JBuzz News February 29, 2012: Senator Carl Levin joins Eastern Michigan University for kick-off of Jewish Studies program




EMU: Senator Carl Levin joins Eastern Michigan University for kick-off of Jewish Studies program (VIDEO)

Source: Heritage News, 2-29-12

U.S. Senator Carl Levin speaks at the kick-off celebration for Eastern Michigan University’s Jewish Studies program. The minor program began accepting students in fall 2011.

Eastern Michigan University kicked off its new minor program in Jewish Studies on Thursday afternoon in the ballroom of the EMU Student Center. The university was joined in its celebration by U.S. Senator Carl Levin, D – Michigan, who gave the keynote address on his upbringing, Jewish values, and the similarities between the Jewish experience and the immigrant experience.

VIDEO: Heritage Media was in attendance for Levin’s keynote address, and spoke to him briefly afterwards. Check out the video here

JBuzz Op-eds February 28, 2012: Jonathan D. Sarna: General Ulysses S. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews




Jonathan D. Sarna: Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

Source: NY Jewish Week, 2-28-12

Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses S. Grant.

The surprising tale of how he turned into ‘America’s Haman.’

Purim serves as an appropriate moment to recall a man known for a time as “America’s Haman.” That Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s story ended very differently than the story of Haman in the Book of Esther reminds us how America itself is different, and how often it has surprised Jews for the better.

On Dec. 17, 1862, as the Civil War entered its second winter, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued the most Haman-like order in American history: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” Known as General Orders No. 11, the document blamed “Jews, as a class” for the widespread smuggling and cotton speculation that affected the area under Grant’s command. It required them to leave a vast war zone stretching from northern Mississippi to Cairo, Ill., and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.

Less than 72 hours after the order was issued, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs, Miss., were raided, knocking out rail and telegraph lines and disrupting lines of communication for weeks. As a result, news of General Orders No. 11 spread slowly, and did not reach company commanders and army headquarters in Washington in a timely fashion. Many Jews who might otherwise have been banished were spared.

A copy of General Orders No. 11 finally reached Paducah, Ky. — a city occupied by Grant’s forces — 11 days after it was issued. Cesar Kaskel, a staunch union supporter, as well as all the other known Jews in the city, were handed papers ordering them “to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.

Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw that telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on contemporaries. Some Jewish leaders feared that Jews would replace blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority.

Kaskel decided to appeal to Abraham Lincoln in person. Paul Revere-like, he sped down to Washington, spreading news of General Orders No. 11 wherever he went. With help from a friendly congressman, he obtained an immediate interview with the president, who turned out to have no knowledge whatsoever of the order, for it had not reached Washington. According to an oft-quoted report, he resorted to biblical imagery in his interview with Kaskel, a reminder of how many 19th-century Americans linked Jews to Ancient Israel, and America to the Promised Land:

“And so,” Lincoln is said to have drawled, “the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”

“Yes,” Kaskel responded, “and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”

“And this protection,” Lincoln declared “they shall have at once.”

General-in-Chief of the Army Henry Halleck, ordered by Lincoln to countermand General Orders No. 11, chose his words carefully.  “If such an order has been issued,” his telegram read, “it will be immediately revoked.”

In a follow-up meeting with Jewish leaders, Lincoln reaffirmed that he knew “of no distinction between Jew and Gentile. To condemn a class,” he emphatically declared, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”…READ MORE

JBuzz News February 27, 2012: State of American Jewish belief symposium March 4 Hosted by the Center for Jewish Studies of the University of Chicago & Spertus Institute




State of American Jewish belief

Source: JUF News, 2-27-12

The Center for Jewish Studies of the University of Chicago (in cooperation with Spertus Institute) will hold a one-day symposium on the topic “The State of American Jewish Belief Revisited: At the Edge of a Crisis or at a New Threshhold?” on Sunday, March 4 at Spertus Institute, 610 S. Michigan Ave.

Speakers will include:

Rachel Adler, Professor of Modern Jewish Thought and Judaism and Gender, Hebrew Union College-Los Angeles

Saul Berman, Professor, Yeshiva University; Founder, Edah

Arnold Eisen, Chancellor and Professor of Jewish Thought, Jewish Theological Seminary of America; Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, Stanford University

David Ellenson, President and Grancell Professor of Jewish Religious Thought, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Arthur Green, Rector of the Rabbinical School and Irving Brudnick Professor of Philosophy and Religion, Hebrew College, Boston; Professor Emeritus, Brandeis University; and formerly Dean and President, the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (1984-1993)

Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor of American Studies, University of Minnesota

Recent studies have pointed to declining synagogue membership and denominational identification as signs of a crisis in contemporary American Judaism, a situation usually interpreted as sociological in nature. This symposium will focus on the theological dimensions of the perceived crisis. Six leading thinkers from all streams of American Judaism will come together to share their unique vantage points on the question, put it somewhat provocatively:

Is American Judaism theologically bankrupt?  The symposium will address both the possible causes of this perceived crisis and constructive proposals to counter it. What possibilities exist in, and are specific to, the American Jewish experience that may enable us to re-think Jewish theology?  How can American Judaism best understand, employ, and capitalize on resources within traditional Jewish theological thought in order to address challenges specific to the American Jewish experience at this time?

