A night of Jewish learning in White Plains

Twenty seven Westchester rabbis will gather in White Plains on Saturday evening to lead the county’s first-ever County Wide Night of Jewish Learning and Celebration.

The rabbis will each lead two 45-minute workshops covering, among other things, “Jewish thought, text, philosophy, spirituality, sports, culture, life and love.”

That’s a lot of ground.

The whole shindig is being sponsored by the Westchester Jewish Council and the Westchester Board of Rabbis.

Rabbi Joshua Davidson, president of the Board of Rabbis, says: “This will be an extraordinary night of learning. I am delighted to be joining so many wonderful colleagues to share in it.  I hope that people from around the county will participate and enjoy the depth and richness of Jewish study.”

This big shul-in will take place at 7 p.m. at Temple Israel Center of White Plains.

$25 tickets cover a glatt kosher Chinese and sushi buffet dinner.

You can send a check to the Westchester Jewish Council at 701 Westchester Ave., Suite 203E, White Plains, 10604.

There may be tix at the door.

For info, contact the WJC at 914-328-7001 or info@wjcouncil.org.

Hindu leader on Lindsay Lohan, Russell Brand, Julia Roberts, the Vatican and Diwali

I have been getting a lot of statements of late from Rajan Zed, a Hindu leader in Nevada who is quickly becoming a leading national spokesman for his faith.

Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism, offered the first Hindu opening prayer before the U.S. Senate a few years ago (with several protesters in the back calling for his removal).

Zed is not shy, sending out press releases about all sorts of things.

You want examples? I got examples.

In July, he suggested that yoga and mediation would be helpful to Lindsay Lohan.

In September, he wrote that more Americans are becoming atheists and agnostics because religious leaders are alienating them. He wrote: “Our efforts at social control, judgmentalism (sic), stagnant approach, etc., might be turning them away resulting in many of them questioning belief in God, equating religion with fear, etc.”

Last month, he sent out a release with this headline: “Hindus want Russell Brand to solemnize wedding with proper Hindu rituals”

Huh? Russell Brand is a comedian who is engaged to pop singer Katy Perry (whose parents, I believe, are Pentecostal preachers).

This week, Zed has been really prolific.

On Monday, he denounced the Vatican newspaper for recently suggesting that the Simpsons (Homer, Marge, etc.) are Catholics (a strange story in itself since the Simpsons are clearly Protestants).

Zed’s release said that “claiming fictional cartoon characters from the world of television as your flock was exaggeration, wishful thinking and plain old greed.”

On Tuesday, he put out a statement about what Julia Roberts (a Hindu convert?) thinks about the Hindu festival of Diwali. He quotes her as saying “Ever since I developed my liking and fondness for Hinduism, I have been attracted and deeply fascinated by many facets of the multi dimensional Hinduism.”

Today, he simply asks all Hindus to take a vow of “selfless service” during Diwali. No mention of celebrities…

Translating the Talmud and modern American politics

I’ve been looking around for an Election Day item to share today, but nothing has really snagged my attention.

Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life said: “Last night was a great night for the pro-life movement.”

The Muslim American Society said: “With the 2010 Election results revealing a greater shift to the political right and the rise of the Tea Party, the American Muslim community will need to substantially increase its political participation in Election 2012.”

Nothing that really surprised.

So I’ll share something that has nothing to do with politics or elections or 2010 or 2012.

The Jewish Week has a story about Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, a prominent Jewish scholar who has spent the last 45 years translating the Talmud from Aramaic to modern Hebrew and English.

That’s 45 years.

He’s publishing the final tractate in the series this Sunday. We’re talking about 40 volumes.

The resulting body of work, truly a body of work, is the Steinsaltz Talmud, which is used around the world by Jews from all traditions and even many non-Jewish scholars and others who want to delve into the trove of ancient rabbinic debates that make up the Talmud.

Steinsaltz, who is 73, tells the JW: “Jewish knowledge belongs to everyone. Our goal is not so much to ‘spread’ knowledge, but to give it back to its owners.”

