Purim and the Oscars

Yesterday was another fun Purim holiday celebration, but I didn’t post a Purim satire this year (last year’s edition). I also usually post a list of my favorite Purim YouTube videos before the holiday, but there really weren’t ten quality videos I could find to make my Top Ten Purim Videos list. A few standouts included Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, Michigan’s Moves Like Graggers, a Taylor Swift parody from Temple Emunah of Lexington, Massacheusetts and Matt Rissien’s Jewish Thrift Shop Parody rap. The Maccabeats posted a mashup of President Barack Obama and some celebrities singing their famous Hanukkah parody and there is a handful too many of ridiculous Harlem Shake Purim versions. All in all, 2013 was not the most creative year for Purim schtick on YouTube.

But that didn’t mean the Academy Awards didn’t turn into a big Purim Shpiel hosted by Seth MacFarlane. The creator of “Family Guy” and the recent movie “Ted” tried his hand at hosting the Oscars last night. And while the Oscars technically occurred after Purim had ended, there were several odd connections between the award show and the Jewish holiday.

Seth MacFarlane (Photo Credit: ABC News)

Seth MacFarlane as Haman
First, I don’t think Seth MacFarlane did anything vicious or spiteful while hosting the Oscars last night. Yes, there were some edgy Jewish jokes, a tasteless Hitler reference and some racial jokes that made many people squirm, but I don’t think anything was over-the-top. The Anti-Defamation League obviously took exception with MacFarlane’s joke that referenced the old Jews Control Hollywood canard. ADL National Director Abe Foxman issued a press release today stating:

While we have come to expect inappropriate “Jews control Hollywood” jokes from Seth MacFarlane, what he did at the Oscars was offensive and not remotely funny.  It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism.  It is sad and disheartening that the Oscars awards show sought to use anti-Jewish stereotypes for laughs.
For the insiders at the Oscars this kind of joke is obviously not taken seriously.  But when one considers the global audience of the Oscars of upwards of two billion people, including many who know little or nothing about Hollywood or the falsity of such Jewish stereotypes, there’s a much higher potential for the ‘Jews control Hollywood’ myth to be accepted as fact.
We wish that Mr. MacFarlane and the Academy Awards producers had shown greater sensitivity and decided against airing a sketch that so reinforces the age-old canard about Jewish control of the film industry.

Haman tried to turn Shushan against the Jews by telling people they were a controlling nation. He obviously wasn’t joking around though. What I find interesting is that when Jews win Academy Awards people say that it’s because the Jews control Hollywood, but no one ever claims the Jews control the voting for the Nobel Prize and a disproportional amount of Jews have won those awards over the years.

Jennifer Lawrence as Esther
The Oscar for Best Female Actor in a Lead Role went to Jennifer Lawrence for her performance in Silver Linings Playbook. and very well deserved in my opinion. In the movie she helps redeem Bradley Cooper’s character and in doing so saves his family (from bankruptcy). Lawrence is an unlikely heroine in that story much like the Queen Esther character in the Purim narrative.

That Story in Iran/Persia
Perhaps the most direct connection to the Purim story is in the winner of the Best Movie category. On Sunday, October 14 I had a couple hours to kill on the other side of town between officiating at a funeral and then heading to a hotel to officiate at a wedding. I passed by a movie theater and figured I’d see if the timing worked out for me to watch a movie. Sure enough Argo was just about to begin and would end in enough time for me to get to the wedding. As the credits rolled I predicted Argo would go on to win movie of the year. Even though it was up against fierce competition with Lincoln, Zero Dark Thirty, Silver Linings Playbook, Les Miserables and Lincoln, I had a feeling it would win. Brilliantly directed by Ben Affleck, the protagonist played by Affleck, a modern-day Mordechai, saves the six U.S. diplomats with the help of the Canadian ambassador.

Jewish Man Frees Slaves
Okay, so the Jews weren’t technically slaves in Shushan (Persia), but they had been slaves at one point in Egypt. And the Purim story has the Jewish Mordechai freeing the persecuted Jews. The Best Male Actor award went to the Jewish Daniel Day-Lewis (his mother’s Jewish, look it up!) for his performance of Abraham Lincoln who freed the slaves. Alright, a bit of a stretch there.

