Arts & Culture


A Little off the Top: The Controversy About Circumcision

By Jay Michaelson

Marked in Your Flesh: Circumcision From Ancient Judea to Modern America By Leonard B. Glick Oxford University Press, 384 pages, $30. * * *To put it mildly, circumcision is a delicate subject. It’s almost impossible to discuss the matter without cracking a joke, probably because the ritual makes at least 49% of the population wince and crossRead More


Individuality, Indelibly Expressed

By Ariella Cohen

The Tattoo Artist By Jill Ciment Pantheon Books, 224 pages, $23. * * *The earliest recorded use of the word “tattoo” is found in descriptions of a Tahitian ritual, written by British explorer Captain James Cook during a 1769 voyage through the South Pacific. Imported into English vocabularies to describe the indelible body artRead More


Who Is That Bearded Man?

By Gal Beckerman

Have Israelis forgotten Herzl? Has the man been eclipsed by his famous black beard? Become a kind of George Washington, known but not appreciated? Little more than a street name? Just a mysterious, scowling figure whose image, plastered to the side of a water tank, young sabras pass on their way to the beach at Herzliya?A groupRead More


Dating Tefillin

‘Behold,” this week’s portion, Re’eh, begins, “I set before you this day a blessing and a curse.…” Not “or” but “and,” and we, of course, get to choose. It is the doubleness of the portion that speaks to me, for most of what we read in Re’eh is an iteration of the laws of kashrut and charity, and the regulations aboutRead More


A New Book Examines How Yiddish Became the Language of Aggravation

By Allan Nadler

Born To Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods By Michael Wex St. Martin’s Press, 320 pages, $24.95. * * *If you asked me whether I enjoyed Michael Wex’s hilarious and learned book, “Born To Kvetch,” I would find myself in an impossible quandary. To admit the rare pleasure I derived from reading it would beRead More


The Wacky Heart of Eastern Europe

By Saul Austerlitz

Mention Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel, “Everything Is Illuminated,” to readers, and the first character that springs to mind (likely with a smile) is Alex, the heavily accented master of the malapropism who serves as the protagonist’s guide through the wilds of Ukraine. Alex personifies the wacky heart and soulRead More


The Middle East, Spanish Style

By Ilan Stavans

‘Only Human” (“Seres Queridos”) is the first Spanish film to address the Middle Eastern conflict directly. Set in Madrid and designed as a comedy of errors, it is about the Dalinsky family, a neurotic Jewish clan made up of Gloria, a yiddishe mame; her absentee husband, Ernesto, and three adult children: brainy Leni; Tania, aRead More


The Sting of Divine Wrath

By Peretz Rodman

Swelling over large areas of the body, abnormal breathing, tightness in the throat or chest, dizziness, hives, fainting, nausea or vomiting, persistent pain or swelling — these are among the symptoms of a reaction to the sting of a wasp or hornet. “Seek immediate attention,” medical authorities warn us, “if you are stung in the mouthRead More


Asch’s Diamonds

By Alyssa Quint

Maybe it’s the fallacy that rewarding literature must be difficult that explains why no scholar has lingered in the literary universe of Polish-born American Yiddish novelist and playwright Sholem Asch (1880-1957). Asch, who published alongside Isaac Bashevis Singer and other luminaries in the Yiddish Forward, was considered a masterRead More


Crossing Into the Director’s Chair

By Michael Bronski

Like Leo Spivak, the character he plays in “King of the Corner,” Peter Riegert is on the road, selling his wares. But unlike the troubled Spivak, who is trapped in a job he increasingly dislikes — running focus groups for home-safety systems — as he undergoes a massive midlife crisis, Riegert is traveling across the country to dozensRead More


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