Forward Thinking

Would Charlie Hebdo Have Angered So Many Online?

By Gal Beckerman

Getty Images

I’ve had a swirl of emotions in response to the attack on France’s satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, which has left 12 dead, including many of this generation’s greatest cartoonists. I’m raging at the brutality of the act and find myself utterly incapable of getting anywhere near an understanding of a worldview so insecure that it would prompt murder at the slightest sound of a giggle. But there’s another thought too: Would Charlie Hebdo have been so dangerous to these extremists if it had only existed online?

If you’ve worked as a journalist or editor at a print publication over the past few years, you understand a certain unavoidable feeling of irrelevance. One question — “But who’s reading it? — very often gets plunked down in newsrooms or over drinks after the paper has been put to bed (remember that expression?). It’s not just that analytics allows us to see, literally, who is reading us online, whereas print doesn’t afford the same precise insight. It’s also the sense that fewer and fewer people are actually sitting down with a newspaper or magazine in physical form.

I’m not engaging in simple nostalgia. There are wonderful reasons that I don’t need to enumerate here — online! — for why the new means of communicating news and opinion are an improvement. But when I think about what is lost by going online, it’s the sense of presence that print provides, of being right in front of your face with no chance at clicking elsewhere. Charlie Hebdo in its oversized format and its huge cartoon covers revels in print. In its aesthetics I can’t think of any American publication quite like it in the last twenty years — not since magazines like Life or Andy Warhol’s Interview ceased printing at such gargantuan dimensions.

Would its depictions of Mohammed have rankled so many in the Muslim world if they had been only online? I don’t really know. But it’s certainly true that the troubles for cartoonists over the last few years, beginning in 2005 with the printing of caricatures of Mohammed in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, seem to have begun when the cartoons appeared on paper. And Charlie Hebdo, as I remember the magazine from my days living in Paris almost two decades ago, is a sort of advertisement for itself, with the cover caricature so large that it’s unavoidable as you walk past any newsstand.

That quality of print, always a cousin to the book, in all its solidity and self-importance, in this case resulted in these horrific deaths. We should remember that power today. The medium still distinguishes itself from online journalism by not seeming ephemeral, by looking and feeling like something that was made to last, to shock, to be looked at and — as the French would say — digested. Sadly, it’s also a medium that, when upsetting the hair-trigger sensitivities of zealots, can lead to a massacre.

1 Billion Chinese. 1 Jew. So Many Questions.

By Steven Windmueller

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

One month ago, I returned from China, where I was the guest of the Guilford and Diane Glazer Center for Jewish and Israeli Studies at Nanjing University. The Glazers are not the only Jewish philanthropic connection — many American Jews have made commitments in support of China’s ten academic centers of Jewish study. Yes, you read that right — there are no less than ten centers for studying Judaism in China.

The Chinese have a fascination with Jews, you see. It’s partly because of mythologies related to perceived notions of “Jewish political influence” in America, but it’s also connected to the significance of Jews in Western history and culture. As the “other” great ancient civilization, Jews enjoy a level of respect and admiration among the Chinese.

My hosts at Nanjing made a conscious effort to expose me to scholars and students not only at that university but also at two other higher educational centers. Over a 12-day visit, I was invited to offer presentations on everything from the Israel-Diaspora partnership to the uniqueness of the American Jewish experience. My audiences included Jewish studies majors, academic officials and students from an array of disciplines, as well as ordinary Chinese citizens simply interested in the material.

So what did the Chinese want to learn about Jews in the United States? They were mostly focused on these questions: Why did such a community within the U.S. feel it important, even essential, to be politically engaged? Why did American Jews have a particular connection to Jews worldwide and especially to the State of Israel? What did Jewish peoplehood represent, and how did Jews maintain their connections across continents?

