When Ted Cruz slams Trump for ‘chutzpah,’ should Jews be offended?

Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican senator running for president as an anti-establishment maverick, has once again been accused of making Jews collateral damage in attacks on his insider rivals.

Cruz’s accusers detected the whiff of anti-Semitism in his broadsides against neoconservatives and his mocking of real estate magnate Donald Trump’s “New York values.”

Now, he’s getting scored for his use of the word “chutzpah.”

Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post:

For Cruz, “New York” is another way of saying “Jewish.”

At an event in New Hampshire, Cruz, the Republican Iowa caucuses winner, was asked about campaign money he and his wife borrowed from Goldman Sachs. Cruz, asserting that Trump had “upward of $480 million of loans from giant Wall Street banks,” said: “For him to make this attack, to use a New York term, it’s the height of chutzpah.” Cruz, pausing for laughter after the phrase “New York term,” exaggerated the guttural “ch” to more laughter and applause.

But “chutzpah,” of course, is not a “New York” term. It’s a Yiddish — a Jewish — one. And using “New York” as a euphemism for “Jewish” has long been an anti-Semitic dog whistle.

Jeet Heer at the New Republic agreed:

Chutzpah is a Yiddish word, so a “New York term” means one inflected by a dialect associated with Jewish immigrants and their descendants. And that can also only mean that Jewish values — sorry, New York values — are inimical to the good conservatives of the American heartland.

Over here at JTA, I’m not so sure.

True, Cruz was talking about Wall Street — a place that often features in conspiracy theories about Jews. And true, he played up the foreign-sounding pronunciation of “chutzpah” for laughs.

But what he called out Trump for isn’t connected to any discernible anti-Semitic stereotype. He simply accused his rival of audacity — and used a popular Jewish term for boastfulness to do it.

If anything, he honored Jewish perspicaciousness by invoking our linguistic tradition to make his point. And he’s far from alone among politicians in using the word.

As my colleague Daniel Treiman recently pointed out — citing President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Mitt Romney — “chutzpah” is becoming as familiar in election years as paeans to Iowa ethanol and the hardy independence of Granite Staters. In fact, the last time Cruz used the term, Treiman noted, was to lambaste Obama for presuming to speak to Jews on Jewish values.

How do you spell chutzpah? R-Y-A-N B-R-A-U-N

It wasn’t so long ago that Ryan Braun was just a rookie phenom, racking up numbers that had Jewish sports junkies rushing to put the Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger in the pantheon with Greenberg and Koufax.

These days, not so much.

The news this week is that Braun has accepted a suspension from Major League Baseball for the rest of the season, all but admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs. I say “all but admitting” because in accepting the time he still hasn’t explicitly acknowledged the crime.

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have  made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions. This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it is has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers  organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in  Milwaukee and around the country. Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed – all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.

What makes his non-admission admission particularly lame and weasely is how lame and weasely his response was to his failed drug test back in 2011. First he (successfully) challenged his suspension on technical grounds and then turned that victory-by-technicality into an unabashed declaration of innocence.


Just man up already and admit what you did. Until then, you’re not even in the same league as Shawn Green and Ian Kinsler. And no more calling you “The Hebrew Hammer” either.

Alan shrugged, Bouskila wrote, Suissa puffed

Alan Shrugged

I just read Marty Kaplan’s Alan Greenspan article … truly amazing journalism (“Alan Shrugged,” Oct. 13). I rarely read news columns with such insightful and poetic language … especially financially related.

Thank you — it’s nice to know there are some columnists who express their vision through the style of their words and not through the self-indulgence of their intellect.

Cutter LaKind
Via e-mail

Sit, Stay a While

Last week’s Torah Portion, “Sit, Stay a While,” made the rather astonishing claim that Jews who recite the blessing “lei-sheiv ba-sukkah” and subsequently sit down in fulfillment of the literal meaning of the words of the blessing are committing an error (Oct. 17). It is particularly remarkable coming from a Sephardic rabbi, since the basis for this custom is rooted directly in the words of Maimonides — a pillar of Sephardic Jewry — near the end of the sixth chapter of his rules on the Sukkah where he says explicitly that the “custom of the Sephardic rabbis” was to say the blessing standing and then, immediately afterward, sit down.

