web analytics
November 25, 2015 / 13 Kislev, 5776
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Ruth’

Feminist Trends At The Jewish Art Salon

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Tzelem: Likeness and Presence in Jewish Art

April 26 – May 17, 2009

Stanton Street Synagogue

180 Stanton Street, New York




It was a little surreal sitting in the sanctuary of the Stanton Street Synagogue at the opening of the Jewish Art Salon exhibit. It was hard not to notice the sharp contrast between the synagogue’s tragically decaying collection of Zodiac signs painted on its walls and its dusty interior – some parts of which might still bear original grime dating back to 1913 when the synagogue was built – and the vibrant new art created by the 29 artists affiliated with the salon (including both the authors of this column). And then it turned out that two of the speakers, Archie Rand and Richard McBee, shared a common Jewish art experience: each told the assembled crowd of nearly 75 that he had received a ruling directly from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, zt”l (1895 – 1986) encouraging him to paint without fear of violating the Second Commandment.


I did not speak up, but my father received smicha, rabbinic ordination, from Rav Moshe, and when I read one of the great rabbi’s decisions prohibiting elementary school instructors from teaching their students to draw lest they learn to illustrate the celestial bodies and come to violate the Second Commandment, I asked my father how he could have allowed me to draw. On a trip to New York, he approached Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Rav Moshe’s son, at his Lower East Side yeshiva, Mesivta Tiferes Yerushalayim, and was told that it was permissible for me to draw. Even representational art was allowed, as my father presented Rav Dovid with one of my pen-and-ink drawings of Rav Moshe, which and as far as my father knows, Rav Dovid has kept. 


It takes a group of people obsessed with Jewish art congregating in an illuminated synagogue to tease out these sorts of connections. But what, if anything, can the Jewish Art Salon reveal about emerging trends in Jewish art?


Identifying trends in exhibits is a difficult endeavor. Reporters often tout movements of more painting or more sculpture at Whitney Biennials, but in my experience, the shows tend to be similarly organized as parking lots of works that are disjointed rather than unified. Trends have a way of popping up just about anywhere when one insists on looking for them. Yet, it seems significant to me that not only were a majority of the artists exhibiting in the salon women, but many of the works in the show could be said to have feminist content or themes.




Archie Rand. “Ruth (For Kitaj).” Acrylic on fabric. 2002



Archie Rand’s Ruth, (For Kitaj) references the late Jewish painter R. B. Kitaj (1932 – 2007). Rand represents Ruth the Moabitess as a red-headed woman wearing an ochre blazer and purple pants, and carrying a purple backpack (presumably for gathering Boaz’s grain). The blond-haired Boaz, clad in blue jeans and a lime-green blazer, and bearing an orange backpack (he is also harvesting his grain), approaches from behind, and speaks (via cartoon bubble) in Hebrew from Ruth 2: 8, “Have you heard, my daughter? Do not go to gather (grain) in any other field.” Never mind that Rand situates the scene in a field that seems better equipped as the set design of a horror film than for growing grain. Despite modernizing the costumes and the architecture of the houses in the background, Rand has remained true to the encounter between the two characters.  A literal reading of the text of the Book of Ruth may leave readers with a picture of an older man protecting and ultimately marrying a much younger widow.  However, Rand has empowered Ruth by representing Boaz as a younger man who stands off to the side, while Ruth occupies a prominent position in the middle of the canvas, and wears an expression on her face that surely conveys a mixture of pain and alienation on the one hand (she lost a husband and a people), and anticipation on the other (of her newfound faith and people, and husband-to-be).



Deborah Rosenthal. “Either/Or: Autumn Adam and Eve.” Oil on linen. 41″x31″. 1997-9



            Deborah Rosenthal’s Adam and Eve employs a different sort of strategy. Where Rand makes Ruth prominent by placing her in a central position – after all she is the  heroine of her own story, evidenced by the book bearing her name – Rosenthal’s painting blurs the boundary of where Adam ends and Eve begins, and vice versa. Somewhere in the composition the Tree of Knowledge also stands, and it may have sprouted wings worthy of a demon, or perhaps Satan disguised as a serpent. Rosenthal’s colors and forms are so visually seductive that it is easy to fall in love with the painting’s movement and to temporarily lose sight of the literal content of the work. Stanley Fish argued in his book Surprised by Sin that readers of John Milton’s Paradise Lost underwent a parallel journey to Adam’s. Just as Adam was tempted, sinned, and then sought forgiveness, readers are lured to Satan’s charismatic character; they then realize their “sin” and seek clemency. The same process might be said of Rosenthal’s Adam and Eve. Just as Adam and Eve confused the proper boundaries in the Garden of Eden, surely with a little help from their serpentine friend, viewers experience a bit of the taste of the sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge.



John Bradford. “Judah and Tamar.” Oil on canvas. 24″x36″. 2008



If Rosenthal can be said to blur the boundaries between figures, John Bradford’s Judah and Tamar turns the figures into geometric boundaries. This painting, which looks like a Piet Mondrian grid with an orange, green, and blue palette, abstracts the figures of Jacob’s fourth son and his daughter-in-law to the point that though visible, they blend into the grid. Though Tamar dresses in red (perhaps because she is impersonating a prostitute) and seems to summon Judah, the characters seem frozen in space, as immobile and monumental as the colored rectangles that surround them.



