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Noam Chomsky, A Simple Farmer

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“Religion is based on the idea that God is an imbecile.” That is one of the many things that Noam Chomsky, the legendary left-wing linguist, academic, political thinker, and activist, has to say in his interview with contributing editor David Samuels today in Tablet Magazine. Chomsky, 81, narrates his childhood attending Philadelphia’s most elite Sephardic synagogue in a thoroughly cultural-Zionist milieu; explains how his revolutionary theory of generative grammar emerged from his study of Hebrew and Arabic; and offers his opinions on various facets of international affairs, including Israel’s crimes and the United States’s complicity in them.

Mostly what emerges is a still-fiery intellectual, ridiculously smart, whose feeling of obligation is powerful, yet also, at points, tempered by an unexpected sense of resigned, ironic self-awareness. (more…)

Rolling Stoned

Can you tell the difference between Keith and George?

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(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Two icons have just published autobiographies of great interest to Jewish readers. The first is the story of a rock star supplied with wholesale amounts of cocaine by a Yiddish-accented Holocaust survivor. The second is the story of a president who turned in his bourbon for chummy chats with Ehud Olmert. Keith Richards’s Life is 576 pages; George W. Bush’s Decision Points is 512. Rather than make you read both (or either), instead play our quiz: Can you guess which is from which? Answers after the jump.

1. “Charlie decided we needed more alcohol to enjoy the experience fully. To our amazement, he was able to convince a stagehand that Willie Nelson needed some beer. The guy dutifully went out and bought the beer with Charlie’s money. Charlie left one case for Willie and snuck one back to us. We hunched over in our seats and drank like thirst-ravaged wanderers.”

2. “I underwent medical tests to prove that I was drug free. … Then Nixon resigned.”

3. “You don’t realize what a weird place you’re growing up in.”

4. “We lived in a tiny apartment and shared a bathroom with—depending on whom you ask—either one or two prostitutes.”

5. “If you are going to f— me, you better give me a kiss first.”

6. “This little bearded Jewish gnome who would sit naked out in the garden and sort of spew down at people who drove by. He was going through his naturist stage, which was a bit terrifying for Long Island.”

7. “I went on racking my memory for a single dry day over the past few weeks; then the past month; then longer. I could not remember one. Drinking had become a habit. I have a habitual personality.”

8. “I can’t remember any sense of fear or apprehension about quitting. It was just, this is what has to be done, and it has to be done now.”

9. “I knew what she was thinking. I had talked about quitting before, and nothing had come of it. What she didn’t know was that this time I had changed on the inside—and that would enable me to change my behavior forever.”

10. “‘Are my testicles black?’”

(more…)

On Strike

Is organized labor protest divinely ordained?

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(Len Small/Tablet Magazine)

Israelispeak is the way Israelis and the Israeli media use Hebrew. Behind the literal meaning, there’s an additional web of suggestion, doublespeak, and cultural innuendo that too often gets lost in translation. Every Friday, we reveal what is really being said.

The details of labor negotiations may make for tedious reading, but talks between the Finance Ministry and the Histadrut labor federation, the national umbrella organization for Israel’s unions, were all over the newspapers recently as Israel braced for a massive public-sector strike, or shvita. It’s exactly the sort of thing that sends shudders through anyone who might need to renew a passport or driver’s license, receive a shipment of goods from overseas, fly out of the country, or just take the train to work. Fortunately, the union and treasury folks were able to resolve their differences without grinding the country to a halt.

But now there’s a different strike threat on the horizon: Israeli farmers have announced they plan to stop putting fresh produce on the market later this month because the government has not let in all of the 26,000 foreign laborers (mostly from Thailand) the farmers say they have been granted permission to hire. (more…)

Daybreak: What Did They Do For Seven Hours?

Plus Hezbollah resists U.N. tribunal, and more in the news

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Secretary of State Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu, yesterday.(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

• Secretary of State Clinton called Prime Minister Netanyahu for 45 minutes in March. Yesterday, she met with him for 7 hours in New York. In February, they’re going to the Caribbean for the weekend. Still no progress on peace talks, though. [WP]

• Hezbollah pledged not to permit members to be arrested over the U.N. tribunal investigating Rafik Hariri’s assassination. [NYT]

• The Army of Islam group is seeking to kidnap Israelis in the Sinai Peninsula. [Arutz Sheva]

• The Times picks up the Glenn Beck story, demonstrating perhaps the power Abraham Foxman has to make an issue bigger. [NYT]

• The European Union proposed December 5 for the first meeting over Iran’s nuclear weapons program in more than a year. [Reuters/Haaretz]

• Great, moving, sad piece about boxing promoter Bob Arum and his son, who recently died while hiking in the Northwest. Also describes Muhammad Ali coming for Shabbat dinner. [NYT]

Sundown: Cantor Announces for Team Bibi

Plus talk borders, not settlements, and more

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Rep. Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia.(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

• Soon-to-be House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he would basically unquestioningly side with him against the president of his own country. [Capital J]

• A children’s treasury of people condemning Glenn Beck. [JTA]

• Why the fruitful conversation to have is not one about settlements but one about borders. [Goldblog]

• Holy cow did a lot of people die in Eastern Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s! (And not only Jews. But a lot of Jews.) [NYO]

• The Other Israel Film Festival opens tonight in New York. [Other Israel]

• Margarita Korol on what you missed if you weren’t in NOLA at the beginning of this week. [Jewcy]

You’ll either think this is funny or you won’t. I think it’s really, really funny.

