Palestinian Authority Speaks Hebrew

On new news-service website


The editors of the new Hebrew-langauge version of WAFA, the Palestinian Authority’s news service, will “focus on what interests the reader” without “incitement or demagoguery,” they write in their introductory letter. The Hebrew site launched yesterday, and it’s far more attractive than the English- and French-language counterparts. In addition to news updates (Mahmoud Abbas heads to Syria and Saudi Arabia), there’s coverage of sports, arts and culture, and the economy. Women’s issues, too, will get treated, or so suggests a still-empty section of the site. The raison d’etre of the Hebrew edition? For its reader to “get to know his Palestinian rival, as the Palestinian knows his Israeli rival.”

Mutual understanding—an admirable objective; in which case perhaps the word “neighbor” would have been un peu plus diplomatique.

Palestinian News & Information Agency [WAFA, in Hebrew]

Weak, in Review

Harold Ramis and Woody Allen get mostly panned

Larry David in a still from Whatever Works.(Sony Pictures Classics)

Harold Ramis’s film Year One opens today, and most critics seem to agree with MTV that the teaming of Ramis, co-producer Judd Apatow, and a bevy of comedic stars including leads Jack Black and Michael Cera, “might seem a match made in comedy heaven, and you might expect the picture to kill. But it overkills, in an altogether underwhelming way.” The A.V. Club accuses the film of committing “comedy heresy when Black ends up learning a lesson at the end,” while the Los Angeles Times is moved to ask, “Ever wonder what would happen if you locked some screenwriters in a room with a history of man, an Old Testament, some really potent pot and a tape recorder?” Pop Matters takes more intellectual aim, declaring that “though the film seems mostly determined to skewer self-serving Judeo-Christian myths, its critique is at once misogynist, heterosexist, and resolutely incoherent,” while Roger Ebert calls it simply “a dreary experience.” The lone advocate is New York Times critic Manohla Dargis, who makes Year One a “critic’s pick” for its “generous” laughs and “knowing and often profane swats at the sacred.”

The kvetching about Woody Allen’s newest, Whatever Works, starring Larry David, Evan Rachel Wood, and Patricia Clarkson, is just a bit more tempered. J. Hoberman at The Village Voice calls it “an exercise in Woody Allen nostalgia” that “goes out of its way to mock It’s a Wonderful Life [but] winds up even more lazily pandering.” Entertainment Weekly concedes that the script was written in the 1970s, “but still, the guy couldn’t maybe come up with some new spritz of nu?” The New Yorker says that Clarkson “just about rescues” the film, while blurb-machine Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says that while “not everything works,” fans won’t be able to resist “the comic mind–meld” of Allen and David, “On that level, at least,” he says, “there’s no need to curb your enthusiasm.”

Heil, Khamenei?

Iran’s supreme leader on CNN’s homepage right now


Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wasn’t giving a Nazi salute when a Getty Images photographer snapped him for the picture now displayed on the homepage, was he? Some alternative theories:

• “Guys, shhh.”
• “Here we go, yo.”
• “By the power of Jesus, I command these demons to leave your body.”
• “No, I think the right side needs to be just a little bit lower.”
• “If you’ve finished the silent amidah, please be seated and turn to page 381.”

Homepage []
Iran’s Supreme Leader Defends Election []

Tablet Today

Father’s Day, Year One, and Canaan


Tablet Magazine celebrates Father’s Day today with contributing editor Vanessa Davis’s look back at a visit to mom on Mother’s Day and a video interview with Bob Morris, author of Assisted Loving, on tips for helping your senior-citizen dad date. Also today, Mike Sacks talks to director Harold Ramis, whose Year One arrived today at a theater near you, and Tablet’s Liel Leibovitz looks at this week’s Torah portion and finds relevance to the ongoing anti-regime protests in Iran. And on The Scroll last night, staff writer Marissa Brostoff broke the news of a New York City day school, Ramaz, shuttered by a swine-flu scare. Plus there’ll be lots more on The Scroll throughout the day.

JT’s Jewish Jokes

Former ‘goy band’-er hosts UJA luncheon

Timberlake at yesterday’s luncheon.(Getty Images)

Noted gentile Justin Timberlake was co-emcee of UJA-Federation of New York “Music Visionary of the Year” luncheon yesterday, where he presented an award to the event’s honoree, BMG U.S. Label Group chairman Barry Weiss. Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog, and presented without any further comment, we give you Timberlake’s unfortunate attempts at yiddishe humor:

“Mazel Tov, brother! That means I love you man, in Hebrew right? No?”

“Barry you’ve really given those of us who love you a lot of nachas. Though some of us aren’t completely sure what nachas is. I think I had nachas once but the doctor gave me some cream, knocked it right out … Maybe it was cream cheese.”

