Friday, May 12, 2006

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I Have A New Name - Liquid Luke

I don't like to tie my money up in real estate or stocks or bonds. I just like to stay liquid. I'm conservative that way.

I Have A New Syndrome

I recently discovered why I jump when I hear an unexpected noise and grind my teeth at night. I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

It goes along with my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I Won't Work Syndrome, and Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The Ghostwriter

I'm tired of writing my conference paper, and so Eliot Epstein is taking over. It's his fault if there's too much Slavoj Zizek in my paper and not enough Emmanuel Levinas. We've been going at it all night: aesthetics vs ethics. Note the insane look in Eliot's eyes, his crazy hair falling into his face.

The Blogs An Orthodox Rabbi Must Follow

Gil Student gave a presentation to the RCA (Rabbinical Council of America, the Orthodox rabbis union with the most members).

Don't Look Back

A friend blogs:

Recently a girlfriend confided in me that she may be in love with two men at the same time for completely different reasons. She looked to me for advice, a reason to allow the scales to tip one way or another -- a way out of the erotic dilemma. I felt for her, and yet I also sensed something enviable in the way she allowed herself to experience the fullness of life in multiple directions, the way she allowed herself to be extended in different directions without breaking. I wanted to tell her she didn't have to choose, that she need only feel and that would be enough, all anyone could ask of her. Forget logic, dispose of boundaries, confound reason.


Hitler Laughing: Comedy in the Third Reich

Anyone read this yet? It looks like a scream. Should be the book to be seen with at shul this summer to advance one's social and romantic prospects.

Henry Alford writes about his boyfriend and more in the 5/7/06 NYT:

BOOKSELLING, it's said in the publishing industry, is a matter of "hand selling." Books considered tough sells — say, a book about an obscure or overly specific topic, or a book that buyers might actually be embarrassed to be seen buying — need an extra push to be viable in the marketplace. Without that push, these books meet that most dreaded fate: the calm before the calm.

...Having earlier piqued one browser's interest in "Hitler Laughing" by playing up its rarefied quality ("Everyone thinks 'Weimar: funny,' but not everyone thinks 'Third Reich: funny' ")...

Khunrum writes: "You remember the old joke: One of the last things Hitler said in his bunker before the Russians overran it -- 'Next time, no more Mr. Nice Guy.'"

Author (Hitler Laughing) William Grange calls me back Sunday night, May 7, 2006.

Luke: "When did it come out in hardcover?"

William: "It never came out in hardcover. Academic presses are going almost completely softcover and the libraries will bind them up usually. Among the Germans, this has been going on for 30 years. They're intended for purchase by libraries. Every once in a while, an academic book [will sell widely to a general audience]. The best example is Jared Diamond of UCLA who wrote Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies and won a Pulitzer Prize. That's like having lightning strike you. Usually academic books are done on the cheap. In the theater business, there have been dozens of books done that way. The guy in NYT [Henry Alford] said the title was so bizarre, who could possibly be interested? I thought it would be very interesting."

Luke: "What kind of reactions have you gotten to Hitler Laughing?"

William: "Most people are curious. Most people assume that nobody was laughing in the Third Reich.

"In Nazi Germany, people bought theater tickets voluntarily and went to plays they wanted to see. There were a much wider range of plays to see in Nazi Germany than in the Soviet Union. In terms of genre, there were about the same plays as during the Weimar Republic. There were more productions during the Third Reich. The Nazis created a market vacuum by shutting out all these objectionable playwrights and actors and there was still a demand for these situation comedies, what you see on television... These whimsical superficial comedies were the lifeblood of theater. It wasn't until television came along that theater became an elitist activity that has to resort to things like Angels in America."

Luke: "What were Nazis laughing at?"

William: "Jewish comedies. The Weimar Republic is the era of the great comedies by Oscar Blumenthal, Franz Arnold, Bruno Frank...[from the 1880s - 1933]. They were extremely popular playwrights [of situation comedies] very similar to Neil Simon and Woody Allen. The Nazis banned them. Somebody had to write plays like them during the Third Reich."

