Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Jeffrey Goldberg's recent column in Bloomberg, is a very powerful argument for canceling the recent proliferation of media-inspired "Jewish Lists." This article is a must read. It also got me thinking about what the lists that we create today say about our generation, because lists are a valuable insight into our culture.
Whether we are aware of it, published Jewish lists have been around at least since the sixth century when the scholars and leaders of the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia directed the academies of Sura and Pumbedita. These leaders, collectively called the Geonim, were charged with making hard decisions and protecting the safety and welfare of Jewish communities. As such they worked hard to help keep continuity by making complex law and philosophy more easily understood. The famous scholar Sa'adya Gaon made a list of commandments in the Torah. He was followed by other rabbis, and the Ramban and Ramban both wrote lists identifying what they felt were the exact listing of biblical commandments. Later the Sefer Ha Chinuch made a list of mitzvot, this time with a beautiful explanation of each mitzvah and this is still popular today -- eight centuries later.
(And let's not forget the most cherished list, The Ten Commandments.)
More recently, it became popular to make lists of Jews in sports, music, film, writing, Nobel Prize winners and other public Jews who are part of the tapestry of 20th century Jewish life. List making became a new who's who directory of famous Jews. (Even the "Book of Lists " was written by a Jew.) What these lists have in common is a desire to highlight to the world and the Jewish community itself that we are making a positive contribution to society. We should be proud of our collective contributions to America, for example.
Within the community, it seems another reason for these lists is to inspire our children with Jewish role models -- even if some of these Jews were never open or proud of their Jewishness. It seems as if the people making these lists think it will energize a listless Jewish community or perhaps make the community more inviting to any Jew standing on the margins.
Of course there are insidious Jewish lists as Goldberg so eloquently points out, such as the lists put together by Nazis, Communist regimes, other totalitarian regimes, Senator McCarthy's infamous political enemies list, American White Power movements, Islamic radicals -- just to name a few.
Recently, popular list making is being scrutinized as doing more harm then good, as pointed out eloquently by Goldberg. There is also Danielle Berrin's long expose about the 50 Most Influential Rabbi's list and Dennis Prager's column in the Jewish Journal.
There are other lists as well: The Forward's list of top American Jews, the Forward 50 Fifty, and Most Influential Jews list by the Jerusalem Post, which seems to be the final straw for Goldberg. And there are others. (In full disclosure, I have been listed on some lists, most recently on a list of 10 top Jewish influencers in social media.)
The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists do not achieve the purpose that communal list-making served in the past. Instead of serving to clarify, inspire and teach about who we are as a people, today's lists are of people and not ideas or values and can only serve to divide an already quarrelsome people.
6.9.13 at 9:27 pm | The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists. . .
3.29.13 at 12:22 pm | We are. Don't rush to blame anyone but ourselves.
1.17.13 at 3:07 pm | Despite controversy in 2008 over Nazi memorabilia. . .
1.17.13 at 3:02 pm | Join Jewlicious and Chai Center for a little. . .
12.24.12 at 12:54 pm | One usually turns to National Geographic to look. . .
11.30.12 at 12:05 pm |
6.9.13 at 9:27 pm | The recent proliferation of media-inspired lists. . . (167)
6.25.12 at 10:34 am | From the moment that Matisyahu’s new album. . . (11)
6.30.11 at 8:20 am | I often ask myself, what would Abraham and Sarah. . . (5)
March 29, 2013 | 12:22 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Let me explain.
Rav Shraga Feivel Zimmerman, the current Chief Rabbi of Gateshead, England, spoke in the aftermath of a major kashrut scandal which rocked Monsey, NY, in 2006. He recalled the story of the Prophet Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon. The story describes a huge storm that was capable of overturning the ship. Everyone on the boat was frightened and took out their idols. They started praying to the idols. When that didn’t work they woke up Jonah. What did he say about the raging storm? “It’s because of me.”
