Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific” by David Bianculli— How Television Evolved

the platinum age of television

Bianculli, David. “The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific”, Doubleday, 2016.

How Television Evolved

Amos Lassen

“The Platinum Age of Television is one of the most anticipated books of the fall. We now all know that television has taken over as the premier and most important form of visual narrative art of our time. This new book by David Bianculli explains historically, in depth, and with interviews with the celebrated creators themselves how the art of must-see/binge-watch television evolved.

Bianculli’s theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way. As he traces the evolutionary history of our progress toward a Platinum Age of Television—our age, the era of “The Sopranos” and “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” and “Homeland and” Girls, he focuses on the development of the classic TV genres, among them the sitcom, the crime show, the miniseries, the soap opera, the western, the animated series and the late night talk show. In each genre, he gives five key examples of the form, tracing its continuities and its dramatic departures and drawing on exclusive and in-depth interviews with many of the most famed auteurs in television history.

This is the first book to examine, in depth and in detail and with a keen critical and historical sense, how this inspiring development came about. All of us have our ideas and it is great fun comparing them with Bianculli’s. The book comes out this November, 2016.

“THE KIND WORDS”— A NEW DRAMEDY FROM ISRAEL

the kind words

“The Kind Words”

A New “Dramedy” from Israel

Amos Lassen

When her mother (Levana Finklestein) is admitted into hospital for an operation in Tel Aviv, Dorona (Rotem Zisman-Cohen) and her two brothers rush to be with her. As they deal with their mother’s condition, the siblings put aside what is happening in their own lives. Dorona does not want to stay married to Ricki (Tsahi Halevy) her patient husband who has stayed by her after she has suffered several miscarriages. Netanel (Roy Assaf), her oldest brother has become very religious since marrying his Orthodox American wife. Then there is Shai (Assaf Ben Shimon). He is openly bisexual and dealing with the fact that his son is in Hungary and his brother’s disapproval of his lifestyle.

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But then the three learn that the man they that thought had been their father was not and this is only known to them after their mother dies. Three siblings discover a shocking truth about their parentage after their mother dies. in Israeli director Shemi Zarhin directed this comedy-drama in which secrets from the deep past come to light after a mother’s death and these cause tension as well as bring reconciliation to a family. Zarhin explores family dynamics with insight but unfortunately the film’s terms of reference are so insistently Israeli that many from outside the country might have a hard time with it.

It is basically a film about a sister and two brothers who are superficially very different from each other yet who pull together to solve a mystery and earn something about themselves in the process Homophobic Netanel can’t accept that his brother’s bisexuality but it isn’t a problem for their Algerian-born mother or their father (Sasson Gabai). As it happens, all three kids, especially Dorona, are too busy fuming about their dad having left their mother for a much younger woman to snipe at each other much.

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All that fussing and feuding between the siblings is put into perspective when the mother dies suddenly from cancer. Her three children come together to mourn but then the father drops a truth bomb on them: He’s just found out, because his new wife wants children, that he is totally infertile and never could have fathered the three of them. This sets them off on a quest that takes them first to Paris to see their aunt and then on to Marseilles in search of the man who may or may not be their biological father.

Ricki tags along too and this turns out to be quite an advantage  as his calm demeanor and logic often saves the day when the siblings anger manifests a bit too frequently.  Their father also turns up— he would like some answers also, but they are determined to shut him out and not allow him to be part of it. 

The actors are quite good. Zissman Cohen is excellent as she tries to cover up her heartbreak over her infertility and her mother’s death with a toughness she doesn’t really feel.

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Roy Assaf has a good comic turn as the religious Netanel. Levana Finkelstein, as the mother, is her usual excellent self. Tsahi Halevi as Dorona’s husband Ricki has little to do here but look good while Dorona pushes him away, and he manages very nicely. It is a bit hard to understand how Dorona could just toss him off when he is so kind and good-looking.

Unfortunately, once again, is the fact that there are no real surprises and we never really understand why the secret means so much to the three siblings.

“The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context” by Trevor Greenfield— An Anthology

the goddess in america

Greenfield, Trevor. “The Goddess in America: The Divine Feminine in Cultural Context”, Moon Books, 2016.

An Anthology

Amos Lassen

Nineteen writers have contributed to “The Goddess in America”, a new anthology that “identifies the enduring experience of Goddess Spirituality through a four-part discussion focused on the Native Goddess, the Migrant Goddess, the Goddess in relation to other aspects of American culture and the Goddess in contemporary America”.

We read about the many faces of Goddess in America— from the indigenous and the imported, to the “rewritten” goddesses We also learn of Goddess as perceived by American feminists, psychologists, shamans, Christians, and others

I must admit that I knew nothing about The Goddess religion in contemporary America but have learned that it is a growing and very necessary spiritual movement in a country where there has never yet been a female head of state (Of course with the new election that could well change). Forty percent of American households are run by women who are the sole providers, yet women still do not receive equal pay as do men. American women often find themselves in a warrior society and are just beginning to reclaim “the status their ancestral mothers once enjoyed when Goddesses shared the dais with Gods”. Here we meet Native American Goddesses who teach the lessons of humility, self-sacrifice and connection to the Earth and her creatures. We gain awareness that the sacred feminine dwells within the soil and the Moon, meaning that abuse of the Earth is essentially the same thing as abuse of the Goddess.

America has always been an immigrant society and those American women who seek a Goddess must decide whether to adopt the native Goddesses of this land, invent a completely new path, or honor their own ancient lineage based on their distant DNA. We read of “reconstructionists” who urge us to speak to a Goddess in her own language, whatever it may be and this is because words have power and by speaking to the goddess, we honor a deity. It is important to read those primary sources and return to our culture what we have leaned from it. We get a look at Voodoo, Minoan religion, and Hebrew and Canaanite Goddess tradition. The Christian Divine Mother has her place here along with Brighid; the Mary of the Gael. Modern media Goddesses (Marilyn Monroe and Angelina Jolie to name just two), are powerful Goddess archetypes along side other strong women such as Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman and Eleanor Roosevelt. No sex-drunk nymphs enter these pages. The Goddess of the Witches and Druids are seen as a powerful eco-feminist and her priestesses are mature champions of social justice as well as healers and ritualists and weavers of change.

This is a collection of astute new voices with fresh visions and they take ideas forward. Contributors here include serious writers who want to see women achieve what they deserve.

“Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania” by Charles Monroe-Kane— A Natural Reconteur

lithium jesus

Monroe-Kane, Charles. “Lithium Jesus: A Memoir of Mania”,  University of Wisconsin Press, 2016.

A Natural Raconteur

Amos Lassen

Charles Monroe-Kane is a natural raconteur who has stories to tell. He was born to an eccentric Ohio clan of modern hunter-gatherers and grew up hearing voices in his head. During a twenty-year period, he was many things—“teenage faith healer, world traveler, smuggler, liberation theologian, ladder-maker, squatter, halibut hanger, grifter, environmental warrior, and circus manager” and during this period he wrestled with schizophrenia and self-medication. His twenties were a time of youthful idealism and he shares those and other aspects of his life with us. It took Baby Doc’s Haiti, the Czech Velvet Revolution, sex, drugs, and a stabbing to public humiliation by the leader of the free world for Monroe-Kane to say he had enough.

His memoir is brutal in his honesty as he writes of mental illness, drug abuse, faith, and love and he wins us over quickly. He has not only dealt with bipolar ‘voices’ but he did so “via religion, hedonism, activism, and Lithium”. Today, Monroe-Kane is a Peabody Award–winning public radio producer who brings a fresh perspective to familiar memoir territory.

Monroe-Kane holds nothing back and he has learned that the most powerful voice that he has heard is his own. He was out to have the world before the world had him. We see that no one else could have written his life story but him, himself.

“Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend” by Deirdre Bair— The Complete Life

al capone

Bair, Deirdre. “Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend”, Nan Talese, 2016.

The Complete Life

Amos Lassen

Deirdre Bair brings us the first complete life of legendary gangster Al Capone. It has been written with the cooperation of Capone’s family, who gave the author exclusive access to personal testimony and archival documents.

Capone was born in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York, to poor Italian immigrant parents and grew up to become the most infamous gangster in American history. In 1925, during the height of Prohibition, Capone’s multi-million-dollar Chicago bootlegging, prostitution, and gambling operation was not just part of the organized-crime scene, it dominated it. Capone was often in competition with rival gangs and he was brutally violent, taking part in a long-running war that reached its apex with the shocking St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. Through it all, and despite the best efforts of law enforcement and the media elite, Capone remained above the fray. The strongest charge that Capone faced was federal income-tax evasion and in 1931 he was sentenced to eleven years in federal prison. Six-and-a-half years later, he was released but he suffered with neurosyphillis and lived out the rest of his life with his family in Miami. Al Capone’s life has fascinated the public imagination, and his life as a gangster has been immortalized in the countless movies and books inspired by his exploits.

As for the man behind the legend, we know that  Capone loved to tell tall tales that kept his mystique alive; newspapers loved him and frequently embellished or fabricated stories about him to sell copies. Some remember him as fundamentally kind and good while others remember how frightening he was and just a vicious, cold-blooded killer. Deirdre Bair finally gets at the truth behind this eternally fascinating persona. The book will be out in October.

“IN BETWEEN MEN”— Four Friends

in between men

“In Between Men”

Four Friends

Amos Lassen

Four All-American guys feel caught between two worlds, not truly knowing where they fit in. “In Between Men” follows these four friends in New York City who live “in between” a gay world, “whose cliches they don’t relate to, and a straight world they don’t belong to”. They are successful, professional men not defined by their sexuality. We go with them on their wild adventures, racy story lines, joys and pains all underscored by the pulse of New York City, “In Between Men” looks at relationships the men have between each other, their lovers, and the greater community. Granted that description sounds wonderful but unfortunately the series is not nearly as good as it could be. This was originally a web series about sex and clubbing and all the things upstanding gay men are supposed to enjoy. In reality, it is a stereotypical mess.

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To start, the acting is poor at best. The men are gorgeous but their lines are delivered without emotion, and the energy feels sudden and manufactured. The main character Dalton (Nick Mathews) is robotic. The worst of the bunch is Michael Sharon who plays an older, wealthy Italian man that wants Dalton and he is, indeed, cringe-worthy.

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The dialogue is unbelievable, as if the characters aren’t even listening to one another. While some bits of the writing are funny, these moments are ruined by bad timing. The majority of the lines are strange and stilted, often in situations that seem out- of-place. The narration, which (thank goodness) fades away as the series progresses, is very similar but not nearly as good as Carrie Bradshaw’s narration in “Sex and the City”.

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There are problems in every aspect of this show: the vast majority of the characters are white, well-to-do men (with the exception of a black man that appears in the final episode of the first season and he seems to be there as an afterthought and to appease that criticism); the opening credits, the best of a high school Flash project, are set to hip hop that has nothing to do with the show or the atmosphere in it. An even bigger problem is that thee is nothing new to see— it has all been done before and better.

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The show does become a bit better as it moves forward and for a series made for the Internet, its production values are quite good. If you like cute boys, beautiful bodies, a bad script, and bad acting then this is a series for you. So if like fluff, a contrived scrip, and you have a mind that is partially gone, you should enjoy this.

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The series presents an over-the-top idea of how gay people might be living in New York City today. For those of us who don’t live there, and never will, this is a chance to see what it is like (for the rich gay man). It is a fantasy world that presents itself as something that arguably could exist in today’s world and we are well aware that it is fantasy. Here is a list of the episodes that are part of the series.

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Season One

Pride & Prejudice

It’s Friday of Gay Pride Weekend in NYC. All in one day, Dalton Fuller considers hiring a PR Firm for his business, throws a major industry party for his friends opening night art exhibition, and learns what happens when you do talk to strangers.

It Takes Two

Dalton and Massimiliano learn that the unexpected is sometimes better than any plan. Jake and Kyle take the next step. Dane makes a forbidden compromise.

Business as Un-Usual

It’s Monday after Pride Weekend and the guys’ attentions turn back to work. Ben’s career is skyrocketing, but could get sidetracked by a competitive colleague. Kendra’s efforts to sign Dalton to Capital PR are called into question. Dane shows his frustration.

Secrets and Ties

Dalton gives Massimiliano the third degree. Jake reveals a past tragedy to Dalton. Ben gets a surprise visitor with his own secrets and Dane hits a low point of desperation.

Muscles and Manbags

Dalton and Dane discuss the travails of modern dating. Ben calls on a secret weapon to uncover the truth behind Andrew’s surprise visit. Massimiliano gives a deeper glimpse into his “other” life. Kendra reveals more than she realizes.

Trouble in Paradise

After riding a great high, Dalton & Massimiliano hit a new low. Jake and Kyle have a turf war as Jake’s past catches up with him. A fetish catches Dane off guard. Ben feels the heat at work.

Season Two

Under the Big Top

The Gang Bang’s All Here

As Jake’s Memorial Service looms, the guys try to resume life as usual. Dalton confides in a stranger, Ben returns to changes at work, Dane leans on a familiar element from of the past. Kendra invites her cousin, a mutual friend of Jake’s.

Arts and Aircrafts

When Max leaves for a business trip, Dalton enforces the new rules of their relationship. Ben repays the kindness of a stranger. Dane’s wild night catches up with him. Just as Dalton’s past intersects with Brian.

Kind of a Big Deal

Dalton and Max relationship goes public. Brian and Max have something in common. Drugs teach Dane a hard lesson. Ben faces new challenges both at work and from Adonis.

La Familiar: Part One

A former admirer takes another crack at Dalton. Dane weighs the outcome of Paul’s overdose. Brian gets confronted with a secret he has been trying to run away from. And the stakes get higher on Ben’s quest to make partner.

La Familiar: Part Two

Two for One

Dalton has been juggling three love interests and in this episode, they all make an appearance and cause Dalton to get caught in his own web. Brian comes clean. Ben gets put in an awkward position while Javier pursues. Kendra gets a familiar proposition. Dane moves on.

Wake Up Call

On the Season 2 Finale many questions get answered and many new ones arise in the lives of Dalton, Ben, Dane & Brian.

“Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History” by Zev Eleff— Documenting Modern Orthodox Judaism— Memory and Practice

modern-orthodox-judaism

Eleff, Zev. “Modern Orthodox Judaism: A Documentary History”,  (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought), Jewish Publication Society, 2016.

Documenting Modern Orthodox Judaism— Memory and Practice

Amos Lassen

Before we have a look at Zev Eleff’s monumental study of modern Orthodox Judaism, let me say a little bit about myself and my relation to Judaism. Having been raised as an Orthodox Jew, I realize now that there are so many questions I should have asked but didn’t. When I was growing up, we did not ask questions about religion— we just accepted what we were supposed to do and not think about it. I did not leave Orthodoxy for any specific reason—it just so happened that I found myself in places where Reform Judaism spoke to me more directly than any other faction of the Jewish religion. I have always considered myself to be something of a hybrid of the two branches of Judaism. The most important thing is that I am satisfied with where I am. When I was growing up there was no Modern Orthodox Judaism (in fact, there was not much conservative Judaism either in New Orleans).

In his study of modern Orthodoxy, Zev Eleff shares a collection of documents that dates back to the early nineteenth century and comes forward until the present day and what we see is a diverse and multi-dimensional portrait of how Orthodox Judaism has attempted to respond to the cultural changes and challenges that have occurred with the evolution of Jewish and secular lifestyles in the United States over the course during the last two hundred years.

Every religions faces making sense out of and engaging with the human condition at the particular times and places where we, as adherents, find themselves. Unlike those religions that are opposed to relatively extreme religious approaches that can cause them to isolate themselves from their surroundings or completely incorporate the current trends extent within society, Modern Orthodoxy, works at maintaining some kind of balance between tradition and modernity—which some feel is a contradiction in terms. Eleff shares reflections of how Orthodox Judaism has addressed “changes in liturgy, the divinity of the Torah, the delineation of various Jewish denominations, aesthetics of places of worship, attitudes towards secular education, women’s ritual and leadership issues, interfaith dialogue, Friday night programming, sexuality and family matters, genetic testing, Zionism, the bat mitzvah celebration for young women, commemorating the Holocaust, Zionism, Soviet Jewry, and addressing the terrible dilemma of helping women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce”. It seems that no stone is left unturned and just to give you an idea of what is covered here, the table of contents is twenty-three pages long.

The documents included are those that reflect the ongoing soul-searching and important concerns in which institutions and their leaders have engaged in their attempt to adjust and yet preserve Judaism’s traditions over the years. We get consistent integration of several points of view regarding many of the issues addressed thus allowing us to see the complexity of issues and the sincerity of purpose that those dealing with them have. We see something of a decline in the relatively broad ideological religious approach that has been categorized as Modern Orthodoxy and this can be seem in the documents from the 1960s to the 1980s. Important and significant changes in the movement’s key leadership is one of the reasons for the leaving behind moderate, centrist positions in favor of a sharper delineation of the left and right wings of the group. Much of what we read in the book’s last chapter shows that attempts on the part of more liberal and progressive elements within Modern Orthodoxy, claim to be the heirs of this particular tradition.