The votes are certainly split as to how well Seth MacFarlane did in his first (and only?) attempt as host of the Oscars. I think he’s better suited for R-Rated comedy and Comedy Central Roasts, which make it difficult to adapt to the global audience watching the Oscars. All in all, while MacFarlane didn’t do the greatest job as host, the awards show was fun to watch and I think the right people were chosen to win awards. And for many Jewish people (both those inside and outside Hollywood circles), it was a fun day in which the Purim celebration continued right into Oscar viewing parties. And I’m sure the connections to the Purim story didn’t end when the Oscars telecast ended. There were likely some “After Parties” that resembled a King Ahashverosh feast too.

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

You Are What You Wear: Modesty of Dress

One of the highlights of the Foundation for Jewish Camp’s Jewish Camping Conference a year ago was the chance for me to get to know Nancy Lublin. I had learned about Nancy several years earlier after reading an article about her mitzvah project that turned into a successful nonprofit company.

I spoke with Nancy, CEO of Do Something for the past ten years, about her recent book Zilch: The Power of Zero in Business, encouraging teen philanthropy, and how Jewish summer camp can instill lifelong entrepreneurial skills in young people. But what I found most interesting in our conversation was how Nancy founded Dress for Success in 1996 with a $5,000 inheritance from her great-grandfather Poppy Max.

Nancy Lublin speaking to Jewish camping professionals (Foundation for Jewish Camp)

Nancy wanted to honor her grandfather’s memory and spirit of philanthropy by using his hard-earned money to help other people blaze new beginnings. With three nuns from Spanish Harlem, Nancy started Dress for Success in New York. She then moved on to found Dress for Success Worldwide, the national support center for all Dress for Success Affiliates. Dress for Success provides interview suits, confidence boosts and career development for women and has served more than 650,000 women around the world. Women are referred to Dress for Success by not-for-profit and government agencies including homeless and domestic violence shelters, immigration services, and job training programs.

What Dress for Success does for thousands of women is a great act of loving kindness, but what I’ve always loved about her start-up philanthropy is the name: “Dress for Success.” How we dress really does lead to our success. Think about what the image we project based on what we wear. Our clothes communicate a lot about our personality and our interests. The dictum that “you are what you wear” is actually true.

This Shabbat, Erev Purim, we read Parashat Tetzaveh. In the Torah portion, Moses is ordered to appoint his older brother Aaron, and Aaron’s sons, to fill the priestly role. And just as last week’s parsha gave the explicit directions for the building of the tabernacle, this week we learn the precise details of the priestly clothing. Modern biblical scholar Nahum Sarna writes that “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 first part of our parsha is most concerned with the high priest’s unique garb; not only with what Aaron will wear, but also with who will make it. God commands Moses: Next, you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron’s vestments for consecrating him to serve Me as a priest. It’s not even enough that Aaron will have the most unusual and distinctive garments; God also wants the best designers to fashion his wardrobe — the Ralph Laurens and Donna Karans of the time. And these fashion designers are instructed to use the finest materials to construct this attire — gold, magnificent colorful yarns, and the finest linen around.

Next, God informs Moses of the particular vestments that the priests will wear. The Choshen – the breastplate, the Ephod, a robe, tunic, headdress, and a sash. These garments, as you can imagine, made the priests stand apart from the rest of our ancestors. The Torah goes to great lengths to cross every T and dot every I in describing the priests’ clothing for their distinctive role — colors, lengths, widths, and material were all specified with great care. But this is certainly not the most exciting section of the Torah, so we must ask why all this fashion minutiae? What’s the big deal with the priests’ clothing?

Why is the name of our Moses, the great leader of our people, not mentioned even once in this Torah portion, but instead we know the five materials that went into the production of the yarn to create part of the priest’s garb? The answer I believe is back at the beginning of the parsha when God commands the making of these vestments. What is God’s rationale for these vestments? L’chavod ultif’aret — For dignity and splendor.

L’chavod ultif’aret are two words that are part of the blessings recited after the chanting of the haftarah. The medieval commentator Sforno explains the use of these two 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. Elaborating on Sforno’s opinion, the vestments were as much for the dignity of the priests who wore them as they were for God’s dignity. What we wear speaks volumes about us.

