The Zionist Conspiracy

A clandestine undertaking on behalf of Israel, the Jets and the Jews.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Latest Lakewood Takana

I have been informed by a Lakewood resident that last night a takana (decree) was issued by prominent rabbis in Lakewood:

that only homes that can have internet in it are for business purposes only. In order to have internet you must go to the designated Rabbis, explain to them your needs, if they see fit, then they will give you a 'license' to have internet, while you will have to block out certain sites , you will be taught certain 'tricks'. If a family is caught after the elapsed time with internet in their house, ALL THE CHILDREN WILL BE EXPELLED FROM SCHOOL.

The person who sent me the e-mail appears to view this takana positively. I have expressed my negative sentiments to this person.

My feeling is that this takana will cause even many residents of Lakewood to feel cynicism toward their rabbis - something that, unfortunately, many charedi Jews outside of Lakewood already feel.

To be sure, the Internet is far from an ideal medium from a Torah perspective. There is surely much that is objectionable on the Internet. While my own view is that there is also much that is worthwhile, I can respect a rabbinic view that sees the Internet very negatively and advises against its use and urges strong precautions so that children and teens cannot access problematic material.

But as usual, it's not enough for the Lakewood rabbis to simply express their opinion - even strongly. Instead, they use coercion, in this case, the threat that all of a family's children will be expelled from the community's schools, in effect shunning the family entirely from the community.

So as was the case with the decree banning attendance of Lakewood BlueClaws minor league baseball games, the rabbis use the method of collective punishment, in which children are punished for the purported "sins" of their parents by being denied a Jewish education.

Having recently read Natan Sharansky's book, The Case For Democracy, about the distinction between fear societies and free societies, I am beginning to think of Lakewood as - in some ways - a fear society. Of course, the people there can move if they choose, so the analogy is far from a perfect one. But the dominating influence that several zealous rabbis hold over people's lives, and the constantly increasing list of prohibitions that expand on Jewish Law, combined with the threats of community censure and isolation if one is caught in an act of non-compliance, do resemble what is experienced in totalitarian societies.

In a superb interview by Steven Weiss of Rabbi Nathan Kamenetsky, author of the banned Making Of A Godol (now published in an "improved" edition), R. Kamenetsky, in response to a question about R. Natan Slifkin, whose own books attempting to reconcile science and Torah were banned too, stated that "the true present 'gedol hador' of American Jewry, my brother R' Shmuel of Philadelphia, gave Rabbi Slifkin a haskamah - and he doesn't get scared off by zealots."

Indeed, rabbis and laypersons alike must not get scared off by zealots. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible for most inside the charedi community to fight the zealotry and remain a member in good standing. As long as prominent Lakewood rabbis continue to impose their imported extremism on Lakewood's observant Jews with acquiescence from other charedi rabbis in Lakewood and elsewhere, the sad trends will continue.

The only good thing about this latest ban is that it may reduce the number of Lakewood residents who read my blog posts that are critical of their rabbis and then send me hateful e-mails and comments.

Lakewood Redux

In a letter to the editor in this week's Jewish Press, a resident of Lakewood, New Jersey credits the community's rabbis for their actions in the recent controversy relating to school admissions:

Having relocated from a “Brooklyn outpost” to the town of Lakewood, New Jersey, I must say the move was quite hard at first. Nothing could adequately prepare me for living in such an insular community. My inches of exposed hair seemed to stick out for miles, as did the slit in my skirt, my sandals, and my uncovered feet. I could hardly believe different standards of dress could matter so much among fellow Jews.

The neighbors were wary of allowing our children to play together, as if owning video games were a bigger sin than speaking lashon hara. When I offered to lend our Sesame Street DVD to a neighbor, I was viewed as an alien who had just landed from outer space. And that is exactly how I felt. After all this, the prospect of getting my child into school was one that I dreaded.

How pleasantly surprised I was. I will admit we were given quite the run-around, especially after our “iniquity” of actually having a computer with Internet connection (with parental controls) was discovered. But just when I had reached the end of my rope, the rabbis of Lakewood taught us all a lesson in inclusion and tolerance.

Tackling the school enrollment problem head on, the rabbis of the Lakewood Yeshiva displayed courage and tenacity rarely witnessed even in good old New York City. No school was allowed to open its doors until every single Jewish girl in Lakewood was guaranteed a place. In this most ultra-Orthodox of communities, incredible achdus was displayed as girls who love the “American Idol” were placed alongside girls who love the kollel ideal. Nothing mattered other than ensuring a quality Jewish education for all.

I just want to thank all those involved and give credit where it’s due. If we would all learn from the Lakewood rabbis’ acceptance, tolerance and ahavas chinam, surely Mashiach would be here soon. Until then, feel free to join me here. Believe it or not, we have restaurants and salons — even parks and pools. There is actually a 24/6 Jewish radio station, with the Lakewood Yeshiva a proud sponsor. And best of all, you can pick up The Jewish Press at a growing number of shops around town.

Ahuva Fleischman
Lakewood, NJ

This letter leaves me with mixed feelings. On the negative side, clearly, Mrs. Fleischman had a hard time getting her child into school, and has been treated poorly by the dominant charedi majority in Lakewood. On the other hand, for the most part, her letter does support those with a positive stance toward the Lakewood rabbis, in contrast to my recent posts that criticized those rabbis for what I saw as their timid and respectful stance toward the schools in question. That's a good thing, though I wonder to what extent Mrs. Fleischman's sentiments have arisen from low expectations based upon her experiences in Brooklyn and Lakewood.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Jets Sign O'Brien, Todd and Ryan

Breaking news: Jets sign veteran QBs Ken O'Brien, Richard Todd and Pat Ryan

HEMPSTEAD, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 4 - New York Jets head coach Herman Edwards announced Tuesday that starting quarterback Brooks Bollinger had sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens and will likely miss the rest of season and backup quarterback Vinny Testaverde had dislocated his left hip. Both players are down in Alabama getting second opinions from Dr. James Andrews.

Edwards also announced that the Green & White signed veteran quarterbacks Ken O'Brien and Richard Todd, who will rotate as the starting quarterback in this week's game against Tampa Bay. Veteran quarterback Pat Ryan will backup O'Brien and Todd.

"There were some guys we brought in earlier in the day and we worked them out," Edwards said. "However, Jesse Palmer, Tim Couch and Doug Johnson all declined to sign contracts with us after learning that Jason Fabini will be starting at left tackle again this week."

The Jets next option, Quincy Carter, who served as the Jets backup quarterback last season and started three games for the team, called Edwards from a New Jersey crackhouse, but was told that at this time, the Jets were headed in another direction. Carter was told, however, to "stay in game shape" should the Jets call on him.

Following a night's rest, Edwards decided to give O'Brien and Todd a call.

"I called Ken and Richard this morning and told them that I needed them to get over here and that I had to talk to them. They both had a great conversation with [offensive coordinator] Mike Heimerdinger. We signed them this afternoon. Neither can play for very long without a power nap, so they will rotate in and out the game. Pat Ryan will be our third quarterback. Pat's a good fit, he can help Ken and Richard if they are too tired to play."

"12 games left, we gotta go play, get a little spirit now. I know these guys, we're gonna go now, we're gonna go, we have no choice," Edwards continued.

When asked whether the Jets would be best off losing the rest of their games and drafting USC quarterback Matt Leinart, Edwards responded testily: "You play to win the game. Understand? You play to win the game!"

When asked whether his offensive line was to blame for the loss of four Jets quarterbacks, Edwards shook his head, saying that the injuries were all "freak accidents."

Todd, 52, played in the NFL from 1976-1985, throwing for more than 20,000 yards and leading the Jets to the playoffs in 1981 and 1982. O'Brien, 45, the Jets first round pick in 1983, tossed 128 touchdown passes and passed for more than 25,000 yards in a ten year career. Ryan, 50, played for the Jets from 1978-1989, serving as the backup to Todd and then O'Brien. Ryan led the Jets to a playoff victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in 1986.

A Sad Day?

Today is a sad day for Jets fans. The Jets starting quarterback, Chad Pennington, who was supposed to bring them back to a Super Bowl for the first time since 1969, is reportedly out for the season with a career threatening injury. Worse, backup quarterback Jay Fielder also sustained a serious injury, and may be lost for the season too.

I've heard a number of people - both in the media and Jets fans - state that their sadness has to do with sympathy for Pennington, whose promising career has come to a halt.

