Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Benjie the Bin Man featured in 'Granta'

An extract from my review of the 'Granta' Jubilee issue in the Jerusalem Post, featuring well-known London character "Benjie the bin man":

..."As a quarterly, Granta has an excellent reputation for publishing new writing. This current edition does not disappoint, but it does surprise in a way which is of direct interest to Jewish readers - of the 19 varied essays and stories, at least six have central or peripheral Jewish interest.
The first essay is a journalistic profile of one of London's well-known eccentrics - master garbage-bin rifler Benjamin Pell, who "acquired an infamy for looting the dustbins of lawyers and agents of the rich and famous and selling their secrets to newspapers and magazines." Until his activities were legally curtailed, "Benjie the Binman," as he was known, was the unlikely center of several cause celebres in the 1990s. Mr. Pell is a religious Jew, 40-ish, who lives in Hendon with his parents. His close friends, and certainly Tim Adams, the author of this profile, would admit that he is not a totally easy person to befriend. The story is, however, sensitive, riveting and hilarious. It is rather like a sympathetic rummage in Benjie's own bin - a sort of middah k'neged middah (poetic justice). The title - "Benjamin Pell versus The Rest of The World" - says it all."

Monday, March 07, 2005

Triumph of style over taste

According to Jewsweek, 'Queen of Kosher' Susie Fishbein's new cookbook, Kosher by Design Entertains,
has already exhausted it's (sic) initial printing of 30,000 -- all in only its first week of release. A second printing of an additional 20,000 copies have (sic) already begun.
If so, I find this extremely surprising. Kosher by Design was ambitious, beautiful, modern, and did set new standards for Kosher cookbooks. It didn't, however, do much for Jewish food. Let's be honest -- the recipes didn't hold a candle to the vastly superior Kosher Palette. Too many of them either didn't work very well, took too long to prepare or involved ingredients which were too obscure. I guess when you've already sold 30,000 copies one less won't make much difference, but I for one will not be buying a copy of the new book.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Reading a really big Jewish book

BCC News recently posted a story about the finishing of one daily Talmud-study cycle, and the beginning of another: Crowds flock to Jewish book party.

I've been contemplating getting in on the Daf Yomi action, though I spent much of February out of town, and now I realize I've missed the boat a little. Anyone here have daf sites/mailing lists/blogs to recommend?

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

For Women, Middle Ages Might Have Been Golden...

My review of two books about Jewish women in the Middle Ages, discussed extensively on this blog, appears in the Forward this week.
Eight hundred years ago, thousands of Jewish Egyptian women refused to immerse in the ritual bath. Only Maimonides’s threat that they would lose their Ketubah money quelled the orchestrated rebellion, years after it began. A century later in Ashkenaz (Christian Europe), rabbis were astonished by the large number of Jewish women who refused to have marital relations with their husbands, asking instead to be proclaimed “rebellious wives” and divorced.
“Between the lines,” writes Avraham Grossman in a new book titled “Pious and Rebellious,” “echoes the voice of powerful women, very different from the ideal of the submissive and shy figure depicted by thinkers during the Middle Ages and the early modern period.”
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