No word on how many goats, bullocks, and birds he sacrificed, though

Evidently there’s a new book out in which some guy tries to spend a year “living the Bible as literally as possible.” Annoyingly but not surprisingly, a lot of the fuss in the marketing materials is on all the really weird stuff he did, like letting his beard grow, not mixing wool and linen, and, you know, thinking about what he eats. Oooh, weird. (They make a lot of fuss over the beard thing.) I’m actually curious about how he interpreted a lot of the mitzvot–that is to say, did Rabbinic interpretation and definitions (of, say, what Shabbat is) affect him, and if not, how did he figure out how to translate some of the more vague instructions into ma’aseh (stuff you actually do)? Did he hold like the Karites?

In this Newsweek interview, though, it seems that the author, A. J. Jacobs, got a bit more out of the experiment than just getting to pretend he was Charlton Heston.

The experience changed me in big ways and small ways. There’s a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I’m more thankful. I focus on the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong. And I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest…. One thing I learned is that the outside affects the inside, your behavior shapes your thoughts. I also really liked what one of my spiritual advisers said, which was that you can view life as a series of rights and entitlements, or a series of responsibilities. I like seeing my life as a series of responsibilities. It’s sort of, “Ask not what the world can do for you, ask what you can do for the world.”

I’m personally reserving judgement on the project until I actually read it. Hate the marketing, though.

Yet more on heter, shmetter

Another addendum

According to the JPost, a group of religious Orthodox rabbis affiliated with the group Tzohar, a group working for coexistence with secular Israelis (a mighty good idea; we’ll see if they’re any better than the other lot), announced on Tuesday that they will be issuing alternative kashrut certificates to restaurants and stores who buy produce depending on the heter mechira.

The Jpost article cites three rabbis affiliated with Tzohar

“If local rabbis refuse to recognize fruits and vegetables grown by Jewish farmers during the shmita year as kosher, then we will,” said Rabbi Rafi Freuerstein, chairman of the Tzohar organization.

“We believe it is important to strengthen Jewish farmers and Jewish agriculture and provide reasonably-priced produce to the Jewish nation,” he said.

“The Chief Rabbinate is not fulfilling its function as a rabbinic authority for the entire Jewish nation,” said Rabbi David Stav, a member of Tzohar, during a press conference Tuesday. “Rather, it has been taken over by Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv and Lithuanian haredi interests. We are trying to save the Chief Rabbinate from itself.”

The chief rabbinate, predictably, has attacked Tzohar as “undermining state-recognized rabbinic authority and risking a break between religion and state.”

In fact:

“If the rabbinate is dismantled as a result of internal fighting, we risk losing national recognition for rabbinic authority,” said Rabbi Ratzon Arussi, chief rabbi of Kiryat Ono and a member of the Chief Rabbinate’s governing council.

Rabbi Moshe Rauchverger, another council member, said that Tzohar threatened to break the rabbinate’s monopoly over religious services and open it up to Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism.

“If Tzohar starts providing kosher supervision, what is to stop Reform and Conservative from doing the same?” said Rauchverger.

Yes, indeed, what? More »

Rubashkin Arrest

Just in case anyone missed it, it seems that Moshe and Sholom Rubashkin were arrested last week, believe it or not, NOT for violations at their AgriProcessors slaughterhouses, but after being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges stemming from incidents at a closed textile plant they own.

According to JTA

The U.S. attorney in Philadelphia charged Moshe Rubashkin with leaving hazardous waste at the Montex textile plant in Allentown, Pa., and charged his son Sholom with misleading an investigation into a fire at the plant, according to the Forward. …The current charge is that he left drums of hazardous waste in the mill after it closed in 2001. A fire broke out there in 2005 that allegedly was exacerbated by the hazardous waste.

Granted, this is technically not a kosher slaughter house story, but it seems to me that what we’re looking at now is a matter of time. The JTA artcle refers to him as a “community leader” in Crown Heights, so it is unsurprising to me that the community continues to support him and make him out to be a victim, but this is now clearly a matter of someone who engages in unethical practices across the board. He had even served 15 months in prison for writing bad checks from the Montex plant.

