Jew Attacked in Prayer in Brooklyn; NYPD Kills Assailant: First Reactions

The New York Daily News is reporting that at around 1:45am today, a man named Calvin Peters entered a synagogue at Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and, yelling, “I want to kill the Jew”, stabbed Israeli student Levi Rosenviat, while the latter was praying.  NYPD officers surrounded him, got him to put down the knife, and when he then picked it up again, an officer shot him in the stomach, which proved fatal. This stand-off and killing were recorded on video.

I’m just  reading this story; it’s too fresh to process and there’s a lot we don’t know.  Initial reactions and questions: More »

“Ya’alili” and the cultural poetics of Ashkenazi hegemony

Kosher supermarkets are curious sites of cultural consumption.  And the upscale supermarket, Pomegranate, is no exception to the rule.  Displaying a bag from Pomegranate is a visible social marker of Bourdieuian “taste”–a type of conspicuous consumption not found at KRM Kollel or other affordable kosher supermarkets in Brooklyn.  As explained in a well-deserved critique published in The Forward about a David Brooks article in The New York Times, Pomegranate caters to the top 1% of the religious community.

After attending a Hasidic friend’s wedding recently, I wish to return to a song newly minted in the religious wedding circuit repertoire, “Ya’alili” (performed by the Chabad band, 8th Day), where the aisles of Pomegranate become a dizzying dance floor of choreographed Jewish multiculturalism:

I learned of the song when it was released two years ago.  I’m partial to it, but not simply because a friend of mine dances in the music video.  Its richness lies in its social commentary on the hybridity of form.  The song plays with and against the blurring of Sephardi and Ashkenazi cultures.  But as much as it plays with mixing and matching (as the chorus rings out: “tantz, tantz, chabibi”), it maintains distinct boundaries.  The stanzas line up Sephardi and Ashkenazi cultures in the Structural grammar of a Lévi-Strauss diagram:

את החתן ספרדי/כלה נאה אשכנזי”

“רחל אמנו ספרדי, מאמע רחל אשכנזי

“The groom, Sephardi/the attractive bride, Ashkenazi

Rachel, Our Mother, Sephardi/Mama Rochel, Ashkenazi”

Straddling back and forth between moments of mimicry and of radical alterity, between convergence and separation, illuminates the contemporary tension of Sephardi-Ashkenazi relations.  In the logic of multiculturalism in the reign of late capitalism, the video screams: “we have the freedom to both pray separately and to shop at the same upscale supermarket!”

Supermarkets peddle exotic goods.  And so does the video.  Supermarkets are, after all, secure, mediated sites of consuming other cultures.  But the danger of mediation lies in what obscures.  There is no actual contact between cultures performed in the transaction.  It’s unidirectional.  You can buy without reciprocation.  And that’s precisely what happens in the music video.  A caricatured image of Sephardi culture appears–for the pleasure and consumption of Ashkenazi eyes.  The musicians we are to identify as “Sephardi” bear the trappings of the exoticized, Orientalized subject.

How Ashkenazim simultaneously reproduce hegemony while claiming to resist it–under the banner of Jewish “multiculturalism” (reframed in religious vernacular as achdus)–is a phenomenon I encountered while conducting preliminary fieldwork research in Uman (among friends at Chulent).  A former professor and now mentor, David Roskies, recalls a conversation with noted academic of Hasidic historiography, David Assaf (in an article recently published in Bounded Mind and Soul: Russia and Israel, 1880-2010):

Assaf, our expert on all matters Hasidic, is not merely underwhelmed by what greets the visitor to Braslav, he is angered by the millions in profit made by the Braslaver from Israel who control the Rebbe’s grave and man, which attracts over 15,000 pilgrims a year.  He scoffs at the sterile design of the tomb, so reminiscent of the fake tombs of Moroccan saints that make such a mockery of religion and Israel.  Did we notice the name Israel Meir Gabi emblazoned on the wall outside?  Gabai, the Johnny Appleseed of Hasidic grave sites, is a Braslav Hasid of Sephardi descent.  Why, young Sephardim, Assaf protests, are so brainwashed by the Braslav notion of tikkun neshamot, the perfection of dead souls, that they show up at the Ministry of Internal Affairs to adopt an Ashkenazi surname (like Bernstein and Rabinvoich) and a Braslavian proper name (like Naftali, Nahman, Nathan)…