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How Pepper Spray Became Jerusalem's Weapon of Choice

By Naomi Zeveloff

Jerusalem store owner Amir Schreiber has sold out of pepper spray multiple times / Naomi Zeveloff

Pepper spray has become a hot commodity in Jerusalem as the city’s Jewish citizens are arming themselves in the wake of recent Palestinian attacks — and some innocent Palestinians are getting sprayed.

On Jerusalem Facebook groups, people are asking and advertising for the product, and in the city’s brick and mortar stores, sales of the spray are up. In November, a “make your own pepper spray” cooking class was even advertised on Facebook.

Tal Yona, a 17-year-old Jerusalemite, began selling pepper spray with three friends after the Har Nof attack, when two Palestinians killed four Jewish worshippers at an Orthodox synagogue in the West Jerusalem neighborhood.

Yona knew a friend who was selling the spray, and he asked to get in on the business. “I figured it was a great idea, we would be making money and citizens would be able to protect themselves,” he said.

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Stephen Hawking's Worst Nightmare? Golem 2.0

By Benjamin Blech

The Maharal of Prague brings the Golem to life / Tumblr

(JTA) — Stephen Hawking is much in the news these days. His personal story, the subject of the recently released film “The Theory of Everything,” is already spoken of as an Oscar contender. Diagnosed in 1963 with the dreaded Lou Gehrig’s disease and given two years to live, he went on to a brilliant career, became the author of international best-sellers, received dozens of honorary degrees and gained broad recognition as one of the most brilliant theoretical physicists since Einstein.

Hawking is clearly someone undaunted by personal fears. Yet in a recent BBC interview, Hawking confided that he was deeply concerned for the future of humanity. The cause of his concern is artificial intelligence, or AI, the creation of intelligent machines able to “outthink” their creators. What began with IBM’s Watson supercomputer, capable of handily beating chess grandmasters and the best players on “Jeopardy!,” may in the near future, Hawking warned, checkmate its designers to become the Earth’s ruler.

“The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race,” Hawking said.

Science fiction already has prepared us to contemplate such a scenario. Films like “The Terminator” and “The Matrix” pit puny humans against AI-driven enemies. The upcoming “Avengers” movie depicts superheroes forced to battle Ultron, an AI machine determined to destroy mankind.

There’s a world of difference between the ability to create and the power to control. As Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, has put it, “It may be hard to write an algorithmic moral code strong enough to constrain and contain super-smart software.” The greatest danger of scientific progress is the possibility that what we bring into being realizes a life of its own and is no longer subservient to its maker nor human values.

That is what has been the subliminal message for centuries of the famous legend of the golem of Prague. In Jewish tradition, Judah Loew, the 16th century rabbi of Prague, used his knowledge of Jewish mysticism to magically animate a lifeless lump of clay and turn it into a super human defender of the Jewish people. On its forehead he wrote the Hebrew word for truth, “emet,” which mystically gave the creature its power.

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How I Remember Mario Cuomo

By Ruth Messinger

In my many years of public service, the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo stands out as a powerful figure who made his mark with both his mind and his words.

A distinguished leader of the state for 12 years, Cuomo was a moving progressive thinker and a brilliant orator. His intelligent and compelling speeches defined and strengthened a liberal view of the world at a time when too few others held these positions and fewer still chose to advertise them widely.

Governor Cuomo took his Roman Catholic faith seriously and brought progressive faith-based values into the public square, speaking eloquently about the poor in our country at a time when such pronouncements were distinctly out of fashion.

He spoke pointedly about a “tale of two cities” as a metaphor about the rich and poor in America in a direct challenge to President Ronald Reagan’s claim that all Americans were prospering as if they were in a “city on a hill.” At that particular low point in American politics known as the Reagan era, it was exhilarating to listen to Governor Cuomo articulate the role that government should play in providing a greater degree of equity and a better quality of life for all.

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Did We Get USY's Interfaith Dating Shift Wrong?

By Uriel Heilman

lior zaltzman

Ever since publication of my Dec. 23 story on the decision by United Synagogue Youth to relax its rules barring teenage USY board members from dating non-Jews (“USY drops ban on interdating”), JTA has found itself at the center of a firestorm about coverage of the Conservative youth movement’s decision. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the movement’s Rabbinical Assembly: “We are dismayed by the mischaracterization of these policies in the press.”

Rabbi Steven Wernick, CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: “We live in a society that shoots first and asks questions later… We’re talking about two sentences: You don’t teach people how to have a life of value in a constitutional document.”

Rabbi Michael Knopf of Temple Beth-El in Richmond, Va., writing in Haaretz: “What makes for good click-bait does not necessarily convey truth.”

Andrew Van Bochove, a Times of Israel blogger and middle school band director who works with USYers: “The same exact day the USYers were being socially active, the JTA published an article that rapidly spread with negativity. Such negativity can be construed As Lashon Hara (gossip) which is actually one of the items the USYers at discussion are trying to conquer.”

Here at JTA, we’ve watched the brouhaha with some degree of bewilderment. What, exactly, did we get wrong?

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Is Ted Cruz a Big Draw in Kosher Vacationland?

By Anthony Weiss

(JTA) — Imagine your ideal Passover getaway. What would it include? Sandy beaches? Emerald green fairways? Kosher haute cuisine? Sen. Ted Cruz?

If the Prime Hospitality Group is any judge, you’ll want all of those things. Especially the last one.

Politico is reporting that the Prime Group, which specializes in offering lavish getaways for religiously observant Jews, is billing the firebrand Texas senator as a prime attraction for its 2015 Passover packages. Prime lists Cruz as a featured speaker for vacationers at high-end destinations including Aspen, Colo.; Westlake Village and Monach Beach, Calif.; and Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, alongside prominent rabbis such as Jonathan Sacks and Marvin Hier, and top communal officials like Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein.

A Cruz adviser told Politico that the senator would only be speaking once, at Monarch Beach, suggesting that “well-meaning program organizers overstated his participation.” But the fact that Prime Group is eager, or even over-eager, to tout Cruz to its well-heeled, kosher-observant clientele suggests that Cruz is successfully carving out a niche for himself in the Jewish world, and that, in turn could have major repercussions for the 2016 presidential race.

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Sticking by Shabbat Was Real Story at USY

By Dan Dorsch

(Haaretz) — The Jewish Telegraphic Agency wire service ran an article about the United Synagogue Youth’s annual international convention, under the headline “USY drops ban on interdating.”

Unfortunately, this headline, which was widely circulated among Jewish news outlets, failed to capture the real issue that emerged from the confab. A more apt headline would have been “Jewish teens in 21st century Diaspora cast vote in favor of Shabbat observance.”

The Conservative youth movement’s teenage board members, who convened in Atlanta, Georgia, last week, used positive language to reframe the traditional requirements for those elected to the board.

They spoke about creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, and fostering healthy attitudes toward Jewish dating. They eliminated the harshly worded “lo taaseh” (“thou shalt not”) ban on interdating, replacing it with a call to “model healthy Jewish dating choices.”

However, if we in the Jewish community spend our time focusing on interdating reform, then we have missed the real issue in this story: the youth leaders’ decision to uphold the requirement that they observe Shabbat.

There has always been an expectation that USY leaders should publicly maintain Shabbat observance. In practical terms, this means not being “out on Friday night,” not going to school on Jewish holidays, synagogue involvement, and trying to make place for Shabbat and holidays within one’s home, regardless of your family’s level of observance.

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The Perks of Being a Video Reporter

By Martyna Starosta

As the end of the year approaches, I feel it’s time to disclose some of the sweet perks I enjoyed as the Forward’s video reporter. Just to confess and get clean for 2015.

1) I got to travel

The best thing about being a video reporter is that you can’t do your interviews over the phone. You have to go out into the world. That’s how I escape my sun-deprived office desk on a regular basis.

For “Cracow Crescendo” I traveled to Poland to capture the voices of a new choir at the local JCC. Listen closely. Between song lines, you can hear the cautious hope for a Jewish revival.

