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7 Reasons Jews Should See The Latest 'Hobbit' Movie

Jewish Israeli News - Wed, 12/17/2014 - 2:33pm
By Hody Nemes From the Seesaw at The Jewish Daily Forward


I’m a Tolkienite and a lover of everything hobbit. There, I said it.

As a child, I read — and reread — all the hobbit-related books, painted the Misty Mountains, set a Tolkien poem to music, and played the “Lord of the Rings” Risk board game whenever I got the chance. Theoden’s speech at the Battle of Pelenor Fields, playing on loop, gave me the courage to write my senior thesis in college (“Forth, and fear no darkness! Arise, Riders of Theoden!”). Now I read the series over again almost every year.

For Jewish hobbit folk like me, this is a big week: “The Battle of the Five Armies” is hitting theaters — and on Hanukkah, no less.

Here are 7 Jewish reasons why you should join me in seeing the end of Bilbo’s quest on the silver screen:
1) Erebor is Israel.

When I was a child, my father read two books to me before bedtime: the Book of Joshua and “The Hobbit.” I loved both books and pleaded with him to keep reading long after I should have gone to sleep. The two have become muddled in my mind — and with good reason: both describe great battles (the Battle of the Five Armies and the Battle of Jericho, for starters), magical wizard leaders (Joshua and Gandalf, duh), treasure hunts, and — most importantly — exiled peoples reclaiming their lands.

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Ancient rock adds evidence of King David’s existence

Jewish Israeli News - Tue, 12/16/2014 - 8:56am
Stone slab with earliest reference to House of David, on display at Met, said to be ‘one of the most important Biblical artifacts ever found’
By Menachem Wecker, The Times of Israel

NEW YORK (JTA) — Dimly lit, the stone slab, or stele, doesn’t look particularly noteworthy, especially when compared to the more lavish sphinxes, jewelry and cauldrons one encounters en route to the room where it is installed

Indeed, in a Twitter post this fall, art journalist Lee Rosenbaum described the nearly 13-by-16 inch c. 830 BCE rock, as “homely.”

What’s significant about this stone — on view at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of its “Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age” exhibit running through January 4 — is its inscription: “the earliest extra-biblical reference to the House of David.”

“There is no doubt that the inscription is one of the most important artifacts ever found in relation to the Bible,” Eran Arie, curator of Israelite and Persian periods at the Israel Museum, wrote in the exhibit catalog.

As is to be expected with a rock nearly three millennia old, the slab is missing considerable portions, and Arie’s translation of the remaining 13 lines of text is full of ellipses and bracketed additions. What is clear is that the Aram-Damascene king Hazael brags of having killed 70 kings, including of Israel and of the “House of David” (The round number, scholars agree, is probably exaggerated, although Hazael did have a reputation for being ruthless and successful).

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Shabbat Hanukkah, Mikeitz

Torahportion Recon - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 9:47am
Genesis 41:1−44:17

Rabbi Lewis Eron for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
Jews-By-Choice: Asenath and Ruth
Throughout our history, and particularly in our times, the Jewish people have been enriched by converts, people who have chosen to cast their lot with ours, to make our history and destiny their own. We benefit from their enthusiasm, their insight and their mature understanding of Judaism. We honor their new commitments by calling them "gerei tzedek" ("those who have chosen to dwell with us through righteousness") and by declaring them to be the direct descendants of our ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. They, in turn, compliment us by accepting our sacred heritage and remind us of the life-changing, life-enhancing power of our traditions.

Our ancient traditions present us with two powerful visions of the conversion process. One, represented by the story of Ruth, focuses on the convert's significant relationships with Jewish people. We all know many people who have chosen to join us because of their involvement with their Jewish spouse, their Jewish friends, and the Jewish community. The other, characterized by ancient legends concerning Joseph's Egyptian born wife, Asenath, stresses the convert's spiritual journey towards Jewish faith.

The story of the Moabite woman, Ruth, who after the deaths of her husband and father-in-law, followed her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Naomi's hometown of Bethlehem in Judah, is found in the biblical Book of Ruth. The story focuses on Jewish values of peoplehood and community, which still play a central role in modern Jewish life.

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Shabbat Hanukkah, Mikeitz

Torahportion Conserv - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 9:36am
Genesis 41:1−44:17

By Rabbi Bradley Artson, provided by the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, for MyJewishLearning.com

Pharaoh has endured a night of terrible dreams.

