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The always-worth-reading David Greenberg on the passing of John Morton Blum, who is somehow in my academic family tree (Blum was one of David M. Kennedy’s advisors, I think).

As is often the case I want to quibble a little with David, who writes, “John Morton Blum—who always used the very Jewish-sounding “Morton” in his professional byline”—to me, the “Morton” made the name sound less, rather than more, Jewish. As someone who doesn’t professionally use his middle name, I sometimes think about these things.


Oh my.

A senior Vatican priest speaking at a Good Friday service compared the uproar over sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church — which have included reports about Pope Benedict XVI’s oversight role in two cases — to the persecution of the Jews, sharply raising the volume in the Vatican’s counterattack.

The remarks, on the day Christians mark the crucifixion, underscored how much the Catholic Church has felt under attack from recent news reports and criticism over how it has handled charges of child molestation against priests in the past, and sought to focus attention on the church as the central victim.

What do you make of this, Rabbi?

Rabbi Riccardo di Segni, the chief rabbi of Rome, who hosted Benedict at the Rome synagogue in January on a visit that helped calm waters after a year of tensions, laughed in seeming disbelief when asked about Father Cantalamessa’s remarks.

“With a minimum of irony, I will say that today is Good Friday, when they pray that the Lord illuminate our hearts so we recognize Jesus,” Rabbi Di Segni said, referring to a prayer in a traditional Catholic liturgy calling for the conversion of the Jews. “We also pray that the Lord illuminate theirs.”


So, the centerpiece of any even-slightly-traditional Seder is a detailed recounting of the Exodus story. But, as I understand it, Biblical archaeologists have complicated things lately by insisting that the Jews weren’t in Egypt for any lengthy period of time during the era in question.* “Hold on, Mr. PhD in Archaeology Smartypants, how do we know this for sure?” asks the obnoxious Jew.** Because the Egyptians were excellent record keepers, even taking detailed note of the many peoples they brutally subjugated. Which is all well and good, at least from the perspective of someone interested in the intersection of history and memory. In other words, it’s not unusual for discrepancies, rooted in methodological, epistemological, or political differences, over how the past is recalled to crop up from time to time.

But then there’s this: why would the long-ago Jews have invented this history of oppression, history that features the enslavement of their people across generations? And why would they have memorialized this history in a story that isn’t, if you look away from the super-cool burning bush and pay attention to the other plot points, really all that flattering*** to their forbears? The tempting answer, I guess, is that today, when out groups sometimes play misery poker, trying to climb to the top of a hierarchy of victimization, it might make some sense to concoct such a tale. But! In addition to being totally presentist, and thus unsatisfying as an answer to a historical question, I also can’t think of another case, at least not off the top of my head, in which a race has made a spurious and enduring claim about the past like this one.

I suppose the problem is that it’s likely impossible to know the context in which the Exodus story was invented. And absent that context, it’s impossible to know why the story was invented, what purpose it served, how, in short, it was used to screw the Palestinians out of land. Or maybe it wasn’t invented at all. Maybe the relevant archive burned down or collapsed during an earthquake and hasn’t been excavated.

Also, matzo with butter and salt is delicious for the first few days. Happy Passover.

* Nope, no link. I’m a bad blogger. And a bad Jew. Actually, I’m just repeating snippets of a conversation I overheard involving my co-conspirators colleagues.

** Yes, “obnoxious Jew” is redundant. Whatevs. Eat your gefilte fish and shut up.

*** Except, I mean, for the whole “chosen people” part of the story. But even including that, the Jews still come off looking like small-minded jerks, craven douchebags, and flat-out cowards during significant parts of the narrative.

Dear Football/Healthcare Jesus:

Lately, you seem to have forsaken me, and I’m just not sure I can take much more of this. So if it’s not too much to ask, I’m hoping that you won’t visit a Favre-Manning Super Bowl upon a nation that’s already reeling. But if it’s got to be one or the other, I suppose Vikings fans have suffered enough through the years. And even you, despite your infinite compassion, must see that Peyton Manning, whining Republican that he is, is an abomination. Also, while we’re chatting, how about reminding the president that uplifting the poor and healing the sick is Godly work.

Thanks for your consideration,


p.s. If you hook me up this once, I promise to stop laying tefillin on airplanes.

What would Will Herberg say if he could know about this?

A religious Jew wearing a series of black boxes and leather straps called tefillin or phylacteries inadvertently set off a bomb scare on a US Airways flight to Kentucky.

The plane was diverted to Philadelphia.

A 17-year-old boy on Flight 3079 traveling from New York to Louisville was using tefillin boxes which are attached to the arm and forehead and contain prayer scrolls and have long leather straps which wrap around the arm, said Philadelphia police Lt. Frank Vanore.

“It’s something that the average person is not going to see very often, if ever,” FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver said.

Klaver, as the Forverts admits, is probably factually correct. But technically, it wasn’t the religious Jew who set off the bomb scare, it was the pants-wetting pearl-clutcher who thought he was a “security situation.”

Kevin Drum writes,

But look: isn’t secular holiday music something we can all agree on? I mean, it sucks. It really does.

No, we can’t agree on that, you big square Grinch. Top of the list of things I would rather hear than a moany Muzak version of “Adeste Fidelis” is going to include the following, but most of all Mitch Benn’s “True Meaning of Christmas” and other songs, here.

Not to mention

4:30: ow. It’s early.
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On this day in 1916, the Senate Judiciary Committee postponed decision on Woodrow Wilson’s nomination of Louis D. Brandeis to the Supreme Court of the United States so it could wrangle further over whether he had “the temperament” to be a Justice. Anti-Semites.

Or perhaps they were more than anti-Semitic. Maybe the real problem was that Brandeis, as Senator Thomas Walsh (Democrat of Montana) said, “has exposed the iniquities of men in high places in our financial system. He has not stood in awe of the majesty of wealth.”

What had Brandeis done? He had, of course, stood for laborers’ rights numerous times, but principally he had written Other People’s Money: and How the Bankers Use It (hint: not well).

In it he included his earlier Harper’s Weekly article, “A Curse of Bigness”, where he argued that banks had made excessively large securities issues.

Size, we are told, is not a crime. But size may, at least, become noxious by reason of the means through which it was attained or the uses to which it is put.

Brandeis proposed limiting the uses of securities. “[W]e shall, by such legislation, remove a potent factor in financial concentration. Decentralization will begin.”

In other parts of the book, Brandeis goes on to challenge the conventional stereotype of the banker as conservative—on the contrary, he noted their “financial recklessness”—and he argued that Americans had systematically been “confusing the functions of banker and business man.” He argued for a system of smaller, more local banks.

I’ve been thinking of this lately, as our old friend urbino (who, alas, doesn’t come around here no more) has beaten almost every major pundit to the punch in arguing that if banks have grown too big to fail, then perhaps they ought to be stopped from supersizing themselves. (urbino: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.)

*You didn’t think I would stoop to calling this post “Size matters”, did you?

Litbrit, writing at cogitamus, celebrates the news that director Spike Jonze has adapted Where the Wild Things Are. While I echo her enthusiasm for the original source material, I’m not convinced by the above trailer that the film will satisfy my discerning tastes. For I share with the fans of Watchmen a sense that some printed texts are sacred and should not be rendered in moving pictures.

* See here.

Yes. Or so says this site. Which, I guess, might just be trying to drum up business among the Jews. Anyway, here’s the relevant piece of the text:

The Wild Things (except “Goat Boy”, of course) were named after (and are presumably caricatures of) Maurice’s aunts and uncles: Aaron, Bernard, Emil, Moishe and Tzippy.

Careful, people, there really is an international conspiracy. And it’s roaring its terrible roar, gnashing its terrible teeth, and rolling its terrible eyes.

(Also, if you’re interested, there’s this.)

Kevin’s an odd name for a Jewish kid, isn’t it? And do Jews still take inordinate pride in the few professional athletes who are MOTs? When I was growing up, I learned at Hebrew school, before I got got kicked out* for insubordination, that Sandy Koufax was a very big deal. Hank Greenberg, too.**

* I was always a rebel.

** No, I’m not as old as John McCain***. That’s my point. People**** were still, as late as the 1980s, talking about these guys.

*** Not Jewish. Obama? A little. The part that’s not Shi’a.

**** Well, Hebrew school teachers at least. So maybe not exactly “people.”

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