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.

Knowing Your Other By Reading Him

Mohammad Husein and the Rambam

Mohammed Husein.(Daniella Cheslow)

I want to urge everyone to read yesterday’s profile of Mohammad Husein, the U.S.-educated West Bank Palestinian who has been unable to find a publisher for his Arabic translation of Maimonides. It is a fascinating piece and an excellent sidelong glance into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—at one point, Husein and a professor at his alma mater, Boston’s Hebrew College, named Nathan Ehrlich, realize they were both born in Jerusalem on the exact same date. (Also, a quick reminder, that a great guide for the Maimonides-perplexed is Sherwin B. Nuland’s Nextbook Press biography.)

I was especially taken with this passage:

A decade later, [Husein] studied psychology and sociology at Bethlehem University. As Husein read Marx, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg, he realized the writers were all Jews. He resolved to learn Hebrew to better understand the Jewish people. By day, he chatted with his Israeli coworkers in a cement factory. At night he read the Bible, first in Arabic—“We were fortunate the Christian Arabs translated it to Arabic,” he said—and then in Hebrew.

It reminded me of one of the techniques that FBI counter-terrorism specialist Ali Soufan used in the course of interrogating an al-Qaeda sympathizer named Abu Jindal (as reported by the great Lawrence Wright).

Abu Jandal was confounded by Soufan: a moderate Muslim who could argue about Islam with him, who was in the F.B.I., and who loved America. He quickly read the history that Soufan gave him and was amazed to learn of the American Revolution and its struggle against tyranny.

Lost in Translation [Tablet Magazine]
Related: The Agent [New Yorker]
Maimonides [Nextbook Press]

‘Little More Than a Bit of Plastic Sheeting’

Your Vox Tablet preview

(Eric Molinsky)

According to Roger Bennett, a co-founder of ReBoot, Sukkot was a rather drab affair back in his hometown of Liverpool, England. Especially the sukkah:

His childhood disappointment, along with some brainstorming with co-conspirator Joshua Foer, led to an architectural competition called Sukkah City. On the next Vox Tablet podcast, which goes up tomorrow, artist Eric Molinsky (see left!) reports on the idea behind the competition and the mind-boggling array of sukkah designs it elicited.

‘ANTM’ Contestant To Forgo Observance

Tyra Banks show stages Modern Orthodox drama

Esther Petrack.(The CW)

When Esther Petrack stood before Tyra and the Jays for the first time during the season premiere of America’s Next Top Model (the second episode airs tonight at 8), we learned something shocking: The 18-year-old brunette beauty from Brookline, Massachusetts, is a Modern Orthodox Jew. Almost sounds like a setup to a joke: An Orthodox Jew and Tyra Banks sashay down the runway … .

Esther was dressed more modestly than most of the other contestants (including the one whose segment immediately preceded hers, and required the first pixilation of the season) in a loose-fitting black sweater and brightly patterned leggings, which made Tyra exclaim, “Look at those pants!” Oh indeed. It was hard not to look at them.

After letting Esther say a bit about herself—namely, that she was born in Jerusalem—Ty Ty asked her about her Orthodox Jewish practice. “Do you honor the Sabbath?”

“Yes I do,” Esther responded, proceeding to explain the rules regarding the usage of electricity, computers, cell phones, and cars on Friday night and Saturday. Tyra sternly informed her that ANTM contestants work all the time, seven days a week. (I never realized that modeling was so urgent!) Would Esther, Tyra wanted to know, be able to adhere to the ANTM work schedule? Her Jewish identity was all of a sudden squarely on the spot, not unlike that of her Biblical namesake. (more…)

The Honesty of the Convert

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.

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

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


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?

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]

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