Archive | February, 2009

Shabos Zmiros – Canadian hip-hop klez from DJ Socalled

Another winner from J Dub Records, Socalled.

Good Old Days:

You are Never Alone:

Shabat Shalom.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Reform Jews wearing tefilin

I can remember the first time it occurred to me that a Reform Jew might want to wear tefilin. It was Rabbi Andy Bachman‘s fault.

The dangerous rabble-rouser is at again! And this time he’s doing it to seventh graders!

Thanks God someone’s doing this with Reform children…

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

L’an Ani holech?

I always assumed, bascially since I returned from my high school fall semester in Israel two years ago, that I would return to Israel in the spring of my junior year of college. Now, I’m not so sure.

I wonder whether I liked the program I was on Israel or if I liked Israel itself.

I wonder if Israel is the be all and end all of Jewish existence.

I wonder if I should focus on trying to experience other worldwide Jewish groups. I want to go to Lithuania and Uganda and India and see those Jews!

I wonder if what I could spend next year doing here would grow me more than going to Israel.

Read full story · Comments { 12 }

Shabos Zmiros – Deleon, rock from medieval Jewish Spain

Another great band from J Dub Records: Deleon. I just bought Deleon’s self-titled album, Deleon. The goal of Deleon is to take mediveal Sfardi music and turn it into contemporary rock. And it works really well.

One of my favorites from the album, La Serena:

A live performance of a classic not on the album, Ocho Kandelikas:

Lastly, Be Still Angelino, which everyone seems to agree is the best from the album:

Shabat Shalom.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

Im ein kemach, ein JEWCY?

JTA philanthropy blog Fundermentalist reports today that online Jewish culture magazine Jewcy has lost its funding!


According to a senior staff member of the magazine, its primary funder, theater mogul Jon Steingart, and its president, Tahl Raz, informed the staff on Friday, Feb. 13, that Steingart and its other major backers, Michael Weiner and Michael Steinhardt, were pulling their money from the magazine because they did not see it as a profitable model in a sour economy.

Steingart and Raz told the staff that they would have until the following Friday to vacate the magazine’s offices in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Steingart started Jewcy as a Jewish themed party night at his Ars Nova theater space in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan. That eventually spawned a clothing brand that sported off-beat Jewish products, such as women’s underwear and t-shirts bearing such slogans as “Shalom Motherf—er.”

Raz, then a Senior Editor at Fortune Small Business approached Steingart about spinning the Jewcy brand into an online magazine.

In November of 2006, Jewcy turned into a big-deal online Jewish magazine covering religion, art, music, food, and whatever else they could find someone to blog about as though it was the hippest thing ever.

Jewcy first came to my attention while I was in Israel as I was just discovering the jblogosphere. I started reading and commenting heavily on Faithhacker, a Jewcy blog that was being written in those days by Laurel Snyder. I really liked Snyder’s writing. Snyder, it seemed, liked mine too. Just a high school senior at the time, I was given a chance to guest blog during Chanukah that year about what Jewcy titled “The Secret Origins of Chanukah.” I felt that some of my best points were edited out, but I was flattered nonetheless.

Sometime in the next year, Snyder left Jewcy and Tamar Fox took over Faithhacker. At some point, Faithhacker was folded into the site and ceased by be a distinct blog, which I didn’t like. I stopped reading Jewcy regularly at that point, but maintained links here in my blogroll and on the DAVID ELSEWHERE page.

Due to some real crap experiences with Jewcy while working for Limmud, I removed all links to Jewcy from this blog last month.

But things are looking up. I don’t mean that in a meanspirited way. I mean that I think this could be a chance for Jewcy to really re-think itself and re-emerge as a better organization. A volunteer-run organization, perhaps.

Marcus says that many Jewcy staffers will continue working from home and continue providing content for the site. Ad sales will continue. Salaries, alas, will not.

Read full story · Comments { 4 }

BZ amazes again

BZ, otherwise known in the meatspace as Ben Dreyfus, is known in the jblogosphere for comprehensive posts. But his latest is nearly all-encompassing. It is the longest blog post I’ve ever read. If you’re interested in Reform Judaism, you had better get yourself over to Mah Rabu and read this post. It is important.

Everything after this will refer liberally to the BZ’s post and may be incomprehensible without having read the post.