In the documents that we see in the book, we become aware that change affects culture and we get the impression that immigration from more traditional and even repressive societies to the openness and personal freedom of the United States, is followed by the general relocation of Orthodox Jews from urban settings to suburban environments and this has played a major role in empowering many to think that past approaches and practices must be altered, regardless of the long-standing demands of religious tradition. When these developments meet the new technology and social media, the integrity of Modern Orthodoxy is tested. Reading documents like those collected here helps us to understand and identify with Modern Orthodoxy and to be prepared for what is yet to come. Today modern Orthodoxy is popular and in fact, I live just three blocks from a Modern Orthodox synagogue and I have enjoyed several of the programs and services that I have attended there yet for whatever reason, I do not feel as at home there as I do in the temple that I am a member of.

Writer Zev Eleff gives us an extensive selection of primary texts documenting the Orthodox encounter with American Judaism that led to the existence of the Modern Orthodox movement. We see that the movement grew out of conflict with Orthodox Judaism and this is especially in the early responses from traditionalists’ feelings about Reform Judaism in its early stages and incidents and events that helped define the differences between Orthodox and Conservative Judaism in the early twentieth century. We also have here texts that explore the internal struggles to maintain order and balance once Orthodox Judaism had separated itself from other religious movements. I remember all too well what happened when my home synagogue decided that it wanted to allow mixed seating during services. Most of the congregation was in favor of this but there was a small group of traditional Orthodox members that fought this idea and it even reached the Louisiana Supreme Court.

This book brings together published documents with seldom-seen archival sources that trace Modern Orthodoxy as it developed into a structured movement and established its own institutions as it came into contact with critical events and issues, Some of which helped shape the movement and others that caused tension within it.

The introduction explains how the movement began and took hold by putting the texts into historical context and short introductions to each section helped to take us through the documents contained therein. Reading this allows us to deal with the issues, especially those of “identity and ideology, religious practice and social behavior, rootedness in tradition and openness to new ways of thinking and acting that define Modern Orthodoxy.”

I do think it is possible to stress too much how important this book is. I keep it on my desk so that I can check it regularly as I deal with questions and situations. Through its use we can learn about the complex issues of identity and ideology, religious practice and social behavior, tradition and openness and new ways of thinking and acting. Can there possibly be anything else to ask for?

“JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews” by Helen Kiyong and Noah Samuel Leavitt— Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Intermarriage— Take Two

jew:asian

Kim, Helen Kiyong and Noah Samuel Leavitt. “JewAsian: Race, Religion, and Identity for America’s Newest Jews”, University of Nebraska Press,  2016.

Race, Religion, Ethnicity and Intermarriage— Take Two

Amos Lassen

There was a time in this country that many Jews felt that intermarriage would hurt the religion but that thought has since changed. In 2010 approximately 15 percent of all new marriages in the United States were between spouses of different racial, ethnic, or religious backgrounds. These marriages raised questions dealing with the multicultural identities of new spouses and their offspring. The census gives us information about statistics but does not share the inner workings of day-to-day life for such couples and their children. I have noticed since I moved to Boston the seemingly large number of Jewish/Asian intermarriage and I believe that is because I had never lived in a place where there were both large Jewish and Asian populations.

“JewAsian” is a qualitative examination of the intersection of race, religion, and ethnicity in the increasing number of households that are Jewish American and Asian American. Helen Kiyong Kim and Noah Samuel Leavitt’s book looks at the larger social dimensions of intermarriages to explain how these particular unions do not only reflect the identity of married individuals but also of the communities to which they belong. Through the use of in-depth interviews with couples and the children of Jewish American and Asian American marriages, the author’s research tells us about the everyday lives of these partnerships and how their children deal with their own identities in today’s world. A study like this has been needed for a long time and we find that the result actually challenges dominant racial, ethnic, and interfaith marriage discourses.

The authors use sociological research and statistics to give us their objective. We now see that interracial and interfaith marriage are both realities of American life and here Jewish Americans and Asian Americans become the example due to the high levels of intermarriage of these two ethnic groups. The authors do not attempt to justify nor condemn Jewish-Asian intermarriage— rather they simply explain the factors that perhaps lead to such comings together. We get a look at the self-identification of Jewish-Asian offspring and their attachment to Jewish identity and Judaism, as well as to which Asian culture is part of their heritage. The book’s analysis of intermarriage here can be used and applied to not just Jews and Asians but to all intermarriages where cultures and identity may not fit into recognized ideas and preconceived notions. The Jewish-Asian offspring are a wonderful example of people who do not fit exactly into such notions of race and ethnicity— we see that their Asian appearance and Jewish religion coexist peacefully and without contradiction. However, there will be those who see this a something of a problem by those who feel that people whose religion, ethnicity and race fit into mutually exclusive categories.

