation, Ahmenidijad.

But Obama is not one of them. He is an intelligent, liberal thinking man of integrity and great rhetorical ability. You may not like his attitudes or his platform. But that is a discussion in the realm of ideas not in the realm of good and evil. He is a good man, a man who wants good. (MORE)

Unfortunately, Rabbi Tradburks makes his case for Obama — and against baseless hatred — by invoking another culturally prejudiced stereotype.

The moral of the story according to Rabbi Tradburks: “We should not become Jewish rednecks.”

Oy…

Posted on November 17, 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

The Bernstein Effect

This entry was posted in History on by .

Now that we will have our first African-American president, it’s time to start speculating about the next ethnic/gender/religious barrier to fall.

Over at Slate, Mark Oppenheimer does just that, looking at the prospective Mormon, Hindu, Muslim, female, etc. candidates.

As for the Jews…

Together now, a sigh of relief: It’s not going to be Lieberman! Having dirty-danced with too many political parties in the past four years, Joe’s rep is tarnished; Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are both happy to use him, but neither really wants to be seen holding hands with him the next morning. So which members of the tribe — a tribe that is about 5 million strong in America, with deep pockets, high voter turnout, and diminishing fear of the Bradley (Bernstein?) Effect — might be next on America’s dance card? Top candidates: Rahm Emanuel, congressman-cum-chief of staff, a man whose debtors include every Democrat in Congress, since he led the House Dems’ fundraising effort in the watershed election of 2006; rising GOP star Eric Cantor, of Virginia’s 7th congressional district; and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, whose very name recalls that old, shattered dream known as campaign-finance reform. But Feingold, who has thought about running before, is on the record supporting same-sex marriages, so we may want to sub in Ed Rendell, the Pennsylvania governor who, after supporting Hillary, helped deliver his state to Obama. If you think Rendell (b. 1944) is too old, and you just can’t see Michael Bloomberg in the Oval Office, then it might be fun to consider Al Franken — should he push aside his fellow Jew, Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, in the recount still in progress.

MORE…

Posted on November 17, 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

What Religion Is

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

I haven’t yet seen Bill Maher’s new documentary Religulous, but it’s premise is hardly novel. By now, we know the score.

September 11th and our Born Again President (yes, Bush is still president) brought religion back into public discourse, and this revival also resurrected the cranky atheist.

Hence, the bestsellers from Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, and now, the movie version from Maher, which — if the trailer is any indication — tries to put an end to religion once and for all…by making fun of it.

Which isn’t to say that I always disagree with Maher. But trying to discredit religion by going to The Holy Land Experience theme park is like trying to disparage baseball at the Wiffle Ball Hall of Fame.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about while reading Hilary Putnam’s new book Jewish Philosophy as a Guide to Life.

Putnam is, of course, a renowned philosopher who spent most of his career at Harvard concerned with analytic philosophy. But more than 30 years ago, Putnam started attending the egalitarian minyan at Harvard Hillel and in his last years teaching, he lectured on Rosenzweig, Buber, Levinas, and Wittgenstein, who are the focus of Jewish Philosophy, as well.

In a sense, Putnam’s very being refutes Maher’s anti-religious absolutism. One can, indeed, be both supremely sophisticated and religiously interested. But more importantly, Putnam’s subjects help us figure out how to do this.

This book and these thinkers are so important because they help answer a question many of us struggle with: What are the foundations of a modern, intellectually credible religious life?

For Putnam, these four thinkers point us in the same direction. While Dawkins, Hitchens, and Maher want to show us that religious theories about the way the world works are ludicrous, these thinkers have no interest in religious theories.

Writing specifically about Wittgenstein, but generally, about the rest of his subjects, Putnam writes:

for Wittgenstein religion, at its best, was not a theory…The idea that religion can either be criticized or defended by appeals to scientific fact seemed to him a mistake. And I am sure that Wittgenstein, like Kierkegaard, would have regarded the idea of “proving” the truth of the Jewish or the Christian or the Muslim religions by “historical evidence” as a profound confusion of realms, a confusion of the inner transformation in one’s life that he saw as the true function of religion, with the goals and activities of scientific explanation and prediction.

Later, Putnam mentions an even more fascinating explication of this. He quotes Wittgenstein as referring to religion as “a passionate commitment to a system of reference…a way of living, or a way of assessing life.”

Religion, then, is not a system of beliefs about the way the world is, but rather a way of being in the world. One can critique this way of life (if, say, it is immoral), but to try to refute its beliefs misses the point of what religion is — or should be.

Posted on October 17, 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

Racey Ad

This entry was posted in History on by .

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is an old-school organization in the very best sense. It’s BIG (the largest volunteer organization and the largest women’s organization in America, according to its website) and it’s done a lot of good in the philanthopic arena.

So I’m very curious whether anyone at the organization had to approve the following ad for the WUJS-Hadassah Israel program that’s running on Heeb’s blog.

wujs_ad.jpg
Not exactly what you’d expect from an organization affiliated with the major Jewish women’s organization

BTW: When you click on the image you get taken to the following:

wujsad2.jpg

Posted on October 10, 2008

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A Fancy Chabadnik

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

Top_Hat.jpgIn this week’s Forward, Dani Shapiro writes about an experience that most of us have experienced.

I was pushing my son’s stroller along the main avenue of our Brooklyn neighborhood on a bright fall morning, when I was stopped by a bearded man in a top hat, his long black coat flapping.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish?� he asked.

Being stopped by a Chabadnik holding a lulav and etrog, not so unusual, right? But wait. Read that again.

Shapiro’s Chabadnik was wearing a top hat, not a fedora! Pretty cool.

Posted on October 10, 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

The MJL Million

This entry was posted in General on by .

The Forward is looking for help with its next Forward 50, and the new Heeb 100 has just been announced. Which got me thinking, MyJewishLearning needs a Top Jew list, too!

So I’m pleased to announce “The MJL Million” — our homegrown list of the million best Jews in America.

True, it sucks for us that there isn’t a smaller number that starts with “m,” but it’s good for you guys. There’s like a 1 in 7 chance you’ll be chosen.

Self-nominations for the The MJL Million are now being accepted at million@myjewishlearning.com. Tell us why you belong on the list and chances are, we’ll put you on.

Posted on October 6, 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

Repentance & Prostitution

This entry was posted in Holidays, Texts on by .

We’re in the midst of aseret yemei teshuva  the Ten Days of Repentance — so I thought I’d share a Talmudic text about repentance (from Tractate Baba Metzia 85a) that I came across recently.

The text is both fascinating and puzzling, and I haven’t figured out what to make of it yet, so if you have any ideas, feel free to share.

Rabbi visited the town of Rabbi Tarfon. He said to them: ‘Has that righteous man [Rabbi Tarfon], who used to swear by the life of his children, left a son?’

They replied: ‘He has left no son, but a daughter’s son remains, and [because he's so good looking] every harlot who is hired for two [zuz] hires him for eight.’

So he [Rabbi] had him [Rabbi Tarfon's grandson] brought before him and said to him: ‘Should you repent, I will give you my daughter.’ He repented. Some say, he married her [Rabbi's daughter] and divorced her; others, that he did not marry her at all, lest it be said that his repentance was on her account.

And why did he [Rabbi] take such [extreme] measures? — Because, [as] Rab Judah said in Rab’s name — others Say, R. Hiyya b. Abba said in R. Johanan’s name — others say, R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan’s name: He who teaches Torah to his neighbour’s son will be privileged to sit in the Heavenly Academy, for it is written, If thou will cause [Israel] to repent, then will I bring you again, and you shall stand before me.

Posted on October 2, 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

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