To make matters worse, neither he nor any of his ministers understood what the dreams were about. The only person able to interpret those dreams is a Hebrew prisoner in an Egyptian jail. That person is Joseph.

Seven Years & Seven Years

After hearing the dreams described, Joseph announced that Egypt would enjoy seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of universal famine. In advance, Joseph argues that Pharaoh should appoint someone "navon ve-hakham," discerning and sage, who will store enough food to ensure the survival of the population.

Why did Joseph use both words, discerning and sage? Wouldn't either one have sufficed to describe what type of person was needed? Our traditions regard each word of the Torah as necessary. Any apparent redundancy must be there to teach a specific lesson. Each of these words, our Rabbis taught, refers to two different kinds of knowledge.

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Shabbat Hanukkah, Mikeitz

Torahportion Reform - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 9:30am
Genesis 41:1−44:17



 A pious and beloved but poorly dressed Chasidic rebbe took a lengthy train ride to teach Torah in a town far away. The well-to-do passenger seated next to him subjected him to insult and verbal abuse for most of the ride. When the train finally reached its destination, the rebbe was greeted at the station by thousands of excited disciples, anxious to learn at his feet. The disrespectful passenger looked mortified as he saw the scene unfold. "I'm so ashamed," he said. "I had no idea who you were. Please accept my apologies." The rebbe turned to him and said, "Don't apologize to me. Apologize to the anonymous nobody you sat next to on the train. When you insulted me, you did so because in your eyes, I was a nobody."

    (Chasidic tale, adapted from Erica Brown's retelling)

In this week's parashah, the sons of Jacob travel to Egypt during the famine to obtain food from Joseph, the estranged brother they no longer recognize. Joseph maintains his anonymity in order to test his brothers. Have they changed since they betrayed him more than two decades earlier? Have they learned how to act like brothers who take care of each other, or do old rivalries and jealousies hold sway? If he reveals himself too soon, his brothers might feign remorse in order to win his favor.

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Atheist-turned-Orthodox Christian has a problem with the Star of David

Jewish Israeli News - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 9:21am
By Raffi Wineburg from the St. Lous Jewish Light

Is wearing a Star of David the same as teaching about religion? (Africa Studio/Shutterstock)

Here’s a tough question: Where might it break the law to wear a Star of David around your neck?

(Hint, the answer is not Nazi Germany.)

Give up? The correct response is the Township of East Pennsboro, Pa., where one man has a filed a formal complaint with the school district after his son’s teacher wore a Star of David necklace to class.

“[Students] are there to learn about education, not to learn about religion,” Ernest Perce, the offended parent told a local ABC affiliate.

Despite his questionable understanding of U.S. public school curriculum (do students learn about education?) Perce’s complaint has some legal backing.

A 1949 Pennsylvania statute holds that “no teacher in any public school shall wear . . . any dress, mark, emblem or insignia indicating the fact that such teacher is a member or adherent of any religious order, sect or denomination.”

The school district has reportedly sided with the teacher, although Perce has vowed to pursue the complaint. He says that the board could be fined and the teacher suspended if no action is taken.

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The Three Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Teenager

Teens - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
by Michael Mulligan, Head of School, The Thacher School for The Huffington Post

According to the social scientists, the last of the millennials are now gracing our high school campuses. The Pew Research Center report on this cohort describes them as "confident, connected, and open to change." I agree. Technology is their metier. They embrace diversity like no generation before them. They seek to serve the dispossessed and the disadvantaged. They work to find green solutions to the environmental mess we have bequeathed them. In this regard, they are focussed and unrelenting: a good thing for all of us.

Beneath their energy and commitment to building a better world, though, is stretched, for too many, a fragile membrane that is easily punctured. We have raised a generation that is plagued with insecurity, anxiety and despair.

Former Yale Professor William Deresiewicz, in his fascinating and controversial book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life writes this of the millennials:

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The Fierce Battle for Israel on Western College Campuses

Students - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
From The Algeneiner

The Jewish State is fighting wars for its very survival against barbarous, genocidal foes like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. But far outside the Middle East, ferocious battles are being fought on the campuses of the world’s great universities – this time for Israel’s reputation and good name. The consequences of failure are too horrible to contemplate, including the destruction of Israel’s economic lifeline through economic boycotts that germinate on campus and pass into the mainstream.

