Lonely Man of Cake

July 22, 2007

Noah Feldman: Today’s Bar-Kamtza?

Filed under: America,Diaspora,Education,Faith,General,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:14 pm

I read Noah Feldman’s thought-provoking essay which appeared in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, and knew immediately that the article would draw a firestorm of criticism from members of the modern-Orthodox community, both because of what some might consider the inflammatory nature of some of the author’s comments, but more importantly, because of the timing of the article’s publication: during the nine days preceding the commemoration of the destruction of the Second Temple.

Although material discussing the destruction of the temple in rabbinic literature is scant, one returning theme is that the temple was destroyed because of the baseless hatred of Jews toward each other. Indeed, from the firsthand account of the events preserved by the historian Josephus, we may corroborate this as fact. By the time Titus arrived in Jerusalem, ready to purge the city of its rebels, no fewer than four groups of Jewish extremists fought for control of the city. The infighting verged on the outbreak of all out civil war in Jerusalem and even led to the burning of the precious food stores in the besieged city. The rebels in Jerusalem found themselves at odds with each other and also with the Pharisees and most other Jews in the country, who capitulated to the Romans without offering resistance.

The Talmud perpetuates the interpersonal hatred responsible for bringing down the temple with the story of “Kamtza and Bar-Kamtza”: A fellow is said to have planned a party, and asked his servant to invite his good friend Kamtza. The servant, perhaps out of confusion, invited one Bar-Kamtza instead, who just so happened to be the arch enemy of the host. Bar-Kamtza attended the party, perhaps seeing the invitation as an act of reconciliation on the part of the host. But the host would have no part of it and wished to eject Bar-Kamtza from the party, even after the latter offered to pay for his plate, for half of the cost of the party, and even the full cost of the party. The host grabbed Bar-Kamtza, and physically threw him out of the party. The insulted Bar-Kamtza was made to feel even worse by the fact that the rabbis sitting at the party did not intervene on his behalf. Bar-Kamtza is said to have then engaged in an act of subterfuge which angered the king and brought the destruction of the temple.

Noah Feldman is a 21st century Bar-Kamtza. He’s not perfect, but he has good intentions. He reaches out to the very institutions which leave him feeling embittered. To take the cropped photo as a metaphor, he attended the party, as did Bar-Kamtza, but was forcibly removed, with no explanations or protestations offered by his host, or by the rabbis who sat idly without intervening.

The unfortunate result reminds us of the subterfuge of the original Bar-Kamtza, who, wishing to avenge the silent rabbis, is said to have sabotaged a sacrifice offered by the king, inflicting a wound that the emperor would not have taken notice of but which would matter a great deal to the Jews, as it would invalidate the animal for sacrifice. Feldman did just that. The wound inflicted by his article should be apparent to the very community that rejected him. While people who are not close to the modern-Orthodox community may not fully appreciate the intricacies of Feldman’s criticism, the general repercussion, nonetheless, is the sullying of what had been the perceived pristine image of the modern-Orthodox movement in the eyes of the world.


July 8, 2007

Ode to Gary Vaynerchuk

Filed under: America,Culinary,Education,Internet,Wine — lonelymanofcake @ 9:16 am

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a huge fan of Gary Vaynerchuk, the host of Wine Library TV.  As I also mentioned, Vaynerchuk was featured in TIME Magazine in a piece which, some would say, makes him the “Wine Man of the Year.”

If you’ve had a chance to watch any of Gary’s video (I made a few recommendations here), you’ll notice his unorthodox style, which at least one critic (who I hold in high esteem) found to be lacking the dignity and sophistication appropriate for the wine-appreciating community.  Here is my response which I submitted elsewhere, but I would nonetheless like to share it here as well:

As one of the younger members of the forum, I feel that Vaynerchuk’s daily videos are responsible for opening up wine culture to the younger, less economically sound crowd in a way that no critic or publication has done in the past. I’m all for a more “sophisticated approach,” but the fact is that wine, through the ages, was always something shared by all segments of the population, only recently (relatively speaking) becoming the province of the elite and demanding “a more dignified approach.” I don’t see any good in the assumed exclusivity and elitism in contemporary wine culture other than concern emanating from those currently entrenched in the community that they will have to associate with people possessing less wine knowledge, and perhaps lower social stature.

A similar debate can be (and probably has already been) held regarding some of the shows on the TV Food Network. Emeril Lagasse was also considered unorthodox when he began with his antics, but his shows, and those that followed, allowed people a glimpse of the high-end food industry while being both entertaining and not breaking the bank.

Vaynerchuk is unorthodox in the same way. Occasionally, he can be crass. On Thursday night’s segment dealing with a wine called Beauzeaux (pun clearly intended), he compared the nose to a sweaty jockstrap dipped in mouthwash. Granted, that is undignified. But his entertaining approach has attracted a not insignificant mass of followers and enfranchised a population segment which would have otherwise been alienated by the prevailing stuffiness and exclusivity.

Watching the show on a pretty consistent basis, I think it’s safe to say that while there is a certain conflict of interest in reviewing the wines you sell, Vaynerchuk will often take issue with Parker’s high scores on expensive bottles (which people want to buy), dismiss all 3-4 bottles tasted during a given show, and will freely disparage bad wines alongside good wines with questionable QPR.

Vaynerchuk’s antics encouraged me, and gave me the know-how to train my palate, break out of my Sideways-esque Merlot boycott, and experiment with out of the ordinary varietals. But the “undignified” approach does not necessarily breed a generation of ignominious connoisseurs. It is a warmer, more inclusive approach. It encourages savvy shopping and experimentation. And Vaynerchuk knows he’s onto something. He closes each episode with the following line, occasionally throwing a cork at the camera for emphasis: “Because you, with a little bit of me, we’re changing the wine world, aren’t we?”

