Role-Playing Rabbis

Students receive a new kind of training


When you think back to good rabbis you’ve known (or to bad ones), you’re probably less likely to recall their command of the liturgy—they all know that— and more the personal touches they put on their dealings with you, whether at a family bar mitzvah or even a family funeral. They don’t teach that stuff in Rabbi School, though. Except now, reports the New York Times, they do. Yeshiva University’s seminary gets actors to come in and play the roles of congregants in need of special ministering: bereaved children, depressed folks, that sort of thing. The students, in turn, gain some experience of this unsung but nonetheless crucial aspect of being a rabbi. Of one student, the reporter writes: “The lessons he learned from the simulation, he said, were these: People may not believe you when you tell them. It may take a long time for them to absorb the shock. And after that, it only gets worse.” All the more reason for congregants to be able to turn to a rabbi with some practice.

Rabbis in Training Receive Lessons in Real-Life Traumas [NYT]

Canada’s Liberals Strike Back Against Israel Attacks

No-holds-barred war for Jewish voting bloc


Canada’s ruling Conservative Party has been hammering the opposition Liberals as wishy-washy when it comes to Israel, in an attempt to woo the country’s 350,000-strong Jewish community. Now, the Liberal Party has found an inventive response: instead of portraying itself as every bit the one-dimensional, no-questions-asked Israel supporters that the Conservatives claim they themselves are, they’re arguing that by taking more measured pro-Israel stances, they are doing Canadian Jews a service. Said one Liberal MP, who heads the party’s pro-Israel group:

I appreciate the support of the Jewish community, unequivocally I appreciate the support of Israel. But by making it frequently into a black-and white-issue, [the Conservatives are] setting it up as a wedge. And they’re also setting it up so that people who have been long-time strong supporters of Israel are questioning issues like the de-funding of Kairos. And it’s creating a backlash.

(Kairos is a church-sponsored non-governmental organization that has helped organize anti-Israel boycotts, and which the government has de-funded.)

In purporting to represent the best interests of Canada’s Jewish citizens, the Liberals possess a certain inherent credibility: as in the United States, most of Canada’s Jews tend to vote for the more left-wing of the two main political parties.

Canadian Opposition: Harper’s Staunch Pro-Israel Support May Spark Anti-Semitism [Globe and Mail/Vos Iz Neias?]

Earlier: Canada’s PM Harper Continues Drive For Jewish Votes

Tropper Didn’t Actually Resign

Disgraced rabbi still running yeshiva

Rabbi Leib Tropper.(Tropper photo from

Remember when Rabbi Leib Tropper—the ultra-Orthodox conversion guru since disgraced by sex scandal allegations—resigned from the Monsey, New York, yeshiva he had been heading? Yeah, turns out he still is the de facto rosh yeshiva. It’s not clear how long that will remain the case, though, now that the cat has departed from that particular bag.

Meanwhile, an informal rabbinic court has been hearing evidence, and is prepared to convene a formal Beit Din—which would have the power to condemn Tropper under Jewish law, and, just as importantly, would license other rabbis to do so—as early as next week. It is still unknown whether Tropper will cooperate with it.

To read Tablet Magazine’s four-part series on Tropper, go here.

Leading Monsey Rabbonim Convene on Tropper Issue
[5TJT via Failed Messiah]

Earlier: Tropper Resigns From Yeshiva

Today on Tablet

Coexistence en francais, Mel Gibson, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, the Vox Tablet podcast features a dispatch from Paris’s 19th arrondisement, where Sephardic and Muslim populations live relatively amicably even as anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise elsewhere in France. This week’s Emails of Zion—in which we publish That Email That’s Been Making The Rounds, in case you haven’t gotten it yet—advises the reader not to go see the new film Edge of Darkness because its star, Mel Gibson, is a Holocaust denier. The Scroll is somewhat snowed in, but will still be keeping you updated on events of the day.

Hot Off The Presses: ‘Mein Kampf’

Cause to cheer a forthcoming edition of Hitler’s manifesto


German Jewish groups are applauding a Munich-based historical organization’s plans to republish Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf (“My Struggle”) in a few years. Jewish leaders there  said they hoped for “an aggressive and enlightening engagement with the book.”

Wait, what?

Actually, it makes sense if you think about it. The copyright on the book, owned by the state of Bavaria, expires in 2015—70 years after the death of its author. No doubt some of the groups who would look to publish new editions are neo-Nazi outfits who would, let us say, fail to put the work in the proper context. By contrast, the Institute of Contemporary History pledged to add extensive annotations “pointing out the falsity of much of what [Hitler] wrote.”

No wonder several Jewish leaders declared that the new edition will hopefully “prevent neo-Nazis from profiteering from Mein Kampf, while an aggressive and enlightening engagement with the book would doubtless remove many of its false, persisting myths.” Remember in high school history, when you read Oliver Wendell Holmes arguing, “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market”? This is kind of like that. The Jewish groups are counting on the market’s ability to crush Hitler’s ideas.

So hopefully Germans of 2015 will read it and realize how crappy it is. Frankly, more folks in the 1930s should probably have taken a peek: in the book—whose sales outstripped those of the Bible in Germany in its heyday—Hitler announced (a decade before World War II) his plans to eliminate the Jews, and suggests that the best way for the German Reich to expand would be to take some of Russia’s land. Hitler was many things, but coy was not one of them.

Adolph Hitler’s ‘Mein Kampf’ To Be Republished in Germany [Telegraph]

Daybreak: Russia Gets Real

Plus Fatah and Hamas feud over electricity, and more in the news


• Russia was unusually prominent among those who condemned Iran’s latest nuclear provocations. However, China, the final U.N. Security Council veto, remains reluctant to criticize Iran or seem to support sanctions. [LAT]
• Meanwhile, U.S. officials revealed plans to devise a new, harsher sanctions regime specifically designed to put Iran’s Revolutionary Guards at odds with its broader population. [NYT]
• Israel launched an air strike in southern Gaza last night in response to rockets fired over the last several days. No injuries reported. [Haaretz]
• Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri vowed to stand with Hezbollah should violence erupt between it and Israel. [JPost]
• Money disputes between the Palestinian Authority (in the West Bank) and the Gaza electric utility could lead to increased power outages in the Strip. This could be read as subtle leverage Fatah has over Hamas. [LAT]
• Celebrated left-wing Israeli novelist A.B. Yehoshua pens an op-ed arguing that peace with the Palestinians would actually go a long way toward tempering Iran’s hatred of Israel, and therefore of neutralizing the Iranian nuclear threat. [Haaretz]

Sundown: New Human Rights Watch Head

Plus don’t cry for A’jad, Elie Wiesel, and more


• James Hoge, the broadly respected editor of Foreign Affairs, will become the new head of Human Rights Watch. The group has been accused in the past of an anti-Israel bias. [Laura Rozen]
• Elie Wiesel says he “would not shed a tear” if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad died. [Haaretz]
• A dispatch describes the fledgling Jewish community of [fill in the blank]. In this case, it’s [Glasgow, Scotland]. [Jewish Chronicle]
• The president of CNBC arranged for a blockbuster bar mitzvah video for his son. It features NBC anchor Brian Williams, New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and—best of all, in our opinion—Mad Money host Jim Cramer. [Page Six]
• Najla Said—daughter of late Professor Edward—has a one-woman play, Palestine, opening Off Broadway next week. The autobiographical production details her transition from disinterested kid to politically committed woman. [NYT]
• Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union, and other prominent American Orthodox groups are lobbying for clemency to be granted to Martin Grossman, who faces execution in Florida next Tuesday for killing a wildlife officer 25 years ago. [Vos Iz Neias?]

Knicks Match Casspi and Heritage Night

Best Jewish marketing ploy since the post-Yom Kippur lox platter

Casspi lays one up against the Cleveland Cavaliers in December.(Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

New York magazine’s sports blog catches some canny advertising on the part of the New York Knicks: their Jewish Heritage Night just so happens to coincide with the night the Sacramento Kings—the team of Omri Casspi, the first Israeli player in the NBA—come to Madison Square Garden. (That would be tonight.)

It gets better: you can buy a ticket and a Hebrew Knicks t-shirt, or even a package that includes those things plus entry into a special Q&A with Casspi, for, respectively, $36 and $54—double and triple chai! You would almost think that the Knicks have a real live Jewish person on staff.

Knicks’ Secret Weapon To Sell Tickets: Omri Casspi [The Sports Section]

Related: Draft Notice [Tablet Magazine]

Egypt’s Soccer Coach Won’t Coach Israel

Just in case you were wondering


“It would be more honorable to me and my family if I die of hunger rather than consider coaching the Israeli team,” said Hassan Shehata, who coach’s Egypt’s national squad, explaining that he wouldn’t coach Israel “even if it was the only team that requests my services.” (Um, quick question: did it request his services?) “All my life I’ve heard that Israel kills Arabs, fires missiles, and destroys Arab villages,” he added, “but this is the first time in my life that I’ve heard that in Israel they play soccer.” (They do, in fact, play soccer in Israel.)

So that’s not a very nice thing to say! But let’s be magnanimous and wish Shehata’s team—which is ranked an impressive tenth in the world—the best of luck in this summer’s World Cup. Wait—what’s that? Egypt got beat out by Algeria and failed to qualify? Too bad. Better luck next year. Sorry, four years.

