Bob Schwartz

Category: Uncategorized

Books for Passover and Easter


If you are celebrating Passover or just interested in it, you are familiar with the Haggadah—the book used as a roadmap for the seder meal and rituals that take place on the first couple of evenings of Passover.

There are widely adopted traditions for the seder that include the retelling of the Exodus story and the eating of symbolic foods. But the exact content and form of the seder have long been flexible, and this variety is reflected in different Haggadot. There are hundreds of versions.

For the Passover observant and the P-curious, I recommend a deeper dive than the typical Haggadah—a set of books from Jewish Lights entitled My People’s Passover Haggadah: Traditional Texts, Modern Commentaries – Volume 1 and Volume 2.

From the editors:

In two volumes, this empowering resource for the spiritual revival of our times enables us to find deeper meaning in one of Judaism’s most beloved traditions, the Passover Seder. Rich Haggadah commentary adds layer upon layer of new insight to the age-old celebration of the journey from slavery to freedom—and makes its power accessible to all.

This diverse and exciting Passover resource features the traditional Haggadah Hebrew text with a new translation designed to let you know exactly what the Haggadah says. Introductory essays help you understand the historical roots of Passover, the development of the Haggadah, and how to make sense out of texts and customs that evolved from ancient times.

Framed with beautifully designed Talmud-style pages, My People’s Passover Haggadah features commentaries by scholars from all denominations of Judaism. You are treated to insights by experts in such fields as the Haggadah’s history; its biblical roots; its confrontation with modernity; and its relationship to rabbinic midrash and Jewish law, feminism, Chasidism, theology, and kabbalah.

No other resource provides such a wide-ranging exploration of the Haggadah, a reservoir of inspiration and information for creating meaningful Seders every year.

These are a bit bulky for the seder table itself. But they are the sort of books you would read if you wanted to understand why people are sitting at the seder table in the first place and why the traditions are so broad and sometimes so misunderstood. If Passover is just going through the motions, any seder and any Haggadah will do. If Passover is one piece of a much bigger picture to be investigated, these enlightening commentaries are what you need.


Close to each other. Very close. Passover begins tonight on Friday March 30. Easter is this Sunday April 1.

The calendar isn’t all that’s close. The Jewish story and the Christian story, in general and in the context of these particular holidays, are essentially and inextricably linked. The nature of those stories and those connections is the source of faith, enlightenment, misunderstanding, mistrust, even hatred and violence. Among Jews and Christians.

Any big moment on the Jewish and Christian calendars (and these holidays qualify) is an opportunity not just for ritual celebration but for study. How well do we—Jews, Christians, others—understand the texts and traditions outside the comfortable conventions of our belief and practice? Not just understanding that will confirm our faiths, allowing us to nod our heads and pat ourselves on our collective backs, but new and even startling understanding that might shake us and even make us uncomfortable. Everything we know about Judaism or Christianity, about the Bible, about history, may not be wrong, but maybe we could benefit from another open and learned perspective.

The second edition of the The Jewish Annotated New Testament was published last year; any and every Jew or Christian should read at least a little of it. So should everyone else who wants to know something about the foundations of this consequential moment in scripture, history and religion. Believers and nonbelievers may think they know what they’re dealing with. Many don’t.

The editors explain:

It is almost two millennia since the earliest texts incorporated into the New Testament were composed. For the most part, these centuries have seen a painful relationship between Jews and Christians. Although Jewish perceptions of Christians and Christian perceptions of Jews have improved markedly in recent decades, Jews and Christians still misunderstand many of each other’s texts and traditions. The landmark publication of this book is a witness to that improvement; ideally, it will serve to increase our knowledge of both our common histories and the reasons why we came to separate…

The Jewish Annotated New Testament represents the first time a gathering of Jewish scholars wrote a complete commentary on the New Testament. It reached a wide Jewish and Christian audience, and in doing so it has begun to increase both Jewish literacy of the New Testament and Christian awareness of the New Testament’s Jewish context. It has become widely used in colleges, universities and seminaries, as well as in Jewish, Christian, and joint Jewish-Christian study groups. Many Christian clergy and religious educators from different Christian denominations and church settings have told us that they have integrated the insights of this book into their preaching and devotion. Because of this volume, we have been told numerous times, sermons have been corrected, anti-Jewish teaching and preaching have been avoided, and Christians in churches and classrooms and Bible studies have learned more about Jesus and his followers. Jewish readers have told us how the volume has encouraged them to read the New Testament for the first time, to begin to consider the complex relationship between Judaism and Christianity, and how better to understand both their Christian neighbors and their own Jewish history….

