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David Shasha
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Blog Entries by David Shasha

Monolingualism, Scriptural Translation and the Problem of Western Civilization

Posted October 7, 2010 | 18:37:00 (EST)

We all know that Christianity, Islam and Judaism have their sacred scriptures.

What is not often discussed is how scripture functions in each of the three faith traditions.

The "original" language of Christian scripture is Greek. I put quotation marks around the word "original" because it is highly unlikely that...

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Collateral Damage: Jewish Fratricide and the Demonizing of Córdoba

Posted September 23, 2010 | 15:41:00 (EST)

One of the by-products of the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" controversy is the battle over the status of Córdoba in Islamic Spain.

In recent weeks, we have heard a number of prominent right-wing Jews like Bernard Lewis, Hillel Halkin, Daniel Pipes, and David Horowitz express their outrage over the...

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Killing Off a Simple Jewish Soul in 'A Serious Man'

Posted September 16, 2010 | 16:07:00 (EST)

For many centuries, sensitive readers of the Hebrew Bible have taken their interpretive skills and tried to make sense of perhaps the most perplexing of all the Biblical books, the Book of Job. Job is a righteous man who becomes subject to a perverse wager between God and Satan which...

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The Alienated Jew: Elijah on the Run from Ahab

Posted September 8, 2010 | 21:45:00 (EST)

Contemporary readers of the Hebrew Bible are bound to be disoriented when encountering the actual tales of the Prophets. After all, religion today is so often bound up in triumphal national hubris, and the stories of the classical Hebrew Prophets are often filled with anxiety and failure.

A case in...

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'Ground Zero Mosque' Controversy and the Pitfalls of the Interfaith Dialogue Movement

Posted August 23, 2010 | 08:34:25 (EST)

Some years ago I was sitting in the office of Columbia University professor Pierre Cachia. The professor asked me if I knew how Princeton professor S.D. Goitein was doing. It appeared that Cachia and Goitein had been in contact with one another over the years, but had not spoken to...

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Charlton Heston's 'El Cid': A Hero for Our Time

Posted August 15, 2010 | 09:44:51 (EST)

Our view of things is often colored by what we know about the past.

Each year at Easter time, American commercial television airs the director Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 version of "The Ten Commandments" featuring Charlton Heston as Moses. It is well-known that DeMille, one of Hollywood's pioneers, was a...

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Two Models of Jewish Tradition: Vertical-Hierarchical and Horizontal Pluralist

Posted August 6, 2010 | 09:09:11 (EST)

Jewish tradition is characterized by the different ways in which it reads its sacred scriptures. In the hermeneutical traditions that emerge in Jewish history, two dominant strains may be identified.

The first strain, which my teacher Jose Faur has called the horizontal, is predicated upon an interpretative modality that stands...

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Natalie Merchant and American Radical Traditionalism

Posted July 27, 2010 | 09:46:35 (EST)

Fidelity to tradition is normally marked by a strict formal reverence. The traditionalist approaches the Archive as something sacrosanct. The Archive is to be approached with caution and fear rather than openness and creativity.

The radical, on the other hand, makes a conscious choice to jettison tradition and pretend as...

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Dangerous Mystic Motifs in Judaism

Posted July 7, 2010 | 09:58:34 (EST)

The organized movement to attack the writings of Moses Maimonides, perhaps the most significant post-Talmudic sage over the course of Jewish history, originated in Ashkenazi rabbinic circles and was executed by a ban promulgated by their disciples in Christian Spain. It is intimately connected to the triumph of mystical occultism...

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Israel's Sephardic-Ashkenazi Rift: The Shas Paradox

Posted July 1, 2010 | 12:02:00 (EST)

I yearn for inhabitants, not dwellings, for the people of good grace, not living chambers. And for people of understanding, not bricks, for those who come, not entry ways. My Time has purged me from among them and appointed me to live in a desert of wild beasts; Beasts, though...
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Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Ultra-Orthodox Racism in Israel

Posted June 17, 2010 | 11:28:38 (EST)

The Israeli media this week is all abuzz about the Ultra-Orthodox community protesting the sentencing of parents who refused a court order to integrate a religious school where Sephardi and Ashkenazi students were separated.

The situation in the West Bank settlement of Immanuel exposes the deeply complex ethno-religious relations between...

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Moses Montefiore: The Most Important Jew of the 19th Century

Posted June 15, 2010 | 21:10:00 (EST)

For those with a keen memory, the name of Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) will conjure up visions of hospitals all over the world and of tourist sites in Israel. Though his biography is unknown today, his name remains a part of our cultural landscape. As has been the case with much...

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Losing the Jewish Soul

Posted June 7, 2010 | 09:57:05 (EST)

God's Torah is perfect,
Renewing life.
The decrees of the Lord are enduring,
Making the simple wise.

Psalms 19:8

A mere 48 hours before the now-infamous Israeli commando raid on the Gaza flotilla which has led to the deaths of nine individuals, religious Jews were sitting in...

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The Voice of Um Kulthum: A Place to Start the Dialogue

Posted June 2, 2010 | 18:44:00 (EST)

Recently I was shopping at my favorite record store, Academy CDs in Manhattan, and purchased two CDs: one by the great African-American singer and activist Billie Holiday, the other by the legendary Egyptian singer Um Kulthum.

While many Americans will immediately recognize Billie Holiday, whose harrowing "Strange Fruit" described the...

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Can the Past Be More Progressive Than the Present?

Posted May 26, 2010 | 13:23:00 (EST)

In my work I am often criticized for my reliance on an older value system and my disdain for the morality of the present moment. This point was reinforced to me while watching a now-obscure silent movie from 1925 called The Vanishing American.

Thanks to the brilliant work being done...

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Finding Jewish Feminism in a Handbook from Victorian England

Posted May 13, 2010 | 12:47:00 (EST)

The modern history of British Jewry is linked to the efforts of the great Sephardic Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657), who came to London from his home in Amsterdam in 1655 to petition Oliver Cromwell for the Jews to be permitted to return to England since they were banished in...

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In Praise of Clarence Brown and His American Humanism

Posted May 7, 2010 | 02:17:00 (EST)

In honor of Mr. Mickey Rooney, Hollywood legend, who has enriched us with his portrayal of Homer Macauley in The Human Comedy.

We rarely if ever see the name of MGM veteran Clarence Brown featured on lists of great Hollywood directors. His best-known movies are classic family fare like National...

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What Israel Means to Me

Posted April 28, 2010 | 16:16:00 (EST)

Over the years there has been a constant spate of books containing the testimonials of American Jews proclaiming their teary-eyed and deeply emotional love of the state of Israel. These books are part of the larger program of Israeli Hasbarah, the form of advocacy that seeks to assert the total...

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Understanding the Sephardi-Ashkenazi Split

Posted April 20, 2010 | 17:00:00 (EST)

The third rail of Jewish politics is not the Palestine question, or even the issue of secular against religious that has so divided Jews in Israel and the Disapora. No, buried deep inside the contentious issue of Jewish identity is the primordial split between European Jews, Ashkenazim, and Jews of...

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Understanding Midrash

Posted April 13, 2010 | 12:00:19 (EST)

While the Halakhah, Jewish civil and ritual law, is the stern discipline of Jewish life, the Aggadic Midrash is its fountain of creativity. The word Midrash comes from the Hebrew root D-R-SH meaning "to inquire" or "to seek." The word Aggadah comes from the Hebrew root N-G-D meaning "to tell"...

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