Luke: What humor did Hitler like?

William: "We know that on his 50th birthday, Joseph Goebbels gave him 18 brand new prints of Disney cartoons and Goebbels reported that Hitler said it was the best birthday present he ever had. They had a lot of movie nights. Even in the depths of the war, about once a month, they'd watch Gone With the Wind. They really liked the production values of what they called 'Film Jews.' In his attempts to get starlets to go to bed with him, Goebbels was the biggest film Jew of them all.

"Maria Von Trapp tells an anecdote about Hitler laughing hysterically, gasping for breath for laughing, at a gross joke. (Maria von Trapp, "The Trapp Family Singers" (New York: Dell, 1949), pp. 135-137.)

Luke: "What can we learn about Hitler from what made him laugh?"

William: "You can learn that he was absolutely normal. People don't like to think that Nazis were like everybody else. They liked to laugh. They liked to see plays. It's true that Hitler was a little strange, but in many ways, he was just like you and me. People try to heroize people who stood up to Hitler as morally superior and when you get into those kinds of debates, then you look at somebody like Hitler as defective. But he wasn't defective at all. He was an evil genius.

"Yes, by all means, people who stood up to Hitler were heroic. The best example is Sophie Scholl. But there were others, especially in the theater. But they stood up to the Hitler dictatorship in non-heroic ways. Heinz Hilpert, Gustaf Gründgens, Käthe Dorsch, and dozens of others surreptitiously sought to save Jews, hide them in closets, get them across the Swiss border, and used other subterfuges that collectively undermined the regime.

"The real question is, 'Were people who did not resist Hitler collaborators with the regime?' It's a difficult question, predicated as always on a sense of moral superiority. It's easy to look back sixty years and appoint moral standing or deny it to someone else. My contention is that nobody has the moral authority to assign blame to anyone. In a similar way, everybody places Hitler in the lowest circle of Hell. On what or whose authority?"

Luke: "What was Hitler's sexuality?"

William: "As far as I can tell, absolutely straight. There's no hint of any homosexuality."

Luke: "Did he play the field?"

William: "He had affairs but he was not promiscuous. There were lots of women, particularly older women, who were madly in love with Hitler and wanted to take care of him. He cultivated that got a lot of money from them."

Luke: "Did he bang a lot of chicks?"

William: "No. It was basically Eva Braun. He could've had any woman he wanted. He could've had thousands of women. He was a rock star. He's the first modernist politician. He exploited airplane travel. In the campaign of 1932, he traveled to 100 cities a week. He left behind long-play records of his speeches. They would set them up and play them on street corners. He exploited modern technology in a way that Roosevelt only began to do, and that was only the radio.

"The prime minister of France said around 1938 that if Hitler wins, it will be the Middle Ages all over again, but without the mercy of Christ.

"Churchill said, I beg to differ. It won't be a return to the Middle Ages. It will be a new age of modern barbarity. Hitler is not going back. He's very forward-looking.

"A lot of people like to think of Hitler as reactionary. He was progressive. He had a system that today would be called affirmative action. Hitler was not a fascist. He was a socialist, a national socialist."

Luke: "What type of jokes did Hitler tell?"

William: "We don't know for sure. There's little record that he told jokes but he had a lot of bonhomie. He loved being around his men. He had no sexual attraction for them but he loved male companionship, particularly with the guys who were the early fighters who were with him in Munich in the twenties and were responsible for the revolution."

Luke: "What were the distinctive characteristics of Nazi humor?"

William: "It's very old-fashioned. It's barnyard humor. They loved jokes about pigs. There was a play, Uproar Over Iolanthe (a big old sow), there's somebody who lands in a manure pile and brings it into the house. That goes back to a play by Carl Zuckmayer in 1925 called The Merry Vineyard. The Germans are always making jokes about "mist," their word for manure. They think it's funny.

"The term 'swine' is a term of insult among the Germans. At the same time, they recognize an enormous debt to pigs [for helping them get through the winter in ancient times].

"You don't have too many jokes about people defecating but there is a ribald sexuality in these plays. OK, they're not married, but they're creating an Aryan baby. That comes right out of the Weimar Republic and before that."

Luke: "Was there anything distinctive about Third Reich humor?"

William: "No, except that it condemned it [Weimar humor] while it embraced it. People think that because the Nazis were these murderous bastards, they must've had a murderous sense of humor. No. They were not murderous bastards. They were people just like you and me. That's what's scary. People don't like to think about that.

"If you see the movie Schindler's List, the character played by Ralph Fiennes was a conscious killer. But in many ways, they weren't. If you are dealing with people you don't consider human beings... Hitler had a soft spot for children. Children loved him. But Jews and gypsies and those we would call handicapped, he didn't consider human.

"The kind of humor the Nazis liked is exactly the kind of humor we like on television today. They embraced technologies in their highways, cars. The first comedies on television were done from the Reich Chancellery in 1938. The Third Reich was way ahead of everybody in their embrace of technology."

Luke: "Did the Nazis tell Holocaust jokes?"

William: "There were an awful lot of jokes about Jews. It's pretty tacky, tasteless stuff.

"Because of my German background, I can read Yiddish better than most Jews. I just got a research grant from the Dorot Foundation [a Jewish foundation that supports research into Jewish artists] to study Stella Adler, Marlon Brando's teacher.

"There's a great book in German called 'Persecuted and Forgotten' about actors, standup comedians and cabaret players who made the mistake of making fun of Hitler... The Gestapo were ruthless about this stuff, particularly during the 1940s. Any attempt to make light of the situation or insulting of the Fuhrer, they did not have a sense of humor about that."

Luke: "What about Eichmann (kept the trains running on time) and Himmler (ran the Gestapo)? What did they find funny?"

William: "There's very little record. I'd assume that any joke at the expense of the Jews, they'd find funny.

"The only Nazi leaders with an exalted background were Albert Speer (a degree in architecture) and Goebels who had a PhD (on a novelist) from Heidelburg.

"There's no record of a musical extravaganza during the Third Reich. Hitler was shy about his persona and you would never even think about putting a character like him in a play. He was much too serious about winning back Germany's honor and saving Europe from itself.

"Goebels wrote five volumes of diaries. There's little record in them of Hitler laughing.

"Because they were socialists, this was the first time that the entertainment industry was put on a national footing. theater and other things were always local before the Nazis."

Luke: "What surprised you in your research?"

William: "That the German people continued to like the same humor, the same theater, and were completely impervious to the propaganda that the government was putting out. That the Nazis were so unsuccessful in everything they tried to do.

"I was surprised by how successful Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and George Bernard Shaw were in Nazi Germany. Hitler felt that Shaw was important to the Nazi cause. Wilde of course was gay. Hitler embraced Wilde's plays as socially relevant and promoted them well into the war years. Hitler promoted Shaw well after Shaw denounced Hitler in 1941. All of Shaw's plays were translated by Siegfried Trebitsch, who was a Jew. Trebitsch was collecting royalties on all these Nazi productions (paid through Switzerland).

"Erich Kastner, a Jew, gets asylum in Switzerland but Goebbels calls him out of asylum circa 1944 to work on the screenplay of Kolberg of a huge military movie about the Prussians versus the Russians. They brought 160,000 troops back from the Eastern front to appear in uniform in this movie.

"Hitler would set up five or six cabinet ministries to compete with each other to protect his own position. They all vied for his favor. The result was terribly inefficient."

Luke: "Did the Nazis watch Charlie Chaplin, particularly The Great Dictator."

William: "They knew about Chaplin. They considered him to be a communist."

Luke: "Was there a racial purity element in Nazi comedy?"

William: "Oh yes, in the subject matter [and among those who put on productions]. You had to get a license from the propaganda ministry before any of your plays could be performed. Anyone who worked in the theater, or anywhere, had to fill out a racial purity affidavit."

Luke: "Was there great humor that came out of the Third Reich? Stuff that forever changed the course of comedy?"

William: "No. There's little poetry. There's no music or painting. There are some great movies and fabulous Shakespeare productions."

Luke: "What were the names of the great movies made under the Third Reich?"

William: "Der Mustergatte (1937, based on an American play by Avery Hopwood titled "The Ideal Husband), Pygmalion (1935, based on the play by George Bernard Shaw), Eine Frau ohne Bedeutung (1936, based on the play "An Ideal Husband" by Oscar Wilde)1936), Tanz auf dem Vulkan ("Dancing on the Volcano"1938, a fabulous star turn for Gründgens about a song and dance man in the French Revolution), Grosse Freiheint No. 7 (Big Freedom No. 7,1934), Münchhausen (1943), Wasser für Canitoga ("Water for Canitoga,"1937), Savoy Hotel 217 (1936), Titanic (1943, yes, the Titanic that hit an iceberg in 1912; not a great movie, but interesting), Die vier Gesellen ("The Four Associates,1938, with Ingrid Bergman in her only Third Reich appearance), Kleider machen Leute ("Clothes Make the Man," 1940) and several others."

William: "...The Nazis called everyone they didn't like a 'cultural Bolshevik.'

"The Nazis were the revolt of the little man. They were bourgeois petty murderers who got hold of the country. Imagine Jimmy Hoffa or Al Sharpton getting a hold of a country. There probably wouldn't be any great poetry to come out of that.

"If you wanted to be funny [under the Nazis], you had to be officially funny."

Luke: "Are the Germans considered funny?"

William: "No. Not among English-speaking people. What led me to write these books is my experience of a bunch of Germans laughing hysterically at a play while I was in college. If you watch television in Germany today, there's very funny stuff going on.

"I'm fascinated by your background. My father was also a minister (Disciples of Christ). We knew about the Seventh Day Adventists. My dad used to say, 'They're great people. They've just got this thing about going to church on Saturday.' We never did figure that out. You guys are very similar to us. I was baptized by immersion. I don't have any pictures of it the way you do. We were always told that Seventh-Day Adventists were real Bible-believing Christians."

Luke: "Are you still a Bible-believing Christian?"

William: "Pretty much. I'm a Methodist now."

Luke: "There aren't many religious people in drama."

William: "No, they're not. I was at a conference in Los Angeles a month ago and there was a woman from Brigham Young University who said that the sleeper hit Napoleon Dynamite was a Brigham Young University student film expanded into a studio film.

"Neil LaBute is a Mormon and a very good playwright."

Luke: "He's an ex-Mormon. Are there other practicing Christians [in theater]?"

William: "Yes, but we're in a minority."

We both like Michael Medved and his autobiography Right Turns.

William: "I am completely out of the mainstream [of theater professors]. You wouldn't believe how often I've been whistled or hooted off the platform when I give talks at conferences. The feminists sit there and look at their shoes and shake their heads."

Luke: "How often has that happened?"

William: "Every time I get up and talk. They just can't believe what they're hearing. They thought they had rooted guys like me out of the profession."

Luke: "It's a feminized profession."

William: "Yeah. You go to these conferences and men are in a distinct minority."

Luke: "They boo? They hiss?"

William: "Yeah. Groan."

Luke: "Do you give up if it gets too loud?"

William: "Oh no. They're polite during the thing. But you can tell when you look at people as they stare at their shoes or groan or talk to each other.

"One of the guys I gave a talk with at Chicago was Henry Bial (University of Kansas), who's an Orthodox Jew. I was delighted to be on the panel with him. His talk was predicated on the way the old rabbis taught and spoke and did their research. We're talking about putting our papers in a book on theater, how we should be more rabbinical in our approach."

Luke: "How do you understand 'rabbinical'?"

William: "Thorough. Skeptical though there are certain core beliefs -- that God exists, that God has a plan for our lives, that God loves us. If you're a Jew, He devised this diet for us. If you're a Christian, He's got this plan for you, though we borrowed that from the Jews.

