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Daybreak: Ransom and Bounty

Shalit’s release could be imminent, plus Palin’s wisdom, scholarly dissent, and more in the news

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• American Arabic-language news network Alhurra reported that “credible sources” say that kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will be released by Hamas next Friday in exchange for “hundreds of prisoners.” [Ynet]
• Meanwhile, a Hamas-supporting charity organization in Gaza is offering a bounty of $1.4 million for the capture of any Israeli soldier. [AP]
• Sarah Palin to Barbara Walters: “I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don’t think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand.” [ABC]
• A group of academics resigned from the board of the Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies, claiming the organization is too restrictive in limiting access to its archive. [AP]
• The Associated Press presents an annotated list of the former Nazis who have faced prosecution in Germany since 2001. [AP]

Sundown: Talmud OKs Obama’s Bow

Plus against ‘going Muslim,’ Israel’s defenders, and more

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• A blogger compares the kerfuffle over President Barack Obama’s bow to Japanese Emperor Akihito with the tale from the Book of Esther in which valiant Mordechai refuses to bow to evil Haman, which Talmudic rabbis felt was “a needlessly obstinate decision to make a point in public” and had to justify it by explaining that the Persian minister wore an idol around his neck. [Beliefnet]
• A writer for Religion Dispatches takes issue with a recent Forbes commentary on the Fort Hood shooting titled “Going Muslim,” a play on the phrase “going postal”: “If a fanatic fundamentalist Christian kills an abortion doctor, is he ‘going Christian,’ or should an Israeli soldier who loses it be considered as ‘going Jewish’?” [RD]
• White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Israel’s plan to construct 900 new housing units in Jerusalem will make peace efforts “more difficult,” which is hard to imagine. [AP]
• U.S. Orthodox groups are miffed at the State Department’s latest International Religious Freedom Report, which declares that Israel “discriminates” against non-Jews and non-Orthodox Jews, and “appears harsher” than past years’ assessments. [JTA]

Britain Has a Powerful Israel Lobby, Too!

According to British TV investigation

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Last night, Britain’s equivalent of Frontline—a Channel 4 news show called Dispatches—aired an investigation into Britain’s Israel lobby, which host Peter Oborne argued is as powerful in Westminster as the American equivalent is in Washington, but much less well known. The bulk of the program appears to have focused on one group in particular, the partisan Conservative Friends of Israel, which is described as “beyond doubt the most well-connected and probably the best-funded of all Westminster lobbying groups,” and which presumably matters more than its opposite in the Labour Friends of Israel because everyone thinks the Conservatives are going to win next year’s general election. (But it’s worth noting that Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown is, nonetheless, having this year’s official Hanukkah party at Downing Street, an upgrade from the Foreign Office, because he wants to make nice with the Jews after all the fuss over the Goldstone Report.)

Oborne, writing a companion piece in the Guardian, was careful to say that he wasn’t alleging any kind of conspiracy, nor even anything resembling a conspiracy. But London’s Jewish Chronicle reports that Jewish groups are nonetheless arguing that charges in the program about the lobbying groups’ influence veers too close to the controversial assessment put forward a couple of years ago by academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, who argued that Congress has been duped into promoting Israeli policy goals at America’s expense. The head of the Conservative Friends of Israel called the show’s specific allegations about donations and influence “fictitious,” while the Community Security Trust, which is a little bit like the Anti-Defamation League, accused Oborne of “shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted,” arguing on its blog that the show would inevitably stoke anti-Semitism.

Inside Britain’s Israel Lobby [Channel 4]

Challah Gets Locavore Treatment, Too

In Brooklyn, where else?

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Community-supported agriculture generally means farm-to-city deliveries of fresh produce. In Johanna Bronk’s case, it means locally grown grain for her fledgling challah baking and delivery service. The 23-year-old Massachusetts native moved to Brooklyn this fall to pursue a career in opera (a mezzo-soprano, she graduated from the conservatory at Oberlin College in the spring and teaches Hebrew school to make ends meet), and she decided, at the same time, to launch a bread-baking operation. She currently offers four types of challahs: a traditional loaf with wheat flour and eggs, a vegan (that is, eggless) wheat-flour version, a spelt flour-and-egg challah, and a spelt version sans egg. The grains are cultivated and milled in nearby Pennsylvania and she uses a mix of whole grains in both her wheat and spelt versions. The organic, free-range eggs she uses are produced there as well, and to sweeten the dough, she uses vegan-approved agave nectar. Bronk admitted to us that the CSA-moniker is a bit off, connoting as it does fruits and vegetables. Going forward she’s considering marketing her efforts as a CSB: community-supported bakery or community-supported breadery.

But all that good-for-you-ness doesn’t come cheap. A monthly delivery of a weekly challah costs $36, while $88 gets you three challahs a week for the month. Business is building, slowly, Bronk said. “I’m doing most of the advertising by word of mouth and some flyering,” she said by phone, acknowledging that she’d also advertised on Craigslist. So far three committed buyers have signed up for her services; they’ve all declined to order the vegan or spelt versions. “I’m a little bit surprised that I’ve only gotten orders for the traditional challah so far,” she said, adding that friends whose advice she solicited before beginning the challah-service found alternative types of challah appealing. “Maybe the people in my area have more conventional eating taste.”

Suspect in Mumbai Attacks Posed as a Jew

Six were killed in local Chabad House

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A remembrance service held today at the Mumbai Chabad House.(Pal Pillai/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s been a year since the terrorist attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 170 people, including six occupants of the local Chabad House, and there has been some progress toward prosecuting one of the alleged perpetrators. David Coleman Headley, a 49-year-old Pakistani immigrant to the United States, was arrested last month in Chicago en route to Pakistan and charged with involvement in a plot to attack Denmark after the Muhammad cartoon fiasco. The FBI quickly determined that he was also likely a suspect in the Mumbai attacks. Indian authorities have linked Headley—who was head of an immigration law firm in Mumbai from 2006 to 2009—to Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba and determined that he cased all 10 locations targeted by the terrorists last November. They plan to push the United States for Headley’s extradition in January.

According to an Indian National Investigation Agency report, Headley gained entrance to the Chabad center by posing as a Jew, and the FBI discovered a copy of a book called To Pray as a Jew among his belongings. A rabbi in India, who gave a tour of the wreckage to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper this week, is still baffled by the tragedy: “It was bizarre that the terrorists should come and make this one of their key hunting grounds.… It didn’t have any meaning in any nationalistic sense, in any political sense.”

India to Move for Extradition of Headley from US [Times of India]
Headley Mapped all ‘26/11 Targets,’ US Suspect Posed as Jew: Police [Telegraph (India)]
‘Mumbai Terrorist Pretended to Be Jewish’ [Ynet]
Harpers Tour Site of Mumbai Massacre [Canada.com]

P.A.’s Unilateral Plan Not Finding Backers

U.S., Europeans, Hamas all voice objections

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(Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images)

The Palestinian Authority’s new strategy—unilaterally declaring independence from Israel, then asking the U.N. Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state—doesn’t seem to be going very well. Yesterday, the United States weighed in for the first time since Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat floated it over the weekend, with U.S. senators on a visit to Israel yesterday afternoon saying their country would veto an unilateral declaration in the Security Council, according to Haaretz. Later yesterday evening, the U.S. State Department formally rejected the idea: “It is our strong belief and conviction that the best means to achieve the common goal of a contiguous and viable Palestine is through negotiations between the parties,” it said in a statement. Meantime, the current European Union president, Carl Bildt of Sweden, sent his own message of non-support. “I would hope that we would be in a position to recognize a Palestinian state, but there has to be one first, so I think that is somewhat premature,” he said this morning, according to Al Jazeera.

The Arab League, which includes most Arab states in the Middle East, is still backing the PA’s plan, the BBC says. The P.A.’s rival, Hamas, however, made the valid point yesterday that the new strategy is made somewhat lamer for not being exactly new. As Haaretz put it, “a unilateral declaration of statehood had already been made by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 1988.”

Palestinians Under World Pressure Not to Declare State Unilaterally [Haaretz]
EU Rejects Palestinian State Plan [Al Jazeera]

Egypt Leader Urges Abbas to Stay
[BBC]

Today on Tablet

A family’s legacy and the Bible’s poetry

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Allison Hoffman looks at the legacy of prominent New York Jewish family the Morganthaus via an exhibition celebrating their influence. Adam Kirsch reviews an audacious new book that looks at the Bible through the literary value of its poetry. And as always, updates to The Scroll will roll out all day.

