Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rodkinson and the Talmud

A few weeks ago I posted a bit on a Talmud passage, using Rodkinson's translation of the Talmud (the only available on-line). I checked the translation against the Talmud text for the passage I was interested in and it seemed ok (not great, but ok.) There was another passage a few days ago that I was having trouble with so I decided to look at the on-line translation to see if that would help. And I couldn't find it at all. I figured it was my mistake in guessing where the folio number from the standard edition matched up with the page numbers to Rodkinson's edition and went back to my Jastrow and puzzled it out for myself.

Now Manuscript Boy gives a bit of background on Rodkinson and Dan Rabinowitz points out in the comments at Hagahot that it's an abridged translation. Ah hah!

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Do the Post-Gazette editors read this blog?

Last week, I called attention to the fact that Governor Rendell's comments at the Gay Pride parade were basically an endorsement of same-sex marriage. I also pointed out that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette might have treated this as the significant (and salutary) statement that it was.

This past Sunday, the editors finally took note of Rendell's comments in an editorial.

Which leads me to wonder: do the Post-Gazette editors read this blog? Or are they even more behind in reading the paper than I am?

Leo Strauss Acquitted

The first time I ever heard of Leo Strauss was in the early 90s in a Yale undergraduate seminar called "Political-Theological Writings." Our professor, a political theorist, was working on Spinoza and was rumored to be something called a "Straussian."

As the 90s went on and I turned to the study of medieval Jewish philosophy, I read a good bit of Strauss and some scholarship on Strauss's take on Jewish thought.

As the 2000s began, I started hearing about "Straussians" again. But these "Straussians"--neoconservative Bush administration officials and hangers-on--didn't sound much like the Leo Strauss I had read or like my Yale professor talking about Spinoza.

Two years ago, Anne Norton published Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire to try to explain (and to explain away) the connection between Strauss and the neo-con "Straussians." Now comes my old professor, Steven Smith, in Reading Leo Strauss, also arguing against drawing a connection between Strauss's work as a political theorist and intellectual historian and some of his students' (or rather, "grandstudents"?) politics. Robert Alter has a nice summary in last weekend's New York Times Book Review.

One more thing: I am not a Straussian although a Straussian might think I was one if he or she were to note the title of this blog and this line from Smith's introduction: "When asked what he taught, it is said, Strauss often replied 'old books.'" Hmm...

Learning from the past?

Pedestrian-only streets and rerouting buses? The Post-Gazette reports that these ideas are now under consideration for the Market Square area in downtown Pittsburgh. Although there are some differences, this all sounds like something Pittsburgh has tried before--and it didn't work. See this Post-Gazette story on the failed redevelopment plan for East Liberty.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I've been chatting with some folks over at Antirust about downtown development.
Turns out I just want to be like the cool kids even if I have to spend money I don't have to keep up with them.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Noted in the papers (miscellany)

Just got to the Sunday papers last night and over lunch today and noted the following:

--This interesting article on the front-page of Sunday's Post-Gazette about how airlines are experimenting with boarding procedures. This has long been one of the things about which I say while participating, "there must be a better way."

--Also on the Post-Gazette front-page, what they call a "dog bites man" story: turns out that lots of over-priced and badly maintained apartments are being rented by college students in the neighborhood adjoining Pitt and CMU. I'm shocked, shocked!

--Interestingly, the headlines of the previous two articles in the print version are much better than the headlines in the on-line version:
Which do you like better:
"Airlines fuss over best way to seat travelers" or There's more than one way to fill a plane"?
"An Old problem getting no better" or "Oakland living can be under par"?
Methinks someone thought the "fuss over" in the first story implied that the airline folk were improvising rather than using scientific modeling. Uh-huh. And perhaps someone noticed that the print headline for the apartment story kind of admitted that this wasn't exactly breaking news.

--Three cheers for Ed Rendell who not only came to the Pittsburgh Pride March, but also basically endorsed same-sex marriage: "Some day I hope that shirt says 'Just married in Pennsylvania,' " he said, to a roar of approval from the crowd. See the story in the Post-Gazette here.

--A question for the Sunday P-G editors: when the sitting governor of a swing state where the state legislature is considering a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage says that he hopes that gay marriage will someday be legal in his state, don't you think that should go on the front page of the paper? (You could have bumped the story of the college students with the broken walls to the front page of the local section.)

--Finally, this is really minor but I had no idea that the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York was not one of the original hotels built by the Astor brothers.

Small Pennsylvania

Apparently Pennsylvania is the best state to study really small things as I learn from this Pitt news release. Penn was ranked #1 and Pitt was ranked #2 in nanotechnology research.

