Unhealthy Bullying

This week on ‘America’s Next Top Model’

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 …

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

ADL Targets Casspi Graffiti Artist

Future swastika-painters will think twice!

Casspi in February (defended by the tastefully named Marc Gasol).(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

To the list of Things the Anti-Defamation League Does That Are Actually Awesome (as opposed to, you know, not), please add, along with its new Interfaith Coalition on Mosques, the fact that the organization put a bounty on whoever spray-painted a swastika squarely onto the forehead of the Kings’ Israeli forward Omri Casspi on a Sacramento, California, mural.

(Said Casspi: “It’s probably just some idiot who wants some publicity. But I know the people in Sacramento, and they have been wonderful to me.” He is certainly right about the idiot part: The culprit painted a backward swastika, which is technically a sauwastika. Not even a proper Jew-hater, in other words.)

Anyway, got any info? If it helps lead to the arrest of the perp, the ADL will give you $1,000. Plus you just know you will also get to have your picture taken with Casspi—who, believe me ladies, is handsome as hell.

ADL Offering Reward in Casspi Billboard Vandalism [JTA]
Kings Israeli Forward Says Billboard Swastika ‘Hurtful’ [JTA]
Sacramento Kings Mural Defaced With Swastika [Deadspin]
Earlier: It’s Not Easy Being Casspi

Return of the Jews

The final week of ‘Top Chef D.C.’

Angelo, sick at heart (and in actuality).(The author)

So let’s get the obvious over with: There is no Jew left in this season of Top Chef. Amanda Baumgarten, the “I’ve-been-a-bad-person-but-now-I’ve-found-soufflé” chef, could sometimes be charming and remind us of someone we knew in school, but eventually she left us. Alex Reznik, the wiry and unpredictable chef-nik gave us the season’s trademark scandal, but again, didn’t seem to ever be ready to take it the whole way, and faded soon after the green pea incident. So where does that leave us? Considering the time of year, I think this second half of the finale is looking like the Kol Nidre of Top Chef: Time to atone.

The first half of the finale happened to air last week during the Jewish new year (which is why there was no post on it), and it felt refreshing. After watching every previous season, I can now say this series in Washington, D.C., was the least inspiring; the chefs, while brimming with taut résumés and impressive skills, back-stabbed like Survivor castaways. There were no clear up-and-comers like the Voltaggios from the Las Vegas season, no underdogs like Stephanie from Chicago, no scrappers like Hung from Miami. Most of the characters kept their single dimension. So how fortuitous that 5771 rolls in with the final contestants landing in Singapore. The Rosh Hashanah episode gave us a great spirit for the new year to come: Vibrancy, an anything-goes attitude (set in the Asian market), and a short window to consider transgressions before part 2, the Yom Kippur closer. (more…)

Today on Tablet

Rabbi’s block, city of sukkahs, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, columnist Shalom Auslander hacks the mind of a rabbi trying to write a Yom Kippur sermon no one will be expecting. A special holiday-themed Vox Tablet podcast reports on the 12 winning Sukkah designs that will be made real in Manhattan’s Union Square as Sukkot approaches. Columnist Eddy Portnoy examines an editorial clash at the Polish Yiddish paper Moment one hundred years ago. The Scroll has a special, guest-written Top Chef D.C. finale recap coming atcha.

‘Jewly Bandz’ Maker Explains Dollar Sign

Wristband meant to represent gelt, he tells us

Jewly Bandz. Note the offending dollar sign.(The Gloss)

The Internet erupted yesterday with implied and explicit accusations of anti-Semitism against toy-maker Benjamin Kerer, an Austrian-born Israeli who has lived in the United States for 15 years. Why? Because his company‘s “Jewly Bandz”—a Jewish-themed knock-off of the Silly Bandz wristband fad—include a green menorah, a red dreidel, and … an orange money sign.

Kerer, who was audibly upset when he spoke to Tablet Magazine over the phone, defended himself, explaining that his company “provides educational equipment to nearly every Jewish school in America.” He admitted that the dollar sign—which was meant to stand for Hanukkah gelt— “maybe wasn’t the best choice, but this is what the manufacturer chose.” He added, “Those who want to have a case against Jews will sound it with or without these ‘Silly Bandz.’” (And those who want Jewish versions of Silly Bandz will have them with or without Jewly Bands.)

But the harm may already be done: Kerer’s Website has been hacked, and he now finds himself on the defensive. “To hurt someone like me,” he complained. “I’m shocked that they would do this between the High Holidays.”

Jewish Silly Bandz Knockoffs Come In a Dollar Shape Sign [The Gloss]

Daybreak: Nothing Was Delivered

Plus U.S. tries to open Syrian front, and more in the news

The three yesterday.(Lior Mizrahi-Pool/Getty Images)

• The second round of direct peace talks concluded in Jerusalem. Good feeling was all around … but no deal on the settlement freeze was reached. [WP]

• Reportedly, the United States proposed a three-month freeze extension, and President Abbas said that policy would keep him at the table. Prime Minister Netanyahu has yet to respond. [JPost]

• With its increased shelling, Hamas is attempting to cause enough disruption to harm the peace process but not so much as to provoke an IDF ground operation in Gaza. [JPost]

• On average, rabbis are paid significantly more than non-Jewish clerical equivalents. [Forward]

• U.S. envoy George Mitchell heads to Damascus today to try to restart simultaneous Israeli-Syrian talks. [Haaretz]

• The kaffiyeh has gone out of style in the West Bank, and what ones there are are cheap, China-made knock-offs. [LAT]

Sundown: Next They Take Manhattan?

Plus your definitive Jewish Silly Bandz comparison, and more

Meshuga Bands.(

• Laura Rozen reads the tea leaves and wonders whether Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas might not meet again, next week, in New York during the U.N. General Assembly. [Laura Rozen]

• There are two different brands of Jewish Silly Bandz knock-offs. How do you decide between them? By price, naturally. []

• Woody Allen doesn’t want your shana tova. [NYT]

The Midnight Guardian, a vampire-Holocaust young-adult novel (reviewed by yours truly), made it to paperback. What a shonda! [Jewcy]

• Former Tablet Magazine staff writer Marissa Brostoff co-hosts her inaugural radio show. The topic? Park51 and being a Muslim in America. [Beyond the Pale]

• In New York? Join Jewcy at the Village’s Le Poisson Rouge for “The Greatest 3-Minute Guilt Stories Ever” [Jewcy]

Tickets went on sale today for Yo La Tengo’s eight-night Hanukkah stand in Hoboken, New Jersey. I’ve already bought mine.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.