The famous computer company IBM had a long-standing dress code in effect at their offices worldwide. 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” becoming 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 does this t-shirt say about me? Should I wear a traditional tie for that meeting today? What will they think if I wear my expensive shoes to the job interview? Think for a moment about what images the following expressions convey: “Black Tie Required,” “Business Attire,” “Dressy Casual,” “No shirt, no shoes, no service.”

Indeed, the appropriate clothing is for self-dignity as well as for personal splendor, comfort, and warmth. Throughout the generations, the modesty level of our clothing has been an ongoing conversation, although the standards of modesty have no doubt changed. In Judaism, these issues of modesty fall into the category of tzniut, modesty. Tzniut is the point at which our physical appearance and our behavior intersect.

No one could argue that the terms we speak of today in debating what is modest would be foreign to those even a few generations ago. Bare-midriffs, extra-tight t-shirts, and underwear peeking out from under low-cut jeans weren’t forbidden in schools a generation ago because no child would ever think of wearing that to school. But today, all schools have a dress code of some sort. But what does it say about us as a community? Have we forgotten what is appropriate to wear?

The lesson of the clothing of the priests from this week’s Torah portion is that what we wear is actually an extension of us, whether we want that to be true or not. It is an extension of our family. It is an extension of our community. 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. But let us not discount the importance of tzniut or the conversations that we must continue to have about what is considered modest. Let us dress for success. Let us dress for style. And most important, let us dress l’chavod ultif’aret – for dignity and splendor.

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

Ki Tetzei: Our Names, Our Heritage

As a rabbi, one of my favorite phone calls to receive is from expectant parents who are in search of Hebrew names for their future child. Before even suggesting any potential names, I always preface my response with an explanation of how important names are to us as Jewish people. Our name is our legacy. It is not only our identifying label in the community, but it is also how we will be remembered.

“Crown of a Good Name” by Artist Mordechai Rosenstei

When you go up to the Torah for an aliyah, you are beckoned before the minyan and before God with your moniker including your parents’ names. You are not receiving this kavod (honor) alone, but rather with your entire heritage. In many lifecycle events, our Hebrew name is invoked and thereby our heritage is invoked as well. For our name is more than mere nomenclature, a classifying label – it is who we are, what we stand for, and from where we have come.

In Pirkei Avot, the Teachings of our Sages, R. Shimon taught: “There are three crowns. The crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of kingship. But the crown of a good name exceeds them all.” To become a king or a priest, one must be born into this position. However, to achieve the crown of Torah, one must have a quick mind and a sound memory. One must be willing to learn and to grow. Thus, the crown of a good name transcends them all, for it is open to all.

Parashat Ki Tetze ends with the famous commandment to remember what Amalek did to our ancestors and to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Timche et-zecher Amalek mitachat hashamayim. Lo Tishkach. We must at the same time remember what the Amalekites did to our ancestors and also blot out their name. As the commentary in the Etz Hayim translation explains, we are not being commanded here to eradicate all recollection of the Amalekites. Indeed, we are commanded to remember forever what the Amalekites did. We must both remember what they did as well as erase their name. That, the Torah seems to be teaching us, is the ultimate revenge – to eliminate or wipe out a name.

On Purim, when we hear the name of Haman, the descendent of Amalek, read from the Megillah, we literally drown out the name. So too, when we utter the name of Hitler, arguably another descendent of Amalek, we make sure to add the words “yimach shmo,” that his name should be erased. But these stand as negatives; ways to blot out the name of evil individuals. If we look back only a few verses before the mitzvah to eradicate the name of Amalek, we learn of another mitzvah concerning names; but in this instance, it is a positive commandment. It is to carry on the name of an individual – the man who dies childless.

Levirate marriage or yibum is the commandment stating that the brother of a childless husband is obligated to marry his widowed sister-in-law and the first son that she bears shall be accounted to the dead brother that his name should not be blotted out in Israel. Thus, the underlying intention of this mitzvah is that a man’s name should not disappear forever if he dies leaving no children to carry on his name. His legacy will be assured. We learn in the Book of Ruth, when Ruth’s relative Boaz marries the widower Naomi, that yibum is considered the ultimate in loving-kindness.

