The Shmooze

Buzzfeed, Torah-Style

By Anne Cohen

Have you ever scrolled through Buzzfeed thinking, ‘If only this could be a little more Jewish?”

Someone in the wide netherworld of the Internet has heard your prayers and answered them. The result is BuzzTorah, a spoof of the news site that launched a thousand listicles created by Yeshiva University students.

The website self-describes as a “Torah and Jewish Life website featuring quick and comprehensive content like lists, pictures, GIFs, and short articles. We believe the internet can be a strong tool capable of affecting change and spreading Jewish values.”

Some of the content — like “7 Charosets from Around the World” —  could actually be featured on Buzzfeed, which has been known to publish a Jewish-themed article or two (“35 Signs You Were Raised By a Jewish Mother,”, “32 Things Jewish Girls Can’t Resist, “ and “The Official Ranking of the 51 Hottest Jewish Men in Hollywood,” being recent examples).

But BuzzTorah’s appeal comes from the posts that most average BuzzFeed users wouldn’t quite relate to. “5 Rashis You Don’t Want to Miss This Week,” for example, is touted as “Rashi always has great stuff to say. Here, we choose 5 of his commentaries that you don’t want to miss.”

The Orthodox-geared website ironically gained mass attention when Buzzfeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, himself a member of the tribe, tweeted out a link on April 4.

Once you’ve delved into Rashi’s mind, you might want to know where he came from. For that, try “15 Ancient Cities of our Sages Revisited”.

Is your mom bugging you about those Skittles you’ve been chowing down on? Show her “9 Greatest Things to Become Kosher in the 21st Century,” (and get some new snack ideas in one fell swoop.)

The list(icle) goes on and on.

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Tweet #Torah to the Top

By Nathan Burstein

The most-tagged topics on Twitter generally involve Justin Bieber and other celebrities, but at least for one day, the Jewish Publication Society hopes to elevate Torah into the top 10.

In honor of Shavuot, the Philadelphia-based JPS is introducing a new tool that breaks up blocks of text into Tweet-size chunks, then posts them with a #Torah hashtag. The publisher is asking supporters to post favorite chapters or verses on Twitter on June 7, just before the start of Shavuot, when Jews celebrate receiving the Torah at Sinai.

To help #Torah’s prospects, JPS is offering free e-book versions of its 1917 Tanakh to those who sign up on its Web site.

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Ashton Kutcher Schools Natalie Portman on Judaism

By Katherine Clarke

Getty Images

Who knew he was so dedicated?

Ashton Kutcher reads the Torah every Saturday. That’s what Natalie Portman said of her co-star in the upcoming romantic comedy “No Strings Attached” during a recent interview.

Portman, who was born in Jerusalem, noted that Kutcher taught her more about Judaism that anyone else in her life.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Torah, No Strings Attached, Natalie Portman, Judaism, Hebrew, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher

A Chatroom For the Five Books

By Josh Tapper

For generations, scholars and cheder students have lugged around the Tanakh, the bedrock tome of Judaism, otherwise known as the Hebrew Bible. For some years now, they’ve also had access via their laptops to online versions.

On September 8, the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim – the three subsections of the Tanakh – will join the interactive digital revolution as the Tagged Tanakh, becomes an online platform for bible commentary and research as well as plain old reading.

The site, administered by the Jewish Publication Society (publisher of the most popular English-language translation of the Hebrew Bible), will be a “place to conserve and share commentaries and people’s responses and interpretations of commentaries,” J.T. Waldman, director of Interactive Media for JPS, told Publisher’s Weekly yesterday.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Cheder, Jewish Publication Society, Judaism, Ketuvim, Nevi'im, Tanakh, Torah

Sefer Torah Thefts Baffle Israel's Haredi Community

By Nathan Jeffay

There is intrigue across Israel’s Haredi community, after the sector’s media has reported on what seems to be a case of serial sefer Torah theft.

Several communities in and around the central-Israel city of Lod have had scrolls stolen in recent weeks. The criminals were seemingly not opportunists, but rather individuals or gangs who had carefully planned their crimes. They showed detailed knowledge of the synagogues they stole from and how the scrolls are stored and secured. In many cases, there were no signs of break-ins and a key was seemingly used to gain entry.

Even stranger, in some cases the parchments were cut away from the rollers on which they are mounted and the rollers were left behind.

The crimes raise many questions. Why sefer Torah scrolls? Why in these particular synagogues in one of the least affluent parts of Israel? What are the thieves planning to do with them — is there really a serious black market in such items? Why damage the scrolls to take them?

Calling all amateur detectives.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Criminals, Israel, Lod, Scrolls, Sefer, Theft, Theifs, Torah

Hey, Rabbi: The Catskills Called. They Said They Miss You.

