Review: “Zealot” by Reza Aslan

Author Reza Aslan has been getting a lot of press, largely because of a Fox News “interview” displaying one of those moronic performances for which the network is known. (I won’t link to it. Google if you feel the need.)

I reviewed his new book for The Seattle Times:

A scholar who sets out to put the record straight on Jesus is an anomalous creature, eager (perhaps even driven) to share diligent research and original conclusions with the very people most likely to be rattled by his findings.

“Zealot” by Reza Aslan is a fascinating book, and no doubt will be chosen by many a well-meaning and hurried gift-giver who imagines a devout Christian recipient will be delighted. Be advised, dear reader, Sunday school this isn’t. Yet Aslan may come as close as one can to respecting those who revere Jesus as the peace-loving, turn-the-other-cheek, true son of God depicted in modern Christianity, even as he knocks down that image.

For the whole review, click here.



Joan Leegant’s novel: “Wherever You Go”

I had the good fortune to read an advance copy of Joan Leegant’s novel Wherever You Go, some months ago.  Leegant is a brainy, multi-degreed writer and teacher (Harvard undergrad; then law school and on to an MFA) who moves easily between Boston and Tel Aviv.

The book, published in 2010 by W.W. Norton, is getting good press–and among her stops, Leegant will appear in Portland in the spring. The review in The New York Times didn’t resonate for me on this one, but one paragraph had a good summary:

The book is an indictment of certain anemic corners of the modern American Jewish experience — spiritually sapped by bourgeois values, rote religious observance, Holocaust fatigue and jingoistic ethnic pride — and an exploration of the radicalism, religious and political, into which some searching people flee.

What wasn’t emphasized was the sympathy and fairness with which all those corners are portrayed, or Leegant’s gift for nailing down the nature of our imperfect introspection into matters religious and cultural. This slippery process has everything to do with the generally inept coverage of “Jewish issues” by mainstream media. When the interviewees are not articulate about their own Jewishness or view of Israel, the interviewers aren’t either.

I thought Steve Pollak, writing for Jewish Literary Review, did a good job on his review of Leegant’s book. And, for a better sense of Leegant and her writing process, click here for some video.

Stuyvesant would have liked Fox News.

Historian Jonathan Sarna wrote this in the The Jewish Daily Forward recently, referencing Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Amsterdam (now known as the Big Apple), who lived 1647-1664.

An excerpt:

In distancing himself from Peter Stuyvesant and the many others who have defined American religious liberty in narrowly restrictive terms, [Bloomburg]  reminds us that if today’s target is the mosque, yesterday’s was most assuredly the synagogue.

(Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and chief historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He’s the author of the excellent book, Judaism: A History. The book should be on every American history buff’s bookshelf.)

The shabbos timer. Who knew?

I’ve seen one other thing that resembles our oven’s infuriating control panel. It was in the cockpit of an an FB111A fighter jet that I sat in for a few minutes at Pease Air Force Base about 30 years ago.

After spending 20 minutes trying to sort out the way to set the ridiculous bake-and-hold feature on the timer, I finally gave in and climbed to the highest cupboard to retrieve the user’s manual for the thing.

Imagine my surprise on discovering the page headlined, “To Set the Sabbath Feature (for use on the Jewish Sabbath & Holidays).” I can’t wait to tell my rabbi.

Once upon a time, this service came in the form of a Shabbos goy, the non-Jewish person, often a kid, who’d show up on Fridays to turn appliances and lights on or off for a small payment, allowing the observant Jew to honor the “no work on Shabbat” behavior.

Well, okay. I guess it would be downright churlish of me to stay mad at the stove’s timer now.