European Higher Education

Another event that looks interesting and that I won't be able to get to (even though it's in my backyard, as it were):

The Bologna Process: Transatlantic Perspectives
June 23-24, 2006, University of Pittsburgh
The European Union Center of Excellence

Jerusalem Book Evening

One thing I always enjoyed about living in Jerusalem were the evening discussions at the Van Leer Institute when a significant new academic book in Jewish studies is published: three or four eminent scholars discuss the book, then the author responds. I wish I could be in Jerusalem next Sunday when Nehemia Allony's long-awaited book on the booklists of the Cairo Geniza is the subject.

I received this invitation by e-mail today:

מכון בן-צבי לחקר קהילות ישראל במזרח
של יד יצחק בן-צבי והאוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים

מתכבד להזמינך לערב עיון לרגל הופעת הספר

הספרייה היהודית בימי-הביניים
רשימות ספרים מגניזת קהיר

מאת נחמיה אלוני ז"ל

בעריכת מרים פרנקל וחגי בן-שמאי
ובהשתתפות משה סוקולוב

יום ראשון, כ"ט בסיוון תשס"ו (25 ביוני 2006) בשעה 18:00
ביד יצחק בן-צבי, רחוב אברבנאל 12, ירושלים

יו"ר: אהרן ממן, ראש מכון בן-צבי

ח"כ מנחם בן-ששון
יוסף יהלום, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים
חגי בן-שמאי, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים
מרים פרנקל, סגנית ראש מכון בן-צבי

לפרטים טל': 02-5398844

Hagahot explains the significance of the book.

Commentary on Miss Manners

A new Wednesday feature? Commentary on Miss Manners:

Today's column:
"To Madam, With Sincerely"

Miss Manners is exceedingly patient in explaining to a patent attorney that "Madam" is the female equivalent of "Sir" in formal correspondence, and that he need not worry that about the marital status of the unknown patent examiner. I am concerned that an attorney needs to write to the Washington Post etiquette columnist in order to learn how to address a government official.

The reply to the next letter strikes close to home:

"What you are doing is sending out a mass newsletter to people who have not shown interest in entering into a regular exchange.

They seem pleased enough to receive it, and Miss Manners does not mean to discourage you from continuing. But its being a hobby of yours does not require them to make it a hobby of theirs."

She is referring to the practice of sending out a group e-mail to friends and to the questioner's sadness that his friends do not reply. But I should keep her answer in mind when I lament the relative paucity of comments on the blog.

The final pericope? Just brilliant:

"Dear Miss Manners:

I have a friend who constantly refers to herself in the third person, i.e., "Jenny never eats red meat," or "Jenny loves to go to the movies!" What is the best way to deal with this wholly annoying habit?

How would Miss Manners know?"

Monday, June 19, 2006

How is the substitute high priest like a vice president?

Today's "Daf Yomi" folio is folio 12 from the Babylonian Talmud tractate Yoma which deals with Yom Kippur. The discussion here takes up one of the issues from the first mishnah of the chapter, the appointment of a substitute high priest in case the high priest becomes impure and is unable to perform the Yom Kippur sacrifices.

So what happens if the substitute takes over from the high priest on the Day of Atonement?

"The rabbis taught: When the high-priest happened to become unfit for service, and his substitute performed it, then after the Day of Atonement the high-priest resumes his service, and all the laws regarding the high-priesthood apply to the substitute (he can no longer be like a common priest). Such is the decree of R. Meir. R. Jose, however, says: The high-priest resumes his service, the substitute does not become like a high-priest, nor continues to be as a common priest. And R. Jose added: It happened to Joseph b. Alem of Ziporeth, that he was a substitute for the high-priest, who performed the service instead of the high-priest, to whom an accident had happened. Later the sages said, the high-priest should resume his service, and that Joseph b. Alem is fit no longer to be either a high-priest or a common priest. A high-priest, to prevent enmity; and a common priest, because there is a rule, in holiness one may increase but not decrease. Said Rabba bar bar Hana in the name of R. Johanan: The Halakha prevails according to R. Jose. R. Jose grants, that if the substitute has performed service in the Temple, this service is valid.

R. Jehudah said in the name of Rabh also: The Halakha prevails according to R. Jose, and R. Jose grants that when it happens the high-priest dies, he may become high-priest. This is self-evident? One might say, since he was his rival in life, he might not become a high-priest after his death. He comes to teach us it is not so."
(BT Yoma 12b-13a; translation by Radkinson from Internet Sacred Text Archive; I've never heard of this translation but it seems ok and the Soncino translation of Yoma is not available on-line--and needless to say, I'm too lazy to type out my own translation).

Here is how the Daf Yomi page summarizes R. Jose ("Yossi")'s view:
"1. He cannot be a co-Kohen Gadol for fear of enmity.
2. He cannot be a regular Kohen out of respect for his elevated status."