There is nothing good in supporting someone in their criminal and unethical behavior, Jew or not; and if the commandments of our law aren’t enough to separate ourselves from such behavior, then surely we should be considering that someone who engages in these kinds of practices considers themselves better than others, and is not going to be limited by practicing on non-Jews. After all, as Failed Messiah points out in his excellent ongiong expose of this saga, the last major problem at AgriProcessors was the Rubashkins’ failure to follow food-safety procedures, including safeguards against Mad Cow disease – at lest five incidents of this, where food safety inspectors asked cows to be removed, only to find out later that they were slaughtered anyway. In other words, they don’t care if their customers get sick and die. So much for loving your fellow.

chabad arrest
For a full story on the arrest see here

Sheesh. It’s getting to the point that Rubashkin needs its own category.
For a history see:
See: öÄéÌåÉï áÌÀîÄùÑÀôÌÈè úÌÄôÌÈãÆä åÀùÑÈáÆéäÈ áÌÄöÀãÈ÷Èä, Where’s the beef now? Kashrut update on Rubashkin’s, Another beef with kashrut in the news, and Kashrut Brouhaha Has Legs; Agriprocessors: Still trayfin’ it up,
and Failed Messiah

Welcome to America!

OK, well not so much, really. Apparently the Bobov sect has been commanded by a rabbinical court to hold elections to decide who their next rebbe will be. Interestingly, single yeshiva students are not permitted to vote (and I’m assuming, although the article doesn’t state explicitly, that women also do not vote).
Quoted in Ha’aretz, one person said, “Something like this has never happened in the history of the Hasidic movement, that a Hasidic rabbinic leader would be elected by a vote – our forefathers never dreamed of such a thing.”

A rather curious statement, actually, since although there were not , in the past, a voter’s registry with a list of those eligible to vote; the requirement for voters to present valid identification; and fierce campaigning, originally chassidic sects formed simply because some person formed a group of followers around themself and became acknowledged as leader. It was only after chassidism became more institutionalized and formal that dynasties formed, handed down father to son. So, perhaps in a certain sense this is a very American way of returning to an older tradition.

May the best man win.
one Bobover
other Bobover
Full story

Join the trans-denom revolution at Hebrew College! Ta Shma: Prospective Students Weekend Nov. 1-4

For all you out there in the “Maybe Rabbis Club,” as my friends and I affectionately titled it (I left the club a few years later to join the “Future Rabbis Club”), now is the time to check out Hebrew College Rabbinical School.


I know I’ve written a little about the school and what we do, and I have a post I need to write about Art Green’s amazing convocation speech [you can listen to him talk about kabbalah on NPR's Fresh Air here], but here’s the deal: Hebrew College Rabbinical School is where the jam is. Seriously.

And for those of you contemplating service as your life path, but who might be nervous about lacking denominational affiliation, joining a new endeavor, job prospects, blah blah blah all the things I thought meant I couldn’t apply to Hebrew College, think again. It took major pushing from my mentor (you can see us celebrating her installation as Dean of the Rabbinical School below) to get me to apply, and now I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else to prepare myself to be a revolutionary in the empowerment-based, text-saavy, joyful, meaningful, creative, independent Jewish future I (and I suspect many of us) are working to build.

“What does a transdenominational rabbinical school look like?” many people wonder. It’s surprisingly simple. For those of us who have ever been to a pluiralistic Jewish retreat, gathering, or celebration, it looks like that. Period. People come, we learn together, we argue, we challenge, we try new things, and we are challenged to define our own spiritual and professional paths not according to denominational dogma but according to our own searching, through intensive education and with mentors and teachers from all backgrounds. It looks like any pluralistic day school, or yeshiva, or retreat. It looks like Limmud, it looks like National Havurah Institute, it looks like Jews in the Woods. Except all year long. And with common mission among students to change the world for the better and to bring about a new kind of Jewish communal life.

