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The Honesty of the Convert

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.

I converted to Judaism over twenty years ago under the auspices of a Conservative rabbi. I’ve been at different levels of observance over the years and consider myself moderately observant now. I am a member of a synagogue but sometimes attend services at others. My question is whether or not I have an obligation to tell people when I attend an Orthodox synagogue that I am a Conservative convert, especially if I’m the tenth for a minyan or when I’ve been given an aliyah (and, on occasion, chanted Torah). Personally, I believe that it’s none of their business and, furthermore, would put them in the uncomfortable position of having to either relax their halachic standards for me as a person or to reject me as a fellow Jew.

The answer to your question is, to my mind, clear, but also very sad. Indeed, for reasons I will soon explain, your letter made me sad. And I apologize in advance if anything in my reasoning causes you pain. (more…)

Tel Aviv Down One in Champions League

Red Demons lose 0-2

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Hapoel Tel Aviv, saddened by loss.(Francisco Leong/AFP/Getty Images)

For sports fans fond of grand metaphors and prone to sizing up games on a world-historical scale—which is to say, every sports fan who ever lived—the soccer match last night between Hapoel Tel Aviv and Benfica Lisbon was a shiny microcosm of the Jewish state’s woes.

The game was Hapoel’s first test in the prestigious UEFA Champions League (they have at least three more games—but probably only three more games—to go), and the Red Demons, as they’re known back home, took the pitch in a fury, playing fast and pressing hard. Then, fifteen minutes into the game, Tel Aviv’s mercurial striker Itay Shechter—best remembered for pulling a yarmulke out of his sock after scoring against Salzburg last month—was fouled inside the box. Which, for those of you who still think football is a game played by overgrown men in tights, means a penalty kick. Only the referees missed the whole thing; no penalty was awarded; and the Demons—Tablet Magazine’s official Champions League squad—found themselves robbed of their just deserts by a gaggle of hostile goyim. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Kol Nidres, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Ari Y. Kelman recounts the many different types of covers that various musicians have recorded of “Kol Nidre”. Mideast columnist Lee Smith reviews a memoir from an Israeli government bureaucrat that paints a particularly strong picture of Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Itamar Rabinovich considers the Balfour Declaraction, nearly one century later. The Scroll struggles to have a week’s historical memory.

Rift Within the Right

Will U.S. groups back a Bibi freeze extension?

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Netanyahu Sunday.(Tara Todras-Whitehill - Pool/Getty Images)

Ron Kampeas published a fascinating article late yesterday reporting that most right-wing American Jewish groups, who are (of course) known for supporting West Bank settlements and having opposed the almost-expired ten-month construction freeze, are at the moment keeping their mouths shut and waiting to see if Prime Minister Netanyahu will in any way extend the freeze, as President Abbas has demanded he do lest the Palestinians walk away from this latest round of direct peace talks. The point being that, if he does extend the freeze, their mouths may remain shut. Which, historically, would be pretty remarkable.

Yesterday, in Egypt, Netanyahu was mum on his plans, even as Abbas reiterated his ultimatum and U.S. envoy George Mitchell—echoing President Obama—called on Netanyahu to extend the freeze. The two leaders meet in Jerusalem today.

The key is that, in Kampeas’s words, Netanyahu “carries credibility with the American Jewish right.” Were he to extend the freeze, even partially, and receive the subsequent backing, even tacit, of right-wing American groups—in the face of strong opposition from Israeli pro-settler groups (whom Kampeas also talks to) and even political parties that are members of his own governing coalition—then that would present observers with a pretty stark contrast between the American right, which would turn out to have a pragmatic gene after all, and the Israeli right (or, rather, far right, since Netanyahu is the right), which would only look increasingly intransigent. (Unsurprisingly, the left would love to see this contradiction heightened and is emphasizing that anything less than an explicit extension from Netanyahu would amount to his letting the freeze lapse.)

If you do not think you can take the “What will Bibi do?” suspense much longer, don’t worry: He only has until the end of the month to decide.

U.S. Jewish Right Muted Ahead of Possible Extension of Settlement Freeze [JTA]
Bibi-Abbas Talks Resume in Egypt [Politico]

Daybreak: Rockets Cast Glare on Talks

Plus a Chernobyl in Iran? and more

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The Bushehr reactor.(IIPA via Getty Images)

• Rocket-fire from Gaza is on the upswing as direct peace talks commence in Jerusalem. [Haaretz]

• Some are worried that Iran’s soon-to-be-operational Bushehr nucler reactor could become, due to the opacity and haste with which it was built, a second Chernobyl. [LAT]

• The Bronx synagogue bomb plot trial was delayed as the judge considers how to deal with one defendant whose apparent mental illness has caused him to be unresponsive. [NYT]

• Jorge Puello, the maybe-leader of the Dominican Republic’s Jewish community, was extradited to the United States to face child-trafficking charges. [AP/Failed Messiah]

• A Saudi diplomat requested asylum in the U.S. (he works at the L.A. consulate) since he received death threats after revealing that he is gay and good friends with a Jewish Israeli woman. [NYT]

• Start drinking less coffee today! (Yeah, right.) [JPost]

Sundown: Much Talk, Little Peace

Plus the politics of Israeli daylight savings time, and more

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The scene in Uman.(Slate)

• They talked for more than two hours—longer than planned—today in Egypt, and are talking in Jerusalem tomorrow. But the settlement freeze predicament is still unresolved. [NYT]

• A dispatch from the great Uman, Ukraine, Hasidic pilgrimage for Rabbi Nachman. (Rodger Kamenetz went for Tablet Magazine.) [Slate]

• Guess which American religious group tends to give the most to charity (income-adjusted)? [Miller-McCune]

• While Israeli law has long switched the country to daylight-savings time before Yom Kippur to make fasting easier, the holiday’s earliness this year brought the separation-of-synagogue-and-state issue into high relief. [Religious News Service/HuffPo]

• Why do the novels of official Tablet Magazine Man Booker Prize nominee Howard Jacobson have trouble attracting readers outside Britain? [New York Jewish Week/Jewish Ideas Daily]

• The Conservatives represent the smallest movement in Europe—but also the fastest-growing. [JTA]

Harold Gould (né Goldstein) died today at 86. He’s really good at playing a pompous blowhard in Love and Death.

Tennessee’s Pearl Admits Violations

B-ball coach hit with sanctions, hopes to keep job

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Pearl during the 2010 NCAA Tournament.(Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Ugh. Bruce Pearl, the men’s basketball coach for Maccabi USA and the Tennessee Volunteers—the latter of which were Tablet Magazine’s official 2010 NCAA tournament teamadmitted Friday that he had lied to NCAA investigators about making excessive calls to recruits. As a result, he is being docked $1.5 million in pay over the following five years and barred from off-campus recruiting for one year (a major competitive disadvantage). All this, if he is lucky: There is a decent chance he will get fired.

This is majorly dispiriting not only because Pearl is a prominent Jewish coach (and an excellent coach to boot), but because he really is a mensch, who gave a ton of time to philanthropy and to the University of Tennessee’s and Nashville’s Jewish communities. Indeed, Jewish charities with which he is affiliated are backing him: “People make mistakes,” Maccabi USA’s executive director said, “and he has owned up and taken responsibility for them.”

It is entirely apt to note that, first, the NCAA’s rules are byzantine, insane, and designed mainly to extend its own power, and that the notion of the NCAA upholding ethics is a bit like the notion of a fox standing up for the defense of henhouses. It is further apt to note that this makes Pearl approximately the one-billionth coach at a major-conference program to fall afoul of NCAA guidelines. But that does not change what he did. The only genuine consolation to take from this sad affair is the hope that Pearl genuinely holds himself to a higher standard—as he has always seemed to do—and is genuinely contrite. Owning up to wrongdoing is the first step, and it is altogether appropriate that Pearl came clean last Friday, on the second of the ten Days of Repentance.

