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Rabbi Simcha Weinstein :
10 article(s)

Simcha Weinstein is an award-winning author, whose latest book is Shtick Shift: Jewish Humor in the 21st century (Barricade Books: 2008) is out now. He also chairs the Religious Affairs Committee at Pratt Institute in New York. Simcha serves as rabbi to Long Island College Hospital.
December 1st, 2010
Getting your spin on for Chanukah
Welcome to Extreme Sports: Jewish Style. Leave the suicidal snowboarding to the kids; as a rabbi, I’m more of a dreidel blackbelt. While it isn’t as transformative as the Kabbalah or as lucrative as a lottery win, I’m uniquely qualified to reveal to you another very powerful secret of the universe: the Upside Down Dreidel Spin. This is the bubbie of all spins, but in the spirit of Chanukah, remember: just as the oil in the temple burned for eight days, a great dreidel player must cultivate patience and perseverance in order to master this move. Despite what the song says, most dreidels aren’t “made out of clay.” That’s the good news, because when it comes to dreidels,…
September 24th, 2010
Chickens, kaparot and Gaga
Amongst the harder Jewish traditions to explain to Jews and non-Jews alike is kaparot. This symbolic “atonement” rite, conducted in preparation for Yom Kippur, involves waving a live chicken over one’s head three times while reciting the appropriate text. 

The chicken is then slaughtered in accordance with halachic procedure, and its equivalent monetary value is given to the poor — or, as is more popular today, the chicken itself is donated to a charitable cause. Before I hear cries of “fowl play,” bear in mind that during this ritual, the chicken is treated as humanely as possible. After all, Jewish law forbids causing unnecessary pain to any of God’s creations. 

In fact,…
June 11th, 2010
Two writers present two different sides
The People vs. Helen Thomas by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein The overnight implosion of her sixty-year career is a metaphor for the changing media landscape. Reporter Helen Thomas had been a fixture of the White House Press Corps since the Eisenhower administration, making the diminutive 89-year-old journalist a feminist pioneer. In recent years, however, Thomas was also derided by her colleagues as a hostile and distracting presence in the briefing room; “They think I’m intrusive and they think that I shouldn’t have my opinions and so forth,” she acknowledged in a 2008 interview. “Well, that’s their problem.” Fellow reporters resented the fact that Thomas was…
May 14th, 2010
Defending the right to offend us
On April 14, Comedy Central’s “South Park” celebrated its 200th episode of “take no prisoners” animated comedy by dressing up the Prophet Mohammed in a bear suit. (It’s a long story…) Unlike most of their show business rivals, when South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone say everyone is fair game for ridicule, they mean it. The religiously themed episode targeted Moses, Jesus, Mormon patriarch Joseph Smith and the Buddha. Then, parodying the disputed Islamic dictum that forbids the depiction of its holiest prophet, Stone and Parker showed Muhammad dressed in a bear costume. (Perhaps this was a nod to the British teacher working abroad who was sentenced…
April 23rd, 2010
Real life super heroes on the streets of NYC
They call me the “Comic Book Rabbi.” Given the chance to choose my own “superhero” nickname, I’d have picked something more dynamic, like “Super Jew” or simply “The Rabbi.” (Imagine The Thing, but with a kippah.) I come by my humble nickname honestly, though. My first book was called, Up Up and Oy Vey : How Jewish History, Culture and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero. Not surprisingly, I quickly came to be seen as an expert about the Jewish influence on American popular culture. Most of the time, I study these matters at arm’s length — literally, with a well-thumbed issue of the Fantastic Four circa 1964 in hand. However, I confess (and…
January 19th, 2010
This absurd but brutally honest animated comedy pushes the limits
A ventriloquist’s cartoonish dummy can vocalize insults that would earn the ventriloquist himself a punch in the nose. In much the same way, on “harmless looking” adult animated comedy shows humorists can get away with things they never could on a live-action program. As a rabbi with a lifelong passion for comedy, I often find myself torn between my love of a good (or even a bad!) joke, and reverence for my religious beliefs. The TV program that challenges my sensibilities the most is probably The Family Guy. A recent episode of the notorious and unfailingly offensive show — called “Family Goy” — skewered a host of clichés with even more blatant disregard for propriety…
September 17th, 2009
One Rabbi’s Rosh Hashanah reflection on Evolution
Have you heard the one about the time the monkey escaped from the zoo? The zookeeper looked high and low, and after a long search, he finally found the monkey sitting in the public library. His mixed-up looking monkey was holding a Bible in one (opposably-thumbed) hand, and Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in the other. “I’m confused,” the monkey told the zookeeper. “Am I my brother’s keeper – or my keeper’s brother?” You’ll forgive a rabbi for starting off with a little joke. (“Very little,” I can hear some of you saying.) It’s a hazard of the job. But for a rabbi like me, the subject of evolution is no joke. And as an Englishman now living in New York, I’m conscious of the…
August 13th, 2009
Inglorious Basterds and the new wave of "tough Jews" in movies
Have you ever wondered what life would be like if you hadn’t taken that job, or gone to that school, or moved to that neighborhood? In other words: what if you were living in an alternative reality? Alternative history is a genre with a long pedigree, especially in the realm of science fiction. After all, who can resist wondering, “What if…?” The epic saga of the Second World War, with its action, tragedy and larger than life heroes, has inspired many “alternative histories,” from the “City on the Edge of Forever” episode of the original Star Trek, to the 1992 novel-turned-miniseries Fatherland, which depicts a world in which the Nazis defeat the Allies. The…
July 10th, 2009
The Borat star once again pushes the limits of comedy (and comfort)
“What’s up?” you ask. For one thing, the new movie, Brüno. The swishy, semi-fascist fashionista Brüno is the imaginary Austrian TV personality created by the very real British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. In 2006, Baron Cohen broke box office records (and probably a couple of laws) with his movie Borat, about another foreign fictional reporter’s adventures in America. With their microphones in hand and their cameramen at their heels, both characters give the British comedian the unique ability, in our media-crazed age, to access people and places few “real” people could get close to. The results are hilarious or offensive–sometimes both–depending on your point of view. As with…
June 24th, 2009
Year One and the dawning of a new age in Jewish comedy
Sunday school just got a lot more interesting. The new movie Year One is an Old Testament version of the classic Monty Python comedy The Life of Brian. Now, for some people, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. Not everybody approved of the Pythons’ outrageous spoof of Biblical epics, which featured something to offend everyone. Yet, thus far Year One hasn’t generated anything like the controversy the latter did decades ago. Why not? The answer may lie in the fact that Year One‘s irreverence fits in well with the Jewish intellectual tradition of wrestling with higher authorities, and questioning moral and religious issues. This sensibility has been at the core of the Jewish identity…
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