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Sacha Baron Cohen’s next Netflix role is super Jewish and super relevant – The Jewish News of Northern California

Posted By on September 29, 2020

This article originally appeared on Kveller.

The timing couldnt be more prescient for Aaron Sorkins newest film, The Trial of the Chicago 7.

The movie by the West Wing creator, which is coming to Netflix on Oct. 16, is about the Jewish anti-war activist Abbie Hoffman, who was tried along with six others for conspiracy and inciting to riot for their role in the 1968 protests at the Democratic National Convention.

Hoffman is played by none other than the Jewish actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Its his second super-Jewish dramatic role for the streaming service after playing the Israeli spy Eli Cohen in the 2018 miniseries The Spy.

The first teaser trailer for the movie premiered this week, and so much of it feels so timely and familiar even if it depicts events from more than 50 years ago.

Especially familiar are the clips of scenes from anti-war protests, which led to a violent showdown between the yippie protesters and law enforcement, including police and the National Guard. The whole world is watching, we hear a crowd chant. A sign with Black Power fists that reads An attack on one of us is an attack on us all looks like it could have come from any of the Black Lives Matter protests in recent months.

Seeing the fear and the determination of the protesters as they face armed guards also feels incredibly current. In fact, it makes you realize how little has changed over the past half-century besides the hairstyles and the outfits, of course, plus the fact that nobodys wearing a mask.

With an unruly, curly mane and an East Coast drawl, Cohen is perfect as Hoffman. The actor is known for his immersive, overstated satire and grand theatrics, after all, and Hoffman was known for his theatrical style and comical methods for his anti-war activism.

Cohens latest project, Showtimes Who Is America, was an attempt to mock and shine a light on the injustices and hypocrisy by U.S. politicians. As the Jewish father of three told the Anti-Defamation League last year, his life and work have always been informed by activism.

As an undergraduate, I traveled around America and wrote my thesis about the civil rights movement, with the help of the archives of the ADL, he told the crowd at the ADLs 2019 Never Is Now Summit on Anti-Semitism and Hate. And as a comedian, Ive tried to use my characters to get people to let down their guard and reveal what they actually believe, including their own prejudice.

Lately, Cohen is going back to using his own voice for his activism. (This is the first time that I have ever stood up and given a speech as my least popular character, Sacha Baron Cohen, he told the ADL crowd last year.) Hes brandished scathing critiques (sometimes even laden with Nazi analogies) of social media sites like Facebook and Twitter for their role in aiding the spread of misinformation, fomenting hate and conflicts in this country and abroad. In his ADL speech, he called YouTube, Google, Facebook and Twitter the greatest propaganda machine in history.

So it makes sense that he was cast by Sorkin to play Hoffman, one of the most well-known (and controversial) anti-war activists in U.S. history. Thats true even if Cohen (jokingly) insists on Twitter that it was a mistake.

As an infamous anti-war activist, Hoffman frequently got in trouble with the law and spent seven years in hiding to avoid the authorities. He was also deeply Jewish. In many fascinating online interviews, you can hear Hoffman talk about how he sang hum hum instead of Jesus in Christmas carols while attending the prestigious Worcester Academy boarding school in Massachusetts. (They had just started letting Jews in, he said.)

But perhaps the best Jewish video clip of Hoffman shows him making gefilte fish and telling a story about how he made the Jewish delicacy for the legendary author and pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock.

Will gefilte fish be featured in a scene in The Trial of the Chicago 7?

We dont know yet but we can hope. .

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Sacha Baron Cohen's next Netflix role is super Jewish and super relevant - The Jewish News of Northern California

Cuomo: Brooklyn, Orange and Rockland counties see clusters of COVID-19 – Newsday

Posted By on September 29, 2020

New York is seeing troubling clusters of increasing coronavirus cases in the borough of Brooklyn and Orange and Rockland counties with infection rates as high as 30% in one ZIP code, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday, as he announced efforts to get them under control.

He called on local schools and governments to step up actions to curb the spikes and offered the immediate use of 200 rapid-testing machines that can churn out a test every 15 minutes.

Ten ZIP codes have 3% of the state's population but accounted for 27% of the state's confirmed positives for COVID-19 in recent testing, he said. The top 20 ZIP codes accounted for 37% of cases but have only 6% of the state's population.

The levels in two Rockland County ZIP codes were 30% and 25% respectively, even though the statewide rate has hovered around 1% or lower for weeks. One Orange County ZIP code had an infection rate of 22%, while another in Brooklyn had a rate of 17%.

"The public schools, the private schools that are in those ZIP codes, I strongly encourage to request a rapid-testing machine and have them start testing their students," Cuomo said, adding that the machines and state employees to operate them are available immediately.

Cuomo did not specify the potential cause of the outbreaks. In response to a question about statements from a New York City official last week that some of the cluster areas have large Orthodox Jewish communities, Cuomo did not directly say whether that is the case.

Speaking on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for the Jewish faithful, he said the state regulations apply to people of all religions. A Roman Catholic, he noted that he canceled the St. Patrick's Day parade in New York City generally seen as a Catholic celebration because of worries about spreading the virus.

Cuomo warned that if the clusters are not brought under control, those areas could see a reversal of the reopenings of businesses, schools and other institutions.

The New York City Department of Health released lists of some of the areas with high infection levels, including Gravesend/Homecrest, with 6.72%; Midwood, 5.53%; Kew Gardens, 3.61%; Edgemere/Far Rockaway, 3.98%; Borough Park, 5.26%; Bensonhurst/Mapleton, 5.15%; Gerritsen Beach/Homecrest/Sheepshead Bay, 4.05%; and Flatlands/Midwood, 4.08%.

The slight increase to 1.5% of people testing positive statewide in results completed Sunday also comes amid COVID-19 spikes in parts of the United States and in global hot spots, Cuomo said, but he added that the high number of tests is helping the state to identify problem areas.

The uptick, Cuomo said, is also a reminder of concerns about a potential second wave affecting the New York Metro area.

"We are coming into the fall and all the health experts said we had to be careful about the fall," Cuomo said, during a telephone news briefing with reporters. "The point of the tests is just this, its to be able to pinpoint, identify the clusters."

The latest testing results on Sunday showed Brooklyn with a 2.6% positivity rate, the Mid-Hudson region with 3.1% and the Southern Tier with 3.6%, state figures showed.

While Cuomo did not lay out a possible cause of the increases, last week Dr. Mitchell Katz, president and chief executive of NYC Health + Hospitals, said neighborhoods such as Midwood, Borough Park, Williamsburg, Edgemere/Far Rockaway, Kew Gardens and Bensonhurst, some of which have large Orthodox Jewish populations, accounted for 20% of all city cases as of Sept. 19.

He warned of the potential to end up "in a lockdown-type situation" if the spread continued, while the New York/New Jersey Anti-Defamation League cautioned against "stereotyping" of that community.

