Mystics in the Womb

May 12, 2012
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Mystics in the Womb

Some of the most fabulous legends about Hasidic rabbis start while their subjects are still children. The legends of Sender Safrin (1806-1874), the first rebbe of the Hasidic sect of Komarno, are even more fantastic–they start before his birth. According to his autobiography, Megillat Setari (Book of Secrets), Sender was conceived on the night of his parents’…

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The Inspiration for ‘The Dictator’

May 11, 2012
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dictator

In his new film The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen plays “a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” While The Dictator was in production, the film was rumored to be based on an Iraqi novel called Zabibah and the King. Zabibah was published anonymously, but most Iraqi…

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What’s an Omer?

May 10, 2012
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url-1

As far as Jewish rituals go, counting the Omer is a particularly confusing one. For seven full weeks, observant Jews count a measure from one to 49, recalling an ancient Temple practice. But what does it mean? And why would we care? And just what is an omer, anyway? In the comic “What the Heck is…

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Jerusalem in Google’s Eyes

May 9, 2012
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The amazing Street View function on Google Maps has given us a whole new universe of potential time-wasting. It’s possible to drag a little orange figure virtually anywhere on a map of the U.S., and cruise around the streets in 3-D, seeing houses, parks, stores, even spotting your car or your neighbors walking around.…

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Meat Heart

May 8, 2012
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url

“God loves my hair,” writes Melissa Broder in “Ciao Manhattan,” a poem in which Broder and her Creator seem to hang out, flirt, and dress up in party clothes. In another poem, “Leah,” Broder’s biblical protagonist runs away from Canaan, works on a unicorn farm, and observes the events of the Bible, with her husband and sister-wife and children, from a far-off cloud.…

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A Self-Operating Napkin

May 7, 2012
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url

If you’ve ever seen a needlessly complicated contraption–take, for instance, that moment in The Goonies where it takes a bowling ball dropped onto a balance, a balloon popping, and a chicken laying an egg to open a door–you know what a Rube Goldberg is. These devices take their name from the cartoonist Rube Goldberg (1883-1970). He was born…

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For Not Making Me a Woman

May 4, 2012
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One of the most puzzling–and, often, infuriating–prayers appears daily in the traditional Jewish service. In the morning blessings, among being thankful for clothes to wear and eyes to see, there’s a blessing, said by men, that thanks God “for not making me a woman.” Whoa. This is one of three negative blessings that appear together…

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Biblical Straight Edge

May 3, 2012
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In contrast to the risky excesses that one normally associates with American teenagers–alcohol, drugs, sex–a bunch of rebellious teenagers in and around Washington D.C. in the early 1980s created the “straight edge” movement. In general, adherents eschew alcohol and drugs. Although the exact rules are interpreted differently by different people (some have sex, some…

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Birdies, Orphans and Fools

May 2, 2012
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Today, Ephraim Sidon is the chief rabbi of Prague, Czech Republic. In the 1960s, however–known by his birth name, Karel Sidon–he was a playwright and screenwriter, part of Prague’s vibrant avant-garde arts scene. In the 1950s and ’60s, Prague experienced something of a renaissance. Sidon’s contemporaries included Vaclav Havel (who, 30 years later, would be the country’s first post-Communist president),…

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A Nazi, Assassinated

May 1, 2012
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Is there such thing as being too obsessed with World War II? Reinhard Heydrich, the “Butcher of Prague,” was one of the most fearsome men in the Nazi party–he organized Kristallnacht and chaired the conference that planned the Final Solution. One May morning in 1942, he was killed by two men in…

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Shadowboxing Hitler

April 30, 2012
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shadowboxing hitler

Kseniya Simonova is an artist from the Ukraine who specializes in fingerpainting (yes, she’s an adult). On the television show Ukraine’s Got Talent, Simonova “performed” a live painting by spreading sand across a glass table, illuminated from beneath by a light. The resulting images are projected on a movie screen. Creating one portrait out of sand,…

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Is Ladino Endangered?

April 27, 2012
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is ladino endangered

Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, is a combination of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Spanish. When the estimated 300,000 Spanish Jews were exiled from Spain in 1492, they carried this language with them. Today Ladino is spoken on a daily basis by fewer than 100,000 people, earning it a spot on UNESCO’s list of endangered languages. But according…

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