Curb Your Enthusiasm

Jeff Garlin, who plays Larry David’s agent on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, was the guest on “The Daily Show” last night. The synergy between my two favorite shows was overwhelming. Before Jeff came out, they showed the clip from the “Blind Date” episode in which both Larry and Jeff use the Yiddish term “Keynahora.” Hillarious. All the episodes this season should be that funny… keynahora!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. I have a dream today. I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. This is our hope. This is the faith with which I return to the South. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with a new meaning, “My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snowcapped Rockies of Colorado! Let freedom ring from the curvaceous peaks of California! But not only that; let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia! Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee! Let freedom ring from every hill and every molehill of Mississippi. From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Martin Luther King, Jr. (Delivered on the steps at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963)

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Habitat For Humanity (Building on the Dream)

I participated in the New York City Habitat For Humanity‘s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blitz Build in Harlem today. The theme was Building on the Dream – Housing for All

I spent the better part of the day installing metal studs as we renovated an apartment building in Harlem on 134th Street. The experience gave me the opportunity to help others and to learn a new skill (I didn’t even know there was such a thing as metal studs before today!).

To volunteer with Habitat, contact their website at The reward is well worth the effort.

The apartment we renovated

Securing a metal stud into a track

Drilling a support beam for dry wall installation

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Letting Your Wife Cut Your Hair is Shear Madness!

For the past year I’ve been letting Elissa cut my hair. It’s pretty simple actually… we go in the basement, put the attachment on the electric razor, and 10 minutes later it’s done.

Last night was different however. This is what happens when she forgets to put on the attachment!!!

About 5 seconds into the haircut I heard her say, “Honey, we have a problem!”

Not to worry, it grows back I’m told.

1 Do-It-Yourself Haircutting Kit = $30.00

The money you save by having your wife cut your hair for you = $20.00

Your wife forgetting to put the attachment on the razor = Priceless!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

In rare rebuke, Conservative rabbis say the movement lacks leadership

(From the JTA)

By Joe Berkofsky size>

NEW YORK, Dec. 15 (JTA) — In unprecedented public criticism, Conservative rabbis are saying the movement is suffering from a crisis in leadership at a time of declining membership.

Charges that Conservative leaders have failed to map a clear path for the movement’s future and that the movement’s seminaries and professional bodies do not coordinate policy surfaced last week during a Rabbinical Assembly meeting called to discuss the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01.

“As I speak to colleagues of mine, I don’t have a sense that any of us really feel that there’s a great global vision of where we are going as a movement,” Rabbi Joshua Finkelstein, of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Patterson and Oakland, N.J., told JTA after the meeting.

Rabbi Jeffrey Wohlberg, of Washington’s Adas Israel Congregation, agreed.

“We are in a period now where there is not one single vision for the movement, nor is there one person regarded as the only one articulating the movement’s message,” Wohlberg said.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the movement’s flagship institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary, did not return calls seeking comment.

But Rabbi Joel Meyers, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, said such complaints have long dogged the centrist movement.

“Because of its diversity, the Conservative movement does not have a pointed ideology that one can, in two words, define the movement,” Meyers said. “Not having a clear definition, the response is we don’t have clear leadership.”

But Wohlberg and Finkelstein’s complaints, which echoed others expressed at the meeting, came not long after the latest Jewish population survey showed that the once-dominant centrist American Jewish denomination is losing many adherents.

While such criticism rarely has gone public, movement insiders say there have been rumblings for years about a lack of cohesion between the movement’s congregational and rabbinical bodies and its main seminaries.

Then came the NJPS, which showed that only 33 percent of Jews who say they belong to a synagogue identify as Conservative. That’s down from 38 percent a decade ago and from nearly 50 percent in the previous survey, in 1970.

Some scholars warn that the studies counted Jews differently and so direct comparisons may be misleading. But rabbis at Tuesday’s meeting, which took place at JTS in New York, said the exact figures are less important than the larger questions the survey raised about Conservative Judaism.