For “Nomadic Love” I walked the gritty streets of Berlin with artist Liad Hussein Kantorowicz, who told me how the German capital has become a magnet for soul-searchers from Israel.

And for “Scars in the Garden” I stepped deep into the mud of East Detroit to learn about a community farm where African-Americans and Jews come together to harvest a new era of trust.

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Let's Make 2015 the Year of the Arab Jew

By Sigal Samuel

Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam / Courtesy of Neta Elkayam

Call it a confirmation bias. Everywhere I turned this year, I saw a new expression of Arab Jewish identity. The revival seems to be happening across all fields — literature, food, music — yet somehow nobody’s talking about it.

As an Arab Jewish writer (my family hails from Morocco, India and Iraq), I couldn’t be happier about this flurry of cultural expression. I’m often dismayed by how “Ashkenazi” becomes a stand-in for “Jewish,” while Sephardic and Mizrachi voices fall by the wayside.

Imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered Eduardo Halfon’s new novel, “Monastery,” in which the conflicted, tragicomic protagonist denies his Arab identity when talking to certain Jews, and his Jewish identity when talking to certain Arabs.

I also geeked out over two academic books this year: Lital Levy’s “Poetic Trespass” and Liora Halperin’s “Babel in Zion” argue that Arabic is every bit as Jewish as Hebrew is. Early Zionists may have tried to separate Palestinians and Jews by marking Arabic as “their” language and Hebrew as “ours,” but that doesn’t erase the fact that families like mine spoke, studied and sang in Arabic for centuries.

Neta Elkayam sings “Ta’ali” / YouTube

Young Jewish musicians are reclaiming Arabic as they explore their roots. Some of them focus on preserving rare video and audio clips. Regine Basha, for example, collects Iraqi Jewish music in her archival project, “Tuning Baghdad.” Others, like Moroccan-Israeli singer Neta Elkayam, remix their grandparents’ musical traditions and bring them into the 21st century. Elkayam speaks perfect Hebrew, but she chooses to sing in Marocayit, the Arabic dialect of her grandparents (and mine).

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Why This Jew Stands With Christians on Christmas

By Eliyahu Federman

Displaced Christians sell holiday crafts at a market in the Kurdish city of Erbil / Getty Images

As a Jew, I’m not literally celebrating Christmas — it’s not my tradition. But I will spend the day celebrating the fact that Christians are proudly observing their traditions amid relentless persecution.

This year has seen more global persecution of Christians than any other in recent history:

The U.S. Center for the Study of Global Christianity has estimated that 100,000 Christians die every year because of their faith, while the Washington-based, non-partisan Pew Research Center has said that Christians today face some form of discrimination in 139 countries – almost three-quarters of the world’s nations. There are Christians in jail for blasphemy in Pakistan. Churches are being burned and worshippers slaughtered in Nigeria and Egypt, which has seen its worst anti-Christian activity in recent years.

Religious persecution is a very real part of the Jewish experience, with blood libels, expulsions, pogroms, forced conversions, massacres, culminating in the murder of over 6 million Jews in a 20th century Holocaust. Christians today are experiencing these types of atrocities more than any other religion.

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Why I Hate the Christmas Version of ‘Hallelujah’

By Sigal Samuel

Leonard Cohen / Getty Images

Have you heard the Christmas version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” a recently released YouTube sensation by Kansas-based band Cloverton? Well, I have, and I hate it. But not for the reasons you might think.

Am I pissed off — as many Jews appear to be — on Cohen’s behalf, because he’s Jewish and these musicians have “converted” his lyrics, turning the song into the Christian story of Jesus’ birth? Of course not. Anyone who knows Cohen knows that his Judaism is not the tribalist sort. For him, music transcends religion. It’s spiritual, but only in the sublime sense; he couldn’t care less about thou-shalt-and-shalt-not Judaism, and he couldn’t care less about members of another religion making a spin-off of his song. That’s why he and his record company, Sony Columbia, gave Cloverton permission to do just that.

Am I offended, then, because the remake replaces Cohen’s references to the “Jewish” Old Testament with references to the New? Of course not. The Old Testament isn’t just a Jewish text; it’s a core part of the Christian canon, too. So if Christian musicians want to swap out allusions to one of their texts for allusions to another, spinning them into a new song, I have zero problem with that.

Unless, of course, the new song sucks. Which this one does.

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6 Ways To Cure Your 'Serial' Withdrawal

By Lior Zaltzman

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Season one of Serial is over. I don’t know about you, but I shed a tear. My Thursdays just won’t be the same without the sensational “This American Life” spin-off, produced and narrated by Sarah Koenig.

While Serial was a Serious podcast — serious with a capital “S,” because the true crime drama is about a real-life case with real-life implications — it did provide us with some delicious moments of levity. So without further ado, to help ward off your Serial withdrawal, I give you the podcast’s funniest and silliest (little or big) moments:

1. Dana and Julie Visit the Mad Hatter: The last episode of Serial has a lot to it. But luckily we get a last glimpse (of the season) into Dana, Julie and Sarah’s office womance. In an important conversation, in which Dana Chivvis and Julie Snyder find a way to refute one of the most damning pieces of evidence against Adnan, Dana is showing Sarah a picture of the Old Records Department. Sarah notes that it looks like the mad hatter’s archive room.

Sarah: Were you the first humanoid who’d come down in like fifteen years?

Dana: Yeah, they were like: “What news do you bring?”

It was so sweet to get that glimpse into their dynamic. It had absolutely no reason to be there aside from adding their voice and personality to the show. I can’t wait for another season of Serial with these big dorks.

2. Is there a Phone Booth at the Best Buy? The phone booth at the Best Buy has gained a mythical status. Yes, even Best Buy tweeted about the pay phone at Best Buy. Where was the pay phone? Was it inside the Best Buy? Was it outside the Best Buy? Did anything even happen at the Best Buy? Why is Best Buy such a confusing place?

3. “There’s a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib?” In what is arguably the most adorable moment on Serial, an absent-minded Dana Chivvis can’t help but be distracted by a shrimp sale at the Crab Crib. “Sometimes I think Dana isn’t listening to me,” Sarah tells us. It may be Sarah’s Jewish heritage that makes her immune to appetizing sales of non-kosher food items. Or just her fierce journalistic drive. You decide.

4. Christina Guiterrez accuses Jay of “stepping out”: No, not the kind of frolic-some, innocent stepping out Jo Jackson sings of in his 1982 smash hit. The kind of stepping out Christina Guiterrez, Adnan’s defense attorney, accuses Jay of is much more sinister. I have to say I hadn’t heard of that as an expression for cheating…possibly ever. So next time you want to accuse your significant other of cheating, just drawl: “If you were stepping out on me… With any person… Of any name… In any location… That would impact our relationship, would it not?” It’ll make for a great disincentive.

5. The most ridiculous fight about stabbing in radio: Teenage Jay is the most quirky, hilarious person. I mean, according to sources, he has a rat-eating frog. In the episode “The Deal with Jay,” a friend of Jay’s tells a story about the time Jay offered to charity-stab him when he found out he had never been stabbed before. “Yo, I’m not gonna stab you deep but you’ve never been stabbed before, you need to know what it’s like,” is what benevolent Jay said, according to his friend. Ah, friendship.

Mail… Kimp?

6. Mail… Khimp? Surprisingly, the most popular moment of the podcast comes in the beginning. In an introduction of sponsors, different people read out the name of the “Mailchimp,” the e-mail newsletter company. A little girl (I hope, and not a somewhat illiterate grown woman with a baby voice) mistakenly reads it as mail-KIMP. “Mail-KIMP?!” said Serial podcast listeners. “Why, I have never heard anything more grating/adorable/hilarious/perplexing in my life!” And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how an internet meme is born.