A dubious honor, then, to be chosen as the substitute high priest for Yom Kippur. You can't keep the top job and you can't go back to your old job because you've become over-qualified (at least in terms of holiness).

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A busy summer weekend

The kids have already been asleep for 45 minutes. Perhaps we tired them out today. First to Mellon Park for Bach, Beethoven, and Brunch with the Edgewood Symphony. Good program of favorites from Beethoven's Fifth to Copeland, Bernstein, and Sousa. Had a picnic with the blanket in the shade but the kids were actually on the blanket, in the shade, for a total of about 10 minutes in 2 hours. Then friends remarked that they were going to Schenley Plaza to watch the Zany Umbrella Circus, so we went along too. Free rides on the new carousel today so we did that a few times as well. Then home and rest.

A nice father's day. Only complaint: who decided to put the carousel next to the dumpsters as Schenley Plaza? A bit of an unpleasant smell on a hot summer's day.

Yesterday: shul at the big conservative synagogue in the neighborhood. Then home for lunch and rest and a bit of play in the backyard. My wife and I went out last night for the rare date, having secured the services of a babysitter who used to teach at the preschool and is much beloved by both children. (Daughter woke up this morning calling out her name.) We tried Sweet Basil/La Filipiniana. We decided to mainly eat off the Philippine side of the menu since we have our choice of umpteen Thai restaurants. The veggie Siapao was excellent--more like a sweet bun than a dumpling. We both liked the Fish Sinigang. My wife thought the Jackfruit was ok but I didn't like it.

Then we went to see "Keeping up with the Steins" which we both enjoyed. We wondered how well it was doing in the rest of the country, but it was a packed theatre in Squirrel Hill.

We had lots of time before the movie so we had a cafe cortado and an iced pomegranate at Tango Cafe.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Courtesy in Boston

Those who know me know that Boston is not one of my favorite cities nor is the T one of my favorite public transit systems. One of my complaints about the Hub of the universe and its transit-riding citizens is the exceptional level of rudeness I observed during my two years living there.

It sounds like Brian McGrory, a Boston Globe columnist, and now the T administrators themselves are on the case.

Thy Temple Amid Thy Hair is Like a Slice of Pomegranate

Happy Bloomsday!

Some allusions to this blog in Ulysses:

--...O jay, there’s no milk.
Stephen fetched the loaf and the pot of honey and the buttercooler from the locker. Buck Milligan sat down in the a sudden pet.
--What sort of a kip is this? he said. I told her to come after eight.
--We can drink it black, Stephen said thirstily. There’s a lemon in the locker.
--O, damn you and your Paris fads! Buck Mulligan said. I want Sandycove milk. (episode 1; p.10)

What final visual impression was communicated to him by the mirror?

The optical reflection of several inverted volumes improperly arranged and not in the order of their common letters with scintillating titles on the two book shelves opposite. (episode 17; p.581)

...An ancient haggadah book in which a pair of hornrimmed convex spectacles inserted marked the passage of thanksgiving in the ritual prayers for Pessach (Passover)... (episode 17; p.594)

Accepting the analogy implied in his guest’s parable which examples of post-exilic eminence did he adduce?

Three seekers of the pure truth, Moses of Egypt, Moses Maimonides, author of More Nebukim (Guide of the Perplexed) and Moses Mendelssohn of such eminence that from Moses (of Egypt) to Moses (Mendelssohn) there arose none like Moses (Maimonides).

What statement was made, under correction by Bloom concerning a fourth seeker of pure truth, by name Aristotle, mentioned, with permission, by Stephen?

That the seeker mentioned had been a pupil of a rabbinical philosopher, name uncertain. (episode 17; p.563)

--Rather bleak in wintertime, I should say. Martello you call it?
--Billy Pitt had them built, Buck Mulligan said, when the French were on the sea. But ours is the omphalos. (episode 1; p.15)

(page references to the Gabler edition.)

Thursday, June 15, 2006

More on Libby Rowe and LBJ in Bed

Just now, after posting my father's story about Libby Rowe, I decided to google her, and found this oral history interview.
See pp. 4-5 where she described being called in to the President's bedroom in the White House where he was lying sick.

Could my father have been telling a garbled and embellished version of this story?


Breakfast in Bed and the Metro

A few posts back, I indicated that I was planning to read Zach Schrag's The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. I have two personal connections to this book, beyond having ridden the Metro. First, Zach and I went to high school together. Second, my father was general counsel and secretary to the National Capital Planning Commission from 1959 to 1984, during the period in which Metrorail was planned, built, and first opened. Well, I have now read the book and can report that I found it fascinating.

One of Zach's major arguments--clearly indicated by the title--is that Metro has to be seen against the broader backdrop of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations' domestic policy. One point that he emphasizes is that there was a decisive change in regional planning from the Eisenhower to the Kennedy administrations. NCPC, in the late 50s, prepared a regional plan generally called the "Year 2000 plan" It was released in 1960, the last year of the Eisenhower administration. (Remember how the year 2000 was once "The Future"?) The hallmark of this plan was the idea of corridors and wedges--corridors of development leading from the central city into the suburbs with wedges of open space in between. (Somewhat naive for the post-WW2 era, I think, but that's another story.) The plan called for rapid transit in the corridors but also endorsed controversial Robert Moses-style freeway plans for DC itself.

When the Kennedy administration took over, a number of things changed: the Kennedy administration hired a point man for DC affairs in the White House and appointed a new chair of NCPC who in turn, installed a new director. That new chair was Libby Rowe. Under her, NCPC reversed course on freeways in DC and put its weight fully behind rail rapid transit. (It's important to remember that in those pre-home rule days NCPC was not only the federal agency with veto power over local projects, it was also the local planning office within the District.)

Zach tells this story well and I urge you to read the book if you are interested in DC history, or urban history more generally.

Now the personal part: Although my father had been part of the old regime at NCPC (remember he was hired in 1959), as a civil servant (and not really a policy-maker) he had stayed on with the change of administration. My father always spoke of Libby Rowe with great personal fondness and professional admiration. Now, Libby Rowe was appointed by Kennedy but she and her husband were close friends of Lyndon Johnson. Here's one story from my father that illustrates both the importance of precision in language and how NCPC (literally) had the ear of the presidency during the Great Society years: every week during her tenure as chair of the commission, Rowe would meet with the director and my father to go over the commission's upcoming agenda. One week, she announced at the beginning of the meeting that the previous weekend, she had had "breakfast with the President in bed." "Breakfast in bed with the president?" replied the others in astonishment. "No," she responded, "that's not what I said." And she explained that she and her husband had been guests at LBJ's ranch the previous weekend and on her way down to breakfast one morning, a maid had intercepted her and said that the President would like to see her to discuss something. She was led to the President's bedroom where he was sitting up in bed, eating his breakfast off a tray. She was led to a chair next to the bed and invited to sit down, whereupon she was handed a breakfast tray. For the next half hour or so, they discussed whatever issue it was. And thus, she repeated again, she had had "breakfast with the President in bed."

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Miss Manners or Judith M?

As I have said before, I am a big fan of Miss Manners. But I'm a little disappointed in her column yesterday in that she doesn't open up a larger discussion of the issue of whether professors ought to call students by their first names. Instead, she focuses on the question of how a student should respond to a professor who signs an e-mail with his first name.

Margaret Soltan (Sra. Prof. Dr. Frau Mrs. UD Soltan?) does open up the discussion a bit, along with her commentators, over at University Diaries.

It seems to me that the crucial issue is an imbalance of power that may lead to rudeness. It seems generally accepted that college students call their professors
Doctor or Professor or Mister or Ms. so-and-so, depending on the culture of the institution, while professors call students by their first names.

A couple of years ago, I suggested to my wife that I wanted to start calling my students Mr. and Ms. While she agreed that this might be proper, she advised against it on the grounds that perhaps a theoretical and abstract rudeness was better than a concrete example of weirdness. (That is not to say that all professors who call students Mr. or Ms. so-and-so would be seen as weird, but presumably 30-somethings with a mid-Atlantic accent and casual khakis would be.) I have followed her advice and continued to call students by their first names and have not objected when they call me Professor. But I continue to think about it and am a little troubled by it.

It may be that I think about this because the rather progressive DC private school I attended as a child has a prevailing custom that teachers (from elementary school on) are called by their first names. However, any teacher that wished to be called by their last name could be. In the entire history of the school (since 1945), so far as I know, only two teachers have been called Mrs. X and only one was called Mr. X. One was my kindergarten teacher, the beloved Jessie Klein, who went by "Mrs. K" which she told us stood for both "Klein" and "kindergarten." When her husband retired from his airline job and came to teach with her, he naturally became "Mr. K." The third teacher who used her last name was a legendary fifth-grade teacher who retired before my time. Interestingly, she had a daughter who attended the school and who later became a noted etiquette columnist for the Washington Post.

A blog stock market?

Every once in a while I google myself (who doesn't?). Yesterday, I decided to google "Tea Lemon Old Books" for the first time... and found this.

Can anyone explain this to me?

Time to advertise again?

Remember the Hebrew National "we answer to a higher authority ads"? Apparently some California grocery workers and customers don't. This is an amusing story from the Forward: "Market Flunks Kosher 101."