This view is then quoted by Rabbi Yosef Karo, the Sephardic author of the Code of Jewish Law. For Sephardic Jews, the practice of sitting after the blessing of “lei-sheiv ba-sukkah” is well founded, and should not be subjected to ignorant scorn.

Ian Jacobi

Rabbi Bouskila’s responds:

I refer the soft-spoken, respectful writer to the commentaries on Maimonides, who writes: “The meaning of ‘leshev’ is not ‘yeshiva mamash’ (actual sitting), for even if one stood in the Sukkah throughout the day and never actually sat down, he has still fulfilled the commandment.” Rav Yosef Karo — the authority in Sephardic halacha — does quote Maimonides, but his Shulchan Aruch immediately states that “this is not the custom.” In Sephardic communities, we follow Rav Karo, not Maimonides.

Rabbi Daniel Bouskila
Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel

Presidential Politics

In Morris J. Amitay’s article, he destroys all credibility of his pro-McCain statement (“McCain for America — and Israel,” Oct. 10). He claims that, for too many of us Jews, our concern for preserving abortion rights takes precedence over caring about the security of America and Israel. That declaration is insulting.

Does Amitay not recognize that people can have opinions on two (or even more, gasp!) issues at the same time? I believe that the expression of an opinion like Amitay’s can be the result of either stupidity or political dishonesty.

He cites also Joe Lieberman’s support for McCain because he rises above “the negativism and pettiness of our politics.” This, when practically all of McCain’s advertising consists of vicious negative attacks on his rival?

I hope that Mr. Amitay is ashamed of himself, but he probably isn’t.

Perhaps his mother is.

Lou Charloff

First the puff piece by David Suissa extolling Sarah Palin (“Shooting Sarah Palin,” Sept. 19), and now the article by Morris Amitay on why Americans should vote for McCain.

In the interest of brevity, just two points: First, even if one were to agree with Amitay’s statements, I found it rather revealing that he did not consider it significant to address the fact that if anything were to happen to McCain, Palin would assume the presidency. Now, if all the issues that Amitay raises regarding Obama’s experience are accurate, how does he rationalize that the governor’s experience is sufficient for the presidency? If the prospect of Palin assuming the presidency does not raise great concerns for Amitay, then he is completely blinded by his parochialism.

Second, it is not the issue of abortion that is a concern to many Jews with whom I speak; it is McCain’s own statement that he would “select Supreme Court justices in the image of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.”

So, with McCain, we have the prospect of Palin as president and several more right-wing extremists on the Supreme Court! No, I don’t think I’ll be voting for McCain, even though, as a Holocaust survivor, I appreciate the criticality of Israel’s survival as a haven for Jews, perhaps even more so than Mr. Amitay.

Nevertheless, I am not willing to subjugate my American interests to those of Israel.

Thomas Fleishman
Valley Glen

Reading The Journal’s articles and ads, one might conclude that Jews automatically must be Democrats and Barack Obama supporters (“Why Obama Is Better Than McCain for Israel,” Oct. 17).

In truth, more and more of us are concluding that the Democratic Party is no longer the party of Harry Truman, JFK, “Scoop” Jackson and Joe Lieberman, no longer is strongly supportive of Israel, and therefore no longer merits our unquestioning support.

Liberal Democrats have controlled the California Legislature for decades, and the result has been fiscal disaster for this state. They have had the same impact on the federal government since they took control of Congress two years ago. Now they are close to taking control of the presidency, too. If so, we are likely to see a repeat of the late 1970s Carter administration, which was the worst domestic and foreign policy disaster in American history.

In contrast, John McCain has always acted as a centrist, reaching across the aisle in a way Obama never ever has, whether in Illinois or Washington, D.C.
The only hope to prevent that is if enough Americans — including we Jews –think twice about their unquestioning support for this questionable candidate, and support the better candidate to be commander-in-chief, John McCain.

Peter Rich
Los Angeles

The Great Schlep

The Great Schlep of young Jews to Florida for the express and only purpose of convincing their elderly grandparents to vote for Barack Obama is a disgusting display of the arrogance, the chutzpah, of some of our young Jews (“My Great Schlep Pays Off in Politics and Grandma’s Food,” Oct. 17).

