Sunday, December 24, 2006

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Mogen David Turmoil

Mogen David became Orthodox about five years ago and has since collected disaffected Jews from all over Pico-Robertson including the Happy Minyan, Daryl Tempkin's minyan, and about 40 families who left Young Israel of Century City two years ago when Rabbi Muskin stopped the kiddush club (food and drink outside the Sabbath morning reading from the prophets, about half the men in the shul would leave the shul and participate).

When the folks from YICC came to Mogen David, they did it with the understanding that the shul would get a rabbi that they found acceptable. Most of Pico-Robertson's Orthodox rabbis do not accept Mogen David's current rabbi, Gabriel Elias, as a rabbi.

These families from YICC now feel like they were strung along and betrayed as Mogen David never embarked on the rabbi search they wanted. So they've all left Mogen David. Most of them have returned to YICC.

The Jewish Journal reported Nov. 14, 2003 on Mogen David's dissension. Rabbi Elias won that power struggle with Rabbi Jonathan Muskat.

A source says:

Gabe worked as a Hebrew School principal and became known as "Rabbi" Elias. He took over as Mogan David's executive director and appointed his brother as director of the shul's day school.

Rabbi Israel Kelemer worked there many years and took Gabe in when he was not doing well in the shmate business downtown.

Is it Time to Reassess Religious Zionism?

It's the Orthodox Union's annual Christmas weekend in Los Angeles.

Thursday night. Dec. 21. Beth Jacob. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin gives the keynote address. He's the star of the weekend. Clear. Forceful. Moving.

Friday night. Dec. 22. Bnai David-Judea. A tall elegantly dressed woman walks by trailing toilet paper.

The panel discussion "Is it Time to Reassess Religious Zionism?" features Rabbis Shlomo Riskin, Chaim Eisen, and Shmuel Goldin. It is moderated by Rav Yosef Kanefsky.

Religious Zionism means belief in the religious and spiritual significance of the modern state of Israel.

Rabbi Riskin says he's going to say things that he would only say before an O.U. audience.

A lot of speakers say things like this such as David Horowitz, Dennis Prager, etc. I'm not a fan of different messages for different audiences approach.

Rabbi Riskin says he's never heard a sermon in North America promoting aliyah (moving to Israel).

The most entertaining part of the discussion is the battle between Rabbi Riskin and Rabbi Eisen. Rabbi Kanefsky keeps edging towards them, smiling regretfully, trying to keep things under control.

Rabbi Eisen appears furious that Rabbi Riskin has misquoted him.

Tall, angular, intense, Rabbi Eisen frequently erupts with fervor. He opposed Israel's disengagement last year from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. He joined the settlers in Gaza for their final six weeks before they were removed by the Israeli army.

Rabbi Eisen says you won't find support for political democracy in the sacred texts of Judaism.

Rabbi Riskin disagrees. He says Jews should give non-Jews in Israel the same rights Jews expect in their host nations.

Rabbi Eisen says that being a Zionist does not mean automatic support for the Israeli government.

Rabbi Goldin regrets a recent O.U. resolution to give the organization more leeway in criticizing the Israeli government. He says we need to stand together.

During Rabbi Kanefsky's closing remarks, Riskin and Eisen kept bickering until Rabbi Kanefsky smiled, "Rabbis hate it when congregants talk during their sermons..."

The bickering stopped.

I doubt Eisen and Riskin would've come to any closure even if they'd spoken all night.

Saturday morning. In his introduction, Rabbi Kanefsky says Rabbi Shmuel Goldin was the only panelist to stay on topic Friday night.

In his sermon, Rabbi Goldin says that America's invasion of Iraq was partly "for us."

"It's not our boys who are dying."

(I wonder if he knows that Jews occupy the same percentage of the U.S. armed forces as they do of the general population.)

Rabbi Goldin says our problems in Iraq have nothing to do with the Palestinian-Israel conflict.

Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism

Menachem Fisch, an Orthodox Jew, writes:

...It is not as if Orthodox Judaism's views on the moral issues currently debated in the United States are uncomfortably extreme. Halakah [Jewish law] may not always accord with the most liberal approach, but it hardly ever conincides with the other extreme. And yet, outside Israel, one hardly ever encounters serious Orthodox Jewish involvement in any of the public ethical debates. Such questions are frequently raised in sermons and in the lively responsa literature, and are firmly, and to a great extent unanimously, ruled upon by Orthodox halakists without, however, any visible proselytizing intention of causing anyone else to improve their ways. Orthodox Jews have quite thoroughly absented themselves from the public moral debate everywhere but in Israel -- so much so that it seems inappropriate to describe their attitude to the moral diversity that htey encounter outside Israel as one of toleration. Sheer indifference seems more li8ke it. Orthodox communities in the West, though perfectly welcome as bona fide members of society, tend to keep to themselves politically, and appear to show extremely little if any interest in influencing the public sphere -- other, of course, than to lobby for their own communal needs. It is not as if they would hav eliked to make a stand but refrain from doing so for the sake of peace. It is more as if they simply couldn't care less.

Paradoxically, the level of indifference exhibited by Jewish communities to the moral space facilitated by state law, and to the moral choices made by others, changes as if it were a direct function of their degree of halakic seriousness. The stricter one is, the more seriously one takes one's religious duties, the less, it seems in the Jewish case, is one concerned with how other individuals and communities live their lives. ...[D]iaspora Orthodox Jews largely display an attitude of unconsidered apathy toward the moral choices and lifestyles of all but their very own. ...Typical of very many Orthodox communities throughout the Western world is a deeply entrenched sense of not belonging, of having no responsibility, and of having no desire to be responsible for anything or anyone outside the enclave of their own community.

Not My Greatest Hits

Wednesday, a friend offered me the galleys of his new book. I giddily replied: "I would love a copy...followed by an interview. Would you throw in a date with your wife?"

He replied that I'd have to ask her.

Pushing my cart through the kosher aisle in Ralphs Wednesday, I ran into an Orthodox Jew who hosted me for many meals years ago.

I immediately felt awash in shame. The last time I was at his home, more than three years ago, I sought to provoke my hosts by reading out loud the most obnoxious sections of a book on mussar (ethics), including an admonition by Rabbi Israel Salanter that women refrain from coming to shul because all they do there is gossip.