Some Orthodox Jewish leaders on Long Island, such as the head of the Chabad movement, say they have energetically encouraged the faithful to adhere to mask and social distancing mandates.

Cuomo said Monday that New York State health officials will be meeting with local officials in Brooklyn, Rockland and Orange counties to discuss the results of the state inquiries into the sources of the uptick.

In response to the federal government decreasing its COVID-19 screening at airports, Cuomo also said he is issuing an executive order to alert travelers from many countries "with significant community spread" of the virus that they are ordered quarantined upon arrival in New York, saying that "all but 31 countries" around the globe are under such restrictions.

"The CDC ended enhanced screening at the airport for some international travel, but we are seeing alarming increases around the world so we are going to increase our presence," Cuomo said.

New York State processed test results for 52,936 people on Sunday and found 834 new cases of coronavirus, Cuomo said. He said 11 state residents died on Sunday from coronavirus-related causes.

The number of new confirmed cases was 68 in Nassau County, 41 in Suffolk County and 379 in New York City. The level of positive tests was 1.2% on Long Island and 1.6% in New York City.

State Liquor Authority agents and State Police inspected 988 establishments on Sunday and issued summonses to five, including three in Suffolk, for violating state mandates aimed at curbing spread of the virus.

On Long Island, the Rosemary Kennedy School and the Center for Community Adjustment in Wantagh were closed to in-person learning again Monday after officials said three staff members at the Kennedy Center tested positive last week for COVID-19. The building was closed Friday and will reopen Tuesday, officials said.

There have been other recent school closures across Long Island because of coronavirus cases among students and staff. In the Northport-East Northport School District, Northport High School, which closed last week due to a positive COVID-19 test result from a student, was set to reopen Tuesday, said District Clerk Beth Nystrom.

On Sunday, the East Meadow School District was notified that a student at Clarke Middle School and another at Clarke High School tested positive for COVID-19, but the schools will not close, district officials said. The students and others who came in contact with them without safety measures in place will quarantine.

With John Valenti and Olivia Winslow

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In response to the federal government decreasing its COVID-19 screening at airports, Cuomo also said he is issuing an executive order to alert travelers from many countries that they are to quarantine upon arrival in New York, with "all but 31 countries" around the globe under such restrictions. Travelers are asked to fill out traveler health forms with local health departments for contact tracing purposes, according to state orders.

The quarantine applies to any person arriving from an area with a positive test rate higher than 10 per 100,000 residents over a 7-day rolling average, or an area with a 10% or higher positivity rate over a 7-day rolling average, the governor's office said.

All but 31 countries in the world fall under those requirements.

International travelers from the following places are not subject to the requirements as of Monday: American Samoa, Anguilla, Bonaire, Brunei, Cambodia, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Falkland Islands, Fiji, Guernsey, Greenland, Grenada, Isle of Man, Laos, Macao SAR, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Montserrat, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Saba, Saint Barthelemy, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Sint Eustatius, Taiwan, Thailand and Timor-Leste.

SOURCE: New York Governor's Office.

Bart Jones covers religion at Newsday, where he has worked since 2000, and is a former foreign correspondent for The Associated Press in Venezuela.

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Cuomo: Brooklyn, Orange and Rockland counties see clusters of COVID-19 - Newsday

The Gray Market: Why the Delay of Philip Guston Now Will Backfire on the Entire Culture Sector (and Other Insights) – artnet News

Posted By on September 29, 2020

Every Monday morning, Artnet News brings you The Gray Market. The column decodes important stories from the previous weekand offers unparalleled insight into the inner workings of the art industry in the process.

This week, gazing into the art industrys most conspicuous new void

Last Monday, the National Gallery of Art, Tate Modern, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, quietly issued a joint press release announcing that Philip Guston Now, a touring retrospective previously postponed to July 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, would be delayed until 2024 so that the powerful message of social and racial justice that is at the center of Philip Gustons work can be more clearly interpreted. But the museums purported good intentions are already backfiring, and the grim road I fear lies ahead raises fundamental questions about museums responsibilities in an era of radioactive politics and widespread social injustice.

A joint response from seven spokespeople representing the four institutions confirmed to Artnet News on Friday that at issue is the shows inclusion of approximately 25 paintings and drawings that Guston created depicting white-hooded figures that allude to the Ku Klux Klan. This obviously explains the following sentence in the original statement: The racial justice movement that started in the US and radiated to countries around the world, in addition to challenges of a global health crisis, have led us to pause.

The seven representatives went on to tell Artnet News that the institutions would bring in additional perspectives and voices to shape how we present Gustons work at each venue, and that this would be a complex and layered process that goes beyond rewriting labels, but takes into consideration the ways in which we communicate the production of this work in its time and the reception by audiences today.

For the uninitiated, there is nothing ambiguous about Gustons intentions with the KKK works. His cartoonish renderings show the Klansmen in quiet, everyday momentssmoking cigars, driving, even painting at an easelcommunicating the disturbing reality that their real-life counterparts have been living quietly among average Americans for the terrorist organizations entire history. Guston wrote that he had been haunted by the Klan since he saw them violently assault striking workers as a child in Los Angeles. In a statement on Thursday condemning the decision to postpone the exhibition, Musa Mayer, Gustons daughter and the leader of the Guston Foundation, wrote that the works unveil white culpability exposing the banality of evil and the systemic racism we are still struggling to confront today.

Philip Guston, The Studio (1969) The Estate of Philip Guston. Private Collection. Photo Genevieve Hanson.

Just as important, the artists Klan-related imagery has enjoyed widespread art-world support for decades. Art historians and critics have been pummeling the postponement since last Thursday, from the University of Chicagos Darby English in the New York Times, to Yales Robert Storr in The Art Newspaper, to one of Tate Moderns own curators, Mark Godfrey, on Instagram. Noted Black American artists Glenn Ligon and Trenton Doyle Hancock, along with the Jewish American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, also contributed writing to the exhibitions catalogue on the powerful impact of Gustons KKK works.

Why did these institutions decide only last week that the 13 months ahead of the shows opening were not enough to properly contextualize the works? Theyre not saying. Storr alleged in his op-ed for TANthat the specific flashpoint was pushback from [National Gallery] staff about an anti-lynching image from the 1930s. When I asked about Storrs claim, the museums representatives declined to comment.(Beyond the spokespeople, the lone defender of the delay so far is Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation and a board member at the National Gallery, who told theTimes the show would have appeared tone deaf without a rethink.)

The museum representatives also declined to answer other questions I put forth to elucidate what exactly happened here. Foremost among them was whether any concerns about the exhibition were raised by donors of either works in the show or funding critical to its presentation. Private collectors and corporate sponsors are just as aware of their vulnerabilities in this moment as museums, and their importance to presenting a major exhibition like this one is vital enough that threats to withhold resources could pressure the institutions to push back the debut.

But in the absence of answers, all that I can do at this point is speculate and search for comps. After doing both, a larger problem emerged: regardless of the real reasons for the postponement of Philip Guston Now, the four organizing museums have likely already doomed its legacyand intensified the culture wars they were undoubtedly hoping to de-escalate.

Vincent Valdez, The City I (201516). Photo by Peter Molick, courtesy of the artist, David Shelton Gallery, and the Blanton Museum of Art at the University of Texas at Austin, purchase through the generosity of Guillermo C. Nicolas and James C. Foster with additional support from Jeanne and Michael Klein and Ellen Susman.

To contextualize the museums decision to delay, my colleagues in art media have primarily raised a trio of recent exhibitions that triggered overwhelming blowback for the institutions involved. However, I think theres an even more instructive example worth discussing, and its not necessarily great news for the National Gallery and its partners.

In 2018, the Blanton Museum of Art unveiled Vincent Valdezs The City I and The City II (201516), a monumental two-part painting series that depicted hooded Klan members, in Valdezs words, as regular people who get back into their cars, they go home, they put their kids to bed, they make lunches for the morning.

Valdez and Guston have different backgrounds (the former identifies as Mexican American, whereas the latter was a white Canadian American), butValdezs comments prove they were vibrating at an eerily similar frequency:

I feel very strongly that America still finds itself trapped between the myth of who we think we were and the reality of who we really are. Americans excel at avoiding looking into a truthful mirror, because of what it might reveal. The City is that mirror.

The echoes dont end there. According to the New York Times, the Blanton originally planned to install Valdezs painting in 2017 but postponed its debut for a year to provide distance from the election of Donald Trump, as well as more time to hone the presentation in accordance with the tumultuous sociopolitical climate the piece would be entering as a result.

What did museum leadership use that extra year to do? The Times notedthat the Blanton

Guess what? It still wasnt enough to make the painting completely fireproof. A miscommunication among [museum] staff meant the Blanton neglected to contact Austins chapter of the NAACP until the week prior to the paintings unveiling. After viewing the work, the chapters president knocked Valdez for not portraying Black lynching victims in the painting and implored the museum to look outside [its] walls and figure out whats going on in the community when you do these type of exhibitions.

Similarly, the chairman of the University of Texass African and African Diaspora Studies told the Times that, after his experience with the work, he feared some people would interpret The City as a glorification of the Klan, highlighting why there needs to be robust contextualization about Valdezs intentions.

On a personal level, my email archives also include an expletive-laced screed from a furious observer accusing me and my colleagues at Artnet News of bigotry for publishing the above-linked interview with Valdez about the painting. Im sure the artist and the Blanton received worse.

So could the museum have done more? Technically, the answer is yes. But based on the list above, I also think its pretty damn hard to argue in good faith that the Blanton didnt make an aggressive, thoughtful, multifaceted effort to address the challenge as best as it could.

This is my core problem with the additional postponement of Philip Guston Now: It is impossible to perfectly safeguard any artwork or idea from criticism. No matter how much time you take, you could always have done more. And this inconvenient truth is precisely what worries me so much about how this episode is now poised to play out in the culture sector.

US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible outside of St Johns Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images.

In their original statement, the four museums mention that they have already been working on Philip Guston Now for five years. The original, coronavirus-induced postponement to July 2021 would have given them six total years of preparation, including 13 months after the murder of George Floyd. All told, the new 2024 opening date means they will ultimately have had roughly nine years to try to perfect the exhibition for the climate in which it will emerge.

But heres the thing about the moment: by definition, it is constantly in flux. Whos to say that events just as shocking to the status quo as those we experienced in early 2020 wont thunder through the cultural landscape in early 2024?

The four-year postponement of Philip Guston Now doesnt just feel extraordinarily long. It also feels extraordinarily loaded. Not much imagination is required to tie the shows new opening date to the end of the next US presidential administration, particularly since the first host institution is located in the nations capital. But its anyones guess who will be in the White House at that point, let alone what they will have done (or not done) for racial justice during that term. A better future is not promised.

Given the culture wars were now enveloped in, I cant help but think of one of general George Pattons famous declarations: a good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.And in the interim between now (or in this case, for July 2021) and next week (in this case, for 2024) lies the perhaps the most dangerous effect of all.

The saying goes that nature abhors a vacuum. Well, controversy adores one. Until Philip Guston Now premieres, it will exist as an ideological weapon that can be wielded with equal force from both sides of the political spectrum.

The right wing will portray the postponement as another example of cancel culture run amok, as further proof that the coastal elites running museums think the average citizen is too dumb to process nuance, and as more evidence of why American tax dollars should be siphoned away from the arts. Left-leaning observers will (continue to) portray the postponement as an act of institutional cowardice at a moment when uncomfortable ideas are more necessary than ever, as further proof that the paternalistic careerists running museums think the average citizen is too dumb to process nuance, and as more evidence that art museums need radical reform to serve their publics as intended.

Both sides now have three-plus years to build up their narrative of choice. This fact all but guarantees that the show is destined to suffer the fate the postponement was designed to prevent: being utterly defined by the roughly 25 works that allude to the KKK, based on viewpoints visitors had already forged in advance.

This is the same basic outcome suffered by the 2017 Whitney Biennial, which is effectively only remembered for the scandal surrounding the white artist Dana Schutzs portrayal of mutilated Black teenager Emmett Till in her painting Open Casket. The stigma it left has amplified the reaction to every perceived misstep on equity or social justice the Whitney has made in the three years since, including the fury unleashed by the museums ill-conceived Collective Actions show last month.

The Open Casket dust-up is the first of those three earlier-mentioned precedents Ive seen my colleagues in art media reference regarding the Guston delay. Yet the leadership there got off easier than the parties involved in the other two. The controversies surrounding the white artist Sam Durants Scaffold (2012) at the Walker Art Center in 2017, as well as the Afro-Latino artist Shaun Leonardos exhibition The Breath of Empty Space at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland just this summer, each led to the resignation of the institutions director.

The stakes can go higher than job security or institutional legacy, too. In 2017, the group exhibition Art and China After 1989: The Theater of the World provoked threats of physical violence against staff at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The institution removed or worked with the artist to revise multiple pieces that triggered accusations of animal cruelty from activists. In this sense, Id almost be more inclined to let you hide a live scorpion in my apartment than curate a major exhibition that incorporates images of the Klan, regardless of the artists well-documented intentions and the seriess overwhelmingly positive critical standing.

On one level, then, I sympathize with the organizers of the exhibition. But like it or not, the culture wars are back. And even if these four museums are not ready to engage yet, their inactivity will be used as ammunition by those who are.

[Statement | Artnet News]

Thats all for this week. Til next time, remember: the surest way to get knocked out quickly is to behave as if no one is actually punching you.

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The Gray Market: Why the Delay of Philip Guston Now Will Backfire on the Entire Culture Sector (and Other Insights) - artnet News

Yom Kippur: Decisions and tears – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 29, 2020

Yom Kippur comes 10 days after the beginning of the year. This is the day when God effects atonement (in Hebrew, the root is KPR) for the sins of humans.

