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Rabbi Boteach Cashes in on Michael Jackson

Complete with lousy ‘Thriller’ jokes

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Jackson and Boteach in New York in February, 2001.(Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images)

Thank goodness the A.V. Club’s Nathan Rabin read Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s The Michael Jackson Tapes so we don’t have to, confirming the suspicion that the book, a combination of interviews with Jackson and the New Jersey-based rabbi’s own thoughts, is “the worst kind of posthumous cash-in from a rabbi who accomplishes the seemingly impossible feat of being creepier than Michael Jackson.” Boteach, who fancies himself ‘America’s Rabbi’—“the Semitic Billy Graham,” as Rabin puts it—strives to portray Jackson as a “normal” heterosexual male, but, according to Rabin, “the best Boteach can muster is an anecdote about Jackson asking him to set him up on a date with Katie Couric.” Ultimately, Rabin concludes that Boteach’s decision to publish the interviews (despite a falling-out with Jackson) is primarily an opportunity for the rabbi to showcase his own righteousness, as demonstrated by his assertion that he has “tried to educate my children to know always that no man but God is the real Thriller.”

The Michael Jackson Tapes by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach [A.V. Club]

Today on Tablet

A Jewish doll, middle-class art collecting, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Daphne Merkin takes a look at Rebecca Rubin, the American Girl series’s first permanent-collection Jewish doll. Senior Writer Allison Hoffman profiles Herbert and Dorothy Vogel, a solidly middle-class hamishe New York couple who somehow turned themselves into formidable contemporary art collectors. For those in more of a watching than reading mood, Yuri Baranovsky presents a Hanukkah-themed episode of his Web show, Break a Leg. From our archives, novelist Jonathan Tropper remembers one especially fraught pubescent Hanukkah. And we will try to hide our voice cracks by speaking very softly today on The Scroll.

Memphis Boasts Young Jewish Basketball Coach

NYT profiles ‘climber with a conscience’ Josh Pastner

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Josh Pastner, head coach of the Memphis Tigers.(NYT)

Today, the New York Times introduces 32-year-old Josh Pastner, the first-year head coach of the Memphis Tigers men’s basketball team. Pastner is the rare case of the college basketball player—he was on the Arizona Wildcats in the late 1990s, when they won the national championship—who wanted to be a coach all along (his father was also a basketball coach). And, though the Times article doesn’t mention this, Pastner is Jewish. Memphis has of late been the NCAA’s winningest program, and this year it is off to a 7-1 start.

Josh Pastner Has Memphis Sailing in Calipari’s Wake [NYT]
Pastner’s Passion is Hoops [Jewish News of Greater Phoenix]

Daybreak: President-For-Now Abbas

Plus a new peace push, if Netanyahu will have it, and more in the news

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• The Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive council extended President Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term indefinitely, until credible elections can be held. [LAT]
• The United States, Egypt, and France plan a push to restart peace negotiations predicated on the 1967 borders and an undeclared construction freeze, including in East Jerusalem, according to Egypt’s foreign minister. [Haaretz]
• The New York Times weighs whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a genuine peace maker, or if the typical skepticism is justified. [NYT]
• The U.S. House of Representatives passed new economic sanctions against Iran; however, a Senate vote is not expected this year. [JPost]
• Christian evangelist and university founder Oral Roberts died. Here, Rabbi David Wolpe remembers, Roberts “considered himself a friend to the Jewish people.” [WP]