(I later used the book as an inspiration for a fake Mickey Kaus interview.)

The lady of the house got so mad at me that she snatched the book from my hands.

Later, I compounded my sins by inquiring if one beautiful Orthodox wife "was Jewish?"

A few months ago, I went for the first time to a friend's home for Shabbos dinner. You should have seen the look on the wife's face when I discoursed on how I must "hook-up" with someone as soon as possible after a break-up.

What's particularly embarrassing about all this is that I don't drink. I just have a compulsion to abuse people.

Moish Geller - Prophet Or Loss?

Rabbi (?) Geller (who walks in the footsteps of Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) is so friendly that he's frightening.

People love him or hate him.

Orthodox anarchist Dan ‘Mobius’ Sieradski describes him as "beloved."

A former follower of the Grateful Dead, he goes to hippie gathering around the world and reaches out to Jews and encourages them to move to Israel.

Moish has a following in the Nachlaot (Carlebach aka Happy Minyan aka neo-hasidic) crowd.

I met him at the Happy Minyan in the summer of 2001 and talked to him about moving to Israel.

"We'll take care of all your needs," he promised, "including sexual."

He was the first rabbi to tell me that.

It was almost a year since I'd been on TV -- and with a woman -- and given all the turbulence in my life I yearned to return to the womb (Israel, woman, a place to lay my head).

I was intrigued and disturbed by Geller and ended up not following through on my promise to meet with him to talk about moving to Israel.

Geller's blog is called "NotJustAnotherRabbi."

Geller blogged Dec. 18, 2006:

The leaders and teachers of the Coming World are those that are already plugged into it and are learning about it by striving to live as if it was already here. They do it because they have already been ‘stricken’ with the prophetic famine. For this is a Torah that begins where all that most know from the Holy Books, ends. And within the Chosen People, there must be Ones Chosen to take the Nation and the World the last steps to the Great Day and Beyond.

So Here It Is:

On this day, the beginning of my 55th year of this life, I take the first step to make the outrageous statement, that I am one of those Chosen. And that this year is the beginning of my coming out party. Note of caution and disclaimer: I am light years from being a finished product. I am light years from being a model of the all the truths I know or anywhere near close to being a perfect or whole and balanced manifester of those truths. But it’s time for me to once again test high failure so as to create high successes. I am confident I will accomplish both.

"The man is clearly losing it," says an Orthodox Jewish acquaintance. "It also gives you a sense of his finances. This messiah complex, which tends to travel with a sense that mankind also owes it to themselves to support the messiah financially, is always interesting to watch, though here, its more than a little pathetic, because, as opposed to say, Mordecai Gafni, here it's not bundled with a very high intelligence."

On February 9, 2006, Geller blogged on RadicalTorah about "Shedding Light in a Dark World."

"Note that his "Torah teaching" consists exclusively of Grateful Dead and Marley quotes," says a reader.

"He's not dangerous, he’s just a very lost soul who has been trying to be a pseudo-Carlebach spiritual type for many years, with little success."

Geller grew up in Queens under the spell of Meir Kahane (in his pre-Kach days) and Shlomo Carlebach.

Moish never got anywhere with his own life and spent many years living in his parents basement.

In his late 30s, he suddenly got into the Grateful Dead, traveling around the country playing elder hippie guru. He then re-found Orthodox Judaism, flew to Israel, and became a Carlebach impersonator.

Geller hung around Bat Ayin for a while, I'm told, but was sent away from there, and has been hanging around Nahlaot, where he got terribly fat and sickly, and in the absence of any thinkers or leaders, Moish fills the Gafni, Neo-Carlebach, New Age Hippie, etc, void.

Moish tries to scrape together money through donations, etc, to live. I don’t think he’s held a job in his life. He thinks of himself as a force for “kiruv” (outreach) at Rainbow coalition type activities, and now is putting out his writings for public consumption, calling himself a rabbi.

"Up to this point he has been a harmless freak," says a source. "He’s probably too old and fat to be a predator (the closest he came is a picture in Haaretz from some Israeli hippie function where he was wearing tefillin next to some topless hippie-chick), though these insane messianic ravings of his are a bit worrisome in terms of his overall mental health."

Checking Out Chicks At An AA Meeting

A source writes:

A while back your buddy was complaining about AA meetings and how they suck. I wandered into one the other day on the bike path in santa monica - you really can't miss it, it is the south edge of santa monica, and there are people sitting on the beath with a hugh white flag in the sand - no it is not the Iraq Study Group.

Anyhow, I think AA is a crack up because it is based on some god like higher power whose name is anything but god - after all - AA is court mandated and there is supposed to be a separation of church and state, yet AA, which is god based, is somehow exempt. In any event, AA is a total crock and it has been proven that it just leads to more drinking because people try and quit before determining that they want to quit.

In any event, it was pretty funny cause i was watching it being set up and there were these two ridiculously hot girls, one towing a kid, going to the meeting. For an early morning meeting, they looked like something out of vogue and had great butts. That alone was worth the price of admission. Then the leader started speaking and was all like that drinking is a "spiritual malady" because of the "bondage of self" - meaning as i get it, that somehow alcoholics like to cope with stuff by getting loaded so they can escape from their problems in a way that does not need any one else. i guess. So the AA cure is to hear this guy, who was sober for 5 years, after relapsing for 10, speak about himself for a half hour - pretty impressive - you are in AA because you are selfish, so you go to AA and talk about yourself. Classic psycho-BS.

Bottom line, if you want to stop drinking you can. If you do not want to, you can go to AA all you want and listen to yourself speak, but you will just drink again. Anyhow, I listened for about 10 minutes while i stared at these gals and then took their free coffee and went home. I myself have not drunk since I got drunk at the age of 15 and it never made much sense to me, but if it works for you, and you get a designated driver, I think the only reason to quit or try to quit is to get next to those two hot chicks.

I am serious. These two girls were the hottest i have seen. Sunday mornings like 8:30 by the boardwalk at like rose - i think it was station 29 - if you could get it on with one of them, you would explode.


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The Friend Who Got Away: Twenty Women's True Life Tales of Friendships that Blew Up, Burned Out or Faded Away

This is a great book about a great subject rarely discussed -- the loss of friends.

I've lost a lot of friends in my life, almost always over things I've written. In my junior year of highschool, I lost my best friend (a basketball player) for writing negative things about the football team. We got back together the next year and never discussed our falling out.

Losing a shul is like losing a friend. After getting kicked out of one shul in 2001, a friend there told me he didn't want to hear from me anymore. "The feeling in this house is like this: I don't trust you, my wife hates you and my kids fear you."

For every day for the next two years, I thought about the loss. Then fate threw us together again and knocked us all about and finally I moved on to new father figures, who in turn walked away.

Women Studying Talmud

A friend calls: "Dude, if you want to cause problems in the L.A. rabbinate, you call me. There's a huge issue you've touched on before but have not fully exploited.

"Rabbi Avrohom Stulberger from Chofetz Chaim (he's now the principal of Valley Torah High School and an expert on forbidden speech) gave a talk Saturday morning at Shaarey Zedek saying that women should not be taught Talmud. Some people walked out. As long as Rabbi Stulberger is around, Valley Torah will never teach girls Talmud.

"It's the perfect issue because it is a slippery slope. If women start learning Talmud, they'll want to become Orthodox rabbis.

"If a woman is going to be a housewife, there's no reason for her to study Talmud. It requires devotion. It is a party of Jewry that many women don't need because they are not as tempted. Women are on a higher spiritual plane. Talmud study brings a man to a higher level. If you go to daf yomi (Talmud study), it is hard to go out and do bad things. It's metaphysical. It's not explainable. When you learn at that deep of a level, something happens."

Frank writes: "I graduated from Valley Torah in the early 80's. When I asked my teacher (one of VT's top rebbeim back then, now unfortunately, he is deceased) why women are not taught to learn Talmud his response was "because they would learn to fool their husbands". I thought to myself that he must have been very insecure in his marriage. But he shouldn't project that on the rest of the world. Doesn't sound like the school has come too far. I assume that Rabbi Stulberger, along with his Chofetz Chaim buddies probably doesn't have a place for Rabbi Soloveitchik in his philosophy."

Party Fans - It Is Hanukkah Time

Monday, a friend tells me: "The best part of the evening for me was when I go in the grotto with the chick. I tell her, 'It's customary if you've never been here before to... in the grotto.' I get on the cushion with her. We're tucked away in the corner. We're making out. I look over and there's my boss with his wife. He gives me an interesting look and walks out. His $800 shoe goes right in the grotto.

"I have two glasses of champagne. I'm buzzed. I have the chick with me. I'm driving. She's getting drunk and crazy. She talks about how she hasn't voted in her whole life.

"All of a sudden, she gets up and says, 'I'm not this kind of girl. This is not me. I have a boyfriend. I have a baby.'

"We go inside her house and she goes crazy. 'Where's my dog? It's gone.' It's 3:30 a.m. She's screaming in this quiet neighborhood. I'm thinking, 'I've got to get laid. Then I've got to get out of here. I must find this stupid dog.'

"After 45 minutes, she says, 'Oh, I just remembered. I left my dog at my mom's house with my kid.'

"I get her to the bedroom. Halfway through, she says, 'Ohmigod, where's my passport? I lost my passport.'

"I say, 'What's wrong with you? Are you drunk?' She says, 'I'm bipolar and I'm drunk.'

"She tells me she's a musician and she gives me a CD.

"I should've gone for the two blondes dancing by the pool. They were all over me when I first walked in there. If I would've given them a little more attention... Instead, I end up with a whore. Good party though."

Should Rabbis Drive Luxury Cars?

That question is supposed to come up at the next Young Israel of Century City board meeting.

Is a Nissan Infiniti a luxury car?

"I'm afraid to go in there," says a friend. "Everybody is well-versed in Torah. Everybody has eight kids. Everybody makes over $500,000 a year. It's too perfect. The rabbi is always prepared. He's deep. He's wise. He's in the top five percent of all pulpit rabbis in the country."

Robert writes:

I do not see the issue. Nowhere in the Torah does it say that you cannot have material benefits as an Orthodox Jew. The forefathers were each renowned for their financial success (although there is an opinion that Isaac had lost most of the wealth handed down to him, but it is a minority position that is ridiculed in the worst way, like somehow being poor is a disgrace to the Jewish people). Certain rabbis in the Talmud had great wealth, although it would appear that in those days, a Rabbi also had another job and even the forefathers were shepherds and farmers.

Today, the rabbinate is a career and it is the rare rabbi who has an outside pursuit. Some Rabbis are well paid - just like any other profession, there is a scarcity of good rabbinic talent and the best command a high rate. Part and parcel of being successful today is having a nice car, it is not a luxury, it is just par for the course. Having a good car is wise financially. They last longer, they break down less, they are safer. To anyone complaining -- either they covet, or worse, they give a damn that others covet.

Rabbi Steven Weil Is The Presumed Successor For Tzvi Hersch Weinreb

That's according to a source at the O.U.

Unless something goes very wrong, Rabbi Weil will be the man at the O.U. in 2008.

Sure, the Jewish Journal may say in its Dec. 15 edition:

The Orthodox Union appointed a search committee to begin to identify candidates for the position of executive director, OU President Steve Savitsky said Monday. The job is currently held by Rabbi Tzvi H. Weinreb, whose term runs out in June 2008. However, Savitsky said he "cant comment on the process. It's confidential. He said he hopes two-man team will have recommendations for board by February.

Insiders who preferred not to be named said candidates are Rabbi Hershel Billet of Young Israel of Woodmere on Long Island, Rabbi Hillel Davis of Yeshiva University and Rabbi Steven Weil of Beth Jacob in Los Angeles.

Weil denied a report in the Jewish Press that he had already been named for the job, saying, "The whole story was false. I haven't been approached, and since I haven't heard about the details and specifics, I can't comment."

To many people it would seem that Rabbi Weil is lying but that's because they are not spiritually developed enough to discern the light of truth. Such critics have eyes but see not.

Even if The Jewish Press facts are correct in this case, the newspaper is lying spiritually, and that is what counts.

According to West Coast Editor Jeanne Litvin in the Dec. 8 edition of The Jewish Press: "Beth Jacob Beverly Hills is another West Coast shul searching for a new rabbi. Rabbi Steven Weil will be heading to New York to take over Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb's position as O.U. executive vice president."