This conference is the second in a series that the University of Chicago Center for Jewish Studies is holding as part of its mission to engage the Chicago community – and the wider American Jewish community – in intellectually challenging discussions addressing questions of urgent importance to American Judaism and the Jewish people. The first in the series, held in March 2011, addressed themes in the thought of Eliezer Berkovits, an Orthodox Jewish Theologian.

The program will conclude with a reception and is open to the community at no charge. To register, e-mail uofcconference@spertus.edu. or call (312) 322-1773.

Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies is a partner in serving our community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

JBuzz News February 23, 2012: Senator Carl Levin praises Eastern Michigan University for new Jewish Studies Minor program, speaks about Jewish-American experience




Senator Carl Levin praises EMU for new program, speaks about Jewish- American experience

Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich) spoke at the kick-off for Eastern Michigan University’s new Jewish Studies minor program and discussed various aspects of the Jewish-American experience.

“The Jewish experience very much begins with the immigrant experience,” Levin explained to a crowd of about 175 individuals from the EMU and local communities. “There are plenty of examples of anti-semitism, but for the most part, Jewish immigrants were able to overcome that and leave hatred behind.”


Anmar Alnimar / THE EASTERN ECHO

Levin shared his own family history, telling stories of his grandparents who came to America poor and built successful businesses.

Levin also talked about other important issues within the Jewish community; among these were a sense of community, support for Israel and a commitment to education. He put particular emphasis on the pursuit of social justice and patriotism.

“People should be treated fairly, particularly as it relates to people who are poor and people who have been left behind,” Levin said….READ MORE

JBuzz News & Reviews February 22, 2012: James Loeffler: University of Virgina Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers




U.Va. Professor Explores Lost History of Russian-Jewish Composers

Source: UVA Today, 2-22-12

James Loeffler

(Photo: Jack Looney)

University of Virginia historian James Loeffler explores the lost world of Jewish composers working in Russia before the Bolshevik Revolution in his new, award-winning book.

“The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire,” examines composers who viewed themselves as both Jewish and Russian and who saw their work contributing to both identities. He focuses on the second half of the 19th century through the Russian Revolution, covering two generations of composers.

“It is an attempt to rethink the stock image of the Jewish experience in Eastern Europe,” said Loeffler, an assistant professor of history in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The research director of Pro Musica Hebraica, Loeffler is a pianist who has been actively involved in Jewish music for the past decade as a scholar, critic and performer. He co-founded the Jewish Music Forum, a new national academic organization supported by the American Society for Jewish Music and the Center for Jewish History in New York, and has served as a music consultant to numerous organizations and institutions.

Loeffler’s book has been lauded by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, receiving its Béla Bartók Award for Outstanding Ethnomusicology Book, and the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies, which presented him the University of Southern California Book Prize in Literary and Cultural Studies. His work was a finalist for the 2012 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, which recognizes the important role of emerging writers in examining the Jewish experience.

Loeffler’s book fills an important void in the scholarship of these composers, said Joel Rubin, an assistant professor and director of music performance in U.Va.’s McIntire Department of Music.

“This is the first substantial piece of research on this movement,” Rubin said. “A lot of what had existed before was old and romantic and not up to the standards of scholarship we are used to today. It is important he has tackled the subject and I am happy to have more material I can teach to my students.”

Rubin said the composers were influenced by Zionism and feelings of national aspiration, as well as by their Christian Russian contemporaries to create artistic music with Jewish roots. He said Western classical music evolved over a long time, without much contribution from Jews until the latter part of the 19th century.

“These are people who left the shtetl and went to the conservatory,” Loeffler said. “These are the contemporaries of Piotyr Tchaikovsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and later Igor Stravinsky.” Among them was Anton Rubinstein, a Russian-Jewish pianist and composer and a founder of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, the first in Russia.

“The people I write about are complex, but they felt they had to be validated by others,” Loeffler said. “They thought they were Russians and Jews and that they didn’t have to choose. They thought they were furthering classical music, that their twin identities would feed into each other and that they would be more accepted. And for a brief period they were heralded as the young guns, bringing Russian classical music into the modern era.”

But the brief period did not last. Loeffler said they had to choose an identity; if they did not choose, one was assigned.

“They believed art would transcend politics, but they found that it didn’t,” Loeffler said. “The Russian culture liked Jewish music, but it didn’t like Jews.”

