Hebrew word of the week: Ken


Two simple one-syllable words, yet they are not so simple. The English “yes” comes from yea + si, meaning “so be it!,” a stronger yea. Shakespeare uses it only as an answer to a negative question. The Hebrew word ken means “right,” related to nakhon “correct, true” derived from the root k-u-n, “be established, firm, right.”

Indeed, ken (m.), kenah (f.) also means “honest,” but many Israelis pronounce it kené by mistake (as if it were from k-n-y).

Obama’s pre-election motto, “Yes, I can” became, in Hebrew, “Ken, ani yakhol.” Another popular American influence of shouting “Yesss!” when your team wins, is the Israeli play of words: “YESHSH!” (“We have it !”).


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

Hebrew Bible published In Eskimo language


After a 34-year translation project, the Hebrew Bible and New Testament were published for the first time this week in an Eskimo language.

A group of Inuit Christians in the Canadian territory Nunavut completed the task of translating the texts into the local Inuktitut, according to Haaretz.

Plant and animal names were among the biggest difficulties and often the word “tree” was used for them. In some cases, English words such as “camel” were used. One surprising difficulty was the complete absence of a term for “peace” in Inuktitut. That forced the translators to use complete sentences to get the idea across to readers.

There are approximately 50,000 Inuits in Canada.

The translation project was funded by the Canadian Bible Society and the Anglican Church at a cost of $ 1.7 million. The translation will be launched in a ceremony at the igloo-shaped St. Jude’s Anglican Cathedral in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital on June 3.

Briefs: Journalist: West Is losing ‘War of Ideas;’ Daniel Pipes comes to Pepperdine


Journalist: West Is Losing War of Ideas

The conflict between the West and terrorist Islam is not about terrorism, land or economic grievances but about fundamental ideas — and the West is losing.

So posits Melanie Phillips, a feisty British journalist, who backed up her thesis in an hour of rapid-fire arguments and examples at UCLA on Monday.

Phillips is the author of “Londonistan,” a book that has triggered heated discussions in her native country by indicting the alleged blindness and fecklessness of British society in the face of an increasingly hostile Islam at home and abroad.

Under the banner of “multiculturalism,” academe, the church and the media have transformed the meaning of the term from a decent respect for all cultures to the politically correct rule that the minority is always right and the majority always wrong, Phillips said.

In Britain, Europe and the United States, conventional thinking now has it that no religious or social demand by an aggrieved Muslim population can be refused because they are the victims of oppression.

“This is the dialogue of the demented,” she declared.

While most Muslims are not terrorists or direct supporters of terrorism, even those mislabeled as “moderates” believe that the Jews dominate the West, that the West wants to destroy Islam, and therefore Jews, as “a metaphysical evil,” are to blame for the Islamic world’s problems, she said.The West, including Israel, has not recognized that Islam wants ultimately to establish a medieval caliphate, and is “ceding the battleground of ideas,” Phillips warned. “We’re on a cliff and going over the edge.”

During an extended question-and-answer period, only one person, Hillel Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller, suggested a more conciliatory approach toward Islam.

The rest of the audience of some 70 students and faculty seemed supportive of Phillips’ arguments. There were no hostile questioners, as those who might have been were likely occupied with the simultaneous opening of Islamic Awareness Week on campus — whose main lectures carried such titles as “Qur’an (Koran): The True Message of Jesus” and “Muhammad: The Inheritor of the Judeo-Christian Tradition.”

Sponsoring Phillips’ appearance were Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, a national pro-Israel organization that has just formed a UCLA chapter, the UCLA Political Science department and the activist group StandWithUs.

Phillips also spoke in the evening at the Wilshire Theater, at a public event sponsored by the American Freedom Alliance and the Temple of the Air, part of her national tour with stops in New York, Detroit and Atlanta.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Islamists’ Critic Comes to Pepperdine

Middle East expert Daniel Pipes, who is among most prominent scholars to have warned of the growing threat of radical Islam to the West before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a lightening rod for criticism among some Muslim groups, is spending the spring semester at Pepperdine University in Malibu as a visiting professor. Pipes, who received his doctorate from Harvard, is teaching a graduate seminar on Islam and politics.

The founder and director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank that publishes Middle East Quarterly, Pipes has won supporters for his warnings of possible dangers emanating from the Muslim world. Some Muslim groups have characterized him as intolerant.

“Over the years, Pipes has exhibited a troubling bigotry toward Muslims and Islam,” said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights group. “He perceives Islam, and not just extremism, as a threat.”

Pipes said CAIR is a radical organization that “lies.” He rejects the notion that he is anti-Islam.

Through his writings and speeches, Pipes has waged a multi-pronged campaign against “Islamists,” whom he argues want to subvert democracy and impose Islamic law on their respective societies.

“My effort is to try and isolate them,” Pipes said, “and convince politicians, the media, the academy and other institutions that this is an outlook that should be spurned, shunned.”

— Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

Wiesenthal Center Adds Persian-Language Information

Following an Iranian government-sponsored conference late last year questioning the existence of the Holocaust, local Iranian Jewish activists have provided a Persian-language translation of 36 questions and answers regarding the Holocaust for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Web site (www.wiesenthal.com/36questionsinfarsi). Iranian Jewish activist George Haroonian provided the translation, directed at Iranians surfing the site for facts about the Shoah.

“This is important because we not only need to counter the propaganda and lies being spread by the Iranian government about the Holocaust, the Jewish people and Israel, but we also need to present younger Iranians with the truth,” Haroonian said, adding that he hopes the translations will encourage other Web sites to repost the information for those who do not understand English.

Haroonian’s Council of Iranian Jews collaborated with the Wiesenthal Center last year by inviting Persian-language media outlets based in Los Angeles to visit the Museum of Tolerance to learn about the Holocaust.

In the last two years, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied the Nazi genocide and called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”

— Karmel Melamed, Contributing Writer

Web Archive Brings Voices of Past to Present

Want to listen in on conversations with the late Bella Abzug, George Burns and Abba Eban? Want to watch a video of the historic Freedom Sunday Rally for Soviet Jewry in 1987, when 250,000 Jews from around the country gathered in support of their Russian brethren? Want to listen to a broadcast of a Jewish religious service conducted by American GIs on liberated German soil?

Thanks to the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) new archival Web site (www.ajcarchives.org), you now can with only a few clicks of a computer mouse.

Spectator – A Night at the Hebraic Opera


Opera fans don’t mind watching theater unfold in a foreign language. So perhaps Molière fans will enjoy seeing his work performed in Hebrew.

That’s one of the hopes of Ori Dinur, director of “The Imaginary Invalid,” Molière’s 17th century comedy about a hypochondriac and his machinations, playing in Hebrew at the University of Judaism on Feb. 16.

“If you know Hebrew a little bit or you just love theater and you want to enjoy something different, it’s enough to have synopsis in your hand,” said Dinur, 40. The Israeli writer-director-teacher adapted Natan Alterman’s complex translation into a simpler Hebrew play so that even more basic Hebrew speakers can understand it.

The cast is comprised of 11 Jewish actors of different backgrounds, including Iran, Yemen, Russia, Poland, Morocco, Gibraltar and the United States. All but one of the actors — Jordan Werner — are Israeli. The 31-year-old Floridian, just a year in Los Angeles, can read Hebrew from his Jewish day school upbringing but barely understands it. For his part, as the lover Cleante, Werner memorized all his lines with coaching from the rest of the cast; he still betrays an American accent thick on the “rrrs.”

“As an actor, I really believe you get the feeling from a connection with someone. And I have to look into their eyes and feel what they’re saying so it’s really a lesson to me, how to react to only what they feel,” Werner said.

“The Imaginary Invalid” is Dinur’s first project for her new organization, The Jewish-Hebrew Stage. Together with Yoram Najum The Jewish-Hebrew Stage plans to bring Hebrew and Israeli theater to Los Angeles, as well as teach Hebrew through drama.

“I notice there is awkwardness between Israelis and the American Jewish community here, a little alienation,” said Dinur, who has been living in the Valley for the last five years. “I’d very much like to create an atmosphere of creation that has to do with Israelis and Jewish Americans. We share so many things, and we can learn so much from people who lived here for generations — and they can learn so much from us, too.”

“The Imaginary Invalid” plays Feb. 16, at 8:30 p.m., at the University of Judaism, 15600 Mullholland Drive, Bel Air. For tickets, call (818) 763-7379.

 

Q & A With Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz


Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz has written more than 60 books on Jewish spirituality, but he is most famous for his translation and commentary of the Babylonian Talmud, which made the complicated text accessible to millions of otherwise ignorant Jews.

Recently, Steinsaltz turned his attention to the classic work of Chabad Chasidism — “The Tanya,” first published in 1797 by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the founder of Chabad. In “Opening the Tanya: Discovering the Moral and Mystical Teachings of a Classic Work of Kabbalah” (Wiley, 2003) Steinsaltz translates and comments on the text and explicates the Tanya’s philosophical and spiritual messages.

Speaking to The Journal from Rome, Steinsaltz discussed why the Tanya was groundbreaking when it was published, and what he thinks of today’s obsession with kabbalah.

The Jewish Journal: The Tanya has been translated into English before — why the need for a commentary?

