thescroll_header

Berkeley Brouhaha

Philosopher Judith Butler Redefines ‘Zionist’

Email

Yesterday morning, student senate at the University of California, Berkeley, voted to uphold a veto on a bill that would have urged the school’s student association to divest from two companies—General Electric and United Technologies—that, according to critics, profit from Israeli occupation. Berkeley been the site of an intense wave of activism, both pro- and anti-divestment, since the original bill passed, by a margin of 16-4, in March (the senate president vetoed it a week later). Student senators have received thousands of emails from around the world, hundreds showed up on campus Wednesday evening for a nine-hour deliberation that led up to the vote that upheld the veto, and public intellectuals including Noam Chomsky and Alan Dershowitz have thrown their weight on one side or the other (you can guess which was which).

One of the more interesting statements to come out of the morass was a speech by Berkeley professor and social theorist Judith Butler, delivered Wednesday night in support of divestment. “If you want to say that the historical understanding of Israel’s genesis gives it exceptional standing in the world,” she writes, “then you disagree with those early Zionist thinkers, Martin Buber and Judah Magnes among them, who thought that Israel must not only live in equality with other nations, but must also exemplify principles of equality and social justice in its actions and policies.” By rehabilitating, in leftist university discourse, the word “Zionist,” Butler has once again changed—or tried to change—a conversation.

You Will Not Be Alone [The Nation]

Today in Jewish History

Mass suicide and fart jokes

Email

Lest you forget that we Jews have long been embroiled in battles on various fronts, here are three momentous events that took place on this date in history:

According to the website New Europe, “In 73 AD, in crushing a Jewish revolt, the Roman army break into the mountaintop fortress of Masada, only to find its 960 defenders had chosen death over defeat,” launching Jews into a tradition of martyrdom that continues to this day.

In 1947, multimillionaire presidential adviser Bernard Baruch coined the term “Cold War” to describe the shenanigans then going on between the United States and the U.S.S.R., saying of the icy enemies: “Our unrest is the heart of their success.”

And in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission decided to “correct an altogether too narrow interpretation of decency,” cracking down primarily on shock jockey Howard Stern and making him the next in a timeless tradition of Jewish advocates for vulgarity.

16 April – Today in History [New Europe]
Bernard Baruch coins term ‘Cold War,’ April 16, 1947 [Politico]
FCC Launches Crackdown on Radio Show Obscenity [LAT]

Sex, Jews, and South Park

An educational retreat may raise more questions than it answers

Email

We may have heard that it’s a “double mitzvah” to have sex on the Sabbath, or that Orthodox couples refrain from the deed while the woman is menstruating, but otherwise it’s doubtful that Jewish learning and sex ed have had much of a connection for most of us. A retreat this weekend—in Texas, of all places—aims to change that, at least for one lucky group of teens. Run by the organization There’s Only 1U (still trying to figure out the Jewish reference in that name—a play on the first commandment, perhaps?), the retreat promises to teach the basics and explain “why all of this is Jewish.” Based on our experience at Jewish camp, we guess that the overnight, co-ed retreat will certainly be an educational experience, but perhaps not in the way it was intended.

Although the program “focuses on five Jewish values: truth (emet), not embarrassing (lo levayesh), courage of the heart (ometz lev), taking care of your body (shmirat haguf), and honoring one another (ohev zeh et zeh),” it uses an unconventional method to introduce the topic: clips from the “Sex Ed episode of South Park.” Well, we suppose if the kids’ parents are as clueless as Stan’s, they could certainly use some help. On the other hand, they might also get some decidedly unkosher ideas.

Texas: Believe It or Not, Program Instills Jewish Values in Sex Education [The Body]

Artie the Hitman

An old Jew tells a joke

Email

Hey, a bargain’s a bargain!

Nerdy Girls are Sweeping the Airwaves, Says Writer

But, especially in the case of Jews, we say they’re not really nerds

Email
Glee's Lea Michelle.(Fox.com)

An article this week on The American Prospect‘s website hails the “Rise of the Female Nerds,” citing, among other examples, Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon on 30 Rock and Glee‘s Rachel Berry, played by Broadway vet Lea Michele. “Female nerds have traditionally had few options when seeking characters onscreen to relate to,” writes Amanda Marcotte. “But over the past few years, there’s been a quiet feminist revolution on television. The female nerd has arrived, and she’s not interested in a makeover.” As the article itself later acknowledges, that’s because she doesn’t need one.