Can you imagine how the thinking in our community has been reversed? For how many generations have most societies recognized the truth, the common sense that generally speaking, our young learn from their elders? Elders are venerated in many societies.

So, now it’s the young life experience and abilities to make sound decisions that are superior to that of their elders — what gall! There seems to be an element of insulting condescension to their grandparents displayed in the stories about these grandchildren.

Leon Perlsweig
Woodland Hills

Jew Street

Rob Eshman, never missing an opportunity to smear Sarah Palin, inveighs against Westbrook Pegler a mid-20th century colorful journalist from whom Palin quoted on the virtues of small-town America (“Wall St., Main St., Jew St.” Oct. 10).

Before Pegler became a journalistic crank, in his earlier career he was an outspoken critic of Nazism and communism; he weighed against U.S. participation in the 1936 Olympic games as a vote against Hitler’s ideology and expressed sympathy and empathy for Hitler’s Jewish victims in the Holocaust.

Eshman’s reading of the current crisis as being driven by latent anti-Semitism bespeaks a narcissism that virtually all conflicts contain anti-Semitism at its core. The leading factor in Wall Street’s crisis emanates from the unregulated abuse of Fannie Mae, a protected stepchild of the Democrats who refused to allow investigations by the Republicans since 2003.

Aside from Barney Frank and Chuck Shumer, I don’t believe Nancy Pelosi, Christopher Dodd and Joe Biden, nor James Johnson and Franklin Raines (Obama’s financial advisers) are Jewish.

It looks like Eshman may have a reprieve from buying his plane ticket.

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles


So Rob Eshman feels that an October release of the film “Obsession,” which concerns the threat from worldwide Islamic radicalism, turns “a serious if flawed movie and a life-and-death issue into a partisan campaign ploy” (“Return to Sender,” Oct. 17).

It is interesting that Eshman assumes that a film that takes the Islamist threat seriously, but does not endorse any presidential candidate, must somehow be intended to boost the election prospects of John McCain. Be that as it may, is Eshman advocating that life-and-death issues not be the subjects of partisan political debate? Isn’t it precisely such serious matters that should command attention in this presidential campaign? Or does Eshman feel that political partisans should confine their discussions to trivial issues?

Ralph B. Kostant
Valley Village

Documentary goes behind the music video with Chutzpah

Tor Hyams was startled to discover that his Jewish rap group, Chutzpah, had become the subject of an arty short documentary — Juliet Landau’s “Take Flight” — which will be the centerpiece of The Hollywood Hill’s inaugural BigBrainBoy Mobile Media Summit that takes place on Sept. 12 and 13.

“But at the same time I also wasn’t so surprised, because there’s something very strange about our group: We call it ‘The Legend of Chutzpah,'” he said. “Wacky things have always happened to us that we never planned — and that we didn’t particularly try for because Chutzpah is a pet project, not the main part of our lives.”

Hyams, a veteran TV composer and record producer, was working with artists such as Lisa Loeb and Perry Farrell when he began writing Jewish rap on a lark back in 2005. Within months, Chutzpah had released “Eponymous,” its debut CD; a DVD “hip-hop-u-mentary,” featuring celebrity cameos by Gary Oldman and Sharon Osbourne, which screened at the HBO and Aspen comedy festivals; a music video, “Chanukah’s Da Bomb” which played on MTV, and write-ups in myriad publications (The New York Times calls it “a cross between Eminem and Woody Allen”). Now a second album, “Hip Hop Fantasy,” is slated for release Nov. 11, along with a new music video, for the song, “Red Rover,” directed by Oldman. And that video is the subject of “Take Flight,” which is already earning buzz in media circles.

Hyams, who is originally from Larchmont, N.Y., said he was “working on five projects at once” several years ago when a friend asked him to help write a Yiddish rap song.

‘Take Flight’ trailer

“I absolutely loved it,” he recalled. “It was like I was possessed, and I started creating hip-hop beats and writing lyrics.”

Hyams enlisted the help of his cousin, David Scharff, and together they “busted out five tracks” in just two weeks in the producer’s Los Feliz studio. The songs included “Old School Jew” (“I was going really ‘old school,'” he says of the rap term. “We’re talking an abridged history of the Hebrew bible.”) and “In the Shtetl,” a riff on “In the Ghetto” by Oakland rapper Too Short.

“My big idea for the CD was, ‘Let’s give this to our families for Chanukah,'” Hyams said. “I never thought we’d get a record deal, because I figured ‘This is stupid and Jewish and no one cares except us.'”

Later, during a tense business meeting, Hyams joked that if the deal at hand didn’t work out, the executives could sign his Jewish rap group. “Everybody laughed,” Hyams recalled, “but when I got home, there was an e-mail saying that if I was serious, I should contact this new label, the Jewish Music Group [JMG], which was looking for talent.” Shout Factory’s JMG signed the group on a handshake.

When the company ordered a music video, Hyams played lead rapper “Master Tav,” Scharff was the Jewish rastafarian philosopher and an actor friend, Jerran Friedman, portrayed the deranged MC Meshugenah, who often appeared in a straightjacket.

2006 music video ‘Ask the rabbi’ — note straightjacket

Many reviewers subsequently lauded Chutzpah, which billed itself as “the first Jewish hip-hop supergroup” (never mind Matisyahu or 2 Live Jews). But some described it as a novelty act — a label that chagrined Hyams. He said he intends his music to be serious and that he is inspired by rap greats such as LL Cool J and Snoop Dogg.

Chutzpah’s second CD, he added, is a “concept album” in which each song describes the saga of how the bandmates have unexpectedly lived out their hip-hop fantasies. Oldman — who has been Hyams’ friend since their children attended the same preschool — raps on one of the songs and asked to direct Chutzpah’s new music video. “Gary thinks being Jewish is cool for some reason,” Hyams said. “He’d always say, ‘You know, Tor, I could be Jewish; I could change my name to Larry Goldman” (which is how he is credited on the new music video).

The video is shot entirely on Nokia cell- phones and features the song, “Red Rover,” a “battle rap” challenging Chutzpah’s critics (including Matisyahu, who reportedly told Hyams that Chutzpah disgraces Judaism.) It depicts the group members wearing Speedos and Jewish bling while playing the children’s game red rover with bikini-clad babes. Hyams dons a clown nose to dis Matisyahu, and MC Meshugenah attempts to snorkel in a wading pool emblazoned with a Star of David.

While Oldman was shooting Hyams et al, Landau (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel”) was filming a “making of” documentary about the video — which turned into a lyrical film about Oldman’s creative process. “I could see Gary coming up with ideas and carrying them out with great precision,” Landau said. “I wanted viewers to feel like they were inside his head.”

For Hyams, watching the film brought one more surprise.

“I thought the movie would be kind of dumb, because we’re kind of dumb,” he said. “But it was so moving, I actually got a little choked up.”

Juliet Landau and “Red Rover” director of photography Deverill Weekes will conduct a Q & A after “Take Flight” screenings, on Sept. 13.

Lebanon war underscores inequality of Arab Israelis

Wars, like hurricanes, tend to expose flaws in societies. In Israel, the recent war with Hezbollah revealed lack of preparedness for this kind of war against an elusive enemy, mediocre
conduct of the operations, deficiencies in equipment, shortages of shelters for the civilians and more.

The fact that Israel after the war is in a better strategic position than the prewar situation doesn’t seem to sweeten the pill.

People here vocally demanded a commission of inquiry, wishing to see heads rolling.

Hurricane Katrina shed light on flaws both in the preparations for such disasters and in the U.S. government response to it. Likewise, in Israel, the recent war has triggered great controversy.

Another common aspect is that the war and the hurricane mainly hit the weaker elements of both societies. In Israel, where half of the north is populated by Arabs, they became — like their Jewish neighbors — victims of Katyusha rockets launched by Arabs from over the Lebanese border. Yet, they don’t enjoy the same shelter system as the Jewish residents, and once the rockets hit them, further lack of past adequate investments in infrastructure were exposed. In short, the war has reminded us once again of the issue of inequality of Arabs in Israel.

Not that the Israeli Arabs make things easy for anyone. Last week, Arab members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, stretched the Israeli democracy to its limits. Three of the Balad Arab Party went to Damascus — defying the Israeli law that forbids visits to enemy countries — and one of them, the vocal Azmi Bishara, went as far as warning his Syrian host of an impending Israeli attack.

I thought this was outrageous. That’s like Jane Fonda visiting a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun crew at the height of the Vietnam War or former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark offering his services to the enemies of America.

I took out my frustration on my good friend and taxi driver Zachariah, an Israeli Arab living in Abu Gosh, near Jerusalem. There is nothing like a ride with your favorite taxi driver to have a good and heated discussion on the important issues of the day. With Zachariah expertly maneuvering through the crazy Israeli traffic, we always get straight to the point.

“What’s the matter with you Arabs?” I asked him. “Must you bite the hand that feeds you?”


“We learnt it from you Jews,” he retorts. “It’s called chutzpah.”

“Gimme a break. What kind of people would vote for such a shmuck like Bishara?”

He grinned in that special way, reserved only for an Arab in a Jewish state who had just outwitted a Jew.

“Not you, Zacharia!”

“Me and many in my village,” he announced triumphantly.

“But why? He is a communist and a Christian, and you are a bourgeois and a Muslim. What on Earth do you have in common?”

“Nothing,” Zachariah said, not smiling anymore. “He just knows how to annoy you. That’s the only way to make you Jews think about us Arabs.”

Do we really need a war or an outrage like Bishara’s visit to Damascus to remind us that one of every five citizens in Israel is an Arab, and that the Arab does not enjoy the same equality promised by our Declaration of Independence? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert toured the Israeli north, which had been badly hit by the Hezbollah rockets, and promised that in the reconstruction ahead, Arab villages and townships would get the same treatment as the Jewish ones.

However, if we were smart, we would use some affirmative action here to compensate the Israeli Arabs for past neglect. The news of Arabs living as equals in a Jewish state will spread like brush fire in this region and would be the best outcome of this war.

In the meantime, an American Jew sent a donation to the people of the Israeli north, with the proviso that the money go to Jews only. I hope that the check was duly returned to the sender.

However, I didn’t hear an outcry from the American Jewish leaders, who would raise hell if someone dared contribute to Hurricane Katrina refugees only if they were not Jewish. When will Jews who care about Israel understand that enhancing Arab equality in Israel is the best way to support the Jewish state?
Once the inequality of the Israeli Arabs becomes a nonissue, my taxi rides might become boring. But then I trust good old Zachariah and the Bisharas to keep us busy with other things.


Uri Dromi is international outreach director at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem.

I Ate the Whole Thing!

I Ate the Whole Thing!

Rap music and matzah balls? Hey, Jews can rap. Just ask the group, Chutzpah, which showed up in full rapping gear for the weighing of the 26-pound-matzah ball at Canter’s Deli last week to celebrate the DVD release of “When Do We Eat?” The weights and measures officials arrived in uniform to record the official weight to send to Guinness, and guests and regulars ogled the giant treat. Not exactly like grandma used to make, but in this case bigger was better.

The matzah ball weigh-in was all part of the 75th anniversary celebration for the legendary L.A. deli, with Assemblyman Paul Koretz doing the honors of presenting an official proclamation from the state of California. Alan Canter, representing the second generation of family ownership, accepted the honor; he has spent practically his whole life keeping Canter’s one of Southern California’s most beloved and long-lasting dining establishments.

Koretz saluted the restaurant for its many years of great food, legendary service and extensive community involvement.

Two longstanding employees, head waitress Jean Cocchiaro and manager and main sandwich man George Karkabasis — considered by many to be the fastest and best sandwichmaker in town — were also surprised with certificates of commendation.

Together, they have worked at Canter’s for more than 100 years! Jacqueline, Gary and Mark Canter were on hand to celebrate their family’s famous fressing history with Dad, Alan.

The Canters reminisced about old times with Koretz, noting the table where Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller sat on Friday nights, the visits from sports stars like Wilt Chamberlain and Hank Aaron, the joking of regulars like Jack Benny and Buddy Hackett.

Solidarity Brother

Responding to the crisis in Israel, Rabbi Eli Herscher, senior rabbi of Stephen S. Wise Temple, and the synagogue’s director of education, Metuka Benjamin, quickly organized a solidarity mission to Israel. The group of 21 congregants met with high-level military and political leadership for a crisis update, visited military bases directly involved in the conflict and experienced first-hand the mobilization of essential services for Israelis in the north who were directly affected by this war. Herscher and Benjamin led the temple’s leadership as they brought gifts to wounded soldiers at Rambam Hospital in Haifa. They also visited a summer camp organized by the Joint Distribution Committee to serve children affected by the bombings in the Haifa area and met with handicapped Israelis who were evacuated to hotels in the center of the country. The temple has scheduled three other Israel missions for the coming year and raised $1.4 million dollars toward meeting Israel’s immediate crisis needs.

Zev on the Mount

Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries named Bob Zev director of marketing. Zev, who has a bachelor’s from CSUN and an MBA from USC, has more than 15 years of marketing and communications experience serving as the vice president of marketing for a financial institution.

Zev grew up in Los Angeles, became a bar mitzvah at Sinai Temple, and attended Hillel Hebrew Academy, Hebrew High School, Camp Ramah and spent a year in Israel at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

‘Lost’ in the Art World

Even though Jack Bender didn’t win the best director Emmy Sunday night for his work on “Lost,” he was very much a winner at the premiere of his one-man show, “Found” at the Timothy Yarger Fine Art Gallery in Beverly Hills on Aug. 26. The exhibition was a “lost and found” of sorts for Bender’s friends, colleagues and admirers, who all converged onto the swanky gallery floors to view his colorful, explosive mixed-media paintings and, of course, to socialize.

The paintings could hardly be viewed through the talkative crowd of well-dressed art lovers, gallery clients and Bender’s circle of friends, who were sipping vodka-based cocktails named in Bender’s honor, such as “On a Bender” and “Castaway.” Across from “The Hatch Painting,” made famous for its appearance in “Lost,” students from View Park Prep in South L.A. played smooth jazz for the guests.

Among the celebs present to gush over Bender’s artwork were actress Blythe Danner; Jacqueline Bisset; J.J. Abrams, creator of “Lost”; Carlton Cuse, “Lost” producer; “Lost” star Evangeline Lily (who plays Kate) and “Sex and the City” actor Evan Handler (Charlotte’s Jewish husband).

“I don’t know how he did all of these,” Danner enthused to Entertainment Tonight, at the gallery.

Works exhibited are those he completed during breaks from filming “Lost” in Hawaii these past two years. Bender has been painting ever since he was a teen.Lilly, however, wasn’t surprised by Bender’s creative output on display: “It’s an expression and extension of himself,” she told The Journal in the gallery’s backroom, where Bender shared exhibition space with Chagall and Picasso. “He’s very spontaneous as a director and doesn’t like to premeditate things.”Bender summed up the evening: “It’s wonderful to be in this extraordinary environment. Hopefully it’s the beginning of a long ride.”

— Orit Arfa, Contributing Writer

Beit T’Shuvah’s New President Honored

Brindell Gottlieb recently opened her home to celebrate Nancy Mishkin as the new president of Beit T’Shuvah. Mishkin’s two-year term with the Westside congregation and rehabilitation center began in July. The annual Steps to Recovery Gala on Jan. 28, 2007, honoring Ron Herman, Dr. Susan Krevoy and Diane Licht, will be the first event highlighting Mishkin’s presidency. Beit T’Shuvah’s mission is to insure the physical, emotional and spiritual health of individuals and families within a supportive Jewish community. For more information, call (310) 204-5200, ext. 211.

Spectator – It’s Hip to Be Chutzpah

When you think of hip-hop or rap, you don’t generally think of jowl-necked septuagenarians or skinny, psyched-out white guys rapping about the tsuris their mother gives them, but then again, you don’t generally think of Jews either.

Enter Chutzpah, or the new “Jewish Hip-Hop Supergroup,” as they would have it.

People say “that we could perform in front of a black urban audience and they would be into the beat and into the rap,” said Jewdah (a.k.a. David Scharff, Chutzpah’s manager). “Of course, it was a couple of Jewish guys saying that.”

That kind of irreverence makes Chutzpah a hybrid entertainment experience. On the one hand, the raps they sing — like “Chanukah’s Da Bomb” or “Tsuris” — sustain a head-throbbing beat that might hold its own in the innercity. On the other hand, the group, which consists of Master Tav (a.k.a. Tor Hyams), Dr. Dreck (a.k.a. George Segal) and MC Meshugenah (real name unknown) keeps trying to make you laugh and to get you in on the joke.