U.S. Soldiers Impressed By Informal IDF

‘Stars & Stripes’ examines reactions from joint exercise

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U.S. Army Capt. Stephen Hummel, IDF Capt. Ofer Yizhar-Barnea, and IDF 2nd Lt. Ayelet Yosef at a dinner at the start of the joint exercise.(Stripes.com)

The U.S. military’s three-week missile-defense maneuvers with the IDF recently ended, and the 1,000 American service members who participated in what’s called Exercise Juniper Cobra are returning home very cognizant of the cultural differences between the two countries’ forces. “The flip-flops,” U.S. Army Sgt. Delvona Maria, a chemical specialist, noted incredulously of her IDF counterparts, in a Stars & Stripes article. “No. We’re around heavy equipment.” U.S. forces were generally bemused by the Israelis’ informality, the paper noted, from and sandals and pedicured feet to suggestively tailored uniforms (“We’re not going there,” said an American officer) to soldiers’ habit of calling each other—and even their commanders—by their first names. Israel, the paper notes, is the only Western country in which women are drafted alongside men; gays also serve openly in the IDF. The IDF’s more relaxed approach, according to one Israeli soldier, results from the fact that it remains a “people’s army,” built by a draft in a country “with a lot of Jewish family values.” Still, Sgt. Maria, who wears her hair in a tight bun, remained confused by the Israeli women, who often wear their hair in what Stars & Stripes calls “loose, fetching ponytails.” “How is the mask going to fit over it?” she asked.

Informal Service [Stars & Stripes]

Daybreak: Give Peace a Rest

Roger Cohen seeks detente, plus mutinous soldiers, strategic land grabs, and more in the news

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• Roger Cohen joins his fellow New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman in giving up on peace between Israel and Palestinians: “Stop talking about peace. Banish the word. Start talking about détente.” [NYT]
• In Israel, pro-settler soldiers refused orders to dismantle settlements in the Palestinian territories, but, says an IDF spokesman, “This is not a political tidal wave washing through the military.” [AP]
• New York State Assembly member Dov Hikind and 50 supporters are encouraging American Jews to purchase land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem; “[I]f a Jews wants to buy something in the Land of Israel,” says Hikind, “there shouldn’t be anything that says you can’t buy in a particular area.” [Haaretz]
• Newly published diaries by Benito Mussolini’s mistress claim the dictator told her, “These disgusting Jews, I must destroy them all.” [AP]
• And a 90-year-old former Nazi in Germany has been charged with the murder of 58 Jews in 1945. [AP]

Sundown: Obama Gets the Picture

Plus dreidel for fame and fortune, mixed marriages, and more

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• During President Barack Obama’s term, the painting in the Oval Office’s private dining room has switched from a portrait of George Washington to a pastoral landscape to a Civil War-era painting of Abraham Lincoln and his generals called “The Peacemaker,” which graced the wall during Obama’s recent conference with Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu. Politico wonders: “Could the White House be trying to send a subliminal message to Netanyahu—or perhaps to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas?” [Politico]
• Journalists Cokie and Steve Roberts spoke to the Washington Post about their marriage in a video that’s part of the paper’s new project exploring interfaith relationships. According to Steve, his 90-year-old mother, who he describes as “a very Jewish woman,” nonetheless went to her first Passover seder at “her Catholic daughter-in-law’s.” [WPost]
• According to a New York Times profile, Twilight star Kristen Stewart did not have a conventional rise to fame: “An agent spotted her as an 8-year-old in a holiday show at her school in Woodland Hills, Calif. (She was singing ‘The Dreidel Song.’)” [NYT]
• Speaking of which, in a long-awaited development, there is now such a thing as Major League Dreidel. A blogger is skeptical: “Any major tournament that pays its winners in bags of chocolate gelt instead of straight money has a while to go.” [Eater]

Parent Documentaries: A New Jewish Genre?

Filmmakers reinterpret the 5th commandment

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Reading an article in yesterday’s Times on documentaries about famous parents by their children, it was striking to realize that the overwhelming majority of those who have been so profiled—the architect Louis Kahn, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Brooklyn-born folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and the lawyers William Kunstler and Martin Garbus—were Jews.

What to make of such an intersection? There’s maybe a sociological explanation: there is, of course, no shortage of Jews working in film. There’s a psychological explanation: documentaries about parents can be seen as a species of therapy—albeit in sessions that last around 90 minutes rather than 50. But there’s also the temptation to move beyond the realm of social and behavioral science and reach for something more ancient: the commandment to honor one’s parents.

It’s an unconventional definition of honoring, to be sure. Many of the filmmakers drawn to the nascent genre have had complicated relationships with their parents—or, in some cases, no relationship at all. And so, there’s an element of score-settling involved. (Just look at the picture of William Kunstler that accompanies the article, and it quickly becomes apparent that this is not hagiography.) Yet, it’s clear that what animates these documentaries is a desire to understand—to understand the importance to the broader world of figures who, in the filmmakers’ eyes, once existed only as moms and dads. And what emerges, more often than not, is a sort of grudging respect. Besides, there’s a name for films about family members made without any bite: we call those home movies.