 Ita Aber. “Evolution 1.” Paint, appliqu?, quilt, and embroidery, 22″x24″. 2009



Ita Aber’s Evolution 1 at first looks like a series of circumscribed hearts – the sorts to grace notes passed between grade school girls in class, or pasted in instant messenger chat windows. Yet the work represents not a rosy, melodramatic worldview, but the horns (karnayim, the same word that gets mistranslated elsewhere leading to Moses being depicted with horns) that were attached to the corners of the altar in the Tabernacle. Aber’s red then is not a stand in for love, but the blood of the sacrifices. “The use of red refers to the sacrificial blood that was daily splashed on these horns, thereby effecting the atonement for sin,” according to the exhibit catalog by Richard McBee and Joel Silverstein. “Her work stands in dramatic tension with the Christian and popular image of a valentine.”


It may be a misuse of mathematic induction to argue for an emerging feminist trend in Jewish art at large, just due to representations of Ruth, Eve, and Tamar, and media generally identified with traditional women crafts being used to show the altar’s horns. On the other hand, though, as I have often pointed out to peers in my master’s courses in art history, despite the fact that many people point to religious communities as the epitome of conservatism and repression of progressive movements like feminism, it seems like religious artists and exhibits can usually be counted upon to be even more diverse and progressive than even the most activist secular galleries and museums.


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Out Of The Eyes Of Grandchildren

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

(*Names changed, where requested)


Normalcy is relative. It is what you become used to. The more frequently something occurs, the more we see it as normal. This is especially true for young children. Children are generally open, honest and curious. They see most things as normal, unless we tell them it isn’t normal. They believe what we tell them. They accept all sorts of unusual things as “how they are” and just deal with them.


The grandchildren of the disabled and chronically ill often see the illness and even the deaths of their grandparents as just part of their daily life. They accept that the feeding tube will help Zaidy get better and so it is a good thing. They are not disturbed by it, as we are. They are comforted that Bubby is now in heaven and happy. It is neither positive nor negative, it just “is.”


And so, coping for them is often easier then it is for their parents who have memories of healthy partners and parents and have lived through the “change to illness,” the new “normal.” Many well spouses have shared with me the upbeat and comforting comments made by their young grandchildren in times of terrible adversity. These comments have given them strength.



Chana’s story:


“There was a message left on my answering machine the week before Rosh Hashanah. It was from my eldest grandchild. He is five. The message said, ‘Hi Bubby. It’s (he proceeded to say all his four names, including his last name).’ I guess he wanted to make sure I really knew who was calling and to distinguish himself from all the other five year olds leaving messages on my machine. The message continued. ‘I have something very important to talk to you about. So please call me back when you get home, right away.’


“When I returned his call, he began to tell me very seriously, what was so important. ‘Bubby, we’re going apple picking from school. I’m going to pick the biggest, most giganticist apple for you and Saba (grandpa). I want you to cut it in half. Half is yours. The other halfΒΌcut into tiny, teeny pieces and then mush up the pieces and put them into Saba’s tube (feeding tube). OK?’ And so, what was normal to him was my greatest gift that Rosh Hashanah.”


Aaron’s father was in long-term care. There were often extended periods of time when he was confined to bed. As time passed, Aaron’s father began to deteriorate. It seemed as though each time they visited there was another new piece of apparatus attached to his body in order to assist him. Aaron was concerned about taking his two young children up to see his Dad as he deteriorated. When he finally did, he prepared them for what they would see. He was surprised at the easy way they dealt with the visits.


The older child, seven, and his grandfather, played a game, to see if he could guess what piece of equipment was newly attached to his body and which one had been removed. Then he tried to figure out how it worked. Then both children would cuddle up with Aaron’s Dad to watch kids’ shows on TV. Just like they always did, something very special as Aaron had chosen not to have a TV at home.


When Moshe’s grandchildren learned about Succos in preschool they examined a lulav and esrog. They looked at the leaves and the spine of the lulav and smelled the sweetness of the esrog and saw how fragile its “pitom” could be. The teacher had one lulav that was broken at the spine. “That’s just like my Zaidy.” Announced Menachem, Moshe’s grandson, to the teacher. “His spine doesn’t work well either so he has to sit in a wheelchair. When Moshiach comes, he’ll be able to walk.”


Ruth’s father was in intensive care. She agonized about whether or not to take her children up to see him. Her children were only four and two. Ruth’s father had been in the hospital for quite a while and the children were used to seeing him there. But this was intensive care, not just the hospital.


Ruth discussed the possibility with her father’s nurse of having the children visit.  The nurse warned her that the children might get upset seeing her father with all the tubes and machines attached to him. “But that is how they have always seen him in their short lives. Maybe not as many tubes, but he has always had some tube or another and has been in the hospital for so long.”


Ruth decided to take her children into the ICU for a short visit. The four-year-old wanted to know how each tube worked, what it did and how it helped. The younger child was just disappointed because there was no TV over the bed for her to watch.


A thunderstorm had begun, just as Miriam told her two children that their Saba had passed away. The oldest, five, got very excited. “Listen to the thunder,” he said. “The Malachim (angels) are playing the drums to welcome Saba to Shamayim!” Suddenly there was an extremely loud burst of thunder. The five-year-old began to dance around the room. “He just got there! Did you here that? He’s in Shamayim!”


As Miriam began to cry, her three-year-old asked her why she was crying. “Because I can’t kiss Saba anymore,” was the first explanation she could think of. “Sure you can Ema, look'” and her daughter put a kiss in her hand and threw it towards the sky. “See. That’s how you do it.”


You can contact me at annnovick@hotmail.com

Poussin’s Bible

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Poussin and Nature

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street, New York; (212) 535 7710

Sunday, Tues-Thurs. 9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.

Suggested Admission: Adults $20, seniors and students $15, children under 12 free.

Until May 11, 2008



Near the end of his long and productive life, Nicolas Poussin was commissioned in 1660 to paint an unusual series of paintings called the “Four Seasons”. They very quickly became some of the best known and beloved of his artworks; utilizing four scenes from the Hebrew Bible to depict the Ages of Man as the seasons of the year; Adam and Eve as Spring; Boaz and Ruth as Summer; The Spies with the Grapes of the Promised Land as Autumn and finally, The Flood as Winter.


Two of these seminal works are currently on view with close to 60 other paintings and drawings in the exhibition “Poussin and Nature” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. One of the questions they pose is why should this French master of the classical, i.e pagan, tradition turn to the Hebrew Bible as the definitive coda of his life’s work?


Poussin (1594 – 1665) is considered one of the most influential artists of the 17th century.

He created a visual veneration of Classical (Greek and Roman) forms and subjects that was respected, imitated and copied for close to 200 years. Born in Normandy, France, he learned the craft of painting in Paris and spent the last 40 years of his life in Rome, the physical heart of the Classical tradition and architecture.


His artistic output of approximately 205 paintings is divided almost equally between Christian and Mythological/Classical History themes; with the remaining 20 percent devoted to Biblical subjects. Early masterpieces in the biblical genre include the Worship of the Golden Calf (ca.1635) and Crossing the Red Sea (ca.1635) while more mature works include Moses Striking the Rock (1649) and the Judgment of Solomon (1649) and Esther before Ahasuerus (1660).


Almost all of these explicate the most dramatic and exciting aspects of the particular biblical narrative. These works represent the biblical narrative at its most popular; they are idealized, vivid, pious and cinematic. While these examples of Poussin’s biblical work surely deserve serious analysis, the late series of the Four Seasons upsets much of what we think we know about this pivotal artist.


Spring: Adam and Eve depicts the moment Eve offers the fruit of the forbidden tree to Adam. We see the primeval couple in the center of the painting surrounded by a lush garden. He sits in anticipation while Eve kneels next to him gesturing upward to the sky and to a luscious tree, a few yards away laden with fruit. Behind her is another fruit-laden tree, ominously meant to represent the tree of Life. Pointedly there is no snake depicted to tempt her, only the uniquely human quality of free will. The scale of the image makes one imagine that Adam and Eve are in an enormously wild garden, embraced by nature, and quite alone. Far above this scene in the clouds is a white robed figure fleeing from the action in the foreground. This figure is none other than Poussin’s representation of G-d, removing Himself from the scene of the first sin.



Winter (The Flood); Detail of Man Praying (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.



In many of Poussin’s mature paintings, the landscape takes on a pivotal role along with the textual narrative. Here, the lush foliage and outcroppings are divided into three decisive groups created by the distant white peaks on the right and the negative gap in the foliage on the left. This highly structured composition locks the first man and woman into a kind of natural balance that bespeaks the very logic of creation. And yet, because of mankind’s first conscious choice, emphasized by Eve’s heavenward gesture, G-d flees from the consequences of His creation. It would seem that from Poussin’s point of view, Creation itself is a disappointment to the Creator.


In a dramatic contrast, Summer, as represented by Boaz and Ruth, presents a beacon of well-reasoned hope. Here, the landscape is teeming with figures all working towards a successful harvest; cutting down the fully-grown wheat, gathering and binding the harvest and providing for the constant needs of the workers. No less than 14 figures are in the fields busy with the needs of sustenance deeply associated with the season of warmth and fertility.

The figures are divided into two groups; one including Boaz and the supplicant Ruth, seem to represent the peaceful efforts of individuals working harmoniously together. Opposite the diagonal empty space that moves from the foreground into the middle ground, seven others can be seen as potentially aggressive figures. The worker in the foreground with the spear is admonished directly by Boaz to provide a safe environment for the stranger Ruth.

Deeper into the field, five horses are being whipped as they are threshing the harvested wheat. Amidst three male workers a woman looks back at the viewer with considerable concern as to her safety. The dynamic and complex relationship between man and woman and nature could not be more dramatically expressed.



Summer: Ruth and Boaz; (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.



In Summer, the hope for a successful relationship between the Jewish people and the natural world, so necessary to build a fruitful future, is ardently expressed. The red cloak spread out on the ground along the left side could easily allude to the cloak that Boaz eventually spreads over Ruth in the act that symbolizes their future marriage that leads to the progenitor of King David.


That hope is effectively dashed in the painting of Autumn, the fateful setting for the Spies with the Grapes from the Promised Land. Here, the figures can be said to dominate the land, the two spies forcefully stride across the foreground while a woman peacefully makes her way towards the stream where we can glimpse a man fishing.



Autumn (The Spies with the Grapes from the Promised Land); (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.



All is deceptively serene as a woman is seen perched high on a ladder directly behind the spies, harvesting fruit; ironically harvesting the faithlessness of the spies’ fears of the terrors of the unknown land of Israel and Jewish destiny. This woman is plucking fruit from a tree uncomfortably similar to the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, seen in the first painting. Here, the landscape is rocky and a bit wild, with a town in the distance perched above formidable cliffs, in subtle contrast to the more bucolic and civilized landscape of the fields of Boaz.


What these late paintings show is that Poussin was a uniquely unusual artist not only in his abundance of skill but also in his independence of mind and subject matter. He intimates great swaths of biblical narrative and commentary with remarkable economy. Unlike much of his earlier work − mythological, Christian and biblical included − Poussin’s late works open up personal insights and meanings of these biblical texts without bombast and didactic stridency. This is especially poignant for this 70-year-old artist whose sobering view of human history reaches its climax in the last painting of the series and possibly one of the very last he painted.


Winter (The Flood) presents a deeply pessimistic view of the tragedy of human fate. While earlier artists − most notably Michelangelo on the Sistine Chapel − have seen the destruction of the entire world in the time of Noah as tragic; nevertheless, the struggles of mankind to survive are depicted as heroic and positive. Poussin has no such consolation for us in this painting. Each and every effort of his figures is immediately seen as hopeless and futile. The man in the foreground grasping the horns of a terrified animal knows there is no safe shore for the beast to emerge. Similarly, the woman trying to stay afloat with a rectangle of wood is doomed as the wood becomes waterlogged and sinks.



Winter (The Flood); (1660). Oil on canvas by Nicolas Poussin – Musee du Louvre, Paris, Departement des Peintures.



Every effort to utilize the boat resting near the craggy rocks is hopeless; a man desperately attempts to climb the slippery side, another fruitlessly attempts to push off, even as a woman reaches up with her child to save it, just out of reach from the man above. Even the man trapped in the boat about to be swamped at the falls, prays to a heaven that we know will ignore him. The only answer is a flash of lightning that portends even more rain. Every figure in this painting is seen literally reaching for something that is clearly unattainable.

It would seem that a lifetime overwhelmingly devoted to the exploration and revival of the Classical world could not yield sustenance to face the next. Nonetheless, the complexity and depth of the biblical in this unusual narrative form (the Four Seasons) could at least yield an adequate expression of a grand master’s despair in his final years.


Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Please feel free to contact him with comments at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com

Just One Pitch

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

      Adam Greenberg holds a major league record.


      He was hit in the head by the very first and only pitch he ever saw – or almost saw – in his big league career.


      Only one other player was hit in the head in his first at-bat and never batted again in the major leagues. That happened fifty years before Greenberg was hit. Fred Van Dusen was with the Philadelphia Phillies on September 11, 1955, when he was beaned, but on the fifth pitch to him.


      Born in New Haven, Greenberg starred in several sports at Guilford High School in Guilford, Connecticut. He graduated with honors in addition to being tagged as Connecticut’s male athlete of the year in 1998-1999. Unlike most recent Jewish athletes who grew up with little or no attachment to Judaism, Greenberg attended Friday night services regularly and had a bar mitzvah.


      The 5-foot-9 lefthanded batter went on to become a star outfielder and hitter at the University of North Carolina and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in June 2002. After three years in the minor leagues, Greenberg was called up to the majors on July 7, 2005. Greenberg phoned his parents and shared the good news. They gathered three of Adam’s siblings and flew to Miami where Adam was waiting and the Cubs were playing.


      On July 9, the Greenbergs were patiently sitting in the stands wondering when their favorite Cub would get a chance to play. With the Cubs leading the Marlins 4-to-2 in the top of the 9th and one out, Greenie, as he was quickly nicknamed, was told to grab a bat and hit for the pitcher. Applause could be heard from the Greenberg contingent among the crowd of 22,863 as Adam stepped in the batters box ready to begin his major league career.


      A 91-mile-per-hour fastball caught Adam in the side of the head. His batting helmet absorbed part of the blow, but Adam went down as his family rose in concern. Mrs. Greenberg, a nurse, waited patiently for word on her son’s condition while he was attended to in the trainer’s room by doctors from both the Cubs and Marlins.


      Adam never lost consciousness. His mother stayed with him that night tending to his needs before results of a CAT scan revealed he had a mild concussion. That was the good news.


      The bad news was that the next few weeks brought bouts of dizziness every time he tried to tie his shoes or tilt his head back at a certain angle. Adam found relief by sleeping upright. He also discovered he had more problems looking down trying to field ground balls than he had trying to hit pitches.


      Before the beaning, scouts had him pegged as a prospect with good speed, not much power, a good batting eye who’d get his share of walks, could get a key hit every now and then, a real hard worker with a great attitude. After the beaning, he went from prospect to suspect.


      Hoping a new location would change his luck and improve his stats, Greenberg prevailed on the Cubs to grant him a release. He caught on in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ minor league system. The vertigo was long gone but his ability to hit for a high average disappeared as well – his batting average was .228.


      The Dodgers were unimpressed and let him go. After a winter of strenuous workouts, Greenberg accepted a spring training chance with the Kansas City Royals. He made the Royals’ Double-A Wichita team in the Texas League, two rungs below the major league level.


      Greenberg showed speed on the bases and patience at the plate; he was among the team leaders in stolen bases and walks. Unfortunately, his batting average remained low.


      Greenberg is now 26, so a return to the majors doesn’t seem to be in the cards. My advice to him would be to try to stay in the game as a coach or manager in the lowest rung of the minors and work his way up to the big leagues. Or there’s the new Israel Baseball League – he could be a big star there and capitalize on his fame by opening a baseball training academy.


      At any rate, good luck to Adam Greenberg. By the way, he’s not related to Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. He does, though, have a grandfather named Hank Greenberg.


*     *     *


      One of the rewards of writing this column is that I get numerous e-mails from readers. They’re from great baseball minds and from people I’d like to meet. Of course, unless they tell me, I don’t know where they’re from or how old they are. I wish they’d include more information about themselves. One recent e-mail that made me put on my thinking cap was from ZF of NYC.


      ZF wonders how the career of Babe Ruth might have been affected if the designated hitter rule had been in place back when he played. Perhaps the Babe would have remained a pitcher and bat on days when he wasn’t on the mound. Personally, I think Ruth would have preferred pitching. Ruth loved to be the star – the dominant figure – and as a pitcher he would control each pitch.


      Ruth was a great pitcher for the Boston Red Sox (89 wins, 46 losses); with the Yankees he pitched once in 1920, twice the following year, once in 1930 and one last time in 1933. He won all five times for the Yanks, bringing his career stats to 94-46, (2.28 ERA). Ruth pitched in the 1916 and 1918 World Series for the Red Sox, winning three games, losing none and allowing only 19 hits in 31 innings with a super low ERA of 0.87.


      With those great-hitting Yankees teams, Ruth should have easily won 300 games, and not having to play the field between starts would have enabled him to improve on his already staggering career stats (.342, 714 home runs). And that doesn’t include the 15 homers he slugged in 41 World Series games.


*     *     *


      Even if the Red Sox continue to widen their margin over the Yankees, this won’t be a wasted season for the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees never before had five rookie pitchers make their debut in one season, but because of injuries, five rookie pitchers started 20 of the Yanks’ first 42 games. At least the Yankees now know they have some pretty good young pitching, and while prospects for postseason play this year look bleak, the team is in pretty good shape, starting-pitching wise, for the future.


      A great place to see future Yankees is at Scranton’s suburban PNC Field, home of the team’s Triple-A farm team. A nice woodsy background is quite a change from New York’s crowded backdrops. Columbus -where the Yankees had their top farm club for decades – was too far from New York. Detroiters are lucky to have the Tigers’ top minor league club in downtown Toledo, only an hour away from most of our shuls.


*     *     *


      Martin Berger, 40, a trial lawyer from Miami who had been a vital player in setting up the Israel Baseball League, now has the title of president and chief operating officer of the IBL. The six teams in the league boast new colorful caps that can be purchased on the IBL website (www.IsraelBaseballLeague.com).


      Three of the team’s managers are former major leaguers – Ron Blomberg, Ken Holtzman and Art Shamsky – while the three other managers also have baseball yichus: Steve Hertz is a college baseball coach in the U.S.; Shaun Smith is well known in Australian baseball circles; and Chicago-born Ami Baran, a legend in softball and baseball coaching in Israel, is also a major in the Israel Police, active in the High Crimes Investigation Unit. It’ll be interesting to see if his team, the Netanya Tigers, leads the league in stolen bases.


      Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Counting The Omer … And The Homers

Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

      While we’re counting the Omer, we’re also counting homers.


      Barry Bonds is closing in on Hank Aaron’s all-time career home run mark of 755. Bonds should hit his 755th well before we hit Elul. But when Bonds tops Aaron and becomes the all-time home run king, will that make him the greatest home run hitter of all time?


      No way – and here’s why, Babe Ruth retired in 1935 with 714 career home runs in 8,399 at-bats. It took Bonds 9,234 at-bats to tie Ruth. Meaning, Ruth homered every 11.76 times at bat while Bonds did it every 12.93 times. Aaron needed 11,291 at-bats to reach the 755 career mark (every 15.81 at-bats).


      Aaron was a steady player who never hit more than 47 home runs in a single season. He hit 40 or more homers eight times in a 23-year career. Outside of the 73 homers he hit in 2001, Bonds has never hit more than 49 in a season. There were plenty of allegations concerning Bonds and steroids that season, but to date nothing has been proven. Bonds was and is a great player, but Ruth was greater.


      The Babe did it the old-fashioned way. He used hot dogs and washed it down with beer and soda pop. Ruth hit 54 homers twice, 59 once and his famous high of 60 in 1927. Don’t forget, Ruth was also a great pitcher before becoming an outfielder. Ruth won more than 20 games twice on his way to a career 94-46 record with an ERA of just 2.28.


      Bonds has played his entire career in the modern era of 162-game seasons. Ruth’s seasons consisted of 154 games while Aaron played about a third of his career under the 154 game schedule and the rest under the 162-game slate. Bonds and Aaron also had the advantage of hitting a livelier ball that travels farther due to its tightly-wound cork center.


      Ruth was far ahead in career batting average, retiring with a .342 mark. Aaron had a .305 career average and Bonds is just shy of .300 at his writing.


      *     *     *


      Alex Rodriguez, who took a .306 lifetime average into this season, should reach 500 career home runs before July’s All-Star Game in San Francisco. A-Rod, who’ll be 32 on July 27, will become the youngest player ever to reach the 500-homer mark.


      Rodriguez had homered once every 14.36 at-bats coming into this season – better than Aaron but not as good as Bonds and Ruth. He is, of course, homering more often this season. Some media mavens speculate that the Yankees third baseman, who can opt out of his contract after the season, will stick it to the fans and media who gave him a hard time last season by leaving the Yanks.


      Some predict his destination is Chicago because of his admiration for Cubs manager Lou Piniella, stemming from their days in Seattle. “No,” says A-Rod’s former Yankee teammate Gary Sheffield. “Alex loves to perform on the New York stage and his wife loves it in New York also.”


      There will, however, be a new owner of the Cubs after the season and if he’s smart he’ll offer A-Rod a piece of the franchise and his old shortstop position. The cozy Wrigley Field power alleys will translate to many more home runs than he’d hit in New York. One thing’s for sure: A-Rod, who is currently baseball’s highest-paid player, will trump his old figure and soar to new financial heights. Maybe he’ll buy the Cubs.


*     *     *


      Red Sox Nation is still talking about the four consecutive home runs by BoSox batters off Yankee pitcher Chase Wright. A national audience via ESPN for the Sunday night game saw homers by Manny Ramirez, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek chase Wright, a rookie making only his second big league start this season.


      As Varitek circled the bases, ESPN viewers were told that the only prior big league pitcher to allow four consecutive home runs was Paul Foytack of the Los Angeles Angels on July 31, 1963. Foytack spent most of his career with the Tigers and returned to the Detroit area to become an industrial rubber and plastics salesman. He picked up some extra dollars (and dropped some extra pounds) by pitching batting practice for years prior to Tigers home games.


      Now 76, Foytack was discovered by the national media after Wright surrendered the four consecutive homers. Foytack felt bad for Wright and sent the rookie a “keep your chin up” type of letter. “After all,” Foytack said, “I was in the last year of my career when I gave up the four homers in a row. Wright is just starting out.”


      *     *     *


      To me, David Halberstam was the king of journalism. An amazing talent who took on several different subjects in more than 20 books and scored with them all. David was only 30 when he earned a Pulitzer Prize. I’ll remember him as a blazer-wearing, bow-tie clad intellectual who could hear The William Tell Overture and still think of The Lone Ranger.

      My favorite Halberstam book is Summer of ’49, about the great Red Sox-Yankees pennant race and rivalry that season. I wonder if Halberstam got to see the nationally televised historic Red Sox-Yankees four-consecutive-homer game the night before he was killed in a car crash.


*     *     *


      Love the 6:13 p.m. starting time for many midweek night games in the Israel Baseball League. Friday games are at ten in the morning or at noon. There are no Shabbos or motzei Shabbos games. None of the three fields the six teams are using have lights. Let’s hope more fields, with light towers and greater seating capacity, will be built.


*     *     *


      To those who took issue (Letters to the Editor, April 27) with my picking the Cubs to make the World Series: My prediction read, “if Mark Prior and Kerry Wood stay off the disabled list” And, as you know, after my predictions came out, Prior went on the disabled list and had season-ending surgery.


      So of course that changes the picture. Milwaukee’s my choice now to go to the postseason from the National League Central. But the Brewers aren’t quite good enough to overtake the Mets and advance to the World Series.


      To those who think I downgraded the National League, all I can say is the American League creamed the NL last year in interleague play. We’ll see what transpires this season. In the meantime, keep those opinions coming.


      Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring as a department head in a major league front office. His “Baseball Insider” column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Louis Raskas Of St. Louis

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

      In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s America was called the treifa medina by many religious Jews living in Eastern Europe. This was based on the fact that the religious observance of many of the Jews who immigrated to the United States during those years eroded as a result of their exposure to American society.
      Even if parents managed to maintain their commitment to Torah, their children were more than likely not to follow in their footsteps. Nonetheless, there were families in which both immigrants and their descendents remained staunchly Orthodox. One such family is the Raskas family of St. Louis, Missouri.
      Some readers may recognize the name Raskas, which has been associated with the dairy industry for many years: “Raskas Foods has been in business since 1888. The Raskas Dairy Company first began its door-to-door delivery of milk in St. Louis by horse-drawn wagons. With the advent of pasteurization, Raskas developed into a general dairy.”[i]
      In 1882 Sholom Yitzchok [Isaac] and [Shifra] Rivka Raskas immigrated from Kovno, Lithuania, to St. Louis to join members of Mrs. Raskas’s Sarasohn family. They lived about ten blocks from the Mississippi River. Isaac started selling milk, much like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” After the turn of the century the family moved to 1313 North Newstead, which at that time was still a semi-rural area on the western fringe of St. Louis, and began a small dairy.
      The Raskases were sincerely committed Orthodox Jews. Pictures of their parents (available at http://www.ajlegacy.org/history.asp) show that they both came from learned, Litvishe families. The Raskases had eight children – four boys and four girls. Knowing that their oldest two sons, Yudel (Julius) and Louis (Chaim Shabatsai Lev) could not receive an intensive Torah education in St. Louis, they sent them to study in the famed Slabodka Yeshiva located near Kovno, Lithuania. Louis was all of 12 years old at the time; because of his young age he was sent to live with relatives.
      One cannot help but marvel at the depth of commitment on the part of the Raskases when it came to their sons’ yeshiva education. (The American Jewish historian Jacob Rader Marcus told a grandson of Louis that the Raskas boys were probably the first young men to be sent from the United States to Europe to study in a European yeshiva.)
      Bear in mind that in 1900 travel to Europe took weeks. Furthermore, there probably were no telephone communications between Kovno and St. Louis. The only method of communication was by mail, which was very slow. Sending one’s sons to Europe to learn meant not seeing them for years. Nonetheless, Isaac and Rivka Raskas made these sacrifices so that their sons would grow up to be observant, Torah-educated Jews. (Indeed, they did not see their sons until 1906, when they returned home for a visit. After this visit, the young men returned to Europe to continue their yeshiva studies.)
      After spending several years studying in Slabodka, Louis decided to continue his studies in the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin. While he studied in Radin he was known as “der Americaner.” It was in Radin that Louis met and married Ruth Poupko. He supported his family by qualifying as a pharmacist and opening a small drugstore.

      In the early part of 1914 Yudel and Louis received a letter telling them their parents wished to visit Eretz Yisrael. (The senior Raskases had purchased some land in Petach Tikva and did eventually settle there with their four youngest children.) Isaac asked the boys to return to St. Louis to take care of his dairy business during his absence, and Yudel and Louis returned in the late spring of 1914.


      Louis left Ruth and their two small children in Radin, intending to return to them soon, but World War I made that impossible. Throughout the war he tried to get them out, but in vain. The town of Radin was caught in the maelstrom of bloody fighting on the German-Russian front, and civilians living there suffered grievously, sometimes under German control, sometimes under Russian control, as fierce fighting raged back and forth.

      Because the head of the family was an American citizen – Louis, after all, had been born in St. Louis – both Russian and German authorities extended to the Raskas family some very welcome amenities.

      Throughout the war, for instance, Raskas was able to send his wife money through the American ministry in Warsaw, and thus she and her children lived in “comparative comfort,” as she later put it, compared with the abject poverty of the surrounding Polish population. Nevertheless, life for them there was extremely trying.[ii]


      When World War I ended in 1918, Louis and Ruth found themselves in a quandary. He could not leave St. Louis because he was running his father’s dairy business. She, however, did not want to leave her parents and her family to come to a foreign country. Still, she loved her husband very much and wanted to be reunited with him.


      It was suggested to her that she see her uncle, the Rabbi of the neighboring village of Aisheshuk (Lithuania-Eiszyszki), who was known for his scholarship, his wisdom, and his good judgment. After a lengthy conversation he told her, “You must now make a decision. Either stay here and get a divorce from your husband or join him.” She decided to come to America to unite the family. Her uncle supported her decision. Had she remained, she and her family would have been destroyed in the Holocaust, for there were no survivors of the Radun Massacre.[iii]


      In April 1920, Mrs. Raskas and her two children, Berenice, 10, and Ralph, 8, finally arrived in St. Louis. Louis and Ruth became pillars of the St. Louis Jewish community. They were known for their strict adherence to Torah and mitzvos. In 1929-1930 Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, came to America and visited many Jewish communities throughout the country. While in St. Louis, it was Ruth Raskas who prepared the food he ate.
      Louis developed and expanded what had been his father’s small dairy business. “Under his leadership and acumen – and with his wife working side by side with him – [they] developed the company into one of the nation’s leading dairy concerns. Although he marketed for the broad public, Raskas took great care that all phases of milk processing met strict standards of kashrut.”[iv]

      Mr. and Mrs. Raskas developed a type of sour cream they labeled “Smetina.” Eventually they gave up the milk business and concentrated on the manufacture of Smetina, cream cheese and other soft cheese products. The business eventually expanded into national and international markets, becoming a most successful food conglomerate.


      [Louis] Raskas’s impact upon the St. Louis Jewish community was much more than his success as a dairy entrepreneur. Ardently interested in Jewish education, he became actively involved with the Associated Hebrew Schools, the local Yeshiva Zechariah Joseph, and the establishment of the Rabbi H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy. He generously supported the Jewish Hospital and other philanthropic activities of the Jewish Federation.
      Raskas was an avid Zionist and was particularly active in the St. Louis Mizrachi organization, and, after Israel was established in 1948, in innumerable State of Israel bond campaigns. Many knew him as a humanitarian especially helpful to European refugees, undoubtedly recalling his family’s earlier hardships in Poland. He had a reputation also in the international Jewish community as a generous supporter of institutions of higher [Torah] learning all over the world and especially in Israel.
      Raskas contributed positively also to many areas of the non-Jewish community. He was president of the national Dairyman’s Association, where his impact was felt in the industry throughout the country. His name could be found among contributors to many St. Louis community programs, especially those engaged in helping needy families. He served as an honorary colonel on the staff of Governor John M. Dalton of Missouri. He died on April 20, 1974, and was buried in Jerusalem. St. Louis newspapers used a very simple but most appropriate term in eulogizing him: “Orthodox Community Leader.”[v]


      (The author wishes to thank Stanley Raskas, a great-grandson of Isaac and Rivka Raskas and a grandson of Louis and Ruth Raskas, for his assistance with the preparation of this article.)

       Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.




[i] http://www.zoominfo.com/search/CompanyDetail.aspx?CompanyID=3214567&cs=QEB6oEKyA 


[ii] Zion in the Valley, The Jewish Community of St. Louis, Volume II, The Twentieth Century, by Walter Ehrlich, University of Missouri Press, 2002, page 123.


[iii] As A Brand Plucked From the Fire, by Bernard S. Raskas, communicated to the author by the late Walter Ehrlich.


[iv] Ibid.


[v] Ibid, page 124.