June 7, 2007

Odd, But Familiar Dream

Filed under: Academia,America,Diaspora,Education,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Reality,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 8:07 pm

There must have been copious amounts of MSG in my dinner last night, because I had a dream that was off the hook. What really set this dream apart was its vividness and highly realistic feel. Here goes:

I am approached by Richard Joel, the current president of Yeshiva University. He says: “We would like for you to be the next vice-president of Yeshiva University.” I hesitate. On the one hand, this is the institution that left me bereft of a “real college experience,” sold me short on Judaic studies, and that is slowly morphing into a trade school for the intellectually challenged. On the other hand, I have a very strong familial connection with the institution, and if you know who I am and what I’m talking about, it makes Richard Joel’s proposition quite eerie.

Joel clearly senses my hesitation. “Compensation is $100,000 per-month,” he says. I accepted the position immediately.

What does it all mean?
Should I be disturbed that even though I was morally conflicted about accepting the job, it was ultimately the bottom line that tilted the scales? Does it mean that I am hesitant to serve the community in which I was raised?

Or should I look at the positives:
I must have very high self-esteem if I dream about being offered such a powerful position at such a young age. (In the dream, I was myself, at my current age, and even “mentally” questioned how it was that I was being offered the job, given my age.) I felt up to the task and never questioned whether I was qualified to handle the burdens of the position.

My current interpretation is that the dream represents the crossroads at which I stand. The job offer is the looming specter of the probability that one day, come what may, I will invariably be drafted to the ranks of Jewish communal service. This is almost fait accompli. There is then the moral question: as ideal-driven as communal service may be, there are the occasional ethical sacrifices to be made. And finally there is the question of “selling out,” which is something I battle with every day: do I abandon my ideal line of work–whatever that may be–because a healthier income from a less ideologically rewarding job might be the ticket to a “better” life?

Stay tuned. These considerations will begin playing themselves out over the coming weeks.

April 20, 2007

Animal Fat Diesel?

Filed under: America,Automotive,Biofuel,Diesel,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 7:41 am

Read the about the announcement by ConocoPhillips and Tyson here.

Why does this irk the Ethanol Lobby?  Read here.

March 27, 2007

On Hebrish

Filed under: Academia,America,Hebrew,Hebrish,Israel — lonelymanofcake @ 4:06 pm

I was looking for literature on the penetration of Hebrew into the daily lexicons of English speakers in Israel (e.g., I need to get an ishur [permit] from the Iriyya [municipality] for the shiputzim [renovations] we’re doing on the mirpeset [deck/porch]), as I was mitlabet-ing (contemplating) a post on the subject.

I used “Hebrish” as my search term and came across a wonderful article from the JPost (from the year 2000, when said paper was producing better quality material) which discusses the converse of what I was looking for: the penetration of English terms into the Hebrew lexicon.

Call it the effects of globalization, the proliferation of the Internet in Israeli homes, or even a side-effect of post-Zionism, English has become a driving force in the modernization of the Hebrew lexicon, even to the extent that some English idioms have crept into Hebrew.  I hope to come back to this topic later in greater depth.

Matzah Bus

Filed under: America,Culinary,Diaspora,Judaism,Orthodoxy,Passover,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 3:28 pm

Read about the matzah bus, or watch the video.  And is it just me, or do local news shows take themselves way too seriously?

March 25, 2007

America’s Top 50 Rabbis

Filed under: America,Diaspora,Faith,Judaism,Religion — lonelymanofcake @ 10:31 pm

Newsweek’s list of America’s 50 most influential rabbis.

Aw, no family members this year… Maybe next time around.

March 21, 2007

Hiro and the Nissan Versa

Filed under: America,Automotive,Health,Transportation — lonelymanofcake @ 11:28 am

If you’ve seen the first few episodes of NBC’s Heroes, then you’ve probably become acquainted with (and drawn to) protagonist Hiro Nakamura.  Hiro is adamant that he rent a Nissan Versa for his cross-country trip (Nissan must have paid NBC a hefty sum for its prominent product placement in the series) and the subject of the car returns a number of times.

I’m not sure that even Hiro’s special powers will protect him from the toxic interior of the Versa, which was rated “Vehicle of Most Concern” for presence of chemicals such as chlorine, lead, and bromine.  Check out http://www.healthycar.org to see how your car stacks up.

March 18, 2007

Jeopardy Tie

Filed under: America,General,History — lonelymanofcake @ 2:29 pm

I caught this video last night from Metafilter. Watch, and see below for the discussion.

Some of the comments on Youtube are right on. The contestant who is in the lead going into “Final Jeopardy” will almost always bet $1 extra than the maximum sum his opponents can achieve. By betting on the fact that his opponents–who were already tied going into Final Jeopardy–would bet the maximum possible sum, Scott decided to match, thereby guaranteeing another round against those same opponents, over whom he displayed superiority. So next week, Scott faces the same players and will probaby secure at least one more handsome payday.

March 15, 2007

‘Tis the Season

Filed under: America,Culinary,Diaspora,Israel,Judaism — lonelymanofcake @ 11:21 am

If you live in the American Diaspora, these days you can get a taste of “authentic” Coca-Cola now that the yellow-capped Kosher for Passover Coke–made with sugar and not HFCS–has hit supermarket shelves.  It’s also a taste of Israel, where Coke is made with sugar year round, albeit without the discourteousness, corruption, and taxes.

(via Jewschool)

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