For Christian readers The Jewish Annotated New Testament offers a window into the first-century world of Judaism from which the New Testament springs. There are explanations of Jewish concepts such as food laws and rabbinic argumentation. It also provides a much-needed corrective to many centuries of Christian misunderstandings of the Jewish religion.

For Jewish readers, this volume provides the chance to encounter the New Testament–a text of vast importance in Western European and American culture–with no religious agenda and with guidance from Jewish experts in theology, history, and Jewish and Christian thought. It also explains Christian practices, such as the Eucharist.

The Jewish Annotated New Testament, Second Edition is an essential volume that places the New Testament writings in a context that will enlighten readers of any faith or none.



More Likely Than Ever That Trump Will Fire Mueller and Use Presidential Pardons

Trump is finding it hard to enlist first-class legal talent to represent him. Some like John Dowd have resigned. There are daily reports now of expert lawyers refusing to join the legal team, something likely to continue indefinitely.

In his business life, Trump was able to get by with lawyers of moderate skill whose main attributes were toughness, meanness and loyalty. Trump loved instigating legal messes, and when threats of litigation didn’t work, he settled on settlements. Or, in some cases when matters actually went to trial, he just plain lost.

Even before the Mueller investigation is completed, the legal troubles are mounting. The tough, mean, threatening, loyal lawyers are not going to be enough. But he currently doesn’t have the caliber of lawyers who can extricate him, and he may never have them.

Which is why he may simply try to move the conflicts from legal battlefields to political ones. In law, he is just another unindicted co-conspirator or defendant. In politics, he is President of the United States.

The simplest way to move the battlefield is to exercise two powers he already has.

First, he has the power to cause Robert Mueller to be dismissed as Special Counsel. It could be a bit messy, as it was in Watergate’s Saturday Night Massacre. He could start by asking Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller. If Rosenstein refused, he would then go down the line within the Justice Department until he found someone to do his bidding. Or on another track, Attorney General Jeff Sessions could resign/be fired, with a replacement AG who had not recused himself as Sessions had, and that replacement would fire Mueller. Any way it is accomplished, the consequence would be political, not legal. With his lifelong success as a politician (okay, only one election), Trump believes he will not lose that political fight.

Second, Trump has the power to protect anybody from federal criminal indictments or convictions, including himself, with presidential pardons. I have been saying for months the he is likely to do this (Trump Will Pardon Everybody (or Almost Everybody)) , and in recent weeks it has been the buzz around some conservative circles. Now it appears that Trump simply doesn’t have the legal army to fight on the law. So he is just going to have to blow away the law with his big pardon gun.

Ship of Fools: Mnuchin, Santorum Aboard

This post was originally only about Treasury Secretary Steve Munchkin on a Sunday morning news show. Then former Republican Senator Rick Santorum spoke up, just begging for recognition.

Washington Post :

Mnuchin pitches line-item veto: ‘Congress could pass a rule’

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged lawmakers to give President Trump a line-item veto, saying on “Fox News Sunday” that it might prevent Democrats from stacking more nondefense discretionary spending into the next must-past budget bill.

But Mnuchin’s short exchange with Fox News anchor Chris Wallace also underlined the problem with the idea — a 20-year-old Supreme Court ruling that struck down the line-item veto, finding “no provision in the Constitution that authorizes the president to enact, to amend or to repeal statutes,” after President Bill Clinton used it 82 times.

“I think they should give the president a line-item veto,” said Mnuchin, echoing Trump’s comments after he signed last week’s omnibus budget bill.

“That’s been ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court,” Wallace said.

“Well, again, Congress could pass a rule, okay, that allows them to do it,” Mnuchin said.

“It would be a constitutional amendment,” Wallace said.

“Chris, we don’t need to get into a debate,” the treasury secretary said. “There’s different ways of doing this.”

New York Times :

Rick Santorum: Students Should Learn CPR, Not Seek Gun Laws

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said Sunday that students who have rallied for gun control should instead learn CPR or find their own way to prevent a school shooting.

