Christie’s Weiner

I did not have sex with that bridge.

That was Chris Christie’s Hail Mary play at his press conference last week.  He looked us in the eye, he told us he’d done nothing wrong and he prayed it would turn out better for him with George Washington than it did for Bill Clinton with Ms. Lewinsky.

We are good at being lied to.  I was not alone in wanting to believe that President Clinton was being straight with us.  I was not an outlier when I swallowed Colin Powell’s WMD story at the UN.  Despite his hair, “>admitted he was lying.  But for several days, his story was credible enough for two hard-boiled Politico reporters to cut him some slack, “>I liked that.) Was his staff afraid he’d gone soft?  Was it for Christie’s own good that they’d played the bully card for him?  No, I can’t believe that, nor can I believe it never occurred to Christie’s team to tell him.  But I can believe the m.o. of their dirty work routinely affords Christie the pretense of deniability. 

What makes it possible for anyone to buy Christie’s denial is the swagger with which he makes it.  His rise to power was propelled by his snarling contempt for anyone who’d dare challenge him.  His ruthlessness was seen as an asset; to take on the vested interests, you have show your enemies how big a bat you swing.  It’s the political equivalent of Weiner’s lewd pictures: Look how large I am!   

Weiner thought putting his package online would be seductive.  Christie’s exhibitionism is the bully’s version of Weiner’s bulge; he, too, thinks voters are turned on by a macho man with the ’nads to whup stroppy “>Barry Blitt’s New Yorker cover art.  It’s called ““>Marty Kaplan holds the “>USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at

Footbridge to Temple Mount reopened amid safety concerns

The Mughrabi Bridge, which allows pedestrians to walk to the Temple Mount, was reopened 48 hours after it was closed due to safety concerns.

The bridge was reopened Wednesday, with a fire truck stationed nearby as a safety precaution. The Jerusalem city engineer last week threatened to order the immediate closure of the bridge, calling it a fire hazard that is in danger of collapsing. If the bridge does catch fire, it could quickly spread to the Temple Mount, the municipality has warned.

Knesset members Uri Ariel and Ariel Eldad of the National Union Party entered the Temple Mount Wednesday through the newly reopened bridge, calling for the bridge to be rebuilt in order to allow non-Muslims to visit the site. 

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner Cabinet decided to delay razing the bridge and to renovate instead.

“The government’s helplessness in dealing with this hazardous and dilapidated nuisance at the heart of the Western Wall and entrance to Temple Mount is regrettable,” the municipality said in a statement following the decision. The statement called on the government to build a “permanent and safe walkway in place of the old one.”

On Monday, Jewish activists seized several buildings near the border with Jordan to protest its interference in Temple Mount affairs. Israel and Jordan have been involved in talks to replace the temporary wooden bridge, which was erected in 2004 to replace a damaged stone walkway.

Jordan has called on Israel to refrain from destroying the bridge, saying it will change the character of the holy site. 

Long resented by Muslims, the bridge links the Western Wall to the Temple Mount and had allowed tourists to visit the latter’s Al Aksa and Dome of the Rock mosques.

The structure was to have been demolished last month to make way for a new, permanent walkway, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed the project in a move widely seen as designed to avoid stirring anti-Israel passions in Arab states rocked by political turmoil.

Massive 405 Freeway project respects the boundaries of a Jewish tradition

Metro and Caltrans are working with Orthodox Jews to ensure that the upcoming “Carmageddon” will not affect their eruz, reports.

Like just about everybody else, Orthodox Jews in Los Angeles have their issues with the 405 Freeway widening project. Unlike most people, however, their primary concern is not necessarily the impending closure of a stretch of the freeway on the July 16-17 weekend.

Their problem is that the 405 construction project keeps messing up their eruv.

Some explanation is probably in order.

An eruv is a ritual enclosure surrounding a neighborhood. It can be a fence, a wall, a piece of string — or a freeway. And it must be unbroken.

Its purpose is legalistic, a loophole, some might say. It allows observant Jews to perform certain actions on the Sabbath — carry a tray of food or push a baby stroller, for example — that Jewish law prohibits in public on that day.