“Instead of looking back at the last century, we should look forward to the new century,” Finkelstein said. “NJPS just underscored the challenges that lie ahead of us.”

Such calls were a reference to a recent remark last month by Schorsch in which he said it had been a “mistake” for the movement to sanction driving on Shabbat some four decades ago because the move had eroded the observance of Jewish law, or halachah, as some had warned at the time.

“Do we still discuss whether to ride to shul on Shabbat?” one participant wondered.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of United Synagogue, the Conservative movement’s congregational arm, acknowledged the growing malaise over leadership.

“What would be helpful in the movement is if we looked more strongly to the top and worked more in concert at the top to hash out policy decisions and to try to articulate them,” Epstein said.

But Epstein and other Conservative leaders maintained that the movement’s historical divisions over the extent of Jewish law one must follow signal a healthy, diverse movement.

“There is a difference between centrism and timidity,” said Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean and vice president of the Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

“Our movement needs to continue to be bold in its advocacy for a dynamic halachah, and for a strong relationship with God and for an engagement with the world.”

At the movement’s most recent biennial in Dallas in October, Epstein repeated earlier calls for members to recommit to halachah. Epstein announced that he would form a commission of rabbis, educators, and lay people to spark new passion for “living the evolving halachah.”

Referring to criticism about a vacuum at the movement’s top, Epstein said, “We are trying to provide that leadership.”

But the debate over whether the movement should focus on halachah or move in other directions continues to divide members.

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld, author of the Jewish Catalog series, Jewish primers that helped catalyze the independent-minded chavurah movement, said he holds a “counter-counterrevolutionary” theory that the Conservative leadership does signal a direction — “an emphasis that we need to take stands, or we’re not going to be taken seriously.”

But Strassfeld said halachah does not remain “the starting point” for most Conservative Jews. Instead, most are seeking “something of meaning and value” that could drive them to greater observance.

Whether or not the debate over halachah is driving Conservatives away, Epstein and Artson, among others, also have said that the movement’s size relative to the Orthodox, Reform and Reconstructionist movements — all of which grew during the past decade — remains less important than the devotion of its core members.

“Conservative Judaism is still a very large presence and a very dynamic presence,” Artson said. “I am not going to get into this sort of little boy war about whose is bigger.”

Yet Meyers said he is concerned about the movement’s numbers. Some people at the “margins” may be moving toward Orthodoxy, and assimilation and intermarriage may be pulling others toward the Reform movement or the secular world, Meyers said.

Part of the problem in counting Conservative Jews is that many resist being identified as such. They may belong to a Conservative chavurah or minyan but not consider themselves officially Conservative.

“There’s an old joke in the movement, that when someone says they’re ‘just Jewish,’ you say, ‘I’m Conservative too,’ ” Meyers said.

Some at last week’s meeting said the differences among denominations as revealed in the population survey auger well for Conservatives because they show greater attachment to Judaism among Conservative Jews.

Rela Mintz Geffen, president of Baltimore Hebrew University, said NJPS also showed that religion often plays a greater role in the lives of Conservative Jews than for Jews in the more liberal denominations.

For example, 81 percent of Orthodox Jews said religion was “very important” in their lives and 41 percent of Conservative Jews said so, compared with 24 percent of Reform Jews and 14 percent of secular Jews, she said.

Additionally, 72 percent of Orthodox said they “strongly agree” that they look to Judaism in making important life decisions, compared to 32 percent of Conservative respondents, 16 percent of Reform and 10 percent of secular Jews.

Mintz Geffen also cited the intermarriage rate compared with other denominations as a sign of the movement’s strength.

While 47 percent of all Jews who married between 1996 and 2002 wed non-Jews, only 18 percent of those who identified as Conservative Jews did, and only 5 percent of Conservative synagogue-goers did — a gap she attributed to a lack of younger, marriage-age synagogue members.

“Even if all it is is that you call yourself Conservative, it makes a difference,” Mintz Geffen said.

Others argued that despite the alleged leadership gap, elements of the Conservative movement are thriving — from the busy Camp Ramah system to booming Solomon Schechter Day Schools to growing seminary rolls.

But rabbis this week voiced a growing frustration that they do not know what, at least officially, comes next for the movement.

“There doesn’t seem to be any direction for the movement, and we’re yearning for one,” said Rabbi Tsafi Lev, of the Pinebrook Jewish Center, in Montville, N.J.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

My good friends, Alex and Peri Sinclair, created their own version of Eishet Chayyil. The lyrics are below with the sources noted. It is sung at the Shabbat dinner table before making Kiddush.

אֵשֶׁת חַיִל

size>מאֵת אלכּס ופּארי סנקלר‎

אֵשֶת חַיִל מִי יִמְצָא וְרָחוֹק מִפְּנִינִים מִכְרָהּ

בָּטַח בָּהּ לֵב בַּעְלָהּ וְשָׁלָל לֹא יֶחְסָר

גְּמָלַתְהוּ טוֹב וְלֹא רָע כֹּל יְמֵי חַיֶּיה

דּוֹדִי לִי וַאֲנִי לוֹ הָרוֹעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים[1

הִנָּךְ יָפָה רַעְיָתִי הִנָּךְ יָפָה עֵינַיִךְ יוֹנִים[2

וְדָבַק בְּאִשְׁתּוֹ וְהָיוּ לְבָשָׂר אֶחָד[3

זָמְמָה שָׂדֶה וַתִּקָּחֵהוּ מִפְּרִי כַפֶּיהָ נָטְעָה כָּרֶם

חָגְרָה בְעוֹז מָתְנֶיהָ וַתְּאַמֵּץ זְרוֹעוֹתֶיהָ

טוֹב עַיִן הוּא יְבֹרָךְ כִּי נָתַן מִלַּחְמוֹ לַדָּל[4

יִשָּׁקֵנִי מִנְּשִׁיקוֹת פִּיהוּ כִּי טוֹבִים דּוֹדֶיךָ מִיָּיִן[5

כַּפָּהּ פָּרְשָׂה לֶעָנִי וְיָדֶיהָ שִׁלְּחָה לָאֶבְיוֹן

לֹא תִירָא לְבֵיתָהּ מִשָּׁלֶג כִּי כָל בֵּיתָהּ לָבוּשׁ שָׁנִים

מַה דּוֹדֵךְ מִדּוֹד הַיָּפָה בַּנָּשִׁים[6

נוֹדָע בַּשְּׁעָרִים בַּעְלָהּ בְּשִׁבְתּוֹ עִם זִקְנֵי אָרֶץ

סַלְסְלֶהָ וּתְרוֹמְמֶךָּ תְּכַבֵּדְךָ כִּי תְחַבְּקֶנָּה[7

עֹז וְהָדָר לְבוּשָׁהּ וְתִשׂחַק לְיוֹם אַחֲרוֹן

פִּיהָ פָּתְחָה בְחָכְמָה וְתוֹרַת חֶסֶד עַל לְשׁוֹנָהּ

צוֹפִיָּה הֲלִיכוֹת בֵּיתָהּ וְלֶחֶם עַצְלוּת לֹא תֹאכֵל

קָמוּ בָנֶיהָ וַיְאַשְּׁרוּהָ בַּעְלָהּ וַיְהַלְלָהּ

רַבּוֹת בָּנוֹת עָשׂוּ חָיִל וְאַתְּ עָלִית עַל כֻּלָּנָה

שֶׁקֶר הַחֵן וְהֶבֶל הַיֹּפִי אִשָּׁה יִרְאַת ה’ הִיא תִתְהַלָּל

תְּנוּ לָהּ מִפְּרִי יָדֶיָה וִיהַלְלוּהָ בַשְּׁעָרִים מַעֲשֶׂיהָ


1] שיר השירים ב:טז

2] שיר השירים א:טו

3] (בראשית ב:כד (חלק

4] משלי כב:ט

5] שיר השירים א:ב

6] (שיר השירים ה:ט (חלק

7] משלי ד:ח

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Josh Picker’s Bar Mitzvah

Last night was a truly magnificient event. I have been tutoring Josh Picker for five years, teaching him Hebrew, Jewish values, and important Jewish themes and concepts. During the past year, Josh has been preparing to become a Bar Mitzvah.