“The Concise Code of Jewish Law: A Guide to the Observance of Shabbat” by Rabbi Gersion Appel, edited by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein— Modern, Up-to-Date and User Friendly

the concise code of jewish law

Appel, Gersion Rabbi. “The Concise Code of Jewish Law: A Guide to the Observance of Shabbat”, edited by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein, OU Press, YU Press, Maggid, May, 2016.

Modern, Up-to-Date and User Friendly

Amos Lassen

“The Concise Code of Jewish Law” was originally conceived and writer by Rabbi Gersion Appel as a four volume comprehensive work but he was only able to successfully complete the first two volumes which were published in 1997 and 1989. His family took it upon itself to update those volumes as well as finish the set by writing the two missing volumes. The concise code was written as a need for the times. The main text comes from halachah and its classic sources and it follows loosely the pattern of the shortened Shulchan Aruch, supplemented by notes that explore issues in greater depth and address a wide variety of contemporary applications.

This is the updated edition by Rabbi Daniel Goldstein, in style as well as in substance and it addresses new technological developments. It includes the halachic decisions of classic works in addition to the rulings of the greatest leading Jewish scholars of the recent past as well as leading scholars today.

“Concise Code is a perfect text for students, as well as all those interested in enhancing their observance of halachah and acquiring greater knowledge about the intricacies of practical halachah in our time”.

Rabbi Appel translated the text loosely from the shortened Shulchan Aruch and emphasized certain laws and added others. Some of the newer laws have taken on more importance than the older ones. Appel also eliminated those that were no longer relevant to modern life and added two elements that he felt were missing— philosophy and the meaning of mitzvoth. He updated he text and made the decision to relegate the Hebrew references to endnotes thus allowing the text to flow.

In this updated edition the writing has been changed from the more formal and many practical applications have been updated and some new ones have been added. We begin with a general introduction to Shabbat with various definitions of the word and move onto the welcoming of Shabbat, prayer and the reading of Torah. We are presented with a long list of the classes of labor that are forbidden, discussions of carrying on Shabbat and additional laws including those for concluding it. (These include laws for illness and treatment, women and childbirth, weekday activities that are forbidden on Shabbat and a section on non-Jews). Finally there are notes on sources and references, codes, responsa and other works, a glossary, a list of annotations from Halacha, an index of subjects and notes on the author.

“Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities” by Mimi Schippers— Sexual Normalcy?

beyond monogamy

Schippers, Mimi. “Beyond Monogamy: Polyamory and the Future of Polyqueer Sexualities”, (Intersections), NYU Press, 2016.

Sexual Normalcy?

Amos Lassen

Mimi Schippers explores compulsory monogamy as a central feature of sexual normalcy. She argues that compulsory monogamy promotes the monogamous couple as the only legitimate, natural, or desirable relationship and in this way, monogamy supports and legitimizes gender, race, and sexual inequalities. She investigates sexual interactions and relationship forms that include more than just two people, be that polyamory, threesomes, and the ‘down-low,’ by exploring the queer, feminist, and anti-racist potential of non-dyadic sex and relationships. She sets out to give us an intense and serious look at the intersections of society and sexuality by taking us on a journey through these various kinds of sexual relationships. We are to keep in mind that the key word here is sexual. She further looks at why there is such a strong cultural taboo against certain kinds of sexual relationships and what we learn about how society regards gender and sexuality. She examines the “racialized and gendered backdrop against which heterosexuality and monogamy play out in contemporary US culture” and the impacts of non-monogamies on it. In doing so she exposes how hetero-masculinity and mono-normativity are socially constructed and are nowhere near being inevitable.

Schippers blames feminist sexuality scholars for failing to theorize compulsory monogamy as a regime of normalcy that enforces gendered, raced, and classed inequalities thereby showing the importance of expanding how we understand sexual and romantic relationships.

There are several problems that I encountered reading Schippers. First of all this is not a book written for the layman and this knocks out a large percentage of the reading population. As an academic myself, I feel that I can say that. What is really missing here is the concept and practice off bisexuality. Schippers also does not have knowledge or experience with the gay community and it is obvious that she does not want to know about gay and lesbian relationships. The tone with which she writes emphasizes how judgmental she is. I was stunned to read her criticism of a relationship between one man and two women. She claims that the two women engaged in bisexuality only to satisfy the single male and that what they did together was faked.

If you really want to read about this topic this book is a poor place to begin. There is really nothing new here and everything in it is how Schippers alone sees it and how she sees things is narrow.