Jonah could have easily blamed the storm on the boat full of idol worshippers. Perhaps his presence on the boat was a mere accident, and the boat was destined for doom. No, Jonah said that responsibility is mine.
Today, in the wake of the Doheny “Kosher” Meat scandal, it is also our responsibility.
Of course people are mad and want to find someone to blame. After all anyone who ate Doheny meat, whether bought from the store, or eaten through of the many restaurants and caterers that sourced their meat there, consumed food that was potentially trief.
Yet, let’s remember that the Prophet Jonah says, “it’s because of me.” We read this on Yom Kippur to remind us that we need to take responsibility, and need to do a soul searching.
As it says in the Talmud, it is not the mouse that is the thief, it is the hole.
We are all looking for a mouse to blame. It was the mashgiach, it was the rabbi, it was the agency. But the mashgiach as far as we know was just doing his job, he just wasn't there when the suspicious meat was unloaded. The rabbi, head of the RCC, Rabbi Vann, who I know and admire, was doing his best according to the laws laid out in the Shulchan Aruch. While people might say, “if it had been me I would have behaved differently,” the answer is likely, “no.” We would have followed the same practices as the vast majority of kosher agencies.
The fact of the matter is that if while we may have eaten something that was treif, this was done by accident. We didn’t knowingly buy treif meat, it was sold or served to us. Our responsibility doesn’t lie in consuming the treif products — it lies in allowing this to happen.
The hole in our Kashrut system is two-fold. First and foremost is the system of repackaging. Not so long ago, and still with a few meat producers, the animals were slaughtered and packaged at the slaughterhouse. Now nothing is sold directly. The slaughter houses sell it to wholesalers, who sell it to distributors, who sell it to businesses and then ultimately to the consumer. As long as this system is in place, there will be thieves along the way that will be tempted to make a profit. This not just the case in the meat industry, but other areas of our our kosher food industry.
Secondly, if there were a serious demand for the strictest regulations governing kosher meat, or any other products, this would not have happened. The market always responds to the needs of the consumers. If consumers, businesses, and the like had demanded stricter controls, then we would have them. Instead, people are looking constantly for the cheapest meat, and not concerned with the way it got to the meat section.
Our immediate responsibility is to plug the holes in our kosher system, a system which is handled outside the view of the consumer, with little or no consumer oversight. In addition we must demand that companies do business differently. A review needs to be done on every level, with oversight by rabbinical experts who are ideally not part of any Los Angeles kosher supervision organizations, in order to approach this issue with the utmost impartiality.
We also need to avoid this becoming an opportunity for rifts in the community. That is exactly what the forces of negativity, the sitra achra, wants from us — divisions, blame, and schisms. We must be wary of self-serving individuals who use this tragedy as an opportunity for personal gain. We need to take this opportunity to come together and stronger as a community. There is nothing more that pleases God, says our ancient tradition, than to see Jews coming together, solving problems amicably, and treating each other with dignity and respect.
The lengthy discussion of the spiritual implications and the halachic implications of what to do with your kitchen items will be dealt with in a forthcoming article. For the meantime, until more information is available, don’t use meat purchased after 3pm from Doheny, and wait until a serious halachic decision is agreed upon by a majority of the cities rabbinic authorities in consultation with worldwide kosher experts to know what to do with your kitchen.
Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, the author of the recently published, Prayers for Israel, is a leading voice of the next generation of American Jewry. He blogs extensively on issues pertaining to Judaism and contemporary life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiYonah.
January 17, 2013 | 3:07 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Despite controversy in 2008 over Nazi memorabilia for sale on Amazon's website - including t-shirts that praised Nazi leaders — it seems that some of this sick stuff has resurfaced. You can pick up a Nazi lighter and Nazi flags. This goes against Amazon's stated policy regarding offensive material, "Amazon reserves the right to determine the appropriateness of listings posted to our site." Nazi lighter product description:
Don't pay a ridiculous price for a wind-proof lighter, this premium crafted Get The Edge German WWII lighter gives you the quality craftsmanship you've come to enjoy at a bottom-line price. Packaged in custom gift tin.
