Monday, June 30, 2008

Raid Unsettles Kosher Beliefs

July 1, 2008

An immigration raid on the country's largest kosher meatpacking plant has fueled a nationwide debate in the Jewish community about what it really means to be kosher.

The debate flared after May 12 when federal immigration agents raided the country's largest kosher meatpacking plant, Agriprocessors Inc., and ultimately arrested 389 illegal immigrants.

The Postville, Iowa, plant specializes in kosher slaughter, a process that is overseen by rabbis and involves a quick, deep stroke across the throat designed to kill an animal within seconds. The closely monitored process, deemed humane by Jewish law, is designed to spare suffering. But the people doing the work were allegedly treated inhumanely. The raid, an example of the Bush administration's crackdown on industries employing illegal immigrants, exposed allegations that workers were being underpaid, physically abused, sexually harassed and extorted.

A federal investigation of the plant is under way and immigration officials declined to comment. No officials at Agriprocessors have been charged with wrongdoing, and management declined to be interviewed for this article.

The incident involving alleged mistreatment of immigrants has dismayed some Jewish leaders who say that Jews should be particularly sensitive to human suffering.

"The Jewish narrative for 2,000 years has predominantly been about our powerlessness as unprotected immigrants," says Shmuly Yanklowitz, co-founder of Uri L'Tzedek, a progressive Orthodox group. The allegations are "particularly embarrassing because of how deeply connected our religious and historical identity and universal moral mandate are to the plight of these workers."

One such worker, Joel Rucal, is a Guatemalan immigrant who worked on the chicken line before the raid. He says his mother, who also worked at the plant, was arrested and wears a monitoring device around her ankle. Mr. Rucal also listed alleged abuses in the plant including extra shifts without pay and sexual advances by supervisors.

"Sometimes we needed to use the bathroom and they didn't allow us," says Mr. Rucal. "We were afraid to say anything because it was the only job we could get."

Agriprocessors, started by Aaron Rubashkin, a Hassidic Jew from Brooklyn, is best known for its kosher brands such as Aaron's Best and bills itself the world's largest processor of what's called glatt kosher beef, which adheres to the strictest kosher standard. A statement issued by vice president Chaim Abrahams said the company had hired immigration and safety-compliance experts after the raid. An employee hotline was activated last Friday.

• The Rabbinical Assembly6
The association of Conservative rabbis called on consumers to shun Agriprocessors products in late May. "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer," the statement said, quoting the Deuteronomy.

Rabbi Weiss Mandl, top supervisory rabbi for kosher certification at the plant, says: "We were not aware of any mistreatment of workers." However, he added, "we are not involved with cutting and packing...That's not the kosher part."

But for Rabbi Morris Allen, kosher is about more than a process. The revelations at Agriprocessors have prompted the conservative rabbi from Mendota Heights, Minn., to call on consumers to avoid the company's products. The 53-year-old is founder of a movement that advocates for animal and worker welfare in kashrut, food prepared in accordance with Jewish law.

"We shouldn't accept a standard of kashrut that is more concerned about the lung of a cow than the hand of a worker," he says. "Isn't it important for us as Jews to care that our food isn't just ritually kosher but ethically kosher, too?"

Rabbi Allen's critics say that until wrongdoing is proven, no Jewish organization should condemn Agriprocessors or seek punishment for the company. Some Orthodox rabbis, who control the supervision of kosher plants, have charged the Conservative movement with hatching a plot to take over kosher certification. Some detractors also say that most Conservative Jews, who constitute the largest Jewish denomination, don't even keep kosher.
An immigration raid at a meat plant sparked debate over kosher standards.

Rabbi Allen first became concerned in March 2006 when he read an article in the Jewish press about poor conditions for Latino laborers at the Agriprocessors plant. With the blessing of the Conservative movement's leadership, he formed a commission of inquiry and won Agriprocessors' permission to visit the plant.

Rabbi Allen led a five-man team that included a Spanish-speaking rabbi, labor and immigration activists and an official from the United Conservative Synagogue, representing Conservative congregations.

"We discovered things that were unbelievably painful," Rabbi Allen says. Among other allegations, he says pregnant women working on their feet all day were denied bathroom breaks; injured workers lacked proper medical care; and accounting machinations deprived workers of payment for all clocked hours.

To avoid creating controversy within the Jewish community, he says the team decided to quietly make recommendations to the Rubashkin family. While the company didn't respond, he says the situation "gives us an opportunity to link social responsibility with religious ritual" by introducing ethical standards into kosher certification.

Rabbi Allen went public with his gripe against Agriprocessors after agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, raided the 60-acre plant during the morning shift in May. A 56-page affidavit filed by an ICE agent to obtain a search warrant cites informants who allege that plant supervisors hired minors, forced workers to buy cars from them "or they would be fired or given poor work shifts" and abused them physically and mentally.

The document refers to one rabbi "calling employees derogatory names and throwing meat at employees," and a supervisor blindfolding a Guatemalan worker and hitting him with a "meat hook."

After the raid, Rabbi Allen returned to Postville to meet community leaders, clergy and workers awaiting deportation. On May 22, the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of Conservative rabbis, issued a statement calling on consumers to avoid Agriprocessors' products. It quoted Deuteronomy: "You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer."

Reaction has been swift. Synagogues and blogs are rallying in support of the ban. Uri L'Tzedek, the Orthodox group, joined in with a boycott petition so far signed by 2,000 Jewish religious and political leaders. And this week, the Conservative movement is set to release guidelines for an initiative called Hekhsher Tzedek, Hebrew for "justice certification." Meant to supplement traditional kosher certification, it will attest that kosher food was produced at a facility that meets ethical standards in areas like wages and benefits, health and safety and animal welfare.

Rabbi Allen's BlackBerry is stuffed with angry emails accusing him of sowing discord among Jews. "It's not a matter of hurting Jews or non-Jews," says the rabbi. "It's a matter of finding the truth and what is acceptable according to whom we are as a people."

Sunday, June 29, 2008

US Presidents and Jews

compiled by Professor Sherman L. Cohn, Georgetown University Law Center

GEORGE WASHINGTON was the first President to write to a synagogue. In 1790 he addressed separate letters to the Touro Synagogue in Newport,RI to Mikveh Israel Congregation in Savannah GA, and a joint letter to Congregation Beth Shalom, Richmond,VA, Mikveh Israel Philadelphia,Beth Elohim, Charleston,SC,and Shearith Israel,New York.His letters are an eloquent expression and hope for religious harmony and endure as indelible statements of the most fundamental tenets of American democracy.

THOMAS JEFFERSON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a Federal post. In 1801 he named Reuben Etting of Baltimore as US Marshall for Maryland .

JAMES MADISON was the first President to appoint a Jew to a diplomatic post. He sent Mordecai M. Noah to Tunis from 1813 to 1816.

MARTIN VAN BUREN was the first President to order an American consul to intervene on behalf of Jews abroad. In 1840 he instructed the U.S. consul in Alexandria , Egypt to use his good offices to protect the Jews of Damascus who were under attack because of a false blood ritual accusation.

JOHN TYLER was the first President to nominate a U.S.consul to Palestine. Warder Cresson, a Quaker convert to Judaism who established a pioneer Zionist colony, received the appointment in 1844.

FRANKLIN PIERCE was the first and probably the only President whose name appears on the charter of a synagogue. Pierce signed the Act of Congress in 1857 that amended the laws of the District of Columbia to enable the incorporation of the city synagogue, the Washington Hebrew Congregation.

ABRAHAM LINCOLN was the first President to make it possible for rabbis to serve as military chaplains. He did this by signing the 1862 Act of Congress which changed the law that had previously barred all but Christian clergymen from the captaincy. Lincoln was also the first, and happily the only President who was called upon to revoke an official act of anti-Semitism by the U.S. government. It was Lincoln who canceled General Ulysses S Grant Order No. 11 expelling all Jews from Tennessee from the district controlled by his armies during the Civil War. Grant always denied personal responsibility for this act attributing it to his subordinate.

ULYSSES S. GRANT was the first President to attend a synagogue service while in office. When Adas Israel Congregation in Washington D.C. was dedicated in 1874, Grant and all members of his Cabinet were present.

RUTHERFORD B. HAYES was the first President to designate a Jewish ambassador for the stated purpose of fighting anti-Semitism. In 1870, he named Benjamin Peixotto Consul-General to Romania . Hays also was the first President to assure a civil service employee her right to work for the Federal government and yet observe the Sabbath. He ordered the employment of a Jewish woman who had been denied a position in the Department of the Interior because of her refusal to work on Saturday.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT was the first President to appoint a Jew to a presidential cabinet. In 1906 he named Oscar S. Straus Secretary of Commerce and Labor. Theodore Roosevelt was also the first President to contribute his own funds to a Jewish cause. In 1919, when he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts while President to settle the Russo-Japanese War, Roosevelt contributed part of his prize to the National Jewish Welfare Board.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT was the first President to attend a Seder while in office. In 1912, when he visited Providence,RI he participated in the family Seder of Colonel Harry Cutler, first president of the National Jewish Welfare Board, in the Cutler home on Glenham Street.

WOODROW WILSON was the first President to nominate a Jew, Louis Dembitz Brandeis, to the United States Supreme Court. Standing firm against great pressure to withdraw the nomination, Wilson insisted that he knew no one better qualified by judicial temperament as well as legal and social understanding,confirmation was finally voted by the Senate on June 1, 1916. Wilson was also the first President to publicly endorse a national Jewish philanthropic campaign. In a letter to Jacob Schiff, on November 22,1917, Wilson called for wide support of the United Jewish Relief Campaign which was raising funds for European War relief.

WARREN HARDING was the first President to sign a Joint Congressional Resolution endorsing the Balfour Declaration and the Palestine Mandate supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national Jewish home for the Jewish people. The resolution was signed September 22, 1922.