‘Imagining Heschel’ In the Wrong Places

An evening with the great rabbi and his daughter

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Richard Dreyfuss as Abraham Joshua Heschel.(Imagining Heschel)

Last night, I attended a staged reading of a new play called Imagining Heschel with my friend Susannah Heschel, the Eli Black Professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth as well as Rabbi Abraham Joshua’s only child. Richard Dreyfuss played Heschel, the great theologian, and as I watched his performance, I asked myself what was going through Susannah’s mind. (Also, it had to be terrifically difficult even for a fine and seasoned actor like Dreyfuss to know Susannah was in the audience.) Heschel has been dead for 38 years; Susannah adored him and he her. What does she even remember, after so much time? Would he come alive in this performance?

I never met her father, but I have seen videotapes of him many times and studied them closely. I noticed that Dreyfuss frequently punctuated utterances with a “Ja?” which I gather Heschel did, because I know Susannah does it. A couple of other things seemed right: An inflection here, a hand gesture there. (more…)

Meet Michelle Goldberg

Author of our newest column, The Diasporist

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Michelle Goldberg.(Michelle Goldberg.net)

Tablet Magazine’s newest columnist is Michelle Goldberg, and her column, The Diasporist, will find her reporting on the fringes of Judaism—religion and culture—around the country and around the world. Her first, for example, examines Argentina’s obsession with Freudian psychoanalysis. I called her up this morning to learn more about what she has in mind.

So what is The Diasporist going to be?
I’ve been writing for a long time about the intersection between religion and ideology. I also travel pretty compulsively. So I imagine the column combining those two things. It’s a chance to bring a Jewish lens to many corners of the world. The thing about the diaspora is it means that it’s possible to see the whole world through a Jewish lens.

I see The Diasporist as also being a reference to Operation Shylock. It’s one of my favorite Philip Roth novels, and it employs this really surreal device to get at what seems to be the author’s ambivalence about Zionism, and his suspicion that the best of Jewish culture really lies in the diaspora. What appeals to me about it is, inasmuch as I identify strongly as a Jew, it’s with the culture of my forefathers: Freud, Walter Benjamin, Trotsky—not politically, but as the Jewish culture that I like to claim as my heritage. (more…)

How The Holocaust Funds Were Bilked

Eligible recipients paid fees to alleged fraudsters

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Bella Freytor, 58.(NYT)

The New York Times heads to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, a Russian Jewish enclave, to talk to a few of the Holocaust survivors who unwittingly participated in the alleged conspiracy to defraud two Germany-sponsored reparations funds of over $42 million. Bella Freytor, whose parents were survivors, was approached by Tatyana Grinman, who told Freytor to fill out an application for $4000, keep $1000, and pay Grinman—who has since been arrested along with her husband and 15 others—$3000 as a fee. (more…)

Politicizing Einstein

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Today in Tablet Magazine, physicist Paul Fishbane explains how conservatives today have used liberals’ misapplication of Einstein’s theories of relativity to revive Nazi-era critiques of “Jewish Physics.”

Foxman Calls Beck’s Comments ‘Horrific’

‘He doesn’t understand what the Shoah was all about’

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Abraham Foxman.(Life)

Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, stopped short of calling Glenn Beck an anti-Semite, but told me that his comments (see here and here) regarding George Soros’s role in the Holocaust as a young boy were “horrific, over-the-top, and out-of-line.” Foxman—who was born in 1940 in Poland, and saved by a Polish nanny who baptized him and raised him as a Catholic to protect him—pointed to Beck’s statement, made yesterday on his radio show, that Soros “help[ed] send the Jews to the death camps.” “I think he doesn’t understand what the Shoah was all about,” Foxman said.

I reached Foxman this morning by phone. “I think one can disagree with George Soros, one can like him or dislike him, one can be opposed to him,” he told me. “But to judge him on his role during the Holocaust is not only offensive, but horrific, over-the-top, and out-of-line. Not even Holocaust survivors have the audacity to judge other Jews during the Holocaust. For a political commentator and entertainer to go as far as to say, quote, Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the camps, is so over-the-top, so inexcusable.” (more…)

Weighty House

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry reviews Nicole Krauss’ new bok, Great House. Like Krauss’ previous ones, it is a Great Big Novel of 20th-century Jewry, in a very appealing way. Less appealing, according to Ivry, is its unrelenting focus on hopelessness:

Great House, regrettably, lacks lightness, and the omission of any such breath is tough to endure. Characters’ monologue-like testimonies are engrossing, certainly, and full of pathos. The cast is passionate, but their emotions rarely stretch anywhere near exuberance, as if even the briefest display of something unrelated to despair would keep this from being a serious novel. Instead, Great House is sometimes strained by its seriousness … .


Heavy Lifting

Beck Accused of ‘Holocaust Revisionism’

Also, he said George Soros ‘sucks the blood from people’

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Glenn Beck in August, during his rally on the Mall. Presumably waving.(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Glenn Beck’s segment on George Soros two nights ago—in which he alleged that the Jewish financier was a “puppet master” orchestrating a conspiracy to cripple currencies, crash economies, and bring the world under one government—may have seemed a blatant enough articulation of almost parodically classical anti-Semitism to get people in a guff. But apparently Beck does this sort of thing all the time, and the story did not get wide play. (Although new Tablet Magazine columnist Michelle Goldberg did rail against it, calling the program the “Protocols of the Elders of Soros”).

However, yesterday, on his radio show and then his second Soros segment, Beck must have tripped some wires, because prominent folks have come forth with condemnations, and I’d bet more are on the way. On radio, Beck reportedly accused Soros (a Holocaust survivor) of “helping send the Jews to the death camps,” prompting Simon Greer, of Jewish Funds for Justice (who has butted heads with Beck before), to accuse him of “Holocaust revisionism.”

Then, on Fox News, Beck quoted former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad—who famously said, “The Jews rule the world by proxy. They invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong”—as an authority on Soros’s perfidy; he also quoted someone else saying that Soros “sucks the blood from people,” perhaps the most hardy anti-Semitic trope (the German word is Blutsauger, and it was a favorite of Viennese mayor Karl Lueger, Hitler’s idol).

“It takes a cold, cold heart,” Beck also said of Soros, “to have full knowledge that what you are doing, to make a buck, is literally destroying the lives of people.” (more…)

Daybreak: Fatah and Hamas Fail on Accord

Plus Egypt and Israel cooperate to kill terrorist, and more in the news

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Happy Veterans Day.(Wikipedia)

• Hamas and Fatah, meeting in Damascus, said they could not overcome disagreements over security (Fatah will not share it in the West Bank) and had not succeeded at their own version of peace talks. [JPost]

• As for the other peace talks, the Obama administration is working frantically to try to revive them. [NYT]

• According to Scotland Yard, at least one of the bombs addressed to a Chicago-area synagogue would have blown up inflight over the American East Coast. [LAT]

• Egypt cooperated with Israel’s assassination of a terrorist in Gaza who was planning an attack on U.S. interests in the Sinai Peninsula. [Time]

• A Brooklyn rabbi was convicted yesterday of trying to extort $4 million from a Jewish-run hedge fund. [NY Post]

• The United States blocked Iran’s effort to get a seat on the board of a new U.N. group dedicated to gender equality. Our stomachs are grateful. [NYT]

Today is Veterans Day. Go hug a veteran.

Sundown: Clinton Criticizes Building

Plus the incredible, inedible foreskin, and more

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Secretary of State Clinton today.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

• Secretary of State Clinton, set to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu tomorrow, said new Israeli building in East Jerusalem is counterproductive.[JTA]

• A former top IDF commander revealed that Hezbollah refused Hamas’s request to launch missiles at Israel during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict. [Haaretz]

• Don’t throw away that foreskin! [The Stir]

• I want to read about Jewish Gen. Victor Krulak and drink his “Fish House Punch.” [NYT]

• Thanksgiving turkeys with the most authentic Southern street cred come from a place called … Greenberg Smoked Turkey. Of course. [NYT]

• Rahm Emanuel will probably be the next mayor of Chicago. [Chicago Business]

The trailer for the much-anticipated Turkish film Valley of the Wolves: Palestine, which concerns the flotilla, has dropped. If you are into Hamas, you will be into this.

Shyne On You Crazy Diamond

Words of wisdom from the Orthodox Israeli rapper

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Shyne.(NYTl)

Herewith, the five best quotes from Shyne, the gangsta rapper turned friend of Puff Daddy’s turned convict (he served nine years for opening fire in a nightclub) turned Orthodox Jewish Israeli hip-hop artist, whom Tablet Magazine contributor Dina Kraft profiled in the New York Times today:

5. “What I do get is boundaries. Definition and form. And that is what Shabbat is. You can’t just do whatever you want to do. You have to set limits for yourself.”

4. “That’s the past, I got so much going on. We move on.”

3. “What are the laws? I want to know the laws. I don’t want to know the leniencies. I never look for the leniencies because of all of the terrible things I’ve done.”

2. “My entire life screams that I have a Jewish neshama.”

1. “There’s nothing in the Chumash that says I can’t drive a Lamborghini

Shyne Finds Order in Orthodox Judaism in Israel [NYT]

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