For on this day He shall effect atonement for you to cleanse you. Before the Lord, you shall be cleansed from all your sins (Leviticus 16, 30). This special day is the most sacred day of the year for the Jewish nation. Even those whose Judaism is not reflected in their daily lives often come on Yom Kippur to a synagogue and participate in the special prayers of the day.

Another aspect of these days is expressed by the eternal words of the prophet Isaiah: Seek the Lord when He is found, call Him when He is near. The wicked shall give up his way, and the man of iniquity his thoughts, and he shall return to the Lord, Who shall have mercy upon him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon (Isaiah 55, 6-7).

These verses allude to the fact that there are specific times when God is closer to people, days when God is more present. When are these days? The answer is in the Babylonian Talmud: These are the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (Tractate Rosh Hashanah, 18).

If so, the Aseret Yemei Teshuva are not only a chance for appeal, they are days meant fundamentally for closeness to God. The climax of these days is Yom Kippur, on which God calls upon us to atone before Him and embark on the new year cleansed of sins.

Toward the end of Yom Kippur, we get a sense of deep purity unlike any other. The last prayer on Yom Kippur, Neila, is one in which we plea, Open the [heavenly] gate for us at this time when the gate closes, for the day is fading away. This is seemingly the last opportunity to take advantage of Yom Kippur and leave it purified for the new year.

During the Neila prayer, we say the following from the slihot liturgy:

May it be Your will, You who hears the sound of weeping,

That You place our tears in Your flask permanently,

And that You rescue us from all cruel decrees,

For on You alone are our eyes fixed.

This prayer is based on the words of the Talmud: From the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer were locked, but even though the gates of prayer were locked, the gates of tears were not locked (Tractate Baba Metzia, 59).

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Yom Kippur: Decisions and tears - The Jerusalem Post

For National Coffee Day, the Secret Jewish History of the coffee cup – Forward

Posted By on September 29, 2020

Editors Note: For National Coffee Day, September 29, 2020, we bring you the compelling history, originally published in 2014, of those familiar vessels that store our liquid energy.

In the Talmud (Eruvin 65b), Rabbi Ilai cleverly opines: A person is recognized by three things: their cup, their pocket, and their anger. In other words, how they handle their liquor (self control), their money (generosity), and their temper (patience). Its a lot more poetic in the Hebrew, where the three characteristics are, koso, kiso, and kaaso.

A more alliterative English translation might be, pour, pocket, and pique. Entire sermons and morality tales can be woven from this dictum, but with National Coffee Day upon us, I wanted to shed a little light on some unusual Jewish connections to item #1 from this aphorism: The Cup.

One place where I often see peoples cups, pockets and anger-management skills come into play is standing on line at Starbucks. But no matter how you navigate your order with impatience, queries about fair trade beans or a perhaps too generous tip from your pocket when you exit Starbucks youll be carrying a cup whose iconic design is largely Jewish in origin.

One of the 1971 founders of the original Starbucks, Zev Siegel, was Jewish, and in 1987 the company was bought by fellow Jew, former employee and onetime 2020 presidential hopeful Howard Schultz, who was passionately committed to turning Starbucks from a whole-bean coffee roaster and retailer into a chain of espresso bars that served as communal gathering places like those he encountered on buying trips to Milan as Starbucks former director of marketing.

The new Starbucks logo was a merger of the original Starbucks logo and the logo for Il Giornale - Schultzs espresso bar that he opened when he couldnt convince the original Starbucks owners to focus on brewed coffee sales. Schultzs new Starbucks logo (a form of which is still in use today) featured a stylized version of the original Starbucks two-tailed mermaid (technically a Melusine), changed from brown to green to match the green circle with white block lettering and stars that was part of Schultzs original logo for Il Giornale. For many coffee drinkers, a quick sighting of the Starbucks green alone (Pantone 3298) is enough to elicit Pavlovian caffeine cravings that are not easily denied.

The Starbucks cup may be iconic (if not ubiquitous), but theres one other coffee cup that has it beat in terms of recognizability and Jewish connections.

50 years ago, in an attempt to sell more paper cups to the plethora of Greek-owned diners in New York City, the marketing director for the startup Sherri Cup Company created the Anthora coffee cup. The cups creator, Leslie Buck, was born Laszlo Bch to a Ukranian Jewish family. Both his parents were killed by the Nazis, and Leslie himself was a survivor of both Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

Featuring the blue and white of the Greek flag, with a classic key pattern, a drawing of an amphora (the Greek vase for which the cup, courtesy of Bucks thick accent, is named), The New York Times called this cup, a pop-cultural totem that was as vivid an emblem of New York City as the Statue of Liberty. For many New Yorkers, this simple cup can evoke Proustian memories of streets traveled, early work mornings, and Sunday dog walks. For Buck, it was a long journey from Work Makes You Free to We Are Happy to Serve You.

Each Passover at our seder, we lift each cup of wine in remembrance of our journey from slavery to freedom. But it is not freedom from work we desire - it is the freedom to approach each (caffeine-fueled) day with the discipline, generosity and patience necessary to immerse ourselves in work that really matters - to our lives, our communities, and our world.

As Marge Piercy wrote, in her poem, To Be of Use:

I want to be with people who submergein the task, who go into the fields to harvestand work in a row and pass the bags alongThe work of the world is common as mud.Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.But the thing worth doing well donehas a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.Greek amphoras for wine or oil,Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museumsbut you know they were made to be used.The pitcher cries for water to carryand a person for work that is real.

Eric Schulmiller is the Cantor of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore, and has written humor and culture pieces for the New York Times, The New Yorker, and The Atlantic.

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For National Coffee Day, the Secret Jewish History of the coffee cup - Forward

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a wish and Jewish tradition can guide us – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 29, 2020

What do we owe the dead? Do the recently departed continue to assert moral claims over us from the grave by the authority of their earnest deathbed wishes and well-planned estates, or are we free to lead our lives in the present without looking back?Since the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, Ive been thinking about this question a lot.

Media coverage so far has focused mostly on the unfolding political drama unleashed by her death: the nomination process, its effect on the upcoming election and the future composition of the high court.

How are we supposed to respond, as morally sensitive human beings in addition to political animals, to this heartfelt plea?

Some liberals used the revelation to shame Senate Republicans, while conservatives either denied its validity altogether, as President Donald Trump did, or insisted that it is irrelevant, since the dead dont get a vote.

Not finding any serious answers to these questions on CNN, Fox or Politico, I turned to Jewish law. There, in reassuring black and white, the Talmud records that it is a mitzvah to fulfill the wishes of the dead (Gittin 14b).

But the interpretation of these words is subject to debate. Some medieval rabbinic authorities restrict this broad-sounding rule exclusively to the issue of inheritance and the distribution of the deceaseds assets. In other words, its merely an obligation to dispose of the deceaseds money in accordance with his or her wishes (Tosafot on Gittin 13a).

On the other hand, there are others who understand this Talmudic principle more broadly, seeing in it an obligation to carry out deathbed wishes even in nonfinancial matters. For them, this obligation isnt just about contractual rights its about the kindness and love we owe to the deceased on account of their dignity as a human being, the principle known as honoring the dead.

How would this apply to the nomination of a new Supreme Court justice, where Ginsburg explicitly expressed her desire to have the appointment of her successor delayed until after the election?

The first camp of interpreters would say that Ginsburgs final words have no effect, since they relate not to her personal estate but to the future of a political body whose fate is beyond her control. As the Tashbetz, a noted rabbinic authority of the 15th century, strikingly put it, a man at the time of his death is not a prophet, nor a king or a prince, that he can command the living to fulfill his words. He went to say that this rule of obeying the words of the deceased was only said in regards to money, since the money is his.

Indeed, in our modern American democratic system, Ginsburg was neither a prophet nor a king. Our most powerful leaders have no hereditary rule, and little control over the future of the system they have shepherded after they leave the scene.

In Federalist 78, Hamilton writes that the Supreme Court will be the weakest branch of the government because it may truly be said to have neither force nor will, but merely judgment. As Ginsburg departed this world, she left behind just her best judgment about how to proceed without her.

But is that all? The dead may not have a vote, but they ought not be buried and forgotten either, especially when it comes to the most pressing issue of our time, the future of the Supreme Court.

Ginsburg was a brilliant jurist, a courageous political change maker and, most important, a human being. Even if it isnt quite fair for us to be chained to the desires of those from our past, there remains an obligation to honor her life and memory, part of which means considering the choices she would want us to make going forward.

May her example guide the hearts of our leaders, and may her memory be a blessing. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

Excerpt from:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg had a wish and Jewish tradition can guide us - The Jerusalem Post

Coming to terms with mental illness in Judaism and in our communities – The Jerusalem Post

Posted By on September 29, 2020

One of the most beloved hassidic stories of the High Holiday season tells of an orphaned shepherd boy who knew little about his Jewish heritage. On the day before Yom Kippur, he joined a group of people traveling to Medzhybizh to spend the holiest day of the Jewish year in prayer with the sainted Baal Shem Tov. Standing in the synagogue among the devoted worshipers, the boy desperately wanted to pray, but couldnt read the letters of the alef-bet. He drew a deep breath and let out a piercing whistle, the identical sound he would make each evening to gather his sheep from the fields.

The people in the synagogue were aghast at the interruption, but the Baal Shem Tov calmed his followers and said, This boys whistle penetrated the heavens, and canceled Gods terrible decree. It was sincere and came from the very bottom of his heart. This story not only emphasizes the importance of sincerity in prayer but the significance of tolerance and understanding for those who may be somewhat different than others.

Someone once said to me that the story always bothered him, says Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig of Beit Knesset Netzach Menashe in Beit Shemesh. He said, If that kid walked into our shul, wed shush him. We wouldnt be the Baal Shem Tov wed be the people silencing him. We marvel at the story, but honestly, if someone walked in at the Neilah prayer and started whistling, we would kick him out. We like the story, continues Rosensweig, but we like our order and we like our structure. Having a mentally unwell person within our community always upsets that structure. Can you really put up with someone who has Alzheimers or dementia coming to shul and speaking loudly or acting out? Can you put up with someone with autism or a child who comes with ADHD and needs to have a spinner to keep himself occupied in shul? Its not just a question of Halacha. It is a communal question: Are we willing to sacrifice to accommodate those individuals?

Responds Rosensweig, If Jewish law is up to the challenge, and says, Okay, maybe we can allow you to listen to music under those circumstances, then what you are saying to the person is, I believe you are ill, and just like I would allow someone who is physically ill to do certain things on Shabbat, I am going to allow it for you as well. But if I tell the person, No, you cant do those things, and youll just have to cope some other way, I am sending a message that says, You are not really sick. You wouldnt tell a person with fever to just walk it off. You would tell that person to take a pill and bring down the fever not just mentally work it out. With mental illness, we are sometimes more dismissive, not because we are trying to do harm. We think we are giving good advice, but we are sending the message, I have nothing that I can do for you because I dont really see this as an emergency situation. Rosensweig feels that Judaism has unwittingly attached stigmas to mental illness. One reason, he says, is due to the lack of sources within Jewish law on the subject, and the second has to do with the not-uncommon lack of positive response when confronted with questions of mental health.

When the rabbis of the Talmud described matters pertaining to health, he explains, they were describing phenomena of which they were aware.

If you understand that the issues, the things that they describe are things that were clear to them as being illnesses, we can also understand that the things we have in our classical sources are usually the more extreme cases, because those were very clearly identifiable. Its clear that the kinds of things they talk about are nearer to psychosis than neurosis, he says.

When you tell a kid in yeshiva or the community that he has a personality issue and should talk to a rabbi, and the rabbi tells the person that he has to work on himself and his middot (behavioral traits) its not that those things are sometimes not good to hear but for a person who is really suffering, its like someone is suffering from cancer and youre putting a Band-Aid on it. Thats not going to help. Rosensweig says that many people need help and guidance in modifying their behavior, and in some cases, need medication.

Its not just a matter of willpower and saying, You can do it if you really try hard.

PROF. RAEL STROUS, director of psychiatry at the Maayanei Hayeshua Medical Center and professor of psychiatry at the Tel Aviv University faculty of medicine, says the fault lies not within the religion but with its practitioners.

There is a mystique about it, he says. Because we dont understand it, we feel we have less control over it. Therefore it is threatening and scary and people stay away from it. The opposite is true. Judaism very much de-stigmatizes mental illness. Naomi Raz, a Jerusalem-based psychotherapist says that the stigma associated with mental illness is connected with shame and a fear of losing control. I think that what it touches in all of us is a feeling of being out of control and a feeling of being helpless. When we see that, it scares us. Could we be like that? Could that happen to us could we lose touch with reality and behave in way that is bizarre and weird? A neurologist, Strous points out, can diagnose and explain the cause of an illness, but depending on the circumstances, may not be able to treat the ailment. Psychiatry, he explains, is the opposite.

We dont know what causes the illness, but the vast majority of psychiatric illnesses can be treated. Psychiatry is at the interface of behavior, philosophy, and human nature the bottom line is all biology. That doesnt mean you dont treat some of it with therapy. Talking can change your biology. We just dont have the technology to understand it, because the brain is the last frontier. Were not there yet. Two-thirds of the population, at some stage in their lives, have some form of mental illness, says Strous, but only a third get treatment because of the stigma that is attached to therapy. He suggests that the stigmas attached to mental illness are reflected in the level of mental health facilities in Israel. Most hospitals in Israel have received donations from wealthy families, but rarely do people donate to psychiatric hospitals.