If female nerds have had a tough time of it, what a double-whammy female Jewish nerds are faced with. Let’s face it, some of pop culture’s most affable male nerds have been Jews. And they’re real nerds. Think of Neal Schweiber from Freaks and Geeks and Paul Pfeiffer from The Wonder Years. On the other hand, Marcotte herself grants that “portrayals of female nerds are undercut by the smoking-hot-actress problem”; in the case of the Jewish nerdess, even the characters are considered attractive—as Jeremy Dauber pointed out in his essay on Glee for Tablet Magazine, Rachel is a “self-proclaimed hot Jew.” Where Marcotte asserts that “Rachel’s costuming has her stuck in elementary school, with knee socks and childish dresses,” we would argue that her wardrobe has her stuck in a decidedly more prurient place. And when it comes to identification with female characters, especially given the general body-image issues facing young women, hotness negates nerdiness. (Case in point: The absurd valorization of Natalie Portman, particularly in her role in the film Garden State, as the poster child of unabashed female Jewish nerdiness.) In fact, the only true example we can think of of a female Jewish nerd onscreen is the tragic Dawn Weiner in the bleak indie-cult classic Welcome to the Dollhouse. And something tells me she wouldn’t exactly feel empowered by the rise of the sexy, talented, torn-between-two-lovers Rachel Berry.

Rise of the Female Nerds [The American Prospect]
Related: The Outsiders [Tablet]

Today on Tablet

The value of converts, the wisdom of lepers, and more

Email

Allan Nadler explains how the current ultra-Orthodox monopoly on conversions to Judaism is at odds with a long history of influential converts. Liel Leibovitz discusses the heroism of the lepers in this weeks haftorah. And The Scroll will keep the news and culture updates coming all day.

Yehuda Halevi: The Poetry Contest

Find your inner 11th-century poet and win an iPad

Email

Many consider Yehuda Halevi the poet laureate of the Jewish people. A poet, physician, and philosopher of the 11th century, Halevi’s work has become an integral part of the modern Jewish liturgy. His words are even echoed in Naomi Shemer’s famous song “Jerusalem of Gold.”

To celebrate National Poetry Month, every day for the rest of April we will be presenting a Halevi poem a day—or an excerpt of one—in their beautiful modern translations by Hillel Halkin, whose biography of Halevi was published by Nextbook Press earlier this year. For today, here is a pocket-sized version of two of Halevi’s most famous poems, “My Heart in the East” and “On Boarding Ship in Alexandria,” for you to print, fold, and share.

We’re hoping that not only will you love these poems, but that they’ll also inspire your own reimaginings of Halevi’s work. To that end, a contest: compose a song using Halevi’s lyrics, or create an illustration or video inspired by his writing; anything that applies your own creativity to interpret one of these poems. We’ll select the best entries and post them to Nextbook Press and Tablet; one winner will be chosen to win an Apple iPad! Publish your entry on your blog or website and send us a link, or share it in the comments section below. Deadline is April 26, and we’ll announce the winner on Poetry in Your Pocket Day, April 29.

Download complete contest rules here.

Daybreak: Pressure on Israel Drives Some Jews to Palin

Plus words over water, a politicized rite, and more in the news

Email
Sarah Palin at a Tea Party rally in Boston this week.(Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

• President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton are pushing for Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace talks. Again. [AP]

• Such pressure has led Binyamin Korn, a former executive director of the Zionist Organization of America, to form a group called Jewish Americans for Sarah Palin; Korn calls the former Alaska governor “the most articulate person in the public arena today in opposition to the Obama administration’s shift in policies against Israel.” [NY Sun]

• A potentially crucial Pan-Mediterranean strategy for water preservation was foiled by an argument between the Arab League and Israel over the use of the term “occupied territories.” [JPost]

• Israeli soldiers killed a Palestinian gunman at the Gaza border. [Ynet]

• The South African Jewish Board of Deputies denounced the pressure from local groups that led judge Richard Goldstone to decide not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg next month, saying it “deeply regrets that a religious milestone has been politicized.” [JTA]

Sundown: Elijah Takes the Form of Iraq Vet

Plus no aliyah for the iPad, name games, and more

Email

• A former army medic got called into action to save a rabbi’s wife from choking on some kosher London broil at a Yankees game; the Reb called his impromptu hero a “kind of Elijah figure.” [NYDN]

• The New York Jewish Week finds harmony between Hillel Halkin and Yehuda Halevi, the subject of Halkin’s book for Nextbook Press: “Hebrew literature, Zionism, Israel, the diaspora and its discontents, Jewish thought, the very essence of Jewishness itself—they all come together, over a span of 1,000 years, in the poet/philosopher and in his biographer.” [NYJW]

• Israel’s Communication Ministry has banned the Apple iPad from entering the country, and it’s not just because the company opted against a catchier name—rather, the computer’s “broadcast WiFi power levels are not compatible with Israeli standards,” whatever that means. [Arutz Sheva]

• MyJewishLearning.com is holding a contest to name its new parenting site. The prize is $500! We would offer them some rejects from before Tablet’s launch, but we doubt they will want “Pickle,” “Brisket,” or “Matzah Ball.” (What do you want, we were hungry!) [MJL]

• Eerily banal mug shots of Nazis. [Daily Heller]

• Sign a petition urging the Rabbinical Council of America to put more stock in leadership roles for Orthodox women.

