Monthly Archives: February 2014

Ukraine and My Jewish Problem (and Ours) – by Peter Eisenstadt

Ukraine and My Jewish Problem (and Ours)
Peter Eisenstadt

Two-thirds of a lifetime ago, in the summer of  1975, I visited Ukraine, or, as it was then called, the Ukraine, when it was a Soviet Socialist Republic.   (Why Ukraine lost its article upon independence has never been clear to me.) I was part of a Soviet Intourist tour. We spent several days in Kiev, and a day in Kharkov and Poltava.   What do I remember of Ukraine?  Kiev had wide and majestic streets, with very few cars.  It was raining cats and dogs in Kharkov. In Poltava we saw monuments to the battle of  Poltava, which, as you remember, saw the ambitions of Charles XII of Sweden come a cropper at the hands of the forces of Peter the Great back in 1709.   Everywhere we saw monuments  to the Great Patriotic War (that is, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union) and statues of Taras Svenchenko, the great 19th century Ukrainian writer than no one outside of Ukraine has ever heard of. (The greatest 19th century Ukrainian writer, Nikolai Gogol, had the misfortune to write in Russian.) read more

Parshat Pekudi: Building the Tabernacle and Repairing Relations – by Ayala Emmett

Parshat Pekudei: Building the Tabernacle and Repairing Relations
(Exodus 38:21-40:38)
Ayala Emmett

“For over the Tabernacle, the cloud of God rested by day, and a fire would appear on it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys” [Exodus 40:36]

“Communal prayer: Is it better to ask ‘Give us peace?’
with cries of woe, or to ask calmly, quietly?
But if we ask calmly, God will think
we don’t really need peace and quiet” [Yehuda Amichai, 2000] read more

Our Judeo-Hindu Tradition – by Peter Eisenstadt

Our Judeo-Hindu Tradition
Peter Eisenstadt

I was distressed last week to read that the Indian government has banned Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History. Published in 2009, it is the magnum opus of perhaps the greatest Sanskritist and mythographer of our time. She is both a translator of Hindu classics (such as the Rig Veda) and a peerless analyst of world mythology. According to Doniger, she and her publisher had already made cuts in the volume (which is almost 800 pages) in anticipation of right-wing Hindu outrage at her work, to no avail. (However, as someone pointed out in the Times, in this era of e-books it can still be downloaded in India without too much difficulty.) read more

Parshat Va-y’hi: A Mash Up Hyper-Pluralism, Righteous Justice and the Canon – by Cathy Harris

A Mash Up:
Hyper-Pluralism, Righteous Justice and the Canon of Parshat Va-y’hi
(Genesis 47:28 – 50:26)
Cathy Harris

When we look at the founding of our own United States, we see how clever James Madison was in touting “pluralism” as a demographic ideal while assuring the founders that it would tip the playing field towards landowners. Madison’s solution to class conflict, “hyper-pluralism”, was to make it difficult for the majority to find a common interest or to act successfully on it. read more

On the Vassar Jewish Union Resolution – by Peter Eisenstadt

On the Vassar Jewish Union Resolution
Peter Eisenstadt

Congratulations to the Vassar Jewish Union for their courageous act for adopting an “open discourse” policy towards Israel, allowing for a “pluralistic community” which welcomes all shades of Jewish opinion. (And thank you for choosing The Jewish Pluralist as a means of popularizing your decision.) In making their statement, the Vassar Jewish Union breaks with the tendentious standards of Hillel International as to the acceptable parameters of Jewish discourse. Some of Hillel International’s standards are broad to the point of incoherence. read more

A Pluralistic Space for Jewish Life at Vassar – by the Vassar Jewish Union

A Pluralistic Space for Jewish Life at Vassar
The Vassar Jewish Union

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY–The Vassar Jewish Union is a Hillel-affiliated student organization that provides a pluralistic space for Jewish life at Vassar. The mission statement of the Vassar Jewish Union calls on us to commit to strengthening our pluralistic Jewish community. We recognize that identification with Israel is not necessarily an integral part of every individual’s Jewish identity. We commit to providing a spiritual and cultural home for Jewish expression in any form. read more

The Western Wall : Sacred and Political – by Ayala Emmett

The Western Wall : Sacred and Political
Ayala Emmett

On January 30, a brutally freezing weather, Anat Hoffman spoke to a packed sanctuary at Temple B’rith Kodesh and thanked the audience for coming out on a cold evening. She made jokes about the weather, but Rochester people are hardy folks who are used to weather jokes and laughed when Anat asked how they could actually live in subzero temperatures.

To most of her audience Anat Hoffman was a well-known Israeli leader, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and one of the founders and leaders of Women of the Wall, also known as women of the Kotel. The Kotel, an outer wall of the Second Temple, has been sacred space for Jews for centuries and under Israel’s state authority since 1967. Anat Hoffman has been engaged in a long struggle to give women their right to pray, using their prayer shawls and reading from the Torah Scholl on Rosh Hodesh, the new month at the Western Wall. read more

My Occupation Axioms – by Peter Eisenstadt

My Occupation Axioms
Peter Eisenstadt

Whenever I get into a discussion about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, I often hear the following response; “Peter, your problem is that you are way too hung up with the occupation. The history of the Middle East did not begin on June 4, 1967. “ There is a left-wing version of this argument—“1967 is not the problem, it’s what happened in 1948 with the Nakba.” There is a right-wing version: “Enough with 1967, the real problem is 1929 and 1936, with the Arab riots against the Jews; they have never accepted a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael and never will.” And there is, increasingly a combined left-right version-”left and liberal Zionists who want a two state solution and criticize the settlers should spend more time looking at their own heritage; if anyone created the Israel-Palestinian problem, it was the Ben-Gurions and the Meirs, and not the Jabotinskys and the Begins.”There is something to be said for all of these argument read more

Shirley Temple and the Crisis of Capitalism – by Peter Eisenstadt

Shirley Temple and the Crisis of Capitalism
Peter Eisenstadt

It seems to me that the major media is taking the passing of Shirley Temple all too lightly, as if they were somehow embarrassed by her, don’t quite know what to make of her. Certainly, in comparison to many of the other stars of the golden age of Hollywood–Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Garland, whomever—her performances have not dated well. Her icky cutesy-pie persona is certainly an acquired taste, and most of her films, one saccharinely sentimental weepie after another, are pretty hard to watch today. I was surprised by how much of the commentary on Shirley Temple this week has focused on questions of her pre-pubescent sexuality, and whether it was the bumps of her rear end, as she strutted her stuff in her short dresses that was the real key to her success. read more

David Ben-Gurion The TANACH and The Land: Renewed Luminosity – by Matia Kam

David Ben-Gurion The TANACH and The Land: Renewed Luminosity
Matia Kam

“Ever since I came to the land, I was shaped by TANACH, since only here could I begin to fully grasp its rich depth; it influenced me more than any other book or literature, Jewish and non-Jewish.” That is how David Ben-Gurion saw the uniquely deep connection that he felt with TANACH, forged here in the land and particularly after the establishment of the state. “The establishment of the state and the war of independence shone a new light on the TANACH,” particularly “the stories of the fathers, the coming out of Egypt, the conquest followed by living on the land,” all that could have not take place in two thousand years of exile, a time that produced “varied and great Jewish works—yet dimmed the luminosity of the book of books. Its renewed authentic and full luminosity was possible only with the return of Jewish sovereignty.” Ben-Gurion therefore concluded that, “without knowing the TANACH, we cannot have self-understanding, an understanding of our origin, our spirit, our life-mission and our future.” read more