While I certainly feel bad for Pennington, a player who courageously (albeit foolishly) actually played two straight seasons with a tort rotator cuff, the primary sadness should not relate to his misfortune. He is but one of many athletes with promising careers that were ruined by injury. The latest example, New York Rangers goalie Dan Blackburn, retired this week at the age of 22. A few years ago, Blackburn was a top draft choice, playing in the NHL at 18 and was seen as the hier apparent to Rangers longtime star goalie Mike Richter.

While the remainder of his contract is not guaranteed, at least Pennington has made more than $30 million in his career.

The sadness, instead, relates to the loss of hope. In 2002, when Pennington came out of nowhere to lead the Jets to an AFC East title, Jets fans thought they had finally found their star quarterback. Even with Pennington hurt, the Jets should have made it to the AFC Championship last season, only failing to get there because of two missed field goals and abysmal coaching by Herm Edwards. Entering this season, many Jets fans still saw Pennington as the franchise's savior.

A glimmer of hope remains, that perhaps the initial MRI was read incorrectly, that perhaps Pennington can shake off serious injuries and come back to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory, just like Phil Simms did for the Giants. But realistically, the Jets can't rely on Pennington to be effective again until and unless he proves otherwise.

I am a pretty obsessive Jets fan. I go to just about all of the home games and watch all of the road games except those that occur on the Jewish sabbath or holidays. When my son was born a few hours before the Jets vs. Steelers (regular season) game last season and my wife was still in the waiting room when it came time for the opening kickoff, and my initial requests for her to be placed in a room were ignored, I implored her to tell the nurse that she worked as a resident in the hospital and wanted a room immediately.

When it came time to plan for my winter vacation, I scheduled it so that we would leave on Monday, January 9 and return on Monday, January 16. Sure, I'd have liked to leave on Sunday and get an extra day of warm weather, but how could I be an on airplane on January Sundays that were also rounds 1 and 2, respectively, of the NFL playoffs?

And I feel sad today, about the crashing of a promising career, about the likelihood that the Jets have started a freefall into another dark period in their painful history.

I also know that it is all quite irrational for Jets fans to feel sad at all today. After all, in the worst case, Pennington will be a rich man whose NFL career ended prematurely. He will be alive and will live a healthy day-to-day life. If those of us unfortunate enough to be Jets fans had been born outside of the New York area, or had (G-d forbid) chosen to be a Giants fan, we might have a little bit of sympathy for Chad Pennington, but wouldn't otherwise care. Indeed, caring about whether the group of men whether one uniform or those wearing the other uniform wins is itself silly and irrational.

Yesterday, the day that the terrible news about Pennington was revealed, Israel's Shin Bet also revealed that a Jerusalem man had been kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists. That's something to feel sad about.

Even keeping things in perspective, though, I expect to be back at Giants Stadium a week from Sunday, knowing the Jets will likely lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but hoping for a win.

Monday, September 26, 2005
The Likud Vote

In a close vote, Likud's central committee has voted against early primaries, keeping Prime Minister Sharon's coalition intact for now.

Sharon will still face an uphill battle when primaries do take place against Binyamin Netanyahu and Uzi Landau, but with today's victory he will then be in an almost no-lose situation. If he remains head of Likud and its candidate for prime minister, he will surely be re-elected. If he is defeated in primaries, he will form a new centrist party that also would be favored in national elections.

Sharon would have set up the centrist party had he lost tonight's vote, but in that scenario a victorious Netanyahu would have had much more time to run a campaign attacking Sharon and his political opportunism. Now, Netanyahu must expend all of his energy on the primaries, which also will be very close, while Sharon has months to plan his strategy while remaining the incumbent prime minister.

Among the responses to the vote results was this one from Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom's office, which stated that: "The biggest winner of the evening is Sharon and the second winner is Silvan Shalom. Once again the Sharon-Shalom coalition has proven to be a winning coalition. The biggest losers are Netanyahu, who will remain so for the next eight months until primaries, and Gideon Sa'ar who tried to play with the big players and lost the consensus."

This statement sadly reveals much about the sorry, petty, vindictive state of Israeli politics. In a normal country, a political prostitute like Sylvan Shalom would, at worst, be a mid-level political hack, not charged with foreign affairs.

Negiah and High-Fives

A while ago, Gil Student had several posts about shaking hands with women.

In the professional world, most observant Jews shake hands with women, despite Jewish law's general prohibition on touching women. Indeed, I can only think of two people I have known who have declined to do so; both would explain to the other party that for religious reasons they did not shake hands.

As I believe Gil's posts explained, there are (at least) two basic halachic reasons for shaking hands to be permissible. First, shaking hands is seen as not being derech chibah - usually interpreted as affectionate touching, but at times interpreted as touching that is (or can potentially lead to something that is) sexual in nature, or alternatively, touching that is in any way pleasurable.

(While touching that is derech chibah is seen as forbidden, it is not clear that touching that is not derech chibah is necessarily permissible, but that matter is beyond the scope of this post.)

The other reason for shaking hands to be permissible is not to cause a chilul hashem - a desecration of G-d's name - by rudely embarrassing another person who puts out her hand. This combined with shaking hands being seen as not derech chibah are the primary halachic basis for shaking hands.

In professional situations, I always shake hands with women. In social situations - such as recently at my wife's graduation from her medical residency program - I will shake hands with women if the woman puts out her hand first, or if the situation otherwise calls for it, but generally I don't put my hand out first.

This gets me to the current post. At yesterday's Jets game, the crowd was going wild early in the 3rd quarter when James Reed returned a fumble for a Jets touchdown. The fans in my row were all excitedly high-fiving. After high-fiving the two male fans to my right, I instinctively high-fived the raised hand to my left, before remembering that the fans on my left are ladies. Well, not exactly ladies, but members of the female gender who consume lots of alcohol and are as big as some of the Jets players. Before I could catch my breath, the other females seated to my left also raised their hands for high-fives.

My quandary, for which a decision was needed in a fraction of a second, was whether to execute the high-five, or to ignore the women who I am relegated to sit next to. My decision was to somewhat awkwardly avoid actively high-fiving these women, while instead lifting up my hand for them to high-five me if they so chose, which they all did.

Did I do the right thing? Are the concepts that allow (at least according to many) shaking hands with women applicable to my situation? Once I mistakenly high-fived one of the women, should I have refused to high-five the others?

Jets QB Disaster

At today's press conference, Herm Edwards would not give information about the status of either Chad Pennington or Jay Fiedler (the Jets starting and backup quarterbacks), merely saying that both are having MRIs on their injured shoulders and that information would not be available until tomorrow.

I tend to think that the MRIs were already conducted and that the results were not good. I would not be surprised to see both miss significant time.

In Pennington's case, he clearly had not recovered from last season's torn rotator cuff and the ensuing major surgery. The Jets spin machine tried to create the impression that Pennington was recovered - if not fully that almost fully. It appears as though they are spinning the current situation for at least another day.

Did the Jets rush Pennington back? If they did, and if he now requires another major surgery that would threaten his career, owner Woody Johnson must clean house, firing Edwards and GM Terry Bradway immediately.

How Many Ways Can Herm Lose A Game?

The following is my anti-Herm Edwards rant. I intend to write it quickly and then post it, with any grammitical mistakes kept as is.

Avid Jets fans have long known that Herm Edwards is a buffoon. Herm knows how to motivate his players but has no idea how to manage a game. Common sense eludes him.

For years, the media has blamed Herm's miscues on his assistant coaches. Even if that were warranted in the past, with Herm in his fifth year and having already fired most of his original assistant coaching staff and picked his new coaches, these days the buck must stop with Herm and he must take the blame for the Jets abysmal game management.

Here are some examples of Herm's incompetence in yesterday's game:

1. Justin Miller was awful returning punts in the preseason and awful again last week. Indeed, I wrote after last week's game:

Rookie cornerback/returner Justin Miller looked great in kickoff returns last week, but was awful returning punts yesterday. Actually, Miller did everything to avoid returning punts, usually running away from the ball like the little kid in left field who cowers from fly balls in yeshiva softball games.

Naturally, Herm's response is to put Miller right back in to return punts.

Miller fumbled the first punt that came his away, with the Jets recovering. Then he actually caught a punt at the Jets 10 yard line, ran a few yards backwards and across the field laterally, ending up with a six yard loss and pinning the Jets at their own 4.

At that point, I told the guy next to me that Miller would cost us the game by fumbling a punt. The guy was to drunk too understand, but at least I made my point.

Of course, Herm's response was indeed to send Miller out to return yet another punt, which he indeed promptly fumbled, changing the game's momentum.

2. Late in the second quarter, Jacksonville had the ball looking for a field goal. The Jets called a timeout giving the Jags more time on their 2 minute drill. Fortunately, the Jets stopped Jacksonville, who punted. The Jets started at their own 12 yard line with 38 seconds left in the half and no timeouts. The obvious thing to do was to kneel down and run out the clock, since the Jets needed to go an unrealistic 50 yards for even a 55 yard field goal attempt. Instead, Herm decided to play fast and loose with the ball. First, Curtis Martin ran for around 20 yards (padding his game stats). Then, with the clock at under 20 seconds left, Chad Pennington threw an interception. Even had the pass been completed, the clock would probably have run out since the pass was not to the sidelines.

The Jets were again fortunate that Jacksonville could not capitalize, but Herm's stupidity was on full display.

3. For four years, the Jets let Lamont Jordan languish on the bench. After Jordan left for Oakland, the Jets made Derrick Blaylock the highest paid running back in the NFL. Yet Blaylock has only carried the ball 5 times in the Jets first three games. Yesterday, despite promising all week that Blaylock would get significant playing time since Curtis Martin has an injured knee - and despite the running game's ineffectiveness - Blaylock did not even touch the ball until the 4th quarter.

4. The Jets playcalling was astonishingly predictable. They repeatedly ran up the middle at the guts of the Jaguars defense, with little success. Not only was there no creativity, even basic outside runs were never called.

5. Herm allowed Pennington to return to the game despite having no clue as to the severity of Pennington's shoulder injury. Hopefully, this did not cause further damage.

Once Pennington returned, he was not allowed to throw downfield, with almost every pass a short dump. Did Herm thinks the Jags were as stupid as he is, unable to decipher that the Jets would run most plays and otherwise limit Chad to short passes?

Either let your quarterback throw the ball, or, if he can't or you think it's too risky to let him, bring someone in who can play. Yesterday, number 3 QB Brooks Bollinger - the likely new starting QB for quite a while - was the Jets only option at quarterback but was unused.

6. With the Jets having 1st and goal late in the 4th quarter, the first two plays were predictable Martin runs up the middle. Neither got anything. Pennington's third down pass to Wayne Chrebet - which the refs ruled Chrebet failed to hang on to - was on target, and indicated that Pennington could at least throw the short pass.

As always, Herm played for the field goal instead of a winning touchdown. That's always bad, but was worse in a game in which with a seriously injured QB, the Jets would obviously have very limited opportunity to sustain a winning drive in overtime.

7. Perhaps stupidest of all, late in the 4th quarter, the Jaguars had the ball and a chance to win with a field goal. With 3rd and 2 from the Jags' 34 coming up and the clock winding down under 40 seconds, the Jets inexplicably called timeout. As though that weren't crazy enough, after that play, when the Jags gained two yards (with a measurement confirming the first down conversion), the Jets again called timeout. While the clock temporarily stops on measurements, this allowed the Jags to set up a full huddle and saved them at least 10 seconds on the game clock.

What exactly was Herm thinking? That the Jets would stop the Jags and get the ball back? In that case, why call a timeout before the measurement? In any event, the Jets were not going anywhere deep in their territory without any timeouts and with a QB who could barely lift his throwing arm.

Of course, Herm is not the only one who deserves blame. GM Terry Bradway allowed offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie to leave as a free agent, along with tight end Anthony Becht, a poor receiver but good blocker. Even with three aging starters (center Kevin Mawae - 34; guard Pete Kendall - 32; tackle Jason Fabini - 31), the Jets' only addition to the line was aging journeyman Scott Gragg, who was signed just before the season opener. Amazingly, Bradway not only did not sign any free agent offensive linemen, he did not bother to pick any in the draft.

As for Becht's purported replacement, Doug Jolley, he was billed as a pass-catching tight end, but in fact is only used in run situations as an extra blocker. So Jolley is basically being used in the same formations as Becht, even though he's a much more limited blocker.

Sunday, September 25, 2005
Bring Back Kotite

It's 6:50 and I just got back from the Jets game after driving from New Jersey to Brooklyn where I had dropped off my son, and then back to Queens.

I don't have time to write in detail and won't until at least late tomorrow and likely mid-week, because unlike Jets coach Herm Edwards, I play to win the game - specifically, in my case, I litigate to win cases.

For now, briefly, this was Edwards' worst performance as Jets coach. He has mishandled games before, usually in dramatic fashion, but today he consistently made terrible decisions. Justin Miller returning punts - or impersonating a punt returner - the bizarre timeouts stopping the clock no less than three times for the Jaguars, and the use of a quarterback who either could not or was not allowed to throw the ball were among the idiotic decisions Herm made today, as was the continued overuse of Curtis Martin runs up the middle.

GM Terry Bradway's offseason nap predictably proved devastating as well. Bradway did nothing as his offensive line weakened in the offseason, instead signing Derrick Blaylock to a contract that makes Blaylock the highest paid backup running back in the NFL despite almost never actually running the ball. In the meantime, the Jets offensive line is failing to open any holes on runs, is picking up holding penalty after holding penalty - generally following the rare downfield completion - and worst of all, is getting the Jet quarterbacks killed.

I also was not at all impressed with Ty Law today. He looked a step slow on several Jacksonville third down conversions.

Finally - for now - the Jets fans are lousy. Many if not most were gone by the middle of the fourth quarter.

I'll have more in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Cris Carter on Chad Pennington

I just read an article in today's Daily News quoting ex-NFL great Cris Carter strongly criticizing Jets QB Chad Pennington.

According to Carter, Pennington "has always been overrated" and noted that Pennington "isn't athletic, can't run and doesn't have a cannon for an arm."

Fair enough.

But wait. Wasn't it Carter who less than two weeks ago proclaimed, "Jets quarterback Chad Pennington is coming off shoulder surgery, but I think he will be fine. I think his shoulder has had time to heal. The biggest thing for Pennington will be new offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger, who'll really take him to another level."

As if that weren't enough, Carter not only predicted that the Jets would win in Kansas City, he gushed that the Jets "will be the team that finally unseats the Patriots as AFC East champions."

Then, last week, in his Week 2 predictions, Carter wrote, "I don't think Chad Pennington's shoulder is 100 percent healthy. I think Miami's defense will put more pressure on him than the Chiefs did last Sunday in Kansas City. The Dolphins' defense is far more aggressive."

In concluding, Carter stated that "the Dolphins will also create a lot of turnovers" and would beat the Jets.

Actually the Jets won, Pennington was only sacked twice, and the Jets did not commit any turnovers.

So not only does Carter completely change his mind after one game, his predictions have all been wrong. Kind of hard to take him seriously, if you ask me.

Rabbis Talking Politics In Shul

Miriam Shaviv posts about a "tri-state area" rabbi who wrote a long piece in the current issue of the Jewish Voice and Opinion, in which he purports to "disengage" from the State of Israel as a result of the Gush Katif withdrawal.

Another blogger posts the article in full, and identifies the rabbi as Rabbi Steven Pruzansky of Teaneck. [UPDATE: Steven Weiss reports that Rabbi Pruzansky denies that he is the author of this article]

I have heard Rabbi Pruzansky speak on several occasions. When he avoids politics, he comes across as learned, interesting, engaging, witty and often hilarious. When Israel is the topic, he is quite uncompromising and at least to me, much less interesting. Indeed, Rabbi Pruzansky's strident presentation of his views on Israel often diminish the potency of his meritorious arguments, such as his strong opposition in the early 1990's to the Oslo Accords.

To me, a rabbi's personal political views are not especially bothersome so long as those views are not forced down the congregation's throat from the pulpit. In this regard, I have a problem both with Rabbi Pruzansky and with his rabbinical counterpart in nearby Englewood, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, who, after Oslo, insisted on enthusiastically supporting the deal with Arafat and the PLO, including in shul.

In the non-Orthodox shuls, it is no secret that rabbis routinely express left-wing views on everything running from Israel to domestic social policy.

In the community where I currently live, one of the rabbis in a shul I often attend made several speeches opposing the Gush Katif withdrawal, including one in which he completely distorted the IDF's giving the green light for soldiers to use live ammunition against violent protesters threatening soldiers' lives. The way the rabbi portrayed it was as though the IDF would be allowed to shoot anyone protesting. Obviously, that was not the policy, as the withdrawal - led by unarmed soldiers - clearly showed.

In another neighborhood shul, in each of the last two weeks the rabbi has made long rambling political speeches, also expressing right-wing views on Israel, again particularly concerning the withdrawal and its aftermath.

I don't think rabbis should be prohibited from expressing their political views, but they shouldn't make political speeches routinely, and when they do, they should express their views in a manner and tone that recognizes that the issues are complex and that others - likely including some of their congregants - legitimately disagree in good faith.

When I am in shul and a rabbi starts making one of these speeches as though he possesses the obvious truth, I feel as though I am being held hostage. I don't want to walk out in middle of the speech and show disrespect for the rabbi, and therefore (up to this point, at least) stay and anxiously wait for services to resume.

Yet I strongly resent the rabbis who put me in this position by using their shul as a bully pulpit. Rabbis should endeavor to serve as our spiritual leaders, not our political leaders.

Best Jets Wins

My initial thought was to do a list of the worst Jets losses in their history, but unfortunately, there are many more bad games to consider than good. And anyway, the Jets won on Sunday, so why not be positive?

So here is an off the cuff list of my 15 favorite Jets wins. While Super Bowl 3 is obviously the best Jets victory, this list is limited to games since I started watching the Jets in the late 70's. The list is certainly subjective and omits some memorable games that others may feel warrant inclusion.

1. Jets defeat Raiders 17-14 on Saturday night, January 15, 1983, my 10th birthday. A week after beating the Bengals, the Jets stunned the AFC's top seeded Raiders in LA to earn a trip to the AFC Championship in Miami. With the Jets trailing 14-10, Wesley Walker caught a 45 yard bomb with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter that set up the go-ahead - and ultimately game-winning - touchdown run. Lance Mehl intercepted two passes in the final 3 minutes of the 4th quarter.

2. Jets defeat Jacksonville on January 10, 1999, in the second round of the playoffs. After a 12-4 season, this was the Jets first home playoff game in 12 years (they've had just one more since), and despite freezing temperatures, it is the most enjoyable game I've ever attended. After taking an early 17-0 lead, the Jets held on to win 34-24. Keyshawn Johnson caught 9 passes, intercepted a Hail Mary pass, and, following a Curtis Martin fumble and a long return by the Jaguars, stripped the ball loose to recover it for the Jets, who then commenced a touchdown drive.

The win was the seventh straight for the Jets, who seemed ready to win the Super Bowl. Unfortunately, a week later they would play a poor second half against Denver in the AFC Championship.

3. Jets defeat Bengals 44-17 on January 9, 1983. A week before the victory over the Raiders, the Jets were led by more than 200 yards rushing by Freeman McNeil, who also threw a touchdown pass. The New York Sack Exchange was in full force, refusing to let Cincinnati get anything going on offense.

4. Jets defeat Packers 42-17 on December 29, 2002 to win the AFC East title. After a terrible 2-5 start, Chad Pennington led the Jets resurgence. Coming into the final week of the season, they needed a win over an 11-4 Packers team that would gain home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory. The Jets also needed either Miami or Cleveland to lose to have a chance to make the playoffs.

In the 1:00 games, Cleveland defeated Atlanta, and Miami was leading New England by 10 points. As the Jets game was starting, New England scored a late 4th quarter touchdown to cut the deficit to 3. Then, early in the 1st quarter of the Jets game, New England tied it, and the Giants Stadium crowd went into a frenzy. Later, when the Patriots won in overtime on another field goal, a mass celebration broke out among the fans, even though the Jets game remained tied late in the 1st quarter.

Energized by a chance to win the division, the Jets crushed Green Bay. Pennington threw four touchdown passes.

5. Jets defeat Colts 41-0, January 4, 2003. In the first round of the playoffs, Chad Pennington threw for 3 touchdown passes, Lamont Jordan ran for two, and Payton Manning was intercepted twice and managed a paltry 137 yards passing, as the Colts offense couldn't get anything going.

Even more important than the win itself was the feeling that with Chad Pennington at quarterback, the Jets would win a Super Bowl, if not in the '02 season than within a year or two. Having throw ten touchdown passes in three games, Pennington had never looked better; he has not been nearly as good since.

6. Jets defeat Dolphins 16-15 at Shea Stadium on November 22, 1981. For years, this game was often featured on Alcoa's "Fantastic Finishes" during the 4th quarter two minute warning. After an 0-3 start, the Jets entered with a 6-4-1 record and a chance to move into a first place tie with the Dolphins - with the Jets holding the tiebreaker. With the Jets down 15-9 late in the 4th quarter, Richard Todd drove the Jets down the field. With 16 seconds left, Todd threw the winning touchdown pass to Jerome Barkum, threading the needle between two Dolphins. Shea went into a frenzy not seen since the '73 Mets, with Mark Gastineau dancing euphorically on the sidelines.

7. Jets defeat Dolphins 51-45 on September 21, 1986. One of the most exciting games in Jets history. Dan Marino threw 6 touchdown passes, but he was outdueled by Ken O'Brien in O'Brien's finest performance as a Jet. Wesley Walker also had a career day, with four TD receptions, the third on the final play of the 4th quarter. With the Jets down 45-38, they drove down the field in a last minute drive with no timeouts. With five seconds left and the ball on the Miami 21, Walker caught an O'Brien pass at the 1 and fell into the end zone. The Jets then won the coin toss, and picked up right where they left off, with O'Brien marching them downfield. With the ball on the Miami 43, O'Brien threw a bomb to Wesley Walker for the win. The victory was the start of a nine-game winning streak for the Jets.

8. Jets defeat Packers 28-3 on December 20, 1981. After an 0-3 start to the '81 season, the Jets came alive, going 9-2-1 over their next 12 games. Entering the final week of the season, they needed a victory over Green Bay to make the playoffs for the first time in twelve year. The Packers also could make the playoffs with a win, and entered having won six of seven.

In one of the greatest Jets victories at Shea Stadium, the Jets were led by a dominant performance by Mark Gastineau, Joe Klecko, and the rest of the Sack Exchange, which recorded an amazing 9 sacks that day. Wesley Walker and Lam Jones both catch long touchdown passes.

9. Jets defeat Dolphins 21-16 on December 13, 1998. Both teams entered this game with a 9-4 record. In Miami's only home loss of the season, Wayne Chrebet led the Jets offense with a touchdown reception and more than 100 years receiving. The Jets defense sacked Dan Marino five times, and late in the 4th quarter, Chad Cascadden returned a Marino fumble for a touchdown to seal the victory.

The following week, the Jets clinched the AFC East title with a victory over the Bills.

10. Jets defeat Patriots 30-17 on December 22, 2002. Needing a road victory over the defending Super Bowl champs to keep their then slim playoff hopes alive, Chad Pennington led the way with 285 yards passing and three touchdowns, without an interception. In a tense 4th quarter, Pennington orchestrated a 75 yard drive that culminated with a touchdown pass to Wayne Chrebet.

11. Jets defeat Dolphins 40-37 on October 23, 2000 in one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. I'm embarrassed to admit that I left this Monday Night Football game early - the only time I have left a game early. The Dolphins scored with 12 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter to take a 30-7 lead. It was already quite late, and I had a choice of taking a ride home or taking the Port Authority bus and a train home. I foolishly chose the ride.

As we were exiting Giants Stadium, Vinny Testaverde hit Laveranues Coles for a long TD pass. A few minutes later, in the car heading out the stadium parking lot to Route 3 and the Lincoln Tunnel, we turned the radio on to hear that the Jets scored again, making it 30-20.

That's when I learned my lesson never to leave a game early again. We indeed exited the stadium, but there was an accident on Route 3 (the road to the Lincoln Tunnel) and we (and thousands of others) could not take the ramp to the highway. So stuck in traffic just outside the parking lot, with the stadium lights glaring, we listened to Wayne Chrebet's tying touchdown catch with 4 minutes left, to Miami's long kickoff return and devastating go-ahead TD on the first play on the ensuing drive, and then to the Jets forcing overtime when Testaverde converted on 4th down to set up first and goal, and then hooked up with Jumbo Elliott of all people for a touchdown.

When overtime started the road reopened. With the Dolphins driving in Jets territory, Marcus Coleman intercepted a Jay Fielder pass, but fumbled the ball away. Then Coleman intercepted another pass, and after a long pass to Chrebet, John Hall kicked a 40 yard field goal to win it.

The win put the Jets in first place with a 6-1 record. They subsequently collapsed, finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs.

12. Jets defeat Dolphins 23-20 on December 22, 1991. Despite entering the game with a 7-8 record, the Jets had a chance to make the playoffs with a road win over Miami. With the Jets clinging to a 17-13 lead, Dan Marino leads the Dolphins to what appears to be the game winning TD pass on 4th and goal with just 44 seconds left. On the radio, Jets announcer Marty Glickman declares the game and the season over. But the Jets quickly drive downfield, and with no time left in regulation, Raul Allegre kicks a 44 yard field goal to force overtime. In overtime running back Johnny Hector was unstoppable and the Jets won on another Allegre field goal.

13. Jets defeat Colts 29-28 on December 23, 2001. Vinny Testaverde outduels Payton Manning in this Sunday night classic. The Jets moved the ball well all game, but kept sputtering in the red zone, settling for five John Hall field goals. With less than three minutes to go and no timeouts, the Jets started deep in their own territory. Vinny completed two passes to Wayne Chrebet and another to Curtis Martin, and found Anthony Becht for the winning TD with less than a minute left.

14. Jets defeat Giants 26-7 on November 1, 1981. This was a home game for the Giants, making the dominating win especially enjoyable. The Sack Exchange was born that day, sacking Phil Simms nine times - with Gastineau and Joe Klecko recording three each. Richard Todd and Wesley Walker had a huge game on offense.

15. Jets defeat Bucs 21-17 on September 24, 2000. Embittered after being traded by the Jets months earlier, Keyshawn Johnson talks trash all week, dissing the Jets generally and Wayne Chrebet particularly. Both teams come into the game with 3-0 records. Keyshawn does nothing in the game, but neither did the Jets offense, and Tampa led 17-6 late in the 4th quarter. With less than two minutes left, Vinny Testaverde led a touchdown drive, and the Jets converted the two point conversion, cutting the deficit to 17-14. Instead of an onside kick, the Jets kick the ball deep. On 2nd down, the Bucs fumbled the ball, and the Jets looked poised to send the game into overtime with a tying field goal. Instead, Chrebet - who also was having a quiet game - caught a touchdown pass from none other than running back Curtis Martin, giving the Jets the win and a 4-0 start.

Among other noteworthy games are the Jets' playoff victories against Kansas City in 1986 and the Chargers last season, as well as the season finales against the Browns in 1985 and the Raiders in 2001, both of which the Jets won to clinch a playoff berth.

UPDATE: A comment by jetsphan about the '78 Jets reminded me of my earliest memory of a Jets game - when I was in first grade and not yet six years old: An awesome 31-28 road victory over the Broncos on November 5, 1978 that definitely ranks among the team's best. The Jets were down 28-7 before scoring the final 24 points. I'm not certain, but believe that prior to the 2000 Miami game, this was the biggest Jets comeback in franchise history. Unfortunately, the Jets lost four of their last six games to finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Lakewood Follow-Up

I've gotten a fair amount of criticism for my post about the situation in Lakewood in which as many as 80 girls were not admitted into the community's high schools. Most of the responses were via e-mail.

Some of the responses - both in the comments and via e-mail - were simply vitriolic ad hominem attacks on me and/or my family, all anonymous, of course. Those I simply deleted.

Then there were those who stated that I lack "das Torah." They are probably right that I do not accept "das Torah" in the manner that they define it, that one must accept everything rabbis say (or don't say) about any topic.

Several people questioned whether the Internet is an appropriate place to discuss internal controversies in the observant Jewish world. I respect their position, but feel that ordinary people are entitled to express their opinion.

Finally two people strongly argue that my facts are all wrong, that the rabbis in Lakewood did make efforts to get the girls into schools, ultimately gaining support of the leading charedi rabbis in Israel. They both were outraged that I would write what they saw as an assault on the honor of the Lakewood rabbis.

I believe that the facts as I presented them are substantially accurate. They were verified by a person I trust (who does not agree with my post). It seems clear that the Lakewood rabbis used quiet diplomacy so that the girls in question would be admitted into a school. Then they slightly less diplomatically tried to cajole the schools in relenting. Only at summer's end, just before school was about to open, did they take a strong stand. Until then, their stance was quite timid.

This is sharp contrast to the ban by the Lakewood rabbis of Lakewood BlueClaws games (under which if any family member goes to a game, nobody from that person's family can be admitted to a Lakewood yeshiva), or to the bans of several books which prominent Lakewood rabbis joined.

When it came to the girls who were not admitted into schools, they and their families had to wait anxiously for months while the rabbis quietly and respectfully discussed things with selfish school administrators.

The bottom line is that the Lakewood rabbis know how to take a strong and immediate stand, but only choose to do so when it comes to prohibiting things.

In any event, I do regret some of the strident language used in last week's post, and have just updated that post to strike much of the language that might unnecessarily offend.

Monday, September 19, 2005
Deep Thoughts (On the Jets)

1. I'm a few months older than Jets running back Curtis Martin. While I don't get hit as much as Martin, I've gone to a lot of Jets games over the last 11 years, and it's taking its toll. Watching a Jets game on TV is hard enough, but afterward one can quickly move on to other activities.

Going to the game and coming home from the game is something else. Last night, after a tense game that the Jets won but were far from their best, I did not get home until after 9. Even though I declined to participate in the J-E-T-S chants, when I called my wife on the way home, I discovered that my voice was lost, apparently during a late 4th quarter Dolphins drive stopped by the Jets defense.

2. Chad Pennington was far from great yesterday. During several 3rd quarter drives, he was completely out of sync with his receivers. Had the Jets defense not played as well, and/or had it been faced with a stronger offensive opponent, the 17 points put up by the Jets might well have left them at 0-2.

Yet Pennington was at his best when he was most needed, and that counts for more than a little. After last week's debacle, the Jets needed to start strong, and they scored a touchdown on an 80 yard opening game drive, capped off by a 3rd down fade touchdown pass to Laveranues Coles.

Early in the 4th quarter, the Dolphins scored to make the game 10-7 in favor of the Jets. I sat right behind the Dolphin sideline, and the players were ecstatic. Pennington and Martin had both been looking awful in the second half, and the Dolphins had all the momentum.

After a holding penalty and a Martin carry for no gain, the Jets were faced with 2nd and 20 deep in their own territory. Pennington completed a 13 yard pass to Justin McCarens, but the Jets then hurt themselves again with a false start penalty. On 3rd and 12, Pennington completed a 20 yarder to McCarens. He then completed passes to Wayne Chrebet, Chris Baker, two to Coles, and a short touchdown pass to Jerald Sowell.

Pennington will have another tough test next week against the Jaguars, whose defense shut down Peyton Manning in a 10-3 loss yesterday.

3. The much hyped new Jets offense looks pretty similar to the old offense. Sure, there are the occasional two tight-end sets or the fullback in the backfield, and the even more occasional shotgun formation. But the playcalling has a similar feel to the old system. Long passes have been very rare. Is the problem Pennington and not the system? Time will tell.

4. Curtis Martin ran the ball 31 times yesterday. That is simply inexcusable. The Jets gave a big contract to Derrick Blaylock to serve as Martin's backup, but after failing to get a carry last week, Blaylock was given the ball only twice yesterday. Blaylock's fresh legs were sorely needed in the awful 3rd quarter; he needs to carry the ball 8-10 times a game, both to keep Martin fresh and to give defenses a new look. The Jets should take a look at the Chiefs - last week's opponent and Blaylock's former team - who do a great job using Larry Johnson as the number 2 running back behind Priest Holmes.

I also wish the Jets would give the ball to fullback BJ Askew in short-yardage situations. Askew, the Jets' 3rd round pick in 2003, is 6'3 and 233 pounds. When the Jets had 4th and goal inside the 1 yard line in the 2nd quarter, they gave the ball to Martin, who failed to score.

5. Rookie cornerback/returner Justin Miller looked great in kickoff returns last week, but was awful returning punts yesterday. Actually, Miller did everything to avoid returning punts, usually running away from the ball like the little kid in left field who cowers from fly balls in yeshiva softball games.

6. According to Jets' head coach Herm Edwards: "It was a lot of coaching going on this week. I did a lot of counseling."

Does Herm know the difference between coaching and counseling? I like Herm as a person and there surely are worse head coaches, but he seems more and more like a mere figurehead who serves as good cop to the Jets' fiery coordinators.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Rangers To Real Fans: Stay Home

The Rangers have been advertising the team's "presale" of individual tickets, beginning today on Ticketmaster.

Like many fans, I was sure to immediately try to obtain tickets to the January 12th game against Edmonton, when the Rangers are retiring Mark Messier's number.

Within seconds of the purported release of tickets, no seats were available to that game in any section or any price level.

In contrast, previously I have always been able to obtain high-demand tickets when I was online with a fast connection, such as to World Series and playoff games and leading Broadway plays that sold out within 30 minutes or less.

Rangers tickets were available to every other game I checked (including tough tickets against the Islanders and Devils, which always sell out), but even those games had a Ticketmaster charge of $10 per ticket or more. Furthermore, individual seats cost $4.50 more than the price to season ticket holders. So a seat up in the "blues" that costs $22.50 to a season ticket holder would - after Ticketmaster fees - come to more than $37 each.

The failure to release any tickets to the Oilers game is unacceptable in light of the Rangers' advertisement of ticket sales. It's obvious that the Rangers are withholding individual tickets to the Oilers game, instead forcing fans to buy a 15 game package that includes that game. They should at least be upfront about that.

I don't know how much the Messier tribute will end up costing on eBay and Craigslist. I was hoping to take my wife so that she could gain an appreciation of this sports legend who changed Rangers history, but now hope I'll be able to afford a ticket for myself.

Aren't There Rabbis In Lakewood?

In the front and back page of last week's Jewish Press, my father had a long piece criticizing the admission and retention policies of Jewish yeshivas and day schools.

The latest post of Semgirl - the blog of a 19 year old young woman living in Lakewood - underscores the sorry state of the deteriorating situation. She writes:

As the new school year begins, it seems that 80 girls were not accepted into the local elementary and High Schools. While having lunch with my father at a local eatery last week, I witnessed a heated debate . . Many of the ‘tzadikim’ (SIC) in our fair town , don’t want their daughters in class together with girls who come from homes with a TV, secular magazines, OU-D products, mothers who wear short sleeves, or perish the thought, Hashem Yraheim, fathers who don’t wear white shirts. It would be hilarious, if it wasn’t so tragic. What is really ironic, is that I have witnessed firsthand, some high school-aged daughters of these very outraged fathers, in local libraries viewing websites and chatrooms, that most decent , Non-Jewish parents would not want their children in, as well as, hanging out in some rather inappropriate places. If these parents, would instead sincerely, be concerned about all the “yiddishe kinderlach” in our ‘wonderful’ community , they would have the Siyata D’Shomaya (heavenly assistance), that their children would not be doing the aforementioned things. These are not only my thoughts, my father heard this firsthand from his Rebbeim.

B”H, Reb Elyashiv and Reb Steinman, may they continue to be well and strong and guide us with their wisdom, came out with a ruling that no schools are to open until all the girls have a place to go to.

What I find most revealing about this sorry situation is that it required the ruling of R. Elyashiv and R. Steinman, both of whom are in Israel.

Is there a shortage of rabbis in Lakewood? One would not think so.

Nor are the rabbis in Lakewood reluctant to express (and impose) their views.
At least two leading Lakewood rabbis have no trouble telling us that it is "forbidden to read, own or distribute" certain controversial books, and several years ago, dozens of Lakewood rabbis issued a ruling forbidding the members of Lakewood's Orthodox community from attending Lakewood BlueClaws minor league baseball games - though not before the yeshiva gave political support to construction of a stadium for the BlueClaws in exchange for some goodies sent the yeshiva's way.

It's rather sad and pathetic that these rabbis could even temporarily countenance a situation in which 80 girls were not accepted into Lakewood schools, relenting only when Israel's leading charedi rabbis intervened.

The reality is that while there are many in Lakewood with the title "rabbi", there are few rabbinical leaders there.

Monday, September 12, 2005
Mets, Jets, Rangers Thoughts

1. I'll save my analysis of the Mets for season's end. For now, it's worth noting that yesterday was the Mets' last game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Kids won't think much of Busch, but I'll always remember the great Mets - Cards rivalry of the 80's. Best of all was the three game series from October 1-3, 1985. The Mets were three back with six games to play, and needed to sweep. The first game was a classic pitching duel. Ron Darling pitched 9 shutout innings, but John Tudor shut the Mets out for 10. Darryl Strawberry hit a monstrous homer in the 11th for a 1-0 win. On the next night, Dwight Gooden pitched another gem, his last of his incredible '85 season which he never came close to matching. Then, with the Mets just a game back, they fell short in the final game of the series, 4-3. I believe Keith Hernandez had five hits that night, but the Mets repeatedly failed to get clutch hits, leaving many runners on base.

I never made it to Busch Stadium. When I was in St. Louis, the Cardinals were away. I did get to see Busch from the highway.

2. The Jets' performance yesterday was so bad, that any analysis would fall short because it would fail to acknowledge all who contributed to the fiasco.

Especially deserving of scorn, however, are head coach Herm Edwards and quarterback Chad Pennington.

Edwards is now in his 5th season and he has fired most of his original staff. For his players to come out so unprepared is simply inexcusable.

Pennington was great in 2002, then missed significant time in both '03 and '04 due to injury. He has not been - to put it charitably - effective against the blitz. It is reasonable to wonder if 2002 - his first as a starter - will be his career year, just a fluke. It's too early to write Pennington off, but his decision-making has actually gotten progressively worse over the last three seasons.

As frustrating as the Jets' loss was, in a way it's a reminder of how much fun the NFL is. Last season, the Jets had a good season, while the Dolphins were awful. Yesterday, the Dolphins won 34-10. The NFL is the only league in which teams can quickly go from terrible to very good or even great, and vice versa.

3. I'm happy that Mark Messier has finally retired and that he retired as a Ranger.

The Rangers have been bad for eight years, and their current roster doesn't provide much hope. All that's left of '94 are memories, but those memories will endure. I still remember listening to WFAN when Messier was acquired from Edmonton at the start of the 91-92 season. It was a Friday. Going to Madison Square Garden in the 90's and watching the greatest Ranger lead his team to what had seemed to be impossible was a privilege. I hope I'll also have the privilege to watch Messier's number be retired on January 12, 2006 at MSG, prior to the game against Edmonton.

Bush: Destroy Shuls

If another reminder that Israel faces a barbaric enemy was necessary, the destruction last night and today by Palestinians of the abandoned synagogues in Gaza serves that purpose.

Following the Israeli cabinet vote to leave the synagogue structures standing and to demand that the PA ensure that the synagogues are not desecrated, those who continue to insist that George W. Bush is Israel's close friend might have expected his government to have joined the call on the PA to guard these Jewish holy places.

Instead, as the AP reports, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Israeli decision not to destroy the shuls "puts the Palestinian Authority into a situation where it may be criticized for whatever it does."

McCormack's disgraceful words eliminated any small chance that the PA would feel some international pressure to keep the shuls standing, and ensured their immediate destruction.

It's nice to know what the government of our deeply religious Christian president feels about Jewish places of worship.

Friday, September 09, 2005
2005 Jets

After a 10-6 season in 2004, the Jets face a difficult schedule this season. At several positions, the Jets lost starters, including nose tackle Jason Ferguson, offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie, and tight end Anthony Becht. The losses of McKenzie and Becht will hurt the Jets running game, as well the loss of backup running back Lamont Jordan, who played a key role in several victories last season.

The Jets passing game will receive a boost from the re-acquisition of Laveranues Coles. Coles and Jets QB Chad Pennington had a fantastic rapport in 2002 before the Jets foolishly let Coles leave for Washington as a free agent. Mike Heimerdinger, the Jets' new offensive coordinator, is also expected to institute a much more aggressive style that should increase the production of tight end Chris Baker and of Wayne Chrebet, who is now the Jets' third receiver. Doug Jolley, another tight end acquired from Oakland in the offseason, had a disappointing preseason, but can't be counted out as a potential asset to the receiving corps. While the Jets cannot afford another serious injury to Pennington, should Pennington be out for a game or two, Jay Fiedler is a very capable backup quarterback.

Aside from the departure of Ferguson, the Jets' defense is fairly similar to last year's. Ty Law replaces retired cornerback Donnie Abraham. I have always felt Law to be somewhat overrated. It is hoped that John Abraham will be productive and healthy for a full season, but Abraham's history suggests that this scenario may be unrealistic. Free safety Erik Coleman and linebacker Jonathan Vilma were both rookie starters last season, and should improve in their second season. If healthy, defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson could be poised for a big year, but he will open this season playing with a cast on a broken hand.

The loss of Santana Moss - who was traded for Coles - removes a threat from the Jets punt return game, and the Jets kickoff return group also seems suspect. The Jets should improve at both punter and kicker, though both positions are now held by rookies: Ohio State standout Mike Nugent, the Jets' second round pick is the kicker, while 31-year-old Ben Graham, an ex-star in the Australian Football League, is the new punter.

With Heimerdinger and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, the Jets are solid are both coordinator spots. Head coach Herm Edwards is good at motivating his players to play hard, and - in sharp contrast to Mets manager Willie Randolph - has a penchant for allowing young players to step into big roles. Edwards' main weakness is his abysmal clock management and his ultra-conservative "play not to lose" approach late in close games, which cost the Jets their playoff game against the Steelers, as well as a key regular season game against Baltimore.

If everything goes right, the Jets can be a Super Bowl contender. If everything goes wrong, this season can be a repeat of 1999 - the last time hopes for the Jets were this high - when Vinny Testaverde sustained a season-ending injury in Week 1 and the Jets started off 1-6.

My prediction: Another 10-6 season, and a fourth trip to the AFC playoffs as a wildcard in Herm Edwards' five-year reign.

Renee Schick z'l

My grandmother - the only one of my grandparents to be alive during my life - was born 100 years ago today, on September 9, 1905. She passed away on April 21, 1998, at the age of 92.

From around the age of 6, I went with my father (and brother when he was home) to my grandmother's house just about every shabbos morning after shul.

During the last 10 days of her life, when it was becoming apparent that her body could not recover from her illness, my extended family spent a lot of time at the home of my uncle and aunt, where my grandmother stayed for those last days. I remember telling an older and wiser work colleague then that I feared that as the years passed, what I would remember most about my grandmother was those last days. My colleague responded that many feel that way, but that in fact after a little while, the happier times would be the dominant memory.

I don't know if it's good or bad, but looking back more than seven years later, those last days remain my most vivid memory.

I also remember going out on the early evening of October 27, 1986 and meeting my grandmother on the street. Three years earlier, at the age of 78, she fell and broke her hip, and subsequently had a heart attack while hospitalized. I remember thinking, in 1986, after seeing her walking on the street, that my grandmother had recovered quite well. Presumably, however, I remember this because it was the night the Mets won the World Series. I had gone out to buy a blank videotape to tape Game 7 of the World Series.

Five months before my grandmother died, I moved to the Upper West Side. I wasn't home as often for shabbos, and when I was home and came over, she would ask me why I hadn't come the previous couple of weeks after shul. I would simply say that I was away or that shul finished late, not wanting to get into a discussion of whether or not it was a good idea for me to move to Manhattan.

March 29, 1998 was the last time I visited my grandmother on shabbos after shul. Her mind was completely sharp as always, but by then she had fallen a few times. Two nights later, she had a fever, and was hospitalized - supposedly just for the night. I had a pretty bad feeling immediately, sensing that 92 year olds don't do well in hospitals. In my mind, I resolved that I would come home more often for shabbos - and I indeed did - but my grandmother did not recover.

After my grandmother died, one habit that my parents kept - perhaps subconsciously - was that the shabbos lunch meal starts at almost the same time that it would had we first gone to my grandmother after shul. So typically, everyone will just sit around for a half-hour before eating.

Shortly after my grandmother's passing, my father wrote the following article in the New York Jewish Week:

My mother died on April 21, two days after Pesach and 60 years after my father. She was an extraordinary person, with a prodigious memory and powerful mind. Her courage sustained and molded a family that might have disintegrated under the burden of tragedy. At 92, she was too young to leave us.

She was born in Romania into a comfortable family that lost everything, as did many others, in World War I. Although she was an outstanding student, her studies were not continued after high school graduation, something that she regretted all her life.

In 1928, she came to the U.S., shortly after her marriage to my father, a cousin from the same area in Romania who was already in this country, serving as the rabbi of a Manhattan synagogue. We have few photographs and know little of her early years here. She began to raise a family -- Arthur in 1930, Ruth in 1932, Allen and me in 1934. In 1931, she published a recipe book in English, with the income going to charity.

Purim in 1938 fell on March 17, St. Patrick's Day. My father had been hospitalized for a burst appendix but seemed on the way to recovery. My mother saw him in the morning, went home to care for the children and then was called back to the hospital to be told that her husband had died of peritonitis.

Just weeks before her own passing, and sensing that she was seriously ill, she sat down immediately after Shabbat and wrote a narrative of that dark day, of how she fought her way through the carousing crowds with tears streaming down her face to return home to cover the mirrors and mourn.

She entered a period of pain and despair, of a desperation that she never spoke of, although over the years scraps of information appeared. My father had died penniless; three weeks later she was served with eviction papers. She had no close relatives in this country, no parents or siblings or nieces or nephews, only cousins and four young children, ages 3 to 7.

Allen and I were placed in an orphan's home. In 1939, I was hospitalized, critically ill with diphtheria. The next year was Allen's turn with pneumonia. She turned to people for help and some of the responses added to her pain. A handful of people who assisted in a modest way could not forget to remind her of what they had done.

Already in 1938 she had written to a saintly relative in Europe, asking whether she could send Arthur and Ruth to be cared for back home and also for advice. He responded that there were darkening clouds in Europe and told of a widow who, faced with a similar situation a century earlier, had provided for her children by baking challahs for Shabbat.

Late in the year my mother moved to Borough Park where there were cousins who helped. Out of a small oven in her apartment, she began to bake, four challahs at a time. Skilled in all ways with her hands, her challahs and cake quickly gained acceptance. In 1943, the year of Arthur's bar mitzvah, the family was reunited and my mother opened what would become perhaps the most famous kosher bakery in the world.

The next 17 years were hard work, running the bakery and trying to raise four children. In quality of product, kashrut and business ethics, my mother maintained a high standard. I cannot recall a single dispute with a supplier or customer. Our practice was to give a weight allowance on every piece of cake that was sold.

My mother's schedule in those years was legendary. We lived above the bakery. Except during the summer, on Thursdays she would arise at 3 a.m., be in the bakery within the hour and work without letup until an hour or two before Shabbat.

By 1960, Arthur had started his own business, Ruth was married and living elsewhere, Allen and I were on the way toward doctorates and academic careers. The bakery was sold.

Retirement hardly meant inactivity or much leisure. My mother had gone to Israel in the 1950s to seek relatives who had survived and to provide help. This became a larger part of her life, as did the local women's burial society. She read and corresponded widely, made bedding for the children and grandchildren and cooked and baked up a storm. She often responded to calls by saying that she was too busy to talk.

The pain of her first years as a widow left its mark, mainly in her fierce caring for the unfortunate and also for ordinary people who led simple, good lives. She cared not of their religion or skin color. At her local supermarket, she found out when the cashiers had a birthday, confirmation or other happy event in their family and for each one she would bake and decorate a cake and have it delivered. So it went in doctor's offices and wherever else she met people she hardly knew.

Several weeks before she died, we (and she) sensed that the end was near. For Pesach and her last ten days, she was at Arthur and Dorothy's home in a makeshift hospital room where family members and several wonderful medical people ministered to her.

As she lay dying, she bequeathed us a legacy of living. It was a gift that she never lost awareness of her remarkable memory. Each day she recited from memory chapters of Tehillim (Psalms) and favorite prayers and said the Viduy, the confession for the dying. On her last Friday night, the final day of Pesach, she blessed the Shabbat lights and heard kiddush. The next afternoon, we thought the end was near. Her four children gathered around her bed, held her hands and said the transcendent Sh'ma Yisrael prayer with her, word by word. The grandchildren then came in, one by one, to say goodbye, to cry, to be blessed.

On her final day, as she reviewed what might be left unfinished, she gave instructions to give gifts to three nurses at Maimonides, a book by Allen for the hospital's president, a birthday cake to a disabled man. On Monday morning, while holding my wife's hand, she let go and she died.

Amid the tears and Tehillim, we had celebrated a Pesach of loss and of redemption.

Thursday, September 08, 2005
Just Go Home II

In January, following the murder in the Lower East Side of Nicole DuFresne - who verbally responded and shoved a thug who mugged and attached her boyfriend and was then shot dead - I posted about the advice of Rich, my law school classmate who grew up in a tough Bronx neighborhood and often says that one's goal each day must be to stay out of danger and get home safely. Even if someone curses or shoves you, he says, it's best to walk away, since that person might well have a knife or a gun.

Late last night, I went out to move my car, since alternate side of the street parking is in effect in my neighborhood this morning. I then walked over to the nearby 7-Eleven to get something to drink. Just after I walked in, two rowdy guys in their 20's rushed in, pushed me out of their way, and muttered about the "f***** Jews." One said to the other: "Where the f*** are we? How'd we end up in a f***** Jew neighborhood?"

Suffice to say that my instinct in these situations - which thankfully do not occur routinely - is not to keep quiet and walk away. I remember as a little kid when my father went out one Saturday night to buy bagels and came back with a bloody eye. Turns out some Italian thugs were picking a fight with some Jewish kids, my father walked over and asked why they were bothering kids, and got sucker-punched. He had a patch for a week or two, but I was sure he did the right thing.

When I was 15 years old, the shul of Rabbi Hillel David was burned down on a Friday night just before Rosh Hashanah, with swastikas painted on the walls. All of the Torahs were burnt, and Rabbi David was quite emotional at a community "funeral" for the Torahs, which was well publicized by the media. The high school I went to was a few blocks from Rabbi David's shul, and the next day, instead of going to my secular studies classes, I hung out with a few friends outside the shul, where we talked with Tim Minton, who was covering the story for Channel 7.

I then took the bus home, and on the bus, some kids were joking about the rabbi who was crying about his synagogue. "Yeah, let's go burn down a synagogue tonight," one of the young punks said. I walked over, looked him in the eye, and kicked him in his testicles. Then, at the next stop - which was probably 20 seconds later - he and his friends dragged me out of the bus, held my arms and legs, and punched me for about 10 minutes. There were plenty of Orthodox Jews on the bus and in the area, none of whom intervened in any way.

While it's not fun getting punched, I was sure that I did the right thing, and that those who stood idly by were pathetic. Better to get punched then to have no self-respect. I still think that.

Last night, my initial instinct was the same as it always is. But I hesitated for a split-second, thought about the murder of DuFresne, about Rich's advice, and about my son who is a little less than 9 months old, and walked out of 7-Eleven without saying or doing anything. I am pretty sure that also was the right thing.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005
2005 Jets

I'm not sure what to expect from the Jets this season. A (very) small part of me thinks that they can win the Super Bowl. Then I remember that Herm Edwards is the Jets' head coach, and will be sure to self-destruct late in one or two crucial close games. I also expect this Sunday's game against the Chiefs to be very tough.

If I have the time and interest, I will post an analysis of the team's strengths and weaknesses. Currently, however, I have neither.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef On Katrina

In his weekly Torah sermon, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef stated that the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is G-d's punishment for U.S. support for Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Rabbi Yosef further remarked that G-d specifically brought the carnage on the black residents of New Orleans.

When rabbis of lower esteem make statements such as these, the appropriate response is to condemn those remarks. When a person of Rabbi Yosef's stature says what he said, not only is it necessary to condemn, the condemnation must be stronger and absolutely unequivocal.

I am sure there will be much negative fallout from Rabbi Yosef's comments, and I fear that many well-meaning observant Jews will struggle to explain that the comments were taken out of context, should not be taken literally, etc.

They shouldn't. It's not our job to rationalize idiocy, regardless of who the person expressing the idiocy is.

From a theological perspective, Rabbi Yosef's statements are preposterous. Judaism recognizes that it is appropriate to look inward when hardship occurs, to seek reasons for painful events. However, nobody has a direct line to G-d, and nobody should have the arrogance to claim knowledge of why disaster occurs.

The racism in Rabbi Yosef's remarks is also disgraceful. The best one can say is that it likely comes out of sheer ignorance and prejudice, rather than out of malice.

Finally, even if one were to look upon Katrina solely from a completely Jewish-centric perspective - in other words, as though the only suffering that anyone should care about is Jewish suffering - Rabbi Yosef's comments are absurd. There are quite a few Jewish residents of New Orleans (including very religiously observant ones) who are now left homeless by Katrina. Shuls have been completely destroyed. The notion that G-d would respond to the expulsion of Jews from Gaza and the destruction of shuls in Gaza by expelling Jews in New Orleans from their homes and causing the destruction of shuls and day schools in New Orleans is moronic.

(Of course, looking at Katrina solely from a Jewish-centric perspective is not acceptable; my point is simply to point out the foolishness of Rabbi Yosef's sermon even from what appears to be his own perspective.)

The New Nets

I had an extraordinary exchange of correspondence last week with New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark, the team's President and CEO.

At the start of the summer, I signed up for season tickets for the upcoming 2005-06 season. The Nets seemed to be ready to rejoin the NBA elite, improving their bench and poised to add a star power forward, particularly Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who has career averages of 20 points and 8 rebounds per game.

The Nets did sign Shareef, but then rescinded the deal, claiming that Shareef had failed his physical, citing scar issue in his knee from an old high school injury. Shareef has never missed a game due to his knee, and it appeared as though the Nets were being overly conservative. Worse, by the time the Nets rescinded their deal with Shareef, the other available starting power forward free agents - Donyell Marshall and Stromile Swift - both of whom had wanted to come to the Nets - signed elsewhere.

When Shareef was immediately signed by Sacramento, it certainly seemed that the Nets were being overly cautious. After all, no team can win without taking risks, and Shareef's contract was, by all accounts, a relative bargain at an average of $6 million per year.

Subsequently, the Nets signed Robert (Tractor) Traylor, a big power forward who, while not on Shareef's level, would serve as a fine backup and provide much needed depth. Almost inexplicably, however, Traylor also failed his physical.

After the Traylor fiasco, last Tuesday night, I e-mailed Ratner to express my disappointment, and asked for a refund of my payment for the season tickets. Without 30 minutes, Ratner responded, writing that he would agree to refund the money but asked that I first speak with Yormark.

The next morning, Yormark e-mailed me, asking for a telephone number. Later that day, he called me, and we spoke for about 15 minutes. With regard to Shareef, he took the position that the owners were indeed being fiscally conservative, but that, with three players under contract for more than $10 million per season (Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson), this approach was not unreasonable. I countered that if the Nets want to be an elite team that will seriously compete with the Knicks for the New York fan base, it would be essential to take risks, such as signing Shareef.

With regard to Traylor, Yormark said that while he could not divulge the nature of Traylor's problem, it was more serious than Shareef's problem. Off the record, he gave me additional non-specific information that hinted at the problem. Subsequently, the New York Post reported that Traylor has a heart problem, though it is unclear whether it is a problem that will prevent him from playing, or one that can be safely corrected with medication.

Finally, Yormark - again providing details on an off the record basis the specifics of which I therefore will not post - told me that the Nets would be signing two players "in the next week." He named one of the players and hinted at the identity of the second player. Up to that point, neither had been identified by the media as players likely to join the Nets. The two players - Lamond Murray and Scott Padgett - have both signed contracts this week, pending physicals, of course.

At the end of my discussion with Yormark, I agreed to take a wait-and-see approach, but I think that I'll keep my seats. While the Nets offseason remains a disappointment - they are not at the level of Eastern Conference rivals Miami, Detroit and Indiana - the candor of ownership and senior management is a pleasant surprise, and the Nets are a pretty good team, even if not a championship contender. It appears, for better or worse, that the Nets' plan is to keep payroll and additional long-term contract commitments relatively low until they move to Brooklyn, probably in 2009. The problem is that by then, Jason Kidd's knees will have probably completely given out.

Thursday, September 01, 2005
Moral Equivalence

I've been disturbed and disappointed by news reports describing people who have violently looted electronic stores and gun shops in New Orleans as "looters" and identically describing people who have taken food and drinks from stores in New Orleans as "looters."

For example, a report in today's New York Post states that "people brazenly ransacked stores for food, beer, clothing, appliances - and guns" and refers to people who were "looting a grocery store."

Is the reporter unable to understand the moral distinction between taking guns and appliances - and maybe also beer - and taking food and drinks?

I looked up "looting" in a dictionary. The definition was stated to be "the activity of stealing from shops during a violent event."

Clearly, some people in New Orleans are looting, but many who are described as looters do not fall within the definition at all.

There is nothing violent or morally wrong about taking food and water from a store if such food and water is necessary for the survival or health of oneself or one's family. In the best case, if it is at all possible, the person taking the food or water will later compensate the store owner for the food or water that was necessarily taken.

Both Jewish law and common law recognize this.