“How about kids instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations that when there is a violent shooter that you can actually respond to that,” the Republican said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

The 2012 and 2016 presidential candidate said students could work to stop bullying in their communities or respond themselves to a shooter instead of asking lawmakers to approve legislation to protect them.

Santorum’s comments prompted outrage on social media a day after hundreds of thousands of teenagers and their supporters rallied across the U.S. to push for tougher laws to fight gun violence.

The demonstrations Saturday were led by students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed last month.

Santorum said that if the rallies are about more than politics, then the country needs to have a broader discussion that doesn’t revolve around “phony gun laws” that don’t work.

“They took action to ask someone to pass a law,” he said of the demonstrators. “They didn’t take action to say, ‘How do I, as an individual, deal with this problem?

We Now Know What Trump Really Thinks of Lawyers

Ever wonder what kind of a lawyer Trump would be—assuming he could get into law school, graduate and pass the bar exam (questionable)? Today he tweeted about why any lawyer would be thrilled to join his dwindling legal team:

New York Times:

Earlier on Sunday, Mr. Trump took to Twitter from his Florida resort to insist that he faced no problems finding lawyers to represent him in the Russia investigation.

Fame & fortune will never be turned down by a lawyer, though some are conflicted,” Mr. Trump said in a tweet.

That is, except for conflicts, any lawyer will come if you dangle fame and fortune in front of them. Particularly if Trump beckons.

It is true that plenty of lawyers are interested in clients and cases that promise fame and fortune. No one should mistake lawyers for saints.

On the other hand, many more also have a passing interest in justice and professional responsibility, in addition to the other rewards. That is something that never crosses Trump’s mind. In fact, Trump has described exactly the sort of lawyer he would be—again, if that were possible.

A couple of other things Trump misses, things that explain why he is unable to add many lawyers of quality and stature at this point.

First, Trump is accustomed to people around him putting up with anything just for the privilege of working for him. He would be astonished to learn that lawyers, even the most ambitious ones, have a limit to what they will put up with.

Second, Trump still does not recognize the difference between fame and notoriety—never has, never will. Lawyers may have no problem being famous. Notorious? Not so much.

A Less Than Happy Country: American Binge Drinking

The World Happiness Report 2018—“a landmark survey of the state of global happiness [ranking] 156 countries by their happiness levels”—ranks the United States as having dropped to #18, between Luxembourg and the United Kingdom. The happiest place on earth is not Disneyland, but Finland, followed closely by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Besides legitimate use of opioids as pain killers, widespread opioid abuse is undoubtedly linked to unhappiness, dissatisfaction and other negative psychological states. Adding to this, we now have the latest study of American binge drinking, from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.

Annual Total Binge Drinks Consumed by U.S. Adults, 2015

Timothy S. Naimi, MD, MPH
Yong Liu, MD, MS
Hua Lu, MS
Robert D. Brewer, MD, MSPH


Binge drinking (four or more drinks for women, five or more drinks for men on an occasion) accounts for more than half of the 88,000 U.S. deaths resulting from excessive drinking annually. Adult binge drinkers do so frequently and at high intensity; however, there are known disparities in binge drinking that are not well characterized by any single binge-drinking measure. A new measure of total annual binge drinks was used to assess these disparities at the state and national levels.


In 2015, a total of 17.1% of U.S. adults (37.4 million) reported an annual average of 53.1 binge-drinking episodes per binge drinker, at an average intensity of 7.0 drinks per binge episode, resulting in 17.5 billion total binge drinks, or 467.0 binge drinks per binge drinker. Although binge drinking was more common among young adults (aged 18–34 years), half of the total binge drinks were consumed by adults aged ≥35 years. Total binge drinks per binge drinker were substantially higher among those with lower educational levels and household incomes than among those with higher educational levels and household incomes.


U.S. adult binge drinkers consume about 17.5 billion total binge drinks annually, or about 470 binge drinks/binge drinker. Monitoring total binge drinks can help characterize disparities in binge drinking and help plan and evaluate effective prevention strategies.

[emphases added]

Without going into what exactly makes for a happy country, or why exactly 37 million Americans are drinking 7 drinks 53 times a year, and not mentioning the millions of opioid abusers (or the combination alcohol/opioid abusers), let’s just acknowledge that lots of Americans appear to be unhappy enough to seek an obliterative state of mind.

Even just starting to address the roots of those phenomena is beyond the scope of a post, a blog, or an encyclopedic analysis. Instead, just one thought.

Making tens of millions of people even marginally happier is a huge mission. What isn’t so hard is to ask that some high-profile, ever-present public figures not make other lives less happy by everything they say and do every single day. That is, please shut up and go away. It is a tiny step, but if it keeps the United States from dropping even further on the Happiness Index, and just a few million people are kept away from binge drinking and opioid abuse, it would be worth it.

Bros Before: O.J. and Trump

With O.J. Simpson and Donald Trump both in today’s news, a look back at their friendship. The photo above was taken at a club in 1993. Trump was soon to marry his second wife, a wedding O.J. attended; O.J. was soon to murder his first wife. And so it goes.

Clouds Without Words


Cadet Bone Spurs: “I’d Run in There Even If I Didn’t Have a Weapon”

“Trump says he would have run into Florida school without a weapon”:

President Donald Trump said Monday that he would have charged into a Florida school during the shooting there earlier this month even if he were unarmed.

“I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon,” Trump told governors meeting at the White House to discuss school safety.

Trump slammed as “frankly, disgusting” the armed school guard who remained outside the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 students and teachers dead. The president also criticized several other deputies who failed to immediately enter the school, telling the governors that the law enforcement officers “weren’t exactly Medal of Honor winners.”

“The way they performed was really a disgrace,” he said.

Trump compared the skill involved in shooting guns to that required for the game of golf, where “some people can make a four-foot putt every time, and some people can’t even take the club back.”

Note that Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs in combat, now refers to him as “Cadet Bone Spurs” for the multiple deferments from Vietnam service he got because of supposed bone spurs in his heels. Those bone spurs are gone now, which is why he would now be able to run in to save those students.

As for arming teachers with golf clubs, who knows?

Is American Gun Policy the Slavery Issue of 2018?

America is frequently sharply politically divided over many high-profile issues with social, cultural, economic, moral and legal components. It is always a mix of citizens, politicians and special interests—and that mix can be combustible. Think immigration, abortion, marijuana and, just recently, the mistreatment of women. Not to mention deep divisions over Trump.

Gun violence is suddenly on that list, in a way it hasn’t been before. Past mass killings of students, of music fans, of club patrons, of all kinds of once-living Americans, weren’t enough. Until now.

The greatest example of this in American history is the issue of slavery. Arguments about morality and the rejection of the practice in much of the world were met with fierce defense of the practice on legal and economic grounds—in essence, being against slavery was deemed un-American. That worked for quite a while. But at some point, the opponents could no longer listen to one more argument defending slavery, just as its supporters felt cornered by what was becoming the majority view of other Americans.

There is no proposal to take all guns away from Americans, or to unduly burden their owning those guns. All that is being asked for is to condition ownership on universal background checks (supported, according to a just-released poll, by 97% of Americans) and to stop the civilian trade in AR-15 semi-automatic rifles and the like.

Thankfully, this issue will not be settled by an actual civil war. But it will also not be settled by citizens electing gutless NRA politicians so that nothing gets done. The people who thought it made American sense to stop slavery did not walk away, and thanks to them, and despite the unfortunate attendant carnage, we don’t have to be ashamed of continuing to endorse an obvious evil. These young people are not walking away either, not this time, not ever.

“A semi-auto changed my life” says an AR-15 hunter

From  Why hunters are trading in traditional hunting rifles for the AR-15 on

Hunters traipsing through fields in unrestricted states are also afforded the luxury of 30 round magazines which increase the number of shots a hunter can fire in a given time period while decreasing follow-up shot time. This can often mean the difference between taking a trophy and going home empty handed.

“I believe in one well-placed shot,” coyote hunter Greg Sodergren told Time Magazine of the AR-15. “(But) if you’ve got multiple animals or you miss, you’ve got a quick follow-up shot.”

In addition, the speed in which the AR cycles its bolt as compared to the manual cycling of a bolt-action means more potential shots on target or multiple shots effortlessly carried out on multiple targets.

“A semi-auto changed my life,” Eric Mayer, who runs, told Time Magazine. “I’m able to make the (shot) because I don’t have to run the bolt (and) lose the target in my scope.”

“If you miss you’ve got a quick follow-up shot.” A semi-automatic AR-15 rifle changed lots of lives at a Florida high school yesterday. Only they weren’t coyotes or deer.