In Wittenberg, Germany, right now, walking around without a city map in one hand and camera in the other makes you stand out. The Protestant Reformation began, one could argue, 500 years ago this month, and tourists have been coming in droves to its birthplace. Martin Luther did not begin the Reformation but gave it a major kick in the pants here, and just about everything here is named after him, including the city’s official name, which in 1938 became Lutherstadt Wittenberg.
Outside the central train station, a billboard advertises the Luther-Hotel’s “Luther Burger and Käthe Nuggets”—Käthe for Katharina von Bora, Luther’s wife. Shops lining old town Wittenberg’s cobblestone streets sell cookie cutters shaped like Luther’s head and Playmobil’s special-edition Luther figurine. The city’s free public Wi-Fi network pays tribute, too: +LutherWLAN.
It’s funny how chance encounters—OK, eavesdropping—can give rise to research. There I was, in the bathroom of a Jewish cultural institution, when I overheard two women animatedly discussing from the comfort of their respective stalls what they had in mind to wear for Halloween. Though Yom Kippur was just around the bend, it wasn’t that holiday, or, for that matter, Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival soon to follow, that energized and delighted them so much as the prospect of the “amazing costumes” they would don for its Celtic counterpart, then a few weeks away.
I lingered awhile in the bathroom, my curiosity about the identity of these two women having gotten the better of me. Lo and behold, when they emerged from behind the doors of their respective stalls, they turned out to be two of my very own students, both of whom were enrolled in a graduate program designed to promote Jewish culture and the arts. So much for that, I thought to myself. Smiling wanly, I acknowledged my students’ presence and then beat a hasty retreat—from them as well as their perfervid embrace of Halloween.
“All of the Jewish people have a share in the World to Come,” says the first sentence in Chapter Eleven of Tractate Sanhedrin. These words are often quoted, but it was not until I read them in context, as part of the Daf Yomi cycle, that their full implication became clear to me. After all, Tractate Sanhedrin is primarily devoted to capital punishment: as we have seen over the last months, Jewish law prescribes four methods of execution for serious crimes ranging from idolatry to adultery to murder. What the Talmud is saying here, then, is that even Jews who are executed for one of these crimes have a share in the World to Come; the death penalty ends life in this world, but it does not cut the sinner off from eternal life. (Unless, of course, it is one of the crimes punished by karet, the severing of the soul from contact with God.) This is a hopeful and merciful message, suggesting that the love God bears for the Jewish people is greater than his wrath at their misdeeds.
I love Halloween and I don’t care who knows it. Traditionally, Jews visit the graves of their ancestors between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to ask for heavenly intercession. But keyver oves just don’t have the kind of autumnal spookiness I crave. Stutchkov’s Oytser has Halloween as al di blinde (all those other impotent gods), a nice bit of Yiddish shade I can definitely get behind. My friend (and rebbe in all things Yiddish) Michael Wex says that in the Yiddish-speaking community he grew up in, the only Yiddish word for Halloween was Halloween. In this one case, I’m gonna go with Stutchkov over Wex, it’s just so much more evocative.
I was that weird kid who haunted the public library, always scouring the place for any books on witchcraft, magic and/or ESP. You could probably say I had an unhealthy interest in the uncanny. So it’s surprising to old me that young me never came across Joshua Trachtenberg’s Jewish Magic and Superstition, a fascinating look at medieval Jewish life in its supernatural dimensions. Even if I had, though, I don’t think I would’ve gotten very far. Trachtenberg’s style is a particular kind of stuffy, early 20th-century scholarly, with lots of untranslated German and Hebrew sprinkled throughout. I mean, I was precocious, but not that precocious.
In an inspirational episode of Amazing Places, host Tom Scott visited the California desert town of Slab City, to find out the story behind Salvation Mountain, a colorful memorial to one man’s devotion. In the 1990s, Leonard Knight was looking for a way to demonstrate his faith and somehow came up with the idea of building a mountain out of paint. According to the Salvation Mountain site, Knight had planned to leave a small memorial and leave town, but it just kept on growing and growing until it became what he envisioned.
Near Slab City, California, a man painted a hill. It was outsider art: Leonard Knight had no training and no great masters to imitate. But somehow, he created something that resonates with the world. This is the story of Salvation Mountain.
Knowing how much their big, fluffy Persian cat enjoys boxes, very considerate humans made a little car out of a shoebox, tied a string onto the front and took him for a little ride. Although the ride stopped after a couple of minutes, the stubborn little kitty absolutely refused to leave his beloved custom box.
Our cat loves boxes so we made him a little car out of one! He loves it, refuses to get out and will sit in it, meowing at us to pull him around again.
Friends illustrates that friendship and romance are two interconnected sides of the same love coin throughout the show.We see familiar romantic behavior transplanted onto platonic situations and this makes us laugh.