There is simply no better way to honor ones memory than by perpetuating ones name. Inherent in a person’s name are all of their achievements, their beliefs, and their ethical creed. Indeed, the memory of our loved ones is bound up in their name. When we remember their name, we maintain an enduring nearness to their neshama, to their soul.

On Yom Hashoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day – throughout the Jewish community, on college campuses, in Jewish day schools, and in synagogues, the names of all six million Jews who perished during the Shoah are read to show respect to the dead by helping their names live on. Pronouncing these names, the names of those whose lives were cut short during the darkest time in our people’s history, is not only one of the greatest way we can carry on their legacy, but also the greatest way we can ensure that we remember what Amalek did to us and blot out their name. Zakhor, remembrance, can be for both good and evil. In remembering the good, we too, erase the evil.

We understand that while our body will eventually cease to function, our name will continue on. As a community, we have the mitzvah to perpetuate the name, the legacy, of others by carrying their name forward throughout the generations. Francis Bacon, the famous English essayist, lawyer, philosopher, and statesman, once said: “I bequeath my soul to God… My body to be buried obscurely. For my name and memory, I leave it to men’s charitable speeches, and to foreign nations, and the next age.”

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

Purim 2012 (A Nuclear Shushan)

Here is my annual Purim Edition…

Headline: Iran Defeats Israel at Oscars; Kim Jong Il’s Ashes Defeat Seacrest
Iran beat Israel in the Foreign Language category at the Oscars this month, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reminded the Iranians what happened in Iran (née Persia/Shushan) at the end of the Purim story when Haman thought he was a big winner too. In other Academy Awards news, Sacha Baron Cohen’s wife Isla Fisher is reportedly upset that her husband took pancake mix out of the couple’s pantry without asking her first. Baron Cohen, as his character from the movie The Dictator, threw the pancake mix at Ryan Seacrest claiming it was the late Kim Jong Il’s ashes. In an odd twist of fate, Baron Cohen is now sleeping on Seacrest’s couch (and making him pancakes for breakfast each morning).

Headline: Braun Was Juicing, But Not Like That
Ryan Braun claims the whole juicing allegation was just a Shabbat Kiddush misunderstanding. The Milwaukee Brewers all-star admits that he was juicing, but only because he was asked to say the blessing at his cousin’s bar mitzvah.

Headline: Limbaugh Erroneously Claims Jewish Support
Right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh mistakenly thought that Jews were overwhelmingly supporting him after he heard loud singing emanating from a local synagogue on the Purim holiday: “Hava Narisha Rush Rush Rush!!” he heard them singing enthusiastically.

Headline: Trump Brand to Include Purim Pastries and Passover Vodka
For Jewish people who already enjoy Trump hotels, Trump golf courses, Trump reality TV shows, and Trump beauty pageants, you can now enjoy the Trump brand when it comes to Jewish holidays too. The Donald’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who converted to Judaism, recently tweeted her own hamantashen recipe along with photos of her delicious looking triangular pastries. And if you need a drink to wash those hamantashen down, there’s always the Donald Trump brand vodka, which will now be kosher for Passover! No word yet on what Trump is planning for Shavuot (“Billionaire Blintzes” perhaps?).


Happy Purim!

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

Raise Your Glass – The Maccabeats Purim Song

This year is a leap year on the Jewish calendar so there is a second month of Adar. The fun and silly holiday of Purim occurs this month and that means the levity has begun. Two funny videos for Purim are already attracting quite a bit of attention on YouTube.

The Yeshiva University a capella group The Maccabeats have followed their smash hit for Hanukkah with a Purim version of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass.” It might not go viral like “Candlelight” did (4.725 million views and counting), but it’s fun nevertheless.

Yael Buechler, a very creative senior student in the rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, created a video parody of Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie starring the Seminary’s Chancellor Arnie Eisen (“Ernie”) and Professor Burt Visotzsky (“Bert”). Yael told me that students have joked about Burt as “Bert” and Arnie as “Ernie” for a number of years (probably for as long as Eisen has been chancellor). Since Buechler’s recent video creations have become very popular within the JTS community, she explained that the Chancellor and Rabbi Visotzky were eager to be in this latest hit. She wrote the script based on a Bert and Ernie scene and substituted the Purim pastry hamantaschen for pizza. As you can see, Eisen and Visotzky did some ad libbing as well. Even though I took a few courses with Prof. Visotzky, I was not aware of his dead-on Bert impersonation. It’s great to see these academics be such good sports for the sake of some Purim fun.