What are some of your favorite Serial moments?

Bonus: the funniest Serial parodies:

Our Serial Obsession with Serial:

SNL’s Chris Cringle Serial parody this week was amazing. Aidy Bryant’s impression of Christina Guiterrez is hilarious:

Funny Or Die corroborates our most ridiculous conspiracy theory:

A great series of audio parodies from Paul Laudiero:

P.S: Don’t forget to check out Terri Gross’ interview with Sarah Koenig on Fresh Air.

Stop Babying Israel at the U.N. Security Council

By Lara Friedman

Young Jews argue with pro-Palestinian supporters beside a banner calling for a Palestinian state

The prospect of a U.N. Security Council vote on parameters and a timeline for Israel-Palestinian negotiations, coming as it does in the lead-up to Israeli elections, is eliciting this tricky argument: “We can’t pressure Israel when Israelis are going to the polls, because it will only help the Right.”

That argument fits neatly into the list of memes that time and time again have been used to justify U.S. inaction in the Israeli-Palestinian arena. Memes like: “We can’t press for peace with the region in upheaval.” “We can’t ask any Israeli prime minister to take action that could destabilize his government.” “This is a losing issue that will cost any president and his party dearly.”

All of these memes are grounded in two self-congratulatory, self-serving premises: that we really, truly are committed to achieving peace and a two-state solution; and that we really, truly would take consequential action to achieve these goals, but circumstances beyond our control prevent it.

These memes have the quality of “truthiness,” making intuitive sense to Americans who are sick of Middle East wars and foreign interventions. But truthiness is not the same as truth.

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A Threat to Israel in America’s Cuba Policy?

By Steven Windmueller

Obama is caricatured as Che Guevara, an iconic symbol of Cuba’s revolution, on the cover of Brazilian magazine Veja / Getty Images

As a life-long Democrat, I was deeply disturbed by the Obama Administration’s decision to act unilaterally on the Cuban question. The policy option may have been a valid one, but the process invoked raises major concerns.

Realizing that his presidency would be without a Democratic majority in either the Senate or House for the remainder of his term, did Obama decide that his Administration would conduct the business of foreign policy outside of the traditional policy framework of bipartisanship?

The embargo on Cuba was set into place 54 years ago, in 1960. We need to remind ourselves that both Republicans and Democrats embraced the actions taken at that time by the Eisenhower Administration.

Obama’s arbitrary action, taken without any public input or Congressional oversight, raises a set of challenging questions. Do each of the president’s recent pronouncements, including his executive order on immigration and the Iran nuclear agreement, suggest a different framework for decision-making by this White House? Will we continue to see a series of new political pronouncements without the engagement of the Congress or the input of public opinion?

I introduce these questions in the context of my particular concern for the U.S.-Israel relationship. Could such a proactive decision-making pattern have some potential linkage to a change in America’s special and historic relationship with Israel? Could the Administration’s frustration with the Netanyahu government produce a similar outcome, namely a shift in its balance of support?

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How To Be a Modern Maccabee Without Getting Arrested

By Mitchel Davidovitz

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

Despite having nearly no religious significance, Hanukkah stands out as an important cultural event for American Jewry. American gentiles view it as the quintessential Jewish holiday, mostly due to its calendar proximity to Christmas and its inclusion on holiday TV programs. Jewish symbols featured in ads are used to get the Jewish population to participate in “holiday season” consumerism. This is a part of TV’s much broader role in assimilating Jews and other minority groups into America’s capitalist culture. Which is a great irony, because the Hanukkah story is about a revolt against those attempting to acculturate the Jewish people.

