Recommended Fiction: Burning Girls

This week at speculative fiction publisher Tor Books’ website, an incredible novella appeared. Veronica Schanoes “Burning Girls” is ultimately a horror story, pitting the religious and canny women of a Polish family headed for America against a powerful demon that stalks them. Through sick children, a pogrom, immigration, sweatshop labor and more, the midwife Deborah struggles to hold her dwindling family together in the face of an evil she fears they will not survive. The twists were excellent, and the attention to history did new things with the backdrop of the era, instead of repeating literature that’s come before this. Anna and Elena Balbusso’s illustration is in the end, a heart-breaking match to the tale. It’s a lengthy but worthy read.

Judgment Day November 14?

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)

So the world didn’t end yesterday. To be fair, they weren’t actually predicting the end of the world until October 21, at the conclusion of five months of torment for those of us left behind. Yesterday was supposed to be only Judgment Day. But that didn’t happen either.

Of course this is all nonsense, but we can check their math and see whether it is at least internally consistent nonsense.

Let’s start with the year:
According to the tract explaining the calculations, the world was created in 11,013 “BC”, so we are now in the year 13,023 from creation. (It’s one less than you think because there was no year zero; 1 BCE was followed immediately by 1 CE.) The biblical flood occurred in the year 4990 “BC”, 6023 years after creation. God says in Genesis 7:4 that the flood will come in 7 days, and since one day to God is like 1000 years to us (they cite a New Testament verse for this, but we have the same idea in Psalm 90:4), this means the world will be destroyed 7000 years later, which comes out to 2011 CE.

I was baffled at how they arrived at this year count in the first place. According to the Jewish calendar, we are now in the year 5771 from creation, and the flood took place in the year 1656 from creation (4115 years ago, or 2105 BCE). While the exact count of the number of years from “creation” is somewhat controversial (particularly at the interface between biblical chronology and real history), counting the years in Genesis from creation to the flood is very easy, since we have a detailed list of how long each ancestor lived before the next generation was born. Assuming they’re reading the same Bible (and I just checked the King James and the numbers are the same), it’s hard to see how the totals could be off by so much. At first glance I thought they were just applying the same principle that 1 day to God is 1000 years to us, so the six days of creation would add an extra 5999 years (subtract one because, according to the rabbis, humans were created on Rosh Hashanah of the year 2, so creation began on 25 Elul of the year 1). But that can’t be it, because the time from the end of creation to the flood has to be much more than 24 years.

So I did some googling and it turns out that they get this chronology based on a general principle that a generation is a lifespan, so in these biblical genealogies, we can assume that the son was born in the year that the father died. For example, since Genesis 5:11 says that Enosh lived 905 years, they ascertain that the time from Enosh’s birth to his son Kenan’s birth was 905 years. Thus they completely disregard the explicit statements in Genesis 5:9-10 that Enosh lived for 90 years and then fathered Kenan, and then lived 815 years after that. By this method, they arrive at a stretched-out chronology. If they hadn’t done this, then the 7000-year anniversary of the flood wouldn’t take place until 4896 CE, so the end would be far from nigh.
More »

Jews. In. Space. No, really.

We periodically post on Mel Brook’s classic, as yet to be made ‘farsheyst und farbesert’ take on the “Star Wars” because its irresistible.  There are several other posts on the subject , but what’s one more?

Now it seems that many Jews (or at least Israelis) are actually among the already paid customers for commercial space flight on Virgin Galactic…    At $200K a pop and given the price of real estate in Tel Aviv, one questions the wisdom, but hey, they’re “saving the Hebrew race…”

In case you thought Kentucky couldn’t get any crazier…

They brought you the Answers in Genesis ministry. They brought you the Creation Museum, showing that humans and dinosaurs coexisted on God’s 6-day creation 6000 years ago. Now, they are bringing you Ark Encounter–an 800 acre Noah’s Ark theme park complete with life-size replica of the ark and a model of the Tower of Babel. Crazy? Perhaps. But also lucrative!

According to a report in the NYT

The developers of Ark Encounter, who have incorporated as a profit-making company, say they expect to spend $150 million, employ 900 people and attract 1.6 million visitors from around the world in the first year. With the Creation Museum only 45 miles away, they envision a Christian tourism corridor that would draw busloads from churches and Christian schools for two- and three-day visits.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the article:

“It’s our opportunity to present accurate, factual biblical information to people about a subject that they’re really interested in,” said Mike Zovath, a senior vice president of Answers in Genesis.

this one makes me laugh because if it’s accurate and factual to the Bible, it’s not accurate or factual to those pesky things called history or reality! If it’s accurate and factual to history and reality, well, then it will likely not be so much in line with the Bible…

“We think that God would probably have sent healthy juvenile-sized animals that weren’t fully grown yet, so there would be plenty of room,” said Mr. Zovath, a retired Army lieutenant colonel heading the ark project. “We want to show how Noah would have taken care of them, taken care of waste management, taken care of water needs and food needs.”

that God, always thinking about practical matters! sounds like someone needs to do a little reading of some midrash! healthy juvenile-sized animals. hilarious.

Kohen – Not.

Recently there has been a little buzz about the not-really-so-new ideas at Kohenet, the Hebrew Priestess Institute (founded in 2006), which was founded Holly Shere, a folklorist, and Jill Hammer, a JTS ordinee and her co-director. Tablet ran a short article about it, reasonably even-handedly attempting to explain what they are and do.

The responses in the article, from Rabbi Daniel Nevins, dean of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical school,“I don’t see how Kohenet, to judge from its website, is compatible with Jewish belief and practice,” and from Rabbi Moshe Tendler, a dean of the seminary at Yeshiva University, are, respectively, accurate and a bit over the top. Nevertheless, they both really miss the point anyway.
More »

New Golem Graphic

I came across this on facespace and thought it was quite interesting. The artist, Jason Kipp, resides in MN and I love his style.  He’s looking for page sponsors – for $90 you not only help him complete the graph’, you get two faces of your choice drawn into crowd scenes.  Geeky cool.

He’s trying to get this done in time for Comicon in May, so help a brother out.

6 More Days, 6 More Ideas: An update from Dan Sieradski’s Jewish utopia

As promised, the second of Jewschool’s updates on Daniel (“Mobius”) Sieradski‘s daily gift of Jewish technocreativity, 31 Days, 31 Ideas, which is a must read if you are at all interested in how technology can interact with Jewish life. Offered in the spirit of the technical community’s December Advent calendars, it’s Wired meets The Fundermentalist.

Sieradski started out by making it easier to type in Hebrew on the web; to link to, and study, the parasha; and to learn the mixture of Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish words that afflict the vocabulary of Jewish machers and mavens.

So now, consider these six further snapshots from an internet-aware Jewish world of 2020:

  • #4: Surfcasting technology lets you play back a class on Jewish radicalism in which Sieradski narrates a tour of web sites on the topic. As you play the video of Sieradsky, your browser follows along and you pause to bookmark a sites on the tour. Then you copy some text to your Facebook status.
  • #5 Jonah: Jewish Educational Link Directory is a centralized, social, curated database of Jewish educational resources.
  • #6 An XML Jewish text specification, repository and API means that anyone who wants to download a classic Jewish text, adapt it, or reference it can do so easily. After all, Jewish classics are the property of the Jewish people, and they should be made available online.
  • #7 The Open Source Beit Midrash. Surfcasting meets XML Jewish text specification. An online environment where all the texts are at hand as you learn with a hevruta study partner through video chat.
  • #8 Jewish Book Builder. The traditional text is only the beginning of a Jewish book. The fun comes as you add commentary on the sides. Make your own Haggadah meets the Open Siddur project. Why settle for stamping your name when you can personalize a bencher for your wedding?
  • #9 Niggun Please is a Jewish Liturgical Music Database. Wouldn’t it be loverly if the website of your minyan, shul or school had a link to listen to the tunes and songs it uses? Imagine a playlist widget that could play a list of songs from a database of streaming niggunim — meaning Jewish liturgical tunes?

The posts are worth reading in full, as are the comments on them. Here on Jewschool, I thought I’d ask for thoughts and suggestions on making these visions a reality? How much effort and how much money will be required to make it happen? What sort of organizational structure(s)?

Jews, Elves, Babylonians, and Rush Limbaugh

I found this piece really interesting and inspiring. Good read if you are into: theology, progressive politics, history of religion, sci-fi, Emuna Ilish, etc…

I like this part towards the end:

The trick of being sci fi is to keep focused on the future we want, but to understand that getting there is going to be difficult.

How about this too?

The trick of being a Jew is to keep focused on the future we want, but to understand that getting there is going to be difficult.

Is Judaism inherently a progressive religion? Are you a sci-fi Jew?

Israeli Robot Following Asimov’s Laws?

Okay, it was really just a Roomba, but props to the Robot for “saving” an Israeli family from a viper….

