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For all those who observe, have a great new year! And best wishes to all the rest. See you in 5778!

'The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah actually means “Head of the Year.” Just like the head controls the body, our actions on Rosh Hashanah have a tremendous impact on the rest of the year.

As we read in the Rosh Hashanah prayers, each year on this day “all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,” and it is decreed in the heavenly court “who shall live, and who shall die ... who shall be impoverished and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.”

It is a day of prayer, a time to ask the Almighty to grant us a year of peace, prosperity and blessing. But it is also a joyous day when we proclaim G‑d King of the Universe. The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe depends on G‑d’s desire for a world, a desire that is renewed when we accept His kingship anew each year on Rosh Hashanah.'

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year.
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Iraqi government announces Tal Afar liberated.
'Iraqi prime minister Haider Al-Abadi announced earlier today that Tal Afar has been “liberated” from the Islamic State. “Our brave Armed Forces have liberated Tal Afar and the Iraqi flag is once again flying high in Nineveh province,” Al-Abadi tweeted. “I salute our martyrs, our injured and their families whose sacrifices have made this and other victories possible,” he added. “Nineveh is liberated.” ...'

Rudaw on Peshmerga contribution at Tal Afar.
'The commander said he saw Peshmerga do “incredible work” for the liberation of Mosul, adding they coordinated “very effectively and constructively with the Iraqi security forces. They allowed the Iraqi security forces to stage for the attack in Kurdish-held areas.” ...'

Jonathan Spyer on Ukraine's Jews.
'The war has impacted on Ukraine’s Jewish community in two central ways. Firstly, Jews resident in eastern Ukraine have suffered the direct physical effects of the fighting. Most of Donetsk and Luhansk’s Jews fled westwards as the frontlines approached their homes in 2014. The provisions offered by the Ukrainian authorities to those made homeless by the war are minimal. Efforts are ongoing by a variety of Jewish organizations to provide for those Ukrainian Jews made refugees by the events.

The second impact is a little less tangible. The war of 2014 was an important moment in the ongoing development of national identity in independent Ukraine. ...'

Melanie Phillips on liberal Jewish organizations in USA.
'Faced with left-wing aggression and bigotry, many American Jews display a high degree of cognitive dissonance. That’s because they think not as Jews, but as leftists – not least because they can’t discern the difference.

Left-wing antisemitism is running at epidemic level. Demonization of Israel based on lies, double standards and a near-supernatural attribution of cosmic malevolence is the default position on the Left.

Liberal American Jews aren’t merely allowing their liberalism to supersede their Judaism. They are actively siding with the enemies of the Jewish people and the Western civilization built on Jewish values. ...'
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Maybe you think my religion is stupid. That's fine - sometimes I think my religion is stupid too.

I like being free to explore, question, and re-affirm my beliefs from one day to the next. I love being able to discuss and debate these things with others without fear. One of the great achievements of Western civilization has been the creation of a broad cultural consensus, enshrined in law but deeply rooted in hard-won social norms, that makes possible the free and open discussion of matters of faith without fear of reprisal or persecution.

We are in danger of losing this.

No one will be burned at the stake or imprisoned for attacking Christianity in any Western country. Well and good. But today's self-styled "liberals" who are so proud of their indifference to Jewish and Christian doctrine will bend over backwards to defend Islam against any perceived slight, and to smear and silence those who critique the Muslim faith.

I am under no moral obligation to have a good opinion of Islam, and I don't. Maybe I'm wrong, and you're certainly welcome to debate me on the matter; but I reserve the right to form my own opinion. That doesn't mean that I'm blind to the fact that there are people who are fine, beautiful human beings, and also devout Muslims. It does mean that I'm capable of judging individual human beings by their character - and also of forming judgments about the belief systems that influence the behavior of millions of people.

On my coffee table at this very moment sits a slim, attractively bound paperback titled 'Tolerance: The Beacon of the Enlightenment'. Edited and translated by Caroline Warman and others, it's an anthology of the founding texts of the European Enlightenment.

The book was conceived and produced in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders as a tribute to the highest ideals of the French Republic. A far nobler and more constructive gesture than lighting candles and posting "Je Suis Charlie" on social media - and yet, still tragic. Because in the end, the jihadis unequivocally won. Charlie Hebdo continued publishing, but never again dared incur Muslim wrath with cartoons of Mohammed.

"Can Islam be reformed?" This is a question asked by many well-meaning Westerners. Personally I think it is only answerable by the Muslim world as a whole. Whether Muslims "reform" their religion or abandon it altogether is of no concern to me; what I care about is the practical outcome.

I do not entirely understand the solicitude of Western non-Muslim liberals for the well-being of Islam. They want to defend it from criticism and even save it from itself. It's almost as if, having abandoned church and synagogue themselves, they remain in the grip of an unacknowledged craving for religion.

What I do know is that I care about my relationship with the Creator and with the sacred tradition that I (however imperfectly) follow. I care about the freedom to use my gift of reason to investigate the meaning of the Scriptures and the findings of science. I care about living in a world where people treat one another with the kindness and dignity befitting beings made in the image of G-d.
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Via my friend Yehudah Kimani.

'Kehillat kasuku was founded 18 years ago,and offcourse we are happy to stay forever.Am Yehudah Ben Yosaiv ,community Leader and educator.
Our community is in central part ,in kenya highlands around mt kenya region.this is a 2-3 hours drive from Nairobi city.We are 20 families here,more story at
Our mission is to create an accessible spritual home,where all jews,regardless of affiliation or background,are warmly embraced and welcomed into our community. In this 18 years we have been praying together,study,socilize and dine together as families of Israel.We are the only shomer Shabbat Synagogue in our area and such play a vital role.We are proud jews and have taken a lead to bring peace and unity in our village that is of many differnt faith.
In the previous years,our small community have grown and expanded.And in all the growing numbers it rely on this community to have a beautiful shabbat experince together.After a long while having our temporaly tent like synagogue.we found it was worthy build a permanent Shul that will shelter us from cold,wind,hot sun,and heavy rain that floods in our synagogue and for our growing children.Is very unfortunate sometimes in all this weathers we fail to do the services due to harsh condition of either. ...'

Full article, with photos, at the link.
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Video feature (about 1 hr) on the Abayudaya, including interviews with Rabbi Gershom Sizomu and with the sons of Semei Kakungulu.

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My current job allows me to listen to audio while I work, so I'm getting a lot of "reading" done in the form of audiobooks.  My style nowadays is often to combine listening to the audiobook with reading the text either in print or on Kindle, so sometimes I'll listen to a few chapters at work and then come home and re-read them in print.  Here's a run-down of some of the books I've been taking in lately; some of them I've finished, others are still in progress.

'Envoy' by Zalmay Khalilzad.
Born into a Sunni family in a Shi'a city in a Sunni country, he moved with his family to Kabul ("much more sophisticated than Mazar") when he was in 8th grade.  Winning a slot in an AFS exchange program, he came to the United States as a teenager in the late 1960s.  He returned to Kabul for university, then went on to complete his studies at the American University in Beirut, where he met Cheryl.  The book takes us through Khalilzad's diplomatic career with the US Government, and his work in Iraq and in his native Afghanistan.  It's both a personal and a professional memoir, reflecting on his family life and offering insights into the thinking of various officials and other decision-makers.

'ISIS Apocalypse' by William McCants;
'ISIS:  The State of Terror' by Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger.
Two books detailing the rise, decline, and revival of the terrorist entity founded by Zarqawi.  Stern and Berger's book builds on McCants' work, and adds a special focus on the role of social media in the world of terrorist organizations.

'The Iran Wars' by Jay Solomon.
Detailed account of the behind-the-scenes negotiations surrounding the Obama Administration's nuclear deal with Iran.

'Rebbe' by Joseph Telushkin.
An inspiring yet clear-eyed account of the life and teachings of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson - better known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe - easily the most influential figure in late 20th-century orthodox Jewish life.  Telushkin draws on interviews, diaries, and letters to paint a vivid picture of this visionary and driven leader.

'The Prime Ministers' by Yehuda Avner.
Personal memoir of the author's life, from his antisemitism-plagued youth in Manchester, England to his career in the service of four Israeli Prime Ministers - Eshkol, Meir, Rabin, and Begin.  Avner himself appears in Telushkin's book, as he accompanied both Rabin and Begin on their visits to the Rebbe.

All of these are non-fiction books - it's just what I happen to be reading now, and admittedly some of the material is pretty grim.  But I like learning about the nuances of power and human interactions from real-world events.

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I'm working on getting Proverbs 6 thru 8 nailed down in the Hebrew. This hasn't been my favorite section of P in the past but I'm warming to it now. I really like the contrasts between the feminine personifications of Folly and Wisdom. (I don't have to be bound by the reading of "physical gratification and heretical ideas" propounded by the good folks at ArtScroll.)

One thing I notice about the behavior of Folly, the femme fatale of 7:6 - 27, is that it's this weird mixture of secretiveness and aggressiveness. She's here, she's there, suddenly she's hitting on him. She literally gets in his face. She's a stalker. It's not just that her behavior is "unladylike" - it's manipulative and dangerous.

The male object of her attentions can't claim ignorance, because she tells him upfront that "the man is not in his house ... he took the purse of money with him." So she's a married woman trying to make a few shekels on the side. And notice how her house (7:8 and :11) becomes "his house" in her words (7:19) - it's like the husband is gone, so NOBODY is responsible for what happens in the house! She's disavowing responsibility on behalf of herself and the male listener. And the final warning (23) is - like so much of P - eminently pragmatic, and recalls 6:26-32. The lesson: following Folly is bad for your health.

Wisdom, by contrast, stands in plain view and calls out, where she can be seen and heard by anyone who cares to look or listen. She may be subtle but she's not sneaky. Again, this is totally consistent with the outlook of P: real wisdom isn't convoluted (niftal ve'ikkesh), it's honest and straightforward. Lady Wisdom doesn't try to entice you with a lot of glamor and superstition; she doesn't promise you get-rich-quick schemes or thrust a copy of Dianetics into your hand. But if you seek her you'll find her, and if you love her she'll treat you right (8:17).
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Kabbalah has an idea that there are four universes - Atzilut, Beriah, Yetzirah, and 'Asiyah - and I think that's a useful model for the writing process. Atzilut is Emanation, the world of pure inspiration. Beriah is Creation, your first notes and your rough drafts. Yetzirah is Formation, the process of taking the raw material and editing, redacting, and re-writing it until it's a polished work. And 'Asiyah is Action - that's the whole mundane business of all the practical stuff connected with writing: the publication process (submitting, reading rejection slips, etc.), organizing your workspace and writing materials, that kind of stuff. All of these levels are important, and a blockage in one ends up affecting all of them.

Since 2010 I've been keeping a diary on my computer. Last week I got around to printing the whole thing out. Three years (and counting) of personal journal entries are now printed in 16-point Courier on 3-hole punch paper, and they fill three 2-inch ring binders. Somehow it's comforting to have my journals in physical form, but it also helps me to feel my writing is going somewhere.

I'm making it a point to print out what I write, rather than just leaving it on the computer, because I think having it in tangible form helps to keep the process going.
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Today's mail brought my order of 'Ancient Israel' by Robert Alter. It's a translation / commentary on Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. I'm interested in this part of the Bible because it's challenging yet important. Joshua is quite brutal - even by Biblical standards - and Alter says of it that "the prevailing sense ... of the first half of the book is ruthlessness, and the general effect of the second half is tedium." We must read the book remembering that it is an account of "the image of the nation that the guardians of the national literary legacy seek to fix for their audiences and for future generations." (Alter, p. 5.)

There follows the anarchic period of the Judges, followed by Samuel - largely the story of Saul and David - and Kings. King Saul was the first king of Israel and the first one to get fired from the job (he p*ssed off the Boss). His son Jonathan was intimately bound to Saul's successor (or usurper) David. But what fascinates me most is the story of Michal - Saul's daughter and David's wife. The "dancing" episode (2 Sam 6:13 - 23) is intense and complex, and Alter's footnotes bring out all the nuances of the Hebrew text.

This is exactly what I like in a Bible commentary: a book that calls attention to the subtleties of the text, drawing on religious and secular scholarship but not pursuing a pre-conceived ideological agenda. It just helps me appreciate and understand the Bible.
asher553: (asher63)
I recently ordered a new copy of the Chabad prayerbook and was surprised how nostalgic I felt for it. It was, after all, the first proper Orthodox siddur that I prayed from. My old copy was the bilingual edition, and it's still somewhere in my belongings, well-worn and with my notations in the margins - juvenilia that would now make me cringe if I had to look at them every day, but nevertheless the graffiti of my first, youthful encounter with the traditional Jewish liturgy.

Looking back now I think I can say with some satisfaction that we've made progress in all the important areas, socially speaking. I think the liberals and the traditionalists understand one another better now. There's an open, comfortable dialog between the orthodox world and feminists and gay activists. Everybody doesn't have to agree on everything and that's OK. We're talking to one another. And as a social liberal with a complicated but strong relationship with tradition, it pleases me to know that I am not alone.

Oh, and the Chabad siddur? The print is NICE. AND. BIG. So it's got that going for it, too.

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