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Too Good To Be True?

Salam Fayyad, the West’s favorite Palestinian

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Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Fayyad, last week.(Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)

In all the praise for Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad—from Thomas Friedman to Roger Cohen to even Israeli President Shimon Peres, who famously called him “the Palestinian Ben Gurion” (in a more measured take, contributing editor Michael Weiss was there first)—I had yet to see a single anecdote that fully captured how so many various Western bien pensant political observers had anointed Fayyad, the head of the West Bank cabinet who has emphasized state-building for its own sake and as a means of putting pressure on Israel to make peace, as their favorite Palestinian; as, really, their Palestinian best friend.

That is, not until I had read Tablet Magazine contributing editor Nathan Thrall’s indispensable new dispatch, in which we learn that when Fayyad, who holds an economics Ph.D. from the University of Texas, first met President George W. Bush in 2003 (he was then Yasser Arafat’s finance minister), the former Texas governor “greeted him with index and pinky fingers extended to display UT Austin’s ‘Hook ‘em Horns’ sign.”

Thrall’s article is most valuable, though, because its combination of first-person reporting and exhaustive collation makes the most persuasive case yet that, as an earlier study had hinted, Fayyad’s state-building, while not without its successes, is ultimately more of a chimera than its champions like to admit; is unsustainably dependent on authoritarianism; and is unpopular among a likely majority of West Bank Palestinians. (more…)

Today on Tablet

The Kremlin fights Jew-hating, Sukkot, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Alexander Zaitchik reports on World Without Nazism, which is sort of like a Russian (and Kremlin-approved) Anti-Defamation League; it could serve a real purpose, but has yet to take bold stands. On the Vox Tablet podcast, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin discusses Rabbi Hillel, the subject of his new Nextbook Press biography. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall explains why Sukkot (which begins at sundown on Wednesday) is a mother’s nightmare. Josh Lambert’s weekly round-up of forthcoming books of interest is back-to-school-themed. The Scroll is what’s-going-on-today-themed.

Guess Who’s Coming to Shul

A Monday morning blind item

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Rhinebeck, New York, this summer.(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

WHICH unconverted former First Daughter was spotted at morning Yom Kippur services with her new Jewish husband at New York University’s Bronfman Center? They stayed through the sermon at the Reform service.

Daybreak: A’jad Doesn’t Bless the Peacemakers

Plus Sinai a hotspot, and more in the news

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The Iranian president last week in Tehran.(Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

• Visiting Damascus, President Ahmadinejad predicted that countries in the region would “disrupt” U.S.-sponsored peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians. [WP]

• Egypt believes Hamas successfully smuggled rockets into Sinai and plans to launch them into southern Israel and Jordan. [Haaretz]

• Why Mideast peace might be Secretary of State Clinton’s to win or lose. [LAT]

• In a forthcoming tell-all, former Prime Minister Olmert is apparently going Nixon on Defense Minister Barak, whom he blames for ousting him from office. [Haaretz]

• Turkish President Abdullah Gul cancelled a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in New York (both are here this week for the U.N. General Assembly), though his pow-wow with A’jad is still on. [Haaretz]

• The U.S. plans to continue to fund and cooperate with the Lebanese Armed Forces (against columnist Lee Smith’s recommendation). [JPost]

Sundown: Expanded Fasting Edition

Fayyad’s police, playing on Kol Nidre, and more

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Ike Davis.(Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Closing up shop early today to put on our finest suits and our worst sneakers. Use the comments to tell everyone where you’ll be. I’ll start: I’ll be at NYU’s Bronfman Center. Have an easy fast, everyone.

• First off, if you haven’t yet, do consider reading two excellent book reviews we ran this week in the midst of the High Holiday hubbub: Columnist Lee Smith on a revelatory new memoir about Israeli prime ministers; and Itamar Rabinovitch on the Balfour Declaration.

• The West Bank is closed til Saturday night. [JTA]

• Martin Peretz apologies. [The Spine]

• Tablet Magazine contributing editor Nathan Thrall reports on U.S. efforts to buttress Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s security services. [NYRB]

• After having his mom tell him to do what’s right, rookie New York Mets first baseman Ike Davis has decided to play tonight against the Atlanta Braves. [ESPN]

• Leslie Gelb points out that the “nothing bad can come from talking” trope actually isn’t true: Frequently, failed Mideast negotiations have been followed by increased bloodshed. [Daily Beast]

• Somebody wrote a poem about Hank Greenberg playing and then not playing in 1934. [Kaplan’s Korner]

• Tablet Magazine contributing editor Michael Weiss says U.S. envoy George Mitchell’s preferred comparison of Hamas to the Irish Republican Army is facile. [Slate]

• J.J. Goldberg praises strange bedfellows. [Forward]

• And if you haven’t read enough about Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals, here’s yet another take. [n1br]

‘A Unifying Force’

Your Vox Tablet preview

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If you’re looking for common ground amidst all the tension among Jews of various denominations, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin says look no further. According to Telushkin, Hillel, the most prominent religious leader around roughly two millennia ago, is your man.

Telushkin is the author of Nextbook Press’s Hillel: If Not Now, When, and the guest on the next Vox Tablet podcast, coming to you on Monday. Here, he explains how Hillel seems to be the go-to guy for Jews of all stripes.

Unhealthy Bullying

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

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A few of the contestants last night.(The CW)

A day late and a dollar short. This is how it’s going to be in America’s Next Top Model recap world since I don’t own a television. (I dare you to say that without sounding pretentious.) I have to wait until the Interwebs grace me with a streaming or downloadable version of the week’s newest episode. So instead of Thursday, I’ll have this ready by Friday, just in time for all the Sabbaths Esther Petrack missed while shooting the show.

We start off in Venice Beach, California, where the girls are shown their house, a glass structure perched on the boardwalk, which results in much squealing. So much squealing. I know that it’s Cycle 15 and I should probably be used to it by now, but since it’s almost Yom Kippur and confession is good for the soul, I have one to make: Before last week, I had never seen an episode of the show. In fact, the only reason I downloaded the premiere was because a Rosh Hashanah dinner guest told me about the Modern Orthodox contestant, whom I then had to see for myself. Basically, I’m in it for the Jew. This is all new to me. I’m like a newly born babe exploring a very high-pitched, big-haired, catty world. (more…)

Shmuley and Christopher

A rabbi and an atheist walk into a room …

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Christopher Hitchens last night(Terri Kayden)

It’s no secret that there are plenty of Jews who are atheists. (In fact, it’s the basis for a number of decent jokes.) It’s also no secret that if you’re the sort of atheist who likes the idea of participating in a set of deeply human rituals that have been celebrated continuously for thousands of years, it’s nice to be a Jew. Especially, as it happens, at this time of year: The confessions of the Ashamnu aren’t about admitting your failings to anyone but yourself, and it’s entirely possible to chant Avinu Malkenu, and mean it, without depending on some more or less Christianized notion of a bearded God sitting in judgment with a big registry book in front of h/Him.

And when it comes to death, neither God nor heaven (nor hell) is prerequisite to the principle that “from dust you come, and to dust you shall return.” Which is why it’s so puzzling that the celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach felt that last night, erev Erev Yom Kippur of all nights, would be a good time to debate Christopher Hitchens, devoted atheist and Tablet Magazine contributor, about whether there is an afterlife. After all, their three earlier match-ups went very poorly for the rabbi; Boteach even admitted recently that the best he could hope for was to get Hitchens to admit that organized, God-fearing religion might have some net benefit for humanity, even if the premise of a supreme being is just made-up hoo-ha. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Fast-prep, a different kind of South African Jew, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, columnist Etgar Keret dreads a jetlag-hungover Yom Kippur fast. Eve Fairbanks reports from Bloemfontein, South Africa, once home to a substantial Jewish community, now home to a smaller community of Jews for Jesus. Art director Len Small showcases a wonderfully unique contemporary artifact: A xylophone with the words to the Yom Kippur prayer “Ashamnu” on the keys. The Scroll will run for only a half-day today; it has a fast to get ready for, too!

The Shabbat of Shabbats, on Shabbat

Gaming out this year’s Yom Kippur

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A Shabbat table, with a random Buddha.(TikkunGer/Flickr)

What makes this Yom Kippur different from all other Yom Kippurs? Or at least approximately 6/7th of all others? This year, the Shabbat Shabaton—the Sabbath of Sabbaths—falls on, well, Shabbat. Of course, because the yom tov is already, in a sense, Shabbat, it does not really make for a hugely substantial change to the day (unlike when, say, Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat, and services seem truly endless). However, according to Rabbi Daniel Nevins of the Jewish Theological Seminary, there are a few changes. (more…)

Daybreak: The Talks Must Go On

Plus the Pope reductios ad Nazism, and more

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Pope Benedict XVI earlier today.(Steve Parsons - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

• President Abbas seemed to pledge to continue talks, despite no deal on extending the settlement freeze. [NYT]

• Hamas’s West Bank leadership may be quietly against its more extreme cohort in Gaza and Damascus, who have stepped up terrorist activity in response to the talks. [JPost]

• Speaking in Britain to a group that included the Royal Family, Pope Benedict XVI compared “atheist extremism” to Nazism. [AOL News]

• The Conservative movement has brought out its first revision of its Mahzor (High Holiday prayerbook) in nearly 40 years. Awesome! Awe-inspiring! [NYT]

• Some Harvard teachers and groups are protesting a forthcoming ceremony that will honor Martin Peretz, who has come under fire for writing in his blog for the The New Republic (of which he is editor and an owner), “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims” (he has apologized for and retracted the sentence). [NYT]

• Some asshole drew another swastika on Omri Casspi on that Sacramento, California, mural. [Sacramento Bee]

Sundown: Madam Secretary

Plus the kosher donkey, and more

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The Orthodox Union-inspired (though not really) D.(Democratic Party)

• Secretary of State Clinton’s idiosyncratic Mideast diplomacy. [WP]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected the U.S.-proposed, President Abbas-approved three-month construction freeze extension. But he also displayed a Palestinian flag at his residence when Abbas was over. [Laura Rozen]

• Priceless: From September 19 through October 4, “observant Jewish traveler” get special U.S. government leeway to carry “four plants—a palm branch, myrtle twigs, willow twigs, and a citron—in airports and through security checkpoints.” [TSA]

• Tablet Magazine columnist Etgar Keret has a new story just-translated. [n+1]

• The Democratic Party’s new logo looks the Orthodox Union’s! [Brand New]

• Are you the “BEAUTIFUL YOUNG SOUL (JEW)”? [Craigslist Missed Connections]

Grover want to know: Why do people need Day of Rest?

Wyden’s Healthy Challenger

For senator from America’s Israel

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Pavel Goberman.(Russian Immigrant Runs for U.S. Senate. Again.)

Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), one of the Senate’s dozen or so Jewish senators, is facing a challenge on Election Day from Russian immigrant Pavel Goberman (who appears to be Jewish himself). What’s Goberman’s deal?

Goberman believes Americans need to get in better shape, and he thinks his expertise can help incite a fitness revolution.

Goberman’s passion for exercise developed while serving in the Russian army in the 1950s. Since then he has been constructing a comprehensive exercise routine for himself and others.

Outlined in his book, Get Energized, Goberman’s fitness routine is a mixture of stretching, swimming, pull-ups, resistance-band routines and other simple exercises, most of which can be done from home.

Goberman said that his excellent health is a testament to his program’s efficacy.

“I’m in good health,” he said,” because I don’t want to give my body to doctors.”

(Wyden’s real challenger is Republican Jim Huffman. Wyden will win.)

This is altogether appropriate given that a new map that assigns U.S. states a country based on their GDPs made Oregon … Israel. (See the map: Quite the northern border!)

Russian Immigrant Runs for U.S. Senate. Again. [KVAL]
U.S. States Renamed for Countries with Similar GDPs [Big Think]

Talking Torture

Rabbi Telushkin answers your questions

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Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.(Random House)

As we approach Yom Kippur, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin—author of Nextbook Press’s Hillel: If Not Now, When?—answers questions submitted by Tablet Magazine readers.

Is torture of Palestinian prisoners permitted by Jewish law or ethics? If so, under what conditions? Is it permissible to photograph Palestinians blindfolded or dead? Is it permissible to publish these photographs on Facebook and other such Internet sites?

One of the judicial features that set Jewish law apart from the societies surrounding it in the ancient and medieval worlds was its refraining from torturing people accused of crimes. Torture was commonly used by Roman authorities and later by institutions such as the Catholic Inquisition, because both believed that confessions were the best form of evidence. In contrast, Talmudic law forbade use of confessions in cases of serious crimes. As a result, there was no motive to torture a suspect, as there was nothing to be gained from doing so, and even Voltaire, a vicious anti-Semite who claimed that Jews sacrificed non-Jews in religious rituals, acknowledged this feature of Jewish life, albeit sarcastically: “This was the only thing lacking in the customs of the holy people.” (more…)

Justin Bieber, Almost Jewish

So says pop star’s (very Jewish) manager

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Forget it, ladies: Bieber is just 16.(Kevin Winter/Getty Image)

“Justin prays the ‘Shema’ before each show. First he says a Christian prayer, then he says the ‘Shema.’’ So reports Scott “Scooter” Braun, né Shmuel ben Eliezer, the Connecticut-born 28-year-old who is basically responsible for foisting the 16-year-old superstar onto the world: He discovered videos Bieber’s mother had uploaded to YouTube, and is now his manager. (He is also apparently Bieber’s “blood brother”—hence the Shema.)

Braun also has a pledge: “We will come to Israel to perform next year. I want to support Israel.” Get ready, Tel Aviv …

Bieber Fever: Israel’s Got It! [IsRealli]
Earlier: Send Bieber on Birthright!

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