An incredible amount of money goes into diabetes and muscular dystrophy, and thats important, but what about psychiatry? Mental illnesses depression and schizophrenia, for example are much more common, but there is a stigma. If you go into any of the big hospitals, you can buy flowers from a machine. In the 25 years Ive been in psychiatry, Ive never seen anyone bring flowers to anyone in a psychiatric hospital. Why? Its the stigma. Strous also wonders why there are so few visitors to patients in psychiatric hospitals. He adds that the lack of allocation of funds for mental health is not specific to Israel, but is a universal phenomenon. In his opinion, in the United States there is much less stigma attached to mental illness and thus more private investment and donations.

A well-known Talmudic term for describing a type of aberrant behavior is that of the shoteh, which the Talmud defines as one who goes out alone at night, spends the night in the cemetery, tears his clothes or destroys all that is given to him.

Strous, who is also the editor of the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and chairman of the ethics committee of the Israel Psychiatry Association, explains that the shoteh portrayed in the Talmud is best understood today as manifesting symptoms typical of the insane, or what in clinical terms is known as the psychotic individual. How did the rabbis of the Talmud treat the shoteh?

Strous says that the shoteh lacks the critical judgment necessary to perform basic tasks of daily living and social adaptation, and the ability to correctly assess a situation and act appropriately. Therefore, he is exempt from the performance of both positive and negative commandments of the Torah. Moreover, Strous notes, the shoteh is also absolved from accountability if he injures another individual. Additionally, the courts are obligated to appoint a guardian to protect his rights.

According to Jewish law, you are not allowed to put them aside, notes Strous. You are supposed to make them part of the community.

WHILE THE sages of the Talmud were well aware of the abnormal behavior of the shoteh, they were understandably not aware of many of the more commonplace issues that confront people in todays society. How do Judaism and Jewish law deal with issues such as depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders and eating disorders? OCD, for example, can be particularly challenging in a religion that emphasizes rituals and can create torment and overly scrupulous behaviors around areas of kashrut or family purity.

As the number of halachic questions he was receiving on mental health issues increased, Rabbi Rosensweig found there was a dearth of written material on the subject.

Im sure I am not the first person to ask these questions, he acknowledges. Whatever answers were given, were given from person to person. It was very hard to find answers for a lot of these questions.

Rosensweig studied weekly with a psychiatrist friend to broaden his understanding of mental health and read the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) of the American Psychiatric Association. After two years of research, he spent a year writing a book on Jewish law and mental health. Additionally, he consulted with leading Orthodox rabbis both in Israel and abroad.

The title of his book, Nafshi BeShelati, is part of a verse from the Book of Esther. The term Nafshi in a broader sense refers to mental issues, and the word Shelati refers to questions, thus meaning questions about mental health. Rosensweig expects to release the book by the end of 2020, in Hebrew, with an abridged English translation. Some sample questions from the book include: May someone with depression listen to music on Shabbat?

Does someone with anorexia fast on Yom Kippur?

Can mindfulness be practiced despite its idolatrous history?

Does one need to respect an abusive parent?

Rosensweigs empathy for those suffering from mental health issues is epitomized in his recent Facebook post, which appeared before Rosh Hashanah:

What if I cant bring myself to daven on Rosh Hashanah? I was asked by someone suffering from depression and anxiety. As Im sure you understand, every case is different, and each person needs to follow the path that is best for them. For some, it would be best to encourage them to take part in the tefillot in public, for others to stay home and not expose themselves to the communal prayer, and others might not be able to daven at all.

Whats important is to try and shake that feeling of guilt, that you are somehow not doing the right thing by not davening. Remember that davening is avoda she-balev, worship of the heart, and some peoples hearts are busy just finding the will to get up in the morning. It may be too much to ask to add the full-on spiritual work and focus that Rosh Hashanah demands. So whats most important to tell a person like that is that thats okay. That theyre okay. That there is nothing to feel guilty about. That they should focus on their health this year, and Hashem understands, and God willing they will be better next year, and be able to participate fully, as they yearn to do. Rosensweig adds that as people learned of his interest in the subject of mental illness and Jewish law, he began to receive a steady stream of calls and messages.

You find out that the entire world around you is full of this.

He relates that a member of the community told him that his daughter had an eating disorder. The father went to visit his child in the hospital ward and was amazed to see numerous people from the community whom he knew.

ROSENSWEIG WAS a student of the renowned Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, the late head of the yeshiva in Maaleh Adumim, and as such, most of his audience is from the national-religious community. Strous, medical director of the Mental Health Center at Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak, deals primarily with members of the haredi community.

While it has often been reported that haredim tend to hide mental illness, the Mental Health Center is one of the most advanced, modern mental health facilities in the country. Strous explains that haredi community members in need of treatment first approach their askanim (communal lay leaders) and rabbis, then arrange for them to go to the hospital, which offers a broad range of treatments that include animal, music and dance therapy. The hospital accepts people of all backgrounds, but Strous says it attracts a mostly ultra-Orthodox population, by virtue of its location, most from Beit Shemesh, Jerusalem, Kiryat Sefer and Safed.

Strous explains that rabbis are often first-line gatekeepers when people have difficulties.

When a person has a sore throat, he doesnt go to the rabbi. When a person is feeling down, he will often go to the rabbi. Good rabbis will know when they should refer to a mental health professional.

At that point, he explains, the askan who deals with mental health issues will then ensure the person in question sees a psychiatrist or other appropriate mental health professional.

Because of this, Strous says, he frequently gets referrals from leading haredi rabbis, who realize that depression is not something that can be treated only through prayer. Strous adds that the international medical oath now includes three new components respecting the autonomy of patients; looking after oneself as a physician in order to best manage patients; and the ethical duty to go out to the community and share ones knowledge.

To that end, Strous meets each month with groups of rabbis and activists in the haredi community and discusses mental illness, teaching them about depression, psychosis, manic depression and severe obsessive-compulsive behavior and learning to identify the symptoms and signs.

DR. SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, who was a supervising psychologist at the Mayanei Hayeshua Mental Health Center for 11 years and recently published Standards of Sexual Modesty, Gender Separation and Homosexuality: Rabbinic and Psychological Views, suggests there may be a greater stigma placed on mental illness within the haredi community.

The haredi community is a very close community, and they often attempt to hide things of this nature.

While he recognizes change is happening slowly, he says that when arranging a marriage match for a child, they frequently hide a lot of things, because they know if they have mental health problems there is a poor chance of finding an appropriate mate or theyll get an inferior or second-rate partner. I think that the national-religious world is more open to this and more realistic, whereas the haredi community is defensive and hides this to a great extent, to the detriment of the people. Hoffman adds that the building of the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Bnei Brak was a crucial step in the right direction.

Now people have a place to go where they are not threatened by the environment, says Hoffman, and where people understand the sensitivities of the culture and values. It has gone a long way toward helping people cope.

Hoffman says from a mental health perspective, religious people are by and large better off because of their sense of community, values and structure.

Research has indicated that religious people are generally mentally healthier than those that are not. The structure, support and emphasis on helping people and the community, synagogue and festivities, family and eating together on Shabbat and holidays this all contributes to a better-adjusted person. Is Jewish law more tolerant and understanding of mental health than it has been in the past? Can psychiatrists and mental health professionals succeed in removing the stigma surrounding mental illness? If a child were to enter the synagogue on Yom Kippur and whistle as an expression of prayer, how would we react?

The answers to these questions are essential for all of us for families, individuals and the community.

This is the first article in a series on mental health.

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Coming to terms with mental illness in Judaism and in our communities - The Jerusalem Post

The Power To Hold Back – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Posted By on September 29, 2020

Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Book of Kings refers to the seventh month of the Jewish calendar what we colloquially call Tishrei as the month of the eitanim (I Kings 8:2). The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 11a) states that it received this name because the patriarchs of the Jewish people who are called eitanim (powerful ones) were born in this month.

This leads the Talmud elsewhere to identify Eitan the Ezrachite in Psalms 89:1 as Abraham, the powerful hero who stemmed the tide of polytheism (see Maharsha to Bava Basra 15a).

The Meutzudat David (to I Kings 8:2) writes that Tishrei is called the month of the eitanim because it is an especially powerful month with so many different holidays that one can use towards self-perfection. In other words, Tishrei is when a person can transform himself into a firm, strongly-anchored stalwart. Just as a rock cannot be easily budged, so too a strong believer cannot be easily swayed from his devotion to G-d.

Commenting on the mitzvah of eglah arufah which must be performed at Nachal Eitan (Deuteronomy 21:4) Rashi writes that eitan means strong/hard (and nachal a valley/wadi). Accordingly, the place of the ceremony is a rocky locale. Maimonides (Laws of Murder 9:2), however, understands eitan to mean strong-flowing (and nachal a river).

Rabbi Yehuda Leib Edel (1760-1828) writes that eitan literally denotes a riverbank, which holds back waters from passing beyond its threshold. Since this activity takes much strength, eitan came to be synonymous with strength and power.

It thus is no wonder then eitan appears in the Torah when describing Josephs unshakeable righteous prowess (Genesis 49:24) and the rocky habitat of Jethros descendants (Numbers 24:21). Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (to Exodus 14:27) writes that eitan refers to something strong and durable that has lasted a long time like bedrock.

Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim of Breslau (1740-1814) writes that he is unsure exactly how to break down eitan. In Yerios Shlomo, he suggests its root is tavnun, which means give. Eitan comes from this root because eitan is a concentration of strength that can only be given to a person as a Divine gift.

In Cheshek Shlomo, Rabbi Pappenheim connects eitan to the biliteral root aleph-tav, which he further reduces to the monoliteral root tav. He explains that this root means connections and linking. For example, et connects a verb to its object and sometimes even means with. Similarly, ot (sign) another word derived from this root forges a semiotic connection between the sign and the signified. Eitan is a concentration of power resulting from extreme compression of multiple components connected together (like in rocks).

Other words for power in Hebrew in addition to eitan are chozek, koach, gevurah, adir, and kabir.

Pirkei Avos (4:1) states, Who is a gibbor (strongman)? He who conquers his evil inclination. This classical teaching suggests that gevurah (strength/power) is also related to self-control.

Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993), in his essay Catharsis, notes that in the beginning berachos of Shachris we thank G-d twice for the power He has given us. We bless G-d who girds Israel with gevurah and we bless G-d who gives koach to the tired.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explains that these two blessings recall different aspects of mans powers. Koach is physical strength (which animals also possess), while gevurah is mans ability to transcend the brute instinct of survival.

If gevurah entails holding oneself back, then G-d is the ultimate gibbor (see Jeremiah 32:18) because He holds back His anger and gives the wicked much time before punishing them (see Yoma 69b).

Rabbi Pappenheim writes that koach is the most general for strength, chozek is extra-strength koach i.e., a non-standard ability; and gevurah is an act by which one actualizes ones koach.

Eitan, meanwhile, is inherent qualitative strength (like a rock) while kabir is quantitative strength i.e., something strong because it consists of multiple units banded together (see Rashi to Brachos 8a who associates kabir with the power of communal prayer). Otzem is a union in which each sub-unit doesnt necessarily contribute an equal amount of force, while kabir denotes a union of equally-powerful components.

Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) writes that koach is the power of maintaining/preserving a given state, a feat that necessitates withstanding forces that try to break the status quo. Gevurah, on the other hand, is a more proactive use of koach; it tries not to just withstand opposition but to defeat it entirely.

Alternatively, Rabbi Mecklenburg explains that koach denotes mental fortitude and concentration. Hence the Targums translation of koach in Deuteronomy 8:18 as eitzah, which typically means advice. In that context, koach refers to the mental strength of being able to think through a problem and decide on a course of action.

Rabbi Mecklenburg also points to the Talmudic discussions of the superlative reward for whoever answers Amen yehei shmei rabbah with all his koach (Shabbos 119b). The Talmud doesnt mean that he screams the words as loud as possible. It means he says them with the concentration of all his mental focus (see Rashi and Tosafos there).

As for the word adir: Rabbi Pappenheim writes that while someone who is chazak is more powerful than somebody else, someone who is adir is the most powerful (in a given group). It thus is quite apropos that G-d is described as the most adir of all existence (see Exodus 15:6 and Psalms 8:2 and 93:4).

Rabbi Pappenheim traces adir to the two-letter root dalet-reish, which means freedom of motion without constrictions. Rabbi Edel maintains that adir is related to adar/hadar (beauty/glory) because G-ds acts of strength bring Him honor and glory as they demonstrate His omnipotence.

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The Power To Hold Back - The Jewish Press - JewishPress.com

‘The Rabbi of Timbuktu’ to speak at Canton synagogue – Wicked Local Canton

Posted By on September 29, 2020

Professor William Miles, who wrote The Rabbi of Timbuktu, will speak at an event held by Cantons Bnai Tikvah Adult Education at 8 p.m. Oct. 16 via Zoom.

Until joining the Peace Corps after college and being sent to rural Niger in West Africa, Miles had no idea that his Jewish education would facilitate his entre into a traditional Islamic society. But from the outset, his religious studies proved to be a great asset.

Even before we had finished our Peace Corps training in Niamey, Nigers capital, said Miles, a professor in the Political Science Department at Northeastern University, in a previous interview, one of my Nigrien language instructors informed me that we were cousins. Why? Because as a Fulani, one of Africas great nomadic peoples, he had grown up with the teaching that his was a tribe that, unlike the other Israelite ones, had travelled west during the Exodus rather than east, towards the Land of Israel.

That the Fulani had long since become Muslim was beside the point; what mattered was the belief in a common ancestral heritage. Even today, Miles also observed, rural Fulani live more Biblically than do modern-day Jews.

