Monday, April 30, 2012

Delmon Young and Mel Gibson

I couldn't resist making this movie spoof poster with Mel Gibson and Delmon Young:

Delmon Young and Mel Gibson

Mel Gibson's name was brought up repeatedly after the news broke about the Detroit Tigers' outfielder Delmon Young getting arrested in Manhattan for second-degree aggravated harassment and uttering an anti-Semitic slur while he was intoxicated. Young has been given a 7-game suspension by Major League Baseball and also placed indefinitely on baseball's restricted list.

More details have been released concerning the altercation. According to the NY Daily News, Delmon Young was arrested for "assaulting Jason Shank following his drunken anti-Semitic rant. According to police sources, Young began screaming the offensive remarks after a panhandler wearing a Star of David and a yarmulke approached him. Shank and three friends gave the man $20 outside the hotel, which ignited Young’s racist rhetoric."

According to reports Shank, 32, and three of his friends were visiting Manhattan from Schaumberg, a Chicago suburb, for a weekend bachelor party. Delmon Young screamed "You bunch of f------ Jews!" and then got into a fight with Jason Shank on the sidewalk outside the hotel. Young was released from jail after posting $5,000 bail after his arraignment for an aggravated harassment charge that was classified as a hate crime. According to his LinkedIn page, Shank is an international consultant for Trident Worldwide in Missouri and a regional manager for Taggart International, a company with offices in Wood Dale and Missouri. Both companies specialize in importing and exporting. Neither Shank or his bachelor party friends are Jewish.

In 2006, Delmon Young was suspended for 50 games without pay while playing for a minor league team after he threw his baseball bat at an umpire who called him out after three strikes.

Ironically, Delmon Young's agent is Arn Tellem of the Wasserman Media Group. Tellem, a 1979 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School is Jewish. I'm not sure if Daniel J. Ollen, Young's criminal attorney in New York, is Jewish but that would be ironic as well.

Tomorrow morning, I'll be talking about the Delmon Young situation live on the Mojo in the Morning radio show on Channel 95.5 here in Detroit. The show will be broadcast live from a kosher pizza parlor and bagel shop in Oak Park, a suburb just outside of Detroit.

UPDATE:
Here's the radio podcast from the Mojo in the Morning show:

Friday, April 27, 2012

Delmon Young's Anti-Semitic Slur and the Problem With Athletes As Role Models

I already had a blog post planned for today. I was going to write an open letter to David Stern, the commissioner of the National Basketball League (NBA) in which I was going to publicly criticize him for allowing the NBA to only give Ron Artest (er, sorry Metta World Peace) a slap on the wrist with a seven game suspension. Artest blatantly elbowed James Harden on the back of his head after Artest's slam dunk the other night. It was a vicious blow to Harden's head that left him with a concussion. With Artest's history as a trouble maker Stern should have banned him from the league.

My open letter to the Commissioner was going to ask him how I'm supposed to let my children watch NBA games if this is the type of behavior they will see. I don't need Ron Artest to be a role model for my children; they have enough positive role models in their lives already. However, I cannot in good conscience allow my children to watch a professional basketball game (or even the highlights on ESPN) if such cheap shots are going to become commonplace in the NBA without serious repercussions.

And then I saw the news today. Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young was arrested outside of the hotel where the team was staying in New York City. Young was "highly intoxicated" according to a police source and he was arrested after allegedly shoving a man to the ground and making anti-Semitic remarks. The Detroit Free Press reports that Young faces an "aggravated harassment hate crime charge" for the anti-Semitic remarks he made during the incident.


When I read the news about Young, my heart sank to the floor. My oldest son is 8. In the past year he has become a die hard Detroit Tigers fan. He knows all the players by name. He knows their uniform number and their statistics (just like I did when I was a Tigers fan at that age). How am I supposed to explain to my son that Delmon Young was drunk, got into a street fight, yelled an anti-Semitic slur and got arrested? To my son, Delmon Young is a hero. He cheers for him. He prays that Young will hit a home run when he comes up to bat. I don't think that it ever occurred to my son (or to me for that matter) that Delmon Young hates Jews in an inebriated, full-of-rage Mel Gibson sort of way.

Thanks to the Detroit Tigers organization and specifically owner Mike Illitch and Dave Dombrowski, the teams President/CEO/General Manager, baseball has become exciting again here in Detroit. The team has really made a concerted effort to reach out to children. That is great, but it also means that the organization has a responsibility to handle this matter quickly and appropriately. Delmon Young needs to be treated for his alcohol problem and a response to Tigers fans must be made soon concerning his anti-Semitic slur.

For me, I still don't know how I will explain this to my son or if I will at all. The bottom line is that no one is asking professional athletes to raise our children. They are great athletes and not always shining examples of virtuous human beings. However, they need to know that children are watching. Impressionable children are watching how athletes behave on the field or on the court, as well as outside of their hotels. The NBA and Major League Baseball are both doing great things to help their athletes give back to the community and be good citizens. But they have to take care of the bad apples as well. I don't know what the appropriate punishment for Delmon Young should be, either within the Tigers organization or in Major League Baseball, but I know that a strong message has to be sent to the young fans so they know this behavior is not tolerated.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Rally Against Internet

If Al Gore actually had invented the Internet, as he once claimed, he would be the least popular guy in any ultra-Orthodox neighborhood today. It is clear that the fervently Orthodox Jewish leaders despise the Internet and technology because they're willing to spend over $1.5 million in a rally against the Internet next month in Queens, New York.


Ever since the Web became popular in the mid-1990s, the ultra-Orthodox community has railed against it. Ultra-Orthodox, or Haredim consider the Internet as threatening to their strict way of life. They believe it promotes the ills of society and has the force to steer its devout members off the path of strict religious observance.

In the past, some ultra-Orthodox rabbis have attempted to issue a complete ban on Internet use for their members. In some cases their rulings were motivated by the easy availability of pornography on the Web. In other cases rabbis have forbidden Internet use because they consider it a secular act with secular content that will contaminate their communities. Most Haredi rabbis don't consider the educational advantages of the Internet and tell their students that using technology is a bitul z'man -- a waste of time that could be used for religious study.

Many Haredi yeshiva leaders have condemned Internet use in sermons and some ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods display posters in the streets promoting the Internet ban. Over the years, there have been attempts in the ultra-Orthodox world to create an alternative Internet so that Haredi adherents could use email and use the Web for religious matters like booking a flight to Israel or purchasing a book. Special "kosher" search engines and web portals, like Koogle, have come and gone over the years in efforts to offer safe Web surfing to pious Jews in Haredi communities.

The Jewish Daily News today reported that tens of thousands of participants will take part in a huge rally on May 20 (Erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan) "in order to combat the evils of the Internet and damage of advanced devices." Presumably by "devices" they mean mobile technology like smartphones and tablets. A rally organizer told the Jewish Daily News that the rally will be the largest in the history of Orthodox Jewry in the United States. While it was originally reported that the rally will be held in Shea Stadium, the organizers quickly corrected that as the New York Mets' former ballpark doesn't exist anymore. The former site of Shea Stadium is now the parking lot for the new Citi Field.

While there's just no telling just how many ultra-Orthodox Jews will actually show up at the May 20th rally against the Internet and technology, it is a safe bet that the event won't be live tweeted or depicted with Instagram photos -- at least not by the very people rallying against such technologies. Personally I can't imagine how the organizers will ever begin to promote an event of this magnitude without the help of Facebook or other social networks... or how those wishing to attend the rally will find it without the help of Mapquest or Google Maps!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Hamas Chief Cool With Women Rabbis

One of the most common questions I get from Orthodox Jews is how I can defend the Conservative movement's decision (from 1983) to ordain women as rabbis. I was too young to be a part of the debate concerning women's ordination in the late 70s and early 80s, but from what I've read it was a very tense time at the Jewish Theological Seminary where students and faculty were split on the issue.

It has now been close to thirty years since women began studying for ordination in Conservative Judaism. Within the Conservative movement, women rabbis have become commonplace and it is no longer an issue for the majority of Conservative congregations. The conversation has shifted from a halachic nature (Can a woman serve as a rabbi according to Jewish law?) to a more social nature (Are women rabbis treated fairly in the rabbinate?).

Truthfully, I never understood how women rabbis are problematic from a Jewish legal standpoint since there's no problem with women serving as teachers, which is the main function of a rabbi. However, in the Orthodox world, the issue of women rabbis is still in its infancy with a minority of liberal Orthodox leaders like Rabbi Avi Weiss advocating for female rabbinic ordination. The first woman to be ordained by Rabbi Weiss, Rabba Sara Hurwitz, has been successful in her rabbinate but is far from being accepted by most Orthodox Jews.


Over the weekend, I read of support for women rabbis from a most unlikely source. In fact, I did a double take when I read the Jewish Daily Forward's title for this article: "Hamas Chief on 'Noble' Women Rabbis". Did the leader of Hamas, a known terrorist organization, really come out in favor of the ordination of women as rabbis and call women rabbis "noble"?

It turns out that the Jewish Daily Forward sent the husband ("Rebbetzman"?) of Rabbi Diane Cohler-Esses to Egypt to interview Hamas chief Mousa Abu Marzook over the course of two days before Passover earlier this month. This could have been a great story (Dayenu!) if it were only about a Jewish journalist in Egypt meeting face-to-face with the ruler of a foreign oppressor and trying to get out of Egypt before the holiday commemorating freedom from Egyptian bondage.


But the story gets much better. Journalist Larry Cohler-Esses is married to Rabbi Diane Cohler-Esses, a Conservative rabbi who was ordained from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1995 and is the first woman from the Syrian Jewish community to become a rabbi (and the first and only person (male or female) from her community to become a non-Orthodox rabbi. She had to give her husband permission to fly to Egypt in the days before Passover to interview the Hamas leader. He was concerned about leaving home during the week of Passover preparation. She flippantly told her husband that he wasn't much help anyway so he should go to Egypt.

In Egypt, during the two-day interview the two men discussed Passover in the 21st century:

Abu Marzook could not believe I was leaving Cairo so fast, or understand why I'd end up divorced if I didn’t. I explained about the Seder, and about Passover, when the Jews had to…well, leave Egypt really fast. He said, "But that was 4,000 years ago when the Pharaoh was trying to kill the Jews. No one’s trying to kill you now."

"Actually," I said, “kind of, you guys are." And we were off on what ended up being a five-and-a-half hour discussion over those two days.

Surprisingly, what Mousa Abu Marzook was most fascinated with was his interviewer's rabbi wife. When Cohler-Esses told the Hamas leader that his wife is a rabbi, Abu Marzook was astounded and asked, "There are women rabbis?" he asked.

Cohler-Esses explained to Abu Marzook that about one-half of all rabbinic students in the liberal American seminaries are actually women. He then explained his wife's personal struggle in becoming a rabbi because of her roots in the Syrian Jewish community. The Hamas leader, whose Muslim religious beliefs treat women as second-class citizens, seemed dumbfounded that she hasn't been accepted by her community. "She's done nothing wrong," he said. "What she’s done is noble."

Obviously, the issue of women rabbis was only a side conversation in a long and serious interview by Cohler-Esses, who took a small dose of criticism by some for even meeting with a member of Hamas. But this story is amazing. Who would have ever thought that the most vocal proponent of women's rabbinical ordination in the Orthodox movement might just be the leader of Hamas?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Counting the Omer in the Digital Age

Today is the 13th day of the Omer, the period of forty-nine days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot.

The Jewish people are commanded to count these forty-nine days which commemorate the day on which an omer (unit of measurement) of barley was offered in the Temple until the day before an offering of wheat was brought to the Temple on the festival Shavuot. We begin this counting on the second day of Passover and each night announce what day of the Omer it is.

Omer counting devices and special Omer calendars have long been relied upon to help individuals remember the correct count, but in the Digital Age there are websites and apps and text message reminders to help keep the counting correct.


There are also some fun tools to help us count the Omer. For the past 13 years the Homer Calendar has been a fun destination on the Web for Jewish Omer counters who are also fans of The Simpsons. The website, which has had about 225,000 visits, cites Howard Cooper with the idea of an Omer calendar that pays homage to The Simpsons and Homer Simpson, the patriarchal head of the cartoon family. In addition to providing an easy-to-use omer calendar, the site is also a resource for Simpsons fans who want to learn more about the many Jewish references on the show. Brian Rosman, the Homer Calendar's administrator, also tweets the daily Omer count @CountTheHomer on Twitter.

An introduction to the website explains that it is now in its 13th year, which it calls its "Bart Mitzvah". The site also mentions that, "When we started, we got a 'cease and desist' order from Fox, claiming a copyright violation. Interestingly, the letter was dated on Shavuot. We wrote back, claiming a 'fair use,' and haven't heard anything since."


Seth and Isaac Galena over at Bangitout.com have come up with two fun ways to count the Omer. With a nod to pop culture, the brothers have created the Movie Lover's Omer Counter and the Sports Lover's Omer Counter. The movie counter uses movies with numbers in their titles to remind users which day of the count it is, while the sports counter relies on athlete's uniform numbers. Perhaps next year they'll create an omer counter for NASCAR fans with car digits.

There are several mobile apps that help remind users to count the Omer and provide the correct day of the counting. Rusty Brick first released its Counting the Omer app (Free) back in 2009 and it is still an industry leader. The app provides an Omer calendar and includes the blessings and spiritual information pertaining to each day of the period. The free version of the app does not provide a daily reminder to count, but the 99-cent version does. Moshe Berman's Ultimate Omer 2 ($2.99) not only reminds you to count the Omer, but it also lets you keep track of the days you remembered to count. The app also plays the phone's default alarm sound to remind you to count.


Mosaica Press released a new app ($4.99) that is based on Rabbi Yaakov Haber's Spiritual Grow book. The app, which is available in iPhone and iPad formats, helps count the Omer and also provides daily insights with a Kabbalistic flavor. An example of the Jewish spiritual wisdom the app provides is: "Day 10: Make sure that today you not only give people the benefit of the doubt, but even when it seems that they are definitely in the wrong, try to find some way of justifying their actions. Try to see their point of view...Find two things in your life that conflict and make them harmonize." Some of the app's features include the proper blessing to recite before counting each night, automatic adjustment for time zone and location, and social network integration to share on Facebook and Twitter.

In addition to the mobile apps, there are other ways that technology is playing a part in the Counting of the Omer. Josh Fleet, one of the editors of the Huffington Post's religion vertical, came up with the idea of offering a liveblog on the HuffPost Religion site during the Omer period this year. The Omer Liveblog features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual reflection during the Omer.

Rabbi Heather Altman turned to Google Docs to help assemble other rabbis who would contribute their wisdom to a Counting the Omer project she conceived of to raise money for the Global Seva Challenge. Rabbi Altman launched the seven week email subscription series called Countdown to Freedom which offers a different spiritual insight each day via a subscription-based Constant Contact newsletter. Subscription costs of the daily Omer reflection newsletter raises funds in the fight against human trafficking. Her 49-day project also raises awareness of the global problem of human trafficking, which is now a $32 billion business.

A generation ago, Jewish people simply counted up the days of the Omer until Shavuot arrived. The more spiritually inclined might have delved into the mystical traditions of the counting period. However, no one could have imagined that technology would create so many new aspects to this seven week observance. New technology has certainly opened the door to new ritual.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Israel's Conservative Seminary Accepts Gays and Lesbians on Yom Hashoah

The Schechter Institute in Jerusalem is the Israeli affiliate of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). It has publicly been holding out on changing its policy concerning the admission of gays and lesbians into its rabbinical ordination program (the only such program for the Conservative movement in Israel). That policy has caused much tension for rabbinical students from the Jewish Theological Seminary when they spend a year in Israel during the course of their study (gay and lesbian rabbinical students from JTS are allowed to take classes at Schechter). In fact, rabbinical students from the Conservative Movement's West Coast seminary, the Ziegler School at the American Jewish University, study at the Conservative Yeshiva during their year abroad.


The big news coming out of Israel is that the Schechter Institute's policy has just officially changed. It has been announced that at a board of trustees meeting last night, Schechter's leaders voted to allow gay and lesbian students into its ordination program. That this policy change occurred on Yom Hashoah, the international day of commemoration for the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazis is especially meaningful as homosexuals were among those targeted by the Nazis in their extermination attempts.

While Israeli society in general is known to be tolerant of gays and lesbians, the Schechter Institute seemed determined to maintain its policy. JTS officially changed its policy concerning the admission of gays and lesbians following a vote in December 2006 by the Conservative Movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.

A seminary statement said the decision comes following a "long process":

The Schechter Rabbinical Seminary views the serious process leading to this decision as an example of confronting social dilemmas within the framework of tradition and halachah, or Jewish law, Hanan Alexander, chair of the seminary's Board of Trustees, said in the statement. “This decision highlights the institution’s commitment to uphold halachah in a pluralist and changing world.

Students are ordained by a beit din, or rabbinical court, made up of three members of the Rabbinic Advisory Committee of the seminary, all of whom are members of the Rabbinical Assembly of the Masorti/Conservative movement. The beit din members are chosen by the candidate and subject to the approval of the seminary's dean. They have different opinions regarding the ordination of gay and lesbian students, according to the seminary.

This unique mechanism is an expression of halachic pluralism, one of the founding principles of SRS, the seminary said in its statement. The Seminary is a religious institution of the Masorti/Conservative Movement, bound by Halacha, whose inclusive approach allows for a variety of Halachic opinions.

The Conservative Movement's Seminario in South America still maintains a policy barring affirmed gays and lesbians from matriculating in its rabbinic ordination program.

While it is odd that it took an additional five years from the time JTS opened its doors, I'm glad to see the Schechter Institute finally following suit.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Do-overs and Learning From Mistakes

This is my contribution to the HuffPost Religion's Omer Liveblog, which features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual reflection between Passover and Shavuot:

"The broken tablets were put with the new ones into the Ark." --Talmud, Menachot 99a

What can we learn from the fact that Moses put the broken tablets into the Ark along with the new tablets? We move on from our mistakes, but we also take the lessons along with us.

In helping to form a new nation, Moses made many mistakes. He overreacted when he saw the people sinning before God by dancing around the Golden Calf, and he threw the tablets to the ground. Forty days of hard work were lost.


As a leader, Moses owned his inability to handle the situation calmly. He did a "do-over" and received new commandments, but the experience of breaking the tablets wouldn't be erased from memory. It was part of his narrative as a leader and part of the historical record of the Israelites. The broken tablets would endure alongside the new ones.

We all make mistakes on the way toward our goal. As a business owner and entrepreneur, there is a story upon which I often reflect that was shared with me by Josh Linkner. Everyone is familiar with WD-40, the water-displacing spray that was originally designed to repel water and prevent corrosion, but was later found to have numerous household uses. Many people, however, don't realize that WD-40 stands for "water displacement 40th attempt." It was the inventor's 40th attempt at a successful product. Norm Larsen had 39 do-overs before finding success. By naming his product WD-40 he kept the first 39 attempts with him as a lesson, just as Moses preserved the broken tablets as a reminder.

May we all make mistakes and then remember those mistakes as lessons as we achieve our goals.

This is a reflection on the fourth day of the Omer. Join the conversation by visiting the Omer liveblog on HuffPost Religion, which features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual reflection between Passover and Shavuot.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Drake's Bar Mitzvah (Again)

In Judaism when a Jewish man turns 83 he ceremoniously celebrates his bar mitzvah for the second time. The reason for this is that Judaism believes that the length of a man's life is 70 years so at 83-years-old he symbolically turns 13 once again. Aubrey Drake Graham, AKA "Drake", is only 26 and far from the traditional age of getting a re-do on the bar mitzvah ceremony, but that didn't stop the Jewish rapper from having what he has termed a "re-bar mitzvah".


Apparently, last fall on October 24, 2011 (a Monday) Drake decided to have a re-bar mitzvah as a re-commitment to the Jewish religion. We learn this from Drake's new music video for his song "HYFR" (look it up!). The video opens with footage of a cute little Drake as a child at a friend or relative's bar mitzvah saying "mazel tov" to the camera. There is also video footage of the young Drake dancing at the bar mitzvah.

The next part of the music video shows the outside of Temple Israel, a Reform congregation in Miami. The camera then takes us inside Temple Israel where we see Drake's bar mitzvah ceremony, including his reading from the Torah after kissing the the inside of the scroll with the tzitzit (fringes) of his tallit (prayer shawl).

Then things get a little crazy and become more typical of a rap video. Of course Drake gets lifted in a chair for the traditional Horah dance, but there is also the debauchery one would expect of a party attended by the likes of Lil Wayne (in a panda suit!), Trey Songz, Birdman and DJ Khaled.

Drake with a bottle of Manischewitz wine next to a guy wearing a JCC basketball jersey.

According to an interview with Drake (whose mother is Jewish), his original bar mitzvah took place in a nice Italian restaurant where he wore a yarmulke and read from his "portion". However, he says he never went to Hebrew School ("I cheated!"). Perhaps that's why he was eager to have a "re-bar mitzvah" in October. Matisyahu once said about Drake: "He's Jewish, but he's not representing Judaism. He happens to be Jewish just like Bob Dylan happened to be Jewish, but what I'm doing is really tapping into my roots and culture, and trying to blend that with the mainstream... Drake's being Jewish is just a by-product."

The "HYFR" video is too explicit for this blog, but it is available on YouTube by searching for "Drake" and "Bar Mitzvah".

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Spirit Airlines Gets Into the Passover Spirit

Like many Jewish people I often get tired of all the marketing geared to a Christian audience. While Christianity is the most common religion in the United States, the Christmas and Easter themed advertising sometimes goes too far. But that doesn't mean I'm looking for big corporations to draw on Jewish holidays to use in their marketing campaigns.

So, I was surprised when I opened an email message today from Spirit Airlines with the subject line: "Don't Passover These Low Fares From $19.80* One Way!" At first I thought it was a spoof message from a Jewish humor website. I read the rest of the message and was surprised by the many references to the upcoming holiday of Passover.

Spirit Airlines Passover Promotion

The many references in Spirit Airline's email to Passover even made question if I had been religiously targeted by the airline. Was it because I had three trips in March with Spirit Air and they noticed my yarmulke? Was it because I have "rabbi" in my email address? I wondered if any other major company had ever conducted a promotion tied into Passover.

The Spirit Airlines Passover promotion is also odd because it was launched the day before Passover. If the company's intention was to get people to book their Passover flights with Spirit, it's too late for that. Most of the qualifying flights in the promotion have dates in May and June. Perhaps, the Spirit marketing department should have considered a Shavuot sale (no obvious puns there). The other thing that is odd is that I didn't receive an Easter promotion from Spirit Airlines even though that (more widespread) holiday takes place this weekend too.

A little research on the Web showed me that Spirit Air used the same silly pun ("Don't Passover These Deals") last year in a marketing email. So, I guess their marketing team isn't that creative after all. And they really overdid it on the kitsch (no need for the "Mazel Tov!" greeting at the end of the ad).

My only comment after flying Spirit thrice last month is that air travel shouldn't feel like such a PLAGUE (no leg room!), the gate agents should act like the mean PHARAOH forcing me to pay extra for each carry-on bag I bring on board, and I yearn for the days of FREEDOM when complimentary drinks and peanuts were served on flights. Hmmm, maybe there really is a Passover connection with Spirit Airlines!

Passover and Pet Food

As a kosher supervisor (mashgiach) and the owner of a kosher certification agency, I am constantly impressed by the level of attention, respect and genuine care that non-Jewish business owners demonstrate for their kosher observant customers. I once again witnessed this first hand when I met the owner of Premier Pet Supply last week.

Mike Palmer, who is half Chaldean and half Italian, owns the pet food and supply store with his uncle, the store's founder. Located in Beverly Hills, a suburb of Detroit, the store has received a lot of positive attention of late because of Mike's knack for publicity and his people skills (he obviously has great pet skills too!). The store is consistently named best pet supply store in the area and Mike was just named one of the Elite 40 Under 40 for Oakland County, Michigan.

Mike called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would come by his store before Passover to answer some questions about kosher for Passover pet food. Since my family doesn't own any pets and I haven't certified kosher dog food in over a year (the dog treat company Kosher Michigan certified went out of business in 2010), I decided to brush up on the laws concerning pet food on Passover. And it's a good thing I did because when I got to the store I was overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge Mike possessed concerning the kosher laws and Passover. He knew more about the intricacies of the holiday than many Jewish people I know.

As we walked the aisles of his store I checked the pet food that he had labeled as being appropriate for Passover and there were no errors. He explained that he had read an article by the Star-K kosher certification agency and felt he had a good understanding of what makes pet food kosher for Passover, but he wanted to run some questions by me. We had a long conversation about kitniyot (legumes, which most Ashkenazi Jews don't eat on Passover) as well as the custom of feeding the family dog in the garage on Passover, which many families follow. Over and again, I heard Mike express how important he believes it is to provide quality service to his Jewish customers and ensure that they can purchase the best food for their pets on Passover while adhering to the holiday's regulations.


In terms of what Jewish law says about pet food on Passover, the most important thing to remember is that chametz (leavened products) from the five grains (barley, oats, rye, spelt, or wheat) is forbidden to eat or derive benefit from. Feeding chametz to one's pet would be deriving benefit from it. Additionally, a Jewish person is not allowed to even possess any chametz on Passover. 

As I explained to Mike, while kitniyot (legumes) are not eaten by most Ashkenazi Jews, they may be fed to pets on Passover. Also, one does not need to change over the dishes for pets, meaning that the usual food bowls for pets can be used on Passover but they should be cleaned out first.

A 2009 article in the NY Times featured a Passover Seder for dogs that took place at a Chicago pet food store to promote Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company which sells Kosher for Passover products. (Joshua Lott/Chicago Tribune)

There is a custom of "selling" one's pet to a non-Jew on Passover. The reason for this has to do with deriving benefit from chametz. Thus, if one leaves a pet with a non-Jew during Passover the pet owner will still derive benefit from chametz when the non-Jewish friend feeds the pet. Therefore, some observant Jews will "sell" the pet to the non-Jewish friend on the condition it is sold back at the conclusion of the holiday in the same fashion as the "legal fiction" sale of chametz.

While many Jews are not familiar with the laws governing pet food on Passover, it is reassuring that there are pet supply store owners like Mike Palmer who are concerned about this. It is admirable that he has taken the time to research this subject and has gone out of his way to help his Jewish customers find the right pet food for Passover.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

David Beckham's Ani L'dodi Tattoo

Celebrities sporting tattoos is nothing new. However, there's a recent trend that I've noticed of non-Jewish celebrities having Hebrew words and phrases tattooed on their bodies. Soccer superstar (and famous Spice Girl spouse) David Beckham's Hebrew tattoos are being displayed all over the Web today, but only because of the Hebrew tattoo's proximity to his tattoo getting all the attention.

Beckham is an ambassador for “Sainsbury’s Active Kids” in Britain, where he's was born and raised. In that role, he recently appeared in a promotional poster for a program run by the Sainsbury supermarket chain that provides local schools with sporting equipment. It wasn't any of his Hebrew tattoos that caused the scandal, but rather the provocative image of his wife Victoria on his forearm. Apparently the local schools aren't so eager to display the posters of Becks showing off a naked image of his wife.



Next to the tattoo in question is a line of Hebrew text from Song of Songs which reads "Ani l'dodi li va'ani lo haro'eh bashoshanim" - My beloved is mine and I am his, the shepherd [grazing his flock] among the lilies. The tattooed verse from the Torah does not mean Beckham considers himself Jewish. He has a large tattooed cross on the back of his neck. The other Hebrew tattoo above the verse from Song of Songs is from the Book of Proverbs 3:1 and means "My son, do not forget my teaching but keep my commands in your heart." Beckham's wife Victoria (née Posh Spice) has the same quote from Song of Songs tattooed vertically from her neck to her back. This verse is often recited by bride's under the chuppah (wedding canopy) at a Jewish wedding to proclaim their love to their groom.


Other non-Jewish celebs who have Hebrew tattoos include Christina Aguilera who has the same verse from Song of Songs as the Beckhams on her lower back and Madonna with the Hebrew letters lamed, alef, vav on her shoulder to represent a Kabbalistic name for God. Britney Spears has the letters mem, hey, shin tattooed on her which is another Kabbalistic name for God.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Selling Chametz Online

When I posted a link to my recent NY Jewish Week blog post on Twitter with the question "Can One Sell Chametz Online" I received a response from Rabbi Elli Fischer (@adderabbi) which stated, "Obviously, one CAN sell chametz online" with a link to CookiesDirect.net. Okay, he's got a point there!

Jokes aside, the selling of chametz has been one of the more prevalent ways the Jewish community has used modern technology to perform Jewish ritual (I don't recommend selling your chametz on eBay). Here's my blog post:

Can One Sell Chametz Online
Originally Posted on the Jewish Techs blog (The Jewish Week)


On the Jewish Techs blog we have looked at the way several Jewish rituals are now performed using the Internet. Not every Jewish ritual can be transferred to the medium of the Internet, but even the question raises some interesting points for discussion. With the latest Web technology, we have seen how Jewish life-cycle events can be more inclusive and we have also looked into the legality of convening a minyan (prayer quorum) over the Internet.