Friday, March 28, 2008


Last night, my son came back from his first overnight field trip. One of the lowlights, the way he tells it, was a visit to a kosher butcher where chickens are slaughtered. While most of the boys crowded around the butcher to watch how a chicken is shechted, my son reports that he stood in the back and could not look. The sight of all that blood on the floor and all those dead chickens was enough to make him a vegetarian (but he thinks he can still enjoy his mother’s cholent).

I probably would have reacted the same way.

How did we get so squeamish?

(Some say that kosher shechita is the most humane way to kill an animal. See the video below and decide for yourself.)

A better question: is our squeamishness a cultural advancement or setback?

I remember when I was a kid, I thought that kosher meant that the food was blessed by a rabbi. What it really means is quality control. My brother Keith, the award-winning science reporter for NPR in Seattle, is visiting this week with his family and tells me that the FDA is trying to figure out how to deal with the mushrooming level of food imports from Asia, especially China and India.

What kinds of foods are we importing from India?

Spices. Evidently, the spices that you buy in those little jars may contain certain ingredients not on the label, such as pieces of dead insects. Hard to inspect that many millions of pounds of curry powder!

Which gets me thinking: do most people care about this issue? If I told you that your dinner contains turmeric which contained .01 percent finely chopped insect parts, would you care? What if I told you that there was a fair chance that it contained finely chopped insect parts?

Well, I guess it’s hard to eliminate or even lower the element of chance.

Unless, of course, it has that (U) or (K) in it, or “Star-K” or the like.

(Sorry, the © sign doesn’t help.)

Shabbat Shalom

PS – Not so squeamish? Here’s an excellent interview of a kosher shochet:

PPS – to learn more about the kosher supervision industry, see

Travel/speaking schedule:
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April 3 - St. Louis
April 7 - Baltimore

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Finding Amalek

Once again, I have some good news and some bad news.

Both have to do with Amalek.

(A•ma•lek (n) - the group of people, originally an independent ethnic group, who are Biblically identified as an eternal nemesis of the Jews. Midrashically, characterized by virulent, suicidal anti-Semitism.)

There’s been a lot of speculation throughout the ages who is this Amalek...

We’re pretty sure Haman of old was an Amalekite. The Nazis were without a doubt Amalekites.

What about today?

It’s a serious question because we’re supposed to hope for and even strive for the downfall of Amalek.

Well, I mentioned that I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that, quite by accident, I’ve discovered Amalek.

The bad news is that he’s in New York.

(Well, I suppose that’s especially bad for New Yorkers, maybe not so bad for the rest of us.)

As you can see from the photo below, which I personally took recently in New York City, Amalek is still, true to form, brazenly displaying his defiance.

May his name be erased from under the sun.

Happy Purim!

PS – on a serious note, if you would like to participate in the very real mitzvah of giving generous tzedaka on Purim, below is a website (no affiliation) where I can vouch that 100% of the donations go directly to the poor. The costs of processing donations are absorbed by R. Yaacov Haber’s organization. It is preferable to spend more on gifts for the poor than other Purim expenses.

R. Haber writes, “All funds raised will be distributed on Purim day to hard working, honest people that I know personally. None of your charity money will go into overhead expenses. We absorb the cost of processing credit cards so whatever amount you give goes directly to help someone in need. Making your contribution in advance of Purim allows me to distribute the funds more efficiently. Please help me help these families. Please make your contribution now.“

To contribute online: click To email a contribution,

To call: (VOIP) 212 561 5131 or + 972 2 644 7308.

To shmooze with Rabbi Haber: Dial + 972 52 539 5216 (Israel is 6 hours ahead of the United States).

To shmooze with yours, truly, dial my mobile. I’m on EDT.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, March 14, 2008

School of Art Knocks

For Kids:

I have a list of some 40 or 50 Jewish soldiers on active duty in the Middle East. Most are serving far from any Jewish community and they long for a Jewish connection.

If you would like to “adopt” a soldier and send him or her a Purim card (coming up next weekend) or a Passover card (only a month away), please send me an email and I’ll send you a name. Nothing is more uplifting than a piece of artwork done by a young person!

For Adults:

There is such an overwhelming urge to write something about almost-former Governor Spitzer. The hubris. The irony. The salaciousness. The Hollywood-perfect justice.

How do I avoid this urge? The temptation is so strong....

Here’s the thing. In case you didn’t get this detail... Spitzer was evidently caught by the very investigative tactics that he himself had promoted. On the one hand, the word hypocrisy comes to mind. On the other hand, who do you know who always lives 100% according to their own standards? Who never ever slips? My personal tendency is not to jump on the justice bandwagon, especially since he and his family have been so thoroughly raked over the coals by now.

But some are wondering: “How could he have been so stupid to fall for the very trap that he himself created as Attorney General?”

There are many things you could call Elliot Spitzer, but stupid is not one of them. I have not seen his IQ scores, but everyone who knows him, including his Harvard law professors, considers him highly intelligent.

So we’re left with a mystery. How could a highly intelligent man do something that should be so obviously and avoidably risky?

The answer must be, it seems to me, that he was suffering the most pernicious malady known to humanity: confusion.

He was utterly confused into thinking that he is a body and did not know, or forgot, that he is really a soul that is temporarily fused to a body.

This confusion is the heart of every “evil”. His bodily desire overwhelmed his spiritual knowledge.

This never happens to you, right?

Happens to me all the time. Whenever you find yourself thinking, “I know I should do X but I really feel like doing Y” - watch out!

Whenever you find yourself thinking, “I know Y is wrong, but it feels so good” - watch out!

Sometimes it helps deal with a problem when we can name it. The name for this confusion is yetzer hara.

And here’s the real secret: the yetzer hara is – according to Jewish thought – what makes life meaningful. It’s like the weights that you have to lift if you want to build muscle. No pain, no gain. Only by having the pain of that choice between bodily desires and what your brain tells you is right, can you become a great person.

This wisdom is the foundation for making your life into a true work of art.

Speaking of art, someone sent me these amazing photos that are uplifting even if you don’t drink coffee. I don't know which cafĂ© produced them, but if you know, please tell me and I'll give due credit.

Amazing Coffee Art - Click here for the most popular videos

Shabbat Shalom.

Travel/speaking schedule:
April 1-2 – San Francisco and Los Angeles
April 3 - St. Louis
April 7 - Baltimore

For details, send an email!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Who Killed the Kennedys?

Anyone who has even the slightest connection to the Jewish People and the faintest concept of karma should be given great pause when students are gunned down inside the oldest yeshiva in the land of Israel, founded by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, before the creation of the state.

The Ismaelite fired more than 500 bullets before being stopped. He shot students as they studied. Others he chased down, shooting them in the back.

As reported by Israel Insider, Yehuda Meshi Zahav, head of the Zaka rescue service, entered the library after the attack. "The whole building looked like a slaughterhouse. The floor was covered in blood. The students were in class at the time of the attack," he said. "The floors are littered with holy books covered in blood."

"There were horrendous screams of 'Help us! Help us!'" recounted Avrahami Sheinberger of the ZAKA emergency rescue service, one of the first to respond to the scene. "There were bodies strewn all over the floor, at the entrance to the yeshiva, in various rooms and in the library."

The Talmud states (Taanis 19a) that when a Jewish city is attacked by an enemy (or even wild animals), all other cities should hold a public fast day. If the threat is “hostile troops”, then the call to fast should be made even on Shabbat.

What’s the point?

The point is, when my tribesmen are attacked, it’s a wakeup call to me. Sderot and Ashkelon have been under near-daily attack for many months.

This weeks question for your table is: Why does it take a massacre in Jerusalem to wake us up (if then)? And more important, now that we’ve been slightly stirred from our slumber, what should we do?

“God picks the most beautiful flowers for his garden,” the mother of 16-year-old Avraham David Moses told Ynet. “He (God) sees him as an angel, and we should thank him for the privilege of raising him for 16 years. Sixteen years of purity and integrity and kindness.”

Please also see my post from last June 22, “Instant Karma”.

And I wouldn't want to let you go without a video:

Shabbat Shalom.

Travel/speaking schedule:
April 1-2 – San Francisco and Los Angeles
April 3 - St. Louis
April 7 - Baltimore