At the Michealson Studio on Bank Street in Manhattan, Josh led over two-hundred guests in the Ma’ariv service and Havdallah. He also delivered a super Bar Mitzvah speech.

Josh is a seventh grader at York Prep School on New York City’s Upper West Side. He’s a great snowboarder, a videogame mayven, and an all-around good kid.

In my opening remarks before Josh’s speech, I explained how my relationship with Josh began.

“I first met Josh almost five years ago. We began learning the Hebrew alphabet letter by letter, but I wasn’t sure it was going to work out. Not because of Josh, but because I’m allergic to cats and dogs and every few minutes I’d have either a dog or a cat jumping on my lap!”

“But I seemed to manage because, as I soon realized, this would be a relationship to be treasured. Before I knew it, Josh was reading Hebrew with no problems and a great friendship had begun. Each week, for several years, I would visit the Spielman home and feel like family. Josh and I would learn about the Jewish holidays, about important values like charity and compassion to those less fortunate, and about the mitzvot – the commandments. In the past year, I’ve had the privilege of inviting Josh into my ‘home’ – at The Jewish Theological Seminary – on the Upper West Side. Sitting in the Seminary’s Beit Midrash – literally the ‘House of Study,’ Josh has been preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. He is now ready to be a responsible young Jewish man.”

I later taught the famous words of wisdom from Pirkei Avot attributed to Joshua ben Perachya. Aseh l’kha rav, u’kne l’kha chaver — “Select a teacher for yourself and acquire a friend.” Josh, I explained, has done both. I have become both his teacher and his friend. Josh has become my student, friend, and teacher. He is a real mensch and should be a model for other young people with learning disabilities that when you put your mind to something, you will succeed. I am very proud of Josh’s achievements.

Mazel Tov to Josh and his entire family on this most meaningful milestone in their lives! I am grateful to have been a part of it.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Loudoun Jewish Congregation – New Synagogue

Much progress has been made to the new synagogue being built in Leesburg, Virginia. Dan Tully, our congregant and skilled architect/builder took this photo while flying overhead in his plane. Check back to see more recent photos soon. The house at the top of the photo (in which I attended a Building Committee meeting last Sunday) will be demolished in the coming weeks to make room for the parking lot.

Kudos to Dan, his construction team, and the entire Building Committee for their stellar work thus far!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Takes a Lickin’, Keeps on Tickin’

I came across this ad today on the web at Adaholic. It’s for the Panasonic bookshelf stereo I bought after my Bar Mitzvah in 1989.

The stereo still works and I use it in the basement. It’s survived several moves and still sounds great.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Not-So-Hidden Hate

Kol Hakavod to Forward columnist Marjorie Ingall (my teacher Carol’s daughter) for taking on this antisemite. You can read more about Marc Moran here.


By Marjorie Ingall

I always wanted an e-mail address to run with this column. I enjoy the immediacy of hearing from readers, without any filter. And I want to make contacting me as easy as possible — no need to find a stamp or bug those busy fellas at the “letters” page. I like knowing which topics strike a nerve, hearing other people’s stories about their kids and grandkids, sharing book and music recommendations, even getting snarled at by people who don’t agree with me. (Oy, when I said that most children’s books are vomitous, you should have heard the furious screams of the librarians.)

But occasionally I get an e-mail that brings me up short. Like this one, about my recent “Josie Bit Me” column:

Date: December 11, 2003 3:45:45 PM EST


Subject: gnashing of teeth


I read your piece about the child biting problem. At first I was thinking, as any normal parent would, that anyone who would try to rationalize with a two year old deserves to be bitten when I noticed who you were writing for…. As a Jew it is perfectly natural for your child to exhibit the behaviors of a parasite, i.e. lamprey, leech, tick. Itz her nature, after all.

To like, whatz not?

— A Gentile size>

Give it a B minus. Nice faux Borscht Belt rhythms, but negative marks for poor command of the English language. (Our semiliterate correspondent needs to look up “rationalize.” Though I fear he doesn’t have a dictionary — no room on the TV shelf next to “Mein Kampf” and “Hooked on Phonics.”) To get feedback, I posted the e-mail to a professional writers’ forum online.

Very quickly, Wired magazine contributing editor Patrick Di Justo (his last name means “of justice” — nice touch!) posted a response. Conveniently for me, Patrick had just finished an article on identity theft for Wired. He’d researched how easy it is to find personal information online. And indeed, within half an hour, Patrick had found the guy’s real name, address, phone number and voter-registration number. He’d found the geographic coordinates of his house, as well as an aerial photograph of said house. He found the names and ages of his wife and child. And he found the fascinating fact that for nine days this summer, my correspondent was actually a local town councilman in New Jersey. He stepped down after the public found out that he was a member of the National Alliance — an organization that advocates “a thorough rooting out of Semitic and other non-Aryan values and customs everywhere.” (Tragically, it also advocates a boycott of Barry Manilow.) When the news of my correspondent’s affiliation broke, the gentleman first claimed he was no longer involved in Aryan organizations and insisted he wouldn’t resign, but after New Jersey Republicans and Democrats alike called for his ouster, he did.

According to, a respected political news site, my pen pal appeared on a local radio show during his brief tenure in office, denying being a bigot. He also denied authorship of articles bearing his byline on the Vanguard News Network, which has the charming slogan “No Jews. Just Right.” The articles are still online (gosh, you’d think that if they’d mistakenly used his byline, he’d have demanded that VNN delete them). In one, he says nobly: “I am not ashamed to put my name on what I write. I am not afraid of what others think of me or my opinions.” Then sign your e-mail, pumpkin. Unless you’re going to claim you didn’t write that, either?

I believe in freedom of speech (though I also believe people shouldn’t cower behind anonymous Hotmail accounts when sending hate speech). And this little adventure has been instructive. I’ve known for a long time that we have less anonymity than we think. But now I wonder whether this lack of online opacity isn’t a double-edged sword. Should I stop publishing my e-mail address, sacrificing the contact from readers that makes me a better columnist? On the other hand, if librarians can reach me directly, so can scum. And scum don’t play fair. When there was a petition calling for my buddy’s ouster from office, one of his white-supremacist friends stole a copy of the petition, posted the home addresses of its signers on another hate site and encouraged readers to put “political pressure” on them. Now, that’s where it gets scary. I’m a mother; I don’t want Josie to suffer for my principles. (My pen pal has a small kid too. I wonder if he feels the same way?) Haters have published online “wanted posters” with addresses of abortion providers. A federal appeals court ruled that this was not protected speech, but that’s scant consolation to the families of the murdered doctors. I hope Patrick’s forthcoming article tells us how to find a middle ground between freedom of information and freedom for potential criminals.

It all begs the question: At what point do we enforce limits on online freedom? A few weeks ago, Congress passed an anti-spam bill, establishing that many kinds of unsolicited mail violate people’s rights to privacy and protection. Basically, the new law, which took effect January 1, says commercial communication needs to be two-way; using fake e-mail addresses, as well as forging or hacking real e-mail addresses to send spam, is now illegal. But should hate speech be held to similar standards? My correspondent didn’t actually hide behind anonymity; he left an online trail, intentionally or not. (You could say he hides behind pseudonymity.) It’s nasty — but should it be illegal?

Getting back to the issues of identity and invisibility: I’ve just learned how to find people’s Social Security numbers online. Again, a double-edged sword. How scary — but in some sad way, how reassuring. If anyone tried to put “political pressure” on me and my 2-year-old, I’d definitely have some leverage. Okay, pen pal? To quote the Hebrew Hammer (as much as he can be quoted in a family newspaper): “Shabbat Shalom….”

E-mail Marjorie at

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |