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Houellebecq Wins Goncourt, but the Argument?

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Michel Houellebecq.(Wikipedia)

Yesterday, French novelist Michel Houellebecq won the Prix Goncourt—France’s equivalent of the Pulitzer or National Book Award—for his latest, The Map and the Territory. It was his first Goncourt despite being arguably the most prominent (and certainly the most provocative) living French novelist.

Today in Tablet Magazine, new contributor Barry Gewen reviews Houellebecq’s exchange with another Frenchman who is his equal in prestige (though his superior in self-promotion), the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. The two men’s epistolary jousting turns to the question of whether political action is obligatory, or even anything other than futile:

Houellebecq refuses to be a battler for justice in Lévy’s mold. He wants only to be left alone to selfishly pursue his modest vices. Men are not “morally admirable” creatures, he tells Lévy; they are all too ready to form a mob, to turn themselves into savages for the sake of some cause or movement. Later, Houellebecq will compare mankind to bacteria, an image Lévy rejects as misanthropic and “repugnant,” but Houellebecq has already twisted the knife with a paradox that must have caused Lévy immense pain: “I find it extremely unpleasant that choosing to take the standpoint of selfishness and cowardice may, in the eyes of my contemporaries, make me more likeable than you who advocate heroism; but I know my peers and that’s precisely what will happen.”

War of the Words

Biden’s Brief, Bibi’s Bombast, Simon’s Sermon

What’s cooking in New Orleans

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Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Prime Minister Netanyahu Sunday.(Flickr/PM Netanyahu)

We’re into day three of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in New Orleans—the biggest institutional-Jewish confab of the year. What’s gone on so far?

Vice President Biden, one of the more trusted-by-some administration members (he is certainly more trusted-by-some than the president, anyway) gave a speech of reassurance Sunday: “We are absolutely, unequivocally committed to Israel’s security,” he declared. “Period. Period.” (One more, and we would have had a hockey game.) Then, much like the last time the administration sent Biden to reassure the some by whom it is not trusted, Israel announced new building in East Jerusalem, which the United States promptly condemned (though, don’t worry, Biden is “not taking this personally”). (more…)

Daybreak: More Building Announced

Plus Sharon to be moved home, and more in the news

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Ariel Sharon lighting Hannukah candles, 2005.(Kevin Frayer-Pool/Getty Images)

• Shorty after it was chided by the U.S. for announcing new East Jeruslaem settlement construction, Israel announced even more, and even more controversial, long-in-the-works building in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. [Haaretz]

• Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts), who heads the Foreign Relations Committee, is traveling through the region to reaffirm U.S. support for Lebanese autonomy. [Laura Rozen]

• Lori Berenson, the left-wing activist who had been jailed for two decades in Peru before being released and then briefly jailed again, was released again. [AP/NYT]

• Iran denied that it had failed to cooperate with U.N. nuclear inspectors. [NYT]

• Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be moved from the hospital where he has spent the past five years in a coma to his home. [Ynet]

• Michael Seifert, 86, called the “Butcher of Bolzano” for his deeds at a north Italian concentration camp, died in an Italian prison, where he was serving a life sentence. [NYT]

Sundown: Housing Announcement Shadows Bibi

Plus Cohen on Levin, Judt on NYC, and more

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Prime Minister Netanyahu a week ago.(Jim Hollander - pool/Getty Images)

• In shades of what happened during Vice President Biden’s Israel trip in March, Israel announced the building of 1300 new units in East Jerusalem as Prime Minister Netanyahu prepared to meet with U.S. officials stateside. It was the biggest new building announcement since, well, March. [LAT]

• “My family is not anti-Israel”: An intense profile of the Corries. [NYT]

• On Yiddish and the all-important schm- prefix. [Good]

• Contributing editor Josh Cohen reviews Adam Levin’s The Instructions. Let’s pause to note that I called Levin “the Josh Cohen of the McSweeney’s set” four months ago. [NYT Book Review]

• How the Israeli military successfully integrated openly gay soldiers. [Moment]

• The late Tony Judt on New York City. Must-read. [NYT]

Nextbook Press author David Mamet appears to have written and directed some sort of gonzo, Dada-esque short starring Arianna Huffington. No, but really.

Enter Sage, and the Giants

How our teams fared this weekend

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Ahmad Bradshaw (44) eludes his Seattle pursuers.(Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The big news in the NFL is the Dallas Cowboys’ epic implosion to a record of 1-7 and counting (as well as, relatedly, the reign of goodness and happiness and frolicking little children throughout the land); the definitive return of Michael Vick (dude knocked off Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts yesterday); the fact that, over midway through the season, no one team or two teams have clearly emerged as favorites in either conference (as the New Orleans Saints and Colts were this time last year). But here at Tablet Magazine, the big news in the NFL can be summed up in one word: SAGE.

Yesterday, with the New York Giants up a gob-smacking 41-7 against the Seattle Seahawks—this in Seattle, where Coach Pete Carroll’s squad had actually resembled a real football team up until this point—near the beginning of the fourth quarter, Coach Tom Coughlin put Jewish back-up quarterback Sage Rosenfels in for Eli Manning. Rosenfels proceeded to game-manage the Giants toward a truly startling 13-minute drive, handing the ball off 16 times, mostly to third-stringer Danny Ware, who made the Seahawks look even worse while rushing for 66 yards—in only one drive!—and several first downs. Rosenfels’s final statistical line reads: Three rushes for a loss of three yards (which is to say, he knelt three times to burn clock in Seattle’s red zone, which was the classy move). Final score: 41-7. Hey, Coach Coughlin: Next time, let Sage throw a pass! (more…)

You Are What You Ate

Your Vox Tablet preview

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(Eric Molinsky)

Gil Marks is a rabbi, a chef, a food historian, and an award-winning cookbook writer, all of which came in handy in the writing of his new book, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. It’s a vast tome, with more than 650 entries, 300 recipes, and tons of trivia to impress your friends with. For instance, did you know that references to cucumber in the Bible (Numbers 11:5) are a mistranslation, and should probably read “chate melons”? For more, you’ll have to listen to tomorrow’s podcast. Til then, we leave you with this tidbit, pertaining to a rare North African delicacy:

“Stay Jewish”

What is your favored salutation?

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Tony Soprano, staying Jewish.(Wikipedia)

A New York Times article on email etiquette apprises us of the Internet habit of David Hirshey, an executive at HarperCollins: He “tends to close his e-mails with the words ‘Stay Jewish’—‘though mostly with friends who are Gentiles,’ he added. ‘I find it works best when the person’s last name is something like O’Hara or Soprano.’”

Who has alternatives?

“Good Davening,” perhaps?

“Keep it Semitic”?

When ‘Best’ Isn’t Good Enough [NYT]

Steinsaltz Brings Talmud to the Masses

But do we deserve it?

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How was your weekend? Maybe you caught a movie—or finally finished that novel on your nightstand, that’d be nice. Look, let’s be honest though, whatever you did was embarrassing compared to Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who this Sunday, after forty five years, completed his 45 volume translation and commentary of the Talmud.

Steinsaltz’s work is one of the great egalitarian projects of modern Judaism, which of course only rubs in the fact that he is so much better than you. Born of secular socialist parents in Jerusalem, he studied physics and mathematics along with his rabbinical studies. He designed a word processor for his work. He’s written over sixty books, hundreds of articles, been compared to Rashi and Maimonides and called “a mind of the millennia.” He’s funny. He has fifteen grandchildren. Much like Hillel, he once beat up Chuck Norris while standing on one leg.

And what now for the Rabbi? He says, “I have plans for the next 70-odd years.” So. What are you doing this weekend?

You can watch the Rabbi translate the final words here:

Does Bloomberg Think Obama Is ‘Arrogant’?

More important, should we care?

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Mayor Bloomberg last month.(Neilson Barnard/Getty Images)

Late Friday, it broke that Rupert Murdoch told an Australian publication (interestingly, one he does not own) that Michael Bloomberg had told Murdoch that he found President Obama the most “arrogant” man he had ever met. The reason we care, of course, is that some in Bloomberg’s circle want the Jewish New York City mayor to run for president (a new New Yorker piece reports he might be willing to spend between $1 to $3 billion of his own money on a campaign; for what it’s worth, Ross Perot’s son-in-law thinks it maybe a good idea. A Bloomberg candidacy in turn could very well be how one former Alaska governor finds herself in the White House. (Saleswoman’s gotta dream!)

An amusing sidenote concerns exactly how Murdoch quoted Hizzoner: According to Murdoch, Bloomberg said, “I never met in my life such an arrogant man.” And I never met in my life an Aussie media baron with such an ear for a Yiddish-inflected manner of speaking!

Murdoch: Mayor Bloomber Called President Obama the Most ‘Arrogant’ Man He Ever Met [ABC News]
Bloomberg, 2012? [The New Yorker]
Earlier: How Bloomberg Could Make Palin President
Bloomberg for President?

Today on Tablet

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Judith Matloff profiles architect Richard Meier, who after a long career is designing increasingly with reference to his Jewish heritage. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall praises Hush, a new young-adult novel that addresses pedophilia among the Hasidim. Josh Lambert has his weekly round-up of forthcoming books of note. The Scroll looks forward to a return to post-week-of-Election-Day normalcy.

U.N. Indictments Threaten Mideast Chaos

But urgency on Iran cuts both ways

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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month.(Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

What will spark the Iranian powder keg? Perhaps Israeli and/or American military action: Prime Minister Netanayahu was reportedly planning to tell Vice President Biden that only a credible military campaign will head off Iran’s nuclear weapons program. (The American response? Sanctions are working and enough.) It could be frustration with continued obfuscation on talks: After seemingly agreeing to finally sit down with the West, the Islamic Republic is now proposing talks in Turkey, which smacks of Iran, Turkey, and Brazil’s earlier proposal to strike a deal wherein Turkey, rather than Russia, facilitates a nuclear fuel swap (a deal opposed by AIPAC and J Street alike); it is also a provocation to Turkey’s ally-turned-rival Israel.

My bet, however, is that the most dangerous moment we have yet seen will come next month, when the United Nations tribunal investigating the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is expected to indict several members of Hezbollah, Iran’s chief Lebanese proxy. If/when that happens, Hezbollah may attempt what amounts to a coup (although given how much power it already has, perhaps that is too strong a word). “Washington has organized a coalition, including Russia, to support the tribunal’s work,” reports Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “If indictments are issued, Hezbollah may move to topple the Lebanese government—creating a new showdown. How the United States and Israel would respond isn’t clear, but their options would be limited.” It is plausible to see Israel dragged into this showdown and then Iran, too.

So is there also cause for optimism? (more…)

Daybreak: Talmud for all

Plus Israel to withdraw from Ghajar, and more in the news

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• After 45 years of work, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz completed his translation and commentary on all 45 volumes of the Talmud. More on this later today. [JPost]

• Vice President Biden gave a speech yesterday at the Federations of North American’s General Assembly in New Orleans saying there is no daylight between Israel and the US. [Haaretz]

• Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Biden a very public private message that the sanctions will fail without a credible US military threat. [Haaretz]

• Speaking of which, Senator Lindsey Graham suggested at a security panel that if it comes to it, a US attack would not “just neutralize their nuclear program, but… neuter that regime.” [Digital Journal]

• Israel launched two airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. [JTA]

• Prime Minster Netanyahu will present UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a plan today to unilaterally withdraw from the northern part of the village of Ghajar, says Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. [JPost]

Sundown: Olmert Asked Bush to Bomb Reactor

Plus is Israel really a liberal’s paradise? and more

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Remember him?(Bob Levey/Getty Images)

• Former President George W. Bush discloses that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked the Americans to bomb what was probably a Syrian nuclear reactor, which Israel (probably) ended up doing in 2007. Bush said no. [Ynet]

• A response to my post about Israel as “a liberal’s paradise.” For the record, I was attempting to be tongue-in-cheek; also for the record, these are still valid points. [972 Mag]

• The Anti-Defamation League called on the chief rabbi of Safed to reverse a ban on Jews renting to Arabs. [JTA]

• George Soros’s fund has bought a five percent stake in a leading manufacturer of female condoms. Leave J Street puns in the comments. [Daily Intel]

• People of Houston! Our very own Alana Newhouse and Liel Leibovitz are participating in your Jewish Book Fair on Sunday! [Houston JCC]

• Friend-of-The-Scroll Rabbi Andy Bachman has a new column, “The East Bank.” Here’s the inaugural one. [NY Jewish Week]

Harvey Fierstein, Broadway’s most recent Tevye, reflects on Fiddler on the Roof following the deaths of Jerry Bock and Joseph Stein. Below: My favorite Tevye, Zero Mostel, imprecates the Lord about his wealth.

Not Nazis, But Not Perfect

Italy’s Jews suffered a more complex fate

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My father—like many American Jews, an avid amateur Italophile—loves to point out that, despite being Germany’s first and arguably most important ally during World War Two, Fascist Italy did not go along with Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy, and not a single Italian Jew was shipped off to bad places until after the Germans essentially took over in 1943.

Well, sorry dad. The latter part of that is true. But a steady stream of new revelations have shown that Italy did indeed enact plenty of anti-Jewish policies. In Italy in 1938, Jewish children were forbidden from attending school; Jewish professors were banned from universities; Jewish bankers were banned from plying their trade; Jewish soldiers were banned from serving. There was much dispossession besides. (more…)

Houdini’s Yahrzeit

Honoring the magician with a wand and a prayer

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The wand-breaking ceremony yesterday in Queens.(Julian Voloj)

Rachel Shteir’s essay on Houdini today is pegged to a new exhibit at the Jewish Museum. But its timing is propitious: Houdini, who died on Halloween (no, really), was buried 84 years ago yesterday, and, this year, his yahrzeit happened to fall yesterday as well. Which meant that, yesterday, a group of Jewish-magician admirers observed the great man’s death in their distinctive annual way. Participant Julian Voloj emails:

When a member of the Society of American Magicians dies, his fellow magicians perform a “Broken Wand” ceremony at his funeral. “When a magician becomes a member of the society, he is given a wand, a magic wand,” explains George Schindler, Dean of the Society. “Without the magician the wand is useless.” (more…)

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