‘Rather Starve Than Coach Israel’[JPost]

Toyota Crashes Into Synagogue

Queens man blames brakes; yeah, that must be it

The wrecked Toyota.(Daily News.)

A man named Gerald Silver accidentally crashed his car into a Queens synagogue Monday. (Silver and wife suffered no serious injuries, fortunately.) Here’s the twist: the car was a Toyota Camry. Yes, Toyota, as in the legendary Japanese car manufacturer that recently recalled a whole bunch of Priuses (Prii?) due to braking problems. In fact, Silver thinks Toyota is at fault: “The car just speeded up unbelievably,” he said. “I attempted to brake it and it just kept getting faster and faster.” He added: “It’s quite obvious—I blame Toyota.”

So is the Camry subject to braking problems, too? Of course, it’s possible that Silver accidentally hit the accelerator when he thought he was braking, but that seems unlikely: drivers, like wine, only get better with age, and so it seems improbable that an 86-year-old gentleman like Silver could make such an error.

Queens WWII Vet Gerald Silver Faults Toyota as 2009 Camry Hits Synagogue [NY Daily News[

Israeli Minister, Historian Welcomed in Britain

With a disinvitation and ‘slaughter the Jews’


Yesterday, at the Oxford Union (at the eponymous British university), Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon—an especially controversial figure, most recently for his deliberate humiliation of Turkey’s ambassador—was the target of shouts of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” and “Itbah Al-Yahud,” which means, “Slaughter the Jews.”

On the other hand, at least he was allowed to talk! Benny Morris, the prominent Israeli historian (as well as—spoiler alert!—forthcoming Tablet Magazine contributor), was disinvited from Cambridge University’s Israel Society following a student protest that began on Facebook. Morris began his career decidedly on the left—he was one of the so-called New Historians who documented Israeli abuses during the 1947-8 war—but has since moved rightward. “I decided to cancel for fear of the Israel Society being portrayed as a mouthpiece of Islamophobia,” said the Israel Society head. “We understand that whilst Professor Benny Morris’ contribution to history is highly respectable and significant, his personal views are, regrettably, deeply offensive to many.” Morris will speak instead at the university’s Political Science Department, which is apparently more interested in hearing what Israeli historians have to say than the Israel Society is.

Oxford Students Scream ‘Kill the Jews’ at Israeli Minister [Jewish Chronicle]
Benny Morris Talk Stirs Uproar at Cambridge [JPost]

Israelis Seize Snowball Opportunity

Friends organize mass fight in Washington, D.C.


Washingtonians don’t need us to tell them that they got over two feet of snow over the weekend (they also probably don’t need us to tell them that they’re getting another foot tonight!). But even as the city more or less shut down—the snow fell Friday and Saturday; the federal government was closed yesterday and today—over 2,000 young people took advantage with a massive snowball fight at Dupont Circle that garnered national attention (and maybe even a little national jealousy).

And the fight’s organizers, it turns out, must think that two inches of snow, much less two feet, is quite a novelty: they’re both from Israel. Ami Greener and Michael Lipin are friends who live across Dupont from each other and thought this would be a fun idea. Largely through Facebook, they organized the fight, and ended up thrilled: with the turnout, with the businesses that came to sell food, and with the generally good vibes.

Were you there? Do you want to pretend you were there? Then you may want to get in on their t-shirt.

Israelis Organize Massive Washington Snowball Fight [JPost]

Today on Tablet

What a 900-year-old poet means for you, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, Adam Kirsch introduces Yehuda Halevi, the new biography by Hillel Halkin (and published by Nextbook Press), arguing that Jews today can better understand themselves by considering the life of this 12th-century poet. Mideast columnist Lee Smith reveals how the influential husband-and-wife team of Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett have pushed the line that it makes more sense to accept the current Iranian leadership than to hope to change it. For its part, The Scroll recommends Halkin’s book—it’s quite good!

Wieseltier vs. Sullivan

Your guide to the brawl

Leon Wieseltier.(The Charlie Rose Show.)

Late last night, The New Republic posted an article in which Leon Wieseltier, the magazine’s literary editor of roughly three decades, accused Atlantic writer Andrew Sullivan of extremely irresponsible writing about Israel. Wieseltier takes special issue with Sullivan’s contention that American Jews influence U.S. policy toward Israel in a way that is both indicative of and a betrayal of their very Judaism. Wieseltier is quite influential when it comes to shaping currents in highbrow American intellectual culture, and particularly the Jewish subset within; Sullivan has one of the most popular and highly trafficked blogs, period. In the little world where people argue over these things, this qualifies as one of the biggest title bouts in years.

The article is guaranteed to prompt a lot of discussion (plus, Lord knows, a response from Sullivan), and I’ll return to it in more depth later on. For now, here are some basic things that anyone should be aware of going into the debate.

What’s Wieseltier’s main charge? Wieseltier is less concerned with Sullivan’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (which recently have drifted further and further left) and more with his declarations about U.S. policy vis-à-vis Israel, and who’s behind them. A key line of Sullivan’s, according to Wieseltier, is:

Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights). But the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing—that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran—is something else. Something much darker.

For Wieseltier, this is condescending, if not worse. Whether or not Michael Goldfarb or Charles Krauthammer are right or wrong has no bearing on their Jewishness, and does not make them good or bad Jews, Wieseltier says. And:

the explanation that Sullivan adopts for almost everything that he does not like about America’s foreign policy, and America’s wars, and America’s role in the world—that it is all the result of the clandestine and cunningly organized power of a single and small ethnic group—has a provenance that should disgust all thinking people.

At one point, Wieseltier links Sullivan to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. They were the co-authors of an article and later a book that argued that U.S. policy toward Israel was influenced so as to counter the U.S. national interest by the especially powerful Jewish lobby. They are extremely controversial.

So, does Wieseltier call Sullivan an anti-Semite? Short answer: no. It’s a very specific charge, and one that must have occurred to Wieseltier; if he’d wanted to write, “Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite,” he certainly could have. The closest he comes is in the final paragraph: “About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive?” Wieseltier asks. “To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.” My guess is that Wieseltier thinks Buchanan is both a bigot and moronically insensitive, so do with that what you like.

What’s with all the stuff about homophobia? Wieseltier imagines, as a thought experiment, that Sullivan had written about gay people what he had actually written about Jews, and asks the reader to consider how it would seem then. The subtext of this rhetorical gambit is that Sullivan himself is a gay man, and has written very intelligently and influentially on gay politics and gay culture over the past two decades. In fact, some of Sullivan’s most important articles on the subject appeared in The New Republic.

Where’s the beef? The fairest thing to do is to consider Sullivan’s posts on the merits, and Wieseltier’s essay on the merits. At the same time, it’s worth knowing that Sullivan was the editor of TNR for several years in the 1990s, while Wieseltier was literary editor. In other words, these two are not strangers to each other. In recent years, Sullivan (and many others) have criticized TNR for a rightward drift, particularly in areas of foreign policy, and particularly on Israel; actually, even in its liberal heyday in the 1980s, under the aegis of owner Martin Peretz, the magazine has usually taken editorial stands on the Middle East that would not look unfamiliar on the Israeli center-right.

What’s with all the purple prose? Yeah, this is kind of how Wieseltier writes, particularly when he’s writing at the home base. If you’re a fan, you take it as a sign of intellectual seriousness; if you’re a detractor, you see it as bloviating. Even the diehards must admit that the pretentiousness can be a little much (the first several-hundred words here are about W.H. Auden and Reinhold Niebuhr), and even the haters must admit he can be very, very funny (Sullivan has been a little too ready to endorse a little too crazy theories about Sarah Palin, among others; Wieseltier writes, “On the other hand, there is no suggestion that Netanyahu is Trig’s dad”).

What’s with all the stuff about blogging? Throughout, Wieseltier bemoans Sullivan’s alleged hyperbole, even hysteria, and implies that perhaps Sullivan’s chosen medium shares part of the blame; at one point, he even calls blogging “a sickly obsession.” (I’ll try not to be offended!) In the past, Wieseltier has discussed his problems with blogging: that it accelerates publishing past the point where reasonable thought can temper hot emotions; and that it lends itself to conspiracy theorizing and intemperate remarks. Which just gets us even more excited for Sullivan’s inevitable response. Stay tuned!!

Something Much Darker [TNR]

Daybreak: Sanctions Around The Bend

Plus Oren shouted down, Touro’s Lander dies, and more in the news


• While Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked up the need for more sanctions, Iran clarified its intentions, announcing that it will build 10 new nuclear plants. [LAT]
• Prime Minister Netanyahu directly asked E.U. ambassadors to move for further sanctions. [Ynet]
• And in case you weren’t sure: yes, enriching more uranium, even for ostensibly peaceful purposes, is likely to bring Iran ever closer to a weapon. [WP]
• Palestinian leadership is waiting for the United States to set exact terms for indirect peace negotiations before it fully agrees to them; they have said they are tentatively a go. [Haaretz]
• Nearly a dozen folks were arrested for interrupting Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at the University of California, Irvine, with shouts about alleged Israeli human rights violations. [JPost]
• Rabbi Bernard Lander, who founded religiously oriented Touro College, died at 94. [Arutz Sheva]

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