Nitzevet, Mother Of King David: A Bold Voice Of Silence

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Shavuot marks the birthday of King David and for this reason it is customary in many communities to read Megillat Ruth since Ruth was his great-grandmother. What is not as known, however, is the remarkable story of Nitzevet, the noble mother of King David.

King David had many challenges throughout his life. At one point, this great individual describes that enemies who wish to cut him down surround him; even his own brothers are strangers to him, ravaging and reviling him.


Why did King David arouse such ire and contempt?


David was born into the illustrious family of Yishai, who served as the head of the Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court) and was one of the most distinguished leaders of his generation. David was the youngest in his family, which included seven illustrious brothers.

Yet, when David was born, these prominent family members greeted his birth with absolute derision. David was not permitted to eat with his family, but was assigned a separate table in the corner. He was given the task of shepherd, in the hope that a wild beast would kill him.


Only one individual throughout David’s youth felt pained over his plight and felt a deep bond of love for the child whom she alone knew was undoubtedly pure. This was King David’s mother, Nitzevet bat Adel.


Torn and anguished by David’s unwarranted troubles, yet powerless to stop the degradation, Nitzevet stood by the sidelines waiting for the time when true justice would emerge.

It would take 28 long years for that to happen.

 David’s Birth

David’s father, Yishai, was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. After several years of marriage and after having raised virtuous children, Yishai began to entertain personal doubts about his ancestry.

His grandmother Ruth was a convert from the nation of Moav. The Torah specifically forbids a Moabite convert. Boaz and the sages understood this law as forbidding the conversion of male Moabites, while exempting the female converts. Ruth gave birth to Oved, the father of Yishai.

Later in his life, doubt gripped at Yishai on whether Boaz’s decision was correct. If Yishai’s status was questionable, he could not remain married to his wife, a veritable Israelite. Disregarding the personal sacrifice, Yishai separated from her.

After a number of years, Yishai longed for an offspring whose ancestry would be unquestionable. His plan involved his Canaanite maidservant.

He said to her, “Prepare for tonight. I will be freeing you, conditionally. If my status as a Jew is legitimate, you are freed as a Jewish convert to marry me. If my status is blemished, I am not giving you your freedom, but as a Canaanite maidservant, you may marry a Moabite convert.”

Aware of the anguish of her mistress in being separated from her husband, the maidservant informed Nitzevet of Yishai’s plan and suggested a counter plan. “Switch places with me tonight.”

Nitzevet conceived that night.

Incensed, her sons wished to kill her and her illegitimate fetus. Nitzevet chose a vow of silence, refusing to embarrass her husband by revealing his plan.

Unaware of his wife’s behavior, but having compassion on her, Yishai ordered his sons not to kill her. “Instead, let the child that will be born be treated as a hated servant. Everyone will realize that he is a mamzer.”

From the moment of his birth Nitzevet’s son was treated by his brothers, as an abominable outcast. The rest of the nation, too, assumed that this youth was a treacherous sinner.

 King David’s Corronation

The prophet, Shmuel arrives in Beit Lechem to anoint the new king of Israel. As he lays his eyes on Yishai’s eldest son, tall and distinguished Eliav, he is sure that this is the future king, until G-d reprimands him not to look at outside qualities.

No longer did Shmuel make any assumptions. All the seven sons of Yishai passed before Shmuel. None had been chosen.

“Are these all the lads?” Shmuel asked.

Yishai answered, “A small one is left.”

Shmuel ordered that David be summoned. Out of respect, David first went home to change his clothes.

Nitzevet inquired, “Why did you come home?”

David explained. Nitzevet answered, “If so, I, too, am accompanying you.”

When David arrived, Shmuel doubted whether he was worthy of the kingship.

However, G-d commanded, “My anointed one is standing and you remain seated? Anoint David!”

Tearful weeping could be heard from outside – the voice of Nitzevet, David’s lone supporter and solitary source of comfort. The 28 long years of silence in the face of humiliation were finally coming to a close. At last, all would see that the lineage of her youngest son was pure.

Within moments, the once reviled shepherd boy became anointed as the future king of Israel.

 Nitzevet’s Legacy

King David had many sterling qualities. Many of these were inherited from his illustrious father, Yishai. But it was undoubtedly from his mother’s milk that the young David absorbed strong values and the courage to face his adversaries.

From the moment he was born, and during his most tender years, it was Nitzevet who taught him the essential lesson of valuing every individual’s dignity and refraining from embarrassing another, regardless of the personal consequences. It was she who displayed a silent but stoic bravery and dignity in the face of the gravest hardship.

Undoubtedly, it is from Nitzevet that King David absorbed a strength born from an inner confidence to disregard the callous treatment of the world and find solace in the comfort of his Maker. It was this strength that would fortify King David to defeat his staunchest antagonists and well as his most treacherous enemies, as he valiantly fought against the mightiest warriors.

And it was this strength that ultimately allowed him to become the forebear of Moshiach.

Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, the latest, Divine Whispers – Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul. She is also a columnist for www.chabad.org’s Weekly Magazine. Weisberg lectures on issues relating to women, faith, relationships and the Jewish soul and is currently scheduling a worldwide book tour for the coming year. To book a talk for your community, for information on her speaking schedule or to purchase a signed copy of her books, please contact: weisberg@sympatico.ca

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewess-press/nitzevet-mother-of-king-david-a-bold-voice-of-silence/2006/05/31/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: