Miriam Shaviv

  • Poor Ruth Madoff?

    Jul 8, 2009

    A sad profile of Ruth Madoff in New York Magazine.

    It portrays a woman separated, forever, from the love of her life; completely shunned by her children; who has lost her status in society; who is struggling to come to terms, psychologically, with her downfall; and most of all, who is almost universally reviled by the general public.

    Friends seem to be divided as to whether she knew about her husband's illegal activities. Some contend that she was a close partner of Madoff's and must have known the true source of their fabulous wealth, while others say that she had little knowledge of his business and grew up in a generation where women did not ask too much about their husband's financial affairs. She has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and it is possible we may never know the truth.

    So - given the uncertainty - why is she hated so much, by so many? Why has she not been given the benefit of the doubt?

    Bernie may be behind bars, but his crime is still very much an unsolved mystery, a tangled money trail that may take years to sort out. Fairly or not, as long as there are loose ends, and until every last penny of the $170 billion prosecutors say flowed through his fraudulent enterprise is accounted for, Ruth will be a target of suspicion.

    In the public eye, Ruth has come to represent the spoils of her husband’s criminal activity: The lifestyle, the furs and jewelry, the fancy hair salon, the clinking glasses at parties, the trips around the world—they all seemed like they were her domain, orchestrated and enjoyed more by her than by the stone-faced, withdrawn Bernie.

    It didn’t matter that Ruth came from modest beginnings; something about the way she carried herself—her highlighted hair, the upturned collar and petite physique—played into the stereotype of the pampered, free-spending wife.

    Ruth’s problem seems to be a particularly female one.

    “It’s the gender politics of the culture,” says Gloria Steinem. “It’s easier to blame the person with less power.”

    And, she adds, why aren’t people blaming her sons? “They would be much more likely to be in cahoots, because they were in the same professional field. And the answer is, they’re men, that’s why.”

    While there is an element of truth to both explanations, to me, the money explanation seems stronger than the gender one.

    Compare Mrs Madoff with Frau Fritzl - wife of Joseph Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter in an underground prison for 24 years and raped her thousands of times (a far more heinous crime than Madoff's).

    The question of how much she knew seem much more pertinent in her case - after all, three children appearing from nowhere on her doorstep is much more suspicious than a never-ending flow of money from a successful businessman, a former chair of the Nasdaq, to boot.

    Yet, despite the loud whispers that 'she must have known', Mrs Fritzl was constantly given the benefit of the doubt, and excuses were constantly made on her behalf. She was in denial; afraid of Fritzl; his lies were plausible etc. No one has bothered making parallel excuses for Mrs Madoff.

    Why the difference? It seems to come down, mostly, to envy of the rich.

  • Is the Tube dangerous for your soul?

    Jul 3, 2009

    According to Hamodia, religious educators have warned parents not to let their children travel alone on the Piccadilly Line, as they might overhear unsuitable announcements over the loudspeaker system.

    Apparently, Tube drivers have been given a book of quotes which they are being encouraged to read from over the intercom to break the monotony of their passengers' journey.

    (Apparently it's ok to drive a train and read a book at the same time - although any car driver attempting the same would be arrested. This might also explain a lot about train delays.)

    The quotes come from Shakespeare, Gandhi and Einstein, among others, but according to Hamodia, "may oppose Torah oppose Torah hashkafah [outlook] or even be divrei kefirah [heresy]".

    "I would advise parents not to let their children travel alone, so that if they hear anything contrary to daas Torah [the Torah view] the person accompanying the child would give the Torah's view on the subject", said a "leading mechanech" (educator).

    Let's leave aside the obvious impracticality of forbidding children to travel alone on the Tube - advice that will surely be ignored by the community; the assumption that the adults will be able to counter the "kefirah"; and the implication that a quote or two from Shakespeare might be enough to shake the worldview of a young Charedi child, and requires immediate intervention.

    Has anyone heard any of these announcements? What quotes are they worried about?

  • Are we really that ugly?

    Jul 3, 2009

    A local newspaper in Vail, Colorado, is under fire for describing a suspect in a robbery as being "of Jewish or Eastern European descent".

    And what does someone of Jewish descent look like?

    According to the paper - which, even worse, was simply repeating the press release issued by the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department - he had "dark hair, large nose, pierced ears, narrow face and eyes that were close together.”

    What, no horns?

  • Why Gaza is free from swine flu

    Jul 3, 2009

    In Britain, 100,000 people a day are expected to become infected with swine flu. But in the Gaza Strip, despite the crowded living conditions, infection has been extremely limited - just 40 people so far.

    How come? It's the Zionist occupation:

    Dr. Fuad El-Eisawi of the Palestinian Health Ministry said the disease has not spread to the Gaza Strip because Israel's blockade prevented its residents from leaving or entering the Hamas-ruled territory.

  • I'm back

    Jul 3, 2009

    Back from maternity leave and blogging again. Stay tuned...

  • Translating the Bible - into Hebrew...

    Sep 11, 2008

    In university, my version of Chaucer included a line-by-line translation of the Old English into more palatable modern English. Now, in Israel, someone has the same idea – for the Bible. According to Ha’aretz,

    A move is afoot to publish the Bible in contemporary Hebrew. In other words, to translate the Bible into Hebrew. To rewrite it, in the same language, using different words.

    This is a private commercial endeavor launched by a veteran teacher of the Bible, Avraham Ahuvia, and publisher Rafi Mozes of Reches Educational Projects. The entire text is vocalized, and each verse appears in the original form alongside the translated version.

    The Education Ministry cried foul upon hearing of the idea and hastily issued a directive banning use of the new translation in schools. The danger has thus been averted: Even if they wanted to, Israeli teachers and students, at least officially, may not sample this work.

    Although nothing will stop pupils using the translations at home, for homework.

    And more is the pity. Although I fully believe that we must do everything possible to make Jewish texts accessible to our young, I simply cannot believe – as a graduate of an Israeli primary school – that ancient Hebrew, which is really not that different from modern Hebrew, really is beyond the reach of most Israeli students.

  • Evil men, named and shamed

    Sep 11, 2008

    The Israeli rabbinic court system has began publishing pictures and descriptions of men who have disappeared without giving their wives a get.

    Some of these men have fled Israel and may be living in your community. If you have seen them, please contact the Rabbanut immediately.

    And for once, credit where credit is due. The Rabbanut should be applauded for taking this important step in tracing these horrible men. Perhaps now, men considering leaving their wife unable to remarry and get on with her life, will realise that this will not just be treated as a private affair, but as a crime that will cost them their public reputations.

  • Barking mad

    Sep 8, 2008

    The Bark-mitzvah phenomenon – giving your dog a ‘barmitzvah’ party – has been around for a few years; but now  - just like real barmitzvahs - the celebrations are getting more expensive.

    One New Yorker has just made headlines after spending an astounding $10,000 on his pooch’s party – which was attended by 100 people, including Dr Ruth. Fur real.

    According to proud owner – parent? – David Best, the dog, Elvis, “has a great personality and everyone loves him”.

    Now, I’ll admit that the whole event seems to have been carried out with lots of humour, and Dr Ruth certainly seemed to be having lots of fun. But still……….. what a colossal waste of money. Couldn’t Mr Best have donated the cash to charity - and given the dog a bone or something?

    Muzzle tov, I guess.


  • Sarah Palin sat through a sermon by a Jew for Jesus. Should we care?

    Sep 5, 2008

    Barack Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright, proved a huge problem for the Democratic presidential nominee – particularly (but by no means exclusively) amongst Jews. Now, Ben Smith of Politico puts the spotlight on Sarah Palin’s church – which, just a couple of weeks ago hosted David Brickner, the executive director of Jews for Jesus:

    Palin’s pastor, Larry Kroon, introduced Brickner on Aug. 17, according to a transcript of the sermon on the church’s website.

    “He’s a leader of Jews for Jesus, a ministry that is out on the leading edge in a pressing, demanding area of witnessing and evangelism,” Kroon said.

    Brickner then explained that Jesus and his disciples were themselves Jewish.

    “The Jewish community, in particular, has a difficult time understanding this reality,” he said.

    Brickner’s mission has drawn wide criticism from the organized Jewish community, and the Anti-Defamation League accused them in a report of “targeting Jews for conversion with subterfuge and deception.”

    Brickner also described terrorist attacks on Israelis as God's "judgment of unbelief" of Jews who haven't embraced Christianity.

    "Judgment is very real and we see it played out on the pages of the newspapers and on the television. It's very real. When [Brickner's son] was in Jerusalem he was there to witness some of that judgment, some of that conflict, when a Palestinian from East Jerusalem took a bulldozer and went plowing through a score of cars, killing numbers of people. Judgment — you can't miss it."

    According to Kroon, Palin was in church that day. But should this become an issue for Jews and/or the media – as Andrew Sullivan, for example, suggests?

    Absolutely not. Barack Obama sat through 20 years of disgusting sermons by Jeremiah Wright, week in, week out, and considered him his mentor. Palin sat through one – one - repulsive sermon by a Jew-for-Jesus. There is really no comparison.

    Although of-course, it would be interesting to know more about Gov Palin’s pastor – who apparently goes back a long way with Mr Brickner – and what other sermons Sarah Palin has sat through over the past 20 years…

  • Ancient Jewish city found - in Russia

    Sep 5, 2008

    Russian archaeologists claim to have found the capital of the ancient state of the Khazars - who, according to tradition, adopted Judaism as their state religion in the 8th century:

    "This is a hugely important discovery," expedition organiser Dmitry Vasilyev told AFP... "We can now shed light on one of the most intriguing mysteries of that period -- how the Khazars actually lived. We know very little about the Khazars -- about their traditions, their funerary rites, their culture," he said.

    At its height, the Khazar state and its tributaries controlled much of what is now southern Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan and large parts of Russia's North Caucasus region.

    The capital is referred to as Itil in Arab chronicles but Vasilyev said the word may actually have been used to refer to the Volga River on which the city was founded or to the surrounding river delta region.

    Itil was said to be a multi-ethnic place with houses of worship and judges for Christians, Jews, Muslims and pagans. Its remains have until now never been identified and were said to have been washed away by the Caspian Sea.

    Archaeologists have been excavating in the area if Samosdelka for the past nine years but have only now collected enough material evidence to back their thesis, including the remains of an ancient brick fortress, he added.

    "Within the fortress, we have found huts similar to yurts, which are characteristics of Khazar cities.... The fortress had a triangular shape and was made with bricks. It's another argument that this was no ordinary city."