(Referencing special performer Jamie Foxx’s latest hit, after one of Timberlake’s first jokes) “Last I heard, I was told I could blame it on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol.”

“After all, who am I? I’m just another schmendrick that used to be in a goy band! … I don’t know what the hell that means either.”

“What Jewish mother would not kvell about the her son, the visionary!”

Oy, goyisheh kep.

Kibitzing With Justin: Timberlake Shows ‘Nachas’ for UJA [WSJ/Speakeasy]

Daybreak: Peaceful, Easy Feelings

Sharing Jerusalem, Mubarak’s two cents, and more in the news


• The Interfaith Encounter Association in Israel has launched a project to reimagine a shared future for the holiest site in Jerusalem for both Jews and Muslims, the Temple Mount. A part of the plan (seriously): “divine intervention.” [Reuters]
• Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman says his country and the United States agree on 19 out of 20 points. The one, itsy-bitsy point of contention? It’s still the settlements. [JTA]
• But never fear: attempting to seize the “rare moment of opportunity” presented by President Obama’s leadership, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has written an editorial, titled “How to Achieve Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” That should do it! [WSJ]
• The Jewish Agency estimates a 15 percent increase in aliyah by North American Jews this year. [JTA]

Breaking: Swine-Flu Scare Shuts Day School

Manhattan’s Ramaz closes for middle schoolers


Probable cases of swine flu have hit the middle school division of Ramaz, one of New York City’s most prestigious Jewish day schools. After eight students reported confirmed cases of influenza last week—which, school administrator Ken Rochlin said, means that they likely have the H1N1 virus with the treyf nickname—the middle school postponed its graduation, which had been scheduled for Monday, June 15. An announcement the school sent to parents on Monday morning said that “while an advancement is indeed a milestone that is eagerly anticipated and well-deserved for all who attend, this is a matter of Pikuach Nefesh, where we make the saving of human life paramount.”

School was also cancelled for the school’s fifth, sixth, and seventh graders (whose classes extend beyond the eighth graders’ graduation date) yesterday and today, which Rochlin said was only a precaution. “It wasn’t at the point where we would have been required to close,” he said.

Eighth grader Becky Shams, whose last day of school was Monday, reported that students had been at school that day but “no one feels their best, everyone feels kind of achy.” Students want to get finals over with, she said, “so you just don’t tell the school that you don’t feel well. People are just sneaking into school.” (The school will allow students to complete exams later, she said.) Shams said she is feeling okay, but several of her friends have suspected cases of swine flu, and her younger sister and older brother, both Ramaz students, have been home with stomach aches.

Shams said she doubted graduation would be further delayed—it’s now set for Monday, June 22—as many kids are about to start summer camp. Let’s hope they’re not going to Camp Newman-Swig.

Sundown: Animals vs. Religion

Dog fur, Jesus, and the dignity of Iranian Jews


• A proposed animal-welfare law in Israel would outlaw the import of products made from the fur of dogs, cats, or rabbits. Apparently, this would encompass shtreimels, hats worn by Hasidic Jews on special occasions. Knesset Member Menachem Eliezer Moses calls a ban “inconceivable,” despite the fact that synthetic shtreimels are perfectly kosher. [Arutz Sheva]
• Iranian Jewish leaders speak out against the riots that have spread through the nation since Ahmadinejad won the election there, declaring their “aversion to any sort of undignified behavior.” [Ynet]
• A Seattle play has finally answered the question, what would have happened if Jesus had shown up during the Holocaust? Turns out, he would have saved the Jews’ souls, but not their bodies, and would have sang and danced to the lyrics “Aryan, Aryan, so barbarian.” [The Stranger]
• In further adventures in Evangelicalism, the site HeLives has built a Google map marking holy spots mentioned in the Old and New Testaments. [Galleycat]
• Will The New York Times issue a correction for identifying Elie Wiesel with the crossword clue “Night novelist,” although Wiesel has repeatedly asserted that the book is nonfiction? [NJ Jewish News]
• As predicted, Rupert Murdoch has sold The Weekly Standard to Phil Anschutz, potentially compromising its Israel coverage. [LA Observed]

Twitter in Iran

An Israeli conspiracy, or totally overblown

Protesters rallying in Tehran today.(Getty Images)

Is Twitter an evil Israeli plot to stir worldwide unrest? Depends who you ask. According to the Jerusalem Post, an anonymous writer posting to the Charting Stocks website charged that “right-wing Israeli interests are engaged in an all-out Twitter attack with hopes of delegitimizing the Iranian election and causing instability within Iran.” The author went on to charge the Post with promoting three Iranian Twitterers, implying that the paper had an interest in the outcome of the protest. (The paper says its Iran coverage is guided “solely by professional considerations.”)

