Celebrities Love the Kosher Restaurants

My favorite Kosher restaurant outside of Israel is Prime Grill in New York City. That’s where I dined to celebrate my ordination from rabbinical school and also where I took our group of congregants from Agudas Achim when we visited NYC last December. The Kosher steaks are delicious and the ambiance is very classy.

Well, according to a ynet news article, many celebrities are big fans of Prime Grill as well. Madonna brought her dancers and musicians to Prime Grill NYC each night after her concert. Sasha Baron Cohen (“Borat”) and Paris Hilton frequent the Prime Grill in Beverly Hills and Donald Trump and Bono are regulars at Prime Grill’s Solo restaurant in Manhattan.

The article does more than just name drop the celebs who are choosing to go Kosher when they dine out. It raises the question of why Kosher food is now in vogue. Is it akin to the Kabbalah fad? Do people believe it is healthier?

“[I]n spite of the star dust being sprinkled over kosher foods, some claim that making kosher trendy is not a kosher thing to do. Most in the Jewish community are not swayed by star dust and are against turning Judaism into ‘a modern, trendy cult,’ says one of the heads of the rabbinical committee in America, who choose to ignore the phenomenon. ‘This is just a fashion that will soon disappear”, he says. “Everything Jewish is suddenly popular, but after the noise has quietened down and the storm has passed, only the core will remain, but anyway, the core is what’s important in Judaism.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

United Synagogue Moves to New Digs and Gets Some International Neighbors

Rapaport House - 155 Fifth Avenue - Manhattan - Rabbi Jason Miller's BlogIn December 2006, I was one of the first to post about the announced sale of the headquarters building for United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), the congregational arm of Conservative Judaism worldwide. Well, now it has been reported that USCJ sold the Rapaport House (155 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan) for $26.5 million and acquired new headquarters on two floors at 820 Second Avenue. I’m sure this was quite a return on investment for United Synagogue since it acquired 155 Fifth Avenue (pictured) some three decades ago.

USCJ plans to move into its new location in early 2008, but what is most interesting is who its neighbors in the building will be. The article at GlobeSt.com lists both Trinidad & Tobago‘s and Peru‘s permanent missions to the UN as well as the government of Croatia. I did a quick web search, however, and also learned that the permanent missions to the UN for Nepal, Nicaragua, Micronesia, Korea, Liberia, and Madagascar also rent space in this building. And, as if that’s not enough global representation to make things interesting, Syria‘s UN mission is also based in the building. In fact, there have been numerous rallies in front of this building demanding that Syria release Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit.

Furthermore, the United Nations Federal Credit Union now occupies floors 10 and 11 — the two floors that will soon be USCJ’s home, so the UN will become United Synagogue’s temporary tenant until it relocates.

So not only will the international leaders of Conservative Judaism be sharing their elevator rides with the Peruvian ambassador (USY Peru/Israel Pilgrimage anyone?), they will also be the landlord to the United Nations’ Bank. Interesting!

And I hear there’s also a strong possibility that the Syrian Arab Republic can use United Synagogue’s restroom key on all Jewish holidays when USCJ’s offices are closed (sounds like an even trade if Israel can keep the Golan Heights). This could be the first step toward peace in the Middle East. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in that lobby.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

More on Noah Feldman and the Modern Orthodox World

Harvard law professor Noah Feldman’s NY Times Magazine article is certainly attracting a lot of attention in the Blogosphere. Perhaps what is most brilliant about his piece is that it was not purely a rant about how his Modern Orthodox high school air brushed him and his non-Jewish girlfriend out of a group photo at his ten-year reunion several years ago. Rather, it is an informative, intelligent opinion piece about religion and our country. It is one of the most coherent articles on the tension between secularism and religion.

Feldman contrasts the public’s reaction to an Orthodox Jew’s campaign for the vice-presidency (Joe Lieberman) to a Mormon’s campaign for President (Mitt Romney) and the first Muslim’s successful bid for Congress (Keith Ellison). He moves from Baruch Spinoza to Maimonides to Moshe Feinstein. Feldman also looks at the murderous acts of Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir.

Instead of ranting and raving about his beef with his former high school, Feldman poetically explains the tension he felt at the Maimonides School between the traditional world and the modern world (Torah U’Mada).

[T]he Maimonides School, by juxtaposing traditional and secular curricula, gave me a feeling of being connected to the broader world. Line by line we burrowed into the old texts in their original Hebrew and Aramaic. The poetry of the Prophets sang in our ears. After years of this, I found I could recite the better part of the Hebrew Bible from memory. Among other things, this meant that when I encountered the writings of the Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I felt immediate kinship. They read those same exact texts again and again — often in Hebrew — searching for clues about their own errand into the American wilderness.