I became an Israel campus warrior in 1988 when the Lubavitcher Rebbe first sent me as Rabbi to Oxford University. A steady stream of attacks on Israel were launched by the likes of Hanan Ashrawi, Saeb Erekat, and Yasser Arafat himself. Many of these speeches took place at the world-famous Oxford Union. Our Oxford University L’Chaim Society responded with five Israeli Prime Ministers, including Benjamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Yitzchak Shamir, and Ehud Olmert. We partnered with the Union for most of the speeches including mesmerizing defenses of the Jewish state delivered by a young and hyper-charismatic Bibi Netanyahu.

Since those days the battles have become ever more ferocious with the much more timid pro-Israel groups at America and Europe’s leading universities being clobbered by Students for Justice in Palestine, Israel Apartheid Week, and BDS.

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Finding LGBT pride in Chanukah

LGBT - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
by Ryan Torok for JewishJournal.com

 Fifteen years ago, Stephen Sass and his husband, Steven Hochstadt, consecrated their commitment to each other during a religious marriage ceremony that took place during Chanukah. The timing was intentional.

“Chanukah has always resonated deeply for me as a Jew and as a gay man, since it commemorates one of the earliest fights for freedom of conscience, and celebrates the right to be different and to express one’s individual and communal identity as a member of a minority group within larger society,” Sass said.

The holiday of Chanukah celebrates the Maccabees’ military victory over the Seleucid rulers of Judea during the second century B.C.E. It also commemorates the miracle that occurred when the Jews rededicated their Temple, and a vessel of consecrated oil — enough for only one day — somehow lasted eight.

Perhaps less known are the ways that the holiday — with its themes of pride, identity and fighting for your right to be who you are — has connected with the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. On Nov. 18 and 19, the New York-based transdenominational Big Tent Judaism/Jewish Outreach Institute held classes locally that, among other things, highlighted the connections between Chanukah and the LGBT story.

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9 Hanukkah Crafts for Kids

Kids - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
By Marie LeBaron for babycenter.com blog

Hanukkah is just around the corner and it’s time to start gathering ideas to bring in 8 nights of light. Here are 9 ideas that are sure to get the kids involved and celebrate this Jewish holiday.

1. Festive Felt Chanukah Bunting by Creative Jewish Mom


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Anti-Semitism Creeps Into Europe's Daily Routines

Traditions - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
Signs for Continent's Jews Are Not Good
By Deborah E. Lipstadt, The Jewish Daily Forward

Ten years ago the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe convened a conference on European anti-Semitism. Last week it met to assess what had happened in the past decade. The signs are not good.

While a good part of the meeting was dedicated to official presentations by the participating nations,
it was what one heard in the hallway over coffee that was most significant. At one point the White House delegation, of which I was part, met with representatives of an array of European Jewish communities. What we heard left me shaken.

We knew about the murders in the Brussels Jewish museum, the children gunned down on the Toulouse schoolyard, the fate of Ilan Halimi, a young French Jew who had been lured by a group of Muslims who then held him captive, tortured and eventually murdered him. We were aware of the violent demonstrations, assaults on synagogues, and the aggressive rhetoric — including “Jews to the gas” — that had occurred in various European cities. We anticipated that this would be our informants’ main concern.

While they certainly worried about this type of violence, what weighed upon them more was a “changed daily routine” that leaves them feeling “under threat.” Schools and Jewish institutions are under heavy guard. While this reassured some people, other parents described how, when they deposit their children at the Jewish schools and see the visibly armed guards protecting the site, rather than feeling reassured, they are reminded of the Toulouse schoolyard and the murdered children.

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Top Ten Hanukkah Songs

Jewish Music - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
Move Over 'Little Dreidel'
By Amy Deutsch for Kveller

Maybe it's the Christmas "competition," but it seems like there are more songs about Hanukkah than about any other Jewish holiday. And why not? It's fun and delicious and lasts for eight amazing days. So if the only Hanukkah song you know is "Dreidel Dreidel," read on.

1. Michelle Citrin, "Left to Right"

In 2008, Michelle Citrin and William Levin created this music video (reminiscent of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company ad from The Office) with help from people across the world who submitted short clips of themselves lighting Hanukkah candles and then passing the candle on to someone else. It’s an awesome video and a catchy and sweet song. And even better, it reminds you which way you’re supposed to light the candles. (I forget every year!)

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Pulled Brisket Topped Latkes

Jewish Cooking - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
By Shannon Sarna on The Nosher for MyJewishLearning.com

I would like to say that this is the first time I have combined brisket and latkes into one recipe, but I would be lying. I just love finding ways to use brisket, like the brisket-latkes I created last year and one of my newer creations: brisket stuffed cabbage.

Like so many great recipes, this one was created by accident. At a Hanukkah party several years ago I served potato latkes, pulled brisket and some homemade challah rolls. Pretty soon my friends ditched the rolls and started topping their latkes with the brisket. And a new star was born.

If you are asking yourself, “can I use my family’s beloved brisket recipe for this?” The answer is absolutely. As long as the recipe calls for a significant amount of liquid so that it has a bit of sauce to it, whatever recipe you fancy will work great.

You don’t have to stop with brisket as a topping for your latkes. You can make a “top your own latke” party this Hanukkah season, serving up grilled pastrami, pulled brisket, caramelized onions or any other fun topping you like. Watch as your guests get creative with their latkes. You can also shake it up by adding some sweet potato latkes or parsnip latkes into the mix.

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Looking for more great Hanukkah recipes?  Check out Jvillage's Hanukkah Kit.

Light Your Fire: What Does the Menorah Symbolize?

Family - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
The Menorah stands for light, wisdom, and Divine inspiration. In this period of darkness, we welcome the approaching Festival of Lights and the timeless lessons of the Holy Menorah.

Originally, the Menorah was a seven-branched candelabra beaten out of a solid piece of gold that served as one of the sacred vessels in the Holy Temple. It stood in the southern part of the Temple and was lit every day by the High Priest. Only pure, fresh olive oil of the highest quality was suitable to light the Menorah.

As its unique design communicates, the Menorah endures as a symbol of Divine light spreading throughout the world. To this end, God commanded that the Menorah’s goblets be turned upside down on their stems, emphasizing the importance of spreading light to others. This design reflects the Menorah’s exact purpose in the Holy Temple, which was to spread the light of Godliness to the entire world.

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New York Times Top 100 Books of the Year: Enchanted Connections

Jewish Books - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
‘The Magician’s Land,’ by Lev Grossman
Review By Edan Lepucki

If Lev Grossman’s “The Magicians” was like “The Secret History” crossed with “Harry Potter,” and if its sequel, “The Magician King,” was a descendant of “The Chronicles of Narnia” (with a touch of the 1990s flick “The Craft” thrown in), then what cultural mash-up does Lev Grossman conjure in “The Magician’s Land,” the trilogy’s final book? I can’t tell you, because I was too thoroughly swept away by this richly imagined and continually surprising novel to be concerned with cute comparisons.

“The Magician’s Land” is the strongest book in Grossman’s series. It not only offers a satisfying conclusion to Quentin Coldwater’s quests, earthly and otherwise, but also considers complex questions about identity and selfhood as profound as they are entertaining.

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Hanukkah Booklet

Interfaith - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
This article has been reprinted with permission from InterfaithFamily 


Hanukkah is one of the most home-based and family-centered of the Jewish holidays.A child’s delight, it can be full of gift-giving, games, parties, and good food. Based on an historical event in post-biblical times, it is a minor holiday whose impact exceeds its status because of the need to party in the midst of the coldest and darkest season of the year.But what is the holiday all about? This booklet explains the history of Hanukkah, the symbolism and significance of lighting candles for eight nights, the blessings that accompany the lighting of the candles, the holiday's foods, the game of dreidels, and more!
A guide through the why and how of the winter festival of Hanukkah, this booklet can also be used:
  • as the foundation for a class on Hanukkah for family education;
  • as a handout for new synagogue or community members;
  • to help interfaith families — and all families — who need a refresher on Hanukkah's signficance;
  • as a handout for religious schools, community gatherings and events during the winter season.

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A Zionist View on Chanukah

Holidays - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
Golda Meir in 1919From unitedwithisrael.org

From the very beginnings of the Zionist movement, the story of the Maccabees would serve as an inspiration. As Theodore Herzl wrote, “The Maccabees will rise again.” Vladimir Jabotinsky similarly declared, “Yes, they have arisen—the children of those whose ancestor was Judah, lion of the Maccabees.” Similarly, Ahad Aham, founder of cultural Zionism, proclaimed, “We celebrate not only the consecration and renewal of the Temple, some two thousand years ago—but also the renewal and revival of this same Jewish nation, reviving its soul once again for a new life.” David Ben-Gurion also believed Hanukkah is a major festival celebrating Jewish freedom.

The tale of the Maccabees, however, did not just serve as an inspiration for the Zionist movement but it also was incorporated into contemporary Zionist literature. For example, Leon Uris’ book Exodus, which did much to promote Zionism within popular culture and to convince people to support Israel, referred to the Etzel and the Levi as “Maccabees,” as a way to allude to the fact that the “New Jew” was a direct descendant of the Ancient Hebrews. According to the character David in Exodus, “Our very existence is a miracle. We outlived the Romans and the Greeks and even Hitler. We have outlived every oppressor and we will outlive the British Empire.” Thus, the example of the Maccabees was utilized to its fullest as an example of how the Jewish people could succeed to gain independence once again.

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Rooted in Israel’s history, five remarkable trees

Going Green Jewishly - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
Tales of timber, from the cedars outside the Jewish Agency building in Jerusalem, to the 600-year-old oak at the tomb of Rabbi Yosef Abba Halafta in the Galilee
By Aviva and Shmuel Bar-Am for The Times of Israel

'One day Honi Hameagel, a righteous miracle worker, saw an old man planting a carob tree. Knowing that a carob tree took 70 years to bear fruit, and that therefore the old man would not live to see the results of his labor, he asked why he was planting a tree whose fruits he would never enjoy. ‘Carob trees were here when I was born, planted by my father and his father,’ answered the old man. ‘Now I plant trees for the enjoyment of my children and their children’s children.’” (Talmud Ta’anit 23a)

Although trees offer desperately needed shade, and add that extra dash of beauty to our lives, we rarely take the time to admire their barks, their leaves, their towering heights.

Yet trees are the oldest forms of life, and, aesthetically pleasing, they are ecologically essential.

If trees could talk, they would be able to tell us wonderful stories about our history, our nation, and the lives of those who came before us.

Here are just a few:

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From rebbetzin to maharat

Feature Article - Mon, 12/15/2014 - 7:00am
By Dina Brawer, The Times of Israel

Did I always want to be a rabbi? The answer is no. It never occurred to me.

Growing up I already had a defined, robust role for me to serve my community as a woman. As a Chabad teen, I aspired to be a shlucha emissary, a role that provided a clear path to spiritual leadership – regardless of marital status. As a result, I took up numerous communal responsibilities — from teaching to coordinating a Lag B’Omer parade to designing interactive educational exhibitions – all of them enjoyable and fulfilling. When I later married a rabbi, my position as a shlucha remained unchanged, as did my desire to serve my community. The reason the role of shlucha was so effective in enabling me to serve, therefore, was because it was understood, defined, and clearly labeled.

After five years on shlichut, my husband and I moved to the UK where he took up a position as a congregational rabbi. Over the next fifteen years we served two London congregations. As a rebbetzin, I led community development strategy, counseled congregants, taught Torah — and baked plenty of challah. And yet, while I clearly had carved out a communal role for myself, I couldn’t avoid the nagging feeling that if it weren’t for my husband, I wouldn’t have that role. I felt this most acutely when at events outside the Jewish community. People asked us what we did. My husband replied that he was a rabbi. But what was I? What could I say? A rebbetzin? A rabbi’s wife? That would just beg the question — what exactly does a rabbi’s wife do? My husband’s title could capture, in one word, who he was, whereas I had to spend fifteen minutes explaining what exactly I did.

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In the Jewish nation-state kerfuffle, much ado over very little substance

Jewish Israeli News - Thu, 12/11/2014 - 9:27am
The controversial proposal to pass a law defining Israel’s Jewish status threatens to fell the third Netanyahu government — and for what?
BY HAVIV RETTIG GUR for The Times of Israel

The third government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been marked by infighting and distrust almost from the start. The drafting of ultra-Orthodox youth to national service, reforms to the state rabbinate, the controversial “0% VAT” tax cut for some first-time homebuyers, a constitutional amendment demanding a national referendum before Israel can withdraw from sovereign territory – all these were the subject of bitter public spats between members of the ruling coalition

But none produced the sheer spectacle of angry recriminations witnessed at Sunday’s cabinet meeting over the efforts to draft a constitutional Basic Law formally defining Israel as the Jewish nation-state.

At a cabinet debate over a three-page statement of principles that would guide the drafting of the new law, Finance Minister Yair Lapid charged that the proposal was a “bad” one, and that Likud founder Menachem Begin and the party’s ideological forebear Ze’ev Jabotinsky would have opposed it. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni rallied to defend democracy, she said, by opposing the measure.

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