Torah’s Story Up for Debate

No, not the one written inside

Email
The Central Synagogue no longer thought to be rescued from Aushwitz.(NYTimes.com)

While every Torah may be a sacred document, when it comes to provenance, a scroll that survived the Holocaust is the holy grail, so to speak. The Central Synagogue in Manhattan has been home to one such doubly anointed artifact since 2008—or so it thinks. The New York Times has traced the origins of the Torah, said to have been rescued from Auschwitz by a priest and found 60 years later by an industrious rabbi with a metal detector. After investigation, David M. Rubenstein, the billionaire who donated it, said that “we cannot fully and unquestionably establish that the Torah is what I had been led to believe.” By those standards, one might argue that no holy book has a perfect pedigree. In the meantime, the folks at the prestigious NYC shul can rest easy—Rubenstein has donated another Holocaust Torah the origins of which are not in question.

Two Torahs, Two Holocaust Stories and One Big Question [NYT]

The Schmaltz Technique

An old Jew tells a joke

Email

A reminder why chicken fat will never be as sexy as olive oil.

An Evening at Traif

Brooklyn’s new pork-and-shellfish restaurant really means it

Email
Traif's crispy pork belly with braised artichokes and muscat grapes; marinated yellowtail with asparagus, meyer lemon, and shiitake.(Kim Davidson)

The last time I was in Williamsburg was for shlugging kaparot, a ritual chicken sacrifice before Yom Kippur. Tuesday night was a little bit different. It was opening night for the restaurant Traif, which is dedicated to serving almost exclusively non-kosher cuisine. Traif (meaning “unkosher” in Yiddish) practically begs to stick in the craw of the nearby Hasidic community with its celebration of pork and shellfish served alongside Jewish staples like potato latkes. (Coulda been worse: The restaurant initially considered opening in a space that once housed a Jewish morgue.) I showed up Tuesday evening, friends and dietary restrictions—I don’t eat non-kosher meat—in tow, with a mission: to see if a kosher meal at Traif could rival a trayf one. My partners in crime: another Modern Orthodox Jew along for the adventure (“Adventurous Jew”); a knowledgeable foodie with a penchant for shellfish (“Fish Lover”); and one who was simply prepared to inhale the food (“Bottomless Pit”).

We started the night with a round of drinks from Traif’s imaginative cocktail list. This allowed me to order my only item with the word “bacon” in it: Henry Bacon’s Bathwater, a refreshing medley of Meyer-lemon-infused vodka, cucumber, and St. Germaine. My friends were also pleased with their cocktails and wines.
Round 1: Tie.

We first ordered a hearts of palm appetizer that we all could enjoy, but it proved unimpressive. Bottomless Pit became distracted by the crisp pork-belly appetizer with her name on it. Soon, my favorite dish of the night arrived: marinated yellowtail, asparagus, Meyer lemon, shitake. Very agreeable spicy tuna tartare on tempura eggplant with kecap manis followed.
Round 2: Kosher person.

Thus ended the possibilities of dishes I could eat. Fish Lover ordered herself “sea scallops, snap and English pea risotto, caper-brown butter,” and Bottomless Pit surveyed the hangar steak with potato latkes. The scallops were well received, but the hangar steak was overcooked.
Round 3: Non-kosher people.

As the night wore on, I noticed that the Adventurous Jew (who doesn’t eat at non-kosher restaurants) kept sampling food. At first it was the raw fish, then the cheese, then the risotto around the scallops. Eventually, he dove into the scallops. Adventurous Jew ate trayf for the first time at Traif. “Tastes like fish,” he said.

To test the restaurant’s flexibility toward people with dietary boundaries, I asked if there were meat or shellfish dishes I could order sans meat or shellfish. The staff graciously obliged, but what remained of the pancetta and pork-belly appetizers minus pancetta and pork belly wasn’t very tasty.

The rest of my party ordered the bacon-wrapped blue-cheese-stuffed dates with spinach a la catalana, and the braised BBQ short rib slides, smoked gouda, and sweet potato fries. The former was unremarkable, but latter turned out to be the hit of the night. Bottomless Pit loved it. Adventurous Jew—more adventurous than we’d bargained for—looked like he was in heaven.
Round 4: I am losing.

For dessert, we ordered “bacon doughtnuts, dulche de leche, coffee ice cream” and “candy bar: dark chocolate, p.b., raspberry, pistachio ice cream.” I could only eat the latter (“p.b.,” luckily, meant “peanut butter,” not “pork belly”), but the former seemed to be the real star. Adventurous Jew bit into the bacon doughnut, closed his eyes, and said, “This is the best sufganiya I’ve ever had.”
Round 5: Game over.

I lost in a landslide. But I’ll be dreaming about that yellowtail for the rest of my life.

Goldstone Bows Out From Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah

Pressure from S. African community will keep the judge from joining the hora

Email
Goldstone at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva last September.(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

Let’s face it, if we were to ban everyone from bar mitzvahs who might cause a scene, there’d be a lot of disinvited wacky uncles, racist grandmas, and sexually precocious classmates. But what if your relative is the unofficial poster child for Zionist betrayal, and it’s not he who threatens the peace of the ceremony but protesters prepared to storm the synagogue? Richard Goldstone’s family faced just such a dilemma. According to numerous sources, the judge and author of the U.N. report accusing Israel of war crimes has been convinced by pressure from the South African Zionist Federation not to attend his grandson’s bar mitzvah in Johannesburg next month.

While excommunication has traditionally been reserved for the intermarried offspring of the ultra-Orthodox or Baruch Spinoza, apparently in this touchy age of political celebrities, a controversial figure’s notoriety is enough to keep him from the kiddush table. In a practically WASP-ish sentiment, the head of the South African Beth Din (Jewish ritual court) calls the decision—ostensibly Goldstone’s own—”quite a sensible thing to avert all this unpleasantness.” In our experience, that’s just not how Jews roll.

Breaking News: Judge Richard Goldstone Banned From Attending His Grandson’s Bar Mitzvah [Writing Rights]

Party Tonight for the Next (or Last?) Great Jewish Novel

By Tablet columnist Joshua Cohen

Email
(Observer.com)

If you’re in New York City, novelist—and Tablet Magazine literary critic—Joshua Cohen will be at BookCourt in Brooklyn tonight, celebrating the release of Witz, his 817-page comic novel about The Last Jew on Earth, at a party hosted by Tablet Magazine editor-in-chief Alana Newhouse. To get a sense of what we’re dealing with here, check out this recent profile of Cohen in the New York Observer. “For all its gags,” the Observer says, “[Witz] was conceived with a singular aesthetic mission: to put an end to the novel of Jewish kitsch, Holocausts with happy endings. ‘The targets might be Michael Chabon, Jonathan Safran Foer, Shalom Auslander,’ Mr. Cohen told me. ‘When I started this book, I wanted to sleep with their wives. By the time I finished, I wanted to sleep with their mothers.’ ”

A Nice Jewish Boy’s Naughty Big Novel
[NY Observer]

The Kotel’s Not Kosher in Israeli Tourism Ad, Says UK Agency

Wailing over the Wall

Email
(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

To many prospective visitors to Israel it may seem like a technicality that the Western Wall is located in the disputed territory of East Jerusalem. Not so to the British Advertising Standard Agency, which has banned the holy site from an Israeli tourism ad in the UK, calling it “misleading.” And while the Brits are certainly correct to note that “the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank [is] the subject of much international dispute,” the accusation of false advertising strikes many as a nit-picking attempt to undermine Israel’s reputation and significance to Jews.

In response, the Israeli Tourism Ministry referred to a 1995 agreement with the Palestinian Authority placing “the upkeep of holy sites and the determination of tourist visiting-hours under Israeli jurisdiction.” But more to the point, the Tourism Minister as well as the Board of Deputies of British Jews called the prohibition “absurd.” We’re inclined to agree, if only because the Kotel is such a potent Jewish symbol that, advertised or not, it will likely remain a major draw for tourists to the nation, not to mention the fact that, as the Board’s chief exec pointed out, “thousands of tourists and pilgrims pass through Israel every year to areas where their very presence helps the Palestinian economy, and like the flawed argument for boycotts, this objection seems to be being advanced by those who care more about gestures and less about the livelihoods of ordinary people in the region.”

In other words, fighting symbols with symbols is, well, absurd. But it’s not likely to cease anytime soon. The Kotel’s inherent significance “is not as obvious to the world as it is to us,” said one peace advocate. “Only an agreed upon political solution regarding the future of the city, and for that matter the wider conflict, will prevent embarrassing developments like this.”

UK Bans Kotel from Israeli Tourism Ad [JPost]

Thank You!

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