January 17, 2013 | 3:02 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
For our third year in a row Jewlicious will be co-sponsoring shabbat programming at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. More than 50,000 people attend screenings every year at the festival. If you or any of your fellow children of Israel are going to the great Mormon State of Utah this weekend for the Sundance Film Festival – make sure to stop by our Shabbat reception.
This Shabbat / Cocktail Evening at Sundance is a great chance to meet others in the biz, enjoy fresh challah, delicious wine, and snacks. With all the craziness in Sundance – we hope that our Shabbat space will be a chilled so you can enjoy some tranquility, spirituality and great conversation.
Details: Shabbat program at 4:30 - 7pm Address: 1327 Park Avenue, Park City, UT 84068 USA
If you want to stay for dinner after the reception RSVP asap - CLICK HERE!
We thank our hosts, Chabad of Park City!
December 24, 2012 | 12:54 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
One usually turns to National Geographic to look at the world and marvel at the planet. It covers issues critical to human and animal survival. I love National Geographic and so do my kids.
So imagine my surprise when the Gaza Tunnels article popped up. This lengthy article on the Gaza strip is a whitewashing of a vicious terror group and their means of obtaining weapons. The author is James Verini who last year in ForeignPolicy.com wrote on the de facto existence of a Palestinian State, forgot to mention that it was Palestinians who rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan. He also jumped on the anti-Israel bandwagon "Indeed, no country has been censured as many times by the Security Council (none come close)."
So from the start one would expect that Verini, who might have the best of intentions, has a particularly biased position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the article fails on so many accounts. The most egregious places include willful and misleading information.
The fact that weapons, including bombs, guns, and missile parts are smuggled through these tunnels is <strong>completely ignored.</strong> Israel is the constant bogey man accused of every problem, and Hamas, a dictatorship that terrorizes its own citizens, looks relatively benign. The fact that Israel trucks in hundreds of tons of aid daily is completely ignored.<!--more-->
There are claims that Israel and Egypt have conspired to gas Palestinians: "According to some Palestinians, when Egypt has been pressed by Israel to cut down on smuggling, its troops have occasionally poisoned the air in tunnels by pumping in gas. Egypt has denied this."
There are causal references like, "Passing a jammed intersection overlooked by a Hamas billboard showing a masked militant wielding a bazooka." Is this normal for such billboards to appear? He has no comment on these billboards, the glorification of terror, martyrdom, or the Jew-hatred filled propaganda.
The author makes an historical references that equates Israel with one of the region's most notorious expansionist rulers, King Thutmose III of Egypt, "The economy of destruction takes on permutations that might have pleased Thutmose III:"
Verini reports,"Tunnel revenue is estimated to provide Hamas with as much as $750 million a year. Hamas has also smuggled in cash from exiled leaders and patrons in Syria, Iran, and Qatar that helps keep it afloat." However this elicits no mention of what Hamas does with the money. The money builds missiles, bunkers, mansions, and fills the coffers of the elite who run Gaza.
Additionally this following passage totally ignores the reason that Israel left Gaza and the reason Israel was in Gaza in the first place and some other things: "there is disagreement about whether Gaza would have been considered part of the land the Bible says God promised the Jews.This is partly why expansionist-minded Israelis have focused more intensely on the West Bank than on Gaza; the last Israeli settlement in Gaza was vacated in 2005."
Then the kicker which finally the author gets around to telling the world that Hamas is not a nice guy, it places it the the context of a "resistance" against Israel. Yet there is no mention that Hamas is committed to destroying Israel, "But Gaza is the heart of Palestinian resistance. It’s been the launching area for a campaign, now in its third decade, of kidnappings, suicide bombings, and rocket and mortar assaults on Israel by Gazan militants—much of this sanctioned, if not expressly carried out, by Hamas."
