The quickest Pesach Seder ever

This is certainly the fastest anyone can do the Pesach Seder (with Techno Music no less). This is a great production by an Israeli website team. Click here to see it.

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

…And I could have been a comedian!

From the NY Jewish Week

Black Is Black
Comedy Central star left behind fleeting thoughts of the rabbinate to become a spirited performer.

By Curt Schleier

Lewis Black as a child wanted to become a rabbi.

Yes, that Lewis Black. The acerbic, fed-up-with-all-forms-of-stupidity, fingers-flailing-in-the-air comedian wanted to be a spiritual leader

He soon realized, however, that his temperament — red face and all — would fail him. So he started telling jokes. Angry, political jokes.

Here’s a recent example: Chiding Mel Gibson’s public statements in support of Terri Schiavo’s parents, for example, Black suggested that Gibson make a sequel to his 2000 film “What Women Want,” this one titled “What Women in a Persistent Vegetative State and Who I’ve Never Met Want.”

His controversial humor has made him a star. Black, 56, appears weekly on Comedy Central’s popular “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He had his own HBO special. He has a new book and CD out. He plays more than 250 shows a year, all for packed houses.

Not bad for a kid who originally thought he’d spend his days in the pulpit.

“I was good in Hebrew, and what else are you going to do if you’re good in Hebrew?” Black asks. “I wasn’t moving to Israel. I had a really great rabbi when I was a kid … he was terrific. But by the time I was a bar mitzvah I was lucid.”

Although Black didn’t opt for the clergy, after all, he says his Jewish upbringing informs his work.

“The thing you gain by being Jewish is the sense of being an outsider,” he says. “So you have an empathy, a natural empathy.”

It’s funny to hear the acerbic Black talk about empathy. Still, trace his comic anger back to the source and you find empathy is abundant.

His humor, it seems, derives mainly from his parents, smart Jewish liberals who instilled in their son a healthy disdain for authority and an ample dose of compassion for those trampled by the powerful.

Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Black’s mother, a substitute teacher, became active in the Woman’s Strike for Peace. His father, who worked for the Defense Department designing sea mines, was slower to come around.

Black claims his dad actually read the Geneva Convention, decided the war was wrong, but didn’t do anything about it until America began to mine Haiphong Harbor. He had rationalized his work by telling himself that sea mines were defensive weapons. But when the United States began to use them offensively, he decided to quit. He retired at 55, 10 years earlier than planned, with one child in college and another about to enter.

As Black wrote in his new book, “Nothing’s Sacred” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment), “It was truly an extraordinary event for a man with a family to give up his income in order to be able to live with his conscience.”

Such idealism, it seems, is there in every joke Black tells. Take, for example, a recent assault on capitalism.

“We believe that whoever has the most stuff when he dies wins,” goes one of Black’s stand-up routines. “Well, you’re dead, f—nut. So you didn’t win.”

The decadence of our consumerist society, it seems, is one of Black’s favorite subjects. Another is religion. When the two meet, Black is on top of his game.

One of his most popular routines, for example, assaults the shopping extravaganza surrounding Christmas. Even though he’s Jewish, Black feels mighty comfortable to rant about what he sees as a holiday run amok.

“Christmas is completely out of control,” goes the bit. “Every year it’s longer and longer. It used to be the 25 days of Christmas. Now it starts before Labor Day. How long does it take you guys to shop? At what point do you not learn that items are most expensive before Christmas. So why don’t you just put empty boxes underneath the tree this Christmas, with little notes attached, ‘I’m going to get you this coffeemaker … if the price is right.’”

Black says he has another routine about how the Christian right uses Old Testament quotations as an argument to prove that gay marriages are immoral.

Christmas too benign a topic? Try the Old Testament.

“The Old Testament was written by my people, the Jewish people,” he quips in his routine. “But that book wasn’t good enough for you Christians. You guys said, ‘We got a better book and a great new character. You’re going to love it.’ And yet you are constantly interpreting our book. It’s not your book! A lot of the problems we have in the country is that you Christians interpret the Old Testament. You don’t see rabbis going on TV interpreting the New Testament.”

Routines like these keep him playing to full houses all year. Black travels the country on a tour bus accompanied by his opening act, his tour manager and a guy who sells Lewis Black merchandise, from T-shirts to books and CDs.

Despite the harrowing nature of constant touring, Black has no intention of cutting back.

“When you finally find your audience,” he says, “it’s kind of silly not to go out to see them. I was working that much before and I had no audience.”

Despite his stratospheric rise to fame, however, Black intimates that the biggest benefactor of his success may not be himself but the Jewish people at large. After all, they were spared one very angry rabbi.

