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Some Things Never Go Away Some Things Never Go Away
Monday, January 4, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Nine years ago, according to recent reports in the Israeli media, the head of the country's leading forensic institute admitted to having transplanted tissues and organs—corneas, skin, heart valves, and bones—from deceased Jews, Palestinians, and foreign workers. It seems that the families of the decedents, while consenting to autopsies, had not consented to transplants. The practice was halted and the physician dismissed from his post. Old news, then. But the exact nature of the doctor's past actions, limited if clearly unethical, was lost in the furor aroused by the surfacing of this old news in late December. In Britain, the Guardian...
Perfidious Albion? Perfidious Albion?
Friday, December 18, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The British government's announcement on Tuesday that it would no longer tolerate the legal harassment of visiting foreign officials put a halt to speculations of an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, Israel's former foreign minister and now leader of the opposition in the Knesset. But it has not ended the uproar over Israel's alleged war crimes—Ms. Livni vocally supported her country's invasion of Gaza to stop rocket fire by Hamas—or over the principle of "universal jurisdiction" invoked by judges hoping to hold foreign (read, Israeli) dignitaries for prosecution. On one Arab website, an Israeli musician living in England lambastes the British...
School Daze School Daze
Thursday, December 17, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In a narrow decision by the UK Supreme Court, an Orthodox school in London has been ruled in violation of the country's race-relations law for refusing admission to the son of a non-Orthodox convert. "The judges knew they were handling a hot potato," comments the author of a 2008 report on the future of Jewish schools in the UK, who reads the decision as an open invitation to Parliament to revisit and re-write a defective law. But alarm bells have been ringing loudly in the Jewish community ever since the case started its way through the lower courts; the columnist...
Temple & Synagogue Temple & Synagogue
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The structure defiled by the pagan Greeks in the rabbinic story of the miracle of Hanukkah was a replacement building for the First (Solomon’s) Temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. The replacement was itself replaced by the magnificent Second Temple, completed by King Herod around 20 B.C.E. and in turn destroyed by the Romans 90 years later. By then, the centralized model of Temple worship with its sacrifices had already begun to be supplanted by prayer worship in small synagogues both inside and outside the Holy Land. Although the precise architecture of Solomon’s Temple can only be guessed at,...
Who Can Retell? Who Can Retell?
Tuesday, December 15, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Among the holidays of the Jewish year, Hanukkah may surpass even Passover in the sheer number and variety of the songs devoted to recalling, retelling, and rejoicing in the events of the past and their evergreen message. For American Jews of a certain age nostalgic for their childhood, Diane Ashton deftly surveys the English-language ditties of the 1950’s, from “Who Can Retell” to “I Had a Little Dreydl” and beyond. Today’s casual consumers have their pick of dozens of new CD’s in English, Yinglish, and Hebrew, folk, rock, and heavy metal, many of them rivaling the Christmas market for kitsch. But...
Emancipation & Its Discontents Emancipation & Its Discontents
Monday, December 14, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

“One day [Jews are] being completely segregated, [and the] next thing you know, Napoleon comes through town, tears down the ghetto gates, and we can do whatever we like, sort of.” Thus the author Michael Goldfarb, describing the thesis of his recently published book, Emancipation. Especially in the cases of France and Germany, Goldfarb writes, there is no denying the profoundly liberating energies that were unleashed when the Jews, like a spring suddenly uncoiled, were enabled to join the larger societies in which they lived. Nor can there be any proper understanding of the larger course of modernity apart from this...
The New Syncretism The New Syncretism
Friday, December 11, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In today’s Wall Street Journal, a professor of religion casts a gimlet eye at the widespread religious promiscuity in contemporary America. “Americans are swingers as well as switchers,” he writes, “flirting with religious beliefs and practices other than their own without officially changing their religious affiliation.” As more and more Americans “are now bellying up to . . . the ‘divine deli,’” the result is a “melting down [of] the sharp edges of the world's religions,” to the detriment of all parties. Among American Jews, the best-known variant of the syncretistic syndrome is the “JewBu” phenomenon, a do-it-yourself hybrid of...
Abortion: Is There a Jewish Perspective? Abortion: Is There a Jewish Perspective?
Thursday, December 10, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Controversy over the Obama administration’s proposed overhaul of American health care has dwelled in part on the issue of public subsidization of abortion. Although the bill passed by the House upheld the status quo and banned such subsidies—to the dismay of its liberal supporters—the subject has not faded from sight. Amid the turmoil, little attention has focused on the question of abortion itself, its moral and ethical status. Is there a distinctive Jewish view of this matter? In practice, to judge by survey results and voting patterns, Jews hold the most permissive “pro-choice” views of any group in the American population,...
Land That I Love Land That I Love
Wednesday, December 9, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

For many American Jews, the approach of Hanukkah is a reminder of another miracle besides the one in Jerusalem two millennia ago: the miracle of their country, of the blessings it has showered on its Jewish citizens, and of its firm friendship with the state of Israel. Steven Windmueller of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has written a crisp summary of the American Jewish experience and of the factors that have made it the exceptional phenomenon it is. Also just released are a handful of essays focusing on the economic life of American Jews, a subject that has...
A Talmud for Today A Talmud for Today
Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In Israel and the United States, high-level Talmud study thrives today with an intensity unmatched since the days of the great East European yeshivot. Yet to most English readers the Talmud, the essential Jewish compendium of legal and narrative discussion, remains a closed book—or rather 63 books. All the more reason, then, to welcome a new and expertly edited 900-page selection from the “sea of the Talmud.” What if a dip into the ocean doesn’t suffice? Two English-language editions have come to the aid of the student unversed in the original languages or modes of rabbinic reasoning: a partial translation...
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Inheriting Abraham