Knowing Hebrew greatly aided my learning of Hausa, the lingua franca of Niger, Miles goes on. A Hamitic language, Hausa shares several distinctive grammatical similarities with Hebrew. The vocabularies, too, have much overlap, on account of Arabic influence and shared religious terminology.

One of Miles first publications as an assistant professor at Northeastern more than 25 years ago related these and his other Afro-Judaic observations in an article, Jewish in Muslim Black Africa, for the African Studies Association. Since then, Miles has expanded his research and writing to encompass Jewish themes not only elsewhere in Africa but throughout the Jewish and African diasporas more widely.

He also has written on Holocaust commemoration in post-communist Poland and Germany, the treatment of Jews under Vichy in the French Caribbean, judaizing of the Rwandan genocide, and Holocaust denial in Iran. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. selected him to spend a summer seminar for faculty at its Center for Advanced Study.

Miles is a professor of political science at Northeastern University. He is a five-time Fullbright Scholar and author.

The will program will follow the 7 p.m. Shabbat services.

For more information, call 781-828-5250.

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'The Rabbi of Timbuktu' to speak at Canton synagogue - Wicked Local Canton

Theres a bipartisan effort to change laws that govern speech on the internet – Marketplace

Posted By on September 29, 2020

Internet companies, websites and web applications have a kind of legal immunity that they say makes the internet as we know it possible. First, theyre generally immune from legal liability if a Facebook or Twitter user posts something illegal. Theyre also immune from liability if they take down a post they find objectionable. Users generally cant legally challenge that.

Theres a concerted campaign underway in Congress to roll back some of that immunity. Marketplace Morning Report host Sabri Ben-Achour spoke about that effort with Daphne Keller, director of the Program on Platform Regulation at Stanford Universitys Cyber Policy Center. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Sabri Ben-Achour: Just how big is this effort to weaken these types of legal immunity the internet companies enjoy?

Daphne Keller: It is very big. It has support on both sides of the aisle, although you find that often what Republicans want out of it and what Democrats want out of it are inconsistent goals. But I think we should expect to see changes to this law in the near future. And if were lucky, there will be smart changes. And if we are unlucky, they will be not very smart changes.

Ben-Achour: Well, what is first the argument in favor of limiting these types of immunity?

Keller: People have a lot of different goals in proposing changes to this law. Some people want platforms to take down more harmful and offensive content. I think thats actually very widespread. Lots of people want to see more content taken down from from platforms like Facebook or Twitter. Part of the issue is that a lot of that is what we call lawful but awful speech. Its protected by the First Amendment. And so changing an immunity like CDA 230 wouldnt necessarily change the appearance of that content anyway. But we also see people who want to change the immunity in order to get platforms to leave up more of this lawful but awful speech, and compel them to carry things like, maybe racist diatribes or anti-vaccine scientific theories, or even potentially electoral misinformation, and not give them the leeway to take that stuff down.

Ben-Achour: Whats the downside to having tech platforms, internet sites, be held liable for the content that their users post? Like promoting terrorism or child exploitation or something?

Keller: To be clear, they already face liability for a number of those things. Anything that is a federal crime, like supporting terrorism and child exploitation, doesnt have a special immunity in the first place. But, broadly, the issue with putting liability on platforms for their users speech is that it gives them powerful incentives to err on the side of taking things down, just in case its illegal, because they dont want to get in trouble. And you can imagine what that would have done to the Me Too movement, for example. If a platform felt like it had to take down any allegation that could possibly prove to be defamatory later on, obviously, that has a consequence for speech.

Its also a problem for competition. If we changed the laws and platforms had to assume more risk for user speech or put in place expensive processes, thats something that Facebook and Google could probably deal with, but their smaller competitors could not. And then, finally, if we have new obligations on platforms to police their users speech, that gives them reasons to adopt clumsy tools like automated speech filters. And we know that those have disparate impact, for example, on speakers of African American English. So theres this mess of speech issues, competition issues, equality issues, and there are ways to respond to them. Its not that regulation is impossible here. But almost none of the bills were seeing in Congress now really even try to grapple with them in intelligent ways.

Ben-Achour: Lets turn to the question of whether you can sue Instagram [if it] takes down your post. Whats the downside of seeking to erode that immunity?

Keller: It means that platforms will have to worry more about lawsuits from really extreme speakers, like Alex Jones would be an example, saying, you have to carry my speech. Even if you dont want to carry Holocaust denial, you have to. Even if you dont want to carry organization for a white supremacist rally, like the one in Charlottesville, you have to. And weve seen a number of those lawsuits and the platforms ultimately win them all. And even without 230, they would ultimately win them all, but it would be much more expensive without 230. The nuisance cost of dealing with these lawsuits trying to compel platforms to carry speech that violates their policies would be significant. It would give them reason to just give up and carry it, rather than face that burden. And again, in particular, the smaller platforms who might be competitors to todays incumbents are particularly unable to bear the burden of those kinds of nuisance suits that these changes would enable.

Ben-Achour:Under the Department of Justice proposal, a company would be protected from legal liability for taking down something that promotes terrorism or is unlawful, but they would be open to getting sued for taking down something racist or false about coronavirus something just generally objectionable. What do you make of that?

Keller: I think this is one of a hundred cases where the gloves have come off in American politics, really in the past few months. And this one hasnt had that much attention because people see this as regulation about platforms and technology. But the proposal from [Sen.] Lindsey Graham, the proposal from Attorney General Barr, and several other proposals, are just remarkably naked in their speech preferences, in the rules that they want platforms to uphold. And so theyre saying platforms should be encouraged and protected to take down some content, like pornography, but we should take away protection when they take down these lawful but awful categories, including hate speech, and white supremacist speech, and misogynist speech, and racist speech, and disinformation. The other thing that we see in the grant proposal, and then the DOJ proposal, the Justice Department proposal, is that they say to platforms, if you do fact-checking, and you put labels on peoples posts or tweets saying this is false or this is very debatable, you risk liability for that. You cant even leave the speech up and put a label on it without getting in trouble.

Ben-Achour: Are we talking about this simply because the president is angry that Twitter moderates his tweets and Facebook takes down some of his political advertisements? I mean, is that what this is about, ultimately?

Keller: No, I dont think it is. I mean, I think the specific proposals weve seen recently, in particular from the Justice Department, those were absolutely prompted by President Trumps executive order. And that seems to have been triggered by Twitter putting a label on his tweets. But overall, the sense of a need to regulate platforms is bipartisan. Its global. It transcends politics. And the sense that platforms are acting as gatekeepers of discourse, that theyre the new public square, and that its kind of crazy that private companies are setting the speech rules, thats global, too.

In the U.S., its very much a conservative talking point. But I think in the U.S. and all over the world, everyone has concerns. Its one of the biggest policy questions of our age. And that means that we should do the work to make smart laws. And if instead Congress just passes some hastily drafted, politically motivated law, thatll be kind of a dereliction of duty, in my opinion. And we will all have to live with the result for years.

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