‘Burnt Books’ Drops Today

Kamenetz’s, and Nextbook Press’s, latest


Rodger Kamenetz is a unique dude. His The Jew in the Lotus is a cult favorite about, as its title perhaps implies, his rediscovery of certain aspects of Judaism through the lens of Buddhism. And his newest book, Burnt Books, which drops today from Nextbook Press, is similarly out-there: It is about the parallel personal quests of Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, a great 18th-century Hasidic rabbi, and Franz Kafka, the ultimate symbol of 20th-century alienation; and it is also about the personal quest these two figures sent Kamenetz on, as he hinted in this God & Co. video, and as he discussed in yesterday’s Vox Tablet podcast.

“Rabbi Nachman burned his writing in front of his followers’ eyes to teach a lesson,” Kamenetz wrote last month, on the occasion of the Florida pastor’s threat to burn a Koran. “The ultimate Torah is not a physical object, but a holy manifestation of the ineffable. To draw the primordial Torah down into letters and words is a supreme feat all in itself. Even if no one ever reads it.” Want more? Then check out the book.

Below the jump: Watch Kamenetz’s mishnah on his new work. (more…)

So Esther, of ‘ANTM,’ Is Observing After All

Modern Orthodox contestant keeps Shabbat, says mom

Esther Petrack.(The CW)

Not even modeltestants work seven days a week. Marina Petrack, mother to America’s Next Top Model’s Modern Orthodox Jew, Esther, has announced “The fateful words ‘I will do it’ in an answer to the question about working on Shabbat were the result of editing,” she wrote. “Esther never meant or said that she would give up Shabbat for the show, neither did she do it. These words were taken from a long conversation about the principles and laws of Shabbat and how Esther was planning to observe them. The producers cut out these 4 words to create a more scandalous storyline; judging from the amount of reaction, they were quite successful!”

Marina goes on to say that she had hoped that Jewish viewers would give her daughter the benefit of the doubt. Since when have people watching reality television given anyone the benefit of the doubt? These types of shows are about not giving people the benefit of the doubt! (more…)

A Very New Window in a Very Old Shul

The Museum at Eldridge Street’s welcome makeover

Smith (L), Gans, and their new window.(Kate Milford/Museum at Eldridge Street, Via Associated Press/Arts Beat)

There was tension among the Museum at Eldridge Street board members over the Window Problem. In 1944, the original window blew out in a storm. The congregation was in decline by then, after the waves of Eastern European Jewish immigration had ended but before the Lower East Side had become hipster central. (Adam Kirsch reviewed a book about the Eldridge Street Synagogue, whose building, built in 1887 and designated a National Historic Landmark, is now the museum.) The shul couldn’t afford a new stained-glass window, so it was replaced with four columns of glass bricks, which resembled the demon-spawn of an ’80s shower stall and a AA battery. The original window had apparently been beautiful, but no pictures of it existed. The board wrestled with the question: Should they retain the hideous blocks, as a memory of a sad time in the building’s history? Or should they try to recreate what the old window might have looked like? Or, finally, should they embark on something bold, contemporary, and new?

After much arguing, the board went with bold, contemporary, and new. Excellent choice. The new window, designed by artist Kiki Smith and architect Deborah Gans, was unveiled last Wednesday, concluding the decades-long, $18.5 million restoration of the building, to which more than 20,000 donors contributed. The window is a painterly swirl of turquoise and gold: Tiny stars spiraling around a glowing Star of David. (more…)

Bibi Moderates on Loyalty Oath

New bill would require pledge of Jews, too

Prime Minister Netanyahu.(Lior Mizrahi-Pool/Getty Images)

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who previously backed an amendment to Israel’s Citizenship Law that would have required non-Jewish prospective immigrants to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic state,” has now—after the cabinet already passed the prior version, which is favored by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party—submitted an amendment that would require the so-called “loyalty oath” of all prospective immigrants, including Jews. If those on the left are not fully satisfied with the change, they ought nonetheless appreciate its less illiberal nature.

