In Alaska today, it’s difficult to find a profession that hasn’t been turned into a TV show

In Alaska today, it’s difficult to find a profession that hasn’t been turned into a TV show….
It’s hard to miss the paradox in this. Half a century ago, the notion that most Americans would soon be at least a generation removed from skilled manual labor would have seemed remarkable. But now that’s where we are, our relative comfort gnaws at us. The frequency that we respond to in [these types of shows] is the same one that makes suburban accountants buy Ford Super Duty pickups and Brooklyn graphic designers grow fake lumberjack beards. And yet this very desire for authenticity has turned some of the last truly unreconstructed frontiersmen in America into that least authentic of creatures: the minor celebrity.

Charles Homans, “A Soap Opera on the High Seas,” The New York Times Magazine (16 December 2012), 50.

, , , , , , ,

No other book composed in the early modern period had as profound and lasting an impact on Jewish life as Rabbi Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh

No other book composed in the early modern period had as profound and lasting an impact on Jewish life as Karo’s. The Shulhan ‘arukh (“The Prepared Table” or “The Ordered Table”) eventually became the standard code of Jewish law throughout Europe and the Mediterranean world. with few exceptions, nearly every Jewish community had accepted it as authoritative within generations of its initial publication. The Shulhan ‘arukh as a “writing” delivered to the Jewish public by Joseph Karo had a truly transformative impact upon Jewish life. In this way, one can speak of Karo’s work as a discourse, as an idea. The book served scholars as a reference work and literate lay people as a manual of Jewish law. It stimulated commentary and controversy, resistance and cooptation. One is hard pressed to find another book written in the early modern period that endured as long as the Shulhan ‘arukh.

Yaacob Dweck, “What Is a Jewish Book?,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 368.

, , , ,

The Shulhan ‘arukh would not have had its staying power as a work of enormous cultural authority had Rabbi Isserles’ glosses with it

…it is safe to say that the Shulhan ‘arukh would not have had its staying power as a work of enormous cultural authority had it not become an entirely different text when it appeared in Kraków in 1578–1580 with the glosses of Moses Isserles. Isserles, one of the towering figures of early modern Polish Jewish life, had been at work on his own law code for some time when he learned of Karo’s project. Rather than compete, he decided to append his own glosses with what he claimed were the Ashkenazic customs and practices. In this edition of the Shulhan ‘arukh, one finds a central dynamic of early modern Jewish history on the pages of a printed book: the coexistence, competition, and tension between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Indeed, the very categories of Ashkenazic and Sephardic are thrown into relief by the reactions to Isserles’ glosses. Thus Hayim ben Bezalel, brother of the famed Maharal, had little patience for Isserles’ attempt to summarize all of Ashkenazic tradition in his glosses and took it as a form of cultural imperialism and an erasure of difference among Ashkenazic and Polish practices from different regions.

Yaacob Dweck, “What Is a Jewish Book?,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 370.

, ,

Talmud study has engendered a remarkable series of innovations by dint of the cascade of new media in the past century

One of the most venerable of Jewish book practices—Talmud study— has engendered a remarkable series of innovations by dint of the cascade of new media of the past century. These recent developments rest on a much longer history of practices centered on this core text of rabbinic Judaism. As scholars of the early modern period have noted, printed folios of the Talmud, first published in the late fifteenth century, expanded the engagement in rabbinic text study among jewish boys and men throughout the diaspora. beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, photo-offset reproductions of the 1880–1886 “Vilna Romm Shas” not only canonized this edition as definitive but also presented scholars with a daf of unprecedented standardization in both content and form. (The value invested in fixing the format of the daf is implicit in the “pin test,” in which yeshiva students are challenged to identify the words through which a pin, stuck into a page of the Talmud at random, passes on subsequent pages, a skill that relies on memorization of the text as well as knowing its placement on the page.) The standardized daf also facilitated the institution of Daf Yomi—inaugurated by Rabbi Meir Shapiro at the First World Congress of the World Agudath Israel, held in Vienna in 1923—as an international practice that both promotes and regulates Talmud study within a modular rubric.

Jeffrey Shandler, “The Jewish Book and Beyond in Modern Times,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 382.

,

People have learned not to rule out any cultural experience in advance

The general understanding of what’s profound and what’s shallow, proper and improper, cool and uncool will change, but the faculty of critical discrimination is never going to go away. Still, some of the edge has come off those distinctions. There has been a levelling of taste in both directions, down and up – a kind of Unibrowism. People have learned not to rule out any cultural experience in advance. They don’t have a problem with the idea that a television series might be as dramatically involving as a grand opera. It’s not that they think that these cultural forms are equally worthy as art, but they respond with less inhibition to the avant-garde.

Louis Menand, “Browbeaten,” The New Yorker (5 September 2011), 76.

The Creation of the Pirate “Arr” in Cinema

‘Tis a rule of health I learned while sailing under the immortal Hawke, arrr!” Spoken by actor Robert Newton in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island, that line is the ur-arr, the first occurrence of the infamous pirate catchphrase. In Robert Louis Stevenson’s original book, characters used the interjection ah 35 times. As in, “Ah, they was a sweet crew, they was!” The hammy actor Newton delivered his lines for Long John Silver in his Cornwall accent, adding a rolling r sound and thus creating a classic meme.

“Arrrrr,” Wired (March 2012), 58.

,

“The conundrum is how to explain to your kids that Jar Jar and Watto are stereotypes without first introducing the stereotypes that you are hoping to negate…”

I managed to avoid the recent rerelease of “Episode I: The Phantom Menace” in 3-D, but only barely. Every father who loves the original “Star Wars” trilogy eventually runs into the fiasco that is Jar Jar Binks — a character capable of destroying a generation’s worth of affection with a single rustle of his oversize ears. While many have noted Jar Jar as a racist stereotype, it’s unclear exactly which stereotype he is. Is Jar Jar a Rastafarian stoner or a Stepin Fetchit or a Zuluesque savage? Or is he just a Gungan? And what about Watto, also from “The Phantom Menace”? A dark-skinned, hooknosed, greedy slaveholder, he’s an all-purpose anti-Semitic caricature. Or possibly he’s just a hovering bad guy in a fantasy world. The conundrum is how to explain to your kids that Jar Jar and Watto are stereotypes without first introducing the stereotypes that you are hoping to negate.

Stephen Marche, “Loompaland is a Complicated Place”, New York Times Magazine (17 June 2012), 61.