Sky News, meantime, is reporting the Iranian opposition is using an Israeli service called Fring to make calls over WiFi networks and bypass text-messaging blocks. And earlier this week, Israel’s consul for media and public affairs, David Saranga—an avid tweeter—told a roomful of Twitter aficionados gathered in New York for the inaugural 140 Character Conference (named for the popular message service’s text limit) that the rise of social media was allowing him and other government PR types to redress “incorrect information” and speak directly to the public, bypassing traditional filters. At the same conference, al Jazeera’s head of new media technology, Moeed Ahmad, told the audience that he was also counting on Twitter as a means to inject “authentic information” into the public sphere.

And in Business Week, Joel Schechtman is reporting that only about 8,600 Twitter users are registered inside Iran—and argues that the mass protests are being organized the old-fashioned way, via text message and word of mouth. “Social media is not at all a prime mover of what is happening on the ground,” Ethan Zuckerman, a senior researcher at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, told Schectman. “The reason social media is so interesting [for the press] is that the international media doesn’t have its members on the ground.”

Which would have to mean—and this is the great part—that the Iranian government’s refusal to extend journalists’ visas is just part of the evil Israeli plot.

JPost Accused of Masterminding ‘Iranian Twitter Revolution’ [JPost]
Iranians Use New Web Tool to Be Heard [Sky News]
Winning the War, in 140 Characters or Less [JPost]
Iran’s Twitter Revolution? Maybe Not Yet [Business Week]

Messianic Jews Are Different

And not just because of their beliefs


Beliefnet blogger David Klinghoffer today sides with a rabbi friend who was criticized for attending a conference of Zionist Christians that included Messianic Jews among its speakers. The rabbi, Daniel Lapin, feels justified in his decision because he inspired one converted Christian to return to Judaism, and, more philosophically, because he equates believing in Jesus with homosexuality, and, while he clearly doesn’t condone either, believes he can look past these “sins.”

Of course, even if you do insist on weighting every biblical law equally, there are thorny problems with Messianic Jews. First, there’s their euphemistic name. There are Jews who believe in a messiah that is not Jesus Christ, but MJs are talking about JC, and JC alone, making them, well, Christians. Second, they proselytize, which is not part of the Jewish tradition, and which, in the case of some of the publications put out by organizations like Jews for Jesus, they often mask as general engagement with Jewish life and culture, sometimes illegally using the likenesses of famous Jews not affiliated with their group. There’s something frankly cultish and sneaky about the condescension with which the Jews for Jesus website addresses the concerns of its readers, and about the way the enterprise as a whole tries to entice Jews into its ranks.

In a follow-up post, Klinghoffer pats himself on the back for “daring” to suggest that Messianic Jews have something in common with Theistic evolutionists, as both subscribe to “convenient delusions that give believers the comforting feeling that they don’t have to choose between logically exclusive alternatives.”

Again, there’s more than logic involved here. Messianic Jews may be trying to comfort themselves, which is fine, but can we agree that on the brain-washing spectrum, scrubbing one’s own is a lot better than being coerced into the tub?

Should Jews Shun Messianic Jews?
Messianic Jews and Theistic Evolution [Beliefnet]


The Holocaust can dominate any conversation, says Errol Morris


Errol Morris’s fascinating, rambling seven-part New York Times essay on the Nazi-era art forger Hans van Meegeren has wrapped up, but it has given birth to a postscript that is fascinating (and rambling) in its own right. Van Meederen was a Dutchman whose Vermeer forgeries made him a wealthy man “in the atmosphere of crooked dealings and deception of Amsterdam after the invasion” by Germany, Morris wrote. The con artist even sold a painting to Hermann Göring, and for this he was arrested as a collaborator after the war—to which he replied that he was a forger, and had fooled a Nazi war criminal.

Morris’ postscript, like the earlier installations of his essay, uses all this as a jumping off point to ponder questions of authenticity (could a robot produce a Vermeer?) and aesthetics (what would the canon of important art look like if the Nazis had won the war?). But then it moves, as though inexorably, from these thoughts on art, to questions of Nazi collaboration, and finally to Morris’s own representation throughout his essay of the Holocaust in the Netherlands—which was the subject, he writes, of many of the 700-odd comments he received. Like some corollary to Godwin’s Law, it seems that, however far-reaching the subject matter, the Holocaust dominates the topics around it. In a postscript to the postscript, Morris acknowledges this himself, quoting something his wife once observed in a different context: “Hitler is not a spice. When you put Hitler in the soup. It becomes Hitler-soup.”

Bamboozling Ourselves [NYT]

Daniel Libeskind Goes Prefab

But what inspired him?

Libeskind in front of an image of downtown Warsaw, including a proposed residential tower he designed, last year.(AFP/Getty Images)

Daniel Libeskind, designer of the Jewish Museum Berlin and the master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, has undertaken a more modest project: a prefabricated home, the Times reported early this week. Libeskind’s designs have often been informed by plays on Hebrew words and their numerical values. (The “source and the form” of his Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco is the word chai; the “guiding light” of his Danish Jewish Museum in Copenhagen is the concept of mitzvah.) Below, an imagined stroll through the newly-designed four-bedroom abode with the brilliant (if sometimes over-serious) architect.

As you may already have noticed from the structure’s contours—the vaulted ceiling, the soaring antenna-like protrusion, and the five-foot “absence” in the southwest corner—the inspiration here is the Hebrew letter mem. In Jewish mysticism, mem is the letter of water (‘mayim’), which is why we’re standing on this raft. Because the value of the mem in the Jewish system of numerology known as gematria is 40, the home’s temperature must be kept at 40° Celsius (104° Fahrenheit).

“It’s not just designing a shell or something, or a shape that is iconic, but really creating an environment at every level,” he (actually) told the Times.

Libeskind Designs a Prefab Home [NYT]

Is Mousavi a ‘Reformer’?

L.A. Iranian Jewish leader says no

Mousavi at a rally Monday.(Getty Images)

Frank Nikbakhat is an Iranian Jew living in Southern California, and he’s the director of the Committee for Minority Rights in Iran, which makes him an expert on the regime’s treatment of Jews, Christians and Bahais. He doesn’t find altogether that much to like about Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition presidential candidate who is the hero of the current anti-regime protests in Iran. In an interview with L.A.’s Jewish Journal, Nikbakhat points out that Mousavi is the one who initiated Iran’s nuclear program when he was prime minister in the 1980s. He also founded Hezbollah as Iran’s proxy terrorist group in Lebanon, and was responsible for deploying the elite Revolutionary Guard, now behind the shooting and clubbing people on the streets of Tehran, into southern Lebanon. Nikbakhat also dismisses one idea currently being peddled in the Western media, notoriously by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen: that life is all right for minorities in the Islamic Republic. “The ‘reformers’ were the ones who initiated the using of minorities for major foreign propaganda,” Nikbakhat says. “Ahmadinejad took this to a higher level and was behind the continuous efforts for bringing sympathetic or bought off journalists to Iran to report on the ‘ideal’ conditions of the religious minorities in Iran.” Ahmadinejad, Nikbakhat adds, replaced the Jewish leadership in Iran when it wouldn’t go along with his Holocaust denial; Mousavi, the alleged reformer, would do the same.

Q&A: Expert Nikbakht Sheds Light On Iran’s Jews And The Elections [Jewish Journal]

DNA Proves Judaism

Which leads some gentiles to convert


It’s an old argument: are Jews are a religious group, an ethnic group with a religious component, a self-determined community, or is there some more essential racial component to being Jewish? The Daily Beast reports on new evidence confirming an genetically based, inborn Jewish je ne sais quoi—and notes that the genetic marker is turning up in plenty of people who never thought they were Jewish. One guy, Alan Tutillo, raised in a Catholic home in Italy, discovered Jewish roots and recently converted to the religion. Another, Frank Tamburello, a former Catholic priest, found out he had Sicilian Jewish ancestry, and has since converted and become a rabbi.

Maybe Tamburello was just looking to get out of his vow of celibacy, but whatever the explanation, there’s something that feels right about people returning to the religion/culture/community of their forefathers. On the other hand, though, there is something a bit chilling about the idea that a biological marker can “prove” one’s Jewishness. Do Tutillo and Tamburello have more of a claim on the religion than someone who converts for other reasons, or someone raised Jewish who turns out to be descended from some other group? And does a person raised with no other ties to Judaism have an obligation mandated by her genes? Maybe the truest sign of being Jewish is answering an old question with exponentially more new ones.

The Hidden Jews [Daily Beast]
Related from Nextbook Press: The Jewish Body, by Melvin Konner

New on Tablet

Playmate-turned-philanthropist Cheryl Saban, Lower East Side clairvoyance, and more


On Tablet Magazine today, senior writer Allison Hoffman takes a look at Cheryl Saban, wife of Power Rangers mogul and major Democratic donor Haim Saban, who went from beach bunny to mover and shaker, and says she is the force behind all her husband’s charitable giving. Plus, senior editor Sara Ivry talks to Sam Apple, who’s got a new book out on parenthood; music columnist Alexander Gelfand considers the latest chapter in black-Jewish collaboration, and historian Eddy Portnoy reads 19th-century Yiddish newspapers to uncover the story of Abraham Hochman, a Lower East Side clairvoyant. There will be more posted throughout the daily, of course, including regular updates to The Scroll.

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