Judaism in the Air

Taking Torah on the road

It's 5:30 Sunday morning. You're just getting to bed— or maybe you're just waking up and feeling energetic enough to go biking. But wait! How about a little Torah first? Each Sunday morning on WMCA (570 AM) D'var With Rabbi Chaim Friedman holds forth for half an hour, with discussion and analysis in English of the Torah portion of the week.

The Torah is the first five books of the First Testament (or Old Testament, depending on your orientation) of the Bible— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. A portion of the Torah is read in the synagogue on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays throughout the year; the sum of each week's readings is known as a parsha. The parsha of the week forms the basis for D'var's programming. If your head is left spinning by the parsing of myriad Clintonian sentences, you ain't heard nothing yet! Scholars have been parsing Torah words and phrases for millennia and they still have plenty to say. Indeed, the discussion of such minutiae forms the basis for Jewish philosophy and Jewish life. Once you get into it, you may become addicted.

But D'var is just the tail end of an entire Saturday night­Sunday morning lineup of Jewish radio programming on WMCA (which, oddly enough, is a Christian-owned station). Beginning at 8 p.m. with a comedy- oriented quiz show and ending with D'var, you can take your pick of news from Israel, interviews, call-in, and other more spiritual fare. From 8:30 to 9, for example, sit back and listen to cantors intone ancient Jewish liturgical music. All that singing may well be heard by a higher power, but just to be certain, come back at 10:30, when Moshiach in the Air discusses the Jewish concept of the Messiah. From 11:30 p.m. until 2 a.m., Zev Brenner hosts a live call-in show with newsmakers and celebrities.

On the left side of the dial, Marilyn Neimark and Esther Kaplan preside over Beyond the Pale: The Progressive Jewish Radio Hour (WBAI, 99.5 FM, Sundays at noon), which covers politics and culture from a progressive Jewish perspective. Recent shows have included a discussion of the language of the Holocaust, lately inflamed when the Japanese American National Museum mounted an exhibit on World War II Japanese internment camps in the U.S. The museum's labeling of them as concentration camps set off protest within the Jewish community over the use of the term.

Is your longing for spiritual gratification satisfied by your career? Do you find contentment on the Web? If the answers are no, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis has some alternatives. Each week she delves into the beauty and mystery of the Jewish neshama (soul) on her Hineni program (Manhattan Cable Channel 35, Sundays at 3 p.m.). Hineni, Hebrew for Here I Am, teaches that Judaism is not some archaic set of rules, but a living source of wisdom that can be both a guide to and a respite from the travails of modern life. Her goal is to "help you infuse your life with more meaning through your Jewish heritage." Founded by Jungreis in 1973, the Hineni organization, at its center (232 West End Avenue, 496-1660), offers a series of programs in Torah, Talmud, cabala, prophets, history, rituals and ceremonies in the home and synagogue, and Hebrew language and prayer.

Celebrate your newfound spirituality with some Jewish music videos. The Jewish Music Video Countdown (Manhattan Cable Channel 53, Sundays at 9 p.m.), produced by Talkline, features everything "from schlock rock to [the late Shlomo] Carlebach," including comedy, Israeli music, and more cantors. If you think you won't have heard of any of the artists, think again. Mandy Patinkin has come out with a collection of Jewish songs and, according to Talkline producer Zev Brenner, Barbra Streisand is about to release one. And if you're not yet sick of Adam Sandler's Hanukkah song, here's a place you can hear it.

A spirit of a very different sort is the stuff of the horribly dull and irritating Uncomfortable Questions for Comfortable Jews (Manhattan Neighborhood Network Channel 16, Thursdays at 10 p.m.). It is produced (and I use the word only in its loosest manner) by Jewish Direct Action, an offshoot of the Jewish Defense League, and hosted (after a fashion) by the pseudonymous Chaim Ben Pesach, a talking head in baseball cap and sunglasses who sits in front of a photo of the late Meir Kahane and pontificates ad nauseam and barely intelligibly on violent solutions to the Arab threat, the stupidity of the American government, and the cowardice of American Jews. Surely public access TV at its finest.

Kabbalah Kraze

At last year's Oscars, Madonna wore a red string bracelet. Not an innovative AIDS awareness ribbon, it signified Kabbalah's protection from negative energy.

The rock star has been studying Jewish mysticism, which emerged around the beginning of the Common Era. The history of Kabbalah evolved from a secretive, elite club to a mass movement to forbidden teachings, and has reached unprecedented popularity. Kabbalah literally translates from the Hebrew verb to receive, specifically to receive tradition through oral teachings. In the second century C.E., Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the most famous Kabbalah text, Zohar, deeming the Torah a coded version of the spiritual dimension of the universe.

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