Breaking: Franken Awarded Senate Seat

The election of November 2008 is over


Minnesota’s Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of funnyman Al Franken in the seemingly interminable dispute between the Democrat and his Republican opponent, incumbent Norm Coleman, over who won the state’s Senate seat last November. But the fight over which Jew will represent the Gopher State isn’t quite finished: the AP is reporting that Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty said he would sign an order declaring Franken the winner if ordered to do so by the court, but the justices stopped short of an outright command, instead simply saying Franken was “entitled” to be seated in Washington. Neither campaign has commented, but Franken plans a press conference for later today.

UPDATE: Coleman has conceded the race, clearing the way for Pawlenty to certify Franken as the victor. “I told him it’s the best job he will ever have,” Coleman said at a press conference at his St. Paul home. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the earliest Franken could be seated would be next week after the Fourth of July break.

State Supreme Court Rules for Franken, 5-0 [Star Tribune]
Minn. Court Rules for Franken in Senate Fight [AP]

Bistro Takes a Stand

Anti-Dead Sea Scroll exhibit, pro-restaurant rights

(Le Sélect Bistro by Sifu Renka; some rights reserved)

Delicacy surrounding public expressions of political allegiance is a professional hazard for journalists, clergy, elementary school teachers, and the like; now, apparently, it’s a concern for restaurateurs as well. Toronto eatery Le Sélect Bistro entered into an online scuffle when proprietor Frederic Geisweiller used its Web site to advise against visiting an exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls at the Royal Ontario Museum. Geisweiller asserted that the show features “artifacts seized by Israel in its 1967 surprise war which it waged against its neighbours,” and, although he has since removed the statement, he stands by it, saying, “restaurants should not shy away from voicing opinions.” His proposed boycott set off a chain reaction of arguments on sites such as and While we certainly don’t begrudge restaurants their freedom of speech (although we’d stop short of allowing them the vote), Geisweiller may, for his own sake, want to stop flaunting his woefully oversimplified understanding of the 1967 war; according to the National Post, he cited Wikipedia as his source.

Downtown Bistro Hit Controversy Over Dead Sea Scroll Boycott [NP]

Divine Will

Mark Sanford believes he is doing God’s work


So Gov. Mark Sanford, who previously invoked the moral complexities of the life and struggles of King David as his reason for not resigning from office after he got caught cheating on his wife, now says that God wants him to stay put, too. He issued a statement to his supporters in South Carolina today, which read in part:

[L]ast week I had thought I would resign—as I believe in the military model of leadership and when trust of any form is broken one lays down the sword. A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise—that for God to really work in my life I shouldn’t be getting off so lightly. While it would be personally easier to exit stage left, their point has been that my larger sin was the sin of pride. They contended that in many instances I may well have held the right position on limited government, spending or taxes—but that if my spirit wasn’t right in the presentation of those ideas to people in the General Assembly, or elsewhere, I could elicit the response that I had at many times indeed gotten from other state leaders.

Allowances made for an alternative interpretation of “getting off so lightly,” this seems eminently reasonable. Rather than resign in disgrace, be forgotten by midweek, and have his family torn apart under the relative privacy of civil divorce court, Sanford is choosing to keep himself under constant media scrutiny while also upholding the celestial standards of lower taxes and states rights. What could be more pious than that?

Mark Sanford: Staying is Part of God’s Plan [Politico]

Prayers for Barack

Sending the president the whole megillah


When Abraham Lincoln became president, in 1861, a Jewish city clerk from Chicago named Abraham Kohn took it upon himself to send his fellow Illinoisan a picture of the American flag embellished with an inscription from the Book of Joshua: “Be strong and of good courage.”

After Barack Obama was elected, last fall, Shlomo Perelman, the owner of the Pittsburgh-based Judaica Web site, decided he would follow Kohn’s example and send the new president a gift. But what to send? A DVD set was clearly out of the question. Instead, Perelman asked an Israeli artist named Michael Meron to create a 50-foot scroll printed with more than 3,000 mazels submitted by well-wishers via a Web site he created for the project, Most contributions came from the U.S., but a handful came from as far afield as Britain and Costa Rica; one person entered the Shema prayer, while a woman from Beverly Hills who said her Hebrew name is Bracha took the opportunity to remind Obama that “Barack” is just the Arabic for the Hebrew “Baruch,” or “blessed.”

The megillat brachot, which hasn’t yet been presented to the president, also includes the signatures of Jewish members of Congress, the Hebrew prayer for country and the words from Jeremiah: “Seek the peace of the city in which you live, for through its peace you shall have peace.” “It’s just part of what Jews do,” Perelman told Tablet. “We pray for our country, and we do it no matter who’s in the White House.”

A Blessing for Obama from the American Jewish Community [JPost]

Brian, Resurrected

And other comedy news from the U.K.

(Halibut by Dunechaser; some rights reserved)

Authorities in the city of Glasgow have approved a request for a public showing of The Life of Brian. Since the film’s 1979 release, Glasgow officials, along with those in 39 other areas, have refused to allow the Monty Python comedy about a man mistaken for the messiah to be screened, declaring it blasphemous. “The world, and people’s attitudes, have moved on in the last 30 years, so I believe the committee made the right decision today,” said a Glasgow councilman, explaining the reversal.

Meantime, comedian Ivor Dembina takes aim at Larry David and Sarah Silverman, who “have updated the public’s taste for Jewish people externalising their anxieties, but they both stay well clear of topics like Israel’s ethnic cleansing, its appetite for apartheid, and its penchant for dropping phosphorous bombs on innocent people.” Well, yes, phosphorous bombs on innocent people don’t always go over so well on Comedy Central. His screed is part of a critique of Shtick Shift: Jewish Humour in the 21st Century by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, whose book, Dembina says, omits all references to current Middle East events. One tiny problem with Dembina’s analysis—he admits he has not actually read the book in question.

City Lifts Ban on Life of Brian [BBC]
Avoiding the Issue [Chortle]

Strange Breadfellows

Orthodox Union finds unlikely ally in Israeli high court


Israel’s Supreme Court decided yesterday that the Israeli Chief Rabbinate was wrong to hold a messianic Jewish baker to a different standard than it would any other baker when it comes to running a kosher business. The governing precedent, the court said, was a case from the ’80s in which the rabbinate withheld kosher certification from banquet halls that allowed belly dancing. The court held then that belly dancing, ultimately, had nothing to do with kashrut and as such could not play a role in determining an establishment’s kosher status.

The Court’s argument is strikingly similar to ones used by the Orthodox Union, America’s leading kosher certifying agency, in recent debates over whether animal cruelty or mistreatment of workers played a role in the kosher status of meat produced by the Agriprocessors slaughterhouse in Postville, Iowa. The O.U., like the Israeli court, took a narrow view of kosher certification, arguing that kosher status has to do with food and food only.

I’d be curious to know, though, what the O.U. thinks of the (secular) Israeli court’s recent ruling. If they’re at all in agreement with Israel’s rabbis, the answer is not much.

Court Declares Jew for Jesus ‘Kosher’ [Jerusalem Post]

Spielberg’s Path

From directing sharks to donating a Torah


It was 35 years ago today that a crowd of beach-goers in Martha’s Vineyard ran, screaming, from the water—over, and over, and over again—and were paid $64 each for doing so. A year later, Jaws would be a summer blockbuster, breaking box office records. Directing the beach chaos was 27-year-old Steven Spielberg. Though it was not his first film (he’d done several made-for-TV films and one feature), it was the one that put him on the map and won him his first Academy Awards (though not for best film).

Jaws is still scary, despite the poor shark effects. Even Spielberg thinks so. He told a reporter, “I haven’t shown Jaws to my 10 or 11-year-old, and I won’t. I showed Jaws to Sawyer when he was, I think, 13. Because then they use the argument, ‘Dad, I was bar mitzvahed last week. Everybody said today I’m a man, and you still won’t let me see Jaws?’ Sometimes the kids outsmart me.”

While Spielberg might be basking in this anniversary, however, The Wrap’s Richard Stellar is outraged at the mogul’s recent donation of a Torah to the nonreligious Motion Picture and Television Fund home for seniors, which, says Stellar, is currently getting well-deserved bad press for cutting down on care.

Today in History, June 30
Spielberg’s Torah [The Wrap]
Related: Spielberg Q&A [Vanity Fair]

Today on Tablet

Madoff, a new siddur, and Syrian Jews


We offer two pieces in the wake of the Madoff sentencing: a report from the courtroom by Marissa Brostoff and a chart by Liel Leibovitz comparing the 150-year sentence with the magnitude of the crime. Tablet book critic Adam Kirsch reviews an essay collection devoted to the question of whether Jewishness is a religion or an ethnicity. Joshua J. Friedman assesses the typographically-innovative Koren prayer book. And Marissa Brostoff (doing double duty today) sits down for a Q&A with playwright David Adjmi, author of the play Stunning. All this—and regular updates here on The Scroll—today on Tablet.

Daybreak: Rightful Ownership

Holocaust property, settlement vs. suburb, and more in the news


• Representatives of 46 countries at the Prague Holocaust Era Assets Conference have issued the Terezin Declaration, a document aimed at easing the process of property restitution. [JTA]
• Medical students in Romania are suspected of buying bones from a Holocaust mass grave for educational use. [EJP]
• Israeli settlement Modiin Illit exemplifies the conflict over a potential construction freeze: With a population of 40,000, it’s essentially a suburb of Jerusalem, and needs growth to function accordingly; on the other hand, it has defied a court order to move its border fence, which impinges on Palestinian land. [WPost]
• Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that a bakery run by a Messianic Jew may be certified kosher despite the opinion of the local Chief Rabbi that “an apostate Jew could not be trusted to adhere to the laws of kashrut.” [JPost]
• Feeling a tad bit vindictive? Take a look at the Madoffs’ schmancy soon-to-be-former home. [NY Daily News]

Sundown: Fiction Stranger than Truth

No church in school, Yemenite Jews, and an Israeli Robin Hood


• James Frey, no stranger to self-exaggeration, is working on a novel called Illumination: The Last Testament of the Holy Bible, about an Orthodox Jew who thinks he’s God’s gift—literally, as in the Messiah. [NYT]
• A high school in Washington state prohibited students from forming a school-sponsored Bible club, partially because members “would have to pledge to Jesus Christ to vote.” (Technically, some would argue that such a rule doesn’t exclude all Jews.) The Supreme Court rejected the student group’s appeal to overturn the school’s decision. [WTOP]
• A new study shows that Yemenite Jews are more susceptible to and likely to get more severe cases of Parkinson’s Disease than Ashkenazis, possibly as a result of chewing the hallucinogenic khat plant. There’s no mention of the stats among other Sephardic Jews however, so the results might be a bit misleading. [Haaretz]
• Ezra Nawi, a gay Israeli plumber from an Iraqi Jewish family, spends his time helping Palestinians defend their space and livelihood from settlers. He’s looking at jail time for hitting a cop, a crime he denies. [NYT]

Could Hamas Lose?

A new poll indicates flagging support from Palestinians


The frenzied period of Islamist discontent continues as a new poll, conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre, indicates that Palestinian support for Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank has fallen precipitously. According to Haaretz, the group’s approval rating is at 18.8 percent, compared to the 27.7 percent it enjoyed last January, immediately following the Israeli assault. Moreover, almost as many Palestinians blame Hamas for its stalled political negotiation with Fatah as they do Israel (23.5 percent to 26.5 percent, respectively), despite the fact that Israel has continued to block the transfer of reconstruction materials into the Gaza Strip for fear they’d be used to fashion weapons. If Hamas aims to be defeated with ballots instead of bombs, as Hezbollah so conspicuously was in Lebanon this month, then it’s certainly doing everything it can to ensure that outcome.

However, the Haaretz article doesn’t specify perhaps the most important aspect of the poll of roughly 2,000 Palestinians: when it was taken. Was this before or after the revolt in Iran and the international scorn heaped upon the theocratic regime there, which been the chief sponsor and encourager of both Hamas and Hezbollah?

Most surprising of all may be how Palestinians view Barack Obama. More than 49 percent think he’ll have no impact whatsoever on the peace process. Though for perennial peace optimists, a Fatah victory would finally give Israel a negotiating partner that recognizes Israel’s right to exist, which may be an auspicious complement to Benjamin Netanyahu’s grudging about-face on Palestinian statehood.

Poll: Hamas popularity falls in both West Bank and Gaza [Haaretz]

No Laughs for Lebanon

French-Jewish comedian cancels Beirut show


He may be one of France’s most popular comedians, but when it comes to Hezbollah, Gad Elmaleh is anything but good-humored. After the terrorist group’s television station began spreading rumors that the Jewish Elmaleh, who was born in Morocco and emigrated to France, had served in the Israel Defense Forces, the comedian canceled an upcoming stand-up gig near Beirut, citing a concern for his safety. Although the comedian’s agent refuted the rumors of Elmaleh’s alleged military stint, Al Manar, the Hezbollah network, insisted on its website that “Elmaleh has long expressed willingness to defend his country Israel whenever needed.” Elmaleh’s schedule, however, is far from devastated by the cancellation: he is currently filming a Steven Spielberg-helmed production of the popular Belgian comic book series Tintin, in which he plays—cue the irony—a villainous Arab opium dealer.

French-Jewish Comedian Cancels Lebanon Gig After Rumors of IDF Service [Haaretz]

Woody Allen’s Rarified Palate

Leaves the director clueless about a lot

Woody Allen attends the premiere of Whatever Works at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 22, 2009(Getty Images)

As Woody Allen’s Whatever Works quietly leaves the big screen with the din of pans echoing behind it, the A.V. Club offers a list of a dozen things the director consistently “doesn’t get.” Included in the tally are rehearsed gripes (his sliver-thin depictions of New York City largely exclude blacks and, for that matter, non-Jewish minorities of any sort) as well as some fairly new complaints—he mishandles violence, portraying it “with the lightest touch this side of Agatha Christie”; has the cojones to mock no less an icon than Bob Dylan via Shelley Duvall’s character in Annie Hall (though arguably he’s also mocking female fandom, something Allen’s felt ebb drastically); and has beefs with Los Angeles, forcing him to secure project funding from, the A.V. Club guesses, “a mysterious cabal of Europeans, well-heeled New York comedy buffs, and clarinet aficionados.”

I Love You, Scumbag X: 12 Things Woody Allen Just Doesn’t Get
[A.V. Club]

Redefining Chutzpah

A Madoff victim gives the financier a run for his money

Bernard Madoff on March 12, 2009(Getty Images)

Bernard Madoff’s fate may be sealed, but, as a story in today’s Times reports, the jockeying among his victims is only beginning. On one side is Irving H. Picard, the court-appointed trustee overseeing Madoff victim claims. His position is that claims should be based on “net equity,” or the difference between what investors deposited and what they withdrew. Then there’s Helen Davis Chaitman, a Madoff victim representing more than 100 other victims, whose position is that investors should be reimbursed for the paper value of their accounts—even if their withdrawals exceeded their deposits and even though the figures on their statements bore no connection to reality.

Chaitman’s position seems to us to be pure chutzpah, but just in case it works, does anyone out there have a recent email from a Nigerian businessman in need of a favor?

Investors Compete for a Piece of the Madoff Pie

Breaking: Bernard Madoff Sentenced to 150 Years in Prison


That’s that, folks—the man who swindled billions will be locked up for the rest of his life. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get any special treatment.

Breaking: Madoff Gets 150 Years [WSJ]

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