By Lauren F. Friedman

Dear Rabbi: Thanks for the double-bar-mitzvah Saturdays, the two-shift High Holy Day services, the grief counseling, Hebrew school teaching, Torah study leading, hospital visiting, song leading and sermon writing, but seriously now — do us both a favor: Take a vacation.

An article in the New York Times reports that recent research has shown the same thing again and again: Members of the clergy are not doing well. Their rates of obesity, hypertension and depression are above average, and they are using more antidepressants and dying younger than they were 10 years ago. Most discouraging of all, many wish they could leave their roles as spiritual leaders. (But I thought you loved teaching me to chant my Torah portion! Alas.)

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Spiritual, Rabbi, God, Obesity, Depresssion, Clergy, Catskills, Torah, Vacation

Torah Animals Fill a Brooklyn Museum

By Lauren F. Friedman

Noah built an ark. Rabbi Shaul Shimon Deutsch built a Borough Park taxidermy museum in a brownstone and filled it, he claims, with every animal mentioned in the Torah — 350 specimens in all.

An article in The Brooklyn Ink details Torah Animal World, which will be complete once Deutsch puts the finishing touches on an annex for sacrificial animals. (He’s already open for business though and has drawn some 35,000 annual visitors — hordes of Orthodox yeshiva students along with a smattering of Amish and other Christians.)

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'Michael Jackson of Jewish Music' Headed to Jail

By Lauren F. Friedman

Michoel Streicher, a 50-year-old mentally ill Orthodox cantor who was popular (in certain circles) in the 1990s and calls himself “The Michael Jackson of Jewish music,” was sentenced yesterday to one to three years in prison for stealing $36,000 from a fan, according to the Daily News.

The victim, 55-year-old Judy Burstein, gave Streicher the cash after he’d led her to believe he was a rabbi who would use it to purchase a special Torah for her home.

The article says that Streicher was forced to return the money at his sentencing hearing.

His lawyer, Eric Franz, said Streicher, who has 11 children, suffers from “severe” psychological problems and asked the judge to spare him jail time.

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National Bible Museum to Open With 1000 Torahs

By Lauren F. Friedman

Steve Green, the president of crafts store chain Hobby Lobby, loves the Bible. How much? Somewhere in the realm of 30 million dollars.

A devoted Pentecostal Christian, Green wants to use his family’s sizeable fortune to create a 300,000 square foot National Bible Museum that brings to life the history of his favorite book. Green’s already impressive private collection contains 30,000 items and is valued between $20 million to $40 million.

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Five Torahs Valued at Up To $250,000 Stolen From Brooklyn Synagogue

By Laura Sinberg

Five torahs valued at up to $50,000 a piece were stolen from a synagogue in Brooklyn yesterday morning, saddening congregants and the area’s Jewish community. Police said the burglar may have entered the Karlsburg Synagogue (also known as the Khal Yirei Hashem Synagogue) in the Borough Park neighborhood through either an open or unlocked window. Two silver crowns and two silver breastplates stored with the scrolls were also taken.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind and City Councilman David G. Greenfield announced a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the robber.

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Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Khal Yirei Hashem, Borough Park, Synagogue, Karlsburg, Brooklyn, Torah

Introducing the iPad Torah

By Jordana Horn

The iPad, the newest of Apple’s technological materials, can now be used to delve into an oldie but a goodie: the Torah.

On the iPad, rustybrick.com advertises, the Torah’s 248 columns, or amudim, can be “magically stitched together.” The application enables the user to easily find the weekly Torah portion complete with bookmarks and a virtual yad. With the ability to shift to sections with the flick of a finger, it is much easier than rolling a scroll.

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Snowboarder Torah Bright's Yiddishe Neshama?

By Zohar Rom

I just called my bookie, and I’ve never been so proud to be a Jew! She gave me good odds on the new sport in town: Predicting the percentage of sermons this Shabbat that will focus on Olympic snowboarding star Torah Bright. (I’m betting on 97% or more.)

Honestly, have you seen any sight more stirring than the ‘Go Torah!’ signs arrayed on the mountaintop? The screams of delight that filled my house woke the neighbor’s dog, because we lost control when Torah threw down her massive run to win the gold medal. I don’t care that she’s an Aussie — I felt like singing the Hatikvah!

Yes, she’s a Mormon whose parents adored the name Torah, but I see clues that she has a Yiddishe neshama. For instance, The New York Times describes her signature trick as “a switch backside 720, a perplexing double rotation with a blind landing that flummoxes all her competitors.” Now, that’s a description of Kaballah if I ever heard one!

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