Rabbis Fail to Bridge Denominational Gulf

Nearly a year ago, Jack Wertheimer, provost of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and a scholar of demographic trends, put a challenge to a former student.

Jews around the nation are deeply involved in interfaith initiatives, Wertheimer noted. But they avoid involvement with their own religion’s different movements, letting ideological differences get in the way of conversing with each other over issues dear to each. Do something to mend that divide before the gulf is unbridgeable, he urged Stuart Altshuler, a JTS graduate and rabbi of Mission Viejo’s Congregation Eilat.

Last month in a display of professional collegiality that is unusual for most communities, seven Orange County rabbis from across the ideological spectrum jointly collaborated in a pluralistic dialogue. Or as one panelist summarized, "How do we stack the deck differently?"

About 50 people attended "Torah & Israel: A Community Conversation" on a rainy Sunday at Chapman University. The event was sponsored by the college and the American Jewish Committee, of which Altshuler is a board member.

The only denomination without a representative was the Reconstructionist movement. Arnie Rachlis of Irvine’s University Synagogue had a previous commitment.

At the outset Altshuler, who served as moderator, said that his aim was to unite the Jewish community through knowledge about its diversity. What emerged was the nearly galactic theological distance between the Orthodox spiritual leaders and rabbis from the other movements. In all, Israel got little attention, overshadowed by generally cordial but sometimes testy interchanges over topical issues such as conversion, identity and equality.

Elie Spitz, a Conservative rabbi from Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel, and Michael Mayersohn, a Reform rabbi, described Torah as a human creation whose interpretation continues to evolve through history.

David Eliezrie, an Orthodox Chabad rabbi, emphatically described Torah as God’s word manifested in the physical world.

"Torah is the goal post. We don’t believe in moving the goal posts," he said.

For some people, such differing interpretations are unacceptable, said Allen Krause of Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El. "It’s never been a problem for me to have uncertainty."

"We’re all trying to blend tradition with modernity," said Stephen Einstein of the ReformCongregation B’nai Tzedek in Fountain Valley. "Today, the lines are not as clearly drawn."

Yet, the delineation was evident on other topics, such as the rabbis’ explanation for allowing or disallowing mixed seating.

"Prayer is an extremely challenging activity," said Joel Landau of the Orthodox Beth Jacob Congregation in Irvine, where women sit behind a glass-and-wood partition, or mechitzah. The opposite sex is a distraction, he said.

Spitz agreed that praying exclusively with men creates an unself-conscious environment. "But separate is not equal," he said, noting that the all-female Radcliffe Institute never achieved the prestige of all-male Harvard University. "What trumps distraction is the greater sense of equality that honors women."

And what is a justifiable change in Jewish law?

"There is no red line; everything in Torah needs interpretation," Spitz said, noting that "an eye for an eye" is not interpreted literally. "Nothing in Torah is obvious."

And while interpretations are bound by precedent, topics on women, music and homosexuality are areas where the law tends to change, he added.

So who is a Jew?

"I would beg the non-Orthodox rabbis to go along with the Orthodox because it’s so divisive," said Lauren Klein, a member of the audience and self-described as "very, very Reconstructionist."

"We ought to have one standard where we can agree who is a Jew," said Einstein, noting that the Reform movement splits with the Conservative in accepting as Jewish a person born of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother.

"The Orthodox think they are the only authentic Judaism; the rest are something else, an expression of Judaism."

"If we’re going to let those on the right be gatekeepers, hundreds of thousands [of people] will be excluded," Einstein said. "The Orthodox standard isn’t prevalent."

"Where others see dangers," added Mayersohn, referring to converts and others born of non-Jewish mothers, "I see richness."

Eliezrie disagreed. "By setting different standards of identify, you have chaos."

"Today in Israel, this issue has reached the boiling point," Einstein said. "Whatever happens there will happen here."

Noting the strengths of each denomination, Altshuler concluded, saying, "We all have contributions to make."