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 »

On the End of Days, and how we’re still here and all…

For at least two millennia (maybe more?) people have felt as though the end of the world is upon them. Apocalyptic literature appeared on the scene around the 2nd century BCE and continued in the Jewish world until the middle of the Middle Ages and continues to this day in the Christian communities. Certain streams of contemporary Christianity are so immersed in eschatology that the Left Behind series are still the best selling novels in the United States.

It is no wonder then that radio host and self-styled biblical scholar, Harold Camping, has made so many headlines in the last few days. Starting a year ago or more, Camping, who runs a number of Christian radio stations and two television stations, spent millions of dollars advertising May 21, 2011 as the beginning of the End of Days–needless to say, May 21 came and has almost gone. No word has yet been heard from Camping, who had previously predicted the apocalypse would commence in 1994.

Many have called him a false prophet, and I think that is too generous. There are two possibilities, in my opinion, as to what’s going on with this man. 1) He is an utter fool and a moron; 2) he is a brilliant marketer who has set himself up to increase his personal wealth from over $17 million to God only knows how much he might make. There is a difference between a false prophet and someone who is just plain wrong or an idiot. Unfortunately, there are far too many idiots out there. More »

The Pants of David?

What with 86+ comments of serious talk in a civil and respectable manner going on here recently, I must post here an item of frivolous “WTF?” These Magen David-embroidered chordiroys brought to us by Bonobos. Um, Happy Yom Haatzmaut?


Jewish Community Members Against Jews Against Divisive Leadership calls for the end of divisiveness through a divisive public statement

Jewish, New York — In a surprise move another group of Reform Jews came out not so much in support of Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who has recently endured attacks over his approach to Zionism, but rather against Jews Against Divisive Leadership.

“All of a sudden there is this ad in the print edition of the Jewish paper and we are supposed to see that?” asks youth leader David Stern-Cohen-Burg, a member of Congregation Peace Love and Tzedek who is heading up Jewish Community Members Against Jews Against Divisive Leadership. “But when JTA published that divisive op-ed the other day and it popped up in my Twitter feed, I couldn’t get a group together fast enough through Facebook so I had to actually email a bunch of people.”

This group, mostly of younger Jews who fit into the models that have been presented after actual research (and not edict from traditional community leaders) that note young Jews have trouble associated with a more theocratic and anti-Arab Israel, have called upon the 35 member strong organization against divisiveness, to “shut up.” More »

Anyone Remember Pornoscanners?

I know that most of us have forgotten all the fuss about the new(ish) scanners in airports because we all have the attention spans of gnats, but they haven’t gone away. The problem that travelers (including the parents of young children) still have to make a choice between being seen naked by persons with whom they have no intimacy, or being groped intimately by the same people -still remains.
And it is curious how quickly we have become inured to this violation of dignity, tzniut (modesty) and personal space (note that I’m not even binging up the question of health and safety, even though it is still unclear how safe these machines are particularly for pregnant women and children). The argument that has been offered is that it is needed for our safety, but the truth is that it is needed mostly for two things: 1. to increase profits for the company that produces the scanners (Rapiscan – a rather infelicitous name, which by the way, was promoted by Michael Chertoff while Secretary of Homeland Security, and was a a company that was one of his clients, a coincidence? Really?), and 2. to continue the process of slowly lulling us into giving up more and more of our rights as citizens in the name of “security.”
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Of course John Galliano’s lawyer is Jewish…

In the great tradition of Jewish lawyers defending Nazis and Nazi sympathizers (such as the infamous Supreme Court case involving neo-Nazis marching in Skokie, IL in the late 1970s), turns out that the most recent source of drunken and/or drug induced anti-Semitic rants (in the great tradition of Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen), fashion designer John Galliano, has got himself a Jewish lawyer–to be fair, according to the interview linked below, he has been his lawyer for the last seven years.

YNet has published an interview with the Galliano’s lawyer, Stephane Zerbib, who has apparently received threats because representing the former top designer of Christian Dior. You can see the video of the clearly drunken and rather despicable rant at the HuffPost.

My favorite gem from the interview comes right at the beginning.

Your client is accused of making rather harsh anti-Semitic comments. What is your explanation for this?

“I have no explanation. It could happen to any one of us. Anyone can go to a bar, drink a little and get into a fight with someone.”

Yes. It could happen to any one of us. You walk into a bar, become obliterated drunk while under the influence of prescription drugs and then tell the people next to you that you wish Hitler had killed them… Happens all the time.

My personal opinion, for what it’s worth, is that Galliano’s comments are unforgivable and despicable. Not to mention, in the greatest sense of irony, as a homosexual and self-proclaimed “gipsy” (apparently very publicly) he too would have fallen victim (twice) to the egregious and murderous crimes of the Nazi regime. However, I also think it wrong for people to be threatening his lawyer. Justice is justice, and lawyers take an oath to uphold justice; not to pick and choose which parts of the law to uphold. All the more so I find it acceptable for Zerbib to represent Galliano if they have had a professional relationship for nearly a decade.

Ultimately, anti-Semitic sentiment (drunken or sober) will not be eradicated because Jewish lawyers refuse to represent anti-Semites. Again, justice is justice and in free and democratic societies all people have the right to fair representation in court. Plus, if Galliano’s lawyer is going to make arguments in court such as the one quoted above–that any one of us could, in a drug and alcohol induced state, proclaim our love for Hitler–well, I think we can feel comfortable in how this case will go.

Glenn Beck apologizes (sorta) but I’m not impressed.

After the ADL gets pissy with him Glenn Beck apologizes (sorta) for his rude comparison of Reform Jews to Islamic extremists but I have to say — I’m not impressed.

First of all, let’s just set aside for a moment the ridiculousness of mentioning Islamic extremists in every other breath – really, I have to say (I never thought I’d defend Beck in any way whatsoever) that really, his comments weren’t about Reform Jews being terrorists. While his comments were completely inane, his point was that Reform Jews are primarily a political organization rather than a religious one. How many ways this is a stupid comment leaves me gasping, but it’s not what most people seem to have taken it as – i.e. a claim that Reform Jews are terrorists.

However, the level of stupidity remains pretty high: More »

Glenn Beck: Reformed Rabbis = Radical Islam because of the Nazis

First listen to this clip:

(Source: Glen Beck via Media Matters)

I will not twist Mr. Beck’s brilliance to say anything besides what he said:

“Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like Islam, radicalized Islam in a way, to where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics. When you look at the reform Judaism, it is more about politics. I’m not saying that they’re the same on … and they’re going to take it at that, but — stand in line.”

I will not take it “that way”…I will take it at face value. My religious experience is all about politics. Nothing to do with God, Israel (people and land) or Torah. Nope, nothing what-so-ever. More »

These ain’t the Neturei Kartai — but they agree with Ahmadinejad

I am uncertain if Ynet’s pairing of the related link on this article is deliberate or serendipitous. Either way, it’s chuckle- or forehead slap-worthy, depending on how you view it.


NY Jewish Week Crosses the Line

The NY Jewish Week has decided to enter the recent heated conversation about Debbie Friedman‘s sexuality with this little gem from Jonathan Mark.

He writes,

I spoke about this topic with Debbie enough times to know that she wasn’t interested in this aspect of her private life being discussed in print.

I knew about it, other writers knew about it, and respected her privacy. There was enough to write about her — and Shlomo Carlebach, for that matter — without getting into what they did or whom they called when they were lonely.

Did some closeted Jews feel that closeted lesbians would benefit from her talking about sex?

And it continues from there. Regardless of whether you think Friedman herself should have been out or not–and outed or not–there are a couple of problems here. First, this rehashes the whole notion that being out and queer (as @itsdlevy noted on Twitter this morning) is all about what happens between the sheets (as opposed to, say, what happens under the chuppah, what happens when one brings a date to events, what happens at daycare pick-up, and so forth.) This isn’t (‘just?’) about “bedroom stuff.” It’s about life stuff. And though Marks seems to cast the story as one in which Friedman herself framed the issue as about sex, I’m not so sure I consider him a reliable witness.

But more than that, Mark appears to be making the analogy between Friedman’s (or anyone’s) non-het sexuality and the sexual abuse that Shlomo Carlebach is said to have perpetrated.

Being gay is like sexually assaulting your congregants and followers? Really?

(And if you want to talk open secrets, from Blustain’s Lilith article, linked above: “We do know that certain segments of the progressive Jewish world, until the day Rabbi Carlebach died, distanced themselves from him because they were aware of reports of his sexual behavior. Leaders at ALEPH, and its sister organization, a retreat center called Elat Chayyim, told Lilith that during Rabbi Carlebach’s life they refused to invite him to teach under their auspices or sit on their boards.”)

I take umbrage at the idea that sexual assault and harassment is about “call[ing someone] when.. lonely.” I take umbrage at the idea that the perpetuation of sexual assault and harassment is something that should not be discussed. I take umbrage at the even merest implication that being queer and perpetuating sexual harassment and assault are even remotely analogous.

If you want to argue that Friedman had a right to privacy about her life, you can argue that. But do not bring in this disgusting analogy, and do not imply that sexual abuse should ever be left a private matter.

Vulture accused of spying for Israel.

vultureSaudi Arabian security has detained a vulture that was outfitted with a GPS out of concern that it might be being used for spying.

I don’t believe this actually requires any comment – but feel free.

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.

Justice is a Dish Best Served Cold — with Pita

So for those of you who had anything better to do than say keep up with Princeton’s great hummus debate of 2010 may not have heard the news out of the Central Jersey Ivy League last week.

The referendum failed. According to The Daily Princetonian a total of 1,014 students voted against the referendum, while 699 students voted in favor  (out of 4,878 undergraduates total).

In a follow-up article about the vote, both sides seem to claim victory and honestly I think the real winners are the food service workers who have to deal with both sets of entitled Princetonians.

As I wrote before, this is possibly the stupidest student government action I have ever heard of…however it did spark some sort of real conversation about boycotts and divestment.  In the same article, Yoel Bitran, of the poorly named PCP, said, “We’re having a big panel on boycott, divestment and sanctions coming up next week, and we’re very excited to plan for next semester.”

Maybe the pro-Israel group can have an equally constructive conversation about the reasons building settlements is ok because God said it was cool.

And So This is Chanukah.

Image of the day:


A Jewish shopper at Balducci’s main location in Greenwich Village noticed this most unlikely display last week (three years ago, but we’re a people of history) and lodged a complaint with the management, who quickly cast the blame on a stock clerk, according to the NY Daily News.

What’s next? A blow-out deal on Manischewitz wine and kashe varnishkes for Christmas?

Attention Balducci shoppers: clean up in aisle nine!

Chanukah ham story epilogue: if you would like this image and others like it immortalized on an apron, mug, calendar, or magnet, said Balducci’s customer Nancy Kay Shapiro wants to make your dreams a reality.


By now you all have heard of the Princeton referendum being offered by a group of concerned students at the Ivy League campus in New Jersey. Sabra Hummus has been declared an enemy of Palestine and should be banned from campus there should be other options for students to purchase when they desire a creamy Middle Eastern dip.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for meaningless political action in college; after all I was an elected member of the student senate back in college, so I know all about that. But when it comes to an elite institution of higher learning such as Princeton, I kind of expect more than a call to action that involves the inclusion other chickpea spreads. More »

Shall we forgive the Amish (Wut?)

I am honestly not sure what to make of this. Should I consider this the genuine and generous gesture of a small people, themselves a minority, who have come to regret some role that they played in the past in the persecution of the Jews? If so, I can’t help but wonder exactly what they could have done to help – after all, they weren’t exactly a world power with lots of political sway during the Nazi era? What was it they were supposed to have done to help?

Or maybe my first reaction was right – we -the Jews- have gone completely nuts, to the extent that the entire relationship of the world to us is people finding ways to beg our forgiveness for the Holocaust, an important, but hardly defining (at least, I hope not. All the issues of the Holocaust were not new – we dealt with every one of them during the time of the destruction of the Temple – at least theologically speaking), moment in our history. Is this another chapter in the ongoing erasure of Judaism as a religion, to be replaced with the religion of Holocaustism?

What exactly does this all mean? Why did they take the extraordinary step of using modern transportation to fly a delegation to Israel; why now? And why did they decide to meet with “Western Wall Rabbi” Shmuel Rabinovitch?
I guess that, overall, I’m glad the Amish like us -they seem like nice people, and overall, I’d rather have them like us than not- but why does this strike me as somehow completely bizarre?

One person’s trash is another person’s…treasure?

madoffIf you were interested in bidding on ponzi scheme-schmendrick Bernie Madoff’s intimate apparel…well, I have bad news for you.

This past weekend, a trove of Mr. Madoff’s personal items, ranging from a 10.5 carat diamond ring to his underwear, were auctioned off at top dollar.

Caveat emptor!

A Question of G-D (And no, we’re not talking theology. We’re talking Bra Sizes)


Fashion designer Zac Posen adjusts orthodox teen contestant Esther Petrack before one of the final runway competitions on ANTM

If you’re anything like me, you’re just dying to hear  impassioned opinions on ANTM (that’s America’s Next Top Model, for the non-cognoscenti among you) from someone who has never once watched the show.

What follows is based on a controversial clip featuring an Orthodox–or more specifically, a Modern Orthodox–Jewish contestant from the recent cycle of the CW reality show and the virtual ruckus it caused among the online community, Orthodox and non-Orthodox alike.

In case you have not seen this yet, here are some…visuals:

18-year-old Maimonides alum Esther Petrack was recently eliminated from the popular CW reality television show and has finally spoken out to dispel the rumors about her and  to address the damning insinuations circulating among the blogosphere and beyond. In a Nov. 3 article in the Jerusalem Post, for example, the Orthodox Jewish reality TV star responded to a rumor that she had lived in Mea She’arim and was excommunicated by explaining that she had never lived there, and adding: ““How did they even find out about me? The video was on the Internet, which they’re not fans of, anyway.”

Indeed in that same interview, Petrack explained that she is not, nor has she ever been  haredi. Yet despite this, the media persists in sensationalizing her story by describing her as haredi or ultra-orthodox.



Amusingly, the Israeli news reporter here also describes the school she attended in Boston (Maimonides–one of the bastions of so-called Centrist/Modern Orthodox Jewish education in the U.S.) as “haredi.”   Haredi or not, Petrack’s appearance on the show created a stir among many in both the US and Israel who self-identify as “frum.”  The infamous clip of the show went viral in the Orthodox community over a month ago, causing outrage and declamatory, self-righteous tongue wagging wherever it raised its scandalous head.  One can understand why such provocative television might elicit a  raised eyebrow or two but, in all honesty, I think such righteous indignation is misplaced.  In all of the online discussion of this admittedly rather ridiculous episode, search though I might, nowhere could I find condemnation of what seemed to me to be the most shocking moment of all: an instance of blatant religious discrimination. In the video clip above, Tyra Banks makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that all  contestants, irrespective of their beliefs or practices, are expected to conform to the show’s 24/7 work schedule, religious observance be damned.

America's Next Top Model

While the norms and mores of civilized life are often suspended  in ironically titled “‘reality” TV moments like these make me squirm more than scenes of so-called survivors consuming their own feces in order to prolong, for just another glorious week, their “15 minutes of fame.”
If an employer in the US today  denied work to a prospective employee based on her/his religious practice, the almost automatic result would be a job discrimination lawsuit with an expectedly grim outcome for the employer .   While, just  under a century ago,  pious  Jewish immigrants, fresh-off-the-boat from Europe would routinely lose their jobs and face poverty and even starvation if they did not work on Saturday, thankfully times have changed dramatically, and now religious tolerance is a blessed norm in the US: no longer does a Jew have to choose between starvation for him/herself and his/her family and Sabbath observance. (Thanks is of course also due to courageous labor unions for more humane work hours and weekends off.)   The apparent demand of the show’s creator and hostess, Banks, that Petrack chose between “honoring the Sabbath” and being part of the show, would seem to be a throwback to “bad old times” before anti-discrimination laws established norms of fairness and equality in hiring.

As to the “case” itself, we can hardly blame an 18 year old for the offenses of a crassly sensationalistic, heavily edited, celebrity-powered televised competition.  While the wisdom of entering such a competition might be questioned at the outset, what Petrack does is her personal choice; she is not forcing anyone – Orthodox or not — to watch or to sanction or imitate her actions. 

Much of the online uproar surrounding Petrack’s supposedly hypocritical activity as an Orthodox Jewish young woman is actually misinformed.  We later learn, via a blog comment posting by Petrack’s mother (or someone posing as Petrack’s mother. However you please), that her daughter’s statement, “I will do it,” (viz., desecrate the Sabbath by working) was actually edited out of context. Upon re-watching the clip, you can see the response, indeed, was edited. Despite the remaining tsniut (modesty) issue, Esther’s Shabbat observance may very well have been ‘technically kosher’—contrary to the way several articles (even some sympathetic) suggest.

A good part of me empathizes with Petrack.  How many of us can readily recall certain decisions and activities undertaken at the tender age of 18 that  we would not exactly wish to immortalize on video? Especially for those of us raised in Modern Orthodox milieus, the eternal saga of rationally reconciling the two (modern and orthodox) is a plight that strongly resonates. Granted, at least in my line of work, this doesn’t generally involve lifting one’s shirt on television…..at least not as far as I can remember, anyway.

One day, when I host a Jewishly-observant-themed talk-show entitled Halakhically Incorrect, I think Petrack should be a guest.

Anyone who has, at some point, lived a genuinely modern and Orthodox existence knows that certain actions, on paper, (or, in this case, video edited out of context) could easily baffle others. Or, as one of my good friends from college whom I recently visited remarked while laughing with a glint in his eye, “Remember when I used to sin for you on Saturdays?” referring to my Shabbat observance in which several of my more keyed-in non-Jewish friends and living-mates knew to flip the bathroom switch on before I ducked in on the seventh day of the week.

In short, the real judgment in this case should be against Banks for issuing such a shockingly intolerant ultimatum, not against an 18 year old struggling to reconcile  traditional religious observance and modernity. But Banks is “nit fun unzere”  (translation: not one of the “tribe”).  So why attack her, right?

Naches all around.