See for yourself. Come and learn with us, sing with us, pray with us, share with us.


Details on the flip. More »

Heter, shmetter

A recent essay in the JPost by Isi Leibler writes how the Orthodox in Israel have become triumphalist and how the voices of moderation have become extremely eroded, to the point where decisions made by halachic greats a generation or two ago are now no longer stringent enough.


OK, so far, not news.

However, today the voices of moderation are silent. Zealotry has become the order of the day.

THE DECLINE of moderation can be traced to the influence of haredi teachers employed in national-religious educational institutions. That coincided with a trend among Israeli rabbis to compete with one another in demonstrating greater stringency in halachic interpretation of ritual observance: for example, the enforcement of stricter separation between the sexes and even attempts to impose a broad application of kol isha – prohibiting men from listening to women sing or act.

A more bizarre example was the promulgation of an edict for kohanim flying in aircraft over cemeteries to seal themselves in body bags in order not to be defiled.

Of course, religious texts can usually be unearthed to justify just about any exotic or stringent prohibition. But the application of extreme “piety” in ritual observance was traditionally an option for the individual, not an edict imposed on the entire people.

Furthermore, without exception, whenever observance conflicted with critical social and economic issues, our sages creatively reinterpreted Halacha to find acceptable solutions. Today this no longer applies, because many rabbis, isolated in yeshivot, have scant contact with people in everyday life and are unconcerned about the impact of their more stringent interpretations.

He points out that this tendency is exemplified by the Chief Rabbinate, “which has been effectively hijacked by haredim who nevertheless reject its authority as an extension of the Zionist state.”
More »

Tiyul it up

This is so unpolitical, so unprogressive, so unreligious, so goshdarned secularly luxuriant and indulgent that I am almost ashamed. But that’s what you guys keep me around for right? The shameless product promotion and the random culture tips.

Okay, so a friend of a friend has launched a bimonthly e-newsletter called The Honey which is kind of an upscale travel guide to Israel. Where to get your high thread count, slow-cooked, shiatsu, wild-berry picking vacay on. This week’s issue hypes a Mitze Ramon inn with private sukkot.

I don’t live in Israel but this is the sort of thing I would have loved to read while planning my summer trip.

Filed under Travel


Not Everybody Has Even a Temporary Shelter

The Progressive Jewish Alliance is putting together a very apt event on the connections between Sukkot and homelessness. The deets, from the PJA:

Los Angeles is in the midst of a crisis. Safe, decent and affordable housing is beyond the reach of millions of Angelinos. Working families can barely afford to rent, let alone buy a home, and nearly 250,000 individuals will be homeless in LA County at some point this year.

This Sukkot, join PJA in an afternoon of art, learning and activism as we confront the issues of Housing and Homelessness in Los Angeles.

Come discuss the housing and homelessness crisis with PJA experts, participate in a text study with local rabbis, and find out what you can do to change housing policies.

Bring your kids for storytelling, games, arts and crafts.

Sunday, September 30, 2007 from 3:00-5:00
Roxbury Park
471 S. Roxbury Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90212

Iftar Ba-Sukkah

Once in a (half) lifetime opportunity! JCUA Logo

Midwest Jews! Help bring Chicago’s Muslim and Jewish communities together as we host our fellow descendants of Abraham for an evening of what both traditions do best: eating, prayer and schmoozing. Our Muslim brothers and sisters are currently in the month of Ramadan. They fast from dawn to sunset every day for a month (and you thought Yom Kippur was rough) and then break the fast each day with a meal called Iftar. This year, their fast coincides with Sukkot, thus this sweet opportunity to feed some hungry muslims and do something meaningful and positive with our fellow Semites.

Who: Muslims and Jews
What: Iftar in the Sukkah
Where: Anshe Sholom Synagogue, 540 W. Melrose, Chicago Illinois
When: 5:30 – 7:30, October 1, 2007
How much: $5-10 suggested donation to the JCUA for making this kind of stuff possible.

RSVP to Irene at or hit her up 312-663-0960 with questions. The skies don’t align like this for another 30 years folks.