Some, such as Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz (who yesterday polemicized against the oath) and the protestors who thronged Tel Aviv’s streets this past weekend will still say any oath at all is too much. And others, including Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith, will argue the oath is unremarkable, and restricting it to non-Jews follows the established, broadly observed principle of jus sanguinis. Actually, the group that most prominently advocated the compromise that Bibi has now adopted is the Anti-Defamation League, whose director, Abraham Foxman, met with Netanyahu yesterday in Israel.

But enough of the substance—what about the politics? When Netanyahu first backed the hardline version of the oath, I (and many others) guessed it was an effort to buy credibility with the right in order to extend the settlement freeze. It’s nearly two weeks later, though, and Netanyahu was able to do no more than futilely offer an extension in exchange for Palestinian recognition of Israel’s Jewish character. So: Is Bibi’s newfound willingness to make the oath more moderate a sign that bargaining with it is not worthwhile, because the extension is, officially, a lost cause?

Netanyahu Orders Change in Loyalty Oath To Include Jews [JPost]
Related: Under Oath
Earlier: What Did You Do in the Loyalty Oath War?
Bibi Floats Oath Quid for Freeze Quo

Today on Tablet

Taking a stand on the Armenian genocide, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Peter Balakian argues that Israel’s new enmity with Turkey makes this a good time for it to reconsider its official stance on the Armenian genocide, which has largely been to go along with Turkey’s strident denials. Books critic Adam Kirsch digs into Robert Alter’s new translation of the Books of Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. Menachem Kaiser reports on American Jews’ efforts to bring authentic bagels back to Vilnius. The Scroll could use a translation of Ecclesiastes that is actually readable.

Be Glad the ‘Mad Men’ Season Is Over!

Maybe we need some time apart from Don

From left: Dr. Faye Miller, Megan, Don Draper.(AMC)

The breathlessly anticipated Mad Men Season Four finale-extravaganza has finally aired, and as soon as America’s equally breathless postmortem has finished (“Seriously? Megan?” “I LOVE KEN COSGROVE,” “Betty Draper is another Hitler”), our nine-month period of national mourning will commence, until that stifling August night when the newborn Season Five emerges from Matthew Weiner’s ever-fertile, meticulously vintage-sourced womb. While this period of silent gestation may indeed be bleak, forcing us to focus our lonely, hungover Sunday nights on nothing more compelling than Boardwalk Empire, let’s try to look on the bright side: There are also a few very good reasons to be thankful for our collective leave of absence from the firm of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.

1. A Break From Don Breaking Up With Smart Awesome Jewesses. I hate to get all Hubbell/Katie on this; I’m not Carrie Bradshaw. But the demises of Rachel Mencken (although that was really her decision) and Bobbie Barrett were hard enough. Now with the fall of the lovely Dr. Faye Miller, I’m feeling a little dejected. Do we always have to lose out to the uncomplicated shikses, even if the prize is a workaholic, alcoholic, deception-prone, serial womanizer? Can’t a nice Jewish girl get a break? (more…)

Daybreak: The Salvage Job

Plus Hamas may have anti-aircraft missiles, and more in the news

Tony Blair meets with President Abbas earlier today.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

• U.S. diplomats are frantically trying to put together a compromise that would allow President Abbas to re-enter the direct talks. [JPost]

• In a turnabout, Prime Minister Netanyahu now advocates a version of the loyalty oath bill that would require all prospective immigrants, including Jews, to pledge allegiance to a “Jewish and democratic” state. [JPost]

• Netanyahu alleged that Hamas in Gaza has anti-aircraft weapons, which if true would change the current dynamic wherein the Israeli Air Force can lauch strikes with abandon if it chooses. [AP/NYT]

• The Israeli demand for recognition of its Jewishness stems from its fear of the growth of its Arab minority. [LAT]

• A suspect in the Dubai assassination of Hamas weapons man Mahmoud al-Mabhouh was arrested in Canada. We don’t know more, making this seem vaguely like your girlfriend who lives in Canada. [JTA]

• A further appreciation of the late human rights law professor Louis Henkin. [NYT]

Sundown: Bronx Bomb Plotters Convicted

Plus the real problem with J Street, and more


• The four men accused of planning to plant bombs at Bronx synagogues were convicted. [NYT]

• Walter Russell Mead argues the problem with J Street isn’t whose money it took but its flawed view of who controls what happens in Israel. [American Interest]

• Nearly all American Jews believe a future Palestinian state should be required to recognize Israel’s Jewishness, according to the new AJC poll. [Rosner’s Domain]

• Christopher Hitchens traces and bemoans Hezbollah’s rise to prime player in contemporary Lebanese politics and life. [Slate]

• The kippah you bought in Jerusalem may have been made by West Bank Palestinians. [JTA]

• Tony Kushner, public intellectual. [NY Mag]

Last night, Lesley Stahl reported on the politically charged archaeological site at Silwan, an Arab neighborhood near Jerusalem.

Just Win, Baby

How our teams fared yesterday

Redskins running back Ryan Torain scores.(Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In baseball’s 162-game season, close games leave one feeling ambiguously, no matter the result: You got lucky this time, but be careful next time; you got unlucky this time, but you’ll get ‘em next time. In football’s 16-game season, though, that is not the proper response: You must be happy with a win and sad about a loss, no matter how close each was. And you must draw broader lessons, because winning close games is something of its own skill—chiefly, it’s about minimizing your own mistakes and exploiting your opponents’ (and your opponent will always make mistakes). And winning close games just may be the most important skill in the NFL.

Which is why the Washington Redskins’ 27-24 loss last night, at home, to the Indianapolis Colts is more of a sucker punch than it should first appear. Sure, the loss was to the great Peyton Manning and his Colts, who are assuredly one of the best teams in the League—through Week 6, it seems clear that all the best teams are in the AFC—who already demolished NFC East rivals the New York Giants and will do the same to the Dallas Cowboys (surely) and the Philadelphia Eagles (likely). (more…)

What Did You Do in the Loyalty Oath War?

In defense of Mike Leigh and other boycotters

Mike Leigh.(Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

When famed British-Jewish filmmaker Mike Leigh canceled his visit to Israel this weekend in protest of the loyalty oath legislation and other “policies,” the consensus among the Jewish state’s cultural illuminati was that Leigh was punishing the wrong guys. “The students, teachers, artists and various professionals from these institutions who are waiting to hear you are not the elected government of Israel, nor are they responsible for its policies,” wrote the director of the Jerusalem film school where Leigh was supposed to speak. “By this boycott that you are effectively imposing in canceling the visit, you are creating an association between the cultural-artistic genre and the policies of the government and the military.”

As I’ll go on to explain, all that is debatable. But either way, Leigh is in fact sending exactly the right message to exactly the right audience. (more…)

Israeli Gymnasts on the World Stage

Tomorrow, a Nittany Lion goes for gold

Noam Shaham.(Courtesy the gymnast)

I first became aware of Israeli gymnasts when I received a subscription to International Gymnast as a bat mitzvah present. I had been involved in the sport for four years, and as I scanned down the competition results from the 1994 World Championships in Brisbane, Australia, I was surprised by the presence of one nationality shorthand: “ISR”. The gymnast’s name adjacent to it was Michal Shahaf. From then on, every time a new issue arrived, I’d look for that ISR, hoping that it wasn’t too far down the rankings. (For the record, Shahaf had some remarkable international results during her short career, including fifth place all-around and first place vault finishes at the 1993 Junior European Championships.)

Fast forward to 2009, when it wasn’t necessary to scan down to the bottom of the standings to find an ISR. Alexander Shatilov, 23, a native of Uzbekistan who immigrated to Israel in 2002, won third place in the World Championships floor exercise for the first Israeli Worlds medal in gymastics. In addition to the lanky Shatilov (he is six feet tall, defying both Jewish and gymnast height odds), who has been a mainstay in the floor exercises top eight since 2006, several Israeli gymnasts have competed for the upper echelon of NCAA gymnastics teams in the United States. One of those NCAA gymnasts is Noam Shaham, 25. (more…)

How To Lose Jews and Not Influence Them

Although it’s too late for Carl Paladino

New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino.(Carl Paladino on Facebook)

Every New York City and state political candidate should (and probably will) read these five rules (via Ben Smith) for campaigning in ultra-Orthodox communities, and follow them, er, religiously. They are insightful, wry (“Boro Parkers are NOT amish. Everything you say WILL be recorded”), and dead-on. Paladino, the Tea Party-backed New York Republican gubernatorial candidate, saw an opportunity to win the votes of Brooklyn’s heavily observant Jews, who hold conservative views on social issues like abortion and gay marriage but are heavily backing Democratic nominee Andrew Cuomo. This philosophy was shared by Rabbi Yehuda Levin, the small-time politically conservative pseudo-Hasid who served as Paladino’s ambassador to the community before summarily de-endorsing him last week for apologizing for saying mean things about gay people. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Our Kurdish brothers, making ‘It Gets Better’ better, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, James Kirchick observes the parallels between the Jews and the Kurds, which have been reinforced by Israel’s recent enmity with Turkey. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall argues that anti-bullying projects such as the “It Gets Better” campaign, aimed at queer youth, are ineffective, and the real strategy needs focus on bullying prevention. On the Vox Tablet podcast, Rodger Kamenetz kibbitzes, in his inimitable way, about his new Nextbook Press work Burnt Books. Josh Lambert offers his usual round-up of forthcoming books of interest. The Scroll is honorarily Kurdish today.

Talking Turkey

Inside the West’s once-ally

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan earlier this month.(David Gannon/AFP/Getty Images)

In fewer than two years, Turkey has gone from America’s favorite example of a tolerant Muslim democracy and Israel’s closest Muslim ally to criminalizing dissent, arresting its domestic political opponents, and cozying up to Iran. The government led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a mockery of the country’s judicial system while continuing to fight a brutal war against the indigenous Kurdish population and denying the Armenian genocide. In this last crime, many of the most prominent groups representing American Jewry have been complicit. This week, Tablet Magazine explores the fate of minority groups inside Turkey, in the hope of illuminating a country that policymakers in both the United States and Israel—and American Jews—appear to have badly misunderstood.

Outside its territory, Turkey has given aid and cover to Iran’s nuclear ambitions while trying to assert its leadership over some of the most radical forces in the Middle East. Turkey launched a series of salvos at Israel, beginning with Erdogan’s furious verbal assault on Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos and culminating in the Gaza flotilla martyrdom mission of the Mavi Marmara, which was planned and staffed by the IHH, a Turkish fundamentalist organization with close ties to Erdogan’s government. Meanwhile, the question of who “lost Turkey” has become a political football between the United States and Europe—with Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently blaming the E.U.—and has disrupted President Barack Obama’s hopes of constructing a pro-American security architecture to follow the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. (more…)

Daybreak: Schalit Issue Broached Again

Plus ‘Free Pollard’ movement gains official steam, and more in the news

From a pro-Schalit rally in June.(Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

• Israel has re-engaged the German mediator on the topic of freeing Gilad Schalit. [NYT]

• Talks have also initiated, at least among high-level Israelis, over how to free convicted spy Jonathan Pollard from the United States. [JPost]

• The Leviathan prospect, thought to be a major natural gas field off Israel’s northern coast, is about to be drilled. [WSJ]

• As it struggles for traction against the ruling, Islamist AKP, Turkey’s staunchly secularist opposition party revamped its platform, including calling for closer ties with Israel. [WSJ]

• Secretary of State Kissinger felt limited by Vietnam in how much support he could offer Israel during the Yom Kippur War, new documents show. [Haaretz]

• Novelist Belva Plain, famous for multigenerational epics about Jewish-Americans, died at 95. [NYT]

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