My religious upbringing, one typical of a Conservative Jewish family in America, included joyous celebrations of Hanukkah filled with community, bonding and gifts. We sat around the table eating traditional home-cooked meals with lit candles in our menorahs. My brothers and I particularly enjoyed the celebration, since it did not include any dense prayer sessions like other holidays. On occasion we were told the story of Hanukkah: Long ago, Jewish people led by a group known as the Maccabees, whose name is taken from the Hebrew word meaning “hammer,” re-gained control of our holy Temple. Those Hebrew people found one day’s worth of oil that burned miraculously in the Temple’s candelabra for eight days.

The cute oil miracle narrative is a common, child-friendly alternative to the graphic version of the story about the seven-year Maccabean Revolt against the occupying Seleucid Empire. According to Jewish texts, a significant portion of the Jewish population in Jerusalem had become Hellenistic and sympathetic to the occupying power after many years of acculturation. A decree was supposedly given that forbade Jewish religious practice and all were forced to worship Greek gods. This sparked a guerrilla revolt led by the rural Judah Maccabee and his militants. These Jewish heroes attacked not only the occupying force, but Hellenistic Jews as well. The Maccabees smashed the public Pagan altars of acculturated Jews and even forcefully circumcised their boys.

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Enough With the Menorah Selfies Already!

By Jay Michaelson

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

A friend of mine on Facebook joked, “Can you fulfill pirsumei nisa (the commandment to publicize the Hanukkah miracle) by posting pictures of your menorah online?”

It’s a fun, quasi-halachic question that juxtaposes an ancient commandment with contemporary technology. But it’s also a reflection of how much amateur photography has become part of our lives. In that same Facebook feed, I must’ve seen a dozen snapshots of candles blazing, over tin foil and glass, all oddly alike.

The ubiquity of camera-enabled smartphones, coupled with the information technology to instantly share their productions, has revealed (or created) a widespread human need to capture and share everything that happens to us. Along with menorahs, my Facebook feed included thoroughly uninteresting pictures of sufganiyot, latkes, dreidels and gelt. The Hanukkah miracle has been extended: the holiday seems like it only lasts eight days, but there’s enough bandwidth to preserve it well into the next century.

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News Quiz: What New Law Did President Obama Pass?

By Lenore Skenazy

Getty Images

Latkes, new laws, Hillary Clinton and tri-sexuals. Some weeks are just weirder than others, even for Jews.

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How To Survive One of the Longest Nights Ever

By Sigal Samuel


If ever there was a good night to light Hanukkah candles, it’s tonight — one of the longest nights in human history.

No, that’s not a figure of speech. It is literally one of the longest nights Earth has ever seen!

You may already know that December 21-22 is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year for anyone living in the Northern Hemisphere. But did you know that the Earth’s rotation is actually slowing down over time, which means that in a typical year the length of a day increases by 15-25 millionths of a second, which means that this year’s winter solstice will be longer than in years past (and could’ve been the longest ever had it not been for climate change)?

It’s true. True, and also inconvenient, because the teeny increase means that every few years official timekeepers are forced to add a “leap second”!

The reason for the phenomenon, scientists explain, has to do with the moon and a little something called tidal acceleration. We won’t get into all the geeky details here, but if you want to understand the science behind it, check out this explanation over at Vox. If you’re content to take this on faith, the important thing to remember is that the stretch of darkness we’re about to experience is much longer than our poor planet normally endures.

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'Serial' Ends With Nod to Jewish Prof

By Gabrielle Birkner

Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

(JTA) — No spoilers here about the “Serial” season finale, but I will say this much: The episode ends with … a special thanks to a certain Jewish studies professor.

That would be Benjamin Schreier, the interim director of the Jewish studies program at Penn State and the husband of “Serial” host Sarah Koenig.

With “Serial,” Koenig has achieved something akin to superstardom. Her “This American Life” spinoff, in which she reexamines a 15-year-old murder case, has topped iTunes charts — with a reported 31 million downloads as of earlier this week.

“Fame hasn’t changed her. She’s been too busy working on the story to pay attention” to all of the buzz surrounding the podcast sensation, said Schreier, an associate professor of English and Jewish studies at the State College, Pa., university.

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