At the beginning of his section entitled “Difference and Reconciliation,” he writes:

I have spent much of my own professional life focusing on the predicament of faith communities that strive to be modern while simultaneously cleaving to tradition. Consider the situation of those Christian evangelicals who want to participate actively in mainstream politics yet are committed to a biblical literalism that leads them to oppose stem-cell research and advocate intelligent design in the classroom. To some secularists, the evangelicals’ predicament seems absurd and their political movement dangerously anti-intellectual. As it happens, I favor financing stem-cell research and oppose the teaching of intelligent design or creationism as a “scientific” doctrine in public schools. Yet I nonetheless feel some sympathy for the evangelicals’ sure-to-fail attempts to stand in the way of the progress of science, and not just because I respect their concern that we consider the ethical implications of our technological prowess.

At Jewcy.com, Joey Kurtzman interviewed Noah Feldman about his “Orthodox Paradox” article. Kurtzman writes that Feldman’s article “is a shanda fer da goyim, a skewed and distasteful takedown that invites non-Jews to gawk at the internal problems of a modern Orthodox Jewish community. Or maybe it’s a poignant and brave discussion of the challenges of bringing a traditional faith into modern life, written by a man who cherishes his people. Either way, it’s kicked up a storm of impassioned chatter throughout the interweb, where you can find both these judgments and many more.”

The Jewcy.com interview can be accessed here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Acknowledging Intermarriage in the Modern Orthodox World

In this past weekend’s issue of the New York Times Magazine, the brilliant Harvard law professor Noah Feldman (pictured) describes how he has been ostracized from the Modern Orthodox high school he attended because he married a non-Jewish woman. Several years ago, Noah attended a 10-year reunion for his graduating class of the Maimonides School, a progressive Orthodox dual-curriculum Jewish day school in Brookline, Mass. When his face and that of his non-Jewish Asian-American girlfriend (now wife and mother of his children) were mysteriously removed from the group photo at the reunion, he understood.

Noah FeldmanIn response to Noah’s lengthy article in the Times Magazine, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach (“Shalom in the Home”) weighed in on the issue of ostracizing intermarried Jews in the Jerusalem Post. Rabbi Boteach knew Noah very well when Noah studied at Oxford before heading to Yale where he became less Jewishly observant.

A Google search for “Noah Feldman, Harvard” turned up the couple’s New York Times wedding announcement as the first result. Noah is a very impressive guy. He’s a Rhodes Scholar and Harvard Fellow who clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter. He served as a consultant to Paul Bremer and the transitional government in Iraq and is the author of three books. He is now a tenured professor at Harvard’s Spinoza School of Law. This is a resume that any alma mater would brag about, but the Maimonides School is embarrassed that this alum has married out of the fold. This raises many difficult questions for Orthodox institutions. Noah’s article, as well as Rabbi Boteach’s op-ed in the Jerusalem Post, will undoubtedly fuel much discussion in the modern Orthodox world on this challenging subject.

Noah Feldman’s article can be accessed here.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s article can be accessed here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rep. Josh Mandel to Head Back to Iraq with Marines

Rep. Josh Mandel and Rabbi Jason Miller at an AIPAC eventThe Cleveland Plain Dealer today reported that Ohio Representative Josh Mandel will return to Iraq. I met Josh at an AIPAC event this past Spring in Columbus. He’s a very impressive guy who cares passionately about our government, the State of Israel, and humanitarian causes worldwide — especially in Sudan.

Here is part of the Cleveland Plain Dealer article by Aaron Marshall

State Rep. Josh Mandel will trade the buttoned-down look of a state lawmaker for the desert camo gear of a Marine as the 29-year-old reservist is headed back to Iraq.

The freshman state lawmaker, considered a rising star in Ohio Republican circles, has volunteered for a second stint in Iraq as an intelligence specialist in the Marine Corps.

“I didn’t join the Marine Corps to say no when the Marine Corps needed Marines in my field,” Mandel said Thursday.

Mandel, who was elected to his first term as state representative in 2006 after serving on the Lyndhurst City Council, previously served a tour in Iraq in 2004 as an intelligence officer attached to a battalion in the Al Anbar region, an insurgent stronghold in western Iraq.

He will undergo about six weeks of training in the United States before returning to Iraq this fall for an approximate eight-month tour. He said he isn’t sure yet exactly what unit he will be stationed with in Iraq.

Mandel said he has already pulled petitions for re-election and will keep his seat in the legislature while he serves in Iraq. He said he believes the people who voted him into office will support his decision to hold onto his seat.

During his first seven months as a lawmaker, Mandel stirred up controversy with a bill he sponsored that would have required Ohio retirement systems to divest themselves of roughly $1.1 billion in investments in companies doing business in Iran.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

PM Olmert gives Arnie Eisen Smicha

There was some controversy last year when the president of Israel refused to call Eric Yoffie “Rabbi” when the leader of the Reform movement visited his office. Now, in an effort not to repeat that controversy, the prime minister of Israel seems to be playing it safe and calling every religious leader “Rabbi” — whether they are or not. An article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports that when Arnie Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary, David Hartman of the Shalom Hartman Institute, and David Ellenson of Hebrew Union College visited Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this past week, all three men were called “Rabbi” even though Eisen is not an ordained rabbi.

The beginning of the article is quoted below. The complete article is here.

Until ignorance divides us
By Yair Ettinger (Haaretz.com)

Last Friday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received three guests in his office, all with the double-barreled title of rabbi and professor: They are well-known scholars among American Jews and fairly well-known in Israel: Rabbi David Hartman, who heads the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and is associated with liberal Orthodoxy; Rabbi Arnie Eisen, the chancellor of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS); and Rabbi David Ellenson, the president of Hebrew Union College (HUC), the Reform Movement’s rabbinic seminary.

Far from the discriminating eyes of the ultra-Orthodox, the earth beneath the prime minister’s office did not tremble when Olmert addressed each of his conversants as “rabbi” and devoted time to those who would like to find loopholes in the wall put up by the rabbinic establishment.

The three found in Olmert a favorable view of initiatives to “increase Jewish identity among Jews” in Israel and abroad. They declined to elaborate on the content of the meeting, but a talk with Rabbi Ellenson, one of the most influential leaders among American Jewry, indicated which way the wind is blowing.

During his visit to Israel, Ellenson had a hard time getting over the depressing impression made by senior Israeli figures a few days before his departure from the United States at an international gathering of university presidents. On Saturday night, he related, a rabbi recited havdalahh [marking the conclusion of Shabbat] for all the participants, and Ellenson noticed the Israelis. “One of them, the president of a very large university in Israel, told me he had never seen such a service and never even heard of its existence.”

He was greatly saddened, said Ellenson. “I hate the word ignorance, I prefer to be more gentle, but I know that’s how it is. What does it mean that an intellectual doesn’t know what havdalah is? How would you describe it? And he is not the only one among the Israelis.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israeli Websites Go Offline

As reported by Mobius at Jewschool.com:

To mark the one year anniversary of the abduction of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, the two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah sparked last year’s war between Israel and Lebanon, at 9:05 yesterday morning Israel’s leading websites took themselves offline for five minutes in an act of silent protest calling for the soldiers’ release.

The sites each showed a web page that instead of saying “That Page Cannot Be Found” said “The soldiers cannot be found” and linked to Banim.org, a website established by the Keren Maor Foundation. The foundation, which provides assistance to the families of Goldwasser, Regev, and Gilad Shalit, who was likewise abducted by Hamas militants outside of Gaza last summer.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Introducing Apple’s New i-Lightning

I saw this on the news yesterday and then read the Reuters article on Jeremy Fogel’s blog. This poor guy in Vancouver back in 2005 was jogging when lightning struck his i-Pod and severely injured him.

The complete article is available here.

In the article by Gene Emery, doctors explained that the jogger was wearing an iPod and was burned on his chest, neck and face after he and a nearby tree were struck by lightning. The burns traced the path of the earphones. The patient’s eardrums were ruptured and the tiny bones in his middle ears were dislocated. His jawbone broke in four places as well.

The doctors explained that the combination of sweat and metal earphones directed the current to, and through, the patient’s head. Since the accident, more than half the patient’s hearing is gone and he cannot hear high frequency sounds, even with hearing aids.

Of course, he still jogs and bought a new iPod… he just doesn’t use it when he jogs anymore!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Paintjam by Dan Dunn

This is very cool. Make sure you watch it until the end.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jews, Baseball, and a Book

I love Jews. I love baseball. And I love books. So, I’ve really been looking forward to Jews and Baseball, Volume I: Entering the American Mainstream, 1871-1948 by Burton A. Boxerman and Benita W.Boxerman (Published by McFarland & Company, Inc.).

The Forward published a fair review of this book. This is clearly not a coffee table book. Nor is it one of those “Famous Jews in Sports”-type books that shows nice photos of Mark Spitz and a few heavyweight boxers before explaining that most Jews in sports are the owners and agents. This is a book with statistics and footnotes.

As the reviewer explains, “Although ultimately this book is about the men who played a game, it has the feel of a thesis, and that’s too bad. When you want real-life anecdotes, instead you get citations that often are merely repeats of other bobe-mayses. The book is 184 pages of text, and it also includes an additional 20 pages of notes and an eight-page bibliography.”

I’m excited to buy a copy, read it, and then use it for reference. Even if there haven’t been too many Jewish baseball players in the big leagues (an average of one per year in the past 140 years of the game), it’s fun to learn more about the MOTs (Members of the Tribe) who made it to the show… even if they weren’t Hank Greenberg or Shawn Greene.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller