"I've noticed that quite a lot of people who are prominent in the animal liberation movement are Jews. Maybe we are simply not prepared to see the powerful hurting the weak." --Peter Singer (Author, Animal Liberation)


Tevye: Poster Boy for the Subjunctive

Last year, I was unsuccessful in my efforts to get the following freelance article published. If I'm not going to continue trying to find a publication that'll take it, I might as well publish it on heebnvegan.

Tevye: Poster Boy for the Subjunctive
By Michael Croland
April 2007

The English language’s best example of the subjunctive mood is “If I were a rich man, dai-dle, dee-dle, dai-dle, dig-guh, dig-guh, deedle, dai-dle, dum.”

The subjunctive is one of three moods in the English language. It denotes that a statement describes a desired or hypothetical outcome rather than an actual state of affairs. While the indicative and imperative moods are typically used correctly, grammar experts far and wide cringe at the chronic misuse of the subjunctive mood. Enter Tevye—the star of Fiddler on the Roof and a hero to many Jews who nostalgically cherish his portrayal of Old World shtetl life.

Tevye’s “If I Were a Rich Man” has become a savior for the subjunctive. It has had a much greater impact than the less kosher “I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener” jingle, which was also written in the early 1960s. “If I Were a Rich Man” and its mouthpiece are heralded in numerous grammar guides, including The Penguin Dictionary of American English Usage and Style. Grammarians including the Grammar Patrol, Grammar Girl, and Grammar Lady have all used Tevye’s song to drive home the point that the subjunctive calls for “if I were,” not “if I was.”

“Teaching the subjunctive was a challenge. Many students didn’t know what it meant, let alone how to use it,” says Edith Fine, who taught San Diego State University Extension classes as part of the self-professed “Grammar Patrol” for 20 years. “I’d hop up and dance around the room singing, ‘If I were a rich man ….’”

“Singing Tevye’s trademark song, so familiar because of Fiddler on the Roof, provided a strong visual and auditory device to make the explanation stick in people’s minds,” Fine says.

Syndicated columnist James Kilpatrick, a journalist since 1941, has used “If I Were a Rich Man” to demonstrate the subjunctive more times than he can keep track of. A 2004 article on the subject was even titled “If I Were/Was a Rich Man.” Kilpatrick says that “If I Were a Rich Man” is an ideal example because Fiddler on the Roof is better known to readers than grammar scholars would be.

“My guess is that 99.99 per cent of adult Americans have absolutely no understanding of the subjunctive mood and don’t give a damn about its survival,” says Kilpatrick.

“If I Were a Rich Man” is also the example of choice for many online grammar gurus. Mignon Fogarty, who hosts the popular Internet show Grammar Girl, sang part of “If I Were a Rich Man” during a September episode about the subjunctive. “Whenever I hear the lyrics, the music jumps to the front of my brain,” she says.

“I do think it is the most widely known example of correct usage of the subjunctive,” says Fogarty.

Chad Sanders started his “Subjunctivitis” blog two years ago with a primary focus on the subjunctive, its defenders, and its butchers. In his first blog post about the subjunctive, Sanders called Tevye the “Golden Boy” of the subjunctive mood. He wrote, “Oh, Tevye. If only there were more like you. You got it. And you’re Russian!”

“If I Were a Rich Man” is “fun to sing, and people can see that [the subjunctive is] a rule that someone actually followed,” says Sanders.

Tevye’s praise among the grammar-conscious is rife with peculiarities. It’s striking that grammar experts spelled Tevye’s name incorrectly in e-mail interviews—Kilpatrick wrote “Tavya” and Sanders wrote “Revye”—and that Fogarty admittedly couldn’t pronounce the name. The lyrics of “If I Were a Rich Man” don’t seem to welcome praise for proper usage, as they feature onomatopoeic animal noises and pure gibberish. Last but not least, a milkman from a Russian shtetl, who wouldn’t have spoken English in real life, apparently has a better grasp of the English language than most native English speakers.

“I think that is ironic and funny,” says Sheldon Harnick of Tevye’s unexpected pedestal in the grammar world. More than four decades ago, Harnick wrote the lyrics to the songs in Fiddler on the Roof. He based the title line of “If I Were a Rich Man” on the 1902 Sholem Aleichem story “Ven Ikh Bin Roytshild,” which is Yiddish for “If I Were a Rothschild.” (Ironically, the original line isn’t even in the subjunctive, according to a Yiddish scholar at the YIVO Jewish Institute for Research—it’s in the conditional mood, which doesn’t exist in English.)

“I was not particularly aware that I was using the subjunctive correctly,” says Harnick. He credits teachings in grammar school for his working knowledge of the subjunctive. “It would’ve bothered my ear to say, “If I Was a Rich Man,’” he says.

If only the subjective mood were used correctly more often, it would thrive. Like the Old World traditions of Anatevke, the subjunctive is appreciated less and less and is in danger of dying off in future generations.


In Case There's Any Doubt About Which 3 J-Blogs I Read Regularly ...

I hope to have a lot more new content up in the coming weeks. In the interim, here's a round-up of some good posts from other J-blogs this week.

On Monday, The Jew & The Carrot posted a picture of me in a carrot costume from Purim and linked to my July 2007 guest post about promoting vegetarianism as a carrot. (Check out my Purim post from earlier this month.)

On Monday, Jewschool featured a post asking where people can find good knishes in New York City. One person left a hilarious comment: "Why don’t you people stick with the whole wheat/tofu/wheat grass 'knishes' at your local organic health food store? Those are probably more your speed."

On Monday, The Jew & The Carrot talked about Jewish raw food and noted that parsley, pickles, and charoseth are the only three distinctly Jewish foods that are raw.

On Tuesday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a post talking about chef Anthony Bourdain's penchant for using some particularly disgusting meats and other animal products in his cooking and how some folks out there are veganizing his recipes. I particularly took issue with one of Bourdain's quotes: "To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living." Check out my comment (number 5) following the post to see why this statement is so troubling, if not downright offensive, from a Jewish perspective. The post concluded with a link to an interesting post on the Forward's Bintel Blog discussing whether it's OK for kashrut reasons to eat mock dairy products as though they were dairy products (to read my thoughts on similar subject matter from a year ago, check out my post on Counting the Omer and the fourth comment following the post).

On Wednesday, FailedMessiah noted that AgriProcessors had failed three separate USDA tests for salmonella, putting it in the worst 15% of U.S. slaughterhouses.

On Thursday, FailedMessiah reported that KAJ had indeed dropped its kosher supervision of Rubashkin meats for kashrut reasons. The post noted that "the point is clear – Rubashkin is not kosher enough for KAJ." Click here to read yesterday's follow-up post.

On Thursday, FailedMessiah talked about rising prices for kosher meat and noted a link between that and yet another controversy surrounding Rubashkin/AgriProcessors.

On Thursday, The Jew & The Carrot's Leah Koenig talked about how she'd been profiled on Midtown Lunch. "Turns out, Midtown is not the most veggie or kosher friendly place on earth," wrote Leah on The Jew & The Carrot. On Midtown Lunch, one person left a comment that's good for a chuckle: "Kosher vegetarian as the lunch’er - that’s pretty disciplined. How about a non-dairy kosher gluten-free vegan with a peanut allergy next? Now THAT would be something!"

Yesterday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a "Digest This" post mentioning that the USDA might give meat retailers approval to recall rotten meat without alerting consumers. It also included some AgriProcessors news that I mentioned in my last post.


heebnvegan Does Miscellaneous Posts Like Nobody Else

If you don't believe me, check out this gem of a miscellaneous post from August!
  • Earlier this month, the Australian Jewish News ran an article about a Zionist youth group that went vegetarian. According to the article, "Netzer participants will be strongly encouraged to avoid eating meat and fish at Netzer functions, in line with the movement’s commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world). "
  • AgriProcessors has been cited for 39 worker safety violations. Read FailedMessiah's post from Thursday for more information.
  • The latest news in the shackling and hoisting controversy is that earlier this month, Israeli Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger held a meating with Israeli meat importers to encourage a phase-out of shackling and hoisting in South American kosher slaughterhouses. FailedMessiah's March 4 post includes commentary, a YNet article, and a Jerusalem Post article about the story. (Click here to read my March 2 post, "Potential Victory Against Shackling and Hoisting.")
  • The current issue of Kosher Today notes, "A Health Ministry study done in 2001 found that 8.5% of the Israeli population defines itself as vegetarian or vegan (9.8% women and 7.2% percent men). The largest group is Jewish women between 35 and 54 years of age. The lowest number of vegetarians was found among Arab men between the ages of 35 and 64 years." That's pretty interesting in comparison to U.S. statistics.
  • Yesterday, FailedMessiah featured a hilarious satire article about ultra-Orthodox rabbis' ban on marriage. The whole article is worth reading, but I especially enjoyed the first paragraph, because of the veal discussion and the rabbi who'd banned even his own book ("better safe than sorry"). Again, this is satire:

A group of 178 of Ultra Orthodox rabbis came together to sign a ban on marriages, Tuesday. Rabbi Avrohom Katz of Brooklyn, noted that he had been invited to sign a ban on a multitude of topics but this was the least contested ban meeting he had ever been to. “When we tried to ban veal, twelve rabbis walked out immediately in opposition to the ban. One even came back in five minutes later so he could walk out twice.” The issue of veal is an issue which most rabbis are opposed to banning; citing the Talmud (Taanit 11a) which claims the Nazir is punished for denying himself wine, which is permissible. The rabbis opposing the veal ban claim the ban was suggested by liberal rabbis and animal rights activists. Rabbi Shaar of Brooklyn, who did not sign to ban veal, claimed that even if the veal was not kosher, he would eat it to make a stance against those who wish to make animal slaughter illegal. Others, like Rabbi Pesach Gardner of Brooklyn, signed the ban, claiming “better safe than sorry.” Rabbi Gardner has signed an estimated 453 bans, including one on a book that he wrote.


Purim Is a Great Holiday and 'Achashverosh' Is Fun to Say

Happy Purim!

On Monday, The Jerusalem Post printed an op-ed by Judaism and Vegetarianism author Richard H. Schwartz about the connections between Purim and vegetarianism. (Click here to read other of Schwartz's articles about vegetarianism and Jewish holidays.) Yesterday, The Jew & The Carrot featured a post calling into question Schwartz's claim that Queen Esther was a vegetarian while living in King Achashverosh's palace. Today, The Jerusalem Post featured four pro-vegetarian letters to the editor in response to Schwartz's article. You couldn't ask for a better response than that!

I just got back from going to my shul's family service in a carrot costume. I'll talk about that more in another post, but in the interim, here's a picture of me with my friends Anna and David (they dressed as each other) and their daughter, Stella (in a chicken costume).


Jonathan Richman: Heeb and Vegan

What do Joey Ramone of the Ramones, Mick Jones of the Clash, and Jonathan Richman of the Modern Lovers have in common? In addition to being punk pioneers who were Jewish, all three are known to be vegetarians that eschew dairy products.

Earlier this week, The PETA Files posted that it had "confirmed ... indirectly" that Richman is vegan. The post also quoted from a 2004 interview in which Richman identified himself as vegan.

In The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk, author Steven Lee Beeber writes, "Richman was ... a Jewish kid straight out of an earlier generation, the kind of kid who epitomized 'the nice Jewish boy.'" Beeber contends that Richman's lyrics formed "a template for the emotional concerns of the Jewish New York punk bands." He also claims (albeit not with the most convincing of examples) that "Jonathan's Jewishness cannot be separated from his music." According to Beeber, a trip to Israel served as a "cathartic experience that resulted in revelation" for Richman, motivating him to found the Modern Lovers in the first place.

The list of prominent vegetarian Jews in the punk scene keeps growing.


Vegetarian 'Intermarriages'

The current issue of the Washington Jewish Week features an article titled "Culinary Intermarriage" that delves into the topic of Jewish married couples that consist of one vegetarian and one meat-eater. The article features firsthand accounts from a variety of such couples.

The article provides a Jewish take on what's become a common theme of late. The day before Valentine's Day, both the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times featured articles about "mixed relationships" from a dietary perspective. The Washington Jewish Week article comes on the heels of a spirited debate that discussed both vegetarianism and actual intermarriage in response to last week's The Jew & The Carrot post about the upcoming film Kosher Vegetarian.

For more information, check out "Mixed Marriages: When Only One of You Is a Vegetarian" by Jewish Vegetarians of North America president Richard H. Schwartz.


Potential Victory Against Shackling and Hoisting

(Click here to read my February 17 post about an undercover investigation of a Uruguayan kosher slaughterhouse that uses shackling and hoisting. Click here to read my February 18 post about newspaper and blog responses to the story.)

The good news is that Israel's Chief Rabbinate will phase out shackling and hoisting. The bad news is that the Rabbinate apparently isn't committing to any sort of time frame for the phase-out. In the interim, animals will continue to suffer on a large scale.

On February 19, The Jerusalem Post reported that the Rabbinate will phase out shackling and hoisting. That same day, Failed Messiah responded by pointing out that it'll probably be a while before shackling and hoisting is actually done away with. That post concluded that "there is a solution. Either use (or design, build and use) truly humane slaughter methods. If not that, go veg."

On February 20, a YNet article quoted the Chief Rabbinate—a December letter from Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger—as having said that it will "consult with experts and find other, practical solutions that will ease the pain and suffering on animals undergoing shechita." (Failed Messiah posted the article later that day, and The Jew & The Carrot followed suit the next day.)

On February 21, the Forward ran an article driving home the point that the phase-out won't happen overnight. The Orthodox Union's Rabbi Menachem Genack told the Forward, "They [the Rabbinate] made a conceptual decision to do this [the phase-out], but the implementation is something different, something that is going to take a long time." A veterinarian involved in discussions about the issue also indicated that there was no definite timetable.

Concern for Helping Animals in Israel (CHAI) and its Israeli sister charity, Hakol Chai, issued a news release applauding the planned phase-out but urging "both the Orthodox Union and the Israeli Rabbinate to establish a committee to set a fixed timeframe and ensure the supervision of the expedient phase-out of shackling and hoisting in the kosher slaughter industry." Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA) issued a news release commending the Rabbinate's decision. JVNA president Richard H. Schwartz said in the release:
This is a very positive step, but it only deals with the tip of the iceberg. Even if ritual slaughter is performed flawlessly, Jews should consider how animal-based diets and agriculture violate basic Jewish mandates to preserve human health, treat animals with compassion, preserve the environment, conserve natural resources and help hungry people.

Other Items to Check Out
  • A February 20 Failed Messiah post questioning whether meat imported from South America could be banned under the Humane Slaughter Act
  • February 18 letters to the editor in The Jerusalem Post, including one that says: "Instead of merely making slaughtering conditions more acceptable, why kill at all? It would behoove the Jewish nation, and in fact the rest of the world, to revert to basics and adhere to the principles laid down in Genesis, where God clearly states that we have been given herbs, grains, seeds and fruit to eat. This suggests that we humans are vegans by nature."
  • JTA blurbs about the issue (from February 13 and February 19). As I wrote in a July post about a different kosher meat scandal, "I don't think anyone is likely to be appalled by what's going on ... after reading either newswire article, but at least the news is hopefully getting out there, providing an excellent opportunity to submit letters to the editor and/or guest op-eds to Jewish weeklies."


The Jew & The Carrot's Two Posts on Thursday Nearly Had Me Drooling

The Jew & The Carrot had not one but two outrageously awesome posts on Thursday.

The first was a recipe for vegan challah with two sets of instructions: "one from a Chabad rebbetzin, and one for those of you who might like something slightly more step-by-step." The former includes such helpful prep tips as "Give tzedakah" and "Add love and prayers." An alternate version of the post was cross-posted to Jewcy's Pickled blog; it lacks the "rebbetzin's instructions" but includes a lot more photos. Check out the recipe section of JewishVeg.com for more vegan challah recipes (note: some do include honey).

The second started off great by talking about Manhattan's patch of kosher vegetarian Indian restaurants. Then it revealed the big news: Natalie Portman is going to be in a movie called Kosher Vegetarian! At first, I thought this would be a film in which Natalie plays a Jewish vegetarian (which she is in real life, of course). I did some further research, though. The actor playing the male lead, Irrfhan Khan, says he will "be playing this strictly vegetarian Gujarati man." Khan's character falls in love with a Jewish woman (presumably not vegetarian), played by Natalie. The title seems to be a commentary on the culture clash of a vegetarian Indian and a kosher Jew.

Kosher Vegetarian will provide an excellent opportunity to discuss just how well Judaism and vegetarianism do go together, as evidenced by the first three chief rabbis of Israel, authors Isaac Bashevis Singer and Jonathan Safran Foer, Natalie and fellow actor Alicia Silverstone, and myriad punk rockers.