Category: Culture

From the looks of things I’m not the only one sorely disappointed in LOST’s final episode (LGT spoilers). Now I don’t consider myself one of those annoying sci-fi fanboys who insists that everything line up in accordance with their own fan fiction, but I did consider myself a fan of the show. I liked the writing, the references, the thought and intelligence of the writers in crafting the story, and like many fans I trusted the writers in bringing the story to a logical, or at least reasonable, conclusion.

Now I freely admit I’ve watched bad TV – copious amounts of absolute drivel that LOST’s worst episode could not compare – so I’m in no place to write as a TV snob. But if I’m going to follow an extended dramatic narrative I do have expectations of coherency and consistency, which was sorely lacking in the LOST finale.

Popular Culture

Anyone familiar with Jewish Music knows that Jewish music occasionally “borrows” from its secular culture. There are parody groups such as Shlock Rock and Rechnitzer Rejects,1 who perform with an obviously humorous, satirical, or educational purpose. Some bands blatantly use secular music ironically:

Men at Work – Down Under Piamenta – Asher Boro

Then are the examples of outright plagiarism, the most notable one pointed out way back by Rabbi Avraham Bronstein2

Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan Mordechai Ben David – Yidden

Even the Hatikva, the Israeli National Anthem, appears to find its origins elsewhere:

La Mantovana (Italy 17th century) Hatikva

And I’m sure my astute and cultured readers can drudge up other examples. But this begs the question if Jews borrow liberally from secular music, does the converse also hold true with non-Jews using “Jewish” music as well?3 Let’s take a look:


Whoever cites something in the name of the original source brings redemption to the world1

In my religious and academic lives I have an affinity for tracking down the original sources of ideas. Not surprisingly, this trait extends to other areas of geekdom including music. While there are no shortage of cover songs – with more coming every day – there are times when the cover version so completely overshadows the original that only few know whence it came.
In the interests of promoting music education, I’ve collected some of my favorite lost originals.

Popular Culture

Yesterday morning I was one of 1,000 Rabbis listening in on a conference call with President Obama on the hot button issue of heath care reform. The call was organized by coalition of Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist organizatoins including
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbinical Assembly, Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association, and coordinated by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
Technically speaking I’m not sure I’m “supposed” to write about the call. The intent of the call was less informative on Obama’s position, but more for the Rabbis to explore how to address the health care controversy in their upcoming High Holiday sermons. (In a nice move by Obama’s handler’s he began his health care discussion by referencing unetaneh tokef). Nevertheless there were point which I took away from the call that I feel are worth sharing with the public at large.

Jewish Culture Politics


During Sefirat Ha’Omer, many Jews observe some customs of morning in memory of R. Akiva’s students. According to Wikipedia:

The period of counting the Omer is also a time of semi-mourning, during which the Halakha forbids haircuts, shaving, listening to live instrumental music, or conducting weddings, parties, and dinners with dancing.

Of course, Halakha does not “forbid” any such actions – in fact the hakahic basis for mourning during the ‘Omer is even more tenuous than mourning during – the three weeks and nine days, but rather they are at best matters of custom.
But even in matters of custom there can be multple opinions. For example, every year I get several e-mails asking about what types of music are permitted during the ‘Omer. Some distinguish between live and recorded music, others avoid music with instruments. While I personally find these distinctions inconsequential since the entire practice is a matter of custom, let it not be said that here at YUTOPIA we are completely intolerant of minhagim. And so in honor of Sefirat Ha’Omer, I’ve decided this year to compile my favorite a capella videos from YouTube.1

Popular Culture

This apocryphal factoid seemed appropriate for Yom Ha’atzmaut. From a 2003 Hadassah article: According to Jewish educator and comics fan and writer Alan Oirich, artist Gil Kane based his design…

Popular Culture

A few months ago I wrote a short article for the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals’ new journal Conversations. The purpose of this journal is to promote communal dialogue on various issues facing the Jewish community. Unlike the Edah/Meorot journals, the journal is supposed to be more accessible than academic and so I was given two editorial conditions:1. keep it short and 2. no footnotes.

As longtime blog readers know, that last condition was a tough one to overcome.

At any rate, I’m posting my article “A Fair And Balanced Approach To Jewish Social Justice” and I plan on revisiting the motivations for the article at some later point.

Culture Economics Jewish Culture Jewish Thought, Theology, and Machshava Random Acts of Scholarship Sermons, Lectures, and Divrei Torah Society

I’m still looking for a place to live on the Lower East Side. The rents have really gotten out of control with the economy and many others are trying to…

Economics Law

Jewish Law / Halakha Politics