"We're [conservative theists] all in this together. We are up against a formidable enemy."

Luke: "Theater is the home of the transgressive."

William: "Yeah."

Luke: "The f-word and nudity etc were all the rage in theater."

William: "We started that because we didn't have anywhere to go after television. Theater was shunted aside [as a mass medium entertainment] and got more elitist to the point where we're all feminized, we're all gay... The AIDS plays are the valorization of the victim. If you're not a victim in today's academic world, you really don't count. All the disease plays -- Whipped, Marvin's Room, Shadow Box. It's tough dealing with students about this because they think of it as real theater. No, that's not real theater. Real theater doesn't deal with disease plays. It deals with action and conflict. When you're talking about disease plays, you're talking melodrama, superficial, two-sided thing."

Luke: "It must be discouraging."

William: "It is but that's one of the reasons I'm a Christian.

"There's lots of successful theater [today] but it's retrograde. It's Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables. Phantom is the most successful entertainment property in the history of the world. There's hope in it. Les Miserables is a story of Christian renewal and faith.

"You try to talk about and get it published and you're barking up the wrong tree.

"David Mamet is on to something. He's an iconoclast. He wrote an interesting play called Oleanna.

"Harold Pinter is an abomination.

"Dissenting voices that say there is a God, He loves you, he has a plan for your life, that is so retrograde, so primitive. Ted Turner says Christianity is for losers."

Luke: "What's the last play that meant something and influenced people?"

William: "Glengarry Glenross by David Mamet. Sam Shepard's Fool for Love. Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things."

Henry Bial replies to my inquiry:

I've just finished reading your profile of William Grange. Professor Grange seems to have misunderstood my position on the issues at hand. Specifically: though I identify as Jewish, my affiliation is not Orthodox; while I sometimes characterize my approach to performance analysis as "rabbinical," my understanding of the term is significantly different from Bill's; and while I respect him as a scholar, Bill and I have widely divergent views about how theatre should be practiced, studied, etc. For a better understanding of my work, I recommend you consult my recent book, ACTING JEWISH.

Mensch - The Magazine

I drive to the Israeli Independence Day Festival, Sunday morning, May 7.

With the price of gas, I'm only doing it for the glory. A documentary film crew is supposed to meet me and record my religious journey for posterity.

It's a nice change from the topic I'm usually asked to comment on (the political philosophy of Leo Strauss).

I never find the documentarians (nor any hot chix who'll give me the time of day) but on the up side I spend most of the day with Mensch publisher and editor Matt Lipeles, who's written for the Jewish Journal.

His whole Orthodox life is a great piece of performance art. Yasher koach!

Video of a hot blonde Israeli singer from 5 p.m. Sunday.

Video of Mashina reunited.

"The festival is like Israel -- filled with garbage and smoke," says a friend.

I walk past Chabadniks throwing a football around outside their Camp Gan booth.

My allergies act up and I go through four paper towels blowing my nose.

I'm not the only one exploding with sprays of wet sneezes.

I stumble out of the bathroom and get weirded out by some freak singing scales.

I look closer. It's Sam Glaser preparing to go on stage.

I tell Matt that I want to talk to these wanton girls about tzniut (modesty).

"Hey good looking, don't you think you should cover up a bit?" suggests Matt. "I don't think that'll work."

A man comes up looking for a restroom.

"They are over to the left," says Matt.

"Be a mensch," I reprimand. "Tell him to go anywhere."

"Everyone's nice," reflects Matt, "but nobody's buying."

"It's not about the money," I say. "It's about the work."

He stares at me.

I smile.

"That's the funniest line you've said all day," he says.

Matt, who's sunk thousands of dollars of his own money into this venture, has a 250-pound bruiser named Jay going around collecting ad sales. "Buy an ad or I'll break your legs," is the implied message of Jay's body language.

"Don't call him a thug," reproves Matt as I dictate my column into my tape recorder.

Matt has a form where people can sign up for information about subscribing to the magazine. Over the course of eight hours, about 20 people sign up.

I figure it's just a way Matt can snag names and addresses of hot chix.

Anyone who comes near the booth is immediately jumped by Matt or his friend Stephanie. "Hi, would you like a free copy of our magazine? Please write down your name. We're going to be selling subscriptions. Would you like to advertise?"

Most people shy away.

My theory on sales is that you offer your product to the public while you stay cool and collected, reading a book in the background. Those who want to talk to you will come up and interrupt you.

I plough through 130 pages of Steve Stern's A Plague of Dreamers while less intellectually-minded persons than myself talk to their friends.

Slumped over with fatigue and rejection, Matt walks off to meet Dennis Prager, who was a gracious master of ceremonies.

Matt returns ten minutes later energized. He met the great man, who said he'd read Matt's magazine. Matt wants him to write for it.

Matt's excited. He's ready to walk the grounds. Nothing can hold him back now.

Outside the Mentsch booth is a Chabadnik asking Jewish men if they'd like to wrap tefillin. A girl about six years old wants to put on tefillin. The Chabadnik explains that tefillin is a mitzvah for men only. She's disappointed.

Much of the day, Matt can't even give his magazine away.

Luckily he has me by his side to offer a continual stream of encouragement.

"I feel like a member of the Mensch team," I sigh.

"Just don't expect a check," says Matt.

"A chick? I object to that objectifying language."

I see my friend Scott, an engineer confined to a wheelchair since he was 19.

I put my hands on Scott's shoulders and say, "By the power of Jesus Christ, I command you to rise."

Scott doesn't budge.

Oh well, it was worth a try.

"As an observant Jew, you would've been in a dilemma if that had worked," says Matt.

I try to date Scott's leftovers. He meets some hot chix at Starbucks and if he doesn't want them, I hit him up for their contact info. I almost got one date with a gorgeous blonde before she came to her senses and read my blog.

"As the Talmud says, the greater the man, the greater the yetzer hara (lustful impulse)," I intone.

Matt suddenly develops a guilty look. "Is all the food sold here kosher?" he asks.

For the first time since they moved in five months ago, I have a chat with my Israeli neighbors.

"Good fences make good neighbors" is an American poem. It's not the Israeli way.

"I've been like a zombie all day," Matt complains. "I only got two hours sleep last night."

"What were you doing? Don't spare any juicy details."

"I was printing up press releases."

"You always were the master of the metaphor."

As Matt scrambles to get away from me, he runs over a little kid.

"Suffer the little children to come onto me," I preach. "I will tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days."

Matt flees.

I consider hanging out at the teen tent but upon reflection decide it's not a good idea.

I'm torn between pony rides and the rabbi rubbing tent.

Matt wants to date a woman who takes his magazine.

"She's looking for marriage," a friend tells him.

What's all this dating mishegos? The Torah believes in marriage.

4:25 p.m. A girl in a short jean miniskirt, four inch wedgies (heels), and D-cup breasts bouncing around (without a bra) just under her t-shirt walks by.

I don't notice.

I glimpse some scantily clad female dancers on the main stage and stagger out of the Mentsch booth to get a better view.

Mashina sings 98% in Hebrew but I love them. They're my type of rock group. I stand like a white man in the middle of a group of grinding teenagers. Could I get arrested for this? I clasp my book and my Seraphic Press man purse and try not to look aroused.

The Making Of A Gadol (Great One)

I took time from writing my autobiography (Luke Ford: The Making of a Gadol is the tentative title) this weekend to celebrate the Sabbath.

At 9 p.m. Friday, I caught a lecture by Rabbi Meir Soloveitchik (the grandson of Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik): "The Making of a Modern Gadol: A Reflection on the Lives of Rabbi Yosef B. Soloveitchik and Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik."

I figured this could be a good blueprint for telling my own story of moral triumph.

Just as Rabbi S. was beginning his talk, he was interrupted by a man who demanded to know if there was a punch line to his opening joke. "Is that it?"

With grace, Rabbi S. said that was it though he would refer to it a minute later in his talk.

Later, the interrupter suffered through waves of horror rolling over his body (while his wife rolled her eyes and said his name as though his interruptions had occurred before at lectures) as he learned that Rav Yosef Soloveitchik was a life-long Republican who supported America's intervention in Vietnam, which Rabbi Aaron Soloveitchik opposed and said it was forbidden to serve in such a war.

Rabbi Aaron was also opposed to the death penalty, which I believe the Rav supported. The Rav, eleven years older than Aaron, spent those extra years under communism so he had a more vivid appreciation of communism's evil and believed in the domino theory that if Vietnam fell, it would threaten the freedom of bordering countries.

During question time, the man gave mini-speeches including one on the need to respect the dignity and humanity of the Palestinians.

I don't think he realized he was preaching to the rabbi who wrote the famous essay "The Virtue of Hate."

Normally I wouldn't blog about such a sacred gathering, but Rabbi S. called for a return of Religion sections in newspapers and greater journalistic coverage of gedolim.

I wanted to ask Rabbi S. if he truly meant this but I did not get a chance until late Saturday afternoon.

I figured the good rabbi was saying something he either did not understand or did not believe.

I figured that holding rabbis to the same level of scrutiny basketball coaches receive would result in many defrocked rabbis, and many angry rabbis and angry Jews. Religion is the soft spot of journalism. It's the area usually assigned to crap journalists and coverage of religious figures is usually a softball equivalent of the religious and ethnic press (such as the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles).

If rabbis received the same coverage as secular leaders, we'd quickly find out that:

* A significant percentage of rabbis plagiarize their semons and writings.

* Put their hand in the till (financially and sexually).

* That many of them don't take well to being challenged and having anyone else but themselves reveal them to the world.

"How many gedolim would remain if they received the same journalistic scrutiny as basketball coaches?" I finally asked Rabbi S. over the third meal. "Don't you realize that many of them would be revealed to have serious flaws. You remember the anger about Marc B. Shapiro's disinterested scholarly book on Jechiel Weinberg [which revealed, among other things, that the rabbi was an early supporter of Hitler and the Nazis]."

Rabbi S. said: "Go for it [journalistic scrutiny of religious leaders]."

He said Marc Shapiro's book was superb.

I wanted to ask him why the Rav devoted so much time to studying secular philosophy when we lose no Orthodox Jews to philosophy. Yet the Rav never spoke publicly about Biblical Criticism and the scientific approach to religion ("scientific" here is just a fancy way of saying the disinterested pursuit of truth) which prevents tens of thousands of morally serious, intellectually serious people from taking Orthodox Judaism seriously.

Rabbi S. said that when he was courting his wife, he bought her a flower a day. "How many girlfriends do you have?" asked the florist.

His wife's sister insisted to her: "A Soloveitchik can't be romantic."

Rabbi S. referred to an article entitled: "A Rabbinic Conception of Conception: A Tale of Fertility.

He said that if his career in the rabbinate did not work out, he wanted to write headlines for the New York Post.

Rabbi S. said that a gadol must combine saintliness with deep learning in Torah.

After his speech Friday night, a host rabbi hugged Rabbi S. who stood frozen.

The audience laughed.

"Welcome to California!" somebody yelled.

I notice Bnai Akiva (a Zionist Orthodox youth group) using Debbie Friedman ("the leading Jewish lesbian cripple singer of her generation," says a keen observer of modernity) tunes.

"University Women of the University of Judaism is honoring Debbie Friedman with the Burning Bush Award at their 40th annual Author/Artist Luncheon on Tuesday, May 16, 2006 at the Beverly Hills Hotel."

This week's Torah portion forbids Kohanim (priests) from marrying hookers, which leaves the rest of us free, notes a bachelor friend in his forties.

It was delightful to watch the horror spread over the faces of the teenage girls in the audience when he said this.

A kid came over to me. "I saw you on VH1," he said. "That's a bad channel. What were you doing on there?"

"Spreading the light of Torah," I replied.