Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Fur flies over threat to Hasidic headwear

Tip of the shtreimel to photographer Gali Tibbon for this hairy tale about a possible ban on animal pelts from Asia, and how it could impact the ultra-Orthodox community inside Israel. Note that there also are fake fur hats for the rain - a better look perhaps than an elasticated shower cap fastened on for protection

For Jason Koutsoukis' original article,filed from Jerusalem, click here

At dusk on the Sabbath, few things are more spectacular in Jerusalem than the passing parade of fur hats moving inexorably towards the Western Wall.
There are great furry crowns of all shades of brown, lined with velvet and leather. Some are so wide and flat they look like a sombrero made of sable; others so high you might think they were top hats made of mink.
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They are shtreimels, the traditional headwear of some Hasidic Jews worn on the Sabbath and on holidays, but not to be confused with spodiks or kolpiks, other varieties of hairy hat reserved for more revered rabbinical sages.
Once symbols of persecution, they were first imposed by 18th-century Polish kings who decreed that Jews must wear the tail of an animal on the Sabbath to show they were not working.
The tradition spread through eastern Europe, with each Jewish sect adapting the shtreimel to its own taste, and instead of being a mark of persecution it became a symbol of pride.
Standing at the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem's Old City before sunset on Friday, watching the stream of shtreimels make their way to the holiest site in Judaism, the practised eye can tell a lot about each person just from the cut of their hat — the name of the sect each Hasid comes from, and which part of Europe their ancestors hailed from.
The shtreimel is also a dead giveaway for things such as the income of the wearer, what religious texts and customs they adhere to, and even whether or not they are Zionists.
Sitting in his office at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, dressed in a black tailcoat, black vest and white shirt, Rabbi Moses had just returned from heated debate in the Knesset chamber.
"People want to ban furs imported from Asia because of the way the animal is killed there," he says. "But what does this mean for the shtreimel?"
With the proposed law carrying a punishment of a year in prison, Rabbi Moses asks who will pay for the prisons to house all the law-breaking Jews who import the wrong kind of fur.
"Today, as I told the history of the shtreimel, what it means to Jewish history and custom, I left them all wide-eyed in the Knesset. Jaws open," he said.
Rabbi Moses said that the opposition leader, Tzipi Livni, was among those who approached him after his speech, offering her congratulations. End result? The bill has been deferred to committee.
To make one shtreimel can take up to 400 tails of various breeds of mink, sable and fox — the scrap of the fur industry.
Customers are fussy... The hardest part is measuring their heads to get an exact size.
With only 10,000 shtreimels produced around the world each year, it's definitely what you would call a niche market. But at a cost of up to $4000 each, it can be a profitable one.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happy Passover, folks

And, on a pleasant Passover note, Goliath Grouper are no longer called Jewfish.
(Tip of the sombrero to Nathan Thornborgh for this timely tidbit. Goliath Grouper is pictured above, with quite a group! "Pesach same'ach" (פסח שמח); "Chag Pesach Same'ach" (חג פסח שמח)

Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_do_you_say_happy_Passover_in_Hebrew#ixzz1JwQoebS4

Also breaking news from the Holy Land: Maundy Thursday might have actually been on a Wednesday. Whatev'. Big kerfuffle over this"pre-poning" of the Last Supper in the mainstream media

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why Bedouins are pining for their old lands beneath new evergreen saplings

'Unrecognized' Bedouin are staking land claims in Israel.

The Jewish National Fund aims to plant a forest over the lands of al-Araqib. Co-sponsored by evangelical Christian organization God-TV, this forest would involve forcibly displacing the 300 Bedouin residents of the village, who are all Israeli citizens, from their homes. A non-profit organization in charge of forestation and Jewish settlement throughout Israel, the JNF controls approximately 13 percent of the land in Israel today. This land falls under the management of the Israeli Lands Administration (ILA), and can only be leased to Jews, or for Jewish settlement purposes.

According to Israeli activist Haia Noach, while the JNF initially denied any involvement in the destruction of al-Araqib, residents and local activists saw JNF bulldozers destroying property in the village during a demolition in early February:

“We connect them with this; they are directly responsible for what is going on there, for the fact that people lost their houses, lost their herds, their orchards,” said Noach, the Director of the Negev Co-Existence Forum, a joint Jewish-Arab organization working for Bedouin land rights in the Negev.

The destruction of al-Araqib is part of a larger Jewish National Fund project called ‘Blueprint Negev.’ Launched in 2005 at the cost of $600 million, the project aims to increase the population in the Negev area by 250,000 Jewish residents by 2013.

“Since the foundation of Israel, JNF was actually planting forests on Arab villages’ remains. And you see it all over Israel, in the North and even in the South. There will be more and more Arab villages in the Negev that are threatened by the forestation of the JNF,” Noach predicted.
Hat tip to OpenDemocracy and Jillian Kestler-D'Amours,filmmaker, for this important news. Residents were evicted by more than 1,000 riot police officers, who destroyed homes and animal pens, uprooted thousands of olive and other trees and confiscated personal property.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hammering Cruci-fiction? Simcha nails it

That Orthodox chap who calls himself the Naked Archaeologist is at it again, timing another dubious documentary to coincide with Easter. The garrulous and guileless Simcha Jacobovici claims to have dug up a couple of 2000 year old nails used to crucify Jesus, and the discovery is making serious archaeologists and Biblical scholars rather cross. It definitely is intended to spike the interest of Christendom, and Simcha called a press conference in Jerusalem to launch the publicity for his new film. Reuters reports on the controversy stirred up by the Sabra/Canuk director's latest release: "The Nails of the Cross":

"What we are bringing to the world is the best archaeological argument ever made that two of the nails from the crucifixion of Jesus have been found," he said in an interview with Reuters.

"Do I know 100 percent yes, these are them? I don't."

The film begins by revisiting an ancient Jerusalem grave discovered in 1990 which was hailed by many at the time as the burial place of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, who in the New Testament presides over the trial of Jesus.

The grave, along with a number of ossuaries, or bone boxes, was uncovered during construction work on a hillside a few kilometers south of the Old City. It has since been resealed.

Caiaphas is a major figure in the Gospels, having sent Jesus to the Romans and on to his death, and one of Jacobovici's assertions is that the high priest was not such a bad guy.

Two iron nails were found in the tomb, one on the ground and one actually inside an ossuary, and, according to the film, mysteriously disappeared shortly after. Jacobovici says he tracked them down to a laboratory in Tel Aviv of an anthropologist who is an expert on ancient bones.

And if they are indeed the same nails -- eaten away by rust and bent at the end, almost purposefully -- was their disappearance a conspiracy or a logistical slip-up?

No definite answer is offered.

Either way, Jacobovici shows why those nails could have been used in a crucifixion, which was a common practice two thousand years ago. He then offers his theory about why they may have been used in the most famous crucifixion in history.

"If you look at the whole story, historical, textual, archaeological, they all seem to point at these two nails being involved in a crucifixion," he said. "And since Caiaphas is only associated with Jesus's crucifixion, you put two and two together and they seem to imply that these are the nails."

The Israel Antiquities Authority, which oversaw the Jerusalem excavation, said in reaction to the film's release that it had never been proven beyond doubt that the tomb was the burial place of Caiaphas. It also said that nails are commonly found in tombs.

"There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film with a real archaeological find at its center, but the interpretation presented in it has no basis in archaeological findings or research," it said.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Avigdor Lieberman pans Hamas in toilet interview

Avigdorable! Israel's outspoken foreign minister has chosen a novel way of making a point in a radio interview - apparently flushing his toilet live on the air. The guy knows how to put the 'Ew' in interview....and there was no indication that he bothered to wash his hands afterwards.

Avigdor Lieberman was referring to the Palestinian Islamist group, Hamas, at the time.

Lieberman, who leads the right-wing Israel Our Home Party, is no stranger to controversy. He frequently upsets Israel's Arab minority and liberal groups with his blunt manner of speaking.

Now his critics say the former nightclub bouncer has sunk to new depths, by apparently flushing his toilet in a live radio interview.

Mr Lieberman's distinctly undiplomatic intervention came during a discussion about the Islamist group Hamas.

It may have been an odd way for the foreign minister to get his point across, but his methods aren't harming him in the opinion polls.

Although he is facing allegations of corruption, support for Mr Lieberman's ultra-nationalist party is growing and he is unlikely to care what his opponents think about his antics on the toilet.

Hear an excerpt of the Avigdor Lieberman interview, in Hebrew, courtesy Reshet Bet radio. Hat tip to Wyre Davies of BBC News, Jerusalem, for this guest post.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Holy Moses! Lights out at Maimonides' Tomb.

It's never a wise move to stiff the power company. Apparently, that's why they pulled the plug and a holy Jewish site has gone dark in Galilee. Candles just won't do for most pilgrims. Read on:

The tomb of Moses Maimonides, one of Judaism's pre-eminent sages, has been plunged into darkness because of a debt to the Israeli electricity company totaling $11,500.
Rabbi Israel Deri, one of the managers of the site in the Galilee city of Tiberias, admitted Wednesday that the bill "fell between the cracks." As a result, the tomb — where people come to pray around the clock — is now closed to night visitors.

"We accumulated a debt. We didn't pay. And we're working on it," Deri said. Signs at the entrance announce that the site is closed at night "due to a power glitch."
Maimonides, known in Hebrew as the Rambam, was a 12th century Jewish sage and medical doctor. Born in Cordoba, Spain around 1138, he wrote famous works of Jewish law, philosophy and medicine.

He died in Cairo in 1204. According to Jewish tradition, his remains were later reburied in Tiberias, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Though Maimonides was a rationalist who scorned superstition and the sanctification of human beings or their remains, his tomb nonetheless draws many devout.

A spokeswoman for the Israel Electric Corporation, Orna Vagman, said the company "had no other choice but to disconnect the electricity" at the site because of a debt accrued over "many months."
Hat tip to the AP's Daniel Estrin for this file.
A physician to the Muslim ruler Saladin, Maimonides composed a healers' prayer, the Jewish equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, which doctors often recite at the tomb, pictured below.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Messing around with a Jewish Housemaid

Why must an Arab Israeli household agree to an act of deceit in order to get their apartment thoroughly cleaned? This humorous column by Sayed Kashua ran in the Haaretz weekend magazine and lifts the veil on the personal details of getting spic 'n span.

This is it. It's happening. Our first housemaid will arrive on International Women's Day. Our first Jewish housemaid, our first Jewish employee. When all is said and done, I wonder how many Arabs have been in a position to pay a Jew for work.

I arranged to pick her up at 8. At 7:30 I will send the kids off to school, take my wife to a friend's house and then get Tikva. It doesn't have to be complicated, there's no sign with our name at the entrance to the building. Afterward I will leave her on her own - my friend said she's very reliable - and when she's done I will return to drive her home. At which time I will also pay her. I will actually take money out of my wallet and pay the Jewish woman. Okay, my wife really let me have it, but I still think it's a type of revolution.

Now I have to hide every telltale Arab sign in the house. First I disconnected the telephone, in case my mother should phone, heaven forbid, and frighten our Tikva. Then I started to take the family photos off the walls.

"What are you doing?" my wife shouted.

"With all due respect, and you are very beautiful," I told her as I went on taking down the photos, "but still, it's sometimes pretty obvious that you are an Arab."

I hid the family photos together with a stack of children's books and a few books of poetry in the storeroom. I made a final tour of the house to ensure that no scrap of paper, workbook or other sign of Arabic remained visible. A few paintings we had received as gifts and which I was afraid suffered from "Arab taste" were also thrown into the storeroom, which I then locked. To be on the safe side, I threw out a bag of squash and a package of pitas which announced in Arabic, "Beit Safafa Bakery." "That's that," I asserted when my labors were done, my gaze scanning the empty walls. "This is what a Jewish home looks like."
Click here for full article.

Cartoon by Amos Biderman. Hat tip to Sheera Frenkel for the Haaretz link.