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A New ‘Theory’ of the Armenian Genocide

Can you guess whom it blames?

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Armenians and Turks aren’t known for sharing a historical perspective on the Armenian genocide—generally, the Armenians support its recognition, the Turkish deny it happened—but a book out this month describes a conspiracy theory that actually has a foothold in both populations. In this version, Jews are to blame for the massacre. According to this counter-history, says historian Rifat Bali in A Scapegoat for All Seasons: The Döonmes or Crypto-Jews of Turkey, the Ottoman Empire’s Jewish bourgeoisie conceived of and carried out the mass slaughter of the Armenians, who (the theory goes) were their rivals for financial control of the region. This idea’s progenitors—who are mostly members of Turkish and Armenian Islamist factions—claim that it was specifically the Sabbateans, or Dönme, followers of the 17th-century Jewish-mystic-turned-Muslim Sabbetei Zevi, who perpetrated the slaughter. (Naturally, the Freemasons helped, too.) An excerpt from the book appears in The Armenian Weekly. If, after that, you still haven’t gotten your fill of Ottoman crypto-Jews, another book on the subject—The Dönme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks—comes out this month.

A Recent Anti-Semitic Theme: The Sabbatean Role in the Armenian Genocide [The Armenian Weekly]

Anatevka, Montana

The NYT’s awful, heart-warming story about a Hebrew-speaking dog

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It’s difficult to know how to feel about this Saturday New York Times article on the little-known but thoroughly charming—in a bad-Bernard-Malamud-story kind of way—Jews of Montana. The piece simply does not miss an opportunity to trade in Jewish kitsch. It reports “annual haggling” among rabbis over who gets to light the Hanukkiah at the Capitol building in Helena (two rabbis, three arguments!). These Jews may live in crazy, wild-west, white-bread Montana, but they still get excited about matzah at the supermarket, and they still brag about shipping pastrami in from Katz’s. Montana apparently used to have lots of Jews, and they toiled happily as “butchers, clothiers, jewelers, tailors and the like”—you know, Jewish-people jobs; in fact, did you know Mottel the Tailor moved Tzeitel and the kids to Bozeman after the pogrom?—but over time the Jews “assimilated or moved away to bigger cities,” as they are wont to do. Now, though, there are three rabbis in Montana, “one (appropriately) in Whitefish.” Appropriately, because, y’know, bagels and lox. Memo to the Times: a philo-Semitic stereotype is still a Semitic stereotype.

And yet! The story has at least two thoroughly enjoyable, even heart-warming set-pieces that just may, on balance, justify its existence. We learn that following an incident in Billings in which the windows of homes with menorahs were smashed, the townsfolk put menorahs in their windows. That’s sweet. (Let’s leave aside that such a shocking act of vandalism took place all the way back in … 1993.) Even sweeter and more adorable is the tale of Miky, the bomb-sniffing German sheperd who was raised in Israel but now plies his trade in Montana. Miky’s handler had trouble communicating with Miky because of the language barrier—Miky understands Hebrew, not English, you see—but after consulting with the local Lubavitcher rabbi and learning to articulate the hard “ch,” the trainer and Miky get along famously. Even more famously, now that they have been featured in the Times.

“So all is well in the Jewish community here because the Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog.” With a sentence like that, it is not surprising that, two days, later, the article is the third-most-emailed Times story. (As Slate’s Jack Shafer has noted, the surest way to write a popular article is to make it about an animal.) So we suppose it’s a win for the Times, a win for Miky, and perhaps even a win for the Jews. It’s certainly a win for the article’s author, Eric A. Stern—who, we learn at article’s close, is “senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer.” (Beats paying a reporter.) Looks like the article’s popularity is a win for Montana most of all.

Yes, Miky, There Are Rabbis in Montana [NYT]

With God on Our Side

New study says when we talk about God, we mean ourselves

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Does belief in God provide the faithful with an ethical compass driven by a morality that exists outside themselves? Or does belief in God merely enable the faithful to have pretty much whatever ethics they want to have, and then retroactively justify them by attributing them to God? A new study out of the University of Chicago, which employed both psychological investigation and brain-scanning, concluded that when many people talk about God’s rules, they’re really thinking about their own. As the study’s author puts it, “Intuiting God’s beliefs on important issues may not produce an independent guide, but may instead serve as an echo chamber.” Specifically, study participants (who were mostly American Christians) were more likely to argue that their own beliefs jibed with God’s than with other people’s. And scans revealed that the part of the brain that controls self-referential thinking lit up similarly when participants discussed their own belief’s and God’s beliefs. That, a believer might say, is just evidence that there is a little bit of God in each of us. A skeptic might say something else.

Creating God in One’s Own Image [Not Exactly Rocket Science]

Orthodox Boxer Crushed in Title Bout

Salita loses fight after 76 seconds and three knock-downs

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Khan vs. Salita. Salita is the one, er, getting punched in the face.(Graham Stuart/AFP/Getty Images)

Dmitriy “Star of David” Salita, a Ukrainian-born resident of Brooklyn, had hopes of becoming the second Orthodox Jewish boxer to hold a current world-championship belt (following Yuri Foreman). Unfortunately, his opponent Saturday night in Newcastle, England, Amir Khan, had other plans for their junior welterweight title fight. Seventy-six seconds after the opening bell sounded, the referee stopped the fight and awarded it to Khan: a sensible decision given that Khan had already knocked Salita down three times. Khan was heavily favored based on talent and experience alone; the fact that Freddie Roach, the trainer of the world’s best boxer, Manny Pacquiao, was in his corner made victory nearly certain. As for Salita, he gained respect for the moxie with which he eagerly kept rising from his knock-downs against his obvious better. In boxing, however, that respect is the consolation prize of the defeated.

Salita Falls Hard and Fast in Title Bid [Haaretz]
Amir Khan Completes Regal Resurrection with 76-Second Demolition of Dmitriy Salita [Telegraph]

Previously: Barney Ross [Nextbook Press]
Orthodox Fighter Will Pray, and Then Fight
In Training

Today in Tablet

Jewgrass, children’s books, and more

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Today in Tablet Magazine, the weekly Vox Tablet podcast profiles Jerry Wicentowski, who plays Jewish-inflected bluegrass—Jewgrass?—but not on Shabbat. Family columnist Marjorie Ingall lists 2009’s best Jewish-themed children’s chapter books, while Josh Lambert gives his weekly report on forthcoming Jewish-themed adult chapter books. And each day on The Scroll is like a chapter book for the child or adult within.

Daybreak: Israel Would Talk To Syria

Plus a school war in N.Y., and more in the news

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• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set the stage for unconditional peace talks with Syria, telling the Knesset that he has approached France about serving as mediator. [JPost]
• In fact, an Egyptian-news report said that Israel would even settle for Turkish (rather than French) mediation. [Ynet]
• The town of Ramapo in Rockland County, N.Y., has become a bitter battleground between Orthodox Jews who control a majority of the school board (but send their kids to yeshivot) and the parents of public school students. [NYT]
• For the first time, rockets launched from Gaza into Israel (they landed, unexploded, in the Negev) have been identified as an advanced class of Russian weapon. [JTA]

Sundown: Polanski’s Awesome New Prison

Plus smoked meat in a pastrami town

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• Accused child-rapist and Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski was released from a Swiss jail to a condition of house arrest as he awaits potential extradition to the United States. The “house” in question is a stunningly beautiful ski chalet in Gstaad, Switzerland. [AP]
• Elliott Broidy, a California money manager whose main fund invested mostly in Israeli companies, pleaded guilty to a felony charge related to alleged bribery of former New York Comptroller Alan Hevesi. [WSJ]
• A bipartisan group of congressmen wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking the administration to work through the United Nations to more fully disarm Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. [JTA]
• Following up on its New York-Montreal bagel comparison, the New York Times’s City Room blog profiles a new Brooklyn eatery that specializes in smoked meat, a pastrami-like Jewish delicacy from Montreal. [City Room]
• The strange tale of a 114-year-old former Mossad agent. [Vos Iz Neias]

Did NYC’s Transit Dept Strike a Backroom Deal with Satmars?

Bike lane disappears in Brooklyn after months of Hasidic complaints

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This week, New York City’s Department of Transportation abruptly removed a 14-block stretch of bike lane that ran along Brooklyn’s Bedford Ave., a major thoroughfare that at this particular stretch goes through an ultra-Orthodox enclave. The lane had been hotly contested between the well-organized cyclist community and the Williamsburg neighborhood’s Satmar Hasidim, who complained about having to see immodestly dressed bikers ride by. The DOT’s decision, which came with minimal explanation, has sparked rumors on the street and in the blogosphere that city government officials struck a backroom deal with Satmar leaders. Thing is, the rumors may have some truth to them.

