Yom Kippur

The New York Times ran with two demographic surveys one day after the other. The first, which it headlined “Snapshot shows U.S. public more disillusioned than ever,” demonstrated that the American people are fundamentally miserable with their condition. They expressed egalitarian instincts at least to the extent that they want the distribution of wealth to be more even.

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Beneath

Over the summer, the man who sells books on the street across from my apartment had a volume of essays by Theodor Reik, Ritual: Psycho-Analytic Studies, first published in German in 1919. And in the last couple of weeks, the weeks of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I’ve taken a look at a long essay called “The Shofar.” I cannot say I understand more than a small part of what Reik is driving at in this elaborate exercise in High Freudian historical criticism.

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Atonement

This is the eve of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Introspection is the order of the day. The Jewish tradition divides sin into two categories, sins against God and sins against man, and insists that God can forgive the former but not the latter, because only the sinned against have the power to absolve the sin. This is why the asking of forgiveness is an act of supreme importance in this season. I myself have much to ask forgiveness for, and much of this asking will be done in private, as is appropriate.

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Louis D. Brandeis: A Life By Melvin I. Urofsky (Pantheon, 955 pp., $40) I. In 1916, Herbert Croly, the founder and editor of The New Republic, wrote to Willard Straight, the owner of the magazine, about the Supreme Court nomination of Louis Brandeis. Croly enclosed a draft editorial called “The Motive of Class Consciousness,” and also a chart prepared by a lawyer in Brandeis’s office showing the overlapping financial interests, social and business connections, and directorships of fifty-two prominent Bostonians who had signed a petition opposing Brandeis’s nomination.

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Well, everything--especially the conclusions--point to Israel. But what would you not believe about the Jewish state? And, what’s more, about the Jewish people, who have the temerity twice each year--once on Yom Kippur and twice on Passover--actually to pray for “next year in Jerusalem.” The very chutzpah. This is especially chutzpadik for American Jews who know just how much President Obama wants them to cut out all this shit about Zion and other immemorial aspirations so that he can get the Palestinians to participate in “proximity talks” with Israel.

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Happy is the eye that saw all this, but our souls were anguished by what our ear heard." This is the refrain of an ancient poem in the liturgy of Yom Kippur, a lament for its author's belatedness.

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I don't know whether Roger Cohen of The New York Times is doing penance over Yom Kippur or not, and I certainly don't care. But, if he does, he has a lot for which to atone, as I have written here several times. Basically, he has been an apologist for the Ahmadinejad tyranny that is openly intent on obliterating Israel. Not that he especially likes the swarthy waif of a man with the open collar; Dr. A'jad is too crude for an old Balliol man like Cohen. Still, he does make excuses for the regime and is eager to look away the sinister interpretations of its behavior.

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Gezunt, Parnoseh, Nachus

I received a Jewish New Year e-mail card with the greeting gezunt, parnoseh, nachus. It is not a poetic greeting. But it refers to essentials: 1. health; 2. livelihood; and 3. well, I'm having trouble picking on an adequate translation for the last of the three.   Other mayvonim (experts) fix on "pride." Yes, but it's not quite right. And certainly not without the awkward Anglo-Yiddish preface "shepping." To shep is to draw from the deepest of emotional wells. So you see why you can't really shep pride.

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The Jerusalem theater lights came on, and no man between the ages of 25 and 35 moved. We had just watched Waltz With Bashir, Israeli filmmaker Ari Folman's animated documentary about Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the subsequent Sabra and Chatila massacre. The film deals with Folman's struggle with the surreal trauma that many veterans of that conflict retain.

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Arguing With Rabbis

I pray at a wonderful synagogue on the Upper West Side of New York, a synagogue which my children appreciate. It is called B'nai Jeshurun and on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur it has special venues: its own congregation, two welcoming churches, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Symphony Space.

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