As described by one of my informants, a living Chabad oral history archive, “gullible” Sephardi baalei teshuva have become infantilized with the same white paternalistic “concern” as the colonial subject–an uncritical, superstitious mass who, already engaged in pietistic devotion at the hillulas of their revered Babas, can be led easily astray.  In the recent sex scandal of the Breslev leader, Rav Berland, Sephardi baalei teshuva became scapegoated (among some) as the source of the problem.  As Toyte Hasidim (lit. “dead Hasidim”), Breslevers do not follow a living rebbe or tzadik (in contradistinction to other Hasidic courts).  Rebbe Nachman is, at least in theory, their one and only master; to unflinchingly follow a living tzadik comes at a cost.  Berland’s scandal was displaced by some Breslevers onto the Sephardim Berland recruited, who in the optic of Ashkenazi hegemony, cannot be trusted to maintain the purity of Breslev’s status as Toyte Hasidim.

While problematic in its representation of Sephardim, “Ya’alili” engages in a subtle politics of refusal.  As Hasidism becomes increasingly untethered from Eastern European culture and history, the invention of the “global Hasid” (to borrow the phrase of my friend, Zach Cohen) has emerged in its stead.  And Rebbe Nachman has most curiously been re-branded as a universal symbol of devotion, which ultimately obscures historical reality and pivots Ashkenazi identity as unmarked and universal, Sephardi identity as marked and particular.  But the video refuses this cultural hegemony.  It marks Baba Sali as a “Sephardi” symbol, Rebbe Nachman as a “Ashkenazi” symbol.  Because if all things were actually equal, quotes from the “Baba Sali” would be embroidered on white kippot the world over.

For further cultural analysis of Hasidic music, listen to the episodes 05 and 06 by Sol Fuerwerker and Sam Katz over at The After Life Podcast.

Speaking of Tunisians

Remember the ‘Macaca’ incident that ended the Senatorial campaign and presidential aspirations of George Allen?   You may recall that in the ensuing fallout he denied his Sephardic Jewish heritage, inherited from his Tunisian mother Etty Allan (nee Lumbroso).

Allen is working to revive his political career, and is owning up to his roots at Chabad’s National Jewish Retreat.  Weird? Or no?

Newsweek’s top 50 rabbis… but the Rabba is #36?

Newsweek is back for the fourth year with their highly specious “50 Most Influential Rabbis.” The Forward’s Sisterhood blog points out, “This year, as last, few women have made the cut and all but one are in the bottom half of the list.”

The first woman to appear — Rabbi Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus, the president of the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis — comes in at position number 17. Still, it’s one higher than her ranking on last year’s list, when she was also the highest-placed member of the female rabbinate.

In all, six female rabbis were included this year. With one more than last year, at least there’s an upward trend, even if it is slow.


Rabba Sara Hurwitz only makes the list at position 36, odd since her ordination and title were ground-breaking, revolutionary and led to what was perhaps the biggest religious imbroglio in Orthodoxy over the past year.

Yeah. So there’s some Chabad guy in #1 spot and Sara Hurwitz, the most headline-making rabbi/a of the year is #36? That’s just silly.

And how does Newsweek decide this stuff?

Are they known nationally/internationally? (20 points.) Do they have political/social influence? (20 points.) Do they have a media presence? (10 points.) Are they leaders within their communities? (10 points.) Are they considered leaders in Judaism or their movements? (10 points. ) How big are their constituencies? (10 points.) Have they made an impact on Judaism in their career? (10 points.) Have they made a greater impact beyond the Jewish community and their rabbinical training? (10 points.)

Portrait of the European Jewish Artist as an Old man.

Moni Ovadia

Moni Ovadia

Moni Ovadia was born to a Jewish family in Bulgaria in 1946. His family eventually emigrated to Milan, Italy. Today Moni Ovadia is a deliciously peculiar Jewish artist working in the Italian theater. As the ‘Ndrangheta and African migrants lock in battle in the south, Ovadia is serving up European non-Jews a cabaret that satiates contemporary Europe’s adrenal interest in displays of Jewishness. As a seasoned cultural shtadlan, Moni Ovadia is a kind of Jew that exists nowhere else but in today’s Europe. Pulled in between his Jewishness and adaptation to a streetscape with few Jews, Ovadia finds a voice as one of Europe’s Jewish culture-icons, a living Jew in a land of dead ones.
A young refugee from Chervenkov‘s Bulgaria, Ovadia grew up in a Milan where refugee camps had to be set up for Jews fleeing post-war Austria. As a naturalized Italian Jewish youth, Ovadia was fully aware of how post-war Europe spawned all sorts of peculiar fascinations with pre-war Jewish life. Ovadia himself “discovered” Yiddishkayt in the 1970s, delving deeply into the music and folklore of 19th century Eastern European Jews. From there he began to perform this newfound Ashkenaziness with a clever, bizarre critique of contemporary European culture’s relationship to the Jew. As Vered Zaykovsky reports in recent article in Eretz Acheret:

“Look”, he says to me, “people in the West are now complaining about the Jew with the weapons, the Jew that shoots and then slips away, but the other Jew, I tell them – you murdered that Jew! So you got what you wanted! If you would have left that Jew alone, he would have remained the way he was, he was better off the way he was… That Jew, the pale, scrawny Jew with the big nose, the Nazi-propaganda Jew, he was destroyed due to a lack of understanding, no one really knew him and everyone told ugly lies about him. He was too fine a person for this world.”

At the same time, Ovadia represents his people, providing Europeans the opportunity to see those they once dehumanized as dynamic and full human beings filled with creative energy and religious fervor.

“One day”, says Ovadia, “the wife of the Chabad rabbi of Milan called me. ‘I wouldn’t change one iota of this show’, she told me. ‘This is by no means an Orthodox play, but it helped the people who work with our school to better understand us. In just two hours, this show accomplished what we have not been able to accomplish in two months: it clarifies who we are, where we came from, why and how.’”

In a sense, the European context allows for Jewish cultural activism like Ovadia’s to reach a wide non-Jewish audience, something to which so many of our young artists strive. Eretz Acheret, an Israeli publication available in Hebrew and English, has some new, amazing reportage and essay regarding European Jewish affairs. The diversity and competency is a breath of fresh air in a Jewish media culture that fails to raise promote the vanguard. Bless up to Shlonsky.

Full Story.

CHaBaD leads Haiti Relief Operation

Against the backdrop of its own moral and economic scandals, The Lubavitcher Hasidim are among those Jewish groups aiding the people of Haiti with important and professional aid. The presence of those loyal to the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe seems underneath, or perhaps above, the Jewish media’s radar. writes:

Jan 17, 2010 1:10 PM

Rabbi Shimon Pelman, the director of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Dominican Republic who crossed the border into neighboring Haiti on Friday, described the contrasts as day and night.

With hours to go until the onset of Shabbat, the rabbi counseled earthquake survivors in the devastated capital of Port-au-Prince and was briefed on efforts undertaken by United Nations troops and aid workers in the city.

Pelman, who in conjunction with Chabad of the Caribbean has set up a relief fund and Web page to keep people abreast of developments, said that those who were lucky enough to survive the Jan. 12 quake were in desperate need of food, water and medicine…

After the close of Shabbat Saturday night, he and his wife Michal Pelman, and two rabbinical students who were dispatched from New York to help during the tragedy, prepared boxes of hot meals and sent them with an Israeli convoy travelling across rugged terrain to a field hospital in Port-au-Prince. The rabbi also arranged for a local bakery to prepare bread for foreign military forces in Haiti, including an Israeli delegation that numbers in excess of 220 personnel and is comprised of K-9 search-and-rescue units, a medical team and support staff.

Sunday morning, the rabbi was working the phones to secure warehouses to support the effort.

He said that his journey to Haiti on Friday was sobering. What he saw among the lucky survivors who managed to obtain shelter at a tent set up outside the half-destroyed U.N. headquarters, he explained, was heartbreaking.

“People are waiting for something to happen,” he said. “They have no food, no water, no medicine.”

Romanticizing our extremists

I do not hate orthodox believers. I do not hate Orthodox Judaism. I do not hate the haredi or their Judaism either. I like and dislike them as much as I dislike orthodoxy (lower case “o”) in any stream of Judaism, including Reform and Conservative and (yes even!) havurah hippyness. Which I think is why the vociferous, self-contradictory and abusive comments left by self-identified Orthodox Jews on Eli Valley’s latest comic at The Forward are missing the point. Then again, those commentors always miss the point.

Extremists are bad for Judaism. But the romanticization of those extremists — meaning views that put them at the top of the Jewish authenticity scale — is like admiring Islamic extremists for their “authenticity.” The vastness of religion is always shamed by a minority who will excuse their human desires through theology. Women are barred from leadership and study. Xenophobia is granted a divine rubber stamp. Social contract obligations are ignored. The rule of law is disregarded. I would think we can all agree on this.