Russian composers, though, wrote on many classic Jewish themes, Loeffler said, citing Dmitri Shostakovich and his the song cycle “From Jewish Folk Poetry” and his 13th Symphony, subtitled “Babi Yar.”

“It becomes a symbol that represents to liberals a freer, more pluralistic Russia that embraces minorities and allows free expression – or it warns of the dangers of a fifth column within the society,” Loeffler said. “It becomes a barometer of what kind of Russian you are.”…READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews




“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12


By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95


Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”


JBuzz Interviews February 20, 2012: Eitan Fishbane: A conversation on love and loss with Jewish studies professor




A conversation on love and loss with Eitan Fishbane

Jewish studies professor whose new memoir recalls the tragic death of his wife at age 32.

Source: Haaretz, 2-20-12

In February 2007, Leah Levitz Fishbane arrived at a hospital in Hackensack, NJ, complaining of severe headaches and vomiting. Within hours, she was in a coma, and two days later, she was dead at age 32, killed by a tumor in her brain that had announced its existence with a swift and dramatic finality. She left behind her husband, Eitan Fishbane, and a 4-year-old daughter, Aderet, and was nine weeks’ pregnant at the time. Not long after Leah’s death, Eitan began recording his memories and meditations about their life together and his responses to the loss. Eventually, Fishbane became convinced that his ruminations might be able to provide comfort to others who had suffered similar losses. The result is the book “Shadows in Winter: A Memoir of Love and Loss” ‏(Syracuse University Press, 156 pages, $19.95‏). The couple had met as graduate students at Brandeis University, where Eitan completed his PhD in 2003, and where Leah, at the time of her death, was working on her own doctoral dissertation, in American Jewish history. The same month Eitan, an assistant professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), published his memoir, Jewish Lights brought out an edition, which he selected and translated, of writings on Shabbat by early Hasidic masters, “The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time.” In 2010, Fishbane, today 36, remarried, to Rabbi Julia Andelman. Haaretz spoke with Eitan Fishbane by phone from his home in Teaneck, New Jersey.
When did you actually begin writing this book?

The process of writing began relatively early, within a month of the shivah. Initially it was more of a therapeutic anchor, a stable activity to return to during those fragile days. But the process of writing awakened in me the power of words to heal the writer and to hopefully bring the force of that experience to readers as well. It stretched out over five or six months, though the first three months were really when a lot of the white heat of my experience was flowing out through the writing. [Afterwards, I did] some editing, though I really tried to preserve the authenticity of those early hours, to capture the ferocity of early grief in a way that’s hard to conjure up from a distance.

Eitan Fishbane - February 2012 Eitan Fishbane.

You do that, but am I right that anger isn’t a strong emotion here?

I didn’t feel anger as a dominant emotion. Certainly I did experience moments − I think that everybody in the swell of grief does − but when there was anger, it was less directed at something or someone in particular, more a surge of feeling….READ MORE

JBuzz News February 15, 2012: Israel’s national library digitizes Sir Isaac Newton’s theological writings, posts it online




Israeli national library digitizes Sir Isaac Newton’s theological writings, puts it online

Source: AP, 2-15-12

He’s considered to be one of the greatest scientists of all time. But Sir Isaac Newton was also an influential theologian who applied a scientific approach to the study of scripture, Hebrew and Jewish mysticism.

Now Israel’s national library, an unlikely owner of a vast trove of Newton’s writings, has digitized his theological collection — some 7,500 pages in Newton’s own handwriting — and put it online. Among the yellowed texts are Newton’s famous prediction of the apocalypse in 2060.

(NY Public Library, File/Associated Press) – FILE – Engraving of Isaac Newton based on a 1726 painting by John Vanderbank that was from the frontispiece of a 1726 editiion of Principia, on display on Friday, Oct.8, 2004, at the New York Public Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library. Israel’s national library, an unlikely owner of a vast trove of Newton’s writings, has digitized his theological collection, and put it online. The curator of Israel’s national library’s humanities collection said Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012, Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far more in theology than he did in physics and believed that scripture provided a “code” to the natural world.

Newton revolutionized physics, mathematics and astronomy in the 17th and 18th century, laying the foundations for most of classical mechanics — with the principal of universal gravitation and the three laws of motion bearing his name.

However, the curator of Israel’s national library’s humanities collection said Newton was also a devout Christian who dealt far more in theology than he did in physics and believed that scripture provided a “code” to the natural world.

“Today, we tend to make a distinction between science and faith, but to Newton it was all part of the same world,” said Milka Levy-Rubin. “He believed that careful study of holy texts was a type of science, that if analyzed correctly could predict what was to come.”…READ MORE

JBuzz News February 13, 2012: Jason Marantz: Manitoban appointed chief executive of the London School of Jewish Studies




Manitoban to head Jewish school in London

Source: Winnipeg, Free Press, 2-13-12

Manitoban Jason Marantz hopes to bring Jewish adult education and teacher training programs to a new audience after being appointed chief executive of the London School of Jewish Studies Monday.

Marantz, 37, said he is excited about the new position.

“My aim is to firmly establish LSJS as the leading light in the provision of both teacher training and adult education in the UK Jewish community for future generations,” Marantz told The Jewish Post and News.

In his new role, Marantz will be responsible for budgeting and fundraising as well as management of the school.

Born in Winnipeg, Marantz completed his bachelor of arts at the University of Manitoba. In 1999, he moved to the UK to pursue a masters in literacy learning and literacy difficulties before becoming the head of the Wolfson Hillel Jewish Primary School in London.

JBuzz News February 11, 2012: W. Gunther Plaut: Rabbi that Defined Reform Judaism, Dies at 99




W. Gunther Plaut, Defined Reform Judaism, Dies at 99

Source: NYT, 2-11-12

W. Gunther Plaut, a rabbi whose vast, scholarly and ardently contemporary edition of the Torah has helped define Reform Judaism in late-20th-century North America, died on Wednesday in Toronto. He was 99.


W. Gunther Plaut was the author of more than 20 books.

His son, Rabbi Jonathan V. Plaut, confirmed the death, saying that his father had been ill with Alzheimer’s disease for nearly a decade. At his death, the elder Rabbi Plaut was the senior scholar at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto, where he had served as senior rabbi from 1961 to 1977.

One of the most prominent rabbis in the world, Rabbi Plaut (the name rhymes with shout) wrote more than 20 books on Jewish theology, history and culture. He was best known for “The Torah: A Modern Commentary,” his magnum opus, published by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the umbrella organization for Reform Jewish congregations in North America.

First published as a single volume in 1981 and issued in a revised edition in 2005, Rabbi Plaut’s Torah has become a touchstone for Judaism’s liberal branches. While Jews have long studied the Torah — the first section of the Hebrew Bible — with the aid of rabbinic commentaries, none like his had ever before appeared.

“God is not the author of the text,” Rabbi Plaut wrote in the volume’s introduction, “the people are; but God’s voice may be heard through theirs if we listen with open minds.”

The Plaut Torah has sold nearly 120,000 copies, according to its publisher. It is used today in many Reform synagogues, as well as in some Conservative and Reconstructionist ones, throughout the United States and Canada.

“This is the first non-Orthodox full commentary on the Torah published in English for congregational use,” Rabbi Daniel H. Freelander, a senior vice president of the Union for Reform Judaism, as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations is now known, said in an interview on Friday.

Before the Plaut Torah, the commentary most widely used in North American synagogues across the Jewish spectrum was by Joseph H. Hertz, the chief rabbi of Britain. Published in the 1920s and ’30s, Rabbi Hertz’s commentary was written from the Orthodox perspective, and as such it considered the Torah the word of God, given to Moses at Mount Sinai.

The Hertz Torah “represents a point of view that is now unacceptable to many,” Rabbi Plaut told The Globe and Mail of Canada in 1981. “Furthermore, it was written at a time of growing anti-Semitism when Hitler was coming to power, and so it is highly apologetic. Its language is magnificent, but Jews today are entitled to be given insights that go beyond the traditional.”

Rabbi Plaut’s Torah, the first edition to be produced in the New World, spans nearly 1,800 pages and took more than a decade to prepare. Even its cover gives quiet but unmistakable evidence of its unorthodox intent: the 1981 edition opens from left to right, like a conventional English book, instead from right to left, as traditional volumes of Hebrew Scripture do.

Inside, the Five Books of Moses — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — appear in Hebrew and English, accompanied by Rabbi Plaut’s commentary. (The commentary on Leviticus was written by Rabbi Bernard Bamberger.)

Drawing on scholarship in science, biblical archaeology, Near East studies, folklore, linguistics and feminism, and on non-Jewish texts including Shakespeare, the Koran and the New Testament, the commentaries in the Plaut Torah ascribe layers of possible meanings to the text. This makes probing analytical discussion — even argument — among worshipers not only possible but often satisfyingly inevitable.

“He used critical scholarship, and was open to it, in a book that was going to sit in the pews in synagogues,” Richard Elliott Friedman, the Ann and Jay Davis professor of Jewish studies at the University of Georgia, said Friday. “Which the Conservatives — forget the Orthodox — weren’t even doing then.”…READ MORE

JBuzz Review February 10, 2012: Joshua Golding: ‘The Conversation’ professor’s novel focuses on Judaism & Philosophy




Book Review | ‘The Conversation’ by Joshua Golding

This ‘Conversation’ is worth listening to

Source: Courier-Journal, 2-10-12

Reviewed by Frederick Smock

The Conversation
By Joshua Golding
Urim Publications
527 pp.; $28.95

David Goldstein, the central character in Bellarmine University philosophy professor Joshua Golding’s new novel, is a fairly typical American Jewish college student, in that he is expected to marry a Jewish girl, and he knows that the state of Israel is important and, beyond that, he does not know very much about his heritage.

