Claude Levi-Strauss Dies

French-Jewish founder of structuralism was 100

Levi-Strauss in 2005(Pascal Pavani/AFP/Getty Image)

The French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss died this weekend at 100, the office of the president of Paris’s School for the Advanced Studies in Social Sciences announced today. Levi-Strauss pioneered the structuralist approach to anthropology, which holds that myths, involving deeply rooted patterns of language and symbolism, are the building blocks of culture. His ideas, influenced by years field work with Native American and Amazonian tribes, in turn influenced philosophers including Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida.

Levi-Strauss grew up in an assimilated Jewish family in Paris. He fought in the French army at the start of World War II and fled to New York when the Nazis marched into Paris. One of his first works, Race and History, published in 1952, suggests how his wartime experience and his anthropological insights came together: the UNESCO-sponsored project “made the case that fighting the notion that some races are inferior to others also means combating the concept that some societies are culturally superior to others,” as the Forward wrote last year on the occasion of his works being republished in the Gallimard Bibliotheque de la Pleiade series. After returning from New York in the 1950s, Levi-Strauss lived out his life in Paris, where he was a prominent member of the elite Academie Francaise.

Claude Levi-Strauss, Scientist Who Saw Human Doom, Dies at 100 [Bloomberg]
Claude of the Jungle [Forward]

Russian-Israeli Spy-Turned-Tycoon Assassinated

Shabtai Kalmanovich spied for KGB, brought Michael Jackson to Russia, collected Judaica

Kalmanovich hugging a basketball coach for his team in April.(Miguel Riopa/AFP/Getty Images)

Shabtai Kalmanovich—a Lithuanian Jew who emigrated to Israel in the 1970s, was convicted of having infiltrated Golda Meir’s government as a spy for the KGB in the 1980s, returned to Russia, where he became a construction tycoon and brought Michael Jackson to Moscow, in the 1990s, invested millions in European women’s basketball in the 2000s, and accumulated Russia’s largest collection of Judaica along the way—has been, shockingly, shot to death by unidentified gunmen while in being driven in his black Mercedes in central Moscow. The crime is suspected to be an act of revenge by business rivals. “This is all simply horrible,” said Adolf Shayevich, Russia’s chief rabbi. “In the center of Moscow! Such things now happen all the time and the culprits are never found.”

Russian Tycoon Fatally Shot in Moscow [LAT]
Ex-Shin Bet, KGB Double Agent Shot Dead in Moscow [Haaretz]
Former Israeli Double Agent Shot Dead Near Putin’s Office [Telegraph]

Jews Crush Muslims in Nobel Tally

‘Jerusalem Post’ op-ed theorizes on why

(Deshakalyan Chowdhury/AFP/Getty Images)

In an op-ed in the Jerusalem Post today, Uriya Shavit tackles a touchy subject:

While Jews, who are only around 0.2 percent of the world population, have won a quarter of all Nobel Prizes awarded in the sciences, Muslims, who are one quarter of the world population, have won only a handful, even by the most generous accounts. And while relative to its size, Israel’s tiny academia has been the world’s leading Nobel power over the past decade, Arab universities have yet to produce their first Nobel laureate.

Shavit challenges what he calls a “conventional explanation” for the imbalance—“Jewish genius,” itself a controversial conception—asserting that this x-factor can be broken down into a combination of Jews’ traditional commitment to education, and their concentration in “modern” societies that foster openness to the “greater world” and scientific exploration. “Remove one part of this equation—heritage or modernity—and the ‘Jewish genius’ vanishes,” says Shavit. In fact, he fears that as secular Jews move farther from their heritage and observant Jews becoming increasingly cloistered, the well of Nobel Prize-winning Jews will dry up.

As for Muslims, Shavit blames “a monopoly of the spiritual and the metaphysical” over the rational and scientific in many Arab nations. “Science can only flourish in a culture that does not recognize any taboos and constantly doubts creeds of all sorts,” he says. Meanwhile, “Contemporary leading Arab universities produce books and essays that depict Darwin, Freud, Marx and other brilliant modern minds as part of a Jewish conspiracy to bring about the downfall of humanity.” As a result of this intellectual isolation, he suggests, “the first Muslim affiliated with a Middle Eastern university to win a Nobel Prize will be an Arab-Israeli.”

Muslims, Jews and the Nobel Prize [JPost]

Today on Tablet

Roth’s latest, and a new audience for another classic writer


Adam Kirsch delves into Philip Roth’s newest book The Humbling, which continues the author’s recent “series of meditations on last things.” Liel Leibowitz explores a new project translating the work of Holocaust writer Primo Levi into Arabic and Farsi. Plus much more throughout the day here on The Scroll.

Daybreak: Clinton’s Diplomatic Challenge

Plus fear of loners, and more Goldstone back-and-forth


• Visting Morocco, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton clarified her praise for what she’d called Israel’s “unprecedented” concessions in the settlements: after Arab leaders expressed dismay that she seemed to be cutting Israel a break, Clinton reiterated that “the United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.” [NYT]
• The arrest of a Jewish settler in Israel for murder and terrorism has the media there considering “the risks even lone attackers can pose to stability in a tinderbox region.” [Reuters]
• A joint French-British initiative lays out a list of “red lines” without which they and other members of the European Union will abstain from voting on any U.N. resolution on the Goldstone Report; conditions include requiring Israel and the Palestinians to conduct independent investigations into accusations of war crimes. [Haaretz]
• Meanwhile, AIPAC is urging the U.S. House of Representatives to pass a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report as “part of an ongoing effort at the U.N. to single out Israel and to deny Israel the same rights accorded to other nations.” [JTA]

Sundown: Germany Makes Suspicious Toys, Monuments

Plus un-kosher shenanigans, pre-game prayer, and more


• A blogger notes that toymaker Playmobil’s new Egyptian-themed set doesn’t include any Israelite slaves, and that the company has previously issued a line of armed Roman soldiers; she smells a conspiracy in the company’s German origin, but she might be placated to know that Playmobil sued a creative pastor for the crucifixion of one of its figurines. [Forward]
• Elsewhere in German rat-smelling, an interfaith group is protesting a new World War II memorial in a German town that recognizes SS soldier (who, the town’s mayor contends, was “never charged with any war crimes”) alongside Jewish victims. [JTA]
• It’s not exactly Madoff, but scam artists posing as Costco buyers bilked several exhibitors at the recent Kosherfest trade show out of money they claimed would ensure the kosher products got on the shelves at the megastore. [Kosher Today]
• If there’s one thing that can get New Yorkers praying, it’s baseball; Chabad reps set up shop at Thursday night’s World Series game at the newly kosher-friendly Yankee Stadium and found some takers for tefillin wrapping and candle giveaways. [Chabad]

‘New Yorker’ on Gaza: ‘A Dystopian Atlantis’

Increasingly isolated, despairing society, with Shalit as metaphor

Shalit holding a Gaza newspaper in a video shown on Israeli TV last month.(Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

This week’s New Yorker features an extremely grim story about the deterioration of Gaza by Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and extremely grim) study of al-Qaida, The Looming Tower. In Wright’s telling, the seven-mile-wide strip of land has, thanks to the Israeli blockade that’s been in place since 2007 and Hamas’s increasing draconianism, become “a floating island, a dystopian Atlantis, drifting farther away from contact with any other society” including the relatively well-integrated West Bank. And that was even before the war last winter that destroyed much of the area’s remaining infrastructure. Hovering over it all is the image of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in 2007 who has become a major bargaining chip for Hamas and a kind of Helen of Troy figure for Israel. Indeed, Wright argues, Israel may have invaded Gaza partly in an attempt to steal him back. “Shalit is presumed to be alive, and his plight has driven Israel slightly mad,” Wright writes, noting reports that during Operation Cast Lead, the IDF’s fear of producing another Shalit was so intense that some commanders told soldiers to kill themselves if they were captured by Hamas. “Though it may seem perverse,” Wright adds, Gazans too feel a sense of identification with the captured soldier, whose pale face adorns menacing Hamas billboards: they “see themselves as like Shalit: confined, mistreated, and despairing.”

Captives [NYer]

Manischewitz Revives Classic Campaign

To shill Jewish penicillin


The New York Times reports today on several major trends going on that you may have missed. One is that non-Jews are buying kosher food due to “the increasing popularity of ethnic foods and the desire to know more about food ingredients, quality, labeling and nutrition.” (The latter reason seems dubious, considering that we’re talking about things like gefilte fish here). The second is that there has erupted something called the “broth wars”—companies that make soup stock are battling it out for dominance among a recession-ravaged, newly home-cooking populace. These two developments have culminated in a new branding campaign for perennial Jewish-joke punchline Manischewitz, which has entered the broth fray and revived an old slogan: “Man-O-Manischewitz!” Seems promising; after all, as the company’s ad man puts it, “Who wouldn’t think about buying a chicken broth from a company known for everything Jewish?”

It’s a Fine Broth of a Campaign [NYT]

Alleged Israeli Terrorist Arrested in ’97, Too

Back then he was targeting Palestinians


Israeli police announced Sunday that an American-born settler suspected of a series of terrorist acts against both Palestinians and Jews was arrested last month, confirming rumors that have been circulating on the internet for weeks. Yaakov Teitel, who grew up in a born-again ultra-Orthodox family in Florida and Virginia, was arrested in Israel in 1997 for—and confessed to—allegedly killing two Palestinians, but released on grounds of insufficient evidence. After a stint back in the United States, he and his family moved to a West Bank settlement outpost, where Teitel allegedly made a package bomb that wounded a child in a messianic Jewish family, attempted to kill a leftist Jewish professor; he’s also claiming involvement in the Tel Aviv gay center shooting this summer (though police say that on that last count, he might be falsely bragging).

So why did it take Shin Bet security forces 12 years to catch a serial terrorist who’d already confessed to murder? A Haaretz op-ed concludes that Teitel may never have been caught at all if he hadn’t started targeting Jews: “as with many other cases of murder and violence committed against Palestinians, the story of the shepherd from Yatta and the taxi driver from East Jerusalem”—his 1997 victims—–“disappeared into oblivion—until Teitel returned and attempted to harm Jews, bringing the wrath of public opinion, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police down on his head.” The Jerusalem Post, meanwhile wonders why Teitel was granted a gun license after returning to Israel. On the other end of the spectrum, a commentator on Ynet argued that the secular media is exploiting the case of one outlier to villainize the ultra-Orthodox community.

Rabbis Want Men to Marry Women Their Age

To help solve matchmaking ‘crisis’


If you haven’t heard about the so-called “Shidduch crisis”—a surfeit of single Orthodox women that has matchmakers, or shadchans, flailing for a better formula— well, then you probably don’t read the same blogs we do. The latest culprit is what the New York Post is calling an “epidemic of kosher cradle snatchers”—men marrying much younger women and leaving the “older” ones (20 and over) without prospects. A group of 60 Yeshiva rabbis has issued a letter to the matchmaking community requesting that men be fixed up with partners whose ages are “within a year or two of the boy’s, or even older.”

One woman the Post talked to says the letter exhorting men to seek women out of their teens is itself part of the problem: “Women in the Orthodox Jewish world shouldn’t have an ‘expires by’ stamp on them.” Reliably, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach weighs in with a dehumanizing and hackneyed response, blaming men for treating women like objects instead of like, well, other objects: “Rather than appreciating a woman who has matured like a fine wine, they often look for someone who is all cover and no book.”

Meanwhile, the press has been taking note of the increasing role of Orthodox women in the work force and as leaders in their communities, and the growing number of unmarried women (who are extremely young by most mainstream standards) may be an indication that some of them have hopes beyond child rearing, and expanding those opportunities may be a more satisfactory solution to the crisis. Anything to save us from more puns like the Post‘s headline.

Dreidel Robbers [NY Post]

Why So Much Attention for 1915 Leo Frank Case?

Because it resembles politics today, says ‘LAT’ op-ed


Leo Frank, the Jewish factory boss lynched by a mob near Atlanta after being falsely convicted of a female child laborer’s murder in 1915, is the subject of a new PBS documentary and a musical revival; he also spent the morning as the lead story on Why all this current focus on a nearly century-old story of anti-Semitic bigotry? Steve Oney, the author of a book about the case and a consultant on the PBS film, explained last week in the Los Angeles Times. First, Oney says, the Frank case was a lurid mystery story full of twists like a white Southern jury using the testimony of a black factory worker to convict a Jew, and a damning portrait of a legal system that itself perpetrated racist vigilantism (the lynch mob that killed Frank while he was in state prison, Oney writes, was actually organized by a Superior Court judge). But it’s particularly relevant to our historical moment, he says, because “the conflict at its core foreshadows today’s red-state/blue-state hostilities.” Oney argues that Adolph Ochs, the owner and publisher of the New York Times (and great-grandfather of the current publisher of the Times) stoked the flames of populist outrage by orchestrating a national campaign in Frank’s defense while he was appealing his original conviction. Frank, wronged in the first place, became a symbol of the reach of urban, Jewish media, Oney says, and a Glenn Beck of the day exploited it, giving “voice to a constituency that felt excluded from the halls of power in Washington and on Wall Street.”

The Leo Frank Case Isn’t Dead [LAT]

Tablet Today

Music, mischief, meat, and more


For our weekly podcast, Vox Tablet, Sara Ivry talks to musician Alicia Jo Rabins about her new project, Girls in Trouble, “a song cycle based on stories of women in the Bible.” Marjorie Ingall compares Halloween and Purim, by the numbers. Josh Lambert looks at books on vegetarianism, the Mediterranean, Man Ray, and more. And, as always, there will be updates to The Scroll all day.

J Street in the Middle?

Americans for Peace Now to the left of it, AIPAC to the right, on U.S. House Goldstone resolution


Tomorrow, the House of Representatives is set to consider a nonbinding resolution calling on the White House and the State Department to oppose the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Goldstone Report, which accuses Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during last winter’s Gaza war. Unsurprisingly, AIPAC and other established Jewish organizations jumped to support the bipartisan bill, which is sponsored by two Jewish members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. And perhaps equally unsurprisingly, J Street, the new Israel-focused lobbying group, took the opposite tack—sort of. Early on Friday, J Street released a statement saying it was “unable to support” the resolution, unless it was altered to, among other things, call on Israel to launch an independent investigation into the Goldstone findings. A few hours later, J Street’s executive director, Jeremy Ben Ami, appeared to backtrack with a second statement saying that, in principle, he supported some kind of Congressional action on Goldstone, just not this particular bill, but added that, nonetheless, J Street is “not urging members of Congress to oppose H. Res. 867.”

Then something interesting happened: Americans for Peace Now, the long-established American arm of the Israeli peace movement and, so far, an active J Street booster, came out in clear, unequivocal, though regretful, opposition to the resolution, arguing that Congress wasn’t really the right venue to deal with the various thorny problems, political and otherwise, posed by the report. So, the question is, does that leave J Street in the center—where it says it aims to be—or kind of nowhere at all?

Congress to Weigh in on U.N.’s Gaza Report [WP]

Daybreak: Yemeni Jews Escape

Plus crime, progress, and more in the news


• The Wall Street Journal reports on a secret U.S. mission that has rescued 60 Yemeni Jews and brought them to the United States to escape increasing anti-Semitic violence. [WSJ]
• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised Israel’s granting of concessions on West Bank settlement growth, saying that “what the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described—no new starts, for example—is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations.” [JTA]
• Israel has arrested an ultra-Orthodox Jewish settler accused of terrorism against Arabs, gays, and messianic Jews. [AP]
• An op-ed in the New York Times argues: “Only a U.S. president with the political courage to risk Israeli displeasure—and criticism from that part of the pro-Israel lobby in America which reflexively supports the policies of the Israeli government of the day, no matter how deeply they offend reason or morality” can make any progress toward peace with the Palestinians. [NYT]

Sundown: The Big Questions

On Halloween, heresy, and Hitler


• A mother addresses what she calls “one of the biggest Jewish dilemmas”: Can our kids celebrate Halloween? Her conclusion seems to be that the only reason to say yes is that costumes are “cute” and the only reason to say no is that it skeletons are “spooky.” [Jewish Journal]
• The Telegraph takes on a potentially much more important question: “Why shouldn’t Larry David urinate on a painting of Christ?” Arguing that David treats Jews and Muslims with equal ruthlessness on Curb Your Enthusiasm, a blogger says that his recent defamation of Jesus fits into the show’s style: “That’s how farce works: it’s farcical.” [Telegraph]
• Former Nazi death camp guard John Demjanjuk will have at least one ally on his side when he faces trial in Germany, but it might hurt more than help him: former Ohio congressman James Traficant, who was released from prison last month after a seven-year corruption sentence, has offered to attend in support of the alleged murderer. [JTA]
• Meanwhile, Fritz Darges, the last of Adolf Hitler’s cronies, has died at 96, leaving instructions to publish his memoirs, which experts hope could be the key to understanding how personally involved the Führer (whom Darges called “warm-hearted” and “a genius”) was in implementing the Holocaust. [Telegraph]
• Hebrew is one of many non-Latin scripts that have been approved today for use in web addresses. [AP]

Thank You!

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