“During his re-election campaign, Mayor Bloomberg struck a deal on several issues of special significance to Hasidic leaders,” the urban planning site Streetsblog said. “Whether the Bedford Avenue bike lane was part of the bargain, we can’t say.” Commenters on that blog and others are convinced that it indeed was the quid to some quo. Occasionally, the discussion has verged on what we hope was joke-anti-Semitism, as when someone wrote on Gothamist, “It appears some people are being Jewed here.”

As we noted back in June, the New York Times reported that Leib Glanz, a notoriously shady Satmar leader, had scored meetings with New York’s deputy mayor about bike lanes. Additionally, Bloomberg campaigned hard in the Satmar community this year. “The bike lane is used very, very often, it’s a very important artery,” Baruch Herzfeld, a quirky Modern Orthodox hipster who acts as unofficial liaison between Williamsburg Satmars and bikers, told Tablet Magazine. “The fact that this bike lane was taken away smells fishy.” The DOT declined to discuss these allegations, offering only a brief statement: the lane, it said, was removed as part of “ongoing bike network adjustments.”

City To Remove 14 Blocks of Bike Lanes on Bedford Ave. [Gothamist]
DOT Sandblasts 14 Blocks of Bike Lane Off Bedford Avenue
[Streetsblog]
Brooklyn’s Bicycle Man Uses Two Wheels To Bring Hasids and Hipsters Together [Forward]

Previously: Hasids on Bikes

A T-Shirt for Chrismukkah

We report, you decide which way it leans

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Spotted in New York City’s Bryant Park. If Santa’s hat is smothering the Shamash, then isn’t Christmas winning out? Then again, maybe Santa took his hat off because he’s resting after an intense latke binge. Yeah, that must be it. And if the “I” of that t-shirt is none other than Mr. Kringle himself, then the Jews can certainly declare victory.

J Street Sends Satirical Party Invite

Palin, Avigdor Lieberman, other ‘friends’ listed as honorary hosts

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Join them to toast J Street!(J Street)

In only a couple years, J Street, the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” political organization, has made waves—and a few enemies, particularly among conservatives—by challenging the assumption that American Jews’ views on Israel are best represented by center-right AIPAC. We knew them to be strong-willed, even brazen. But we didn’t know they could be funny, too! One Tablet Magazine reporter received an invitation today to the group’s Hanukkah Gala Happy Hour (the Facebook invite is here). “Sarah Palin and Avigdor Lieberman cordially invite you … ,” it begins, mentioning two of the group’s most prominent detractors. And below the obviously Photoshopped, Sgt. Pepper’s-esque portrait, it announces that Palin and Lieberman, as well as other J Street opponents like Pastor John Hagee, Michael Goldfarb, Mike Huckabee, and Levi Johnston, are serving on the Honorary Host Committee—or have been invited to do so, anyway. (Actually, they haven’t. J Street spokesperson Amy Spitalnick did tell us that Goldfarb, the Weekly Standard writer and McCain campaign operative, told her he was amused by the whole thing.)

So is the location—the Russia House in downtown Washington, D.C.—a joke, too? Is the party even happening? “We booked Russia House, and then realized there was so much we could do with that,” Spitalnick said. The party, in other words, is a go. Join J Street, friends of J Street, and Michael Goldfarb (maybe) in two Tuesdays for free booze. great times, and good conversation. We’ll even hazard the guess that the topic of Israel might come up.