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz: It is a tough text in two ways. It is a very concise and precisely written book. Secondly, it is a very demanding book. So many people really don’t understand it. It is not one of those books that you read and you get all palpitating and emotional. It is a tough book, written in very classic language, very precise and very demanding,

So such a book needs lots of broadening in order to make it understandable and in order to get the ideas across.

JJ: So was the Tanya written for lay people or scholars?

AS: Among many other things, it is a matter of time. The lay people of 200 years ago and more, were possibly more scholarly than the scholars of today, and what they thought about a simple Jew in those times is something that you would think about rabbis in our times.

The general level of Jewish knowledge was much higher. Secondly, the book was written at the beginning for a very well-defined group. It was a group of people that were the followers of the author, so in that sense there was some kind of an understanding of what he is talking about.

When the book is read by somebody who is not of that circle, you have to begin a few miles after.

JJ: How and why was the Tanya revolutionary when it was published in 1797?

AS: In this book are many novel ideas, and possibly the most important and significant idea is … that the basic questions of morality are not coming down to a dichotomy. Morality has the notion of dichotomy: you are either good or evil, you’re either a saint or a sinner — it is an either/or way of looking at the world.

In this book comes the novel idea that there are some people for whom the conflict for good and evil is never solved completely, and there are people for whom the struggle will be permanent and eternal. These people are important people, not failures, and are fulfilling the divine plan, by their permanent struggling.

This book is a very comforting book, because it says as long as you are struggling — conquering your own evil desires — you are a hero, and it is frightening because it doesn’t say that you will ever come to the point where everything will be peaceful in your mind. All your life you are going to struggle.

The hero here is the anti-hero, because the hero here is not the conqueror, but the person who does the hard work. The glory is of a very different kind.

JJ: What do you think of Hollywood’s obsession with kabbalah? Do you think that the Kabbalah Centre has anything to offer?

AS: There is no spirit in it, no message in it. This is part of a general term toward the esoteric that seems to be à la mode for the time being, but it is not important on any real level. At best, it is shallow and unimportant. At worst, it may become slightly dangerous for Judaism and for the people who get involved in it. To get involved in any kind of pseudo-science or pseudo-religion is always slightly dangerous for the religion.

JJ: You have spent a lot of your life’s work making Jewish texts such as the Talmud accessible to Jews of our generation. Do you think that by and large Jews today are ignorant of their heritage?

AS: Yes — and in some ways that is the biggest danger because ignorance, unlike a level of commitment, is something that grows without any special effort. You don’t have to create ignorance, it grows on its own. Every year that passes, every generation means more ignorance. What I am trying to do is keep the roads open, the bridges functioning and the gates open.

JJ: You are also known as a speaker on medical ethics. Now we are moving into an era where questions of medical ethics come up all the time, with genetic engineering and stem cell research, etc. What limits can and should we place on these types of experiments?

AS: My basic advice to researchers is that one has to be extremely cautious, because it is much easier to open gates than to go on and close them.

We are now in an era where the possibilities of medical research are so big, that we have far more power than understanding. Creating anything is opening a door to an unknown hell, so we have to be extremely cautious.

Personally and theologically I am not against research or knowledge. I think that we as Jews are basically progressive. But progressing also means you are treading in something that is much worse than a minefield, so you should remember day and night — be cautious.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz will be speaking on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at Congregation B’nai David-Judea, 8906 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. For more information call, (310) 276-9269.

L’ Chaim Time Anytime


For all the deli eaters out there who feel frustrated that
the highfalutin French waters normally found at delis are simply not
idiosyncratic or funny enough to hold up to their pastrami and rye sandwiches,
former entertainment executive Jane Kaplan has come to the rescue with a water
that is sure to quench your thirst and tickle your brain. 

Her answer is L’Chaim. Each bottle of water comes with a
picture of one of life’s joyous moments — such as a wedding or the birth of a
baby — on the front, and on the side is a mini-Yiddish lesson complete with a
few words, their translation, a pronunciation key and suggested usage. So you
can simultaneously drink water and amuse yourself by trying to pronounce ungepatchget
(busy with detail).

“I just thought it would be fun to give the water link to a
culture, that included Yiddish words and expressions,” Kaplan said. “I thought
it would make the water more unique.”

Making water unique is probably as difficult a feat of
alchemy as any, but bottles of L’Chaim do have a certain degree of kitschy
whimsical fun attached to them, which is probably why L’Chaim is served at the
Friars Club, Nate ‘n Al’s and The Stage Deli. Although the business is small,
Kaplan said it is already turning a profit, and she is hoping that the water
will be picked up by a distributor who will be able to introduce many more
people to the L’Chaim experience.

L’Chaim (to life) is the blessing traditionally given as a
toast for special occasion, but Kaplan says that L’Chaim water — unlike other,
less amusing waters — serves as all-occasion water. What a refreshing thought
that is. — Gaby Wenig, Contributing Writer