Sundown: Judah Maccabee, Nobel Laureate

Plus Hadassah Lieberman, a bullet-riddled laptop, and more

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• A Maryland rabbi uncovered the speech Judah Maccabee gave while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize over 2000 years ago. Its argument that peace sometimes requires war may sound familiar to those who have paid attention to more recent, and real-life, Nobel addresses. [JTA]
• A group of liberal activists wants Hadassah Lieberman—wife of Sen. Joe—booted from her position as “Global Ambassador” for the Susan G. Komen Foundation. (Relatedly: the Komen Foundation and Hadassah—the Zionist women’s organization—recently teamed up.) [Daily News]
• Naveed Haq was found guilty of murdering one woman at a Seattle Jewish center in 2006. He will spend the rest of his life in prison. [Haaretz]
• Slate’s Daniel Gross profiles Mrs. Cohen, from Hadera, Israel—a “John Doe”-esque name (she doesn’t actually exist) for the typical Israeli investor. [Slate]
• A special, funny link for our Christian readers: how to celebrate Christmas while being sensitive to your non-Christian friends. [The New Yorker]
• This is what a MacBook that Israeli border security has put three bullets through looks like. [Gizmodo]

‘Glee’ Star Scores Golden Globe Nod

Michele is Jewish, but so is her character

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Congratulations to Lea Michele (née Lea Michele Sarfati), the star of Fox’s Glee, on her Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a TV Comedy. In Tablet Magazine, Jeremy Dauber celebrated Glee, an hour-long comedy with musical numbers, as “the most bizarre, delirious, delightful show currently airing on network television.” In particular, Dauber praised one plot-line in which a Jewish football star falls for a Jewish theater chick—played by Michele—and serenades her with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” (see below!). It is important, Dauber suggested, for a show all about high school outsiders to include Jewish characters (and even have them portrayed by Jewish actors, like Michele): “They’re part of the story of minority America muscling their way, in their difference, to center stage, to the heart of American entertainment.”

Golden Globe Nominations Announced! [Vulture]

Related: The Outsiders [Tablet]

Israeli Attains New Chess High

And Sharansky checkmates boxer Salita

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On Monday, Belarusian-born Boris Gelfand became one of the highest-ranked Israeli chess players ever: he is now the Chess World Cup holder, or third in the world. Should he become the world’s best chess player, he will join a whole bunch of other Jews who have previously been the world’s best chess player.

Meanwhile, also on Monday, Orthodox Jewish boxer Dmitry “Star of David” Salita was soundly trounced … in chess. His victorious opponent? None other than Natan Sharansky, the one-time Soviet dissident and Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs. Sharansky, who once beat chess world champion Gary Kasparov (albeit during a simultaneous exhibition game on, according to a sullen Kasparov, an off-day), took 20 moves to get to checkmate, or presumably longer than the 76 seconds Amir Khan needed to KO Salita in the ring earlier this month.

Israeli Wins Chess World Cup [Vos Iz Neias?]
Sharansky Knocks out Boxing Champ Salita—on the Chessboard [Arutz Sheva]

Earlier: Boxer Credits God For … Defeat?

Google Recognizes West Bank as ‘Palestinian’

But on Google Maps, it’s all Israel

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In the classic 1947 film Miracle on 34th Street, a judge rules that one Mr. Kris Kringle is legally Santa Claus, based on the fact that the U.S. Postal Service forwarded him Santa’s mail. One wonders (well, not really, but indulge us) whether the search-engine behemoth Google could impose similar binding authority on Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. Those surfing the Web from the West Bank—including settlements—are now identified by Google as being located in “Palestinian territory,” whereas most Websites recognize these browsers as being in “Israel”. On the other hand, on Google Maps, “Ramallah, Israel” gets you the West Bank capital; “Ramallah, Palestine” gets you a Baptist church in Palestine, Texas. So maybe there won’t be any Miracle-esque court rulings any time soon.

Google Defines Samaria as ‘Palestinian Territory’ [Arutz Sheva]

Is Joe Lieberman Too Jewish?