Filmmakers’ Controversy: Their Dad [NYT]

‘The Leviathan,’ in Hebrew

Hobbes classic gets its first full Hebrew translation

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As of last month, Israelis have access for the first time to a full translation of The Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes. Earlier Hebrew editions “had quietly dropped anything Hobbes had to say about the Bible,” says Yoram Hazony, the provost of the Shalem Center, which sponsored the translation. “For decades, Israelis read Hobbes without any inkling that he is, in a way, part of their own story.”

The New York Times asked a few experts to weigh in on the implications of the new translation, which Hazony hopes will allow Israelis “to reconsider their place in the intellectual life of the West.” One participant was Rebecca Goldstein, author of the Nextbook Press volume Betraying Spinoza; Goldstein couldn’t help seeing a connection between that titular thinker and Hobbes: “Both were impressed by the enormous destructive capacity of religion. Both saw religion as coming from man’s terror at his own mortality. The question was how to transform the state so as to stabilize the volatile religious impulse that—realists that they were—they knew could not be made to disappear.” One wonders what Israelis might think of Goldstein’s assessment that “Hobbes, like Spinoza, not only wants to wrest the interpretation of religious texts away from religious authorities, but to reveal those texts as undermining the very legitimacy of those authorities.”

Hobbes in Hebrew: The Religion Question [NYT]
Related: Betraying Spinoza [Nextbook Press]

Costco to Sell Illustrated Torahs

Just in time for Hanukkah, or Christmas

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Hey, you know what you shouldn’t be paying retail for this holiday season? Torahs. According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, discount giant Costco is going to start selling a special edition at select stores later this month. The distributor told the news service that The Illustrated Torah, published by Gefen Publishing House of Jerusalem in conjunction with The Studio in Old Jaffa and the Jewish Publication Society of New York, is supposed to appeal to both Jewish and Christian consumers who don’t have access to a local Jewish bookstore or Judaica shop. Or, you know, to the Internet.

Costco to Sell Torah [JTA]

Orthodox Rioters Take On Intel

Protestors ransack factory for operating on Shabbat

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Two of the protestors on Saturday.(Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images)

At least 1,500 ultra-Orthodox Jews stormed an Intel plant in Jerusalem on Saturday, angry that the computer chip-maker is operating there on the Sabbath. The rioters, some of whom wore shtreimels and other holiday finery, threw rocks at onlookers and journalists and ransacked part of the factory, including its chapel. According to the Jerusalem Post, protestors threw “prayer books to the floor and used prayer stands to bash in the doors.” Jerusalem’s mayor and other government officials condemned the violence and Intel-Israel CEO Maxine Fassberg pointed out that the factory has been in operation—including on Saturdays—for nearly 25 years without objection. (Blogger Neal Ungerleider offers a different account, stating the rioters stormed a new Intel plant.) Fassberg also dismissed rumors that Intel, which employs 6,500 people in Israel, would leave the country altogether if such protests continue.

Barkat voices his support for Intel [JPost]
Ultra Orthodox Jews Storm Intel Plant [True/Slant]

The 2,000 Year Old Man Brought Jewish Humor Mainstream

Brooks and Reiner tell ‘Times,’ as they prepare for box set

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Brooks and Reiner performeing the 2000 Year Old Man in 2003.(NYTimes.com)

Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner have been doing their “2,000 Year Old Man” routine for a meager 50 years, but apparently that’s long enough for their creation of minor genius—a Yiddish-accented schlub who’s been around for the crucifixion, the inquisition, and the French Revolution, and still his 42,000 children don’t call—to get his own four-disc box set rerelease. In an interview with Brooks, who plays the Man in the routine, and Reiner, who plays his befuddled interlocutor, the New York Times identifies the original 2,000 Year Old Man albums, from the early 1960s, as among the first that “helped make Jewish humor American humor.”

Brooks and Reiner seem to agree. At first, “[We said] we can’t do it for anybody but Jews and non-anti-Semitic friends,” Reiner recalled. “The Eastern European Jewish accent Mel did was persona non grata in 1950. The war had been over for five years, the Jews had been maligned enough.” The television personality Steve Allen convinced them to put their character on an album, but they remained skeptical about the Man’s crossover appeal until, said Reiner, Cary Grant reported that the Queen Mum was a fan: “I said, ‘Well there’s the biggest shiksa in the world, we must be all right.’”

A Shtick With a Thousand Lives [NYT]

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