Well Versed

All She Wrote: Signing Off from The Jewish Week

Eventually, this day had to come, the day when I wrote my last blog for The Jewish Week. In the fall I'll be starting a Ph.D. program in U.S. history at Columbia, which means I'll no longer be able to hold this job.  But the good news is that I'll be able to freelance, so you can expect to see my by-line somewhere in The Jewish Week in the coming months.  

Jews and Affirmative Action: What the CUNY Diversity Plan Gets Wrong

The logic that recently led CUNY to carve a specific category for Jewish faculty members—“White/Jewish”—for its new Diversity Actions Plan makes sense.  Apparently many Jewish faculty members felt that “White/Caucasian” didn’t adequately define their sense of ethnic affiliation.  But in the past two weeks since the news broke—the New York Post, true to from, put it on everyone’s agenda with its klieg-lit

Was Vatican II All That Good For The Jews? A Berkeley Historian Takes Up the Issue

Vatican II—the Catholic Church’s commission that liberalized many Catholic practices—was a watershed for Jews, too.  The most famous Jewish-related doctrine to come out of it, “Nostra Aetate,” bluntly denounced anti-Semitism, and perhaps most significantly, said that Jews today, and throughout history, should not be held responsible for Jesus’ death.  Most often, Vatican II is celebrated by Jews as a great turning-point for Catholics, and something of a mea culpa for the Church’s problematic relationship with the Nazis.  But

Obama on Jews and American History: A Speech Worth Remembering

Shame on me for not knowing that May was Jewish American Heritage Month.  To be sure, it lacks the profile of Black History Month, but apparently in Washington it’s a big deal.  I was reminded of that when I read about Obama’s closing remarks at the White House on Wednesday, when he took pains to highlight the central anecdote of historian Jonathan Sarna’s new book, “When General Grant Expelled the Jews.”

Caligula and the Jews

The tales of Caligula’s reign over Rome are so rich with gore, sadism and opulence that few bother even to check if they’re true.  That blithe disregard for factual accuracy is hard not to excuse, what with stories like this: one contemporary, writing in the first century A.D., wrote that the Caligula once had the father of a man he was executing watch his son die. Then, he had the father eat with him at dinner.  Other contemporary sources tell of Caligula’s alleged madness: he is said to have talked to horses, and insist that his own be installed in the Senate.

Hofesh Shechter Takes on New York: Israeli Choreography and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet

Hofesh Shechter often gets annoyed when people only see Jewish or Israeli references in his choreography. “It’s a very interesting, conflicted way the world sees Jews,” he told me a while back. “People [in England] refer to me as Jewish rather than Israeli. There’s this pigeonhole, this file that says ‘Jewish’ on it.” 

Cornel West: On Chesed, Hamlet, and the Jewish Prophet Amos

You may remember the uproar Cornel West, the Zelig-like black scholar, caused last year when he viciously attacked Obama on the liberal website Truthdig.  The big news was that West—a prominent voice in American public life, but especially within the black community—had turned against the man he spent much of the 2008 campaigning for.  But there was a lesser-noticed quote in that interview that raised many Jewish eyebrows.  Embedded in his criticism that Obama wasn’t quite black enough, he said that Obama seemed “most comfortable with upper-¬middle

Move Over Mendelssohn: Why Everything You Know About the Jewish Enlightenment Is Wrong

Ask anyone about the Jewish Enlightenment, or Haskalah, and the first person they’ll likely mention is Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786).  Few would disagree that Mendelssohn played a key role in the Haskalah’s earliest stages, attempting as he did to modernize Judaism in 18th century Germany and bring it in line with the broader intellectual trend of his time—that is, the Enlightenment, or what historians often call the Age of Reason.

Move Over Talmud: There's a New, Secular Jewish Commentary in Town

Move over Talmud: there’s a new Jewish commentary in town.  This week, the Posen Foundation and Yale University Press announced the publication date for the first in a 10-volume series anthologizing 3,000 years of Jewish culture and civilization.

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