A new explanation of his bizarre health-care flip-flops

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Sen. Lieberman at a committee meeting in November.(Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images)

Yesterday, one (Jewish) writer accused Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), perhaps the Senate’s most famous Semite, of possessing an un-Jewish lack of intelligence. Since then, Lieberman has proved himself, if not smart, then at least influential: his objections to certain progressive features of the U.S. Senate health-care reform bill—albeit features he supported only a few months ago—led the Democratic leadership to remove them. Now, today, another writer (also Jewish) offers yet another explanation for Lieberman’s seemingly nonsensical policy flip-flops: he’s not un-Jewish, he’s too Jewish! So says cultural critic Lee Siegel in The Daily Beast:

During the past decade or so, there has been a rising panic over the growing influence of fundamentalist Christian precepts on modern American politics, but no one has said very much about Joe Lieberman’s fundamentalist Judaism. Although he prefers to call himself an “observant” rather than an “Orthodox” Jew, he is in fact an Orthodox Jew. His approach to modern life is just as uninflected as that of his Christian counterparts.

When applied to politics, this fundamentalist perspective, Siegel argues, enables Lieberman to comfortably espouse substantive policy decisions based on nothing more than the irrational feeling that he is right: “You don’t doubt the morality of your feeling, because you have used your strict, self-sacrificing observance of Jewish law to prove to yourself that you are a good man.” Thus, what felt right in September can feel wrong in December, and that’s not inconsistent (even though, objectively, it is).

Siegel further points out that, actually, the detached irony required to extract Jewish morality—a commitment to social justice, say—from Jewish religion is, in its own way, Jewish as well. So Lieberman is un-Jewish, too Jewish, or not Jewish enough. Or maybe all three? Or perhaps the incoherent saga of Joe Lieberman’s health-care positions has nothing to do with his Jewishness at all. Perhaps Lieberman is, simply and typically, a petty politician hopelessly in thrall to his own worst traits and to the hundreds of thousands of dollars that Connecticut’s formidable insurance industry has so generously given him. Just saying.

Joe, Start Acting Jewish! [The Daily Beast]
Lieberman Gets Ex-Party to Shift on Health Plan [NYT]

Earlier: How To Explain Joe Lieberman: He’s Just Kinda Dumb!

Conan O’Brien Sings Mormon Song for Hatch

‘Tonight Show’ drummer Weinberg responds to senator’s song on Tablet

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Last night, NBC’s The Tonight Show highlighted our video of Sen. Orrin Hatch recording the oh-so-catchy tune he wrote for the Jewish people, “Eight Days of Hanukkah.” Host Conan O’Brien proceeded to announce that his show’s resident Jew, drummer and bandleader Max Weinberg (who also sets the rhythm in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band), wanted to return the favor to Utah’s senior senator and his co-religionists of the Mormon faith. Bottom line: you can watch the cast’s holiday song— “Mormons, Mormons, Mormons/We haven’t got a clue/Of what you folks believe in/Or think or drink or do”—below.

Today on Tablet

Where Jewish humor comes from, our favorite menorahs

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Today in Tablet Magazine, a collection of Adam Brio’s extended Jewish joke-stories prompts our critic Adam Kirsch to trace the arc of distinctly American Jewish humor as it begins, perhaps, to die altogether. For a slideshow, Hadara Graubart selects our favorite—or, in some cases, simply most provocative—hanukkiahs. From our archives, husband-and-wife novelists Karen E. Bender and Robert Anthony Siegel yank the commercialism out of Hanukkah. We’ll get our one commercial of the day out of the way: this “Today on Tablet” was brought to you by The Scroll.

Carter’s Grandson Running in Jewish District

Jason Carter has been praised by ADL

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President Carter in China last month. His grandson also has the political bug.(STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Jason Carter, a.k.a. President Jimmy’s grandson, is looking to serve a significantly Jewish district in the Georgia Senate: a more interesting development than it otherwise would be given that his grandfather is an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies (one book of his is titled Palestine Peace Not Apartheid) and not a particularly popular figure in the American Jewish community. The district, which includes the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, is currently represented by David Adelman; but Adelman has been nominated (though not yet confirmed) to serve as Ambassador to Singapore. Attempting to head off any controversy, Carter the Younger told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “You and I both know that the Georgia Senate doesn’t set Middle East policy.” Very true. That said, Carter is also wisely publicizing a bit of praise he received as a lawyer for his “efforts to protect voting rights”—from the Anti-Defamation League.

The Return of the Carter Name to Georgia Politics [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Daybreak: Abbas Sets Conditions for Talks

Plus Obama urges Lebanon on arms, and more in the news

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• Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas set specific conditions for resuming peace talks: no settlement construction, and recognition of the borders of a future state. In the meantime, he added, he would not permit a return to Intifada-level violence. [JPost]
• At the White House, President Barack Obama asked Lebanese President Michel Sleiman to slow the flow of smuggled arms into his country, saying the weapons violate a U.N. resolution and threaten Israel. [Reuters]
• The situation between the Israeli government and West Bank settlers deteriorated further after Defense Minister Ehud Barak pulled funding for a radical West Bank yeshiva that instructed soldiers not to obey settlement-evacuation orders. [WSJ]
• The Washington Post examines how the current divide, particularly in terms of living conditions, between the West Bank and Gaza could influence the shape and character of an eventual Palestinian state. [WP]
• Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut) persuaded Democrats to drop several progressive features of their health-care bill, including a Medicare buy-in clause for those 55 and older that he has previously supported, earning the unmitigated ire of many liberals. [NYT]

Sundown: Top Chef’s Eli Cooks Kosher

Plus Moldovan anti-Semitism, a Hanukkah world record, and more

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• Recent Top Chef contestant Eli Kirshtein will soon start as “guest chef” at Solo, a kosher steakhouse in Manhattan. [Eater NY]
• Several Moldovans, led by an Orthodox Christian priest, toppled a menorah in the capital city of Chisinau and replaced it with a cross. (Video included.) [Arutz Sheva]
• A Knesset bill would ban foreigners from owning Israeli newspapers—most notably the country’s second-highest circulation daily, Israel HaYom, which is owned by American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. The owner of the top-selling Israeli daily, Maariv, is one of the bill’s parliamentary sponsors. [True/Slant]
• 10 U.S. senators, representing several wings of both parties, signed a letter chastising Turkey for the “downward trend of relations between Turkey and Israel this past year.” [Weekly Standard]
• At a Moscow club, 1,440 Hanukkah candles were lit simultaneously; organizers believe this is the new world record. [JTA]

UK Court Issued Warrant for Livni

Former PM accused of Gaza war crimes; Foreign Office apologizes

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Livni in Paris earlier this month.(Gerard Cerles/AFP/Getty Images)

Turns out that, as al-Jazeera reported earlier today (and as Israel earlier denied), a London court issued a warrant for the arrest of Tzipi Livni, the leader of Israel’s Kadima Party, on account of alleged war crimes committed in the course of last January’s conflict in the Gaza Strip, during which time she was acting prime minister. The warrant, which came at the request of lawyers representing alleged Palestinian victims of the conflict under a theory of “universal jurisdiction,” was abruptly withdrawn when it turned out that Livni—who had planned a trip to London, but canceled two weeks ago—was not in the country. While one London-based Palestinian group lauded the initial warrant, the British Foreign Office expressed atonement and concern: “The UK is determined to do all it can to promote peace in the Middle East and to be a strategic partner of Israel,” it said in a statement. “To do this, Israel’s leaders need to be able to come to the UK for talks with the British government. We are looking urgently at the implications of this case.” Though lawyers have requested such warrants of the Westminster Magistrates Court before—including for former prime minister and current Defense Minister Ehud Barak—this was the first time a UK judge actually issued such a writ. A final nota bene: Livni does not technically enjoy diplomatic immunity, while, say, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does. Though the legal reasons for that discrepancy are internally logical, it nonetheless seems inconsistent if as important a figure as Livni cannot feel safe to travel.

British Court Issued Gaza Arrest Warrant for Former Israeli Minister Livni [Guardian]
Israeli Sources Deny Report of Arrest Warrant Against Livni in London [Ynet]

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