Tables Turned, Pearl’s Tale Is Sad [SI.com]
Jewish Charities Stick By Embattled Bruce Pearl [Fundermentalist]
Earlier: Go Vols!

Write-In

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. Here, a special Primary Day-themed question.

During election seasons, we are often presented with a dilemma. We may have clear-cut choices or we may feel that none of the candidates are quite up to par. Are we morally obligated to abstain from voting if we don’t like either candidate enough, or is it a moral choice to pick the one we think is the proverbial “lesser of two evils”? And is it morally wrong to vote for someone we don’t know enough about because we haven’t done our homework—for example, sitting judges who only need to be reaffirmed?

As a young man in 1972, I remember my displeasure with the two presidential candidates, the incumbent Richard Nixon and the Democratic challenger George McGovern. I mistrusted Nixon on moral grounds—most significantly, I suspected from early on that he had knowledge, perhaps considerable knowledge, about the Republican cover-up of the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters. And I thought McGovern dangerously naïve, for example, when he spoke of negotiating a Middle East peace through the United Nations, or expressed his belief that J. William Fulbright, a highly intellectual but anti-Israel senator, was the sort of person he’d like to see as Secretary of State. In addition, McGovern had very naïve views about the dangers and evils of communism. I felt certain that, if elected, McGovern would be a disaster. (more…)

The Great Gruber

New film follows life of seen-it-all journo

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Ruth Gruber.(NYT)

A new film, Ahead of Time, is a documentary biography of 98-year-old journalist Ruth Gruber. In addition to praising the movie, the New York Times profiled Gruber, reporting that she “has spent her professional life listening—to world leaders, displaced persons, dubious politicians and, once, when she was on the fellowship that led to her doctorate, Hitler.” Says Gruber, “My mother became slightly hysterical. She thought Hitler was going to shoot me. But I needed to understand what was going on there.”

And guess what! Gruber was a guest on Tablet Magazine predecessor Nextbook.org’s podcast more than three years ago. She has some mighty fine stories to tell.

To see if there is a screening of Ahead of Time near you (hint: It helps if you live in New York or L.A.), check here.

Recounting the Past of a Witness to History [NYT]
Related: Lady Intrepid [Nextbook.org]

Marquis to Pitch on Kol Nidre

‘Your team expects you’ says Jewish National

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Jason Marquis earlier this year.(Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)

I will be saying this to myself every year until the day I die: One shouldn’t go to work on Yom Kippur, because during one Yom Kippur Sandy Koufax refused to pitch in Game 1 of the World Series. The cool thing about this Jewish mothers’ tale is that it is actually true (Koufax’s Los Angeles Dodger teammate Don Drysdale started instead, lost the game, and told his manager afterward, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too”).

The basement-dwelling 2010 Washington Nationals are no 1965 Dodgers, and Nats pitcher Jason Marquis, who is Jewish, is certainly no Koufax. But Marquis is slated to start Friday night—Kol Nidre—at the Philadelphia Phillies, and (via Kaplan’s Korner) he plans on doing so (in fact, he has in past years, too). “Your team expects you to do your job and not let your teammates down, and that’s the approach I take,” he said.

Now, look. That is not an invalid response. And for every Koufax, there is also slugger Hank Greenberg, who in 1934 played on Rosh Hashanah while his Detroit Tigers were in a tight pennant race, only to sit out Yom Kippur once a World Series spot was all but secured. Moreover, I don’t think the importance (or lack of importance) of a big game should make a difference: If you feel you shouldn’t play on Yom Kippur, then that should include the World Series; if you feel you should, that should include a meaningless September regular season outing. And Marquis didn’t ask to be made a role model (which, given his 6.60 ERA this season, is maybe a good thing!).

But: Dude. Ask your manager to move your start. C’mon. How are Jewish 8-year-old Nats fans—poor schmucks—going to learn to observe the Highest of the Holidays?

Meanwhile, check Kaplan’s Korner for updates on Kevin Youkilis, Ryan Braun, and the rest.

Marquis Plans To Make Start on Kol Nidre [Miami Herald]
Earlier: Huge Yankees-Sox Game Set for Kol Nidre

Brewing Jews

Tea Party goes all philo-Semitic

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Two out of three ain’t bad!(Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)

A group of Tea Partiers have launched a new outreach effort targeting minorities called DiverseTea (presumably the second “e” is not silent). While they have their eye on several groups, the chief one, apparently, is the Jews. “I think that there is a more open debate to be had (in the Jewish community), but there is no genius behind that,” said one activist. “I had to start somewhere.” He added, “A lot of Jews are traditionally Democratic and traditionally liberal. But there is definitely a contingent of conservative Jews out there, and it’s underrepresented. I think there should be a lot more conservative Jews than there are.”

Do we think this is going to work? For a start, DiverseTea—which I would assume is pomegranate-flavored—will have to work on the fact that Jews hate Sarah Palin. Right?

Tea Party Outreach Courts Jews [Politico]
Earlier: Why We Hate Her

Today on Tablet

Kosher is as kosher does, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, David P. Goldman explains how he came to understand the basis for kashrut. Daniella Cheslow profiles the West Bank man who one day decided to translate Maimonides into Arabic. Books critic Adam Kirsch argues that it is worth it to learn the full, deep history of Eastern European Jewish life in the decades before World War I. It’s the month of Tishrei; here is the themed crossword puzzle. It’s Tuesday; here is The Scroll.

@israel

The Jewish State joins Twitter

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(@israel)

Oh look, it’s the best sentence you’ll read all day: “Israel has acquired the user name @israel on Twitter, the microblogging Internet service, from the Spanish owner of a pornographic Web site.”

It seems the previous owner, one Israel Meléndez of Miami, found himself bombarded by anti-Semitic spam every time he posted something, and so decided to sell to Israel, which wants to use it to buttress its public image.

All systems are go, so check it out! It’s SFW, now.

After Negotiations, Israel Emerges on Twitter [NYT]

Daybreak: Searching for a Deal on Settlements

Plus which side will fold first, and more in the news

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In Egypt earlier today.(Thaer Ganaim /PPO via Getty Images)

• In Egypt for the second round of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, Secretary of State Clinton said she thought a deal could be reached to extend the West Bank settlement freeze in some fashion and keep the talks going. [NYT]

• But if Prime Minister Netanyahu makes too grand a gesture, he risks his fragile and right-wing coalition. [LAT]

• The chief U.N. nuclear inspector strongly condemned Iran’s treatment of on-the-ground investigators, setting up further conflict. [WSJ]

• Aluf Benn convincingly paints the talks at their current point as a poker game. A pretty high-stakes one, certainly. [Haaretz]

• Nearly all Arab states have failed to fulfill their donor requirements to the Palestinian Authority. [JPost]

• Roger Cohen basically echoes the point (not the headline) of the Time cover story: Peace would be great, but in the meantime, live your ife. [NYT]

Sundown: Deportation Shame

Plus keepsake kippot, and more

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From the 1963 Gollin wedding.(NYT)

• Israel’s former U.N. ambassador protested the planned deportation of 400 children, saying it is “cruel” and a propaganda victory for Israel’s enemies. [Ynet]

• Will Rahm run? He’s not sure! [LAT]

• Who saved the electric car? Maybe the Israeli company Better Place. [Pajamas Media]

• Margarita Korol reports on how secular Jews observe the High Holidays. [Jewcy]

• Old yarmulkes! [NYT]

• Contributing editor Rachel Shukert chats about her new book. [Book Bench]

Israeli Beach Babes. (Oh and I’ve chosen like the SFW-est.)

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