What is Talmud? Here is the JW’s definition: “The Talmud — both the larger, more-authoritative Babylonian Talmud, and the smaller Jerusalem Talmud — is a compilation of debates and discussions that took place in rabbinical academies after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 A.D. Fearing that the oral tradition would be lost, the generation’s religious leaders decided to record the teachings that can be traced, according to Jewish tradition, to Moses on Mount Sinai.”

I should note that Steinsaltz has slipped in a few dozen other books during the past 45 years.

Five years ago, I got to cover him when he spoke at the Mount Kisco Hebrew Congregation. He has a long white beard and looks like he could be one of the rebbes who helped produce the original Talmud.

I got to interview him before his talk. Oddly enough, I must have asked him about politics, in particular about polarization in American politics.

He said:


Day and night are dissimilar, but night is never completely dark and day is not everywhere light. Even black is rarely completely black or white completely white. This is reality.

American, as distinct from English, is a language of superlatives, of overstatement. Because of that, in America, when you have a dispute, it is between angels and devils. But even angels, most of the time, are not completely angelic. And devils should be full of self-doubt – even though American devils might be different.


So he wasn’t thrilled with seeing things in black-and-white.

But guess what? He wasn’t too happy with gray, either.

As he put it: “The gray people see the whole world in shades of gray – dark gray, very bright gray. These people are so sophisticated, so clever. They see the nuances, but could lose the quality of knowing there is a difference between right and wrong. It is the other side of the equation. Sometimes you have to take sides, even though you don’t have all the answers.”

So there is your Election Day message, after all.

‘Forward 50’ an interesting Jewish mix

So the venerable Jewish paper The Forward has named its Forward 50 — a group of 50 Jews with influence on the Jewish and cultural zeitgeist.

The top 5 (in no particular order) are:

1. Sergey Brin, co-creator of Google.

2. Eric Cantor, minority whip in the House and the only Jewish Republican in Congress.

3. Misha Galperin, a big shot with the Jewish Agency of Israel who is promoting Jewish “peoplehood.”

4. Newly appointed Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

5. The novelist Nicole Krauss.

Others in the 50 include: Abe Foxman; anti-mosque blogger Pamela Geller; teachers union boss Randi Weingarten; actor Jesse Eisenberg; New York Met Ike Davis; musician/muse Debbie Friedman; and many, many more.

It’s Dolan vs. O’Brien (and 8 others) for Bishops Conference presidency

It will be a different kind of Election Day (or weekend) when the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference elects new officers Nov. 15-18.

The bishops will elect a new president and vice president from a slate of 10 candidates, including one Archbishop Timothy Dolan from New York and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien, the top guy in Baltimore who happens to hail from these parts.

O’Brien was once considered at top candidate to become archbishop of New York. Instead, he got Baltimore and a couple of other guys were named to NY. That’s him in White Plains in 2005, when he was still archbishop for the military services.

Now O’Brien and Dolan will square off head-to-head (sort of), along with some other big names, like the always interesting Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver.

It’s always struck me as odd that the Bishops Conference holds semi-public elections. I think it’s fair to say that the Catholic Church likes to keep its’ bishops in the best possible light. But after the elections are held, several candidates can’t help coming out as, well…losers.

Many other organizations, of course, happen to choose their leaders the same way.

You wonder what kind of politicking goes on.

How does it all work? According to a release: “Conference by-laws provide that the election of the president will take place first from among the list of 10 candidates. Following the election of the president with at least 50 percent of the vote, the vice president is elected from the remaining nine candidates. In either election, if a candidate fails to win over 50 percent of the vote, a second vote is taken. If a third vote is necessary, only two names appear on the ballot.”

The bishops will also elect chairmen of six committees. In each case, there are two nominees. So one will win and one…won’t.

In the race to head the committee on International Justice and Peace, O’Brien will face off against Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn.

The bishops will meet at the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott. Sessions.