Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Last night I went with "S" to see Ushpizin. It was a pretty good Israeli movie. I actually really enjoyed it. It was about an Israeli couple who apparently had gone from being secular to being Bratzlover chassidim a bunch of years prior. They now lived in Jerusalem's Geulah/Meah Shearim neighborhood among many other hassidic Jews.

In dire financial straits just before the holiday of Succot, a number of things end up working out for them (and then they don't, and then they do again) to challenge and test their faith.

The movie had a rather quick ending, which was slightly disapointing. We do not see how things get resolved, only that they do. It is satisfying up until the very end.

Overall though I had a good time and you should see this movie.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Review of Lispector's The Hour of the Star

Clarise Lispector's novel The Hour of the Star is odd, and I didn't like it. To illustrate why, I am writing the review of the book in the style of the short book. If you can tolerate my review, then perhaps you will be able to tolerate this for 80-something pages. And just so you are not tempted to ever buy it and read it, I give away the ending: She dies. The end.

Imagine (bang!) that there is a book. Before I tell you about the book I must tell you about the author. Why am I writing this review? Why indeed does anyone write at all? After all, words are like snow that fall over houses. I am in love with the author who will never know me. She will never know me because she is dead. (bang!) There, I said it. I had hoped there was a more dramatic way of saying it, but I write this at a time of innocence where author and writer fuse in melancholy ways. To get back to the book, it is about a narrator talking about a girl. The narrator is someone who you don't find out much about. I want to tell you about what gets narrated, but is there time? The girl in the book, did I mention her name? No matter. The girl likes Coca Cola (bang! some real information) , though I don't recall her drinking any in the novel. Novels are like time, as they are both quantified. I write that because there is no other way to tell you. Did I mention that nothing happens, but she dies? (Bang!) Endings are pitiful, like characters in her books.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Review of A. E. Taylor's Aristotle

A. E. Taylor wrote Aristotle in 1919, so you expect the book to be a bit antiquated, and it is. But that is only the beginning of this book’s problems. This book is what you get when you ask a Platonist to write a book about Aristotle. The author obviously has little sympathy for Aristotle or Aristotelian thought.

It is weird seeing Aristotle via the lens of a Platonist with too much respect for the Midieval interpreters of Aristotle. He actually goes so far as to call Aristotle a Platinist.(30-31) This reminds me of some students (and friends) of mine who seem to make it their life's work to show that everyone agrees with them, so Maiminides becomes a mystic, or Plato is a Darwinist, or the Vilna Gaon was a Hassid. I am all for non-conformist beliefs, but this is going a bit far.

There are a whole bunch of places where he seems to get Aristotle wrong. When he talks about Aristotle's theory of knowledge for one.

On page 33 he seems to confuse truth with certainty in mathematics. He rarely seems to grasp what Aristotle meant by what Science is really about, or what sort of things are knowable (ie, first principles). Neither does Taylor get self-evidence or dialectic as Aristotle had it, and he makes the "active Intellect" a spiritual thing, following some of the later commentators, whereas in Aristotle himself it is not all that clear.

When it comes to Aristotle there are many things that are worth appreciating. Aristotle had a methodology not all that different from the one we have today. At least its essence is similar. Taylor dismisses all of this because Aristotle got the answers wrong. (And of course Plato had them all right!) Thus Aristotle was a bad scientist.

Taylor endlessly nitpicks on the details that Aristotle misses, and ignores the Aristotelian methodology. We thus do not get out of the book what civilization has gotten out of Aristotle. But this is the main point of the book, to give the lay reader an appreciation for what Aristotle gave to civilization. So the book fails at its own goal.

This is meant to be a popular book, as such it has no references, to let you look at Aristotle for your self. This is annoying to someone who has a deeper interest in this. Don't bother with this book unless you are not very bright and have a simplistic nieve dislike of things Aristotelian. Robinson's book is infinitely better.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The four cups

After I broke all my glasses one-by-one, I went to the Fishs Eddy store around the corner to get some new ones. I was pretty disappointed that they had every kind of glass you can imagine except the one I wanted (which I bought from them 6 months ago).

But what I did find was the latest in Judeo-kitch - Rabbi Glasses. So naturally I bought the set. But I was wondering why they picked the four rabbis they picked: (1) Azriel Hildenseimer, author of a fascinating bunch of responsa I once read, and forerunner of Modern Orthodox Judaism (more here), whose name incidentally, they misspelled. (2) Yitzchak Spector (whose name they also sort-of misspelled) a pioneer, and one of the more important early members of the Hovevei Zion movement and an indefatigable advocate for Jewish causes (a man they tell many stories about, more here). (3) S.Y. Rabinovitch, whom I heard of, but for the life of me, can't remember where or why, and finally (4) Elizer Goldberg (whose name I am pretty sure they misspelled too) who I never even heard of except in that generic sense that every Jew must know an Eliezer Goldberg.

If anyone has a theory on why they picked those four, out of all the rabbis they could have picked and still looked just as kitch-y let me know, I'm really curious.

I hope I don’t break these glasses.

Friday, November 11, 2005

People of the Book . . . Bans


In the past few years, first it was One people, Two worlds, then it was The Making of a Gadol [sic] (now available in an improved and sanitized edition), then came the Slifkin affair. Fortunately there is some good clear headed writing on this, like the new piece by R. H. and M.B.

A high point of R.H. and M.B.'s analysis is that book bans, like witch trials and McCarthyism takes loosers who never lived up to their parent's reputation or they were otherwise disenfranchised, or low on their local totem pole, and makes them the vanguards. They get power and fame where they had none before.

(By the way, it seems easy to figure out who these people are, but it seems like they don't want to be outed, so do them that favor.)

Now the latest book ban comes from Israel (like the slifkin one), but likely won't impact us much because the book is only in Hebrew. It is published by I. Shilat (who did some good stuff on the Rambam). This is a book by Gedaliah Nadel (brief bio here). The stuff looks really fascinating, though I only got copies of about 40 or so pages.

One thing that Jewish history teaches us is that generally bans are issued on intersting people: Eibshutz, Spinoza, Maimonides, Luzzatto. . . and the banners are never vindicated by history.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Who surrenders when two French groups get in to a fight?

As I understand it, the riots in france have been going on as long as they have because France has never had a situation where they had to surrender to France before. While there is ample recent precedent for France surrendering to almost everyone else, France has not had to surrender and give in to itself lately.

Oh, wait. . . there was the French Revolution.

I guess we know what is in store for Fance now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Review of Israel Knohl's The Messiah Before Jesus

Israel Knohl's The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls is an important book in Bible scholarship. It is short, and a rather easy read, but extremely interesting. In the book he advances the following thesis: Jesus was a messiah who was following the pattern of an earlier messiah.

It was earlier believed that although there were many messiahs of Jesus' period, but many things about Jesus like the suffering servant" and the "son of man" attitude were later inventions of the church, and not authentically from Jesus. Knohl believes that they were actually Jesus' attitude. He claims that there was an earlier messiah, just before Jesus lived who followed the same pattern. This was a messiah who is reflected in the Dead Sea scrolls. He then conjectures that this messiah was in fact a certain Menachem who was mentioned in the Talmud as the other leader with Hillel in the time of the "pairs" of leaders in Tannaitic times. His evidence for this is impressive and well thought out.

It was an intersting read.