“They should consider themselves lucky,” he says. “You can’t really have a rabbi wandering around yelling at his congregation, ‘What’s the matter with you people?’ ”

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

Going from A.D. to C.E.

From the
April 23, 2005

Use of B.C. and A.D. faces changing times: Some teachers and historians are using alternatives to Christian-based designations

Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. – In a world encouraged to embrace differences, B.C. and A.D. are increasingly finding themselves on the wrong end of the religious sensitivity meter.

Educators and historians say schools from North America to Australia have been changing the terms Before Christ to Before Common Era and anno Domini (Latin for “year of the Lord”) to Common Era. In short, they’re referred to as B.C.E. and C.E.

The change has stoked the ire of Christian conservatives and some religious leaders who view it as an attack on a social and political order that has been in place for centuries. Ironically, for more than a century Hebrew lessons have used B.C.E. and C.E., with C.E. sometimes referring to Christian Era.

Religious sensitivity
That begs the question: Can old and new coexist in harmony, or must one give way to the other to reflect changing times and attitudes?

The terms B.C. and A.D. have clear Catholic roots. Dionysius Exiguus, an abbot in Rome, devised them as a way to determine the date for Easter for Pope St. John I. The terms were continued under the Gregorian Calendar.

Although most calendars are based on an epoch or person, B.C. and A.D. have always presented a particular problem for historians: There is no year zero.

“When Jews or Muslims have to put Christ in the middle of our calendar … that’s difficult for us,” said Steven Brown, dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City. “They are hard for non-Jews, because they assume a centrality of Jesus … it’s not offensive, but it’s not sensitive to my religious sensibilities.”

The new terms were introduced by academics in the 1990s in public elementary and high school classrooms.

“I started using B.C.E. when some of my students began asking more earnestly than before just what B.C. meant,” said Bill Everdell, a history book editor, teaching instructor and Brooklyn history teacher in the private, formerly religious St. Ann’s School. Everdell said most history teachers he knows use B.C.E. and C.E. “I realized the courtesy was mine to extend.”

Seen as an attack
In New York, the terms are entering public classrooms through textbooks and worksheets, but B.C.E. and C.E. are not part of the state’s official curriculum, and there is no plan to debate the issue, said state Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman.

“The standard textbooks primarily used in New York use the terms A.D. and B.C.,” Burman said. Schools, however, may choose to use the new terms.

Candace de Russy, a national writer on education and Catholic issues and a trustee for the State University of New York, said she doesn’t accept the notion of fence-straddling.

“The use of B.C.E. and C.E. is not mere verbal tweaking; rather it is integral to the leftist language police — a concerted attack on the religious foundation of our social and political order,” she said.

Gaining momentum
For centuries, B.C. and A.D. were used in public schools, universities and in historical and most theological research. Some historians and college instructors started using the new forms as a less Christ-centric alternative.

“I think it’s pretty common now,” said professor Gary Nash of the University of California at Los Angeles and director of the National Center for History in Schools. “Once you take a global approach, it makes sense not to make a dating system applicable only to a relative few.”

But not everyone takes that pluralistic view.

“I find it distressing, I don’t like it,” said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, which finds politics intruding on instruction. He said changing terms accepted for centuries because of a current social movement such as multiculturalism could threaten other long-held principles.

“That’s the shame of it. Though I have only seen it in isolated cases so far, wait five years and A.D. may disappear.”

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

Almost #1

Here’s an e-mail I got from Dr. Alex Sinclair, my good friend and JTS professor at the Davidson School. I am shocked that this blog is only the second listing that comes up with that Google search.


Imagine if you were unsure what to do about your freezer’s icemaker for Pesach (you found that some challah had got lodged in there, weren’t sure whether or not it could be kashered, etc). What would you do? Obviously, you’d google “icemaker kosher pesach” and see what came up.

Try it. You might be surprised at the second page that is listed.

Chag kasher vesameach to you, Elissa and Joshie from all of us.


…And then this e-mail trickled in:


I’m beginning to suspect a conspiracy. I just googled “lo bashamayim hi”, looking for a translation of the text I could print out a few times for seder night, and lo and behold, what is the first site on the list…?

What are you paying google?


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

Jib Jab for Jews

It’s a Kosher-for-Pesach Eminem! Click here for the Jib Jab tribute to matzah.

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

Stealing a computer from the wrong guy

A World of Pain (courtesy of BoingBoing)

Professor Jasper Rine lectures at UC Berkeley. Recently his laptop was stolen by a thief who was after exam data. Unfortunately for the thief, Professor Rine had some important stuff on that laptop. Click here to download the lecture in MP3 format.

Here’s a transcript of the last few minutes of his lecture:

“Thanks Gary. I have a message for one person in this audience – I’m sorry the rest of you have to sit through this. As you know, my computer was stolen in my last lecture. The thief apparently wanted to betray everybody’s trust, and was after the exam.

The thief was smart not to plug the computer into the campus network, but the thief was not smart enough to do three things: he was not smart enough to immediately remove Windows. I installed the same version of Windows on another computer – within fifteen minutes the people in Redmond Washington were very interested to know why it was that the same version of Windows was being signalled to them from two different computers.

The thief also did not inactivate either the wireless card or the transponder that’s in that computer. Within about an hour, there was a signal from various places on campus that’s allowed us to track exactly where that computer went every time that it was turned on.

I’m not particularly concerned about the computer. But the thief, who thought he was only stealing an exam, is presently – we think – is probably still in possession of three kinds of data, any one of which can send this man, this young boy, actually, to federal prison. Not a good place for a young boy to be.

You are in possession of data from a hundred million dollar trial, sponsored by the NIH, for which I’m a consultant. This involves some of the largest companies on the planet, the NIH investigates these things through the FBI, they have been notified about this problem.

You are in possession of trade secrets from a Fortune 1000 biotech company, the largest one in the country, which I consult for. The Federal Trade Communication is very interested in this. Federal Marshals are the people who handle that.

You are in possession of proprietary data from a pre-public company planning an IPO. The Securities and Exchange Commission is very interested in this and I don’t even know what branch of law enforcement they use.

Your academic career is about to come to an end. You are facing very serious charges, with a probability of very serious time. At this point, there’s very little that anybody can do for you. One thing that you can do for yourself is to somehow prove that the integrity of the data which you possess has not been corrupted or copied.

Ironically, I am the only person on the planet that can come to your aid, because I am the only person that can tell whether the data that was on that computer are still on that computer. You will have to find a way of hoping that if you’ve copied anything that you can prove you only have one copy of whatever was made.

I am tied up all this afternoon; I am out of town all of next week. You have until 11:55 to return the computer, and whatever copies you’ve made, to my office, because I’m the only hope you’ve got of staying out of deeper trouble than you or any student I’ve ever known has ever been in.

I apologise to the rest of you for having to bring up this distasteful matter, but I will point out that we have a partial image of this person, we have two eyewitnesses, with the transponder data we’re going to get this person.”

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

Ratzinger becomes pope

From the Michigan Daily

Catholics react to pontiff’s ideology
By Christina Hildreth, Daily Staff Reporter
April 20, 2005

Almost three weeks after the death of Pope John Paul II on April 2, the international council of cardinals selected Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, a close confidant of John Paul who is widely considered a hard-liner in terms of orthodoxy and doctrine, as the Roman Catholic Church’s 265th pontiff yesterday.

Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI, was confirmed after two days in one of the shortest conclaves in the past century. History Prof. Brian Porter, an expert on the Catholic Church, said he did not expect the announcement for several more days. […]

Rabbi Jason Miller, assistant director of the University’s chapter of Hillel, said he hopes Benedict will continue the work started by John Paul. “We recognize that it was Cardinal Ratzinger who was the architect of the ideological policy to recognize and have full relations with Israel,” he said.

RC sophomore Monica Woll, chair of the governing council of Hillel, said Benedict’s participation with Nazi activities such as the Hitler Youth during World War II have also caused anxiety about the future of Jewish-Catholic relations.

“A lot of people are nervous only because he did have membership in Hitler Youth, although most people realize that was 60 years ago and he is most likely a different person today,” she said, adding that Benedict said in a recent interview that his membership in Hitler Youth was compulsory, and that during his service in the army he never fired a shot.

Despite these concerns, Miller said the pope’s efforts to reach out to Jews will be important to the maintenance of understanding between the two faiths which was started by John Paul.

“Catholic-Jewish relations are extremely important in our society, and we hope that the new pope will be our partner for peace, justice and the appreciation of each other’s faith traditions,” he said. […]

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

Funny Pesach Animation

This animation for Pesach is created by Ben Baruch, a direct descendent of the Vilna Gaon, who has been asking unconventional questions about Judaism ever since he was a young boy in Yeshiva. While his queries about the Jewish faith were often met with disapproval, his passion for finding humor in religion only grew stronger. Eventually, he found that his only outlet was to express these feelings in the form of an innocuous comic strip. Today, Ben lives in Brooklyn, and in fear of God.

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

Alan Silverstein on Conservative Judaism

Conservative Movement in U.S. is Here to Stay
by Rabbi Alan Silverstein

This article first appeared in last week’s edition of New Jersey Jewish News

The so-called “Jewish telegram” reads: “Start worrying. Details to follow.” Yet as Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna stated recently to the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, sometimes concern about possible discontinuity can be beneficial. It often leads to a burst of creativity.

Forty years ago, naysayers inaccurately predicted the imminent demise of Orthodoxy on these shores. A vigorous yeshiva educational network along with high fertility rates have reversed that concern. Similarly, in the mid-1970s, Reform scholars successfully rallied their movement to reverse numeric decline through outreach to the intermarried and the unaffiliated.

The National Jewish Population Survey 2000-01 projected doom and gloom for the future of Conservative Judaism, with its 43 percent of American synagogue members in 1990 dropping to 33 percent 10 years later. In part, this startling change was due to the undercounting of Orthodox numbers in 1990, the growth of the Reform category of patrilineal Jews, and a change of guiding methodology in the NJPS.

Additionally, there is merit in pointing out that the Conservative movement has not been sufficiently proactive. Conservative Jewish organizations have neither seeded nor nurtured potential congregations in America’s hinterland. For example, in the rapidly growing American West, 70 percent of Jews are not current synagogue members. Many of the unaffiliated are relocated adults raised as Conservative Jews in other parts of the country but unable to find United Synagogue congregations in their new neighborhoods. The remedy is for the Conservative movement to seed congregations in new areas, an approach being taken by the Reform and Chabad-Lubavitch movements.

Yet one must compare the NJPS with a 1995-96 survey conducted by the Jewish Theological Seminary’s Ratner Center, which identified 6,000 Conservative congregant homes and nearly 400 congregations. In geographic areas where Conservative synagogues were already established, the Ratner data reported that the movement had more than held its own. Not only were new individual and family members joining at a necessary “replacement rate,” but when compared to 1985-86, 48 percent of the synagogues were “somewhat” or “dramatically” larger, 21 percent were “about the same,” and only 20 percent were “slightly smaller.”

Only 11 percent of the congregations were found to be “dramatically smaller,” a predictable cyclical rate of erosion during an era of escalating geographic mobility.

Earlier studies provided pessimistic assessments of the future of synagogue attendance within local Conservative congregations. The impact of the “baby bust” of 1930-1945 meant that statistically few congregants ages 35-50 were to be found as regular attendees at Shabbat services in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The baby-boomers born after World War II were too young to have come aboard. In 1979, social scientists Charles Liebman and Sol Shapiro reported to Conservative Judaism’s leaders that the movement “had a bleak future, with the core members getting older and dying off, and no one to replace them.”

The 1995-96 JTS study revealed that during the ensuing 15 years, boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) plus both younger and older adults had entered impressively into the lifelong learning and the Shabbat morning religious life of Conservative congregations. Moreover, an expanding core group of engaged Conservative Jewish parents were sending their sons and daughters to Jewish day schools, Camp Ramah, United Synagogue Youth, Israel experiences, and KOACH college activities. The authors of the Ratner report concluded:

“There is a widespread perception in the Jewish community of North America that with the passage of generations, the quality of Jewish life necessarily diminishes; and younger Jews are apt to have less of a Jewish education and commitment than their elders. Among members of Conservative synagogues, generally the opposite is true.”

Whereas a generation ago, Conservative Judaism had been described by many of its own adherents as “wishy-washy,” a default address for congregants who were neither Reform nor Orthodox, widespread affirmative Conservative identity was noted in the Ratner report. As the study pointed out, most members of Conservative synagogues “are genuinely attracted to Conservatism; they unabashedly reject Orthodoxy and Reform; and, as a group, they demonstrate a clear affinity for several elements of the Conservative movement’s ideology.”

JTS chancellor Ismar Schorsch has commented that the Ratner survey affirmed that “the center (meaning the Conservative Movement in American Judaism) is not only holding, but is strengthening.” To be sure, the demographic challenges facing Conservative Judaism noted in the NJPS are very real. Yet we ought to share Professor Sarna’s optimism. Just as kindred Orthodox and Reform movements admirably responded to their own challenges in the past, so, too, will the Conservative movement rise to the task of best meeting the needs of 21st-century “centrist” American-Jewish religious life. In Dr. Schorsch’s words, “We are here to stay.”

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

10,000th hit on

My personal website, (, received its 10,000th unique hit today. I first launched my personal site in 1996, but didn’t start counting hits until 1998 or 1999. The counter can be seen right under the Google search bar.

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