Which is why I think anybody should be able read Eli Valley’s comic and see the truth of it without going berserk. No where does Eli say all Orthodox Jews are like this. If you feel defensive, then I recommend a particular course of action: speak up not to Eli but the speakers whose words are quoted. (Citations are here.) But the speakers of these words are not kicked out of communal leadership, shunned or defunded. In fact, quite the opposite.

If these speakers had no authority or little influence, they would remain our crazy uncle. But in Israel, the haredim control the Official Stamp of Judaism. And the Modern Orthodox bloc is the home camp of the settlers. And in America, as Eli rightly points out, starry-eyed and naive Jews leave a boring Judaism for another Judaism that at least has a mission. Because of this, we need to (and are) pulling down the boring Judaism and building something better. But we also need to point out that authenticity is a sham. And that evil is evil, especially if it’s authentic evil.

Eli Valley's "The Odd Couple," published in The Forward

Movement, Denominations, and Minyanim…oh my!

A little while back, in addressing recent discussions of minyanim and reacting to Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, BZ posted:

Rabbi Kaunfer writes “New self-proclaimed movements sprung up — Reconstructionism, and the Renewal and Chavurah Movements.” The “Chavurah movement” is not now and has never been a “self-proclaimed movement” parallel to the “big three” or the Reconstructionist movement. Rabbi Kaunfer himself has argued for why the latest wave of independent minyanim do not constitute a “movement” in that mold, and the same is true for earlier waves of havurot.

This has led me to think about the similarities and differences between what people tend to refer to as Chavura, Conservative, Independent Minyan, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, Reform, and Renewal. (note that I alphabetized them rather than forcing them into a spectrum that doesn’t quite fit). Of course these labels have substantial overlap. Some are parallel. Some are not. They all come about because people want quick categories that they can use to label the Jewish approach of themselves and others.

–This next paragraph can be skipped, it defines a few terms and frames the issue, but some might find it needlessly semantic–Some of these labels are (what I’ll call) institutional, ideological, and/or aesthetic. Institutional groupings are based on a subset of Jews being unified based on connection to an institution(s). For instance, The Conservative movement is an institutional grouping since it’s people are connected through camps, schools, youth groups, an other institutions. It is also an ideological grouping since it has positions on many questions that it endorses. Conservative Jews have tendencies to think about Israel in certain ways, egalitarianism, etc. Of course, some differ and there is some diversity, but certainly, you can see what I mean by ideological grouping. By aesthetic, I mean a preference for decision-making model, prayer approach, or something else which is not explicitly Ideological. In many cases these issues are deeply moral, so I don’t mean to imply that this is in any sense superficial. Minyanim, for instance are united by a desire for lay-ledness and thus “Minyan” is an aesthetic grouping. This is a rather arbitrary nuance but there certainly is a nuance between how people think about the world (ideology) and how they prefer their prayer specifically (prayer aesthetic) that while influenced by the former is a slightly different issue.

Now I’ll take a look at a few common groupings and examine what they are, where they come from, and which they are parallel too, and not.
More »

Everything new under the Sukah

There may be nothing new under the sun, but there’s plenty new (and old, but new to me) under the sukah this year.

Sukot Goyim (like a Shabos Goy?)

In Israel, it seems a gazillion Christian headed to Ein Gedi to fulfill a prophecy about goyim observing Sukot.

Around 4,000 gathered on the moonlit beach of Ein Gedi to worship “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” and to fulfill an ancient Hebrew prophesy penned more than 2,500 years ago by the prophet Zecharia, which they say predicts that people from every nation will someday join hands with Jews to celebrate Succot.

That full story is at JPost. Thanks to Relgion and State in Israel for pointing this one out.

Sleeping under the Sukah–In jail

For the first time this year, religious convicts in Israel will be allowed to sleep in a sukah during Sukot.

…for the first time ever, the Israel Prison Service will allow religious prisoners to sleep in a sukkah during the holiday. Until now, the Israel Prison Service has permitted prisoners in the special wing for observant Jews at the Ma’asiyahu Prison to eat in a sukkah erected in the prison courtyard. The prisoners have always been more closely guarded while sitting in the sukkah than they are when confined to their cells, and no prisoner has ever been allowed to sleep in the sukkah.

This important news pointed out again by jblog Religion ans State in Israel. The full story is at some website called Etrog.

A secular Sukah?

Citizens of fancy Tel Aviv neighborhood Ramat Aviv will be living it up this Sukot in their secular sukah.

The secular sukkahs feature activities such as singing in public – a favorite Israeli pastime – under the guidance of singer Revital Friedman; therapeutic workshops by Noya Tzuk, who practices Reiki and self-awareness techniques (participants are requested to bring their own towels); and a special workshop for Hoshana Raba, the seventh day of Sukkot, called “Sweet Skewers” – in which, a flyer promises, “we will learn to design a pretty and tasty skewer of sweets.”

That’s from Religion and State in Israel, with the complete article at Arutz Sheva.

Sukot with the Samaritans

This is by no means new, but it’s new to me. The Jew-ish Samaritans apparently build elaborate sukot out of fruit and keep them inside.

In the village of Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim near the West Bank city of Nablus, the Samaritan priest and Director of Samaritan’s Museum Husney W. Kohen and his family have built theirin-door Sukkah (Tabernacles) with fruits of the holy land. Kohen said the sukkah was built to recall the same Tabernacle build by ancient Israelites after they left Sinai Desert in Egypt 3,500 years ago.

As pointed out by the JTA Telegraph. Full story at Xinhua News Agency, of all things.

Drive-Through McSukah

If you’re in the Miami area and you need to grab quick moment in the sukah, stop by the drive-through sukah!

Jews can now motor into a temporary sukkah, a tent in the parking lot of Pinecrest’s Bet Shira Congregation, for a few minutes to pray, enjoy nature and get a bite to eat. Starting Friday at sundown, when the harvest festival holiday of Sukkot begins, Jews can visit its “McBet Shira Sukkah” — a makeshift wooden shell decorated with palm fronds and offering open views of the sky. It is situated in the middle of the temple’s parking lot at 7500 SW 120th St.

Full article at the Miami Herald.

A Slim, Urban Sukah

I’m always amazed at the sight of a sukah in a heavily urban area. Rabbi Andy Bachman recently posted pictures of the sukah at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. Their sukah is a marvel of urban sukah engineering. It’s big, but looks very long and skinny, made to fit in a little alleyway.

Sukot on the Move

I previously blogged about a mobile sukah concept here. There’s also this. Meanwhile, Chabad has an 18-wheeler with a sukah on the back traipsing around New York City and, according to Tablet,

Enterprising 16-year-old yeshiva student Levi Duchman has affixed a mini-sukkah to a pedicab and has been biking around Brooklyn bringing the mitzvah to the people. (Chabad’s website, which published a report on the project, may have been confused by more traditional stories of Jews in New York—its article uses the word “peddling” instead of “pedaling” throughout.)

Full story here.

Anybody seen any other Sukot mishegaas?

Holdin’ Down the Line for Hashem


You may have seen this one [youtube] making the rounds lately: former Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman (and Super Bowl champion) Alan Veingrad became BT and is living the life of a seriously observant Jew. (Love the sportscaster’s patter at the end: “he studies, he prays, the whole nine yards…”)

Actually, given the abundant opportunity for silly shtick, I think it’s a lovely, respectful piece.

For When the “War on Christmas” Just Feels Too Goyish

Oy the chutspah, it hurts my head.

With all the grace of the Menendez Brothers begging the mercy of the court as orphans, the infamous Rubashkin clan (“The largest corporate suppliers of the desecration of God’s name in America, with the lowest prices around! Ten chilulei-hashem for 20 bucks. But for you? $19.95!”) and their cronies are at it again.

Voila: The “War On Kosher” petition site. My family’s neighborhood in Brooklyn had been coated in big black flyers with the WOK website’s address when I went home for Thanksgiving & Shabbos last week. The signs blared “Lo ta’amod al dam achicha” — Don’t stand by as your brother’s blood is spilled, and “Ve’ahavta lere’acha kamocha” — Love your neighbor as yourself. What a treat, I thought - usually one would have to go all the way across the borough to Satmar-cum-hipster Williamsburg for that kind of irony!

I’m sort of astonished to discover that there are still Jews out there who missed the three-ring circus of scandal at Agriprocessors/Rubashkins, who are moved by the following appeal (extracted from the email jungle by our Jewschool secret agents):

An open letter from:
Hindy Light (Rubashkin)
Imagine if I were to tell you that there was a well to do family that was going through a financial crisis. That they were on the verge of losing everything they worked their whole lives for c’v. That within the next few days a judge could decide to take away their business, their homes….c’v. Imagine if I were to tell you that a family that once lived a life of comfort was now collecting funds to pay for their father’s legal fees. Imagine if I were to tell you that there were tens of families who are about to lose their livelihood and become sudden paupers. Wouldn’t you be horrified and do everything you can to help them? Well now – STOP IMAGINING!
This is happening right now! Right in front of your eyes. Not to any family. It’s happening to MY family and as jews it is happening to yours as well!
I am begging each and every one of you to go to and sign the petition. But please don’t just sign it. Send it out as a chain email. Let’s use our ability to help someone in need. This petition can only help if there are at least 15,000 signatures – YOU can make it happen. Please SPREAD the word!
May we hear besuros tovos [CW?: good news] now!
Hindy Light (Rubashkin)

 I’m sorry, Hindy, but you broke it, you buy it. If La Famiglia Rubashkin can no longer afford their rock-and-roll lifestyle, it’s not my problem. They wouldn’t be in this position if they had actually followed the Choshen Mishpat & the Federal Law codes and built their “kosher” fleish empire on honor, honesty, and service instead of on fraud, abuse, and greed.

For anyone who still can’t stop watching the trainwreck:
+ The indefatigable Shmarya Rosenberg is still covering new developments in the story at Failed Messiah.
+ and “FightinBack” at Daily Kos has the entire sordid tale organized by date back to 1983.
+ EDIT: Added link: “The Fall of the House of Rubashkin” from The Village Voice.

Praying for Mumbai

At the time of this posting, Mumbai has been under terrorist siege for over a day, and information about the situation is still forthcoming only slowly.

One of the sites surrounded is Mumbai’s Chabad house, and it seems that the rabbi there, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife Rivka are likely among the hostages, along with, possibly, others. Reports indicate that Chabad’s cook managed to escape, taking the Holtzberg’s toddler-aged son with her.

Reports also indicate that there may be 20 or 30 Israelis among the hostages at the Oberoi Hotel, along with unknown numbers of other American, British, and other foreign hostages, and presumably Indians as well.

The death toll of these attacks is now being tallied at over 120, with over 300 injured.

May this end soon, with no more casualties. May everybody find their way home safely. May the memories of those who have already died be for a blessing. Mumbai, our prayers are with you.

Triumphalist Zionism and Jewish Identity

The right wing of American Orthodox Judaism, those who align themselves with various factions of chareidi and Yeshivah Judaism, are committed to what might only be called “triumphalist Zionism” (my locution, as far as I can tell). Triumphalist Zionists skip the whole cultural and political transformation piece of Zionism and go straight to “now we have an army and its our turn to kick gentile butt.” Most of these groups are extreme hawks on Israeli (and, often, therefore, American) foreign policy. Lubavitch, for example, were exceedingly anti-Zionist through the second world war (as Avi Rivitzky demonstrates in his important book Messianism, Zionism, and Jewish Religious Radicalism). They are also very active in opposing any territorial compromises or peace negotiations.

This process of triumphalist Zionism in the States was followed by the same trend in Israel. Whereas there was some talk that Rav Ovadyah Yosef, former Sephardic Chief Rabbi, (who does not see the settlement movement with the same messianic urgency as does Gush Emunim) would direct his political party Shas to support peace overtures, this did not in fact happen. The same holds true for Rav Shach, the dean of Roshei Yeshivah (Yeshivah heads) in Israel, and his Degel HaTorah party. Shas’ supporters were far more right wing than their leader and Rav Yosef ultimately let the party follow the more hawkish line. Rav Shach (an early mentor of Rav Ovadyah) too, expressed himself in opposition to the settlements, however his hatred of secular Jews and especially kibbutzim won out, with his Degel HaTorah party not supporting the peace overtures of the Labor Party.

It was only a matter of time before the patina of ambiguity toward co-existence cracked and the ramifications of triumphalist Zionism became obvious to all. On the one hand, this ideology afforded the chareidi parties internal justification to join the government as ministers (and ensure funding for their families and institutions), and to be in the heart of policy-making for all citizens of Israel (a seeming compromise with the Zionist project); the flip side of this was that this position of power gave the chareidi parties much political capital. Moreover, the chareidi parties could use foreign/security policy (settlements, wars) as leverage to score more funding for families and institutions (with the tacit and explicit backing of the American Jewish right).

This devil’s bargain has just now blown up again in the face of those Israelis who still see Israel as a Zionist project. This week in the Knesset a bill which exempted certain Yeshivot from the core curriculum that is mandatory for all elementary schools in Israel, passed the first reading. The Israeli High Court ruled three years ago that schools which do not teach the core curriculum can be denied government funding. The core curriculum mandates the teaching of basic civics and democratic values, Hebrew language and literature, English and Arabic, (though this latter is being contested mainly by the chareidim), along with sciences and mathematics, etc. This bill would grant exemptions to certain chareidi institutions (the so-called yeshivot ketanot), which would allow them to be funded by the government without having to teach the core curriculum.

The chareidi community in this latest move, has used its political leverage to undermine any sense of homogeniety or even unity of identity in Israel. This might not be a bad thing: liberal democracies are based on the notion that ethnic and/or religious minorities need not conform to the ideologies of the majority. However, and here is the chiddush, the chareidi parties are using their power from within the supposedly Zionist political institutions (not only Knesset seats, but government ministries) in order to undermine Zionism’s claim to forging a new kind Jewish identity. As Prof. Ruth Gavison wrote yesterday in Ha’aretz:

“It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this law to the image of the State and the manner in which it educates its young citizens. The law perpetuates a situation in which particular groups receive significant public financing even though the curriuclae of their institutions do not impart to their students the skills necessary to become part of the life of the State and fulfill their part in the activities needed for the survival of the State. The law gives a hechsher [kosher certification] to the ideologies which are the basis of the “their Torah is their craft” arrangement.” (my translation)

This move follows fast on the heels of the Israeli Rabbinate’s declaration that only chareidi conversions are okay, and that converts practicing modern Orthodox Judaism can have their conversions reversed (as Gershom Gorenberg has been assiduously documenting). In the States, Shaul Magid has argued, modern Orthodox high school graduates go to Yeshivah in Israel for a year and then come back alienated from the modern-Orthodox values of their parents.

It would seem then that the vaunted Zionist “return to history” is actually history repeating itself, playing out once again the fight over modernity of eighteenth and nineteenth century Eastern Europe and Germany. The new variable is, of course, political power. The chareidim now have the ability to enforce their own brand of Wahabism. It would also seem that only on Birthright (or the mainstream American Jewish community more generally) is Israel seen as paradigm which provides an answer to question of Jewish identity.

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!



Bris at Schneerson’s Ohel, The Donald in Attendance

Zina Sapir “daughter of real estate mogul Tamir Sapir” and her husband “real estate mogul” Rotem Rosen are the proud parents of a new baby boy.

Naturally they want you, yes you, to be aware of this joyous event. The bris happened at the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel last Sunday. A publicist was hired and a press release about the bris sent to major New York publications. New York Magazine writes about it here.

The location was “personally arranged for” buy none other than Lev Leviev, buddy of Putin and Russian Chabad-funder extraordinaire. It seems the proud father Rotem Rosen is Leviev’s “right hand man.”

The press release further informs us that the guest list includes real estate big wigs such as Donald Trump, Jared Kushner, Joe Monahan, Giuseppe Cipriani, Andre Balazs, and Amy Sacco. Just one big, cozy family.

Mazal Tov, people.

Blogging the Omer Days 31 & 32: Shame on You!

Week Five, Day Three
Tiferet of Hod

Week Five, Day Four
Netzach of Hod

So much for Hekhsher Tzedek. Apparently politics wins out over justice.
In a not very surprising move, the Conservative Movement has decided not to boycott Rubashkin.

Calls this week by activist rabbis for a limited boycott have been muted out of concern that a boycott could be actionable and might discourage Jews from keeping kosher because kosher meat would be harder to access.

Actionable? Are you kidding? Seriously, what would be pure enough to get something started? Let’s see, we have major violations of Dina d’malchuta dina, loads of other, amazingly varied halachic violations that have now gone on for years – and in theory have actually spurred the Conservative movement to the unusual action of attempting to actually do something (follow-through apparently being a little slow, ahem). The moral and halachic violations range from abuse of workers’ labor to sexual abuse; apparently there are allegations of the drug methamphetamine being produced at the site, and that rabbinic supervisors, specifically have abused plant workers. Not to mention child labor violations, identity theft, illegal weapons sales, and I’m sure I’ve missed a few.

So, what would be enough to get the Jewish world to move? Can anyone possibly believe that they are totally innocent? That poor old Rubashkin’s is being railroaded? I mean, reality check: When is the Jewish community going to get off its collective Butt?

If for no other reason, we should be boycotting because this will make people look at us and say, if that’s what Jews do, I want no part of it. Note to the Conservative movement: This includes your followers whom you are trying so valiantly to get to keep kosher. IMO, more people will quit keeping kosher over your spinelessness than over the lack of available kosher meat. The folks who keep kosher now aren’t going to stop for this reason. Not to mention that all those young folks you’re trying to attract: they’re leaving because they look and see that something is seriously wrong here. As a Jew, I am embarrassed and ashamed about the lack of response from all the movements, but CJ, your Hekhsher Tzedek plans give you a special responsibility. Live up to it. Stand up for something, already.
And, Hey, Orthodoxy, you have a chance here to outmoral the left: get up and do something, will you? Somebody? Anybody? Before all the holiness drains out of the world?

Blogging the Omer, Day 29: and you shall eat and be satisfied

Week Five, Day One
Chesed of Hod

Since the most recent debacle at Rubashkin’s, documented widely, with a focus on the huge immigration raid detaining nearly 400 of the slaughterhouse’s 968 employees and sending many of the remaining into hiding (and not to mention so many other violations of so many varieties of American law and halachah that the mind boggles), the Postville Plant has reopened on essentially a skeleton crew.
SInce, according to the Forward, it is producing less than half its usual output, and Agriprocessors produces more than half of glatt kosher beef in the USA and the greatest share of glatt kosher poultry, and Postville produces 85% of that beef, instead of American Jews wondering how we’ve come to such a pass; that after several years of people reporting violation after violation of Jewish law, human rights, and American law, how is it that the Orthodox Union hasn’t revoked its supervision; how is it that there isn’t an outcry against such practices, against the kosher meat industry from within the Jewish community – and for that matter – why haven’t we been more carefully examining the actual kashrut of let us say, the organization behind the meat (cf. Rabbi David Berger, author of The Rebbe the Messiah, and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference)?

How is it that we are actually even thinking about whether or not we’ll get enough meat?
At the Hazon food conference late last year, Rabbi Yehuda ben Chemhoun, a prominent shochet of 27 years, and Rabbi Seth Mandel, the senior mashgiach at the Orthodox Union, both spoke of how they limited their own intake of meat, and Rabbi Mandel said plainly that he felt that the kosher meat industry in this country was broken, at least in part because people were expecting to eat too much meat. Instead of meat being something to have occasionally, for shabbat and holidays, people -because of its easy availability- are eating meat every day, sometimes at every meal. And this is sick: it is sick beause it leads us to an industry of waste and cruelty, and to health problems from over indulgence and also to health problems from eating the flesh of animals being treated badly throughout their lives – and through their deaths.

Although I rarely eat meat, I am not a veg. But how can we continue to support an industry that causes this much pain not only to animals, but to human beings. Our sages argue about what the purpose of our kashrut restrictions of meat and shechita are: some say it is because animals feel emotionally as we do, and it is wrong to be cruel to them; some say that it is because we are to learn from the example of our care with animals that all the more so we need to take care of other human beings, to teach compassion.
What Rubashkin’s has revealed is that it cares about neither. So, the only question left is: how long will we allow it to continue, and what will we decide to do now?

Park Slope Yarmulke Theft Teen

A few blocks from where I live in Park Slope, a young Chabad Rabbi was surprised to have his kippah swiped:

A New York teenager is being charged with aggravated harassment as a hate crime after allegedly stealing a Wellesley rabbi’s yarmulke in a Brooklyn subway station last week. Rabbi Uria Ohana, 25, a rabbinical assistant at the Wellesley-Weston Chabad Center, had just entered a Park Slope subway station at 4th Avenue and 9th street at 6:20 p.m. on March 18 when he felt someone grab his yarmulke.

Turning around, he said, he saw an Arab teenager running down the stairs, and decided to chase him to get his yarmulke back. Running through the station, they passed a group of the boy’s friends who began chasing Ohana and screaming, “Allahu Akhbar!”

Ohana chased the boy, identified as Ali Hussein, 18, of Queens, outside, where he ran into the street and was hit by a car. Hussein’s friends caught up with Ohana and began shouting, “you see what you do?” punching him in the head, and screaming “Allahu Akhbar.”…There were numerous witnesses outside the crowded subway station, he said, and many of them pulled out cell phones to call 911. Before police arrived, a black SUV pulled up, and two of Ohana’s attackers jumped in the car and drove away, leaving Hussein at the scene…

More from the Daily News.