I think that BZ is hitting the nail on the head with his categories of Reform observance. The categories he outlines are Halachah, Agadah, and Minhag. He notes that while Reform Jews (whether they call themselves Reform or not, he says, noting his NHC buddies as examples) may be Reform Jews in any one or two of those senses, it would be hard to be Reform Jew in all three senses. I’d like to try and define myself using these three terms.

I think we can agree that I’m a halachic Reform Jew. We need look no further than my frequent writings about tzitzit for examples of that fact. I am an agadic Reform Jew in my support of a broadly egalitarian form of Reform Judaism and in my belief in the importance of tikun olam (the social action version of tikun olam). But am I a Reform Jew in the sense of minhag? I compose frequent tirades against structural elements of Reform liturgy and I have come to prefer a liturgical aesthetic more along the lines of Carlebach and (off-beat) chazanut than along the lines of Debbi Friedman and either organs or guitars. I think BZ has me pegged when he discusses a Reform Jew who is Reform only in halachah and agadah, but not in minhag. The anomaly here is that BZ is talking mainly about people who didn’t grow up Reform in this category, whereas I grew up Reform, but have come to find our minhag distasteful and ill-conceived.

Says BZ:

So this is an internal Reform-vs.-Reform tension, which comes down to Reform Jewry as ethnicity vs. Reform Judaism as ideology.
And it’s not the stereotypical “tradition and change” dialectic; one example of a practice based on minhag might be praying in English, while a practice based on informed autonomy might be praying in Hebrew.

Yet in this attempt to exemplify what the Reform ethnicity and the Reform ideology is, BZ has already run into some trouble. The minhag at the Reform synagogue I grew up at included much more Hebrew than the norm in the movment. Meanwhile, one could use informed autonomy to decide to pray in English.

But, BZ, I’m sorry to say that you lose me when you get to the Reform Jewish narrative stuff. I can kind of sense what you’re grasping at, but it’s gonna take another post to explain what you’re after there. That part really had me struggling.

I’m sure I’ll think of more to say about this post soon enough. A real game-changer of a post, I think. Good job, Ben. And thanks for the link. And the challenge. SER and MT compared? I’m more than a little gung-ho for that idea now.

Read full story · Comments { 14 }


After everything that happened at LimmudNY this year, several LimmudNYnyks wanted to go have fun at a Limmud we didn’t have any responsibility for. LimmudPhilly to the rescue! Of ocurse we all immediately signed up for shifts as volunteers because we’re just gluttons for punishment.

It looks like registration is still open on their webiste, though the event is this coming weekend. It’s their first year, so it’s a one-day event beginning Saturday night and ending Sunday evening. I’ll be there the whole time and so will my mother! So come chill with us this weekend.

Read full story · Comments { 2 }

Im ein kemach, ein Havdalah? I’m unconvinced.

A debate has raged this week at iWorship, the URJ’s listserve for synagogue Ritual or Worship Committee members, regarding the timing of Havdalah.

In this late stage of halachic development, I’m a little amused and taken aback that such a debate could rage at all. Certainly, the timeframe for Havdalah is well established. It must be done after dark, once three or more stars are visible. Simple, right?

Nonetheless, the following query was brought before the list earlier this week:

After many years of only observing B’Nei Mitzvah at Shabbat Morning Services, our Ritual Committee and Congregation determined a few years ago that Shabbat Minchah B’Nei Mitzvah would be an alternative available to each family. […]

The start time of our Shabbat afternoon B’Nei Mitzvah is 5:30 p.m.  (The service concludes with Havdalah.)  In recent months, three families have asked that the start time be made later, up to an hour later.  The requests have related to spring and fall B’Nei Mitzvah, when the sun sets later.  Until now, we have denied those requests.  Our Ritual Committee now plans to take up this issue. […]

So, my question is really directed at those whose congregations already hold Shabbat Minchah B’Nei Mitzvah.  What time do they start and is there any flexibility regarding the start time?

List members reported, without variation, that, no, in their congregation there was no variance in the start time of Shabat mincha B’nei Mitzvah.

I was shocked, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been. Growing up in the Reform world, I’m used the mentatlity that Kab Shab must begin at the same time every week, or else the sky will fall. I don’t like it, but I’m used to it. Yet, in the synagogue I grew up, where Havdalah was not a weekly occurence, when it did happen, it happened after dark, regardless of the time of year.

In Reform, we all agree that we can exempt ourselves from halachah when we so choose. But we do not do so at whim. We do it for reasons, I hope. Yet no one could seem to give a reason, a Jewish reason, as to why Havdalah should begin in broad daylight.

One rather eloquent iWorship member, one whom I usually agree with, brought up the principle of  “Im ein kemach, ein Torah.” It means, “With no bread, there is no Torah.” The idea behind the saying is that being a Torah scholar is great, but if you do at the expense of your material needs, that’s a problem. It’s a principle meant to keep us from venerating impoverished scholars.

The thought behind bringing up “Im ein kemach” in this discussion was that (I think, I’m still not totally clear on the point!) if syangogues aren’t Bar Mitzvah factories, bowing to every whim of Bar Mitzvah families, and if synagogues don’t have everything start at easy to remember, inflexible times, all of their members will leave and take their money (kemach, bread) with them. I fail to see how this argument plays out logically.

This same list member asked me, on the list, “Who said everything has to make sense?”

If we look back at Reform history, we’ll find that “Does it make sense?” is one of our central questions.  Does it make sense to keep kosher? I don’t think so, therefore I don’t. Does it make sense to wear tzitzit? I think it does, so I do. Does it make sense to begin Havdalah, a ritual about darkness and steeped deeply in the symbolism of light and dark, when the sun is up? No. So what’s the deal folks.

This conversation on iWorship shows us that ritual decisions are being made in synagogues acorss America with not throught being given to their meaning. And I feel like a lone voice crying out in the wilderness.

When we don’t think about our religion as a religion, when we turn it into a customer service department, we are doing ourselves a grand disservice and we are spitting at our tradition. We’re saying that we think our tradition is pretty, but that it doesn’t deserve any real thought.

And in the end, I’m just not convinced that publishing a different start time every week is going to turn Ritual Committee members into starving scholars.

Read full story · Comments { 84 }

Shabos Zmiros – Matt Bar and Bible Raps Project

Matt Bar is not the first teacher, in any subject, trying to use rap to get kids interested in their subject. Might he be the first one to write any actual raps that anyone would want to listen to.

Here’s his promo video. It explains how the project works and how he started it.

Here’s his song, “I’m not White, I’m Jewish.”

This one is about Rachav, the madame of Jericho. I like that Matt doesn’t shy away from the bible’s naughty bits.

This is probably his best song, about David. The actual song starts at about 1:10.

Enjoy. Shabat Shalom.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Shirat Hayam and The Prince of Egypt

I already did a Shabos Zmiros post for today, but orthoblogger DovBear reminded me that tomorrow morning, Jews around the world will read Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, sung by our ancestors as they crossed the Sea of Reeds out of Egypt.

And that reminded me of The Prince of Egypt. I consider The Prince of Egypt to be not only a fantastic film, but a wonderful piece of midrash. I learned a lot about how the film came to be at LimmuNY last year, when acclaimed biblical translator Everett Fox spoke about the film and showed clips from it. Fox was flown out to LA by Dreamworks several times of the course of the production of the film to serve as biblical consultant.

Though Shirat Hayam is protrayed somewhat inaccurately in the film, I don’t think it takes anything away from it. Rather than having everyone sing it as they cross the sea, they have a children’s choir sing it as they leave Egypt and head for the sea (presumably amongst all of the looting!), with adults joining in a few lines into the song.

The video below shows that part of the film. The clip begins with the death of Pharoah’s son and continues with the song “(There can be Miracles) If You Believe.” Shirat Hayam begins around 3:40. Huge props to the filmmakers for the fact that this key song in the film is sung in Hebrew!

BTW, I love the fact that it’s Miriam that initiates “If You Believe,” preserving the idea that she is a songstress.

Here is a similar video from the Israeli version of the film. The Israeli version, rather than featuring just Hebrew subtitles, was re-recorded entirely in Hebrew with Israeli voice actors and famous Israeli singers. As with our liturgy, I find the clips of this film in Hebrew to be ten times as rousing.

Further coolness in this last video. This is the Hebrew version of the burning bush scene. Much of the dialogue is directly quoting Shmot in this scene. “Mosheh, Mosheh.” “Hineni.” And of course, “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” Etc. It’s incredibly rousing to watch with your Tanach in front of you. You can read along with the film! Another recognizable phrase in the scene: “Eretez zavat chalav ud’vash.”

Read full story · Comments { 11 }