The Beth Jacob executive board is going crazy over this news.

Do Jews in LA go to Chinese restaurants on Christmas or is that just an East Coast thing?

Just wondering.

Are You An African Lover?

Jonathan Ames writes in Wake Up, Sir! about a beautiful white woman who would only go to bed with African men. Her therapist suggested this was because her self-esteem was low. That she thought that only a poor African would be with her.

Please discuss.

Slow and Respectful

Jonathan Ames writes in Wake Up, Sir!: "She encouraged, so I put a finger inside her, slow and respectful, like a Jew stepping inside a church."

Please discuss.

Hollywood Coverage - NY Times Vs. LA Times

A .wav file from Dec. 12's Zocalo discussion between Sharon Waxman and Laura Holson of The New York Times and John Horn and Patrick Goldstein from The Los Angeles Times. It was moderated by Variety's Dana Harris.

Goldstein looks like he's dying of AIDS. By the way he spoke of the Hollywood billionaire, you'd fear he would transmit it to David Geffen.

(Goldstein has a soft spot for billionaires. You should read the way he sucks up to Barry Diller.)

Patrick says: "It is almost impossible to beat the internet at the straightforward news game. We have to add analysis."

John Horn: "The New York Times kicked our ass on the Anthony Pellicano story."

John and Patrick say The L.A. Times has had trouble taking advantage of the internet.

John: Putting Calendarlive.com behind a paywall was a disaster.

About a third of the crowd (over 100) raises their hand to indicate that they listen to podcasts but none indicate they have heard the one of Goldstein and Horn.

John: "The Tribune believes you can cut your way to excellence."

"The L.A. Times has the best film coverage."

Forty two minutes in.

Dana: "Is David Geffen the ideal buyer?"

John: "He says all the right things. As long as he doesn't make all of us write terrific things about Dreamgirls. If you look at what he says, it's all very appealing. He says that he wants a cultural and philanthropic legacy. He wants to do something that has some value for the company, I mean the city."

Patrick: "If you are so lucky as to free the newspaper from the obsession with quarterly earnings and predictions of future profits...and give the ownership to someone like David Geffen who clearly has made all the money he needs to make in this life and is clearly looking for a legacy and for a contribution to the city. In theory, that is a great way to go. I've written about David Geffen for as long as I've written about entertainment. We've definitely had our ups and downs over the years. But you'd have to say when you look at his history..., this is a man who is always associated with quality."

I ask the first question of the night. "What makes you think Geffen is a fan of free inquiry? The guy's a bully,. The guy is a blackmail artist. The guy's a thug. The guy is a lowlife."

Patrick: "He's a thug? I have a list on my wall of people I think of as thugs and David Geffen wouldn't come close to being on that list."

Sharon: "Patrick, come on. David Geffen is the one man...who you ask around town, people are afraid of him. They do not pick fights with him because David Geffen has nothing to do... He has a very long memory. He bears a grudge. He will mount a campaign against someone to get back..."

I chatted with a reporter after the event and we agreed that LA Times staffers are like a battered wife who dreams about being rescued.

Times staffers are so desperate that they'll imagine good things about a vindictive man such as Geffen.

The Tribune is a professional newspaper operation and the LA Times has been vastly improved by the Tribune's weeding out of hundreds of staffers and installing some pros in key positions. The Times is a more interesting paper to read today than it has ever been.

Kevin Roderick reports.

The evening surpassed my expectations. I found the discussion frank. Dana was a superb moderator. Sharon Waxman looked gorgeous. The room was largely full.

Cathy Seipp Seems Like Her Old Self

I walked to Cedar-Sinai Hospital Monday afternoon and hung out with Cathy for 90-minutes.

The hospital screwed up and gave her a blood-thinner which means she can't have her next surgery for a few days.

Cathy was eager to get home and spend time with her daughter Maia, who is on winter break from UCSD.

Author Shalom Auslander - Beware of God

We did this via email.

Q: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: Somewhere else.

Q: What did your parents want for you and from you?

A: That's probably a question for them.

Q: What have been your most significant sacrifices and rewards of devoting yourself to writing?

A: I'm not sure that I've devoted myself to writing. I write because when I don't, I want to kill myself. And because when I do, I'm a better husband and a kinder father. So I've devoted myself to not killing myself, and to being a better husband and a kinder father. If there were an easier way to achieve those things than writing, I'd do it.

Q: What message do you wish to send with your author photo?

A: That I dislike being photographed.

Q: In what ways are your perceptions of life keener than other people's?

A: I don't understand the question.

Q: How has your choice of vocation affected your relationships?

A: Only the one with my psychiatrist. We're much closer now.

Q: How do you know when you've done good work?

A: I imagine The New York Times will tell me so.

Q: What do you do best and worst as a writer?

A: I'm quite good at looking over my day's work and hating it all. I'm quite bad at refusing interviews.

Q: Why do you write what you write?

A: Because nobody else will.

Q: Which of your awards has the most meaning to you?

A: I haven't won any awards. I'd joke and say "Best Anal Gangbang, 2004," but you'd know better than most if I were lying about that.

Q: As you travel, what depresses you and what inspires you about jewish life?

A: I am inspired by those who see themselves as more than just Jews. I am depressed by those who think that being Jewish is all that matters.

Q: Have you kept any friends from your Orthodox upbringing?

A: No.

Q: What do you make of the disproportionate number of Jewish writers who come from an Orthodox background?

A: Reading is fundamental, even reading nutty books written by terrified ancient nomads.

Q: Is there something about orthodox belief that militates against good writing?

A: Probably not. It's just that so many who are raised with orthodox religious beliefs end up in pornography, it's really difficult to get a fair representation of their writing skills. They seem to give good head, though.

Q: Religion and the religious are only portrayed negatively in your writing. Is that a fair observation? Is that a problem or do you plan to keep on trashing religion and the religious until your dying day?

A: It's difficult to infer from that question just what your own personal opinions on religion and my writing might be. I have no problem with religion. I have no problem with guns, either. But thanks to rampant misuse, a hell of a lot of people seem to be getting killed by both.

Q: Is anger the best fuel for good writing?

A: Fuck you.

Q: If you praised a Republican, would your right hand whither? Are any of your friends Republican?

A: I'm trying to decide if this question is more embarrassing to the interviewer if he's a paranoid Republican or if he's a paranoid Democrat. Let's say "Push."

Q: Are you more comfortable dancing with men or women?

A: Finally, a question about writing.

Q Are there any mitzvahs you find yourself keeping but wish you did not?

A: Fearing God. I think I may be stuck with that all-mighty son of a bitch.

Q: Did a rabbi ever touch you inappropriately? Are priests or rabbis more likely to molest kids?

A: If telling a small child that a violent psychopath in the sky is going to punish him for eating cheese with meat passes as inappropriate touching - and I think that it does - then yes, I was touched inappropriately, and repeatedly, by many, many rabbis. Priests do seem to sexually abuse children more often than rabbis, but maybe that's probably because they use more E.

Q: Should man-dog sex be legal? What about man-dog marriage?

A: I'm in favor of anything that might improve humanity's gene pool.

Q: After you've finished trashing religion, what do you want to leave people with to live by? Are your kids going to have as rich a material to draw from as you did? Perhaps you should smack them more?

A: I've bookmarked your site. That oughta do it.

Q: There's nothing in halacah against burying a tattooed jew in a jewish cemetery, so why do you have a rabbi in The Metamorphosis claim there is?

A: Because that was what I was taught growing up. Also, on a related note, that wasn't the point of the story. (Hey, can I change my answer to Question #11? What depresses me most is getting dogmatic, legalistic, bickering questions about stories whose essential point is the intellectual stupidity and emotional damage caused by dogmatic, legalistic bickering. There, that's much better.)

Lisa Loeb, Leonard Cohen Among Regulars At West LA's Ohr HaTorah

Dustin Hoffman was the major donor to the temple during its first three years (1993-1996).

(OHT broke away from Stephen S. Wise.)

Ohr HaTorah's Dr. Mordecai Finley is often called the rabbi to the stars.

David Mamet is a semi-regular at OHT.

During my three years at Ohr HaTorah (and before that at Stephen S. Wise's Mountain Top minyan), temple Saturday morning program was the highlight of my week. The music swept me away and Rabbi Finley's teachings pierced my soul.

Over the past six years, I've gone Orthodox, which is not romantic. We never sit around after services and give each other backrubs.

Shul Saturday morning is no longer the highlight of my week. With its long arduous hours of davening, Orthodoxy feels as predictable as marriage. But I've made a commitment and I'll see it through, even if it kills me.

When I go to non-Orthodox synagogues these days, I find despiriting the low level of commitment (compared to Orthodoxy). For instance, non-Orthodox synagogues have lots of discussions this time of year of the "December dilemma" (whether or not to celebrate Christmas). This isn't even a consideration in Orthodoxy. Non-Orthodox synagogues obsess about inter-marriage. Again, this isn't even a consideration in Orthodoxy. Non-Orthodox synagogues are full of fear that their children must constantly battle the temptations of secular schools while in Orthodoxy, the kids go to Orthodox day schools and have peers who are Orthodox. Non-Orthodox synagogues have cell phones going off all the time on Shabbos (this never happens in Orthodox shuls). When you go outside of non-Orthodox synagogues on Shabbos, you often find people chatting on cell phones or smoking. The men often wear the cheapo free yarmulkes, which perch precariously on their secular leftist heads. In Orthodox shuls, yarmulkes are attached firmly and they look like they belong.

I was at a non-Orthodox synagogue this past Shabbos (it was called a "chapel") and most of the people there wore jeans. I rarely see jeans at Orthodox shuls. Jeans and ringing cell phones in shul on Shabbos make me angry.

Still, I miss the Debbie Friedman tunes of non-Orthodox shuls.

I heard a woman say this weekend that her parents first reaction when they found out she converted to Judaism was, "Are Jews white?"

I'm listening to Sean Wilsey's memoir Oh The Glory of it All and it makes me wonder -- may an Orthodox Jew write about wanting to ---- his step-mother?

Rabbi Saul Berman Has Yet To Apologize For His Lies

Steven I. Weiss blogs:

I've frequently said that, just like stockbrokers who violate SEC regulations, abusive rabbis should not be allowed to return to positions of public trust.
Berman's obviously not an abusive rabbi, but he is an aggressive enabler of one, and someone who, quite meretriciously, openly attacked those who sought to do right. If he'd provided a complete apology at anything like the level of his original attacks, and if he'd shown that he knows where he went wrong and how he could avoid it in the future, we'd be having a different discussion. But, several months after the latest Gafni discussion, he still hasn't.
Today's world is perhaps the easiest in which to offer a mea culpa. He could start a blog, write to a blog, publish in the New York Jewish Week, or put something on Chovevei's Website, all without leaving his desk. He's done no such thing.
It'll really be a shame if the immediate reward to conduct like his is to simply resume one's celebrated status as a leader in the liberal Modern Orthodox community. But that seems to be precisely what's going on.

Jewish Whistleblower comments:

Berman wrote the most reprehensible letters deadening the names of brave women (and their supporters) who came forward to protect Jewish women and children from Gafni. Berman wrote that he fully investigated the allegations and found them false. In fact that was a lie. He refused to even hear from several of Gafni’s survivors. Berman produced and signed letters for Gafni, letters Gafni publicized and took around with him in a briefcase and that allowed him to destroy people’s names and reputations and put women and children in direct danger. Berman has never taken any real steps to take real responsibility, to fully correct the record or do real teshuvah to Gafni’s brave survivors or their supporters. No letters. No attempt to appologize. That is not teshuvah. I would note that Rabbi Avi Weiss was a supporter of Gafni who lent his name to Gafni’s organization. Apparently, his activism ends at actually doing something for survivors of his colleagues.

The Jewish Press Reports Rabbi Steven Weil Resigning From Beth Jacob

According to West Coast Editor Jeanne Litvin in the Dec. 8 edition: "Beth Jacob Beverly Hills is another West Coast shul searching for a new rabbi. Rabbi Steven Weil will be heading to New York to take over Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb's position as O.U. executive vice president."

Rabbi Weil discounted this report Saturday morning.

I'm told: It is true that Weil is a candidate to replace Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, the exec. director of the OU who is retiring. The selection process is underway, but no one has been chosen; I think finalists will be interviewed in coming months. Although the OU has a lot of problems organizationally, I think it is still fair to say it would be a big promotion for any Orthodox pulpit rabbi.

Rabbi Weil's ultimate ambition is to succeed Malcolm Hoenlein.

Beth Jacob's Packed For Rabbi Weil's Saturday Morning Speech

According to my sources (I was not there):

Many people left right after his speech.

Rabbi Weil explained how important it is to keep the shul a safe place, similar to what he told the Jewish Journal. He went on giving examples of anonymous men and one woman who were told, after talking to the police, not to come back. People listened attentively to his descriptions of these cases.

- A single woman is invited to Shul get-together at a private home and finds herself alone with a man. The man touches her... She comes crying to the rabbi to tell. The man kept calling her and speak inappropriately to her.

- A single guy was hanging around the little kids during services. Parents complained about him to Rabbi Weiss, who asked him not to attend services anymore. When Rabbi Weil came to town, this guy returned. He continued with his old behavior and was asked to leave and not return. The rabbi notified all the synagogues in the area.

- A person who called himself the Rabbi of the Happy Minyan and was teacher in Jewish school... The rabbi notified his new place of employment. The guy went to jail. His wife needed to be rescued with her kids. She is financially supported each month by the Shul.

Not all the predator are Sexual predators:

- A woman was welcomed to this family from shul. She fell under the influence of the Kabbalah Center who convinced her that she has special powers and to get off her psychiatric medicines... She started to horse around with their daughter...and needed to be removed from shul.

- Un-Kosher business dealing.. The guy was found guilty in court. In the court transcripts he admits baiting his potential victims during Kiddush at BJ.

Evaluation: By the way Rabbi Weil presented each example, his decision to eject the person seemed overwhelmingly right. The question is whether Rabbi Weil presented the cases fairly. Many of the people he ejected went on to other shuls and were not troublesome enough to merit further ejection.

Rabbi Weil went on and on. He seemed nervous and worried. He gave some unclear generic apology. Rabbi Weil did not mention the fight with Aaron Biston and what Rabbi Weil said to Aaron's daughter.

At the end of his speech some people applauded to show support, which is unusual in a shul.

During Kiddush, Rabbi Weil was eager to talk to people. There were not many takers. The mood was unusually quiet.

Right next to Shul, at Olympic & Doheny Blvds and at Olympic & Wetherly, two men, paid $20 an hour by Aaron, were stationed the entire morning. They handed out copies of the Jewish Journal. Even kids were reading the article... There was a home for sale listing attached to each paper.

Lou writes:

Luke, you're letting your cynicism get the best of you when it comes to Rabbi Weil. Lots of people left after the speech because they attend other BJ minyanim that end earlier. They stayed later than usual to hear the speech -- exactly the opposite of the impression that your source formed.

I also wonder how your source deduced that Weil was eager to talk to people at kiddush. The fact that he was sociable and attentive, as usual? Your source also provided you with incorrect facts.

The part about the woman horsing (not hoarsing) around with Weil's daughter is a complete fabrication. The woman was obsessed with the son of another staff member, and vowed that if she could not bear his children in this world, she would in the next -- a clear threat to commit murder/suicide.

And the notice stapled to the Jewish Journal contained the Jewish Press's incorrect account of Weil taking the Orthodox Union post -- the same incorrect account that you have posted on your blog.

Looks like you need a source with a better memory, inasmuch as one cannot take notes on Shabbat. Sorry, I am not a candidate.

These stats in the Jewish Journal story seem dubious:

Despite the recent allegations against him, Weil's vision for the synagogue has proven results. When he came to Beth Jacob from Detroit in 1999, the congregation had between 400 and 500 member families, about 50 of them families with children. Now, some eight years later, Beth Jacob membership has almost doubled, with more than 800 family units -- some 200 of them with children and teenagers -- making it the largest Orthodox congregation on the West Coast. The synagogue leaders pride themselves on being diverse and welcoming.

I know that there are 800 family units at Beth Jacob now and about 200 of them with kids. But Beth Jacob has been the largest Orthodox congregation on the West Coast for about 30 years.

Rabbi Weil did not arrive at Beth Jacob until the fall of 2000. I don't think the number of people who come to Beth Jacob has changed significantly over the past decade (especially if you consider the ejection of the Happy Minyan and Daryl Tempkin's minyan).

How come there was no mention of Weil's banning of former Beth Jacob rabbi Abner Weiss?

A source writes:

I do not know where Amy got her numbers of the shul membership going from 500 to 800. When rabbi weiss was there membership was at 800. It maybe 500 now because others have reacted to the ejections and weil's cold behavior, I hear they moved the Friday night minyan to the downstairs because not many people were coming plus they are having trouble getting a minyan on Friday nights. I was there with a group of people last year on a Friday night and we were the vast majority on the friday night (25 total people, we were 13-14) minyan. So you have to question amy on those numbers because they seem like a fabrication especially since the Nessah synagogue opened and alot of the Iranian community members now go there.

A source writes: "I can tell you as someone who was a member of the Young Israel of Oak Park [in Detroit] during his time at the pulpit, I am unaware of him ever asking any member to leave the Shul. I sat on the board during his tenure here and I cannot recall one instance in which the issue ever came up."

The source says Rabbi Weil left on excellent terms with his Detroit congregation.

Cathy Seipp Recovering From Surgery

Dear Cathy's Friends, This is her daughter Maia. My mother is still in the hospital and will not be back home for another few days. Surgery did not go as planned and instead docs are going to do another procedure to control pain along with getting rid of liquid. Mom is weaker significantly but has a strong spirit nonetheless. Just wanted to keep everyone posted because she did get a lot of emails and she doesn't want you to know shes been snubbing you, avoiding you or anything. She just doesnt have energy to be a speedy responder etc. However she still cares and thinks about you all and wishes you on my behalf a wonderful Chanukah and New Year. She also prefers to have visitors at home than hospital but she is delighted to have had you visit. She's probably coming home this coming Thursday at the latest hopefully and will be happy to have visitors next week when hopefully she is feeling better.

Valley's Biggest Orthodox Shul Hires Columbus Rabbi

Jonathan Rosenberg wowed the shul a few weeks ago and was a popular choice.

Rabbi Rosenberg has seven children.

Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor

Clergy resolve disputes, but they don't do it for free. Numerous ministers accept "contributions" from gangs and drug dealers for their services. They take other forms of payment, as well; Bird, the prostitute, has serviced "most of the preachers in this community." Other ministers have been known to hide guns, drugs, and stolen property for a fee. Nannies rely on preachers for referrals to families but must pay a 10 percent commission. The residents are unshocked by all of this. They conclude that it would be impossible to navigate the community without making certain allowances. "We are poor people. And so are our ministers," one congregant says. "We need [a minister] to be our leader, not perfect or without sin."

Getting kicked out of shul

The front page of Friday's Jewish Journal covers the Aaron Biston Vs. Rabbi Steven Weil fight along with lots of socially redeeming quotes from rabbis.

Amy Klein writes:

Biston's public airing of his story and his threat to file suit have brought to light a number of complaints from others who also have been asked to leave Beth Jacob. They claim the rabbi is autocratic and mercurial and bars people who don't fit his image of an appropriate congregant.

...[Weil] spoke to The Journal in the company of synagogue president Dr. Steve Tabak and former synagogue president Marc Rohatiner. Together they openly discussed the half-dozen people who have been banned from their shul.

...The other individuals include someone alleged to have sexually harassed a synagogue member, a man alleged to have behaved inappropriately with children, a woman alleged to have stalked a member with whom she believed she had a relationship and a man who, shortly before being asked to leave the shul, was convicted of pedophilia.

I think I'm the one who sexually harassed the synagogue member. I think I said some naughty words to this woman (and others) about eight years ago, before I understood and internalized the profundity of the Torah.

...Despite the recent allegations against him, Weil's vision for the synagogue has proven results. When he came to Beth Jacob from Detroit in 1999, the congregation had between 400 and 500 member families, about 50 of them families with children. Now, some eight years later, Beth Jacob membership has almost doubled, with more than 800 family units -- some 200 of them with children and teenagers -- making it the largest Orthodox congregation on the West Coast.

...As a result of the public airing of the ejection of Biston and others, [former Beth Jacob president Marc] Rohatiner said that one change will be made: The executive board will deal with these cases.

"It's beneath the rabbi's position to ask these people to leave," Rohatiner said. "That's not what we're about."

Wild Tale From Dan Siedarski Aka Orthodox Anarchist

He blogs:

Joshua Wilson (aka Yehoshua, Idiot The Wise, Inspire, Seven, Exodus, and Reuse) came to Israel in 2003 at the behest of Rabbi Moish Geller, a beloved, iconic member of the Nachlaot neohasidic/Carlebach community, who makes annual kiruv missions to North American Rainbow Gatherings. Moish met Josh at one such gathering, and was immediately taken by him. He was an ideal candidate: One who presented himself as a sincere, moral and compassionate person, yet who lacked both direction and a meaningful connection to yiddishkeit. Though Josh is not halakhically Jewish, Moish believed Torah would remedy all of Josh’s ills, and encouraged him to come to Israel to study (with the ultimate goal of a formal Orthodox conversion). Moish put up the cash for Josh’s ticket and he was soon situated among the Nachlaot chevra. It did not take long, however, for Moish to realize that his positive intentions would not be panning out.

I Love It When People Lose Their Temper

Because it reveals them and what they despise.

Check out Kevin Roderick:

People are surprised that Dennis Prager mangles history? Good range of comments at Professor Bainbridge's Journal on the "moral" talk show wingnut who argues a Muslim congressman should swear on a Bible.

What kind of person uses "wingnut" for Dennis Prager or any mainstream conservative? Somebody without an adequate vocabulary to describe those they disagree with.

The State Of The (Parochial) Jewish Media

I'm talking here about media (largely) by Jews (largely) for Jews, such as the Jewish Journal, the Forward, The Jewish Week, The Jewish Press, Moment magazine, Lilith, etc.

I was interviewed recently by a college student doing a report.

Here are some questions I was asked:

* What's good and bad about the Jewish media today?

What's good is that Jews produce a disproportionate amount of media (books, newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc) and that all the major Jewish institutions get their message out and get respectful coverage. What's bad is that most of this coverage is dull.

A case in point: This summer's Israeli war against Hezbollah in Lebanon produced a torrent of writing from American Jews (mostly people who are not professional writers but even the pros from the Jewish Journal were no exception) who flew to Israel to write about the situation on the ground. While well-intended and widely trumpeted in parochial publications such as The Jewish Press and in synagogue email lists and on Jewish Federation websites, all of this writing that I read was boring.

Neither Israel nor the Jewish people are served by well-meaning reports that are dull.

Most writing in publications such as The Jewish Week, the Jewish Journal (or any other religious and ethnic media), etc, is dull. It is factual, journalistically sound, and communally responsible. But it is not compelling.

It's no coincidence that the writing in Jewish weeklies that tends to be the least responsible and journalistically sound is also the most compelling -- the dating columns.

Responsibility is just one virtue among many.

* Does Gary Rosenblatt's reporting on Rabbi Baruch Lanner signal a more aggressive Jewish media?

No. It's an exception.

For the past century, American Jewish newspapers have been getting worse. I doubt this trend will change.

The best writing on American Jewish life is found in general interest publications such as The New Yorker and The New York Times as well as in Jewish magazines such as Moment and in books such as Stephen Fried's The New Rabbi.

The one possible bright spot for ongoing aggressive coverage of American Jewish life is blogs by skilled writers committed to Jewish life who don't mind taking grief for publishing unpopular truths (such as that many Jewish leaders, such as rabbis, are corrupt).

* What's the role of publicists in Jewish media?

Publicists are paid liars and they are the journalist's enemy.

It doesn't mean you don't use them. It doesn't mean that they can't be a great source of information (particularly about competitors of their clients).

It's fine to eat with the enemy, drink with the enemy and sleep with the enemy. Just don't forget that they are the enemy.

One question I wish I was asked -- what about literature as insight into American Jewish life?

Most contemporary Jewish literature is not realistic and therefore it sheds little light on the connection between the individual Jew and the wider community (it's this battle for status that is a prime motivator and makes for the most compelling reading).

It's been my impression that most literature by American Jews is disconnected from the Jewish experience (Philip Roth, Lauren Grodstein, Shalom Auslander, Melvin Bukiet, Gary Shteyngart), or it is a parody (Tova Reich, Gary Shteyngart) or fantasy (Jonathan Safran Foer).

Scenes From A Torah Class

It's cold and windy. As the women come in and get warm, they start taking off layers and I feel like I'm sitting in the middle of a strip show.

"Jews who don't observe the Sabbath," says the rabbi, "are Seventh-Day Absentists."

The rabbi talks about racing home from a Reform temple in Lancaster on a Friday night when he's pulled over by the CHP for driving 80 mph. The officer wants him to sign the ticket but the rabbi says he's an observant Jew and he can't write on Shabbos. All he can do is put a dot. The CHP officer then adds a note, "Can not write his signature for religious reasons."

It would've been better if the officer had said, "Why are you driving on Shabbos?"

When the rabbi stayed with his Orthodox in-laws in Jerusalem, his pre-Shabbos task was to tear the toilet paper (Orthodox Jews don't tear on Shabbos).

The rabbi said that Conservative Jews are not supposed to drive in Israel.

The rabbi talks about a potential convert who feared going to shul. She finally went to Valley Beth Shalom which can get about a thousand people on a Friday night. The woman was nervous and stood outside for the beginning of the service. Then she walked in during the l'cha dodi. And at that moment, all thousand people turned towards her and started bowing.

She felt welcomed and went on to attend synagogue on numerous occasions.

In New York on a Saturday morning, the Conservative rabbi walked through Central Park to an Orthodox shul. On the way, he passed by Temple Emmanuel, a powerful Reform temple, and decided to see what was going on.

When he got to the entrance, he saw a sign, "Closed On Saturdays."

The rabbi had an old Jewish woman take his Intro to Judaism class. She'd always been secular but through the class she learned how to give her daughter a blessing.

Her daughter had become Orthodox and moved to Jerusalem.

On a Thursday night, the mom phoned her daughter and for the first time recited the Hebrew blessing.

There was silence on the line.

"Are you there?" asked the mother.

"I'm here," said the daughter. "I'm crying. I've been waiting for that blessing all my life."

Many of the women in the class start crying as they listen to these stories.

The rabbi's son is Orthodox. When he goes into a dark room on Shabbos at his parents' home, he'll say things like, "It sure is dark in here."

The rabbi is left-wing Conservative and will turn on lights on Shabbos while Orthodox Jews will not.

So What Happened At Beth Jacob?

Gadi Pickholz of the Israel Fathers Rights Advocacy Council emails:

So what has gone on with Weil and Aaron et al? Inquiring minds want to know. A rabbi physically assaults someone [LF: alleged by Biston and denied by R. Weil], castigates a young child, and nothing happens because "we gotta pay off the building fund, sit down you're rockin the boat."

I note, however, that the shul website has been changed, and the former subsection for singles (at one point it even included a lengthy biography to fill out and submit to the official shul shadchanim) is completely obliterated. This is strictly a shul for married families celebrating proper family values only. You can be a mature family or a young couple, but we can't handle the 34% of the orthodox population ( well over 50% in the real world) that no longer fit that description --and certainly not those who do not seek to fit that description.

At What Point Do You Blast Someone Who Won't Give You An Interview?

I send out a lot of interview requests and most of them are not granted.

I have a hair-trigger temper on this because I feel so insecure about my legitimacy. I'm always chomping at the bit to publicly harangue someone who doesn't talk to me. I'm just itching to blast Shalom Auslander. I enjoyed his book of short stories (Beware of God) but it's been a month now since I emailed him my questions. I fear I was obnoxious in my email (perhaps the legality of human-dog sex interrogation was unnecessary?) but I don't want to blame myself for failing to land this, so I figure I'll just blast him as thin-skinned. What's a Torah Jew to do? Perhaps I should just sue him for hurting my self-esteem.

Columbia School Of Journalism Grad Students Cheat On Ethics Test

A source at Columbia responds to my inquiry:

I just saw the New York Times article. They were trying desperately not to have that go public. This happened in a class I'm not in, but basically there was a window of time people had to take a test and so the people who took it early in the day were being asked about the questions on the test by the people who were taking it later that day. The dumbest part about it is that our friggin school is PASS/FAIL. I don't know who cheated or tried to cheat...but [it] is pathetic.

There are two critical issues classes--one for part-timers and one for full-timers. The part-time class has about 40 people in it and is EXTREMELY interesting--it's my favorite class, actually. [Samuel] Freedman's class has about 200 people in it and I have heard a few students complain (boring..etc). I find this a bit odd only because Freedman's book writing class in the spring is one of the most popular (and hardest to get into) in the school.

If it is just students asking other students what was on the test, is that a big deal? That is low-level cheating. I think most students have done it.

In Amnon's Fall, We Sinned All

On May 26, 2003, the University of Judaism admissions director Amnon Finkelstein and 24 yo U.J. student L. fell two stories to the concrete from the Pico-Robertson apartment window of stunning U.J. student Devin Geser. Both Amnon and L. were naked and both sustained severe injuries, including brain damage.

Amnon later concluded that he had been drugged.

On Nov. 30, I interview Nick Gallop, who says he was Devin's boyfriend in 2001.

Nick: "I had a couple of friends who went to the U.J. and were in her class and that's how we met.

"She was a normal college kid but but being a normal college kid at U.J. makes you a bad kid.

"She did decline and become more out of control towards the end of our relationship. Mostly it was drugs and hanging around the wrong people.

"Her parents were nice. I feel bad for them having to go around and clean up her messes.

"My friend who was with her six to eight months later [early 2002] had an incident where he was drugged and wrecked his car and had to go to the emergency room. He was a U.J. student and the guy who introduced me to Devin."

Amnon Finkelstein replies to my email: "I am not surprised, just very grateful that there are some people who are honest enough to come forward with more information. I and others informed you that Devin had had problems with drugs and that the UJ had full knowledge of it. I am sure that if you were really interested, you could use the freedom of information act to demand that UJ open her file. The sad part is that the UJ has been covering up the whole drug and alcohol problem on campus. Part of this cover up is allowing Devin to graduate despite being fully aware of her drug use. The UJ had evicted her from the dorms not only because she used drugs, but because she sold drugs on campus! Yet, with all this information, I have still been the victim of the entire affair both here, on your web site, and elsewhere."