Category : Judaism

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–‘I’ve been doing Thought for the Day for thirty years but I never thought that in 2018 I would still have to speak about antisemitism’

It’s happened because of the rise of political extremism on the right and left, and because of populist politics that plays on people’s fears, seeking scapegoats to blame for social ills. For a thousand years Jews have been targeted as scapegoats, because they were a minority and because they were different. But difference is what makes us human. And a society that has no room for difference has no room for humanity.

The appearance of antisemitism is always an early warning sign of a dangerous dysfunction within a culture, because the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.

At the end of his life, Moses told the Israelites: don’t hate an Egyptian because you were strangers in his land. It’s an odd sentence. The Egyptians had oppressed and enslaved the Israelites. So why did Moses say, don’t hate.

Because if the people continued to hate, Moses would have taken the Israelites out of Egypt, but failed to take Egypt out of the Israelites. They would still be slaves, not physically but mentally. Moses knew that to be free you have to let go of hate. Wherever there is hate, freedom dies. Which is why we, especially leaders, have to take a stand against the corrosive power of hate.

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Posted in Anthropology, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(Guardian) Traditional Antisemitism is back, global study finds

Feelings of insecurity are widespread among European Jews as a result of the resurgence of the extreme right, a heated anti-Zionist discourse on the left and radical Islam, according to a global study of antisemitism.

Last year the number of recorded violent antisemitic incidents fell by about 9% compared to 2016 – and by almost 50% compared with the 2006-14 average – but there was a notable increase in harassment and abuse, according to a survey published by the Kantor Center.

The report highlights a strengthening of the extreme right in some European counties, “accompanied by slogans and symbols reminiscent of the 1930s” and “the intensity of the anti-Jewish sentiments expressed in a variety of ways […] especially on street demonstrations”. It says this may explain a discrepancy between the levels of fear among European Jews and the actual number of incidents.

“Expressions of classic traditional antisemitism are back and, for example, the term ‘Jew’ has become a swear word,” it says.

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Posted in Globalization, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Holocaust Is Fading From Memory, Survey of Americans Finds

For seven decades, “never forget” has been a rallying cry of the Holocaust remembrance movement.

But a survey released Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that many adults lack basic knowledge of what happened — and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.

Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. Only 39 percent of Americans know that Hitler was democratically elected.

“As we get farther away from the actual events, 70-plus years now, it becomes less forefront of what people are talking about or thinking about or discussing or learning,” said Matthew Bronfman, a board member of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which commissioned the study. “If we wait another generation before you start trying to take remedial action, I think we’re really going to be behind the eight ball.”

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Posted in Defense, National Security, Military, Ethics / Moral Theology, Germany, History, Judaism, Poland, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Violence

(WSJ) Deborah Gastfreund Schuss: Learning to Pray When Words Fail–Disorders like aphasia pose a challenge for adherents of speech-based faiths

Julie Shulman decided to study linguistics because she wanted to help people with speaking disorders. She never imagined how personal this mission would become. After graduating from Israel’s Bar-Ilan University in 2000, the Maine native headed to Massachusetts for a master’s degree and job in speech therapy. Her husband, Ayal Shulman, worked as a business-development manager for an Israeli startup in Brookline. They returned to Israel in 2009—with promising careers and three young children.

Two weeks after their return, Mr. Shulman, then 37, suffered a massive brain hemorrhage. Despite the initially grim prognosis, his cognitive function is intact. But his speech is limited to sentences of three or four words, and his reading and writing abilities are limited.

Along with Mr. Shulman, at least two million people in the U.S. live with aphasia, according to the National Aphasia Association. Some 180,000 acquire the disorder every year. The condition, which produces a disconnect between what the brain wants to convey and what is actually expressed, often strikes survivors of strokes or head trauma without affecting their intelligence. The incidence is growing because medical advancements enable people with such maladies to survive at higher rates. Yet cures for the ensuing handicaps remain elusive.

Ms. Shulman —an Orthodox Jew deeply immersed in her faith—wanted to enhance her husband’s practice of Judaism. Today she helps reintegrate others suffering from aphasia into communal religious participation.

 

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Judaism, Language, Pastoral Theology, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Economist Erasmus Blog) For Dutch Jews, an overdue reassurance and an ancient dilemma

Amsterdam’s’S city hall, built in the 1980s, sits amid what were once the dense slums of the city’s old Jewish neighbourhood, just off the Jodenbreestraat (“Jew Broad Street”) and across from the stately Portuguese synagogue (pictured). Jews began moving to Amsterdam in the 16th and 17th centuries, fleeing persecution in Iberia and Poland, and they played a crucial role in developing the city’s culture of religious tolerance and political liberalism.

By 1941 they numbered 79,000, a bit under 10% of the population. The city’s Jewish heritage is still heard in its Yiddish-influenced slang, its nickname (Mokum, from the Hebrew “makom”, or place), and the chants of its football fans: the local team, Ajax, is popularly known as “the Jews”. But when Amsterdam holds its city-council election on March 21st, the Jewish vote will be a negligible factor. Three-quarters of the city’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and by 2013 the community had shrunk to under 6,000, less than 1% of the population.

Nevertheless, on March 6th Amsterdam’s Jews scored a big political gain. In a ceremony at the city’s Jewish Cultural Centre, candidates representing all ten significant parties running in the local elections signed an accord promising to honour the concerns of the Jewish community. The parties pledged to respond decisively to anti-Semitic incidents, provide security to Jewish residents and institutions, and ensure that every student in the city is taught the evils of anti-Semitism and the history of the Holocaust. “Nothing like this agreement has been done anywhere else in Europe,” said Ruben Vis, secretary of the NIK, the Dutch umbrella organisation of Jewish communities, which negotiated the accord.

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Posted in Judaism, Religion & Culture, The Netherlands

(Wash Post) Anti-Semitic incidents soared in 2017, marking nation’s largest single-year increase, report finds

Anti-Semitic activities in the United States shot up an unprecedented 57 percent last year, marked by hate crimes in schools and bomb threats against Jewish institutions, according to a report released Tuesday by the Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL’s 2017 Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents identified 1,986 examples of anti-Semitic harassment, vandalism and assault in 2017, the largest single-year increase and the second-highest number since it started tracking the data in the 1970s.

Vandalism was up by 86 percent, and incidents targeting Jewish schools, community centers, museums and synagogues had surged by 101 percent since 2016, the report found. The number of anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools has roughly doubled each year for the past two years, the report said.

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Posted in Judaism, Religion & Culture

Rabbi Chaim Jachter–Why is Megillat Ester Written in Such a Secular Style?

The twentieth-century philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, an outspoken atheist, was once asked what would happen if, after his death, he would unexpectedly find himself before God, who would be ready to punish him for his heresy. He replied that he would say that God did not supply sufficient evidence for His existence. I believe that Megillat Ester provides a response to such superficial thinking. The Megillah teaches that there is abundant evidence of Hashem’s existence and mastery of the world for those who make the correct choice to discern Hashem’s hand operating behind the superficial, secular mask.

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Posted in Judaism, Theology: Scripture

(Telegraph) Tim Stanley–Acts of faith – such as circumcision –are no business of those with none

Mr [Stephen] Evans is chief executive of the National Secular Society, the church militant of atheism. Like all extremist organisations, it’s a coalition of the ignorant and the spiteful. Let me address the ignorant first. I get it: male circumcision sounds weird, even offensive. In the Jewish case, a Mohel removes the foreskin of a baby on the eighth day after his birth, a decision taken by adults that the boy has to carry for the rest of his life whether he believes in the Almighty or not.

It sounds like it contradicts some of the basic tenets of a liberal society: children’s rights, bodily autonomy and choice.

But choice is a complicated thing. As Claire Fox argued on the Maze, parents do stuff to their kids all the time – pierce their ears, feed them McDonald’s –that we don’t ban because we don’t want the state to take on the role of parent. Why?

Because that would subvert another very important kind of choice: the right of mums and dads to raise their children how they wish. Across the world, they make the free choice of male circumcision without controversy. The World Health Organisation estimates that about a third of men aged 15 or over have gone under the knife; it’s probably the vast majority of that demographic in the United States, where it became popular post-war.

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Posted in Children, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Iceland, Judaism, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–May we never forget the Real Power of Personal Interaction

This week, research was published showing that spending as little as ten minutes a day talking to someone with dementia can make a real difference to their quality of life, alleviating their anxiety and sense of isolation in a strange and fearful world.

Increased levels of dementia have been the price we pay for the rise in life expectancy in recent decades. And it’s tough: for the sufferers themselves, their carers, and for members of their family. It can be almost unbearable to find that your parent can’t recognise you, their child. And people can become fatalistic about it, thinking that there’s nothing you can do to make things better. But that’s beginning to change.

Three weeks ago, my wife Elaine and I visited, in his home in Philadelphia, Aaron Beck, co-founder of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy practised today. 96 years old and physically frail, he was still wonderfully young in mind and spirit. He told us that he’d always believed that his methods could help many people but not those with dementia, but now – though the research is still in its early days – people were beginning to find that it could help them too.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Lou Weiss–The Jewish Arbor Day

Jewish tree huggers have their own official holiday, and this year it begins next Tuesday. Tu B’Shvat, literally the 15th day of the Jewish lunar month of Shevat, marks the day when all trees become one year older—at least for the purposes of their fruit being deemed suitable for tithing and eating. Many families and congregations celebrate by hosting a special meal with fruits from trees grown in Israel. Think of it as a Jewish and Israeli Arbor Day.

Trees are a big deal in Jewish liturgy. Jews refer to the Torah as a “Tree of Life.” In the center of the Garden of Eden, God put the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The latter provided some irresistible and fateful fruit.

The Torah describes the various species the Israelites encountered or planted. Acacia wood was the specification for the Ark of the Covenant and the poles with which it was carried. King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem featured cedar wood. Various books of the Torah mention at least 16 different tree species—not including the burning shrub Moses chatted with.

As important as trees are to Judaism, the faith still navigates nature without elevating it above humanity. It makes the case for an environmentalism that rightly puts people first. It is a sane alternative to placing “the environment” over every human benefit. This model of stewardship has much to offer today’s environmental policy debates.