Thanks to Ari Hart, for sharing this.


To paraphrase someone who commented on this article on Ha’aretz’s website: with all of the poverty and other assorted tzuris in Jerusalem, this is what the municipality is spending its money on?!

Jerusalem municipality to erect sukkah made entirely of candy
By Haaretz Staff

The Jerusalem municipality and the Ariel municipal company are planning to build a sukkah made entirely of candy to mark the Jewish holiday of Sukkot later this week.

The sukkah will be built in Jerusalem’s Safra Square and will be named “HaSukkah-Rya”, a play on words meaning hard candy.

Two tons of candy and candy-shaped ornaments will be used in the construction of the 1,000 square meter sukkah. The lighting will be in the shape of candy and the walls will be covered with candy and bubble gum. Various sweets will be offered to guests free of charge.

The sukkah will be open to visitors starting on Wednesday. Cultural events and other attractions will be held in the sukkah throughout the holiday.

Filed under Israel, Sukkot


Embrace the Treyf


human rights

Again, not my title. It’s the name of Jewish Women Watching’s new Sukkot project. Generally I’m an amused JWW fan, but I have mixed feelings about this campaign that I’m having some trouble articulating. I completely agree with the underlying idea, which is that the mainstream Jewish community needs to push itself to consider a broader range of issues and approaches to justice work, even– and especially–when those things challenge the status quo. But calling those issues and approaches “treyf,” even to make the point that the mainstream community often won’t touch them, seems somehow counterproductive. It might actually reinforce the misguided notion that working to rid our communities of entrenched sexism and homophobia is a radical fringe idea or that some communities aren’t already working against gentrification and for affordable housing for all.

So what do you think? (And it would be lovely if we could limit the nastygrams on the subject of Palestinian human rights, please.)

September 24, 2007/ 12 Tishrei 5768 – Jewish Women Watching, the anonymous collective of feminist rabble rousers, will be appearing in sukkot around the country in the upcoming week. In addition to a surprise personal appearance at the JCC sukkah (details below), thousands of Jews received Sukkot decorations from the renegade group.

Unlike the uninspired plastic fruit and paper chains that normally adorn the sukkah, JWW’s decorations consist of postcards urging the Jewish community to take their social activism one step further. Each postcard juxtaposes a social justice issue that is considered “kosher” in the organized Jewish community with one that is considered “treyf”. For example, while fighting anti-Semitism is encouraged, fighting racism, sexism, and homophobia does not get the same stamp of approval.

In two other postcards, JWW critiques the focus on band-aid solutions versus more sustainable projects. The underlying question of these cards is: “If we really want no one to go hungry, then shouldn’t we be doing more than mitzvah day?” The most inflammatory card points out the Jewish community’s extraordinary focus on human rights abuses against Darfurians while ignoring human rights abuses against Palestinians. In all of these cases, the group demands that the Jewish Community “embrace the treyf,” that is, devote resources and attention to issues that are considered treyf as well as those already stamped kosher.

Full press release, including more postcards and an opportunity to see JWW appear in person in NYC.

Update: Check out Mik Moore’s post on the JWW campaign over at JSpot.

PITOM’s avante/rock defies labels, plays again Tuesday night in NYC

PITOM the band

I know little about music, but I’m happy to talk about a good time under the influence of chords if I can. And attending PITOM’s performance in Brooklyn’s Zebulon on August 22nd was a fun experiment in new Jew tunes that defy genre.

You can read a little about their sound via the extended metaphor below, or hit their show Tuesday night yourself:

WHEN: Tuesday, Sept. 25th, 8:30pm
WHERE: Parkside Lounge, 317 E. Houston between Ave B and C
Cover? No way.

PITOM says about itself that if you toss Zorn, Zappa and Ziggy Stardust into a blender, you might hear this. But all I can do to relate Yoshie and his band’s sound with my musically-uneducated vocabulary is to say that if Ocean’s 11 were about an all-star band of misfit Jewish theives, this would be the soundtrack.

The first song opens the scene of some minor heist — a bit of klez punk to keep up with the action, lots of drumming, an Ashkenazi appeal in the interlude to highlight some successful on-screen venture, culminating in the feeling that if the rebbe’s rebel son wrote punk, it might sound like this.

More »

High Holidays in Mali

Here is a picture of the only High Holiday celebration in Mali:


Ari and Jess put together a Rosh Hashannah seder and got materials to do all the davening for the high holidays.

A couple years ago I walked about 10 miles each way to celebrate a Rosh Hashannah seder with Ari’s family when he was in the US. Their tradition traces to Tunis where it was common to have a meal with many food blessing-puns for a new year. It was neat to be included in this ritual. In an amazing turn of events it has been celebrated in Africa. Here is Ari’s beautiful account of the experience of spiritually preparing and cooking a feast without a sharp knife, counter, kitchen, oven, running water, or electricity.

One more belated pirate joke

What is a pirate’s favorite questionable neighborhood in Jerusalem?

Click here
for the answer!

Filed under Humor, Israel


Kumkum lay lay lay

Boiling water has never been so much fun! Our Israeli electric kettle turns every cup of tea into a disco!

The Last Jew in Afghanistan

Agence France-Presse reports:

Around two decades ago, there were still about 20 Afghan Jewish families living in Kabul, although all were from Herat — the largest city in northwestern Afghanistan near the border with Iran.

Through the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the subsequent civil war and the Taliban’s 1996-2001 regime, all went to Israel or moved to neighbouring former Soviet republics — undoing a Jewish presence built up from the seventh century.

Only [Zebulon] Simentov has been left behind, becoming by default the guardian of Kabul’s empty synagogue.

Evidently he had a Sefer Torah, but it was stolen by someone from the Taliban who thought they could get a good price for it. He got a heter (rabbinic permission) to ritually slaughter his own meat. It does not sound like an easy life. I wonder if anyone has a Sefer Torah that they’d be able to donate to him, for starters.

This is my favorite part of the article…. of course the only Jew in the country has the shul in which he won’t daven. (OK, it’s more like a sanctuary/chapel debate, but still):

Adjoining this room is the bare-walled “small synagogue” for men, where he prefers to pray.

Simentov, approaching 50, dislikes the “big synagogue” across the corridor — another large and dirty room in which stands only a platform traditionally reserved for the rabbi.

Full story.

Filed under Diaspora


Probable Yom Kippur Suicide Bombing Foiled

Haaretz reports,

Security forces foiled a suicide attack that most likely would have targeted a packed synagogue during the Yom Kippur holiday, confiscating an explosives belt from a South Tel Aviv apartment yesterday and arresting the head of the cell planning the attack on Friday.

The joint Hamas-Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine cell intended to carry out the attack at a Tel Aviv synagogue during Yom Kippur, the most important Jewish holiday of the year, security forces believe.

Based on the testimony of men arrested over the weekend, police and Shin Bet agents raided the apartment at 4:30 A.M. yesterday, where they found the belt.

Several Palestinians there who lacked residency permits were arrested and transferred to the Shin Bet for questioning.

The belt was smuggled into Tel Aviv in pieces, over several different trips.

Full story here.

Secret Israeli crematorium burned after location published in ultra-Orthodox newspaper

From the AP:

MOSHAV HIBAT ZION, Israel (AP) — The charred hut and blackened chimney are all that remain of what was one of Israel’s best-kept secrets.

It was the Jewish state’s first and only crematorium. But more than that, it was a symbol. To secular Jews it meant the right to choose one’s own exit from this world. To religious Jews it was a violation of Jewish law, which requires that the dead be buried intact. And it struck a raw nerve on both sides, conjuring up images of the Holocaust ovens.

The crematorium burned down on Aug. 22, a day after ultra-Orthodox activists discovered and publicized its location. Police suspect arson, and although no arrests have been made, the affair has become the latest episode in the religious wars that have dogged Israel since its creation.

Full story.

Filed under Crime, Israel