<a data-cke-saved-href="http://href=" href="http://href=" http:="" ngm.nationalgeographic.com="" contact-us"="">National Geographic should be taken to task for this piece of "pseudo-journalism". The entire plight of Gazans is not Israel's fault. The fact that Gazan's need tunnels for transportation of basic goods cannot be blamed entirely on Israel. The fact that these tunnels are conduits for weapons is such an blatant omission that one has to wonder what is the real agenda is behind "The Tunnels of Gaza".
November 30, 2012 | 12:05 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
Stevie Wonder’s statement on why he ditched the FIDF banquet sounds like he is being impartial. Yet, a real impartiality would be to play for both audiences. The fact that he cancelled is a victory for Israel’s enemies — and a major dis to Israel.
A Message from Stevie Wonder
Given the current and very delicate situation in the Middle East, and with a heart that has always cried out for world unity, I will not be performing at the FIDF Gala on December 6th. I am respectfully withdrawing my participation from this year’s event to avoid the appearance of partiality. As a Messenger of Peace, I am and have always been against war, any war, anywhere. In consistently keeping with my spirit of giving, I will make a personal contribution to organizations that support Israeli and Palestinian children with disabilities.
Hoping for one world, one people, one day, Stevie Wonder.
Stevie we are all for world peace. Count me in. But this move is a sucker punch, a coup for BDS, and will not advance the cause of peace one iota. And as a Detroiter, this just got personal.
November 6, 2012 | 1:41 pm
Posted by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein
(Part one of several blogs on my recent return to Poland after an 11 year absence.)
The snow began falling just as the busses were unloading for the 5th Annual Limud conference in Poland. (They spelled it Limud in Poland.) It has been eleven years since I left Poland after nearly a decade of community building there in the 1990′s.
Amidst the emotional reunion with friends that I had not seen in a decade, were hundreds of people who I didn’t recognize. 700-1000 of them depending on who you asked. A whole new wave of young Jews, older Jews, families, kids, all who had seemingly come out of nowehere.
Limud was staffed by energetic young volunteers at a conference center which had undergone a recent renonation that would make it the envy of any conference center in the USA. Registration was effortless and the good organization continued until the very end.
Without a doubt Limud was a blast. Everything that a Limud should be. Dozens of classes, community meals, late night conversations til dawn. A cross polination of people and ideas and intnerational trouble makers like myself. Yet what struck me the most was that the weekend was a cultural weekend. The current rejewvination of Polish Jewry, distinguishing from the one that I was part of starting in 1991, has been a secular revolution sponsored in most part by the JDC with help from the Taube and others. It was not that there were lack of religious programming – reform and orthodox minyanim took place – but their popularity was mininal. Maybe in total 100 people participated.
Back in the early days of the Jewish renewal when the communist system had dissapeared, the Jewish community was into the spiritual side of renewal. Ritual. Prayer. Hebrew. All the things that the communists had banned. No more phoney Yiddish theater, people wanted authentic forms of Judaism.
Today that is out the window in favor of a very cultural renewal. Classes and discussions ran the entire spectrum. The event was primarily Shabbat friendly, and the attedees were thrilled about being in a Jewish enviroment, whithout that spectre of anti-Jewish prejudice or fear of being outed.
Limud Poland has its own character: A very large number of elderly Jews and a huge number of very young folks. A cleverly named bookstore “Books & Stein” which I found flattering . The hotel bars opened at 10am. A real Polish disco that lasted until 4am. Dozens of wait staff cleared the tables whenever a dirty plate appeared. The food was extremely Polish, but meatless. Which in and of itself is radical in a country that eats a lot of, well, meat. Limited signage but no one was lost. About 25% of the classes were text based, while the others were discussions, lectures, or workshops. They made some killer lentil soup that I sampled. There were 2 Polish based reform rabbis, 2 Polish based orthodox rabbis, (a few import rabbis) and a karaoke style havdallah complete with some pumped up bald Israeli singer accompaning a CD of poplaur Israeli music from Hava Nagila to Ani Maamin, all in heavy euro disco beats.
Another element of Limmud Polaska which stood out for me most after an 11 year absence, was the diversity and unambiguous ambiguity of the Jewish heritage of the participants. There was no distinction made between those of mixed, distant ancestry, or Jew curiosity. There were no second class Jews as there were in the 1990’2 when one needed a Jewish parent to qualify. Now people are accepted on their own terms and there is little effort to verify the Jewish pedigree of the participants. My gut feeling is that most of the people have strong Jewish roots — it is still not so cool to be Jewish in Poland. It was a great way to reacquaint myself with the renewal of Jewish life in Poland and I hope to make it back for Limud Polska #6.
November 5, 2012 | 4:49 pm
Posted by Cheston Mizel
Here we stand, the end of a long fought battle in sight.
The whole world is watching. The stakes could not be higher.
The global economy faces continued uncertainty; regimes face instability; wars continue to rage; the threat of terrorism and unrest continue to grow. Here at home, we are careening toward the fiscal cliff as millions continue to dig their way out of the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.
On Tuesday I am going to do my civic duty to vote my conscience. I am going to vote for the person that I believe has the skills to solve our fiscal crisis, the character to defend freedom, who is genuinely concerned for Israel and its fate. On Wednesday, even if my guy loses, I am going to wake up and go about what needs to be done.
No matter who wins the Presidency, the challenges we face are larger than any one person. I do not mean to minimize the choice before us. Not at all. From my personal perspective, the choice of candidate is clear.
Nevertheless, there are others who are equally passionate on the other side. Not to mention the dangerously passionate on either extreme. Americans have become more divided than at any other time I can remember. At times, it has gotten downright nasty. I am aghast to read headlines of people threatening violence if unsatisfied with the result.
Given this environment, the spectre of an election, so close as to be contested, is perhaps the most frightening scenario of all. While reasonable people could differ on which path to take, the divisiveness and unrest that can result from any perceived injustice benefits nobody.
I sincerely hope and pray that cooler minds will prevail and that the winner of this election will have a clear victory, in which even the losing side will concede that the people have spoken. Nevertheless, no matter what happens on Tuesday, we are going to have to wake up Wednesday morning and work together to face these problems together.
One of the great lessons of history, that we dare not forget, is that when we are divided, we can become so polarized that we neglect to take responsibility for one another, no less our own actions. We justify our animosity, rationalizing it as righteous indignation.
Unless, that is, we are able to look beyond our differences and recognize that what we have in common is far more relevant and important than what divides us.
At the end of the day, we are in this together. Having been blessed to be Americans, we have a responsibility to be beacon of freedom and hope for many around the globe. If any country can lead the global economy out its current morass, it it us. If any country can lead the world to greater safety and stability, we are the best positioned to do so. The only way we can do that, is if each of us, as individuals take personal responsibility for reaching out, building bridges and healing wounds. This is something that can't happen from the Oval Office, this is something that takes leadership from the bottom up.
Each and every one of us needs to work within the power of our own sphere of influence to build unity and it starts by reaching out a hand.
There are still millions of people in the East Coast that need our donations, our love and our support. There are millions of others who are struggling in so many ways and a society in need of healing. The general course of this nation’s future may well rest on the choice we make on Tuesday. But what matters every bit as much is what we get up and do on Wednesday and the day after that.
This ethos of unity, and its pursuit, is something that has driven me to work to promote unity in the Los Angeles Jewish community. This election cycle has left us even more fragmented than we were before. Its time to come together and celebrate one another and the future that is ours to build. Please join me and hundreds of my closest friends for the 3rd Annual Night of Unity On November 18, 2012, and support of Jconnect and Jewlicious’ efforts to inspire and connect thousands to Jewish life. For more information: www.NightofUnity.com