CALVIN COOLIDGE was the first President to participate in the dedication of a Jewish community institution that was not a house of worship. On May 3, 1925, he helped dedicate the cornerstone of the Washington,D.C. Jewish Community center.

FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT was the first President to be given a Torah as a gift. He received a miniature Torah from Young Israel and another that had been rescued from a burning synagogue in Czechoslovakia. Both are now in the Roosevelt Memorial Library in Hyde Park . The Roosevelt administration'' failure to expand the existing refuge quota system, ensured that large numbers of Jews would ultimately become some of the Holocaust's six million victims. Fifty-six years after Roosevelt's death, the arguments continue over Roosevelt's response to the Holocaust.

HARRY S. TRUMAN, on May 14,1948, just eleven minutes after Israel's proclamation of independence, was the first head of a government to announce to the press that the United States recognizes the provisional government as the de facto authority of the new state of Israel. Truman was also the first U.S President to receive a president of Israel at the White House, Chaim Weizman, in 1948 and an Ambassador from Israel, Eliahu Elat in 1948. With Israel staggering under the burdens of mass immigration in 1951-1952, President Truman obtained from Congress close to $140 million in loans and grants.

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER was the first President to participate in a coast-to-coast TV program sponsored by a Jewish organization. It was a network show in 1954 celebrating the 300th anniversary of the American Jewish community. On this occasion he said that it was one of the enduring satisfactions of his life that he was privileged to lead the forces of the free world which finally crushed the brutal regime in Germany, freeing the remnant of Jews for a new life and hope in Israel.

JOHN F. KENNEDY named two Jews to his cabinet - Abraham Ribicoff as Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and Arthur Goldberg as Secretary of Labor. Kennedy was the only President for whom a national Jewish Award was named: The annual peace award of the Synagogue Council of America was re-named the John F. Kennedy Peace Award after his assassination in 1963.

JIMMY CARTER in a number of impassioned speeches,stated his concern for human rights and stressed the right of Russian Jews to emigrate. He is credited with being the person responsible for the Camp David Accords.

GEORGE H.W.BUSH in 1985 as Vice President had played a personal role in 'Operation Joshua,' the airlift which brought 10,000 Jews out of Ethiopia directly to resettlement in Israel . Then, again in 1991, when Bush was President, America helped play a critical role in 'Operation Solomon', the escape of 14,000 more Ethiopian Jews. Most dramatically, Bush got the revoke its 1975 'Zionism is Racism' resolution.

Consider the last two officeholders:

BILL CLINTON appointed more Jews to his cabinet than all of the previous presidents combined and put Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both 1st appointed to the federal bench by Jimmy Carter, on the Supreme Court.

GEORGE W. BUSH is the first president since Herbert Hoover who has no Jews in his cabinet at all and has appointed no Jews to the Federal bench

Marrano Women in the Inquisition

For a traveller who arrived in Torre de Moncorvo in the Trás-os-Montes province of northern Portugal in the 1550’s, the best place to stay in town was Isabel’s Inn. To do justice to her fame, it must be mentioned, that her Inn functioned like a central clearing house for information on Marrano practises, even like a cultural centre for the New Christian community. It was there that we hear for the first time news about the Lisbon massacre of New Christians in 1506 (in 1497, all Jews in Portugal were forcibly baptized and were henceforth known as New Christians and later, Marranos) or the news of the rupture of relations between king of England and the Pope in Rome. It is also there that strange words appears such as tani (fasts) or canarim (a person from India, applied pejoratively to Old Christians), and stories with a messianic flavour that then filled the cultural universe of the New Christians persecuted by the Inquisition. But before discussing these matters, let us turn to the owners of the Inn, all New Christians.

Isabel Lopes, the innkeeper, was born in Torre de Moncorvo in 1516. Her parents were Jewish, forcibly Christianized in 1497. Isabel, had two more sisters, both married, and living in a village within the limits of Bragança (also in Trás-os- Montes), and three brothers, all of who were in the lands of India, and from she had not received any news for years.

Isabel married Pedro Lopes in 1532 and from him had several sons and one daughter, Leonor Lopes, who married Gabriel Rodrigues, also a New Christian originally from Galiza. She became a widow after18 years, re- marrying in 1552 with João Rodrigues Trindade. João Trindade was from Miranda do Douro and was also a widower. His first wife was called Isabel Gonçalves and bore him two daughters and four sons. One of the sons, born in 1535, was named Francisco Rodrigues Trindade.

Francisco was an accomplished student at Coimbra university, as were many other New Christians in the 16th century, and came to stay for a spell (45 or 50 days) at his father’s house during Passover in 1553. His relationship with his stepmother was “very friendly”, according to him, but characterized by Isabel as consisting of “great fights". Francisco Trindade later headed to Lisbon where he became an assistant of Dr. Monção, the curate of the church of Madalena (next to the former Great Judiaria of Lisbon). Almost two years later, on the 3rd of January.1555, he presented himself to the casa do despacho at the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Lisbon to denounce, for practising Judaism, his stepmother Isabel Lopes, her daughter and the son-in-law, Leonor Lopes and Gabriel Rodrigues, as well as a notary from Miranda do Douro, Diogo Mendes. As a result of the denunciation, Isabel Lopes and the Gabriel Rodrigues were arrested and jailed at the prison of the Inquisition in Lisbon on the 2nd of April 1556. (1)

The proceedings of each one of the cases mentioned will not be examined in detail; instead some of the more unusual aspects will be highlighted. First, it should be emphasized that the New Christians of this era were very mobile. Gabriel’s parents lived in Salvaterra, kingdom of Galiza, opposite the village of Monção and they already had lived in the island of Terceira, Açores, where Gabriel himself is thought to have been born and baptized.
With respect to Gabriel, a tailor, Francisco makes the following denunciation:

He said that everything the Pope did was deceitful, because he did everything for money, and gave the example of the King of England and Queen Mary, who were not able to marry without dispensation from the pope, who would not grant it without copious amounts of money; and then the king made a submission without identifying themselves as King and Queen, and the pope immediately conceded for little money, and then the king said to the people that everything was a mistake, that nothing could be done in Rome without money. (2)

It does seem a bit strange that an ordinary tailor in an inn in northern in Portugal should be so well informed about international events such as the politics of Henry VIII, king of England, who abandoned the Catholic religion and established the Anglican Church. The New Christians must already have developed trustworthy international information networks. Portuguese New Christians, posing first as Catholics and then as Protestants had settled in England since Elizabethan times. (3)

The Inquisitors wanted to be certain about Francisco’s denunciation, so they convoked a session with the defendants and the denunciator, to confirm the accusation that he had made at the casa do despacho on the 6th of June1556, being present the male defendant Gabriel Rodrigues. This was a highly unusual procedure because the procedure of the Inquisition was to withhold the identities of the denunciators from the defendants. We are not aware of any other such case.

Gabriel denied the accusation and said that it was all an invention and the fruit of hatred, since on many occasions he fought and yielded a knife with the father and the brother of Francisco Rodrigues Trindade and one time he was even wounded in a finger and was put in the jail of Moncorvo. The case proceeded and Gabriel was freed after abjuring de levi (slight indices of Judaizing-ie little suspect in faith) on the Mesa (Table, the court or “bench” of the Tribunal of the Holy office of the Inquisition where judges, prosecutors, lawyers, notaries, scribes, and the defendants sat).

The denunciations against Isabel included allegations arising from “confidential” conversations with her stepson about the coming of the Messiah* which so mesmerized the New Christian cultural universe at that time. Francisco alleged that,

The said Isabel, his stepmother, said that Christ was not the son of God, but rather Our Lady was married with Jose, that they had a blacksmith as a neighbour; and Jose being out of the house, the said blacksmith had been spying on her; and as he saw him outside the house, he entered and had carnal relations with her. And upon Jose returning home, he became aware that she had committed a bad sin; and then Our Lady told him the truth, how she had sinned and the blacksmith had slept with her. And Joseph told her not to be afraid, that he would not defame her; saying, his said stepmother that at that time women who committed adultery were stoned. (4)

It was without a doubt, the negation of the Mary’s virginity and the divine nature of Jesus, a basic tenet of Christianity that aggravated Isabel’s case before the Inquisitors. Following is another allegation of heresy made by Francisco:

On another day, being both alone, his said stepmother told him that the reason why Jesus Christ was called King of the Jews was because, Jesus, living with a prophet, one night the prophet had a large water basin full of water and had a lit candle in the basin, or attached to the basin, and that the prophet lay down to sleep and told him that when the candle reached a certain point to wake him up; and when the flame of the candle reached that point, Jesus Christ came to the window and saw the heavens open and heard a voice telling him; “ ask what you want”, and that Jesus Christ said, “Lord, I do not ask you for anything except that you make me king of all these people”, and feeling this, the prophet rose, and from then on Jesus Christ was king.

The Sephardic Jews of Iberia were expelled from Spain in 1492 and in 1496 were also ordered to leave Portugal, but instead, as was stated, they were forcibly baptized. With the imposition of the Inquisition in Portugal in 1536, the New Christians must have felt like they were re-living the captivity of Egypt and Babylonia. However, there was great faith that the end of this captivity was nearing its end and that the Messiah was about to arrive.* He would come as a great king, form a powerful army, and establish a great Jewish Kingdom. Amongst the many versions of the coming of the Messiah, there was a widespread belief that the Messiah had already been born but was imprisoned in Rome. Isabel reveals this remarkable story in an alleged “confidential” conversation with her stepson, Francisco,

Being both alone, she told him that there was a locked house in Rome, and that all the Popes that came would order the installation of a lock and that inside there was a man (...) that he was the Messiah and that he had shackles on his feet; and that there was a young boy with a saw sawing it; and as soon as the irons were finished being sawed, the New Christians would be free, and that they would return to the land where they first had come from, that it was Jerusalem and that there they would be great Lords and that they would be taken from there by the horses of the Old Christians.**

Of course Francisco said that he reprehended his stepmother but she did not accept the rebuke and even retorted, Poor you that have to remain here because you are “ canarim”, for calling the Old Christian “canarin”s, and he informed the Tribunal of this after confessing to Dr. Monção who said that this was heresy.

Isabel recounts a variation of the same story in another alleged “confidential” conversation with Francisco,

His said stepmother told him, both being alone, that a Pope would order the opening of the house in Rome where the Messiah was and would order a Christian to be put in it and he would soon die; and that he would order a Moor to be put in it and he would soon die; and then he would order a Jew to be put in to see what was going on and that he would survive; And that the Messiah, who was sitting there, would tell him to enter and to throw out those scum, saying this about the Moor and Christian, and that the Jew would speak to the Messiah who would after tell him to go outside and to close the doors as they had been, and that the Jew would say outside that there was a little left to complete the sawing of the irons, she (Isabel) saying that she expected to see this in her time and that she believed it would happen.

Again Francisco said that he did not believe her and that Isabel responded, that "he was the greatest “ canarim” of all and that the hell was full of idiots", to which he retorted, "it is with, the idiots, I want to be".

Isabel denied everything, and in her defence, invoked the testimony of many important people of Torre de Moncorvo. Isabel recounted many scenes of being hit by her husband, always because of his children and said that,

She threw them out of the house many times and did not consent to them being at home; and one day she had so many fights over throwing out the said graduate, her stepson, that he, Francisco Rodrigues gave her a great big slap on her face and the defendant took a sword to kill him and advanced towards him and would kill him if he did not flee out the door; and he, the graduate, fled and never returned home and became her capital enemy (…) therefore, no credit ought to be given to the testimony of that graduate, Francisco Rodrigues.

Two declarations of Francisco are noteworthy and reveal the secret practices of the New Christians. In the first, he presents both himself and his father as Old Christians, which does not correspond to the facts. Whitewashing New Christian heritage was to become a significant practice in later years. Sanitized “Old Christian genealogies” of New Christians showing “pure or clean” blood were concocted, perhaps at a price. In the second declaration, Francisco says his stepmother taught him to do the tani (fasts) and that she spoke, other words in Hebrew that he did not understand and she was astonished that he did not know Hebrew. Secret prayers in Hebrew were to survive amongst Portuguese New Christians well into the 20th century.

Who should the Inquisitors believe? Should they keep Isabel imprisoned, subject her to torture, or oblige her to admit her guilt, denounce more people and oblige her to ask for forgiveness of her guilt? At this time, in the early stages of the introduction of the Inquisition in Portugal, the well-oiled machinery of the (un)Holy Tribunal was not fully developed, possibly due to the huge bribes being paid by the “Men of the Nation” to the Pope and Cardinals in Rome.

Isabel Lopes was freed, after abjuring de vehementi (strong indices of Judaizing-ie strong suspicion in faith) for suspicion of heresy. She was a remarkable woman.

1- ANTÓNIO BAIÃO, A Inquisição em Portugal e no Brasil, in: Archivo Histórico Portuguêz, vol. VII, p. 4- On the 3rd of January of 1555 Francisco Rodrigues da Trindade appeared and denounced Isabel Lopes, his stepmother, of Torre de Moncorvo, for having said that Jesus Christ was not the son of God , and other heresies (the note in the margin says: imprisoned) Gabriel Rodrigues, her son in law, for having said that everything the Pope did was a lie (the note says: imprisoned), his wife, Leonor Lopes, and finally Diogo Mendes, notary in Miranda, all New Christians, A.N.T.T. Inquisição de Lisboa, processo 16 035, de Gabriel Rodrigues.

2-A.N.T.T. Inquisição de Lisboa, processo 3123, de Isabel Lopes.

3-Cecil Roth, The History of The Jews In England, Oxford, 1941

4-A.N.T.T. Inquisição de Lisboa, processo 16 035, de Gabriel Rodrigues.

In 1525, David Reubeni, a false messiah, met with King John III of Portugal seeking arms and ships for a Jewish army to battle the Turks and liberate Jerusalem. Reubeni met with the pope, and claimed to be a king from an eastern Jewish kingdom. He created much consternation amongst the New Christian population.

Maria José Ferro Tavares refers to the prophecies of the messianic prophet/poet Bandarra (the shoemaker of Trancoso) who predicted the defeat of the Turks and prophesized that the New Christians of Iberia would be taken to Jerusalem in “horses of keels”, i.e. ships.

(Maria Pimenta Ferro Tavares, “ Para o Estudo dos Judeus em Trás-os-Montes sec. XVI”, in Historia e Filosofia, Vol. VI, 1985, pp. 391-392.)

Israel Museum Presents Great Isaiah Scroll For the First Time in Over Forty Years

Isaiah Scroll (1QIsaa) Written in Hebrew, Qumran, Cave 1. Ca. 120 BCE Parchment © Photo The Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

TEL AVIV.- On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the State of israel, the israel Museum presents two major sections of the Great Isaiah Scroll – the most complete biblical Dead Sea Scroll document ever found and one of the world’s greatest archaelogical treasures – in a special installation in the Shrine of the Book. For the first time in over forty years, the public will have the rare opportunity to view the two longest sections of the Scroll, featuring Isaiah’s celebrated message of peace: "They shall beat their swords into plowshares…" (Isaiah 2:4). In order to illustrate this important message, artifacts from the days of the prophet Isaiah (8th century BCE), including a bent scimitar and agricultural tools, will be displayed together with the Scroll as part of this special exhibit. Swords into Plowshares: The Isaiah Scroll and Its Message of Peace will be on view in the Shrine of the Book at the Museum from May 19 through August 30, 2008.

“This special installation, held in celebration of israel’s 60th anniversary, provides visitors with a rare opportunity to view one of the oldest, most complete, and best preserved of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the israel Museum. “The Isaiah Scroll, housed at the israel Museum in the Shrine of the Book, with its timeless message of peace, is one of the most important ancient biblical documents ever discovered.”

Swords into Plowshares presents the longest sections of the complete Isaiah Scroll: a 2.60 meter-long section comprising chapters 1-28, and a 2.38 meter-long section comprising chapters 44-66. Contextualizing the scroll, the Museum will also display ancient archaeological tools, including a bent scimitar and a newly excavated and never before displayed early Roman seal, depicting a dove-like bird carrying an olive branch. The exhibit is curated by Michal Dayagi-Mendels, Chief Curator of Archaeology, and Adolfo Roitman, Head of the Shrine of the Book and Curator of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The Great Isaiah Scroll

The Isaiah Scroll (Manuscript A) is one of the first seven scrolls discovered in 1947 in a cave near Qumran, on the northwestern shores of the Dead Sea. Of the 220 biblical scrolls found in the area, the complete Great Isaiah Scroll is one of the best preserved and the only one containing an entire biblical book. Dating from approximately 120 BCE, it is also one of the oldest Dead Sea Scrolls, some one thousand years older than the oldest manuscripts of the Bible known to us before the Scrolls’ discovery. The version of the text is close to the masoretic version found in medieval codices, among them the Aleppo Codex, which is also permanently held and regularly displayed in the Shrine of the Book. Unlike most of the biblical scrolls from Qumran, it exhibits “popular” spelling, shedding light on how Hebrew was pronounced during the Second Temple period. The prominence of the Book of Isaiah is consistent with the messianic beliefs of the community living at Qumran, since Isaiah is known for his prophecies concerning the End of Days.

The complete Isaiah Scroll was briefly on display at the israel Museum from 1965-67, as part of the original design conception for the Shrine of the Book. Since that time, due to conservation requirements aimed at the Scrolls' long-term preservation, Scroll sections are rotated on a regular basis in the Shrine, and the architects' original design intention is demonstrated through a facsimile. Swords into Plowshares represents the first time since their appearance in the 1960s that the two longest sections will be on public view.

From Weapons of War to Agricultural Tools

In the days of Isaiah, both weapons and agricultural tools were made from the same material: cast iron, the “steel” of ancient times. These implements were much stronger than their bronze and wooden counterparts used customarily before the 8th Century CE. The agricultural tools displayed in Swords into Plowshares, dating from Isaiah’s times, reflect the popular choice of peace through the production of plowshares and pruning hooks over swords and spears. As is written in the Book of Kings: “Judah and israel dwelt in safety, everyone under his own vine and under his own fig tree” (1 Kings 5:5).

Swords into Plowshares also presents a scimitar intentionally bent in antiquity to symbolize the death of the warrior who had used it and in whose tomb it was buried. During the historic visit in 1977 of the former president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, to israel, the former prime minister of israel, Menahem Begin, presented the Egyptian leader with a replica of this sword as a token of peace in the region.

Celebrating Sixty Years of Discovery

Coinciding with this display, the israel Museum will hold a major academic conference on July 6-8, 2008, celebrating sixty years since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, with participating experts from israel and worldwide. The sessions planned for this three-day conference focus on such themes as: life in Qumran, biblical interpretation, scientific and cultural approaches to the Scrolls, language and Qumran literature, and the Scrolls as an educational tool. The conference is sponsored by the Dorot Foundation and the Nussia and Andre Aisenstadt Foundation, in collaboration with the Orion Center at Hebrew University.

Israel has a year to stop Iran bomb, warns ex-spy

By Carolynne Wheeler in Tel Aviv and Tim Shipman in Washington

A former head of Mossad has warned that Israel has 12 months in which to destroy Iran's nuclear programme or risk coming under nuclear attack itself. He also hinted that Israel might have to act sooner if Barack Obama wins the US presidential election.

Shabtai Shavit, an influential adviser to the Israeli parliament's defence and foreign affairs committee, told The Sunday Telegraph that time was running out to prevent Iran's leaders getting the bomb.

Mr Shavit, who retired from the Israeli intelligence agency in 1996, warned that he had no doubt Iran intended to use a nuclear weapon once it had the capability, and that Israel must conduct itself accordingly.

"The time that is left to be ready is getting shorter all the time," he said in an interview.

Mr Shavit, 69, who was deputy director of Mossad when Israel bombed the Osirak nuclear facility in Iraq in 1981, added: "As an intelligence officer working with the worst-case scenario, I can tell you we should be prepared. We should do whatever necessary on the defensive side, on the offensive side, on the public opinion side for the West, in case sanctions don't work. What's left is a military action."

The "worst-case scenario, he said, is that Iran may have a nuclear weapon within "somewhere around a year".

As speculation grew that Israel was contemplating its own air strikes, Iran's military said it might hit the Jewish state with missiles and stop Gulf oil exports if it came under attack. Israel "is completely within the range of the Islamic republic's missiles," said Mohammed Ali Jafari, head of the feared Revolutionary Guard. "Our missile power and capability are such that the Zionist regime cannot confront it."

More than 40 per cent of all globally traded oil passes through the 35-mile-wide Strait of Hormuz, putting tankers entering or leaving the Gulf at risk from Iranian mines, rockets and artillery, and Mr Jafari's comments were the clearest signal yet that Iran intends to use this leverage in the nuclear dispute.

Despite offering incentives, the West has failed to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium. Israeli officials believe the diplomatic process is useless and have been pressing President Bush to launch air strikes before he leaves office on January 20 next year.

They apparently fear that the chances of winning American approval for an air attack will be drastically reduced if the Democratic nominee wins the election. Mr Obama advocates talks with the regime in Tehran rather than military action.

That view was echoed by Mr Shavit, who said: "If [Republican candidate John] McCain gets elected, he could really easily make a decision to go for it. If it's Obama: no. My prediction is that he won't go for it, at least not in his first term in the White House."

He warned that while it would be preferable to have American support and participation in a strike on Iran, Israel will not be afraid to go it alone.

"When it comes to decisions that have to do with our national security and our own survival, at best we may update the Americans that we are intending or planning or going to do something. It's not a precondition, [getting] an American agreement," he said.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Rare Iraqi Jewish books 'surface in Israel'

Some 300 rare and valuable books confiscated from Iraq's Jewish community by Saddam Hussein's regime have been secretly spirited into Israel, an Israeli newspaper reported on Friday.

The books include a 1487 commentary on the biblical Book of Job and another volume of biblical prophets printed in Venice in 1617, the Haaretz daily said.

The volumes are part of a massive collection of books confiscated by the secret police of the executed Iraqi dictator and stored in security installations in the Iraqi capital until the US-led invasion of 2003.

Many volumes were damaged during the bombing of government buildings in the opening weeks of the war, and after the fall of Baghdad most of the books were sent off to be temporarily stored at the Library of Congress in Washington.

Others however ended up in the hands of private dealers.

"We bought them from thieves," Mordechai Ben-Porat, an Iraqi-born Jew and the founder of Jerusalem's Babylonian Jewry Heritage centre told the newspaper, adding that the foundation paid some 25,000 dollars (16,000 euros).

In the beginning, Ben-Porat sent an emissary to Baghdad who shipped the books directly to Israel, but once the Americans caught wind of his activities they forbade further shipments, forcing him to smuggle the rest, he said.

Iraq once hosted a thriving 2,600 year-old Jewish community that numbered some 130,000 people at the time Israel was created in 1948.

But after Israel came into being and into conflict with its Arab neighbours, Iraqi Jews began to suffer discrimination and were often accused of being agents of the new Jewish state.

By 1952 more than 123,000 had left the country, and 20 years later there were no more than 500 left.

Many more left the country following the 1991 Gulf War and today, after the chaos unleashed by the US-led invasion and the overthrow of Saddam, only some two dozen are believed to remain.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Daniel Libeskind Opens A Jewish Museum for All

The brick power-station wall adorned with cherubs that is now the façade of the Contemporary Jewish Museum here was rebuilt after the earthquake and fires of 1906 had leveled most of the city. By then, a Jewish community -- more assimilated than most -- had already lived in the Bay Area for more than 50 years.

Given this melting-pot context, the $47.5 million new home of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, designed by Daniel Libeskind, seems logical -- blending civic beauty with an arcane geometry that passersby would never know to be Jewish, and pitching the museum's secular orientation to anyone in diversity-sensitive San Francisco.

Hebrew calligraphy is Mr. Libeskind's point of departure in fusing a slanted blue steel cube to the shell of the utility hub. The architect's two modern exterior forms -- the cube and a slanting rectangle that protrude from the landmark brick façade -- are intended to form the expression l'chaim, to life, affirming that the museum's focus is on the present and future -- not a history filled with tragedy. "'Being Jewish': A Bay Area Portrait," a glass-covered photo-montage of pictures that flowed over the transom once word from the museum went out, could not be more inclusive. Spelled out in the museum's lobby is the Hebrew word pardes, which means orchard, garden or paradise, an affirmation that this building, unlike many Jewish museums, is not intended to be a memorial. (Mr. Libeskind was born in Poland in 1946 to Holocaust survivors.)

There is a lightness to this project that is rare in the architect's work, from the brick façade's terra-cotta cherubs that decorate the power-station wall to the blue steel that shifts in tone as the light changes and relieves the surrounding district's glass and steel tourist-mall monotony.

Inside, a bright narrow two-story lobby runs the length of the 200-foot power-station wall, supported by the building's exposed original trusses and columns. The 1907 structure is more appropriated than preserved, but it's an airy contrast to Libeskind's signature building, the Jewish Museum Berlin, which has an ominous feel in its jagged exterior and galleries stuffed with relics from an exterminated population.

Past the CJM's gift shop with Libeskindian angularity and jagged windows that double as product displays, and up a shimmering white staircase that will test the nimbleness of aged donors, the feel gets lighter. Underneath the upward pointing tip of the tilted cube is what the museum calls the yud space -- named for the Hebrew letter it resembles. Inside, the white conical volume's 36 diamond-shaped windows are arrayed like stars in a mythological sky. Their shadow-play on the sloping walls as light passes through is beguiling. "Flat objects" -- CJM talk for painting and sculpture -- will not be exhibited there. It's a wise decision, given the struggles in Mr. Libeskind's Denver Art Museum and his Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto to show paintings in galleries built with his branded tilt. So far, the yud space will be used for readings and sound installations and for rental events.

Symbolic logic: The two forms featured here -- a cube and a rectangle that protrude from the landmark brick -- are intended to show that the focus is on the present and future, and not on a tragic past.

In larger second-floor galleries, curators have made do in spite of the architecture, hanging or projecting work on rectilinear partitions. The museum has no collection of its own, and in the themed inaugural exhibition, "In the Beginning: Artists Respond to Genesis," Jewish and non-Jewish artists were invited to riff on a subject as broad as one can find in the Bible, with results as varied as the ecumenical constituency the museum seeks. Matthew Ritchie's video projections of swirling shapes could be a pre-creation miasma or an apocalyptic storm, and Trent Doyle Hancock's new chapter to his grand hand-drawn creation myth brings a psychedelic dimension to the Cosmology of Henry Darger (1892-1973), the Chicago recluse who painted young girls fighting interplanetary wars. Filmmaker Alan Berliner weighs chance against divine agency in "Playing God," a row of seven screens that are activated, like a slot machine, to score a jackpot if the contestant chances upon the right sequence of words.

In a tiny space, curator Fred Wasserman has assembled a room of drawings and manuscripts -- a wondrous minimal Adam and Eve drawing by William Blake, a Bible illustrated by Gustave Doré, and other delights -- to remind visitors that creation didn't begin with an Andy Warhol silk-screen.

A ground-floor gallery partitioned for paintings and drawings holds a retrospective devoted to the Methuselah of New Yorker cartoonists, William Steig (1907-2003), which premiered at the Jewish Museum in New York last year. Steig, the son of immigrants from Lvov, began cartooning for money when his family needed cash in the Depression. It's a march from warm-hearted depictions of gritty tenement life to spoofs of suburban comforts. Not to mention the character Shrek (Yiddish for "fear"), whom DreamWorks would turn into an animated star.

Enterprising curators took Steig's untitled (and undated) page of dyspeptic and anxious faces from the exhibition catalog's cover and installed it at floor-to-ceiling size inside a gallery window for passersby to see -- a wry echo of the earnest community-mounted scrapbook inside. While it's scrapped the notion of a collection, the CJM has preserved its sense of humor.

Steig's frustrated faces reflect the museum's last 15 years as much as the blithe diversity of "Being Jewish." Founded in 1984 as the Jewish Community Museum, and later called the Jewish Museum San Francisco, the new museum had ambitions that outgrew its small gallery in the financial district. In 1994, the museum decided to construct a building and paid a dollar for its site on Mission Street across from the Yerba Buena Cultural Center, a park of performance and exhibition spaces in a formerly decaying neighborhood, now clogged with museums and entertainment venues in the shadows of massive hotels. A cold plan from its first architect, Peter Eisenman, offended trustees and neighbors. Next came Mr. Libeskind, with a gold bronze shape and a four-story museum. An 18-month marriage with the Judah P. Magnes Museum in Berkeley was severed just as the local dot-com boom went bust. CJM's home was scaled down in size, cost and color. Its gold section shrank and turned blue. Construction on the current building, part of which is cut into the Four Seasons Hotel that rises 40 floors above, began in 2006.

The new CJM can't help but wear that austerity in places. Its "multi-purpose space" is as generic as its name suggests. Along with the photomontage, it gives off the feel of a community center. All that's missing are the basketball hoops.

The CJM's education center compounds this impression. The flexible space behind the wall of the lobby is an attempt to find a spatial metaphor for one of the museum's central missions, with its womb-like placement in the building's first-floor core and windows for parents to monitor their youngsters' progress in the most ordinary of smallish classrooms. The well-meaning conceit is architecturally clumsy.

The CJM is a pardes in progress. Yet scaling it down brought unexpected benefits. There is a harmony between the soft brick façade of the old power station, with its blue protuberances, and the city-owned plaza in front of it. Created by Handel Architects, a local firm, atop a parking garage excavated by the city for the museum and its neighbors, the square opens up a dense urban snarl and forms an approach that flatters the new CJM and its calligraphic wordplay. Mr. Libeskind may not have remade or even rethought creation in San Francisco, but he did help part the urban waters.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Spreading little-known history of Romaniote Jews

Big Town, Big Dreams

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Ilias Hadjis addressed a half-dozen people in the women's section of a lower East Side synagogue. He pointed to cities on a map of Greece and rattled off their Jewish populations.

"Athens is 3,000," he says. "One hundred in Halkis. One hundred on the island of Corfu. One thousand in Saloniki." And Janina (or Ioannina), the northwestern Greek city that gives name to the synagogue and museum where Hadjis volunteers each week? "Thirty nine."

Kehila Kedosha Janina, the Holy Congregation of Janina, is home to a New York community of Romaniote Jews who trace their lineage not to Eastern Europe like the predominant Jewish culture in the neighborhood, but to ancient Rome.

The shrinking congregation was founded in 1927 by 50 families. Two thousand years prior, their ancestors were forced to leave ancient Israel on a slave ship bound for Rome - thus the term Romaniote.

A storm forced the boat to land in Greece, where the immigrants developed a distinct culture with its own Greek-Jewish dialect, its own prayer

books - in Greek and Hebrew - and its own signature foods.

Museum director Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos says the synagogue at 280 Broome St. maintains a mailing list of 3,000 Romaniote families, most of them in the tristate area. Fewer than a dozen still make their home on the lower East Side.

Hadjis, 70, is a key player in keeping the community's traditions alive. He arrived in New York in 1955 from Greece and took night classes in English at Washington Irving High School.

Since then, except for a brief stint in the Army, he has lived nearby. But even when the neighborhood was predominantly Jewish, he was an outsider.

"If you don't speak Yiddish, you're not a Jew," he says. "If you don't speak Ladino [the language of Sephardic Jews who trace their history to post-Inquisition Spain] you're not a Jew."

Hadjis is clearly a member of the

tribe. He married an Ashkenazi woman and has a grown daughter - who won't forgive him for not teaching her Greek.

On Saturdays, he worships at the synagogue "85% to 90% of the time."

On a recent Sabbath, only nine men were present, one short of the quorum needed to pray in the Orthodox tradition.

But Hadjis and his peers relied on a solution that is kosher under Jewish Law. "We open the Torah, we make the Torah the tenth man."

On Sundays, he welcomes visitors who come to the synagogue to learn about a heritage that is still largely unknown.

Two Sundays ago, Hadjis sat in a high-backed chair in front of the Torah, a royal blue skullcap crowning his full head of white hair.
His feet didn't always touch the floor and he massaged the rounded edge of the chair's wooden armrests as if coaxing out stories of loss and survival.

He told a handful of visitors - Jewish and not, from the upper West Side and the suburbs - about the history

of the synagogue and of his family.

Born in Athens, Hadjis grew up in the city of Volos. During World War II, his immediate family sought refuge in Athens.

"My mother had to cook and clean for Germans," recalled Hadjis, "selling her jewelry to survive." Sixty-five percent of Greece's Jews were exterminated during the Holocaust, he said.

H adjis, his sister, brother and their parents survived. So did his mother's veduzas - the glass cups used to treat illness with cupping are on display in the museum.

The extended family did not fare as well. Thirteen relatives - cousins, aunts, uncles and a grandfather - perished, many of them on March 25, 1944, Greek Independence Day.

"They did it to show the Greek government they don't care," says Hadjis of the Nazis. "They wanted to take all the Jews."

The stories leave an imprint on visitors.

"I didn't expect it to be such a personal tour," said Alicia Colarossi of the upper West Side.

Carly Helfand, 12, has Romaniote roots. Her grandfather's cousin's name

is engraved above the door to the synagogue sanctuary.

"It's nice to see we can learn more," she said. "It's nice that he can explain it to us."

The portly, friendly-faced Hadjis does more than bask in the light of the synagogue skylights and describe the delicious leek croquettes - keftikes des prassa - a recipe that appears in a Greek-Jewish cookbook sold at the museum.

During the week, Hadjis works as a merchandising manager for the Gristedes supermarket chain, a job that began when his father opened a small grocery store with his sons on the lower East Side.

"I've been dealing with people all my life, so it's easy for me to connect," he says.

Museum director Haddad Ikonomopoulos called him an integral part of the synagogue, the museum and the community. What would they do without him?

"We'd have to close the doors," she says.

Acknowledging the plight of Jewish refugees from Arab countries

It's a fantastic feeling when headlines for almost 4 days in a row talk about our very own Exodus from Arab countries! They are paying attention and it's about time. This article was written by Lyn Julius, author of "Point of No Return", a blog about the Jewish Refugees from Arab Lands. Her own parents fled Iraq in 1950. In her article, she focuses on the testimony of an 80 year-old refugee from Egypt called Sarah who spoke in front of Britain's house of Lords.

Though Lyn and I don't always agree on the events and consequences of the formation of the state of Israel, I'd like to quote the part of the article which interested me.

"This week, before an audience of peers and MPs, an 80-year-old Jewish refugee named Sarah told the story of her traumatic departure in 1956 in the wake of the Suez crisis. Her husband lost his job. Taken ill, she had remained behind in Egypt with her new baby, while he left to look for work in Europe. She departed with nothing – along with 25,000 other Jews expelled by Nasser and forced to sign a document pledging that they would never return. In a final act of spite, the customs officers ransacked her suitcase and even her baby's carrycot.

Sarah was speaking at a House of Lords briefing as part of the Justice for Jews from Arab Countries congress. JJAC, an international coalition of 77 organisations, is holding its inaugural congress in London, and aims to highlight the neglected rights of (according to indisputable UN figures) 856,000 Jewish refugees like Sarah."

Further down in the article is more factual evidence:

"The Jewish "Nakba" - Arabic for "catastrophe" – not only emptied cities like Baghdad (a third Jewish); it tore apart the cultural, social and economic fabric in Arab lands. Jews lost homes, synagogues, hospitals, schools, shrines and deeded land five times the size of Israel. Their ancient heritage - predating Islam by 1,000 years – was destroyed. The Jewish state, which struggled to take in 600,000, many of them stateless, is both a response to Arab antisemitism, and the legitimate political expression of an indigenous Middle Eastern people. Half Israel's Jewish population is descended from refugees from Arab and Muslim lands." more>>

I don't agree that half of Israel's Jewish population is descended from refugees from Arab and Muslim lands. In fact, at the time of the hostilities, Israel was horrified at the fact of having to absorb "any" Jews from Arab countries, as they considered them "primitive" and "uneducated" (see Golda Meir's famous quote: bring them, and we will educate them). More than 50% of the exiled Jews left for lands other than Israel out of their own volition. The beginnings were hard for all of them, no matter where they went, but they did not suffer the "marginalization" of living in tents on the outskirts of Israel's major cities. Nor did they suffer the bias of non-Sephardim wherever they settled.

I am not fond of borrowing the word "Nakba" to describe the plight of our Jews; let's leave that for the folks who coined it, and also ensure that the word "Holocaust" stays rightly where it belongs. Just as the words Zionism and Judaism are not interchangeable.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Michelangelo Code: Did Michelangelo Hide Secret Codes in the Sistine Chapel?

According to a new book by Rabbi Benjamin Blech, a professor of Talmud at Yeshiva University in New York, and Vatican tour guide Roy Doliner, Michelangelo hid a secret code in the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel:

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which the renaissance artist worked on for four years in the early 16th century, is actually a "bridge" between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish faith, according to The Sistine Secrets: Unlocking the Codes in Michelangelo’s Defiant Masterpiece.

For example, the book states, the figures of David and Goliath form the shape of the letter gimel, which symbolises g’vurah, or strength, in the mystical Kabbalah tradition.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Drapkin's "Suite of Old Yiddish Melodies" performed by Austin Symphonic

Michael Drapkin writes: Dear Friends and Family: I had the great honor of having our wonderful Austin Symphonic Band perform my concert band piece "Suite of Old Yiddish Melodies" this past Father's Day here in Austin in Zilker Park. The Texas sun had just gone down, but the air temperature was still in the '90s, so it was sweltering, but the band still played great. Shayna videotaped the concert live all the way from the back of the hillside, which accounts for a lot of crowd noise, but it was done on a tripod, so the results were pretty good. Naturally, her bias was to zoom in on her father! It was appropriate for this to be performed on Father's Day, as on the score I dedicated it to my grandfather Philip Segalove, who used to play a lot of these tunes when I was a child. This piece has been performed by several bands previously, but this is the first time I got to actually perform it myself playing the big solo clarinet part. It is being published this year by Northeastern Music Publications, so it may be coming to a high school or college band near you! It is broken into two pieces.
Part 1

Part 2

Stefan Zweig An Austrian exile who chronicled the personal and cultural costs of war

The Post-Office Girl
By Stefan Zweig
New York Review Books, 257 pages, $14

Stefan Zweig was a late and magnificent bloom from the hothouse of fin de siècle Vienna. He was a novelist and playwright, but also a biographer -- and, it turned out, a talented memoirist, whose melancholy "The World Yesterday" (1942) captured the golden, lost world of Freud, Mahler, Schnitzler and Klimt. The posthumous publication of a Zweig novel affords an opportunity to revisit this gifted writer.
Marcia Klioze

Zweig himself was renowned across Europe in the 1920s and '30s for his literary tales of passion and obsession -- or, rather, obsessive passion and passionate obsession. But he also won many devoted readers with his wide-ranging and erudite critical studies. He wrote with equal mastery about subjects as diverse as Erasmus, Magellan, Dickens, Dostoyevsky and Casanova.

Zweig's books were translated into more than 40 languages, and most of his foreign royalties were sheltered from the inflation and menace of war. But the personal security that wealth seemed to bring was not enough -- Zweig, a Jew, had seen the foundations of his cultural Atlantis, Vienna, shaken by World War I, and with Hitler's rise in the 1930s he sensed a looming catastrophe. He fled to England in 1934, but not before writing the libretto for Richard Strauss's "The Silent Woman." Strauss enraged the Nazis by insisting that the name of his Jewish collaborator appear on posters for the opera's premiere in Dresden in 1935.

Zweig eventually moved from England to America before alighting in Brazil in 1940. By then he and his first wife had divorced, and he had remarried. From his vantage point in the rough-hewn Brazilian town of Petrópolis, it seemed that the ideal of cosmopolitan humanism could not survive the tides of barbarism. He was cut off from his "spiritual homeland," deprived of the books he needed to complete a magisterial study of Balzac and could only watch in horror as the world he had known destroyed itself. Despondent, Zweig put his affairs in order in 1942. Then he and his wife, Lotte, took fatal overdoses of veronal.

Zweig left behind a manuscript that he had been working on sporadically for more than a decade. The novel, published in German in 1982 as "Rausch der Verwandlung" -- or "The Ecstasy of Transformation" -- has finally been translated into English, by Joel Rotenberg, under a more pragmatic title: "The Post-Office Girl." It is a Cinderella story in a minor key, set in Austria between the two world wars. The fairy godmother-like character is a fickle woman, bestowing gifts and charms only to revoke them without warning. The character who serves the princely role is maimed by war and poorer than the would-be princess. There is no happy ending, but no unhappy one either.

At the novel's heart is an accounting of war's costs -- costs that are cultural as well as economic. As it happened, the fortune that the Zweig family made from textile manufacturing survived the ravages of World War I. But Zweig, a devoted pacifist, was especially attentive to the misery that the Great War wrought. He returned to the subject many times -- two of his best short stories, "The Invisible Collection" and "Buchmendel" (or "The Bookseller"), chronicle the destruction of the civilized arts, and in "Episode on Lake Geneva" he portrayed soul-corroding wartime exile.

In "The Post-Office Girl," however, Zweig broadened his focus from individual fates to the more insidious, pervasive consequences of the fraying of the social fabric. What social, economic and cultural security the Austro-Hungarian monarchy had been able to provide, albeit rigid and constricting, collapsed along with the empire. The wealthy and privileged managed to get by, often quite well, while the poor and those without connections were left with even fewer resources than before.

One of those stranded survivors in the novel is Christine Hoflehner, an old maid at 28. Her youthful optimism was lost when the family business failed in the war. Now she spends her days eking out a spare existence, divided between long hours at the post office in an Alpine backwater and caring for her sickly mother. She is so ground down by poverty that an invitation to two weeks at an exclusive Swiss resort from her mother's wealthy sister evokes only fear and apprehension.

Before she even arrives at the hotel, Christine is shaken from her apathy to a mortified self-consciousness when she realizes how shabby her clothes have become. But she manages to effect a rapid and intoxicating metamorphosis. One session in the beauty salon and a few of her aunt's hand-me-downs are enough to turn her into the belle of the ball. She exults in the power of her beauty. Her sincerity wins over most of the hotel's guests, while her uncle's riches seduce the rest. Before long, the "delirium of wealth" turns her head.

Christine's fall is just as sudden, but unspectacular. Her aunt, fearing that Christine's lack of discretion might lead her to inadvertently reveal some "shady business" from the family's history, sends the girl home early without explanation. Christine is forced back into her suffocating village life, only now she knows that there is no air.

She manages a temporary escape to Vienna, where she meets a war veteran even more embittered than she. Their shared grievances develop into a passion of sorts, but the affair is doomed by circumstances. The flophouse they seek out for a tryst is raided by the police. Although they are not swept along in the round-up, the humiliation sours their attempts at intimacy. They resolve to commit suicide together, but at the last minute arrive at a daring scheme that could possibly provide them with a modest but dignified existence.

For all its direness, "The Post-Office Girl" is captivating. Zweig lavishes his most sensuous prose not just on the elegant trappings of the wealthy -- the silk dresses that glisten like dragonflies and glint seductively from the shadows, the glowing amber wine that "goes down unctuously like sweet, chilled cream" -- but also on the squalor and shame of poverty: "the smell of stale cigarette smoke, bad food, wet clothes, the smell of the old woman's dread and worry and wheezing."

In Zweig's earlier fiction, unsuspected, uncontrollable passions and desires determined his characters' identities, bursting the hardened shells formed by habit, convenience or propriety. But in "The Post-Office Girl," external forces are all. Christine changes drastically with each twist in her fate. The joys of her middle-class childhood wither under the strain of her limited existence. Surrounded by luxury, she recovers her exuberance and becomes "Christianne," confident, alluring, eminently desirable. Then, forced back into miserable surroundings, she is consumed by rage and resentment. The little satisfactions of post-office tedium become thorns in her side.

In "The Post-Office Girl," Stefan Zweig found a new vantage from which to document "the secret war of all against all." Yet he offered his characters at least a slim hope of escaping their despair -- the sort of escape that he never found for himself.

Ms. Lewis is a translator and an advisory editor of the Hudson Review.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Adventures in Cheesemaking: Mozzarella
By sweinberger

When Shavuos comes around, a Kosher foodie’s thoughts often focus on cheese. “What cheeses are now available Kosher?” “What cheeses haven’t I tried yet?” “Where can I buy great cheese?” And my favorite “What’s the best cheesecake recipe?” (I have my personal favorite) This year, I decided to try something new - making my own cheese.

We’ve had posts from jabbett about cheesemaking experiments before. My cheese-tastes aren’t as adventurous as his, so I decided to make mozzarella. A no-brainer for a pizza-maniac like myself. To assist in this project I enlisted Kosherblog reader (and fellow Brooklyn-ite) velorutionary. Together with our wives we embarked on a cheese-making extravaganza.


* 5 gallons of un-homogenized milk from a local farm. If you order ahead, Ronnybrook Farms can provide 5 gallons of milk in a polybag. Creamline milk is un-homogenized - the cream floats on the top.
* Citric acid (aka sour salt). Available in the spices section of most groceries.
* Vegetarian liquid rennet
* Kosher salt

We followed a combination of instructions:

* New England Cheesemaking Supply Company (where I got the rennet)
* Fiasco Farm mozzarella and ricotta instructions
* Barbara Kingsolver’s instructions, from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Here are some pictures of the process:

A 5-gallon polybag of milk, being transferred to a 24 quart pot

The milk is curdling after the addition of citric-acid

Curd formation after the rennet is added

Fishing out curds

Draining the curds

Stretching the cheese….

And stretching it come more!

Finished mozzarella

Ricotta cheese

When we were finished (at about 2am!) we had almost 4 1/2 pounds of mozzarella, and as a bonus - just under 1 pound of ricotta. I believe that with experience, we could get better yields.

Despite my hopes that we would get soft, white, creamy, Italian-style mozzarella, we ended up with cheese very much like regular, American-style, supermarket mozzarella. It was much better than the bagged, pre-shredded, supermarket variety (and it had no preservatives), but the texture was similar. All in all, not a bad outcome. We made our own cheese! I used it on all of my pizzas made on Shavuos, and they were as popular as ever. I invite velorutionary to chime in and tell us what he did with his half of the dairy-bounty.

Monday, June 16, 2008

A Tree Grows in Israel

Despite rocket attacks and suicide bombers, there's some good news for Israel: EU nations today agreed to strengthen relations with Israel. No one should doubt that if it were not for Arab oil, Europe would have strong economic ties with Israel. Hopefully someday the non-Muslim world will find a way to get off Muslim oil or render Islam powerless to wreak havoc in the civilized world.

Despite rocket attacks and suicide bombers, tourists are still flocking to Israel:

Business Week, 21 May 2008, Despite Turmoil, Tourists Flock to Israel

Perpetual conflict and the looming threat of terrorism might keep less adventuresome travelers away, but when it comes to Israel, the number of sightseers is rising fast. Nearly 1 million tourists arrived in the Holy Land during the first four months of 2008, an increase of 43% year-on-year, according to the Israel Tourism Ministry. The country hopes to attract 2.8 million visitors this year for its 60th anniversary; about the same number came in 2000 before the Palestinian intifada that began in late September of that year.

The fighting, which lasted until 2004, suppressed tourism, as did the war with Lebanon in the summer of 2006. But even during times of hardship, committed supporters—especially Christian pilgrims and Jews from the U.S. and Europe—have continued to flock to Israel. About 1 million visitors went there in 2002, during the peak of the most recent intifada.

Can you imagine the prosperity and wealth the Palestinians could enjoy if they were just peaceful in their own country? Sadly they turned down Nationhood in 2000. As an Israeli child's poem reads: "Ahmed and his friends could be wealthy and sunny, if only they wouldn't buy rockets with all their money." [Stop Raping Israel]

Many Muslim apologists like to ignore the fact that Palestinians receive over a billion dollars in aid each year [New York Times] and in return of which the world receives zip. Israel, meanwhile, Creates more in One Month than Islam in a Century helping the world fight disease, hunger, and poverty.

Despite rocket attacks and suicide bombers, the Israeli Shekel is strong:

Haaretz, 4 Jun 2008, Introducing the world's strongest currency: The shekel

Even the powerful euro has had a hard time competing with what has become probably the strongest currency in the world since the beginning of 2008: the Israeli shekel.

Since the beginning of 2008 the shekel has made some serious gains against nearly all the major world currencies. The shekel has gained 15% against the dollar, slightly more against the British pound and the Canadian dollar, as well as 8% versus the Swedish kroner and 24% against the South African rand.

Despite rocket attacks and suicide bombers, Israel grows trees where no trees can grow. In the days of the patriarchs Israel was a land flowing with milk and honey. When Jews lost control of Israel it turned into a barren wilderness until Israel once again became a nation. Today, little Jewish children plant trees while Palestinian children plant bombs.

More on tree planting: We happen to be in the middle of the Hebrew year 5768 which is a sabbatical year during which the land has to rest and nothing may be sown or planted in the Land of Israel until Rosh HaShana 5769 (30th September 2008). Judaism is a religion so compassionate that it considers even land worthy of a year of rest.

The Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund runs the Click to Plant website which will enable you to donate a tree now but will actually be planted by KKL-JNF foresters the following year, 5769. To date, KKL-JNF has planted more than 230 million trees throughout Israel. While Jews send money to make the Earth more green, Islamic charities fund death and destruction. You will never see an ad in Saudi Arabia asking for Dinars for D'Trees.

Last Jew in Afghanistan

NBC News Correspondent
By Martin Fletcher

KABUL, Afghanistan – Behind a metal door on Flower Street, past a courtyard piled with junk, up some steep concrete stairs and along a narrow corridor with ornate metal railings in the style of Stars of David, lives the last Jew in Afghanistan.

His home is a side-room off the synagogue; a thin mattress laid along one wall is his bed. In one corner, there is a small table with dusty prayer books, three folding chairs, a crumbling carpet, and a few pictures on the wall, including one of a bearded Hassidic Jew. In the corner by the door, opposite the guest's chair, there is a small blackboard with his name spelled clearly in chalk: Zebulon Simantov. "So that journalists spell my name correctly," he said.

"Who do you work for?" Simantov asked straightaway.

"NBC News," I answered proudly.

Zebulon Simantov, 45, poses at the synagogue in Kabul on Jan. 25, 2005.

"So can you give me lots of money," he said, his tone turning a question into a blunt demand.

"No, I'm afraid not."

"Did you bring me whiskey?"

The interview, which I had looked forward to ever since I received the assignment to visit Kabul, quickly became an embarrassment.

"I bring greetings from a friend of yours in Israel," I said.

"That bastard," Simantov said, spitting out a nut, "he's no friend of mine!"

I knew that Isaac Levy, a Jew who lived in another room in the synagogue, making this odd couple the last two Jews in Afghanistan, had died three years ago. I expressed sympathy.

"Huh," Simantov answered, "I was glad when he died. I didn't speak to him for years. He tried to get me killed."

About 5,000 Jews left Afghanistan after the creation of Israel in 1948, and others left after the 1979 Soviet invasion.

No answers
By now, I was squirming, so I decided to get to the questions that had brought me here. "You're the last Jew in Afghanistan, the last in a community of tens of thousands stretching back centuries," I said. "How do you keep kosher? How do you pursue Jewish rituals? How do you maintain your religion and belief? How do your Muslim neighbors treat you?"

Each question to which I had expected a soulful response elicited instead an answer whose only virtue was its honesty.

"He owes me money," Simantov suddenly erupted, stabbing at the piece of paper on which I had written the name of his alleged friend in Israel.

Simantov, stocky and muscular, was clearly a man of some passion, channeled not into religious fervor but fury.

"Where is my money? Because of him Taliban put me in jail for six months! I can show you the papers!" He scrabbled around and produced customs receipts and a long price list of artifacts and carpets he had bought at the request of his former friend. "I borrowed money to buy this, and he never paid me!"

I clucked in sympathy and decided to move to what I considered safer ground.

"You last saw your wife and two daughters in 1986. Today they live in Israel. Do you miss them?"



I had expected a soulful man, and found this clown.

Still, I persevered, and asked him to show me the synagogue. We put on our shoes and he led me to a room at the end of the corridor. It was quite a large room facing the Haaron Hakodesh, a cupboard containing the holy Torah scroll. He opened its small wooden doors. It was almost empty. I knew the scroll was believed to have been stolen by the Taliban.

Simantov took out the shofar, a curved ram's horn blown on Jewish holidays. He mumbled a prayer and puffed weakly, without making a sound. He offered it to me and I declined. Hebrew inscriptions carved into rock were built into the walls. Dust lined the window sills and covered the floor, and heat wafted in through cracks in the window frames.

"So how much can you give me?" Simantov asked, "A donation for the synagogue." He smiled as he said it. Negotiations ensued, which, to put it mildly, left him unsatisfied.

What a disappointment. But then I thought, we're in Afghanistan, where at roadblocks police routinely demand a bribe and "cigarette money" has always greased the wheels. Foreign aid workers complain that corruption is everywhere and backhanders are a universal irritant.

There was no reason my coreligionist should be different from his countrymen. After all, he had no job beyond maintaining the synagogue, and as he pointed out bluntly: "You make money out of my story, why shouldn't you pay me?"

Still, the last Jew in Afghanistan wasn't what I had expected. Maybe I was naïve.

As I closed the car door, Simantov's parting shot was: "Come back with whiskey! Two bottles! Johnny Walker!"

And as we pulled away we heard the muffled, "Black label!"

Reb Shlomo Carlebach An Interactive quiz

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Priestly Blessing

SourceFlix has posted a video about the priestly blessing on its homepage. It includes an interview of Gabi Barkay, who discovered the Silver Scroll Amulets inscribed with the priestly blessing at Ketef Hinnom in 1979.

In Numbers 6:22–27, the priests are instructed to bless the people of Israel with a three-part blessing known as the Priestly Blessing (or Priestly Benediction).

Speak to Aaron and his sons: Thus shall you bless the people of Israel.

Say to them: The Lord bless you and protect you!

The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you!

The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!

Thus they shall link My name with the people of Israel, and I will bless them.

(Numbers 6:23-27)

The words of this blessing appear on two small, silver amulets discovered in the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem’s Old City. The amulets date to around 600 BCE, hundreds of years before the oldest known copy of any biblical manuscript. Amulets are common throughout the ancient world and are still used today to protect the wearer from spiritual and physical evils. The inscriptions on these amulets conclude with parts of the Priestly Blessing. It is quite possible that they are not quotes from Numbers but that the Priestly Blessing was a well known liturgical passage in Ancient Israelite religion that was used both in amulets and quoted in the Book of Numbers.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Einstein & Faith

He was slow in learning how to talk. "My parents were so worried," he later recalled, "that they consulted a doctor." Even after he had begun using words, sometime after the age of 2, he developed a quirk that prompted the family maid to dub him "der Depperte," the dopey one. Whenever he had something to say, he would try it out on himself, whispering it softly until it sounded good enough to pronounce aloud. "Every sentence he uttered," his worshipful younger sister recalled, "no matter how routine, he repeated to himself softly, moving his lips." It was all very worrying, she said. "He had such difficulty with language that those around him feared he would never learn."

His slow development was combined with a cheeky rebelliousness toward authority, which led one schoolmaster to send him packing and another to declare that he would never amount to much. These traits made Albert Einstein the patron saint of distracted schoolkids everywhere. But they also helped make him, or so he later surmised, the most creative scientific genius of modern times.

His cocky contempt for authority led him to question received wisdom in ways that well-trained acolytes in the academy never contemplated. And as for his slow verbal development, he thought that it allowed him to observe with wonder the everyday phenomena that others took for granted. Instead of puzzling over mysterious things, he puzzled over the commonplace. "When I ask myself how it happened that I in particular discovered the relativity theory, it seemed to lie in the following circumstance," Einstein once explained. "The ordinary adult never bothers his head about the problems of space and time. These are things he has thought of as a child. But I developed so slowly that I began to wonder about space and time only when I was already grown up. Consequently, I probed more deeply into the problem than an ordinary child would have."

It may seem logical, in retrospect, that a combination of awe and rebellion made Einstein exceptional as a scientist. But what is less well known is that those two traits also combined to shape his spiritual journey and determine the nature of his faith. The rebellion part comes in at the beginning of his life: he rejected at first his parents' secularism and later the concepts of religious ritual and of a personal God who intercedes in the daily workings of the world. But the awe part comes in his 50s when he settled into a deism based on what he called the "spirit manifest in the laws of the universe" and a sincere belief in a "God who reveals Himself in the harmony of all that exists."

Einstein was descended, on both parents' sides, from Jewish tradesmen and peddlers who had, for at least two centuries, made modest livings in the rural villages of Swabia in southwestern Germany. With each generation they had become increasingly assimilated into the German culture they loved--or so they thought. Although Jewish by cultural designation and kindred instinct, they had little interest in the religion itself.

In his later years, Einstein would tell an old joke about an agnostic uncle who was the only member of his family who went to synagogue. When asked why he did so, the uncle would respond, "Ah, but you never know." Einstein's parents, on the other hand, were "entirely irreligious." They did not keep kosher or attend synagogue, and his father Hermann referred to Jewish rituals as "ancient superstitions," according to a relative.

Consequently, when Albert turned 6 and had to go to school, his parents did not care that there was no Jewish one near their home. Instead he went to the large Catholic school in their neighborhood. As the only Jew among the 70 students in his class, he took the standard course in Catholic religion and ended up enjoying it immensely.

Despite his parents' secularism, or perhaps because of it, Einstein rather suddenly developed a passionate zeal for Judaism. "He was so fervent in his feelings that, on his own, he observed Jewish religious strictures in every detail," his sister recalled. He ate no pork, kept kosher and obeyed the strictures of the Sabbath. He even composed his own hymns, which he sang to himself as he walked home from school.

Einstein's greatest intellectual stimulation came from a poor student who dined with his family once a week. It was an old Jewish custom to take in a needy religious scholar to share the Sabbath meal; the Einsteins modified the tradition by hosting instead a medical student on Thursdays. His name was Max Talmud, and he began his weekly visits when he was 21 and Einstein was 10.

Talmud brought Einstein science books, including a popular illustrated series called People's Books on Natural Science, "a work which I read with breathless attention," said Einstein. The 21 volumes were written by Aaron Bernstein, who stressed the interrelations between biology and physics, and reported in great detail the experiments being done at the time, especially in Germany.

Talmud also helped Einstein explore the wonders of mathematics by giving him a textbook on geometry two years before he was scheduled to learn that subject in school. When Talmud arrived each Thursday, Einstein delighted in showing him the problems he had solved that week. Initially, Talmud was able to help him, but he was soon surpassed by his pupil. "After a short time, a few months, he had worked through the whole book," Talmud recalled. "Soon the flight of his mathematical genius was so high that I could no longer follow."

Einstein's exposure to science and math produced a sudden transformation at age 12, just as he would have been readying for a bar mitzvah. He suddenly gave up Judaism. That decision does not appear to have been drawn from Bernstein's books because the author made clear he saw no contradiction between science and religion. As he put it, "The religious inclination lies in the dim consciousness that dwells in humans that all nature, including the humans in it, is in no way an accidental game, but a work of lawfulness that there is a fundamental cause of all existence."

Einstein would later come close to these sentiments. But at the time, his leap away from faith was a radical one. "Through the reading of popular scientific books, I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic orgy of free thinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies; it was a crushing impression."

Einstein did, however, retain from his childhood religious phase a profound faith in, and reverence for, the harmony and beauty of what he called the mind of God as it was expressed in the creation of the universe and its laws. Around the time he turned 50, he began to articulate more clearly--in various essays, interviews and letters--his deepening appreciation of his belief in God, although a rather impersonal version of one. One particular evening in 1929, the year he turned 50, captures Einstein's middle-age deistic faith. He and his wife were at a dinner party in Berlin when a guest expressed a belief in astrology. Einstein ridiculed the notion as pure superstition. Another guest stepped in and similarly disparaged religion. Belief in God, he insisted, was likewise a superstition.

At this point the host tried to silence him by invoking the fact that even Einstein harbored religious beliefs. "It isn't possible!" the skeptical guest said, turning to Einstein to ask if he was, in fact, religious. "Yes, you can call it that," Einstein replied calmly. "Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that, behind all the discernible laws and connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable. Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion. To that extent I am, in fact, religious."

Shortly after his 50th birthday, Einstein also gave a remarkable interview in which he was more revealing than he had ever been about his religious sensibility. It was with George Sylvester Viereck, who had been born in Germany, moved to America as a child and then spent his life writing gaudily erotic poetry, interviewing great men and expressing his complex love for his fatherland. Einstein assumed Viereck was Jewish. In fact, Viereck proudly traced his lineage to the family of the Kaiser, and he would later become a Nazi sympathizer who was jailed in America during World War II for being a German propagandist.

Viereck began by asking Einstein whether he considered himself a German or a Jew. "It's possible to be both," replied Einstein. "Nationalism is an infantile disease, the measles of mankind."

Should Jews try to assimilate? "We Jews have been too eager to sacrifice our idiosyncrasies in order to conform."

To what extent are you influenced by Christianity? "As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene."

You accept the historical existence of Jesus? "Unquestionably! No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life."

Do you believe in God? "I'm not an atheist. I don't think I can call myself a pantheist. The problem involved is too vast for our limited minds. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn't know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God. We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws."

Is this a Jewish concept of God? "I am a determinist. I do not believe in free will. Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine. In that respect I am not a Jew."

Is this Spinoza's God? "I am fascinated by Spinoza's pantheism, but I admire even more his contribution to modern thought because he is the first philosopher to deal with the soul and body as one, and not two separate things."

Do you believe in immortality? "No. And one life is enough for me."

Einstein tried to express these feelings clearly, both for himself and all of those who wanted a simple answer from him about his faith. So in the summer of 1930, amid his sailing and ruminations in Caputh, he composed a credo, "What I Believe," that he recorded for a human-rights group and later published. It concluded with an explanation of what he meant when he called himself religious: "The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead, a snuffed-out candle. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is something that our minds cannot grasp, whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly: this is religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I am a devoutly religious man."

People found the piece evocative, and it was reprinted repeatedly in a variety of translations. But not surprisingly, it did not satisfy those who wanted a simple answer to the question of whether or not he believed in God. "The outcome of this doubt and befogged speculation about time and space is a cloak beneath which hides the ghastly apparition of atheism," Boston's Cardinal William Henry O'Connell said. This public blast from a Cardinal prompted the noted Orthodox Jewish leader in New York, Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein, to send a very direct telegram: "Do you believe in God? Stop. Answer paid. 50 words." Einstein used only about half his allotted number of words. It became the most famous version of an answer he gave often: "I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind."

Some religious Jews reacted by pointing out that Spinoza had been excommunicated from Amsterdam's Jewish community for holding these beliefs, and that he had also been condemned by the Catholic Church. "Cardinal O'Connell would have done well had he not attacked the Einstein theory," said one Bronx rabbi. "Einstein would have done better had he not proclaimed his nonbelief in a God who is concerned with fates and actions of individuals. Both have handed down dicta outside their jurisdiction."

But throughout his life, Einstein was consistent in rejecting the charge that he was an atheist. "There are people who say there is no God," he told a friend. "But what makes me really angry is that they quote me for support of such views." And unlike Sigmund Freud or Bertrand Russell or George Bernard Shaw, Einstein never felt the urge to denigrate those who believed in God; instead, he tended to denigrate atheists. "What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos," he explained.

In fact, Einstein tended to be more critical of debunkers, who seemed to lack humility or a sense of awe, than of the faithful. "The fanatical atheists," he wrote in a letter, "are like slaves who are still feeling the weight of their chains which they have thrown off after hard struggle. They are creatures who--in their grudge against traditional religion as the 'opium of the masses'-- cannot hear the music of the spheres."

Einstein later explained his view of the relationship between science and religion at a conference at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. The realm of science, he said, was to ascertain what was the case, but not evaluate human thoughts and actions about what should be the case. Religion had the reverse mandate. Yet the endeavors worked together at times. "Science can be created only by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding," he said. "This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion." The talk got front-page news coverage, and his pithy conclusion became famous. "The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."

But there was one religious concept, Einstein went on to say, that science could not accept: a deity who could meddle at whim in the events of his creation. "The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God," he argued. Scientists aim to uncover the immutable laws that govern reality, and in doing so they must reject the notion that divine will, or for that matter human will, plays a role that would violate this cosmic causality.

His belief in causal determinism was incompatible with the concept of human free will. Jewish as well as Christian theologians have generally believed that people are responsible for their actions. They are even free to choose, as happens in the Bible, to disobey God's commandments, despite the fact that this seems to conflict with a belief that God is all knowing and all powerful.

Einstein, on the other hand, believed--as did Spinoza--that a person's actions were just as determined as that of a billiard ball, planet or star. "Human beings in their thinking, feeling and acting are not free but are as causally bound as the stars in their motions," Einstein declared in a statement to a Spinoza Society in 1932. It was a concept he drew also from his reading of Schopenhauer. "Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity," he wrote in his famous credo. "Schopenhauer's saying, 'A man can do as he wills, but not will as he wills,' has been a real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life's hardships, my own and others', and an unfailing wellspring of tolerance."

This determinism appalled some friends such as Max Born, who thought it completely undermined the foundations of human morality. "I cannot understand how you can combine an entirely mechanistic universe with the freedom of the ethical individual," he wrote Einstein. "To me a deterministic world is quite abhorrent. Maybe you are right, and the world is that way, as you say. But at the moment it does not really look like it in physics--and even less so in the rest of the world."

For Born, quantum uncertainty provided an escape from this dilemma. Like some philosophers of the time, he latched onto the indeterminacy that was inherent in quantum mechanics to resolve "the discrepancy between ethical freedom and strict natural laws."

Born explained the issue to his wife Hedwig, who was always eager to debate Einstein. She told Einstein that, like him, she was "unable to believe in a 'dice-playing' God." In other words, unlike her husband, she rejected quantum mechanics' view that the universe was based on uncertainties and probabilities. But, she added, "nor am I able to imagine that you believe--as Max has told me--that your 'complete rule of law' means that everything is predetermined, for example whether I am going to have my child inoculated." It would mean, she pointed out, the end of all moral behavior.

But Einstein's answer was to look upon free will as something that was useful, indeed necessary, for a civilized society, because it caused people to take responsibility for their own actions. "I am compelled to act as if free will existed," he explained, "because if I wish to live in a civilized society I must act responsibly." He could even hold people responsible for their good or evil, since that was both a pragmatic and sensible approach to life, while still believing intellectually that everyone's actions were predetermined. "I know that philosophically a murderer is not responsible for his crime," he said, "but I prefer not to take tea with him."

The foundation of morality, he believed, was rising above the "merely personal" to live in a way that benefited humanity. He dedicated himself to the cause of world peace and, after encouraging the U.S. to build the atom bomb to defeat Hitler, worked diligently to find ways to control such weapons. He raised money to help fellow refugees, spoke out for racial justice and publicly stood up for those who were victims of McCarthyism. And he tried to live with a humor, humility, simplicity and geniality even as he became one of the most famous faces on the planet.

For some people, miracles serve as evidence of God's existence. For Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence. The fact that the world was comprehensible, that it followed laws, was worthy of awe.