Well Versed

"Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die" -- And Who Wrote the Greatest Prayer Ever?

Most people look forward to the "Kol Nidre" prayer as the high point of the High Holy Days.  Not me.  I'm an "Unetanah Tokef" fan, the central prayer of the Rosh Hashanah service.  You probably know it -- it's the one with lines like "Who shall live and who shall die," "Who shall perish by water and who by fire / Who by sword and who by wild beast." (I'll past the whole thing at the end of this blog.) But few people pause to consider its origins or its real meaning.  To be honest, I haven't ruminated on those things

Humanism: Or, What's Missing From Orthodox Judaism

When you hear the word "humanism" today, you probably think it's coming from some secular leftist.  But you'd be wrong, or at least, you should be wrong: Orthodox Judaism once had a healthy humanistic vein that Jews would do well to remember.  That is the argument put forward by Rabbi Shai Held in a provocative article last month.

Lars von Trier: Artist and Anti-Semite, Another Look

Lars von Trier is back in the news again, and for the same reason: his idiotic comments about Hitler.  This week GQ published a lengthy profile of von Trier, the revered art-house filmmaker, who was thrown out of Cannes earlier this year. The reason was for his interview at a press conference, in which, in attempt to be ironic, coy, flip and provocative, he said: "What can I say? I understand Hitler, he did some wrong things, but I sympathize with him."

T.S. Eliot: The Poet and Anti-Semite, A New Look

Yale University Press recently published the letters of T.S. Eliot, who, many argue, was the most influential poet of the last century.  The problem for us Jews, as ever, is that Eliot was an incorrigible anti-semite.  So what do we do?

Are Rabbis Giving Up on Israel? A Provocative New Study

The Conservative movement recently conducted a survey of hundreds of its rabbis and the results are in: on the whole, they're as committed to Israel as they've ever been, although younger rabbis have more liberal views about the state than they've used to.  The purpose behind this survey is clear: to assure anxious Jewish leaders that, contra the skeptics, Israel remains as vital a part of Jewish life as ever.

Rabbis and Rubble: Talmudic Responses to Sept. 11

Like most of you, I've been overwhelmed with 9/11 coverage the last few days.  But I couldn't resist posting this sharp review of a recent book of Orthodox rabbinical responses to the tragedy.  Based on the reviews, it gives a revealing look at how Orthodox Jews, from haredim to Modern's, have addressed both the deeper theological meanings of the attacks, as well as practical halakhic concerns.

The Post-9/11 Novel and the Jews

 There's been a glut of 9/11 books published on the eve of this year's 10th anniversary.  But all the new-ness overshadows the rich bevy of writing that's been published over the past decade since the attacks.  Literary critics have been debating what effect, if any, Sept. 11 has had on fiction in particular in recent days, but one of the best essays I've read is this one by Adam Kirsch.

Breaking News! Ex-NBA Star To Coach Jewish High School in South Florida

The traditional dynamic of black-Jewish relations in sports and entertainment is pretty straight-forward, and nothing to brag about: African Americans make the product, Jews sell it. You don't need to dig too deep into history to find relevant examples: Lyor Cohen and Rick Rubin ran the show at Def Jam, the hip-hop label juggernaut, until only recently. And David Stern still happily resides over the NBA.

Laughing at 9/11? A Jewish Perspective

New York magazine's Sept. 11 issue has arrived, and it's a real treat.   The whole issue has been turned into an encyclopedia of Sept. 11-related entries, including everything from "freedom fries" to "Abbottabad," and many of them penned by wonderful writers.  Mark Lilla's in there, as is Eliza Griswold. I haven't read them all, but one caught my eye in particular: Jim Holt's entry for "Humor."  

Sneak Preview! Amos Oz's New Book

On October 20, Amos Oz's latest book--his 14th--will get released in the United States. But it's been out for at least a month in England, and the reviews have been strong.  The word is that it's a moving, sparely written short story collection dominated by a sense of loss.

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