Sunday, August 29, 2010

God is in the Details

The Creation Museum, a  $27 million, state-of-the-art 70,000 square foot museum opened in 2007 is devoted to the “young earth” movement, which holds that the Book of Genesis is a literally accurate historical record. The museum, which rejects evolutionary theory, maintains that the earth is 6,000 years old and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Jennifer Siegel headlined her review  in the Forward "God Is in the Details at Creation Museum." 

What is the origin of this saying?

“God is in the details” is famously attributed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
(1886-1969), a German born American architect. The Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings by Gregory Y. Titelman (Random House, New York, 1996) shows this phrase as a variation of “God is in the details— Whatever one does should be done thoroughly; details are important.” The saying is also generally
attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880), who is often quoted as saying,
“Le bon Dieu est dans le detail” (God is in the details). Other attributions
include Michelangelo and the art historian Aby Warburg.

“The Devil is in the details” is a variant of this proverb, referring to a catch hidden
in the details. ”Governing is in the details’’and “The truth, if it exists,
is in the details” are recent variants. The quotation is listed as an anonymous
saying in the 16th edition of Barlett’s Familiar Quotations, edited by
Justin Kaplan.

Judaism is certainly "detail-oriented," as observance of commandments holds central position.

So as the Jewish world prepares to inaugurate the year 5771 anno mundi with many detailed practices and observances, let us hope that God is, indeed, in the details.

Jews, Israel and the New York Times - An Open Letter to The Times' New Public Editor

August 29, 2010

Mr. Arthur S. Brisbane
Public Editor
The New York Times

Dear Mr. Brisbane,

Welcome and much success in your new position as Public Editor of The New York Times (NYT).

As you noted, yours in an interesting position, and I am sure you will, at least at the outset, get tons of unsolicited advice, in addition to the complaints and vitriol that obviously come with the territory.

I write to respectfully add my two-cents' worth in the advice department.

It was heartwarming and refreshing to learn that you believe that it is a reporter's and editor's job to leave his or her personal prejudices at home when coming to work. It was also gratifying to learn that you yourself are able to back both Democratic and Republican candidates, as you see fit, which is welcome evidence of open-mindedness.

I am guessing but I would not be surprised if it turns out that one of the more vexatious ongoing issues you will have to deal with is the New York Times' relationship with Israel and Jews, and coverage of stories related to these matters. There is a well-documented history, going back to the waves of immigration of Jews of Eastern-European descent and continuing with the rise of Nazism, and the establishment of the State of Israel and continuing on to present practice of the NYT's evident bias in matters Jewish- or Israel-related. Among large swathes of the Jewish community, it is an article of faith that the NYT is and has been for a large part of its history controlled and run by left-leaning, assimilated, anti-Zionist and (say many) self-hating Jews and that there is a pervasive atmosphere surrounding these topics that is dictated from the top and is totally alien and antithetical to fair and balanced reporting. There is abundant evidence that reportorial coverage on such matters routinely lacks balance and crosses the line demarcating the boundary between reporting and editorial opinion. Quality watchdogs like C.A.M.E.R.A. frequently take the NYT to task for its lapses, few of which are ever acknowledged or corrected by NYT. There is over-reporting of scandal and under-reporting of achievement as related to Jews (especially of the Orthodox variety) and Israel especially as relates to more Zionistic elements, routinely portrayed as "hard-line" or worse. In short, many of us believe that the NYT has a deeply-ingrained cultural bias that mars the quality of its reporting on these matters.

Institutional culture is notoriously difficult to change.

Change, if it is to happen,  must first begin with an acknowledgement of the problem and of past mistakes.

As you take up your many new challenges, and many vie for your attention, I hope you can find time for some focus on this long-festering sore, so that it may begin to heal.

David E Y Sarna

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Elena Kagan, Jewish law, and the principle of binding precedent

Tablet Magazine published this author's views on how controversies in American law have their genesis in Jewish law.
Notes and acknowledgements are available here.