Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Chinese Parents, Western Parents…and then, there are…the Jews

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2011 at 8:16 am

All over the editorial pages, from David Brooks, to Ruth Marcus, people are stunned by the candid admissions of Professor Amy Chua, the high priestess of the “Church of Excellence at all Costs”. The WSJ article that caused the stir was a chilling hybrid of incessant devotion implemented with heartless precision.

Part of me wants to call her a Jewish mother on steroids, but the differences are glaring enough that it would be unfair to Jewish mothers. Jewish comedian Joel Chasnoff once quipped that a bumper sticker from a Jewish mother might read, “If my son tried just a little harder, he, too, could be an honor student at Midwood Junior High”. The preoccupation of being first was not a compulsion that is part of our lore, but being good enough to qualify for the best institutions was certainly something to strive for.

For literally thousands of years all Jewish men were required to be literate.  In the first century this mandate was undeniably more egalitarian than Greek and Roman societies where literacy was relegated to the elite.  The inclusion of women came much later, but eventually literacy was mandated for them as well–even if the curriculum was different. The point of literacy was to not only know the material, but love it, and let it inform the way you lived your life.

Even the style of learning, which was profoundly social, made Torah the center of one’s life.  Where everyone else’s books emanated from their culture, our culture was drawn primarily from our books. It is the living Talmud that created a manner of speaking, a set of values, and a host of quirky character traits that are immediately recognized as Jewish.

Once I led a “Birthright Israel” trip of students whose connection to being Jewish was primarily cultural, and a fairly thin cultural attachment at that. We were in Tel Aviv and the theme of the discussion was “Are we special,or are we Normal”. I asked the students if they felt more was expected of them, than was expected of their non-Jewish friends? To a person, they raised their hands in affirmation, and that they recognized it as a good thing. Having always been significantly smaller than my peers, I used to bemoan my diminutive stature to my mother. She would place her finger at my eyebrow level and trace a line to the top of my head and say, “You only have to be big from here to here.” The worship of the intellect was alive and well in Jewish culture, but in its original form, it served a bigger master than itself, it was the key to worshiping the Creator.

If we want to understand the centrality of education, Maimonides spells it out for us explicitly.  In Laws of Gifts To the Poor” he teaches that every community is obliged to have a community fund, and he asserts that he never heard of a community in Israel that refused to have one.  When he speaks of the obligation to build a synagogue and have a community Torah scroll, he says that citizens of a community can force each other to contribute to these communal necessities. In other words, people are less likely to do this willingly, so some communal pressure is necessary.

When it comes to a school, however, Maimonides, quoting the Talmud, says that it is the obligation of every community to hire a teacher whose job it is to teach the children.  If a community refuses to do so, than all of Israel excommunicates that community.  If they still refuse to do so, then that community should be destroyed.

Why is the most coercive language used for schools? Everyone knows people need food and shelter. They also know they may need a Torah and a building, but are happy for others to shoulder that burden. In times of stress and poverty, schools may seem like a luxury the community cannot afford, but Ayn Torah Ayn Kemach, if there is no Torah, there will be no bread.  Seeing literacy and memory as essential as food and drink created the Jewish commitment to study. The adulation of seeing spiritual ideas as being as important as food and shelter is the secret to a thriving culture.  We do it not only for individual achievement, but it is a commitment to advance the community as a whole.

The Beit Midrash is a social environment where we not only learn together, but sing, and dance as well. Learning, however, is always at the center, and is not only revered, but also adored. To see, the original sources of Maimonides, and “Why are Jews So Smart?” Click here.


Ms Palin, I think you meant “Scapegoat” dear, ‘blood libel’ is a bit of a misnomer.

In Uncategorized on January 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm

The mistress of malapropisms has struck again. Yes, the refudiator’s assault on the English language continues.  Now, we may have conclusive evidence that Sarah Palin does not even know her Bible.  In Leviticus 16:8, the שעיר לעזאזל known in English as the scapegoat, was sent out to the wilderness on Yom Kippur in order to expiate the sins of Israel. In other words, the poor goat gets stuck with all of Israel’s cleaning bills.  Often, the scapegoat metaphor has been adopted by Jews and other peoples when blamed for the ills of the world.  Palin’s complaint that she has been wrongly accused for the sins of a severely unbalanced young man in Arizona may have won her more sympathy had she been more handy with the English language–and the Bible she claims to to believe in.

Methinks her knowledge of Bible and the Constitution are the same. Let’s face it, she’s anti-semantic.

The Tragic and Senseless Shooting In Arizona Has Little to Do With Uncivil Behavior and Violent Language. Jewish History, and Talmudic analysis Will Teach You That!

In Uncategorized on January 10, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Let’s be honest.  Violent video games, war movies, and over the top rhetoric do not create assassins.  Ideologies, however, do. When Yigal Amir assassinated Yitzchak Rabin, he was cool, collected and sane. To this day, he is in jail with no regrets. In fact, his “sacrifice” is self- justified because he thinks he stopped the Oslo accords from going forward.  He saw Prime Minister Rabin as an existential threat to a messianic vision. He acted in accordance with his beliefs, and the consequences were devastating. In those dark days, much was made of the verbal violence that permeated the ether. Violent language was not, however, the cause of the PM’s murder. It is, however, a conversation stopper. How can you talk to someone who is threatening you?

Similarly, it is not rhetoric that makes a terrorist, but an ideology. The rhetoric fuels the ideology, but it does not create it.

Our current assassin de jour is deranged. It is pretty clear to me that if everyone spoke with a more civil tongue, this bozo would not have been deterred.  There seems to be an ideology that spurred him on, but not a particularly coherent one. I imagine that Beck, Limbaugh, and Hannity were not extreme enough for him, and he probably suspected them of surreptitiously working for the other side.

The reason for a more civil level of discourse is not to deter lunatics. Nasty rhetoric is a detour from the business at hand. It distracts us from the truth, and it keeps us from moving forward as a nation.  In the Talmud, disagreements are analyzed with “What can we agree upon?” Once that has been articulated the areas of disagreement, as well as the possibilities for moving forward, become obvious.

Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann are profound distractions, and have no interest in this level of discourse.  They wish to metaphorically obliterate the opponent, but neither has a clue regarding solutions for the enormous challenges this country faces.  They continue to waste time that we don’t have.  When the left points to nastiness as the problem and triumphantly say “I told you so!”  Theirs is a Pyrrhic victory that only exacerbates the distractions that feed the media beast.  Most sane people realize this. Many of whom are called “independents”.

To gain momentary political capital from this tragedy is shortsighted, and just perpetuates a cycle that encourage Palin and Bachmann for whom the axiom “there is on such thing as bad publicity” is a sacred chant.

Let’s take a deep breath, send our condolences and prayers, and get on with the business of governing.

Tu B’Shevat is Only Weeks away

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 10:09 am

What was originally a day for determining when a new year for tithing fruit trees began, Tu B’shevat has evolved into an eco-Zionist, new age, mystical extravaganza. Never has a tax day been as fortunate. This source material for a Tu B’Shevat Seder is available for everyone to use.

A “Talmud Page” With MLK’s “I have a dream” Speech as its Centerpiece

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 9:59 am

It’s been over ten years since I first began formatting classic western texts in a Talmudic format. The “I have a dream” speech was the first one, with many others to follow.  It’s still one of my favorites. Enjoy!

Stats for 2010 are in

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 8:44 am


WordPress has spoken and by far the busiest day on this blog was when I referenced the Maccabeats and the synergistic ironies of celebrating Chanukah with beatbox  a capella rhythms.  Mindful that Torah and Mada (Western thought)  would not have been a mantra of Mattityahu and his brood doesn’t stop Yeshiva University from capitalizing on the holiday. This was merely an observation on how culture and tradition evolve, not a judgement on the phenomenon itself. I suspect that the word Maccabeats drew all the newcomers and few of them had the patience to read the short piece.

Nevertheless, there are stalwarts among you who keep returning to the blog and are kind enough to mourn the weeks of inactivity–a combination of being otherwise occupied and dry spells of the writing mind.  For you, the returning readr and for the sheer joy of putting ideas to paper, the blog will continue.  In the spirit of Psalm 87 “The Lord will count in the records of nations.” I wish everyone a “Happy New Year”!

Thanks for clicking in.

2010 in review

In Uncategorized on January 2, 2011 at 8:41 am

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by your stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 4,000 times in 2010. That’s about 10 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 26 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 228 posts.

The busiest day of the year was December 7th with 85 views. The most popular post that day was Assimilating Chanukah: On Maccabeats and other curiosities.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, andybachman.com, hatrack.com, mail.yahoo.com, and myjewishlearning.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for b’shalom, rabbi avi weinstein, b’shalom meaning, empowered judaism, and b’shalom vs l’shalom.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Assimilating Chanukah: On Maccabeats and other curiosities December 2010


A Public Service Announcement: “B’shalom” can mean “drop dead”! October 2009


About Avi Weinstein February 2009


Empowered Judaism, Future Tense, and Radical Judaism: A Brave New Weird Jewish World June 2010


The Eco/Green Benefits of Kosher meat? Dubious February 2010