Jacob Richman has posted 68 Purim videos on his website. Check it out.

More Purim fun to come!

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

Too Jewey – Purim 2010

For some reason, whenever the Jewish holiday of Purim rolls around, my brain uncontrollably starts coming up with parodies, satires, spoofs, and just plain silliness.  Here’s a collection of the news items circulating in my head. Happy Purim!


TOO JEWEY! 

By Rabbi Jason, the Official Rabbi of the 2010 Olympic Games
Sponsored by Toyota: “Toyota… We’re Unstoppable!”

Jewish Music at the Olympics: From Reggae to OyVey

VANCOUVER – With the decision to use Matisyahu’s song “One Day” as the official Winter Olympics theme, Jewish people around the globe undoubtedly celebrated that Jewish music was now cool. I mean, it’s the Olympics! Jews are used to “members of the tribe” creating hit music for the masses, but it usually comes in the form of Christmas music (see Irving Berlin, Mel Torme, etc.). Well, it appears there wasn’t much time for rejoicing because just as millions of people were getting Matisyahu’s upbeat song stuck in their heads, along came a brother and sister duo to set Jewish music back a couple hundred years.

As soon as they learned they had to prepare a folk music tribute to their native Israel, the Zaretsky figure skating team of Sasha and Roman apparently ran to Wikipedia and searched for “Stereotypical Jewish Music.”  Their “Hava Nagila” rendition was apparently the Zaretsky’s best guess at what the shtetl of Eastern Europe would have looked like at weddings if only they had ice rinks. And as if their first attempt at skating to “The Music of the Yid” wasn’t schmaltzy enough, they came back the next night and gave a performance that only Mel Brooks could love. While the Israeli skaters’ tribute to the Holocaust was rather quite moving, I can’t imagine that Steven Spielberg watched it thinking, “Gosh, I can’t believe I didn’t go with the ice dancing motif for Schindler’s List.”

For those Jewish people who didn’t feel like the ice dancing competition at this year’s Winter Olympics touched on enough Jewish stereotypes, get excited for the next Olympic games when all Jewish figure skaters will be required to have their mother on the ice during performances yelling at them to put on a jacket or they’ll freeze!

~ ~ ~

Rabbi Avi Weiss Chains Himself to Female Rabbi

The Orthodox Rabbi best known for chaining himself to buildings in protest and leading rallies for Jewish causes is now in big trouble.  Riverdale NY-based Rabbi Avi Weiss ordained a female rabbi over a year ago. However, instead of calling her anything close to “Rabbi,” he sneakily chose to give her an acronym as a title: “AWSHIT,” which apparently stands for Avi Weiss Says He Is Tenacious. No doubt, the name was Weiss’s way to let the Ultra Orthodox know how he felt. But they didn’t seem to really mind the title he granted to Sara Horwitz, until he updated it to “Rabba.”


Now, the Orthodox are calling for Avi Weiss to be excommunicated and banished to Siberia. The irony, of course, is that this is a man who fought so hard to get Jews out of Siberia in the first place. In protest, Rabbi Avi Weiss has chained himself to Rabba Sara Horwitz in an act of solidarity. The Ultra-Orthodox have claimed that this is fine with them, so long as Avi Weiss doesn’t dance with the woman.  In other news, the Conservative Movement now claims that Rabba Sara Horwitz is an aguna (a “Chained Woman”) and has granted her an immediate get (bill of divorce) from Rabbi Weiss.

~ ~ ~

HamanTosh.0 – New Comedy Central Series

Currently, Comedy Central has a weekly series (“Tosh.0”) that shows all those funny videos from the Web that have gone viral. Well now, Comedy Central is proud to introduce a new series that replays all the videos from the Web that are virulent.  Any video starring an Iranian in a “Members Only” jacket will be shown on “HamanTosh.0,” beginning on February 31.  Check local listings for airtimes.

~ ~ ~

Conservative Movement Goes for Trifecta

With its numbers in sharp decline, the Conservative Movement of Judaism is deeply invested in change. In an effort to grab media attention, the centrist movement of modern Judaism is now looking to go for the Trifecta. In a press release prepared by TMZ.com, Jewish Theological Seminary Chancellor Arnie Eisen explained, “First we shocked the world by allowing gays and lesbians into our esteemed institution to become rabbis.  Next week, we will quickly make the move to grant admission to intermarried men and women.  And, I’m pleased to announce that beginning on April 1st, we will unveil a new program designed to ordain disgraced celebrities as rabbis and cantors at JTS. 

We have already invited some big-name, dishonored celebrities to apply to our program. Rabbi Danny Nevins, Dean of the Rabbinical School, said, “Don’t be surprised to see Rabbi Tiger Woods by the end of the year.”  Also expected to be studying at the Conservative Movement’s flagship institution will be Mark McGwire, who also plans to pursue a master’s degree in pharmacology at JTS, and the gun-toting NBA star Gilbert Arenas. Classes in “Anger Management” and “Press Conference Contrition” will be added to the curriculum.

In what is perhaps the most shocking news to come from the Conservative Movement is that the new United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism CEO Rabbi Steven Wernick has been replaced by former vice-presidential candidate John Edwards, who took the job with the stipulation that a day care center be opened at the USCJ headquarters.

~ ~ ~

First Ever NASCAR Bris

Following the news that a Bar Mitzvah will take place this June at Yankee Stadium before a championship boxing match, NASCAR has announced that it will hold a Bris (ritual circumcision ceremony) at its next championship race at Talladega SuperSpeedway.  The Bris will be sponsored by Fast Eddie’s Chop Shop (“You Steal ‘Em, We Deal ‘Em”). Due to the fact that 100,000 fans will be waiting for the Formula One race to begin, there will only be 2 minutes allotted to the ritual Jewish ceremony, but that’s no problem as NYC circumcisor Phil “Sling Blade” Sherman (emohel.com) has promised to race his way through the procedure in chop-chop fashion. However, if the race is about to begin, Sherman said he’ll just have to cut it short.

~ ~ ~

Rabbi Condemns Bud Selig Statue

Bud Selig, the Jewish Commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB), is being honored with a statue outside of Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers (which Selig owns – Yes, a Jewish owner of a sports franchise… shocking, I know!). Unfortunately, the statue may never be erected because Selig’s own rabbi is standing in the way. Rabbi Ann Heiser-Busch of Congregation Beth Ale in Milwaukee (on the Miller Brewing Company Campus) explained that most people think that she is against the erection of the statue honoring her famous congregant on the grounds that the Torah clearly prohibits the creation of a graven image of a human being because it is idol worship. However, Rabbi Heiser-Busch cited as her objection the fact that the construction workers would have to inject themselves with steroids to build up the necessary strength in order to lift the Bud Selig statue. When asked to comment, Commissioner Selig asked, “What are steroids?”

~ ~ ~

New Personal Mechitzas Not Good Enough

What’s a Haredi Jew to do when he travels on a plane? It seems like the whole aviation industry is against him. First, the kosher meals are served cold and soggy. Then, there’s not enough space in the overhead compartment for his hat box. And the latest attack is that the flight attendants are convinced he’s strapping bombs to his head and arm in the form of tefillin.  The worst part about air travel for the Ultra Orthodox is that a member of the opposite sex (e.g., a woman) might occupy the next seat.  However, a new product on the market solves that problem.  The Personal Mechitza is just what the Rebbe ordered.  This barrier not only separates the sexes and keeps the immodest neighbors on the plane from view, but it also guards against the scandalous in-flight movies.

However, now rabbis are complaining that these personal mechitzas aren’t good enough. Rabbi Haskel Lookoutstein, an advisor to the FAA, explains that it’s possible a Reform Jew worked in the factory where the Personal Mechitza was made and came in contact with the apparatus. Or, he went on, what if one is using a Personal Mechitza and the person in the seat next to you sneezes and some of the treif they’re eating flies over the top of your Personal Mechitza and gets on your Extra-Glatt Kosher meal? That is why Rabbi Lookoutstein recommends putting up an extra mechitza around the Personal Mechitza.  In fact, he says that the most pious will simply purchase every seat in the row and put up the new Glatt Mechitzah L’Mehadrin.

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

New Purim Tradition

Tomorrow night begins Purim, a holiday on which the Jewish people celebrate our survival and rejoice that our ancestors were redeemed from the evil tyrant Haman. It is also a holiday on which we are commanded to share our good fortune with those in need. The mitzvah of sending gifts to the poor is based on Megillat Esther 9:22.

As Lois Goldrich explains the importance of matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) on the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism website:

Gifts can be given directly, e.g., bringing food and clothing to a homeless shelter, or indirectly, through an organized charity. It is important to keep in mind that whatever additional tzedakah we give throughout the year, donations must still be given on Purim itself. How important is this mitzvah? As Maimonides writes in his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Megillah 2:17): “It is better for a person to increase gifts to the poor than to increase his feast or the mishloah manot to his neighbors. There is no joy greater or more rewarding than to gladden the heart of the poor, orphans, widows, and strangers. For by gladdening the hearts of the downtrodden, we are following the example of the Divine.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor has shared a new Purim tradition that he learned from his teacher Marcia Brooks. She encourages people to bring boxes of Kosher pasta to synagogue to use as graggers (noise makers); shaking them for noise and then donating them to a food pantry once the Megillah is completed. With this new tradition, one fulfills the custom of drowning out the name of “Haman” from the Megillah reading while also performing the mitzvah of matanot l’evyonim.

And in my opinion, shaking a box of pasta is much safer than using those dangerous metal graggers that get rusty and sharp and can cut your finger!
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Finding the Best Jelly Donut in Israel

Avery Robinson and Josh MillerI’m sure many people have long wondered where to get the best tasting soofganiyot (jelly donuts) in Jerusalem. Finally, one man has taken up this challenge. That man is Avery Robinson (pictured at left with my son at a Detroit Pistons game in 2005). Avery, a Detroit native and Frankel JAMD graduate, is in Israel for nine months as a participant on Young Judaea‘s Year Course. He has taste-tested the various offerings in Israel’s capital city and, through his blog, takes us on a virtual “journey through the various bakeries of Jerusalem.”

Jelly DonutThe Hebrew word sufganiyah derives from the Hebrew word for sponge (sfog) as its texture is similar to a sponge. In the month of Hanukkah (Kislev) Sufganiyot are sold all over Israel so Jews can observe the custom of eating fried foods in commemoration of the Hanukkah miracle of having enough Temple oil for eight nights.

Potato Latkes are a delicious treat during Hanukkah, but having a religious/cultural excuse to consume jelly donuts cannot be beat (is there a blessing for cholesterol?). One of these years the Krispy Kreme franchise will wise up and become the world-wide corporate sponsor of Hanukkah.

Good luck to donut maven Avery and I look forward to hearing who’s selling the best hamantashen in Jerusalem this Purim!

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

Purim Newsletter

Each week I send a newsletter via e-mail to over 400 subscribers on my synagogue‘s e-mail list. Since the Jewish holiday of Purim is coming up this Saturday night, I decided to send a special Purim edition. Hopefully, this will be an annual tradition. The Purim newsletter can be accessed here.

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

Pimp My Purim Shpiel!

“Why isn’t your Purim Spiel funny?” asks Rob Kutner (pictured) on his ‘Shushan Channel‘ website. Kutner is a writer for “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” He continues, “Jewish people are the funniest people in the world. So why are most Purim spiels [their spelling… I use “shpiel”] so lame? We’re not sure, but we decided to fix the problem. Enter “The Shushan Channel.”

Rob Kutner (RabbiJason.com)The Shushan Channel offers to raise the bar on Purim by providing original, topical and hilarious Purim shpiels created by top comedy writers from New York and LA. These shpiels can be used by synagogues, Hillels or JCCs and are guaranteed to make people laugh.

From the website you can look at sample sketches and read reviews from congregations who have used The Shushan Channel in the past. I watched the sample sketches and they are pretty funny, but even with a good script it is still critical to have good delivery and comic timing. Most Purim shpiels are so bad, however, that at least with some professional comedy writers there is bound to be an improvement.

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