As a college freshman, David begins to encounter the big questions: Is there a God? If so, why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? And what does it mean to be Jewish?

“The Conversation” is neatly divided into four sections — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years — and follows David as he learns about Judaism and philosophy.

The reader, of course, learns along with him.

The novel is, by and large, conversational, hence the title. We see David in dialogue with rabbis, professors, fellow students and friends, as he seeks a personal understanding of deep questions that are only now beginning to make themselves real to him.

The story is likewise multi-textual, told in conversations, letters, journal entries, emails, lectures and essays for class (complete with the professor’s markings and marginalia in red ink!). Differing typefaces are used for each genre.

Published in Israel by Urim Publications, the book has been beautifully produced.

The book is an interesting hybrid — a novel that is also intended to instruct.

The philosophical content is quite accessible for the lay reader. In some quarters, this book might find itself compared to Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 novel “Sophie’s World,” but it should not be….READ MORE

JBuzz News, February 9, 2012: Marc Ellis: Ken Starr Pulling “a Clinton” on a Jewish Studies Professor at Baylor University?




Why is Marc Ellis on the outs at Baylor University?

Source: JTA, 2-10-12

Baylor University has suspended Marc Ellis, the director of its Jewish Studies program, for alleged sexual misconduct.

Beyond this, we can glean the following facts from this very long Religion Dispatches dispatch:

–Ellis denies the charges, which his lawyer says involved a former close female friend.

–His hearing is next month.

–Ellis is known for dissenting from conventional Jewish establishment pro-Israel orthodoxies.

–Ken Starr, or as RD puts it, “Yes, that Ken Starr,” is Baylor’s president.

According to RD — and not just RD, but the Middle East Studies Association and a petition stacked with left-leaning luminaries, including Ilan Pappe, Desmond Tutu and Cornel West — this adds up to Starr persecuting Ellis for his religious and political beliefs.

We don’t find out until the 11th paragraph — and then, parenthetically — that Baylor denies Starr is at all involved in the investigation.

We do learn that the American Assocation of University Professors believes it is wrong to suspend a professor on such charges before a hearing takes place. We never learn if this ever has been Baylor’s practice.

Instead we get an arc of presumption that starts off acknowledging that the facts that would underpin accusations of political persecution are simply not there, but concludes that they are there, well, just because.

This paragraph is illustrative:

It’s clear that Starr is a conservative Christian, yet his Israel politics are something of an unknown. Raised in a nondenominational Church of Christ, he would very likely have been exposed to Christian Zionist theology. Years later he joined the McLean Bible Church in Virginia, which he remained a member of years after having moved to California to take a position at the Church of Christ-affiliated Pepperdine University. Starr’s pastor at McLean, Jewish-born evangelical Lon Solomon, has been a board member of the Christian Zionist ministry Jews for Jesus for the past 25 years. It would be unusual were Starr not a Christian Zionist.

Got that? Starr’s Israel politics are unknown … but he’s probably a Christian Zionist.

Ken Starr Pulling “a Clinton” on a Jewish Studies Professor at Baylor U?

Source: Religious Dispatches, 2-9-12

Image credit: Callie Richmond, The Texas Tribune

The rabbi began, “I have a special blessing-slash-prayer for Judge Starr.”

Early September 2010: fresh from a five-year stint as Dean of Pepperdine Law School, Baylor University’s newly anointed president Ken Starr celebrated the High Holidays with his Jewish colleagues. A former federal judge, though best known as independent counsel overseeing the Whitewater investigation and the Monica Lewinsky affair, Starr’s name is often accompanied by “Clinton nemesis,” or “yes, that Ken Starr.”

Here was a conservative, evangelical Christian taking the helm of a Baptist school at a Days of Awe-themed luncheon at Baylor’s Center for Jewish Studies. Starr’s host at this portrait of pluralism was Professor Marc Ellis, renowned Jewish theologian and vociferous critic of both Israeli policy and the American Jewish establishment.

“May you live to see your world fulfilled,” the rabbi continued, smiling at Starr, who sported a silk tie in Baylor’s official colors, green and gold. “May your destiny be for worlds still to come.” By the next Rosh Hashanah, in the fall of 2011, the Starr administration had stripped Marc Ellis of his teaching duties and effectively shuttered his Center for Jewish Studies. An internal Baylor University investigation was underway, the charges cloaked in secrecy.

Ellis, a tenured professor described as “deeply thoughtful and courageous” by the late Edward Said, will face a three-day dismissal hearing this March. Speaking on condition of anonymity, several faculty members with firsthand knowledge of the proceedings confirm that Ellis is being investigated for alleged sexual misconduct (or “misuses of God’s gift” as the faculty handbook has it). According to Baylor policy, misconduct is defined as “sexual abuse, sexual harassment, sexual assault, incest, adultery, fornication, and homosexual acts.” And so Ken Starr enters his golden years.