Hey, maybe we DON’T need to be afraid of the coming Robotic overlords….

Hattip to Engadget

Mishegaas for the Days of Awe

  • Barbra Streisand is selling off her stuff. You could own a piece of the legend. Better yet, proceeds benefit her foundation, which supports a bunch of progressive causes including environmental and economic policy groups.
  • Days of Awesome is a livejournal community for fanfiction themed around the Yamim Noraim. I once introduced Bible superstar Marc Brettler to fanfic to explain a theory I had about Shir HaShirim, so I have a soft spot in my heart for the overlap between Jewish Studies and fandom.
  • And speaking of said overlap, there’s also In the Beginning, a Hebrew Bible fanworks fest, coming soon to an internet near you. This one challenges fanfic writers to write “fanfic” about the Hebrew Bible… or, what others might call midrash. Pieces will be published beginning October 2nd, but until then the site gives some background to the project.
  • I meant to post this before Rosh Hashannah, but apparently StorahTelling held services in a winery? Maybe this makes more sense for those of you who live in New York. If this piques your interest, they’ll be back for Yom Kippur – more info here.
  • My facebook feed before the holidays was abuzz with discussions of this article from The Forward, decrying the lack of family-friendly policies in the Jewish professional world.
  • My twitter feed, on the other hand, was abuzz with folks retweeting Judith Rosenbaum’s consideration of What Patrick Swayze (z”l) did for Jewish women over at the Jewish Women’s Archive Jewesses with Attitude blog.

Is in-vitro meat kosher?

ylove passed on a link to a fascinating article about the future of in-vitro meat, that is, meat grown in a test-tube:

It starts with cells—it could be a stem cell or something called a myoblast, a precursor to muscle. You proliferate these cells in a kind of nutritious soup that’s filled with vitamins and amino acids and salts and sugar. This is the biochemical equivalent of blood. In order for the cells to grow into tissues, they need this medium. And, it turns out, the most promising approach to producing this medium is to use microalgae, which are photosynthetic organisms even more efficient than plants. We recently funded some research at Oxford University to examine how meat cultured with this medium compares to conventional meat in terms of energy impact, and the study showed that it uses 90 percent less land and water, all while producing 80 percent fewer greenhouse emissions.

Development is being spearheaded by a non-profit whose goal is reducing the resource footprint of the world’s appetite for meat.

Growing hamburgers in vats solves some halachic problems: No tzaar baalei hayim, cruelty to animals, as in endemic in contemporary factory farming. No need to hire rabbis to oversee the slaughter.

But it raises other questions.

Does meat cloned from a cow’s stem cell count as ever min hachai — meat (ultimately) from a live animal, which is prohibited to be eaten? Can a tissue culture be said to chew its cud if it has no cud, or to have cloven hoofs if it has no hooves? Could it conceivable be parve and permitted to be served with milk?

Ten years from now, McDonald’s may boast that its serves low-carbon, cruelty-free in vitro burgers. As Jews, should we eat them?


This isn’t a joke.

The Israel Hayom newspaper reports that the Kiryat Yam City call-in-center has been receiving several weird calls over the past few weeks all from local residents claiming they have seen a mermaid on the Kiryat Yam beach.

mermaidLiveScience explains,

An alleged mermaid, said to resemble a cross between a fish and a young girl, only appears at sunset. It performs a few tricks for onlookers before disappearing for the night.

One of the first people to see the mermaid, Shlomo Cohen, said, “I was with friends when suddenly we saw a woman laying on the sand in a weird way. At first I thought she was just another sunbather, but when we approached she jumped into the water and disappeared. We were all in shock because we saw she had a tail.”

The sightings apparently began several months ago.

(NY Daily News has another version of Shlomo Cohen’s experience.)

The town, near Haifa, took the sightings seriously and has offered up a $1 million prize to whomever can offer proof that mermaids are living off its shores. The story should end there, right? We should all just roll our eyes and be amazed that folks think this is real. (Or maybe you’re a believer and are now planning a trip to Israel to go swim with Ariel.) Either way, the story should end there.

But no. Kiryat Yam is being sued by the Mermaid Medical Association, based out of Brooklyn, NY. I’ll let Gothamist take it from here:

The MMA isn’t at all worried that Kiryat Yam is probably like the government scientists who tried to take Daryl Hannah away from Tom Hanks, however. Nope, they’re actually suing the town for defamation, because they exist in order to defend the rights of mermaids worldwide. We really hope this does end up in International court, just so we can all read transcripts in which Kiryat Yam is berated by some Brooklynites for “badly and outrageously damaging the legendary mermaid legacy.”

Mermaids and their supporters are nothing if not fair, however, and have given the town 10 days to rescind the reward. Alas, town officials are playing hardball, and say they will “appeal to the organization which sent the letter and suggest that it join the search for the mermaid in order to perpetuate and preserve it.” Exactly, why are these two groups fighting when we’re thisclose to proving the existence of a mythical magical sea creature? Round up the unicorns and let’s go! But first, read more about past sightings (and hoaxes) here.

L-JOE: Last Jew On Earth

What would you do if you were the Last Jew On Earth? Here’s a new cartoon I made for CJE, the Commission for Jewish Education of the Palm Beaches in Florida. It’s one of my favorite projects to date.

Todd & God: How to Hang a Mezuzah

Learn how to hang the mezuzah in the new episode of The Adventures of Todd & God, presented by

Created by me … JewishRobot

The Unwatchable

unbornmovieposter1Just saw “The Unborn” on DVD – an unbelievably cheesy horror film about a young woman who is plagued by a dybbuk that has been haunting her family since the Holocaust. OK, I rented this one because my son told me that Gary Oldman played the exorcising rabbi. How am I going to pass that up?

Almost reaches the level of high camp – almost, but not quite. There’s lots of stuff you’ve seen in this kind of thing before (i.e. creepy dreams on dark rainy nights, the heroine prancing around for much of the movie in her underwear.) It also has its share of stuff I assume was meant to be scary, but mainly just left you scratching your head (i.e. an elderly man falls out of his wheelchair, twists his head around 180 degrees, and scuttles like a crab while chasing Jane Alexander through a kind of gothic elder care facility…)

Rabbi Gary Oldman was a bit of a disappointment, but he did figure in the movie’s most hilarious moment: he convenes a sort of interfaith exorcism minyan together with an Episcopal priest/basketball coach, who solemnly describes the exorcism ceremony to the heroine, then asks her to sign a release form before he can proceed…

Sabra Returns to Marvel Comics

If you don’t know about my obsession with Sabra, the Jewish superhero, then just Google around — I’m kind of a sucker for her. I mean, typical Israeli hotheadedness + super powers + guest appearances in “The Incredible Hulk” and “Uncanny X-Men”…well, it kind of equals my dream girl, if you set aside the facts that (a) she’s fictional and (b) I’m married.

sabra, defender of israel, marvel comics Sabra’s official title is the “Defender of Israel,” which sounds like just about the cheesiest thing ever. She wears a blue-and-white uniform, sometimes with a long cape pinned together with a Star of David, of course, and half of the stuff the writers put into her mouth is gag-worthy, and half is totally, spot-on Israeli. When she’s written well, she is arrogant, good-humored, stubborn, compassionate…that mix of delicate qualities that are the quintessence of Israeli culture.

When I was on tour in Manhattan, I even wrote a poem as a pitch for an editor at Marvel Comics, imagining Sabra — who’s always been the ultimate secular Israeli — starting to dabble in being religious. Then I totally scrapped it and wrote a real pitch, which involved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the religious-secular divide, some really deep character work and some stuff about getting over traumas that “Waltz with Bashir” totally plagiarized, even if they didn’t actually see my treatment.

In the past few years, she started making guest appearances, some wonderfully understated (in the background, portrayed with Yemenite features at Darkstar’s funeral in New X-Men) and some just cool cameos (like defending Israel from the Skrulls in Secret Invasion). Last week, Marvel released a Web one-shot short story featuring Sabra — and, while it’s cool to see our favorite (and, uh, second- and third-favorite) Israeli superhero in the limelight, it wasn’t exactly the most promising of beginnings.

The story opens on Sabra at a picnic with her mother. She meets a girl, Yael, whose father fought alongside Sabra’s father in the Israeli Air Force. Sabra relates her own story of being caught by HYDRA, a Marvel-universe terrorist group, and of her father dying while saving her. It wraps up nicely with the girl confessing her fears — “I don’t know what it’s like to fly,” she confesses — and Sabra swooping her up and taking her for a little flight above the Jerusalem scenery.

sabra amazing tales

It’s a nice little sentimental story. No big whoop, no deeper meaning, and even (bonus!) an explosion. On a storytelling level, I have my complaints — the story wastes far too much time at this stupid party, which has nothing to do with the story sabra, defender of israel, marvel comics Sabra’s telling. And, if we’re supposed to care about Sabra’s father saving her and dying in the act, we should at least see what the man looks like. It also feels a little bit like the writer, Matt Yocum, got most of his information about Israel from a quick Google search. Sabra herself has as much personality as a tube of toothpaste, and the 17-year-old girl’s wide-eyed oh-you’re-so-cool-ness — while it’s also uncharacteristic of Israelis (or, for that matter, anyone) — just doesn’t seem real, or give the reader any reason to care. When Spider-Man is awed to be in a room with Captain America and Daredevil, you can tell it’s because, under his mask, he’s a teenage fanboy.

In the Marvel canon, Ruth Bat-Seraph is a national hero. Sometimes, she’s revered; sometimes, she’s mind-controlled by evil bastards and the public hates her. But she’s never been a sucker. Perhaps the worst part are the token Jewish lines — “I never felt more like David…against HYDRA’s Goliath” — which seem like they were made to be used in Hebrew Schools. And the ending, in which Sabra tells the girl, “This is what our dads lived for. This is what they died for. You’ll make the right decision…” is cringe-worthy — not because it isn’t an inspiring thought, not because it’s not what they believe in, but because, in the entire story, we haven’t heard anything about what “this” is, or what it means to either Sabra or her young fan. If Sabra loves Israel, show us Israel. Don’t give us ten pages, not of Israel, not of a cool fight scene, but of talking about abstract ideas at a party.

Please, Marvel — give us more Sabra. But not like this.

Crossposted on Mixed Multitudes

Troll-killing was just not a Shabbat-thing.

Mirka, the heroine of Hereville“In most ways, Mirka liked her stepmother Fruma.” Okay, it’s not quite “And there came a day when Earth’s Mightiest Heroes found themselves united against a common threat,” but allmost one year ago, these words opened the story of Hereville, a weekly webcomic telling the story of an eleven-year-old Yiddish-speaking Orthodox girl who wants to become a dragon-slayer. Beautifully balancing the feel of a Yiddish folktale and a fantasy novel, the story has been unfolding on Wednesdays over the last year. Today, with the posting of page 57, the story draws to a close. In between, the story was published in hardcopy, sold to a major publisher for a forthcoming expanded edition (due in 2010), and endured an online debate over the comic’s portrayal of Shabbat.

Hereville is the work of Barry Deutsch, who also writes Ampersand, a political cartoon published in Dollars and Sense. Hereville is a complete story with a satisfying ending, but in the tradition of the best fantasy stories, it also is the first of what could be a great series of tales. Deutsch has expressed interest in continuing Mirka’s story in the future, and I hope he does.

Beyond the thrill of a well-told story that is steeped in Jewish culture without feeling forced or condescending, it’s a pleasure to read a story with an Orthodox heroine who’s both a feminist and feminine without being, well, a cartoon.

Olam Ha-*ha*?

Hey Schoolers,

My name is Rob Kutner. I’m a writer for “The Daily Show,” as well as the creator of annual NYC Purim spiel “The Shushan Channel,” and the co-writer of a little piece of fun-with-stereotypes you may or may not have seen called “Jewno.”

But most recently, I’ve authored a book entitled APOCALYPSE HOW, a tongue-in-cheek “survival” guide that goes through topical chapters n Food, Clothing, Shelter, Social Life, Dating, Politics, Career, Recreation, and Finance — to show you how the world to come will be much better than the current one.

However, since the book’s publication, I’ve received numerous complaints from Jews (I know, can you believe it???) that the book does not sufficiently address specifically Jewish end-time issues.

So, I want to assure you that the next edition will contain an entire “Olam ha-Bagraphy,” including such critical tachliss as:

-Food — Ten low-fat, delicious, and totally blecch-friendly recipes for Levyatan (ever tried it smoked with a nice shmear?)

-Relocation — Finding a comfortable place to stay in Israel when all the world’s Jews have returned there (Hint: How do you feel about the Negev?)

-Home Makeover — Design advice for Beit HaMikdash 3 (Ex: Who makes the best dolphin skin, and where you can buy it wholesale)

-Personnel — Telling the real Mashiach from impostors (Spoiler alert: It is Schneerson after all – should have donated to the telethon!)


BUT, I cannot release this updated version until ALL COPIES of the current run are sold out. So it’s up to you guys. Â Go to

and buy one now! Hint: Makes a great Bar/Bat Mitzvah gift — and much funnier than a savings bond.

See you all at the Mount!