In “Chutzpah, This Is, The Official Hip-Hop-Umentary,” Chutzpah’s debut DVD, the group explains its origins in a mock-serious “This Is Spinal Tap” fashion. The group officially started when Master Tav called up Dr. Dreck, who was then moonlighting as George Segal, and left a message inviting him to join a Jewish rap group. Dreck wanted to delete the message, but instead pressed a button that called Tav back, and Chutzpah was born.

Dreck, who wears heavy gold chains and looks just a bit too old to be doing the arm-bouncing motions so favored by rappers, was rumored to have invented scratching on a Victrola in 1948. He also claims that Dr. Dre stole his name and dropped the “CK.”

In addition to the DVD, Chutzpah also has a CD “Chutzpah, Eponymous.” The group claims that its music will cross ethnic boundaries, bring Jewish culture to the masses, and make people say, as Tav put it: “I wish I was a cool Jewish rapper.”

For information on Chutzpah, visit

The Birth of Chutzpah

We believe in a God who dreams. The Torah is the story of the transaction between God’s dreams and human reality. God dreams of a world of goodness. God creates humanity – fashioned in the divine image – to share the dream. But human beings betrayed God’s dreams. We filled the world with violence and murder. God despaired of having created humanity and decided to wash the world clean. But one human being caught God’s eye – one good man. So God saved Noah and his family, together with a set of earth’s animals to begin the world again.

And again, humanity disappointed God. We defiled God’s world with idolatry and evil. Once more, God’s dream was betrayed. This time, God pursued a different strategy – God took a partner. Having failed to create the good man, having failed to choose the good man, God endeavored to teach goodness, beginning with one family, one man – Abraham. Through Abraham, God would reach humanity’s heart and share the divine dream. “Go forth… and be a blessing” (Gen. 12:1-2).

This is the Torah’s most radical idea: God needs us. God enlists us as partners. To share the dream of a world of goodness, God establishes a covenant with us.

Partnership is a unique relationship. A partner must disclose himself. God wonders: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? … Since I have singled him out that he may instruct his children to keep the way of the Lord” (Gen. 18:17-19). God is bound by the terms of the covenant.

How radical is this? Contrast it with another biblical character. Job lost his children, wealth and health. Out of his agony, he accuses God and despairs of God’s justice in the world: “He destroys the blameless and the guilty… The earth is handed over to the wicked. He covers the eyes of its judges. If it is not He, then who?” (Job 9:22-24) Finally, God responds to Job, “out of the tempest [God] said, ‘Who is this who darkens counsel, speaking without knowledge?'” (Job 38:1) Displaying the sweep of divine power, God challenges Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Have you ever commanded the day to break? Have you penetrated to the sources of the sea?” (Job 38: 4, 12, 16) Stunned into submission by God’s awesome power, Job surrenders, “I know that you can do everything, that nothing is impossible for you… I therefore recant and relent being but dust and ashes,” Job says (Job 42:2-6). Job is not part of the covenant. He accepts God’s display of power as the last word and relents before he receives the explanation of God’s justice that he had so adamantly sought.

In contrast, Abraham is God’s partner, and partners can disagree. When God decries the evil of Sodom, “Abraham came forward and said, ‘Will you sweep away the innocent along with the guilty? … Far be it from you to do such a thing to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that righteous and the evil fare alike. Far be it from you! Shall not the judge of all the earth do justice?… I venture to speak to my Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.'” (Gen. 18:23-25, 27)

The language echoes Job. Abraham, too, knows he is dust and ashes, but Abraham is God’s partner, and partners are accountable to one another. Partners share a common moral language. In the ensuing narrative, Abraham bargains with God. For 50 righteous, God will spare the city. For 45, 40, 30, 20, 10. It is breathtaking to witness. Undaunted by God’s power, Abraham assails God in the name of God’s own dream. Thus is born covenantal chutzpah – the quintessential element of Jewish character.

Covenantal chutzpah reflects an unremitting expectation and demand that the world can rise to a higher moral standard. Cynicism, stoic resignation, passivity and surrender are foreign to the Jewish character. Serenity is not a Jewish virtue – not as long as the world is filled with evil and suffering. We share God’s dreams. We are not about to accept quietly the world as it is. We are God’s partner. In that is our highest purpose.