4/14/2014

Pre-Pesach Update

In my last dispatch, I mentioned that Pesha and I would be scholars-in-residence on a Danube River cruise for Pesach. It was not meant to be. The cruise was cancelled several months ago, and we will be with my parents and sisters and all their families for the Seder. We are very much looking forward.

Since the last dispatch, I have begun writing regularly for several more newspapers and media outlets. I now have a monthly column at the Denver-based Intermountain Jewish News, and I have retained the right to publish those columns elsewhere after they appear at IJN, and all the articles are posted on my blog at the Times of Israel. In these articles, I criticize how hyperactive but bright students are addressed in Jewish day schools, reflect on why Vienna became the birthplace of Zionism, add a dimension to my Commentary review of My Promised Land, and critique Israel’s proposed “Nazi Law” by digging up some old articles in which Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky compare each other to Hitler. These articles have already been syndicated in Baltimore Jewish Life, The Lakewood Scoop, and The Jewish Link of Bergen County. If you are interested in syndicating my column in your local Jewish paper, please let me know.
                 
Although I have rarely been accused of representing the establishment, I found myself defending the RCA in a series of articles that appeared in the Jewish Week. The initial article praised the RCA for its handling of the controversy surrounding Rabbi Avi Weiss and Israel’s Chief Rabbinate. That article was in turn criticized by Dov Zakheim and Steven Bayme in the same paper, which then gave me the opportunity to publish a rejoinder

The debates about religion and state in Israel proceed apace, and I recently had the opportunity to post my fullest treatment yet of this fraught topic. The context is a critique of a bill that purports to systematize the issue of religious conversion in Israel. The article appeared in Mida, and is currently being translated into Hebrew for that site. This will be my first foray into the Hebrew-speaking world on this issue. In addition, I recently rewrote my critique of religious institutionalization through the lens of the first chapters of the Book of Shmuel and the Talmud’s treatment of them. This article will appear in a forthcoming volume, which I am currently editing, honoring the memory of Marc Weinberg z”l. I have posted it online but have set up a paywall (just $1; if you’re interested in previewing it, email me).

The OU’s magazine, Jewish Action, recently had a special section on English-speaking olim and their impact in Israel. I contributed a short piece on life in Modiin and a short profile of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s impact on broader Israeli culture. I was also commissioned to profile filmmaker Joseph Cedar, but that piece did not end up in the magazine. I posted it here.

A couple of other odds and ends include this translation of an interview between Rabbi Prof. Alan Brill and Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes and this translation of an article on Mishna Sukkah by Rabbi Dr. Avie Walfish (see his stuff on Pesachim, too). A few months ago, I was interviewed by Nachum Segal about the English biography of Rav Yehuda Amital; the interview is archived here. A Facebook conversation about the history of Orthodox blogging, in which many of the most popular bloggers from a decade ago participated, was a lot of fun, too. Are we already getting nostalgic about the early years of blogging?

Before returning to Pesach, we must give Purim its due. This year was more productive than most on the Purim front, as I returned to work on our community Purim shpiel after a hiatus of several years. All of the clips can be viewed here, but my favorite is our lampoon of the Beit Shemesh elections, and particularly the concluding parody of “House of the Rising Sun.” I also posted a “news” item about controversies within Eastern Orthodoxy in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In honor of the wedding of Dov and Esther Malka Karoll at the beginning of Adar II, a few of us wrote a קרולץ, a series of brief poems to be recited before each of the sheva berakhot. Good times.

Returning to Pesach, the recently-published Peninei Halakha: Laws of Pesah by R. Eliezer Melamed has been getting some good press and some excellent reviews. R. Eli Fink’s comments are here, and other reviews appear here and here. I was interviewed by Nachum Segal about this book as well. We posted a sample chapter (on kitniyot) last year, here. Speaking of kitniyot, my original contribution this year to the Pesach conversation has been a blog post on a theory of the origins of the kitniyot custom. I relate it to the shift to a three-field crop rotation in medieval Germany and northern France. Curious? Read the whole thing here.

Best wishes for a chag kasher ve-same’ach,
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