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Posted in Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(Christian Today) Irene Lancaster–Bishop George Bell was a hero who saved Jewish children. It is time his reputation was restored

…may I suggest that readers of Christian Today take some time to read the very clear report written by Lord Carlile on the way the Bishop Bell case has been handled. Then please ask yourselves if, on the evidence, Bishop Bell is guilty of child abuse as charged, or simply a victim of the workings of the Church of England.

Lord Carlile was asked by the Church authorities to look into the way the investigation of this case was handled, and has concluded that the arrangements were shockingly cavalier and that as a result a man has been found guilty without any proof whatsoever.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to read the report. And on reading it myself, it is hard not to conclude that the evidence is overwhelming that Bell is a martyr not of the Church but by the Church. And if, after reading the report on the workings of the Church of England in this case, you agree with me, don’t you think that you should do something about it?

Because the biblical Moses was asked by G-d to entreat the Pharaoh of his time to let his own Jewish people go – in words that have enthused heroes such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

But what Bishop Bell did in the 1930s was if anything even more heroic: what he did was to take on the entire Church establishment of the day to ask them to take in the tiny remnant of the Jewish community in Germany and eastern Europe. And this the Church establishment found too difficult to contemplate.

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Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Germany, History, Judaism, Religion & Culture

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–God Loves Those Who Argue

I have become increasingly concerned about the assault on free speech taking place throughout the West, particularly in university campuses.[1] This is being done in the name of “safe space,” that is, space in which you are protected against hearing views which might cause you distress, “trigger warnings”[2] and “micro-aggressions,” that is, any remark that someone might find offensive even if no offence is meant.

So far has this gone that at the beginning of the 2017 academic year, students at an Oxford College banned the presence of a representative of the Christian Union on the grounds that some might find their presence alienating and offensive.[3] Increasingly, speakers with controversial views are being disinvited: the number of such incidents on American college campuses rose from 6 in 2000 to 44 in 2016.[4]

Undoubtedly this entire movement was undertaken for the highest of motives, to protect the feelings of the vulnerable. That is a legitimate ethical concern. Jewish law goes to extremes in condemning lashon hara, hurtful or derogatory speech, and the sages were careful to use what they called lashon sagi nahor, euphemism, to avoid language that people might find offensive.

But a safe space is not one in which you silence dissenting views. To the contrary: it is one in which you give a respectful hearing to views opposed to your own, knowing that your views too will be listened to respectfully. That is academic freedom, and it is essential to a free society.[5] As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

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Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Theology

(Guardian) Patriarch Theophilos III–Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land

[Yesterday]…7 January, is Christmas, according to the Orthodox Christian calendar. And Orthodox Christians are keeping the feast in the Holy Land, where Christmas – and Christianity – began.

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff.

Christians have lived a history in the Holy Land that spans more than two millennia. We have survived countless invasions, and have flourished under many different forms of government. We know that our survival has depended on the principle that the holy places must be shared by and be accessible to all. For it is the holy places that have given meaning to the region for both inhabitants and conquerors of all faiths. The protection and accessibility of the holy places are understood through a set of rules called the “status quo”, which has been followed by all religious and governmental authorities of the region through the ages.

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Posted in Church History, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) David Rosmarin–Psychologists Shouldn’t Ignore the Soul

In my first six months as a predoctoral psychology intern at McLean Hospital, I was approached by at least 10 patients asking essentially the same question: Can I speak to you about God? They wanted to discuss their problems not in psychological terms but in spiritual ones. I guess the yarmulke on my head suggested I was an appropriate person to offer guidance.

I was not. I am a practicing Orthodox Jew and a clinical scientist, but I am no theologian. At the time, I did not even have my supervisors’ permission to speak to patients about their spiritual lives. I typically responded by suggesting the patient ask his case manager about a chaplaincy visit, though I knew the hospital did not employ an on-site chaplain.

It was hardly surprising that patients wanted to speak about God. Psychological science has consistently shown that spirituality can shape how someone thinks. “Religion and spirituality have the ability to promote or damage mental health,” a 2014 review of research into spirituality and mental health concluded. “This potential demands an increased awareness of religious matters by practitioners in the mental health field as well as ongoing attention in psychiatric research.” Why has this been neglected?

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Posted in Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Praise and Alarm From American Jews Over President Trump’s Jerusalem Move

If he was hoping for thunderous applause from American Jews, President Trump may be disappointed.

His announcement on Wednesday that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital went down well with those on the political right, who have urged the step for years. They will be telling him so at the White House Hanukkah party on Thursday, they said.

But other Jewish leaders said they were more worried than glad, fearing that the precipitous step would inflame tensions in the region, provoke more terrorism, put peace with the Palestinians even farther out of reach, and worsen the diplomatic isolation of both Israel and the United States. They say they wish he had held off, as previous presidents have done.

“Jerusalem has always been the most delicate issue in every discussion about peace,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism. “So we’re very concerned that the announcement will either delay or undermine the very, very important resuming of a serious peace process.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Faiths, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle