Baseball Biography News Sports Yom Kippur

Armando Galarraga & BP

This afternoon I had the chance to watch Armando Galarraga go up against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. This was my first opportunity to see the Detroit Tigers pitcher live since his eventful, near perfect game ten days ago. Watching him on the mound, I kept thinking how graceful he acted following the perfect game that was taken from him by an umpire’s mistake and how other professional athletes might have reacted (or over-reacted) in the same situation.

Newsweek editor Jon Meacham (pictured) aptly characterized the level of maturity and class exemplified by both Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce in his editorial comparing Joyce’s behavior with that of the CEO of British Petroleum (BP), Tony Hayward. In “What an Umpire Could Teach BP,” Meacham writes:

There is no comparison between a baseball game and the nation’s worst environmental disaster, but there is a lesson to be learned from how Jim Joyce and Armando Galarraga handled what was, in their world, an epic event. Be honest, admit mistakes, and keep moving. That is perhaps the only way to cope with tragedy of any scale.

Thank you Jon Meacham for helping me get started on my Yom Kippur sermon for this year. The comparison of Jim Joyce’s ability to admit error and apologize with BP’s series of gaffes in the gulf and lack of contrition sets the tone for a day of self-discovery and repentance.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
History Israel Media News Photography Technology

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 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 | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Antisemitism Hate Israel Media News Politics World Events

Rabbi Nesenoff’s 25,000 Pieces of Hate Mail

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Before this past weekend, Rabbi David Nesenoff was a virtually unknown rabbi who lives and works on Long Island. When his teenage son finished his high school exams and uploaded a 2-minute video of Helen Thomas expressing her anti-Israel views on the Whitehouse lawn, Nesenoff gained global fame. That 2-minute video on his website brought Helen Thomas’ long career in journalism to an abrupt and embarrassing end.

In addition to the media inquiries, Rabbi Nesenoff has also received some 25,000 messages of hate in the past few days since uploading the Helen Thomas video for worldwide consumption. Tonight, he updated the website to read: reported a story from the White House lawn.

We received over twenty five thousand pieces of hate mail. Emails will be continuously posted TONIGHT.

“Because of indifference, one dies before one actually dies.” 
-Elie Wiesel

Nesenoff and his son, the site’s webmaster, will post some of the nastiest, hate-filled email messages they received without concealing the sender’s name or email address.

The first posting to the site includes the text “Helen Thomas was right” followed by profanity and an apparent threat to the rabbi and his family. The sender also attached a photograph of death row inmate and convicted mass murdering cult leader Charles Manson with a swastika tattoo between his eyes.

This is undoubtedly not what Rabbi Nesenoff expected when he posted the now famous Helen Thomas video.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Jewish Media News Politics Rabbi

Complete Helen Thomas Interview

Here is the complete video of Rabbi David Nesenoff ( asking Helen Thomas her views on Israel. Watching it, one gets the idea that Helen Thomas has always held these opinions, but can no longer keep them to herself now that the almost 90-year-old has lost her filter and says whatever she’s thinking. Listen carefully and you can hear the woman sitting next to her remark, “Helen is blunt.”

Perhaps that’s the understatement of the year!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Israel Jewish Media News Politics

The Rabbi Who Took Down Helen Thomas

In May 1996 I sat in the Breslin Center arena in East Lansing as I watched my then girlfriend (now wife) graduate from Michigan State University. A year prior I watched President Bill Clinton speak to the crowd at Spartan Stadium for MSU commencement. The speaker at this graduation was none other than Helen Thomas, former UPI and Hearst Newspaper columnist of Lebanese descent.

Fast forward more than a decade. A couple years ago I watched an interesting documentary on HBO about Helen Thomas titled “Thank You Mr. President.” It detailed Helen Thomas’ long career in the front row in the White House Press Corp where she always got to ask the first question.

This past Saturday night, my wife asked me if I had heard what Helen Thomas said about Israel. I tuned into YouTube to find an impromptu interview conducted by none other than my colleague, Rabbi David Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi on Long Island (Temple Tikvah Synagogue of Hope in East Northport). At the White House for last week’s Jewish Awareness Month dinner, Nesenoff asked the 89-year-old Thomas what she thought of Israel and she responded that the Jews should leave Israel and return to Germany and Poland.

Nesenoff (pictured) runs a website called in which he posts various video footage of him interviewing people (sometimes undercover with a hidden camera). I’m sure when Nesenoff pointed the camera at Helen Thomas he wasn’t expecting that her recorded words would eventually bring about her downfall, but that’s precisely what happened.

Helen Thomas retired today and issued the following statement: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that Thomas’s comments about Israel were “offensive and reprehensible.” During his press briefing this morning, which Thomas did not attend, Gibbs said that though he hasn’t spoken with Obama about the her comments, they “do not reflect” the view of his administration. He added, “she should, and has apologized.”

Some might argue that it’s not the place of a rabbi to conduct interviews like the one Nesenoff conducted of Helen Thomas. However, Nesenoff’s video showed the world what Helen Thomas really thinks of Israel. It should be a wake-up call that someone with those views has not only been covering the news for so many decades, but has had such a high level of access to our nation’s leaders.

Even before Helen Thomas resigned, she had been dropped by her speaker’s agency, Nine Speakers, Inc for her comments posted on Also, Craig Crawford refused to work with Helen Thomas on any future book projects and she was dropped from a High School graduation key note speaker position.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Lanny Davis, former White House counsel, both called for Hearst Corporation to fire Helen immediately.

Thanks to Rabbi David Nesenoff, Helen Thomas now ends her storied career on a very sour note. And deservedly so.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Conservative Judaism Food Jewish Kosher News Orthodox Judaism

How Can Lox Not Be Kosher?

Smoked salmon, or lox, has long been known as a staple fare at Sunday brunch in Jewish homes. In fact, Jewish people who claim their Jewish identity as only secular are known as “Bagels and Lox Jews.”

Well, now an ultra-Orthodox group of rabbis, the Chevra Mehadrin of Monsey, New York, have included lox on a list of food items that should no longer be considered kosher. According to these rabbis, a tiny parasitic worm called anisakis that can be found in smoked salmon calls its kosher status in question.

NBC New York interviewed some individuals in the Kosher industry who were less than appreciative for this ruling. “From time to time there are organizations who get a little crazy with these ideas,” said Hal Simon, manager of Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen in midtown Manhattan, who sells lox daily.

When matters like this arise in the world of kosher certification, I usually consult two of my Talmud teachers from the Jewish Theological Seminary for their opinions. However, based on many prior conversations with them I can pretty much guess what their responses will be. Rabbi Joel Roth, who is the highly regarded kashrut expert for the Conservative Movement will say this is narishkeit (foolishness in Yiddish). Prof. David Kraemer, author of Jewish Eating and Identity Through the Ages, will no doubt have a lot of eye rolling commentary about this latest pronouncement by the ultra-Orthodox kosher police.

In his book about kashrut and Jewish eating as an identity, Prof. Kraemer devoted his entire last chapter to this particular subject. Titled “Bugs in the System,” he opens the chapter by recounting the New York Times article from June 1, 2004, which reported that New York City drinking water had ceased to be kosher because of millimeter-long zooplankton called copepods.  He writes, “How is that water that had been drunk for generations without hesitation or compunction was all of a sudden suspect, and even ‘non-kosher?’ Examined by itself, this chapter in the development of modern kashrut practices is a study in different interpretations of detailed legal sources. But studied in context, the copepod incident is the culmination of a not-so-long history of increasing alarm and accusation over kashrut in the Orthodox community and beyond.”

Indeed, Kraemer goes on to address the relatively new (mid-1980’s) preoccupation the Orthodox have with the potential for bugs rendering vegetables as un-kosher. A year ago, I was interviewed by a Detroit Jewish News reporter for an article she was writing on my kosher certification business, Kosher Michigan. Due to pressure from Detroit’s Orthodox kosher certification group (the Vaad), the article was never published. However, when I asked the reporter what the Vaad’s representative said when she interviewed him, she replied that he didn’t question my knowledge of kashrut law; but suspected that, as a Conservative rabbi and mashgiach (kosher supervisor), I wouldn’t find it necessary to check the vegetables for bugs.

I have no doubt that Kraemer would have included the recent proclamation that lox are no longer kosher in this chapter. It is further evidence of the ultra-Orthodox blurrying the kosher regulations and prioritizing the wrong message. What I find ironic about this is the ultra-Orthodox’s reliance upon new technology to apply further strictures upon the already nuanced system of kashrut. Modern scientific knowlege could be applied by them to reverse the centuries-old ban in the Ashkenazic Jewish world on kitniyot (legumes) including peanuts during Passover, which Kraemer also addresses in the same chapter (“Of course, if Rabbi Moshe Feinstein approved of the kashrut of peanut oil on Passover, there is no question that it is kosher.”). Rather than use new information and scientific innovation to make it easier for Jews to observe the kosher laws, the ultra-Orthodox have used microscopes to render tap water, Brussels sprouts, and smoked salmon unfit for consumption by the kosher observant Jew.

And therein lies the reason that the most common questions I field in the months leading up to Passover all have to do with the acceptability of food items deriving from leguminous plants that techically cannot be chametz (leavened) as they are not derived from the “five grains” (wheat, spelt, barley, oats, or rye).

So, from now on when a secular Jew cites their love of eating lox as their Jewish identity, will you have the heart to let them know that those lox aren’t even kosher anymore?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Celebrities Jewish Movies News Obituary Television

Corey Haim, Son of Israeli is Dead at 38

Corey Haim is not the first Jewish teen actor from the 1980s to die tragically and certainly not the first child actor to overdose. River Phoenix, whose maternal grandparents were Jewish emigrants from Hungary, died of a drug overdose on Halloween morning in 1993. Now, teen heartthrob Corey Haim has died of a drug overdose at 38.

Corey Haim was born to a Jewish mother from Israel and a Jewish father from Canada. The son of Judy and Bernie Haim, Corey Haim became famous following his role in “The Lost Boys.” He also starred in the 1980s movie “License to Drive” and was later part of the reality TV show “The Two Coreys,” alongside Lost Boys co-star Corey Feldman, who is also Jewish.

The Jewish Chronicle reports that “Haim had been open about his battle with prescription drug addiction, including Valium. He was found dead by his mother in his Los Angeles apartment.”

Many celebrities have been victims of teen drug abuse themselves, with some of them never making it out alive.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Basketball Hebrew Israel News Sports

Ron Artest Paints Hebrew on Head

The Los Angeles Lakers’ Ron Artest decided to have the word “Defense” shaved and painted on his head for today’s game against the Orlando Magic. However, using the English word “Defense” apparently would have been too, uh, normal for Ron Artest. Maybe he felt that would be something that Dennis Rodman would have done during his time in the NBA. So, Artest decided to go with bleached blonde hair and the word “Defense” shaved and then painted in purple in Hebrew, Japanese, and Hindi characters.

Over the weekend, Artest used Twitter to ask his fans if he got the translations correct. In fact, on his translation page which he uploaded on his Twitpic account, Artest used the Hebrew word “hahagana” for “Defense.” That word actually means “The Defense” and is used in the name of Israel’s army: “Tzva Hahagana L’Yisrael” (The Israel Defense Forces or IDF). Apparently, someone out there told Artest to drop the “The” or the Hebrew “Ha” and just go with “haganah.” Presumably, Jordan Farmar, the LA Lakers’ Jewish player, gave Artest some assistance on the correct Hebrew spelling. But if he wasn’t able to, maybe Artest reached out the only Israeli in the league, Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings.

Although, come to think of it, maybe it would have been more appropriate to have “HaHa” included on his head’s message board.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
Geneology Israel Jewish Money News World Events

Good Yichus: Names and Heritage

In Judaism there is a concept called “yichus,” which basically means lineage or pedigree.  In popular parlance “good yichus” is used to describe someone with connections to a distinguished family. I was thinking about this term the other day while reading Time Magazine’s very witty Joel Stein’s column.  Stein decided to research his geneology and see what kind of yichus he has. He did this reluctantly at the urging of Friends star Lisa Kudrow who is the executive-producer of NBC’s upcoming Who Do You Think You Are?

Kudrow tried to convince Stein to care about his own past, even though he believes, “What my great-great-great-grandfather did isn’t any more interesting to me than what your great-great-great-grandfather did, especially since in both cases it was farming.” Somewhere in the article, hidden between Stein’s jokes, he realizes that he’s actually interested in learning more about his family tree including his great-grandfather Reuben who left Russia to avoid army service. In fact, his search to uncover more information about his heritage leads him to reconnect with a cousin, who provided more insight into their yichus.

I read two other articles that day that focused on bad yichus. The first article was about Bernard Madoff’s daughter-in-law who went to court to legally change her last name, along with her children’s last name. To avoid embarrassment and the occasional death threat, Stephanie Madoff filed court papers in Manhattan asking to change her last name to Morgan. As I read this news, I thought of my good friend who was so excited to recently learn that his wife is pregnant with a boy who will carry on his family’s last name into the next generation. Names are so important to us because they are the link to our history; to previous generations of our family. With the Madoff case, here was an example in which Bernie Madoff’s son Mark watched his children be stripped of his last name in order to lose the link to that part of their heritage.

Finally, I read about the upcoming book written by the son of a Hamas leader who reveals that he spied for Israel. Mosab Hassan Yousef, the 32-year-old Palestinian who converted to Christianity, escaped the West Bank in 2007. In his memoir “Son of Hamas,” he discusses his years as one of Israel’s most valued informants inside the Hamas terrorist organization. This is an example in which both father and son are angered and ashamed of their yichus. The JTA reports today that “Sheik Hassan Yousef, who has been held in an Israeli prison since 2005, said in a statement released Monday that he, his wife and other children disown his oldest son (who worked undercover for Israel’s Shin Bet agency for ten years). The statement reportedly was smuggled out of the prison.” And on the flip side, the son has disassociated himself from his terrorist father.

So, yichus can be both positive and negative. Some are proud of their heritage and others are ashamed of it. Either way, however, a family tree tells the narrative.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |
God Jewish News Prayer Rabbi Theology World Events

Prayer for Haiti

I was in Israel staffing a Birthright Israel trip in 2004 when I learned about the Indian Ocean Tsunami while watching CNN in my Jerusalem hotel room. The following year, I was staffing a University of Michigan Hillel mission to Ukraine when the tragic news about Hurricane Katrina came on the news in my Kiev hotel room. I was therefore surprised that I learned of the devastation of the Haiti earthquake the other day while sitting in my own home, in the United States.

These natural disasters raise many challenging theological questions for us. The mere fact that we refer to these events as “acts of God” forces us to consider why God (whichever God we believe in) acts likes this — or why God allows these catastrophes to occur. Following the theology ascribed to Rabbi Harold Kushner, I would phrase the theological conundrum as: “How do we humans understand and relate to a God who doesn’t participate in these natural acts of devastation?” Because if these were really acts of the God in which I believe, I simply wouldn’t want that to be my God!

In the aftermath of the Indian Ocean Tsunami, I found some comfort in a prayer that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote. I hope I also brought some comfort to others by reciting that prayer during that difficult time. Rabbi Sacks, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, has adapted that prayer for the recent earthquake in Haiti.

As an introduction to the prayer penned by Rabbi Sacks, my teacher Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of Clal writes the following on his Beliefnet blog: How does one pray in the wake of this week’s events in Haiti? Or does that really beg the question of how we pray on any given day in the face of equally painful, if less grand, tragedies? I am not sure, and frankly right now, am not sure that I care.

Prayer in Response to Natural Disaster
By Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi

Adon ha-olamim, Sovereign of the universe,

We join our prayers to the prayers of others throughout the world, for the victims of the earthquake which this week has brought destruction and disaster to many lives.

Almighty God, we pray You, send healing to the injured, comfort to the bereaved, and news to those who sit and wait. May You be with those who even now are engaged in the work of rescue. May You send Your strength to those who are striving to heal the injured, give shelter to the homeless, and bring food and water to those in need. May You bless the work of their hands, and may they merit to save lives.

Almighty God, we recognise how small we are, and how powerless in the face of nature when its full power is unleashed. Therefore, open our hearts in prayer and our hands in generosity, so that our words may bring comfort and our gifts bring aid. Be with us now and with all humanity as we strive to mend what has been injured and rebuild what has been destroyed.

Ken Yehi Ratzon, ve-nomar Amen.
May it be Your will, and let us say Amen.

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