J Street Chanukah Happy Hour at Russia House [Facebook]

Previously: The Pulse-Taker

Spielberg Plans ‘Docudrama’ at Israeli Hospital

‘Survivor’ meets ‘E.R.’ meets Jerusalem

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Spielberg to produce Israeli “docudrama”(Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Jerusalem’s Shaare Tzedek Medical Center—one of the world’s busiest hospitals—normally treats secular and Haredi Jews, Israeli-Arabs and West Bank Palestinians, and Jewish settlers. But even emergency heart surgery is a less formidable challenge than the one the hospital will assume in 2011: satisfying America’s insatiable desire for quality reality television. Steven Spielberg and Everybody Loves Raymond producer Phil Rosenthal hope to use Shaare Tzedek as the setting for a new American “docudrama” in which U.S. doctors will be thrust into this fraught, high-paced setting, where—believe it or not, kids—Arabs and Jews somehow work together. According to the series’ Israeli producer, the show will capture the contrast between the “innocent [American] outsiders” and their more experienced, native counterparts. This might not be the only project Rosenthal attempts in Israel, either; he’s already reportedly talking to local production companies about creating a sitcom for Israeli television. Has anyone told him that the doctor series might, for its Israeli audience, already fit the bill?

U.S. TV Show to Feature Shaare Zedek [JPost]

A Dreidel for the Blind

The letters are in Braille!

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In time for this year’s holiday season, an Oregon-based artist with a degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary has created the Braidel—a rather oddly shaped dreidel whose lettering is written in Braille. (The shape, and the Braidel’s ability to stay spinning for an exceptionally long time—see below—are in part due to the rounded bottom, designed to prevent blind players from injuring themselves.) Marsha Plafkin Hurwitz conceived of the Braidel as both toy and art work: “This is something for Jews, Christians, Muslims, anyone who wants to engage how their tradition has treated disability,” she said. Well, sure. But we imagine that for those who are both blind and Jewish, the simple fact that they can now gamble the way Judah Maccabee wanted us to is the minor miracle happening here.

Today in Tablet

New Yiddish theater, an old synagogue, and the week’s haftorah

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Marissa Brostoff profiles Shane Baker, a latter-day vaudevillian whose one-man show, The Big Bupkis (opening tonight!), chronicles how this Kansas City Episcopalian became one of today’s foremost practitioners of Yiddish theater. Allison Hoffman travels to New Haven, Conn.’s little-used Orchard Street synagogue and to a nearby space where artists have created works inspired by the shul’s one-time glory. This week’s haftorah, about the prophet Obadiah, puts Liel Leibovitz in mind of the German novella Michael Kohlhaas, another tale of a man on a futile quest for justice. Justice may be elusive, but consult The Scroll all day for hints.

Al-Aqsa Leader Sues Sacha Baron Cohen, Letterman

Wants $110M because of scene in ‘Brüno’

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Cohen at a Brüno premiere earlier this year.(Torsten Blackwood/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple months ago, the pro-Palestinian al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade expressed its displeasure over a scene in the movie Brüno in which the eponymous character, a gay Austrian fashion maven played by Sacha Baron Cohen, mocks and humiliates an alleged leader of the terrorist group. The Brigade has not acquired a sense of humor since then, but it has acquired a lawyer: the leader, Ayman Abu Aita, will sue Cohen and NBC Universal in U.S. federal court for $110 million, charging libel and slander. Additional defendants will include Brüno director Larry Charles, Gannett, and CBS and David Letterman—apparently the group is particularly miffed by a segment Cohen did on The Late Show while promoting the film. Somebody might want to tell the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade that Aita’s scene—and the movie generally—are actually pretty forgettable, or would be if the group didn’t keep reminding us of them.


$110 Million Lawsuit Says ‘Brüno’ and Letterman Defamed Palestinian Leader
[THR, Esq.]

Previously: Terrorist Threatens Sacha Baron Cohen

Daybreak: Shalit Deal Held Up

Plus the pros and cons of trying Demjanjuk, and more in the news

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• Disputing reports that a deal over captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit has been struck, a Hamas spokesperson said Israel refuses to release 15 specific prisoners upon whom Hamas has insisted. [Haaretz]
• A long article weighs the legitimate reasons for trying accused concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk against the 89-year-old’s apparently frail health. [LAT]
• Russia decisively kiboshed U.S. efforts to get it, the European Union, and the United Nations to join the United States in formally declaring support for Israel’s construction freeze. [Haaretz]
• Waldorf Astoria is building a luxury hotel/residence in Jerusalem’s Mamilla neighborhood, which has seen several other similarly expensive new developments of late. [NYT]
• As his two predecessors did repeatedly (and he already did once), President Obama postponed for six months the implementation of a 1995 U.S. law requiring that the United States’s Israeli embassy be located in Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. [JPost]

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