It’s unclear what exactly Ellis is on trial for, as neither Baylor nor Ellis would comment on the record about the nature of the charges. (One clue: no criminal charges have been filed against Ellis.) Roger Sanders, Ellis’ lawyer, says Baylor’s lawyers told him the internal process mandates nondisclosure, though Baylor spokesperson Lori Fogleman disputes this, telling RD that the charges can only be released with Ellis’ written permission.

Sanders says the investigation hinges on “bogus allegations.” One can only hope the result will not be another 336-page Starr Report—the $40 million product of the independent counsel’s four-year investigation, for which the beleaguered Monica Lewinsky was interrogated over 20 times. “‘You’re a pervert, Ken Starr,’” Lewinsky’s father once said he’d like to tell the former independent counsel.

In late November Cornel West, feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and other luminaries launched a change.org petition addressed to Starr, which has thus far gathered over 5,000 signatures. The petition asserts that the controversy “looks more and more like a persecution to silence a Jewish voice of dissent.”

“The charges,” reads a petition update, “are about ‘abuse of authority.’…Many of us were contacted several times by institutional lawyers who tried to persuade us to tell them examples of ‘abuse of authority’ he has exercised.”

According to Sanders, the investigation consisted of “sort of announc[ing] to people, ‘Here’s what Marc’s guilty of. Now tell us what you know about him.’” Fogleman claims no knowledge of the investigation’s procedures and declined to recommend officials who could answer questions about it.

As Ellis sees it, Starr, who “holds unassailable credentials in the American evangelical community,” has launched the investigation in order to replace him with “a different kind of Jew”—namely, “a right-wing, Israel-loving Jew that would cement [Starr’s] reputation with the right wing, like [Alan] Dershowitz.” (Fogleman says Starr has nothing to do with the investigation, which itself has “no relationship” to “Dr. Ellis’ positions on Israel and Palestine.”)*…READ MORE

JBuzz News February 8, 2012: “Truth Behind the Sarah Grunfeld Story”: York University Student who accused Professor Cameron Johnston of Anti-Semitism releases video




“Truth Behind the Sarah Grunfeld Story” video emerges

Source: Macleans, 2-8-12

Student who accused professor of antisemitism is back

From The Truth Behind the Sarah Grunfeld story

Remember Sarah Grunfeld? She’s the York University student who stormed out of a lecture in September of last year because her professor said that “all Jews should be sterilized.”

It later emerged that Professor Cameron Johnston, who is Jewish, was using the statement as an example of an invalid and dangerous opinion that must be reasonably qualified.

It appears that Grunfeld left the 450-seat lecture before Cameron qualified the opinion. Grunfeld was widely rebuked, including by Maclean’s own 22-year-old Jewish columnist, Emma Teitel.

But she didn’t go away quietly. She’s now back in a YouTube video called The Truth Behind the Sarah Grunfeld story. At least, we assume it’s her; the face in the video appears in silhouette.

“I was ridiculed, I was demonized,” says the shadowy figure. “I was called an moron, a dimwit, an idiot…” The figure then explains that she was paying full attention (FULL ATTENTION!) and sitting in the front row of class. “I know exactly what I heard,” she says. The shadowy figure admits that the comment happened in the “first five minutes of [Cameron’s] talk about how opinions can be dangerous.” She says she waited for the professor to provide some kind of qualifier, but he did not.

This all comes before the shadowy figure accuses against the media, York University, Hillel of Greater Toronto and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs of mistreating her. The voice concludes by asking: “what’s the future for Jewish students?”

A better question might be: “what’s the future of Sarah Grunfeld?”

JBuzz News February 7, 2012: Jenna Weissman Joselit: Jewish Culture Gets A ‘Master’ Class at George Washington University




Jewish Culture Gets A ‘Master’ Class

Jenna Weissman Joselit.

Jenna Weissman Joselit.

New G.W. graduate program to develop next generation of arts administrators for cultural institutions.

In the last decade, study after study has shown that Jewish culture — films, music, books — rather than traditional institutions like synagogues or day schools, has become an increasingly important part of American Jewish identity.

As if to drive home that point, a glittering array of newly built cultural institutions — from the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, which opened in 2005, to the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, unveiled in 2010 — have become landmarks for all American Jews.

All this has thrilled Jenna Weissman Joselit, a leading historian of Jewish culture and a professor at George Washington University. But what worried her was that there was no clear training for the future leaders of these institutions.

Many heads of new and older Jewish cultural venues, like JCCs, tended to have rabbinical training or success in the corporate world, she said. “But not all of them were all that clued in to Jewish history and Jewish culture.”

Conversely, she added, leaders who had come from the arts world — theater directors, say, or museum curators — didn’t necessarily have the business sense.

But the new master’s program she has created in Jewish Cultural Arts at George Washington University, announced last month, hopes to rectify that.

“The distinctiveness of the G.W. program is that it combines both the arts education and the administrative training,” she said, adding that both are necessary to run a cultural institution.

Elise Bernhardt, the president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Jewish Culture, applauded the program’s arrival as well. “There are many such programs in the secular world,” she said. “But given that there’s a focus on Jewish culture that didn’t exist in the world before, [this program] makes sense.”…READ MORE

Carleton University Hosts Jewish Studies Conference February 9, 2012




Carleton Hosts Jewish Studies Conference

Source: Ottawa Citizen, 2-6-12

Carleton University is holding a conference entitled Jewish Spaces, Jewish Places on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012 and launching an international travelling exhibition about prisoners of the Dachau concentration camp – Names Instead of Numbers.

The interdisciplinary graduate student conference, hosted by the Max and Tessie Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, includes a public lecture by keynote speaker Michael Meng from Clemson University, who will talk at 4 p.m. in Room 2017, Dunton Tower. Meng is the author of Shattered Spaces, which explores the postwar history of Jewish ruins in the urban landscapes of Germany and Poland.

Carleton’s Jennifer Evans will also be launching her book during the conference. It’s called Life Among the Ruins: Cityscape and Sexuality in Cold War Berlin.

The launch of the Dachau exhibition will take place from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on the fourth floor of Paterson Hall.

On Friday, Feb. 10, media are invited to a presentation at 10:30 a.m. from exhibition curator Sabina Gerhardus in Room 303, Paterson Hall. She will be available for questions. Names Instead of Numbers will remain at Carleton through March 9.

Information about the exhibition and a full program of the conference is available here: http://ccph.carleton.ca/news/test-post-for-names-instead-of-numbers/.

See this release online: http://bit.ly/A8FPdt

For more information:

Dominique Marshall

Acting Chair, Department of History

Carleton University

613-520-2600, ext. 2846

Dominique_marshall@carleton.ca <mailto:Dominique_marshall@carleton.ca>

JBuzz February 6, 2012: Tu B’Shvat 2012: Ecology Study Opportunities




Tu B’Shvat Ecology Study Opportunities, 2012

Source: Green Prophet, 2-6-12

sviva israel childrenThe 15th day of the Jewish month of Shavat signals the launching of new Jewish eco-education programs. A potent mystical, ecological, legal and historical mix  runs through Tu B’Shvat, a date known as the New Year For The Trees.

For more on the meaning of Tu B’Shvat, read this post. According to Jewish tradition, it’s the day on which each tree is judged as to the amount of water it will receive over the year. It’s also the cut-off date when determining the age of the tree. As man is compared to “the tree of the field,”  Tu B’Shvat is a good day to inaugurate ecology studies. Jewcology’s Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment.

Jewcology, a project which provides materials and tools to support the Jewish environmental movement, announced today that it will launch a “Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment” from Tu b’Shevat 5772 until Tu b’Shevat 5773.  (Feb. 7-8, 2012 – Jan. 25-26, 2013). Jewcology will launch the resources in coordination with Canfei Nesharim, its parent organization. Jewcology invites Jewish organizations, including websites, publications, and communities, to join its “Year of Jewish Learning on the Environment.” To learn more  and for a full schedule of topics and posting dates, email info@jewcology.com.

Sviva Israel’s Eco Connection programs in 15 different cities  in Israel, the United States and South Africa.

Implemented in over 50 schools in Israel and the U.S.A, Sviva Israel partners schools to learn together how they impact the environment. We ensure the success of the Eco Connection with teacher training and onsite support and exciting workshops from our staff throughout the school year.

The curriculum includes lessons on the Ecological Footprint, Jewish Environmental traditions and Israeli Clean-Tech innovations, workshops on Judaism and the Environment, Alternative Energy, Eco crafts, video conferences and joint events for visiting students.

Learn how your school or community can join the Eco Connection, the largest global environmental network of Jewish schools. Contact: Carmi Wisemon, Executive Director, Carmi@svivaisrael.org Tel. 1-212- 444-1504

This year, Tu B’Shvat falls this coming Tuesday night, the 7th of February, lasting through Wednesday.

More on environmental education in Israel, and Tu B’Shvat:

Shmuley Boteach: Rabbi’s ‘Kosher Jesus’ book is denounced as heresy




Rabbi’s ‘Kosher Jesus’ book is denounced as heresy

Shmuley Boteach’s book focuses on Jesus’ Jewishness, portraying him as a hero who was not resurrected or divine. But some other rabbis express contempt for the book and forbid followers to read it.

Source: LAT, 2-6-12

Controversy surrounds "Kosher Jesus" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

Barak Boteach, 15, sells copies of “Kosher Jesus” by his uncle, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times / January 26, 2012)

For an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Shmuley Boteach has a deeply unorthodox streak.

The bestselling author and TV host has written books on “Kosher Sex,” “Dating Secrets of the 10 Commandments” and his relationship with the late pop star Michael Jackson.

But nothing he has done in a career as one of America’s best-known rabbis has caused quite the stir of his latest book. Even before its publication this month, Boteach came under withering attack in his own Orthodox community, with critics accusing him of exploiting controversy to boost sales and some going so far as to accuse him of heresy.

The title of Boteach’s book? “Kosher Jesus.”

The book focuses on the Christian savior’s Jewishness, portraying him as a hero who stood up to Roman rule of Palestine and paid with his life. In keeping with Jewish theology, it does not accept his resurrection or his divinity. And it emphasizes Boteach’s belief that the New Testament intentionally deflected blame for the crucifixion from the ruling Romans and redirected it — unfairly, Boteach believes — on the shoulders of the Jews.

Given all that, one might expect Christians to take exception. But Boteach’s Jewish critics were way ahead of the curve.

“Boteach’s latest book is apikorsus and must be treated as such,” Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago said on an Orthodox news site Jan. 10, using a Hebrew word that roughly translates as heresy. Wolf said he had “utter contempt” for the book — or, at least, for the title.

That, as it turns out, was the only part he had read.

“I am not the consumer that seeks to consume such writings,” he said.

Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, a prominent Canadian cleric, wrote that the book “poses a tremendous risk to the Jewish community” and proclaimed that it was “forbidden for anyone to buy or read this book, or give its author a platform in any way, shape or form to discuss this topic.”

Both Wolf and Schochet, along with most of the other early critics, are affiliated with Chabad, a large organization of Hasidic Jews known for their strict religious observance. Boteach has a long and tempestuous relationship with the organization….READ MORE

Reuven Stanov, Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies: Conservative Judaism movement to establish first community in Ukraine




Conservative Judaism movement to establish first community in Ukraine

Ukrainian-Reuven Stanov, 38, is accredited by the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem as part of its program of preparing Conservative rabbis as spiritual leaders.

Source: Haaretz, 2-5-12

Sunday morning, when Reuven Stanov was accredited as a rabbi, the Conservative movement moved one step closer to realizing a mission it describes as almost messianic: building the first Conservative Jewish community in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Ukrainian-born Stanov, 38, was accredited by the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem Sunday as part of its program of preparing Conservative rabbis as spiritual leaders.

conservative rabbi Ukrainian-born Stanov, 38, being accredited as a Conservative rabbi by the Schechter Institute for Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.
Photo by: Avi Hayun

Stanov was recruited eight years ago when he worked in one of the movement’s summer camps in the Ukraine and brought to Israel to be trained as a rabbi. The plan was that he would eventually return to the Ukraine to help establish a Conservative Jewish presence there. At the end of this month he and his family will indeed be heading back to Kiev to set up the first Conservative movement center in the Ukraine, as well as the first Conservative synagogue, clubs for youth and adults, an ulpan for learning Hebrew and for strengthening Jewish identity and links to Israel.

Stanov is a Cinderella story of the Conservative world. He grew up completely ignorant of Israel and his only link to Judaism at home was the eating of matza during Passover. His first chance exposure to religious activity and Zionism occurred during university studies when he signed up for one of the youth clubs run by Jewish students from the Conservative movement, after being brought there by a friend. He rose through the ranks of the movement’s summer camps and was eventually recruited for rabbinical studies in Israel.

“I plan to create a community from people who studied at the (Conservative afternoon) schools in the Ukraine. We have a good foundation for a community in Kiev, and I hope we can eventually branch out to other cities,” says Stanov….READ MORE

Leonard Saxe: Study Jewish numbers on rise 6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates




Study: Jewish numbers on rise

6.4 million in the US, Brandeis team estimates
Source: Jewish Advocate, 2-3-12

Brandeis Professor Leonard Saxe has some good news for those fearing for the future of Judaism in America. The number of American Jews is actually increasing, not decreasing. A Brandeis team estimates the total US Jewish population at 6.4 million as of 2010, up from 5.7 million in 2000, and 5.5 million in 1990….READ MORE

Colorado University – Boulder to offer major in Jewish Studies




CU-Boulder to offer major in Jewish Studies, international bachelor’s degree

Source: Daily Camera, 2-1-12

University of Colorado undergraduates have two new majors available to them: Jewish Studies and an international bachelor of arts that will allow students to study in Australia and Ireland.

CU regents, at their board meeting in Colorado Springs today, unanimously approved two new bachelor’s degree proposals for the Boulder campus.

When CU first began its Jewish Studies program in 2007, about a dozen students pursued the certificate.

This year, 75 students are enrolled in the certificate program. CU-Boulder Provost Russell Moore told the board that no other schools in the Rocky Mountain region offer a Jewish Studies major….READ MORE