Nostalgia Posting and the Detroit Jewish News Archives

Nostalgia is in. I recently coined the term “Nostalgia Posting” because one of the most common memes on Facebook these days is the Throwback Thursday, in which individuals and organizations post old photos from yesteryear and allow viewers to tag people they recognize and be amused at how things have changed over the years including hairstyles and fashion. One local company making good use of this is Joe Cornell Entertainment, which has been posting photos from their archives of Joe Cornell’s pre-bar mitzvah dance classes from the past few decades.

Metro Detroiters, as well as former Metro Detroiters, have found themselves getting lost in time on the Web since the Detroit Jewish News Foundation launched its digital archives in mid-November. Residing on the DJN Foundation’s website at www.djnfoundation.org, the archives have allowed local members of the Jewish community to scratch their nostalgia itch by searching for friends and family in the archives’ search function. Every weekly issue of the Detroit Jewish News over the past seven decades is included in the digital archives and even advertisements can be searched.

Detroit Jewish News Foundation Archives

Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, recognized the importance of digitizing the thousands of old issues of the paper after a devastating fire occurred in the Detroit Jewish News offices back in 2002 and destroyed nearly all of the paper’s print archives. Horwitz and the new nonprofit foundation turned to Media Genesis, an internet services provider, to create the searchable index on the new website which lets users perform quick and accurate searches on the more than 260,000 dating back to 1942. The archives are available to the public at no cost and they have already proven useful to local historians, educators, students and community leaders.

Like internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, the DJN Foundation’s digital archives are fully searchable by date, name, and other keyword searches including advanced Boolean searches, which are a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators such as “and,” “not” and “nor” to produce more relevant results.

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Jesus, We Can Finally Talk About Jesus

I’ve always said that the only times Jewish people mention Jesus are when they stub their toe, miss the bus, or tell you about their theater tickets to a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera. Two new books will change that. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine). The former discusses the Jewish life of Jesus of Nazareth and the latter is a newly revised edition of the Christian Scriptures with notes and essays from Jewish scholars in the hope of making the “New Testament” accessible to Jews.

In my final years of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I was living and working in Caldwell, New Jersey as a rabbinic intern. One of the congregants at the synagogue, Agudath Israel, was a professor at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey. She asked me to give a presentation about Judaism to the women in her undergraduate class. In preparation for my visit she asked the students to submit a list of five questions each that they would like me to consider. Without any exaggeration, a full 90% of the students included at least one question about Jesus Christ in their list.

I had received questions from Christians in the past concerning the Jewish view of Jesus, but that experience confirmed for me just how curious Christians are about how Jews understand Jesus in both historical and theological perspectives. Many of the women in that class at the College of St. Elizabeth were surprised to learn that Jews do not consider Jesus to be the messiah and the entire class was shocked to discover that Jesus’ teachings were not part of the required coursework I was doing in my rabbinical school studies. By far, to this day the most frequent questions I receive from Christians all have to do with the Jewish understanding of Jesus.

The topic of the contemporary view of Jesus among Jews has long been stuck somewhere between taboo and “we just don’t talk about it”. But now, thanks to two new books it is front and center. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who refers to himself as “America’s Rabbi” has written a new controversial book that will be released next week. For those who thought Boteach’s Kosher Sex was too radical, his new Kosher Jesus is sure to ruffle feathers. With Boteach, it is difficult to know if he writes these provocative books and articles because he’s genuinely passionate about the scholarly discussion it will generate or if he just lusts after the spotlight. Still playing up his friendship with the late Michael Jackson and very passively campaigning to be the next Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has been busy publicly questioning what all this fuss is about with his new book. In truth, Boteach knows that every Orthodox rabbi and scholar — from Chabad Lubavitch to the Haredim — who attack Kosher Jesus as blasphemous and its author as a heretic are only helping his book sales.

Boteach loves the attention he’s getting and in the weeks leading up to its release has been penning article after article fighting back against his naysayers. In a recent Jerusalem Post article, Boteach wrote, “Unless you’ve been a space-tourist with Virgin Galactic the past few weeks you will know that on [sic] February my new book will be published.” (There’s no doubt in my mind he received a generous kickback from Virgin’s Richard Branson for mentioning Galactic.) Media attention aside, I think Boteach’s book is important and will finally make it “kosher” for Jews to learn about and discuss Jesus as the historical figure.

Boteach’s book portrays the actual story of Jesus’ Jewish life as told in both early Christian and Jewish sources. If you ask most Jews to tell you about the historical figure of Jesus, their response often turns fuzzy after a quick introduction that he was Jewish. Kosher Jesus explains how Jesus was a Torah-observant teacher who instructed his followers to observe the Torah. Jesus’ teachings were quoted extensively from the Torah. And before being murdered by Pontius Pilate, Jesus fought Roman paganism and persecution of the Jewish people. His death was retribution for his rebellion against Rome.

No matter what one believes Boteach’s intentions were in writing this book (more fame, more money, a Chief Rabbi position, setting the academic record straight, or a combination thereof), he clearly did his research on the subject and has taken away the taboo of Jews discussing Jesus of Nazareth. Hopefully, Boteach’s book will give Jews the ability to go a little deeper in their understanding of Jesus. This will be helpful for rabbis like me who often field questions about Jesus from Christians, but it will also prove useful for Jews living in predominantly Christian areas as well as for the Jewish college student with a Christian roommate or agressive missionaries on campus.

Rembrandt’s portrayal of Jesus is more apparently Jewish than other artistic renderings

As I have been reading the many criticisms of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his Kosher Jesus, one thing that I’ve noticed is the strong discomfort his attackers have with even mentioning Jesus. As Josh Fleet mentioned in his Huffington Post article, some of Boteach’s critics refuse to even type out the name Jesus. Instead they refer to Boteach’s book as Kosher J. abbreviating the name of Jesus in a way that is reminiscent of how they refuse to spell out the word “God” or “Lord” choosing instead to use “G-d” or “L-rd”. This struck me as odd as it seems to put Jesus in the same category as God whose name must not be rendered in print (even though the English words “God” and “Lord” are not actual names for the Jewish deity and I’ve never understood a ban on spelling out God’s name in Latin characters). In any event, it is similarly odd that many of Boteach’s critics who are eager to put him in herem (excommunication) for having the chutzpah to publish a book about Jesus of Nazareth are the same Chabad Lubavitch members who seem to be placing their bets that the late Lubavitch rebbe is the messiah. One man’s false messiah is another man’s god. One man’s spiritual leader is another man’s messiah.

I especially like the way Josh Fleet concludes his article about the sharp criticism of Kosher Jesus. Fleet writes, “In 2012, the topic of Jesus should not be a Jewish taboo. If we believe so much that our relationship with Christianity is based on deceit, tragedy and senseless hatred — that it has broken us — then we are obligated to believe it can be based on trust, opportunity and boundless love — that it can be fixed.” Well stated, and I believe that what will equally help fix the way Jews deal with the topic of the historical Jesus will be the new contribution by Brandeis Professor Marc. Z. Brettler and Vanderbilt Prof. Amy-Jill Levine. Their new version of the New Testament is revolutionary in that it has been published for Jews.

I am always surprised when Christians are surprised that New Testament studies was not part of my academic courses in rabbinical school. No matter how many times I explain that Jews do not believe our Torah has been superseded by the “New Testament”, Christians still don’t understand this concept. It’s as if they think that we’re big fans of the first Godfather movie and yet refuse to watch the sequel. In truth, most Jews who are knowledgeable about the Jewish Bible have little clue about the narrative of the “New Testament”. One of the primary reasons for this has been the Jewish ban on studying Christian religious texts for theologically dogmatic reasons. However, the new version that Brettler and Levine have put forth seems to make this scholarship safe for Jewish students.

An article in the USA Today explains Prof. Levine’s intentions in completing this project:

The project, published in November by Oxford University Press, is the latest effort in Levine’s lifelong quest to help Jews and Christians understand each other better. 

That quest started when she was growing up among Portuguese Roman Catholics in North Dartmouth, Mass. She was fascinated by her schoolmates’ faith and horrified when one of them told her that the Jews had killed God by crucifying Jesus. 

She made it her life’s work to prevent Christians from spreading that kind of anti-Semitic claim and to help build a bridge between the two faiths. 

After all, she said, Jesus and his early followers were Jews. So the two faiths have much in common. 

The Annotated New Testament points out places where Christians get Judaism wrong.
“The volume flags common anti-Jewish stereotypes, shows why they are wrong and provides readings so that the Gospel is not heard as a message of hate,” Levine wrote in an email. “These stereotypes include the Old Testament/Jewish God of wrath vs. the New Testament God of love and the view that Judaism epitomized misogyny and xenophobia.”

When you consider how little most Jews know about Jesus from a historical perspective, it is actually an exciting time when this discussion will no longer be taboo. While some religious Jews will claim it is dangerous to read books like Kosher Jesus or to have Brettler and Levine’s commentary of the “New Testament” on your bookshelf for reference, I actually think that this will lead to better Jewish-Christian dialogue. It will also alleviate so much of the misinformation and ignorance that many Jews have about Christianity and its roots. I’m eager to see where this leads and I’m grateful to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for having the conviction to publish Kosher Jesus, and to Profs. Brettler and Levine for using their scholarship to educate us on a religion about which we have been hesitant to learn more.

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

Keep the Han in Hanukkah

Just like some Conservative Christians want to ensure that people keep the “Christ” in Christmas, I think it’s important to keep the Han in Hanukkah (Han Solo and the Han Dynasty that is):

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

Dead Sea Scrolls Go Online

After the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in a cave in Qumran in the winter of 1946–47 by Muhammed edh-Dhib, a Bedouin boy, and his cousin, it still took two decades until they were placed on display in a museum. Now, about 65 years after their discovery they can now be accessed online.

Today, the Israel Museum launched the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Project, which provides access to high-resolution images of the scrolls, as well as additional data and background information. This is a joint project between the Israel Antiquities Authority and Google, which has a research and development center in Israel.

So far, five scrolls have been digitized: the Great Isaiah Scroll, the Community Rule Scroll, the Commentary on Habakkuk Scroll, the Temple Scroll and the War Scroll. It marks the first time that the collection of scrolls is being photographed in its entirety since the 1950s. The entire collection includes 900 manuscripts comprising about 30,000 Dead Sea Scrolls fragments.

“We are privileged to house in the Israel Museum’s Shrine of the Book the best preserved and most complete Dead Sea Scrolls ever discovered,” said James Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher director of the Israel Museum. “They are of paramount importance among the touchstones of monotheistic world culture, and they represent unique highlights of our Museum’s encyclopedic holdings. Now, through our partnership with Google, we are able to bring these treasures to the broadest possible public.”

The site allows for comments from users and offers insightful videos to further ones understanding of the scroll being viewed. The Leon Levy Dead Sea Scrolls Digital Library project is being funded with a major gift from the Leon Levy Foundation, with additional major funding from the Arcadia Foundation and the Yad Hanadiv Foundation.

Academics once had to travel to Israel to research the Dead Sea Scrolls, but the scrolls’ accessibility online should now yield an even greater amount of higher biblical scholarship in the coming years. This is not Google’s first time being involved in digitization project of this nature. Past projects have included the Google Art Project, Yad Vashem Holocaust Collection and the Prado Museum in Madrid. The scrolls are accessible online.

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

What to Wear

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I attended a Purim party. I had no idea what to wear. In past years I was able to figure out what to wear based on the theme. Black tie? Got it covered. Western attire? No problem (jeans, flannel and cowboy hat). 70’s Disco attire? That’s easy (and fun!).

This year, however, the invitation said “Gem Tones.” Say what? I was clueless and my wife wasn’t much help on this one. I started calling other guys to find out what they were going to wear. One friend was more clueless than the next. Were jeans too casual? Did I need a sport coat? Did my outfit have to be certain colors. I don’t think I’ve ever looked in my closet and thought, “Gee, some of my clothes bear a striking resemblance to the tones of gems!” I would have been less stressed had the invitation instructed us to dress like a favorite Disney character (well, there’s always next year!).

It’s usually easy for men to decide what to wear to parties. Weddings are either a black tuxedo or a dark suit. “Casual” can be jeans or slacks and a button-down shirt. I’m really not complaining because I know it’s much more challenging for women.

In this week’s Torah portion, Tzav, the details about the clothing of the priests continues. Even God’s instructions concerning the sacrificial burnt offering have a great deal to do with the special vestments of the high priest, Aaron, and the other priests. “The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body.” After the priest has taken up the ashes of the burnt offering he has to do a costume change. Even the priests’ clothes get anointed with oil and some of the blood from the sacrifice.

The late biblical scholar Nahum Sarna writes about the details of the priestly clothing: “Just as sacred space must be differentiated from profane space, so the occupants of the sacred office must be distinguishable from the laity. Hence, special attire, the insignia of office, is ordained for Aaron, the archetypal High Priest, and for his sons, the priests of lower rank.”

The reason for such minutiae when it comes the clothing of these holy men is l’chavod ultifaret (for dignity, honor, and splendor). The medieval commentator Sforno explains the use of these two Hebrew words. The vestments, he writes, “were for the dignity of God and to lend splendor to the office of the priest so that he would be revered by the people.”  I think that the vestments were as much for the dignity of the priests, of the wearer that is, as they were for God’s dignity.

This teaches us that what we wear says a great deal about us. All of these details about the priestly clothing reminds me of the famous dress code that was in effect for many years at IBM. Men had to dress in a dark colored suit, could only wear a white dress shirt, and could select a necktie of any conventional color; so long as it was solid – no patterns. For women, it was mostly the same – A dark, solid colored skirt and a white blouse. IBM believed that the way its workforce dressed portrayed the specific image that they wanted associated with their company. Apparently, they held the belief that it’s “the clothing that makes the man.”

And this belief was just as true in the 1990s, as companies like IBM shifted from strict, conservative dress codes to less-formal attire. Casual dress in the workplace became the new trend and “Dress down Fridays” became a popular section in most clothing stores. Companies like IBM believe that the way one dresses helps contribute to the way one works, behaves, and acts toward others. It also contributes to the way others view the wearer. When we get dressed in the morning, don’t we think about what type of image we want to portray for that day? Don’t we pick out our clothes for the day based on more than just the weather?

What we wear is representative of who we are, and indeed, where we come from. It speaks volumes about what we stand for and our own level of self-dignity. Styles do change. And society’s attitudes toward standards of proper attire do too. I might never fully comprehend how to dress in a “gem tones” attire, but I understand that our clothing is important.

Let us dress for success. Let us dress for style. And most important, let us dress l’chavod ultif’aret – for dignity, honor, and splendor.

Shabbat Shalom!

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

Wimbledon: Longest Match Ever

At Wimbledon, John Isner won the fifth set, 70-68, finally beating Nicolas Mahut in the longest tennis match ever recorded in tennis history.

I was curious whether Isner might be Jewish based on his last name, but a quick Web search answered that question.

On Isner’s personal website, he answered the following question from a fan:

YOU ARE A GREAT ROLE MODEL, BY ANY CHANCE, ARE YOU OF JEWISH DESCENT?
Submitted by Judith Meyer, Briarcliff, New York

Isner: “I’m glad to hear that you think I’m a good role model, i appreciate that comment. Actually I am not of jewish decent but I get asked that frequently I guess because my last name sounds somewhat jewish.”

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

Fauxtographing the News: From Herzl to the Flotilla

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Photoshop might not have been around a century ago, but the altering of images to change history has been around for a very long time.

A couple weeks ago I ventured into the basement floor of the Steimatzky’s flagship bookstore in the Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem. The three-story store is located in the building that once belonged to the Stern family, who hosted Theodor Herzl on his one and only visit to Jerusalem and the basement is now a mini museum devoted to the founder of modern Zionism.

Looking at several photographs of Herzl with famous leaders in Jerusalem, my attention was directed to what looked like a Photoshopped photo from over 100 years ago. In the next display case, hung a series of photos that remind us that we can’t always trust photographs.

Here’s the story: On the morning of October 28, 1898 outside of the agricultural school at Mikve Israel, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, astride a white stallion and wearing a gold helmet, stopped for a moment on his way to Jerusalem. By the roadside stood Theodor Herzl, who considered the Kaiser’s recognition crucial for international approval of his plan to resettle the Jews in the land of Israel.

The original photograph of Herzl and the Kaiser was not acceptable as only Herzl’s left foot could be seen in the photo. Herzl, aware of the importance of the photo, ordered its reconstruction. A photo of Herzl was taken on the roof of the school and superimposed onto the photo after seating Kaiser Wilhelm II on the dark horse (instead of the original white stallion).

There are many examples of such photo manipulation. Time magazine’s website lists its choices for the Top Ten Doctored Photos and warns that “photographers have been manipulating imagery since the medium was invented”.

Doctored photos have been in the news lately following the Reuters scandal concerning its manipulation of photos from aboard the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla that tried to break the Israeli/Egyptian Gaza blockade last week.

Reuters is claiming that doctored photos that it published, which fail to show individuals aboard the Mavi Marmara holding weapons are the result of an “editing error.” According to the Israel Matzav blog, the agency has said the absence of the activists holding knives in the pictures it originally published to its wire was an editing error.

In a statement given to Journalism.co.uk they said, “Reuters is committed to accurate and impartial reporting. All images that pass over our wire follow a strict editorial evaluation and selection process. The images in question were made available in Istanbul, and following normal editorial practice were prepared for dissemination which included cropping at the edges.”

The uncropped images have now been reinstated as part of the agency’s package of images from the aid ship attack.

The moral of the story is that while a photo may tell a thousand words, you might want to take those words with a grain of salt.

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

Introducing Shek 2

2Shekel JohnHyrcanusIt is appropriate that Israel unveiled its new two shekel coin last Tuesday on the first night of Hanukkah. As reported on The New Jew blog, “The new two shekel coin features a pomegranate and horn of plenty symbol, modeled after an ancient insignia by Johanan Horcanus. Horcanus (also known by the Greek name John Hyrcanus) was the Jewish high priest from 135 to 105 BCE. He was the son of Simeon Maccabaeus, one of the original Maccabees from the Hanukkah story.”

Two Israeli shekels are currently worth fifty cents.

Interestingly, the the new two shekel coins are not made in Israel. Rather, like all Israeli currency they are produced in South Korea and shipped to Israel for circulation since Israel has no mint in operation.

Unfortunately, Israel will now be phasing out the five-shek coin, which next to the ten-shek is my favorite shekel coin.

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